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Open Thread 128.75

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1,118 Responses to Open Thread 128.75

  1. ana53294 says:

    @Nick
    I am answering in a separate comment, since my response is becoming quite long.

    But if you have direct experience with Mondragon, I’d love to hear whether and how well this actually works. How long do folks generally work in Mondragon, and how happy are they? Can they work there thirty years and have families?

    I haven’t worked in the company, but I know people who do, I have an account in their credit union and use an insurance company that is part of the credit union.

    Yes, co-op members start on the job and retire on the same job, keeping a decent standard of living. They don’t give you an opportunity to become a member immediately when you start work; you have to work for several years for them to offer you that opportunity. And then you have to pay the capital contribution. Their credit union was initially formed to help people finance those same contributions, and they later expanded to other services too. Some people choose not to give the capital contribution.

    Their bank is a lot more friendly to customers, and the insurance too. They offer many complementary services (the bank offers free help with taxes, for example).

    Their companies are also quite involved in the communities, and they help finance some community events. They give 10% of their net benefits to social uses.

    They also tend to keep a lot of money in reserves. They usually use much less leverage than other companies. Co-ops are usually run a lot more conservatively.

    There has been a lot of discussion of what happened with Fagor, and whether the co-op model is doomed.

    One of the things that many outsiders point out that I don’t consider a problem is recruiting executives. Co-ops cap executive pay at something like 30x the lowest co-op full-time worker salary. This means they cannot hire outside executives, because they are used to higher pay. So they have to promote from the ranks. I don’t consider this a problem at all; I think outside executives, used to looking for short-term profits, cannot properly understand the co-op model of long-term survival. Executives also experience higher pay cuts (as a %) when times are tough.

    Capital contributions are something like 15,000 euros per worker. The government regularly spends a lot more money on getting people re-inserted into the labour market, so I consider this money well spent. And they usually get the capital contribution back when they retire.

    Co-op members don’t just contribute the initial capital contribution; they may be asked to give more money. I believe the skin in the game is a very important part of how co-ops work. There are no strikes and no unions; a lot of things are simpler.

    Co-ops don’t fire members when times are tough, but they do make significant salary reductions by cutting hours, removing dividends and by dipping into their capital savings. They also cut non-members. When times get tough, they don’t offer workers entry into the co-op.

    Once you are a member, your job is as safe as a job can be; the only thing that will cut your job is the company’s bankruptcy. Usually, other co-ops will help the at-risk co-op, because Mondragon is a co-op of co-ops. But in the case of Fagor, it was the flagship co-op, it was too big to save, and the other co-ops could not finance it. The stupidity of the executives in trying to do what non-co-ops do and opening factories abroad and over-leveraging was a big reason why Fagor was not saved by the others. In the end, co-op members of Fagor lost their capital contributions and their jobs, but many of them got a job in another co-op that is part of the Mondragon umbrella. Many with salary reductions, as industry jobs pay more than cashier jobs, but in Spain it is hard enough for people over 40 to find jobs that most of them accepted relocation to those jobs.

    In the Basque Country, the example of Fagor also leads to other co-op formation outside of Mondragon. A family friend, a guy who worked in extending electricity cables was working as a sub-contractor to Iberdrola. He lost his job when the sub-contractor was cut after the construction boom ended and the crisis begun. As a guy over forty, he had significant difficulties finding a job in Spain’s tough job market. He and several of his colleagues he knew as good workers then took the unemployment payment all at once and formed a co-op that did the same job as their previous company, but without the admin bloat (they have only one secretary). Apparently, they are booked fully and can’t deal with all the requests.

    Co-ops frequently require levels of sacrifice from workers that a union would not agree to. Wages are less sticky in co-ops. They frequently agree on cuts; but they also get more of the upside when the business goes well.

    Industry jobs are frequently cyclical; companies frequently go through cycles when business is booming and everything’s well, and then they go through tough periods. Unions usually demand higher wages through the good part of the cycle and refuse reductions in the bad part. Co-op members naturally get the upside of good cycles and agree to cut salaries when times are tough. This is why long term survival of cyclical industry may be better in co-ops.

    I am not sure how exportable this model is. From what I’ve heard, there are issues with workers abroad. The co-op model requires workers to share responsibility, to participate in decision making, to have initiative and show self-sacrifice.

    I’ve also heard that one of the problems in the US industry is that unions don’t like workers to take responsibility for their work, which is why Kaizen does not work (?? Since I don’t personally know anything, so I don’t even have anecdata for this, it’s just rumors I’ve heard).

  2. compeltechnic says:

    Here’s a few thoughts about conservatism that I’ve been stewing over lately. I think this avoids the category of “hot-button political and social topics” but if it doesn’t I’ll comply with the authorities as needed.

    A Pascal’s Wager, of Sorts

    Starting with a few research-based claims about Republicans

    From Pew Research:
    (https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2010/10/Republicans-Happiness.pdf)
    1. They are happier than democrats (this has been replicated consistently for >40 years)
    2. They are richer than democrats (duh)
    3. They are healthier than democrats
    4. They are more likely to feel like they are in control of their own success or failure
    5. If one were to compare a theoretical Republican and a theoretical Democrat who had the identical age, ethnicity, race, gender, income, marital status and education level, the Republican would be 13% more likely than the Democrat to be very happy.

    To me, point #5 is a very strong point all on its own.

    6. (Using the OCEAN model of personality) They are less open, more conscientious, and less neurotic than Democrats (agreeableness and extraversion are roughly a wash) (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/liberals-and-conservatives-dont-just-vote-differently-they-think-differently/2012/04/12/gIQAzb1kDT_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b27068bf4a6c) (https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/02/the-big-five-personality-traits-what-they-mean-for-your-political-views/)
    7. They are more charitable than Democrats (Different sources have breakdowns that show interesting patterns, esp. W.r.t. Income differences. some of this increase goes to church.)(https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/statistics/u.s.-generosity)

    >Economist Arthur Brooks, author of the detailed charity analysis Who Really Cares, likewise states that “the electoral map and the charity map are remarkably similar.” He notes “there is a persistent sterotype about charitable giving in politically progressive regions of America: while people on the political right may be hardworking and family-oriented, they tend not to be very charitable toward the less fortunate,” while, “those on the political left care about vulnerable members of society, and are thus the charitable ones…. This stereotype is wrong.”

    >“Brooks points out that these differences go beyond just what households donate in money. He cites studies showing that conservatives are more likely to do things like donate blood, and to volunteer. Much of this difference he credits to the comparative religiosity of conservatives. The fact that liberals call for government to help others while conservatives feel called to help directly also seems to factor into differences in behavior.”

    8. They report better mental health than others, even when controlling for other variables (https://news.gallup.com/poll/102943/republicans-report-much-better-mental-health-than-others.aspx)

    Claims 1-8 sum up to evidence that adopting a conservative philosophy results in better outcomes for yourself and for the people around you.

    There is an argument that these differences are all correlation rather than causation (point #5 is the best data I have against it, with the caveat that studies are not the same as experiments). There is no proof here. Given the limitations of social science, there is unlikely to ever be any proof in either direction within our lifetimes. However, it presents a wager in the style of Pascal’s wager:

    If you can choose to adopt a conservative life philosophy that creates better outcomes for yourself, and for those around you, would you?

    Some other claims that are entirely my own, and are not backed by data:

    9. Most of our moral actions in life do not arise from our political affiliation, our virtue signalling, or our prognostication. They arise from diligently striving to do our best.
    10. Spending too much time dwelling on the infinite number of injustices in the world is damaging to your ability to act as an effective agent in the world.
    11. As an individual your ability to correct for systematic injustices is extremely limited. Voting does little, considering that politics is a noisy and inefficient process. Most of this ability comes from point #10 above. If you do find yourself in a position of power, becoming Democratic makes more sense.
    12. Most of the time, when people talk politics (aka group morality) with each other, the opinions they express revolve around virtue signalling, the way the world should be, and other ideals that are not actionable. However, when discussing individual morality, Republicans are more likely to focus on giving actionable advice, which Democrats are more likely to construe as shaming of individuals or outgroups who fail to follow this advice. Often, group and individual morality overlap in ways that cause communication to break down.
    13. (kind of an obvious one) If I had to express the difference between the day-to-day political moral strivings of a principled Democrat versus a principled Republican, I would describe them as:
    Democrat: We should push to reduce systematic injustices by changing the systems to make them more fair, and force fair outcomes.
    Republican: We should all try to be better individuals. By acting more morally within existing systems, outcomes will be more fair.
    14. To the majority of people, your personal philosophy is somewhere between difficult and impossible to disentangle from your political philosophy. It is To the maximum possible degree, I try to separate these two realms. This may explain why I don’t vote- I do not want my political philosophy to dominate my personal philosophy- I would prefer the opposite.
    15. Principled conservatism as described in my arguments above is not antithetical to empathy or charitableness.
    16. One failure mode of a highly Open personality (correlating with Democratic modes) is a failure to make strong enough value judgements to drive courses of action as an individual.
    17. Social science does not have the tools to adequately determine how much of this is correlation vs. causation. Any choice one makes regarding Utilitarian outcomes of one’s own philosophical positions is analagous to Pascal’s wager, hence the title.
    18. My answer to the wager: I adopt the portions of conservative philosophy that promote my individual agency.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      #1, that Pew survey is from 2008 and, uh, I sorta wonder how things have changed. Republicans seem pretty angry and unhappy these days, or so I am frequently told.

      But, let’s look at this list of things PEW has identified:

      Well, Republicans are different from Democrats. How so? Let us count the ways.
      • They have more money.
      • They have more friends.
      • They are more religious.
      • They are healthier.
      • They are more likely to be married.
      • They like their communities better.
      • They like their jobs more.
      • They are more satisfied with their family life.
      • They like the weather better.
      • They have fewer financial worries.
      • They’re more likely to see themselves doing better in life than their parents did.
      • They’re more likely to feel that individuals – rather than outside forces – control their own success or failure.

      You are positing that being “Republican” causes all those things.

      But what if all of those things cause a general satisfaction with things as they are? And therefore one sees no need to change things as they are? So you are more likely to back the party that doesn’t think things need to be done to change the status quo?

      This is frequently shorthanded as FYIGM or “Fuck You, I Got Mine”

      Now, you may object to that shorthand, but you aren’t showing any means of proving that the correlation doesn’t run this way, and indeed it seems muuuuch more likely than being Republican being the one trick to solving all of these problems

      I note that you say you don’t vote. That is a good sign that you are lucky enough not be affected by public policy choices, or at least not currently aware that you are affected…

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Oh, in addition, not that it’s necessarily central to your thesis, but you have made so large a mistake in characterizing Pascal’s Wager that it is “virtually infinite”.

        To the extent that your personal calculations were based on this, you may be making the wrong bet.

        • compeltechnic says:

          That’s true. The utility associated with making it into heaven or not is a huge swing. The utility with my thesis is infinitesimally small in comparison.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, more precisely, Pascal’s Wager depends on an infinitely large payout in order to overcome having to figure out whether the payout is actually likely.

            You don’t have that luxury, but aren’t bothering with likelihoods anyway.

      • compeltechnic says:

        It’s not a one trick pony, but it is worth putting lots of effort into considering. Your personal philosophy determines many of your actions, especially the ones that have moral significance.

        The uncertainty associated with claims 1-6 and 8 is large, for sure. I could argue all day to try to reduce this uncertainty, but it is beside the point. Hence a wager- can’t know for sure. There are enough politicized statistics from both sides that an army of claims is not enough. But considering that there is high uncertainty, one still has to make a decision, and measured outcomes are good for the conservative side.

        Claim 7 addresses one way that conservative individuals cause better moral outcomes.

        Claims 1-8 build assumptions, and claims 9-16 advocate for the real meat of the thesis- your philosophy should orient yourself toward actions that are beneficial. The portions of conservative philosophy that orient oneself towards these actions are worth believing in. Posting toward a left-leaning (but pretty centrist overall) forum is the right place to argue it.

        I do understand the failure modes of conservatism may be cruel to disadvantaged groups, and I distance myself from those failure modes. Hence claim 18. For the record, I think that Democrats do overestimate the degree to which individual Republicans show malice toward disadvantaged groups. The quote from Arthur Brooks emphasizes this. “Fuck you got mine” is not an accurate portrayal of the right as a whole. However, there are ways that the right sucks. The right is more likely to be racist, sexist, etc, but that means less in day-to-day life than diligently working towards prosocial goals (a la higher conscientiousness of the right), especially considering that you can accept one without having to accept the other. For another piece of evidence, google how income correlates with conscientiousness.

        Also, I think not voting is a much more justifiable position than anyone cares to defend. It is a difficult position to defend because patriots from both sides know that democracy is a worthwhile process (which it is) and emphasize it strongly. As an individual that knows my vote is a negligible signal in a chaotic system, I doubt that I can influence the outcome in a meaningful way, and that even if I do, the outcome is very likely to differ from my predicted outcome. There is a certain voting population below which I would vote.

        • meh says:

          By your thesis, if people who vote are happier than those who don’t, you should vote.

          • compeltechnic says:

            I agree.

          • meh says:

            https://www.economist.com/united-states/2019/04/04/happiness-and-voting

            Political engagement is correlated with happiness. That may seem hard to believe at a time when most political activity seems to increase the sum of human misery, but the recent World Happiness Report, an annual survey backed by the un, lays out compelling evidence. A sample of 1,300 (American) respondents shows a link between reported levels of “life satisfaction” and turnout at elections, even when controlling for age and income.

          • albatross11 says:

            From the linked article, the increased happiness worked even when controlling for income and education, but I still think there are some huge confounders–if your life is very hard, you’re in poor health, you’re depressed, etc., you probably don’t have so much time to vote, and you’re probably not so happy. Also I’d expect this to have to do with social connectedness–people more involved in their communities are more likely to vote, and that’s definitely also correlated with happiness.

            OTOH, I fully understand the argument for why voting is irrational, and yet I vote in every national election. It feels like the right thing to do, even though rationally I see that it has almost no chance of changing anything.

          • meh says:

            @albatross11

            yes, this was not supposed to be an independent argument as to why to vote. it was meant to show OP how not voting was inconsistent with doing whatever correlates with happiness.

          • OTOH, I fully understand the argument for why voting is irrational, and yet I vote in every national election. It feels like the right thing to do, even though rationally I see that it has almost no chance of changing anything.

            But there might be other reasons to vote. Cheering for your team at a football game also has almost no chance of changing the outcome. That doesn’t make it irrational.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The vast majority of voters don’t get upset and annoyed at every thing that happens in politics. The numbers are hard to find because Twitter is tight-lipped, but at least half of Americans don’t use it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Posting toward a left-leaning (but pretty centrist overall) forum is the right place to argue it.

          The forum doesn’t lean left.

          For the record, I think that Democrats do overestimate the degree to which individual Republicans show malice toward disadvantaged groups. The quote from Arthur Brooks emphasizes this. “Fuck you got mine” is not an accurate portrayal of the right as a whole.

          One does not need malice for the quote to be accurate, merely a certain obsequious belief in a just world.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Go look at the pie chart labeled “Comment”.

            Note the likelihood that someone who responded to the survey comments more than once per month.

            The subset of readers who actively comment is not representative of the overall readership. They are a weird subset. You can’t point at the survey to characterize them.

          • Plumber says:

            @HeelBearCub,
            You’re one of the few regular commenters whose political leanings I’m confident of,
            I’d peg you as a “Great Society” Democrat, the others I’m confident of are @Conrad Honcho who I’d characterize as a “Populist-Trumpist” Republican, and @DavidFriedman who’s a “full Libertarian”.
            Every other regular I’m unsure of, for example @Nick I’d characterize as a “Ross Douthat-ish reformist conservative”, but how he’ll actually vote I don’t know, @Lady Jane I’d call a “libertarian Democrat” and how she’ll vote if Sanders or Warren is nominated I just don’t have a good guess of.
            I do know that there’s left leaning lurkers, one of whom (a name I didn’t recognize) asked me how I could even consider voting for someone as right-wing as Biden, but of common commenters I perceive a right-ish slant as well, which doesn’t particularly bother me, I can read the Nation for a more left view, and I want to communicate with folks that have different views than mine (not that all my views are left, but enough of my vuews are, at least for this crowd).

          • Nick says:

            Every other regular I’m unsure of, for example @Nick I’d characterize as a “Ross Douthat-ish reformist conservative”, but how he’ll actually vote I don’t know, @Lady Jane I’d call a “libertarian Democrat” and how she’ll vote if Sanders or Warren is nominated I just don’t have a good guess of.

            I detest Trump and probably won’t be voting for him. I’ll probably vote third party or not at all in the presidential election.

            This topic has come up many times here, and I agree with the usual answer that the readership leans left and Grey tribey while the commentariat leans right but not really Red tribey.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Plumber:
            I’m a little too young to be a Great Society Democrat, but it’s probably not too far off the mark. I’d say that where I would differ, it would be in looking on some of the thinking behind Great Society as being too hubristic, too top down.

            I’m a great believer in respect for complexity. There is only way to succeed, but a million ways to fail.

            I just think that things need doing, nonetheless.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Plumber: I’m just a cultural conservative. I’m skeptical of liberal “democracy”, but respect it for its low homicide count during the 20th century. I’m against Marxism because it leads to starvation and state atheism, but have no fixed preferences on how big the government should be. I do know I would love to see capitalist entertainment replaced by our traditional high culture. I love America but don’t want it to impose itself on the entire world (think “Little Englander”): if Russia made Orthodox Christianity the state religion I’d be happy rather than wanting to declare war to impose US or EU judicial policy vis-a-vis religion. I’m strongly against Muslim immigration, moderately against any immigration when they form tribal enclaves that don’t speak the host country’s language, and otherwise in favor of it.

          • I’m strongly against Muslim immigration, moderately against any immigration when they form tribal enclaves that don’t speak the host country’s language, and otherwise in favor of it.

            What time scale are you thinking in?

            The past pattern in the U.S. was that the first generation clustered in enclaves, and many of them never became fluent in English–I think true of my maternal grandfather. The second generation largely remained clustered, with some leaving, but were fluent in English, might or might not know their parents’ language, identified more as Americans than as Poles, Germans, etc., while still retaining some of the latter identification.

            By the third generation you had a good deal of intermarriage, people moving out of the ethnic enclave, and the like.

            That summary is based on casual observation, not good statistics, in part on my family history, Ashkenazi. My maternal grandmother kept kosher. My parents were both from the same ethnic background, I think grew up in places with many people of that background although probably not real enclaves. My mother spoke Yiddish as her second language, my father didn’t. I grew up in an area with no particular ethnicity, don’t speak Yiddish beyond a few words that my mother used. Both the women I married were non-Ashkenazi.

            Would a similar pattern in current immigrants bother you?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            It’s really weird to me that I know where your parents met.

            I’m not Chat, but I’m not a fan of the immigrant communities that come over, refuse to pick up even a little English, their kids grow up hateful and resentful, and the whole area ends up an ethnic ghetto more-or-less permanently.

            I don’t mind the communities that get replenished via new immigrants settling in, instead of just passing down family hostility to the host country.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @DavidFriedman: It would not.
            I’m only one generation behind you in assimilation. One of my maternal great-grandfathers was an ESL factory worker who was frugal enough to live off of capital when he got fired for refusing to stop speaking German in 1917. I thought that was uncomplicatedly cool until I read Bowling Alone, which made my views on assimilation more nuanced.
            My qualms with the immigrant trajectory your family went through are next to nil. What complicates the issue is the ideology of multiculturalism, where immigrant’s children are incentivized to speak a different language and identify as a different race from the receiving country’s majority. To be reaction aerie about it, I’d support the way immigration was handled in a foreign country called the American past.

          • Dan L says:

            @ compeltechnic, HeelBearCub:

            I finally got off my ass and ran that multivariate analysis on the 2019 data that I’ve been meaning to do.

            Punchline.png

            Gonna do the same with the left-right 1-10 scale at some point, probably later tonight maybe right now I guess.

            Punchline_2.png

            The difference between the readership and the commentariat is significant. Probably going to repost in the next CW open thread, but feel free to beat me to it if I’m late.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Dan L:
            Thanks for putting in the work. Please do post it. I think SSC keeps going through this exercise different ways and coming up with similar answers.

          • albatross11 says:

            FWIW, I know a fair number of Spanish speaking immigrants, and it seems like their kids all speak perfect English and are more comfortable in English than in Spanish.

          • albatross11 says:

            Le Maistre Chat:

            That makes sense. In terms of providing good lives and minimal secret police/death camps/engineered famines, liberal democracy + capitalism + safety net programs seems to have a pretty good track record. This is true even though it’s easy to see things they produce you dislike, whether that’s casinos sucking money out of people who don’t understand probability theory or crass playboy New Yorkers getting elected president.

          • Plumber says:

            @Dan L.,

            The chart numbers were a bit fuzzy looking on my phone but it looks to me that among regular commenters slightly more are “right” aligned than “left” aligned, while lurkers are more left (please let me know if I’m reading that correctly).

            I wonder why that’s the case?

            As far as I can tell our host is more left than right (and pretty much inside the mainstream of Democratic Party voters), but he does seems more annoyed by his left peers than his right ones,

          • Dan L says:

            @ Plumber:

            Imgur loves image compression on mobile – if you load the page in desktop mode, you can often get the original. How that works depends on your browser, I believe.

            Your impressions are pretty much right / I agree. The wider readership has a definite leftward skew, but depending how you interpret “Libertarian” it either goes away or completely reverses when looking at frequent commenters. I’ll repost in the new thread with a little more commentary, maybe tonight.

      • I note that you say you don’t vote. That is a good sign that you are lucky enough not be affected by public policy choices, or at least not currently aware that you are affected…

        Or, alternatively, that he can do arithmetic.

        Suppose that electing candidate A as president makes me a million dollars better off than electing his opponent, candidate B–a very large effect indeed. Living in California, the chance that my presidential vote will affect the outcome of the election is much lower than one in a million–one in a hundred million would probably be a high estimate. So the expected value to me of voting for A is less than a penny, which isn’t much of a motive to spend time voting.

        If we ignore the fact that in any election where the Republican candidate carries California he won’t need its electoral votes and just consider a simple majority vote model with about a hundred million voters, the odds are a little better but not much. Judging by past elections the margin of victory is usually in the millions of votes, so the odds that my one vote will be decisive are well under one in a million.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yep, that’s why you shouldn’t help pile sandbags when a flood is coming.

          • John Schilling says:

            You probably shouldn’t sneak out at night to pile sandbags in secret when nobody can see you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes there are differences between piling sandbags and voting. What of it? What is being proposed here is a generalized argument against collective effort.

            You seem to be making an argument that secrecy is your real objection to the efficacy of voting. Of course there is no requirement that people maintain secrecy about their intention, only that ballots be themselves secret. The party for who(m?) I, HeelBearCub, am casting my ballot is certainly no secret. Nor is it a secret that I, or anyone else, have voted. Indeed, the process of marshaling public declarations of support for your side is part and parcel of the parties organizing efforts.

            But I also think you would, and have, made arguments for the necessity of secret ballots. This seems a distraction.

            If the adversarial nature of voting is your target, what are the odds that a single soldier fires the shot that wins the war? Or, if it is more persuadable to think of adversarial sandbagging, imagine threatened land on either side of a flooding river. You can even throw in secret, night time sandbagging by someone who actually wants the other side of the river to be flooded, but does not want it known…

          • moonfirestorm says:

            When a million people are piling sandbags already, yeah you probably shouldn’t help. The sandbags are getting piled.

            I feel like this metaphor needs to get more complex to work. I was playing around with the idea of a flood in two different points, and two groups of people moving sandbags between the points, but at some point it just became restating the original idea except with sandbags.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            When a million people are piling sandbags already, yeah you probably shouldn’t help. The sandbags are getting piled.

            This is only because you are applying the scale of nationwide voting to piling sandbags. That’s a mistake. Voting is not piling sandbags. It is collective effort.

            If you want to think on something like the same scale as voting, thinking about individual sandbags. Imagine that a sandbag wall has been constructed and stops your town from flooding. Your sandbag wall is 10,000 bags. It turns out that 8,999 bags would have failed to stop the flood that did occur, but that 9,000 bags would have succeeded (yes, your objections about precision are noted, but they aren’t relevant).

            Do you feel that piling those extra 1,000 bags was pointless? Should you say “I placed 100 bags, my effort was inconsequential and meaningless”?

          • compeltechnic says:

            The appropriate sandbag metaphor would have to be so contrived as to be unworkable. Piling sandbags is not adversarial, and increased participation will always increase the probability of a good outcome. Voting is adversarial, and increased participation by red tribe does not necessarily lead to better outcomes for blue tribe, or for red tribe either for that matter. Voting is a lossy signal in a chaotic system.

            Another way to look at deciding whether to vote is this: “Do I feel like the system will accurately determine the preferences of the average voter, to the best of the system’s ability, regardless of my participation?” If the answer is yes, then you shouldn’t feel too stressed about making it to the voting booth. It may be nice to feel you have fulfilled a civic duty, but take it with a grain of salt- the folks that invented the idea of this particular civic duty had a (well meaning) agenda to get as many people to vote as possible. Those who advocate for more voters care about the aggregate, but as an individual you can be satisfied that the current aggregate levels are sufficient.

            A different civic duty that I would defend is jury duty. It is much more immoral to lie to get out of jury duty than it is to skip election day.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I have enough sandbags on hand to divert the flood into my neighbor’s yard, but you selfish bastards won’t help.

          • compeltechnic says:

            @Paul Zrimsek, I am sorry for your loss. If only the good people of the earth could learn to cooperate for something worth doing 😉

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Do you feel that piling those extra 1,000 bags was pointless? Should you say “I placed 100 bags, my effort was inconsequential and meaningless”?

            I think so, once you account for scale? And I think scale matters. Note that I’m just following the metaphor until the next quote.

            If the sandbag wall was 3 sandbags higher than it needed to be, then I’d feel like it was a pretty good use of my time to help with them.

            If the sandbag wall was a million sandbags higher than it needed to be, too many people were probably wasting time putting sandbags up, and the one sandbag I placed was indeed inconsequential and meaningless.

            If the sandbag wall was a million sandbags lower than it needed to be and my house is now flooded, I guess I’m glad I did my part, but I don’t think whether I did my part was the major problem in my house getting flooded.

            Voting is not piling sandbags. It is collective effort.

            This is a response to your metaphor comparing voting to piling sandbags. “Voting is not piling sandbags” is my point 🙂

            I think it’s a mistake to extrapolate David Friedman’s argument to collective effort in general. I would expect most other examples of collective effort to have far better payoffs relative to time spent. I’d be interested in an example that has similar scale to voting that my intuition might see as more beneficial. War, maybe? What are the individual costs of losing a war?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @moonfirestorm:
            If a flood rises to 47 feet and your sandbags top out at 50 feet, is your effort wasted?

            Look, there are lots of things that make voting feel minimally rewarding. Elections aren’t consequential in the same way floods are, your individual contribution in a large effort is more diffuse and ethereal than something like filling even one sandbag, etc.

            That isn’t the point. The point is that in general people DO need to vote in order for the system to work. Deciding that you can abstain because other people will do that work for you is not a strategy that generalizes to the entire population.

            And it’s more than just “I don’t see the difference between the major party candidates”, because absent large contributions of votes from BOTH major parties, the idea that the party who comes into power will represent your wishes “enough” becomes non-sustainable.

          • compeltechnic says:

            @HBC, I was expecting your most recent comment to be one where you essentially agree to disagree. Everyone has reached the point where the metaphor is fully explored.

            That isn’t the point. The point is that in general people DO need to vote in order for the system to work. Deciding that you can abstain because other people will do that work for you is not a strategy that generalizes to the entire population.

            It is true that abstaining because other people will do the job. It is also true that it does not generalize to the entire population. It is also true that it generalizes to a large minority of the population. It is worth advocating that people should vote, but to not vote is not immoral. I can definitely see this issue being a deontological wall that you refuse to relent on, though. It seems that you outright (or selectively?) reject consequentialism, and have refused to approach it during these discussions, even though the other debaters have discussed it openly. Among rationalists, there is a strong vein of consequentialism being the best moral system out there, so skirting the issue seems like you are trying to dodge something.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @compeltechnic

            It is also true that it generalizes to a large minority of the population.

            Unless you can establish the existence of a natural category for these people (one that maintains their minority status), this is true but also useless.

            Also, it seems obvious to me that voting is adversarial only in its first order effects. If you believe in the existence of a mandate of the people, voting is a feedback system that politicians can use to align themselves with that mandate. This is why, although I disagree with you politically, I wish you would vote. By separating yourself from the process, you undermine the ability of the democratic process to produce such actionable mandates. For an intensely worrying example, see the fairly-recent Catalan independence vote.

          • compeltechnic says:

            @Hoopy- The natural minority category for these people is “the people who have the least personal preference for voting.”

            I also agree that it is generally good that people advocate that everyone should vote. Whenever I argue strongly for my individual preference not to vote I have a bit of cognitive dissonance, trying to justify to myself the fact that I’m defending my own behavior, as opposed advocating for my behavior to be adopted by others. I believe I’m just defending my own behavior (but damn it kind of sucks if I accidentally convince others…). Nobody I know IRL has stopped voting based on what I’ve said, but I have convinced a few folks to shut up when they were trying to shame me before.

            The government should serve the people, it is a pretty big shame when the signal is too weak for this to occur. I do not know much about the Catalan case, and I’m about to leave work to go home, but I think I remember that something like 10% of the population showed up to vote for independence, and there was a natural inclination for these people to be more extreme than usual, so the vote passed, and then there was a bunch of bickering about whether the vote was truly valid. If I were to fail to vote during such an election, I would feel a bit of shame. But not much. Even in extreme cases like this my individual vote is still negigible. HOA meetings are more important to me, though.

          • compeltechnic says:

            Voting is praiseworthy; not voting is not shameworthy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            14. To the majority of people, your personal philosophy is somewhere between difficult and impossible to disentangle from your political philosophy. It is To the maximum possible degree, I try to separate these two realms. This may explain why I don’t vote- I do not want my political philosophy to dominate my personal philosophy- I would prefer the opposite.

            You seem to be making the opposite argument here, that, for the vast majority of people, not voting is praiseworthy and that voting is what is shameful.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @compeltechnic

            Turnout was ~43% of registered voters, actually. That’s what makes it scary.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Catalan_independence_referendum

          • compeltechnic says:

            @HBC-

            You seem to be making the opposite argument here, that, for the vast majority of people, not voting is praiseworthy and that voting is what is shameful.

            I am defending the non-shamefulness of not voting. This is why I mentioned the cognitive dissonance. To a certain extent, if my own personal virtues align with not having a duty to vote, and I defend them in a public forum, and I put forward a strong argument in favor of this duty not existing, it may be seen as shaming voters. That is not my intent. If you had to bifurcate it extremely precisely, I do intend to shame people who shame people for not voting, but I’ve never managed to do this in person without getting slapped by a patriot and seeming like a loon, so I’ve given up on it. Praise voters, but don’t be a dick to the large fraction of the populace that knows the limitations of voting.

          • compeltechnic says:

            Turnout was ~43% of registered voters, actually. That’s what makes it scary. [+wiki ref]

            I do not know enough about spanish culture to know whether this vote truly represents the average desire of the citizens of Catalonia, but if it does, then Catalonia should be allowed to be independent. Having a larger number of voters would help cement this, but there were so many other problems with the election that this case study is not really about “should you vote?”

            Some people argue that unity is such a strong moral force that it should never be abandoned. I believe unity is worth weighing against other moral forces. If I lived in Chicago, I would feel my blood boiling over my high taxes, paying for institutions that were founded in the name of unity. I would leave Illinois and never come back. Disunity can be necessary. I’m not very well-informed about Catalonia overall though.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @HeelBearCub

            That isn’t the point. The point is that in general people DO need to vote in order for the system to work. Deciding that you can abstain because other people will do that work for you is not a strategy that generalizes to the entire population.

            What if instead of “everyone votes” or “no one votes” there’s some sort of equilibrium?

            IIRC usually about half of eligible US voters cast ballots in presidential elections, leading to victory margins on the order of a million and odds of your vote mattering of about one in a million.

            Imagine that in a wave of apathy, half of those voters stay home for the next election, uniformly across the political spectrum. Now with only a quarter of the electorate, the margin of victory will be only half as big. Your vote would have a one in 500,000 chance of swinging the election now–the marginal vote would be twice as valuable.

            Reducto ad absurdum, if only one person voted, then each vote would be worth the entire election. So, the more people who vote, the less valuable voting is. The fewer people who vote, the more valuable voting is. You should end up with an equilibrium where a person will vote iff the cost of voting is less than the value of a vote. Since different people value the outcome of an election and/or act of voting itself differently, there will be some for whom voting is net positive and some for who it’s a net cost at whatever the current turnout is.

            But will the government reflect the will of the people when not all of the people vote? If we say that the goal of an election is to determine the proportion of the population who prefer one candidate to another, then correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure 50% of the electorate is already far more than is needed for any reasonable statistical power. Yes, the issue is whether the proportion preferring a candidate is a majority, which could require a much larger sample if it’s close. To retreat to a more abstract point though, is the “will of the people” in a country that votes 51-49 really that different from a country that votes 49-51?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        #1, that Pew survey is from 2008 and, uh, I sorta wonder how things have changed. Republicans seem pretty angry and unhappy these days, or so I am frequently told.

        Yes, and the county-by-county results showed that two-thirds of the USA’s GDP voted for Hillary Clinton.
        Seems like rich people are happier and poor people are angrier, regardless of who they vote for.

        • Clutzy says:

          County by county is a silly measure. Rich counties, like Cook County in IL still have a majority of their over $150k families voting Republican, they are significantly outvoted by a majority of sub-$40k a year who vote Democrat. If votes were weighted by taxes paid the county would flip significantly.

        • albatross11 says:

          This is a well-known version of Simpson’s paradox. At least at the state level, you see:

          a. The richer the state, the more likely it is to vote Democratic.

          b. Within each state, the richer the individual, the more likely he or she votes Republican.

          • Dan L says:

            Yup.

            Key mediating characteristics are age and education. The actual income v. affiliation breakdown tends to get income thrown into bins for obvious practicality reasons, but (presumably because of said intermediaries) 2016 actually saw the Democrats come close to breaking even in the highest bins. Might even see a reversal in the next few cycles, though if 2016 results were aberrantly Trump-driven maybe not.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11,

            That makes complete sense to me.

            In “richer” areas the cost of housing is higher, in San Francisco as average incomes have gone up so has homelessness. 

            My wife described the city now as “Tesla, Tesla, bleeding homeless man, Tesla”, and it sure seems that with each additional new rich the rest are squeezed more, a rising tide doesn’t raise all boats, at least not anymore here.

            I note that places that vote Republican tend to have less extremes of wealth and poverty. A 2012, study found that a $100 increase in monthly rent in big cities correlated with a 15 percent rise in homelessness, with an even bigger effect in smaller cities, and while the Nation recovered from the Great Recession from 2012 to 2018 and “the number of people living on the streets declined by 11 percent nationwide — and surged by 26 percent in Seattle, 47 percent in New York City and 75 percent in Los Angeles. Even smaller cities, like Reno and Boise, have seen spikes in homelessness perfectly coincide with booming tech sectors and falling unemployment“, so cities that are richer and have faster growing economies than the nation as a whole are the incessant with tents on the sidewalks. 

            It makes sense to me why more folks living in such places would support higher upper income taxes, we see both the increasing number of Teslas and the increasing number of tents.

          • Clutzy says:

            @Plumber

            Its more likely that the disparity is caused by migration. New immigrants move to places that are already rich as they perceive (and there is real) higher opportunity to earn, and within the US migration by poorer communities (most notably Black Americans) moved to major cities in the north.

          • Plumber says:

            @Clutzy,
            I’m not following you, at least in my area the major influx of African-Americans was in the 1940’s, not today (African Americans are mostly leaving the San Francisco bay area now), though they are some similarities between now and then, as there was a severe housing shortage then as well, but there was also a crash housing building campaign as part of the war effort (I actually lived in one of the old war workers housing in the early 1970’s as by then it was “married student housing”), and today there’s also an explosion in new apartments built, but unlike the ’40’s which got people out of the “Hoovervilles”, today the tent encampments show no sign of going away.

            If you just meant that in-migration is part of the strain, yes it is, and part of that is the higher incomes are mostly going to young educated outsiders who are largely getting the best paid new jobs, and bidding up housing. 

            I suppose if there wasn’t real geographical constraints to building enough new housing and if the displaced had the means to move it could be different, but the number of 50+ year old’s on the streets has ballooned “The people with the highest risk of homelessness are the ones living on a Social Security check or working a minimum-wage job,” said Margot Kushel, the director of the UCSF. Center for Vulnerable Populations. In 2015, she led a team of researchers who interviewed 350 people living on the streets in Oakland[my hometown]. Nearly half of their older interviewees were experiencing homelessness for the first time.

            “If they make it to 50 and they’ve never been homeless, there’s a good chance they don’t have severe mental illness or substance abuse issues,” Kushel said. “Once they become homeless, they start to spiral downward really quickly. They’re sleeping three to four hours a night, they get beat up, they lose their medications. If you walk past them in a tent, they seem like they need all these services. But what they really needed was cheaper rent a year ago.”
            Closing the National borders might help a bit, but you’d have to close city and county borders to really stop the displacement, or deliver enough cash and/or property deeds to those about to be displaced.

            It’s a weird thing in San Francisco, the percentage of the population that are children is the lowest it’s ever been, and the elderly are leaving, it’s a strange invasion of childless young adults, like it was somehow decided that the long-term residents should be evicted and the City should become some massive college dorm.

          • Clutzy says:

            @plumber

            The 1940s/postwar migration of Black Americans was what I was referring to. I guess its not as recent as some things, but its obviously a huge driver of inequality in the place I live: Chicago, IL.

            Whether you are an IQ/Race determinist, or a blank slate/environmentalist, it is very clear that those communities came here with very little social capital, and have never constructed it in a meaningful way and that drives inequality & politics in the town & state.

          • I suppose if there wasn’t real geographical constraints to building enough new housing

            I think the main constraints are political not geographical. There’s an awful lot of empty land in the Bay Area.

            A year or two back, there was a news story about a large farm that was being sold, I think in Milpitas. The land was zoned agricultural and couldn’t be used for housing. The story included the area and the price the land was going for. I used Zillow to get some idea of local real estate prices and concluded that the land was going for something between a tenth and a hundredth of what it would have been worth if zoned to permit residential housing.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            My wife described the city now as “Tesla, Tesla, bleeding homeless man, Tesla”, and it sure seems that with each additional new rich the rest are squeezed more, a rising tide doesn’t raise all boats, at least not anymore here.

            Unsurprisingly, supply-side economics can be thwarted by awful government policy.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @albatross, Dan L: Huh, neat. Thanks for sharing.

    • Plumber says:

      @compeltechnic,
      Which political party people tend to learn correlates very strongly with the population density of where one lives (how many people live in the square mile near you,), and it isn’t just “urban versus rural” less crowded neighborhoods in metropolitan areas are more likely to learn Republican than the more crowded ones.

      Since I lean left on economic issues reasons why that is seem obvious to me, as would why Salt City, Utah learn more Republican than Oakland, California (where I was born and have lived mist of my life), because where there’s a strong communitarian church doing social welfare work that the majority if residents belong to you just don’t need the welfare state as much.

      I pretty strongly believe that what most of the people you interact with believe, and what people’s living conditions are and what they see strongly effect how they vote, and mostly people’s “political philosophies” are based on their lived experiences not what they “reason out”.

      • compeltechnic says:

        Is it virtuous that mostly people’s “political philosophies” are based on their lived experiences not what they “reason out”? I do not think so. You should try to apply reason to your political philosophy. Not doing so is a terrible thing.

        • Plumber says:

          @compeltechnic,

          Reason?

          How much to value justice, liberty, security, the welfare of neighbors and citizens, the welfare of humanity at large, the happiness of those currently living, or future generations aren’t logically deduced, they come from felt moral preferences.

          The conflicts are over differing values, seldom means.

          • The conflicts are over differing values, seldom means.

            Only occasionally.

            I doubt there are many socialists who would prefer what I expect a socialist society to be like to what I expect a libertarian society to be like, or many libertarians who prefer what a socialist expects a libertarian society to be like …

            For less extreme disagreements, the same holds. Lots of people like to believe that the reason others disagree with them is that the others are bad people with bad values, but I don’t think it is true.

            Consider a short list of high profile culture war topics: Immigration, minimum wage laws, gun control, climate change, tariffs. On every one of them, the two sides disagree more on what the consequences are than on what consequences are desirable.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman, 
            I’ve often seen liberty vs.justice debates, as well as group vs. group.

            The “socialist” thing is almost amusing (as well as frustrating!) as some meaning Norway and others meaning North Korea (not to mention a few who mean idealized enclaves during the Russian and Spanish civil wars!).

            “Libertarian” is harder for me to suss out as differing aspecuts of 19th century Britain and the U.S.A. plus maybe some parts of contemporary Costa Rica are all I can guess. 

            My own imaginary “utopia” would be the “Guild Socialism” advocated by G.D.H. Cole, and Bertrand Russell 100 years ago, but the two regimes that claimed to try to put those ideas into practice: Mussolini’s Italy, and Tito’s Yugoslavia, just didn’t look like the best places! 

            Thus “welfare state capitalism”/”social democracy” seems the best actually existing bet, though I suspect there’s something to be learned from Costa Rica, Singapore, and Utah, but exactly what I’m not sure. 

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            Consider a short list of high profile culture war topics: Immigration, minimum wage laws, gun control, climate change, tariffs. On every one of them, the two sides disagree more on what the consequences are than on what consequences are desirable

            I think it’s true that people disagree on the consequences of different policies in all these areas, but I think in most of them, people also disagree quite a bit about values leading up to them. How much weight should we give to the well-being of prospective immigrants vs current citizens? Is there something inherently wrong with economic inequality even if nobody’s starving? Are there any good reasons to want a gun or is it just an irrational and dangerous kink? Etc.

          • How much weight should we give to the well-being of prospective immigrants vs current citizens?

            Even if you give zero weight to the prospective immigrants, there is a strong argument in favor of immigration.

            Is there something inherently wrong with economic inequality even if nobody’s starving?

            That is something people disagree about. But I think only a small minority of egalitarians would favor policies that produced increased equality at the cost of making almost everyone worse off.

            Consider that the massive decrease in global extreme poverty over recent decades owes virtually nothing to redistribution, quite a lot to the collapse of an ideologically egalitarian system.

            Are there any good reasons to want a gun or is it just an irrational and dangerous kink?

            That’s a disagreement on facts, not values. Opponents of gun control don’t argue that the reason they should be allowed guns is that guns make them feel good. They argue that guns provide substantial benefits to them—whether hunting or self-defense–and to people in general, either in crime reduction or protection against a future oppressive government.

          • Nick says:

            @Plumber

            My own imaginary “utopia” would be the “Guild Socialism” advocated by G.D.H. Cole, and Bertrand Russell 100 years ago, but the two regimes that claimed to try to put those ideas into practice: Mussolini’s Italy, and Tito’s Yugoslavia, just didn’t look like the best places!

            I’m wary of socialism, but I’ve always had an interest in cooperative models. The distributists are big on guilds and on worker-owned cooperatives; their favorite example is a Spanish one called Mondragon.

            As far as I can tell this sort of third way has basically no political force in America. Dorothy Day, who was her own breed of distributist, is probably the closest we’ve ever had, but, while the Catholic Worker movement lives on, it’s less prominent than it used to be. There has been success in other countries, though. Distributism slumbered for a long time in the UK after the deaths of Belloc, Chesterton, and other founders, but—and everything that follows is pretty new to me—it was revived in a small way with Cameron’s “Big Society” thing and the Red Tory–inspired think-tank Respublica. (I don’t think it worked out well, like basically everything conservatives tried in the early 2000s.) I was surprised to find Canada had a healthy Red Tory tradition for a time; the way Russell Fox describes it,

            The party which advanced it was a gang of various intellectuals and patriots who sought, in different ways, from the late 19th up through the mid-20th centuries, to borrow the progressive elements of Benjamin Disraeli’s “one nation conservatism” and apply them to continent-spanning, mostly classless, and (at the time, anyway) primarily rural modern state. It grew out of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and the Progressive Conservative party; it recognized the necessity of collective action in order to develop egalitarian policies which would benefit and empower diverse localities across the nation, and it assumed the continuity of a common cultural and religious base in order to articulate and harness the democratic support which such collective actions would need to maintain legitimacy.

            On the other side of the aisle is Blue Labor—err, sorry, Labour—which actually does advocate guild socialism and corporatism (not rule by CEO-run corporations, as the word gets used in America, but the organization of society based on bodies like guilds). I don’t know how prominent Blue Labour is in the coalition, but it’s obvious that its critique is appealing both to small-c conservatives and to the Marx-flavored* left:

            Glasman claims that there is an alternative tradition for which commodification itself is the problem and the role of the party is the creation of collective organisations which can resist it, entangling the market in democratic “regional, civic and vocational relationships”. His examples include mutual banking, “real traditions” of craft, co-operatives and so on.

            It’s not a coincidence, by the way, that both sides are often indebted to Catholic social teaching, even when their respective proponents aren’t Catholic; the popes laid out criticisms of both capitalism and socialism while attempting to draw out the best parts of both, and the unwavering commitment to family and worker appeals to many folks caught between two sides. My depressing take from looking into this stuff is that conservatism abroad is much more interesting than conservatism at home.

            *sorry, flavoured

          • ana53294 says:

            The link about Mondragon is a bit too old. Things have changed substantially since then. Fagor went bankrupt. There are different theories on why, but my personal theory because executives over-leveraged and opened non-cooperative factories in France and Poland.

            Co-ops have several advantages in maintaining jobs; they can keep capital in unprofitable uses, since it’s the workers capital, and their preference. But co-ops can’t do the things other companies do: use leverage, hire external executives, open factories abroad.

            The thing about Mondragon that keeps it going is the corporate culture. Those factories abroad were a mistake. These kind of factories are much harder to start, because you need a certain culture and habits.

            In some parts of Eroski, there is even debate whether they should have shops and workers in Spain, since they seem to dilute the identity of the co-op.

          • Nick says:

            Thanks, Ana. I was hoping you might weigh in, since if I remember correctly you’re from the Basque region. The Distributist Review has been very quiet the last five years or so, so I haven’t seen much new content on this topic.

            Mondragon factories in France and Poland failed, but could you see coops appearing independently there? One problem in America is the precariat (or worse, the unnecessariat)—folks employed, but just barely, and not getting the economic or psychological benefits of a steady income, or in the latter diagnosis, either without jobs or despairing in pointless service jobs. It seems to me that a wider distribution of capital mitigates precariat woes and largely prevents an unnecessariat. But if you have direct experience with Mondragon, I’d love to hear whether and how well this actually works. How long do folks generally work in Mondragon, and how happy are they? Can they work there thirty years and have families?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I doubt there are many socialists who would prefer what I expect a socialist society to be like to what I expect a libertarian society to be like, or many libertarians who prefer what a socialist expects a libertarian society to be like

            But there are a great many socialists who would take “highly regimented and no mass death” as an acceptable standard. “Even if you’re right about how it would play it out, it would be awful” is my take on Socialism.

            There are many gun control advocates who accept the higher crimes rates and lower personal autonomy because they either don’t trust their neighbors or they don’t want civilians to have the power to threaten the state.

            It’s not just “We want the same thing but have different routes to get there.” It’s also “We want different things.”

          • There are many gun control advocates who accept the higher crimes rates and lower personal autonomy because they either don’t trust their neighbors or they don’t want civilians to have the power to threaten the state.

            I don’t believe I have ever met a supporter of more gun control who believed that his policy would result in a higher crime rate. In the controversy set off by the Lott and Mustard article on concealed carry, lots of people argued that the article’s conclusion–that legalizing concealed carry reduced confrontational crime—was wrong. I don’t remember anyone arguing that, even if the conclusion was right, you should still keep concealed carry illegal.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            I’ve encountered them personally in casual conversation, which admittedly doesn’t mean much. I’d really like to see someone nail an advocate on that question.

          • Plumber says:

            @Nick,
            Thanks very much for those links! One I’d read before, another I’d read the site but not that particular essay, and the third was completely new to me.
            In aggregate they made me think of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, and Monsignor Charles Rice whom I first learned about from a book on the history of the United Electrical Workers Union (which half of it’s membership was Catholic, and like the I.L.W.U. was purged from the C.I.O. for being communist dominated, but unlike the stevedores they never rejoined the labor federation).
            Basically Rice was anti-communist and spared with CPUSA aligned union leaders (as a Catholic priest he was receiving word about what the Soviets were doing in eastern Europe), they in turn called him a “fascist”, but come the 1970’s they apologized to each other, as by then the stars were gone from the U.E. leaders eyes about Stalin, and Rice approved of the benefits the union brought it’s members, plus he himself became anti-Vietnam war (it’s complicated).
            Sadly the A.C.T.U. is no more, less because their old sparring partners Stalinist trade unionists are gone (their “New Left” successors didn’t feel that they were “the vanguard” anyway), but more because the large private sector unions whose hearts and minds they fought over are so dwindled there wasn’t anything to contest.
            Some of this history is still known, the Sailors Union still told of how their purged members became longshoremen, and 15 years ago when I told the 70 something Vice-president of my union that “You sound more UE than UA” (United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters) he immediately laughed and said “I will neither confirm or deny”.

            As to the effect the Church has as a part of society beyond believers souls both in capitalist and in socialist societies, I want to come back to that and contrast California with Utah, and Cuba with North Korea – but break is over and I’ve got to get some work done.

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            It always seemed to me that the problem with a coop would be when there was a genuine hard choice between closing down an unprofitable part of the business or keeping the jobs around. Even for standard companies where the shareholders mostly aren’t the employees, this is really hard–enough so that many companies have a very hard time shifting out of no-longer-sensible business lines and into a new technology. It seems like that would be much *harder* for an employee-owned company.

          • ana53294 says:

            That would be true if all workers were co-op members.

            A lot of them aren’t. So they would just close the unprofitable part, move the workers to the main company, and fire the non-member workers. And reduce the number of workers in the main branch, also.

            Supermarket chain Eroski closed down their perfume shops, for example.

            But co-ops look at profit differently. Breaking even, and being able to keep jobs, is usually enough.

          • John Schilling says:

            A lot of them aren’t. So they would just close the unprofitable part, move the workers to the main company, and fire the non-member workers.

            This assumes that “workers” are fungible, which is often not the case. If the unprofitable part of the company is the sporting-goods division and the main company builds agricultural equipment, does this mean you wind up with e.g. gunsmiths building tractors? Does it mean firing the talented tractor-maker who you hired on because he had twenty years experience building tractors, so you can put someone who’s really good at making fine hunting rifles in his place?

            The expert tractor-maker will do OK; he probably knew that going in and that’s probably why he didn’t join the co-op. But I’m not sure this works out well for everyone else in your tractor-building shop, even if they are guaranteed to have some sort of job the day after the reorg.

          • ana53294 says:

            No, it means you put the expert tractor builder after you close the tractor building section in charge of mopping floors or replenishing stock in your truck building company.

            In the US, an expert tractor builder may do fine. In Spain, people are extremely unwilling to relocate and move; the expert tractor builder is a guy over 40 with very narrow experience, and you really only have one tractor building factory in the surrounding area, the one that closed, and he’s not willing to move*. So he mops floors.

            Workers get moved to other jobs, but they don’t necessarily keep their wage category.

            *A tractor building expert that is willing to move or travel the world would do very well. He could be hired by a company that has tractor building factories in China or Latin America, travel there and get expat wages. The wage premium for such experts who go work abroad is quite big; in some cases, they can almost double salary. They have a hard time finding such people; people in Spain have very deep roots.

        • albatross11 says:

          You should also approach political / social theories with a great deal of epistemic humility. A lot of people who were as smart and well-intentioned and good as I am were, in the past, convinced of the moral rightness of a Communist revolution, coercive eugenics programs, colonialism as a way to “bring the benefits of civilization to the savages,” the urgent need to burn heretics at the stake, etc. It would be foolish to put too much faith in the certain rightness of my own political and social theories, given that track record.

    • meh says:

      A lot of the data comes from a “Feburary 2008 Pew Middle Class Survey”, so I suppose this only applies to those who are middle class. I could not find the data source, so I can’t say more about the data, other than what is in the reports footnotes.

      I will nitpick some of the footnotes:

      5. Some 37% of Republicans report their health condition is excellent, only 25% of Democrats say so, according to a February 2008 Pew survey.

      How does self reporting of health condition correlate with actual health? Can we conclusively say they are healthier?

      2. Republicans have a median annual family income of $64,000; Democrats have a median annual family income of $46,000, according to a
      February, 2008 Pew survey.

      No reason to think this isn’t true, but if we are talking family income, don’t we need to consider:

      6. Some 62% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats are currently married, while 7% of Republicans and 13% of Democrats are currently
      divorced, according to a February 2008 Pew survey.

      Anyway, if someone knows how to find the source data (without signing up for anything), please post

      • Dan L says:

        Anyway, if someone knows how to find the source data (without signing up for anything), please post

        You might’ve already seen this if you went looking, but there’s a fair amount of it starting on page 79 here. It isn’t cross-tabbed by political affiliation which is less than helpful, but it’s something.

    • Dan L says:

      I have a lot of complaints with this analysis, but here are the two more unique to me:

      Most of the time, when people talk politics (aka group morality) with each other, the opinions they express revolve around virtue signalling, the way the world should be, and other ideals that are not actionable.

      Politics is not group morality, full stop. Trying to impose one’s morality is part of politics, but ideology orthogonal to morality, coalition-building, and honest policy disagreements all play roles. If you’re interpreting people’s political actions through the narrow lens of morality, you’re going to make an array of large errors. (Which I believe you have.)

      If I had to express the difference between the day-to-day political moral strivings of a principled Democrat versus a principled Republican,

      You’ve shifted from talking about conservatism in the opening to Democrats and Republicans in the data. There’s are good reasons data tends to focus on specific affiliation rather than self-reported ideology, but the assumption that there’s a coherent ideology underlying the current parties is a very (common) bad one.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The thing is, politics aren’t decided from behind a veil of ignorance. Expected value for the average person isn’t the same thing as expected value for the person you are. The reducto for any illiberal society is Omelas.

      Yeah, I know, > implying democrats are liberal in 2019. Let it be known that in my utopia tankies get the bullet too. My point is, there are a lot of atypical people in this world. We’d like to live here too, even if we’re [playing dungeons and dragons/having weird sex/breeding below replacement/driving therapy prices up/raising a child as a single father/immigrants/lacking an emotional capacity for faith]. So while I’m glad you’ve been able to help yourself by adopting your ideology, I don’t think your wager is fair. The chance of a bit more happiness isn’t worth hurting (by rejection or indifference, in ways that are clear and causal) the people I love.

    • Plumber says:

      @compeltechnic,
      I’m not sure if I got this through in my earlier responses to your O.P., so I’ll restate: I think you’re putting the cart before the horse, and confusing cause with effect, as I don’t think that being a conservative/Republican is what makes someone “happier”, “healthier”, “more likely to feel like they are in control of their own success or failure” – instead being those things makes you mire likely to lean conservative/Republican (or at least used to, a lot has changed in the last few years.
      Much of the rest of the post strikes me as out-group stereotyping and perception of homogeny (which I’m guilty of as well, it’s hard for me to resist thinking that all Republicans wear monacles and top hats).
      Please read “The Democratic
      Electorate on Twitter
      Is Not the Actual
      Democratic Electorate
      “, for a clearer view of the Democratic Party coalition (and if you have a similar read about Republicans that you recommend please share it).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        (which I’m guilty of as well, it’s hard for me to resist thinking that all Republicans wear monacles and top hats).

        Is this why artists believe they’re only creating True Art when it offends Republicans?
        (Artsy types are all pawns of the monocle and tea corporations, I tell ya!)

        • Plumber says:

          @Le Maistre Chat ,
          Not all, I’ve been to a gallery showing (admittedly decades ago as I’m not “with it”) of a local artist and a lot of his work was originally for a local church (though given the area maybe the congregation were Democrats and the truism holds).

          And FWLIW I think our host’s Red-Tribe/Blue-Tribe lists of attributes pretty much only fits young adult whites, most everyone else doesn’t fit completely well in either “Tribe” and I have my doubts about how well the “Tribes” even fit what I’ll now call “YAW’s”.

  3. Le Maistre Chat says:

    By the way, I’m running a B/X Dungeons & Dragons (that is, Old School) campaign on Discord. The setting is the 15th century BC Eastern Mediterranean, with Greek mythology being true. If you have some Saturday afternoons or evenings available, email me at lamaistrechatte at yahoo dot com to get into our Discord server.

    • Plumber says:

      @Le Maistre Chat,
      Sounds wonderful, alas I’m already overcommited with PbP’s, and my Saturdays are mostly spent with my family.

  4. Uribe says:

    What about Hickenlooper?

    As a moderate lefty, I haven’t been too cool with most of the Dem candidates. My biggest problem with Biden is his age. So what about Hickenlooper? He’s looking least worst to me right now.

    I was for Buttedgedge for a while, but now think he’s too inexperienced.

    • Deiseach says:

      Looking in as an outsider, he is probably a centrist moderate candidate who might have a reasonable chance in a presidential election.

      The problem is (a) I had to look him up as my immediate reaction was “Who?”. Now maybe he has better recognition in the US but he does seem a little obscure.

      (b) I also think that for the current trends in the Democratic Party, he will find it very hard to win the nomination. I already thought he had the “old white cis straight male” problem but apart from that, when looking him up, I see this immediate news story:

      Hickenlooper booed in San Francisco for denouncing socialism

      Granted, it’s San Francisco and you would hope the rest of the Democratic Party could be sensible about this sort of thing, but given that California is the massive Democratic vote, and given that it may be entirely possible for the crazies zealously anxious for the public weal San Franciscans to wield some influence, good luck there Governor Hickenlooper unless your views spontaneously and instantanteously evolve into something to please those who booed you.

      (And if they do so miraculously evolve, then he’s lost appeal as an honest centrist and is just another one of the pack who’ll say anything in their grab for the brass ring).

    • John Schilling says:

      Pragmatically speaking, the job Joe Biden is now applying for is “someone, anyone, who can win an election against Donald Trump”. He can drop dead right after inauguration day(*), and I doubt most of his supporters would care so long as he has a decent VP candidate standing by. But it does mean people will be paying more attention to the VP candidate than usual.

      Warren and Sanders have more specific agendas and would derive more benefit from the certainty they would serve out a full term.

      * Really, it’s probably OK if he drops dead as soon as the election results are certified, but it means the Democratic party has to pay more attention to who the Electors are.

    • BBA says:

      Hickenlooper’s resume (successful business co-founder, two-term governor of Colorado) would make him a frontrunner if this were 2012. But now that Colorado isn’t a swing state anymore and the party is in a very different place, he’s a resounding meh.

      I’m not paying attention to policy this time around. Any possible Democratic policy will die on the Senate floor, so what’s the point?

      The only question I have about Hickenlooper is: is his beer any good?

      • albatross11 says:

        This early in the race, there’s this massive feedback loop involving journalists deciding who’s electable and covering whomever the other journalists are covering. It has nothing at all to do with whether they’d make a good president, and not all that much to do with whether they’ll win. (But it has *something* to do with their winning or losing, since one candidate among 20 is going to die for lack of oxygen if he doesn’t get a fair bit of media coverage/attention. Note that this is exactly the dynamic that got us Trump in 2016, so you can imagine it not working out so well this time.).

        • Nick says:

          I think sheer existing name recognition is the biggest factor at this stage. I don’t see that changing until maybe the first debate.

          • Anthony says:

            Not just name recognition, but name recognition among big donors. Whenever you read about “front runners” a year before the first primary, you’re reading journalists looking at the donor stats.

      • Uribe says:

        What does swing state have do with it? He’s telegenic, moderate, and not decrepit. That makes him my favorite. We are over a year out. How many people knew who Bill Clinton was in 1991?

        I’m a middle-aged, white, consistenly Democratic voter. I hate Trump, distrust progressives and identity politics and think Biden is way too fucking old. Hickenlooper seems like the best bet to me by a large margin.

        • Clutzy says:

          As an outsider to your position, I think one major risk for him is ability to resist being carried to positions he has previously eschewed, as has happened to Corey Booker since 2012.

          His pitch of moderation would have to be all about pointing to Colorado, and how they legalized weed but did not impose a crony/overtaxing system like some other west coast states. But to do that he’d have to acknowledge things like the existence of a tax rate that is too high, and the idea that Democrats also can be in bed with big business. And while those are general election winning positions, how do you get a white guy with low name recognition through the primary on those things? Its a little too much like Kasich (but not as bad because he would have lost like 20-80 in the general).

        • BBA says:

          Back when Colorado’s electoral votes were hotly contested, it would have been attractive to the party to have a popular Coloradan politician on the ballot. Now Colorado is solid D and everyone knows it, and a record of winning elections there doesn’t prove all that much. Also, the warm-n-fuzzies about pragmatism and reaching across the aisle to solve problems in a bipartisan fashion aren’t playing too well these days either.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m trying to figure out how much of this loss of interest in bipartisanism is the result of social media, how much is the influence of Trump, and how much is just random other crap.

          • BBA says:

            I’d point towards the repeated failures of bipartisan efforts during the Obama years. Remember the Simpson-Bowles commission? I didn’t think so.

          • Clutzy says:

            @BBA

            I remember, and I remember why it failed: It was bipartisanly unpopular and wouldn’t have even provided many benefits.

            The problem with modern “bipartisanism” is twofold.

            First, most of the advocates for it appear to be feckless. The propose ideas that don’t even solve the problems they are looking to tackle. Simpson Bowles is a good example. It wasn’t a long term solution for deficits. It was a tax increase with a few bones thrown to Republicans.

            Second, I think people got burned in recent history, so they re-evaluated deals. Republicans got torched by Reagan’s compromises: Immigration amnesty happened and tax hikes happened, but the border was not secured and spending not permanently lowered. Democrats feel burned by their support for the Iraq war: “Bush lied people died,” is the saying I believe.

          • Nick says:

            Second, I think people got burned in recent history, so they re-evaluated deals.

            That’s the funny thing about bipartisan efforts, and it makes me really pessimistic. The Patriot Act was pretty bipartisan too. Actually, when was the last time both sides agreed to do X and it turned out well?

            ETA: I’m being serious when I say it makes me pessimistic. Like, both sides appear to be embracing marijuana legalization, so I’m kind of expecting the stuff about it causing violence and mental illness to turn out true and disastrous. Both sides are embracing paid parental leave, and I don’t even know how that’s going to be a catastrophe, but, well….

          • Clutzy says:

            @Nick

            On the second one, its obvious. Paid parental leave will cost money for no benefit in procreation because giving someone 12 months of stipend doesn’t help the situation. The problems are housing, education, healthcare, and peer pressure towards over-investment on a per child basis. Paid leave solves little of that, and probably increases the problem among the people we want to have more children (taxpayers).

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Second, I think people got burned in recent history, so they re-evaluated deals. Republicans got torched by Reagan’s compromises: Immigration amnesty happened and tax hikes happened, but the border was not secured and spending not permanently lowered. Democrats feel burned by their support for the Iraq war: “Bush lied people died,” is the saying I believe.

            I think the contrast between those two examples (The other side reneged vs. the other side was wrong) should make it obvious that it’s not people generally who got burned.

    • brad says:

      He seems fine to me. Hard to get too excited about anyone in particular at this point. Especially given that I live in a late primary state.

    • Plumber says:

      @Uribe,
      If he’s nominated Hickenlooper will get my vote, as of now I intend to vote for whomever is the frontrunner to get most to drop out sooner rathet than later to hopefully cut short the fratricidal primary season.

      Sherrod Brown appealed to me, but he’s not running, as for the rest?

      I expect if any Democrats are elected between them and a Republican Senate they’ll cancel each other out and status quo will prevail, and as I value preventing worse more than encouraging better that’s fine.

      If Trump is re-elected I think that will increase the chances that the house will remain Democratic Party majority and they’ll balance each other out, though I do fear that if a moderate Democrat is nominated and loses, moderates will be purged and unless they become Republicans we will have two parties in ever increasing rancor.

      If a more Left candidate is nominated and loses, I think that moderate Democrats may hang on a little longer, but unfortunately there may be a higher likelihood of left wing terrorism “against fascism”.

      If Trump loses I very much expect some right wing terrorism “against socialism” (even if a moderate Democrat is elected).

      Hibernation is looking pretty good right now, please wake me up in a calmer time.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Also keep in mind at this point in 2015 the eventual winner, Trump, hadn’t even declared yet. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but if three weeks from now Michele Obama declares and sucks all the oxygen out of the room I would not be shocked.

  5. Skeptical Wolf says:

    I was rather surprised (and a little disappointed) by the anti-tech vitriol in the comments of the second APA meeting thread. I work in tech outside of Silicon Valley (internal development at a few different large companies, only one start-up and it didn’t last long), and have an overall very positive impression of the field. In my experience, it isn’t perfect or utopian, but it is primarily populated by kind, creative, intelligent, open-minded people who were drawn there by the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world.

    I would like to better understand the experiences that lead people to work in the same industry and then say things like:

    Tech is a malicious cancerous industry full of awful people and everyone should hate it.

    I’ve obviously run into the sentiment online, but it has usually been in a CW context, so I’ve generally written it off as people using “Tech” as a proxy for their outgroup-du-jour. But I’ve learned not to expect that sort of behavior from most people who comment here. So would people with a negative impression of tech and it’s people please share what brought you to that opinion?

    • brad says:

      I have no opinions about tech writ large and you should write off posters that do. It’s too big and heterogeneous to reasonably draw any such conclusions.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Would you say the same thing about finance? (I think “yes” is a reasonable answer but probably most people would disagree)

        • brad says:

          Sure. I know lots of people in finance. They run the gamut.

          Broad, unqualified, evidence-free claims about huge groups of people are the middlebrow version of celebrity gossip.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’m a finance professional.

          Finance is terrible: one of the terrible things about it is that 90% of the people are nice, decent people, working at a job that involves using all their mental capacity on games that are at best zero-sum.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s the way it seems to me; I’ve been hoping it’s just that I’m ignorant of the invisible gains that ripple throughout the economy when someone moves a bit of money into another firm or whatever it is they do.

          • 10240 says:

            Is that true? It is my impression that financial speculators and bankers help keep the prices of securities close to their “real” value (i.e. the expected value of the present value of their future dividends or other payouts, adjusted for risk), and allocate capital to where it’s the most productive. Thus valuable but cash-strapped companies can raise capital, while companies that can’t be expected to make a good return have a harder time doing so; executives who get bonuses on the basis of stock prices have this incentive aligned with the actual value of the company; and buy-and-hold investors can buy and sell stocks without having to evaluate the value of companies themselves.

          • J Mann says:

            I’d love to read an ELI5 on why faster smarter traders provide social value, because my intuition is that they do, but I don’t understand the issue well enough to be confident.

            As I understand it, the case for finance* is that price information is extremely valuable for accurate decision making and that faster and more accurate price information is more valuable than slower and less accurate info.

            I agree that intuitively, it feels like getting accurate price information 30 seconds later or an extra 1% variance in price information doesn’t feel like a big deal, but I am not confident in that intuition.

            * Here, I mean smarter faster traders looking for market advantages, not the people who put together financing for new investment.

          • g says:

            @SamChevre If 90% are good people doing useless-or-worse work, how do the other 10% split between bad people doing useless-or-worse work and good people doing genuinely worthwhile work? (I’m guessing the “bad people doing genuinely worthwhile work” segment is small enough that we can ignore it.)

          • I’d love to read an ELI5 on why faster smarter traders provide social value, because my intuition is that they do, but I don’t understand the issue well enough to be confident.

            There is an old article by Jack Hirschleifer which points out that while speculation is both profitable and socially useful, the profit is not a measure of how socially useful it is. It is possible to have a situation where the speculator makes $1000 by the correct action, the social value of his doing so is $100. If he spends more than $100 discovering the correct action–for instance paying for a fiber optic link that lets him get his bid in .5 seconds before someone else–the net effect is negative.

            You can find an explanation in Chapter 12 of my Law’s Order. Search for “speculation”.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Oh come on Sam. Aren’t you an actuary? You create very valuable information. I don’t believe for a minute that the creation of statistical information about expected life times is zero sum (Do actuaries do more than that? I am a bit ignorant about the day-to-day jobs of actuaries).

            I am a tax professional. In a sense my field is zero sum, because my expertise is mostly needed to make sense of overly complicated tax laws. So I am simply offsetting the out-of-control legislators. But take the laws as a given, I do make it possible for firms to spend more their efforts on being more productive by doing the bureaucratic stuff that needs to be done.

            I think by volume of professionals, most finance people are accountants that provide a valuable service of explaining to management how the business is going and what is right and wrong with the company, plus providing financial information to outside investors which helps divvy up investment capital to the more deserving firms. These numbers are far from perfect, but they mostly provide the information that is needed.

            I think what most people think of as financial professionals are bankers, investment bankers, stock and commodity brokers. These folks are valuable too, because they create capital markets, which makes everyone’s investments more liquid and thus safer and more flexible. It may well be that the incentives for such folks are well out of line, so they benefit more by making the market less stable instead of more stable. I really can’t make very informed judgments on that. But they are very much needed for the economy to move, and investments are certainly must more flexible and useful to the middle class investor than they were when I was young 50 years ago, so they are doing something right.

          • albatross11 says:

            One thing I think is important to remember: Sometimes, messy complicated wasteful systems are the best we know how to build, and then having people playing zero-sum games within those systems may also be the best thing we can do, given that we need what those messy complicated wasteful systems are providing and can’t do without them.

            One example is criminal defense lawyers. In practice, they spend most of their time playing an elaborate game with prosecutors and judges whose goal is to negotiate how long some guy everyone knows is a criminal is going to jail–mostly this involves accepting some kind of deal, but sometimes it involves an actual trial. The whole criminal justice system is messy and awful. But:

            a. I don’t see how we could do without it.

            b. I don’t know that anyone really knows enough to change it for the better–many attempted reforms seem to have made it worse.

            c. In that system, doing away with defense attorneys would be a godawful disaster that left prosecutors able to railroad just about anyone they didn’t like.

            I suspect there are a lot of situations like this.

          • Clutzy says:

            @albatross

            I’m not a criminal defense lawyer, but I am a lawyer, and I think you have chosen a pretty bad example given all the legal examples you could have chosen.

            The complexity you chose in Crim law is an intentional creation by legislatures who have create more crimes than can be prosecuted by a reasonably funded prosecutors office. That dance is an unnatural complexity caused by a series of intentional choices.

            Crim law’s natural complexity comes from the dance around admission of evidence and testimony which derives from a set of “least bad” laws and precedents intended to preserve the Defendant’s rights while not letting every criminal go free over a minor technical error committed by a cop, who operate in the real world, not a law review world.

          • brad says:

            Crim law’s natural complexity comes from the dance around admission of evidence and testimony which derives from a set of “least bad” laws and precedents intended to preserve the Defendant’s rights while not letting every criminal go free over a minor technical error committed by a cop, who operate in the real world, not a law review world.

            A large part of the problem is that throwing out evidence is the only repercussion at all we have against cops running amok. And it isn’t even a repercussion to begin with! If cops regularly faced personal consequences for failures to do their jobs properly the exclusionary rule could and should go away.

          • Clutzy says:

            The exclusionary rule is just one small part. Lots of evidence you would think is probative is banned, such as the defendent’s criminal history is not initially admissible. A defense team is often banned from pointing the finger at another person during murder trials, or introducing conspiracy theories that would likely get a person off, but only because they confound the jury.

    • The Nybbler says:

      So would people with a negative impression of tech and it’s people please share what brought you to that opinion?

      I worked for Google for 6 years. In that time I saw it go from being populated by creative, intelligent, open-minded people who were drawn there by the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world to being populated by closed-minded people who were looking for an opportunity to control everyone in the world. And some of these were the same people. Yes, this is outgroup-du-jour (or du-décennie, perhaps), but that doesn’t make it any less real.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        Thank you for sharing this experience. Since you used the past tense when talking about your time at Google, I assume you’ve moved on. Have you seen the same problems elsewhere in the industry, or were you just heavily discouraged by watching Google’s good culture go bad?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Google is, I believe, a particularly bad case, but I’m seeing it happen elsewhere.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I definitely don’t feel vitriolic about tech to that extent, but most of the software I use professionally has cross-platform problems, usability problems, capability problems, and modifiability problems that have been there for roughly a decade but don’t get fixed. To the extent that the tech industry is making software more useful, we benefit minimally. Meanwhile, the SAAS model comes across as “we’re going to fire the PhDs who wrote this shit that you used to be able to talk to and replace them with phone banks full of people who don’t know what a mode shape is.” Features I don’t need are added, features I do aren’t. And the whole industry seems liable to be driven by design/tech fads that infect non-technical people who do not understand the underlying causal relationships we have to deal with, which is why my boss’ boss talks about “using machine learning to ensure quality” when we don’t even have SPC in place (and in fact SPC is mostly useless to us due to the quantities we work with). There’s a degree of arrogance in the assumption that difficult technical problems can be computed away that I resent, and I’ll freely admit that that resentment colors a lot of my perceptions, but I see most tech products as unreliable, oversold, and overhyped in ways that I believe technical experts have an obligation to correct but don’t.

      Also, random things I dislike for purely aesthetic reasons:
      The whole “we’re going to give you lots of money and in return you’re going to surrender control of your social life to the company” thing is creepy as fuck. I get that some people like it, but it seems very Oryx and Crake-y to me.
      The “startup to acquisition” pipeline is kind of disgusting to me. “We’re going to develop a product so good that we sell it to an existing big player and dissolve the company” sounds spineless. I understand why the incentives align that way, but I hate it.
      I resent the ability of tech companies to raise and spend VC money on dumb shit. I console myself with the knowledge that stupid VCs are losing money.
      Dark pattern-ing, patent trolling, and skeevy psychological tricks are high-profile in tech. Maybe not worse than outside of it, but I hate it in tech anyway.

      • albatross11 says:

        The incentives for the part of the tech industry involved in ad-funded businesses (a very large fraction) drive them toward creepy evil shit–spying on users, collecting vast amounts of data, making deceptive web pages and forms, turning the user’s devices against them, etc. When your incentives all lead you toward evil things, you’re probably going to do a lot of evil things.

        Along with that, social media in general have the problem that as they’ve become very large, there are all kinds of horrible dynamics that have come out–nasty social things that make the humans most embedded in them act badly. The people making decisions about how to change and govern social media are generally the ones who are the most heavily embedded in them, and so they’re the ones being pushed to act badly by all those toxic group dynamics.

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      I had an extremely vitriolic reaction to the original APA meeting post by Scott.

      My immediate reaction was that *psych is a malicious cancerous industry because it’s dominated by Blue Tribespeople who hate me and my (Grey) Tribe, and they should all die in a fire, etc.*

      This is particularly ironic because I think Scott is awesome; I have been in therapy for decades and am happy with my therapists and my results; it’s ridiculous for someone to say “I hate Tribe X because they’re all evil bigots for hating *my* tribe”; and finally because I like to think of myself as more-Enlightened-than-Thou.

      So I’m glad that my immediate reaction to having my immediate reaction was to recognize that I was being irrational and overwhelmed by my own prejudices, and I should keep my mouth (and keyboard) shut, and work on my own issues rather than complaining about other people.

      And my next reaction was to recognize that my initial reaction proves that the Blue Tribe, not the Red, is my Outgroup.

      And after I calmed down, I realized that there are plenty of well-meaning psychiatrists who *don’t* deserve to die in a fire. 😛

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect that many high-functioning non-Blue-tribe people feel like the Blue Tribe is their outgroup precisely because they are surrounded by the Blue Tribe. If they (we) lived in mid-Missouri or rural Georgia or something, then the Red Tribe would be their outgroup.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. As far as I can tell, that’s the correct (or natural, or appropriate) response. If I am living among a bunch of Blue-Tribers who I disagree with, I will get frustrated with them and very likely start viewing them as my enemies. Meanwhile, the Red-Tribers in rural Georgia are silly or bad in an abstract way, but I do not have to deal with them on a regular basis.

          As an aside, I more or less have had the experience you describe. I grew up in a solidly blue tribe area but did not identify with them, and I viewed them as my outgroup: closed-minded, hypocritical, blah blah blah. Then I went to college somewhere a lot more red tribe, and started getting frustrated with their closed-mindedness and hypocrisy, and all the flaws of the blue tribe felt much more forgivable. Now I am back in blue tribe land, and I can feel my emotions sliding back to their former state.

      • Plumber says:

        @Ventrue Capital,
        You had very different reaction than mine, our host’s original APA post seemed like some inside joke self mockery (reading it was similar to when I tried to watch Portlandia for me).

        I just didn’t get deep enough into the subsequent thread to notice any vitriol besides my own “Please do”, I’ll try to check more of it out when I’m more in the mood to read some ranting that isn’t my own. 

        As for the “Blue Tribe”, in my experience the teachers at my kids school are mostly blue tribe, my wife and her friends are more blue than red, as are the lovely young ladies who work for the Public Defenders office. Basically most women I get to know well enough to make a guess are more “blue” than red, with a few being completely Blue-Tribe, the few exceptions are some older women and cops. 

        As for the “Red Tribe”, in my experience my kids coach is Red-Tribe, as are most guys I’ve worked with in that they fit more our host’s Red-Tribe list than the Blue one, plumber’s, steamfitters, custodians, electricians, cops and criminals, with extremely few exceptions, black, brown, white, atheist, religious, Democrat, Republican, immigrant or native most are more Red than Blue, with a few being completely Red-Tribe. I do however suspect that some of the young men in the Public Defenders office, and some other young “white-collar” guys may be as Blue-Tribe as the young ladies their age but I haven’t bothered to talk with them long enough to find out. 

        Enjoy some wine, watch “Rashomen” or “Breathless’ and eat at a restaurant with the Blue Tribe. Grill some steaks, watch a game, “Con-Air”, or “Lord of the Rings” with the Red-Tribe. 

        Both have merit. 

        As for the “Grey-Tribe’ they are some people met on the internet, from whom I suspect my son will beg a job from, who otherwise seem determined to force march the rest of us into the future whether we want it or not.

        To be blunt, I prefer more Blue than Red political policies, but not all of them, I prefer more Red than Blue culture, but not exclusively, and as for Grey?

        I preferred it when they wrote science fiction rather than ruled the world.

    • John Schilling says:

      My problem with “Tech” is from a user’s perspective. If you tell me the people in the industry are wonderful utopian dreamers or venal power-grabbing narcissists or whatever, meh, I don’t care. If you tell me there’s a bunch of Techbros harassing poor innocent nerdgirls, I might listen with a bit of healthy skepticism but really that’s someone else’s problem.

      But whatever the internal culture is, the products they insist on saturating the market with have an order of magnitude too much “move fast and break things” and an order of magnitude too little “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” in the mix. Stuff that works tolerably well but still needs a lot of post-release fixing is abandoned because hey, it’s time to move fast and create the next generation with more shiny features. And more bugs that nobody will ever fix because see above. And I’m not just counting narrowly technical bugs here; things like social media software incentivizing antisocial behavior counts too. Crappy user interfaces as well.

      I do believe that this is a fair generalization of the 21st century, Silicon-Valley-centric consumer electronics and software industry, and I think it may have reached the point where that industry has ceased to be a net good. The farther you get from that core concept of “Tech”, the less true it is and the more good work is still being done. Unfortunately, I also see Silicon Valley style “Tech” culture spreading into other industries where its usual results are even less appropriate, and that is not good.

    • Plumber says:

      @Skeptical Wolf

      “…So would people with a negative impression of tech and it’s people please share what brought you to that opinion?…”

      Oh man that’s such a tease!

      I don’t like high rents, blocks of new apartment towers filled with childless young adults, and I hate the traffic and the increased visible homelessness.

      I also just don’t like change and wide extremes of wealth and poverty in general; if I grew up in Los Angeles I’d probably dislike Hollywood, in Nevada I’d be against casinos, and North Dakota the fossil fuel industry would earn my ire.

      I worked a decade doing construction work in “Silicon Valley” including some pipefitting inside Intel, including “clean rooms” and I hated it, but even more I hated that I didn’t feel I had a choice if I wanted to attempt to keep up with ever increasing housing costs. 

      If it were up to me the shipyards and factories of the early 1970’s would’ve stayed open and there’d be no bust when they closed as well as no boom when “Tech” came on.

      I just dislike our manic-depressive economy in general, and would prefer something more static, less fast technological advances would be good as well so skills don’t go obsolete so fast as well.

      I just don’t enjoy rollercoaster rides much.

      On the other hand, my 14 years old son loves new “tech” and wants a job in the “industry”, so I hope that he achieves his desire, I just wish the disruption wouldn’t effect the rest of us so much.

    • ana53294 says:

      The thing I hate about tech, as a user, is that it feels like they are trying to eliminate private property.

      Adobe went on a subscription model, where you can’t just do a one time purchase anymore.

      I get that fixing bugs and creating new functions costs money, but I would rather choose which updates and functions I want and what I want to pay for. Personally, I am quite happy with 2007 Microsoft Word, for example. It works, and I know how to use it.

      When a farmer in the past bought a tractor, and it broke, they could call the official company mechanic, or forfeit warranty and have it fixed by whomever they wanted.

      If the software breaks, you can’t hire a hacker and fix it yourself. It is done, and AFAICT, the farmer themself can hack their own tractor. But hiring a hacker is when it gets into murky territory.

      I am OK with extra functions being unavailable, but you should be able to access the function you paid for.

      So if the farmer paid for a tractor that sows seed, and there is an update so he can drone-control the tract or, it’s OK to have to pay for that extra new thing. But you should be able to have the tractor keep sowing seed as it was intended to, and fix software on your own or hire somebody to do it.

  6. J Mann says:

    A number of us are in Ventrue Capital’s online campaign. He works his butt off and is deep into gaming theory, so if you’re interested, let us know. His world is a cool mix of pulp SF and fantasy, on a Barsoom style planet (but with other planets and planes available). He’s much more dedicated to player satisfaction than I would be, and the group is fun.

    • Yair says:

      Perhaps deliberately, but this sounds interesting but does not have enough information for the uninitiated to make sense of.

      What is Ventrue Capital’s online campaign, please?

      • Plumber says:

        Some info may br found here

      • J Mann says:

        Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.

        It’s a play by post RPG running in Discord (a voice and chat server). Ventrue Capital is a poster here, and he’s running his campaign in GURPS, one of the RPG systems. If folks are interested in checking it out, let me know and I can answer any specific questions. It’s pretty fun, you don’t need to know GURPS, and I’d love to see some more SSCers there.

        • Ventrue Capital says:

          I’m also happy to answer any questions.

          BTW it’s only play-by-posting in Discord until my schedule gives me enough free time to resume running regular sessions on Roll20.

          Plumber and dndnrsn are also in the game, so you don’t have to simply trust my own claims about how good my campaign is.

        • broblawsky says:

          @Ventrue Capital

          Why GURPS, if I may ask?

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @broblawsky:

            1. GURPS is very *realistic,* in the sense that a single *normal* human fighter, even with years of experience, can’t easily wade through twenty average humans, nor do unrealistic acrobatics of the sort found in comic books or *chambara* media.

            I’m looking to simulate something gritty and realistic, even when it’s epic: more akin to Tolkien, Leiber, Howard, Vance, Mieville, Moorcock, and Glen Cook, than like video games. That can also be done by playing “Epic 6” D&D, but it’s not standard in D&D while it is standard for GURPS.

            (GURPS *can* simulate *chambara* and comic books, but it’s not the default mode.)

            2. GURPS has very “associated” mechanics per the excellent definition by The Alexandrian: the rules are clearly connected to the story-world and to in-character decisions.

            3. GURPS (as a natural consequence of #1 and #2) has very *tactically transparent* rules, per the excellent definition given by Zak S.

            “If you need to know the system in order to be effective, the system has a low degree of tactical transparency.[…]If, on the other hand, common-sense tactics that seem to make sense in real life [or, he later qualifies, in the fantasy genre of the game,] also make sense often in the game, the system has a high degree of tactical transparency.”

            4. The GURPS magic system(s) is/are designed to simulate magic *as it is generally depicted in fantasy fiction*. Mages don’t easily cast fireballs that blow up stone buildings, knock down castle walls, or kill scores of troops at once.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Ventrue:

            I’m looking to simulate something gritty and realistic, even when it’s epic: more akin to Tolkien, Leiber, Howard, Vance, Mieville, Moorcock, and Glen Cook, than like video games. That can also be done by playing “Epic 6” D&D, but it’s not standard in D&D while it is standard for GURPS.

            You don’t think this is a false dichotomy?
            Old School D&D seems like it simulates Tolkien’s and Howard’s fight scenes far better than what I know of GURPS.

            “Forty-two, Master Legolas!” he cried. “Alas! My axe is notched; the forty-second had an iron collar on his neck. How is it with you?”
            “You have passed my score by one,” answered Legolas. “But I do not grudge you the game, so glad am I to see you on your legs!”

            I can’t imagine how time-consuming it would be to mortally wound 83 orcs in a GURPS game, but for Gimli and Legolas it looks less effortful than even 166 quick die rolls and some in-character banter. And when the Fellowship fights orcs in Moria, Tolkien doesn’t even bother to tell us how many orcs Aragorn and Boromir each slew in the one combat round it takes to drop 13 and trigger a morale check.
            There’s also the fact that if you pitch “a game as gritty and dangerous to protagonists as The Lord of the Rings” to people in the Year of Our Lord 2019, you’re going to piss them off by having any sort of penalties for shield-surfing…

            Howard wrote more visceral fight scenes, but even he has Conan cleave through a swath of normal men in a few sentences before pausing for a complication.

            GURPS also rewards system mastery with a potential 6-fold increase in how long you can play your character in combat if you know enough to buy your modified HT for death saves up to 16 (never buy actual HT, because IQ and DX are the god stats) and an Advantage that lets you not roll unconsciousness checks. That feels just as disassociated to me as D&D 5E’s One Weird Trick to multiply your HP (Moon Druid with one level of Barbarian).

          • John Schilling says:

            The GURPS magic system(s) is/are designed to simulate magic *as it is generally depicted in fantasy fiction*. Mages don’t easily cast fireballs that blow up stone buildings, knock down castle walls, or kill scores of troops at once.

            Instead, they cast nerfed little fireballs that maybe singe three or four guys and critically injure one of them, and there’s little precedent for that in fantasy fiction either.

            Baseline GURPS magic doesn’t really allow Mysterious Dark Wizard adversaries to manifest great and terrifying power on rare occasion, which kind of is a staple of fantasy fiction, but it facilitates PC wizards who are far more capable than Cugel or the Grey Mouser ever were. It is really only an improvement over D&D magic in that the mechanics better facilitate house-ruling it into something that does reasonably match the sword-and-sorcery experience.

            I mostly don’t hold this against Steve Jackson; as I’ve mentioned before, I think that problem stems from players demanding that they get to start as an Apprentice Gandalf and anyone who wants to sell a mass-market RPG has to cater to that. But it could have been done better.

            My other problem with GURPS, and it’s harder to house-rule around, is that the combat is too finely grained with one-meter hexes and one-second turns. From a simulationist perspective that theoretically allows greater accuracy, but in practice encourages the equally unrealistic conceit that combatants will function with perfect tactical efficiency at every heartbeat. And it can lead to tedious gameplay.

            It’s still my first choice if I have a gaming group that understands it, which I presently don’t. But I wish I had understood those issues better back when I had the chance to playtest the pre-1st edition.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @John Schilling:

            My other problem with GURPS, and it’s harder to house-rule around, is that the combat is too finely grained with one-meter hexes and one-second turns.

            Yeah, this sounds like an absolute nightmare, and I say that as someone who uses a battle mat in house games.
            10 seconds is plenty short for a turn.

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Le Maistre Chat wrote:

            Old School D&D seems like it simulates Tolkien’s and Howard’s fight scenes far better than what I know of GURPS.

            I don’t agree with that.

            My explanation would be simply to quote the article “D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations” and especially the section “Analyzing Aragorn” at The Alexandrian.

            So what can we conclude from this? Aragorn is about 5th level.

            And since Aragorn is one of the most remarkable individuals in all of Middle Earth, this would imply that Middle Earth is a place largely like our own world: People who achieve 5th level are uniquely gifted and come along but once in a generation.

            The other thing I would do is quote the description of the style produced by an “Epic 6” D&D game.

            Like d20, E6 is a game of enigmatic wizards, canny rogues, and mighty warriors who rise against terrible dangers and overcome powerful foes. But instead of using d20’s 20 levels to translate characters into the rules, E6 uses only the first 6. E6 is about changing one of d20’s essential assumptions, but it doesn’t need a lot of rules to make that change.

            To understand E6, imagine the perspective of the average medieval peasant in a d20 game. This person has the stats of a 1st-level commoner, and while they might not know their stats explicitly, they know their relation to the rest of the world. Our peasant knows that he can be killed quite easily by maurauding raiders, enemy soldiers, or even wild animals. He’s not mighty, he’s not organized, and he doesn’t have any special skills to bring to bear when danger strikes. He worries about drought and flood, and the welfare of his livestock. His extended family likely all lives within a mile of his birthplace. To him, a trip to a town ten miles off is an expedition into the unknown.

            Imagine you are this peasant, and you meet a trio of 6th-level adventurers. When you address the wizard, you are speaking to someone who could incinerate your home and slay all your livestock with a few words. The fighter has prevailed against a dozen orcish skirmishers and slain them all – and he could do the same again. The cleric is a man so holy that the gods themselves have granted him the power to cure the sick and heal the wounded. These are epic heroes.

            Now consider the powers of a CR 5 manticore. To the peasant, the appearance of this manticore near the village isn’t a nuisance: the beast can, and likely will slay you in seconds if you draw its attention. You, your livestock, and your entire family are in immediate danger of violent death. Even if you were well armed and gathered a large peasant militia, your village faces heavy losses and no guarantee of success. Against such a creature, adventurers may be your only hope. E6 recognizes that 6th level characters are mortal, while reframing the game’s perspective to create a context where those same 6th level characters are epic heroes.

            That is the sort of game I want to run, and as I said it can be run using D&D but it’s not the default; but it *is* the default in GURPS.

            There’s also the fact that if you pitch “a game as gritty and dangerous to protagonists as The Lord of the Rings” to people in the Year of Our Lord 2019, you’re going to piss them off by having any sort of penalties for shield-surfing…

            I mean the *real* Lord of the Rings, i.e. the books. 😀

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Ventrue:

            I don’t agree with that.

            My explanation would be simply to quote the article “D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations” and especially the section “Analyzing Aragorn” at The Alexandrian.

            I completely agree with him, but this does absolutely nothing to support GURPS. Aragorn is still a fictional character who slays ~5 orcs (13 – 2 for Legolas – 1 for Gimli – 1 for Samwise = 9 between him and Boromir, and he’s superior) in a fraction of a sentence. I replicate that with the Fighter-type’s multiple attacks against 1st level monsters in Adventurer, Conqueror, King (= B/X with some differences) or AD&D 1E. He’s not a bag of meat showing off his HEMA skills, skills which are to be simulated in 1-second chunks.
            Like I said, I can’t even guess how long it would take to play out Legolas and Gimli’s orc-killing contest in GURPS, or the probability of one of them dying before putting the 41st notch in their belt (though I do know it would vary wildly with their players’s system mastery).

            I mean the *real* Lord of the Rings, i.e. the books. 😀

            But that was tangential. Legolas still kills 41 orcs without having to wait 5 turns per arrow fired (I’m guessing that’s what you have to do in GURPS, since 5 seconds is a real world-based number) and worry about bleeding and sepsis from each orcish weapon that makes it to his skin. Action in Middle Earth is fast and furious to the point of vagueness.

          • John Schilling says:

            Cugel and the Mouser weren’t wizards, they were rogues who knew a smattering of magic and could not use it very reliably.

            And yet they are the most powerful magic-using protagonists I can think of in pre-Tolkien Swords and Sorcery(*). That’s the problem. Gygax and Arenson were, yes really, riding the wave of popularity of “Hobbit” and “LoTR” and since Tolkien had made Gandalf part of the fellowship, players insisted PC wizards.

            No version of D&D or GURPS that I have seen, has a magic system that is simultaneously suitable for balanced PC wizards and powerful mysterious dark wizard adversaries. Or powerful mysterious wizard NPC ally/patrons, which is where Gandalf really fits. So you can have an FRPG that’s suitable for Swords and Sorcery, or one that’s suitable for murderhoboing where some of the hobos use fireballs instead of crossbow bolts, or maybe one that’s horribly unbalanced with all the non-wizard PCs fading into irrelevance as the game progresses.

            The market has spoken; Swords and Sorcery lost. Let the house-ruling commence, for those who care.

            * If we’re counting Tolkien as S&S.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @John Schilling:

            And yet they are the most powerful magic-using protagonists I can think of in pre-Tolkien Swords and Sorcery(*). That’s the problem. Gygax and Arenson were, yes really, riding the wave of popularity of “Hobbit” and “LoTR” and since Tolkien had made Gandalf part of the fellowship, players insisted PC wizards.

            No version of D&D or GURPS that I have seen, has a magic system that is simultaneously suitable for balanced PC wizards and powerful mysterious dark wizard adversaries. Or powerful mysterious wizard NPC ally/patrons, which is where Gandalf really fits. So you can have an FRPG that’s suitable for Swords and Sorcery, or one that’s suitable for murderhoboing where some of the hobos use fireballs instead of crossbow bolts, or maybe one that’s horribly unbalanced with all the non-wizard PCs fading into irrelevance as the game progresses.

            Conan went on a literal dungeon crawl with a wizard from a separate campaign in “The Scarlet Citadel”. I don’t think it makes sense to dismiss PC wizards of up to Gandalf’s level as “wrong.”

          • J Mann says:

            @John Shilling and Le Maistre Chat

            I’m new to GURPS, and my early bottom line is that it works about as well as any other dice heavy system.

            My initial specific takeaways are:

            (1) IMHO, it’s a good fit if you actually want a “Universal” system. That works well for Ventrue Capital’s game, which has a sword and sorcery planet in a corner of a sci-fi universe and multiverse, so there are pulp science fiction colony cities on the same continent as necromancers’ swamps, and there’s nothing stopping a standard party consisting of a rogue, wizard, cleric, fighter and fifth character from finding a way to get to space and start exploring space stations.

            Alternatively, if you had a stable group, and wanted the flexibility to do a fantasy campaign followed by a western, followed by a zombie outbreak, urban fantasy, spy vs spy, space opera, etc., learning GURPS would let your players transition into each new campaign pretty effectively.

            (2) it definitely rewards rules mastery, so power gamers either need to restrain themselves or find a table where they’re welcome, even more so than in 5e;

            (3) there are so many books of rules that if you play with most of them, you either need to invest a small fortune, engage in piracy, or wait for rulings from someone who did one of the first two options;

            (4) I don’t yet have a feeling for the specific effects of using 3d6 instead of a d20, but moving from a flat probability distribution to a bell curve must be significant;

            (5) I kind of like the 1 second combat turns so far. I’m now used to 5e, where you get to take your movement, your action, your bonus action, and your free interaction with environment each turn, but the 1 second rule means you need to chose to move OR ready a weapon OR attack. It’s still artificial, but not more so than 5e’s 6 second turns.

          • bean says:

            there are so many books of rules that if you play with most of them, you either need to invest a small fortune, engage in piracy, or wait for rulings from someone who did one of the first two options

            Very few games require all of the books. GURPS is pretty good about adhering to my four-book rule (a good character should be buildable by consulting no more than 3-4 sourcebooks) and the books you need are usually pretty obvious. That’s not to say you couldn’t need more books (a sword-and-sorcery-turned-spacefaring campaign is obviously going to need a lot of books) but it’s not like 3.5 or Star Wars Saga, which was horrible about this.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Arguing about roots of D&D, don’t forget the wargames bits. Wizards were originally a kind of artillery-type dealie in Chainmail.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          I am potentially interested on a play-by-posting basis. I do not know GURPS rules, but I have played in every edition of D&D except first (and occasionally in more obscure rule systems). When I play RPGs, I do so first for the story, second for character development and opportunities to do clever things (ie using minor magic in clever ways), and third for everything else (power fantasies, etc). Do you think I might be a good fit? How many players do you have? Are they all in one party? How often do you post? What happens if someone doesn’t?

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Joseph Greenwood

            Yes, you would probably enjoy the game.

            Story? Got it.

            Character interaction (and development)? Got it.

            Clever problem-solving (or at least a chance to do it)? Got it.

            Are you interested in political/ethical/philosophical issues? Do you enjoy good sf/fantasy literature, and are you familiar with its tropes?

            Currently I have five active players, including dndnrsn, Plumber, and J Mann. They are in two groups — one is dndnrsn and the other is everyone else.

            The “everyone else” group posts almost in realtime when they have a quorum. The PCs have signed on as apprentices to an archmage of gate magic.

            However, I have set up a separate channel for people who can only post once (or a few times) per day, so their characters can adventure separately.

            Please take a look at the campaign’s front page and/or the player handout page, and please come to my Discord server. (Link will expire in 24 hours, let me know if you need another one.)

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            I’ve joined your Discord server. What you describe sounds very enjoyable–I will need to think a bit about (realistically) whether I fall in the “post in real time” camp or the “a few times per day” camp.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        @Yair:

        I’m not sure where to begin with my explanation. Have you played Dungeons & Dragons or any other (tabletop, not computer) RPG before?

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m enjoying the play-by-post; I think it fits the sort of vibe he’s going for.

    • Plumber says:

      @Ventrue Capital was acomadating of my desire to not study the rules and just play “A guy with a bow and sword who doesn’t cast spells.
      Every so often he’ll post RPG theory links the ones of which I’ve read have been amusing and/or interesting.

      As it’s developed the game is “live when there’s a quorum”, but a slower paced one may start.

      The setting I’d describe “gonzo science fantasy”, more “Dying Earth” than “Conan” so far.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Here’s something I pretty much believe at the moment.

    It’s unfair to expect religion to produce ethical behavior. Religion can produce many good things– mutual aid (and non-mutual help) among co-religionists, art, music, argumentation, a place to go with a reliable, pleasant routine and no practical demands (religious services), satisfying holidays, emotional comfort, and probably other things I haven’t thought of. Any of these can go wrong, of course, but this doesn’t take away the times when they go right.

    Part of this is an effort I make to limit myself to reasonable demands, and part of it is that sometimes I would feel as though there was joy behind the universe. There didn’t seem to be much point in talking about it. It didn’t affect my behavior. I had and have no idea how other people could access it. I don’t know whether there was some metaphysical truth or it was just the way my nervous system worked. Or possibly works– I’m feeling something of the sort, but I’m not sure it it’s the same as it was decades ago.

    I’m sort of a reverse Gnostic. I think there’s a lot wonderful about the universe, and I suspect that if God as portrayed in various religions exists, He or whatever is lying about having created the world. What does God need with ethics? He don’t have any equals or problems.

    I don’t know what Hindus mean by Shiva dancing in the void, but a superficial reading of the English phrase sounds about right.

    This doesn’t mean ethics are irrelevant. People need ethics because we do have equals and problems. It’s just that religion isn’t a reliable source of ethics even though sometimes people get good ethics from religions. Ethics are *our* problem, not God’s problem.

    • marshwiggle says:

      I’m definitely not sure I understand all of what you’re saying, and that’s ok. But you seem to be discussing a religion that makes no demands and has a God who doesn’t do anything. Adding those qualities to a religion seems to make it unsurprising that it doesn’t provide ethics. It is like saying that food doesn’t fill you up if you always eat food with no fat, sugar, or protein. Again, it’s possible I’m totally misreading what you are saying, in which case, my apologies.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        That’s not what I meant, and I do wonder whether you could have a functioning religion which makes ritual demands but not ethical demands.

        • marshwiggle says:

          Are you then making an argument from mysticism that God makes no ethical demands? That seemed to be the other half of what you were saying – perhaps it was the main point? Even so, I’m rather sure that mysticism in religious contexts that do make demands has often not led to the same conclusion as yours, so I’m still not at all sure I’m grasping the claim that you’re making.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think of it as an argument from logic rather than mysticism.

            I can think of it as God the Hobbyist. He loves everything he makes. He loves AIDS viruses as much as He loves people, and if people wipe out the AIDS virus, He’ll love that, too.

          • marshwiggle says:

            A definition of love that is indifferent to what happens to the object of that love is more than a little strange to me. But I suppose such indifference would logically imply inaction and lack of ethical demands.

            I think most people tend to define love as discriminating between good and bad (or alternatively, desired and not desired) outcomes for whoever you love, and having a bias towards actions that to one’s limited knowledge lead to the good/desired outcomes. That’s admittedly an analysis inside time, but I think switching to a beyond time analysis would preserve the discrimination, knowledge, and outcome preferences. I’m not sure your logic works under those conditions.

    • Zephalinda says:

      This is an interesting take. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gets at the existence of a God (with moral preferences) precisely by citing the ubiquity and relative consistency of human moral instincts. So with a God who exists but is non-ethical, you’d have to find some other explanation for our sense that some things are right and some are wrong. But I guess you could do that using evolution or some theory of cognitive architecture or whatever.

      What’s more intriguing is that it seems like such a universe would not only be non-moral, but anti-moral. If ethics are “our problem, not God’s,” then I might choose a particular set of ethics as a private preference, but there’s no way to see those ethics as “true” or somehow connected to some wider meaning in the universe, in a way that can be plausibly normative for others.

      If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that I might sense a “wrongness” in giving AIDS to a baby, but that feeling is my problem and does not correspond to any divine judgment on the matter (because God is cool with it either way). If that’s the case, I don’t see how such a religion would end up still working in the other positive ways you mention– producing mutual aid, good art, good arguments, rituals, etc. Because now we know God doesn’t care whether we help each other or hurt each other, or make ugly things or beautiful things, or whether we glorify him or blaspheme him. It’s all good! So if I ask, “Do I need to go to church and pray?”, God is like, Naw, whatever is fine. But also, “I feel aggression toward Jews, can I shoot up this synagogue?” Sure, I love the universe either way!
      “I want to poach this endangered species, I could really use the cash.” Sure thing, you do you, man!

      It sounds like a very relaxing world for the individual subject, but if you came to me in a universe like that with your anti-killing-endangered-species normative ethics, I’d certainly tell you to buzz off and let me enjoy my roast spotted owl. Because God is fine with this, and he made me, so judgments others might have are just, like, their (evolutionarily pre-programmed) opinion, no?

      • albatross11 says:

        Zephalinda:

        It seems like the existence of moral codes and entire ethical systems devised and adhereed to by atheists is a contradiction to your expectation. I mean, in terms of moral behavior, what’s the difference between:

        a. There’s no God

        b. There’s a God but He doesn’t care about the stuff that matters in human moral calculus

        It seems like an atheist who was convinced he lived in world (b) instead of world (a) wouldn’t change his behavior much. Indeed, I think something like this worldview was common in the time of the founding of the US, under the name of Deism. In that view, as I (very imperfectly) understand it, God made the clock and wound it up, and then sat back to watch the clockwork run, unconcerned with petty matters of microbes living on the spring as it winds down.

        Further, think about the gods of Greek mythology. Those f–kers were *nasty*, immoral in every way imaginable, and routinely screwing over mortals for any reason or none. I don’t think that kept the Greeks from developing some notion of morality that was better than the vengeful, petty gods in their stories.

        • Zephalinda says:

          Actually, how eliminative materialists get around the is/ought problem is something I don’t understand at all. I’m perpetually meaning to follow it up in the literature, but in the meantime I assume they’re smart people and have worked it out somehow.

          Regardless, though, a theist system where God exists, but is morally neutral, is a bit different. An atheist can reasonably say, “The universe is not good or bad; it lacks any sort of intention, plan or meaning… but as a human, I feel these things, so I will quixotically stand for my subjective vision of the good as against the meaninglessness outside.” But if instead, we’re saying that the universe does have meaning and intention, because an all-powerful God intentionally created it, and that the meaning of the universe is that everything in existence is good, including AIDS deaths, species extinction, child molestation, and what-have-you… I don’t see how a human being gains the authority to then contradict God and tell anyone else their actions are wrong.

          • Protagoras says:

            Regardless, though, a theist system where God exists, but is morally neutral, is a bit different. An atheist can reasonably say, “The universe is not good or bad; it lacks any sort of intention, plan or meaning… but as a human, I feel these things, so I will quixotically stand for my subjective vision of the good as against the meaninglessness outside.” But if instead, we’re saying that the universe does have meaning and intention, because an all-powerful God intentionally created it, and that the meaning of the universe is that everything in existence is good, including AIDS deaths, species extinction, child molestation, and what-have-you… I don’t see how a human being gains the authority to then contradict God and tell anyone else their actions are wrong.

            Well, if everything in existence is good, humans being judgy, which is also part of existence, is apparently also good.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Regardless, though, a theist system where God exists, but is morally neutral, is a bit different. An atheist can reasonably say, “The universe is not good or bad; it lacks any sort of intention, plan or meaning… but as a human, I feel these things, so I will quixotically stand for my subjective vision of the good as against the meaninglessness outside.”

            This is the Lovecraftian stance, and it’s worth remembering that an atheist’s subjective vision of the good doesn’t have to mean everyone showering black people with puppies and rainbows. That it does for the majority of secular Westerners just means that they unthinkingly absorbed the moral fashions around them, as Nietzsche would happily tell you.

          • Actually, how eliminative materialists get around the is/ought problem is something I don’t understand at all.

            I don’t see how the existence of a god solves the problem. If humans have no ability at all to perceive moral truth, how do you know whether the powerful supernatural being you have encountered is God, the Devil, or neither–like the Greek gods, no more a moral authority than anyone else?

            He tells you what is right and wrong, but why should you believe him?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            People still have needs. You don’t need a God to tell you to eat food rather than rocks.

            It’s a more complex decision to decide that murder is wrong, but it still might be a good rule for people living with each other.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Further, think about the gods of Greek mythology. Those f–kers were *nasty*, immoral in every way imaginable, and routinely screwing over mortals for any reason or none. I don’t think that kept the Greeks from developing some notion of morality that was better than the vengeful, petty gods in their stories.

          It seems to me that pre-Socratic Greek morality was, er… minimal, and full of morality tales about how they would have acted worse if not for cultic rules stopping them. I don’t just mean fictional “evidence” like Agamemnon boasting to a priest “I’m going to take your captive daughter home, force her to have sex with me, and like her better than my lawful wife”, but incidents like wanting to execute Socrates as soon as he was convicted but there being a taboo against homicide while Apollo’s holy ship was at sea, or backstabbing people who have been your guests being a convenient habit Not Done for fear of Zeus Xenios.
          Secular Athenians from the Periclean Age are pretty bad moral role models if you think about it. Think of Cleon, frex.
          “Some notion of morality that was better than their petty gods” really starts when Plato convinces people to love the Good.

        • John Schilling says:

          “There’s a God but He doesn’t care about the stuff that matters in human moral calculus” … I think something like this worldview was common in the time of the founding of the US, under the name of Deism.

          At least some and possibly most 18th-century Anglo-American Deists believed that God did care, and have very specific moral standards, but did not intervene in this world and would save his judgements for the next.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        My notion is that there’s consistency across moral systems because people do generally want to live and to live well with each other.

        It’s interesting that God theoretically wants moral behavior, but what He gets is beautiful religious buildings. People generally aren’t commanded to make beautiful things, but they do it anyway.

        Thing I heard somewhere: “The reward for following Jewish law is living in a community of people who follow Jewish law.”

        • albatross11 says:

          We might be able to get some notions of morality out of game theory. At the very least, being able to get to cooperate/cooperate in the IPD seems pretty universally useful. (Though it’s also necessary to be willing to punish defectors, or you just get taken advantage of all the time.) I think there are probably many other areas where game theory and economics can give us some kind of meaningful moral intutions that are generally useful. This is especially cool because it suggests that there could be cross-species moral intuitions–intelligent starfish-looking aliens that breathe methane and store their genetic material in a completely different form than DNA/RNA might still share some moral intutions with us, in the same way they’d probably share some notion of physical laws, logic, and math.

          We may get morality out of biological evolution–people with certain kinds of moral intuitions can get along better and be more effective in groups (tribes, villages, street gangs, armies, clans, etc.), so over time, those moral intuitions were selected for, and now they’re very nearly universal. We may also get them out of cultural evolution–societies that manage to bring most of their kids up with a certain learned set of moral ideas/intuitions function way better and are more successful and win wars and persist. In both cases, that can leave us with adaptations to a past environment that don’t work so well in modern times. Hayek more-or-less argued that this was true w.r.t the ethics of the market vs the ethics of the commune–our moral intuitions tell us that raising prices in a shortage is “gouging,” but it also sends the right signal and creates the right incentives to resolve the shortage. More broadly, ISTM that a lot of utilitarianism is about contradicting our natural (installed by biology or culture) moral intuitions in cases where they may lead to bad outcomes. The effective altruism movement is all about this, as far as I can tell.

          It’s also interesting to ask whether morality is just a fact of the universe, like logic or math, over which God presides but which even He can’t change. That is, while God can pardon your sins, even He can’t make an evil action right. We might be in a world where:

          a. There’s an objective morality outside of God. Both we and God perceive that objective morality to some extent, but we perceive it as through a glass, darkly, whereas God sees it precisely. God is good, so He follows that morality. He probably wants us to follow it, but this may or may not translate into sending messengers, providing spiritual guidance, threatening afterlife punishment for bad behavior, or frying the odd malefactor with lightning. (Even the most moral person doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to get ants or bacteria to behave morally–it’s just beyond their powers.)

          b. There’s an objective morality which we can’t really perceive much at all–we get along on our evolved in moral intuitions, but they’re just not much better at grasping objective morality than our physical intuitions are at grasping particle physics or relativity. God can understand it. This is consistent with sometimes seeing divine commands/teachings that seem evil or morally neutral by our moral intuitions. (Wait, why can’t I have a sandwich with both meat and cheese on it, again?).

          c. Morality is that which God commands–that is, there’s no objective morality outside of God’s commands. (I think this is consistent with the Book of Job.). He can change the rules when He likes, and there’s no way for God to behave immorally. It might be hard to tell this world from (b), since “I told you to sacrifice sheep to Me before, but now I just want compassion for your fellow man and a contrite heart” could be any of:

          (i) God wanted it done one way for awhile, but then changed His mind.

          (ii) Conditions changed–previously, sacrificing sheep was the right thing to do, now it’s compassion and a contrite heart, and we humans just can’t perceive why.

          (iii)Human ability to understand what God really wants has changed over time, as our cultural and biological evolution has equipped us with increasing ability to understand and sustain moral behavior. At one point, sacrifices of sheep were the only way to get through to humans, but now baptism and confession and eucharist work.

          d. There’s an objective morality, and God is neutral w.r.t. this moraltiy. That isn’t consistent with the idea of God being good, but it’s a reasonable fit for the stories of the Greek and Roman gods. Zeus could f–k around with you at will, it was evil and wrong, but nobody could do anything about it because Zeus was too powerful.

          • I think there are probably many other areas where game theory and economics can give us some kind of meaningful moral intutions that are generally useful.

            One of the points I make in Law’s Order is that if you design a system of legal rules to maximize economic efficiency you get rules that correlate pretty well, if not perfectly, with our intuitions of justice.

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            _Law’s Order_ shaped a lot of my thinking about this stuff, so these may not be independent.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I’m feeling cranky this morning, so I’m going to take this farther.

        Suppose some quantity of people insist that God requires things that you see as very bad. Perhaps abstractly, or perhaps their concept of God requires something that’s harder on you than on others. e.g. All people born on even numbered days exist to be servants to the rest.

        Logical conclusion – anywhere from “God is evil” to “God hates me” (or “those people are wrong” and/or “there is no God”, but those are less interesting in thsi context.)

        Now how does that support any kind of morality? Given this conclusion, the only reason to do what God wants is out of fear and cowardice, and that immediately spills over into any area where God is said to want something – both those seemingly neutral (he has this thing about how people dress) and seemingly positive (he doesn’t usually approve of killing people.

        Less crankily, I’ve never really understood where someone’s coming from if they define good as “what God wants” or do good “because God tells them to”. The former is worse than the latter – because God (is said to) want all kinds of things I’d rather not see people doing, whereas I’d rather see people behaving well, even for silly reasons. But even small children have a sense of right and wrong somewhat seperate from “whatever Mommy and Daddy decide” – they’ll tell parents they aren’t being “fair” etc.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          More generally, the concept of God may interfere with people’s ability to have good moral judgment.

          In some cases, people may be leveraging the idea of God to make false moral ideas seem compelling. Those ideas may actually efforts to increase someone’s or some group’s status, or they may be something which seemed like a good idea at the time.

          Also, God may be a distraction– a person might be thinking “How can I please God?” rather than “What effect am I having on my life and the lives of the people around me?”

          • albatross11 says:

            This is possible, but it’s also possible that most people do better thinking of a personification of goodness who wants them to do the right thing, rather than just an abstract notion of the right thing to do. And if God exists and is the source of morality/is good and knows what’s good better than we do, then listening to Him makes sense as a way to do what’s right.

  8. sclmlw says:

    Just read an interesting post from Marginal Revolution about cost disease and the Baumol effect. If this is true, we should expect cost disease in any industry where there is low productivity growth (or we could expect lower demand in those sectors). Can anyone think of examples where this does/doesn’t apply? Is the only answer to improve productivity in cost disease industries?

    • johan_larson says:

      Baumol’s Cost Disease is a real phenomenon, but I get the impression that discussions where it comes up commonly overstate the extent to which professions are completely unsuited for automation or computerized augmentation. Live musicians aren’t any more productive than they were 100 years ago, but music recording, reproduction, and distribution have advanced by leaps and bounds. An individual teacher isn’t more productive than they were 100 years ago, but we can now easily record lessons by master teachers, have students take tests using software, and so on. In each case it is amply possible to make less use of increasingly pricy human labor.

      • sclmlw says:

        I think there’s still a qualitative difference between live musical performances and recordings. That said there are all sorts of qualitative difference between musical enjoyment and availability between 1820 and today.

        As to teachers, there’s a theoretical case that technology could improve labor productivity, but I’m not convinced this is happening at a practical level. Graduation rates at MOOCs are abysmal, and secondary school teachers continue teaching students directly. To the extent they teach more students at a time, it’s not due to technology allowing larger class sizes. Maybe it is possible to make teachers more productive, but I don’t think we’ve figured out how to make that happen yet.

        The other factor here may be that teachers are expected to cover more material than they were in the past, meaning they are more productive, but it’s not captured in the data due to shifting education standards.

        • johan_larson says:

          Graduation rates at MOOCs are abysmal, and secondary school teachers continue teaching students directly.

          Sure, but we put a lot more pressure on students to perform at conventional high schools than anyone puts on MOOC students. Not graduating from high school is a really big deal; not finishing that Python course you started online is not such a big big deal. Not surprisingly, that has an effect.

          In any case I expect there will continue to be a place for real live teachers. But I question whether the cost-effective way to use them is direct classroom instruction. I think it might be better to have students learn from recorded lectures and exercises they work on by themselves. The role of teachers would then be monitoring progress, helping students get unstuck when there is something they don’t understand, and (in some disciplines) grading work.

          • sclmlw says:

            I agree there’s a theoretical case for improving teacher productivity. But practically speaking we’re not there yet. Thus, cost disease in education continues.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            At least in early grades, more teacher engagement = better outcomes.

            http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/research/class-size-and-student-achievement

            This seems completely unsurprising; people aren’t born ready to read and calculate. Responsive engagement and coaching for this kind of development is important. Similarly, for critical coursework (composition and analysis), you can’t really punt “did the student structure an argument well?” to a test (and god forbid you punt it to an algorithm).

      • John Schilling says:

        It seems likely that one effect of Baumol is a stratification of the relevant sectors of the economy into high-quality goods and services that only the rich (*) can afford and/or that society has to pay exorbitantly for everyone to have, and low-quality stuff for the masses. Possibly only relatively low quality, i.e. absolutely better than what the masses could afford a century ago, but much lower quality than what the rich get whereas the difference was smaller in the past. And in some cases absolutely lower quality as cheap providers take up more lucrative pursuits and technology only partially makes up the difference.

        The rich get live musical performances, everyone else gets recordings

        The rich get tailored clothing, everyone else buys off the rack

        The rich get teachers who pay attention to individual students, everyone else gets MOOCs and packed lecture halls. Or in primary or secondary schooling, we pay increasing sums to ensure traditional teacher-to-student ratios.

        The rich get fine professionally-cooked meals, everyone else gets “fast casual” or microwaved stuff unless they are themselves great cooks.

        Everybody gets bespoke medical care with generalists and specialists providing the traditional level of personal service and we have to keep paying more for that, or maybe we limit that to the rich and everybody else gets Wal-Mart HMOs.

        * Possibly including the UMC, and probably to some extent including the socially rich who can convince people to provide these services outside the monetary economy

        • sclmlw says:

          I don’t think you can blame the Baumul effect for scarcity, or for distribution effects here. There are only so many front row seats at the NBA finals, or backstage passes to meet the band. Scarce resources are allocated to the rich regardless of how well we manufacture clothing and shoes. Before we discovered how to manufacture clothing, poor people didn’t get tailored clothing. They made their own, and sowed patches in them. They wore the same clothes multiple days in a row.

          • J Mann says:

            As I understand it, Baumol’s cost disease explains relative scarcity. If most other things become relatively cheaper because of automation and once in a lifetime dinners cooked by an artist-level chef don’t become cheaper by a similar amount, it makes them look more expensive. (Or put another way, we’re all so much richer that we collectively push up the prices for those goods)

    • 10240 says:

      Is the only answer to improve productivity in cost disease industries?

      Or if that’s impossible, improve productivity in other industries, so that we can afford to spend an increasing percentage of our salaries on the industry that’s increasingly expensive. Or substitute it with other products/services: it still takes four musicians to play a string quartet at a concert just like in Beethoven’s time, but we now have decent quality speakers, so we don’t have to go to a concert or hire musicians every time we want to listen to music.

      • sclmlw says:

        What if productivity gains are unevenly distributed? Would that result in a situation where part of the population is unable to afford cost disease industries? “We” don’t spend money on cars or education. Individuals do. The collective is only invoked when government pays for or subsidizes something.

        Perhaps we could use cost disease (driven by low productivity growth) to help determine when government intervention is justified. If I were socialist I might gravitate to this argument, but then there’s also socialism-driven cost disease.

        • 10240 says:

          When productivity increases in some industries, salaries increase not only in those industries, but also in industries where productivity doesn’t increase, as employers in the latter industries have to compete with employers in industries with increased productivity. This is precisely what causes Baumol’s cost disease: when you buy products or services from industries where productivirty hasn’t increased, you have to pay for a significant amount of human labor at today’s elevated salaries.

      • SamChevre says:

        But “improve productivity in other industries” is exactly what we’ve done. The proportion of household spending that goes to food is a third what it was in 1950–and it’s more expensive types of food. Same with clothing. With computers and phones, the cost has gone down less, but the capability has increased dramatically.

        • 10240 says:

          That’s sort of my point: Baumol’s cost disease is not a tragedy that must be solved (though of course it would be nicer if prices decreased compared to salaries in every sector). Our living standards improve even if productivity only increases in some sectors. Elevated prices in some sectors are not that much of a problem if our salaries have increased too; it’s not even that much of a problem if we have to spend a higher percentage of our salaries on some things, as we spend a smaller percentage on other things.

          • The problem is that the elevated prices are in things that are really important: housing, childcare, health care, and education. If price increases mainly affected things like concerts, people wouldn’t really care.

          • 10240 says:

            Actually Baumol only explains that products/services from industries where productivity hasn’t improved should cost the same percentage of a typical salary (or, rather, salary for the same amount of work) as in the past. If it takes more work to buy something today than in the past, that’s not explained by Baumol.

    • brad says:

      There’s a lot of different ways of thinking about this, but I think there’s a cheerful view that’s worth pointing out. Sure, if you look at it from the view of buying labor then it looks like all these services are getting so much more expensive. But if you look at it from the other direction, all of us are really rich and so we don’t have to do all these personal service jobs to survive. If we choose to do them it is so that we can get luxury goods, which in turn is mostly personal services.

      Even in medicine which is often pointed to as a non-luxury that’s subject to Baumol, how much of what the rich are getting over the middle class is superior outcomes and how much is just time and attention from people that look and sound like what a doctor is “supposed” to look and sound like?

      • SamChevre says:

        I don’t think the Baumol problem in medicine (I don’t think it’s Baumol effect, but put that aside) isn’t “what do the rich get that the poor don’t”? It’s “what did the poor used to be able to afford out of their own resources, and now can’t”? And there are a lot of things on that list–uncomplicated childbirths, routine illness visits for infants, treatment for minor/routine injuries.

  9. Half baked theory on procrastination:

    Being a social species, we usually require some kind of social pressure to get things done. Since most of the work we do today is supposed to be on our own initiative, we increasingly put it off.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m sure that one is at least three-quarter baked. Small collaborative teams in particular are highly productive, supralinearly so I think.

      • How much of that is social pressure vs having different minds being able to come up with new ideas and/or taking advantage of comparative advantage?

        • John Schilling says:

          It seems to show up even with strongly-overlapping skillsets. And new ideas are overrated; good people can’t implement even half the good ideas they come up with.

    • Nick says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. If you’re a known procrastinator, one good technique is setting aside a time and place where you’re supposed to work with (perhaps more disciplined) people; not necessarily on the same thing, you’re just supposed to work. It went well for some classmates and me in college.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I don’t know about social pressure, but sitting in a “modern” ultra-distracting noisy office makes it harder to plan and stick to a plan, and much easier to just do whatever happens to grab one’s attentiion. That may be the thing that someone’s nagging you about – but the root problem isn’t procrastination, it’s that employers have made a tradeoff in favour of open offices.

      Add to that the morale impacts of being demoted to a “typing pool” set up from a layout that said “you are a valued professional”, which are likely to produce a demotivated work force, and you can easily observe somethign that looks like procrastination, and conclude the “cure” is more of the very thing that caused the problem in the first place.

      This is not to say that some people don’t have problems with procrastination etc. But my own ineffectiveness generally comes from other factors entirely.

      • John Schilling says:

        The alternative to atomic individuals in old-style private offices or sleek modern iso-pods isn’t limited to “modern ultra-distracting noisy offices”. Two-person offices with compatible officemates give good results even if the two people are only specifically collaborating a fraction of the time. The more people you add, the more likely it is that someone who wants quiet time will be distracted by the rest, but with two reasonably polite people the office goes quiet whenever either one of them doesn’t want to talk.

    • marshwiggle says:

      Agreed, as long as we understand that social pressure can take many forms. For instance, in extreme examples only yourself might know about the thing you are doing. There still might be social pressure: an oath to a long dead ancestor, loyalty to a country, or the teaching of your family. I think that social pressure in those kinds of forms has waned, leaving only the social pressure of people interacting with you in the moment.

      Also, I think John Schillings notes about small collaborative teams are very good evidence for this.

      • Those examples are what I’m contrasting against. They’re more of a question of values than procrastination specifically. I’m saying that while those are sufficiently motivated reasons to do something, the lack of social pressure makes it more likely that you procrastinate. Literally just having someone nearby makes you less likely to wait until the last second.

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Vice has an article on the degrowth movement, a plot to stop climate change by intentionally shrinking the economy.
    Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, it’s telling that the woman in the illustration can no longer afford a desktop computer or shoes.

    • Plumber says:

      I’m pretty sure increasing rents are achieving that “movement” or not, see the essay linked in @Nancy Lebovitz’s post below m

    • I expect the most significant outcome of a successful degrowth movement to be World War III; unfortunately for them, the threat of nuclear winter may have been exaggerated.

    • Nornagest says:

      But is it a utopian fantasy?

      In an intriguing exception to Betteridge’s law of headlines…

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m used to the whole “here’s this new thing that justifies what I want anyway”, but this one stood out to me.

      Practically, this would also require an increase in free public services; people won’t have to make as much money if they don’t have to spend on healthcare, housing, education, and transportation. Some degrowthers also call for a universal income to compensate for a shorter work week.

      Does Vice seriously think that somehow free public services and a universal income are provided like manna from heaven? That no one has to work for these things to be provided?

      • toastengineer says:

        This is uncharitable AF, but I think certain strains of leftist thought really do take “the government has infinite resources that there is no downside to producing” as a a basic assertion, and treat people asking “okay but where is that actually going to physically come from” like a mathematician would if you complained that his 20 page proof just assumed that 1 + 1 = 2.

        It’s like when I asked my ECON 200 professor what would happen to the national debt if people just stopped buying bonds.
        “They won’t.”
        “But what if they do?”
        “They won’t.”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Uncharitable, yes, but I can’t find any other way to parse “People will work less and commodities will cost more relative to hourly wages, but people won’t feel deprived because the government will give them more stuff.”

      • Nick says:

        “People should get more free stuff because they’re working less” is… wow.

      • sidereal says:

        Part of my me can jive with the degrowth movement. But in reality it would be a truly bitter pill to swallow. Like decreased lifespan due to reduced access to medical care, rarely traveling more than a few miles from your home, dramatically reduced variety of food, etc. In short: never going to happen.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Nitpick alert: jibe means agree with or match up with.
          Jive means a dance or an insult.

          Or at least there used to be a distinction. That mistake is so common that jibe may have been subsumed into jive.

        • albatross11 says:

          In a democracy, pursuing degrowth is how you ensure that it will be a generation or two until anyone from your party gets voted into power again.

        • fion says:

          I’m not sure it would be that bitter. I’m already bitter that I’ve virtually given up faraway holidays for environmental reasons but many other people continue to do so cheaply and easily. I’m slightly bitter that I put a great deal of thought and effort into eating healthily and exercising very hard when vast swathes of obese, chain-smoking alcoholics drive up the costs of my country’s publicly-funded healthcare. I’m bitter about taking public transport everywhere when my less conscientious peers drive cars, congesting the roads, polluting the city and heating the planet.

          Taking fewer holidays and eating a smaller variety of food are things we should be doing anyway. If a declining economy forced people to do that, I’m not certain that would be a bad thing.

          Having said that, I want my fully automated luxury gay space communism as much as the next guy, so on balanced I’m opposed to the degrowth movement.

          • salvorhardin says:

            This line of thinking exemplifies what I find wrong with a lot of responses to climate change: short-term defeatism over long-term optimism.

            The goal for 2100 should not be to hold warming to under 2 degrees, or 1.5, or whatever. It should be that the global average temp in 2100 is whatever the heck we want it to be, because we have it under effective engineering control. What’s needed to get there is superabundant energy plus some combination of scalable CCS and geoengineering. There’s already a lot of plausible ways there and we should be pursuing them all at once; each one is risky but the risks are sufficiently far from perfectly correlated that the likelihood one of them will succeed is very high.

            And crucially, economic growth increases our chances of getting to that rich, cool (literal and figurative) world faster. So economic growth puts short term pressure on the climate but long term it is our ally in getting to the world we really should want for our great grandchildren.

          • gettin_schwifty says:

            Sounds like you’ll place last in the race to the bottom.

          • albatross11 says:

            salvorhardin:

            A pretty obvious problem with that idea is who the “we” is that gets to decide global climate. A huge part of the problem with addressing AGW is that there are many imperfectly-aligned decisionmakers with incentives to defect.

    • Plumber says:

      @Le Maistre Chat,
      Full disclosure: I barely read any of what was in the link, so I may (probably?) missed some context, but here’s my take regardless:
      [peraphrase]“Commuting to work is harmful to the environment, as often is the work itself, if people worked less then puppies and rainbows “[/paraphrase]
      It’s actually a pretty convincing argument; and I immediately did less work by not reading much more of the essay once I got that gist.
      I already supported bringing back “welfare as we know it” for among other reasons making my commute less crowded, so sure I add ecological reasons to that.
      Why not?
      Did the essayist have a plan to achieve the goal, ir was this another “Overton window moving” thing?
      ’cause I’m all in for being lazier and others being the same so it doesn’t look so bad when I don’t do stuff.
      As for my not buying stuff, I already save half my income, and havd for years; if I could send it to my younger poorer self I would (wealth is wasted on the old!), failing that it’s for my son’s and future repairs.

    • johan_larson says:

      Has anyone here seriously considered downsizing their lifestyle: working less or less hard, making less money, and just living on less? Nothing says you have to maximize income. What did or would you have had to give up?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Considered, but it just doesn’t work out. There’s a huge cliff below full-time work. Try to work less than that and it goes directly from making sufficient money to not making ends meet even cutting all unnecessary expenses.

        • Viliam says:

          Same experience. Not wanting to work full-time is a really really bad signal at the job market. The effect of less hours is not linear; when you want something “special”, your hourly income drops dramatically.

          It makes you seem like the only person who doesn’t have their job as a meaning of their life. Why would anyone hire such person, when there are so many alternatives? (Maybe those alternatives are only pretending, but at least their acceptance of full-time work makes the pretending credible.)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Consultants can sometimes get away with it. But you have to build up a lot of skills and reputation ahead of time.

          In fact, if you consult one week out of four, you will often have a higher per-hour salary.

          That’s the theory. I’ve never been able to do it but I’d like to. My wife manages it, and one reason she does is that I have the stable income we can 100% live on.

          • I spent twenty-some years as a half-time law professor, teaching one semester on, one off. I expect there are probably other niches where such an option is available, as well as many where it is not.

      • brad says:

        In my observation this is very common for parents. Maybe not explicitly, and the reduction is more from 60+ down to 40ish, but definitely a pulling back. Still far more common for mothers than fathers but more common for fathers than it used to be.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes, but I feel like it’s a moot point in the context of the article. Both proponents and critics talk about “overthrowing capitalism” “in the next 30 years”, and the economic planners wouldn’t make the same choices for me that I would for myself. Like if they want my house to not have a computer, or the electricity to run it, they’ll have to take it from the cold dead hands. Or my cold bare feet.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I do work less than I used to 20 years ago. What that means is I am a contractor and earn my money by the hour, so rarely work more than 40 hours per week. When I was an employee, I was expected to work at least 50 hours per week. Although I make more money that I did then, so I am not really living on less. However, I might be able to make even more money than I do now if I was willing to go back to being a regular employee and work whatever hours my boss wanted me to do.

        Mostly the change happened when I realized I would never be a Vice President because I didn’t have the social skills to get there. But also because now I have enough experience to easily get short-term well paid jobs, which wasn’t so much the case before (or at least I didn’t think it was the case at the time). So basically I scaled back when it was convenient to do so. I think I would have been happy to do so 20 years ago if it wasn’t that I knew it would kill all my chances for promotion. So the amount of money wasn’t really a factor.

        In fact, I would be happy to go down to 30 hours per week now, and maybe even 20, for a commensurate drop in pay. But employers wouldn’t agree. When they need me to do something, they invariably want it done ASAP, and so wouldn’t be so happy if I worked 1/2 time or 3/4 time to get there. So, much as others have said here, for most professional jobs, one can work full time or not at all. I can’t afford to work not at all, so I work full time.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I’ve mostly just neglected to upsize my lifestyle. I live partway between the lifestyle of my (unionized factory worker father) and my (senior software engineer) peers. I have a nice little house, fully paid off, and an ugly looking Corolla, rather than a Tesla and a mini-mansion – or the rented apartment and second hand car my father drove.

        I’d hoped to continue at my family lifestyle, and retire extremely early, but that didn’t work out in practice – moving to the US gave me more money, but used far too much of it. (A cheap, bad neighbourhood where I grew up would have been safe; here, not so much. And public transit isn’t adequate in any area I’ve lived. And excess working hours/less vacation have me hiring people to do things I could have done for myself.) But mostly though, I became lazy – throwing money at my problems has been eas, so I’ve done so.

      • Plumber says:

        @johan_larson,
        In 2011 I took a $15 as hour pay cut (sort of, I’ll elaborate down post) to work for the City and County of San Francisco, mostly doing plumbing repairs instead of the mostly new contruction (unionized) work I was doing down in the Palo Alto/San Jose area, and I just refuse a lot more overtime than I used to.

        When I started with the City they had “mandatory furloughs” which meant that one extra day a month you couldn’t work no matter the need which was nice.

        Working for the City means I’m exposed to more asbestos and lead than I was in the private sector (plus whatever is in the autopsy room drains), but I do much less heavy lifting, plus there’s paid “sick” and “vacation” days (which I didn’t have in the private sector), and I’m spend more time being paid to attend stupid meetings where I don’t do real work besides nodding and pretending to listen (I did listen and take notes more at first, but it’s the same old messages being repeated).

        As for what I’ve “given up”, I’ve driven a ’91 Honda Accord for the past few years (before that I drove a ’98 Ford Crown Victoria), my wife drives a 2004 Toyota Prius, we don’t eat at restaurants, go to movies or concerts, we don’t spend much on clothes, send our kids to private school, hire babysitters, travel, or pay a subscription for television – but we didn’t do any of that before when I made more per hour, but we were saving up for a house.

        As it is now I save nearly half of my “take home” pay, we’d like to have a three bedroom, two bathroom house, and maybe they’ll be another major recession that will allow us to buy one, otherwise it will be for the kids.

        Working even less hours appeals to me, but I don’t think that’s possible unless I go back to the private sector and at this point I just prefer repairs to doing new contruction, or driving a lot, which I’d have to do if I did private sector “service work” whereas with the city I have a few big buildings to take care of and I mostly “drive” a tool cart.

  11. proyas says:

    What if the Chernobyl nuclear reactors had been built with the same kinds of containment buildings that were common features of Western reactors in the 1980s?

    • The Nybbler says:

      That’s not a really good question, because Chernobyl was of a very different design than western reactors and the same kind of containment building would not have worked. Better would be whether or not a practical containment building could have been designed to largely contain not just the steam explosion but the graphite fire; I don’t know the answer to that.

      • John Schilling says:

        Unbreached containment would also have limited the flow of air to the core, so I suspect it would have been possible to design a suitable containment structure. Haven’t looked at it in detail. If so, the probable outcome would have been somewhere between Three Mile Island and Fukushima, depending in part on the operators’ priorities in containing the damage vs. pretending they’ll be able to fix the reactor.

        Big difference is that the Soviet coverup would have been much more successful; we’d almost certainly have know that a powerplant went offline but there’d have been little more than rumors about how bad it was.

      • habu71 says:

        Gen II PWR containment domes can survive steam explosions, as TMI proved, but RBMK reactors were much, much bigger in size. The RBMK was made to be cheap, high power, and produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Safety was an afterthought at best. Seriously. I can’t even begin to fully describe how bad of a design it was.

        I spent the last 4ish years of my life researching graphite oxidation in nuclear power plants after an accident for my dissertation. Temperature is almost as important as air flow when it comes how much damage the oxidation does to the graphite. And it is extremely non linear. That is, if one is above 800C or so, even the slightest amount of air (that is, even that provided by small amounts of local natural convection) will result in the graphite being completely – and exothermicly – annihilated. Below 650C, you can blow pure O2 on the stuff for days and very little will happen. So it depends on the temp of the core following the accident. My guess though, is that any containment that was sufficient to survive a steam explosion would have mostly eliminated the graphite-oxygen reaction afterwards preventing the natural convection-drives-oxidation-drives-more-natural convection feedback loop from starting. And any containment building that wouldn’t survive the explosion also would prove impotent at stopping the oxidation.
        That being said, nuclear grade graphite has come a long way from the 70’s. Still though, modern reactor designs that incorporate graphite as a moderator use helium, rather than water, as a coolant.

        I was so tempted to just put a link to my dissertation here. But, lucky for you, I managed to resist the urge. You’re welcome.

  12. proyas says:

    Why aren’t CANDU reactors more widely used?

    • John Schilling says:

      Mostly because uranium enrichment got cheap enough to eliminate their primary economic advantage.

    • johan_larson says:

      As I understand it, the CANDU reactors were designed with two constraints in mind: they don’t need enriched uranium to operate, and they don’t need really massive cast reactor vessels. Neither of these were available in Canada in the late 50s and early 60s, hence the design. Rather than enriched uranium, the CANDUs use an enriched moderator, heavy water. Rather than a cast reactor vessel, the CANDUs use an assembly of pressure tubes, which is made of much smaller components. Perhaps these constraints aren’t as important now as they were in the past.

    • habu71 says:

      The pressure vessel point from johan_larson is spot on. My former adviser used to work in a CANDU plant in India and mentioned this to me. It surprised me too.
      Also, CANDU style reactors are much more easily modified to extract plutonium from. As India did to make their first bomb.

    • Silverlock says:

      Because the Seabees were angry that their motto was being poached.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Substantial essay about how much people’s lives are constrained if they don’t have room to own stuff, and how much rising housing costs are making it harder for people to own stuff. Also, complaints about the idea that it’s really cool and virtuous to own very little.

    • Spookykou says:

      I skimmed so maybe my comment is nonsense. But isn’t America notorious for how massive our homes/apartments are, relative to almost every other first world country? We would have to cut our average home size basically in half to find ourselves in that dystopian anti-consumerist hell known as Japan.

      Also, my mother is a hoarder, possibly as a result, I hate stuff, I hate clutter, something something bravery debate.

      • g says:

        Depends on what part of America. If you’re in (e.g.) New York, San Francisco or Boston, then your home is not massive unless you are very rich. Another way of looking at this: living in a prosperous city is now a very, very expensive luxury good. Unfortunately, an awful lot of the jobs are in prosperous cities.

        (America is not unique in this. You mentioned Japan, and living space in Tokyo is scarce indeed. London, Dublin and Paris are all really expensive. Perhaps it seems particularly bad in America exactly because in the past a lot more people had a lot more space: smaller population and less concentration in cities.)

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Another way of looking at this: living in a prosperous city is now a very, very expensive luxury good. Unfortunately, an awful lot of the jobs are in prosperous cities.

          Another way of looking at this: landlords are capturing more of the economic value of the land they own, and the only way to capture and keep the sort of salary that these big city jobs command is to have enough capital to be part of the landed class.

          I think this is bad, to be clear.

          • Nick says:

            When you say landed class, do you mean just landlords, or people who own their own homes? My impression is that the latter folks wanting to grow the value of their homes for nice retirements or whatever is a big reason more housing isn’t built. Is that not true, or are they part of the problem, or what?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            People who own homes they plan to sell for more money in this sort of area seem a lot like landlords (in this context) to me. It’s just a matter of what form they expect a return on their investment to take, and whether it’s a primary source of (lifetime) income.

            In either case, it’s housing that’s purchased with the expectation of extracting future profits. The people who landlord are directly skimming value off the workers (in exchange for flexible housing and services, obviously – workers aren’t serfs and competent landlording is hard… but it’s also pretty profitable), while the people who buy to sell are betting that

            A) they’ll be able to sell to landlords later

            B) people in the future will be willing to part with a larger share of their (inflation-adjusted) income for the same property.

            B) makes sense for house flippers and is good in that case. But where you don’t make any improvements to the house and still expect the inflation-adjusted price to rise, you’re just betting that people from the future will give up more of their wealth than you were willing to for what you have now. Which is the same thing as extracting more of the returns to city living.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Hoopyfreud, I’m not disagreeing with you, but people who own their house with the intent of selling it are also like renters.

            They tend to avoid making modifications to their houses which might damage the resale value.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Nancy

            Sorry, I’m having a bit of trouble parsing this comment. Could you elaborate?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ll try to unpack it.

            If you rent, you generally can’t do anything too non-standard to your living space because the landlord is expecting to eventually need to find another renter, and if you’re going for a large market of renters, you want to be offering something most people don’t mind.

            If you own with an eye to selling, you aren’t dealing with an individual landlord, but you’re merely eliminated the middleman between yourself and that large market of typical customers.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            One big difference is an owner/occupier, even if looking for investment value, is typically more willing than a renter to make capital improvements that increase the value of the home. Renters tend to avoid this both because they lose any value remaining when they move on, and because if they increase the value of the home the landlord may increase the rent so they pay twice! In a world where complicated financial arrangements were common and accessible this might not be so; the renter would make the improvement and make an agreement to recoup at least some of the value from the landlord. In practice this is rare.

            I think seeing New York, at least, as some sort of feudal island where the landlords rule supreme and extract all the value without providing anything in return is counterfactual, however.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @The Nybbler

            Agreed! I’m not saying the terminal state will inevitably be that 100% of the city premium is extracted from renters. But housing costs are outstripping wage increases in these areas and don’t seem likely to slow down until demand enters a more elastic domain. Why would they?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            Certainly as long as demand grows faster than supply we can expect prices to rise. But supply is not wholly inelastic. Since I moved to the area in 2010, many new residential units have been built in Midtown, and Chelsea, and Hudson Yards, and Jersey City (substitute good!), and Long Island City (just east of Manhattan) has gone from industrial wasteland to residential area. These units are typically high-end units, so some of the increase in prices you see is a result of additions at the top of the market, not organic increase.

          • albatross11 says:

            Both the rent and the rent-seeking are too damned high.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          If you’re in (e.g.) New York, San Francisco or Boston, then your home is not massive

          It’s still considerably bigger than in other countries though: average one-bedroom size is apparently 676 sqft in Seattle, versus 495 sqft in the UK (although that is an outlier in the other direction).

          • g says:

            Yeah, the UK is unusually bad.

            I’d expect shortage of space / cost of housing to show up not only in average size given #bedrooms, but also in the distribution of #bedrooms, and comparing just the former seems dubious to me. (E.g., it could be true — though, to be clear, I have no particular reason to think it is — that the UK’s 1-bedroom homes are smaller but they’re a smaller fraction of the market and more people and families live in homes with more bedrooms.)

            According to [this article](https://www.housebeautiful.com/uk/lifestyle/property/news/a2590/average-uk-property-size-comparison/) the average floor area of houses sold in the UK in 2016 was 90m^2. A bit of casual googling didn’t turn up an equivalent figure for, say, New York, but [this](https://ny.curbed.com/2016/9/21/12999536/nyc-apartment-sizes-decrease) says that the average newly built NY apartment in the 2010-2016 period was 866ft^2 or about 80m^2. But that’s in New York specifically and only apartments (though I assume the huge majority of homes in NYC are apartments). I’m not sure what bias the restriction to newly built apartments causes.

            I bet this means that, say, London is worse than New York. But, again, the UK is unusually miserable in this respect.

        • brad says:

          Eh. I live in NYC in a building not all that different from the ones my great grandparents lived in when they came off the boat. I have a *lot* more space than they did.

          I agree that the US specifically and the West generally has screwed up housing markets. I’m intrigued but not convinced yet by land tax arguments. But I think it is easy to exaggerate how bad things are on the basis of a rose colored view (when not outright fictional) of a short and narrow point in time-space (i.e. post war America) that had special circumstances.

    • John Schilling says:

      I once bought about a year’s supply of canned veggies when they were less than half off.

      And promptly discovered that buying in bulk is a false economy if you don’t budget for storage space, yes. This is an actual economic tradeoff, not “QED I need moar spacez cheap!”

      Also the author appears to be something of a foodie who considers her life unduly constrained if she doesn’t have her own personal spice rack and a full counter of specialized appliances, etc, yet she also insists on living in one of the cool cosmopolitan cities where rents are being bid up by cool people wanting to live in a community with e.g. a diverse assortment of upscale restaurants.

      I got bored partway through because she wasn’t getting to the core point of how much stuff people need before their lives are unduly constrained and the rest of us should care. I can imagine that if e.g. you don’t have a closet with enough room for a week of business casual plus weekend clothes minimally covering the range of “unclogging the drain” through “fancy party”, that would be a real problem. Not having a separate walk-in closet for just your shoes, laughable non-problem. Where the author demands everyone should fit on that scale, is unclear.

      I’d be up for a good article about whether a studio apartment or one bedroom + shared space in a larger apartment is unduly constraining for the median and/or 90th-percentile WEIRD. This isn’t it, or if it is it took way too long getting to that point.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz,
      Thank you very much for sharing that essay!

      I thought it very cogent, and the links it provided were excellent.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Well, yeah. Move to the suburbs or otherwise make do with less attractive neighborhoods/cities. You are in fact constrained by the space you can afford, so you need to trade-off your space vs. other stuff in your life.

      This is what I tell people who insist on living in pricey neighborhoods and making do with little space, but those people tend to value different things from me. And the same with me vs. the rest of my family, as the rest of my family would prefer to live on a half acre, and I am fine with a postage stamp.

      • Dack says:

        Definitely a local problem and not a national problem.

        • Plumber says:

          I disagree.

          Boston is the other side of the continent from me and the situation the author described in the link was spot on for here and more than 9/10th of of every place I’ve ever known.

  14. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The Democratic National Committee is going to host televised primary debates with twenty candidates.
    Just the candidates who have already jumped both of the hoops mentioned in the article include Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. … any bets on whether they’ll have to deal with 21+ crossing those thresholds before debate night?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Oh man, I need to buy some popcorn. This probably won’t be as fun as 2015’s primary season, but it still looks to be a circus in the works.

    • Clutzy says:

      To me this seems idiotic. Just like the RNC they are doing themselves a disservice. For at least the first debate (and probably 2-3) they should bid out two or three debates to NBC/ABC/FOX/CBS then the winners of the bids get to draft candidates in a snake draft format. The debates are aired on different days. IMO anything more than a 6 person debate kind of become pointless, but at least with my plan you can have two ten person debates or three seven person debates.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        They may be operating on the thesis, “if it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.”

        • Clutzy says:

          Im not really sure it works. Im almost 100% sure it doesn’t help voters pick a strong candidate.

        • Deiseach says:

          They may be operating on the thesis, “if it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.”

          Yeah, but it’s either going to be twenty people yelling over each other to get the moderator’s attention so they can sell themselves to the electorate in a three-minute uninterrupted speech (with everyone else trying to interrupt them) or it’ll be Person A says ‘I believe nicness is nice” and the other nineteen agreeing with them, in which case why have a debate at all?

          Probably though the latter would degenerate into “I agree, and I think we should have even more niceness!” “Well, I think we should strive to be super nice!” “Only super nice? I stand for super-duper niceness!” and then we get twenty people yelling over one another.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          20 people on stage means the craziest gets the attention. This is not how you get good people, let alone good policy.

          Random “brackets” of 6-person debates held over a week is better. Mix them up. Or else find a way to cut the field, but the big problem is that whoever has the power to “cut the field” has too much power.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh my gosh, this could be hugely entertaining in a car-crash way.

      Who is the unfortunate moderator who has to mind these mice at a crossorads? Because you’ve got a lovely selection of “the deck was stacked against me because of sexism/racism/homophobia/religious bigotry (both pro- and anti-religion) on the part of the moderator who never gave me my fair chance to speak” right there for any disgruntled who feel they didn’t get fair treatment.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        for any disgruntled who feel they didn’t get fair treatment

        Or any who feels that there is capital to be made by affecting such disgruntlement.

        • Deiseach says:

          Or any who feels that there is capital to be made by affecting such disgruntlement.

          That would be all of them 🙂

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Irrelevant question: In my browser (Chrome), Deiseach’s reply is:

            That would be all of them

            followed on the same line by an unfilled vertical rectangle. I’ve seen this on lots of comments, especially hers, and have begun to assume it was a smiley face or other emoji that is not rendering properly for me.

            Is my guess right? I end with an ascii smiley face as a partial test 🙂

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Aha, even an ascii smiley face — colon-dash-closeparen — looks like a rectangle to me.

            Is wordpress helpfully turning the ascii into an emoji that chrome isn’t rendering? Or is wordpress censoring even ascii emojis in order to keep up the tone?

          • The Nybbler says:

            WordPress “helpfully” turns :-) into a smiley face emoji 🙂

          • CatCube says:

            @Doctor Mist

            No, the smiley shows up for me in Edge, both in Deiseach’s and yours. WordPress is inserting it, but your browser isn’t rendering it.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m guessing that after the Hillary Clinton / Bernie Sanders fiasco, the party is very (perhaps overly) concerned with avoiding the perception that they stacked the deck against someone the committee felt was a fringe candidate but who turned out to be exceptionally popular.

    • fion says:

      A 20-way debate is not a debate. Personally I’m sceptical that even one-on-one debates are helpful to voters, because of the need to go for soundbites rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of disagreements. But there’s absolutely no chance with 20 people.

      I’m glad Inslee got his donations to get in there. Hopefully he’ll be able to get them talking about the climate emergency.

    • brad says:

      I’m not sure debates are useful at all now that everyone is so highly prepped, but a debate with twenty people is clearly stupid. No one is going to want to watch for more than two hours (an hour would be much better). That’s 6 minutes per person, not including moderator time and clapping. Come on.

    • theredsheep says:

      I would like to see all such debates replaced by all the candidates sitting down to play anonymized games of Diplomacy or something. Even Catan would be more interesting.

    • Dan L says:

      Y’all need to read the damn article, if for no other reason but to make your fantasies about how the DNC is going to screw the pooch more true to reality. The 20-person limit is a hard cap, not simply the number of people who have currently met the criteria (a full 20 at the moment, with a few more prospects competing for the chance to be relegated.). The “first debate” is two separate events with 10 candidates on stage at a time – there isn’t an event where all 20 will be up.

      Going beyond what’s laid out in the article, the candidates will be assigned randomly between the two nights with some light seeding – the top 8* and bottom 12 will be evenly split 4/6, but exact order is undetermined. The obvious rationale is to adapt to the criticism leveled at both parties in 2016, and include as large an array of candidates as possible while defending against accusations of favoritism.

      This isn’t an obviously foolish strategy because much like the RNC in 2016 they’ve scheduled 12 debates (!) and are starting even earlier in the calendar. And while it’ll be interesting to see how support distributes from eliminated minor candidates, it currently looks likely they’ll be down to ~8-10 participants by round 3 in September – RNC 2016 took until January to get that far.

      Obviously this isn’t going to be a “debate”, in the sense of people with opposing views directly confronting each other to decide whose position is stronger. But I’d argue those have been essentially dead for several cycles at this point. No, this is the same as any other political debate on a slightly larger scale – a pageant for candidates to give their stump speeches while voters pick their favorite, and a Schelling point for pundits to re-orient their talking points.

      *Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, and Booker, unless the rating goes screwy. Castro and Yang might make round 3, would take significant developments for anyone else.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Thanks for this. It looks like the best possible response to a crazy situation.

  15. Why is it when watching a tv show, many people, myself included, find it easier to sympathize with a cold blooded killer than a normal self absorbed narcissist?

    • DeWitt says:

      Because the killers are written and casted to be sympathetic whereas the narcissists aren’t.

    • greenwoodjw says:

      Because the killer is often depicted as effective and intelligent, and the narcissist is generally depicted as a buffoon.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      Because you are programmed evolutionarily to be self deceived about the extent to which you are a narcissist. This is so that you can more effectively deceive others regarding your motives. Since your brain is busy deceiving you into thinking you are not as narcissistic as you actually are, then the brain does not allow you to identify with the narcissist. We are all Donald Trump but most of us do not realize it.

      • Two McMillion says:

        I would be okay with being the “is the President” part of Donald Trump.

      • Yair says:

        The most I’m prepared to accept, not just for myself but for others as well is that part of all of us behaves like Donald Trump, or would behave like it if it wasn’t restricted by other parts.

        But that is not all what most people are, just a small part of them.

    • AG says:

      This is similar to the “why are we okay with violence but not sex in media” question.
      Which is that depictions of violence have more overt craft to them. We know that it’s impressive for the stuntmen to have trained in order to pull off those physical feats, that it’s impressive for the set designers and production designers and special effects designers to have created the sets and props and technology to put a scene of violence together. It’s much harder to find a non-subjective evaluation of how sex was depicted, and to be impressed by the production value.

      A cold blooded killer on TV usually is shown to be competent, to have tangibly accomplished something. An sloppy killer, such as one who killed in a fit of passion and panics afterwards, is incompetent and engenders less sympathy. There was no craft or skill in their act.

      The self-absorbed narcissist is actually quite the popular antihero protagonist these days, but they are always paired with being very, very good at their jobs. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, etc. The Tortured Genius is interesting. The Tortured Normal Dude, not so much.

      • MorningGaul says:

        “It’s much harder to find a non-subjective evaluation of how sex was depicted, and to be impressed by the production value.”

        The range over which sex scenes can vary in production value may be smaller, but i’d argue that there is one, and that most movies stay in a tiny spot of boring conventional sex, where the largest variation is wether the participants keep their underwears or not.

        Imagine a world in which depictions of violence was stuck in the 50’s style of people punching each other on the shoulder in turn, or getting shot and falling down with neither blood nor gore. No comedic violence à la Jackie Chan, no 5-minutes-of-mauling from The Revenant, no choregraphied sword fight in Kill Bill. It’s what happened here, but with sex.

        There are some movies that departs from that tiny spot, but they’re rare. The few that come to my mind right now are Angel Heart (grotesquely brutal sex), The Square (grotesquely awkward sex), and, to an extent, The Handmaiden (highly erotic sex), but they’re few and far between. Instead the “extreme” of the mainstream is GoT, because it shows dem titties.

        • AG says:

          Again, you have the case where even people who are grossed out by, say, horror gore or brutal action scenes can admit that the making of that scene was impressive for craft reasons.
          What does equivalent evaluation of a sex scene look like? Something like “the cinematography and blocking conveyed the emotions of the actors very well,” and we arguably could have that for kiss scenes, but it will never be nearly as impressive as “this actor pushed jeeps up hills to train for this, and an entirely new technology was invented to depict this special effect.” Sure, there’s still set/sound/clothing design, but those apply to all scenes, sex or regular drama or action. Action or supernatural scenes are the ones where you get extra craft on top of the baseline. The best sex scenes are basically those that are exemplary acting scenes, but the sex isn’t appreciated for itself, but as a vehicle for the acting, whereas action itself can be appreciated as craft. Sex appreciated for itself is dependent on individual audience’s kinks, so more like comedy in how subjectively it can be received.

          The middle ground being “sex as depicted through dance,” but it says something that there’s more aesthetic merit in sensuality, depicting sex indirectly, than depicting sex itself. (Besides which, dance again restores more overt athletic skill to the evaluation matrix.) See for example, wherein sexiness is not deterred by no skin being shown.

          • albatross11 says:

            I wonder how much of this difference is cultural/historic, and how much is dependent on the way most people react to sexual imagery. My first guess is that we get beautiful artistically rendered vivisection-of-enemies scenes because there’s been a high-end culturally approved demand for that stuff for a century, whereas explicit sex scenes have mostly been either hampered by the need to keep an R rating, or pushed off to the fringes of porn movies. But maybe this reflects some inherent difference in how people respond to sex vs violence.

          • AG says:

            Vivisection of enemies takes a very appreciable physical skill that you can legibly train for.

            So for sex, the closest equivalent is to find an indirect quantification. “He had X number of wives and concubines (and fucked them all in one night)! He sowed his oats across X number of nations, and fathered X number of children!”

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      If you mock and despise a self-absorbed narcissist (in your tribe), you’ll probably end up lowering their social status and thus increasing yours. If you mock and despise a cold-blooded killer you’ll probably end up dead.

      And vise versa, by being friends with an obvious narcissist you gain nothing and look like a fool for buying into their foolish pride. By being friends with a cold-blooded killer you increase chances that they’ll kill your enemies instead of you (and your enemies will think of that too and probably will try to be someone else’s enemies instead).

    • Protagoras says:

      I imagine there are multiple reasons, and agree with some of the suggestions so far. I would add that killing seems more likely to be interpreted as a metaphor, while the things the self-absorbed narcissist does are things I and people in my life do and are more likely to be read straight.

  16. J Mann says:

    Regarding SMBC’s Magnum Opus Comic on Climate Change:

    I really enjoy SMBC, but I think the metaphor fails.

    – First, if scientists announced that we had to reorganize the world economy to avoid global warming releasing a kraken that would threaten humanity, I think skepticism would be in order.

    – Second, my understanding is that a lot of the actual current debate is about how much warming we are likely to see, and what the consequences are. I’m not sure this models that in an interesting way.

    – Third, if the warmists sincerely believed that (a) warming was going to release a kraken that would render humanity extinct, and (b) attempts to reorganize the world economy were unlikely to substantially reduce the risk of (a), I’d wonder why they weren’t pressing for more technological and regulatory work on climate engineering earlier.

    ETA: To clarify my third point, SMBC announce near the end of the strip that people didn’t reorganize the world economy until “the only alternative was geoengineering,” but by that point “it was too late.” Is the point of the strip that warmists are too ill-informed to begin work on geoengineering sooner? If so, I think that’s not clear enough.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I’m pretty sure he doesn’t intend us to take the comics that seriously.

      Somewhat related, SMBC is making me seriously worry I suffer from dementia. I keep clicking “Random” and the comics barely repeat themselves. Am I that forgetful or his he writing like 3 a day?

      • Nick says:

        I’m subscribed via RSS and he is putting out between 1 and 3 a day.

        • J Mann says:

          Wow. I sort of appreciate that Order of the Stick comes out at random. I check it every day and am delighted when a new strip is out, but most days I don’t have to spend the time reading it. 🙂

      • JPNunez says:

        When he wants to promote an upcoming book he releases like two comics a day.

        Which is insane because on top of doing the comics he is writing said books.

        Some of the more successful webcomic artists have great work ethics.

        David Willis, the guy behind Dumbing of Age, Shortpacked, Roomies, etc, is drawing comics ahead of time. Like three or four months ahead of time.

        • Nick says:

          David Willis, the guy behind Dumbing of Age, Shortpacked, Roomies, etc, is drawing comics ahead of time. Like three or four months ahead of time.

          I think that’s common with comics generally. I believe I read an anecdote from Jim Davis (the cartoonist behind Garfield) in which he mentioned he had to draw like six weeks ahead of newspapers.

          • bean says:

            I’d guess it’s more common than not with anyone who is producing regular content like this on a schedule and doesn’t have to work last-minute because they’re a news columnist or something. The 6-week lead for Garfield probably has more to do with distribution requirements (particularly in the old days) than anything else, but even for something like a webcomic, you’re going to want to run a reasonably large buffer. Some weeks you’re going to be really productive, and be able to crank out two weeks worth of content no problem. Other weeks, you’re going to get sick or just be really busy, and it’s nice on those weeks to be able to say “you know what, I can just take the week off, because there’s plenty of buffer.”

            Source: Have a regularly scheduled blog and usually run a month or so of buffer.

          • JPNunez says:

            I think that it has been becoming that way in the webcomic space. QC guy is a week ahead, cause after a decade of drawing the same day he saw Willis and decided he could use some discipline.

            Something Positive is irregular as fuck.

            There are tons of webcomics where the artist just hits delays, stops updating, etc, etc. But the successful ones are more often than not very regular. I think that Something Positive is the only one I read that does not maintain a schedule, so there’s probably some survivor effect going on.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Order of the Stick is irregular, mostly because Burlew has a long-term recurring illness.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        It’s been running since 2002, although it hasn’t been daily all that time. Originally the comics were sequentially numbered, but that stopped around #4000, 3 years ago, so probably 5000 total comics by now. (That would be 14 years of daily comics, so totally believable.) √5000=70 comics to repeat.

    • mwengler says:

      I like the analogy but like you am not sure how well it fits.

      What if not acting meant only a 10% chance of releasing the Kraken? It would still be worth quite a bit in terms of expectation value to lower that chance by a few percent. This part of the analogy is good: we should quantify the harm and quantify the expected gains from amelioration and compare them to the costs.

      I like your point about geoengineering. From reading freakonomics book 2, I am pretty convinced that geoengineering is a tiny tiny fraction as expensive as stopping fossil fuels, and wish to see more detail on that.

    • gbdub says:

      It suffers from the same problem as most discussion of climate change: it treats it as binary catastrophe that either you believe in and prevent, or don’t believe in and are doomed. When in reality the change and any efforts to mitigate / prevent it all exist on complex and uncertain continuums.

      Since this misconception is pretty mindkilling to the discussion I would have hoped the usually pretty smart SMBC wouldn’t promote it.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s not designed to convince anyone. It’s designed to mock the outgroup. And mocking the outgroup is funny! Ha ha!

        • cassander says:

          Hey, it’s not my fault mocking them is so fun. I didn’t make them stupid and ugly!

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I’d find this objection more convincing if the bailey wasn’t denialist.

        • gbdub says:

          Uh I’m not a denialist. I have never stated that I don’t think human activity is impacting the climate, and would not, because I believe that statement would be false. Don’t be a jerk.

          EDIT: and to clarify, I think BOTH the “we’re literally doomed in 12 years” crowd and the “denialist” set make this error of treating climate change as a binary.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I didn’t mean to imply you were a denialist. I can understand why you took it that way.

            I was trying to make a point about objecting to someone who is making a point about the many who ARE frolicking in that bailey.

          • gbdub says:

            If my statement or some flavor of it is the motte, then I think the SMBC comic is frolicking in a bailey of its own.

            The point of the comic seems to be “denialists are so dumb they wouldn’t work together to stop a giant world eating kraken”.

            Collapsing the entire climate change discussion into “it’s obviously catastrophic, the only open question is whether we are doomed ‘soon’ or ‘very soon’, and the solution is obvious once everyone agrees that a solution is needed, everyone who disagrees with me is stupid” is smack in the middle of the “warmist” bailey. If it is making a point about “denialists” in their bailey it is neither a clever nor original one.

            Admittedly, the punchline is funny. And it is a comic after all. But I don’t think it’s as smart as SMBC has shown itself capable of being.

        • greenwoodjw says:

          I’d find the claims more convincing if there wasn’t a history of demands for war-crime trials for experts who disagree and the solutions weren’t all “have a Command Economy”

          • gbdub says:

            Drive by one liners are annoying from both sides, is the meta point I’m trying to make, please don’t feed this dynamic.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            war-crime trials for experts

            This is referring to what exactly?

          • greenwoodjw says:

            Awhile ago, several sources and leaders within meteorology and climate research talked about professional repercussions for anyone who questioned the theory. It’s old, so the only reference I can find is:
            https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases-all?ID=A4017645-DE27-43D7-8C37-8FF923FD73F8

          • I wouldn’t even go that far. There are certainly those who do propose “command economy” as the solution (which makes no sense given what the problem actually is; follow the money shouldn’t end at following the money, because the next necessary step is to follow the demand, but that puts consumers under the spotlight rather than oil barons so…), but the mainstream position I see from climate activists is that we need to do something underspecified like “reduce our reliance on fossil fuels”, and that their opponents, the “denialists” aren’t doing enough reducing. There doesn’t seem to be a unification of the movement behind a specific plan to begin with, so the command economy folks are probably out of luck.

            We’re certainly doing something, because we’re subsidizing green energy, nuclear fusion, and solar R&D and placement all across the world. There’ve been scientific attempts to define the problem a little better, and to say that we need emissions below this specific level or we will face this many degrees of warming by this date, and it’s possible a more coherent movement could eventually form that can stick to a specific claim put forward by the IPCC, but at the moment I see all sorts of vague handwaveyness about “doing more”.

            There are limits to doing more, as President Macron has found out. First world populations have already been made afraid of the threat of backsliding in living standards for the latest generations, and cutting fossil fuels without 1:1 green replacement necessarily requires those declines. Net zero carbon emissions with 1:1 green energy replacement (accounting for growth too) by 2050 sounds great, but net zero carbon emissions minus that is basically a recipe for populist uprisings and the spread of politically motivated denialism that only makes the problem worse.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            It’s old, so the only reference I can find is:
            https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases-all?ID=A4017645-DE27-43D7-8C37-8FF923FD73F8

            In other words, the “history” you’re talking about is one article in an obscure magazine from 2006.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Then there’s Bill Nye pushing for jail time for climate skeptics. And of course the treasure trove of the CRU emails (“Climategate”, basically memory holed in the mainstream), which included ensuring papers with the wrong view could not get published.

          • g says:

            Here’s the complete text of the article with the “demands for war-crime trials”:

            Check out this startling excerpt from George Monbiot’s new book Heat. It’s about the climate-change “denial industry,” which most of you are probably familiar with. What you may not know about is the peculiar role of the tobacco industry in the whole mess. I’ve read about this stuff for years and even I was surprised by some of the details. When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.

            Of note: (1) it’s one guy’s opinion, which so far as I can tell was never widely shared. (2) It’s a throwaway remark attached to a link to excerpts from a book, not a carefluly argued thesis. Maybe the author would stand by it as a serious proposal, maybe it was just hyperbole, maybe he really meant it but would retract it if pushed. Hard to tell. More importantly, (3) it seems clear to me that it’s not about “experts who disagree” but about people who (allegedly) deliberately mislead the public for their, or their employers’, financial benefit. The book extract Roberts links to claims that the same process that’s been well documented in the case of the tobacco industry — the industry discovers that what they’re doing is severely harmful, and responds by a lavishly funded disinformation campaign that successfully delays public acceptance of what eventually turns out to have been clearly correct science — is being employed by the fossil fuel industry, in many cases using the exact same people and organizations.

            I personally would be quite content to see the people responsible for the tobacco misinformation campaigns — not, to be clear, people like Ronald Fisher who may well have been perfectly honest, but the tobacco company executives who knew damn well that they were selling products that were highly addictive and caused terrible health problems and literally millions of premature deaths, and who did everything they could to deceive the public about that so that they could continue making money from selling those products — treated like the mass murderers they are.

            And, as I understand it, Monbiot’s book claims that something exactly parallel is going on with fossil fuels and their environmental consequences; if so, then the people responsible — again, not those who honestly disagree with the majority view of climate scientists, but those who allegedly knew that their products were doing tremendous harm and responded by knowingly setting out to deceive the public so as to preserve their profits — are similarly culpable, and that’s the position Roberts was taking, and whether right or wrong (and there are plenty of ways it might turn out wrong) it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me.

            Also, of course, “have a command economy” is pure weapons-grade bullshit; approximately no one is proposing that.

          • cassander says:

            @G

            Also, of course, “have a command economy” is pure weapons-grade bullshit; approximately no one is proposing that.

            I would disagree. You get calls for an energy command economy all the time. the green new deal, an Apollo program for energy, and so on. I dare say that if you asked the average pro-agw activist (we need better names for these factions) if they would rather have a carbon tax or nationalization of the energy sector, they’d prefer the latter, and lament that the former was more politically feasible. Sure, they don’t say outright they want to nationalize the entire economy at once but they do what to nationalize energy. And health. And education, where it hasn’t been done already. And finance. And, increasingly, tech. After that, there’s not a whole lot left.

          • g says:

            @cassander Well, I read the Markey/AOC “Green New Deal” resolution, and I didn’t see anything there calling for a command economy. I dunno, maybe there’s dogwhistle language there that Those In The Know understand as code for turning the US communist or something, but I’m not sure how to distinguish that from perfectly reasonable language that Those Who Are Paranoid misunderstand as code for turning the US communist.

            The “Apollo program for energy” appears to be asking developed nations to spend 0.02% of their GDP on research into cost-effective non-carbon-based energy production. Unless “command economy” means “having a government that ever spends any money on anything”, this doesn’t seem to me anything like a call for a command economy.

            I’m a leftish person not in the US (which I guess translates to “far left” in US terms, though I don’t consider myself far-left at all) and think anthropogenic climate change is a serious problem. I also think a command economy would likely be disastrous and have no wish for nations that currently have market-based economies to switch to command economies. So I’m super-skeptical about your claim that “they” want to Nationalize All The Things.

            (Wanting to nationalize Some Of The Things needn’t mean wanting a command economy, though. The right fraction of The Things for the government to run might be somewhere between 0 and 100%. There are some quite successful countries where that fraction is quite a bit higher than it is in the US.)

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Were the original new deal and Apollo program “command economies”? If not, what makes the new programmes modelled after them different? This is an especially interesting question for the latter, which is named as such because it commits to spending the same amount of money — and therefore vastly less as a proportion of GDP — as its namesake.

            If they were, then you are either in a distinct minority of people who believe those things were terrible, or else it’s dishonest to mention them since they are very non-central examples of command economies.

          • cassander says:

            @g says:

            @cassander Well, I read the Markey/AOC “Green New Deal” resolution, and I didn’t see anything there calling for a command economy.

            Again, I didn’t claim they say they want a command economy outright. I said they want to nationalize everything they think is important, and that ends up with a mostly command economy.

            So I’m super-skeptical about your claim that “they” want to Nationalize All The Things.

            Well, then answer me this. Are you in favor of (not “do you think this is politically feasible”) single payer healthcare? free college for all? National programs building a smart grid with green power? Postal banking and dramatic increases in regulation on finance?

            Because those programs would amount to nationalization of a huge swathe of the economy. It’s not dog whistling, it’s just you have a long list of things you think need a lot more government control.

            (Wanting to nationalize Some Of The Things needn’t mean wanting a command economy, though.

            And you have to see that “we don’t want to nationalize this thing yet” is not particularly comforting. I look at the left today and they want to nationalize things that they think are important, just like they did 80 years ago. all that’s changed is their definition of the commanding heights, and I think that an economy where the commanding heights are nationalized can fairly be called a command economy even if it’s not 100%.

            @thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Were the original new deal and Apollo program “command economies”?

            Well the original new deal was very close to one. And apollo was certainly a command economy in a very narrow realm. An apollo program for energry, though, would amount to nationalization of 9% of GDP.

    • Walliserops says:

      I think the joke goes the other way, less “people would be skeptical if scientists claimed an ice kraken and told us to act (with little evidence behind them)” and more “people would fail to act even in the face of overwhelming evidence, like tentacles breaking off the ice and sinking ships”. The strip talks about the smaller effects of the krakening first, so any skeptic would have to have some good arguments about why the tentacles exist but the kraken can’t. Or why we’re seeing minor-to-moderate effects of global warming now, but won’t see major effects later. I think the metaphor works alright there.

      As for the comic’s point, I guess it’s something like “we are terrible at long-term planning, love the status quo, and outsourced our big decisions to meta-entities that optimize for economic profit over sustainability, so there’s no way we can organize global action against even a very obvious threat, like an Arctic kraken that just held a press conference and told reporters that yes, it intends to break free and lay waste to all that it sees”. I’d probably use an alien invasion over the kraken, or something like War with the Newts, but that’s harder to connect to the ice caps.

      • J Mann says:

        Yeah, I thought the metaphor was stretched there. It would be closer if the example was “scientists show expected increases in sea level rise and global average temperature, and there have been some tentacle attacks. Tentacle attack experts say it’s difficult to say if they’re more frequent or severe than historically from historic tentacle attacks, but climate scientists say these are the kind of tentacle attacks we can expect to see more of if their models are correct.”

    • Protagoras says:

      Still, at least a kraken is a plausible candidate for a magnificent octopus.

  17. JPNunez says:

    https://blog.piekniewski.info/2019/05/30/ai-circus-mid-2019-update/

    Asked for example, how OpenAI plans to make money (we wondered if it might license some of its work), Altman answered that the “honest answer is we have no idea. We have never made any revenue. We have no current plans to make revenue. We have no idea how we may one day generate revenue.”

    Continued Altman, “We’ve made a soft promise to investors that, ‘Once we build a generally intelligent system, that basically we will ask it to figure out a way to make an investment return for you.’” When the crowd erupted with laughter (it wasn’t immediately obvious that he was serious), Altman himself offered that it sounds like an episode of “Silicon Valley,” but he added, “You can laugh. It’s all right. But it really is what I actually believe.”

    Does Open AI want a paperclip maximizer?

    Cause this is how you get a paperclip maximizer.

    • Deiseach says:

      Once we build a generally intelligent system, that basically we will ask it to figure out a way to make an investment return for you

      Let’s hope it never gets to see either movie version of The Producers and gets a brilliant idea for a cunning plan as to how to raise money from it 🙂

    • Murphy says:

      Depends if they just ask it how as an oracle or ask it to actually do it.

      • JPNunez says:

        I will direct you to the works of the leader EY on why even asking how as an oracle is a bad idea

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI_box

        • Radu Floricica says:

          The main difference between an Oracle and something else is whether it has goals. The oracle doesn’t, so it’s reasonably safe to use it – at least orders of magnitude safer than anything else.

      • Depends if they just ask it how as an oracle or ask it to actually do it.

        It also depends on where the “ceiling” for the laws of physics is. It also depends on whether an AI that could understand “investment return” but somehow struggle with the “for you” part and everything implicit to that would even be able to operate effectively in the world to begin with.

    • sty_silver says:

      Not if the system is aligned.

    • yli says:

      Note that the profit is explicitly capped at 100x (the linked blog post also mentioned this)

      from https://openai.com/blog/openai-lp/ :
      > economic returns for investors and employees are capped … Any excess returns go to OpenAI Nonprofit. Our goal is to ensure that most of the value (monetary or otherwise) we create if successful benefits everyone, so we think this is an important first step. Returns for our first round of investors are capped at 100x their investment (commensurate with the risks in front of us), and we expect this multiple to be lower for future rounds as we make further progress.

      So, for example, if you own 1% of OpenAI and OpenAI ends up creating a superintelligence that takes control of the galaxy, you will not end up owning 1% of the galaxy. You just get 100x what you originally put in and that’s it.

      If they’re going to ask for for-profit investment at all, this seems like a reasonable and good way to do it. (OpenAI could still be stupid, evil and/or wrong for other reasons. But not for this reason.)

  18. Nick says:

    You’ll sometimes hear the refrain that politics is downstream of culture. We’ve surely heard on SSC the claim that politics is downstream of genetics. What else might it be downstream of? Is politics upstream of anything?

    For me politics is downstream of aesthetics, especially when I was younger*. If you think Mondrian and Pollock are the bomb, want every building to be a decaying concrete monolith, and believe noble simplicity is the only legitimate form of decoration, I probably hate you want you to lose elections. You can see how this gives me strong sympathy with traditionalism, even setting aside my religious views. It’s still present in my views on urbanism, where I think the simplest (not to say best) argument for my views is “Look at what they built, and look at what we build!”

    *And I’m still young, so we’re talking about the dark era when I was like 13.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nick,
      Sorry, I’m not following you.

      From your (brief) description of your esthetic sense I suspect that I (and most people who haven’t been indoctrinated educated with “International Style” architecture) have similar tastes, but I strongly believe that buildings are made in that style mostly because un-onamented boxes are cheaper, and other than supporting building codes that incorporate esthetics I don’t see how that maps to most political arguments.

      • Nick says:

        I strongly believe that buildings are made in that style mostly because un-onamented boxes are cheaper

        Does anyone have any evidence of this? The claim was tossed around a lot when this came up a few weeks ago, but without any backing. And when I tried searching for data, I couldn’t find any. Meanwhile, I regularly hear specific, falsifiable claims that are precisely the opposite, like that big concrete Brutalist buildings are very expensive because they’re heavier and require onsite casting. I’m not going to confidently proclaim you’re wrong, but I don’t see any reason to think you’re right either.

        ETA: To answer your question:

        I don’t see how that maps to most political arguments.

        Putting it hyberbolically, because high modernists and their narcissistic starchitects have been fucking up the world for a hundred years, despite our best efforts they remain ascendant, and if we let them they will finish the job. Out with the new, in with the old. Give cities and buildings and churches back to the people and we will build beautiful things, family-sized homes and people-sized cities. Decline to give power to childless technocrats, and let us partake again in an organic society of nested and overlapping loyalties, to family, to city, to homeland, to God, small ordered to large yet each autonomous in its own sphere. This is what we had! We can have it again!

        This is just my id, of course. Take with a heaping helping of salt. I don’t really believe in an cabal of evil architects and urban planners, but you could say I alieve it. But I really think it’s like 90% driven by aesthetics.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          fucking up the world for a hundred years

          After reading Seeing like a State I actually did the research. I felt the book was weird – I was supposed to dislike high modernism, and yet … the more I read the book the more I liked it. So I did some digging. Check out Unité d’Habitation in Marseille and Chandigarh . You’ll be surprised. Check out Brasil as well. Not only they stood the test of time, the passed it with flying colors and standing ovations. They’re still highly sought after and high-priced. Very much alive and kicking.

          What you’re most likely referring to is NOT high modernism, but its very bastard cousin: communism. Trying to pack as many people in cheap, uniform and faceless buildings does not make for good… anything, actually. Architecture, living, soul, life, whatever.

          But. This. Is. Not. Modernism.

          • Beck says:

            @ Radu
            I can’t speak for Nick, but I have a similar opinion to his on modernist architecture and all of your examples are basically exactly what I think of when I hear the word ‘modernism’.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Beck

            Which ones? Le Corbusier is modernism, but is successful. Prices for an appartment in the building in Marseille have risen in time.

            Slums are crap – but slums aren’t modernism.

          • Deiseach says:

            Trying to pack as many people in cheap, uniform and faceless buildings does not make for good… anything, actually.

            I think I agree with you, Radu. We had a minor cause celebré re: architecture in Dublin in the late 70s/very early 80s about a site which was archaeologically important because of Viking ruins.

            New offices for Dublin Corporation were needed and had been planned since the 60s. However, the decision to locate them slap-bang in a really old historic part of the city, and the general atmosphere of “tear it all down and slap up new modern trendy stuff” in development and urban planning in an Ireland which was desperately trying to modernise under the influence of a lot of gombeen men who saw only profit to be made and no value in the past made a lot of people uneasy.

            There were protests which ultimately came to nothing, and the ugly concrete egg-boxes got built. They were designed and defended by a wannbe-star architect, Sam Stephenson, who very bullishly defended Modernism and mocked those who weren’t thrilled by the notion of concrete bunkers in the usual terms would-be cosmopolitan urbane types use about their inferiors.

            The fact that (a) he claimed that the construction looked as bad as it did because what got built was originally intended to the basement level, or at the very least hidden by earthen ramparts/trees, and that the second phase never got built (since the Corpo didn’t have enough money, like every public body at the time) so it wasn’t his fault the result was so god-awful ugly (a different architect was later chosen to build the second phase) and (b) he then cleared off to London where he suddenly became converted to the virtues of Neo-Palladianism in architecture (my own cynical view at the time was that in London he couldn’t get away with mocking opposition as rednecks and hicks, and people there were confident enough in their sophistication not to be impressed by second-rate knockoffs of Continental Modernism, so he actually had to design and build what clients wanted) didn’t help the cause any:

            In later years, his architectural style changed. As he put it himself: “I used to be an apostle of modern architecture but I’ve given up that religion completely and am now an atheist. I go to bed with Palladio in the evening and get up with Lutyens.”

            Yeah. Pity he didn’t have his Damascene conversion before he wrecked the built heritage of Dublin!

            Modernism works when you’ve got an appropriate site, a decent architect, and plenty of money to build. Where it falls down is public buildings which will drag on for ages, will be chronically underfunded (because the taxpayers’ money) and will be pushing for ‘cheap and fast’ which results in ‘tacky and ugly’.

          • Beck says:

            @ Radu
            Of the three links you posted, the Unite in Marseilles is probably the least science fiction dystopian, and it:
            -Took 5 times the projected time to build.
            -Cost 8 times its projected cost.
            -Did not meet building code in place at the time of design/construction. This one is kind of wild. The building was basically given a waiver by code officials. Which is why you ended up with things like the egress route from some bedrooms running through the kitchen (where the fires start).
            -Was a pretty inefficient design in general. This link is pretty critical (it’s in the title), but has some good information.

            As an aside, I’m curious as to how many of the occupants are architects. Nearly every hotel review from there seemed to be architecture enthusiasts of some sort.

          • Liam Breathnach says:

            @Deiseach

            Interesting article on Wood Quay. I see from it that today is the 40th anniversary of the initial occupation.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Beck

            I’m trying to have as much an Outside View as possible because it’s a controversial topic and I don’t know a lot of architecture. That’s why I’m weighting a lot how successful the actual buildings/cities were in time, and they seem to be at least “decent”, even with a bit of paranoia, and up to “quite great” if you include architecture enthusiasts 🙂

            Budget and time overruns are something debatable. Maybe they’re bad. Or maybe they’re in line with the average for projects of this size. Maybe they happened because of regulation, or because of some other unpredictable factor. We’d need to know quite a lot about the details of the construction process to judge well.

            As for being up to code… I honestly think codes should only be used for Commons – stuff like “you build 200 apartments, it has to include a corresponding numbers of parking spaces because otherwise the city will basically have to finish your building and provide parking”. Otherwise, I should be free to like in a capsule if I so chose and afford.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nick

          “…This is what we had! We can have it again!..”

          How?

          Usually politics is framed as “statist” versus “free market”, both of which deliver giant towering apartment blocks and office parks, the human-scale traditionalist architecture (championed by Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language (which I have to remember isn’t what others mean by “post-modernism”), doesn’t seem to be in the cards despite being popular.

          I don’t see it happening without well distributed wealth and power, which doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

          Whether the old Soviet commissars motivated by power or the current capitalist tycoons motivated by profit, all I see is new warren filled towers, with the new detached homes (allegedly inland and emptied after 2008) far away, and what remains of where people actually want to live (the old “inner-ring streetcar duburbs) where most of the homes were built before the second world war are increasingly priced out of reach of most people, and with “new urbanism” and “YIMBY” politically ascendant as local control is ripped away, the old homes are replaced by tower blocks until it all looks like Trantor, and families get smaller and delayed, and fewer and fewer have children at all, because who wants to bring children up in a smsllstudio apartment where you may never not hear yoURL neighbors, or (if you sleep where there’s more space) why have kids if your hours long commute means you seldom see your kids when they’re awake?

          • Nick says:

            Unfortunately, I don’t mean we can have it anytime soon; this isn’t politically feasible for more or less the reasons you say. The paleocons are big on this (see for instance the New Urbanism blog over at The American Conservative), and there are some other weird allies like the Peak Oil people (see for instance James Kunstler or John Michael Greer), but these are marginal political voices. I know strains on the left meanwhile are very positive about bringing back this sort of urbanism; I think their interventions take the form of more public transportation, but I dunno what else.

            It’s interesting that you blame the New Urbanism folks, because while they’re pretty density-friendly and pretty anti-suburb, they’re definitely not pro-Trantor. People-sized cities is what they’re all about, and that means opposing both rows of tower blocks and acres of suburbs a two hour commute from any damn jobs.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems like the NIMBY pressure is part of what makes those suburbs two hours from all the jobs happen. And also that the commute could be made a lot more efficient, but attempts to do so tend to run into other areas where sludge has taken over our ability to build highways, rail lines, bridges, etc., without spending thirty years in legal battles, environmental claims, etc. If you can’t build any new houses due to zoning/NIMBY legal battles, and you also can’t build new highways or high-speed rail due to zoning/NIMBY legal battles, then it’s going to be hard to solve the problem.

            If you want housing prices to come down, the only real way to get that to happen is to build more housing. If you want it to be workable to have a job and also afford a house, either the housing prices close to work need to come down, or the work needs to move to be closer to where the people are, or the commuting options need to get better so “close to work” gets redefined to something further away. 2/3 of those are basically blocked by the current NIMBY/drag every construction project out a couple decades in court thing that happens. The only remaining solution that works is to move the jobs away from those densely populated places, but there are advantages to siting your workplace where lots of potential employees already live, and economies of scale to having your workplace near lots of other businesses, so that’s not all that easy to do.

          • The Nybbler says:

            At least in much of the eastern part of the country, jobs moved out of the city and into the suburbs in the 1970s and 1980s, and didn’t move back in until the late 1990s to now. IMO the most likely cause of that was the destruction of the cities by the race riots of the 60s and 70s and the following long crime wave. So if you want to get the jobs back out to the suburbs, it seems like one possibility is to get riots going again in the cities. Side effects may be considerable.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        This is something I’d like to see investigated [costs of mondernist vs. traditional architecture]

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I don’t know about modernism in general, but brutalist public works in particular are super-expensive because people refuse to do maintenance.

    • Politics is often upstream of culture. The Prohibition reduces US alcohol consumption for decades. Christianity had a foothold in Japan until it was snuffed out. Politics is why North and South Korea are two completely different places.

      Something that probably has the most downstream effects is geography. Geography is why China and India are the most populous countries. Geography is why Europeans went to the Americas rather than vice-versa. Geography is why Subsaharan Africa was historically so disconnected from North Africa.

      • Murphy says:

        I’d throw in climate.

        Battles, crop failures and disease outbreaks shape politics.

        Weather shapes crop failures and disease outbreaks and a sudden cold snap can wipe out armies.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Geography determines local climate…

          • albatross11 says:

            Think of global stuff like the ocean currents. Europe without the Atlantic current would be a much less populated and pleasant place.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            … and why do you think that ocean currents are immune from geographic effect?

            ETA: I don’t want to be too flippant here. Certainly climate is an immensely complex system, and if one takes these arguments too far it gets rapidly to “It’s all, like, physics, man…”

            But, it’s my understanding that the hyrdo and thermodynamics of ocean currents are heavily impacted by topography.

      • Geography is why Subsaharan Africa was historically so disconnected from North Africa.

        There was regular trade across the Sahara, and I’m pretty sure that some of the Maghrebi rulers held territory south of it.

        My guess is that the disconnect was more due to disease, although that in part is affected by geography via climate.

    • Rohan Crawley says:

      What should my politics be if I have no strong opinions on architecture?

    • BBA says:

      What does it say about someone’s politics if they talk about artistic movements that are 50-100 years old as if they were current?

      • Nick says:

        It says they should probably hit the books.

        • BBA says:

          All right. Because you realize that nobody paints like Mondrian or Pollock anymore. No new Brutalist buildings are being designed. (Not sincerely, anyway.) The “modernism” you denounce is decades old.

          Now if you want to describe current politics as people who like Thomas Kinkade versus people who like Jeff Koons… well, I’m starting to see why I’m disillusioned with current politics.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Is politics upstream of anything?

      Law. Which affects culture. Feedback loops everywhere.

      • Nick says:

        Definitely. I figure that one direction is sometimes a lot stronger than the other, though. Especially at the individual level, like in my personal example.

    • Politics could be downstream of technology.

      • mwengler says:

        Politics could be downstream of technology.

        And it is also upstream. Politics has driven the development of nuclear power, the internet, extremely large scale infrastructure like highways, air travel, solar power, wind power, the structure of the international fossil fuels extraction industry.

        Chickens and eggs are mutually upstream and downstream of each other.

      • Lambert says:

        Not a stream.
        A tide, and King Knut.

    • mwengler says:

      Is politics downstream of culture? It most surely is upstream of culture a lot of the time. Politics enforces an end to racial segregation in the US. And racism has declined immensely.

      Is the chicken downstream of the egg? Or is the egg downstream of the chicken?

      • albatross11 says:

        But cultural changes made those political changes possible. In a world where most Americans were behind segregation, desegregation probably wouldn’t have been done via political means, because parties and politicians that tried would just get voted out of office at the next election.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Do you actually meet people who want everything to be a concrete monolith? I probably share your aesthetic tastes, but Brutalism is quite rare in my life so when I actually see some (like the inverted Ziggurat of Baal in Boston) I find it sort of quaint.

      I grew up in America’s Inland Northwest, where the creed seems to be we must not build anything beautiful, lest it be expensive. If we find ultimately that the endeavor proved expensive, we pat ourselves on the back for making sure it wasn’t beautiful. Founder effects being what they are, I suspect the hordes of people moving there are going to, quite by their own revealed preferences and the structure of the market, pave over paradise with superstores, tract homes, and great seas of parking lots. They’ll complain (how people in Seattle complain now) that the forests and lakes they moved to enjoy are just so darn crowded every weekend. Every house will be an island unto itself, reachable only by car.

      So for me the fear isn’t Concrete Halls of the Soviets, it’s the ubiquitous clusters of 12-unit apartment buildings arranged in a sea of parking spaces with some token landscaping. I’m sure it’s cost effective housing to build and to manage, but soul crushing.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Have to agree with this. Southern California style strip malls surrounded by parking lots, big box stores and detached chain restaurants. Well manicured and infinitely boring.

        As far as brutalist architecture: I’ve always loved the Geisel Library at UCSD, looks like a giant mushroom cloud of concrete.wiki

    • For me politics is downstream of aesthetics

      Politics is about values, of which aesthetics is the narrower form. Certainly, artistic taste is going to come into it, but it’s a lot broader than that as artistic taste is generally driven by a greater value system. Culture is also about values, but the interaction between different terminal values intrinsic to the nature of a person produces higher order, more abstract values. Politics is the communication of values with the hope of getting the world to conform to them (often through an institution like the state), combined with a series of truth claims about how reality is, which then flow back and interact with our values, changing them. Culture is all the value interaction we haven’t yet rigidly defined as politics due the particular practices involved, and when politics and culture combine we start to say things like “CULTURE WAR!” or “the personal is the political!”

      If you were to tunnel down to the bottom, you’d probably get at something like the OCEAN model of personality, but politics is not 100% downstream of the OCEAN in a base/superstructure way, because terminal values are by their nature going to be extremely local and a lot more concrete (“ick spiders!”) than abstract political principles (20,000 word essay about the value of the constitution of the United States). There are strong relationships (can be measured), such as between “liberals” and trait openness, which on the larger scale probably undergrid much of current politics, but since politics itself feeds back into values, there’s never going to be some perfect formula concocted that allows political bloggers to rule the masses using the power of psychohistory. Someone with low disgust sensitivity could deliberately adopt conservative politics, for example. Human society is anti-inductive because humans are the most reactive element in the universe, and any insider information has to be kept secret, because if it’s about the game, it’s also part of the game.

      But personally, I don’t like buildings that look like melted bike helmets.

  19. johan_larson says:

    If you like historical fiction or police procedurals, check out The Murderer in Ruins, by Cay Rademacher. It’s winter, 1947, Hamburg. The city has been bombed to bits and is occupied by the British. A lot of desperate people — looters, street kids, prostitutes, black marketers, and just plain ordinary folks — are trying to get by. And someone is killing people, stripping them naked and dumping them in ruined buildings. The plot is only so-so, but Rademacher does a great job of setting the scene, crisply depicting the hard lean years immediately after the war.

    • Nick says:

      Sorry, I only like historical fiction xor police procedurals.

      More seriously, sounds like a neat setting.

  20. Murphy says:

    has anyone been playing with the fake article generator?

    https://rowanzellers.com/grover/

    This is apparently a larger model than the one used in talktotransformer (unless I’ve misread the paper)

    I tried the prompt

    New Study Provides Evidence That Bread Causes Murder

    and got this:

    A team of researchers conducted a study on human genetics and found a genetic mutation in baker’s yeast that can lead to “delayed developmental defects.” Specifically, they found that this mutation correlates with a lowered IQ, which in turn results in higher levels of violence. This effect occurred even when controlling for socioeconomic factors.
    The researchers then compared the DNA of the afflicted with that of a control group of 18,000 DNA samples. They found that the connection between genes controlling hunger, an aversion to sweet foods, and “excessive aggression,” was also causally connected to another genetic mutation that increases an individual’s sensitivity to pain. The study found that the two genes were responsible for 23 percent of all violent events committed between 1984 and 2016.
    This led them to hypothesize that the genes responsible for sugary foods and harsh physical punishment could be responsible for the “blanket effects” in a large number of people. The biological motivation for these behaviors, they concluded, may be a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy” that results in a more extreme course of action, where violence is the only option available.
    Read the full story at The Conversation.

    Related

    Women’s brains show increased stress response after handling sugar
    Young men are not getting enough physical activity, warn scientists
    Pigeons are now chewing their own poop and scientists want us to give it a try

    What’s facinating to me is that it’s not just noise.

    It’s picking things that are surprisingly coherent. Sure, there’s the discontinuity between bakers yeast and human genetics but other than that this is remarkably similar to a regular popsci article.

    It’s built a surprisingly coherent narrative.


    And this was my first click on the generate button.

    Also, gotta love how it inserts the 3 “related”stories including “Pigeons are now chewing their own poop and scientists want us to give it a try”

    • Murphy says:

      On a related not why is the term f a k e n e w s apparently blocked? is there any master list of banned terms that will cause a post to silently disappear?

      I was trying to link the title of the grover page but it kept running into that filter

      • Plumber says:

        @Murphy

        Why

        “to celebrate the recent election

        is there any master list of banned terms that will cause a post to silently disappear?

        Yes, under the heading “Censored Wordshere

  21. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve played with the notion of genetically modifying people to handle an impoverished environment. To what extent could people be modified to need less water when maintaining full intelligence?

    • deltafosb says:

      Case in point: cats (and probably other carnivores?) have high renal efficiency:

      Their kidneys are so efficient, they can survive on a diet consisting only of meat, with no additional water,[108] and can even rehydrate by drinking seawater.[109][107]:29

      This might be one of the bottlenecks in colder climates; I guess you can’t do much if the human you would like to design was to live in a hot climate – you need to sweat after all.

      • beleester says:

        Maybe you could increase blood flow near the skin to help with radiating heat?

    • johan_larson says:

      We humans have inefficient kidneys, which means our urine contains a lot of water. That’s also why we need to drink. Birds have much more efficient kidneys, letting them produce much more concentrated waste. They rarely drink directly, since they get the water they need from the food they eat.

      Assuming large-scale genetic modification is possible, it should be possible to give us bird kidneys while retaining H. Sap. 1.0 brains.

      • deltafosb says:

        Birds may not be the best ones in this regard, transforming mammals to expel uric acid would require tremendous modification of metabolism and anatomy.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Birds also have more efficient brains, so it might be possible to get human intelligence without having to burn as many calories for it.

    • LesHapablap says:

      What would happen if you replaced your legs from the shin down with your standard prosthetics?

  22. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Nazi textbook still the best on peripheral nerves

    “Even in 2019, it is considered unsurpassed in comprehensiveness and precision, said Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt, an anatomy lecturer at Harvard Medical School whom the Washington University surgeons also consulted. In part, that’s because anatomy is viewed as 19th-century medicine, and no one has an incentive to put much effort into trying to improve on the classic texts.”

    This is infuriating. We could be doing better than work from close to a century ago and it would be very valuable, but no one is doing it because it isn’t cool enough.

    ****

    The article also gets the ethical issues of using the result of Nazi research. Judaism sets a limit to virtue signalling– saving lives (or quality of life) is the bottom line.

    • Aapje says:

      This is infuriating. We could be doing better than work from close to a century ago

      Why? Have any new techniques been discovered? Parts of science/technology/medicine regularly hit a plateau for a long time or forever.

      The article also gets the ethical issues of using the result of Nazi research.

      Interestingly, they never actually make the case against using this research, seemingly considering it self-evident.

      The examination of the ethical issues is extremely shallow IMO. They never even address the difference between using dead bodies that became available due to murder vs the research actually resulting in more deaths or more suffering. The article suggests that the Nazi scientist merely used bodies for research without the permission of the dead person, which is nowadays considered an ethical violation. However, a lot of non-Nazi research in the past was done far less ethically than that.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t know that new techniques have been discovered, but going over the body more thoroughly and discovering more detail certainly seems possible.

        • Aapje says:

          Not necessarily. The human body varies from person to person, so any single map is only going to cover the median case. At a certain point, you can’t really become more accurate.

          For actual application in surgery, you need, just like any map for any specific purpose, sufficient abstraction to not be distracted by too much detail, but sufficient detail to get the answer you seek. Perhaps the Nazi researcher found this optimum.

          Of course, you can theoretically always do at least a tiny bit better, but doing that work has opportunity costs. There may be far better ways to spend that effort.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            That’s not necessarily the case

            A lot of structures are actually very highly stereotyped and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case with PNS neurons.

            As an example, I recently went to a developmental talk where the lab in question had been charting the branches of the bronchi in the mouse lung. Looking at a picture it seems quite chaotic but both the pattern and the timing involved in laying it down is actually incredibly precise and remarkably uniform. It’s more challenging to do that kind of developmental biology in the human for obvious practical and ethical reasons but it’s potentially a very fruitful area of research.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Discussion on Facebook

            There’s an anatomy professor who doesn’t quite say redoing the work would be a worthy modern project, but she doesn’t seem to think it would be pointless.

            Also, a modern effort would include 3D views and animation.

            In re Facebook links: Are there people here who don’t follow Facebook links?

          • marshwiggle says:

            I give a massive penalty to facebook links, as in, 10 times less likely to click on it merely because it is a facebook link. I’m not saying everyone should do that or that it’s common, just giving myself as an existence proof since you asked.

            As for the main discussion, I do think it possible that further work would both be useful in rare edge cases and that the Nazi work would remain the usual most useful reference. If people believe that, I can see why further work isn’t being done.

          • Plumber says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            “Are there people here who don’t follow Facebook links?”

            I’m not sure what you mean.

            I clicked on the link, read what seemed to be roughly the same words that you posted here, and that was the end of it.

            I don’t have a Facebook account to log into, and I don’t have plans of creating one if that’s what your asking.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve got one or two friends who don’t open facebook links.

            In this case, the possibly interesting stuff was in the comments.

          • brad says:

            I never follow facebook links.

          • albatross11 says:

            I also don’t follow facebook links.

  23. Atlas says:

    A semi-serious waggish suggestion:

    Gell-Man Amnesia is real, but the opposite meaning. People tend to overly nitpick summaries of their area of expertise, because they’re so steeped in the details and higher-level debates that it never occurs to them that others might lack even basic knowledge. Therefore, “10% of the article imperfectly characterized the results of a recent study” becomes “the article was a completely worthless, not even wrong trash fire,” instead of “hey, the 90% of the article surveying recent developments in the field was pretty accurate, someone who isn’t a professional could learn something from this.” But when they read general audience summaries of other people’s fields, they understand that they don’t need to have a perfectly accurate and microscopically detailed understanding of every issue for the summary to be useful, they just need some information about the basics.

    • Clutzy says:

      Sometimes that might be true, but I find the effect in my area of expertise: Patent Law, most of the errors I notice are things where the implication of the article is the opposite, or at least significantly different from what a proper interpretation of a court case should be.

      Part of this, I suspect, is that in law professors are not experts in the law. They are experts in a mythological law that they wish was the law. However, they remain the favored source for many journalists. Why these people call Colombia instead of Jones Day for an opinion on a case in the 2nd Circuit is the kind of amateurism the Crichton summed up very well: The journalists don’t even know enough to know who to ask.

      • Would you say that of discussions of law on the Volokh Conspiracy? I think the main contributors are law professors.

        • jgr314 says:

          I would be interested in Clutzy’s answer as well. Specifically on IP, what about Patently-O?

          My own take (as an informed and motivated layman but non-lawyer+non-trained) is that most of the VC posts are presented as analytical opinion about what the law could or should be, rather than definitive conclusions about what the law is. However, it is hard for me to tell how close to the mainstream or the “truth” their analysis is.

          • Clutzy says:

            I used to read Patently-O a lot, I kind of got tired with it because them (and a lot of other patent blogs like IPwatchdog veered too far into obsessing over how much they hate recent Supreme Court precedent regarding the disposition of Section 101 (notably Bilski, Mayo, and Alice Corp).

            They can provide good reporting on cases when they want to, but often they veer into unhinged advocacy disguised as reporting. The 101 issue broke a lot of patent people because they had been grifting for a long time on a broken system, and then their jig was up.

        • Clutzy says:

          Volokh is a mixed bag. You have some guys like Randy Barnett and Will Baude who have successfully paired with appellate lawyers and gotten major cases through the process, to the Supreme Court, and prevailed.

          On the other hand, people like Ilya Somin and Johnathan Adler who are almost completely untethered to the actual law and would be a really bad source for a journalist to quote or even pick his brains about a topic.

          There are some professor there that seem to be good at restating current law, like Orin Kerr, and Eugene Volokh. But that is with a caveat I don’t often do things in there areas, and that doesn’t mean they are good at predicting the outcome of cases.

          Also there are people like David Bernstein who, as far as I can tell, has abandoned legal analysis and is now into something else.

      • greenwoodjw says:

        https://www.popehat.com/2018/12/18/alan-dershowitz-is-lying-to-you/

        White’s point is that Dershowitz is explaining the law as he thinks it should be, and not the law as it is

        • Clutzy says:

          That is a good example. Although Dershowitz, IMO has been better lately than a lot of other people regarding the Obstruction of Justice question and inquiry.

  24. BBA says:

    According to his website, singer Leon Redbone has died at the age of 127.

    According to Wikipedia, he was 69, which I find almost as unbelievable. Unless he was born already an old man.

  25. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Meta: The 60 minutes to edit a comment timer seems more like 45.

    • Nick says:

      Mine disappears at seemingly random times on a refresh. So sometimes it’s 60 minutes and sometimes it’s 2.

  26. Scumbarge says:

    I have a question, regarding a comment chain in a previous open thread (or possibly the comments on a URL thread), which I have tried and failed to track down.

    The general topic was about schools, and how expensive/inefficient they are, and one person mentioned that their community spent far, far less than the national average per student, due to a variety of community interventions. Smart policies, parent volunteering, and the like.

    Does anyone remember this? Thanks!

    • Nick says:

      Was it perhaps this thread?

      • Scumbarge says:

        It was indeed, thanks! I would have said “thanks” sooner but I forgot to get email notifications, so it wasn’t until I had that exact same question again that I thought to come back and check.

  27. Edward Scizorhands says:

    We love talking about why building things is so expensive. NY Mag article by Josh Barro about NYC’s particular costs. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/05/new-york-infrastructure-costs.html

    Hard to summarize, because one reason things cost so much is “Everything.”

  28. mwengler says:

    I am surprised to be a big fan of the new-ish book “The Ape that Understood the Universe.”

    I have read piles of evolutionary psychology books and love them all. The Red Queen, the 3rd Chimpanzee, and on and on. For the first half of “The Ape…” I thought I was reading (well listening to in audiobook version actually) a particularly nicely presented rehash of all that.

    But then… Memetics! Memes are ideas like Genes are bits of DNA. People (and other animals) are the vehicles by which genes reproduce themselves in the world. People (and other information processing systems) are the vehicles by which Memes reproduce themselves in the world.

    The concept of the selfish gene says a gene which manages to reproduce itself is the irreducible element of genetics. Its not about individual survival or group survival (well its a little about that), it is about gene survival. The same idea seems to apply to memes. Memes that survive dominate the future in a way that meme’s that do not survive cannot, even if the memes that survive are about, for example, sacrificing yourself to save others. This is a good example actually of a meme which has clearly survived and thrived in humanity, and clearly is associated with killing many of the human vectors that carry it, but obviously not all of them.

    The best part is when “The Ape…” discusses the interaction of memes and genes. How the presence of a particularly meme in a population drastically changes the selection pressure on genes in that population, and vice verse, to the point that something like our abilities in language and our dexterity are likely the results of very serious co-evolution of the memes (of language and technology) and the genes (for brains that do well with language and manual dexterity).

    Anyway, for me “The Ape…” second half was a gigantically novel and wonderful surprise, filling a desire I have to understand memes and genes and their interactions. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, I recommend reading or listening to this book.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think some similar ideas are covered in _The Secret of Our Success_. Teach a tribe to milk their cows, and their members start being selected for continuing to produce lactase into adulthood.

    • LesHapablap says:

      You might like David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity. Among many other things it talks about meme-transfer as the main reason that human creativity and intelligence evolved. He tries to resolve the paradox that human beings evolved to be creative and intelligent, and have been for 100,000 years, yet made almost no progress for the vast majority of that time.

  29. AISec says:

    Pretty impressive debunking of the Stanford Prison Experiment, especially the points about how it was immediately accepted without question because of confirmation bias.

    How much of modern psychology would change if the SPE were universally recognized as a sham?

    • Eric Rall says:

      I propose redesignating it as the “Stanford Prison LARP”.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Isn’t the whole point of this article that it’s invalid because it was too real, though? The claim was that something about prisoner/guard dynamics created all these extreme reactions even in a fake environment where it’s all pretend, ooh, isn’t that interesting.

        Here they’re saying, no, they were for real wrongfully imprisoning the prisoners, they reacted the way they did because they realized they were in an actual prison and weren’t allowed to leave, as opposed to social dynamics or whatever.

        • Deiseach says:

          Here they’re saying, no, they were for real wrongfully imprisoning the prisoners, they reacted the way they did because they realized they were in an actual prison and weren’t allowed to leave, as opposed to social dynamics or whatever.

          Yeah, but the difference is if you’re a real criminal tried in a real court by a real legal system and sent to a real prison with real guards, everyone more or less knows how it’s supposed to work and what is or is not real abuse.

          This set-up was putting an ad in the paper about “Hey, anyone want to particiapte in a cool psychology experiment?” and then going “Ha, ha, got you: it’s gonna be really like a real prison!” to the participants.

          Since it wasn’t a real jail and none of the people were real law enforcement or justice system, of course the participants reacted as they did. I’d kick up blue murder if I were being held against my will in a set-up where I was expecting to, and should be able to, leave any time I liked if it got too much.

          And if I believe that article, the whole thing was a fake from the word go. It was set up with an explicit political/social purpose and the team involved did everything they could to create “tough” guards who would be abusive to the “prisoners” in order to then present “See, the results of our scientific experiment back up our contention that the pigs are fascists!”

          So the alleged organic, spontaneous abusive behaviour which demonstrates the corrosive effect of authority (or whatever it is supposed to demonstrate) was all a sham and acting and scripted. It wasn’t a ‘real’ prison in the sense that it was set up to be the version dreamed up by people who had no experience of what real jails were like and were acting out of “we want to reform prisons and society and we think the structures in place are inherently abusive, so all our guards are going to be the brutal racist rednecks out of Cool Hand Luke“. It was ‘real’ in that they were preventing people from leaving and locking them in closets, but that was false imprisonment on their part.

      • AISec says:

        This.

    • meh says:

      Related http://freakonomics.com/podcast-tag/stanford-prison-experiment/

      I used to occasionally listen to TYT, but had to stop because they would very frequently site as pure fact a psych or social science experiment that have long been known not to reproduce.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      This bit really stuck out for me:

      “What struck me later in life was how all of us lost our scientific skepticism,” Cullen says. “We became as ideological, in our way, as the climate change deniers. Zimbardo’s and Martinson’s studies made so much intuitive sense that no one took a step back and said, ‘Well, this could be wrong.’”

      Still haven’t learned enough, it seems…

      How much of modern psychology would change if the SPE were universally recognized as a sham?

      Based on my limited study of psychology (couple of classes in college), not much? The SPE is a choice example of “science” as political spin, but it isn’t my impression that it is all that relevant to a large part of psychology.

      It’s kind of like Eddington’s observations re special relativity:

      It has been claimed that Eddington’s observations were of poor quality, and he had unjustly discounted simultaneous observations at Sobral, Brazil, which appeared closer to the Newtonian model, but a 1979 re-analysis with modern measuring equipment and contemporary software validated Eddington’s results and conclusions. The quality of the 1919 results was indeed poor compared to later observations, but was sufficient to persuade contemporary astronomers. The rejection of the results from the Brazil expedition was due to a defect in the telescopes used which, again, was completely accepted and well understood by contemporary astronomers.

      We remember Eddington because it made for a good story and he got it basically right. If it turned out that Eddington’s observations didn’t support his conclusions, we wouldn’t lose much. Subsequent, better experiments would have provided the same result, to say nothing of other ways relativity could be demonstrated (and would eventually be, ‘coz we we’re just starting to get into domains where relativistic effects will show up).

      The SPE makes for a good story and Zimbardo certainly knew how to milk it. Unlike Eddington’s work, it seems to offer a lot of things to a lot of people – many of whom are in politics – so it’s going to take a while before it is commonly accepted as bad science. A shift of the Overton window may be required.

  30. Jake Rowland says:

    What are some good hobbies?

    I’m 29, male, no family. I read a lot of books and a lot of blogs. I occasionally will play a video game or watch a show on Netflix, but those things are all only good for a couple of days of entertainment. I make a decent amount of money so I’m not opposed to an expensive hobby, but I would hate to spend a lot up front on something that I didn’t end up liking, so it would be nice if there was a way to start cheap and ramp up. I guess I’m just asking: what do people around here do for fun?

    • woah77 says:

      Writing is a good option. We could always use more authors with unique spins.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I do a lot of bicycling. Easy to start cheap here: find a bike shop, get a map of places to bike in your area, and rent a bicycle. I also fly model helicopters, which is one of your more frustrating hobbies. There’s all sorts of different sorts of model aircraft, from racing quadcopters to jets, and different levels of capability and price.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s kinda pricey, but it’s not the sort of thing if you try it and don’t like it you’re stuck having paid a ton of money out. It can be expensive if you let it. Good exercise, an individual sport so if you suck you don’t drag a team down, social element to it, and you’ll discover you’re tougher than you thought. Or just lift weights.

    • Dack says:

      Have you tried Dungeons and Dragons or other tabletop roleplaying games?

    • johan_larson says:

      Are there any secondary benefits you are hoping for from this hobby, beyond a chance to do something fun or interesting? Do you want to save money, make friends, get fit, or something like that?

    • Tarpitz says:

      Magic: the Gathering. It’s an extremely deep, complex and rewarding game that’s also fun well before you learn to play it competently, and an excellent way to make new friends. You can play casually for very little money if you’re so inclined, but your financial resources will stand you in good stead if you become truly hooked (they call it cardboard crack for a reason). Download Magic Arena (free) to see if you like it, but the real rewards of the hobby come from playing with physical cards against live opponents.

      • cassander says:

        This is a great suggestion.

      • Butlerian says:

        “and an excellent way to make new friends”

        Objection, taking up Magic moderately increased the amount of time I spent alone (netdecking, Arena, reading the back catalogue of novelizations). I would indeed suggest that it is more likely to lose you friends than gain them.

        Still do it though, because it IS an excellent hobby and cardboard > people.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I would say that roughly half my friends in my current city (which is where I grew up, and to which I moved back c. 5 years ago when I was 30) are people I’ve met through Magic since moving back. And that’s actual friends – there’s a ton of friendly acquaintances on top of that. The friends you make are likely to be mostly nerdy men, but I’m guessing I’m not alone among SSC readers in that for me that’s true in most contexts.

    • Falacer says:

      HEMA is a fun way to do some physical activity surrounded by a number of very interesting and knowledgeable people. It sort of depends on your club how quickly they expect you to accumulate gear though.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Consider making things – any kind of thing, really. Some folks like making models. Some (traditionally female) like embroidery, or sewing. I still have the meccano set from my childhood, and still sometimes make things with it.

      Alternatively, there’s the SCA, with lots and lots of things you could get into within it – including making various kinds of things.

      My household likes jigsaw puzzles, and so do some of my coworkers. I think that’s more fun as a social hobby, but works solo too.

      One of my colleagues got very much into raising and training dogs; in particular, herding breeds, which then competed in herding contests.

      Another of my many colleagues can be found hiking on just about any weekend.

      Gardening might also be a fun hobby.

    • meh says:

      Rock Climbing, indoor or out. With the explosion of indoor gyms it is really easy to get into. It is tons of fun, and great exercise; and unlike some other physical activities it is really easy to be social while doing it. It also requires thinking and problem solving, so you stay engaged.

    • John Schilling says:

      I guess I’m just asking: what do people around here do for fun?

      Reading, ftf gaming, hiking, scuba diving, and flying airplanes. That last is kind of expensive, which you say isn’t a dealbreaker, but it is kind of all-or-nothing (where “all” is ~$10K up front). For $100 or so you should be able to get an hour of instruction specifically geared towards seeing if you’ll like it. It may also have practical applications depending on your lifestyle and location.

      I’m 29, male, no family.

      That argues for hobbies that are social and not male-dominated. Gaming is still mostly male but some niches are reasonably mixed. Hiking and scuba diving are not quite 50:50 but at least in Southern California can get pretty close. Aviation is about 90% male, but if you’re in a position where getting first dates isn’t an issue, a twilight flight in a light plane to someplace with a nice restaurant makes an impression.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        One of my friends shared a small airplane. I don’t know how the logistics worked, but an hour of flying cost about as much as an hour of therapy.

        • John Schilling says:

          Shared ownership is common, either 2-3 partners or through a club with ~1 plane per 10 members. That covers typical recreational flying usage; I didn’t buy my own airplane until I needed it for my regular commute.

          Total cost per hour should be $100-$150/hr for a basic used-but-safe light airplane in either case, so in the same range as therapy. Flying is more fun.

      • jgr314 says:

        Do you have any guidance on how gliders vs motorized planes compare as hobbies?

        • johan_larson says:

          I’ve never flown powered planes but I have flown gliders. Got my license, even. The problem with flying gliders is that once you have learned to fly the aircraft, the next step is going cross country, actually managing to stay up rather than just getting towed up and slowly coming down. And that comes hard, partly because it is intrinsically difficult and partly because the conditions that allow it only occur occasionally. So there’s a lot of hangar flying and not much actual flying, unless you happen to live in an area where lift is unusually abundant. It’s a great culture, though. The people are, in my experience, knowledgeable and friendly.

          Looking back, I think the best way to fly gliders is to treat it as a mix-in for aviation in general. Learn to fly power. Then transition to gliders. Fly gliders when conditions permit actual soaring flight, and when they don’t, fly power.

          • John Schilling says:

            This, basically. There is a European tradition of learning to fly gliders first, and it may produce better pilots, but it’s not well supported in the United States (e.g. there aren’t many entry-level glider clubs except in places with unusually favorable soaring conditions).

            Also, gliding is harder to share with your friends because of weight limits, weather limits, and the inability to combine flying with going someplace interesting.

    • jgr314 says:

      I’d recommend activities that encourage some social engagement. Have you tried things in each of these categories:
      (1) board and/or card games: many great options to suit a wide variety of tastes. I feel obligated to put in a plug for go and bridge, but there’s no need to start with deep games that have a committed fan base.

      (2) sports: I would recommend things that end with a loser and winner, not just exercising, though climbing isn’t quite either and is worthwhile. This racket game is the best sport, fwiw, but you probably don’t live near a court, so you’ll have to content yourself with a second-best option (of which there are many). I’d still recommend other forms of hitting balls with sticks (regular tennis, squash, racketball, etc).

      (3) performing arts/theater: for most people this is a big step outside their comfort zone, but totally worthwhile. Top pick: improv comedy classes.

      (4) Volunteering: lots of people need help. I care about early years education (pre-school through elementary grades), so that’s where I’ve gotten involved, but that might not be as accessible for someone w/o kids. There are plenty of other options.

      (5) Run for political office: if you are in the US, it is a perfect time to gear up for the 2020 elections. Even better if you’re in the UK where you have a great chance of becoming the head of a major party before the end of the summer. This is only 50% joking as a suggestion.

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      I like my reef aquarium, forging items from iridium, improving my propery (in fun ways, other ways count as work) experimenting with various biological and surgical techniques, backpacking, kung fu, woodworking and parenting. Some other things that used to be hobbies ended up paying to much rent and became work.

      • Lambert says:

        You can forge iridium?

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          Iridium is awesome. Its the most corrosion resistant metal, is arguably the densest and the rarest stable element in the earth’s crust. It only melts at extreme temperatures (4435 F, 2446 C).

          It was quite a fun project just getting it to melt and figuring out how to contain and shape the motlen and near molten plastic material. I made an electron beam furnace and used an oxy-hydrogen torch. The molten material nearly instantaeously destroyed the investment material used for casting, but I devised a system where it froze as it simutaneously destroyed the mold. It is embrittled by carbon so I didnt want to use graphite molds and I had difficulty sourcing enough thorium oxide to make an investment material from that.

    • One of my main hobbies for the past fifty years has been the SCA—Society for Creative Anachronism. It does historical recreation, mostly medieval and renaissance, mostly European. What people do and how seriously they take it varies enormously. There are people doing museum quality migration period jewelry, translating medieval cookbooks, researching and doing fifteen and sixteenth century Italian dances. One of the more impressive arts is calligraphy/illumination, producing things that could be pretty high quality medieval museum pieces. The annual Pennsic war is a two week camping event with about ten thousand people. There are medieval battles with a thousand fighters a side, and I think Pennsic university is now up to something like two thousand classes.

      In part, the SCA is an excuse/contest for doing things that don’t fit that well into the ordinary world—writing poetry and performing it, making jewelry or furniture, experimental archaeology–learning something about how they did things by trying to do them that way.

      Other hobbies have included lapidary work, which is a mostly solitary one, and writing.

      My main reservation is that most people treat SCA events more as costume parties than as joint fantasies where you imagine, for a while, that you are a medieval person interacting with other medieval people—which I think is more fun.

    • fion says:

      It’s good to do something active, but what to choose probably depends on what your natural strengths and weaknesses are. I second the suggestions of climbing and martial arts, which have low entry costs and combine physical activity with very detailed and intricate brain-work. Climbing is quite easy to get hooked on because the routes are graded, so you feel yourself improve. It’s very social and depending on where you live there can be options for getting outside on real rock, which makes for a great day out.

    • rubberduck says:

      I can’t believe nobody has mentioned drawing yet. All you really need to start out is paper and pencil and there’s plenty of tutorials online. There’s definitely a learning curve if you’ve never gotten into it before, but if you get even a little better than someone who’s never drawn it’s enough to impress most people. If you’re more social then there might be a meetup group for it in your area (assuming you live in a city), I’ve been attending one such meetup for over a year now and it’s the highlight of my week.

      Also, climbing.

    • Protagoras says:

      Boffer LARPs (NERO and the like) often have NPC roles where it costs less to play and they’ll supply you with equipment and basic costuming, so you can get a sense of whether you’ll like it before spending significant money.

      • marshwiggle says:

        That actually sounds kind of fun. I already do that sort of thing for my kids (dad is a monster with particular weaknesses and strengths that you must discover to defeat it with foam weaponry) and I enjoy it.

    • Garrett says:

      I volunteer in EMS. The up-front cost for me was about $500 – about half of that was a set of boots and the textbook for the class. It required about 200 hours of instruction across a few months which is well-worth it just to get a feeling for how healthcare works. And then the volunteer time after that. I find it rewarding, educational, and a great way to meet new and interesting people.

    • bean says:

      My object-level hobby is battleships and naval history/technology in more general terms, but I think the correct answer here is “scholarship”. Pick something you’re interested in and become as expert as you can in it. Maybe start a blog. Or if that’s too solitary (which isn’t a bad criticism), find somewhere relevant to volunteer. You can hopefully talk about your interests, and people won’t look at you too weirdly.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Gardening.

      A package of seeds and apot of dirt will cost you next to nothing and the possibilities are functionally endless. You can go for aesthetics and design your gardens to be attractive, or go for efficiency/productivity and grow fruit and vegetables or go for engineering challenges and build fountains/ponds/greenhouses. Hey you can combine the 3 and get obsessed with aquaponics. You can branch off (haha) into grafting, plant breeding, beekeeping, vermiculture, you can grow for competitions or self indulgence, make it profitable or even turn it into a career or a job for semi-retirement. You can do it totally solo or join groups.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I wonder how you’re enjoying a given video game for only a couple days. You, and people in general. Playing an AAA game and quitting before getting through even 10% of the content is anathema to me, and yet many seem to do precisely this. My completionist streak means that video games last me for months, and end up being by far the cheapest form of entertainment in dollars per hour. Even books cost more; I read one in a few days, and then I need another one.

      Thinking about this a bit more, I imagine many people quit a video game when it becomes grindy and repetitive. I notice grindiness, but I think I have a mindset where I can power through it for the reward on the other side. It feels similar to when I practice playing the piano. But I don’t know if this is the main bottleneck for other gamers.

      Speaking of playing music: learning the guitar is cheap and popular. A decent guitar and sheet music. After that, it’s just your time spent practicing. If you find you like it, you can buy a more expensive guitar, more music, speakers, etc. The product is enjoyable too: you now possess an instrument you can carry with you to parties, to entertain others. And if you don’t like it, the guitar is easy to sell.

      Other good hobbies:

      Boardgaming. The industry has moved far beyond the days of Monopoly and Parcheesi; eurogaming is huge. All you need to dive in is to find a game on BoardGameGeek that looks interesting and fairly popular. Those cost around $20-$60 for one. Then have a party with your friends. Or find a party and ask to join. This works especially well if you have a game they don’t have yet. Alternately, find a boardgame cafe near you, and join a game for the cost of a meal. Or find a general boardgaming store; they often have scheduled game nights. From there, you can branch into subhobbies like competitive events, game design, game testing (“Break My Game” events are a thing), modding games, miniatures, and more.

      Hiking. Use your current cross trainers, or spend about $60 on comfortable boots. Then find a nice park with trails, drive there, and walk. Bring a camera if you like; your phone camera is a fine start. Do that until you like it enough to buy a walking stick, or carve your own with a pocketknife and any suitable branch you find on the way. Eventually you might buy a tent and go backpacking. Or find you don’t like it and you’re left with a nice pair of boots and some great pictures and memories.

      Kayaking. $50 gets you a kayak rental for a day. Do it with friends. If you like it enough, your own kayak starts at around $600, and a roof rack for your car is another $100-150. I consider this one of the more expensive hobbies, but you’ll probably know after a few hundred whether it’s for you. If it’s not, selling the kayak might be troublesome, depending on where you live.

      Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), as Falacer mentioned, is another hobby that starts around $600 for a feder (practice longsword), then a few hundreds more for protective gear. But one of the points here is to join a local HEMA group, which should offer courses starting at $50. And then you can join tournaments. I like this hobby particularly because I find the crowd to be incredibly devoted to becoming competent fighters, while being diverse on everything else. They’re neither SJ safe spaces or redpill enclaves. Men and women, worldwide. These people will hit you hard enough to hurt through armor, help you patch it up, and then buy you a beer afterward. They want everyone to be great.

      Community theater works as a casual thing if you’re in a sizeable metropolitan area and there are troupes already around. Find a troupe that doesn’t require a resume or union membership, find their audition times, and join. The biggest expenditure here will be your time, a mix of memorizing lines and actions, helping build the set, and then showing up. It also branches into interesting areas like working with lighting, building furniture, designing costumes, dancing, singing, stage combat, and so on. The catch: if you don’t like it, you stick it out until closing night. I’d say at least 40% of community theater is not flaking out. The best troupes are those that grasp that The Show Must Go On – it pervades everything they do. Stay there for anything short of a cyclone, crime, or medical emergency.

      If you intend to be casual, I’ll briefly mention historical reenactment as a hobby to avoid, except as a spectator. If you participate, go all in, or the regulars will rip you pretty hard.

  31. Uribe says:

    A question about genetic engineering

    My latest understanding is that, given the current state of knowledge, we wouldn’t know how to successfully genetically engineer humans to be “better”, because, with the exception of eliminating a very few diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, we wouldn’t have any idea which genes to change because of the enormous complexity of gene interaction.

    Yet Monsanto can genetically engineer crops to be better.

    How come Monsanto can make a better stalk of corn but not a better person?

    • Two McMillion says:

      Because Monsanto can afford to kill a lot of corn plants to see which ones are better, and anyone who killed that many humans would be Literally Hitler ™.

      • ana53294 says:

        I think you need to be orders of magnitude worse than Hitler.

        You would need to be breeding and killing people for generations.

    • Randy M says:

      List the qualities for a better ear of corn.
      Then do so for a person.

      For bonus points, remember that a lot of corn grown is used for syrup or animal feed, rather than eaten by people, because then they would have to optimize more traits.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Monsanto only engineered corn in a handful of ways. The most popular applied to ~80% of corn grown in America are herbicide resistance and direct production of insecticide. A more recent niche is drought resistance. That’s not a very impressive portfolio. There are lots of diseases where we know a gene that protects against them and could put it into a human. Indeed, in the one known case of human genetic engineering, that was the choice.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A more recent niche is drought resistance.

        Ooh, sucks to be them; I just heard the continental US is free of severe drought for the first time in 20 years.

        • jgr314 says:

          With the recent glyphosate jury awards, lack of US drought is the least of their worries.

          • Deiseach says:

            Monsanto have been taken over by Bayer, haven’t they? So things like the jury awards are going to be a massive headache for the new owners, not any of the old Monsanto management.

            And for all Monsanto did, which was as pointed out primarily engineering crops that could be doused in their patented herbicide and survive, this was part of my scepticism about GMO crops; for all those who thought opposition to GMOs is denial of science and crude emotionalism, and who as reflexively defended Monsanto etc. with “but they are going to solve world hunger with great new varieties!”, my view was “No, they’re going to try and capture as much of the market as possible for Roundup and Roundup resistant crops, not solve world anything”.

          • AG says:

            This seems like a straw man. Most pro-GMO people are heavily anti-Monsanto. The opposition to GMO is often Monsanto-independent nonsense like “but chemicals bad,” and it’s known that Monsanto are the assholes who let their seed drift and then sue farmers for copyright.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Most pro-GMO people are heavily anti-Monsanto.

            I don’t know what you mean when you say this. I am legitimately confused here and would like you to expand.

          • AG says:

            Most pro-GMO people are pro-GMO in the sense of “yay we can increase production and feed more people.” This goes hand-in-hand with “fuck Monsanto’s extreme crony-capitalism preventing us from feeding more people.” It’s basically a “the tech is good, curse the corporations for preventing it from doing that good in their pursuit of profit” stance, and not unlike pro-internet/anti-Comcast.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Maybe, but are most anti-Monsanto people pro-GMO?

          • 10240 says:

            @Deiseach GMO is a category of things, similarly to how herbicides, insecticides, or products of selective breeding, or food additives are categories of things. GMOs as a category are not more likely to be harmful than the other categories. If one GMO (or a herbicide used with a GMO) is found to be harmful, that’s not a reason to oppose GMOs as a whole any more than we would oppose, say, all herbicides as a category if one herbicide is found to be harmful. The anti-GMO crowd tends to consider any tentative finding that any one GMO is harmful a slam-dunk argument for banning GMOs as a category; yet few people think like this about other categories.

            If Roundup is harmful, that’s a good reason to oppose Roundup. If Roundup is not harmful, then the fact that Monsanto is attempting to maximize the market for GMO crops and Roundup is not a good reason to oppose GMOs or Roundup. Either the yield/cost with Roundup-resistant GMOs (taking into account the price of the GMO seeds and Roundup) is higher than with non-GMO alternatives; then Monsanto benefits farmers and/or food buyers. Or the yield/cost with GMO+Roundup is lower; then farmers wouldn’t buy GMO crops and Roundup, in which case Monsanto would neither benefit nor harm them. All companies attempt to maximize the market for their products; since the primary way of doing this is making their products advantageous for their customers, this should be viewed as a good thing by default.

            @AG I don’t know much about the details of existing GMO companies and products, but since anti-GMO advocates seem rather irrational or biased in general, my primary assumption is that Monsanto is singled out as a boogeyman for little reason. I presume they somehow became the best-known GMO company, which makes them the primary target of protests, which in turn keeps them the best-known GMO company in a positive feedback.

          • 10240 says:

            @AG What do you mean by crony capitalism here?

            Monsanto’s profit incentivizes it to develop GMO crops, just like the patent system in general incentivizes invention by giving inventors monopolies, and thus profit. Do you oppose the patent system as a whole? If yes, why do you single out Monsanto, and what do you propose to incentivize Monsanto and other companies to invent things?

            According to Wikipedia, Monsanto’s yearly revenue in 2017 was $14.64 billion, and its net income (profit) was $2.27 billion. While that’s a relatively high profit rate, the bulk of its revenue is nevertheless going towards costs. Furthermore, Monsanto sells some 26% of the world’s seeds. The amount of worldwide production in agriculture was approx. $4.44 trillion dollars in 2015. Compared to that, Monsanto’s profit and revenue figures are tiny for a major player.

          • 10240 says:

            Most pro-GMO people are pro-GMO in the sense of “yay we can increase production and feed more people.”

            @AG I’m pro-GMO in the sense that GMOs are not especially likely to be harmful compared to other widespread technologies, so there is no justification for banning them.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’ve often thought that broadly opposing GMOs makes a hazardous GMO more likely. Since GMO is a very broad category, it’s possible to imagine a sloppily designed one being dangerous in some way, but unreasonable to suppose they all are. Going after them that way will create the impression that GMOs are opposed by overgeneralizing naifs, and thus anybody who tries to protest an actually-dangerous GMO will be lumped in with the doofuses.

            But that’s probably true of many things.

    • bzik says:

      Among other things already pointed out there’s a duration of the feedback cycle to consider. You get to see how you did with corn in less than a year, for humans you’d ideally want about 20, if we’re talking about improvements to the already healthy specimens.

    • Murphy says:

      AKA the “in rats” problem

      https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2013-02-08

      If a corn plant turns out all screwed up, no big deal. If a rat is born inside-out, you just euthanize the rat.

      But people get upset if you do the same with people.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Plants (and microorganisms) can often be improved by adding or modifying a small number of biochemical pathways. Golden Rice, for example, only needed a couple of extra genes to give it enzymes to synthesize beta-carotene. The things that we ask of plants are pretty simple: provide food, fuel, or fibre. Making them better at doing so is correspondingly simple. But making a better person is a goal that’s at a much higher level of abstraction than the biochemical pathways their body has.

      • albatross11 says:

        The interesting question is whether you could use something like gene therapy to add in some ability to humans–perhaps resistance to HIV, or lower probability of getting cancer (replace proto-oncogenes, increase the number of copies of tumor suppressor genes). This wouldn’t need to involve some kind of custom-designed superman, just a few bugfixes. I’d expect that to be done first in people with genetic diseases. If you could get rid of the dominant gene involved in Huntington’s, or one of the recessives involved in Sickle Cell, as an embryo, you’d make a big improvement.

        Then you need to think about how many of these fixes you can reasonably do. If it’s only one or two, then you’re just in a world where fewer kids get born with nasty genetic diseases. If it’s a hundred, then maybe we end up in a world where genetically fixed kids tend to do better overall because there are a lot of slightly-bad genes (stuff that drops IQ by half a point and makes you a half-centimeter shorter) that might get patched. But you’re not going to get eight foot tall immortal supergeniuses from that kind of process.

  32. Deiseach says:

    Another even-handed and interesting article by Tim O’Neill over at “History for Atheists”.

    I’m just recommending this as a read, I’m not interested in getting into any arguments about “Yes, but – ” for either side.

    • Plumber says:

      @Deiseach,
      Yes, but…

      …damn girl that was a long read!

      It was good and informative, so thanks!

      • Deiseach says:

        Plumber, you’ve been regularly reading Slate Star Codex posts and comment threads, your brain muscles for handling long reads should be in tip-top condition by now 😀

    • theredsheep says:

      Extremely long but well-crafted. I wound up going on a clicking binge, found his argument against the Resurrection buried in the FAQ. Essentially he claims that Paul and others initially argued for a purely spiritual resurrection, which was later changed to a physical resurrection as more gentiles joined the faith in later decades. Is there a counterpoint or rebuttal to this argument? I’m sure it exists, but my googling has been ineffectual.

      • marshwiggle says:

        Wait, the argument is that gentiles pushed for a physical resurrection? That’s more than a little silly. It was the Jews that thought resurrection would be physical. They were expecting a physical resurrection, albeit of everyone at once (minus the Sadducees and perhaps some other more minor sects). The gentiles in the region were a mixed bag of course, but Greek and Roman thought was pretty much dead set against a physical resurrection. The idea of jamming a soul back into a new body being a good thing would have seemed crazy to most of those thought systems. If you’d like I can go read his argument and go into more detail. This is more of an off the cuff no books response.

        • theredsheep says:

          https://www.quora.com/What-evidence-is-there-for-Jesus-Christs-death-burial-and-resurrection/answer/Tim-ONeill-1 if you feel like it. I found his other analyses (of stupid stuff like Giordano Bruno, etc.) pretty spot-on, would be interested to see how his theological analysis holds up. He seems to be following Bart Ehrmann, in general.

          • marshwiggle says:

            While I disagree with Ehrmann about lots of stuff, he’s clearly a scholar who really does put in hard work and knows lots of stuff.

            That link you posted – not so much. First, it looks like this guy has read takedowns of N.T. Wright as opposed to reading the N.T. Wright books in question. I don’t blame him – those books are like 700 pages apiece or something. That’s a massive argument all on its own.

            Second, his argument that Paul believed in a non-physical resurrection is… fairly bad. It is key to his whole diachronic logic. His claim is that Paul saw the risen Jesus in a vision, used a Greek word for “appeared” to describe both that vision and the other post resurrection appearances, and a wild misreading of 1 Cor 15 and Paul’s use of the word ‘spiritual’.

            I can understand misreading Paul’s vision as of a non-physical Jesus. I think it is wrong and isn’t really rooted in Jewish or Greek thought but in modern thought, but I can understand it. The rest of his claims are just outright sloppy though.

            Referring to the witnesses of the resurrection as clearly intending to be heard as non-physical is… a really poor argument. Depending on the word for “appeared, was seen” is silly, as the accounts he says refer to Jesus as physically raised (all 4 gospels) also use that very same word for his appearance. Something that can be learned with a minute and a lexicon or concordance, which just requires knowing what those are and having the internet. Well, that and being willing to look at ways your argument could be wildly wrong.

            His reading of 1 Cor 15 depends on a misunderstanding of what Paul means by ‘spiritual’. Paul doesn’t mean ghostly. He means pure, undefiled, filled with the Holy Spirit, a proper dwelling for the Holy Spirit, not going along with sinful desires, and so on. Yes, different times Paul uses the word he means different things, but ignoring Paul’s overall usage patterns within the book and within the Pauline corpus is just bad scholarship.

            Moreover, the analysis in that article of 1 Cor 15 doesn’t talk about Old Testament reference, the context of the rest of the letter, any of the stuff you’d need to make an argument. Yes, this isn’t a scholarly work, but I’d expect an intelligent teenager who reads the Bible once a year to see the holes in this.

            Differences between the gospel resurrection accounts is a subject that would require an entire effort post, and I imagine we’ll be having that discussion soon enough. So, I’ll not get into that here. However, the bit about the tomb stone of Jesus not being round is easily dealt with by anyone with any engineering sense. If you had a 1 foot thick door sized square block of stone, how would you move it aside? Do you think the word for ‘rolled’ could be used for the procedure usually used to move such things? Yes, there was a slot to put the stone in, and I’m sure there was a special procedure to start moving the stone to deal with the slot. But mostly, moving any stone that big is going to involve some rolling. The women don’t seem like construction workers or married to them (as opposed to Jesus’ mom Mary), so we can add a little imprecision to their terminology. All that is required is imagining the dialogue actually happening, and the problem goes away.

            Third, the bit about UFO cults isn’t a terribly bad point. Of course, that’s a bit that doesn’t actually require a knowledge of the Bible or the ancient world. I don’t think his reading of Isaiah 40-66 is particularly scholarly though. For a scholarly take on the relationship between that part of Isaiah and Mark, a source you might not have seen is Rikki Watts, who wrote Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. I’m not saying I agree with Rikki Watts about absolutely everything, but he’s generally pretty careful and I can outright recommend him.

            In short, if you want to read someone who doesn’t believe the Bible going after it, read Ehrman. He’s quite readable, and while sometimes wrong, he’s generally not sloppy.

          • theredsheep says:

            Thank you! My feeling about the UFO-cult thing is how weird it would be that the cult not only endured via a few nuts in denial, but grew much, much bigger. Modern equivalents seem to hold on to some followers, but generally once the founder is gone a lot of the magic is gone with him, and Christianity doesn’t seem to have been on particularly strong footing at the time of Jesus’s death.

            Counterexamples include Mormonism–but Joseph Smith’s martyrdom didn’t screw up the narrative nearly as badly as Jesus’s crucifixion would have. That’s more akin to what happened to David Koresh, and I don’t think his crowd are terribly active anymore.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Personally I agree. That’s more or less the same as Gamaliel’s analysis of Jesus and his disciples as reported in Acts 5.

            I’m not saying that I fully agree with the UFO argument. But it has some weight to it – enough that if someone believed the UFO argument I would not think they were being careless.

            Edit: To be more precise, I think Jesus rose on the third day, and at that time he himself reinterpreted stuff he had said. Because the disciples had misinterpreted it before, following their own preconceptions over listening to Jesus. Not an uncommon human failing. The shock of Jesus’ death and feeling like everything had gone wrong may easily have been a necessary part of the disciples willingness to listen to Jesus explain his death after he rose again.

          • theredsheep says:

            Yeah, I can see how it would make sense for some people to hold on. There are still Moonies around, after all, and whichever group it is that keeps recalculating the Apocalypse every few years and is now on like its twenty-fifth go or some such.

            Possible skeptic explanation: Paul was really, really good, and formed the Brigham Young of Christianity. Counter-argument: everybody seems to agree that Paul started off hating the whole thing and had no clear reason to convert in the first place.

            My general feeling (I’m Orthodox Christian) is that something really weird happened in that place, at that time, and barring time travel we’ll never have a consistent and verifiable explanation.

          • timoneill007 says:

            Wait, the argument is that gentiles pushed for a physical resurrection? That’s more than a little silly.

            Luckily for me, that’s not an argument I made. The argument is that the stories of Jesus as “risen” became more detailed and more corporeal as time went on.

            They were expecting a physical resurrection

            Yes, but exactly what they thought the risen people’s bodies would be like is not clear. Perfected, certainly. But how corporeal? Hard to say.

            First, it looks like this guy has read takedowns of N.T. Wright as opposed to reading the N.T. Wright books in question.

            Ummm, no. I’ve read Wright thanks. And the problems with his arguments that I highlight stand.

            his argument that Paul believed in a non-physical resurrection is… fairly bad.

            Then you’ll be happy to know that I’ve changed my views somewhat since I wrote that Quora article some years ago. But the key points remain – whatever Paul thought about the nature of Jesus’ risen body, he makes no mention of any vacated tombs, anyone putting their fingers in wounds, the risen Jesus eating fish or flying off into the sky. All he says is that this risen Jesus somehow “appeared” to him and others.

            If you had a 1 foot thick door sized square block of stone, how would you move it aside?

            You’d slide it.

            Do you think the word for ‘rolled’ could be used for the procedure usually used to move such things?

            No.

            The women don’t seem like construction workers

            Which makes the whole scene of them going to a tomb they can’t open and wondering aloud how they were going to open it kind of ridiculous and patently not historical. Again, all these elements are part of the story growing in the telling.

          • theredsheep says:

            Wow, thanks for joining in!

            As should be clear, I am far from an expert on such things, but it seems to me that the passage where Paul talks about the resurrection is not intended as a detailed account for people who were ignorant of everything, but as an en passant reference to a known story emphasizing its truth (hence the five hundred witnesses).

            Kind of like the way, if you were putting down 9/11 conspiracists to a third party, you wouldn’t necessarily stop to go over the sequence of events, with Muslim terrorists going to flight school, and two planes hitting the one tower, then the other, and the Pentagon, and the field in PA, etc. You’d probably say something like, ‘look, this matter has been investigated exhaustively by every kind of expert we have.’

            Re: the stone, if it were square, and more or less perpendicular to the ground, it might be simpler to use a rolling motion than to fight friction by sliding. Hard to say. If it were rectangular (the shape of an ordinary door), it’d be easiest to just knock it over and step over. If it were parallel to the ground, the roundness would be irrelevant and you’d be in serious trouble without special equipment or a lot of men. At any rate, it doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing you’d call conclusive, as a lot of premodern people seem to have often resorted to anachronistic fill-in-the-blanks. Like the way illuminated manuscripts have Jesus wandering around in front of castles talking to people in medieval clothing. The detail wasn’t in the original account, so they just throw in something from their experience.

            I think it’s reasonable to say that the story grew in the telling, but that’s distinct from “it was all hooey.” From what I’ve heard, the Gospels were originally written in what’s politely called a “common” form of Greek, and not all that well composed at that. I’ve read excerpts from a modern translation attempting to recreate the originals’ tone, and it sounded like a story being told by a slightly drunk or stoned guy in a 7/11 parking lot. Or a story being passed around between largely lower-class adherents of a disreputable and intermittently-persecuted belief system, at a time of low literacy when books had to be copied by trained scribes. How does one distinguish “garbled” or “exaggerated” from “fabricated”?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            At any rate, it doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing you’d call conclusive, as a lot of premodern people seem to have often resorted to anachronistic fill-in-the-blanks.

            I haven’t clicked the article, but doesn’t it seem a bit of a problem for your line of thinking that you are positing this basic process having effected the text to explain away this specific thing, while discounting the argument that it could have effected the text in other ways?

            The broad strokes of the argument, as I understand it, is simply that the Biblical stories of the death of Jesus have accreted various details over time, and that these details aren’t concordat with earlier versions. Peel them away to as near the original text of Mark as can be found, and you don’t have a resurrection at all.

          • theredsheep says:

            My general feeling (I’m Orthodox Christian) is that something really weird happened in that place, at that time, and barring time travel we’ll never have a consistent and verifiable explanation.

            I’m not a member of a Sola Scriptura sort of church, so it doesn’t really bother me that the Bible accounts are in many ways obscure and cluttered with idiosyncrasies. I follow the tradition, not any one account. I think that, whoever Jesus was and whatever he did, we’re unlikely to deduce it from what material we have (I feel similarly about Muhammad). There are just too many different spins you can put on any given oddity, and we’re a couple of thousand years removed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @theredsheep

            I’m not Christian, but I studied early Christianity, and I’d agree. There’s gotta have been something there in the moment that led to this guy’s little religious movement growing and changing. Obviously this is far from an argument for the supernatural, divine, etc. Still, the predicted outcome of “religious leader is arrested and executed, with his closest followers booking it as fast as possible” is not “becomes #1 religion in world”.

            One of the more aggressive secular-scholarship approaches is the sort of Jesus Seminar one, where you’ve basically got the earliest followers saying “he was actually the messiah, and that bit where he was crucified was part of the plan, and he’s come back” to basically resolve cognitive dissonance about their leader getting executed (I’m pretty sure the JS guys are/were messianic secret supporters, so why there’s cognitive dissonance in the first place I’m not sure about). Then a lot of people adopt this religion because reasons. Not super satisfying. Now, of course, comparisons can be made to little fringe religious movements that stay together after the end of the world doesn’t arrive as scheduled. But these fringe religious movements tend to stay fringe.

            I’d disagree that we don’t have any historical data to use to talk about Jesus. The guy’s well attested for the time. A decent chunk of the teachings in the synoptic gospels is probably original, and the “biographical” traditions that appear in both John and the synoptics can be assumed to be based in fact. I think a (boring, cautious) take of “Galilean apocalypticist, mighta said he was the messiah, message involving major reversal of fortune blah blah blah, near the end of his life travelled to Jerusalem and caused a scene in the Temple, betrayed, executed” is pretty legit.

            @heelbearcub

            Yeah, there’s a lot of arguments made on reconstructions of Mark and Q. The argument can be made that Mark’s earliest sources were non-apocalypticist and had no resurrection (off the top of my head, I think this theory says Gospel of Peter is early and was the source for the resurrection?) and that the earliest Q strata are non-apocalypticist. In this view, Jesus was a sort of wisdom teacher to the destitute and marginalized proclaiming a radically different way of life that was coming. The apocalypticism comes from the rough experience of the early movement after Jesus’ death. I may be mangling this a little.

            @marshwiggle

            What do you think Ehrman gets wrong?

          • theredsheep says:

            Which is not to say that it isn’t interesting to read speculation, or that scriptural analysis by historians is totally devoid of value. Mr. (Dr.?) O’Neill has another piece linked in his FAQ, about early perspectives on the Messiah being a less-than-totally-divine figure. This seems plausible enough, given the existence of Arianism centuries later, arguing a nearly identical claim. And it’s perfectly fair to say “we have no evidence of any new star appearing” or “nobody else records Herod killing all those kids.”

            But when you get into trying to extract a suppressed alternative story, you’re stuck first analyzing the motives of a disparate and disorganized group of people, then deriving a hypothetical original story from incongruities in a series of existing texts–which themselves are present in many, many variants–sometimes over things like an odd choice of verb. There’s too many links in that chain, IMO.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I’m going off of my memory of reading Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” many years ago. My recollection is that he presents the case that the the story of the empty tomb is added to the end of Mark.

            I wouldn’t say that he was presenting a case for a non-apocalyptic Jesus, but rather a Jesus who presented himself as a prophet, and not the son of God. Then later textual additions add in pieces that need to be there in order to turn him into Christ.

            For instance, the story of the baptism of Jesus is significantly different in Mark than later gospels.

            But again, this is off memory from many years ago. I might be misquoting Ehrman.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @heelbearcub

            Ah, I thought you were referencing a different school of thought in academia (that’s probably less popular overall than what Ehrman’s backing).

            @theredsheep

            You don’t need to do that much reconstruction to come up with a biography for someone who very plausibly could have existed in that time and place, and with a plausible set of teachings.

          • theredsheep says:

            Teachings? Sure. It’s the whole alternate-history thing I find tenuous–where you begin with the assumption that the text is a severe distortion of the truth, at best, and create a narrative explicitly contrary to it based on extreme subtleties like the motives someone might have for describing the motion of moving a rock.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @theredsheep:

            My general feeling (I’m Orthodox Christian) is that something really weird happened in that place, at that time, and barring time travel we’ll never have a consistent and verifiable explanation.

            I’m with Chesterton that Christianity taking over civilization was profoundly weird.
            Trying to analyze the beginnings of Christianity like just another millennial cult or cult of personality doesn’t fit anything we know about cult leaders, what makes religions grow, etc.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’m with Chesterton that Christianity taking over civilization was profoundly weird.

            I know what you mean. But cf. Islam, which took over a huge swath of the world in a couple of generations, which was no small part of why Muslims were pretty sure it was all true.

          • theredsheep says:

            Islam is much more readily explained. Short version: it was, basically, a byproduct of Rome’s wars with Persia (Mecca’s famous trade route waxed and waned depending on whether merchants could go the shorter way through Persia). The plague tore through the known world a couple of generations before Muhammad–largely sparing Arabia–then a really protracted period of war with Persia dumped a lot of cash into the area. At the same time, hundreds of years of persecution had alienated most Christians and Jews in the areas Islam was to take over. Plus Muhammad and his peers were regularly exposed to Jewish and Christian ideas, thanks to the trade.

            Then the final war against the Sassanids basically destroyed Persia and left Byzantium exhausted, at the perfect time for Islam. The resultant steamroll was impressive, but far from inexplicable. An uneducated merchant from a pagan tribe at the margins of civilization came up with a religion that more or less exactly matches the ideas he was exposed to. The most remarkable part of it, I understand, is that the Quran is supposed to be really superb poetry. But I don’t know Arabic.

            Christianity, by contrast, appeared when Rome was near its apex, centuries before any weakness became apparent, in an already-crowded religious marketplace. Its first leader was executed for treason, and its second leader (apparently) started out persecuting it before abruptly changing his mind, and somehow gained the trust of the core group. A couple of centuries later it was something like ten percent of the population.

          • timoneill007 says:

            ” it seems to me that the passage where Paul talks about the resurrection is not intended as a detailed account for people who were ignorant of everything, but as an en passant reference to a known story “

            And when Jesus Mythicists try to claim Paul did not believe Jesus ever existed on earth as a human being by noting he doesn’t mention Nazareth, or Mary or his baptism or Pilate, I make much the same point, and ask them where we would expect to see Paul mention these details. But in 1Cor 15 he is going to some effort to convince the Corinthians that Jesus’ resurrection was real. Which makes it very odd that he doesn’t mention details like the empty tomb, or doubting Thomas’ physical examination or Jesus eating fish or anything else of the sort. This indicates these much more corporeal pieces of evidence were later accretions, not things that happened. Which is a problem for those who try to use them as evidence for the resurrection today.

            the stone, if it were square, and more or less perpendicular to the ground, it might be simpler to use a rolling motion than to fight friction

            Yes, it might. But the whole tomb story seems to also be a later accretion, with Ehrman finding good evidence of an earlier, alternative version where Jesus is taken down by the Jewish authorities rather than his followers and is buried “under the sand”. And that is actually what we would expect to happen rather than this contrived story about a man called Joseph, who appears from nowhere and is never mentioned again, who just happened to provide a tomb which not only gives the gospel narratives a way of making the physicality of Jesus’ revivification clear to the reader but also just happens to conform to Isaiah 53:9. The fact that the tomb described seems to conform to tombs in the later first century when these stories were being told rather than the early first century just adds to the impression that this is a later addition to a story that is growing in the telling. The tomb is an narrative device.

            I think it’s reasonable to say that the story grew in the telling, but that’s distinct from “it was all hooey.”

            Given the amount of evidence that it grew in the telling, the psychological incentives to reinterpret Jesus’ death as some kind of vindication, the way the idea of resurrection was in the air, the clear evidence that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and not any Messiah, let alone God in human form, the fact that trusting ancient miracle stories is pretty ridiculous and the fact that people don’t rise from the dead, I’d say that all adds up to “hooey” for any objective observer. Believers with strong emotional reasons to cling to the story will (and do) see it otherwise, but my article was not written for them – it was written for the rest of us.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Doctor Mist: I don’t think it’s remotely miraculous for countries conquered in the jihad to become >50% Muslim within a couple of generations. Sharia is set up to play on human psychology very well once they change the ruling class. Humans like increasing their status, they like a tax cut, and there seems to be a male inclination to want military glory.* Muhammad also fits the psychological profile of a cult leader much better than Jesus, or the Buddha. I’m thinking particularly of “a man can have a maximum of four wives… except me. I can even marry my adopted son’s wife.”
            So it collapses to how miraculous the conquests themselves were, IMO.

            *Part of Pascal’s Wager is him telling the reader you mainly just have to give up fornication and military glory in your bet on future infinite bliss.

          • timoneill007 says:

            I’m with Chesterton that Christianity taking over civilization was profoundly weird.

            We can add that to the long list of glib comments by Chesterton which sound okay until you subject them to a couple of moment’s thought. Christianity “took over civilisation”, as you put it, because it was the dominant religion of Western Europe. That was a function of economics and politics and had nothing much to do with any correctness of Christian claims. And it was the dominant religion of Western Europe because it had been taken on as the state religion of Rome. Again – politics, not correctness. Chesterton’s comment is typically glib and characteristically shallow.

            Trying to analyze the beginnings of Christianity like just another millennial cult or cult of personality doesn’t fit anything we know about cult leaders, what makes religions grow, etc.

            Garbage. It conforms to all those things completely.

          • theredsheep says:

            Okay, so I actually looked up 1 Cor 15 in an online Bible browser. He begins by saying,

            Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received

            Which reads to me as “I already told you my core message re: Jesus.” Which would make canvassing the entire subject again at least arguably superfluous. He also specifies that Jesus “was raised on the third day,” which implies, to me, that people were aware of this raising on the third day, which seems problematic for a purely spiritual resuscitation (Would that be just the first day somebody claimed to have seen a vision? Was Jesus’s spirit supposedly nonexistent in the interim, then existent again?). Later on, when it comes to talking of spiritual and physical bodies, Paul says,

            For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

            I read this as “human flesh will continue to exist, but in a transfigured or improved manner.” “The body will be discarded for a life of pure spirit” is more difficult to fit to the text. The former interpretation is the current Orthodox one; Jesus is described in the Gospels (I think primarily John) as apparently having a different nature post-resurrection, teleporting around and walking through walls and being inexplicably hard to recognize for people who’ve known him for years.

            I pulled the NRSV translation (anglicized), which the browser defaulted to; I don’t know if there’s a better translation or what.

            (if you mean to say that you wrote that whole thing exclusively for people who begin with the assumption that the Gospel story is impossible anyway, then the point of writing it at all eludes me)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @timoneill007:

            Garbage. It conforms to all those things completely.

            Are you serious? We have a huge body of circumstantial evidence about New Religious Movements, since they started taking off in the industrializing West in the 19th century, and the standard profile of a male cult leader is to leverage claims of access to God or salvific knowledge to be polygamous with women who believe him (and vulnerable daughters of adults who join the cult) and take their followers’s money. That’s not Jesus of Nazareth according to atheist scholars of the New Testament (it’s not Shakyamuni either, as I mentioned).

          • timoneill007 says:

            Are you serious?

            Yes.

            We have a huge body of circumstantial evidence about New Religious Movements, since they started taking off in the industrializing West in the 19th century, and the profile of a cult leader is to leverage claims of access to God or salvific knowledge to be polygamous with women who believe him

            That’s a massive overgeneralisation. And it works from the erroneous idea that the Jesus Sect was a “new religious movement” that was directly analogous to those modern examples. All the evidence indicates that Jesus saw himself as a devout Jew and a reforming preacher in the established Jewish prophetic tradition. So you’re starting with a major category error.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’m really, really not seeing your point re: Paul. He’s choosing to remind everyone of how many witnesses there are, not going over the specifics of what they said. This does not strike me as particularly damning. Any non-Christians not named Tim O’Neill, or other disinterested parties, feel otherwise?

            LMC, while I think Muhammad was a pretty bad person all in all, I think you’re being somewhat unfair to him. His later marriages seem to have been for political purposes–important in such a society–and it’s possible they were never consummated. As one biographer noted, he had multiple children with Khadija, who was getting on in years, but none at all with any of his, what, eleven other wives? Many of whom were young and presumably fertile. This is just speculation, of course, but it’s certainly plausible that he needed those marriages to form alliances.

            EDIT: was responding to a post which has since disappeared, for whatever reason. Just noting for clarity.

          • timoneill007 says:

            He’s choosing to remind everyone of how many witnesses there are, not going over the specifics of what they said.

            He is quite clearly trying to assure them that the resurrection definitely happened; going so far as to argue that unless they accept this, their whole faith is “in vain”. And to assure them of this, he refers to the “appearances” of the risen Jesus to various witnesses and … nothing else. If was aware of those other elements, it is very odd that he would not invoke them the way apologists have been doing for centuries now. So this is a strong indication that he is not aware of them because they are later accretions.

          • theredsheep says:

            But we’ve already established that your thinking on the matter has evolved, yes? So Paul thinks Christ came back in some physical way, not purely as a vision? But Paul doesn’t say what he did in this earlier, presumably more primitive version of the story either. Are we supposed to read this as “Cephas and five hundred witnesses, etc., all saw him, but he did not say or do anything notable”? I read the whole passage as “you know what I’ve told you–but don’t take my word for it. Ask any number of other people; a lot of them are still alive.”

            LMC, re NRMs, I don’t think it’s entirely reasonable to assume that the cult-leader template would transfer smoothly to the ancient world. L. Ron Hubbard was born into a society with aggressive protections for freedom of religion, plus relatively relaxed sexual mores. I don’t know a lot about the ancient Roman justice system, but it’s possible that a judge from that society would find “he dishonored our gods, and also my daughter” to be grounds for justifiable homicide. Or at least a relaxed sentence.

          • timoneill007 says:

            Are we supposed to read this as “Cephas and five hundred witnesses, etc., all saw him, but he did not say or do anything notable”?

            We have no indication whether Paul thought this “risen Jesus” did or did not “say or do anything notable” – though I would imagine Paul considered being raised from the dead by God, pretty “notable”. I can’t see what that has to do with anything I’ve said. Again, I’m noting that Paul makes no mention of any those elements from the later stories that we would expect if he was, as he seems to be, trying to assure the Jesus sect members in Corinth that Jesus really rose from the dead. Which indicates that these other elements are narrative accretions, not historical details.

            I’ve repeated this several times now, but I’m not sure why I have to keep doing so.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, your argument is that it would be foolish for Paul to leave out absolutely any evidence of Jesus’s resurrection, right? So if Paul says there were all these people who saw him come back, but he doesn’t say they said he did anything in particular, by your logic, that means the primitive version of the story Paul believed in has Jesus appearing to a very large number of people and not interacting with them–hearing him speak, in the flesh, would surely count for something more than seeing a figure appear, then disappear without a word. But it seems like that in itself would be notable, if he appeared to hundreds of people who formerly knew him and just snubbed them all and didn’t do anything.

            Or it could just be that his intention is not to repeat in full a whole bunch of details which he–if we are to believe the chapter’s opening–presumably told them already.

          • timoneill007 says:

            Well, your argument is that it would be foolish for Paul to leave out absolutely any evidence of Jesus’s resurrection, right?

            Wrong. My argument is that it would be strange for Paul to leave out those specific elements we see in the later gospel accounts, given that they would lend strength to what he is trying to say. So the fact he doesn’t mention them indicates they are later accretions to the story.

            So if Paul says there were all these people who saw him come back, but he doesn’t say they said he did anything in particular, by your logic, that means the primitive version of the story Paul believed in has Jesus appearing to a very large number of people and not interacting with them–hearing him speak, in the flesh, would surely count for something more than seeing a figure appear, then disappear without a word.

            See above. For all we know Paul believed the risen Jesus held detailed and lengthy discourses with the people who saw him appear to them. But that has nothing to do with what I’m saying. I’m running out of ways to repeat what I am saying and am getting a little tired of your attempts at making me say something else.

          • theredsheep says:

            But virtually anything Jesus said or did would serve to strengthen Paul’s account. Speaking is relevant, because it would indicate it was really Jesus and not some guy who just looked like him. Physical contact of any kind, manipulating any object, would indicate not being an insubstantial ghost (it’s also hard to imagine, if we’re discussing a corporeal resurrection and not visions, that nobody attempted physical contact). But all we get is “appearance.” Why does this not imply a mute apparition, if it’s so important that Paul recapitulate the evidence?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @theredsheep

            Sure. I’m pretty skeptical of any especially specific attempts at reconstruction, and the ones that aren’t apocalyptic tend to rely on some tenuous stuff.

          • timoneill007 says:

            But virtually anything Jesus said or did would serve to strengthen Paul’s account.

            I can’t see that it would “strengthen Paul’s account” in the way an empty tomb would. Again, Paul says he and others saw Jesus after he had died and so he was “risen”. I can’t see how adding what he said makes that testimony vastly more convincing.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, what’s super-convincing about eating fish, for that matter? And if they saw him come back in the body, wouldn’t somebody check the tomb? Or the sand, or wherever they buried him? You wouldn’t need women or angels if it were a tomb; you could probably have five strong men go out there and check for a rotting corpse. Wouldn’t even need to be super-sneaky, once the heat had died down.

          • timoneill007 says:

            Well, what’s super-convincing about eating fish, for that matter?

            Perhaps nothing. It’s really the lack of a mention of the supposed empty tomb that is the strange silence in Paul.

            And if they saw him come back in the body, wouldn’t somebody check the tomb?

            That assumes (i) there was a tomb to check and (ii) they thought he had “risen” by having his old body revivified rather than him being given a new, perfected, “spiritual” one.

            Or the sand, or wherever they buried him?

            See above. “Risen” in some kind of body does not necessarily mean “his old body revivified”.

          • theredsheep says:

            If Paul explicitly says that the old flesh must put on incorruption or some such, that implies that it was a resuscitation of Christ’s body, Christ being a foretaste of the general resurrection to come. But if they weren’t expecting the old body to be resuscitated, why would the empty tomb be a powerful sign at all? And why is the tomb more impressive than hundreds of people seeing and/or talking to the man, anyway? The emptiness of the tomb itself isn’t the most dramatic part of the story in any version–it’s just a fancy reveal. It’s not like you couldn’t just yank the body and hide it somewhere else, or destroy it.

          • timoneill007 says:

            If Paul explicitly says that the old flesh must put on incorruption or some such, that implies that it was a resuscitation of Christ’s body

            Paul’s long exposition (1Cor 15:35-58) on the differences between the “σῶμα ψυχικόν”(body natural) which dies and the “σῶμα πνευματικόν” (body spiritual) which rises actually does not give any indication that the latter is simply the former revived.

            But if they weren’t expecting the old body to be resuscitated, why would the empty tomb be a powerful sign at all?

            It was a powerful sign later – when the conception of resurrection became one of a revivification of Jesus’ body. But there is no sign of that in Paul – that’s precisely my point. This is why, if Paul did believe that Jesus resurrection involved a revivification of his old body, it’s so strange we don’t have references to the tomb or to his body bearing the marks of his death etc. This indicates that the earliest resurrection belief was about “appearances” of Jesus in his new “σῶμα πνευματικόν” (body spiritual). And just how corporeal that was thought to be in this earliest stage is also unclear.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @O’Neill:

            All the evidence indicates that Jesus saw himself as a devout Jew and a reforming preacher in the established Jewish prophetic tradition. So you’re starting with a major category error.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “all the evidence.” If you’re working from Markan Priority, assuming a Q without any of the mystical/heterodox material in the extant “sayings” Gospel (of Thomas), and discounting the possibility that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness due to its date of composition etc., then yes.

            @theredsheep:

            LMC, re NRMs, I don’t think it’s entirely reasonable to assume that the cult-leader template would transfer smoothly to the ancient world. L. Ron Hubbard was born into a society with aggressive protections for freedom of religion, plus relatively relaxed sexual mores. I don’t know a lot about the ancient Roman justice system, but it’s possible that a judge from that society would find “he dishonored our gods, and also my daughter” to be grounds for justifiable homicide. Or at least a relaxed sentence.

            Hmm, yes. I’ll have to think on what data we have on Roman legal treatment of cults (particularly Jewish ones, in this context!).

            LMC, while I think Muhammad was a pretty bad person all in all, I think you’re being somewhat unfair to him. His later marriages seem to have been for political purposes–important in such a society–and it’s possible they were never consummated. As one biographer noted, he had multiple children with Khadija, who was getting on in years, but none at all with any of his, what, eleven other wives? Many of whom were young and presumably fertile. This is just speculation, of course, but it’s certainly plausible that he needed those marriages to form alliances.

            I grant that works for most of his post-Khadija wives, but while “alliance forming” absolves him of the ethical problems that would arise in our society from polygamy with female believers or believers’s daughters, the two most credible hadith collections strongly indicate that he consummated his marriage with Aisha when she was only nine years old and suggest he was sexually attracted to a woman who was already his daughter-in-law, Zaynab bint Jahsh.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            theredsheep:

            Islam is much more readily explained.

            No argument.

            Le Maistre Chat:

            I don’t think it’s remotely miraculous for countries conquered in the jihad to become >50% Muslim within a couple of generations.

            Good Lord, neither do I. My point was just that it always looks different from inside.

          • timoneill007 says:

            If you’re working from Markan Priority, assuming a Q without any of the mystical/heterodox material in the extant “sayings” Gospel (of Thomas), and discounting the possibility that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness due to its date of composition etc., then yes.

            Since those are the mainstream consensus positions of modern critical scholars, yes, that is what I’m doing. Not that many of those who do not hold those positions would argue Jesus can be seen as anything like the modern founders of “new religious movements”. That Jesus was working entirely within the framework of Second Temple Judaism is accepted by pretty much everyone these days and has been for about 50 years or more.

            So, you’re making a major category error to think otherwise.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, this is why I like the guy. He is definitely an atheist and if ever there’s an argument he is always going to come down on the non-spiritual, non-miraculous, everyone involved was just a human mortal guy side.

            So I do trust his honesty when he goes “Come on my fellow atheists, you are swallowing old nonsense stories about Galileo or whomever”, because he isn’t trying to sneak theism or deism in by the back door and he otherwise has every reason to go “Yeah the Church is terrible and religion is terrible”.

            He’s fair about the existence of Jesus – his ongoing beef with Richard Carrier is a hilarious feud where both parties plainly hate the guts of the other, which does lead to more heat than light – even if he sticks to the “mortal human wisdom teacher and apocalyptic visionary of the type Judea was churning out back then, executed by the Romans because of the political situation, after whose death his followers lucked out and managed not alone to stick together but to spread throughout the Classical world, mainly down to Paul revamping the message to appeal to the Gentiles” line.

            I’m not surprised he inclines to the “Paul was an epileptic/had some kind of hallucinatory experience where he convinced himself God was speaking directly to him” school of interpretation because, well, that’s what you’re left with if you go for the “everyone involved were mortal human guys” and you need to explain how a bunch of people were willing to die for a plainly impossible story about a dead guy coming back to life.

          • timoneill007 says:

            I’m not surprised he inclines to the “Paul was an epileptic/had some kind of hallucinatory experience where he convinced himself God was speaking directly to him” school of interpretation

            Actually I find neat little ideas like “Paul was an epileptic” too pat and simplistic. To begin with, it’s based on the accounts of Paul’s Damascus conversion found in Acts – Paul himself says nothing at all about falling down, falling off his horse, hearing a voice or seeing some vision on the road to Damascus – that’s all from Acts and Acts is a less than reliable source on … well, anything. It’s a bit like a dramatisation of a celebrity’s life – perhaps correct enough in general outline, but clearly embellished copiously for dramatic effect.

            Neat little naturalistic explanations like “he was an epileptic” or “he had a hallucination” are trying to cram brief references in ancient texts into modern post-Enlightenment frameworks. All we can say is that Paul says he saw an “appearance” of the risen Jesus. There can be little doubt of his sincerity, but Paul lived with a world view where our hard division between the natural and the supernatural simply didn’t exist. In his world, for Jews as well and Greeks and Romans, all phenomena were “natural”, its just that some were rarer than others and a few were purely divine in origin. So people had visions, were convinced they had encountered a daimon, groves and streams each had their own genius loci which could be felt or even seen and people could become possessed. All these things were as real as sunshine or rain.

            Trying to interpret these people’s experiences as though they shared our view of the world simply doesn’t work.

  33. ana53294 says:

    Why are doctor’s jobs in the Anglo world so awful?

    I recently read this story of an Australian doctor. She reports regularly working 120-140 hours per fortnight.

    I can’t imagine this happening in Spain; while doctors here have problems in getting a job and pay is much lower, I have never heard of such a lifestyle being common.

    Does the higher salary make it easier to abuse doctors? Does it incentivize this kind of behaviour by employers? Is it the student debt?

    • Randy M says:

      It might be the combination of high status, high salary, and high debt + expenses (malpractice insurance, etc.). I suspect most doctors in the mid years are doing alright but can’t afford to walk away.
      I have heard that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the profession.
      Lawyers might be in a similar boat.

      • ana53294 says:

        The average salary of a doctor in Spain is ~46,000 euros; the average salary for a teacher in ~28,800 euros. So it’s something like 1.5:1. US doctors:teachers ratio is more like 100:1.

        Does this very high salary trap doctor in an awful job with no free time? There are presumably no jobs a doctor can get without an extreme paycut.

        • albatross11 says:

          No way is it 100:1.

          From a quick Google search, the average salary for teachers in Maryland is around $50K. For physicians, it’s around $150K. Specialists get better pay, but I don’t think they usually work crazy hours once established.

          My impression is that the crazy hours are worked by medical residents/fellows, who are completing their training. They tend to get exploited pretty mercilessly by the people training them, partly for a good reason (give them lots of experience fast), but mostly for a bad reason (they’ve already invested tons of money and years of work into becoming a doctor, so they’ll jump through even insane life-wrecking hoops to get through the final bit of training and become a doctor.)

        • jewish_giant says:

          > US Doctors:Teachers ratio is more like 100:1

          Median Teacher Salary: ~58,000 [0]

          Median Doctor Salary…less than 5.8 million. Probably not too far off the Avg of ~300k [1], so 6:1, which, yes, is a huge multiplier compared to Europe…but not 2 orders of magnitude.

          [0]: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/03/05/how-much-or-little-teachers-earn-state-by-state/?utm_term=.1b4f93e9493e
          [1]: https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2018-compensation-overview-6009667#21

    • Deiseach says:

      Why are doctor’s jobs in the Anglo world so awful?

      Because suffering builds character!

      Seemingly because of the history of how doctors were trained, which has developed into how hospitals are staffed: junior doctors working very, very long shifts and work-weeks as (a) on the job training, which is defended as “you can’t get the necessary experience of the wide range of treatments you need to be familiar with if you only work short shifts” and (b) however it has come abut that calling in the consultant or senior doctor who is supposed to be overseeing the juniors is seen as weaksauce shameful lack of ability to handle the job and indicative that you’ll crumble under pressure in ‘real’ situations contributing to (c) in order to keep costs in the NHS down, loading work onto junior doctors instead of breaking the gate-keeping and hiring on more staff – this seems to apply as well to nurses and practically all staff who are not management.

      Or at least, that’s what I’m given to understand reading opinion pieces about it.

      • acymetric says:

        (b) however it has come abut that calling in the consultant or senior doctor who is supposed to be overseeing the juniors is seen as weaksauce shameful lack of ability to handle the job and indicative that you’ll crumble under pressure in ‘real’ situations.

        I don’t dispute that this is true, but how does it lead to longer hours/worse hours for doctors? I could see how that would negatively impact level of patient care, but not how it negatively impacts the doctor.

        • Deiseach says:

          I get my impressions from reading the Private Eye magazine column written by Dr Phil Hammond*, who often deals with stories of striking medical neglect or scandals and controversies within the NHS, and some of them are eye-opening like this column from August 2018:

          Like many junior doctors at the time, MD made catastrophic errors while overworked and sleep deprived, and drove his car off the road after an 81 hour shift. Several colleagues committed suicide during or after such long shifts, and it became clear that poor judgement, exhaustion and mood disturbance caused by sleep deprivation and work related stress was contributing to the deaths of doctors and their patients. 30 years ago, junior doctors were paid just a third of the standard rate for overtime, so it was much cheaper to make one work 120 hours a week than to hire three to work 40.

          But the problem wasn’t just political resistance to funding and staffing the NHS safely. Many senior doctors embraced the macho culture of workaholism, and often the alcoholism and drug addiction that went with trying to keep your eyes open for 81 hours. Some would boast of being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when they were juniors, in a secretive culture where cock-ups were buried. In the 1992 election, MD stood against Health Secretary William Waldegrave with the strapline ‘If junior doctors were prisoners of war, then under the Geneva Convention the sleep deprivation they suffer would be considered torture’.

          And he’s devoted several to reporting on the case of a particular doctor who was struck off for the death of a child patient in her care, yet her consultant (who was informed of anomalous results in blood tests) apparently did nothing to check up on the child and got away, being permitted to quietly resign and return to Ireland where he’s still in practice while she was punished with the full rigour of the law.

          So there does seem to be entrenched “the senior guys get the power, status and influence” at work.

          *

          Phil Hammond is a doctor, journalist, broadcaster, campaigner and comedian. He qualified as a GP in 1991 and is currently works in a specialist NHS centre for children and adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome/ME.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Counter to my expectations, doing shorter shifts does not appear to improve patient outcomes — at best, it keeps them the same, and may in fact worsen them. This appears to be because information about the patient is lost during handoffs between shifts.

      So I think that part of the answer is that we prioritized patient outcomes, the result was a stringent work environment for scarce (perhaps artificially scarce), high-skill workers, and they demanded high pay to compensate.

      • ana53294 says:

        That is an argument for twelve hour shifts instead of eight. The NHS has nurses doing three twelve hour shifts instead of five eight hour ones.

        But long shifts should not mean no sleep. There shouldn’t be two shifts straight that late longer than 16 hours, and they should be followed by at least twelve hours of rest, no on-call.

        Having a doctor work at such an awful pace cannot be good. They think so themselves, too.

      • John Schilling says:

        Counter to my expectations, doing shorter shifts does not appear to improve patient outcomes — at best, it keeps them the same, and may in fact worsen them. This appears to be because information about the patient is lost during handoffs between shifts.

        Citation needed, preferably high-quality and with replication.

        We’ve been through this before, and basically every other field that deals with prolonged critical operations – military, police, firefighting, space flight, etc – has found that keeping shifts down to no more than 16 hours and that only in extremis, using documentation and shift handover meetings rather than the memory of someone who has been awake 48 hours straight, gives better results. So I positively disbelieve the claim that there is something unique about medicine that benefits from this apparently abusive behavior where nothing else does, and am pretty sure Deiseach has the right of it.

        • Garrett says:

          If you suggest that doctors should improve documentation you are told that you are taking away from the “doctor-patient relationship”.

          I agree you are right, but I haven’t found a way to make this effective. I suspect that a good part of it is that medical charting systems are driven by billing/revenue rather than patient care.

    • JPNunez says:

      It seems it’s all tracked down to William Halsted, a famous surgeon who worked looong shifts, and demanded the same of his residents.

      The thing is Halsted powered through these shifts with generous use of cocaine.

      It’s possible that doctors in the english speaking world work longer hours than in the non english speaker world, and maybe the longer hours can be traced to how close their colleges are influenced by these english colleges.

      At least here in Chile they seem to go with 16/20 hours.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This was a surgeon. They have longer hours than other doctors. Are you sure you know what Spanish surgeons’ lives are like? They are also paid more. Google tells me that Spanish surgeons are paid €150k.

  34. deltafosb says:

    In the last open thread, someone mentioned Haber process of ammonia synthesis. Apparently human civilization is heavily reliant on a single chemical reaction:

    Three to five percent of the world’s natural gas production is consumed in the Haber process (around 1–2% of the world’s energy supply). (…) Due to its dramatic impact on the human ability to grow food, the Haber process served as the “detonator of the population explosion”, enabling the global population to increase from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.7 billion by November 2018.[20] Nearly 50% of the nitrogen found in human tissues originated from the Haber-Bosch process.[21]

    Fritz Haber is also famous for other reasons, including development of chemical weapons during WW1, as well as Zyklon B prototype (although I’m not certain if he was actively participating in this research):

    During the 1920s, scientists working at his institute developed the cyanide gas formulation Zyklon A, which was used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant in grain stores.[27]

    It seems to me that formerly it was more frequent to find that a single human has extreme impact on the whole civilization. Are there any modern examples of such people (excluding, of course, political figures)? Blue LEDs or computers are nice, but it all looks bleak in comparison with direct impact on half of the nitrogen contained in human species. Are the low-hanging fruits already grabbed?

    • sentientbeings says:

      The tricky part of this question is that a lot of incredibly influential breakthroughs happened on a team, even a small team, and often with a parallel team that could/would have come up with roughly the same breakthrough – see mid 20th century nuclear physics.

      I can think of a couple of candidates, though. John Goodenough (still alive and working at 96) is credited with development of the lithium-ion battery. Stated like that it probably doesn’t rise to the level of your nitrogen example, but if we traced out the effects they would be pretty large.

      While I’m sure someone else would have done it eventually, Philo Farnsworth’s creation of the television might count, both for visibility (TV’s being everywhere) and for influence on a lot of image detection, processing, and display technologies, and for all the technologies that those things have enabled.

      My guess is that there are a couple of individuals who would qualify through distinct contributions to semiconductor technologies, probably at Bell Labs, but my knowledge in that area isn’t quite good enough to name one right now.

      Certain software algorithms and their creators (actually quite analogous to the example of a chemical reaction) might qualify, but it seems to me much more likely that someone would independently discover it and therefore (perhaps) be less appropriate of inclusion the category you are describing. There are some pillars of the FOSS movement that might work, though. Eric S. Raymond strikes me as a possibility.

      • Adrian says:

        There are some pillars of the FOSS movement that might work, though. Eric S. Raymond strikes me as a possibility.

        No. Maybe that’s what Raymon wants you to believe, styling himself as some kind of FOSS popularizer. He had some spotlight in the late 90s, but otherwise his influence is negligible, and his tangible contributions (i.e., source code actually used by many people) is close to zero.

        If you want the “pillars of the FOSS movement”, start with Richard Stallmann and Linus Torvalds.

        • sentientbeings says:

          You misunderstood why I chose him, though I’m probably to blame for the confusion because of the way I phrased it. I chose him because he’s a person who has written some code that runs on an enormous number of unix-like systems.

          Linus Torvalds would probably be a better example both in the sense I meant and the sense in which you interpreted my original comment.

          Richard Stallman would be such a “pillar,” but I wouldn’t necessarily count him as fitting deltafosb’s category.

    • mwengler says:

      The transistor is built by three people in 1947, ~40 years after the Haber process is invented. It seems to have something like the same impact on humanity as the Haber process, give or take a factor of a few.

      If you are willing to accept the Turing machine as the precursor to all modern stored program digital computers, it is invented by one guy in 1936, 10 years before the transistor and ~30 years after the Haber process.

      I can’t think of anything since 1947 that is comparable in novelty and impact. When was ubiquitous free pornography on the internet invented? Probably not as important anyway.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I don’t have a good sense of how to articulate this, but I think if Haber and Bosch had both died in 1900, we still would have gotten the Haber-Bosch process, delayed by less than 10 years. While if the three guys who invented the transistor had died ten years prior, it would have taken a while to again assemble the Venn Union of a) people capable of imagining such a thing and why it’s useful b) people capable of building it.

        • deltafosb says:

          A different kind of transistor (FET, in which control voltage simply expels or attracts current carriers out of/into bottleneck) was invented way earlier and even was operational before 1947

          The first patent[1] for the field-effect transistor principle was filed in Canada by Austrian-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld on October 22, 1925, but Lilienfeld published no research articles about his devices, and his work was ignored by industry. In 1934 German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil patented another field-effect transistor.[2] There is no direct evidence that these devices were built, but later work in the 1990s show that one of Lilienfeld’s designs worked as described and gave substantial gain. Legal papers from the Bell Labs patent show that William Shockley and a co-worker at Bell Labs, Gerald Pearson, had built operational versions from Lilienfeld’s patents, yet they never referenced this work in any of their later research papers or historical articles.[3]

          This seems to be quite common. Did you know that Schrödinger equation has been considered before Schrödinger (in a physical context; in mathematics these kind of problems were popular in 19th century)?

          In 1921, prior to de Broglie, Arthur C. Lunn at the University of Chicago had used the same argument based on the completion of the relativistic energy–momentum 4-vector to derive what we now call the de Broglie relation.[14] Unlike de Broglie, Lunn went on to formulate the differential equation now known as the Schrödinger equation, and solve for its energy eigenvalues for the hydrogen atom. Unfortunately the paper was rejected by the Physical Review, as recounted by Kamen.[15]

          Schrödinger himself also derived what is known today as Klein-Gordon equation, defining relativistic motion of electron in quantum mechanics (source). I don’t know if the presence of negative energy spectrum (later interpreted as positrons) was the reason he abandoned this work; quite interesting if yes. Local optimization seems to be the nature of scientific progress.

          • Stigler’s Law: Scientific laws are never named after their real inventors.

            Ricardian rent was invented by Malthus (and someone else I forget).

            Marshallian quasi-rents were invented by Ricardo.

            I don’t remember who invented Stigler’s law, but it wasn’t Steve Stigler.

      • deltafosb says:

        If you are willing to accept the Turing machine as the precursor to all modern stored program digital computers, it is invented by one guy in 1936, 10 years before the transistor and ~30 years after the Haber process.

        Equivalent formulations of computation date even further, actually lambda calculus is older than Turing machines. Speaking of: could Rice’s theorem expressed is this language be called Curry-Rice theorem?

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Norman Borlaug is commonly credited with saving over a billion lives for his work in the 50s and 60s breeding and deploying especially high-yield, disease-resistant crops.

      To take a different approach, the Cold War created at least a few Stanislav Petrov types who had an extreme lack of impact on human civilization (Petrov himself was not the final link in the chain that would have led to a nuclear launch, but similar stories exist where it gets down to the very last safety).

      • sentientbeings says:

        I thought of those two, and Vasily Arkhipov as well, but skipped them with the expectation that someone else would bring them up.

    • SamChevre says:

      There was a discussion on Making Light of people who saved more than a billion lives. (Search down for the name)

      The candidates were:
      Jenner
      Pasteur
      Haber
      Tesla
      Borlaug

    • b_jonas says:

      Semmelweis is rumored to have saved a lot of pregnant mothers by inventing hygiene.

  35. hash872 says:

    I found the discussion of populism in the last OT interesting, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot and obviously it’s been in the public psyche since 2015…. A few general thoughts:

    My definition of populism overlaps with demagoguery- it’s basically the weak version of it. “Simplistic, emotional solutions to complex problems that appeal to both the uneducated in large numbers, and ideologues. Involve a conspiracy theory separating ‘the people’ from an ‘elite’ [everyone knows this part]. Generally involves unrealistic or poor policy decisions that would be suboptimal, especially in the medium to long run. A ‘thin’ ideology [here I steal from Wikipedia] which can be grafted on to broader left or right-wing movements. Rightwing populism tends to be focused on racial issues, leftwing populism on the wealthy.”

    It’s the ‘unrealistic or poor policy decisions’ that trips up lots of good faith, academic-style definitions of populism, because they don’t want to take value judgments around a belief system and say ‘hey so this group of people is generally wrong’. I have no such compunctions- I believe that unrealistic/dumb/frankly childish at times ideation is a core part of populism (“The Wall with Mexico is going to stop drug smuggling, overdoses & addiction in the US” is maybe the best example of childlike magical thinking that pops into my head at the moment, sorry if that’s not charitable).

    I couldn’t believe most posters didn’t want to credit the Left as having populist elements. As someone on the Left myself it absolutely contains a great deal of populism- it’s just not the dominant ideology at the moment. (“We can have the Scandinavian welfare system somehow magically without Scandinavian levels of taxation” is a great example).

    The term ‘populist’ is still way over-used, most recently by the more objective business press (Bloomberg, Reuters, FT) to describe European politicians that they don’t like

    • Plumber says:

      I’ve three different definitions in mind for “populism”

      1) The “Social conservative/fiscal liberal” quadrant of the political spectrum, that is someone who mostly agrees with Republicans on “social issues” and Democrats on “economic issues”.

      2) The 19th century “People’s Party” and William Jennings Bryant.

      3) Political positions that many voters believe in but don’t have elected advocates of.

      • hash872 says:

        I’m with you. That’s what I mean (when I steal from the Wikipedia definition and say) populism is a ‘thin’ ideology that then gets grafted on to larger belief systems

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        As John Nerst points out, populism as practiced today falls on the “socially conservative but economically liberal” part of the political spectrum, but this is a historical accident that follows from elite disdain for the aforementioned ideology. In another political climate, a different ideology could be “populist” in the sense of being espoused by demagogues who appeal to the masses and disdain the claims and values of the political, intellectual, and social elite.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      My definition of populism overlaps with demagoguery- it’s basically the weak version of it.

      Are you familiar with Polybius’ anacylosis theory of political evolution? After democracy (“populism”) comes ochlocracy (mob rule via/under demagogues).

    • broblawsky says:

      For me, the core of populism is the creation of a false dichotomy between ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’. Everything else is just bad policy, which populism aids but which can exist independently.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Why is the dichotomy false?

        • I’m guessing he’s a mistake theorist.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          It is clear that “the people” and “the elite” are not dichotomous in the same sense that “the poor” and “the rich” are not: (social, intellectual, political, monetary) power fall on a spectrum just like money does. But it seems to me that “the elites” and “the people” clearly exist as simplifications of this spectrum into a simple binary. Of course there is fuzziness at the boundary of this categorization, but I still think it captures something real.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            My biggest objection is that “the people” makes it sound like the people are unitary, and have common political aims and objectives. This can be true, but often isn’t, and often appeals to “the people” are really appeals to a certain subset of people that let them pretend that any of the people who oppose them are not really “the people” and can be discounted.

            Both the people and the elite can have structure within them, and politics can align along other axes, so that sometimes political competition is between two groups of elites, each representing different segments of “the people”, and in such a case the dichotomy fails to yield any analytic edge.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            My biggest objection is that “the people” makes it sound like the people are unitary, and have common political aims and objectives. This can be true, but often isn’t

            Except there are policy positions that those running multinational corporations have in common that are not in the interests of the poor and working class. From the left one could point to lower corporate tax rates, and from the right mass immigration for cheap labor. Does every poor person want less migration and every rich guy want lower taxes? No, but these memes are heavily clustered, and pointing that out does not create a false dichotomy. The dichotomy is real. The king and the serfs are not always in agreement about what’s best for the kingdom, but the king has all the power.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            If the left and right have different disagreements with big corporations, then that means “the people” who are of the right don’t disagree with low corporate taxes and “the people” of the left don’t disagree with immigration, which means that “the people” are divided on these issues; hence a politics polarized around these issues cannot be simply a politics of the elite against the people since both positions will have roughly half of the people on their side.

            As I said, I don’t think this dynamic can never arise, and we can quibble over how united “the people” have to be on an issue for it to count, but the use of the rhetorical trope far exceeds the number of instances where it’s useful.

          • Except there are policy positions that those running multinational corporations have in common that are not in the interests of the poor and working class. From the left one could point to lower corporate tax rates, and from the right mass immigration for cheap labor.

            On both of those, that should be “are not what most poor and working class people believe are in their interest,” since in both cases it is unclear what the real effects on those people are.

        • broblawsky says:

          Why is the dichotomy false?

          The only true dichotomies in reality involve quantum phenomena; in everything else, there is a grey zone. Often there’s more grey than black or white.

          Also, yes, I generally prefer mistake theory to conflict theory. It keeps me sane.

          • Aapje says:

            The only true dichotomies in reality involve quantum phenomena; in everything else, there is a grey zone.

            The existence of a gray zone doesn’t mean that there isn’t a true dichotomy. The relatively few intersex people don’t change the fact that there is a male/female dichotomy.

            It also doesn’t mean that oppression can’t exist. There was a grey zone between Jews and non-Jews, yet the Holocaust still happened.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That sounds trivially true. What’s the point of modifying “dichotomy” with “false” if all dichotomies outside the physics lab are false?

          • broblawsky says:

            That sounds trivially true. What’s the point of modifying “dichotomy” with “false” if all dichotomies outside the physics lab are false?

            It’s a reminder that human beings try to simplify our problems into easy categories rather than deal with actual complexity. Populism preys on this tendency by telling us that our lazy built-in heuristics are correct. It uses our existing prejudices to persuade us to support bad policies that enrich unethical politicians rather than be rational.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And arguments from complexity take simple problems and snow people into supporting bad policies which enrich unethical politicians. The more simple the truth is, the more complex the lies have to be to hide it.

          • Aapje says:

            @broblawsky

            A perfectly valid way to deal with complexity is to sort things into a dichotomy: guilty/not guilty, man/woman, day/night, etc.

            ‘Lazy heuristics’ can actually be better than attempts to be more correct, when you don’t actually have the ability to be more correct or when giving people that kind of power can enable horrible things. For example, a state where the judiciary can and does give fine-grained sentences for ‘grey’ behavior, can easily result in an totalitarian state where abuse of power is extremely easy.

          • Lambert says:

            Are you guys trying to draw a bright line between true and false dichotomies?

            Because that strikes me as a false dichotomy.

          • broblawsky says:

            And arguments from complexity take simple problems and snow people into supporting bad policies which enrich unethical politicians. The more simple the truth is, the more complex the lies have to be to hide it.

            Appeals to complexity are less fallacious than appeals to desperation or personal attacks. Complexity can generally be disentangled, given enough time. Hatred and fear – the tools of populists – short-circuit our capacity for rational thought.

            ‘Lazy heuristics’ can actually be better than attempts to be more correct, when you don’t actually have the ability to be more correct or when giving people that kind of power can enable horrible things. For example, a state where the judiciary can and does give fine-grained sentences for ‘grey’ behavior, can easily result in an totalitarian state where abuse of power is extremely easy.

            I think reality disproves your example. Minimum sentencing laws – which prevent judges from considering complexity in sentencing – are one of the leading causes in America’s current mass incarceration problem.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Hatred and fear – the tools of populists

            Sounds an awful lot like

            appeals to desperation or personal attacks.

            and an attempt to

            short-circuit our capacity for rational thought.

            Seems like a whole lot of pots and kettles and accusations of blackness.

            Elite business interests want cheap labor so they support mass immigration, legal or illegal, support politicians who stymie enforcement efforts or straight up refuse to cooperate with federal authorities by declaring their polities “sanctuary cities/states.” Rationally, working class citizens do not want to compete with illegal labor or have their neighborhoods changed by hostile-to-indifferent foreigners. When they rationally complain, the media outlets owned by the elite business interests attack them, accusing them of being motivated by “hatred and fear,” thereby terrifying portions of their audience and short-circuiting their capacity for rationally thought. And then of course they’ll trot out the “experts” with their complex studies showing why, duh, morons, of course having your wages suppressed and your neighborhoods overrun with mean-mugging foreigners is really good for you because statistics and restaurants or something. The truth is simple and the lies are complicated.

          • @Conrad Honcho:

            How does the story you are telling about the effects of mass immigration and who supports it and why fit with the history of the actual mass immigration early in the 20th century—about a million people a year into a population of about a hundred million? Did that result in poor and working class people being worse off and only business elites benefiting? Did political support for and opposition to that, ending in the restrictive policies of the 1920’s, fit your pattern?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            David, I haven’t read enough recently about those time periods to say anything intelligent (not that that usually stops me). I’m talking about modern politics only.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Oh, if you define populism this way, Left absolutely does have populist elements. But I thought, perhaps wrongly, that different implicit definition was being used in previous OT.

    • DinoNerd says:

      This sounds like a good explanation to me. Especially “unrealistic/dumb/frankly childish at times ideation is a core part of populism”.

      Yes, politicism live for soundbites and spin, and soundbites tend towards “unrealistic/dumb/frankly childish”. so it’s hard to find clear boundaries.

      But this feels like it touches the common element more clearly than anything I’ve seen from professional explainers.

      Of course the hard thing is distinguishing “insanely dumb idea” from “inconceivable within some currently elite group’s idea bubble.”

    • Butlerian says:

      “Simplistic, emotional solutions to complex problems that appeal to both the uneducated in large numbers, and ideologues.”

      In populism’s defence, complexity in the context of “complex problems” is often intentional, mendacious prospiracy.
      I see this a lot in wider-media Brexit discussions. Much of the Remain rhetoric is “Ha, you thought exiting the EU was going to be easy, but turns out it’s very legally and economically complex, guess Leave is dumb liars :^)“. Well, yes, law and commerce is complicated, but they’re not complicated because of… The Universe, they’re complicated because a bunch of self-interested lawyers and corporations intentionally made them Byzantine as a gatekeeping measure to increase the value of their own in-field knowledge and maintain soft monopoly by making it prohibitiely expensive (in legal consultation fees) for new players to enter the (commercial or political) market.

      So “Problem X is complex therefore your simplistic populism is dumb” is… not even wrong. The complexity of the problem is YOUR FAULT, Mr. Galaxy-Brain Technocrat; you designed that stick specifically so you could beat your enemies with it. Problem complexity is not a point against Simple Populist Politicians, it’s a point for Simple Populist Politicians because Serious Complicated Technocrats generate Serious Complicated Problems to justify their hegemony. Now, getting rid of the Technocrats may not immediatly get rid of the Problems because law is sticky, but, y’know, you wouldn’t keep around a doctor who keeps dosing you with disease just so he can sell you the antibacterials. Don’t keep around Technocrats who keep writing Byzantine laws just so they can sell you legal advice.

      TL;DR: if this comes under the banner of “anti-elite conspiracy theories magical thinking” then I guess just call me a magical thinking populist.

      EDIT: I do not think that it is impossible that there are some problems which are complex because of The Universe rather than because of mendacious gatekeepers intentionally inflating the difficulty for their own purposes. I just think that the vast majority of things which are said to be “legally” or “politically” complex are that way because of intentional Byzantinization.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Well, yes, law and commerce is complicated, but they’re not complicated because of… The Universe,

        On what basis are you making this claim? There are many very good reasons for complex law. Certainly law tends to accretion which can make it needlessly complex, but even that accretion removes other problems and complexities.

        Reality is complex. Reality is also not fair. Trying to impose fairness on reality is complex upon complex.

        they’re complicated because a bunch of self-interested lawyers and corporations intentionally made them Byzantine as a gatekeeping measure to increase the value of their own in-field knowledge and maintain soft monopoly by making it prohibitiely expensive (in legal consultation fees) for new players to enter the (commercial or political) market.

        Thus we see the reason why populist rhetoric is appealing. It posits both a conspiracy of some sort to scapegoat and an evil other. It offers a simple solution which is promised to provide large benefit without cost. It is very appealing if it is true.

        Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific issues than can be simplified, or that self-interested parties don’t work make and keep that which favors them. Still, not everything is a nail, no matter how pleasing your hammer is to swing.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It posits both a conspiracy of some sort to scapegoat and an evil other.

          Sometimes it is an evil conspiracy, though. Like subprime mortgage “investments.” When you hear “complex financial interest” that’s probably someone trying to rob you with Eulering. “Complexity is fraud” is a useful heuristic.

          I wouldn’t go as far as Butlerian, but yeah the answer to the Gordian knot is the slicing.

          • Nick says:

            I wouldn’t go as far as Butlerian, but yeah the answer to the Gordian knot is the slicing.

            That’s an instructive metaphor: humanity has been contemptuous of fabricated complexity since the days of Alexander the Great.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Past edit window, but that should have said “complex financial instrument.”

        • Butlerian says:

          On what basis are you making this claim?

          On the basis that all laws were written by humans, therefore if they are complex, they are complex because a human decided to write them complex.
          Article XXXII Subsection CXI of [insert law here] doesn’t exist because there are 32 tort interactions between 61 fundamental law particles which have an objective existence outside of mankind. It exists because someone’s trying to look clever.

          There are many very good reasons for complex law.

          Name three.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It exists because someone’s trying to look clever.

            Well, no I think Article XXXII Subsection CXI is overly complex to hide the financial fraud it enables on behalf of the people who paid the politicians to enact [insert law here]. The cleverness is the means of the fraud, not the end unto itself.

          • greenwoodjw says:

            1) The issue being covered is very complicated.
            2) The issue has a lot of use cases that need specific coverage
            3) The issue has been a consistent source of litigation and the law is intended to end the excess litigation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            On the basis that all laws were written by humans, therefore if they are complex, they are complex because a human decided to write them complex.

            Constructing tautologies is perhaps pleasurable, but it doesn’t amount to saying anything constructive.

            Nor is it responsive to my original statement.

            So let me simply restate that reality is complex. If you can’t bring yourself to affirm the acceptance of that premise, well … I’m not sure it’s fruitful to have a conversation. I don’t particularly want to get into one of these conversations where you simply demand further and further proof of what should be easily agreed to points simply because it weakens your argument.

      • g says:

        Let’s stipulate (as I think you’re doing) that there’s no way for the UK to exit the EU that isn’t a disaster for the UK, and (as you’re inviting us to) that this is because the EU has deliberately made itself difficult to leave non-disastrously, and (as I think you’re further inviting us to) that this was because a bunch of bad people with bad goals found that convenient.

        That might be a good reason for the UK not to have joined the EU in the first place, but it seems to me that it has very little impact on the question of whether the UK should leave the EU now. The argument against leaving (more specifically, the one we’re considering at the moment) isn’t about whether the EU’s laws were written by good people for good reasons or the reverse, it’s about whether it would benefit the UK to leave.

        If I’ve been wrongfully convicted of a crime and sentenced to an unjustly long term of imprisonment in a prison from which I can’t realistically hope to escape without being shot, I would not be well advised to say “The people who put me here are bad people, and this is a bad system; the only reason why I’ll be shot if I leave is that those bad people made it that way for bad reasons; therefore I will attempt to escape”. If I do that, I end up getting shot.

        The Leave campaign did argue that leaving would be easy. That was not true. It appears that leaving is difficult and painful and likely to have bad results. The Remain campaign said that. From the point of view of choosing between Leave and Remain, it doesn’t matter all that much why Leave was wrong and Remain right about this.

        It may matter if the Remain campaign is also claiming that the EU is good and noble and we should stay in it because it’s good and noble. (Which some Remainers do believe, but that doesn’t seem to me to have been a large part of the Remain campaign at any point.) If someone makes that argument, then “EU bureaucrats deliberately made it hard to leave the EU, for ignoble self-interested reasons” is a counterargument of sorts. But, again, the Remain campaign mostly hasn’t been making that sort of argument.

        Now, you do offer a bridge from your claims about why leaving the EU is hard to the claim that we should leave anyway: the bureaucrats, you say, are doing this sort of thing all the time and thereby harming the UK, and therefore leaving is a good idea despite the short-term pain, because it would get the UK out of their evil clutches. But so far as I can tell, the relevant economic analyses all indicate that the UK will in fact be worse off if it leaves the EU; whatever harm those EU bureaucrats are doing doesn’t appear to show up in the UK’s economic welfare, at least not in such a way as to outweigh the benefits of cosying up to the bureaucrats. And, in any case, the UK has plenty of home-grown bureaucrats writing home-grown bad laws. The only way of escaping technocrats who write byzantine laws is to go and live as an outlaw in a jungle somewhere. I hear Somalia’s nice at this time of year. Most of us find that the benefits of living in a modern developed (and, yes, technocratic) state outweigh the costs. The tradeoff of belonging to the EU is similar: convenience and economic benefits against extra laws. You’ve made no argument that the costs outweigh the benefits.

        (In case anyone cares: I also don’t think your analysis is very accurate; I don’t see any good reason to believe that much of the difficulty of leaving the EU in a way that works well for the UK is because selfishly malicious bureaucrats deliberately made the laws complicated. But even stipulating that you’re right about that, your argument seems to me to make little contact with the question that actually matters, namely whether the UK would do better to stay or go.)

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      I have a rule that a definition fails if
      1. No one would self identify as such
      2. If the definition allows the labeler to forgo having to actually engage with the person

      _________________

      Some informal responses to comments below;

      Public opinion is extremely volatile to framing especially at the margins (majority opinion swings being possible in polling when the issue is reframed) so it is unlikely that true majority support exists for any issue that hasn’t already been acted upon.

      There also doesn’t need to be a binary spit of elite/public opinion, just a bimodal distribution of potential issue stances where overlap is relatively weak.

      Also, propaganda for any position on any issue that is being mass-marketed is going to be either presumptuous (everyone already knows this is the correct position I don’t have to make a case for it, only emphasize how important it is) or unintelligent. Chalking up the latest hurricane to climate change when the IPCC isn’t as confident in a link between green house gases and hurricanes is a low-tier argument for a policy position that might otherwise have the weight of evidence behind it. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to capture popular attention to a phenomenon whose fail state is a slow-grinding degradation in quality of life as opposed to a spectacular disaster.

      So chalking populism up to demagoguery or fear mongering is like saying that the central powers in WW1 are identified by their use of machine guns, howitzers, and poison gas whereas the entente powers used cavalry, tanks, and snipers.

      So for issue you can imagine a particular position that has options for strong, mild support and strong and mild opposition, as well as an indifferent or unsure middle ground. Strong elite support for an issue may be 60%, mild support being 25%, 10% indifferent and 5% being any kind of opposition. The general public may be 20% strongly opposed, 25% mildly opposed, 30% indifferent, and the other 25% are some form of support.

      Elite is firmly majority support but the public is not majority opposed, but it is more opposed then supportive.

      What is more likely is a situation where there exists a fairly substantial numerical constituency for a particular political cause which has in comparative terms very limited mainstream representatives willing to run on that platform. Such a situation would occur if the increase in electoral support is more than outweighed by the fallout from being shunned by one’s peers. That entails loss of networking and almost universally negative coverage. I am thinking 20-45% Strong support where numerical strong opposition is smaller. Bear in mind what I said earlier that straight majorities are unlikely because the folks on the margins will easily change opinions when information and framing changes.

      So anyone who decides to run on said platform necessarily becomes a controversy/toxoplasma magnet [because of the cleavage between news coverage and the opinion of supporters] who doesn’t rely on existing political networks, and political support rests almost exclusively on motivating his/her electoral base.

      In the current year the issue that most closely resembles that reality is immigration Restrictionism.

      My definition does not require majority support for populists, does not require that the elite or general opinion be correct or incorrect, does not require fear mongering or hate mongering. It can, but does not have to include those things. The definition does not lend itself to slam-dunk dismissing the populist.

      My obvious bias is that the popular instinctual anxiety about immigration happens to be correct. But I do not necessarily believe every issue where public policy elites and the general public disagree substantially, the elected official who sides with the public is taking the correct position. I suspect more people support protectionism of agriculture then columnists and economists, for example.

  36. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The idea of a “wrong side of history” will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now.

    I like this quite a bit . In the real world, sometimes things get better, sometimes they get worse. What counts as history?

    Also, and I think this point wasn’t made in the article, the two worse systems in the 20th century, Nazism and totalitarian communism* were based on a claim to know what the future would be.

    *There is no usable vocabulary in English that everyone agrees on for distinguishing between the Nordic model (market economy with strong safety net) and totalitarian communism.

    This is from a list of such essays

    Discussion, and more lists

    • I think that, in practice, “communism” is interpreted as referring to the Soviet model. “Socialism” is ambiguous between government ownership and control of the means of production and the Nordic welfare state model.

      • An Fírinne says:

        No, socialism has nothing to do with government ownership. Unless you want to pretend Anarchist socialists don’t exist

        • Arguments over what is “real socialism” are pointless. In actually existing society, most people link socialism with government and only a minority of self-labelled socialists are anarchists.

          • An Fírinne says:

            >Arguments over what is “real socialism” are pointless.

            This is not an argument about that. Friedman has provided a blatantly incorrect definition of socialism where he pretends a whole subsection of us don’t even exist.

            > only a minority of self-labelled socialists are anarchists.

            In which case lets just be intellectually dishonest and pretend they don’t exist!!!

          • David Friedman just said what people mean when they talk about socialism and for >99% of the time when someone discusses socialism, he’s right. He’s not making any comment on what is the metaphysically “correct” definition and I doubt he was “pretending they don’t exist.” He probably just forgot about you. You’re the one who insisted that socialism has nothing to do with the government, which when looking at the history of socialism is blatantly ridiculous. I don’t know why the radical left is so obsessed with definitions, but it’s not convincing anyone of anything.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know why the radical left the fringe everyone is so obsessed with definitions

            Argument by definition is common. No True Scotsman is just one seductive fallacy based on it.

          • @HeelBearCub

            Some people are worse than others. The radical left is the worst on it.

          • and I doubt he was “pretending they don’t exist.” He probably just forgot about you.

            From Chapter 23 of The Machinery of Freedom, published about 46 years ago:

            Nobody but a few Brahmins in Delhi and two or three Trotskyites in New York still believes that the earthly paradise can be achieved by nationalizing General Motors and turning the corner grocery store over to the Mayor’s office. Socialism, as a coherent ideology, is dead and is not likely to be revived by student rebels in Paris or Soviet tanks in Prague. Yet many people, including the late reformers in Prague, call themselves socialists. ‘Socialism’ has become a word with positive connotations and no content.

            Your property is that which you control the use of. If most things are controlled by individuals, individually or in voluntary association, a society is capitalist. If such control is spread fairly evenly among a large number of people, the society approximates competitive free enterprise—better than ours does. If its members call it socialist, why should I object?
            Socialism is dead. Long live socialism.

            So yes, I am aware that lots of people use “socialism” to mean lots of different things. An Fírinne apparently believes that his preferred usage, or perhaps only a usage that covers everyone who calls himself a socialist, is true. I was describing the two ways in which the term is commonly used by people talking about it.

          • Plumber says:

            With both Norway and North Korea called “socialist” the label obscures as much as illuminates.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Wrong Species:
            SSC just had a long argument about what counts as conservative. This is evergreen territory for everyone.

            As to your claim that it is somehow unique on on the fringe left:

            Conservatives constantly try to redefine Nazis as non-conservative.

            Libertarians can’t agree on anything, especially who counts as one.

            “Democrats are the real racists”

            etc.

            You are likely just blind to people doing it who you don’t already dislike.