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Open Thread 132.75

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954 Responses to Open Thread 132.75

  1. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Reprint of a WSJ article:

    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/well-off-parents-giving-up-guardianship-of-college-age-kids-to-exploit-financial-aid-loophole-2019-07-30?mod=family-finances

    It is now rational to transfer parentage of your kids to poorer relatives to pay for college

    wealthy parents transfer legal guardianship of their college-bound children to relatives or friends so the teens can claim financial aid, say people familiar with the matter.

    The strategy caught the department’s attention amid a spate of guardianship transfers here. It means that only the children’s earnings were considered in their financial-aid applications, not the family income or savings. That has led to awards of scholarships and access to federal financial aid designed for the poor, these people said.

    Several universities in Illinois say they are looking into the practice, which is legal

    How will universities react?

    A: Stop price discrimination through financial aid.
    B: Add one more layer of investigators to hunt these people down

    • The Nybbler says:

      B, naturally. They’ll probably have to add some rule about looking back a year or two to previous guardians, and determining whether the transfer is real. This will then lead to a Netflix series about young Carleton Banks from Los Angeles*, whose wealthy family sends him to finish up high school in West Philadelphia with his much poorer aunt and cousin, the Smiths.

      * Bel Air, that is.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’m not even mad. I’m just impressed.

      Also +2 to Nybbler.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Let’s say you’re already pretty darn nerdy but you’re not the sort who settles for less, so you’re out to be the nerdiest you can be. What should you do for a pastime?

    • brad says:

      Good for those able to reclaim it, but it will always be a nasty, hateful word for me.

    • Silverlock says:

      Amateur astronomy? Mathematician fan-fic? Project Euler?

      • johan_larson says:

        Is doing actual mathematics in an amateur capacity more or less nerdy than some sort of math fan activity like writing detective stories featuring Alan Turing?

        • bzium says:

          How about doing original mathematics research and then instead of publishing your results normally, writing self-insert fanfic in which you travel back in time to explain your results to great mathematicians of the past and help them with their adventures on the side?

      • Peffern says:

        I had a competition with my roommate to do.project Euler problems in Haskell, does that count?

    • Nick says:

      Minecraft pixel art. Of 8-bit games.

    • benjdenny says:

      Having normal friends, I can confirm that posting questions on how to be more nerdy on a rationalist blog is a pretty good start.

    • Dack says:

      A nerdy friend of mine, whenever his nerd credentials are questioned responds:

      “I am a computer science professor, who in his spare time leads a Star Trek themed guild in an old niche MMORPG based on Dungeons and Dragons.”

    • EchoChaos says:

      Run an Urbit planet has to be in the top 5.

      • Nick says:

        What’s the status on urbit? The last stuff I heard about it was really interesting, but that was six months to a year ago.

        • dick says:

          Still chugging along on funding from the star sales (and whatever private funding they got). The founder officially parted ways, and I think they are staying under the radar and just working on building out features, hoping that in a year or two they’ll have something regular users would want to touch, and that the Moldy stink will have worn off enough that they can show up at a conference without security.

          I still think it’s a really compelling idea, and the tech seems solid although I’m not really the one to measure that, and I’m not so excited about it as to learn hoon. But I hope it goes somewhere, and I think it would have legs if the founder hadn’t had a blog. So I update mine and tinker with it every few months, and read their monthly updates.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I set out to plot an entire world from creation all the way to destruction, not just the broad outlines but detailed stories of the various events and characters involved, the geography and cosmology, etc. And I do it without repeating Tolkein, who is the uber-nerd I’m attempting to topple.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Finish Gloomhaven, Kingdom Death: Monster and The 7th Continent.

      Play a complete game of The Campaign for North Africa.

      Run a Warhammer 40k tournament using second edition rules and armies.

      • John Schilling says:

        Play a complete game of The Campaign for North Africa.

        Isn’t there an ethical problem in that, if you play with all the optional rules, you wind up simulating the consciousness of all two million or so participants? An impressive enough achievement with pencil-and-paper mathematics, but you’ll have a hundred thousand or so violent sim-deaths on your conscience.

      • johan_larson says:

        Play a complete game of The Campaign for North Africa.

        How did anyone manage to publish a game that requires ten players and 1200 hours of playing time?

        • Machine Interface says:

          Several combining factors:

          1) While tCfNA is an extreme, wargames in the 70s all tended to be heavy and dry simulations with lots and lots of carboard counters and maths. So this was just seen “everything everyone likes, up to 11”.

          2) Wargames at the time were a super niche hobby mostly served by really small publishers which swere often one-man operations and so pretty much published whatever they want, not counting on huge returns either way.

          3) Both as a consequence and a cause from 2, wargames were on the very cheap side of production, with paper maps, very thin cardboard chits tightly packed on their sheets, and black and white rulebooks often with no illustration at all and with the printing quality of your average user manual. As a result, even a game like tCfNA was relatively inexpensive to print.

        • John Schilling says:

          4) Nobody expected anyone to actually play a game to completion. Just as there are numerous published RPG “campaigns” that are more often read for their fiction/worldbuilding value than actually played, CNA was a technical and teaching exercise in what a full logistical simulation for a tabletop wargame would look like.

        • Lambert says:

          I wonder whether that game would be implementable in software, nowadays.

          • bean says:

            This is exactly the sort of thing software is great at. I’m actually rather surprised that nobody has done that implementation.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m voting for “study the minor heresies of the 12th century in Asia Minor.”

      Reference here.

      • Nick says:

        Though for sure it was a reference to The Ball and the Cross:

        There was, however, another man on board, so to speak, at the time. Him, also, by a curious coincidence, the professor had not invented, and him he had not even very greatly improved, though he had fished him up with a lasso out of his own back garden, in Western Bulgaria, with the pure object of improving him. He was an exceedingly holy man, almost entirely covered with white hair. You could see nothing but his eyes, and he seemed to talk with them. A monk of immense learning and acute intellect he had made himself happy in a little stone hut and a little stony garden in the Balkans, chiefly by writing the most crushing refutations of exposures of certain heresies, the last professors of which had been burnt (generally by each other) precisely 1,119 years previously. They were really very plausible and thoughtful heresies, and it was really a creditable or even glorious circumstance, that the old monk had been intellectual enough to detect their fallacy; the only misfortune was that nobody in the modern world was intellectual enough even to understand their argument.

    • ana53294 says:

      Read the illustrated history of apples.

    • BBA says:

      Install Gentoo.

      I did, and I still regret it.

    • Matt says:

      The patent number for ‘Pocket Shield or Protector’ is 2,417,786, patented by H. Smith in 1948. I know this because NASA MSFC has placed posters of patent info up in the elevators and bathrooms to encourage us to file for patents if we think we’ve invented something useful, and while I’m relieving myself I’ve been trying to memorize that poster, possibly for the opportunity to establish my nerd cred by claiming that this is the nerdiest thing anyone at the table knows someday.

      You could take this effort much much further, and memorize all kinds of nerdy patents.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I’ve read an account or two about the level of blatant shoplifting that is accepted even with live cashiers.

      In an age when you can get boycotted for simply confronting the wrong shoplifter, I expect this to get worse before it gets better.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Almost literally everyone online enough to know about that bakery thinks Oberlin is making a fool of itself to be fair.

        Also, I’ve noticed that the mom and pop stores (mostly ethnic food stores, but even gas station quick-marts) that I try to frequent have nowhere near that level of complacency when it comes to shoplifting. They also don’t have guards. The reason for all this is extremely difficult for me to understand.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Wal*Mart can “shut up and calculate”. Of $X lost from shoplifting with no prevention they can save $Y through prevention and deterrence, but lose $Z from rare events like being sued or shamed for accusing someone with activists behind them. If $Z > $Y, don’t bother. Mom and pop don’t; if someone is shoplifting from them, it’s a personal affront. Furthermore, they’re one store; unlike Wal*Mart for whom it’s a statistical nigh-certainty that _some_ store will get hit by the unlikely events, most mom and pop stores will not be hit; for them $Z is a (reverse) lottery rather than a certainty.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oberlin really comes across as “without us, your two-bit town would dry up and blow away, so remember which side your bread is buttered and bow down, peasants!” in their reported dealings.

          Since the big city of my county is a college town as well, there are two things that make me believe the bakery/café side rather than the university side:

          (1) Students are always going to try getting their hands on booze before the legal age of drinking. (Same with sex’n’drugs, whatever about the rock’n’roll)

          (2) They will also try ‘liberating’ goods because property is theft, man, and they’ll try small shops because of the fact mentioned by Hoopyfreud – little to no security.

          Why don’t small stores hire security guards? I think because that’s not the model of business; a large department store can have a guard discreetly lurking in a corner, or sitting in the office watching the CCTV, a small shop just can’t get away with it. And having a security guard visibly ‘on guard’ at the door is very unwelcoming even for honest customers – you don’t feel comfortable shopping there since you’re afraid to touch anything in case you get called over to explain yourself.

          Plus, if they had a guard following likely shoplifters around the place, three guesses as to how the college would react, and your first two don’t count: RACISM! RACIAL PROFILING! YOU’RE RACISTS! HOW DARE YOU HAVE YOUR GESTAPO FOLLOW OUR STUDENTS OF COLOUR!

          This was already the line the college took even with no security guards in place, imagine what they would have been like if a guard did keep an eye on the black student with fake ID hanging around the liquor section stuffing two bottles of wine under his coat?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            They will also try ‘liberating’ goods because property is theft, man, and they’ll try small shops because of the fact mentioned by Hoopyfreud – little to no security.

            But the Mom and Pops – as demonstrated in the Oberlin case – prosecute shoplifting much more vigorously, even in the absence of guards. That’s the weird thing – small stores don’t need guards to prosecute shoplifters, but big stores don’t prosecute shoplifters even when they have guards.

            Also, the third thing that makes me believe the business is that the question of whether the student was or wasn’t shoplifting doesn’t appear to have ever been disputed.

          • Deiseach says:

            That’s the weird thing – small stores don’t need guards to prosecute shoplifters, but big stores don’t prosecute shoplifters even when they have guards.

            Because for a small shop, this is their livelihood and their one place of business. They have to be vigilant because “shrinkage” eats into their income. A chain of shops or a large concern can (a) afford to price a certain percentage of loss in, spread it over the area they have stores, and if it gets too bad in one particular store then fire a few cashiers to even up for it by offsetting ‘costs of wages’ against ‘goods walking out the door’.

            Professional thieves are more likely to hit the big stores, one-off or amateur thieves will hit the small stores. If the big store makes a mistake and has a security guard grab someone for shoplifting who has a legit reason why they put that item in their bag, then it’s more likely to result in bad publicity (it’s more newsworthy that “BigCo falsely accused innocent local woman” than it is “Smith’s Small Shoppe did this”) and it’s more worth the while of the accused to try suing BigCo rather than Mr and Mrs Smith.

            So the big stores have guards mostly for the professionals, and don’t bother chasing the “those teen girls stole some lipsticks” types because the hassle in that latter isn’t worth it for them. Small shop has to chase the “teen girl swiped some small item” because else they’ll be inundated with all the other teens doing it for a dare/a laugh, and they can’t afford to take the financial hit of small items constantly walking out the door.

            I think from the accounts I’ve been reading, the student (a) was dumb enough to think he was the first person ever to try buying/stealing booze from the shop, they’ll never suspect me, they won’t be watching for this, my fake ID is so convincing and (b) then thought that if he got chased out, he could out-run the old guy and never be caught. Turns out that (a) wasn’t true, the shop was particularly watching out not because the kid was black but because he was a student from the local university and every damn year somebody out of the new intake tries this and (b) wasn’t true either, I think it was one of the sons – somebody younger, anyway – who did run after him and kept chasing him. It didn’t help their case that when the son caught up with the student, two of his friends joined in and the three little charmers started punching and kicking the son instead of having the brains to keep running the fuck away before the cops turned up.

            Then they fell back on “racism!” when the cops showed up and only finally admitted to what everyone knew had really happened. It does seem to have been the university who blew it up – I don’t mean the usual student activists who organised protests plus the rest of the student body who took advantage of “hey, a day of protest, means we don’t have to turn up for classes, sweet!” I mean the faculty who had no business getting involved other than “we take such matters seriously, now talk to our lawyers, we’re saying nothing more”.

            The Vice-President and Dean of Students, who appears to have been yearning to relive the glory days of student protests in the 60s and to have specialised in SJW as her teaching subjects, threw fuel on the fire by not having the brains God gave a door knob; not alone did she let the students photocopy fliers defaming Gibson’s Bakery, she helped pass them out; she and others arranged gloves and pizza for the precious darlings lest they be chilly standing around yelling abuse outside the premises, and she fired off texts where she made nasty remarks about another faculty member who had some common sense and said the protesters should accept that the guy caught shoplifting was guilty of exactly that.

            Then the hugely talented academic big-brains of the college couldn’t leave it at that, they had to release an email criticising the decision while the trial was still going on. Is anyone surprised the jury decided “Y’know, let’s slap another twenty million onto the damages for the bakery” after that? I don’t know who the college’s legal counsel are, but I imagine they’re all wishing they listened to their mother and went into Uncle Spencer’s accountancy firm instead.

            It’s a real storm in a teacup but precisely because the town is so small and there really aren’t Big City examples or levels of “racism! other isms! phobias!” for the faculty to show how progressive they are, and the students to march around and have protests about in order to feel like their expensive education doesn’t mean they’re privileged, then the college grabbed onto what it could in order to feel Big and Important and Relevant and For Great Justice.

            I sincerely hope this demonstration of how in touch with reality the administrators of Oberlin are results in any parents, should their kids say “I’m thinking I might like to go to Oberlin?”, saying “No. I’ll apprentice you to a chimney sweep who’ll send you up the flues barefoot before I send you to that nuthouse”.

          • ana53294 says:

            In Spain, nobody says it’s racial profiling, because everybody’s white.

            But if you go into a Chinese store, and you look suspicious, they will follow you around. Probably because so much depends on their store, and because it was so hard for them to get the store. And since they borrow money from each other, bankruptcy is not as easy as just not paying money to the bank; it’s not paying money to your uncle, who broke his back and then brought your family from China and gave you a loan.

            But then all kids knew that the worst shop to shoplift from were the Chinese store (because they would follow you, and run after you).

          • Anthony says:

            So the big stores have guards mostly for the professionals, and don’t bother chasing the “those teen girls stole some lipsticks” types because the hassle in that latter isn’t worth it for them.

            The guards who catch the small-time teenage shoplifters also typically come at them in a way which suggests that “oh, sorry, I forgot – I’ll go pay for it/put it back” is a perfectly acceptable answer. And for the big stores, it pretty much is. There’s no loss, and there’s no cost of prosecution. With teens who give an attitude, threatening to call their parents is often enough to cause compliance.

      • bullseye says:

        About a year ago I bought something with one of those things that sets off an alarm when you leave the store. I didn’t get it taken off (because I went through self-checkout), the alarm went off, and no one paid any attention except for another customer who happened to be standing next to the alarm.

      • Chalid says:

        I expect this to get worse before it gets better

        My very brief look for data found Albertsons’ (which owns Safeway, the brand in the article) reporting that shrinkage fell consistently throughout 2018 and into 2019, but unfortunately no actual numbers were attached and shoplifting is only one component of shrinkage. (Go to the Investor Relations, click on the press releases for each quarter, and control-F “shrink”).

        • The Nybbler says:

          Also you really need to look at same-store numbers. Albertson’s has been both closing and opening stores, and if they closed high-shrink stores while opening low-shrink ones, they’d see a drop even if all the other stores remained the same.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      This might be off the subject a bit, however, it looks like a slow night. Imagine a world where human behavior was not affected by morals. What would that world look like with respect to shoplifting. I would suspect that people would make a decision of whether or not to shoplift based on their perception of the risk and their risk tolerance. Isn’t that the world we see? Is there anyone on this very intellectual blog site who would deny that most people would steal if the thought they could get by with it? Haven’t most people stolen at one time or the other?

      Doesn’t human behavior suggest that it is not affected by morality?

      In that world, the merchant would be fully responsible for shoplifting. Shrinkage is a cost of doing business and exists in all business (since people steal incessantly). (Yes, shrinkage is even a cost in religious institutions). So the merchant can compare costs of preventing shrinkage to the cost of allowing some and make a good business decision and will make a profit more or less depending on how he makes this decision. There is no need for moralizing or blaming humans for being human or expressing righteous indignation. Any business person who is not aware of and knows how to cope with shrinkage should not be in business. Any person who doesn’t think that most people will steal when given a chance is not paying attention. When people act as if they don’t have a moral code, then they don’t have a moral code.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Is there anyone on this very intellectual blog site who would deny that most people would steal if the thought they could get by with it?

        See: the article linked by Doctor Mist. Do you shoplift each time you go to the store? I don’t, despite the fact that, based on that article and personal experience, I KNOW I can get away with it. Even in high school, when I had less money and fewer moral compunctions and less to risk and friends – or maybe “acquaintances” is better – who did shoplift, I didn’t. I stole from the kitchen and I stole from my parents, but I never stole from the store.

        Because you’re you, you’re probably going to retort that you and I both choose not to shoplift because we want to believe we’re good people or something, but that’s a dull and interminable conversation, so I’ll just say that even in such a world the concept of something that’s functionally identical to morality exists, and therefore either the world we live in observes something like human morality or your conjecture about how often people would shoplift given the opportunity is wrong for some other reason.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          I KNOW I can get away with it.

          I question that certainty. When I think about something like shoplifting I think I probably could get by with it once, or twice, but if I did it regularly sooner or later I would end up in a very embarrassing situation that is not worth it. Even in reading that article, I assume that if someone habitually shoplifts in that way, he is going to get caught. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I overestimate the risk. But I think that has to be a factor, and I am skeptical of your claim that you know you can get by with it.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            if I did it regularly sooner or later I would end up in a very embarrassing situation that is not worth it.

            Why would you be embarrassed? Pride is a concept that’s just as real as morality. The people in that article seem to have transcended it. They got caught, and still nothing happened.

            Also, I’m serious when I say it’s very easy to steal. Grab a piece of cheese or a candy bar, put it in your pocket in an empty aisle, and do the self-checkout. The risk is zero. Even if you get caught, you can just claim that it was a mistake, you had a brainfart, thanks for letting me know hahaha. Then never steal from that store again. Nothing lost.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Knock it off, my fellow.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @suntzuanime

            I’m not the one arguing that people ought to steal if the cost/benefit analysis works out; my position is that stealing is wrong. My purpose here is to convince people that they shouldn’t steal because stealing is wrong, not that they should steal.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            I’m not the one arguing that people ought to steal if the cost/benefit analysis works out; my position is that stealing is wrong. My purpose here is to convince people that they shouldn’t steal because stealing is wrong

            So you are affirming that no internal sense of morals exists. It must be taught; people must be convinced. Morality is another term for person A controlling or attempting to control person B.

          • DeWitt says:

            There are no, none, zero, humans who are unaffected by others. I am extremely sceptic of your claim about innate anything, given that we lack a control group to verify your claims.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Howard

            So you are affirming that no internal sense of morals exists. It must be taught; people must be convinced. Morality is another term for person A controlling or attempting to control person B.

            The only way to convince people by this line of argumentation is to get them to recognize that they don’t steal because they already believe that stealing is wrong. If people do steal, this argument doesn’t work, so I don’t know what you’re on about.

            If you can come up with an epicycle for your theory of mind that explains why you don’t steal despite knowing that stealing is easy and poses no risk to you, you’re welcome to deploy it, but the explanation that I simply don’t want do bad things to other people works pretty well for me.

            @DeWitt

            Sorry, who is this directed at?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @hoopyfreud

            I was unclear. The entire paragraph of mine you quoted was an attempt to paraphrase what the other poster meant by morality: something that did not exist internally; something that had to be taught and the purpose of teaching it was to control others.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Howard

            Then I don’t understand why you’re saying that that’s a stance I affirm. It’s literally the opposite of what I’ve written.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Hoopyfreud

            Then I don’t understand why you’re saying that that’s a stance I affirm. It’s literally the opposite of what I’ve written.

            You seemed to say that you were trying to convince people that stealing was wrong; that they should not steal. I say if people should not steal they will know it. They do not have to be taught. Of course, I also don’t believe there is anything like a should. Where does that come from and what does it mean? I keep going back to animals but that is basically us. The world did not change when humans learned to talk. An animal has no should. It does not act out of should. When in evolution did this should appear and what is its nature?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            You seemed to say that you were trying to convince people that stealing was wrong; that they should not steal.

            I’m saying that people don’t steal, therefore they don’t want to steal. I believe that’s one of your arguments. But if they don’t want to steal but do want to buy the thing that they could steal, they certainly want that thing. Therefore, there’s another desire in play that’s satisfied by buying instead of stealing things. You claim that this is down to fear, or a desire for respect, but I’ve shown you that the fear is essentially unfounded and that the chance of losing respect, at least in a way that meaningfully affects your social standing, is minimal. So from my view it must be something else.

            No, I’m trying to convince you that people don’t steal because they feel compelled not to steal. Not that people should feel compelled not to steal.

            As for animals – how do you know what it feels like to be a bat, or a bear? Perhaps they feel this sort of compulsion as well.

          • Enkidum says:

            Speaking from experience: I used to steal like a motherfucker. Food, candy, books, whatever I could get away with.

            Nothing has changed in terms of how easy it is. I could start again any time. In fact it would be easier because I look way more safe and middle class than I did back then. But I stopped decades ago. I no longer want to.

        • Deiseach says:

          Do you shoplift each time you go to the store?

          Hoopyfreud, “Howard Holmes” is part of the name of a notorious American serial killer. That being so, I think our HowardHolmes is rather pulling our legs in all his (if he is a he) pronouncements of how he is completely unaffected by anything, and only moves off his chair because he has to do something – despite claiming that nothing is good, nothing is bad, there is no reason to do/not do one thing over another, he has never explained why he has to do anything – if you can’t choose and can’t decide because the universe is set up that way, then why have to do anything? There’s nothing wrong, bad, immoral, unpleasant, or lacking in hedons or utils to just sit in your chair rather than get up and water the grass.

          If our H.H. gets a mild chuckle out of having us engage seriously in argument with him all the while pretending to be a po-faced unfeeling flesh robot, it’s not my place to judge how anyone gets their kicks, as long as no blood is spilt 🙂

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I mean, there’s a reason I avoid posting in HowardHolmes threads as a general rule. I’m pretty sure you’re right. But this particular position is pretty indefensible, and it’s hard for me to decline a sparring match in which I’ve already been ceded the high ground.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            He could be a troll.

            But if so, he is playing the part of an unsophisticated nihilist fairly well. Of course, it makes about as much sense to engage with someone of that worldview as a troll, so, I guess it comes out much the same.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            deiseach

            he has never explained why he has to do anything – if you can’t choose and can’t decide because the universe is set up that way, then why have to do anything? There’s nothing wrong, bad, immoral, unpleasant, or lacking in hedons or utils to just sit in your chair rather than get up and water the grass.

            It appears you think you can explain decisions, I guess by some of the above. “I do X because it is pleasant”. Really? What does that tell me that I do not already know other than how to use the word pleasant?

            “Why did you eat that peach, Johnny?”
            “Cause.”
            “Cause why?”
            “Just cause.”

            Johnny knows why he ate the peach and he knows that no explanation he gives will work. His ass is in trouble. But his “just cause” tells me just as much as “it had utility” or “it was good”.

            Animals existed along with human ancestors for billions of years without needing the concept of good/bad to make decisions. Why did the mockingbird eat the peach? “Because it got to the tree this morning before me.”

            But my point is the mockingbird does not judge the peach as good or bad. He made a pass by the tree. If there was no peach he would not be disappointed. He would not see his life as impacted negatively. He would not see it as important. He would just eat a grasshopper instead. Maybe I do eat peaches because they taste good, but I still don’t judge this as good or bad. If I don’t have a peach to eat, I’ll eat something else. If I don’t have something else, I will die. No result is better than the other. Just because this is not your world does not mean this world does not exist. Your world is created by your words and concepts. It is not the only possible world. Mine is not a better world,, but it is the world I choose. I, at least, have also experienced your world so my choices are not ill informed.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I’m very cynical about humanity, but I’m cynical on a higher level and about more important things. I will absolutely deny that most people would engage in petty theft purely because they thought they could get away with it. Most people are more pedestrian and uncreative than that. They aren’t constantly re-evaluating their infinite menus of possibilities to maximize their riskless gains, they’re just applying automatic responses to situations. If they haven’t learned an automatic response to “no one’s looking” that says “slip those goods into your bag”, then they won’t do it.

        This is why it’s important to maintain a civilized culture. If one fellow develops a taste for shoplifting the damage is not so large, but if they teach their friends as well, you can end up with a cascade effect where everybody learns that convenience stores are there to be robbed and you have to have locked cases and bulletproof glass and all sorts of wasteful expenses that drag on barbaric societies and keep them behind civilized ones. Just Say No To Saying Yes To Thievery.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          What you say about automatic responses is important. I think we know that if we automatically tried swiping something everytime we thought no one was looking, we would get caught. It is easier to just not do it, and safer. A lot of people don’t have the risk tolerance for it, and I think a lot of people think that shoplifters will eventually get caught.

          I found in my career as a CPA working with a lot of small businesses that theft doesn’t occur much at the first opportunity, but if you put a person into a position where they are constantly presented with an apparent risk free opportunity, many will eventually take it. But first, there is that automatic response of not doing it, but later there is the thought that “if that money is just going to lay out there for my taking why not get me a little.” I also found that a lot of people were quick to cheat on their income taxes if they thought they could get by with it. Risk assessment seemed a lot more important that morality.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I notice your claim has gone from “most people will steal when given a chance” to “many people will steal if repeatedly given chances over and over”. I’m paying attention!

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Thanks for watching out for me. I still think we are not guided by anything like morality. I am willing to admit we have a lot of fear, so how many can overcome that fear to still, I don’t know.

      • I think people would be a lot more hesitant to steal from a small mom and pop shop even if they could get away with it. Most of us don’t really care about the profits of an abstract corporation. But guilt is a bigger factor when you can see the person you’re stealing from and how that can hurt them.

        If people solely thought about risk/reward then why would anyone ever give a wallet with money back to its owner? I don’t know how common that is but the fact that it does happen should be baffling to you.

        • Nornagest says:

          It would probably change how they rationalize it afterward, but I doubt the actual rates of theft would be much different.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          People care about their reputation. People REALLY care about their reputation. Reputation is the most important thing to people. People want to be seen as moral and caring and generous and loving and ….Risk is thought of in terms of effect on reputation.

          • If I steal someone’s money from their wallet that I found on the street, the chances that someone finds out about it is basically zero. Where does risk factor in?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @Wrong Species

            If I steal someone’s money from their wallet that I found on the street, the chances that someone finds out about is basically zero. Where does reputation factor in?

            We get plenty of respect and admiration from the person who lost it and also from all our friends that we tell about the incident.

          • If your motivation for returning a lost wallet is the respect and admiration of a stranger that you will never see again, then your expanded definition of selfishness is indistinguishable from selflessness.

      • Deiseach says:

        There is no need for moralizing or blaming humans for being human or expressing righteous indignation.

        I’m not going to blame the shop owner, I’m going to blame the thieves. If the shop owner wants to hire a guard who will shoot dead a stupid little sixteen year old trying to steal a tube of lipstick so she can boast about it on the various shoplifting sites on social media, I’m not going to moralise or blame, that’s the shop owner’s decision. If a thief decides to take the risk of stealing, it’s on them. My stuff is my stuff, you want it, you pay for it. You steal it, you end up paying in a different way. Nothing to do with morals, all to do with business principles.

      • Machine Interface says:

        I thought of this and, I realised, if humans are more likely to cheat a machine than another human, even though that amounts to the same, then obviously what’s stopping most humans from commiting crimes even when they want to and don’t think they will be caught, is not a sense of morality: it’s empathy.

        • Protagoras says:

          There are, of course, moral theories (perhaps most famously Hume’s) which make something like empathy central to morality.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Is there anyone on this very intellectual blog site who would deny that most people would steal if the thought they could get by with it?

        Yes.

        • John Schilling says:

          Ditto, for theft at the level of “could noticeably harm another human being”. Probably most people are not scrupulous about maintaining separation between personally-owned and employer-provided office supplies.

    • Machine Interface says:

      It makes me currious about how self-checkout is handled in the US.

      In France there’s always a couple of staff watching everything, partly to help anyone running into troubles (because the machine often have hiccups) and to remove alarm-ringing tags, but also partly to watch that people aren’t doing anything funny and to regularly run random “re-scans” where they check that what you have in your cart is the same as what is on your receipt. And there’s typically a security guard just after the exit of the self-checkout who may ask to see your receipt and items too.

      It doesn’t seem to be that easy to steal in those conditions to me. But of course that means that since the self-checkout space is about the area of two-three regular checkout lines, the advantage of saving money on staff is lost, and you’re only gaining because you can proceed more people per hour.

      • bullseye says:

        In America, I sometimes see an employee watching the self-check (still a labor savings because it’s one employee for four or so registers). Usually, though, no one’s watching, and if you have a problem and need to call someone over it takes them a minute or two to show up.

      • Nornagest says:

        Depends on the store. The hardware store I go to has self-checkout, but there’s always someone watching the register, and you need to validate with them for certain items (haven’t figured out the pattern yet, but I presume it has something to do with not wanting twelve-year-olds buying power tools). The grocery stores I usually go to don’t have self-checkout, but when I find myself in one that does, there usually isn’t anybody watching it. Lots of cameras, but those wouldn’t catch someone that slipped a candy bar into their pocket in Aisle 3.

        • Clutzy says:

          Hardware stores have a really bad time with “breakage” whether at the self check or otherwise. There are many expensive, small items, that would be easy to resell online or off the truck. Like how razors are always in cases now. There are a lot of “razors” at hardware stores.

  3. Deiseach says:

    Somebody’s not impressed by Dominic Cummings 🙂

    Cummings elicits strong feelings in everyone who deals with him. They either think (like Dominic Cummings) that he’s a maverick genius who the establishment conspires to keep from greatness, or that he’s a self-aggrandising pillock who should confine himself to the 8,000-word blogposts about how thick everyone else is he likes to churn out, instead of insinuating himself into British politics.

    • gdepasamonte says:

      Despite the many references to “Cummings thinks everyone else is stupid”, I rarely see anyone really argue against what he actually says (incentives in contemporary Westminster and Whitehall lead to too many people without the skills to get things done being promoted, distract the possibly able with squabbles for media attention, and waste the time of the definitely able fighting inertia – and something could be done about (some of) this). Probably the best argument against this is previous failed civil service reform, which I don’t doubt has happened, but I haven’t seen it brought up much, and no detailed analysis.

      • Tarpitz says:

        My sister in law used to work for NHS England. Her account of the organisational disfunction there almost perfectly matches Cummings’s of the civil service as a whole.

        • gdepasamonte says:

          I don’t doubt that the civil service is sometimes absurdly dysfunctional – I have heard similar first-hand reports too. So the natural point of criticism is the “something can be done about it” – Cummings has made quite a few specific suggestions eg breaking up the role of permanent secretary into separate “policy offer”, CEO-type and COO-type positions. I am sure he isn’t the first to want to change these things – I would like to hear somebody compare his ideas with what has been tried before. Or to defend the current system against his proposed changes a bit. Or something.

    • broblawsky says:

      That sounds about right, for SSC commentariat.

  4. proyas says:

    Does anyone know about optics and “flat lenses” (aka “metal lenses”)?

    Could they be used to make telescopes shorter?

    • Lambert says:

      Is this just a better version of an FZP or photon seive?

      If you want a short telescope with no chromatic abberation, why not go for a reflector?

    • sentientbeings says:

      I don’t think I’ve heard of a “flat lens” before, but in looking it up and seeing that they have a negative index of refraction, I am reminded of an amusing story.

      When I was in high school I took a physics class with a seasoned teacher. He was very good, very bright (and educated – I think he had 2 PhDs), and very entertaining to those of us who caught his frequent, usually subtle jokes.

      During a class on optics, he stated that no material has a negative index of refraction. He was so confident that he said something like, “If you find a negative index of refraction material, you can rip out all the pages of your textbook and chuck it in the trash” [said while brandishing the book in front of the class]. His intention was to make sure students knew that if they calculated a negative index in a problem, they had committed an error in the calculation.

      He made that proclamation shortly after some results on negative-index of refraction metamaterials became public, though (IIRC) a couple years before that news really took off in the media with the phrase “invisibility cloak” attached to it. I happened to know about it, though, and gave him the news.

      I think that normally he would have been interested and excited by the development. Under the circumstances, though…

  5. Hamish Todd says:

    It seems quite likely to me that the woman described in this story:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/AmItheAsshole/comments/ci4yt0/aita_for_telling_my_friend_domestic_discipline_is/

    Has found a within-her-conservative-peer-group-socially-acceptable version of this:

    https://www.ohjoysextoy.com/247-bdsm-temel/

    And that the “biblical” thing is an irrelevant stand-in.

    If she isn’t a closet fetishist then their dynamic is not ok… but I am not sure how I would go about trying to ascertain that.

    And then the moral relativist in me says “if she IS a closet fetishist, then she is consenting and so the dynamic is ok. And it is ok EVEN IF nobody informs her that in our enlightened times we have this thing called consensual/safe BDSM and she takes it up.”

    Slatestarcodex: for when you need a META-AITA discussion.

    • benjdenny says:

      I mean, it’s Reddit. Most of the stories on that subreddit lack the ring of truth to begin with, and then it’s vaguely anti-religious, which is as guaranteed a way to get upvotes on reddit as exists.

      It’s basically a slightly more sophisticated version of something like this:

      “She taught 3rd grade at the private christian school I went to, and she told me “You can’t wear loafers! Jesus hates loafers, and homosexuals!” and I said “Well, if Jesus hates loafers, than WHY DID HE REST IN THE LORD” and she left crying and everyone cheered and last I heard she was working at a strip club”.

      • acymetric says:

        That story is fantastic. Did you make that up or did you actually pull that from somewhere?

        • benjdenny says:

          I made it up. Hyperbolic of what the fan-fiction in those kinds of forums usually is, but not by much (IMO).

        • GreatColdDistance says:

          “If Jesus hates loafers, than WHY DID HE REST IN THE LORD” made me laugh out loud, not in the internet slang way but in the way in which actual sound came from my mouth.

    • souleater says:

      If she isn’t a closet fetishist then their dynamic is not ok… but I am not sure how I would go about trying to ascertain that.

      I don’t know man… it seems a little odd, but it sounds like fetish or no, she is enthusiastically ok with it. If he was beating her or endangering her it would be a bit different to me.. but if they have decided to “punish” in a safe and consensual way, then it doesn’t really matter in my opinion if there is a sexual component to it.

      • albatross11 says:

        I have the impression there’s a community of people into basically having the husband punish/dominate his wife, and see this in Christian religious terms. I assume this is basically a way of integrating their particular sexual tastes into their broader belief system, and I don’t see anything worse about this than about a gay couple marrying in the Episcopal church and seeing their marriage as being a covenant with God as well as with each other. But as a recipe proposed for everyone to live with, it would be a disaster–most people don’t get into that stuff and would be worse off trying to live that way.

        This tends to cross up different knee-jerk reactions, though. On one side, the people who are on the lookout for too much sexual liberation are going to see this as trying to put a religious polish on a creepy kink; on the other, the people who are on the lookout for domestic violence enabled by traditional values are going to see a religious justification for letting a man beat/rape/etc. his wife.

        • Randy M says:

          This is like eating meat sacrificed to idols in that it’s going to understandably turn off a lot of people, even granting that they both agree to it and no harm is done.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      As others have said, AITA and the advice subs are full of accounts of things which didn’t happen. Some are trolls out to rustle jimmies, others are from people farming for karma so that they can sell the account, still others are unwell people who desperately want attention.

      Assuming that this is a real story, this seems goofy and very fetishistic but probably good for their marriage. Keeping your sex life varied and exciting is a challenge for a lot of couples, and if one or both of them are getting off on this that could help them. And since she clearly isn’t being hurt, it’s hard to see what possible harm this could be.

      The author, on the other hand, is definitely the asshole and an insufferable busybody. She finds out that her friend is spicing up her married sex life and immediately goes for the throat calling the friend’s husband a pussy and a wife beater? Her friend was right not to take that sitting down.

      • Randy M says:

        people farming for karma so that they can sell the account

        This is a thing?
        Man, and here I’ve been using my wit for mere self-esteem like a chump.

        • Lambert says:

          Yeah. The usual MO I’ve seen is bulk-reposting an old askreddit thread with comments using a couple of dozen bot accounts.

          The names usually follow some kind of scheme, like u/name_name

          What’s noticeable is that they never reply to other comments, and ‘EDIT: Thank’s for the gold’.

    • Deiseach says:

      That story is probably fabricated for a couple of reasons:

      (1) Christian BDSM (for want of a better term, they certainly don’t use it but it’s around) is definitely a thing. They do dress it up as submission and headship and so on, but basically it’s bratting with a thin veneer of “the husband is the head of the wife” (how the heck do I know this stuff? believe you me, you go down some unintended rabbitholes when link-hopping on the Internet!)

      (2) HOWEVER – it’s an Evangelical thing, because there are some Evangelicals out there who want the “our culture is all about the sex, and we want the sex too, and we’re married so this makes it okay, now if we get a pastor as counsellor to tell us this is okay because it’s Biblical submission and not naughty secular kinkiness, we’re good to go” advice, and there are some pastor-counsellors out there giving it to them. This woman alleging she’s Catholic, the friend/co-worker is Catholic, and the friend is into this? Now, unless American Catholicism is way damn weirder than I’m aware (and I’m not saying it couldn’t be), this is highly unlikely. Highly. Even the rad-trads who are about the husband is the head of the wife tend to be more “where do I find a good chapel veil?” than “how do I submit to my husband spanking me?”

      (3) Which leads me to believe that yeah, benjdenny has the right of it – it’s someone who found some kind of story of this nature, and is rejigging it to tell other people who don’t know anything about Catholicism that – gasp! – it’s abusive to women!!!! and sex-negative!!!! and so uncool and repressed they don’t even know they could be into guilt-free kink!!!!!

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. I might have bought this as an Evangelical story, but throwing Catholic in there strikes me as a random nonbeliever just picking a famous denomination and hoping it works out.

      • Erusian says:

        That story is probably fabricated for a couple of reasons:

        Additional red flags:

        I met this woman a few months ago in college, we first bonded over being catholic lol. Catholicism is the plurality religion of the United States. There are more Protestants but no Protestant denomination even close to Catholic numbers. About one in four Americans is Catholic. “Bonding over being Catholic” is possible but a real Catholic would probably be bonding over something specific. It’s just not very rare to find Catholics in the US. Also, they’re both in college and yet somehow both married? That would point to them both being extremely religious and is more associated with Protestantism/Mormonism than Catholicism.

        She told me that her and her husband practice “domestic discipline” which is ”biblical”. The lack of capitalization of Biblical tells me that if she is Catholic she’s at least not very religious.

        I immediately told this is not biblical and not to throw dirt on the Bible like that. The lack of theological argument could be that the person is just insufferable. Or it could be someone who isn’t religious and doesn’t know how they construct arguments. Or believes the secular line it really is just blind belief. At any rate, no one in the history of religion has ever convinced someone by saying the theological equivalent of “no you”.

        She tried to defend it and even told me that when if I was submissive to my husband then I’d have a better marriage. Submitting to your husband is pretty bog-standard Christian advice. If she has never heard a call to submission… I don’t know, maybe she’s slept through every sermon? I could believe this if she was from a liberal church but the Catholic Church is not one.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          Submitting to your husband is pretty bog-standard Christian advice.

          It is? Jeez, looks like Dawkins was right and even bog-standard Christianity needs to be burnt.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Please do not call for the destruction of the largest religion in the world.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Not going to help. That advice is useful enough that it’s just going to re-emerge in secular form. Hell, most of the happy secular relationships I see are even more male-dominated than the happy religious relationships.

          • Machine Interface says:

            EchoChaos > if it’s a smaller religion it’s ok? Can we call for the destruction of christianity once it has ceased to represent a plurality?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Machine Interface

            Nowhere in my comment did I specify that destruction of any religion was okay. To read that, you have to infer something that was not there.

            I was merely illustrating the magnitude of the request.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            “Actually SSC comments section iz not right-wing, at most it’z just libertarian”

          • Lambert says:

            Also the whole lengthy discussion earlier about turning the US into a theocracy.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @ADBG

            There’s a very big difference between “generally useful advice” and “dogma.” Especially when “better communication and more emphasis on both partners’ sexual satisfaction is, as it always has been, the best advice. “Be kinkier” is a lot less of a good idea than “be sexier.”

          • brad says:

            Not going to help. That advice is useful enough that it’s just going to re-emerge in secular form. Hell, most of the happy secular relationships I see are even more male-dominated than the happy religious relationships.

            What goes on in the bedroom is couples’ own business but I’ve never once heard a woman born after say 1950 in her own house say something like “we can’t eat in that room because my husband has forbidden it”.

            Either you’re talking about something of a different and considerably milder order, in which case your claim isn’t very accurate, or even secular fly-over is more backwards than I thought.

          • Erusian says:

            It is? Jeez, looks like Dawkins was right and even bog-standard Christianity needs to be burnt.

            Genuine question: Would you describe yourself or the movement you are a part of as tolerant? How would you feel if the religious (Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc) got together and called for the destruction of atheism?

            What goes on in the bedroom is couples’ own business but I’ve never once heard a woman born after say 1950 in her own house say something like “we can’t eat in that room because my husband has forbidden it”.

            Either you’re talking about something of a different and considerably milder order, in which case your claim isn’t very accurate, or even secular fly-over is more backwards than I thought.

            This is a such a terrible argument the mind boggles: “Submission means the husband gets to forbid his wife from going in certain rooms (for… reasons I just made up). And I’ve anecdotally never seen that happen. So, either you’re wrong (because it doesn’t meet my invented standard) or you disagree with my invented standard (in which case, you’re inaccurate). Or the Midwest (which I’ve decided to bring up for no clear reason) is backward.”

            By the way, how exactly would you know if the guests weren’t supposed to eat in certain rooms? Do you go stomping around people’s houses eating in every room until the wife asks you to stop and then demand an explanation?

            I’m not married but if my wife took all the guests and ate in my home office and messed my papers I would be upset. And it wouldn’t be for religious reasons. So I would be setting a rule that guests don’t get to eat in my office which I would expect my wife to follow. I’d see that as a normal and healthy part of a relationship, having basic boundaries. Is your argument that a secular relationship views that as controlling and abusive?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            What goes on in the bedroom is couples’ own business but I’ve never once heard a woman born after say 1950 in her own house say something like “we can’t eat in that room because my husband has forbidden it”.

            No one uses that kind of language in normal conversation, but, you’re right, I’m talking about a substantially milder version, not the 1950s housewife caricature. On the spectrum of relationships, this is far more conservative from what you probably HAVE heard, and I certainly have heard, which is “we can’t eat in that room because my wife has forbidden it” (phrased differently, because no one uses the word “forbidden”).

            I am not referring to bedroom play, though. The men are definitely Head of Household. The women do not meekly defer to whatever fool notion pops into their husbands’ heads, and do not beg for scraps, and are largely seen as equals, but they do not try to take the leadership role themselves. ISTM most are quite comfortable, but I suppose we’ll see in another 10, 20, 30 years?

          • brad says:

            No one uses that kind of language in normal conversation, but, you’re right, I’m talking about a substantially milder version, not the 1950s housewife caricature.

            It’s not entirely a caricature. After thinking about it I had to put the “born after 1950” part in there because there are domestic situations I can recall, albeit witnessed as a child, from my grandparents’ generation that did have more than a bit of that dynamic.

            If you are talking about a substantially milder version than that as being more male-dominated than Christian submission of the wife to the husband then this doctrine doesn’t sound like much of a big deal positive or negative.

            If zero is Saudi Arabia and ten is fully egalitarian, are we having this whole discussion about eight vs nine?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If zero is Saudi Arabia and ten is fully egalitarian, are we having this whole discussion about eight vs nine?

            Yeah, pretty much. Secularists are aiming for ten (unless they’re in the BDSM scene) and probably never hitting it. Conservative Protestants in the US are usually aiming for eight.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Secularists are aiming for ten… and probably never hitting it.

            Can you explain why you believe this?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Hoopyfreud: Domestic equality is an idea whose manifestation in the material world is hard to define. Two-income couples usually work in different industries: this makes how to split domestic labor equitably contentious (“I did the dishes four out of seven days several weeks in a row!” “Well I come home dog-tired from a construction site and you work in an air-conditioned office!”), and when there’s an agreed head of the household makes moving for their (his) work without complaining normative rather than every job offer being a new source of argument.
            I commonly see this cash out a couple of different ways: higher-earning husband who’s de facto head of the family unless/until divorced, or dominant wife.

          • brad says:

            FWIW I agree with Le Maistre Chat and don’t think it’s especially contentious. Perhaps never is a bit much, but there’s a ton of articles out there about how couples try to have an egalitarian marriage but never quite manage to get there. For example, there was recently a piece in the Times that talked about the disproportionate returns to be constantly available to an employer and how that pushed couples towards a mixed strategy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            How would you feel if the religious (Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc) got together and called for the destruction of atheism?

            Just want to note that this describes most of the 20th century in the US, except that the Protestants took a long time to accept the Catholics and the Jews. Godless and pagan remained easily available epithets throughout the century.

            The idea that religions have somehow been some font of tolerance is just another set of rose colored glasses.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            there’s a ton of articles out there about how couples try to have an egalitarian marriage but never quite manage to get there. For example, there was recently a piece in the Times that talked about the disproportionate returns to be constantly available to an employer and how that pushed couples towards a mixed strategy.

            There’s a difference between “equal” and “egalitarian,” I think, that seems relevant here. The fact that the couple as a whole puts more weight on the importance a particular sort of factor when it applies to one of them doesn’t preclude 10/10 egalitarianism on my scale; the real measure is how that sort of decision is made in the first place.

            To put it another way, if LMC’s head of household simply ignores their other (better) half when disputes about domestic labor come up, that’s anti-egalitarian. If the couple talks it over and agrees to move when the head of household changes jobs even if the other doesn’t have anything lined up, that’s egalitarian. There are obviously shades of gray in here, but I’d say that if both halves of a couple feel the other has equal input into all decisions, that’s a 10/10.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Genuine question: Would you describe yourself or the movement you are a part of as tolerant? How would you feel if the religious (Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc) got together and called for the destruction of atheism?

            Obviously that would be terrible. But contra dril, there is not actually zero difference between good and bad things.

            I think tolerance in the sense of not forcibly converting people etc. is very important. But I’m not some wacky SJW that values diversity for its own sake, so I welcome the trend towards irreligiousness.

          • Erusian says:

            Just want to note that this describes most of the 20th century in the US, except that the Protestants took a long time to accept the Catholics and the Jews. Godless and pagan remained easily available epithets throughout the century.

            The idea that religions have somehow been some font of tolerance is just another set of rose colored glasses.

            Catholics founded Maryland and had tolerance in many colonies. Jews were explicitly welcomed to many of the colonies (New England even incentivized them to come). Every colony had an act promoting religious toleration by 1661. They refused to implement religious tests even under pressure from England. And religious toleration was written into the Constitution, as I’m sure you know.

            The New England theocracy was significantly more tolerant than its secular counterparts. It was a religious dictator who invited the Jews back to England. His fall saw persecution reintroduced. Perhaps religion isn’t a font of tolerance, and it’s certainly not universally so, but the story is significantly more complex than you are saying.

            Obviously that would be terrible. But contra dril, there is not actually zero difference between good and bad things.

            I think tolerance in the sense of not forcibly converting people etc. is very important. But I’m not some wacky SJW that values diversity for its own sake, so I welcome the trend towards irreligiousness.

            I see. So it’d be fair to say you value civil rights (ie, no burning people at the stake) but not tolerance? Like you’d be fine with the government enacting policies that disproportionately impact the religious negatively to encourage secularism?

            I’m curious because atheists (especially New Atheists, Dawkins types) seem to be a very distinct breed to the new left these days. But it’s harder to find their positions than it was last decade.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            You have backpedaled nicely from your prior call, which I appreciate.

            I hope you can understand in the future the difference between “atheists do not share my values, and I wish there were fewer of them and more Christians” and “atheism needs to be burnt”.

            Those aren’t remotely the same statement. The second, which is the one you made, needs to be condemned. The first is fine and not problematic (although we can disagree on which terminal values to promote).

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            So it’d be fair to say you value civil rights (ie, no burning people at the stake) but not tolerance?

            Is there a difference between state tolerance and civil rights? Striking, for example, prayer/sabbath anti-discrimination provisions from the law might count, I suppose, but other than getting rid of “required to accommodate religious observances that would be otherwise disruptive” laws I can’t think of any case in which they’d diverge.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            To put it another way, if LMC’s head of household simply ignores their other (better) half when disputes about domestic labor come up, that’s anti-egalitarian. If the couple talks it over and agrees to move when the head of household changes jobs even if the other doesn’t have anything lined up, that’s egalitarian. There are obviously shades of gray in here, but I’d say that if both halves of a couple feel the other has equal input into all decisions, that’s a 10/10.

            I think most non-egalitarian marriages take a third option, wherein the couple talk over their decisions but if they can’t agree the husband’s say is final.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I think most non-egalitarian marriages take a third option, wherein the couple talk over their decisions but if they can’t agree the husband’s say is final.

            My examples are extremes, clearly, but I don’t see how that’s different in kind rather than degree to my first alternative. I’d call that a solid 6/10 egalitarian, where what I said is closer to 4/10.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Perhaps religion isn’t a font of tolerance, and it’s certainly not universally so, but the story is significantly more complex than you are saying.

            I see the goalposts have moved to the next stadium over and we are now playing a completely different sport.

            The question I raised was how well atheism was tolerated in the 20th century. Going back 300 years before buys you precisely nothing. I never said the story was not complex, meaningful conversations can be had about the flow of history, but nothing you said addresses the point I made.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Erusian
            The answer to most questions like that are “it’s complex and requires weighing up first-order effects and second-order effects from changing norms”.

            I’m not a Nu atheist, I’m two levels above:
            Level 0 – religious people
            Level 1 – Nu Atheists
            Level 2 – “don’t be mean about imaginary friends because it seems kinda racist sometimes (left)/Tradition (Nu right)”
            Level 3 – “no, actually believing wrong things is bad”

            As you say, there’s been a shift from level 1 to level 2 among the left (and I think also among the small relevant area of the right) and I think that’s bad. But I’m not too worried.

            @EchoChaos
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole

          • EchoChaos says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            Hyperbole is dead, especially on the Internet, where jokes are impossible to tell.

            Especially on a board where civility is an important principle.

            And double especially when discussing important identity things like religion or politics.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If we’re going to talk about how people viewed atheism in the 20th century, surely it’s important to keep in mind what the most prominent atheist movements were up to at the time?

        • Deiseach says:

          The lack of capitalization of Biblical tells me that if she is Catholic she’s at least not very religious.

          That’s a point in favour of it being true that she’s Catholic; John C. Wright has it as a running joke in “Count to the Eschaton” that everyone who meets Menelaus comments he really must be Catholic, there’s no way he could know so little about his faith otherwise 🙂

          Submitting to your husband is pretty bog-standard Christian advice.

          Protestant, not modern (and by “modern” I mean “from at least my mother’s generation onwards”; up to the 19th century you would have got some kind of similar “the husband is head of the house” advice to wives about homemaking, but to be fair you’ve have gotten much the same advice in secular terms e.g. ‘be waiting with his pipe and slippers and a hot meal on the table ready when he comes home from a hard day at work’) Catholicism. This is a point that came up when a guy involved in a role (not as a minister but working in the church) as a Baptist was seeking advice from Catholics online about “so… what’s the Catholic view on wifely submission/husband leadership etc.?” as his wife was converting to Catholicism and amongst other things, this was going to have a major impact on his employment (how can he lead others to Christ if he can’t even keep his wife out of error*?) and those of us Catholics who answered were all independently going “Well, uh, it doesn’t work the same way with us”. The relevant part of the epistle of St Paul that gets read out at Mass once a year always goes on to include the rest of it, and the homily is always about the “parents and children” advice, not the “husbands and wives, wives must submit” part:

          22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

          25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

          6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

          So it really is a really big red flag to include two alleged Catholics talking about Biblical submission etc. etc. etc.

          *Before any one gets too conceited about “this is why religion rots your brain”, think of a comparable case in secular terms: someone involved in a science education role whose wife sets up a homeopathy/crystal healing business; you think there wouldn’t be doubts on the part of his superiors about “yeah, can we really promote him to a more important role about teaching the scientific method and evaluating evidence if he can’t even explain to his own wife how this is all fake?”

          • Erusian says:

            That’s a point in favour of it being true that she’s Catholic; John C. Wright has it as a running joke in “Count to the Eschaton” that everyone who meets Menelaus comments he really must be Catholic, there’s no way he could know so little about his faith otherwise

            I’d find this more believable if the putative author wasn’t acting like she was serious about her faith. Apparently she got married young to someone in the Church and spends long hours bonding with people over talk of Catholicism.

            Protestant, not modern […] Catholicism.

            So it really is a really big red flag to include two alleged Catholics talking about Biblical submission etc. etc. etc.

            It’s true the term ‘Biblical Submission’ is Protestant, as is the idea that the wife should be meek or obedient (and even then, only certain kinds of Protestants).

            However, you go so far that I’m afraid you are in error. Catholics don’t disagree that men are the head of the household they disagree on what the word submission means. No less an authority than John Paul II wrote that while marriage should be one of mutual submission (ie, mutual aid and putting the other first) he also said that men are the heads of the household. This is, to be sure, much less than a Protestant idea that submission means obedience but it’s also not compatible with secular gender equity.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Erusian:

            No less an authority than John Paul II wrote that while marriage should be one of mutual submission (ie, mutual aid and putting the other first) he also said that men are the heads of the household. This is, to be sure, much less than a Protestant idea that submission means obedience but it’s also not compatible with secular gender equity.

            There is no such as thing as gender equity in traditional Christianity, that’s true. The Church came into existence in a patriarchal world and the Fathers seem to express an attitude of “Yeah, sure, keep doing that, as long you have only one spouse, the woman consents, and you’re not cousins.”
            Secular gender equity arguably has its roots with George Fox. The novel doctrine of the Society of Friends (“Quakerism”) was that patriarchy was among God’s punishment for eating the Forbidden Fruit and the experience of getting saved regenerated you, making those punishments null and void.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @LMC,

            The novel doctrine of the Society of Friends (“Quakerism”) was that patriarchy was among God’s punishment for eating the Forbidden Fruit and the experience of getting saved regenerated you, making those punishments null and void.

            Wouldn’t this also logically imply that women who had been saved couldn’t get pregnant or give birth?

            It seems very poorly thought out.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal:

            It seems very poorly thought out.

            That’s what other denominations said. 😛

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Protestants do have a monopoly on all the Christian weirdness in America. Well, except for the Mormons. From the predictably-Left-wing heresies Episcopalians come up with to Biblical BDSM and “premillenial dispensationalism” – the interpretation of Biblical prophecy that inspired Left Behind – on the Right.
        Serious Catholics do marital BDSM (by which I mean that if you’re hooking up with folks of the preferred sex you just met at a party, you’re not taking doctrine seriously), but it’s not an integral philosophical thing.

        • Deiseach says:

          Serious Catholics do marital BDSM (by which I mean that if you’re hooking up with folks of the preferred sex you just met at a party, you’re not taking doctrine seriously), but it’s not an integral philosophical thing.

          Agreed. Catholics fornicate, have affairs, have all kinds of non-procreative sex within marriage, use birth control etc., but they do it as part of “what, this is normal, everyone does this, we saw this in a movie and want to try it out” cultural Zeitgeist and not as “within the framework of the Theology of the Body we consulted our informed consciences and decided it was in accord with Scripture to dress up as bananas and swing off the curtain rails”. We know what the Pope says and we know we’re not gonna do it 😀

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Two words: Mel. Gibson.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If you’re replying directly to me and not to Deiseach, you’re going to have to unpack that. I’m not aware of Mel Gibson having structured maledom relationships with his partners. He is divorced and has had children out of wedlock despite professing traditionalist Catholicism.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If Gibson isn’t an example of “Christian weirdness”, where is one to be found?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Oh! I see what you’e getting at now.
            Higher levels of weirdness: Mormon sacred underwear and belief that some Native Americans were “white and delightsome” Israelites who had horses, cattle and iron. Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in small-town Kentucky. Kids who were raised believing that evidence suggested the Last Seven Years of history would start soon, and they’d be Raptured if sincere enough or Left Behind if they weren’t.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      In the beginning was the Safe Word.

      • soreff says:

        >In the beginning was the Safe Word.
        🙂
        Along a related line:
        Could “Miracle Whip”
        be construed as a product from a BDSM / Evangelical collaboration?

  6. smocc says:

    Related to the discussion of the world of American Christian media, I’ve been trying to come up with a list of actively religious characters in fictional TV and movies.

    I started doing this when I tried to do it one time and realized it’s harder than I thought it would be (at least partly because I don’t watch a lot of TV). My requirements are
    A) Fictional, but
    B) Adheres to a real-world religion
    C) Attempts to act consistently with their faith
    D) Is enough of a viewpoint character that we can see how their faith influences their decision-making
    E) Not a villain

    Requirements C and D are there to exclude side characters, token characters, and characters played for laughs (like a Mormon whose secret drinking is a recurring joke). The idea is that Ned Flanders doesn’t make the list, but Marge Simpson does (ignoring the episodes that treat Ned more deeply).

    If requirement D is interpreted strictly I mean for it to exclude “spiritual advisor” characters who are sincerely religious but who only contribute to a different character’s story.

    TV:
    Jane and Alba from Jane the Virgin
    Marge Simpson (in a few episodes)
    Ned Flanders (in a few episodes)
    The mother on The Middle (or so I am told?)
    Nightcrawler from the 90s X-men cartoon (in at least one episode)
    Shepherd Book from Firefly (interpreting requirement C loosely)

    Movies:
    The main character in Hail Caeser
    Nacho and Sister Encarnacion from Nacho Libre
    The girl from A Walk to Remember

    I’m especially interested in characters outside of the sort of deliberately Christian media being discussed in the other thread.

    • Nick says:

      David French has claimed King Alfred from The Last Kingdom is a good example.

      • Nick says:

        The Book of Eli. Also Hacksaw Ridge, since I mentioned Gibson below.

      • EchoChaos says:

        King Alfred is such a good example that I wished the series were about him. I actively wanted the main character to fail, but Alfred was fantastic. As he was in real life.

        Which mildly ruins it as an example, because Alfred was a real man who was that devoted to his religion.

        • Enkidum says:

          King Alfred is such a good example that I wished the series were about him. I actively wanted the main character to fail, but Alfred was fantastic.

          I had exactly the same impression. I didn’t give a shit about… uh… whatever his name is, the main guy, but the actor playing Alfred commits so fully to that role. And because he’s something approaching an antagonist at times, he’s inherently interesting.

          It took a good 6 episodes or so before I realized how schlocky the show actually is. But there’s enough genuinely interesting aspects of it you can kind of ignore the central story and just pay attention to more peripheral things (like Alfred).

          • The whole “cool Vikings” vs “hypocritical, dull Christians” dichotomy got very boring quickly so I stopped watching after season 1. Do they stop doing that as much?

          • John Schilling says:

            Alfred may be dull, but I don’t see him as terribly hypocritical. And he keeps winning, in large part because of the strength and focus he draws from his faith while the Vikings keep changing their plans and alliances whenever it seems “cool”. This interests me, even as I enjoy watching the Vikings do cool stuff and would probably have more fun hanging out with Uhtred than Alfred.

            It helps that the show is drawing heavily from Bernard Cornwell’s books, because Cornwell definitely understands this.

          • Deiseach says:

            I haven’t read the Cornwell books, and I certainly haven’t seen the series (if I go by the Wikipedia synopsis, the TV producers seem to have decided to go full-on GoT in the later seasons rather than stick to the books) but if I’m going to go for ‘terrible history but great visuals’, then I’ll stick with The Ballad of the White Horse and how Alfred is constantly beaten down and on the run, but never quite defeated 🙂

            A sea-folk blinder than the sea
            Broke all about his land,
            But Alfred up against them bare
            And gripped the ground and grasped the air,
            Staggered, and strove to stand.

            He bent them back with spear and spade,
            With desperate dyke and wall,
            With foemen leaning on his shield
            And roaring on him when he reeled;
            And no help came at all.

            He broke them with a broken sword
            A little towards the sea,
            And for one hour of panting peace,
            Ringed with a roar that would not cease,
            With golden crown and girded fleece
            Made laws under a tree.

            The Northmen came about our land
            A Christless chivalry:
            Who knew not of the arch or pen,
            Great, beautiful half-witted men
            From the sunrise and the sea.

            Misshapen ships stood on the deep
            Full of strange gold and fire,
            And hairy men, as huge as sin
            With horned heads, came wading in
            Through the long, low sea-mire.

            Our towns were shaken of tall kings
            With scarlet beards like blood:
            The world turned empty where they trod,
            They took the kindly cross of God
            And cut it up for wood.

            Their souls were drifting as the sea,
            And all good towns and lands
            They only saw with heavy eyes,
            And broke with heavy hands,

            Their gods were sadder than the sea,
            Gods of a wandering will,
            Who cried for blood like beasts at night,
            Sadly, from hill to hill.

            They seemed as trees walking the earth,
            As witless and as tall,
            Yet they took hold upon the heavens
            And no help came at all.

            They bred like birds in English woods,
            They rooted like the rose,
            When Alfred came to Athelney
            To hide him from their bows

            There was not English armour left,
            Nor any English thing,
            When Alfred came to Athelney
            To be an English king.

            For earthquake swallowing earthquake
            Uprent the Wessex tree;
            The whirlpool of the pagan sway
            Had swirled his sires as sticks away
            When a flood smites the sea.

            And the great kings of Wessex
            Wearied and sank in gore,
            And even their ghosts in that great stress
            Grew greyer and greyer, less and less,
            With the lords that died in Lyonesse
            And the king that comes no more.

            And the God of the Golden Dragon
            Was dumb upon his throne,
            And the lord of the Golden Dragon
            Ran in the woods alone.

            And if ever he climbed the crest of luck
            And set the flag before,
            Returning as a wheel returns,
            Came ruin and the rain that burns,
            And all began once more.

            And naught was left King Alfred
            But shameful tears of rage,
            In the island in the river
            In the end of all his age.

            In the island in the river
            He was broken to his knee:
            And he read, writ with an iron pen,
            That God had wearied of Wessex men
            And given their country, field and fen,
            To the devils of the sea.

            I mean, it’s much more interesting to have the “fighting against overwhelming odds but still making it through” figure of Alfred than the “Well, y’know, I see both points of view and I have friends on both sides and maybe we were slaves but he was like a father to me, more than my real uncle” character of Uhtred (or whatever his name is):

            Then Alfred of the lonely spear
            Lifted his lion head;
            And fronted with the Italian’s eye,
            Asking him of his whence and why,
            King Alfred stood and said:

            “I am that oft-defeated King
            Whose failure fills the land,
            Who fled before the Danes of old,
            Who chaffered with the Danes with gold,
            Who now upon the Wessex wold
            Hardly has feet to stand.

            “But out of the mouth of the Mother of God
            I have seen the truth like fire,
            This — that the sky grows darker yet
            And the sea rises higher.”

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Anna Volodovov from The Expanse?

      Haven’t seen the TV series, but she’s a PoV character in the books and a quick glance over the wiki suggests she is still a very important character.

      Don’t know if it counts if you’re just following a book though.

    • compeltechnic says:

      Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird

    • Randy M says:

      Possibly Captain America, but that may be generic enough not to qualify.
      Mac from Agents of shield. Comes up occasionally when he’s not beheading aliens. But also pretty generic, I think.
      Most of the characters in King of the Hill.
      I don’t have a lot here, but I don’t watch a lot of movies and TV either.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Most of the characters in King of the Hill.

        There was a funny episode that confirms the deeply Red Hill family are mainline Protestants, via their Methodist pastor retiring (dying?) and being replaced by a woman.

    • Matt M says:

      Nightcrawler is legitimately and devoutly religious in almost all adaptations of X-Men

      The Simpsons portrayal of religion is just weird and should probably be excluded entirely. They are meant to represent the “average family” but they’ve also been on the air so long that the culture has changed and what is expected of the “average family” has also changed and in some ways they’ve adapted but in some ways they haven’t…

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Nightcrawler is legitimately and devoutly religious in almost all adaptations of X-Men

        I’ve heard a horror story that some writer was hired for the X-Men comic and wanted to use Nightcrawler, but was hamstrung by a previous writer having character-developed him into an ordained priest.
        So what did the new writer do? He wrote that Nightcrawler had accidentally joined a supervillain seminary that was going to have their agents replace Communion wafers all over the world with explosives, simulating the Rapture as a PsyOp to take over the world. Realizing that his ordination was invalid, he would rejoin the X-Men as an eligible swashbuckler, laaaadies.

        • LadyJane says:

          Yes, sadly, that really happened. The story was written by Chuck Austen, a Southwestern American who was apparently unaware that Catholics don’t believe in the Rapture like Evangelical Protestants do. Austen’s run on X-Men is widely considered one of the worst in history, partially for the generally low quality of the plots and dialogue, and partially because of various bizarre and quasi-offensive story elements like the ones you mentioned.

          Needless to say, Catholic readers weren’t pleased, and Marvel editors quickly tried to put that entire story behind them and pretend it never existed.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh boy yeah, that happened. Didn’t read the issue myself but did see a lot of shocked (as in WTF???) online commentary. Apparently the writer not alone had not the faintest notion of what Catholicism was, he was actively anti-Catholic EDIT: anti-religion because of his particular denominational background and turned that run into his version of a Chick tract. One particular detail which I loved was that apparently the Evil Plotters behind all this intended to make Nightcrawler Pope. Either they had really long-term goals (think about fifty years to put in for this to happen) or the writer thought Catholicism runs as “accepted to the seminary. take private lessons at a church as to ‘how to be a priest’, ordained in no time at all, priest, then pope” so that this would all come to pass in two years tops.

          The Eucharistic theology is also somewhat lacking, as you can see by this excerpted panel.
          Also, please note that the “this is what Catholics believe” explanation for the non-Catholics is COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY WRONG. The Rapture is so NOT on our radar that when I first came across the concept, I had to look it up to see if we had a position on it, and it turns out that Catholicism is officially amillenial, which I didn’t even know because nobody knows this because The Rapture is so not a thing in Catholicism!

          Pro-tip for those not sure what all those Christian sub-groups are about: if you see something about The Rapture, this is a very big hint that the writers are either from a specifically American* sub-section of Protestant Christianity, where due to the ironies of history that doctrine was pushed big time, or they’re secular types who only know the pop culture stereotypes of snake handlers and babbling in tongues backwoods Bible-bashers and apply that to all Christianity.

          If you see alleged Catholics talking about how they’re going to be Raptured, then this demonstrates that everything in the work is not just wrong, it’s completely the mirror-image in a parallel dimension in an alternate history wrong.

          *Well, there is the very faintest chance that they’re non-American Exclusive Brethren, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Fascinating fact: probably the most notorious former member of (or at least raised in) the Exclusive Brethren? Aleister Crowley!

    • The problem with the consistency requirement is that a lot of people take their religion seriously without seeming too remorseful about the unchristian things they do. Does Vito Corleone count?

      • acymetric says:

        Doesn’t that seem like a…reasonably realistic portrayal? I’m not saying it is true of all religious people, but I don’t think it is disqualifying.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah. I kind of sympathize with Hollywood on this one. It’s true that the religious are definitely underrepresented. But it’s also true that writing good, decent, legitimate, religious characters is really really hard, because good, decent, legitimate, religious people, for the most part, look just like everyone else.

          And if you spend a lot of time really hitting home that they’re religious (i.e. by having them talk about it a lot) they come across as overly preachy and annoying. On the other hand, if you show them doing anything that represents any sort of major flaw, they come across as “a hypocritical person who doesn’t really believe in the tenets of their religion at all!”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah. I kind of sympathize with Hollywood on this one. It’s true that the religious are definitely underrepresented. But it’s also true that writing good, decent, legitimate, religious characters is really really hard, because good, decent, legitimate, religious people, for the most part, look just like everyone else.

            +1
            It’s interesting that Wrong Species mentions Vito Corleone. The Sicilian mafiosos in that story are collectively portrayed as devoted family men, regardless of the actions they deserve jail or Hell for, and it’s left up to the audience to decide how much the Church made the culture that’s baked into them.
            In the original film script (I don’t know about the novel), the scene where the leaders of the Five Families are debating whether to make money by selling street drugs features a speech by one of the Family heads to the effect of “sell to black people, because they have no families to destroy. If you sell to white people, you never know when you’re destroying a mere individual and when you’re destroying a strong family like we have.” … which had to be edited down to “they’re animals. Let them lose their souls.” out of fear that audiences would agree with the racist speech.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Danny Rand in Iron Fist is a Buddhist… of sorts. He talks the talk but doesn’t really walk the walk when you get down to it.

      Mat Murdock in Daredevil is supposed to be Catholic.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Mat Murdock in Daredevil is supposed to be Catholic.

        I never heard of that Murdock, but Murdock in Murdock’s Mysteries is most definitely a practicing Catholic, and is very ethical. I don’t know if this counts because it takes place 120 years ago, and everyone knows people were different back then. 🙂

    • JPNunez says:

      Wolverine recovers his catholic faith in the old Fox X-Men cartoon, which is kind of hilarious in context of every other Wolverine incarnation.

    • Plumber says:

      Off the top of my head:

      Sister Sharon Falconer from Lewis’ Elmer Gantry

      Jim Casy and the Joad’s in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

      The Trask’s in Steinbeck’s East of Eden

      “The Stranger” in Twain’s War Prayer

      and a bit of a villain, Jules from Pulp Fiction

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Tons of media produced in the Golden Age of Hollywood would qualify. Things like “Sergeant York” with Gary Cooper, or “Boys Town” with Spencer Tracy. Even something like “The Sound of Music “ should qualify, as even though Maria doffs her habit, she remains guided by faith. I guess she isn’t technically fictional.

      Father Mulcahy from Mash certainly qualifies, as do at least some of the other characters. That show wrestled with religious issues frequently.

      Although I haven’t watched, I believe Jane the Virgin should qualify.

      The Book of Mormon.

      Boyd from Justified is a villain, but also an anti-hero.

      You also have true anti-hero stuff like “Preacher” which really should qualify, but because it’s fantastical, you may not consider it fair. Along these lines, Battlestar Galactica is sci-fi with deeply, deeply religious underpinnings, but no present day religion.

      I think there are many of these out there.

      • AG says:

        Preacher is fantastical, but if they have characters that genuinely discuss their faith, then it counts.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “Preacher” is about a literal preacher, son of a preacher, attempting to turn from his former life of crime and lead the church in his hometown. He definitely talks about his own faith and the faith of others.

          But he also is imbued with a divine power of some sort of the first episode, and then angels start showing up to get it back. It’s deeply weird.

      • Matt M says:

        Boyd from Justified is a villain, but also an anti-hero.

        Eh. YMMV. I thought the whole point of his arc in the last few episodes was to establish that no, he really IS a villain and if you’re still insisting on seeing him as an anti-hero just because Walton Goggins is a good actor, you are wrong.

        Along these lines, Battlestar Galactica is sci-fi with deeply, deeply religious underpinnings, but no present day religion.

        See also: Kira Narys (and most Bajorans in general) in DS9, who are mostly (aside from a few notable exceptions) presented as faithful and true to their religion in a largely positive way.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Boyd is a more of a cautionary tale, I would say. He is certainly capable of monstrous evil, but it’s not a certainty that he had to become what he became. He is Yin to Raylan’s Yang. (Also Justified lasted about 2.5 seasons too long, and the last episode was just good enough to justify seeing it through to the end).

      • soreff says:

        > Along these lines, Battlestar Galactica is sci-fi with deeply, deeply religious underpinnings, but no present day religion.

        Partially agreed, partially disagreed.
        The humans’ religion looked like a lightly altered Greek pantheon, and
        the cylons’ religion looked like some lightly altered Christianity.

    • AG says:

      Ella Lopez from the TV adaptation of Lucifer
      Kamala Khan, Miss Marvel (the writer for her comics, G. Willow Wilson, has put out some good books centered on Muslim protagonists, too.
      Yasmin Khan, a current Doctor Who companion, is a practicing Muslim, but I don’t know if the show has meaningfully delved into her beliefs.
      The local Methodist Church is a frequent presence in Black Lightning (the central family all attend, including the lesbian daughter), and the reverend is a recurring character.
      Everyone in The Young Pope
      Various miko characters in anime
      Not a show that I’ve watched, but given that The Leftovers’ premise is what happens after an event that may or may not be the Rapture, I’m sure there are religious characters available to have in-depth thematic discussions. Oh hey, apparently Christopher Eccleston plays a reverend in it, so.

      Jewish representation gets messy because most of the time, the story is about their identity as a Jew, rather than their religious beliefs. Like, I don’t think anyone in Fiddler on the Roof would even count. Similarly, it’s hard to find characters for Asian religions, as discussing religious beliefs is rarely the point.

      • Nornagest says:

        Preacher is a show produced by Seth Rogen, based on comics.

        The TV show qualifies, but the comics don’t: the protagonist there, despite being a Protestant minister, is not religiously faithful. And pretty much everyone who is is a villain. (Garth Ennis has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.)

        Jesse Custer’s relationship with Christianity in the show is quite a bit more complex, even though I’d say the show’s a step down from the comics in most respects.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        In Fiddler, their faith is in tradition. The whole opening speech is imbued with it, and Tevya frequently talks to God.

        “Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

        “[to God] It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. After all, with Your help, I’m starving to death. Oh, dear Lord. You made many many poor people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor… but it’s no great honor either. So what would be so terrible… if I had a small fortune?”

      • smocc says:

        the story is about their identity as a Jew, rather than their religious beliefs

        I have been interacting more deeply with the Jewish community over the past year and I’ve started to learn that those aren’t actually very separate to many Jews. Much of being Jewish is simply about what “being Jewish” means. Community, tradition, and belief are all wrapped up together in ways that Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity) doesn’t mirror.

        So anyway, I count it because questions about tradition and identity and community are to the Jews I know what questions about faith and belief are to Christians.

        • AG says:

          Yeah, this is kind of what I was getting at, that the requirements in the OP for a religious character aren’t always so overt, because it’s wrapped up in “general” culture for some religions. Like, will we ever see a non-monk explain why they’re a Hindu or a Confucist? To do so would be out of character to real life examples. In many ways, the model set out by the OP for a religious character is unique only to a few relatively modern religions.

        • Peffern says:

          I’m Jewish and my roommate is devout Christian and you’ved summed up the difference quite nicely.

    • dodrian says:

      The BBC comedies Rev and Vicar of Dibley have many types of sincere religious characters.

      Orson Scott Card has a number of religious characters (particularly Catholic and Muslim, though I think some Eastern religions get a showing too) in the Enders Game series and spin offs.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Lots of characters in screen adaptations of the novels of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.

      Adam Henry in The Children Act

      Virtually everyone in Apostasy

      Many characters in The Crucible

      Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man

      Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire

      Thomas Becket in Becket

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Well, they’re all over print, even superhero comics (which at this point are all temporarily-embarrassed screenplays for Disney or Warner Brothers movies). Hollywood movies/American TV, not so much. HeelBearCub mentioned that it was different in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
      Let’s see… there have been multiple Hellboy movies, where the protagonist is a demon whose Red Right Hand is supposed to play a role in Satan’s plan for the End of Days, saved by being raised Catholic (think some versions of Merlin). Originally an indie superhero comic, though.
      St. Vincent, a 2014 comedy written/directed by and about Catholics that managed to snag Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.

    • Perico says:

      Mrs. Kim in Kim’s Convenience is a practising Catholic, and many episodes have plots revolving around her faith and her involvement in the church.

      Paige Jennings from The Americans converted to Christianity despite the best efforts of her Soviet spy parents.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Paige Jennings from The Americans converted to Christianity despite the best efforts of her Soviet spy parents.

        Oooh, yeah, this.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Tangentially, this has reminded me of the strange phenomenon of TV characters whose Christianity only comes up when the writers do a special Christmas episode.
      I believe this past Christmas I found a 1980s example to share, the He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special, in which we learn that He-Man and She-Ra’s mom was a culturally Christian astronaut from Earth (!) and two young children tell the comic relief wizard Orko the Nativity story (!!), which causes Skeletor and Hordak’s master to order them to stop Earth people from spreading the spirit of Christmas to the rest of the universe (is he Satan?), and then Skeletor experiences irresistible grace after kidnapping said kids (!!!).

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ll take that over the equally common media habit of conjuring up a winter holiday that’s very transparently just Christmas with the serial numbers filed off.

        Christmas-and-Easter Christians are common enough, but there’s a lot of diversity in holidays on the general theme of “festival of hope falling sometime around late autumn or early winter”. Any of which could just as easily be ripped off. Diwali’s cool, for example.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Oh yes, agreed. “Naked public sphere winter holiday by writer oblivious to the existence of other cultures” is the worst.

    • Matt says:

      Michael Carpenter is the best Christian character I’ve ever seen in fiction. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.

      He’s met angels and archangels so for him ‘Faith’ means less “I believe in God without evidence” and more “No matter how dire the situation, I believe that if I do good that God will not abandon me”. Several other characters in that series – Father Forthill and Michael’s wife Charity also qualify. All Catholics, if it matters.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Tom Selleck’s character in Blue Bloods

      • Nick says:

        The conservative Catholics over at One Peter Five had a post discussing Blue Bloods, and Selleck’s character in particular. It sounds like he was done pretty well on the whole, but a little schizophrenically, saying he misses the Latin Mass, then openly dissenting from the Church’s sexual ethics.

    • Enkidum says:

      Does Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons count? Obviously not fully “fictional”, but it’s not exactly a biography either.

    • ana53294 says:

      There are multiple TV series based on Father Brown novels by Chesterton. I quite like the BBC adaptation.

      The daughter in the TV series The Good Wife converts to Christianity, and there are many times when there is real conflict between her and her family over religion.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Weeks late, but: ABC’s TGIF lineup in the 1990s had a show called Just the Ten of Us, featuring a Catholic family. The mother particularly so. It was a spinoff of Growing Pains, which itself had plenty of Christian undertones (not surprising, given Kirk Cameron’s background).

  7. EchoChaos says:

    What is the longest-term successful economic investment?

    To qualify it must be something without immediate returns that gives substantial returns in a long time horizon that has little to no intermediate value.

    An example would be aging whiskey or wine. The intermediate product is lower or no value, but the aged product is very valuable. Tree farms would be similar.

    It would also have to be intentionally long-term. A business that survives for a long time would not qualify as it would presumably just be year-to-year profitable for many years.

    What is the longest time period this has been intentionally done? I can think of 30-year aged whiskeys, is there something longer?

    • Nick says:

      Planting forests, maybe?

      • EchoChaos says:

        That was my first thought too, but most of them aren’t planted for economic return outside tree farms, which tend to be faster growing specimens rather than long-term investment.

      • mendax says:

        Not an example of a successful investment, but during the Napoleonic Wars the Danish Navy was pretty much wiped out by the British. They planted an oak forest in order to have material to rebuild, which matured…. in the last decade or so, IIRC.

        • Nick says:

          There was a rumor going around after the Notre Dame fire that the nineteenth century oaks at Versailles were planted in order to rebuild the roof, should it be necessary. It appears to be false, though the oaks have grown quite a bit by now.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The development of new fruit varieties involves planting large fields of seedlings and hoping that one of them turns out nice (then propagating it enough to be able to sell at a large scale). The Honeycrisp apple was labeled in 1974 (so probably planted earlier), and released commercially in 1991. I’m not sure when it actually became popular and profitable.

    • Matt M says:

      IIRC some trading missions via ship would take several years to pay off, and were very much an “all or nothing” proposition in that investors raised a lot of money to build a ship, hire a crew, load it up with valuables, and send it off.

      The ship either returned several years later with a bunch of valuable trade goods, and everyone made a huge profit. Or it didn’t return at all, and you lost everything.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Does it have to be intended as an investment made with the specific goal to gain direct economic profit? Say if the moonshot started to payout 50 years from now, would you count that? Or if some country supported some science for the greater good and/or in the vague hope it’ll bring them benefits sometime down the road and eventually it does?

      • EchoChaos says:

        Does it have to be intended as an investment made with the specific goal to gain direct economic profit?

        Yeah, that’s what I am going for.

        A 30 year whiskey is “I am making this investment and losing money for 30 years of storage costs because I think I will make a profit in the end”.

        The moonshot is “technology is cool and we’re making a profit now on taxpayer money”. Generic R&D certainly compounds, but how much of it is “we expect a profit in 50 years”?

    • Well... says:

      Having lots of kids, I would think.

    • helloo says:

      Time capsules?

      There are 100 year bonds and such, but I don’t believe there are any that aren’t commonly sold.
      That’s kind of an issue with most things nowadays in where you can sell the yet-to-mature product.
      Wouldn’t be surprised if there are commonly traded whiskey and wine bonds/barrel contracts.

      • EchoChaos says:

        The fact that we have a secondary market for “maturing investments” is a great capitalist thing which doesn’t obviate the investment. A 100 year bond would certainly be the kind of investment I am looking for.

        But anything that pays a dividend regularly on investment (annuity or such) wouldn’t be what I was looking for.

        • abystander says:

          Some financial institutions buy U.S. government bonds and split them into the interest only component and the principal at maturity component. So you can get a 30 year zero coupon bond that will not make any interest payments until maturity. The wikipedia article on zero coupon bonds mentions 90 year Canadian zero bonds but doesn’t have citation.
          https://www.treasurydirect.gov/instit/marketables/strips/strips.htm

    • Clutzy says:

      Hardwoods are a super long one which certain breeds have over 100 year timescales.

      Looking to the future, interspace trade may have a longer timescale depending on the speeds we develop.

    • Uribe says:

      Does art count?

      How about the federal highway system?

      • Randy M says:

        Buying art counts, but I don’t think making it does. Artists want to get paid in their lifetime; art collectors are willing to wait until after the artists lifetime.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Randy M answered the art one but they highway system definitely had immediate return (plus the military benefit it was built for).

    • Tarpitz says:

      I seem to remember reading an article about traditional soy sauce production involving ageing… something – the bacterial culture, maybe? for decades. Like someone was just starting to produce sauce using barrels his grandfather had laid down? I forget the details.

    • Enkidum says:

      Orwell has a nice article that isn’t at all an answer to your question, but talks about the delayed gratification from planting hardwood trees.

    • LesHapablap says:

      See this comment thread: https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/04/17/open-thread-125-75/#comment-744125

      In there I mention the Pratt and Whitney geared-turbofan project which has taken about 20-25 years and cost 10 billion: PW1000G wiki

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Reactors. The EPR for example, has this hilarious economic structure, where, unless I am running the numbers completely wrong, EDF will not see a dime for 25-30 years (Because it all goes to paying of loans) and then it turns into a cornucopia machine.

  8. broblawsky says:

    In a follow-up to our discussion of North Korea from the previous OT, it looks like North Korea’s economy has been impacted pretty substantially by sanctions. If anyone is wondering why Kim Jong Un is back to launching missiles, this is why – Kim needs sanctions removed, or at least eased, to maintain economic growth. Missile launches are one of his primary tools for doing so. The only other real option he has is his ‘special relationship’ with Trump, but Trump to be moving too slowly (or not at all) on sanctions for Kim’s taste.

    • Dan L says:

      Related follow-up question for John I missed out on asking:

      They’ve demonstrated a working thermonuclear warhead and a mobile ICBM capable of delivering it just about anywhere in CONUS, along with more reliable and responsive missiles for use against regional targets. They probably have 40-80 deliverable nuclear warheads, and a new one every couple of months.

      What are your thoughts regarding the proliferation risk, either through technological assistance or direct export? A North Korea that rattles sabers every so often for concessions and a NK that actively spreads that model to other nations represent very different threats.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Not John, but I think that would only work for somebody already getting squeezed by sanctions. If a nation with whom we have normal trade relations started nuclear saber rattling they would wind up with sanctions, bringing them down to the level of NK.

        • Dan L says:

          Joining the axis of evil comes at a steep price, sure, but it already has a few members I’m worried about. And it’s a hell of a risky BATNA to leave open indefinitely.

      • John Schilling says:

        North Korea has traditionally been willing to sell missiles or missile manufacturing technology to anyone willing to pay cash. Off the top of my head, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and Myanmar. I don’t see that changing, except possibly as part of a deal that involves substantial relief from economic sanctions. Which is to say, I don’t see that changing.

        North Korea has, as far as we no, never seriously entertained the notion of selling nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons technology. Not that there’s anyone left to sell gas centrifuges and A-bomb blueprints to after twenty years of A. Q. Khan. But so long as there is any hope of sanctions relief, North Korea even talking about selling nuclear weapons for cash thoroughly end that. And there’s no way it could be done in secret, because no one with the money to pay wants nuclear weapons as anything but a deterrent, so they’ll be bragging about them as soon as they take delivery.

        If the last hope for sanctions relief is gone, then North Korea is one step away from an actual naval blockade, and selling nukes would pretty much guarantee that. If the blockade is inevitable, North Korea is one step away from actual war, and there’s no one they can sell nuclear weapons to who would more effectively use them to support North Korea’s war effort than North Korea herself.

        So, not a very likely threat, and not a threat that North Korea has even hinted at under any of the Kims.

        • Dan L says:

          Thanks for the response.

          That definitely clarifies that the cost NK would incur by selling warhead tech outweighs what any potential buyer could afford. I suppose there’s still a worry about countries that have the requisite nuclear expertise but not a delivery mechanism, but that’s a far more manageable threat.

  9. Randy M says:

    Science/Science-fiction question.
    How reasonable is a plot point of a species from one planet (pick your favorite) getting infected from a pathogen from another planet?
    I assume that this is would vary by pathogen type, but is way less likely than portrayed.

    Virus: Probably impossible. Other planets lifeforms are going to use different chemistry. It will almost certainly be organic, and have rough analogs for all the macromolecules that make up earth life forms–lipids for structure & possibly energy storage, proteins for mechanical effects, DNA for information storage. But the actual language of the later two will be very different, to the point of straining credibility that a virus from Mars could hijack the cellular machinery of a human to reproduce.

    Bacteria: Monocellular organisms that grow in human tissues and produce harmful wastes. This seems more plausible. Possibly they would cause us even greater harm as we have no antibodies against them. Then again, maybe our bodies aren’t suitable environments for the pathogens, and they are unable to survive because they can’t digest us/our food/our waste etc. In any case, the effects of the disease on humans will be radically different than the effects on their Martian hosts.

    This is assuming no panspermia type common ancestors on the planets in question, of course, but even then that’s a long time for divergent evolution.

    • John Schilling says:

      As you say, this is plausible if the infectious organism is a bacteria or the like. And since any e.g. Martian bacteria (if such a thing exists) is by our standards going to be an extremophile, it’s hard to rule out the prospect of something that can flourish in a human gut. At which point, the lack of parallel evolution as symbiotic or commensal organisms suggests that something in the bacteria’s waste products is going to disagree with human metabolism. The bacteria, in this context, have the advantage of simplicity and the advantage that everything they produce is delivered inside the human’s perimeter defenses whereas everything the humans produce still starts outside the bacteria.

      Really, the only thing objectionable about the concept of infectious diseases of extraterrestrial origin is the legions of lazy SF writers who insist on calling all such “viruses”. If it’s a non-viral alien microorganism, try real hard not to get it in your gut, lungs, bloodstream, etc, until someone else has gone first.

      • Randy M says:

        I’m trying to figure out if I can justify the scenario where an alien species engineered a virus as a form of warfare that got out of hand and wiped them out, which humans stumbled on and fell prey to in the same manner and… I really don’t think so.

        That would have explained an empty but hospitable planet and provided some drama. But I need to rethink the approach.

        But that’s a good reminder that there’s almost certainly several different species that think your belly would make a fine home, despite your disagreement.

        • Paper Rat says:

          Instead of virus or bacteria perhaps the alien weapon in question can be some nano-machines type thing? It could be activated by human body temperature, or the fact that humans are very watery, or electricity in human tools etc.

          • Phigment says:

            Honestly, the practical difference between an engineered bacterium and a self-replicating nanomachine seems a little fuzzy to me.

            I think you would have very little trouble selling people on the idea that some group of aliens cooked up a batch of gray-goo nanotech, it got out of control, and it ate them. Then, when humans land, they find it’s still dangerous.

            So I find it reasonably plausible that a group of aliens cooked up a batch of really nasty gray-goo bacteria, it got out of control, and it ate them. Then, when humans land, they find it’s still dangerous.

            You just need something that’s a really aggressive self-replicator and not too picky about its raw materials. It’s probably going to work a lot more like flesh-eating bacteria than strep throat if it’s going to jump species, but that seems plausible, especially if it was designed as a weapon.

          • Randy M says:

            Honestly, the practical difference between an engineered bacterium and a self-replicating nanomachine seems a little fuzzy to me.

            Definitely. But what I don’t want is to say that these nanomachines are reprogramming the human DNA, because unless there’s significant computing power there, they won’t know the code, and it certainly won’t be the default state.

            Given that there’s already plot around a loosed AI, I’m not sure if encountering alien gray goo would be thematic or redundant. hmmm…

          • helloo says:

            Virus hijacks existing cell production/features to create copies of itself.
            Most definitions will have them do nothing outside of a cell.
            Nanomachine can create duplicates with only raw material.
            So can bacteria or other microorganisms.
            However, nanomachines are also often much smaller than cells or microorganisms and share some common command/mission.

            One thing I’d like to note is that some parts of the human’s immune system responses are capable of fighting against foreign agents using some pretty broad ranging tactics and are non-specific. Including heat increase, chemical “attacks”, or just engulfing and disposal.

            Two things you have not mentioned are allergens and parasites.
            Allergens can certainty be caused by otherworldly things (pollen and dust can be as alien as any lifeform) though generally the symptoms would probably be familiar.
            Parasites are like bacteria but generally harder to combat against through the immune system, can be far more intelligent/complex, but they tend to be rather specific in their hosts and unless all they need is a warm place, will likely fail to grow/spread after infestation (but doesn’t mean it won’t be really bad for the human anyway).

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t think this holds at all, extremeophiles are extreme niche inhabitors, you don’t find the bacteria living near hot vents in the ocean also dominating other areas. Google tells me that Martian temperatures rarely get above 70 degrees Fahrenheit which makes it extremely unlikely that any living organism is going to survive in the 98 degree human body.

      • baconbits9 says:

        At which point, the lack of parallel evolution as symbiotic or commensal organisms suggests that something in the bacteria’s waste products is going to disagree with human metabolism. The bacteria, in this context, have the advantage of simplicity and the advantage that everything they produce is delivered inside the human’s perimeter defenses whereas everything the humans produce still starts outside the bacteria.

        My guess would be that this is 100% backwards. To begin with the bacteria will have to eat something to create a waste product, what is it eating in the human stomach? Cell walls don’t just fall apart on their own, they have to be broken down to exploit the energy in a cell, and those walls will require specific processes (ie enzymes) that are very unlikely to be possessed by the bacteria. Even if the bacteria’s enzymes happen to break down cell walls that doesn’t even mean that the bacteria can use those end products to live as they will be different from what they are accustomed to having after breaking down Martian material.

        The Earth is teeming with bacteria and only a relative few are dangerous to humans and most of those have to be introduced in specific ways to make us ill, and bacteria have large amounts of genetic diversity and we regularly encounter ones that we haven’t been exposed to before without significant harmful effects. There has been massive evolutionary pressure on animals not to suddenly die when exposed to a new bacteria/virus for the first time, and that would be a huge advantage for humans over a martian bacteria.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          What if the bacteria just extremely effective at consuming some micro- or macroelement crucial for Earth life? It may be an autotrophe getting energy from sun or whatever, and feeding on basic elements, and just outcompete Earth organisms for something crucial so essentially the entire biosphere dies of malnutrition. Of course with the sun it won’t work as a disease striking humans directly. But, though I don’t know much about microbiology, seems there should be some sources of energy it can use inside a mammalian body – like something something free radicals chemosynthesis something? Or maybe it just runs photosynthesis on x-rays?

          (The idea isn’t mine, it’s from Fgnesvfu ol Crgre Jnggf)

    • J Mann says:

      The Expanse series has two very different examples of cross-biology contamination.

      The first is argjbexrq anabgrpu gung nanylmrf yvsrsbezf, gura gnxrf gurz ncneg sbe erfbheprf, hfvat nfcrpgf bs gurve rkvfgvat fgehpgher naq ovbybtl jurer urycshy. I’m not convinced this is the most efficient solution the pathogen could apply, but it’s interesting.

      The second is zvpebbetnavfz gung svaqf gur pbaqvgvbaf va gur uhzna rlr gb or rkgerzryl ubfcvgnoyr, naq jubfr jnfgr cebqhpgf pnhfr oyvaqarff va gur vasrpgrq. This seems along the lines of John Shilling’s post.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Well there is a huge difference between landing on a cold, lightly inhabited plant, or an asteroid carrying life from another world hitting the earth, and visiting another earth like planet that was covered in numerous life forms. The latter is far more likely while the former two are virtually impossible.

      • Randy M says:

        True, Mars was a bad example, only chosen to reference old timey Sci-Fi like War of the Worlds. Assume populated alien world with an ecology only as similar to our own as required to qualify as such.

  10. Murphy says:

    I’ve been a tad depressed by humanity over the last few days re: coverage of a particular story.

    I mean I kinda set myself up for disappointment given I seem to care that people are failing to read clickbait critically… but

    This article hit the top of reddit:

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/no-girls-born-india-villages-female-foeticide-sex-selective-abortions-a9015541.html

    all the top comments 5K+ upvotes are people either talking about how terrible india is or how awful the area must be or crazy-bad math.

    6315 upvotes:

    216 children and none of them girls. The odds of this happening naturally are about 1 in 1.053 x 1065 (a fucking huge number).

    Various posters tried to point out that the region had a lot more villiages, the villiages are small it’s for a 3 month period. So most villiages only have 1 or 2 births.

    And all someone seems to have done is made a list of villages, ordered by # of girls born and given a count for how many had no girls.

    The BBC has now done a vastly better article:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-49109767

    Overall 961 live births were recorded in Uttarkashi between April and June. A total of 479 were girls, while 468 were boys. (The rest were possibly stillborn)

    Officials say the media possibly cherry-picked the birth data provided by volunteer health workers entrusted with collecting it.

    The reports said 216 boys and no girls were born in the 132 villages between April and June. But officials found 180 girls and no boys were born during the same period in 129 different villages.

    Exactly as a handful of math-minded posters in the threads were saying (103 upvotes)

    So in the region more girls were born than boys.

    Also there were about as many villages where only girls were born.

    “A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

    ~ Terry Pratchett

    Sadly, since it confirms pre-existing beliefs about india… people believed it uncritically and since “previous story false, nothing to see here” is a boring news story… the non-clickbait article will never make it to the front page and thousands of people will never see the refutations and will carry on with false beliefs.

    • Randy M says:

      Oh wow–P hacking for click-bait. I wonder if that’s journalistic incompetence or malice.

      • Murphy says:

        it’s bad enough and transparent enough that it’s hard to imagine that it’s not malice unless the people involved are so incompetent that they occasionally forget how to breath.

        but the thing did the rounds.

        Pro-life subreddits talking about how terrible it is that they’re murdering all the little girls.

        Feminist subreddits talking about how terrible it is that the patriarchy is making it so that having a daughter is so awful that people abort girls.

        A bunch of subs that just kinda love ragging on india.

        And none of them terribly interested in the fact that the entire basis is made up.

        Meanwhile the BBC article shooting it down has got zero attention.

        • Randy M says:

          I think it’s incompetence, or at worse negligence, from the people passing it around, who probably don’t read past the headlines. But whoever put that together in the first place looks pretty bad.

        • J Mann says:

          it’s bad enough and transparent enough that it’s hard to imagine that it’s not malice unless the people involved are so incompetent that they occasionally forget how to breath.

          I imagine it’s not malice, but just everyday incompetence so famous that it has its own name. My take:

          1) Just about half the people in any group are below average, and “below average” numeracy for journalists is a scary thing.

          2) It looks like an honest but stupid mistake by Indian bureaucrats. The same guy, Magistrate Ashish Chauhan announced then retracted the results.

          3) Beyond that, you’re right – the media jumped on the initial statement (which wasn’t that Indian authorities were convinced of selective abortion, but just that they had identified some villages for extra scrutiny) and the initial story had a lot more play than the retraction.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          There’s a reason why Rationalists had to come up with the “arguments as soldiers” metaphor to explain to people not to think this way. Using arguments as soldiers is common, if not default human behavior. An article about selective abortions is a good little soldier for the pro-life crowd, for the feminists, for the India-raggers and who wants to stab their own soldiers in the back?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            This. As an argument, the false story is a good pro-life soldier. It also feels good for feminists, since it gives them a Third World culture as an acceptable target (the psychology/politics of WHY India/Hinduism are an acceptable target and scarcely any other Third World culture is would be interesting). And some people just like ragging on the inferiority of Indians, when they wouldn’t rag on China in the context of sex-selective abortions under the One Child Policy, because they see Chinese as smart/China as a rival.

      • DinoNerd says:

        How would that be incompetence? Or malice for that matter? It looks more like business-as-usual, aka it’s out duty to our shareholders to care only about profit.

        A prior generation – and ethic – would call this “greed”, “dishonesty”, etc. But businesses routinely do far worse. And AFAICT most libertarians would insist the only valid recourse would be not to read news from organizations like that, which would eventually result in a competitor that both promises higher standards, and delivers them. Where “eventually” might be several human lifetimes, depending on the profit to be made.

      • cassander says:

        Never blame malice or conspiracy where stupidity is a sufficient explanation.

  11. fion says:

    Reading the comments on the adversarial collaboration post really drove something home for me. It is really hard for me to understand where other people are coming from on ethics, even if I limit myself to trying to understand other non-religious people’s ethics.

    I hold a view which seems to me to be very uncommon in the wider world, and even a minority opinion here, which is that life isn’t inherently valuable. What is valuable are the positive or negative experiences of beings who are alive. At some point there will be a bar where a life is so unpleasant that it is worse than nothing and a being would be better off dead, but it’s rarely advantageous for a do-gooder to murder such an unfortunate soul because of secondary effects caused by the murder (like the victim’s family feeling sad, or the charitable murderer being punished for the ‘crime’).

    In the adversarial collaborations thread there were people making arguments about the potential life of a foetus, or of farm animals not being born thanks to a new Vegan World Order and it seemed to me that there were all kinds of complicated ethical knots tying people up. Isn’t it a lot simpler to realise that life isn’t actually good? That never being born is perfectly neutral for the being who is never born? Certainly, if you could guarantee that a being would have a wonderful life were it born, then it might feel somewhat a shame for that life to not be enjoyed, but the only people feeling “what a shame” are the people alive who know about the situation. The being not born doesn’t know, and it doesn’t get FOMO for the wonderful life it’s missing.

    I’m not really posting this to try to persuade people that my philosophy is better (though while we’re at it, I’d be grateful if somebody would point me towards the massive gaping holes that must presumably exist in the ethics I’m describing). Instead I’m mostly posting this as a psychological comment. How can it seem so obvious to me that life doesn’t have value and yet seem so obvious to other atheists that life does have value. My parents don’t share my opinion; my friends don’t share it; as far as I know I wasn’t exposed at an early age to the work of a philosopher who espoused it. To me it just feels like I took the object-level secular liberal morals I was brought up with and found a coherent basis for them. I can even remember what felt like a revelation when I was a teenager that life doesn’t actually have value, and that believing that it does leads to both suffering and confusion. It felt like everything clicked into place. Everything made sense.

    But most smart atheists disagree with me, so I’m probably not actually onto something at all. It’s a shame this isn’t really something one can write an adversarial collaboration about because it’s really the only controversial thing I believe with significant confidence.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      For what it’s worth I agree with you except the part where life has positive and negative experiences which are valuable Life has no positive or negative experiences. It is just our opinions of them. Life can be lived with no positive or negative experiences, no good or bad, no joy or sadness, no value. I will warn you, however, you will the outlier. It is the life I choose.

      • fion says:

        I’m curious how that works. Do you ever make decisions?

        • HowardHolmes says:

          I suspect you are not so much curious as it is that you are setting me up to prove I cannot make a decision without judging something as good or bad. Let’s take living. I am alive so I find that acceptable therefore I don’t seek to change that. If circumstances change and I am told I will die today, it will not affect me negatively. I will do whatever I was going to do anyway plus I might call a cremation service to dispose of the body. Life is neither good nor bad, but a living person has to choose one or the other. We cannot avoid decisions but we can know that what we decide has no importance. I live in Texas and choose to have no air conditioning. I do that because I know air conditioning will not make life better or worse so why bother with it? OK, now you can attack me and tell me I am full of shit, but it will not change the reality I have. I am getting ready to go outside and work on our five acres which is what I do 7 days a week. I have no TV, never watch movies or read books, have no friends all because these things have no value. But I have to do something. I can sit in this chair or go outside. Neither choice will make my life better or worse; neither is good nor bad. I spend part of my day sitting and part in the yard.

          • fion says:

            No, I genuinely am curious. But you’re right, I would have assumed that you would make decisions based on what was good or bad. If something’s not good or bad, I don’t understand how you can choose one thing over another. Presumably when you work on your land you try to do good work? Do you ever deliberately sabotage your own work? If not, why not?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @fion

            If something’s not good or bad, I don’t understand how you can choose one thing over another.

            The reason that the concept of good/bad exists for humans has nothing to do with its being needed for decisions. Animals make decisions all the time with no concept of good/bad. In short the concept is the human’s way of distinguishing himself from others…making himself valuable, important. It is typically used in all human decisions because humans want to be good. They are good by doing good. They see themselves as better and others as worse. None of that is true, but humans have no interest in truth.
            Back to decisions, as I sit here I see the grass needs water. I also need something to do. Looks like a perfect match. But it is not good to water the grass. It is not really important to me. If the grass wasn’t there I would find something else to do and life would be the same. The grass might die, but since the grass is not into this good/bad myth it doesn’t care whether it lives or dies.

            Presumably when you work on your land you try to do good work? Do you ever deliberately sabotage your own work? If not, why not?

            I do not try to do good work. There is no such thing. I just do. It doesn’t matter if I accomplish anything, because there is no way to “accomplish” anything. There is no way to make things better.

          • fion says:

            I’m afraid your point of view is still totally incomprehensible to me, but I appreciate you taking the time to try to explain it to me.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @fion

            I’m afraid your point of view is still totally incomprehensible to me

            I understand. It is the meta priors. Nothing is good or bad, better or worse, important or not important. These are just judgments we make about things, and when we judge a thing we change it. The world without judgement is not the same world as the world which is judged and evaluated.

        • rubberduck says:

          Fyi there was a really long discussion on this a few threads ago.

    • ana53294 says:

      In practice, there are many, many people whose life an outside viewer may view as the deepest hole of misery, yet they don’t commit suicide. They must have reasons not to do that, and they must think that living is a net positive.

      The people whose life is so miserable that they don’t think life is a net good, yet are physically unable to commit suicide, are very few. Among that subset, there are some that could commit suicide by starvation, yet they choose not to do it.

      And I don’t think the reason why people whose life may seem miserable don’t commit suicide don’t do it for religious reasons; many just seem to believe living has an intrinsic value.

      • fion says:

        Are you assuming that every decision a person makes is the product of a rational cost/benefit analysis? I would argue that many of the people whose lives are dominated by suffering choose to live on because of emotional biases that they haven’t thought through, not because they’ve examined their lives and concluded that living is better than dying.

        • ana53294 says:

          Whether it’s a rational choice or not doesn’t matter. It’s a free choice, that they made it. Anybody else making that choice for them is wrong.

          • fion says:

            Well, yes, if you believe people have an inviolable right to make decisions about their lives. But where does such a right come from? I don’t believe in God, so I can’t imagine a mechanism by which such rights would be generated. Besides, I feel you’re discussing a different question now. Before I thought you were challenging the idea that there exists a significant number of people with net negative lives, but now it sounds like you’re accepting that their lives may be net negative but that that doesn’t matter because they have a right to choose to live net negative lives.

            My main point here is that I think your first comment is mistaken to assume that somebody deciding not to commit suicide is evidence that their life is net positive.

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, yes, if you believe people have an inviolable right to make decisions about their lives. But where does such a right come from?

            From the lack of alternatives? During the last few centuries, we have been giving agency to individuals, to the point where parents don’t get to make a lot of decisions for their kids (being vegan in Belgium, for example). Nobody gets to decide who dies, other than the person themselves (except as a legal punishment), because any exception to that rule will lead to disaster.

            it sounds like you’re accepting that their lives may be net negative but that that doesn’t matter because they have a right to choose to live net negative lives.

            That was the point I was trying to make, yes, although I guess I was unclear because it is not completely clear for me.

            The issue I have is with whom decides what is a net negative life. Many disabled people are quite happy with their lives.

          • fion says:

            @ana53294

            Ok, yeah, I think it’s a good idea to have laws that protect people’s agency. But I see that as a sort of pragmatic workaround rather than a moral principle. It would almost certainly lead to greater suffering for living humans if the law were changed such that murder was legal as long as the murderer could explain that the victim was sad enough. Similarly, in a world where a law (and perhaps more importantly, a social norm) against murder exists, it almost always leads to suffering if you choose to murder. In my view, that’s why murder is wrong. Not because it violates some mystical right to agency that people are gifted with.

            The issue I have is with whom decides what is a net negative life.

            Note that I’m not making any policy proposals here. I believe that if we take our world as an initial condition, then introducing a “people with net negative lives die” policy would be a very, very immoral decision that would lead to great suffering. All I’m saying, if I’m saying anything is “here’s a way of thinking about morality that I believe is consistent and sensible”. I guess I would also tentatively suggest that a world where everybody saw it this way would provide opportunities for improvement that aren’t available in our world, but that’s moot since very few people do see it this way.

            (By the way, I get email notifications if somebody either replies directly to my comment or puts “@fion” in their message. If you want to be certain I’ll see your replies after we reach the maximum comment depth, please do this.)

          • ana53294 says:

            @fion

            I support euthanasia, and I think that people with net negative lives who consciously* and freely make that decision for themselves should have the right to do it. And even those who are physically unable to do it themselves should be able to die as long as they can communicate that clearly and explicitly.

            But for me, it’s not clear when the people involved have not expressed a clear, conscious desire to die. So many people who are physically able to kill themselves but have absolutely miserable lives choose not to do so. I do not fully understand why people would choose lives of suffering, but it is clear to me that they frequently do so, in many more cases than I would guess.

            So I see people in such stages of physical decay that I think that their situation is untenable, horrible, inhumane, and they should be allowed to die painlessly. But such people frequently express a will to live, and the cases of people who demand euthanasia seem to be the exception rather than the rule. There must be something I am missing or I don’t understand, because people clearly find value in a life full of suffering.

            So the default in our society seems to be to extend lives as much as possible, without looking at cost. I don’t think that changing that default is good, especially considering that when push comes to shove, people consciously choose to live in suffering rather than die painlessly.

            I saw my uncle’s father live the life of a vegetable. He had the option to end his life, as he wasn’t completely uncapable, but he preferred to live the end of his life only eating and sleeping. It seems to me that many people’s revealed preference is life, as empty and meaningless as it may seem to casual observers.

            *The issue is with people with severe mental retardation, autism, or other issues that would impact their ability to decide for themselves. But I generally support giving such people as much agency as they can communicate clearly. I’ve seen many people with, say, Down syndrome who are able to clearly communicate their desires, even if they are not considered fully capable adults. I generally support giving people like that choices, as long as they were expressed on their own volition.

          • fion says:

            @ana53294

            I think it’s mostly because evolution has hard-wired in a desire to live above all else. A selfish gene will happily allow its host to suffer if that increases the gene’s chances of continuing to exist; that doesn’t mean such suffering is good for the host.

            There’s an issue that we probably don’t want to get into, but I want to at least mention it, which is that it’s questionable to what extent any of our choices are truly free. We’re always influenced by other people or by random fluctuations in our environment. You support euthanasia for people who consciously and freely make that decision for themselves. I do too, but I feel there’s something swept under the rug by “consciously and freely”. Personally I feel that I have never made a perfectly “conscious and free” choice and I suspect nobody else has either. When you and I say we support euthanasia for people who have freely made that decision, we mean sufficiently freely and consciously, not absolutely freely and consciously.

            I’m not sure if this argument is particularly relevant here, because I agree with you that there’s a world of difference (in terms of agency) between accepting the decision of a person who wants euthanasia, and asking a magic genie to end somebody’s life and make it look natural. But it’s not perfectly black-and-white, and I think people who adopt “free choice above all else”-type philosophies often under-appreciate the greyness. (Not saying this is you; your footnote acknowledges much of the grey.)

          • ana53294 says:

            @fion

            I think it’s mostly because evolution has hard-wired in a desire to live above all else. A selfish gene will happily allow its host to suffer if that increases the gene’s chances of continuing to exist; that doesn’t mean such suffering is good for the host.

            Sometimes that’s the case, but sometimes it’s not.

            I tend to think that a life where I am not able to communicate easily with other humans, is a life not worth living, even if there is no physical pain, for example.

            But there are deaf-blind people who are able to build a joyful life, even if I don’t understand how they do it. I think they probably genuinely find happiness in their life, even if I don’t understand how.

            Similarly, I derive a lot of joy in my life from my intellectual capabilities, and think my life would be clearly inferior without them. Yet I see people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities live joyful lives.

            Human beings are a lot more flexible than it may seem to us, and are able to find joy in many circumstances.

            It’s clear to me that nobody can externally judge whether a person’s life is worth living. So I don’t support anybody making such decisions for other people, or even moving the defaults when it comes to people who are unable to clearly communicate their desire to live/die.

            Absent extreme, chronic physical pain, it’s incredible the variety of living situations people find joy in.

          • fion says:

            @anna53294

            You are of course right that we can’t know for sure whether somebody else’s experiences constitute suffering or not. You’re also (almost certainly) right that there are large numbers of people who endure great hardship and yet do not suffer greatly, and who do find great joy.

            You have not, however, suggested that all deaf-blind (for example) people live mostly happy lives, or even most of them. There is genuine suffering in the world, and some of it is very severe, and some people have vastly more than their share. We can’t always tell who they are, which is (one of the reasons) why I don’t advocate a “kill all the sad” policy, but just because we can’t always tell where it is or isn’t present, doesn’t mean that suffering is not a problem.

      • Murphy says:

        yet are physically unable to commit suicide, are very few.

        I’m not so sure. A lot of people die in really miserable ways.

        https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay/

        My big fear, though, is that I won’t get a terminal disease.

        If I just start accumulating damage, growing more and more bedridden and demented and pain-riddling until I want out – well, there won’t be a way out. If there’s not some very specific life-saving treatment that can be withdrawn, I’m stuck above ground, not just in the “unless I want to risk the danger and shame of suicide” way I am now, but – if I’m too debilitated to access means of suicide on my own – in an absolute way.

        Even if my doctors and nurses and caretakers are sympathetic, my only legal option, without exposing them to jail time, is to starve myself to death – something both painful and difficult, and itself not really the way I want to go.

        ~Scott

        On the day he was diagnosed my father told me, and I quote; “if you ever see me in a hospital bed, full of tubes and pipes and no good to anybody, tell them to switch me off.”

        In fact, it took something under a fortnight in the hospice for him to die as a kind of collateral damage in the war between his cancer and the morphine. And in that time he stopped being him and started becoming a corpse, all be it one that moved ever so slightly from time to time.

        ~Terry Pratchett

        • acymetric says:

          Starving yourself also isn’t really an option unless you can avoid any kind of medical care.

          • Murphy says:

            ya, particularly if your mind is starting to go.

            Then you just get forcefully fed unless you can prove you have capacity.

            Not great if part of what’s distressing you is that you don’t like that your mind is falling apart.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, that’s what I was getting at. Even if your mind isn’t really starting to go, refusing to eat might well be used as “evidence” of such.

        • Randy M says:

          That was one of Scott’s best posts.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        On this point, I read today something that makes me feel deep disquiet:


        In Belgium, where 5 per cent of all deaths are now by euthanasia, 32 per cent of deaths recorded as “physician assisted suicide” were “without explicit request by the patient”.
        https://standpointmag.co.uk/issues/july-august-2019/the-slippery-slope-to-death-by-doctors-order/

        If those numbers are true, that’s… horrifying. And will only inch up and up and up. This is the situation that pro-euthanasia advocates swore would “never happen”.

        • dick says:

          What does “explicit” mean? That article doesn’t cite anything. A search turned this up, which says,

          A Belgian study based on a death certificate survey in 2007 identified 66 cases of euthanasia “without explicit request” by the patient [51, 52]. To further investigate what “without explicit request” meant another study was performed and those cases were analyzed once more [52]: The findings showed that most of these cases could not be described as “non-voluntary ending of life” thus the label “without explicit request” is misleading.

          …but those might be different studies. If “without explicit request” means that nobody knows what the patient wanted, I agree this is concerning. If it means the patient is unconscious and unable to tell us their current wishes, so we have to go by the wishes they’d previously expressed, then that seems to be the system working as intended. It would be cruel to limit PAS to those people who are still physically and intellectually able to express the wish to die after their health deteriorates to the point that they want to die.

          • Aapje says:

            I suspect that most of these involve demented people who wrote a living will before they became demented or in the early stages of the disease.

            In later stages, these people become increasingly hard to communicate with and can often no longer talk intelligently about euthanasia. Or they become very inconsistent.

            This leads to a complicated situation where many people still are happy to live in the early stages of dementia, but think that they would suffer too much in the later stages. Yet at that time, they are often not able to communicate a desire for euthanasia intelligently.

            One solution is to do the euthanasia at the early stages of dementia.

            Another is try to divine whether the patient still wants euthanasia when quite demented and perhaps lower the threshold for what is considered an explicit request. For example, there are patients who have a repertoire of one word, where one might ask questions and treat silence as ‘no’ and speaking as ‘yes.’ Some of these interpretations seem quite questionable.

            Of course, one can also decide that euthanasia is not suitable for these situations.

            Another way to deal with it is to follow the living will and ignore whether the person still wants euthanasia. This seems illegal in Belgium and is not legal in The Netherlands.

            However, Dutch doctors have done that several times in the past. There was a case in my country where the demented patient was administered sleeping pills in her coffee, to prevent her from resisting. However, she woke up and resisted, was then held down by family members while she was given an infusion with a lethal drug.

            There have been two other known cases where people have been administered sleeping pills in their food so they could be killed while knocked out. Note that in those cases, the doctors lied to the euthanasia commission that reviews whether the euthanasia was done by the book. Given that dishonesty, there were probably many more cases where the truth didn’t come out.

            PS. Note that we have fairly little clarity about whether people with advanced dementia suffer severely. It does seem that people witnessing this state tend to consider it a horrible sight.

    • Randy M says:

      That never being born is perfectly neutral for the being who is never born? Certainly, if you could guarantee that a being would have a wonderful life were it born, then it might feel somewhat a shame for that life to not be enjoyed, but the only people feeling “what a shame” are the people alive who know about the situation. The being not born doesn’t know, and it doesn’t get FOMO for the wonderful life it’s missing.

      In the interest of providing another perspective on abortion in particular…
      Isn’t never turning 43 perfectly neutral for the being who quietly passes in their sleep? (With or without help.) The only people feeling sad about the death are those left; the person who died doesn’t know that they are dead or have a chance to contemplate what they are missing.

      I can understand the thought that some lives aren’t worth living, but I wouldn’t put that point at bad > good, but rather at good = 0. If every moment is agony, I probably want to die. If most of life is struggle but there is a glimpse of joy now and then, I probably endure for that. And, like ana says it is subjective.

      • fion says:

        In the interest of providing another perspective on abortion in particular…
        Isn’t never turning 43 perfectly neutral for the being who quietly passes in their sleep? (With or without help.) The only people feeling sad about the death are those left; the person who died doesn’t know that they are dead or have a chance to contemplate what they are missing.

        I’m not sure I see where you’re coming from here… Are you making the point that abortion may cause suffering for the would-be parents because of grief at losing a foetus? In case I’m second-guessing you and barking up the wrong tree, I’ll answer your question. Yes, a 42 year-old dying peacefully in their sleep is perfectly neutral for them. I wouldn’t “feel sorry” for them if it happened, but I would feel great sympathy for their grieving family. Similarly, I feel sympathy for couples (and especially women) who have to go through the ordeal of terminating an unwanted pregnancy, and anything society can do to make it less of an unpleasant ordeal is probably a good thing.

        I can understand the thought that some lives aren’t worth living, but I wouldn’t put that point at bad > good, but rather at good = 0. If every moment is agony, I probably want to die. If most of life is struggle but there is a glimpse of joy now and then, I probably endure for that. And, like ana says it is subjective.

        This is a very interesting point! I agree that it’s subjective, and I think it depends on your attitude to life. The word “struggle” is an interesting one here. I would say that “struggle” connotes some element of positivity. Does one view unpleasantness as torture or as a challenge? Does one struggle or suffer? I think it’s a very healthy mindset to turn adversity into something positive. If you do that, then what might look like suffering is actually not, it’s actually a noble struggle against adversity that you will be a better person for overcoming.

        However, true suffering, where there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, no sense of achievement or challenge or even struggle but simply misery… I consider it much more important to reduce that than to increase any kind of joy or happiness. Perhaps this is a good way to put it – I am glad Omelas does not exist.

        • Randy M says:

          Does one view unpleasantness as torture or as a challenge? Does one struggle or suffer?

          It depends on if there is a pay-off. Or at least some alternative to look forward to.

          Yes, a 42 year-old dying peacefully in their sleep is perfectly neutral for them. I wouldn’t “feel sorry” for them if it happened, but I would feel great sympathy for their grieving family.

          I feel like I do feel sorry for the dead person. My wife found our neighbor dead in her apartment two days ago, at 42 years old. She was planning on helping her move next month.
          We feel sorry for her mother and children and boyfriend. But there is also a sense that this person herself has lost something. That she still is, in some meaningful way, even if she isn’t alive or conscious, and she has lost half the life she could have had.

          This isn’t terribly rational, but I don’t think it is idiosyncratic.

          From your (perfectly rational) perspective, it seems in the Avengers movie it was better to be one of those Thanos erased from existence than one of the ones left. The people killed didn’t lose anything, because they no longer are; but the ones remaining are suffering the emotional loss.

          • fion says:

            Thanks for sharing. I don’t know what to say. I still can’t really see it from you point of view, but I certainly don’t think you’re “wrong” to see it that way.

            From your (perfectly rational) perspective, it seems in the Avengers movie it was better to be one of those Thanos erased from existence than one of the ones left. The people killed didn’t lose anything, because they no longer are; but the ones remaining are suffering the emotional loss.

            Yes, definitely. I actually found that film frustrating because it came close to dealing with what I consider to be an interesting philosophical question and then didn’t really do my perspective justice. Thanos was wrong, not because he wanted to kill people and that’s just wrong as Cap would have you believe, but because losing half of your population really sucks, both in terms of grief and infrastructure. (And lots of other practical considerations.)

            And bringing them back was almost as bad as getting rid of them in the first place, but let’s not get into that.

            His approach in Endgame was actually much more reasonable, to destroy the whole universe and start again. Perhaps he could have created a universe with less suffering, and if so that would be a good thing.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The issue I have with this thinking is that it takes a continuum of good, neutral, and bad like you would with positive integers, zero, and then negative integers. The neutrality of non existence isn’t on the same continuum with good and bad experiences, it is off to the side, amoral or aethical. The difference isn’t between life and nothingness its the difference between awareness and unawareness, and there is no arguing against you if you define the two as equal.

      • fion says:

        The difference isn’t between life and nothingness its the difference between awareness and unawareness, and there is no arguing against you if you define the two as equal.

        I was with you up until here. It seems to me that if you don’t exist then you are always unaware of the fact. Am I missing your point?

        When I sleep deeply without dreaming, does that count as neutral on the same continuum with good or bad experiences, or is that also off to the side?

        I’d be very grateful if you could flesh out your line of thinking a little more because it’s a new one to me.

        • baconbits9 says:

          To flesh out a little:

          For creatures that have agency, the combination of awareness and ability to change their environment, there is no bad to neutral to good continuum for events because of our trans-formative abilities. A bad event can be learned from and a good event ruined intentionally. A rock is neutral outside of humans, it just sits there, but a rock in a human’s hand can be negative or positive, and there is very little that is neutral in a human’s hand. To take your example: a deep sleep is restorative and improves our abilities across time, and so is positive.

          • fion says:

            Ok, let me see if I understand you. There are some experiences that a being with agency can have that (for example) feel unpleasant in the short term but could potentially lead to greater flourishing down the line. It is naive to try to describe these experiences as “good” or “bad” because it depends on how the being uses its agency.

            But I’m not really trying to maintain that there is some some objective quality of “goodness” or “badness” that an event has, I’m just talking about how a conscious being feels. Does the being experience suffering? If so, then one ought to try to alleviate that suffering. (I’m aware I’m starting to sound a bit like Sam Harris here, but unlike him, I don’t claim to have solved is/ought. I freely admit that I have introduced an “ought” that cannot be derived from “is”.)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @fion

            Does the being experience suffering?

            You are thinking of suffering as something that is, which we can experience. In my mind, suffering is something we choose. For instance, I live in Texas. Several years ago I decided to eliminate air conditioning. I first was concerned about suffering and suffered for a night or two. Then I realized that suffering was a choice. I now do not suffer from the heat.

          • fion says:

            @HowardHolmes

            I partly agree with you, and I think developing the ability to endure hostility without suffering is very healthy, but I also think (and I would guess you’d agree) that the most effective way to reduce somebody else’s suffering is rarely to say “don’t you know suffering is a choice? Choose not to suffer!”

            I get the impression yours is a rather inward-looking philosophy that doesn’t overly concern itself with helping other people. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing, by the way.) For various reasons, though, I do care about the suffering of others, and preaching stoicism* isn’t a great way to help them in my opinion.

            *Not quite sure if I’m using this word correctly in the philosophical sense, but I think I’m using it appropriately in the colloquial sense at least.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If so, then one ought to try to alleviate that suffering.

            Should you alleviate the suffering now if it will/can/could/might cause more suffering down the line? What if you could alleviate the suffering every time it arose but that would also reduce positive experiences in the long run as well?

    • Deiseach says:

      I won’t argue the philosophy with you but I’ll give you a poem (or rather, part of the verse translation of the Sophocles play by Yeats) which expresses something similar, so at least somebody else (the ancient Greeks? Sophocles?) felt somewhat the same way – there’s no inherent value in life qua life, there’s just happiness and sorrow, and since happiness passes but sorrow is going to come in the future, not to be born is best but if born, then to live a short life/possibly to kill yourself once the time of youth and happiness is over:

      From “Oedipus at Colonus”

      Endure what life God gives and ask no longer span;
      Cease to remember the delights of youth, travel-wearied aged man;
      Delight becomes death-longing if all longing else be vain.

      Even from that delight memory treasures so,
      Death, despair, division of families, all entanglements of mankind grow,
      As that old wandering beggar and these God-hated children know.

      In the long echoing street the laughing dancers throng,
      The bride is carried to the bridegroom’s chamber through torchlight and tumultuous song;
      I celebrate the silent kiss that ends short life or long.

      Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say;
      Never to have drawn the breath of life, never to have looked into the eye of day;
      The second best’s a gay goodnight and quickly turn away.

      • gdepasamonte says:

        There is an Auden poem I always liked, which I now realise is probably based directly on this passage. It has a varying refrain, with only the line “Not to be born is best for man” repeated:

        The Earth is an oyster with nothing inside it,
        Not to be born is best for man,
        The end of toil is a bailiff’s order,
        Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.

    • Paper Rat says:

      Emil Cioran writing might be of interest to you, he was a philosopher, who was really down on living in general (he lived a pretty long life himself though, which always seemed funny and somehow appropriate to me).

    • J Mann says:

      Since I was one of the people arguing the other side, let me expand a little.

      I’ll say at first that I’m not expert in this field, so there are probably a bunch of things I’m overlooking, but my first reaction is that it’s astonishingly arrogant to say that we have an ethical duty to prevent other beings from existing. (And also that it make the people who say it sound like baddies).

      If the other argument was “f-ck those potential lives, I want them not to exist so there will be more resources for me and my progeny,” I wouldn’t like it, but I’d at least consider it to follow from understandable premises.

      If it’s “I have decided that the highest ethical value is to maximize a concept I call ‘utility,’ and I have also decided that there are lives that produce net negative utility, so I have an ethical duty to prevent those lives from existing, and what’s more, my argument is sound enough that I expect you to agree,” then I don’t get it.

      On what basis do I have a duty to prevent net negative lives from existing, and on what possible basis do I decide that an entity is net negative without asking it?

      —-

      I think Randy’s response, while coming from a different angle, is also well taken.

    • J Mann says:

      My objection in the AC post wasn’t to the principle that “life isn’t inherently valuable,” its to the principle that:

      (1) We have an ethical duty to attempt to prevent “net negative utility lives” from existing – (why?); and

      (2) We can (a) determine a potential like to be “net negative utility” and therefore have an ethical duty to prevent it from existing and (b) this is true even if we are relatively confident that the entity would prefer to exist.

      I’m far from an expert on this matter, and don’t mean to be offensive, but the whole argument strikes me as something that a group of genocidal sophists would come up with, and sometime our moral intuitions are worth listening to.

      • fion says:

        Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned the AC post. The things I read in those comments (some of which may have been from you but I can’t recall) put this in my mind and I decided I wanted to discuss this, but I’m not responding to any discussion that was in the AC comments.

        I’m not really sure I believe in duty, but I guess I would say that it’s a morally negative act to choose to create a being whose life will be worse than nothing, and so a morally positive act to not do that. I don’t see how the predicted preferences of the nonexistent being come into it.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t really think there’s a way of ending the lives of miserable people without making a lot of other people miserable as well, so the whole “murdering people for their own good” thing doesn’t really factor into the discussion. It’s quite an attention-grabbing headline, and it sounds a bit like a repugnant conclusion, but I don’t think anybody could follow the philosophy I’m discussing to genocide.

    • compeltechnic says:

      Simple, from a Utilitarian perspective. Most individuals live a happy life. The ones that don’t live a happy life do not suffer to such an extreme degree as to offset the ones that are happy. Therefore, having more lives is better.

      • acymetric says:

        This has obviously been discussed in Utilitarian circles, but I don’t travel there (other than any Utilitarians posting here).

        What is the reason that Utilitarians settled on maximizing “gross happiness” over “average happiness per person”?

        • Nornagest says:

          Average utilitarianism has some weird consequences. The one most commonly cited is that it favors killing anyone who’s less happy than average as long as that can be done in a way which does not itself reduce other people’s happiness, and that this is true even if those people and everyone else would consider their lives worth living. There are versions that claim to avoid this (negative average preference utilitarianism was popular in rat circles for a while), but they tend to be pretty convoluted and I’m suspicious that they’ve merely swept the issues under the rug.

          Total utilitarianism has some weird consequences too, but they’re generally considered less weird or at least harder to get the preconditions for — it’s hard to find or make a utility monster, but I can identify someone less happy than average today.

          • acymetric says:

            Ah, yeah, that looks obvious in hindsight. In my defense, I didn’t think about it very hard. Despite that, to push forward a little bit:

            The one most commonly cited is that it favors killing anyone who’s less happy than average as long as that can be done in a way which does not itself reduce other people’s happiness

            Wouldn’t this be pretty hard?

            Secondarily, you could solve that by finding a better proxy for utility than “happiness” (I suspect people have already worked on that).

          • Nornagest says:

            Wouldn’t this be pretty hard?

            Not so hard, I think. I mean, it’s probably hard for most people, but there’s a substantial minority out there who’ve outlived their friends and family or otherwise don’t have deep social connections. And because social connectedness is important to happiness, those people are likely also to be less happy than average… yet we don’t intuit that the world would be better off if they just disappeared.

            The logic works for isolated communities, too.

            you could solve that by finding a better proxy for utility than “happiness”

            This is the usual line of attack when someone decides average utilitarianism needs saving, yes. Preference is probably the most common utility proxy after happiness, and most people strongly prefer to exist, but it’s not entirely clear how to make this forward-looking: if dead people figure into our moral calculus, then we end up being beholden to the preferences of our caveman ancestors who think it’s very important that the bear totem be properly honored, but if not then we can wind up in the odd position of having actions that are prospectively immoral and retrospectively moral or vice versa.

          • fion says:

            @Nornagest

            yet we don’t intuit that the world would be better off if they just disappeared.

            Perhaps that’s because we have evidence to suggest that societies where people sometimes disappear are less happy than societies where they don’t. In order to make the disappearing happen you need to have a secretive state with very good surveillance and armed bodies of men capable of infiltrating residential areas and kidnapping and then murdering civilians without being noticed. I think it’s safe to say that meeting these conditions can be expected to have negative outcomes as a by-product.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, I wasn’t necessarily trying to point to “disappear” in the Dirty War sense, so there’s no need to infer state action there. On the other hand, our moral intuitions probably evolved in a context where everyone know everyone anyway. But either way, I find that pretty unsatisfying as a response to the dilemma.

            Let’s say you have two isolated villages. Neither one knows the other exists, and neither one has substantial contacts with the outside world. Village A is very happy. Village B is pretty happy. One night a limnic eruption happens in the lake next to Village B, smothering everyone in it in their sleep. Is this a good outcome for the two villages? Average utilitarianism thinks so.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            it’s hard to find or make a utility monster

            Not that hard, to be honest. In fact, it’s… ahem… child’s play.

            I don’t recall the argument ever being made in a strictly utilitarian context, but the welfare of future generations is occasionally brought up as a reason to limit the present generation’s welfare (“leave a world for our grandchildren” and all that).

            Future humans are, almost necessarily, a utility monster, for two reasons:
            a. humans have the potential to multiply exponentially, therefore having a future generation that is more numerous than the present is no problem whatsoever,

            b. there exists the potential for very many future generations.

            Because of the sheer numerical advantage, it makes sense – under total utilitarianism – to make pretty much any utility trade-off in favour of future generations and at the cost of the present. It is certainly conceivable that we should greatly reduce utility for the present generation in order to secure greater utility for future generations (given what child rearing involves, this is pretty much a given).

            Of course, this holds true for any particular future generation, as well. So long as future generations are possible, it may well make sense to keep the current generation more miserable than it otherwise might be, all for the sake of humans yet to come.

            The best thing about this is that with only a bit of extra work (more kids), we can combine it with the repugnant conclusion, a feat I consider a bit of a grand slam.

            The end game is a series of perfectly utilitarian generations, each of them on the threshold of collective suicide.

            What we’re seeing here is a fundamental problem with utilitarianism in general: for any numerical value (our target utility), there exists an infinite number of mathematical operations that may be used to arrive at it. With average utilitarianism, you note that killing the miserable sods brings your numbers up. With total utilitarianism, the easiest path is to have the greatest number of lives barely worth living (again, real-world limitations assure us that increasing numbers decreases individual utility) – it’s simply much easier to bring a new person into existence than improve an existing person’s life. Trying to minimise suffering, rather than increase happiness? I, for one, welcome our Benevolent World Exploder.

            This is why I’m not a utilitarian.

      • fion says:

        Most individuals live a happy life

        Citation needed. I’m not saying it’s false, but how do you know it’s true?

        Therefore, having more lives is better.

        Only if the new lives (a) obey the same happy/unhappy ratio that already exists and (b) don’t have an impact on the existing happy/unhappy ratio.

        I don’t think either (a) or (b) can be trusted to be satisfied, but even if they are, I have a big problem with your ideas of offsetting. I don’t think it’s true that one sad life cancels out one happy life. Maybe the answer to my objection is that that’s just how utilitarianism works, in which case I guess I’m not a utilitarianism. Or maybe this can be incorporated into utilitarianism by some large multiplier such that one unit of suffering is only cancelled out by a thousand units of joy or something.

        But like I said before, I vote no to Omelas. The poor sod in the dungeon would be better off to not exist, even if that means the non-existence of all the citizens of that wonderful town. Non-existence is fine; an infinite number of beings endure it with no complaint, but to exist and suffer should be avoided.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I don’t think you’re onto anything because I don’t think there’s anything to be onto, and frankly I completely fail to understand why anyone else does. You and the other smart atheists of your acquaintance alike are misguided in your expectation that some coherent basis for your ultimately arbitrary moral intuitions can be found, and there is no reason to attempt to reshape those intuitions to better match a theory of that kind. Nor does adding a god get you anywhere: fear of smiting, justified or otherwise, is not meta-ethically germane.

      • fion says:

        So how am I to ever make decisions? I either make decisions based on random chance and forfeit my agency, or I make decisions that I believe will help me accomplish some goal. But what’s my goal? Discovering that is half of the objective of this kind of thinking. It requires deep reflection. The other half is getting smart and figuring out which actions will make the goal more likely. This requires rational thought and analysis of empirical data.

        I don’t think I’m discovering cosmic truths here, but I don’t think I’m simply playing logic games either.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      I think I believe something similar, but that your exact position has problems.

      Consider Potential Alice, who will come into existence in 9 months if her parents have sex now. I think we agree that her potential life experiences have no intrinsic moral value (although I’m not sure this is actually obvious).

      But then consider Potential Bob, who will “come into existence” in 9 months if nothing kills Current Bob. I think you definitely do have to consider the moral value of Potential Bob’s life experiences. But then you need some way to distinguish between those and Potential Alice’s. I solve this by saying that Current Bob has very strong preferences about what happens to Potential Bob, but there is no corresponding Current Alice. But if your moral system is valuing life experience/utility rather than preferences satisfied then you need a different solution.

      Possibly you disagree that we should care about Potential Bob, but that would be very weird since it implies there are no first-order reasons not to murder people.

      • fion says:

        I don’t think there are any first-order reasons not to murder people, but the second- and third-order reasons are very strong.

        Since you’ve mentioned it, I’m not a big fan of preferences as a basis for a moral system. I think my biggest objection is that different people’s preferences often come into conflict. In the state of nature, whoever has more power gets their preferences satisfied. Under a preference-based moral system I think whoever’s preference is stronger gets it satisfied? Under a utility-based moral system, whoever’s preference is predicted to lead to the greatest good gets their preference satisfied. In a world where people are often ignorant, short-sighted and irrational, prioritising preferences above all else seems unwise to me.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          So if Carol is living a happy live on an otherwise deserted island such that nothing will be disturbed if I murder her, and I can guarantee no-one will ever find out about it and it won’t make me more likely to murder people in the future, it’s OK for me to kill her?

          Or suppose a genie gives me a button that will painlessly kill Carol, but make some living person slightly happier. If you’re disregarding Carol’s future experiences, doesn’t that mean I’m obliged to press the button (and would also be obliged even if it killed a billion Carols in exchange for avoiding one stubbed toe or something)?

          My preference system (which is probably different to proper philosphers’ ones) is used to calculate what you are calling utility. I.e. instead of determining the greatest good by aggregating utility-as-in-hedons you do it by aggregating preference satisfaction, in some way that is downstream from questions about consciousness (what is a preference? what can have preferences? how should we weight different preferences/different entities? etc.).

          • fion says:

            To the first question, I think it would probably be bad for your psychological well-being if you murdered her. If you magic that away, as well as everything else, then yes, I guess it’s ok. Probably best not, though, just in case you’ve made a mistake somewhere. She is living a happy life, after all.

            To the second question, I’m not sure I’m happy with the word “obliged”, so I’ll replace it in my head with “is it the right thing to do?”. Actually I still think not, because happiness isn’t the opposite of suffering. If the genie would reduce the suffering of some living person slightly then I’d probably say it’s the right thing to do, even if there were a billion Carols and even if it was only a stubbed toe.

            But the reason this sounds obviously wrong is because we’ve made ridiculous assumptions. Genies don’t exist, and neither do a billion happy women thriving on individual desert islands in some remote location such that their presence or absence has no impact on the rest of the world. If you make ridiculous assumptions you get ridiculous conclusions.

            Regarding preferences, how do you deal with a being that is definitely misguided? Children are perhaps the easiest example. If a child asks his mother every day for dinner at McDonalds, stating that this is his preference, ought his mother indulge him every day? I agree that preferences are important; I think they’re very useful guides as to what will cause somebody joy or suffering, but I don’t see how they can be a terminal value when people have the capacity to be mistaken.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Interesting. I think that is a very unusual intuition, and produces “obviously wrong” results in more realistic situations too. For instance, suppose in one world serial killer Dennis murders loner Edith, and in another world he only attempts to do so. In both cases the psychological damage is similar, and Edith doesn’t have any friends who will miss her. This doesn’t seem that unrealistic*. But I think most people would say the outcome in the first scenario is much worse. Similarly, most people think it is bad when someone painlessly dies even if they don’t have any friends etc. who will be affected.

            I’m including unconscious preferences, and there’s nothing to stop people having inconsistent preferences. Probably the child has stronger preferences for being healthy than for eating McDonalds, in which case he shouldn’t be indulged. If he doesn’t, then it seems like indulging him would give the best outcome in terms of happiness.

            I actually think these kinds of scenarios favour preference utilitarianism. Being put on a permanent morphine drip beats most other thing sin terms of hedonistic utility, but it’s wrong to e.g. kidnap people and put them in that situation because that goes against their preferences.

            *Although, I think it’s also somewhat dubious to disregard a thought experiment for being unrealistic in ethics; trolley problems and violinist-related kidnappings are pretty rare. If you only want a theory that works most of the time, you can just follow your intuitions.

  12. blipnickels says:

    Does anyone know how the Benedict Option types feel about the Evangelical media subculture?

    By Evangelical media subculture, I mean the weird parallel cultural products produced specifically for Christian audiences. I’m thinking of Veggie Tales on TV, War Room in movie theaters, and POD on the radio. Like, there are definitely “Christian” bands and shows and the like and I’ve seen bands hawking their merch in megachurches. A lot of these are financially successful and they all share Dreher et al’s disdain for modern “degeneracy” and are trying to provide “wholesome” Christian alternatives. The whole subculture is kinda vague to me but there was an entire South Park episode about it, so I’m pretty sure it’s a real thing.

    So request #1, does anybody have more details on this subculture, especially of any organized religious efforts to intentionally build a subculture.

    Request #2, does anyone know what Dreher et al think about it? Because it seems a lot closer to a real Benedict Option than anything else and yet I don’t see any attempt to build on it.

    Like, if you were realistically pushing the Benedict Option, cultural institutions seems like a major thing you’d want and a subculture that can consistently push out multi-million dollar movies and make a profit of them is pretty solid. But at the same time a lot of this stuff, like POD or Veggie Tales, is from the Bush years or earlier and it hasn’t stopped Christianity’s fall in the US.

    Or to rephrase, let’s imagine Dreher gets to design his perfect Ben Op community. Will people still watch movies? If so, it seems obvious Dreher would want them to be Christian movies. If so, what kind of movies does Dreher envision and how are they different from War Room or similar fare?

    What I’m really trying to get at is:

    #1 The number of Christians in the West is falling
    #2 Drehrer et al want uniquely Christian institutions to ?insulate? them from modernity and prevent this decline
    #3 It seems like there was a similar attempt, semi-ongoing, in the 90’s and 00’s to produce purely Christian media, eg Veggie Tales
    #4 Veggie Tales was born in the 90’s, it failed to prevent the Christian decline we see today
    #5 How would Drehrer et al’s cultural institutions differ from Veggie Tales? Or does he want 20 Veggie Tales?

    PS. I don’t actually know much about this subculture, see request #1, and my references are just those things big enough to have caught some mainstream attention. Like, I’ve never seen Veggie Tales, I don’t know anyone who has, but I still know what it is. POD was ok though.

    • FLWAB says:

      I grew up in that subculture, and I hope I can help a little.

      But the first thing to know is that it is not designed to be a Benedict Option parallel culture. It can function as one, but its not how it came about and its not how it has continued: and as far as I can tell its not been doing so well in recent years. Take me as an anecdotal case in point: I was raised Evangelical, I’m still evangelical, but I don’t consume much of that media anymore and even when I was deepest in it it wasn’t a true alternative: it was a supplement. You went to see your regular movies, and other times you picked up Christian movies from the church sharing library. You listen to Christian music on the radio, but everyone at school is listening to mainstream stuff. If you were willing to go Benedict Option, to home-school and sequester your family in a cultivated religious environment then Christian Media could be a great help to you. But most people didn’t do that, or at least didn’t do it thoroughly. I mean we can’t all home school, and if you go to public school (or even a Christian private school) then you’re going to encounter mainstream media and culture.

      I think I’m rambling a bit so I’ll try to focus: the reason Christian or Faith Based Media came about wasn’t to provide a shield against the mainstream culture: it came about because of capitalism. There was a market to be filled and money to be made filling it. Pious families like to watch movies and listen to music, but they’re not keen on all the swear words and violence and sex. They turn on the TV and find its full of objectionable material, stuff they definitely don’t want their kids to see. So where are they going to go? The answer used to be, in the 90’s and early 2000’s, your local Christian bookstore. The Christian bookstore was the cornerstone of the Christian subculture: there you could find Christian novels of all genres (Pastor Randy Alcorn, for instance, has written many crime thrillers: ones with no swearing, and where the main characters are faithful or have a conversion experience), Christian movies, Christian kids shows on VHS and later DVD, and plenty of Christian music. Not just that: Christian toys, Christian T-Shirts with Christian messages, Christian bumper stickers, those little silver fish things, cross jewelry, anything Christian you can think of. They were run by the faithful but make no mistake: they were businesses. There was a lot of money to be made catering to Christian (particularly Evangelical) tastes. We were a market and so products rose to meet our particular demands. The point wasn’t to create a parallel culture: that was just a selling point for families who did want to create a parallel culture. And if you didn’t particularly want to go Benedict Option but did want some wholesome music with no profanity and some shows for the kids that would teach them good values, then they were there for you too: in fact, I would guess that was the primary market.

      Since the rise of the internet these stores have gone the way of the dodo: the few that are left are hanging on by a thread, the fate of most subculture specialty stores after the internet made it easy for subcultures to buy their weird niche products online. But interestingly enough it seems like the industry as a whole has suffered a great deal. Big Idea (the Veggietales studio) went bankrupt in 2001, mostly due to bad business decisions but also because their market had bottomed out and they had over leveraged themselves while thinking that their sales could continue growing indefinitely. Now Veggietales is owned, through several subsidiaries, by Universal Studios. For a long time there wasn’t much new Veggitales content, although a new season has been ordered for next year. As the Christian Bookstores have disappeared Christian books have mostly shifted to Barnes and Noble and selling direct online, Christian non-theatrical movies have moved to Pureflix (while surprisingly more of them are actually making it to theaters, something you almost never saw in the 90s), and Christian TV has shriveled up and the remains are pretty much all fled to RightNow Media, the Christian streaming service. They have a weird model: several Christian streaming startups have gone bust over the last couple years and RightNow is the only one left and they survive by selling to churches, not individuals. Your church can pay a large fee subscription and then all members of that church get access. It’s weird but it works for now, though it makes the whole industry much more hidden from the mainstream.

      Christian music is it’s own thing. It predated the 90s boom in Christian media, and it’s still going fairly strong as far as I can tell.

      To get more to the point: it didn’t work as a Benedict Option because most Evangelicals weren’t going for the Benedict Option. And the fact is if you don’t go whole hog, there isn’t much of a point. I listened to Christian radio until the day I moved out of my parents house and went to college, which was about the same time I discovered that there are way, way, way better bands and songs out in the mainstream. Its mostly a competition thing I think: more bands compete in the mainstream so you get better music. And while Christian movies have come a long way, they’re not great and Hollywood movies are just better: better budget, better writers, the product of a huge industry full of experienced craftsmen instead of a few passionate rookies that some Texan gave enough money to make a direct to DVD film for a niche audience.

      I feel like I’ve rambled enough, but that’s the gist of it. If you want to build a cloistered community, the Christian Media industry will help you out. The fact is most people weren’t trying to do that, so of course it didn’t work.

      • RDNinja says:

        I second everything FLWAB says, and add:

        All of the Christian media you’ve heard of (except the Kendrick brothers movies) is just an imprint or subsidiary of a big secular conglomerate. “Christian” media is just another genre, not a parallel institution.

      • I mostly agree with this except the part where you say it’s about numbers. There are more people working in Hollywood so all the good film makers go there. However, I think the bigger problem is that Hollywood has a tradition going back over 100 years while explicitly Christian movies are very new. It’s a kind of infant industry problem. Christian movies suck right now because they are still trying to reinvent the wheel. If they have enough time, they can develop to the point of making their own movies. Hong Kong, for example, has a long tradition of movie making. The big problem for these Christian movies is that they need to have enough demand to sustain them but since their movies suck, the Christians prefer Hollywood movies. So yes, the Benedict Option needs to come first and then I think you could have a burgeoning Christian movie industry that has more to offer than propaganda films.

        • AG says:

          The common issue is that explicitly Christian media has higher and more overt purity standards than even explicitly SJ media, which is bad for good storytelling. The best Christian-valued fiction actually tends to be secular media whose writers have accidentally reinvented Christian values (and/or appropriating Christian imagery), but because they aren’t bound to making their stories squeaky clean, they can get closer to actual emotional resonance.

          Media about Christianity, by ex-Christians, tends to be fairly interesting. Your “The Young Pope” and “Book of Mormon”s, and I’m sure a few runs of Daredevil have writers who related.

          • If by “explicitly Christianity”, you mean things that are specifically made to support Christianity, then you might have a point. But if you are referring to anything that is consistent with Christian values, then I strongly disagree. Lord of the Rings was written by a Christian. Does it lack emotional resonance?

            If you feel like contemporary social justice isn’t very restrictive, then that’s because it permeates our culture and you’re used to it.

          • AG says:

            Yes, I’m referring to “made for Christians to consume as Christian media” things.

            Just as you can have good stories consistent with SJ values (Fury Road, Moonlight, Get Out, for examples), which is different from an explicitly SJ story.
            Besides, the really restrictive SJ stuff is mostly in YA. TV and Film still cost way too much to reduce their earning power to bow to all of the standards.

            SJ in mainstream media is primarily asking for stories that weren’t being told to be told, and thus, SJ-resonant stories enrich the story-field via diversity, whereas Christianity doesn’t have that many stories left to tell that haven’t been told, so they’re mostly stuck with defining themselves from non-Christian stories by what they don’t allow.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            Off your point about emotional resonance and Christian/non-Christian filmmakers, many people (myself included) feel the absolute best movie made about the Life of Christ is The Gospel According to St. Matthew by Pierre Paolo Pasolini a gay, atheist, communist.

          • Machine Interface says:

            A lot of Pasolini’s films are very faithful adaptations of classic literary works, and The Gospel follows that model: Pasolini felt in love with the text and decided to carry it to screen as closely as possible.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Depends a bit what you mean by “Christian-valued fiction”, doesn’t it? The Heart of the Matter and The Power and the Glory are great novels written by a Catholic writer about Catholic protagonists and their struggles with doubt and temptation, but I suspect many would-be consumers of Christian media would find them altogether too unwholesome for their taste.

          • AG says:

            @Tarpitz

            This is exactly what I mean. The best fiction is messy and full of conflict in ways that purity enthusiasts can’t handle. Purity SJ doesn’t want bad things to happen to the Approved Demographic characters, or for characters to have Incorrect Beliefs. So does purity Christianity. So they’re stuck with propaganda films for the Officially Approved Pure media.

            Remember, blipnickels in the OP specifically refers to Evangelical media, not just any Christian-valued fiction.

            I continue to be horrified by how Evangelical worship music is shitty by design.

            The better the songs are, the more likely they will fall short of worship because they might become too pleasurable to sing and stop people from worshipping directly to God.

            Maybe they have a similar approach to Evangelical storytelling. If the story and the characters are too engrossing, they risk becoming idols.

          • Aapje says:

            @AG

            Redemption through faith is the core of Christianity, so incorrect beliefs or behavior definitely can be part of explicitly Christian media.

            However, there are a lot of conservative Christians who believe in morality through removing temptation, rather than through faith. So you have a lot of Christian media that have very weak sinning.

    • Nick says:

      Re request #1, I don’t have much familiarity with evangelical media as I’m Catholic, sorry. I can say that in the Catholic space, EWTN is the big one. It’s done a good job catering to older Catholics and has, so I am told, brought some back to the Church, but I don’t know any personally. It has cartoons for little kids, but they’re always the same cartoons produced a couple of years ago, and they struck me as abysmally uncool. I don’t know how effective they are compared to, say, Veggie Tales, but I’d be pessimistic.

      I don’t think producing media like this should be the focus when it requires big budgets and a big market. It seems to me that sticking to print media is a better idea—we always need teaching materials—or to music, I suppose. When it comes to movies and TV, I’d just recommend curating classics from the wider market.

      Re request #2, searching Dreher’s blog for Veggie Tales, I see this letter from a reader. Relevant quote:

      All these factors have created an Evangelical subculture that is relatively resistant to the liberal pathogen. Christian Smith wrote in 1999 that Evangelicalism is a subculture that is embattled and thriving. It sees itself as fighting the world and resisting the world. But it does so in a way that meets people’s actual spiritual needs. So it gives them rock music that engages their sensibilities. It gives them evangelical kids shows like Adventures in Odyssey and Veggie Tales that keeps them from having to expose their kids to cartoons like Arthur (whose recent episodes featured a gay wedding). And honestly the longer you can keep kids from being exposed to the culture the better.

      Dreher doesn’t signal agreement or disagreement, though.

      • Nick says:

        Oh, come to think of it, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson. Ross Douthat actually did a talk contrasting the two.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Scorsese’s Silence is probably the single best piece of religious art I’ve seen in the past decade, FWIW – unless you count Angel’s Egg, but IDK of you want to count an apostasy metaphor on like 5 or 6 levels of symbolism.

    • theredsheep says:

      Miscellaneous notes to supplement what FLWAB said:

      Rod himself is Orthodox, not Evangelical, Christian. I’m Orthodox too, and something about that Evangelical pop-culture is deeply off-putting to me. I think part of it is that it’s mostly chasing mainstream culture, and forming a pale imitation of it where people don’t fornicate or use naughty language, rather than forming a distinct alternative. There are Christian romance novels out there, for example, but AFAICT they don’t present a real alternative to the idealization of passion. Everyone’s on a mission team and takes a lot of cold showers. Since romance novels exist to be a kind of softcore pornography for women, this is ridiculous whitewashing.

      The specimens of the culture I’ve seen are also being pulled in two different directions; they want to be both entertaining and didactic. It’s possible to do both (e.g. Narnia), but difficult, and the end result is going to be less appealing than people who are aiming for pure amusement. So we have people saying, “hey, look, we have a clumsy and inferior knock-off version of that thing you like. We’re cool too!”

      There’s also a growing conflict between Christianity as a faith and Christianity as a culture. The latter being more a kind of identity-politics bloc than a belief system; people with a naive and superficial religiosity define themselves by group adherence and outgroup resentment. This is how you get movies like God’s Not Dead, where the brave and clever college student outsmarts the mean old atheist professor. Deeply appealing to reactionaries with limited self-awareness, ridiculous to everyone else. I expect this to get worse in post-Trump America.

      Bottom line? The dominant culture in the US stopped being Christian a long time ago, and a meaningful response would need to be far more radically divergent from it than the likes of VeggieTales. VeggieTales aren’t terrible by comparison to other children’s fare–what I’ve seen of them is charming enough–but they don’t remotely constitute a return to authentic Christian life.

      • Tenacious D says:

        There’s also a growing conflict between Christianity as a faith and Christianity as a culture. The latter being more a kind of identity-politics bloc than a belief system

        This is an insightful point, imo.

      • theredsheep says:

        To elaborate: I am not familiar with Protestant culture, but I assume that, at at least a few points in its five centuries of history, it produced an authentic, cohesive worldview with aesthetically appealing expressions. The trick for Evangelicals would be for them to find their way back to that and find a new way to express it. What they’re doing now is claiming to be superior to secular culture even as they blatantly ape it.

        Re: cultural Christianity, we Orthodox have a different way of doing this, wherein we treat Orthodoxy as a thing you do when you’re [ethnicity], not something more important which happens to have varying ethnic expressions. This sort of worked for as long as the faith in America was sustained by waves of poorly-assimilated immigrants, but now it’s mostly their grandkids, who think of being Greek/Russian/Arab/etc. as a point of minor historical interest, and the religious aspect a footnote to that.

        I get the feeling that, since the time of Reagan or so, Christianity has been transforming into a similar appendage to Americanism, and this tendency is accelerating under Trump. But a faith that mostly gets expressed as resentment against people who oppose it isn’t very attractive and has no appeal for inquirers. There’s no substance there, nothing for it to be about. Leaving aside the part where it just isn’t Christianity …

    • dodrian says:

      I largely agree with FLWAB and Nick, though I’m sure there are some families that tried to create an enclave out of Christian media, for most it served as a “safe space” if you will, or a default where parents/church leaders don’t have to worry about what kind of messages are within the media because they’ve already been vetted by the Christian community.

      I’d add that it also exists as a marketing tool for those who might not think their work would be understood and accepted universally. You might consider Toilken or Lewis to be Christian writers, but they (in fiction) weren’t targeting a Christian audience. There are plenty of bands that range the gauntlet from mainstream (I think I remember Linkin Park including God in prominence in the acknowledgements section of their album inserts, P.O.D. also comes to mind), to crossover (Jars of Clay, NEEDTOBREATHE, both had secular hits and struggled with their identities of wanting to be mainstream artists but having their music led by their Christian faith), to bands that only release on Christian radio. Sometimes that’s a genre thing; the David Crowder Band was very talented musically, but largely wrote worship songs, and sometimes it’s an audience thing – a band (of Christians) that would do middling in the mainstream charts has the opportunity to be much bigger on the Christian ones.

      • Nick says:

        Once you start probing you find way more mid-century writers than just Tolkien and Lewis. The postwar period produced a lot of Catholic voices in America, and in the first half of the century as a whole there were many international voices, too. And I’m sure there are more examples than Lewis among Protestants. Dana Gioia explores this in a 2013 First Things article.

        Following the postwar period, though, this virtually disappears. Wrack your brain for an openly Catholic writer in the last forty years who achieved mainstream success; Gene Wolfe is nearly all that comes to my mind. I suspect the situation among Episcopalians is no better, though I really don’t know. What the hell happened, and how do we change it?

        • Nick says:

          I’m reminded that Tim Powers is another one. Mrs Darwin also had a post on Catholic literature which overlaps somewhat with Gioia’s introduction about the qualities of Catholic literature.

        • Tarpitz says:

          40 years actually still catches Greene: his last novel, The Captain and the Enemy, came out in ’88.

        • Dack says:

          Wrack your brain for an openly Catholic writer in the last forty years who achieved mainstream success

          Dean Koontz

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          Possibly Suzanne Collins doesn’t count as open, but she is.

        • albatross11 says:

          Off the top of my head:

          Madeline L’Engle was Episcopalian and open about it.

          James MacDonald and Debra Doyle are openly Catholic SFF writers.

          Jerry Pournelle was an openly Catholic SFF writer.

          For nonfiction, Andrew Sullivan is Catholic (albeit not always easy in his faith, seeing as how he’s also openly gay and married to a man).

          I don’t have a good sense of who the highly-regarded literary fiction writers are today, but at least in this older crop of writers there are a fair number of Catholics.

        • Nick says:

          Madeleine L’Engle and Jerry Pournelle are good examples, as is Koontz, but I’ve never even heard of MacDonald and Doyle. It’s not enough to be a niche writer, for which I’m sure dozens of examples could be produced; given the demographics, Catholics ought to be a quarter or more of highly successful writers, too.

        • J Mann says:

          @Nick – I don’t know how mainstream John C. Wright is, but I hear his name a lot.

          • albatross11 says:

            I believe Tom Clancy was also Catholic, and he was certainly a very popular writer.

            I wonder if what’s changed is just that authors and publishers are less inclined to publicize an author’s religion now relative to in the past, and so Catholic authors are less visible.

          • Nick says:

            It’s not just about “publicizing” it; if Clancy never talks about his faith in any interviews and it never appears in his work, that’s decidedly missing Gioia’s meaning, per section II. If the following sort of stuff is missing, then his books might as well have been written by an atheist:

            There is no singular and uniform Catholic worldview, but nevertheless it is possible to describe some general characteristics that encompass both the faithful and the renegade among the literati. Catholic writers tend to see humanity struggling in a fallen world. They combine a longing for grace and redemption with a deep sense of human imperfection and sin. Evil exists, but the physical world is not evil. Nature is sacramental, shimmering with signs of sacred things. Indeed, all reality is mysteriously charged with the invisible presence of God. Catholics perceive suffering as redemptive, at least when borne in emulation of Christ’s passion and death. Catholics also generally take the long view of things—looking back to the time of Christ and the Caesars while also gazing forward toward eternity. (The Latinity of the pre-Vatican II Church sustained a meaningful continuity with the ancient Roman world, reaching even into working-class Los Angeles of the 1960s, where I was raised and educated.) Catholicism is also intrinsically communal, a notion that goes far beyond sitting at Mass with the local congregation, extending to a mystical sense of continuity between the living and the dead. Finally, there is a habit of spiritual self-scrutiny and moral examination of conscience—one source of soi-disant Catholic guilt.

      • Matt M says:

        I think I remember Linkin Park including God

        The big reveal to the end of a six-album series spanning nearly a decade by the Insane Clown Posse was… that they worship God and encourage Juggalos to do the same.

        YMMV on whether they actually meant it, or whether it was just a weird marketing stunt.

        • acymetric says:

          Without even investigating what the actual message was, it was either:

          Weird marketing stunt

          OR

          Not the original message but one they switched to at some point after some kind of conversion experience or something.

        • Enkidum says:

          Pretty sure it’s sincere. ICP are many things (including terrible, terrible rappers), but I don’t think they’re capable of insincerity.

          • acymetric says:

            Well, several members have explicitly said they don’t believe in God, and the band collectively has denied being a “Christian band” or having a “Christian message”, so either at some point they were being insincere or the message is being misinterpreted. Without really knowing any of their music hard for me to say which.

            @Matt M

            Which album/song does that message come from?

          • Matt M says:

            Eh, personally, I think it was… let’s call it “innocently insincere.”
            Like, do I think they, as individuals, probably believe in some sort of God and probably do want their fans to believe that as well? Sure.
            But the way in which the message was delivered seemed to strongly imply that their past work was all secretly “about” following a Christian God (plausibly for a few songs, but quite a stretch for most), and/or that their future work would elaborate on this theme (it didn’t, they pretty much never revisited it).
            The real story is that they built up a mythos early on wherein their six-album “Joker’s Card” series (note that not every album they release is a Joker’s Card, only certain ones) represented the build-up to some major event. And then, possibly to their own great surprise, their careers actually did take off and they actually did make six such albums, and needed to deliver some type of big deal thing for their fans. And barring a real life apocalypse (which is sort of what the in-universe mythos continually implied is what we were leading to), they were on their own to try and come up with some big deal surprise – and “Haha we were Christian rap all along” was thought to be a sufficiently unexpected twist that might generate them some publicity (it didn’t).

          • Enkidum says:

            Huh, ok, I am clearly less aware of ICP’s internal states than I thought. Which is probably a good thing.

          • Matt M says:

            The song in question is “Thy Unveiling”, the last song on “The Wraith: Shangri-La”, which was supposed to be the sixth and final album of the Joker’s Card series (they later released The Wraith: Hell’s Pit, which is uh, sort of a 6b in the series). And then, several years later, they rebooted the whole thing with a NEW Joker’s Card series that we’re now about midway through.

          • Matt M says:

            The Wikipedia summary of events may be helpful:

            The face of the sixth Joker’s Card is “The Wraith”, a personification of Death. The card features two “exhibits”, Shangri-La and Hell’s Pit, each of which would be given its own album.[59] On November 5, 2002, Insane Clown Posse released their eighth studio album, The Wraith: Shangri-La, which debuted at #15 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Top Independent Albums chart.[60] The album was notable for its explicit acknowledgment of ICP’s belief in God.
            Ben Sisario criticized the album in the Rolling Stone Album Guide, writing that “the whole thing was some bland divine plan” and asking, “Is this man’s final dis of God, or His of us?”[13] Some critics perceived the spiritual element of the storyline to be a joke or stunt. Allmusic writer Bradley Torreano wrote that “Even if it is a joke, it isn’t a funny one, or even a clever one.”[61] In September 2003, Insane Clown Posse was voted the worst band of any musical genre in Blender, with The Wraith: Shangri-La named as the group’s worst album.[62] However, the magazine also gave the album a positive review for its “charming, good-natured idiocy”.[63]
            According to Bruce, “Some people might’ve been upset [by spiritual themes in The Wraith: Shangri-La], but through our eyes all we did was touch a lot of people. We definitely wanted it to be something everlasting. Maybe a 19-year-old might not understand or like that ending now. But later, when he has four kids, he might think, ‘That was the shit.'”

            Some day I’d like my own work to be praised for it’s “charming, good-natured idiocy”!

          • Enkidum says:

            Some day I’d like my own work to be praised for it’s “charming, good-natured idiocy”!

            Better than what Reviewer 2 said about my last paper!

          • albatross11 says:

            Enkidium:

            Damn, it’s good to know people *read* my reviews!

      • acymetric says:

        FWIW, there is a difference between a Christian band and a Christian Band.

        POD is the former (along with acts like Reliant K and others…I had a long list ready earlier but I waited too long to post).

        David Crowder Band is the latter (along with acts like DC Talk, Newsboys, so on and so forth).

        • BBA says:

          I listened to a lot of mediocre alternative rock in the ’00s. So many bands during those years were “Christian bands” – they didn’t always mention their faith in their music, but in interviews they were all about it – that Hoobastank stood out for being publicly atheist. (This is the only thing that stood out about Hoobastank.)

    • SamChevre says:

      There are two “sections” in this discussion.

      The first is the Veggie Tales, CCM, etc part–that’s well described by FLWAB above; it’s fairly derivative and supplemental to popular culture. My favorite article about it is the utterly hilarious article from The New Pantagruel, My Faith Is In The Rock And My Name Is On The Roll

      The more thoroughly Benedict Option stuff is “for us, by us” and it’s very specific to specific groups. You really have to be in the culture, or looking for it, to find it. Rod and Staff and Pathway for Amish/Mennonites; TAN Books for Catholics; Harvest Time for Seventh Day Adventists; Canon Press and Reformation Heritage Books for Calvinists; and so forth. These tend to be derivative at a much longer lag, if at all, and to be mostly used by people who really are building a separate-ish culture.

    • Randy M says:

      A lot of it is crap artistically, though. It has to be good, not just have non-offensive sentiments.
      Veggie tales actually were good. I think ultimately it just kind of ran out of creative steam.

      • theredsheep says:

        This is a function of Sturgeon’s Law, as FLWAB said. When there just aren’t that many people producing the stuff, there aren’t that many opportunities for geniuses to arise, and little money to help them realize their vision.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not American and not Evangelical, but I can give you an opinion from the Catholic side, particularly what I saw in Ireland in the 80s.

      This was the era of the heyday of youth groups (the Father Ted skewering of Fr Noel Furlong and his youth group is deadly accurate) and artists like John Michael Talbot (I don’t know if he exactly fits into the same mould of Christian music as the Evangelical sub-culture of “just like rock’n’roll but Christian!” groups, but he was immensely popular amongst a certain segment – my sister loved his stuff) and it was its own little thing, copying what was going on in America, where I presume the American Catholics were copying what the Evangelicals were doing, and it never grew hugely but is still, in some forms, hanging on.

      Our version of Christian bookstores is Veritas, which is still going with both brick-and-mortar stores and an online presence. Re: buying crosses and the likes, as FLWAB says – “Christian toys, Christian T-Shirts with Christian messages, Christian bumper stickers, those little silver fish things, cross jewelry, anything Christian you can think of” – well, Catholics have a long tradition of hawkers selling religious tat outside shrines, so we’ve been covered by that “making a business of it” outside Knock and Lourdes and pilgrimage sites since pilgrimages began 🙂

      I don’t think the Dreher idea of the Benedict Option is a little bubble sealed off from the wider world, or at least I hope not; what Dreher (I think) and I certainly would prefer is one where Catholics are educated about their faith. If you disagree and leave because you can’t accept certain doctrines, that’s intellectually honest and to be respected. If you were brought up in the general fuzzy lack of catechesis and “God wants us all to be nice” kind of religious education that came in post-Vatican II and you simply drift away because you’re going with the secular Zeitgeist, that’s no good to anyone.

      I’ve had the experience of being the only person in a group of an age range of late 20s to mid 40s women who could recite the Ten Commandments, and I’m not particularly pious or devout or well-informed! (Dante, thank you for being a literary giant and getting your work translated into English so I encountered it and got educated as to what I was actually believing in my faith). This is the kind of basic knowledge of “so what does Christianity involve?” that is not getting taught, because of the ‘falling between two stools’ trap that schools and parishes have been caught in: the assumption that parents will pass on the nuts and bolts basics, so schools just teach ‘comparative religion’ classes, while parents presume that the schools will teach it because that’s how it was in their day – and now we’re into the second and even third generations of “I never learned it either at home or school, it’s all just cultural, I take my beliefs from society around us” which gets you the ‘cafeteria’ or ‘cultural’ Catholics.

      I’ve also seen the efforts to produce “Catholic culture about Catholicism for Catholics” and I don’t think it works particularly well. Flannery O’Connor had a good essay about that and why that approach doesn’t work. Apparently George Orwell said something along the lines of the English novel (whether he meant by that ‘the novel in English’ or ‘novels written by the English’ I don’t know) was a Protestant art form, and Catholic novelists either wrote bad novels as good Catholics or good novels as bad Catholics.

      It’s the difference between The Masterful Monk and the Father Brown stories; I’ve read both of these, and while the former are good fun, they are wish-fulfilment fairy stories for Catholics, to be blunt, and of about as much use in exegesis or proselytisation as a snowball in the desert against a tank. Chesterton’s stories do have the Catholicism baked in, but you can also read them as primarily detective stories, and/or for the aesthetic quality of the imagery and language:

      This particular evening, if it is remembered for nothing else, will be remembered in that place for its strange sunset. It looked like the end of the world. All the heaven seemed covered with a quite vivid and palpable plumage; you could only say that the sky was full of feathers, and of feathers that almost brushed the face. Across the great part of the dome they were grey, with the strangest tints of violet and mauve and an unnatural pink or pale green; but towards the west the whole grew past description, transparent and passionate, and the last red-hot plumes of it covered up the sun like something too good to be seen.

      EDIT: Okay, that’s a sunset from “The Man Who Was Thursday”, here’s a Father Brown one:

      They did not find the trail again for an agonising ten minutes, and then it led round the brow of a great dome of hill overlooking an amphitheatre of rich and desolate sunset scenery. Under a tree in this commanding yet neglected spot was an old ramshackle wooden seat. On this seat sat the two priests still in serious speech together. The gorgeous green and gold still clung to the darkening horizon; but the dome above was turning slowly from peacock-green to peacock-blue, and the stars detached themselves more and more like solid jewels. Mutely motioning to his followers, Valentin contrived to creep up behind the big branching tree, and, standing there in deathly silence, heard the words of the strange priests for the first time.

      There’s a reason why radio and TV adaptations of the Father Brown stories keep being made, but I’ve never yet heard of anyone adapting The Masterful Monk.

      • Nick says:

        O’Connor’s essay is interesting. Has shades of Chesterton, too:

        There is no reason why fixed dogma should fix anything that the writer sees in the world. On the contrary, dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality. Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery. The fiction writer is an observer, first, last, and always, but he cannot be an adequate observer unless he is free from uncertainty about what he sees. Those who have no absolute values cannot let the relative remain merely relative; they are always raising it to the level of the absolute. The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s a fine essay, and she isn’t afraid to come out swinging:

          A good example of a very indifferent novel being used for some good purpose is The Foundling, by Cardinal Spellman. It’s nobody’s business to judge Cardinal Spellman except as a novelist, and as a novelist he’s a bit short. You do have the satisfaction of knowing that if you buy a copy of The Foundling, you are helping the orphans to whom the proceeds go; and afterwards you can always use the book as a doorstop.

          …When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.

          …The fiction writer has to make a whole world believable by making every part and aspect of it believable. There are many Catholic readers who open a novel and, discovering the presence of an arm or a leg, piously close the book. We are always demanding that the writer be less explicit in regard to natural matters or the concrete particulars of sin. The writer has an obligation here, but I believe it can be met by adhering to the demands of his art, and if we criticize on this score, we must criticize by the standards of art. Many Catholic readers are overconscious of what they consider to be obscenity in modern fiction for the very simple reason that in reading a book, they have nothing else to look for. They are not equipped to find anything else. They are totally unconscious of the design, the tone, the intention, the meaning, or even the truth of what they have in hand. They don’t see the book in a perspective that would reduce every part of it to its proper place in the whole.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If you disagree and leave because you can’t accept certain doctrines, that’s intellectually honest and to be respected.

        I grew up going to Catholic Church, although I don’t remember us going much, if any, before we got to NC when I was 6. Then we started going to the local Newman center, which is the college outreach branch of the Catholic Church. I imagine you find them far too flexible. Regardless, I went to Sunday school, took first communion and began going through confirmation.

        As I was going through confirmation I found that those involved couldn’t answer my questions in any sort of coherent way. The basically had no good answers for all of the fundamental issues raised by theodicy. The more I really thought about the issue, the more it became clear to me that any God that existed was essentially capricious and cruel. I was never confirmed.

        So the question I have is whether your reaction is to find this respectable or to think that somebody should have properly taught me.

        • Nick says:

          I’m not Deiseach, but the answer is very clearly that someone should have properly taught you. The fact that folks charged with educating the young can’t answer basic questions about the faith—and you’re far from the first person I’ve heard that from—is damning.

        • Dack says:

          Most catechism teachers are just random volunteers. So there’s that.

          You of course have a right to your own opinions/beliefs,…but I doubt you are saying that you’d return if you heard an adequate answer. After all, Scott wrote a perfectly rational theodicy.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I’ve definitely found myself going off and asking a priest or deacon, or reading up from the Catechism myself, because people in my baptism class asked questions I didn’t know answers to. It’s really important to be willing to say “I don’t know” or “that’s a hard question, and I think most of us struggle to understand that.” (Particularly the problem of evil, which is genuinely hard to deal with.)

    • hls2003 says:

      So I agree pretty much with the factual descriptions others have provided on this thread. My comment would be more specifically about how it potentially relates to the creation of the subculture. In my experience, most of the people most interested in this whole project are parents. Christian adults in general, so far as I’ve seen, most often don’t have the thought “Gee, I just can’t handle this media onslaught, I need a safe space.” There is some of that, but from what I’ve seen, the more common outcome for that feeling is not diving into the Evangelical subculture alternatives, but rather going back in time to things that they do feel comfortable with. A lot of mainstream movies, TV, and music from the 1950’s and ’60’s and even ’70’s included very little profanity, graphic nudity, or graphic violence. Think Lawrence Welk, not Woodstock. But as a parent, thinking about what to expose your kids to, often it’s less palatable to use your own past as their alternate culture. Plus, one thing about the distant past is that they’re not making any more of it. And parents with kids desperately need media, whether it’s books, movies, music, or whatever, because kids are voracious sponges who absolutely demand stimulation to fuel their imaginations and intellectual growth, and parents need to be able to outsource some of that because pretty much nobody can provide all the necessary entertainment for a growing kid. So a lot of the subculture is just parents grasping for anything they can throw at their kids that doesn’t swear, have kid-unfriendly content, or actively contradict the parents’ values.

      From the kids’ perspective, everything’s fine while they’re still quite little, but once they start hitting middle school or just before, their peer group becomes much more important than their parents. So if their media consumption is drastically out of step with their peer group, they’re going to miss in-group signals, inside jokes, cultural references, etc. They won’t like that. But conversely, if their peer group has been acculturated with the same stuff they have, even if it’s kind-of dreck, you can get along pretty well as long as the overall group tends to have the same references. That’s why the Evangelical subcultural products worked fairly well – send your kid to a Christian school and hope most of the kids are all wanting to go to a Newsboys concert and they all make similar Larry the Cucumber or Bibleman jokes. This can work surprisingly well for awhile, even up through college as long as they’re staying mostly within the same subculture. But at some point, all kids rebel to some extent, and the existence of the culture-at-large is the obvious target. Sooner or later the cool kids will pooh-pooh the subculture as kid-crap and will latch onto the (often objectively artistically superior) stuff from mainstream culture. And when the peer group preferences change, it all changes.

      To tie this to Dreher’s Benedict Option theory, I think that it’s only partly related to the “wholesome parental culture” thing I described, where you just want something to feed your kids’ heads that isn’t offensive. What I think Dreher is ideally describing is a subculture where, regardless of whether you all know VeggieTales, you all know and value Scripture and church history and tradition and the lives of the saints and classics of art and literature and what have you (not the saints so much in Evangelicalism). The idea is less to shelter them while they’re still shelter-able, but rather to form them so that when the peer effects start to dominate, they can consume the larger culture – which is inevitable – while still critiquing it from a Christian perspective, and giving comparisons to the richer, fuller Christian tradition. So I think he would probably be less inclined to substitute “Left Behind” for “Harry Potter,” and more inclined to try to form communities who compare “Harry Potter” to “The Divine Comedy” or at least “Lord of the Rings,” or pop music to Bach, or at least to be prepared to understand the difference in the world views that produces the contrast.

      • AG says:

        Yes. The most successful version I’ve seen have been a cluster of Christian-oriented anime blogs. They’re not focused on criticizing surface elements, but discussing how various stories are resonant with or demonstrate Christian beliefs.

        I’ve seen them enjoy anime that you would not expect them to enjoy, some fairly low-brow stuff.

      • albatross11 says:

        The thing to realize is that American media culture is incredibly corrosive. It has real gems in it, but a lot of it is sweet-tasting poison. It’s all got to be sweet-tasting (or salty or fat) in some sense, because if it can’t keep audiences, it dies. But there’s no similar selection process to keep it from being toxic as hell.

  13. MissingNo says:

    What is one aspect of your life you gave up thanks to evidence, personal or scientific, that it was a net negative?

    Gwern has an article on his site on withdrawal reversal and caffeine. Most of the effects in daily life are due to removing withdrawal symptoms, not the perk up effect for at least a third of Anericans. I’ve stopped drinking Pepsi/coke at a restaurant and try not consuming caffeine every day, only when tired and I need to study.

    • fraza077 says:

      Not sure if it qualifies as personal evidence, but I noticed that gaming made me a more irritable person. I would be impatient with my girlfriend, not sleep as well, and generally life was not as good when I gamed. Gaming before sports also appeared to hinder my performance at sport (primarily soccer).

      I gave up gaming about 3 years ago, apart from occasional (twice a year or so) weekend binges. I’m quite lucky in that I can’t get into games like I used to, which makes it easier to stay away.

      • MissingNo says:

        I gave up gaming about 3 years ago, barring the occasional story game like Undertale or Lorelai.

        Mostly, I *really* can’t risk getting effectively addicted to a game like Planetside 2 at this stage in life. Been there, done that, negative life consequences.

    • Matt says:

      Not gave up, but rather avoided entirely.

      My maternal grandfather ruined his life and died early due to alcoholism, and I never got to meet him. Everyone told me growing up that I would have really liked him, that he was interested in the same things as me, etc. I felt his absence strongly in my life.

      My father ruined his life and died early due to alcoholism.

      I don’t drink – never did.

      • AG says:

        I watched my mom’s coffee habit growing up. She eventually weaned herself onto decaf for a while, but I saw the withdrawal symptoms. I’ve been paranoid about caffeine addiction ever since. I like the way some caffeinated drinks taste (coffee, tea), so I don’t completely abstain, but I limit myself to twice a week, always allowing for 3+ days after to prevent tolerance from building up.

    • SamChevre says:

      I started going to church again after college, after giving up in disgust before I went to college, because I could see that I was becoming a sort of person I didn’t like.

      • Randy M says:

        because I could see that I was becoming a sort of person I didn’t like.

        From going, or from not going? Or both?

        • SamChevre says:

          From not going. So I started going again, and have ever since.

          • AG says:

            In contrast, I found that more church-as-church participation (rather than charity-volunteering-at-church) tends to make me more misanthropic.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Blue light filter on phone plus no computer a few hours before bed. It has improved my sleep pretty dramatically, and the few times I break the rule, my sleep is crap.

      I drink coffee every day. For me, there is diminishing returns after 2 cups, but the people I know who DON’T drink coffee have all the same problems I do in the morning: it takes them forever to get moving and thinking.

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      I used to drink soda relatively regularly and I gave it up on purpose because it’s empty calories. I’m very happy about that choice. I’ll have a soda every once in a while, but it’s like dessert now, not something to have with a meal.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Most online multiplayer games. I like them, but one of a handful of negative things seem to reliably happen:
      – the game is tuned for play in groups, and the pickup groups are full of nasty people, making that aspect of the game more like a chore than anything else
      – the game is tuned to require regular play (otherwise your position regresses), and servicing your must-do-daily stuff becomes such a chore that you never get to “play” (in the sense of fun) once you get past midgame/develop a good position
      – success at the game is effectively controlled by money paid, and the price to do really well is absurdly high for the level of entertainment received.
      – the game is infested with “griefers” – people whose particular pleasure is destroying other people’s enjoyment, not to gain comparative advantage, but because that’s what they consider “fun”.

      I’m back to playing against the computer, which doesn’t care if I disappear for a week or month, and doesn’t generally act like an ass.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      About the half of my dietary habits at a certain point. I’m lucky to be naturally lean, that is when I don’t exercise I lose weight, not gain it, so I never worried about the amount of calories I consume. But at one point I encountered the evidence that even if you don’t gain weight it’s just as or more bad for your health to eat junk (might sound pretty obvious in retrospective I know). It also coincided with some other changes in my life which made it way easier to control what I eat – so I restricted added sugars to something like the recommended level (including totally stopping drinking any sugary drinks) and removed almost all of junk food, and also started to eat more vegetables, dairy and fish and somewhat less of red and fat meat and salt. It actually wasn’t that hard even to my own surprise, otherwise I’d probably wasn’t able to maintain the changes.

      Also I always enjoyed the sun and tanning, but then started avoiding it after learning just how bad it is for your chances of skin cancer (it also has to do with moving into much sunnier climate though).

    • salvorhardin says:

      Regular social media (Twitter/FB/etc). Used to spend a fair bit of time on it, found I was much happier after I stopped. Now when I want online community and commentary I go here. 🙂

      Gaming too, it was just too much of a time suck once I became a parent. And +1 to ADBG about blue light filters and restricting screen time before bed, though I’m still not as good about that as I want to be.

    • rubberduck says:

      Back in high school I couldn’t stop playing Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, I would start one level just out of boredome and before I knew it I’d sunk in an hour. I deleted both from my phone and since then have avoided mobile games entirely. I have no regrets.

      Side-note: I never had any drinking problems, and afaik I am not related to any alcoholics, but I used to drink a couple times a week just for pleasure, to try out a new beer or something like that but not enough to feel the effects. A few months ago, for no clear reason, I totally lost the desire to drink. It doesn’t disgust me, and I don’t think it tastes bad or is morally wrong or anything, but now I only drink if someone offers me something in a social setting. Even if I buy a beer, it ends up sitting unopened in my fridge for weeks. I would not say that the change has been a net positive or negative, because a) I was not drinking enough for it to be a problem before, and b) I ended up consuming the extra calories through other unhealthy foods (primarily ice cream… sigh.)

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Reddit. Took some Cold Turkey and a few month, now it’s settled. I can read the occasional link but I don’t dive anymore.

      • Nornagest says:

        Yeah, me too. Although in my case it was deleting the Reddit app on my phone, not any kind of principled decision to swear off the whole site. I’ll still hit up certain subreddits on desktop occasionally, but my days of waking up, rolling over, grabbing my phone and scrolling down /r/all until I hate everyone in it are over.

  14. Atlas says:

    Possibly stupid, certainly already discussed question:

    In a recent episode of Conversations with Tyler, Tyler Cowen asked Neal Stephenson about the simulation hypothesis. It made me wonder: how certain are we about the assumption that simulated people will necessarily be conscious, and consequently (or, consequently conditional on various other assumptions as well) that as conscious people we’re probably simulated?

    • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

      I find the notion of simulated consciousness incoherent, at least under the following assumptions:
      1. The simulation is a classical computer (i.e. equivalent to a Turing machine).
      2. Consciousness has moral significance (maybe this could be weakened somehow, but the definition I’m trying to avoid is consciousness == information processing).
      I admit these are strong assumptions, but I think there are many people who would agree to both, but also assume that simulated consciousness is possible.

      The result of a computation is mathematically defined regardless of whether it is executed. Why should it make a difference whether you actually run the program? I see three possibilities:
      1. Consciousness is not a thing. All are p-zombies.
      2. Consciousness exists, but only outside of computers.
      3. You go Max Tegmark and say platonic existence is real existence.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Does anybody know of computationalists that have seriously grappled with the implication of their theory that *everything* is conscious? Scott Aaronson mentions it as the waterfall argument, but I don’t feel like he answers it well.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          My experience is that they don’t see much to be grappled with in the notion that everything is conscious. So thermostats are a little bit conscious, what’s the problem?

          I’m sympathetic to this viewpoint. You don’t have to be a computationalist to grant that consciousness is not a binary, and as soon as you do that it’s very easy to make comparisons like: humans are more conscious than dogs, dogs are probably more conscious than mice, mice are more conscious than thermostats. Nothing special seems to arise if we add to this list of comparisons “thermostats are probably a bit more conscious than rocks”.

  15. MissingNo says:

    What’s a habit you mostly stopped? Mine has probably been heavy coffee/caffeine consumption, mostly due to this effect. I’m not totally perfect (I still drink it in case I feel I really need to stay up and cram). But I have stopped drinking pepsi/dew just at a restaurant or casually, and I now treat it as the drug it is.

    https://www.gwern.net/docs/nootropics/2005-james.pdf

    “Although caffeine is widely perceived to have beneficial psychostimulant effects, appropriately controlled studies show that its apparent beneficial effects on performance and mood are almost wholly attributable to reversal of the withdrawal effects that occur after fairly short periods of abstinence (e.g. overnight). That is, the caffeine-induced improvements in performance and mood often perceived by consumers do not represent net benefits, but rather reversal of the performance-degrading effects of caffeine withdrawal”

  16. Well... says:

    Are people with strong episodic memory naturally better storytellers?

    • Paper Rat says:

      Storytellers as in writers, or just general telling a story in an interesting way?

      I don’t think it matters much for writers, other than having a good memory is pretty much a plus regardless of your occupation.

      For just general storytelling ability I would think good performance, imagination, ability to think fast and smooth delivery are all more important than good memory.

      For example, one of my friends is an amazing storyteller, he can really paint a picture with words and keep listeners entertained. Thing is, he often gets a bit creative with facts, drops some important but uninteresting bits of the story and exaggerates reactions people in the story might have had. You’d never know he does that if you didn’t witness the event firsthand (or knew this particular person for a long time :)). When confronted about these things, he usually will say that he doesn’t remember the situation in question very well, but rather the story about the situation, and, based on past experiences, I’m inclined to believe that he tells the truth about that. So in this case bad episodic memory, being an extrovert and talent for acting makes a great storyteller. It could be that too strong a memory might’ve been a hindrance for this person’s storytelling skill, as he wouldn’t be able to embellish stuff so freely and still believe the story himself, which is important for immersion.

      • Well... says:

        I’m not so convinced it makes a difference between writers or oral storytellers. I suppose writers get more chances (via editing) to make their stories better, but if it takes you a year to get a 1-page story so it’s really well told, that’s pretty lousy. (I don’t quite put myself in that category, but I’m bad enough that I feel a certain urgency in seeking ways to improve my storytelling.)

        Some of the best oral storytellers I know are horrible performers, but they craft the story well enough it doesn’t matter. My dad is one of these; your description of your friend could fit my dad as well, with the exception that my dad will claim he does remember the situation well and that I or whoever is doubting him is the one who’s got it wrong. So regardless whether his mind is recording events accurately, the point is it’s recording events in such a vivid sort of way that he can easily pull it up later for a great story.

        • Paper Rat says:

          I was thinking about fiction writers, for whom imagination and ability to build a coherent narrative is, I believe, more important than having a clear memory of events. Though maybe they are the wrong type of storyteller for this discussion, since you did mention episodic memory specifically.

          So regardless whether his mind is recording events accurately, the point is it’s recording events in such a vivid sort of way that he can easily pull it up later for a great story.

          Yeah, it does sound like my friend. I wouldn’t necessarily call that a “strong episodic memory” though, rather a “strong conviction that your episodic memory is strong” with good portion of creativity thrown in. Also, when my friend admits to a bit of overly imaginative storytelling it’s less an accusation and more friendly ribbing on my part. We both understand, that he forgives me my often annoying pedantry, and I forgive him his flights of fancy with regards to telling stories.

          • AG says:

            We could test this by comparing memory-test results of stand-up comedians vs. the populace.

          • Well... says:

            @Paper Rat:

            “Fiction” is a broad category, but let’s assume novelists since that’s probably what most people think of when they hear “fiction writers”. Novels are one big coherent narrative, but within them, like movies, they are built of scenes which are themselves little coherent narratives. I don’t believe you are likely to be a good novelist if you can’t also tell a really compelling story in the length of a scene. There are exceptions probably, but generally I think the pattern holds.

            I guess my hypothesis is that what counts with episodic memory is one’s brain forming little coherent stories, or maybe one long continuous one. Usually the stories are based on what the senses perceive; although both senses and the recording process are capable of error, what gets recorded is a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and (it seems to me) even often a conflict, a call to action, rising action, a climax, and a resolution.

            By contrast, my memory feels more like a kind of mosaic of details and overarching themes — in other words, I have classic semantic memory. With a lot of effort I can reach back and string together a series of events from the past, but it almost never comes out in a way that is interesting or exciting, and usually I forget something from the middle and have to add it back in later.

          • Well... says:

            @AG: Why stand-up comedians?

          • Paper Rat says:

            @Well…

            With your definition of episodic memory I think we’re in agreement that people with a “narrative” way of remembering things have an advantage when it comes to storytelling. I was always a bit vary of that way of thinking, since one’s personal narrative can sometimes run away pretty far from what’s happening in reality and lead to quite unpleasant situations, but maybe that’s the price one has to pay for experiencing life in way that actually makes some sense. At least it’s gotta be more comforting than experiencing life as a bunch of random disjointed events.

            People with stronger semantic memory probably are at a disadvantage when it comes to fiction, unless they lean towards absurdist or post-modernist prose, where, it seems to me, one can better leverage more general, systematic understanding of the world.

          • AG says:

            A stand-up comedian’s job is to relay episodes of events to the audience in a compelling way. Meaning that they have to remember events in their life and reconfigure them into digestible stories within a building structure to a comedic climax.

            Consider Tom Papa’s weekly “Out in America” routine on Live From Here (the continuation of Prairie Home Companion), which is perfectly demonstrating the concept through the fact that it’s a near weekly feature. And it’s basically a more overtly structured and comedic successor to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone segments, except that the Out in America events supposedly happened to Tom Papa himself, whereas Garrison would invent characters for things to happen to, albeit maintaining that sense of “it happened to us as a town community,” taking on the role of the gossip recalling events.

  17. I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

    Is organic food any better than normal food? More precisely, is food produced acording to the USDA organic regulations any healthier or better for the environment than food that only follows the general regulations?

    The organic regulations include a list of allowed “synthetic” substances and a list of banned non-synthetic substances. Farmers may use allowed synthetic substances and non-banned non-synthetic substances. So is there any a priori reason to believe that the organic process would result in a safer or more nutritious product? Let’s say Chemicals Kyle and Organic Otto both buy the cheapest pesticide they are allowed to use. The difference is that Otto’s pesticide is not allowed to be synthetic. But organisms have been trying to poison each other since the dawn of time, so it’s not clear to me why that’s so great.

    I was kinda tempted to announce an adversarial collaboration side “Organic foods are not any healthier or environmentally friendlier”, but I know very little about the subject and don’t want to fall flat on my face if it’s the case that organic is actually obviously better.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      I second this question. How many of organic food regulations have notable scientific evidence that they are beneficial for health or/and environment?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I believe that rBGH-containing milk has strong evidence for being less good than non-rBGH milk, and organic meat animals are given fewer antibiotics (and contain less antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Organic plants are not guaranteed to be “better” by most metrics than their conventional counterparts, but will sometimes be fresher depending on your store. Organic processed foods are often tastier, but (IMO) simply by dint of being premium brands. Annie’s mac and cheese is better than Kraft, but it’s not because of the organic ingredients.

      Personally, I buy organic meat, eggs, milk, and mac and cheese. Everything else I buy that’s organic is incidentally so.

      • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

        That’s how it’s gotta be, isn’t it… one must do an individual analysis for every product >:[

      • SamChevre says:

        I believe that rBGH-containing milk has strong evidence for being less good than non-rBGH milk
        I’d like to see that study–since all milk contains BGH, it would be surprising to me if rGBH made it less good.

        I think the largest ascertainable difference isn’t that the food is healthier, but that not using routine antibiotics is much better for avoiding antibiotic resistance. That implies that organic animal products have the largest impact.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          I’d like to see that study–since all milk contains BGH, it would be surprising to me if rGBH made it less good.

          Yeah, some cursory searching has made me much less confident. Antibiotic usage still strikes me as a good justification, though.

    • sami says:

      In general, I think it’s safe to say that the USDA organic label may be better for you, but probably isn’t better for the environment. In my opinion, the USDA made a big mistake by categorically excluding GMO crops from organic labelling; because of this, organic crops usually use more water, and may require more pesticides than genetically modified crops. GM doesn’t have to mean RoundUp-ready corn and the like, bred to tolerate Monsanto’s strongest herbicides- it can mean drought resistant cotton or higher protein wheat and rice. The biggest reason that organic is not environmentally better is land use; for monoculture cropland (which produces most organic stuff that you’d find in the average supermarket), organic agriculture requires a fallow period for fields, around one year out of every four or five. Because of this, organic farming requires more land to produce a given amount of food, averaged over time. This is incidentally one reason that it may be healthier for you to eat; the fallow period can restore certain micronutrients that get depleted over time with more intensive agriculture. Note that there are organic farming methods that do not have these environmental drawbacks, such as no-till agriculture and permaculture, but these are way, way more labor intensive and smaller scale by nature, so not likely to be producing the food you find in your supermarket. I’m sorry not to be able to link you to any references for any of this stuff; it’s just my summary of all the reading and research I’ve done and I’m dead tired and about to go to bed. To give you an idea of my background, I have extensive experience working on experimental permaculture farms in urban and rural areas, but don’t subscribe to the anti-technology views that can be common in those circles.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Do I understand correctly that one can make GMO food that is significantly healthier and/or environmentally friendlier than it’s non-GMO counterparts, probably even without it being cheaper and hence lower-class? Is there any effort to do so, or maybe even an existing brand? Seems there’s a large market for it made of people concerned with health and the environment but otherwise technophiles, aka the Silicon Valley.

        • sami says:

          It’s already been done- there is Bt cotton which produces its own insecticide and requires much less water to grow, making it healthier for the workers who would otherwise be applying pesticides, and better for the land (less danger of soil salinization from irrigation), and there is e.g. GM golden rice, with contains vitamin A (a big deal in parts of the world where many people have vitamin A deficiencies). It’s not as far as I know marketed to affluent Westerners though, because there’s a reflexive distrust of GM technology, IMO mostly based on an unrealistic romanticization of farming.

      • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

        Why is acreage the biggest consideration for environmental impact? Just because it displaces whatever else could have been there?

        • sami says:

          It displaces whatever functional ecosystem could otherwise be there, and tilled land under cultivation, organic or no, is much more vulnerable to Dust Bowl type catastrophes.

      • SamChevre says:

        Another issue is that organic vegetables are disproportionately grown in irrigated deserts, because the dryness helps with pest control. And irrigating the California and Texas drylands is not very sustainable or environmentally friendly.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      It’s probably just a matter of (perverse?) incentives. Somehow the large scale retail market is not structured to favor well-tasting vegetables, not to mention nutritious. It is however very well structured to favor vegetables that are cheap to produce, good looking and keep well. I don’t think any of that changes if you introduce arbitrary constraints, like not being able to use pesticides.

      The only solution I can think of is either using very specialized stores (not necessarily local, but it might help). Either that, or using a working rating system. But since the latter would solve half the world’s problems and destroy most of marketing and advertising industries, I wouldn’t hold my breath for it. something something blockchain being useful for a change.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The only solution I can think of is either using very specialized stores

        They are called “ethnic food stands” and “farmers stall markets”, and I love shopping at them.

        A bunch of the operators of such have told me that Square has saved them. (For another example of a billionaire who’s done a billion dollars worth of good. Pity about his side project with that birdsite social media thing…)

    • pjs says:

      Organic per se might or not be healthier, but it’s also more expensive to produce. (On average, it must be: adding production constraints of any sort should raise costs.) So if it’s organic, you can suspect the farmer isn’t competing solely in the “cut any corners to drive down costs and price” game, so just maybe quality is higher (or the staff is paid more, or ??). This is irrespective of any innate benefits of organic production.
      This reminds me (maybe CW, and maybe not so resonant with a US audience) of the (IMO) value of looking at whether an item is made in China or not. For many items this creates an increasingly clear and hard-to-fake signal: if made elsewhere, the maker apparently isn’t trying to save every fraction of a penny to make something that looks like the final product (and is just good enough to survives the warranty period.) I believe this is currently a valuable signal even if many Chinese manufactorers can compete in quality and in every other “good” dimension with anyone else. So, perhaps, “organic” is a similarly costly-to-fake signal of something – possibly something good.

  18. J Mann says:

    All: Did anything in Mueller’s testimony cause you to change any of your beliefs, and if so what, which and why?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      No, just confirmed my prejudices. I thought amont the best questions were Mike Turner asking “where’s the Office of Exoneration?” Essentially, where does Mueller get off putting the “cannot exonerate” line in the report when absolutely no one has the authority to exonerate anyone? To which Mueller has no answer.

      Also, the very good question from whom I cannot recall as to why, if the goal was to examine Russian interference in the election and our political process, didn’t he investigate the origins of the Steele dossier? We know Steele paid Russian intelligence agents for the information. Why did they sell it to him? Were they giving up the big Russian state secret of installing a compromised puppet as US President in exchange for a couple of rubles? If I were Putin I’d be very mad at them about that. Maybe Mueller should investigate whether or not they got put in gulag. Or whether maybe getting half the country to lose faith in our elections and the legitimacy of our government and tying everyone up for two years in divisive investigations was part of the Russian interference plot. Seems like that would have been good a thing to investigate. But apparently, “not in my purview.” Unlike Paul Manafort’s taxes and Michael Cohen’s taxi cab medallions and the like which are obviously in his purview.

      • Eigengrau says:

        When he said “cannot exonerate” he clearly meant he could not say there was not enough evidence to establish a crime of obstruction. Contrary to part 1 of the report where he explicitly says there was not enough evidence to establish the crime of conspiracy. In other words, there was enough evidence to establish a crime of obstruction, but he cannot indict due to DOJ policy. This was laid out in the report fairly clearly and reiterated in Mueller’s testimony. Turner is being overly pedantic and he knows it.

        The Russia investigation began many months prior to the Steele dossier. It is hardly some paramount aspect of the investigation, despite its prominence in the media. The dossier included leads, not evidence, and that is how it was treated by investigators.

        Peripheral matters like Michael Cohen’s taxi cab medallions were not in Mueller’s purview, and he accordingly passed those matters off to other prosecutors as they arose. Again, all of this is in the report.

        • J Mann says:

          What I don’t get is that the report lays out the evidence of what Trump actually did in great detail.

          What Congress wants is for Mueller to make a legal conclusion of whether those facts support the crime of obstruction. Since there has never been a prosecution on similar facts,* Mueller’s opinion is just one more lawyer’s opinion – Congress should just take the facts as explained and decide what to do with them.

          * This isn’t to say it’s not obstruction either, just that Mueller’s opinion and a bucket of warm spit will leave you exactly one bucket of spit richer.

          • Randy M says:

            That sounds exactly like you get it. They want someone else to give their conclusions a stamp of approval from an impartial authority, and the impartial authority doesn’t want to take responsibility for that. It sounds similar to the FBI not prosecuting Clinton on her procedural mistakes/crimes (although I can’t admit to reading either report).

          • J Mann says:

            Still, if I was a Democrat, I wouldn’t try to get Mueller to agree that Trump asking his subordinates to shut down the investigation, then getting talked out of it, was insubordination.

            I’d just say: “You found conclusive evidence that the President attempted to shut down the investigation several times, and was only prevented from that because several different staffers refused to do so?”

            Mueller: That’s what the report says, dumbass.

            Me: I will now introduce Lawrence Tribe, Preet Bharaha, and that guy who writes all the legal explainer columns for that magazine, and they will all agree that is criminal obstruction!!!!

          • EchoChaos says:

            @J Mann

            The weakness of that approach is that those are confirmed anti-Trump culture warriors. The advantage of Mueller is that he is (or was) a fairly respected Republican prosecutor.

            Getting anti-Trump people to agree that Orange Man Bad is easy.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I still don’t think that would rise to obstruction.

            Bribing a witness is obstruction. Offering a bribe to a witness that they refuse is obstruction. But driving to the ATM to get cash with which you intend to bribe a witness but then giving up on the whole plot because the machine is broken is not obstruction.

        • EchoChaos says:

          When he said “cannot exonerate” he clearly meant he could not say there was not enough evidence to establish a crime of obstruction.

          Yeah, those are two entirely different sentences with very different meanings as understood.

          “I cannot exonerate the President” and “There is not enough evidence to establish that the President committed a crime” are different. The fact that they used the one that sounds more like the President is guilty is not an accident.

          In other words, there was enough evidence to establish a crime of obstruction, but he cannot indict due to DOJ policy.

          Mueller specifically said this was not true.

          The Russia investigation began many months prior to the Steele dossier.

          The Dossier was published in 2016 before the election. Mueller was appointed in 2017. This is clearly wrong.

          • J Mann says:

            @EC – It sounds like the general FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election began at least a few months before the FBI got the dossier, but that the dossier was used to intensify and extend the investigation, particularly regarding the Carter Paige surveillance.

            ETA: Sorry, I didn’t read up-thread for context!

          • EchoChaos says:

            @J Mann

            Sure, but that is not Mueller’s investigation, which had the specific mandate of election interference. Given that the Steele dossier existed prior to the election, it is clearly a possible vector of election interference and therefore should have been investigated.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            +1 to everything EC said.

            With regards to “exoneration,” I’m pretty sure if, after laying out all the information in Vol II, Mueller had said, “since this information is insufficient to charge the president with a crime, he is exonerated” the Democrats would be screaming at him, “where the hell do you get off exonerating anyone?! That’s not a power prosecutors have! That’s not a power investigators or the Attorney General or even the President has!” So going out of his way to say “cannot exonerate” is not a legal term useful in a report submitted to the Attorney General on possible crimes committed. It is, however, useful rhetoric for partisans and for CNN to splash on their chyrons.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with both EC and Conrad.

            Maybe it’s my partisan bubble talking here, but I’m also struggling to remember an instance where a prosecutor so frequently went out of their way to helpfully remind us that a lack of pressing/recommending charges totally doesn’t absolutely exonerate the accused. The only instances I can think of where this happens are similarly politically charged ones (stuff like Kavanaugh, or maybe a university Title IX investigation).

            As one random example, Kobe Bryant, at the height of his prominence in the NBA, was once accused of rape. The police investigated, found insufficient evidence to proceed, and dropped the case. Most people concluded he probably didn’t do it, although the people who already hated him for basketball fandom-related reasons believed he totally did. But what didn’t happen was the police going on ESPN several times and loudly announcing that hey, let’s be really clear about the fact that Kobe Bryant is not exonerated and that some evidence of wrongdoing totally still exists and he might very well have done it, we can’t really be sure, and so on and so forth…

    • S_J says:

      I was surprised by the comparisons to the Kenneth Starr investigation. Apparently, the Starr report noted several actions by President Clinton which were stated as “may have risen to impeachable conduct”.

      In contrast, such phraseology apparently never appeared in the Mueller report, with respect to President Trump.

      I’m not sure it changed my opinion on President Trump measurably. It does lessen the impact of the Mueller report, in my mind.

      • John Schilling says:

        It increases my respect for Mueller as a “just the facts” investigator staying within the bounds of his investigation, where Starr often seemed to believe his mandate was to bring down the President by any means necessary. And I don’t think it lessens the impact of the report, because that basically was the report.

        It does I think conclusively dash the hope that Mueller was going to deliver a “Trump is actually a crook, probably in cahoots with Putin, I wasn’t allowed to say that in the report but he totally is a crook” bombshell. That was a pretty faint hope to begin with. And I note that Predictit, FWIW, is selling “Trump will be impeached in his first term” at $0.20, down from $0.29 at closing on the 22nd.

        • Clutzy says:

          Starr also got his mandate, essentially, from Congress as it was the old IC not the SC. He reported to Congress, not the DOJ, so his role was very different. Although the IC was and is (and should be) incredibly controversial as a result.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It increases my respect for Mueller as a “just the facts” investigator staying within the bounds of his investigation

          Manafort taxes, porn star payoffs, taxi cab medallions, questionable process crimes, pre-dawn raids on Roger Stone with tip-offs to the media. And all of this entirely on one side. No investigation into the origins of the Steele dossier. No investigation into potential FISA warrant abuse. He can only be said to have stuck to his purview in as much as his purview was “get Trump and Trump associates.” Interesting things about Russian interference and he can’t be bothered. Potential crimes by Trump opponents and he can’t be bothered.

          And when it comes to “just the facts,” don’t prosecutors have an ethical duty to minimize disclosure to protect the reputations of the not-proven-to-be guilty? When you investigate Bob for alleged rape and cannot find evidence sufficient to charge Bob with rape, the prosecutors do not hold a press conference to detail all the non-rape things Bob did. “Well, we can’t charge him with rape, but check out Bob’s browser history! Weird stuff that Bob was into! We can’t prove Bob’s a rapist but maybe you can kinda see how he might be? Can’t say he is tho. But can’t say he isn’t…eh, eh, eh?!” If they’re not going to recommend indictment or impeachment for obstruction then there’s absolutely no reason to publish Vol II at all. Just say “we investigated for potential obstruction of justice and did not find evidence enough to warrant a recommendation for prosecution or impeachment.”

          And I had this exact same complaint about Comey and Hillary’s email server. I think she should have been indicted. If anybody else did what she did, they’d have been indicted. But if you’re not going to indict…don’t hold a press conference about it to list all the “extremely careless” things she did that are bad and embarrassing but not bad enough to warrant an indictment.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If anybody else did what she did, they’d have been indicted. But if you’re not going to indict…don’t hold a press conference about it to list all the “extremely careless” things she did that are bad and embarrassing but not bad enough to warrant an indictment.

            Don’t you? Maybe not for Bob, but for presidential candidate Bob it seems like pertinent information.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Bob’s browser history is quite pertinent information for his political enemies, yes. But the FBI has no business violating ethical standards intended to protect the dignity of the accused so pertinent information can be delivered to the accused’s political enemies.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The results of a publicly funded investigation into an official holding public office should probably be made public.

          • albatross11 says:

            baconbits:

            +1

            This is a politically charged investigation in which the two parties and various powerful people in the government very much want to tell the public different things about the conclusions and contents of the report. This is exactly the situation in which this kind of investigation should be made public, redacting nothing but the very most sensitive information, so the public can actually find out what was discovered instead of getting a Republican and Democratic set of talking points that contradict each other.

    • EchoChaos says:

      All: Did anything in Mueller’s testimony cause you to change any of your beliefs, and if so what, which and why?

      Yes. I had believed that Mueller was competent, although mostly malicious in trying to get Trump for not being “one of the elite”.

      I revised my opinion of his competence down several notches.

      It changed none of my priors on Russian collusion.

    • Clutzy says:

      I previously thought he was a competent guy who had some not great motivations (covering the FBI’s ass and keeping “in” with DC insiders mostly). Now I think its pretty clear he is not competent at all, possibly failing mentally who had a duty to resign/’refuse appointment. And he has let his previous reputation as a fairly middle of the road guy lend credibly to the work product of other people who haven’t earned such reputations.

    • BBA says:

      Token liberal here. It reconfirmed my belief that Pelosi is right to slow-walk impeachment until the heat death of the sun.

      • Plumber says:

        Democrat or Republican Pelosi increasingly seems to me to be of a few (there must be some others?) elected officials in DC that’s still relatively effective and sane.

        • Matt M says:

          The Trump years haven’t changed my mind on much, but they have strongly changed my mind in favor of both Pelosi and McConnell as being rather shrewd, intelligent, and effective leaders of their party – able to adapt quite well to changing circumstances.

    • broblawsky says:

      It convinced me that the Trump campaign put real effort into working with Russian intelligence, and that they will do so again in 2020.

  19. jgr314 says:

    @Well… and others who have been focused on fitness/health recently: what have you been doing and has it been working?

    • Well... says:

      Baseline (last year or two): I’ve been trying to lift weights 5 days a week (split routine), and drink a whey protein shake[*] after each gym session. I try to stretch every night. Moderate-to-high success.

      Recently (last month or two): I’ve been trying to get more cardio. Moderate success at that. I also stopped eating breakfast; I have coffee in the morning, then a piece of fruit (or two) and sometimes a couple handfuls of peanuts at mid-morning. I set a couple recurring alarms twice a day to remind me to stand up straight and suck in my belly for ten minutes. Success. And of course I’m still trying to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, although for the past week or two it’s been more like 6. But still, I’m trying.

      With these interventions, I feel and look much healthier than I did before. I continue efforts to increase my success with these interventions and introduce others.

      * I figured out the hack for a great tasting protein shake I actually look forward to drinking: I use whole milk (about 3/4 pint) and two scoops of vanilla-flavored whey protein powder, plus one spoonful of instant decaf coffee. I suppose if one wanted the caffeine one could use regular instant, but I don’t.

      • jgr314 says:

        One protein shake technique I like, b/c I work out in the morning and like really cold drinks: I make the shake the evening before with about half the total milk, then freeze overnight. In the morning before heading to the gym, I add the rest of the milk. By the time I’m done with my workout, the frozen base has thawed enough to get the consistency I prefer.

        I don’t really like coffee, but did an experiment for a while by adding caffeine powder to something I would drink pre-workout. I never noticed an effect, so stopped doing that.

    • MissingNo says:

      Training for a bodybuilding contest. I’ve bumped up the length of my workouts and I have started a basic cut to get back down to a lean bodyfat.

      Its working rather well. My shoulders have greatly increased in size.

      I don’t actually do squats or deadlifts heavy anymore, even though those are supposedly the “best” leg and lower back exercises. I’ve had a scare thanks to those exercises before and I can get most of the benefits out of the leg press and high rep/ light lifting with those exercises.

      For diet: I supplement with 125 grams of liquid protein a day, and take care to not consume too much at one time thanks to its limited digestibility (its recommended to not consume more thank 20 grams in liquid form at a time). Otherwise 2-3 meals a day. The hardest challenge is cutting out the tasty ice creams n pizzas.

      • jgr314 says:

        I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with good trainers who monitor my form, otherwise I’d steer clear of heavy squats and deadlifts, too. As it is, deadlift is the only thing where I feel strong compared to my lifting companions, but my max is still not absolutely impressive (330lb, 2.2x bodyweight).

      • Well... says:

        I can get most of the benefits out of the leg press and high rep/ light lifting with those exercises.

        When you say high rep/light lifting, how many reps are we talking? And what % of your 1RM are the weights? (I also have moved to the leg press from squats, for similar reasons as you, plus the latter are just so darn uncomfortable.)

        • MissingNo says:

          Sometimes my ego gets larger than my head, but I try keeping it below a weight I can do 20 reps for on squats or deads.

          And I’m thinking of giving up the deadlift entirely. I’m thinking of how my body is going to be in 20 years doing deadlifts.

          • Well... says:

            Is that “20 reps and you’re completely busted” or “20 reps now, 20 more in a couple minutes, and 20 more a couple minutes after that”?

          • MissingNo says:

            By *below a weight* I mean I can do more than 20 reps. But whenever I talk about reps I mean to failure. So for squats I will try using a weight where I can do more than 20 reps.

            Totally busted. At the end of a good workout, my 20 rep max can turn into only 10 reps…which is what should happen.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Trying to lose weight fast on ad libitum* and failing. Still think it’s great as a lifestyle diet, still think you can lose weight slowly on it, but if you have a time limit apparently calorie+macros counting is the way to go. So going back to it starting today.

      * Focus on what you eat, not on how much. Many many variations – mine involves lots of vegetables and fruit, nothing made from wheat, counting protein and supplementing if necessary and the occasional fish for the healthy fats. Doesn’t exclude the occasional slice of pizza or dessert, if they’re rare enough.

    • RDNinja says:

      I’ve lost about 30 pounds in the last year. I started by simply limiting sugar, restricting myself to 1 sweet treat per week. That worked for a while, then I plateaued. Now I track calories with MyFitnessPal, which is a godsend.

      I also combine that with 3x/week strength training. I used to do the Stronglifts 5×5 program, but plateaued on that, so now I’m doing Wendler 5/3/1. It’s slow going because I’m on a calorie deficit, but I also have a protein goal (being able to buy good protein bars at the discount grocery store for 15-25% of retail is a big help). I tried a bulking phase for a while in there, but it didn’t go very well, at least partly because of low testosterone. I’m going to try to lose another 50 pounds in the next year and see if that raises my levels any more before trying to bulk again.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ve been running–started with my employer’s walk-to-run program in February. I’ve always liked walking and running half a block, but have gotten more sedentary over the past couple decades and especially over the past couple years–I injured my ankle in 2015 and that really cut down on how much walking I did. I’ve been running between 2 and 3 miles 3x a week since April, and the difference in general physical condition is noticeable–my blood pressure is lower (I can tell because I’m blacking out when I stand up again), I’ve lost the 20 pounds I’d gained over the past decade, and my ankle isn’t hurting any more than it was before I started.

      • j1000000 says:

        “my blood pressure is lower (I can tell because I’m blacking out when I stand up again)”

        A little confused here. You black out when you stand up and that’s good? Or is there a “not” missing?

        • SamChevre says:

          Sorry that was confusing. The lower blood pressure is good, not the getting dizzy/ blacking out.

          I have had postural hypotension since I was a teenager. My resting blood pressure had gone up enough that I didn’t get dizzy when I stood up, but was getting close to the top of “normal” when until 5 years ago it was at the very bottom of normal. When I’ve had it checked, it is lower–but I can tell that it is lower even without getting my blood pressure checked because I’m again getting dizzy when I stand up.

  20. Conrad Honcho says:

    So Fire Emblem: Three Houses come out tomorrow, the review embargo has lifted, and wow, that is some serious critical acclaim. I’m still in the middle of two other games right now so I’m not going to have time to start it for another week or so. But boy does that look good.

    • Randy M says:

      This is part of why I bought the Switch, but I haven’t finished Octopath, FF XII, Disgaea V, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Dragon Quest builders 2 yet, nor really touched Mario & Rabids, Hollow Knight, or Civ VI, so I don’t think I’m going to get to it this year.

      I’ve never played a FE game, but love the genre and look forward to the opportunity.

    • BBA says:

      I’ll probably get a Switch for this.

    • JPNunez says:

      Got it, unlocked last night, played the first hour, it’s ok.

      Very excited to get to play more later today.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        What house did you pick?

      • acymetric says:

        Would I be ok jumping having not played a Fire Emblem game before?

        I did play some game with a similar playstyle a long time ago but I can’t remember for the life of me what it was. It was for the GBA or DS, and was basically Fire Emblem but with Gundams (not actually Gundams, just giant piloted robots) instead or something along those lines.

    • zoozoc says:

      Man, I was considering buying a switch recently, decided instead to get a new computer and buy controllers for it instead. But this and some other switch titles are really giving me some buyer’s remorse. But I’m too stingy to get both. Maybe in a couple years.

      • acymetric says:

        Yeah, I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. I want a Switch, but I can get an Xbox One or PS4 for like half the price.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I assume you mean the original ones, not the XB1 X or the PS4 Pro, right? I stick with what I said to you a few weeks back: that is some old hardware that’s going to be obsolete in a little over a year. You’re not going to get any new games for it after that, so you’re just playing the back catalog.

          • acymetric says:

            I remember that advice and it’s good advice, but that’s a lot of back catalog to burn through (possibly with discount games)!

            Yes it would be the the original ones, I don’t care so much about various high-res support because I won’t be running a 4k ultra high def TV until probably around the release of the PS12. My 7 year old Dynex is working just fine 😉

            As best I can tell all the games that run on the X or Pro also run on the original consoles.

      • Randy M says:

        If it makes you feel better, PC games on steam are about $10 cheaper than the Switch version of those games.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        They’ve just announced a Switch Lite for $200. The difference is it doesn’t actually switch (can’t hook it up to a TV) and the joycons don’t detach. So, that’s an option.

      • Matt M says:

        The Master Race finds your lack of faith… disturbing.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Awakening was the first Fire Emblem game I played, which I ended up really enjoying and then really hating.

      I started on hard, made it to chapter 12 or so, and decided that it was fun but too easy so I would restart on max difficulty. My first run on max, I made it to chapter, I dunno, 9, which then seemed impossible to complete because I had been putting my XP into leveling the wrong units, making a team that was ill-suited to the current challenge. So I restarted with a new strategy, made it to chapter 5, decided the strategy sucked, rerolled with a new strategy, made it pretty far with the strategy seeming great, then chapter 13 kicked my ass because it had an enemy composition my build was totally unprepared for. At that point I was frustrated: I couldn’t reasonably foresee that my build was weak to matchups I’d never seen, and every time it turned out my build was bad I had to restart from mission 1 allocating my XP differently. So I quit.

      This thread seems like as good a place as any to ask: are there any FE games where I won’t have this problem? Games where you can respec, or stop to grind XP, or somehow get enough advance knowledge to avoid spending all your limited XP leveling a build that can’t win?

  21. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I’ve had a thought bouncing around in my head for the last eight years or so, which the discussion about David French and how liberalism relates to Christianity has brought to the surface.

    Liberalism, in the sense of classical liberalism, is a humanist ideology. While humanism existed for centuries before liberalism became a political force, and many illiberal regimes have claimed to be humanist, it is hard to imagine a liberal state which doesn’t officially subscribe to some form of humanist ideology. Culturally, it’s considered the “neutral” ideology within the US, especially when compared to other religious or political ideologies.

    Interestingly, however, “Secular Humanism” has also been defined as a non-theistic religion by the Supreme Court. While circuit courts have refused to grant cert to cases by creationists arguing that promotion of secular humanist ideology violates the establishment clause of the first amendment, it’s still a seemingly quite plausible argument given how broadly the establishment clause is read today. With a plaintiff who isn’t a creationist and a friendlier court, it’s conceivable that much of the current ideological content of public education would constitute a violation of students and parents constitutional rights.

    I have two questions related to this thought. The first is how plausible it is, legally and politically. The second is that if such an attempt to disestablish Secular Humanism in the US succeeded, what would the results look like?

    • Randy M says:

      I wonder if there will be attacks on “humanism” from the other side, as unfairly elevating members of a particular species due to random characteristics granted by dint of birth.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      it’s conceivable that much of the current ideological content of public education would constitute a violation of students and parents constitutional rights.

      Can you give me some examples of the sorts of SH things you’d expect to see stricken from K-12 education?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I’ve thought about it and I actually can’t point out any one specific thing.

        The things that religious conservatives tend to point to are weak. Evolution is a factual matter where the alleged ethical implications are very vague and usually not dealt with in class. Comprehensive sex education is clearer, because “sex positivity” is fundamentally an ethical or ideological claim, but if it’s packaged as part of a health class it’s easy to frame it as one more piece of health advice.

        I’ll need to think about it more.

        • Nick says:

          It might be worth considering social studies and history classes specifically. Progressives and conservatives could certainly teach American history differently, for instance. One could see the civil rights movement as ending with the successful overturning of miscegenation laws, while another could see it as culminating in Obergefell v. Hodges.

        • dick says:

          Seconded, I have no idea what secular humanism even means, beyond being a convenient label for the people on the opposite side of “I want the schools to push my religion’s tenets.” The fact that (for example) most of the Americans who oppose high school sex ed classes do so because they’re Christian doesn’t imply that the people on the other side share a religion; implying that they do just seems like a lazy strawman to make them easier to argue against.

    • albatross11 says:

      There’s a fundamental problem here:

      If you educate children and care for them many hours a day, you’re going to need to convey some values. Any coherent bundle of values will look a lot like a religion, even if there are no gods to be worshiped, and any coherent bundle of values will offend those who have different values but need to send their kids to that school.

      The solution we seem to have come to in the public schools is to work up a kind of secular median set of values, based on what school boards and teachers believe, and with various activist groups trying to work the refs around the edges to push their preferred values into the system. That inevitably means that we have public schools teaching values that a lot of parents strongly disagree with, and ignoring things that many parents feel are extremely important values.

      The cleanest solution I can see for this problem is some mix of vouchers and homeschooling. Unfortunately, homeschooling is a minority taste (like churning your own butter–maybe you’ll get results more to your liking, but it’s a lot of work), and vouchers are politically very hard to do in the modern US, for a bunch of reasons[1].

      [1] One important reason is that a lot of people absolutely want to use the power of teaching values in the schools to defeat the wrong values of the other side–see battles on sex ed and busing. Another is that house prices in most of the US are tightly bound to school district boundaries, and so letting people bypass public school boundaries would transfer billions of dollars of value from the wealthiest people in the best neighborhoods to poorer people in worse neighborhoods. Still another is that public schools emply a lot of people and those people don’t take kindly to plans to disrupt their lives and careers. And so on.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Yeah, that’s kind of what I was gesturing at.

        It may not be possible, and it certainly isn’t desireable, to raise children in a total ethical void where they are only ever taught facts and never the moral context surrounding them. Every educator, whether they’re a parent or a professional teacher, is going to impart some sort of worldview. But that’s also why compulsory education in government-run public schools is problematic: it inherently establishes a single government-approved ideology that all kids are legally required to be exposed to 6-8 hours a day and five days a week for twelve nine-month years.

        Which is why I really like voucher programs. I suspect that voucher schools aren’t actually any better at teaching white and Asian kids than public schools, with the effect we see is entirely due to student selection and better outcomes for black students. Likewise, they are likely only cheaper because they don’t have to deal with the teacher’s unions, and you can union-bust without privatizing education. The real advantage is that there’s nothing stopping parents who object to the ideology taught in public schools from saying “screw you” to the local school board and taking their tax money across the street to a competing voucher school.

        • Aapje says:

          It’s definitely impossible, if only because the school itself has to have rules and those are part of what is being taught.

          Banning or allowing Mary to walk around the school nekkid is an ethical decision. There is no neutral decision.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          … You do realize this is a very coherent argument for the government making public schooling absolutely mandatory? It is kind of important that everyone at least *know* what the prevaling ethical framework is, or you are darn well risking civil war in the long term.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think everybody who’s not very, very sheltered is going to “at least know what the prevailing ethical framework is”, and the number of very, very sheltered people isn’t going to be large enough for them to start a civil war. And I think it’s debatable whether the US even has a “prevailing ethical framework” at the moment, and consequently whether universal public schooling is actually going to keep the peace. If anything, I think it’s likely to do the opposite, since no matter what set of ethical principles you teach, a significant proportion of the country is going to view you as trying to indoctrinate their children with your false and ungodly / bigoted and fundamentalist propaganda.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen,

            In a totalitarian state, sure. It’s absolutely essential that everyone is indoctrinated into the ruling ideology at a young age or else you’ll face everything from dissent to violent revolution when adults with different values are forcibly prevented from forming communities with those values.

            But the United States is still nominally a free society, where people are in theory permitted to manage their own affairs and act according to their own values. In practice, of course, this hasn’t been the case for at least the last six decades but that freedom to live your own life is still the source of America’s legitimacy in the public imagination.

            As I would prefer to see America move away from its current totalizing ideology back towards federalism , reducing the degree of state indoctrination is very important.

  22. Plumber says:

    Ross Douthat in his latest NYT column linked to Slate Star Codex yet again.

    • benjdenny says:

      Conor Friedersdorf linked from his column in the atlantic today, as well

      • Plumber says:

        I just read Friedersdorf’s essay, which seems very “old news” to me, but I suppose these things need to be repeated.

  23. sami says:

    I would like to know more about the history of mapmaking. I visited my childhood home recently and was struck by my total lack of a mental map of the area, despite deep familiarity with the routes to places I had often travelled, both by car and hiking. Everywhere I’ve lived since, I always consulted a map first when I was a stranger to the area, so my mental picture of the route to a particular location would always be hung on the overall map. But when, as a child, I was learning the territory solely by traveling through it, this knowledge never cohered into any kind of mental map, and it made me wonder at what point in human history mapmaking, and map-thinking, became common. Also, the territory I’m referencing here is extremely rural, hilly, densely wooded, and liberally spotted with bodies of water; there are few vistas where you can see very far in any particular direction, and the roads curve this way and that and loop all over the place, making it impossible at any random point on a road to discern the overall direction of travel, if you don’t know it already. So, was this particular environment especially ill-suited to the formation of a mental map, or is it a peculiarity of my own brain that I never came up with one? Do most people have mental maps (meaning something similar to an actual map, not a sense like “I know the road forks up here”) to places they are familiar with but have never looked at an actual map of? Does it depend on the territory? Did mapmaking develop first in flatter places more conducive to mapping on flat paper? I feel like someone here is likely to know some interesting tidbits on map history.

    • I can’t speak for other people, but I have very poor mapping intuition. Back when I played WoW, my character would warn other members of his party that he could get lost on a tabletop. When I spent some time in Canberra, I eventually realized that my mental map of the bit near where I was staying was inside out—I had been working on point to point navigation, not following a mental map.

      One of the claims made in evolutionary psychology, for all I know true, is that men are, on average, better than women at map making sorts of tasks. But my wife used to make her living doing three dimensional mapping (for Shell, to find oil–she was a geologist).

    • Tenacious D says:

      I recently read Sea People, a book about the settlement of Polynesia. It included a discussion of Polynesian navigation, which is based more on the observer-centred experience of crossing the ocean (e.g. how the stars will shift overhead as the journey proceeds and how birds/clouds/waves behave near islands), compared to European navigation that takes on an external view, attempting to locate a ship on an objective grid. The author draws some parallels with the differences in perspective and focus between oral and literate cultures.

      • sami says:

        That is interesting. It’s not immediately obvious to me why or how oral vs. literate culture corresponds to experiential vs. a more point-on-grid style of navigation. Maybe in the sense that map-making requires a leap of abstraction from the concrete experience of terrain to a removed, birds-eye-view? I’m not sure if the transition from oral to literate culture entails a similar move toward abstraction, or if both transitions just have the same root cause.

        • Tenacious D says:

          If I recall correctly, the author wasn’t saying that there was a causal link between literate culture and point-on-grid navigation, just pointing out the ways (in both domains) in which the systems people use for communication and navigation shape the sorts of things they notice and remember. For example, she says that literate cultures have more linear narratives, whereas oral cultures can reliably pass on who did what, but when can be one of the first things to get lost or jumbled.

          When it comes to navigation, as @Watchman says in a lower sub-thread,

          [There’s] a learned reflex to using maps: the better you are at reading maps, the more likely you are to be able to think in terms of mapping conventions. The obvious analog here is language, where as you get more practiced you begin to be able to think in a language, which makes sense: mapping conventions are a symbolic language expressing features in space.

          My understanding of how the author of Sea People thinks about this question is that using charts, compasses, and sextants shapes someone’s thinking toward the birds-eye-view perspective on spatial orientation while traditional Polynesian techniques both rely on and promote a very different mental frame of reference.

    • Well... says:

      So, was this particular environment especially ill-suited to the formation of a mental map, or is it a peculiarity of my own brain that I never came up with one?

      I have no data about your brain and would be unqualified to analyze that data even if I had it, but your description of that landscape sounds like it would be very difficult to form a mental map just by traveling thought it. I have a very keen sense of direction and spatial awareness but one of the hardest things for me to do is to go around a bunch of blind curves (such as those running along the sides of hills) and know exactly what direction I’m traveling in at the end relative to the direction I was traveling in at the beginning. Like, if the road I’m on is straight and headed due north, then it bends to the left for a while, then straightens out again, and it does this gradually (not like a cloverleaf exit on a highway), it’s hard for me to gauge whether I’m now going northwest, west, or maybe even in a southward direction.

    • CatCube says:

      I was just where I grew up, which has almost exactly the environment you describe. I have a gross mental map of the area, mostly formed by looking over state-level maps, but I do have some difficulty with direction due to the winding roads.

      I went on several drives through the woods, and ended up relying on a platbook that I had picked up from the county for other reasons. I did this because 1) Google maps has some real problems in rural areas that can make it dangerous to rely on 2) Cell service is very poor, so you might find yourself without access to a map if you’re relying on your cellphone and Google maps and 3) Part of the reason for the driving around is to exercise my ability to navigate without the electronic pacifier (I typically try to use turn-by-turn navigation for <50% of any trips, to help me form and maintain the mental map you talk about, and even referring to a paper map and associate to where you are yourself is better than just letting the magic box tell you when to turn for this)

      That definitely helped me "fill in" more of the mental map that I had. There's a lake that the township had a camp on that we went to often as kids, but it turned out to be a lot further south than I thought when I was navigating there with a paper map.

      • sami says:

        I hate to think what my navigation skills would be like had I grown up in the era of Google maps. I tend to be absent minded, so without the necessity of looking out for landmarks, etc, I may as well be sleep-driving, at least from the perspective of internalizing my trip through the landscape. On my recent trip I looked at some of the type of county plat maps you described in preparation for a day long swimming trip, and it was mildly mind-blowing to see the huge discrepancy in distance as-the-crow-flies, vs. the road mileage I was already so familiar with. I was delighted to find that I could easily swim in a day, via lakes and the dugways between them, (and I am a slow, leisurely, lots of breaks type of swimmer) to a spot that would take two hours by car to reach.

      • Cell service is very poor, so you might find yourself without access to a map if you’re relying on your cellphone and Google maps

        You can download a map of the relevant area at some time when you have a good connection. Once you have a map, GPS doesn’t need a cell connection.

        • Nick says:

          Didn’t Google disable offline maps? Or is it still possible to manually download them or something?

          • moonfirestorm says:

            For anecdotal information, Google Maps on my phone will actually ask me if I want to download the offline map for my trip sometimes. I’m not sure what prompts it, as I’ve only seen it a couple times, but it seems like something they’re actively encouraging at least in some cases.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            As moonfirestorm said, I can and do still download maps in Google Maps.

            It’s very useful for driving in the mountains (hills?) of Pennsylvania or certain parts of upstate New York where you can get a GPS signal but mobile data is spotty. Likewise when I drove in state parks in the Pacific Northwest. The problem is that Google Maps will try to download the local roads for half of the country if you let it, so you need to check if the area you’re downloading is significantly larger than where you’re planning on driving.

    • Watchman says:

      On the history of map-making, I can’t say for certain how old this is but the Greeks and Chinese were both producing maps in the first millennium BC, and were capable of using these practically or symbolically. Since maps are a form of drawing and don’t require writing it may be that maps are older than written works in human history, as like writing maps work on a shared understanding of meaning.

      You are however conflating maps and mental mapping here. To try and explain this, I might have to give some personal background. I’ve always been good at mental maps: if I can walk or drive to a place once, in general I’ll be able to travel there again without a map or guidance. But mental mapping is like much ancient mapping as it is as much symbolic as representative. It’s about knowing how your landscape fits together, not visualising it as a map. You’re not thinking turn left in half a mile but rather turn left at the Kings Arms (I grew up in rural England so navigating by pubs is normal) or just past Jamie’s house, or in the case of my recreated journeys, matching remembered images from the first time I drove to reality as prompts. This does not require knowing how things lie on the ground, just how they connect in your experience; so, where I grew up I knew all the routes across fields and walls (hidden stiles being a fun local feature) but couldn’t actually link two different sets of fields together until my dad and I explored a short footpath over a hill linking the two. Looking at a map they’re almost parallel and 500 metres apart. To a 10-years old me they were two different spikes away from the hub of my house and were effectively different universes.

      What is worth stressing here is that actually thinking in terms of modern scales and standardised maps is unusual, and tends to be a learned reflex to using maps: the better you are at reading maps, the more likely you are to be able to think in terms of mapping conventions. The obvious analog here is language, where as you get more practiced you begin to be able to think in a language, which makes sense: mapping conventions are a symbolic language expressing features in space. I do orienteering as a sport, basically cross country with a map to select your own route, and as a result can visualise the world as actual maps. But this is a separate ability to being able to mentally map where I want to go (I can combine the two to visualise where I’m planning to go, but that’s less reliable). From what you say you had a mental map of your childhood environment as well , but can’t manage to visualise this as a conventional map. This doesn’t mean you’re no good at mental mapping but simply that your ability to translate the mental map in your head to the one of the modern languages of mapping is not sufficiently developed to produce a modern map. The basic test of a mental map is whether you get lost or not, not whether you can draw it out for someone else to follow.

      All of that said if you do want to improve your mental mapping, do activities involving heavy map use (orienteering and some endurance races, hiking, navigating around unknown towns (North American grid systems probably still work but are less fun than older towns) a lot. You will probably develop useful mental ways of categorizing spatial relationships so you can effectively create mental maps more effectively, as well as being able to think in map conventions. Mental mapping, like thinking in maps, is a learnable skill.

      • sami says:

        Perhaps I was using the term wrong, but by mental mapping I did not mean the ability to think in terms of standardized scales and modern maps; I agree that is a learned and specialized skill. I meant the ability to picture something that would correspond to a bird’s eye view of the terrain, even if very distorted. Something like a mental image that results from “this road and this stream and this lakeshore and this other road here form a closed loop, and these things are inside the loop, and these things are outside of it”. If I sat down with a pen and paper and really thought about it, I could probably draw something like this for the place I grew up, but it is not something that arose naturally from my navigation of the terrain using landmarks. I wonder how many people come up with naive mental maps of this sort versus navigating by landmarks, when they haven’t first seen a map. Is it a cultural difference or a more innate mental trait, or is it dependent on topography? I imagine if I had grown up somewhere with more opportunities for seeing vast stretches of the landscape, I may have developed that mental habit, but perhaps not. On the other hand, for places that I saw on a map before learning to navigate them, I will often mentally reference the map when thinking about location or navigating, so it’s definitely learnable, if not likely to be spontaneous.

    • bullseye says:

      When I was almost 8, I moved to a new town with a lot of bike paths. I was much better at remembering routes than forming mental maps, even though I was familiar with actual maps and even looked at maps of the area I was exploring. Based on that experience, I figure you learned to navigate your home before you were old enough to have mental maps, so you just never had any use for a mental map of that area.

    • Cayzle says:

      You may find the link between autistic savants and mapmaking to be interesting. One category of savant expertise includes “Mechanical or spatial skills: including the capacity to measure distances precisely without benefit of instruments, the ability to construct complex models or structures with painstaking accuracy, or the mastery of mapmaking and direction-finding.” Source: Savant Syndrome by Darold Treffert

    • The Nybbler says:

      While I have a pretty decent sense of direction, a map in the sense of a 2D representation of the territorial geography is definitely not my brain’s native format. More like a graph in the computer science sense (that is, an idea of how places are connected to one another), plus some directional information so I have an idea that one place is north/east/west/south of another. The additional information means I can sometimes navigate through unfamiliar territory by having a general idea of which way I need to go, and also which features would mean I’m going the wrong way. Well short of an actual map though.

  24. Well... says:

    Last time I wrote about oil changes, my thinking was it seems not worthwhile to change my own oil.

    But by now I have purchased some jack stands from a thrift store ($6 each) and a pretty decent jack from Aldi that had gone on clearance ($20). (I bought these so I could change my own brake pads, which was totally worth it.) I already own a funnel but would need to purchase a filter wrench and a drip pan, plus the oil and filter for each oil change. But I have a little time on my hands, my car is due, I kind of like the DIY aspect, and I’m feeling a little squeezed on cash lately, so…

    Convince me why I should pay someone else to change my oil!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      You shouldn’t. You will save money (and probably time) by doing it yourself. And you may not even need a jack, depending on the type of car you drive. I have SUVs and don’t bother with a jack.

      Also don’t forget the crush washer.

      • Well... says:

        I drive a tiny hatchback. I will need a jack. Fortunately I have one.

        When you say the crush washer do you mean the oil filter gasket? I haven’t heard of a crush washer before.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Crush washers. You should be able to search for the right size for your vehicle or ask at the auto parts store. There will be a rubber gasket on the outside of the filter to prevent external leakage (comes pre-attached to filter) but the crush washer goes around the drain plug bolt. Don’t reuse crush washers. Just buy a pack of 6 or something and it’ll last you years.

          You should need a drip pan, a funnel, a wrench for the drain plug, a filter wrench*, the filter, oil, and a crush washer. If you’re nervous you might just want to go to the auto parts store and tell the guy you’ve never changed your own oil before and he’ll make sure you’ve got everything you need.

          I like changing my own oil because you save money, you know it’s done right, and I don’t have to drive to the service shop** and wait around while they do it. Especially because most of the time waiting is just…waiting for the oil to drain. At home you get it started go back inside and read SSC for 20 minutes and then come back.

          * I prefer the metal ones that fit over my car’s filter with a little hole in the bottom for my socket wrench. I don’t like the adjustable kind with a strap because they never seem to work right. Maybe I’m just bad at them. Also, the wrench is only for taking the filter off, not for putting it back on. Hand tighten when installing.

          ** You do have to drive by an auto parts store and drop off the used oil, though, but that’s much faster than waiting at the service shop.

          • Well... says:

            I have changed my own oil before, but it was like 15 years ago on my first car. But I basically remember what to do, plus there’s Youtube.

            I know about the metal filter wrenches, that’s what I would plan to buy.

            Also, I know about crush washers. I call those drain plug gaskets. Tomayto tomahto I guess.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Well, you said in your previous post “oil filter gasket.”

          • Well... says:

            Yup, left it off by mistake! 😛

    • Matt M says:

      If you don’t actively enjoy working on cars, and if you have a reasonably successful/well paid career (my prior is that most people posting on SSC probably do), the primary cost of changing your oil isn’t really the $10 you save from not paying Jiffy Lube, but rather the opportunity cost of your leisure time.

      Do some quick estimates in your head as to how much $/hr your leisure time is worth. Compare how long it takes you to change your own oil with how much incremental money you pay to Jiffy Lube to do it for you. Easy math.

      I’ll also note that a very simple, no-frills “oil change only” at most quick lube places is pretty cheap. They mostly make their money by upselling other services (occasionally ones that aren’t even remotely needed, but YMMV on that). If you’re good at saying “Nope, just the basic, cheapest, oil change, nothing else, thanks” the cost is often surprisingly low.

      • Well... says:

        I am well paid, but that doesn’t mean I have a lot of disposable income. In fact I have extremely little. (One of the joys of having kids, bills, student loans, a mortgage, no benefits, etc.)

        I don’t get paid during my leisure time (and here I am not counting “time I am not at work but have to do chores/cook dinner/run errands/supervise the kids”) so if I can use that time to save money, even $10, I probably should.

        Plus, I enjoy doing productive things[*] with my hands in my leisure time. And I like the satisfaction of having things that exist or work properly or are well-maintained because of work I did with my own hands. So, 2 hours spent changing my oil is WAY more enjoyable than 2 hours spent watching Youtube.

        Another consideration is the quality of oil in my car: at a mechanic’s shop they’re likely to pour in oil from the bottom of a 55-gallon drum, and that oil will carry all the crud it’s accumulated off the inside of that drum. Especially true at a Jiffy Lube type place. Right?

        *Well, some things. I don’t really like mowing my lawn that much. I don’t like scrubbing dirt off of things. Etc. Maybe the differentiator is additive vs. subtractive processes!

        • J Mann says:

          Based on my experience changing the oil in my mower, disposing of used oil can be a hassle. I’d make sure there was someone in your area who is willing to take the used oil.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Any auto parts store should take it.

          • acymetric says:

            For free?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes.

            I was under the impression they’re required to do so by law (if you sell oil you must collect used oil) but that could just be a state or local law/ordinance. But every auto parts store around here does. I walk in with my catch can, I say “I’ve got some used oil here” they say “great, thanks,” they take it in the back and pour it into a drum that gets hauled away for recycling every so often.

          • b_jonas says:

            Some gas stations take used oil for free here. They take cooking oil as well, which is why I know this, since I don’t own a car.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            On used oil- in my experience, at least in places with colder winters garages will have a furnace in which they burn used oil to heat the workshop.

        • Don P. says:

          @Well:

          Plus, I enjoy doing productive things[*] with my hands in my leisure time. And I like the satisfaction of having things that exist or work properly or are well-maintained because of work I did with my own hands.

          This is all you need, I think. You like doing this sort of thing, so by all means go ahead.

          • Well... says:

            Yeah, I think I was really just using this thread to finally talk myself into buying the last few items I needed. Ironically, over the phone at work today I let my wife know “Hey, I’m gonna start doing more of the maintenance and basic repairs on our cars rather than taking it to mechanics every time” and she protested.

            Her motte (hope I’m using it right this time, we’ll see, here we go) was that doing the work myself would take time, thus take me away from being with her and the kids. I pointed out that sitting at the auto mechanic’s shop for an hour and often a lot more was just as bad, plus the mechanic we trust most happens to not have a courtesy shuttle.

            So then her bailey was she doesn’t like the optics of “broke down cars sitting in front of the house”, to which my reply was that I wouldn’t do any repair that would require a car to sit there in front of the house on blocks or anything, only standard maintenance that I could do within an afternoon.

            Then she reminded me I had only asked her opinion and that I was free to do what I want, and that she does what she wants all the time without consulting me. Then we laughed, said I love you, and hung up.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Do some quick estimates in your head as to how much $/hr your leisure time is worth. Compare how long it takes you to change your own oil with how much incremental money you pay to Jiffy Lube to do it for you. Easy math.

        How long does it take you to change your own oil?

        Put down drip pan. Unscrew drain plug. (1 minute)

        Go inside for 15-20 minutes of leisure time while oil drains.

        Unscrew filter. Screw in new filter. Screw in drain plug. (1 minute)

        Pour oil into engine. (3-4 minutes).

        Clean up (3-4 minutes).

        It’s about 10 minutes of actual work, and you can do it any time on a Saturday without any disruption to your day. But driving to Jiffy Lube and back, and waiting around while they do it, assuming you’re not in line behind two or three other people can suck an hour or more out of your day.

        ETA: Also I buy my oil and filters and what not off Amazon, so I don’t even have to go to the store for that.

        • Well... says:

          Plus they might mess up your car, put cruddy oil in it, and you have to listen to a bunch of obnoxious upselling.

          I didn’t address that earlier though because I’ve been scheduling my oil changes at the local AAA mechanic, who I trust.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        Don’t pay any attention to Matt M about how to spend leisure time. Changing your oil will be twice as satisfying as a movie, video, sports program or visiting with people for that matter.

        • Watchman says:

          A bit unfair. I like doing things with my hands a certain amount (DIY and gardening mainly) but will pay others to do most things on my car, mainly because I don’t like getting my hands all oily…

          It’s a matter of taste and choice.

    • John Schilling says:

      Convince me why I should pay someone else to change my oil!

      I refuse. If you have the tools and the time and the talent to change your own oil, and if your car is due for an oil change but no other major maintenance, you should change your own oil. And probably rotate the tires and do a basic inspection. This will keep useful talents fresh, it will boost your self-confidence, it will probably be more fun than whatever else you are doing if only by novelty, and it will provide a check against shady mechanics ripping you off. And it will probably save you a few bucks.

      These are perhaps not sufficient reason for someone to go out and buy a jack and jackstands, learn basic auto mechanics from scratch, make extraordinary efforts to free a spare hour in their schedule, etc. But from the description, you’re already 90% of the way there and you didn’t frame the question as “should I tear myself away from my harem of supermodels so I can trade places with my staff mechanic for an hour?”

    • The Nybbler says:

      Changing your own oil takes time, gets you dirty, loses you knuckle-skin, and doesn’t make any obvious difference to the way the car is running once you’re done. And then you have to find a place to take the used oil (depends on local regs). And it’s usually cheap to pay someone to do. It’s probably one of the poorest ways to economize working on your car (e.g. you probably saved a lot more on brakes).

      • johan_larson says:

        Yeah, this. It seems to me there are two main cases where it makes sense to do your own oil changes: you need the money it saves you, or you want to be a handy DIY sort of person. Neither of these were true for me, so I had someone else do my oil changes when I owned a car.

        • acymetric says:

          I’m not even convinced you’re actually saving money.

          I suppose it depends on where you go for the oil change, I guess, and how much oil your vehicle takes (most place just charge a flat rate, so it is a better deal if your vehicle takes more oil).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Maybe there’s cheaper places, but a full synthetic change at Jiffy Lube for my SUV is about $75. Buying a case of oil off Amazon is about $25 and the filter is about $15.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, comparing the cost of changing your own oil to having it changed is often not a like for like for comparison.

            Especially when you take into account that Jiffy Lube or elsewhere frequently is going to upsell you things that you also don’t need.

          • acymetric says:

            Only if you let them.

            If you don’t know enough about cars to decline whatever various nonsense they try to push on you, I’m not sure you know enough to change your oil.

    • SamChevre says:

      You should not pay someone else to change your oil, but IIRC you have kids; mine think changing the oil is an awesome project to help with–and the 11-year-old can do an oil change by himself.

      The two bits of advice I’d add. Get some oil absorbent (Oil-Dri or the like) and put it down, then put a broken-down box on top of it, and put your oil pan on that–then you can avoid getting oil running down your driveway. And use extended-life oil–Wal-Mart has it for about the price that an oil change package is at Advance, so if Advance or Autozone doesn’t have it in a current package, go to Wal-Mart.

      • Well... says:

        Instead I bought a valvomax (I think that’s what it’s called) oil plug. It comes with this kind of flexible spout thingy so it lets the oil right down into the pan (or even an empty jug) without any splashing.

        Noted about the Walmart oil.

        Your 11 year-old is awesome, good job on that one!

    • proyas says:

      Convince me why I should pay someone else to change my oil!

      I’ve been changing the oil on my own car for years without a problem. Doing it myself, I know it’s done right, I can do it on my schedule (no wasting time in those horrible waiting rooms at car mechanic shops), and I can do 12-hour oil changes if I want (just leave the oil pan open overnight) to get out way more gunk than most people ever do.

      The only benefit to paying a mechanic to change your oil is that he will usually do a free inspection of your car’s basic features and functions while you’re waiting, so you’ll find out if one of your turn signals or running lights is broken. Of course, you could easily teach yourself how to check these same things and do it during your at-home oil changes.

      BTW, since 2008, I’ve only been changing my oil about once every 7,500 miles, and I’ve only used cheap-o generic brand motor oil and filters from Wal-Mart or K-Mart, and my engine has never had a problem.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I’ve only used cheap-o generic brand motor oil and filters from

        AFAIK, the real question here is more about how long you want the engine to last before a major (not worth the expense) overhaul, not whether it will make it to the next oil change.

  25. sharper13 says:

    An interesting continued discussion around the Baumol theory and it’s implications for cost disease some here will find interesting. I linked to the comments because they’re almost as good as Kling’s summary of recent economist’s discussions at lunch with Tabarrok.

    • JPNunez says:

      A pure Baumol Effect would raise wages in every occupation where productivity growth is slow, including for barbers and waiters. That has not taken place.

      As I understand it Baumol means that only because the musicians _can_ become factory workers, do the wages of musicians go up. The wage up chain can go far, but it has to be plausible for the people to change jobs.

      Once you change from musicians to doctors, and factory workers to *other highly qualified professions*, doctor’s wages go up along with lawyers’ wages, college teachers’ wages, but not necessarily musicians or factory workers, or barbers or waiters.

  26. Jaskologist says:

    I haven’t seen anybody comment here on the Sohrab Ahmari vs David French “feud” yet, and it’s right up our alley. There’s shades of Moldbug in it. Basically, the religious right is debating whether classical liberalism has failed.

    Ahmari got it started with Against David Frenchism:

    Such talk—of politics as war and enmity—is thoroughly alien to French, I think, because he believes that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side. Even if the latter—that is, the libertine and the pagan—predominate in elite institutions, French figures, then at least the former, traditional Christians, should be granted spaces in which to practice and preach what they sincerely believe.

    Well, it doesn’t work out that way, and it hasn’t been working out that way for a long time—as French well knows, since he has spent a considerable part of his career admirably and passionately advocating for Christians coercively squeezed out of the public square. In that time, he—we—have won discrete victories, but the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us, and I think that French-ian model bears some of the blame.

    David French responded:

    In essence, Ahmari is forsaking classical liberalism — the commitment to neutral principles (such as free speech, religious liberty, and due process) grounded in respect for individual liberty — for a largely undefined version of Christian statism. Classical liberalism (especially polite classical liberalism) is the path to defeat and decay. Only a more robust statist Christian response can meet the challenge of the illiberal secular onslaught.

    Yet in forsaking classical liberalism, Ahmari is essentially forsaking the framework for ordered liberty established by the Founders. “Frenchism” — to the extent such a thing exists — reflects the two main components of that commitment to ordered liberty. It combines a zealous defense of the classical- liberal order with zealous advocacy of fundamentally Christian and Burkean conservative principles. The government is responsible for securing American liberty; the people are responsible for advancing American virtue.

    If you follow anybody in that sphere, you’ve probably seen them weigh in on the debate. Douthat in particular has had much to say, and will be moderating a live debate between them on September 5 at Catholic University of America, for those in the area.

    • Jaskologist says:

      There have been so many thought-provoking pieces following up on this.

      Ross Douthat:

      French is a religious conservative who thinks that the pre-Trump conservative vision still makes sense. He thinks that his Christian faith and his pro-life convictions have a natural home in a basically libertarian coalition, one that wants to limit the federal government’s interventions in the marketplace and expects civil society to flourish once state power is removed. He thinks that believers and nonbelievers, secular liberals and conservative Christians, can coexist under a classical-liberal framework in which disputes are settled by persuasion rather than constant legal skirmishing, or else are left unsettled in a healthy pluralism. He is one of the few remaining conservatives willing to argue that the invasion of Iraq was just and necessary. And he opposes, now as well as yesterday, the bargain that the right struck with Donald Trump.

      Ahmari, on the other hand, speaks for cultural conservatives who believe that the old conservative fusion mostly failed their part of the movement — winning victories for tax cutters and business interests while marriage rates declined, birthrates plummeted and religious affiliation waned; and appeasing social conservatives with judges who never actually got around to overturning Roe v. Wade. These conservatives believe that the current version of social liberalism has no interest in truces or pluralism and won’t rest till the last evangelical baker is fined into bankruptcy, the last Catholic hospital or adoption agency is closed by an A.C.L.U. lawsuit. They think that business interests have turned into agents of cultural revolution, making them poor allies for the right, and that the free trade and globalization championed by past Republican presidents has played some role in the dissolution of conservatism’s substrates — the family, the neighborhood, the local civitas. And they have warmed, quickly or slowly, to the politics-is-war style of the current president.


      Then alongside these practical power plays and policy moves, the post-fusionists want something bigger: A philosophical reconsideration of where the liberal order has ended up.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Rod Dreher

      The Ahmari vs. French standoff is a version of what Patrick Deneen, in a 2014 TAC article, identified as “a Catholic showdown worth watching.” Deneen identifies the antagonists not as left vs. right, but a dispute between two kinds of conservatives within US Catholicism. On one side are classical liberals — the Neuhaus/Novak/Weigel folks — who believe that Christianity can be reconciled with liberalism, and enrich it. On the other are those — Alasdair MacIntyre, David Schindler — who believe that they are fundamentally incompatible.

      First, if not liberalism, then what? I’m not sure that Ahmari is a Catholic integralist — someone who, broadly speaking, believes that the Church and the State should not be separate — but Catholic integralists have an answer. It is not remotely likely to happen in this fundamentally Protestant country. The Catholic Church can’t even get most of the Americans who profess the Catholic faith to agree with some core Catholic teachings. When integralists convince American Catholics themselves to believe in Catholicism, then we’ll talk.

      • Randy M says:

        Yeah, this shows a weakness of the more strident side. If you cannot even mobilize enough forces to enforce the peace treaty, what makes you think you can actually gain territory?

        On the other hand, if free speech is a compromise between having laws against blaspheming competing gods, and one party pushes the compromise of free speech while the others push enforcing their codes, you end up with a compromise where you enforce some of the codes from the latter groups and give the former no protections. If the side offering free speech instead pushes for their interests, they may be able to introduce free speech as a compromise and satisfy all sides and at least enjoy equal protection.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Compromising between free speech and blasphemy laws, and winning incremental victories over time, has worked out pretty well for the free speech side over time, at least in the US. This doesn’t apply to all institutions, but for the state itself, it absolutely does.

    • It’s hard to take French seriously when he’s so ridiculously naive. He says:

      Moreover, if one rejects kindness, there is no inherent power in cruelty. Do Trump’s insults, for example, deter his opponents or motivate them?

      If the conservatives decided to throw Trump under the bus, does anyone honestly think that would make the left less aggressive towards the right? A common sentiment I’ve heard, more so when Trump first got elected, is that impeaching him would be bad because Pence would become President and he would be much worse, because of his social conservatism.

      I understand wanting to promote Christian values and liberal ones as well. The problem is that French seems to think these go hand in hand and that the best way to promote Christian values is through liberal ones. It’s just wrong.

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. The correct answer to “Do Trump’s insults, for example, deter his opponents or motivate them?” is “Neither. They have no effect whatsoever on his opponents.” The relevant question is actually whether Trump’s public insults deter or motivate his allies. Based on his victory in the GOP primaries, it would seem that among the set of “people who might conceivably vote Republican”, Trump’s Twitter behavior attracts more support than it does alienate and chase off.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        I don’t see anything naive about that. People hate Trump theatrically because he invites them to. The #resistance exists precisely because Trump is big and crude and brash. The minute he’s out of office, it’ll fade away like smoke and fog.

        Will that make the left disappear entirely, of course not. But will it make the slacktivists less energetic, the liberal pundits less strident, the protests more sparsely attended? Undoubtedly.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I might believe that second paragraph if this aggressiveness had not ramped up long before Trump descended the escalator. Check the articles on this blog tagged “things-i-will-regret-writing”, and note the dates.

    • broblawsky says:

      The case French fails to make – and which is, I think, the most trenchant point against Christian statism – is that there cannot be a generically Christian state. By necessity, it must be a sectarian state – specifically Catholic, or Southern Baptist, or Lutheran. We’ve seen this reenacted over and over again throughout history, in the West (as in the European Wars of Religion), in the Middle East (in the perpetual Shia vs Sunni conflicts) and even in the Far East (in the case of Chinese persecution of Buddhism, Christianity, and other minority religions).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The case French fails to make – and which is, I think, the most trenchant point against Christian statism – is that there cannot be a generically Christian state. By necessity, it must be a sectarian state – specifically Catholic, or Southern Baptist, or Lutheran.

        This this this.
        French is utterly, naively wrong, but he’s arguing against people who are building a castle in the air. The foundation for Christian statism would be at least 51% of the population in communion with each other.

        • I don’t really see this as much of an issue. It’s not the 17th century anymore. It’s not even the 1950’s. Christians don’t have the animosity to different sects as they used to. You could have a government that promoted Christian values without it taking a position on the Eucharist.

          • dick says:

            Does it not seem likely that the reason the Presbyterians and Baptists don’t fight with each other today is that one doesn’t have legal authority over the other? I think not having a state religion is one of the central lessons of classical liberalism. To suggest that it no longer applies sounds like, “I think we can tear down the floodwall now, we haven’t had a single flood since it was built.”

          • broblawsky says:

            How confident are you that no one would try to make a grab for the throne? I think the best you could hope for is a sectarian government that tolerates some minority faiths as long as they know their place, like Iran.

          • sharper13 says:

            The problem with solving issues politically is that they quickly become winner-take-all. Political solutions seriously tend towards one-size-fits-all solutions based on what will get the most support being prescribed for everyone. There’s a reason school choice has been such a difficult fight to implement politically, even while at remaining popular with many grassroots constituencies of the politicians opposing it.

            Markets reverse that, because with individuals as the decision-makers, each making many, many individual decisions, they each get their specific needs catered to.

            So while you currently have a “market” for religion where they more-or-less peacefully coexist in the U.S., once there is a State religion, it very quickly ends up that some specific religion wins out and gets official support. At least, every other time it’s been tried, including in other current Democracies which are mostly atheist, where you’d think people would care even less.. Maybe next time it’ll be different, but I think more evidence for that would need to precede the actual attempt.

          • RDNinja says:

            I think you’re right that the old battle lines are irrelevant, but now the divisions are within the denominations themselves. You could easily unite pro-life, anti-gay rights Evangelicals and Catholics, but they would end up in fierce opposition to pro-choice, pro-LGBT Catholics and Evangelicals.

          • I don’t think the legal authority has much to do with current Christian intersectional peaceful coexistence. It has much more to do with the bigger threat of secularism and to a lesser extent Islam. Whether Jesus is physically present in the communion bread seems a lot less salient when the culture promotes drag queen children.

            I understand that having power can change people but can you imagine Baptists and Presbyterians literally wanting to kill each other anytime soon? It just sounds ludicrous.

          • dick says:

            I don’t think the legal authority has much to do with current Christian intersectional peaceful coexistence. It has much more to do with the bigger threat of secularism and to a lesser extent Islam. Whether Jesus is physically present in the communion bread seems a lot less salient when the culture promotes drag queen children.

            I understand that having power can change people but can you imagine Baptists and Presbyterians literally wanting to kill each other anytime soon? It just sounds ludicrous.

            Today, when Presbyterians support legal abortion and a high minimum wage, and Baptists support the opposite, we don’t call it sectarian division, we call it political division. I think one of the lessons of classical liberalism is that being tribalized around policy positions works better than being tribalized around religious sect membership. Every functioning religious community in which people with opposing political views can come together in fellowship and eat casserole in the church basement without arguing about gun control is evidence of that.

          • albatross11 says:

            dick:

            +1

          • Deiseach says:

            You could have a government that promoted Christian values without it taking a position on the Eucharist.

            What’s the Christian value on abortion/gay marriage/trans rights/animal rights/guns/ordaining women/baking cakes for gay trans marriages?

            The only “Christian” values you will get agreement on for government promotion are “It’s nice to be nice, so we should be nice”. That’s not even counting all the people who say “Hey! What about Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu values? What about agnostic/atheist/humanist values? I’m not sending my kid to your school to be turned into an obedient little Christian foot soldier!”

            You have the United Alliance Of Face-aches protesting over memorials on government land. Now, in this particular instance, I think the work in question has little artistic merit and is open to criticism on the grounds in question, but it is also plainly meant naively and sincerely as a memorial to fallen soldiers and the use of a cross is to symbolise a grave, not “Only Christian soldiers count”.

            Imagine what the Face-aches would get up to if you had a government explicitly promoting “Christian values”.

          • Nick says:

            @Deiseach

            The first part of what you said, endorsed; that’s the same argument I make to Jaskologist below.

          • This whole conversation is pretty abstract because Christians don’t have the power to enforce their beliefs on the government level. The best they can hope for is that they win on a few issues that are religiously tinted, like restrictions on abortion. But I was thinking what would happen if we put that all aside and asked what would happen if Christians did somehow have that power, against all odds. I certainly don’t think it would be sectarian in the sense that Presbyterians, for example, would be the national church, persecuting the Baptists or Catholics or even the Mormons.

            As for the liberals, I’m guessing that the overlap between Christians who want a more activist Christian government and those who are perfectly accepting of transgenderism is pretty low.

        • Randy M says:

          I think this valid concern may be able to be mitigated with state religions (rather than national) with easy exit and some weak federal oversight, ala archipelago (or federalism). Even then, I’d prefer smaller states than we have now.

          • Nick says:

            MBD at National Review has argued this wouldn’t even be a violation of separation of church and state, on the grounds that the early states were confessional. I’d likewise be fine with a compromise like that, and it’s surely more likely than turning the entire US into a confessional state or something. Which is not to say likely simpliciter.

          • liate says:

            @Nick
            Well, that was before the 14th amendment. The “no law respecting the establishment of a religion” clause of the first amendment was incorporated (judged as applying to the states instead of just the federal government) in Everson v. Board of Education. It might theoretically be possible for rights to be de-incorporated, but that seems both unlikely and like to de-incorporate other Bill of Rights rights.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Randy

            So let’s say there’s a Wahabi fundamentalist state and a 12 year old girl gets raped and is all set to be executed for it. She’d be able to request extradition? The whole legal system of the state would be considered legitimate, but avoidable?

            This isn’t a gotcha. This is a question about the mandate of the state, and an implication about the reason the Articles of Confederation didn’t work.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M

            “I think this valid concern may be able to be mitigated with state religions (rather than national) with easy exit and some weak federal oversight, ala archipelago (or federalism). Even then, I’d prefer smaller states than we have now”

            As a Californian I’m all in on smaller States, in terms of bringing back State Religions (IIRC Connecticut had the last one) a quick web search shows me that they’re only a few States that come close to having a majority sect.
            Alabama is about 31% Baptist, Rhode Island is about 44% Catholic, and Utah is 55% Mormon.
            Having a state religion may not mean increased religiousity though, there’s a “Church of England” with relatively empty pews, which brings something to mind:
            Lots of studies show that folks who attend religious services at least once a week tend to be happier and more prosperous than those who rarely go, but the completely secular tend to do better than those who profess faith but attend church less than two times a month, could enforced attendance like in colonial New England be beneficial?

            In Oakland, California there’s a “Humanist Hall” across the street from a church, so I could imagine even atheists having a required place to be once a week.

            Though the correlation may go the other way and being happier and more prosperous is what encourages folks to meet once a week.

          • Randy M says:

            @Hoopyfreud
            I suppose I should have said State denominations, but I won’t fight the hypothetical.
            Let’s consider the status quo. Let’s say some state in the union decided to make Jay Walking a capital crime. Or tagging, or hate speech, or litter, or other minor acts that in some areas wouldn’t even be offenses. Does the federal government have a say in this?

            I believe in this case it would eventually go to the Supreme Court under the “No cruel and unusual punishments” clause. It would probably be similar under hypothetical (or rather, historic) ‘individual states can have state religions America’. An over arching set of rules would be agreed to that would include things like no cruel and unusual punishment, but wouldn’t preclude a state giving official recognition to various degrees to a particular creed.

            Just because Rome decided who would be executed, that doesn’t mean Jerusalem was secular, by our understanding of the term anyway (the High Priest may have disagreed).

            Here’s a random thought from out of nowhere, though, for an alt-America (not necessarily just for $Christian_America). Forbid capital punishment entirely. Even forbid life imprisonment. The harshest punishment is ten years in jail, or exile. However, if no other state is willing to accept the convicted exile–if they all agree the verdict was fair and the crime beyond forgiveness–then he is eligible for capital punishment.

            @Plumber
            I don’t actually see this happening short some revolutionary turmoil that I don’t want or some widespread revival that I won’t predict.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            It would probably be similar under hypothetical (or rather, historic) ‘individual states can have state religions America’. An over arching set of rules would be agreed to that would include things like no cruel and unusual punishment, but wouldn’t preclude a state giving official recognition to various degrees to a particular creed.

            “To various degrees” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. If there’s an underlying anti-theocratic strand of society that is preventing the passage of, for example, blasphemy laws, I think it’s inevitable that you inherit the “problems” of liberalism with them. Your grand bargain is much, much trickier to strike than I think you think it is. Perhaps impossible.

          • So let’s say there’s a Wahabi fundamentalist state and a 12 year old girl gets raped and is all set to be executed for it.

            I don’t know much about the Wahabi, but under Islamic law the Hadd offense of illicit intercourse requires consent, so rape doesn’t qualify. Further, the death penalty is only for offenders who have had the opportunity for licit intercourse, so unless the 12 year old had either been married or a concubine, even if convicted she would only get a beating.

            Am I missing some failure of the Wahabis to adhere to any of the four Sunni schools of law? I’m pretty sure the Saudis are Hanbali.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Am I missing some failure of the Wahabis to adhere to any of the four Sunni schools of law?

            My mistake – the incident I’m thinking of was in Afghanistan, not Saudi Arabia, and the victim was imprisoned, not executed. I got it confused with the SA case of the victim of a rape being punished for being in her rapist’s car and the execution by guerrillas of a Somalian rape victim.

      • Nick says:

        ETA: (Epistemic status: Thinking aloud.)

        Yes, it must be sectarian. How long is that a deal that Christians can afford to balk at, though, as the status quo rapidly deteriorates? There’s a good chance your eleven year old will come home from public school one day saying she’s transgender. Her psychologist will agree, and if you demur you will be a bigot, and might even appear as such on national media. What is a Catholic state going to do to you worse than that? Will we bring back the Spanish Inquisition? I don’t think so. If you want to know what a 21st century sectarian state looks like, you’re better off looking at Poland than the Wars of Religion. We’ve contended with liberalism a few centuries now, after all, and we actually have learned a few lessons from that.

        • DeWitt says:

          you’re better off looking at Poland than the Wars of Religion.

          Everyone with half a brain getting out when they can, if they can, and never looking back? Sounds about right.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Isn’t that because of economics? Largely because they’re still recovering from a half century of communism. Plus all the mass murder.

          • bzium says:

            Yes, it’s because of economics. The implied claim that people were emigrating en masse because of religion seems very dubious to me.

            It also doesn’t look like everybody with “half a brain” is desperate to get out, but then maybe I only think that because I’m one of the 35+ million brainless idiots.

        • S_J says:

          Will we bring back the Spanish Inquisition?

          Epistemic status: only as serious as Monty Python.

          Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Their chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear. Their two chief weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency. Their three chief weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. Amongst their four weapons are such elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, a fanatical devotion to the Pope, and ….

          More seriously:

          There’s a good chance your eleven year old will come home from public school one day saying she’s transgender. Her psychologist will agree, and if you demur you will be a bigot, and might even appear as such on national media.

          The psychologists and media may require you to perform an auto-da-fé of some sort. Public contrition in front of a nationwide TV audience. Acquiescence to a treatment program for your child, even if you think that action is comparable to encouraging an anorexic to continue their starvation-diet.

      • Jaskologist says:

        That was pretty much Dreher’s rebuttal: “The Catholic Church can’t even get most of the Americans who profess the Catholic faith to agree with some core Catholic teachings. When integralists convince American Catholics themselves to believe in Catholicism, then we’ll talk.”

        But I’m not sure it’s accurate. There are a lot of things the different sects of Christianity agree on, especially contra liberalism.

        • Nick says:

          I think there’s value in having the state profess a kind of Mere Christianity, but I worry it would be harmful in the long run. The lesson of Deneen’s critique of liberalism is that even if the state declines to act on a vision of the common good, this will simply be taken as a new vision of its own, one dependent perhaps on folks’ having more comprehensive visions, but undermining those all the same. Adopt a minimal Christianity, and in a generation or two that minimal Christianity will become one more sect insisting, say, that Christianity Has No Doctrine On Abortion or some such nonsense. And this will put Christians who belong to actual traditions like Catholicism or Lutheranism in a bind once again.

          So by all means, let the government profess a certain sect.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Note i am a non-christian:
        I think the kind of state a christian would prefer to live in isn’t necessarily one that goes so far into promoting religion that it is sectarian. Things like banning abortion, blue laws, public displays of generic religiosity / public prayer, and certain bans on obscenity are sufficiently vanilla that they are acceptable to about 90+% of christians.

        Most of what is described above was, in fact, so generic that having them be part and parcel of state and local governments was not seen as violating the separation of church and state until the postwar era. The governments many of these traditionalists grew up with were secular by the standards of broad history but were far less hostile to [specifically christian] religions than current governments.

        The question might be what political battles would be fought if secularism as we knew it was non-existant and christians were the only dominant political force; then you might have a resumption of the old political battles over things like regulating liquor which do split along sectarian lines. But such questions are academic since barring a massive revival movement + mass deportations no such domination could occur.

      • John Schilling says:

        is that there cannot be a generically Christian state. By necessity, it must be a sectarian state – specifically Catholic, or Southern Baptist, or Lutheran

        I disagree. This isn’t the seventeenth century, and even if it were, there were a number of successful multisectarian Christian states in seventeenth-century Europe. It is entirely possible to have a system where everyone has to be a member of some Christian denomination but no one sect is privileged over all others.

        If that’s going to be enforced by law, then you need a bureaucracy or court to decide on whether or not Mormons and Unitarians are really Christians, but even then it wouldn’t follow that the court would have to, or is even likely to, decide that only e.g. Missouri Synod Lutherans are True Christians. If, as I thing French et al would prefer, the enforcement is mostly unofficial and less than absolute, if it’s a matter of religions losing their protected-group status so that Christians can socially and economically ostracize the atheists and the state’s role is limited to things like making Christmas a holdiay and laughing at the guy who sues his boss for firing him when he took off Eid al-Fitir, then you just need a broad informal consensus and can afford some fuzziness around the edges. Bob the Baptist says that Alice is a Damn Dirty Atheist what needs a good shunning, and Charlie the Catholic goes along with it because that’s a clear case of ‘us’ vs ‘them’. Mike the Mormon counts as Christian in Utah but gets the cold shoulder in New York; Jerry the Jew is tolerably half-Christian in New York but not in Alabama, and none of this breaks a workable system.

        I think this is the most likely stable outcome for a “Christian” United States. No denomination of Christianity is strong enough(*) in America for its adherents to imagine that they will come out on top if they try to shun everyone who doesn’t adopt their particular brand, almost all American Christians think they are collectively strong enough to win out over the atheists, etc, if they presented a unified front and the Law wasn’t standing in their path, and none of them really care enough about the intra-sectarian differences to risk breaking a pragmatically useful alliance supporting things they do really care about.

        * The Catholics might be large enough, but hindered by the fact that American Catholics aren’t going to trust their own church hierarchy with real power over their lives.

        • broblawsky says:

          What makes you think that no court will, in fact, decide, that Missouri Synod Lutherans are the only True Christians? All you have to do is get 5 Missouri Synod Lutherans on the Supreme Court.

          • John Schilling says:

            Five extremely stupid, selfish Missouri Synod Lutherans. Since Missouri Synod Lutherans make up ~0.8% of US Christians and extremely stupid people make up ~0.8% of the Supreme Court, I don’t think this is a serious danger.

          • Nick says:

            No, what the Court needs is four more Catholics, dammit.

          • broblawsky says:

            It’s only stupid and selfish if you don’t win.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is stupid and selfish because you won’t win. The Supreme Court is not in fact omnipotent.

          • broblawsky says:

            In our government, under our Constitution, yes. Our Constitution also prohibits the establishment of a state religion. Ultimately, any Constitution that permitted the establishment of a state religion would also have to give someone the power to decide whether or not any given individual or institution is a follower of that religion in good standing – most likely, some kind of Supreme Court. In Iran, it’s either the Supreme Court or the Special Clerical Court, as far as I understand it, depending on who violates the law in question.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @broblawsky:
            In that context “getting 5 Synod Lutherans on the Supreme Court” is either anti-climactic or impossible.

            If what you really mean is that the officially sanctioned religion tends to be redefined as necessitated by the powerful, I happen to agree this is likely, but it’s quite different from your original statement.

          • John Schilling says:

            The current US government definitely has the authority to decide who is or is not a lawyer, but the prospect of a Supreme Court ruling that only graduates of Harvard or Yale can practice law in Federal courts is laughable. “Five Supreme Court justices favor X” plus “X is within the Federal government’s power” does NOT equal “X will be mandated by law”.

            It is unlikely that the United States will adopt Christianity as an official state religion, but if it does, virtually all plausible paths to that end will involve an agreement among many Christian denominations that no one sect will be placed above the others as the One True Christianity of America. In which case, “Haha! Justice Anderson was only pretending to be a Presbyterian, he was secretly Lutheran all along, and now that he’s on the bench it’s all Lutherans, nothing but Lutherans, or off to the camps with you!”, will fail and will so obviously fail that it would be mind-numbingly stupid to try. Do we really need to explain to you the many, many forms such a failure could take?

        • dick says:

          It is entirely possible to have a system where everyone has to be a member of some Christian denomination but no one sect is privileged over all others.

          But abortion is either going to be legal or illegal, right? And the minimum wage will either be low or high, and religious education in schools will either discuss the Trinity or it won’t, etc, etc. The extent to which the sects disagree on these policies is the extent to which sectarianism will demolish the facade of unity among Christians.

          • John Schilling says:

            Only to the extent that these things already “demolish the facade of unity among Americans”. And while there are a few US citizens who count themselves “ashamed to be Americans” over the nation’s refusal to take their side on these issues, that’s very much a minority belief. So is e.g. the US surrendering sovereignty to the United Nations because the UN’s policies are more object-level aligned with the speaker, or expelling either Texas or California because the remnant US would be more favorable to the speaker’s faction.

            In a hypothetical United Christian States of America, there would be a Liberal Christian Party and a Conservative Christian Party, yes. The Conservative Christian Party is not going to be trying to legalize or legitimize Islam simply because the Muslims will vote with them to ban abortion.

          • albatross11 says:

            Note that there are Christian churches in the US with very different positions on all these issues. Some Christian denominations have openly gay ministers/pastors/priests, some have ministers/pastors/priests preaching that homosexuality is a sin. (There’s a church near where I live that has had a rainbow flag on their sign for the last decade; I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they’re pretty welcoming to gays who want to join.). Some Christian denominations oppose abortion, some are neutral; some tend to align with Democrats on economic issues, some with Republicans. Catholic social teachings look a hell of a lot more like Bernie Sanders than they do like Mitt Romney.

            Nearly all Christian denominations in the US are pretty positively inclined toward Jews, so you’d probably be looking at a coalition between Christians and Jews, with Jews maybe more accepted in theory than in practice when you got away from the coasts and big cities. As John says, probably Mormons would be sort-of members of that coalition, with more acceptance out West and less elsewhere. And there are plenty of other boundary cases–Unitarians and Quakers have been part of the US forever, but they’re kinda weird relative to mainstream US Christianity–are they in or out? How about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists?

          • dick says:

            In a hypothetical United Christian States of America, there would be a Liberal Christian Party and a Conservative Christian Party, yes. The Conservative Christian Party is not going to be trying to legalize or legitimize Islam simply because the Muslims will vote with them to ban abortion.

            I’m not sure how that’s relevant, it’s not quite what I’m predicting. I’m talking more about the reverse, the process by which division occurs within those parties. Today, we don’t think of Christians as being divided on (for example) the issue of affirmative action. It might be the case that Presbyterians support it more than Baptists, but that’s not a tribal division – or rather, the tribal division is dominated by all the other stuff the left and right disagree on, not the other stuff Presbyterians and Baptists disagree on.

            In your UCSA, that will no longer be true. As long as half the country wants more affirmative action and the other half wants less, the parties will self-organize until one of them is the pro-affirmative action party and the other is the anti-affirmative action party, and bang, affirmative action is now a religious issue that divides Christians. It won’t matter that there’s nothing about Presbyterianism that a priori leads to supporting affirmative action, any more than it currently matters that there’s nothing about opposing abortion that a priori leads to opposing corporate taxes. Once they correlate, they will reinforce – that’s the nature of tribalism.

          • John Schilling says:

            In your UCSA, that will no longer be true. As long as half the country wants more affirmative action and the other half wants less, the parties will self-organize until one of them is the pro-affirmative action party and the other is the anti-affirmative action party, and bang, affirmative action is now a religious issue that divides Christians.

            Yes, exactly like affirmative action is now an issue that divides Americans, without stopping them from being Americans or from running the United States of America as an American country. I do not see how s/American/Christian turns something that clearly does work tolerably well for Americans into something that will fail for Christians.

            And it doesn’t lead to a requirement for explicit sectarian dominance, any more than e.g. Texans mostly oppose gun control and Californians mostly support it requires that we decide that either Texas or California is the One True American State.

            Possibly you are misunderstanding what other people are claiming. Nobody is suggesting that if the United States becomes an explicitly or strongly-implicitly Christian state, everybody will agree on every political issue or even that everybody will agree that one group of Christians will get to decide every political issue.

          • dick says:

            Possibly you are misunderstanding what other people are claiming.

            There are several over-lapping discussions going on, so we may well be talking past each other. The thing I’m arguing against is the idea that Christian sects won’t be divided against each other in a Christian state because they aren’t divided now. I’m not saying that the UCSA would devolve in to religious warfare, just that it would expose and amplify the divisions that exist and create new ones as new tribal allegiances form, resulting in sectarian divisions we don’t have (or don’t notice) today. In other words, I’m saying that this “Presbyterians and Baptists don’t hate each other” thing we have going is a result of liberalism, something we would lose if we abandon it.

            Furthermore (and the next part I’m much less sure about), I think that one of the lessons of classical liberalism is that having a country divided along ideological lines is just inherently better than a country that’s divided along sectarian lines. Having ideological tribes isn’t great – it’d be nice if e.g. people decided whether they supported abortion and whether they supported corporate tax hikes independently, rather than joining the tribe that supports both or the one that opposes both – but I don’t think that’s an option, as long as we’re using monkey brains to do our thinking. So, since we have tribalism, I think history has proven that left/right tribes work better than Catholic/Anglican tribes (or for that matter, Northern/Southern tribes or Tutsi/Hutu tribes).

          • Randy M says:

            So, since we have tribalism, I think history has proven that left/right tribes work better than Catholic/Anglican tribes (or for that matter, Northern/Southern tribes or Tutsi/Hutu tribes).

            Previously you were saying that the evidence that religious tribalism was bad was lack of arguing in church (Every functioning religious community in which people with opposing political views can come together in fellowship and eat casserole in the church basement without arguing about gun control is evidence of that.), which I’m not going to argue against (because I don’t want arguing in Church, and I know there has been, etc.) but here you are making reference to civil war.

            I think you are on shakier ground that political affiliation is less likely to lead to violent conflict than religious. There’s a lot of confounders, like the levels of prosperity. And a lot of historical examples of religious conflicts were along political lines.

            Also, I’m not sure why blue versus gray is different from blue versus red. Because participants in the American Civil War saw their affiliation as a member of a state, rather than as a member of a supra-state party? I think we can find examples of ideological rather than geographical civil war, even if you don’t think the US civil war counts as ideological.

          • John Schilling says:

            There are several over-lapping discussions going on, so we may well be talking past each other. The thing I’m arguing against is the idea that Christian sects won’t be divided against each other in a Christian state because they aren’t divided now.

            But they are divided now, in exactly the way you say they would be divided in that hypothetical future. Some denominations support abortion as a woman’s choice, gay marriage, extensive social safety nets, etc, and some don’t. This does not result in their saying “Those Presbyterians aren’t real Christians, only us Lutherans are real Christians”, or any other such thing, and I don’t see why that would change if we were to de facto or de jure drive the minority of Jews, Atheists, Muslims, etc out of American politics.

          • dick says:

            @Randy M

            …but here you are making reference to civil war.

            I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant that, before liberalism, it was common to have one geographic/ethnic/religious/linguistic/etc group have power over another, and the contribution of liberalism to the world was, “What if we tried not doing that.”

            @John Schilling

            …I don’t see why that would change if we were to de facto or de jure drive the minority of Jews, Atheists, Muslims, etc out of American politics.

            I thought we were doing a little more than that. Here’s David French from one of the original essays OP posted:

            In essence, Ahmari is forsaking classical liberalism — the commitment to neutral principles (such as free speech, religious liberty, and due process) grounded in respect for individual liberty — for a largely undefined version of Christian statism. Classical liberalism (especially polite classical liberalism) is the path to defeat and decay. Only a more robust statist Christian response can meet the challenge of the illiberal secular onslaught.

            That’s what I’m attempting to predict the outcome of – not just an America from which the non-Christians have been mysteriously removed, but an America that gives up on the whole classical liberal idea of trying to appease everyone with neutral laws. He imagines that the new un-neutral laws will favor “Christians” and disfavor “non-Christians”, but as soon as the illiberal government has to decide a policy that the Christian sects disagree on, the laws will be favoring one sect over another.

            What happens then, I dunno, this is a wacky hypothetical. If the UCSA is dominated by one sect, maybe there’s no overt fighting but the other sects feel like persecuted minorities. If the UCSA is roughly split, maybe the different sects will exist in a state of tension like the two political parties do today. But what I think won’t happen, what cannot happen, is that the Baptists says, “Well, the Lutherans won the vote and abortion is legal, but that’s okay because we’re all Christians and we’re all on the same side here.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ dick:

            I just meant that, before liberalism, it was common to have one geographic/ethnic/religious/linguistic/etc group have power over another, and the contribution of liberalism to the world was, “What if we tried not doing that.”

            Is it? The spread of liberalism didn’t stop European nations from enthusiastically colonising the rest of the globe, nor did it have much of a noticeable impact on the popularity of euthanasia and scientific racism. (Indeed, the biggest opponent of these latter things was the Catholic Church, hardly a standard-bearer of liberalism.) America, which is usually considered to have been the most liberal major country out there, had a decades-long programme of ethnic cleansing directed against the Indians, was one of the last Western countries to abolish slavery, and had an elaborate legal and cultural system of discrimination against black Americans until within living memory. There was a period of a few decades in the late 20th century when “Look at the content of someone’s character, not the colour of their skin” was the prevalent view, but with the rise of identity politics this sort of colourblindness is ailing fast, if not already on life support.

            More generally, I’m not sure where the meme that integralist societies will inevitably collapse due to religious infighting comes from. I mean, I guess it’s true that all socio-political arrangements inevitably break down, but if you take a serious look at Western history I think it’s difficult to argue that integralism is inherently less stable than liberalism. Integralism was the norm in Europe from the late Roman period (and arguably earlier, if you count the old Graeco-Roman poleis with their civic cults, but I’ll stick to Christian integralism because that’s the form under discussion), began to decline with the rise of Protestantism, and finally ceased to be normative some time in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. So, that’s a period of about 1500 years in which integralism was the normal way for Christian/European/Western polities to be organised. As for liberalism, the USA is normally considered the world’s first properly liberal state, although if we’re taking a strict definition of liberalism as “The government has to be (as far as possible) completely neutral between competing religious and moral views”, then even the US wouldn’t count until the 1960s. Either way, however, liberalism has been the norm for far less time than integralism was, and is to all appearances already starting to collapse. So I’m not sure that there’s much justification for the idea that liberalism is more robust than integralism.

            As a final point, I don’t even think that liberalism is necessary to preserve order in multi-cultural countries. Arrangements like the Ottoman millet system, Dutch pillarisation and Swiss localism seem to have done a good enough job at maintaining peace between different religious and ethnic groups, for example; conversely, liberalism has only had to deal with multiculturalism for several decades, and already the prognosis for long-term success looks poor.

          • albatross11 says:

            The way this plays out much of the time now is that we end up with a compromise position that nobody’s entirely happy or unhappy with. Absent Roe v Wade, I expect this is what we’d have in the US w.r.t. abortion–most states would have more restrictions on abortion than the strongest pro-choicers would like, and fewer than the strongest pro-lifers would like.

            Sometimes, one side wins and drives the victory home and the other side is just defeated, but most of the time, we end up with compromise and then various attempts to slide the compromise one way or the other when your side gets power.

          • dick says:

            Is it? The spread of liberalism didn’t stop European nations from …

            I agree that America is not a perfectly liberal country, and that countries who claim to believe in classical liberalism often fail to uphold it, but I don’t know how that’s relevant here? It seems orthogonal to what we’re discussing.

            I’m not sure where the meme that integralist societies will inevitably collapse due to religious infighting comes from.

            I didn’t know either, and “collapse” is a strong word. I agree that having a state religion used to be the norm, that’s what I was saying in the para you quoted. I don’t think historical examples are a very good guide towards what would happen in a Christian USA in 2020, and I’m not sure it’s all that relevant, either – I don’t think Amari et al are discussing an alternate-reality path our country could’ve taken, they’re telling modern real-world Christians to vote differently today.

            And I’m saying, when he makes the argument that the country would be better off if Christians voted for more explicitly Christian laws and legislators, he’s cheating by pretending that there is a unified group called “Christians” who share a coherent worldview and want more-or-less the same thing from their government. The fact that, even if they succeeded and replaced 100% of our government with devout Christians, we would still have the same old fights over abortion and evolution and taxes and so forth, because Christians are divided on those issues, is a way to illustrate that.

            Either way, however, liberalism has been the norm for far less time than integralism was, and is to all appearances already starting to collapse.

            I don’t know what that means, but I’m pretty sure I disagree with it and it sounds like it merits its own digression. If you’re referring to SJW/woke politics, and suggeting that it constitutes a threat to classical liberalism, then… let’s just say that my response would be dismissive enough that it would be unfair of me to type it out before you get a chance to explain what you mean in more detail.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I agree that America is not a perfectly liberal country, and that countries who claim to believe in classical liberalism often fail to uphold it, but I don’t know how that’s relevant here? It seems orthogonal to what we’re discussing.

            If you argue that liberalism is good because it stops race-based domination, then it seems relevant to point out that liberalism’s historical track record when it comes to stopping race-based discrimination is somewhat patchy.

            Alternatively, if you’re actually arguing that “the contribution of liberalism to the world was, ‘What if we tried not doing that’, although nobody actually listened”, then that may be true, but it also deflates the ideology’s achievements somewhat.

            And I’m saying, when he makes the argument that the country would be better off if Christians voted for more explicitly Christian laws and legislators, he’s cheating by pretending that there is a unified group called “Christians” who share a coherent worldview and want more-or-less the same thing from their government. The fact that, even if they succeeded and replaced 100% of our government with devout Christians, we would still have the same old fights over abortion and evolution and taxes and so forth, because Christians are divided on those issues, is a way to illustrate that.

            Not really. Ahmari’s essay refers to “traditional Christians”, “religious conservatives”, “conservative Christians” and the like, so it’s pretty clear that he’s referring to traditional/conservative Christians, not liberal ones.

            I don’t know what that means, but I’m pretty sure I disagree with it and it sounds like it merits its own digression. If you’re referring to SJW/woke politics, and suggeting that it constitutes a threat to classical liberalism, then… let’s just say that my response would be dismissive enough that it would be unfair of me to type it out before you get a chance to explain what you mean in more detail.

            You don’t think that half the political spectrum adopting race- (gender-, sexuality-, etc.-)based identity politics is a threat to classical liberalism? It seems to me that it’s exactly the sort of “one geographic/ethnic/religious/linguistic/etc group have power over another”-type situation you credited liberalism with having done away with. So yes, I do think the rise of SJ is a threat to classical liberalism; there are also the rises in suicide, mental illness, single-parent families, and so on, which aren’t exactly great advertisements for the success of the liberal project.

          • dick says:

            If you argue that liberalism is good because it stops race-based domination… Alternatively, if you’re actually arguing that “the contribution of liberalism to the world was, ‘What if we tried not doing that’, although nobody actually listened”, …

            “Liberalism” is not a government achieving equality, as depicted in Star Trek, it’s just a government that tries for equality. I argued that it is better than what came before it, which was governments that don’t try. It seems like you’re using a non-central definition of that word?

            You don’t think that half the political spectrum adopting race- (gender-, sexuality-, etc.-)based identity politics is a threat to classical liberalism? It seems to me that it’s exactly the sort of “one geographic/ethnic/religious/linguistic/etc group have power over another”-type situation you credited liberalism with having done away with.

            No. Identity politics is not a threat to liberalism, it’s a feature of it, because we reserve that term for the second group to get some power. We don’t use it to describe, say, the whites who wanted to continue owning slaves, or the men who tried to deny women the vote.

            Living in a liberal government that strives for equality does not mean that the majority stops oppressing the minority, the latter smiles sweetly and says thank you, and then we all live together in harmony. It means that everyone squabbles with everyone, trying to get as much power for their own side as possible, the government tries to decide their squabbles neutrally, and sometimes your side loses.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Liberalism” is not a government achieving equality, as depicted in Star Trek, it’s just a government that tries for equality. I argued that it is better than what came before it, which was governments that don’t try. It seems like you’re using a non-central definition of that word?

            But I think lots of “liberal” governments didn’t even try for equality, at least not in a global sense. E.g., Jim Crow-era America clearly wasn’t trying and failing to make all its citizens equal; it was actively preventing them from being so.

            No. Identity politics is not a threat to liberalism, it’s a feature of it, because we reserve that term for the second group to get some power. We don’t use it to describe, say, the whites who wanted to continue owning slaves, or the men who tried to deny women the vote.

            “Identity politics” doesn’t just refer to a group trying to gain power or equality, it’s a specific outlook which involves treating people as interchangeable representatives of their demographic group rather than as individuals. Somebody who says that Dante, Homer, and Nietzsche all represent the “white male” perspective is engaging in identity politics, as is somebody who claims that the offspring of a white trailer-trash single mother is privileged whereas Barack Obama’s kids are oppressed; Martin Luther King wasn’t engaged in identity politics, even though his political activism was focused on improving conditions for a particular group, because he wanted people to be seen primarily as individuals rather than as black or white.

            Living in a liberal government that strives for equality does not mean that the majority stops oppressing the minority, the latter smiles sweetly and says thank you, and then we all live together in harmony. It means that everyone squabbles with everyone, trying to get as much power for their own side as possible, the government tries to decide their squabbles neutrally, and sometimes your side loses.

            I’m surprised I have to tell you this, but a country which is divided into squabbling sectional interest groups is going to be a bad place to live in, because there’s going to be no social trust or capacity for collective action. It’s also not going to remain liberal for very long, because people are going to fear their enemies getting power more than they fear the state, and are consequently going to demand greater state power to protect them from the other side (as J. S. Mill pointed out back in the 19th century). Then, of course, there’s the likelihood that one side will actually get power and use it to oppress everyone else, that is if the country doesn’t pull a Yugoslavia and fall into civil war first.

          • dick says:

            But I think lots of “liberal” governments didn’t even try…

            If you like. I don’t like arguing about semantics on the internet, I think it is the Most Boring Thing in the World. Feel free to replace my usages of “liberalism” with “the thing described in the wikipedia article on Liberalism.”

            [Identity politics is] a specific outlook which involves treating people as interchangeable representatives of their demographic group rather than as individuals.

            That’s a pretty derogatory way to put it, but yeah, it’s when someone in a group supports some policy because it’s good for their group. And I’m saying, that’s a feature, not a bug. Eight thousand years from now, there’ll still be a Martian supporting a policy just because it’s good for Martians. And you’ll be there going, “…but that policy is bad for Earthlings, he’s using identity politics!” Yes, he is, and so are you when you point out that it’s bad for Earthlings. That’s what a liberal society looks like, a bunch of different groups squabbling.

            I’m surprised I have to tell you this, but a country which is divided into squabbling sectional interest groups is going to be a bad place to live in, because there’s going to be no social trust or capacity for collective action.

            I know, I know. Not what I would’ve picked either. Take it up with the Creator that used tribalistic monkey brains to copy off of when creating us in his image.

            However, if you’re gay, the world where gays and straights squabble over how many rights gays should get beats the shit out of the world where the straights decide and the gays don’t get a say. And (I think) the former is objectively better than the latter; meaning, the oppression that the majority inflicts on a powerless minority tends to be, if one could quantify it, far greater than the oppression that the minority inflicts on the majority after they get some political power.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If you like. I don’t like arguing about semantics on the internet, I think it is the Most Boring Thing in the World. Feel free to replace my usages of “liberalism” with “the thing described in the wikipedia article on Liberalism.”

            I’m not sure that helps your position. I don’t think the politicians who passed Jim Crow laws cared much about “equality before the law”, for example.

            That’s a pretty derogatory way to put it, but yeah, it’s when someone in a group supports some policy because it’s good for their group.

            “When someone in a group supports some policy because it’s good for their group” isn’t an accurate paraphrase of “treating people as interchangeable representatives of their demographic group rather than as individuals”.

            I know, I know. Not what I would’ve picked either. Take it up with the Creator that used tribalistic monkey brains to copy off of when creating us in his image.

            The traditional solution was to encourage people to identify with the nation as a whole rather than their sectional interest group. If US citizens identify primarily as “American” rather than “white” or “black” or “male-to-female transsexual trapped in a ciswoman’s body” or whatever, then they’re more likely to support policies which benefit America as a whole, rather than specifically white Americans at the expense of black Americans. The problem with woke politics is that it encourages people to identify as white or black or whatever rather than as Americans, creating increased social conflict as people increasingly ignore the common good of the nation as a whole and instead focus on screwing as many privileges as possible out of anybody who doesn’t fit in with their own narrow interest group.

            And (I think) the former is objectively better than the latter; meaning, the oppression that the majority inflicts on a powerless minority tends to be, if one could quantify it, far greater than the oppression that the minority inflicts on the majority after they get some political power.

            Citation needed. If anything, it’s more likely to be the other way around — a powerless minority can be mostly left alone without any danger, whereas an oppressed majority has to be constantly kept down lest they decide to overthrow their oppressors.

          • Enkidum says:

            If US citizens identify primarily as “American” rather than “white” or “black” […] then they’re more likely to support policies which benefit America as a whole, rather than specifically white Americans at the expense of black Americans. The problem with woke politics is that it encourages people to identify as white or black or whatever rather than as Americans, creating increased social conflict as people increasingly ignore the common good of the nation as a whole and instead focus on screwing as many privileges as possible out of anybody who doesn’t fit in with their own narrow interest group.

            So… there has literally never been a single moment in the entire history of the US when the negative situation you describe did not exist. It’s really hard for me to understand how the opponents of identity politics claim that it is illegitimate because it treats everyone in one ethnic group the same, when this was literally one of the founding principles of your country.

            Also, acknowledging that groups exist, and are important, and that members of many groups tend to have aligned interests, is not the same as denying that any individual differences exist.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Enkidum,

            Irish immigrants used to be considered a separate group with their own interests. Now they aren’t. That change is a good thing for both Irish Americans and for the country. That change was a reduction in identity politics.

          • dick says:

            “When someone in a group supports some policy because it’s good for their group” isn’t an accurate paraphrase of “treating people as interchangeable representatives of their demographic group rather than as individuals”.

            I know. Your definition was bad, so supplied a better one. What makes mine better? Real people holding it. “I support this policy because it’s good for gay people as a group” is something that people actually say sometimes. “I support this policy because I view gay people as interchangeable representatives of their demographic group rather than as individuals” is not.

            This is arguing semantics, which I detest, but it’s an important point. You introduced the term “identity politics” by saying:

            You don’t think that half the political spectrum adopting race- (gender-, sexuality-, etc.-)based identity politics is a threat to classical liberalism?

            I (charitably) assumed you were describing a position they actually hold. (And again, I suggest looking key terms up to see if you’re using them in the most common way. The first sentence of the wiki article is fairly close to my definition, and nowhere near yours.) If you have a theory about the real reason that gay rights proponents actually support gay rights or whatever, argue the point honestly. Don’t redefine an existing term to include your theory and then just use it until you get called out on it.

            (cont’d)

          • dick says:

            The problem with woke politics is that it encourages people to identify as white or black or whatever rather than as Americans, creating increased social conflict as people increasingly ignore the common good of the nation as a whole and instead focus on screwing as many privileges as possible out of anybody who doesn’t fit in with their own narrow interest group.

            I’m pretty sure everyone thinks their own side’s policies are the ones that “benefit America as a whole.” If there was any point to that paragraph other than expressing the hope that people might one day realize your side is right, I couldn’t find it. An example would help. Like, what would a gay rights activist circa 2000 do if he were following your advice? Could he and his friends have legalized marriage faster or better by “identifying with America” really hard? How would that work? Or was he supposed to say “Gosh, I’d like to get married, but that whole battle might be really disruptive so I’ll just put America first and give up on the whole wedding idea”?

            Citation needed.

            Okay. Let’s stick with gay marriage. Prior to it being legalized, some people said, “Hey, it’s against the law for gays to get married – we think that’s oppression!” After it was legalized, some other people said, “Hey, gays can get married now – we think that’s oppression!” Both sides are entitled to their opinion, but it seems obvious to me that the former is worse than the latter.

            Some people might disagree. That’s okay, that doesn’t mean the US has abandoned liberalism. We abandon liberalism the day we start saying, “It doesn’t matter which side has it worse or what resolution would be more fair – we are siding with the Christians because this is a Christian country.” Which is what I think Amari was in part suggesting, hence me piping up.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m pretty sure everyone thinks their own side’s policies are the ones that “benefit America as a