SELF-RECOMMENDING!

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

### 1,232 Responses to Open Thread 133.5

1. dndnrsn says:

Question for anyone who knows enough about statistics to answer: let’s say you’ve got two people competing in betting on a sport – doesn’t matter which sport, but let’s say soccer/association football, because there’s a lot of games. If they each bet on half a dozen to a dozen games a day, figuring out what they think the chances are and then betting more or less depending on their predicted chances of one team or the other winning versus the bookies’ odds (if it’s 50-50 odds but they think one team is 60% to win, they bet on that team; if it’s 60-40 odds but they think it’s 50-50, they bet on the underdog, etc), betting more or less depending on the size of the margin – how long would it be before you have a significant sample size? How long would the competition continue before you could say one is better than the other? (I imagine that the degree of the disparity between our two betters would matter as well).

• Murphy says:

it depends on effect size.

If one is correct 99% of the time while the other is secretly flipping a coin you won’t need very many test at all. How many depends how certain you need to be.

if one is genuinely 0.000001% better at the task than the other it may take many millions of tests to be sure.

If both are secretly flipping fair coins then there’s no set point where you can say “these 2 are definitely equally good at this”

it also depends on how important is is to you to not get a false positive: if they’re actually equal, how bad is it if after 1000 tests you wrongly conclude that one is better than the other?

2. acymetric says:

Is there a good way to kill ivy in a lawn without killing the grass, or do you just have to go scorched Earth and then reseed the lawn? I’ve poked around online but as best I can tell none of the solutions are “grass safe”.

• 2181425 says:

Roundup (glyphosate). Apply it carefully to the leaves and right at the roots of the poison ivy and make sure it isn’t going to rain for 30-60 minutes afterward. You may kill a bit of grass right around the plant, but it’s remarkable how precise you can be with it if you’re careful.

Alternatively, wait until winter and very carefully pull up the poison ivy (wear gloves, full clothing, face mask, etc since it can still irritate your skin but it’s easier to deal with with the leaves gone.

• acymetric says:

This is just regular ivy, not poison ivy, luckily.

Incidentally, I am as best I can tell not allergic to poison ivy, which is pretty handy (I mean I still try to avoid contact just to be safe in case something has changed).

• 2181425 says:

Doh! I should read more carefully I’ve had a lot of poison ivy spring up the last few weeks so I’m seeing it everywhere apparently. 🙂

• The Nybbler says:

Round-up will kill regular ivy too.

• acymetric says:

Yeah, I figured the advice still held. I was just clarifying.

The ivy is pretty pervasive though, I think I would end up taking out a lot of lawn along with it even if I were careful.

Backstory: I’m renting a house from a friend. The lawn was already in rough shape when I got there a year ago, so I don’t feel responsible for the current condition, but I thought if I could do something nice for him and clean it up a bit it would be nice to do that (I’m not going to go through the effort or expense to completely redo the lawn though, which I ultimately think is what is necessary).

• j1000000 says:

If the ivy is pervasive enough, then frankly you don’t even have to be all that careful. No matter what you kill it with, you’ll be left with big patches of dirt throughout the yard that you have to re-seed, right?

• acymetric says:

Right now it is…baby ivy? It’s coming up through the grass but the grass is pretty much still there. It’s not like thick, bushy overgrown Ivy.

Like I said, I was just curious if there were any relatively simple ways to get rid of ivy without killing the lawn as a courtesy, but I’m not interested in undertaking a massive (possibly costly) lawn restoration project on a lawn I don’t own.

• acymetric says:

Looks kind of like this throughout large patches of lawn, as opposed to this (but obviously it won’t stay that way).

• Plumber says:

@2181425,
I have the opposite deal, it’s only the grass I want to kill, not any other plants.

• 2181425 says:

Roundup works for that too, but so does shade/cover. Visqueen (cheap thin plastic sheeting) kills grass so fast it’s unbelievable. Problem is it just grows back unless you do something semi-permanent.

Depends on the type of plants you’re trying to keep and how widespread your grass problem is. I have a shady wet area I flatter myself is a moss garden and the only thing that really works there is hands and knees weeding. Moss is a non-vascular plant as I understand it and so really dilute roundup will kill the grass but not the moss, but I haven’t wanted to risk it by trying it yet.

• Plumber says:

Thanks,

I’ve used roundup before and I’ve found the grass is usually resilient in a way that the other plants aren’t, but I was hoping there was some secret to not having to jusr pull grass (a duty my older son now suffers).

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Dicamba. You can just pick up the Ortho Weed B Gone from Home Depot, which contains Dicamba. You’ll want to spray twice during fall, in 2 week intervals. It may take a few years to get it totally reduced, and you’ll also need to practice regular good lawn maintenance so the lawn will fill in. Anything not filled by lawn will be filled by one weed or another.

Our lawn was about 50% ivy when we moved in. Mostly grass now.

Dicamba is not exactly grass-safe, but it kills weeds faster than it kills grass.

• Mark Atwood says:

Just pull it out and be fastidious about it. Every time you see a leaf, *immediately* trace back as much vine as possible, and then pull out as much vine as possible.

In three years, most of the roots will have starved and died.

After that, any ivy you see will be runners from the neighbors, or starts from pieces transported by wind or by animals. Pull them immediately, before they root deep again.

This same technique works for morning glory, and for poison ivy, and on about the same timeframe.

It doesn’t work for blackberry. I no idea what blackberry roots live on if you keep pulling the surface growth. I’m starting to suspect they have extra-dimensional darkmatter reactors or organic phase room temperature fusion reactors as organelles.

Glyphosate is faster, taking only two years instead of three, or only one if you are really really fastidious. But I am getting more and more uncomfortable with the idea of handling the stuff, and wish that it had not been so prevalent sprayed on the gardens and flower beds of my youth.

• Nornagest says:

3. Nancy Lebovitz says:

What do you make of this?

I’m pretty sure IQ and SAT select for a sort of ADD, if you happen to have the right sort. Here’s a little problem that you can get right. Before you get too bored, have a different little problem.

It doesn’t select for the ability to follow through on an extended challenge (a personal issue for me) and it doesn’t select for the ability to look for larger context or handle ill-defined problems (Taleb’s main points).

Now that I think about it, I think power relationships are well-defined problems for some people, but they aren’t the kind of well-defined problems you get on IQ tests.

Taleb is probably over-generalizing when he shows such a strong preference for only practical problems. He likes the way his own mind works (to put it mildly), but people who like impractical problems aren’t necessarily incapacitated by it and have done a lot of good in the world.

It’s amazing how much more tolerable Taleb’s insults are when I more or less agree with him.

• albatross11 says:

It was a real shock to me when I heard Taleb on the Econtalk podcast, and realized that he actually had interesting insights and things to say that were worth hearing. His public persona is basically all blowhard and Eulering and insults and intellectual bullying.

I haven’t read the linked piece (I will when I have some time), but everything I’ve seen from him about IQ so far has indicated that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about–I mean, literally, he doesn’t understand the field he’s critiquing, doesn’t understand how the tests are constructed, he makes factually wrong claims about empirical results, etc.

The most important thing to know about IQ tests is that they’re practically useful–knowing someone’s IQ score lets you make good predictions about how they’ll do in school or at work, across a wide range of intellectual demands. (That is, knowing someone’s IQ score lets you make good predictions about how well they’ll do as a janitor, an accountant, or a mathematician.) If your test makes useful predictions about the world, then all the handwaving arguments in the world about how it’s not meaningful because of some complicated reason you claim don’t really do you any good.

• baconbits9 says:

I find Taleb to be the most original and insightful person I have ever read, and yet I rarely read him because I know that it requires wading through much to get to. In his case it isn’t just muck around gems either, his gems have muck all the way through them for no apparent reason. In The Black Swan he takes an incredibly important piece of context that effects the entire book and puts it in a foot note (and a footnote in the introduction iirc) without which the rest of the book is fairly mundane. There are days when reading him makes me think he would fail a Turning test, and that is both a compliment and an insult.

• j1000000 says:

Which footnote?

• baconbits9 says:

I used the logical metaphor of the black swan (not capitalized) for Black Swan Events (capitalized), but this problem should not be confused with the logical problem raised by many philosophers. This is not so much about exceptions as it is about the oversize role of extreme events in many domains in life. Furthermore, the logical problem is about the possibility of the exception (black swan); mine is about the role of the exceptional event (Black Swan) leading to the degradation of predictability and the need to be robust to negative Black Swans and exposed to positive ones.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Incerto) . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

• Viliam says:

I am a bit short on time now, but I have to say this: Taleb is a known troll. Yes, he is a smart guy and says a lot of interesting things. But he also exaggerates and talks nonsense for the sake of controversy. He would easily dismiss (and misinterpret) anything he dislikes, and just call everyone opposing him an idiot. Please remember that just because he wrote a clickbait article on Medium, it didn’t make an entire field of research evaporate instantly. I really needed to say this, because he has many completely uncritical fans.

I will try to write a more detailed reaction a few hours later, but for now… his arguments in the article seem to be, roughly:

* IQ is not everything, therefore it is nothing.

* Increasing IQ correlates with improvements in life only until it reaches 100; after 100 the effects of IQ instantly disappear.

* There are many high-IQ losers, just look at an average Mensa gathering.

A quick response:

1) Higher IQ can be better, ceteris paribus, without it being a superpower or a cure for everything. Do not compare e.g. “smart but lazy” with “average but diligent” to conclude that IQ means nothing. A fair comparison is between “smart and lazy” and “average and lazy”, and between “smart and diligent” and “average and diligent”.

Same for whatever other character traits you insist are better than IQ. The question is not whether X is better or worse than IQ, but whether “same level of X with higher IQ” is better than “same level of X with lower IQ”. Of course, in addition to IQ, other good traits improve your life outcomes, too; this was never controversial.

2) This would contradict many known things, I suppose.

3) Base rates falacy. Most people are “losers” (in the sense that they do not achieve anything revolutionary). Even in the world where high-IQ people are 10x more likely to be extraordinary than average-IQ people, as long as the fraction of extraordinary people in population is sufficiently small, most high-IQ people will not be extraordinary.

More later…

• Viliam says:

Ok, now I have time to read the article more carefully.

“IQ” … mostly measures … learning disabilities

it correlates with general incompetence

it explains at best between 2 and 13% of the performance in some tasks … that are similar to the test itself

fails 80–95% of the time

There is no significant statistical association between IQ and hard measures such as wealth.

correlation is 80% between test and retest, meaning you being you explains less than 64% of your test results

If you want to detect how someone fares at a task, say loan sharking, tennis playing, or random matrix theory, make him/her do that task … Performance=actual.

take the sequence {1,2,3,4,x}. What should x be? Only someone who is clueless about induction would answer 5 as if it were the only answer … Not only clueless, but obedient enough to want to think in a certain way.

one has to be a lunatic (or a psychologist) to believe that a standardized test will reveal independent thinking.

It measures best the ability to be a good slave confined to linear tasks.

IQ is unnecessary and using it is risky because you miss out on the Einsteins and Feynmans.

The same people hold that IQ is heritable, that it determines success, that Asians have higher IQs than Caucasians, degrade Africans, then don’t realize that China for about a Century had one order of magnitude lower GDP than the West.

1)

So, one objection against IQ is that — according to Taleb! — IQ tests provide, uhm, not a completely random number, but still something that varies a lot. If you take two or three IQ tests, you get two or three quite different numbers. Which one of them is the one true result that is supposed to correlate with your success and whatever?

I feel pretty sure that the randomness is smaller than Taleb claims. The data is out there, I am just lazy to search it now.

I suppose that the differences between retests will be quite big for people with high IQ. That’s because when you convert the “number of problems solved correctly” to “IQ”, you get greater spaces at the extremes. Also, because most IQ tests are capped; if score “30 of 30 problems” corresponds to “IQ 140” in a specific test, then of course you cannot achieve a result higher than 140, even if you solve everything correctly. But in another test a 100% score may correspond to IQ 120 or IQ 170.

On the other hand, I have an anecdotal evidence about people who keep going every year to take a Mensa test, and keep failing. Which, if true, would suggest that below IQ 130, the randomness is actually quite small. Otherwise, anyone could become a Mensa member by perseverance.

My conclusion is that even if the “80% correlation” that Taleb mentions is true, what it actually means is that values of IQ above 150 are mostly noise. What it does not mean is that values between IQ 70 and IQ 130 (i.e. 95% of the population) are noisy in the same way. In other words, you are quite likely to get test outcome IQ 140 on one day and IQ 170 on the other day; but you are much less likely to get IQ 120 on one day and IQ 150 on other day; and you are very unlikely to get IQ 100 on one day and IQ 130 on other day.

2)

Factors other than intelligence have an impact on IQ test results. For example, a disability can make it extra difficult to follow instructions, resulting in IQ value being lower than it would correspond to actual intelligence. As an extreme case, if you give a paper with IQ test to a blind person, without providing them any help, they would get the lowest possible value. Which again, could be IQ 70 in one test, and IQ 40 in another. Now this is a strawman example, but other disabilities could have relatively smaller but still significant effect.

I suppose this is in an important thing to notice, and for the people with disabilities it makes a difference. It is just very unlikely that this (i.e. “yeah, disabled people have problems in life, news at 11”) explains everything about the relation between IQ and life outcomes.

And about the obedience and creativity… yeah, if someone is so obstinate that he or she refuses to provide answers in the IQ test… or so creative that instead of solving the given problem he or she decides to choose e.g. the most aesthetically pleasing answer… then yes, the measured IQ will be much smaller than it should be. And yet such person can be successful in life. Again, true, but I don’t believe this is the usual case.

3)

“To measure someone’s expertise at X, have them do X, instead of measuring IQ and then inferring their skills at X.”

Uhm, yeah. Obviously. (Unless measuring X directly would be too costly or too slow.)

But this doesn’t imply that IQ can’t correlate with the skill at X.

4)

Insufficient relationship between IQ and income/wealth. Checkmate, psychometrist!

Seems like the argument is that higher IQ helps you avoid poverty, but isn’t really helpful at becoming very rich. (This is of course Taleb’s trademark topic: how people ignore the extreme values, although they are often game-changing.)

I don’t know. My first instinct would be to check the origin of the graph he provides and examine the data carefully. First, it seems a bit suspicious to me that the number of people with IQ 100 is about the same as the number of people with IQ 130. But perhaps the values are normalized. Second, does it include also sources of income such as winning a lottery, where higher IQ obviously does not provide much help?

On the other hand, maybe he is right. Maybe high IQ is good at avoiding poverty and making “the kind of income most people would consider decent but Taleb would laugh at”, but irrelevant at making miraculous fortunes. Maybe. Still seems like a useful thing.

• Anthony says:

Regarding income and IQ:

It’s a correlation. If you have a bunch of people with IQ = 110, and a bunch with IQ = 120, the second group will have a higher median income, once the group is large enough. But there may be a guy in the first group who inherited a lot of money and made sensible-enough investments, or who works really hard, or is particularly creative and charismatic, or who got lucky in some significant way that puts his income above everyone in the second group. (Millionaire pop musicians are likely lower IQ than most other millionaires, for example.)

The same is even true if the second group’s IQ is 140. It’s a lot less likely, but not impossible.

• Clutzy says:

Isn’t one of Taleb’s books, literally called “Fooled by Randomness”?

That is exactly what is happening to Taleb.

• baconbits9 says:

You didn’t read the whole piece, and Taleb is not this dumb.

• baconbits9 says:

My conclusion is that even if the “80% correlation” that Taleb mentions is true, what it actually means is that values of IQ above 150 are mostly noise. What it does not mean is that values between IQ 70 and IQ 130 (i.e. 95% of the population) are noisy in the same way

Taleb directly addresses this, his claim is that correlation below 100 (90? 80?) is what is driving the results.

• J Mann says:

1) Taleb has an annoying habit of calling everyone he disagrees with an idiot, a mountebank, or what have you. I’ll grant that I’m not smart enough to rule out the possibility that he’s correct that everyone he disagrees with is a fool or knave, but in general, it makes me trust his judgment less. IMHO, if he wrote “So and So makes a critical error,” there’s a higher possibility that he read So and So fairly and is therefore more likely to be correct, than if he says “So and So, the prattling mountebank, claims . . .”

2) The meat of the disagreement, as far as I can tell, is whether IQ correlates with relevant measures of success. Taleb claims no, and uses wealth as his example. Almost everything else I’ve seen says yes, there is a substantial correlation. I’d be interested in hearing more about why they disagree.

3) From what I’ve read, it is pretty hard to get consistent cross-national IQ comparisons, because of language and cultural differences that make it had to normalize your tests. I suspect you could, in some cases, do tests of descendants of immigrants in various countries – there’s a lot of noise, but if you do it in enough countries, you might get some useful data.

4) I don’t think even Taleb denies that some people are born smarter than others, and that some of that is hereditary, only whether IQ tests measure that quality.

• Aapje says:

From what I’ve read, it is pretty hard to get consistent cross-national IQ comparisons, because of language and cultural differences that make it had to normalize your tests.

Not just the tests themselves, but the very very selection of who gets to take the tests, at what point in their life and under what circumstances, seems very hard to normalize.

I suspect you could, in some cases, do tests of descendants of immigrants in various countries

The problem with this is that migrants are not average, both due to push (people who want to migrate are not average) and pull reasons (people who are allowed to migrate are not average).

I don’t think even Taleb denies that some people are born smarter than others, and that some of that is hereditary, only whether IQ tests measure that quality.

But the fact is that IQ as measured by IQ tests is one of the most solid predictors of outcomes. Denying this pretty much requires a complete dismissal of all social science findings, as nearly all of it is supported by weaker evidence.

• baconbits9 says:

2) The meat of the disagreement, as far as I can tell, is whether IQ correlates with relevant measures of success. Taleb claims no, and uses wealth as his example. Almost everything else I’ve seen says yes, there is a substantial correlation. I’d be interested in hearing more about why they disagree.

Not quite, Taleb says yes it correlates but mostly because it correlates very highly with low IQ people and barely at all (if at all) with high IQ people.

• Plumber says:

@baconbits9,
Are you saying that Taleb said that not having a certain minimum IQ means your likely to be poor, but being further above that minimum doesn’t noticeably correlate with any higher income beyond what others above the minimum get, or are you saying something else?

• baconbits9 says:

That appears to be what he is saying here.

• Plumber says:

@baconbits9,
Thanks

• J Mann says:

Not quite, Taleb says yes it correlates but mostly because it correlates very highly with low IQ people and barely at all (if at all) with high IQ people.

Good clarification, thanks.

Has anyone qualified responded to this point? It seems hard to believe that a generation of researchers would miss it, but not impossible.

I should also say that Taleb partially buries it in his other criticism that high IQ scores qualify you to be a tiresome bureaucrat who he hates, not a disruptive genius innovator like him, because:

1) Citation needed. I would have guess that disruptive genius innovators would tend to score well on IQ tests, but I could easily be wrong.

2) Even if all IQ selects for is the ability to be a top quintile researcher, doctor, or what have you, isn’t that good notwithstanding that Taleb holds those people in contempt?

One more slight digression: I am beginning to suspect that Taleb has a contempt function something like Trump’s – if you are kissing Taleb’s butt or he is kissing yours, you are terrific, but if you’re not, you’re boring, and if you’re criticizing him or in his way, you’re a mountebank and an idiot. (Although it probably takes more skill to kiss his butt and not get caught than it does with the President.)

• baconbits9 says:

Has anyone qualified responded to this point?

I haven’t seen it, and I haven’t looked particularly. I have seen a handful of responses that totally miss the point, but I have mostly seen responses on SSC and ones that Taleb has mocked, so its not a very good sample (I don’t even follow Taleb enough to look at more than a small percent of his rebuttals).

I am beginning to suspect that Taleb has a contempt function something like Trump’s – if you are kissing Taleb’s butt or he is kissing yours, you are terrific, but if you’re not, you’re boring, and if you’re criticizing him or in his way, you’re a mountebank and an idiot. (Although it probably takes more skill to kiss his butt and not get caught than it does with the President.)

I thought about that comp myself, but Trump seems to have succeeded in certain arenas because of his personality and Taleb may well be succeeding despite his personality and because of a particularly prodigious intellect. NNT also seems very willing to punch down, which is something I mentally associate with Trump.

• albatross11 says:

My understanding is that IQ scores become less meaningful, as they get higher. The problem is in how you construct the tests–if you want to distinguish between top 1/10,000 and top 1/100,000 people, you need to give your sample tests to a *lot* of people–probably in the range of 10 million people. Without that, you’re not constructing your test in a way that you could expect to distinguish those people. It’s also possible that IQ tests are good at capturing some general kinds of intellectual abilities, but miss out on specialized kinds that can drive extreme success in some field. And they certainly miss out on work ethic, drive, study habits, social skills, and similar things that also drive success.

Famously, Terman’s study on mathematically precocious youth showed that kids who did very well on math tests as kids tended to be very successful in life, but his criteria for selecting those kids narrowly missed two guys who ended up with nobel prizes in the sciences. They both had high scores, but not quite high enough to get included in his study.

Terman’s study shows two things, IMO:

a. Measured intelligence predicts success, even at the high end of the range.

b. Measured intelligence still misses a lot of the picture, even (especially?) at the high end of the range.

• baconbits9 says:

I haven’t really looked into this stuff, but Ternman’s original studies are definitely not above reproach, with several criticisms. From Wikipedia

The study has been criticized for not having a generalizable sample.[37][38] Moreover, Terman meddled in his subject’s lives, giving them letters of recommendation for jobs and college and pulling strings at Stanford to help them get admitted.[3][28] This makes any life outcomes of the sample tainted and ungeneralizable.[3]

In his book Fads and foibles in modern sociology and related sciences (p. 70–76), sociologist Pitirim Sorokin criticized the research, saying that Terman’s selected group of children with high IQs did about as well as a random group of children selected from similar family backgrounds would have done.[39]

• albatross11 says:

I didn’t know about the intervention by Terman, and that probably messes up the results somewhat. (It’s hard to say by how much.)

I’d have to go back and look at the results, but I am quite skeptical that the number of PhDs and academic papers from the high-scoring group would be at all typical from a sample matched by family income or socioeconomic status. Even kids from very wealthy families usually don’t get PhDs.

• baconbits9 says:

1) Taleb has an annoying habit of calling everyone he disagrees with an idiot, a mountebank, or what have you

Definitely true. If you read the criticisms he links of him they often misrepresent/misunderstand his points but I also don’t believe that he is picking the best of his critics either.

• BBA says:

This certainly comports with my experience, as someone good at well-defined problems and lousy at the big vague stuff. I’m great at standardized tests and an absolute disaster at job interviews. So I’m naturally skeptical of the tendency around here to insist that IQ is the sole determinant of success, or anything along those lines. Of course, I also have *gestures downthread* other issues.

• Aapje says:

So I’m naturally skeptical of the tendency around here to insist that IQ is the sole determinant of success

Aren’t you strawmanning people by saying this?

Can you give one example of a person arguing this?

• BBA says:

“Insist” was the wrong word. “Strongly imply” better? It’s one of those things you never see being argued explicitly, but is treated like an unspoken baseline assumption which makes it hard to call out.

• nkurz says:

OK, let’s go with “strongly imply” instead. Can you point to some examples of where you see this happening? Viewing IQ as the sole determinant of success seems so wrong to me that I’m surprised you see it as a baseline here. At the least, I think there would be a lot of pushback from people who disagree, and I haven’t seen that pushback. I certainly don’t think it’s the case that majority of people here believe that IQ is any sort of a sole determinant of success.

• J Mann says:

My guess is that Aapje found the word “sole” to be the strawman more than “insist.”

I would describe the pro-IQ position as “IQ measures a quality that is a ‘substantial’ or ‘important’ determinant of success, but there are many others.”

Ultimately, I’d be very surprised if anyone on the board believes IQ is the sole determinant.

ETA: Ninjaed by nkurz!

• HeelBearCub says:

Flip it around.

“Differences in outcomes are determined by the average measured IQ of the group and not other things.”

If you think people around here aren’t strongly implying that …

• Randy M says:

“Differences in outcomes are determined by the average measured IQ of the group and not other things.”

If you think people around here aren’t strongly implying that …

There’s a big difference between individual outcome and group outcome. Individual outcome will have much less correlation with IQ–and less still with the average IQ of their demographic.

But even speaking about relative group achievements, I don’t think that’s anyone’s opinion. There’s something to the luck of the initial geography, or a particular innovation at a particular time having an outsized impact (I don’t think the relative difference between England and Japan during the British Empire was due mostly to average intelligence).

But I think this is the impression BBA and HBC have of the other side because this is where the debate happens. People like Taleb [?] deny almost any real world impact to innate intelligence, or else deny any way to meaningfully measure it. They get pushback on that point that may or may not come with a raft of disclaimers, but that doesn’t mean the other argument boils down to believing IQ is everything. But it comes off that way because that’s where the disagreement, and thus most of the discussion is.

Personally I believe intelligence is real and meaningful and probably positively correlated with many other good things. But whether it’s 25% or 75% I would stake a strong opinion.

(There’s a lot of room for personal bias to creep in when talking about what other people are implying)

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

I don’t think Taleb denies that there’s such a thing as innate differences of mental capacity, it’s that he thinks that what’s measured by IQ tests isn’t very important for the vast majority of people.

I don’t know where Taleb would stand on this, but I think it’s at least plausible that some of the difference in life outcomes correlating with IQ scores is a result of gatekeeping which filters out people who are bad at IQ tests and similar tests like the SAT.

• J Mann says:

@HeelBearCub

“Differences in outcomes are determined by the average measured IQ of the group and not other things.”

I still don’t think anyone on this board thinks that, but that helps clarify.

Person 1: Acme hired fewer Purpletonians as managers than their proportions in its worker population. Since there are no other credible explanations, we can reasonably infer discrimination on Acme’s part.

Person 2: No, it’s possible that the Purpletonians don’t compose an equal share of the most qualified managerial candiates.

Person 1: So are you implying that the difference in hiring is entirely due to IQ?

Person 2: Although I believe that IQ is an important measure, of course innate intelligence is not the only factor. Purpletonians might have different educational qualifications, experience, availability to work unusual hours, or other qualities that make them a successful manager.

• albatross11 says:

HeelBearCub:

What we can say from available data is that IQ is correlated with a bunch of positive life outcomes. Most of _The Bell Curve_ is spent documenting this stuff, using this gigantic longitudinal study (NLSY79) to gather data. People with low IQ scores are a lot more likely to have been disabled, divorced, unemployed, or in prison during one of the interview periods (I think every 5 years) than people with high IQ scores. There’s a positive correlation between IQ and income, and IQ and highest educational level achieved, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Other research shows that IQ scores are positively correlated with work performance, even for pretty basic menial jobs like being a janitor that you wouldn’t think would need a lot of brains to do well. And that this correlation persists across the range of measured IQ scores, despite NTT’s claims.

Now, it seems very likely to me that many of these differences in outcome are substantially caused by differences in intelligence, which are approximately measured by IQ scores. I don’t know that for certain, but in some areas (differences in academic success between groups[0] with different average IQ), it’s easy to see how the causal mechanism would work, and why it would matter. It’s not especially mysterious that when Alice is smarter than Bob, she usually gets better grades in school and does better in hard classes[1]. I suspect that many other differences in outcomes are to some extent caused by differences in intelligence, but there are also a *lot* of other things driving those differences in outcomes. So, as an example, the black/white difference in life expectancy is probably somehow related to intelligence differences[2], but my not-very-informed guess is that it’s mostly social or biological stuff unrelated to intelligence.

Linda Gottfriedson’s paper on g (what IQ tries to measure)

[0] This isn’t just about racial groups. If you take one group of white students with average IQ of 100 (average) and another with average IQ 140 (very smart), the second group will beat the first in almost any academic outcome you can imagine. Indeed, racial groups tend to have a bunch of other confounding stuff going on that makes interpreting different outcomes a lot harder.

[1] For any given Alice and Bob, there are a ton of individual differences that may make Alice do worse or Bob do better, but over large numbers of people, all those differences will tend to average out and the Alices will do a lot better than the Bobs.

[2] There’s a positive correlation between IQ and life expectancy. Some of this probably comes down to the effect of intelligence differences, but I imagine mostly this is secondary effects–smarter people usually have safer jobs, have more money for doctors, etc.

I still don’t think anyone on this board thinks that, but that helps clarify.

Person 1: Acme hired fewer Purpletonians as managers than their proportions in its worker population. Since there are no other credible explanations, we can reasonably infer discrimination on Acme’s part.

Person 2: No, it’s possible that the Purpletonians don’t compose an equal share of the most qualified managerial candiates.

I suppose that’s how some people view it. To me, it’s more like Acme is explicitly known to be discriminating against Purpletonians and there’s mountains of evidence that it’s happening, and the people making claims about the Purpletonians’ inherent qualities are saying that Acme’s discrimination is justified. Or at the very least, they’re arguing that the discrimination somehow makes no difference at all and the Purpletonians would be just as unsuccessful at getting Acme jobs even if it wasn’t happening.

We know for a fact that institutional and systemic discrimination against racial minorities was the norm for most of U.S. history. And while it’s not quite as much of an absolute certainty, the majority of people would agree that some degree of systemic (if not institutional) discrimination against racial minorities is still happening, even if there’s a lot of debate about how severe the problem is. To me, it’s absurd to think that these factors aren’t largely responsible for the fact that racial minorities tend to have worse life outcomes on average, even if the claims about those races being inherently less intelligent are true (and I strongly doubt that they’re true).

Scott made this point back in 2013, in the Anti-Reactionary FAQ, and I wish more people would take it into consideration when making these sorts of arguments:

Arguing about whether a post-racial society should provide equality of opportunity or equality of results is a little like arguing about whether in the worker’s paradise, everyone should have a pony or everyone should have two ponies.

Right now, there is not even equality of opportunity. Rigorous well-controlled study after rigorous well-controlled study has shown that women and minorities face gigantic amounts of baseless discrimination in various areas, most notably employment. This remains true even when, for example, the experiment is sending perfectly identical resumes out to companies but with the photo of a black or white guy at the top.

Once we have equality of opportunity, then we can start debating whether we should go further and try for equality of results. Until then, it’s kind of a moot point.

• Nornagest says:

Arguing about whether a post-racial society should provide equality of opportunity or equality of results is a little like arguing about whether in the worker’s paradise, everyone should have a pony or everyone should have two ponies.

With respect to Scott, I think he misses the mark badly here. If we’re trying to create a post-racial society (there’s some debate on that point, but let’s just run with it for now), it’s enormously relevant just what kinds of equality that implies, because that bears directly on what kinds of policies we should deploy to its end. If we decide we want equality of outcome, then aiming for equality of opportunity isn’t a logical first step, it’s almost a red herring; they are fundamentally different goals that are best tackled with fundamentally different tools. And this is true no matter where we are on the way to either goal.

• HeelBearCub says:

@J Mann:

I still don’t think anyone on this board thinks that, but that helps clarify.

I mean, just look at the reply from albatross right after yours. Sure, there are caveats, but the core is that group IQs explain group outcomes. He even says it outright:

Now, it seems very likely to me that many of these differences in outcome are substantially caused by differences in intelligence

I’m not particularly interested in debating the truth of it, that’s really a separate conversation. I’m just pointing out that the argument is prevalent.

• Mark V Anderson says:

@HBC
You suggested that many on SSC would believe:

“Differences in outcomes are determined by the average measured IQ of the group and not other things.”

Then used Albatross’ quote as indication:

Now, it seems very likely to me that many of these differences in outcome are substantially caused by differences in intelligence

You don’t see that these two comments are way far apart? Most especially your addendum “not other things.” But also the adjectives changing the tone, such as “very likely” and “many of the differences” on Alb’s part. I think your comment caught the direction of the belief, but in an uncharitable way. By the way, I agree with Alb’s comments but not your interpretation, for the reasons I indicate above.

• J Mann says:

@HeelBearCub

I’ve agreed that lots of people think that general intelligence is substantially measured by IQ tests and is a significant component of success in many areas, but I’ve said that I would be very surprised to find that anyone thinks it is the “sole” component of success. (See my comments in this thread here and here.

Albatross’s comment is consistent with that.

Now, it seems very likely to me that many of these differences in outcome are substantially caused by differences in intelligence

I guess we’d have to ask Albatross what percentage they associate with “substantial.”

• Clutzy says:

We know for a fact that institutional and systemic discrimination against racial minorities was the norm for most of U.S. history. And while it’s not quite as much of an absolute certainty, the majority of people would agree that some degree of systemic (if not institutional) discrimination against racial minorities is still happening, even if there’s a lot of debate about how severe the problem is. To me, it’s absurd to think that these factors aren’t largely responsible for the fact that racial minorities tend to have worse life outcomes on average, even if the claims about those races being inherently less intelligent are true (and I strongly doubt that they’re true).

I’ve heard this many times, and it always comes off as question begging (in the actual sense) to me. You’ve arbitrarily set a cutoff point during which you choose to base you decisions.

For instance, “We know for a fact that institutional and systemic discrimination against racial minorities was the norm for most of U.S. history.” Yes, but allowing this to drive your conclusion is silly. Its extremely plausible, even likely, that the same traits that caused minorities to end up in the oppressed group rather than the dominant group are still relevant traits.

We can go even further back, perhaps the people who emigrated Sub Saharan Africa, which is an ideal place for humans to live, were forced out because of their traits. The traits that are now advantageous for Whites & Asians. We don’t know, and you don’t even inquire. Instead you assume your conclusion at the start.

@Clutzy: I don’t believe any of that to be true. In terms of why Europeans were able to develop faster than the rest of the world, there are plenty of more credible explanations out there. For the most part, I agree with the narrative that Jared Diamond lays out in Guns, Germs, and Steel, or at least the broad strokes of it.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that your proposed narrative was correct. The fact would still remain that the racial groups in question have faced centuries of systematic discrimination and oppression, regardless of what caused their ancestors to end up in that position. Any difference in life outcomes caused by genetics would be greatly exacerbated by the addition of institutional and systemic factors specifically designed to keep these racial groups from succeeding. By setting up those barriers, the dominant racial groups are effectively creating a feedback system by which initially small differences get magnified over time, until all non-dominant groups are ground down to the bottom. That doesn’t seem like a desirable situation at all, unless you’re a racial supremacist who’s actively seeking to further your race and yours alone, at the expense of the rest of humanity.

• Aapje says:

@HeelBearCub & BBA

The way I see it, there are three possible (and not exclusive) explanations possible for why black Americans do so poorly:

1. Discrimination
2. Cultural differences between ethnic groups
3. Black IQ differences

You guys seem to completely ignore the many discussions about cultural differences, which in my perception, are considerably more common than discussions about racial IQs. SJ advocates seem to get far, far, far more angry about (tolerating) claims that IQs differ, so could it be that you consider those claims more common than they are because they irritate you way more and/or have a belief that tolerating those discussions means agreement?

Note that even if some people would solely blame low black IQs for the entire group difference in outcomes, which I can’t remember anyone arguing, that doesn’t necessarily imply that other factors like laziness or poor social skills don’t play a role in personal outcomes. It does imply that those factors do not explain the group difference, which is true if these factors doesn’t differ between groups (in other words, if an equal fraction of black and white people are lazy, have poor social skills, etc) and not just if these factors have (almost) no impact on outcomes.

Note that outcomes do not merely differ between ethnic groups, but also between men and women. I can’t remember anyone arguing that women are stupid, which people would presumably would have to believe if they think that IQ fully determines outcomes.

Ultimately, I am really rather irritated by this insistence that we form a hive mind with a certain belief & when pushed for examples, we get this combination of claims being walked back and hand waving about how things are “unspoken,” which seems almost like a conspiracy theory where people apparently gesture to what they really believe and explicitly say things they don’t believe.

• Aapje says:

It is unquestionably true that Asians Americans have faced discrimination and yet Asian Americans earn more on average than whites. Furthermore, there are white groups with generational poverty.

To the very limited extent that your narrative is falsifiable, it doesn’t match the facts very well. However, the falsifiability is low since the SJ narrative tends to beg the question, by taking outcome differences as proof of discrimination. So then the argument becomes circular:
Certain groups have worse outcomes due to external factors that they cannot evade or transcend (in time) and the existence and immense strength of these external factors is evident due to the much worse outcomes for these groups.

Yet if you actually try to measure these super strong external factors directly, then you often see relatively unimpressive results.

• Randy M says:

I agree that the two comments Mark V Anderson quotes show a more significant difference than HBC represents, so I think trying to get him to acknowledge that he’s inaccurately characterizing the right/conservative opinion on the matter will be largely futile going forward.

• albatross11 says:

One thing that complicates the “We see historical discrimination against group X and group X has worse outcomes, therefore the worse outcomes are due to the discrimination” model is that we also see groups that have suffered historical discrimination and yet have better outcomes than basically everyone else. There was substantial discrimination against Asians (particularly Japanese and Chinese) and Jews over a lot of history, including US history. And yet, both groups do better than the average American in most outcomes.

• albatross11 says:

J Mann:

How much of the variation is explained by differences in intelligence is an empirical question, and one that will differ between different cases.

There’s this funny thing that happens in a lot of group-outcome discussions where IQ is involved:

Alice starts by pointing out that there is a history of discrimination against group X, and that group X is doing badly now, and infers that the discrimination is the cause.

Bob starts by pointing out that group X has a substantially lower average IQ than the surrounding population, and that group X is doing badly now, and infers that differences in intelligence are the cause.

Now, both of these are still in correlation-is-not-causation land, and need to be nailed down with more and better evidence before they can be asserted with much confidence. However, my sense is that a lot of people in the big wide world are perfectly fine with Alice’s comment, and will get mad as hell about Bob’s comment, even though they’re each taking one visible possible cause of the outcome difference and assuming it explains the difference.

Similarly, if Alice responds to criticism by digging into the data to find some strong evidence that a particular outcome difference is very likely due to discrimination, very few people get mad at her for doing so. If Bob does the same, he’s a f–king Nazi. There’s this huge moral/political reaction to the explanations that often seems to swamp any actual logical or empirical explanation.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

I’ve seen an argument that slavery did more damage than most discrimination because of the break in cultural continuity. I’m not convinced this is right, but I’m not convinced it’s wrong, either.

Furthermore, there are white groups with generational poverty.

Yes, and this is more evidence for my point. Among both Whites and Blacks, most families that were poor several generations ago tend to still be poor today. The difference is that for all intents and purposes, Black people weren’t allowed to be anything but poor for a long period of American history, which explains why a larger percentage of Black families are born into poverty.

This also explains why Asians tend to have better life outcomes than Whites: many of the Asians in the U.S. came from families that were wealthy before they immigrated here. It would also explain why African immigrant families tend to have better life outcomes than American-born Blacks.

Yet if you actually try to measure these super strong external factors directly, then you often see relatively unimpressive results.

I’m not really sure what kind of measurements or results you’re referring to here. Do you have any examples?

• Clutzy says:

@Clutzy: I don’t believe any of that to be true. In terms of why Europeans were able to develop faster than the rest of the world, there are plenty of more credible explanations out there. For the most part, I agree with the narrative that Jared Diamond lays out in Guns, Germs, and Steel, or at least the broad strokes of it.

Diamond’s narrative spinning in GGS is exactly the kind of question begging I was talking about. Apart from the places he states as fact things that are factually incorrect (like that the Zebra is not suited to be a pack animal, in fact it is even in a non-domesticated state; or that wheat was an easy to domesticate high calorie starch, both corn and potato outperform it in natural and cultivated varieties, and it is basically on par with SSA’s sorgum) he also states things that are set up as to be non-refutable, like that spreading culture and tech is easier east-west than north-south (no strong evidence) even ignoring things like the proliferation of potatoes north-south in the Americas happening quickly. He’s also among those the often takes the most extreme population numbers available so as to suit his narratives, both for SSA and pre-colonial America.

• albatross11 says:

BBA:

If I’ve left the impression I think that, I’m sorry, because it’s not at all what I really believe.

I think intelligence (as approximately measured by IQ tests) drives a lot of life outcomes to some extent.

For academic success and ability to do very intellectually demanding jobs, intelligence matters a great deal. (You simply can’t be a successful programmer or lawyer without a fair bit of intellectual ability. And without a fair bit of smarts, you’ll simply never make it through a graduate program in any demanding field.) For other stuff, intelligence matters, but not as much.

And for everything, intelligence is only one factor in what drives success. You can have the brains of a Gauss, and if you never try to learn anything, your amazing natural intellect won’t do anyone any good. I think of this the way I think of performance in professional sports–you can’t be in the NBA at all unless you’re an amazing natural athlete, but within the NBA, there’s a range of different things that drive success–some guys work extra hard, some really understand the game at a deep level, some just coast on their immense natural talent, and there’s a large helping of luck involved in personal success or failure, too–an injury at the wrong time can wreck your career; get drafted onto a team where there are already two really good guards, and maybe you spend a few years mostly warming the bench and never get a chance to shine.

But all that said, some people have more athletic talent than others, and that matters even within the NBA, and nobody without a lot of that talent ever gets close to the NBA.

In the same way, intelligence matters a lot for success in (say) science. But there are a ton of other things that also matter. You can’t even get into the game without a first-rate brain, but you also need hard work and luck and people skills and lots of other things, and different people have more/less of those things. And all of them matter.

• HeelBearCub says:

you also need hard work and luck and people skills and lots of other things, and different people have more/less of those things.

I don’t think this caveat really does much. That’s all correlated with IQ as well, except, perhaps, luck.

• albatross11 says:

Positively correlated, but not very strongly. There are tons of people in the world who are both very smart and also have no people skills, or are very smart and have a lousy work ethic.

In general, it seems like you’re taking my words and parsing them into a much more extreme point of view than I actually hold or argue for. I’m not really sure if this is you being uncharitable, or me just not being clear about what I’m claiming, but I tried to make a pretty careful statement above, and I feel like your “So what you’re saying is…” summary would have fit well in that infamous BBC interview with Jordan Peterson.

Let’s take a simple example. We have a classroom full of suburban white middle-class kids, overwhelmingly from intact homes, all native English speakers, etc. We give them all an IQ test, and then separate them into a high(>110), medium(90-110), and low(<90) IQ group for purposes of analysis, without telling them or their teachers. We later observe that the high-IQ group ends up taking a lot more AP classes, and a much larger fraction of them end up going to college, than the low-IQ group. In this situation, my guess is that basically all the difference in performance between the high and low IQ group is likely to be due to differences in intelligence. The smart kids did better in school, exactly like you'd expect.

At another extreme, we might imagine two groups: Group #1 is mostly poor white kids being raised by single moms. Group #2 is mostly middle-class white kids being raised by intact families. Suppose we give them IQ tests, and determine that Group #2 has a 10-point higher average IQ than Group #1. And then suppose we observe that Group #2 takes more AP classes, gets better grades, goes to college more often, etc. In this situation, it's harder to say how much of the outcome difference comes down to differences in intelligence. Probably some of it, but Group #1 has a lot of disadvantages, and it's hard to say which ones drove the disparity. You can try to tease the effect of IQ out by using tricky statistical techniques or clever experimental/observational design, but then you risk fooling yourself into thinking an artifact of your techniques is a real effect–something that's happened to a lot of social scientists over the years.

And with all this, I think the most important thing to note is that this is an empirical question, not a moral one. The answers to these questions are knowable (though perhaps hard to get because of all the confounding variables), and you don’t learn anything about the right answer by determining which answers would be morally better.

• baconbits9 says:

We give them all an IQ test, and then separate them into a high(>110), medium(90-110), and low(<90) IQ group for purposes of analysis, without telling them or their teachers.

I have a pet theory, with no evidence for it currently, that doing this will generate specific results. It goes (basically) that kids right at the cutoff levels will have surprisingly different outcomes, that the 111 kids will struggle more than the 110 kids, and maybe even as much as the 89 kids.

• albatross11 says:

I think looking for that kind of effect is the whole point of regression continuity design experiments in the social sciences.

• HeelBearCub says:

In general, it seems like you’re taking my words and parsing them into a much more extreme point of view than I actually hold or argue for.

Mmmmm, I understand why you are saying this. I really do. But what I am really attempting to do here is holding “your” feet to the proverbial fire the proverbial “you” lit. (Note that I didn’t mention you in my original post. I’m responding to BBA and attempting to clarify their position.)

Allow me to explain. You mentioned up above the idea that Alice might say “look at this evidence for historical discrimination and the bad outcomes that have resulted from that discrimination”. Then Bob says “actually, that group has lower IQ, so we would expect them to have poor outcomes.”

Now, if I am taking you at face value, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with Alice’s comment. Past and present discrimination has effects and they matter. Or, they don’t, but we need to show why they don’t. Bob’s comment, under the model you are proposing, isn’t particularly responsive to Alice.

Conversely, if Dave comes along and says “We show that grit substantially effects outcomes in this study”, I expect Ellie to come along and say “Actually grit is positively correlated with IQ. You are probably just measuring IQ”. I am reasonably sure I have seen Scott make this argument. Once you lean on IQ’s positive correlation as as substantially (and ultimately) causal, the argument gets used over and over.

Schooling doesn’t matter, education attainment doesn’t matter it’s just signalling, positive/growth mindset doesn’t matter, teachers don’t matter, environment doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. All that matters is how smart you are. Why, one of the foremost mathematical minds of any age grew up in the slums of India and taught himself mathematics on his own.

Again, I am not particularly interested in the moment at debating the facts of the matter, just the logical implications in meaning of leaning on this correlation.

• albatross11 says:

HeelBearCub:

Now, if I am taking you at face value, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with Alice’s comment. Past and present discrimination has effects and they matter. Or, they don’t, but we need to show why they don’t. Bob’s comment, under the model you are proposing, isn’t particularly responsive to Alice.

It’s responsive to Alice in exactly the same way that Alice’s comment is responsive to Bob. Alice claims an explanation for an observed set of group differences, and Bob claims a different explanation. They presumably disagree on whose explanation is a better model of reality.

There’s no way to decide who is more right a priori. The only way forward is to actually examine the claims and evidence and see what we find out. In some cases, Alice probably has the better model; in other cases, Bob does.

• albatross11 says:

HeelBearCub:

Conversely, if Dave comes along and says “We show that grit substantially effects outcomes in this study”, I expect Ellie to come along and say “Actually grit is positively correlated with IQ. You are probably just measuring IQ”. I am reasonably sure I have seen Scott make this argument. Once you lean on IQ’s positive correlation as as substantially (and ultimately) causal, the argument gets used over and over.

This is a fully general critique of any model for complex social phenomena. It applies just as well to the model that racial discrimination/animus (or structural oppression, or whatever) explains all differences in outcomes across races. It applies just as well to the model that differences in outcomes between
people are mainly down to differences in family income/socioeconomic status. And so on.

Any model is subject to being over-applied. And again, the solution isn’t to dismiss the model you dislike, it’s to examine the arguments and evidence. Is grit predicting good outcomes independent of IQ? Is IQ predicting good outcomes independent of parental income and socioeconomic status? Do SAT scores measure something more than just how much your parents spent on test prep classes? These things are knowable, and indeed researchers can and do (and should) try to answer them.

Schooling doesn’t matter, education attainment doesn’t matter it’s just signalling, positive/growth mindset doesn’t matter, teachers don’t matter, environment doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. All that matters is how smart you are. Why, one of the foremost mathematical minds of any age grew up in the slums of India and taught himself mathematics on his own.

This is a wonderful strawman, but literally nobody in this conversation, nobody in the SSC comment threads, and hardly anyone in the world actually believes it.

I’d write a long post explaining which of those things I thought mattered in what circimstances, but what would be the point? You’d just go back to beating on your strawman.

• Plumber says:

Nancy Lebovitz says:

“Taleb on IQ.

What do you make of this?…”

I’m not familiar with Taleb’s previous work, but the arguments and arithmetic in that piece largely went over my head and I couldn’t follow them.

If the general argument is that the results of a written test poorly correlates with actual on-the-job performance that fits my experience in working with fellow plumbers with the City and County of San Francisco as the results of our civil service exams is public record and I found enough bottom scorers to be better plumbers than those we got top scores that I very much questioned thr use of the test.

4. albatross11 says:

It’s interesting to me to ask:

a. What fraction of the ideas expressed by the intellectuals in our society are honestly what they believe, and what fraction are lies or at least shaded to avoid some kind of pushback?

b. What fraction of the claims of fact expressed by respectable information sources are honestly their best picture of reality, and what fraction are lies/spin/shaded to avoid some kind of pushback?

c. How would we know?

It seems to me that if the answers to (a) and (b) aren’t extremely small, they represent ways we are blinding ourselves as a society–making sure that even the people whose job it is to think hard about serious ideas and learn what the world looks like are producing a distorted picture of the world to avoid getting hassled by activists.

• Randy M says:

It seems to me that if the answers to (a) and (b) aren’t extremely small

You mean the answers to the second half of the ‘or’ questions?

Basically you’re asking how effective is the policing of the overton window. And it’s probably pretty effective. So then the question is how usefully is it positioned.

• Aapje says:

@albatross11

You could make a forum where people have an average IQ of 195.3 (as self-reported and thus surely completely reliable) and then look at what people say there anonymously.

If only there was such a forum…

😛

• J Mann says:

That’s the average???

• Nornagest says:

Well, if I self-reported an IQ of, say, six million, that would bring the average up quite a bit.

• Aapje says:

@J Mann

It was absurdly high, although I forgot the exact number and decided against looking it up. I chose hyperbole over accuracy to make it more obviously satirical.

• Randy M says:

It was absurdly high, although I forgot the exact number and decided against looking it up.

Which is probably exactly what the people reporting those numbers thought!

5. Plumber says:

I’ve no socially acceptable place else to  discuss and vent/confess this in all but a very shallow and flippant way that comes to mind, so I’ll spill my guts here, I did a websearch of my best friend from elementary school who was my second D&D DM (his eldest brother was my first DM) who I met back in the ’70’s, and he’s dead now I saw his obituary, he had beautiful second wife and kids whom I never met (I was at his wedding with his first wife, who later cheated on him and they divorced) he became a scientist (he seemed far more imaginative than me in our youth and I guess was smarter as well), moved to Santa Cruz, and died of cancer not too long ago.

I looked up my other friend from the same time who who’s mom became a junkie when we were teenagers and he moved into my Mom’s house so I moved into my Dad’s house because it was too crowded, when he turned 18 he joined the Marines, and I was a little glad to see him get out of town, but I couldn’t find any trace of him on-line so his fate remains unknown to me, and then I made a mistake that kept me from sleeping last night/this morning, I looked up the girl that came with me to my best friends wedding when I think I was 21 or 22 and she was 18 or 19, but we met when we were both still teenagers, and I fell for her hard (as only teenagers can) she lost interest in me (as most women do their men, but luckily for us older women resign themselves to staying with us sometimes) and I never fell as hard for another girl of women again including my beautiful wife who I met when I was 23 and have been with since I was 24.

For the second to last sort of “date” I had with the girl I’ll call “K” (when we were at the “just being friends” stage) she called me to invite me to a house party concert, and then when I called her back she was very angry with me because I called her by her childhood name and not the new name she had chosen for herself, and I decided then that further friendship wasn’t much worthwhile, though I saw her a few times afterwards, once when I was on a motorcycle that I was proud of and I saw her and said hello, once on an actual dinner for the two of us at a fancy restaurant (which we never did when we were actually boyfriend and girlfriend, mostly we just rode on my motorscooter) that she indulged my whim to try to LARP a “date” despite usually being too poor for such things;, and the last time I was at a bookstore that I was at with my future wife for a reading she wanted to attend, and I got in line to buy a book the cashier said my name (twice!) until I realized that the cashier was “K”, who said to me: “I thought you were moving to Seattle” and I replied: “I was there for months, but it was just too dark”, and I haven’t spoken to her again for decades, and I assumed that she moved out of town like most of the friends I had in my youth.

Well…

… “K” did go to college out of town, but she came back and has been teaching at a nearby university (the University!) for many years, and the reason she was easier to find out about on-line than my other old friends was she’s had five books published and a lot of articles on-line (some at websites and publications that I’ve read sometimes like Slate, and Foreign Policy, making me feel like a dunce that I never noticed her by-line.

In many way my wife was like “K” when we met, my future wife was a student at the University law school, had ambitions to be a musician and a writer, was more educated than me and had impressive books – and she met me, dropped out, never got published, the drummer left our “band”, she stayed in an apartment with me that had a leaking roof for 17 years, and for a year with me from jobsite to jobsite sleeping in a truck with a camper, we buried one son who didn’t live a year, had two other sons, and finally bought a house in 2011 when we were both in our 40’s.

“K” instead married a drummer, became an academic and a prolific writer, and (this will interest you @Deiseach) became both very “woke” and returned to Catholicism and has written a lot on faith and politics (including many essays for a Jesuit publication), no children, but much prestige, got hate mail after Fox News criticized her, et cetera – yes it’s been a long night of reading!

Reading first my old best friend’s accomplishments, and then my old girlfriend’s accomplishments has made me feel pretty insignificant, but more than that it’s made me feel that my wife could’ve done so much more without me, because I really did have a “type”: long dark hair, middle-class background, and my educationak and intellectual superior, and yes future Mrs. Plumber reminded me of “K”, and given what “K” accomplished and Mrs Plumber had ambitions to, I’m feeling like a bad influence and an anchor right now.

• EchoChaos says:

For what it’s worth, my wife is the only one of her college friends who doesn’t have a full-time job because she stays home to take care of our four kids. She’s also by far the happiest of them.

Odds are good your wife prefers being your wife and mother to your kids over lots of prestige. Reading about your old girlfriend made me think the opposite. She seems like she missed out on a great family life for prestige.

• John Schilling says:

+1. If you’ve “only” helped your wife raise two children in a happy family, that’s a much bigger deal than you’re giving yourself credit for, and it has probably made her happier than a prestigious intellectual career would have. She did, after all, choose you, and I’m told she’s pretty smart.

• Randy M says:

Likewise. I’m going to be unchivalrous and conclude that my wife probably wouldn’t be a world class leader or scholar without me, but she likely could have found her way to greater material or social success either personally or through a different spouse. But the number of her friends with a crazy ex, or a husband who makes their life miserable, or a boyfriend who won’t marry them, indicates that she could have done way worse on a metric that’s equally or more important.

It’s cliche and facile to say money can’t buy happiness, but it’s true that there are a lot of rich people who are miserable despite it for personal reasons that we’ve to date avoided. Domestic tranquility is worth a lot in a life.

Now, I wonder if there is some connection here. My wife and I are disciplined, but we aren’t terribly ambitious; you (@Plumber) strike me as similar. Someone who is relatively very successful needs a strong drive for it (or perhaps a stupid amount of luck), and that ambition may carry over to other aspects of their lives–dissatisfaction with their “average” but compatible spouse, for instance.

• baconbits9 says:

I dare you to walk up to your wife and ask her if she would trade her two sons for being a published author.

• Plumber says:

@baconbits9,
I’m far too cowardly to risk that, though I did risk asking tonight if she regretted being “stuck with me instead of a published author”, and she answered “of course, but it wouldn’t have been a guarantee”, and she cited our former next door neighbor who had one hit book, but no more and is now on smaller financial ground and had to move back to so cal.

• Aapje says:

Most books result in an income that is lower than minimum wage, if you count the hours worked. If you want to be an author and have a decent income, this typically requires either having writing as a hobby or to write books as part of a larger money-making scheme (like professors writing books and forcing their students to buy them at premium prices).

• Aapje says:

@Plumber

K’s husband wouldn’t have married your wife if you wouldn’t be around (or if she had, wouldn’t have married K), so you can’t assume that without you, she would have married someone like K’s husband. Perhaps she would have married an abuser or someone similarly bad.

A husband is also merely one influence and K is not equal to your wife, even if they have some similarities.

So there is no reason to believe that without you, your wife would have ended up like K.

Also, as EchoChaos notes, achievement is not the same as happiness. Are you familiar with Simon & Garfunkel’s song Richard Corey? What our culture tells people should make them happy, doesn’t necessarily do. I would especially be wary to assume that a culture warrior, like K seems to have become, is happy. War is hell.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

Is it possible your wife would like more free time to work on something she’s interested in? Would you be able to help with that?

• Plumber says:

@Nancy Lebovitz,

Now just more rest I imagine, so I suppose less of my dawdling after work hoping for lighter traffic and to use the restroom.

• ana53294 says:

my future wife was a student at the University law school, had ambitions to be a musician and a writer, was more educated than me and had impressive books – and she met me, dropped out, never got published, the drummer left our “band”, she stayed in an apartment with me that had a leaking roof for 17 years, and for a year with me from jobsite to jobsite sleeping in a truck with a camper, we buried one son who didn’t live a year, had two other sons, and finally bought a house in 2011 when we were both in our 40’s.

Honestly, other than the tragedy of losing a son, it seems like a wonderful life.

I don’t think it’s possible to “have it all” where “having it all” involves a great career, multiple kids, and actually spending lots of time with your kids, without burning out with stress. And having that sort of career and dealing with the tragedy of losing a son would be very, very hard.

And as for the house quite late, considering price houses in California, even UC professors will probably have a hard time.

Also, you shouldn’t go looking up exes. It’s not good for you.

• j1000000 says:

It seems like you have a lot of status concerns a lot of the time but I for one don’t get it. Maybe I’m different from society at large but to me it seems like you have a deeply respectable and quintessentially non-Bullshit Job (I’m frankly kind of jealous because I have a total Bullshit Job.) Meanwhile, I know a couple people who get op-ed pieces published once in a while. I’m not impressed and I don’t get the sense they are, either.

• DinoNerd says:

That’s a hard one. Life involves making choices; to gain one thing, people often have to give up even trying for something else. Sometimes they know it at the time; sometimes they only figure it out decades later. And these choices are often made in part because of other people’s influence.

My sister might have done a lot better if she hadn’t married the man she did, when she did. And she certainly has some regrets, and frustrations she vents about to me, and probably even more to my other sister. OTOH, she could have done a lot worse too, and her goal was never material success. I think overall she’s happy with the life she made, and probably wouldn’t change it significantly if she could go back in time to give her younger self advice. (At least, not that part of it.) But if my brother in law were less self centered than he appears to be, he could easily be concerned about his impact on her life.

I doubt that your wife believes she made a bad decision, or that you’ve been a drag anchor for her. She didn’t pick you randomly – and note also that she’s stayed with you. Raising children has costs as well as benefits, and while I suspect everyone underestimates the lifestyle/energy costs before they have children, it’s still a decision made knowing that there are costs. Ditto with getting married in the first place.

Note also that she could have wound up like another friend of mine – doctorate, but never got tenure. Moved down the employment scale over time. Never married. Doesn’t regret her life, but objectively a lot worse than your wife’s. And probably smarter than either you or your wife – she’s smarter than anyone else I know, including me.

• Phigment says:

Consider the possibility that your wife would have turned her intellect and ambition to evil, become a criminal mastermind, orchestrated a military coup in Iceland and briefly instituted a reign of terror as she ruled with an iron fist before being overthrown by a multi-national military coalition.

Instead she’s had a happy life, a couple of kids, and Iceland remains relatively pleasant and prosperous, all because she met you.

• Plumber says:

@Phigment,
Admittedly the thought that without my influence my wife may hsve become a tyrant of Iceland, failed to cross my minf, but it’s a pretty amusing one!

• Hoopyfreud says:

I’m not going to reflexively suggest that your wife is living her best life. It does sound like she has a good one and you two have done well for each other, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have frustrated ambitions or couldn’t have had a better one. Instead, I’m going to try to convince you that that doesn’t matter.

You don’t know what could have been. Neither does she. For all you know, your presence in her life meant she wasn’t hit by a car, or that she didn’t win the lottery. Or it means that she will tomorrow. You can look at her peers, or at her demographic, or at her personal history to try to get a glimpse of what could have been, but all that is is over-fitting. Nothing is guaranteed. All we really have are the choices we make and the accidents that happen to us.

You can argue that being with you has denied her opportunities she would otherwise have had. That that’s made her choose between a rock and a hard place too many times, and that regardless of “what actually would have happened,” she’s worse off now. Well, the way I see it, she went in with her eyes open. She chose you. And then she stayed through all the hard times. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that she loves you, Plumber, and that I think that matters a lot. I think it matters a whole lot more than whatever it is you think you’ve done for or to her. You don’t get to disagree.

And you know, even if she does, that’s not up to her either. She’s done what she wanted with her life, and there’s no way for her to take it back. All she can do is go forward. If she actually has frustrated ambitions that still gnaw at her, there are things she can do to try to attain them. But she doesn’t get to blame you. As long as you haven’t lied or cheated or stolen from her, she has no cause for it. It was all her choice.

Talk to your wife, Plumber. Ask her if there are things she wishes she could do. Tell her you’ll help if you can. Be her teammate and her friend. You can’t afford to be afraid or ashamed; she deserves better. Not because you’ve taken something away from her, but because she loves you, and you’ve accepted her love.

• Randy M says:

There’s two types of people in this situation, Plumber. One looks at the other woman and thinks, “Wow, look who my wife could have been!”
The other looks at the other woman and things, “Wow, look who my wife could have been!”

You certainly had the humbler of the two responses. Your wife is well off for having you.

• J Mann says:

Thanks for sharing.

For what it’s worth, my wife worries from time to time that being married to her and relatively heavily involved in raising our kids has held me back relative to the success of some of my classmates and friends, but (a) I’m not sure she’s right, (b) this was the life I chose and (c) it makes me very happy.

I wouldn’t mention the ex-girlfriend, but if you find a good non-confrontational way to do it, can you ask Mrs. Plumber? If she has some frustrated ambitions, maybe you can help her, and if she’s happy where she is, she can tell you.

• HeelBearCub says:

You have mentioned multiple times before that, rough your words, your roots as a working class kid consigned to working class schooling has made you feel both self-conscious of your status and robbed of the education you dearly would have loved to have. This seems to me to be roughly two sides of the same coin, and this is just that self-conscious face having flipped up.

As I said before, don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own path to walk.

Let me relay one of my own personal bugbears, and perhaps that will make you feel some solace.

My family tree is basically working class from the grandparents back. One grandfather ran a gas station, the other did a little of everything: infantry, border patrol, carpentry, … preschool teacher. My father, while a University professor, is the kind of person who dug his own French drain system at our house, made many pieces of our furniture, etc.

I went to college, I have a CS degree.

The fact that I don’t trust myself to do plumbing or carpentry makes me die a little inside every time some fresh new home repair presents itself. I’d rather have a Civic I put an Integra engine in than a Bugatti. I’m not ever likely to do that. And honestly that really should be OK.

Basically what I am saying is that our demons tell us lies and we need to recognize them for the fouls devils they are.

• Plumber says:

It seemed to me to be like getting a reversed It’s a Wonderful Life vision, and I very much thank you for your kind words @EchoChaos, @John Schilling,.@Randy M, @Aapje, @ana53294, @j1000000, @DinoNerd, @Hoopyfreud,.@J Mann, and @HeelBearCub

Like a fool I read further (sorry @ana53294), and it looks my long lost ex and her husband were getting evicted from their house soon after my wife and I bought ours, plus the life that’s brought “K” fame and/or infamy has also brought herself pain that I don’t think my wife would wish for as she values her privacy too much I think, plus she wanted to write stories not “creative non-fiction”.

One thing the almost accidental research has shown me is that there’s a stronger “culture war” inside Catholicism than I guessed, I had a delusion that following all of the church’s teachings would disqualify one of both the “Right” and the “Left”, and finding a hefty debate instead saddens me some as well,

• HeelBearCub says:

One thing the almost accidental research has shown me is that there’s a stronger “culture war” inside Catholicism than I guessed

Huh. Are you a practicing Catholic? If so I would have thought this wouldn’t haven’t slipped past you.

“Cafeteria Catholic” is a phrase that has had quite a bit of salience throughout our lives, but it’s also true this culture war has really amped up since, oh, say the turn of millennium. A fair amount of coverage was devoted to this with the ascendance of this Pope and the last.

When we were young, the Catholic church was the reliably progressive Church in the US. Their position on social welfare was front and center, and their less progressive views on sexuality weren’t (and were less out of step with the country as a whole).

Like most religions in the US, Catholicism has shed members over the years (for a variety of reasons). That has resulted in a sort of evaporative cooling, leaving the over all body more conservative. Support for social welfare and opposition to the death penalty are far less important to emphasize for the current US church than their conservative stances. Look at how the Church weighed in on the debate over passing the ACA. Very little advocacy for ensuring universal healthcare availability, a great deal for making sure that healthcare didn’t include the wrong things.

At least that is my take.

• Plumber says:

@HeelBearCub,
Your take seems to fit, the post 1999 “culture war” ramp up really seems spot on as well, I had assumed that since my press consumption was greatly curtailed during my apprenticeship and immediatelly subsequently due to long hours, long commute, and parenthood I simply wasn’t used to it and that’s why it seemed so much more now, but hearing from someone who wasn’t “out of it” for 15 of the last 20 years like I was that it really has ramped up is valuable.

Thanks.

As for my religious identity I had one great-grandmother who’s supposed to have been Jewish, but that was unknown to me when I was very young and shr was still alive, the one grandfather that I knew I’d say his religious was effectively the United States of America and patriotism with no other creed (except maybe aviation technology) one of my grandmothers was Lutheran, the other was Catholic and was the only one in my family who was strongly religious, my Dad went to Catholic school and was raised in the church but was a very anti-religion though he sort of still identified as Catholic as among other leanings he was a bkt of an Irish nationalist (despite being born in New Jersey and living his whole life in the U.S.A., my Mom’s religious identity is complex, for lack of a better term I’ll call her “Unitarian”, I’m bassically an atheist but have very warm feelings for St. Ambrose and Newman Hall (two local Catholic churches), but unlike me my wife went to Catholic schools and had negative feelings, so I’m not going without her on Sundays and I”ve been to few services since I’ve known her, and I suppose what affection I have for Catholicism is because of my grandmother and if I could be considered Catholic it’s in the same sense that my stepfather can be considered “Jewish” heritage more than belief, nevertheless the church just being there in existence is somehow valuable to me, if this makes sense finding out that a house you lived in as a child but haven’t seen in years has been torn down is saddening in a way that isn’t rational, I don’t know how else to put it.

• HeelBearCub says:

That all makes perfect sense.

6. johan_larson says:

What’s a decent rule of thumb for separating the actually poor from those who don’t have a lot of money but aren’t actually poor?

I expect this is going to be subjective, but I’d be interested to hear what standards people use. I started thinking about this because John Scalzi sometimes goes on about how he grew up poor, but everything I’ve heard sounds more like a working class childhood.

By my standards, you are poor if you can’t afford a proper place to live, meaning a house or apartment. If you live in a car or a tent or on a tarp on the street, you’re poor. You are poor if you as an adult can’t afford a car. If you can’t afford to own even a cheap old beater, so the best you can do is a bus pass, you’re poor. You are poor if you go hungry involuntarily. You are also poor if you can’t afford basic utilities: water, power, heat, and phone service. I’d be willing to call you poor if keeping up with utility payments is a constant fight, particularly if you’ve ever been cut off for non-payment.

• ana53294 says:

You are poor if you as an adult can’t afford a car. If you can’t afford to own even a cheap old beater, so the best you can do is a bus pass, you’re poor.

I’d put a lot of qualifiers on that. In NYC, London, not to mention Singapore or Shanghai, you need to be quite wealthy to afford a car. If a person living in the countryside cannot afford a car, that’s true.

The cost of a car is much higher than the cost of buying a car + insurance in cities like London, where you need to buy a parking space, pay for parking, and all the zone entries. Using a combination of busses, trains and Uber is much cheaper.

I would be unable to own a car in London, and I don’t think I’m poor. Just low earnings (I’m a PhD student).

• March says:

From my childhood with single mother and 2 kids, the things that made us feel poor:
– no car (luckily, that wasn’t much of a practical hardship)
– no money for proper repairs to the house and furniture, lots of make-do and duct tape fixes and ‘hope this holds’
– wearing almost entirely hand-me-down clothes
– eating only cheap food towards the end of the month (not that we ate sumptuously the rest of the time, but from ‘at least some meat’ to ‘pancakes 4 times a week’)
– no or only the cheapest extracurriculars
– extreme budgeting for vacations
– mom’s extremely highly developed talent for finding free things to do for fun and cultural education
– and, despite all that, a fragile situation with constant stress about making ends meet

Still, always had enough to eat, never had the power cut off, always able to go to school, was never even required to pick up a job to help cover family finances.

Maybe that’s just a working-class childhood, but no reason why that could not also be poverty. As I recall, Scalzi also grew up with a single mom? That makes financial situations much more precarious, with the single adult being the single point of failure and likely without enough support. A couple can more easily deal with worries without leaking to the kids.

Rule of thumb is tricky, though.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

Would you care to expand on the free things to do for fun?

• March says:

Why that was a result of being poor or why that made us feel poor?

First off, of course, having a mom with very creative ideas is pretty awesome. We hosted dance troupes from far-flung countries one week per year for a few years, because that way we got free dance festival tickets at the cost of a couple of spare mattresses and some extra food. We got a big pile of wood and a pot of nails that she got for free somewhere and made endless projects out of them. (Of course, half the boards had something wrong with them and we had to make sure to first remove the old, bent nails, but we didn’t care.) She always knew when the local museums gave away tickets. She volunteered for more things than I can count to get reduced or free tickets, like being den mother/cook/attendant at camps so my brother and I could go.

In fact, today, those things are all hailed as markers of excellent childhood development – no expensive, fancy single-purpose plastic toys but just lots of experiences and stuff like old scrap and cloth to build and be creative with. And if she’d just leaned into it and had been able to confidently declare ‘this is how I do parenting’, it’d been completely awesome. (Most kids from our neighbourhood loved to play over at my place because of the opportunities to do random projects.)

Still, she provided all those things with the very tangible fear and guilt that she was letting us down and only ever able to provide second-best. That may also be the difference between a ‘real’ working-class childhood and mine. My dad had a university degree and got a PhD later in life (we just didn’t live with him and didn’t really benefit from his good financial situation) and my mom also had some university and got a MSc later in life, so she valued stuff like theatre and museums and music lessons and continuously felt awful that we had to do it the ‘wrong’ way or miss out altogether. Brother and I also tested as gifted early on, so it was extra important to her to feed those brains with a varied diet of ideas and opportunities.

There’s a difference between doing these things because you want to and think it’s a good idea or because you feel it’s the only way to not fail as badly.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

Thank you– I was just interested in free/cheap ways of having fun.

I didn’t think about a possible connection to feeling poor.

• Plumber says:

@johan_larson says:

“What’s a decent rule of thumb for separating the actually poor from those who don’t have a lot of money but aren’t actually poor?…”

There’s “broke” and then there’s “poor”.

‘Broke’ is a temporary condition, ‘poor’ likely isn’t.

“Broke” may be in school, grew up ‘middle-class’ or above, but doesn’t have much money right now.

“Poor” likely never had much money, and doesn’t really know how tomorrow collect some other than theft or blind luck, usually grew up poor as well.

Some peers off mine growing up (that I just mentioned in another post) come to mind, one had a black mother who’s biological Dad was white, and left soon after he was born, and his Mom became a drug addict when he was a teen so he moved in with me until he was old enough to join the Mariner Corps, if he had stayed with his Mom and tried to support her as “the man of the house” he’d likely have been poor and stayed poor (I hope he had good luck with the Marines, I don’t really know his fate), another friend had many multiple brothers, half brothers, and a half sister, and while some of his half-siblings could stay with their Dad’s sometimes, his Dad was long gone, but he was smart, and more importantly his Mom’s brother was well-off and encouraging and was a role-model, and he became a research scientist like his uncle, another come from a fairly well-off, but large family, her Mom was a housewife, and her Dad was an English professor, and she was ambitious but with many siblings who also needed support she didn’t have much spending money, but she was sent to Catholic schools and college, and is now an academic.

Temporary vs. Permanent.

BTW, studies have been done and when public assistance helps poor adults move to better neighborhoods they tend to become…

…poor adults in better neighborhoods, the same with the poor adults older children but the children of those poor adults who are moved to better neighborhoods when they’re still infants or toddlers are less likely to stay in poverty as adults.

• The Nybbler says:

One might consider if Dickens’s rule (the Micawber principle) applies.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

(Fortunately even the UK has decimal currency nowadays.)

It’s easy to find a person who “can’t afford” a car with plenty of other unnecessary expenses (from avocado toast to heroin). I don’t know about Scalzi, but there’s kind of a platonic ideal of “struggling” characterized by at least one parent working full time (sometimes with an extra job), the other taking care of the kids (and probably working part time), with one old car (always on the verge of breakdown), and meeting expenses with just enough left over that the next inevitable unplanned expense or drop in income usually brings them to zero rather than wiping them out.

There’s also the cautionary example (which exists in real life) of the family where one or both parents work high-pressure-high-paying jobs, live in a mansion mortgaged to the hilt, travel often to exotic locations, drive twin leased Mercedes, and do a lot of cocaine (powder, of course). Eventually either there’s a loss of income or their overspending catches up to them (despite high income they spend more than they earn), and drop all the way to the bottom (with a divorce, often enough. Sometimes jail time if one or the other tries to embezzle their way out)

The rule would argue that both these families are poor. This doesn’t fit with intuition. Intuition says the struggling family is poor and the overextended one is not. But intuition isn’t consistent; we still call people “poor” when their slightly immoderate lifestyles are too much for their moderate income. So, this post has been a long way of saying “I dunno, but I don’t think your rule works”.

• Gobbobobble says:

The rule would argue that both these families are poor. This doesn’t fit with intuition. Intuition says the struggling family is poor and the overextended one is not. But intuition isn’t consistent; we still call people “poor” when their slightly immoderate lifestyles are too much for their moderate income

You can be poor without being an irresponsible moron. But if you’re an irresponsible moron you’ll feel poor no matter how much you make. In most contexts it’s important to distinguish between the two groups. I don’t see what is gained by categorizing high-income irresponsible morons as “poor” other than enabling moronic irresponsibility

• Aapje says:

@johan_larson

I think that you are poor if you can’t afford relatively basic things. If you can’t afford the things that the median household can afford, but can afford the basic things, I’d call that living in frugality, not in poverty.

• Nick says:

“Can afford” isn’t quite the right way of putting it, though. There are families that are running out of food at the end of every month but won’t cancel their TV package. If they lived frugally they could nearly always afford the basic things, but since they don’t, they can’t.

• Aapje says:

‘Basic things’ seems to inflate over time. In my country, the expected expenses of those living on welfare is tracked to see if people on welfare get enough money. The expected expenses includes a lot more than just food and housing nowadays.

It’s also location-dependent. In some places a car is a huge luxury even for the rich and public transport is quite good. In other places, you can’t realistically get to the shops or to work without access to a car.

I don’t think that people who severely mismanage their finances are poor, but I also don’t think that poverty requires the ascetic spending pattern of a self-flagellating monk, who takes pride in evading all forms of pleasure.

• baconbits9 says:

Man this is a tough one.

My dad grew up poor by most people’s standards, a single mother who was a school teacher who had bouts of not being able to care for him or his brother. His early education was funded charitably (iirc) and at 6 years old he went to said boarding school, alone, on a train, across an international border. He smoked at a young age (12) by picking up loose tobacco on his uncle’s farm and rolling it in newspaper.

However most of the people who currently live in the country he grew up in are significantly poorer now than he was then, as in ‘don’t have their own national currency’ poor.

• Dack says:

What’s a decent rule of thumb for separating the actually poor from those who don’t have a lot of money but aren’t actually poor?

Poor is normally defined as lack of money.

It seems like what you’re actually going after are class differences?

Like the difference between a mid-upper class college student with no income or assets (but who is supported by their family) vs a homeless person or a worker who lives paycheck to paycheck?

• Aapje says:

Pretty much no one has no money at all and nearly everyone has less money than they could spend, so ‘lack of money’ doesn’t seem like a workable definition.

• Hoopyfreud says:

By my standards, if you don’t have enough money or assets to be able to keep a roof over your head or hunger out of your belly if you’re out of work for a month, you’re broke.

If you don’t have a way to stop being broke, you’re poor.

• AG says:

Which definitions include/exclude Google workers who live in their car because they can’t afford Bay Area prices?

• DinoNerd says:

In my little corner of the English speaking world, that distinction doesn’t make sense. Poor means not having a lot of money 😉 I think you are trying to make a distinction between some level of significant deprivation and simply not being rich.

Reinterpreted that way, I’d agree with most of this, except the bit about the car. I’d add not being able to afford medical services, or having paying medical bills be a struggle. I’d also add a bit more nuance to “proper place to live” – if the roof leaks/the place is a fire trap/the neighbourhood is seriously dangerous and you can’t afford to do anything about it, you count with me as deprived, even with 4 walls and a roof. Ditto if there are rats biting children etc..

7. Le Maistre Chat says:

On the Eastern coast of the Black Sea (Samegrelo, Georgia), what’s the highest Caucasian mountain you can see? Trying to figure out where Prometheus was bound. 🙂

• Garrett says:

During the day or by torchlight?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

During the day, when you can see further…

• AnteriorMotive says:

Does it say somewhere that he was chained to the highest? Or is that just a solid place to start?

Count me on as very invested in the results of this investigation.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Does it say somewhere that he was chained to the highest? Or is that just a solid place to start?

Just a solid place to start. It was just called “Mount Caucasus”, and Strabo states, for instance:

they [Alexander’s followers] transferred, for example, the Caucasus to the mountains of India, and to the eastern sea, which approaches close to them, from the mountains situated above Colchis, and the Euxine Sea. These are the mountains to which the Greeks give the name of Caucasus, and are distant more than 30,000 stadia from India. Here they lay the scene of Prometheus and his chains, for these were the farthest places towards the east with which the people of those times were acquainted.

• Tenacious D says:

So you’re looking for prominent Caucasians?

According to the list on Wikipedia, the tallest mountain in the range (Elbrus) is also the most prominent. It’s also more westerly than the others in the top 5. I don’t know if it’s line-of-sight to the place you mention, though?

• AnteriorMotive says:

Mt. Elbrus… Where do I recognize that name from?

All along we were one step behind the master.

• Protagoras says:

Doesn’t seem like that would be visible from anywhere on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s a little closer to the other side of the Caucasus range.

• Paul Zrimsek says:

It’s only 66 miles from the closest point on the sea. The real problem is that there’s a 9000′ mountain directly in the way that’s only 23 miles from the coast.

• Protagoras says:

Yes, I was more thinking about the other mountains in between being in the way than about the mere distance.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

What’s the name of the 9000′ mountain blocking the view from the Black Sea?

• Paul Zrimsek says:

Google Earth wasn’t naming names, but one of the photos I found there identified it as part of the Kodory Range, which runs right along the 43rd parallel about 20 miles south of the main Caucasus divide, between 41.6 and 42.0E.

8. Hoopyfreud says:

How many of you have actively solicited the judgment of your friends regarding romantic partners? Of those of you who have, how many have ended a relationship (at least in part) based on that assessment?

It’s a cliche that people tend to ignore friends’ warnings about romantic partners. I’m wondering how true to life that is. I know that “seeking assessments of romantic partners from trusted friends” is something I’ve done, and not because I was feeling uncomfortable or unhappy in the relationship – I just wanted to make sure that the person I was with wasn’t giving off any bad vibes I couldn’t see from the inside (she wasn’t).

• acymetric says:

I haven’t ever solicited advice, but I certainly have received unsolicited advice from friends that in hindsight I should have paid more attention to.

• baconbits9 says:

When someone who normally doesn’t give advice speaks up you should listen!

• acymetric says:

Go back in time and tell my 21 year old self that! I mean, no lasting damage or anything, they were just ultimately correct haha.

• Plumber says:

@Hoopyfreud,

don’t remember asking “What do you think of her?” anytime after I was a teenager (and not much then!), but I’ve been with my wife since ‘ 92 when I was in my mid 20’s.

• GreatColdDistance says:

My friends have generally been too polite to say anything negative while we are together. More generally, have external feedback on relationships can be really important, as it can be difficult to assess unhealthy behaviour from the inside.

• edmundgennings says:

I have actively solicited freinds judgment. I began a relationship based on their judgment.

• EchoChaos says:

Not friends, but I did break up with my first girlfriend because my dad told me to, and sought his advice about whether to marry my current wife.

He was right both times.

• John Schilling says:

I’ve been on the other end of that equation, having a younger female friend ask me (and a couple of other friends) to vet potential boyfriends on the grounds that she was estranged from her parents but felt she needed that perspective. Never had to say “this is not the man for you”, but the two guys who bailed on dinner when they realized we would be collectively playing the “judgemental father” role were never heard from again.

I believe she’s happily married now, so that seems to have worked.

9. thisheavenlyconjugation says:
• AnteriorMotive says:

This reminds me, a bit perhaps, of a trick I use with my writer’s group.

One of the most valuable pieces of info you can get in a critique is simply how good a story is, so you know if you should keep working on it or give up. But people are understandably hesitant to be frank with you about your failures. Even an honest, good-natured person can’t help but be more positively inclined to a yes-man than the bearer of bad news.

My trick is to solicit readers to rank stories in order of best to worst. I get all the information I need about successes vs failures, but simultaneously, since a ranked list says nothing about objective quality, no-one’s ego is on the line: I can tell myself that every one of them is great, and some are just better than others.

• Randy M says:

Just watch out for them groaning when you assign them six stories to read and rank. 😉

• AnteriorMotive says:

Yeah, it takes a while before this kicks in as a viable strategy.

10. Nick says:

We’ve all read stories that take an interesting idea or two and really explore it. We’ve also read stories that throw ten or fifteen at the reader instead. What are the most idea-packed ones you’ve ever read? Do you like these best, or do you think it’s better when, say, relatively few ideas are explored more exhaustively?

• dick says:

One that springs to mind is The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks. For a standalone novel, it contains a pretty bewildering variety of novel ideas. Another one that might fit the bill would be Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. Both are space operas, which is probably not a coincidence – it’s a genre that lends itself to throwing a bunch of new ideas and concepts at the reader (perhaps so quickly that you don’t notice the ones that don’t survive deep analysis).

• Enkidum says:

Neal Stephenson comes to mind, specifically Anathem and The Baroque Cycle. Both are among my favourite fiction books that I’ve read in the past decade, so there’s that.

I don’t think either of your options is necessarily better, just that they have distinct pros and cons. For instance, Stephenson-like prose can sometimes devolve into what are essentially just lists, which isn’t necessarily a bit thing – some of his lists are pretty golden, and to take a radically different author, Henry Miller had some of the best lists. But then something much more focussed and sustained can be just as appealing. (Off the top of my head, I think the more exhaustive exploration style of writing tends to be more emotional/internal than do novels of ideas.)

• Nornagest says:

Anathem might count, but The Baroque Cycle is probably the least idea-dense Stephenson book, except perhaps REAMDE. Mostly because it’s such a brick: the ideas are there but they’re not as dense as his more aggressively edited stuff.

• Randy M says:

The Baroque Cycle.

That’s a good one, but perhaps it illustrates a difficulty with this kind of project. I feel like the Baroque Cycle deals with a lot of ideas, but separately, rather than looking at how they intersect. Here’s a section on crytography. Here’s a section on the origins of the stock market. Here’s a bit on the Royal society inventing a microscope. Here’s what the politics were of the 1750s. Etc.

That’s not saying the book is bad, by any means, and a historical book full of setting detail will by necessity have a lot of that.

But when I think of ‘works dealing with a lot of ideas’ I’m going to want a plot that interweaves them all. Because of A and B and C, then D. Rather then A, and now B, and now C, just because.

For an example, that may not work because I don’t remember it well, but Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain series deals with the ramifications of genetic engineering. The population so altered no longer requires sleep, which gives them advantages they leverage to gain political power, which makes the ruminations on democracy relevant, and … well whatever else happened, I don’t recall.

• Nornagest says:

Charles Stross’s Accelerando is up there — it benefits greatly from reading it with a Wikipedia tab open.

• Nick says:

Accelerando‘s a great example, if my memory serves.

• GreatColdDistance says:

Unsong is probably one of the most idea-packed works of fiction I’ve ever read, and that is part of what I love about it. Not sure if one way is better necessarily, but a ton of different ideas that fit together well is the ideal to me.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series is up there for me. Any one out of the ambiguously utopian future setting; the specific ancapish mechanics behind it; the magical realism element; the Enlightenment philosophy going down a different path part; and each of the moral questions addressed could easily be the basis for a book by itself. On a more concrete level, most of the hives would be interesting standalone settings, and there are like 10 of them.

• C_B says:

Yep, it’s hard to beat this series for idea density. Also they’re just really good.

• Plumber says:

@Nick,

For “ideas” fiction many of the works of Larry Niven come to mind.

• albatross11 says:

_A Deepness in the Sky_ is one of my favorite books of all time. It is very densely packed with ideas about the universe and society and technology. It’s also rather aggressively hard science-fiction–I’m not sure how readable it would be without having read some other hard SF. (Ramscoops, interstellar trade networks, radio communications, endless cycles of expansion and collapse of societies, coldsleep, centuries of old (buggy, poorly-understood) software libraries, steganography, autism as a computing strategy, etc.).

• Hoopyfreud says:

Stephen Baxter’s Vacuum Diagrams. It’s an anthology, but all the stories are connected.

• Peffern says:

My favorite book, Spin State, and its two sequels, especially Spin Control do a fantastic job of exploring a variety of hard SF concepts while still relating them to the narrative in a coherent way. It sat on my shelf for a few years since it was dense and intimidating and I was 15, but it definitely fits this category.

• TJIC says:

Well, to be a bit arrogant, my two novels, The Powers of the Earth https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005JPPMS6 and Causes of Separation https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07B5283G2/ref=series_rw_dp_sw , which won the Prometheus Award in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

My aim was to make each book at least as idea-packed as a Neal Stephenson novel, so if you like Heinlein and Stephenson, you may like them, and if not, not. For an overview, John Ratburger of Autodesk fame wrote a review here https://www.ratburger.org/index.php/tag/the-powers-of-the-earth/ .

(not a drive-by commenter spamming; I’ve been reading SSC since long before it moved to this domain name).

11. proyas says:

With respect to the recent blog post about the unaffordability of all major UBI proposals, has anyone considered that this might change in the distant future thanks to real GDP growth?

We all want utopia, but we can’t afford it. Even the modest 30k-per-person utopia costs at least 3 times more than we can afford.

However, if we can get back to an average 2.5% growth per year in real terms, and surely we can, it would only take 45 years to get there. That isn’t such a long time. We have hope that if we can get some better government than we have had of late, and are prepared to live with a little economic tweaking, we could achieve good quality of life for all in the second half of the century.

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/culture-tax-and-sustainable-capitalism/

• hls2003 says:

Isn’t the obvious rejoinder that in 45 years, \$30K per year will no longer be considered by UBI advocates to be sufficient to achieve “good quality of life”? If you looked at the material conditions of people 45 years ago, I suspect that (including EITC, welfare transfers, Medicaid, etc.) pretty much everyone now is already living a lower-middle-class life, or thereabouts, according to the standards of 1974.

• Plumber says:

@hls2003 >

“….. I suspect that (including EITC, welfare transfers, Medicaid, etc.) pretty much everyone now is already living a lower-middle-class life, or thereabouts, according to the standards of 1974”

I really doubt that as 1973 marked the peak of a long boom and while average living standards in 1974 had fallen compared to the year before, the mass homelessness that we see today didn’t start until the early 1980’s, also there was more of a social “safety net” then as “welfare as we know it” wasn’t destroyed until the ’90’s.

For most Americans returning to the living standards of 1974 would be a loss, but I strongly suspect that the bottom third of Americans in 1974 were better off in 1974 than the bottom third is now.

As bad as living in “the projects” was back then, I can’t imagine that living in a tent today is better.

• baconbits9 says:

As bad as living in “the projects” was back then, I can’t imagine that living in a tent today is better.

1/3rd of people don’t live in tents. Estimates of homelessness in the US are well below 1% of the population, and the homeless problem has largely been decreasing over the last decade (some nudge up the past two years, but from 2007-2017 there was a notable decrease and that includes the largest recession in the last 80 years).

There is virtually no chance that the bottom 3rd would vote to swap places with the bottom 1/3rd of the 1973 population.

• S_J says:

@baconbits,

Estimates of homelessness in the US are well below 1% of the population, and the homeless problem has largely been decreasing over the last decade

That doesn’t mean that @Plumber isn’t seeing a massive homeless-ness problem in his local area.

Not to disagree with you, but a local increase in those problem will make them very worrisome, even if they are counter to the national trends.

@Plumber,

one other factor in the problems of homeless population before/after the 1980s is the huge changes in mental-health laws (and in hospital funding) in the decade previous.

That entire subject is a huge rabbit-trail which will take things away from the discussion of better-since-1973 or worse-since-1973.

Further, disentangling what you’re seeing locally from national trends can make discussion pretty hard to finish.

• Plumber says:

@baconbits9,
Homelessness in California has been growing, which has been clear to my eyes, I’m curious about the national drop, have more been reaching the magic year if 65 when tontine-socialism kicks in?

Or are the just dying off?

@S_J > “….one other factor in the problems of homeless population before/after the 1980s is the huge changes in mental-health laws (and in hospital funding) in the decade previous…”
The Lanterman–Petris–Short Act that was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1967, especially after a 1987 court decision expanded the “protections” really emptied the psych wards onto city streets, and last decades meth use epidemic made a bad situation worse.

• Noah says:

> really emptied the psych wards onto city streets

Sure, the question is, since this seems to be where this argument started: are people worse off because of it? The background population almost certainly is, by some amount. The newly homeless? Being homeless may be better than being locked up in a psych ward (or not, probably depends on the person and on various factors). Would they likely have actually improved in the psych ward?

• cassander says:

I really doubt that as 1973 marked the peak of a long boom and while average living standards in 1974 had fallen compared to the year before,

Living standards measured how, exactly? Because other that 8 tracks per household, I can’t think of any objective measure of standard of living that’s lower today than the 70s.

also there was more of a social “safety net” then as “welfare as we know it” wasn’t destroyed until the ’90’s.

This is straight up wrong, as I think I’ve mentioned to you before. Welfare was cut in the 90s, yes. Every other social safety net program was dramatically expanded, and social spending, no matter how you measure, is higher than ever and goes up almost every year.

but I strongly suspect that the bottom third of Americans in 1974 were better off in 1974 than the bottom third is now.

This is just wrong.

• SamChevre says:

Worse now than in 1974:
Proportion of children living with both the same parents as when they were infants.
Proportion of two-parent families with only one wage-earner
Proportion of people who could pay out of pocket for a normal labor and delivery

• cassander says:

Proportion of children living with both the same parents as when they were infants.

That’s not really a standard of living issue.

Proportion of two-parent families with only one wage-earner

Again, that’s more a social question. Earnings per earner are up.

Proportion of people who could pay out of pocket for a normal labor and delivery

Closer than the other two but not a very good metric. First, the average number of baby deliveries in a life is less than one if you’re looking per person. Second, a “normal” delivery today is a lot different than a normal delivery in 1974. Stillbirth and infant mortality rates are half what they were then and at least some of that must be attributable to better care. Third, why does the manner of payment matter? By your metric, if a number of people decide that instead of saving X dollars a month, they spend it to buy insurance that covers their delivery, living standards would go down, which makes no sense.

• Plumber says:

@cassander,
“Every other” social spending looks to me mostly like tontine socialism for an aging population, uo till the Ford administration public housing was increasing, afterwards less, when and if I see less tents will be when it looks to me to be an additional safety net.

@SamChevre,
Thank you, and I’ll add that there was a growth in divorce, drug abuse, children growing up without knowing their fathers, and murders in the ’70’s, all of which turned into an explosion in the ’80’s (followed by mass incarceration in the ’90’s), just how much worse my neighborhood was in ’85 than in ’75 was pretty damn clear and fast.

• Matt M says:

Plumber,

The reason you see tents today and didn’t in the 1980s isn’t because the poor got a lot poorer.

It’s because back in the 1980s if you pitched a tent in the city, the cops would kick you out, and now they don’t. So all the tent people had even worse circumstances, having to pitch tents in places they prefer less than pitching them in the city (in places where you wouldn’t see them)

• John Schilling says:

[Proportion of children living with both the same parents as when they were infants] is not really a standard of living issue.

That may depend on how real and how important the Westermarck Effect is. If parental authority figures who lived with you in infancy don’t want to have sex with you when you hit puberty or peak nubility, but parental authority figures who are swapped in in later do, that might have a significant effect on quality of life for teenagers.

• cassander says:

@plumber

“Every other” social spending looks to me mostly like tontine socialism for an aging population, uo till the Ford administration public housing was increasing, afterwards less, when and if I see less tents will be when it looks to me to be an additional safety net.

(A) the US welfare state has always been more about transferring money from young to old than rich to poor.

(B) According to that chart, Social security as a share of GDP was actually higher in 1975 than it was 2008.

(C) Even if you just look poor programs like medicaid, welfare, SNAP, and the EITC, they’re all bigger. medicaid has grown the most, and welfare shrunk a bit, but overall you have a lot of growth.

(D) as others have pointed out, the number of tents has much more to do with factors that aren’t overall level of social assistance.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@John:

That may depend on how real and how important the Westermarck Effect is. If parental authority figures who lived with you in infancy don’t want to have sex with you when you hit puberty or peak nubility, but parental authority figures who are swapped in in later do, that might have a significant effect on quality of life for teenagers.

Holy #\$@& yes.
Call it Natural Law, call it science, whatever: children are better off with their biological parents, or at least their mother and the daddy they had when they were an infant.

That may depend on how real and how important the Westermarck Effect is. If parental authority figures who lived with you in infancy don’t want to have sex with you when you hit puberty or peak nubility, but parental authority figures who are swapped in in later do, that might have a significant effect on quality of life for teenagers.

Call it Natural Law, call it science, whatever: children are better off with their biological parents, or at least their mother and the daddy they had when they were an infant.

Are there any studies confirming that sexual abuse is more common for children/teenagers who were adopted later in life? If not, then this seems like nothing more than another “just so” story, albeit a credible-sounding one.

Also, leaving aside that whole can of worms, is “living with both parents” really something that has a meaningful impact on a child’s development, or is simply being raised by both the same parents enough? I’ve seen studies indicating that fatherlessness is a problem, since children who have little to no contact with one of their parents tend to have worse life outcomes, but is the same true for the children whose separated/divorced parents see them every weekend and play an active role in their life? If it isn’t, then that strongly undercuts a lot of the anti-divorce arguments that Plumber is making.

• Nornagest says:

This meta-analysis seems to point to better outcomes for children in joint custody arrangements over sole custody: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15379418.2017.1422414?journalCode=wjcc20

But I haven’t been able to find anything that compares joint custody arrangements with intact families with ten minutes of Google. Personal experience (I come from a divorced family that implemented shared custody) suggests it’s not a fully adequate substitute, but we all know how much that’s worth.

• The linked Atlantic article says:

“The original welfare program cost around \$30 billion in today’s dollars, he said, while the government now spends twice as much on that on the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanded in the 1990s to incentivize the poor to work.”

I don’t know if the claim is correct, but it doesn’t support the claim that benefits to the bottom third have been cut dramatically. I don’t think welfare reform has much to do with modern homelessness because the demographic that dominates among the homeless, single men without dependents, never received much welfare in the first place.

• hls2003 says:

Most of the poor aren’t homeless living in tents. And almost every material good on offer – health care, consumer goods, cars, computers, etc. – is superior in quality-per-unit-price today to its 1974 counterpart. If offered the quality of 1974 goods, I don’t think the poor of today would trade with their lower-middle-class counterparts from 1974. For example, if they’re on Medicaid, they have access to modern hospitals, and if you’re sick, I suspect you’d take the worst modern hospital in 2019 U.S. over the best hospital in the U.S. in 1974. Maybe I’m overestimating those gains, but I think you’re underestimating how much better some things have gotten, materially speaking.

I’m not talking about culturally. I probably agree with some elements there, but if we’re discussing UBI, that is literally a money transfer. It seems hard to get much more “materially speaking” than that. I don’t think you can throw cultural changes in there without a deep dive into how they interact with material circumstances, and which direction a UBI would influence those things, and so on.

I just think it’s very, very hard to set a “good quality of life” standard at one fixed set of material goods from one point in time and then stick to it. If I thought it could be done, without “poverty creep” I would say fine, we’ll grow our way out of it. But that’s not how we do it. In fact, we usually define poverty based on the income of the time, so that there’s literally always a bottom of the distribution. Compared to a dirt farmer in 1350, there are practically no poor people in the U.S. in an absolute sense of material privation. I think the same claim is true, though to a lesser extent, over the last half-century. The article seems like more goalpost moving – this 45-year stretch we’ll finally give people the good life (as re-defined in 2020). Then in 2065 the exact same piece will be written (probably by a digital human in an AI simulation, I’m told).

• baconbits9 says:

The guy is full of it. He wants a return to 2.5% growth per year and then proposes taxing the very things that might produce that growth and then also subsidising people not to work (eventually). No automation + UBI means dramatically higher prices for goods and no economic growth in the future. He also presumes that his number for what people could clearly live on without feeling impoverished would still be the benchmark in 45 years after the economy triples, despite the fact that the numbers he cites as to low now would clearly have been ‘enough’ for people 45 years ago as his currently possible UBI would be average wages then.

• baconbits9 says:

Among the big issues that he won’t face up to

1. If GDP triples in the next 45 years then why the hell are there poor people left in any significant amount? Why do we need a UBI in such a world of plenty (ie why do we need a UBI today in the most plentiful society ever seen?)

2. If Automation is concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands (which it explicitly hasn’t done to date at all) then it will be concentrating political power in those same hands. How is democracy going to survive with 1% owning literally everything and 99% starving in the streets. If that isn’t his vision, again why do you need a UBI?

3. Average UBI WOULD NOT ALLEVIATE 100% of poverty. It would (maybe) alleviate poverty for those in average situations, people who were born with medical issues (for one example) would have much higher than average expenses and you still end up with an underclass and cries for ever higher spending.

• baconbits9 says:

Really I never noticed how much like Randian villains (probably because I dislike Rand so much) the left acts like until someone pointed it out here a few days back. His whole position boils down to ‘rich people don’t really contribute much, we can pretty much take their stuff and society will work just fine.

• Plumber says:

@baconbits9,

Relative to today for more than 40 years the U.S.A. did “pretty much take their stuff” and society really did work just fine“, indeed better than it ever had before.

I listened to my parents and (especially) grandparents, and I remember the early ’70’s, and I remember all-too-well the 1980’s, that plus the subsequent years makes it clear to me that life usually gets better when top marginal income tax rates are higher.

• cassander says:

The US never stopped taking their stuff. Taxes from 1950-1980 averaged exactly the same share of GDP as from 1980 to 2010, and the code has gotten more progressive over time.

• Nornagest says:

Do we have to go over this again? You keep making claims like this, and people keep pointing out the problems with them, and no one ever seems to learn anything.

• You really think the 1970s were better for the lower third in purely economic terms(not talking about social decay) than they are now? I don’t remember the 1970s, I know many people seem to think this, but can’t ever find it in the data. People have more refrigerators, more televisions, bigger houses, ect. I think one reason is because people are not making the right comparisons, comparing the unionized manufacturing job in the 1960s to the McJob of today.

• baconbits9 says:

These conclusions are largely based off a subset of tax rates, not all actual tax rates, and unjustified definitions of the rich. Top marginal rates are of little value on their own because the actual number of people (% of population) and the level of income being taxed vary greatly over time and the top percent and top decile and top quintile rates can show different trends.

Here is one description of the situation at the end of WW2

The actual proportion of earnings citizens paid as income taxes in 1945 was far lower: for the poorest 20% of Americans, 1.7%; for the next 20%, 6.2%; for the middle quintile, 8.9%, for the upper-middle 20%, 10%; and for the wealthiest quintile, 20.7%.

And then

First in World War II, tax law revisions increased the numbers of “those paying some income taxes” from 7% of the U.S. population (1940) to 64% by 1944, vastly broadening the tax base and increasing the total intake. Even so by 1975, the same five quintiles, bottom to top, were paying respectively just 0.6%, 4.7%, 8.8%, 11.2%, and 17.8% of their adjusted gross incomes to the IRS. Note that for four of the five groups, this percentage was lower than in 1945

If you combine the two links you have substantially higher tax rates for the top quintile now (2016) at over 26% compared to 18% in 1975 and 21% in 1945.

Here is another link saying something similar for total tax dollars paid

But who is paying these taxes a liberal might retort? Has the burden fallen more on the middle and lower classes? Well, no. In fact, the percentage of taxes paid by the highest quintile of income earners has steadily gone up since 1980. In 1980, the top 20 percent paid about 55 percent of all income taxes. Today, it’s just shy of 70 percent. The same goes for the top 1 percent, which went from about 15 percent in 1980 to just shy of 30 percent today.

and

A study from the Congressional Research Service concludes that the effective tax rate for the top 0.01 percent of income earners during the period of 91-percent income taxes was actually 45 percent. Given that the top bracket is so much lower today (\$3,425,766 in 1955 vs. \$413,200 in 2015), the 39.6 percent top marginal rate probably yields something pretty close.

In short the worsening economic conditions that you claim are associated with higher tax rates and tax receipts from the rich with the exceptions off increases in SS and medicare tax increases. The narrative being pushed by certain NYTs economists is misleading to outright false.

• Plumber says:

@Alexander Turok says: “…You really think the 1970s were better for the lower third in purely economic terms(not talking about social decay) than they are now?….”

Compared to the early 70’s?

Yes.

The decline during the ’70’s was pretty damn obvious, and the decline during the ’80’s was obvious and fast, and it’s hard for me to not think that anyone who was also alive during those years to witness them and says otherwise isn’t straight up lying, I could cleary see for myself the changing conditions, just as I’ve seen a giant increase in tents and discarded needles in the last ten years.

The early ’70’s were the best it got in my lifetime until the late ’90’s after which it started to decline again, and after 2008 it was awful, until around 2012 when it just gets weird, jobs get easier to get after 2011, but so do the numbers of tents, which I don’t see only on weekends.

• baconbits9 says:

The decline during the ’70’s was pretty damn obvious, and the decline during the ’80’s was obvious and fast, and it’s hard for me to not think that anyone who was also alive during those years to witness them and says otherwise isn’t straight up lying, I could cleary see for myself the changing conditions, just as I’ve seen a giant increase in tents and discarded needles in the last ten years.

And you live in one part of one city, not the whole country.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

If you assume quality of life is measured perfectly by wealth then obviously things weren’t better in the 70s. But that seems like a pretty stupid assumption.

• Mark V Anderson says:

@Plumber

The decline during the ’70’s was pretty damn obvious, and the decline during the ’80’s was obvious and fast, and it’s hard for me to not think that anyone who was also alive during those years to witness them and says otherwise isn’t straight up lying,

That’s funny, I have pretty much the opposite reaction. I grew up in the ’60’s, and I don’t see how anyone growing up in that era (which I think includes the ’70’s) could not see the enormous increase in prosperity of the middle class from that period. It was quite common for two parent families to have one car, traveling outside the US was only for the rich, long distance calls were only for emergencies, houses were much smaller, many people died in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s of things that are no longer fatal, and we simply have so much more stuff than we used to (especially electronics). That’s why I don’t believe those studies that seem to show that middle class income has gone up only slightly in my lifetime.

• Plumber says:

@Mark V Anderson,

I was born in the ’60’s but I don’t remember them, the ’70’s I remember, and the ’80’s I remember very well, the crack cocaine epidemic ruined what had been a much better neighborhood, 1985 has to be the year that I heard more gunfire than ever and the nadir, but even in ’82 I could tell they’re had been an explosion in beggars and people sleeping on the sidewalks, which subsided a little in the late ’90’s but never went away, and now there’s even more sidewalk sleepers today then even in the ’80’s.

From my childhood observations the least homelessness I witnessed was in the early 1970’s, the most now, the least violent crime was in the late ’90’s (I’ll believe someone who says then was better than the early ’70’s) statistics say the early ’90’s was worse, but for crime I’d say the mid ’80’s, and I list the ’80’s as the worst decade of my lifetime just on balance awful.

I’d call now mixed, worse than the early ’70’s and late ’90’s, better than the late 1970’s, but way better than the ’80’s.

1972 (the earliest that I can remember) to 1978 were pretty good, 1979 was noticeably worse, 1985 was a cursed time, 1999 was great! 2009 was bad, now is mixed.

Please make it a mix of the best of ’73 (or earlier!) and ’99, and almost nothing so ever of 1980 to 1987 especially 1985 HATES THAT YEAR AND IT’S BEGGARS AND GUNFIRE FOREVER!

• DinoNerd says:

@Alexander Turok

People have more refrigerators, more televisions, bigger houses, ect.

Frankly, I’m unclear on how even more televisions improve people’s lives in any significant way, and much the same for the other two, if starting with at least one.

I doubt we got less enjoyment from our single black and white television than a modern family gets from a high definition colour television in every room room, complete with remote controls. We may even have gotten more enjoyment, because we watched TV together, rather than each watching their own choice in the privacy of their bedroom.

If you’d asked my mom, she would have regarded a larger house as “even more to clean”. And I can’t imagine her having a real use for more than one refrigerator, though she might have appreciated a freezer.

• @Plumber, America is more violent today than it was in the immediate postwar period, and the 80s was much more violent. The homicide rate is about equal,(it should have gone down if nothing else for the reason that more people survive gunshot wounds) while the violent crime rate in general is up, a fact that contradicts the whole Steve Pinker World Always Gets Better mantra that I otherwise largely agree with. And there are more bums. But what’s that got to do with the question of economic growth? Not a lot. If you view crime and homelessness as inevitably flowing from poverty, you’d view them as signs people are getting poorer. If you see them as flowing from issues of character and societal tolerance, you don’t.

• @DinoNerd,

There’s a law of diminishing returns with regards to McMansions and giant TVs and stuff, but if we’re talking about the conditions of the poorest third of the population, I definitely think the extra house space made a difference.

• Plumber says:

@Alexander Turok > “…. If you view crime and homelessness as inevitably flowing from poverty, you’d view them as signs people are getting poorer. If you see them as flowing from issues of character and societal tolerance, you don’t…”

I think it’s both as it’s circular, but also including a flood of highly addictive harmful drugs put the bulk of the blame on de-industrialization and the When Work Disappears explanation more than the Coming Apart one, now maybe a Borderlander/Cavalier culture is a bit more likely to become a “culture of poverty” than Puritan/Quaker ones but it sure seems to me that if both inner-city blacks thrived from the ’40’s untill the beginning of the ’70’s (and how the closing of factories and shipyards effected them is well described in the book I cite), and that small town whites did better until China entered into the W.T.O. (which made former libertarian Tucker Carlson change his tune about a “culture of poverty”.being the only cause) it’s hard not to see the link.

• DinoNerd says:

@Alexander Turok

There’s a law of diminishing returns with regards to McMansions and giant TVs and stuff, but if we’re talking about the conditions of the poorest third of the population, I definitely think the extra house space made a difference.

True enough.

My father called himself a labourer, and would have called us poor – and when I was a very small child, we were doubtless well into that bottom third.

But by the time I was describing in my earlier response (my early teens), he’d accumulated some seniority in a union job, and was no longer being laid off regularly. We’d upgraded from the tiny basement apartment – and I’m sure mom welcomed that increase in space! But she was happy to stop with 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, living room and dining room(!), for a family of 5.

• Matt M says:

I doubt we got less enjoyment from our single black and white television than a modern family gets from a high definition colour television in every room room, complete with remote controls.

Your opinions on this stuff are irrelevant.

The masses have expressed a pretty obvious revealed preference for two televisions rather than one, for iphones rather than corded home phones, for big houses rather than small houses, etc.

Even when these things come with pretty obvious trade-offs such as, say, both parents having to work instead of just one.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

If nothing else, multiple televisions mean people can all watch the shows they want to see.

• Gobbobobble says:

Revealed preferences don’t say shit about happiness because people are shit at pre-determining what makes them happy. You can’t just handwave addiction and trillions of dollars of advertising away as “well if they for realsies didn’t want that stuff they just wouldn’t do it“.

• DinoNerd says:

@Matt M

So my opinions are irrelevant. How about my revealed preferences then?

No television, exactly one refrigerator, less than 1200 square feet, and only one bathroom.

And I’m just as much a part of “the masses” as anyone else; I’m just in the inconvenient-to-business part of it that’s hard to influence to buy things I don’t need and probably wouldn’t enjoy if I had them. (Some excuse not trying to sell stuff I’d like by insisting my demographic has little or no disposable income. To which I respond by ROFLMAO, even while getting books from the local library that I could easily afford to buy from Amazon.)

• Matt M says:

Revealed preferences don’t say shit about happiness because people are shit at pre-determining what makes them happy. You can’t just handwave addiction and trillions of dollars of advertising away as “well if they for realsies didn’t want that stuff they just wouldn’t do it“.

If you can think of a better way of approximating “what sorts of things make people happy” OTHER THAN observing the sorts of things they actually choose to do, I’d love to hear it.

And yes, I can just handwave advertising away. If advertising was 1/10th as effective or relevant as people like you claim it is, all well advertised products would be super successful, and all non/lowly advertised products would be failures. Neither of those things are even close to true.

• acymetric says:

If “what people do” was a good way to reveal what made people happy, then nobody would be unhappy. Do you think anyone is unhappy?

• Matt M says:

So my opinions are irrelevant. How about my revealed preferences then?

Your revealed preferences are plenty relevant, for yourself and your own life.

No television, exactly one refrigerator, less than 1200 square feet, and only one bathroom. And I’m just as much a part of “the masses” as anyone else;

True, in the sense that you are technically included as a part of the masses and no other single individual has any more or less representation than you. But not true in the sense that your preferences seem to be very atypical. Just because an extra TV wouldn’t improve your life, doesn’t mean they won’t improve the lives of others.

• Matt M says:

If “what people do” was a good way to reveal what made people happy, then nobody would be unhappy.

Incorrect on two levels.

1. I’m not claiming that revealed preferences are a perfect and 100% reliable lens on what increases happiness. Only that they’re the best lens we have.

2. Even still, your logic is flawed. The claim isn’t that revealed preferences guarantee happiness, it’s that they are the means by which people attempt to maximize their own happiness. Success in doing so is never promised or guaranteed.

• acymetric says:

If the best hammer I have available is an earthworm, that doesn’t mean I should try to use the earthworm as a hammer or that using the earthworm as a hammer gives better results than just not doing it at all.

It also seems fairly obvious that not all, maybe not even most, of people’s decisions or actions are made with the goal of increasing happiness. Do you have any way to establish that in fact this is the case?

• Randy M says:

If you can think of a better way of approximating “what sorts of things make people happy” OTHER THAN observing the sorts of things they actually choose to do, I’d love to hear it.

This probably doesn’t happen enough to make up a study, but if there are situations where someone loses all their things and gets a lump sum of cash to replace them, looking to see what they buy and don’t buy could be interesting.

Like restarting with insurance money after a fire or flood, for instance.

• Gobbobobble says:

If you can think of a better way of approximating “what sorts of things make people happy” OTHER THAN observing the sorts of things they actually choose to do, I’d love to hear it.

You look specifically at the people who do feel happy and fulfilled and examine what they did. Demonstrating a basic understanding that humans can and will be irrational also helps.

Interpreting miserable bastards punching Skinner boxes for what little dopamine fix they can get as “well they’re just doing what their revealed preferences show makes them happy” is evil robot thinking. At best it tricks you into declaring local maxima to be the most desired outcome

• baconbits9 says:

3. Average UBI WOULD NOT ALLEVIATE 100% of poverty. It would (maybe) alleviate poverty for those in average situations, people who were born with medical issues (for one example) would have much higher than average expenses and you still end up with an underclass and cries for ever higher spending.

The author pays lip service to this and just assumes the numbers would be small. Senior citizens in the US (googling) pay 4-5,000 out of pocket a year for health care, that is with medicare+medicaid paying large chunks. Strip out government programs to pay for UBI and a 10 grand payment won’t be nearly enough, nor will a 20k, or a 30k. That is ~15% of the population right there who will be demanding UBI + national health care since obviously we are rich enough and promising a UBI defacto declares that the government is both capable and responsible for providing a basic living.

I think there’s some space between ‘rising tide has lifted all boats out of poverty’ and ‘1% owns literally everything’. Consider “top 10% opens half of everything (including human capital), top 30% owns practically everything, top 60% owns literally everything, bottom 40% is unemployable.’ Objection 1 definitely doesn’t apply here, and I don’t think it’s obvious that objection 2 does either.

(#3 remains a hard problem)

• baconbits9 says:

Its practically impossible to make the math work out if 40% of the population is unemployable.

Lets say that currently 5% of the working age population is unemployable and that 1/3rd of the population is to young/old otherwise so that ~36% of the population is currently being supported by 62% of the population. Now strip out 40% of the working age population, and keep 33% to old/young. Now 60% of the population is being supported by 40% of the population, to get a 3X per capita increase in wealth which is what he needs you need 4.5-5X increase in productivity. That would be as large or larger than the productivity increase from 1950 to 2018, so what he is doing is simultaneously trying to make his position sound reasonable (all we need to do is go back to 2.5% growth) while predicting a simultaneous explosion in wealth as big as any the world has ever seen coupled with a collapse of living standards for the bottom half (Absent government intervention).

He is basically predicting a combination of things that has never been seen before, and this vision is hard to reconcile in other ways. Wealth wise the top has much more, but consumption wise the gap is much smaller. If the bottom X (insert significant percentage here) is unable to produce under capitalism then who is buying all the goods that will cause GDP to triple in 45 years? The marginal propensity to consume for the wealthy is much lower than for the poor, and GDP is a measure of the final sale of goods and services (supposedly).

This is Marxism without ignorance of the following 150 years as an excuse, the future will violate current laws of economics because *waves hand* but I have this simple solution that totally ignores other laws of economics because *waves hand* and I am going to describe to you how it will be if you don’t listen to me and how it would be if you do despite no one ever being able to predict better than taking the last X years and just projecting forward another Y, because *waves hand*.

• cassander says:

In a perfectly equal society where everyone gets the same salary at 18, gets the same raise every year, saves the same percentage of their income, gets the same rate of return, and dies at the same time, the richest 1/5 end up controlling 60% of the wealth just through cohort effects. We should always expect a minority to own most of the stuff for no other reason than stuff accumulates over time.

1. If GDP triples in the next 45 years then why the hell are there poor people left in any significant amount? Why do we need a UBI in such a world of plenty (ie why do we need a UBI today in the most plentiful society ever seen?)

Let’s assume that automation leaves the vast majority of people unemployable, and doesn’t create an abundance of new jobs like previous technological booms. (I’m not saying I believe that will happen, but let’s just go along with the hypothetical for the sake of argument.) Even if production ramps up to the point where all consumer goods become incredibly cheap and plentiful, people will still need to get money from somewhere; the price of goods will never drop down to literally zero. Without a UBI or some sort of welfare program for the unemployed (who now comprise 90-99% of the population), where will they get that money from?

2. If Automation is concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands (which it explicitly hasn’t done to date at all) then it will be concentrating political power in those same hands. How is democracy going to survive with 1% owning literally everything and 99% starving in the streets. If that isn’t his vision, again why do you need a UBI?

The whole point of UBI is to keep people from starving in the streets. Also, a world where the majority of the populace can’t afford to buy anything wouldn’t be ideal for the capitalists either; they’d find their consumer base had shrunk down to an unsustainably low level, even if they raised prices to the absolute minimum required for them to make a profit. At some point, they’d all end up going out of business and capitalism would implode, provided the masses didn’t rise up and overthrow the capitalist system first. So it would be in their own long-term interests to support a UBI, even if it meant paying considerably more in taxes.

3. Average UBI WOULD NOT ALLEVIATE 100% of poverty. It would (maybe) alleviate poverty for those in average situations, people who were born with medical issues (for one example) would have much higher than average expenses and you still end up with an underclass and cries for ever higher spending.

No one claimed that UBI would bring about perfectly economic equality. In fact, most actual socialists and communists oppose UBI for exactly that reason. But the combination of UBI and massive technologically-driven GDP growth would ensure that even the poorest citizens are still living decent lives by modern standards.

• baconbits9 says:

Let’s assume that automation leaves the vast majority of people unemployable, and doesn’t create an abundance of new jobs like previous technological booms. (I’m not saying I believe that will happen, but let’s just go along with the hypothetical for the sake of argument.) Even if production ramps up to the point where all consumer goods become incredibly cheap and plentiful, people will still need to get money from somewhere; the price of goods will never drop down to literally zero. Without a UBI or some sort of welfare program for the unemployed (who now comprise 90-99% of the population), where will they get that money from?

If the people don’t have any money why are we ramping up production? Production without expected consumption doesn’t happen outside of communist countries. Assuming that automation is producing everything and no one is working is just assuming your future, not actually explaining how it could happen.

The whole point of UBI is to keep people from starving in the streets.

No, it that were the point UBI proponents would be saying we could do it for \$2-3,000 a person in the US. People are talking \$10,000 a person, and this author is imagining a world where people are getting 30,000. Average SS payments in the US are around 17k, and it is often decried as not enough for some people and that is with extra benefits on top.

No one claimed that UBI would bring about perfectly economic equality

This isn’t about perfect equality, it is about costs. You can’t give everyone decent living standards by targeting the average because you leave out all the people who aren’t average in some way.

But the combination of UBI and massive technologically-driven GDP growth would ensure that even the poorest citizens are still living decent lives by modern standards.

Only if you assume your conclusions, how do we get massive GDP growth with massive UE again? What is the actual model, and ‘automation makes things cheap+people get fired because automation is cheap’ doesn’t work.

If the people don’t have any money why are we ramping up production? Production without expected consumption doesn’t happen outside of communist countries. Assuming that automation is producing everything and no one is working is just assuming your future, not actually explaining how it could happen.

What is the actual model, and ‘automation makes things cheap+people get fired because automation is cheap’ doesn’t work.

Again, I’m going along with the author’s assumptions here. If you’re saying “these predictions make no sense and could never happen,” then that’s a perfectly fair argument, but you’re not really engaging with his premise.

In terms of my personal opinions, I’m really not sure how things will play out. I don’t think the author’s predicted future is an inevitability like he does, but nor do I think it’s an impossibility like you do. I think it’s something that could potentially happen, and I’m genuinely curious what people think should be done if it does.

• baconbits9 says:

Again, I’m going along with the author’s assumptions here. If you’re saying “these predictions make no sense and could never happen,” then that’s a perfectly fair argument, but you’re not really engaging with his premise.

I am engaging with what his assumptions require, saying that we need 2.5% growth has a very different implication when you add in that we are also dropping 40% of the workforce. He doesn’t combine his assumptions into a model, he makes the case for one assumption (we had 2.5% growth for the past 45 years, why not for the next 45 years) completely separate from the other assumption (we are going to lose 40% of the workforce). I view this as a bait and switch, first he is trying to make one assumption reasonable by comparing it to the recent past while ignoring that his other assumptions state that the near future will be nothing like the recent past.

I get your point, and I can see why you’d view it as a bait-and-switch, but I don’t think his assumptions are entirely unreasonable or self-contradictory. It seems like you’re imagining a sudden 40% drop in employment rates all at once. If that happened, then yes, obviously it create an enormous shockwave that would dramatically shake up the entire economy. But let’s say automation causes a 1% drop in employment rates each year over the next 40 years. If that happens, then I’d imagine the economy would remain fairly stable for at least the first decade, so we could reliably count on growth rates remaining steady for the first quarter of the period he describes.

• baconbits9 says:

For the actual pathway the distinctions matter, but for the final result (we need 45 years of 2.5% growth) both are the same. You need more per worker growth if workers are dropping out regardless of if they are dropping out all at once or piecemeal to hit the target. One may be more realistic than the other path wise, but what he is actually guessing will happen requires much higher real productivity growth than occurred over the past 50 years.

This is also probably biased in his favor since over the past 50ish years labor forces have generally grown in both absolute and % terms from pre 1970 levels, and that growth is partially responsible for the GDP growth, so he is in effect saying that we can get the same growth as we had during an employment boom with an employment decrease but ignoring that contradiction.

• “However, if we can get back to an average 2.5% growth per year in real terms, and surely we can, it would only take 45 years to get there.”

There’s the problem. “Economic growth” is not a natural, inevitable phenomenon. For most of human history it was close to 0. Perhaps phrasing it in terms of “if we can make the average worker three times more productive over the course of 45 years,” will drive home the point.

• “if we can make the average worker three times more productive over the course of 45 years,”

Or if we can replace all of those average workers with machines which are vastly more productive, which seems likely. Even if machines are ultimately only as good as humans per hour, they can be worked under conditions that would be unacceptable for human workers and over time frames that are unacceptable, with only maintenance breaks. One of the fundamental problems of economics is that workers and consumers are the same people and so if you try to make workers more productive whatever you add without substitution with technology tends to take from these same people in their role as consumers. Machines change that because they take us back to the super-exploitation of a pure slave economy, but without any of the ethical or biological limitations. Machines are the perfect slaves.

Look at modern meager attempts to implement high levels of automation, and you can see the trend. I see UBI as being not just affordable in the future but fairly considerable, at least until we hit up against fundamental resource constraints, but in many ways our entire future is a race between downwards pointing indicators and upwards pointing indicators.

12. AlphaGamma says:

Paging bean: Naval Gazing appears to be down.

• bean says:

I’m aware of this, and have sent Said Achmiz an email. I don’t have other information, and can’t do anything about it.

• Lambert says:

It’s back up now.

13. achenx says:

A couple Open Threads ago HeelBearCub recommended Steven Johnson’s “How We Got to Now” book. Just got it from the library and it’s pretty interesting. Just saying thanks for the recommendation.

• Well... says:

Seconded. I’m most of the way through the first chapter.

Makes me wonder if thanks to HBC’s recommendation there’s been an international rush on libraries for this book and if so, have the librarians noticed?

• HeelBearCub says:

Glad you guys are enjoying it.

• Matt M says:

Has there ever been an attempt to start something like an SSC book club?

Like, we somehow arrive at a certain book, everyone is given a month to read it, and then we discuss?

This sort of ends up happening whenever Scott reviews something and then we all go read it, but maybe we could be a little more proactive?

• Nick says:

johan_larson tried it for a while with science fiction.

• johan_larson says:

Yes, there was some interest, but it seemed thin. Eventually it just felt like too much trouble for too little participation, and I stopped.

@Matt M, if you do this, expect the number of people who actually read each book to be in the single digits, and probably the low single digits at that. Maybe that’s enough for you.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

• albatross11 says:

I really enjoyed the Murderbot Diaries (a series of four novellas, so far).

• HeelBearCub says:

2+ years ago there was a regular OT book club run by … I can’t remember. It lasted quite a while.

jaimieastorga ran one for scifi short stories, which had the advantage of requiring much less commitment.

• HeelBearCub says:

That was it.

• Plumber says:

@Matt M,

A book club sounds like great idea!

I hope @Nancy Lebovitz will suggest some fiction (not as much as you read please!).

Of @Scott Alexander’s book reviews the only one’s that I remember reading fully have been Albion’s Seed, and The Two Income Trap (both before I started reading SSC, my book reading has gone way down since I’ve discovered this blog!). and Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber after I read the blog but before I read Scott’s review.

I haven’t fully read either of them (only bits of each), but how about Charles Murray’s Coming Apart for a “conservative” perspective, John Rawls’ Theory of Justice for a “liberal” theory of society?

Oh, I think most men (and many women) should read Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft.

I can probably only handle two non-fiction or one fiction a month (I don’t want to supplant much more of the reading that I already do) so some “on high” decider instead of dozens of suggestions at once would be nice, though really I’d be cool with us discussing almost every Ross Douthat and Thomas Edsall New York Times columns.

14. ana53294 says:

Recently, somebody on SSC linked to an article about Pearson trying to make textbooks “digital first” and remove printed books because they are re-sold in the second-hand market.

But at the same time, publishers are trying to squeeze libraries with e-books.

With print books, a library can just buy a book, preferrably a hardback (they last longer), or as many books as they need to reduce queues. It’s a one-time fee they pay, and they use the book until it breaks down or goes to archives. And when a book gets damaged, they just buy another, if they have money. But if they have money, they can just purchase it, with no bans or embargoes or other silliness.

But with e-books, it’s not the same. MacMillan’s Tor, for example, first limited sales of books to libaries 8 weeks after publication to just one book per library system (and if NYC is just one library system, that means millions of users!).

I love ebooks, as my limited shelf space really limits my book buying, but this makes me want to only buy print from the Big 4, and sell them second hand, ‘cos screw them.

• Urstoff says:

It’s generally better for the students, though, as the e-books are generally under \$100 and often come with good interactive packages (quizzes while you read, that sort of thing). Not as good as using open resources of course, but better than buying a new textbook (and often cheaper than used ones too).

• ana53294 says:

But the real cost of a printed, even second-hand textbook, is not the price you bough it for.

Its = buying price – selling price.

As I see second-hand textbooks for more than new book\$ – 40\$, if you do resell it, you lost less money. Of course, you have to front the money, but you do get it back.

• Matt M says:

No, that’s the cost of renting a printed textbook. And you have to add things like shipping, merchant fees, etc. on both ends of the transaction. And possibly the labor/annoyance of selling.

• acymetric says:

No, that’s the cost of renting a printed textbook.

Which part of her post are you referring to? I don’t think any part of that post describes the cost of renting a printed book.

• Matt M says:

Buying price minus selling price implies that you will only be in possession of the book for a short time (and that you will actively minimize doing things to it that may reduce its resale value)

It’s not technically a rental, but from a price perspective, it’s essentially the same calculus.

• ana53294 says:

When you rent a book, you can’t make notes on it, you have to be careful with it, and if you decide you want to keep it because it’s so valuable to you, you still have to return it and buy the book.

When you buy the book, you can decide whether you need it for the entire duration of your Bachelor’s for example, or until you need to move, or forever. In which case
selling price = 0\$

• Hoopyfreud says:

@Matt

When you upgrade a car, can you meaningfully be said to have been renting the old one?

Assumption of liability and direct control over the disposition of the object are much more salient features of ownership than perpetuity.

• acymetric says:

Ah, Hoopy’s response has clarified what Matt M was saying for me, we can ignore my earlier post.

In response: actually renting the textbook will virtually always be more expensive than buying used and selling used. Maybe even more expensive than buying new and selling used depending on the book. As far as the hassle/extra costs of selling, the extra costs aren’t very high (source: did this every semester for 5 years) and the hassle just isn’t that great anymore (source: people buy/sell online and ship stuff sold online all the time, and I did this every semester for 5 years about a decade ago when it was even less convenient than it is now).

Additionally, as Hoopy and Ana have mentioned, you get the option to decide at the end of the semester “this book was really valuable, I’m going to keep it instead of selling it back” (or if you know the book will be used for future classes, which would be the case for some math classes for example).

• acymetric says:

It’s probably also worth mentioning that, although it is probably becoming more and more a minority opinion, a a not-insignificant number of people just don’t like reading on PCs/tablets (even the tablets specifically designed to make reading as pleasant as possible).

• Gobbobobble says:

You don’t “actually” own the e-books either, you just pay for a license to use it until Pearson decides it’s not worth supporting any more

• CatCube says:

@acymetric

Heck, I was last in college in 2012, and I purchased hard copies of textbooks two months ago, since as you note it’s more convenient and easy to read on paper rather than screwing with a pdf on screen.

As an aside, I hate the “paperless office” for engineering with a burning passion. Trying to work two drawings together on a computer screen is infuriating. I usually end up printing the drawings out, throwing it away when I’m done with it, then printing them out again a few months later when I need them again. You used to be able to go to a big room down the hall and get binders of drawings. It was also easier to stumble over things you didn’t need to know while paging through the hard copies.

• acymetric says:

Disagree…I can buy a book used and then sell it back at near the same cost. I could even occasionally turn a profit if I found a particularly good deal on a book.

Additionally (unless things have changed, which they very well may have) a lot of e-books used to require an active internet connection (you basically had to log in every time you used it).

• Urstoff says:

If you can do that, then yes, it’s obviously better. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case that used textbooks are available, and it’s not always the case that you will sell it back for near what you paid for it.

• Nick says:

and it’s not always the case that you will sell it back for near what you paid for it.

To illustrate, one of the problems students who try to sell back run into now is that textbooks will come with codes for online stuff. Another is that a new edition comes out and the professor claims students need the new one. Fortunately, the latter isn’t as big a problem, since that claim is usually bullshit.

• Urstoff says:

Unless they use the problem sets from the book, which publishers intentionally change between editions even if the content is the same.

The textbook market is a racket, and any professor that cares about their students will use open resources to the furthest extent possible, but I view the e-books as a (distant) second best: cheaper than a full textbook, and it functionally matches the behavior of most students today (read on a phone or tablet, never glanced at again after the class is over).

• onyomi says:

I don’t know about the e-books students use as e.g. textbooks with exercises, etc. but my library saves a lot of money and space on e-versions of many books and I hate it. It’s actually better when they don’t have e-access to the book because then I can quickly request a copy from a different local library rather than being told, basically, our library already has access to this.

Why don’t I like the e-versions? Well it would be great if you could just download a pdf (like e.g. JStor) but that’s never the case with the ones I’m “checking out.” Instead you always have to “read” the book, i.e. painfully attempt to skim for the info you’re looking for using some sort of awful proprietary in-browser java-based system designed to prevent piracy but also making it such a pain you’d much rather just search for a pirated copy.

• Nick says:

Yeah, in-browser readers are uniformly terrible in my experience.

• DinoNerd says:

Yeah. I never borrow e-books from my local public library. I’ll bring a physical book there via inter-library loan instead, if that’s an option.

Meanwhile, the library offers me recommendations every time I check out a physical book – and they are always for e-books. I’ve asked staff why it’s always e-books, and they don’t have an explanation.

I do have a kindle containing a large number of e-books – but what they have in common is that they were almost all free. I use it only when travelling – physical books weigh a lot, and I can easily read 4 or more just during the air flights to and from wherever I’m going, never mind reading in the evening to help myself fall asleep. Very rarely, I’ll buy an e-book just before a trip, rather than a physical copy of the same book, because I intend to read it on the plane. Or more likely, one of those wretched publications that have no physical counterpart, if by an author I really like, and I’m about to travel – mostly though I just refuse to read anything that’s both e-only and not free; I want to encourage paper books.

And as for text books – I’m 61 years old, and still have many of the books I used in college. And I have no expectation that an e-book acquired today would be usable 40 years from now – so no thanks.

• Matt M says:

I’ve asked staff why it’s always e-books, and they don’t have an explanation.

The obvious answer would be that the e-book process is sufficiently automated such that it requires zero actual human labor. So it’s cheaper for the library to have you use ebooks rather than physical books.

• LHN says:

In my experience (academic library, not public, and I don’t work directly in acquisitions or circulatoin) that tends not to be the case. E-books are often surprisingly pricey and have usage limitations that can be inconvenient, and neither processing nor check-out/check-in labor tends to be a huge limiting bottleneck for physical books. (Especially since the shift to electronic PDFs for journals has substantially reduced workload elsewhere. And while we haven’t yet, a lot of libraries have moved to self-check-out stations.)

On the other hand, they have some advantages: they don’t take up limited stacks space that probably isn’t ever going to expand. They can also be part of a demand-driven acquisition program where titles can be in the catalog, but they’re only actually purchased when someone checks them out, allowing for a much wider choice to patrons without having to buy most of the books offered. And some of the better ones (notably Overdrive/Libby) allow for reading on a Kindle, which obviates a lot of the inconvenience of proprietary reading software. (At least for Kindle users.) Some others can export to epub which will work on other e-ink readers.

• Matt M says:

The acquisition cost is irrelevant, we’re talking about the marginal cost of one more check-in/check-out. Labor cost may be low, but it’s non-zero. Even if the check-out process is self-automated, someone still has to re-shelf the book when it returns, etc.

• LHN says:

Anecdotally, I have never heard any acquisitions decisions made based on cost of processing or circulation. The economic gravity may be there, but it’s not a direct driver.

And honestly, our marginal cost of circulation transactions right now is pretty close to zero given that someone has to staff the desk and there’s almost never a line. If/when it’s practical to automate away circulation desk staff entirely, maybe. But that’s more at the “get rid of the physical collection” stage than marginal decisions between individual print and electronic purchases.

15. Machine Interface says:

Someone recently ran a demographic poll on the Board Game Geek forum, and the results were interesting in showing that the population of board gamers doesn’t necessarily conform to the celibate geek stereotype:

A large majority of respondents (77.5%) were in a married or unmarried relationship (59.9% married overall).

A slight majority of respondents (50.6%) have at least one child.

A plurality of respondents (38.2%) identified as some denomination of Christianity (slightly ahead of atheists at 37.9%).

On the flipside, 84.5% of the respondents identified as male and 85.9% of the respondents identified as white.

• Matt M says:

None of this surprises me at all.

I was never into board games at all, until my first serious relationship. Prior to that, I did what all lonely isolated bitter young men do, played video games.

But now I suddenly had this situation where I had to routinely spend several hours with another person who had some viscerally negative opinions towards video games. So what to do? Board games fill the void nicely. It seems to me that women aren’t generally super into them, but not at all opposed to them either. It’s a way for us to spend time together that she enjoys while doing something that still scratches my itch for interesting/challenging entertainment.

• EchoChaos says:

Yeah, the only modest surprise to me is how high atheist is.

• Nick says:

It’s a geek community. My gaming club in college (which was largely board games, not video games) had a similar proportion.

• Did they ask about age? The results sound consistent with the forum skewing higher in age than you might expect from a board game website.

• Paul Zrimsek says:

BGG is mostly a mix of Eurogamers and board-wargaming grognards, with the latter group well known to average older; I suspect we also account for a lot of the heavy male skew.

• Machine Interface says:

Most represented age range is 30-39 (40.1%), followed by 40-49 (28.8%), 50-59 (14.1%) and 18-29 (12%).

• jgr314 says:

I wasn’t in the survey, but would have been another married father data point. In fact, I had kids in order to build a gaming group that would be reliably available.

• HeelBearCub says:

In fact, I had kids in order to build a gaming group that would be reliably available.

That, folks, is commitment.

• hls2003 says:

Obviously tongue in cheek, but I have to say that I kind of get it now that I have children. One of the things I am looking forward to most with my kids is introducing them to fun stuff I like, which will be all-new to them. Fun places, interesting subjects, enjoyable experiences. One thing I like is games, and I’ll enjoy teaching them to play with me.

• HeelBearCub says:

The reply was tongue-in-cheek as well.

And you are correct that this is one of the greatest joys of parenthood (as well as one of the more irrationally large pains).

• Randy M says:

Nah, commitment is when a baseball player says this.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

That, folks, is commitment.

+1
Y’know, there are actually a bunch of geeky hobbies you can do with children once they’re ~8 years old. Board games, Dungeons & Dragons (start with B/X), building with Legos… it’s just a huge commitment to get to that point.

Just make sure that they don’t tell a mandatory reporter.

I’m pretty sure that making a kid learn how to use the Attack Tables or calculate THAC0 qualifies as child abuse. And that’s not even going into the Thief Skills table… /s

• jgr314 says:

Pro tip: the real test of patience and calm is when they start consistently winning games.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Nabil: haha! But seriously, there are like 3 B/X or B/X+ retroclones that remove the 1980s attack tables and print something that’s basically BAB (one of the positive 3rd Edition changes). I’m running one of them, Adventurer Conqueror King, over Discord. Just strip out the domain economics and proficiencies when playing with little kids, or the Weapon Mastery slots from Dark Dungeons (BECMI clone).

• Randy M says:

It’s worth noting that in addition to being expensive, the hobby has been around about 20 years in the current form–growing niche of complex games. I’d expect MtG to also skew older than the common perception.

And being a social hobby, it’s not unlikely to meet potential spouses through it, or new friends that might be able to help you find one.

• HeelBearCub says:

I feel like my group of friends got in on the early part of the wave of games that came to the US from Europe. This was around 20 years ago. Two of them (married) had gotten into the MtG scene when it was first forming, and that lead to hanging around gaming stores and that lead to dancing buying Carcassone and Settlers of Catan.

A group of at first three and now four families all go an an annual beach trip together. We all went to college together, lived in the same dorm, and cut our gaming teeth playing Hearts, Spades and Whist in the dorm lounge. Naturally that has meant that gaming came to the beach with us, and that started a tradition of late nights staying up playing games while the kids all slept. Fast forward and now the kids all play and part of the trip is planning which of the many, many games will come to the beach.

My wife and I and the original couple also have semi-regular game nights during the year as well.

When I was a kid, the complex games were more WW2 simulation produced in the US (like Axis and Allies and Squad Leader), and that did not favor the mixed gender group we have now. Whereas my D&D groups were almost always mixed gender to some degree.

Basically my thesis would be that the complex board games which dominant the market now had the origins in Europe and that resulted in a cultural shift in the US board gaming community.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

A large majority of respondents (77.5%) were in a married or unmarried relationship (59.9% married overall).
A slight majority of respondents (50.6%) have at least one child.
A plurality of respondents (38.2%) identified as some denomination of Christianity (slightly ahead of atheists at 37.9%).
On the flipside, 84.5% of the respondents identified as male and 85.9% of the respondents identified as white.

Yeah, I would genderize (generalize?) modern board gaming as a man-centric hobby that appeals to a lot of women. 15.5% is actually lower than I’d have predicted. My personal experience is that it’s a lot of grown men (and 86% white sounds about right) recruiting their GF/wife or a couple they socialize with.

• EchoChaos says:

To be fair, this is the people who go to a boardgaming website where board games are reviewed and discussed.

For example, my wife bought Gaia Project so we could play it together on a vacation and we had a great time. She is into board games at an above average level for a woman as I compare her to her friends.

She had literally no idea BGG existed when I said that Gaia Project was highly rated there. She just bought it because it was the coolest looking game in the store.

• Matt M says:

Indeed. I’ll also add that traditional gender roles are still such that men are more frequently expected to take the lead in proposing activities and doing research and stuff.

The first time I ever went to BGG was under explicit instructions from my girlfriend: “Find us a game to play.” It’s not that I was more interested in board games than she was necessarily, it’s just that I was the one who was expected to do the research and make a decision and make a purchase.

• Randy M says:

Remember, they didn’t poll board gamers. They polled people who like to talk about board gamers.

Edit: Whose the echo now??

• Randy M says:

Speaking of boardgames, has everyone here seen Cyanide and Happiness’ new Trolley game kickstarter?
I’m not a backer, I’m just amused to see a utilitarian themed game.

16. blipnickels says:

Does anyone have any experience collecting ancient coins, more specifically ancient Roman coins?

I’m really looking for:
#1 Can I really get a coin from Tiberius’s time with his face on it?
#2 How would I store it?
#3 Is there a safe/reputable place to buy these at the \$20-\$30 price point?
#4 Is there any resell value in these?

I’m looking into this for birthday/Christmas reasons. Anything I really need I’ve either already bought or is way too expensive for a gift, so my birthday/Christmas gift list is pretty lame. I want something my elderly aunt can buy, that I will enjoy or at least think is cool, for about \$20-\$30, without it taking up a lot of space. Ancient coins feel like they could fit this niche well.

• Erusian says:

#1 Can I really get a coin from Tiberius’s time with his face on it?
#2 How would I store it?
#3 Is there a safe/reputable place to buy these at the \$20-\$30 price point?
#4 Is there any resell value in these?

1.) Yes, if you’re willing to accept one with some imperfections. The really nice ones get very expensive but one that’s been tarnished by age or might not have a very firm imprint is readily available. Pottery and common coins from the ancient world are extremely common.
2.) Keeping it in a basic case should do fine, unless you want to have it restored or something.
3.) There are many websites and authorities that verify them. Most of them are pretty good. These aren’t particularly rare items so counterfeiting is mostly of high value, rare coins. I’ve heard vcoins is good.
4.) They hold value reasonably well but aren’t likely to appreciate.

You might be slightly underestimating price. They’re probably going to run you like \$50-200 for a cheap one.

• achenx says:

Erusian covers it pretty well.

I have one (from Marcus Aurelius’s reign) that I bought from a dealer at a coin show. It’s been awhile but I think \$50ish is about right. I haven’t actually had it verified by another party, but I have never had an issue (so far as I know..!) with a coin show dealer peddling counterfeits.

17. Viliam says:

Please recommend me a good gift toy for a technically skilled 4 years old boy.

I was told he can sometimes play with building kits for 12 years old, only if it takes too much time, he gets bored. A friend recommended me this, but that seems too soon, and also his mother disapproves of buying a computer. Needs to be a technical toy that doesn’t contain a computer, nor requires a computer to run.

• Randy M says:

Magnetiles have seen a ton of use here.

• Hoopyfreud says:

Any of the hundreds of “magnetic bar and ball building toy” variants.

• Well... says:

Does Lego still make the Techniks (sp?) varieties?

• Viliam says:

Yep, Technic Lego is a central example of “he could do it, except it takes too long so he gets bored in the middle of construction”. Then he insists on parents finishing the construction for him.

• Well... says:

Too long for what? Let him just play with it.

• JustToSay says:

Snap Circuits, marble runs, Trio blocks, and ditto to Magna-Tiles

• jgr314 says:

These are all good, we did especially well with Trio blocks. When slightly older, polydrons. When older yet, zometools.

• BBA says:

I had one of these when I was that age. It taught me well.

• Well... says:

Is that basically a Galton board?

• SamChevre says:

A really good set of wooden blocks.

What makes a set of blocks good is the proportions: each dimension should be an integer multiple of every other dimension. (Typically, 1 x 3 x 6 and 1 x 3 x 12; a few 1 x 3 x 9 blocks add some options.) And you need a lot of them.

When I was 12 or so, a friend who made commercial cabinets gave us a banana box full of blocks like that made from plywood scraps. I think that is the most played-with toy in my parent’s house (I’m the oldest).

• dick says:

PlusPlus is an extremely cheap and simple lego-like building toy that is ideal for putting in the “restaurant bag” that I assume all parents of young children keep in the car. For something more obviously technical, 4 is a pretty good age for Robot Turtles, a board game designed to teach basic programming concepts.

18. Well... says:

Suppose a reasonable person from 200 years ago was brought to the present day in a time machine, and lived here for a few years. After weighing the pros and cons, this person decided life in his own time was better than life today. When asked why, what rational arguments might this person use to defend his decision?

• EchoChaos says:

The most obvious two are community and morality. 200 years ago is the eighteen-teens, which was a particularly strong religious revival in the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Great_Awakening).

Small communities are also very powerful. The Amish live in a rough approximation of that time even today and have a much stronger community than the “English” do. I could see a rational preference for those two things over the modern conveniences.

• Matt M says:

Yeah, the answer is almost certainly religion.

There’s a pretty big chance someone from 200 years ago seriously holds some rather strict religious beliefs that are blatantly and flagrantly violated on a consistent basis in modern society.

I know that today Andrew Jackson is judged for the trail of tears or whatever, but at the time, the scandal that did the most political damage to him was the fact that he married a woman who was previously divorced!!!!.

• Two McMillion says:

Wasn’t the scandal because her divorce might not technically have been finalized before he married her?

• Matt M says:

That was part of it, but I think the fact that she was divorced at all was still considered significant.

That sort of thing was also considered significant in regards to the English monarchy within the last 100 years, wasn’t it?

• EchoChaos says:

@Matt M

It was a modest scandal amongst the more conservative British in the last year.

I saw moderate objections that Prince Harry was marrying a lowborn divorcee.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@EchoChaos: … I didn’t realize Meghan Markle was old enough to be a divorcee. I see she’s 38, huh.

• EchoChaos says:

@Le Maistre Chat

As someone who works with the American working class, let me tell you that the lower age limit to be a divorcee is terrifyingly low.

• Matt M says:

As someone who works with the American working class, let me tell you that the lower age limit to be a divorcee is terrifyingly low.

As someone who was prior military enlisted, let me assure you that as low as you think it is, it’s even lower than that!

• ana53294 says:

In Spain, the current king, then prince, marrying a divorcee was a scandal.

I am not sure how much of the scandal was due to them being married by a Catholic bishop, and her being previously married, albeit by a civil ceremony.

People who, under similar circumstances, were not allowed to marry in the Church were quite critical. Also, the Spanish church makes the most conservative wing of the church; it was seen as hypocrisy at the time.

• Dack says:

That sort of thing was also considered significant in regards to the English monarchy within the last 100 years, wasn’t it?

I would have thought this was in reference to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, not Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

• EchoChaos says:

@Dack

I think it initially was, but I was emphasizing that it was not only a hundred years ago, but even two years ago.

• Plumber says:

@Well…

“….time machine….

Got hit by a moving automobile, said “To Hell with this”

• Nick says:

Well, I warned him not to trust the pedestrian crossings….

• HowardHolmes says:

Although I personally do not think one time is better than another a person from 200 years ago might realize that the lack of communication in his world led to considerably less stress. He had relations with maybe a few dozen people. He had little contact with the world outside his small circle and daily life. Communicating with others IMO is the main cause of stress, so his life has a lot of appeal for that reason.

• Well... says:

Is there a satisfactory empirical way to measure stress?

• FrankistGeorgist says:

Given where 200 years ago lands you in American history, I suspect they’ll hold their racial ideas more dear than the concept of streets free of horse shit.

• bullseye says:

His friends and family are all dead in 2019.

Secondarily, the modern world is confusing and weird, and, as FrankistGeorgist notes, has values that don’t make sense to him.

• GreatColdDistance says:

His friends and family are all dead in 2019.

This seems like the incredibly obvious answer, to the point where I’m disappointed in myself that I did not think of it immediately. Any dissonance around values and tech is going to pale in comparison to every single person you love or care for being gone.

• AlexOfUrals says:

The person was an aristocrat and wasn’t allowed to keep all their slaves/serfs in 2019 and do with them as pleased. If that person is immoral enough, that can be perfectly rational.

• Secretly French says:

I have never been swayed by the idea that slave ownership in history (and in the present day in much of the world if you didn’t know) was driven by evil; the idea that everyone was evil and evilly doing evil things until one brave man (onto which in our stories about history we happily project 21st century morals) stood up and said “hey fuck this evil shit”, and he fought to end the evil (in this case slavery; there’s an analogous story about feudalism, and suffrage for women, and so on) and then because of his valiance, the evil was ended forever. You can crucify me if you want, but you can’t make this story credible to me. The way I see it, the viability of slavery is controlled by economic factors, as well as political factors. The American South was growing cotton and tobacco and such, and that made slave labour (if slightly) economically viable longer than it was in the North, and the story is a bloody-yet-boring one of money and power and civilisation struggle. If our antebellum time traveller were unhappy in a time beyond slave labour, it would probably be because he was stranded as a stranger in a strange unheimlich land, alienated from economic and social modes he is used to; not because he just really wants to beat and rape a noble negro woman and is sulking that it’s not allowed or something (insert whatever Quentin Tarantino bullshit fantasy you want here). And if you think the existence of television and such is going to change his mind, maybe you’re the slave.

• Enkidum says:

The claim isn’t (usually) that slavery is driven by evil. The claim is that slavery is evil, in and of itself. You are largely correct about the economic factors driving things, any standard history of the time will say much the same thing. (A common line is that slavery wasn’t caused by racism, racism was caused by slavery.)

There is a great deal of evidence that, after slavery was outlawed in the South, former slaveowners and their kin were enraged that they could no longer use black people as they saw fit, and were required to treat them equally. One piece of such evidence being that they spent almost a century after that codifying racial differences into law, for no apparent economic reasons at all.

• Aapje says:

@Enkidum

There was a lot of anger at blacks in the North, which your explanation fails to account for.

• Enkidum says:

Do you mean that “slavery caused racism” doesn’t account for the racism in the North?

Assuming you do, then I guess I’d say that:

a) It’s a somewhat glib phrase, not meant to account for every single manifestation of slavery or racism.

b) There are a variety of ways I can think of in which Southern slavery would lead to Northern racism, mostly boiling down to “white Northerners tended to view white Southerners as more of a in-group than black southerners, and so were sympathetic to them”.

• Paul Zrimsek says:

In the aftermath of the Civil War there was also a tendency in both regions to charge the horrors of the war to blacks, leading to stuff like this.

• ana53294 says:

Despite social taboos and this being a low-status thing, there are people who enjoy being dickheads to waiters, flight assistants, and anybody they perceive beneath them. So people seem to do that even if it in generaly is a bad economic strategy; you generally need to pay people more if you treat them like that.

You can be even more of a dickhead to slaves.

My guess is that there are people who would greatly enjoy the level of control they would get with that.

• Enkidum says:

There’s a throwaway line in a Dave Barry essay I read probably 25 years ago, something like “Don’t trust people who are rude to waiters but nice to you, they are not nice people.”

It’s never failed me yet. In fact literally last week it confirmed to me that a co-worker who has been trying to get friendly with me is not someone I wish to be overly close to, after he bitched out the poor clerk at a coffee shop for giving him a disposable cup, when he hadn’t asked for anything else and disposable is the default at said shop.

In a probably futile attempt to connect this to @Secretly French’s post, I don’t think there’s much of a relationship between being an asshole like this and slavery (or other evils), save that under certain systems, pathological personalities can thrive more than they can under others. Thus after the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government admitted that many of those who had taken leadership roles of various committees were sadists to the extent of being mentally ill. I’d imagine the same was true of, e.g., slave drivers and so on. But again, their rising to the top is more of a consequence than a cause of the system (although I’m sure there’s some two-way causality going on).

(I don’t have a link to the Chinese anecdote, and I can’t remember where I learned it from, so take it with a grain of salt.)

• AlexOfUrals says:

Pretty much what Enkidum said, yes. Being evil (by modern standards) may not be sufficient to be a slaveowner and enjoy it, but it sure as hell is necessary. Or are you claiming there was no slaveowner who enjoyed beating and raping other people regardless of the skin color? That’s a weird thing to claim.

• Aapje says:

I’m pretty sure that raping slaves was not a requirement. Beatings may have been, but for a long time beating children was thought to be a necessary part of raising children. Do you think that all those parents who beat their children enjoyed it and/or were evil?

• AlexOfUrals says:

@Aapje
What I’m saying is two different claims. None of them is about all slaveowners.

First – yes I agree that people might’ve been genuinely mistaken, thinking as you said that beating slaves is necessary as well as children, or that black people are less sensitive to pain, or that serfs will get sick and die without hard work, or whatever. But, if after that hypothetical aristocrat spent a few years in our time and learned that no, none of these is the case and whomever he was abusing are just as much humans as himself and suffered from it just as much as he would, if after learning that he still wants to be a slaveowner and enjoys it, I think that makes him pretty evil by modern standards at least as I understand them. Probably I didn’t make that “after” part clear enough. (Also you can invent some scenario where he now helps his slaves as much as possible and works to bring the revolution about etc an enjoys that – I’m not talking about this scenario, I’m talking about keeping his lifestyle unchanged) So the first claim is that there was a non-empty proper subset of people like this among aristocrats.

Second, I’m sure that within the first subset there was a non-empty proper subset of slaveowners who genuinely enjoyed abusing that power and among them some who used it to rape yes (though that last part is by no means important to my argument, I mentioned it just because Secretly French did).

Hope now I’ve defined my position carefully enough so no slaveowner was accused falsely.

PS I know using aristocrat and slaveowner interchangeably as I do is not technically correct. I do it just to make clear that all I’m saying applies not only to antebellum American slaveowners but also to Eastern Europe serf-owning aristocrats of the same time.

• Matt M says:

The odds of any random person from the past being a slaveowner are quite small. It’s probably at least an order of magnitude more likely that a random person from the past was a slave and will be quite impressed that sort of thing doesn’t exist in modern times anymore (in the west at least)

• Well... says:

Yeah, I find this more persuasive than what AlexOfUrals said.

• AlexOfUrals says:

Sure, but I understood the question about what is *the* most likely explanation, just about what may be an explanation. Ditto, conditional on the fact the person didn’t like it here, they more likely weren’t a slave or something close.

• DeWitt says:

The person is Circassian, or Armenian, or Comanche, and hates seeing the people he despises squat on his land.

• albatross11 says:

Alternatively, perhaps he believes that with the knowledge he’s accumulated in the present, he can change history for the better, or invent the 20th century a century early and become insanely rich and famous.

• Plumber says:

@albatross11,

Oh jeez, I imagine that learning about the events of the first half of the 20th century would make one want to prevent the giant skull piles.

• DeWitt says:

It’s possible, but how would he do it? If you learned we were headed for similar problems in our century, what’d you do to prevent them?

• Plumber says:

@DeWitt,

Leaflets then, blogging now?

• Aapje says:

@DeWitt

Someone argued in a part thread that we are already living in an alternative timeline, where someone shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand to change the course of history.

• albatross11 says:

While here, he can do enough research to work out some surefire investments, and enough technical knowledge to invent at least a few things. That should give him the money to fund a Thomas-Edison-like operation where he starts with technology he knows is possible with something like available technology (which he remembers from his research), and then hires people to try lots of alternatives until they get each of those new technologies working.

The world in 1819 is ripe for an industrial revolution–we know because one happened. Make a few of those things happen a few decades early, and you can be insanely rich and influential. (Your influence will come not only from your wealth, but also because you will be widely hailed as a one-of-a-kind genius inventor and entrepreneur.) Maybe buy/build a major news organization to get even more influence.

You may simply want to develop your business in ways that will shift the world–for example, a Southerner who wants the South to have a better chance in the civil war could try to build up more industry in the South, maybe build gun factories, even invent some better military technology and give it to the South. Or you may want to try to head off the civil war by backing a movement to phase out slavery–having such a proposal backed by the South’s most famous son, with vast wealth behind it, might manage to get abolition of slavery starting with people born after 1850, and thus eliminate the main issue that drove secession.

If you want to make the world a better place, bringing modern medical knowledge back would be a pretty big deal. Probably that would involve bankrolling a medical school and hospital that taught newfangled stuff like the germ theory of disease, use of antiseptics, anesthesia, etc. Getting your research labs working on experimenting with anesthesia and making a few basic antibiotics would be a win. Somehow memorizing enough to “invent” a few basic drugs (antibiotics, antiparasitics) would have a huge impact on the world.

Once you’ve done that, you will have largely rerandomized a lot of history, so there’s probably not much point trying to hire assassins to knock off Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. But at that point you’re a very rich old man who’s got piles of money, so why not give it a shot?

• EchoChaos says:

@albatross11

Or you may want to try to head off the civil war by backing a movement to phase out slavery–having such a proposal backed by the South’s most famous son, with vast wealth behind it, might manage to get abolition of slavery starting with people born after 1850, and thus eliminate the main issue that drove secession.

And at about the right time. Do we know for sure that Robert Finley wasn’t a time traveler?

• Paul Brinkley says:

Someone argued in a part thread that we are already living in an alternative timeline, where someone shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand to change the course of history.

That was me.

(Mostly I was just amused by how duct-tape-and-paperclips the whole incident seemed to be, almost as if some disillusioned ragtag gang of Marty McFlys were barely pulling it off.)

• DinoNerd says:

Is this “life was better”, “life was better for me”, or “I’d prefer to go back”?

I think the “life was better” question is very difficult, because I doubt any of us have a good grasp on what people of that time valued. It may also depend on specifically where they came from – geographically/culturally, and also in terms of power and status. Gender too.

It’s easier the longer they stay here, as their values and ways of thinking will be changed by what they encounter, whether they recoil in horror, embrace what they find with the fervor of a convert, or even have a more nuanced reaction.

I imagine I could find some corner case societies where the average person lived longer and ate better in 1819 than the average person in that area lives and eats in 2019. The New Guinea Highlands might be interesting that way. Mostly, though, it would be the other way round.

Lots of specific-to-the-culture-of-then values won’t be much followed currently, to the distress and possible despair of someone who found those values especially important. Status hierarchies will be especially broken – the wrong people will have status for the wrong reasons.

A nature lover might easily despair, but I’m not sure how many could be found in that period. (John Muir was born in 1838. Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817.)

Overall though, I don’t see it. I’m too much a creature of the 20th century.

• Tenacious D says:

A nature lover might easily despair, but I’m not sure how many could be found in that period. (John Muir was born in 1838. Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817.)

I’m not sure how much a nature lover would despair, at least if they’d been in urban or industrial areas in their own time. In the western world, there’s at least some measures on which nature is better off now. For example, at the start of the 19th century, Blake was writing about “dark satanic mills”; during the lives of Muir and Thoreau, London had the Great Stink.

19. Scott Alexander says:

I sometimes write things like “Even if you support this position, it’s easy to compromise in a way that gives your opponents most of what they want.”

For example, in today’s links, “even if you want strong borders, you don’t have to detain illegal immigrants in camps”. Or a few weeks ago, “even if you don’t care about global warming, you can just allow a carbon tax and cut other taxes the same amount”.

I notice both of those are liberal. Is there a conservative version of this – ie something conservatives really want, where it would be easy for liberals to compromise in a way that doesn’t cost them much of what they want?

• “Even if you oppose Trump’s internal immigration policies, you can support a wall”. The wall doesn’t actually hurt leftists stated goals in any way. The reasons given for their opposition is cost and symbolism. The idea that anyone cares about its cost is laughable and the idea of the symbolism being wrong doesn’t mean anything materially. In a less dysfunctional government, immigration would be an easy issue to forge a compromise on.

• onyomi says:

If anything wouldn’t the wall help denecessitate the camps? The camps are someplace to put people who’ve broken the law by getting in without permission. By making it harder to get in, the wall makes it harder to break the law that results in the (perceived) need to detain.

• albatross11 says:

This is a good example of why this kind of exercise is harder than it looks–symbolic victories matter a lot in politics. Trump wants a wall, and Democrats don’t want him to build one, almost entirely for symbolic reasons. A wall probably wouldn’t have much effect on immigration enforcement (certainly not if the next administration doesn’t want to enforce immigration law), but it’s a symbol that Trump could use to claim a victory, and for that reason, the Democrats were never going to be in favor of it.

• sty_silver says:

More concretely, I suspect the wall would increase Trump’s chances to be re-elected, and that could lead to a lot of things liberals don’t want at all.

• Clutzy says:

“even if you want strong borders, you don’t have to detain illegal immigrants in camps”.

This is pretty false unless there is massively increased funding to detain them in nicer areas.

• Garrett says:

I believe the idea (and research shows) that those seeking asylum are highly likely to show up for their trial. So releasing them into the community is likely to work. It’s unknown how well this scales, though, and what kind of post-trial results there are.

• Clutzy says:

Those favorable statistics that I see are consistently misleading in 2 ways.

1. They look at old stats before the asylum surge, so it was generally far more meritorious cases where the seekers were winning over 80-90% of cases.

2. They only look at stats for those showing up at the first hearing. I haven’t seen anyone show favorable stats for self-deportation of asylum seekers who have had their claims denied.

• Well... says:

Plus, isn’t there a huge difference between detaining people so that close to 100% of them, presumably, will show up to their court dates, versus only getting 85% or whatever showing up when you let them just wander in and pinky-swear? How many people does that translate to who never show up and disappear inside the country each year?

TLDR: I don’t see why even the generous 80-90% figures are supposed to make us feel good.

• DeWitt says:

That’s an argument against bail and locking people suspected of all other crimes up, too. It’s an argument some are in favor of, but are you?

• Well... says:

Some people are flight risks, so there are greater restrictions around letting them out. I would say most illegal immigrants seem to qualify as flight risks, don’t they?

Besides, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. Criminals suspected of crimes and let out on bail are US citizens/residents with certain rights granted to them by our constitution. Foreigners trying to illegally enter the country are not protected by all of those same rights.

• DeWitt says:

Someone showing up at the border claiming asylum is not doing anything illegal. A bunch of them show up with fraudulent claims, at which point the illegal part is in falsely claiming asylum, not in showing up to in fact do so.

Do you think all foreigners suspected of any crime should be detained until court as a matter of policy?

• Clutzy says:

Bail is also set based on the assumption that if you skip out on it its a pretty big punishment. And, often, if you are a rich person or criminal thought to have profited off criminal activities, your money is frozen. There is no such leverage on an asylum seeker you release, unless you make them pay a bail bond. Which most of them probably can’t do unless you set it too low for it to be useful.

• Faza (TCM) says:

@DeWitt:

That’s an argument against bail and locking people suspected of all other crimes up, too.

False analogy.

As I mentioned to our host in the links thread we’re asking two things here: is the person present in the U.S. and do they have valid title to be there?

Clearly, we cannot presume the second is true, because most people living in the world do not have the right to enter and reside in the U.S. You may object to the laws that make it so, but nevertheless that’s what the situation is right now.

On the other hand, if we take any particular crime – even one we know for certain that occured – and take a random person present in the area at the time, the chances are overwhelmingly that they are innocent, unless we’re talking about a mass pogrom, or equivalent.

So how does bail figure in all of this? Once you’ve detained someone pending a trial to determine if they’re guilty of whatever it is you’re charging them with, you’re already causing harm – because not being detained is the default state. Given how heavily the odds are weighted in favour of any particular person being not guilty of any particular crime, this harm may be expected to overwhelmingly fall on innocent people, unless the bar for detention in the first place is set very high (essentially, we don’t arrest anyone unless we have a rock-solid case against them).

With immigrants in general and asylum seekers in particular, the reverse is true. We’re perfectly justified in asking someone to prove their right to be present in the country – once they’re already there – because most people don’t actually have that right. If you do have the right – you are a citizen, have a visa, etc. – it shouldn’t be hard for you to prove it (and if it is, you have a different problem), in which case you do so and go your own way. If you can’t prove your right to remain, we’re perfectly justified in sending you back where you came from pretty much immediately.

It gets interesting if you’re an asylum seeker, because at that point you’re only just attempting to establish that you do have a valid title to enter and remain in the country.

Someone showing up at the border claiming asylum is not doing anything illegal.

Of course they aren’t, but just showing up and making a claim doesn’t mean anything. For a start, it does not mean that the person making the claim has a right to enter and reamain in the country. That is yet to be established, by due process of the law.

Whilst going through the process, it is not unreasonable to propose any of the following:
1. that the person remain outside the U.S. until it is established that, yes, they do have a valid asylum claim, or
2. that the claimant remain in a government facility, pending a decision in their case; such facilities probably shouldn’t be straight-up prisons (we’re not seeking to punish anyone, yet), but they don’t necessarily have to provide more than a modest standard of living.

It isn’t immediately clear that “let them go and hope they show up for the hearing” is a reasonable proposition. Bona fide asylum seekers might, but as soon as word gets around that “I want to claim asylum” is the magic get-out-of-jail-free card, you may well find that bona fide asylum seekers are the minority.

As I’ve said on the original post: if you’re a bona fide asylum seeker, you’re running away from some pretty terrible things. Having to wait around in a processing centre should not seem like a huge price to have to pay for what you’re trying to get in return.

Unlike bail, there’s no prima facie harm to the asylum seeker while they wait in such a facility. Their chief interest, qua asylum seeker, is to get away from the oppressing entity in their country. That box is ticked. Any additional benefits – such as the right to live and work in a particular country – are just that: benefits, perks. Not getting a particular benefit at any particular time is not harm, given that not having that benefit is the default state.

It’s probably also worth pointing out that nothing herein speaks to what the actual facilities are like. People being locked in cages, ‘coz that’s what there is, is a completely separate issue from people not being free to leave the facility and/or its immediate surroundings until their claim has been approved.

• EchoChaos says:

Note that all the people who are being held are not “people who showed up at the border and claimed asylum”. Such people are vetted at border crossing stations and allowed in temporarily while their claim is processed if the border guard determines they will plausibly be granted asylum. They have a very high rate of showing up to court and can be released on their own fairly safely.

The people being held are those who crossed the border illegally, were captured by the Border Patrol or ICE and have made a defensive asylum claim. Making a defensive claim is legal, but such claims are far less likely to succeed (or they would have shown up at a crossing) and therefore the risks of letting them go, given that they have already attempted to evade US law at least once, are much higher.

The argument can be made that we don’t have enough officers at crossings to check all the asylum claims that are being made, but it’s not exactly like Democrats are willing to give more money for the border.

• nkurz says:

@EchoChaos:

> The people being held are those who crossed the border illegally, were captured by the Border Patrol or ICE and have made a defensive asylum claim.

I feel like this is an essential point, and wonder if much of the disagreement here is because some people are assuming this is true, and others are assuming it is false. Personally, I have much greater sympathy for the person who illegally crosses a border and voluntarily reports to the authorities to claim legal asylum than someone who crosses illegally and at some later point is involuntarily arrested.

Are there reliable numbers for how many people fall into each of these categories? Do others here agree that a distinction between these two categories is useful?

• EchoChaos says:

@nkurz

Personally, the distinction between the two is irrelevant to me. The people who show up at a legal border crossing and make an asylum claim haven’t illegally crossed at all and are doing it the right way and I want our law to encourage that.

Once you’ve taken the step of illegally crossing the border, I would be in favor of permanently banning you from all asylum claims in order to deter that method of trying to get asylum and moving people to legal border crossings, which is safer for them and more likely to result in just outcomes.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan testified Tuesday that 90 percent of asylum-seekers tracked under a recently instituted program skipped the hearings in which their cases were to be adjudicated.

Yes, people who were legitimately seeking asylum from political or religious persecution from war zones in the middle east or something were likely to show up for their hearings. Economic migrants from south America, where there is no significant political or religious persecution (except maybe Venezuela?) are abusing the asylum system. Perhaps Units of Caring can be afforded legitimate asylum seekers unable to make their claims because economic migrants are abusing the system?

• John Schilling says:

This [we don’t have to detain immigrants in “camps”] is pretty false unless there is massively increased funding to detain them in nicer areas.

Putting every detained immigrant in the United States in a Motel 6, two to a room, with meal vouchers for McDonalds’ Happy Meals breakfast, lunch, and dinner, would cost less than \$0.5E9/year. That’s a whopping 6.5% of ICE’s budget.

Also, you’d think that “Gosh, I just discovered that the last POTUS has left a bunch of people locked up in literal concentration camps on US soil”, even if not the most central example of such, might qualify as an “emergency”. You know, the kind of thing that allegedly allows a POTUS to shift gigabucks of federal money by fiat, not that this should really matter after two years with a border-focused POTUS having his party control both houses of congress for two years. Yet, crickets chirping, children crying.

It is true that, to maintain reasonable control of the US border, some finite number of children will need to be “locked in camps” or “ripped from their parents’ arms”, broadly defined. But to hear Trump and some of his more vocal supporters talk, I think even here, this isn’t considered a necessary evil but a virtue of the current system, in that the enhanced suffering of the children will punish and deter their damn dirty illegal-border-crossing parents. So long as that is the case, you’re probably going to want to be extra careful with explanations of how it is technically necessary to sometimes detain children, because for now those arguments are going to be less convincing than they perhaps ought to be, and more likely to tar you as the sort of person who punishes innocent children over politics than you deserve.

Yes, catch and release is cheaper than holding people in detention facilities, but then 90% of them don’t show up for the asylum hearings, so we’re back to open borders.

If you want to make the case for open borders, great, I’ll listen. But if not I don’t know what to tell you.

• souleater says:

For the record, I don’t think the children ARE suffering. As far as I know, they are in a safe. climate controlled facility where they under 24/7 monitoring by qualified adults, and are being fed regular meals. If any of that is untrue I advocate for federal law to mandate that that is made true.

I think where you and I disagree, is I consider many/most of these asylum claims to be economic based and therefore fraudulent. The parents choosing to violate immigration law means the parents need to be held accountable.

Sadly, with the parents being detained the children need to be either sent home to a guardian, or taken care of by the government. But having dependents is not a “Get out of jail free” card.
I am all in favor of funding ICE in order to take better care of the children. But can’t agree to look the other way on the parents crime.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

Yes, all these claims about children suffering rely on stupid right-wing propaganda about some kind of “parent-child bond”. Rational socialists like ourselves know that purported benefits of nuclear families are at best misguided nonsense originating in religious fairy tales. The current behaviour of the ICE is a step in the right direction, but for societally optimal results we should extend it by putting *all* children in the US “in a safe. climate controlled facility where they under 24/7 monitoring by qualified adults, and are being fed regular meals”. Replacing randomly chosen unqualified parents with care workers who have been trained and regulated by the state cannot fail to improve outcomes.

• souleater says:

I would have been happy to engage with you on the issues, but based on your reply it looks like you’re more inclined to put words in my mouth.

I’m not inclined to give you anymore of my time.

• Randy M says:

All debates are Brave New World debates.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

@souleater
The issue in question is “do children love their parents”. An affirmative answer is self-evident to most people. Either you have a very atypical mind/life experience and disagree in general, or you do agree in general but have deceived yourself into thinking this case is different for whatever reason. Regardless, I don’t think debating would be very productive.

• Plumber says:

@thisheavenlyconjugation,

Are you referring to the compulsory schooling of the last 100 years?

This feels like evil-robot talk. The humans are being kept at optimal temperatures and receiving the required number of calories, so all is well, yes?

A gilded cage is still a cage, and kids need their parents. I’m with you that the blame lies with their parents more than ICE, but it’s still a bad situation.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

@Plumber
I was more thinking of early communist ideas about the inevitable withering away of the nuclear family (e.g. the 1918 Code on Marriage, the Family and Guardianship which banned adoption of orphans on the grounds that the state would do a better job of raising them).

• souleater says:

@Jackologist

It absolutely is a bad situation. I am not trying to convince anyone otherwise. I feel bad for the children, and I would love to change the laws in order to try to improve their situation. The parents, however, need to be held accountable for their decisions.

I’m not asking you to change your perspective, but I hope you can get a sense of mine when I say that if a person commits a crime, they need to be held accountable for it, and that means not profiting off it. I believe that’s true if the parent was caught breaking into a home, beating their wife, or sneaking into the country.

My position is:
South American migrants are, in general, a very high flight risk.
If they’re allowed to leave custody, many will disappear.
They need to be either held in the US, or sent back to a safe third country to await their hearing.
If they elect to stay in US custody, something needs to be done with their children.
Either the children are sent to stay with relatives here legally, sent to relatives in their home country, or stay with the government.

I am willing to work with the democrats on this, but the conversation needs to start with the acknowledgment that catch and release is equivalent to open borders and unacceptable. I am 100% willing to replace our current situation with anything that doesn’t involve releasing illegal aliens or asylum fraudsters into the US.

• broblawsky says:

I’m not asking you to change your perspective, but I hope you can get a sense of mine when I say that if a person commits a crime, they need to be held accountable for it, and that means not profiting off it.

I want to make this perfectly clear: applying for asylum is not a crime. It’s a perfectly valid and legal action under both US and international law. Skipping out on a trial date might be illegal, but a) none of the people being detained have done that yet, and b) if given the opportunity to leave detention and return for a trial at a later date, asylum seekers usually do so. There is no legal or ethical necessity for detaining asylum seekers. It is being done purely as a punitive measure to discourage asylum seeking.

• EchoChaos says:

@broblawsky

And we’re not detaining asylum seekers who properly present themselves at a port of entry and make a request (that I have seen any allegation of).

We are detaining those who have already illegally entered the United States and are making an asylum claim as a defense against deportation.

• HeelBearCub says:

You do know we aren’t actually currently accepting asylum claims at ports of entry right now? Something of a catch-22.

Also, asking for asylum however you got on US soil is a right. You don’t have to present at a port of entry to avail yourself of that right.

• EchoChaos says:

@HeelBearCub

You do know we aren’t actually currently accepting asylum claims at ports of entry right now? Something of a catch-22.

That’s false. We still are. However, we are overwhelmed by the quantity of seekers and need more people to process them, so the waits are quite long. Trump has repeatedly asked for funding for more immigration officials. The Democrats have denied that.

Also, asking for asylum however you got on US soil is a right. You don’t have to present at a port of entry to avail yourself of that right.

Correct. And we are giving them that right. We are processing all asylum claims. However, we are backed up (see above) and for people who have entered illegally and hence are deported if their claim is denied, they are a massive flight risk (the Director of ICE says close to 90% do not show) so we need to hold them while that claim is being processed.

• For those of you who think that current asylum applicants are not a flight risk, do you honestly think this would not change if the government had a policy of immediately releasing all illegal immigrants in to the population who said they were seeking asylum? If I’m an illegal immigrant who came to the US for economic reasons and gets caught, what incentive would there be for me to tell the truth?

• HeelBearCub says:

It’s perhaps hyperbolic, but it’s not false.

Since May, 2018 we have implemented a new process (metering) that only allow a limited number of asylum seekers to cross at the port of entry.

• broblawsky says:

Correct. And we are giving them that right. We are processing all asylum claims. However, we are backed up (see above) and for people who have entered illegally and hence are deported if their claim is denied, they are a massive flight risk (the Director of ICE says close to 90% do not show) so we need to hold them while that claim is being processed.

We don’t need to. The administration has chosen to do so, in order to intimidate people and prevent them from exercising their legal rights. Do you dispute that this is the purpose of the forced separation and detention policies? Because they’ve admitted it under oath. I would suggest that you consider the implications of this kind of selective enforcement being applied against you and the people you love.

• EchoChaos says:

@broblawsky

If I was accused of a crime that had a 90% chance to not show up in court, I would expect an extremely high bail or to be denied bail entirely. That’s not selective justice.

And I would be very angry at all the other people who had filled the court and made it so my trial took months instead of days because of frivolous claims.

If you genuinely want asylum claims processed quickly (instead of back door open borders), then people filing false defensive claims being deterred is a GOOD thing, because it means those with genuine claims can have their claims processed and go free in America sooner.

• souleater says:

I want to make this perfectly clear: applying for asylum is not a crime. It’s a perfectly valid and legal action under both US and international law. Skipping out on a trial date might be illegal, but a) none of the people being detained have done that yet, and b) if given the opportunity to leave detention and return for a trial at a later date, asylum seekers usually do so. There is no legal or ethical necessity for detaining asylum seekers. It is being done purely as a punitive measure to discourage asylum seeking

Asylum seeking isn’t a crime, I absolutely acknowledge that, but fraud is. Would you agree that most of these asylum seekers don’t meet the definition?

your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or your political opinion.

I really don’t want to discourage legitimate asylum seeking, I want to discourage fraudulent asylum seeking.

Do you believe me when I tell you that I want American to give refuge to legitimate asylees, while preventing the fraudulent claims from succeeding?

@HeelBearCub

Also, asking for asylum however you got on US soil is a right. You don’t have to present at a port of entry to avail yourself of that right.

That is accurate, but I think we need to recognize that there is a big difference between coming across the border to request asylum, and coming across the border to live and work here for 5 years illegally, then claim asylum after you get caught.

If I bring my child along while committing a robbery, the police will arrest me and hold me for trial. They will not allow my child into the jail cell with me. They will separate me from my child and put him in the care of some kind of child protective services agency until I am either released or they can locate another relative or sponsor for the child. This would be very sad for my child and I because we love each other very much. The desire to not be separated from my child is among the reasons I do not commit crimes.

As far as the child detention facilities are concerned, here is video from inside the centers from the Washington Post, which I have not heard anyone claim is a right-wing propaganda outfit. These appear to be clean and comfortable lodgings run by the very nice people at Health & Human Services. There is food, games, sports, and school. There are call centers so they can contact relatives, and case workers trying to find them more permanent homes. If you feel these facilities are insufficient, I will gladly join you in petitioning Congress to increase funding to provide more services or construct more and better facilities.

• broblawsky says:

@souleater I believe that your intention here is not cruelty for cruelty’s sake, yes. However, I do not believe that the majority of these asylum seekers are fraudulent, and even if they were, I’d support giving them the benefit of the doubt because that’s how the criminal justice system is supposed to work. Innocent until proven guilty.

@Conrad Honcho You’ll have to excuse me for not being impressed by Potemkin villages. Lawmakers have visited CBP camps that weren’t prepped for their arrival and observed dehumanizing and cruel conditions. I don’t see any reason to reward CBP for their incompetence with more funding when they could better fulfill their legal mandate without mandatory detention for asylum sekers.

• souleater says:

However, I do not believe that the majority of these asylum seekers are fraudulent,

Well I think that’s the core of our disagreement.. I think a great many (very possible a majority) are fraudulent.

and even if they were, I’d support giving them the benefit of the doubt because that’s how the criminal justice system is supposed to work. Innocent until proven guilty.

I agree, innocent until proven guilty.. but I think you would agree that if someone is suspected of a crime, and are a high flight risk, it would be reasonable to hold them without bail?

Changing the focus a bit.. Would you be willing to agree to a change in the law, so that defensive asylum submissions are invalid? That would go a long way to ease my concern about fraud, and legitimate asylum seekers could still cross the border illegally, provided that they affirmatively turn themselves in and request asylum within… say 6 weeks.

@broblawsky and you will have to excuse me for not believing hysterical lies from political hacks. AOC wanted everyone to believe inmates were being told to drink from “the toilet,” neglecting to mention holding facilities use combination sinks and toilets to save space. The very first thing she did coming out of there was lie to you, so I don’t know why you want to believe her over the Washington Post.

• moonfirestorm says:

Is there a check we could perform to overcome your objections with the other’s example?

Pick a detention center at random, give them 30 minutes notice, and have a group arrive to film whatever they want within the center, with at least 1 cameraperson assigned to a person from each political party and recording whatever they want, and then released unedited?

I sort of like the idea of two recordings of the same event from different perspectives. Makes it way harder to spin in any direction.

• J Mann says:

@moonfirestorm

That would be the best adversarial collaboration ever.

• broblawsky says:

Is there a check we could perform to overcome your objections with the other’s example?

Pick a detention center at random, give them 30 minutes notice, and have a group arrive to film whatever they want within the center, with at least 1 cameraperson assigned to a person from each political party and recording whatever they want, and then released unedited?

I sort of like the idea of two recordings of the same event from different perspectives. Makes it way harder to spin in any direction.

I wouldn’t want to give them any notice, and I’d want a sampling of at least 5% of the existing detention centers being used for this purpose, not just one. But yes: if that test showed that migrants were uniformly being treated humanely, that would address my concerns.

Well I think that’s the core of our disagreement.. I think a great many (very possible a majority) are fraudulent.

I agree, innocent until proven guilty.. but I think you would agree that if someone is suspected of a crime, and are a high flight risk, it would be reasonable to hold them without bail?

Honestly, from a utilitarian perspective, it depends on the crime. There’s a cost associated with holding people, both moral and financial. If that cost is high enough, and the crime is minor enough, I’d prefer to accept the flight risk. We regularly allow bail for people who commit assault, a far more serious crime than undocumented immigration.

Changing the focus a bit.. Would you be willing to agree to a change in the law, so that defensive asylum submissions are invalid? That would go a long way to ease my concern about fraud, and legitimate asylum seekers could still cross the border illegally, provided that they affirmatively turn themselves in and request asylum within… say 6 weeks.

Maybe at one point, but the asylum metering process makes defensive asylum submissions necessary in many cases. If we could bar asylum metering by law, I’d be willing to trade away defensive asylum applications.

• Gobbobobble says:

Civil unions? “We don’t want you to get ‘married’ but we’ll let you do everything except use the same word for it”

• broblawsky says:

‘Separate but equal’ has a bad history in the US.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

So the US warps the cognition of people throughout the West so much that they have to treat two boyfriends or two girlfriends identically to couples making babies?

• DeWitt says:

There is no warped cognition in the slightest to truthfully recognise it has an awful history.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@DeWitt: But why should it matter for any European country (and other governments that started calling male-homosexual and female-homosexual bonds “marriage”) that the concept “separate but equal (races)” has an awful history in the United States? Are they our provinces?

• DeWitt says:

It’s a good argument, not the only good argument.

• broblawsky says:

Yes. Look at how often people in the UK dial 911 instead of 999. If we’re good at anything, it’s exporting our ideas, including our bigotries.

• Aapje says:

@Le Maistre Chat

Are they our provinces?

A lot of people seem to think so.

Also, it’s called a vassal state when you don’t actually get a vote.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Aapje:

it’s called a vassal state when you don’t actually get a vote.

Oops, you’re right. Things are worse than my words indicated. 🙁

• This is just mood affiliation. In the alternative world where the Supreme Court allowed civil unions but not gay marriages, we wouldn’t suddenly have laws segregating all gay people from straight people.

• DeWitt says:

It’s not unreasonable to make sure it’s not so easily done despite that being probably true, though we obviously have no means to verify if it even is.

• broblawsky says:

Not immediately, no, but they’d have opened the door for it.

• How can anyone honestly think today, when gay pride parades get more enthusiasm than regular American parades, that we are suddenly going to start criminalizing homosexuality? I will never understand the mindset from many on the left that we are in some critical period of time, where if we don’t immediately stamp out all resistance, that we’ll end up in The Handmaid’s Tale. What could possibly make someone think that’s a reasonable thing to believe?

• DeWitt says:

How can anyone honestly think today, when gay pride parades get more people participating than regular American parades, that we are suddenly going to start criminalizing homosexuality?

We’re right here. Do you mind asking what we believe first, or are you going to keep bulverising people?

EDIT: typo

• DeWitt says:

The bulverism lies in the critical part of history bit he’s going on about, something I don’t ascribe to and which he needs to knock off.

• I’m not bulverizing. I’m confused why broblawsky could possibly think that we’re this close to segregating gay people, one example of a general tendency I’ve noticed from some on the left that I don’t understand.

• Nick says:

@Wrong Species
It’s a good question, but framing it in a “how can anyone possibly think that” way is unhelpful, given you’re talking to two people who apparently do think it. Same with speculating that they believe resistance has to be stamped out as soon as possible. Just ask them directly.

• broblawsky says:

I’m not bulverizing. I’m confused why broblawsky could possibly think that we’re this close to segregating gay people, one example of a general tendency I’ve noticed from some on the left that I don’t understand.

We aren’t that close, because the Supreme Court chose to make it legally difficult for state legislatures to discriminate against homosexuals. The fact that pride parades in cities are well-attended is irrelevant, because state legislatures in many states are heavily gerrymandered and therefore weigh the opinions of city-dwellers less than the opinions of rural citizens, who are, as far as I can tell, less accepting of the idea of LGBT rights than city dwellers.

• Gobbobobble says:

Well yeah, it’s an example meant to question the premise as much as to demonstrate it

• Urstoff says:

I that might be more “just give everyone civil unions and make marriage a private religious matter”. But I think that’s a compromise nobody wants, since both sides want the cultural status (or denial of status) that comes with state declaring someone married.

• bullseye says:

Not literally nobody; I want that, as does at least one of my friends. But probably pretty close to nobody.

• Well... says:

Like bullseye, I too know people (a lot, actually) who want that. But I don’t, and the reason is that state-sanctioned marriage has an important social engineering purpose. It affects taxes, healthcare benefits, legal representation, etc. in a way that incentivizes marriage and family-building, which is a necessary counter to a capitalist/materialist culture of individualism that still turns lots of people into lifelong bachelors/bachelorettes.

• Gobbobobble says:

But those are the bits you still get from a civil union

• Well... says:

Yes, I agree. I’m just pointing out it’s more concrete than merely “cultural status”, which I interpret as more like “social status”. Though maybe you meant it more in a social engineering sense.

• souleater says:

I want this.

This is exactly what I want. In fact.. I want to make it so that anyone can designate anyone their “government sanctioned teammate” So I can decide my brother and I have medical/legal/inheritance benefits/responsibilities in exchange for a tax benefit.

• Gobbobobble says:

You okay with your brother getting half your stuff when you meet a nice girl out at the bars and want to change your official teammate?

• souleater says:

Well, no. But thats why I wouldn’t choose my brother as my official teammate.

My point is, I would like to see civil unions not be inherently sexual. The government has a clear advantage in incentivizing people to partner up, in that the government gets to look at household income when considering a safety net.
I think you can make a long-term commitment to mutually support someone without having an intimate, physical relationship with them.

• Randy M says:

That particular incentive doesn’t seem inclined to stop at two.

• souleater says:

Randy, do you mean that an official teammate may be equally beneficial for poly relationships?

Assuming yes, I think there would be huge issues with who specifically gets power of attorney or next of kin benefits. and don’t even get me started on who has rights/responsibilities to the child. but I suppose that could be handled the same way as a child out of wedlock or of an extramarital affair.

That being said, I think there is some truth to that. In fact, even if some absurd number like 10 people wanted to commit to supporting each other financially in exchange for tax favoritism, I think that would work out fine from the government perspective. If one person wants to “divorce” they get a tenth of the assets, If one person gets laid off, the remaining 9 have to pay. (although I imagine the 10 people would have a lot of internal issues, but hey, you do you)

I do want to be clear, I don’t think many people would want to have a semi-permanent partnership with someone other than a spouse, it would seem a little crazy to me. But the government requiring two people to have a sexual relationship in order to receive benefits just makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Removing the presumption of sex would just seem to solve all the problems to me.

Marriage is a good institution, but it is a church institution, and has a biblical definition that predates the US government. I wouldn’t mind the government using it, but it doesn’t get to change its definition like it did with gay marriage.

• Randy M says:

Randy, do you mean that an official teammate may be equally beneficial for poly relationships?

Other way around. The government would want to count as many people as possible as your family in terms of considering your resources. (I should have said “advantage” to keep the referents the same as yours)

Whether you think that is good or not is another question.
Personally I don’t have a problem with non amorous people making marriage like contracts. Whether we also want to remove special incentives for reproductively likely people to be joined long term is another (increasingly answered in the negative) question.

• Plumber says:

@Sylvester > “Well, no. But thats why I wouldn’t choose my brother as my official teammate.

My point is, I would like to see civil unions not be inherently sexual….”

Interesting, except for the very big caveat that fast changes to the status quo are usually bad (the U.S. was incredibly lucky that those of the ’30’s to the ’60’s turned out as well as they did), my gut instinct is the the state supported institution of marriage should be for parents whether they want it or not with the unmarried parents both put in stocks and pelted with garbage when they refuse the duty, perhaps shock collars if they utter the words “divorce” or “seperation”, in return have extremely generous stipends and housing allotments to prevent long absences by both the fathers and the mothers due to work and commutes.

I want the best of contemporary Sweden and Utah combined with colonial New England, maybe make it hard like the Quakers did to be allowed to start families as well, perhaps a lottery system?

• souleater says:

@Randy

The government would want to count as many people as possible as your family in terms of considering your resources.

That may well be true, but I would envision the non-amorous contract to be an “opt-in” sort of a thing.. but I don’t really like the idea of common law marriage either.

@Plumber
I absolutely agree that fast changes are usually bad. We should definitely be cautious about making any major changes. If I was dictator for life, I would just start with changing the name from “marriage” to “permanent economic partnership” and after 10 years see how it shakes out.

I think I detected a bit of hyperbole in your comment (Shock collars!), but I’m not sure to what extent. Stipends and housing allotments seems expensive, and, while I do care about children, and think your policy would benefit them, I am concerned that if the government starts such a generous policy, we would inadvertently create a “breeder class” as distasteful as it sounds. I’m afraid too many people are short sighted enough that under your policy, people will have children in order to enjoy the free money

• Randy M says:

That may well be true, but I would envision the non-amorous contract to be an “opt-in” sort of a thing.. but I don’t really like the idea of common law marriage either.

Basically I was wondering if you had other justification as well or were in favor of expanding these unions to any size.

• souleater says:

@Randy, I would not initially be in favor of expanding the union to more than 2 people. But I could imagine circumstances that would convince me to change my mind.

I can see a lot of problems with more than 2 partners..
It would be very easy for 2 partners to gang up on a third,
If you have 2 partners, and you slip into a coma, who gets to make the decisions for you?
If 2 out of 3 partners want to adopt a child, is the 3rd partner responsible?

It gets very hairy very quickly. I don’t imagine there is a suitable 1 size fits all contract for more than 2 people.
Now, that’s really the same issue with 3 person weddings, except in that case its viewed as discrimination as opposed to legal practicality.

Also, on an unrelated note.. Bravo Randy, you are really prolific with your new web serial. Be careful not to burn yourself out.

• The original Mr. X says:

People tried that compromise in the UK; it didn’t work (where “work” is defined as “result in a stable equilibrium which lasts for a considerable period of time”).

• EchoChaos says:

“If you are in favor of gun control, you’re fine with repealing the Hughes Amendment.”

The National Firearms Act is one of the most effective pieces of legislation ever made. Only two crimes have ever been committed with NFA firearms, both by law enforcement officers.

“If you are in favor of gun control, you’re fine with legalizing silencers.”

Despite the movies, silencers don’t make a gun make no sound. They are mostly a safety device to reduce hearing loss in shooters and do absolutely nothing to make it easier to commit a crime.

• S_J says:

I’ll add this: if you are in favor of gun-control, you still should be willing to allow all States to recognize permit-to-carry the same way they recognize driver’s licenses and marriage licenses.

Over the history of relaxation of permit-to-carry, the kind of people who take classes and request a permit-to-carry-a-firearm have tended to be the kind of people who have very low rates of criminal behavior.

However, some States (among them are States like New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts ) will not respect any permit-to-carry that was not issued by the State itself. And those States tend to have rules that restrict such permits to people who are rich and politically-connected. As well as not allowing non-residents to apply for a permit. [2]

People in favor of gun control tend to be against the thought of permits for carrying guns–even though the permit process shows pretty good evidence of being able to weed out people who would be a danger to themselves or others.

If the Federal Government passes a law that reduces Law Enforcement subsidies to States that don’t recognize out-of-State-license-to-carry, that is roughly equivalent to the Feds reducing highway subsidies to States that don’t recognize out-of-State driver’s licenses.

[1] I would say “license to own”, but many States don’t even issue licenses of that type.
My own State has a quasi-license-to-own for handguns. It’s two distinct pieces of paper, which used to be called a “Safety Inspection Certificate” and “State Permit to purchase a handgun”. However, the license-to-carry-a-concealed-handgun was treated as a waiver on the permit-to-purchase, and safety-inspection doesn’t require an actual inspection anymore.
To sum up: a Federal standard for States respecting licenses to own a firearm would have to deal with the fact that many States treat resident-without-criminal-record status as an implicit license to own a firearm.

[2] The permit process in such places typically has legal verbiage about showing a ‘need for protection’, and allowing the local Chief Law Enforcement Officer the discretion to decide whether the application has shown the appropriate level of need.
The actual implementation usually results in filtering out known criminals, with the whole process being smoothed along by the applicant being a known donor to certain local politicians, or a donor to charities that are affiliated with aiding families of policemen.

• Evan Þ says:

“Even if you support gay marriage, you don’t have to make everyone bake cakes or file paperwork for it.”

• Randy M says:

Even if you don’t want the government forcing you into a church, you don’t need to get upset about some small town nativity scene.
Even if you want to help the global poor, you don’t need to move them into western countries to do so.
Even if you want the environment clean, banning plastic straws is pretty much just empty symbolism.
Even if you want to give women maximal sexual freedom, you can acknowledge the moral hazard of calling inconvenient humans non-persons.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

The second and fourth of these at least are just your opinions shoehorned into the format.

• Randy M says:

Scott’s rubric was

“Even if you support this position, it’s easy to compromise in a way that gives your opponents most of what they want.”

Can you specify how you feel I failed to conform to this model?

Certainly, in all but the second it does not represent giving the opponent most of what they want. It’s a much smaller ask.

And in the second, there may be other reasons to support immigration, but this specifically addresses supporting it for humanitarian reasons.

Perhaps you feel that I’m not charitably characterizing the opponents position, in, say, “you want to give women maximal sexual freedom”? I’d like other opinions on whether “we should maximize sexual freedom is a straw-man. (The “of consenting adults” was assumed).

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

Compare with:

Even if you want to reduce the number of abortions, you can acknowledge the inaccuracy in calling fetuses “babies”.

In both cases, it’s essentially begging the question.

For the second, my criticism is different in the way you suggest. Few people support immigration primarily because it helps the global poor. Compare with something like:

Even if you want to increase procreation within heterosexual good Christian marriages, you don’t need to ban gay marriage to do so.

• Randy M says:

In both cases, it’s essentially begging the question.

Going to have to go pedantic and dispute this. I talked about moral hazard–without establishing that a fetus is a person, can we consider the dangerous precedent in ruling definitively against is this edge case?

Few people support immigration primarily because it helps the global poor.

But of late, that seems to be the liberals point in the matter. Liberarians tend to talk about the boost to the economy; liberals about helping the less fortunate. Do you deny it is at least ~an~ argument in the debate?

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

Going to have to go pedantic and dispute this.

Dispute on what grounds, that my analogy of an opposite statement is false? You need to go into more detail about why that is so with a meta-level justification: I’m sure you can argue why your moral hazard is important and my inaccuracy (which could also be reframed as moral hazard in terms of bodily autonomy) is not, but that’s more or less equivalent to the overall debate.

Do you deny it is at least ~an~ argument in the debate?

Quite possibly my perception of the debate is inaccurate, but my impression is that most (American-style) liberals mainly support immigration on the general principle of it benefiting people (in particular immigrants). Some of this is immigrants from very poor countries working low-paid jobs and reaping huge benefits in quality of life, and some of it is immigrants from rich countries coming to do PhDs and gaining relatively little. But I think it’s only the extreme or libertarian leaning who distinguish between those types — “ban high-skilled immigrants” and “ban low-skilled immigrants” would receive broadly similar responses.

• Randy M says:

Dispute on what grounds, that my analogy of an opposite statement is false?

I took from the accusation of begging the question that you interpreted me of requesting that the other side adopt my point of view. I don’t think that’s how my statement reads; here, at least, I’m merely asking that they accept the gravity of the debate. Because past instances of defining the humanity out of human beings have not been looked back on with pride.

It could be that this is a special case. But you don’t treat the category of question with the weight it deserves with a lot of liberal abortion rhetoric about clumps of cells, parasites, and so forth.

To be fair and consistent, I don’t see any good from mocking vegans, either. Even though I’d argue they are on shakier grounds in most cases.

But I think it’s only the extreme or libertarian leaning who distinguish between those types — “ban high-skilled immigrants” and “ban low-skilled immigrants” would receive broadly similar responses.

Hmm… Maybe. But why do “high skilled immigrants” deserve or need help? It seems like the argument in that case is one of mutual support, while in the case of those desperately poor, we get told that turning people away is not who we are, we have an obligation, and so forth. And I feel that we can meet those obligations without granting that they have claim on residency or citizenship.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

@Randy M

But you don’t treat the category of question with the weight it deserves with a lot of liberal abortion rhetoric about clumps of cells, parasites, and so forth.

This is still a claim about the issue. I actually agree with you on this point (i.e. I think a lot of anti-life people don’t adequately engage with anti-choice arguments). But doing so is still a concession from the perspective of an anti-life person who share my opinion, just as you would be conceding something if you accepted my request.

But why do “high skilled immigrants” deserve or need help?

I’m describing not justifying. Personally, I think that the two kinds of immigration should be distinguished and that accepting immigrants from very poor countries is a lot more important morally but that pushing for that may not be the best use of political resources. But what I think doesn’t matter.

• Randy M says:

But doing so is still a concession from the perspective of an anti-life person who share my opinion, just as you would be conceding something if you accepted my request.

Right, sure. Wasn’t the thread about giving away relatively small concessions that can satisfy a lot of the opposing demand? Maybe ultimately Pro-choice people view that as the thin end of the wedge.

In any case, perhaps we have differing views of the prompt. I may well be taking it places Scott didn’t intend, but I’ve explained my intent.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

My interpretation was that he was looking for things where the group making the concession shouldn’t be that bothered by it on reflection, and where the group being conceded to can count it as a victory (even if just a small one).

The two good examples of this I’ve seen are carbon tax (assuming no slippery slope) and legalising silencers. For example, for the first point I imagine right-wingers saying “well, I’d prefer generally lower taxes but this doesn’t really bother me” and left-wingers saying “well, really no-one should have guns to silence but this doesn’t seem that harmful”. I don’t see that happening in your example.

Although probably this interpretation is somewhat narrower than what he intended, since the immigrant camps example fails the second point.

• Nornagest says:

left-wingers saying “well, really no-one should have guns to silence but this doesn’t seem that harmful”.

The impression I get is that since left-wingers see guns primarily as killing tools, and probably also since Hollywood shows a lot of suppressed pistols in the hands of assassin types, they see suppressors primarily as tools to aid clandestine killing — rather than for hearing protection in hunting or sport shooting, which is their main use in countries where they’re relatively unregulated, or in home defense, which isn’t but is generally considered a legitimate use in the US. Empirically wrong, but pretty reasonable in the framework they’re working in.

• albatross11 says:

I really think the symbolic aspect is a much bigger deal in politics than this line of reasoning allows for. Politicians go for symbolic victories *all the time*, and most of what Scott’s thinking of as plausible compromises are things that the side making the compromise would see as a symbolic defeat.

Legalizing silencers wouldn’t have much impact on gun deaths, but then, neither does mandating trigger locks or banning assault rifles[1]. That wasn’t really the point–the point was to bring home a victory that could be shown to the voters, and maybe to move the ball down the field toward some more meaningful victory later.

Imposing restrictions on very late-term abortions would only affect a very small number of women, and wouldn’t really have much impact on womens reproductive rights. But that doesn’t mean the pro-choicers are going for it. Nor does that dissuade the pro-lifers from trying to get such restrictions.

Many years ago, the state of Missouri had several successive years when they passed laws against gay marriage in the state. There were already laws against it, the DOMA had been passed, and those laws had no actual impact. That didn’t bother the state legislators in the least.

[1] To a first approximation, all gun deaths are either suicides or garden-variety homicides carried out with handguns.

• Nick says:

Would you mind elaborating?

• HowardHolmes says:

Even if you believe in a woman’s right to choose, you could agree that it is a matter which can be decided by the states and find other ways to assist women in those states where abortion is banned to receive what they need. We might be surprised as to how many states eventually approved abortion.

• The Nybbler says:

I guess I’ll fight with the premise. Things like this are often either not true or in bad faith or both. If you want strong borders, you need to do something with the illegal crossers. This means either making illegal border crossing so difficult that pretty much nobody gets across (e.g. a wall that would make Erich Honecker’s body rise from the grave and dance for joy), expedited deportation so there’s no need for any long periods of detention, or detaining illegal crossers _somewhere_. None of those is acceptable to most of those objecting to the camps.

The tax thing… what’s to keep the other taxes from going right back up? Speaking as a NJ resident, they inevitably will. The previous governor cut a deal to cut our sales tax in exchange for a big gas tax increase. Now the sales tax is back up, and the gas tax has increased again.

It’s always wise to be suspicious of an opponent claiming there’s an “easy” compromise.

My memory of when Scott put forth the “carbon tax for a tax cut” hypothetical was that it was actually from a conservative standpoint, ie: why don’t liberals offer this? The conservative answer was that they don’t really want carbon taxes all that badly after all, which is why they won’t offer such a thing.

• gbdub says:

You can encourage racial diversity and provide opportunities to minorities without blatantly discriminating against white and Asian people.

You can discourage sexual assault without railroading young men for engaging in drunken sex. Or even insulting lonely virgins for wanting to be loved.

You can reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you stop having an irrational fear of nuclear power.

You can protect consumers without forcing hair braiders to obtain costly licenses.

You can improve health and cleanliness without banning soda and straws.

You can improve access to health care without taking the literal Little Sisters of the Poor to court to force them to pay for birth control.

You can ensure fair payment to government workers without forcing everyone to pay dues to unions that are major players in one side of partisan politics.

You can promote your values without Twitter mobbing people into getting fired for wrong think, assaulting college professors whose research you don’t like, or swinging bike locks at people who vote for the wrong candidate.

You can win an election without pretending that reparations for 19th century slavery are a good 21st century idea.

You probably can’t be against open borders (or at least unlimited legal immigration) without accepting that some number of otherwise sympathetic brown people are going to get detained at the border and/or forcibly deported from wherever they are living their lives in the U.S.

• albatross11 says:

Along with symbolic victories, you also run into issues of precedent. If you want to force employers-provided insurance to cover birth control then you might be willing to go to court to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay to provide birth control, because otherwise there will be a precedent that will be used by less sympathetic employers.

Though honestly, this seemed like one of those issues that was all about making sure we had lots of outrage and yelling at each other. Entertainingly, later on Republicans tried to make birth control pills over the counter; Democrats opposed this, probably (IMO) because the issue made a good hammer.

Or even insulting lonely virgins for wanting to be loved.

I don’t think this is a political issue at all. Making fun of lonely virgin dudes is just something that shallow assholes do, regardless of their political affiliation. If anything, I imagine that conservatives would be even more likely to engage in this sort of behavior. Square-Jawed Broad-Shouldered Business Suit Man and Thin Blonde Fox News Anchorwoman seem like exactly the kind of people who would’ve made fun of creepy loners back in high school and college.

• BBA says:

Lonely virgin dude here, and to overgeneralize from myself, every single one of us deserves all the scorn and mockery we get.

• HeelBearCub says:

You likely know this statement is irrational on some level. Perhaps rewording it for yourself would be helpful?

• BBA says:

I’ve realized that something close to the core of my identity is that I’m not “marginalized” in any way. Society is set up for people like me. If I fail, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

And therefore I have an intense loathing for “manosphere” and “incel” types who are people like me, but rail against society for things that are their own damn faults. I have an even dimmer view of “PUAs” who, being unwilling or unable to improve themselves, resort to vile tactics of social manipulation.

Of course I’m also unwilling or unable to improve myself. Yeah, I’m depressed, but the depression is totally accurate, isn’t it?

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Society is not really set up for people with untreated depression. “Marginalized” is a loaded term, but if you have untreated depression, you’re going to have a bad time, and that’s going to show up in your observable life outcomes.

• Nick says:

A lot of PUA advice does involve improving oneself. Like starting to work out, for instance. Or cleaning your room, for advice from a different source. You can do that without trading vile tactics of social manipulation.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

You need to get more concrete about what you mean when you say “social manipulation.” Everyone uses “social manipulation” of some form or another.

Virgin Nerds have poor social skills in general, and desperate men come across as Thirsty, which is not a good look to have.

• Aapje says:

@BBA

Society is not set up at all for men who are unwilling or unable to improve themselves.

The idea that PUA mainly or only involves manipulation is a lie that mainstream believes and tells you. The PUA’s I talked to focus a lot on improving yourself and are against manipulating people more than is normal*.

* If you think that ‘normal’ people don’t manipulate, I have a bridge to sell you.

• Randy M says:

And the most important PUA advice is ‘just keep trying’. Get over your fear by forcing yourself to interact and play the odds and learn by doing.

@BBA,

Two quick things:

Firstly, you’re clearly a smart, analytically-minded guy. One thing that really helps me when I’m slipping into anxiety or depression is to take a step back and analyze whether my self-assessment as a failure is even remotely accurate. It’s probably the single most useful skill that you can pick up from cognitive behavioral therapy. I mention this because, as an indifferent third-party, you hardly seem like a failure.

Secondly, if you actually want to improve yourself vis-a-vis attractiveness to women and lose your virginity without paying for it then you need to get your head out of your ass about PUA. There’s nothing vile about learning to approach women without coming off as a desperate oaf, or how to hold an engaging conversation that emphasizes your more attractive characteristics, or how to structure a date so that it’s more likely that the woman you’re with will want to sleep with you. I guarantee that every horror story you’ve been told about “negging” or “last minute resistance” are based on things that haven’t been taken seriously within the community since before the Obama administration.

• The Nybbler says:

I’ve realized that something close to the core of my identity is that I’m not “marginalized” in any way. Society is set up for people like me. If I fail, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

Well, that’s “white male privilege” in a nutshell. The irrebuttable presumption that everything that goes wrong in your life is your own damn fault.

This probably isn’t a useful way of thinking at all. But if you insist on it… it’s also just not true. Are you as good looking as Brad Pitt? Do you have the family connections of Nicolas Cage? Did you grow up as wealthy as Paris Hilton? Do you have the raw charisma of Bill Clinton? I’m guessing “no” on all of those. If society is set up for anyone, it would be naturally charming rich handsome extraverts from close-knit families of the same. Everyone else has to struggle.

• ana53294 says:

Although I haven’t looked too much into it, there were some PUA that I found objectionable, but there was also lots of advice on personal hygiene (showering daily is a must, deodorant is highly advisable), and style coaches teaching men to combine clothes.

Also, a lot of it was about not looking desperate and gaining confidence.

BBA may not need advice as common sense as women like men that smell nice, but there are many men who do need such advice. And I encounter them regularly enough on public transport, especially in the summer. Young teenage boys tend to stink especially strongly.

• Randy M says:

I think BBA ought to go back and read the thread where everyone was telling Atlas to stay away from ideological fora that convinced him he was unlikely to ever measure up and consider how it might apply to him.

• albatross11 says:

Human interaction involves a fair bit of manipulation and deception by default. If nothing else, most people learn which emotions/desires/interests are acceptable to express in public, how to dress and speak to present themselves in the best possible light (women spend a lot of years learning to do their hair and makeup and choose clothes that flatter their bodies–watching my goddaughter and daughter slowly pick these things up was/is fascinating in that regard; young men often have to cram a bit to learn grooming that makes them acceptable to girls, as opposed to their buddies), learn manners that set others at ease and indicate that you were raised well and can fit into polite society, etc.

This seems to me to be a basic property of human societies everywhere; it is certainly a property of our own human society. Given that, it’s sensible to learn how to do that stuff.

• albatross11 says:

A lot of the white privilege line of thinking seems to me to be based on confusing the mean of the distribution with individual values drawn from the distribution. On average, white kids have an easier path than black kids, but that’s just on average–Malia Obama probably has an easier path ahead of her than 99% of white kids, for example.

• Nick says:

@Randy M
The thread is here, if it helps. This subthread might be a little more on point.

• Randy M says:

Given that BBA commented right there, I guess he wouldn’t learn anything new. Then my advice is, maybe look into a more grace-full version of ‘consensus’ morality.

If I said the dominant version of left morality required all non-apex white men to feel worthless, I’d feel like I was straw-manning.

• HeelBearCub says:

@bba:
You should not try to run a race in the oppression Olympics. That is not how this works. Stop measuring yourself by or against anyone but yourself.

Your challenges are yours. There are many like them, but those are yours. There is no shame in having challenges. There is no shame in needing help. There is no shame in seeking help or accepting it.

I have, on more than one occasion, burst in to great gouts of tears during a music lesson. As a grown man in my 40s. I have gone home and wept inconsolably for hours because I felt, literally, broken. Like something not fit even for the Island of Misfit Toys.

It did not matter that I have CS degree, a good job, a good salary, a wife, two kids (and really four kids at this point). It did not matter that I was white and male. A lifetime of depression, anger management issues, as well as undiagnosed ADD, and undiagnosed sleep apnea all put me in a position where I could not function.

I have had challenges all my life. I needed help to move forward. I still need help.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” — Ian MacLaren

• Nick says:

@albatross11
I think a lot of what you’re saying is true, but I don’t think it’s right to call it manipulation or deception. (It’s a funny way of putting it, though; I’m reminded of MacIntyre’s argument in After Virtue that we moderns can no longer distinguish between manipulative and non-manipulative actions.) A lot of grooming, for instance, involves actually making yourself cleaner or more presentable, not just masking things under nice smells.

• EchoChaos says:

@HeelBearCub

Strongly agreed and seconded.

@BBA

Ignore whatever ANYONE tells you about “should”. Just look at an area of your life you are dissatisfied with and improve it. Find people who are talking about how to improve it and implement their suggestions. Ignore all of their suggestions that violate your moral code.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

There’s something in this about a habit (belief?) that attacking oneself is the best strategy. I’m working on digging my way out of it myself, and thoughts on the subject are welcome.

• Randy M says:

@Nick
I once got into a probably way too lengthy debate here about whether women applying cosmetics is deception or not. (I can’t find it, as there are too many threads that use the words “make up” in other senses).

I hold that it usually isn’t, since making yourself look pleasant or alluring or whatever is a good end in and of itself, even if your morning face isn’t so hot.

You can paint a house to hide structural defects, but most of the time you do it because it would look nice and wood or plaster don’t come in blue.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

The privilege stuff is rigged. Notice how the privilege of having secure legal permission to live in a place isn’t applied to black Americans, even though that’s privilege by the definition that it reliably makes life better.

• Nick says:

@Randy M
Yeah. I think that deodorant, for instance, is plainly not deceptive, even though I’m masking how I actually smell. The reason is that I’m not in fact, nor in intent, deceiving anyone thereby; everyone knows I wouldn’t smell like a spring meadow without it, I know they know it, the fact that they know it is why they’re expecting me to and why I am complying. Other norms work the same way, like when someone asks how I am and I say I’m fine.

There are cosmetic things that wouldn’t pass this, like breast implants or toupees. I doubt there’s anything wrong with them all the same, for basically the reason you say; we want other folks to look presentable, and we in general have no expectations about whether that’s your natural hair color or whether you’re balding.

• HeelBearCub says:

@Nick:
There is a big difference between:
a) showering, putting on laundered clothes and then putting on deodorant
b) not showering, putting on the same clothes every day and trying to AXE the result into submission.

• Nick says:

@HeelBearCub
That’s true. But the question I was addressing is whether wearing deodorant in itself is deceptive or manipulative, not whether it ever can be. I thought it was clear from the context of what I and Randy said, but I guess I could have added “in itself.”

• albatross11 says:

My whole point is that some level of deception and manipulation is just standard human behavior, and so isn’t morally wrong. We draw some lines (different societies have different lines) about where that manipulation or deception becomes unacceptable, but those lines are necessarily a little fuzzy. Every time the cute waitress smiles a little more to get a better tip, or the speaker at the academic conference shaves extra carefully and dresses a bit more nicely than usual before the presentation, they’re engaging in a certain socially-acceptable (and indeed, socially expected) level of manipulation and deception.

If you don’t do these things, you’ll have a needlessly harder life–your job interviews and dates and presentations won’t go as well, you won’t get as generous tips or make as many work connections, etc. A woman or man who doesn’t spend extra time making themselves look good before a date won’t have as much success dating.

One assumption here is that everyone knows we’re all doing these things. When you look at an adult woman in a social setting, she’s usually wearing makeup and clothes that make her look nicer than she’d look without them, and everyone kind-of prices that into what they expect. (By contrast, if you see the same woman at the emergency room at 3AM, she won’t look very put-together, and you won’t be surprised by that, either.).

• ana53294 says:

@HeelBearCub

You can’t fool anybody by AXEing an unwashed body, though.

The same way you can’t cover up acne with makeup (other than a small pimple). Does anybody get fooled by makeup live? I get that in photos/videos they use lots of light and photoshop, but I’ve never seen a person I am familiar with and not noticed the makeup. And in quite a few cases, the girls look better without makeup.

• albatross11 says:

HeelBearCub:

As those of us engaged in raising teenage boys have noticed. Though social pressure (aka trying to get girls to be interested) seems to be pretty effective in convincing them to shower regularly and apply deodorant, brush their teeth, etc. Much more so than the concern that their parents or siblings will complain about the smell.

• Nick says:

@albatross11
But my point is that it doesn’t even qualify as deceptive, under any reasonable definition of the word. To take your example, if a waitress smiles at me when she takes my order, I am not going to conclude from this that she likes me. (It would be a first, at least!) I know what she’s doing and she knows I know, so there’s no sense that I see in which she intends to deceive me, and without intent I don’t see how you can call it deceptive. And at a tangent, I think we’re on a very slippery slope when this is what we start calling deception.

• quanta413 says:

the speaker at the academic conference shaves extra carefully and dresses a bit more nicely than usual before the presentation, they’re engaging in a certain socially-acceptable (and indeed, socially expected) level of manipulation and deception.

Or shaves what seems a little bit less carefully, makes sure their clothing looks just a bit crumpled, and optimizes for that “just disheveled enough that he must spend all his time thinking deep thoughts and solving hard problems while still looking respectable enough”. 😛

I’m not sure how a female academic would get the same schtick going. I don’t think there’s a symmetric stereotype.

• The Nybbler says:

optimizes for that “just disheveled enough that he must spend all his time thinking deep thoughts and solving hard problems while still looking respectable enough”.

Academics do that on purpose? I thought that was just sort of what happened when they tried to look as neat as possible, the way Homer Simpson gets a beard shadow right after shaving.

• BBA says:

This thread made for some interesting discussion fodder with my therapist today. I’ll leave it at that.

• Aapje says:

@Nick

I know what she’s doing and she knows I know, so there’s no sense that I see in which she intends to deceive me, and without intent I don’t see how you can call it deceptive.

Waitresses who exaggerate their niceness or who flirt for tips get approached by men for a date whom they don’t actually fancy a lot more than more sour waitresses, so I don’t believe that all men know they are being deceived.

Even if all men realized and were OK with it, that doesn’t mean that they are not being deceived at some level. If men like flirty women because of mating instincts, because their brains equates this state with ‘sex imminent,’ but sex is not actually imminent, then the brain is being deceived.

Compare it with wireheading. If you put me in a machine that gives me continuous orgasms by way of an electrode in the brain, without actual sex, then I would argue that the machine is deceiving my body. I may enjoy and want that deception, but that means that I enjoy being manipulated.

PS. Note that deception can also be partial. Imagine that a woman wears make-up that raises her looks to 48, the average man discounts this to 38, but without make-up would judge her to be a 30. Then he is deceived by 8 points, if he makes decisions based on her being an 38, rather than the actual 30.

• Plumber says:

@BBA,
FWLIW, I’ve also been depressed this week, especially since reading the news of two additional mass shootings so soon aftet the one in Gilroy, and part of that is some shame at being male in a “What is wrong with so many of us?” sense that I just haven’t been able to shake.

Usually these kinds of things make me a bit sad, but are soon filed away as “far away and doesn’t effect me”, but this time thr initial sadness is really lingering, likely I’m ascribing some internal cause, not enough vitimans or alcohol this month to coincidental news, but maybe news consumption is having the same effect on you.

• Nick says:

@Aapje
Yeah, that does happen to waitresses, but it is, ironically, also not intended. Waitresses don’t want that sort of attention (unless you’re hot, of course).

I don’t doubt that a waitress can deceive in this way—compare HeelBearCub’s smelly AXE teenager example—but that’s not in general what they’re doing and not what I’m talking about. Frankly, a lot of the time when this happens to men it’s because they’re fooling themselves. Desperation can do that, and that it was instigated by a perfectly ordinary smile from a waitress says everything about them and nothing about her or her actions.

@BBA
Setting aside whatever factual disagreements we may have over how much of PUA is manipulation vs. genuinely good advice, we’re all trying to help here, and we hope you do and feel better.

• Aapje says:

@Nick

These waitresses want extra money, so they exploit male sexuality to get it. They just don’t want the full consequences of this behavior, but only the consequences that benefit them.

This is how it works: signs of sexual interest causes men to (consciously or not) see the woman in question as being open to being seduced. Flaunting wealth in general* or giving gifts to a woman specifically is traditionally a common method to seduce women (by giving ‘free samples’ of the man’s ability and willingness to be a provider). The waitresses that exploit male sexuality want these samples, even though they never intended to evaluate the man on his ability to provide, as a potential partner. They don’t like it when men interpret the signs of sexual interest as permission ask them out or even touch them, because those men don’t follow a script** that allows the waitress to exploit them.

Note that offering free samples or allowing the good to be returned for a full refund is a very common sales technique, that presumably offers great benefits to the buyer by greatly reducing the chance of wasting their money on a bad product.

People can exploit this by taking (or asking for) samples even if they never intended to buy the full product, even if the sample is very nice. Or they can buy a product that they only need once, use it to solve their problem and return it afterwards***.

Ultimately, feigning interest to get something that you wouldn’t be offered otherwise seems to me, to be an obvious case of manipulation.

* I’ve been told that the best tippers are men on a date, who demonstrate their providing ability by tipping a lot.

** Arguably, the existence of men with other scripts benefits the men who use the ‘free samples’ script by increasing the downsides of exploiting men for their ‘free samples’.

*** Which is similar to how men may feint interest in a long term relationship, to have sex with a woman, where she is willing to have sex as a ‘free sample’ of what she has to offer in a long term relationship.

• Plumber says:

@albatross11,.@Nick, @Aapje >

“…waitress…”

This talk of waitresses has inspired in me yet another trip “down memory lane” to the very late ’80’s/very early ’90’s:: She didn’t smile, ever.

Instead she called be me by my name and mentioned places we’d known each other, and mutual friends.

She was cute, albeit blonde instead of the dark-haired girls that usually held my interest, and I saw her again at the restaurant a few more times, when she’d come up and say hello, even when another waitress was assigned my table, and also later at a bookstore where she was a cashier to my surprise (yes, yet another cashier girl who knew me at yet another bookstore), but I never persued a date with her, probably because I was usually near or all the way broke, but also because, while I remembered the people and places she mentioned, I had no memory of her at those places and with those people, which I was ashamed to admit to her.

• J Mann says:

These waitresses want extra money, so they exploit male sexuality to get it. They just don’t want the full consequences of this behavior, but only the consequences that benefit them.

Aapje, IMHO you’re ascribing more intent and self-awareness than most of us have. Speaking from my personal experience, when I “turn on the charm”* to try to get a ticket agent to rebook my flight or try to get a job or just to make a friend of a friend feel welcome at a party or whatever, most of the stuff I do was learned in a Pavlovian way.

I have a sense of which expressions and body language are likely to produce a result (travel agent takes a minute and helps me rebook my flight, friend of a friend seems more comfortable at party, etc.), but I don’t have a lot of conscious thought about whether I’m sending sexual signals, paternal signals, or what.

I suspect it’s the same for service staff. There are behaviors that get rewarded and that their patrons want to see, and through selection and repetition, people learn them.

* I don’t want to overstate how much charm I can turn on, but I definitely can turn on some, and suspect most people can and do.

• Aapje says:

@J Mann

Nowhere in my explanation am I claiming that the waitresses have awareness of what they are doing. I’m describing what they are actually doing, regardless of (lack of) intent.

If people exploit a causal mechanism that results in A and B, to get more A, but then deplore getting more B; my sympathy for their plight is much more limited than if they never could influence what happened to them or if others get A without getting B as well.

Note that male waiters seem to get structurally fewer tips, as they don’t get to exploit male or female sexuality for bigger tips. One of my frustrations with the narrative is that men’s lack of access to certain benefits as well as women’s access to those benefits is typically taken for granted. The demand is then that women get those benefits without any downsides. This is anything but equality.

• gbdub says:

Sure, but conservative bullies don’t pretend they they are nobly fighting against the patriarchy when they do so.

I mean, look at Sean Hannity and look at John Oliver. Who do you think is more likely to have bullied socially-inept losers back in their youth? Hell, which one do you think would be friendlier to nerds, geeks, and outcasts now?

• EchoChaos says:

John Oliver. Nasty snarkers are the worst to the socially inept.

• Aapje says:

I think that Hannity is more likely to have been the bully in his childhood, but that Oliver is the kind of person who is really happy to have gained so much status that he gets to bully people who he imagined bullied people like him.

• gbdub says:

Again, I’m not arguing that liberals are necessarily more likely to bully lonely nerds.

But they are more likely to justify bullying of lonely nerds as a necessary political effort to advance women’s rights.

As someone noted below I’m referencing the kind of stuff Scott talked about in Radicalizing the Romanceless and Untitled.

The point of this exercise was to point out areas where political positions are causing a lot of unnecessary-to-the-stated-goal collateral damage, and I think this is one of them. You may not agree, but Scott should, since he is both the one who asked and the one that wrote Untitled.

• Clutzy says:

Agree with Echo. At the very worst, Hannity ignored them/didn’t really know they were around. I don’t blame people who think otherwise, but that general thought process is the result of a prolonged anti-jock/high school propaganda campaign that has been in TV/Movies since before I was born.

• albatross11 says:

I have to admit, this whole line of discussion reads to me as variations on the theme of “my outgroup are bad people who should fall in status relative to my ingroup.” There’s basically no way you can look at a media personality’s professionally produced image and infer whether or not they were bullied ora bully as a kid.

• Randy M says:

There’s basically no way you can look at a media personality’s professionally produced image and infer whether or not they were bullied or a bully as a kid.

+1

• Aapje says:

@albatross11

I think that you can tell a lot about people from what image they feel comfortable with.

I don’t think that John Stewart could act like Hannity or Oliver for show after show, even if you’d pay him 1 million dollars a show.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

For what it’s worth, Oliver has done a lot of appearance-shaming, including of his own appearance. I’m not sure if this means anything about his personal behavior.

• albatross11 says:

Aapje:

• HeelBearCub says:

But they are more likely to justify bullying of lonely nerds as a necessary political effort to advance women’s rights.

Even accepting this at face value, you pretty much created a tautological statement and have fooled yourself into thinking it is somehow meaningful.

• Gobbobobble says:

What makes it tautological? Is this a dig that the right doesn’t care about women?

• gbdub says:

HeelBearCub, you’ll need to expand on that a bit because I don’t see how “you can advance women’s rights without bullying lonely nerds” is any more or less tautological than Scott’s original prompt for this thread. I mean it should be obvious, but that doesn’t make it tautological. And tautological or not, some people don’t seem to believe it.

Do you deny that the phenomenon exists? That seems unjustified give no Scott’s previously writings. Hell in this very thread you’ve got BBA being an apparent victim of something similar.

Anyway I’m annoyed by where this conversation has gone, I gave 10 examples fitting Scott’s prompt and everyone is talking about a derailed sidebar on half of one example.

• HeelBearCub says:

@gbdub:
No, I don’t deny that it exists. There are conclusions that people draw from its existence that I would argue against, but I certainly don’t deny its existence.

I’m simply pointing out that the right doesn’t believe that the political rights of women are in need of any particular advancement.

@Gobbobobble:
The tautology is simply “I don’t see PolGroupA arguing positively for Y as necessary to advance PolGroupB’s preferred priorities”

“I don’t see environmental groups arguing in favor of gun rights as necessary to advance reduced regulation.”

• gbdub says:

No, but the left does, and I’m saying that’s something they can achieve without some of the obvious negatives.

The left doesn’t particularly think that border controls and immigration law need stricter enforcement either – so again, take up your beef with Scott’s original prompt.

• Aapje says:

@HeelBearCub

I’m simply pointing out that the right doesn’t believe that the political rights of women are in need of any particular advancement.

I notice that where gbdub was taking about women’s rights in general, you are limiting it to political rights, which seems strange to me. Most people care quite a bit about certain women’s rights, like women being safe from rape, although they can disagree a lot on how to achieve this.

The idea that women’s problems are largely due to a lack of (direct) political power exercised directly by women and/or that women are kept out of positions of political power (rather than opting out) seems axiomatic to certain ideologies. Treating (direct) political power for women as a goal, rather than as one possible means, collapses the goal and means into one.

I see this in debates a lot, with the common result that disagreement about means is taken as disagreement about goals, as a causal relationship between the two is often considered obvious, although one can usually reasonably doubt this connection.

@albatross11

Colbert’s persona seems to be based on Colbert’s fondness for sneering and satirical exaggeration.

@gbdub:

Do you deny that the phenomenon exists? That seems unjustified give no Scott’s previously writings. Hell in this very thread you’ve got BBA being an apparent victim of something similar.

Was I denying that lonely awkward virgins get bullied? No, I’m aware that’s a thing that happens. I was denying that it was a particularly liberal/leftist/feminist phenomenon.

Anyway I’m annoyed by where this conversation has gone, I gave 10 examples fitting Scott’s prompt and everyone is talking about a derailed sidebar on half of one example.

Honestly, I didn’t expect my comment would lead to such a long string of responses, and I didn’t intend to derail the discussion like this. But that half a sentence really stood out to me, because it came across as more of a strawman/accusation than an innocent example of something that most people would agree was a common left-liberal stance.

For instance, when you brought up “wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also being opposed to nuclear power,” that didn’t seem uncharitable. Most left-liberals want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and while I’m sure there are a good number who either support nuclear power or don’t particularly oppose it, there are enough who are anti-nuclear that it doesn’t feel like cherry picking. Furthermore, being opposed to nuclear power is almost exclusively a leftist stance, since you generally don’t hear conservatives or libertarians or independents or apolitical people complaining about nuclear power (unless the debate is about building a nuclear plant close to where they live, in which case NIMBYism transcends political alignment). Likewise, trying to ban plastic straws and plastic bags and large sodas is something that a number of prominent liberal politicians have actually tried to do, so it’s not really controversial to use that as an example.

But the part about making fun of lonely awkward virgins just seemed totally out of left field. When you bring up something that’s obviously bad in a completely apolitical way (like bullying virgins), and then attribute that behavior to a specific political group (like social liberals), that’s bound to be controversial. If someone gave an example like “you can support some amount of wealth redistribution without endorsing bank robbery,” then I wouldn’t blame economic leftists for getting upset and taking it as a totally unwarranted attack on them. Most people agree that bank robbery is bad, but there’s no evidence that leftists are more likely to be bank robbers or endorse bank robbery, so the example seems downright accusatory. Even if there’s a small minority of bank robbers who justify their actions by saying “we’re really just going this to fight capitalism and bring about economic justice,” that doesn’t change the fact that the crime of bank robbery is largely unrelated to politics, the majority of bank robbers are not leftist revolutionaries, and the overwhelming majority of leftists don’t support robbing banks.

• Aapje says:

I think that traditional society has always had a fairly negative view of lonely nerds, but that SJ has added a lot of (extremely ideology-based) negativity on top of this, without meaningfully subtracting anything.

To take your example further: lots of conservatives would, just like progressives, oppose a nuclear plant close to their home for NIMBY reasons. However, if it is nearly exclusively progressives who oppose nuclear plants far from their home, then it seems fair to argue that only progressives truly oppose nuclear power.

Similarly, if both progressives and conservatives tend to dislike lonely nerds in their vicinity for NIMBY reasons, but mainly progressives go out of their way to be extremely uncharitable and nasty to lonely nerds, also when those nerds are far away from them, it is not fair to argue that it is mainly progressives who truly hate lonely nerds?

@Aaple: Alright, I think I get what you and gbdub are saying now. In which case, I simply disagree with the object-level claims that “SJ has added a lot of (extremely ideology-based) negativity on top of this” and “progressives go out of their way to be extremely uncharitable and nasty to lonely nerds, also when those nerds are far away from them.”

And yes, I’m sure you can find examples of individual progressives who do that, I just haven’t seen any evidence that it’s a trend. And when it comes to those individuals, I’m rather skeptical that their claims of ideological motivation are the real cause of their actions, rather than merely a paper-thin veneer of justifiability.

• Aapje says:

Lonely nerds often fail by acting too much like women in their dating strategy, being very passive in many ways.

What I see is that feminists tend to very strongly interpret all problems as being caused by hypermasculinity.

For example, ‘nice guys’ are typically men who adopt the fairly typical female strategy of getting close to someone they like, demonstrating their qualities and waiting for that person to make a move. In the feminist definition of ‘nice guy,’ this is not interpreted as a well-intended strategy that fails when the other person is also passive, but as an entitlement to sex and a manipulative way to get it (and such an interpretation is only ever applied to men, as I’ve never seen a feminist talk about ‘nice girls’).

Masculinity is often seen as having agency and femininity as lacking it. So male behavior is often interpreted differently from female behavior, as men are assumed to be in control and to have ‘willed’ things, where women are often assumed to be controlled by circumstance or others. This results in enormous double standards, which are certainly not exclusive to feminism, but a lot more prominent, because feminists believe far more strongly that gender roles drive behavior.

It is actually extremely ironic that feminists tend to demand more feminine behavior from men, but are so bad at noticing when men adopt feminine behavior and at interpreting their problems as being due to overly feminine behavior; with the result being that men who truly adopt feminist advice often face abuse from feminists.

I’ve repeatedly seen lonely nerds on feminist forums complain about their dating problems, whose statements demonstrated no extreme entitlement* in my eyes, but rather a feminine strategy, be chastised for their entitlement and abusive nature. The attacks by Penny and Marcotte on Aaronson fit that pattern.

I’m rather skeptical that their claims of ideological motivation are the real cause of their actions, rather than merely a paper-thin veneer of justifiability.

If by paper-thin veneer of justifiability you mean that misandrists seek out feminism because it allows them to express their hatred of and bias against men in socially acceptable ways, then I agree with you. However, I don’t see how it absolves the ideology in any way. The existence of the veneer makes it far easier for people to be abusive, as they can do it in a socially acceptable way.

If feminist makes misandry socially acceptable and more common, then attacking feminism may help to reduce misandry.

* Pretty much everyone feels and should feel some entitlement, like being treated decently by others. Those who have too little entitlement have got self-esteem issues and are prone to be abused by others.

For example, ‘nice guys’ are typically men who adopt the fairly typical female strategy of getting close to someone they like, demonstrating their qualities and waiting for that person to make a move. In the feminist definition of ‘nice guy,’ this is not interpreted as a well-intended strategy that fails when the other person is also passive, but as an entitlement to sex and a manipulative way to get it (and such an interpretation is only ever applied to men, as I’ve never seen a feminist talk about ‘nice girls’).

The core complaint about ‘nice guys’ is that they expect to be rewarded for basic decency and get upset when they’re not. Which is definitely a complaint I’ve heard aimed at women too, just in non-romantic/non-sexual contexts.

This results in enormous double standards, which are certainly not exclusive to feminism, but a lot more prominent, because feminists believe far more strongly that gender roles drive behavior.

What? Isn’t it mostly conservatives and traditionalists who believe that gender drives behavior? Granted, there are some older schools of feminism that take more of a gender essentialist approach, but they’ve largely fallen out of favor.

If by paper-thin veneer of justifiability you mean that misandrists seek out feminism because it allows them to express their hatred of and bias against men in socially acceptable ways, then I agree with you.

I wasn’t referring to misandrists, but rather bullies in general. I’d imagine the misandrists would be more inclined to attack men in general, rather than focusing specifically on lonely virgins. If anything, the misandrists would be more likely to attack the romantically successful alpha male types, since (as you mentioned) they tend to be very opposed to hypermasculinity. In contrast, the kinds of people who make fun of weird awkward nerds tend to be the kind of people who admire the alpha males, which makes any claim that they’re motivated by feminist ideals seem disingenuous.

If feminist makes misandry socially acceptable and more common, then attacking feminism may help to reduce misandry.

Actual misandrists are an extreme minority, even in feminist circles. And again, the types of people who specifically make fun of lonely virgins are probably not misandrists anyway, just bullies. And their bullying is largely orthogonal to any feminist views they claim to espouse.

• albatross11 says:

This seems right to me–most of the time when you see someone kicking around vulnerable members of the outgroup, it’s because they like kicking people around and these are easy targets. Any ideological justification they give is likely to be spun up after the fact, to justify doing the thing they wanted to do anyway. I think the tendency to enjoy kicking lower-status people around is a very widespread one in humans–it’s one of the things you hope culture and upbringing and morality will help you overcome.

However, I also think people can and do get trained/accustomed to different kinds of behavior. A culture or society in which being extra-nasty to some hated outgroup is praised and rewarded is one in which a *lot* of people will find themselves willing to do those things.

• Aapje says:

The core complaint about ‘nice guys’ is that they expect to be rewarded for basic decency and get upset when they’re not.

Yes, that is how these guys are attacked. However, this attack is often used against men who, instead of ‘forcing’ the woman into expressing either interest or disinterest, judged her interest passively and then felt deceived when what seemed to him to be a strong signal of interest, was not. So in actuality, the sense of entitlement is not to be rewarded with a relationship or sex for being decent, as is the typical accusation, but to not be deceived.

For example, a classic complaint is about the woman complaining about her boyfriend and saying: “I wish he was more like you.” The real meaning of this is usually: “I wish he was more like you in 1 respect, but not with these traits of yours that I dislike.” However, quite a few men apparently interpret such statements as them being considered a suitable partner, if the current relationship ends and/or if he shows more of his qualities.

Note that this passive strategy is very feminine.

Which is definitely a complaint I’ve heard aimed at women too, just in non-romantic/non-sexual contexts.

That this complaint is not voiced in the romantic context, but is in others, just supports my point that there are double standards and inconsistencies at play. The idea that a man may be the victim of the feminine strategy is rarely considered by feminism and in fact, men who complain about this are themselves regularly accused of abusing women. The opposite is not true.

This is defacto misandry: harm to men is ignored and/or men who complain are called misogynists to silence them.

Isn’t it mostly conservatives and traditionalists who believe that gender drives behavior?

I said gender roles, not gender. Conservatives and traditionalists tend to believe in biological gender differences and/or that gender roles should drive behavior.

The latter is different from the idea that gender roles are strongly encultured, even in the absence of intent to enculture them.

I’d imagine the misandrists would be more inclined to attack men in general, rather than focusing specifically on lonely virgins.

I never said that feminist misandrists exclusively, mainly or even equally often target lonely virgins. However, you have to keep in mind that pushing an open door is way easier than pushing a closed door.

Imagine that I live in 1930’s Germany and hate both my neigbors. On my left there lives a Jew who plays loud music. On my right there lives a Nazi Party member who keeps listening to loud speeches by some weirdo. My equal hatred of each will probably result in highly different outcomes, as I can call upon the brown shirts to bully my Jewish neighbor and in general, get a lot of societal support when I seek to harm him. In contrast, the Nazi Party member is relatively untouchable.

In SJ, there does seem to be recognition of this, where a distinction is made between punching up and down. However, the incentives are huge to falsely interpret punching down as punching up, because actually going after powerful people is often dangerous, futile and socially unacceptable. Punching down is so much more pleasant.

SJ advocates seem to very commonly make explicit or implicit claims that all people with a trait are ‘below’ all people with another trait, which favors cherrypicking a trait by which the target is supposedly up and thus the punching is up, even if that target has traits that are clearly below the aggressor.

If anything, the misandrists would be more likely to attack the romantically successful alpha male types, since (as you mentioned) they tend to be very opposed to hypermasculinity.

It seems to work that way in colleges, where black students, whose sexual culture seems more aggressive on average, seem to be persecuted by Title IX courts way more often than white students.

These kinds of situations typically seem to cause a short circuit in SJ, as such complexity undermines the typical narrative.

which makes any claim that they’re motivated by feminist ideals seem disingenuous.

I see most feminism as extremely hypocritical, so a claim that feminists can’t both speak out against hypermasculine behavior, while still admiring strong masculinity is not going to convince me.

Note that a common complaint by men is that women tend to raise their acceptable level of sexual aggression, the more attractive the man is. This was even pointed out on SNL, back when they could get away with this.

Imagine two men: charismatic Bill C and nerdy Scott A. Bill is so attractive and smooth that 9 out of 10 women not merely accept, but also respond to very sexually aggressive behavior. In contrast, only 1 in 10 women accept that level of sexual aggression from Scott. So Scott is likely to act less sexually aggressive than Bill, due to getting negative responses when doing so far more often than Bill. However, this also means that many women who would respond to Scott if he was very sexually aggressive, don’t respond to his more subdued behavior. So the result is that Scott does not merely have 9 times less chance with women than Bill C, as you’d expect from their 9/10 vs 1/10 attractiveness levels, but actually far less.

Feminists can have the same behavior, where they get very upset at (even very low levels of) sexual aggression from less attrative men, while being receptive and not at all upset over fairly high levels of sexual aggression by more attractive men.

In fact, this can even lead to the situation where these feminists are only able to find a man in a subculture with high levels of sexual aggression, where they also get very upset at those same levels of sexual aggression coming from men they don’t fancy.

Note that I’ve never seen this conundrum examined by feminists, which is understandable, since recognizing that many women actually want a fairly high level of sexual aggression (if the man is otherwise attractive) and are turned off by less, severely complicates the situation, where blame can’t just be placed on men.

However, this attack is often used against men who, instead of ‘forcing’ the woman into expressing either interest or disinterest, judged her interest passively and then felt deceived when what seemed to him to be a strong signal of interest, was not.

But even then, he’s blaming her for his own misinterpretation of her signals. So even if the situation started out as an honest misunderstanding, it’s still wrong for him to resent her for “deceiving” him.

The misunderstanding itself isn’t the problem; things like that happen all the time, to men and women, and while it sucks, many of them still manage to deal with it gracefully. (I’ve been on both sides of that, and I never acted like an entitled Nice Guy, nor did any of the people who I rejected.) The problem is when people refuse to accept that the other person isn’t romantically interested in you, or get angry with the other person for “leading them on” when that wasn’t their intent at all.

For example, a classic complaint is about the woman complaining about her boyfriend and saying: “I wish he was more like you.” The real meaning of this is usually: “I wish he was more like you in 1 respect, but not with these traits of yours that I dislike.” However, quite a few men apparently interpret such statements as them being considered a suitable partner, if the current relationship ends and/or if he shows more of his qualities.

That seems like a terrible mistake on their part. If someone said “I wish my partner was more like you,” I would take the “I wish they were more like you in this one specific way, but not in other ways” part as implicit, unless they also signaled their romantic interest in other ways. If I was interested in the other person, I’d probably respond by probing further to discern their intentions, but I wouldn’t automatically take their statement as a sign of interest in itself. On its own, that just seems like venting.

The idea that a man may be the victim of the feminine strategy is rarely considered by feminism and in fact, men who complain about this are themselves regularly accused of abusing women. The opposite is not true.

Have you considered that perhaps women simply don’t “expect a prize for basic decency” in romantic contexts as often? And the women who do take rejection poorly are criticized for it.

Note that a common complaint by men is that women tend to raise their acceptable level of sexual aggression, the more attractive the man is. This was even pointed out on SNL, back when they could get away with this.

Feminists can have the same behavior, where they get very upset at (even very low levels of) sexual aggression from less attrative men, while being receptive and not at all upset over fairly high levels of sexual aggression by more attractive men.

To some extent, this is just human nature, particularly among women but also to a lesser extent among men. (Back in college, I remember a jock laughing to his friends about how this fat nerdy girl randomly came up to him and offered to give him a blowjob, in much the same way that people laugh at awkward unattractive men who come across as creepy and/or ridiculous by being too sexually aggressive towards women. If the girl had been more attractive or maybe just less socially inept, I have no doubt he would’ve jumped on the offer and bragged about it to those same friends.)

It might not be fair, but I don’t see any reasons to blame “feminists” for this particular double standard. It’s not even necessarily about gender. I’m a lesbian, and I’m the same way when it comes to other women. I remember an ex of mine stroked my arm on our first date and commented on how soft and smooth my skin was. Coming from a girl who was less attractive or less confident or more hesitant or more objectifying, it could’ve easily been creepy, but coming from her, it felt flattering. Sorry for being wired that way, I guess.

Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that a single creepy action does not forever define a person as an awful creep to be avoided at all costs. If you say or do something creepy, and the other person tells you it makes them uncomfortable, and you stop doing it, then it’s typically not treated as that big of a deal. It’s when someone has a consistent pattern of creepy behavior and refuses to change it that they start facing social consequences. There’s room for people like the nerd in your example to show assertiveness with women without becoming pariahs, as long as they know when to back down, so to speak.

• Aapje says:

So even if the situation started out as an honest misunderstanding, it’s still wrong for him to resent her for “deceiving” him.

Our society is filled with implicit expectations & messages, to the dismay of many a person with Asperger’s. Normal people typically don’t want a ‘cold’ and blunt society where we make everything explicit, as that typically means that many a feeling gets hurt. Making things explicit allows us to rationalize the hard truth in a way that protects the ego.

If implicit expectations and messages are the norm, it is perfectly valid to be resentful when people send an implicit message that means X according to the norm, even though they don’t believe that X is true, in the same way that one might reasonably be upset when people explicitly lie.

However, with the norms themselves being implicit and bottom up, people can easily have a norm mismatch, where it is very subjective as to what norms people should adhere to. Did the guy misinterpret signals that should have been clear to him, if he’d interpreted them with the ‘correct’ norms? Did the woman send signals which express romantic interest, when interpreted with the ‘correct’ norms? Did both make mistakes, according to the norm? Are there two separate (sub)cultures with different norms and if so, which norm should be adhered to in a specific context?

What I’m objecting to is:
– The apparently immediate conclusion that the man is entirely to blame (as I’ve never seen any willingness to criticize the woman, even a little)
– The tendency I’ve seen to frame him as a predator who seeks to exploit the woman, rather than as a person who wants something mutually beneficial (I’ve twice seen a man who indicated a desire for a long term relationship be falsely accused of merely wanting sex, which presumably fits better with a sex predator narrative).
– The lack of empathy with a person who invested a great deal of effort into wooing a person whom he thought was interested in him.
– The claim that his behavior is misogynist and thus exclusively behavior that happens to women, rather than something where any gender can be on any side of the equation.
– The inability for the observed feminists to recognize that the man in question seemed to be acting in a very feminine way, as often demanded from men by feminists, both explicitly and implicitly (as an example of the latter, I’ve never gotten a feminist to give even one example of positive masculinity).

I’m not objecting to these men being criticized for misinterpreting the signals. What I’m complaining about is that the intent of the discussions I’ve seen seemed to be to make the man feel bad for being a misogynist asshole whose behavior is abusive to women, rather than just a person who tried to create a mutually beneficial outcome and who made some understandable mistakes. Furthermore, I object to a general unwillingness to teach norms to men that actually allow them a decent chance at finding a partner, even if they are not top tier.

And the women who do take rejection poorly are criticized for it.

But less so by feminists than by others. I’ve seen a lot of feminists writing in favor of anger and against the idea that the anger should result in introspection, rather than be expressed at the ‘oppressor.’

Metoo is a good example. Women were encouraged to tell one side of the story and to shout down any attempts to add nuance. Whenever a woman complained, it was #BelieveHer aka no criticism allowed. Even male victims are/were typically shouted down, showing how misandrist the narrative (to be protected) is/was.

The result is that women who ignore even very overt signals of interest and continue to send signals back that seem like an indication of mutual interest, resulting in the man making a move, get encouraged when they angrily call the man a predator, rather than a more nuanced response where their own behavior is criticized (as well).

It might not be fair, but I don’t see any reasons to blame “feminists” for this particular double standard [of people accepting way more sexual aggression by those they are attracted to].

I’m not blaming feminists for the existence of this double standard. I’m critizing them for claiming that society is misogynist (‘rape culture’) because many men are sexually aggressive, when the reality is that very many women want attractive guys to be sexually aggressive, but not unattractive guys, which is an unfair demand, as men can’t read minds and know whether the woman is attracted to them.

Assuming that we agree that relationships are very important to most people and that out cultural norms should allow people to seek a partner in a reasonably effective way, then men should be allowed to behave in ways that women tend to respond to. The fair way to change the norms is to not just encourage men to be less aggressive, but also to criticize women who respond to high levels of sexual aggression and thereby reward sexually aggressive men. In the absence of the latter, the men who adopt feminist advice will far more often end up sad and alone; while many women will actively seek out groups of men with high levels of sexual aggression, as the combination of attractiveness and high sexual aggression that they seek, can only be found in those groups.

So aside from how abusive feminism tends to be towards men, it’s also simply ineffective. This is actually a general failure of feminism: ignoring or even advocating female entitlement to something that is strongly linked to a negative outcome for women. You can rarely get rid of just one side of the coin.

Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that a single creepy action does not forever define a person as an awful creep to be avoided at all costs. It’s when someone has a consistent pattern of creepy behavior and refuses to change it that they start facing social consequences.

But the consequence of the double standard is that men have to keep up a fairly high level of sexual aggression to women they like, in the hope that one of these women likes them back and thus is flattered by that level of aggression.

The ways to avoid social consequences are:
1. to be very attractive, but this can be hard to change
2. to dial down the aggression, resulting in less chance of finding a partner
3. to have good social skills, allowing the guy to better judge whether the other person is interested, resulted in fewer attempts to woo the uninterested

Nerds tend to be low in attractiveness and have poor social skills, so they often choose 2, to avoid social consequences.

There’s room for people like the nerd in your example to show assertiveness with women without becoming pariahs, as long as they know when to back down, so to speak.

I don’t think you get it at all. What you say is only true if the level of allowed sexual aggressiveness is fixed, rather than fluctuating wildy, depending on how attractive the man is considered to be (I’m assuming a male nerd for now, but female nerds might have similar issues, although probably much less so).

Imagine two men, Bill and Scott. Bill has a moderate base attractiveness, so every woman allows him to compliment her, feeling flattered rather than creeped out. Scott has low base attractiveness, so most women feel creeped out when he compliments them. There are also three women: Mary, Anna and Jane. Mary is an average woman who fancies Bill, but thinks that Scott is very unattractive. Anna is a nerdy woman who likes Scott because of his quirks and doesn’t want to date Bill because he is not nerdy enough, although she does see him as fairly attractive. Jane is a nerdy woman who fancies different quirks than Scott has and neither fancies Bill or Scott, although she considers Scott very unattractive and Bill moderately attractive.

Now imagine that Bill approaches Mary, Anna and Jane with sexual intent and gives them a compliment. Mary is going to accept and reciprocate. Anna and Jane are going to feel flattered, but will gently turn Bill down. Yet when Scott approaches Mary with the same compliment that Bill gave, she is not flattered, but disgusted and calls him a creep. So does Jane, because in the absence of a preference for his quirks, she falls back to judging Scott’s base attractiveness, which is low. His behavior is only accepted by Anna, who is exceptionally quirky herself.

Now imagine that we live in a society with very many Mary’s and Janes for every Anna. Scott may reduce his risk of being called a creep by avoiding all ‘normies,’ although at the cost of not having a chance with the relatively average women who do like quirky nerds like him. However, he surely can’t distinguish between Jane and Anna, whose quirk preferences are not going to be obvious.

So in a society where a large gap between the allowed and expressed amount of sexual aggression is considered a crime against humanity femininity, Scott is screwed. There is no level of sexual aggression that makes people like Jane attracted to him (or even just realize he is interested in her), that doesn’t result in the Mary’s and Jane’s of the world seeing him as a predator.

If implicit expectations and messages are the norm, it is perfectly valid to be resentful when people send an implicit message that means X according to the norm, even though they don’t believe that X is true, in the same way that one might reasonably be upset when people explicitly lie.

In cases like these, I think one should always assume good faith. There have been times when I felt led on by various people who rejected me, and it was always upsetting, but I never blamed the other person or accused them of deception. I simply accepted that I’d been wrong about their feelings toward me and moved on.

However, with the norms themselves being implicit and bottom up, people can easily have a norm mismatch, where it is very subjective as to what norms people should adhere to. Did the guy misinterpret signals that should have been clear to him, if he’d interpreted them with the ‘correct’ norms? Did the woman send signals which express romantic interest, when interpreted with the ‘correct’ norms? Did both make mistakes, according to the norm? Are there two separate (sub)cultures with different norms and if so, which norm should be adhered to in a specific context?

Maybe it was her fault, maybe it was his fault, maybe they were both responsible. In any case, if it was an honest mistake, then I don’t really consider it fair for him to accuse her of trying to manipulate or deceive him.

I’m not objecting to these men being criticized for misinterpreting the signals. What I’m complaining about is that the intent of the discussions I’ve seen seemed to be to make the man feel bad for being a misogynist asshole whose behavior is abusive to women, rather than just a person who tried to create a mutually beneficial outcome and who made some understandable mistakes.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s consider three hypothetical examples:

1. A man pretends to be a woman’s friend to manipulate her into sex, despite having little interest in her as a person. When she refuses, he gets really angry with her and starts yelling about how she led him on. She calls him a two-faced predatory creep and cuts off all contact with him. I think we can both agree the man was in the wrong here.
2. A man is genuinely friends with a woman, but misinterprets some of her comments as flirting (let’s say that he’s bad at reading social cues and she’s bad at giving them, so they’re both partly to blame). He tries to pursue a relationship with her, but she refuses. He accepts her answer and doesn’t push the issue. Maybe they remain close friends, or maybe one of them decides it would be too awkward, but neither holds any enmity towards the other and they stay on amiable terms. I think we can both agree that the man didn’t do anything wrong here.
3. A man is genuinely friends with a woman, but misinterprets some of her comments as flirting. He tries to pursue a relationship with her, but she refuses. He gets really angry with her and starts yelling about how she led him on. She calls him an entitled creep and cuts off all contact with him. Now personally, I think the man was in the wrong here. He’s not guilty of manipulation like the first man, and he started out with good intentions, but he still acted inappropriately. At best, he wildly overreacted to an honest mistake on her part. At worst, the misunderstanding was his own fault and he lashed out at her for his own social ineptitude and/or wishful thinking.

A lot of your objections boil down to the fact that a lot of Type 3 men are unfairly assumed to be manipulators like the Type 1 men. And maybe you’re right, they don’t deserve to be lumped in with the actual predators, they’re not that bad. But they still act in shitty and entitled ways, and deserve to be criticized and called out for it.

Metoo is a good example. Women were encouraged to tell one side of the story and to shout down any attempts to add nuance. Whenever a woman complained, it was #BelieveHer aka no criticism allowed. Even male victims are/were typically shouted down, showing how misandrist the narrative (to be protected) is/was.

Male victims weren’t shouted down, though. When Brendan Fraser and Terry Crews came out about being sexually assaulted, there was plenty of support for them within Social Justice circles. And Kevin Spacey’s career was ruined by accusations made against him by other men. Maybe you can find a handful of radical feminist thinkpieces arguing that men shouldn’t appropriate #MeToo, but that’s just nutpicking. It certainly wasn’t the majority opinion in the Social Justice community; I don’t know a single Social Justice advocate who espoused that viewpoint.

• Aapje says:

In cases like these, I think one should always assume good faith.

I agree that it is perfectly fair to tell the guy that his perception was wrong and that his expectations were unreasonable & that he shouldn’t have been angry. However, that is a very different response to telling him that he is feeling entitled to sex for being a decent person. Ultimately, feeling entitled to certain forms of communication is not at all the same as feeling entitled to sex or a relationship. The latter accusation leveled at the ‘nice guy’ is itself often not in good faith.

But they still act in shitty and entitled ways, and deserve to be criticized and called out for it.

Pretty much everyone regularly acts in somewhat shitty and entitled ways, though. What I am pointing out is that the response to a lack of perfection in men by feminists is often to portray them as a perpetrator, far in excess of actual guilt and without judging the woman similarly. Being unfair like that is not deserved criticism, but scapegoating.

Ironically, feminists have discussed this issue as the myth of the perfect victim. The idea that people are not seen as victims or even as perpetrators, when they don’t match the stereotype of the perfect victim. Yet in reality, women are much less victims of this than men, who are very often only regarded as victims if the narrative fits the stereotype quite closely.

Male victims weren’t shouted down, though.

Except for this and this and this.

Terry Crews came out about being sexually assaulted, there was plenty of support for them within Social Justice circles.

What I’ve noticed is that key to not angering a large mass of SJ advocates is to not criticize or accuse a woman or women in general. Terry accused a man, which makes him far more acceptable to SJ than if he had accused a woman. Even then, Terry seems to feel so shouted down, that he wanted a safe space for black men.

So if you are a man who was assaulted or raped by a woman, what support do you get? Why would you take the risk to speak out if you don’t have the wealth and status of a movie star to shield you and which grants you a plethora of adulators?

Note that CDC survey studies suggest that half of adult victims are men, with 3/4 of those victimized by women. They are nearly completely absent from #metoo, nearly completely absent from the newspapers, nearly completely absent from most research, etc, etc. If they aren’t shouted down, excluded and discriminated against, then what is the cause of this state of affairs?

I don’t know a single Social Justice advocate who espoused that viewpoint.

Yet it was Mary Koss, feminist founder of the field of rape research who argued that men could not be raped by women, as the harm is not comparable and who decided to nearly completely exclude male victims of female sexual violence from her research. For decades, researchers, very many of whom identifying as feminist, copied this methodology without question, not even remarking on or justifying this exlusion, as if it is self-evident (which it probably is, in SJ circles).

If anything can be called systemic discrimination, it is deciding that victims with a certain trait don’t merely deserve to be excluded from victim reports, but that even the exclusion doesn’t deserve notice.

It certainly wasn’t the majority opinion in the Social Justice community

It can be true that the majority support perfect victims, whose narrative matches with the SJ narratives extremely well, but support almost no real victims, who have one or more disqualifying features:
– a female perpetrator
– having non-SJ beliefs
– they don’t preface every mention of male victims with a claim that female victims are more common, have it worse, etc

I don’t credit people for saying that they equally support male victims equally to female victims, but who in practice react completely differently to actual male and female victims.

@Aapje:

Note that CDC survey studies suggest that half of adult victims are men, with 3/4 of those victimized by women. They are nearly completely absent from #metoo, nearly completely absent from the newspapers, nearly completely absent from most research, etc, etc. If they aren’t shouted down, excluded and discriminated against, then what is the cause of this state of affairs?

Yes, this is a very real problem, but I think you’re off-base about both the nature of the problem and its causes.

It’s not that people don’t believe male victims; as you said yourself, they’re willing to believe and sympathize with men who’ve been sexually abused or assaulted by other men. It’s that people tend to disbelieve or simply not care about stories with female perpetrators. This seems to be true even when the victim is female, judging by how little people seemed to care about Lena Dunham sexually molesting her younger sister. And this attitude isn’t unique to women or feminists; it transcends gender or political affilitation. If anything, the few people who are talking about the issue are almost exclusively feminists.

So I don’t think feminism is to blame at all. On the contrary, I think a large part of the issue is that many people still (perhaps subconsciously) view women as weak, kindly, passive, and chaste, which is very difficult to reconcile with the idea of women as sexual predators. It’s ultimately rooted in sexism against women. Positive stereotypes are still forms of discrimination, and many of them aren’t all that positive once you actually examine them. The idea that all Asians are good at math is not a form of racism against Whites or Blacks, it’s a form of racism against Asians. Likewise, the idea that all Jews are good with money is a form of anti-Semitism, and while being financially-savvy might seem like a positive trait on the surface, it’s tied to a whole bundle of negative stereotypes about Jewish people. The idea that women are simply too weak to be rapists is a horribly misogynistic one.

There is some genuine misandry involved in the treatment of male victims, though. Many of them are often mocked for either being too weak to physically resist a woman, or told that they should be glad to have received sex (sometimes with the implication that they’re gay or otherwise unmanly for not liking it), or just told to “man up” and deal with it. But these attacks don’t usually come from women or feminists, they mostly come from masculine dudes with regressive attitudes toward sex and gender.

• Aapje says:

It’s ultimately rooted in sexism against women.

I’m not blaming feminists for the existence of this bias, but for doubling down on it, as well for being hypocritical, as feminist theory ought to result in a rejection of this bias. That this doesn’t meaningfully happen made me conclude that for most feminists, the ideology is a rationalization for strong bias in favor of the ingroup and against the outgroup (aka misandry).

I also greatly dislike what you are doing: this tendency to frame benevolent sexism that provides large benefits for women and large downsides for men, as well as lesser downsides for women and lesser benefits for men, as misogyny, thereby erasing the benefits for women and downsides for men. This erasure enables the misandry and denial of agency by establishing a narrative where men harm women and, to a lesser extent, men and themselves. Women can do nothing but demand that men change and/or harm men.

That is where we are with #metoo too. Women attacking men, but not reflecting on how they date and can improve the situation, including by allowing men to act differently.

I also greatly dislike what you are doing: this tendency to frame benevolent sexism that provides large benefits for women and large downsides for men, as well as lesser downsides for women and lesser benefits for men, as misogyny, thereby erasing the benefits for women and downsides for men.

I’m sure that the stereotype about Jews being good at finance has sometimes worked to the benefit of Jewish people. That doesn’t mean it’s any less of a racist stereotype, nor does it erase the fact that this particular stereotype was responsible for directing a truly colossal amount of distrust, resentment, and anger toward Jews over the centuries, and has almost certainly caused them vastly more harm than good. Likewise, an idea like “women are weak and helpless and not responsible for their own actions” has certainly provided some benefits to women, but it’s also caused a great deal of exploitation and oppression, often justified as being “for their own good.”

This erasure enables the misandry and denial of agency by establishing a narrative where men harm women and, to a lesser extent, men and themselves. Women can do nothing but demand that men change and/or harm men.

Women can harm men. Women can harm other women. Women can be misandrists. Women, including feminists, can be misogynists themselves. I never denied any of that, and in fact made the opposite claim, rejecting the sexist idea that women can do no wrong.

But whenever I hear about some male teenager being sexually exploited by his female teacher, there are always a barrage of men who come out of the woodwork to make comments like “What’s he complaining about? He should be thanking her!” and “Lucky bastard, I wish my high school teacher had done that with me.” And it’s always men. Typically not the sort of men likely to hold feminist views either. Are there some women and feminists who diminish the seriousness of those crimes too? Yes, but not nearly as often, and not to nearly the same extent.

Women attacking men, but not reflecting on how they date and can improve the situation, including by allowing men to act differently.

I’m honestly not sure what you mean by this. If you’re implying that women need be more careful around men to avoid being assaulted, then that sounds more misandrist than anything mainstream feminists are saying. And if you’re saying that women shouldn’t “provoke” men into assaulting them by being flirty or wearing revealing outfits, then suffice to say, I very strongly disagree with that logic.

Sexual assault victims, male or female, are not responsible for the actions of their attackers. I don’t find it particularly helpful to focus on what the victims could’ve done differently. Too often, that line of thinking seems to lead to “she was asking for it by dressing so slutty,” or “it’s her own fault for being so careless, she should’ve been smart enough not to be alone with an older man.”

• Aapje says:

Likewise, an idea like “women are weak and helpless and not responsible for their own actions” has certainly provided some benefits to women, but it’s also caused a great deal of exploitation and oppression, often justified as being “for their own good.”

“Some benefits” like not being sent to suffer and die in wars, having much safer labor on average, not having to build up substantial capital before they can marry, etc. These are not minor.

Historically, we see that suffragettes/feminists were mostly from the upper (middle) class, where the men of that same class didn’t have the burdens of the lower class men. Upper class men didn’t work the land or in the mines and if they did go to war, they were typically much safer. Very many lower and middle class women seemed to have little appetite for the life of men at their level, until the industrial revolution and socialism made the life of the average person much better. Arguably, most of us are upper middle class now, at least compared to the past.

I’m honestly not sure what you mean by this. If you’re implying that women need be more careful around men to avoid being assaulted, then that sounds more misandrist than anything mainstream feminists are saying

I probably wrote in an unclear manner. I meant ‘attack’ in the sense of criticism and prosecution. My point is that if most women demand hypermasculinity in the men they (like to) date or have a relationship with, but many women strongly criticize and perhaps seek punishment of hypermasculine behavior in men they don’t (want to) date or (no longer) have a relationship with, then this requires men to approach perfection to be able to date: they can only date women without being called a misogynist or punished for their behavior if those women like them sufficiently, so they have to judge that perfectly, as well as the level of hypermasculinity that the woman in question prefers.

Similarly, we see that historically, men and women often needed alcohol to reduce their inhibitions, but we seem to increasingly blame men for taking advantage of drunken women (but not vice versa), even if her level of intoxication is quite unclear.

The result is that an increasing number of men don’t have the skills to relatively safely woo women. They either need to take large risks, use methods that only work for very few women or avoid seeking a relationship. In my view, the only way to address this if you dislike hypermasulinity, as feminists tend to claim they want, is to put pressure on women to demand less masculinity and/or to become more masculine themselves. Have women approach men, for a change.

Ultimately, my complaint is that the claim tends to be that the proposed solutions allow for a safe and effective way to date, but that the reality is typically different. In many cases, this is because the solution only works when both men and women change, but the pressure to change is nearly exclusively applied to men. They are not listened to when they complain, but attacked.

It’s like blaming regular farmers for animal abuse, killing insects, etc; while most consumers refuse to buy organic food. If farmers switch to organic farming en masse, without enough consumers being willing to pay the premium, those farmers will simply go bankrupt, as they get outcompeted by other farmers. This dynamic is invisible to people who see farmers as a single entity, rather than people who are competing, just like most feminists seem to see men as a single entity, rather than as people who compete with one another.

Treating men as a single entity is part of the dehumanization that seems inherent in the very idea that we have a patriarchy with men oppressing women.

And if you’re saying that women shouldn’t “provoke” men into assaulting them by being flirty or wearing revealing outfits, then suffice to say, I very strongly disagree with that logic.

No, what I’m saying is that women can’t reasonably demand a society where they expect such provocations to result in fairly aggressive advances by men they fancy and where those women respond to those men, but punishment of similar advances by men they don’t like.

Such a society is hostile to men and extremely hostile to men who are generally low in attractiveness and/or who are bad at judging the implictly communicated desires of others.

Ultimately, it seems to me that we have a choice. Either we decide that revealing female clothing should be ignored by men; or we decide that men are allowed to react to it and equally so for every woman who wears similarly revealing clothing.

The standard that many feminists seem to fight for, that women should get what they individually want, without previously having to communicate those desires, seems not just utterly unfair, but practically impossible. It’s a recipe for eternal resentment, to feel entitled to something so unreasonable.

• The original Mr. X says:

Conservatives might view lonely virgins as pitiful losers, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across any right-wing equivalents of the stuff Scott describes in “Radicalising the Romanceless”.

• EchoChaos says:

Yeah. My impression is that conservatives tend to the PUA “learn how to be a weightlifting badass who seduces women” reaction to lonely virgins.

I’m in a really conservative circle and I’ve never seen any virgin mockery.

• gbdub says:

Bullies come in all political stripes and lack of sexual success is a common enough thing to make fun of men for.

I do think it’s kind of unlikely that an (adult) conservative would tell a lonely guy that he’s an entitled probably rapist for wondering why he can’t find a girlfriend when lots of jerks can, to the point he considers chemically castrating himself, and then, when finding out their abuse had this effect, basically double down.

• HeelBearCub says:

You are simply blind to it.

The right wing version of this is the pervert character, portrayed as weak, unattractive and disgusting. The appropriately manly character is portrayed as being welcomed by women, but the “nerd” character engaging in the same behavior is a creep or a pervert.

Macho men rescuing women from perverts is an old trope.

• EchoChaos says:

@HeelBearCub

That’s a fair criticism.

Would you agree that “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Animal House” are left-wing fantasies?

I would put “Porky’s” as the right-wing equivalent, would you agree? Lovable regular Southern boys use the legitimate authority of the County Sheriff to beat the pervert owner, macho up and become attractive to the gals.

• gbdub says:

I think the “lonely socially awkward guys are pervs” is maybe bipartisan but I wouldn’t call it conservative exclusive.

Progressives just prefer that the heroes be Strong Womyn rather than Macho Men. See: like half of all SVU episodes.

But anyway this whole thing is a derailment. If Scott had asked for “other areas conservatives could achieve their goals without obviously bad side effects”, I could have said “conservatives can promote positives masculine virtues without bullying”, but that wasn’t the prompt.

• HeelBearCub says:

“Left wing” and “Right wing” have to be evaluated in the context of the political era we are talking about. (I probably erred in saying right-wing rather than conservative in my response).

In any case, Animal House was certainly a left-wing fantasy for the time in which it was produced, drawing heavily on the hippy, anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s. As such, it heavily anti-authority AND anti-tradition, which doesn’t map particularly well onto the left-right spectrum of today.

Revenge of the Nerds is also reflective of the left of its day.

I’ve never seen Porky’s, but my sense is that it reflects a”Dukes of Hazard” style right-wing leaning of its day.

They are ALL puerile, adolescent, male sex fantasies (although Animal House is perhaps less so). I’m not sure these are all that much in fashion these days (perhaps owing to the easy availability of porn on the web, as much as anything else.)

• baconbits9 says:

They are ALL puerile, adolescent, male sex fantasies (although Animal House is perhaps less so)

Huh. I would have said Animal House more so. Porkies is all the things you said, but can also be viewed as a coming of age story mixed in. Animal House was very explicitly a ‘we aren’t growing up, but everything will work out the way we want’ movie.

• HeelBearCub says:

@baconbits9:
It’s not any less of a fantasy, it’s just that sex isn’t nearly so central.

… and I would argue they are all coming of age stories (again, Animal House less so, as you noted).

• baconbits9 says:

Porkies starts as a sex fantasy and ends as one for a single character, but the bulk of the ‘plot’ turns into a coming of age, kids against (some) adults, us against them revenge story.

Animal house ends with them being kicked of campus, and then intentionally destroying the parade for everyone else even though they recognize that it is totally futile, then they stick on their fantasy endings in text. There is as much (more?) sex fantasy stuff in Animal House as I recall.

• EchoChaos says:

I’ve never seen Porky’s

A critical failure that must be corrected!

• The original Mr. X says:

The right wing version of this is the pervert character, portrayed as weak, unattractive and disgusting.

Do you have any examples of recent works with such characters in them?

• Matt M says:

“Upchuck” from Daria?

@gbdub:

I think the “lonely socially awkward guys are pervs” is maybe bipartisan but I wouldn’t call it conservative exclusive.

In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t emphasized the “if anything, conservatives are even more likely to be bullies” part of my argument so much. My intent was definitely not to flip the script and say that making fun of lonely virgins and socially awkward nerds was a conservative-exclusive phenomenon, simply to point out that it’s not a liberal-exclusive phenomenon.

Most Americans don’t have particularly strong political views one way or another, and that’s doubly true for teenagers and young adults. So in all likelihood, the majority of high school/college bullies are apolitical, or have weak political leanings that don’t really shape their personality or drive their behavior.

• Paul Brinkley says:

Liberals could get healthcare reform by agreeing to repeal the payroll tax, or ban state and local governments from requiring a statement of need to open a new care facility, or mandating transparent pricing on care.

They could get immigration reform by allowing citizens to agree to formally host immigrants (of said citizens’ choice) in their vicinity, bearing partial responsibility (think security deposit) for any violent crime or civil damage committed by said immigrants.

I had two more, but they were licensing laws and nuclear power, and gbdub covered those.

• acymetric says:

or mandating transparent pricing on care.

Uh, this is a thing liberals are actively asking for.

agreeing to repeal the payroll tax

In what way does this accomplish healthcare reform?

• Paul Brinkley says:

Uh, [transparent pricing] is a thing liberals are actively asking for.

Hmm. I only ever heard Claire McCaskill calling for it, and she lost her re-election. But in the spirit of this subthread, this can be a point conservatives could concede in the other direction…

In what way does [repealing the payroll tax] accomplish healthcare reform?

It would remove the incentive corporations have to offer non-salary benefits instead of salary. This includes insurance. Instead, employees would just get the money, shop for insurance that better suits their individual needs, and the common complaint of losing one’s insurance when losing one’s job (or seeking a new job) disappears.

• hls2003 says:

I think the confusion is your use of the term “payroll tax.” That usually only applies to the 15.3% combined FICA paid half by employer and half by employee. Health insurance benefits interact with the tax code because there is no income tax paid on health benefits. They are not taxed as income to the employee, and they are deductible as a business expense by the employer.

• Paul Brinkley says:

Health insurance benefits interact with the tax code because there is no income tax paid on health benefits. They are not taxed as income to the employee, and they are deductible as a business expense by the employer.

I don’t think I’m confused. The facts you laid out mean the employer has an incentive to offer group insurance instead of salary. This is precisely the problem. An arbitrary tax code has ensured that the insurance choice is made by someone other than its beneficiary, who now has to give up money if they want a different choice.

• hls2003 says:

We’re not disagreeing about the distortionary nature of the tax treatment of health care. It’s purely a semantic issue with the phrase “payroll tax.” “Payroll tax” usually refers only to Social Security and Medicare, not to all taxes applicable to a company making payroll. I think that’s why there’s confusion. Using that phrase makes it sound like you’re saying “eliminate the employee’s ability to get Social Security in exchange for healthcare reform.” If you said “eliminate the preferential tax treatment of health benefits in exchange for healthcare reform,” we would be entirely on the same page.

20. Buttle says:

…debt to GDP ratio…

Dividing a stock by a flow results in a meaningless quotient.

I would think the quotient would be a time.

• Joseph Greenwood says:

A time which answers a specific question. “If our economy’s size holds constant, and we devote all our production to paying down the debt, and we pay no interest, how long will it take to completely pay it off?”

Of course, adjustments for the real world need to be made for the growth of our economy, the growth of our debt, and because we have to pay interest, and because no one can pay 100% of production to debt. But notably, three of these four modification push “Time to pay off debt” back, so it seems at least reasonable to treat this ratio as s lower bound for how long it will take to pay off our debt.

• baconbits9 says:

A time which answers a specific question. “If our economy’s size holds constant, and we devote all our production to paying down the debt, and we pay no interest, how long will it take to completely pay it off?”

This isn’t a very useful question to answer, but there are useful questions that you can answer with it. Knowing you stock of debt to gdp means you can (better) understand the impact of interest rate changes, a 1 percentage point rise in rates obviously has a larger impact on the economy if debt is 100% vs 50% of gdp.

• Joseph Greenwood says:

I agree! I don’t think this is a very intrinsically useful question, but I do think it is a meaningful one, and it can provide useful intuition for other more actionable considerations.

• Joseph Greenwood says:

Also, to properly answer the useful version of this question, you need to be omniscient use stochastic differential equations.

• A1987dM says:

Yes, when people talk of a debt to GDP ratio of 133% they mean 1.33 years. (Which peeves me both because of the wrong dimension, and because I find it pointless to use percents for numbers which are not small.)

21. DinoNerd says:

This is probably a bizarre idea, but I’ve been thinking about “consumer confidence” as in “you ought to buy more; that would be good for the economy,” with the implicit idea that a good economy will tend to result in you having a job, or a better job. It’s a bit paradoxical, and subject to the free rider problem – if you buy more, it’s just as good for the economy as if I do, except I also get to save against a rainy day.

Somehow, the average American may or may not buy the logic, but they spend enough that they can expect a desperately poor retirement, if they should live that long – even those who are solidly middle class+ durign their working lives.

Meanwhile, the idea of vaccinating one’s children – which prevents epidemics if enough people do it, and provides real benefits to the children concerned, if herd immunity levels are not reached – but at the same time requires effort, and carries a fairly small risk – doesn’t seem to be anywhere near so popular.

Of course this thought came to me as I ignored yet another phone call, almost certainly from some auto-dialer programmed to either advertise or solicit donations. I guess the problem is that there aren’t many people who profit by other people’s health, whereas there are plenty who profit by other people’s spending, so there just isn’t the profit motive to support incessant advertising about health ;-( (And don’t look at the health insurers. They try to promote healthy living, doubtless in the hopes of reducing their future costs, but are singularly inept at it – they do a much better job saving money by forcing the insured through kafkaesque hoops, and even there often shoot themselves in the foot – as with me, on a more expensive med after United Health denied my perfectly effective prior medication, trying to force me onto something both cheaper and ineffective.)

• baconbits9 says:

Somehow, the average American may or may not buy the logic, but they spend enough that they can expect a desperately poor retirement, if they should live that long – even those who are solidly middle class+ durign their working lives.

Household debt in the US has fallen from 99% of GDP in 2007 to 70% now, on the whole households have been more prudent recently than they have been given credit for.

• broblawsky says:

2007 was a historical extreme; The debt to GDP ratio is still well above pre-2001 levels.

• Matt M says:

Yeah… I read this a few days ago and it does NOT seem encouraging…

• The Nybbler says:

Just because it’s the Wall Street Journal doesn’t mean it’s not pushing a narrative. Household debt service as a percentage of personal disposable (after-tax) income is at a long-term low. This is dominated by a drop in mortgage debt, other debt seems to be in a fairly normal range. As for the family in that WSJ article who decided that right after a significant loss of income was a great time to finance two new cars… well, there’s no accounting for foolhardiness.

• Matt M says:

well, there’s no accounting for foolhardiness.

Perhaps what we need to be accounting for is what percentage of our peers are fools.

I’m not that experienced with using FRED. But you seem to be linking to stats about debt service and debt payments. I thought the article suggested that those may be down because of low interest rates.

As in, just because your debt payments look sustainable given low rates doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t borrowed entirely way too much and you’d be able to weather a recession without some defaults.

I mean, I suppose one could say “yeah but the fed will just keep rates this low forever so it won’t really matter” which I suppose is possible? I’m not sure how but they seem to have found a way to keep printing money without inflation going up.

• The Nybbler says:

Perhaps what we need to be accounting for is what percentage of our peers are fools.

And the answer seems to be “about the same percentage as usual”, at least with regard to non-mortgage debt.

As in, just because your debt payments look sustainable given low rates doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t borrowed entirely way too much and you’d be able to weather a recession without some defaults.

That would depend on how much of the debt is variable rate. Revolving credit is generally variable rate, but credit card rates are not really low at this point. About 3/4 of outstanding consumer credit is fixed-term, but I don’t know how much of that is fixed-rate. You might find more by digging into the source data.

• broblawsky says:

Just because it’s the Wall Street Journal doesn’t mean it’s not pushing a narrative. Household debt service as a percentage of personal disposable (after-tax) income is at a long-term low. This is dominated by a drop in mortgage debt, other debt seems to be in a fairly normal range. As for the family in that WSJ article who decided that right after a significant loss of income was a great time to finance two new cars… well, there’s no accounting for foolhardiness.

Debt service payments are low because interest rates are low. The actual amount of debt itself is still pretty high. In fact, consumer debt as a percentage of GDP is at a historical high.

• baconbits9 says:

Debt service payments are low because interest rates are low. The actual amount of debt itself is still pretty high.

Debt with lower payments is an easier burden to bear, debt should (theoretically) be higher with lower payments. That debt has reduced while payments have remained low/decreased is plausibly significant. Ideally we would also have net assets vs debt vs payments of course.

• Ghillie Dhu says:

…debt to GDP ratio…

Dividing a stock by a flow results in a meaningless quotient.

• The Nybbler says:

I’m not sure that household and nonprofit debt to GDP is that important a ratio, but the quotient isn’t meaningless. It’s not the unit-less quantity it appears to be, however — the units are time. If the debt to GDP ratio is 1, it means outstanding debt is equal to a year of production.

• baconbits9 says:

If I buy a rental house then that property is a stock, and the rental payments is a flow, so knowing what my rate of return is on that property is meaningless?

• broblawsky says:

Dividing a stock by a flow results in a meaningless quotient.

Disagree. The velocity of money is GDP divided by the money supply, and it’s considered (in most orthodox economic theories) to be very important. Debt-to-GDP is similar, just inverted.

• Randy M says:

Somehow, the average American may or may not buy the logic, but they spend enough that they can expect a desperately poor retirement, if they should live that long – even those who are solidly middle class+ durign their working lives.

Meanwhile, the idea of vaccinating one’s children – which prevents epidemics if enough people do it, and provides real benefits to the children concerned, if herd immunity levels are not reached – but at the same time requires effort, and carries a fairly small risk – doesn’t seem to be anywhere near so popular.

It seems to me that lots of people spend lots of money, perhaps more than they should, but few if any of those are doing it for the economy. Generally they are doing it so that they can get whatever good is promised in exchange. Which is for the best, because you want the money to go to producers making goods people want and need, not whatever promises to recirculate it fastest.

Whereas, I think plenty of people both get and promote vaccinations for the public as well as personal good. I don’t know whether vaccine abstainers are greater than spending abstainers, but the latter don’t generally seem to get regarded as particularly virtuous or admirable, while the former are admired–even if not envied until the metaphorical rainy day.

• Matt M says:

It’s a bit paradoxical, and subject to the free rider problem – if you buy more, it’s just as good for the economy as if I do, except I also get to save against a rainy day.

The entire premise is wrong.

The economy grows via savings and investment, not via consumption. It is the savers who are selfless sacrificers benefitting us all, and the consumers who are the free riders.

• baconbits9 says:

This is wrong, without consumption at the end investment returns would be negative and economic growth wouldn’t exist. The economy grows because of savings, investment and consumption, cut investment and there is no growth, cut consumption and there is no growth.

• Matt M says:

Savings and investment cannot exist, in the first place, without a cut in consumption.

I’m not suggesting that if you cut consumption to literally zero we’d live in some sort of fantastical utopia. Only that growth comes from savings, which requires one to consume less than they otherwise would.

• baconbits9 says:

No, it requires one consume less NOW than they otherwise wood, but they can consume more LATER. GDP is literally calculated in final sales, and for good reason. Production itself isn’t a good metric (see goods produced in the Soviet Union), end consumption is a necessity. This isn’t about hyperbolicly talking about zero consumption, if you cut consumption to save you do so with the expectation of higher consumption later. If that higher consumption never materializes then growth is negative.

• Matt M says:

Whether or not consumption ultimately rises or falls as the result of any particular investment is simply based on entrepreneurial skill.

The only actual decision you can make NOW is to either save or consume, and of course the reason you save is to increase consumption later. That much is obvious.

What DinoNerd is implying at top is that somehow, people who consume less now in order to invest (because they think they can increase consumption more later) are somehow being selfish and free riding on the backs of all of the people who are consuming everything they possibly can right now. This is absurd. Particularly given that a whole lot of our capital structure (most notably, but not exclusively, intellectual capital) is passed down via generations, ultimately in a way that rewards all of society, rather than the original saver or entrepreneur.

Steve Jobs didn’t make society poorer by deciding to build a company rather than buy luxury cars. The opposite is true.

• baconbits9 says:

It is the savers who are selfless sacrificers benefitting us all, and the consumers who are the free riders.

Which is equally absurd. Neither exists without the other, no free rider exists in general on either side.

• acymetric says:

In Matt’s defense, he was responding to a post that explicitly mentioned free-riders (going the opposite direction) but I think you’re spot on…both are needed, if it swings too far one way or the other it can be bad for the economy.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Consumption is its own reward, you don’t do it for the good of the economy. Saving is its own reward, too, you do it so you can have more consumption in the future.

“Do it for the economy!” is kind of alien.

To the extent there is a problem, it is when there is a sudden scare in the economy (blah blah blah Animal Spirits) and desired investment goes down while desired savings goes up. That’s describing a depressed economy, not a full-employment economy.

• Paul Brinkley says:

This is wrong, without consumption at the end investment returns would be negative and economic growth wouldn’t exist. The economy grows because of savings, investment and consumption, cut investment and there is no growth, cut consumption and there is no growth.

Is it closer to truth to say that investment and consumption are like two dimensions of a 2-D space, whose area we wish to maximize? Both are measured in money/time, and come out of a fixed pool at any given time. Set either to maximum, and the other goes to zero, so the area is zero.

So the real discussion ought to be how much to allot to each dimension, in light of real world irregularities of the 2-D “space”.

• baconbits9 says:

Its an ok first approximation, but you need time in there. Successful investment = more consumption in the future, but 100% savings rates will lead you to starve in the winter and never get to plant all that grain in your basement, so you don’t have successful investment. Then everything needs to be weighted, if you are hungry a hamburger now is worth more than a hamburger tomorrow, but if you are full a hamburger tomorrow is worth more than one now. It is maddeningly complicated, but we can say, pretty safely, that neither consumers nor savers should be treated as free riders as a group..

• Plumber says:

@Matt M,
“One mand spending is another mans income”

“One mans savings is another mans job”

I suppose there should be a rejoinder to “the paradox of thrift”.

• baconbits9 says:

The paradox of thrift should be renamed ‘the paradox of being smart enough to think yourself into a paper bag’.

• secondcityscientist says:

Meanwhile, the idea of vaccinating one’s children – which prevents epidemics if enough people do it, and provides real benefits to the children concerned, if herd immunity levels are not reached – but at the same time requires effort, and carries a fairly small risk – doesn’t seem to be anywhere near so popular.

I’m gonna need a citation for this one. If you take your kids to the doctor on schedule, they get shots as part of their regular checkups. If you want to enroll them in public school (and many private schools), you need either a record of them being vaccinated or a valid reason for them not being vaccinated. When I was looking for a daycare provider, I asked if they required vaccinations. Since there was a recent measles outbreak in IL, one said “yes, we do now” and the other said “of course we do” and looked at me like I might have grown an extra head. I haven’t checked if our public school district offers vaccination coverage for low-income kids (because we aren’t low income and our kids are vaccinated) but I suspect they do.

That said, not every state is rigorous about requiring vaccinations and the anti-vax population isn’t randomly distributed, so you’ll get outbreaks because anti-vax people cluster together. But overall vaccination rates for the DTaP vaccine are between 80%-95% for most states, and higher for MMR.

• “Somehow, the average American may or may not buy the logic, but they spend enough that they can expect a desperately poor retirement, if they should live that long – even those who are solidly middle class+ durign their working lives.”

Is this true, though? Consider the lifestyle that most retired people live: they aren’t trying to impress a mate or climb mount Everest or raise a family in a neighborhood with “good schools” or do any of that trendy stuff. I think it’s not unreasonable to decide to just live off of social security and medicare and consider the fact that so many other people are adopting the same strategy as insurance against anything really bad happening.

“It’s a bit paradoxical, and subject to the free rider problem – if you buy more, it’s just as good for the economy as if I do, except I also get to save against a rainy day.”

And then you’ll spend the money eventually, giving the same “benefit of spending” as the spender. It’s productivity growth that causes economic growth, not spending growth: you can only consume more if you can first produce more.

• DinoNerd says:

I may be biased by living in an area where social security, even at maximum, really doesn’t provide enough to live on – at least not when you start factoring in medical expenses (generally increasing as you age) and the need to pay someone else to do things you can no longer manage.

And for many of us, society is atomized enough that expecting younger family members to drive you to the doctor, pick up groceries for you, etc., is just not realistic. (This bridge partner is likely to be an exception; at least one of his grown sons is working for a tech firm locally, though not in tech.)

One of my bridge partners, a widower who raised 4 boys, and has worked in tech most of his life, told me yesterday that according to a Schwab advisor his savings wouldn’t last for 10 years of retirement.

Or I may just be biased by oft-repeated headlines about total lack of savings ;-(

Either way, you have a point, and I do know people who retired (from here!) to a mobile home in a small town far away, with much lower prices.

• DeWitt says:

I may be biased by living in an area where social security, even at maximum, really doesn’t provide enough to live on

Another advantage of retirement is that you don’t have to live where the work is – you can move to cheaper pastures. There are some who do this, though I understand that a substantial amount of people prefer not to.

• John Schilling says:

though I understand that a substantial amount of people prefer not to.

Right, but the biggest reason not to is the social network that you’ve built in the community you live in. If you live in \$Expensive\$Cosmopolitan\$City\$, and you don’t have friends you can hit up for a ride to the doctor or a grocery run, then your case for needing \$bignum\$ in retirement money to pay \$Cosmopolitan\$City\$ rents is looking pretty weak. If it’s just that you enjoy the view and the ocean air, yeah, great for you if you saved enough or bought early enough to keep enjoying that into your golden years, but the rest of us probably aren’t going to lose any sleep over it if you can’t.

• DinoNerd says:

Yeah. There are significant advantages for me in staying right here – notably California’s proposition 13, in combination with a paid-off house that I purchased more than 20 years ago. But also the weather – no worries about snow and ice, and excess heat is manageable – highly relevant for an eventually frail oldster.

But at the same time, I’m also checking out places I might move in retirement. I haven’t found a compelling answer yet – and I really don’t want to move. But if I were expecting to have social security provide most of my resources, I’d pretty much have to move, and I’d probably have to settle for a place with significant disadvantages.

22. Matt M says:

Rate your favorite settings for fictional media, among the following options:

Modern/familiar (current time, location and cultural context relatively familiar to intended audience)
Modern/unfamiliar (current time, but location and/or cultural context assumed to be unfamiliar to intended audience)
Historical/realistic (takes place in a historical setting, specific events may be false/exaggerated but there’s no, like, magic or anything)
Fantasy (not historical, low level of technology, likely includes magic, elves, dwarves, etc. but doesn’t necessarily have to)
Science fiction (not historical, high level of technology, likely includes space travel, aliens, lasers, etc. but doesn’t necessarily have to)

• Plumber says:

@Matt M,

Modern/familiar (current time, location and cultural context relatively familiar to intended audience)

If it’s a comedy film (Raising Arizona) this is a favorite, otherwise meh.

Modern/unfamiliar (current time, but location and/or cultural context assumed to be unfamiliar to intended audience)

If it’s a comedy film Hot Fuzz, Tropical Thunder yes! a favorite, otherwise? I can’t think of many examples that I’ve liked. The Secret History was a murder mystery with an east coast Ivy-ish college setting (so unfamiliar to me) that I don’t remember much about other than that I liked it and nothing else comes to mind.

Historical/realistic (takes place in a historical setting, specific events may be false/exaggerated but there’s no, like, magic or anything)

Old movies (The Third Man, The Seven Samurai, Double Indemnity, The Grapes of Wrath, Billy Budd, The Maltese Falcon , et cetera, are a favorite, as are films that take place in the past (Saving Private Ryan, ’71, A Knight’s Tale), so are old books, and I enjoyed Cornwall’s Agincourt, so high rated by me.

Fantasy (not historical, low level of technology, likely includes magic, elves, dwarves, etc. but doesn’t necessarily have to)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was the first movie I loved, and Grimm’s Fairytales,.and The Arabian Nights strongly imprinted on me, and I loved The Hobbit cartoon when I watched it at nine years old (the book was good too), probably the genre I most love.

Science fiction (not historical, high level of technology, likely includes space travel, aliens, lasers, etc. but doesn’t necessarily have to)

Star Trek, and Lost in Soace where the first television shows that really grabbed me, as for films? Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run. Books? Foundation and The Martian Chronicles. Recently though Gattaca is the most recent science-fiction film that I thought was really good, and I just can’t think of any science-fiction novels that were first published after the ’80’s that I was really impressed by (“the golden age is 12”)..

So:
1) Fantasy
2) Historical
3) Science Fiction
4) Modern familiar
5) Modern unfamiliar except for film comedies as Hot Fuzz and Tropical Thunder were hilarious and favorites.

• Atlas says:

A Knight’s Tale

Glad to see that someone else likes that movie!

• Plumber says:

@Atlas,
A Knight’s Tale was just plain one of the most fun films that I’ve seen, I’d like to see more movies like it.

• Randy M says:

Science fiction>fantasy>modern
There’s a genre I like that is somewhere between historical and fantasy, where you have a realistic setting but in an invented place. KJ Parker’s Engineer trilogy fits here; the technology of the time is realistic, as far as I can tell; something like early industrial. But the sociology and geography are new, while there is nothing non-human or supernatural. It’s kind of like past sci-fi or historic fantasy.

If we’re talking movies, I like the kind where weird stuff starts happening, but then there is a reasonable explanation that makes everything make good sense. But most of the movies that start looking like this end up being weird stuff happens, then a bad excuse is offered that doesn’t make sense of much.
The good ones usually involve time travel or messing with people’s brains. Occasionally a supernatural element will be satisfying enough to accept.
So, to put a setting on it, these tend to be neear term sci-fi.

• Sci-fi
Modern Unfamiliar
Historical
Fantasy
Modern Familiar

I generally care less about the setting than what they do with that setting. If it’s just a set piece in your generic story, then it’s not very interesting. It’s just easier to make a sci-fi setting interesting than 2019 America.

My favorite settings may be strange, because they don’t really overlap with my favorite media for the most part. A lot of settings are clearly tailored to the specific story they’re a part of, which may be good writing but also means that there’s not much to explore outside of the narrative. If you’ve ever tried to run an RPG in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, for example, you’ve quickly realized that there’s very little room for interesting adventures to take place within the canon timeline.

That said, my #1 pick would be the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. Westeros in particular feels absolutely massive, where just riding from one end to the other makes for a book-length exciting adventure. Essos is much more poorly sketched, and consequently feels smaller and less interesting, but even then it’s bigger than a lot of author’s entire worlds. You could pick virtually any time and place and set an interesting story there as long as you have a basic respect for the themes and style of the source material (looking at you D&D…).

After that, my #2 pick would be the world of Amazon’s two-season run of the Tick. I liked earlier versions of the Tick but I had never really cared about the setting, because it previously had only existed to set up gags. This one is different because, in tapping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe zeitgeist, they built a deep and consistent superhero universe. Even bit characters feel like cameos by established heroes or villains, as though the show had been made in an alternate universe where there were twenty movies worth of shared continuity to draw on.

My #3 pick would be Hellboy. Everyone and their mother has made a contemporary setting with a secret occult history by this point, but Hellboy is particularly dense and interesting. The main reason that the 2019 remake failed, in my opinion, was because they tried to incorporate too much of that backstory to the detriment of the pacing and focus. But there’s an enormous amount of room in that universe to have fun without worrying about messing up continuity.

• Randy M says:

After that, my #2 pick would be the world of Amazon’s two-season run of the Tick

Arthur’s step-Dad going to see the book signing by the talking dog gets even more interesting with the context of the second season. And if that strange sentence doesn’t sell you on the setting of the show…

• DeWitt says:

The best work in the modern time I know of is Breaking Bad, if only because it knew how and when to end. Unsure if you’d call the business of producing metamphetamines familiar to the viewers though.

Modern/unfamiliar.. Man, I don’t even know what would count for this. Don’t know what to say without examples.

For historical settings, the 2010 Romance of the Three Kingdoms series is impressive for being much more honest a depiction than most other works about the era. In gaming media, I’ve played Crusader Kings and Total War religiously enough that I’m obliged to mention them, though the former does realistic better than the latter.

My favorite fantasy setting is Runequest’s Glorantha, hands-down. I know of very few other ones that have had such extensive effort put into making such high magic settings seem realistic. Very excellently done.

• Matt M says:

I’d say the setting of Breaking Bad was about as familiar as can possibly be. The whole genius of the show was applying unfamiliar circumstances (the details of running a large drug operation) to an incredibly familiar setting (an average middle class family with various problems)

The setting becomes increasingly unfamiliar as the show goes on and as Walt has to adapt to weirder and more abnormal circumstances, but that’s the whole point. Seasons 1 and 2 are almost entirely familiar though.

• Plumber says:

@Matt M.,

Me and my wife watched a few episodes of the first season of Breaking Bad and we just couldn’t get into it (we also watched a few episodes of Vikings together and she vetoed more, I sorta agreed with her as except for the protagonist vs. the actor from The Usual Suspects conflict it was dull and “Floki” was annoying, but I wanted to see more because of the setting.
Jeremy Irons television show The Borgias was good, as of course The Soprano’s and Game of Thrones was mostly good (until it just became just about the visuals with the scripts not adding much).

Mostly “prestige”/water-cooler television has been disappointing though.

• DinoNerd says:

I don’t think I have a favourite setting, or if I do, it doesn’t match what i generally end up reading. That’s because themes seem to be strongly correlated with setting. I’d like to read more modern/unfamiliar and historical, because of the opportunity to learn things I don’t know, and read a lot of historical fiction as a child, before discovering that biographies scratched many of the same itches.

But what I read in practice is fantasy, and the kind of sci fi that has a future theme but little or no scientific premise. That gets me more adventure, and hero-overcomes-adversity, and less angsty-person-displays-emotions-introspectively or critique-of-subcultural-norms-that-aren’t-mine. Occassionally I find something fun in other genres, e.g. my current adventures with An Irish Country Doctor – which probably qualifies as historical, rather than modern/unfamiliar, even though the setting is still within living memory.

One sub-genre I like is otherwise-historically-accurate fantasy (or sci fi, for that matter). Medieval Europe, except their religion is true – saints do intervene, etc.. Roman Empire with some technology discovered centuries earlier than in our past. Medieval army kidnapped en masse by aliens to act as a miltary force dealing with other primitives. This doesn’t really fit in your categories above – or disappears into sci fi or fantasy. Likewise the related genre of “Connecticut Yankee” – modern transported to past, adds modern ideas. But of course these are all more than just a setting – they are the key to whatever story ensues.

• Atlas says:

My absolute favorite kind of fictional setting is retrofuturism, which is sort of a mix of different options on your list but I think is distinct enough to include. That is, it’s a combination of the aesthetics of the past with futuristic/fantastical technology. It’s a frequent feature of 0451 games, like Bioshock, Prey and Dishonored. The various “-punk” genres often fit into this, with my personal favorite being dieselpunk.

Sci-fi>Historical/realistic>Fantasy>Modern/familiar>Modern/unfamiliar.

My top 5 favorite films in no particular order (except that the first one is #1):

The Social Network
Mulholland Drive
Apocalypse Now
The Dark Knight

23. johan_larson says:

The webcomic XKCD has a fun challenge. Find a movie you genuinely like, that came out during your adult life, and is rated below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. The idea here is that few people have truly unconventional taste.

I’m finding this exercise quite hard. The best I have been able to do is “The Cutting Edge”, a 1992 sports romance film. I was 22 when it was released, so it counts, and it is rated 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought Terminator 3 might qualify, but it’s rated 69%.

• Machine Interface says:

My first try was We Own the Night (2007), but this is rated 57%; I got it right on my second try with Only God Forgives (2013) at 41%.

• Sagar Apte says:

I really liked The “Amazing Spider-Man 2”, which seems to be hated by most. Turns out its 52% on RT. Damn it!

• EchoChaos says:

Trivial for me. Act of Valor (2012).

Got absolutely panned by critics, but its audience score was 72%.

Honestly, this one is basically just “Find a place where critics and audiences are disconnected”.

The harder challenge is finding something you like that both audience AND critic are under 50%.

• Machine Interface says:

Only God Forgives is still a win for me under that criteria: audience score 37%!

• EchoChaos says:

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is close (48 critic, 53 audience).

Ah, got one!

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (38% critic, 48% audience). I liked the whole franchise, but most of it was too high in audience to qualify.

• EchoChaos says:

Ooh, another one: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (45% critic, 48% audience)

Apparently I like a lot of bad movies. I have no shame.

• Lillian says:

Pretty sure The Spirits Within isn’t actually a bad movie, it just triggered the uncanny valley effect on a lot of people so they instinctively hated it. Personally i liked it a lot, but my uncanny valley effect sense seems to be both weaker and misaligned in comparison with most people’s.

• EchoChaos says:

As a heavy gamer, I was used to the mediocre special effects at the time, so that didn’t kill my enjoyment at all.

• Kindly says:

“Blood and Chocolate” (2007) gets 11% from critics and 52% from the audience, so it’s barely off from your mark but okay on average.

(I really liked how the werewolves looked, and didn’t mind the extremely stupid title so much, I guess.)

• Anatoly says:

Got it on my first try – Eurotrip (2003, 47%).

Next, Max Landis’s films – American Ultra (2015, 42%), Mr Right (2015, 44%). I think Bright (2017, 26%) also qualifies – I genuinely liked it, though I haven’t rewatched it.

After some more searching: The Net (1995, 38%), though it technically violates the post-2000 requirement in the XKCD comic.

• C_B says:

Wait Eurotrip has <50% on RT? That movie is a goddamn classic! There's no justice in the world!

• Lillian says:

That’s just the Critic score, the Audience score is 75%. It seems to me that picking movies that critics hated and audiences liked seems contrary to the spirit of the exercise, which is to have a truly unpopular opinion in liking something lots of people hate. So we really should be using Audience scores for all of these.

• Well... says:

“Eurotrip” is one of only two movies I ever walked out of the movie theater on. The other was “Stranger Than Fiction.”

• MorningGaul says:

Uwe Boll trump card: Postal with 7%, but it’s more a “not as bad as I expected with some good bits”

Martyrs almost cut it, with 58%

• MrApophenia says:

Jupiter Ascending is a work of genius and should have inspired a ten movie franchise.

• jgr314 says:

I would have watched a sequel, at least.

• Phigment says:

Jupiter Ascending was pretty and fun.

Also, the central idea that all the ID in this futuristic society was based on DNA, and WHOOPS RANDOM DUPLICATE DNA person is pretty hilarious.

• FLWAB says:

That’s one of mine! I think about that movie way too much because I keep trying to figure out what Jupiter’s next move should be. At the end of the movie the galactic aristocracy recognizes her as the legitimate owner of Earth, an extremely valuable planet. Why is it valuable? Because it’s almost ready for harvest and harvested human cells are the currency of the galaxy. But Jupiter isn’t going to harvest the Earth, so she is essentially “land rich and money poor.” So what is she going to do? She has the de jure right to the Earth but since she won’t harvest it she doesn’t have the resources to project power or meaningfully defend her assets in the case of hostile action from other aristocrats. So what’s her game plan? She seems to have one spaceship and a few animal-people servants: is she going to give the Earth advanced technology? If she reveals the existence of the galactic aristocracy to the people of Earth, will she be accepted as owner of the Earth? Doubtful: the US isn’t going to submit to her just because some aliens think she owns the planet. So what’s the right play to make? Become rich by “inventing” alien tech? Arm the Earth so it can defend itself? Take over he Earth in earnest? She has to do something: since its unlikely she will use the human cells to stay immortal for ethical reasons, she will get old and die and then the aristocrats are going to be jumping over themselves to get their hands on the Earth. Maybe she could get around that the old fashioned way by having kids and starting a dynasty, but the fact remains that without cash or capital she’s going to be at a major disadvantage in protecting the earth from galactic machinations. It’s such an interesting problem!

Of course the movie isn’t interested in any of that, but by gum I sure am!

• John Schilling says:

Figure out which Earth-humans she hates the most(*), and lease the right to very selectively and secretly harvest those. Exploit the resulting artificial scarcity to at least partially alleviate the “money poor” part of her situation. Use the resulting galacti-cash to invest in a few more spaceships and a covert-operations force.

W/re the rest of galactic civilization, we know that the police/military forces will defend her legal claim to Earth against any violation that comes to their attention, so she just needs to make sure infiltrations don’t go completely unnoticed and are met by a token cutter or gunboat. A few spies in her major enemies’ camps, and a PR campaign about the plucky barbarian princess who made good, would also be useful.

W/re Earth and the Earth-humans who presently think they rule it, a little bit of alien tech goes a long way, particularly in orbit. Maybe also surveillance technology, but that’s not clear from the movie. But it seems pretty clear that with a modest bit of galacti-tech she could spray-paint “Jupiter Rules!” across the solar arrays of every high-value military satellite in the great power constellations and there’s not much they could do about it. Let them stew on the implications of that for a bit, then offer herself as Earth’s covert representative to the galactic community while they pretend that they still rule their respective nations and aliens don’t exist.

Then, yes, go about quietly introducing galactic technology to the terrestrial economy.

* She used to clean toilets for a living; I doubt this will be an insurmountable obstacle.

• FLWAB says:

The big problem is your first point: harvesting a selected group of humans. That is to say, its a problem because we’ve been led to believe by the movie that Jupiter is a standard good person who will not be okay harvesting any humans whatsoever: but if she doesn’t get some cash somehow then she can’t buy any more spaceships! There’s the rub.

I considered maybe secretly harvesting people who are terminally ill or on death row or something like that, but putting aside the logistical challenge involved in doing that secretly, I’m not sure how much money a single human is worth. I mean the movie leads us to believe that there are multiple planets that have gone through this cycle over thousands of years: harvest planet of all humans (potentially billions), seed a few primative humans on the planet, wait several thousand years for them to multiply to the billions again. We know that Earth is extremely valuable, in no small part because it is an investment that is just about ready to be cashed out, a “ripe” planet of over 7 billion. So we know that 7 billion humans are worth quite a lot in galactic terms. But what does that mean for the price of a single human, or a dozen humans, or a hundred, or a thousand? How many humans do you need to harvest to afford a quality spaceship, or some of those cool battle mech suits? Probably a lot.

Also, are old people and sick people cells worth as much as young people cells? Or are old people cells just by-catch in any harvest operation? This movie is kind of stupid and yet it raises so many interesting questions!

• Bobobob says:

Road House! (39%). But I don’t know if that counts, because I only liked it ironically.

• EchoChaos says:

No ironic liking. It has to be genuine to qualify.

• Plumber says:

Oh that’s easy: Hudson Hawk was released just before I turned 23 years old and I thought it was fun when I saw it in the theater, “Rotten Tomatoes” gave On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 26% ‘TOMATOMETER’, 57% ‘AUDIENCE SCORE’, but in looking at the XKCD link I see that the criteria isn’t just “Adult life” but is also “post-2000” which is a bit harder as I just haven’t seen as many movies in the 21st century as I did in the 20th and the movies just haven’t been as memorable, I’ll try Dude, Where’s My Car? which had the guy who played “Data” from Star Trek: The Next Generation ranting about ostriches in a ‘French’ accent: 17%
TOMATOMETER
Total Count: 58
47%
AUDIENCE SCORE
User Ratings: 367,383

Haw!

Oh wait, it can’t be “SO BAD IT’S GOOD”

Oh dagnabbit, I don’t have time to scroll through every post 2000 movie and see if I remember watching them and liking them, I’ll try three that I saw recently and thought were good;

Locke
90%
TOMATOMETER Total Count: 209
72%
AUDIENCE SCORE User Ratings: 27,826,

Alright, I’ll try ’71:
96%
TOMATOMETER
Total Count: 135
81%
AUDIENCE SCORE
User Ratings: 17,34

Last try, Widows:
91%
TOMATOMETER
Total Count: 384
61%
AUDIENCE SCORE
User Ratings: 4,762

Well, that’s it then, I’m out.

• johan_larson says:

I don’t see a lot of reason to obey the post-2000 rule. Randall Munroe is 14 years younger than I am, so his idea of recent times is just plain different from mine.

• acymetric says:

I agree, the spirit of the challenge probably suggests any movie that came out after you [turned 18, 16, graduated high school, something along those lines].

On the other hand, there might be good reason not to go too far back before 2000, because the kind of people who go back to retroactively rate movies from the 80s or early 90s on Rotten Tomatoes…seems like an even less representative group than movie critics generally.

• imoimo says:

I think that’s one reason the post-2000 rule is good. Also cultural attitudes change so you may not have been a maverick for liking it when you saw it, and now you like it nostalgically. Also RT was launched in 1998.

• imoimo says:

I think I liked Dude, Where’s My Car unironically (despite it having plenty of dumb parts), but I was under 18 so womp womp.

• Plumber says:

I was 32 (and caught Hell when my wife found the ticket stub).

• Zeno of Citium says:

Me too, it’s a stupid movie but it’s not “so bad it’s good”, it’s just regular good.

• souleater says:

This one is easy for me
Sahara (2005) 38% on rotten tomatoes.

The plot is kinda meandering, but I really love the dialogue, and soundtrack.
It just generally has a very laid back, fun feel to it.

• Matt M says:

I randomly found this on streaming and watched it with my girlfriend when we first started dating. Nothing amazing about it, but we basically enjoyed it!

• Watchman says:

I’d agree with this: even if looking back on it I seem to remember two different films (one which should have been from 1985), I’d be happy to watch it again.

• Nick says:

I saw the second half of the movie on TV one day and it seemed decent. I’d be up for watching the thing through.

• souleater says:

It definitely feels like 2 films. There is this weird subplot about the water being polluted but it feels like it was just shoehorned in. IMHO It would have been much better if they focused on the confederate battleship in the middle of africa.

• Ehh, the book was better.