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Open Thread 133.75

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1,392 Responses to Open Thread 133.75

  1. albatross11 says:

    Vox article on Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warrens’ tweets w.r.t. Ferguson.

    I tend to have a somewhat negative view of Vox, as having a strong enough ideological position that it often seems to compromise their honesty or at least objectivity. So I think it’s important to point out times when they do the opposite. This wasn’t the story that supported their preferred policy goals, but they told the truth on it anyway. I think I need to revise my opinion of them upward somewhat.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I’d give it one of those “Not the Literal Worst” ribbons: the line between falsely accusing someone of murder and not falsely accusing someone of murder really isn’t all that fine.

      At least they don’t end up going with “fake but accurate”, even if they do try it out.

      • albatross11 says:

        Being clear about the record when it contradicts the narrative they’d like to tell, and also pointing out that two of their own were wrong about it, seems pretty solid to me. Are there other liberal-leaning media outlets that have done as well on this issue?

        • dick says:

          The WaPo did, that’s where I read about it. I agree, this seems like kind of a big deal. Are there righty news sites that do this when Trump tweets something false? It seems like a lot of lefty sites don’t bother anymore.

  2. ana53294 says:

    Christina Kirchner (although she is the vice-president) won the first round of elections in Argentina (primaries). Markets have fallen down in Argentina as a result.

    Does anybody know how much Macri is to blame for the current state of the Argentinian economy? My basic take was that, when he became president, Argentina was running at a severe deficit, lots of government control, lots of subsidies to energy and a terrible corruption that meant no infrastructure could be built. AFAIU, he cut a lot of the spending, but the deficit was still so big that he had to keep printing money, because cutting even more would be catastrophic. The Argentinians I know hate him, because the cuts have really empoverished them. But they also happen to be very skeptical of the EU – Mercosur FTA, which makes me doubt their economic intuitions (and Kirchner’s candidate is also skeptical of the FTA).

    It was an attempt at a “soft landing” instead of a shock – and it clearly failed. Although making even more severe cuts could have been even more catastrophic.

    My take is that he was bad – but Kirchner would be even worse.

    • Aapje says:

      Argentina was like a person living with huge credit card debts, paying lots of interest and having to take loans to make ends meet. Resolving that is always going to be more painful in the short term than trying to drag the situation out until the inevitable crisis that is going to be far worse.

      The 2018 shock resulted in part from letting the peso float again, which allows the peso to reflect the actual economic strength and thereby helps fix the trade (im)balance. Macri settled the debtors claims that remained from the economic crisis, giving Argentina access to outside capital again. He raised Argentina 22 places on the corruption perception index. He reduced the tariffs on agricultural products, encouraging exports, but a huge drought pretty much negated this. Can’t blame Macri for a natural disaster.

      The increasing interest rates in the US have resulted in quite a few US investors pulling out of South America (not just Argentina). Again, not something under Macri’s control.

      So my tentative verdict is that Macri was screwed over by circumstances outside of his control more than he is to blame for bad policies. Perhaps his timing for certain policies was poor, but that is easy to say in hindsight.

      • ana53294 says:

        So, basically, he didn’t do that bad.

        It seemed to me that Macri would only be able to bring improvements if he was a two term president – because it would take at least two terms to see any improvements.

        It’s a pity if Argentina goes back to its ways. Although who would be stupid enough to buy Kirchner’s bonds?

        • Aapje says:

          Policies that result in short term pain can be offset with (worldwide or regional) economic growth or other positive influences that are not under the politician’s control.

          An alternative is that the politician falsely blames outside influences, which can work as well.

          IMO, South America could do with a bit more Calvinist culture, with more focus on hard work, discipline and frugality.

  3. Nornagest says:

    We’ve all heard of the multiocular O, ꙮ. But I just learned that there are also monocular (Ꙩ) and binocular (Ꙫ) O’s in Unicode, along with the double monocular O (Ꙭ) double O (Ꚙ) and crossed O (Ꚛ).

    All of these are used in Old Church Slavonic as a sort of rebus in related phrases (monocular O, for example, appears in a word meaning “eye”). Following on from this, I propose we revive the double monocular O for the phrase “gꙬgly eyes”.

  4. albatross11 says:

    I found this blog post/article an interesting discussion of the online influences driving some of the mass-shootings. I don’t know enough to tell whether the article is correct or not, though it was R/T’d by Niall Fergusson, who I think of as a pretty serious thinker, so probably it’s not obvious fluff. (Though I don’t think Fergusson knows a lot more than I do about 8chan culture.)

    This ties in with the stochastic terrorism idea I linked to earlier. And it seems to me that this is parallel to the discovery that Twitter bots (maybe Russian, maybe controlled by someone else) often coordinate to signal-boost “scissors-statement” type controversies on Twitter. The linked article claims that there’s a substantial online effort to encourage and cheerlead this kind of right-wing mass-shooting. I’ve read the claim (I think here on SSC) that there’s something similar for incel-related mass-shootings. I guess the Islamic terrorist lone-wolf mass-shootings are similar, just with different signal-boosting. And probably there’s comparable rhetoric toward antifa-aligned violence, though other than that wacko who tried to blow up the ICE office, it seems to mostly lead to people getting beaten up rather than shot.

    This makes me wonder: are the same organized forces[1] pushing this online effort as are pushing the great effort to stir up outrage on social media generally? Is this an emergent social phenomenon where crazy people and sociopaths and some susceptible others get caught up into some self-sustaining chain of encouraging and cheerleading this sort of attack? (Many of the participants may simply be trolling, but clearly some take it very seriously.)

    [1] The Russian influence effort was/is apparently very broadly targeted to stir up trouble everywhere. BLM, white nationalists, evangelical Christians, gay rights activists, animal rights activists[2]–they were happy to get *everyone* riled up and angry. There is zero chance that it’s only the Russian government doing this. In fact, we know there have been PR firms that carried out similar campaigns (notably the one in South Africa that was trying to stir up racial tensions to keep Zuma in power). You could imagine a dozen governments and a hundred political campaigns, NGOs, shadowy cabals of billionaires, PR companies, etc., finding some reason to stir up chaos in the US.

    [2] Somewhere out there, there’s pretty-much got to be someone who is in all five categories at once.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      And probably there’s comparable rhetoric toward antifa-aligned violence, though other than that wacko who tried to blow up the ICE office, it seems to mostly lead to people getting beaten up rather than shot.

      Mostly, although the Ohio shooter was a self-declared left-wing antifascist.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Does anyone know his motive, though? While yes he was an extreme left-winger I find it very unlikely that his actions were politically motivated.

        • Aapje says:

          The last statement by the police seems to be from the 5th of August where they claim to not have found a motive yet, but the writings they did find don’t indicate a political motive.

    • Mercurial says:

      I used to use 8chan pretty regularly until about 2 years ago. I have a few disconnected thoughts on the linked article.
      – The fact that the author initially thought “check these incredible digits” referred to the body count tells me he doesn’t have more than a surface level understanding of chan culture.
      – People on the chans were talking about “high scores” way before these recent sorts of shootings were happening. They were usually more associated incels or other types that had lost all hope.
      – There’s been a slow boiling off effect going on for years now, where when someone on 8chan does something horrible some portion of the more reasonable users leave for good. At this point, all the voices for reason have left and the site has turned into an extremism amplifier.

      • metacelsus says:

        So, what does “check these incredible digits” actually mean? (I, too, have only a surface-level understanding of chan culture.)

        • James says:

          Not a chan reader, but from what I’ve soaked up, I think it’s this: posts are assigned numbers sequentially, which means the number of any given post is effectively random. Sometimes posters joke and/or compete about the luckiness of getting special-looking numbers, especially where digits at the end are doubly-repeated (‘dubs’), triply-repeated (‘trips’), or quadruply-repeated (‘quads’).

          I think that poster is just joking about that post ends in ‘1414’ (‘incredible’ is overstating it, but whatever).

          https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/dubs-guy-check-em

          Oh, I see that they’ve now edited this explanation into the original article.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If the claim of incredibility was from a WN/WS/nazi type, “14” is representative of the “14 words” WN credo, so “1414” would be particularly meaningful to them.

  5. Silverlock says:

    The Assassin’s Creed franchise is on sale on Steam with titles anywhere from 50% – 70% off. I have watched a couple of gameplay videos on the latest one, Odyssey, and it seems like it could be a good time. Is it representative of the series? Anybody care to recommend one or two of the games particular as standout(s)?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I will make the following anti-recommendation:

      AC gameplay has little depth and writing that’s mediocre at best. It’s best characterized as an amusement park ride, except that it’s padded to hell with things that struggle to remain engaging. There are many games that are mechanically more interesting that share many of the systems AC has in it; the point of the series is the breadth and the environments it offers, rather than anything else.

      Conrad can tell you why he thinks it’s good.

      • melolontha says:

        This was a long time ago now, but I remember being unpleasantly surprised by the simplistic movement system when I played one of the AC games. It looks like you’re pulling off all sorts of cool stunts, but the fluidity and apparent complexity is achieved by giving you very little actual control, and translating your ‘move in this direction’ input into whatever lower-level moves are required to do so. (I don’t know to what extent this applies to the later games, or even to the later stages of whichever one I played.)

    • Tarpitz says:

      Odyssey is representative (and the best example) of the newer, open world style of Assassin’s Creed games. For my money however, the best of the bunch is still 2.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      No, Origins and Odyssey are the new massive open world, hit box combat style of AC games. All the ones before that were more scripted/mission based, de-emphasized combat, and the combat you did have was…I’m not sure what the term for it is. It’s like the Batman Arkham games where you time button presses to parry or break blocks and such.

      Odyssey was my favorite game of 2018. Does it have the best combat? No. The best game mechanics? No, some of them are kind of incoherent with the auto-leveling feature. The story does not make any sense at all. Is it an accurate portrayal of ancient Greek combat or culture? No, there’s no phalanxes and there’s women all over the place instead of being confined to the gynaeceum. But it was, like Hoopy said, an amazing amusement park ride. I liked the characters, I liked the setting, I liked the nonsense story, I loved the ship combat. Between the game and the 6 DLC chapters I got almost 200 hours out of the game and smiled the whole way through.

      I think Odyssey and Origins are the best AC games. After them I’d say Black Flag and Rogue but mainly because the pirate ship combat is so great. I also really liked Syndicate but no one else did.

  6. Clutzy says:

    Point of contention that has to be made at the end of the life of this thread, because CW potential:

    Speculation about Jeffery Epstein is not a “conspiracy theory”. The hallmarks, IMO, of an actual conspiracy theory are post-hoc reasoning, and a claim to secret knowledge. Neither is present.

    “Epstein is going to suicide himself with cyanide, a noose, and 2 gunshots to the back of the head,” jokes have been mainstream since his arrest. This means there is no post-hoc reasoning. Everything happened as the alleged conspiracy theorist would have predicted. This means his model of the world is at least accurate on this one dimension.

    Also, no one seems to be claiming secret knowledge of who’s done it. Although some have made vague claims like Joe Scarborough, who’s tweets boil down to, “Trump, Clinton, or Dershowitz prolly did it.”

    Rather that a conspiracy theory, I think this is like a classic self-defense case in law. There is a body. There are two competing theories of how it became a body. Neither has gotten to the high levels of proof required in crim law yet, and even a civil case wouldn’t be certain for either side. There certainly is evidence for both sides.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      The information I’d like is how often people on federal suicide watch successfully commit suicide. Just the general numbers. Maybe suicide watch is useless and people kill themselves all the time.

      It won’t completely defuse my own doubts but it will put them in context.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        The point is that now the conversation on the topic is mainstream. I find it eerily similar to the jokes on how Putin’s enemies get cancer.

        (but yes, numbers on suicide watch suicides is a pretty good starting point)
        edit: not really. He had been removed from suicide watch. A bureaucratic way to kill if there ever was one – facilitate a small oversight and let him kill himself.

      • Nick says:

        I’ve been seeing conflicting information about whether he even was on suicide watch. Apparently it was reported first that he was, and had been since an attempt a few weeks ago, then it was reported a little later that he’d been taken off watch on the 9th.

        If that’s true, the question becomes who decided that. Cui bono?

        • brad says:

          It may not be someone big thing. There was a mobster who was murdered by the federal bureau of prisons (they transferred him to a the general pop of a different facility and he was beaten to death within 24 hours) because he had pissed off a mid-level prison official.

          • albatross11 says:

            I thought this this sequence of tweets from Popehat raised an important issue–it’s easy to have a TV/movie idea of the care and competence of prison officials that makes Epstein’s suicide seem like some kind of aberration. But actually, they let prisoners die from malice or indifference or incompetence pretty often, and there are basically never any consequences for doing so.

            That doesn’t mean he didn’t get murdered somehow–pimping underaged girls to the rich and powerful seems like the sort of thing that might shorten your life expectancy quite a bit. But if he were Jerry Epscon the small-time pimp of underaged girls who got busted and sent to prison, and he’d died in the same way, we’d probably never have heard about it.

            [broblawsky got there first]

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          See John Schilling’s comment below regarding the nature of suicide watch: Most likely him and his lawyers. I disagree with some of the generalities about prison guards, but I think it gets the basics right. Measures vary from facility to facility, but generally include:

          -Padded Cell with no furniture or even bed linens. You sleep on the ground.

          -The prisoner is either A) dressed in clothing they cannot remove without outside assistance, B) dressed in clothing that is particularly tear/rip-resistant or C) kept nude (can’t choke yourself with a cloth gag if you don’t have cloth).

          -The prisoner is then checked on by guards -very- frequently. By which I don’t mean hourly, but rather every 5-15 minutes. As John notes, the ways of practically verifying that the prisoner is still responsive and alive often end up being de facto sleep deprivation. In its most intense form, you actually have someone with physical eyes-on the prisoner 24/7 for the duration of the watch. Imagine being escorted to a toilet stall with the door removed, and doing your business while a prison guard stands within arms reach, watching you.

          If these sorts of measures aren’t enough, the next step is to combine the 24/7 monitoring with keeping the prisoner in 5-point restraints, letting them exercise and move one limb at a time every few hours under supervision.

          TL;DR: If you weren’t on Suicide Watch -before-, being on it for very long may well push someone in that direction all on its own.

          • Nornagest says:

            It sounds like it would be cheaper, easier, equally effective and more humane to dispense with all the paraphernalia and just have someone sit outside their cell and watch them 24/7. If you have a guard checking on them every 5-15 minutes, that guard isn’t going to be doing anything else useful anyway, so why not just have them pull up a chair?

            Which I suppose probably means that the objective here isn’t just to keep the guy from committing suicide.

          • ana53294 says:

            Keeping a guard permanently stationed outside the cell would be much more humane: most of the sleep deprivation comes from the guard coming and going, not from the guard’s presence.

          • The Nybbler says:

            15 minutes, that guard isn’t going to be doing anything else useful anyway, so why not just have them pull up a chair?

            It wouldn’t work. The guard would fall asleep or just stop paying attention.

          • Nornagest says:

            It doesn’t have to always be the same guard. Prisons still have guard towers, right? However they’re doing the rotation for those, they could do the same for prisoners on suicide watch.

          • albatross11 says:

            Mental hospitals deal with suicidal patients all the time. How much better is being on a suicide watch there than in prison?

            Hell, even perfectly nice hospitals with well-intentioned employees and sympathetic patients are terrible places to try to get a good night’s sleep.

          • acymetric says:

            I’m pretty sure regular (multiple times per hour) bed checks are a part of the procedure for mental hospitals as well, although they very well might be more…polite (quiet) about it.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            If you have the manpower, having 1 on 1 oversight (that is, the person on suicide watch under constant direct observation) IS what’s done. Guards are rotated in or out as-needed.

            However, a lot of times there isn’t the manpower, and that means leaving, then coming back to check on the prisoner and verify they’re still alive. Generally speaking, COs don’t enter any prisoner’s cell alone if at all possible for obvious reasons. That means either you have to have two people there to run the checks in person, since you have to get close enough to visually verify they’re still alive and breathing….or the one person making the checks finds a way to get movement/response from the prisoner without entering the cell…which means waking them up. You can see how the rest falls out from there. Another option that’s used is simply keeping the prisoner in 4-5 point restraints all the time, which obviates the safety issues, but again, not pleasant or humane…

    • nkurz says:

      Instead of directly trying to prove what happened with Epstein, it may be better to start from common ground. I think most people would agree that in this case, “Justice was not served.” As a result, many people have lost at least a bit of their faith in the universality of the US system of justice. What would need to be done to rebuild the faith that we have a system that works for everyone, even if they are rich and well-connected?

      • SamChevre says:

        My question would be “To whom was justice not done?” If it’s just Epstein, and Epstein’s victims–he’s dead and there’s little that can be done.

        My fear, though, is that the people escaping justice include a lot of powerful, wealthy participants in his appalling behaviour; I would hope that his death doesn’t lead to anyone else escaping justice.

        • albatross11 says:

          One claim I read yesterday: Epstein’s death will apparently make it a lot easier to get his seized papers/correspondence/computer files admitted as evidence, because there’s no longer anyone who has standing to try to assert any kind of privacy right / lack of warrant over them.

          • Matt M says:

            That assumes the existence of some sort of law agency so desperate/committed to bringing justice to his accomplices that they’re willing to keep this going despite the fact that the main person involved is now dead.

            I guess time will tell, but I consider that highly unlikely. Epstein’s death is just the thing that every law enforcement agency needed to wash their hands of this whole mess and say “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

          • tossrock says:

            Federal prosecutors have already stated they’re continuing the case, and noted that some of the charges were conspiracy charges – ie others were involved: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/11/nyregion/jeffrey-epstein-suicide-investigation.html

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s one or more federal prosecutor working on this case, who sees that if he can nail a couple of really high-profile Epstein clients, he will become a household name with a brilliant political future. That provides quite a bit of incentive for continuing the case.

    • The Nybbler says:

      People predicted the Branch Davidian compound at Waco would burn before it did, too. Whether that’s a point for or against your claim, I’ll let you decide.

    • broblawsky says:

      Popehat, who is usually pretty reasonable about legal issues, seems to think it’s plausible that Epstein’s suicide is the product of simple incompetence.

      • Clutzy says:

        Ken is a smart guy with more experience in crim law than me, but that’s exactly what I’d guess Ken to say. He is a little too institutional for his own good, and requires a lot of evidence to start thinking in other ways.

        Not that the incompetence theory is wrong. Its probably right. I’m just saying there isn’t very good evidence for the incompetence theory yet.

    • Enkidum says:

      Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.

      Epstein had already attempted suicide. Prison guards are, in general, not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed, and have a well-earned and longstanding reputation for incompetence.

      There are certainly a number of powerful people who would have greatly benefited from his death (most obviously: Trump and Clinton). Despite the fact that I think these are fairly awful people, I think thus far there is no evidence that any of them are murderers (please, don’t bother explaining how I’m wrong, I don’t have the patience). Also, murder is difficult, and tends to leave traces.

      The fact that there are powerful people who would benefit from his death is literally the only evidence in favour of it being murder.

      • Clutzy says:

        I don’t find incompetence to be implausible. My point is there is no public evidence in favor of it yet. Its not like prison guards are beacons of integrity. 2 missed their rounds. One or both could easily have been bribed to miss the rounds and slip him some good hanging sheets. By Epstein or his friends.

        • albatross11 says:

          He also had a pretty clear motive for suicide–it was absolutely clear he was going to spend the rest of his life behind bars, and no amount of influential friends, blackmail material over powerful people, or briefcases full of cash were going to get him out, now that the case had become so visible. Probably he was also not anticipating any kind of humane treatment by the guards or any other prisoners he came in contact with.

        • Enkidum says:

          You’re right that there’s no positive evidence in favour of it. But there’s no positive evidence in favour of the other possibility, which is a prior much less plausible.

          • nkurz says:

            Instinctively, probably based on news reporting, I would have guessed that homicide by another inmate was as likely as suicide, but statistically I’d have been wrong — although the numbers are close.

            “The number of federal prisoner deaths in federal prisons increased 11%, from 400 deaths in 2013 to 444 deaths in 2014. The vast majority of federal prisoner deaths (88%) could be attributed to natural causes. Unnatural deaths— including suicides (4%), homicides (3%), and accidents (1%)—made up less than a tenth of all federal prison deaths.”

            From “Mortality in State Prisons 2001-2014”: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/msp0114st_sum.pdf.

            So with nothing else to go on, and if we assume the death was “unnatural”, suicide is indeed the most likely explanation. I do wonder whether this remains the same after one controls for the crime. I’d guess that sex offenders might be more likely than others to die by homicide.

            (For state prisoners, the disparity between suicide and homicide is greater, 6% vs 2%. For local jails, it’s even more lopsided. But I think Epstein was in federal custody? I also don’t know whether the ratios for prisoners as a whole and those of jailed suspects are comparable.)

          • acymetric says:

            I’m fairly suspicious of the possibility that “natural deaths” is excessively broad (or just under investigated) in that reporting. I suppose an easily preventable death might still be considered “natural”.

          • Lillian says:

            A lot of people die in prison because medical care was withheld, sometimes after hours of serious symptoms like vomiting, convulsions, delirium, and screws yelling, “Stop faking!” There’s also the one where they call an ambulance but it gets held up making it through the security checkpoint at the gates. All of these would be recorded as ‘natural deaths’ even though some portion were wholly preventable if not for malicious or negligent withholding of care.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, that’s kind of what I was getting at.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        @Enkidum:

        Epstein had already attempted suicide.

        He claimed it was not attempted suicide but an attempt on his life. I don’t say I believe him, but it raises enough doubt in my mind not to want to say categorically that he had already attempted suicide.

        Still, right now I lean toward suicide, just from Ockham’s Razor. But I really want to hear definitive answers to a few important questions.

        Was he in fact on suicide watch? If not, why not? I gather that it is rare to be on suicide watch for a week and then removed.

        If he was, how did he accomplish the suicide? Was he just very resourceful with the standard limited access to tools, or did somebody slip him a rope?

        Would one expect there to be video records? If so, and if the video records are somehow missing, I’m going to downwardly revise suicide by a lot, especially if the apparent suicide did not involve contraband items.

        If he bribed somebody to slip him a rope, that individual has a motive to disappear the video. But in the absence of contraband, I don’t see what Epstein’s motivation is to make the video go away — unless he wanted to make it look like a murder, just as a big F U to the powerful people who he expected to protect him but who didn’t. But it sort of seems like early days for him to have given up on that.

        That is, in fact, the one reservation I have about suicide based on the data I have now: How much danger is he really in? If we posit that there are lots of powerful people who might be afraid they would be fingered, those are also people who can pull the strings to get him off. His story strikes me as that of a guy who thinks himself above the law; what would make him give up so soon?

        (Trying very hard to put out of my mind the fact that at his level of the elite, faking the death altogether would be pocket change. But the life he would be buying, anonymous and furtive in a foreign land, would be quite a hardship.)

        • MissingNo says:

          >Ockham’s Razor

          “The lady down the street is a witch; she did it.” —Robert Heinlein

          That heuristic grants you no absolute understanding. There is an empirical observation that the more complex a plan is the more likely it is to fail simply by having more links in the chain, so thus bayes theorem and combinatoric optimization point you towards discussing “simple” plans first.

          I mean. Occams razor is “god did it” for everything. So I don’t know what the simplest explanation actually is!

          Occasionally complex and convoluted plans actually work!

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I mean. Occams razor is “god did it” for everything. So I don’t know what the simplest explanation actually is!

            I disagree. “God did it” proves too much. It justifies everyone going on a murder spree; it also justifies everyone not doing so. It justifies everyone both liking and loathing violence at the same time, as the solution to any given problem. Early on, people learn that there are things that make more sense to them one way or the other (even if they disagree in certain cases), and such preferences only make sense in a universe that has rules for this and against that.

            Therefore, Occam’s Razor requires rules. And the more we learn about the complexities of the universe, the more rules we end up requiring in order for everything to continue making sense.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          If he bribed somebody to slip him a rope, that individual has a motive to disappear the video. But in the absence of contraband, I don’t see what Epstein’s motivation is to make the video go away — unless he wanted to make it look like a murder, just as a big F U to the powerful people who he expected to protect him but who didn’t. But it sort of seems like early days for him to have given up on that.

          And really, if he wanted to FU the people who didn’t protect him, the best way of doing so would surely be to spill the beans about all their sex crimes and take as many down with him as possible.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            And really, if he wanted to FU the people who didn’t protect him, the best way of doing so would surely be to spill the beans about all their sex crimes and take as many down with him as possible.

            Good point. I was just groping for a possible reason to obscure a non-contraband suicide, and that was the best I could come up with.

      • MissingNo says:

        It obviously demands an investigation. How many plea deals could Epstein could have made to eek out a comfortable prison sentence at a place that wasn’t *that* bad? How many people could he have taken down who had millions and millions of dollars?

        Instead of “never ascribe to malace what can adequately by explained by incompetence ” a better answer is bayes theorem and historical pattern matching.

        https://www.gwern.net/Death-Note-Anonymity

        One problem with narrowing down the Bayesian estimates of suicide vs murder is the absolute lack of performing controlled experiments in these situations.

    • Uribe says:

      Wouldn’t bribing a guard or others at the prison just create more witnesses to a crime? Don’t see how it would put one in less legal danger on net.

    • MissingNo says:

      Why are people ashamed of discussing a conspiracy theory? Is it social status linking? The fear of becoming involved?

      Everyone who has picked up a few books on the cold war knows that conspiracies happen all the time. Everyone who has read the history of medicine knows that conspiracies happen with hundreds of people (Quite a few doctors were well aware that blood letting harmed their patients yet still did so for a buck)

      I’m glad to discuss the Epstein “suicide” that uh….is very questionable.

      • Clutzy says:

        People aren’t ashamed, I think, in a general sense.

        I was just kind of pointing out that, despite a lot of larger outlets calling this a “conspiracy theory” it is not (yet) and it is not irresponsible to call for greater inspection of what happened, etc. And my larger point is that people should not be shamed away from the inspection and calling public officials to action, because there is a body, and we haven’t gotten evidence of how it was done, its hard to even get prisons and the like to divulge statistics as to what normally happens inside them, etc.

    • BBA says:

      Here’s as good a place to put this as anywhere.

      Some years back I took a course given by an eminent professor, a pioneer in his field, someone universally renowned and well-liked. I won’t name him because I don’t want to dox myself, and anyway it’d just be a distraction. This professor was known to have attended some of those kooky futurism conferences that Epstein sponsored in his spare time. A couple of days ago, when the lawsuit documents were unsealed, I saw that one of Epstein’s victims named this professor as one of the many prominent men she’d been forced into sex with.

      Obviously, I had no idea at the time I took his course. (In fact I think it was before the first charges against Epstein became public.) Looking back at my memories, I didn’t have the slightest inkling that anything was out of the ordinary about him. So now I’m wondering – am I a bad judge of character? Was I just blinded by his star power? Or was he really able to hide this side of himself from everyone around him? I can easily imagine the university knowing and covering it up, that’s what institutions do, and I’m particularly oblivious to social subtext (and was even more so back then). I still find it highly disturbing that I came this close to someone involved in this and didn’t have a clue.

      • Lambert says:

        It’s in one’s interest not to seem like a rapist.
        And you don’t know how many others around you would do what he did, if they were given the chance.

        No man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.

        Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I don’t think you can tell someone is a child rapist by looking at him, or taking a course with him, or even having a beer with him. I also think you can’t tell whether or not the accusation is true even now.

      • Deiseach says:

        So now I’m wondering – am I a bad judge of character?

        No. And while it is possible that this man was indeed a rapist, it’s also possible that this particular person making all the splashy accusations and doing her version of “Pick a famous name – yeah I was forced to have sex with him” is the Epstein-related counterpart of a case that just concluded in the UK, about Carl Beech – who, alias ‘Nick’, spun a web of fantasies about child abuse and even murder, got the police force to hold a very expensive investigation, was backed by at least one member of Parliament and had the ear of the media including a now-defunct online site Exaro which publicised his claims in reports that caught the attention of the police – who has now been jailed for eighteen years.

        Remember the Kavanaugh case, where there were all kinds of accusations – including an opportunistic fake one – levelled at him as soon as Blasey Ford’s accusation became public. Remember how the ‘believe all victims’ emphasis means that Title IX investigations can and have been pure hearsay with no attempt to find out if the alleged assault even happened. Remember the “I was a child sex slave raped by Trump and Epstein” case that got shopped around to two different jurisdictions, with certain elements in the media salivating over how this would take Trump out, and yet even sympathetic reporters finally backed away from it and the courts wouldn’t even countenance it.

        When there are big, lurid cases like Epstein and Savile and the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the news, there are also con artists and scammers and opportunists who come forward to see if they can make any pickings out of it, be that selling extravagant stories to the tabloids or putting in claims for compensation (as Beech started off doing with the Savile enquiry before branching out). Sometimes it’s down to mental illness and psychological problems – as with the case in my own town, where I was acquainted with one of the accused from school years ago, and where my first reaction was “if this was alleged physical abuse, I’d believe it possible, but not sexual”. Everyone in the country went nuts over it being OF COURSE TRUE sex abuse, the person was jailed, but thankfully soon afterwards the truth came out that the story was all a fantasy and backed up by a ‘witness’ who had a grudge against that person and saw this as an opportunity to get revenge on them.

        Trust your own instincts. You could be wrong. Or you could be right about this person you interacted with, and some of the more lurid and public accusations being made are fantasies of a troubled mind at best, deliberate hoaxing at worst – that happens too.

        • BBA says:

          I don’t want the accusations to be true, and that’s exactly why I have to believe they are.

          If that doesn’t make sense to you, nothing else I can say about it will.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s kind of how I felt finding out about my best high school teacher.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            I don’t want the accusations to be true, and that’s exactly why I have to believe they are.

            This makes you exploitable: anybody can destroy the reputation in your eyes of a person you care about by making a false accusation.

      • albatross11 says:

        I once had a really, really good professor in a class on business law (basically a law class for undergrads). He was probably one of the two or three best teachers I had in college. He went to prison for sexually abusing a metally-disabled kid[1].

        In high school, there was one teacher who was widely acknowledged by basically everyone as the best teacher in the school–I certainly found her an excellent teacher. I recently heard a very credible story (secondhand, but from someone I don’t think would lie about it) that several girls who were her students had reported that she’d either slept with them or tried to talk them into bed[2].

        What I take away from this: It’s absolutely possible for the same person to be a great teacher, brilliant scientist, capable businessman, wonderful doctor, etc., while also having terrible moral flaws. And I think sex is a particular area where this happens–where peoples’ strongest desires come into conflict with ethical behavior, and where there’s often a fair bit of gray area allowing people to do stuff that is genuinely horrible, but that they can convince themselves is okay in a fog of horniness and desire. (And stuff like age of consent really is full of gray–it’s not like there’s some clear moral principle that tells you that sex with a 15 year old is unspeakably evil, but sex with a 17 year old is perfectly okay. Different times and places have very widely varying ages of consent.)

        [1] I don’t know for sure he did it–people have been railroaded for that sort of thing before–but he was a law school professor with resources and a sophisticated understanding of the legal system, being tried in the college town where he was employed, so I assume he had as good a shot as anyone was ever going to get at justice. Guilty is the way to bet, by a pretty good margin.

        [2] I am less sure of this–there was no formal proceeding anywhere, and she was certainly not living in an environment in which being a lesbian would in any sense help her case. OTOH, my informant talked to several students who had complaints of this type, and she was in a position to hear these complaints. As far as I can tell, these accusations never went anywhere formal–probably some mix of the admin wanting to quiet down any scandal, and lack of evidence / people willing to go on record with the accusations.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        We all know you’re talking about Marvin Minsky.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        About 1% of people are sociopaths/psychopaths, so it’s not that surprising when somebody you know turns out to have done something bad.

        As for Marvin Minsky in particular, how do you know he’s guilty?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I want to know who took him off suicide watch.

      • John Schilling says:

        I would wager that Epstein and Epstein’s lawyers demanded that Epstein be taken off suicide watch, and that if they had not we would instead be dealing with conspiracies about how “they” were trying to torture Epstein into insanity to e.g. prevent him from defending himself by outing his co-conspirators in court.

        “Suicide Watch” does not mean pressing the button that routs the cell’s video feed to the nice people at the local mental-health department. It is by all accounts an intrusive, degrading process that if implemented by the sort of people who choose employment as prison guards and to the sort of people as admired as Epstein, probably does approach the level of torture. By prolonged sleep deprivation at very least. As such, I don’t think it can be justified except as an extreme last resort and even then only for short periods.

        Anyone who is for whatever reason not OK with prison inmates committing suicide to shorten their inevitable life sentences, needs to start by hiring a better class of prison guards. And they need to have started at least ten years ago, or else accept that suicides are going to happen, that this isn’t the result of conspiracy, and that it’s probably the best that can be hoped for in the short term.

  7. Atlas says:

    Does anyone else find it very gratifying when characters who tropes have conditioned you to think will be bad turn out to be good and win without having to do a Noble Redeeming Sacrifice (or vice versa)?

    Specifically, I was thinking of Exley in L.A. Confidential and Prospero in The Tempest. Exley is ambitious, and Ambition Is Evil, so he must be evil, right? Nope, turns out he’s a pretty good guy who also has an ambitious streak and wins in the end.

    And Prospero…man, Prospero. He’s an arrogant, colonizing, slave-owning, revenge-seeking wizard who thinks he’s worldlier and knows better than his teenage daughter. This guy would one hundred percent be the villain in, say, a YA novel these days. (I mean, a father who thinks he might have a better understanding of the world than his teenage daughter? Really?) But he’s the good guy in Shakespeare and wins in the end.

    • Clutzy says:

      I can’t think of many things I’ve seen/read that follow that pattern. Perhaps the end of Revelation Space? But we know that there is greater evil at that point. I think, perhaps, too much is contextual and for people/times?

      I almost always end up rooting for certain characters at a midway point of the book/movie/series, and those reasons are not usually connected to the traditional tropes (for instance your Prospero example carries no weight with me), rather they are connected to other things mostly about me. I have no qualms about being narcissistic in what art I like, I like what I like. I think “Law Abiding Citizen” is a good movie that could have been the Pulp Fiction of its decade if they changed the ending to the one I wanted. I think The Persistence of Memory is the best painting of the 1900s. IDK if other people like melted clocks nearly as much as me.

    • beleester says:

      I’ve seen a couple of anime characters where a main character has a motivation of “I want to make a lot of money,” and it’s portrayed very positively. Leorio from Hunter x Hunter wants to become a Hunter so he can make money, and when another character calls him on this, he points out that you can’t do all that idealistic stuff without money. He wants to become a doctor, and med school is expensive!

      There’s also Uraraka from My Hero Academia. In the Sports Festival arc, she gets really fired up and motivated to win, because… if she can make her name here, she’ll become a famous hero, and she will make so much money. Because she comes from a poor family, and she wants to support them.

      Not quite what you’re describing, since these characters are portrayed positively from the start, but it’s still kinda neat that they turned greed into a positive motivation.

    • Silverlock says:

      There were a few NCIS episodes that featured a guy made out from the start to be a typical amoral political scumbag making his career by destroying others’ . . . and Gibbs was his next target. This guy knew all sorts of things and was going to take him down, but by the time he exited he was a heroic figure. Turns out he really was trying to see justice done as he had claimed from the start — he just had a slight change of perspective.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      My reading of both these characters is very, very different to yours.

      Exley is not subverting an evil-character stereotype by turning out to be a good guy, he’s subverting a good-guy stereotype – the straight-arrow lawman – by turning out to be a ruthless, selfish, dishonest bastard who’s happy to bend the truth provided he gets a medal out of it.

      L.A. Confidential is a deliberately dark film where the point is that two characters who look superficially like different archetypes of stock heroes are really massively flawed; the “happy ending” isn’t quite as deliberately false-note as the one in the Beggar’s Opera, but it’s very much from the same stable.

      And calling Prospero a good guy who wins in the end is massively oversimplifying. Prospero spends the play manipulating all the other characters for what he considers to be their own good. He’s arguably right, but ultimately he comes to the realisation that even so it’s not for him to do so, and choosing to step down off his lofty vantage point and live as a mere mortal, an equal to people who up until then he’s treated (for noble reasons) as pawns on a chessboard.

      (I think the crux of the play is act V, scene i, where Ariel says that his heart would melt, “were I human”, and Prospero realises that in trying to be more than a human he’s at risk of becoming less than one; the subsequent “Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves” speech, in which Prospero forsakes his art, is my favourite piece of writing of any kind ever).

      Is he a “good guy”? He’s a more complicated character than that. You might as well ask whether a real person was one of the good guys – he has a variety of character traits, some admirable, some not.

      Does he have an ambitious streak? Sort of – he was so disinterested in temporal power, prising certain volumes above his dukedom, that his brother was able to displace him without him noticing, but he certainly defaults into controlling other people for their own good without seeing why that might not be the right thing to do?

      Does he win? Hard to say. Most of his manipulations have come off successfully by the end of the play. His daughter has been set up for a potentially-happy future, his throne reclaimed for his bloodline. He has exacted a partial vengeance on those who wronged him, although he stops sooner than he might have, and depending on which production you watch he may or may not have reconciled with them. Most importantly, he’s made a decision to abandon his lofty, lonely role as the outside manipulating events, and become a participant instead of a scriptwriter. But the cost of that is steep – he starts the play as a mighty magician capable of commanding the very elements, and ends it as an old, powerless man, whose every third thought will be his grave.

      (Fun Tempest anecdote: the first time I saw The Tempest, Prospero was played by Ian MacDiarmid, better known as the Emperor from Star Wars. It lent a whole new significance to his threat to Caliban “I shall wrack thee with cramps”!)

      FWIW, my favourite example of the trope you’re describing is probably Kipling’s short story “A second-rate woman” if you’re interested.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Professor Snape?

      • Nick says:

        Snape does do a noble sacrifice, though.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It wasn’t redeeming though. He didn’t have anything to seek redemption for.

          • J Mann says:

            He told Voldemort about the prophesy and indirectly caused the deaths of the Potters. IMHO, all of his actions subsequent to that are an attempt to atone for or get revenge for Lily’s death.

          • acymetric says:

            In addition to that, he was just an honest to goodness Death Eater prior to his defection. It would be reasonable to guess that he might have killed people, or at least done some horrible things that he needed to atone for.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I still think Snape is an example of the kind of thing Atlas was talking about. Snape did his conversion years before and off camera. From the time you were introduced to him in the books you thought he was bad but he was really good. He wasn’t bad the whole time and then converted with a heroic redemptive sacrifice at the end.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I still think Snape is an example of the kind of thing Atlas was talking about. Snape did his conversion years before and off camera. From the time you were introduced to him in the books you thought he was bad but he was really good. He wasn’t bad the whole time and then converted with a heroic redemptive sacrifice at the end

            I think JKR made it fairly clear that Snape was still a shit person, and that his mistreatment of Gryffindors was because of actual dislike, and that he actually hated Harry, and that his only redemptive quality was love for Lilly/guilt over her death. He wasn’t a good guy, he was a bad person whose better nature needed an amplifying boost to get him to preform good acts.

          • Atlas says:

            In addition to Nick’s observation that Snape does indeed have to sacrifice himself and J Mann’s that it was redemptive, I would add that, even though I really disliked Snape (somewhat ironically because in retrospect I identify with him in various ways), I always felt that it was obvious that he was supposed to be (in the end) a good guy. So for me personally it’s something of an inversion of what I was describing, though I quite understand how others might validly feel that it’s an example. Also, he gets unceremoniously pushed aside in the (to be generous) love triangle with James and Lilly, and it’s kind of humiliating, even if it’s the right thing to do, that he dies evidently celibate defending his nemesis’ child with his life-long love.

            Incidentally, I have a very vivid memory of, as a child, seeing marketing material in a bookstore for Deathly Hollows that with the theme: “Snape: good or evil?” I bitterly and reluctantly concluded from this before reading the book that this must mean that Snape is good, because the ending of the previous book seemed so conclusively evil that there would be no need to raise the question unless he was actually good. Sound reasoning, young Atlas, if I do say so myself.

  8. johan_larson says:

    I just finished watching the movie “Act of Valor” based on our earlier discussion of films that we liked but critics hated. It was good. I liked it. Sure, some of the acting could have been more nuanced, and I don’t think there was a moral gray area anywhere on screen, but the fight scenes were really outstanding and the cinematography was beautiful.

    It’s a good action movie, and well worth watching as such. It just isn’t anything more than an action movie.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Kull of Atlantis
    Before Conan the Barbarian, author Robert E. Howard created the barbarian King Kull. The central conceit was clever: if Atlantis ended as an advanced civilization, the Atlanteans must have previously been barbarians. Kull is an introspective barbarian who made himself king of the decaying empire Valusia (which Howard penpal HP Lovecraft name-dropped as Europe’s name in legends “of blasphemous antiquity” in two stories).
    The first Kull story published was “The Shadow Kingdom” (Weird Tales, August 1929), noteworthy for depicting a conspiracy of disguised lizardmen serpent men constant since the first human ruler.
    Kull was back next month in “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune”, in which affairs of state are suffering because he’s depressed by not knowing the meaning or ontology of life. A woman advises him to seek the soothsayer Tuzun Thune, who claims to have all the answers in a hall of magic mirrors. Kull seems to start disappearing into a mirror universe until his friend Brule slays the defenseless Tuzun Thune, leaving it ambiguous whether he was a real wizard or Kull was the one who altered reality, through meditation.

    That was it for Kull in Weird Tales, except for a supporting role in “Kings of the Night”, a Bran son of Morn yarn.
    But Howard had a chest of rejected Kull manuscripts (one would get rewritten into “The Phoenix on the Sword”, the first Conan story). These first saw publication in 1967, with L. Sprauge de Camp and Lin Carter as editors. I consider a particularly memorable one to be “The Cat and the Skull” AKA “Delcardes’ Cat”. A noblewoman has a talking cat that claims to be a seer. Kull tests the cat by acting on its vision (“your friend Brule is being killed by a monster in the Forbidden Lake”), only to almost get killed. He realizes that Delcardes’ mute servant was the cat’s voice via ventriloquism, and captures him like a Scooby-Doo villain, only to find…

    Kull tore the veil away with one motion and recoiled with a gasp. Delcardes screamed and her knees gave way; the councilors pressed backwards, faces white, and the guards released their grasp and shrank away, horror-struck.

    The face of the man was a bare white skull, in whose eye sockets flamed livid fire!

    “Thulsa Doom! Aye, I guessed as much!” exclaimed Ka-nu. “Aye, Thulsa Doom, fools,” the voice echoed cavernously. “The greatest of all wizards and your eternal foe, Kull of Atlantis. You have won this tilt, but beware, there shall be others.”

    He burst the bonds on his arms with a single contemptuous gesture and stalked toward the door, the throng giving back before him. “You are a fool of no discernment, Kull,” said he. “Else you had never mistaken me for that other fool, Kuthulos, even with the veil and his garments.”

    … that’s not good writing, but it’s not good in a very distinctive, cartoony way. This is the first appearance of Skeletor!

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Howard penpal HP Lovecraft name-dropped as Europe’s name in legends “of blasphemous antiquity” in two stories

      Were these in collabs? I don’t remember ever coming across the name.

      E: ah, no, The Haunter of the Dark – and apparently also referenced in AtMoM.

      • Nick says:

        Yeah, here’s the passage in AtMoM:

        Here sprawled a palaeogean megalopolis compared with which the fabled Atlantis and Lemuria, Commoriom and Uzuldaroum, and Olathoë in the land of Lomar are recent things of today—not even of yesterday; a megalopolis ranking with such whispered pre-human blasphemies as Valusia, R’lyeh, Ib in the land of Mnar, and the Nameless City of Arabia Deserta.

  10. Machine Interface says:

    As I write this, French news media have slowly but surely become obssed with environmentalist. On French public radio, there isn’t a single day without multiple news or subjects about global warming, plastic pollution in the ocean, increasing drough, the effects of pesticides, and so on. As far as I can tell this reflects real public concerns, environmental issues are on everyone’s mind. In the last European elections, the French green party scored 13.48%, beating the traditional mainstream right and mainstream left parties.

    So I’m making a series a prediction for the next French presidential elections (april 2022):
    80% confidence: the green candidate will score no lower than 4th place in the first round.
    65% conficence: the green candidate will score no lower than 3rd place in the first round.
    40% confidence: the green candidate will make it to the second round.

    Provided the green party makes it to the second round:
    80%: the green candidate will win the second round if they run against the populist candidate.
    30%: the green candidate will win the second round if they run against the incumbent president.

    The big caveat is that in previous elections, the greens have made their best scores in the European elections and this generally failed to translate into political momentum for national elections. But with the enormous and seemingly relatively recent shift of public discourse toward omnipresent environmentalist, I assume this could change.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Are there plausible Green presidential candidates, that is, people who have enough name recognition and seem qualified enough to the French voting public? If so, who are they?

    • MorningGaul says:

      I dont share your optimism. It’s my impression that the greens did better than most left party because they’re just competing for the same demographic, one of the last remnants of the crab barrel of the clusterfuck of the 2002 elections.

      And while they’ll maybe manage to cannibalize some more of the left, they’ll be stuck between supporting actual environmentalist policy, such as carbon taxes, which will put them at odd with the populist left of Melanchon (which 1.is the only left left, and 2. would have a field day at stomping over dem rich environmentalist who want to tax dem poor workers), or keep arguing for progressive environmentalist, which wont work with the center liberals, which they’d need to get to the 2nd round.

      Also, there’s the bit where presidential elections run on personalities more than european elections, and the green leadership is…who?

    • Aapje says:

      @Machine Interface

      You should keep in mind that the media mostly consists of a non-representative subset of society, so increased support by them doesn’t necessarily reflect a large increase in overall support.

      In general, I see a shift among the left to focus on environmental concerns more, but this shift being partly due to evaporative cooling. So Green parties are partly cannibalizing the left, contributing to a situation where you have many small parties.

      The Green party may become the largest of the small parties in one or more countries, but that is still going to be a mandate by a relatively small percentage of the population.

  11. johan_larson says:

    If I want to read a modern adaptation of the story of King Arthur, is there a better choice than T.H. White’s The Once and Future King?

    • AG says:

      TOaFK doesn’t cover most of the classic tales, though. It arguably has the best look at the interiority of the characters, but for learning about the actual events, Roger Lancelyn Green is still pretty good.

      I also quite like Gerald Morris’s Arthurian books, with a higher emphasis on fae world-building and a bit of humor. (That series begins with “The Squire’s Tale.”)

      And then there’s the Arthur King of Time and Space webcomic, but I believe it’s been on hiatus for a while? And is also more contingent on knowing the legends already.

      • Atlas says:

        For whatever it’s worth, I found Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table absolutely enthralling in middle school and would highly recommend it.

        Also you might find Bulfinch’s mythology compendium a useful reference.

    • Plumber says:

      Unfortunately he never completed it before his death, but there’s still a lot of John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights, and it’s good.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Iris Murdoch
      Roland Barthes

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I would say that “The Sword in the Stone”, by one T.H. White, is probably superior to “The Once and Future King”.

      TSitS is an earlier work, and the first quarter of TOaFK is an adaptation of it, but I prefer the original.

      If you want, you could read TSiTS and then go straight on into the next 3/4 of the tetralogy.

      But apart from that quibble I think White does a better job than anyone else I’ve read of capturing the rather chaotic feel that multiple semi-contradictory sources have give Arthurian in the popular consciousness.

    • SamChevre says:

      I don’t know if I’d say “better”, but I very much like Jack Whyte’s Camulod series, starting with The Skystone.

      Very feminist and the author is problematic, but The Mists of Avalon is probably the most influential modern re-telling.

    • aho bata says:

      Tolkien has a poetic adaptation which takes elements from a few of the early sources while adding some narrative elements of his own (partly to make the whole thing hold together). Unfortunately it’s unfinished, but the ~30 pages he did complete are very polished. (The rest of the book is Christopher Tolkien explaining the history of the text and its relation to other stories in the Arthurian tradition.)

    • Yair says:

      I know it’s very controversial because of Marion Zimmer Bradley but Mists of Avalon remains a really good re-telling.

  12. Plumber says:

    I just realized that the Forums I’ve commented to are:

    1) a plumbing tool Forum where most fequent commenters are an amateurs or self-employed, wheras I’m a government employee plumber.

    2) A Dungeons & Dragons Forum where most frequent commenters are fan’s of 3.5 which is my least favorite edition (admittedly I have almost no knowledge of 4e, but at least it wasn’t 3.5!).

    3) Here where most frequent commenters are in “Tech” and are conservative and/or libertarian, wheras (while I’ll cop to some trad-con and loyalist leanings) are more of a tax-and-spend Democrat.

    Uh-oh…

    Thankfully folks are really nice.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      A BDSM forum where most of the posters are sadists but I’m…

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      3) Here where most frequent commenters are in “Tech” and are conservative and/or libertarian, wheras (while I’ll cop to some trad-con and loyalist leanings) are more of a tax-and-spend Democrat.

      I feel like tax-and-spend is becoming an outdated label. The political fortunes of libertarianism are shriveling and people are more concerned with the efficiency of spending and the CW factors of beneficiaries. IMO.

      • Plumber says:

        @Le Maistre Chat >

        “…the CW factors of beneficiaries….”

        And that just sounds like a battle for spoils, which I guess ultimately it is and always was, but somehow it being explicit is saddening.

      • Nick says:

        The tax-cutting side of the Republican Party is still powerful—consider that the only major legislative victory of this presidency was a tax cut—but there’s definitely a lot of churn among conservative intellectuals about this. The spend-cutting side has been completely routed, though. Do the math on that one….

        • Plumber says:

          @Nick,
          Yeah, Im a bit behind the times in that I still suspecting that some of “Modern Monetary Theory” is hooey and that just spending without also taxing may induce inflation.

          • brad says:

            > may induce inflation

            It may, but also may not. At the most fundamental level all MMT is saying is that everyone has spectacularly failed at predicting what inflation will do, so let’s treat it as an observed variable instead of pretending we have a good model when we so clearly don’t.

          • broblawsky says:

            I used to believe that, but I just can’t square it with the behavior of inflation in the post-crisis, and especially post-tax cut period.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It may, but also may not. At the most fundamental level all MMT is saying is that everyone has spectacularly failed at predicting what inflation will do, so let’s treat it as an observed variable instead of pretending we have a good model when we so clearly don’t.

            When the Fed attempts to increase inflation they do so with the expectation that they can tame if if things start getting out of hand. Treating inflation as an observed variable would mean that MMTers would tacitly be admitting that they have no plant to combat inflation if it occurred under their preferred structure, in effect saying their plan is to hope everything works out because they don’t know what they are doing.

            This might be the most honest assessment of MMT I have yet seen.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I used to believe that, but I just can’t square it with the behavior of inflation in the post-crisis, and especially post-tax cut period.

            The post crisis world has seen well below average growth for a rebound period, which implies a lot of things about MMT that its proponents don’t generally address.

          • brad says:

            Treating inflation as an observed variable would mean that MMTers would tacitly be admitting that they have no plant to combat inflation if it occurred under their preferred structure, in effect saying their plan is to hope everything works out because they don’t know what they are doing.

            If no one knows what they are doing is better to be honest about that or pretend otherwise?

    • souleater says:

      All my friends like 5e
      I’m DMing Pathfinder

    • Gray Ice says:

      Plumber:
      While my background could be considered to be technical, one of the things that made me stop lurking and start commenting was the apparent respect for practical skill and knowledge that I have seen. I’m glad that you comment here, and I like see comments from people all over the world (and even from people I strongly disagree with). I hope you keep commenting (even if I might argue with you in the future), and encourage other people who are watching and thinking they don’t fit in to give it a an honest, charitable, in good faith attempt at commenting.

    • edmundgennings says:

      Can I enquire as to what sort of loyalist leanings you have? Ie Ulster loyalism some other form of loyalism or simply a general support for loyalist causes? I am a loyalist of the latter category.

      • Plumber says:

        @edmundgennings >

        “…Can I enquire as to what sort of loyalist leanings you have?…”

        Oh jeez!

        Well in this case my “loyalist leanings” is: “My tendency to loyally assume that auto-correct won’t mangle what I meant to convey”, as I was trying to say I had “localist leanings” as in Localism:

        “….localism draws on a wide range of movements and concerns and it proposes that by re-localizing democratic and economic relationships to the local level, social, economic and environmental problems will be more definable and solutions more easily created….”

        • Deiseach says:

          Plumber, localism sounds somewhat like the Catholic principle of subsidiarity (wordy Wikipedia article here, video by Dominicans – so not too prog as would be risked with the Jesuits – here).

          • Plumber says:

            @Deiseach,
            Thanks for that.
            Sounds like a wise goal.

            BTW, starting (I think with reading the news of Dayton and El Paso) I’ve been feeling pretty despondent this last week (and my demons have given me a cavalcade of different thoughts to be sad about, as logic-ing myself out of sadness doesn’t work well for me) and like a fool I thought “If the world is Hellbound anyway why not check out Twitter a second time?”, so I did, which as as more wise person than I’ve been would realize, didn’t improve my mood, but I did find this gem of a thread that’s somewhat related to your island, enjoy: "...Protty girls can not be Dancing Queens..."

      • Deiseach says:

        I am a loyalist of the latter category.

        Okay, so we Jacobites are present, are there any Jacobins? 😉

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’s good to have a viewpoint from the non-tech side. Outsiders tend to have distorted views of how the inside works…and blue-collar fields are pretty much “outside” for almost all of us. Even those of us with family members in blue collar fields!

      • James says:

        Yeah, I like having you around, Plumber… even if it means I have to scroll even longer to get past the D&D threads. It’s nice having an old-school, blue-collar leftie around—it probably helps the rest of us not get too carried away with our grey tribe technolibertarianism.

        • Plumber says:

          @James,
          Thanks!

          But I’m only an “old-school, blue-collar leftie” relative to most frequent SSC commenters, the former vice-president of my old union local fits that bill better, quite a character who I had many conversations with – I don’t agree with him about everything, but I learned a lot from him (especially labor history, ’cause he was there), and in some ways @DavidFriedman reminds me of him despite they’re being on different “sides” of issues.

    • Yair says:

      “Here where most frequent commenters are in “Tech” and are conservative and/or libertarian, wheras (while I’ll cop to some trad-con and loyalist leanings) are more of a tax-and-spend Democrat.”

      According to all the yearly surveys, the majority of readers of this blog say they are centre-left.

      • Plumber says:

        @Yair,
        I believe Dan L. crunched the survey’s numbers and found that while the majority of SSC readers are “center-left” the majority of frequent commenters lean conservative or libertarian.

        • Nornagest says:

          Given Dan L is one of the people most given to complaining about how right-wing the comments are, I have some reason to doubt his objectivity.

          • acymetric says:

            I think the analysis of the survey data was fairly reasonable. Would you like to do your own analysis of the survey results to rebut or explain why the results Dan L got were wrong (if it was in fact Dan L, I remember reading where someone had done the analysis but couldn’t tell you for sure who it was…trusting @Plumber on that one).

          • Randy M says:

            rlms has posted his results before. Dan L may have been referring to that, to Scotts surveys, or done his own.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Nornagest:
            Unless you can critique my numbers, I think we have a genuine ad-hom on our hands here.

            @ acymetric:
            Here’s the thread I posted with the most links. All results are my analysis of 2019 survey data.

            I have a few pet theories regarding the commentariat, but I haven’t really put them in writing precisely because I’m underconfident that they’re backed by data. (So far.)

            @ Randy:
            I’ve only glanced at the 2018 data in passing and don’t love some of rlms’ methodology, but I see general agreement between those results and mine.

    • Perhaps you prefer target rich environments?

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman,
        Glad to see that your back, I hope you had wonderful time travel adventures!

        “…Perhaps you prefer target rich environments?…”

        That sounds much better than head trauma for a reason, thanks!

  13. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Thesis: it’s called Dungeons & Dragons because digging underground compounds is the rational military response to the existence of durable flying units that breath fire or toxins. This is obfuscated by the incorrect use of medieval castles in published settings, but it’s correct.

    • Nornagest says:

      There was a Second Edition supplement that argued this, as I recall. Don’t remember which.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It would be interesting to see a setting where humans had developed castles and other fortifications as a way to survive dragon attacks instead of or in addition to to resisting seiges. Maybe the dominant form would be something like a Hochbunker made with Roman concrete or cave castle?

      That aside, it’s a pretty good title because it’s alliterative and concisely lays out the two core engagements of the game: dungeon-crawling (exploration) and dragon-slaying (combat). I would prefer another few “D’s” to represent hexcrawls, domain-level play, or becoming an Immortal but since those have all been dead since Rules Cyclopedia it wouldn’t be accurate.

    • dick says:

      I like this. I don’t usually use below-ground dungeons, because I can’t think of a good reason why someone would’ve built them, but this totally makes sense.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I like this. I don’t usually use below-ground dungeons, because I can’t think of a good reason why someone would’ve built them, but this totally makes sense.

        Thanks! I ran a campaign that lasted a year and a half with very few dungeons, for lack of a good reason “why?” My players will tell you that my ideas for such were limited to “this mine has fallen into disuse because a necromancer raised all the dead workers as skeletons” and “you’re in the Underworld, and this part is confined passages.”

        • dick says:

          I’m not expecting a lengthy backstory, but ostentatiously silly D&D locations are kind of a pet peeve. F’rexample: in the campaign I play in, the DM had us discover a cemetery, and in the middle was a caretaker’s shack, and under a rug in the shack was a trapdoor leading to a ladder leading down to an ancient Dwarven king’s burial chamber, and, after you insert the Amulet of Etcetera in the doohickey, it revealed a secret passage to a cave constructed entirely of volcanic glass, which contained the undead champion of a long-lost mad god, and behind that, a bedroom and kitchen.

          I know I should cut the guy slack, but honestly, a kitchen? Was the champion of the mad god really carrying vegetables down the ladder, through the secret door, etc, cooking his meals, and then carting the compost back out? And, why is there a Dwarven king burial chamber and also a mad god’s undead champion housed in the same dungeon? Was it a condo situation? And did that cemetery’s caretaker seriously never once move his rug? His only rug?

          • bullseye says:

            All he wanted to do was cook you a meal, and here you are talking shit about his god.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Honestly I kind of love that dungeon concept because the implication I took away was that it’s the groundskeeper’s kitchen.

            I’m just picturing groundskeeper Willie shooing away the undead champion of a mad god away with a broom while he comes back upstairs with his morning plate of eggs and bacon.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Heh. I love that mental image but it’s a stupid level of bathos if the DM doesn’t have buy-in for that tone.

          • Gray Ice says:

            I like the imagine that Nabil ad Dajjal has of groundskeeper Willie, but I also think this is funny going in the other direction where the rooms are reversed.

            The kitchen is under the shack. It may have been there all along, but it’s hidden because the caretaker prepares meals for the mad god (and they’re not based on vegetables, if you know what I mean). The mad got has direct access for meals, but also picked this site for due to the nearby Dwarven burial. He keeps the Dwarven king as a pet and enjoys his frustration (mad god, after all).

            For the adventuring party, this means that when they move the rug and find the basement kitchen, it seems….mundane. Then, if they survive the confrontation with the mad god, the obvious assumption is that the other rooms are for storage or loot. If they don’t heal before searching, their confrontation with the ghost of the Dwarven king will catch them off guard, and make them more wary about looting after a “Boss Fight”.

          • Deiseach says:

            it revealed a secret passage to a cave constructed entirely of volcanic glass, which contained the undead champion of a long-lost mad god, and behind that, a bedroom and kitchen

            Your god is long-lost! You have no idea when or even if he’s coming back! You’re undead, so you have to wait it out! Even an undead champion of a mad god needs to rest and consume some form of sustenance. And a hobby, to while away the centuries. Maybe he took up gourmet cooking?

            Maybe this is all part of the recompense for the cemetery groundskeeper? “Bed and board provided – hot meals daily; you deliver the groceries and take out the rubbish, he cooks, and no necromantic hanky-panky takes place in your cemetery to alarm the villagers with the shambling possessed corpses of their departed loved ones roaming the night to destroy and haunt and make your job tougher”. Everyone’s a winner!

            why is there a Dwarven king burial chamber and also a mad god’s undead champion housed in the same dungeon?

            Well, if the undead champion was already there, and the Dwarves knew about it, then he acts as the eternal guardian of the Dwarven king’s tomb and funerary treasures for free – Dwarves are thrifty folk, why buy a dog and bark yourself?

      • helloo says:

        What about look at the real-world examples of underground tunnels/systems?

        Anything from building over (European sewer systems), hiding from the “public” (drug/rebel tunnels), buildings that used to be part of the side of a mountain/cliff but later covered/sunk, elaborate spy/penetration setups (bank heists, digging below a trench to blow it up), needing a quick path through something that’s difficult to either pave over or buy up (Boring Co.).

        None of this is exactly trophe fantasy stuff except maybe the sunken cliff-side dwellings.
        And all of this is not assuming some weird fantastical traits/characteristics like fear of sunlight and whatever dwarfs have.

        Note that most of this is NOT for “having elaborate rooms filled with treasures and traps”, which I only know hold for some tombs. But generally, it’s easy enough to simply have another group take over/reuse the space afterwards.

        • Nornagest says:

          The most common real-life underground works are mines, but those tend to be boring in gameplay. Sewers, too, are pretty common IRL but have limited gameplay potential (you can only make a narrow slice of concepts work with them, and they’ve been thoroughly mined out).

          Utility tunnels, subways, and tunnels built as part of highway or rail systems are all common IRL but don’t really work with pseudo-medieval fantasy.

          That leaves catacombs, which might be the closest thing IRL to classic dungeons, and military installations, which are more or less what we’ve been talking about upthread. Caves, of course, are classic trope material despite being natural. There’s also a grab-bag of more obscure concepts, like qanats.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The most common real-life underground works are mines, but those tend to be boring in gameplay.

            Been there!

            Utility tunnels, subways, and tunnels built as part of highway or rail systems are all common IRL but don’t really work with pseudo-medieval fantasy.

            Funny that industrial-era underground adventures didn’t become more popular.

            That leaves catacombs, which might be the closest thing IRL to classic dungeons, and military installations, which are more or less what we’ve been talking about upthread.

            And depending on the culture, you can get military installation + residence + catacomb of tombs. A castle is 1+2 by definition, and some cultures buried rulers and such in their own basement.

            Caves, of course, are classic trope material despite being natural. There’s also a grab-bag of more obscure concepts, like qanats.

            Trying to figure out how qanats would function… puzzles of swim vs. shut off the water supply like a Zelda water temple?

          • Nick says:

            Trying to figure out how qanats would function… puzzles of swim vs. shut off the water supply like a Zelda water temple?

            I imagined something like that scene in Cryptonomicon.

          • Gray Ice says:

            Nornagest: Another set of real life underground works are steam tunnels. A number of Government buildings and Universities have underground connections, with access varying between: (any employee going from building to building) and (specific maintenance personal only). How these structures would be used in a D&D or Shadowrun campaign is up to the GM, but they can certainly serve an interesting purpose.

        • bullseye says:

          There’s a big network of old mines and other tunnels under Paris. I think it’s probably more interesting than regular mines and could make sense in a fantasy setting.

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

          It was my understanding that the Underdark is largely a natural cave system, parts of which somehow have forests of fungus that produce enough food to support underground cities nearby.

      • Lillian says:

        The setting of Earthdawn is pretty much entirely predicated around trying to have a lot of D&D tropes actually make sense. The backstory is that there was a magical apocalypse that caused beings called Horrors, which feed on pain and suffering, to enter the world and start rampaging about. In order to survive them, people had to hide in sorcerously warded underground bunkers and cities called Kaers. Though some wealthier and more magically adept peoples enclosed their above ground cities in domes of elemental air or fire. Not all of these made it out the other end, and some that made it still suffered partial infiltration or penetration by Horrors and had to be abandoned quickly as soon as it was safe to do so. Thus the world is littered with ruined settlements both above and below ground which are filled with monsters of every kind, but also contain the lore and treasure of lost ancient civilizations.

        There’s also some effort put into justifying small adventuring parties. In Earthdawn some portion of the population has some amount of magical affinity, this affinity allows them to become Adepts following a particularly Discipline which are basically the character classes. Since Adepts are rare, it’s hard to deploy them in large groups, but since they are powerful, they can be useful in small ones. Additionally a group of Adepts swear a blood oath to each other so that their group become a metaphysical Thing that they’re all bound to, but which in turn they can draw power from. So a party of oath-bound Adepts can be significantly more powerful than sum of the individual members.

        A nice thing about all player characters being Adepts this is that every character class is explicitly magical. This means you can have cool stuff like Warriors having the ability to glide along the battlefield like an air hockey puck, and Swordmasters being able to do the air-gliding Wuxia thing, and Thieves having abilities that let them hide in plain sight and pull off impossible disguises. Hell with magical linguistics you can even pick up an entire language just by talking to someone who speaks it for a few minutes. Spellcasters still have spells though, which give them a lot of utility and flexibility (hey everyone, hop on this cloud and let’s go flying!) as well as the classic blasty spells like fireballs and lightning bolts.

        There’s also a high degree of mechanical-setting integration. Character levels actually exist in-universe, they’re called Circles and they represent mastery in each particular Adept Discipline. So you can totally go around telling people that you’re a 5th Circle Elementalist or an 8th Circle Sky Raider and that totally means something. What’s more going up a circle doesn’t just happen, you need to find someone to actually train you. This makes character progression feel more grounded and also gives the game some enforced downtime, which i feel is good for game pacing. Even XP is somewhat setting linked in that it’s called Legend Points and tied to your personal legend. You still get the bulk of your LP for actually doing heroic things regardless of whether anyone learns about them or not, but you do get bonus LP for spreading your legend, telling tales of your derring-do, and showing off trophies from your adventures.

        Incidentally, yes Sky Raider is pretty much what it sounds like. There in fact are flying ships in this setting, and Sky Raiders are areal commandos who can be pirates or marines depending on your inclination. There is also an Air Sailor discipline for those who want to be airship captains. Naturally, since there are flying ships and flying pirates, there are also flying troll vikings with crystal weapons. Yes that’s them jumping out of the ship without parachutes in the picture, because Sky Raiders get an ability called Wind Catcher that lets them glide and it’s as awesome as it sounds.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I get what they’re going for, but that reification of character class and level actually feels really unappealing.

          Bending the fiction to reflect the mechanics seems totally backwards to me. Instead of starting with a shared fictional world and modeling it with RPG mechanics, you’re starting with RPG mechanics and designing the fictional world around them. Do not want.

          • Lillian says:

            Personally i hate character levels because unlike attributes, skills, or powers, they don’t seem to correspond to anything in universe. They’re just too abstract and game-like, as there is simply nothing in a person that would make me think something like, “She is surely Level 10”. Consequently game systems that have levels are just profoundly unappealing to me and it takes a lot to get me to buy into them, it’s one of the reasons why i’ve never played D&D and possibly never will.

            Earthdawn solves this problem by making levels an actual in-universe thing. A better solution would be to not have levels at all, but if you’re going to have them i certainly appreciate being able to relate them to the characters in a concrete way. Also they put so much effort into the setting’s metaphysics it actually feels like an organic part of the universe rather than something awkwardly retrofitted into it.

    • bullseye says:

      But why are they called dungeons? Most of them aren’t for locking people up.

    • Deiseach says:

      The 2002 movie Reign of Fire which unfortunately wasn’t as good as it could have been (due to honking great plot holes and the jarring contrast between the Americans coming in and the setting in Britain as established).

      Dragons are real, they’ve come back and destroyed civilisation as we know it (here some of those honking great plot holes come in – even though we start off with only one dragon, then a couple more, even nuclear bombs can’t take them out?) and the scattered survivors are living in underground fortified keeps scavenged together from old castles, venturing out only rarely to grow and harvest food.

      So far, so good, but then the Americans turn up with functioning tech and declare that they’ve solved their dragon problem and are going to do the same for the Old World, which is all fine and dandy except if nuclear weapons can’t knock out the dragons, how will a helicopter? (Another one of those honking great plot holes, as well as the one about “the Brits are scrabbling around living in holes under ruined castles but the Yanks have enough fuel to fly a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy all the way over the Atlantic plus avoided dragon strikes on the way over”?) Oh well, it all ends relatively happily with the humans winning even though IT MAKES NO CONCEIVABLE SENSE EVEN BY THE RULES ESTABLISHED IN THE MOVIE.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Strong against dragons, weak against Lannisters. Gotta stay on top of the meta.

    • broblawsky says:

      I think the question here is, how common are dragon attacks? In normal D&D, even adult dragons seem to be pretty rare, let alone wyrms. Giants might be a more reasonable justification for dungeons – they’re essentially living siege weapons, but they can’t do anything to a dungeon.

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      Atleast one of the in canon interpretations I’ve seen is that most of the evil races have to hide their presence from celestial and interplanar forces sworn to hunt them down. At that can swoop in out of the astral or celestial planes (read d&ds equivalent of space).

      The Mindflayers are the classic example of this: a lovecraftian super race of hyper intelligent squid-men who keep humanoids a chattle to eat and preform nightmarish experiments on (Ridley Scott’s alien would be something they’d come up with). But who have a collapsing population and almost no major cities left since the goth (a blended race of humanoid rebelled slaves) hunt them down across dimensions exterminating them with extreme predjudice.

  14. Deiseach says:

    Remember Scott had a post about how it was next to impossible to get any permission to do even harmless research because of hospital boards insisting both that the forms were filled out in pen and also that you couldn’t give patients pens instead of pencils?

    Well, those kind of nit-picking red-tape bureaucrats are because of stunts like this.

    What is it about consultant gynaecologists that makes them act as if the Lord God Almighty descended to Mount Sinai wasn’t even fit to hold their instrument tray? And before anybody goes “Chinese robbers”, maybe I was just unlucky but all of ’em I ever met were Chinese robbers.

    Consent? Sure, why would I need that? Possibility of disease transmission between patients? Ha ha, Lister is only a fanatic and his theory is unproven! And the guy seems to be convinced he did nothing wrong at all and this is just an administrative snafu that will be sorted out by his lawyers writing a stern letter to the hospital, then he can get back to work using women as guinea pigs:

    The procedure performed on the five women involved flushing their vaginas with water and testing the resultant changes in pressure. Prof O’Sullivan is trying to develop a technique that could reduce or replace the need for a speculum, the traditional tool used by gynaecologists to open the vagina for examination.

    The patients, who were in hospital for a hysteroscopy (examination of the uterus* with a miniature camera), were unaware of the research work being carried out by Prof O’Sullivan. This involved a rectal probe, sourced from outside the hospital, being inserted into the vagina. This was connected to a monitoring kit which was used to measure vaginal pressures.

    Prof O’Sullivan, in correspondence with the hospital group, has described the research as a “pressure study” using sterile water and has said the transducers on the equipment were changed between patients on the insistence of nursing staff.

    “I felt I didn’t need consent. I didn’t because we weren’t actually doing the research. We were just seeing if a particular procedure that we were planning on doing as part of the research could be done,” he told The Irish Times in June.

    But Deiseach, aren’t you making a mountain out of a molehill? No, I don’t think so. The nearest thing I can imagine for gentlemen is a prostate exam: gynae exams are very invasive, humilating (you’re lying there stripped to the waist, legs in the air, with strange people poking around your most intimate areas), can be painful, and the consultants aren’t inclined to tell you what they’re doing or listen to you even at the best of times. Then imagine finding out that some guy has decided to do some experimenting without telling you or asking consent, and if it wasn’t for the nurses, he’d be using the same piece of equipment on every patient because sure why would you need to clean or change the parts after using them in areas where there was the possibilty of bacterial infection?

    It would have been very easy to ask a patient “We’re doing some research, do you mind if we use this test procedure?” Most women would probably have said yes, in order to help other women. But the attitude of “I don’t need consent because I know best because I am The Doctor” is breath-taking arrogance, not to mention treating your patients like slabs of beef.

    • Garrett says:

      Don’t they also have cadaver labs to at least do a first-pass functional test? The whole “donate your body to science” thing?

      And “said the transducers on the equipment were changed between patients on the insistence of nursing staff” is rage-inducing. You need disposable transducers, autoclaving between patients, or disposable probe covers. This is basic sanitation/hygiene.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        AFAIK Prion diseases generally only transfer through things such as neural and lymph tissue, but there are various microorganisms that can survive an autoclaving in their spore state. Autoclaving alone doesn’t seem sufficient for such invasive procedures.

        • nkurz says:

          > AFAIK Prion diseases generally only transfer through things such as neural and lymph tissue

          I think this is currently in dispute. One of the prion diseases in North America is “chronic wasting disease” (CWD) which affects deer and elk. There was a lot of reporting about a study that demonstrated that macaque monkeys were able to contract the disease after eating only muscle meat from CWD-infected animals: https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/columnists/paul-smith/2017/06/28/macaque-study-heightens-concerns-human-susceptibility-cwd/430046001/

          A number of US states and Canadian provinces went proceeded to issue warnings about the consumption of meat from diseased animals, but there haven’t been any confirmed cases of transmission to humans, and I don’t think the study (which was done by very reputable researchers) has been replicated, or even published yet.

    • Two McMillion says:

      I don’t understand why you find this so upsetting. Can you explain why you do?

      • Oscar Sebastian says:

        But Deiseach, aren’t you making a mountain out of a molehill? No, I don’t think so. The nearest thing I can imagine for gentlemen is a prostate exam: gynae exams are very invasive, humilating (you’re lying there stripped to the waist, legs in the air, with strange people poking around your most intimate areas), can be painful, and the consultants aren’t inclined to tell you what they’re doing or listen to you even at the best of times. Then imagine finding out that some guy has decided to do some experimenting without telling you or asking consent, and if it wasn’t for the nurses, he’d be using the same piece of equipment on every patient because sure why would you need to clean or change the parts after using them in areas where there was the possibilty of bacterial infection?

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Did you even read the paragraph starting with “But Deiseach, aren’t you making a mountain out of a molehill?” ?

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t understand why you find this so upsetting. Can you explain why you do?

        This is basic sanitation/hygiene.

        Well, that one for a start. Extra procedures being carried out without your knowledge and consent. Attitude that “I am God Almighty and you are insects before me” on the part of the doctor. Accompanying “I did nothing wrong and I’m going to make the hospital take me back and let me continue doing whatever I damn well like” on his part as well. Little things like that.

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      Whenever I read stories like this I’m shocked A) that no one tries to pursue charges of sexual assault (doing invasive things to someone’s genitalia without their consent is kinda the definition) , and B) that more of these doctors who fuck over and fuck up their patients don’t get bushwhacked.

      Like I’ve heard stories of surgeons leaving surgical sponges in the patient and severing spinal cords out of rank incompetence (courts decades later determined criminal negligence and manslaughter). And yet no one resorted to law .308?

      It’s not like they’re prosecutors or cops with highly protected information, all of their patients have visited the offices where they spend 40hrs a week and their home residences are usually listed in the phone book.

      Maybe I grew up in a rougher country side than I thought but there were always stories about crooked cops who planted drugs or contractors who destroyed properties waking up to the sound of their car exploding or a round smashing through their kitchen window, the stories always ended with them moving away and never being heard from again.

      To what extent do our systems of accountability not work when there isn’t a deafault to vigilantism if it isn’t seen to work?

  15. baconbits9 says:

    Random thoughts about relationships

    Kids* appear to have very low ability to hold grudges, you can upset them to tears and have them back in a good mood in minutes without actually apologizing/bribing/consoling them. They rarely remain angry about an event even for multiple days, despite often being angry enough to try to hurt people verbally (I hate you, I’m never talking to you again). This appears true both for kid/adult relationships and kid/kid relationships taking the power dynamic out of the equation. Watching my kids this doesn’t appear to be because they have poor memories, they often remember things, especially things that are important to them, for long stretches of time and have done so from a fairly young age (under 3).

    As an adult I often find myself stewing over some slight, and then mentally conjuring other times that person slighted me. It appears that my wife does this, in her own way, as well.

    Two main possibilities occur to me

    1. Grudge holding is a developmental milestone
    2. Venting your emotions when they happen really does help a huge amount, and could dramatically improve people’s lives.

    *in general, exceptions likely exist

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      At what age would you say kids start to hold grudges?

    • Randy M says:

      Venting your emotions when they happen really does help a huge amount, and could dramatically improve people’s lives.

      Trouble is, even if venting is emotionally healthy (which may not hold for adults since as you note we do develop mentally beyond childhood), the way you vent could very well have terrible consequences that makes everyone’s lives worse. A bit of road rage can blow up a minor accidental slight into a brawl as harsh words are exchanged (I’ve witnessed this begin to occur). According to your model, perhaps the man originally enraged later will not hold the anger from the incident because of this… but what about the injuries from the fight? The inconvenience to everyone else?

      I don’t think that’s a strawman, since even expressions of emotion that fall short of venting could escalate situations.

      One anecdote in support, though. When I was younger, my dad got into a scuffle with a neighbor, I don’t even recall why now, parking perhaps. Later, though, the grudge was held against a different neighbor who avoided the conflict entirely since my dad felt the former friend had not sufficiently supported him.

      I think all in all, though, it’s much more complicated, especially given the social environment and dangers of the modern world, than saying we should vent our emotions, even if the opposite strategy leads to some personal anguish at times.

      • baconbits9 says:

        In general it is definitely complicated, but in a lot of scuffles like this you can find multiple offenses. If the older stuff had been displayed at the time perhaps the new offense wouldn’t have set off the powder keg.

        Honestly I am having a lot of thoughts about this stuff because my relationship with my wife was neglected as we had kids and we are working on building it back up, so we have a backlog of issues to go through. Literally rectifying some of them directly is impossible, but it still seems to improve the situation if one of us can spit it out, and the other can more or less take it without escalating. With multiple kids and work we are doing it piecemeal and also occasionally adding new complaints, so its rattling around in my head.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Literally rectifying some of them directly is impossible, but it still seems to improve the situation if one of us can spit it out, and the other can more or less take it without escalating.

          Communication and genuine acceptance are good for relationships, and also the hardest part of relationships. Good for you guys.

          Remember that communication, even when it’s confrontational, is anathema to stewing.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I vividly remember being beaten about the head with a school bus seatbelt by another student in third grade. I cannot remember ever not being angry about it.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Well that is quite a bit further down the path of behavior (also sorry to hear that).

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Upon some further reflection, I think that the issue isn’t that kids don’t hold grudges, but that kids are chronically emotionally disregulated. Anything that’s likely to cause a major falling-out with an adult is still likely to do so for a kid, with the caveat that kids are much more vulnerable to gaslighting and Stockholm syndrome.

          Stewing (especially over minor slights) isn’t healthy for anyone. We expect adults to be mindful enough to avoid doing it without screaming at their friends, but I think that more-neurotic adults may find it beneficial to find a way to externalize those feelings somehow.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      As a kid, I remember frequent fights over video games* that resulted in one kid screaming “I hate you and we’re not friends anymore!” and storming out of the house, and then everybody gets together the next day to play more video games like nothing ever happened. One time, though, I was friends with a kid I no longer liked and didn’t want to hang out with anymore. One day we got mad over…I want to say the original FIFA Soccer on SegaCD, I kicked him out of my house and then “held the grudge” forever. I wasn’t still mad about the game, I just needed an excuse to “break up.” The next day he called and I said “No, I said we’re not friends anymore!” I wonder if to this day he honestly thinks he lost a friend over FIFA…

      * the fastest way to lose three friends is Gauntlet on NES.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        the fastest way to lose three friends is Gauntlet on NES.

        “Elf shot the food — AGAIN, Orlando? We’re not friends anymore!”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The worst was the teleporters. If one person hit a teleporter that put him on the other side of the screen in a way that blocked the screen from scrolling so the other players could get to the teleporter, that was it, game over. You’re stuck. Lot of shouting matches over that. Lot of shouting matches.

      • Nick says:

        * the fastest way to lose three friends is Gauntlet on NES.

        The slowest way, meanwhile, is Diplomacy.

    • ana53294 says:

      Kids do hold grudges, but only in specific cases. They will frequently hate any step-parent they perceive as being in the way of their parents being together. They can make life literally hell for them, if allowed.

      Also, half-siblings (who live in a different home) they perceive as taking their parent’s love away.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I would guardingly classify these differently. A grudge is where you hold onto one action for a long period of time, if someone egged my door once and I hated them forever. If someone egged my door every day then hating them is just because they are persistently a jerk to me.

        • ana53294 says:

          A grudge is where you hold onto one action for a long period of time, if someone egged my door once and I hated them forever.

          Then by your classification, I don’t hold grudges. Unless something really serious was done, a one-time bad act won’t make me hate anybody, I’ll just try my best not to deal with them.

          It’s usually the bad act that breaks the camel’s back. A small bad act can make me realize stuff about people and make me avoid them, but I still don’t held grudges.

    • Deiseach says:

      Kids appear to have very low ability to hold grudges, you can upset them to tears and have them back in a good mood in minutes without actually apologizing/bribing/consoling them.

      I don’t know about that, I think a lot of people remember those kinds of things happening as children, and do hold it as negligent or even malicious parenting: my father/mother used to upset me then ignore what they did and behave as if I should be happy, so I learned that I couldn’t trust them and I should pretend to forget what they did otherwise they would just nag me and blame me.

      Children do switch from mood to mood very easily because they’re young, and if the reason they got upset was a small thing then they do forget about it, but if there’s a pattern of “person X is mean to me but I have to act as if I’m happy”, then they realise they don’t have any power to do anything about it, but they do remember and this makes a change in mental attitude that may not be obvious on the outside.

      Until years later, when it’s “why doesn’t Junior ever want to see me or have me visit?” Well, that’s because you treated Junior like shit when they were four, and continued to do so until they were old enough to leave home, is why.

      • Randy M says:

        my father/mother used to upset me then ignore what they did and behave as if I should be happy, so I learned that I couldn’t trust them and I should pretend to forget what they did otherwise they would just nag me and blame me.

        I like the advice in Ephesians/Colossians from Paul: “Do not provoke/exasperate/aggravate your children.” (I remember it is ‘frustrate’ but that doesn’t actually seem to be used in any translation).

        It doesn’t seem like the most critical advice, but it’s basically all Paul says specifically to fathers, maybe because it’s something that might well be overlooked by even a well meaning parent, rationalizing that the parent knows better, and the child needs to obey, and will learn in time that the parent was right, and so on; but an accumulation of small abuses will poison the relationship.

        • Nick says:

          Aggravate or exasperate is a pretty good translation, it seems; from Strong’s Concordance:

          3949 parorgízō (from 3844 /pará, “from close-beside” and 3710 /orgízō, “become angry”) – properly, rouse someone to anger; to provoke in a way that “really pushes someone’s buttons,” i.e. to “really get to them” in an “up-close-and-personal” way (because so near, literally “close beside”).

    • Jaskologist says:

      Kids have short attention spans. Grudges are more a matter of attention span than memory.

    • Viliam says:

      Little kids forgive a lot, because… realistically, what other option do they have?

      From evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for the ability to hold a grudge to activate at the age where you can actually do something about it. In ancient environment, a one-year old child who would decide to treat their parents forever as enemies, for whatever reason, would in effect commit suicide. Holding a grudge becomes a useful mechanism when making coalitions with peers, at the age when you can decide to avoid some person and actually fulfill the promise.

      I think that venting your emotions is not really helpful for family dynamics. The thing that saves families is that parents are usually smart enough to react differently to their kids than they would react to another adult. Kids contribute to family harmony by forgiving, parents contribute by a combination of forgiving and not taking their kids’ words literally. (When my kids are super annoying, my reaction is “oops, they are probably hungry, must give them some food quickly, let me grab a banana”.)

      Between adults, I think the good rule is rather “don’t say anything that you could regret tomorrow, no matter how strongly you feel it at the moment”. Because most of the time, tomorrow you will be happy that you didn’t say it. (And in the few cases when you feel the same way for many days… then it makes sense to think about it and derive consequences. But this is better done in calm mood, anyway.) On the other hand, remember to share the good emotions.

    • souleater says:

      When I was my mom would do a lot of really hurtful things, and violated my trust more than once… I never forgot that she did that… but I had no ability to get food for myself, Couldn’t drive myself to the store, I had no money.. and I knew that as long as I was holding a grudge I wouldn’t get things I wanted or needed.
      She was threatening to send me away to a military school since I was 8…

      Even as a young adult, 19-24 I could have moved out, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get a degree while working full time. I still resent her for the way she treated me when I was vulnerable.

      It wasn’t that I didn’t hold a grudge.. it was that keeping her happy was the only way to make sure I had clothes, food, or a roof.

  16. Nick says:

    From The Cut, a followup to the article about Harvard’s brightest, Bruce Hay. Six other men have come forward with similar stories (except they didn’t fall for it, quelle surprise); an old friend of Shuman from London also contributes. Hardly necessary reading, but it’s nice to hear about a few times the trap failed.

    • James says:

      My god, it’s just as much catnip as last time. Really top-shelf gossip.

      The impression I got was, if she picked up a guy, told him he was really hot, went back and slept with him and then discarded him, she felt like, ‘I’m in control, I’m so powerful, I used him, I tossed him aside.’ She liked the idea of corrupting what looked like these innocent, nice guys.

      Seems like this same motivation could extend to her scamming/hustling guys, as with the guy in the first story. Wasn’t that someone here’s analysis, that it couldn’t really have been for money, but must have been about power?

      In fact, as stated, that line sounds like a sort of cleaned-up, glossed-over, vaguely woke/empowered version of a really pretty nasty drive for power over men.

      • Deiseach says:

        This story just gets even better, which is to say, crazier. Just goes to prove you should always stay away from bunny-boilers. I’m impressed by how she behaves in what would be considered a stereotypically male fashion from stories by women, i.e. hitting on someone, not taking ‘no’ for an answer, still continuing even after being told ‘I’m in a relationship’, following them down the street, looking for their number and so on. It really is the gender-flipped version of so many stories you hear, and I wonder if that’s all part of it – that she really is acting off a script and playing the part of the aggressive male.

        I do wonder how many people she has pulled this trick on? These six men, plus the original story with Hay, Doe, Roe and another guy – how many others in other countries?

        The part I do find hardest to believe is that she really is who she claims to be, this Maria-Pia Shuman. I genuinely thought she was a con artist stealing that identity, but no.

        • Aftagley says:

          It really is the gender-flipped version of so many stories you hear, and I wonder if that’s all part of it – that she really is acting off a script and playing the part of the aggressive male.

          2 things are likely contributing to her success:
          First, guys are not used tondealing with sexually aggressive females. By and large, women are going to have had way more experience/lessons on how to deal with pushy guys than vice versa.

          Second, women can behave in ways thay would get men arrested and there is no little to no social repurcussion for doing so.

          Both of these mean that there’s little cost for her behavior and her odds of success will be startlingly high.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Are men that startlingly dumb, though? If a woman just came up to me and said “you’re attractive and I want to have sex with you” on the street I would immediately assume a scam. And even back when I had a full head of hair and dressed a lot better and what not. Like, she’s going to take me back to her place, we’re going to get busy, and then her pimp is going to bust in and demand $500.

          • JPNunez says:

            I assume the whole con takes a little longer than just the harvard guy being propositioned on the street, but I admit have not looked into this whole scam because I know it’s going to be cringey.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, I read the article and she goes straight for the D in most of the cases.

          • J Mann says:

            @Conrad

            After reading the latest article, it makes sense. It sounds like she’s propositioned dozens of guys around the Boston area and gotten a few takers.

            Pick-up artists advise guys to try the same thing. Although the acceptance rate is higher for guys, if you just tell women they’re attractive and you want to bang, you supposedly screen out the 99% who say no pretty quickly and ideally find 1% who say yes.

          • Nick says:

            After reading the latest article, it makes sense. It sounds like she’s propositioned dozens of guys around the Boston area and gotten a few takers.

            Right. I boggled at this for a second, until I remembered that email scammers do the same thing. It’s not in their interest to make the initial email more credible, because the best they can hope for is drawing in folks who will only become suspicious later, wasting their effort. Make it ludicrous, and they’ll only hook the complete suckers.

          • Nornagest says:

            In other words, the answer to the original article’s headline of “is this the most gullible man in Cambridge?” is “yes”.

          • Aftagley says:

            Agreed, these women are going after the suckers. But, I’d argue that only some of not being a sucker is natural skepticism and some of it is learned behavior.

            Most men, by and large, are going to have very little learned experience not being a sucker when attractive women proposition them. For this reason, even if her reported success in Boston is only something like 2/8 on the nerdy white dudes she’s going after, I’d postulate it would be way lower if this was a guy running the exact same lines on women.

          • dick says:

            OTOH, women do proposition guys for sex sometimes and not rob/stalk/etc them. What seems unusual about her is not that she was doing that, but that she was doing it during the day, and sober. And it sounds like she was doing it kind of brusquely or ham-handedly, though obviously this is all third-hand so who knows.

            Anyway, there’s definitely something salacious about this whole affair that makes it easy to keep reading about it despite feeling like I shouldn’t!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            In other words, the answer to the original article’s headline of “is this the most gullible man in Cambridge?” is “yes”.

            Didn’t we establish this the first time? There was some CW involved, along the lines of “the exact same woman could have become a con artist in the absence of SJ, but Harvard being an SJ echo chamber helped make this man a perfect victim.”

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, the theory was there, but it’s nice to have some empirical support.

          • Randy M says:

            OTOH, women do proposition guys for sex sometimes and not rob/stalk/etc them. What seems unusual about her is not that she was doing that, but that she was doing it during the day, and sober.

            In other words, outside of a socially acceptable context, and without any kind of plausible deniability.
            If you’re a sucker, you could see that as a costly signal that she’s really into you, in the same way breaking into a bank could be a costly signal that you really want to make a big deposit.

          • Deiseach says:

            Like, she’s going to take me back to her place, we’re going to get busy, and then her pimp is going to bust in and demand $500.

            Conrad, that’s because you’re sensible. I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on the progressives, but I do wonder if one reason she seem(s)/(ed) to target Harvard was because of the attitudes on display in the first story: that it would be insulting and rude to question if a self-identified lesbian had slept with other men (if she slept with you) and who was the father of the baby if you thought it was unlikely to be yours. If the prevailing ethos is to not question women in any way, especially when you should be always aware of your cis white hetero male privilege, then the turning off their brains and being led by the (nose) sounds more like it could happen.

            Some of the guys do seem to have been very easily manipulated by their vanity and I wonder if there wasn’t some subconscious stereotypes going on as well: “oh, she sounds French; oh well, the French have a different attitude to sex than we do, this seems plausible!” as well as the desire to be up with the attitude of “I’m liberated, I’m sex positive, I’m not like those conservatives with their hang-ups, if a woman makes a pass at me this is her right of sexual equality”.

            I do wonder about the brains of guys being told “I’m a lesbian, I have a wife, but I want to have sex with you baby” but who knows? At least some of them were smart enough to figure out this was crazy behaviour and to stay away.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Are men that startlingly dumb, though?

            A Youtube channel did an experiment where they had an attractive woman proposition men for sex and vice versa, with the results that you would expect.

            One guy openly wondered whether she was going to lead him to some muggers, but he still went with her.

            I think that you underestimate how much risk many men are willing to take for sex.

          • LadyJane says:

            Didn’t we establish this the first time? There was some CW involved, along the lines of “the exact same woman could have become a con artist in the absence of SJ, but Harvard being an SJ echo chamber helped make this man a perfect victim.”

            I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on the progressives, but I do wonder if one reason she seem(s)/(ed) to target Harvard was because of the attitudes on display in the first story: that it would be insulting and rude to question if a self-identified lesbian had slept with other men (if she slept with you) and who was the father of the baby if you thought it was unlikely to be yours. If the prevailing ethos is to not question women in any way, especially when you should be always aware of your cis white hetero male privilege, then the turning off their brains and being led by the (nose) sounds more like it could happen.

            And, as I mentioned in the last discussion, I don’t see any evidence that the Social Justice aspect was anything more than a convenient post-hoc rationalization that the professor used in a flimsy attempt to preserve what little was left of his dignity. I don’t think having Social Justice attitudes made him even the slightest bit easier to scam, it just gave him an excuse that sounded slightly better than “she was really hot and I was really lonely and horny.”

            As for why she targeted Harvard academics, I’d imagine it’s because they tend to be successful and moderately well-off, but also not particularly famous or powerful or influential outside of academia, which makes them ideal targets: they have money, but they’re not so high-status that scamming them would be dangerous. On top of that, there’s a stereotype of academics being savants who lack common sense and social skills despite their intelligence, on top of the broader stereotype of male nerds being shy, awkward, bad with women, and desperate for female attention – all of which turned out to be painfully true in Hay’s case.

            Are men that startlingly dumb, though?

            I knew a guy who got scammed out of almost $1000 because he met a girl on OKCupid who was supposedly interested in him, but needed money to get her passport back and buy a plane ticket back to America. (Apparently she lost her passport while visiting Uganda and somehow became stranded there.) Needless to say, she didn’t come to visit him like she’d promised. So yes, some men are really just that dumb.

            And in the interest of fairness, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve heard stories of women falling for almost identical scams, but they always tend to be older divorcees or spinsters, whereas the dude I knew was only in his 20s.

    • MorningGaul says:

      I found the initial story a bit too conveniently supporting my preconceptions, and this follow-up dont really change that.

      It’s coming from the same website, the same author, is stuffed with stories that, while similar, either are pure recollection of short encounters that werent continued, or whose proofs conveniently disapeared “because changing phones” (i’m not saying that it doesnt happend, i lost some pretty precious messages by changing phones myself, but it makes the claim unprovable).

      I’ll wait for another trusted source (he said, repressing his own snark) or a follow up with the outcome of the legal proceedings to form a strong opinion on that story.

      edit:

      The impression I got was, if she picked up a guy, told him he was really hot, went back and slept with him and then discarded him, she felt like, ‘I’m in control, I’m so powerful, I used him, I tossed him aside.’ She liked the idea of corrupting what looked like these innocent, nice guys.”

      Boy, without the supposed blackmail, it sounds like a win-win behaviour.

      • Deiseach says:

        Boy, without the supposed blackmail, it sounds like a win-win behaviour.

        And that’s the exact attitude she’s counting on to hook her victims – “hey, I get free sex out of this, what’s the worst that could happen?”

        The worst is that you get two batshit crazy harpies ruining your life, is what. Do men not use their brains at all when the possibility of a woman sleeping with them is on the horizon? Even when it’s not a conscious scam as with these two, there’s disease, pregnancy, one or the other of you developing an infatuation and making a mess of things – it’s never as clear-cut as ‘I’m so hot a random woman stopped me on the street to ask me for sex, what could possibly go wrong?’.

        • Randy M says:

          Do men not use their brains at all when the possibility of a woman sleeping with them is on the horizon

          Did you read the articles? Most men she approached turned her down. The ones who accepted make better stories, though.

          • Deiseach says:

            Most men she approached turned her down.

            Which is the bare minimum you’d expect in a scenario where a perfect stranger propositions you and then talks about being a lesbian and married with a wife, but even some of them exchanged numbers and texted with her. The fact is that she shouldn’t have succeeded with anyone with that kind of approach, and yet she did, to the extent of being able to cause quite a lot of worry and distress and interference in the lives of several men.

            Women do stupid crap like this all the time with strangers, it’s a particular confidence trick, it’s probably just unusual in these circumstances where the men in question are supposedly intelligent and worldly-wise and that it’s all wrapped up in PC terms and expectations (“she told him her lawyer had contacted Harvard, retrieved all of his personal information, and was now preparing documents to have him release his parental rights to the child”, threats to contact the workplace/university about them, taking out a Title IX case against Hays in the original story) .

        • Aftagley says:

          Do men not use their brains at all when the possibility of a woman sleeping with them is on the horizon?

          Depends on the woman. Having seen pictures of the woman in question, I can state that she’s not attractive enough to shut off my capacity for reason, but I can see how she would be for others.

          If that sounds sexist, please note that my critique (such as it is) is aimed squarely at myself/other men.

        • salvorhardin says:

          To quote Portnoy’s Complaint: “Ven der putz shteht, ligt der sechel in drerd.”

        • Plumber says:

          @Deiseach >

          “… Do men not use their brains at all when the possibility of a woman sleeping with them is on the horizon? …”

          Sometimes.

          TLDR: It depends on circumstances, mostly relative loneliness and attraction.

          To expand: at no times do I remember a direct “Let’s have sex” propisition, but a few times there’s been some “Do you want to come back to my place?”, or “Do you want to go to my car?” questions,.and my reaction mostly depended on if I had a girlfriend/was married or not, but others factors were involved. So, my reactions to my being proposition by women who were strangers (all of these are in the ’80’s or ’90’s):

          1) I was walking back to my apartment wearing my favorite red shirt and some hip looking sunglasses, an attractive young lady parked her car and asked me “Do you want a ride?”, I answered “I’m already here”, went upstairs and immediately bragged to my wife that “Be warned, I still got it!”, and told that story, and Hell, that was decades ago and I’m bragging about it now!

          2).She straight up asked me if I wanted a date, and I said no, while she was attractive I was married and even if I wasn’t it was a sketchy neighborhood and I suspected that.she was either a prostitute or an undercover cop predending to be a prostitute.

          3) I went to a breakfast restaurant that I liked and my waitress didn’t smile, ever instead she called be me by my name and mentioned places we’d known each other, and mutual friends we once had. 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!), and while she really seemed like wanted me to ask her out,, I never persued a date with her, probably because I was usually near or all the way broke, sometimes I already was dating someone, 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 that to her and everytime I saw her I pretended that I remembered her from before she was my waitress, but I never talked long to her out of my fear of having to admit that “I just don’t remember you from then”.

          4) I was at the coat check of a nightclub after the show was ended, when a women  told me that “You really look like someone I used to know” and asked me for my phone number, and since I had  I had been walking the pavement applying for jobs earlier that day and had one with me I gave her my resume, and we did go on a few dates, she encouraged me to read A Confederacy of Dunces though mostly she seemed to want to present me to her friends, and show them how much I looked like someone they already knew, I remember meeting her ex-husband at a party at her house, and he seemed nice and the situation weird, whether she stopped calling or I did I can’t remember. 

          5) We met at a party and she invited me back to her place, we had a long talk and I definitely got the impression that she really wanted to be liked, but I just didn’t find her attractive though I wished I could.

          6) A few times I was Invited back to her place, and I spent the night, the emotional effects of which I already posted about below.

      • Plumber says:

        @MorningGaul >

        “….Boy, without the supposed blackmail, it sounds like a win-win behaviour”

        That wasn’t my experience of the few one-to-three-night stands I experienced as a youth, they were awkward at best and heartbreaking at worst, only once was it the stereotype of my realizing “Wow, she’s really stupid, I don’t like her” after we spent the night together, but more often the roles were reversed, and I was the one who hoped it was the beginning of something longer, I really did want someone to give flowers to and have an “our song” – the whole deal, but instead the girls would have to tell me “Look, I just wanted someone right then, but I don’t want you now, and only once was it less than heartbreaking to find that it was supposed to be “no strings”, but that was because we had been friends before, and she had given hints that she was with me because she saw how sad I was after a break up and was being kind by being with me, plus she had just ended another one of her flings – so with the inevitable “Your nice, but that was just temporary” it only made me melancholy instead of despondent, and it really seemed to my 20 something self that it was girls who wanted to be the “poly/freespirts” more than – well me, and only later did I realize that what many women wanted was guys with cars and houses as well as guitars and motorcycles (though exactly how to get all that was far from obvious to me and turned into a decades long struggle luckily with a woman who stuck it out with me – I basically married the first woman who’d have me who never got a tattoo, and I’ve been with her since ’92!).

        As for the whole deal from the girls point of view one of my exes put it this way on YouTube, so I think only short happiness could be found out of it, and I really don’t recommend it.

    • Aftagley says:

      I just read This Piece from the NYT which has the thesis that people of different persuasions are going to read this article in 2 different ways: left leaning folks are going to focus on how dumb Bruce Hay was while right leaning folks are going to see this as

      a vivid allegory for the relationship between the old liberalism and the new — between a well-meaning liberal establishment that’s desperate to act enlightened and a woke progressivism that ruthlessly exploits the establishment’s ideological subservience.

      I’m vaguely lefty and I definitely think the guy was a moron, so the writer’s at least half correct. How well does his prediction for those on the right hold up?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Bruce Hay was a victim of progressivism and exceptionally gullible. I wouldn’t call him “a moron” because that feels like pure victim-blaming, but he’s the most extreme outlier on a spectrum of Marks. How much of that is on him, culpably or non-culpably (say a mental disorder making him oblivious/gullible), and how much is on the society that rewarded him with wealth and status for parroting lefty IdPol? Too complex to answer.

      • I’m reluctantly right-wing(despite being an Andrew Yang supporter, the right is still the closest I have to a tribe), and I agree that of course the guy was a moron. But suppose the genders were reversed, a man tries to victimize women, most don’t fall for it but one does. Would you “blame” her for “not seeing the warning signs?” When that happens, the Usual Suspects scream to high heaven about “victim blaming.” So you can see why, when they make this argument, I see it as hypocritical.

        More to the point, the takeaway from the story is not “person X victimizes person Y, this is very bad.” People will always try to victimize one another. It’s that the institutions managed by the Usual Suspects enabled it to occur. Person Y’s stupidity was necessary but not sufficient to make it happen.

      • Deiseach says:

        Personally speaking, I’m a radical centrist on this: I think he was dumb as a stump if his behaviour as described is anything like how he really did act, and that the desperation to act enlightened enables con artists and scammers to manipulate woke progressivism.

      • quanta413 says:

        I didn’t really think of that interpretation although I’m vaguely right-wing. Sure the guy is a sucker for woke progressivism, but he’d probably be a sucker for some born-again young “sinner” who was really ready to turn over a new leaf or whatever if he grew up in a different milieu. Granted, I think woke progressivism is one of many ideologies that is unusually bad for the gullible or bleeding hearts, but there are a lot of those. It’s not really a new way to be suckered anyways. Bertrand Russell has an old essay on the stupidity of assuming that oppressed people will behave more morally than not oppressed people. His example groups were different back then, but the tendency he’s talking about is the same.

        EDIT: He’d probably be a sucker for the “born-again sinner” too even though that’s not much of a thing where he is. He sounds so gullible I dunno if you even have to press any ideological buttons.

  17. Plumber says:

    I found this Quiz: Let Us Predict Whether You’re a Democrat or a Republican> quiz and essay which shows and discusses with lots of charts changes in the last 50 years of the party affiliation of various demographic groups interesting and recommend checking it out, warning though: if I was a Republican while I’d be heartened by the changes in affiliation it reports over the last 50 years I might be insulted by some of the language (it’s from The New York Times of 2019 so…).

    The results for me declared someone with my demographics as a Republican, but when I changed “no college” to “some college but did not graduate” (I’ve never attended a four year college but I’ve had some community college classes, mostly welding) it flipped me to a Democrat.

    The most interesting (to me) factoid is the narrative of unmarried women switching to the Democratic Party isn’t true, theyhave about the same percentages of Democrats and Republicans as 50 years ago, it’s more that so many other demographic group now lean Republican, and there’s more unmarried women so the make uo a bigger part of the Democratic coalition now than then.

    Most of the other info I’ve seen reported before, but having it all in one place at once with charts is interesting to me.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Are you white?

      Yes: +8R

      Lower influence than I thought. I’m rephrasing as white because I suspect American Indians lean D and NYT just forgot about them.

      Is religion important in your life?

      No: +37D

      At first I thought this was huge, as surely many blacks and hispanics say yes but lean D. Then I remembered this is conditioned on the first response, and I suppose that makes more sense. Still, +45D from one question

      Are you straight?

      No: +74D

      Doubling my score. Not really surprising.

      Did you attend college?

      No: +79D

      Not a big change, but there wasn’t much space left to increase anyways.

      So on the one hand, I’m definitely not in the D section, so their guess would be wrong here. On the other hand, their data suggests 11% of white, college-educated secular gays identify as Republican. That’s…interesting. Also the comment section does not seem to understand the data–all the upvoted comments are “it said I should be R but I’m actually a D–clearly this is wrong”. Noticeably none of them seem to be wrong the other way.

      But in the years since, the Republicans — led by Mr. Trump — have doubled down on white identity politics and seem to believe that their path to a majority is through gerrymandering, voter suppression or attempts to skew the census.

      I don’t know what I expected.

      • Plumber says:

        “….all the upvoted comments are “it said I should be R but I’m actually a D–clearly this is wrong”. Noticeably none of them seem to be wrong the other way…”

        No surprise that the readership of the NYT skews Democratic even if their demographics would suggest otherwise, besides I imagine many Republicans would see the commentary and give the rest a NOPE!

        But in the years since, the Republicans — led by Mr. Trump — have doubled down on white identity politics and seem to believe that their path to a majority is through gerrymandering, voter suppression or attempts to skew the census

        .

        I don’t know what I expected.”

        I did warn about the language, still the charts are interesting, and I think it’s fun to play around with the answers and see what causes a flip, they real value though is finding how compared to 50 years ago today’s voters are motivated more by hatred of one Party rather than love of one:

        “…Worse, the alignment of party preferences with personal identities has fostered ugly, tribal politics. It’s easier to demonize the opposing side when they look nothing like you. Voters today like their own party less than ever, but are motivated by their even stronger dislike of the other party. “It doesn’t paint a pretty picture,” Dr. Wronski said…”

      • bullseye says:

        There are a lot of white people in both parties, so saying you’re white doesn’t shift it much. Saying you’re black shifts it a lot.

    • Deiseach says:

      Plumber, you’ll be pleased to know that union membership is what tilted me Democrat 😀

      This is a fun quiz, but about as reliable as any other “Tell us your favourite colour and we’ll tell you your inner goddess” online quiz. I find it interesting that they didn’t bother with asking me about education; presumably as a religious female leaning Republican (by their metrics) they assumed I’d just be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen so no point asking about education and career 🙂

      Questions simplified from the nice way the NYT put them, as you may see my results zig-zag all over the right hand side:

      White yes/no? Yes: +8R
      Religious yes/no? Yes: +33R
      Protestant yes/no? No: +14R
      Straight yes/no? Yes: +18R
      Jewish yes/no? (Shouldn’t this have gone in with religion, not sexuality? Oh well) No: +20R
      Female yes/no? Yes: +11R
      Married yes/no? +0D
      Union member yes/no? +17D

      People like me are: +17 Democrat! Which seems to fit in with the 1968-1978 Americans on their handy little graph. I think the results are fairly accurate; I’ve always said that were I one of the Irish who emigrated to the USA, I’d have ended up voting Democrat like so many of my countrymen who did the same, and the party of the 70s-80s would certainly have been the one for me before they started chasing college-educated middle-class votes and assuming all women wanted the full Planned Parenthood panoply, which would have stranded me as “socially conservative, fiscally liberal” to try and vote for the local Democrat who wasn’t 100% rated by PP or find a Republican candidate who I could hold my nose and vote for.

      • Plumber says:

        @Deiseach > 

        “…Plumber, you’ll be pleased to know that union membership is what tilted me Democrat 😀….”

        You know me well!

        “…This is a fun quiz,..”

        Glad you had fun!

        “…but about as reliable as any other “Tell us your favourite colour and we’ll tell you your inner goddess” online quiz…”

        *roots for Minerva* 

        “…People like me are: +17 Democrat!..”

        According to the quiz people like me are +31 Republican, but stretching the meaning of ‘has attended college’ enough that I did flips me to +31 Democratic.

        “Which seems to fit in with the 1968-1978 Americans on their handy little graph. I think the results are fairly accurate; I’ve always said that were I one of the Irish who emigrated to the USA, I’d have ended up voting Democrat like so many of my countrymen who did the same, and the party of the 70s-80s would certainly have been the one for me before they started chasing college-educated middle-class votes and assuming all women wanted the full Planned Parenthood panoply, which would have stranded me as “socially conservative, fiscally liberal” to try and vote for the local Democrat who wasn’t 100% rated by PP or find a Republican candidate who I could hold my nose and vote for”

        If really would have been easier to find anti-abortion Democrats to vote for in years past (or a pro abortion Republicans if that’s your thing, as even Ronald Reagan signed a bill legalizing abortion while he was still Governor of California), nowadays the most prominent anti-abortion elected Democrat left that I can think of is the current Governor of Louisiana, but if he ran for national office I’m sure his view would have to ‘evolve’ like Joe Biden’s had to for his extended roving mea culpa for being born too soon campaign for President, as for prominent current elected “pro-choice” Republicans? Yeah, I haven’t ever felt a need to find any so I don’t know of any!

        There is a U.S.A. political party that looks to have a platform better matching your views than either the Democrats or Republicans: The American Solidarity Party, which likely has an even lower chance of having one of it’s nominees elected to national office than does the Libertarians or Socialist Workers Party does with our ‘two party system’ (also known as “a snowball’s chance in Hell”)!

        • Aapje says:

          *roots for Minerva*

          Interestingly, a Dutch far-right politician, Baudet, likes to talk about the Owl of Minerva.

          So picking Minerva might result in +400R 🙂

    • onyomi says:

      +48 Democratic. Having very different political opinions than your demographic data would predict is tough sometimes! Then again, I have a pretty contrarian personality, so maybe I’d be a Democrat if my data predisposed me to be a Republican (though apparently being a white, straight, male from the south, isn’t nearly enough to outweigh being educated and non-religious??).

      • Deiseach says:

        though apparently being a white, straight, male from the south, isn’t nearly enough to outweigh being educated and non-religious??

        That’s why I think this quiz is as accurate as the usual Facebook filler; they’re plainly operating on raw data, which is fair enough, but weighting it so that it comes out in accord with their preconceptions (e.g. first half of this – straight white Southern male – cannot comport with the second – educated and non-religious – because they know that What’s The Matter With [the South] is that it’s full of rednecks who are straight and white and male and keepin’ the good folks down ‘cos they never got no schoolin’ and the preacher done told them they alone was God’s own).

        Which is silly, because where do they think all the white liberals come from? All the smart cis het white males who went to university and got out of the small towns? And got jobs writing for the New York Times? If they looked around their own newsroom, couldn’t they find an example of such?

        • Plumber says:

          @Deiseach >

          “That’s why I think this quiz is as accurate as the usual Facebook filler…”

          While my demons drove me to post my second comment on Twitter this week (my first was just about exactly one year ago and around the same time as my first SSC comment, madness, but with so many links to Twitter duty calls!), but so far though I’ve avoided following the Siren’s call of ever logging into Facebook (which would likely mark my complete fall into “I’m not crazy you’re the one’s that are crazy I won’t take those pills, take out of this straight-jacket, Iä! Iä Shub-Niggarauth!
          Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn dagnabbit!”), so I’ll have to take your word about Facebook, but I did note that my initial answers had me as being +31 Republican, but despite my hearing her say far more criticisms of Democrats than Republicans over the decades, putting in my wife’s demographics have her at +42 Democratic, and while one question could flip me from R to D, changing her from D to R was really hard according to the quiz, (I finally had to change her into a Protestant to work the flip, which almost fits, she did tell me that while she was a teenager in Catholic high school she decided to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while).

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The Hugo Award Ceremony will be on August 18. It will probably be live-streamed, but I don’t have a link for that.

    My intro about the Hugos, including the question of discrimination against white men

    My reviews of the Graphic Stories

    Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

    1 Doctor Who: Rosa– my favorite because of striking performance and writing for the part of Rosa Parks. Who and crew have to make sure Rosa Parks sets off the Montgomery bus strike as it was said in history. Their ability to deal with the local culture is erratic and no doubt plot driven. I loved the bit where Rosa is impatient with people who are her fans for reasons which make no sense to her. I’m not convinced the strike had to be started exactly as it happened– it seems very likely it would have happened anyway– but good enough for science fiction.

    6 Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab– least favorite because it just didn’t grab me. Not awful.

    5 The Expanse: Abaddon’s Gate– not awful, but the end(?) of a series I wasn’t involved with.

    4 The Good Place: Janet(s) Fairly good, but I liked the other Good Place entry better. The Hugo panel had group viewings for the dramatic presentations, and I was surprised at what quick pleasant shows the Good Place entries were even though I’d seen them fairly recently. This one didn’t do it for me because actors were playing each other and I don’t think they were quite good enough.

    3 Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae– at least, something that isn’t part of a series! A fairly standard sf frame (a woman’s memory of her deviant behavior and emotions is being wiped, and that behavior consists of music videos).
    They are very good music videos.

    2 The Good Place: Jeremy Bearimy– fun and funny, very little of it remembered, but there was an explanation of how time is sequenced in the good place.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Dramatic Presentations, Long Form

      6 A Quiet Place– an adequate movie with a strong premise. Aliens (who turn out to have great big ugly ears) have conquered earth. They’re blind, but hunt people by sound. People have to be very quiet all the time. The movie wasn’t clear about spacial relationships, and it needed that desperately. People *eventually* figure out that they should bait the aliens with loud noises, but it took a while.

      5 Annihilation– a mysterious alien infection(?) site is investigated by an all-women scientific team. Again, not awful, but kind of slow-paced and without having specifics, it seemed as the the team’s mission wasn’t handled thoughtfully.

      4 Avengers: Infinity War– I had a bit of a hard time choosing because I find I’m getting tired of the MCU. Also, I’d seen Checkmate first, and things still weren’t making sense. I probably need to watch more of the movies to pull things together if I care that much.

      3 Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse– this has a lot of clever use of various animated styles. The family dynamics (especially the uncle) are interesting. I’m unhappy with abuse in families being solved that easily (I hated Coco a good bit more), but I’m curious about whether these movies get some abusive parents to clean up their acts. I find it hard to believe that the universes will remain separate.

      2 Sorry to Bother You– a very weird movie with crude special effects. I suspect I rated it high partly for not being from the MCU. At least it was something different. A black man who’s down on his luck gets a job at a call center. It turns out that when he uses his white voice (pretending that life is great), he’s brilliant at selling. And that they’re selling slave labor. Then things go sideways– as he rises to the job of the organization, it develops that biotech makes is possible to turn people into part-horses– stronger, more enduring, and more docile than humans…

      1 Black Panther: my favorite, partly because I like Wakanda (a very lively culture) and partly because it was surprising to see a superhero movie with serious discussion of foreign policy.

      • Nick says:

        5 Annihilation– a mysterious alien infection(?) site is investigated by an all-women scientific team. Again, not awful, but kind of slow-paced and without having specifics, it seemed as the the team’s mission wasn’t handled thoughtfully.

        Gur *vqrn* bs guvf frevrf vagrerfgrq zr irel terngyl, ohg V ernq n ovg bs fcbvyref nobhg gur cybg, naq vg frrzf yvxr gur frevrf tbrf pbzcyrgryl vagb vgf bja aniry jvgu penml pbafcvenpvrf vaibyivat gur zrzoref bs gur grnz naq gur betnavmngvba vairfgvtngvat gur fvgr, naq V’z yvxr, jul jbhyq V tvir n fuvg nobhg nal bs gung? Jbhyq lbh whfg trg onpx gb gur ernyyl vagrerfgvat fghss cyrnfr?

        ETA: I haven’t seen Black Panther, but I’m still disappointed Into the Spiderverse isn’t your #1. 🙂 What did you mean about abuse in families? Who was being abused? It didn’t seem like Miles was, though he was definitely not communicating well with his dad.

        ETA2: Re #2:

        Struggling to pay rent, Cash gets a job as a telemarketer for RegalView.

        Wait, Regal are turning people into horses?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Mile’s father was ignoring Miles’ actual emotions and trying to force him to an extent that I hated watching.

          And the idea that becoming an adult is pretty much about a leap of faith rather than needing to actually know how to do things strikes me a bad idea.

          • beleester says:

            And the idea that becoming an adult is pretty much about a leap of faith rather than needing to actually know how to do things strikes me a bad idea.

            This feels like one of those bravery debate things. Like, for some people the advice they need is “do some actual thinking before you make life-changing decisions,” and for other people the best advice is “stop sitting around in analysis paralysis and actually try to do things.”

            Miles needs to learn how to do Spiderman things, yes, but he also needs to develop his own style of being Spiderman, because he has powers that the other Spider-people don’t.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Regal is turning people into big strong horse-headed humanoids.

          The movie gets described as surreal, but I’m not sure that’s the right word.

          Someone should write an essay about the relationship between sf and satire.

          • Deiseach says:

            Regal is turning people into big strong horse-headed humanoids.

            Who is going to be woker than woke and accuse the movie company of cultural appropriation? This is disrepecting Lord Hayagriva! 😀

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yeah, Into the Spiderverse was a 10/10.

          And I just remembered Nick Cage’s performance, so make that an 11/10.

        • mendax says:

          5 Annihilation

          The first book doesn’t do much of that. It sticks mostly with the interesting stuff, I believe. It’s rather short, I’m glad to have read it, and don’t feel the need to finish the series.

      • Deiseach says:

        Then things go sideways– as he rises to the job of the organization, it develops that biotech makes is possible to turn people into part-horses– stronger, more enduring, and more docile than humans

        Ordinarily, I’d wince at this as exactly the kind of woke bait movie that turns me off (of course he’s black, of course they hit us over the head with an anvil about assimilating into the dominant culture by pretending to be white, and whiteness is associated with evil, and the evil is literal not metaphorical slavery where literal humans are being dehumanised, of course it all is), were it not for stories like this. Gosh darn it, Reality, you do not have to copy hokey old TV series! This is not compulsory!

        (Theme to the TV series if anyone is interested).

      • Watchman says:

        A question on Black Panther. Was I the only one to find the concept that the high-tech hidden but socially-aware African society was somehow an absolute monarchy (male rulers only) with the right to the crown determined by who was the best fighter really uncomfortable? It seems a clear echo of attitudes of Africans as primitives unable to rule themselves without a strong guiding hand, of the sort that underlie a lot of US history, but also the highly-damaging tolerance of strongman government in Africa.

        Apparently this was a ‘woke’ movie. If wokeness is resorting to the view black people can’t rule themselves well, then there’s something wrong (or my suspicion that it’s a dividend conquer ideology are accurate). I guess the writers had this from their source material, but the MCU is not a faithful recreation of the comics, so someone actually chose to retain this, hopefully without thinking it through…

        Good movie still, but I was expecting a more positive view in this respect.

        • Protagoras says:

          Wakanda’s government bothered me, but it is a standard conceit of the superhero genre that hand to hand combat is a good way of settling all sorts of things that it wouldn’t be remotely appropriate or effective for in the real world. So I tried to treat it as just more of that genre convention.

        • Erusian says:

          The story I’ve heard: Black Panther was made as a subversive response to basically racist demands. The creator of Black Panther wanted to make an African American superhero. Specifically African American. His editor told him he couldn’t. So he tried to make an African superhero. He was told he could but only if he agreed with certain racist views (being a black separatist, against interracial marriage, etc). The author agreed. The editor thought he’d make a nice, unthreatening, servile black hero. Instead, the author wrote someone who was a separatist because his society was so much superior to white society.

          Honestly, what they came up with is pretty cringe-inducing in modern-day. But that’s the basic rule for Black Panther: he has to be authentically African, ideally relatively untouched by Europe, and yet from a society so superior he’s xenophobic or even quasi-racist. Yet, because he’s heroic, he ultimately overcomes these xenophobic/racist instincts for the good of the common humanity (though always rooted in a form of nationalism).

          Also, my impression of the Wakandan monarchy was that it was a traditional tribal monarchy rather than an absolute one. There were councils that weren’t appointed by him and assemblies that appeared to be able to have power outside his. I’d caution against reading too much into this unless you’re willing to claim that Wonder Woman is a sign that the Greeks need to be ruled by dictatorial women.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’d caution against reading too much into this unless you’re willing to claim that Wonder Woman is a sign that the Greeks need to be ruled by dictatorial women.

            Looking at Greek governments throughout history, are you sure that isn’t worth trying?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The story I’ve heard: Black Panther was made as a subversive response to basically racist demands. The creator of Black Panther wanted to make an African American superhero. Specifically African American. His editor told him he couldn’t. So he tried to make an African superhero. He was told he could but only if he agreed with certain racist views (being a black separatist, against interracial marriage, etc). The author agreed. The editor thought he’d make a nice, unthreatening, servile black hero. Instead, the author wrote someone who was a separatist because his society was so much superior to white society.

            Black Panther was created by Jack Kirby, a Jewish New Yorker of the WW2 generation. His Editor-in-Chief was Stan Lee, the guy writing the dialogue for all the stories he drew at 1960s Marvel (their flagship collaboration being Fantastic 4, where Wakanda and Black Panther made their first appearance).

          • Erusian says:

            Looking at Greek governments throughout history, are you sure that isn’t worth trying?

            You’re welcome to give it a shot. Volunteers?

            Black Panther was created by Jack Kirby, a Jewish New Yorker of the WW2 generation. His Editor-in-Chief was Stan Lee, the guy writing the dialogue for all the stories he drew at 1960s Marvel (their flagship collaboration being Fantastic 4, where Wakanda and Black Panther made their first appearance).

            Perhaps I’m misremembering the title. I thought Stan Lee was the writer, so I misremembered his. Or perhaps the story is false: it’s second hand, told by a friend.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Erusian: I’ve heard the same story, although the way I heard it told, publisher Martin Goodman was the one who set up all those limitations, not the editor-in-chief.

            That said, a lot of stories about 60s Marvel tend to exaggerate Goodman’s reluctance to publish anything new or experimental, in order to play up Lee and Kirby’s rebelliousness. For instance, Stan Lee always talked about how he had to fight tooth-and-nail to convince Goodman that a realistically flawed hero like Spider-Man could be profitable, or that there could ever be a market for disabled heroes like Daredevil and Iron Man. But other Marvel employees claim that Goodman basically let the writers do whatever they wanted, and even encouraged Lee to experiment with novel ideas (the superhero industry was dying prior to 1961, so he probably felt like they had nothing to lose). So it’s unclear exactly how much these stories are true.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yeah it seemed to me to be a pretty racist movie. The implication was that even though they lived in an advanced society, their leadership was determined by a trial by combat because… all I can think of is that they are Black and Africans, so they don’t have the sophistication of Whites to make their nation a democracy? Of course they also treat Wakanda as governed better than other countries, so maybe they are saying that trial be combat is the best way to pick a leader? (Except of course the one time it resulted in a leader who was going to bring the world to an apocolypse). Is it woke to be in favor of picking leaders this way?

          OF course this is a superhero movie, which tend to lean in a might makes right fashion, and politics is never their strong suit. But then this movie is treated as some kind of an anthem or something for Blacks, but to me appears to be the opposite.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I liked Black Panther and I’m cutting Wakanda some slack.

          It seems to be a well-governed place, presumably because its culture and the advice from ancestors are good enough. It took extreme bad luck to almost break the system of succession.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          We had a brief discussion of this in one of the open threads last week.

          One of the central conflicts in the film is whether it’s more important to observe (Wakandan) tradition or to set it aside to help strangers / foreigners. It’s an internal conflict for T’Challa throughout the film, which he resolves when he confronts his dead father in the panther-dimension prior to the climactic battle. This is a fairly old-fashioned but serviceable metaphor for the conflict in Wakandan society that we see the other characters engaged in: the king here represents the soul of the nation.

          Black Panther wasn’t a masterpiece and if this really was what they were going for they could have expressed it better. But it is definitely a theme in the film that Wakanda is backwards-looking in its isolation and focus on ritual, and in desperate need of fresh ideas.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Short Story

      At last, text science fiction! This is a fairly good category– there are things I didn’t like, but none of it is bad.

      6 “STET” by Sarah Galley: A presentation about the ethics of autonomous cars. It’s handled as a scientific paper with footnotes. It turned out that those (like me) who read the free version liked it less than those who got the Hugo packet– in that, it was a pdf which made the ideas easier to follow.

      5 “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker– A well-written story about a magician who pays a price for every spell while the king gets all the benefits. If you’re in the mood for a sad, poetic story, it’s a good one.

      4 “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander– this is nicely done, I just wasn’t in the mood for a story about the justifiable death of a completely awful man. Still, a good rendition of an alien point of view (predatory lizards). Humor is mildly funny.

      3 “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher. A number of fantasy males pining for a sexually awesome woman who is involved with them for a while and leaves them without caring. A one-joke story but well done. Has a reading of the story and an interview with McGurie/Kingfisher, the interview describes McGuire’s grandmother who inspired Rose in the story– it isn’t known how many husbands the grandmother had. She mentioned one not previously known to her family on her deathbed.

      2 “A Witch’s Guile to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow– this story pings the desire to get out of this world. I’d like to know more about the renegade librarians.

      1 “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djèlí Clark– this one is a collection of very short stories about teeth that George Washington got from slaves. There’s lively invention, and a mixture of tragedy, revenge, and escape. I would be glad to read a novel set in that world.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s doesn’t strike me as a lot of sci-fi. 6, and maybe 2.

        4 “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander– this is nicely done, I just wasn’t in the mood for a story about the justifiable death of a completely awful man. Still, a good rendition of an alien point of view (predatory lizards). Humor is mildly funny.

        Is this in the vein of “If you were a dinosaur my love?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          No, The Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters is solidly fantasy (big intelligent predatory lizards who generally don’t like people, use magic, and have a plausible culture), and a straightforward story.

          There’s nothing like “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” this year, and nothing like “The Rain that Falls on You from Nowhere” either

      • Deiseach says:

        “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djèlí Clark

        That’s the one I disliked because I thought it was lazily done – yeah yeah, Washington the slave-owner, we get it; the African and other cultures Clark plunders (oh yes he does) for his heroes get very short shrift in description, and I was unconvinced by the characterisation – so even the woman from Wakanda (which is what he’s basically describing) is caught by the villainous stupid unmagical whites and enslaved, but she still manages to introduce advanced ideas which are naturally stolen from her and claimed as their own inventions by the villainous etc. Now, that might be a useful antidote to the usual stories of “time traveller/person from advanced society goes back in time to/visits less advanced society, becomes rich and famous if not world-ruler because of their knowledge of Science and Progress” as showing how if you’re one person with few to no tools stranded in an era not your own, the society and people of the time will outweigh you and overcome you even if they are primitive, but it’s not done that way – it’s all more “black people are super awesome and supreme victims” meaning of the story. Using other cultures to sprinkle some exotica over your base story is in the vein of Orientalism and not well done, Mr Clark. He may be striving for magical realism but instead he’s ending up with the accuracy to fact of Ingres’ Turkish Bath: using real cultures as a jumping-off point for titillation, whether that be of the erotic nature of Ingres’ work, or the we wuz kangz type of self-consolatory mythologising by the oppressed.

        I can understand that kind of story telling, I’m Irish, we’ve done exactly that as consolation for moral victories when the Brits were beating the tar out of us (“sure, they’ve got the worldly power, but we are morally superior to them”) but it isn’t enough to produce a mature worldview and like teenage revenge fantasies, eventually you have to grow up and give that up.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          the we wuz kangz type of self-consolatory mythologising by the oppressed.

          This phrase has made me giggle excessively ever since I discovered that Marvel Comics has a time-traveling villain named Kang, who meets his ancient Egyptian alias (Pharaoh Rama-Tut) in a time paradox. Literally we wuz Kangs in Egypt.

          • Deiseach says:

            Pharaoh Rama-Tut

            Was this because they couldn’t go for Pharaoh Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong as that is under copyright? Oh Marvel, never change with the goofiness 🙂

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Novelettes

      6 “The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander. It turns out that there are different strands of Social Justice, and I hate some of them and like others. In this case, we have a story about negotiations to genetically modify elephants so that they glow in their reservation near near a nuclear waste dump.

      The fact that this is an alternate history is slowly and gracefully introduced.

      People (except for low-level abused women employees) are horrible (I think all the high status people in the story are men, but I’m not checking). Male elephants are horrible. Don’t expect anything but treachery from the people in charge.

      Could someone who was paying more attention tell me whether the rkcybfvba made sense?

      The story is well enough done.

      One of the club members said she liked the anger in the Bollander stories (the other one was about the raptor sisters), which was a polite way of handling how much I dissed those stories. Obviously a lot of people like that sort of anger.

      5 “When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller. This is a surprisingly old-fashioned technology is good and there is hope story. I rated it low because for some reason I just couldn’t focus on the beginning. People(?) under threat from chaotic robot(?) predators. Once I got past that to seeing the story elements in functional terms (sympathetic character, suspicious but help-worthy tribe, touching story of high tech guide with barely enough resources), it was alright.

      4 “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory. Alien invasion by a wild variety of plants. The last days are the last times various things happened in the viewpoint character’s life. Let’s call it 30% alien plants and 70% good enough people stuff.

      3 “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try, Again” by Zen Cho– a magical creature works very hard to become a dragon, but keeps failing. The essential thing is learning how to become emotionally attached instead of focusing so hard on becoming a dragon.

      It’s a decent story, but there are some morals I’m getting tired of.

      2 “The Thing about Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer– an academic researcher of ghost stories encounters a real ghost. Good balance of intellectual and emotional elements.

      1 “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly– magical bakers who make desserts which bring back memories are enslaved. Persistence eventually pays off. Vivid writing.

      • Oscar Sebastian says:

        I bought one of those “Year’s Best Sci Fi” collections last month so I’d have something hefty for low-tech entertainment while flying up to Alaska and driving back down, and Heller and Gregory were both featured in it. I rather liked “Starless”, probably because of the AI facility manager. “Nine Last Days” I was rather less keen on; once the main character was out of the closet the plants fell by the wayside. I wanted more plants!

      • Deiseach says:

        People (except for low-level abused women employees) are horrible (I think all the high status people in the story are men, but I’m not checking). Male elephants are horrible. Don’t expect anything but treachery from the people in charge.

        That is what tires me about these kinds of stories – the lack of nuance. If you’re writing YA fiction for twelve to sixteen year olds, then this kind of black and white, here are the baddies and there are the goodies, story-telling is okay because they’re learning to read in a mature manner. If you’re writing for an audience in (it is hoped) at least their early 20s, you need to expand to “okay, so not all the baddies are personally bad people, and the goodies can be pretty nasty betimes, and sometimes there are no baddies or goodies, just crappy situations and people trying to survive and make the best of things”.

        I am too old now for “men and male beings bad and oppressive, women and female beings good and oppressed, nothing in between” stories. That’s not feminism, that’s ranting.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          For me, the problem is the lack of hope rather than the lack of nuance.

          • BBA says:

            +1. If I wanted hopelessness and joylessness, I’d be watching the news.

          • Evan Þ says:

            +1. This world has enough problems and I sometimes have enough trouble keeping my hope up; why should I immerse myself in another’s if there isn’t any hope there?

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, any grimdark stuff I just “nope” straight away. I don’t mind horrible villains and crapsack worlds, but I do insist on some kind of hope for redemption. Anything that’s all “and it was horrible and it is horrible and it will be horrible forever” I don’t bother with.

            Which is why I get disappointed when I start something that does not seem like this but then turns out to be simplistic “all men mean, all women martyrs!”

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m surprised that hardcover editions of novellas seem to be doing well. Books priced at about $17 for 200 pages (admittedly cheaper on amazon) are a category, which is going in the opposite direction from three old-fashioned short novels being bound together into single volumes.

      Novella

      For some reason, I didn’t have much enthusiasm for most of this category. I expect it was a matter of chance.

      6 “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach” by Kelly Robson. Aftermath of ecological disaster, research into ancient rivers, time travel, funding issues. Pay attention to personnel problems, or you could get into real trouble. Very depressing.

      5 “Binti: The Night Masquerade” by Nnedi Okorafor– completion of a 3-part series. Viewpoint character is person who doesn’t fit in, but gets things right. I find that very little of it has stuck with me, and they’re spoilers. If you want a rather dreamlike story, here it is.

      4 “Beneath the Sugar Sky” by Seannan McGuire– part of her series about children recovering from having been in portal fantasies. Not bad, not great.

      3 “Artificial Condition” by Martha Wells. #2 about Murderbot, a security robot who broke its governor and now wants to spend its time consuming fiction rather than taking care of people. It still gets stuck with taking care of people, and is also involved with trying to sort out it’s own probably falsified history. Not bad, but the first one was better.

      2 “The Tea Master and the Detective” by Aliette de Bodard– People need specially formulated tea to endure being in space. Not everyone can afford custom tea.

      1 “The Black God’s Drums” by P. Dèlí Clark– very strong beginning, fair to middling story. Lively steampunk civil war AH, and I especially liked successful Haiti. I’m also in favor of any story where weather magic is political because of course it’s political.

      • Randy M says:

        “The Tea Master and the Detective” by Aliette de Bodard

        I would have expected a British name, or possibly Chinese.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          French-American of Vietnamese descent.

          • Randy M says:

            I didn’t expect to research popularity of Tea in Vietnam today, but here we are.

            Although tea has been enjoyed in Vietnam for thousands of years, it has only been produced within the country since the 1880s, when French colonists established the first Vietnamese tea plantations in the area around Pho Tho, northwest of Hanoi. Today Vietnam is the seventh largest global producer of tea, with much of the crop grown by independent smallholders who are contracted to sell a percentage of their tea leaves to state-owned farms or large processing plants. The rest they are free to process themselves as distinct artisanal varieties, or to sell on the open market.

          • Lambert says:

            You might get some decent stuff out of the highlands, but I suspect most of Vietnam is too hot and low down to make good tea.

            All the good tea comes from places with a Cwb climate (Dry-Winter Subtropical Highland)

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s more Orientalism. If I’m in the mood for it, that’s fine, but personally I think it works better as fantasy/science fantasy than straight science fiction. Of course, the Hugo categories are now so blurred that stories I think are fantasy/science fantasy are lumped in as science fiction.

          I like stories about dragons and the Mystic East, don’t get me wrong, but I do weary of the finger-wagging about on the one hand “you cannot wear a kimono as a Hallowe’en costume” and on the other hand “this is True Representation” when a Frenchwoman does it (well, French-Vietnamese). Not about her own culture, which is fair enough, it’s what she knows and it’s also what will make a buck writing for a Western market, but writing about the Aztecs? It’s not even original in “okay so everyone says the Aztecs are bloodthirsty but did you consider they were better than Westerners otherwise?” Mercedes Lackey for one did that back in the 80s and I’m sure a slew of fantasy/horror/urban fantasy writers have been just as original:

          I rather like the Aztecs, as a matter of fact. I tend to have a soft spot for the underdog, and the Aztecs are a very much maligned culture in literature and movies. Whenever someone needs a bloodthirsty tribe of invaders to make suitable villains, they have a good chance of turning to an Aztec-flavored society. But, if you set aside the stumbling block of human sacrifice, Aztec society had a lot that was positive: a humane system of justice which held the rich to a higher degree of responsibility than the poor, a higher degree of equality between men and women than most ancient civilizations, and high social mobility between commoners and noblemen.

          Yeah, you know, apart from making children cry so their tears would evoke the rain god before you pulled out their hearts and wore their flayed skins, the Azteca were so much more socially aware:

          The Atlcahualo festivals was celebrated from the 12th of February until the 3rd of March. Dedicated to the Tlaloque, this veintena involved the sacrifice of children on sacred mountaintops, like Mount Tlaloc. The children were beautifully adorned, dressed in the style of Tlaloc and the Tlaloque. The children to be sacrificed were carried to Mount Tlaloc on litters strewn with flowers and feathers, while also being surrounded by dancers. Once at the shrine, the children’s hearts would be pulled out by priests. If, on the way to the shrine, these children cried, their tears were viewed as positive signs of imminent and abundant rains. Every Atlcahualo festival, seven children were sacrificed in and around Lake Texcoco in the Aztec capital. The children were either slaves or the second-born children of noblepeople, or pīpiltin.

          The festival of Tozoztontli (24 March – 12 April) similarly involved child sacrifice. During this festival, the children were sacrificed in caves. The flayed skins of sacrificial victims that had been worn by priests for the last twenty days were taken off and placed in these dark, magical caverns.

          Honestly, I do think that today a shocking, taboo-breaking, transgressive fiction piece would be one where the Aztecs are villains!

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m not sure it was orientalism– the “teas” were as much like custom prescription medication as anything thing else.

          • Viliam says:

            I see a glorious future when child sacrifice becomes the next great progressive cause, and Aztecophobia the next great thoughtcrime.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You joke but I don’t think it’d take more than a few well-positioned blog posts to make a more general “Indigenophobia” into a thing

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m not sure it was orientalism– the “teas” were as much like custom prescription medication as anything thing else.

            Well, you coulda fooled me with the cover art for various editions. I did see it recommended on Amazon, and my “Hmm, Holmes/Watson pastiche in space with gender and race flipped and one of them’s a space ship? Well, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, we’ve already had an android Watson in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century” ran smack-bang into my “Yeah but do I wanna wade through pages of exquisite depictions of Exotique Future Confucian Empires – okay, yeah I do – but of ‘explain like I’m five Oriental tea ceremonies and naming conventions to Westerners, the big galoots’?” and the “nah, not really” won out.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I don’t think there were tea ceremonies.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nancy Lebovitz, your description makes me more inclined to give it a try. I may well do so after I finish the three books I’m currently reading 🙂

      • albatross11 says:

        I really loved the Murderbot series, but it made a lot more sense as a series than as standalone stories after the first one. I thought Artificial Condition was probably the weakest of the four novellas so far.

        I want Wells to write about what happened to the liberated sexbot, whose internal voice will be very different from Murderbot’s. Or to expand on what’s really going on with ART, who is *way* more competent and independent than any other bot we see. And I have this vague idea that you could imagine Preservation Aux passing a law giving constructs/high level bots full citizenship and becoming the core of a Culture-like civilization.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Novels

      6 Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee– conclusion of a trilogy. I read the whole thing because I’d been told this book will make more sense if you read all three.

      I’m actually hesitant about talking how much I hated these books because I read the author’s blog, and I like him, but oh well. There’s a reasonable chance that someone who likes or loves the books is here. Please chime in.

      The background is that magic is possible, but it’s powered by having a lot of people living by the same calendar. This results in competing dictatorships.

      I have limits to how much violence I want to read about, and those limits are probably inconsistent and Unfair to Authors. Still, book 1 had altogether too much horrible death and book 2 had altogether too much torture.

      I had trouble keeping track of what was going on, which was odd because Lee was doing a decent job of dropping reminders in and it still didn’t help. I suspect the tone of the writing was too even and the the characters talked too much like each other.

      I wasn’t even sure whether there were two instances of Jendao in the third book or three. There are two.

      Even for me, there were some charms– there’s some very nice luxury in the books and wry humor about it. Jendao becomes part fcnprfuvc and I found that oddly satisfying. There’s a subplot about involving low-status robots, and that’s pretty good.

      Was there an explanation for why there were “remembrances”– torturing people to death as a yearly ceremony?

      5 The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Koval. This one is fairly good, but I was selecting for fun and having the main character being blackmailed for having an anxiety disorder and hanging on by her fingernails is not my idea of fun.

      Anyway, a meteor destroyed a lot of the Baltimore-Washington area in the 50s and as a result, the space program is accelerated. The main character is a Jewish woman who’s a brilliant mathematician. A lot of the book is about her getting work fit for her talents. There’s a sequel, but I haven’t read it yet.

      I think that it would have been plausible for her to be up against more antisemites. Instead, she worries about antisemitism (and has to be polite to Mengele(?)), but most of the onstage prejudice is racism.

      Also, there’s opposition to women in the space program– just a blind spot of “of course no women”. This is odd because the survival of the human race is at stake. I could believe it more if it was “the men go first (and get the fame and most interesting work) to make it safe for women”.

      There’s a threat of global warming from the meteor, which I find unlikely. In any case, this is sufficiently SJW that any happy ending will have to be good for the vast majority of people, not just a small handful surviving.

      4 Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse– there’s been apocalyptic flooding. Most land area is under water, but Dinétah (formerly the Navaho reservation) is safe, though dry and poor.

      Maggie Hoskie has some magic and hunts monsters. deals with an unusually nasty version of Coyote, also deals with her ex-teacher and lover. If you like paranormal romance at all, you should read this. The sequel is even better.

      Record of a Spaceborn Few by Bechy Chambers– third in a series, but stands alone well by itself. Most of humanity has left earth because of environmental disaster and has a moderately communal society in colony ships. People have made contact with a richer and more individualistic galactic culture and are figuring out how to deal with being able to buy cool stuff.

      The book seems generally reasonable and emotionally satisfying (a lot about funeral customs) and I found it refreshing to hove a plot turn on one death rather than the usual sf body count.

      Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik– set in fantasy eastern Europe. A poor Jewish money lender’s daughter figures out how to make money and runs afoul of winter elves. The complex plot expands to include peasant who are working for her and the czarina.

      I liked this a lot –there’s quite a bit going on, excellent confrontations, some plot twists I didn’t expect….

      1 Space Opera by Catherine Valente– I was selecting for fun, but it was a close call between this and Spinning Silver for first. Space Opera is Galactic Eurovision, and strongly influenced by Douglas Adams. The human race is forced to compete. If we come in last, we will be destroyed, and we don’t get to chose our musicians, either.

      The thing is, I think most sf humor is pretty dire– the merest stereotype-shuffling and joke-shaped objects. This book has me laughing every ten pages or so.

      And there was some light parodying of Social Justice, too. I can appreciate it when Social Justice gets to the point of “no one has clean hands”.

      There are people who thought the book had too much word salad, and I can see their point, but I found that it wasn’t a problem for me.

      • Randy M says:

        Record of a Spaceborn Few

        I think this one is on my wishlist. Does the author touch on how you can get millions/billions of people on ships? Or did most of humanity die off? What’s the culture on the human gen ships like?

        • broblawsky says:

          It goes extensively into the culture of the Exodus Fleet, yeah. They’re a highly collectivist society, which is contrasted against the more capitalist cultures they interact with (some aliens, the humans on Mars). The engineering challenges involved in building/launching the ships are mostly glossed over, as is the environmental disaster that rendered Earth semi-uninhabitable; it’s all considered history.

          I’d strongly recommend it, as well as the rest of Becky Chambers’ novels.

          • Randy M says:

            The engineering challenges involved in building/launching the ships are mostly glossed over, as is the environmental disaster that rendered Earth semi-uninhabitable; it’s all considered history.

            Imo, we can save humanity by transplanting a few hundred elsewhere to start a back up planet, but in terms of actually evacuating significant numbers from Earth (similar to a Dr Who episode early in the first season with Amy, iirc), we’ll need something roughly, well, planet sized to support that.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            It is, in fact, theoretically possible to launch utterly ridiculous amounts of mass into space with known materials science.

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

            The foundations for the base stations are going to be under load in a big way, and you need something like 8 EPRS feeding it power, but if you want to launch stuff into space by the millions of tonnes, there you go, much more reasonable requirements than a space elevator.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, that solves one problem.

      • Deiseach says:

        Space Opera is Galactic Eurovision, and strongly influenced by Douglas Adams. The human race is forced to compete. If we come in last, we will be destroyed, and we don’t get to chose our musicians, either.

        What does Australia know that we don’t? 😀

        Yeah, we’re ready, the aliens won’t know what hit ’em with the Ultimate Eurovision Song!

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          For the US:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlpBPO9_L4E

          Or against the US. I didn’t know my speakers could produce such painful high notes.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oops, sorry! Forgot about the whole “you can’t play this in your region” thing!

            The performance in the final was better than the official video – better as in “the effects were amazing” rather than the song itself being better.

            Bring it on, Space Eurovision! We have painfully normal acts trying to persuade the Chinese not to block the contest on grounds of decadent perversion, but we’ve also got the good stuff as well, anything you can do, we can match and outdo! 🙂

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Club awards– not part of the Hugo awards.

      Dragon Award

      For whatever dragged on the most. I gave mine to Revenant Gun. The big battle at the end was awful– i kept feeling like there were so many pages to turn. (Actually 20 or so, I think.) Weirdly, the denouement was easier going.

      Best in Show Spinning Silver

  19. Reasoner says:

    Does anyone have thoughts on the situation between India and Pakistan?

    Here’s my take.

    After 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed by a suicide attack earlier this month in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a poignant cartoon started doing rounds on Indian social media: It showed an armed Indian soldier, pressed back-to-back with a group of civilians. The civilians, giggling over their phones, appear to be pushing the soldier into battle.

    Source.

    Here is another article, from Reuters, about misinformation on social media during the last flareup in February.

    Starting to sound like a dystopian cyberpunk novel yet?

    It puts our discussions about social media in a different light when the two parties in the meme war are nuclear powers, don’t you think?

    How do you expect the situation in Kashmir will ever resolve itself when the most divisive takes have a systematic tendency to go viral?

    I’m with Senator Josh Hawley: We might be better off if Facebook, Instagram and Twitter vanished. Not just us, but the rest of the globe too. Which do you care more about: Trying shoehorn a long-dead slaveholder’s ideas about free speech into 21st century communication technology, or preventing nuclear war?

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I feel it necessary to point out that we need not actually do anything that implicates the First Amendment to get rid of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. All that is necessary is a strong set of social norms against using them.

      Imagine if tweeting carried a similar sort of social stigma as tweeting racist jokes. I’m not talking about people getting fired, or anything like that; rather, a situation where admitting to it would be a cause for social disapproval. Some people might engage in it in private, but most wouldn’t actually admit to it in public.

      Even if it wouldn’t be enough to kill those social networks, it would greatly reduce the damage they do to public discourse. I’m perfectly okay with Warmfront (not sure if banned word, you know who I mean) to exist, somewhere, as long as it’s not driving public discourse in any meaningful way.

      We might even direct this norm against the chattering classes – I’m thinking about media people first and foremost – initially. A concerted political effort to effect this might look like: politicians stop using Twitter and refuse to talk to any media people known to use Twitter (or even if they do, they can make it clear they consider Twitter-users as being the same kind of people as “famous for being famous” celebrities, like the Kardashians). In short, if you want to get any respect as a serious journalist, you do not use Twitter. A Twitter-user is probably a gossip-pages hack, or something just as unsavoury.

      I happen to have had the good fortune of being in on the ground floor of Twitter’s emergence and being on the fringes of the early-adopter/influencer group that got us to where we are today. I still remember “Tweet that you’re eating soup, so your mom doesn’t worry.” being proposed, by the site, as a serious use case.

      A lot of journalists got in on Twitter early and a lot of people were evangelising Twitter to media people/celebrities. Imagine an opposite scenario: “I won’t set foot on Twitter and have no respect for people who do”. Without the signal boost from traditional media, Twitter would cease to be relevant for national discourse.

      When was the last time you got wound up over something someone posted on MySpace?

    • baconbits9 says:

      Trying shoehorn a long-dead slaveholder’s ideas about free speech into 21st century communication technology, or preventing nuclear war?

      Yes, large, powerful, information controlling governments have never been a threat to international peace.

      • Reasoner says:

        I’m not proposing the US government control information. I’m proposing a return to the pre-Internet era of political discussion.

        All you have to do is remove legal protections for social media sites: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Then users could pay social media sites a usage fee, scaled based on that user’s estimated chance of triggering a lawsuit. Boom, serious people having civil discussions rule social media. As a bonus, social media business models are no longer driven by maximizing engagement.

        In terms of international peace… right now we are in a Pax Americana period which is unusually peaceful. This is not the first time a large, powerful government has created international peace. Check out Pax Romana and Pax Britannica.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Because, let’s face it, “serious people having civil discussions” and “not defamation under US law” are two ways of saying the same thing.

          • Reasoner says:

            The social media site has an incentive to develop e.g. a machine learning model which predicts the probability of a defamation lawsuit. If the person is a serious person having civil discussions, their likelihood of triggering a defamation lawsuit is low. It’s no different than auto insurance: Your insurance will be cheaper if you don’t get in accidents.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If the person is a serious person having civil discussions, their likelihood of triggering a defamation lawsuit is low.

            Even assuming this to be true, the converse is not. People say lots of things that are neither actionable defamation nor civil discussion.

            In any case, Section 230 doesn’t change what you can sue for, only who you can sue. Repealing it would merely shift the liability from those who have direct knowledge of who they are and direct control over their own actions, to those who have neither.

          • dick says:

            …but who do have extraordinary amounts of money.

            My intuition is that, if 230 were repealed, social media sites would just reinstate it via other means – elaborate disclaimers, clickwrap agreements, relocating servers to countries with different laws, etc. Any reason to think that’s not the case? In a way, 230 has kept us from finding out what happens when you sue Facebook, which might still turn out to be nothing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Section 230 cannot be enacted by click-wrap agreement because libel can be claimed by someone who doesn’t use the service. If someone libels me on Twitter, no agreement between Twitter and its users can shield Twitter from liability to me, a non-user; it has to be law.

          • John Schilling says:

            And no agreement between Twitter and a user can make the user assume full liability for libel against third parties because Twitter has deep pockets and random internet trolls don’t.

          • dick says:

            Maybe. But “can’t” is a strong word for something that’s never been tested. I don’t think the first person to walk in to court asking for $10M from Facebook are going to feel as confident as you sound.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Maybe. But “can’t” is a strong word for something that’s never been tested. I don’t think the first person to walk in to court asking for $10M from Facebook are going to feel as confident as you sound.

            There’s no “maybe” about it. If Facebook tries to limit its liability to libel by agreement with its users, the first lawyer walking into court with a libel case from a non-user is going to feel very confident that agreement will not affect the case. There may be other reasons the case will fail, of course, but that won’t be one of them.

          • dick says:

            There’s no “maybe” about it.

            If you say so, counselor. But I still think your confidence is misplaced. In the first place, CDA 230 says that when I put something on Facebook, Facebook should not be considered the speaker; it doesn’t immediately follow that when 230 is rescinded, Facebook would perforce be considered the speaker, someone still has to persuade a court of that, right?

            In the second place, huge corporations with huge legal teams seem to have a knack for getting things to work out. I wouldn’t say “there’s no maybe about it!” re: winning damages from Facebook if I had video evidence of Zuckerberg and the entire BoD singing “To libel dick, we’ll invent a flaw / even though it’s against the law” in three part harmony.

          • acymetric says:

            I think you’re misunderstanding the confidence. The Nybbler isn’t saying Facebook wouldn’t win in court. Just that they wouldn’t win based on a user agreement.

          • dick says:

            Yes, and it seems like “FB won’t fail because of X” is narrower than “FB won’t fail at all”. But FB gets to come up with a legal theory (as to why they’re not liable) first, then change the product to suit it, and then write a user agreement based on that. It’s hard to see how a claim that that agreement will fail to protect them is not a claim that their legal theory is wrong.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          But this new (as in not contained in original comment) proposal has nothing to do with Thomas Jefferson or any other dead slaveholder.

          • Reasoner says:

            That’s true, I just came up with this idea. Sorry for the slaveholder thing, it seems to have derailed the discussion.

        • albatross11 says:

          Reasoner:

          I agree that social media are messing up public discourse in a lot of ways. But I think various ways to either shut down destructive discourse or try to legislate what communications technology should look like in the future is going to do more harm than good.

          I come at this as someone who holds some pretty unpopular views on questions of fact, which I think are correct and important. I expect that any mechanism to shut down socially destructive public discussion will shut down discussions of human b-odiversity long before they get around to shutting down the kind of rage-fueled clickbait that IMO is poisoning a lot of public discourse. Similarly, I expect that discussions that are upsetting to powerful people will be targeted for shutting down–opposition to popular wars, demands to hold war criminals accountable, critiques of busing or affirmative action.

          Making it easy to sue websites for anything written on them by their users won’t just stop social media, it will also make it easy to shut down public discussions like the one here, or on other blogs and online fora that exist and allow for interesting, high-quality discussions. Those fora often bring up issues that never show up in mainstream US media, and even more often bring up perspectives that show up in mainstream venues only as ideas to be condemned without a hearing. I think they make the world a better place, and don’t want them destroyed.

          Further, a lot of the most destructive discourse (rage-inducing stories written for clicks, often with major factual distortions) are staples of mainstream media outlets, and have been for a very long time. Neither Rachel Maddow nor Tucker Carlson is a product of social media.

          I think as a culture (and as institutions) we need to develop a kind of cultural antibodies to the kind of destructive side of social media. But nothing I’ve seen from previous regulation of tech companies suggests to me that Congress will do any kind of good job helping that process along. The fact that social media is impacting elections makes this even less likely–everyone is going to be looking to help their side in the next election, regardless of the long-term effects.

          • dick says:

            I think as a culture (and as institutions) we need to develop a kind of cultural antibodies to the kind of destructive side of social media.

            I agree, and I think this is already happening, and part of the reason I can’t take right-wing social media fears (that Twitter is silencing conservatives, so-and-so got fired for a FB post which is a slippery slope, etc) seriously is that they contain the implicit assumption that this won’t happen naturally and relatively quickly.

          • Aapje says:

            @dick

            The attempts to form competing spaces don’t seem to work out very well, so the antibodies in practice seem to be communal feelings of resentment and ressentiment.

            This doesn’t solve the issue in any way, but result in more focused hatred and increasing support for insurgency.

          • dick says:

            Look at it this way: is your social media better or worse than five years ago? I don’t mean social media generally, you’re not qualified to talk about that and neither I am. I mean, your little corner of it. Your personal experience using it. Better or worse?

            If better: great, it’s working!

            If worse: think about why. Pick an experience you had that illustrates how awful social media is. Whatever it was, you could’ve avoided it, right? If it was an offensive post from your uncle, you could block your uncle. If it was a dissatisfying argument, you could’ve not argued. If it was an enraging article, you could’ve not clicked on it.

            Doing those things, avoiding the shit, is the antibodies. People are getting inured to clickbait, people are learning that some types of arguments aren’t useful, but it’s a slow process. We as a society are still grappling with the idea that maybe junk food isn’t very healthy and we shouldn’t eat too much of it, and that’s been around several generations. Social media has communities based around broadcasting and amplifying hatred, and it also has communities based around regifting out-grown baby clothes to neighbors who need them, and people are still sorting themselves. Give it time.

          • Aapje says:

            One of my interests is a topic that the blue tribe considers evil (weaponry), resulting in YouTubers covering that topic being excluded from recommendations, monetization and such. This clearly exasperates the YouTubers covering this topic and requires extra effort on their part and on the part of the fans.

            One of them, Jörg Sprave, started a YouTubers union and is trying to attack YouTube policies with EU law.

            Social media has communities based around broadcasting and amplifying hatred, and it also has communities based around regifting out-grown baby clothes to neighbors who need them, and people are still sorting themselves

            The point is that the blue tribe considers many red tribe politics and hobbies to be hateful and are trying to use their power to prevent those communities from existing. So the issue is not that these communities are insufficiently sorted, but that there is intolerance on the part of the blue tribe for the very existence of things that go against blue tribe orthodoxy.

            I see no indication that the tolerance is increasing, rather the opposite, with social media increasingly trying to eradicate the other.

    • Aftagley says:

      Other than the weapons the belligerents will have access to, how is this any different than Hearst pushing us into the Spanish-American war? Jingoists have played up national grievances to incite war forever.

    • John Schilling says:

      Which do you care more about: Trying shoehorn a long-dead slaveholder’s ideas about free speech into 21st century communication technology, or preventing nuclear war

      I’m with the dead white guy on this one, and I’m willing to wage a nuclear war over it. And your phrasing makes you an obnoxious troll who should be ignored rather than engaged.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        All will try to abridge freedom of speech in the name of a worthy cause, and the answer should always be the same: No.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I’m going off on a tangent here:
          Freedom of speech isn’t the most important freedom along these lines. Freedom of though is more important. People shouldn’t forget this.

          It’s arguable that the US constitution’s fourth amendment is a more important freedom than speech portion of the 1st amendment.

          • Lambert says:

            I didn’t derive all my political and philosophical from first principles.
            I was pursuaded by others’ speech.

            Without that speech, I’d never have even got the opportunity to think those thoughts.

      • Yeah, the “I’m with Senator Josh Hawley” and using “long-dead slaveholder’s ideas” un-ironically strongly points to trolling. I presume the point is to criticize Hawley as a “hypocrite” for supposedly being against “free speech.”(Regulation of social media companies is no more an abridgment of free speech than regulation of paper-making is an abridgment of freedom of the press)

        I think Hawley’s attitude is the future of the Republican party. Everyone here knows that, if the situation with big tech were reversed, that they were censoring liberals rather than conservatives, almost every single liberal would be demanding government regulation. After all, they just spent a decade banging the drum that “money is not speech and corporations are not people.” And they are winning, because it’s always easier to fight when you don’t have sacred cows to work around.

        • LHN says:

          (Regulation of social media companies is no more an abridgment of free speech than regulation of paper-making is an abridgment of freedom of the press)

          I’m not sure what this means. Are there regulations that require papermakers to sell paper to all comers regardless of politics?

          (As to the other side winning, Citizens United is still good law despite any outcry against it, was decided by a strong majority, and none of the changes in justices since then seem likely to provide votes for a reversal.)

          • “Are there regulations that require papermakers to sell paper to all comers regardless of politics?”

            I don’t know, there might be. During the 19th century the “robber barons” loved the “we’re a private company and we can sell or not sell to whoever we want, at whatever price we set,” and so a lot of rules were put in place to combat “predatory” pricing strategies and monopolistic behavior. These weren’t just demanded by socialists, many found the business environment easier if they didn’t have to worry that one day the railroad might double their rates or their supplier would cut off their service after being bought up by a competitor. So for all I know there are strict rules like this in the paper industry.

            Regardless, the question is whether those regulations would be a violation of the “free speech” of the paper manufacturers. I don’t think anyone would argue that they would.

          • LHN says:

            Being required to bake cakes or perform wedding photography are live controversies as free expression issues, so I’m guessing that a fairness doctrine for papermakers would likewise be if the issue arose. Especially if the group a papermaker was refusing to do business with wasn’t an already established protected class.

          • You’re assuming paper companies want to use their business power to obstruct newspapers they disagree with politically. But you shouldn’t project the attitudes of the tech industry onto traditional manufacturing, usually, businesses just want to make money.

        • Reasoner says:

          I’m not trolling. I unironically think Josh Hawley is spot on. I expect many agree with him, but they have already left social media:

          https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/08/46-of-u-s-social-media-users-say-they-are-worn-out-by-political-posts-and-discussions/

      • Reasoner says:

        I’m not a troll. I’ve left hundreds of comments on this site, and I’m a huge fan of Scott’s.

        I did choose to be slightly provocative with the dead slaveholder phrasing in an attempt to inject some ideological diversity into this forum. Although this style of argument is very popular outside the forum, I almost never see it here. I’d hate for the SSC community to be one that relies primarily upon shibboleths like this to determine whether someone should be classified as a troll or not. I do feel that if someone has made clearly mistaken moral judgements (e.g. regarding the acceptability of slave ownership), this should make us a bit more skeptical of their moral judgements in other areas (e.g. free speech). So I think my argument here does have some merit, even if arguments made with this shibboleth are typically obnoxious arguments made without merit.

        You guys can’t both claim that your community is ideologically diverse, and instantly label me a troll when my argument even superficially resembles the sort lefties make!

        But in any case, the point is important enough that I wish I had not been unnecessarily provocative this way, so consider that bit rescinded.

        • Deiseach says:

          I did choose to be slightly provocative with the dead slaveholder phrasing in an attempt to inject some ideological diversity into this forum. Although this style of argument is very popular outside the forum, I almost never see it here.

          Yeah, because it’s “acting like a troll”. If you come off sounding like trolls, then you are going to be treated like a troll. I could be edgy and provocative and all that juvenile ‘look at me, Ma, being outrageous on the Internet!’ showing off using deliberately offensive comparisons and metaphors on here, but I try not to be, because that is outrage for the sake of it and pluming myself on how big-brain I am.

          It’s also perilously close to ad hominem: yeah, I’m fat and ugly and old and you wouldn’t even [x] me, but have you any argument that will hold water against my criticism? No? Then the “dead slaveholder” thing is the equivalent of “No, you’re a big poopyhead!”

          Please don’t inject anything in here before you ask people if they consent to having needles stuck into them.

          • Reasoner says:

            A lot of SSC comments would be considered trolling (in the sense of being edgy/provocative) if they were posted to a left-leaning forum.

          • Watchman says:

            This seems to be a non-sequateur. That sites with a particular ideology take expressions of alternative ideologies as provocative does not justify a deliberately-provocative presentation on a different site.

          • Reasoner says:

            “deliberately-provocative”

            If I express an alternative ideology, people will take it as provocative. If I know this in advance, any expression of an alternative ideology could be considered “deliberately provocative”. So if everyone tries to avoid saying anything provocative, we get groupthink, moral tribes, and filter bubbles.

            When I said I meant to be provocative, I meant in the sense of getting people to think thoughts they don’t usually think and consider perspectives they don’t usually consider, not in the sense of trying to start a fight.

        • John Schilling says:

          You guys can’t both claim that your community is ideologically diverse, and instantly label me a troll when my argument even superficially resembles the sort lefties make!

          Our community remains intellectually diverse because we dismiss as trolls people who deliberately toss offensive and ideologically charged ad hominems for the explicit purpose of being “provocative”. That’s a central example of trolling in the classic sense, and it is incompatible with sustained ideological diversity.

          Yesterday, you were a troll. Has nothing to do with left vs right, but with promoting anger and shouting vs. civil discussion. Try not to be a troll next time you start a discussion.

          • Reasoner says:

            You consider it offensive to point out that someone was a slaveholder?

            When is a factually true but unflattering statement offensive? Am I no longer allowed to say anything bad about dead people? Would it be offensive if I pointed out that Stalin killed millions, for instance? I’m pretty sure this sort of “offensive” allegation regarding Stalin-type outgroupers has been made many times on SSC with nary a peep.

            I’m sure I’d be labeled a troll if I disparaged Stalin on a communist forum though.

            Just because someone doesn’t walk on eggshells around an ideology’s sacred cow does not mean they are a troll. Just because someone thinks the outgroup has a point now and then does not mean they are speaking in bad faith. Citation: many SSC posts.

          • albatross11 says:

            Reasoner:

            I’m finding it very hard to assume good faith here.

            You wanted to load up the traditional idea of freedom of speech with lots of negative associations, so you described it as the idea of a long-dead slaveholder. The point was pretty obviously not accurately describing anything, but rather to weaken the idea by associating it with something everyone now agrees was bad.

            Nobody here is going to complain if you bring up the fact that Jefferson was a slaveholder in a context where it makes sense. But whether or not the first amendment was a good idea as written, and whether or not it’s a good idea in the (much different) way it is currently interpreted by the courts, has zero connection with whether or not Jefferson was a slaveholder. The only reason to bring it up is to try to weaken the concept by association.

          • Deiseach says:

            You consider it offensive to point out that someone was a slaveholder?

            And here we see the classic troll tactic of dissimulation, pretence, and outrage-baiting. Fascinating to observe the traditional, even instinctual, displays that the creatures demonstrate when engaging in threat displays, mock combat, and other bluffing strategies. If you listen closely, you may hear the distant cries of No, you are… no, you are… that are one of this animal’s distinct and unique vocalisations.

            Nature is awesome in its myriad creations.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I’m with Senator Josh Hawley: We might be better off if Facebook, Instagram and Twitter vanished.

      I would dearly love for this to happen. But I dearly love freedom of speech even more. It’s always painful to choose between the ones you love, but I will bite the bullet on this one.

      • Reasoner says:

        You can have both though: If social media websites go away, we will still have free speech in the sense that the founders intended. (Newspapers can print whatever they want, but there’s a nontrivial cost to setting up a newspaper.) That’s what I was trying to get at with the shoehorning comment.

    • broblawsky says:

      IMHO, this is on Modi. He’s the one leading this, not Indian twitter users.

    • Deiseach says:

      Which do you care more about: Trying shoehorn a long-dead slaveholder’s ideas about free speech into 21st century communication technology, or preventing nuclear war?

      Donatism as a political governing philosophy doesn’t really work, my friend, because all of us have sinned. All our righteousness is as filthy rags, and President Squeaky Clean Hates Slavery Free Speech Means Hate Speech Punch A Nazi is going to be outed by the kinds of people who dig up twenty year old social media posts where Squeaky admits they got drunk/high/made a joke in poor taste/used slang or a term that was in widespread use at the time but is now An Awful Hate-filled Slur (“gasp, they used the word “g*ypsy”, can you imagine!!!”)*

      *Yes, with mine own two eyes I have seen people censoring “gypsy” as though ’twere the n-word because the slur is so Awful and Hate-filled. Pacific Rim got blasted over this for having a jaeger called Gypsy Danger, to the point where some people writing fanfic changed the name to Lady Danger. Those are the very people who would be in agreement with Reasoner over “long-dead slaveholder’s ideas about free speech”.

      • DeWitt says:

        Interesting heresy. Did Donatists not buy into original sin at all? Christianity really doesn’t appear shy about the statement that all humans are flawed, to me.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, Donatists were very big on sin, especially if you fell short after baptismal regeneration; St Augustine – whom Calvin thought was on his side when it came to damnation – argued against them because they sought an impossible standard of purity and made themselves the judges of who was and was not perfectly pure.

          Rather reminiscent of some social media, come to think of it. But it’s the same argument as “so if Surgeon X is cheating on his wife, is he still the best person to perform this operation?” We generally don’t take the surgeon’s private life into account but rather his professional ability. Now, if he turns up drunk or high before the operation, then yeah we judge his morals, but otherwise no.

          Donatists insisted that only those with a perfect level of zeal and purity could be clergy, and moreover that the efficacy of the sacraments depended on the personal purity and belief of the officiant. Take that into the secular world, and you get the “yeah but Washington/Jefferson/other Founding Father owned slaves, therefore everything else he said or wrote is only waste paper, let’s whitewash over the mural” arguments. It’s entirely possible to be a dead slaveholder and to be right on a principle of law or governance.

    • BBA says:

      Last weekend’s events got me to thinking that the First Amendment and the Second Amendment are incompatible. Internationally, of course, the same dynamics are even worse.

  20. BBA says:

    Enough of the Lyme disease subthread. Let’s talk about Lyme disease.

    Now from one perspective, these “chronic Lyme” patients are a bunch of delusional people, primarily women, from whom a handful of shady doctors have been able to extract countless sums of money for worthless treatment of a nonexistent disease. From another, this is yet another example of an insular medical establishment that doesn’t listen to patients, especially women, and a handful of courageous doctors have bucked the establishment to give them the treatment they need. As a scientifically minded person my instincts trend towards the first, but lately I’ve seen too many stories of “solid” scientific findings being based on total junk. If “standard medicine” is little better than N-rays and phrenology, then maybe chronic Lyme could be real. I mean, it’s not, but it could be.

    • Anatoly says:

      You really buried the lede here. This study finds a robust POSITIVE effect to the growth mindset with just 1 hour worth of intervention, and its impressive-looking modeling/analysis technique includes pre-registration of the analyses they would run, AND Andrew Gelman participated in the design!

      I don’t have the chops to contribute anything here, but this looks like a huge deal in the ongoing conversation.

  21. Atlas says:

    Why did monotheism become such a dominant form of religious belief, in the sense that Christians+Muslims (plus various smaller religions) make up ~55% of the world’s population today? I’m happily willing to accept that religion in general, and organized religion in particular, is adaptive, but it’s not clear to me why this form of religion in particular was so adaptive relative to others.

    I’m curious about this question in general, but especially/specifically in the context of the philosophical/theological problem of evil. It seems like, despite the best efforts of the best minds in monotheism for over 1500 years now, no one has really come up with a good, satisfying, punchy answer to the Epicurean/Humean riddle[1]. But polytheism/Manichaeism seems to offer a pretty clear way out: all the good things are the result of the good God/god(s), and all the bad things are the result of the bad God/god(s). Furthermore, the bad god(s) could win the cosmological battle if the good God/god(s) don’t get enough support, so you darn well better follow the commandments/practice the rituals/pray regularly.

    If I was a villager in some Near Eastern village in the 7th century, and competing Muslim and Manichaean proselytizers came to town, I think I would probably find both their religions more compelling than local paganism. But I think I would find it pretty suspicious that Allah is allegedly all-powerful and all-benevolent, and yet we still seem to have famines, plagues, and wars. By contrast, it would sure make a lot of sense that there are competing good deities and bad deities. That would neatly explain why there are sometimes good things and sometimes bad things.

    But it seems like Islam and Christianity managed to ultimately convince a lot more people than competing faiths with easier solutions to this problem. Maybe most laymen simply don’t care very much about this?

    [1] Judging from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Wikipedia, as well as observing various debates on this on the internet and in real life, the main defenses seem to be skeptical theism and free will. I don’t think that either of these is very compelling—certainly they’re far less compelling than the polytheistic/Manichaen explanations:

    If you want to obviate the existence of evil/suffering by saying that God’s motives are infinitely beyond our comprehension, okay, fine, but, from my point of view at least, you have to apply that very rigorous standard consistently, and not just when it’s convenient for your beliefs. His motives for allowing joy and order are equally inscrutable as His motives for allowing suffering and disorder, so I don’t understand how you can simultaneously claim that you perceive (at least some of) His motives in the first case while claiming that you couldn’t possibly understand His will in the second case. Furthermore, at least to me, it seems that if you take such a radically skeptical position with regards to evil, it very well might also logically lead you to extreme, heretical skepticism about alleged revelations and prophets. If God’s motives are so impossibly complex, you might reasonably be highly unsure if alleged messengers of His are real or are some of sort of trick/test of your faith instead.

    I disagree with the free will argument on many different levels, but for the sake of brevity I’ll explicate the disagreement with the most shared, granted-for-the-sake-of-argument ground. There is a vast range of human suffering, notably including disease and starvation/malnutrition, that often/usually has nothing to do with the alleged free will of human beings. If God wishes to test the alleged free will of humans, such suffering seems largely irrelevant to that purpose. I guess you could argue that God needed to create/simulate all possible conditions of inequity/injustice, to test the human response to them, but it still seems extremely hard to explain how e.g. the destruction of Pompeii relates to human moral decisions in any way and I also kind of question how far most monotheists want to go down the “God needed to make the world in precisely such a way that it isn’t obvious that He made it” road.

    • benjdenny says:

      I think you’ve to an extent strawmanned the Christian viewpoint on why there is suffering. Recall that in Christianity’s narrative, there isn’t any suffering initially; everyone pokes around in a garden naming things, chitchatting with God, not needing clothes and all that. Then there’s a conscious choice to rebel away from perfection and subsequent punishments; childbirth hurts, food is hard to get, animals are dangerous.

      And for Christianity, even this suffering is partially voluntary in the short term. Most biblical rules have to do with being nice, avoiding conflict-causing behaviors, sharing with needy people and not eating shellfish. Meanwhile absolutely all suffering is voluntary in the long-term, which is what the whole heaven bit is about.

      So if you wanted to steelman this, you’d come up with an argument something like “We had an opportunity at perfection and chose to go our own way; God allowed us to do so with a non-extinction level punishment to go with it. Still, most of our own suffering is self-imposed in the short term, in that humans treat each other poorly. We are all offered an escape from temporary and eternal unhappiness to eternal happiness, in any case.”

      You may not believe any of that is true, but since that wasn’t your argument that’s moot. You might also believe that an omnipotent creator-god has no right to punish anyone for disobedience or that you have a better concept of what an appropriate punishment is than an omnipotent creator-god; that’s not an argument anybody can win in either direction.

      At any rate, this is a lot closer to what Christianity is than pretending that free will and an incomplete understanding of God are its only explanations for suffering while simultaneously representing the free-will portion of the explanation as something different than what Christianity represents it to be.

      • Viliam says:

        We had an opportunity at perfection and chose to go our own way

        For context, “we” = two people who lived 6000 years ago. Even the most charitable interpretation of Christianity includes being punished for someone else’s transgression.

        (But they were your great-great-great-…-grandparents, who ate a fruit!!!, which makes it totally reasonable to make you suffer and die. Any omnipotent and infinitely loving being would react the same way.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That sounds like a Protestant weakman.
          Eastern Orthodox, f’instance, come across as treating Adam and Eve like the Form of Man and Woman. Archetypal Man and Woman made a choice to participate in evil, each individual recapitulates that, the New Adam Jesus Christ saved them, and the Church commemorates this with icons of Jesus breaking the gates of Hades and Adam and Eve coming out in the lead.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          For the record, a correct reading of the Adam and Eve story is that God made a world where there was no good or evil, no good or bad, no better or worse. That was the world he intended for humans. But he gave them a choice of rejecting that world for a world of good and bad. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil can just as well be translated the The Tree of Belief in Good and Evil. They chose that world and the rest is history. The world itself did not change. There is still no good or evil. However, people think there is. The cool thing is that at any time we can choose to reject the idea of good and bad, better and worse and live in a world without this. That world, by the way, has no suffering.

        • benjdenny says:

          @Viliam:

          Given your general tone, I’m pretty sure you aren’t interested in arguing with anything resembling the actual nuanced beliefs of an actual Christian, but just in case (or, barring that, for observers)

          1. The argument that a person shouldn’t be punished for Adam and Eve’s disobedience would be valid coming from a person who was not similarly disobedient in their own right. Outside of the biblical representation of Jesus, no such person exists. Most protestants don’t think/talk much about the Catholic concept of original sin; that’s because there is plenty of new, non-original sin to render the matter moot.

          2. The “ate a fruit!!!” thing is beneath you; it’s beneath anyone. The text has Adam and Eve surrounded by perfectly adequate fruit they are allowed to eat. They are told not to eat a fruit that will make them die, and they do so anyway and enter into a world in which death is a thing. That’s the explicit text. Barely into the metaphor is a clear choice between perfection and imperfection, between a world run by God or a world run by man.

          You might still disagree with all of that, but at least do yourself the favor of arguing with something that actual exists instead of the theological equivalent of going “capitalism? LIke I want to live in a world where people sell a BABY’S KIDNEYS so they can drink more DIET COKE”.

          3. The post you replied to wasn’t meant to convince you to be a Christian, or that God’s punishments are just. It was a response to a strawman, and an exhortation to at least argue against the actual beliefs held by the people you disagree with instead of a made-up version designed to be easy to defeat. It’s depressing to me that you read this (spoiler: or not) and then went right back to the strawman well.

          To be clear, again: I’m not trying to convince you to be a Christian. I’m trying to convince you and the thread originator that, if you hate the beliefs of Christians, you should at least hate them for a non-weakman version of what they actually are.

        • Deiseach says:

          But they were your great-great-great-…-grandparents, who ate a fruit!!!

          (1) The fruit is metaphorical; the sin was disobedience and pride and deceit.
          (2) Plainly this argument means that great-grandparents who had lower intelligence cannot then produce offspring who will be of lower intelligence and so on down the family line, glad you’ve solved that problem so worrying to people about the current problem of dysgenics because all the dum-dums are having kids and the smart people aren’t, therefore the nation and civilisation is doomed due to general fall in IQ continuing over generations on a population basis.

      • Atlas says:

        I would consider the doctrine of original sin to be a (particularly unconvincing) subset of free will theodicy. I didn’t address it in the OP because I wanted to engage with arguments based in rational, abstract philosophy rather than belief in specific religious mythologies. To me, this seems more charitable to monotheism than judging its response to the problem of evil on the basis of the veracity of Biblical stories.

        • Evan Þ says:

          But the mythology is, in part, one somewhat-more-concrete approach to answering that philosophical question.

        • benjdenny says:

          @Atlas, yes, that’s a strawman. You can’t go “Christians are stupid because they say ‘God is love’ and yet there’s some level of imperfection in the world” and then say “well, yeah, I know their concept of God has an explanation for this, but I decided to completely ignore it because my priors are that religion is stupid” and still be taken seriously.

          If you want to argue that adherents to a religion are stupid because their religion is internally inconsistent, you have to, you know, acknowledge what the actual internals of the religion are. What you are actually doing is going “I think all religion is a fairy tale, so I think anyone who believes it is stupid” and then dressing it up as something you think looks more interesting.

          This would have been a lot quicker if you just posted “All religion is a lie prove me wrong”.

          • Atlas says:

            @Atlas, yes, that’s a strawman. You can’t go “Christians are stupid because they say ‘God is love’ and yet there’s some level of imperfection in the world” and then say “well, yeah, I know their concept of God has an explanation for this, but I decided to completely ignore it because my priors are that religion is stupid” and still be taken seriously.

            Good, because that’s not what I did, so readers will have to choose one of the many other reasons not to take me seriously.

            I stated that monotheists have not come up with a really satisfactory solution to the problem of evil, and addressed in an aside what seemed to me to be the most common attempted solutions. (Incidentally, you seem to believe that I am specifically targeting Christianity; I’m not sure why you think that, when my criticism was explicitly about monotheism in general. This is especially relevant here because Islam, a comparably large monotheistic religion, does not seem to have a doctrine of original sin.) One is alleged free will: humanity is only suffering because of its freely willed choices, and thus God can still be omnibenevolent and omnipotent while allowing suffering to occur.

            Your response, which explicated what I understand to be the specifically Christian doctrine of original sin, was one such form of this argument. I believe that it is a particularly weak form of this argument, so in the spirit of charity I refrained from picking on it in the OP. Nonetheless, you seem to feel that it is really, really important to consider, so, very well, I shall:

            The Garden of Eden story requires belief that there was a point in the history of the universe during which men, and perhaps other conscious creatures as well, did not suffer at all from such maladies as disease, war, extreme weather, hunger, and so on. Why should a disinterested observer believe that this period existed? Evidence from archaeology and population genetics suggests that the world was imperfect and suffering was frequently occurring, say, 50,000 years ago. (In fact, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event suggests that suffering was occurring tens of millions of years ago.) What source of information did the composer(s) of the Book of Genesis less than 3,000 years ago have access to about events occurring more than 50,000 years ago that we today do not? (Additionally, were the humans in the Garden of Eden Homo sapiens, a pre/non-Homo sapiens form of primate, or something else?)

            Since God is, in Christian theology, all-powerful and all-knowing, how could He not have known that Adam and Eve would disobey Him when He created them? How then can He justly punish them for exercising the nature He gave them in a way that He knew beforehand that they would exercise it? He could have created humans without the capacity for sin, or humans with the capacity for sin who would never have exercised it and thus never would have “deserved” to have been punished. Such an act would seem far more benevolent than creating creatures condemned to suffering in this world and/or the afterlife.

            Rather than collectively punishing all of humanity and all of conscious animal life for the sins of Adam and Eve, why doesn’t God allow each man the chance to exercise his own alleged free will to sin or not first? Why do Christians who fully accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and thus reject the choice of Adam and Eve still seem as capable of suffering unjustly as everyone else? Or were Adam and Eve conveniently the only humans ever capable of genuinely making the choice to accept or reject God’s will? You wrote above that no person other than Jesus has been able to completely do this. In that case, doesn’t it undermine the allegation that the human decision to sin is a matter of free will, and thus that divine punishment for those sins is just?

            I therefore do not see how the argument that you consider a “steelman” of monotheism satisfactorily resolves the problem of evil for an omipotent and omnibenevolent God. It relies on a questionable allegorical story that, even if true, seems to posit a God with less than infinite power or benevolence.

            This is of increased significance in light of the fact that the OP was asking a question about history/sociology rather than theology/philosophy: the steelman dualist account of evil seems far more persuasive and parsimonious than what you consider to be the steelman monotheist account.

            If you want to argue that adherents to a religion are stupid because their religion is internally inconsistent, you have to, you know, acknowledge what the actual internals of the religion are. What you are actually doing is going “I think all religion is a fairy tale, so I think anyone who believes it is stupid” and then dressing it up as something you think looks more interesting.

            This would have been a lot quicker if you just posted “All religion is a lie prove me wrong”.

            I would respectfully ask you to reread my previous comments and reconsider whether or not “all religion is a lie prove me wrong” and “adherents of religion are stupid” are fair approximations of their arguments, thrust and tone.

          • benjdenny says:

            And there you go! You don’t believe any of it. That’s fine. I don’t need you to. This is MUCH closer to not being a strawman.

            The Garden of Eden story requires belief that there was a point in the history of the universe during which men, and perhaps other conscious creatures as well, did not suffer at all from such maladies as disease, war, extreme weather, hunger, and so on. Why should a disinterested observer believe that this period existed? Evidence from archaeology and population genetics suggests that the world was imperfect and suffering was frequently occurring, say, 50,000 years ago. (In fact, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event suggests that suffering was occurring tens of millions of years ago.) What source of information did the composer(s) of the Book of Genesis less than 3,000 years ago have access to about events occurring more than 50,000 years ago that we today do not? (Additionally, were the humans in the Garden of Eden Homo sapiens, a pre/non-Homo sapiens form of primate, or something else?)

            This is just standard “it’s a fairy tale and I don’t believe it” stuff. Boring, and also no way for me to change your mind, nor mine yours. This, incidentally, is your actual objection and what you should have lead with – you think it’s stupid to believe in any of this at all, regardless of the good/evil thing.

            Since God is, in Christian theology, all-powerful and all-knowing, how could He not have known that Adam and Eve would disobey Him when He created them? How then can He justly punish them for exercising the nature He gave them in a way that He knew beforehand that they would exercise it?

            This is a good question – much better than you give it credit for. There is a question of whether or not an entity, knowing another entity will or might do a “bad thing”, is responsible for that thing.

            Let’s take my son; I don’t want him to yell randomly. When he yells randomly, I punish him in some way or another (usually just scolding) to get him to stop.

            I could keep him from screaming at random times by making him wear a gag; I could similarly keep him from screaming by paying a psychologist to drug him. I could also have kept him from yelling by just not having him. But in that I wanted a son who was an actual human with some agency, I don’t do these things. And in that he wants to exist without being drugged into a near-coma or wearing a gag, he knows that when he yells randomly, some form of punishment might be coming.

            But to the point: When he yells, yes, I knew to a near statistical certainty he was going to yell. Neither he nor I would suggest that this absolves him of absolutely all blame in the matter, and it’s silly for you to do so.

            It’s equally silly to go “I know the exact answer to the question ‘Does knowing someone is going to do something make you responsible for what they do, even when restraining them from doing it would be a massive restriction of their agency?’ And the answer is yes; there is no sane way to think not” when there are debates about, say, free speech and recidivism on the ground in every developed country right now.

            He could have created humans without the capacity for sin, or humans with the capacity for sin who would never have exercised it and thus never would have “deserved” to have been punished. Such an act would seem far more benevolent than creating creatures condemned to suffering in this world and/or the afterlife.

            This is what free will is. The Christian God values it; so do you. You are suggesting God should have made meaningless obedience robots, but he already had those. They are called trees. In that he wanted anything with any meaningful level of free will, there was going to be disobedience. And not crippling your creations doesn’t make you wholly responsible and them wholly free of blame for disobedience either. You are treating this, too, as a simple question, but this, too, is not.

            I really feel you wouldn’t feel it was as simple a question if I was to say “there’s a high incidence of people who are released from prison committing a crime; let’s throw a tracking anklet on them for life, and also they are on house arrest, and also we follow them with a monitoring drone.”. You might eliminate their ability to do bad, but you’d also eliminate their ability to do good in the same stroke. You’d certainly have plenty of people who wouldn’t accept “well, I had to tie him down to the bed to make sure he never did anything wrong – if he did, wouldn’t that be on me?” as an excuse.

            Rather than collectively punishing all of humanity and all of conscious animal life for the sins of Adam and Eve, why doesn’t God allow each man the chance to exercise his own alleged free will to sin or not first? Why do Christians who fully accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and thus reject the choice of Adam and Eve still seem as capable of suffering unjustly as everyone else? Or were Adam and Eve conveniently the only humans ever capable of genuinely making the choice to accept or reject God’s will? You wrote above that no person other than Jesus has been able to completely do this. In that case, doesn’t it undermine the allegation that the human decision to sin is a matter of free will, and thus that divine punishment for those sins is just?

            Facile as shit, frankly. Your argument is, boiled down:

            Since we are still bad, doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t be punished? And since we are all bad, as a race, shouldn’t that mean that the race doesn’t mean to be punished?

            You then minimize that humanity, as represented in Christianity, fundamentally different in it’s nature after the fall, by saying “it’s convenient” that they were different, as if Christianity doesn’t address this, or as if the entire point of the apple bit wasn’t that the choice would in fact change them, their mindset, their knowledge, and their relationship to sin. This is lazy and dishonest of you; again, you are going “Christianity has no answers for this!” when they do, instead of going “I don’t believe any of this and think Christians are stupid!” which is what you mean.

            You then strawman what Christians think salvation is/does; It’s not only not promised that salvation releases somebody from suffering during their earthly life, it’s clearly stated that it will likely increase that suffering. The promise of salvation is an end to suffering at the gates of heaven. And then this gem:

            Why do Christians who fully accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and thus reject the choice of Adam and Eve still seem as capable of suffering unjustly as everyone else?

            I mean, come on. If your argument is, as you claim, that you just don’t get why people believe this stuff, you really can’t then pretend to not understand that Christians think there’s a promise of less suffering at least after death. That’s too cute by half.

            This is of increased significance in light of the fact that the OP was asking a question about history/sociology rather than theology/philosophy:

            This is unbelievably dense; you actually believe you can ask “How could people believe this theology and philosophy?” and then not… deal with the theology and philosophy they believe?

            I would respectfully ask you to reread my previous comments and reconsider whether or not “all religion is a lie prove me wrong” and “adherents of religion are stupid” are fair approximations of their arguments, thrust and tone.

            I would suggest your arguments, thrust and tone are about a subtle as a brick, and if you think more than about 20% of the people in can’t tell what your general intent is, you are vastly underestimating them in a way far more uncharitable than what I’m doing to you.

          • Atlas says:

            (Comment divided into multiple parts due to comment length restrictions.)

            And there you go! You don’t believe any of it. That’s fine. I don’t need you to. This is MUCH closer to not being a strawman.

            Thanks, I think.

            This is just standard “it’s a fairy tale and I don’t believe it” stuff. Boring, and also no way for me to change your mind, nor mine yours.

            I didn’t use the term “fairy tale” and I wouldn’t use it as a pejorative—I think there’s a lot of wisdom in folk tales and mythology, as per the works of e.g. Carl Jung.

            I can’t speak for you, though I wouldn’t want to offend you by implying that you don’t feel the same, but there certainly is a “way for [you] to change [my] mind,” namely to present facts and evidence for a viewpoint alternative or contrary to the one I currently hold. I am certainly victim to a variety of biases that might slow or hinder such change, but, looking at how my opinions on various subjects have changed over the past few years, I’d like to think that I’m not totally insensate to arguments from different viewpoints. In this case, (preferably contemporary) documentary, archaeological and genetic evidence, for instance, could be used to help convince me (or at least raise my estimation of the probability) that the Garden of Eden literally existed and that men literally did not suffer in it.

            Or, as Keynes (allegedly) said:

            When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

            I’d also like to note that I wasn’t, in this instance, attempting to argue that “it’s all a fairy tale,” if my understanding that your use of “it” in that sentence means something like “all of religion” or “all of Christianity” is correct. I was questioning the truth of one specific part; I could be convinced that that part is true without necessarily also being convinced that all the other parts are.

            This, incidentally, is your actual objection and what you should have lead with – you think it’s stupid to believe in any of this at all, regardless of the good/evil thing.

            My skepticism of the literal veracity of the Biblical account of the Garden of Eden is not my “actual” objection to attempts to resolve the monotheistic problem of evil through appealing to alleged free will; it is one of multiple concurrent objections to them.

            Upon reflection, it is, however, relatively orthogonal to the discussion that I was interested in pursuing, namely regarding the contrast between monotheism and other forms of religion like dualism and polytheism. Specifically, this is because proving the literal veracity of the mythologies of other forms of religion would seem to me to be a comparable challenge, and thus it says little about why monotheism was more successful than them. I am thus happily willing to sign a ceasefire on this issue for the time being. (Though, for the record, I do believe that this is an extremely important issue for considering the relevant philosophy/theology in its own right even if it’s irrelevant to the historical/sociological question I posed.)

            I would also emphatically reject your ascription of the belief that “it’s stupid to believe in any of this [religion] at all” to me; thinking that something is wrong and thinking that people who hold that wrong belief are deficient in intelligence are very different thoughts. One of the most important general lessons I’ve learned from reading SSC is to avoid assuming that people who disagree with you or people who hold incorrect beliefs do so because they are stupid or dishonest.

            This [How could God’s punishment of Adam and Eve be just?] is a good question – much better than you give it credit for. There is a question of whether or not an entity, knowing another entity will or might do a “bad thing”, is responsible for that thing.

            To be clear, the relevant question is not only whether an entity with foreknowledge that another entity will do something harmful is responsible for that thing, but also how much power the former entity has to stop it and how much responsibility is attendant with power. This will be highly pertinent in judging the validity of your analogy.

          • Atlas says:

            Let’s take my son; I don’t want him to yell randomly. When he yells randomly, I punish him in some way or another (usually just scolding) to get him to stop.

            I could keep him from screaming at random times by making him wear a gag; I could similarly keep him from screaming by paying a psychologist to drug him. I could also have kept him from yelling by just not having him. But in that I wanted a son who was an actual human with some agency, I don’t do these things. And in that he wants to exist without being drugged into a near-coma or wearing a gag, he knows that when he yells randomly, some form of punishment might be coming.

            But to the point: When he yells, yes, I knew to a near statistical certainty he was going to yell. Neither he nor I would suggest that this absolves him of absolutely all blame in the matter, and it’s silly for you to do so.

            It’s equally silly to go “I know the exact answer to the question ‘Does knowing someone is going to do something make you responsible for what they do, even when restraining them from doing it would be a massive restriction of their agency?’ And the answer is yes; there is no sane way to think not” when there are debates about, say, free speech and recidivism on the ground in every developed country right now.

            It would indeed be silly of me to suggest that your foreknowledge alone absolves your son of all blame for disturbing others by yelling. However, that is not equivalent to what I suggested about God’s responsibility for Adam and Eve’s sin, because your relationship with son differs crucially from God’s relationship to Adam and Eve.

            God not only had perfect foreknowledge of Adam and Eve’s actions, the way you have close enough for an analogy perfect foreknowledge of your son’s actions, He also had absolute power to determine their actions and motivations. He created them and infused their brains/souls with the desire to sin, knowing that it would outweigh competing desires of theirs.

            By contrast, you did not consciously create the desire to yell randomly in your son; the process that led to the creation of that desire was not under your absolute control or absolute comprehension.

            Suppose, however, that with some advanced technology you had consciously implanted the desire to yell randomly in your son’s head. He did not previously have this desire, you can choose to remove the desire at any time, and, if you did, your son would either thank you for it or be indifferent about it. However, you choose not to do this, and your son yells randomly at times.

            In that case, I think you would be absolutely responsible for his yelling, and I would contend that your son ought be fully absolved of moral responsibility for his predicament. He didn’t ask for you to give him the desire to yell, and, whether he wants you to remove it once he has it or not, and he might well want you to, he would thank you once you had removed it and removing it would respect his agency as much or as little as implanting in the first place.

            And I believe the case I have just described is a closer analogy to God’s relationship to Adam and Eve and their sin than your original analogy. God knowingly created Adam and Eve with the desire to sin; they did not ask God to give them this desire. He could have created them without the desire to sin, or given them competing desires that would have outweighed it; their agency would have mattered as much or as little in this case as it did in the canonical Biblical case.

            Incidentally, I realize that of course your analogy was only meant to demonstrate a philosophical point, but considering it made me think about how much I love my own father, and what a profound source of joy our relationship is. Apropos of nothing, I wish you and your son all the best in the years to come, and hope that your relationship is too such a source of joy. I’m a little too young (by the standards of modern society at least) to be a father myself, but there is nothing I look forward to more than conceiving and raising (hopefully many) children of my own. I often worry that I am not worthy enough for this great challenge, and will strive to make myself so worthy in the years ahead.

          • Atlas says:

            This is what free will is. The Christian God values it; so do you. You are suggesting God should have made meaningless obedience robots, but he already had those. They are called trees. In that he wanted anything with any meaningful level of free will, there was going to be disobedience. And not crippling your creations doesn’t make you wholly responsible and them wholly free of blame for disobedience either. You are treating this, too, as a simple question, but this, too, is not.

            I should clarify that, while I have not researched this extensively, my current position on free will (in the philosophical sense that is relevant here) is that it is not only nonexistent but conceptually impossible, a position that I understand to have been most fully developed by Galen Strawson. However, I don’t think that one needs to stake out such a radical position in order to strongly disagree with the argument of yours quoted above.

            If God had created men without the desire to sin, and they chose not to sin, they would be exercising their wills as freely as Adam and Eve exercised theirs to sin. If God had created men with the desire to sin, but with a stronger desire to be virtuous, and thus were tempted to but ultimately did not sin, they too would be equally freely exercising their wills. Therefore, I do not see how God creating an Adam and an Eve who did not desire to eat the apple would have created subjects any less free than His creation of an Adam and Eve who did want to eat the apple.

            A possible rejoinder is that God did not know whether or not Adam and Eve would sin of their free will and that He had to give them an indeterminate desire balance of good and evil whose end result He did not know. That would seem to be a heretical denial of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, however. Perhaps you’re willing to tolerate contradictions on the basis that God can contradict Himself because He’s God, but I think it should then be explicit that the monotheistic/Christian response to the problem of evil depends on accepting a contradiction that seems to also be heresy. (Furthermore, if not even God Himself with access to all possible information could have known whether Adam and Eve would choose good or evil, and why they would choose what they did, it raises an interesting question of what the basis for their choice would be in that case. Would it be perfectly, truly random chance? In that case, it would hardly seem to be a very compelling exercise of free will, to be jerked around by randomness. And of course if there was a non-random reason for their choice, God would seem to necessarily have to have understood, predicted and instigated their choice.)

            It would also seem highly perplexing why a monotheistic God would want to do this anyway, since, if he’s all-knowing and all-powerful, He already knows everything there is to know about good and evil and no evil exists unless He wants it to. All of existence is His sandbox. He doesn’t seem to learn or gain anything from man ultimately choosing good over evil; He already knew that man would do that before He even created him. Evil has no independent power in a monotheistic universe; it only has the power that God gives it.

            I realize that I’m to an extent just restating the first-order arguments about the problem of evil here, but I think it’s important to do so because I think many people, including monotheists, intuitively have dualistic, polytheistic or naturalistic conceptions of the universe as naturally having evil and/or suffering. It’s very important in the context of the question I originally posed, from my perspective at least, to point out that these intuitions do not neatly apply to a monotheistic universe. The epic struggle between good and evil, the sort of thing that LMC described above about Jesus redeeming Adam and Eve and breaking open the gates of Hades (her word) with them in the lead, has to happen in a dualistic or polytheistic universe, because evil has an independent source of power with which to challenge good. It is furthermore a deeply meaningful struggle because it is not clear that good is preordained to triumph over evil. In a naturalistic universe, we can debate whether or not “evil” is a useful/valid concept, but certainly it is natural that suffering exists, because the universe is indifferent to it.

            But a monotheistic universe is deeply, deeply different in a way that seems to challenge our intuitions (hence my original query). Good has already completely won at the very beginning of its existence; a benevolent force already has all the power. If evil is created, it is known to be preordained that it will lose against good, which would seem to render the struggle much less meaningful. Indeed, not only is it not obvious to me how/why evil would exist in a universe ruled by an omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God, it is not obvious to me how the very concept of evil could even exist in that universe.

          • Atlas says:

            I really feel you wouldn’t feel it was as simple a question if I was to say “there’s a high incidence of people who are released from prison committing a crime; let’s throw a tracking anklet on them for life, and also they are on house arrest, and also we follow them with a monitoring drone.”. You might eliminate their ability to do bad, but you’d also eliminate their ability to do good in the same stroke. You’d certainly have plenty of people who wouldn’t accept “well, I had to tie him down to the bed to make sure he never did anything wrong – if he did, wouldn’t that be on me?” as an excuse.

            For starters, it wouldn’t be as simple of a question because the we/judicial system do not have infinite power or infinite knowledge, unlike God. Uncertainty about our knowledge and limitations in our power constrain us and create dilemmas for us in seeking to do justice that don’t seem to exist for an omnipotent and omniscient God.

            That said, I don’t think that your analogy demonstrates the (or, a) conclusion—“you’d also eliminate their ability to do good”—that you think it does. The tracked, house-arrested and monitored former criminals are perfectly capable of doing good and demonstrating reformed, virtuous natures, even under the constraints you specify. (Which one suspects could be removed if they so demonstrated.) One is perfectly capable of being constrained from doing evil in a way that still permits one to do good. Furthermore, though it sounds very poetic to say something about how the greatest sinners are therefore capable of the greatest good, that doesn’t seem to be generally empirically true to me. I don’t think that, say, Norman Borlaug, was anywhere near as deeply tempted to kill however many millions of people he saved as he was to save them. He was just a reasonably virtuous, very gifted and very lucky man.

            So, I think I’d actually be pretty fine with the society you describe, even if it might not be the greatest possible society one can imagine. I don’t see how keeping the Ted Bundys locked up necessarily means that the Norman Borlaugs won’t be able to freely do their work. I also think that more people than you might suspect would be willing to accept that society, considering that e.g. famously liberal New York City is also extremely enthusiastic about “broken windows” policing.

            It reminds me of Steve Sailer’s review of the film Minority Report. I haven’t seen the film, or read the PKD it’s based on, but my understanding is that it’s about a society where crime is accurately predicted in advance and potential criminals arrested accordingly. I think that Steve said that the plot was driven by the possibility that the machine (or psychics or whatever) had once made a mistake. But Steve waggishly suggested: So what? Wouldn’t most people be willing to accept getting rid of all type II errors with regard to crime in exchange for an extremely small incidence of type I errors, even if there were more than zero type I errors?

            So, I don’t think that God would need to take away our free wills in order to prevent us from suffering (take your pick of whether this is because we don’t have free will in the first place or because He could do it while leaving us perfectly, equivalently free wills), but, even if He had to, yes, I personally would be more than happy to relinquish that alleged freedom in exchange for seeing all who are sick healed, all who are starving fed, all who are divided by war joined in peace, all that is ugly beautified and all that is broken fixed. For seeing, to perhaps misquote Auden, “the ladders let down out of Heaven.”

            You then strawman what Christians think salvation is/does; It’s not only not promised that salvation releases somebody from suffering during their earthly life, it’s clearly stated that it will likely increase that suffering.

            Having reflected on the matter, I will freely admit that I was too hasty in my attempt to lay out what I believe to be the contradictions between the doctrine of original sin, the allegation of free will and the existence of suffering in the presence of God. I dealt with the relevant Christian theology too flippantly, and for that I apologize. I will try to better understand it and think more carefully about what critique if any I have of it.

            That said, I still have a very strong intuition, though this may change upon study and attempting to explicitly form it, that there are too many variables in this system of equations for it to close. Even if one ignores the above external evidence critique and internal fundamental problem of evil critique, I think there is still a further internal contradiction in the proposed relationship between original sin, suffering and alleged free will in Christian theodicy. However, I will refrain from attempting to make this critique until I better understand the relevant theology and can better articulate and defend a contrary position.

            This is unbelievably dense; you actually believe you can ask “How could people believe this theology and philosophy?” and then not… deal with the theology and philosophy they believe?

            Readers can judge for themselves whether or not I’ve raised/restated an adequately challenging philosophical/theological question in order to justify raising a historical/sociological one; rereading the OP and our exchange, I certainly continue to feel that I have. I think that the theological question is ultimately unanswerable, but you don’t have to agree in order to entertain the historical question, you just have to agree that it’s a difficult question. Many monotheistic, and relevantly here Christian, thinkers, like CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain, have acknowledged that it is a difficult question while continuing to retain their belief in an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. I was hoping that a civil discussion could be had around this shared premise by people of different beliefs, without becoming a debate about the general and fundamental veracity of religion, and judging by the many high quality responses to my post I was vindicated in this hope.

            I would suggest your arguments, thrust and tone are about a subtle as a brick, and if you think more than about 20% of the people in can’t tell what your general intent is, you are vastly underestimating them in a way far more uncharitable than what I’m doing to you.

            I would certainly hope that readers can accurate divine my “arguments”—that the problem of evil is a difficult question for monotheism which dualism and polytheism have easier answers to (which raises a question about how/why monotheism triumphed)—their “thrust”—the historical/sociological angle—and “tone”—reasonably civil and avoiding deliberately stating my arguments in a manner meant to provoke or offend people. I would hope, or rather expect, this because they were perfectly and deliberately clear in the text of my OP, which was indeed “subtle as a brick,” as you put it, and the commentariat here is generally notably intelligent and charitable.

            I was indeed confirmed in my expectation by the many extensive, polite and informative discussions in response to this post from commenters of various different beliefs.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      How much is there to explain? There are only three big universalist missionary religions. Two of them are monotheist. Maybe that’s just a coincidence. If Manichaeism had won, would you think up something else it had in common with another winner?

      And these are hardly independent events. Islam is a descendant of Christianity. How many of the details it copied matter and how many are decoration?

      • Atlas says:

        I think this actually reveals a very profound potential locus of disagreement that applies to many other debates about tradition.

        On the one hand, you might believe that religion is a domain governed by Nassim Taleb’s Lindy effect, which (roughly) states that the longer something exposed to risk has been around, the longer it’s likely to stay around. Therefore, things that survive probably have something going for them.

        On the other hand, you might believe that it’s governed by something like the biological founder effect, in which a new population founded by a small subset of a larger population has greatly decreased genetic diversity. In this case, a relatively arbitrary first-mover advantage, or a genuine past advantage with little relevance in the future, can have a profound effect on future developments. And so you might not believe that, just because something has survived for a while, it’s automatically good and useful in the present.

        I guess I tend to see the fact that “there are only three big universalist missionary religions” and that “two of them are monotheist” as a lot to explain, given how many actual religions there have been and how many possible religions there are.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          On the one hand, you might believe that religion is a domain governed by Nassim Taleb’s Lindy effect, which (roughly) states that the longer something exposed to risk has been around, the longer it’s likely to stay around. Therefore, things that survive probably have something going for them.

          On the other hand, you might believe that it’s governed by something like the biological founder effect, in which a new population founded by a small subset of a larger population has greatly decreased genetic diversity. In this case, a relatively arbitrary first-mover advantage, or a genuine past advantage with little relevance in the future, can have a profound effect on future developments. And so you might not believe that, just because something has survived for a while, it’s automatically good and useful in the present.

          Some from Column A, some from Column B?
          Hitlerism didn’t become a religion but went extinct after 12 years except for a few marginal nuts, and we can explain that as it being too evil to survive longer. OTOH, while Islam had clear advantages on spreading itself in a pre-industrial world, is it just harmful forward from that?

          • Atlas says:

            Some from Column A, some from Column B?

            It’s definitely possible, at least. It’s the explanation I would lean to myself.

            Hitlerism didn’t become a religion but went extinct after 12 years except for a few marginal nuts, and we can explain that as it being too evil to survive longer.

            Indeed, and a possibly controversial opinion of mine is that I don’t think that fascism would have survived to, say, the 1990s even if the Axis Powers had won World War 2. (Considering that e.g. the USSR was on the winning side of the war but communism still eventually collapsed and that Portugal and Spain became liberal democracies.)

            Also, if anyone wants to jump down the rabbit hole of esoteric Nazi goofiness, the book Black Sun documents, from the outside, the various strains of it. You see, in the final days of the war, the Nazis launched a UFO to the Moon with ancient Indian technology in order to raise Thule with the help of ancient aliens, which will happen any day now…(or something.) (See also TvTropes’ Ghostapo page.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          0. You sound like a man with a hammer looking at everything like a nail. Don’t you trust NNT to suggest more tools? Don’t be fooled by randomness.

          1. When NNT says that something is Lindy, he doesn’t expect to understand why it is robust, does he? Maybe there are reasons for the winners, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to figure out what it is. Islam and Christianity have a lot in common, not just monotheism and the problem of evil. Hinduism and Buddhism have a lot in common.

          2. The obvious hypothesis, as several said, is that it is fit to be a universalist missionary religion. (Although Hinduism is also fit!) How many such religions have had enough success to be worth talking about? 20? That’s a pretty small bracket. For any pair of them, you could probably come up with something in common, even if they weren’t directly related.

          3. Are religions subject to a lot of peril? If they fought it out every year, I think the world would look pretty different. We do see Axial religions eat away at pre-Axial religions. I believe that there is a discrete jump in fitness between the two types. But when Axial religions fight each other, it’s pretty much a stalemate on the scale of centuries. Their position on the leaderboard is caused by being carried by empires. The expansion of empires is driven by a few big wins, not a lot of peril. I think NNT calls that a top-down phenomenon that leads to power law outcomes. We don’t have enough data to see which religions are better at capturing empires. We don’t have enough data to see which religions strengthen empires.

          (I think of Hinduism is as a pre-Axial religion that co-evolved with Buddhism and/or absorbed some traits to become resistant to Axial religions. But those traits were not universalism or missionaries.)

    • edmundgennings says:

      Polytheism- dualism may get a leg up on problem of evil, but monotheism is a stronger on a range of philosophical points. These are subtler and less emotionally salient so for popular appeal are relatively unimportant but they help with the elite I guess.

      • Atlas says:

        Which points are you referring to? In particular, it’s not immediately obvious to me which philosophical points monotheism has an advantage over dualism in.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Dualism tells us why evil exists, but sacrifices the justification for preferring good over evil in doing so. It only “solves” the problem for as long as you keep a core belief that “they’re not actually equal, good is the better one.”

          If they’re both equal forces then one isn’t worse than the other, it’s just different. Think of the fight as being Red vs Blue, not Good vs Evil, if you want to think about it in the neutral terms dualism posits.

          • beleester says:

            I don’t follow? You seem to be equating between “equal in power” and “equal in moral value.” The fact that the God of Good is equal to the God of Evil in strength does not mean that good is equally preferable to evil – that would be like saying there’s no reason to prefer capitalism over communism because the USSR and the USA were both superpowers.

            If you go hard into divine command theory and say that good is whatever the God of Good says it is, then sure, having two gods just gives you two divine commands to choose from. But I think most people are okay with having a separate definition of morality, in which case your reason to follow the God of Good is because he commands good things.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            your reason to follow the God of Good is because he commands good things

            Yeah, but this then raises the old conundrum: where does Good come from? Is Good more fundamental than God? If so, it diminishes the notion of God.

            I have no solution; I’ve never liked the taste of “God made the universe so He gets to set the rules” much either.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, but this then raises the old conundrum: where does Good come from? Is Good more fundamental than God? If so, it diminishes the notion of God.

            The Form of Good IS God.
            Note that Plato and almost all Platonists taught that evil is not ontological. Good exists and the referent of “evil” is lack thereof, as light is waves/photons and the referent of “dark” is absence of light, not the fundamental particle darkons.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Having a separate definition of morality also means that when you talk about the God of Good you’re actually saying something meaningful, as opposed to talking about the God of Whatever God Says.

          • Nick says:

            Good is a transcendental, so I wouldn’t personally call God the Form of the Good. But the transcendentals are convertible, so God being Subsistent Being Itself means He’s also Subsistent Good Itself.

            (…Sheesh, that was way too many capitals.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            @beleester,

            I don’t think you’re quite grasping the Problem of Good yet. It’s tough to do, because most human are programmed deep down to believe that Good is a real thing, and that’s hard to turn off even for the ones who claim to be relativists.

            But try hard to think of them as a Red and Blue God. What are you really saying when you tell us that we “should” support the Blue God over the Red God? How do you ground the “should” in any way that’s not arbitrary?

    • DeWitt says:

      The points above are all quite good, but don’t discount the importance of what you could call historical accidents. North and South America were colonised by monotheists and are populated by people of such beliefs with near universality, but the necessary parts were inherent in Europeans learning about it and sending people there first, not because monotheism is uniquely suited to colonisation. In a world where the billion people in the Americas today got there through India, you might have wondered why Hinduism was such a prevalent thing.

    • DinoNerd says:

      One thing all the monotheisms have in common is that they proselytize, and (most?) have at times demanded that people convert or die.

      Maybe that’s their comparative advantage – it’s not that they are more believable, or more satisfying, or better for their host societies. It’s just that people with these memes work a lot harder to infect their neighbours.

      FWIW, I don’t think this is unique to monotheisms. It’s a feature of “world religions” – among which I’d definitely include Buddhism. (And from where I sit, Buddhism has a far better solution to the “problem of evil” than any religion that tries to postulate an entity that’s all powerful, all knowing and also benevolent.)

    • DavidS says:

      Manicheanism is something of a one off and it may be a matter of fluke as Douglas Knight says – we’re only really talking about two big monotheisms and they’re clearly related and we don’t have many data points.

      As for why it beats polytheism, polytheism leaves room for competitors to come in and take over and is less able to have a clear message of salvation. Even in Hinduism which we think of as polytheistic the major waves of religious enthusiasm have centred on worship of shiva or Vishnu/Krishna as supreme and in a sense are as monotheistic as Christianity.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Manicheanism was not a one-off, if we’re using it as a stand-in for Dualism. That’s a recurring heresy in the Christian world, probably because dualism is a tempting way to answer certain Problems of Evil (it raises new ones, but never mind that).

        Zoroastrianism is also dualistic, was a major religion until very recently, and has no Abrahamic roots.

        • Nick says:

          (it raises new ones, but never mind that).

          Not never mind that; that’s just the thing! If dualism’s philosophical problems are insurmountable, or even just a lot more perplexing, then it’s less surprising it fell out of favor.

          ETA: hedging

    • eigenmoon says:

      There’s a philosophical problem in polytheistic religions as well, namely: where does existence come from? This problem has led some Zoroastrians to slap a god of time and space on top of their regular good and evil god twins.

      Some Christians decided that the Old Testament God is evil, and Jesus was sent by a good God. Merits of this view aside, it was never politically tenable because a lot of early Christians were converts from Judaism and so they’d never buy something like that.

      > If I was a villager in some Near Eastern village in the 7th century,
      You would’ve witnessed that the Persian Shah, invincible due to Ahura Mazda’s farr (sun-like charisma), has capitulated, and Adur Gusnasp, one of the non-physical, non-extinguishable fires that burned since creation, was easily put out by Heraclius. Not a great promotion of dualism. Muslims, on the other hand…

      And here is some monk writing in some Near Eastern monastery in the 7th century:

      Because the poor have died of hunger; because orphans and widows have died for lack of care; because the convents and monasteries were destroyed because the monks roamed everywhere, and the saints went into every country; because the wicked were drying up their compassion; because the rich beheld our ruin and said according to the words of the prophet: when then will the month end and the week pass, so that we can open the granary and decrease the measures, etc. Because, we say, they did not stop thinking malicious thoughts, the prophet said: “you will be punished even more than before.” The plague returned again and resumed its work of extermination, and herded men, so to speak, one by one; and he whom the famine had spared was devoured by the plague, and he whom the plague had spared, was finished off by the sword. Our iniquity was suppressed by these tribulations; and because we did not recall the fear of God in our rest, God did not remember his mercy in our suffering; he had neither pity, nor compassion, as we had not pitied the torment and suffering of our brothers.

      • Atlas says:

        Interesting, thanks for sharing.

      • Deiseach says:

        Some Christians heretics decided that the Old Testament God is evil, and Jesus was sent by a good God.

        There, fixed that for you 🙂 Marcionism was pretty much condemned by everyone as unScriptural and nuts. The Carthaginian theologian Tertullian, nobody’s idea of a cooing dove and so one whom you would expect to be sympathetic to anti-Semitism, let rip in five books Against Marcion:

        The day-time is never clear, the sun never cheerful; the sky is uniformly cloudy; the whole year is wintry; the only wind that blows is the angry North. Waters melt only by fires; their rivers flow not by reason of the ice; their mountains are covered with heaps of snow. All things are torpid, all stiff with cold. Nothing there has the glow of life, but that ferocity which has given to scenic plays their stories of the sacrifices of the Taurians, and the loves of the Colchians, and the torments of the Caucasus. Nothing, however, in Pontus is so barbarous and sad as the fact that Marcion was born there, fouler than any Scythian, more roving than the waggon-life of the Sarmatian, more inhuman than the Massagete, more audacious than an Amazon, darker than the cloud, (of Pontus) colder than its winter, more brittle than its ice, more deceitful than the Ister, more craggy than Caucasus. Nay more, the true Prometheus, Almighty God, is mangled by Marcion’s blasphemies. Marcion is more savage than even the beasts of that barbarous region. For what beaver was ever a greater emasculator than he who has abolished the nuptial bond? What Pontic mouse ever had such gnawing powers as he who has gnawed the Gospels to pieces? Verily, O Euxine, you have produced a monster more credible to philosophers than to Christians. For the cynic Diogenes used to go about, lantern in hand, at mid-day to find a man; whereas Marcion has quenched the light of his faith, and so lost the God whom he had found. His disciples will not deny that his first faith he held along with ourselves; a letter of his own proves this; so that for the future a heretic may from his case be designated as one who, forsaking that which was prior, afterwards chose out for himself that which was not in times past.

        The heretic of Pontus introduces two Gods, like the twin Symplegades of his own shipwreck: One whom it was impossible to deny, i.e. our Creator; and one whom he will never be able to prove, i.e. his own god. The unhappy man gained the first idea of his conceit from the simple passage of our Lord’s saying, which has reference to human beings and not divine ones, wherein He disposes of those examples of a good tree and a corrupt one; how that the good tree brings not forth corrupt fruit, neither the corrupt tree good fruit. Which means, that an honest mind and good faith cannot produce evil deeds, any more than an evil disposition can produce good deeds. Now (like many other persons now-a-days, especially those who have an heretical proclivity), while morbidly brooding over the question of the origin of evil, his perception became blunted by the very irregularity of his researches; and when he found the Creator declaring, “I am He that creates evil”, (Isaiah 45:7) inasmuch as he had already concluded from other arguments, which are satisfactory to every perverted mind, that God is the author of evil, so he now applied to the Creator the figure of the corrupt tree bringing forth evil fruit, that is, moral evil, and then presumed that there ought to be another god, after the analogy of the good tree producing its good fruit. Accordingly, finding in Christ a different disposition, as it were — one of a simple and pure benevolence — differing from the Creator, he readily argued that in his Christ had been revealed a new and strange divinity; and then with a little leaven he leavened the whole lump of the faith, flavouring it with the acidity of his own heresy.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Fix declined: the term “heretic” has no place in a purely historical discussion. In a theological discussion, I don’t trust the Pope enough to tell me who’s heretic and who isn’t.

          I’m not saying that Marcion is correct in his guess that Jesus opposed Yahweh. But there’s a real theological problem that the OT God has owned evil, and NT God disclaims all responsibility for it. Look at this development by St. Anthony the first monk (Philokalia, 150):

          He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him.

          Why would such a God ever utter something like “I am He that creates evil” (Isaiah 45:7)? Tertullian answers by lots of swearing and then mocking Marcion’s God who is suspiciously similar to St. Anthony’s God:

          Listen, you sinners; and you who have not yet come to this, hear, that you may attain to such a pass! A better god has been discovered, who never takes offense, is never angry, never inflicts punishment, who has prepared no fire in hell, no gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness! He is purely and simply good.

          Say what you will, but I like Marcion’s error more than Tertullian’s orthodoxy.

    • Lambert says:

      The civic religion of one of the greatest empires on Earth had gone stale, and those at the highest levels wanted something new.

      The Catholics managed to build an institution able to survive the fall of Rome.
      THey were all that was left standing amongst the rubble.

      Some Christian heretic in Arabia had a vision in a cave and won a load of wars.

      The people living where the Romans used to be got really good at sailing.

    • blipnickels says:

      I think Christianity is significantly more alien than you’re imagining because you seem to be conflating “evil” with “suffering”.

      Now I have no special knowledge of Christianity but it seems like the entity that devised a plan to overcome death by having both his personal incarnation and his son brutally tortured and murdered might not prioritize suffering minimization. I might suspect that a religion that celebrates the suffering and persecution of its adherents, literally to the point where all their hero/saint stories involve brutal murder, might have different values.

      Because from a surface reading of the Bible, it seems like God cares a lot more about whether you masturbate than whether you are brutally murdered because one is a temporary inconvenience where the other involves the fate of your immortal soul. It’s not even harm mitigation, like endure suffering now to minimize suffering in Heaven/Hell, but because becoming one with God or being faithful or whatever is literally the purpose of existence and “good” in a sense I’m not even sure materialism/modernity can convey.

      Judging God by how much he minimizes suffering is about as useful as judging Cthulu by how much he lowers the unemployment rate or Marx by how many things will be colored Pink under Communism. Like, that just does not seem to be a priority.

      That doesn’t mean you have to like it or agree with it, but it’s going to be hard to understand it’s appeal and adherents if you can’t understand it’s values.

      • Randy M says:

        Because from a surface reading of the Bible, it seems like God cares a lot more about whether you masturbate than whether you are brutally murdered because one is a temporary inconvenience where the other involves the fate of your immortal soul

        Or to put it another way, God cares about who you are, not what happens to you.
        It’s not quite as black and white as that; part of why he cares about who you are is how you will help or harm others.
        But yeah, the Christian God is not concerned with giving you a comfortable life on Earth.

      • Another Throw says:

        it seems like God cares a lot more about whether you masturbate

        From a surface read, it has always struck me that the obvious reason that God slew Onan in Genesis 38:8-10 was for betrayal, disobedience, and rape. You have a duty to your brother, your father commands you to fulfill that duty, you selfishly follow through with the fun part of the process without actually fulfilling your duty. This makes the first two crimes pretty obvious, they are pretty serious and entirely thematically consistent with the rest of the bible.

        But look, we consider condom sabotage somewhere on the sexual assult to rape spectrum because the consent was obtained under the explicit precondition of using a condom. By the same token, when consent is obtained under the explicit precondition that you finish the job inside… well, it falls in pretty much the same place.

        So he managed to violate the whole trifecta of worst crimes you can commit (because let’s be honest, murder is a modern obcession) at the same time. I would say the slaying was well deserved.

        ETA: And just so we’re on the same page, the rest of the chapter makes it pretty clear she was an active participant to the arrangement, and rather upset by Onan’s crime of seed spilling.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Plus, infertility in women was often seen as a divine punishment for the woman’s sins. So by making it look like his brother’s wife was incapable of conceiving, Onan would have been opening her up to all sorts of slander and snide gossip.

          (Tangential, but funny: Dorothy Sayers called her pet parrot Onan, because he was always spilling his seed.)

        • hls2003 says:

          Yes, while I understand it’s historically been interpreted that way at times, I have never seen anything in the story of Onan that really relates to the masturbation prohibition. It’s pretty obviously about Onan’s selfish rejection of his duty and God’s law. If you’re looking at a masturbation prohibition, it’s a much easier interpretive fit to cite admonitions against lust, coveting, and imaginative porneia.

          • Nick says:

            There are of course natural law arguments as well. And we should weigh the opinions of for instance the Church Fathers pretty heavily if that’s how they interpreted the sin of Onan. (I don’t actually know offhand what any of them said about masturbation, though.)

          • hls2003 says:

            Yeah, I’m not saying there aren’t other arguments to be made, but if you’re going to pick one single “proof text” against masturbation, Onan seems like a weird choice to me.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If we’re looking for Biblical arguments, Jesus’ injunction against looking at a woman lustfully would be pretty hard to square with masturbation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If we’re looking for Biblical arguments, Jesus’ injunction against looking at a woman lustfully would be pretty hard to square with masturbation.

            Hey, he didn’t say anything about those rocks over there that kind of look like boobs.

          • hls2003 says:

            those rocks over there that kind of look like boobs

            The Grand Tetons?

          • AG says:

            Buy the BluRay to see the Smoky Mountains in their uncut uncensored glory!

          • LadyJane says:

            Hey, he didn’t say anything about those rocks over there that kind of look like boobs.

            This but unironically. A lot of modern liberal Christians would argue that the problem with lusting after a woman (or a man) is the covetous aspect, the act of desiring to have someone who doesn’t belong to you and imposing a sexual fantasy on someone who didn’t consent to it. If you have a sexual fantasy in your head about a hypothetical person who doesn’t actually exist, then it wouldn’t be sinful because it’s not violating anyone’s integrity, at least going by this interpretation of the Bible. By the same logic, a married person who masturbates and has sexuality fantasies about their spouse wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. It’s also theoretically possible to masturbate without thinking about anything beyond the physical sensations involved, although I’d imagine that’s not a common practice.

            I went to a Catholic high school, and they taught us in religion class that pornography was sinful because it was effectively a form of prostitution, since the actors were being paid to fornicate. I asked the priest if looking at hentai was okay, since there weren’t any real people involved, and he gave a fairly non-committal answer like “sometimes you have to decide for yourself what’s in keeping with Christian values.” Of course, he also made it clear that the Catholic Church also forbids masturbation itself, so it’s something of a moot point unless you’re watching Japanese anime porn for the riveting plots. But other sects of Christianity might be more flexible, given that the actual Bible merely prohibits covetous lust and not the act of masturbation per se.

        • Tenacious D says:

          ETA: And just so we’re on the same page, the rest of the chapter makes it pretty clear she was an active participant to the arrangement, and rather upset by Onan’s crime of seed spilling.

          Further to this, she has a name: Tamar. Genesis 38 is really about Tamar and Judah; Judah’s sons Er and Onan are a bit of a sideshow. In spite of the immoral behaviour of not only Onan, but everyone in the chapter, Tamar eventually bears twins who will carry on the line of Judah. Prophecies and genealogies elsewhere in the Bible suggest that God had a plan for Judah and Tamar’s offspring–interfering with a plan like that is unwise.

      • Zeno of Citium says:

        This definitely follows from the Bible, but it’s essentially solving the problem of how God can be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent by saying that God isn’t all-benevolent. This is one of the solutions to theodicy, but it’s one the flies in the face of what most Christians seem to believe, even if there’s support for it in the Bible (if the Old Testament counts, at least). You put it very directly, but the common refrain that “God works in mysterious ways” or “God has a plan” is pretty much suggesting that god is not, in fact, maximally benevolent.
        (The standard, or at least a common, counter-apologetic to the idea that God allows suffering on Earth to help people get into Heaven is that God makes the rules on who gets into Heaven and it’s immoral to *not* let people into your dimension of infinite joy.)

        • The original Mr. X says:

          This definitely follows from the Bible, but it’s essentially solving the problem of how God can be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent by saying that God isn’t all-benevolent.

          No, it just says that benevolence isn’t exhausted by suffering-minimisation.

          You put it very directly, but the common refrain that “God works in mysterious ways” or “God has a plan” is pretty much suggesting that god is not, in fact, maximally benevolent.

          I don’t think so, any more than “Trust your doctor’s prescription, even if the medicine doesn’t make you feel any better at first” implies that the doctor isn’t interested in making you feel better.

          (The standard, or at least a common, counter-apologetic to the idea that God allows suffering on Earth to help people get into Heaven is that God makes the rules on who gets into Heaven and it’s immoral to *not* let people into your dimension of infinite joy.)

          “God makes the rules, so why can’t he change them so that [fornicators/murderers/tyrants/people who urinate all over the rim of the toilet seat and don’t wipe it clean afterwards] can get to Heaven?” would only work if your interlocutor holds a particularly strong version of divine command theory, according to which God’s moral commands are entirely arbitrary and there’s no reason, other than divine fiat, why a life spent raping and murdering small children is any worse than a life spent running a soup kitchen for the poor. If the content of the moral law isn’t arbitrary, then it’s not arbitrary for some people to go to Heaven and others to Hell, so the objection wouldn’t work.

          Of course, if we’re going to assume divine command theory, then it makes no sense to say that it’s immoral of God to forbid certain people from entering Heaven, because ex hypothesi morality just is what God commands.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think so, any more than “Trust your doctor’s prescription, even if the medicine doesn’t make you feel any better at first” implies that the doctor isn’t interested in making you feel better.

            Your doctor is not, shocking I know, all powerful. Nor are they all knowing.

            If they were …

        • Nornagest says:

          I liked Unsong‘s solution to theodicy (spoilers follow): vs gurer ner na vasvavgl bs jbeyqf pbagnvavat ab cnva be fgevsr, gurer’f n zhpu terngre vasvavgl bs jbeyqf perngvat fbzr cnva naq fgevsr, naq na bzavoraribyrag tbq frrxvat gb znkvzvmr gur tbbq zvtug perngr nyy cbffvoyr jbeyqf gung hygvzngryl pbagnva zber tbbq guna rivy. Bhef whfg unccraf gb or n jnlf qbja gur fpnyr. Gur nafjre gb “jul qvqa’g Tbq znxr gur jbeyq xvaqre?” vf gung Tbq qvq; vg whfg vfa’g bhe jbeyq.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Yeah that one drifts into “haha only plausible” for me more often than I’d expected

        • Atlas says:

          This definitely follows from the Bible, but it’s essentially solving the problem of how God can be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent by saying that God isn’t all-benevolent. This is one of the solutions to theodicy, but it’s one the flies in the face of what most Christians seem to believe, even if there’s support for it in the Bible (if the Old Testament counts, at least). You put it very directly, but the common refrain that “God works in mysterious ways” or “God has a plan” is pretty much suggesting that god is not, in fact, maximally benevolent.

          Yeah, this.

        • blipnickels says:

          This definitely follows from the Bible, but it’s essentially solving the problem of how God can be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-benevolent by saying that God isn’t all-benevolent.

          Or it just means that your definition of benevolence differs from theirs.

          Like, take Ignatius of Antioch. Big Church father guy, eaten by lions in the Coliseum. Here’s his take on Martyrdom:

          “…nearness to the sword is nearness to God; to be among the wild beasts is to be in the arms of God; only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ.”

          And it’s interpreted by Christianity.com as

          “To die for Christ, even if it meant becoming a sport to bloodthirsty spectators, was to inherit eternal glory.”

          Now I’m not going to say Ignatius was overjoyed to be martyred by lions but on a scale from “This sucks” to “Best thing evah”, both Ignatius and modern interpretations of this lean towards being eaten by lions as a good thing if it’s for God. Ignatius told his followers not to interfere in his martyrdom. Would he consider it “benevolent” to save his life?

          I’m reasonably confident that both you and the OP think God is suffering is bad/not benevolent/ungood. Isn’t this kind of the whole point of religion, like your instrincts about right and wrong are false, you need to learn what’s actually good, and the end goal is to realize/train yourself to believe that being eaten by lions for God is awesome?

          Or to simplify, there’s pretty solid evidence in early Christendom that suffering isn’t always bad, in fact, it’s awesome for the right cause. You don’t agree, cool. But you’re wondering why they weren’t caught up in a logical contradiction that exists with your definition of benevolent/good but not theirs. If suffering isn’t intrinsically bad, see Ignatius, then the existence of suffering under a benevolent God isn’t confusing because he actively calls for suffering in certain circumstances.

          I don’t want to oversell this, lot’s of people seem to believe in “Buddy Christ”, but I think that’s basically a sanity thing. If you take it too seriously, you end up with really weird societies that die out. For example, if you’re looking for philosophical coherence, I’m pretty confident the Shakers had a more philosophically rigorous theology than the prosperity gospel guys but the Shakers also banned procreation, so that was pretty much the end of them.

          Addendum: I wonder if this is just a word thing. Like, if all-benevolent=”doesn’t allow suffering”, this makes sense, but just insert “God doesn’t allow suffering” instead of “God is all-benevolent” I think the distinction is clear.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Addendum: I wonder if this is just a word thing. Like, if all-benevolent=”doesn’t allow suffering”, this makes sense, but just insert “God doesn’t allow suffering” instead of “God is all-benevolent” I think the distinction is clear.

            This makes me think of CS Lewis’ comment that people of his day had confused charity (doing good for someone, an active virtue) with unselfishness (not causing someone trouble, a passive virtue). Maybe he’d say something similar here — people seem to treat benevolence as simply avoiding causing suffering, whereas in reality it means bringing about another’s good, which may sometimes require causing them suffering in the process.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Over time, humans manage to get closer to the truth.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      As an atheist, my opinion doesn’t really count for much when it comes to theology but the solution to the problem of evil which I find most convincing is found in Stoicism. It doesn’t really matter whether the God they’re referring to is Zeus / Jupiter or Jehovah, works either way.

      Stoicism holds that nothing which happens in the “external” world of the senses is inherently good or bad. If you feel the pain from hot wax dripping on your skin, whether that’s a painful annoyance or a pleasurable night’s fun is determined entirely by how you react to the sensation and not by the sensation itself. Similarly, experiments in psychology have shown that we rely on context cues to determine whether to interpret physiological arousal as anxiety or excitement: the body can’t tell them apart. Humans suffer through choice, even if we’re not usually aware that we have a choice in how to interpret our senses.

      So God creating a world where we can sense pain and pleasure, cold and heat, bright light and darkness, etc. creates neither good nor evil. Good and evil are created by the free will of humans who have those experiences to interpret them. The things which matter to God, and which determine whether you’re creating a heaven or a hell for yourself, are entirely happening within your mind / soul.

      • Atlas says:

        What do you think of Bertrand Russell’s (sort of) comments on this in “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish“?:

        The most refined religions, such as those of Marcus Aurelius and Spinoza, are still concerned with the conquest of fear. The Stoic doctrine was simple: it maintained that the only true good is virtue, of which no enemy can deprive me; consequently, there is no need to fear enemies. The difficulty was that no one could really believe virtue to be the only good, not even Marcus Aurelius, who, as emperor, sought not only to make his subjects virtuous, but to protect them against barbarians, pestilences, and famines. Spinoza taught a somewhat similar doctrine. According to him, our true good consists in indifference to our mundane fortunes. Both these men sought to escape from fear by pretending that such things as physical suffering are not really evil. This is a noble way of escaping from fear, but is still based upon false belief. And if genuinely accepted, it would have the bad effect of making men indifferent, not only to their own sufferings, but also to those of others.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          The Stoics did actually consider this objection; the usual answer was the doctrine of preferred indifferents, the idea that whilst things such as health, security, etc. aren’t good per se (and hence somebody who lacks them isn’t strictly speaking worse off than someone who doesn’t), it can still be rational to choose them, provided that doing so won’t hinder our pursuit of virtue.

          • Nick says:

            Leave it to Bertrand Russell to pronounce “the” difficulty with Stoicism was something they answered two thousand years prior.

          • Atlas says:

            I’m a little confused by this: isn’t “preferred indifferents” an oxymoron? At least the way I understand “indifference” to be commonly used, e.g. in indifference curves in economics, is to indicate a lack of preference.

          • Nick says:

            As I understand it, indifferent here means indifferent with respect to morality, viz., things which don’t hinder or encourage the pursuit of virtue. So the idea is that it’s possible to prefer more or less health without treating that as moral or immoral.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            isn’t “preferred indifferents” an oxymoron?

            The key is to realize that a choice has to be made. Choices cannot be avoid. Let’s say you have a choice today between being eaten by a lion and appealing your sentence. You choose to be eaten, but there is no emotional commitment because you attach no importance to it. Eaten is equally as good or bad as appealing your sentence. Suppose, something happens to postpone the eating appointment. Your response is “oh, well. Just as well.” There is no emotional preference. Life is not better or worse given this choice or that, but that fact cannot eliminate the necessity of making a choice.

          • Atlas says:

            As I understand it, indifferent here means indifferent with respect to morality, viz., things which don’t hinder or encourage the pursuit of virtue. So the idea is that it’s possible to prefer more or less health without treating that as moral or immoral.

            In which case, I think Russell’s objection is still quite cogent, because this would seem to suggest that it would only be a matter of arbitrary personal preference with no moral valence whether Marcus Aurelius defended his subjects from or surrendered them to rapacious barbarians. Marcus Aurelius did not seem to believe this himself, or at least if he did he didn’t act upon its basis.

          • Nick says:

            In which case, I think Russell’s objection is still quite cogent, because this would seem to suggest that it would only be a matter of arbitrary personal preference with no moral valence whether Marcus Aurelius defended his subjects from or surrendered them to rapacious barbarians. Marcus Aurelius did not seem to believe this himself, or at least if he did he didn’t act upon its basis.

            How do you know based on his actions whether he took them because he thought they were the moral thing to do or because he had a personal preference for them? Did he ever say, “I have a moral duty to prevent harm to my subjects”?

            I don’t buy Stoicism myself, but you have to be really careful not to beg the question here.

          • Atlas says:

            How do you know based on his actions whether he took them because he thought they were the moral thing to do or because he had a personal preference for them? Did he ever say, “I have a moral duty to prevent harm to my subjects”?

            I don’t know for certain, but he consistently and arduously strove to prevent his subjects from being harmed in this manner for many years. If he was genuinely indifferent to their (allegedly imaginary) suffering, he could have just as easily surrendered some provinces, taken a few years off, etc. The fact that he repeatedly chose the “indifferent” that is strongly preferred by non-adherents of Stoicism strikes me as highly unlikely to be pure coincidence.

            I don’t buy Stoicism myself, but you have to be really careful not to beg the question here.

            Indeed. Duly noted.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In which case, I think Russell’s objection is still quite cogent, because this would seem to suggest that it would only be a matter of arbitrary personal preference with no moral valence whether Marcus Aurelius defended his subjects from or surrendered them to rapacious barbarians. Marcus Aurelius did not seem to believe this himself, or at least if he did he didn’t act upon its basis.

            Unfortunately I’m not a Stoic philosopher, so I’m not sure exactly what Marcus Aurelius would say, but I imagine it would be something like that doing one’s duty is morally good, even if the thing it is your duty to do is neutral considered in itself. So even though the welfare of the Roman Empire is an indifferent, Marcus Aurelius’ duty as Emperor was to defend its welfare, and hence it would be morally good of him to do so, and morally bad of him not to do so. (And to head off a potential objection, I don’t think the Stoics recognised such a thing as a duty to do something immoral.)

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The original Mr. X gave the historical answer, and it’s not a bad one by any means, but personally I would advance a slightly different argument.

          Stoicism belongs to a family of philosophies concerned with being unconcerned. One thing that all of these philosophies have in common is caring more about how you do things than with the results of the things that you do. It makes sense within that philosophical framework, as your efforts are under your control but the consequences of your efforts are not.

          A sage who rules a country won’t suffer if his subjects go hungry, because he has freed himself from suffering. And knowing this, he can execute his duty towards his subjects to keep them fed without being distracted by concern for the outcome. It’s the Taoist concept of wu wei or the modern idea of “flow”: by concerning himself solely with executing his duty and banishing fear of failure, he can calmly approach difficult tasks with undivided focus.

          • Atlas says:

            Right, so I guess it depends on to what degree you consider virtue ethics a correct/valid form of philosophy.

            A sage who rules a country won’t suffer if his subjects go hungry, because he has freed himself from suffering. And knowing this, he can execute his duty towards his subjects to keep them fed without being distracted by concern for the outcome. It’s the Taoist concept of wu wei or the modern idea of “flow”: by concerning himself solely with executing his duty and banishing fear of failure, he can calmly approach difficult tasks with undivided focus.

            From my point of view, this is arguably ultimately still non-Stoic/virtue ethics: the ruler’s indifference to his subjects’ suffering from hunger is justified because it allows him to better prevent them from being hungry, which is a positive good.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Atlas,

            From my point of view, this is arguably ultimately still non-Stoic/virtue ethics: the ruler’s indifference to his subjects’ suffering from hunger is justified because it allows him to better prevent them from being hungry, which is a positive good.

            No, you’re misreading me here.

            In this system of ethics, whether or not the subjects experience hunger is morally neutral. The consequences of the ruler’s actions are explicitly not the justification here. If he acts correctly in accordance with his duty and his subjects starve, that’s no less praiseworthy.

            The only things that are morally relevant are a) whether the ruler’s conduct fulfills the telos of a ruler and b) whether the ruler is able to recognize that the results of his actions are neither good nor bad. The former is standard virtue ethics, comparing one’s actions and habits against those of a theoretical ideal version of himself. The latter is specific to stoicism and related philosophies, which view suffering as bad but ultimately self-inflicted.

          • Atlas says:

            Right, sorry if I misread you. What’s possibly confusing me is: what’s the telos of a ruler, and how does a ruler know what it is? The sage’s duty in your example is to feed his subjects, rather than to starve them. Is this a consistent telos for rulers, or could Chairman Mao calmly and indifferently starving his subjects as efficiently as possible also fulfill his telos as a ruler?

            If the duty of rulers is universally to reduce harm, and if the most harm reduction possible comes from efficaciously carrying out this duty, it still seems to me that Stoicism is then perhaps ultimately based on non-virtue ethics. If, by contrast, the duty of rulers is sometimes to reduce, sometimes to ignore and sometimes to maximize harm to their subjects, then Russell’s concern that genuine adherents of Stoicism might be indifferent to the suffering of others seems still valid to me. (Though there’s no need to go around in circles about this if you don’t want: I appreciate your response and found it informative.)

            By the way, have you ever read King Lear? I would be very curious to hear what a Stoic thinks of it, since it seemed to me to espouse the philosophy of Stoicism to some extent. (Though that may simply reflect ignorance on my part.)

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I would be very curious to hear what a Stoic thinks of it, since it seemed to me to espouse the philosophy of Stoicism to some extent. (Though that may simply reflect ignorance on my part.)

            I don’t think that’s a very well-supported reading. Look to Lear’s redemption:

            KING LEAR
            You do me wrong to take me out o’ the grave:
            Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
            Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
            Do scald like moulten lead.

            CORDELIA
            Sir, do you know me?

            KING LEAR
            You are a spirit, I know: when did you die?

            CORDELIA
            Still, still, far wide!

            Doctor
            He’s scarce awake: let him alone awhile.

            KING LEAR
            Where have I been? Where am I? Fair daylight?
            I am mightily abused. I should e’en die with pity,
            To see another thus. I know not what to say.
            I will not swear these are my hands: let’s see;
            I feel this pin prick. Would I were assured
            Of my condition!

            CORDELIA
            O, look upon me, sir,
            And hold your hands in benediction o’er me:
            No, sir, you must not kneel.

            KING LEAR
            Pray, do not mock me:
            I am a very foolish fond old man,
            Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
            And, to deal plainly,
            I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
            Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
            Yet I am doubtful for I am mainly ignorant
            What place this is; and all the skill I have
            Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
            Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
            For, as I am a man, I think this lady
            To be my child Cordelia.

            CORDELIA
            And so I am, I am.

            KING LEAR
            Be your tears wet? yes, ‘faith. I pray, weep not:
            If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
            I know you do not love me; for your sisters
            Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
            You have some cause, they have not.

            CORDELIA
            No cause, no cause.

            Lear’s turn causes him enormous pain, while Cordelia, for her part, offers him sincere forgiveness. Both are sublimely virtuous. Neither are, I think, what one could call “stoic.” Cordelia is crying along with her father, and it’s the depth of her love that really gives the scene its impact. Without that, we can imagine a totally different scene, in which Lear professes his sorrow and Cordelia simply tells him that what’s past is past and doesn’t shed a tear. In this alternate text, Lear comes off worse, or else he agrees and calms the fuck down, and the impact of the last act of the play is completely lost.

            Lear only comes off as pro-stoicism if you look at the body count and decide that everyone who got whacked deserved it; that’s an unconventional way to look at Lear, to say the least, and one that the framing of the last scene doesn’t support in the slightest IMO.

          • Atlas says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            To be clear, I was careful to clarify that King Lear espouses Stoicism only “to some extent.” I think that there might be a useful general distinction between “partial Stoicism” and “total Stoicism.”

            The Stoicism I see in Lear isn’t in total abnegation of all emotion, but rather in recognition that we exaggerate how much danger physical suffering poses to us and that virtue is worth pursuing, even if vice might triumph. Consider:

            KING LEAR
            Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm
            Invades us to the skin: so ’tis to thee;
            But where the greater malady is fix’d,
            The lesser is scarce felt. Thou’ldst shun a bear;
            But if thy flight lay toward the raging sea,
            Thou’ldst meet the bear i’ the mouth. When the
            mind’s free,
            The body’s delicate: the tempest in my mind
            Doth from my senses take all feeling else
            Save what beats there.

            And

            EDGAR
            When we our betters see bearing our woes,
            We scarcely think our miseries our foes.
            Who alone suffers suffers most i’ the mind,
            Leaving free things and happy shows behind:
            But then the mind much sufferance doth o’er skip,
            When grief hath mates, and bearing fellowship.
            How light and portable my pain seems now,
            When that which makes me bend makes the king bow,

            And

            KING LEAR
            No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
            We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
            When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
            And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
            And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
            At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
            Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
            Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
            And take upon’s the mystery of things,
            As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
            In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
            That ebb and flow by the moon.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Atlas,

            what’s the telos of a ruler, and how does a ruler know what it is?

            Telos is your metaphysical reason for being, closely related to your nature. I tend to conceptualize it as similar to an evolutionary niche. It’s the theoretical ideal that you’re approaching when you behave more virtuously: the best version of yourself.

            Plato explains the idea very well in the dialogue about justice between Socrates and Glaucon in the Republic, better than I can. If you want to dig into the idea more I’d suggest checking that out: it’s very short, since this all is laid out way before metaphor of the city starts in.

            By the way, have you ever read King Lear?

            Unfortunately no, I haven’t seen it. I’m not really as up on my Shakespeare as I should be.

            That said, I doubt that it espouses stoic ethics because it’s very hard to write drama around a serene protagonist. You could purposefully structure a story that way, with a protagonist who grows and learns to embrace that by the end of the work, but that’s more of a hero’s journey than a tragedy.

      • Viliam says:

        Stoicism holds that nothing which happens in the “external” world of the senses is inherently good or bad. If you feel the pain from hot wax dripping on your skin, whether that’s a painful annoyance or a pleasurable night’s fun is determined entirely by how you react to the sensation and not by the sensation itself. Similarly, experiments in psychology have shown that we rely on context cues to determine whether to interpret physiological arousal as anxiety or excitement: the body can’t tell them apart. Humans suffer through choice, even if we’re not usually aware that we have a choice in how to interpret our senses.

        This is taking things ad absurdum.

        Yes, some sensations can be interpreted as either pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the context your mind provides. On the other hand, some sensations are much more likely to be interpreted as pain than others. Perhaps faster breathing can be interpreted as either excitement or fear, but being stabbed with a knife is very likely to be interpreted as a negative feeling. Yeah, there are some people who enjoy cutting themselves, but I really doubt that most stoics could remain… ahem… stoical after being repeatedly stabbed with a knife.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Yeah, I don’t have my copy of Meditations in front of me but I remember Marcus Aurelius at least made allowances for sudden, extreme sensations causing momentary anguish.

          That said, the bar is still very high. A stoic sage is supposed to be able to take the news of the death of his child calmly, and I think that most parents really would prefer to have been stabbed. Either people were actually able to reach that level of apatheia or nobody felt like contradicting them.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            A stoic sage is supposed to be able to take the news of the death of his child calmly

            …because he has, every day, meditated briefly on the awareness that he might lose that child. Thus he treasures the child during life, and is girded for the eventual loss, with no regrets about missed opportunities.

            That's the theory anyway. It's still a high bar.

    • Aftagley says:

      Why did monotheism become such a dominant form of religious belief, in the sense that Christians+Muslims (plus various smaller religions) make up ~55% of the world’s population today? I’m happily willing to accept that religion in general, and organized religion in particular, is adaptive, but it’s not clear to me why this form of religion in particular was so adaptive relative to others.

      I don’t think it has anything to do with adaptation, it has to do with coordination difficulties.

      Suppose it’s ancient Greece or Rome or any other polytheistic society that’s well-developed enough to possibly be into proselytizing, but seemingly didn’t. I’m a supporter of Zeus who wants to go out and spread the good word of my thunder god; that means I also have to spread the good word of every other god in the pantheon, even that watery asshole Poseidon and the creepy Hades. Not only am I not really qualified to talk about the other gods (i’m a Zeus diehard, after all) but I also probably wont want to. Fortunately, if I want to proselytize, I don’t have to go out into the world of non-believers, I can just convince people who already believe in the pantheon to support Zeus instead of whichever god they’re currently praying to. Thus, instead of conversions being focused outside the ingroup like it would need to in order to expand, it is instead focused inside the ingroup. Maybe my religion will expand, but only as my society expands; it won’t be able to cross out into the wider world.

      What would it take in order for this difficulty to be overcome? Significant coordination between the proponents of the various gods. You’d need a plurality of religious figures to all come together and agree to send multi-party delegations out for conversion missions. They’d need to agree to treat all gods in their system fairly, and not try to pressure the converts into picking their favorite god. This would likely be a nightmare to organize and wouldn’t bring much success, therefore it never happens.

      Compare this to a monotheist who wants to go convert people: there’s no competing power centers or warped incentives to stay within the group of believers, they just go out and start converting.

    • JPNunez says:

      I suspect part of it was just how the old polytheistic religions were falling out of favor anyway. Even Socrates didn’t sound too much like a hardcore Zeus follower, and the romans were deifying their emperors when christianism struck. I assume Christianism-like religions would not have had such success during the heyday of the Hellenic religion.

      On the other hand, Zoroastrism still is around, while Hellenism or whatever it’s called is *checks* …still around, although probably not as strong as Zoroastrism.

      Maybe we’d be a more Zoroastric culture if Zarathustra had spoken a few centuries later.

    • AG says:

      Absent some amount of regulation, power consolidates. So goes for anthropomorphized power figures.

      The “some amount of regulation” for the old polytheistic religions was geographic isolation. Each local tribe developed a god, and then when tribes finally started meeting up, they duked it out until one tribe had the hard and soft power to wipe the others’ god from cultural memory. The old testament wasn’t strictly monotheist in the “only one exists” sense, only that the Jews had to be loyal to theirs. Only when the religion gained enough power, could it start declaring that they’ve got the only real deal. Polytheistic regions arose if the religion wasn’t so closely tied to conquest ambition, as power was linked to other things than an anthropomorphized figure, so they weren’t dedicated to dethroning the neighbors’ gods. And yet, they were indeed out-competed by the ensuing religions that yet consolidated more power, in the monotheist form.

      • hls2003 says:

        Only when the religion gained enough power, could it start declaring that they’ve got the only real deal

        I’m not sure that really matches up, at least in the case of Judaism. Without diverting into drnsrn’s bailiwick too much on Biblical criticism, my understanding is that traditionalist understanding of the Jewish Scriptures puts monotheism further back than what you’re suggesting; while modern Biblical criticism puts strict monotheism somewhere within striking distance of the Babylonian exile and subsequent centuries. In neither case would the Jews have been going monotheistic based on their unquestioned martial success as a people.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Was there any time when Ancient Israel was a major conquering power?

          Christianity eventually became the religion of a conquering power (or at least a power that had previously conquered a whole lot of area), but it spend a good 300 years notably lacking in martial power, and it stayed monotheistic that whole time.

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m not sure. I think not according to modern archaeology. The closest I can think of is the Assyrian stele in the British Museum that refers to that region as “Omriland” after the Israelite king. If you look at the reign of Solomon as described in Kings, that sounds like a claim for at least regional hegemony, where Solomon’s primary wife is the daughter of Pharaoh and other nations recognize his greatness.

          • AG says:

            Ancient Israel was never a major conquering power. But I don’t recall the Old Testament ever saying “Dagon/etc. doesn’t really exist,” just not to worship other gods because God is a super jealous one.

            Isn’t the story of Balaam and the talking donkey kind of within a polytheistic context?

            I’m not saying monotheism didn’t exist back in the day, just that, over time, as there was more and more gloablization, monotheism would begin to out-compete, because they are a proxy for consolidation of power. Conquering in the name of the pantheon is less convincing a cry than conquering in the name of the one true god.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The OT doesn’t always explicitly say that the other gods don’t exist, although it does call out idols a lot as mute, powerless objects.

            Early Christians often preferred the belief that the pagan gods existed, but were demons. There’s plenty of room in every monotheistic mythos for powerful being which are above humans but still far below God.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        (The “some amount of regulation” for the old polytheistic religions was geographic isolation. Each local tribe developed a god, and then when tribes finally started meeting up, they duked it out until one tribe had the hard and soft power to wipe the others’ god from cultural memory.

        That doesn’t seem accurate. Rather it looks like interaction between “tribes” speaking the same language was a key part of polytheism coming into existence. The people in each city might have worshiped the city’s god semi-exclusively, associating other “obvious” gods in the physical world with them (hence so many Egyptian and Classical sun gods and moon gods, so many storm gods in the Hittite Empire…), and sustained interaction required myths to explain their relationships.

        • Nornagest says:

          We can actually see this happening in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Isis, for example, is an Egyptian goddess who became the central figure of a Greco-Roman mystery cult, and was likely in the process of being adopted into the Greco-Roman pantheon when Christianization happened.

          • AG says:

            Perhaps my wording was bad, but this is basically what I was getting at. Consolidation of power, including absorbing other traditions into the mythology. “You were actually worshipping my god because they were the same figure the entire time,” still moves towards a lower number of deities over time.

          • Nornagest says:

            Syncretism is one way that pagan cultures coming into contact can reconcile their religions with each other (Thoth came to be worshiped as Hermes Trigestimus, for example). But it isn’t the only one. It’s not much less common for both pantheons, or elements of them, to end up being worshiped in a blended culture.

            One of the hypotheses for why the Norse pantheon looks the way it does is that its two “tribes” of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir, were originally separate pantheons from different proto-Germanic peoples. And it was common during Christianization for local gods and goddesses to end up being venerated as folk saints.

    • Deiseach says:

      Because it’s easier? If you’re a 7th century polytheist villager, it sure makes it a lot less hard work to keep a set of rules to appease one (1) god than worry about “did I piss off the god of rain so that is why there is a drought? and did we make sure to offer to the ancestral spirits? and maybe the local village spirit is unhappy so I have to be sure about that”. If there are lots of small local spirits plus bigger gods plus the big god of the city and the king plus an entire pantheon with that, you run a lot more danger of unwittingly breaking some rule and causing trouble.

    • There was a major problem with early Jewish monotheism: people asked why, if we have the right religion and the gentiles don’t, do they keep pushing us around? The common answer is that the Jews were being punished for not following the Torah. The authors of the bible didn’t dwell much on the question of whether God was morally justified in punishing the Jews for not following the Torah. For many rules, such as the Kosher laws, no justification was needed. Which I interpret as meaning the question of the “problem of evil” wasn’t asked much, if it was a major hurdle, much ink would have been spilled on it. Why? Maybe it’s because the era was so brutal. People expected to be treated brutally by others and expected social acceptance for brutal behavior toward others. Morality was heavily particularistic, it was wrong to steal from your brother but not from the tribe who lived down the mountain. In this environment, an entity that gives you manna from heaven for following a bunch of silly rituals seems supremely good. It is only in our era when we are expected to act morally toward outgroups do we start to ask why God is exempt from all these rules.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think part of the answer is that “monotheism” and “polytheism” aren’t alternatives; they are different levels in the same hierarchy. (This is admittedly one of my weirder ideas, but hear me out.)

      The “gods” in every polytheism I’m aware of are limited; they are not “gods” in the sense that a monotheisitic “god” is. They are not self-existent, not the ground of reality, and so forth. So well-developed monotheisms have limited supernatural beings (angels, saints, etc) who look a lot like “gods” in a polytheist context. Similarly, well-developed polytheisms tend to develop a concept of a fundamental ground of being behind the “gods” (Hindu Brahman, Stoic logos).

      So my answer is that as philosophical reasoning develops, the focus tends to shift to the monotheistic level.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        This doesn’t strike me as at all weird.

        As you say, polytheistic gods tend to be humans writ large. Often there are even naturalistic explanations for where they came from: Ymir was “a primeval being who was born from venom that dripped from the icy rivers Élivágar and lived in the grassless void of Ginnungagap.” If you start asking where the Élivágar came from, it leads very nicely to more and more distant and abstract gods; my sense is that the Greeks didn’t talk much about Chronos. (At least, Wikipedia doesn’t have much to say about him.)

        Eventually you get to a god which did literally create existence, or maybe just is existence, for whom the question of origin is definitionally meaningless, and you get to stop.

        But pareidolia is very strong, and the desire to attribute agency and thought and bonding to such a god leads to the idea of the “ground of reality” god who nevertheless has a personal relationship with you. It makes it even easier to note that such a fundamental god would of necessity be powerful enough as to have no bandwidth problems in having a personal relationship with every human who ever lived or will live.

        This raises the interesting question about Hinduism, where as I understand it the ground of reality is Brahman, which is related to Brahma but not identical; they seem to have personified the ground of reality considerably less than the Abrahamic religions did. Why is that? And what does it say about my whole analysis?

      • albatross11 says:

        In Catholicism, we have one God in three persons, and then we have Mary (who’s kind-of a special case), all the other saints, and the angels. We pray to all of them–God (Father, Son, Spirit), Mary, the saints, the angels (collectively and individually–for example, the prayer to St Michael).

        I gather that other monotheists (Protestants, Muslims, Jews) tend to find this very odd.

        • SamChevre says:

          The other monotheisms find praying to the angels and saints problematic, but I believe all of them believe in angels, and most believe in saints.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’ve seen praying to saints explained as being equivalent to asking a friend to pray for you. Since saints are alive and active in Heaven, why wouldn’t we ask them, too?

          This sounded considerably less problematic to my Protestant ears, although I’m not sure it ends up working that way in practice.

    • Atlas says:

      A blanket addendum: thank you, my friends, for all the insightful, informative and civil responses to my post. I continue to be amazed at how consistently fruitful discussions on this website are.

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      My interpretation of this seems to be that the optimal religion (good vs evil, evil could win if you don’t do your best, lots of regional and aethetic personalization) is Manichaean polytheism…

      so the Dungeons and Dragons cosmology?

  22. OutsideContextProblem says:

    I am looking for a piece of research about whether the market has priced in the impact of likely global warming on equities. I vaguely remember Scott mentioning it in the past. Secondarily, is there any evidence the market has priced in likely climate change related regulation – for example, oil company stocks trading at a discount because of implied likelihood of a carbon tax. Does anyone have anything?

  23. Jake R says:

    My new diet plan is “keep eating as much as I want of exactly what I was eating before, but before every meal I have to eat a whole celery stalk.” Is this genius or terrible? It seems like it might not have a ton of impact, but it should be at least marginally better right? I’m replacing some amount of volume that would normally be occupied by pizza and cheeseburgers with celery. And I do seem to be unable to eat as much pizza and cheeseburgers as I did before.

    • GreatColdDistance says:

      My first instinct is that this is really stupid, but so stupid it just might work. I am very tempted to try it myself, please update how it goes!

    • Incurian says:

      Maybe chug a glass of water, too.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Drinking a glass of water before each meal is an old trick that supposedly works.

        This also reminds me of a diet a character in a series of books I read as a kid went on. He ate a slice of melon before each meal, and had no fried foods.

        • Nick says:

          I will often avoid drinking anything just before/during a meal precisely in order to ingest more calories.

          • AG says:

            Depends on the timing. Hot dog competition champions have reportedly drunk loads of water a while before they compete in order to expand the volume of their stomach.

          • Aftagley says:

            I will often avoid drinking anything just before/during a meal precisely in order to ingest more calories.

            Why? Unless you’re eating ridiculously low-nutrient dense food and literally don’t have the stomach space to spare, what’s the point? Also, doesn’t that impact your enjoyment of the overall eating experience?

          • Nick says:

            @Aftagley
            I’m trying to eat as many calories as possible because I need to gain weight. You may have missed the thread about it from a few weeks ago.

    • ordogaud says:

      Probably depends on what your goals are. If you’re trying to lose weight it likely won’t work since you’re almost definitely still eating more calories than you burn.

      But if you just want a marginally healthier diet it should be somewhat effective. Will get more fiber going through you and take up space in your stomach you’d otherwise be loading up with excessive amounts of unhealthy/empty carbs, fats, and protein.

      That’s just my general understanding, I’m not a dietician. At best I’d call myself a friendly internet armchair nutritionist.

      • benjdenny says:

        Depends on whether he’s gaining weight pre-celery intervention, and how much. If his weight was stable and this cuts out ~400 calories a day, you’d expect him to lose >3lbs a month for a time, until his BMR reduction from losing weight equaled ~400 k/cal.

        If he was gaining about a pound a month, that typically means he had a calorie imbalance of 115 k/cal, so he’d only lose 1-2 lbs with the same calorie reduction.

        I don’t think either situation is unrealistic; it’s not really that hard to cut 400 k/cal in the first place and “ruining my supper with nutritionally barren food” isn’t a bad way to do it. I do the same thing with carrots/broccoli over my first two meals a day to control weight and it works fine.

  24. johan_larson says:

    Let’s list stuff that lived up to the hype.

    The Grand Canyon

    I found it every bit as impressive as its reputation said it would be.

    Disney World

    I was in high school when we went, and was absolutely primed to think it was lame stuff for lame kids lame. But somehow I kind of liked it, particularly Epcot Center.

    The Rocky Mountains

    They promised me big-ass rocks, and they delivered.

    • Matt M says:

      I actually wasn’t that impressed by the grand canyon. Sure it was big, but big =/ beautiful or breathtaking or whatever…

      Later on the same trip I visited Bryce Canyon and was blown away. Much cooler looking by far!

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Doom, the 1992 video game.

      id Software promised substantial improvements over Wolfenstein 3D. Bullet holes persistent in the walls. Floors and ceilings at different heights. Falling. Elevators. Chainsaws. Projectiles with their own velocity. Multiplayer. Customizable maps. And the first episode was still free.

    • benjdenny says:

      Sex. I was worried as a kid that it wouldn’t be everything I hoped – it’s different than I thought, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t undersold.

    • jgr314 says:

      Food/drink: truffles, Chateau d’Yquem
      Scenery: Glacier National Park, Switzerland (all of it)
      Games: scythe, go, catan (long ago), Azul
      Music: Tribe Called Quest, RHCP
      Movies: Spinal Tap, Dr Strangelove, The Godfather, Casablanca

      Things that didn’t (for me):
      Food/drink: everything else w/ alcohol, uni, bird’s nest soup, shark fin soup
      Scenery: Vienna
      Games: Terraforming Mars, Munchkin
      Music: Kanye post MBDTF
      Movies: too many to list

    • Machine Interface says:

      Mandy: the trailer for this film started slow and progressively grew insaner and insaner by the second. This looked like it was going to be the most crazy-awesome film of the decade.

      And then I saw it and it exceeded all hopes.

      • dick says:

        IMDB shows two such movies. Are you referring to “The enchanted lives of a couple in a secluded forest are brutally shattered by a nightmarish hippie cult and their demon-biker henchmen, propelling a man into a spiraling, surreal rampage of vengeance” or “A woman becomes obsessed with a sofa she has seen in a shop window. Unable to think of anything else, she goes to desperate lengths to possess the furniture of her dreams”?

      • johan_larson says:

        The recent movies that come to mind for me are Terminator 2, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Saving Private Ryan. All three were highly anticipated, and totally delivered.

        Among older films, The Godfather and The Apartment absolutely deserve their places in the pantheon of classic films.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          The original terminator I always found really underrated.

          I saw t2 first and when I saw t1 the vision seemed way more complete and the cyberpunk (in the present) aethetic way cooler.

          Definately one of the most stylistically and thematically compelling movies I’ve seen

    • hls2003 says:

      Dom Perignon champagne. I’m not a big wine / sparkling guy, I usually can’t discern the difference between wines, and most champagne is “eh, pretty OK.” When I tried a long-saved bottle of Dom Perignon, it was a categorically different experience. Based on the price point, it should have been the best I’d ever had, by a long way. It was.

      Place: Carlsbad Caverns. I had been to Mammoth Cave several times, as well as lots of other show caves. Mammoth Cave is very cool and reminds me of the goblin tunnels from The Hobbit. I thought I was prepared for Carlsbad. I was not. It was breathtaking, the type of place that makes you believe Hollow Earth stories.

    • Enkidum says:

      The Wire

      Beethoven’s 9th

      Jackson Hole, Utah

      Remy Martin cognac.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Skeiðarársandur / Öræfi (Iceland). The name Öræfi means “wasteland”. What the Mos Eisley Cantina was to scum and villainy, this place is to wasteland. A black sand desert for miles and miles; on the day we crossed the wind howled without end and rain came down frequently. We stopped at one spot near the eastern end to take some pictures of the glaciers in the distance; strategic parking was necessary to open the doors of the car safely, and the air was full of grit.

    • smocc says:

      Baby Driver

      The trailer had action sequences synchronized to music and I decided to see it in the theater hoping for more of that. It delivered that way beyond my expectations in the opening scene, and then more in the rest of the movie, on top of a pretty good story.

      Hamilton

      I’m a bit of a compulsive pop culture contrarian so I’m sure that if I had heard of Hamilton a couple of months earlier I would have been super into it. As it happened I ended up waiting a year or two before looking into it because it was too popular. Finally I listened to the soundtrack on a roadtrip with my wife and it was as amazing as everyone was treating it. I teared up with patriotic fervor at Washington’s introduction. (After we saw it live I like to make people guess which scene made my wife cry and which scene made me cry.)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      A happy marriage
      Yosemite
      Beer as a category. Not every beer. But oh god, great stuff
      Parks and Rec
      Seeing the night sky
      Those cheesy cliché nights around a campfire with friends where you just drink beer and make smores
      Into the Spiderverse/Infinity War. Went into both with really high expectations. Disappointed with neither.
      Ender’s Game
      Queen

    • ordogaud says:

      Milford Sound, and the entire fiordlands region in NZ. Stunningly beautiful.

      • salvorhardin says:

        +1. The South Island of NZ is in general one of those places where you see the photos and say “oh come on it can’t actually look like that in person” and then you go there and it does.

      • LesHapablap says:

        I fly into Milford regularly. Occasionally passengers tell me that it was the best experience of their lives.

        If you’re going to visit Fiordland, an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound is the way to go. You’ll also want to do a flight either helicopter or fixed wing.

    • Randy M says:

      Epic Rap Battles of History
      Getting a good nights sleep
      Brazilian barbeque
      Holding your baby
      The Swiss Alps
      Going away to college
      Fall from Heaven
      Breaking Bad
      The Tule Elk preserve

    • Atlas says:

      To be honest, my experience of life in general (so far) has been much more of things failing to live up to the hype. That said:

      The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

      The Elementary Particles

      Watchmen (the comic book.)

    • Tarpitz says:

      Jerusalem (the Jez Butterworth play, in its original production with Mark Rylance)

      The Godfather

      The Last of Us

      And in a slightly different but related area, seeing my football team win the Champions League in person was more thrilling than 29 year old me would ever have imagined. I thought that level of excitement and joy over watching a sporting event had vanished with my childhood.

  25. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Seen on Facebook: a cute video of a cow playing with a beach ball like a dog.
    The text: “Their lives are equal to ours in every way that matters.”

    OK, so I’m sympathetic to vegetarianism and the truth claim that it’s logically indefensible (and in some sense ethics come from logic) to eat cows, pigs, etc. – let alone factory farm them! – when we don’t eat dogs. But “Their lives are equal to ours in every way that matter”? An ideology that says irrational animals are equal to us in every way that matters is implying rationality/logic doesn’t matter. So what then? I don’t need to practice ethics, because cows don’t.
    I can potentially see this belief becoming hegemonic not leading to a stereotypical Dark Age, but I wouldn’t trust Western secularists to thread that needle. I’d feel safer with the whole Western world converting to Hinduism.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      An ideology that says irrational animals are equal to us in every way that matters is implying rationality/logic doesn’t matter. So what then? I don’t need to practice ethics, because cows don’t.

      What’s the term for the fallacy that involves taking a statement, interpreting it to mean something ridiculous, and then arguing that vegans will lead us into a new dark age because “Western secularists” are apparently disposed to believe that cow lives being “equal” to human lives means that there’s nothing wrong with being a violent psychopath?

      • nkurz says:

        @Hoopyfreud> What’s the term for the fallacy that involves taking a statement, interpreting it to mean [what it literally says], and then arguing [about the logical conclusion of that overly literal interpretation]?

        Maybe “rationalism”?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I think that you’re putting too much thought into it, almost certainly much more than the person who posted that meme.

      It doesn’t make any sense to say that a cow’s life is equally valuable to that of a human, but people don’t say it because it makes sense to them. They say it because it sounds caring and empathetic to have an exaggerated level of concern over a cute baby animal. People have always been willing to say idiotic things if others will praise them for it, and social media beams that praise directly into the palm of your hand 24/7.

      The correct response to this nonsense is to just unfollow them, or if you’re feeling particularly mean reply with a link to your favorite veal recipe.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I think that you’re putting too much thought into it, almost certainly much more than the person who posted that meme.

        Yeah, I’m sorry for posting such overthinking. I have an Asperger’s diagnosis.

        Tangent: I totally repudiate the idea that autism is a superpower (even the over-sensitivity alone is a disability), but… does anyone wonder if Socrates couldn’t stop himself from corrupting the youth away from signalling conventional Athenian virtue because he was on the spectrum?

        • Nornagest says:

          Tea-reading historical figures for such-and-such a trait under modern understandings of psychology is never something I like to do, but it’s halfway plausible in this case. That particular type of intellectual stubbornness is something I associate with ASD cases, at least.

    • dick says:

      Thirded that an exaggeration in a slogan on TV is probably not evidence that the entire western world needs to convert to Hinduism to avoid a new dark age.

    • Deiseach says:

      But “Their lives are equal to ours in every way that matter”? An ideology that says irrational animals are equal to us in every way that matters is implying rationality/logic doesn’t matter.

      People who say that kind of thing are idiots. Often well-meaning, well-intentioned idiots, but idiots. Probably never seen a real cow or pig in their entire lives. Possibly an over-earnest thirteen year old sharing Baby’s First Big Breathless Revelation.

      I don’t think it will lead to the downfall of Western civilisation, but I would agree with you that it’s indicative of a softening of social intellectual fibre (if I can be so pretentious) that doesn’t augur well because of the primacy of Feeeelings over facts. Even the most devoted and dedicated do-gooder, if they want to achieve any of their aims to help people/cute fuzzy animals has to buckle down to the cold equations of “if I only get X funding and there are Y number of cute fuzzy animals, then Z percentage of cute fuzzies are going to die because I can’t save them all”. It’ll probably get worse before it gets better, but I do think there are faint indications that “it hurts my feelings so you’re a big meanie to say that so you better shut up (or else)” is getting pushback with “I don’t care if it hurts your feelings, grow the heck up, you’re trying to fight reality and the cold heartless indifferent universe doesn’t care about your feelings and if you want to survive, you better start paying attention to the facts and not the inside of your head”.

      • Matt M says:

        Dennis Prager used to discuss how his proxy for society’s moral decay was asking audiences he was speaking in front of “If you could only save from drowning a random stranger, or your own pet, which would you save” and charting how over time, “my pet” becomes an increasingly popular answer.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          And the answer given is not what people really think, but rather what people think is the answer most likely to get them cudos.

          • dick says:

            …because morality doesn’t exist, we got it.

          • Laukhi says:

            You may be correct, but the measure of how many people are so lacking in self-awareness or outright liars in this regard is just as much a good proxy for moral decay, yes?

          • Machine Interface says:

            There isn’t any point in human history where self-awereness was not a scarce resource.

          • Deiseach says:

            But even if it’s only for social kudos, the acceptability of an animal over a human is interesting indication of a trend.

          • Machine Interface says:

            It could just be that for the average human empathy is a finite resource and so, if we care more about about animal wealthfare on average, mutatis mutandi we care less about human wealthfare on average. The solution is to find ways to increase the global supply of empathy, rather than to try to go back to the glorious times where if you slaughtered a pig in the open in the middle of town, the only thing people would complain about was the noise.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Presumably, you wouldn’t see anything wrong with people choosing to save their own child, rather than a random stranger, so we’ve already established that faced with a situation where we have to choose the loss of one life over another, not saving the random stranger may be the correct choice. Why is that?

          Unless you want to argue that your child has superior moral weight to the random stranger, as a human being and person, you might bring up something like having a duty of care to your child and not the stranger.

          That’s all well and good, but we could also argue that you have a duty of care towards your pet and not the stranger, because that’s what the master-pet relationship implies (you are severly restricting your pet’s agency and thus you assume a responsibility for its well-being).

          If you want to slice it along emotional impact lines, many people would be more distressed by the loss of a pet than the death of a random stranger. People are dying in droves as I write this. Do I care? Not really. Do I expect random strangers to care when it’s my turn? Not in the slightest.

          You may postulate a general obligation to save people’s lives, that your duty of care towards your pet doesn’t override, but in that case why aren’t you out there looking for deaths to prevent? There are some practical considerations that may have greater weight than efforts to save the life of someone who may need saving, but posting to the SSC comments section almost certainly isn’t one of them.

          • Randy M says:

            It be interesting to see how many people feel you can have a duty to animals.

            Against:
            Animals are not moral agents
            Animals are unlikely to reciprocate

            For:
            Animals are capable of feeling suffering
            There is a relationship between the two perhaps analogous to some human relationships that carry obligations

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Children have more moral weight than adults. This is descriptive rather than prescriptive: I don’t have the philosophical foundation to say why but that’s what society claims.

            So to make your counter-hypothetical more interesting: would you save a random child or a close friend?

            (Me personally, I find the thought of saving a pet over a human being to be repugnant)

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            The fun part is that you can have a duty even in the absence of moral agency or reciprocity.

            Given that the animal is not typically seen to have a choice with regards to whether the relationship exists or not, the entire moral weight of this choice – and everything arising therefrom – rests on the human. The animal’s moral agency or lack thereof isn’t an issue, because the animal isn’t the one making a moral choice.

            (It’s like the joke: Does that dog have a license? He doesn’t need one, officer, he’s not driving.)

            So it is with reciprocity: any duties arising arise from your own unilateral moral choices. By instituting yourself as the pet’s master, you need to accept the entire package that comes with it.

            Remember, kids, there are no rights without responsibilities.

            ETA:

            Gobbobobble,

            Given a choice of random child or close friend, close friend wins hands down.

            I reject the higher moral weight of children and frankly don’t give a flying duck what the rest of society thinks. I can be convinced otherwise, but someone would have to try first.

            That you find the idea that someone could choose a pet over a human repugnant doesn’t surprise me. A lot of people do. Some don’t.

            I don’t necessarily believe either side is correct, but don’t mind them holding such opinions.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Against:
            Animals are unlikely to reciprocate

            Not true of dogs. This only works against a generalized moral obligation to animals.

          • Nick says:

            Given that the animal is not typically seen to have a choice with regards to whether the relationship exists or not, the entire moral weight of this choice – and everything arising therefrom – rests on the human. The animal’s moral agency or lack thereof isn’t an issue, because the animal isn’t the one making a moral choice.

            Right conclusion, wrong reasoning; there are plenty of obligations where choice doesn’t matter for either party. We don’t have a choice who we’re born to, but we still owe filial piety to our parents. So we certainly could have a duty to save a perfect stranger from imminent death that trumps any obligations we have toward our own pets.

          • Randy M says:

            So it is with reciprocity: any duties arising arise from your own unilateral moral choices. By instituting yourself as the pet’s master, you need to accept the entire package that comes with it.

            I am not convinced animals can make moral claims on a person. After all, a farmer can slaughter an animal under his care.

            Do I have an duty to water my plants?
            Do I have an duty to my computer to install anti-virus software on it?

            I am not convinced I don’t, though, mind. I’d error on the side of care even if there weren’t also practical reasons to care for animals.

            But I’d have to be convinced of the matter before I put even a beloved pet before a stranger. However, in contrast, I recognize a very strong duty to my children, above strangers or even other family or my spouse. I might love my wife more, but I have a unique duty to my children.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Nick:

            We don’t have a choice who we’re born to, but we still owe filial piety to our parents.

            This must be demonstrated, not assumed.

            (I mean: sure, you can assume it for the purpose of guiding your own moral choices, but you shouldn’t expect anyone, much less everyone, else to agree.)

            So we certainly could have a duty to save a perfect stranger from imminent death that trumps any obligations we have toward our own pets.

            Ditto.

            Randy M:

            I am not convinced animals can make moral claims on a person.

            The animal isn’t the one making a moral claim (animals aren’t moral agents). The claim is one you make on yourself.

            This requires an elaboration: by choosing to institute a specific type of relationship between you and another living being – a master-pet relationship – you are unilaterally assuming a set of obligations with regards to the pet, which roughly translate into a duty of care. It isn’t particularly controversial to expect the master to feed the pet, provide shelter for it, not mistreat it, etc. etc. Notice that these obligations aren’t conditional on any particular set of behaviours from the pet – it’s not typically justifiable to starve your dog simply because it wasn’t loving enough (whatever that might mean).

            If a master fails in his duties to his pet – for example, it dies of neglect – then they have proven unfit for the duty they have taken upon themselves. It was either a failure of wisdom (not being able to forsee they were inadequate to the task), of responsibility or something else perhaps. Nevertheless, their moral responsibility is to themselves.

            Despite superficial appearances, this is not the soft option: personal failure is something you have to live with for the rest of your days. Any attempts to mitigate are in themselves a failure – a failure to acknowledge one’s errors.

            Immoral people will, of course, have none of these problems, but what else is new?

            Notice that this is a different situation from the farmer, where the animal is treated as a means to an end from the beginning.

            The reason these situations are different, morally, is that it’s the people, not the animals, who are moral agents making moral claims.

            I recognize a very strong duty to my children, above strangers or even other family or my spouse

            And rightly you should. Parental responsibility towards the child is greater than perhaps any other (any I can think of anyway), because without the (biological) parent, the child wouldn’t have come into existence.

            I should, in light of previous discussion, note that this responsibility to your children doesn’t generalize to everyone else’s children – because in their case your decisions are not a cause of their existence. If you are an adoptive parent, the obligation arises out of the choice to adopt and the situation is analogous to the one I outlined for pets – you have a moral obligation to yourself, first and foremost, to discharge the duties you’ve taken upon yourself to the best of your ability.

          • Nick says:

            This must be demonstrated, not assumed.

            (I mean: sure, you can assume it for the purpose of guiding your own moral choices, but you shouldn’t expect anyone, much less everyone, else to agree.)

            No, I expect lots of people to agree, because lots of people actually do believe in filial piety.

            You yourself said that there are no rights without responsibilities. Well, kids have rights to care by their parents. Consequently, kids have responsibilities to their parents. Alternately, supposing you believe the converse is true as well—that there are no responsibilities without rights—the parental responsibility to care for their own children you later mentioned has a corresponding right.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Well, kids have rights to care by their parents.

            What if I told you that they don’t?

            Picture, if you will, little Robbie Crusoe, aged 4, on his desert island. His parents, regrettably, died in the shipwreck that stranded him here.

            Would you be so kind to explain to lil’ Robbie how he has a right to parental care? You can’t actually help him in any meaningful way, but I’m sure as soon as he knows his rights, he’ll feel all better.

            It is my position that nobody can speak meaningfully of having rights, if they are unable to enjoy these in the absence of other people. Yes, this does mean that the catalogue of rights I am willing to acknowledge as “fundamental” is fairly small.

            It’s unquestionable that a child can only obtain parental care if it has living parents. There is no requirement or guarantee that any particular child’s parents are alive. This being the case, it seems peculiar to postulate a right to parental care, if its enjoyment is necessarily predicated on circumstance.

            If you read my response to Randy, this does not absolve the parent of responsibility for the child. Indeed, the parent owes the child big time, because they have chosen to bring the child into existence.

            Consequently, kids have responsibilities to their parents.

            Given that I reject the premise (right to parental care), I must reject the conclusion (responsibility that comes with the right).

            This does not mean that children cannot acquire responsibilities towards their parents in the course of their lives – as a result of the relationship – nor that they cannot unilaterally accept such.

          • Nick says:

            It is my position that nobody can speak meaningfully of having rights, if they are unable to enjoy these in the absence of other people. Yes, this does mean that the catalogue of rights I am willing to acknowledge as “fundamental” is fairly small.

            You’re going to have to expand on this, because it appears to be the crux of your position, and I don’t know what it means. And then I have two followup questions: first, what rights do you believe exist then? And second, in what sense are they fundamental; do you mean these aren’t grounded in anything like human nature or dignity?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            And then I have two followup questions: first, what rights do you believe exist then? And second, in what sense are they fundamental; do you mean these aren’t grounded in anything like human nature or dignity?

            Since I think I strongly concur with Faza on this point, I’d like to take a stab:

            Your truest rights include things like the right to breathe; the right to seek food, drink, clothing, and shelter (but not to have them provided); the right to be left alone.

            None of these is grounded in human dignity, but they are grounded in human nature as an entity capable of independent thought. Seeking is broadly defined here; you could be born without arms or legs, or with an addled mind, and your options when seeking food would thus be quite limited. But you could still consciously will yourself in the direction of whatever you suspect is nearby. The right to be left alone is perhaps the most important one, as it puts in sharp relief the obligation to others to not go out of their way to hinder you.

            All other rights are atomically based on agreement between individuals. I agree to give you the right to some of the food I found; you agree to give me the right to some of the clothes you found. We have no moral obligation to make this agreement; it’s rather that we may find it practically advantageous to do so.

            The rights of a newborn are consequently limited indeed. It is wholly at the mercy of other people. However, we may agree to give each other the right to stop each other from harming a newborn, or to force each other to provide it with care, just as we may agree to give each other the right to do the same for the sick, the elderly, the poor, or anyone at all. In other words, we are giving away part of our right to be left alone.

            It just so happens that some such agreements (such as to require care for newborns and children) are very quickly made, and very strongly enforced, in western societies. We know of some societies where the agreement is held more loosely, either in other places or earlier in history.

          • Nick says:

            It seems to me, though, that that account either produces vacuous rights—I have a right to will that I have food? I’m pretty sure my stomach is willing food with or without my say—or else rights that are conditioned by circumstance the same as the parental care case, which doesn’t meet Faza’s definition. And anyway, in the latter case, I don’t see why by a person has “more” right to seek food just because they have arms. What’s more, if that’s the route you go, conditioning rights on individual capacities, you get absurd results, like that the diabetic have no right to life, or that the politically savvy have a right to rule.

          • lvlln says:

            @Nick

            You yourself said that there are no rights without responsibilities. Well, kids have rights to care by their parents. Consequently, kids have responsibilities to their parents. Alternately, supposing you believe the converse is true as well—that there are no responsibilities without rights—the parental responsibility to care for their own children you later mentioned has a corresponding right.

            From what I understand, based on the reasoning of “no rights without responsibilities,” if kids have rights to care by their parents, that means that those kids, once they grow up and become parents, have the responsibility to care for their kids. Not that those kids now have the responsibility to take care of their parents.

            Likewise, if we conside