Open Thread 139.5

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

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909 Responses to Open Thread 139.5

  1. brad says:

    Since we’ve had some decent software engineering threads recently:

    Programmers always want to rewrite everything, from individual functions all the way up to entire codebases, what are some decent heuristics about when it is a good idea and when it isn’t?

    • johan_larson says:

      A good sign that it is time to rewrite a system is that people are afraid of making changes. That’s a sign that there are so many patches on patches that no one really understands what’s going on, and therefore the effect of seemingly innocuous changes can no longer be predicted.

      For smaller things, like functions or classes, it’s time to rewrite things when adding new functionality within the existing paradigm is either impossible, or just as complicated as rewriting from scratch.

      • dodrian says:

        Yes, I think this is right.

        A bugfix on the old codebase at my work takes 1-2 months precisely because of all the work that needs to be done to mitigate the fear of breaking something when making the change.

        A similar bugfix on the new codebase takes 1-2 weeks because developers are much more confident. Part of this is that the code is better written, the other part is having good test coverage and it running on a modern stack that can easily revert to an earlier version if something does unexpectedly go wrong.

    • Murphy says:

      Are there important bugs?

      Is there planned future development on the code?

      Is performance unacceptable?

      If no to all these questions then there’s no need to rewrite anything. No matter how ugly the code.

      Otherwise… it can be a terribly complex problem. In one shop I remember titanic effort put into eliminating all VB6 from the codebase which was a big success because the cost of maintaining tools in different languages that needed to interact was having big knockon effects on everything from speed to code fragility to ease of automated testing to developer frustration…..

      But if they’d ended up being unable to port a couple of modules they wouldn’t have reaped nearly as many of the rewards.

      I would simply note that developer morale is part of the equation. Many coders don’t like working on shit and don’t like having output that’s shit with a feature added and long term it can hurt your firms ability to keep tallent if your coders feel like all they ever get to do is polish turds.

    • Viliam says:

      Unless you have good reasons to change the programming language, rewriting the entire application is almost always a bad idea. Just consider that when you are in the middle of the rewrite — which may take months or years, — neither version is working (because you probably stopped developing the old one when you started working on the rewrite).

      At least this should be the rule if you are your own boss.

      However, if you are working for someone else, bosses almost always underestimate the importance and costs of software maintenance. If you succeed to convince them that a rewrite is necessary, you will get a budget to fix the code. But if you fail to convince them, you will have to maintain and try to gradually improve the old code… which in theory is the better way… but it practice you will get zero budget for maintenance, only for adding new features, so you will keep working on a crappy codebase for a long time. (To add insult to injury, they may measure your productivity, and compare it to people working on nice code.)

      • brad says:

        I recently became the boss, though I still have a boss above me. I’m trying to work through how to be a good one (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as being a nice one).

        • Viliam says:

          Recently I was at a SCRUM training, and I was told that the most important part of the entire process is the Retrospective.

          Ignoring the rest of the methodology, I believe the point is that you want honest feedback from your subordinates, and you also want to make it public knowledge that you want honest feedback, but at the same time you don’t want to give a blanket permission to be second-guessed all the time. (That would result in some people fighting with you for dominance all the time, and the rest of the team deciding they better remain quiet.)

          So what you can do is establish a regular meeting where the feedback (on everything that happened since the last meeting) is solicited, and it is made obvious that you expect some of it to be negative; for example by splitting the flipchart into “good”, “neutral”, and “bad” zones, and giving everyone their turn to speak.

          With regards to my previous comment, it would be nice if the developers could spend e.g. 10% or 20% of their working time doing the things that seem important to them. Project related, but things that are not (and probably never will be) business priorities. Automated testing, continuous integration, refactoring, documentation, etc. But also teaching each other. (Perhaps let them read a book or take a programming course, on condition that at the end they will provide the summary to the rest of the team.)

          These two things would have removed a huge amount of complaints in most jobs I had. (Well, assuming that something would actually be done about the feedback.)

      • The Nybbler says:

        Just consider that when you are in the middle of the rewrite — which may take months or years, — neither version is working (because you probably stopped developing the old one when you started working on the rewrite).

        It is possible to rewrite something in pieces while keeping it working and continuing development of both old and new sections. It is not easy, but it is sometimes necessary.

    • quanta413 says:

      I have little experience, but rewriting an entire codebase sounds like an incredible expense and risk to me. Even as I’ve improved, I don’t think I’ve replaced small codebases I wrote up for my scientific work. Just kept improving them. Arguably I’ve done so once, but that was largely because I actually needed to change the mathematical model. I couldn’t easily rewrite it.

      On the other hand, I’ve never felt very worried rewriting a function. But most scientific code outside of instrument control is very… functional? (not as in it functions super well, but as in it shouldn’t have side-effects). You feed chunks of data into a pipeline and then spit new data out of the end of a pipeline. The interaction between components isn’t usually too painful. Although an individual step may be pretty hideous.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The first heuristic is it’s not a good idea. This is definitely the default assumption for production code.

      The second heuristic is that if the programmer can’t provide a well-defined reason for doing it, or the reason is something like “I want to use this cool new library or language feature”, it’s not a good idea.

      Things that point towards a rewrite:

      Fragility: not only does it break a lot, but when you try to fix it it usually breaks in other ways.

      Performance: It cannot be sped up without fundamentally changing the way it works.

      Security: It’s written in a fundamentally unsafe way and it’ll be easier and safer to rewrite than to try to patch all the issues.

      Change in requirements: It now needs to do something rather different than it was originally designed to do. This usually also results in fragility.

      Obsolescence of dependencies: It’s likely better to rewrite than to try to maintain the old dependency yourself.

      There are probably others; fragility (which I think is the same thing johan_larson is getting at) is probably the most common good reason.

      • JayT says:

        Obsolescence of dependencies: It’s likely better to rewrite than to try to maintain the old dependency yourself.

        I think this might be the #1 most important. I’ve worked with a few groups that had legacy code that was terribly out of date, to the point that we were eBaying hardware that would work with it. If you get to that point, you definitely should be thinking about a rewrite. Obviously though, this is very related to fragility.

    • Red-s says:

      It’s an instinct to push back against.

      People want to re-write something, because it’s not a stretch to try to understand something you’ve written yourself. It is a stretch to try to understand something you didn’t write.

      It’s sort of a way of hiding from failure, holding back from taking a risk on something that might not work. Re-doing something that exists in a prettier, more modern way, is something you feel safe doing – like playing scales, like covering a well-known song. Actually making an extension, doing something new with the existing code – you could fail at that. “I’ll be able to add more to this after it’s re-written” is a way of postponing the “add more” part.

      Software engineers, like everyone else, want to avoid failure. And sometimes this instinct leads to avoiding success as well.

      If “legacy” code is working, has tests, and there’s at least some organizational memory about the code (somebody on the team was around when it was written) – don’t rewrite it.

    • MorningGaul says:

      When the benefits you’ll gain by doing so, until the next time you’ll redo it from scratch, is greater than the cost of doing so.

      By experience, it usually means “within 2 weeks of having built the thing, by the guy who built it in the first place”. I don’t trust people who want to rebuild from scratch to not want to re-rebuild it from scratch not too long after (or having the next guy coming in and wanting to rebuild it from scratch according to what he thinks is best).

    • Thegnskald says:

      I’d guess, on average, I end up writing any given piece of novel code three times, because I don’t actually understand what the code needs to do the first two times I write it.

      “Novel code” is carrying a huge part of the burden there, though – at this point I rarely write “novel code”. I’ve written pretty much everything a business application might need.

      But the differences between the first version and the final version of any given piece of code suggests that code needs to be rewritten when at least half the requirements have changed from when it was originally written; this can include the situation when there are half again as many requirements.

      Which tends to imply that most applications need to be rewritten. Which I think is true. The problem, however, is that very rarely do you have anybody who even knows what the requirements are, and often the practical requirements are “Does exactly what the existing code does”. If that is the situation, it is rarely worth rewriting. All the ugly edge cases have to be handled and rewritten, and the new code base is basically reduced to an emulation of the old code base, and probably more complicated in the end anyways by the need to write the behavior of the old code on top of the new code. And years will be spent hammering out “bugs” where the code behaves differently.

      In that situation, I don’t think rewriting code is ever going to be the solution. When you are ready to break backward compatibility, that is when a code rewrite is appropriate, and it should be done as broadly as possible. Ideally it should also only be done when most of your developers are well-versed in the old code base – more specifically, when as much of the code as possible is familiar to at least one developer. There is no point in rewriting code when the people rewriting it aren’t familiar with the old code, because that is just a return to square one of “Code written without full understanding of the problem being solved”.

      Which leads to the final formulation: Code should be rewritten when the requirements have changed considerably, when backwards compatibility isn’t the most important requirement, and when the people doing the rewriting have maintained the existing code for at least two years.

      If those things are all ever true – the code should be rewritten. As soon as possible, because odds are they won’t remain true for very long.

    • SamChevre says:

      Obligatory Joel Spolsky link.

      The idea that new code is better than old is patently absurd. Old code has been used. It has been tested. Lots of bugs have been found, and they’ve been fixed. There’s nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t acquire bugs just by sitting around on your hard drive.

      That fits my experience with actuarial software: at some point, you will have to switch systems*, but generally cleaning up the existing system piece by piece is faster and causes many less problems.

      *Note that “at some point” may be later than you think: most insurance companies still have systems in production written in APL.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Code does accumulate bugs just by sitting on a hard drive, though; the environment changes, dependencies change. Code is highly context dependent, and the context is constantly evolving.

        More, the process is important. Even if you have a perfectly isolated system that you have debugged completely, when do you want to update your old code – when it is still working perfectly and people know how it works, or when it is working perfectly but nobody knows how it works anymore because it has been working perfectly for twenty years?

        To some extent bugs are a resource.

      • Ant says:

        Contrary to what Joël says, old code isn’t always that functional, and people can be far too tolerant of a buggy software, which means that rewritting from scratch can be far better for the final user.

        Some rules of thumb:
        _ If you frequently make mistake in an area(around 3), that area is probably in need of refactoring.
        _ Any change in the code must be tested by someone who didn’t develop it.
        _ If you are rewriting a major component, try to make it easy to switch between the old and new component so that the tester can choose when they start the test. It also allow you to choose when to temporally stop working on it in case of an emergency.
        _ Avoid migrating badly written code. First refactor in the old language to prepare the migration then migrate (component by component) then refactor in the new language. Those are smaller step, easier to do correctly and each successful step offer something concrete.
        _ If you migrate or rewrite a major component, it’s a good policy to offer at the end of the task something that can only be accomplished after the rewrite.
        _ As usual, don’t code for a possible future. You should have enough to do with improving the current situation.

  2. johan_larson says:

    This week we are discussing the TV series “The Expanse,” season 1, episodes one and two.

    Damn, that title sequence is great. I can just watch it over and over.

    The belter creole is cool, too. Did they have a linguist build something plausible, or is it just gibberish?

    And kudos to the showrunners for having inertia work correctly. The ships have maneuvering thrusters. The ships also point in the direction of travel to decelerate.

    But stealth in space is a no-go, outside of real edge cases.

    (We’ll do episodes three and four next week.)

    • broblawsky says:

      Would stealth in space be feasible in a very crowded area, such as (for example) within the orbit of Jupiter’s moons or Saturn’s rings?

      • cassander says:

        Stealth isn’t the same as hiding. You can hide in a crowded place, but it doesn’t make you stealthier. And space is generally less crowded than you think. Saturn’s rings are about half as much ice as there is in Antarctica, spread over a much, much larger volume of space.

    • Protagoras says:

      I really didn’t like Detective Miller as a character. He didn’t seem to fit the setting, and just really didn’t appeal to me for some reason. I liked lots of other things about the show, but was just sucking it up and enduring it when he was on screen.

      • johan_larson says:

        I think he’s supposed to be a bit of a pretentious oddball. That’s why he wears that hat, for example, which makes no sense at all in space.

        • albatross11 says:

          I thought the justification for the hat was that his head looked funny as a result of developing in low gravity.

          • johan_larson says:

            Isn’t it his spine that looks funny? I don’t remember.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            It is his spine. And he is a pretentious oddball.

            He’s trying to distance himself from the rest of the Belters because he associates them with bad things in his life, growing up poor. He wants to be like an Inner. That contrasts his partner who comes from privileged background on Earth but wants to learn customs and pass as one of the people he’s going to be policing.

    • cassander says:

      A note on the world building, I really like how the universe of the expanse is totally devoid of modern racial concerns, and has completely replaced them with a new set of boundary lines. It’s a minor point, but I feel it makes the world have a more lived in feel to it.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        A note on the world building, I really like how the universe of the expanse is totally devoid of modern racial concerns, and has completely replaced them with a new set of boundary lines. It’s a minor point, but I feel it makes the world have a more lived in feel to it.

        In the setting of Mobile Suit Gundam (the original, Universal Century), the world government forced all but 2 billion people to emigrate to O’Neill habitats, and it’s implied that ethnogenesis has happened since then. The breakaway Spacers called “Zeon”, at least, seem to be a new ethnic group with names like “Degwin Zabi” and “Ramba Ral.” Some of the loyalists also have crazy names like “Bright Noa”, while others are identified as Japanese, Latino, etc. (There’s also a Zeon Hindu girl: the independence movement isn’t really racist – it has a different reason for building a billion-skull pile.)

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      Stealth technique in Expanse is to be coated in radar-absorbing coating and to not burn hot engine, instead relying on thrusters which I think are supposed to eject water and slingshot manoeuvring. Once engine lights up, the ship is visible from across system, I think you haven’t seen it yet, but basically both Earth and a station in the Belt could see them relatively clearly. But once engine shuts down again ship turns into a pretty small, radar-absorbing asteroid.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Which… just would not work. For one thing, in an industrialized solar system all the rocks are tracked anyway, and you are Not On The List. Second, the second you go dark you are announcing you are up to no good or just had a disatrous mishap. Either way everyone would track you with IR and send something to check up on you. IR scopes are very sensitive and you are inevitably much hotter than cosmic background. Nor would occlusion shields help – you have to dump heat in some direction and anyone with an interest in traffic control would have sensor platform way of the plane of the elliptic. Space is not the sea you cant play uboat in it.

        The only real method of hiding would be to fly a false flag – a freighter built with hidden weapons or the like and even then you get One surprise, after which it gets logged as “treacherous warship, missiles inbound, estimated time till demise, six days” in the traffic databases

        • Fitzroy says:

          you have to dump heat in some direction

          Eventually. Would sufficiently magic advanced internal heat sinks maybe allow you to run dark and cold for just long enough to obfuscate your vector for an alpha strike and/or escape and evasion afterwards? Potentially you could combine that with ablative cooling (I’m thinking something like a liquid droplet radiator without recovering the droplets) to act as ‘flares’ and aid your escape – if you’ve just ejected a glowing stream of molten tin at 1000K that’s pretty much the only thing IR sensors looking in the near vicinity can see.

          None of which is relevant to The Expanse, though, in which heat management seems to be largely one of those acceptable breaks from reality – none of the vessels would look nearly so good as they do covered with the amount of fragile radiators they should be.

          • bean says:

            Would sufficiently magic advanced internal heat sinks maybe allow you to run dark and cold for just long enough to obfuscate your vector for an alpha strike and/or escape and evasion afterwards?

            Probably not. Your initial velocity was known, and your ability to alter it is pretty constrained. This narrows the search space greatly. And heat sinks just aren’t that good. For every kW of housekeeping load, you need at least 100 kg/heat sink/day. That adds up real quick.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            you cannot blind space based telescopes with flares for shit. – no atmosphere to affect light paths, so if you are standing next to a super bright light source, that just makes you easier to spot, because the side playing the sensor game can just occlude your flare and oh, now it is a light source to see you better with. Seriously, if you want a plot line of futuristic cat and mouse submarine warfare, just write the tale of the war between the colonies of Europa (the moon). The entire planet is mostly one big ball of water. That is one heck of a playground for that kind of thing, and you can add a biosphere for fun if you want. – probably an engineered one, but hey, that has possibilities too.
            Space is entirely the wrong setting for this. Space is the place with no hiding.

        • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

          You do have a point, but really, sometimes you just need to know when to stop. Otherwise your acceptance of the story should crash when you start asking why are there still humans working in space and not automatic freighters freighting things. Why is Alex piloting ships with Joystick? What’s the point in building a big-ass war ship like MCRN Donnager (You aren’t here yet).

          And I imagine when you learn about protomolecule, you will just die.

          Because story needs it, obviously. And that’s how stealth technique works in this story. Because the story needs a conspiracy with stealth ships doing stealth ship conspiracy.

        • John Schilling says:

          The only real method of hiding would be to fly a false flag – a freighter built with hidden weapons or the like

          Or shipping containers bolted to every exterior surface of your warship, not that this would be a spoiler for future episodes or anything.

          • bean says:

            Objection: Unless your engine is a civilian model and doesn’t have a distinctive fingerprint, this won’t work. (Although I’d be willing to buy it for the purposes of fiction.)

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think we get much information on the diversity of Epstein drives in the Expanse universe; it’s entirely plausible that small warships use the same engines as mid-sized freighters. Hardly unprecedented.

          • cassander says:

            There is a short story that details the epstein drive’s creation. Given how the rest of the series at least tries to be relatively hard, it’s shocking how terrible it is from a science perspective.

          • bean says:

            But even those are relatively easy to tell apart, because they’re driving different props. I’ve seen speculation that there will be some distinguishing marks in torch exhaust, although it’s been a while since I looked at this closely.

        • helloo says:

          And if you do it with like 4 or 5 vehicles…
          Voltron!

      • bean says:

        But once engine shuts down again ship turns into a pretty small, radar-absorbing asteroid.

        Even if this worked (which it absolutely wouldn’t for reasons that Thomas points out) this isn’t stealth. I know exactly where that “asteroid” will be for the next few hundred years, unless you light up thrusters again. For changing this, you’re going to have to choose between cold gas (the tanks are really heavy, although there are some tricks you can pull with liquid storage that might get you up to 300 m/s of delta-V, or 500 m/s if you heat the gas) and mass drivers, which will take a lot of batteries and/or heat sinks if you want to get more delta-V. And heat sinks just aren’t that efficient, particularly if you have to keep them cold.

      • John Schilling says:

        Oh no, not again.

        We’ve been through this many times before. Some of us have been doing this for like twenty years now. And yes, everything you just thought of and everything you are going to think of between now and the time you get bored and drop the subject, we addressed twenty years ago. Their ain’t no stealth in space.

        There are tricks, fairly cumbersome but not wholly impractical, that would allow stealthy attackers to come out of “nowhere” to destroy the Canterbury. But that’s a one-way ticket to being chased down and destroyed by an Epstein-drive frigate at full burn, or simply tracked to your lair so that the authorities can blockade or destroy Space Tortuga at their leisure. There’s no “…and now we turn off our engines and everyone will think we are an asteroid”; as bean points out, everybody knows where all the asteroids are and everybody knows where you were when you turned off your engines; there’s not going to be any confusion between the two.

        This is one of a few weaknesses in otherwise superbly hard science fiction, particularly by Hollywood standards. Fortunately, it isn’t a crutch they keep using; after the attack on the spoiler later this season, stealth in space recedes to tolerably plausible levels.

        It is a weakness

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          But that’s a one-way ticket to being chased down and destroyed by an Epstein-drive frigate at full burn,

          Sounds like the most morally disgusting engine ever.

    • Aapje says:

      @johan_larson

      The language in the book wasn’t put together very rigorously, but when they made the TV series, they hired a linguist to develop a language.

    • John Schilling says:

      I have a question for people who hadn’t already read at least the first book when they came to the series: How well do you think the opening episodes did at establishing the key characters? I think it did a good job with the setting, the technology, and the societies – and yes, kudos for inventing something truly new and yet believable with the Belters. But I thought the characters – particularly Holden’s team – took a while to really come together as recognizably distinct people. Miller I thought the did a fair job with, just by virtue of his getting more focused attention, but from some of the comments above I may be off even on that.

      What’s the verdict from the newbies?

      • DarkTigger says:

        I haven’t read one of the books. (I mean to, I swear) I agree with you that the crew of the Rosinante was bland at the start of the first season.
        But other characters (e.g. Miller, Avasarala) where great from the start.

        • Witness says:

          I haven’t read one of the books. (I mean to, I swear) I agree with you that the crew of the Rosinante was bland at the start of the first season.
          But other characters (e.g. Miller, Avasarala) where great from the start.

          It’s hard to put myself back that far and remember, given how much I love the characters as I’ve come to know them now. This seems about right, though – several were great immediately, some took more time to get their “true” motivations out. I didn’t think it detracted – the show has a *lot* of characters to juggle and did a good job of timing when we learn things about them.

          Having read the first book (not started the second yet), I can add that at least over the course of the first season I feel I had a better grasp on characters other than Holden and Miller from the show than I did from the first book. Amos in particular felt like he got comparatively little characterization in book 1.

      • albatross11 says:

        I felt like by the end of season one, I had a good sense of Holden’s team. I never did get to know the fake doctor guy who died on the Martian ship, though.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yeah, by the end of season one they were pretty solid. But the usual standard is that they should be recognizably distinct characters by the end of episode one, so the audience has a reason to care.

          Enough of episode 1 was Miller-centric, and for that matter Julie Mao was IIRC a pretty distinct pseudo-character the audience could expect to meet soon enough, that this may not have been as crippling a failure as it would have been if it had just been a four-guys-in-a-spaceship show about four generically bland space guys. And, yes, points for Chrisjen’s introduction.

      • Randy M says:

        It took me a few to realize the spaceship crew were characters and not just plot elements.

  3. WarOnReasons says:

    If you had to guess, how would you rank the following countries according to life expectancy of its Arab citizens – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Qatar?

    Answer :
    Vfenry (79.0 lrnef)
    Dngne (78.2)
    XFN (74.5)
    Rtlcg (70.9)
    Vend (68.9)
    Nyy qngn sebz 2015.

    • Israel
      Qatar
      Saudi Arabia
      Egypt
      Iraq

    • bullseye says:

      V thrffrq Vend ng gur obggbz naq Dngne ng gur gbc. Jul vfa’g Dngne ng gur gbc? Gurl pna pregnvayl nssbeq cyragl bs urnygu pner, fnavgngvba, rgp.

      • V svtherq vg jnf cnffrq gur cbvag ng juvpu gur urnygu-fcraqvat urnygu bhgpbzrf pbeeryngvbaf tbrf gb mreb.

      • Eric Rall says:

        V (pbeerpgyl) thrff Vfenry sbe gur gbc fybg sbe Naguebcvp ernfbaf: vg’f gur pbhagrevaghvgvir nafjre, naq dhrfgvbaf jvgu vagrerfgvat nafjref ner zber yvxryl gb or oebhtug hc (ol crbcyr jub nyernql xabj gur nafjre) guna dhrfgvbaf jvgu obevat nafjref.

  4. anonymousskimmer says:

    Equip: Deiseach hat
    Equip: Sturm Brightblade bracer

    Aspiring Law-breaker*: Hello fair SSCers, I’m looking to break the law and keep the higher-ups at work from knowing I broke the law. How can I do this?

    SSCers: Here are a bunch of ideas! Good luck!

    /Snark**

    * – Only a law violation in the USA, AFAIK, so this is a big assumption on my part.

    ** – I generally frown upon sarcasm and other forms of snark, but perhaps it’s growing on me.

    • brad says:

      That occurred to me as I was reading it, but then I came to this part:

      And finally I am a native English speaker, and I will conduct the interview in English, but none of the candidates are native English speakers, so i don’t want to accidentally test English proficiency instead of intelligence.

      and I thought maybe not and decided not to reply.

    • Anatid says:

      IMO it’s better if you don’t snark, but if you have to, I think it’s better to keep it in the same thread.

      Edit: I guess my comment is not very useful either, so to try to expand it into something that is:

      Compare “I’d like to recruit based on general intelligence” to

      the global staffing lead and senior recruiter at Google […] reveals the four fundamental skills you must have to get hired at the tech company: General cognitive ability, leadership, “Googliness” and role-related knowledge.

      Out of those four, she says in the podcast, the most important is general cognitive ability.

      https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/28/the-most-important-skill-you-should-have-to-score-a-job-at-google.html

      I have heard basically the same thing from a regular person who works at Google and conducts interviews, so I think this is the explicit clearly-stated policy there. So at least Google thinks that hiring mainly for “general cognitive ability” is legal.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        General cognitive ability, leadership, “Googliness” and role-related knowledge.

        Does that mean the googlier your eyes, the more likely you are to get hired?
        What level has Barney Google been promoted to?

        • Eric Rall says:

          “Googliness” means the degree to which someone seems like they’d fit in constructively with Google’s internal culture and procedures. Basically, a combination of what other companies “Cultural Fit” with generic good personality trait and work habits (conscientiousness, etc).

          When I was doing interviews for Google, my go-to question for assessing this was “What do you like and dislike about the development process at $CURRENT_EMPLOYER?” I’d the compare their answers (and the answers to probing follow-up questions) to my observations of how Google did things and what Google’s internal culture seemed to value.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Here Google explicitly delinks “general cognitive ability” from an IQ test proxy (the SAT): “General cognitive ability. Google wants smart people who can learn and adapt to new situations. This is about understanding how candidates solve hard problems in real life and how they learn, not about GPAs or SAT scores.”

        They’re likely trying to have their cake and eat it too, but this token proves they’re towing the law.

        • albatross11 says:

          Suppose I wanted to place a $100 bet with you on the average SAT score of Google employees who ever took the SAT. At what score would you be comfortable taking an even bet? (Say, you lose $100 if the average score is below X, and win $100 if it’s >= X.) I’m not sure where I’d set X, myself, but it sure wouldn’t be below 1400.)

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The important distinction is between the average SAT score of people who make it through the initial screening rounds that don’t seek to measure “general cognitive ability” versus those who are ultimately employed.

            I wouldn’t be comfortable below that either (at least not with post-recentering SAT scores).

          • quanta413 says:

            1400 out of 1600? I’d take something a little below that. I think googlers are more than 50% likely to be averaging below 94th percentile on the SAT.

            I’d take 1350 or a little below (90th percentile on the SAT) if I wasn’t risk averse at all. And that’s if we’re only taking google engineers and other technical workers into account. If we get to sample more of their employees I’d maybe go as low as 1200 (roughly top quartile).

        • quanta413 says:

          They’re likely trying to have their cake and eat it too, but this token proves they’re towing the law.

          They are following the letter of the law while utterly breaking the spirit of the law in a way that’s completely obvious and makes the law a joke.

          This isn’t the sort of thing that should be approved of. Either the law should change or Google should be crushed like a bug under the weight of a million lawsuits.

          EDIT: Quoted wrong part to respond to originally.

        • GearRatio says:

          @anonymousskimmer: is it toeing, or towing? I feel like I might have been spelling it wrong now.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          @GearRatio:
          “Toeing” – as in: lining your toes up with everyone else standing next to you.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Thanks Faza. Yeah, don’t look to me for proper spelling or grammar unless I’m explicitly correcting someone. 🙂 I’m as prone to making mistakes in those realms as the next person (had to correct a their to a they’re earlier).

        • brad says:

          I would not be at all surprised if google has done the homework necessary to defend their hire practices in any potential litigation. It may be urban legend, but I had an anecdote passed on to me once by an xoogler that they had at one point investigated whether dog ownership was correlated with job performance.

          • albatross11 says:

            I have a friend who was given an IQ test by a prospective employer. Apparently they liked what they saw, because they hired him. I assume the employer in question had done whatever validation they needed to do to stay on the right side of employment law….

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s been a while, but from what I remember

            1. An employer can test however they want (including IQ tests)

            2. But potential candidates can say it has a disparate impact.

            3. Candidates, I think, have to prove disparate impact, but for anything like IQ tests vis-a-vis race or physical strength vis-a-vis sex, that is essentially already done.

            4. Once the candidate proves #3, the employer then needs to prove that their actually matters for the job.

            So you can discriminate based on ability to lift weights, even though men are stronger than women, if lifting weights is actually needed for the job.

            (There are a bunch of nits and little exceptions both ways over how the employer has to do reasonable accommodation or not, and do they need to make the test as lenient as possible, and I won’t even try to give the right answers there. Get an employment lawyer.)

            People who get away with it either have never had a candidate push hard enough at #2 or #3, or have had a good enough answer at #4.

        • Eric Rall says:

          When I was at Google (2011-2013), the internal interview training was focused on Behavioral Interviewing questions: “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a major technical challenge” or “Tell me about a time you had a strong disagreement with a coworker”. Brain-teaser questions (which Google had earlier been famous for asking in interviews as a proxy for general intelligence) were explicitly deprecated.

          In practice, most (engineering) interviews centered on whiteboard coding problems about data structures and algorithms, for the standard Drunkard’s Search reasons (yes, I lost my wallet over by the behavioral interview questions, but I’m searching for it here by the coding problems where the light is better).

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            My starting assumption would be that a test of coding ability is better than a test of storytelling ability for selecting programmers, though it seems you would assume the opposite. Is there evidence that behavioral interview questions select better technical candidates than coding problems? If not, what’s your theory?

          • Eric Rall says:

            Is there evidence that behavioral interview questions select better technical candidates than coding problems? If not, what’s your theory?

            I know Google HR claims to have done statistical studies based on correlating interview feedback for hired candidates with post-hire job performance ratings, and found that behavioral interviewing predicted performance ratings at least a little bit, while whiteboard coding questions and brainteasers predicted performance not at all. I don’t think these studies have been published outside Google, though. I think there are also academic studies with similar conclusions, but I don’t know if there are any that are specific to highly technical professions.

            My own theory is that the level of coding ability needed to give a good answer to a basic whiteboard coding problem is necessary but not sufficient for success as a programmer, and whiteboard problems (and similar direct measures of coding ability) have their place as screening tools for manifestly unqualified candidates. It’s also probably the best available methods for candidates with little or no job experience applying for entry-level positions. But for candidates with significant experience in a similar role, and for candidates applying for more senior positions, actual past job performance is probably a better predictor of their future performance.

            Ideally (from the interviewer’s perspective), a portfolio of a candidate’s work would be available to be reviewed directly by the interviewer, and the interviewer would have access to assessments of the candidate’s job performance by current and past managers and peers, but for obvious reasons this isn’t generally the case. Behavioral interview questions strike me as a highly-flawed but better-than-nothing way for interviewers to assess past job performance in areas that can’t be directly measured.

      • beleester says:

        I think it’s okay to not be in the same thread, because the previous thread was posted shortly before the new OT went up, so a reply to the original post would have gone unseen.

    • LesHapablap says:

      It’s illegal to try to determine general intelligence during an interview?

      • brad says:

        For any hiring requirement that has a disperate racial impact the employer has the burden to prove it is related to job performance. If the poster is in the US, he is exposing his employer to liability almost certainly against policy.

        • albatross11 says:

          Does that apply to asking coding questions during a job interview? I think that’s extremely common in the programming world, and I don’t know how else you’d do an interview that made any sense at all for a programming job. How about asking mental puzzle type questions. Lots of companies do that, and giving a good answer is pretty-much guaranteed to correlate with IQ. My impression is that it’s hard to find brain-type tasks that *don’t* positively correlate with IQ.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Coding questions can be easily justified for a coding job.

            Mental puzzle questions are probably illegal, but there are plenty of things employers get away with before someone (or better yet, a group of someones) has the cojones to take them to court.

          • Statismagician says:

            Logic tests are extremely common all over the place; I took one for each of my last three jobs. I think the low-complexity explanation is that US employment law is incoherent in the technical sense.

        • quanta413 says:

          In theory. In practice, tons of jobs require just any college degree and I’m not aware of many cases of an employer being sued for that even though (A) this obviously has disparate impact and (B) it’s not at all obvious that just having some college degree is relevant to the job.

          • brad says:

            Let’s put it this way, if you were a lawyer at the OP’s company how would you feel about him posting it non-anonymously?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            This seems to be the way these sorts of requirements are handled now. The employer has to allow exceptions to the requirement for those from protected groups (specifically disabilities in this instance, but arguably for other protected classes as well).

            I’ve seen the general disparate impact requirement only coming in to play when there’s a greater than 5:4 disparity (e.g. the protected group has a less than 80% chance of meeting the diploma requirement compared to the average rate of diploma-holding in the general population).

            With higher credentials (e.g. Ph.D.s, J.D.s, etc…) it’s apparently easier to demonstrate that the credential is “required” for the job, especially in the case of licensing requirements.

          • quanta413 says:

            Let’s put it this way, if you were a lawyer at the OP’s company how would you feel about him posting it non-anonymously?

            Too bad that’s not what happened.

            You may have well as asked “If you were involved in burying the bodies, how would you feel if someone revealed a video of you watching someone bury them?” It would be just as relevant.

            @anonymousskinner

            I think you’re reinforcing my “in theory” point. The courts have invented rules that make no sense and force a bunch of nonsensical workarounds.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @quanta413

            Some organizations actually take the time to dot the is and cross the ts.

            The NFL can use the Wonderlic test (an actual IQ test) because they explicitly demonstrated it’s pertinence to the player’s jobs.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Some organizations actually take the time to dot the is and cross the ts.

            Yet another place where cost disease rears its ugly head

          • quanta413 says:

            @anonymousskinner

            Some organizations actually take the time to dot the is and cross the ts.

            The NFL can use the Wonderlic test (an actual IQ test) because they explicitly demonstrated it’s pertinence to the player’s jobs.

            I was talking about college degrees, so your comment about the wonderlic is irrelevant. How many companies that hire almost solely college graduates (with a disparate impact far worse than 5:4) have taken the time to explicitly demonstrate that just any college degree is pertinent to the job’s they are hiring for?

            To respond more thoroughly to your first points as to why my example of college degrees is such an egregious loophole.

            The employer has to allow exceptions to the requirement for those from protected groups (specifically disabilities in this instance, but arguably for other protected classes as well).

            Theoretically allowing an exception does not mean there is any difference in practice.

            I’ve seen the general disparate impact requirement only coming in to play when there’s a greater than 5:4 disparity (e.g. the protected group has a less than 80% chance of meeting the diploma requirement compared to the average rate of diploma-holding in the general population).

            Disparities between groups are a lot worse than 5:4 for a lot of STEM degrees. Engineering degrees, nursing degrees, probably a lot more to boot.

            The disparity between various groups for two-year degrees also often exceeds 5:4.

            It may be harder to find degrees that don’t fall afoul of this rule than ones that do.

            With higher credentials (e.g. Ph.D.s, J.D.s, etc…) it’s apparently easier to demonstrate that the credential is “required” for the job, especially in the case of licensing requirements.

            It’s as if some of the requirements are built to protect incumbents of some sort or another, and as long as you discriminate in that way it’s ok! Never mind that no one bothered proving it for many of those credentials.

          • brad says:

            Being pretty aggressive in this sub thread quanta.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I’m fine with it. I generally agree with quanta’s gist, here, and appreciate having someone who’s arguing these points who isn’t me.

          • quanta413 says:

            Being pretty aggressive in this sub thread quanta.

            True. But not in an inappropriate way.

            EDIT: The system as is is embarrassing and pretty hypocritical. I’m going to push back hard on any defense of it. I’d prefer it changed in the direction of being more lenient in allowing paper tests, but even changing in the opposite direction and just junking the use of degrees as well as tests might be an improvement from my point of view.

          • Ketil says:

            The NFL can use the Wonderlic test (an actual IQ test) because they explicitly demonstrated it’s pertinence to the player’s jobs.

            How hard would that be? Isn’t IQ the wonder-stat that is positively correlated with, eh, everything?

      • LesHapablap says:

        But intelligence is obviously related to job performance. And in addition it isn’t obvious that measuring it would produce a racial disparity.

        So it is clearly legal by the definitions you’ve provided. Is it practically legal in the US? Do companies actual get held liable for it?

        • brad says:

          But intelligence is obviously related to job performance.

          I’d like to see you present the argument in that form to a judge.

          And in addition it isn’t obvious that measuring it would produce a racial disparity.

          I agree, but the IQ tests so many swear by do produce racially disparate outcomes.

          • albatross11 says:

            For some inexplicable reason, so do all standardized tests. Also programming contests, awards in science and math, grades in school, average income, requirements for STEM degrees, and the distribution of people actually working at tech companies.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I don’t see anyone recommending that an IQ test be administered, nor was that the question; the criterion was “I’d like to recruit based on general intelligence“.

            So, what you’re saying is that any form of recruitment “based on general intelligence” is going to produce a racially disparate impact? That’s… not something I expected to hear from you, to be honest.

          • brad says:

            “General intelligence” (vice plain old intelligence) is an unusual enough phrase that we can draw some reasonable inferences about the speaker I would think. Do you disagree, Faza?

          • quanta413 says:

            “General intelligence” (vice plain old intelligence) is an unusual enough phrase that we can draw some reasonable inferences about the speaker I would think. Do you disagree, Faza?

            I’m not Faza, but I find it equally suspicious as Google’s recruiting phrase of “general cognitive ability”. Both terms are often used as a synonym for g or IQ.

            I find Google’s even more suspicious because I know who they’re hiring. They even go out of their way to say it’s not like SAT or GPA but instead related to problem solving and learning, which makes it even more likely they secretly mean something like IQ or g. SAT and especially GPA are much more strongly subject matter tests than most IQ tests which are an attempt to get more at g.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @quanta413

            Google’s description of general cognitive ability also seems to include openness to experience, or at the very least the willingness to job hop and be happy. There are plenty of extremely intelligent people who wouldn’t want to job hop, even if their IQ could allow them to easily learn and flourish in a new job.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            “General intelligence” (vice plain old intelligence) is an unusual enough phrase that we can draw some reasonable inferences about the speaker I would think. Do you disagree, Faza?

            Yes. I do.

            As far as I’m concerned, “general intelligence” and “plain old intelligence” are synonyms. “General”, as in: applicable to a wide variety of unrelated problems, as opposed to “specific”: applicable to some restricted problem domain.

            Ceterum, if you find yourself hearing dog whistles, you just may be a dog.

          • brad says:

            Ceterum, if you find yourself hearing dog whistles, you just may be a dog.

            There’s no question about whether I’ve been fully exposed to the IQ memeplex. I certainly have.

          • LesHapablap says:

            As a note, I took the term ‘general intelligence’ to be a dig at people who think there are multiple types of intelligence. I originally responded saying that practically there are multiple types of intelligence and that in the real world everybody knows that is true, and that those who claim otherwise are just playing pedantic definition games. I deleted that part because it was too trollish and I didn’t want to deal with the argument.

            So I did make some inferences based on the use of the term ‘general intelligence’ but not the ones brad is talking about.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            As a note, I took the term ‘general intelligence’ to be a dig at people who think there are multiple types of intelligence.

            The theory of multiple intelligences has been proposed some 80 years after the theory of general intelligence, yet general intelligence is supported by empirical data and multiple intelligences is not.

          • LesHapablap says:

            From your link it is clear that there aren’t multiple intelligences that are totally unrelated, which is pretty obviously true. People who are smart are typically good at lots of things. But then:

            According to a 2006 study, each of the domains proposed by Gardner involves a blend of the general g factor, cognitive abilities other than g,and, in some cases, non-cognitive abilities or personality characteristics

            The link also mentions that the different types of intelligence are ‘highly correlated’ which implies that they aren’t perfectly correlated.

            Whether you call these ‘aptitudes’ or ‘intelligences’ is not too relevant to an employer trying to hire someone. The point is that you might as well test for the ‘intelligence’ or ‘aptitude’ type related to the job rather than general intelligence.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            There’s no question about whether I’ve been fully exposed to the IQ memeplex. I certainly have.

            So you’ve been staring into the abyss for so long that it has brought out the milk and cookies and is asking about your day?

            See, when I read the question, what I’m getting is: “I would like to select the smartest candidates”, because working with smart people is… aha… generally a good idea.

            What I’m not getting is “I would like to filter out the ‘wrong’ races”, because to get that reading I would have to assume that selecting for “smart” is selecting for race.

            Apparently, that’s the first assumption that comes to your mind, which I found surprising, given your stated political positions.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            The link also mentions that the different types of intelligence are ‘highly correlated’ which implies that they aren’t perfectly correlated.

            Yes, and this is known since Spearman’s seminal work on factor analysis of intelligence in the early 1900s.

            The point is that you might as well test for the ‘intelligence’ or ‘aptitude’ type related to the job rather than general intelligence.

            I think the point is that it’s usually more difficult to reliably test for job-specific aptitude rather than test for general intelligence, and general intelligence is a good proxy for job-specific aptitude for all intellectual jobs (and it’s usually a relatively good proxy even for “non-intellectual” jobs, e.g. you’d think that playing basketball is as manual labor as it gets, yet the NBA bases part of its recruitment on an IQ test).

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m pretty sure any job-specific paper-and-pencil test is going to be strongly correlated with g (and thus with IQ). Probably the correlation will be quite strong for people with the right background, but not so strong if you include a lot of people without the right background. (That is, if you give a bunch of programming puzzles to recent CS graduates, you’ll get a better IQ test out of that than if you give programming puzzles to random recent college grads, many of whom have never tried to write a program.)

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The reasonable inference I draw about the speaker is that they were posting on SSC, where “general intelligence” is about as far from an unusual phrase as you can get.

            I’m not sure how well the other point I want to make applies to the OP– I’m not up to date with the gig economy, and interviewing for “open headcount in a team” might not have much to do with interviewing for a job. But in the more familiar-to-old-fogeys sort of job interview, you’re not just looking for someone to do some specific task, you’re looking for someone to join your company, where a few years might see them doing something quite different. RaaacistGeneral intelligence is a thing worth hiring, even if it’s not always a thing worth paying much extra for.

          • LesHapablap says:

            albatross,

            The problem with job-specific tests that require knowledge is that they aren’t testing for intelligence, they are testing for knowledge and intelligence. It’s like using brain teasers to test intelligence: your top scorers will mostly be people who have heard that brain teaser before. It’s the same problem I mention in another post about the ANZ simulator test.

            Edit: of course if you are trying to test for knowledge, which is often a good idea, job specific tests are all fine

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/griggs-v-duke-power/

          Speaking for the Court, Burger noted the fact that Duke Power made no serious effort to determine or demonstrate the effectiveness of diploma and intelligence test requirements as predictors of job performance. A vice president of the company had testified that Duke executives never compiled any evidence to justify the use of diploma and intelligence test requirements in hiring and advancement. According to the vice president’s testimony, these executives believed simply that these requirements would result in the hiring of better workers.

          It takes work on the part of the company to demonstrate the link between intelligence and the particular job.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Thanks anonymousskimmer;

          What does that mean practically when interviewing? Do companies actually get sued for giving candidates tests that aren’t directly related to the job?

          edit: or does it just mean that in the company ops manual there needs to be a throwaway line about general intelligence in candidates?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I am not in HR, I’ve only read about this stuff as a lay person.

            There have probably been lawsuits, but any lawsuits are going to be relatively rare. Still, companies will try to cover their butts. So:

            It means that companies typically don’t hand out anything close to an IQ test to candidates.

            When companies do hand out tests to candidates, these are typically narrowly-tailored tests on specific job-related subjects, or tests such as how fast one can hammer nails (which was demonstrated to directly correlate with whether a candidate could succeed at a particular job – if a certain minimum nails per minute couldn’t be reached the candidate was guaranteed to be a poor performer).

            Companies are also not supposed to ask about a candidate’s general test scores (such as the SAT or GRE), but with Linkedin explicitly offering sections for these scores, I don’t know how often a company would even have to ask for those scores.

          • quanta413 says:

            Companies are also not supposed to ask about a candidate’s general test scores (such as the SAT or GRE), but with Linkedin explicitly offering sections for these scores, I don’t know how often a company would even have to ask for those scores.

            My guess is they’d have to ask very often if they wanted to know. I think putting those up would be considered very gauche.

        • Plumber says:

          @LesHapablap says: “…Butt intelligence is obviously related to job performance..

          @viVI_IViv says: “…I think the point is that it’s usually more difficult to reliably test for job-specific aptitude rather than test for general intelligence, and general intelligence is a good proxy for job-specific aptitude for all intellectual jobs (and it’s usually a relatively good proxy even for “non-intellectual” jobs, e.g. you’d think that playing basketball is as manual labor as it gets, yet the NBA bases part of its recruitment on an IQ test)”

          @albatross11 says:“I’m pretty sure any job-specific paper-and-pencil test is going to be strongly correlated with g (and thus with IQ). Probably the correlation will be quite strong for people with the right background, but not so strong if you include a lot of people without the right background. (That is, if you give a bunch of programming puzzles to recent CS graduates, you’ll get a better IQ test out of that than if you give programming puzzles to random recent college grads, many of whom have never tried to write a program.)”

          I’ve never taken the SAT, but I did take the PSAT around 1984 (IIRC I did far better on “Verbal” than “Mathematics” which is ironic as later doing well in arithmetic tests as a condition of employment got me jobs, but by the late ’90’s I disses out some test taking tactics that I didn’t know as a teen), and it was obvious to me that if you may do well on the various “aptitude” tests I’ve taken will strongly correlate with how likely it is to have done well on the PSAT, but it’s also been obvious in working alongside those whose test scores are public record that those scores hardly correlate with on-the-job performance at all, usually those temporarily hired during the short periods when supervisors hire just on interviews are better hands on then when test results limited who gets interviewed.

          The previous history of bribery and nepotism is why civil service tests for ‘aptitude’ were implemented instead of relying on supervisors judgements, but when they’re not just hiring based on who’s their nephews or giving kick-backs who the supervisors pick on their own based on talking with appicants has been better at getting effective workers than the written tests have been.

          The San Jose Union apprenticeship program still just admitted by test scores when I got in (lucky for me!), but the other bay area Locals already gave up on that as too many of the top scorers quit or refused to do all the kinds of work the contractors demanded (“unsafe), low score guys just didn’t get admitted, but top-scoring guys too often couldn’t be relied on so they switched to minimum score plus paired interviews (one interviewer representating labor, the other management in theory, but they were usually friends so there wasn’t much difference between who they selected), the wisdom of the other Locals was shown by the much higher apprentice attrition rate in San Jose, and a lot of that was from injuries as well as quits, deciding who got to be an apprentice based just on written tests didn’t work as well (though you didn’t have to get a bunch of journeymen and foremen to take time interviewing either).

    • quanta413 says:

      You are imagining answers that did not occur.

      Almost everyone recommended asking domain specific questions or as close as you can to that… which is the same thing that you recommended. One person recommended something not like that… but only after recommending trying to do that first.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Yeah, I know. This is snark. Snark prompted by no one even questioning the ethicality (much less legality) of the OP trying to measure general intelligence (other than me).

        • quanta413 says:

          To be effective, it’s best if your snark isn’t built on a lie.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            It’s an exaggeration, not a lie. I had the opinion that those giving the OP tips were people who were trying to meet both requirements of testing “general intelligence” *while* avoiding anything problematic (such as genuine IQ test questions) being reported up the chain.

          • quanta413 says:

            I had the opinion that those giving the OP tips were people who were trying to meet both requirements of testing “general intelligence” *while* avoiding anything problematic (such as genuine IQ test questions) being reported up the chain.

            It’s also possible that they think that you gain more benefit by asking questions that also test specific ability. That’s what I would do and not because I’m worried about skirting the law. For all but the largest corporations, I think this worry is overrated. They may even overrate the risk.

            I’d think of a fully general test as being a fallback for when you don’t have specific requirements. You usually do and would ideally have a test that captures the total of what you care about which is probably more than half specific.

            EDIT: Having a totally general test isn’t ideal even if that’s the best test you can give. It means you’re very unsure what you want an employee to be doing. This might make sense in a relatively small company where people wear a lot of very different hats, but I think most companies with a formal process aren’t in that position.

          • LesHapablap says:

            There are lots of times when you want a more general test instead of one specific to the job at hand.

            Any job that is easy to train for as long as the applicant is intelligent but difficult or impossible if not. Especially if the training period is long and expensive. If you test for something very job-relevant when trying to measure their aptitude, some applicants will have experience that will allow them to outperform, and others will lack that experience. If the experience won’t be relevant to their performance once they are finally trained up, then your test has not measured on-the-job competence.

            The example I have in mind is the notorious Air New Zealand simulator test during their interviews, which have the stated purpose of testing cognitive ability. Like most airlines they are desperate for pilots and yet I have seen them reject obviously competent candidates for failing the sim.

            On the other hand, another example comes to mind for air traffic controllers: a friend of mine was recommended by one of the controllers to apply for a job working for ATC. They had some computer based personality test to start with which eliminated him as a candidate right off the bat, which was completely ridiculous if you knew the guy.

            The test is likely a pretty random filter which made things easier for HR and ticked a box. The end result is that today our national ATS provider is so desperate for controllers that we end up with delays and canceled flights.

        • Murphy says:

          Well for one there isn’t an ethical problem there.

          Someone wants to hire capable, intelligent people for a job.

          You’d need a very broken “ethics” system to consider that unethical.

          Second: he didn’t even reference IQ so jumping to worries about IQ tests is unreasonable. Most of what interviews are are attempts to pick out capable, intelligent people for a job.

          Whether that’s by chatting with people for an hour and getting a “first date” type impression of them or by throwing programmer logic puzzles at them.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The someone wants to solely select based on general intelligence.

            There is an ethical issue with reifying one aspect of humanity over all others.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            That’s not quite how Danno28 came off to me. I parsed his question as, “I have a pool of candidates who all have similar levels of relevant experience [presumably the most important criteria]. Within that pool, I’d like to filter for intelligent candidates [rather than ones who are best able to spin a story about “a time they overcame a challenge”, or ones who are simply more fluent in English]. How can I do this without making the interview weird enough that I get in trouble with my superiors?”

            I assume that the job in question involves primarily some sort of cognitive labor, otherwise why would he want to filter on intelligence in the first place? Given that, I think that trying to select a smarter candidate is a reasonable goal, though as everyone else in that thread said, testing for domain-specific intelligence would probably be better.

            Would hiring furniture movers on the basis of physical strength be “reifying one aspect of humanity [strength] over all others”?

          • albatross11 says:

            anonymousskimmer:

            Is there an ethical problem with trying to hire the person who’s most capable of doing the job well? Because it sure looks like that’s going to raise the same ethical issues as trying to hire the person who’s most generally smart. The set of people who will make the best programmer for your startup probably do not have exactly the same ethnic/racial/gender distribution as the population of {Earth, the US, California, the Bay Area}.

            Filtering on a subset of desirable characteristics because you can’t measure them all is pretty-much inevitable. That’s what every job interview does. That’s what happens if you skip the interview and hire on credentials and work history and references, too.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Mostly it would be unethical not to discriminate based on intelligence.

          • quanta413 says:

            Just to nitpick, but past some pretty low threshold, that depends on what you’re hiring for.

            Like, what if I just need someone who can lift heavy objects? Almost everyone is going to pass the intelligence threshold for that.

          • LesHapablap says:

            If you’re hiring furniture movers, you’re still going to want someone who isn’t so dumb they will damage things. There are almost no jobs where intelligence is not a factor it all.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @LesHapablap

            I can guarantee you I had the most general intelligence of any of my co-workers when I worked in office supply delivery, by at least a standard deviation, and probably more.

            I also know on one of my last loads I mis-allocated how I stacked the delivery van, and ended up with a file-cabinet slightly tipping over and getting damaged as it banged against the hand-truck.

            Upon returning to the facility one of my younger, less “general intelligence” co-workers commented on how he would have stacked the van to prevent such a mishap. And I believe he would have properly foreseen this eventuality and prevented it.

            You don’t want so-called “general” intelligence for most manual labor. You want physical intelligence.

            And you certainly don’t want someone who’s bored enough of their job their mind is off in lalaland. You want someone who is with the task at hand.

          • LesHapablap says:

            anonymousskimmer,

            I have similar stories at my own office where my intelligence doesn’t make me any better at some tasks at all.

            There’s an argument there about the importance of different types of intelligence which I think is very relevant to that original post in 139.25. I was going to bring it up there but did not because I didn’t want to get into an argument about the existence of multiple types of intelligence.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Being smart does not make you automatically awesome at everything, unless you are a character in either an Ayn Rand or an Orson Scott Card novel. Being smart helps you learn more quickly and improve things.

            There are certain jobs where intelligence is not a huge factor, certainly not enough to justify the huge premium required for hiring smart people. This will lead to odd cases, like rocket scientists being unable to correctly palletize certain products in our factories. That’s because it’d be a total waste of time for the rocket scientists to palletize.

            You sometimes end up with smart people in low-skill positions, but that’s probably because they have other traits that reduce their productivity.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As far as I know no law states and no court has ruled that it is illegal to hire based on general intelligence. Griggs said you can’t use a general intelligence test if it isn’t a “reasonable measure of job performance”, but that’s not actually the same thing.

      (and even if it was the law… eh, I’m not Lawful-aligned)

    • viVI_IViv says:

      I’m not a lawyer and I’m not American, but my understanding is that only written IQ tests are banned, not asking questions intended to measure general intelligence. Probably in order to be safer you’d better not to use the i-word in public (e.g. Google uses the term “general cognitive ability”, I wonder what it could possibly be).

  5. albatross11 says:

    I recently listened to a pretty interesting podcast episode by Sam Harris, interviewing a woman who has spent a long time tracking white supremacist[1] extremist groups in the US, here. I found the facts she presented quite interesting, but had a lot of qualms about her interpretations. For example, as Harris noted, it seemed like her way of classifying an attacker as motivated by white supremacist reasoning was unfalsifiable–in the same way that someone very concerned with Islamic terrorism will find that essentially anything really nasty done by a Muslim is motivated by Islamic fundamentalism, I think she will find that anything really nasty done by a white supremacist is motivated by his white supremacist ideology. She attributed the Oklahoma City bombing to McVeigh’s white supremacist ideology, despite the fact that it actually seemed to have been based much more on his anti-government ideology and his (correct, IMO) belief that the feds had done something really horrible to the Koresh cult in Waco. His actual statements about his motives seemed less important to her than his reading habits and associations, and her explanation of the theory of leaderless resistance seemed tailor made to justify this sort of reasoning. This seemed like an excellent way to get an upper bound on the number of attacks motivated by white supremacist ideology, but probably not such a great way to get an accurate estimate of that number.

    A major idea in her analysis is this idea of “cocentric circles” of activists. A smallish number of literal Nazis and Klansmen and Aryan Brotherhood types and such make up the center. Then, there are expanding circles of groups who share some of the same ideas, support the more extreme group with money and other assistance, etc. She claimed some really large numbers for those different circles–I’d be surprised if those numbers were correct, but maybe they are–I sure haven’t looked into it all that much. It struck me that this same model applies for all sorts of extreme groups–the real extremists are a very small group, and then there are people who will associate with them, maybe give them some help, but aren’t that extreme themselves, and then another group who’s further out and will support the less-extreme types, and so on. For example, I think you could do this same analysis with the pro-life movement (a few people will actually try to murder abortion providers, a much bigger number will show up at protests, still more will answer “against” when asked their views on abortion), the animal rights movement (lots of vegetarians and people opposed to factory farms on the outside, a really small subset on the inside who bombs labs where animal research is done, many cocentric circles of decreasing extremeness of views in-between), etc.

    One qualm I have with this is that I think those different levels of extremeness are pretty important to consider in evaluating the people involved and their movement and how big a threat they are. The guy who bombs abortion clinics is not the same as the guy who peacefully protests at abortion clinics; the guy who shoots a bunch of white police officers is not the same as the guy who shows up at a BLM protest of the questionable police shooting of a black guy; the guy who dreams of race-war and extermination of the lesser races is not the same as the guy who’s a casual racist and doesn’t want his kids dating blacks; the guy who tries to set off a truck bomb in Times Square to kill the infidels is not the same as the guy who reads literature from Al Qaida or ISIS on the internet, and he’s not the same as the guy who’s a devout Muslim who doesn’t much care for American foreign policy. Most political or social movements attract their share of crazies and end up with an extremist fringe that may do crazy or evil things; that doesn’t tell you all that much about the rest of the social/political movement.

    How big a threat is white-power-aligned terrorism? That depends a lot on which level of the cocentric circles we count as white-power-aligned. If we’re counting the actual Klansmen and Nazis, that gives us a different answer than if we’re counting everyone who reads St-rmfront or everyone who’s casually racist. This is true in the same way that the problem of Islamic terrorism seems bigger when we consider all Muslims than when we consider the tiny fraction of Muslims who actually want to blow stuff up and kill infidels. I came away from this interview suspecting that her way of looking at the problem probably overstated the threat. But this isn’t a very strong impression, because I just don’t know enough. And there’s surely some self-selection going on here–she has devoted a big chunk of her life to studying white power movements and terrorism, and if she didn’t think they were a serious threat, she’d probably have wandered off to some other area of study.

    Comments?

    [1] Annoyingly, she had a very broad ideological definition of “white supremacy” that seemed to include anything at all that caused nonwhites to do worse than whites anywhere. Probably if she’d been explaining her ideas about that in detail, she would have given a more coherent explanation, but what she did say seemed to be another unfalsifiable model. The way she told it, I imagine that (for example) the high rate of blacks being murdered by other blacks would be part of the system of white supremacy. She’s clearly a smart person, so I assume there’s something that makes sense in there somewhere, but I sure couldn’t untangle it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Probably if she’d been explaining her ideas about that in detail, she would have given a more coherent explanation…She’s clearly a smart person, so I assume there’s something that makes sense in there somewhere, but I sure couldn’t untangle it.

      How often do you test this heuristic? Of the times that someone seems smart and incoherent that you get to dig in and ask questions and determine if there’s anything there, how often do you conclude that there really was a coherent idea?

    • Clutzy says:

      I agree with your critiques largely. One important thing to think about with these agitators is how implausible the claims actually end up being. Even if the smallest groups you are talking about: KKK with their tiny numbers were even half as motivated as this person claims, they could shut down the transportation systems of a dozen US cities for weeks and end up with few people getting caught. Ripping up rail and blowing up bridges at night (assuming they want 0 casualties ) is really easy. They could go into minority neighborhoods and impose reigns of terror and the police would be powerless (they are essentially powerless against most normal protests nowadays let alone a bunch of armed citizens operating in concert).

      Etc etc.

      These groups are, as a rule, small, unmotivated, poorly funded, and composed of unintelligent people. That is why a thing like Al-Qaeda stands out. Well funded, highly motivated, run by a bunch of smart guys, and able to form coalitions to dynamically expand its size and power (Taliban, ISIS being the two examples that come to mind).

      • INH5 says:

        Even if the smallest groups you are talking about: KKK with their tiny numbers were even half as motivated as this person claims, they could shut down the transportation systems of a dozen US cities for weeks and end up with few people getting caught.

        Unless one of their members is a snitch, in which case everyone involved in planning such an operation gets arrested before it can even come close to getting off of the ground. And it’s a common joke that you can tell which KKK members are FBI informants pretty easily: they’re the ones who regularly show up to meetings and pay their dues on time.

        Funding certainly matters, but I think a big part of the difference is that Al Qaeda et al have used their resources to establish bases in unstable third world countries where they can plan out attacks and broadcast propaganda with some degree of impunity from local law enforcement. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every Islamist terrorist attack of note in the US since 9/11 has been carried out by either lone wolves (Orlando, the shoe bomber) or dyads (the Beltway snipers, Boston, San Bernardino). Meanwhile, the really successful coordinated attacks in Western countries (9/11, Paris) have tended to be carried out by operatives trained in third world bases.

        White Supremacist terrorists currently lack a third-world base to broadcast explicit propaganda from and train people in, but I think the string of lone-wolf attacks over the past year demonstrates that they’ve started to find ways to work around that limitation. So far they’ve only managed to replicate the indirect inspiration of lone wolf attacks, but there are some pretty disturbing reports coming out of the Ukraine of Neo-Nazis attaining levels of prominence and organization unheard of in the US or Western Europe and even occasional reports of Western domestic terrorists seeking to train with them. So I don’t think we can rule out the possibility that they might be able to get their own third world training camps too, especially if the political situation along Russia’s Western border deteriorates even further.

        • DarkTigger says:

          And it’s a common joke that you can tell which KKK members are FBI informants pretty easily: they’re the ones who regularly show up to meetings and pay their dues on time.

          Well, in germany the systems of spies, of our internal secret service (Verfassungsschutz) got a lot of critizism in the last years.
          Their track record for identifying activly violent extremists is mixed at best (both the right wing NSU, and the ISIS-adjacent Anis Amri, where speaking with those spies while planning attacks). At the same time there is evidence that a lot of the funding extreme right wing organisations/parties/”fighting groups” etc are funded with money directly aquired over from the Verfassungsschutz.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think the string of lone-wolf attacks over the past year demonstrates that they’ve started to find ways to work around that limitation.

          Err, no. Lone wolf attacks are just that: lone wolf attacks. There is no “they”.

        • Clutzy says:

          And it’s a common joke that you can tell which KKK members are FBI informants pretty easily: they’re the ones who regularly show up to meetings and pay their dues on time.

          Indeed, the joke seems fairly true. Which even further makes the numbers cited by hysterics all the worse. Its plausible that the majority of these people are law enforcement.

          Funding certainly matters, but I think a big part of the difference is that Al Qaeda et al have used their resources to establish bases in unstable third world countries where they can plan out attacks and broadcast propaganda with some degree of impunity from local law enforcement.

          Yes, however, Islam also has a risk of 1st world organization being more plausible because there are much more plausible front networks for them to operate in, being mosques and advocacy groups like CAIR. If there was an equivalent of CAIR for other terror groups, it would already be shut down.

          White Supremacist terrorists currently lack a third-world base to broadcast explicit propaganda from and train people in, but I think the string of lone-wolf attacks over the past year demonstrates that they’ve started to find ways to work around that limitation.

          Probably, but the thing about strings of lone wolf attacks, is that they are, like in my example, pretty much unstoppable and undetectable. In both cases of Islamic and white nationalistic terror in the US/Europe, I think they are both of only minor concern, and emblematic of problems caused by arrogance by the majority of society which has believed it can have huge economic and demographic changes without anticipating tumult. This is just historically untrue, we had a lot of terrorism in the early 20th century as well.

          • Anthony says:

            We also had a lot of terrorism in the 1970s. Fortunately, they were not very competent bomb makers.

          • albatross11 says:

            Fortunately, most would-be terrorist bomb makers just get arrested for trying to buy explosives, or turn themselves into hard-to-remove stains on the ceiling. Either way, no man, no problem.

          • Clutzy says:

            We also had a lot of terrorism in the 1970s. Fortunately, they were not very competent bomb makers.

            They almost never are. Because they are dummies and larpers. I don’t know if any of you ever watched “Lone Survivor” an insane series that was objectively terrible (but kind of in a good way). In any case, the plot of that show has a billionaire crazy white supremacist plot that is actually kind of realistic of what would happen if a billionaire actually decided to be evil. He blew up Congress and successfully tricked 99.99% of the US government that some foreign terrorists did it by bribing them to take credit and planting some evidence. He also did several successful spy operations on the White House, and some other things before I gave up completely. Probably he loses in the end somehow, but yeah, only because of the one crazy FBI agent’s awesomeness.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        (they are essentially powerless against most normal protests nowadays let alone a bunch of armed citizens operating in concert)

        Wouldn’t they be more powerful against armed citizens, because then they have a justification for breaking out their own heavy weapons?

      • albatross11 says:

        I think even the hardcore white supremacists are mostly people who hate blacks/Jews/etc., rather than people who have any interest in bombing or assassinating anyone. A small subset of them are the ones who actually carry out white supremacist terrorist attacks. That’s the only way the numbers work out–if there were tens of thousands of dedicated white supremacist terrorists in the US, we’d have bombs going off every few days.

    • Aftagley says:

      It struck me that this same model applies for all sorts of extreme groups–the real extremists are a very small group, and then there are people who will associate with them, maybe give them some help, but aren’t that extreme themselves, and then another group who’s further out and will support the less-extreme types, and so on.

      It seems like you’re missing just how important these outer groups are to the inner groups. Groups don’t just support the “circle” one in from themselves, they support (either knowingly or unknowingly) EVERY group more extreme then them. The inner groups literally couldn’t exist without the outer groups; they’d lose funding, recruitment and cultural acceptance.

      With this understanding, it makes sense just how wide a net this person cast in going after white supremacists – virtually every part of the circle helps drive the that circle’s most extreme members.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think this is right, but the same is true of every political movement. There’s presumably a small core of genuine Marxists in the US who long for a violent revolution by the workers that would end up with CEOs and financiers in mass graves and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. There are also a lot of progressive Democrats who favor higher minimum wage laws, stricter environmental regulation, and more generous welfare programs. If I get to blame the progressive Democrats for the actions and beliefs of the dedicated Marxists, that seems unlikely to help me understand the world any better, and it seems very unlikely to lead anywhere close to justice. It will, however, be a handy club with which to beat on my political enemies.

        I think the same thing holds for the small core of Nazis/Klansmen/et al who want a race war so they can murder all the non-Aryans. There aren’t many of them and they aren’t very powerful, but they’re scary as hell and genuinely evil. There are also a bunch of Republicans wearing MAGA hats who maybe aren’t super concerned with racism as a problem in our society and have Blue Lives Matter stickers on their cars. Those folks may have bad ideas, but holding them responsible for the Aryan Brotherhood types stomping some poor guy to death for the color of his skin seems similarly unhelpful in either understanding the world or doing justice.

        Now, maybe I’m oversensitive to this, because it sure seems to me that our political discourse is *filled* with people pointing to the MAGA-hat-wearing generic Republicans and categorizing them as aligned with the literal Nazis. Here on SSC, we saw a couple comments along those lines when the high school kid with the funny-looking smirk became a short-term Twitter sensation–the very wearing of a MAGA hat was proof that the wearer was some kind of vile racist. Similarly, folks like the SPLC call all kinds of people racists and white supremacists, some with justice, some just because they don’t like the implications of what they’ve said in public.

        This seems like a criterion that is very easy to use as a weapon, and very like to be used as one in local political battles.

  6. Taccount says:

    [Commenting under my burner for obvious reasons]

    I think you guys will get a kick out of my Halloween costume last year, I went as Tyler Cowen:

    https://imgur.com/a/m42vGWM

    Unfortunately I didn’t have time to dye my hair black.

    • Well... says:

      The most esoteric Halloween costume I ever wore, that I can remember, was that of an orchestra conductor. (Because when Halloween rolled around I hadn’t prepared at all but I had a long-tailed tuxedo on hand). Everyone thought I was a butler, even though I was walking around with a chopstick in one hand conducting inaudible music. I set a Blackberry to my classical Pandora station and put it in the inside breast pocket, and that helped a little. Pretty sad, because that really isn’t very esoteric.

      What are y’all’s most esoteric costumes?

      • RDNinja says:

        Not for Halloween, but I attended a theme party, where everyone was supposed to dress as a cartoon character. I wore my regular clothes, but ran black electrical tape down all the seams and edges to form outlines, so I went as a cartoon version of myself.

      • rubberduck says:

        Not sure if I’d call it esoteric but in 2008 I dressed up all in black, with black lipstick+eyeliner+nailpolish, then walked around with a sign, on which I’d put the famous Obama “HOPE” poster, only in greyscale and with an emo haircut photoshopped on. I was… an Emocrat. High-school me was the only one who found it funny.

  7. onyomi says:

    I recently listened to the audiobook of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” I have a number of thoughts re. ethics and history, but for purposes of this OT, let’s evaluate conflict theory strategies purely on their effectiveness (for example, let’s try to abstract away from the ethics of using violence to attain political aims and only consider when and how it may be effective or backfire):

    Keep them Guessing:
    One strategy Alinsky mentions repeatedly and which certainly strikes me as effective is to employ strategies that are fun and easy to understand for your activists but confusing to the opponent. In part this means changing things up a lot, not only in terms of strategies employed, but arguably in terms of issues as well. Fortunately, on Alinsky’s account, a group, once mobilized and organized to agitate for cause x, can fairly easily be guided to agitate for cause y. For this reason Alinsky argues strongly for assembling coalitions/being ecumenical, a tactic the wisdom of which I’ve often been skeptical. Yet so long as group A and B don’t hate each other, it seems not too hard for group A to agitate for group B’s cause in exchange for group B participating in group A’s protests.

    It also strikes me that this may be a major reason for the left’s comparative success in culture wars of recent decades: no sooner have all the right wing pundits finally come around to accepting gay marriage so that people will stop calling them homophobes then they find they need to accept transgender athletes to avoid being called a transphobe. The effect of changing strategies and fronts (though presumably not chaotically or before a battle is won) is to keep the opponent on his heels, which is absolutely where you want him. Related to this:

    Agree and amplify:
    I’ve seen some right wing figures employ this strategy and I think it’s largely ineffective. Basically you say “racist, hell yeah I’m a racist…” in an attempt to take the sting out of the attack or expose how overused the word is if it applies even to someone as harmless as so-and-so. The reason I don’t think this works is that it still involves accepting the opponent’s framing, even if you are are making fun of it. I think the right response to most attacks is actually no direct response at all; instead, ignore as much as possible and press your own framing. Related:

    Apologize:
    Is it ever beneficial to apologize publicly now? It sure seems not though I’m probably exaggerating or only looking at very high-profile cases. What generally seems to happen is that, instead of being mollified, opponents simply smell blood in the water. However, if the status quo momentum is on your side a strategic return to the status quo might be good if that may be achieved with apology. For example, it strikes me that, insofar as it represents the interests of the PRC, the Hong Kong government made a big error not earlier withdrawing the inflammatory bill and offering some calming pabulum about investigating police violence. They were afraid to be seen to making concessions but a continuation of the status quo was in the PRC’s favor already (or so it seemed?) so maybe they ought not to have upset that. In general, the biggest problem with apologizing, again, is that it accept’s the opponent’s framing when you should be pushing your own narrative and basically just ignoring or mocking them.

    Focus:
    Though Alinsky favors ecumenism in terms of coalition building and flexibility in terms of goals and methods, he also argues for focus in targeting: an example he cites: if you try to organize a boycott of all the department stores at Christmas you will fail as customers will not forego Christmas shopping entirely; rather picket one particular store, even if it’s not worse than the others in terms of the grievances you’re picketing over. Customers who have other choices will frequently chose not to cross the picket line enabling you to inflict real economic pain on the target (what he describes is exactly what we still see in the culture wars: sacrificial victims who look weak are mercilessly destroyed in a concentrated effort rather than vaguely going after a bunch of different people).

    Threaten Credibly:
    Another mantra Alinsky repeats is that the threat is often worse than the attack. That is, sometimes you can get concessions just by threatening credibly to e.g. disrupt someone’s business. This seems to run counter to being unpredictable but many of the things Alinsky reports having threatened were the sort of thing one might have difficulty preparing for or preparing e.g. one’s customers to react to anyway, such as occupying all the bathroom stalls at O’Hare. Relates to:

    Make the Opponent Play by his own Rulebook:
    For example, how is airport going to determine who is occupying a bathroom stall as a protest and who is simply using the toilet? A right wing example might be posters saying “it’s okay to be white” posted in a place where posters are allowed. It’s hard for anyone to object to the action or the statement on its face, putting them in a position to look silly explaining why what seems harmless is actually not. Relates to:

    Comedy/Ridicule:
    There seems to be almost no downside to this as the worst that can happen is people don’t find it funny (well, maybe worse is people take you seriously or take your words out of context when you were being sarcastic; see “Agree and Amplify”). This not only motivates your own side, it goads the other side into looking foolish as people don’t like being made fun of.

    Appeal to Morality:
    There also seems to be almost no strategic downside here either (unless you are very vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy?). Using appeals to morality, whether or not you yourself believe in them, motivates your base and puts the opponent on his heels to the extent he accepts your framing. Related to:

    Be Black-and-white, not Grey:
    The example Alinsky gives several times is that authors of the Declaration of Independence could not have included in the document a list of some good things the British had done only to conclude that, on balance, declaring independence was still justified. People are roused to fight for 100-0 causes not 55-45 causes. Related:

    Accept Incremental Improvements:
    While you have to fight a 100-0 battle, Alinsky says you should not be a purist about accepting minor concessions. You are still better off than you were and, anyway, nothing says you have to stop once the opponent concedes something.

    Resort to Violence, Intimidation, or Property Destruction:
    Alinsky doesn’t go into this one much, though he does mention that US citizens are fortunate to live somewhere where they don’t generally risk being rolled over by tanks for protesting. It seems highly likely in a democracy to backfire as you look scary to normal people, whose tacit or explicit support your ultimately aiming to win. It seems a bit more morally justifiable in an authoritarian state since the ballot box is not open to you, though I’m still skeptical of its effectiveness in all but the most extreme cases, such as when you have the power and the moral case to literally storm the capital and execute the dictator. Otherwise, peaceful demonstrations, and guerrilla tactics like the above seem generally better.

    Don’t punch (right, left, etc.):
    This relates to the issue of coalition forming and being ecumenical mentioned above. Alinsky doesn’t much cover this; my personal take is that one needs to strike a balance between being ecumenical and disciplined. If you’re a conservative rally organizer this could mean not allowing the tiny number of Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan wizards to participate as they are easy to focus on and send the wrong message. This could be a form of discipline. At the same time, one should not dignify it with a response or condemnation if say, a reporter calls on you to defend the craziest person who showed up at your rally. Exercise in-group discipline privately and be ecumenical publicly, might be a guideline.

    This also gets into an issue of whether your group is in power or not, culturally and/or politically; right now journalists are much more likely to be left wing than right wing. Therefore it’s more important for conservatives to exercise discipline in keeping the KKK from showing up at their rally than it is for liberals to exercise discipline in making sure Antifa doesn’t shut down the next Charles Murray speech. That said, my suspicion is that Antifa is still a net negative for the left, as it gives conservatives an easy target to point to (?). However:

    First Offender Model (First ninja):
    If you are in the position of playing defense for the status quo, it may make sense to react with overwhelming force (up to and including shutting down events with threats from violent thugs) to “nip in the bud” something catching on you don’t want, as Scott describes in the First Offender model post.

    Anyway, it seems once I got started writing this I could go on forever, but I’ll stop and ask if others have opinions on the strategies I’ve described and/or on other strategies they can think of.

    • theredsheep says:

      Re: coalitions, plenty of people have pointed out that intersectionality has a problem with this in that it attempts to staple together a broad variety of movements by fiat, then spends a lot of time quashing dissent when the movements’ differing goals or priorities lead to conflict. See, for example, the fight between gays/lesbians and the fringe of trans activists who insist that basing sexual desire on genitalia is transphobic.

      And when you import a group into your coalition, you’re also importing their liabilities. If you have a small group of supporters with some fairly extreme or unpleasant opinions, you have to weigh the value of their support against their potential to repel the rest. Every new coalition member is a new set of potential diplomatic headaches. In general, I think the Right is better at holding coalitions together than the Left, perhaps because they make loyalty more of a virtue.

    • Aapje says:

      @onyomi

      Apologize:
      The best way to apologize is probably to make a non-apology apology, where you implicitly or explicitly attack your opponent, much more than you blame yourself. A good example is: ‘I was careless because I cared so much.’ This implicitly attacks your opponent for not caring enough about a serious issue, while making your own fault seem like a small error.

      Make the Opponent Play by his own Rulebook:
      I think that key have this work on neutral people and the opponents, rather than just the already converted, is to not seem like trolling. You can observe that the response to this is often to argue that the challenge is not genuine. Also, the extent to which the opponent is (or those governing them are) conscientious matters a lot for this tactic. In many cases, people simply ignore the rules and get away with it.

      One of the most important tactics, even if you are extremely powerful, is to seem like you are fighting for victimized people who didn’t deserve that harm. So a very strong strategy is building propaganda around those who are (credibly) victimized by the opponent or the rules they defend. This can even include ‘picking good victims,’ for example by putting women in a place where they will face abuse.

      I would also argue that information control is very important. If you control what framing people get of a situation, you can get away with far more. You can have present criminals as victims, present protests with lots of weird radicals as a protest by moderate and decent people with a single message, can demand that rules are followed or call out hypocrisy, etc, etc. Note that the information doesn’t have to be disseminated by the ‘official’ media.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        One of the most important tactics, even if you are extremely powerful, is to seem like you are fighting for victimized people who didn’t deserve that harm. So a very strong strategy is building propaganda around those who are (credibly) victimized by the opponent or the rules they defend. This can even include ‘picking good victims,’ for example by putting women in a place where they will face abuse.

        This only works in the “oppression Olympics” frame of the progressives.

        • Aapje says:

          Not true. People of different ideology have different narratives and favored groups & some are far more protective than others, but the basic mechanism works for pretty much all.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            And which of these groups that is not progressive/social justice-coded is having any success?

            Compare MRA with TheRedPill: the former is essentially “feminism for men”, its activism is based on trying to paint men as victims of oppression, trying to elicit compassion, the latter is based on ruthless individualism, “stop being weak” mentality. Which one has became a greater cultural force? Which one are the progressives more concerned about?

    • Viliam says:

      Yet so long as group A and B don’t hate each other, it seems not too hard for group A to agitate for group B’s cause in exchange for group B participating in group A’s protests.

      This is much easier if you can convince those groups they have the same enemy.

      More specifically, if your sympathies are with group A, and you only use the group B as a tool, you need to come up with a story why anti-A is somehow responsible for all the problems of B. If you do it convincingly you don’t need to spend A’s energy to fight the part of anti-B that doesn’t overlap with anti-A.

      (Maybe this could be used to measure who has an upper hand in coalitions. Look at the list of grievances each group had before they formed the coalition. Look at the list of grievances of the coalition. Which items were dropped? I think it is relatively easier to add a new thing to be outraged about, but it requires power to drop things your allies care about but it’s a waste of time for you.)

      Is it ever beneficial to apologize publicly now?

      Was it ever? Seems to be that politicians have known this rule for long.

      In politics, the blindness of your followers is a source of your strength. No matter what you did and how convincing was the evidence, some portion of your followers will keep believing you are innocent. You ruin this if you admit mistake.

      A frequent strategy in case of a scandal is to admit nothing and keep waiting until the scandal becomes boring old news (it takes about three months). Have your allies insist that “before we act, we first need to wait for the court verdict, for the end of investigation, and until the Voyager brings the samples from the opposite side of the universe”. When most people calm down, start suggesting that it was all just made up by your opponents, or provide an alternative explanation. Your opponents will show the evidence again, but at that point most people don’t really care. The people who dislike you will remember that you were guilty, and the people who like you will remember that you were innocent.

      (A counter strategy to this is to keep parts of your evidence hidden, and introduce them later. So that there is always a fresh news related to the scandal.)

      Focus

      Absolutely. It allows you to choose a target suitable for your narrative. (For example, before you decide to make an example of Damore, you can check that he is white, not a Muslim, etc. Also that he doesn’t have a powerful friend in the company. If any of the checks fail, wait for someone else.)

      With every opponent successfully publicly destroyed, hundred more are threatened to stay quiet. This is a better result than attacking hundred opponents, failing to destroy some of them, and then watching them share their success stories online.

      Comedy/Ridicule: There seems to be almost no downside to this as the worst that can happen is people don’t find it funny

      I think this isn’t true for the modern left anymore, and it may be the reason why “the left can’t meme”. Political correctness is incompatible with humor, because many funny things are, literally, microaggressions. It is hard to make a good comedy while walking on eggshells; and if you make the smallest mistake, you can be sure that someone on your side will try to score virtue points by stabbing you in the back. Some comedians are already complaining how it makes their jobs impossible.

      Q: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?
      A: THIS IS NOT FUNNY AND IT IS VERY OFFENSIVE!!!

      The left seems to be taking itself too seriously. Maybe it’s because of the identity politics, that makes everything into a culture-war topic. When a female comedian makes a joke about women, are the men in the audience even allowed to laugh? (“Yes” implies that it is okay for men to laugh about women. “No” implies that female comedians are less funny than male comedians.) It stops being being funny when you always need to check whether you are allowed to laugh.

      Maybe it’s just my bubble, so everyone who believes that the left can still be funny, feel free to post pro-SJW equivalents of this. But it already feels like I am asking for a good Puritan joke.

      Appeal to Morality: There also seems to be almost no strategic downside here either (unless you are very vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy?).

      You can use (i.e. pretend to be) a third party, so you can’t be accused of hypocrisy.

      Imagine that your group and the enemy group have a lot of knife fights, and it scares the neutrals a lot. You should start a “neutral” organization that officially doesn’t take sides in your battle and opposes knife violence in general. And by sheer coincidence, all cases documented by them will be the ones when your enemy held the knife. Now bring your case publicly to the sheriff and ask him to ban the enemy group as terrorists.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Is it ever beneficial to apologize publicly now?

        Was it ever? Seems to be that politicians have known this rule for long.

        Do you have old examples in mind?

    • Plumber says:

      @onyomi says:

      “I recently listened to the audiobook of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” I have a number of thoughts re. ethics and history, but for purposes of this OT, let’s evaluate conflict theory strategies purely on their effectiveness[…]

      […] Agree and amplify:
      I’ve seen some right wing figures employ this strategy and I think it’s largely ineffective. Basically you say “racist, hell yeah I’m a racist…” in an attempt to take the sting out of the attack or expose how overused the word is if it applies even to someone as harmless as so-and-so. The reason I don’t think this works is that it still involves accepting the opponent’s framing, even if you are are making fun of it. I think the right response to most attacks is actually no direct response at all; instead, ignore as much as possible and press your own framing. Related:

      Apologize:
      Is it ever beneficial to apologize publicly now?[…]”

      For the record my encounters with “SJW’s” have been limited and non-hostile, and largely of three groups and for what little it’s worth here’s my interactions:

      1) The mostly Latino looking every Friday “Black Lives Matter” demonstrators that chant out the (mostly black) names of San Franciscans that have been killed by cops this last decade. 

      They’re peaceful and don’t really bother me and I don’t bother them despite my being employed by “the prison-industrial-complex”.

      2) A couple of times back when I precinct walked for Democratic candidates for my union I was paired with girls who worked for non-profits instead of fellow union members to try to convince potential swing voters in working-class neighborhoods, it worked pretty well, they could get folks to open the door better than me, but weren’t very good at convincing patter and were afraid of peoples guard dogs that I was able to calm making them less afraid, but that was a few years ago and before the “great awokening” so it may go differently now. 

      3) Girls that I knew 30 years ago that are now school teachers and “true believers”, the two non-white ones seem genuinely frightened by ‘The Right’, one of which I’ve had fairly long conversations with and I’ve told her of examples of someone who would seem malicious but was really just ignorant and fairly good natured, and of another who just liked being ‘naughty’ and was pretty much an over all jerk anyway. The white women teachers seemed less afraid and more crusading, and when such topics come up talking like a Christian worked: “Yes I’m racist, also greedy, lustful, wrathful, and lazy, I assume most folks are as well and they also try to overcome their sins”, I also acknowledge where I’ve been lucky, but I don’t much apologize for it: “Yes I have some privileges being a white male, and to what extent I can use what ‘privilege’ I have to advance the welfare of my sons, both of the one who can probably ‘pass’ and the one who looks more like his mother I will”, and that pretty much ends them lecturing me and they go back to talking about their cats and vacations. 

      Such encounters and conversations are pretty limited though, 9/10ths of the banter I engage in is with other guys at work and both anti and pro “SJ” talk just doesn’t happen much, occasionally a deputy at work will complain a small bit about “liberals” (by which they mean those who think the inmates can be rehabilitated) or one of the guys also in building repair will complain about Republicans trying to gut pensions but that’s about it.

      I suspect that if I had gone to college, was younger, and/or I worked in public schools this stuff would come up more, but I didn’t, I’m not, and I don’t, so it doesn’t. 

  8. Sankt Gallus says:

    Seeing as we’ve been talking about meditation, here’s a question about the effects that should be more measurable than most: does being a good meditator prevent boredom? If you had to wait two hours in a doctor’s office, would you be able to sit there quietly without any additional stimulus and just let the time go? It seems like this would be a particularly useful skill to have, but I’m not sure to what degree you can expect to meditate in random situations.

    • onyomi says:

      I would say it seems to help at least somewhat, just by giving you something else to do and/or making a deeper level of “zoning out” possible without necessarily napping.

      I’d also say subjectively it makes pain and discomfort slightly more bearable just by giving you something else to focus on, though I wouldn’t bet money on my pain tolerance being better than average. There are some claims of expert meditator so-and-so getting his tooth drilled without novocaine, however.

      Probably it enhances your ability to pass a gom jabbar test and therefore your humanity.

    • Well... says:

      I’m never bored, but I also never meditate (or at least I don’t practice meditation of any kind that I’m aware of). I believe boredom is a choice, and one that people might make regardless whether they also meditate. But maybe there’s some selection effects among people who meditate; maybe they also tend to be people who’ve chosen not to be bored.

    • lvlln says:

      From my subjective personal experience in getting into meditation over the past 5 years, the answer is Yes, it absolutely allows me to prevent or mitigate boredom. In situations where I’m required to wait without access to much external stimulus, such as, say lying in an MRI machine, I’ve found that meditating allows me to almost completely remove the feeling of boredom that I would have felt if I hadn’t been meditating. I do still enjoy distracting myself with my phone when I’m walking about or waiting in line, but I’ve also found that meditating instead while doing those activities means I don’t get bored.

      The most useful example of this I found was when I was getting a tattoo that took about an hour. I’d never gotten a tattoo before, and it hurt quite a bit more than I expected, but meditating both made me not get bored during that hour and made the pain cause less suffering by, paradoxically enough, having me hyper-focused on the details of the pain that was being constantly induced in me.

    • Aftagley says:

      Meditation for me isn’t really difficult, but it is work (or at least on the work spectrum). Sure, it doesn’t require any external tools, but it’s still something that takes discipline and a modicum of effort to accomplish.

      So, yes, I can do it instead of doing nothing, but I wouldn’t classify it in the same category as daydreaming or messing around on your phone.

  9. Evan Þ says:

    The nineteenth-century British government (take your pick which) has called you in as a consultant to redraft the government of India. Restricting yourself to policies that wouldn’t be immediate flops in Parliament (or, perhaps, might get dusted off after the next election), what suggestions do you give them?

    Feel free to get down to whatever level of detail you think is important. Details really might matter for points like “be sure not to use beef or pork tallow for cartridges” or symbolic gestures like “definitely allow people in native garb on all streets of Simlah.” Things like “only pick administrators with twenty-first century social attitudes” are quite out, though.

    I think the two most important headings are:

    * Some however-limited social and legal equality open to at least a reasonable number of Indians. It’d help bring down racial and social barriers, it’d get them working to reform the system from a place where they might be able to do it, it’d provide a better transition, and it’d put British rule on a firmer basis – for one, this policy would’ve kept Gandhi away from the independence movement!

    * Bring down the tariffs that wiped out the Indian economy. At least some people in the British Parliament, as early as Burke, were advocating that on a basis of common morality. Plus, a bigger economy would be more profitable both in taxes and in return on investment.

    Of course, there’s a lot I don’t know about the Raj, so I might be missing a lot of other things. Thoughts?

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I think the answer probably has less to do with the situation than with the precise phrasing of the problem, because the solution that will produce the best outcomes as I judge them will involve getting as close to the banned “adopt 21st century (I.e. my) moral values” strategy as the rules of your challenge permit, but no closer.

      • Evan Þ says:

        That’s a very respectable partial answer. But in that case, I guess the question gets rephrased as “How much of 21st-century moral values can get past a 19th-century British Parliament? And what packaging best helps them accept it?”

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      It is not difficult to improve on historic practice. Step one “abolish the goddess accursed salt tax” lvt at 3 percent (higher than this and the local elites will certainly rebel). Allocate pay in the factories per production line explicitly (machine looms in india were ridiculusly over manned. Pay the workers english wages if they do english work. Sanitation. Ect ect

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Uuu, this is interesting. Especially since my lack of specific knowledge forces me to work from first principles.

      Well, before anything else I think we have to acknowledge two things: India was still huge back than, and one set of policies cannot possibly cover all. You need at least a two tiered approach: one for the english/indian interface, i.e. modern India, and a very different one for the rest of the subcontinent, that would probably qualify now as a humanitarian crises simply because they had normal (back than) rural living conditions. But of course can’t be treated as such because you can’t afford to dump resources into it.

      Which brings us to the second point – you need to make the situation stable, and satisfy all three actors: the Englishman back home, the Indian peasant, and (by far the most volatile) the educated Indian that starts to think that if he’s smarted than the average Englishman… why is the Englishman ruling him?

      The catch I think is the introduction of a system + mythos that diverts those energies somewhere else. Imperial Chinese Bureaucracy is the obvious starting point – have a (longer than necessary) study period that indoctrinates as much as teaches, a very difficult selection process that never filters out but allows slower or faster progress, and give them problems to solve. Of which there should be plenty, given the Black Hole humanitarian crisis issue next door. And ideally keep educated indians away from the uneducated englishmen, if possible, and as a safety valve add to the mythos the fact that by being bureaucrats they’re above normal people of both nationalities.

      As for economic policies… I’d just start from libertarian principles and amend them as needed. The less economic control the better – you want natural expansion of industrialization, and profit is by far the best motivator. Note that this does not mean lessez faire – in this context it means using quite a bit of force to guarantee economic freedom to all actors.

    • DarkTigger says:

      “be sure not to use beef or pork tallow for cartridges”

      This could be harder than you might expect. A palamentary examination after the mutiny showed, that there was regulation fobidding beef or pork tallow, for regiments with Muslim or Hindi soldiers, but they couldn’t establish if this regulation was respected or not. (source: some thread on reddit.com/askhistorians).

      Murphy’s Laws of Combat 25: Never forget that your weapon is made by the lowest bidder.

    • Statismagician says:

      Why are we trying to rule a subcontinent as a single unit, thereby generating exactly the kind of national feeling we explicitly don’t want? I say we let the Princely States do their own feudal-ish thing under British sovereignty, devolve the presidencies to a class of British-educated Indian bureaucrats posted to areas occupied by different religious/ethnic groups, make sure that the children of important people are educated at Cambridge or Oxford and that nobody suggests that ‘Indian’ is a meaningful term as opposed to ‘Mysorean’ or ‘Sikh,’ and that everybody we can manage to convince is sure they need British protection from the Chinese/Russians/French/the next state over. Loyalty to London, not Dehli is the thing to arrange. Sell it to Parliament as shamelessly copying the Romans; they should go for it.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I say we let the Princely States do their own feudal-ish thing under British sovereignty

        My understanding is that this part at least was more-or-less adhered to: the Princely States handed over control of their foreign affairs to the British, but retained a high degree of control over their internal affairs. I’ve also heard from a couple sources that by the 20th century at least, the remaining Princely States were considerably more prosperous than British India proper, which seems to suggest a natural experimental finding in favor of devolved government.

        At a minimum, entrench the policy for the Princely States and abolish the “doctrine of lapse” process for absorbing Princely States into directly-ruled British India. Some form of devolution for the Presidencies is also indicated: either your proposed framework, or something like the Dominion model later applied to Canada, Australia, etc. In the latter case, Presidency would have an executive responsible to the Crown, a Senate or House of Lords appointed for life by the executive, a House of Commons elected by ordinary citizens (or at least the subset of ordinary citizens who would be eligible to vote in British parliamentary elections at the time), and a body of ministers responsible to the two houses of Parliament.

    • mrdomino says:

      Something like 12+ million people starve in British held India from 1850-1900. But after 1900 there are no major famines until 1943.

      The obvious question is-why? What factors were present in 1900+ that weren’t around earlier in the British Raj? Then, if at all possible, introduce those factors in 1850 and voila, you have saved 12 million. Maybe you also saved the Raj as this avoids the spectacle of Indian intellectuals noting you are exporting grain from India during the Orissa famine, for example.

      One of the British centered explanations I have heard is after the major famines in the 1870s the British drafted the famine code in 1880 and then revised it again in the 90s-with those successful revisions the scourge subsided.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Famine_Codes
      So draft the code earlier?

  10. Amy says:

    Upon re-reading Scott’s writings on social justice, specifically in regards to accusations of motte-and-bailey doctrine, I notice there’s a hypothesis that he’s missed, or at least didn’t address. Let’s call it the “trickle-down weaponization” hypothesis. Scott suggests that people, or agent-like groups, are performing motte-and-bailey doctrine to secure social power. My idea is: there are two groups, loosely speaking, let’s call them the Theoretic and Applied branch. The Theoretic study society and develop theories to explain it. They are generally conscientious and careful in their meaning. The Applied notice that since these theories describe power relations, they are extremely weaponizable, and go ahead and use them in the obvious manner to advance their self-interests. These are very different groups, they bear the same relation to each other as Mikhail Kalashnikov does to ISIS. Or Einstein to nuclear terrorists. You might ask Einstein – what do you have to say for that dirty bomb that nearly exploded? And he would stare at you in confusion, give an apology for what others are doing with his results, and say he has to get back to work on theoretical physics. And when you accuse him of motte-and-bailey, that as soon as you leave the room he will switch from relativity to designing the next bomb to kill even more people, you are missing the point entirely. I think the obvious first step in improving the discourse is to draw a clear boundary between the Theoretical and the Applied, refer to them by different names, clarify the distinction.

    This isn’t just armchair speculation, I came up with it from interactions with various people who identify as “Social Justice” – the Theoretics correct their own on abuses of terminology just as readily as they correct outsiders. And the Applied couldn’t care less about respectability. That’s the point where I noticed that the motte-and-bailey explanation has some issues with it.

    • Aapje says:

      Your distinction between the people who are careful and those who can’t care less, dismisses that part of the motte-and-bailey observation is a recognition that the very same people often have different levels of nuance for different levels of abstraction. So when you dig down into the details, people tend to admit to things that they completely ignore at a higher level of abstraction, like so:

      Low abstraction: women can be mistaken about sexual assault
      High abstraction: #believewomen

      The motte-and-bailey observation is not the (also true) observation that the outgroup homogeneity effect exists.

      Anyway, I have had discussions with people about this, where I typically ask for examples of conscientious and careful social justice theorists, with disappointing results so far. My own experience with researching social justice academic texts is that the extreme bias and/or unwillingness to engage with key criticisms goes to the foundational texts.

      So I ask you the same: please give examples of conscientious and careful social justice theorists.

      • Amy says:

        Note that “careful vs. not careful” is just one aspect of the distinction I was trying to describe. There are other characteristics, e.g. Theoretics are descriptivist, Applied are prescriptivists. Theoretics are detached, Applied seek personal power. Theoretics are usually academics or strongly self-educated in a broad range of social theory, Applied target their learning narrowly to the words and concepts that can give them the biggest social power advantage for their time spent.

        For Theoretic-driven boards, I would suggest /r/SRSdiscussion and /r/socialjustice101. In the latter, about half of the posts are about educating newcomers, and the other is about reining in the Applied group who say things like “Is adults watching child-targeted cartoons cultural appropriation” (yes, this is a real post), and explaining to them that this is not how it works. I will find some more specific examples tomorrow.

        • Aapje says:

          I don’t see this distinction that you seem to see, nor do I consider your examples persuasive. /r/SRSdiscussion requires the acceptance of SJ dogma to participate, where this dogma includes the idea that only sexism against women exists (“sexism = power + prejudice”). This is already very much weaponized SJ. As for /r/socialjustice101, it rejects debates and links to the r/SRSDiscussion/ page that I linked above.

          Note that your characterization of Einstein is very wrong, as he actively lobbied to have America develop nuclear weapons out of fear that Nazi-Germany would develop them first, while he later argued in favor of nuclear disarmament. He wasn’t really involved in the development of nuclear bombs in any direct way, anyway. As Einstein said: “I do not consider myself the father of the release of atomic energy. My part in it was quite indirect. I did not, in fact, foresee that it would be released in my time. I believed only that it was theoretically possible. It became practical through the accidental discovery of chain reaction, and this was not something I could have predicted.”

          Your characterization of Einstein as a pure theorist with no concern for how scientific advances are used in practice, is not fair to the man, who was quite politically engaged.

          Your comparison between Kalashnikov and ISIS is even less correct, as Kalashnikov made a general use weapon, with no specific ideology. Kalashnikov is no more a theorist of ISIS than that Steve Wozniak is a theorist of Gender Studies, just because he build a precursor to the computers that some Gender Studies scholars write their papers on.

          PS. I’ve seen a LOT of SJ scholars argue that their goal is activism…and act like it.

      • Incurian says:

        I don’t think these frameworks are mutually exclusive. There can be both individuals who motte and bailey, and people who turn someone else’s theoretical motte into their activist bailey, and probably stuff in between. There’s an interesting discussion about this from the other side of the aisle here https://www.libertarianism.org/columns/ayn-rand-history-philosophy

    • The Nybbler says:

      My idea is: there are two groups, loosely speaking, let’s call them the Theoretic and Applied branch. The Theoretic study society and develop theories to explain it. They are generally conscientious and careful in their meaning.

      The main problem with this idea is what Scott points out in Social Justice and Words, Words, Words. That is, the terminology used by the Theoretic branch is designed to confuse and/or inflame. “Whiteness”/”White Privilege”. “Toxic Masculinity”. “Symbolic Racism”. etc. This suggests that what you call the Theoretic branch is not a bunch of innocents studying society, but more like the Bureau of Weapons for the Applied branch.

  11. Enkidum says:

    A post by several researchers on Race, Genetics, and Pseudoscience that I think is worth reading. I’m not a biologist, nor do I know any of these people, so I can’t judge their credentials or expertise, but they seem to have real research positions related to the topics they discuss, and their discussion seems careful and precise.

    Basically they are arguing against one of the positions that should not be named here, and to my eyes seem to be doing so rather well.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Honestly tried reading, became uninterested rather quickly as I realized it was a rehash of the same old progressive talking points, so I jumped to the conclusion hoping there would be some substantive info there that I could read quickly, and was disappointed but not surprised to see that the conclusion was something like “It is incumbent upon scientists to…” (my paraphrase) ensure progressive orthodoxy is never threatened by genetic research.

      These things like “race is only a social construct” are such obvious nonsense I cant take seriously anyone who actually says it. I wish it were true, we could do away with affirmative action, disparate impact, and stop talking about white privilege for ever.

      But if you believe the bengal tiger and the sumatran tiger are different species, why is it so offensive to recognize that humans have been subject to natural selection in their respective environments also?

      I understand the need to counter racist talking points, but because of the importance of this topic, more honesty is needed, not less.

      There are indeed clusters of genetic variations corresponding to different populations which correspond roughly with what we view as race. Obviously it’s not perfect. Still, everybody here could tell you if somebody’s ancestors came from subsaharan africa or east asia by looking at them for about 0.01 seconds.

      • albatross11 says:

        I haven’t read the article yet, but I’ll point out that the “race is just a social construct” claim is one of those things that has some truth to it but is pretty misleading.

        Race is a fuzzy category, and a lot of the traditional notions of race are very coarse divisions. There is a hell of a lot of diversity among people of sub-Saharan African descent, or Native American descent, or European descent. Racial categories in the US are at least as much political/social as biological. And as with all racial issues in the US, black/white is really different from all the others for some mostly pretty grim historical reasons.

        And yet, race correlates with genes enough that DNA tests generally tell you what race someone is, and that matches the fuzzy American social category they’re in. Forensic anthropologists can generally tell what race someone is by their bones. Mainstream medical sources advise taking race into account in the practice of medicine in some cases–some genetic diseases are much more common in some races than others; some drugs tend to work differently in some races than others. Some sporting events are really dominated by people from one particular region–sprinting and distance running are dominated by people of African descent, but from two very different regions.

        In US racial categories, we also get a kind of boost when talking about American/Carribbean blacks, since their ancestors were mostly brought over from one part of Africa–a little like if almost all the European-descended people you ever saw came from Germany. On the other hand, the “Asian” category is insanely broad, matching to people from India to China to Japan to Malaysia[1]. And “hispanic” is considered an ethnic group rather than a race–it includes people of substantial American Indian descent (from very different regions–Bolivians and Mexicans are pretty distinct!), European descent, and African descent.

        The question is, is race a useful biological category? I think so. Medical research done in the US ought to take note of participant race and make sure they have some black participants so they can see whether the drug they’re looking at works out differently for them, for example. Telling those scientists to stop noticing race because race is just a social construct with no biological meaning will not make the world a better place.

        [1] Asians in the US are largely immigrants and the children of immigrants who came here to do some intellectually demanding thing. We also have an older population of Chinese and Japanese whose ancestors came here several generations back, and refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Cant disagree with anything in here.

        • Randy M says:

          Race is like color. Where exactly green stops and yellow starts is hard to pin down. That doesn’t mean there’s no difference between red and green.

          • Atlas says:

            Also, there’s no exact way to differentiate “hills” and “mountains,” but we can still find it useful to refer to some things as hills and and some things as mountains.

          • @Atlas
            Some would argue that the usefulness of race is more than outweighed by the downsides, and point towards race abolitionism as a means to end racism. This would mean actively getting rid of all references to race in officialdom of all kinds and no longer keeping any records that refer to race as a category. Instead of using race as a proxy when we have incomplete information, we put in the extra work to gain that information. We refuse to be satisfied with saying that “black people are overwhelmingly at greater risk of sickle cell disease”, and put in the extra work to screen everyone for things that race would approximate to, thereby enabling the elimination of race as a necessary proxy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Forward Synthesis

            Aside from being silly when it comes to things like sickle cell and melanoma, that strategy also means no affirmative action and no disparate impact rules. I’d be willing to accept that (though I’d really want an exemption for medical things), but I don’t think too many non-witches would.

          • @The Nybbler

            I know “color blindness” is now seen as a kind of racism itself as it means that measures to correct historical injustice cannot be taken, and these measures are especially useful for coalition building in democratic politics, so there are few people interested in giving race abolitionism a fair shot to begin with.

            However, I also know that measuring things by race makes racism inevitable. If we live in a world of race categories, then grievances will align with those categories. If people were previously harmed based on race and now want unequal treatment to correct previous unequal treatment (or because it’s personally beneficial), then race hatred will perpetuate itself. I’m quite happy to say “this is as good as it gets” and continue using racial terminology, but if anyone seriously thinks they are fighting racism without pushing against the utilitarian application of race, they’re delusional to me.

      • Enkidum says:

        There are indeed clusters of genetic variations corresponding to different populations which correspond roughly with what we view as race.

        I think their claim is that the “roughness” is such that the correspondence is almost incoherent. Which I think depends on the level of precision you want from your terms.

        I found the discussion of the relationship between IQ and race far more interesting than coming down either way on their beliefs about race’s biological nature.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          I found the discussion of the relationship between IQ and race far more interesting than coming down either way on their beliefs about race’s biological nature.

          Yeah that’s a tough one and probably one that should be left alone but since our society treats unequal results as evidence of discrimination we’re going to need to get to the bottom of it. Are you saying this article provided you with good reasons to doubt that there is any differences between groups in terms of IQ? That would be a remarkable finding if a heritable trait like IQ would have a same average across different populations.

        • Aapje says:

          @Enkidum

          These ‘race don’t exist’ claims never seem to argue a realistic stance: ‘race is less important than some on the far right claim,’ but go into full denial mode.

          I found the discussion of the relationship between IQ and race far more interesting than coming down either way on their beliefs about race’s biological nature.

          They ignore issues with their narrative, like the Flynn effect not reducing the gap between American blacks and whites.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I think the primary motivation for denying the category is to pre-emptively render impossible or epistemologically unsound any attempt to imply that there are biological correlates between self-identified race and behavioral traits. [IQ being chief among them]

          ‘Race is a social construct’ is trivially true. But i could enter a classroom, use an arbitrary but non-random procedure to divide the class into two groups, measure the average traits of those groups [physical and behavioral] and then ask the question; how much of the variation between the groups is due to variation in genetics, measurement error, or variation in environment.

          Even if the groups are arbitrary the question is ‘askable’, and it has an answer. It’s not intellectually equivalent to dividing by zero, so talking about the fakeness.

          If can simply ask the following:
          1. Genetic Variation across the human species clusters
          2. Phenotypic variation across the human species clusters
          3. Genetic clustering plays a non-trivial role in phenotypic clustering

          And skip the part where we define things in and out of existence.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you randomly assign class members to categories, then you are very unlikely to see large differences in some a priori important variable like test scores.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @albatross11

            Therefore if you do see large differences in important variables, you may suspect the category assignments were not random. This however says nothing about the cause of the differences.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @Albatross

            I said ‘arbitrary but non random’ rather than ‘random’, for example, an arbitrary assignment might be to split the front half of the class from the backhalf and measure IQ scores.

      • Plumber says:

        @jermo sapiens >

        “…These things like “race is only a social construct” are such obvious nonsense I cant take seriously anyone who actually says it. I wish it were true, we could do away with affirmative action, disparate impact, and stop talking about white privilege for ever…”

        I see absolutely no reason to eliminate afirmative action if race wasn’t a factor, there’s still family and regional disparities that are as valid as race disparities to inspire action.

        To cite an example off the top of my head: The Mormons of Utah are largely of British Puritan descent and don’t have the same levels of inter-generational poverty of the Appalachian Scots-Irish in West Virginia, who are also largely of British descent, and I can easily see affirmative-action programs being implemented to help those in the mountain ‘hollows’ as well as those in other areas of concentrated poverty even if the citizens of the U.S.A. were 99+% “indeterminate brown” and of mixed ancestry, there’s still family, religious, and regional differences and nothing will completely abate the desire for leveling, other “social constructs” are easy substitutes.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          I have no issue with anything you just said, except that affirmative action for Appalachian whites will never happen in a million years.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        But if you believe the bengal tiger and the sumatran tiger are different species

        Given that this is not true (they are subspecies) you should certainly not believe that, and if you do believe it I am skeptical that your understanding of genetics is good enough to have sophisticated opinions on the sensitive subject of race.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          I am skeptical that your understanding of genetics is good enough to have sophisticated opinions on the sensitive subject of race

          Yes quite right, there are 9 subspecies of tigers. How very unsophisticated of me!

          Still, in my very unsophisticated and (ugh, gross) working class view, I believe that if subspecies are a real thing, obviously race is a real thing. And thankfully we dont speak of human subspecies and instead we use the word race.

          And given that lions can breed with tigers (see ligers, and tigons), and that their offspring are not infertile do you, as a sophisticated scienticizer consider the difference between tigers and lions to be a mere social construct?

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            You’re equivocating between “is a social construct” and “is completely arbitrary”. This is in general somewhat reasonable since the damn progs are constantly doing that too, but does indicate that you didn’t read the article very carefully since it doesn’t do that at all and instead points out various ways in which the social construction of race is important and problematic for certain people’s arguments. For example, if you’re using the folk concept of race then “A is the same race as B and of a different race to C” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as “A is genetically more similar to B than C”.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            What exactly do you mean by the concept of race being a “social construct”?

          • albatross11 says:

            For example, if you’re using the folk concept of race then “A is the same race as B and of a different race to C” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as “A is genetically more similar to B than C”.

            I understand it doesn’t *necessarily* mean that. For example, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama are probably further apart genetically than Barack Obama is from me.

            And yet, it does *statistically* imply that. If all you know about Alice, Bob, and Carol is that Alice and Bob are members of the same race, while Carol is a member of a different race, then you should strongly expect Alice and Bob to be more genetically similar than Alice and Carol.

            If you now move this to the context of the US, and learn that Alice and Bob are black and Carol is white, then this expectation is quite strong.

            Race is a messy, fuzzy, imperfect category, but it still conveys a fair bit of genetic information.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid
            “social construct” is a social construct! But I think the most productive definition is “a definition that people are often tempted to treat as more objective than it actually is”.

            @albatross11

            And yet, it does *statistically* imply that.

            That’s certainly true, but also an incredibly weak claim. All you’re saying is that the idea of race isn’t actively misleading.

            but it still conveys a fair bit of genetic information

            This is meaningless. Please quantify “a fair bit”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Your doctor pays attention to your race when diagnosing you and when proposing treatments. For good reason. If you need a donor kidney, you’re a lot more likely to match with someone of your race than someone of another race. Race is a messy category, but it’s useful. That’s what I mean by “a fair bit.” It’s practically informative.

            When we’re trying to decide if some category or concept is meaningful, I’d say usefulness is the gold standard for making that decision. A concept that helps you make better decisions, or that helps you make better predictions, is useful. In many, many situations, dealing with both biology and culture, race is such a category. A person who takes it into account will make better decisions than a person who doesn’t.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            “social construct” is a social construct! But I think the most productive definition is “a definition that people are often tempted to treat as more objective than it actually is”.

            I’d say that most definitions are somewhat arbitrary and fuzzy, yet frequently treated as matters of objective fact. So, race may be a social construct, but then so are color, strength, and the Glasgow Coma Scale.

          • albatross11 says:

            thisheavenlyconjugation:

            I think we may be talking past one another. Race is a social construct, in the sense that deciding exactly who’s black or white is based on social rules that aren’t all that logical or based in biology. But race is ultimately based on biological differences, which is why a pair of American blacks is very likely to be more genetically similar to one another than either is to me, why blacks are overall more likely to be lactose intolerant and to develop certain kinds of high blood pressure than whites. More to the point, the biological differences underpinning our racial categories are why (socially classified) black parents almost always have (socially classified) black children, why a small child can reliably classify most people into the right socially-defined racial buckets, etc.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @albatross11

            Race is a social construct, in the sense that deciding exactly who’s black or white is based on social rules that aren’t all that logical or based in biology.

            Yes, that is what I’m disagreeing with jermo sapiens about.

            But race is ultimately based on biological differences

            I don’t think anyone disagrees with that (either here or in the world at large). The point being made (subtly and reasonably well in the article linked, less well by various other people on the internet who say “race is a social construct”) is that correspondence between the “common sense” concept of race and genetics is considerably less direct than many people naively assume.

          • albatross11 says:

            Fair enough. I don’t think that, say, Steve Sailer, Razib Khan, Greg Cochran, Charles Murray, Emil Kirkegard, Bo Winegard, etc., are misunderstanding the biological nature of race[1], and I think I’d rather see people engaging the strongest thinkers on the other side instead of the weakest. OTOH, I understand the desire and sometimes the need to address widespread misunderstandings, too.

            When I’ve seen “race is just a social construct” or “race is not a scientific concept” in the past, it has like 99% of the time seemed to me to be an attempt to shut down some kinds of discussion and thought by an appeal to science, rather than an attempt to clarify thought by reminding everyone that “black” isn’t as solid and clear a biological category as “male” or “human.”

            [1] Nor do I think I’m doing so, but please point it out if I am.

          • albatross11 says:

            As an aside, contrast:

            “Gender is a social construct”

            “Religion is a social construct”

            “Race is a social construct”

            All these are true to some greater or lesser extent. Gender has a really large connection to biology, but has some fuzziness and exceptions–people can be biologically male and socially female, for example. Race has a still significant but less direct connection to biology. Religion has little or none.

          • Enkidum says:

            For me I think the clearest example of race as a social construct is a biracial person like Barack Obama, Key and Peele, or Logic. The first three, by most people’s understanding, are black, while Logic looks pretty much white. Yet according to any kind of sane biological racial categorization, they are all exactly half black and half white.

            But as has been reiterated, this ambiguity is accepted by most people who know what they’re talking about. At which point I bow out of the conversation, because I don’t know enough about the specifics.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      To my eyes, quite the opposite.

      They start on a strong note:

      Research in the 20th century found that the crude categorisations used colloquially (black, white, East Asian etc.) were not reflected in actual patterns of genetic variation, meaning that differences and similarities in DNA between people did not perfectly[*] match the traditional racial terms. The conclusion drawn from this observation is that race is therefore a socially constructed system, where we effectively agree on these terms, rather than their existing as essential or objective biological categories.

      But observe, a bit later:

      DNA sample collection typically follows existing cultural, anthropological or political groupings. If samples are collected based on pre-defined groupings, it’s entirely unsurprising that the analyses of these samples will return results that identify such groupings.

      That seems really in need of explanation. How are those groupings identified? What does the identification consist in? Is it the, not unexpected, observation that a population that is interbreeding shares numerous genetic traits? Is it an artifact of analysis?

      It gets worse later:

      For example, samples of “European” populations used in genetic studies often have excluded up to as many as 30% of self-identified Europeans. This is because some individuals introduce hard-to-model complications into the data, forming distinct sub-clusters or complicating the genetic model. For example, Finns and Sardinians are often excluded as they have quite distinct genetic ancestries compared to many other Europeans, as are some people in India, north Africa, Latino/Hispanics, and many individuals with complex ancestries, despite confident self-identification within their ethnic group.

      So, apparently “European” isn’t a useful category, genetically speaking, but “Finnish” or “Sardinian” is – enough to introduce “hard-to-model complications into the data” and “form distinct sub-clusters”.

      Their hearts are in the right place and I’m sure they have the knowledge and chops in their fields, but it’s articles like these that the term “weak man” was created for (and if it wasn’t, it should have been).

      * Note in general: complaining about lack of perfect matches is usually the sign of an intellectual sleight-of-hand.

      • Enkidum says:

        That seems really in need of explanation. How are those groupings identified? What does the identification consist in?

        Pre-existing notions of race. Don’t see the problem there.

        So, apparently “European” isn’t a useful category, genetically speaking, but “Finnish” or “Sardinian” is – enough to introduce “hard-to-model complications into the data” and “form distinct sub-clusters”.

        I’m not sure what the problem is with those two statements? Are they somehow in contradiction with each other?

        I’m legitimately unsure what your objection is. I see nothing particularly fishy in what you’ve quoted, and it all seems internally consistent.

        • DarkTigger says:

          The objection as I understand it is:
          All three claims are made in the text:
          a) There is no biological background for the thing we call race
          b) The traditional described groups, actually show genentical differences
          c) in some fringe cases (i.e. people traditional living on the fringes of Europe, and beeing traditional known to be edge cases) the groupings do not fit.

          This looks like throwing mud to a wall and see what sticks. Either race is a cultural construced with out biological background, or it is not. Either, Europeans are a coherent group and therefore fringe cases, should look different, or all is noise and the fringe cases shouldn’t change anything.

          • Enkidum says:

            Either race is a cultural construc[t] with out biological background, or it is not.

            This is clearly a false dichotomy. Race is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a cultural construct. It clearly, without a shadow of a doubt, has something to do with biology, genetics in particular.

            There’s nothing contradictory about those two statements. (Which is partly why I’m not particularly interested in their claims that race isn’t biological – it will change depending on how you squint.)

          • DarkTigger says:

            Yes, in so far that every word we use is a cultural construct. The question is, is it a construct in the way “citizen” is, or is it a construct in the way “horse” or “fish” is?

            And the arguments they give do not convince me that, they are constructs in the way “citizen” is.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I’m not particularly interested in their claims that race isn’t biological – it will change depending on how you squint.

            You don’t even have to squint. I can tell at a glance that my friend from Tanzania looks nothing like my friend from Japan (but looks quite a bit like my friend from Nigeria, while my Japanese friend has a lot in common with my friend from Korea) and that neither of them look very much like myself (nor my friends from Poland, the UK, Hungary, Spain, etc.) Given that one’s appearance (in the relevant aspects) is governed by biology/genetics, clearly there is a biological basis for the most basic concept of “race” (people from elsewhere look markedly different).

        • Statismagician says:

          +1. Consider whether Muscovites are European or not. What about people from Vladivostok? Restricted population movement into and out of islands and horrible frozen wastelands full of darkness, snow, and knives generally inhospitable places form meaningful genetic groupings, but there’s no similar limiting factor around the (entirely arbitrary) European regional boundary.

          EDIT: the problems are that, A) supranational categories like ‘European’ or ‘Asian’ are averages of averages (of averages…), and B) that outside Western Europe modern national borders don’t necessarily map to restricted breeding populations from a few centuries ago.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Their hearts are in the right place and I’m sure they have the knowledge and chops in their fields, but it’s articles like these that the term “weak man” was created for (and if it wasn’t, it should have been).

        Sure. Belief in race also comes in weak man, steelman, and intermediate forms.
        Weak man: humans on the darkest third of the skin color bell curve form a homogeneous group that’s stupid, crime-prone and deserve fewer rights, whether they come from Ethiopia or Australia.
        Steelman: albatross11 above.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Research in the 20th century found that the crude categorisations used colloquially (black, white, East Asian etc.) were not reflected in actual patterns of genetic variation, meaning that differences and similarities in DNA between people did not perfectly[*] match the traditional racial terms.

        Even this sounds like BS to me. From Wikipedia:

        “A 2005 study by Tang and colleagues used 326 genetic markers to determine genetic clusters. The 3,636 subjects, from the United States and Taiwan, self-identified as belonging to white, African American, East Asian or Hispanic ethnic groups. The study found “nearly perfect correspondence between genetic cluster and SIRE for major ethnic groups living in the United States, with a discrepancy rate of only 0.14 percent”.[29]

        Paschou et al. found “essentially perfect” agreement between 51 self-identified populations of origin and the population’s genetic structure, using 650,000 genetic markers. Selecting for informative genetic markers allowed a reduction to less than 650, while retaining near-total accuracy.[59] ”

        If I had to steelman their claim, I would say they meant that if you do unsupervised clustering of genotypes, the resulting clusters aren’t very sharp, rather you’ll observe a clinal pattern roughly matching geographic distribution, but this doesn’t invalidate the epistemic validity of the concept of genetic race.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        @Enkidum:
        When I read a statement like:

        For example, some of the observed genetic clustering is a reflection of the samples that were included in the study and how they were collected, rather than any inherent genetic structure. DNA sample collection typically follows existing cultural, anthropological or political groupings.

        What I understand from it is that genetic samples are collected based on what is achievable (politically) as part of a research project, not “pre-existing notions of race”.

        When this is followed by:

        If samples are collected based on pre-defined groupings, it’s entirely unsurprising that the analyses of these samples will return results that identify such groupings.

        Then I’m left wondering “so, are there any differences between the groups or not?”

        This brings us to the matter of Finns and Sardinians.

        If we accept that the populations of Finns and Sardinians are different enough from the rest of the Europeans to justify removing them from studies, we have essentially already conceded the central point. How is that different than saying “Finns and Sardinians aren’t really Europeans”?

        My difficulty is in squaring what I am told by the authors is respectable science (which I have no reason to doubt) and the inferences I’m supposed to be drawing from this, which don’t follow.

        • Enkidum says:

          Then I’m left wondering “so, are there any differences between the groups or not?”

          It’s a difficult question to answer. If I take, say, 300 people randomly sampled from some population, split them into 3 arbitrary groups, and measure every individual along a bunch of different variables, I will find differences between the groups assuming I have measured enough variables.

          There are ways to control for this statistically, but they are imperfect. I think what they’re arguing is that we should think of many putative racial differences along these lines. I don’t know enough to judge the accuracy of the claim, though.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            It’s a difficult question to answer. If I take, say, 300 people randomly sampled from some population, split them into 3 arbitrary groups, and measure every individual along a bunch of different variables, I will find differences between the groups assuming I have measured enough variables.

            But Finnish and Sardinians aren’t random groups, they are people from specific regions of Europe, with very well defined languages and cultural identities. The Finnish language is one of the few non-Indo-European languages in Europe, the Sardinian language is the Romance language most closely related to Latin with plenty of archaic features lost in the other languages. The fact that Finnish and Sardinians form genetically recognizable groups is good evidence that population genetics tend to track cultural identities pretty closely.

          • Enkidum says:

            The fact that Finnish and Sardinians form genetically recognizable groups is good evidence that population genetics tend to track cultural identities pretty closely.

            At the level of Finns and Sardinians, sure. Not at the level of “Europeans” or, even worse, “white people”. In fact, the former is evidence against the latter, isn’t it?

          • albatross11 says:

            One helpful mental exercise: Imagine drawing out the family trees of people from (say) Germany vs (say) Nigeria vs (say) Thailand. Sample a few hundred people from each region who believe themselves to be natives there. For each one, draw a family tree back 20 generations. There are about a million slots for distant relatives 20 generations back.

            If you look at many different people from Nigeria, you’ll see that they tend to share a lot of ancestors if you go back a few generations. Same with people from Germany and people from Thailand. That won’t always be true (someone may have a father adopted from far away and not know it), and it will be true to a different extent for different pairs of people, but in general, people whose ancestors are from a given area tend to share ancestors.

            Now, just given that a lot of stuff is somewhat heritable, you can guess that the Nigerians and the Germans and the Thais are each going to have some inherited differences. Some of them are visible–a small child can notice the differences between Thais, Germans, and Nigerians. Some of them are subtle and invisible–Thais and Germans don’t carry much of the sickle-cell gene, but Nigerians often do. There must be a lot of other stuff that we don’t even know about that’s inherited, too, and that will differ across these groups.

            This is more-or-less how Steve Sailer describes races–basically partly-inbred very extended families. That works better for Germans than for Europeans, and works still better for mostly-endogamous groups (Jews in Europe, Jati in India, overseas Chinese in the rest of Asia).

            Germans and Thais and Nigerians were pretty isolated from one another over most of human history. They faced different environments, different survival challenges, different cultures–they lived in pretty different worlds. It shouldn’t be shocking if they ended up with different genetic adaptations as a result. Indeed, we know of some stuff–lactose tolerance and adaptations to malaria are adaptations to conditions. Cultural stuff like how you farm, what kind of government you have, and what family-formation rules look must have some impact on this stuff. American Indians seem to be very susceptible to alcoholism and diabetes relative to Europeans–this makes sense if you think of the much longer history of Europeans living on farmed grain and brewing beer/wine/etc., vs American Indians. (A lot of Indian tribes had farming, and in Central/South America it was very extensive, but it was younger in the Americas than in Europe and Asia and North Africa, so there were fewer generations over which selection could act.). There seem to be differences between people whose ancestors lived in places where cousin marriage and large kin groups were normal, vs those whose ancestors lived in places where they weren’t[1].

            That doesn’t tell us what differences exist between those groups, but it tells us that the existence of some noticeable differences shouldn’t be a total shock.

            [1] h.bd chick talks about this a lot.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            At the level of Finns and Sardinians, sure. Not at the level of “Europeans” or, even worse, “white people”. In fact, the former is evidence against the latter, isn’t it?

            I don’t want to assume anything about you, so please tell me: are you from the US?

            If so, you may wish to consider that historical racial prejudices rarely tracked the level of “Europeans” or “white people”. To the best of my knowledge, prejudice at the “Finns” or “Sardinians” level was much more common.

            You don’t even have to go back very far. My grandparents were young adults during WWII – the one where our next door neighbours rolled in with the desire to eliminate us because we were a lesser race. Mind you, that was put on hold until they were done with the Jews, but it’s not like they got nothing done.

            For me, living in Europe and somewhat acquainted with its history, the idea of some kind of “brotherhood of white people” is laughable. If Deiseach were here, she’d surely have a few choice things to say about how well the (white) Irish fared under the (white) English.

          • albatross11 says:

            You might also want to ask the Serbs and Croats if racial hatred requires a lot of genetic distance. Outsiders can’t tell them apart, they speak more-or-less the same language, and yet….

          • Machine Interface says:

            @viVI_IViv

            population genetics tend to track cultural identities pretty closely

            Except, not really? The Turks of Anatolia have a lot more in common genetically with their Greek and Armenian neighbors than with the Turks of Central Asia — and that even as the Turkish and Turkmen languages remain highly mutually intelligible (but meanwhile, Turkmen is inintelligible with its next door Turkic neighbors Kazakh and Uzbek, even though their speakers are very close genetically)!

            That genetic is a good predictor of geographical origin is one thing, but it’s only a predictor of culture to the extense that you already know which cutlure is associated with which area.

          • Enkidum says:

            I’m Canadian, of British descent.

            you may wish to consider that historical racial prejudices rarely tracked the level of “Europeans” or “white people”. To the best of my knowledge, prejudice at the “Finns” or “Sardinians” level was much more common.

            So… both the claims in the originally-linked post and this anecdata point towards the notion of the “big five” races being poor biological categories?

            That being said, there are various other studies discussed in this thread of genetic clusters correlating reasonably closely with these big five categories. I’m not capable of judging the evidence that well (and haven’t even read any of the studies).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            So… both the claims in the originally-linked post and this anecdata point towards the notion of the “big five” races being poor biological categories?

            What are the big five races? The five races identified by Carlton Coon in 1960? Pygmy-Bushman, Black African, Causcasoid, East Asian, Australian. They have been confirmed by every advance in genetics, from Cavalli-Sforza in 1994 to the present day.

            What relevant claims are there in the original paper? It’s really hard for me to tell if they’re saying anything. If you think that they’re saying something, you should spell out what.

            The only refinement is that the Pygmy-Bushman group deserves some subdivision, but since that’s only a million people, it hasn’t been studied carefully. I think Pygmies are about as similar to Bushmen as Out of Africa groups to Black Africans. East and West Pygmies are about as different as Caucasoids and East Asians. Maybe they’re hinting at this, but it’s pretty weird that they don’t say so. Anyhow, refining one branch does not invalidate the other branches.

          • quanta413 says:

            So… both the claims in the originally-linked post and this anecdata point towards the notion of the “big five” races being poor biological categories?

            Not that poor. Not perfect, but very good compared to what the authors are arguing (that it’s almost total nonsense). They’re attacking a bizarre straw man. Clustering humans into a finite number of groups is dividing up a species whose ancestry is sort of like a tree where branches merge again. On the individual level, they merge a lot. One the population level often times much less so. Trying to break a species into smaller groups is a pretty common thing to do when trying to classify members of single species who spread across a broad range. It’s understood that this doesn’t make a perfect picture of what happened. They aren’t making many new observations that informed racists (real or accused) didn’t know.

            It’s not like people using the big five grouping or something similar were unaware of the merging of branches. This is not new knowledge. Everyone has known for centuries that many Mexicans are descended from two (or three) of the big clusters. You can’t accurately say Mexicans belong to a single cluster. The implications of intermarriage and breeding for classifying human groups is discussed in The Descent of Man (1871 by Darwin). People back then knew people like me existed in rather large numbers and knew what that implied. The advent of DNA sequencing technology has not caused the scales to fall from our eyes.

            The authors are implying as strongly as possible while trying to avoid stating it that scientists in the 19th century (who like almost all people across history were often pretty racist) were also idiots who somehow hadn’t noticed the biological implications of history. Early scientists had to use non-DNA tools to try to classify humans in a similar way to how paleontologists still classify many species (or clades which is the much more natural concept). Of course, modern paleontologists are better at it, but you’d expect that after more than 100 years.

            Many of the authors’ arguments apply to attempts to understand biological classifications for anything we don’t have DNA samples sequenced from which is most of what has ever lived. Barely extending the authors’ reasoning, the fact you can’t certainly pin down the topology of the line of descent of ancient mammals with DNA would imply you can’t really say which fossils were mammals and which were dinosaurs with enough accuracy to consider those useful biological groupings.

            Has sequencing led to revisions to many previous trees of descent? Sure. But it often confirmed them too. Trees made by careful study of physical and biological differences are a lot better than random guesses even when they aren’t totally correct.

            It irritates me, because they’re basically stamping on part of their own field (that they either don’t have a clue about or are deliberately ignoring) in order to gain some sort of supposed… something? It’s not even clear they’ve thought through how little these details matter to any moral or political question. If it had turned out that all humans ancestries coalesced in AD 1000, what difference would that make to any moral question? None. Racism doesn’t flow from some sort of careful consideration of phylogeny; it flows from some sort of human xenophobic instincts.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if those instincts had damaged some scientists’ attempts to build trees of human relationships. Especially at a finer level than continental groupings or when trying to sort human populations along a cline. But I have never read a rebuttal that actually looks at some old scientists’ classification system and then points out how their bias would have led them to make various mistakes. Instead, giving examples seems to be studiously avoided. Surely someone must have flipped through The Descent of Man and noted where Darwin made mistakes in the discussion of human evolution. He must have at least many small scale mistakes considering how much we’ve learned since then. Something written about that could be interesting and informative.

          • Machine Interface says:

            @Douglas Knight

            It’s good to know that “every advance in genetics” confirm a grouping where Siberians and Native Americans do not exist.

          • bullseye says:

            If so, you may wish to consider that historical racial prejudices rarely tracked the level of “Europeans” or “white people”. To the best of my knowledge, prejudice at the “Finns” or “Sardinians” level was much more common.

            I’m reminded of Benjamin Franklin. He complained about nonwhite immigration to America. He was talking about Germans, whom he described as “swarthy”. (But not Saxons. They’re white, obviously.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What are the big five races? The five races identified by Carlton Coon in 1960? Pygmy-Bushman, Black African, Causcasoid, East Asian, Australian. They have been confirmed by every advance in genetics, from Cavalli-Sforza in 1994 to the present day.

            The only refinement is that the Pygmy-Bushman group deserves some subdivision, but since that’s only a million people, it hasn’t been studied carefully.

            FWIW, my superficial observations as a well-read/seen-a-lotta-photos layperson is that “Black African” can at least be divided into “Nilotic” (traditionally pastoralists, genetically predisposed to be tall and skinny), “the rest” (West African, Bantu-speakers, et al) and “Caucasoid admixed” (Ethiopians, presumably ancient Egyptians). “Caucasoid” into “white” and “brown” (and perhaps in the past there were isolated “white” populations with the recessive genes for different hair and eye colors fixed, meaning you could divide into “brown”, “fair-skinned brunette”, “redhead” and “blond” instead), and “East Asian” into a bunch (do Siberians cluster with Native Americans or other fair-skinned Northeast Asians? Are Malayo-Polynesians different from darker-skinned mainland East Asians? Where do Filipinos, Melanesians, and Negritos fit in?)
            And superficial racial differences don’t seem to tell us much of what’s scientifically interesting. It doesn’t reveal whether Tibetans and Andean Indians are there own altitude-adapted “races”, disease predispositions, IQ, or stuff like that.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Sure, you can subdivide any of the races, but Nilotic peoples are very closely related to Bantu peoples.

            Correction: there has been change since Coon’s time, but almost all on the details of the Pygmy-Bushmen group. I now think that he and Cavalli-Sforza included Pygmies with Black Africans. Both of them seem to have made a bunch of claims of groups being related to Pygmies or Bushmen that have probably been refuted (eg, Ethiopians!). Pygmies are now are known to be quite distant from their Bantu neighbors. I’m pretty sure that will not be overturned. It currently appears that Pygmies are related to Bushmen, but maybe that’s an illusion.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      We can see these local adaptations in our DNA. But they only hold for a minority of traits. Most traits have very real genetic and physical differences between individuals, but any group differences do not correspond to traditional race categories such as height, or the susceptibility to type 2 diabetes in an environment with ready access to food.

      I’m confused by that last sentence. Is it saying that height does or does not correspond to traditional race categories?

      Also, there’s an important question I’m not sure if they answered. Why doesn’t their argument against genetic basis for intelligence also apply to height? There is no question that on average the Japanese are shorter than Norwegians, and there’s really no plausible non-genetic explanation for this. Why couldn’t it be true that Japanese also have higher average IQ, and that this has a genetic basis?

      • bullseye says:

        That’s a darn awkward sentence, but it looks to me like he is saying height is one of the few traits that does line up with traditional race categories. If he *is* saying that, I’m surprised.

        Americans of East Asian descent are as tall as any other American. The only actual racial height differences I know of are pygmies, Inuit (short and heavy for cold resistance), and possibly some African groups (tall and thin for heat resistance, or maybe not, they’re not sure).

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          I think they’re trying to say the opposite:

          Most traits have very real genetic and physical differences between individuals, but any group differences, such as height or the susceptibility to type 2 diabetes in an environment with ready access to food, do not correspond to traditional race categories.

          (note reordered clauses)
          but didn’t proofread very well.

        • Enkidum says:

          The tallest people in the world are, I believe, the Masai of Kenya and, weirdly, the Dutch. Pretty sure both are genetic.

          • Aapje says:

            The Masai and the Dutch both have a very milk-heavy diet. When I went to primary school, we got subsidized milk to drink at lunch time.

            Milk is designed to facilitate growth.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @Aapje
            I recieved the same subsidized milk in School, I think this is a leftover from post-war malnutrition messaures. Dutch (or rather Dutch and Frisieans) are noticeable larger than the German mean.

          • bullseye says:

            Western Europeans in general are taller than anyone else, including their kin in America. I don’t think it’s genetic.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @bullseye

            Are they? I was under the impression that white Americans had been taller than Europeans through the 50s due to better nutrition, but that Europeans had caught up with us just recently.

            Are you sure that you aren’t looking at the general American height (which includes mestizos and African-Americans, who are shorter)?

          • quanta413 says:

            Western Europeans in general are taller than anyone else, including their kin in America. I don’t think it’s genetic.

            I thought it was just some of the continental Europeans who were taller than Americans. Not the English.

            I’d want to see a breakdown of height by much narrower ancestries. If Englishmen are just shorter and white Americans are mostly descended from Englishmen, then there’s not a mystery in that Americans on average would be shorter than many Europeans on average. There’s a stereotype that Scandinavian-Americans are taller and heavier than usual. No stereotype like that for Irish-Americans.

          • Plumber says:

            quanta413 says: “I thought it was just some of the continental Europeans who were taller than Americans. Not the English.

            I’d want to see a breakdown of height by much narrower ancestries. If Englishmen are just shorter and white Americans are mostly descended from Englishmen, then there’s not a mystery in that Americans on average would be shorter than many Europeans on average. There’s a stereotype that Scandinavian-Americans are taller and heavier than usual. No stereotype like that for Irish-Americans”

            German ancestry is more common than English ancestry in the U.S.A.

          • quanta413 says:

            German ancestry is more common than English ancestry in the U.S.A.

            Survey data matches biological classifications decently if you ask people something like “Are you white, are you black, are you Asian, etc.?” Really broad classifications basically. Survey data asking “Did you have any ancestors from this country or small region?” is much less accurate if ancestors immigrated many generations ago. Americans often fail to report English ancestry.

            A lot of Americans have almost forgotten that they have English ancestors it’s been so long. They long ago ceased to think of themselves as “English” and think of themselves as “American”. You can see this especially in a lot of Southern states on those survey maps where people report “American” ancestry. They don’t mean Native American; that’s usually largely going to be English, Scottish, or maybe Irish.

          • Enkidum says:

            Canadians got subsidized milk as well. The Dutch are taller (and taller than other white Europeans).

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Canadians got subsidized milk as well

            Yes but we also have supply management for milk, specially in Quebec. Your typical bag of milk costs $4.35 in Ontario, and like $7.99 in Quebec.

          • Enkidum says:

            Oh all Canadian grocery prices are absurd (especially dairy products) due to horrible management. I meant we got free milk in grade school, and Canadians drink a shit-ton of milk. Can’t stand the stuff any more myself.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @jermo sapiens

            Your typical bag of milk costs $4.35 in Ontario, and like $7.99 in Quebec.

            Is that a typo, or does canadian milk come in gallon-sized bags?

            Also what exactly is “supply management” and does anyone actually think it’s a good idea?

          • Enkidum says:

            It is not a typo, in Ontario and several other provinces milk comes in 4L bags.

            Supply management… I don’t have a precise definition, but there is essentially a heavily government-controlled dairy industry throughout Canada.

          • nkurz says:

            > in Ontario and several other provinces milk comes in 4L bags.

            Perhaps too small to correct, but I don’t think 4L bags are ever used as the actual packaging. In Eastern Canada it’s typically packaged in smaller bags (1.33 L) that are sold in groups of 3 (for a total of 4L). In other places 1L bags are used. The bags are typically set into a specially sized pitcher, and then the corner is cut off the bag for pouring: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_bag.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          Americans of East Asian descent are as tall as any other American.

          Interesting if true. Do you have a source for this?

          • bullseye says:

            Anecdotal. I’ve met a lot of them.

            A brief Google search suggests that white and black men in the U.S. are a few inches taller than Asians and Hispanics, but that probably includes immigrants. Also it’s all self-reported.

          • JayT says:

            I’ve met very few 6′ Asians, but whites and blacks over 6″ are a dime a dozen. I seriously doubt that on average American-born Asians are as tall as any other American. At least, for men. Women seem to be closer.

    • Atlas says:

      I haven’t read either the original essay or the replies to it, but here’s one by James Thompson and one by Steve Sailer (only on the claim about genetic diversity in Africa) for anyone interested in this subject.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I find it puzzling when experts want to claim that they know something, but don’t want to share that knowledge, but just condemn laymen for using outdated knowledge. Even in cases where there is no political valence, like the tongue taste map.

      It is true that often things taken as discrete categories are actually continua. There is no good place to divide Europeans from Indians. There are no sharp lines on the tongue. The paper doing genetic clustering of modern-day Americans explicitly admits that the horizontal stripes are artifacts of applying a clustering algorithm to continuous data. They don’t quite explain why they made this mistake. I think they decided to use clustering ahead of time and felt committed to it. A better reason would be that they couldn’t figure out a better way to visualize the data. They really do find that there is more east-west relatedness than north-south and they want to show this. This is only a problem if (1) people don’t notice the disclaimer and (2) people are really enthusiastic about matching this to the groups in a history book the authors probably didn’t even know about. If they had chosen 4 groups, matching Fischer’s number, it might have been worse, but since they just happened to choose a different number, I don’t think anyone actually drew any false conclusions from it.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      This article has convinced me that:

      * The “traditionally-defined races” might not be the most biologically accurate categorization at the scale they attempt to categorize. (i.e. “Asian” may be too broad or narrow a category relative to “White”, etc.)
      * It is difficult to determine the degree to which differences in a trait between populations are due to genetics vs. environment vs. randomness, because there are a zillion potential confounders.

      It has not convinced me that:

      * Race is not biologically determined.
      * It is implausible that genetic differences between populations is responsible for a significant proportion of the observed variation in IQ between those populations.

      In trying to prove that last point, they begin with a somewhat reasonable argument that the genetic variants known to be associated with high IQ in Europeans are also present in Africans; but then they immediately pivot to bashing the nonsensical strawman that the genes for skin color directly determine intelligence. Ironically, this whole paragraph follows their own statement that “anyone who tells you that there’s good evidence on how much genetics explain group differences (rather than individual differences) is fooling you – or fooling themselves.”

      • albatross11 says:

        So, there’s a point in their writeup I very strongly agree with, w.r.t. IQ and race. They talk about the average IQs in sub-Saharan African countries and point out that a lot of the low average IQ in those countries is likely environmental. I think this is almost certainly correct–the environment in a lot of sub-Saharan Africa is so different from developed Western nations that IMO it’s really hard to infer anything about genetic differences driving or not driving the observed IQ differences.

        I think that argument is much, much harder to make in western countries with substantial black populations (US, Canada, UK, France)–conditions are still not identical between blacks and whites, but they’re much closer and we’ve applied the same Flynn-effect-inducing things to black communities as to white communities–improved public health, better nutrition (including supplements added to common foods to avoid deficiency diseases), universal schooling. Because there are still differences in environments, you can’t rule out a 100% environmental cause for the observed black/white IQ gap in the US. But the difference in environments between American blacks and whites of similar social class and income is not very big, so attributing a 10-15 point IQ gap to it seems like a pretty big stretch to me.

        Still, we can’t be sure about the cause of the IQ gap now–that’s still an open research problem. I’m fine with saying “nobody knows enough to say with confidence what the cause of the IQ gap is.” But that should probably mean condemning people who speculate that it’s 100% environmental just as hard as you condemn people who speculate that it’s 100% genetic.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Because there are still differences in environments, you can’t rule out a 100% environmental cause for the observed black/white IQ gap in the US.

          But you can compare between different countries. African Americans are, on average, wealthier than people from Eastern European countries and most Asian countries, yet they have lower IQ.

          It seems hard to argue that e.g. the average Vietnamese has access to better food, better education and less pollution and parasite load than the average African American. If the genetic IQ baselines were the same then Flynn effect should predict a higher average IQ in African Americans, contrary to observation.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            It seems hard to argue that e.g. the average Vietnamese has access to better food (…) than the average African American.

            It is actually very easy. Vietnamese cuisine is light and healthy. There was in one of previous open thread research about obesity that had Vietnamese as the least obese nation in the world, along with other, much richer East Asian nations, while Americans were among the worst, and I am firmly convinced that diet has a lot to do with that.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Specifically for the US I blame Jim Crow. There was a really long period of time where being conspiciously successful might get an african-american literally murdered. Not in numbers sufficient to do anything to the genepool, but certainly enough to poison the subculture good and hard.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Specifically for the US I blame Jim Crow.

            The UK has no history of Jim Crow, and had very few African slaves (slavery wasn’t even legal since the 12th century except in the colonies), yet black British perform similarly to black Americans.

          • Enkidum says:

            Aren’t virtually all UK blacks immigrants from the Caribbean – aka the descendants of slaves?

          • Statismagician says:

            EDIT: Ignore; got the point backwards.

          • JayT says:

            Aren’t virtually all UK blacks immigrants from the Caribbean – aka the descendants of slaves?

            I’m not sure about historically, but the current foreign born population in the UK has both South Africa and Nigeria ahead of Jamaica, and I’m not seeing any other Caribbean countries with large populations. This doesn’t tell us about UK-born people though, but even then, just judging by these numbers compared to the number of blacks in the UK, I would be surprised if this were true.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign-born_population_of_the_United_Kingdom

    • albatross11 says:

      Having read the thing now, I think I understand what they were trying to do. There’s a thread of occasional conversation in the big wide world that says something like “genetics and IQ prove that the racial group I’ve always hated is indeed inferior and deserving only of abuse.” And it’s worthwhile to push back on that, but you don’t want to overstate what’s known.

      The reality, as I understand it[1], is that:

      a. Some stuff in genetics agrees with older racial categories, some stuff doesn’t. The world is messier than any simple model can account for, but you don’t actually go that far wrong thinking of the world in terms of Europeans, East Asians, South Asians, American Indians, Australian Aboriginees, and Africans. Depending on where you’re looking, you may want more categories for Africans (there’s lots of genetic diversity but it’s mostly very geographically concentrated and not seen much outside Africa).

      But you need to remember that these are fuzzy, messy categories. There’s been interbreeding basically anytime people from different groups met, because humans are like that. Each of these groups is itself huge and highly varied, and there are groups within them that are very different from the group average. (For example, Africans average relatively lower IQs than everyone else, but Igbo seem to do really well in intellectually demanding fields. Most Europeans can drink milk as adults, but some groups of Europeans can’t. Most East Asians are happiest close to sea level, but Sherpas have a bunch of science-fictiony altitude adaptations–most American Indians also like it closer to the ground, but Indians in the Andes also have altitude adaptations. And so on. Biology is messy and complicated and doesn’t give a rip about our nice categories.

      b. Everywhere you can compare them, blacks end up with lower average IQ scores than whites, who end up with lower average IQ scores than East Asians. Eastern European Jews tend to end up with higher average IQ scores than anyone else, but I bet there are merchantile jati in India that have comparable IQ scores when they’re in a first-world environment. So if you’re a white nationalist, you can convince yourself that whites are superior, but you kinda have to come up with some justification for excluding Asians and Jews to do so[2]. Otherwise, we’re not the master race, we’re just not completely on the bottom.

      c. Thinking about “master races” or “inferior races” is just silly. Racial groups are huge, diverse, messy things. Even within the US, where things are less messy because almost all blacks came from a particular region of Africa (via the slave trade) and we’ve done a lot to equalize the environment, what you get is overlapping bell curves. The smartest blacks are really smart; the dumbest Eastern European Jews are really dumb. If you meet a black physicist or mathematician or cardiologist, they’re going to be really smart. If you meet a Chinese janitor, he’s probably not going to be very smart.

      Think about the different grades in a school. There is probably a kid in the 4th grade who’s a better reader than almost anyone in the 8th grade, and yet, on average, the 8th graders are much better readers than the 4th graders. There’s probably a kid in the 6th grade who’s taller than almost all the 8th graders, yet on average the 8th graders are a lot taller than the 6th graders. There’s probably a girl in the 8th grade who’s taller than most of the boys, yet on average the 8th grade boys are taller. And so on.

      Everyone who’s not used to thinking about statistics gets wrapped around the axle about this stuff all the time, because they can’t distinguish between individuals drawn from a distribution and averages of a distribution. Neil de Grasse Tyson doesn’t disprove the IQ gap. Nor does the IQ gap mean that you’re smarter than Tyson just because you’re white.

      And IQ is one axis on which we vary, but there are hundreds that matter in different situations. No way is any one group best at everything. We even know this from direct observation–count Nobel prizes/Fields medals, and then count Olympic medals in sprinting events, and you’ll see two different “master races.” Change to different criteria and you’ll get different rankings. And all will be rough rankings with a lot of messy outliers from every group.

      [1] I am an interested amateur in the relevant fields, not an expert. Add grains of salt to taste.

      [2] The line of reasoning I’ve seen for this is something like “Yeah, but Asians aren’t *creative* like Europeans.” This is totally plausible, unless you’re even slightly familiar with the cultural output of Japan.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        The smartest blacks are really smart; the dumbest Eastern European Jews are really dumb. If you meet a black physicist or mathematician or cardiologist, they’re going to be really smart. If you meet a Chinese janitor, he’s probably not going to be very smart.

        Yes, this is obvious to anyone who has not appeared as a KKK Grand Wizard on Jerry Springer. We know what the solution is and we’ve known it for some time: treat people as individuals instead of members of racial groups.

        Any significant forces acting against this solution today come from the progressives, with disparate impact and affirmative action as active policies, and intersectionality/white privilege as a social theory.

        • EchoChaos says:

          The other problem comes from people with a bad understanding of averages.

          If the IQ curve of whites is lower than Asians (and it probably is), then a team hired for a job that requires 115 IQ minimum will have a percentage of Asians higher than the national average. This isn’t evidence that they aren’t treating every applicant as an individual, it’s in fact evidence that they probably are.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Yes indeed. Specially the part where if two normal distributions have slightly different means, the proportions of individuals in the tails vary widely.

            An example Jordan Peterson uses often is that if you randomly select a man and a woman, the man will be the most aggressive one only 60% of the time. But if you look at the most aggressive people in society, it’s 95% men.

            Or just use 100m sprint. I’m not sure what the average is for whites and for blacks (in the USA), but I would expect the white average to be only slightly worse than the black average. Yet it’s been since about 1980 the 100m final at every olympic is all west-african (in origin).

            That said, Matthew Boling seems on course to eventually break the [some relevant material] ceiling.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, 80% of people are really bad at statistics and the other 30% are mostly just mediocre.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        So if you’re a white nationalist, you can convince yourself that whites are superior, but you kinda have to come up with some justification for excluding Asians and Jews to do so[2].

        I’ve seen some white nationalists bite the bullet on that one and just go with it. Strictly speaking it doesn’t contradict white nationalism, only white supremacy. These obviously have a fair bit of overlap, but it’s possible to desire one without the other.

        • albatross11 says:

          At some point, we’re out of the realm of factual questions and onto value questions. Science can’t answer value questions, anymore than markets or elections can.

          There are people who would rather associate only with people of their own race, without making any particular claim about racial superiority or anything. You may think that’s screwy (I do), but it’s not screwy because of an incorrect factual understanding of the world. No findings from genetics or psychometrics are going to change those folks’ minds–they have fundamentally different values than I do.

          Somewhere in here is the distinction Nancy made awhile back about the difference between “we hate you” separatists and “we like us” separatists.

    • J Mann says:

      Thanks for the link. I’m not qualified to test the assertions, but the ones that I found most interesting are:

      1) There is currently no way to do a defensible scientific analysis of whether inter-“racial” complex genetic traits such as height, intelligence, or (presumably most) disease susceptibility vary between “racial” groups based on genetics or environment, or what proportion if both. Despite advances in genomics, there is no prediction on when we will be able to do a credible genetic analysis of these factors.

      2) However, “hints” strongly indicate against a substantial genetic component to any inter-racial differences in intelligence. In particular:

      (a) the genetic factors that are associated with intelligence in people of European descent are also observed in other populations (presumably with similar frequency);

      (b) there is no evidence of those factors being “obviously selected for[] in recent evolutionary history outside Africa;” and

      (c) “Moreover, since it is a complex trait, the genetic variation related to IQ is broadly distributed across the genome, rather than being clustered around a few spots, as is the nature of the variation responsible for skin pigmentation. These very different patterns for these two traits mean that the genes responsible for determining skin pigmentation cannot be meaningfully associated with the genes currently known to be linked to IQ. These observations alone rule out some of the cruder racial narratives about the genetics of intelligence: it is virtually inconceivable that the primary determinant of racial categories – that is skin colour – is strongly associated with the genetic architecture that relates to intelligence.”

      • Clutzy says:

        “Moreover, since it is a complex trait, the genetic variation related to IQ is broadly distributed across the genome, rather than being clustered around a few spots, as is the nature of the variation responsible for skin pigmentation. These very different patterns for these two traits mean that the genes responsible for determining skin pigmentation cannot be meaningfully associated with the genes currently known to be linked to IQ. These observations alone rule out some of the cruder racial narratives about the genetics of intelligence: it is virtually inconceivable that the primary determinant of racial categories – that is skin colour – is strongly associated with the genetic architecture that relates to intelligence.”

        How is this even useful? Nobody proposes such an insane understanding. My mom doesn’t favor Granny Smith apples to the Red Delicious because she prefers green to red, nor does she ever think that the greenness causes her preference. She chooses them because of flavor and crispyness, which she would choose if the Granny Smith was red, orange, or blue.

        edit

        there is no evidence of those factors being “obviously selected for[] in recent evolutionary history outside Africa;” and

        Another thing that on further contemplation is totally useless. There is no evidence that intelligence was “obviously selected for” IN AFRICA. We only know the result of there being an emergence of intelligence. We know some things like that humans almost went extinct (possibly below 100 individuals IIRC). We know most people have more female ancestors than male. But we don’t know why those 100 survived. We don’t know if that event was a selection pressure that increased intelligence, or maybe it decreased intelligence temporarily. We only know that there are always selective pressures on any population, and then we can measure the results.

        • J Mann says:

          I’m not sure what the authors mean by “meaningfully associated” or “strongly associated.”

          In particular, I’m not sure if they’re only saying that there’s very little likelihood that the genes that cause differences in appearance are themselves also contributors to intelligence or if they’re going farther and saying that it’s virtually inconceivable that the appearance genes are co-variant with enough of the intelligence genes to make a difference.

        • albatross11 says:

          We do know that different populations were in very different environments for many, many generations. Different diseases, different availability of nutrients, different local hazards, different conditions overall. We know there were consequences for that–we see them in stuff like lactase persistence, differences in the way some people metabolize alcohol, altitude adaptations, disease resistance, blood types, etc., as well as the obvious physical appearance differences (differences in skin color, hair, eye color, eye folds, skeletal shape, pattern of musculature, etc.) And those are all really big, unsubtle differences we can see easily–a lot of that stuff, Darwin could have found out about.

          A lot of the stuff we care about, like height, tendency to obesity, intelligence, personality, emotional stability, etc., is probably a whole bunch of genes working together–sometimes a bunch of genes each with a small additive effect, sometimes a bunch of genes that make up several critical mechanisms with a certain amount of redundancy, and if you screw up too many of those paths you get some kind of failure. People trying to find those genes are doing huge sweeps and looking for pretty subtle statistical effects.

          I am not a geneticist, but I don’t see any reason to suspect that these subtle, hard-to-see genetic differences are inherently less likely to occur across racial groups than the simple, easily-seen ones we’ve known about for years. It seems to me that populations of humans that were separate for tens of thousands of years, under extremely different conditions, who developed lots of unsubtle obvious differences over some combination of different selective pressures and random stuff (drift and mutation), are very likely to have also developed lots of subtle differences as well. Is intelligence one of those? I don’t know, and as far as I can tell, neither does anyone else. But I sure don’t see why it’s unreasonable to think it *could* be.

      • albatross11 says:

        These observations alone rule out some of the cruder racial narratives about the genetics of intelligence: it is virtually inconceivable that the primary determinant of racial categories – that is skin colour – is strongly associated with the genetic architecture that relates to intelligence.

        This seems like beating up a strawman. Who, among serious human b-odiversity types, claims this? We know there is a correlation between observable racial features and gene frequencies–that’s why DNA tests can infer race, and why we observe stuff like different disease prevalences, lactase persistence, etc., across races. The actual claim is that some of the genes that affect IQ are correlated with observable racial features. This claim may be right or wrong, but beating up on this silly strawman isn’t addressing it.

  12. jermo sapiens says:

    Theories explaining Jesus’s life and resurrection, that do not rely on any supernatural elements.

    For example, Jesus was brought to India as a child to learn about Buddhism, returned to Israel to preach, got crucified, fell into a coma (or was drugged), was presumed dead, and came back to see his followers, before returning to India where he is buried in a tomb with a carving of his feet with showing the scars of the crucifixion.

    Arguments for/against this particular theory or any other theory like this would be most welcome.

    • EchoChaos says:

      The primary argument against it is that crucifixion is a really nasty way to die that would leave permanent harm and the idea that the Romans didn’t know how to identify a dead man is pretty implausible. Taking the Biblical account of the crucifixion as accurate, he lapsed into unconsciousness or death at about 3PM, but he was not removed from the cross until just before sunset, at which time his side was pierced in order to ensure his death.

      For this to be plausible, an unconscious man has to survive the asphyxiation created by crucifixion for three hours, survive a spear wound through the side and show no signs of life to a soldier used to what death actually looks like.

      Honestly, supernatural intervention is more likely.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        but he was not removed from the cross until just before sunset

        I didnt know about that. Thanks.

        the idea that the Romans didn’t know how to identify a dead man is pretty implausible

        Granted, but mistakes happen and there are cases which are more difficult than others. Also, to flip it around, I could say that the idea that no Roman soldier ever misidentified a dead man to be pretty implausible. To which you could answer, “yeah but if this is a rare occurrence, you would have to be pretty lucky for it to happen to the messiah”. And to that I could answer “maybe he wasnt the messiah when it happened to him, maybe he became the messiah because it happened to him”.

        Anyways, for me it’s really the carving of the feet in the tomb in India that prevent me from discarding this theory. That’s pretty messed up.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Granted, but mistakes happen and there are cases which are more difficult than others. Also, to flip it around, I could say that the idea that no Roman soldier ever misidentified a dead man to be pretty implausible.

          Never misidentified a dead man from an execution is a decently plausible claim, in my opinion.

          Surviving an execution and ALSO having the executioner think you’ve died is a really tight needle to thread, and I can be pretty confident that a good executioner isn’t going to miss that one.

          • Nick says:

            Never misidentified a dead man from an execution is a decently plausible claim, in my opinion.

            We don’t have to suppose the soldier never misidentified a dead man, we just have to consider what the probability he does is. If the probability for a given crucifixion is low, say one in ten or one in twenty, that’s already going to have a big impact.

            ETA: clarity

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Surviving an execution and ALSO having the executioner think you’ve died is a really tight needle to thread, and I can be pretty confident that a good executioner isn’t going to miss that one.

            It is a tight needle to thread. I’m not suggesting that it was likely or common. I’m suggesting that it’s possible. Even you cant help suggest that it’s possible, as evidenced by the qualifiers “pretty confident” and “good executioner”.

            Also, maybe the Roman soldier was paid off. I’m not saying he was. I’m just exploring possibilities.

            Obviously something extraordinary happened in Jesus’ life. It’s not every 1st century preacher that ends up spawning a religion followed by billions 2000 years after his life.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @jermo sapiens

            Leaving out my supernatural certainty that he did in fact die due to my religious experiences, as requested, obviously nobody can make a 100% statement about an event 2000 years ago.

            But to make it plausible, the crucifixion could not have happened as described by the Bible. The Biblical account is not survivable.

            At that point you’re just writing hypothetical fanfiction, since as far as I know there is no other detailed account of Jesus’s crucifixion to take into account.

            However, I’ll make this challenge. As far as I know there is no case of a crucified prisoner who survived that crucifixion unbeknownst to the executioners.

            If you can provide historical evidence of one, that would make me change my priors, but right now my priors are “if the executioner says a prisoner is dead from crucifixion, he is 100% dead.” Just as it would be if an executioner says a prisoner is dead from lethal injection.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Leaving out my supernatural certainty that he did in fact die due to my religious experiences, as requested, obviously nobody can make a 100% statement about an event 2000 years ago.

            This whole thread is not about proving or disproving anything, supernatural or not. I’m very open minded about supernatural things being real, but I prefer natural causes for obvious reasons.

            As a quick aside, my view is that if your faith requires you to be certain about anything, it may shatter upon finding contradictory evidence, and this makes it fragile. I’m generally agnostic but I lean towards believing in a God who wrote his commandments on the human heart. This helps me deal with my most basic disagreement I have about organized religion, which I can best relate by recounting this conversation I had with my father as a teenager:

            Me: So did we win the religion lottery, by being born in the “correct religion”?

            My dad: yes

            Me: So if we were born something else we would be condemned to hell for eternity?

            My dad: yes, unless you used your conscience to guide you towards the correct religion

            Me: (forever cynical about what my dad says about religion)

            You say the Bibilical account is not survivable. Fair enough. Maybe the Biblical account is not 100% accurate.

            Also, this is not a Roman soldier making a mistake about someone being dead, but 3 doctors, in Spain, in 2018.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @jermo sapiens

            Faith requires certainty of some things, obviously. That doesn’t trouble me. I believe in Christ because he is the Truth. I wouldn’t want to believe in a lie. If I discovered I was following a lie, then my faith would in fact BE worthless.

            1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

            I want to believe what is true.

            Also, this is not a Roman soldier making a mistake about someone being dead, but 3 doctors, in Spain, in 2018.

            Absolutely. He was not, in fact executed and checked by people whose job is to kill people and make sure they stay dead.

            That kind of mistake makes sense. Crucifixion less so.

          • Aapje says:

            @EchoChaos

            The bible is quite inconsistent, so it can’t all be literally true.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aapje

            This is a bit different subthread, but the ones I looked over there were pretty weak and I knew the reasons for every one I checked.

            I don’t have time to check every single one, nor the patience.

            The idea that believing Biblical scholars for thousands of years have somehow missed all of these is frustratingly myopic as well. Christians know the Bible well, we study it as a matter of practice.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Faith requires certainty of some things, obviously. That doesn’t trouble me. I believe in Christ because he is the Truth. I wouldn’t want to believe in a lie. If I discovered I was following a lie, then my faith would in fact BE worthless.

            I disagree. Jesus’ teachings contain important moral truths. Turning the other cheek, and treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated are good teachings regardless of whether the resurrection was supernatural or not.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @jermo sapiens

            I think the only disagreement we have is over the meaning of faith.

            In a hypothetical world where I lost mine, following those teachings might still be good, but I would no longer have any faith.

            Either Jesus is the Incarnate Word or he is just some dude. If the latter, he might still be right about moral matters, but you would no more have faith in him than you would in Confucius.

          • DragonMilk says:

            As CS Lewis suggests, if you think Jesus is just a moral teacher, you are not really reading into his claims. Moral teachings are incidental to his claim of divinity. So he’s either a lunatic or who he claims to be.

            So you have to decide whether you’re nodding at the ramblings of a lunatic who also happened to make moral points, or start considering his claims of divinity, which is inherently a supernatural thing.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I think the only disagreement we have is over the meaning of faith.

            Probably. I have low religiosity and spirituality in general. I’ve never been anything other than extremely bored in church, but I dislike atheism to the extent it makes claims about knowing the unknowable, and I cant rationally convince myself with certainty that either God doesnt exist or even that Christianity is false.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @ jermo, generally church won’t be making arguments for belief as most sermons assume you’ve already bought in. Instead, they come in the form of, “if you believe what you say you do, you should do this”

            And so, I give you the following for consideration to see if you find it boring.

          • Nick says:

            Probably. I have low religiosity and spirituality in general. I’ve never been anything other than extremely bored in church, but I dislike atheism to the extent it makes claims about knowing the unknowable, and I cant rationally convince myself with certainty that either God doesnt exist or even that Christianity is false.

            Why don’t you start with things like proofs of God’s existence, then? I have low “spirituality,” too, but that hasn’t stopped me from grasping the faith in an intellectual way.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            And so, I give you the following for consideration to see if you find it boring.

            Thanks. No time to watch it today but I’ll save it. As an aside, I did find Jordan Peterson’s lectures on Genesis to be very interesting, and thinking sermons should be more like that. But that would probably just change the set of people who find sermons boring from one to another.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Why don’t you start with things like proofs of God’s existence

            I would love to see one.

          • albatross11 says:

            A few years ago, we had a Mexican priest in Spanish mass at my church (I was mostly attending Spanish mass then) who was in the US doing some kind of advanced study in theology. His homilies were almost exactly like classroom lectures. I loved them–they had a structure I was familiar with that helped me get a lot of information even in my second language. But I had the sense that most of the people in the church found them kinda boring and long….

          • Nick says:

            I’ve heard a lot of pretty terrible homilies. Some of them were nothing but a disconnected series of stories from the priest’s life (or the deacon’s, if the priest is lazy) with a tenuous relation to the week’s readings. Others were trying to make a theological point but incoherently. Others were trying desperately to be cool every third or fifth sentence with a joke or a reference to pop culture. One priest I’ve had several times, I just can’t understand a word he says—he doesn’t have an accent or anything, but he mumbles the entire thing.

            What bothers me is that it’s mostly down to amateur speaking and writing, and this should be a solved problem. Millions of sermons have been delivered throughout the history of Christendom. All the best ones have been written down. For God’s sake, just use something written by a guy who can make a coherent point. And you do this several times a week your entire vocation, you can get good at it.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Nick

            or the deacon’s, if the priest is lazy

            Hey, some of us deacons are pretty good at public speaking.

            But yes, it is frustrating when you are paying someone to preach as their entire job and they phone it in.

            My sermons tend to be very data driven and very technical, although they do tend to assume worldviews.

            I have quoted SSC in sermons, though.

          • Nick says:

            @jermo sapiens

            I would love to see one.

            I think for most the place to start is with cosmological arguments like Aquinas’ first three ways. Unmoved Mover and all. I could present one, but not until I get home today.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Unmoved Mover and all.

            As in God set off the Big Bang? I generally agree with that.

            Other arguments I find very very hard to dismiss:
            -consciousness is not (yet?) explainable by any physics theory
            -the parameters are the universe seem uniquely tuned to create life (ie there’s no reason for an atheist that the Big Bang wasnt followed by billions of years of elementary particles just dispersing through space without doing anything interesting. Even the creation of atoms is remarkable and tiny changes to the charge/mass of electrons by a little bit would f*ck everything up, but not only that we have stars that create heavy atoms, we have water and its remarkable life-enabling properties, we have complex molecules like protein and DNA, the existence of which is just mind boggling, etc…)

          • Nick says:

            @jermo sapiens

            As in God set off the Big Bang? I generally agree with that.

            Nah, that would be a kalam argument. Aquinas didn’t believe it could be proved philosophically that the universe has not always existed. One problem with causation through time is that downstream effects often don’t need the continued existence of upstream causes; your grandparents are partly causes of you, but once your parents were around, grandma wasn’t necessary to your eventually being caused. So with causation across time it’s difficult if not impossible to rebut the suggestion that such causation has always happened, back in time forever.

            Aquinas by contrast relies on the existence of per se causal series, which are simultaneous in time. My desk holds up my coffee cup; the floor holds up my desk; the earth holds up the floor; something is responsible for the cup’s, desk’s, floor’s, and earth’s having mass and there being gravity, and so on. And the desk doesn’t have on its own the power to hold up the coffee cup; remove the earth or the floor and you’ll soon find the desk was intermediate, relying on something else being steady beneath it throughout. Given these things are happening, and given that the later effects still depend in this way on the earliest cause, whatever that is, we can’t just posit more and more things under the earth holding it up, or more and more mechanical laws underlying mass and gravity, the way we can posit more and more grandparents further back in time. We end up having to posit something that can cause them all without itself being caused. This is the Unmoved Mover.

            This is just a sketch, of course.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Nick

            Given these things are happening, and given that the later effects still depend in this way on the earliest cause, whatever that is, we can’t just posit more and more things under the earth holding it up, or more and more mechanical laws underlying mass and gravity, the way we can posit more and more grandparents further back in time. We end up having to posit something that can cause them all without itself being caused. This is the Unmoved Mover.

            I think this argument (Aquinas’ first or second way? not sure which, the original language is somewhat antiquated) holds up a lot better than the third through fifth ways. However, it only proves the existence of some Unmoved Mover, not necessarily the Catholic God, nor necessarily an entity remotely similar to that conception of God. A much more plausible Unmoved Mover, given what scientific inquiry since Aquinas has discovered, would be eternal and fundamental mathematical laws of physics.

            The Wikipedia summary says that Aquinas proceeds to present arguments for why his first mover / first efficient cause / maximal perfection has the attributes of the Christian God, so I’ll go ahead and read those to see if any seem plausible.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @jermo sapiens

            Probably. I have low religiosity and spirituality in general. I’ve never been anything other than extremely bored in church, but I dislike atheism to the extent it makes claims about knowing the unknowable, and I cant rationally convince myself with certainty that either God doesnt exist or even that Christianity is false.

            Many atheists don’t claim that they know for certain that God does not exist; only that they believe the existence of God is incredibly unlikely. I think it’s fair to round off “It is incredibly unlikely that God exists, to the point where I don’t even consider the possibility of His existence when making important decisions” to “God does not exist”, in the same way that it’s fair to round off “It’s incredibly unlikely that dragons exist [etc]” to “Dragons do not exist.” Some atheists go even further, eschewing the idea of absolute certainty altogether. (See EY’s 0 and 1 are not probabilities and How to convince me that 2+2=3.)

            I don’t agree that the existence/lack thereof of God is “unknowable”, either. I’m with Aquinas on this one:

            Yet from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot perfectly know God as He is in His essence.

            The God described in (choose your favorite version of) the Christian bible clearly has effects on the observable world. If we see effects that are more likely in a world with a God, that’s evidence of God; if we don’t see such effects, or make observations contradictory to His existence, that’s evidence against.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I don’t agree that the existence/lack thereof of God is “unknowable”, either. I’m with Aquinas on this one:

            Well that depends what you mean by God. If God is just a “first cause”, sure. If God is an omnipotent, omniscient eternal entity that cares about us and the moral choices we make, then we need more to establish his existence.

            That said, I think Pascal’s wager is reasonable, not because I fear eternity in Hell (the notion that God would cause you unspeakable pain for eternity as revenge for not following his rules is not one I’m comfortable with), but because following your conscience and living morally will give you a better life. For example, I’m tempted by the idea of having sex with tons of different women, but I know that’s not where happiness is found. Happiness is found in a loving family with children.

            So, the existence of a biblical God is unknowable, even if the existence of a first cause isnt. But we dont need to know for certain whether God exists, we need only try to live a good life as our conscience tells us.

            As an aside, I’ve always disliked the emphasis religious people put on “faith”. Basically, the idea is that God is happy if you *really really* believe what the priest says. It sounds like a cheap trick to make you feel guilty about having doubts. Yet if you turn that around to say have faith that behaving morally will lead to better outcomes in the long run, you can see where faith can be a useful quality.

          • Nick says:

            Well that depends what you mean by God. If God is just a “first cause”, sure. If God is an omnipotent, omniscient eternal entity that cares about us and the moral choices we make, then we need more to establish his existence.

            True. Per what thevoiceofthevoid says above, the argument I’ve alluded to doesn’t on its own even establish the divine attributes. You can get them all pretty easily, because notions like Aristotle’s act–potency distinction go really far, but it’s a distinct question.

            Whether this is the God of the Bible (or to flip it around, whether the Bible is a real source of revelation) is another distinct question, and a bigger one than the attributes. Notice all the discussion below about whether the Bible contradicts itself, which is all relevant to this. The old scholastic manuals used to treat the two in separate parts; one would be all the natural theology starting with something like the Unmoved Mover and then doing all the attributes, the other would show that the Bible and tradition are the two sources of revelation, sometimes going on to show how all sorts of doctrine can be traced to one or both.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Whether this is the God of the Bible

            It has to be. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, and he created the universe for us to lead our mortal lives, and then we start to worship a God, but it’s the wrong God, that’s on God, not on us! And given his omnipotence and omniscience, we have to assume he didnt make such a dumb mistake after doing a pretty good job of creating the universe.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            It has to be. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, and he created the universe for us to lead our mortal lives, and then we start to worship a God, but it’s the wrong God, that’s on God, not on us!

            So, does it have to be the God of the Bible? Or does it have to be the God of the Bhagavad Gita? Or of the Quran? Or the Torah? Or the Buddhavacana? Or the Book of Mormon? Or the Tao Te Ching?

          • jermo sapiens says:

            So, does it have to be the God of the Bible? Or does it have to be the God of the Bhagavad Gita? Or of the Quran? Or the Torah? Or the Buddhavacana? Or the Book of Mormon? Or the Tao Te Ching?

            Right, this is where it gets complicated.

          • DragonMilk says:

            As an aside, I’ve always disliked the emphasis religious people put on “faith”.

            Everyone puts their faith in something, it’s a matter of whether that something can actually sustain the burden. Your own reasoning, wealth, reputation, beauty, family, etc.

            For many today it’s self/own reasoning. Each person wants to be in control and not subject to anyone else. Individualized self-determination ultimately means you want it your way. And when it comes to God, that is hell in the end. He lets you go your own way.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @jermo sapiens

            That said, I think Pascal’s wager is reasonable, not because I fear eternity in Hell (the notion that God would cause you unspeakable pain for eternity as revenge for not following his rules is not one I’m comfortable with), but because following your conscience and living morally will give you a better life. For example, I’m tempted by the idea of having sex with tons of different women, but I know that’s not where happiness is found. Happiness is found in a loving family with children.

            Please don’t let anything I’m saying dissuade you from following your conscience and living morally! The conclusion of my brand of atheism is not that we should cast off our morals and ethics and live a life of maximal hedonism, but rather that we don’t need “God” to tell us how to follow our consciences and try to live the best life we can.

            And I wouldn’t call doing what you think will lead to long-term happiness a “Pascal’s wager”, I’d say it’s more of an “uncontroversially good idea.”

          • Jaskologist says:

            Tell me more about this “God of the Tao Te Ching.”

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Nick

            Per what thevoiceofthevoid says above, the argument I’ve alluded to doesn’t on its own even establish the divine attributes. You can get them all pretty easily, because notions like Aristotle’s act–potency distinction go really far, but it’s a distinct question.

            Would you be able to summarize these arguments? About an hour of googling has found me only arguments from scripture, ontological arguments which can just as easily prove the existence of the Omni-flavorful Hotdog, and references to Aquinas. Reading Aquinas himself gives me the distinct impression that I’m being Eulered:

            Now God is the first principle, not material, but in the order of efficient cause, which must be most perfect. For just as matter, as such, is merely potential, an agent, as such, is in the state of actuality. Hence, the first active principle must needs be most actual, and therefore most perfect; for a thing is perfect in proportion to its state of actuality, because we call that perfect which lacks nothing of the mode of its perfection.

            The closest he comes to actually defining “perfect” here is something that “lacks nothing of the mode of its perfection [???],” which seems rather circular. He then goes on to prove that literally everything that exists is perfect, using an argument that sounds to me more like Yoda’s “fear leads to anger” quote than an airtight proof:

            Now it is clear that a thing is desirable only in so far as it is perfect; for all desire their own perfection. But everything is perfect so far as it is actual. Therefore it is clear that a thing is perfect so far as it exists; for it is existence that makes all things actual, as is clear from the foregoing (Q. 3, A. 4; Q. 4, A. 1).

            Why does simply existing/being actual make something perfect? Does this not strip the word “perfect” of any kind of distinct meaning?

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Jaskologist

            Tell me more about this “God of the Tao Te Ching.”

            “God” may be a bit misleading, it’s more of a natural order of the universe whose character one’s human intuition must discern in order to realize the potential for individual wisdom. (I know very little about Taoism, and the main discussion is on Christianity, so the best I can do here is quote Wikipedia.) A nebulous “natural order” satisfies the common cosmological arguments just about as well as a personal Creator God, though.

          • Nick says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid
            Why do these questions always come when I’m at work? 🙁

            If you want a thorough introduction to the proof I’m advocating here, just listen to Ed Feser’s lecture here, starting like 2 minutes in. He’s giving a draft of the chapter that eventually was his Aristotelian proof in his book Five Proofs. It’s not the whole chapter (which ran like 70 pages), but it’s most of it.

            I could try to give a quick summary of it, but I think I’d be more confident doing it at home where I have the book. The key thing, I’m going to say right now, is to analyze change in terms of Aristotle’s act–potency distinction. When you have that, you can characterize the Unmoved Mover as pure act, and from that all the divine attributes follow easily. For example, matter is to form as potency is to act, so the Unmoved Mover as pure act has no matter. So he’s immaterial, and incorporeal to boot.

            Of course, you can already see this starts to introduce more specifically Aristotelian metaphysical assumptions. It’s why someone like Feser always starts with the background metaphysics before the argument: it’s more honest as to what all the argument is assuming.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Nick
            Thanks for the lecture link, I found it quite interesting. (Protip: set your device to play stereo as mono in Accessibility if you’d like your left ear to enjoy it as well.)

            Dr. Feser makes a reasonably sound argument, but I don’t think it’s actually an argument for the Catholic conception of God. The immutability and incorporeality he proves seem to me to contradict the incarnation of Jesus Christ, unless I’m misunderstanding something.

            Furthermore, he does a bit of a bait-and-switch by defining a “good” thing as “realizing the potentials as the kind of thing it is.” He then gives the example of a good painter realizing their potential to paint good art, while a bad one fails to realize that potential. But under this definition, a mass-murderer is more “good” than a pacifist–the murderer realizes their potential to kill indiscriminately! (Maybe this is entirely consistent with the Old Testament.) Alternatively, I could argue that actualizing something’s potential for X necessarily precludes actualization of its potential for not-X, and therefore everything is morally neutral by his definition. Except perhaps God, since the First Cause is completely actualized. In any case, this clearly isn’t what most of us mean by the word “good”, and proving it to be a property of his First Cause, doesn’t make it “good” in the sense that I care about.

            In general, it sounds to me like he’s describing an entity which is completely static, emotionless, and amoral. Based on empirical evidence, it seems like whatever the First Cause is, it’s more interested in making subatomic particles complex amplitude distributions obey mathematical laws than it is about the welfare of humanity. The question of what exactly causes the laws of physics to…y’know, actually exist, is an interesting one, but I don’t think that the God portrayed in the Bible is an answer to it.

            BTW, sorry about dragging you into theological debates while you’re at work. Feel free to keep my waiting for your replies if you need to, it’d probably be best if I had some time to focus on my homework for a few hours.

          • Nick says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            Dr. Feser makes a reasonably sound argument, but I don’t think it’s actually an argument for the Catholic conception of God. The immutability and incorporeality he proves seem to me to contradict the incarnation of Jesus Christ, unless I’m misunderstanding something.

            Right, he doesn’t discuss Trinitarianism or Christology. It’s a bit afield of his proof (which should work fine for any Jew or Muslim or non-Catholic Christian), but for a Christian the objection is still an important one. The short answer is that Jesus has two natures, human and divine, and corporeality and mutability and all can be predicated of Jesus as human but not Jesus as divine. I know that’s supremely unsatisfying, but I’m not confident about getting into the weeds on this one, and I’d be happy with just showing God exists. 🙂

            Furthermore, he does a bit of a bait-and-switch by defining a “good” thing as “realizing the potentials as the kind of thing it is.” He then gives the example of a good painter realizing their potential to paint good art, while a bad one fails to realize that potential. But under this definition, a mass-murderer is more “good” than a pacifist–the murderer realizes their potential to kill indiscriminately! (Maybe this is entirely consistent with the Old Testament.) Alternatively, I could argue that actualizing something’s potential for X necessarily precludes actualization of its potential for not-X, and therefore everything is morally neutral by his definition.

            It’s not a bait and switch, really; that really is how we use the word good! Good as an adjective is unlike most adjectives in that it doesn’t mean much on its own apart from what it’s modifying; I know what red means, and I don’t need to know whether you’re describing a firetruck or a stop sign first, but when you say something is good, that tells me a lot less. I do know what you’re talking about, though, if you say it’s a good knife or a good doggo, because these things have forms, and forms have normative qualities against which the things can be measured. So a sharp knife is a good knife and a dull knife is a bad knife. The goodest boy fetches every stick, and the bad dog bites passersby. The good human respects other lives, and the bad human kills indiscriminately.

            “Murderer” in a sense has a form, too, so we can talk about what makes a good and bad murderer. Like maybe the good murderer is very stealthy and cleans up all the evidence. This is well enough, but being a murderer is a very bad way of being human.

            What this has to do with God is the real question, though. Which I will have to get to a little later; I’m out of time at the moment, sorry.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          And to that I could answer “maybe he wasnt the messiah when it happened to him, maybe he became the messiah because it happened to
          him”.

          This would imply that all the accounts of Jesus having a large following were made up after the fact, and if you are going to doubt the accuracy of these accounts, I don’t see why you would take the crucifixion story as accurate.

          There are only two realistic ways that the crucifixion story could have happened without involving any supernatural events: 1) Jesus was never crucified and some other dude died in his place. 2) Jesus was crucified, died and stayed dead.

          1) seems unlikely as Jesus was a well known public figure and one of the key accuser, Judas, was very close to him, but it’s not completely impossible since they didn’t have photos back then. Maybe there was a Jesus follower who looked sufficiently like him who was willing to die in his place and Judas was on board with the plan.

          2) is more plausible. Note that in the Gospels nobody really sees Jesus after the resurrection. Some women went to the tomb and found it empty, with one or two men (supposedly angels) telling them that its occupant had risen. After this point the Gospels diverge: Mark ends with the empty tomb, the other Gospels report different appearances. A general theme of these post-resurrection appearances is that even people who were close associates of Jesus initially fail to recognize him. For instance in the Road To Emmaus appearance, two disciples meet a stranger who they invite to dinner and who they eventually infer to be Jesus. A similar theme is present in the doubting Thomas episode. The resurrected Jesus never appears to crowds, Roman or Judean officials, or Jewish religious authorities. He only appears to his close followers and even then he doesn’t spend considerable time with them.

          Obviously, both 1) and 2) are heretical positions for a Christian to hold.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            This would imply that all the accounts of Jesus having a large following were made up after the fact, and if you are going to doubt the accuracy of these accounts, I don’t see why you would take the crucifixion story as accurate.

            Sorry if that was unclear. I’m not disputing his followings or suggesting he was a normal guy. Under this theory, he was a popular preacher, but assumed to be otherwise normal. Then by chance he survives the crucifixion, and bingo, we have Christianity.

          • Aapje says:

            Apparently, there were a ton of messiases at the time. Jesus might simply have been the one with the best story.

          • Byrel Mitchell says:

            2) is more plausible. Note that in the Gospels nobody really sees Jesus after the resurrection. Some women went to the tomb and found it empty, with one or two men (supposedly angels) telling them that its occupant had risen. After this point the Gospels diverge: Mark ends with the empty tomb, the other Gospels report different appearances. A general theme of these post-resurrection appearances is that even people who were close associates of Jesus initially fail to recognize him. For instance in the Road To Emmaus appearance, two disciples meet a stranger who they invite to dinner and who they eventually infer to be Jesus. A similar theme is present in the doubting Thomas episode. The resurrected Jesus never appears to crowds, Roman or Judean officials, or Jewish religious authorities. He only appears to his close followers and even then he doesn’t spend considerable time with them.

            This isn’t quite true. The apostle Paul cites an appearance to “more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15). That’s listed prior to the ascension in chronological order there, and fits with the Mark account where the apostles are instructed “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee. There you shall see him, as he told you” (Mark 16:7). The central Christian interpretation is that the apostles brought out hundreds of people in Galilee to meet him. Galilee had been a hotspot of Jesus’s ministry, so it makes sense that you could easily find hundreds of believers to witness a possible resurrection. This would definitely count as appearing to a crowd.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            This isn’t quite true. The apostle Paul cites an appearance to “more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15).

            You’re right, I missed this one, but AFAIK this is the only mention of an appearance to a crowd, and even there Paul only relates third party information.

      • Aapje says:

        @EchoChaos

        People are still regularly mistaken for dead, even by modern doctors (and there is no evidence that the Romans brought in doctors).

        Slowly torturing someone to death, as was the goal of crucifixion, seems like a method more likely to result in falsely being declared dead than when a person is hurt in such a way to expedite their death.

        A spear wound can be extremely survivable.

        Jesus was crucified just before passover, so the soldiers might have been less thorough, as they wanted to parteeeey.

        • EchoChaos says:

          People are still regularly mistaken for dead, even by modern doctors (and there is no evidence that the Romans brought in doctors).

          That Romans generally could make that mistake is plausible. That Romans post execution could’ve, substantially less so.

          A spear wound can be extremely survivable.

          Sure, but the “blood and water” shows a breakdown of respiration indicative of death.

          Jesus was crucified just before passover, so the soldiers might have been less thorough, as they wanted to parteeeey.

          Romans wouldn’t be partying on Passover, which is a Jewish holiday.

          • Aapje says:

            That Romans generally could make that mistake is plausible. That Romans post execution could’ve, substantially less so.

            This is an assertion, without an argument to give it weight.

            Sure, but the “blood and water” shows a breakdown of respiration indicative of death.

            That depends on where the spear pierced and what happened. Jesus could have suffered from edema or ascites.

            Note that Jesus may have been treated abnormally, as the other two men got their legs broken to kill them. Jesus seems to have been impacted by the crucifixion far more than normal, so the soldiers may have been improvising a bit or at least, using atypical methods.

            This can plausibly mean that the Romans used a method with a relatively high chance of failure, but that this method was used so rarely, that they never saw it fail.

            Romans wouldn’t be partying on Passover, which is a Jewish holiday.

            Jews served in the Roman army (they recruited soldiers and administrators from everywhere they ruled).

          • DarkTigger says:

            Romans wouldn’t be partying on Passover, which is a Jewish holiday.

            Two thoughts:
            A) the population of the Roman client kingdom Judea where known to be extremly voatile (This might be a reason why Pilatus was so ready to take in Jesus, although he did not break any Roman law. Kill one known troublemaker to send a message to the rest.) The Soldiers might have prefered to stay in their garrison, to avoid causing a riot.
            B) it was a public holiday. Public holiday means some amount of party. Who cares why there is wine, and music on the streets, as long there is wine and music. Espacialy since the poulation of Judea are such a bunch of bores the rest of the year.

            Yes those are mutual exclusive but one of them might be true.

        • DragonMilk says:

          So are you dismissing the part where Gentile soldiers failed in their duty as armed guards to the tomb?

          • Aapje says:

            That part is most likely a post-facto way to rebut certain criticisms.

            It’s all part of the narrative where Jesus supposedly predicted his resurrection, Jewish leaders were worried his followers wanted to fake a resurrection by stealing the body and Pilatus considered this credible enough to post armed guards.

            If the narrative is true that Jesus happened to survive the crucifixion for a while, which got spun into a resurrection story, then everything before he was found alive would be part of the post-facto narrative.

          • DragonMilk says:

            This then gets into a separate debate then. Which is to take the all of the bible’s claims as true or do a Thomas Jefferson and pick and choose.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aapje/DragonMilk

            Pretty much. If we abandon the Biblical narrative, we have no evidence for anything about the crucifixion except that it probably happened.

            At which point you can hypothesize anything about it.

          • Aapje says:

            @DragonMilk

            It seems pretty clear to me that the Bible is full of second hand stories and ‘narratives.’ Taking it all as true seems rather absurd to me, given the many contradictions and other inconsistencies.

            So then, IMO, the only reasonable question is the extent to which the claims are or could reasonably be true, like a detective might weigh evidence, knowing that many witnesses won’t describe their experience, but their interpretations of their experiences.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @Aapje, what you cited before as inconsistencies are fairly easily addressed and have been if you look. It’s a case against literalism, not the bible itself.

            For instance, it starts with comparisons of Genesis 1 vs 2, poem vs origin story. Do you really think that not only the author is so dumb as to contradict himself in the next chapter, and the Jews so dumb as to accept said author even through today?

            If you’ve already concluded that you’re going to dismiss it, there’s ample material for it to be dismissed.

          • Aapje says:

            @DragonMilk

            My point is that once you allow for poetic license, you can’t then turn around and argue that no license could have been taken for the resurrection story.

          • DragonMilk says:

            I’m not sure I made it clear. Genesis 1 is *literally* a poem. The gospels are written as eye-witness accounts, often citing people whose evidence would be dismissed by the culture at the time (women’s testimony was inadmissable in court, shepherds were very disreputable, don’t even have to get into “tax collectors and sinners”).

            If you’re starting from the premise that what you’re reading is a fairy tale, you probably won’t bother to do any work in considering the context and dismiss it as soon as something doesn’t seem to fit strikes you.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            The gospels are written as eye-witness accounts, often citing people whose evidence would be dismissed by the culture at the time

            Eyewitness testimony in modern courts, from people alive today, is fairly unreliable. I’m not going to be convinced by the “eyewitness testimony” of people 2000 years ago that wasn’t even written down until about 30-40 years after the events in question.

          • Aapje says:

            What thevoiceofthevoid said, with the additional comment that the testimony as written down is inconsistent.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Note that Jesus doesn’t merely survive his wounds, he is in good enough shape a few days later that his followers want to get them some of that. Clinging to life and delirious from fever won’t do the trick.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the whole being left in a tomb for three days thing.

          Whilst there are cases of people surviving attempted executions after being mistaken for dead, these cases generally involve the victim being whisked off to receive intensive medical treatment soon after the event, not being laid in a tomb and left for three days without food, water, medicine, or proper clothing.

          I’m also left wondering how Jesus was supposed to (a) roll away the big rock from the tomb, and (b) walk around Jerusalem and its environs unaided, despite having huge nail-wounds in his hands and feet.

          • John Schilling says:

            If we’re assuming a hoax, there’s no reason for the hoaxers not to have removed Jesus from the tomb the first night (perhaps assuming they were just relocating the body to a more secure burial site), nurse him back to enough health for a public appearance, and only then tell everyone else “Hey, look what just happened! Also, there were Angels!”. If they’re willing to lie about him being dead and getting better, they can lie about the timing.

            And if it was really three weeks or three months, there’s still at least thirty years for the details to get confused before anybody starts writing them down. So while there may be weaknesses in this theory, I don’t see this one as being a dealbreaker.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If we’re assuming a hoax, we’re still left wondering what actually happened to Jesus in the end, as well as why the disciples were all willing to undergo a gruesome death for something they knew well was a hoax, and why, if they were shamelessly lying anyway, they didn’t portray themselves in a better light in the Gospel accounts.

            And if it was really three weeks or three months, there’s still at least thirty years for the details to get confused before anybody starts writing them down. So while there may be weaknesses in this theory, I don’t see this one as being a dealbreaker.

            Paul, IIRC, writes that Jesus rose on the third day, and he was writing within thirty years of the event.

          • John Schilling says:

            as well as why the disciples were all willing to undergo a gruesome death for something they knew well was a hoax

            Says who?

            I’m going to guess that any disciples who were actually martyred, by the time that happened were beyond “willing” being a factor – they were going to be brutally killed no matter what they said or did. And I’m also going to guess that by the time martyrdom stories started circulating, they were based on beliefs about how the disciples ought to have acted rather than any evidence as to how they did act. For the resurrection we have something that at least claims to be eyewitness testimony, but there’s nothing canonical about the martyrdom of the apostles save a bit of vague hearsay about James.

            Regardless of the true circumstances of Jesus’s maybe-temporary death, the true circumstances of the apostles’ deaths is that they mostly faded away as the church grew beyond them, died unnoticed, and people made up cool stories about them afterwards.

            Paul, IIRC, writes that Jesus rose on the third day, and he was writing within thirty years of the event.

            First Corinthians, right, good catch. But that’s still twenty years before we get a hard “third day” reference, and even then it’s resurrection on day 3, public appearance some unspecified time thereafter.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Says who?

            As Jaskologist pointed out below, if you dismiss the evidence for the martyrdoms of the apostles, you either have to abandon the idea that we can know anything about history, or embrace a big conspiracy theory to explain why all these people (including non-Christians like Josephus) would lie about what happened. (Or just make an isolated demand for rigour, I suppose, but that’s not a very good option, either.)

            I’m going to guess that any disciples who were actually martyred, by the time that happened were beyond “willing” being a factor – they were going to be brutally killed no matter what they said or did. And I’m also going to guess that by the time martyrdom stories started circulating, they were based on beliefs about how the disciples ought to have acted rather than any evidence as to how they did act. For the resurrection we have something that at least claims to be eyewitness testimony, but there’s nothing canonical about the martyrdom of the apostles save a bit of vague hearsay about James.
            Regardless of the true circumstances of Jesus’s maybe-temporary death, the true circumstances of the apostles’ deaths is that they mostly faded away as the church grew beyond them, died unnoticed, and people made up cool stories about them afterwards.

            Now you’re being inconsistent. If we don’t have enough evidence to say that the apostles were killed, we certainly don’t have enough evidence to say that the accounts are just “cool stories” based on “beliefs about how the disciples ought to have acted”.

            Also, if this was the case, why did all those stories in which the apostles miss the point of Jesus’ teaching, bicker amongst themselves, and all run away at the crucifixion, end up getting spread around? Those aren’t exactly examples of things the apostles ought to have done, either.

          • Dan L says:

            if you dismiss the evidence for the martyrdoms of the apostles, you either have to abandon the idea that we can know anything about history, or embrace a big conspiracy theory to explain why all these people (including non-Christians like Josephus) would lie about what happened.

            I think there’s a level of comfortable rigor between categorical dismissal of history and accepting the martyrdom of Judas. (Or John, natch.) It would not be the first time inconvenient elements were massaged out of the narrative to make a point.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Taking the Biblical account of the crucifixion as accurate…supernatural intervention is more likely.

        One person’s modus ponens…

      • EchoChaos says:

        This is a lot more plausible than Jesus surviving the crucifixion and going to India.

      • Jaskologist says:

        That his followers stole the body and lied about it is definitely the most plausible non-miraculous explanation. The standard response is that a dozen people letting themselves be tortured to death to defend what they know to be a lie, with no defections, is implausible from a human nature standpoint.

        • acymetric says:

          The martyrdom of the apostles is part of Christian tradition but I don’t think there is really any support for that (even in the Bible), somewhat similar to tradition holding that the gospels were written by their respective apostles.

          So the response might be that the people who were in on it (doesn’t even need to be all 12) didn’t get tortured to death to defend what they know to be a lie because they either didn’t know it to be a lie (weren’t in on the conspiracy) when they were tortured or killed, or they knew it to be a lie but were never faced with torture/death.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Ok, so what about general persecution?

          • acymetric says:

            Well, pretty much the same answer. Which apostles were “in” on the hoax (or was it possibly some outside person/group)? How persecuted were those specific apostles? What would have been the repercussions from their Christian community had they renounced (out of the frying pan, into the fryer, perhaps)? If we’re limiting to persecution and not outright torture/death, is the status gain from promoting a religion they are at the heart of worth the inconveniences (admitted understatement, couldn’t think of a better word) of being persecuted? Also worth noting that (at least per the Wikipedia article) while there was sporadic persecution during the apostles lifetime the empire-wide persecution started after the natural lives of the original apostles would have ended.

            It is also possible that, despite knowing the resurrection was some kind of hoax, those that knew legitimately believed that the religion was otherwise true and worth fighting/dying for and that somehow the perpetuating the false resurrection was worth it to further the spread of the religion.

            And just to be clear, in case anyone is feeling offended or attacked, I’m not saying “this is the obvious true explanation for what happened”. I’m just following the original prompt to explain things without any supernatural elements. Obviously this is all speculation and conjecture.

          • DragonMilk says:

            It is also possible that, despite knowing the resurrection was some kind of hoax, those that knew legitimately believed that the religion was otherwise true and worth fighting/dying for and that somehow the perpetuating the false resurrection was worth it to further the spread of the religion.

            As mentioned elsewhere, “1 Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” The arguments against resurrection were contemporaneous already – nowhere in the Greco-Roman or Jewish tradition was such a thing a thing. So what you’re hypothesizing contradicts a core tenant of the religion.

            The resurrection has always been obviously a thing that never could have happened except so many people say it did and now we have to deal with these people who insist this obviously impossible/supernatural thing happened.

          • acymetric says:

            Well, that’s what the person who wrote Corinthians believed. Doesn’t mean it is what whoever committed the hoax believed. The fact that it was a core tenet of the faith is a reason in favor of perpetuation the hoax for anyone who might have been in on it, not against.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The martyrdom of the apostles is part of Christian tradition but I don’t think there is really any support for that (even in the Bible), somewhat similar to tradition holding that the gospels were written by their respective apostles.

            This is true, but leaves out a lot of necessary details. The Pauline letters universally agreed to be authentic and written circa 60 AD by secular criticism mention Simon Kephas (St. Peter, the Rock), James the Lord’s Brother, etc. still being alive. You need to work out a timeline where Nero’s persecution doesn’t enter the law books outside the city of Rome, none of the founders of the Jesus cult who are in on the stolen body secret go there, and all predecease persecution by Roman officials in the provinces.

            This gets you into serious epistemology of history territory, as Jaskologist points out.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The martyrdoms of the apostles are testified to with varying degrees of reliability (Josephus relates the stoning of “James, brother of Jesus,” some are mentioned off-hand by church fathers as just a bit of history everybody knows). I guess you could toss them all out as well, but after a certain point you’re just claiming complete inability to know any history, or have a need to come up with some conspiracy theory for who made up all these accounts and spread them out to so many people.

    • Concavenator says:

      If we’re going to link Jesus’ teachings and Buddhism at all, it might be better to bring Buddhism west. Apparently after Alexander’s conquest there were Buddhists and Hindus in Egypt and Greece for centuries, and one church father mentions Buddha and Brahmins by name.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Do you believe people back then were so much more gullible to the point that they would die as martyrs rather than recant the faith? Early Christianity spread through persecution rather than the sword. Supposing you make up a conspiracy regarding resurrection, what do you gain if you die for it?

      • jermo sapiens says:

        I believe many people are that gullible today.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        I dunno, why did al-Baghdadi not recant his faith instead of blowing himself up with his children? Is it evidence that the Archangel Gabriel really spoke to Muhammad?

        • DragonMilk says:

          Suicide isn’t quite the same as spectacular public executions…

        • The original Mr. X says:

          It’s evidence that al-Baghdadi believed that the Archangel Gabriel really spoke to Muhammad, and that he didn’t start ISIS as a hoax.

      • EchoChaos says:

        This has never been a particularly strong argument to me. We know that people are willing to martyr themselves for things they absolutely know to be false like Jonestown.

        • DragonMilk says:

          My point is that persecution typically has its intended effect of reducing the practice of whatever religion you were persecuting.

          Where else has persecution to the point of martyrdom been the primary means of spreading a faith?

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Reminder that Christianity got a pretty big boost from Constantine.

            The period between Constantine and Jesus was marked by alot of martyrdom though, and this allowed Christianity to grow to whatever level was required to be on Constantine’s radar. So it’s still an interesting question, if not the “primary means of spreading the faith”.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Well, no religion has ever been as successful as Christianity, so we are pretty much guaranteed to be an outlier on all sorts of axes.

            But my recollection is that most of the spread of Christianity wasn’t due to their willingness to die for their faith, but the combination of the fact that Christians had notably better lives than their unbelieving friends as Augustine comments.

            Combining a notably better ethical system with people dedicated enough to that system to die for it is incredibly and uniquely powerful.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @Echo, I’m certainly not suggesting that death itself is what drew people to the religion. It’s going to have to be the underlying elements that make people ok with the persecution and dying bit, so much so that the rate of spread has to outpace the rate of quashing.

          • DragonMilk says:

            @jermo, By the time of Constantine, so much of the empire was Christian that it was actually practical to convert and fight the deciding battle donning a Christian emblem.

            The larger point is that Christianity has always spread among the poor and marginalized and cools in prosperous areas. If you had to trace a “center,” it started in Palestine, traveled to Greek/Turkey/North Africa from eastern Mediterranean to become the Mediterranean religion. Carolingian era missionaries expanded the UK presence and introduced it to modern-day Germans and Norsemen while the Kievan Rus got it from the Greeks.

            Fast forward to the 1500s, and the Protestant Reformation centered in Northern Europe, in the Viking strongholds. Persecuted folk found their way to the US and other places.

            Today, the growth is again in poor nations in Latin America and Africa.

            While you can cite crusades, state sponsorship, etc. as contributing factors, the most successful growth has been organic via through missionaries bringing it to the lower class.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @DragonMilk

            A large part of Christianity’s draw, now as then, is that all men are equal before God. Competing against religions with explicit or implicit caste systems, we are substantially advantaged when trying to convert the lower class.

    • Well... says:

      My reading of Jesus is this:

      He was a proto-Karaite; he polemically identified the Pharisees as the propagators of man-made rules that not only crowded over those of the Torah but often contradicted them and were wrongly treated as authoritative. The Pharisees disagreed, got angry with his belligerence, and had him executed as a heretic.

      This much remained clear in the accounts of those who wrote about Jesus a century or three after his death, but those people also idolized him and sought to form a movement out of him, and to grow it quickly. Thus they were willing to integrate myths and customs from surrounding pagan cultures into the retelling of his life and the celebration of his message, including tales of immaculate conception, miracles worked, and resurrection.

      By then the Romans were going around trying to expel or eradicate the Jews from their empire, so the followers of this long-dead Jew had a strong incentive to proclaim themselves a new, non-Jewish religion.

    • Atlas says:

      Of possible interest here: Mormonism as the control group for Christianity.

    • Murphy says:

      Mundane?

      A faith healer/ cult leader was executed.

      He’s dead. He stays dead.

      Some follower later stole the body.

      Some stories were made up about seeing visions of him afterwards or perhaps some of his faithful truly believed they saw him again like how some people seem to honestly believe themselves to be speaking in tongues or seeing visions.

      A few decades later various accounts were written down by the followers of the surviving followers.

    • Protagoras says:

      As others have indicated, for this or most of the alternate stories to work, you have to distrust the sources. Which is perfectly reasonable; there’s no reason to think the sources are reliable (sources of the time generally weren’t, and the particular sources in this case contradict themselves a lot). But there really isn’t any good procedure for figuring out what really went on if you don’t trust such sources as we have. There’s no reason why, if they made things up or made mistakes, the errors or inventions should be distortions of what actually happened as opposed to, say, distortions of completely different stories that our sources got mixed up with the life of Jesus, or even whole-cloth fictions. Even if they are distortions of what actually happened, there are too few reliable rules about how stories are likely to get distorted (yes, some kinds of exaggeration are common, but that’s not much and that’s about all we have), not nearly enought to figure out which bits need to be un-distorted or how. As a result, absent some better sources or independent evidence, any theory beyond “what happened was something other than what our sources say” is going to be complete guesswork.

  13. DragonMilk says:

    For all the sci fi out there, will the Foundation Series finally make it to the tube?

    Apparently it’s still in pre-production

    • Statismagician says:

      I really hope it does get made – the criticism should be fascinating. Foundation is… really not like modern sci-fi, at all, and I really want to see what happens when the executives try to make it more commercially viable. Plus I predict much wringing of hands over the potential application of psychohistorical principles to the obvious subjects, on both sides.

  14. Imagine a movie that had a compelling plot, superb acting, masterful cinematography, etc. However, the characters are off. You don’t understand their motivations or why they do the things that they do. Could you enjoy this movie?

    • acymetric says:

      It is a little hard for me to imagine a movie where I don’t understand the motivations or actions of the characters but the plot is still compelling, but maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way. I guess it depends on how I’m not understanding them…does it appear that they are just acting essentially at random, or are they acting on a different plane of values than I am used to but with some effort I could at least come to understand that they are acting in a coherent way even if it is alien to me.

      I think I could probably enjoy the movie, but a lot of my discussion about the movie afterwards would center around how I didn’t understand why the characters did what they did.

      • I think there is two general kinds of stories with weak characters but still be good: idea-heavy movies and ones where the plot moves at a breakneck pace. I can enjoy the movies even though the characters arent really doing much. To answer your question I would say something more like the characters have weird motivations that you can’t intuitively understand than them acting at random. But not something you can really predict. Imagine trying to explain human motivations to an alien. It’s not random but there is no list of rules you can really write down for them to get it. They would be constantly baffled by our movies.

    • Statismagician says:

      For me, if the character motivations make that little sense, the plot is by definition not compelling and the cinematography is by definition inadequate. So no, but also I’m not sure that’s a thing that really happens? Maybe I’m weird about this.

    • lvlln says:

      compelling plot, superb acting, masterful cinematography, etc. However, the characters are off. You don’t understand their motivations or why they do the things that they do. Could you enjoy this movie?

      This sounds a lot like season 8 of Game of Thrones, which I didn’t enjoy, so I’d guess that I wouldn’t enjoy such a film.

      But then again, I’m not sure that season had a compelling plot. But I’m also not sure how a film has a compelling plot while having characters with incomprehensible motivations. The overall framework of the GOT S8 plot was compelling enough, but the characters being off were what made the plot very uncompelling.

    • Well... says:

      Yeah I could totally enjoy it. A lot of the weirder European movies are like this. Like that one by Michael Haneke about the family who kill themselves (can’t remember what it’s called).

    • rubberduck says:

      Are we talking, like, you can’t understand the chain of logic that drove Character to commit Action? (e.g.: “In order to stop my house from burning down, I must kill the President”, “I will kill the President, just because”, etc.?) Or do you mean an absence of deeper motivation, like what is driving the character throughout the overarching plot?

      If it is the latter, I have enjoyed media where characters are not very developed and the setting/aesthetics/plot minutae were enough to keep me invested, but I have never experienced the former. In fact it is hard to imagine a “compelling plot” where immediate motivation for characters’ actions is unclear.

    • rahien.din says:

      Are you just talking about being alive?

    • episcience says:

      Yes — thrillers/horror films and some action movies are enjoyable even where the characters do things that, on reflection, don’t make much sense.

  15. ana53294 says:

    Why does anybody pay any attention to the Westboro Baptist Church, and see them as an indictment of anything but the WBC?

    When I first saw how many times they get mentioned in the media, I assumed they were some kind of cult like Scientology. But after looking them up, it seems to me that it’s just one wacko and his family (big progeny, somehow manage to keep in-law children in the same wackiness). In most countries, they wouldn’t even be able to call themselves a church; Scientology is not allowed to be a church, even though they have a lot more followers than WBC.

    So why pay any attention to what a family of nutjobs does or says? Sure, saying gay people are to blame for 9/11 is hurtful, wrong and ridiculous, but it’s not like they represent any significant amount of people. That a country the size of the US has a big extended family of nutjobs who happen to like lawsuits and saying outrageous things is not an indictment on the US, or Christianity, or anything. The only reason other countries don’t have their own WBC is because both religious freedom and freedom of speech is more limited in other countries, but I don’t see how that is good.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Why does anybody pay any attention to the Westboro Baptist Church, and see them as an indictment of anything but the WBC?

      The progressive narrative requires the existence of very bad people. Another example of this is how often the NY Times mentions Emmett Till lately. Steve Sailer has been excellent on this.

      • albatross11 says:

        Not just the progressive narrative. Almost any simple narrative will involve members of the outgroup acting badly, and amplifying the worst of the outgroup as though they were the average. Further, the WBC’s whole strategy was (is? I guess they’re still around?) focused on getting publicity by doing very rage-inducing things like picketing peoples’ funerals with offensive slogans on signs. This is the sort of thing gets attention from just about every media source–it’s candy for them.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Not much, really. The biggest reason anyone knows about them is so that atheists have someone on the extreme Christian side to yell about.

      One of the funniest things for me is that Fred Phelps was very active in fighting for civil rights for blacks and that he held those beliefs to the end. He was an odd duck in terms of what he believed.

    • Aapje says:

      So why pay any attention to what a family of nutjobs does or says?

      The media lives on outrage/outliers, so…

    • zenojjones says:

      They were a bigger topic a few years back, and they pissed off everyone. They were religious fanatics AND they were insulting to veterans. They hit the left and the right, a true bipartisan outrage machine.
      Now they’re less relevant because they scaled back the dead soldier protests and they are really only a talking point for atheists and the very liberal. I feel most other people just dismiss them as insane.
      Also their ability to market themselves as a ”church” and not a family probably convinced a lot of people that it was a bigger group than they were. If you aren’t outraged about it, you’re probably not going to read into it and discover it’s just one family.

      • ana53294 says:

        It says they are a family in the wikipedia page, so it doesn’t take much looking up. If the media had been more honest, everybody who knows about them would know that. Of course, “Family of religious extremists commits outrage of the week” is not as good as implying there’s a bigger church. And linking them to the general Baptist churches (AFAIK, Westboro has nothing to do with the baptist churches other than their name).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Of course, “Family of religious extremists commits outrage of the week” is not as good as implying there’s a bigger church. And linking them to the general Baptist churches (AFAIK, Westboro has nothing to do with the baptist churches other than their name).

          That’s correct. Baptists have congregational rather than episcopal polity, which in the absence of a state church (e.g. the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian) can lead to splinter congregations in communion with no one. Generally Baptists congregations organize themselves into conventions, with the Southern Baptist being the largest.

        • zenojjones says:

          the world would be unrecognizably improved if all of us did even basic Wikipedia-level research before having something to say. Unfortunately, like I go into on my post above, very few of us take the time.

          • EchoChaos says:

            But “family of anti-gay Democrats protest offensively” is much less punchy to literally everyone.

          • Statismagician says:

            @EchoChaos

            Why, it’s almost as though the media were incentivized to do everything in the most sensational way possible, or something.

      • Aftagley says:

        Also their ability to market themselves as a ”church” and not a family probably convinced a lot of people that it was a bigger group than they were. If you aren’t outraged about it, you’re probably not going to read into it and discover it’s just one family.

        Wikipedia says their membership is somewhere between 40-70 people. That’s larger than I would argue the term “family” covers. Even if they are all related, it’s still a moderately sizable group of people who are all motivated around a specific church.

        • acymetric says:

          I think there was also a sense (whether rightly or wrongly, I don’t know) that other conservative Christians or Christian groups, while not openly joining in with or enthusiastically endorsing Westboro were kind of…quietly nodding along with agreement with their message.

          This kind of gets into the never ending “you must disavow the extreme/bad members of your group” that everyone makes of each other but rarely of themselves, but I do think it was probably an additional factor.

          • EchoChaos says:

            whether rightly or wrongly, I don’t know

            The answer is wrongly, incidentally. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest and most conservative convention of their faith, has explicitly rejected them.

            Note also that Phelps doesn’t fit neatly into either conservative or liberal. He was to the end of his life an ardently anti-racist Democrat activist. He also vehemently hated gays. He endorsed Gore in the 90s when Gore was anti-gay and rescinded it when Gore became pro-gay.

            He was a complicated and interesting man.

          • albatross11 says:

            acymetric:

            As I recall, essentially everyone was aghast at the antics of the WBC. They were representative of evangelical Christians in the US in exactly the same way that antifas bashing heads in a street protest are representative of progressives in the US.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            Agreed, but that’s kind of my point. People bring up Antifa as somehow representative of the left with some regularity. This isn’t unique to WBC, people do this all the time with their outgroups.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            They were representative of evangelical Christians in the US in exactly the same way that antifas bashing heads in a street protest are representative of progressives in the US.

            I take your point that many progressives reject antifa. Then again, it’s not nearly enough. So many blue checkmarks go with the line “antifa means antifacist, if you oppose fascism you are antifa” BS (reactions to the recent attack on Andy Ngo for examples), and antifa rarely seems to be prosecuted. Meanwhile proud boys are in jail for defending themselves against antifa violence.

            So antifa is a lot more closely related to the general progressive movement than the WBC is to Christianity.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @EchoChaos:

            Note also that Phelps doesn’t fit neatly into either conservative or liberal. He was to the end of his life an ardently anti-racist Democrat activist. He also vehemently hated gays.

            I remember reading an investigative article about Phelps a long time ago that talked about how he beat his children for getting bad grades growing up, because he expected them to all get into law school and become lawyers. One of the children was mentioned as responding to the beatings by killing small wild animals.
            Now I wonder if he was a civil rights attorney back in the day.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Now I wonder if he was a civil rights attorney back in the day.

            Yes, he was. And a very successful one.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Wikipedia says their membership is somewhere between 40-70 people. That’s larger than I would argue the term “family” covers.

          All the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of my paternal grandparents, and their spouses, total up to somewhere in that range. Every one of them is my family.

          • Aftagley says:

            Right, but if someone says “the Gooblatz family did so and so today” how many people does your mind immediately jump to? I’m guessing your like me (and the survey of my office mates I just conducted) and you think it’s somewhere between 3 and 7. The word family, at least as it’s commonly used, denotes the nuclear core, maybe with the grandparents included.

            In the same way that “church” possibly causes people to over-estimates how many people are part of this organization, I’d argue that the term “family” would cause them to underestimate. Maybe the terms “clan” or “greater Phelpian network” would be better. Our society just isn’t used to dealing with kinship networks acting towards unified goals anymore.

          • Statismagician says:

            ‘Clan’ seems about right.

    • Garrett says:

      FWIW, Fred Phelps also engaged in lawsuits over his activities and frequently won. Basically, he goaded governments (typically) into acting improperly and then sued them under civil rights laws. So in addition to the offensive stuff he did which got news coverage, he managed to get news coverage for the lawsuits he filed and won, subsequently costing taxpayers money, generating even more outrage.

      The nice thing about religious freedom laws is that you can be as eclectic as you want. The down-side of religious freedom laws is that people will be as eclectic as they want.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        There was a positive[sic] feedback cycle where people would attack Phelps and get positive feelings from their in-group, while also feeding Phelps position within his own ingroup. The people who would commit something actionable that ended up financing Phelps were part of the first group.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Who was Phelps’ ingroup? I was in a Southern Baptist church at the height of Phelps’ press coverage, and it definitely wasn’t us.

    • Well... says:

      So why pay any attention to what a family of nutjobs does or says?

      Journalists. It sells newspapers, so to speak. And because people give undue authority to journalists as conversation-setters, journalists have an outsided level of influence on what people talk about or consider important.

    • rahien.din says:

      Er… why are you paying attention to them?

  16. zenojjones says:

    New post about digesting information via headlines, highlights and anecdotes.

    Getting our news from headlines allows us to understand what happened, but leaves the other journalistic questions- Who, When, Where, Why, How- sometimes unanswered, and offers no context or greater meaning. The illusion that we’re well informed (myself included) as a result of headlining leads to many other issues that were unable to deal with.

    There is room for improvement here, though I might be too close to see a path forward, so I’m very open to comments for or arguments against.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      As much as I love debating politics, I suspect that trying to stay informed on politics (or “news” in general) is not a very good use of time and energy for most people, especially if you’re not in a swing state (or competitive congressional district).

      You use the Muller report as an example in your “Eating your vegetables” article:

      Deciding on this information is a public duty- we have to understand it at some level and give feedback.

      Now, I’ve read virtually nothing about the entire Muller saga, so I may be massively underestimating the layperson’s ability to have an impact. But, if I read the entire report and a good deal of the surrounding coverage from high-quality sources, and I came to the conclusion that [Trump is literally taking bribes from Putin / Trump is completely innocent of any and all wrongdoing], what action would I be able to take based on that information? I am neither a federal judge, congressman, DOJ official, nor person who any of the above would take time to listen to. I probably will be too busy with classwork to mail in an absentee ballot in 2020 (and if I do, it’ll be for a state so solidly blue that my vote for president has astronomically low odds of swinging anything).

      • Well... says:

        I suspect that trying to stay informed on politics (or “news” in general) is not a very good use of time and energy for most people

        More than suspect, I am very confident of this.

        The OP is about being informed on the basis of reading headlines, and implies that one is more informed if one actually reads the articles. I would say instead that one decreases one’s useful informedness by reading either headlines or articles. Journalism is gossip that wears a bowtie.

        • zenojjones says:

          Journalism is gossip that wears a bowtie.

          Love that. It absolutely can be, and most of the time is. But in rare moments it sheds light on events that end up important. I suppose like music, movies, scientific discoveries or anything else, we have to wade through the crap. Looking back 30 years we’ll only remember the stuff that was important and consider it history, while the rest falls away.

          • Well... says:

            Journalism does occasionally shed light on things, in the same way that one of the many bullets fired blindly from a Minigun might trim a piece of hair from the head of a man who needs a haircut. Still a pretty dumb way to get a haircut.

            Journalism is communication, and all communication has the potential to shed light. But shedding light isn’t journalism’s aim; it isn’t what it’s designed for. It’s designed as a vehicle for English majors to pretend to be authoritative about whatever they are not authorities on — i.e. most things besides how to write compelling little stories on a deadline.

        • Aftagley says:

          I would say instead that one decreases one’s useful informedness by reading either headlines or articles. Journalism is gossip that wears a bowtie.

          I find this argument facile, but lets test your hypothesis anyway:

          I just opened up one of my newspapers of choice – the top three articles were as follows:
          1. Democrats in the House are going to call for a floor vote on impeachment.
          2. A summary of some of the intelligence recovered during the al-baghdadi raid.
          3. An update on the kincade fire and the most recent evacuations.

          How specifically have I decreased my useful informedness by reading these articles?

          • Well... says:

            The idea is that if you are one of the few people who has a good reason to know about any of this stuff, or who has some pet interest in these topics (as opposed to you’re reading about them so you’ll be in the know about what everyone’s talking about at the water cooler — i.e. gossip), then you’re better served learning about it from other more direct, more expert sources. It’s more effort than just reading the newspaper’s website, but if you’re one of those few people with a real good reason to get that information, then it’s worth it.

            Instead, if you’re not one of those few people and you’re just reading the news to be in the know at the water cooler, then you’ve wasted your time reading something you have no good reason to know about, written at a 3rd grade level by an English major who has an ax to grind, a ridiculous deadline to meet, is being pressured to impart a certain quality to the narrative by his or her superiors for some foul reason, or some combination of these. In that time you could have been making yourself more informed about something likely to be of impact to you or the people you interact with.

          • Aftagley says:

            Nope, still don’t like this argument.

            First, you claim is that I should only care about what’s going on in the world if I need to know about it or if what’s going on happens to meet some pet interest I have. I disagree, I generally care about what’s going on in the world. I find geopolitics fascinating and think that it’s a citizens duty to his country to be informed. I think that the more you know generally about what’s going on, the more context you can apply to your ongoing decision-making process.

            Second, you seem to dislike the idea of discussing current events with people. Just because you don’t care about world events doesn’t mean that it’s gossip – if I go to the water cooler with a topic, or post about it here, it’s because I find a topic fascinating and would appreciate other people’s perspectives on it, not because I just want to gossip.

            Third, yes – for every topic I read about, I know I conceivably have the option to keep digging, but lets go back to the three articles I previously mentioned:

            a. Dems calling for floor vote on impeachment – I guess I could get on a bus, go to Washington and schedule an appointment with my congressperson and personally ask them what the democrats plan is. But, I’ve got very little leverage and they probably wouldn’t tell me much. Also, this would be a bunch of work . Instead, I could just read this article, hear from people who have much better access than I do and get the information that way.

            b. Intel summary from al-baghdadi raid – outside of changing careers and going to get a job in the intelligence community, I have no way of learning anything about this topic other than the media.

            c. Kincade fire updates – Ok, i went to the websites of the counties and fire departments affected by the kincade fire. I found the same information as is being reported by the media, only it was presented less well and in around 8 different places. In the media, this information is streamlined and collated. Why again is doing my own research here better than just trusting a reputable outlet?

            Overall, this argument sounds like someone doesn’t personally find the news interesting. That’s fine, but there’s no need to denigrate other people’s interests, to say nothing of the credibility/capability of the entirety of the media.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I feel like both sides are a bit off here.

            A lot of news is just gossip (celebrity divorces, political scandals), and a lot of it isn’t (stock reports, legal reform, upcoming town festivals).

            The fact that someone likes discussing current events doesn’t make it not gossip. Are you discussing what your budget is going to look like in light of the new tax bill, or are you discussing whether Trump should have called Erdogan a nice guy or Katie Hill should get flak for being in a throuple or how cool it was that Seal Team 6 got in and out of that raid with those hot new NVG models? If you’re doing the latter, that’s still as fine as any other hobby, but some people use it to hunt for Twitter mob targets. Which, honestly, is their bad, but I can understand getting salty about journalism that facilitates that behavior, just like we do about, I dunno, movies that cater to sexist bros.

            Most news isn’t actionable. Some of it is, and some gets rather abused.

          • Well... says:

            I find geopolitics fascinating and think that it’s a citizens duty to his country to be informed.

            These are two different things. One tends to fall into the “pet interest” category you dismissed. The other is a pretty strong claim but also needs unpacking:

            Let’s say it’s true that a citizen’s duty is to be “informed”. Obviously no citizen can be informed about everything, so what exactly should a citizen be informed about? Should journalists be the ones who make this determination? If so, why? If journalists are both the ones who determine what citizens should be informed about and the ones who determine what constitutes being informed (since you imply that “being informed” is something only attainable by consuming journalism), doesn’t that raise any red flags?

            Is it a citizen’s duty to be informed about the three things you listed? If so, why?

            I think that the more you know generally about what’s going on, the more context you can apply to your ongoing decision-making process.

            As someone who used to read the news all the time, my experience is this is not true. The information and contextual understanding that goes into my decision-making process now is much higher quality and more intelligently focused than it was when it was guided by journalists.

            Just because you don’t care about world events doesn’t mean that it’s gossip

            True. I don’t care much about color theory but that isn’t gossip either. The fact that I’m not terribly interested in world events isn’t why I call journalism gossip. Merriam Webster defines gossip as (1) n. a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others and (2) rumor or report of an intimate nature. These perfectly describe journalists and journalism, though journalism isn’t always just about “others”, just as gossip is sometimes about things that happened and not particular people.

            if I go to the water cooler with a topic, or post about it here, it’s because I find a topic fascinating and would appreciate other people’s perspectives on it

            Sounds like a pet interest then. I maintain you’d be better served going to the water cooler with information you got from other places instead of from journalism. And then you’ll wish the others there at the water cooler with you had done the same, because you’ll realize how little they understand about those topics from their junk diet of journalism.

            For the three topics you listed, an easy way to get more information about them without getting it from journalists is to find experts in those topics online. There are sites like Reddit and Quora where such experts are readily accessible. You can also email professors who study those topics. Or you might know people who know people who are experts on or otherwise have personal knowledge of those topics — networks expand surprisingly quickly once you’re past the 1st degree of connection.

            Overall, this argument sounds like someone doesn’t personally find the news interesting

            Are you saying I don’t find the topics covered by journalists interesting, or are you saying I am not interested in consuming these topics as mediated by journalists? One of those statements is accurate, the other is not.

      • zenojjones says:

        While the post should probably be toned down on its idealism, I think the take of “we can’t change it so we shouldn’t commit time to it” is a bit of an over correction. Direct influence shouldn’t be the only thing that determines if we’re educated on a topic.
        And maybe the point got away from me, but the idea isn’t for everyone to be an expert on everything. It’s to bring yourself up to a basic level of competence/understanding before you claim to have an opinion on a certain topic.
        Haven’t read the report or anything about it? Absolutely fine. Live your life. But if you have an opinion on it without reading a thing beyond the headlines? Then there’s an issue.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          I definitely agree with your weaker point that if you haven’t read in detail about a topic, you shouldn’t act like you’re informed about it. And you’re right, “we can’t change it so we shouldn’t worry about it” is probably too far in the other direction. But in a world where we have limited time and attention, I think that trying to learn about topics that haven’t turned into cesspits of culture war may be a better use of one’s time.

          Of course, I say this as I engage in a meta-political argument myself, and I spent a good two hours yesterday “debating” creationists in a youtube comment section (I was in a dark place, don’t judge me), so it’s possible I could use a bit less preach and a good deal more practice.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Here’s a Scientific American article that came across my facebook feed this morning:
      warming-will-cost-rich-and-poor-countries-alike

      The gist of it is that in 2100 GDP per person will be ~7-15% lower in all countries, even cold ones, if we don’t follow the Paris climate agreement. It’s graphs show the GDP % change if we follow the paris agreement, vs. if we merely do moderate climate mitigation. However, it ignores any cost to GDP of following the paris agreement. It also doesn’t really mention what a 10% worse GDP per person actually means by 2100. If GDP per capita grows at 1.5% per year, it’ll have gone up by 200% by 2100.

      None of the 100 odd comments on the facebook post ask these questions even though there are lots of negative comments. So what good has this article done? Has it reduced the level of ignorance in the world at all?

      • zenojjones says:

        I mean a misleading article is only as helpful as it is accurate. I don’t think anything will change that. Accuracy of what we read is a whole other thing, but it is informed by deeper-than-headline understanding. If you didn’t have the appropriate background knowledge to understand what was left out of that article, how would you know when you’re being led astray or when facts are being left out?

      • Auric Ulvin says:

        The article seems very silly. What they seem to be saying is that they looked into how people fared in incidences of higher temperature and extrapolated the trend. But a heatwave isn’t a hotter year. You can’t plant crops in accordance with a heatwave or use the North Sea Passage consistently.

        They have a point saying that regions which have built cities and houses designed for cold will need to adapt and that this will be expensive. But throwing out the benefits entirely is a perverse thing to do.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          They have a point saying that regions which have built cities and houses designed for cold will need to adapt and that this will be expensive.

          Even this is somewhat specious, due to the timescale involved. By the year 2100, most buildings existing today will be gone, replaced by new construction, possibly two waves of it. All city buildings will likewise have been remodeled inside multiple times. The expense of rebuilding and remodeling all those buildings is already going to exist; the only new expense is factoring in management of about 1-2 degrees C. CatCube could give an expert opinion on how big an expense that is, but I suspect it’s almost unnoticeable, esp. on top of all the other research no doubt going into improvements of construction methods.

          • JayT says:

            most buildings existing today will be gone, replaced by new construction,

            Is that actually true? I live in a 100+ year old house, and I have a hard time imagining it being torn down for new construction in the next 80 years. The same goes for my whole town, area, and state. Every house I’ve ever lived in is still standing, and almost all of them are 50+ years old.

            That said, I don’t really see what would be expensive about making houses that are good for the cold be good for the heat too. The biggest expense I can think of would be that you’d have to add AC, but honestly I don’t really see that as a huge issue. Some people will add it, some won’t. I lived in a town that regularly got to the mid 90s in the summer, and the house I was in was really old and didn’t have AC.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Is [most buildings being replaced] actually true? I live in a 100+ year old house, and I have a hard time imagining it being torn down for new construction in the next 80 years. The same goes for my whole town, area, and state. Every house I’ve ever lived in is still standing, and almost all of them are 50+ years old.

            I started by saying “homes” instead of “buildings”, and may have copypastaed a bit overzealously. But yeah. Most homes I see seem to be gone in 50 years, due to cheaper materials, rezoning, or just plain looking outdated. For the rest, that’s why I said “remodeled”. That 200YO stone structure I see in historic Maryland often has a 10YO HVAC unit inside, not to mention modern plumbing, cable TV, etc. If they’re really that old, chances are high that someone doled out the cash to properly insulate it, and will just do that again every few decades.

          • JayT says:

            Where do you live that houses only have a 50 year life span? In California it seems the only time a house is torn down is if there was a fire. From what I’m seeing online, the average age of a house in the US is around 40 years. Considering they are constantly building new houses that would mean there are a whole bunch of really old houses out there.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Where do you live that houses only have a 50 year life span? In California it seems the only time a house is torn down is if there was a fire. From what I’m seeing online, the average age of a house in the US is around 40 years. Considering they are constantly building new houses that would mean there are a whole bunch of really old houses out there.

            It could depend on how your source counts them. New houses are likely rated at some estimated span – possibly 40 years – and if that’s what your source uses, then there wouldn’t need to be many older homes to pull up the average.

            I live in an older apartment complex, going on 50. It could stand to be replaced, but in reality, it’s constantly getting new siding and roofing, while in the inside gets an overhaul whenever a tenant moves out. This is evident whenever I visit the rental office and see the ads for new units continually updated.

            Overall, here in Maryland, I see townhomes springing up like weeds. The way they go up, I’m not inclined to expect them to still be there in 2070. This is a market under obvious churn. Everyone’s clearly not concerned with avoiding rebuilding and remodeling expenses.

          • JayT says:

            Here’s once source:
            https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2018/08/13/median-age-of-maturing-us-housing-stock-is-37
            they are just talking about the median age of homes in the US, as far as I can tell. Here’s one relevant quote:

            More than half of the owner-occupied homes were built prior to 1980, and 38 percent before 1970.

            I agree that the houses will be remodeled, and that it probably won’t matter if they were originally made for a cooler climate, but I still don’t think “most” currently standing houses will be gone by 2100. When they are building all those townhomes are they tearing down existing housing, or is it new development? I suspect if they’ve torn anything down that it would be out of date industrial buildings. My experience is that it’s very, very hard to tear down housing in the US.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So that quote suggests “current age”, as opposed to “estimated age”. So they’re likely to be either remodeled or torn down. And we’ll likely see a lot of new construction as well. (How many homes were built before 1940? 2100 is still 80 years away.)

            When they are building all those townhomes are they tearing down existing housing, or is it new development?

            I expect it will be some of both. Older townhomes will either be remodeled by the landlord to stay modern, and be priced accordingly, or will get progressively more budgeted treatment. Consider older tenements in NYC or Detroit. Any cooling problems in them will likely be treated about seriously as such problems are treated today.

          • JayT says:

            This site says 13.5% of the current houses were built before 1940:
            https://www.governing.com/gov-data/transportation-infrastructure/age-year-built-for-homes-in-cities.html

            Considering how many more houses have been built in recent years compared to the pre-1940 era, I would guess that well over half the houses built in 1940 are still standing. I’d have to dig more into the data though to be sure.

            Again, I agree that they will be remodeled, I just don’t agree with your original assessment that they would be “gone”.

          • JayT says:

            One other interesting thing about that link is that if you look at the older, more established cities like New York, Chicago, or even San Francisco, 80 year old houses are almost the majority. When you look at a place like Phoenix though, there’s hardly any houses that old. I think that supports my suggestion that old houses don’t get torn down, they just build in new areas.

      • AliceToBob says:

        I’m generally skeptical of claims that, for some metric, the impact of a complex event will between X% and (roughly) 2X%. More so if the event is “bad” and/or politically contentious. There might be exceptions, but I just can’t think of any off the top of my head…

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Following the Paris agreement should make you money if you do it right.
        Currently most countries are powered by coal and gas. Coal has horrific externalities even disregarding co2, so is far, far more expensive than it pretends to be, gas is fracking, which is obviously not long term economic – look up the production curve for a fracked gas well. That boom as a stop date and it is not that far into the future.

        So. Messmer. Pick a standard reactor design. Mass produce it. Keep doing that until your grid has no more carbon in it. Keep building reactors for industrial heat until that is decarbonized too. This should get you a cheaper energy base. This does assume that producing reactors by the hundred or thousand count brings down costs, but.. well, it would be extremely odd if it did not.

        • Aapje says:

          Pick a standard reactor design.

          …that satisfies the regulations, which differ per country.

          Mass produce it.

          Except you can’t.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Messmer was not a random Word it was the name of the French politician resposible for the French reactor fleet. The US is plenty big enough for a recaputilation of that approach to work. Hell, Russia is having a good deal of succes selling the VVER to everybody right now. So. Refutation by existence proof

    • DinoNerd says:

      It’s worse than that, because these days some significant proportion of headlines are misleading to the point of contradicting the story, doubtless to encourage people to click/view the ads. Most likely that was always true of “yellow journalism”/newspapers my housemate refers to as “fishwrap” etc. But these days, it appears to be the norm even for “respectable” news sources.

  17. Peffern says:

    I know some friends who were rationalist adjacent but when I tried to introduce them to the capital R community they got weirdes out by the focus on AI and x-risk and kinda just left. This is how I feel about the enlightwnment stuff. My prior on any of this being useful is so ridiculously low (like, Hillary Clinton is a lizard low) that I continue to be vaguely shocked and upset by how much discussion it seems to be getting. Not that there’s anything wrong with discussion, but it just annoys me.

    • Creutzer says:

      That sounds like a problem with you more than with the discussion. It’s an underexplored topic that a lot of people find interesting, evidently not sharing your priors. Enlightenment is generally presented as something desirable, so questioning whether it in fact is makes sense unless you think there is no such thing anyway. But given that meditation is known to produce quite extraordinary effects, the prior on there being some such thing shouldn’t be that low, either.

      • Viliam says:

        given that meditation is known to produce quite extraordinary effects

        To me it seems that the most frequent effect is people saying: “I have these awesome insights that are impossible to communicate to anyone who doesn’t already have them. They have a deep impact on everything I do, but you wouldn’t see any difference from outside.”

        Then there are minor but seemingly real effects, such as people saying they can relax better, focus better, keep calm better, etc. Now these are all awesome things if true, I am not trying to suggest otherwise. (Question is whether they are worth the time one must daily spend meditating to achieve them. This must everyone decide for themselves.)

        So we have a combination of moderate effects with good evidence, and extraordinary effects with barely any evidence. I wouldn’t summarize this as “known to produce extraordinary effects”.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m not weirded out, and I’m used to ignoring topics I don’t care about. But I’m otherwise with you. I’m especially amused at the idea of self-descrbed “rationalists” with a big focus on a religious experience/credential – though honestly, I don’t see the focus, just a pair of posts from Scptt, who exp[lores a lot of things.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        I don’t think professing to be a “rationalist” precludes you from investigating the potential benefits of anything billed as “religious”. The tone of Scott’s posts doesn’t seem to be “woah what if meditation really does allow you see the truths of the universe laid bare”, but rather, “Hmm, there’s some evidence for small, tangible benefits of this activity that makes people claim to have seem the truths of the universe laid bare while unable to actually explain them. I wonder what the heck’s going on here?”

  18. AlesZiegler says:

    Since we have various discussions about Indian economic history, subject I know almost nothing about, and merits of British imperialism inevitably came up, I set out to find out how poor India really was when it gained independence (1947).

    Wikipedia cites Angus Maddison, Contours of the World Economy, 1–2030 AD, and according to him, Indian GDP in 1950 was 222 222 millions of 1990 international dollars, which, with a population of 361 million according to 1951 census gives us a figure of 616 of 1990 international dollars per capita.

    This however tells us little without something to compare it to. Well, it tells us that India in 1950 was indeed desperately poor compared to modern West, but everyone already knows that.

    More interesting comparison is with Imperial Russia. Maddison, in above linked Wikipedia article, gives GDP of “former USSR” in 1913 (USSR inherited territories of Imperial Russia except for Finland and most of what is now Poland), as 232 351 millions of 1990 international dollars. Population of Imperial Russia was counted for the first and last time in census in 1897 (next census would be in 1915, but was cancelled for obvious reasons), gives Russian population at 126 million. There was a rapid growth in Russian population until 1914, and various estimates of Russian population pre WW1 range around 170 million, give or take 10 million. So that would put Russian GDP per capita in 1913 at around 1366 in 1990 international dollars per capita.

    So, India, when it gained independence on Britain, had about half of GDP per capita of Imperial Russia before it broke down in WW1. My takeaway from this, if those numbers are remotely accurate, is that British rule over India was an abysmal failure as an economic development project, which is the way Western imperialism in that era had been legitimized (“we are going to civilize the barbarians!”), although it would of course be naive to take those justifications completely at face value.

    Imperial Russia was one of the few countries that weren’t put under Western direct rule or at least indirect overlordship in the 19th century, and it was also considered by Westerners of that time to be a byword for backwardness and tyranny, and for good reasons. But those were things from which civilizing mission of colonialists was supposed to free natives.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Note that one thing that would be important there is to also know what India’s per capita GDP was before the British took over.

      If they took a country with a per capita GDP of $60 in 1858 and increased it to $600, that’s actually decently impressive to do to a country of that size.

      My understanding is that this is a very disputed question, with some arguing a per capita GDP value between $500 and $550 (the British grew the economy very little) and some arguing a per capita value less than $100 (the British helped growth a lot).

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I kind of not like this line of reasoning, since it gets governments off the hook too easily.

        Measurement issues notwithstanding, Soviet Union in 1990 surely had higher GDP than in 1922, when it was founded. Does it mean that Soviet government was great for economic development? Stalin apologist (who coincidentally appeared in the very discussion under Indian post) would certainly argue so, but I think that is nonsense. We should consider whether there were plausible alternative policies that would lead to better outcomes.

        • EchoChaos says:

          It speaks to if the British were actually following their justification to build up India or just looting the place.

          If they sextupled the per capita GDP in a century, that’s still not fantastic due to that being a very high growth century, but they were at least trying to do what they said.

          If instead they grew it less than 10% in a whole century, that’s just looting.

          Whether their government was moral is a separate question entirely. Genghis Khan grew the wealth of the Mongol Empire tremendously by the simple expedient of how when two men have X wealth each and one kills the other and takes it he now has 2X wealth. He’s doubled his wealth!

      • The Soviet Union at least did industrialize rapidly (partly by exporting confiscated grain and using slave labor to be sure), so the question is the repugnant question of whether extremely rapid industrialization was worth a few million lives. Possibly, the answer was yes given it allowed them to later defeat the Nazis who had plans for Slavic genocide on an absolutely absurd scale (General Plan Ost), meaning that over 50 millions lives may have been saved through rapid highly exploitative industrialization that exacerbated famine conditions that killed several millions, along with those kulaks deliberately liquidated, and all of the officials shot in the Great Purge. That’s the best argument I’ve seen for Stalinism. I’ve seen to the contrary plenty of arguments to the effect that Russia could’ve industrialized in the time they had using other methods and still ended up on more or less the same footing, of course. It seems intuitive that greater levels of exploitation allow for faster industrialization though. Compressing an industrial revolution into a decade probably requires a great deal of suffering either way.

        Would we still measure alternatives in terms of GDP? As far as I’m aware, no part of C+I+G+(X-M) tells you anything about the quality of the thing, only that there is a large amount of monetary value being generated. In theory, if you melted down a load of steel into slag, you could still generate high GDP if you mined and transported enough ore to do so. The last time I saw a graph of Chinese GDP PPP per capita, the Great Leap Forward was a noticeable blip, but a blip none the less, and the effect of the high death rate on population is corrected by the 70s. It seems as though absolutely horrible things can happen with millions of people dying, and the effect is that GDP dips a little and the next decade your population is more or less where it would have been had it never happened.

        Surprisingly it seems like you can ask all sorts of questions about economic value and get middling to even positive answers while the equivalent of a genocide is occuring. You can blow up most of Europe and then the next decade it’s more or less fine. Figuring out what is lasting ruin and true rot is very very very difficult. Possibly beyond mortal ken.

        • cassander says:

          The Soviet Union at least did industrialize rapidly (partly by exporting confiscated grain and using slave labor to be sure), so the question is the repugnant question of whether extremely rapid industrialization was worth a few million lives.

          Less rapidly than is generally thought. Probably less rapidly than russia was industrializing prior to ww1, certainly less rapidly if you count the massive de-industrialization that took place between 1918 and 1928. And even then, a lot of what they did was only possible because the great depression destroyed the global market for capital goods, so the soviets were able to scoop up factories and machinery at bargain basement prices.

          It seems intuitive that greater levels of exploitation allow for faster industrialization though.

          You’re assuming that exploitation is efficient, it usually isn’t. Yes, stalin or Mao could decree that steel be made, but unless you’re turning the steel into useful goods, you don’t have actual industrializations, just a bizarre sort of cargo cult. Communist industry often produced products that were less valuable than the raw materials that went into them, even before you try to account for the massive amount of lying in the production figures.

          • Eric Rall says:

            certainly less rapidly if you count the massive de-industrialization that took place between 1918 and 1928

            Could you elaborate a bit about that? I don’t think I’ve heard about that before. Was the period of deindustrialization driven by the civil war (either directly through looting and razing, or indirectly as a consequence of war-driven deurbanization), or was it a case of “eating the seed corn”, or something else?

          • cassander says:

            @eric rall

            All of the above, really. the revolution, purges, civil war, and war communism destroyed russia’s industrial base. urban populations collapsed, skilled workers died or fled, and when replaced at all they were replaced with people who had no idea what they were doing and wrecked the equipment. the NEP allowed a little recovery, but the soviet regime used 1913 production figures as the baseline for comparison, and many were not surpassed until the late 20s or early 30s, some not until after ww2, despite a large boom in industrial production during ww1. And, of course, those are all the official figures, while lying was rife at every level.

          • Eric Rall says:

            That makes sense. Thank you.

          • but the soviet regime used 1913 production figures as the baseline for comparison, and many were not surpassed until the late 20s or early 30s, some not until after ww2, despite a large boom in industrial production during ww1. And, of course, those are all the official figures, while lying was rife at every level.

            Where can I read about this stuff? I’d previously seen graphs of Soviet steel production soaring way above over countries (I’ll admit tankies provided these) and taken the claim that Soviet industrialization was highly successful at face value. When I google “Soviet GDP”, I can see this big dip from the revolution in the relevant time period, but it seems like growth is all positive after the early 20s for most of what you’ll see. I wonder how much of the dip is due to the experiment with very extreme communism during the war, or the conditions of the civil war itself and the collapse of the previous system. There’s another enormous dip at the very end of the Soviet Union. We could make the same charge but against capitalism, but it seems more likely that the rapid collapse of the previous system caused chaos that was hard to recover from in both cases.

          • cassander says:

            Where can I read about this stuff? I’d previously seen graphs of Soviet steel production soaring way above over countries (I’ll admit tankies provided these) and taken the claim that Soviet industrialization was highly successful at face value.

            the soviet union made a lot of steel. So did Mao’s china. they both made a lot of steel for the same reason, steel making was an explicit and extremely important goal of the regime, because steel was seen as intrinsically modern, If developed nations made a lot of steel then if we made enough steel we’d be modern too. The USSR was not nearly as cargo culty about this as Mao was but they had similar motives and issues. a lot of the steel made was not very good and it was often bought extremely inefficiently.

            When you look at the production of goods, the story gets much worse, even before you account for quality. Chevrolet (not all of GM, just chevy) made about as many cars in 1962 as the entire soviet union made in the entire decade of the 60s.

            The soviet union did eventually manage develop enough high technology to compete militarily with the west in a few key areas, but only by devoting a truly enormous share of national income to the production of weapons. The technology gap only widened over time. Even today, russia almost totally lacks a semiconductor industry.

          • If developed nations made a lot of steel then if we made enough steel we’d be modern too. The USSR was not nearly as cargo culty about this as Mao was but they had similar motives and issues. a lot of the steel made was not very good and it was often bought extremely inefficiently.

            I was definitely aware of this with Mao, who famously had peasants melt good steel down into slag in backyard furnaces. I was not aware of this with Stalin. I’ve always had the impression that Stalin = evil but competent (if occasionally paranoid enough to overcome his natural competence and start killing his own officers), and Mao = evil and moronic.

            When you look at the production of goods, the story gets much worse, even before you account for quality. Chevrolet (not all of GM, just chevy) made about as many cars in 1962 as the entire soviet union made in the entire decade of the 60s.

            That’s a damning statistic. Perhaps that speaks to what I was alluding to before; GDP not being the greatest of measures.

            Going from that statistic, you’d naively expect Soviet GDP to be many times less than that of the USA, but if you look it up, it seems like Soviet inflation adjusted GDP was just a bit less than half the USA. Sounds bad, but nowhere near as clear a picture as to quality of life when considering something as transformative as the automobile.

            “Yet its economy produced less than half of the real GDP of the US, despite a population of similar size, spread across a much larger territory.”

            The only bothersome issue that remains for me is that modern capitalist Russia still lags the USA this badly. Yes, it no longer has the Soviet territories, but the bulk of the population and territory was within Russia anyway. Why with all these natural advantages unlocked by the switch to capitalism does Russia perform so relatively poorly even now? We can give it the decade of disaster in the 90s, but even now? If US sanctions are a further excuse wouldn’t that only be equal to the USSR being part of a separate economic bloc back then?

          • Clutzy says:

            The only bothersome issue that remains for me is that modern capitalist Russia still lags the USA this badly. Yes, it no longer has the Soviet territories, but the bulk of the population and territory was within Russia anyway. Why with all these natural advantages unlocked by the switch to capitalism does Russia perform so relatively poorly even now? We can give it the decade of disaster in the 90s, but even now? If US sanctions are a further excuse wouldn’t that only be equal to the USSR being part of a separate economic bloc back then?

            Because they haven’t really hit the switch. A lot of the big things despite being nominally privately held are really state (Putin) owned and could be seized at any time on a whim. There is no place for a private information economy because that would pose serious threats to his control as well.

          • @Clutzy

            Isn’t that even more true for China, which has its state champion corporations? Unless we think China is coasting on earlier liberalization and will also slow down drastically.

          • ana53294 says:

            A lot of the big things despite being nominally privately held are really state (Putin) owned and could be seized at any time on a whim.

            It’s not just the big things. It’s small things too.

            If the Russian government wants to get something, they can get it. Russia is not that far off from Venezuela in that sense.

            There is the case of the prosecutor general’s links to the mafia who stole some businesses. Then there is the issue of the Renovation project in Moscow. When homes where privatized in Moscow, it was done without the land. So there is a plan to “renovate” all the “old and dysfunctional” buildings, tear them down, and put people in high rise apartments. On a huge scale. And they may extend it to every other city in Russia. If people’s homes are not safe, what is?

            Private property is not a thing in Russia. Ordinary Russians have no good way of saving. Rubles may be worth nothing; bank accounts held abroad may become inaccessible due to sanctions; the Russian state may ban you from leaving the country by denying you a passport; who can trust Russian banks and Russian share exchanges? Most Russians I know who live in Russia saved by buying property, because most of them are distrustful of other means of saving. And now even property is hit and miss.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @Forward Synthesis

            The only bothersome issue that remains for me is that modern capitalist Russia still lags the USA this badly. Yes, it no longer has the Soviet territories, but the bulk of the population and territory was within Russia anyway. Why with all these natural advantages unlocked by the switch to capitalism does Russia perform so relatively poorly even now?

            “Capitalism” imho isn’t useful concept. Current Russian regime isn’t communist, but it also isn’t liberal democracy. It is however unfair to compare its performance to US, better question would be why they lag behind e.g. Poland or Romania, and an answer is that, actually, they don´t.

            Current Russian GDP per capita (with purchasing power parity adjustment) is slightly higher than Romanian, and only slightly lower than Polish or Hungarian. Average Russian is however still noticeably worse than citizens of those countries in terms of income, since Russia is an extremely unequal country.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @cassander
            Production figures after WW2 might not be the best comparsion, you know after having fought one of the biggest wars in human history in the mid of your industrial core areas.

          • cassander says:

            @forward synthesis

            I was definitely aware of this with Mao, who famously had peasants melt good steel down into slag in backyard furnaces. I was not aware of this with Stalin. I’ve always had the impression that Stalin = evil but competent (if occasionally paranoid enough to overcome his natural competence and start killing his own officers), and Mao = evil and moronic.

            Mao certainly took the cargo cultishness to new heights, but those sorts of issues are inevitable in a centrally planned economy.

            That’s a damning statistic. Perhaps that speaks to what I was alluding to before; GDP not being the greatest of measures.

            GDP isn’t bad, but garbage in, garbage out. everyone in the USSR lied at every level of production, and even if people were being honest, without prices there was no way to evaluate what was being produced. See the story of soviet shoes, for example. Every one of those shoes was getting booked on the official GDP figures as the equivalent of a western shoe, even though no one wanted them and they were probably worth less than the raw materials that went into them.

            The only bothersome issue that remains for me is that modern capitalist Russia still lags the USA this badly.

            clutzy and ana53294 are right, russia suffers badly for not having gone through with shock therapy. they started to, but reversed course after about 6 months which has left them with one of the most statist economies in the world

            @DarkTigger

            That was 20 years after the war, and the germans and japanese, who got it at least as bad, did just fine economically post-war. Heck, the germans did better than the british by a wide margin.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @cassander
            Sure but the improvement in production happened in both parts of Germany. And in the early 60ties it even looked like GDR would surparse the FGR, on a per Person basis.
            So the bad Russian numbers could just be a sign for the effectiveness of the German extermination campaign.
            Nobody seriously questions that the UsSR was lacking behind the West in a couple of key industries.
            Your claim was, that there was a “massive deindustrialization” between 1918 and 1928? Could you please quote numbers for that.

          • ana53294 says:

            The GDR bordered free economies, had access to a sea that didn’t freeze the whole year, a well educated populace, and had German culture. They were also Catholics and Protestants instead of Orthodox*.

            *In Europe, Protestant countries in general do better than Catholic ones, and Catholic ones do better than Orthodox ones.

          • cassander says:

            @DarkTigger says:

            Sure but the improvement in production happened in both parts of Germany. And in the early 60ties it even looked like GDR would surparse the FGR, on a per Person basis.

            I don’t have east vs. west german production figures handy, but east germany was making trabants, a car famously terrible that wikipedia claims “the 1980s model had no tachometer, no indicator for either the headlights or turn signals, no fuel gauge, no rear seat belts, and no external fuel door, and drivers had to pour a mix of gasoline and oil directly under the bonnet/hood.” Meanwhile, west germany was the land of Mercedes and BMW and was cranking out a truly staggering number of beetles. More of those were made in 1966 and 67 than the entire history of the trabant

            Nobody seriously questions that the UsSR was lacking behind the West in a couple of key industries.

            They were behind in virtually every industry, and every category of consumer good.

            our claim was, that there was a “massive deindustrialization” between 1918 and 1928? Could you please quote numbers for that.

            There had been some recovery by 1928. Sadly, I lack the JSTOR access to find the best articles on the subject, but some of the decline can be seen here. Note, this is not Ezra Klein’s Vox.

            If you want more detailed figures you can look in here. Production of pig iron, steel, and copper were down in 1928 compared to 1913. Coal was up about 15% from 1913, but level with 1916. Fabric was flat. The USSR produced 671 cars in 1928, the US more than 3 million. National income figures in 1928 were, at best, about even with 1913 levels. That’s 15 years with zero net economic growth.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            I have to back up cassander here.

            Availability of cars in the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries was way lower than in the West until the 90s, and 60s, far from being an era where USSR still hasn’t recovered from the war, was probably when living standards were highest. They declined in Breznev era. And Eastern block cars were shit.., um, low quality compared to Western ones. I still remember from the 90s ubiquitous legacy Trabant cars made from plastic (videoreview). This general low quality applies to pretty much all consumer goods and even more to consumer services, which according to all sources were abysmal. Source: I was born in 80s Czechoslovakia, and although I don’t personally remember much of it, over here, past isn’t dead.

            Regarding deindustrialization in Russia from 1914 to 20s, I don’t have numbers, but it is evident that Bolshevik takeover and actions in that era massively retarded contemporary and potential future economic development.

          • bean says:

            Another place to look for evidence of deindustrialization is in naval construction. The Russians had an active industry under the Tsars, but when they attempted to build battleships again starting in the mid-30s, they had a tremendous amount of trouble, and not just in the areas that had obviously atrophied (heavy armor production, for instance). My primary source on the subject specifically called this out as an example of fraud in Soviet economic figures.

          • Clutzy says:

            Isn’t that even more true for China, which has its state champion corporations? Unless we think China is coasting on earlier liberalization and will also slow down drastically.

            @Forward Synthesis

            Yes, I would expect China to slow down dramatically without further economic reforms. Their growth has largely been the result of cheap labor and scale with some IP theft thrown in. There is scant evidence of non-spillover growth in China.

          • albatross11 says:

            Clutzy:

            China is also still doing catchup growth–basically following in the footsteps of other economies that have already gotten up to the current state-of-the-art in technology. When you’re doing that, you can have fast growth, because you don’t have to spend resources figuring out how to build plastic factories or refineries or chip fabs, because that stuff has already been worked out. At some point, China will basically be caught up to the first-world nations, the way Japan is. At that point, further growth will be a lot slower, and will be further slowed by the need to maintain the capital and arrangements they’ve already built up.

          • Clutzy says:

            albatross

            Yes, that’s what I referred to as “spillover growth.” Its basically growth that you actively have to work to not capture.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @cassander
            Yes the Trabant was a joke in the 70ties already. But you have to remember in the 60ties the east Germans, used the Trabants (called Trabbies), but in West Germany people where driving VW Beetle, and Citroën 2CV (called Duck).

            Thanks for showing some acutal numbers, for your claim. It’s not that I really doubted it. But you know, asking for evidence and all that jazz.

          • eric23 says:

            Current Russian GDP per capita (with purchasing power parity adjustment) is slightly higher than Romanian, and only slightly lower than Polish or Hungarian.

            That’s because they’re flush with fossil fuel wealth. The same effect is seen in other fossil fuel producers like Iraq, Egypt, and Venezuela, which all have respectable GDP (PPP) per capita despite their population being desperately impoverished.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          If we are going to tackle its morality, Soviet industrialization should be viewed in proper context. Which is that Russia was indeed industrializing before revolution, and Bolsheviks destroyed conditions for its successful economic development by, you know, liquidating the bourgeoisie as a class and by closing the country to most of foreign trade and investment.

          Then Stalin realised that he needs to industrialize country rapidly in order to win wars (and he expected those wars to be way less defensive than they turned out in reality), so he went with his soviet way of industrialization, which ensured first huge death toll and then continuing misery even in postwar USSR.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          @eric23

          On one hand, yes, but on the other hand, Hungary, Poland and Romania are EU members, which means that they have an access on the Single Market and also that they receive substantial development aid. And they are not under any sanctions, of course. Those things should imho more or less compensate for Russian advantages in natural resources.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I am glad that table at least specifies PPP instead of raw GDP.

      Otherwise, +1 to what EchoChaos said.

    • Estimates of past economic data before good data collection should always be taken with an enormous grain of salt. We simply have no idea.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Interesting topic, and one I wish I knew more about.

      It seems to me that development of India’s railway network should be part of the picture (and perhaps another basis of comparison to Imperial Russia). I also wonder what comparing the princely states with directly governed provinces would show?

    • Wency says:

      Czarist Russia seems a strange comparison. Russia was a European country that was industrializing and modernizing rapidly in the years leading to WW1. Indeed, that war was started largely out of German fears of Russia’s growing might — the China of its day.

      If India escaped British rule, I imagine its development would fall somewhere closer to Qing China, Persia (prior to oil discovery), or Ethiopia. Except there might well be more independent “Indian” countries than in our own world, with some perhaps more closely resembling one of these or another.

      While EchoChaos points out we don’t know exactly how poor British India started, we at least know it was not a rousing success. If it was a big success, if it had industrialized, we would know that fact. But I don’t know if the native elites would have done better. The dramatic 19th century Asian success story was Japan, but there is nothing about India to make us it would have performed as Japan did.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I mostly agree with that, except that Qing China was largely under European de facto dominion in the second half of 19th century and I know honestly nothing about Persia in that time.

        But it is also hard to see in the data that British rule helped India, which I think would be an argument that colonial official would gave as a justification for the British Empire.

        EDIT: Just to clarify, based on that comparison, quite frankly I think that British government was probably awful, compared to policies that British could plausibly adopt to improve situation of Indians. Tsars were not exactly shining examples of good governance, yet they did in some sense better, or at least not measurably worse. Whether natively ruled India without European overlordship would be better or worse than what actually happened is counterfactual that is very difficult to evaluate.

        • quanta413 says:

          I mostly agree with that, except that Qing China was largely under European de facto dominion in the second half of 19th century and I know honestly nothing about Persia in that time.

          Reading about the history of the Qing, the enormous internal rebellions seemed more significant to me than the wars with various European nations even given that the Europeans furnished support to some rebellions. The Taiping Rebellion, the Nian rebellion, and multiple muslim revolts were almost 30 years of revolts across China some of them occurring simultaneously.

          The number of deaths during these rebellions is estimated in the tens of millions. Hundreds of towns were wiped off the map. The armies involved were in the hundreds of thousands to millions range.

          It’s incredible that the Qing held together despite having so many large revolts while simultaneously being periodically humiliated by Europeans attacking from the coast.

          • Protagoras says:

            Between the Yuan and the Qing, China spent more than a third of the second millenium under the rule of foreign conquerors. There’s all sorts of evidence of this having been extremely bad for them; I don’t think there would have been so many of the revolts you mention, or that they would have been so bad, without Han resentment of the Manchu. It remains my theory that this was the most important factor in China falling behind the West. Notably, the first millenium did not include such periods of rule by foreigners, and was a period when China was consistently ahead of the West. Admittedly, there were also substantial periods of disunity in the first millenium, so the contrast also fits with some theories on which unity was part of the problem, but I still think the foreign overlords were more important.

    • Plumber says:

      @AlesZiegler,
      Of the two nations with a billion people, China and India, I think I’d rather go with the world’s largest democratic republic than the giant fascist state Marxist people’s republic with Confucian characteristics.

      There’s exceptions (hello Zimbabwe!), but among nations “formerly British ruled” looks like a good start overall.

    • Auric Ulvin says:

      Russia was still a great European power in WW1. They had a large industrial base, it just wasn’t large enough. Calling them backwards is like calling Alabama or Mississippi backward: they’re still a US state and are in the First World. Russia would’ve been on the edge of the 1st world in 1914, along with Austria-Hungary but in it nonetheless.

      I’d prefer to compare to Afghanistan, Nepal or Bhutan. Yes, these kingdoms were more mountainous, smaller and landlocked, so they ought to have lower growth. However, they all seemed to be as or less developed than India by Independence. Sadly I can’t find figures to support this. They are fairly obscure countries after all.

      I’d cautiously say that British rule in India wasn’t worse than baseline for a South Asian state.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I find this line of reasoning quite strange. Fact that India unlike Russia didn’t have an industrial base seems to me to be an indictment of British policies, that evidently failed to kickstart its economic development. “They should be glad that they aren´t Afghanistan” is holding colonial government to ridiculously low standard.

        • quanta413 says:

          Low by modern standards, but perhaps high compared to the standards of what governments came before them and even ok compared to some that were next to them.

          But yeah, the bottom in how bad things can get is really far down.

        • Auric Ulvin says:

          What sort of standard of development could’ve been expected? The British administration in India wasn’t very direct and they had a lot of other countries to rule.

          There were hundreds of Indian princely states incorporated within the Raj. A subcontinent of nearly 400 million was never going to be directly ruled from London. The Indian civil service was outnumbered around a 100,000: 1 after all.

          How can you develop such a big country with such a small bureaucracy?

          Besides, how do countries develop anyway? I think we generally agree that the best thing to do as a poor country is embrace free trade, set up low-cost manufacturing and export to rich countries. Gradually you start making higher tech goods and creating an internal market. This is the Taiwanese, South Korean and Chinese model.

          But in the 19th and early 20th centuries I think this was a lot harder. The rich countries had extensive market barriers and systems of protection. They had huge workforces doing the very same low-cost textiles and heavy industry. There was no super-affluent US consumer to sell too: they were still working in the factories themselves.

          A subcontinent like India was too big and too diverse for a top-down Japanese-style modernisation program. The British weren’t powerful enough to just reshape every aspect of society at the drop of a hat. They had to work through local elites. Developing a country is very hard to do, especially when all you’re ruling is a slightly-more-centralised version of the HRE with a united foreign policy and all you have are a few thousand administrators.

          Doing about the same as Siam, Bhutan, Nepal and Afghanistan is about as much as could be expected.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            It all comes down to framing, I guess. You are focusing on the bit where developing a country is very hard to do, with which I am in complete agreement, while my focus is on that British government of India failed in that difficult task.

            However I think that my framing is more consistent with how other cases are generally evaluated in this space. Especially Soviet Union, but also independent India.

  19. Statismagician says:

    Congratulations! In a rare spirit of bi-partisan cooperation, Congress has agreed to have an impartial-ish body review the US Federal code and correct any obvious problems that they find, and you’ve been appointed to run it. These have to be legitimate mistakes – laws which contradict other laws, regulations which don’t apply to anyone, permits that are impossible to successfully apply for, that sort of thing.

    What are your recommendations going to be?

    • EchoChaos says:

      Number one that seems to fit this is enlarge the Federal Judiciary. There are a substantial number of judiciable claims that fail every year out of simply not having enough judges to properly handle them.

      Best choice would be creating two more Federal Circuits and enlarging the Supreme Court to fifteen seats so that every Circuit has its own Justice.

      I would prefer splitting the Ninth and creating the second new circuit entirely to adjudicate immigration/international law, but that’s just personal preference.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Slay the problem once and for all.

      Begin the audacious undertaking of phrasing the entire body of laws in formal logic. Starting with an initial effort to establish a framework for doing so – CLIF syntax, followed by a sound semantic model and software for manipulating and expanding it.

    • Plumber says:

      @Statismagician,
      A one year period in which all U.S. states decide by plebiscite who’s set of laws and regulations they may adopt, they may choose between those of:
      1) British Columbia,
      2) Costa Rica,
      3) Massachusetts,
      4) Norway,
      5) Switzerland, or
      6) Utah
      (with all laws and regulations translated into English, plus Spanish as well for California and Texas).

      The Federal government becomes vestigial, with little beyond the Coast Guard, the Post Office, and Social Security Insurance for those who have already paid into it, most other Federal laws and regulations are dissolved. Individual States may implement seperate border controls.

      Modifications to the new laws and regulations may be made in a state with a 3/4 winning vote for a ten year period, after the ten years the individual states are free to modify their laws and regulations with majority votes (unless they decide after a majority vote to limit themselves on specific items to super majority votes again).

      See how it all shakes out.

      • KieferO says:

        This is fascinating. It raises the question whether Massachusetts would adopt it’s own laws. I think it would depend on the voting scheme if we had Cambridge voting, I think Massachusetts’ would just squeak by in Massachusetts. If it’s FPTP, I think Norway’s would have the edge.

      • Eigengrau says:

        The problem with this is… well, one of the problems with this is there is a difference between state/provincial and federal law. If some state adopted British Columbia’s provincial laws while removing all federal laws, there’d be enormous gaps in the law there. Like I’m pretty sure you’d be decriminalizing murder, for example.

    • Etoile says:

      I started reading that thinking that was a real thing, and got super-excited for a moment.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Likewise.

      • blipnickels says:

        I had the exact opposite reaction. I started to read it thinking it was real and got scared.

        Any “non-partisan” effort to “correct obvious problems”, especially if it “clarifies confusing language or terms” should be purged with fire, especially if they promise the changes will be “non-substantive”. At this point I’m semi-convinced bills like this are obvious decoys while the special interests try to slip their goals in through other bills, since every bill like this I’ve encountered has inevitably involved attempts to redefine key legal terms.

        • Statismagician says:

          Which bills were you thinking of? I wasn’t aware this had been tried.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          Also there’s plain old incompetence. NH tried to make a non-functional clarification to their murder statute which briefly gave pregnant women blanket immunity to murder charges before being fixed. If something as simple as that can go horribly wrong, I have little confidence in trying to refactor the entire code.

          • acymetric says:

            briefly gave pregnant women blanket immunity to murder charges before being fixed

            As husbands shivered in fear everywhere…

    • Eric Rall says:

      Amend the Constitution to specifically grant Congress the power to provide and maintain an Air Force. Or at least to clarify whether the Air Force is authorized under the Armies clause (which places a two-year limit on appropriations bills) or the Navy clause (which has no such limit).

      • Eric Rall says:

        Also, fix the impeachment procedures so the Vice President doesn’t get to preside over his own trial. Currently, the Chief Justice presides over Presidential impeachment trials (because having the Vice President preside would be a conflict of interest), while the Vice President (in his “President of the Senate” role) presides over all other impeachment trials. Including his own.

        Presumably, if anyone had thought of it in time, it would have been specified that the Chief Justice would preside over Vice Presidential impeachments as well.

      • cassander says:

        We’d probably be better off amending the constitution to say that there CAN’T be an air force, then fold it back into the army.

    • Garrett says:

      Known problem of “Yellowstone Zone of Death” where due to technicalities in the US Constitution it may be impossible to prosecute someone for Federal crimes in certain parts of Yellowstone National Park.

      Fix those cases where rights exist, but can be exercised due to the mechanisms to use them being defunded. For example, Federal Law allows for someone to apply to the ATF for restoration of firearms rights from convicted Felons under certain circumstances. However, the ATF appropriations since 1992 have prohibited using funds to process those applications. And in the case of Bean v. BATF, the court held that since the application wasn’t technically *denied*, Bean couldn’t appeal through the Court system.

      • Aftagley says:

        I think the implication of this quote is that murder is the worst crime possible. Crimes go up in severity until they reach murder. This sentence says that all crimes could be un-punishable.

      • acymetric says:

        I’m pretty sure it is implying that murder is the worst crime, and emphasizing that it would still fall under the loophole.

        Edit: Ninja’d by Aftagley

      • Eric Rall says:

        Is there a list of crimes “above” murder?

        The various forms of treason. In the US, federal treason is defined in the Constitution (levying war against the United States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort), and most (all?) states have parallel language for treason against the state government.

        Treasons were historically a much longer list in the UK, including such crimes as:
        – Killing the King or his heir
        – Planning or conspiring to kill the King
        – Thinking too hard about the King dying
        – Conspiring to deny the rightful King or his heir of their throne
        – Killing certain specified high Royal officials
        – Cuckolding the King or his heir
        – Forging the King’s official seal
        – Counterfeiting the King’s coins

        And that’s just High Treason, covering offenses against the Crown. There was also Petty Treason, covering similar (more narrowly defined) offenses against the perpetrator’s master, husband, or prelate. But Petty Treason is long-since abolished in the UK (the non-murder forms of it were abolished in the 1300s, while the remaining forms were rolled into ordinary murder in the early 1800s), and I’m not sure it ever existed in the US.

        Also, why would they not fall under the loophole?

        I’m pretty sure that treason is still covered by the “zone of death” loophole. The sixth amendment attaches to “all criminal prosecutions”, which presumably includes treason.

      • Garrett says:

        I’d add that in a lot of cases, being exempt from Federal law wouldn’t do all that much. Most people are covered by State criminal law in addition to Federal law, and most elements of Federal law have similar duplicate statutes at the State level. So in an arbitrary State, if Federal law went away the immediate impacts would be minimal – maybe you’d be able to hire someone for $5/hour instead of the current Federal minimum wage. Finding out that in one swath of Yellowstone park “man hires teenager to sweep sidewalk for less than Federal minimum wage!” is a possible story might be interesting, but it’s not important.

        It’s because this is a Federal Park that *only* Federal law applies that this is even possible. Because there’s no State law to fall back on, you only have Federal murder statutes to fall back on. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem.

        What’s more annoying is that this issue has been repeatedly brought to the attention of Congress and they’ve declined to address it. There are approximately 0 people who would be opposed to the technical changes required to fix the issue. Yet they haven’t managed to do so.

    • Plumber says:

      @Statismagician,
      I changed my mind, there is only one top legislative priority: the total elimination of ‘Daylight Saving crime, all else is paltry.

      I want my hour back permanently!

      Also, any attempt by employers/supervisors/lackeys/whomever, to move start times forward “to get back afternoon light” shall be fiercely punished by being pelted with rotting eggs and vegetables.

      Further: All hours worked before 9AM and after 5PM shall now be at triple rate, attempts to circumvent this will be met with jail time without books, magazines, and television.

      Also, 90% of all workers shall now have an hour and a half lunch that includes a full pint of good ale, those who don’t consume alcohol shall be given a substitute fancy meal valued at no less than $100.

      Registering to vote now comes with a free drink and a brass playing and a dozen people shouting “Huzzah!”

      Every thousand residents in an area must be provided a post office, at least a small public library, hardware store, a place to get a good corned beef sandwich, a milkshake, and a tasty beer in their midst, except maybe where most of those residents are Mormon, Muslim, and/or 7th Day Adventists, they get something else (ideas are welcome).

      More Chuck Berry on the radio NOW!

      Doctor Who and Star Trek shall be on broadcast television again.

      College graduates are forbidden from moving to the San Francisco bay area if they aren’t really good looking plus married to and have a child with someone from here.

      Police uniforms shall not include basball hats and cargo paints, really any uniform that would be strange 50+ years ago is not allowed.

      Anyone who wears a hat backwards that isn’t a cameraman, sniper, or welder shall be dope slapped.

      The main thing is the total elimination of Daylight Savings though.

      • Statismagician says:

        I’m 100% with you on DST being deeply stupid and deeply stupidly implemented. Incentives for voter registration is a solid plan, and in retrospect probably should have been provided for once we started expanding the franchise.

        I live in St. Louis, so lack of Chuck Berry on the radio is not a problem I have, plus I’m not sure it really falls under the ‘legislative mistakes’ category.

      • JayT says:

        I don’t really care much about time switches, except that if we get rid of it, I want to keep standard time, not DST. I hate waking up in the dark.

        • Plumber says:

          @JayT >

          “…I hate waking up in the dark”

          Preach it!

        • Silverlock says:

          But I hate getting home for work and it being too dark outside to be able to do anything. The only thing morning light helps me with is my commute.

          • Evan Þ says:

            And it makes me feel better when I wake up if the sun’s out.
            But yes, light when I get home from work is even nicer IMO.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Please, please, don’t incentivize banks and grocery stores and such to close at 5 PM. Those of us who actually work normal 9-5 hours need to get over there afterwards.

        Instead, say perhaps “all hours over 50 hours/week required to be worked at specific times are at triple rate, as are all hours required to be worked between 9 PM and 6 AM, without regards to exempt status.” The “required to be worked at specific times” is so they don’t need to track hours for actually-exempt people.

        • Plumber says:

          @Evan Þ,
          Nope, I worked too many 6AM start time jobs, and now that Daylight saving crime is the majority of the year most months I have to go to my car with a flashlight with the 7AM start time.

          I want the iron fist loving embrace of the state to force encourage my current boss and subsequent bosses to have a later start work time.

          I’m more amenable to others working later though, but I draw the line at the constant requests for “four tens instead of five eights”, my body is pretty wore out at the seventh hour at work already!

          • Evan Þ says:

            OK; I’ve never had to start work that early myself, so I’ll defer to you! (Except for the time when I got an urgent call at 4:30 AM, when… well, my boss gives good comp time, but I’d still love triple rate.)

            Some of my friends work “four tens” as nurses and like having every weekend be a long weekend. There are weeks I’d go for that too. Maybe your work’s more physical than theirs? Or at least more steadily physical, because I hear a lot of stories from them about talking with patients as well as physically lifting them?

      • Eigengrau says:

        I think we should just keep turning the clocks back 1 hour every year, then after 24 years we skip a day. Preferably a Monday.

        • Eric Rall says:

          My DST reform proposal goes the other direction. Every day at 2pm, we should “spring forward” to 3pm, giving us an extra hour of sunlight after work. And every night at 2am, we “fall back” to 1am, giving us an extra hour of sleep.

    • The Nybbler says:

      OK, you asked for it. It is currently illegal to fly a model aircraft in the United States without a Remote Pilot Certificate. While Congress has passed a recreational exception, two of the conditions required to take advantage of this exception are unable to be fulfilled (one is a knowledge test which has not been written, the other is a set of rules developed in combination with a Community Based Organization, none of which have been recognized). I would recommend restoring the status quo ante as of 2011, which was “no restrictions”.

      • Aftagley says:

        Phh, why stop there?

        I change it so that model aircraft hobbyists are legally allowed to keep any major airliners they can bring down. Bring big-game hunting into the 21st century!

        • Statismagician says:

          But what’s your position on eagles bringing down drones?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Airliners make lousy trophies. No matter how well you clean the hide, you can never get the odor of jet fuel out of them.

          • Statismagician says:

            You just need to find a mature airliner. Once the adult propellers come in the jet fuel odor becomes much less problematic.

          • The Nybbler says:

            All right, open season on Dash-8s, no bag limit.

          • Garrett says:

            Thank you both for getting me to laugh absurdly at my desk at work. You made my day!

          • bean says:

            If you want the really mature airliners, you need to go to Alaska, where the largest propeller-driven airliners are. The problem is that getting the scent of avgas out is harder than jet fuel, and they’re really tough. Some have even survived collisions with caribou with minimal damage.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Were the aircraft flying low or the caribou flying high?

          • Statismagician says:

            By analogy with observed behavior of certain reindeer subpopulations, perhaps both? I know NORAD tracks Santa’s location, but what about his altitude?

          • bean says:

            The airplane (DC-6) was on final when caribou ran onto the runway. They took out two engines and three props. The operator flew out replacements, and ferried the airplane back to base. The worst part of the job was hosing ground caribou out of the gear bays.

  20. metacelsus says:

    So, the leader of the Islamic State (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) has been killed in a raid by US forces. In contrast to the killing of Osama bin Laden (which Scott blogged about at the time on his old LiveJournal. Is it OK to link it?), I’ve seen relatively little public celebration. Is this because of:

    A) Osama bin Laden was behind 9/11 and therefore much more notorious
    B) Different willingness to celebrate perceived accomplishments of Obama vs. Trump
    C) Other stuff in the news overshadowing it

    (I suspect it’s a combination of all 3).

    Anyway, I don’t expect this will change much, given that the Islamic State already was pretty decentralized.

    • Statismagician says:

      I agree that all three of these are at play to at least some degree, but I think A is by far the most important. My impression of the last few years is that ISIS hasn’t been taken anything like a seriously as Al-Qaeda was and that approximately no significant number of people cared particularly about their leader.

      • albatross11 says:

        Well, Al Qaida had carried out a successful attack on us that killed 3000 or so Americans, whereas ISIS had attempted a couple attacks with no casualties in the US and had maybe influenced a couple nutcases to go on mass-shootings, so it’s not totally shocking to me that killing Bin Laden was a bigger deal in the US. But I also suspect all three of your points come into it somewhere.

    • Aftagley says:

      A is so much so the answer that everything else, no matter how true, is overshadowed.

      9/11 was a visceral wound on our country’s spirit. We launched two wars ostensibly because of it. People still remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. People remember watching those horrific images of Americans on American soil dying, jumping out of buildings. People still tell stories of the heroism shown by some people during and after 9/11. Heck, a non-insubstantial percentage of military members and nat sec folks still cite 9/11 as the formative reason they joined up. Catching Bin Laden, after so long and after our nation had sacrificed so much was a moment of national catharsis.

      Catching Baghdadi, while arguably important, wasn’t nearly on the same level.

      • Aftagley says:

        Slight tangent off the main topic: It’s also transparent how badly Trump wanted this to be his “Obama catching Bin Laden moment.”

        Everything, down to the staging, the releasing of comparable photographs and his attempt at a serious-sounding speech was like a fun-house mirror reflection of Obama’s announcement. Seeing just how desperately he wanted to be an Obama-like figure in this moment and watching how incapable he is of doing so was the first time I’ve ever actually had pity for Trump.

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      I’m not American, but this is the first time I heard name of any ISIS leader.

      I spend a lot of time on the anglophone Internet so someone would’ve noticed. He doesn’t have a cool look or any media presence, so I don’t think anyone cares. And even if he’s not as obscure as I think, people probably grew more cynical about killing terrorists over the years. It doesn’t seem to do any good.

      • Plumber says:

        @ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        “I’m not American, but this is the first time I heard name of any ISIS leader…”

        +1

        I’m American and I”ve also never heard of Abu-whomever until yesterday.

        • albatross11 says:

          In terms of actual human suffering and misery and horror caused by them, al-Baghdadi is a few orders of magnitude bigger as a villain than Bin Laden. ISIS actually controlled territory, and carried out godawful crimes against humanity (including systematic rape, torture, and genocide).

    • broblawsky says:

      Mostly A. Al Qaeda did far less on a global scale than Da’esh, and yet accomplished far more in terms of spreading fear in the hearts of Americans. Da’esh – and Abu Bakr – were always going to be second stringers by comparison.

    • John Schilling says:

      +1 on Mostly A, and most Americans not even recognizing the name al-Baghdadi until yesterday. It might have made a difference if his death was concurrent with e.g. the fall of Raqqah, the whole thing being wrapped up into “The Final Defeat of ISIS”, but it wasn’t. Instead we get a postscript to the defeat of ISIS, and Americans never cared about ISIS as much as they did Al Qaeda because ISIS never killed 3,000 Americans.

      Which raises the question – to what extent is the death of al-Baghdadi being celebrated among the various peoples who did lose 3,000+ of their own to ISIS? I’m not seeing much in my usual sources.

      And, yeah, there’s an element of B amplified by Trump’s absurdly Trumpian manner of promoting “his” great victory.

      • Aftagley says:

        Which raises the question – to what extent is the death of al-Baghdadi being celebrated among the various peoples who did lose 3,000+ of their own to ISIS?

        From what I understand, it’s been pretty muted. As far as I understand it, Al-Baghdadi wasn’t really a public figure over there, to the extent that it’s a fairly well-believed consipracy theory that he never actually existed, wasn’t really in charge of ISIS, was a secret US plant, etc.

    • DarkTigger says:

      The fact, that it is something like the forth time his death is reported might have to do something with it as well. He was already reported to be killed by American, Russian and Syrian forces.

  21. rahien.din says:

    Asking for help on a probability question.

    Using Bayes’ theorem for a single trial is straightforward. But how is it calculated for repeated trials? For instance :

    Suppose you start out 85% confident the one remaining enemy soldier is not a sniper, leaving only 15% credence to the hypothesis that he is a sniper. But then, a bullet glances off your helmet — an event far more likely if the enemy soldier is a sniper than if he is not. So now you’re only 40% confident he’s not a sniper, and 60% confident he is. Another bullet glances off your helmet, and you update again. Now you’re only 2% confident he’s not a sniper, and 98% confident he is a sniper.

    One explanation seems to be “use the posterior from trial 1 as the prior in trial 2.” However, this does not yield the same numbers as in Yudkowsky’s example (assuming they are legit). Moreover, they don’t behave like probabilities – a probability ought to be bound asymptotically by 1, but this method yields an exponentially-increasing value that rapidly escapes the bounds of probabilities. (This is to be expected, given that this is basically just multiplying by a scalar – P(B|A)/P(B) – over and over.)

    I even tried making odds ratios, as though these were odds – P(sniper|hit)/P(regular|hit) – and then converting the result to a probability. That at least resembles a probability :

    sniper|hit1 0.60000
    sniper|hit2 0.92727
    sniper|hit3 0.99086
    sniper|hit4 0.99892
    sniper|hit5 0.99987
    sniper|hit6 0.99998

    …but this can’t be right, either.

    How is this calculation actually performed?

    • LesHapablap says:

      Like you say, the old posterior becomes the new prior.

      I believe the second link there has the wrong numbers in the denominator in round 2, it is only updating the numerator to .04348

      first round denominator:
      (0.99×0.2)+(0.01×0.9)

      second round denominator:
      (0.956×0.2)+(0.044×0.9)

      • rahien.din says:

        How are you updating the denominators?

        And, can you show me what values of P(sniper|hit) you get for rounds 4, 5, and 6?

        Edit : I understand now – thanks!

    • Witness says:

      I don’t think you should assume Yudkowsy actually did the math in that example. Doing the math properly will not escape the probability bounds of 0..1

      The weirdness you’re seeing here is partially because you should be updating your prior on P(hit) to reflect your updated prior of P(sniper).

    • Kindly says:

      The example with the sniper doesn’t seem to actually tell us *how much* more likely a sniper is to hit you. Or maybe I just can’t find the place where that happens.

      Let’s suppose conservatively that a sniper is twice as likely to hit. Then with odds, the calculation is simple: you multiply the current odds (x : y, whatever they are) by how much more likely they make the new observation (2 : 1).

      Starting with 85% confidence of no sniper, we go from 15 : 85 to 30: 85 (or about 74% safe versus 26% sniper). Then to 60 : 85 (or about 59% safe versus 41% sniper). Then to 120 : 85 (or about 41% safe versus 59% sniper). And so on.

      • Vitor says:

        So, I was thinking through how this trick generalizes to more than 2 states, and suddenly I grokked Bayesian updating much more tangibly than before.

        Let’s say that a small fraction of non-snipers are left handed, but none of the snipers are. A sniper is still twice as likely to hit than a non-sniper, with the latter group being evenly skilled independent of handedness.

        Now the prior is 15 : 5 : 80 (I know this is nonsense notation as it’s not a ratio anymore, but you get what I mean). How do I get the posterior? Well, I just multiply by 2 : 1 : 1.

        Why? Let’s imagine the same scenario is happening 100M times. So we have an initial population of 100M shooters, split up as 15M, 5M, 80M (our prior). The snipers hit 20% of the time, while the non-snipers hit 10% of the time. So the amount of snipers that survive the “test” of being consistent with the reality I observe are 3M, 500K, 8M. I throw away the other 88.5M cases where the shooter missed, by postselection (which is similar to the anthropic principle: I’m allowed to assume that I’m actually in the world that I observe, because I observe it).

        Now, if the shot was much harder and the success chances were 0.2%, 0.1% and 0.1%, then the final population would be 30K, 5K, 80K, which is exactly the same proportion. Absolute success doesn’t matter, only relative success matters.

        When we chain multiple observations, we are now asking our shooters to not just pass a single test, but a whole gauntlet of tests chained together. This lowers the absolute success chance by a lot, but it doesn’t matter! We can just look at it like one huge test, track the population at intermediate stages of the gauntlet or not, or even swap the order of the tests (need to assume that individual tests are independent, the shooters don’t get tired etc). No matter how we calculate it, we must get the same final number of test passers in each category.

        This is probably old news to many people around here, but I guess I’m a frequentist at heart and the formula of Bayes’ theorem never made intuitive sense and I always struggled to remember the exact terms. Leaving this here hoping it helps somebody else.

    • rahien.din says:

      Thanks to everyone – all extremely helpful in understanding this problem. It seems like there are two ways to get to the the same answer here.

      1. As LesHapablap and Witness say : not only do you use the posterior from round n as the prior in round n+1, you also use that posterior to update the evidence in the denominator (P(hit)).

      2. Calculate both P(sniper|hit) and also P(regular|hit), using the posterior from round n as the prior in round n+1, but not updating the denominator. This will give numbers that aren’t probabilities as they are greater than 1. However, they will be in proper proportion. So, once you’ve reached the final round, you normalize them. Another way to do this is to calculate the ratio between them, then translate this ratio into a probability, just like you would for converting odds to probability : P = O / (O + 1)

      So, essentially this means that if you don’t renormalize your denominator in each step, you are actually calculating odds?

    • rahien.din says:

      Even better : you can use the binomial theorem to calculate the probability of k hits in n trials. Then you can plug this version of P(H|E) into Bayes Theorem and turn it iterative.

      A : state A
      B : state B
      P(A) : probability of state A being true
      P(B) : probability of state B being true
      n : number of trials
      k : number of hits
      H.A : probability of a hit in a trial if state A is true
      H.B : probability of a hit in a trial if state B is tru
      C(n,k) : the binomial coefficient, or, “n choose k”
      P(A|n,k) : the conditional probability of state A being true given k hits out of n trials

      P(A|n,k) = C(n,k) • H.A^k • H.B^(n-k) • P(A) / ( C(n,k) • H.A^k • H.B^(n-k) • P(A) + C(n,k) • H.A^(n-k) • H.B^n • P(B) )
      All the binomial coefficients cancel out. Divide by H.A^k, by H.B^k, by H.B^(n-2•k) to simplify and collect terms.

      P(A|n,k) = P(A) / ( P(A) + (H.A / H.B)^(n-2•k) • P(B) )

      This returns the same set of probabilities we had gotten before.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Well done!

        Here’s an assignment for you:

        What’s the probability the guy is a sniper if:
        -he makes at least 6 shots out of 15?
        -me makes one shot on the first try, and is taller than the guy standing next to him, who is a soldier. Snipers height is normally distributed (165cm, 25cm), soldiers height is normally distributed (180cm, 30cm)
        hint: svaq gur qvfgevohgvba bs k zvahf l jura K naq L ner obgu abeznyyl qvfgevohgrq
        hint 2: Jung vf gur cebonovyvgl gung K zvahf L vf terngre guna mreb?

        • rahien.din says:

          1.
          If he makes exactly 6 shots out of 15, the probability he is a sniper is a 0.00029.

          If he makes at least 6 shots out of 15, the probability he is a sniper (from the cumulative distribution function) is 0.000038. I think…

          2.
          Sn = distribution of the snipers’ heights, (180, 30)
          So = distribution of the soldiers’ heights, (165, 25)
          D = distribution of the differences = So – Sn.

          D would be normally distributed (15, 5).

          When the sniper is taller than the soldier, D is < 0. The zero point lies three standard deviations below the mean, so (68 95 99) that probability corresponds to a probability of 0.01. So, if he is taller than the soldier beside him (<0.01) and he makes his first shot (0.60) the probability that he is a sniper is <0.01•0.60, meaning, less than 0.0060.

          (Thank you for making it unnecessary to calculate a Z-score.)

          • LesHapablap says:

            1. I haven’t worked it out, but intuitively I would think that he should be more likely to be a sniper if he gets at least 6/15 vs. if he gets exactly 6/15

            2. Does your answer make sense? What if the std deviation was the same for both soldiers and snipers? (180, 30) and (165, 30)?

          • rahien.din says:

            You’re right. Those answers don’t make sense. This is something I’m really out of practice with – and I’ve even mislabeled some of my functions.

            I don’t know how to solve these. It’s possible to figure out how, but, right now it’s more important that I not nerd-snipe myself. May return to it at some point.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I’ll be a bit more helpful:

            For 1: you want to think of collection of 15 trials as one ’round’ for bayes theorem. So you need the priors, which is just the base rate in the population, and you need the probability that a soldier gets at least 6/15 and the probability that a sniper gets at least 6/15, and that’s it. The probability that a soldier gets at least 6/15 is just 1 – P(1/15) – P(2/15) – P(3/15) – P(4/15) – P(5/15), or the chance that he does NOT get 1/15 to 5/15.

            For 2: standard deviation of the difference between two normal distributions is not SD(X)-SD(Y), otherwise if they had the same SD you’d end up with an SD of zero (just like you ended up with 5). That doesn’t make sense because if you think about a dataset that consisted of grabbing a random soldier, a random sniper, and subtracting their heights, a bunch of times, the result would obviously have some variance.

            It turns out the SD(X-Y) = sqrt(SD(X)^2 +SD(Y)^2). It’s like the hypotenuse of a right* triangle, or it is like adding two orthogonal* vectors, whatever you’re familiar with. You would have needed to google that to figure it out.

            From there you have to figure out the probability that the shooter is taller given that he’s a sniper, and the probability that the shooter is taller given that he’s a soldier, using Z-scores.

            So round one of your bayes theorem will have the base population rate priors and the probabilities of shooter getting a hit given he’s a solder and given he’s a sniper. That gives you the priors for round two of bayes’ theorem, and you use the probability that the shooter is taller given that he’s a sniper, and the probability that the shooter is taller given that he’s a soldier, which you just worked out above.

            *orthogonal/right because the two variables are independent, otherwise they’d have some component in common and it would not be a right triangle. If you think of variance of two random variables as a couple of vectors, if they have nothing to do with each other they’ll be pointing at right angles. If they are perfectly correlated, like say if you measured height in inches (X) and height in meters (Y) for each individual, the SD(X-Y) would just be SD(X)-SD(Y) because your vectors would be pointing in the same direction.

          • rahien.din says:

            Thank you! These numbers make more sense.

            1. P(sniper|at least 6 hits) = 0.9837

            2. P(sniper|one hit, taller) = 0.3499

            D = So – Sn = normal(15, 39.05)
            Z-score for D(0) = (0-15)/39.05 = -0.38
            P(taller|sniper) = 0.3520

  22. theredsheep says:

    Longtime friend of mine has been in a romantic rut for six years. He’s thirty-four, heterosexual, steadily employed (some position related to NASA somehow), and independent. He was very depressed for a long time, but has been feeling a lot better lately; however, the romantic dry spell more or less coincides with his getting better. His professional and emotional lives have been doing better than ever before, he’s just lonely.

    He has previously maintained at least one functional, long-term relationship which broke up because she wanted kids and he didn’t. He’s interested in a long-term steady relationship that sounds pretty well indistinguishable from marriage to me, but he doesn’t want to get married per se. I’ve known him for about fifteen years now (we’re good internet friends), and he’s not hiding anything terrible. Mostly, he’s very quiet and introverted, in addition to being among the most decent and reasonable men I’ve ever known.

    He’s tried Tinder and every other dating app and service he could find, with fairly lackluster results. He does game and write, where outside-of-work interests are concerned, but he has had no luck meeting women through either, nor at work, etc. He’s not at all religious, reliably liberal, but is not intolerant about either. He’s not rationalist, but leans that direction (attempts to get him on here have met with unexplained reticence). He lives in the D.C. area, if that matters.

    What advice would you give him, beyond “just keep trying”?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Maybe change his position on the “have kids” thing? People who want to have kids tend to be more interested in steady long-term relationships with reliable income earners.

      • Well... says:

        [Women] who want to have kids tend to be more interested in steady long-term relationships with reliable income earners.

        And when those women are about the same age as theredsheep’s friend, i.e. the clock is ticking loudly, a reliable income earner who also wants kids looks better than one who doesn’t.

    • Plumber says:

      @theredsheep >

      “Longtime friend of mine has been in a romantic rut for six years….”

      “…What advice would you give him, beyond “just keep trying”?

      Sure, my dating advice for American men goes:
      1) Be tall
      2) Be grey haired
      3) Otherwise look young
      4) Be able to culturalry pass yourself off as around 50 years old
      5) Seek women around 45 to 60 years old
      7) Profit!

      At 34 years old and not wanting kids the odds are too long for your friend if he’s seeking women near his age (that’s “last chance at motherhood” age), and way too long even if he does want kids if he’s seeking women in their 20’s.

      In ten years he’ll be a prime catch for women his age, and he’ll stay one for about ten to fifteen years after that (if he can stay slim).

    • Erusian says:

      DC has a terrible dating scene, especially for people who aren’t socially savvy. DC is full of extremely socially savvy politically engaged individuals most of whom don’t expect to reside their permanently.

      Anyway, my general dating advice:
      -Get in good shape and dress better. If you’re in decent shape, start getting in better shape. If you’re overweight, diet. Also, learn how to dress well. If you have close female friends who are fashion-conscious, the sort you feel comfortable sharing intimate (but non-romantic) issues with, ask them. (Fashion conscious male friends are rarer but work too).

      -Get a few status symbols. People sometimes say they don’t care about this sort of thing. Almost all of them are lying. They don’t have to be opulent but pick a couple of things you value and get the absolute top of the line to the point it would be obvious you spent a fair bit of money to the average person. This doesn’t have to be a fancy suit: you can get a really impressive computer instead (even if it just looks fancy).

      -Get better at conversation. Some of this can be talking to friends. If you want this on super-easy mode, talk to salespeople. They’re going to feign interest in you even if you’re the most awkward man on the planet. Watch how they talk to you, how they try and keep the conversation going, what they do to get you to reply and take notes. Watch how they listen, what they reply to, where they cut you off, how they make gentle otherwise harsh actions (“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea…”). If you’re a bit more advanced than that, try striking up the odd random conversation when you’re in line or just out and about. Don’t expect anything of it: just shoot the breeze. The point is to get an intuitive feel for conversations such that you feel comfortable talking for long periods of time and can hold some basic interest.

      -Now that you’ve got some basics down, find an activity (or activities) you enjoy that involves some degree of social interaction. They also need a reasonably large membership of women in the right age group. Don’t use this as a meat market: make sure it’s an activity you like and just get to know people there. And take the activity seriously.

      -You will like some of these people. Not even romantically, you’ll just enjoy being around some of these people and you won’t other ones. Begin to forge connections with these people outside of the joint activity. Text them, bother them, invite them out to coffee, just have some social interaction.

      -You now have friends and a social group. Since you put it together and are probably fueling it to some degree, you might even have some social status within it.

      -You’ll now be experiencing regular interactions with a variety of people, some of whom will be your friends, some of whom you’ll just know, some of whom will be new. When you find someone attractive or want to get to know them more, ask them out on a date. Something simple, low commitment, and in a public place. Coffee is classic though in DC bars are also very common. It’s best if you mention somewhat explicitly this is an attempt to get to know them romantically. Most people will say no. Accept this and move on quickly and with minimal awkwardness.

      -Some will say yes. Go out with them and basically escalate doing more intimate things over time. (Coffee to lunch to dinner to a hike to coming over… etc.) If either you or the other party aren’t into it, be kind but frank about it and exit with minimal awkwardness.

      Other than that, as unromantic as it is, it’s a numbers game. Most men get rejected a lot and go on a lot of bad dates before getting to a relationship. And then most have multiple relationships that end before finding a lifelong partner. So it goes.

      As for dating apps, that’s really really a number’s game. You don’t need them and many men don’t do well on them. But if he wants to do that, get some really good photos (from a professional if possible), craft a perfect profile, and then accept he’s going to have to message hundreds of people per in person interaction. (The good news: there’s millions of women on there.) If he’s absolutely set on something like that or the convenience of it, a real in person matchmaker often provides a better (but more expensive) service.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Good shape – seconded. Good shape isn’t a huge dealbreaker in DC. If you can walk several blocks, you’re probably okay. If you can’t, get to where you can.

        Dress better – seconded, though, again, it’s not a dealbreaker. Assuming he’s middle class SES, he should have at least one suit for that nice Valentine’s dinner, but button-downs from Target for the week plus tee shirts for the evening might be okay. Side note: something period for Maryland RennFaire might unlock some achievements. Then he just has to be jolly all day at the White Hart or other taverns there.

        Status symbols – doesn’t have to be a car, and what’s cool can depend a lot on the audience. If he’s a writer, a set of short stories or poems is pretty damn cool. If he’s a boardgamer, flair from various games might draw the eye.

        Get better at conversation – again, for introverts, I expect this to be the challenge. And a worthy one. The salesperson idea is clever. (Just be careful about wasting a retailer’s time. Maybe browse and watch them sell to other people.)

        The rest of this is in line with my recommendation to get out and do activities he enjoys, while widening his stream, so, +1 to that too.

    • zenojjones says:

      Try doing something different. I met my partner when I broke out of my shell and started picking up shifts at a neighborhood brewery- something I thought I’d enjoy but knew nothing about. I immediately expanded my friend group, came out of my shell just a little bit, and met someone I never would have otherwise.
      And when you branch out and join a new group you bring a little bit of novelty with you. While your jokes, opinions or interests might be a dime a dozen in your old group, they’re new and different with the new group.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Would he consider a relationship with a single mother?

      Assuming you are being charitable with your description, there are some real negatives there. Nobody ever gets honest feedback so I’m going to be extra harsh here because he probably needs it:

      he’s very quiet and introverted, in addition to being among the most decent and reasonable men I’ve ever known.

      faint-hearted

      He’s interested in a long-term steady relationship that sounds pretty well indistinguishable from marriage to me, but he doesn’t want to get married per se

      fussy about commitment, possibly selfish

      He does game and write, where outside-of-work interests are concerned

      probably boring and out of shape

      tried Tinder and every other dating app and service he could find, with fairly lackluster results

      low curb appeal

      He’s got his work cut out for him if he is looking for a long term relationship with a woman who doesn’t want kids and doesn’t mind never getting married. Unless he’s happy dating a single mom. My advice is to follow Erusion’s advice, with the addition that the activity should do at least 2 of the following: get him in shape, build his character, be a good first or second date activity. Running, sailing, rock climbing, flying, paragliding, that sort of thing.

    • Urstoff says:

      Learn to like kids. Having kids is great, and most potential partners will probably want them or already have them.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Obviously, your friend should revisit how badly he wants to not have children, since changing his mind might be the easiest and most straightforward way to increase his potential market. But let’s assume he already did that and still feels solid there.

      His surface features don’t look like dealbreakers to me, especially in DC. Not that religious, reliably liberal, not interested in kids sounds like a lot of the people I meet around here.

      Encourage him to join a special interest group. DC is full of such things. I was in meetups for software development, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, craft beer, dancing, theater, boardgaming, ultimate, swordfighting, and of course, SSC. Meetup.com is an easy way to get into such groups. He could go to a dance at Glen Echo and never run out of women to meet.

      If he takes that route, he should stay willing to take others. Honestly, the introversion will be the biggest challenge. Basically, be wide open to meeting new people. Even people who aren’t dating prospects will know people who are. He shouldn’t look like he’s just there to get dates, obviously. In fact, he should talk himself into it being a win if he meets multiple people who look like good friend prospects. Using interest groups reduces the anxiety – he’s doing something in his comfort zone while doing something outside of it (making lots of friends).

      The strategy I’m suggesting works best if he’s friendly enough to come off like that guy everyone likes to have over for a party. Otherwise, it’s like insisting on fishing only in that tiny brook you really like. If he keeps widening that stream, it’s a matter of time before one of those friends he made tells a lady they know about this guy they know…

      • Statismagician says:

        +1 to all of this. Especially Glen Echo, it’s great, and great for this sort of thing.

        • Aftagley says:

          Just for my information, what is in Glen Echo park that makes going all the way out to Bethesda seem like anything other than a terrible idea?

          • Statismagician says:

            Social dancing, the thing tailor-made for introverted people wanting to meet somebody. There are rules that you can just learn, the music isn’t too loud to hear yourself think, etc.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        He shouldn’t look like he’s just there to get dates, obviously.

        Just in case it’s not clear: he should indicate that he’s single and looking. When introducing oneself, it’s normal to ask the usual things – where are you from, how long have you lived in DC, what else are you into, talk about common interests, and somewhere in there slip in that he’s single, as if to say “I’m here to do something fun, and who knows, maybe meet someone special”.

        It’d be dumb to never mention being single and lose an opportunity due to that

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I concur with everybody else’s advice about improving himself. Sounds like there’s a lot of mileage to be gotten out of that strategy for this guy.

      But for God’s sake, if he doesn’t want kids or to get married, don’t do it. My fellow commenters are giving bad advice on this point and probably don’t appreciate the amount of misery he would be in trying to force himself into a role he doesn’t want. Others seem to be tacitly assuming he date people his own age, but he should be dating women in their mid-twenties at the oldest. Most all single women in their thirties either have kids or are actively planning how to get kids. The few that haven’t and don’t almost certainly got happily hitched before. Date women in their late-twenties max, and know that the relationship has a shelf-life unless he can find someone of like mind. He can probably have a handful of long and meaningful relationships before he hits his late 40s and ages out of being able to date that demographic, though being in shape will help with prolonging this. And afterwards, he can re-evaluate his stance on kids and marriage, or start hiring professionals, which while being less intimate and fulfilling has the advantage of being cheaper.

      • Enkidum says:

        But for God’s sake, if he doesn’t want kids or to get married, don’t do it.

        +1

        Others seem to be tacitly assuming he date people his own age, but he should be dating women in their mid-twenties at the oldest.

        Disagree. He should be open and explicit about his preferences and if that’s a deal-breaker, the mid-30s women will mostly self-select away from him

        • Aftagley says:

          Yeah, @chrisminor0008’s post was kind of a roller coaster there.

          I started hard agreeing with him vis-a-vie not let your desire for a relationship fundamentally change your life in ways you don’t want… but then it turned into advocating him turning into that 40 years old guy hitting on 20-somethings and then hiring prostitutes. A real emotional journey.

          • chrisminor0008 says:

            @Aftagley, Thanks, I aim to be entertaining, at least.

            Really, I think at 45 he’ll be in a much different head space than he is now. He might change his minds on kids and marriage, but I think with declining testosterone it’s just as likely he’ll change his mind on being in relationships at all, if he hasn’t already gotten hitched by then.

        • acymetric says:

          I think some reasonable advice with respect to kids is to seriously consider why he doesn’t want kids, and whether he really doesn’t want them. It is fine to not want kids (and I agree that if you don’t want kids you should not have them!) but some people seem to somewhat casually say “I don’t really want kids” at some point along the way and never bother to evaluate whether that snap judgement on the matter is actually true (or, if it was true originally, whether it is still true). So taking the time to consider why they don’t want kids and whether they really don’t want them is worthwhile, even if it leads to the ultimate conclusion that “yeah, I don’t want kids”.

          I do agree that the “target mid-twenties women” strategy is not a great one. It can be fine, although depending on the circumstances it can be distasteful. The big things there are:

          1) This guy does not sound (based on the description) like someone who would thrive in the “dating much younger women” dating market unless he was functioning almost explicitly as a sugar daddy which may not be what he wants out of a relationship.

          2) My feeling/observations lead me to believe that infidelity is much more likely from a partner who is significantly younger. Age gaps can be fine, but you need to be the kind of person who can handle the problems or you will end up being taken advantage of (emotionally, financially, etc.) and it isn’t obvious to me that this guy is the kind of guy to walk that line, avoid the pitfalls, and handle things well when it inevitably falls apart (partially based on the depression history).

          Dating within his age group is fine, with the understanding that relationships will most likely have a shelf-life unless he strikes gold and finds someone who also wants a long-term partner without marriage or kids.

          • chrisminor0008 says:

            I agree with everything you said.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Yeah, this is pretty much where I’m coming from when it comes to kids. 100% this:

            [S]ome people seem to somewhat casually say “I don’t really want kids” at some point along the way and never bother to evaluate whether that snap judgement on the matter is actually true (or, if it was true originally, whether it is still true).

            The key here is to rationally ask himself if he’d rather avoid kids and risk staying single, or spin up that relationship with that cute divorcee with a 3YO, or that other cutie in the nice dress who says she’d really like to raise a family. As long as he’s thinking about it, the answer will be better, no matter which answer it is.

            And this means all the implications, too. Consider the case for a kid – as I like to say, kids are nascent adults who I find fascinating to watch, as they learn how the world works. If I’m their parent, I get to offer them advice, and live vicariously through them. OTOH, they demand resources, and I might drop a notch in material possessions, and I will drop a lot in free time for myself. No more going to the theater, no more going out. It’s not for everyone.

            If he finds a girl that he likes enough, it may also be worth asking just how badly she wants kids. Maybe she hasn’t thought it all through yet, either. It’s okay to ask, so long as he does it out of kindness, and it’s even a good way to get to know someone (and himself) better.

            [Y]ou need to be the kind of person who can handle the problems [of potential infidelity] or you will end up being taken advantage of (emotionally, financially, etc.)

            +1. I consider myself rational – stoic, even – and this almost got me, coming out of a bad business failure. Luckily, I only lost about $1000 before calling it off.

            Speaking of which – since his target pool includes 20-somethings, many of whom are grad students – they’re usually under huge stress to get their thesis done. A friend of mine manages a lab, and tells of many students who put their SOs through the wringer. He should prepare to support them, which may mean getting treated like their stress toy.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            theredsheep did say that this guy’s previous, long-term relationship ended specifically because he didn’t want kids; “maybe you should consider whether you actually want kids” doesn’t seem like the best advice.

          • acymetric says:

            I doubt the information is out there, at least in a readily accessible form, but I would be interested in % of relationships without children by length of relationship (probably need some cut-off for age the relationship started so as not to get noise from high school sweethearts who dated from 15 to 25 and whatnot). My suspicion is that (statistically, not universally, as there are obviously counterexamples) most relationships that don’t eventually end up including children will end up ending (a relationship where someone brings the children they already have with them into the relationship would still include having children for these purposes).

            Long term relationships (talking measured in decades, not like 1-2 years) without kids involved do happen, but I would guess are extremely rare.

            The reason to reconsider kids is that “long-term” relationship (the OP suggested what the guy wants seems indistinguishable from marriage so I’m guessing “long-term” means fairly long) and “no kids” may be mostly incompatible goals. If he is ok with pre-existing kids who are still going to be around just so long as they aren’t his kids that may open the door a bit for single mothers.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            “I think some reasonable advice with respect to kids is to seriously consider why he doesn’t want kids”

            Assuming one should not have kids simply because he cannot think of reasons for not having kids, I would like some to address the question of “why have kids?”

          • John Schilling says:

            I would like some to address the question of “why have kids?”

            Among other things, kids come with mothers, who tend to be healthy young-ish women, and the OP’s friend seems to want to have one of those hanging around for a while. If he is merely indifferent to children, this would seem like a reason to step it up a notch to maybe wanting children after all.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Assuming one should not have kids simply because he cannot think of reasons for not having kids, I would like some to address the question of “why have kids?”

            Well, for one, if you like children and anticipate that raising kids of your own would be incredibly fulfilling. (True for some people, not for others.) But I agree: you should only create a new person and take responsibility and power over the first 18 years of their life, if you have a strong affirmative reason to do so.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            thevoiceofthevoid said: “if you like children and anticipate that raising kids of your own would be incredibly fulfilling.”

            How would raising kids be fulfilling? What desire would it fulfill?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            John Schilling said “Among other things, kids come with mothers, who tend to be healthy young-ish women”

            That’s what I always thought. Kids happen because of sex.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @HowardHolmes

            How would raising kids be fulfilling? What desire would it fulfill?

            I’m not sure what exactly to call it, but I vividly remember seeing the joy my parents felt when my (then) baby sister learned to walk for the first time. Ditto the numerous more mundane experiences; my dad’s always loved trying to socratically teach us about math or engineering or economics. I’ve felt similar watching my sister grow up, though I imagine the feeling’s a lot stronger for our parents.

            (I’m not particularly interested in getting into another “does anything ever truly make anyone happy” debate if that’s what you’re getting at; I don’t feel like our previous ones were terribly productive. My premise here is that some things make some people happy.)

          • albatross11 says:

            HowardHolmes:

            Big if true.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Thevoiceofthevoid

            I’m not interested in a rehash either. You are suggesting that people have kids to be happy. If you said someone had a strawberry sundae to be happy, I would not need to ask “what is it about strawberry sundaes that make one happy?” But with kids, my only guess is that we have them to enhance our status. I was just wondering if you could think of any other reason to have them or that they make us happy

          • J Mann says:

            @HowardHolmes: a couple related possibilities:

            1) Like pets, kids stroke some natural responses in many people, but are more fulfilling in some ways, because they have more potential.

            2) The relationship of parent and child can be rewarding just as other relationships (friends, lovers, consulting detective and arch-nemesis) can be fulfilling. The association makes some parents experience happiness when their kids are happy, and ideally produces a relationship akin to friendship, but potentially stronger.

            3) Some people enjoy any task well done, and many people enjoy a task that leaves some tangible result, whether creating a painting, planting a forest, or helping to develop a new person.

            (I’m not really doing justice, but that’s a first stab at why some people might enjoy being parents.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This is a pattern so common it is practically a trope. I have seen it myself several times in relationships (both professional and romantic).

            * Person in relationship holds position X
            * Position X becomes strain on relationship
            * Person holds to it anyway, because they think it’s more important, and the other party doesn’t care / is being unreasonable / will see my side / ought to love me for who I am / is just bluffing / whatever.
            * Relationship fractures and ends
            * Person, finally, re-evaluates their position on X and changes it

            It doesn’t seem rational. Surely, you think, Person should have changed their position on X earlier, in time to save the relationship. And, yes, with a time machine they could have. But part of working things out in the world is figuring out where borders are, and because people lie (both to themselves and to others) it can be hard to just figure out the borders based on simple questioning and first principles. Sometimes you have to test, and sometimes when you test you lose.

            Sticking to X after it costs the relationship can happen through a sunk-cost fallacy or a stupid sense of pride.

            I am not saying that position X is necessarily worth giving up. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe the fight over position X in the original relationship really was going to be completely irreconcilable, because both sides were right for sticking to their guns. Or maybe both sides were wrong.

            But reconsidering position X should be on the table.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            But part of working things out in the world is figuring out where borders are, and because people lie (both to themselves and to others) it can be hard to just figure out the borders based on simple questioning and first principles. Sometimes you have to test, and sometimes when you test you lose.

            The downside of some revealed preferences is that they have to be revealed.

      • Statismagician says:

        This is a subspecies of ecological fallacy, it seems to me. ‘Is a good long-term partner for a particular person’ is a sufficiently non-normally-distributed quality that trying to find one using subpopulation stereotypes* isn’t going to be particularly helpful, even if it were true that the rate of available thirty-something women for whom a man who doesn’t want kids is a dealbreaker were higher than the rate of available twenty-something women for whom a man who doesn’t want kids isn’t a dealbreaker and for whom a man in his thirties isn’t a dealbreaker, which is, at the very least, non-obvious.

        *Unless you’ve got data on child desirability by age and relationship status? I’d be interested in having a look at that, if so.

      • Plumber says:

        @chrisminor0008 says:

        “…for God’s sake, if he doesn’t want kids or to get married, don’t do it…

        I agree with this as someone who didn’t want kids is less likely to be a good parent.

        “…he should be dating women in their mid-twenties at the oldest…”

        I disagree, while the further they are from about the age of 35 the less likely they are to want kids, having a long-term relationship with women younger than their late twenties is very unlikely, they just don’t ‘settle’ (they may in retrospect decide that they should’ve ‘kept that guy’, but they’ll be in the 30’s or later by then), and judging by the OP’s description of the guy he’ll be prone to heartache by the likely breakups, though I suppose a series of brief romances will hurt less then a break up of a longer romance, but at 37 he should have already had short ones.

        If he does get a long-term romance with a woman in her 20’s the older she gets the more she’ll likely want to have kids even if she didn’t want them at first. 

        Really persuing women in their mid 40’s and up is a better strategy if he doesn’t want kids, besides there being less if a male-to-female ratio at older ages the risk of natural pregnancy is much less and there’s a greater chance that those who haven’t already had kids won’t change their minds.

        Being the boyfriend of an ’empty nest’ woman who has