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Open Thread 141.75

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503 Responses to Open Thread 141.75

  1. albatross11 says:

    Black attitudes about homosexuality are *very* different from those of whites, especially white Democrats. This is pretty striking.

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      That’s a poorly worded question. How does gradation work? Like, it’s not OK unless you are stuck on a ship or in prison with only men?

      Incidentally, there’s no “consensual” in question, so saying “Not wrong at all” would mean I condone gay rape.

  2. albatross11 says:

    Really odd article in The Root about a reporter having a long talk with Pete Buttigege. The article was largely about the reporter’s personal experiences, somewhat about his ideology, and only slightly about the presidential candidate, but it was interesting in an odd way.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I have problems with Mayor Pete as a candidate, but this journalist guy seemed nuts and I would not think there would be any benefit of Buttigieg contacting him in any fashion whatsoever.

      It also feels like the Democratic Party is getting around to hating nerds again. In some ways it was inevitable, but it is still sad to see happen.

  3. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Robin Hansen argues that medical care makes little or no contribution to health.

    This surprises me, since people do seem to get cured some of the time.

    Is it possible there’s something wrong with the studies he trusts?

    Or might medical care do about as much harm as good?

    Or what?

    • Placebos often cure you, sometimes because of the psychological “placebo effect” but mostly because your body cures itself.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is probably the same phenomenon as the research that (arguably) shows that nothing parents can do will make much difference in their children’s life outcomes. In both child care and health care, there are ethical limits to what can be studied – at least if you plan to publish in the open literature in the Western world. You can’t study the “I wonder what happens if we lock kids in the basement until they are eighteen?” or the “I wonder if it’s bad to farm them out as child prostitutes as soon as they hit puberty?” parenting strategies, because as soon as you see that happen you have to call social services and end the experiment.

      Similarly, there aren’t going to be studies about what would happen if you literally threw people out to die in a gutter even though they would clearly benefit from a few days in a hospital and/or a bottle of cheap antibiotics. There are studies of the observed outcomes of different kinds of health insurance or health care generally, and they don’t show much difference. But they all have as their baseline, at least the minimal level of health care that must by law be provided to any indigent person who shows up at a hospital emergency room and probably a fair bit beyond that. Because again, at some point in the study, you have to stop studying and call an ambulance already.

      It is plausible that this level of care covers (perhaps inefficiently) all the low-hanging fruit in the health care arena, and most of what we pile on top of that is some combination of small marginal improvements, rare edge cases, increased patient comfort decoupled from measured outcomes, and signalling about how very much we care about caring for the sick.

      • Chalid says:

        Similarly, parachutes don’t prevent injury when jumping from a plane, study says. (Which is a follow-up to the classic review paper noting the lack of high-quality studies.)

      • albatross11 says:

        One plausible interpretation of the studies showing little or no health benefit from good insurance is that at the margin additional healthcare isn’t improving health. That’s consistent with the idea that there’s a baseline level of healthcare that’s valuable–it’s just that most people are well past that baseline. Not only do we go to the hospital when we have crushing chest pains or compound fractures, we also go to the doctor with sinus infections and minor stomach bugs. And the interaction with the doctor for those minor complaints has very little potential upside, and some potential downside (drug interactions, catching something worse at the doctor’s office, complications during routine tests, etc.) It’s not hard to imagine how going from “I go to the doctor only if I’m deathly ill or having scary symptoms like crushing chest pains” to “I go to the doctor whenever I’m feeling a little under the weather” might net out to no health gains. For every time you go to the doctor with a minor complaint and he catches something serious going on in time to head off a trip to the hospital, there’s another where you go to the doctor with a minor complaint, he orders an MRI with contrast, and you have an allergic reaction to the contrast agent and end up in the hospital for it.

        • For a real world example …

          A nine year-old I know is currently on a diet of no gluten and no dairy, with which she is understandably unhappy. The reason is not that there is any evidence that she is allergic to either of those. Her weight is low, although she appears to be healthy and energetic, so she was taken to an allergist. He suggested that those were the two things people were most likely to be allergic to, such an allergy might explain the lack of weight gain, so she should be put on a diet with neither of them to see if that improved things.

          • Aapje says:

            Gluten is one of most common things that people think that they are allergic to, but most are wrong.

            My experience is that the allergic scene is extremely woo-heavy.

          • Thegnskald says:

            My personal experience is that there are a whole lot of people who aren’t allergic, but are intolerant of, a lot of foods.

            Most people who feel a need to try it, feel better when they cut out “processed” foods. I don’t think this is because “processing” makes food bad for you. I think it has to do with the number of ingredients – and not in a “More than seven ingredients is bad for you” way, but rather in a “A large number of ingredients increases the odds of a collision with a sensitivity”.

            Food intolerance can result in many problems, one of which is weight gain. (I think it can also result in weight loss in some people. My personal observations have only included the weight gain side; I dated one woman who would gain weight rapidly if she ate cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, or a host of other things)

            Maybe the “Seven ingredient” rule is right, albeit for, from the arguments I have seen for it, entirely different reasons than those generally stated: It isn’t that simple food is better, it is that simple food is simply less likely to contain things your body reacts poorly to.

          • albatross11 says:

            Thegnskald:

            +1

            My wife and I both have certain foods that just don’t sit well with us. They don’t give us classic allergic symptoms or cause a health crisis, they just send one or the other of us to the toilet several times that night, or make my ears ring and give me a headache, or leave her feeling bloated and uncomfortable. I think this is actually fairly common. And having relatively fewer ingredients is a good way to avoid a lot of that.

    • DeWitt says:

      Nine years ago I had a very bad ear infection. The kind that got swollen to the point of my jaw getting pushed aside some and me eating soup for three days. It only lasted three days, in no small part because between antibiotics and other medicine I went from in very real pain to moderate discomfort to absolutely nothing at all.

      My case doesn’t seem like one on the edge of people’s health; my brother once broke a leg, my other brother broke his hand, my father has broken a collarbone, my grandmother got a pacemaker fifteen years ago and is alive to this day.

      What exactly is the steelman of the position that medical care doesn’t help in any of these cases? No medical care – and that’s no medical care, not just a little medical care – means my father would not have his collarbone healed, nor would my brothers’ limbs be fine. My grandmother would’ve died in her fifties, which you could argue is natural but is still a marked difference from living to the age of eighty and counting.

      Really, what’s his position here? That all of these matters would’ve just naturally gotten better, somehow, without any further ado?

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      I heard it in a lecture by Sidney Brenner (I think he mentioned that it was not originally his observation, but I forgot who’s) that the main contributors to modern human health and life expectancy are, in decreasing order of importance: sanitation, vaccination, and antibiotics. He did not discuss any actual data (he was in his eighties at the time, the lecture was along the lines of ramblings of an old distinguished scientist), but thinking about this it does make a lot of sense.

      So the rest of medicine, if it contributes anything, comes after these categories. And it does contribute to health. Take breast cancer, for example. Untreated survival:
      Median survival time of the 250 patients followed to death was 2.7 years. Actuarial 5- and 10-year survival rates for these patients with untreated breast cancer was 18.4% and 3.6%, respectively.

      Compare to modern surgical treatments:
      A total of 14 939 cases of breast cancer (14 633 patients) were included in this study. The unadjusted 5-year all-cause survival probabilities for patients treated with BCS plus radiotherapy, mastectomy, and BCS alone were 94% (95% CI 93% to 95%), 83% (95% CI 82% to 84%) and 74% (95% CI 70% to 78%), respectively.

      However, if we are already living to 60-70 years thanks to sanitation+vaccination+antibiotics, how much of statistical increase in population-wide health does spectacular success of breast cancer treatment add? I expect a fraction of a year in life expectancy.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I’m not going to add any more data, but cite an essay, written more than 50 years ago, by Lewis Thomas, called the Technology of Medicine. Cures are cheap.

        Offhand, I cannot think of any important human disease for which medicine possesses the outright capacity to prevent or cure where the cost of the technology is itself a major problem. The price is never as high as the cost of managing the same diseases during the earlier stages of no-technology or halfway technology.

        Actually, I can provide data. The last time I cited this essay was in response to this time series of tuberculosis mortality, which had fallen 90% before antibiotics. Presumably due to sanitation.

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      I find it believable.

      Prevention cuts down the requirement for the stuff that medicine is really good at – healing stab wounds, broken bones and infections. The rest of the stuff afflicting the civilized world is chronic diseases, which medicine is crap at, because it’s just trying to heal the symptoms with pills, instead of really looking into the causes.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        If we know how to heal the symptoms, but not how to treat the underlying causes, then go ahead and heal the symptoms for christ’s sake! Though it may be expensive I’d happily pay to lessen the impact of chronic pain / depression / etc. on my life even if the treatment didn’t touch the underlying causes.

        With regards to Robin Hanson’s argument, it seems plausible to me that his studies aren’t powerful enough to measure these quality-of-life improvements that may not actually translate to increased lifespan.

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          If we know how to heal the symptoms, but not how to treat the underlying causes, then go ahead and heal the symptoms for christ’s sake! Though it may be expensive I’d happily pay to lessen the impact of chronic pain / depression / etc. on my life even if the treatment didn’t touch the underlying causes.

          We don’t actually know how to heal the sypmtoms all that well. The stuff that works tends to work for one symptom, and gives you potential side-effects. The moment you have more than one clinical problem, and chances are you do, you’re swallowing more pills, and facing even more side-effects, with additional complications from medicine interactions.

          The literature is actually fairly clear on what the cause is (modern food and the resulting high-calorie malnutrition with a side of mild poisoning), and gives several effective options for resolving that stuff. But that’s all lifestyle interventions and public health policy, not pills. People hate lifestyle changes. Some will literally prefer to chug a dozen pills over changing what they eat. So aside from the small percentage of people who have the idiosyncratic personal traits that allow them to change their lifestyle, it’s all down to public health policy. Which is being hotly contested between the various health nerds and the food manufacturing corporations who stand to lose just about everything if they lose their grip on policy.

          • DeWitt says:

            I feel like this is exactly the kind of thing I’ll want to read more about before either accepting or dismissing your claims, because you’re making statements that are strong enough for me not to assume you’re right out of hand. Could you link me to a place or two?

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @DeWitt

            I won’t link you, but will encourage you to check out some topics on your own and come to your own conclusions (google, pubmed and scihub exist, so you shouldn’t have much problems tracking down relevant literature). This isn’t something that I can convince anyone of in a comment section of a blog. It took me years to learn these things, and I think it would be extremely foolish to be convinced by some random internet stranger of things like these in one go, anyway.

            – What savage peoples untouched by civilization ate, what illnesses they suffered from and what illnesses they did not suffer. A fellow by the name of “Weston Price” may be helpful.
            – The diets of pre-1800s civilized peasants, again, what illnesses were common and which were not.
            – The modern diet and how it differs from the above two, with attendant disease type prevalence.
            – The human mechanism for adiposity regulation, and what breaks it. Some helpful keywords: leptin, lipostat (not the statin), food reward. I recall our host blogged about it at one point.
            – The diseases associated with hyperinsulinemia and how hyperinsulinemia relates to a “personal fat threshold”. Looking up a fellow named “Joseph Kraft” and his test may be informative, too.

          • DeWitt says:

            No useful links. Right.

            Nutrition is a subject which shares many similarities to Scott’s own specialisation, psychiatry, in that people make a great many claims about a great many things and where the rate at which they get disproven is immense. Eating salt leads to heart disease, except now it doesn’t. Eating your grains is the most important thing you can do, except now it isn’t. Cholesterol is a Big Deal except now it’s not. Saturated fats are an issue, and now they aren’t.

            The gist of these examples is that I’m extremely, thoroughly doubtful of anyone that claims nutrition is a clear subject matter. People have come up with a hundred explanations for a hundred more things, and which ones are true is anyone’s guess by now. I don’t have the qualifications, time, or knowledge to study everything and see what is correct, but I do know that this is an area in which a claim of clarity is either foolishness or a lie.

            So yeah, no, I’m not buying it. The odds that nutrition has been solved on the first of December, 2019 are so incredibly staggeringly tiny to me that I’m not going to accept your claims.

          • CatCube says:

            @HarmlessFrog

            This isn’t something that I can convince anyone of in a comment section of a blog.

            Try.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @HarmlessFrog

            The literature is actually fairly clear on what the cause is (modern food and the resulting high-calorie malnutrition with a side of mild poisoning), and gives several effective options for resolving that stuff.

            How many medical ailments are you claiming are caused by poor nutrition? Are you intending to imply that e.g. chronic depression, ovarian cancer, and cystic fibrosis are all preventable by eating better?

          • Clutzy says:

            I’m not nearly as onboard the nutrition train as some people, but a good diet and regular exercise certainly would solve a gigantic percentage of cases of chronic depression (you example).

            Eliminating obesity would also cure a lot of other chronic diseases that we spend a ton of money on such as type 2 diabetes, and all the other associated diseases.

          • DeWitt says:

            Even in granting that we likely suffer from depression more than our ancestors do, and even in believing that nutrition probably does affect the incidence of some diseases, you still have to grant that depression is a terrible proxy for anything because you have no statistics anywhere more than twenty-five years ago. I suspect the same is true for people dying of other matters, given the small sample sizes involved, but depression is an especially egregious matter.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The literature is actually fairly clear

            It took me years to learn these things

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @DeWitt

            So yeah, no, I’m not buying it. The odds that nutrition has been solved on the first of December, 2019 are so incredibly staggeringly tiny to me that I’m not going to accept your claims.

            I don’t expect you to.

            @CatCube

            Try.

            Ugh, fine. But don’t complain to me that you don’t find it convincing. It basically goes like this:

            1. You eat modern processed food, which damages your intake regulation somehow, making you overeat. Overeating makes you fatter than you would have been absent this damage. (People vary in how resistant they are to this effect, and that is about as genetic as IQ.)

            I refer you to The Hungry Brain by dr Guyenet, or Scott’s own review of it. Plenty of good sources there. His references for the debate with Taubes are also excellent. Guyenet does a good job of explaining the salient differences between ancestral populations’ diets and ours.

            2. You get gradually more and more fat, as our set point incrementally increases, probably as a result of continually overeating modern food. We get more fat as we age (much like rodent models), whereas hunter-gatherers maintain their adiposity throughout their adult life.

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384668/
            https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.12785

            3. Eventually, you max out your subcutaneous fat storage capacity. (Some rare people don’t. Don’t count on being one.) Then you’re in the same boat as someone with lipodystrophy.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipodystrophy
            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25515001
            http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2019/01/personal-fat-threshold.html

            4. Once you cross that threshold, the body upregulates your insulin to try harder to get that extra energy out of the very last place you want a severe excess (the blood). There are other suboptimal places to stuff fat into, like your muscles, your abdomen, your liver, your pancreas.

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725490/

            5. Now you’ve got metabolic syndrome, which is breeding ground for chronic disease. Your organs are literally damaged by ectopic fat accumulation, you are swimming in more insulin than is healthy, your blood sugar is probably disregulated, your lipoproteins are getting damaged, you get hypertension, etc, etc. It’s not hard to imagine that in this state, something resulting from this will likely kill you, if not an opportunistic infection if you manage to avoid a heart attack or terminal cancer long enough to grow very weak.

            https://diabesity.ejournals.ca/index.php/diabesity/article/viewFile/19/61
            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628708/

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            How many medical ailments are you claiming are caused by poor nutrition? Are you intending to imply that e.g. chronic depression, ovarian cancer, and cystic fibrosis are all preventable by eating better?

            There is very probably a connection between diet and depression, certainly between your gut bugs. I suspect the active ingredients being improperly prepared plants. Cancer is likely caused by poor nutrition (of the western type), given that primitives in colonial times had a marked absence of malignancy, as reported by western physicians working with European and native populations living side-by-side (until the natives got to eating the white man’s food, that is). Cystic fibrosis seems genetic (given the very low prevalence), I never looked into that one.

            Cardiovascular disease is the big one, aside from cancer (the two main killers of civilized peoples), that can definitely be improved by not eating industrial crap. CVD is multi-factorial (and there are even a few factors that can give you early CVD on their own), but it just so happens that metabolic syndrome gives you a large set of factors – hypertension, hyperinsulinemia, hyperglycemia, damaged LDL, hypertrygliceridemia, and others.

            @Douglas Knight

            >The literature is actually fairly clear

            >It took me years to learn these things

            It’s really, really diffuse, and without extensive background learning, it’s difficult to assess. I have no illusions about how much nutrition background people have, even physicians – who don’t generally get more than a few hours, if any, nutrition education. I have even less confidence about how much people know about interpretation of studies (case studies vs epidemiology vs clinical trials vs meta-analyses vs umbrella reviews, etc).

          • Dacyn says:

            @HarmlessFrog:

            I’m not going to accept your claims.

            I don’t expect you to.

            Then why did you claim what you did then? Really the only point of talking is to get people to accept/evaluate what you say (well there are other things like humor, but they don’t apply here) If you just want someone to believe that you believe something, you normally just say “I believe X”…

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @Dacyn

            Then why did you claim what you did then? Really the only point of talking is to get people to accept/evaluate what you say (well there are other things like humor, but they don’t apply here) If you just want someone to believe that you believe something, you normally just say “I believe X”…

            Because I felt like it; no other reason is necessary. But also maybe, just maybe, it will entice someone, somewhere to go looking into the things I looked into. Much of what I’ve learned is, lamentably, not transferable, and where it is transferable, it largely consists of pointing out a mess of dots, which need to be connected, which in turn requires a lot of background information.

            DeWitt quite reasonably rejects my claims; I am not offended by that. If I had a time machine and traveled back in time a few years, and tried to instruct myself, the me-that-was wouldn’t buy it. He has neither the priors nor the background to understand what I say.

            This is sort of similar to Scott’s take on The Hungry Brain. He read it. He reviewed it, and did a reasonable job. But I don’t think he understood it. My former self would not have understood it, either. You really seem to need both a lot of information that’s not available in any easily digestible, concentrated form, and actual experimental experiences to weed out the true from the false.

          • albatross11 says:

            Harmless Frog:

            So would it make sense for you to try to write some introductory essay or article or book or something that explains and connects those dots in a coherent way?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I was going to think that Harmless Frog might be better off working on the building blocks, like “why is insulin so important?”

            But it occurred to me that he would have a hard time convincing me, even if he’s right, because, like most people who had something work for them, I have an incredibly strong personal bias in nutrition for “what worked for me.”

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @albatross11

            So would it make sense for you to try to write some introductory essay or article or book or something that explains and connects those dots in a coherent way?

            Could work, but I’m not particularly talented nor enjoy writing books.

            @Edward Scizorhands

            I was going to think that Harmless Frog might be better off working on the building blocks, like “why is insulin so important?”

            But it occurred to me that he would have a hard time convincing me, even if he’s right, because, like most people who had something work for them, I have an incredibly strong personal bias in nutrition for “what worked for me.”

            Ha, yes. Margaret Mead’s only worthwhile contribution to science is her quote on how difficult is to change people’s diets.

            As for insulin, it’s toxic in excess, and contemporary populations have a lot of excess. Probably the root cause behind cancer, looking at Laron dwarfs.

    • Statismagician says:

      Statistical artifact, and a stellar illustration of why formal instruction is still useful in the age of Google. John Schilling and others are right about this being mostly due to limited hypothesis space, increased utilization, and the inverse of the vaccine cost/benefit problem – we’re pretty good at keeping people with chronic diseases like T2DM from dying, but those people tend to have lots of other expensive comorbidities which props up costs.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Could someone help me understand why the US is maintaining trade sanctions against Iran?

    As I understand it, all of this dates back to the Iranian revolution, when the revolutionaries seized a lot of US oil company assets. The US in turn seized Iranian assets abroad, and implemented broad bans on trade with Iran. OK, that makes sense.

    But why are the bans on trade still in place? I can understand that there is bad blood between the US and Muslim nations in general post 9/11. But the US is perfectly willing to deal with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Is Iran in some sense worse? Or do the other two have something that give the US a reason to deal with them, that Iran does not have?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I correspondingly want to know why the US continues assisting Saudi Arabia with its security, instead of phasing that out or demanding money in exchange for security (ala Trump vis-a-via South Korea).

      https://fortune.com/2019/11/30/saudi-arabia-sellers-remorse-aramco-ipo/

      China is already Saudi Arabia’s leading trade partner, number one for both imports and exports in 2018. And the two countries signed an economic cooperation pact worth $28 billion. And earlier this month, Saudi Aramco signed crude oil sales agreements for 2020 with five Chinese customers this month, increasing volume by 151,000 barrels a day and strengthening its position as China’s top crude supplier.

      “China has no interest in projecting hard military power in the Gulf for the foreseeable future. The U.S. are the main game in town. So I see continued deepening of commercial relations (with China) but also continued strategic dependence on the U.S., even if Saudi Arabia is much less comfortable with that than they used to be,”

      • cassander says:

        Countries ally when they share common goals, not when they decide to be friends. The Saudis’ enemies are largely our enemies, so we don’t have a lot of leverage because we can’t credibly threaten to leave them to it.

        • Anthony says:

          Also, changing policies that made sense is hard when the reason for them has declined, but there’s no strong reason to go the other way. During most of the post-war 20th Century, protecting the Saudi kingdom protected the source of much of the world’s oil. In the 1980s, this protection morphed into outright bribery (shiny weapons systems they can’t effectively operate without us), but in exchange, they kept the price of oil low, which benefited Western economies quite a lot while causing significant harm to the Soviet economy.

          In the 21st Century, protecting a major source of oil is still relevant, though less and less so to the U.S. as President Bush’s farsighted encouraging of fracking and shale oil development has paid off. (We’re now a net oil exporter, something nobody would have believed if you’d told them that in the 1980s.)

          But the Saudi kingdom hasn’t done enough to actively antagonize us*, and they’re still a major source of oil for our friends/allies, so we haven’t re-evaluated the relationship.
          *Except 9/11, but President Bush and Congress effectively made the decision to not punish the Sauds for that.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Iranians also seized American personnel. And as far as I know, still maintains that the United States is “The Great Satan”. There’s something to be said for accepting another nation’s word for it that you are their enemy.

      • Theodoric says:

        And at least some American personnel in question had diplomatic immunity, which is a line that not even Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan crossed (some diplomats were held in Japan during WW2, but that was due to negotiating the logistics of how to send them back (and send Japanese diplomats back from the US)).
        EDIT: I wonder how different relations would be if the Iranians in 1979 said “Because you are the Great Satan, all American personnel have 24 hours to leave the country” but did not take any hostages.

      • Chalid says:

        OK, but an Iranian could similarly say that the US maintains that Iran is its enemy and they should take us at our word, and that’s why they call us the Great Satan. Maybe it’s just a bad equilibrium thing, but you’d think we could climb out of it at some point.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The US does not refer to Iran as “The Great Satan” nor any similar appellation, though it did during the George W Bush administration (“Axis of Evil”). Iran has called the US “The Great Satan” continuously since 1979. So the symmetry really isn’t there.

    • John Schilling says:

      But why are the bans on trade still in place? I can understand that there is bad blood between the US and Muslim nations in general post 9/11. But the US is perfectly willing to deal with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Is Iran in some sense worse?

      The Iranian government openly celebrates, even after forty years, the time when it attacked US territory and seized innocent US citizens as hostages. The Pakistani and Saudi governments, don’t. The Iranian government refers to the United States as “the Great Satan”. The Pakistani and Saudi governments, don’t. Whatever unpleasantness may exist between the US and the Pakistanis or Saudis, their governments at least say they want less of it in the future. The Iranians, say they want more. As Nybbler says, we should maybe consider taking them at their word.

      • That raises the other side of the same question: Why does the Iranian government choose to be so strongly hostile to the U.S.?

        One possible reason is ideology, but it’s hard to see why Shia Muslims should be more hostile to the U.S. than Sunni Muslims. Another is that having an enemy is useful in terms of internal politics, someone to blame whatever is wrong on.

        • Clutzy says:

          I think the main reason most autocrats that choose to be hostile to the US choose that option is because they have a population that needs to be united against an external enemy, lest they unite against the ruling party.

      • Secretly French says:

        The Iranian government openly celebrates, even after forty years, the time when it attacked US territory and seized innocent US citizens as hostages.

        Those meanies! Hot dang where the fuck do I sign up to die in the desert?! I try to imagine things this petty and immaterial being relevant to global politics, and I just fail. This looks a lot more like propaganda than it does reasoning. The people in charge of the world may want you to operate on this level, and it may be in their interest to make you believe that they operate on this level too, but I do not fucking believe that it’s the case. Anything you can say about how eeeevil Iran is pales in comparison to the utter barbarity of Wahhabism, so there’s your principle. And besides, the anti-west rhetoric in Iran can very easily be interpreted as a consequence, as much as a cause, of the global alignment of the West, Israel, and Saud, against Iran.

        • John Schilling says:

          I try to imagine things this petty and immaterial being relevant to global politics, and I just fail.

          “Petty and immaterial” things like words? Words are central to politics, right up to the point where we start using bullets instead.

          So, when your hated outgroup in the realm of domestic politics uses hateful words to describe people like yourself, do you similarly regard this as “petty and immaterial” and not worth your further attention?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            So, when your hated outgroup in the realm of domestic politics uses hateful words to describe people like yourself, do you similarly regard this as “petty and immaterial” and not worth your further attention?

            Yes

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          We aren’t sanctioning just because they hold mean parades. We placed sanctions on them due to their actions against us and general belligerence in the 1980s and escalated when they violated their IAEA obligations, with unanimous approval from the relevant Security Council members.

          Just this year Iran violated territory of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in order to launch coordinated, deliberate attacks, along with shooting a US drone and seizing a British tanker.

  5. Quick shout-out, since my original inline response is less likely to be read by the people I’m addressing: In the comment section of Book Review: The Body Keeps Score, JohnBuridan and Aapje recommended the TV show The Prisoner.

    I wanted to thank them both for bringing the show to my attention. My primary and I started watching it today. So far we’re really enjoying it – getting adventure game vibes off of it, and we’re both really into adventure games. 🙂 So, thank you!

  6. In some ways opaque moderation is better than open moderation. The big advantage of open moderation is that everyone gets to see the process by which moderation takes place, and then organic regimentation takes place. The big disadvantage is rules lawyering, and finding clever ways to make life unpleasant while still technically staying within the letter of the law, and then when those doing so are finally banned, people can see that the rules are really arbitrary, creating drama. By seeing the rules people can also accuse the moderator of bias and hold up an impossible standard that leads to community dissolution. Knowing what the rules are allows users to create feedbacks that influence the rule maker. The forbidden fruit of knowledge contains the seeds of democracy and anarchy.

    A good moderator should be like a statue, weathered but unmoving. It doesn’t submit to bargaining or pleas for clemency, but only stares back implacably. I would go further. A moderator should be like the gods above, ready to strike down those chosen with a heavenly lightni-

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I had an essay in my head I never wrote down. The short form is “terror is efficient.”

      “Terror” is shorthand for “you don’t get to see why the boss made the choice she did, you have no appeal, the rules today might be different from the rules yesterday.”

      When you can have a choice of hundreds of options and exit is cheap and easy, managing each option by terror just gets us each quickly to what we want.

      When you only have a few options, or one, terror is horrible. But I see why autocrats love it: if you want to keep a lot of people in line with minimum manpower, you terrorize them so they are never really sure what is going on, and stay far away from the any blurry lines.

      *EDIT*: Reading down below, this is like the way we manage prisons. Random punishment, arbitrary rules, fuck you that’s why.

  7. ana53294 says:

    Prisoners have to pay by the minute to read an ebook in a West Virginia jail. And that’s for free books!

    The company that is providing electronic multimedia tablets to 10 West Virginia prisons, inmates will be charged 3 cents a minute to read books, even though the books all come from Project Gutenberg, a free online library of more than 60,000 texts in the public domain.

    […] According to the contract, detailed by Appalachian Prison Book Project, using the tablets will cost $0.05 per minute (currently discounted to $0.03) to read books, listen to music, or play games; $0.25 per minute for video visitations; $0.25 per written message; and $0.50 to send a photo with a message.

    The Prison Policy Initiative estimated in 2017 that wages in West Virginia prisons range between $0.04 and $0.58 an hour.

    This just seems pure evil. Like, I get that actual physical books can be used for smuggling and whatever, but this?

    This makes me more convinced than ever that it’s really important to keep ownership of physical stuff. Sure, free people have way more liberties than imprisoned people. But it seems to me that when you get rid of physical books, these kind of abuses become easier. After all, a prison library that charged by the minute would be considered too abusive for anybody to implement.

    • DeWitt says:

      After all, a prison library that charged by the minute would be considered too abusive for anybody to implement.

      Uhhh, no, people are very good at considering inmates subhuman and justifying whatever happens to them as deserved. If they didn’t want to be mistreated, why are they in prison?!

    • albatross11 says:

      There is a huge industry of extracting pennies from prisoners and their families. It’s pure evil. Some states charge inmates for time they’re in prison–when they get out, they owe the state money. Everyone charges obscene rates for prison phone service. I think some prisons charge a service fee for visitors. Several states release prisoners with some kind of tracking anklet, and charge them a bunch of money per day for it. And so on.

      This is part of the broader phenomenon of running the justice system for a profit, which is common all over the country. It’s inherently corrupting, it’s incredibly destructive, but it’s also locally profitable for whatever crony of the governor gets the contract for providing some service that prisoners aren’t allowed to refuse at some inflated rate.

      • ana53294 says:

        Some states charge inmates for time they’re in prison–when they get out, they owe the state money.

        Do you have a quote for that? It just seems absolutely bonkers.

        Like, charging for extras has been a thing that has been documented in the medieval times. It probably has existed since the invention of prisons. And extras, at some timepoint in history, included food that was edible. But just for jail?

        How can they charge for visitation? Do they distinguish by the type of guest? Will they charge when kids visit, too? Because that would seem to go against kids’ rights. I guess some people get visits by pastors or whatever. Do they also charge for that? That would go against religious freedom, wouldn’t it?

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ve only read through about half of the report, but this report by the Brennan Center (a liberal legal think tank) discusses it in some depth.

          My impression is that it’s a lot like running your police department as a revenue source. Nobody started out thinking this was a good idea–instead, they got into a financial pinch and this was a quick way to raise revenue that was more popular than raising local taxes. But then, every year, costs got higher, and more revenue was needed, and the prisoners were the easiest people to hit with extra fees.

      • proyas says:

        I have a colleague whose adult son has been in jail for over a year while awaiting trial for a serious crime, and she’s told me about the prison system’s extortionist and penurious policies. Among their arbitrary and cruel rules is a ban on inmates having more than two books at a time. One of the books must be religious, and the inmate must prove he belongs to that faith (e.g. – a self-professed Christian can’t get a Quran). The other book must come from the jail’s library, because for unknown reasons, the inmates can’t receive books through the mail or given to them in person by visitors.

        The jail’s library doesn’t have a written catalog and inmates aren’t allowed to physically enter it (presumably, it’s a small room with a shelf full of books). As a result, inmates don’t know what books are available, and they only have access to whichever books the one privileged inmate with access to the room decides to throw on the cart that he wheels down the hallway once a day (or less often). He stops the cart outside each cell during lockdown, and the inmates can select something from the cart so long as it doesn’t push their book total above two.

        Jail life is very boring, psychologically distressing, and sounds like it violates human rights. Having access to books would help pass the time, and wouldn’t add any real burden or expense to the guards or the prison system, but it is heavily restricted anyway. It’s an institution where dumb people make dumb, self-defeating rules, and where petty sadism is the norm.

        • Zephalinda says:

          In general, I think we should know the history of an institutional regulation before casually dismissing it as “dumb,” “self-defeating” or “petty sadism.” These types of comments get made all the time about school and classroom policies, for instance– but from speaking to actual teachers, while maybe 10-20% of said policies are genuinely dumb or arbitrary, the remaining 80% come at the end of a long sad history of “We tried allowing __________, but they just [abuse/unintended consequence]” or “I guess we could carefully think things through on a nuanced case-by-case basis, but our rigid oversight system/ our huge workload doesn’t permit it” or “We fear that having [nice thing] entails a small possibility of [horrible catastrophic-for-us outcome], and are too terrified to risk it.”

          In the case of direct book orders by prisoners, I gather from the article that some inmates were using them to smuggle drugs. I’m guessing allowing people entrance to a small library space similarly opens opportunities for dangerous, possibly violent encounters. If you’re a prison official with small incentive to alleviate prisoners’ boredom but a large incentive to forestall black-market drug trade and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, I can easily see how you’d end up saying “You know what, nobody in the library from now on, everybody just pick something off the cart.”

          The difficulty of finding policies that produce intended outcomes is also markedly worse when you’re dealing with institutional populations, like prisoners and schoolchildren, who have no natural buy-in and vast resources of time/ energy to figure out clever ways to subvert the system. There’s maybe a conversation to be had about whether the institution should exist at all, but reform, as opposed to abolition, is rarely as simple as “Just do this obvious thing, and it’ll sort itself out.”

          • beleester says:

            Even accepting all your reasoning, what the hell is the threat presented by allowing a Christian to have a Quran? None of your arguments about safety or ease of enforcement hold up here – a rule of “two books per inmate” or “one religious book and one other book” would be simpler and easier to enforce than making each inmate prove what religion they are before you’ll give them a Bible.

            “80% of the rules exist for a good reason” still allows for an incredible amount of neglect, stupidity, and petty sadism.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @beleester

            It sounds more likely that the prison wants to limit inmates to a single book, but that this would be considered a violation of the 1st amendment if having their bible (to practice their religion with) meant they could have no other books.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Steelmanning “you cannot be Christian and check out the Quran,” some people would check out a book just to stop someone else from having it, or treat it just near the edge of poor treatment to piss off other people.

      • Garrett says:

        It’s pure evil.

        If someone commits an action which The People have decided to codify as a Very Bad Thing, they went through a process where a group of independent people agreed that they indeed did to the Very Bad Thing, and then are to be incarcerated for the duration: who else should bear the cost of incarceration?

        At most, it’s diluted evil.

        • acymetric says:

          I don’t have a huge problem with charging per minute for tablet usage as long as access to hard copies of books remains unchanged (I do think it would be better if some things like reading books on the tablets was free, or at least free for a certain number of pages/books/hours-per-month).

          Charging people for the time they spend in prison (on top of the fines the receive as part of their conviction) is terrible. How exactly is someone who just got out of a 3-6 year jail/prison sentence supposed to make good on potentially thousands of dollars in charges just for being in the prison? Huge shocker that so many of these people return to crime…what is the upside to honest work if the government is just going to garnish your already meager wages from whatever crap job you manage to get after spending the last x years in prison?

          The costs of administering jail/prison absolutely should fall on the people administering it as a punishment. Maybe it would make a good deterrent from sentencing every Tom, Dick and Harry who violates a law to extended jail time. The fact that private companies are getting rich off of this makes it all the more perverse. I doubt there is any defense of charging inmates for their time served that would be compelling to me.

    • Zephalinda says:

      I mean, I’m sure a good many prison policies are evil, potentially including this one. But on the face of it, charging a nominal fee for basic tablet use (including playing games)… doesn’t necessarily seem that unreasonable?

      Unless there’s a 1:1 prisoner:tablet ratio, you have to apportion access somehow, and letting people pay more to play more seems like it’s more utility-maximizing than just having a fixed ration of time per person.

      On average, my understanding is that people often enjoy the experience of power/ self-efficacy in earning a benefit and then enjoying it, rather than having it given to them gratis. Aren’t there animal studies where the animals actually preferred to work for food rather than having it automatically dispensed?

      From a rehabilitation standpoint, if you’re trying to build folks’ skills at regular work, then it makes sense to have something enjoyable they can work for. Having them pay for nicer food/ a nicer cell/ etc. would, I’m guessing, go over even worse with all the prison-beat reporters out there.

      Finally, framing it as “$.03/hr just to read CLASSIC WORKS OF LITERATURE, when the prisoners only make [as little as] $.04/hr” is clearly picking the maximally inflammatory version of all possible unknowns here. “$.03/min to play computer games or surf the web, when most prisoners actually earn $.58/hr” is a scenario that fits the stated facts just as well, and that doesn’t sound nearly as bad.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It’s $0.03 per minute to read books when prisoners earn as little as $0.04/hr (if allowed to work). Even if they make the max of $0.58/hr, they have to work three hours to read for an hour.

        • Zephalinda says:

          But “the agency is not restricting purchases or donations of regular print books,” and there’s no info given about whether prisoners are charged to read the paper books in the library. Presumably not; if they are, or if they actually try abolishing the paper library, as the article implies may kinda be happening elsewhere, then by all means, outrage.
          Until that happens, though, framing as a charge for reading what is actually a charge for using a networked tablet (presumably mostly to play games, watch YouTube, etc.– but ok, I guess maybe some inmates would have Project Gutenberg up for some of the time, sure) seems inflammatory to the point of mild dishonesty. And while 3 hrs work:1 hr screwing around on the internet does seem like a steep-ish exchange rate, it’s not, like, an order of magnitude off from what regular non-incarcerated people can access.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            How do you know there’s a limited supply of shared tablets? The article isn’t too explicit, but I get the impression that each prisoner is being issued one.

          • Nick says:

            Until that happens, though, framing as a charge for reading what is actually a charge for using a networked tablet (presumably mostly to play games, watch YouTube, etc.– but ok, I guess maybe some inmates would have Project Gutenberg up for some of the time, sure) seems inflammatory to the point of mild dishonesty.

            Why don’t you try reading the primary source Reason mag linked, or the agreement for the original pilot program? This is not for general network access; the tablets are restricted and only include a few apps like a texting and multimedia message app, music app, and reading app (with the option to pay for more apps, of course). You don’t need constant network access to read a book; you just need to download the file, and according to the Appalachian Prison Book Project, that’s what they’re doing. What is especially outrageous about an ebook app that’s just using Project Gutenberg books is that PG is licensed so that they can’t be sold, and GTL is getting around this by charging for viewing them, without having to pay anyone for license.

            (Another fun fact from the APBP’s writeup: the $0.03/minute deal is only a promotional deal, and it’s going to go up to $0.05/minute later. If my math is right, that is now 100 times as bad as what you earlier described as “maximally inflammatory.”)

            @The Pachyderminator
            Per page 3 of the linked deal, the pilot program started with a 1:6 tablet to prisoner ratio, to be decreased as usage picks up. The suggestion is ridiculous on its face, though, because the whole point of the deal is to be profitable, which means that the availability of tablets will be according to how much money GTL can squeeze out of their use. It’s not like these are a scarce resource being provided pro bono.

          • Zephalinda says:

            @Nick– so to clarify, if the company were simply to remove the ebook app, so that it’s $.03/min to use streaming music and games apps on a tablet, but not “$.03/min just to READ,” then we’re fine with this?

            The contract with GTL also specifies “free content” as well as paid content on the tablets– possibly educational stuff– but that is nowhere mentioned in the APBP callout. (Granted, maybe the free content is, like, a single photo of Ronald Reagan or something, but there’s no info one way or the other.)

          • Nick says:

            @Nick– so to clarify, if the company were simply to remove the ebook app, so that it’s $.03/min to use streaming music and games apps on a tablet, but not “$.03/min just to READ,” then we’re fine with this?

            No, that doesn’t follow at all.

            The contract with GTL also specifies “free content” as well as paid content on the tablets– possibly educational stuff– but that is nowhere mentioned in the APBP callout. (Granted, maybe the free content is, like, a single photo of Ronald Reagan or something, but there’s no info one way or the other.)

            It’s not hard to see why: Gibney promises “there will be free content as well as paid access” in the letter, but “free content” is nowhere mentioned in the Service Schedule. As far as I can tell, unless Gibney is outright lying, this can only mean the starting apps on the tablet, because where the Service Schedule defines Content on p. 2 (p. 5 of the pdf), it’s pay by the minute:

            i. Content. Company will make available certain content through the Tablets, including music, games, electronic messaging, eBooks (“Content”). Content will be provided on a per minute basis access. Content will be supplied on a rolling basis as soon as reasonably practicable following deployment of Enhanced Services. Company reserves the right to add, alter or discontinue any Content.

          • Zephalinda says:

            @Nick– I think I’m just confused about what the alternative is that people would like to see here.

            Surely the relevant comparison for determining whether this tablet policy is “evil” is to the pre-tablet status quo. The article says nothing about removing existing access to reading or entertainment due to this policy, so we’re comparing a status A where inmates had [X library/communication access], to status B where inmates have [X library/communication access] plus the option to pay to access a wider variety of books, music and computer games. You may think the pricing is high, but it’s hard to see where simply adding the purchase option is an evil in itself. If somebody opens up an ice cream truck on my block charging $75/cone, then I will laugh and not buy, but I will not consider myself exploited by the offer– and that’s even if no grocery store stocks ice cream in a 500-mile radius.

            Is the argument instead that inmates should still have a right to access streaming music, picture messaging and computer games in prison, but that access should instead be free of charge, or drastically lower-priced? If so, who should pay to maintain that access? If we think the public should pay, it certainly seems like an item that’d be very vulnerable to cuts come budget time, and then you’re back to State A where nobody has any streaming music at all.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Surely the relevant comparison for determining whether this tablet policy is “evil” is to the pre-tablet status quo.

            Disagree. The morality of an action necessarily depends on the choices available to you. So if you change the context, you change the morality. If you want to decide whether the action is “good” or “evil”, you have to compare it to the choices you have available right now, meaning you can’t justify it as “good” by saying that it would have been the best choice at some time in the past when you had a more limited array of options.

            To put this less abstractly: A father of starving family who has been shipwrecked on a desert island is not evil. But a father who lives in town and brings home fish every night, and forced his children to eat nothing but the eyeballs is.

            But wait wait, he says: “If I was stranded on a desert island, giving my kids fish eyeballs to eat would be a highly virtuous action!” Indeed it would, if you were stranded on a desert island. But your not, so its not.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If we think the public should pay, it certainly seems like an item that’d be very vulnerable to cuts come budget time, and then you’re back to State A where nobody has any streaming music at all.

            Surrendering to your opponents doesn’t make it any less easy for them to defeat you, I don’t even understand the argument here.

            Computer access for prisoners would be very vulnerable, sure, because we live in a sick, racist, highly punitive society. All the more reason to push hard for it.

          • ana53294 says:

            Surely the relevant comparison for determining whether this tablet policy is “evil” is to the pre-tablet status quo.

            Are you willing to apply this to other things, too?

            So, for example, by your logic;

            A company that comes to a third world country and hires children to work in a factory is doing good, because the status quo is the children starve or do sex work.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You may think the pricing is high, but it’s hard to see where simply adding the purchase option is an evil in itself. If somebody opens up an ice cream truck on my block charging $75/cone, then I will laugh and not buy, but I will not consider myself exploited by the offer– and that’s even if no grocery store stocks ice cream in a 500-mile radius.

            You’ve picked the most trivial possible example (ice cream) and the most equitable possible power arrangement, but change any of these two factors, and you can indeed become evil. Your ice cream example isn’t a rule that we can extrapolate from, but only something we dismiss because the stakes are so low.

            Let me offer an example of the same logic, to see if you would agree that the actions are non-evil:

            Let’s say someone with diabetes has passed out on the floor. You find he is a carrying a box that says “in case of emergency, inject insulin”. If you don’t inject the insulin, he dies. Obviously, if you weren’t here he would die anyway. You could describe your presence, to paraphrase, as merely “adding the option to inject insulin”.

            So is it evil to watch him die? I think the answer is easy: Morality depends on the choices you make in a given context. So you can’t morally equate him dying alone to the context of him dying while you are watching. If you can do good and choose not to, you are failing to maximize utility, i.e. “being evil”.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Zephalinda:
            The article Ana linked suggests that providing paid tablet access to books may be a precursor to removing the physical aspects of the books. If true it is problematic: in the minds of the administrators the paid tablet access may be providing sufficiently humane access to books, making them think they no longer have a responsibility to provide physical books.

            @ana53294:
            The company is not imprisoning those workers, so it does not have the same sort of responsibility towards them as a prison does towards its inmates. It does seem like the company working there is better than the alternative (at least based on the factors you’ve stated).

          • Zephalinda says:

            @ana53294–

            A company that comes to a third world country and hires children to work in a factory is doing good, because the status quo is the children starve or do sex work.

            I wouldn’t call the company’s actions “doing good”– it’s just a business transaction, presumably they find it financially advantageous– but I don’t see how you can call it “doing evil,” given that nobody has been deceived, no person is worse off, and some people may have additional options to be (what they would consider) better off because of the policy.

            At minimum, I think any outside party arguing that the company was “evil” to open up that poorly-paid job needs to either (a) state both what better option they think the kids should haveand how that option could feasibly be made available if somebody just cared more**or (b) acknowledge that they would paternalistically prefer the kids to have fewer options, in order to not have to imagine them making choices we would personally find distasteful.

            **In the case of the sweatshop, it’s hard to imagine an available “just Care More, and pay them a living wage” alternative that wouldn’t either lead to the factory being unprofitable/uncompetitive (so it’s not opened at all, back to sex work, kids), and/or lead to the job being well-paid enough to generate more competition from older, more skilled workers (so no jobs for you, back to sex work, kids). Thus, with respect to all the many kids currently starving in areas not yet targeted for sweatshops, we may feel great because we don’t feel implicated in their bad situation, but I’d be surprised if they felt great about not having the option to sew our cheap T-shirts for pennies per hour.

            Similarly, if what we’re saying is that this company should revoke the “evil” deal they’ve offered and let the prison return to a pre-tablet existence, then I think it’s fair to consider whether the prisoners themselves would be pleased at no longer having the opportunity to pay to stream music or play computer games. And if we’re implying that prisons should be required instead to provide streaming music and games as a free amenity in their facilities, then I think we need to say so explicitly, and work through all the various hard follow-up questions that such a claim entails.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Dacyn

            It does seem like the company working there is better than the alternative (at least based on the factors you’ve stated).

            There are typically more options beyond “not hiring people to work in a factory” and “hiring children to work in a factory”. There’s no reason to restrict the moral analysis to that false choice dichotomy.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Zephalinda

            What you say is all right – from a consequentialist point of view. Many people are not consequentialist, or at least not consequentialist 100% of the time. And from a deontological perspective, providing a shitty service to people who are incarcerated and have no choice is evil. It’s a monopoly, but a very violent one.

            And yes, I think prisoners would be better off without this service, since the service skews incentives terribly. The company pays a kickback to prisons. This means prisons have an incentive to force prisoners to force this service rather than others.

            Will a prison that gets paid 15 cents for every hour a prisoner spends reading, or watching movies, or listening to music, encourage prisoners to visit the library? Form a theater group? Play in a band? Or will their incentives align into denying prisoners these services, destroying other free, much more humane services in order to get those 15 cents?

            I personally believe that forming a band, a theater group, or even (shudder) an a capella group, is much better from the human development perspective.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Guy in TN:
            Sure, and a moral analysis of what you do with your money could also include the fact that you could donate it to people in third world countries. I happen to hold an ethical view where not doing everything in your power to help doesn’t make someone a bad person. The question (or at least what seems to me the most salient question) is whether there was something that they could have done to help, that they could have reasonably been expected to do.

          • Dacyn says:

            @ana53294:

            What you say is all right – from a consequentialist point of view. Many people are not consequentialist, or at least not consequentialist 100% of the time. And from a deontological perspective, providing a shitty service to people who are incarcerated is evil.

            Well, I am disagreeing with you as well, and I am not a consequentialist. From a deontological perspective, an action is wrong if it breaks some rule. What rule are you saying that “providing a shitty service to people who are incarcerated” violates?

          • ana53294 says:

            I happen to hold an ethical view where not doing everything in your power to help doesn’t make someone a bad person.

            No, but doing bad things does make you a bad, or at least worse person. And hiring children to work in a sweatshop, is just bad. It’s a line our society drew in the sand, and when you do it, even in another country, you’re crossing that line and normalizing child labour. Our society is rich enough we can afford things produced by adult labour.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Zephalinda

            In the case of the sweatshop, it’s hard to imagine an available “just Care More, and pay them a living wage” alternative that wouldn’t either lead to the factory being unprofitable/uncompetitive

            Child labor is banned is the US, yet profitable factories still exist. So this argument should be dead-in-the-water.

            or lead to the job being well-paid enough to generate more competition from older, more skilled workers (so no jobs for you, back to sex work, kids).

            The idea is that most kids receive resources from their parents, who can be hired instead. Assume we aren’t talking about a hypothetical land of parent-less children.

            state both what better option they think the kids should haveand how that option could feasibly be made available if somebody just cared more

            So yes, the better option is to hire adults, not kids, and give the kids the “option” of not having to work at all. So companies that hire kids should at the very least be shamed for doing so. And no one should believe their claims that they can’t afford to hire adults because: 1. The empirical history of labor law 2. It is in their financial self-interest to make such claims, regardless of their truth-value.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Dacyn

            Taking advantage of people who are incarcerated, by forcing them to accept a service, and providing jailers with incentives to eliminate other alternatives. Essentially, removing alternatives to your shitty service by paying people who control which service prisoners have access too.

            They aren’t just providing this service. They are forcing people to use it. Sure, they may not be doing the inforcement themselves, but that’s what the kickback to prisons is for.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Dacyn

            The question (or at least what seems to me the most salient question) is whether there was something that they could have done to help, that they could have reasonably been expected to do.

            Sure. The thing they could do to help, is hire adults to work at the factory instead of children. This is the third option, readily available to them.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @ana53294

            And hiring children to work in a sweatshop, is just bad.

            What caused you to believe that this is true?

          • Zephalinda says:

            @Guy in TN, my understanding of the history of child labor/ mandatory schooling laws is that they were deeply unpopular among the poor families affected by them, precisely because the removal of the option to work was felt as a harm. Both parents (if alive/ablebodied) and children tended to be breadwinners in such families, so making it illegal for children to earn wages would mean the catastrophic loss of their income and possibly the breakup of the family/ the death of one or more dependent members. It’s no coincidence that such laws coincided with the mass opening of orphanages to absorb the surplus population of children whose parents’ or siblings’ incomes were insufficient to support the household intact. You’d think the diminution of the labor force would raise wages proportionally for the adults, but in an era of changing customs and rapid technological progress, some of those jobs were simply obsolesced or automated away, so not every family made good on its losses.

            Nobody is now arguing for repealing those laws, of course, and over time it was a good thing that society decided not to allow its children (collectively) to work. But that doesn’t mean individual families were made universally better off by losing the option.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Nobody is now arguing for repealing those laws, of course, and over time it was a good thing that society decided not to allow its children (collectively) to work. But that doesn’t mean individual families were made universally better off by losing the option.

            I don’t think anyone was arguing that literally-every-person would be made better off by child labor laws.

            But I’m glad you agree that, in the end, the laws were a good thing. So…why not implement them in other countries that are in roughly the same developmental state as the US ca. 1900?

          • ana53294 says:

            @HowardHolmes

            I believe that children should be taken care of by their parents, or in their absence, the state.

            I also believe small children (those under 14) can’t meaningfully consent to labor, in the same way their consent for sex is not meaningful. 14 years old working doesn’t seem bad to me. In Spain, the legal work age is 16. I am OK with it being 14 in poorer countries.

          • You’d think the diminution of the labor force would raise wages proportionally for the adults

            Why would you think that? Reducing the labor force reduces total output, which is what wages are ultimately paid out of.

          • Zephalinda says:

            @Guy in TN,

            But I’m glad you agree that, in the end, the laws were a good thing. So…why not implement them in other countries that are in roughly the same developmental state as the US ca. 1900?

            I think the child labor laws were a good thing, but not because allowing children to work (as they have done for most of human history) is an intrinsic evil, like human sacrifice or pulling wings off flies for fun. And in some sense, it’s a matter of privilege that I can contentedly declare myself against child labor in my country with no negative consequences to consider, because our society has gotten rich enough to make child labor no longer necessary for some families’ survival. The middle-class do-gooders who actually passed that legislation the first time were not so lucky: they may have been acting for long-term good, but they also harmed many families and caused a lot of immediate, raw human suffering, of a sort that we are reflexively squeamish about in policy today.

            To sit here and presume to make that choice for other people, declaring that other nations should surely be advanced enough in their “developmental state” to forcibly implement our enlightened bourgeois standards for childrearing, or that it’s “evil” that poor people in other countries should be offered economic options we would not personally desire for our rich selves… well, it strikes me as a bit tone-deaf, in a “let them eat cake” kind of way.

          • Dacyn says:

            @ana53294: It seems kind of paternalist to say that our cultural norms should be governing other countries that don’t have those norms. Other societies may not feel that they are rich enough to be able to afford to not have kids work. (It would be nice if parents or state could take care of kids, but this is not always the reality.) (ETA: ninja’d by Zephalinda)

            Regarding prisons/tablets, why do you say the prisoners are being “forc[ed] to accept a service”? I don’t recall reading that in the article. I agree with you that “providing jailers with incentives to eliminate other alternatives” is a legitimate reason to not want these services to be allowed, though.

            @Guy in TN: You seem to have missed that I specified “could have reasonably been expected to do”. Why are they reasonably expected to hire adults instead of children? I agree that in a first-world country with no-child-labor laws, they are expected to do this, but it doesn’t seem obvious why this expectation should transfer to the context of a different country.

          • ana53294 says:

            I don’t particularly object to a third world country’s company hiring children.

            But a first world country should not use that company’s services, much less actually use child labor, because consumers in first world countries can afford things made by adults.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Zephalinda

            To sit here and presume to make that choice for other people, declaring that other nations should surely be advanced enough in their “developmental state” to forcibly implement our enlightened bourgeois standards for childrearing

            I mean, we’re all making choices for other people here. If you choose to buy a product from these companies, you are choosing to empower a company that relies on child labor irregardless of the will of the people who live in that country. And likewise, if I choose to boycott a company relies on child labor, I am dis-empowering that company, regardless of their will. There’s no “neutral” option here. Treating the second option as a busy-bodying do-goodery, while the first as as natural and normal, isn’t tenable.

            or that it’s “evil” that poor people in other countries should be offered economic options we would not personally desire for our rich selves… well, it strikes me as a bit tone-deaf, in a “let them eat cake” kind of way.

            Again, its not the options that the company offers that make their actions evil, but the options they fail to offer.

            You’ve already said yourself that in the long run, banning child labor was a good thing, so I don’t even know why you are so disdainful of my position here.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Dacyn

            Why are they reasonably expected to hire adults instead of children? I agree that in a first-world country with no-child-labor laws, they are expected to do this, but it doesn’t seem obvious why this expectation should transfer to the context of a different country.

            When you consider the economic and social level of development that the US was in when it passed child labor laws (~1910), most countries that currently employ child labor are well past that point. So assuming that it had net-positive effects in the US (too big of a debate to get into here), then banning child labor would probably have net-positive effects in these countries as well.

            The importance of using market power to influence these companies becomes all the more pertinent when you consider that many third-world countries have poor democratic mechanisms, and do not translate people’s will-to-policy very well. I mean, are you sure that these people wouldn’t support banning child labor, if asked? Do we have polling on this?

            And like I was saying with Zephalinda earlier, there’s no escape. Your actions are going to influence the conditions in these countries one way or another: choosing to buy from a company that employs child labor is as much as a policy-influence as choosing to boycott.

          • Dacyn says:

            @ana53284: The question is not what the consumers can afford, but what the producers can afford. If a kid can’t afford not to work, how are you helping him by not buying what he makes?

            @Guy in TN: It seems the roles have swapped, and utilitarian arguments are now being used to support the anti-child-labor position 🙂

            I believe there are some third-world countries that have sufficient democratic mechanisms that it is meaningful that they haven’t enacted anti-child-labor laws. As for those that don’t, no I’m not sure that they wouldn’t support such laws, but you also aren’t sure that they would. And, yes it is a complicated topic, but I think even if anti-child-labor laws had a positive effect in the US, it is not clear that that would carry over to other contexts. Furthermore, it seems odd to me to pretend that a law exists in another country when it doesn’t.

            I think you are looking in the wrong place for the concept of a “neutral” option. It’s not one that has “neutral effects” (whatever that would mean) but rather one that conforms the most to the rules our society has set down for what is expected. “The status quo” in other words.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s not one that has “neutral effects” (whatever that would mean) but rather one that conforms the most to the rules our society has set down for what is expected. “The status quo” in other words.

            In my society of the United States, there is no doubt that child labor is against the cultural values and norms. And if I am understanding you correctly, your argument is that when I interact with a company from another country (for instance on the marketplace), it would be unjust for me to continue to insist that the person I’m interacting with to uphold these cultural values (e.g. anti-child labor). And instead, the moral action would be to help enforce whatever the cultural values are of the other country I’m buying from?

            Is this right?

      • ana53294 says:

        They charge more for every other use.

        Prisoners would have to work 6 hours to videochat with their family for a minute.

        From a rehabilitation standpoint, if you’re trying to build folks’ skills at regular work, then it makes sense to have something enjoyable they can work for.

        Reading books on itself should help these people to build their skills up. And I don’t think prisoners don’t understand they’re being abused. Victimising them in their work experience doesn’t seem like a good way of getting a pro-social attitude out of them.

        This story follows on many other stories where prisons restrict book donations to prisons. Libraries have few books, and donations don’t go to them. And prisoners are restricted from using a library.

        • TheContinentalOp says:

          Back in the early 90s (so the rules on books in prisons may have been different) I was a manager of a Barnes & Noble. An elderly lady came in and bought a few remaindered novels and asked that we ship them to the federal correction facility in Marion, IL. She said that the prison rules required books to be sent by the bookstore, not an individual.

          When it came time to ring up the sale, she informed me that there should be no sales tax, because the books were being shipped out of state. I replied that B&N had stores in Illinois so we had to collect the tax.

          My assistant manager intervened. She had been filling out the address information for the package. She showed me the intended recipient’s name, and I immediately backed down and told the old woman that I wouldn’t charge the tax.

          The name of the inmate receiving the books:

          John Gotti

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            While I don’t like a lot of corporatization, it seems like we should let Amazon and B&N and WalMart the option of bidding on doing this shipping. It’s not impossible for someone to compromise those systems, but the profit incentive of wanting to keep the contract would enable a sensible level of enforcement.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Unless there’s a 1:1 prisoner:tablet ratio, you have to apportion access somehow, and letting people pay more to play more seems like it’s more utility-maximizing than just having a fixed ration of time per person.

        If that were the problem, at 3 cents/minute – which is the promotional rate for the cheapest activity listed, – assuming one prisoner or another uses a given tablet every hour every day for say 10h/day, you get around 0.03*60*10*30=$540 revenue from a single tablet, which is enough to buy 2-10 new ones and bring prisoner:tablet ratio to whatever level you like in no time. Even accounting for imperfect utilization and service costs, per-tablet revenue should be ridiculously higher than its amortization costs, so there should be no shortage of tablets.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Rationalists, what are the funniest false beliefs you formed as small children?

    “Cousin once removed” meant a cousin who had been disowned.
    The jolly swagman in “Waltzing Matilda” was a cannibal who the police caught boiling a boy named Billy.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Yorkshire is a major tea-growing region. An inference formed from the name of this company.

    • Atlas says:

      This “ibid” author sure is influential, given how many books he’s been cited in.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I have a distinct memory of visiting the Jefferson Memorial as a young child, and my mother explaining to me who Thomas Jefferson was: that he’d written the Declaration of Independence, been the country’s third President, etc. I was very impressed that he’d managed to do all that AND invent the lightbulb.

      TLDR: I thought Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Edison were the same person.

    • metacelsus says:

      My dad once told me that “mafia” was an acronym for “Mothers And Fathers Italian Association.”

      I was dumb and believed it until I was ~17. I didn’t think to question why an Italian crime syndicate would have its acronym be in English.

    • Machine Interface says:

      This one is probably common but, I believed my native language was the only real language where words actually mean the things they mean, whereas other languages were just improvised, made up gibberish.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I thought Guns n’ Roses were singing about a Frankish warlord in Sweet Charlemagne.

      I was also convinced that Andy Townsend was the best football player in the world: as Chelsea captain, how could he not be?

    • bullseye says:

      I thought “white” and “light” were different meanings of the same word. I couldn’t hear the difference between W and L, and I guess it was before I learned to read.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Another one I remembered: I thought accordions were electronic instruments, because all those buttons looked like a keyboard and the sonorities didn’t seem natural to me.

    • tossrock says:

      I thought “diamond lanes” (a perhaps regional shorthand for carpool /HOV lanes) were actually laid out in a diamond pattern, where traffic on each side of the road would be hurtling towards each other until a point of closest approach, then swerving to angle away. At one point, while still very young, I impressed my father while stuck in traffic by saying “You know what they need here? Diamond lanes.” I’d clearly picked up the association adults made between them and improved traffic flow, but had no concept of what they actually were.

    • Our summer home in New Hampshire was reached by taking a hard topped road and turning off that onto a dirt road. At some point when I was young, I thought that, going the other way, at some point the dirt road became a hard topped road–I didn’t realize that it was a turn off.

    • sty_silver says:

      Not sure if this is funny, but when I was small, I was convinced that all talk of cultural differences was 100% bullshit, because with large population sizes, all individual variation would balance out, therefore people in all countries are, on average, exactly the same.

      when I was even younger, I remember believing that because there are so many people, there must be someone on earth who, since being born, had made the identical sequences of moves as myself.

      I also remember thinking that being able to recognize a language when someone else spoke meant you were able to speak it fluently.

      • Viliam says:

        when I was small, I was convinced that all talk of cultural differences was 100% bullshit, because with large population sizes, all individual variation would balance out, therefore people in all countries are, on average, exactly the same

        Replace “cultural” with “biological”, and the belief becomes acceptable at many universities today.

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        If you think the multiverse is actually infinite, this would actually be true.

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      I thought that characters who are shot and die in movies are criminals under the death penalty being executed.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      My dad convinced me that cracks in pavement were due to the fact that the earth is round and pavement is flat, so it wasn’t able to lie flat on the ground.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        When I was young somebody told me that if you step on a crack in the pavement a monster will jump out and eat you. I can’t remember if I believed them, though.

  9. The original Mr. X says:

    Middle East foreign policy question: What evidence, if any, is there for the claim that the pro-Israel lobby exercises an outsize influence on US foreign-policy making? Thinking back to the main recent (= since I’ve been old enough to pay attention to international news) events in the Middle East — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the intervention in Libya, the Arab Spring — it doesn’t seem like US actions here have been notably advantageous to the Israelis. I guess you could say that, if the Neocons had managed to successfully build a pro-West liberal democracy in Iraq, the resultant state would probably have been friendlier to Israel than the average Arab country, but that seems a bit tenuous, and ISTM that US interventions in the region can be adequately explained by a mix of post-9/11 revanchism, desire to expand US influence, and naïve pro-liberal idealism. So what do you say, SSC readers: are complaints about the Israeli lobby just an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory; are there instances of the US showing excessive regard to Israeli interests which I haven’t noticed/have forgotten about; or is it one of these things that used to be true, and people continue believing it after it’s no longer applicable because it’s now one of those things that “everybody knows”?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The Israel lobby does punch above its weight in Washington, DC. There are multiple vectors for this: they speak for most American Christians and not just our country’s 2% Jewish minority, and Ashkenazim tend to punch above their weight in any intellectual activity (even fringe politics: I’ve mentioned here before how the leader of the Skokie Nazis was actually of Jewish descent).
      Whether this leads to USG risking our blood and treasure to create geopolitical benefits for the state of Israel… probably not. Our military actions tend to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. Maybe we objectively help Israel by bribing Egypt, Jordan, and the Saudis to not support its destruction? I really don’t know.

      • brad says:

        > not just our country’s 2% Jewish minority

        The don’t speak for us at all. Just a few very old, very wealthy donors.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The don’t speak for us at all. Just a few very old, very wealthy donors.

          Noted. So a few old very wealthy Zionist Jews punching above their weight + average American Christians.

      • SamChevre says:

        Just as an example of the importance of Israel in some parts of American Christianity: I was told when I lived in Lynchburg (did not verify, but it seemed very plausible) that the single largest donation to Liberty U, when it was getting started, was from the owner of a local furniture store, whose family are still major figures in the local Jewish community.

    • the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the intervention in Libya, the Arab Spring — it doesn’t seem like US actions here have been notably advantageous to the Israelis.

      You’re assuming these people are actually competent, which they aren’t. Netanyahu really believed that crap about washing machines acting as centrifuges. It all fits in rather nicely with the Yinon Plan, to fracture the Middle East into a series of ethnic/sectarian militia-states, a strategy that has proven successful in the case of Iraq and Syria and not-so-successful in the case of Iran. There’s a clear benefit of the Libya intervention to Israel, with Libya in shambles, its government can’t financially support terrorists or foreign enemies of Israel.

      Rather then the Israeli lobby “controlling” Israeli foreign policy, my model is that the Israel lobby steers America’s foreign policy, providing the bogeyman of the month, the real fuel is the military-industrial complex, the recently named “intelligence community,” the diplomatic service, all groups of people who very much want to continue to suck at the government teat. Many of these people have no marketable skills in the private sector, so they’ll fight like hell to keep their jobs. If you had peace in the Middle East tomorrow, it wouldn’t be long before American marines were intervening to protect the Congan people from the horrors of the local militia of the month.

      • Atlas says:

        You’re assuming these people are actually competent, which they aren’t. Netanyahu really believed that crap about washing machines acting as centrifuges.

        If “these people” means “the leadership of the Israeli government,” I think that competence is a well-warranted assumption (as is detestable amorality). As Steve Sailer has wryly pointed out, people from many different sides of the political spectrum have been prophesying Israel’s coming destruction Any Day Now for a long a time.

        Netanyahu wasn’t the Israeli PM during the Iraq invasion, Sharon was. Israel unilaterally attacked Iraq’s actual nuclear program in the 1980s, so I don’t think that they would have needed an elaborate conspiracy to manipulate the US into getting rid of Iraq’s non-existent WMD program in the early 2000s.

        It all fits in rather nicely with the Yinon Plan, to fracture the Middle East into a series of ethnic/sectarian militia-states, a strategy that has proven successful in the case of Iraq and Syria and not-so-successful in the case of Iran. There’s a clear benefit of the Libya intervention to Israel, with Libya in shambles, its government can’t financially support terrorists or foreign enemies of Israel.

        The Yinon Plan was a proposal in a periodical by a single Israeli official, not a statement of Israeli policy. It made some accurate predictions, like the continuing devolution of Iraq into three separate entities. It accurately described some events that had already transpired, like Israel’s attempt to interfere with/divide Lebanon.

        However, it also made quite a few, at least so far, inaccurate predictions. It predicted that the Camp David Accords status quo would not hold and that Israel would need to retake the Sinai, which has not proven to be the case. It predicted that Jordan would break up, which has not transpired and seems unlikely to me. It also predicated its analysis on the USSR as a major, even dominant, player in global politics, and failed to predict the rise of Iran as a serious adversary of Israel.

        This shouldn’t be totally surprising a priori (not technically what that phrase means, I know, but I’m sure readers know what I mean) given Philip Tetlock’s research into “expert” political judgment. Tetlock not only finds that government/academic/journalistic forecasters are very poor, he also finds that even the best forecasters’ predictions fall to the level of chance when they’re made about events 5 years or more in the future. (Because of dynamics that Taleb discusses in The Black Swan.) You should be very, very skeptical in any context of a claim that someone accurately and precisely forecasted many consequential political events multiple decades into the future.

        The problem with this “destabilization” logic is that it’s so elastic that almost anything that happens in a conflict-prone region like the greater Middle East can be made to fit it. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan certainly destabilized it, for instance, but AFAIK no mention of Afghanistan was made in either the Clean Break memo or the Yinon Plan.

        It’s also very ironic that many of the people on the alt/paleo-right (e.g. Nick Fuentes and Pat Buchanan) who ascribe destabilization in multi-ethnic/religious countries in the Middle East to Israeli meddling are also emphatic believers that diversity is a source of conflict and should be consciously avoided. “Diversity+Proximity=Conflict,” except for the Middle East, where it could only be the result of an Israeli conspiracy, apparently. It’s hardly uncommon for diverse countries outside the Middle East—Yugoslavia, India, Rwanda, Nigeria, etc.—to produce intercommunal violence.

        There’s a clear benefit of the Libya intervention to Israel, with Libya in shambles, its government can’t financially support terrorists or foreign enemies of Israel.

        Was Libya actively sponsoring terrorism in 2011? I’d thought that Qaddafi had given up on those kinds of 70s/80s antics by the 2000s. Wikipedia, at least, seems to suggest that Libya was pulled from the list in 2006. I don’t think that the overthrow of the Libyan government has materially benefited Israel, and I don’t see why anyone beforehand would expected that it would have.

        Also, the (in my view deeply mistaken) intervention was supported by a wide range of NATO and Arab states. I think only the most fanatical conspiracy theorists would insist that the governments of Canada, Sweden, Jordan, etc. are all merely Zionist puppets.

        • When you’re thinking of a country jarring with its enemies, you have to always think of the worst case scenario. Qaddafi wasn’t doing anything against Israel in 2011, but what if he, or whoever is in charge in Tripoli in the future, decides peace is boring and wants to be the Arab world’s hero? Can’t do that if there’s an alternative government in Benghazi trying to throw you out.

          • Atlas says:

            You would think that such considerations would much better apply to Syria, where the Damascus government is a more plausible adversary of Israel. And yet the US/NATO intervened to overthrow Qaddafi rather than Assad. This suggests to me that Israeli influence played little or no role in the 2011 Libya intervention. (The US has given some support to the Syrian rebels, as has Israel to an even lesser degree, but much less than Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have given and than it could have given if it had wanted to. See Rob Farley on Obama’s Syria strategy.)

          • INH5 says:

            No, Qaddafi can’t give weapons to Israel’s enemies if he’s dead. But weapons smugglers certainly can take advantage of the chaos to loot armories and smuggle weapons across the also-in-chaos neighbor country of Egypt and into Gaza. Which is exactly what happened. If Israel wanted to prevent Libyan weapons from going to its enemies, then Qaddafi getting overthrown at that particular time was the last thing it would want to happen.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this imaginary 11-dimensional-chess sort of explanation for world affairs is usually wrong.

            My alternative model: The decision was made by overpromoted, underbrained elites along the lines of Hillary Clinton who were either responding primarily to local political concerns, or who simply didn’t recognize that what they were doing was worse than a crime–it was a blunder.

            This happens routinely in all kinds of high-profile decisions–Merkel’s inviting of huge numbers of refugees into Germany that kicked off a major EU-wide political crisis, the decision to dismiss the Iraqi army and send them home, etc. Then, the leaders’ shills and supporters retcon the whole thing into some brilliant manouver that mere mortals like us simply can’t understand. W was playing 11-dimensional chess in the Middle East according to his supporters, then later Obama was playing 11-dimensional chess w.r.t. various domestic policy moves, and these days you can see Trump supporters and detractors both attributing 11-dimensional chess prowess to Trump. This almost kinda-sorta makes sense as an explanation, unless you wait a few years and see how those chess moves turn out.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            You would think that such considerations would much better apply to Syria, where the Damascus government is a more plausible adversary of Israel. And yet the US/NATO intervened to overthrow Qaddafi rather than Assad. This suggests to me that Israeli influence played little or no role in the 2011 Libya intervention.

            If I recall correctly the hawks in the Obama administration, headed by Hillary Clinton, were pushing hard for a land invasion of Syria, until Putin made it clear that he was not going to back down on Syria, and a land invasion would escalate to war with Russia.

          • Atlas says:

            If I recall correctly the hawks in the Obama administration, headed by Hillary Clinton, were pushing hard for a land invasion of Syria, until Putin made it clear that he was not going to back down on Syria, and a land invasion would escalate to war with Russia.

            I think that this is a substantially inaccurate description, though perhaps better informed readers can/will correct me.

            Firstly, I don’t think that President Putin has ever explicitly said, and I’m not sure that he’s even implicitly suggested, that he would go to war to protect the Damascus government from the US. Russian forces were only deployed to Syria in late 2015, so a US/NATO regime change mission in the 2011-2013 period wouldn’t have carried the risk of hitting Russian personnel. Judging by the discussion around the 2013 “red line” issue—e.g. Doug Bandow of Cato’s cogent reasons against US intervention—I don’t think that the possibility of conflict with Russia was a major concern in US decision making at that time.

            Secondly, I don’t think that a “ground invasion” was ever proposed. Clinton and Petraeus proposed (considerably more generously) arming rebels, and at various points, notably after the Damascus’s government’s alleged use of chemical weapons in 2013, a no-fly-zone or US/NATO air strikes on Syrian Air Force targets were proposed. (Which AIPAC lobbied heavily in favor of.) These proposals were rejected—Obama and Kerry took Lavrov up on his on offer to negotiate a settlement destroying the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile.

            Consequently, I believe my earlier contention to be valid. If the US was directed by the Israel lobby to fight Israel’s enemies for it, Syria would have been a much more logical choice than Libya in 2011. The US could have decided to give the rebels enough equipment and training to overthrow Assad, or it could have launched a campaign of air strikes against government forces the way it actually did in Libya in 2011. It chose to do neither of these things, and fear of Russian reprisal doesn’t seem to have been a factor in this decision. This suggests that Israeli interests don’t determine, or even provide tipping point influence over, US government decisions about war and peace.

          • John Schilling says:

            Firstly, I don’t think that President Putin has ever explicitly said, and I’m not sure that he’s even implicitly suggested, that he would go to war to protect the Damascus government from the US.

            He doesn’t need to, and the smart move for him is to let he United States decide whether it wants to go to war over Syria.

            Russia, unlike the United States, can send Little Green (or possibly brown) Men to deniably harass any US forces in Syria at whatever level they see fit. With the LGMs having a safe haven and secure logistical tail in actual Russian military bases guarded by uniformed Russian soldiers against which any US attack would be an undeniable act of war. That’s probably not going to end well for the United States no matter what strategy we choose.

        • Tenacious D says:

          It’s also very ironic that many of the people on the alt/paleo-right (e.g. Nick Fuentes and Pat Buchanan) who ascribe destabilization in multi-ethnic/religious countries in the Middle East to Israeli meddling are also emphatic believers that diversity is a source of conflict and should be consciously avoided. “Diversity+Proximity=Conflict,” except for the Middle East, where it could only be the result of an Israeli conspiracy, apparently. It’s hardly uncommon for diverse countries outside the Middle East—Yugoslavia, India, Rwanda, Nigeria, etc.—to produce intercommunal violence.

          Insightful juxtaposition.

          • Atlas says:

            Thanks.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Atlas

            I want to second this. Well stated.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I think it’s assumed “ethnic conflict” isn’t going away no matter what. It’s more pointing to specific actions taken by the US Government in that realm and saying ‘This was lobbied for’.

            What you’re describing sounds like a paradise-lost post-colonial model sd opposed to a model where US = Baseball Bat and MENA = Hornets nest.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          It’s also very ironic that many of the people on the alt/paleo-right (e.g. Nick Fuentes and Pat Buchanan) who ascribe destabilization in multi-ethnic/religious countries in the Middle East to Israeli meddling are also emphatic believers that diversity is a source of conflict and should be consciously avoided. “Diversity+Proximity=Conflict,” except for the Middle East, where it could only be the result of an Israeli conspiracy, apparently. It’s hardly uncommon for diverse countries outside the Middle East—Yugoslavia, India, Rwanda, Nigeria, etc.—to produce intercommunal violence.

          Except that the US is not proximal to Middle Eastern Muslim countries.

          Conflict between Israel and its neighbors is not surprising, but conflict between the US and Israel’s neighbors, and the US arming Israel and Israel-friendly countries, require some additional explanation. Grabbing oil is arguably part of the explanation, but the conflict extends to countries that don’t have significant oil, thus something else must be going on, namely collusion between Israeli and American elites. Calling it a conspiracy is a strawman, because conspiracies are supposed to be secret, while the existence and the activities of AIPAC are overt and American and Israeli politicians publicly praise each other.

          • Atlas says:

            Except that the US is not proximal to Middle Eastern Muslim countries.

            A separate question from the issue (the alleged predictive accuracy of the Yinon Plan) that I was considering. The fracturing of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq that the Yinon Plan predicted is/was a mostly endogenous result of arbitrary post-colonial boundaries, not US or Israeli interference.

            For instance, the US invasion of Iraq certainly exacerbated ethno-religious conflict there, but that conflict pre- and post-dates the US presence. (In fact, the US supported the Hussein government during its vicious crackdown on the Iraqi Kurdish population in the 80s. And it has militarily intervened in favor of the central government against ISIS’s invasion of semi-sympathetic Sunni parts of the country in the 2010s, contrary to what “divide and conquer” logic would predict.)

            Conflict between Israel and its neighbors is not surprising, but conflict between the US and Israel’s neighbors, and the US arming Israel and Israel-friendly countries, require some additional explanation. Grabbing oil is arguably part of the explanation, but the conflict extends to countries that don’t have significant oil, thus something else must be going on, namely collusion between Israeli and American elites. Calling it a conspiracy is a strawman, because conspiracies are supposed to be secret, while the existence and the activities of AIPAC are overt and American and Israeli politicians publicly praise each other.

            You’ll need to specify which “neighbors,” “conflict[s]” and
            countries” you’re referring to for me to evaluate this claim.

      • WarOnReasons says:

        Is there evidence that the “Yinon Plan” is not just a conspiracy theory?

        • “Divide and conquer” is a common and understandable strategy to take, and it fits with Israel’s actions over the last few decades. If you were to take the point of view that Israeli foreign policy is only defined by what Israeli officials say on the record to the media, then yes, the Yinon Plan is a conspiracy theory. And the Belt and Road initiative is purely about joint economic cooperation, ect.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            If you were to take the point of view that Israeli foreign policy is only defined by what Israeli officials say

            Strawmanning your opponents position can be very emotionally satisfying, but I don’t think it is generally conductive to a rational
            discussion.

            “Divide and conquer” is a common and understandable strategy to take

            Suppose in 1982 a Turkish journalist named Mustapha Ibrahim published an article predicting a rise in sectarian strife between the Orthodox Serbs and the Catholic Croatians. Would you interpret the later Yugoslavian history as a proof of “Ibrahim Plan” to “divide and conquer” Turkey’s Christian enemies?

          • John Schilling says:

            “X is something most every decent person would consider wrong; there’s no actual evidence that those nogoodniks over there are doing X, but someone once said they were and I can see how it would benefit them if they got away with it, so yeah they’re probably up to some X”, is the essence of just about every conspiracy theory ever.

          • @John Schilling,

            there’s no actual evidence that those nogoodniks over there are doing X

            Sure there is:

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

          • Atlas says:

            And the Belt and Road initiative is purely about joint economic cooperation, ect.

            The difference is that the Belt and Road Initiative is an official policy of the Chinese government, proclaimed by President Xi. If you were to use a single article in a single Chinese periodical as proof of an alleged Chinese policy, I would indeed consider it a conspiracy theory. It could be true, but the burden of proof is on the theorizer.

            How credible that theory is would depend on how good it is at explaining the actions of the relevant governments. As I argued above, I don’t believe that the Yinon Plan is a very good guide to the behavior of either the US or Israeli governments, so I don’t think that the theory that officials are secretly conspiring on its basis is a convincing one.

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

            Israel’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War has been much smaller than those of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. The US has intervened much more against ISIS, the enemy of the Syrian government, than it has against the Syrian government.

      • INH5 says:

        Netanyahu really believed that crap about washing machines acting as centrifuges.

        Given the recent corruption scandal, among other things, I think we should be careful about taking Netanyahu at his word.

        Considering the historical context and Netanyahu’s active involvement in American partisan politics throughout his career, I think it’s more likely that he favored a strategic alliance with the Neocon branch of American Conservatism because he saw Paleocons such as Pat Buchanan (who came surprisingly close to unseating George H.W. Bush in the 1992 Republican Primary) as a threat to the US-Israel alliance due to their more isolationist foreign policy views. The Neocon foreign policy goals called for continuing large scale intervention in the Middle East after the end of the Cold War, which could theoretically allow Israel to be seen as an important ally for a long time to come.

        And it worked. For a little while…

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Rather then the Israeli lobby “controlling” Israeli foreign policy, my model is that the Israel lobby steers America’s foreign policy, providing the bogeyman of the month, the real fuel is the military-industrial complex, the recently named “intelligence community,” the diplomatic service, all groups of people who very much want to continue to suck at the government teat. Many of these people have no marketable skills in the private sector, so they’ll fight like hell to keep their jobs. If you had peace in the Middle East tomorrow, it wouldn’t be long before American marines were intervening to protect the Congan people from the horrors of the local militia of the month.

        I don’t know, the AIPAC pays off American politicians. “Control” is too strong of a word, but they certainly do have leverage.

        What leverage does the “deep state” have instead? Certainly they can obstruct, but they can’t really initiate action without a cooperative President, and if the President is not cooperative, it seems that the worst they can do is to come up with “whistleblowers” who make BS accusations that blow up in their faces.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The usual claim about the deep state is they make and execute their own policies regardless of what the nominal policymakers say. This includes, in particular, the State Department

          The claims about the State Department are older than the Trump Administration. Much older.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Yes, as I said they can effectively obstruct the President and defend the status quo, but they can’t start new wars.

          • Clutzy says:

            Yes, as I said they can effectively obstruct the President and defend the status quo, but they can’t start new wars

            They certainly can. First, they can intentionally blunder about and refuse to solve simple problems. Second, they can leak to compliant portions of the press and opposition party. Third, they can manipulate situations on the ground to provoke attacks on US soldiers and interests.

            Of course, these tactics will not be 100% effective (we recently saw this course taken in the Syria situation), but its not 100% effective even with Presidential support. Wilson essentially did exactly as I described about for several years until he finally got the US into WWI, like he had always wanted from 1914.

        • cassander says:

          “Sir, we can start a war in nowherestan, nuke the russians, or allow a genocide to happen. And wouldn’t it be a shame if it leaked out that you had a chance to stop a genocide and didn’t?”

          Obviously, the actual workings are more subtle, but that’s how the deep state starts a war. You shape the options that the president is prevented with so that a war is the most obvious course of action, and if you don’t get your way, you leak out that things aren’t going your way and that will cause terrible things to happen. This is more or less exactly how the US got involved in libya, where Hillary Clinton, with the full support of the state department, ran around building up pressure for an intervention that Obama did not want.

    • cassander says:

      the US is not nearly as pro Isreal as everyone thinks. they’re much less anti-isreal than everyone else, but on the spectrum of all possible actions, where the extreme right is the US wages war to destroy israels enemies, the extreme left is the US destroys isreal on behalf of its enemies, and do absolutely nothing, the US is left of center. Isreal is much stronger than its enemies, and would be with zero US aid. the US generally attempts to restrain Isreal, and our position is that they should give up land for peace. Were the US to disengage from the situation, Isreal would get more aggressive, not less.

    • INH5 says:

      Personally, when it comes to foreign policy in general, I see it as the other way around: the Israel Lobby serves the US Foreign Policy Establishment by pressuring legislators to support its imperialistic wars in exchange for greater US support for Israel.

      Looking at Iraq, for example, the idea that deposing Saddam Hussein was for the benefit of Israel makes very little sense. At the time, on the one hand Saddam was providing some financial support for Palestinian militants, a drop in the bucket compared to what they were receiving from sources such as Iran and the Gulf States, and had fired a few SCUD missiles at Israel a decade ago. On the other hand, Saddam hated Iran more than he hated Israel, and he was a cork containing Iranian influence in the region. Removing that cork allowed Iran to smuggle huge amounts of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, allowing them to deal the IDF a humiliating defeat in 2006. Today, Hezbollah has 150,000 missiles on Israel’s Northern border and is in the process of upgrading them from unguided rockets into guided missiles. Few Israelis would consider that a good trade.

      And indeed, the Israeli government didn’t consider it a good trade back in 2002 either. By most accounts, in private discussions Israeli officials cautioned the Bush Administration against invading Iraq, saying that he considered Iran a bigger threat. But after the US made the decision to invade, Israel privately offered support for the war, and so did its US lobby. This really looks like a quid pro quo to me: the US foreign policy establishment offered to give Israel a freer hand in putting down the Intifada, even ignoring such things as the killing of a blond-haired blue-eyed white American girl or the building of what was plainly and obviously a border wall that didn’t even pretend to follow the 1967 borders, in return for support for the US’s own imperialistic wars in the region.

      I think the same dynamic continues to this day: Trump favoring Turkey over the Kurds is clearly not in Israel’s best interest, because the Kurds would make a very good proxy force against Iran, but in return for goodies like moving the US embassy to Jerusalem they’re sticking by Trump nonetheless.

      More generally, I think the primary reason that the US supports Israel is because Israel is effectively an unsinkable aircraft carrier manned by deniable black ops mercenaries. The American public isn’t up for another Middle Eastern war and doesn’t want to bomb Assad? No problem, just give the bombs to Israel and have them bomb Assad for us. See also the previous air strikes on Iraq and Syrian nuclear reactors. It’s also useful as a middleman for laundering arms sales to such disreputable figures as Ukrainian Neo-Nazis (yes, really) if Congress gets in the way.

      The Israel Lobby has almost certainly had an impact on the level of support for Israel, and an impact on less important issues such as the settlements where the US establishment is willing to kick the can down the road, but I think for the most part the Israel Lobby is powerful because it’s allowed to be powerful, not because it’s some kind of puppet master. If it ends up opposed to the currently-in-power wing of the Foreign Policy “Blob” on an issue that’s actually important then, well, just look at what happened with Obama’s Iran Deal.

      Also, I strongly suspect that the absence of a comparable American Palestinian or Arab or Muslim lobby has less to do with a lack of money than with active sabotage by the National Security State in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

    • Erusian says:

      Well you see, Israel is made up of Jeeeeeeeews who secretly run the world…

      The US’s relationship with Israel has been much more tenuous than people suggest. The US was actually involved in the dissolution of Mandate Palestine and it suggested that a non-ethnic, non-religious state be made and granted independence. Since the Arabs wanted an Arab state, the Israelis wanted a Jewish state, and the British wanted to keep their colony, that didn’t really go over well. The US sort of supported Israel during WW2 but this was largely because Israeli Jews tended to be anti-fascists and Arabs had several pro-fascists on their side. They were notably careful not to offend the Arabs that allied with them though, in particular the Saudis and to a lesser extent the Hashemites. (The US still wanted the end of British rule though.)

      During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the US was mildly pro-Israel. The Soviet Union was pro-Israel and the colonial powers were anti-Israel and the US was opposed to the colonial powers. Notably, the weapons were largely Soviet. The US gave heavily in aid to displaced Arabs and officially condemned Israeli actions in that regard. In 1956, they joined the Soviet Union in opposing Israel and Britain in the Suez Crisis. During 1958 and the crises in several Arab countries, the US intervened to protect pro-US governments (most notably in Lebanon) but made no moves to reconcile them with Israel. Notably, US troops maintained Lebanon’s border against Israeli claims during this time.

      In the 1967 war, the US heavily supported Israel. However, this was due partly to political winds: Arabs had increasingly moved in quasi-socialist directions and Soviet influence in the region was growing. Israel had meanwhile moved away. In addition, we now know the US military pushed to give Israeli’s top of the line weaponry not because of a special love for Israel but because the Soviets had given the Arabs top of the line weaponry and the US wanted to see how the equipment matched up. In fact, Israel handed over large amounts of captured Soviet equipment to the Americans for study as part of the ‘price’ of the aid. Where Arab states (such as the still hanging on Hashemites) remained anti-Israel but pro-US, the US took great care to not alienate them.

      The Arabs (particularly Jordan and Egypt) then tried to reconcile with the US, which the US received in a very friendly spirit. As a result, US support was more limited to Israel in the 1973 war. However, the Israelis still remained more committed to the US and several Arab states continued to be Soviet friends. Likewise, the US military again wanted to see how its equipment matched up (and received a lot of captured equipment to study). This can’t be overstated: the Israelis basically had to give the US full access to their military in exchange for arms and ammunition and the US demanded the Israelis try certain things just to see what happened (presuming, correctly, the Arabs followed something roughly similar to Soviet military doctrine). This time, the Soviet Union threatened intervention when Israel won and the US brokered a ceasefire. Notably, the US protected Egypt and Jordan from losing too much (and even returned land the Israelis had taken before). They were less concerned with the more Soviet aligned countries who generally suffered more.

      And there hasn’t been a war since then. The US has intervened in Lebanon (again, without particular advantage to Israeli claims), Iraq (which was never a major Israeli concern), and Syria (which was, but honestly the US’s relationship with Turkey was just as if not more important).

      Basically, the US’s policy in the Middle East can be summarized at a very high level as, “A friend to friends, an enemy to enemies or friends of my enemies. Also, fuck Russia.” More generally, it’s focused on containing a balance of power and weakening Russian and (more recently) Iranian influence in the region. The US has a preference for capitalist democracies and dislikes people in hock to geostrategic rivals, but that’s by no means new or unique. (These days it’s a little more confused as the US reorients to confront China, which has made our Russia policy all kinds of awkward. Russia is still a rival but arguably has even more interest in stemming the Chinese tide than we do. Meanwhile, Turkey’s become more dictatorial and assertive, which we don’t like. But they’ve also been notably resistant to certain Chinese overtures and they have a fair bit of influence in areas we want to oppose the Chinese.)

    • Atlas says:

      Your analysis seems correct to me. I’d also add that the deposition of Hussein in Iraq has benefited Iran by empowering Iraq’s Shia population, which is hardly in Israel’s interests. I think Israel/the Israel lobby exerts influence on the US in terms of foreign aid and UN votes, but not much, if any, in terms of high-level substantive decisions about war, peace and diplomacy. Consider e.g. the JCPOA in 2015, the 1980s sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration ultimately deciding to refrain from overthrowing/directly attacking the Damascus government in Syria in 2013, all of which Israel was emphatically opposed to. It would be weird if the Israel lobby had enough influence to get the US to go to war, but not enough to stop it from signing a treaty.

      Here’s a very cogent article by Professor Stephen Zunes arguing against the assignation of blame for the Iraq War to the Israel lobby.

    • blipnickels says:

      Haven’t read it in awhile but but Mearshiemer and Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is the best analysis you’ll get. There was a lot of controversy around it but Mearshiemer and Walt are highly respected international affairs scholars and it shows. Lots of good history there, if nothing else; you don’t just want to be looking at contemporary events but US support for Israel going back to the Cold War.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Israel getting deference is different from Israel “controlling” US policy. I highly doubt Israel is comfortable with the amount of weaponry we give to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and if Israel had the full strength of the US to command, they’d just burn sizable chunks of the Middle East to the ground. They certainly wouldn’t be playing “let’s make a deal” with the UN and IAEA over Iranian nuclear ambitions, since they’ve already expressed as much.

      Israel probably gets more wiggle room than it should with its nuclear weapons programs, but they were already a nuclear power by the time we really got deep into non-proliferation, and we’ve never really been THAT aggressive about non-proliferation except with nations that we think are going to nuke US. Hell, look at our India policy. Is anyone seriously going to argue that India controls US foreign policy, given our frenemily relations with Pakistan?

      Israel does get preferential arms deals, but the US gives a lot of arms to other nations. The US also grants a lot of lee-way to all of its partners in dealing with insurgencies/wars, see Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

      • albatross11 says:

        As best I can tell: Israel has a lot of influence in the US because there’s a substantial voting bloc (Jews in a few densely-populated places, evangelical Christians in many more sparsely-populated places) that strongly support Israel, and because Jews have outsized influence in academia and media and finance for reasons that only evil h.beady types will discuss out loud. It doesn’t come anywhere close to controlling US foreign or domestic policy, but policies that looked like they were screwing Israel over would be extremely unpopular among a lot of voters, and so those policies aren’t likely to get much support.

        • Garrett says:

          Additionally, on less nefarious terms: until recently, Israel was the only country in the region that looked like a liberal multi-party democracy. It made as much sense to defend Israel against its hostile neighbors as it did West Germany against the USSR.

          • INH5 says:

            Before 1979, the US’s second best friend in the Middle East was a brutal dictatorship in Iran that the CIA had helped install by overthrowing a democratically elected government. Nowadays, the US’s second best friend in the region is Saudi Arabia, a theocratic monarchy that beheads people in the public square for sorcery. Meanwhile, democratic Tunisia gets far less aid that the US-friendly and strategically important Egyptian dictatorship.

            Looking at another protracted conflict started by the partitioning of a British Colony along ethno-religious lines, India is much more democratic than Pakistan but Pakistan has received far more aid and security cooperation from the US over the years.

            Then there are the umpteen times that the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government in Latin America to put an anti-Communist dictator in power during the Cold War.

            Looking at the big picture, the idea that the post-World War 2 American foreign policy establishment cares in the slightest about supporting and promoting democracy abroad is really hard to take seriously.

          • cassander says:

            @INH5

            Before 1979, the US’s second best friend in the Middle East was a brutal dictatorship in Iran that the CIA had helped install

            it wasn’t that brutal.

            by overthrowing a democratically elected government.

            Overthrowing someone who had got parliament to vote him the power to rule by decree, was actively destroying the economy, and who started stealing other people’s stuff to keep afloat. he was basically a Iranian Hugo Chavez.

            Looking at another protracted conflict started by the partitioning of a British Colony along ethno-religious lines, India is much more democratic than Pakistan but Pakistan has received far more aid and security cooperation from the US over the years.

            Because the Indians were all but openly allied with the Soviets.

            Then there are the umpteen times that the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government in Latin America to put an anti-Communist dictator in power during the Cold War.

            It’s been, what, 60 years since the last time that happened? Maybe things have changed a bit from the 50s?

            Looking at the big picture, the idea that the post-World War 2 American foreign policy establishment cares in the slightest about supporting and promoting democracy abroad is really hard to take

            Only if you assume that american foreign policy never changes and is never affected by circumstance.

    • pancrea says:

      Well, we seem to have a suspicious number of laws against boycotting Israel.
      I don’t know of any laws like that for any other foreign nation.

      I don’t think that’s evidence that the pro-Israel lobby influences foreign policy, but it does seem to have a lot of influence over domestic policy.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Well, we seem to have a suspicious number of laws against boycotting Israel.
        I don’t know of any laws like that for any other foreign nation.

        Do you know of any other state-sponsored boycotts against other foreign nations? The laws were enacted in response to the boycott of Israel, but they are at least theoretically neutral to the target.

        • pancrea says:

          You’ve implied that these laws are in place to prevent “state-sponsored boycotts”, but that doesn’t seem to be true. For example, this article:
          https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/09/Texas-anti-boycott-israel-law-greg-abbott-hb793/
          “The previous version of the law, signed in 2017, mandated that the state could not have a contract with a company unless the company signs a statement saying it does not boycott Israel.”

          I understand there are 25 states with laws like this, and I haven’t looked at each of the laws individually, but it sounds like the purpose of this law was to prevent small businesses from boycotting Israel.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Texas law is specific to Israel and was an over-reach. I’m referring to the Federal anti-boycott regulations.

    • An Fírinne says:

      Well just look at the reaction to Ilhan Omar’s comments for example. One single Congresswoman made some tweets about Israel and the whole of the Washington elite lost their shit and chaos ensued. Dont you think the severe and drastic reaction to such a situation was overblown or at least not equivalent to reactions we would normally expect?

    • Tarpitz says:

      For whatever it’s worth, my brother’s ex-Mossad hotelier friend (they own neighbouring stretches of beach in Tanzania) says the Israeli (and British) establishments were privately furious about the US decision to disband the Iraqi army in the aftermath of the conquest. So if he’s telling the truth (and I’m inclined to believe him) on that point at least they did not get their way.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Thinking back to the main recent (= since I’ve been old enough to pay attention to international news) events in the Middle East — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the intervention in Libya, the Arab Spring — it doesn’t seem like US actions here have been notably advantageous to the Israelis.

      The AIPAC spends lots of money on American politicians, I suppose they are getting something in return.

      For instance, the US gives money and military aid to Israel and any Middle Eastern emir/dictator who is friendly enough to Israel, and tends to bomb or instigate rebellions in Middle Eastern countries that are not friendly to Israel (essentially, anything with a large Shia population).

      I don’t think Afghanistan has anything to do with Israel, but Iraq, Libya and Syria, and in general propping up the Saudis, the Turks, Egypt, Jordan, etc serve Israeli interests, not uniquely so, but at the margin some policy being good for Israel may tip the scale in its direction.

    • brad says:

      As a meta observation it’s somewhat bemusing to see some of the same sets of arguments I’ve heard so many times–from older Jewish relatives, friends of my parents, and friends of my grandparents on the one hand and from hardcore social leftists on the other–coming out of different parts of the right half of the political spectrum.

  10. Plumber says:

    Another NY Times essay I found interesting and invite comments on: Liberals Do Not Want to Destroy the Family by Thomas B. Edsall
    Nov. 27, 2019

    (It would be more accurate to say “Not all Liberals” or “Most Liberals” since I’m sure in a large enough group you’ll find some of most things)

    The essay starts with some anti-Trump signaling, but I encourage Right leaning readers to keep reading as I think the piece gets interesting to those readers as well, long quotes: 

    “…scholars on the left now acknowledge that the sexual revolution and the personal autonomy movement had significant costs as well as notable gains.

    Those negative consequences include the explosion of divorce, paternal absence and the growing legions of children raised in single parent households. In 2002, Sara McLanahan, a professor of sociology at Princeton, wrote “Life without Father: What Happens to the Children?” and found that:

    Children raised apart from a biological parent are disadvantaged in numerous ways. They are more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to attend college, and less likely to graduate from college than children raised by both biological parents. Girls from father-absent families are more likely to become sexually active at a younger age and to have a child outside of marriage. Boys who grow up without their fathers are more likely to have trouble finding (and keeping) a job in young adulthood. Young adult men and women from one-parent families tend to work at low-paying jobs.

    In a 2015 study, Pew, a liberal think tank, reported that the percentage of children under 18 living with two parents in their first marriage fell from 73 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2014.A December 2015 Pew study found that the probability of a first marriage lasting at least 20 years was 78 percent for a college-educated woman, 49 percent for a woman with some college but no degree and 40 percent for a woman with a high school degree or less. In the 1980s, at the height of the divorce revolution, there was virtually no difference in the divorce rates of women and men by level of education.

    There is a complex set of interlocking factors that produce social and economic disruption, destabilizing to communities, individuals and families. Technological innovation, from the contraceptive pill to the global transmission of capital and goods; deunionization and automation; rising standards of living freeing human beings to seek self-expression and individual fulfillment; and hyperintensive international competition — are only some of the factors underlying the turbulence, even the disintegration, of traditional norms and practices.

    I asked a range of scholars — left, right and center — about Barr’s attempt to link social breakdown to liberal values.

    David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. and the author of “When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage Market Value of Young Men” and “Family Disadvantage and the Gender Gap in Behavioral and Educational Outcomes,” wrote me that the arguments attributing social disorder and family dysfunction to cultural liberalism and the sexual revolution can neither be proven nor disproved, but

    “the lack of objective evidence to validate or refute these assertions appears only to embolden their advocates.”

    There is clear evidence, however, Autor writes,

    that sharp declines in the availability of middle class jobs for non-college workers (esp. men) — for example, when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and U.S. manufacturing employment fell by 20 percent in seven years — causes exactly these maladies on which these commentators are focused: a drop in labor force participation, a decline in marriage rates, a rise in the fraction of children born out of wedlock, an increase in mother-headed households, a rise in child poverty, and a spike in ‘deaths of despair’ among young adults, particularly men, stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and other arguably self-inflicted causes.

    It is possible, Autor acknowledged

    that the growth of the social safety net has had the effect of disincentivizing work and marriage and encouraged out of wedlock childbirth. But we have no good evidence demonstrating this claim; we can neither rule it in nor out.

    Autor made the case that:

    It is critical to bear in mind that the U.S. has a less generous social safety net than almost all of the other advanced countries to which we compare ourselves: Canada, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, etc. And yet we have higher rates of nonwork among prime-age men and women, and much worse socio-demographic outcomes: family stability, investment in children, educational attainment, life expectancy, rates of violent death, etc. It defies logic to assert that the relatively stingy U.S. social safety net has somehow lured the U.S. public into licentiousness and social decline whereas the much more comprehensive social safety nets in other wealthy democracies has failed to do so.

    Melissa S. Kearney, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, has developed a thought provoking argument on the interaction of economics and culture in rising dysfunction among working class men. In an email, she wrote:

    My read of the evidence is that the declining economic position of less educated men (both in a relative and absolute sense) has probably been a key driver of the breakdown of the two-parent family among less educated populations for many decades.

    But, she continued,

    now we are in a new social paradigm that has normalized nonmarital childbearing and child rearing among certain segments of the population, and it will take more than economic improvement to restore the stable two-parent family in the communities it which that norm has been steadily eroding.

    In a case study, “Male Earnings, Marriageable Men, and Nonmarital Fertility: Evidence from the Fracking Boom,” Kearney and Riley Wilson, an economist at Brigham Young, compared nonmarital birth patterns among 18-34 year old men in two regions experiencing sudden economic gains: Appalachia during the coal boom of the 1970s (before the full extent of the sexual and broader cultural revolutions had taken hold) and those sections of the country where fracking took off from 1997 to 2012 (when those revolutions had become firmly entrenched).

    They found striking differences on the key measure of births to unwed mothers:

    In Appalachia four decades ago,

    “a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with the coal boom led to a 25.5 percent reduction in the nonmarital birthrate.”

    In contrast, in the sections of the country where fracking boosted the economy,

    “a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with fracking production led to a 12.4 percent increase in nonmarital births.”

    While not conclusive, Kearney and Wilson write,

    these patterns of responses are consistent with the notion that social context partially determines the family formation response to a positive income or earnings shock.

    So from that I’m reading that both economic and cultural changes are plausibly causing social ills amongst the non-college graduate majority, but what I’m not seeing, either from the Left or the Right are real solutions, the closest I see from the Sanders/Warren wing is “free college for all”, which helps those who attempt college but don’t graduate (while not as much as in the ’90’s the college wage and employment premium means graduates may afford the cost of their educations, it’s those who try and fail to graduate that are most hurt by the cost), but to me that seems to only help a few that aren’t the most hurting from de-industrialization.

    From the Right it sounds like…

    …mostly crickets really, I’ve seen some calls for homeschooling to “preserve values” and  to me (again) that’s for a minority (and also two generations too late!).

    Maybe I’m missing something. 

    • brad says:

      consistent with the notion that social context partially determines the family formation response to a positive income or earnings shock

      This seems so obvious to me, I don’t understand why anyone would need to state it. What non-trivial human phenomenon is *not* at least partially determined by social context?

      To the larger point, while college may be a good correlate I think it is mistake to treat college per se as what is going on. It’s seems so silly to me that I can’t even believe people in good faith hold the position, that if only everyone went to and graduated college we would be living in some kind of paradise. It wasn’t that long ago that 8 years of education was the near universal norm. Now it’s 13. Are we really supposed to believe that 17 is a magic threshold?

      Here’s another thing–if everyone is supposed to be middle class, then what exactly is it in the middle of? Is it ever going to feel like “middle class” if there’s no one to look down on?

      • The original Mr. X says:

        To the larger point, while college may be a good correlate I think it is mistake to treat college per se as what is going on. It’s seems so silly to me that I can’t even believe people in good faith hold the position, that if only everyone went to and graduated college we would be living in some kind of paradise. It wasn’t that long ago that 8 years of education was the near universal norm. Now it’s 13. Are we really supposed to believe that 17 is a magic threshold?

        It’s always struck me as a sort of modern cargo cult — university graduates do better than non-graduates, so if everybody goes through uni, everybody will have the graduate outcome! Ignoring, of course, the fact that a lot of the “graduate premium” is due to signalling and selection effects, both of which apply less and less as more people go to university.

        • Viliam says:

          Yeah, if I may simplify Caplan, education is maybe 20% about knowledge and 80% about moving ahead in a zero-sum game — the person with better credentials getting hired instead of the person with worse credentials.

          Most educated people, especially those working in education, are in complete denial about the zero-sum component. They don’t realize that even if everyone spent extra 20 years in education system, those who had spent 32 years at school would still be at a disadvantage against those who spent 37 years at school and have a paper to prove it.

          Another topic for denial is that some people, even if they spent their entire lives at school, would have problem understanding some more difficult things. Of course, there is always the politically acceptable option of dumbing down the curriculum.

          • Most educated people, especially those working in education, are in complete denial about the zero-sum component.

            Possibly relevant. I had an extended exchange on my blog with Robert Frank, a reasonably prominent economist, set off by a piece of his in, I think, the NYT. As part of that, he was arguing for the zero-sum view of education.

            I pointed out that if that was true, individual expenditure on education produced a negative externality, so we should tax education instead of subsidizing it. I was never able to get him to respond substantively to that implication of his position.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I think curricula should be dumbed down. This does, after all, even happen in the most elite institutions, as those with second-tier abilities* can’t handle what the most capable (in those abilities) can handle (e.g. a typical Caltech student vs Terrence Tao).

            So it should be possible to signal that a person has a lot of staying power within a particular milieu, without also signalling that they have the developed abilities of the most capable.

            * – I use “ability” instead of “intelligence” to avoid the cognitive bias of thinking all skills are linked with verbal/mathematical-kind of intellectual intelligences.

      • quanta413 says:

        It’s seems so silly to me that I can’t even believe people in good faith hold the position, that if only everyone went to and graduated college we would be living in some kind of paradise. It wasn’t that long ago that 8 years of education was the near universal norm. Now it’s 13. Are we really supposed to believe that 17 is a magic threshold?

        It’s not as far as thinking it’d be paradise, but I’ve had enough discussions that I think quite a few (maybe even a plurality of UMC) people really do believe that if more people go to college, everyone will be better off.

        I think you’re overthinking it in ascribing their stance to some sort of hidden belief or motivation.

        The idea seems kind of silly to me too, but I think that people are serious and honest about it.

        • brad says:

          Maybe good faith was the wrong way to put it. I can buy honest, but not serious. That is to say, I can accept that many people believe it, but I don’t think very many of them have sat down and thought about why they believe it or how it would work causally.

          • quanta413 says:

            Causally, I assume they believe in the “education builds human capital theory”. But with significant enough returns to more education still being left on the table.

            Maybe literally wanting college for all is a bit much, but they believe in going very far in that direction.

            I kind of see why someone would think that. I believe that there are probably a few people who drop out of the system and could benefit from more education than they got (making up orders of magnitude off the top of my head, say ~1% of people get less education than they should and ~10% should have been educated in something else).

            But I also believe a lot of people are significantly overeducated in the sense they spent too much time in school, and that’s way more than 1% of people. I’d say all doctors and other healthcare professionals shouldn’t be required to first obtain a bachelors, high school students don’t need to learn algebra 2 or higher if they don’t want to, most people attending university for a Ph.D. shouldn’t, most college degrees are used for signalling and could largely be replaced by paper tests which would actually improve fairness while saving money, etc.

            I end up with the opposite overall belief of the “college for all” people, but I don’t think the mechanisms they think are relevant don’t exist. Just that we’re in a place where opposing mechanisms are more significant.

          • Viliam says:

            When I try to imagine education in a perfect society, all content would be freely available for everyone, both as books and video lectures. Teaching would be separated from examining (preferably done by different institutions); that is, you could learn from books at home, and then make the same exams as people who learned at school.

            Everyone would be entitled to N years of free education at state schools. I don’t argue for any specific value of N, only that people could spend those years whenever they want to — someone would burn N years in a row, someone else could e.g. alternate 1 year of school with 1 year of home study and then save a few years for a later time, maybe after a few decades. Of course any alternative forms of education would be legal. (There would be vouchers for private schools or homeschoolers, but the exact money would depend on student’s measurable outcome at the independent exams. In a nutshell: you get as much money as the state school, if you produce an equivalent output.)

            Everyone could take an exam on any subject at any moment. (Like, you can get examined for knowledge of “quadratic equations” at age 5, or 50, if you want. An exam passed at any age is equally valid.) Failing an exam means you can take it again, however many times you want, but let’s say not sooner than 6 months after the previous failed exam. Everyone is entitled to M free exams; the remaining exams will cost some money. Alternatively, everyone is entitled to 1 free exam on any topic; the repeated exams will cost money. There would be an online free demo version of each exam, so you could evaluate at home whether you are ready.

            There would be “diplomas” defined as sets of exams you need to pass successfully, to make the system more legible for employers. Again, you can gain the diploma at any age, and it is equally valid.

            In this system, the actual knowledge would be free for everyone; and certification would also be free if you are careful and make sure you understand the topic well before going to exam (i.e. if you don’t waste society’s resources by randomly trying and hoping for luck). Anyone could get a diploma from any subject; even dozens of subjects if they have the talent and patience. (Some people would probably collect dozens of diplomas as a hobby. Why not? The result would be a society with more interdisciplinary knowledge.)

          • When I try to imagine education in a perfect society, all content would be freely available for everyone, both as books and video lectures.

            I think there is a sense in which that is pretty nearly true today. You can’t get Mankiw’s econ text, which I think is the most popular one at the moment, for free, but you can read my Price Theory for free on the web. Between Gutenberg, free online classes, and other things online, I would think that pretty nearly all of the content of a college education is available for free.

            What isn’t available for free is the certification and the live interaction. Also, for K-12, the babysitting function. For educated parents, who already know enough about the things kids learn through high school to answer questions and point their kids at relevant information, I think the largest cost of home schooling at present is having to be at home keeping an eye on the kids, at least for the first six years or so.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Viliam
            This is semi-effectively available now for many subjects given Youtube, educational texts available through public libraries, and the willingness of various schools to allow credit by examination for various courses.

            IMO what you’re missing is what people pay for (in addition to paying for the credential): the social aspects of learning. Those cost money as they require significant individual investments of time from other people.

            Oh, yeah, and the equipment for the arts and laboratory sciences.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Here’s my take on the solutions: privatize the marriage. Let the people write their own marriage contracts and let the market find the winning formula. Repeal the laws that mandate 50-50% wealth split on divorce.

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        I’m not sure most people would be actually comfortably openly planning for the break-up, and even less so with their partner planning the same.

        Marriage is mythologized enough to dodge the question while letting government step in and do do something. On the other hand, if people were forced to actually talk about this stuff rather than about love, we might get some interesting results.

        • There could be a cultural norm that the parents of the couple marrying should be negotiating the contract, so both would have a clear-head advocate with their interests at heart.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Marriage is mythologized enough to dodge the question
          I’m not sure that’s true anymore. There are a lot of men and women saying that marriage is a horrible deal. Ana told us here on SSC that most of her friends tried to talk her out of marriage. If everybody has at least one friend who tries to talk them out of it, it might be not really mythologized anymore.

          • Viliam says:

            What exactly is the problem with marriage for women? Get married to a guy you are already dating… and if things go wrong, divorce him, and get some basic income. Check the laws of your state first, and move if necessary.

            (Unless the woman is the primary breadwinner, or has inherited tons of money, or the guy has tons of school loans, etc.)

            Asking sincerely, because my information mostly comes from one-sided sources, so I’d like to see the perspective of the other side.

          • ana53294 says:

            Unless the woman is the primary breadwinner, or has inherited tons of money, or the guy has tons of school loans, etc.

            If you marry in your early twenties, none.

            But if you marry in your thirties, and you are frugal and your parents are old, you probably have assets of your own, and stand to inherit relatively soon. My father has gotten into him this idea of giving away all his possessions before he dies, for example, and now I have enough assets that giving them to somebody in a divorce would be painful.

            Also, some people (at least I) view marriage as a serious deal and don’t see divorce as an option when there are kids, except for abuse situation. And I also don’t see a reason to get married*, unless you are starting to have unprotected sex right after or before getting married.

            *I understand some people choose to marry and remain child free. It’s just not an option for me.

            EDIT: But the reason why my friends were trying to convince me not to marry is that I view marriage as a goal, and I seek to date only men who are willing to marry in the foreseeable future (after a year or two of dating, but no more). They see that as tacky and old-fashioned, and don’t place any value in marriage per se.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure that’s true anymore. There are a lot of men and women saying that marriage is a horrible deal.

            Those people clearly aren’t the ones getting married, and the ones who are getting married clearly aren’t taking their advice. So for the purpose at hand – ensuring pragmatic planning among the people who are getting married – they are irrelevant.

            People who actually are getting married, do at the time of marriage tend to be overly optimistic about the long-term prospects of that marriage. If you leave it up to the love-addled couple to define the terms of the contract, that’s likely to run into problems some time down the road. If there’s a default contract that applies to everyone unless they make special effort to change it, then people who have seen a thousand marriages fail and had to pick up the pieces, can tweak the terms of the contract to help mitigate the bad marriages to come.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @John Schilling
            If the government would be both benevolent and competent, then yes, maybe. But the actual government is nothing remotely like that.

            I’ve read about a case: the spouses had a contract that whoever cheats pays the other $10K, and one of them had cheated, so the other went to the court to collect $10K. The court threw their contract away.

            I’m not convinced that the people who write laws are the same people “who have seen a thousand marriages fail and had to pick up the pieces”. But maybe a better question is: how are these lawmakers incentivized? Do they get rewarded for each marriage and penalized for each divorce? Somehow I don’t think so.

          • Viliam says:

            @ana53294

            if you marry in your thirties, and you are frugal and your parents are old, you probably have assets of your own, and stand to inherit relatively soon

            Thanks for explanation, I had a blind spot here! My potential inheritance is peanuts, so I forgot that for some people this is an important part of equation.

            I thought that inheritance from one’s parents cannot be taken away in divorce (as long as you have clear documentation about exactly what you inherited), but I suppose this depends strongly on the local law. I believe that in my place (Slovakia), only the assets that were “acquired together during the marriage” are contested during divorce, i.e. inheritance and the wealth gained before marriage is not shared. Even that has some complications, for example if you inherit a house, it’s yours, but if you inherit a house, sell it, and use the money to buy an identical house for exactly the same price, the second house is considered “acquired together” if you did the selling and buying while married. (That means, the money flows are not tracked, only things that stayed untouched during the marriage.) Also, if you owned a house before marriage, and then you lived there together, it can be argued that the other party spent their money and labor to maintain the house, therefore it is no longer only yours. But I am not a lawyer, and I may be wrong about these things.

            I understand some people choose to marry and remain child free. It’s just not an option for me.

            I see marriage as an institution for bringing up kids. The right moment to get married is the moment you decide to start having unprotected sex. Otherwise, you are just adding legal complications to dating, which seems like a very unreasonable thing to do.

            (I would make an exception here for old people, who have enough life experience to predict that they are likely to stay with this partner until they die; and they want to handle inheritance, so that when one of them dies, the other does not become homeless. But people in their 20s or 30s getting married without wanting to have kids, that’s just inviting trouble.)

          • ana53294 says:

            I thought that inheritance from one’s parents cannot be taken away in divorce (as long as you have clear documentation about exactly what you inherited)

            In theory, no. But it happens anyway, especially if your parents gifted you the downpayment for a mortgage or things like that. And there’s an acronym invented just for BOMAD; it’s because it’s actually quite a frequent phenomena.

            Men who haven’t finished their education (in their thirties), are also a burden. They won’t be able to maintain a family, and would probably need financial help from me. I’m not OK with that in a man that old.

            I am frugal, so I view any person beyond their thirties with no assets with suspicions. It’s OK to have negative worth, if it’s something like student loans. But credit card debt, no rainy day fund, or savings for a downpayment, I think it means a person led a very profligate life. And I expect from a husband to be able to maintain a family, since I’d like to homeschool and have a big family.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the government would be both benevolent and competent, then yes, maybe. But the actual government is nothing remotely like that.

            That depends on whether you consider “lazy and competent” to be remotely like “benevolent and competent”.

            It doesn’t require a benevolent government to go through marriage law with an expert eye towards things that will result in child-custody nightmares, alimony nightmares, and public-relations nightmares. It just requires a bureaucracy that’s had to deal with all of this too many times before and really doesn’t want to be stuck fixing next thousand stupid versions of the same damn thing, make it go away with a minimum of effort and without making the headlines.

            That’s something government bureaucrats are usually pretty good at. And where’s Deiseach when we need her to explain this?

          • brad says:

            eigenmoon

            I’ve read about a case: the spouses had a contract that whoever cheats pays the other $10K, and one of them had cheated, so the other went to the court to collect $10K. The court threw their contract away.

            If you are going to do this, put in a binding arbitration clause too. We (that’s the sovereign we) have no interest in figuring out which of you cheated. Or whether it was justified because the other withheld sex, or whether that was justified because the first one had an emotional affair, or determining what the fuck an emotional affair is to begin with.

            Court employees’ time would be more usefully spent digging and refilling holes in the ground than playing referee between feuding lovers.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Viliam
            This still happens: https://old.reddit.com/r/legaladvice/comments/e3hkev/with_or_without_prejudice_husband_installed/

            I met my husband about five years ago. We started dating and got married after three years (in a country far away). I gave up my path in life to support his (he had a career going, and I was only studying).

            His job required us to move around, and for us to be together, I had to take a position where I had no experience. Thus low paying, but it enabled us to be together, and him to focus on his career.

            From a nested reply of the OPs:

            I am broke though. He knew I had saving months ago, he waited and calculated when I would run out of them. I did not see this coming. I was forced to borrow money for the attorney in X State and it was all for nothing because he dismissed his own petition for divorce. And my lawyer won’t give me the money back. So the only thing I have now to get that money back is to accept his offer of paying that lawyer as long I don’t file for divorce in new york. Or go against my attorney’s advice and decline the offer and take it to court. But because he has now stated none of us has any jurisdiction in that State I might not get anything back from the legal fees i gave my lawyer.

            Additional:

            Kentucky
            By Leah Nanako Winkler
            Directed by Charlynn Knighton
            Hiro is a self-made woman making it in New York. But she is also single, almost thirty, and estranged from her dysfunctional family who lives in Kentucky. When her little sister, a born-again Christian, decides to marry at twenty-two, Hiro takes it upon herself to do whatever she can to stop the wedding and salvage any shred of hope she had about her sister’s future. The themes of identity, religion, and love collide in this unique coming-of-age story.

            (emphasis mine)

          • eigenmoon says:

            @John Schilling
            Government bureaucrats are good at minimizing their load? That’s unexpected. Usually they will just hire more bureaucrats and raise fees. Only political pressure can keep it from happening.

            Also, while in US all branches of the government seem to be legislating (I still don’t quite get it), in most other countries rules are written not by people who have to deal with the mess.

            @brad
            You’re quite correct: on one hand it’s practically impossible to figure out who destroyed the marriage and on the other hand it seems to be necessary to figure it out in order to disincentivize divorce (which is the original goal of this thread).

          • Clutzy says:

            Government bureaucrats are good at minimizing their load? That’s unexpected. Usually they will just hire more bureaucrats and raise fees. Only political pressure can keep it from happening.

            They are good at maximizing their perceived responsibility and justifying extra subordinates.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            1) How are government bureaucrats supposed to hire more subordinates when their funding for personnel + raises is kept flat (or falling in the case of the IRS)?

            2) The majority of bureaucrats don’t manage anyone. They are individual contributors.

        • johan_larson says:

          Making prenuptial agreements a normal and expected thing seems like an area where men’s rights advocates could make some headway.

          If I were to get married, I would want a prenup that stipulates arbitration in the event of divorce with as cut-and-dried a separation deal as possible, and joint custody of the children. The two things I fear are a long and bitter fight in the courts by a (soon-to-be) ex-wife who just wants to hurt me, and a court system that by default gives her the kids and me the bills.

    • S_J says:

      From the Right it sounds like…

      …mostly crickets really, I’ve seen some calls for homeschooling to “preserve values” and to me (again) that’s for a minority (and also two generations too late!).

      I think the Cultural Right was told that they were stupid, stuck-in-the-mud idiots for saying that the loss of traditional family values was a net harm to society. How many decades has that been going on?

      To be accurate, the Cultural Right kept on trying to push culture in the direction that the culture didn’t want to go.

      My take: It is very hard to have a society that uses social pressure to encourage child-bearing in a family setting in a cultural setting that also encourages/allows lots of sexual promiscuity outside the context of marriage.

      Even the Puritans of Colonial Massachusetts had occasional out-of-wedlock births. And a method for trying to find out the father and charge him for child support.

      A society which still had child-support laws, but no social shame for promiscuity, will find it much harder to discourage child-bearing outside of a committed pair-bond.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      FWIW, there’s a rebuttal Twitter thread starting here. Tl;dr: the rise in divorce and single parenthood started in the 60s, before factors like deindustrialisation kicked in but in line with the sexual revolution; the 1930s, a period of precarious unemployment but also of relatively conservative sexual mores, didn’t see a major decline in family formation; and liberals today are less likely to rate stable families as important, less likely to be married themselves, and more likely to promote norms downplaying the importance of marriage in favour of individualism and sexual freedom.

      • didn’t see a major decline in family formation

        It didn’t lead to any increase in bastardy, it did reduce marriage, people simply waited longer to get married. Otherwise your comment is spot on.

      • Plumber says:

        @The original Mr. X,

        Thanks for the link to thr rebuttal Twitter thread, there’s lots of interesting stuff in it.

        “..the 1930s, a period of precarious unemployment but also of relatively conservative sexual mores, didn’t see a major decline in family formation…”

        From the statistics I’ve seen the rate of births, church attendance, marriages, and the percentage of adults who had children was similar to now, the “baby boom” years (1945 to 1965) when all those spiked was anomalous, the big post boom change was in more un-wed childirth as a percentage of total births (which has dropped since the ’80’s).

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      what I’m not seeing, either from the Left or the Right are real solutions, the closest I see from the Sanders/Warren wing is “free college for all”, which helps those who attempt college but don’t graduate (while not as much as in the ’90’s the college wage and employment premium means graduates may afford the cost of their educations, it’s those who try and fail to graduate that are most hurt by the cost), but to me that seems to only help a few that aren’t the most hurting from de-industrialization.

      From the Right it sounds like…

      …mostly crickets really, I’ve seen some calls for homeschooling to “preserve values” and to me (again) that’s for a minority (and also two generations too late!).

      Pre-primaries Warren was getting a handle on the economics behind the decline of traditional families, and the solution wasn’t “free college.” Bernie is clueless.
      The Right is trying to recover from the Buckley coalition of religion/family values + unlimited cheerleading for capitalism. As early as the French Revolution, Rightists were talking about causal relations between economics and culture, and how laws could help.

    • albatross11 says:

      Charles Murray wrote a whole book (_Coming Apart_) about this phenomenon, and I think David Brooks has written columns about it–that’s not exactly crickets.

      I think of three competing explanations for this stuff. None can be the whole explanation, and probably the reality is some combination of the three.

      a. Values and “Preaching what you practice”: This is Charles Murray’s thesis, if I understood it right–basically, values tend to be pushed down from the top, but for ideological reasons, the smartest and most functional people continued to act like they believed in the family values of the 50s, but stopped preaching those values, and in fact the society as a whole pushed much more permissive (and destructive) values for the proles. The proles largely adopted those values, to their enduring cost. The solution would presumably be widespread social messaging along the lines of Plumber’s proposal to toss rotten vegetables at parents of small children who divorce.

      b. “Choose your own path” social messages work better for the smart than the dumb: I’ve seen Steve Sailer make this point. Basically, we as a society changed from a “one size fits most” socially-defined path to happiness (50s family values) to a “choose your own path and find your own bliss” path. This worked out okay for smarter and more-together people, who either decided 50s family values was what they wanted after a little college adventuring, or realized they’d be happier living in a rationalist group home in a poly relationship. It didn’t work out so well for less intelligent and thoughtful people, who took the easy path into having three kids by four dads or being on the hook for half a dozen child support judgments they were trying to cover with their job on the loading docks. I’m not sure what the solution is here–it’s more a realization that greater societal freedom has losers as well as winners.

      c. The economy changed in ways that made 50s family values harder at the bottom: Randy Steve Waldman (Interfluidity) made this argument really well. Basically, this is the description in the quoted chunks above. As good jobs for left-end-of-the-Bell-curve men have gone away, and lots of those men have done a stint in prison, they became worse and worse husband material. Women who wanted kids had a choice of marrying a loser or not marrying, and chose kids+no man to kids+a lousy man. Similarly, men who had few prospects were wary of committing to supporting a family.

      One problem with (c) is that it doesn’t explain the high rate of shacking up with a baby mama/daddy. In general, I think the economic explanations can’t explain the individual decisions very well, because people in 1950 were overall way poorer than people in 1980, but also rarely had kids without getting married. But I think the economic explanation gives us some insight into why this change of values took hold more on the low end than the high end–the white picket fence was attainable at the high end, but not at the low end.

      One problem with (a) is that it’s not so clear to me that the lower-classes care all that much what the upper-middle class wants them to do. I think the cultural changes were supported by ideology to some extent, but probably way more by media and what was profitable to broadcast/sell.

      One problem with (b) is that it seems like high IQ is probably much less useful for working out good strategies for being happy in life than for solving math or logic problems or filling out complicated forms. I’m deeply skeptical that high IQ gives you a protective effect from stupid cultural messages–all kinds of crazy culturally-driven intellectual fads hit high-IQ people harder than low-IQ people.

      • brad says:

        Re: b The modal version on the educated professional side seems to be late marriage and 1-2 children. I don’t think that’s accurately described as 50s values.

        It does seem to work out okay though. For all the online right’s narrative of miserable urbanites (especially women of course), even among people I know on the sharp ends of things like declining fertility there isn’t a lot of expressed regret over not having gotten married and starting having kids at 18–24.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Re: (a), I think that the effect is less that of the elite telling the proles what to do, and more that media people tend to pick up elite values through higher education, and this in turn seeps into their work. So I don’t think “ideology” and “the media” are competing explanations here — ideology is (part of) the explanation for why the media produces the things that it does.

        Re: (b), I’d probably want to steelman the position by changing IQ to self-control, forward-planning ability, or something similar. People who score highly on such metrics would still be more likely to end up as part of the elite, and would also be likely to do better in a society with a “follow your bliss” attitude to relationships.

    • Autor says:

      “the lack of objective evidence to validate or refute these assertions appears only to embolden their advocates.”

      and then immediately begins post hoc ergo propter hoc for his own pet theory.

      It is critical to bear in mind that the U.S. has a less generous social safety net than almost all of the other advanced countries to which we compare ourselves: Canada, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, etc. And yet we have higher rates of nonwork among prime-age men and women, and much worse socio-demographic outcomes: family stability, investment in children, educational attainment, life expectancy, rates of violent death, etc.

      It’s only recently that rates of non-work among prime-age men are lower than those countries mentioned. Here is a graph:

      https://alexanderturok.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/une.png?w=626

      I don’t know what “investment in children” refers to, since he didn’t provide any definition or evidence, I’m going to assume it’s simply “Europe’s better obviously duh.”

      My read of the evidence is that the declining economic position of less educated men (both in a relative and absolute sense)

      Well, this “declining economic position of less educated men in the absolute sense” didn’t go through the formality of actually happening, so…

      From the Right it sounds like…

      …mostly crickets really, I’ve seen some calls for homeschooling to “preserve values” and to me (again) that’s for a minority (and also two generations too late!).

      Conservatism Inc. is all about securing tax cuts and deregulation for the rich, more pork for the MIC, and then distracting the conservative base from everything else conservatives pretend to care about. You aren’t going to get much in solutions from that set. From me I suggest:

      1. A program of subsidized long-term birth control.
      2. Reform the alimony and child support systems to stop rewarding people who chose to get divorced. Basically, if you leave your spouse you also leave your spouse’s money.
      3. Make joint custody with no child support the default arrangement with a strong presumption to keep.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I mean, I think your best solution is being around families and societies where marriage and nuclear families are the norm. Monkey see, monkey do. These are lifestyles that people have to choose, and if people don’t want that lifestyle, throwing money at them is not going to get them married. See birth rate discussion below. You can’t throw money at people and expect them to have kids, they have to really want kids and really want to get married in the first place.

      This also means making alternatives to marriage and nuclear family unattractive.

  11. LeSigh says:

    Anyone able to recommend a brand of outdoor Christmas lights that doesn’t suck? The past 2 years every single strand we’ve bought hasn’t lasted a full season.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I have nothing to say other than let me know what you find out. I’m having a similar problem. I can say that whatever the generic Lowe’s brand is completely sucks, and the generic Home Depot brand seems to do a much better job. Any of these generic strands seem to suck at any level of amperage and die out almost immediately when you start running too much stuff in parallel.

      I am buying a couple strands of GE C-9 lights that are theoretically better rated. Fingers crossed.

  12. DinoNerd says:

    According to one of the most blue tribe sources I read regularly, the Ohio legislature has introduced a bill demanding that doctors attempt to reimplant ectopic pregnancies or face murder charges. The mandated procedure has the disadvantage of being impossible.

    For those who don’t know, ectopic pregnancies – if not removed – will generally either spontaneously abort (miscarry), or kill the mother, without producing a viable infant. And for every 100 normal live births, there will be from 1-4 ectopic pregnancies – 1-2 among women without specific risk factors.

    I’m curious to read the reaction of those who identify with the red tribe.

    [Editted to remove the implication that the Guardian was the blue tribe source – that source was a blogger who referenced the Guardian article, but added his own take on it.]

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The law clearly says “if applicable.” I am not sure what specifically that means, but maybe they are attempting to future proof their law. If it’s not possible, it’s not applicable. If it’s possible, then it’s required.

      • albatross11 says:

        Politicians are quite capable of demanding the impossible without knowing what they’re talking about. Media sources are quite capable of massively misreporting stories in a sensational way, especially ones that make their outgroup look monstrous. I have no idea which of these is more useful in interpreting this story. On the other hand, I think a law requiring doctors to do the impossible is not at all likely to stand for very long if it gets passed.

        • mtl1882 says:

          +1

          A lot of the abortion legislation is utterly absurd, frighteningly so. But the natural result is that these things are also virtually impossible to implement, or won’t be tolerated long if implemented. Answering the question of whether to recognize life at conception doesn’t get us very far in actually legislating the matter. Even though it is a natural process, life at that stage is in a very vulnerable, convoluted condition, and the desire to save every possible life, while common and understandable enough, just becomes bizarre. I don’t worry too much that anyone is going to try to enforce this one, but it doesn’t help the country to have this stuff on the news freaking people out. And the proponents probably aren’t monsters–just painfully ignorant and simplistic in a very common way.

          • DinoNerd says:

            I recall the fuss a few years ago, when some clueless politician insisted that it was impossible for rape to make a woman pregnant. I think people freaking out about clue-deficit-disorder among their elected representatives is just fine and dandy, whether or not the cluelessness is in the service of political wedge issues.

            Arguably, a person who attempts to make decisions binding on others about matters where they are clueless is some kind of monster. The more important – and potentialy harmful the decisions are, and the easier it would have been to get good information, the worse of a monster they are.

          • Arguably, a person who attempts to make decisions binding on others about matters where they are clueless is some kind of monster.

            The problem is that the people in question don’t realize they are clueless.

            Consider that trade policy is made by people most of whom, to judge by actions and rhetoric, hold a view of the relevant economics that has been obsolete for about two hundred years.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @DinoNerd

            My phrasing was awkward, but I wasn’t trying to say the media should ignore the issue—I meant that despite the fact that I don’t believe it will go anywhere, it was still a bad thing because it naturally freaks people out to see people who have such responsibility being so ignorant. In other words, I agree very much that we need to freak out about clue-deficit-disorder. But I think that disorder is horrifyingly widespread, so it is frustrating that only certain issues reveal it so clearly, and abortion is one of them. And that’s probably not the policy area where it is causing the most damage.

            “Monster” can mean anything, but I was using it to mean someone shockingly malicious. The reality is scarier. I strongly believe that ignorant certainty/confidence poses a greater threat to us than intentional malice on most issues. People quite often do not know they are clueless, and they lack all humility about the possibility of their cluelessness. Half the time they don’t even realize who they are binding under their decisions, because they can’t visualize enforcement. Hence legislation mandating the impossible.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @DavidFriedman

            The problem is that the people in question don’t realize they are clueless

            Indeed. There’s a fair amount of relevant research on people’s estimates of their own (in)competence, and it doesn’t lead to optimism. I don’t have a solution, except that putting competent technocrats in charge has been tried repeatedly, and doesn’t work either.

            Even requiring some level of basic cluefulness for (whatever) activities tends to go wrong as soon as it’s in some group’s interest to reduce participation.

            Probably I’m calling people who don’t take into account their own ignorance when exercising power over others “monsters” as a (probably hopeless) attempt to shame them, or move norms an infinitesimal way in the direction of shaming them. They aren’t as bad as people who cause the same amount of harm on purpose, but it’s almost impossible to distinguish someone “proud not to be an egghead” imposing their personal taste in quackery, from someone who says the same thing, but picked the particular form of quackery they impose out of sadism and malice.

            I suppose there’s some hope those truly ignorant might actually learn something, some day, or at least hire competent advisers and listen to them.

            In any case, neither the pig ignorant nor the sadists are the bulk of the problem – that would be those who pick their beliefs based on what they want to be true ;-( And given that this appears to amount to all of us, some of the time, and some of us, all of the time, I could very easily turn into a crusty old misanthropist.

    • GearRatio says:

      From what i can tell, your sources are panicky or lying. Snopes and most mainstream news sources say the bill only deals with insurance coverage, potentially banning some/all contraceptives and abortions from being covered. The fictional procedure you mention is exempted from the coverage ban, not legally mandated.

      Nope! I was looking at stories about an older bill, I think.

    • Erusian says:

      I don’t identify as Red Tribe but I do have extensive connections and history in Ohio. Firstly, the idea that Ohio is extremist is absurd: Ohio is a competitive state so both parties tend to be moderate. It’s a John Kasich/Sherrod Brown kind of state. (For those of you who don’t know, that’s Ohio’s Republican governor and Democratic Senator respectively. Both are considered moderate.)

      The full text:
      “A physician who does all of the following is not subject to criminal prosecution, damages in any civil action, or professional disciplinary action, for violation of this chapter: […] (C) Takes all possible steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman. Such steps include, if applicable, attempting to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into a woman’s uterus.”

      The other two safe harbors are that the physician believes that the birth will kill the woman or that they kill the child in an attempt to save both the woman and the child.

      In other words, a physician must either believe that the birth will be risky to the woman’s life, or attempt a procedure to save both lives (in which case if they fail and only save the woman’s life, they are immune), or otherwise show they did everything possible to save the fetus (including reimplanting, if they believe reimplanting bears no risk to the woman’s life). It’s a restriction on abortion certainly. It doesn’t force doctors to perform reimplantation except in cases where they believe, in their reasonable medical opinion, it has no health risk to the mother. Further, even if they decline to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy, they can avoid prosecution so long as they can prove that they were acting to save the woman’s life or that the fetus was non-viable or that they did everything they could to save both.

      In a practical sense, this bill creates a legal defense of, “I thought that it would be hazardous to a woman’s health to reimplant the fetus.” The idea that it’s forcing doctors to do an ill-advised medical procedure strikes me as coasts shrieking about the interior, frankly.

    • rahien.din says:

      It’s impossible to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy. So it’s never applicable.

      Seems like political theater. Are they also funding research into trophoblastic reimplementation?

  13. ana53294 says:

    Interesting article (Google search, as it avoids a paywall) from a New Yorker who has considered moving to Florida for the taxes.

    The New York authorities, apparently the scariest tax agents out there, would insist I alter everything that I get out of my beloved Manhattan and everything I try to give back to it.

    […]I’d have to cancel all local New York charge accounts (even Leonard’s, my superb fish market, which delivers in half an hour), move anything “near and dear” out of New York, including sentimental photographs, art, and family heirlooms. I would have to resign all New York club memberships and charity boards I sit on, cancel my season tickets to the Knicks basketball team that my son and I have enjoyed for 15 years, and find new Florida doctors and dentists for my family. When I heard that I’d even have to change the veterinarian for my ailing King Charles spaniel, I knew this would be one dance I’d be sitting out.

    The fact that they have to be this scary, hounding people and timing how much time they spend in a hotel in Jersey instead of NYC, shows how ridiculous taxes in NYC are. If keeping two homes, changing all your lifestyle, is easier than paying taxes in one state, maybe you should vote for a party that lowers taxes? Why don’t all these people who move to Florida (or would consider moving) don’t vote Republican instead?

    • brad says:

      The aren’t enough multi-millionaires and billionaires to swing NY state elections.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The other option is to actually give up all residences in New York. If you don’t own or control any residential property, the tax authorities are out of luck. Sure, this means if you want a place near the city it might have to be in (horrors) Weehawken (NJ), but you get to keep your vet.

      As brad points out, there aren’t enough ultra-rich people, even in NY, to swing the elections. But more than that, you don’t vote Republican; it’s just Not Done.

    • pancrea says:

      He wants to “move” to Florida for the taxes… but he wants to keep his fish delivery account, he wants to keep going to NYC baseball games, he wants to keep all his doctors and dentists and veterinarian. So he actually has no interest in moving, he just wants to change his official residence.

      Dude is trying to scam the tax authorities and he’s complaining that there are too many obstacles for him to pull off his scam easily.

      Well, good.

      • John Schilling says:

        Holly Peterson is probably not a “dude”, but yeah. Money quote:

        I own a small condo in Florida where I spend at least four months a year accompanying my child athlete on a semi-professional circuit. It got me thinking; if I kept my New York home, how much would a move to the Florida condo save on my New York income taxes,

        “Moving” to a “small condo” out of state while e.g. keeping your local fish market account and refusing to go to out-of-state doctors, dentists, and veterinarians, is not moving. I mean, really – you’re going to leave your beloved dog behind when you “move”, and/or fly it a thousand miles for every vet visit? Nope.

        There may be a story to be told about governmental overreach in pursuit of nonresident tax dollars, of relentless auditors and inquisitors hounding innocent Floridians because they spent too many days on business or vacation travel to a city they used to live in. If that’s happening, it might be worth knowing about. But it isn’t Holly Peterson’s story, and I’m wondering why the Financial Times decided she was the one to write it.

      • Erusian says:

        Yeah, I know plenty of people who’ve been abused by New York (et al) and California (et al) tax authorities. In one particularly egregious case, they used software purchases from Silicon Valley tech companies over the internet to prove the person hadn’t been living in Texas and still owed California taxes. In another case, a person was forced to pay taxes after the tax authority proved he spent three weeks in state, in February and October. They were allowed to count the spread between those two months despite plane tickets showing he’d departed. One person was sued (unsuccessfully) for seven years of back taxes because he’d lived in the state seven years ago, left, and come back, and they claimed he’d never left despite having no physical in-state residence for that time.

        These are all ridiculous.

        But this seems like the person just wants to add a month or two to their vacation, do some remote work, and claim they’ve switched residences.

      • SamChevre says:

        I’m not sure I have a side – but when I moved 3 hours away from where I’d lived a long time for work (same state, but could easily have been out of state) I didn’t change dentists — I liked my dentist, and it was worth taking a day off twice a year to go to the dentist and see my old friends. And similarly with sports – I know plenty of people who have lived in MA for a decade but are still Yankees fans.

    • eigenmoon says:

      And here’s what it takes for foreigners to determine if they should pay taxes to US:

      In determining whether you have maintained more significant contacts with the foreign country than with the United States, the facts and circumstances to be considered include, but are not limited to, the following:
      […]
      The location of:

      Your permanent home,
      Your family,
      Your personal belongings, such as cars, furniture, clothing, and jewelry,
      Your current social, political, cultural, or religious affiliations,
      Your business activities (other than those that constitute your tax home),
      The jurisdiction in which you hold a driver’s license,
      The jurisdiction in which you vote, and
      Charitable organizations to which you contribute.

      I wonder if watching Hollywood movies counts as a cultural affiliation with US.

    • It reminds me of a conversation I had with a Democrat, not a New Yorker, who said that he could understand why New York City elected Giuliani and Bloomberg, because New York City “needed” it, but was quite resistant when I pestered him about why, exactly.

      This is an example of how the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot with their prole religious stuff.

      • cassander says:

        the prole religious stuff gets an awful lot of votes, just not in new york.

        • Theodoric says:

          I’ve wondered if it would be viable to have a 3rd party in NY politics. This party would be based on the Giuilani/Bloomberg model. It would caucus with the Republicans on economic/tax and “law & order” issues, but abortion and other social issues would be conscience votes (New York actually does have “conservative” and “working families” parties, but 9 times out of 10 they just endorse the republican or democrat, respectively).

          • brad says:

            New York State still has strong political machines. Although they are weakening somewhat (see AOC as well as the destruction of the IDC), I imagine a purely ideological party would get nowhere.

          • cassander says:

            that;s basically what the New York republican party is, last I checked.

          • brad says:

            Haha. That’s a good one.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Bloomberg has a very libertarian model of government: the job of government is to figure out the sorts of things that make your constituents’ lives worth living… and then take them away. Of course unlike the libertarians Bloomberg is for this rather than against this, and I don’t think it’s really all that viable a platform for a political party.

          • broblawsky says:

            Third parties will usually be in, at best, a metastable equilibrium in any first-past-the-post electoral system. Inevitably, they will either subsume or be subsumed by one of the two main parties, or collapse into minor party status. They can only survive by dominating the votes of a specific region in a parliamentary election (like the SNP or the Block Quebecois). Look at what happened to the Liberal Democrats in the UK: they allied themselves with the Conservatives, then imploded.

          • DeWitt says:

            That’s only true in first past the post systems. Proportionally representative democracies have no such issue.

        • They could appeal to proles on other issues, like immigration or affirmative action or socially conservative arguments based on science and reason rather than a silly book of fiction.

          • DeWitt says:

            How much immigration that makes people go BUILD A WALL does New York see? It’s all the way up north.

            Affirmative action isn’t really enough of a hot button issue to draw out voters.

            Making socially conservative arguments based on science and reason means three people turn up to vote for you, and a million for the other guy. If that.

            What else is there?

          • brad says:

            NY’ers are, or at least were, relatively conservative about crime after having gone through the 80s. That’s how Rudy got in.

            Bloomberg was a different story. He was just a Democrat that wanted to skip the primaries.

          • Theodoric says:

            @brad
            Maybe it’s just my bubble, but I have noticed more anti-police sentiment in the NYC area lately, and pushback on things like punishing fare-beating.

          • brad says:

            There’s an increasing number of people around that don’t remember the 80s and early 90s. Or remember what it was like in the Cleveland suburbs rather than NYC.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s a lot of grumbling about the pushback to punishing fare-beating as well, but this is considered mean and nobody (except the New York Post) cares what the mean people think. Though they have reconnected the alarms on some of the exit doors to the subway lately.

          • CatCube says:

            I don’t get the hate for detecting fare evasion. We have it here in Portland, too. I’ve only had one fare check in the past year. These systems already run at a loss, which is only made worse by fare evasion.

            The second-order effects will be bad too: if let your trains turn into a rolling homeless shelter, you’re going to chase off more paying customers, and you’ll get a death spiral.

          • brad says:

            As far as I can tell everyone in NYC and no one on twitter is in favor of enforcing the rules against fare evasion. Unfortunately politicians and journalists are two professions completely addicted to twitter.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @CatCube

            NYC mostly uses barrier, not proof-of-payment. So fare evasion involves hopping turnstiles, going in emergency exits, and getting in the exit door of buses. From what I’ve heard on another forum, the bus thing is exacerbated by the bus drivers just allowing it when they have some affinity to the fare evaders.

            Subway enforcement tends to by anarcho-tyranny. God help the well-heeled commuter with an unlimited metrocard facing a broken turnstile and no staff; if they jump it, the cops will pop out of their hidden room and hand them a summons for theft of service. Ordinary criminals just brazenly hop the turnstile and get away with it 9 times out of 10.

          • brad says:

            > bus drivers just allowing it when they have some affinity to the fare evaders

            Bus drivers are required to just allow it. They aren’t authorized to confront fare evaders. As I understand it that was a rule negotiated by their union for safety reasons.

          • DeWitt says:

            Is that a genuine thing? A hate for.. Making sure people using the public transport actually pay for it? Is this anything beyond some loudmouths or is there more going on about this?

          • Theodoric says:

            @DeWitt
            Yes, there is a movement against transit fare enforcement.
            More info from right wing source
            more info from left wing source
            I am sympathetic to complaints about lower quality service, but I don’t see how that’s supposed to get better if the MTA gets less money (and will get even less if people who do pay decide they are being taken for suckers). And quite frankly, I’d like to know how many of the people pleading poverty about a $2.75 subway fare have, eg, a high end smartphone, or sneakers costing three figures, or have a pull list at their local comic shop.

          • Nick says:

            They could appeal to proles on other issues, like immigration or affirmative action or socially conservative arguments based on science and reason rather than a silly book of fiction.

            Socially conservative arguments based on science and reason have a much worse track record than that silly book of fiction.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      New York has a ridiculus housing market. Discouraging people from having second recidences there good and hard is solid policy. You want to move to New York? Move to New York, pay New York taxes. Want to visit, well, that is what hotels are for.

  14. Ashram Urchin says:

    Does anybody know the right place to submit input on July’s Editing Unsong post? I love the book and I’d like to submit responses to some of the questions there.

    • Dacyn says:

      His email is scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com (taken from here). I don’t think he very reliably reads the open threads, and putting it in the comments of another post doesn’t really make sense, so maybe email is the best option.

  15. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    There is a well known behavioral pattern in which porn watchers’ use of porn escalates over time as they get acclimated to a certain level of perversion and start seeking out ever more degenerate acts in an attempt to chase the old high. You start out watching married couples have sex in the missionary position with the lights off for the sole purpose of procreation and before you know it you can only get off to interracial cuckold porn.

    My question is, has anybody else noticed this pattern happen to their reading habits? At this point in my life, the only things that can give me the literary equivalent of a boner are rational fiction and the very hardest of hard science fiction.

    • GreatColdDistance says:

      Not quite what you’re asking for, but there is a known version of a similar affect in music, metal music being the kind most familiar to me. Fans of the style get excited about the “oh fuck that’s heavy” high that comes from songs like Ozzy’s Crazy Train, but in order to keep getting that sensation of boot-to-the-chest heaviness from music requires increasingly aggressive and dissonant music. Turn the ratchet up notch by notch and you end up spinning blackened grindcore or funeral doom just to get that same feeling you used to get from Iron Maiden.

      It is a trend I’ve noticed that very few people listen to metal as a dominant musical taste for more than 5+ years without getting into music that is either sufficiently heavy or progressive that the appeal of the sound is opaque to the unfamiliar listener.

      As for reading? Not really, though I’ve fallen out of reading fiction of late due to busyness so I may not be a great datapoint.

      • maintain says:

        When I read his original post, I immediately thought of music also.

        Perhaps we can just say that any form of media is going to be a gateway into other forms of media–forms which you would have probably just found incomprehensible or offensive if you hadn’t been gradually acclimated.

    • LesHapablap says:

      How many people does that escalation actually happen to?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Yes, to some extent. When I first start reading a genre or subgenre, all the tired tropes are new and fresh to me, and even a thoroughly predictable plot can be new and exciting. Several times, I’ve come back to books I loved from years back, only to find them dull. I’ve heard it’s commonplace to see someone lambasting Lord of the Rings as rehashing tired tropes, when in fact it originated most of them. TVTropes (no link because timesuck) calls it “Seinfeld Is Unfunny” for the same reason.

      Back in the days of the Sad Puppies, Eric Flint wrote two good blog posts on how this’s likely behind the disconnect between prestigious writing awards and actual sales. Awards are given out by people who’ve been immersed in a genre for years, either as professionals or as fans (or, perhaps, both). They value the new, fresh twists on old tropes. Most book sales, though, aren’t to this group. The average book buyer will have read a few works of the genre at most; they’ll still love those old tropes.

      In other words, this escalation’s a fact of being a fan of just about anything. In books, it isn’t really problematic – even in the unlikely case you get to the point no published book or internet fanfic will satisfy you, you can always imitate Disraeli and write your own. But in other cases like your original example, I’m afraid it might have a negative impact on the rest of your life?

    • Viliam says:

      Seems to me that this principle applies to many things. The fact that we mostly hear it applied to porn is because of moral panic. “Internet is stealing your bodily fluids!”

      Doesn’t it apply also to regular sex? When I was a teenager, holding hands with a pretty girl gave me ecstasy. During my first sexual experiments, I could spend hours just kissing, and felt like in heaven. These days, holding hands and kissing feel like nice but almost asexual activities; now I need actual sex to get the same amount of pleasure. I suppose this process can go much further… until you hit a wall where you can’t get as much sex as you’d want of exactly the kind you’d want at the given moment. Some people hit the wall sooner, some go much further.

      As a though experiment, imagine that you could do anything sexual, with literally anyone you want, anytime you want, and it would always be perfectly okay, just as you wanted it, with absolutely no negative consequences. Where would you see yourself in five years, long after having mildly-kinky sex with supermodels became boring? (As a real-life example, we could probably examine sexual lives of successful dictators.)

      And, yes, this applies to my reading habits, too. Watching movies, too. Things I would have enjoyed a decade ago now seem like a waste of time. Though I wonder how much of that is habituation per se, and how much is the fact that now I have more books/movies available and less time to enjoy them, so I can afford to be more picky.

    • Red-s says:

      An alternate way of thinking about this – I got this from *The Last Psychiatrist*: a lot of people look at pornography out of boredom, not out of lust.

      In this model, the escalation makes sense – once you’ve seen enough of one category of thing, you’re no longer alleviating boredom. Eventually all the normal stuff is exhausted and the weirder stuff is all that’s left.

      A lot of people seem worried about this w.r.t. pornography, but I think the “boredom” lens makes it look less harmful. The solution (if it’s a problem) is to find other engrossing things.

      You probably don’t fret about this w.r.t reading, but the solution is probably: put hard rationalist fiction away for a while, find something else engrossing, and come back to it later.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Beware selection effects.

      If you restrict to people with extreme habits, of course their habits used to be less extreme. But that doesn’t mean that there is a trend to the extremes, let alone to any particular extreme. Many people restrict to reading a particular niche, often quite small. Many people read diversely. And most people stop reading entirely.

  16. anonymousskimmer says:

    Reading the American Affairs thread in 141.5 that Plumber conveniently linked earlier, I am curious why Congress creates agencies under the Executive Branch to create regulations, instead of creating separate Executive branch enforcement agencies that work hand-in-hand with Legislative branch regulation generating agencies?

    Would this not escape the non-delegation doctrine?

    I would assume that this would have been tried long ago as the most obvious way of doing things, so what is preventing it from happening?

    • cassander says:

      You could have done so, but the american regulatory state was created (A) by FDR who never wasted an opportunity to gather more power into his hands (B) in a time of national panic through bills that were basically enabling acts (the entire NIRA was less than 10k words, the ACA was 400k), and (C) by congress at the time had no where near the staff to handle that sort of workload, and creating it would have represented a fundamental transformation of that branch of government, one most members weren’t interested in.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Okay. So if SCOTUS reinstates the non-delegation doctrine Congress can (if it has enough votes) immediately split each federal agency into Executive and Legislative compartments, thus rescuing the regulatory state without any need for court packing or a Constitutional amendment.

        • cassander says:

          >Okay. So if SCOTUS reinstates the non-delegation doctrine

          it won’t

          immediately split each federal agency into Executive and Legislative compartments, thus rescuing the regulatory state without any need for court packing or a Constitutional amendment.

          I mean, maybe? That would be such a huge transformation of the way the US operates that you’d pretty much by definition be operating in out of context mode. It would still transform the nature of congress, and congress would almost certainly not want that sort of transformation, but I suppose it’s at least a possible response to the repeal of the non-delegation doctrine.

          Practically it would be hugely problematic because the executive branch is not organized in tune with congressional committee structure (which, itself, differs between houses), so god only knows who would end up reporting to whom.

          I think a more reasonable response to the repeal of the non-delegation doctrine would simply be congress simply voting to approve regulations before they carry the force of law.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I think a more reasonable response to the repeal of the non-delegation doctrine would simply be congress simply voting to approve regulations before they carry the force of law.

            This exposes them to electoral blowback for “not reading the bill before voting on it”, or even worse, voting on a regulation that the left or the right gets their constituency all worked up about. Though with non-recorded voice only votes they have plausible deniability, so this may not be a big deal.

            Worse case scenario otherwise they can simply not be a member of the committee that the legislative appointee of that particular agency reports to.

          • cassander says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            Sure, but any repeal of non-delegation is going to retire congress voting on, or at least approving, regulations. That’s why the APA can exist, congress wants to escape responsibility. But holding a big regulation vote once a year, especially an up or down vote, is a hell of a lot less dangerous for congress than becoming a massive rule writing bureaucracy.

    • aristides says:

      I am a law grad and big believer of the non-delegation doctrine. You are exactly right in that most believers of the non-delegation want to split up executive agencies so all their legislative power is under the legislature and all the Executive power is under the executive. Definitionally the separation of powers.

      There are a few benefits to this approach, beyond it just being closer to what the framers envisioned when they wrote the constitution. First, it’s dangerous to give executive, legislative, and judicial power to a singular official (judicial power is seen in the Ayer Rock deference doctrine, which is similar, but different). This allows unelected Administrators to write, interpret, and execute the law as they see fit. Dividing the power gives more checks and balances, and prevents overreach.

      Second, this takes away more executive power, and gives it back to Congress, which was designed to be the most powerful branch. Congress is much more representative than a singular presidency, and it is easier to hold elected representatives accountable every 2 years, than the president every 4.

      A little bit about disadvantages of this approach. The government would be less responsive to new developments, which is a pro or con depending on your view. Congress would be under greater scrutiny, which is the main reason they pass the buck to the President. Congressmen like being able to blame the president for everything, and will have more trouble if they wrote all the laws. I also imagine it would be confusing for the regulation writers to have to report to a whole committee rather than a president, but it’s probably similar to reporting to a Board if Directors, If half the members of the board hated the other half.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Thanks a bunch. I’m seriously glad nothing is preventing such a division other than entrenched interests, as I’d like to see it happen.

        Though I do wonder how the division would occur between the Senate and House.

        Here’s hoping we find out in my lifetime!

        The agencies still report to the committees under current status quo. They’d just be reporting a whole lot more. And sometimes, despite mutual hostility between the parties, both parties in general like what the agency is doing.

        • aristides says:

          You’re welcome. I actually doubt the Supreme Court will take non-delegation that far. The AG case was a particularly bad case, and I think there are only 2 votes to take things as far as what we’re describing here. The court didn’t even take the step to overrule Auer and Seminole Rock when they had the chance in Kisor v. Wilkie. That would have been a much smaller step than Reinstating the non-delegation in full force, and Roberts sided with the Liberals.

    • ECD says:

      Several reasons:

      1) Though I usually disagree with cassander, he’s quite correct that congress does not want responsibility for creating regulations, they want credit for ‘I passed a bill saying clean up the lake/transfer that property/build that base/save the whales/whatever.’ How is something they don’t want to get into, because ‘how’ is going to piss someone off. Far better for them if that’s because the BLM/EPA/DOD/DOI is fucking up their simple instructions, it just goes to show you can’t trust unelected bureaucrats/in-bed-with-big-business-tools/big-government-traitors.

      2) The line between regulation and enforcement looks clear, but isn’t. There are a LOT of laws, which ones should we focus our attention on? Do we care about the guys selling marijuana in states where its legal? How should we prioritize amongst the gajillion cases out there? What do the laws even mean? How much evidence is needed before we should charge? Any of those might end up codified in the CFR somewhere, or might be in a policy memo, or SOP.

      3) This is one I didn’t realize until I’d been working for a while, law school trains you to want maximum discretion, government work trains you to want minimum discretion. People want a right answer, because if you have discretion, then you need to make a decision. Now, that sounds cowardly, and to a certain extent it can be, but the bigger problem isn’t cowardice it’s the number of people asking you to do things. If you can just say, ‘no, I can’t do that,’ then you’re golden and can actually work the job you have. If, however, you have to say, ‘no, I’m not going to do that,’ then you need to have a justification. Have you done an environmental study? A cost-benefit analysis? Have you consulted with local governments/congressionals/tribes? How do you really know this isn’t the best idea ever? And if we got one request a month, then the unfunded mandate of explaining this to everyone asking us to do stuff might be doable, but its a lot more than that.

      For congress this is even worse and rulemaking, especially as its brought online and more people are involved, makes it worse still. See the regulations.gov page, and its top trending current regulation, and its 161 thousand comments. Congress wants no part of that, for good reason.

      4) Our current system is extraordinarily dysfunctional, due to the combination of different courts applying the same standard very differently across the country (See the Waters of the US rule, for example, and this map showing the different versions of the rule in effect in different places), different administrations having different goals, but being generally unwilling to just admit it and reverse course/actually change the regulations, rather then just announce they mean something else (the Trump administration has actually been okay on this, though I anticipate a great deal of respect for ‘the previous position of the administration,’ and a great deal of emphasis on the ‘need to justify a change in course’ to suddenly re-appear if there should be a change in administration) and good, old fashioned bureaucratic inertia/lack of follow-through (either via not communicating draft regulations down to the folks who will need to enforce them so they can be commented on and adjusted to address actual issues, or simply not distributing any guidance for new regulations for-fucking-ever). That last one isn’t helped when congress decides, for example, that the solution to that problem is to require more bureaucracy, by, say, concluding that you’re taking too long to issue implementation guidance, so clearly the solution is to require you to follow notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures for your implementation guidance.

      I have no solutions to these problems. The system has grown up over eighty years or so and is due for a major reform to get us back to something closer to a designed, rather than grown structure. But, if I had a magic wand, I’d start with the procurement process, because that is even more critical, even more complicated, and (as far as I can tell) even more thoroughly messed up. (Note, I originally said broken, but that isn’t correct, both systems work, they’re just extremely aggravating to work through and could work much better.

  17. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Apparently of the opinion that due dates are for slackers, Baby Beta decided to make her appearance a few weeks early. This resulted in a brief NICU stay, but Mrs. Beta and Baby Beta are both home and happy right now.

    -Baby smell has got to be selected for or something, because it is probably one of the top 3 smells in existence (along with New Car and Freshly Baked Cookies).
    -I don’t feel like the world has suddenly changed, but I definitely feel like the world makes a lot more sense.
    -Breastfeeding is shockingly difficult, so thank God for breast pumps and infant formula.
    -I don’t understand why anyone would buy infant formula besides the Kirkland brand, since it’s, like half the price of other formulas. Wirecutter has it at 56 cents an ounce, but it was 46 cents in-store. Compare to the $1.10/oz Similac next to it, and even slightly higher prices in your typical grocery store…
    -Sleep? Meh. I slept 2 hours at a time and woke up in the middle of the night anyways, at least I am doing something productive now. We switch shifts at night so it’s not super-bad yet. Baby Beta is still at the point where she falls asleep easy.
    -5 days for parental leave is way too short. Thankfully Mrs. Beta has combined enough things together to get 3 months off.
    -Family in the immediate area is worth…well, I don’t quite know how to price that yet. They are super helpful. So are all our close friends, who brought us snacks and food.
    -Go Bears

    • CatCube says:

      Congratulations!

    • Theodoric says:

      Congratulations! What a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving!

    • The Nybbler says:

      Breastfeeding is shockingly difficult

      Well sure, for YOU, A Definite Beta Guy

      Congratulations!

      • johan_larson says:

        It seems strange to me that so many women report problems with breastfeeding. Since it was absolutely essential for feeding infants until very recent times, it seems like there would have been a lot of evolutionary pressure to have it Just Work.

        • meh says:

          child and maternal mortality is amazingly low, even compared to just 100 years ago.

          being a few weeks early also increases difficulty as the baby is not strong enough to feed, and the mother may also not be producing a lot of milk yet.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            I wonder how many of the generational effects of unclear origin that come with modernity (Flynn effect, height increase, BMI increase, testosterone decrease, allergies and autoimmune disorders increases) are due to the weakened selective pressure on infants.

            It’s usually argued that these effects are too fast to be explained by selection, but going from a scenario where you had a >20% chance of dying before age one (and a >40% chance of dying before age 15) to one where >99% of children reach adult age looks like a pretty big change to occur within the span of a century.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I can’t tell how much difficulty was normal when it was a “requirement,” although wet nurses were a thing. I imagine there is more pressure now about how and when it is done, whereas before the woman generally lay in bed with a newborn on her breast for at least a couple of days. If it was painful or awkward, there isn’t much else they could do differently. I feel like that kind of difficulty is probably pretty normal. Of course, they had some traditional techniques to help things along, but we’re not likely to let an infant get dehydrated for even a few hours when we have other options. But it is certainly true that a lot of babies died because for various reasons they could not nurse effectively. Evolution favors survival of the species, but high individual mortality may be consistent with that.

        • Randy M says:

          Some of it may be due to a loss of inter-generational knowledge or more expectation of independence. A mother, older sister, aunt, etc. nearby to help her with it. Proper technique can mean the difference between painful and painless.
          In times of closer living and more babies per woman, there would likely have been someone with experience nearby.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t understand why anyone would buy infant formula besides the Kirkland brand, since it’s, like half the price of other formulas.

      Well, there’s the reason people buy the other brands. It’s half the price, so there must be something wrong with it, and what sort of parent are you that you’d risk your precious child’s health and/or happiness just to save a few cents on baby formula? And what will Other Parent think?

      Talk to any veteran sommelier for another example of this phenomenon. The smart ones know to mark up the crap wine they’re trying to get rid of until it’s the second cheapest in its class on their menu.

      Also, congratulations and a very happy Thanksgiving. But shouldn’t the next generation of Betas be Baby Gamma?

      • Tarpitz says:

        My grandfather used to tell us that when he ran a stall on Portobello Road he sold caviar in two different sizes of tin. It was the same stuff, but he charged twice the price for the smaller tins and no-one bought the big ones.

      • Rob K says:

        In the specific case of formula I asked the pediatrician about it once and she said that the regulations are strict enough in this country that there’s basically nothing you could sell as formula that would be meaningfully worse than the top brands, so you should absolutely just buy whatever’s cheapest.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah, that’s basically my understanding. It’s one hell of a premium for something that’s basically the same.

          • Cliff says:

            Keep in mind that your baby’s digestive health is the most important thing for you now as it will dictate how much she cries and sleeps. If you’re not having any issues it’s probably fine.

            With popular brands, they frequently send you free samples to get you started and also regularly send you coupons. These coupons say one per purchase but in fact you can stack them and get more free or nearly free formula.

        • AliceToBob says:

          We used Gerber, which is not the cheapest, because our child wouldn’t consume the other two brands we tried beforehand. I suppose if a baby is hungry enough, it will take whatever formula he/she can get, but that doesn’t make for a pleasant long-term situation.

          Anyway, that’s my experience: it’s possible to end up buying something other than the cheapest brand because babies can be picky… although I doubt this pickiness correlates very strongly with price.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Congratulations!

      Our second son spent a week in the NICU as he was almost exactly a month early, so you’ll always have that bond with other NICU parents.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        Agreed. And congratulations to @Definite Beta Guy.

        My youngest spent 84 days in NICU, after being born 3 months early. He’s totally fine today. But there were some scary moments, including a blood infection that was thankfully caught early and treated with antibiotics. The nurses at NICU (Ottawa General Hospital) were absolutely top notch and I will be forever grateful to them.

        This was in Canada so I didnt have to pay anything (other than high taxes…) but I cant imagine the cost of taking care of a premature baby for 84 days. Easily > $100,000.

    • Plumber says:

      @A Definite Beta Guy ,

      Congratulations and best wishes!

      I’ve really only one piece of advice (but it’s good, true and vital!) ETA, I thought up some other stuff:

      Don’t feed your baby soy based formula, as the results are truly foul smelling.

      Oh, another piece of advice: some children’s museums have free days and some library systems provide free museum passes on other days.

      Oh wait, another piece of advice: set your television to show subtitles and keep the sound low, your kid will learn to read earlier!

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      I got beat to the Gamma joke, so I’ll just say congratulations!

      Don’t count on the sleep issue not getting a lot worse, or at least not wearing on you over time. If one of you tends to be a better sleeper than the other, or can get back to sleep easier, that person should assume most of the night time duties. Shake hands with coffee, and enjoy your new life.

      • Viliam says:

        Yeah. There is difference between not having enough sleep for a night or two, and being chronically sleep deprived for weeks, or months, or years.

        For us, one important thing to learn was to stop doing everything together. Yeah, it’s great when you are both playing with the baby together… but then it becomes bad when both of you say at the same moment: “okay, now I’m really tired, could you please take care of the baby while I take a nap?”.

        Of course you need to do some things together, to learn from each other and share experience, but as soon as something becomes routine enough, when one person does it, the other should take a nap. Because at some moment later, the first one will want to take a nap, too.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah our nurses entirely sucked at breast-feeding lessons. The lactation consultants are amazingly helpful, practically magic.
          Plus, it’s a learned skill. And learned skills are great if you have someone to teach you. Which is your Mom or your sisters or the extended tribe. But my MIL is not a good teacher, and sisters-in-law are childless, and my sisters didn’t breast-feed. We do have friends that breast-feed and have offered to help, but my Wife doesn’t want to see them right now. C’est la vie.

          • albatross11 says:

            In the hospital where my wife gave birth to our first child, there was a middle-aged black nurse who was the lactation consultant, and she was amazing. And I remember thinking “this is a job that’s older than agriculture, and possibly older than spoken language.”

            The fact that nursing is pretty hard to get right is, IMO, very strong evidence that older mothers have been teaching / helping younger mothers to breastfeed for a very, very long time. Nursing is absolutely on the critical path of survival–if you can’t nurse as a baby, before the invention of formula, you starve to death and your genes go nowhere. And yet, it often takes substantial help from an experienced person to get it to work.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @albatross11

            there was a middle-aged black nurse who was the lactation consultant

            What is the relevance of including in your story the fact that this nurse was black?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @HowardHolmes

            Descriptive accuracy?

            It paints a more vivid picture to everyone involved the more accurate the description is.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @EchoChaos

            Descriptive accuracy?

            It paints a more vivid picture to everyone involved the more accurate the description is.

            This does not explain why black was chosen as an important part of the picture as opposed to, for instance, “the nurse in the blue dress.”

            There is a reason that the nurse’s blackness was considered important vs., for instance, a description of the room.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @HowardHolmes
            In my mind it painted the possibility of generational knowledge passed down on breastfeeding.

            Historically black people in the US have been poorer than white people, and thus intuitively more likely than white people (on the margin, and on average) to use breastfeeding (both for their own children and as wet nurses). They, along with poor white communities, have survived more by passing along practical, basic generational knowledge than the white community in general.

            Infant formula was invented 2 years after the Civil war ended.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            In my mind it painted the possibility of generational knowledge passed down on breastfeeding.

            Historically black people in the US have been poorer than white people, and thus intuitively more likely than white people (on the margin, and on average) to use breastfeeding

            So if I understand, black connotes poor, since when he said black, you assumed he meant poor….?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Note: I didn’t assume the nurse was poor. Nursing is a good job. I do, however, assume the likelihood of the nurse having been raised by, or among, kin who were impoverished through large chunks of their lives, and thus invested in passing down particular kinds of practical knowledge moreso than a white nurse’s kin (on average). Also, given Jim Crow, a stronger community investment in teaching these skills to younger members of the community.

            Middle-aged” was also an important qualifier in that sentence by albatross11, without which I may not have come to the same intuition, as living memory is only living memory down to a certain age.

            If albatross11 had mentioned “Mennonite” instead of “black”, I would have come to similar intuitions for only slightly different reasons, despite Mennonites being a relatively heterogeneous grouping consisting of those who live Amish lifestyles to those who live modern lifestyles.

            In the US, yes, black has historically been poor into living memory for a variety of reasons.

            The “mammy” archetype is still known to those of us who grew up watching old looney tunes cartoons.

            You can Google “Black wealth gap”, or research “all black towns”, and the like to read how the white majority sought to keep black people impoverished. 1, 2, 3.

            Yeah, up to modern times being black in America is cognate with being poor, at least compared to the white majority (on average). This is a basic part of US history, and should be at least broadly understood by all those who have taken US history in high school.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sometimes, a middle-aged black woman is just a middle-aged black woman. As in the case of my wife’s lactation consultant. Her skin color and age are relevant only in that they’re among the few details I remember about her.

    • Fitzroy says:

      Congratulations!

      I’m envious of the baby smell thing – it’s something I’ve never really grokked. I guess both my kids had a scent but it was never a powerful thing for me. I’m glad you get to enjoy it!

    • Aapje says:

      Congratulations.

      Baby smell has got to be selected for or something, because it is probably one of the top 3 smells in existence (along with New Car and Freshly Baked Cookies).

      Pro tip: don’t try to create an even better smell by leaving your baby in the car or baking the baby.

    • Cliff says:

      Lactation consultants helped my wife a lot. One of ours especially had some trouble but we were able to get through it. Our experience was that the lactation consultants are pushed on you at the hospital and pediatrician which is good.

    • albatross11 says:

      Congratulations!

      I was similarly shocked by how hard breastfeeding was. WTF, evolution?

      • Viliam says:

        I suppose many women try to put the nipple in the middle of baby’s mouth. That position hurts, and they have no idea what could be wrong. What’s worse, the nurse they may ask for help often also has no advice other than “yeah, many women complain about the same thing”.

        The proper way is to have the nipple touch the upper lip of baby’s open mouth. So the nipple is not squeezed by baby’s both jaws, but rather by the upper jaw and tongue… I suppose. I may be wrong about the technical details here, but when my wife used help of a private breastfeeding advisor, she said that a few milimeters change in the position made a big difference.

        Without this advisor, she would probably be unable to breastfeed, because after a few days of doing it the wrong way, her nipples hurt so much that when the baby started crying for milk, she started hysterically crying, too. And I suppose most doctors would be like “yeah, this happens to many women, just use the formula like everyone else”. But following the advisor’s help, the pain stopped after a few days, and from then on she had no problems breastfeeding.

        My uneducated guess is that our evolutionary ancestors did breastfeeding while standing, and that it makes a lot of difference. Even if you try to put the nipple in the middle of the mouth, gravity pulls the baby down and adjusts the position. The same thing won’t happen when you are laying in a hospital bed, or if you are sitting with the baby on your knees. Even the baby is instinctively trying to do it the wrong way, because it is programmed to try overcome the gravity in the standing position.

        So, to me it seems like lack of education among the medical staff, which probably doesn’t even feel like a problem to them, because hey, we have the baby formulas, so we can fix the situation. Also, if it happens to many women, that means it is normal, therefore no reason to spend too much time thinking about it.

        (Now, I am not trying to suggest that all problems with breastfeeding are caused by this. Just that there so many of them that breastfeeding advisor can be a profession; when in a more rational society, it would be just another lesson the nurses would learn at school, and tell to mothers.)

        • albatross11 says:

          There were lactation consultants when we still lived in the caves. They were just called “older mothers in the tribe.”

          • Viliam says:

            Well, yes. But I am still surprised why the medical profession refuses to learn such relatively simple things. Because, it seems to me that mere ignorance is not enough to explain what is happening.

            I mean, imagine yourself being a nurse in a maternity hospital, and every day some mothers complain to you about problems with breastfeeding… and you spend your entire professional life without once trying to google the answer.

            On the other hand, people in general are retarded, doctors and nurses are people, so I guess that explains the situation sufficiently.

          • Randy M says:

            But I am still surprised why the medical profession refuses to learn such relatively simple things.

            There are two cynical explanations for this.
            One is that the medical profession dislikes lifestyle type fixes because patients prefer a quick fix. In this case the quick fix of formula ends up probably being more work than the mother training the child on proper technique, but the latter does take a certain diligence.

            The other cynical explanation is that there is no money to be made from breastfeeding, and so doctors are given incentives to promote formula feeding as an easy and obvious fix. Similarly to the problems with psychiatric medicine Scott has discussed.

            There’s also the fact that formula may be a more universal fix for any of the problems with breastfeeding, and it is easier or more reliable (for the doctor) to recommend it than to troubleshoot in detail. But some babies have problems with various formula brands, so….

            There may be a little psychology to it as well, where breastfeeding technique feels rather primitive versus formula which is modern, and therefore appealing to someone coming out of or running, a medical college.

          • albatross11 says:

            RandyM:

            Through three babies at two different obstetrics practices and two different pediatricians (we moved after baby #1), my experience is that absolutely everyone was doing a full-court-press to encourage us to breastfeed, including literature we got from the doctor and hospital and advice/comments we got from hospital staff and later pediatricians and nurses. It may be a mystery why breastfeeding was not pushed by the medical establishment in 1950–I don’t know. But in the places we’ve lived, it was definitely being pushed in the 2000s!

            The hospital where we gave birth had a lactation consultant come by and show my wife how to breastfeed, and offered further help as needed. After each other birth, we had offers from the hospital staff to call a lactation consultant if we had trouble. So again, no mystery to untangle about childbirth in the 2000s, at least not where we lived.

          • Randy M says:

            hmm, fair enough. I guess I should verify a phenomenon before trying to explain it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The year 2000 was around the time of peak breastfeeding, where people would say that formula-feeding was child abuse. I’m not sure if it qualified as a moral panic, but it had a lot of the hallmarks of one.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect there was one part moral panic to two parts pendulum-swing (previously the doctors/hospitals oversold formula feeding). But I also am quite skeptical of many of the claimed benefits of breastfeeding–my intuition is that a lot of those findings were confounded by education/social class of the mothers in question.

          • johan_larson says:

            Has anyone here had a look at the science behind the claims that breastfeeding is better? My layman’s impression is that formula is at least good enough, but that breastfeeding may have some marginal benefits in boosting the immune system of the infant and in adaptation to the weather. Formula also caused some real problems in poorer countries, but that was because the mothers using it didn’t have access to clean water and also diluted the formula, because it was quite expensive.

          • Statismagician says:

            @johan_larson

            We had a fuller discussion of this a few threads ago – my summary is that breastfeeding has significant benefits to infant immune function and more tenuous ones to allergy prevention, plus bonding, etc. Formula is fine and nothing bad will happen if that’s what you end up using; the main medical benefits of breastfeeding are replicated by antibiotics. Albatross11 is correct that there isn’t a lot of good research on this due to massive confounding in a couple contradictory directions, but the above is decently well-proven.

          • albatross11 says:

            Right–they know that maternal antibodies are transferred to the baby during breastfeeding, which provides the baby protection while its immune system gets going properly.

    • bean says:

      Congratulations to all of you!

    • Nick says:

      Congratulations!

      -Family in the immediate area is worth…well, I don’t quite know how to price that yet. They are super helpful. So are all our close friends, who brought us snacks and food.

      I’ve been on this bandwagon for a while now, and got to witness it working quite nicely again this Thanksgiving. My cousin’s family all lives in the area with her, like no more than twenty minutes away in any direction, and they foist their kids on each other when the parents need a day to themselves. It’s easy to arrange, not a bad way for the foistee spend the day—we took them to the park for a few hours—and cheaper than a babysitter.

    • hls2003 says:

      Just wanted to offer my belated congratulations and best wishes. Family nearby is priceless; my wife and I have relied on it heavily. One piece of random advice: get to know your local parks and forest preserves. Baby Beta and Mrs. Beta will be best-positioned for walks (and hungry for external stimuli) right about the time spring rolls around.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Congratulations!

    • One minor correction …

      All babies are alpha. As you will discover, perhaps already have.

  18. Plumber says:

    @johan_larson‘s post in the last Open Thread with a link to and quote from an essay in American Affairs impressed me so much that U went to the newsstand to buy a copy (it wasn’t there, but the previous issue was and I picked it up along with issues of The Atlantic,  Democracy, and National Affairs, so center-Left and libertarianish-Right reading), anyway I found the essay Affirming the American Family by Gladden Pappin and Maria Molla, and it reminded me of some things that @Nick has expressed interest in including “reform conservatism” (which is briefly mentioned), and I’ll quote some from it:

    “…Family policy brings into focus the importance of direct, govern­ment-driven measures ordered to achieve outcomes in accordance with the common good. For too many years in the United States, however, family policy has, in effect, been caught in the middle between Republican Party libertarianism and Democratic Party welfarism—both out of step with the broad wishes of the American public to make childbearing more affordable. Republicans in particular have tended to combine polarizing rhetoric on abortion with halting, primarily indirect methods of fostering family formation. Democrats, by contrast, have favored limited forms of wel­fare payments (e.g., family leave or childcare support), combined with other rhetoric and policies more hostile to family formation. Together they have mimicked what Nancy Fraser has called the “reactionary neoliberal” and “progressive neoliberal” approaches to American policy. Each side talks a good game but offers limited, primarily indirect measures for supporting families[…]

    […]Republicans in particular should consider firmer state support for families. While Republicans profess to be in favor of traditional rather than progressive family structures, it is Democrats who have proposed the most robust recent forms of state support for family formation. Yet Democratic rhetoric that denigrates traditional family structures undermines their credibility on this point with Republican voters. The result is a situation of considerable political flux, in which policy entrepreneurs, particularly on the right, could make considerable strides.

    Polling shows that many American women are having fewer children than what they would consider ideal, and only around 4 or 5 percent of the population does not want to have any children at all—a number that has been consistent since 1990. As Lyman Stone has recently put it, “women report greater childbearing ambitions than they have achieved or are likely to achieve, and this has been the case for a long time.”3 Additional research shows that financial concerns are often the main obstacle to family formation[…]”

    The proposals the essay listed seem far too ambitious to actually be enacted, but I invite you (especially you @Nick) to read it and say what looks good and bad of it.

    • blipnickels says:

      Overall, this article left me more pessimistic in the ability of government to influence fertility.

      Marginal tax/welfare incentives don’t have a big impact, despite financial concerns being a big reported limitation for prospective parents. And that makes a certain amount of sense. A kid costs ~250k to raise and another $50k+ for college; $2-3k/year in tax credits is nice but it doesn’t really shift the math.

      Now there’s surely some amount of government support that would improve fertility but it’s unclear whether the US could afford it. Denmark is quoted as spending 3.6% of GDP on family benefits without much impact while the US spends 0.7%. I don’t see how the US gov could increase spending on families by 3% of GDP and even that wouldn’t be enough. I guess I didn’t realize how much money the Europeans had thrown at this problem without success; the Hungarians appear to just outright pay $33,000 for parents to have a kid without much impact.

      It doesn’t seem like there’s any path for the US gov to take that doesn’t involve a massive economic shift. For comparison, the Danes are offering parental benefits at 3.6% of GDP so to have an impact you’d want to try 4-5% of GDP and America’s Social Security payments are ~5% of GDP (btw, that org has the worst acronym). That seems to be the magnitude required.

      • Ketil says:

        Denmark is quoted as spending 3.6% of GDP on family benefits

        I wanted to check my local numbers, but realized I have no idea what this means. Does it include support tied to birth (e.g. medical support and parental leave from work), or all child-related expenses (compulsory school? health? daycare?)? Government-funded, or total consumption?

        I found the below graph which shows cash transfers (red), public services (blue), and tax benefits (gray) in a variety of OECD countries:
        https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/6ee74831e812490dad20852b7306dc11/no/hfig/fig8-2.jpg?preset=fullsize

        The Nordic countries spend a lot on services (day care), but relatively little on direct cash transfers, and give no tax breaks.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        A ‘Family friendly’ policy would, as far as i can tell, need to be a “single-hostile” policy to be effective.

        Like, if you had income tax rates which were by default as high as a country like Denmark, and gradually ramped them down for married couples with children to Texas levels.

        You would also want to be looking at what it is that drives the perception [or reality] of expensive child-rearing.

        It also hasn’t been mentioned here that fertility is often conditional. You might not need to necessarily increase the number of children per married couple, but simply increase the number of married couples by making marriages more attractive options. (And divorce less attractive)

        Education should emphasize getting young adults functional in the job-market as quickly and as cheaply as possible. More or less abolish 4 year degrees for non-academic careers, mandate informed consent for any educational programs remaining,

        If people are entering the job market between ages 17-21 instead of 22-26 without 4-5 figure negative net worth that will go a decent way to encouraging people to start ‘adulting’ sooner.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          You’d need some sort of immediate pre-natal tax rebate or tax adjustment, otherwise many people would never feel they have enough resources to start being parents. Trying to tide over for an entire fiscal year before being able to limit the amount you pay in taxes, while concurrently having higher expenses for pre-natal and post-natal care, is a recipe for bankruptcy or homelessness.

          Not to mention those couples who try for a child, rack up expenses, and then miscarry or deliver a child who is going to die soon after birth.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      If I am unwilling to spend my own money for kids why would I want to pay taxes to allow others to have kids? Government support for increasing the fertility rate is simply a matter of taking my money so someone else can afford a kid with no benefit to me.

      • meh says:

        I don’t think OP cares to have a discussion about the legitimacy of taxing in general.

        • Garrett says:

          I take the opposite approach and demand that the government provide me with a suitable spouse with whom to have children. For some reason women find this abhorrent …

      • taking my money so someone else can afford a kid with no benefit to me.

        The benefit is a larger population => more innovation.

        • WarOnReasons says:

          Are there many innovators who were born in families with very low income?

          • Tarpitz says:

            What’s that got to do with anything? Plenty of couples with pretty decent incomes are deterred from having children by the cost.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            Unless you pay families unrealistically high child benefits (i.e. much higher than even in Scandinavian countries) only the fertility of the lowest income families is going to be affected.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @WarOnReasons

            I am not sure that is true, if only because marginal numbers and neighbor effects matter.

            If the marginal middle class American goes from 2 to 3 kids because of a benefit, that makes three “what everyone has”, so it becomes more likely that the rest of the neighborhood will have more.

            This is especially true for lower-middle class Hispanic Americans (second and third generation immigrants, not first), who express a desire for more children than they have.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’m not sure either but there is also a class signaling effect which works in the opposite direction. When the high number of children is associated with low class families, the middle-class parents might prefer to have less children.

          • @WarOnReasons,

            Scandinavia has less dysgenic fertility than the rest of the developed world:

            http://www.unz.com/akarlin/what-the-nordics-get-right/

            In Scandinavia, they subsidize births among all classes, whereas in America, we subsidize births only among the lower classes. A universal subsidy scheme(X dollars per child) will have more impact on the lower classes, but it would still be much better than what we have now. Conservatives who demand that we keep the budget for child benefits as low as possible and only give them to the very poorest are making the problem worse.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @Alexander

            The conclusions of the article you cite are based on “Twitter demographer Cicerone’s calculations”. Is there a reason to trust them over more mainstream publications (such as this) which claim the opposite?

      • Adrian says:

        At some point in your life, you’ll depend on kids born today – whose existence will have been subsidized by your taxes – to produce the stuff you consume, and, eventually, to cook your meals and wipe your ass. You can store your wealth in stocks, gold, or cash all you want, but that will all be worthless if there are not enough humans around you can pay to do the work.

        (unless you assume that those things will be handled by robots or immigrants, which are entirely different discussions)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Even with phasing out tax deductions, a new federal government program of 6% of GDP is not what we need. Especially one that’s based more on wish fulfillment than actual evidence.

      I am, however, also skeptical of trying to tie European experiences to American experiences. Americans clearly prefer to have more children than Europeans. It is entirely possible that an American program of 3% of GDP, properly targeted, might increase American birth rates where it may have failed in Denmark…since the Danish clearly don’t want many children and Americans clearly do. Even so, the highest European birth rates are states like Sweden and the UK and France and Denmark, which are the states that the article says spend a crap-ton of money on this, so maybe these programs ARE having an impact, just not the size that the governments want.

      • At a slight tangent, I’m struck by the fact that, fifty years ago, everyone knew that the big problem of the world was overpopulation, and governments had to do something to get people to have fewer children. Now, at least in the developed world, … .

        Might make one more skeptical of the current big problem that everyone knows governments have to do something about.

        I saw an article attacking Lomborg which mentioned Julian Simon, but insisted that this time it was entirely different. I remember when Simon was the target of very similar attacks.

        • brad says:

          It does seem to be in the same class in some ways as climate change—that is those that insist it’s a crisis very much prefer not to talk about discount rates.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Might make one more skeptical of the current big problem that everyone knows governments have to do something about.

          I have a large bias in favor of taking the position which is the opposite of what “everyone knows” and it has served me well.

          Do you mind expanding on what the attacks on Lomborg was and who is Julian Simon?

          • SamChevre says:

            Julian Simon was a famous optimistic economist; his book The Ultimate Resource is a great look at the replacement of scarce natural resources by less-scarce ones. He’s probably best known for winning a long-term bet on average commodity prices with Paul Ehrlich (known for his strong concerns about overpopulation and resource depletion).

          • DarkTigger says:

            One day someone has to explain to me convincingly why Ehrlich lost the bet, when the five metalls where only cheaper after infaltion.
            Because “Things do not get more expensive when we substract the average amount in which things get more expensive” sounds like an argument with a certain amount of roundness.

          • Lambert says:

            ‘Will 5 industrially important metals increase in cost more than the average product?’ is a perfectly valid question to ask.

            Given that most stuff we buy isn’t ingots of Cu, Cr, Ni, Sn or W.

          • DarkTigger says:

            Yes, but the cost of a lot of the things we buy are driven partly by the costs of the resources used to produce them.

            As an example let’s say those five metals would have increased 1,000,000% in price. But a couple of other (maybe more important) resources like Oil and Grain would have increased by 2,000,000% it would be possible, that the rise in price of the metals is lower than inflation, while Ehrlichs point about a coming crisis would look a lot better.

            It’s even the other way around, under Simons thesis resources should get expensive more quickly than the products we buy. Because producers would switch off of them, when they got more expensive.
            One could counter that inflation is arbitary and bad as an measurement, but that would support my question why inflation should be part of that bet.

          • Cliff says:

            “Things do not get more expensive when we substract the average amount in which things get more expensive”

            You don’t seem to understand the nature of inflation. It is a monetary phenomenon, not a real one. In fact, when there is inflation, nothing gets more expensive, because wages increase correspondingly. The only thing that gets more expensive is loans made to other people, but those are made with inflation expectations built in. So only unexpected changes in inflation (either up or down) will have some real effect on asset prices (not commodities).

            Inflation is created by central banks, it’s not related to overpopulation and it doesn’t indicate that anything is getting more expensive or rare.

        • Adrian says:

          At a slight tangent, I’m struck by the fact that, fifty years ago, everyone knew that the big problem of the world was overpopulation, and governments had to do something to get people to have fewer children. Now, at least in the developed world, … .

          Might make one more skeptical of the current big problem that everyone knows governments have to do something about.

          A: “The TV’s too loud, it’s damaging my eardrums. Turn it down, please!”
          B: turns down the volume way down
          A: “Now it’s too low, I can’t hear a word they’re saying!”
          B: “Might make one more skeptical of the big problem 5 minutes ago where you were sure that the volume’s too high.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Adrian:

            The people worried about overpopulation made a bunch of factual claims and predictions that basically all turned out not to be true, so it’s not just a matter of overcorrecting. Indeed, my understanding is that population growth generally fell in the wealthy, developed countries that could have afforded population growth, while not falling in the poorest countries that needed to slow population growth to avoid near-term crises.

          • @Adrian:

            If I correctly understand your argument, it assumes that the anti-natalist movement of fifty years ago was strikingly successful, that it was responsible for the drop in birth rates in the developed world. But most of the concern was with birth rates in poor countries.

            In fact, populations continued to expand in poor countries, while the percentage of the population in extreme poverty dropped sharply and calorie consumption per capita in poor countries trended up, not down.

            Ehrlich, an extreme case but one taken seriously by the movement as a whole, predicted unstoppable mass famine to happen in the 1970’s, with hundreds of millions of people dying.

          • Adrian says:

            @albatross11, @DavidFriedman:

            I’m sorry for making my point in such an unclear way.
            I didn’t mean to imply that fear of operpopulation is what lead to an overcorrection and to low birth rates.

            Instead, my point was: If there’s a trend that needs countermeasures, then that doesn’t imply that the countermeasures against a previous, opposite trend were unnecessary or misguided. Population decline leads to problems and there should be measures taken against it if you want to avoid those problems. But exponential population growth also would have lead to (different) problems eventually, and back then it was legitimate to want to avoid those problems.

            Analogously, it is legitimate to want to counteract climate change to avoid the problems it causes*. If – purely hypothetically – in 200 years from now, global warming has been halted but we fuck up the climate in a different, unrelated way (say, by producing too many clouds and causing a global cooling), then that won’t mean that our current effort to prevent global warming will have been wrong.

            Often both extremes on a spectrum are bad. When you’re fighting against one extreme, you cannot always predict that in the future you’ll have to fight against the other extreme. And even if you could, you might still need to fight the first extreme.

            *Unless one believes that climate change is net positive, which is an different discussion.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          At a slight tangent, I’m struck by the fact that, fifty years ago, everyone knew that the big problem of the world was overpopulation, and governments had to do something to get people to have fewer children. Now, at least in the developed world, … .

          The problem is that there is no solution. Welfare programs for old people (social security, medicare, pensions, etc.) are designed as pyramid schemes; they can only be funded if an exponential number of people is continuously added to the bottom of the pyramid. The designers figured that was OK, because population growth had always been exponential and the government could just force everyone to join in at gunpoint.

          But exponential growth is inherently unsustainable; at some point, it was always going to stop, if only when the natural resources ran out and the population hit its Malthusian limit. Thankfully, it stopped well before then, at least in the developed world (India and Africa were not so lucky, and China only stopped thanks to its draconian One Child Policy), but now developed governments are on track for bankruptcy because there aren’t enough young people to steal from to pay for the old people.

          Cancelling entitlements for old people is not possible, because old people are a powerful political voting bloc; any politician that promises to do the fiscally sane thing will be outcompeted by someone who promises to keep the flow of free shit coming. This is exacerbated by the fact that the government does not advertise the funding structure of these programs; most old people believe that they are just getting back what they paid into the system, which was put into a fund somewhere, and they obviously feel entitled to such.

          Western elites hit upon the idea of importing immigrants from the third world to fix the problem, but that has several problems of its own:

          1) Muggle realism is true and magic dirt theory is false, so unselected immigrant populations are often net tax negative. They make the problem worse, not better. Bryan Caplan will chime in that we could just make immigrants ineligible for welfare, but he’s on crack if he thinks that’s politically feasible (all of the Democratic candidates are in favor of free healthcare for illegals) or that it would be stable even if it was feasible (how long did it take for slaves to go from a legal underclass to enfranchised full citizens, again?). Same for his proposed compromise that immigrants be tested for English fluency or other desirable traits at a time when the left is calling for the abolition of ICE and objective ability tests are going out of fashion because the results are politically incorrect.

          2) We can reasonably assume that whatever caused the demographic transition will affect the immigrants in due course, so this solution requires importing an exponentially increasing number of immigrants from the third world. What happens when they run out?

          3) Even if it worked, you would have at best re-implemented exponential population growth for developed countries; they would then be on track to continue growing at an exponential rate until they hit the Malthusian limit and ran out of resources.

          4) If you successfully pulled if off, then what was the point of having undergone the demographic transition in the first place? In what world does it make sense to institute policies that limit population growth among your people (like female education and birth control) only to then import immigrants to replace them? The only way it makes sense is if you hate your country and your people and want to see them destroyed, the way Merkel hates Germany. If you are going to ride the tiger, might as well do it with your own grandchildren.

          In conclusion, there are only a few ways this can end:

          1) Do the sane thing and get rid of welfare programs for old people. Grandma will have to move in back with her children, and she will die the first time some serious medical problem crops up rather than six month later after a small fortune has been spent trying to prolong her life, but the governmental solvency crisis will be averted. This is unfeasible.

          2) Ban contraceptives, get rid of feminism, abolish female education, and, in general, return your country to the last known configuration that is known to support exponential population growth. This is unfeasible, and if it weren’t it would still end in Malthusianism.

          3) Keep the welfare for old people, but refuse to accept immigrants. If you are lucky, automation and basic income will show up just in time to provide a tax base that stops the impending bankruptcy. If not, your government will collapse, and only God knows what happens next. Seems feasible for Japan and Australia, not so much for the rest of us.

          4) Take in large numbers of immigrants and use them to replace your people. If the immigrants are well-selected, and you take in enough of them, you can use them to stave off the crisis until you run out of resources. If you just take in whatever refugees and border jumpers happen to make it into your territory, you are just accelerating the day when your government collapses. The second seems depressingly likely.

          PS: I forgot to mention that running out of resources is not the only way a country can become full. Infrastructure plays a huge part, too. Here in America, highways turn into parking lots every rush hour as they get filled with commuters, and there isn’t enough cheap housing for young people because all the houses are owned by boomers. There is plenty of empty land, but it is useless; in order to be useful, land must be near other people. Now, yes, highways and houses did not grow on trees; they were built, and in theory you could build more to accommodate a larger population. In practice, western civilization has declined to the point where this is no longer feasible. Cost disease runs rampant, red tape strangles everything, and the only reason buildings are still going up is because of a handful of people who specialize in bamboozling regulators.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            My guess is you are being overly pessimistic re: the ability to produce enough to care for the elderly. There will be more old people for each young working age person, but also there will be less children to support. What is the difference in a household of two old people, two workers and two children, vs, two workers and four children. There are still 6 mouths to feed with 2 workers.

            I do think the waste of money on the last few months of life is out of hand.

          • AppetSci says:

            Very interesting post, thanks.
            One thing I’m not sure about is your assessment that Merkel hates Germany. Germany itself is very wary of displaying too much nationalism (like flag waving) because of both historical misdeeds and current accusations of dominating the EU. I think she was just wanting that event to be a simple celebration rather than be reported as a RaRa! “Deutschland Uber Alles” style fest.

            Americans are maybe more used to flag-waving patriotism so this may seem like hating you country but I don’t believe it is.

            England has also held back on Nationalism in the past. When I was younger (30 years ago), I only ever saw the UK Union Jack flag. I knew it contained the other flags of the union but it wasn’t (for me) until 20 years ago that I first saw the red cross on a white background of England’s flag, flown on car wing mirrors, for some football world cup event. I think that previously there was a conscious decision not to promote English nationalism for fear of destabilising the Union. So no St George’s day.
            Also see ABE (Anyone But England) sentiment expressed by other members of the Union for sporting events.

          • DeWitt says:

            Man, speak for yourself. I don’t know enough about the American situation to have a very strong opinion, but old people’s benefits get gutted all the time here. Or, more accurately, future old people’s benefits do, because we’re determined to ensure only boomers get to have nice things, but that just seems to be life now.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sometimes, the waste of money at the end of someone’s life is an obvious waste, but quite often it’s not clear that it’s a waste until most of the money is spent.

          • you can use them to stave off the crisis until you run out of resources.

            I’m curious what you think the relevant resource constraints are for the U.S. Houses and roads are not natural resources, they are things people build, and with more people you can build more of them. There is, as you mention, lots of empty land.

            If you are projecting exponential growth rates of several percent forward several hundred years, you might indeed get enough people to crowd the U.S., but it does not make a lot of sense to worry about things that far in the future, given how uncertain the future is.

          • Dacyn says:

            @albatross11: Sure, but the question is whether/when you should spend a small fortune just because it’s not obvious whether it will be effective.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m curious what you think the relevant resource constraints are for the U.S. Houses and roads are not natural resources, they are things people build, and with more people you can build more of them. There is, as you mention, lots of empty land.

            I would say that honest bureaucrats and policemen are a resource the United States may run critically short of in the foreseeable future. A growing population requires a growing supply of bureaucrats and policemen(*), and if your population grows by taking immigrants from low-trust societies faster than it can assimilate them, the new bureaucrats and policemen probably won’t be honest. Same if the segments of your domestic population doing the growing are disproportionately from low-trust demographics. If, OTOH, future US population growth is driven by the Amish and the Mormons, we’ll probably do OK in that regard.

            W/re “lots of empty land”, yes, but almost by definition new people don’t emerge on empty land. Births occur where people are already living, and immigrants mostly go to where the previous generation of coethnic immigrants setup an [ethnic]town. Whereupon they develop both an emotional and a pragmatic affinity to that particular bit of land, to the extent that they will suffer extreme hardship in situ rather than leaving and going to live somewhere “empty”.

            This can be overcome by, A: forcing them to relocate, using measures that will be seen as nigh unto “ethnic cleansing”, or B: making it clear that you really will let them starve in the streets if they don’t move, or C: providing very lucrative economic opportunities in the empty places, which will usually require extensive subsidies now that farming is no longer a very lucrative opportunity. If you don’t have a solid plan for this, almost certainly a variant of one of the three above, there’s a good chance that “more people, yay!” is going to turn into more homeless people in the already-crowded cities while the empty land remains empty.

            * We can argue the proper proportionality constant, but unless it’s literally zero, it’s either linear or weakly superlinear with population.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Perhaps interestingly, I still relate many of the world’s problems to an ever increasing population. The “talking head” class have found new things to angst about, and I’m now living in a country that didn’t care as much about this even 40(*) years ago, but I didn’t see either evidence or reasoned argument supporting this change in viewpoint. i.e. AFAICT the change is based on fashion and/or the religious beliefs/personal preferences/potential profit of the opiners.

          (*) I was only 12 years old 50 years ago, so don’t want to hazard an opinion as to what was commonly expressed at the time.

      • EchoChaos says:

        The beneficiaries of a program to increase American births would be religious whites, Hispanics and blacks, in roughly that order.

        Religious whites already have by far the highest fertility in America and wouldn’t change our behavior much (our birthrate is already very high), but would really enjoy the increased money.

        Hispanics would see the highest relative birthrate increase, as the difference between “children wanted” and “children had” among native-born Hispanics is I believe the highest in America.

        Religious blacks also have a fertility gap, although not as big as Hispanics.

        I genuinely don’t know if it would affect secular whites much. Probably some at the margins.

        • albatross11 says:

          My sense is that the driver of falling fertility is mostly cultural. Certainly it’s not true that most 2-child families in the first world *couldn’t* afford a third child–it’s just that a third child would require sacrifices they don’t want to make.

          That makes me think that any real solution is cultural, as well. When the culture becomes pro-natalist, it also becomes easier to get pro-natalist policies–family-friendly work policies, affordable houses and safe schools as higher priorities than NIMBY exclusivity or reshaping society via screwing up the public schools, etc.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I’m not a parent, but having children seems like far more work than it was fifty years ago or even twenty years ago.

          For example: I mentioned to my friend’s wife (she’s 35 or so and has three kids under 7) how difficult it must be to be a parent these days because you can’t even leave your kids in your car for five minutes to run into a store without someone calling the police on you. Her breathless response was that she would absolutely never leave her kids in the car, it was way too dangerous! And she related a time that she was getting gas with her kids in the car and her credit card wouldn’t work at the pump, so she drove from the pump up next to the gas station store and started honking so that the attendant could come and grab her card and swipe it in the store.

          She was afraid to leave her kids parked next to the gas station store, within sight, for the two minutes it would take to go in and swipe her credit card.

          This kind of near constant supervision, as well as all the rest of the extra fussiness involved with raising children these days for middle class and upper middle class probably has a much larger effect than rising costs. Parents fifty years ago would not have stressed out about all this stuff.

          • albatross11 says:

            A lot of that is internalized by parents. I certainly wasn’t that phobic about leaving my kids in the car for a couple minutes while doing something. There are safety considerations there (don’t leave a toddler in a running car while you run inside to get something, because he could put the car in gear before you get back; don’t leave small kids in a closed-up car in the sun because they can overheat), but they don’t require you to be silly about it.

  19. Atlas says:

    There was a brief discussion of free will in class today. It wasn’t a philosophy class, so I kept my comments brief, but I expressed my current, not very thoroughly researched position that I think “free will” is often used to refer to a falsehood/illusion. It would seem to me (but this issue is way above my level of intelligence and knowledge) that either our actions can have causes in a chain that antedates them/us, in which case they are not free, or they have no causes and are the product of genuine cosmic randomness, in which case we have no control over how we’re jerked around by completely arbitrary randomness and are equally unfree.

    The objection raised by the professor, and implicit in the earlier comments of some students, is that we make conscious decisions, like “Should I cross the street or not?” Since I am the one making the decision, and I don’t know what decision I will make until I’ve made it, I have something called free will to make the decision (unlike e.g. billiard balls and rocks without consciousness). This view seems mistaken to me, and possibly a source of confusion regarding the allegation that we have free will.

    My reasoning is that brains, like anything else, are seemingly either governed by causality or not. My brain’s functions could be the result of causes, like my genes and the sensory input it receives. I don’t know and understand most of these potential causes, so the process by which I make a decision sometimes appears mysterious to me. However, if they exist, they exist outside of and before me, and I do not have ultimate control over them. (If I decide to change myself or my environment, I must first exist and feel those passions/reasons as the result of causes that occurred before I existed and so decided, which I can’t control.) Alternatively, brains might not been fully governed by causality, and there might be pure cosmic randomness somewhere in their operation. In that case, an unknowable process completely outside of my control determines my actions, so I don’t believe that my actions in this case are free in some sense in which those of rocks are not.

    Or: If I’m deciding whether to drink Coke or Pepsi at an office party, and I choose to drink Coke, I don’t see why that’s a free willed choice just because I don’t fully understand why my brain made it. I probably chose to drink Coke because I prefer the taste of Coke to that of Pepsi. I didn’t choose to have that preference in the first place. (Or, if I had previously chosen to condition myself to have it, I didn’t choose to want to condition myself to have it, etc. etc.)

    To reiterate, this isn’t a very well-informed or thought-out belief, and I’m not trying to convince anyone else to hold it, I’m just throwing my intuitions into the pot to see how I might be mistaken here.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I don’t know what decision I will make until I’ve made it

      It should be added that this is only partly true. Iirc, encephalograms show that in fact, a decision typically has been made by our brain up to several seconds before we become aware of it.

      • Atlas says:

        Indeed, although I think (though I’m not sure if this is the same thing as what you’re referring to) there was a recent finding that some of the neuroscience previously cited in these debates failed to replicate.

        Which seems like a red herring to me, because one can point to more robustly replicated areas of research like behavioral genetics that suggest previously knowable causes of our actions (in a broad sense).

    • meh says:

      “Should I cross the street or not?” Since I am the one making the decision, and I don’t know what decision I will make until I’ve made it, I have something called free will to make the decision

      Does a chess engine have free will in deciding what move to make?

    • Evan Þ says:

      When you’re pointing out that potential causes “exist outside of and before me,” and potential cosmic randomness is “completely outside of my control,” what’s the “me” there? I agree that either the brain does or does not depend on material causes, and either it does or does not depend on immaterial causes (just like everything else), but could some of those causes be somehow “you”?

      (Myself, as a Christian, I believe one of the primary such causes to be your immaterial soul.)

      • rahien.din says:

        (Christians do not have to believe in incompatibilism.)

        • Evan Þ says:

          (A good reminder. I meant my comment not in the sense “Christianity teaches X, and as a Christian I believe that,” but rather in the sense “I personally believe X, which I have arrived at partly on the basis of doctrines that Christianity teaches.”)

          (Yes, I myself am an incompatibilist.)

      • phi says:

        Random question: It seems fairly clear that an immaterial soul would not follow the usual physical laws that atoms and photons obey. In your opinion, do souls have their own separate set of physical laws, or is there something else going on with them?

        (I’d also be interested in knowing what the majority of Christians think about soul physics, if you have any sense of that.)

        • Aron Wall says:

          I make no pretense of speaking for any majority, but I think that “body” and “soul” are more of a unity than that. I think they are two different perspectives or aspects of the same substance (human beings).

          God has created a universe containing a great many things. In the case of almost all of them, we have access to their existence only from an “external” point of view. This includes sense perception, and deductions extrapolating from sense perception by postulating additional entities obeying certain laws (Science).

          In the case of one, and only one, of these entities, I also have access to an “internal” point of view, my experience of what-it-is-like-to-be-me. Presumably other entities in the universe (including at least other humans) also have such an “internal” point of view, but I have no direct access to it. However, I can still postulate the existence of other minds by means of a different operation, which we might call “empathy”, in which I assume that other humans and animals have experiences similar to what I would have if I were in their position.

          I believe that each of these perspectives is teaches us something about the Universe which we could never, even in principle, have learned from the other viewpoint alone. Nor is there any guarantee that the two perspectives taken together provide a complete viewpoint on reality. Only God, who sees the essences of things-as-they-are-in-themselves, has such a complete picture: the map which is identical to the territory because it is the territory.

          In practice, the mistake of most Materialists is to privilege the “external” perspective over the “internal” perspective, so that nothing from the internal picture should be accepted as giving a true picture of the world unless it can be verified using the external (“scientific”) one. From such a standpoint concepts such as Free Will are difficult to defend. Although from the same materialist principles, one could launch an equally plausible attack on the concept of “Consciousness”, which shows that the method is not reliable.

          The mistake involves forgetting that we actually only know about the external perspective because of the internal one, i.e. our sense perception of the external world is itself something which takes place in our consciousness, and, except as mediated by our own experience, we have no access to an objective, neutral, scientific standpoint. This does not mean that the scientific standpoint is “wrong”, but only that it does not give a complete picture of reality, and using it to deny the internal perspective is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

          By asking for the “physics” of the soul, you are essentially making the same mistake as the Materialist. Basically you are saying, “tell me what the internal perspective does, but in a way that is fully contained within the external perspective”. Not possible.

          None of this means that our “external perspective” cannot acknowledge some supernatural or miraculous forms of causation in historical events. God can do whatever he likes, and Christians acknowledge other entities and worlds (such as angels and Heaven) which are presumably not captured by our current models of physics. But I see no particular reason to think that neurology, pursued from a strictly external point of view, ever needs to be able to detect violations of the Standard Model in the brain for the “soul” to exist. That would be required only if the external perspective gave a complete picture of reality, but it can’t.

    • DeWitt says:

      The debate on compatibilism, as mentioned above, is a popular and quite old one. I’ll spare you an essay on the matter, but the first question to ask yourself is whether or not you should care about causality. It does, indeed, mean that your choices are predictable on a cosmic level, that an arbitrarily intelligent entity could predict anything you do. That’s fair. The interesting question isn’t whether or not you’re predictable, it’s whether or not that means you have free will anyhow.

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      I see free will as a moral construct rather than factual one. You can’t meaningfully draw a line between choosing and non-choosing and anything can be traced to factors beyond your control or be denied this trace.

      Ultimately, concept of free will serves to split your flaws into what people want to forgive or punish and split your virtues likewise into what they want to reward and want to dismiss.

      • Dacyn says:

        Not quite. Forgiveness presupposes transgression, which can’t occur if the action wasn’t freely chosen. Such actions induce neither forgiveness nor punishment, and this is what is unique about them.

        (But I agree with the basic idea that free will is primarily a moral construct — at least, that is why we invented the concept, and factual properties of free will correspond to regularities in our moral outlook towards various classes of actions.)

        • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

          Forgive might not be the right word. Excuse? Dismiss?

          If you want certain aspect of a person ignored, you will want to pass it as non-choice. I’m poor because of circumstances of my birth, but I’m sexy because I made effort to improve my body and personality, you are poor because you are lazy and irresponsible but sexy because you won genetic lottery, something like this.

          While some things can only feasibly be sorted into non-choice, like colour of your skin, things that happen in your head can’t be objetively sorted and follow this sort of pattern.

          • Dacyn says:

            “Dismiss” sounds fine. “Excuse the fact that he’s too tall” sounds a little odd, so maybe it is the same type of thing as “forgive”.

            I think there are some generally accepted principles for how things in your head can be “objectively sorted” — like if you spend more time thinking about your options before doing something, then you are exerting more agency in doing it. I agree that applying these principles can be tricky, though.

    • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

      I’d also like to throw out my ill-informed opinion on that: free will does not exist because mental processes work a bit like this :

      sensory inputs + memory recalls -> brain reactions -> consequences a.k.a. decisions -> post hoc rationalization of said decision and integration in a coherent model of the ‘brain reaction’ called ‘I’.

      I believe this framework is incomplete as the more high level the decision, the more the self modeling will be the only source of input, and the more the whole process will look like free will.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      If I’m deciding whether to drink Coke or Pepsi at an office party, and I choose to drink Coke, I don’t see why that’s a free willed choice just because I don’t fully understand why my brain made it. I probably chose to drink Coke because I prefer the taste of Coke to that of Pepsi. I didn’t choose to have that preference in the first place. (Or, if I had previously chosen to condition myself to have it, I didn’t choose to want to condition myself to have it, etc. etc.)

      Nevertheless, you are making a decision. Your hand carrying a coke to your mouth and your throat swallowing it is a different type of event than your heart beating, or the Sun raising tomorrow, or a coin landing heads. We don’t say that you beat your heart, or you raise the Sun, or you land a coin heads, but we do say that you drink a coke.

      Decisions made by agents are different than non-telic events because agents respond to incentives, while non-agents do not. This is why we need to apply game theory to deal with other agents, while we can apply expected utility maximization if we assume we are the only agent in the environment, and we would not make any rational decision if we were to deny our own agency: we’d just do what we do.

      This is orthogonal to how the agents work internally. You could be a computer program with full access to your own source code, and you would still be making decision, even though the mechanism according to how you make is completely deterministic (*).

      (* though you would still be unable to predict your own decisions before you make them, for halting theorem reasons)

      • Protagoras says:

        I tend to think this links to the recent discussion of whether pedophiles should be tortured for eternity. Incentives do not provide a reason to torture anyone for eternity; only a certain amount of people’s desire to hurt the bad guys is satisfied if you limit them to punishments justified by incentives. Doctrines of incompatibilist free will exist in part to support efforts to rationalize people’s malicious inclinations when they go beyond what can be practically justified.

    • meh says:

      I think most of the argument around this topic comes from disputing definitions similar to ‘does a tree fall in the woods’ (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7X2j8HAkWdmMoS8PE/disputing-definitions)

      At a physical level, there is no disagreement, or the disagreement is mostly irrelevant. The disagreement comes up with how ‘free will’ is defined, and the moral or policy implications of that.

    • Aron Wall says:

      or they have no causes and are the product of genuine cosmic randomness, in which case we have no control over how we’re jerked around by completely arbitrary randomness and are equally unfree.

      I think this step in the argument equivocates between two completely different meanings of the word “random”. The question: What are the odds that event X occurs? does not answer the distinct question Who or what is responsible for X occuring?.

      This might be easiest to see in the case of an event that is certain (occurs with probability 1, or nearly 1). The fact that the event is determined obviously does not answer the question of who or what determined the event to happen. You would never say “Determinism causes the sun to rise in the morning” and leave it at that, as if “Determinism” were an entity in its own right, like a billiard ball. Rather, the sun rises (or rather appears to rise) because of some specific set of entities that act as causes, and determinism is merely the statement that, given the situation in operation, you are entitled to be confident that those entities will in fact cause the sun to rise.

      In the same way that “Determinism” is not really a cause that excludes a more detailed causal attribution, “Randomness” is also not a cause that excludes other causes. Randomness just means that whatever entities could in fact cause the event to happen, have the further property that they might or might not do so. If the outcome X occurs with probability .5, that answers the question “How sure should I (as an external observer who has not yet measured the system) be that X happens?”. But it does not answer the question “What entities are responsible for making X happen or not happen?”

      This is, I think, especially clear under a Bayesian approach to probability theory, where the Dutch Book Argument implies that I am rationally required to assign probabilities to ANY possible outcomes, quite regardless of my metaphysical beliefs about what is the nature of the process which decides which of the outcomes occur. For me to be justified in being uncertain (and hence, in a certain respect, treating it as “random”) I need only be currently unable to know which of the outcomes occurrs. From the standpoint of making predictions, it does not matter whether my uncertainty is due to QM, thermodynamics, rolling dice, a pseudorandom computer algorithm, libertarian free will, or whatever.

      You could of course adopt a substantive metaphysical viewpoint, in which you are broadly skeptical of the validity of certain sorts of causal concepts; in particular you could reject the notion of “agent causation” entirely, which would make libertarian free will impossible. But doing so is certainly not rationally required merely from the fact that probability theory is useful for quantifying our uncertainty about what people do.

      • Aron Wall says:

        For a blog post I wrote about this a few years ago, see here.

      • Dacyn says:

        This doesn’t really seem like an objection to Atlas’s argument. They are saying, our actions are caused either by events previous to us or by randomness, and either way we are not free. You seem to be saying that the “by randomness” possibility is incoherent, at least the way Atlas is describing it. But then the argument just reduces to, our actions are caused by events previous to us, and therefore we are not free. The conclusion is the same.

        • Aron Wall says:

          That isn’t what I said at all.

          I am arguing that, even if an event that occurs inside of us is nondeterministic, it does not follow that we are not the cause of that event. That “random”, in the sense of unpredictable by an external observer, is not conceptually the same as “random” in the sense of uncaused by any agent.

          You seem to think I was not arguing that the former sort of randomness is impossible? I wasn’t arguing indeterminism is impossible, but only that it doesn’t have the implications Atlas claimed it had.

          • Dacyn says:

            So, I understand Atlas’s argument as being something like: trace back an event until you find its first cause. (For theists this would be God.) Then since any other causes are only intermediate, in a strict sense they aren’t really “causes” at all. So I am not the cause of my actions, since the types of things that can be first causes seem to be “things prior to me” and “pure randomness”, and I don’t seem to be either one of those.

            I don’t agree with this argument (since not all causes are first causes), but it seems that what you wrote is non-responsive to it since you’re just saying that “pure randomness” can’t be a first cause, but you’re not illuminating any new possibilities for how I can be a first cause.

    • pancrea says:

      “Free will” decomposes into two separate questions. One question is something about whether we live in a deterministic universe. The other question is: “So I can lie and steal and murder, and it’s not my fault, because we live in a deterministic universe, and I was predestined to do all that stuff!”

      I don’t care about the first question because it’s not testable.
      To the second question, all I can really say is that predestination won’t shield you from consequences when you get caught.

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        There’s no point in feeling bad about being pre-destinied to rape and murder, but other people are pre-destinied to hunt you down and kill you or put you in prison. It’s the kind of thought-terminating cliche that always terminates thought one step too early.

    • Atlas says:

      Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful replies to my post, which have given me a lot to think about.

  20. Christians of SSC:

    Is it possible for Satan to repent his sins in such a way that God would forgive him, and if so, what would happen to Satan/Hell?

    My understanding is that Satan at least had free will, since he needed it to rebel in the first place. I gather that humans in Hell don’t have free will and so can’t repent, but Satan is of course not human, so I don’t see how he would have lost it. Everything I’ve read suggests that Satan won’t repent, not that he can’t.

    If Satan were to be forgiven, would there be a demonic exodus out of Hell and back to Heaven? Surely some of the demons would follow his example. I’ve also never been impressed with the modern “Hell is just a name for separation from God” theology. ISTM that “Hell is a literal place where you will be literally tortured by literal demons” has much better textual support. What happens when the demon who’s supposed to be boiling me in my own shit literally comes to Jesus?

    It’s times like these that I envy religious people who have a community to argue about these things with. CHIM and The Towers are pretty cool, but a wiki page isn’t really a substitute for a theologian.

    • Atlas says:

      I am not a Christian, but my understanding is that Origen , who flourished in the 3rd Century AD, taught the doctrine that all souls, which I think included those of demons and Satan, would eventually be saved. According to the IEP:

      Origen imagined salvation not in terms of the saved rejoicing in heaven and the damned suffering in hell, but as a reunion of all souls with God.

      However, I believe that many of his views were later condemned as heretical by church authorities, possibly including this one.

    • Byrel Mitchell says:

      My understanding is that there is no redemption available for angels (and Satan is simply a fallen angel.)

      Most relevant passage I know:
      Hebrews 2
      9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

      10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

      11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren

      14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

      15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

      16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

      17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

      There are many indicators here that Christ’s redemptive sacrifice was only available to humans (he was made ‘a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death’, and delivered those who were subject to bondage due to fear of death.)

      I was raised in a particularly fundamentalist community, so the unpleasantness of this position was trumped by the clear, direct meaning of the words.

      • Aron Wall says:

        On the other hand, Colossians 1:16-20 could be argued to have a more universalist sounding viewpoint:

        16 For by him [Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

        17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

        18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

        19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

        20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

        verse 16 seems to contain a reference to angelic powers—those used to the medieval “three story universe” should note that St. Paul always visualizes demonic powers as being located in “heaven” or the “air”, not in the underworld—and verse 20 seems to talk about the cross as causing some sort of reconciliation in heaven as well as on earth.

        Also, 1 Cor 6:3 talks about human beings as judging angels, which seems a little redundant if they were already judged before we came along.

        Lots of stuff in the Bible is weirder than most people’s theology. I think it’s hard for a lot of Christians to put out of their mind what they think the Bible ought to say, which is necessary in order to hear what it actually says.

    • SamChevre says:

      The customary teaching is the angels (and the fallen angels-demons) do not have continuing free will: they each have the opportunity to choose once, but not to change their minds.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Two possible (speculative) reasons why angels might not be able to repent:

        1) As entities outside of the physical universe, they are also outside of time. So they experience their entire existence in a single eternal “moment”. Thus, they have choice, but not the ability to make a different subsequent choice (since that requires time).

        2) Angels were created with the ability to directly perceive God’s glory in a way not possible for human beings (in their current life on Earth). So when Satan chose to worship himself rather than God, it was in a fully deliberate and willed manner, unlike human sins of weakness, which are possible because we do not fully perceive what is good and are tempted by false representations. For this reason, humans can repent as we learn better the consequences of our actions, whereas the devils rejected God in a more definitive manner even though they perceived him.

        Revelation 20:10, being a prophesy of the future, don’t quite answer the philosophical question, since it only implies that the Devil won’t repent, not that he couldn’t have. But if all of the above pictures are wrong and Satan repents anyway, I guess you could always cite Jeremiah 18:7-10 as a possible loophole. 🙂

    • FLWAB says:

      To answer the first question, based on my experience the Bible doesn’t explicitly say whether angels can be redeemed. I don’t know of any Christian denominations that hold that fallen angels can be redeemed. I know that is scholastic Catholic theology they definitely cannot. Indeed (and I am an amateur, so know that I’m most likely butchering the argument) Aquinas held that only beings with physical form can change, so purely spiritual beings like angels cannot change. I was not able to understand the explanation of how an angel could change enough to fall but not change enough to repent. That is not a strike against the explanation, all of Scholastic theology is pretty inscrutable unless you do a lot of studying to understand the philosophical underpinnings. Edward Feser breaks it down here.

      But I really came here to answer your second question: what happens to Hell? Nothing. Satan is not in charge of Hell. He and the rest of his rebel angels do not run the place. They are inmates, not guards. If Satan was redeemed then presumably he would leave Hell, but Hell would remain much the same. There is nothing in scripture that says that demons torture people in Hell. Indeed Hell is referred to in non-specific words. One of the most specific descriptions we get of Hell is in Revelation, which is also one of the most trippy books of the Bible and not meant to be taken too literally. Revelation 20:10 says “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Note that Satan (presumably the devil that deceived them) shall be the tormented, not the tormenter (also I guess that verse also supports the idea that he will never be redeemed what with the whole “for ever and ever” bit). The Bible doesn’t exactly give us a detailed description of how Hell works vis a vis who is doing the tormenting. When Jesus talks about Hell he describes it as a place of destruction of the “body and soul” (Matt. 10:28), an “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42). That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s pretty typical of how Hell is discussed: it is a bad place and full of fire. Anything more detailed about the specifics of how that fire and badness and tormenting works on is fanfiction.

      So even if Satan was redeemed that wouldn’t do anything to Hell other than making it one archangel lighter.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        You mostly knocked it out of the part but I’ll add a bit. Pride is the deadliest sin because it’s the most deceptive. Pride in oneself can be a good thing, as long as the pride doesn’t turn into “I’m better than God.” Satan was very prideful, and this was all well and good until he compared himself to God. So Satan never “turned”, his initial state was just taken to the logical conclusion.

        There is no possibility for redemption because Satan cannot change his essential nature. In a platonic sense, he is the form of pride.

        Edit: Oh yeah, and I only know about Catholic theology.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Indeed (and I am an amateur, so know that I’m most likely butchering the argument) Aquinas held that only beings with physical form can change, so purely spiritual beings like angels cannot change. I was not able to understand the explanation of how an angel could change enough to fall but not change enough to repent

        I think Aquinas held that the angels made their choice for or against God at the moment they were created. So it doesn’t really reflect a change, because there was no “before” to change.

        • JPNunez says:

          So God can create a thing so obstinate that God cannot redeem it?

          • Grek says:

            Theologically, God is a changeless being which exists outside of time. From that timeless perspective, creating a being that cannot be redeemed, creating a being that will not be redeemed and creating a being and electing not to redeem it are all the same action. (Ditto for creating a rock that you can’t lift, creating a rock that you won’t lift and creating a rock and never electing to lift it.)

            If you further specify that Satan is to be changeless, the act of creating a Satan in need of redemption is the same as the act of creating a Satan that will never be redeemed, as doing so would require a change and you’ve already decided that this particular Satan isn’t going to vary with respect to time. Creating a mutable Satan that exists within time and who’s redemption status can vary with respect to time is also an option, but a different option from the one with the immutable timeless Satan.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It’s not that Satan is changeless, since he can still do different things at different times, be in different places (insofar as a non-physical entity can be said to be in a place), and so on. Rather, it’s that, according to Aquinas, people change their minds due to things like learning new information, seeing new connections between information they previously knew, bodily passions interfering with our reasoning (my hormones make me want to have sex with this beautiful woman, so I convince myself that it’s morally OK to do so; later, when my passion has subsided, I realise it was actually wrong), and so on. Satan is non-physical, and so doesn’t have any bodily passions to affect his mind, and since he doesn’t rely on physical senses to provide him with information, he (according to Aquinas) knows everything he knows at once, and hence can’t learn any new information. So it’s not that Satan is immutable, so much as that you can’t do anything to make him change his mind, because any point you might bring up has been factored into his decision-making already.

    • rahien.din says:

      Angels are not usually described as possessing that kind of free will. Arguendo, Lucifer could have been designed to rebel.

    • eigenmoon says:

      There’s not enough info on demons. Fortunately, their fate is not our problem.

      More importantly, there’s nothing modern about saying that that Hell isn’t literal and isn’t eternal. A lot of Christians believed it isn’t, most importantly Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Nineveh.

      Here’s a question related to yours. What if the Apocalypse doesn’t happen because Satan has read the Revelation of John and believed it, and just refuses to send Antichrist to Earth because he wants to avoid God’s retaliation as described in the Revelation?

    • Viliam says:

      I wonder… by original Christians, was Satan (the “son of God” [Job 1:6], i.e. an angel) considered the same “species” as the demons that possessed people and caused sickness?

      I mean, although both of them try to hurt humans, their modus operandi is quite different. Satan offers temptations, and sometimes puts humans into difficult situations. Demons live inside humans (or animals, [Lk 8:32]), and it seems like they kinda need their hosts, although they sometimes kill them.

      • Aron Wall says:

        There were some early Christians who thought (following the book of Enoch, which was in turn fanfiction based on Genesis) that the fallen angels mated with human women before the Flood, and produced superhuman hybrid offspring called the Nephilim. After the Nephilim died in the Flood, the spirits of the Nephilim stuck around and became the sort of demons that possess people, while on the other hand the fallen angels who sired them were imprisoned in a Tartarus analogue to prevent them from doing more damage…

        Hard to reconcile this with Jesus’ statement in the Gospels that angels don’t marry, though. I personally think that the simpler and better known demons = fallen angels account makes a lot more sense theologically. Especially if it turns out that Satan can also possess people directly and (ahem) that there is no actual geological evidence for a global Flood.

        Although if you were writing a fantasy novel, the more complicated myth has a lot of potential. The Nephilim try to convince people they are reincarnation of ancient heroes, but actually they are like a has-been aging football player trying to re-live the glory days of their incarnate youth, using hapless younger fools who aren’t actually up for it…

  21. Dino says:

    I was reading yet another writer complaining about the problems of ethical systems, and Godel’s incompleteness theorem popped into my head. Wondering if it’s possible to use something similar to Godel’s methods to prove that any non-trivial system of ethics is incomplete and/or self-contradicting.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      A little to the side of the topic, but I’ve started to think about morality as a kind of ‘equilibrium’ problem – that you can only ask moral questions that do not involve modifying people’s preferences. Like how a thermally-out-of-equilibrium system does not have a well-defined temperature, I’m starting to think it might be meaningless to ask what is good or moral when the question involves modifying people’s preferences. Should we all go extinct? Well, us now do not want that, so no. Should we self-modify into people whose preferences would be better satisfied than ours are? Well, does that satisfy our current preferences? If not, no. If so, yes. Everything is with respect to our current preferences. If someone makes a mistake and does self-modify despite not wanting to, was that good? Does the version of them now think it’s good? Then yes! Isn’t that a contradiction? No – there are multiple equilibria. That person did a kind of quantum tunnelling.

      I haven’t fully fleshed out the thinking yet, but I can’t help thinking that you inevitably run into contradictions and nonsense if you ask moral questions about modifying preferences, or the number of people, or any of that jazz. Maybe you just have to say “Take all the people there are now. Ask what would make them happy. That’s what’s moral, then.”

      Compare morality with health. Is it healthy to exercise? Yes! Is it healthy to bathe in excrement? No! If you could press a button that would create a simulation of millions of people with horrible diseases, would it be healthy to press the button? Would health go up? Those people are in poor health, but there are lots of them…maybe it’s just meaningless. Health is about bodies that already exist, and how they work now. Is it healthy to become a cyborg? Well, it’s kind of irrelevant. Category error. Maybe just like health is pretty much only about bodies that already exist, morality should be about preferences that already exist. Then you avoid a lot of the paradoxes, at the cost of having to admit that maybe morality is more limited in scope, and doesn’t actually have relevance to all questions.

      • Eri says:

        That seems… more limited than it should be.
        > If someone makes a mistake and does self-modify despite not wanting to, was that good? Does the version of them now think it’s good? Then yes! Isn’t that a contradiction? No – there are multiple equilibria. That person did a kind of quantum tunnelling.
        If someone makes a mistake that results in the death of them or somebody else, was that good? Does the current version of the victim think it’s good?
        Well, they cannot answer, since they are dead. So, death has no moral value, positive or negative!

    • I don’t know about a logical proof but it’s pretty clear to me that any ethical system is either contradictory or insane. If you base morality on intuition it’s going to be contradictory because human intuitions on morality are contradictory. If you try to make a system self-consistent, it starts to defy intuition. Then it becomes insane and therefore unworkable to society. Ethics is a dialectic process where you try to resolve inconsistencies but there are always new ones. It’ll be like that until we can change human nature.

    • b_jonas says:

      My guess is no, purely on the general principle of “http://www.madore.org/~david/weblog/d.2019-08-27.2616.html#d.2019-08-27.2616” that Gödel’s theorem (or quantum mechanics) are not relevant to almost any topic for which popular articles on the internet invoke it.

    • Murphy says:

      If you can show that all ethical systems must be at least complex enough to allow counting.

      But to be contrary, lets say I am a heliumist.

      I maintain that my ethical system is simply that helium is good, more helium is better than less.

      My ethical system says nothing about anything else. It makes no judgement on murder, rape or arson since none of them change the amount of helium in the universe.

      In what way is my ethical system incomplete or self-contradictory?

      • meh says:

        how do you determine ‘more’ helium without counting?

      • Dino says:

        That ethical system is trivial.

        • Murphy says:

          Yes? My point is that it’s still an ethics system.

          To show that ethics systems suffer from Godel’s incompleteness theorem you’d need to somehow draw a line between trivial systems where it doesn’t apply and ones where it does.

          otherwise it just becomes a tautology of ” Godel’s incompleteness theorem applies to ethical systems complex enough for Godel’s incompleteness theorem to apply”

  22. johan_larson says:

    Our friends with the giant spaceships are back. This time, they are sending you off to colonize a newly discovered planet. It’s quite a nice place, at least compared to Antarctica or the Sahara. It will take you 150 years to get there, so you’ll be travelling by generation ship.

    And of course you won’t be alone. You can bring up to 1000 people with you, and they can be any 1000 people. You can recruit willing volunteers or just conscript people; your choice. And you can tell them you picked them or keep it secret; again, your choice.

    Who will be going with you to found humanity’s first interstellar colony?

    • Well... says:

      This seems like an awfully clever setup to get someone to say “I’d bring a thousand smokin’ hot babes” just so you can retort “And I’ll bet they still wouldn’t sleep with you!”

    • The Nybbler says:

      Theres no way 1000 people could sustain a technological society, no matter how much they bring with them. So I’ll be recruiting in Lancaster County; be looking for Amish couples. Oh yeah, and there’s no way I’m going myself; I’m a computer geek, put me on a newly discovered planet and I’m about as useful as tits on a boar.

      If they’re not letting them bring anything, it’s either going to be groups of third-world subsistence farmers or Congress plus as many state legislatures (starting with NJ, and I’ll throw the Governor in too) that I can get in there. And I’m still not going.

      • johan_larson says:

        Our friends are sending lots of supplies specifically designed for bootstrapping a functional society on the world the generation ship is headed for. And given the 150-year duration of the voyage, the generation that boards the ship will never live to see the destination. In fact, even their children probably won’t do so.

    • drunkfish says:

      It’s not an answer, but this makes me curious what happens if you have a closed community founded by IQ 150 people. Does it drift back to a mean of 100 or do you permanently have a mean of 150?

      • If the heritability of IQ is .7, it will be 100(population mean) + .7*(50) = 135. See:

        https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/the-breeder-s-equation-24204828/

        • EMP says:

          Isn’t the other 30 percent of variation accounted for by early childhood environmental factors like nutrition? Would it be safe to assume that a 150 IQ society could reliably maintain the environmental conditions necessary to account for that other variation?

          • No. It’s mostly “non-shared” variation, random things people can’t control. A 150 IQ society wouldn’t have better nutrition, they might even have worse if many of them can’t into meat eating.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, think in terms of IQ being a function of genes + other random stuff. Select people for high IQ and you get people who in general have better-than-average genes and better-than-average random stuff. The next generation keeps the better-than-average genes, but the random stuff is rerandomized and ends up back at average levels.

            The result is regression to the mean–the resulting population is smart, but not as smart as the selected founding population.

            I’ve always wanted to see someone write an SF story that brought this out more–the first generation of Martian colonists are all geniuses, each of whom has mastered several demanding fields and can be expected to create a few shocking new innovations in anything they’re working on, while also being near-professional-level athletes with perfect pitch and a natural affinity for languages. Their kids are, in general, unusually clever and capable people who mostly can master one or two demanding fields and become competent practitioners in those fields. A small handfull of those kids play in their parents’ generations’ leagues, but most are just on the very smart end of normal.

            Generation one is the physicists of the Manhattan Project. Generation two is the engineering staff at Boeing. Generation two is still really smart and competent and does good work, but there aren’t a hell of a lot of Feynmans or Fermis or von Neumanns among them.

            The transition from the first to second generation will be *brutal*. Systems that were just barely kept running by generation one via periodic brilliant improvisation and clever tricks start failing when the one-in-a-million genius who used to run things gets old and is replaced by a competent and well-trained engineer. Jobs that have evolved with the requirement that the person in charge needs to be a first-rate electrical engineer, nuclear physicist, mining engineer, and computer programmer all at the same time simply can’t be done anymore, because nobody in the second generation can wear all those hats. And so on.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m wondering how many super-geniuses you’re really going to be able to entice into joining the party. These super-geniuses tend to do rather well right here on tired old Earth. To be sure, a new world is a big canvas to paint your greatness on, but you’ll have to do it in really trying circumstances. And in this scenario it won’t even be you doing the settling, but rather your great-grand-children. You’ll be long dead.

            I wonder, did an unusual portion of the talented of Europe leave for the New World back in the very early days, when it was really hard, in the 1600s, say?

      • uau says:

        One way to think about this is to divide the origin of an individual’s intelligence into general quality of genes and other factors. Things like whether fetal development went without problems, whether the exact combination of genes happens to work well together, whether there were head injuries or illness with harmful long-term effects as a child, effects of teaching and so on.

        So you get a result like: total IQ 150 coming from base genes 135 and other factors +15 better than would be average for those genes.

        150 is high enough that if -15 and +15 are equally likely for other factors, it’s a lot more likely to be 150=135+15 than 150=165-15, as 165 is more standard deviations away from the mean of what can be assumed a normal-ish distribution.

        So a group of people with 150 IQs is likely to be people who have reasonably good genes and were lucky with how their brains developed even given the general quality of those genes. Their children will inherit about the same general quality of genes, but the expected value of the other component will be closer to average. Thus the children can be expected to be above 100, but below 150, and you get “regression toward the mean”.

        The strength of this effect can be used to estimate the contribution of general gene quality vs other factors in a population. For example, the average IQ of the US black population is lower than that of the US white population. Between the explanations “blacks have worse genes for intelligence” and “the generally poorer living conditions of blacks result in children growing up with lower IQ than their genes would have potential for”, which one is more plausible? We could directly look at living conditions to check whether they’re really so bad they’d plausibly result in significantly reduced intelligence, but another way is to look at the children of intelligent and successful blacks who definitely do not live in poor conditions.

        If blacks have worse genes, we’d expect IQ-150 blacks to be weighted more heavily toward those who got lucky beyond the typical potential of their genes, and thus have children with lower IQs than IQ-150 whites. If black IQs are suppressed compared to genetic potential due to bad conditions, we’d expect IQ-150 blacks to have better genes than IQ-150 whites, and thus higher-IQ children when those children grow up in affluent conditions. The reality is that the IQs of black children drop more compared to above-average-IQ parents, which is evidence in favor of the “genes” explanation and against the “bad conditions” explanation.

        • Murphy says:

          I don’t think the logic of your last paragraph holds because there’s not uniform treatment.

          For example if you assume that the poorest parts of town is unusually likely to have poor black people are unusually badly polluted and the pollution suppresses the IQ of people growing up there… if you look at wealthy families who grew up in the a wealthy suburb you can’t then select out the handful of black residents and treat them like they all suffered the same IQ suppressant in their own youths.

          Although following your logic, I still don’t think it holds. People who climb far up the social ladder are more likely to be extreme outliers on multiple scores, like winning both the genetic and environmental lottery.

          So among the children of extreme social climbers you’d expect to see what seems like an unusually large regression to the mean.

          • uau says:

            if you look at wealthy families who grew up in the a wealthy suburb you can’t then select out the handful of black residents and treat them like they all suffered the same IQ suppressant in their own youths.

            That would only be assuming that the portion of blacks who managed to rise up from poorer conditions would be statistically insignificant, which is not true. And would be clearly detectable by different effects depending on the background of the parent (from already well off family, or rise from a bad neighborhood). And you’d still need an explanation why the IQ drop from parents is larger for blacks than for whites.

            Although following your logic, I still don’t think it holds. People who climb far up the social ladder are more likely to be extreme outliers on multiple scores, like winning both the genetic and environmental lottery.

            So among the children of extreme social climbers you’d expect to see what seems like an unusually large regression to the mean.

            This is wrong. Remember that we’re comparing blacks and whites of the same IQ here. You can’t have both better genes plus higher contribution from other factors, and end up at the same total! So it’s impossible that they’d be more extreme outliers on both scales – unless you accept that for the black population a “gene IQ” of 135 is a more extreme outlier from population mean than the same value would be for the white population.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Do I know anything about the conditions of the destination world? This might matter, if we’re dealing with something like lower air pressure/oxygen percent (load up on Tibetans). Will be able to also bring along a sperm bank? (Otherwise we’re heading for a nasty genetic bottleneck.) How big is this ship – will the voyagers have to practice strict birth control en route, so as not to overfill it? What facilities will there be for practicing/teaching skills useful on planets, that may not be so useful in transit?

      • johan_larson says:

        The planet is on the cold side; imagine settling Baffin Island. There are no problems with gravity, oxygen, or air pressure. The planet has native life, but it’s all single-celled.

        You want a sperm bank? OK, sure, though 1000 people seems like it would be plenty.

        The ship is on the tight side. Imagine cabins that are small by cruise-ship standards, but generous by naval standards. Single people share; families have cabins of their own.

        Our friends take any requests for classrooms and workshops and such things seriously. And there’s an information system accessible throughout the ship that contains a really impressive amount of useful knowledge about virtually anything, and a broad range of entertainment. There’s nothing owned by Disney, though; they took a really hard line in negotiations, and our friends declined.

        • fibio says:

          You want a sperm bank? OK, sure, though 1000 people seems like it would be plenty.

          If I recall correctly it’s closer to the bare minimum to prevent genetic degradation due to inbreeding. You’d definitely need to keep close track of family trees in such a small setting. The extra source of genetic diversity once the colony is set down will be very much appreciated by everyone who doesn’t need to keep track of all their third cousins anymore.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Thanks for the answers. We might want to emphasize settlers from colder climates, as they’ll probably be more comfortable/have selective advantages once there, but if we’re going to keep any kind of tech., we won’t need to.

          Tech will be interesting – we depend on plants and animals for a lot of things, and also on fuels originally created by living creatures (coal, oil, etc.) most of which were and are not unicellular. On the good side, we’re not displacing/competing with sentients or proto-sentients.

          I think I can assume that our friends will send along biological as well as technological supplies in their:

          lots of supplies specifically designed for bootstrapping a functional society on the world the generation ship is headed for

          Either that, or we’ll need tech we (humans) don’t currently have ;-( – e.g. to produce fiber for clothing.

          Picking the right group of people involves lots of tradeoffs. I’m going to address that in a second comment.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Picking the settlers is HARD. We want people that will behave well en route, and also produce descendants who will themselves do well on arrival. The descendants need to be practical people with a make-do attitude, good at kludging something workable out of non-obvious materials. But there will be little real use for that attitude en route.

          We need a group that will form an effective society. That means common values. The easiest way to get that might be to ask for volunteers – such that everyone involved is dedicated to the success of an interstellar colony, and wants their descendants to be part of it. But they should also all speak a common language, etc. etc.

          We don’t want people to be especially unhappy. So we’re not going to bring only one half of an established couple, or bring parents and leave their young children behind.

          Even with the sperm bank, we want people who will have children. We’ll need to average not much more than one child per person (i.e. two per couple) during the voyage, because of space limitations, so we’ll lose some genetic diversity en route. This rules out older women, and since we want to bring intact families, rather than breaking up couples, that pretty much rules out older men as well. (Since I have to come along, by the rules of the setup, I’m the exception here.)

          OTOH, we do want age diversity. We don’t want to start with a job lot of unattached 20 year olds.

          Assuming we can get a lot more than 1000 volunteers, we should screen them for every defect we can think of – then pick the smartest and most practical among those who are left. Those that volunteer as couples/families are preferred, for stability reasons. But also aim for a mix.

          • bullseye says:

            For genetic diversity, I’d want to avoid bringing blood relatives, so I wouldn’t want parents with children unless the children are adopted.

    • Phigment says:

      Yeah.

      The generation-ship aspect means there’s no point in picking people based on the skills you need on the other end.

      Your selection criteria is either people you want to spend time with on the way, or people you want to remove from Earth by dumping them on a slow boat to Space Australia.

      So, in that vein, I’m picking the first 500 men and 500 women in the freshman class of Texas A&M university who will volunteer. Should get reasonably healthy folks, and they’ll almost all be very young, catapulting me personally into a position of respect and authority as the wise community elder.

    • FLWAB says:

      I’d pick out 1000 people who share my values. That’s more important than any of the other concerns (though presumably I’d also want some or most of them to know something about farming and basic engineering).

      So in my case, I’d be looking to start a new Plymouth: a shining planet on a hill.

    • fibio says:

      While it may not be terribly inclusive, I recommend a group of people of close cultural relation. The biggest threat to any generation ship’s mission is social decay leading to civil war. Well, biggest threat after the ship blowing up but we’re letting the aliens handle that so I’ll put that to one side.

      Generation Ships are weird places, they combine hard limits to growth, restricted opportunities and ennui in a way that no terrestrial location has ever matched. It’d rather be like living your whole life in small-town America with no hope of ever leaving. Entire generations will born born and die in the ship’s halls with no hope of ever actually seeing their destination. There will be people that absolutely hate this. There will be people who demand that the ship turn back, that the ship stop, that they be allowed more of the limited resources and that others should have less. These are all human nature and it will take a strong society, orientated around a collective desire to reach their destination to weather these countervailing forces long enough to actually reach the colony world.

      For a great faux-historical take on a generation ship’s struggles and triumphs (mostly struggles), check out: Ad Astra Per Aspera

    • johan_larson says:

      If, for simplicity, people have children at 30 and live to 90, and start the voyage at an average age of 30, the first generation of people, the ones who boarded the ship, live until year 60 of the voyage.

      The second generation, born right as after the ship departed, has children in the year 30 and lives until year 90 of the voyage.

      The third generation, is born in the year 30, has children in year 60, and lives until year 120.

      The fourth generation, born in 60, has children in 90, and lives until year 150. Some of them reach the new world, but only when they are really old.

      The fifth generation, born in 90, has children in 120, and lives until 180. They are 60 when the ship arrives, so most of them see the new world, and have a hand in the early years of settlement, generally as senior members of their professions and the community in general.

      The sixth generation, born in 120, has children in 150, and lives until 210. They are young when the ship arrives, and do much of the work of initial settlement, generally is junior staff and workers.

      But there are almost three generations there that are born and die on the ship: all but the oldest members of the second generation, the entire third, and all but the youngest and most long-lived members of the fourth.

      Of course this is all a simplification; there will be births and deaths every year of the voyage.

    • Lambert says:

      Brink people who don’t mind having non-bio kids.
      Take a load of sperm and eggs and you’ve avoided the genetic diversity problem.
      Modern reproductive tech might let you stretch out the generations a bit if everyone has a kid at 40 rather than 30.
      Maybe don’t bother with Y chromosomes till you land?

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      Trump and every Democratic candidate.

    • Randy M says:

      Ah geez, I missed this thread?

      • Nick says:

        Tell me about it. I was away for like five days because of Thanksgiving and missed a bunch of interesting threads. Including one with @Plumber begging me for commentary (I might write something for the next quarter thread). 🙁

        • Plumber says:

          @Nick,
          Douthat did a response to the Edsall essay that was pretty good (lots of good links including that Rubio speech you hipped my to), if you don’t beat me to it (please do!) I’ll do a top level post on it in 142.25 in a few days.

  23. Paul Brinkley says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Day, USians! (And Norfolk Island, and belated in Canada!)

    This is the day when Americans probably pig out more than any other, outside of IFOCE. Is there a day when those of you outside the US cook ridiculous amounts of food and stuff yourselves? If so, what are you having?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Prime rib, sherried onions, some sort of roll, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts (burnt), asparagus, and broccoli rabe. Although I personally won’t be eating much of that due to my objection to green vegetables.

    • SamChevre says:

      Is the question what Americans are having? Or only outside the US?

      We have friends coming, some of whom are vegan and gluten-intollerant, so I just gave up on traditional Thanksgiving food and am making Indian-ish food. (Probably as Indian as the typical Chinese restaurant is Chinese.) Basmati rice, chickpeas and chana dal with mint, turkey cutlets, peas and cashews with curry leaves, sweet and sour potatoes, saag paneer (with tofu), roasted squash and sweet potatoes, rolls. Apple crumb and brownies for dessert.

    • DinoNerd says:

      In Canada, and probably also the UK, it’s Christmas. Our menu in Montreal involved ham, mince pies, and tangerines for breakfast; turkey, with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green peas, cranberry jelly/sauce and gravy, followed by Christmas pudding with heavy cream for the main meal, and more ham + Christmas cake (with mazipan as well as icing) as a light, late supper.

      I get the impression my grandparents would have had goose rather than turkey when they were young back in the UK (around 1910). And no cranberry. But otherwise similar.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Interesting – my impression was that the replacement of goose by turkey as the standard choice for Christmas dinner in the UK was largely a Victorian phenomenon, possibly in part influenced by A Christmas Carol.

        • DinoNerd says:

          You may be right; it’s not something I ever asked my grandmother. There were family stories about the switch from Yule log to Christmas tree, but not about changes to the menu.

    • b_jonas says:

      > Is there a day when those of you outside the US cook ridiculous amounts of food and stuff yourselves?

      Yes. On Christmas Eve most importantly, but also on other days around Christmas and New Year when we spend time together with family.

    • MorningGaul says:

      Is there a day when those of you outside the US cook ridiculous amounts of food and stuff yourselves? If so, what are you having?

      Christmas Eve and New Year Eve, mostly. Staple food are oyster, foie gras and duck products (Breast, mostly), spreads of onion confit. My family, for some reason, included blinis into the mix, with the associate garnish (salmon or trout, creme fraiche, onions, smoked herring, fish eggs, etc).

      Dessert is often made out of Ausstercherle and Christmas log, a rolled sponge cake filled with butter creme.

      Along with sweet white wine, red whine, and champagne.

    • DarkTigger says:

      The first and second Day of Christmas, New Years Eve, sometimes Easter.
      Traditional food for Christmas is goose or vesion roasts, for Easter it’s also normaly roasts.
      I’m not aware for an traditional New Years food.

      Also we have this really nice tradition called a Kohltour, or Kohlfahrt, where we meet with friends or colleauges go hiking for a couple of miles (drink a lot) and than eat ridiculous amounts of kale with groats sausages, beacon, and smoked pork. Seriously the idea of kale as a healthy food is considered kind of ridiculous around here.

    • Tarpitz says:

      In the UK, it is certainly Christmas Day.

      For breakfast, I will have pains au chocolat and fruit (probably strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) at my mother’s house with her and some or all of my full brothers and their wives. These foods are a family Christmas tradition, but not a national one.

      She’ll then go to spend the day with her sister and nephew, while the rest of us go to my late paternal grandparents’ house to have lunch with my father, stepmother, half brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins. This will involve caviar and blinis, smoked salmon and pâté de foie gras, then turkey, stuffing, small sausages wrapped in bacon, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, red cabbage, cauliflower cheese and Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon, followed by Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, trifle, cheesecake and mince pies. Most but not all of this is traditional Christmas fare for the UK as a whole. My half brothers will then not understand why no-one wants to play football.

      The evening meal will be cold ham, quiche, cheese, bread, crackers and salad. No one will have room for all that much of it.

  24. proyas says:

    How do we stack up to Blade Runner’s image of November 2019? Find out: https://www.militantfuturist.com/review-blade-runner/

  25. robirahman says:

    There will be a Slate Star Codex meetup in Washington, DC on Saturday, December 7th, and a winter solstice celebration in Herndon, VA on Saturday, December 14th. Details are posted on our google group.

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