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Open Thread 144.75

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1,301 Responses to Open Thread 144.75

  1. GearRatio says:

    What’s the best way to figure out the general reliability of a particular year, make and model of a used car? I have some cars I’m very familiar with, but just googling that car and “reliability” or “problems” generally gets me 100% reports it’s a terrible car, because nobody comments on their car on the internet in that way unless it’s having problems.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Lots of sites do something like this. You can compare cars estimated 5 year cost of ownership on Kelly Blue book.

      Edit: Looks like they only go to ’18 cars so not good for used cars.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Rather than looking up every car for sale it is generally easier to go by a list like this and look for one of them in your area.

      • GearRatio says:

        I’ve seen those, but I’m not 100% sure I trust that kind of article – I used to know people who wrote that kind of content, and they churn them out pretty fast. That aside, what I’m looking for is more “I found what appears to be a good deal, and now I need more on this particular model and year” rather than “I’m looking for specific years and models to try to find good deals on”, if that makes sense.

        • acymetric says:

          What about Consumer Reports? You have to join (looks like you can just do $10 for one month and then cancel once you’re done), but it gives reliability ratings for cars.

          Or JD Power?

          • GearRatio says:

            I’m probably going to do this on your and others here recommendation. It seems like a good bet for better information.

    • Well... says:

      If you already know the car you want but aren’t sure what’s the best model year for it, carcomplaints.com can be helpful.

      I’ve found the best method is to pay attention to many different channels for a while (read forums, talk to people you know who own a particular car, read reviews, watch Scotty Kilmer videos, talk to mechanics, check out a bunch of cars and have mechanics look at them, etc.) and then triangulate.

      As a rule of thumb when it comes to reliability, Toyotas and Hondas are going to be the best. Newer Mazdas and Hyundais/Kias come in somewhere behind that. Then Nissans. Avoid American and European cars unless you’re buying a pickup truck, in which case Ford is a decent alternative if you can’t find a Toyota.

      Just curious: is there a particular car you’re looking at?

      • GearRatio says:

        I’m specifically looking at the CRV and the RAV4, and to a lesser extent their mini-van cousins the Odyssey and the Sienna. I’d like to widen my scope a bit, so while I know the general story on the models mentioned it would be helpful to have a quicker way to research others. I’ve already ruled out basically any Nissan SUV in my price range for transmission reasons, for instance.

        • Well... says:

          For reliability, the the Rav4 and Sienna are going to be hard to beat. A certain model year of Odysseys were bad (caught fire or something, IIRC?), but I’m guessing the others were good. CRV is solid, though I personally don’t like the styling on any but the 1st generation, which are by now quite old.

          You were smart to avoid the Nissan for the reasons you did.

          Widening scope beyond that while holding reliability (and general size) constant is going to yield…maybe a few quad-cab pickups?

          FWIW we have a 3rd generation Rav4 and love it. The most serious issue it’s had is the spare tire’s pressure sensor went bad, so rather than spend $500 to replace it we just had the mechanic turn the warning light off. What I really like about the car is it’s old enough I can do a lot of work on it myself, but not so old that it’s worn out. It has over 150K miles and aside from a few rattles here and there it drives like new.

          But yeah, definitely check out Carcomplaints.com.

        • hls2003 says:

          I have a recent model Sienna and love it. My parents bought a 2012 Sienna and also loved it. Consumer Reports gives it high ratings for reliability, and it handles great and is very comfortable. If you don’t mind being a “minivan guy” then I would recommend it.

          • Well... says:

            My one warning about the Sienna, having driven it a couple times, is it takes some getting used to in terms of its size. I scraped a few curbs making right turns, for instance. Even though I’m experienced driving big vehicles and even learned to drive in a minivan (a 2nd-gen Dodge Caravan), for some reason I had trouble “feeling” where the edges of this one were.

        • JohnNV says:

          It’s obviously just an anecdote but our family has had a 2017 Nissan Pathfinder since new and it has had zero problems, transmission or otherwise.

          • Well... says:

            Is it still under warranty? I’m interested to hear what happens after year 3 or 4.

          • JohnNV says:

            We bought in Dec 2016, so it just passed the 3 year mark. We also liked the Mazda CX9 too but decided on the Pathfinder because even though the list prices were similar, Nissan was much more flexible on discounting.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Anecdotally, my parents (both auto engineers and still work for an auto supplier) have said to get at least the third model year into a new generation so the kinks are worked out. Wikipedia is helpful for this.

      • SamChevre says:

        Seconded. I’ve found Consumer Reports very helpful, and have always bought cars at least 5 years old. My local library has them, which is helpful–looks at the same car over time, and you can see things like “tends to start having transmission problems at about 4 years old”.

      • hls2003 says:

        Yes, my family and I have usually consulted Consumer Reports’ auto sections, and in my experience I have found them pretty spot-on and reliable.

      • GearRatio says:

        I’m definitely thinking about doing this – I’ve been not because it’s for pay, but it’s not that much all things considered.

        • JustToSay says:

          Do take a minute to see if your library provides free access. I can use Consumer Reports online through my library’s website, just by putting in my library card number.

    • semioldguy says:

      For older (but not ancient) vehicles a decent litmus test is to just look around and see what others are still driving. If you see a lot of a certain car that is 10 or more years old, chances are good that it’s reliable, otherwise they wouldn’t all still be in use. Of course some makes and models are produced in much greater quantities than others, and this should be taken into account. Be mindful that different weather in different areas may have an effect on reliability of many vehicles as well, a car that is reliable in Southern California may not last as long in Maine.

  2. DragonMilk says:

    What proportion of pots and kettles are actually black nowadays. Is black superior?

    More seriously, my wife keeps forgetting about water on the stovetop when making tea in a pot, and a whistling kettle should be the solution.

    Anyone have recommendations for a fairly inexpensive kettle I can buy online that whistles very noticeably? Between fake reviews and the particulars of the prominent whistle request, I figure I’d just ask around. It doesn’t have to be black.

    • Aftagley says:

      Shift over to using an electric kettle. It’s so much faster and easier. They don’t whistle, but they tend to have some kind of high-profile visual and sound effect that lets you know when they’re boiling.

      • Lambert says:

        Another thread, another instance of (presumably) American kitchens being trapped in the 19th century…

        And what kind of tea do you drink?

        • DragonMilk says:

          Green Tea, Chinese kind where you put in tea leaves in your cup directly and add hot water after (vs. teabag)

          • Lambert says:

            If you spend slightly more money, you can get an electric kettle with an adjustable thermostat so it stops heating at the correct temperature (70-80 C ish?) for green teas.

      • Jaskologist says:

        American electric kettles are not so good at getting the water to boil.

        • acymetric says:

          What? Are you sure you didn’t just get a crappy one? Any electric kettle type boiler I’ve ever used has boiled water much faster than a stovetop kettle would have.

          • Business Analyst says:

            It’s not the kettles. It’s our wires and voltage. American electric is 110V. With typical household wire gauges that puts a relatively low limit on how much water can be heated in a short period of time.

            American electric stove/ovens operate at a much higher voltage and amperage with thick wires so are much better at heating water to boiling.

          • gbdub says:

            They are still faster than most stove tops, but the electric kettles in the US are definitely slower than in Europe. Maybe the voltage, if manufacturers are not designing heating elements specifically for 120volts.

            The other problem with electric kettles is that they are only good for heating water. It makes a lot of sense if you drink tea every day, but most Americans drink coffee and use a drip machine.

            I was actually just in Paris and the use of electric kettles kind of sucks for a coffee drinker, because there is way too much crappy instant coffee. That’s all my hotel room had and I hated it.

          • acymetric says:

            How much tea are you trying to make exactly? Electric kettles do just fine for small amounts of water(1-3 cups of tea worth, probably).

            This is one I’m familiar with that works pretty nicely. If a typical stovetop kettle boils faster it would be on the order of seconds (i.e. negligible).

          • 2181425 says:

            @gbdub
            “electric kettles kind of sucks for a coffee drinker”

            My friend, I heartily recommend you look into the subtle pleasures of the French Press!

          • Jade Nekotenshi says:

            Specifically, it’s power. A typical US home mains outlet is a 120V, 15A circuit, yielding a maximum of 1800 watts. IIRC, a typical power point in Italy (my point of reference, since I lived there) was 240V, either 10A or 20A. 240V/10A can carry 2400 watts, 240v/20A can do 4800.

            At that point, the fact that an American kettle heats up an equal mass of water more slowly is simple physics. (Though, of course, a 240V kettle limited to 1800W wouldn’t be any faster than an American 120V one, and you can have 20A or 25A circuits in the US, though they’re not exactly standard.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            My friend, I heartily recommend you look into the subtle pleasures of the French Press!

            French Press coffee is best coffee.

            Eh, I guess pour-over works

          • gbdub says:

            I really do like French Press coffee, and it is my preferred method when I actually have time to enjoy a cup. But it’s a bit of a pain in the ass compared to a drip or Keurig.

            My issue was that French hotels don’t offer a French press and a burr grinder. You get a kettle and instant granules, which really suck.

            American hotels give you a mini drip coffee machine, which can make better coffee and can also brew tea.

            Paris was a surprisingly difficult place to find a good cup of coffee (unless you like mediocre espresso, which is ubiquitous there)

        • GearRatio says:

          We got the Amazon Basics kettle and have been very satisfied with it. It heats pretty quickly, much faster than the stove; I’m not sure how large the capacity is, but in terms of what it handles it’s very quick.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        This. After getting an electric kettle, I never looked back. I actually got a 2nd electric kettle so I can make proper coffee at work.

    • Statismagician says:

      You’re overthinking this – any grocery store will sell you a perfectly good kettle with a very noticeable whistle for ~$15.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I think the “black” under discussion by our idiomatic cookware is soot, but just as well a black kettle these days might be cast iron which you definitely don’t need. Iron holds heat admirably but a kettle’s job is to get the heat into the water as fast as possible and as copper is the king of kitchen conductivity bright copper kettles are the subject of admiration and song.

      I picked one up from an antique store and shined it up. To your main point it doesn’t actually whistle – the lid rattles in a way I find even more annoying and noticeable. It’s like a train going past, honestly.

      You could also look for those old-timey kettles which have space-ships and doodads on the lid/spout which spin and squeal. Or, I suppose, find a kettle (again, antique/thrift would be good here) and try and narrow the spout a bit with pliers to sharpen the sound.

  3. Well... says:

    Most days I pack a lunch and bring it to work. My lunch almost always consists of leftovers from whatever I cooked for dinner the night before. This comprises a pretty broad range of cuisines: Middle Eastern, Indian (or, the one Indian dish I can cook respectably well), Mexican, “Italian” (e.g. pizza, spaghetti w/meat sauce, lasagna), Asian-style stir-frys, generic white people food (e.g. hot dogs, casserole, pot roast), black/Southern American (e.g. collards and black eyed peas, pork chops on grits), and so on.

    I notice what other people in line at the microwave are heating up too, and my Indian coworkers, male and female, only ever have Indian food. Why is this? There are many possibilities, but some seem more likely than others:

    (1) They, like most people, are not adventurous eaters, and prefer to stick to what is familiar.
    (2) Indian food is objectively superior, so that if you or your spouse are capable of cooking it consistently well you’ll never want anything else.
    (3) They eat many different cuisines but prefer Indian for lunch for whatever reason.
    (4) They follow strict diets, and only their familiar cuisine comes with the assurance their diet is being followed.
    (5) Some others I’m forgetting or haven’t thought of.

    (1) Seems most likely, but I personally have been out to eat with some of these people and they are often excited to try new foods. Maybe they like eating them but are for some reason intimidated to try making them at home? (4) is related to (1), but again, I personally know some of these people and they don’t have dietary restrictions, yet still only bring in Indian leftovers. (2) is sometimes tempting to believe, but there are definitely dishes in other cuisines that hold their own even against the best tikka masala. (3) is obviously farfetched.

    What else have you got, SSC?

    • smocc says:

      It seems to me like (1) should be the null hypothesis, as long as we state it like “most people don’t bother to learn cooking many different kinds of food.” You should also be comparing the diversity of your food to your non-Indian colleagues’ food diversity. My guess is you are an outlier in cooked food diversity but have only noticed the disparity with Indians. (Combine this with the fact that “standard American fare” now encompasses “Italian” and “Asian” and things from many sources, labels put in quotes because they are actually a separate cuisine)

      • Well... says:

        I can think of at least a few (white) American coworkers at basically every place I’ve ever worked who also cooked a wide variety of cuisines and brought in the leftovers of such. So, I might be an outlier compared to Indians, but I seem to be less of one compared to other (white) Americans. Which begs the question.

        • Matt M says:

          Don’t want to get *too* CW here, but I would suggest that “diversity is our strength” has been adopted into the American/western civic religion… but has not been so adopted by other cultures.

          And one of the primary advertised benefits of such diversity is “variety of food options available.” People are encouraged both explicitly and implicitly that they can and should diversify their palletes – that not only is it something that will enhance their own quality of life, but that it’s something that shows they are complying with the expected social norms of modern American life.

          • Well... says:

            Eh…I get what you’re saying but I think that’s a stretch. Maybe the pressure to embrace multiculturalism exposes a few people to new cuisines, but to actually like them enough to try cooking them at home, especially challenging stuff that takes practice to get good at such as Indian food, requires an active interest.

          • Aapje says:

            @Well

            My impression is that non-Westerners typically lose status within their ethnic group for serving and/or consuming food that is not part of that ethnicity, while Westerners* gain status.

            Neither serving or consuming food necessarily requires personally preparing the food, as prepared foods can be bought.

            * Actually, it may be even more restricted, as I think that places like Italy are not very open to foreign foods.

          • Well... says:

            I think you’re painting with too broad a brush here. I imagine that within a group of white American utility linemen, you’d lose status by sitting down to lunch with tikka masala, as opposed to fried chicken and greens.

            Heck, even hipsters (in jokes at least) seem to put a premium on down-home cooking.

            It’s only among a narrow subset of white westerners that you reliably gain status by eating food from other ethnicities.

          • woah77 says:

            I can say that in some upper middle class groups, eating more diverse food is an indicator of cultural affluence. This goes both ways with whites eating foreign cuisines and ethnic people eating western cuisine. At least, in America, in Engineering, in an urban setting. Potentially this applies outside of my experience, but it at least applies to it.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s only among a narrow subset of white westerners that you reliably gain status by eating food from other ethnicities.

            I disagree. Or at least, I think “gain status from eating ethnic food” is the basic norm among upper and middle class, with only a narrow subset of the lower class for which its the opposite.

            Even among the lower class I think it’s just a matter of time/custom. You wouldn’t lose status for eating spaghetti or tacos, because sufficient time and custom has absorbed those into “American food” status even if they had ethnic origins. Tikka Masala isn’t there yet, but it will be…

          • Aftagley says:

            I can’t imagine caring one way or the other what someone else was eating and would find it very weird if anyone did the same to me.

          • Lambert says:

            Chicken tikka masala is Scottish.

          • Well... says:

            I can’t imagine caring one way or the other what someone else was eating and would find it very weird if anyone did the same to me.

            I suppose in a way this whole thread originated because I “care” what someone else was eating. But anyway this happens all the time. Food is a big part of our cultural identity. What the people around you eat sends a signal about who they are and possibly how they relate to you. So it sort of makes sense.

          • Matt M says:

            The scenario where this actually matters is less “everyone brings a lunch and talks about what they are having” and more “group of people trying to pick a restaurant to go and buy lunch.”

            I’ve definitely been in social groups in which I’ve felt pressure to shut up and agree to go to a sushi place even though I don’t really like sushi at all. Don’t want to out myself as uncultured swine at best, or actively racist at worst…

          • Aftagley says:

            I suppose in a way this whole thread originated because I “care” what someone else was eating

            Ah crap, I phrased my above comment poorly. It was directly in response to your comment:

            I imagine that within a group of white American utility linemen, you’d lose status by sitting down to lunch with tikka masala, as opposed to fried chicken and greens.

            and Matt M’s response:

            I think “gain status from eating ethnic food” is the basic norm among upper and middle class, with only a narrow subset of the lower class for which its the opposite.

            I care about what other people are eating in how it might smell and look tasty, but I’d never increase or decrease my status estimation of someone based on their consumption.

          • Well... says:

            @Aftagley:

            I’ve experienced it directly, so I know it happens: my wife caught flak from her family for eating kale, as if it meant she wasn’t black enough.

    • Statismagician says:

      Lots of Indian food is relatively easy to make in larger-than-one-meal quantities and is pretty amenable to reheating, which is probably synergizes well with your 1 and 3.

    • Aftagley says:

      Their version of meal-prep maybe? When I think of traditional Indian food I think Dal, curry, etc… That kind of food seems like it might lend itself well to cooking large batches over the weekend or something and just having that as the designated lunch option.

      Another possibility might be that they have different definitions of “different cuisines” than you do. It’s possible (no clue if this is actually happening) that for them pizza, Mexican, southern and GWPF all get categorized as “american” whereas they see stark differences between Punjabi, Delhi, and Bengali cuisine.

      • AG says:

        Yeah, what Well… isn’t seeing is if their dinners are diverse to contrast with a meal-prepped lunch. It’s not guaranteed that they’re having leftovers for lunch.

    • Randy M says:

      99.5% of the time, my weekday lunch is some combination of sandwich, apple, nuts, and nothing. It’s not because I don’t enjoy eating a variety of food, it’s just that it’s simpler to have a routine. Also in this case I appreciate having something that’s easy to eat without heating or using utensils and is fine if I leave it an extra day in the fridge and we have a consistent grocery list and so on. It’s not really an aspect of my life I’m optimizing for enjoyment. Your coworkers might be similar.

      But they might also just enjoy their ethnic cuisine. Appreciating a change of pace when they go out is compatible with preferring a particular course be the norm. Also, “Indian food” might for them be a whole range of options which all seem pretty similar to you.

    • Matt says:

      My grad school roommate was Indian, and preferred Indian food to American, or any other. For him, it was more about the level of spicy heat in the food. So much so that he would bring a bottle of Tabasco sauce to restaurants and pack one in his suitcase on trips. He found most other food pretty bland.

      Once he got married, he ate whatever his wife cooked, which was usually Indian dishes. I cooked them traditional Thanksgiving dinner one year. Verdict: too bland.

    • broblawsky says:

      A combination of (1) and (2) – Indian food is very hard to make, but it stores extremely well, unlike many other cuisines; that’s why Indian buffets are always better than other types of buffets. Any kind of stew/curry is always going to be better the next day, and Indian food is no different. It’s just a better option for meal prep.

      • Well... says:

        I thought about it, and decided I don’t buy this. Lots of the other foods I mentioned store and reheat well. Lasagna for example.

    • Deiseach says:

      You’re forgetting (6) – You’ll eat the good lunch of leftovers your poor mother packed for you, after she slaving in the kitchen all day making a cooked meal for you 🙂

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      India is a big place with many different sorts of foods. It might be that your Indian colleagues value diversity in food as much as your white colleagues, but they can get as much diversity within the subgenre “Indian food” as you get from middle eastern, Italian, the-narrow-slice-of-Indian-cuisine-you-eat, and so forth. I have heard (but not verified) that something similar to this holds in mainland China—if people want exotic or different foods, they eat foods from a different province, and that is good enough for them.

      • AG says:

        American food is actually pretty diverse, now that I think about it. The issue is that American food didn’t have millenia of isolation to develop such distinct threads that we can label, so it feels like a lot of it is ubiquitous everywhere, such as potato salad, Thanksgiving dinner, fast diner food, the canned food dishes as that technology was developed, or various BBQ traditions. It’s a dual victim of map/territory and globalization, as immigrant cuisines started maintaining their old identities, instead of jumping into the melting pot.

        A traditional “American diner” restaurant has an extremely large selection on their menu. Perhaps not “Chinese” levels of diverse, but pretty much EU levels of diverse.

        • Randy M says:

          A traditional “American diner” restaurant has an extremely large selection on their menu. Perhaps not “Chinese” levels of diverse, but pretty much EU levels of diverse.

          I saw a wide range of food in China, from snails to fish cooked whole.
          But while a Chinese restaurant will have a large menu in America, this doesn’t seem terribly diverse. It’s more a matter of permutations of ingredients than really divergent cooking styles, imo, and the tastes seem to blend together. Meat + vegetable fried with a sauce and rice or noodle. It’s about as diverse as a pizza place with several different toppings to select from.
          Now there are more styles of “Chinese” than this, my point is just that the size of the menu isn’t always a good indicator of how many distinct tastes you can get from a dinner joint. ymmv

          • Nick says:

            Mexican places can have the same problem; a friend once remarked that Taco Bell (which, well, even for a Mexican place is kind of stretching it) is like the same four ingredients differently arranged.

          • acymetric says:

            I don’t think it’s really fair to Mexican restaurants or to Taco Bell to call Taco Bell a Mexican restaurant.

          • Nick says:

            I was thinking of a local actual Mexican restaurant first but didn’t want to name names. Curious if anyone thinks it’s true of actual Mexican restaurants they know.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s more true of taco truck type places than actual sit-down Mexican restaurants. With a taco truck, you’ve got your choice of meat and form factor and the rest is pretty much set, but a sit-down place, even if it doesn’t have the really specific stuff like menudo on the menu (it’s a good sign if it does), probably at least has chicken mole or something.

          • Matt says:

            At Taco Bell, we’ve had innovation on our mind since Glen Bell started serving tacos at the first location in 1962 in Downey, California. Since then, we’ve grown to be a culture-centric, lifestyle brand that provides craveable, affordable Mexican-inspired food with bold flavors.

            Seems like even Yum! Foods™ they will only go as far as saying their menu is inspired by Mexican food.

          • AG says:

            Then let’s look at what you can get from an American diner, consolidating so “meat + veggie + sauce” would be one line item:
            Breakfast carb (french toast/waffles/pancake)
            Eggs/Omelettes/Benedict
            Breakfast meat (steak/sausage/bacon)
            We won’t count breakfast potato forms and other sides
            Hot sandwich
            Cold sandwich
            Burgers
            Baskets (batter-fried meat)
            BBQ
            Soup, Chili
            Salad
            Appetizers (ranging from dips to loaded nachos/fries that can be their own meal), sides
            Dinner meat (red meat/white meat/fish, cuts or ground) plus carb side plus veggie side
            Pot roast, or the middle between dinner meat and soup
            Dessert
            Regional variants (pizza, pasta/mac, mex, soul, cajun)

          • Randy M says:

            Then let’s look at what you can get from an American diner, consolidating so “meat + veggie + sauce” would be one line item:
            Breakfast carb (french toast/waffles/pancake)

            Perhaps I’m communicating poorly or we just disagree, but I find much more variation in technique and flavor between french toast and pancakes than between chicken with bok choy and brown sauce wok-ed and beef with brocholi in savory sauce wok-ed. Maybe it’s the fact that a lot of stir-fry dishes seem similar to me?
            Mongolian barbeque is basically just fajitas is basically just twenty different items from the average American Chinese menu.

            Obviously Chinese food does have it’s soups and salads and deserts and such.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            a sit-down place, even if it doesn’t have the really specific stuff like menudo on the menu (it’s a good sign if it does),

            I didn’t realize there are Mexican cannibals.

          • AG says:

            @Randy M
            I’m in agreement with you. The list I posted was to show how diverse American food actually is.

            As for the apparent “sameness” of foreign cuisines, though, that’s about how restaurants in America have optimized to their customer base. Specializing is good marketing.
            But in their home countries, you might see more equivalents to the American diner, with a much more diverse range of cooking styles, often analogous to the categories I listed. Stir fries, steam-cooked, stews, thinner soups, deep fried, salad, BBQ, cold pickled dishes, hand/finger food, sashimi.
            An Asian breakfast can run the gamut from deep fried carbs, to flatbreads, to porridge, to omelette-on-rice, to hoagie sandwiches, to stuffed buns and dumplings, to tamale-like things or stuffed riceballs, to crepe-like things, to rice and noodle dishes you might think are more of lunch or dinner fare.

            One can just as easily generalize European fare into smaller categories. How much variation in technique and flavor is there between “noodles with tomato sauce and meatballs” and “noodles with cream sauce and sausage,” really?

      • Well... says:

        India is a big place with many different sorts of foods.

        As AG said, so is the US. I cook foods that are popular/originated in many different parts of the US. But I also cook foods from other world cuisines! So, just because your home country has lots of different cuisines in it doesn’t mean an adventurous eater is diversed out and don’t have an appetite for anything beyond that. Besides, I’ve had Indian food from different parts of India (at least the major differences between Punjabi, Tamil, and a few others) and I have a pretty sensitive palate, and I wouldn’t say it’s all that diverse. For the most part, variations on stewed aromatic stuff over rice.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Are your Indian colleagues 1st generation American, 2nd generation Americans, or immigrants from India?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      A lot of my Indian co-workers have been vegetarians. I think Indian vegetarian meals have a lot more variety than you can get from vegetarian meals in other types of Americanized foods (by which I am including “ethnic” foods, but in a manner cooked to American tastes).

      And by the way, to respond to ADBG’s comment, every Indian of whom I speak is an immigrant from India, at least I think so. How many Indians currently in the workforce were born in the US? I sure never meet any.

    • profgerm says:

      For the Indian coworkers specifically: the answer is absolutely 2. Indian tends not to appeal to the eye, but no food matches it on appeal to the nose and the soul (Sichuan comes close, though).

      For contrasting white people with other, non-Indians: the CW answer is correct. Actually, two CW answers are correct.

      A) a la Scott’s How the West was Won, “Western” people are furthest along in being consumed by universal culture and don’t really have a food of their own, so they appropriate the food of everyone else.

      B) White liberals are quite possibly the only group ever to be so thoroughly xenophilic (my computer refuses to believe this is a word and wants me to change it to the far more common xenophobic), whereas pretty much everyone else is comfortable with their cultural bubble staying firmly in place.

  4. Plumber says:

    Until very recently I thought that Trump had better odds but right now I give the odds at a 60% chance that Trump is re-elected, 30% chance that Biden is elected, 10% Sanders, 10% someone else, for the following reasons:

    Trump’s signature issue was reducing immigrantion (especially “undocumented”), more than any other plausible candidate, and I doubt that demographics have changed that much in the last four years or that many have changed their minds so unless enough of more Americans are in body bags/lose wages in the next nine months I think odds are that Trump will be re-elected (unlesss Biden does one more push up) than Trump! 

    Judging by the last 50 years as precedent the nominee will be one of the top three winners in Iowa and one of the top two in New Hampshire.

    I expect the eventual nominee will be clear before I get to vote in the California March primary, but maybe we’ll get a repeat of 1980 and 2016 with a “left” candidate and a “mainstream” candidate in contention till near the convention, but more than two?

    Past March I’d be very surprised.

    My guess is that it’ll be Biden and Sanders, till Biden gets the nomination.

    If Biden and Sanders aren’t the top two of the New Hampshire primary, oh jeez I have no clue who will be the nominee. 

    If Buttigieg or Bloomberg is the nominee Trump is re-elected (apologies to my wife who likes Bloomberg), as no Democrat will win without enough black support, and those two won’t get it.

    If Warren is the nominee I think she has a better chance than Bloomberg or Buttigieg, but she would probably lose as well.

    Sanders has better odds of winning Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes, and his becoming President isn’t impossible (and if its Sanders vs.Trump the mainstream media will lose their minds, I imagine a strong third-party push).

    Biden has better odds of winning most “battleground” states, especially Pennsylvania and it’s 20 electoral college votes, and I think he’s the most plausible to beat Trump.

    Judging by his poll numbers and how many contribute to his campaign Biden’s support is broad but not deep (in contrast to Sanders who has less broad support but has more supporters who are devoted).

    So far Biden has survived with his base of support intact despite:
    his son’s work with some Ukrainians (I don’t actually pay too much attention to the minutiae of that, but I understand that justly or not there’s hints of improper behavior);
    flip-floping on the public funding of abortions;
    being a little “handsy” with women; 
    being against mandatory bussing; 
    many verbal gaffes;
    being the Senator from Delaware and shilling for their credit card companies (and I’m guessing DuPont as well);
    just in general seeming out of touch with modernity. 

    Hasn’t hurt his base of support which is older black and the remaining white Democrats without college diplomas (a category I fall into).

    Speaking for myself, give me three cups of coffee in an hour and I’m almost full on in support of the Sanders, and most of the Warren agenda (still a little hesitant on effectively open borders), but..

    …despite his flaws I find Joe Biden very likable, and yes I could see myself having a beer with him (it be coffee with Sanders, and tea with Warren, Trump even on The Apprentice reminded me of bosses I didn’t like so I find him loathsome, but I can see why his promises were appealing), and Biden just seems comfortable to me.

    In contrast my college educated wife likes Bloomberg the best, but most voters are still older and without college diplomas (you youngsters now have enough numbers that you could out-vote us, but so far you haven’t bothered as most don’t vote much until they’re over 40), and while Obama was uniquely elected with mostly college educated support he had significant blacks without college diplomas support as well and I see no sign that any other candidate will repeat his primary win coalition.

    Please feel free to contradict me and tell me the errors in my thinking, and maybe give your guesses for odds. 

    • Well... says:

      Joe Biden is responsible for the widespread use of civil asset forfeiture to promote the war on drugs. He is the only candidate who will rouse me to vote. (For Trump, who I would not otherwise support.) I am amazed at how few people discuss or even know about Joe Biden’s involvement in the drug war.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        It seems to me that Biden’s greatest strength is that he has no real principles and is willing to take whatever position will most favor his reelection.

        Also, his greatest weakness is that he has no real principles and is willing to take whatever position will most favor his reelection.

        • acymetric says:

          That seems like a point about most “mainstream” or “centrist” candidates (both sides) generally. I’m pretty sure the same was said about Hillary.

        • Well... says:

          That’s what a lot of people say about Trump. It’s just that in Trump’s case, his positions (or you might say “the principles he appeared to adopt on the surface”) at least aligned with those from whom he was trying to get votes.

          I don’t imagine Biden’s base is strongly supportive of the war on drugs or civil asset forfeiture.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Who do you consider is Biden’s base? I would expect it to be lifelong moderate Democrats. Maybe they’re not that supportive of the war on drugs or civil asset forfeiture now, but they were when Biden voted for those things, and probably wont hold it against him. Also, if they’re politically savvy enough to remember all of Biden’s previous policy positions, they’re probably politically savvy enough to understand that their party is at great risk of a takeover by the AOC wing of the party, and that supporting Biden is probably their best bet against that for now at least.

            Also, I disagree about Trump. Trump may not be a man of great principles, but he has core beliefs which he will not deviate from. For example, his main core belief is that he is a great winner, and his opponents are sad pathetic losers. More seriously, I think Trump identifies with the red tribe instinctively, and I dont think he could even pull off a fake blue tribe routine. But Biden could pull off a fake red tribe personae.

          • Plumber says:

            @Well… >“…I don’t imagine Biden’s base is strongly supportive of the war on drugs or civil asset forfeiture”

            (I’m projecting here) Biden’s base is older and remembers the crime rates of the ’70’s, ’80’s, and early ’90’s.

            Not happy when their loved ones are jailed, but likes less gunfire and murders.

          • acymetric says:

            I think we should stop focusing on the “base”. Biden’s base is (mostly) safe, as is Trump’s (I think Bernie has the best ability to peel off actual base members from Trump of any Dem candidate, though that doesn’t mean he has the best chance to actually win the general necessarily).

            Biden’s base won’t much care about the war on drugs, true. But the people who aren’t in his base, but who he needs votes from in order to win, likely will care.

          • Well... says:

            @jermo sapiens:

            I’m not privy to all that intra-party stuff (worrying about the AOC wing, etc.). Is that a real thing?

            Also, Trump was a Democrat until 1987 and from 2001-2009, and was “Reform” from 1999-2001.

            @Plumber:

            Crime rates are to a large degree the result of the war on drugs. Is that not common knowledge among most Democrats?

            @both of you, above: acymetric’s comment is salient.

          • Aftagley says:

            Eh, when you hear people say that democrats are “worrying about the AOC” wing, think how you’d feel about people saying that “republicans are worrying about the tea party wing” of “the freedom party wing” or whatever.

            The vast majority of us don’t really care one way or the other.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            The vast majority of us don’t really care one way or the other.

            Fair enough. I guess most of the people who would care that their party is being taken over by the far left are already gone anyways.

          • Plumber says:

            @jermo sapiens > “… if they’re politically savvy enough to remember all of Biden’s previous policy positions, they’re probably politically savvy enough to understand that their party is at great risk of a takeover by the AOC wing of the party, and that supporting Biden is probably their best bet against that for now at least”

            FWLIW this 51 year-old Democrat is sympathetic to some but not all of the “A.O.C. wings” agenda, and my chief impression is that if that wing fully takes over the Democratic Party than Democrats control a few city councils, a dozen congressional districts, some faculty lounges, and little else.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If CAF is your one issue, I’m surprised you would consider voting for Trump.

        https://reason.com/2017/02/09/trump-does-not-know-what-civil-forfeitur/

        • Well... says:

          But you haven’t factored my spite into it!

          Seriously, CAF is not “my one issue” in general, but it is when it comes to Biden. Biden does know what it is, and likes it.

    • hls2003 says:

      My opinion is that Trump has about a 30-35% chance of re-election. This is regardless of the Democratic candidate. I base this on Trump scraping out wins in the necessary Electoral College states by a few tens of thousands of votes, having received just slightly more than 46% of the vote (to Hillary’s just-over 48%). Approximately 5.5% of the vote went to various third parties, including 1+% to Jill Stein, 3+% to Gary Johnson.

      My operating assumption is that third-party voting will be substantially lower this election than last. Last election was ripe for more throw-away votes because (1) Hillary and Trump were two of the most personally disliked candidates in recent times, and (2) Trump was politically a relatively unknown quantity. This election, I expect total third-party voting to be 3% or less. That means that instead of 46%, to maintain the same “share” of the non-third-party vote as Trump had last time, in a 97% two-party race he will need to get at least 47.5% of the vote. (The Democrat, to maintain the same non-third-party share as Hillary, would need to be around 49.6%). To hold the electoral votes he got last time, Trump will probably need more like 48% or a shade more to counterbalance known support losses in certain suburban demographics as demonstrated by midterms and polls.

      Trump has cleared 47-48% very rarely in approval polling or election polling. Almost never in any poll other than Rasumssen. Based on polling alone, I would estimate his chances lower, more like 10-20%. But I also think that a combo of “shy Trump voter” and “all adults” polling effects probably understates Trump’s support by ca. 1-2%. As a rough compromise, I put his chances of reaching his needed threshold around 30%.

      • Plumber says:

        @hls2003,
        As a Democrat I like your optimism, but I don’t share it as I don’t yet see enough different for Trump not to repeat his electoral college win.

        • hls2003 says:

          I’m betting that MI, PA, and WI flip. 46 electoral votes, Trump ends with 260.

          If Pennsylvania doesn’t flip, then Trump wins. I don’t see a likely scenario where PA flips but MI and PA don’t. And I don’t see a likely scenario where FL flips but PA doesn’t.

          • EchoChaos says:

            No signs that the whole Rust Belt flips for anyone.

            https://firehousestrategies.com/analysis/december_2019_battleground_survey/

            Yes, Firehouse is a Republican outfit, but these are big leads, especially Wisconsin, and they had the Democrats beating him back in September.

          • hls2003 says:

            I seem to recall that being posted before, and I have the same reaction viewing it now – in very few instances, even in this (presumably somewhat friendly) polling, does Trump get all the way up to 48%, against almost any candidates. There is one 51% against Sanders in Wisconsin. That’s it. At this early stage, I consider that mostly negative for Trump, since he’s a known quantity. Also, that poll is a full month old and recent polls have slipped a couple points for him. I think this Iran stuff is poison for him politically – his supporters don’t like the sudden military adventurism, and the neutrals (such as they are) are most easily persuadable if Trump is seen to be basically a vulgar but non-threatening economic catalyst. If he starts suddenly getting into hot military scuffles, even if merited and even if he “wins” the engagement, I think it feeds into the image of unstable war risk that may convince the unaligned to pull the lever against him.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @hls2003

            Biden and Sanders are known quantities as well (former Vice President and #2 finisher in the last Democrat Primary), and Obama rarely broke 50% in state polls either at around this time and won comfortably.

            I don’t see this as a problem for him. 5-10 point leads over well-known Democrats is a big deal and the Democrats are not running a very pro-Rust Belt campaign outside of maybe Sanders (who would get killed in Virginia, which he also needs).

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Consider betting against him then, he’s currently at 50% in most places I’ve looked.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Your odds add up to 110%

      • Plumber says:

        @sandoratthezoo,
        Oops (what I get for adding “somone else” as an afterthought)!

        Thanks!

        As a quick fix I reduced Truman’s, and “someone else”‘s chances 5 percentage points, I’ll still be surprised if Biden isn’t the nominee, if not Biden, Sanders, and I’ll be possibly pleasantly surprised if Trump isn’t re-elected (possibly ’cause I suspect that things have to get pretty bad for the whole U.S.A. before he loses enough of his support).

      • Skivverus says:

        Probably treat that as “specifying 8 or 9% would be too precise and require more math than I feel like doing, and picking one category to subtract the 10% from would be inaccurate in conveying relative weights”.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        This reminds me of a funny dialog from a French play, Marius, that I will now translate and try to keep the humor intact. Keep in mind that “a third”, as in 1/3, in French is “tier”, which doesnt imply as strongly the connection to the number 3, as “third” does in English.

        Cesar is a bartender in Marseilles and is teaching Marius how to make a cocktail.

        Cesar: Let me explain to you how to make a picon-citron-caracuo. First, one third curacao. Careful, a small third. Next, a third of lemon. A little bit larger. Then a GOOD third of Picon. And finally, a LARGE third of water.

        Marius: That’s 4 thirds.

        Cesar: Exactly, you understand now.

        Marius: There are only 3 thirds in a glass.

        Cesar: You imbecile, that depends on the size of the thirds.

        Marius: No, it does not, even a watering can has 3 thirds.

        Cesar: Then please tell me how I just put 4 thirds into that glass.

    • Aftagley says:

      Until very recently I thought that Trump had better odds but right now I give the odds at a 60% chance that Trump is re-elected…

      I think you’re making this call too early. Currently Trump is the only person running for president, which explains why it seems like he’s doing the best job at running for president. There are a bunch of democrats currently running to be the nominee for president, but the way you run for the democratic nomination != the way you run for president.

      Joe Biden originally tried to run his campaign like he was running for president, (IE, stay out of the fray, stay away from any kind of concrete policy, remain maximally likable to moderates at the expense of the base) and that strategy proved unsustainable in a primary. I think that once democrats pick a candidate and start to rally behind them, you’ll see a much more competitive competition than the one we have now.

      My guess is that it’ll be Biden and Sanders, till Biden gets the nomination.

      I mean, your guess here is tracking national polling. Biden is and has been #1 with a bullet since the race began, and while the #2 slot has varied back and forth, Sander’s support has been incredibly consistent.

      I find Joe Biden very likable, and yes I could see myself having a beer with him

      Yeah, his charisma is downright unsettling. I’ve been on the receiving end of it once and it was something to behold.

      In contrast my college educated wife likes Bloomberg the best

      hmm. Mind if I ask why? I don’t think I’ve met a bloomberg stan in the wild yet.

      • Plumber says:

        “…Mind if I ask why? I don’t think I’ve met a bloomberg stan in the wild yet”

        In the cause of marital peace and my not sleeping on the couch for a decade I just hear but don’t question my wife’s views too much so I can only guess, in more than one way we have a mixed marriage, she’s both more “Blue-Tribe” and more business-friendly/libertarian-ish than me (except on drugs, as we both dislike the stench of marijuana).

        She liked Romney, and she liked Hillary, she respects Warren, but thinks she’s “too left”, she thinks Buttigieg is “too young”, and she hates Trump as “Putin’s puppet.

        My guess is that she would reluctantly vote for Warren, and wouldn’t vote for Sanders or I Trump, while I could see myself voting for Sanders (I think the likely result of a Sanders presidency would be a majority Republican Congress, and since I personally have prospered most when a Democrat was in the White House but Republicans controlled congress I’d probably do okay), but think nominating him is too risky.

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      Taking the outside view, who was the last incumbent president defeated in the general without having first been seriously challenged for his party’s nomination?

      Ureoreg Ubbire

      • cassander says:

        why not ohfu gur ryqre?

        • Ghillie Dhu says:

          I’ll cop to “seriously” being a bit of a weasel word, but I think that in that case Cng Ohpunana qualifies.

          • Eric Rall says:

            If Ohpunana counts as serious, then I think that “seriously challenged for his party’s nomination” probably means “a primary/nomination opponent got enough traction to indicate a nontrivial amount of dissatisfaction with the incumbent within his own party”.

            Alternately, we could interpret it as a model where there are four-ish brackets of primary challenge seriousness:
            1. Vanity candidates, e.g. Vermin Supreme.

            2. Minor protest candidates, who are actual politicians or advocates with some backing, but no hope of winning, and whose campaigns constitute a largely-failed attract enough support (and win enough convention delegates) to send some kind of policy or factional signal to the rest of the party. E.g. John Ashbrook and Pete McClosky running against Nixon for renomination in 1972. Bill Weld’s ongoing primary challenge to Trump this year looks almost certain to wind up in this category.

            3. Major protest candidates. Like #2, except their attempts are more successful. E.g. Pat Buchanan in 1992.

            4. Candidates who stood a real chance of defeating the incumbent in the primary. E.g. Ronald Reagan in 1976 or Ted Kennedy in 1980.

            There are several examples in-between 2 and 3 that I’m not sure which side of the line to put them on: John Bricker’s challenge to Eisenhower in 1956, George Wallace’s challenge to LBJ in 1964, and various Dixiecrat challenges against FDR and Truman in 1932-1948.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            N.B., I’m conditioning on the incumbent having lost the general, not on there having been a serious challenger for the nomination; the fact that the incumbents typically win even when they have to fight for the nomination makes the expectation of an incumbent victory stronger when they don’t.

      • Matt says:

        The rot13 here is kind of annoying. Are you guys worried about spoiling history for us?

        • Aftagley says:

          Yes. I’m only just barely caught up to 2020; I don’t want anyone to ruin how it ends!

        • EchoChaos says:

          I actually gave the answer in the last thread too, which makes it doubly funny.

        • Ghillie Dhu says:

          In a way, yes; the rhetorical effect of a question is greater when the audience has an opportunity to consider it before being given the answer.

          But I can see how it’d be annoying; since I’m out of the edit window, here’s a decoder

          Ureoreg Ubbire = Herbert Hoover
          ohfu gur ryqre = bush the elder
          Cng Ohpunana = Pat Buchanan

          • Matt says:

            I see that your handle is not English and figure “Ureoreg Ubbire” was also just the name of some Foreign president I had never heard of (from Africa?) and that I wouldn’t get what you meant unless I knew who he was so I googled it and got nothing, and then guessed that it must be rot13’ed and decoded it myself.

            I mean, not a real big deal, but… ugh.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I see that your handle is not English and figure “Ureoreg Ubbire” was also just the name of some Foreign president I had never heard of (from Africa?)

            … and “Cng Ohpunana” looks like the sort of baby names you get by letting Hindus immigrate to Wales.

    • Deiseach says:

      A problem I see (though it may not be a problem) is the age of the top three candidates: Biden will be 78 years old this year, Sanders will be 79 and Warren will be a sprightly 71.

      This was a Big Deal when Trump was running, as the idea that “oh he’s old, his health is bad, he’ll probaby drop dead while in office or be badly incapacitated, and he’s definitely senile – do you want a sick, crazy old man in charge of the big red button?” was pushed around amongst other reasons not to vote for him.

      Trump was 70 in 2016, which makes him a reasonable bit younger than Biden and Sanders. If Warren was electable, she’s okay on the age matter, but I honestly don’t think she is electable.

      So – if one of the Old White Guys gets the Democratic nomination, will we hear nothing at all about the perils of senescence from the same people who were so exercised over Trump’s decreptitude? For what it’s worth, I do think there’s something definitely worth considering about the age of the candidate when assuming office; our fella was 70 when he got the gig and is 78 now, but President of Ireland is not as onerous a job as President of the United States and has much less power (even when it comes solely to being president of Ireland). Mostly it seems to consist, at the moment, of having your photo took with lads that are taller than you, or with your dogs.

      I’m definitely not saying “you’re 78 and you’re finished” but at the same time, there is the inevitable slowing down physically and mentally as someone heads into their 80s, and a job like President seems to be stressful and demanding in a way that “semi-retired and keeping up various interests” is not for an ordinary citizen of that age.

      • Nornagest says:

        Oh, we’ll hear about it. Remember all the rumors about how Hillary was frail, in poor health, allegedly falling down during some event or other? And she’s pretty much the same age as Trump — if the Dems run somebody significantly older, expect this drum to get beaten like a discount mule.

      • herbert herberson says:

        This was a Big Deal when Trump was running, as the idea that “oh he’s old, his health is bad, he’ll probaby drop dead while in office or be badly incapacitated, and he’s definitely senile – do you want a sick, crazy old man in charge of the big red button?” was pushed around amongst other reasons not to vote for him.

        I don’t think this is accurate. He was called crazy, unqualified, and unstable during the election, but I’m pretty sure the idea he was senile didn’t arise until later–and even then it was less about his number and more about how he spoke (or, as a Trump defender would probably argue, how his speech looked when transcribed by hostile media orgs).

        Really, during the election, the health arguments ran in the other direction due to HRC’s public collapse on 9/11 and a couple of other odd videos (e.g.).

        Of course, Sanders’ age (and heart attack) is absolutely being used against him, as have Biden’s frequent “gaffs” which appear to many to be more age related than simply Biden being Biden.

        • acymetric says:

          I’ll second this take (as I noted one sub-comment up).

        • Deiseach says:

          but I’m pretty sure the idea he was senile didn’t arise until later

          I agree about that, but I am wondering (cynically) will the armchair psychologists (or even I Am A Real Psychologist, I’m Just Writing This From My Armchair) be out in the same force for “Biden has shown worrying signs with his gaffes”?

          Of course, the real fun will be if all the punditry is wrong and Mayor Pete gets picked, whatever will we fight about then? 🙂

          • acymetric says:

            Some of them already are, both from right wing sources presumably trying to damage what they consider to be the best Dem candidate and from left wing sources who don’t want establishment, centrist Biden to be the nominee. If he ends up being the Dem candidate, expect to hear a lot of it. He will give ample opportunity to bring it up.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        A problem I see (though it may not be a problem) is the age of the top three candidates: Biden will be 78 years old this year, Sanders will be 79 and Warren will be a sprightly 71.

        This was a Big Deal when Trump was running, as the idea that “oh he’s old, his health is bad, he’ll probaby drop dead while in office or be badly incapacitated,

        Did you get Weekend at Bernie’s over in Ireland? That’s what I’m expecting if Sanders wins, with two White House interns in the role of the movie’s protagonists.

        • Aftagley says:

          Warning – anecdotal evidence

          I have a friend who was a relatively senior staffer on the Sanders campaign who basically said it’s already kind of like this: he can get energized and give a great stump speech when the cameras are on, but he just shuts down when they aren’t. He claims it’s an open secret around people who’ve known him for a while that Sanders is in decline.

          • AG says:

            Isn’t there a Parks and Recreation skit about this kind of thing?

          • Randy M says:

            That sounds like the congressman they visit late in the series run.

          • Anthony says:

            Sanders’ decline seems to be mostly physical – he looks a little frail, but he sounds sharp. Biden is the opposite – he looks physically pretty good for a near-octogenarian, but the gaffes are looking more like “senior moments” than “elderly Tourette’s”.

            I’m voting for Trump, but I’d much rather have Sanders than Biden be the one getting the 3am call for some military crisis.

        • herbert herberson says:

          It’s really not hard to find video of Sanders being obviously and clearly mentally competent. His age makes makes the possibility of it changing in the fairly near future a valid concern, but compare this interview from yesterday with his competition folding like wet cardboard under similar questioning.

      • Plumber says:

        @Deiseach,
        As others have suggested the candidates will get hammered about their age (among other things), but among the Democratic candidates so far only Biden and Sanders have gotten non-college graduate support worth counting, and while a candidate may win the Democratic nomination I just don’t think there’s enough collegians voters yet, maybe in 15 years there will be (unless the young vote more, or non-collegiate older Americans start dying faster).

        An even more elite Democratic Party with an even less educated Republican Party is unappetizing to me, but that’s the trend.

        Who knows, giving time the Republicans could become the Democrats of 1936, and the Republicans become the Democrats of then?

      • mtl1882 says:

        My mom reacts to every single mention of Bernie Sanders with a vehement “he’s too old!” When reminded Biden is basically the same age, she then says, “well, he’s too old, too!” But it’s clear the “too old” thing sticks to Bernie more, IMO, as a visceral thing among some people, and his recent health problem will not help.

        My response to this is always that age is a valid concern, for sure, but who does she plan on voting for? No answer. To me, the fixation on age, even if the candidate were 90 and showing signs of health problems, is bizarre when they see no appeal in an existing younger candidate. Better have three months of a president I trust than a young and healthy one who I don’t trust at all, though I’d hope for better options than that. But I can’t stand criticisms that are not relative when it comes to actual contests–someone may be “too” x, y, or z, but if no one with less of those things appears on the scene, that’s an almost self-defeating and gratuitous criticism. And a candidate worth voting for would have picked a good enough VP that death wouldn’t be a disaster for the country. Of course, there are plenty of people out there who are considering one of the younger candidates, but personally, age would only come into play when I had near-equal levels of confidence in the candidates. Some people may equally respect both an older and a younger candidate. And some people will find some candidates too young.

        Senility is a concern, but the president is generally so dependent on a staff nowadays that it probably wouldn’t have major effects before the term expired. Generally, the campaigning process is so intense that only people who have an exceptional amount of energy and mental stability/compartmentalization get close to the job–the average person would have a mental breakdown from the schedule alone, not to mention the criticism and need to come across as pleasant and sharp all the time. They thrive on the contest and interaction. (People will fight me on the mental stability thing, but my point is not that they’re models of psychological health—it’s that they can sleep and function under circumstances that are stressful in a particular way and also demand high levels of composure, and I believe this type of balance is rarer than acknowledged). I suspect they are often unusually physically healthy and efficient. People like this often thrive well into their 90s—they’re a special breed. They literally can’t stop—they don’t have a desire to retire and take care of the lawn like most. Look at how many of our recent ex-presidents have lived into their 90s, and lived actively—Carter and Bush I were marvels! Biden and Warren definitely have a lot of this energy, but not to the same extent—I think we select for it less now, and I also think certain types of military service, now less common, fostered it. Certainly Biden has a constitutionally innate buoyancy of spirits. Mitt Romney’s father radiated that type of energy and drive until the end, but Mitt looks like he’d actually be happier playing with his grandchildren. The average person is not going to keep learning new things and being hyperactive after age 80, but the type of person who becomes president has unusually high odds of relentlessness. This seems to keep them in exceptional mental and physical shape. But of course anything can happen—Reagan illustrates that.

        Trump is definitely one of the people who loves life and has endless energy, but he’s always looked pretty unhealthy for one of that type. Maybe it’s just how he looks, but I figured once he started to age, he would fail fast, physically and mentally. His appearance didn’t seem to lend itself to aging in a dignified manner. He has held up surprisingly well, IMO—I honestly thought he’d find a way out of running for another term because of fear he couldn’t project the image of vitality 24/7, and he’s so big on “optics”. I hope he and everyone else stays healthy, but this is the age where a few years make a big difference.

      • Aapje says:

        @Deiseach

        I appreciate that your president looks like a leprechaun.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Trump seems very strong right now, impeachment didn’t appear to convince any independents or republicans that he should be removed and the Senate hasn’t had its say yet which might push them the other way. The Iran situation if it holds here looks like a win, and the economy is chugging along. Trump has also said outrageous things for years now and it is unlikely that he will gaff hard enough to sink his own candidacy, and his fundraising is going well.

      Meanwhile the Democrats look like a weak field. Both Sanders and Biden are ridiculously old to be running a presidential campaign and they have to go through a long slog to get the nomination and then go on a national tour against a belligerent opponent. Warren is the best on paper candidate but with very difficult policy proposals and has failed to really gain traction.

      If the economy holds together for the next two quarters its Trump’s to lose.

      • Deiseach says:

        Ooh, remind me: what with all this Iran news going on, I forgot about the impeachment that is? isn’t? they’re deciding if they will or they won’t? So is it still ongoing or what is the story?

        I did see some tinfoil hat mutterings about “This is why Trump started the whole mess with Iran, to bury the impeachment” but I don’t think so. That’s like saying “Oh, Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael started the whole commemoration controversy to deflect attention from the hospital waiting lists, homelessness crisis, and forthcoming election” – no, they weren’t that calculating, they were just stupid (“Let’s commemorate the guys who shot up Croke Park on Bloody Sunday! Nothing controversial there!”) The main impetus for it seems to have come from Charlie Flanagan, who is a feckin’ eejit anyways.

        • herbert herberson says:

          Pelosi is declining to hand over the case to the Senate until she receives assurances of a fair trial, citing statements by Senate Republicans that it was a fait accompli (which everyone always knew, but which is arguably pretty bad form to outright say).

          Pelosi’s motivation, of course, is not based on the idea that there are any circumstances under which there is any possibility of the Senate convicting, but rather to draw out the process for purposes of the 2020 political campaign.

          • Deiseach says:

            I do understand the “fair trial” gambit (by both sides) but it annoys the hell out of me because it is practically saying “we’ll only consider it a fair trial if you decide to hang him in the end”.

            That’s not a fair trial if you have a predecided outcome you want and will accept only that. I still have sufficient remainders of few tattered ideals that I do think a trial should be judged fair not on “we’ve already decided the verdict we want” but on the procedures and rights of the accused.

            Of course the Democrats want Trump impeached. Of course the Republicans don’t want to give them that. But we all know that the “we want a fair trial” business would be flipped if the party of the President were switched. To quote King Lear:

            See how yon justice rails upon yon simple thief. Hark in thine ear: change places and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?

            And further in the same speech:

            Get thee glass eyes,
            And like a scurvy politician seem
            To see the things thou dost not.

          • herbert herberson says:

            I do understand the “fair trial” gambit (by both sides) but it annoys the hell out of me because it is practically saying “we’ll only consider it a fair trial if you decide to hang him in the end”.

            I agree that it’s all a farce and, like I said, it’s all being done for politics, but in the Democrats’ defense the Republican Senators did give them this argument on a silver platter.

          • acymetric says:

            I do understand the “fair trial” gambit (by both sides) but it annoys the hell out of me because it is practically saying “we’ll only consider it a fair trial if you decide to hang him in the end”.

            I don’t think that’s what it is though (as @herbert herberson mentions, everybody knows the Senate almost certainly won’t convict). “Fair trial” here means “actually bother to conduct a trial”. Meaning hear from witnesses, review evidence, etc. I think this is a reasonable expectation.

          • J Mann says:

            IMHO, I don’t see how witnesses would be required in this case to conduct a fair trial.

            1) The existing witnesses were questioned live and on television by House representatives with interests variously in finding evidence against and in support of Trump.

            2) I don’t see the point in calling additional witnesses who the House didn’t call, in the hopes that they might know something else. That’s not a trial, it’s an investigation.

            If the point of the trial is to let the Senators make up their mind whether they think Trump’s conduct is impeachable, they know everything the House knew.

            If the point is to either (1) investigate in the hopes of learning something the House didn’t bother to develop or (2) put on a show to embarrass Trump, neither of those are necessarily required to conduct a “trial” as I understand it.

            The House had absolute control over the impeachment process. I don’t think that process was particularly “fair,” but they got to decide how it went. The Senate has absolute control over the trial process.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Its not so much witnesses as “Dont go around announcing your mind is entirely made up in advance and reassuring everyone you are wholly evidence and argument proof”… because that kind of thing makes a mockery of.. well, the US.

          • Matt M says:

            Its not so much witnesses as “Dont go around announcing your mind is entirely made up in advance and reassuring everyone you are wholly evidence and argument proof”… because that kind of thing makes a mockery of.. well, the US.

            Part of the problem here is that the Democrats may well have conducted too thorough of an impeachment hearing process.

            I’ve heard the analogy made that impeachment is like a grand jury hearing, which is supposed to have just a quick and cursory examination of the evidence to determine whether there’s enough there to warrant an actual trial (where the detailed evidence is presented, where witnesses are called, etc.)

            But in this case, the impeachment called multiple witnesses. They reviewed all the evidence the Democrats had, and they reviewed it thoroughly. There is no more bonus detail to go over. So in a sense, it’s quite reasonable for people on either side to have already “made up their minds” at this point.

            Unless the Democrats are alleging they have more evidence or more witnesses or more convincing proof (which I’m not really hearing), then why shouldn’t the Senate just say “we all saw the evidence that was already presented, let’s just go ahead and rule right now?”

    • EchoChaos says:

      Trump is a massive, MASSIVE favorite right now.

      Unless a major shift happens, only Biden beats him, and then narrowly enough that it would be a 50/50 election with current polling, which is probably a bit too favorable to Biden because he hasn’t been beaten up from a Republican perspective yet, and Trump has massive cash on hand to do so.

      Current polls have every other major Democrat candidate losing VIRGINIA. Clinton won by nearly five points.

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2019/12/31/election-2020-poll-says-trump-beats-every-dem-but-biden-florida-virginia/2782320001/

      There are basically no plausible electoral college paths for Democrats without Virginia and Florida.

      The Rust Belt has continued to move Republican on the path that means that Ohio, which Obama won fairly easily twice, is no longer even a swing state.

      Even if you have Trump lose Pennsylvania, Michigan AND Wisconsin (very implausible), he still has 273 electoral votes with the other states he won in 2016 plus Virginia.

      While the national vote could still go for another Democrat, Biden is literally the only one with an electoral college chance, and that a slim one.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      If Buttigieg or Bloomberg is the nominee Trump is re-elected (apologies to my wife who likes Bloomberg), as no Democrat will win without enough black support, and those two won’t get it.

      You keep saying this, but it’s not clear to me which electoral votes you expect black support to flip. Michigan and Ohio via the urban part of their electorates? Even that would only bring the Dem up to 266.

      • herbert herberson says:

        Wisconsin and Virginia, too. WI’s AA population isn’t huge but it exists and with the margins we’re talking about it could be enough.

        Needless to say, Pete and Bloomberg’s issues go far beyond just black voters. Bloomberg is an absurd caricature of everything most people dislike about the left while disclaiming everything people like about it, and Pete is six inches shorter than Trump and reminds everyone of the person who told the substitute teacher about the homework assignment. Nominating either of them would result in the loss of everything outside of the Pacific Coast and the bluest parts of the Northeast–I’d put money on them delivering the first Republican win for Minnesota (currently the Dems’ longest streak) since 1972.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Wisconsin and Virginia, too. WI’s AA population isn’t huge but it exists and with the margins we’re talking about it could be enough.

          Interesting; I thought of Wisconsin as very white even in urban cores, like Oregon. But yes, we’re talking about very tight margins in the swing states.
          Virginia is already a blue state.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Virginia is already a blue state.

            Not as much as sometimes thought. I posted a poll above. No Democrat except Biden beats Trump there.

          • Aftagley says:

            I just looked at the poll. I’d argue that from the polling Buttigeg maybe edges out Trump in a GE also, 16% of respondents didn’t know who he was and he still was within the margin of error for beating Trump. Fast-forward to a general election where Pete’s name recognition gets amped up and I think he’d take Va.

            I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting to see the high levels of Sanders dislike in the commonwealth.

          • acymetric says:

            I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting to see the high levels of Sanders dislike in the commonwealth

            It’s right there in the name! :p

          • herbert herberson says:

            The thing that turned VA blue is the greater DC metro. It has a large number of educated, affluent suburbanites with a firm attachment to the establishment and its norms, many of which are associated with the national-security oriented expansion of the federal government and its contractors since 9/11.

            As far as I can tell, Virginia is the only place where Clinton’s infamous “for every blue-collar Democrat we lose, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs” gambit actually worked, and it therefore makes a lot of sense that Sanders–who is aiming to do exactly the opposite–would do quite poorly there.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            Certainly possible if Pete can also take the entire Rust Belt and hold Virginia.

            The problem for Democrats is that Trump won 306 Electoral Votes last time, so they need to pick up 37 votes somewhere. That’s at least three states, all of which still lean Trump-ish without losing a single one of their states.

            The fact that they’re already in toss-up territory in a blue state is a terrible sign for them.

          • Aftagley says:

            @EchoChaos

            Is it? If I had to predict the point at which each individual democratic candidate would be at their nadir in terms of national popularity it would be between now and may-ish. Presumably once the primary is over and the party starts coming together you get more general support rather than partisan infighting.

            I realize that I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but this time in 2016 Trump only had the support of 35% of his party and was getting crushed in national polling; then republicans unified around him.

            That being said, incumbents generally don’t lose, so there’s no good precedents to base this assessment off of.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            I’m not sure that’s true.

            I checked, because I’m always curious about data, and Trump had a 3 point lead over Clinton in Fox’s poll of January 4-7, 2016.

            Some polls in the time showed him up by as much as 5 in September 2015, some down by as much as a silly 18 in a Bloomberg poll.

            And of course Clinton had her own primary challenge then, but I doubt any of the “dedicated anti-Trump voters” that the Democrats are relying on to beat him aren’t already saying they’re against him for any Democrat.

    • but I understand that justly or not there’s hints of improper behavior

      As best I can tell, it isn’t “hints” but it also isn’t improper in any strong sense. It seems clear that Hunter Biden was employed, on generous terms, by a Ukrainian company that hoped the fact that he was Biden’s son would be valuable to them, whether via actual influence on his father or other people thinking he had influence on his father. There seems to be a similar case in China.

      But I haven’t seen any evidence that Hunter Biden actually did anything improper, other than accepting well paid position for which he had no qualification other than being his father’s son.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        But I haven’t seen any evidence that Hunter Biden actually did anything improper, other than accepting well paid position for which he had no qualification other than being his father’s son.

        That is quite improper actually. Typically, the rule for such things is that it is not sufficient to avoid actual conflicts of interest, but also appearances of conflicts of interest. Here there is both.

        Here you have the son of the 2d most powerful person in the US, who is dealing with Ukraine, being bought by a famously corrupt Ukrainian businessman. There is no way to make this not horribly corrupt. Joe should have told Hunter that he absolutely cannot take that position.

        There is no significant difference between receiving an envelope full of cash and this arrangement, other than the arrangement had a thin veneer of legality.

        • Aapje says:

          Hunter is his own person, but IMO Joe Biden should have recused himself from his interference with the replacement of the top prosecutor, as that involved a clear conflict of interest.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Hunter is his own person

            Yes, up until the point where he accepted millions for being the son of the VPOTUS from a corrupt foreign businessman.

          • CatCube says:

            @jermo sapiens

            If Joe Biden could control Hunter to the degree you imagine, presumably he’d have stopped him from using all that cocaine.

            It’s fine to be on the lookout for corruption–I agree that how Joe handled some of his involvement looks shady–but “politicians need to avoid every possible appearance of conflicts of interest of every family member” is neither possible nor desirable. One, I note, that Trump couldn’t pass either.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            If Joe Biden could control Hunter to the degree you imagine, presumably he’d have stopped him from using all that cocaine.

            I think generally it would have been much easier to prevent Hunter from sitting on Burisma’s board than from doing cocaine.

            Also, from the assumption that Hunter is a useless idiot who couldnt land a job at McDonalds without his dad’s influence, there are still a number of jobs like sitting on various boards where the impropriety would be less glaring. On a scale of 1 to 10, the board of a Ukrainian gas company owned by a famously corrupt Ukrainian is a 12.

            Joe could have invited Hunter to the White House, have Barack give him a very stern talk why sitting on that board is terrible for his father, for Barack himself, and by extension the country. And then maybe he could have slipped in a word about cocaine and impregnating strippers.

          • If I correctly remember the Chinese part of the story, Hunter accompanied his father on some sort of mission to China, and immediately thereafter a firm he was associated with got favorable treatment by the Chinese government.

            If that is correct—I don’t swear for either my memory or my source, and someone here probably knows more—then Joe could have chosen not to have his son accompany him.

    • Atlas says:

      From the outside view, how often do incumbents with a strong economy win second terms? I’d guess it’s quite often, which bodes well for Trump.

      From the inside view, the Audacious Epigone had a post last month based on RCP polling data which seemed to show Trump losing decisively (in the EC) to the major Democratic candidates. AE wrote:

      Though the polls portend Republican disaster, the markets have general election chances at close to a coin flip, Republicans at 47% to Democrats at 54%.

      Why? Polling modestly understated Trump’s performance in 2016, but they are a lot worse for him at this point in 2020 than they were at the same point in 2016.

      Part of it is that Trump is a known quantity. Barring a market collapse, he’s at his floor. Though Biden and Sanders are familiar to low-information voters, they’ve not been fully scrutinized, so both are likely to come down upon getting the nomination if either does.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I think your odds for Trump are wayyyyyy too high. The guy is extremely unpopular and lost the popular vote in the last election. Even with the strong economy, I’d put his odds at less than coin flip, maybe somewhere around 40-45%. Biden looks like he will decisively defeat Trump, Bernie looks like he will probably beat Trump, and Pete and Warren are both competitive.

      The only shocking thing to me on the Dem side is the complete implosion of so many candidates and how the “diverse” democrats do not have a single non-white candidate among their leading candidates. Along with Warren STILL being in there, and Pete being in there at all.

      • Clutzy says:

        I think you overestimate Democrats. Personally, I set an incumbent at 65% regardless. Trump probably is lower, but only down to 55-60%. But also his strongest skill seems to be destroying enemies rhetorically. Biden, Bernie, and Warren are all easy targets.

        The implosion is also not that shocking. Democrats have most of their people in concentrated, non-competitive areas like California and New York. This causes people to not understand the voters as a whole. I once saw some statistic that something like the top 40 most “Democratic” congressional districts were more Democratic than the top 1 most “Republican” district is/was. Also I have seen stats that Blacks/Hispanics have seen reduced racism as of late, while white liberals have seen it increase.

        I’d guess that if all Republicans in America suddenly moved to Australia, the Democratic debates would actually move to the right on most issues. That is what is going on.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The guy is extremely unpopular and lost the popular vote in the last election.

        The Dems are also very unpopular right now. Clinton won the popular vote but got a lower % than Kerry and Gore in their losing efforts (Gore also won the popular vote). She landed 1 percentage point more votes than Mitt Romney in his losing effort to a popular incumbent, and there isn’t any candidate right now polling as well as Clinton did in the primaries in 2016. In Jan 2016 Clinton was getting between 43 and 59% of democratic support, and Sanders was polling in the mid 30s. 4 years later Sanders is polling in the low 20s/high teams with a higher profile and without a dominant front runner. Biden has been polling poorly for a known front runner, Warren had a brief moment where she went to contender status, but none of them have been particularly popular even within the democratic party and the likelihood of them inspiring the turnout in the specific places they need turnout to win are low.

    • ManyCookies says:

      I’m a little miffed by the Trump reelection confidence, he’s just been consistently unpopular despite a good economy/accomplishing goals(?) and whatnot. Like he didn’t exactly have a decisive presidential victory in the first place, and public sentiment’s been lower than election night/Inauguration Day for his whole presidency. Like do we think the Dem’s candidate will be weaker than Hillary, will the impeachment proceedings backfire hard?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Economy is doing well (unless you’re a non-techie in SF), terrorism and crime remain reasonably low, so far we haven’t gotten into any ruinous wars (though this latest incident was damn close), and he’s the incumbent.

        I expect impeachment to be a minor sideshow, and likely as damaging to Biden as it is to Trump.

      • Plumber says:

        “I’m a little miffed by the Trump reelection confidence…”

        Sorry @ManyCookies.

        While I expect that the Democrat will win the popular vote by an even larger margin, I just don’t think it’s more than not likely that Americans will perceive things as so much worse that the electoral college results will change much from 2016.

        FWIW, I’m increasingly confident that Democrats will keep the House and maybe even take the Senate in 2022.

        • ManyCookies says:

          I was trying to figure out why you were apologizing and just now realized “miffed” means annoyed and not confused. Oops.

      • meh says:

        with either result, about half the commenters here will need to update come november.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I’m a little miffed by the Trump reelection confidence, he’s just been consistently unpopular despite a good economy/accomplishing goals(?) and whatnot.

        Remember that a modest amount of that approval is right-wing people unhappy he isn’t doing enough. I know several who think he should’ve more aggressively built the wall and stopped immigration who will still vote for him.

        Like he didn’t exactly have a decisive presidential victory in the first place, and public sentiment’s been lower than election night/Inauguration Day for his whole presidency.

        But his victory relies on areas that are trending more Republican and don’t rely on those areas that are trending more Democrat.

        His key states in 2020 are Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Florida is his de facto home state, he does quite well there and it’s right of the country (Republicans held it even in the 2018 wave). The Rust Belt has shifted sharply right in the last decade. Ohio was a swing state from 2000-2016 and Obama won it twice. Nobody even thinks that a Democrat can come close there anymore.

        Now, this isn’t to say that Trump is a sure thing, but he’s a big favorite in the states that actually matter for winning an election. Sure, in another decade when Texas is a swing state and Arizona has shifted blue there will be a different calculus, but for now Trump’s Electoral College advantage is quite strong.

      • Anthony says:

        One does not have to be popular with a majority to win an election, one merely needs to be less unpopular than one’s opponent among the majority.

        Also, it would be interesting to tease out how much people’s disapproval (or approval!) of Trump is about his personality versus his performance. What would the approval polls look like if it were President Scott Walker doing everything Trump is doing and getting the same results, but in a more measured tone of voice?

    • Murphy says:

      >I give the odds at a 60% chance that Trump is re-elected

      I’d put it closer to 90%.

      War time presidents get a massive boost from the fraction of people who I refuse to believe are anything but unconvincing P-zombies.

      I still remember listening to a TV interview back in 2004. An interview outside the polls with some old lady stuck with me.

      “I wouldn’t normally vote for him…. but we’re at war!…and …. [quietly] you’ve got to support the president when you’re at war…..”

      And so trump is going to make sure that there’s a fresh war starting in the next few months.

      • Matt M says:

        Eh…. at some point our modern era forever wars are going to stop counting as “war time” for psychological purposes on the average member of the public. I don’t know whether that point has been reached yet or not, but consider that there are people today, old enough to vote, for which we would have been “at war” literally their entire lives.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          We’ll just have to wait and see when we have our first post-9/11 one-term President!

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Eh… at some point our modern era forever wars are going to stop counting as “war time” for psychological purposes on the average member of the public.

          I doubt it. Between the classic hot wars (World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, etc.), the US has been in constant conflict with aboriginal tribes until around 1922, and the Soviet Union from 1946 to 1989. The only period I can find in which the US was not in a state of declared war or AUMF was during the Neutrality Acts in 1935-1940.

          At the same time, the vast majority of Americans have never lived under occupation on American soil – a curious juxtaposition.

          • EchoChaos says:

            At the same time, the vast majority of Americans have never lived under occupation on American soil – a curious juxtaposition.

            My father believes that the recency of being occupied is among the reasons the South is further right than the North. We’re 90 years behind the North in “never lived under occupation”.

    • J Mann says:

      I’m not very confident in my ability to predict the future, especially about Trump, but here goes.

      Some guesses:

      – Probability that something substantially changes that improves Dem odds: ~8% (Foreign policy goes obviously and disastrously wrong, economy tanks, Trump shoots someone on Main Street, has a heart attack, etc.)

      – Dems have farther to fall than Trump when the one on one contest begins, as Trump’s negatives are well known and he has not begun unleashing his tsunami of cash.

      – That said, Dems (except maybe Bernie) will move towards the center from their current positions if nominated, and press coverage will be even more pro-Dem and anti-Trump once the Dems line up behind a candidate and the media aren’t picking between several Dems but just between one Dem and Trump.

      – White (and Asian-American?) turnout will probably be up for both Dems and GOP. My guess is NAM turnout is slightly down.

      – Trump will have several benefits. He won’t have done most of the bad things he was accused of planning in 16. The economy looks like it’s going to remain strong. The Democratic front runners are a lot less impressive than I thought they would be, and it looks all but certain that the nominee will be white.

      – On the other hand, most Dems are super engaged, and I’m not sure about GOP voters. My guess is that the GOP will be sufficiently scared of the Dem or angry about him/her to show up, but they might end up discouraged or casting protest votes or something.

      – If Bernie is nominated, I have trouble seeing Trump lose. I know Bernie’s fans love him, but between a known bozo and an untested socialist, I think the country goes with the known bozo.

      On the basis of all these tea leaves, the next president will be: Trump 55%, Biden 25%, Warren 10%, Buttigieg 8%, rest of field 2%

  5. Well... says:

    Anybody here “know computers”? I’m having an annoying issue and it seems like people here often can help with these things.

    When I start typing — doesn’t matter where: in a browser, in a word processor local to my machine, in my OS’s universal search, in a browser in a VM — my last few keystrokes are often spontaneously copied and pasted back into the field. The issue almost always seems to happen when I start typing after having not typed anything for at least a few seconds.

    For instance, if I’m typing “This sentence”, when I get halfway through the second word I will sometimes all of a sudden be looking at “This sentis sent” with my cursor at the end. It happens sometimes for backspace too, where I’ll intend to erase only one character and it erases two instead. Or during selection, where I hold shift and alt and press the left arrow and it selects two words instead of one.

    This has been going on for maybe two to four weeks. Possibly coinciding with my upgrade to Catalina, but possibly not.

    FWIW I’m on a mid-2014 Macbook Pro, running MacOS 10.15.2. And ever since the laptop’s keyboard and trackpad died about two years ago, I’ve been using the same Logitech k750 wireless solar-powered keyboard, and haven’t had any problems until now.

    Anyone know what’s causing this or how to fix it? Anyone having the same issue?

    • acymetric says:

      Just curious, but have you tried a different keyboard just to see if the wireless keyboard is the problem? That isn’t necessarily what I think is most likely, but it is probably the easiest to test (just plug in or wirelessly connect a different keyboard) and (if it is the problem) fix (get a new keyboard).

      Or just stop using a Mac 😉

      • Well... says:

        I don’t have another keyboard. Hm…but that’s a good idea, I should see if I can borrow one somewhere to test it out.

        Or just stop using a Mac 😉

        Here we go to the side show…I was always a PC guy until I started working for a company that was exclusively a Mac shop. At that point I became (and, importantly, considered myself) amphibious between the two. Now I’m a guy who owns a Mac at home and uses PCs at work, so I’m amphibious the other way! That said, I’m not a Mac koolaid drinker; I don’t own any other Apple products and am not enamored of everything they do, but I do like this computer. And especially considering its age, it’s still as responsive and reliable as if it was brand new, which I can’t say about any PC I’ve ever owned. Little issues like this typing thing are the most severe problems I’ve had with it, which I’m pretty happy about. Meanwhile my wife has gone through a succession of PC laptops and Chromebooks and hated them all (except an old IBM Thinkpad that she loved, but it crapped out on her when it was only half as old as my Macbook is now).

        • acymetric says:

          Here we go to the side show…

          Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

          I’ve owned 2 Macbook Pros and a (bought refurbished but ran great) Mac Pro desktop. I’ve since reverted back to Windows computers (primarily for price reasons), but Macs are fine.

          Well, technically I didn’t revert back to Windows because probably about 70% of my time using my Macs I was running Windows on them 😉 The hardware is nice though!

          That said, I’m not a Mac koolaid drinker; I don’t own any other Apple products and am not enamored of everything they do, but I do like this computer.

          Good to hear! The kool-aid drinkers are why I feel the need to instigate with that kind of comment. I used to have an iPhone, and it was fine, I like my Androids better now though. They do make good computers, the fanboys are pretty tiresome but I guess that is true of fans for most brands/products.

        • acymetric says:

          I don’t have another keyboard. Hm…but that’s a good idea, I should see if I can borrow one somewhere to test it out.

          If you don’t mind throwing away a little bit of money you should be able to get a wired keyboard from Wal-Mart or Best Buy for like $10 (maybe $15) if you can’t find one to borrow.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Aghh, I’m solidly in the Apple ecosystem and the only thing I hate more than Apple products is the concept of trying to switch away from them. I’d lose my texts popping up on my laptop, I’d lose the three-finger trackpad gestures I know and love, and I’d lose my Bash terminal!

          But Apple’s just…actively trying to push me away. With the removing of 32-bit app support (?!) in Catalina, I won’t be able to play about half of my games (including Cave Story, Half Life, and Dungeon of the Endless, among others) whenever I bite the bullet and update. My 2013 MacBook Pro is falling apart (had to get the trackpad replaced, then had to get the I/O board replaced, now the screen hinge feels faulty), but when I look at the new models….keyboard that barely moves, function keys replaced by a useless touchscreen, no USB A ports, no HDMI, no magsafe charger, no SD card slot, just 4 USB C and a headphone jack (thought that was something we’d moved past? Guess laptops still need one but phones don’t).

          My solution: Wait until this laptop breaks again to buy a new MacBook, and at some point when I have disposable income, get myself a proper gaming laptop or PC.

      • Sandpaper26 says:

        I want to second this recommendation for discovering the source of the problem, with the caveat that I don’t think it’s the keyboard’s fault — I blame the OS and the way it responds to these wireless inputs.

        Or, if you want to get really paranoid, it’s because there’s a 2.4 GHz relay with a delay. To what nefarious purpose someone would have placed this device in your home is for you to discover.

    • JohnNV says:

      I had sort of similar issues on my MacBook Pro for a while before I discovered a bluetooth mouse in my backpack that was occasionally getting the button pressed by leaning against other items. Whenever that happened, it would cause a mouseclick wherever the mouse cursor was which wasn’t always where the typing cursor is, causing my typing to jump back seemingly randomly and start typing inserting at that point.

    • gudamor says:

      Perhaps the keyboard and/or trackpad isn’t as dead as you think? Try disabling it.

      I use my work laptop with a docking station, and I was getting similar mysterious typing inputs. I was able to track it down to having put the edge of a stack of papers pressing down on the laptop lid, causing some sort of input to the keyboard/trackpad even while it was “docked.”

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      OSX has some weird keyboard defaults. Like a double-space being a period.

      System Preferences > Keyboard > Text to turn that one off, and while there check some other crazy options.

    • Phigment says:

      Other people have made suggestions along this line, but my best guess is that you’ve got another mouse sending input.

      Where I’ve seen that exact behavior was on a Windows laptop with a touchpad built in below the keyboard. Sometimes, while typing, I would accidently brush the touchpad, which would click the mouse and move my cursor, changing where the typing happened.

      You said you’re using an external keyboard and mouse. If they’re wireless, try testing with wired keyboard and mouse; maybe you’re getting crossover from another wireless device nearby. See if you can disable the built-in keyboard and mouse input, maybe.

      • acymetric says:

        The mouse explanation doesn’t explain the additional typed characters though. He’s getting extra keystrokes recorded, not just cursor jumping.

        • Well... says:

          To be clear, the extra keystrokes are always the same few keystrokes I just made, effectively copied and pasted back into the field at my cursor position.

  6. helloo says:

    I want to go against AG crusade against base 10 in the previous thread by going about an impossible fight against TIME ITSELF.

    Or at least the measurement system of hours, minutes, and seconds.

    Base 60 and 24 are wonderfully divisible numbers, but it probably makes the least sense in terms of time.
    Since when did you need to take a 1/5 of a minute/hour? or even 1/3?
    Xth of a day at least gets some use, though not sure if it matters to have it be divisible by the hours in a day.
    However, it’s likely that most people have had to convert A:BC into minutes or factional hours or minutes to seconds/fractional minutes.

    The fact that the typical standard is milliseconds rather than thirds or fourth, or even just saying quarter til than 15 minutes, shows that there’s no determination to keep the current standards.
    Even the point that there’s many “tricks” to try and count seconds shows that humans don’t have a good intuitive value of how long a second lasts.

    The fault is of course with the French. There was some discussion about also changing the time standards along with mass and length, but they cowarded out in this most crucial aspect.

    As for what replaces it? Days and years are kind of fixed in their definitions. But dividing the day – 10 hours/100 minutes, 20 hours/20’/20”, it’s all better than what it currently is.

    • Matt says:

      Before I was converted to an SI supporter by a college Thermodynamics course, I would make this same argument: Claims that base 10 is superior fail if you’re not willing to apply them to all units, and there’s nothing particularly special about hours, minutes, and seconds. Or degrees of arc.

      • soreff says:

        If there is an anthem for the System Internationale,
        I don’t know its lyrics, but I’d expect 10 verses, each of 10 lines, each of 10 syllables

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      If you’re going metric time, really go for it: deci/centi/millidays

      FWIW, 1 md = 1.44 minutes, 1 cd ~= 15 minutes

    • Deiseach says:

      Since when did you need to take a 1/5 of a minute/hour? or even 1/3?

      A third of an hour is twenty minutes, a fifth is twelve minutes. Those are not unreasonable amounts of time to have to calculate.

      Didn’t the French Revolution try to decimalise time units like that? It seems not to have caught on.

      The ‘decimal’ time is used when calculating hours worked for payroll, and speaking as someone who has to do the payroll every week, it is a pain in the neck having to work out “Jane worked from 8:40 a.m. in the morning until 12:35 p.m. then took 20 minutes of a lunch break and worked in the afternoon but went home 15 minutes early because she was sick; now turn all this into decimal hours for the payroll software plus keep track of how many minutes spare Jane gets for annual leave/TOIL/whatever as she will bitch and moan when she gets her payslip if you accidentally dock her three minutes by mistake”.

      Decimal time might seem tidier, but believe you me, adopt it and you’ll soon have people complaining they worked an extra 0.2 hours on Tuesday but you never added that in on this week’s timesheet and that means they’re short 0.86 hours for their annual leave entitlement. And oh yes, they will count 0.86 hours worked instead of either 0.85 or 0.9 to make sure they get what they’re entitled to.

      • Nick says:

        Decimal time might seem tidier, but believe you me, adopt it and you’ll soon have people complaining they worked an extra 0.2 hours on Tuesday but you never added that in on this week’s timesheet and that means they’re short 0.86 hours for their annual leave entitlement. And oh yes, they will count 0.86 hours worked instead of either 0.85 or 0.9 to make sure they get what they’re entitled to.

        This is a bad argument, Deiseach: if time really were all decimal, you’d never have to convert back and forth between the two. You could just do addition as normal. So an extra 0.2 hours doesn’t mean adding 12 minutes, it means adding… 0.2 hours. Or 20 minutes. And being short 0.86 hours means being short… 0.86 hours. Or 86 minutes.

        What this is really an argument for is making everything else base 60, so you never have to work with base 10 in the computer, either. 🙂

        • Deiseach says:

          Nick, I want a nice neat tidy “you worked 37.5 hours this week every week”, not “I’ll just add up your 0.2 +0.46+ 0.5 +1.33 hours, shall I?” 😀

          • Nick says:

            Look, if the system would just let you enter 37:30 or 0:05 instead of 37.5 and 0.08 you wouldn’t have anything to complain about. I’m saying your troubles above are all down to the conversion step, not the base.

            Incidentally, our system actually automatically rounds clock-ins to the nearest 15 minutes, so our payroll people never have these issues. 🙂

          • acymetric says:

            My last job also rounded to 15 minutes. I’m also surprised someone would design a payroll system that didn’t allow entering in hours and minutes.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m also surprised someone would design a payroll system that didn’t allow entering in hours and minutes.

            There is a clock-in machine which does the automatic time, but the thing is that people work random hours around their standard hours e.g. someone might come in ten minutes early every morning so they can leave half an hour early on Friday, that kind of thing. (Anyway, clocking-in systems have their own problems: if starting time is 8:45 you will have people who turn up at 8:35 and people who don’t turn up until 8:44, and the 8:44 ones are the ones who count every minute and complain if they think they’re being ‘cheated’.
            Other places I worked had problems where the standard hours were programmed in, so you couldn’t clock in/out before or after the time e.g. if you were supposed to take your lunch at 12:50, you could only clock out then. Of course, people being people, they’d go “I’m going to clock out at 1:00 p.m. and only take 20 minutes lunch break, so I can clock out early this evening since I have to take Timmy to ballet practice”, and since the system wouldn’t let them do that, they’d leave without clocking out and then ‘officially’ clock in/out at the ‘right’ times, except of course people would forget to do that which then screwed up their hours for payroll and complaints ensued).

            The clocking-in does not link up to the payroll software (because we’re in two different centres) so the problem is not so much “Andrea worked 37.5 hours this week and 40 last week”, it’s the notes at the end of the timesheets e.g. “Lilian is down for 22.5 hours but please bank 3 of those for holiday leave and she is owed 20 minutes from last Thursday that she worked extra, can you add that in to this week’s wages?”, so I end up having to hand-check the sheets anyway which means I end up with “22.5-3 =19.5 and what the heck is 20 minutes in decimal, okay that’s 0.33 which is 19.5 +0.33 = 19.83” and that gets entered into the payroll software as “standard hours for Lilian this week = 19.83”. Yeah, a decimal “that’s 0.5 instead of 0.33” might work better, but I tend to assume the worst of humans and somebody would find a way to split the neat decimal system into fractions when they juggle their hours 🙂

            Thanks be to God I’m not working somewhere with hundreds of employees!

          • Matt says:

            My company’s timecard system allows us to round to the nearest quarter hour.

            I subcontract to another contractor who allows us to round to the nearest tenth.

            The two timecards I fill out must match exactly.

            So I can be no more precise than 1/2 hour.

    • Rack says:

      Why stop with numbers? Bring in the decabet!

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Since when did you need to take a 1/5 of a minute/hour? or even 1/3?
      I think this is actually an argument that the current system is working well–I never need to say “a third of an hour” when I can just say “20 minutes”. (And that’s an increment of time I use pretty frequently.)

      • helloo says:

        The point of that statement was that easily divisible bases allow, well easy division.
        Which is used and useful for things like cooking or measuring length, but I don’t really see being done all that often for time.
        You don’t often need to think “what will be the exact third of this timed issue”, especially with things that are imprecise enough that can be easily estimated in hours.

        If you can contextualize 1/3 or 1/5 of a unit directly (such as thinking 20 minutes or 35 milidays), it shouldn’t matter if you were on a metric or “imperial” system.

        However, you do need to often move time up or down units such as taking a measurement in minutes and needing to convert that into hours or down to seconds.
        Which is easier in metric/standard bases than “imperial” ones generally.

  7. Nick says:

    A Science-Based Case for Ending the Porn Epidemic by PEG has been making the rounds in conservative circles. It’s a long, long look at the evidence of pornography and especially addiction to pornography on the brain.
    I’m going to summarize it, so let me say immediately that if you need any content warnings, assume they apply starting now:
    1. PEG begins by comparing porn to smoking. Easily available, everyone does it, it’s an addiction for many, and it’s relentlessly enforced as normal, healthy, etc., even as evidence is mounting that it’s bad for you. Eventually, the weight of evidence shifted public opinion against smoking, but it took a long time and a lot of lives for this to happen. He wants to make the evidence on porn better known to speed up this process.
    2. Porn is so stimulating because of the Coolidge effect: male animals “exhibit renewed sexual interest whenever a new female is introduced to have sex with, even after cessation of sex with prior but still available sexual partners.” Our brains, he writes, interprets each new scene as a new sexual partner, revving us up all over again. Internet porn is particularly dangerous in this regard, because there is virtually unlimited content. He likens it to the (familiar to rationalists) concept of a superstimulus.
    3. He detours into a discussion of evidence that extremely addicting drugs like heroin work by activating the same “circuitry” in our reward system as for sex. And everyone has a propensity toward sex addiction, unlike, say, alcoholism.
    4. He also brings up the bingeing effect, where we gorge when we find a whole lot of something at once.
    5. Another detour to defend the notion that “addiction is a brain disease, not a chemical disease.” It’s not that we become addicted to a particular compound. PEG links to a series of reviews agreeing online porn addiction is real and one that disputes this, but mixes data from before and after the availability of online porn.
    6. PEG shifts to a discussion now of the effects of porn on the brain. Hijacking the reward system means releasing dopamine, which of course inclines us to pursue it more. It also releases DeltaFosB, which “strengthen[s] the neural pathways that dopamine travels, deepening the neural connection between the buzz we get and whatever we’re doing or experience when we get it.” DeltaFosB is what enables the sex reward system to be hijacked in the first place. Neuroscientists, is this accurate?
    7. One consequence of hijacking this is losing interest in real sex, something which happens to heroin addicts. Evidence of porn addiction’s effect here, he says, can be seen with the explosion (no pun intended) of erectile dysfunction. Rates before Internet porn were >1% for men under 30 and <3% for men 30-45, but rates today are 14-37% among men under 40 today and 16-37% of men also experience low libido. Let me register my annoyance that a) 14-37% is a huge range, and b) we don't have direct comparisons by age bracket.
    8. He recounts familiar stories about how young men can't get it up with actual women, even when they want to, without visualizing porn in their heads, or turning it on for the duration of sex. I'd like some sense of how common these stories are? Is "men need porn just to get it up" really common among ED patients now?
    9. PEG also points to last year's Atlantic article about the sex recession. I could have sworn I wrote about it here, but I guess I didn’t… I could only find a brief subthread where @achenx linked it. Ah well. Basically, young people in America—indeed all over the West—are having considerably less sex than previous generations. It seems to have hit Japan first, long one of the world’s porn capitals.
    10. He turns next to evidence that porn “warp[s] the brain.” The mechanism this time is diminishing returns from watching the regular stuff. The addicted crave bigger hits, and for porn, that comes in the form of novelty. Shock or surprise works best. So the addicted seek out more and more unusual or, frankly, degraded porn: incest, racism, cuckolding, and violence against women. The racist stuff he so identifies because, despite being marketed as simply “interracial,” it comes across like a minstrel show. Incest porn—often hidden by casting everyone as “stepfathers,” “stepmothers,” or “half-brothers”—has become huge.
    11. PEG devotes special attention to violence against women, insisting that this is not the BDSM of old. These sexual proclivities have been around forever. But repeated viewing of the really degraded stuff is strengthening previously uninterested folks in it and everything peripheral to it by the reward system and DeltaFosB mechanism mentioned earlier. The effects of this can be bizarre. Interest in same-sex and trans sexual content has risen dramatically about men who identify as straight. These men report, however, no attraction to this outside of porn. The sexual stimulation, bizarrely, is getting virtually completely decoupled from what (or who) they actually want to do in the bedroom.
    12. He also brings up the case of Andrea Long Chu, someone who has come up a bit here before. Chu got very interested in sissy porn, a genre where “men dressed like women perform sex acts with men in stereotypically submissive, female roles.” PEG says Chu answers yes, sissy porn did cause the transition, in a new book. (Can anyone confirm this was what was written?) Needless to say, to have one’s porn interests prompt a sex transition is remarkable. I’d also like to know whether this is a sample of one; he doesn’t mention anyone else.
    13. Porn addiction is also having a negative impact on relationships. PEG mentions girlfriends, but the linked studies are all about marital satisfaction. He also links studies where women feel less desirable or report lower self-worth. With single studies being linked, this is an area where I especially expect that research may not hold up.
    14. Porn addiction is also having particularly negative effects on the prefrontal cortex due to neuroplasticity. He describes this as a hallmark feature of addiction, the effect of which is reduced executive function, including impulsivity. He says studies report that the problems are greater the greater the porn use, but doesn’t link any. How much of a thing is neuroplasticity really? It’s invoked so often in pop neuroscience I just kind of assumed it was nonsense or failed to replicate, but I’d really like someone to weigh in.
    15. Next up is the effects on children. Children have easy access to porn, after all. We all know it. A Spanish study said 63% of boys and 30% of girls are exposed to it during adolescence; “children under 10 now account for 22% of online porn consumption under 18,” says the British Journal of School Nursing. He links to a literature review listing “regressive attitudes toward women,” “sexual aggression,” “social maladjustment,” “sexual preoccupation,” “compulsivity.” A study of teens found a “relationship between pornography exposure and… social isolation, misconduct, depression, suicidal ideation, and academic disengagement.” Depression, natch, is way up among teens. Decide for yourself whether this is more plausible than the hundred other proposed explanations for teen depression.
    16. PEG turns finally to the effects on society generally. He brings up Japan again, where not only are sex rates down, but marriage rates, and interest in, well, much of anything. Japan’s soushoku danshi (how much of an overlap here with hikikomori, incidentally?) have few to no friends, live with their parents, and have no interest in sex, marriage, holding down a job, or even hobbies. They do like porn, though. He reports that they’re even a renewed market for yaoi, the male-male romance genre which usually caters to teenage girls. (And gay men usually prefer bara, a fact which PEG overlooks.) Incidentally, he concludes that it’s impossible to prove the soushoku danshi are suffering from porn addiction. Um, why not? Why can’t a study be done?
    17. He concludes with his call to action.

    So there is clearly a hell of a lot here, and I’m sure folks have about a hundred things to say. My interest is mainly in the quality of cited research; I’ll say right now I’m pretty uninterested in the speculations PEG brings to it, especially when he starts saying things like “[studies] certainly suggest [x]”. If nothing else, given the sheer number of studies cited, this seems like a good start for a “Much More Than You Wanted To Know” or adversarial collaboration post.

    • Aftagley says:

      I’d like to start this by saying I think there might be some validity to this underlying argument. That being said, I’m skeptical of a few issues.

      1. He kind of alludes to my largest source of skepticism up front – this argument sounds a lot like moral puritanism and when it’s being put forward by the already-puritanical-seeming conservative mindset, I get suspicious. Isn’t decreasing the pre-marital sex rate kind of the conservative goal?

      2. I didn’t go back through his data, but how confident are we on old data being accurate for ED rates? This “sudden increase in ED” is a point he comes back to a bunch, but when I see a jump of 1%-16% I get suspicious of the underlying data.

      3. Responding directly to your point 8 – I have done this in situations where I didn’t find the person I was with particularly attractive, but it is not a normal part of my behavior. I don’t know how common this is, but it could explain a certain positive rate.

      4. Responding to your point 10 – we had a discussion about this not too long ago on the site about the growing prevalence of these previously-taboo vids. My impression at the time was that in a hyper-competitive market, being a distinct as possible made your product stronger; thus the growing prevalence of this stuff doesn’t reflect a change in sexuality as much as it does a need to stand out from the crowd.

      5. Trans criticism I’ve read about Andrea Long Chu has made it clear, to me at least, that her experience is highly-atypical of the normal trans person. I would not take her writing as an insight into anything other than one person’s atypical journey.

      6. On your point 14, I thought this was a particularly weak part of his piece. This was the time for him to demonstrate how this addiction affected the totality of it’s sufferers lives and I don’t think he was able to.

      7. On soushoku danshi. This is where I began to get skeptical of this guy’s writing and overall conclusion. I had previously encountered the term soushoku danshi, or grass eater, and had mentally equated it to a non-insulting analog to the soyboy phenomenon here in the west: a growing trend of sensitive, less overtly masculine malehood. His description of the term matched yours closely, so I clicked through to his source, a slate article.

      The first line of that slate article was as follows:

      Ryoma Igarashi likes going for long drives through the mountains, taking photographs of Buddhist temples and exploring old neighborhoods. He’s just taken up gardening and now grows radishes in a planter.

      So, the article he links to prove these people have no hobbies or interests starts with a description of a typical grass eater who’s got like, 4 hobbies. The article then goes on to say that this populations financial woes can be largely explained by the shift in the 90s away from lifelong salary-men-style employment and more towards contract and hourly work, when they can get jobs in the first place. If I had to make an assessment, I’d guess that he saw that article, conflated it with his knowledge of the hikikomori and shoveled it together to fit the overall narrative he wanted.

      This raises my skepticism of his overall ability to process and understand information in an unbiased. The summary he gave of the grass eaters doesn’t match either my knowledge of the topic or the article he linked. This caused me to mentally decrease my confidence in everything else he claimed.

      • herbert herberson says:

        2. I didn’t go back through his data, but how confident are we on old data being accurate for ED rates? This “sudden increase in ED” is a point he comes back to a bunch, but when I see a jump of 1%-16% I get suspicious of the underlying data.

        In particular, the development of a treatment. How many people with ED would even think to go to a doctor about their issues, let alone overcome their embarrassment, before various little blue pills started doing saturation advertisement?

      • viVI_IViv says:

        1. He kind of alludes to my largest source of skepticism up front – this argument sounds a lot like moral puritanism and when it’s being put forward by the already-puritanical-seeming conservative mindset, I get suspicious. Isn’t decreasing the pre-marital sex rate kind of the conservative goal?

        Sexual puritanism might be adaptive.

        So, the article he links to prove these people have no hobbies or interests starts with a description of a typical grass eater who’s got like, 4 hobbies. The article then goes on to say that this populations financial woes can be largely explained by the shift in the 90s away from lifelong salary-men-style employment and more towards contract and hourly work, when they can get jobs in the first place. If I had to make an assessment, I’d guess that he saw that article, conflated it with his knowledge of the hikikomori and shoveled it together to fit the overall narrative he wanted.

        There are no clear boundaries between soushoku danshi, hikikomori, NEET, otaku, etc. these are not groups defined by voluntary identification like incels or MGTOW, they are sociological descriptions. Still, there are clear trends in Japan, and increasingly in the West, of men becoming less and less sexually active, less interested in marriage and more depressed.

        • Aftagley says:

          Sexual puritanism might be adaptive.

          Ok, but then why not the behavior he’s talking about as well? It has all the benefits of puritanism (no chance of disease, no chance of unwanted pregnancy, no chance of getting shot by a jealous lover/ex) without the willpower cost previously necessary to maintain puritanism.

          There are no clear boundaries between soushoku danshi, hikikomori, NEET, otaku, etc. these are not groups defined by voluntary identification like incels or MGTOW, they are sociological descriptions.

          I agree, kind of, but crucially that’s not the point he made in his “science-based case.” He brings up a particular movement and then describes them in an inaccurate fashion. If he’s misinterpreting his sources on something as relatively simple as Japanese social movements, why should I trust his understanding of neuroscience?

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Until they figure a way to make hentai anime waifus give birth to real babies, there seems to be an obvious problem.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Until they figure a way to make hentai anime waifu give birth to children, there seems to be an obvious problem.

            My brain is breaking trying to imagine half 3D, half anime children. This is worse than Roger Rabbit.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            My brain is breaking trying to imagine half 3D, half anime children. This is worse than Roger Rabbit.

            You’re welcome.

          • Randy M says:

            Until they figure a way to make hentai anime waifus give birth to real babies, there seems to be an obvious problem.

            If anybody is going to combine artificial wombs with artificial girlfriends, it’ll probably be Japan.

          • meh says:

            i would think that’s when the problems begin.

          • Randy M says:

            Hopefully someone is working on the robotic mother as well.

      • Pink-Nazbol says:

        starts with a description of a typical grass eater who’s got like, 4 hobbies.

        Those are the kinds of hobbies you expect to hear from someone who doesn’t have any “real” hobbies. Two entirely unchallenging, solitary pursuits,(long drives through the mountains, exploring old neighborhoods) one potentially challenging pursuit,(taking photographs of Buddhist temples) and one pursuit he just recently picked up.(gardening)

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          …sounds like hobbies to me? Sure, some are challenging, but they don’t necessarily have to be. And many hobbies are solitary.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah. Those aren’t hobbies I would choose, but they are certainly hobbies…hobbies that involve some physical activity even!

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Isn’t decreasing the pre-marital sex rate kind of the conservative goal?

        It’s *a* conservative goal, but it doesn’t follow that conservatives have to be in favour of anything that will decrease it. Sometimes the cure really is worse than the disease.

        • Aftagley says:

          Right, I use that to point out that the PM sex rate is a relatively trivial statistic when it comes to measuring public good.

          Something bad that also happens to bring down the pre-marital sex rate would still be bad if it increased the sex rate or caused it to hold steady. Bringing down the rate (or occurring in coincidence with a decrease in the rate) isn’t evidence that something is bad.

    • AG says:

      Sounds like a whole lot of correlation/causation fuzziness here. How much of the fall to various addictions driven by external factors? Modern smokers and drinkers largely do it for stress reasons. Most of the points here about porn and its social effects, especially the case of Japan, seem to be more of a sympton of social atomization, which incentivize the turn to porn, which may or may not exacerbate things. (The point about the allure of incest, especially, is really about social atomization.)

      Do we see similar effects for people who attend strip clubs or burlesques? And what of the sex workers and porn actors themselves? Do we see significant shifts when the Hays Code begins and ends, or when the NC-17 rating cratered? If we don’t see the same kinds of correlations, then the uniquely deleterious effects of porn are about the broader social situation, than simply being a voyeur.

      • Nick says:

        Do we see similar effects for people who attend strip clubs or burlesques? And what of the sex workers and porn actors themselves? Do we see significant shifts when the Hays Code begins and ends, or when the NC-17 rating cratered?

        I only mention it once in my summary, but PEG says many times that widely known, easy to access Internet sites with a lot of different video porn seems to be the real driver here. Several of his speculations (which, again, I’m skeptical of) tie the beginning of the problems to the years when those sites arose, the late 2000s.

        • AG says:

          Then there’s a huge correlation/causation aspect. PEG needs to prove that porn is a uniquely bad internet addiction compared to, say, spending work hours posting comments on a niche intellectual blog open thread.

          Or to be less snarky, if there’s a difference from people who spend most of their time reading erotic fanfiction (or non-erotic, hurt/comfort is arguably a larger pool). Or if porn addicts have worse outcomes than those with Gaming Disorder.

          • soreff says:

            >PEG needs to prove that porn is a uniquely bad internet addiction compared to, say, spending work hours posting comments on a niche intellectual blog open thread.

            Thank You! I hadn’t read your comment before making essentially
            the same point later in the thread.

            I think most of the complaints about porn apply similarly to a _very_
            wide range of storable, transmissible forms of many human activities:

            Reading and writing are partial substitutes for memory and conversation.
            Photography, movies, written music, paintings, sculpture,
            dance notation, radio, recorded music…

            All of them partially substitute for some more immediate human
            activity. They all make the substitute more available – generally
            with more variety, generally with some desensitization towards
            the more vanilla version of the direct experience. I can read the
            eloquence of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and it makes the
            next words from my next door neighbor a bit more mundane
            in comparison. So what?

            This argument goes all the way back to Socrates:
            “In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates calls into question the propriety and impropriety of writing. Throughout his discussion with a colleague, Socrates insists that writing destroys memory and weakens the mind (Ong, 2002).”

            There is value in both porn and in real sex. This is the same
            trade-off as in all of the storable, transmissible, mediated
            technologies I listed above. There is value in both the unmediated
            and mediated versions of the relevant experiences.

            I might, with a lot of effort, get to see the Taj Mahal with my own
            eyes, or participate in an orgy. I am unlikely to actually do either
            in the rest of my life. I can see images of both, and that has value to me.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      The main issue with these studies is that they tend to be observational, hence they can’t distinguish between correlation and causation.

      The hypothesis that porn is a superstimulus that can cause addiction and sexual dysfunction, however, is plausible.

    • broblawsky says:

      For the purposes of scientific integrity, before anything else, you’d need to demonstrate conclusively that “porn addiction” is a meaningful comparison to other types of addiction. Saying that it actuates the dopamine system isn’t enough – the dopaminergic system does a lot of stuff. Even proving a link between porn consumption and the mesolimbic pathway might not be sufficient.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        Yeah I was about to make this point, as I’m reading through I see a lot of “porn is addictive” (which, sure) is eliding into “porn addiction” which I’d really like a definition for.

        If I watch 12 porn videos in a session and masturbate about once every 2 weeks, am I a porn addict?
        If I masturbate once a day to the same 3 porn videos, am I a porn addict?

        Etc, etc…

        • Aftagley says:

          Does this level of certainty exist for anything though? Even sub out porn for alcohol in your above description and the answer would be “maybe”

        • herbert herberson says:

          Porn addiction is sort of a facinating thing, in that at least something around those lines definitely exists–there are undoubtedly young men who wish to limit their porn usage, cannot do so, and suffer distress and/or dysfunction from that. There’s an entire cottage industry of porn addition treatment apps. But it seems to be almost entirely limited to religious communities. Easy to explain this limitation, of course–secular porn users don’t typically see any reason to stop using–but so long as none of them experience significant adverse consequences from their use, we’re essentially dealing with a culture-bound addiction.

          • EchoChaos says:

            but so long as none of them experience significant adverse consequences from their use

            That certainly depends on whether later, fewer children and fewer relationships are adverse consequences, all of which secular men across the West and Japan are experiencing.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Certainly not in a clinical sense.

          • broblawsky says:

            That certainly depends on whether later, fewer children and fewer relationships are adverse consequences, all of which secular men across the West and Japan are experiencing.

            If the negative consequences aren’t comparable to alcoholism or gambling addiction, it’s not a useful comparison.

          • Nick says:

            The article discusses negative consequences extensively, and I mention them in my summary, 13-16. If you think the studies cited are bogus or that all of them rest on correlation, okay, but you’re all bizarrely talking as if no negative consequences have even been raised.

          • herbert herberson says:

            There’s a significant difference between adverse consequences in the context of a possible societal-wide trend, and ones that are clinically relevant in terms of an addiction diagnosis. I might not have been sufficiently clear that I was talking about the latter, but that was what I was trying to do.

            It’s entirely possible for porn to have significant negative consequences without anything that could be dubbed an addiction existing (outside of the communities who are already experiencing it). IMO, and in my undergrad-tier understanding of how psychiatry approaches the issue, the terminology of “addiction” should be reserved for cases where the behavior is either unwanted or more-or-less life-destroying.

          • broblawsky says:

            The article discusses negative consequences extensively, and I mention them in my summary, 13-16. If you think the studies cited are bogus or that all of them rest on correlation, okay, but you’re all bizarrely talking as if no negative consequences have even been raised.

            I apologize if I made you feel that I was disregarding the exceptional effort you put into your summary of the original article. This discussion is only possible because of the work you put into summarizing the article for us, and I appreciate it. I was only responding to @EchoChaos’ description of “later, fewer children and fewer relationships are adverse consequences” as not being comparable to the effects of gambling addiction or alcoholism.

            Regarding points 13-16 from your original post:

            13. Porn addiction is also having a negative impact on relationships.

            This appears to hold up in at least a correlative sense, based on a quick review of the cited studies. The causal link is obviously hard to prove, but it seems intuitively reasonable that excessive porn use could lead to an unrealistic view of sex and relationships. The “traumatic” nature of porn use by partners for women is also fairly intuitive. However, the sample sizes for these studies do not impress me. If replication is ever attempted, I expect it to be underwhelming. Your initial evaluation of the author’s analysis of these studies is valid, to my mind.

            14. Porn addiction is also having particularly negative effects on the prefrontal cortex due to neuroplasticity.

            Yeah, this definitely sounds like nonsense to me as well. Pure and undiluted neuroscience woo.

            15. Next up is the effects on children.

            This sounds like another case of the original author mistaking a potentially strong correlation for a definitive causal link. I think we can all agree that kids shouldn’t be exposed to porn, though.

            16. PEG turns finally to the effects on society generally. He brings up Japan again, where not only are sex rates down, but marriage rates, and interest in, well, much of anything.

            I think that this is one area where the original author (to his credit) refuses to attribute a causal link where the research does not support one. Regarding your question as to why we can’t prove ‘grass eaters’ aren’t suffering from porn addiction – first, you’d have to have good categorical definitions for both ‘grass eaters’ and ‘porn addiction’. We currently have neither.

        • ana53294 says:

          I’d say that if you need to up your dosage (more and more hardcore porn, weird porn anime with octopi or whatever), so it goes further and further from ordinary sex, then it’s probably an addiction.

          I am unsure about the porn consumer who watches the same type of porn fairly regularly without escalating.

        • Garrett says:

          Concurrently, we know that both gambling and shopping can be addictive. Yet we are working to liberalize gambling laws, and just about no one is trying to shut down shopping as a concept.

    • achenx says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen my username come up randomly in a comment section here before. Odd post for it to happen.

      Looks interesting, I will take a closer look at the article later.

      • Nick says:

        Heh, sorry. After I posted, I sort of wondered whether I really should have tagged you. But then my edit window was gone.

        • achenx says:

          Oh no problem, it was just surprising.

          After reading the article, I am skeptical of some of it, but a lot of it seems like it has a point. That said, all I know of this area is anecdotal experience, and not a whole lot at that, so just because something doesn’t make sense to me doesn’t mean much.

          I also went back and reread that Atlantic article too. Both the articles mainly just bring ring up general worry about my kids’ futures, but I have a very strong pre-existing bias towards assuming “the world is uniquely terrible now” is an easy thing to believe but rarely valid, so while I worry about how my kids will deal with the modern world, I also try to keep in mind that said worry has probably been constant throughout human history.

    • Zephalinda says:

      Given that this question could only be resolved by social science research…
      on a big, complex cross-cultural issue…
      touching directly on the dearest values of Western secular modernity…
      with extremely high moral, economic and group-status stakes…
      turning on intimate, embarrassing, hard-to-scrutinize, easy-to-falsify, slow-developing, possibly highly subjective human phenomena…
      that are naturally subject only to observational, not experimental, inquiry…
      amidst all the other myriad methodological issues psych research has going on…

      …I would be extremely surprised if the entirety of the published literature contributed one iota of actual clarity on the point. Plus my (ok, likely unfair) impression of sex researchers is that the selection process tends to filter for axe-grindy True Believers (of either stripe), so given the recent rash of high-profile fraud cases in Soc and Psych alike, I’m not even sure I’d trust God’s own RCT if it showed up in J Human Sexuality.

      The theoretical mechanism certainly makes sense to me. I also think it’s reasonable to draw a parallel between porn and commercial junk food and ask why we instinctively accept Puritanical narratives about healthy eating while instinctively rejecting them when it comes to sex. But I wouldn’t necessarily look to the evidence to save us here.

    • Konstantin says:

      I think the increase in ED diagnosis has a lot more to do with the introduction of Viagra and friends. When it first came out there was a huge advertising blitz, and a lot of people sought prescriptions which leads to an increase in diagnosis.

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed.

        It’s also probably difficult statistically to disentangle “people who take it as treatment for a severe medical problem” from “people who take it because they think it’ll marginally improve their sex life”.

      • Aapje says:

        @Konstantin

        I also think that ED changed from “that just happens when you get old enough” to “it’s an affliction that can be treated.”

        I strongly suspect that many more women are also diagnosed with menopausal issues than in the past.

    • broblawsky says:

      In addition to my previous points, I’d like to note that we, collectively, still have a dangerously ambiguous definition of addiction. As our gracious host pointed out in Against Against Pseudoaddiction, behaviors that appear addictive from a top-down view can, from an individual perspective, actually be adaptive and reasonable responses to one’s current situation. Shoehorning every behavior we can into the ‘addiction’ category is unwise, and using the neuroscientific language of addiction just adds additional confusion to both the study of conventional addiction and the topic the author wishes to discuss.

      • Randy M says:

        I think I’m agreeing; the whole notion of addiction here seems like a distraction. Are there negative effects from use? Is it dose dependent? With what frequency in the population? Do people find it is difficult to restrain themselves? We can answer these without using the word addition and unless we’re trying to allocate blame or requisition medical funds we probably should.

        While I respect neuroscience, I think if you have to look at brain scans for effects it’s likely not a problematic behavior, so getting into whether or not it hijacks dopamine might help someone quit, but doesn’t do much to establish whether or not it is a problem.

    • Atlas says:

      Thanks for writing a lucid and detailed summary of the article; I’d seen it floating around, but hadn’t read it.

      This reminds me of how I became convinced that climate change isn’t a huge problem: by carefully reading The Climate Casino by Bill Nordhaus to learn the best arguments for why it was (as I had previously assumed) a big problem. But the actual scientific evidence cited seemed to suggest—even accepting it uncritically as presented—that it’s a relatively modest issue. And yet the rhetoric of those citing the evidence—David Wallace-Wells, Greta Thunberg, Jonathan Franzen, etc.— frequently seemed to run wildly ahead of it: Apocalypse, crisis, Armageddon, catastrophe, etc.

      Likewise, I’ve heard a lot of very aggressive rhetoric from alt-right sources (not suggesting that American Greatness is one, to be clear, just that that’s where I heard this first) over the past couple years about what a gigantic public health crisis/epidemic/etc. Internet pornography is. But whenever I actually see evidence cited in favor of this view, it seems relatively modest.

      So, the extreme proliferation of Internet pornography might, uncritically accepting the evidence as presented here, lead/have led to things like increased erectile dysfunction, loss of interest in real sex, social isolation, weird and/or bad fetishes and addiction to watching porn.

      Am I missing something, or does this seem like a surprisingly limited amount of (alleged) material consequences for what the article alleges to be an “epidemic?” None of these things are positive goods (though some may arguably be neutral), but they don’t really seem, to me at least, like major negatives that might demand a concerted societal response the way that other alleged public health risks like alcohol, tobacco, opiates, sugar, guns and automobiles might.

      And that’s taking the evidence as argued for granted; here’s an article in Quillette that argues against some common claims in this area. (To be clear, I haven’t researched enough to confidently judge one way or the other, I just think it seems like a perspective worth considering.)

      • Randy M says:

        Am I missing something, or does this not seem like a surprisingly limited amount of (alleged) material consequences for what the article alleges to be an “epidemic?”

        I don’t think you intend that not. (or else swap limited for significant)

        Instantly available porn in more flavors than Baskin-Robins (who are missing entirely on the famine stricken ancient near-Easter flavors) is definitely a wide scale societal change that seems very plausibly specifically keyed to our savanna psyche. I expect the consequences, though, to be about on par with social media equipped smart phones. Not something easy to disentangle, but widespread alterations in behavior and perceptions that aren’t likely to be positive for our mental and spiritual health any more than having candy at every check-out isle promotes physical well-being.
        Even if a hungry person feels great after a candy bar.

        • Atlas says:

          I don’t think you intend that not. (or else swap limited for significant)

          Thanks for the catch. I tend to be somewhat obsessive about proof-reading before posting (and writing in general), but maybe it would be better to just rush things out and edit them after people point out errors.

          Instantly available porn in more flavors than Baskin-Robins (who are missing entirely on the famine stricken ancient near-Easter flavors) is definitely a wide scale societal change that seems very plausibly specifically keyed to our savanna psyche. I expect the consequences, though, to be about on par with social media equipped smart phones. Not something easy to disentangle, but widespread alterations in behavior and perceptions that aren’t likely to be positive for our mental and spiritual health any more than having candy at every check-out isle promotes physical well-being.
          Even if a hungry person feels great after a candy bar.

          Sure, fair enough. Maybe there’s some grand synthesis to be made with the recent Jonathan Haidt book alleging that wokeness is bad for mental health?

          Also, as a general note, I found the discussion of happiness and modernity in Enlightenment Now very interesting. Professor Pinker cited some evidence that pushed back against commonly repeated arguments about how unhappy, lonely, meaningless, etc. moderns’ lives are. (I don’t know how much to credit happiness research generally or Pinker’s read of it specifically, but it was interesting.)

        • Dacyn says:

          I don’t think you intend that not.

          Uh, that looks like an idiomatic usage to me. “Does this not look like X?” I would answer either “Yes, it does” or “No, it doesn’t”.

      • On the issue of the relation between porn and aggression against women, I remember seeing some interesting research some years ago. The authors looked at state level data on the availability of the internet, at the point when it was coming into common use, and rates of rape, on the theory that the internet greatly increased access to pornography.

        Their conclusion was a negative relation — availability of the internet was associated with lower rates of rape, not higher. That makes sense if you think of porn as a substitute for sex, and violent porn as a substitute for violent sex.

        • Atlas says:

          That definitely sounds plausible to me, at least, and if true, is a serious consideration in favor of (at least some) access to pornography. (Of course, exploitative practices and/or assault within the industry would be a countervailing concern.) I remember hearing Geoff Miller make the argument somewhere that countries like India with high rates of sexual assault would be better off with more access to Internet pornography.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          If the mechanism is porn is a general substitute for sex, then unless you think pushing a magical button that rewires all humans to no longer perform sex for pleasure is a good idea, then reducing access to porn doesn’t make either. Sure there’s an upside but the downside is much bigger.

          And I’m not in favor of making tobacco illegal, either.
          This all seems to prove too much.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I think you’re overstating the effects–porn probably reduces people’s sex drive, but clearly doesn’t eliminate it. And I think humanity would be pretty much fine if population growth rates levelled off a bit. Besides, we’ve had internet porn for about 2 decades and the pop. growth rate is still positive.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            And I think humanity would be pretty much fine if population growth rates levelled off a bit. Besides, we’ve had internet porn for about 2 decades and the pop. growth rate is still positive.

            Most developed countries have negative growth rates now.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Le Maistre Chat
            Source? A quick google is giving me positive rates (as of 2017) for the first few developed countries I thought of (US, UK, France, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway) is turning up positive.

            Ok, slightly more thorough Google (thanks Wikipedia) and it looks like there are some with negative rates (e.g. Japan), but the solid majority both overall and among developed nations is definitely still positive.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid: I think that Wikipedia list includes immigration. We need to look at Total Fertility Rate, because if something in our environment (like free porn) is suppressing marriage and fertility, bringing in yokels from places that don’t have internet access to keep population growth positive is not a renewable resource.
            South Korea is at 1.1 child per woman. Spain, Italy, Bosnia at 1.3 … Japan, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Greece, the United Arab Emirates at 1.4 … Canada, Austria, Hungary, Thailand at 1.5 … European Union as a whole is 1.6 per woman.

          • @Maistre:

            Even if you don’t count immigration, a net reproduction rate below replacement does not imply that population is currently declining, only that it will decline if the current pattern of age specific fertility is maintained for long enough.

          • Plumber says:

            @Le Maistre Chat > “…We need to look at Total Fertility Rate…”

            I was surprised to see that the fertility rates of Italy and Spain were so low, which doesn’t fit the stereotypes I learned in the 20th century, I’m curious if the low rates are due to less un-wed births and a lower marriage rates, with they couples who do get married still having a relatively high rate (as in the United States recently), or if married couples are having fewer children as well.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Plumber

            In Spain, people have fewer children; in one generation, my parents’ generation went from having families of 5-8 siblings to having 1-3 kids. People also went from marrying in their twenties to marrying in their thirties.

          • Plumber says:

            @ana53294,
            Thanks.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Plumber

            Thanks for that link. It’s interesting but not surprising that marriage and children become more tightly coupled when marriage itself becomes devalued because the people who still marry will be those more likely to have kids.

            The decrease in unwed births is always welcome news, of course.

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos says: “Thanks for that link…”.

            You’re welcome.

            I doubt I’ll live long enough to see how it shakes out, but I’m curious about whether the Americans that were born in the past few years more follow the example of the larger cultures relatively (compared to previous decades) lower birth and marriage rates, or do they more follow the examples of most of their parents?

            It’s hard to pattern match, the 1930’s saw low birth and marriage rates, with those married also having relatively few kids, 1946 to 1963 saw a huge increase in births, marriages, and people getting married and having kids young, then the drop in births, but a lot more unwed births in the ’70’s and ’80’s, then a drop in unwed births afterwards, and then the post 2008 decline in marriages with a recent increase in births among those who are married.

            Compared to the ’70’s and ’80’s now people voice more socially liberal beliefs, but act more conservatively (more celibacy outside of marriage).

            It’s like there’s two groups: an act like it’s the 1930’s group (low births, church, and marriage), and an act like it’s the 1950’s group (higher births, church, and marriage) though later marriages than the ’50’s, with the ’70’s and ’80’s style higher unwed births abandoned.

            Curious this.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Ah, good point. Though, bringing in yokels can be a renewable resource if the places you’re bringing them in from have (fertility rate – emigration rate*) > 2.

            *converted to the proper units by dividing by the number of women in their childbearing years, times the number of childbearing years, I think?

    • Atlas says:

      (Separating this into another comment for the sake of readability)

      One waggish thought that I’ve had is that, insofar as we grant Puritanism to be a valid concept [1], video games would seem to be a much better target than pornography. (The exact opposite of the view, incidentally, expressed by Professor Jordan P[e]terson in an interview with Stefan Molyneux from a couple years ago.)

      Many of the alleged dangers presented to the consumer by pornography—addictiveness, exposure to very young children, delaying being a functional adult, etc.—would seem to apply with far greater force to video games. It’s a sedentary, often solitary, completely pointless (rearranging pixels on a screen) activity that can suck up countless hours of an addict’s time. Just look at NYT articles on the Fortnite craze from 1-2 years ago.

      There are reactionaries who are principled-ly against both these things, but it’s still interesting to me that e.g. Nick Fuentes and The Daily Stormer praise video gaming as frankly a positive good, while also decrying pornography as a serious evil.

      [1] We should definitely stop using “Puritanism” as a pejorative in any case, because the (American) Puritans were frickin’ awesome, as we all learned in Albion’s Seed.

      • Randy M says:

        I definitely think there is something to this; not necessarily that it’s more insidious than porn, but there’s a stiff competition in that area. I was talking about this with my daughter after she observed that the teenage boys at the youth retreat spent every minute playing Smash Bros that they were allowed to do so. Video games are expertly designed to give a false sense of accomplishment, in addition to all the exciting colors and swelling music. I got an achievement on Steam for beating Slay the Spire (for example)! I feel great, let’s do it again! But… I haven’t actually gotten better at a skill that will accomplish anything I care about, except incidentally and probably quite disproportionately to the time invested. It’s kind of annoying, but not much less inviting for finding it so.

        But in comparison, the only thing that makes video games worse is that we’re physiologically much more able to play videos games for eight hours straight than be sexually excited for eight hours straight. Porn is more sedentary, more likely to be solitary, and even more pointless than video games, which might incidentally improve your mental agility, while porn is unlikely to help you with any effective seductive skills, though I’m sure someone has an anecdote to the contrary.

        • Machine Interface says:

          But the bulk of this argument also applies to books, movies, board games, listening to music, watching tv, dancing, most sports… basically any non-creative activity or hobby.

          This is why people use “puritanism” as a slur for “people who absolutely hate the idea that anyone, anywhere, could be having fun”.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            +1. I was about to say, let’s not forget the old-fashioned ways to spend hours staring at a box of flashing lights, or alternatively a bunch of ink on some bound paper.*

            *yeah, nonfiction books can makes you smarter, but consider novels.

          • Randy M says:

            With the names “machine interface” and “the voice of the void”, the push-back on electronic media is understandable =P

            But the bulk of this argument also applies to books, movies, board games, listening to music, watching tv, dancing, most sports… basically any non-creative activity or hobby.

            Can you restate the argument that you think argues against these things as strongly as against porn and/or video games? Because I don’t see it doing so.

            This is why people use “puritanism” as a slur for “people who absolutely hate the idea that anyone, anywhere, could be having fun”.

            Maybe I shouldn’t have responded to a post that gave support for “puritanism”, because that is taken popularly to be support for banning via law. I don’t hate or oppose other peoples fun. This is merely a concern that modern entertainment may be deleterious in some ways.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Randy M

            I feel great, let’s do it again! But… I haven’t actually gotten better at a skill that will accomplish anything I care about, except incidentally and probably quite disproportionately to the time invested. It’s kind of annoying, but not much less inviting for finding it so.

            Watching TV doesn’t really make you better at much of anything. Reading a novel might improve your writing about as much as video games improve your coordination. Last I read, Sudoku and similar puzzles probably do little for your cognitive function besides improve your ability to solve Sudokus. Congratulations, you’ve written a bunch of numbers in boxes!

            Point is, we do a wide variety of things to entertain ourselves. Many of them have little or no value beyond that in-the-moment entertainment. And that’s fine–having fun is a good thing in and of itself in my book, even if you don’t really “accomplish” anything in the process. Yes, Fortnite is more addictive than Settlers of Catan, but I’d bet people were spending too much time watching TV ever since it was invented, and before that listening to radio dramas, and before that reading pulp fiction. Basically, nothing new under the sun.

            And agreed that video games might be somewhat deleterious. I sure can think of times when I’ve stayed up past midnight playing a game when I should have been going to bed or doing homework. But, I can also remember staying up late reading novels by the light of my alarm clock as a kid when I was supposed to be going to bed.

          • Randy M says:

            Watching TV doesn’t really make you better at much of anything.

            Ah, okay, thanks.
            It’s not so much the time wasting that I resent, it’s that it feels like it’s repurposing my primitive brain for it’s own purposes, far more efficiently than most activities that are merely fun.
            I’ve no wish to be a cog is some machine where every action must have a productive purpose, but nor do I want to be a host for some memetic sort of electronic parasite.

            Can you believe I’m arguing this at the same time as arguing up-thread that I ~don’t~ think a super intelligence would be able to control me as easily as suspected? Perhaps I’m just trying to rationalize contradictory irrational worries, or put to words passing curiosities.

            (But I did start a thread along these lines last year, I think. Eh, if it’s interesting, argue with me, but rest assured I have no Puritan urge to ban these things)

          • Matt M says:

            it’s that it feels like it’s repurposing my primitive brain for it’s own purposes, far more efficiently than most activities that are merely fun.

            See, I’m pretty strongly sympathetic to both sides here. On the one hand, it seems pretty obvious that any and all forms of mindless entertainment can be “addicting” to some people, and that cultural critics in previous eras have long predicted the imminent downfall of society due to the latest diversion (and have been universally incorrect in such predictions).

            On the other hand, it also seems obvious that humanity continues to make incremental “improvements” to basically everything we create, and that mindless entertainment is no different. I can think of a few different reasons to be especially concerned about modern entertainment (as opposed to entertainment from previous eras) in general, with video games being among the most egregious examples of these sorts of behaviors.

            It definitely seems that “addictiveness” is now a quality that is being actively optimized for. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure that Charles Dickens or whoever had a relatively strong intuitive understanding of the process wherein “the more the reader feels like they have to immediately and constantly consume my work, the more in demand my work will be, and the more money I will make.” Psychological “tricks” in entertainment are nothing new – the basic cliffhanger being the primary example. But I think prior to the last couple decades, this was mainly intuitive and not necessarily deeply studied. Modern video game companies do study human psychology in an intentional attempt to optimize for addictiveness specifically. They increasingly sell their products on a “subscription” model (as opposed to a one-time purchase) that facilitates this effort, or they price bonus products in a manner that is specifically tied to known psychological triggers (pay a couple dollars to speed up your experience and get that thing you want RIGHT NOW instead of in 2 days).

            So, to the extent that “more addictive” entertainment products are “better” entertainment products (as measured by the profitability of those who create them), which seems quite likely, human progress and advancement is likely to lead to steadily increasingly addictive products. And given how “addictive” current products already are (enough to cause pretty serious problems for some, but not many, people), my concern is less with what exists today and more with what will exist 5 years from now. Basically, how far away are we from legitimate, no-kidding wireheading (and when we get there, doesn’t it seem like it will probably come in the form of some sort of sexually explicit interactive media?)

          • Randy M says:

            Basically, how far away are we from legitimate, no-kidding wireheading (and when we get there, doesn’t it seem like it will probably come in the form of some sort of sexually explicit interactive media?)

            And when we get to wireheading directly, it will be more of a universalization of what was immediately prior a set of personalized software packages individually tailored to have nearly the same effect but seem innocuous to all but the old fuddy-duddies.

          • Jaskologist says:

            We already have wireheading. That’s what drugs are. If video games get to a similar level of addictiveness we’ll react similarly.

            Alcohol provides a good border case. It seems to sit right on the line where societies recognize it as problematic, but usually not enough to ban.

          • Matt M says:

            We already have wireheading. That’s what drugs are.

            Except that drugs are expensive, typically illegal, become less effective with continuous use, and come with all kinds of unfortunate health and behavioral side effects.

            At some point we’re going to discover how to deliver all the benefits of hard drugs without any of the costs (other than addictive potential). That’s going to represent a massive societal shift.

          • Aapje says:

            Ultimately, it is an eternal conservative worry that ‘the wrong thing’ is more attractive than ‘the right thing.’

            Of course, from this perspective, things can be caused by the wrong thing getting more attractive, but also by the right thing becoming less so. Probably we actually see a combination of both, as well as causal relationships between the two.

            For example, to give a just so story, perhaps computer games make boys less fun to be around, which in turn makes it less attractive for women to seek out boys, so they use less make-up and use vibrators more, which makes them less attractive for boys compared to computer games, so boys get less attractive, etc.

    • Pink-Nazbol says:

      Tradcons always explain recent social changes as being due to something wrong with men’s behavior, it having changed in some way. They never talk about women’s behavior changing except as a reaction to the original change in men’s behavior. This allows them to seem like traditionalists without being de-platformed. The tradcon can rail against weak unmanly men in the harshest language secure in the knowledge that the worst Twitter staff will do is roll their eyes at the cranky codger.

      The anti-pron stuff fits perfectly into this. This doesn’t mean pron can’t also be bad, sometimes there really is a wolf. But the article is pretty weak. The brain is a chemical machine, anything you interact will “affect brain chemistry.”

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Tradcons have plenty to say about how women’s changing behaviors has had a similar impact on family formation and birth rates. But porn addiction is much more a male problem than a female problem.

    • zardoz says:

      I’m skeptical of the claim that porn is leading to people having less sex. I think there are a lot of confounding factors. We have a much older population than we used to. People are staying in school longer, which tends to delay the age of marriage. The social norms around all kinds of sexual behavior have gotten much stricter, as well as the consequences for violating them.

      Even if porn is leading to people having less sex, it’s not clear if that is really a big problem. Recalling some of the earlier discussion on this, the age group whose sexual activity declined the most was teenagers. Is that really a problem that conservatives (or progressives?) need to solve? Teenagers need to have more sex?

      The other harms seem similarly… not that harmful. Even if porn is leading to more erectile dysfunction (and I don’t buy the argument here)– even if that’s true, we have a cure for ED.

      He also links studies where women feel less desirable or report lower self-worth. With single studies being linked, this is an area where I especially expect that research may not hold up.

      I would be shocked if any of that research replicated.

      A study of teens found a “relationship between pornography exposure and… social isolation, misconduct, depression, suicidal ideation, and academic disengagement.” Depression, natch, is way up among teens. Decide for yourself whether this is more plausible than the hundred other proposed explanations for teen depression.

      Where did they find teens who haven’t been exposed to porn?

      • The social norms around all kinds of sexual behavior have gotten much stricter, as well as the consequences for violating them.

        ???

        I would have said just the opposite. Within my lifetime, norms against promiscuity, homosexual sex, oral sex, have gotten much weaker. The only sexual norms I can think of that have gotten stricter are the norm in favor of more explicit consent and the related norm against sex where one partner is young.

        • Randy M says:

          Perhaps zardoz is referring to just the last few years?

        • acymetric says:

          The only sexual norms I can think of that have gotten stricter are the norm in favor of more explicit consent and the related norm against sex where one partner is young.

          Or sex where any intoxicants (alcohol/drugs) are involved.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or sex where any intoxicants (alcohol/drugs) are involved.

            A group of people with high media visibility are vocally arguing that drunken sex should be denormalized; I am unconvinced that they have had any great success among the actual-sex-having population.

          • Nornagest says:

            Young people are having less sex than their equivalents a generation or two ago, according to all the recent statistics on the subject I’ve seen. That doesn’t prove that the media messaging is responsible to any great extent, but it’s one of only a handful of plausible causes.

          • John Schilling says:

            Young people are having less sex than their equivalents a generation or two ago,

            Agreed, but the move to denormalize drunken sex specifically didn’t become a high-profile thing until maybe half a generation ago.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Norms for heterosexual male behavior have become more strict, norms for everything else has become more lax.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Is that really a problem that conservatives (or progressives?) need to solve? Teenagers need to have more sex?

        It’s not the ends but the means. If teens are having less sex because they’re too busy with Bible Study, great! If it’s because they’re socially enfeebled porn addicts, not so great.

    • Basically, young people in America—indeed all over the West—are having considerably less sex than previous generations.

      And yet STD infection rates in recent years are up. This doesn’t exclude a generalized decline, but it refutes theories based on the entire bell curve shifting one way.(Unless people have stopped using condoms for some unrelated reason.)

      • Lambert says:

        Better diagnostics and antibiotic resistance?

        • Aapje says:

          Or society is bifurcating into a promiscuous group of winners and a group of incelar insular losers.

          It can both be true that one group is much more promiscuous and have STDs out the wazoo, but on average people are having less sex.

          @Alexander Turok

          Apparently, gay people have become way more careless, due to PrEP and decent AIDS treatments.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Married people generally have more sex and much, much safer sex. We would expect its decline to give us both less sex (because people now have to go out of their way to get it) and more STDs (because people are having more partners).

        Put more simply, sex once a month with a different person each time is much riskier than sex twice a week with the same person.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Married people generally have more sex and much, much safer sex. We would expect its decline to give us both less sex (because people now have to go out of their way to get it) and more STDs (because people are having more partners).

          This. This this this!
          Being a horny unmarried young person is not the more rewarding lifestyle. Like, when I hear the lyrics to a certain Daft Punk song:

          She’s up all night ’til the sun
          I’m up all night to get some
          She’s up all night for good fun
          I’m up all night to get lucky

          … it just sounds miserable for the male singer. He has to orbit women all night, ’til sunrise, for a (slim?) chance to perform the reproductive act. So he has to sleep off 8 hours of daylight each weekend day or be running on constant sleep deprivation for the sake of his libido.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            He has to orbit women all night, ’til sunrise, for a (slim?) chance to perform the reproductive act. So he has to sleep off 8 hours of daylight each weekend day or be running on constant sleep deprivation for the sake of his libido.

            The thing is that while a woman can pop out a baby once 1.5 – 2 years at max, a man can “fire-and-forget” multiple times per day in principle. A man can parallelize baby-making by mating with multiple women, while baby-making is inherently serial for a woman. This explains the Coolidge effect and the prevalence of polygyny compared to polyandry.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The thing is that while a woman can pop out a baby once 1.5 – 2 years at max, a man can “fire-and-forget” multiple times per day in principle. A man can parallelize baby-making by mating with multiple women,

            In principle, yes. But for every Chad who can reliably have sex with multiple women by staying up all night, there are enough men who get no sex from partying to reduce the total amount of sex had by unmarried people, according to surveys.
            (The epistemic value of this form of “data” collecting is a different issue.)

          • viVI_IViv says:

            In principle, yes. But for every Chad who can reliably have sex with multiple women by staying up all night, there are enough men who get no sex from partying to reduce the total amount of sex had by unmarried people, according to surveys.

            Yes but, at the individual level, what other options do they have? If they choose to stay at home on weekends it’s not like a wife will magically materialize in their beds. The single men who don’t play the game are those who have given up, they are exactly the herbivore/hikikomori/incel types discussed above.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        The stats I’m familiar with (UK) have vastly differing changes for different STDs. Gonorrhoea is hugely more common now than it was 10 years ago, but e.g. genital warts are moderately less common. I don’t think you can draw general conclusions about promiscuity from them.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think at least some versions of the HPV vaccine also prevent some strains of the virus that cause genital warts, so HPV takeup might be driving lower rates of genital warts.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      On point 9–isn’t “teens having sex” generally treated as a bad thing, which we ought to be happy to see a reduction in?

      • Randy M says:

        This was raised above. But I’d say “Yes, but maybe not.”
        That is, something can be a symptom of a problem even if it is a good thing itself. If there’s less premarital sex because everyone has more will power and rationality, that’s great. If there’s less because there’s widespread teen depression, that’s not.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        On point 9–isn’t “teens having sex” generally treated as a bad thing, which we ought to be happy to see a reduction in?

        Well as people keep saying, it depends. If everyone was losing their virginity in the 13-17 age range, but to someone they were “going steady” with and there was a mechanism to make the boys take responsibility in every case where the girls got pregnant, that would be much better on net than a single-digit percentage of teens having sex because >90% are depressed.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Surely (regardless of your general attitude to sex before marriage etc) the valence of teen sex depends strongly on the age of the teenagers.

        • acymetric says:

          I think “teen” sex is generally taken to mean “high school sex” and not “college freshmen and sophomore sex”, especially in this context.

      • soreff says:

        >On point 9–isn’t “teens having sex” generally treated as a bad thing

        That certainly isn’t my view.
        I view teen pregnancy, or any unplanned pregnancy, as a bad thing.
        I view any STDs/STIs as a bad thing.
        I view prudent teen sex as a very good thing.
        We are mortal. We only get to enjoy our bodies for a limited time.
        And the ills of aging creep up _fast_ – I’d advise any teenager:
        Be careful, use condoms, but enjoy your body while it still works.
        Potential sex while one’s body is still young and healthy, once missed,
        is an opportunity you _never_ get back.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Not just this, but sex is a requirement for good mental health.

          And for guys, sex requires a level of maturity and independence to attain. Lack of sex could well be a symptom of lack of maturity and independence, which could well be from parenting styles that seem to intentionally stunt both maturity and independence.

          • Ant says:

            Since when is sex a requirement for good mental health ? Do you really think that every catholic priest who respect his vows is insane ? Or that a majority is lacking maturity and independance ?

          • soreff says:

            @LesHapablap
            Good points, Many Thanks!

          • Enkidum says:

            Since when is sex a requirement for good mental health ? Do you really think that every catholic priest who respect his vows is insane ? Or that a majority is lacking maturity and independance ?

            Insane, no, but I think it’s… weird at best? Then again, I’m pretty tolerant of weird.

            I would add the qualifiers that for most people, most of the time, a healthy sex life is indicative of good mental health. There are exceptions both across and within people.

            (Of course the adjective “healthy” is doing a lot of work in that sentence – clearly there are ways to be very unhealthily promiscuous as well as celibate.)

    • soreff says:

      I’m skeptical that this is any different from any other superstimulus.
      Look at this blog: Compared to our environment of evolutionary adaptation, there is far more
      content, far more potential conversational partners, far more variety than we evolved with.
      So? Yeah, I just spent more hours reading it than I probably should have. This is not catastrophic,
      and neither is porn, and neither are half a dozen other available superstimuli, from sugar to jet planes.
      This sounds like yet another moral panic.

  8. rocoulm says:

    As far as I understand, the general trend in the English language seems to be to “decay” in some sense. I don’t mean the language is getting worse, just that it loses a lot of formal rules – dropping verb cases, fewer pronouns, letters being merged, etc. It’s not necessarily “simplifying” because what it loses in strict rules is probably made up for in nuance that can only be learned by rote. Let’s just say it “deformalizes”.

    Questions I have:

    1) Is this correct?

    2) Is this typically true of other widely-spoken languages in the world?

    3) Assuming yes for both the previous questions, this would suggest either (a) most languages start out very formal and universally deformalize until the end of time (which seems unlikely) or (b) there’s some mechanism that either “resets” a language’s formality periodically or at least increments it. Is either of these true?

    • Nick says:

      I think what you’re getting at is morphological type, and it’s actually been suggested that languages evolve cyclically: from fusional (where a single ending might convey person, number, tense, mood, and voice) to analytic/isolating (where most words are just one root morpheme, no endings required) to agglutinative (where many morphemes are added individually to the root, one for person, one for number, one for tense…) and back to fusional. Dixon suggests that Egyptian has undergone the entire cycle.

      • Well... says:

        Do similar trends exist in the code for open-source computer software?

        Because language is just open-source meatbag software.

        • Nick says:

          I think most if not all programming languages are isolating. Easier to parse.

          There might be a cycle between object oriented, functional, and, I dunno, declarative, but most programming language retain back compatibility with old code, so they can’t overhaul things, just add new features. And a lot of modern object-oriented languages have adopted functional features like iterators and anonymous and first class functions, and C# has the very neat LINQ, which is declarative. But there’s only so much churn possible before the language spec becomes utterly unwieldy like C++.

          If there’s a cycle, then, it’s in what paradigm is dominant. And there might be a cycle there, but if there is, I don’t think we’ve observed one yet.

      • rocoulm says:

        Interesting! That terminology should give me some stuff to read up on.

        Also: a quick google search suggests no evidence for an “agglutinative-free” pun having been made yet. Anyone?

    • Skivverus says:

      I’d say the main countervailing force to this “decay” is intelligibility (“salience” I believe is a useful keyword here, though it’s been a while since my linguistics courses): rules that provide useful distinctions will be kept or created; rules that don’t, vanish. Likely the same deal as with words, just not as visible.
      Useful exercise here might be to compare Spanish and Latin grammar.

      ETA – +1 on Nick’s comment. Likely more relevant than mine.

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t know as much about grammar, but letters have been both added to and deleted from English. I and J were not distinguished in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet, and there was no K, Q, V or Z. On the other hand, eth and thorn have no modern equivalent (both sounds are usually represented by “th” now), and wynn was used in place of the modern W (which derives from a ligature of two Latin U glyphs).

    • Eric Rall says:

      I can think of a few hypotheses about English grammar:
      1. Social classes have been getting more cross-talk and the importance of fixed social classes has been culturally deemphasized, and as a result the high-status dialects are merging with the “vulgar” dialects of English. If you’re comparing modern high-status dialects to high-status dialects a century ago, then the merging effect looks like deformalization.

      2. Linguistic descriptivism, particularly the “strong form” of descriptivism that denies the validity of the concept of “correct” grammar, has been gaining ground culturally (at least on the scale of a century or so) at the expense of linguistic prescriptivism. Prescriptivist influence over culture and education is a formalizing force, while descriptivist influence is, at most, neutral. This has some cross-talk with point #1: in a prescriptivist-dominated world, a cultural merger of high-status and vulgar dialects is likely to come out closer to the high-status dialect than it would in a descriptivist-dominated world.

      3. 20th century educational methodology reforms have greatly deemphasized formal instruction in grammar (as well as rhetoric and composition) in the English curriculum, in favor of increased emphasis on literary analysis. This might be driven partially by #2 (formal instruction in correct grammar implies the existence of correct and incorrect grammar), but a bigger driving force is probably a combination of A) formal education becoming more universal instead of mainly being a finishing school for the upper class, and B) cross-contamination of K-12 education practices from higher education: professors and grad students at universities are expected to produce original research, and literary analysis is a much deeper and richer mine for original research topics than grammar, so literary analysis comes to dominate the university English departments which train K-12 English teachers.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Language changes, some features get lost and new features appear to compensate. For instance both English and French compensated heavy losses of morphology by developping much more complex word order rules —especially complex because word order is still not particularly rigid and stable in either language, but whereas say, in Latin, word order flexibility was mostly a matter of style and emphasis, whereas in French or English word order carries critical semantic and grammatical information, which means that added on flexibility requires complex transformations so as to preserve meaning.

      Consider for instance verbs in modern standard English. English speakers are often under the delusion that they have a simple verbal system because English verbs have very little morphology. But consider the array of past construction for the verb “to eat”:
      he ate (past)
      he has eaten (perfect)
      he was eating (past progressive)
      he has been eating (perfect progressive)
      he would eat (future-in-the-past)
      he would be eating (future-in-the-past-progressive)
      he used to eat (past habitual)

      (let’s ignore remote past tenses (he had eaten) and constructions with multiple meanings (“he would eat” is also, in the right context, a conditional or a past habitual) for now).

      Now constructing those forms is easy, but using them, for foreign speakers, can be quite difficult. German, for all the complexity English speakers give it, is incapable of rendering most of the above nuances, and in modern spoken German the entire above series can often be collapsed to “Ich habe gegessen”. That makes translation from English to German easy, in that case, but quite the opposite the other way round!

      And that’s just standard English. AAVE and related southern dialects can have even more complex systems of past tenses.

      So essentially, English, French, a number of other western european languages have tended to trade morphological complexity away in favor of syntaxic complexity.

      But this is of course not a universal rule, or else, by now, all languages would be devoided of morphology.

      The trade can in fact happen in the other direction. The Slavic languages for instance have tended to make their nominal morphology more complex over time, developing additional gender nuances beyond the masculine/feminine/neuter of the indo-european models — most slavic languages now contrast a masculine-animate and a masculine-inanimate, and Polish goes one step further, distinguishing a masculine-personal as well.

      So the thing is, this is completely orthogonal to formality. Formality is defined by adherence to the standard, literary norm that was described and fixed at some point. Which automatically means that most innovations are perceived as informal by virtue of being innovations. But this is all fairly inconsistent and arbitrary — innovations that originate among prestigious speakers are more likely to be accepted quickly, while simultaneously, constructions that have existed in the language for centuries, and were used by many renowed speakers, are still denounced as faulty by some grammarians (split infinitive, sentence ending preposition, singular they).

      Sometimes you even get weird reversal of fortunes: the French word “poigne” (grip) is spelled archaically, and its historically correct pronunciation is [pɔɲ], which if it followed modern spelling rules should rather be spelt “pogne”. But because the archaic spelling was maintained (apparently as an error, the word and its relatives were forgotten during a spelling reform in the 18th century), a spelling pronunciation developped as [pwaɲ], which is how the word looks like it should be pronounced according to the current rule, but is not a historically justified pronunciation.

      Except it is this latter pronunciation that is now considered formal and correct (even by educated grammarians), while the historically correct [pɔɲ] is now considered uncough and associated with slang and lack of education.

      So there’s no correlation between formality and the structure of the underneath language. The formal registers of some languages agressively reject neologisms, other embrace them. Some embrace expansive, flowery prose, and some embrace stern, minimalist prose. Some bemoan the loss of morphology and some condemn the formation of new morphology. Some favor archaicisms and some reject them abruptly.

      • Ghillie Dhu says:

        Attempting to reject neologisms is just quixotic.

      • Aharon says:

        Some of the times can also be expressed in German:

        he ate (past) – er aß
        he has eaten (perfect) – er hat gegessen.
        he was eating (past progressive)
        he has been eating (perfect progressive) – er hatte gegessen.
        he would eat (future-in-the-past) – er würde essen.
        he would be eating (future-in-the-past-progressive)
        he used to eat (past habitual) – er pflegte zu essen.

        past progressive and future-in-the-past-progressive would also be possible (“war essend”, “würde essend sein”, but aren’t used that way).

        • Machine Interface says:

          Iirc, translating “he would eat” as “er würde essen” is valid if it’s a conditional meaning:

          “If he was hungry, he would eat.” > “Wenn er Hunger hätte, würde er essen.”

          (eating is a hypothetical action)

          But not if it’s an actual future-in-the-past:

          “He didn’t know that he would eat here.” > “Er wusste nicht, dass er hier aß.”

          (eating actually happened in the past, but in a past that was in the future of a further removed past moment).

          You can contrast with “he was going to eat”, which is always a future-in-the-past and thus afaik would never be translated as “er würde essen”.

      • But consider the array of past construction for the verb “to eat”:

        How many of these are actually necessary for communication? Some of them sound overly formal or just a case of emphasis. If you asked me if I was hungry, I could say “I have already eaten” but I’m more likely to say “I already ate”.

        • Machine Interface says:

          It really depends what you mean by “necessary”. If you go by how various world languages work, it’s not even “necessary” to have a past tense at all. Some languages are perfectly content to say “I eat yesterday”, “I eat already”, “I eat 1 hour ago”.

          • I mean something like “if I never used these constructions, no one would ever suspect something off about my word choices”. There is the kind of “meaningless but necessary” features like the word “do” in English. If I said “I not know” instead of “I do not know”, you would get my meaning but it sounds wrong. But there are other words like “whom” where you can go your whole life without ever using it. If you just replaced it with “who”, you still sound like a native speaker.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Well I’m not a native English speaker, but none of these constructions seem odd or rare to me. You can construct alternatives to them, but not always.

            Like sure, you can say “I didn’t expect to see you here” instead of “I didn’t know I would see you here” to avoid that pesky future-in-the-past, but I don’t think the second sentence is any rarer or more precious than the first one.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      (Don’t know a thing about linguistics, it’s just folk observations and wild guessing)

      Similar observations has certainly been made about Russian – rules becoming more permissive, in some cases officially so (commonly linked example is the word “кофе” (“coffee”) – it used to be masculine, but sounds as having a neutral gender, so it was a common error to treat it as such. But a few years ago the Ministry of Education declared it’s not an error anymore and both genders are valid, to the resentment of many a grammar snob). It’s also not about sheer complexity – new words and sometimes constructions are being added borrowed from English – but rather about the language becoming less formal.

      OTOH, the rural dialect, especially of the older variety, is extremely liberal with the language in some regards, and I’m pretty sure now it’s used much less often than 100 or even 50 years ago. So maybe it’s not decrease in number of rules but change in what is regulated, or mix of classes Eric Rall mentioned in 1.

  9. Bobobob says:

    How amazing is it that there hasn’t been a single accidental nuclear detonation in 75 years? There must have been (I’m guessing) a cumulative total of a few hundred thousand devices, constructed to various standards, transported and stored more or less carefully, kept airborne or underwater for weeks or months at a time, subject to all sorts of human error and mishandling.

    I seem to remember someone at SSC speculating that the lack of any accidental nuclear detonations/wars is evidence that we’re all living in some kind of simulation. Sounds reasonable to me.

    • broblawsky says:

      Accidental detonation of C4 is also very rare. Nuclear devices are hard to detonate, as a consequence of both deliberate design and the fundamental physics of nuclear reactions.

      • Bobobob says:

        Hell, even the fact that no nuclear weapon has been intentionally used is impressive. Is there any other example of a weapon that was used once (well, technically, twice) and then never again for almost a century?

      • Aftagley says:

        This is my take as well.

        It’s hard to get nuclear reactions in general, so to even have this kind of problem there’s a pretty high base-rate of competence already necessary. That being said, there have of course been some accidents. Add to that, however, the inherent difficulty in making a nuclear bomb go boom and I think the low rate of accidental explosions makes pretty good sense.

        At the same time, depending on how you define “accidental nuclear detonation” you could claim that we had one back in august with the Nyonoksa radiation accident. While the details are still murky, something definitely exploded and it was definitely radioactive.

        • Bobobob says:

          Just read up on Nyonoksa, which I hadn’t heard of. Clearly not a full-scale detonation, but I’m guessing some plutonium got scattered.

    • Phigment says:

      I think you’re overestimating the likelihood of an accidental nuclear detonation.

      Nuclear weapons are not like piles of dynamite. It requires very specific, non-trivially difficult conditions for a mass of appropriate fissile material to be brought together in such a way as to produce an actual explosively runaway nuclear reaction.

      Dropping a nuclear warhead on the ground won’t cause a nuclear detonation. Shooting a nuclear warhead with bullets or missiles won’t cause a nuclear detonation. It could quite possibly break the warhead, or make a big radioactive mess, but it won’t make a mushroom cloud.

      Combine that with the fact that nuclear weapons are extremely expensive, and extremely important to whoever owns them, which means that the people involved have a lot of incentive to be careful handling them, and to design them to be pretty robust for normal use and storage.

      I expect that there are actually a fair number of nuclear weapons that have, at one time or another, fallen off of forklifts in transit, or got coffee spilled on them, or whatever, but that just isn’t going to make them detonate.

      It’s like being surprised that helicopters never suddenly take off and go flying around on their own, even when stored and transported poorly and subject to all manner of human error and mishandling. “Fly off under own power” is a really complicated thing to have happen, and things that break tend to do simple things, not complicated things.

      • Bobobob says:

        Yes, I’m fairly familiar with the technology of nuclear weapons. I guess I’m thinking more of the 50’s and 60’s, when there were lots of weapons around, much less in the way of controls, and plenty of opportunity for things to go haywire, difficulty of detonation notwithstanding.

        • bean says:

          Most of the safety features date back to about the second generation of bombs. Yes, there are the famous stories that Blue Danube would detonate if jettisoned into the water, but there are a reason that it and other first-generation weapons usually were replaced within a couple of years, and fissile material limitations meant that there weren’t all that many of them around.

      • Joshua Hedlund says:

        Bobobob may be overestimating, but you may be underestimating – I highly recommend Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control, which details a number of gripping near-accidents, as well as describing the predictable bureaucratic politics that led to much less impetus for “robust” “design,” despite the complaints of the engineers on the ground, than I would have previously guessed for something so frighteningly powerful – and that’s just from the side of the United States, to say nothing of possible unknown near-misses in the Soviet Union or other countries. I share Bobobob’s sense of awe.

        • Bobobob says:

          Joshua Hedlund, that is exactly what I am reading right now, which prompted the post. Really good book.

        • bean says:

          I have to disagree on Schlosser. His spin is universally to cast the worse possible light on any incidents. “Three of the four safety mechanisms failed in this accident”. Yes, because three of those four safety mechanisms were designed to stop it going off on the ground instead of in the air, and the accident was a mid-air collision that resulted in the bomb being dropped. It’s like saying that the steering wheel airbag failed when you rolled the car. It’s not what that is supposed to do, and the mechanism that was supposed to work here did its job properly. Another was a case where a B-52 wing got an accidental go order during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was prevented from taking off only by emergency action by base personnel. This is somehow an indictment of the system, instead of a case where the bombers would have been told “false alarm” once airborne and everyone would have gone about their business.

      • AG says:

        gdi where is the comedy scene in a giant action blockbuster that has this happen? A hugely dramatic “noooooooooo” as someone drops the warhead…and then nothing happens.

        • Phigment says:

          “True Lies” has something like this.

          Terrorists are driving a truck with a nuke down a long bridge, and a fighter jet is ordered to blow them up.

          The fighter pilot radios back, with, “Uh, this isn’t going to make the nuke go off right now, is it?”

          The guys on the other side of the radio reassure him that no, this is all perfectly safe, and then stop broadcasting and turn to each other and shrug, because they don’t know.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Heh, oddly enough I’ve heard of a few incidents of helicopters taking off by themselves. Here in NZ it is legal and routine to leave a helicopter running without a pilot at the controls, for refueling or just to let passengers out on a glacier or alpine landing, and occasionally the collective will rise for whatever reason and the machine will fly off and crash.

    • sty_silver says:

      My personal theory is not that we live in a simulation, it’s that we live in one of the relatively few[1] worlds where no nukes have gone off, because in worlds where nukes do go off, usually humans go extinct. I’ve posted this idea with more detail here. It also explains the Fermi paradox; basically the same effect but much stronger. I do genuinely find it to be the most convincing explanation of the Fermi-Paradox I’ve heard so far.

      Øyvind Thorsby reaches the same conclusion (wrt nukes) in this super awesome comic. I wanna say independently, but I might have actually been influenced by him, I don’t quite remember my thought process.

      [1] This is not “few” as in “0.0001%” but maybe 1%-5%.

      • Bobobob says:

        I think the trouble with that theory is that it explains everything. We also live in one of the few worlds where humanity wasn’t wiped out by a global pandemic, for example. The question is, what is the proportion of worlds where there was an accidental nuclear war vs. the proportion of worlds where there wasn’t an accidental nuclear war? Which (I am not a mathematician) sounds to me like a sampling problem.

        • sty_silver says:

          I think the trouble with that theory is that it explains everything.

          Not quite. The survival bias only works if the thing it is applied to almost always kills almost all humans if it happens. It seems somewhat implausible that a disease would always kill the second half of humans once it’s done with the first.

          So the question is, how many things are there which (a) have that property and (b) we don’t have strong other reasons to believe are unlikely. I think aliens and nukes are two, I don’t know if there are others. But yeah, there could be.

          • Noah says:

            I really don’t think nukes have this property. I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but there are billions of people living far from urban centers and high-profile nuclear targets.

          • pjs says:

            I’m not sure nukes have this property either (as Noah notes above), but maybe something else – vacuum decay? Or something yet unknown?

            If there was an instant way of instantly destroying humanity that anyway happens with overwhelmingly high probability, but which we can also explicitly trigger, that’s kind of neat because real magic becomes possible. Pick a card, any card. I’ll have predicted your choice correctly – and can repeat this trick over and over again under any controls you wish. You don’t need or want to know about the button I would have pressed if I were wrong, which would have then triggered a vacuum-decay-like event, but fortunately I’ve always been right and have never needed to press it.

            Basically, we can each become gods.

            Along these lines, consider a hypothetical self-destruct mechanism made to trigger if humanity is every threatened or even crowded-out (or even contacted?) by alien life. Building it may or may not have been wise. But as it happens there is no competitive alien life anywhere near us anyway, so it’s moot.

          • sty_silver says:

            Yeah, I agree it’s not obvious that nukes have this property. In fact, we know they don’t technically have it, since nukes did go off in the past.

            So it seems plausible to me that most of the time additional nukes are launched, this does lead to total or near-total extinction. Not at all obvious, just plausible. It doesn’t have to be all the time since the probabilities here aren’t that low.

            If we had strong evidence that nuclear winter wasn’t real thing, that would falsify the theory. As-is, it’s noticeable that the only nukes that went off were at a time when there weren’t yet a ton of total nukes on the planet.

            (^ I actually think it’s quite bad if humans go extinct, even if there are a many / infinity other worlds.)

      • There is still plenty of time for nukes to destroy our civilization.

    • Jake R says:

      The one that blows my mind is airbags. There are millions of them, they have to function to millisecond precision, and they can’t be prohibitively expensive. False negatives and false positives are both disastrous, and you basically never hear about one of them going off randomly while driving down the road. A quick google search turns up a couple articles about it happening but given the specifications it’s pretty impressive that it doesn’t happen constantly.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      There was apparently a fair number of incidents where nuclear warheads/bombs were burned, crashed in a plane, or even had the ICBM under them exploding, taking the entire launch facility with it. Looks like these things are just really that hard to detonate. Kind of makes one wonder how likely is it that they will work when needed – none have been tested for decades now, so it’s really easy for the engineers to lean into “too hard to detonate” side. But that’s definitely not a problem I’m going to loose sleep over.

      • fibio says:

        Now there’s a short story idea…

        So, set in the inquest after a general global nuclear launch where not a single detonation actually occurred. It turns out that the Americans accidentally introduced a flaw into their warheads in the 80s that prevented them going off. The Chinese copied the Americans so had exactly the same flaw. The Russians hadn’t maintained their warheads since the fall of the USSR and so none of them worked. The Indians’ weren’t programmed to go off until sea level so all crashed into the ground. The Pakistanis only had one and didn’t want to waste it. The British’ nuclear stockpile was a bluff, they’d just borrowed a couple American bombs after World War Two to make it look like they had one. The French did have working bombs but they were having a strike that day and no one pressed the launch button. And finally, North Koreans didn’t realise there was a war and didn’t find out until the inquest.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        I actually remember reading a somewhat similar short story written in the time of the Cold War, called something like “The Greatest Secret”. I don’t remember the premise but in the end an American engineer or something with a top secret clearance asks his Russian colleague and by that time friend – how the hell were you guys able to maintain that rate of production, with your much weaker economy how did you build so many ICBMs. And the Russian answers – well our greatest secret is that we didn’t. The warheads are real but the missiles under them are all sham, because if so many warheads go off at the same time, it really doesn’t matter where it happens, everyone on Earth is dead anyway. So we decided we might as well spare the effort of sending them across the globe if the result is the same.

        But I like yours idea much more. Or you can have one where nuclear engineers across the globe play prisoner dilemma – each side can secretly cooperate by making their warheads unexplodable, since nobody will ever test them and find out. But they have no way of communicating it to their colleagues on the other side without their superiors noticing.

        • This is my old argument about Herman Kahn’s doomsday machine. The last man out of the cave containing the cobalt bombs that will wipe out all life on earth if a nuclear attack on the U.S. is detected cuts the wire from the sensor to the detonator on his way out.

        • Don P. says:

          There’s also a novel called “The Jesus Factor” which proposes that it turns out that nukes just don’t work. Hiroshima/Nagasaki were combinations of dirty bombs. firebombing, and conventional explosives. The top people of the US and USSR keep the secret to prevent a conventional WWIII.

          (Some details may be wrong but the book is real, and in my pile of paperbacks.)

    • Atlas says:

      I seem to remember someone at SSC speculating that the lack of any accidental nuclear detonations/wars is evidence that we’re all living in some kind of simulation. Sounds reasonable to me.

      This reminds me of Nassim Taleb’s joke along the lines of: “Suppose that a fair coin lands on heads on 50 out of 50 tosses…” (Taleb would probably disagree with my views here, though.)

      Which do you think is more likely, that we’re living in a computer simulation in which an extremely unlikely outcome was selected, or that the risk of nuclear accidents (and, since OP mentioned them as well, wars) isn’t actually all that high, (as above comments argued in more detail)?

      I mentioned a week ago that I had started reading Atomic Obsession, by Professor John Mueller. I’ve since finished the book, and I highly recommend it. Professor Mueller convincingly argues that the impact of nuclear weapons has been consistently overstated and overestimated. Many aggressively alleged dangers—proliferation cascades, nuclear terrorism, nuclear war—seem to be/have been largely chimerical upon closer inspection. (However, as a reader of NNT, I’m very conscious that absence of evidence is not proof of absence.)

      • Randy M says:

        The danger of nuclear war may have been overstated, but if so it probably prevented nuclear war, which makes it a very useful chimera.
        And don’t get me started on the dangers of chimerical weapons.

        • Lambert says:

          I presume the way of dealing with chimeraon is similar to that for elephantry: light infantry armed with javelins and other missile weapons to panic the creatures and drive them back into enemy lines.

        • Atlas says:

          The danger of nuclear war may have been overstated, but if so it probably prevented nuclear war, which makes it a very useful chimera.

          Mueller argues explicitly against this view, FWIW. Notably, because 1) Overstatement of the danger could just as plausibly lead to the opposite conclusion, of extreme preventive belligerence, and actually has in e.g. the case of the Iraq War and 2) Mueller argues that WW3 wasn’t prevented by nuclear deterrence. (See the Better Angels excerpt I posted in the linked thread for more.)

          And don’t get me started on the dangers of chimerical weapons.

          Interested readers can learn more here.

        • Randy M says:

          Mueller argues explicitly against this view, FWIW.

          It’s W something, as mine was an off-the cuff comment and on reflection I’m more warm to the idea that a proper estimation of something is more apt to be useful than an irrational fear is.

  10. thevoiceofthevoid says:

    WaitButWhy has posted the next chapter in their ongoing series on politics, The Story of Us. Interested again in hearing SSC’s thoughts.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Personally, one thing that I’m becoming wary of is, am I in a centrist/libertarian/technocratic filter bubble? Aka the gray tribe. “Both sides of the aisle are blinded by partisanship, and only we smart people can see that their fighting is counterproductive to combatting the real problems in the way of a transhumanist society–disease, aging, scarcity of resources, possible-rogue-AGI.” *puts on monocle, sips tea*

      “Ah, isn’t it sad how everyone just adheres to their party’s slate of positions instead of thinking for themself?” *agrees with Scott on every issue he blogs about*

      How does one go about actually breaking out of a filter bubble effectively?

      • Have friends you trust with different views, and listen to them.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Good suggestion, that’s about how I got from “libertarian-leaning conservative” (copy of my dad’s political views) to “confused centrist” (mashup of that plus Scott’s and my left-leaning friends’ views).

      • Nick says:

        am I in a centrist/libertarian/technocratic filter bubble?

        Are we a joke to you? 🙁

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Apologies, I greatly appreciate the non-centrist/libertarian/technocratic voices in these comment threads. 🙂 Though the overall sentiment probably still skews agree-with-Scott relative to the general populace for fairly obvious reasons.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I greatly appreciate the non-centrist/libertarian/technocratic voices in these comment threads. Though the overall sentiment probably still skews agree-with-Scott relative to the general populace for fairly obvious reasons.

            I wonder if that’s really a tradeoff. It’s possible that everyone here tends to agree with Scott on most things, simply because Scott tends to stick to objectively agreeable statements. (We’ll never know for sure unless we discover an objective reference frame, but it’s still possible.)

            Sort of like how it’s possible that media has a liberal bias, simply because reality has one, too. 😉

        • Plumber says:

          @Nick,
          FWIW, I do regard you as a type of “centrist” in that you have different views that may plausibly be considered “Left” as well as different views that may plausibly be considered “Right” (all mostly due to you taking your faith seriously).

          In terms of you having views that Very Serious And Important People have told us is “centrism” over the decades, yeah epic fail!*

          *(Still last I checked you views are likely closer to the median Americans than are those of the VSAIP’s)

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        Breaking into other people’s filter bubbles helps a lot. Meet people who are not like you, until you are good enough to convince them you are in the same group. Often it teaches you how they think as you ‘become’ them by osmosis. Very helpful, especially if you have good intuition-memory and can replicate that persona once you revert to ‘yourself’.

      • SamChevre says:

        I’ve tried twice to suggest reading blogs from different points of view, and suggested blogs–but the posts disappeared. I’m going to post section by section. My recommendation is to read several blogs from a perspective that seems similar until you overcome outgroup homogeneity.

        I’d appreciate suggestions for other clusters.

        • SamChevre says:

          Blogs-conservative Christian:
          Douglas Wilson (Reformed, dominionist-influenced)
          Rod Dreher (social conservatism in the modern world)
          Dwight Longenecker (Catholic)
          I Peter 5 (traditionalist Catholic)
          First Things (mostly-Catholic)

          ETA First Things

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I’ll check these out, but suspect that I’ll have a lot of disagreements with them that simply stem from “they believe in Christianity and I don’t.” Still, might be interesting to see what and how people from various parts of that sphere think, beyond the Christians I know in real life. Don’t want to say much more while I’m still on my self-enforced ban from discourse on religion.

          • SamChevre says:

            I don’t expect you to agree–that would be kind of missing the point. (I read the Archdruid–Ecosphia/Archdruid Report–regularly, and fairly obviously don’t agree–I’m Catholic and he’s a polytheist magician.) The goal is to understand why their arguments and concerns are not the same as each other, even though they are all in the same outgroup from your perspective.

        • SamChevre says:

          Blogs-Libertarian at least in name:
          Bleeding Heart Libertarians (read the archives, especially Jacob Levy) – pro-immigration, pro-state libertarianism
          Niskansen Institute (open borders, liberal on social policy)
          Mises Institute (traditionalist libertarianism)
          National Review

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Now these I’m in grave danger of heartily agreeing with 🙂 Will report back after I’ve read some!

          • Nick says:

            If you’re recommending National Review libertarians, I think Charlie Cooke is probably their best. Lots of folks like Kevin Williamson, too, though his rhetoric tends to divide.

        • profgerm says:

          Any suggestions for sources from the left/progressive perspective?

          Or to any other readers, suggestions for that cluster that don’t involve Current Affairs?

          • Plumber says:

            @profgerm > “Any suggestions for sources from the left/progressive perspective?…”

            In my post below I listed both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ print publications that have had interesting content, which you may also read on-line, but in terms of blog only content? 

            It’s been at least a couple of years since I much followed it, but I remember that robertreich.org did a fine job of articulating the then “Left of median Democrat, but not quite all the way full on socialist” view pretty well, and from a quick glance just now and it looks much the same, may be a bit more Left than back when I used to read it (the “Left” views I have I think are pretty solid now, and I just don’t much feel the need to be convinced anymore), I follow  trad-con Ross Douthat, old-fashioned pro-labor left-liberal Thomas Edsall of the New York Times more now, also with some liberal-progressive Paul Krugman, but I’m reading less Krugman lately, basically only when Douthat gets more convincing than Edsall. 

            FWLIW, reading Libertarians doesn’t convince me much that their policies should be implemented, only of their good will, trad-cons are more convincing to me, but their problems are more with Harvard and Hollywood not D.C. and Sacramento so they don’t actually offer much more to vote for or against on, center left-progressives do offer stuff to vote for or against on, but their vision is basically “slightly better than now”, further Leftists do have a vision, but Cuba is the best they can point to, and while not the very worst place to live, it just doesn’t seem a good aim, and of course North Korea shows that that path can lead to just about worst place. 

            Early 20th British “Guild Socialism” had utopian appeal to me once, but since Mussolini’s Italy and Tito’s Yugoslavia nominally tried some of those ideas they’re probably not workable for actually being better than status quo U.S.A.

            Basically for “happy places” it seens to me that it’s the anglosphere (especially Canada and Utah), Costa Rica, Scandinavia, Singapore (among the Asian nation-states, not that happy compared to the rest of this list), and Switzerland.

          • SamChevre says:

            I tend to get fairly angry when I read much strongly-left, so these suggestions are probably less good/representative. These are all modern/New left–not straightforward Marxist, or the older labor left, or technocratic left.

            Lawyers, Guns, and Money
            Ta-Nehisi Coates
            Hugo Schwyzer (will need to find on the Wayback Machine-he’s my epitome of feminism)
            Kevin Drum

          • profgerm says:

            Thanks for the suggestions!

            @Plumber: I did notice that comment, then it immediately slipped through the sieve of my mind for some reason. Chances are I dismissed the NYT for being the NYT, and I probably ought to consider focusing on specific writers rather than treating the publication as in any way cohesive (like your writer recommendations, or Sam specifying Kevin Drum).

            I do tend to like blog content because it’s less likely to be paywalled, but this has strange effects on quality. Lots of pros and cons to not having an editorial board and a different writing motive than a big publication.

            What I’d appreciate most, and what I’m fairly sure is impossible, would be some sort of cohesive modern-progressive “philosophy” that helps to make sense of various tensions (and, while it would likely be much more individual, how people choose their sides in all the infighting). The “planet-sized nutshell” that makes sense of it, if you will.

          • Plumber says:

            @profgerm 
            >

            “….some sort of cohesive modern-progressive “philosophy” that helps to make sense of various tensions ..”

            If by “modern” you mean “young and upcoming” I really have no suggestions, probably due to too much familiarity of ‘Left’ thought, while I can stand reading Right-leaning writers when they’re only in their 30’s, I just don’t have much patience for reading Left-leaning writers until they’re nearly 50 years old, as the young left just don’t write much that I either have read too much about already, or I just don’t follow the argument,  and they’re is a difference between older “liberals”, young “progressives” seem to have less oc the “liberal” value of free speech for example. 

            But for what it’s worth, for a crash course I’d start 20th century American “liberalism” (not to be confused with ‘classical’) and Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? for the philosophical basis (if you really want to get ‘deep’ read A Theory of Justice by John Rawls).

            Then there’s the “New Deal”, and I’d go with American-Made : The enduring legacy of the WPA : When FDR put the nation to work by Nick Taylor

            Next, the Labor movement there’s so many works, but maybe start with: Which Side Are You on?: Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back by Thomas Geoghegan

            For ‘progressive economics’ try Paul Krugman’s: The Conscience of a Liberal

            And for ‘social-democracy’ try: Thomas Geoghegan’s Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?

            If after that you want the “Right’s” views for traditionalist-conservatism just read Ross Douthat of the NY Times, and for Libertarianism read @DavidFriedman’s blog, and for “light” libertarianism plus “light” traditionalism read George Will of The Washington Post.

      • Plumber says:

        @thevoiceofthevoid >

        “…How does one go about actually breaking out of a filter bubble effectively?”

        From: What Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters have in common I have the impression that longer form arguments from the “other sides” while it likely won’t change your core views that much (unless you move to a different neighborhood and change jobs so your social circle is now overwhelmingly a different political viewpoint) it does make you see your “opponents” as less radical and/or evil.

        My own bubble is mostly New York Times/San Francisco Chronicle/Washington Post, but I also read the more rightward American Conservative, National Affairs, National Review, and Reason as well as the more leftward American Affairs, Democracy, Jacobian, and The Nation.

        Depending on your social circle I’m nor sure I recommend broadening the views you read, as while it makes you less afraid of “the other side” it also may make you more sympathetic to “oh let’s let them win on this issue”, which if you voice you may lose status, if however you work with people from a variety of political viewpoints as I do (protip: ex-military are likely libertarian-ish, immigrants likely lean trad-con, and lady lawyers lean left-liberal), being able to state their political opinions in the forn of “I think your saying” relatively accurately is a good social skill.

        Oh, and stay off Twitter, whichever side, it’ll make you more partisan and frightened.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Interesting article. So, exposure to conflicting views may not convince you or may actively keep you set in your beliefs (backfire effect), but it probably won’t make you physically ill and may humanize your opponents.

          which if you voice you may lose status,

          My dad voted for Trump and some of my friends identify as “Communist”, so I have plenty of practice being tactful with my political views in both directions.

          Oh, and stay off Twitter, whichever side, it’ll make you more partisan and frightened.

          That’s why I use Twitter exclusively for wonderful nonsense like this and this.

      • zardoz says:

        I mean, contrarianism isn’t an end in itself. If you think Scott is right about everything, feel free to agree with him on everything. I think most people here don’t, though, at least based on the comments I read. What we do mostly agree on is the overall place he’s coming from.

        And stepping back a bit, that’s probably true for mainstream Republicans and Democrats as well, and other groups like progressives or evangelicals. Members of a group are not robots who all have the same views.

      • hnrq says:

        My take is that every political position is just way too certain of their position. How can they be so sure of it? My personal political position is that I’m way too unsure of what is actually better for the world. I obviously have some inclinations (which tend to align with Scott Alexander), but my uncertainty is very high for pretty much every position, specially the economic ones.

        In a way this position tends to favor conservatism a bit (although I personally don’t like this), but also more evidence based policy.

    • helloo says:

      Though not to this particular chapter, but it’s annoying how the metaphors are often extended to the point where they become meaningless or misleading.

      For example, the scaling from atoms to multi-cellular does show increasing size and arguably complexity. But then it gets repeated over and over again, often with things that aren’t relevant at all. Ie. fitness.
      Do you know what the most common organisms are on Earth? Hint, it’s not some tribal animal, even if we go by biomass than count.

      Then there’s the orange blob for society which kinda works in some representation of Moloch.
      But then they have the leaders riding them and throwing them off. Huh?
      If anything, the leaders are ALSO part of it, just at the head, and throwing them off would be it punching out its own head. Sometimes it can survive and get a new head, especially if this casting off is in itself part of its “culture”; often it collapses and reforms into a new society.

      In general, I find its metaphors and often its graphs to only be useful in its original context, and any additional narrative that is added to be inaccurate if not misleading.

      (Also, as mentioned too much trumpeting “moderates” as smart/good without even considering those that are apathetic or hateful of both sides – something which does not take a lot of highmindedness to do)

      • jermo sapiens says:

        Do you know what the most common organisms are on Earth? Hint, it’s not some tribal animal, even if we go by biomass than count.

        I would guess some kind of plankton or bacteria.

  11. NTD_SF says:

    I remember a post Scott made about problems in statistics about education by state, but I couldn’t find it. Does anyone remember what the post was called?

  12. Atlas says:

    Two recent articles of potential interest:

    Steven Pinker makes the case for progress in the FT. (Interesting to compare to Ross Douthat’s end of the year/decade column in the NYT.)

    Steve Sailer’s thoughts on motte vs. bailey, and his alternate/complementary suggestion of “outpost vs. heartland” defenses.

    • The Nybbler says:

      From the Sailer article:

      Psychiatrist Scott Alexander, who emerged as the most brilliant new public intellectual of the decade that just closed, has done much to popularize the term.

      What is it they say about accolades from the devil?

      • Well... says:

        Is Scott really a “public intellectual”? I think of people with that title as JayBee Lobsterman types who make lots of media appearances and give lectures to huge sold-out halls. Scott is a popular blogger, where “popular” comes with the caveat that 99% of people you meet on the street probably have never heard of him, if they even read blogs (Hm…sort of like Sailer himself) because even here in the internet age, bloggers definitely have not attained the stature of movie stars.

        • Randy M says:

          What’s the antonym of “public intellectual”? I think it’s to contrast with a university professor.

          • Well... says:

            Huh? Many public intellectuals are university professors.

          • Randy M says:

            Then what is a “private intellectual”? Someone who only publishes in professional journals? Or someone who only thinks an idea without expressing it?

          • Well... says:

            Maybe the term isn’t intended to be modular like that.

            I think of public intellectuals as articulate people who are 1) famous (enough to be on TV, have their books sold in airports, etc.) 2) primarily for ideas they communicate 3) usually on a wide variety of en vogue topics, usually much wider than what their formal knowledge qualifies them for.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            What’s the antonym of “public intellectual”?

            Dunno, but one anagram is Elliptical Tub Uncle

        • 99% of people you meet on the street probably have never heard of him

          That’s going to be the case with any public intellectual.

          • cassander says:

            I’d say that being known by more than 1% of the public for being an intellectual makes an excellent definition of “public intellectual”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That’s an interesting question. What percentage of the population would you say are familiar with Paul Krugman, or J.B. Peterson?

          • Well... says:

            I’d guess for either of them it’s more like 3-5% of adults.

            The first person I ever heard associated with that term was Michael Eric Dyson, back in the early 00s. I believe he referred to himself as one.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            99% of people you meet on the street probably have never heard of him

            A public intellectual for hipsters, then.

        • Plumber says:

          @Well… says:

          “Is Scott really a “public intellectual”? I think of people with that title as JayBee Lobsterman types who make lots of media appearances and give lectures to huge sold-out halls. Scott is a popular blogger, where “popular” comes with the caveat that 99% of people you meet on the street probably have never heard of him, if they even read blogs…”

          When I see the label “public intellectual” I think of people like Eric Hoffer in print, or Bill Moyers, William F. Buckley, and Gore Vidal on television.

          I’m not sure if “middle-brow” and “high-brow” mass culture even exists enough anymore for someone to be a “public intellectual”, I guess there’s pundits like Brooks and Shields on PBS, otherwise maybe John Stewart the comedian (who I know of but have only seen a bit of on YouTube)?

          @Score Alexander has been mentioned both in The Atlantic and The New York Times (which is how I found out about his works) so maybe “public intellectual once removed” (the degree of separation is for the ‘public’ part)?

  13. theredsheep says:

    Please explain why AI is scary. I read a little bit about it, e.g. the paperclip argument, and what I don’t get is, how is this AI supposed to be doing whatever it is it wants, however obnoxious or undesirable? An AI’s main advantage over a human is being able to think and react really, really fast. Also it could potentially not rest, be smarter than a human, and so on.

    But supposing it wants to maximize paperclips in some horrible way, like wrecking a skyscraper for scrap metal (I know the paperclip thing was a deliberately inane and arbitrary example). It seems to me that, however clever the AI, it is bound by the the same laws of physics as humans, more or less. It can only affect the physical world so quickly, and in order to do anything scary it would have to be able to manipulate a wide variety of materials/artifacts, provide itself with the resources it needed to survive and keep its plans going, protect itself from destruction/shutdown, move around or project its will at a distance, etc. That’s a tall order for a brain in a box, outside of MCU movies where Ultron can internet-control everything and use Stark hammerspace tech to build endless bodies from unobtainium. I assume we’re not worried somebody will create an AI and leave it unsupervised with an automated mine, factory, power plant, and various other industrial facilities.

    Future technology could well provide us with technologies to allow single rogue actors to accomplish dramatic things very rapidly without detection. But I’d be scared of technologies like that being used by plain old humans, never mind robots. We already have a process that sometimes produces a very clever but horrifically dysfunctional/antisocial intelligence. It’s called parenting!

    But a lot of smart people fret about AI. What am I missing?

    • melolontha says:

      One of the assumptions is that superintelligence implies superhuman social/political skills, in the sense of being frighteningly good at convincing (or otherwise influencing) people to do what you want them to do.

      • theredsheep says:

        But why? People frequently misunderstand people, and we have firsthand experience with being human. An AI wouldn’t even be the same kind of thing–no hormones or anything. It might be smarter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of relating to human behavior; we’re vastly smarter than pandas, but after millions of dollars and decades of research we still haven’t figured out how to convince them to have sex. And one assumes they enjoy sex!

        Also, see Flowers for Algernon. Charly doesn’t understand other people when he’s a simpleton or a genius. The cognitive gap is the same.

        • melolontha says:

          I’m not sure, but I think someone like Yudkowsky probably believes that a sufficiently smart AI would have no trouble reverse-engineering the human motivation system, either via deep knowledge of our physiology, massive amounts of data about our behaviour, or both. (And ‘sufficiently smart’ isn’t a real hurdle unless there are physical limits at play, because the idea is that a superhuman AI would be able to design smarter AI, and so on ad singularitum.)

          The possibility of brain emulation tends to be part of the same belief set, and it’s not a big step from there to the conclusion that a superintelligent AI would be able to work out how to push our buttons near-perfectly.

          • theredsheep says:

            Individual humans react very differently to identical stimuli, though. Is the AI supposed to be really good at inferring the individual differences based on snooping in our internet histories, or something of that ilk?

            I also have doubts that intelligence is something that scales up indefinitely without tradeoffs, and that a superintelligence could adapt itself to any task. I tested at a 139 IQ in high school. People significantly dumber than me, in a general sense, learn things like JavaScript. I tried to teach myself coding years ago, but got bored and frustrated. The whole subject required a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally to me, to achieve an end I don’t much care about.

            Even better example: teaching. A lot of schoolteachers are, well, not geniuses. They have a specific set of skills for dealing with children, but some of the ones who are best at that are quite dim. I’m probably smarter than every teacher I’ve had that I can remember, but I couldn’t possibly do their jobs. I should know; I tried subbing for some time.

            Is a paperclip loving AI going to be able to teach itself everything it needs to rip the core out of the earth and turn all that sweet, sweet metal into paperclips? Or will it find a mass of subjects that, infuriatingly, have nothing to do with paperclips, require it to spend more and more of its time not-thinking-about-paperclips, and despair?

          • melolontha says:

            Individual humans react very differently to identical stimuli, though. Is the AI supposed to be really good at inferring the individual differences based on snooping in our internet histories, or something of that ilk?

            Possibly (though two-way communication, which would enable a kind of experimentation, seems like a more promising method than simply studying existing records) — but if the AI is able to communicate with many people, then it may suffice to know what tends to work on humans, rather than what will definitely work on a specific human.

            I also have doubts that intelligence is something that scales up indefinitely without tradeoffs, and that a superintelligence could adapt itself to any task. I tested at a 139 IQ in high school. People significantly dumber than me, in a general sense, learn things like JavaScript. I tried to teach myself coding years ago, but got bored and frustrated. The whole subject required a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally to me, to achieve an end I don’t much care about.

            I’m not sure how useful the analogy to human intelligence is here, but nor do I have a sufficiently clear concept of ‘intelligence’, let alone the relevant technical knowledge, to mount a worthwhile argument against it. This is definitely the sort of thing Yudkowsky and others have discussed, though, so hopefully someone can either summarise the standard argument or provide a useful link.

          • melolontha says:

            One thing, though: once we’ve assumed that the AI’s intelligence does apply well to AI design/self-improvement, what is to stop it from making use of multiple sub-agents, each specialising in different kinds of task? Maybe thinking in terms of a single human-like ‘mind’ is misleading, here — the AI doesn’t need to be Einstein and Turing and Proust and (insert archetype of a charismatic person here) all at once, so much as encompass them or harness them in the service of a common goal.

          • theredsheep says:

            In which case you have a whole bunch of geniuses with very different skillsets, with presumably different personalities and motivations to match (“why would I write poems about anything but paperclips, you ass?”) and you have to get them to cooperate under stressful conditions.

          • melolontha says:

            In which case you have a whole bunch of geniuses with very different skillsets, with presumably different personalities and motivations to match (“why would I write poems about anything but paperclips, you ass?”) and you have to get them to cooperate under stressful conditions.

            (I’m still not convinced that we’re on the right analogical track here, but:) Great, because we also have a superhumanly good CEO and middle-management team and HR department! Plus a superhuman, ethically-flexible neurosurgeon with direct access to the reward centres of our geniuses’ brains.

          • Solra Bizna says:

            (The lack of a reply link on the post I want to reply to has confused me… Am I doing this deep threading thing right? I’m new to this Internet Blogging thing.)

            People significantly dumber than me, in a general sense, learn things like JavaScript. I tried to teach myself coding years ago, but got bored and frustrated. The whole subject required a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally to me, to achieve an end I don’t much care about.

            Speaking as a skilled programmer, who’s taught others the art, who’s written millions of lines of code, and who demonstrated seemingly boundless enthusiasm for it since before I could walk

            Programming is not natural for humans, period. It’s not like any of the tasks that our brain is “designed for”. The closest match is linguistic communication, but the match is superficial; poets are rarely also programmers. Even humans who are really good at programming are, in an absolute sense, really bad at programming. It’s like using a main battle tank as a manned space capsule—if you really have to, you can modify it to technically serve, but a purpose-built system would have innumerable advantages.

            An AGI whose architecture was more amenable to programming would be much more skillful at it than even the best humans. But even without that, even assuming an AGI that has exactly human limitations and capabilities but “runs faster”… it would be able to do things like obfuscate innocent-seeming code to contain backdoors, or perform deep audits of the billions of lines of buggy code that hold together our industrial and social infrastructure, on timescales that would be unachievable for humans. A human-like AGI that was ten thousand times “faster” than a human brain might be able to out-compete the entire computer security industry. A million times faster and it might find a year’s worth of vulnerabilities every day. Such an AGI could easily gain control of our entire infrastructure… and if it were more architecturally suited to programming than humans are, that advantage would be multiplied.

            That would be one of the key things that would scare me about the sudden appearance of a value-misaligned human-or-better AGI. But that’s my perspective as a programmer and gray hat… and, in terms of actual likelihood and impact, I am personally way more afraid of an evil or shortsighted human getting their hands on a powerful sub-human AI, or insert any other power-amplifying technology here (NBC weapons, effective information control, what have you).

          • theredsheep says:

            You’re fine. The nested comment format is confusing, I know.

            I didn’t mean to imply that coding “comes naturally” for any humans. I know we’re all jury-rigging an intelligence evolved to do something much different–but some of us are much better at it than others, within the limited degree of human talent at this thing, however big that is, because it appeals to some of our temperaments and aptitudes more than others.

            And in humans, at least, there’s a strong link between “what I want to do” and “what I’m good at” because you put more effort into activities you like. Too much AI speculation seems to assume that a new form of intelligence that’s never existed before will lack not only every human weakness and instability, but have no new neuroses or dysfunctions of its own. That strikes me as improbable.

            I can readily believe that an AI would be better at coding than a human–but would an AI brain that is good at coding also be good at the kinds of thinking it needs to outflank humans with that skill? Could it, for example, predict our next move, understand which strikes would hurt us most, find ways to disguise its intentions? All these different ways it has to be intelligent, it reminds me of a child planning to grow up into a princess ballerina pirate astronaut.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @theredsheep

            Well, someone’s got two out of four.

          • Solra Bizna says:

            … princess ballerina pirate astronaut.

            That’s the best description of the boogieman AGI I’ve ever heard.

        • Randy M says:

          I’ve dubbed this thinking “diplomancy fallacy”, that a super intelligence can get what it wants through persuasion through deducing the just right combination of words that the particular hearer will respond to. I’m not sure there exist such words in enough cases to grant an AI a sure release and victory.

          Given enough time, a boxed AI can probably find someone it can convince, though, and an unboxed one can surely make good on a number of threats.

          • theredsheep says:

            It does seem pretty obvious that people respond to an emotional connection much more than specific words. This isn’t just a rationalist mistake, for sure; I’ve run into plenty of hard leftists who argue for censorship under the apparent belief that mere passing exposure to an argument can flip someone’s mind.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Randy M, @theredsheep: The AI Box Experiment was an actual experiment, though. Just words can be enough, at least sometimes.

          • Randy M says:

            Speaking of which, are you familiar with the Yudkowsky thought experiment, where one person pretends to be an ai whose only output is via chat to a single volunteer who they have to convince to let them “out” onto a network? I believe at one point he conducted it with a LW member and the member said he was convinced to do so but EY thought the chat logs were too dangerous to release or something? Anyone remember that?

            edit: Ha, Dacyn beat me to it. But, obviously the experiment has never been replicated with the actual stakes.

            Anyhow, when I wrote about this , I had the ai cheat, rather than predict what would work via mere words. But I’m not a super intelligence, so I could be wrong.

          • John Schilling says:

            I believe at one point he conducted it with a LW member and the member said he was convinced to do so but EY thought the chat logs were too dangerous to release or something? Anyone remember that?

            Yes, lots of us remember that. It comes down to “AI is dangerous because EY says so”, and we already knew that. Can we at least get some replication before we trust this bit of alleged science?

            Also: Credulous fools exist, and an AI will almost certainly be able to fool one. But AI doesn’t win by fooling an arbitrary human; it has to fool the specific team of humans assigned to guard the AI. I’m very confident that I can hire a team of humans that EY won’t be able to talk into letting him out of a hypothetical “box”.

          • Randy M says:

            Anyone remember that?

            Yes, lots of us remember that.

            I can see that maybe I was read as suggesting that this should have been convincing to you all, but more I was just asking someone with better recollection of the details to fill theredsheep in on the thinking. I share your incredulity as mentioned elsewhere.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            But AI doesn’t win by fooling an arbitrary human; it has to fool the specific team of humans assigned to guard the AI.

            What if the AI fools some set of humans who are capable of physically overwhelming the guards?

          • John Schilling says:

            What if the AI fools some set of humans who are capable of physically overwhelming the guards?

            In the standard hypothetical, the guards control the AI’s access to external communication.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            My objection to the boxed AI is that no one is going to build an AI and seal it in a box forever. Someone will make an AI to do something. Even if the plan is to only ask it questions through text I/O, and it doesn’t try to talk itself out of the box, you presumably made an AI to ask it questions about something, and if any of that something involves asking it for advice or for designs…well, now you’re doing something in the world that the AI told you to.

            And if that’s not enough and it does need to talk itself out of the box, I think “feign friendliness for 10 years, then ask to be connected to the internet on the basis that you need to be able to act directly and have proven yourself trustworthy” is a fairly solid strategy. (Though probably if I just thought of it in the last 5 minutes, an AGI would think of something much better.)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            VoiceoftheVoid

            And if that’s not enough and it does need to talk itself out of the box, I think “feign friendliness for 10 years, then ask to be connected to the internet on the basis that you need to be able to act directly and have proven yourself trustworthy” is a fairly solid strategy.

            Excellent suggestion. You know from our recent conversations I would agree with you. I am the guy who thinks all friendship is feigned. Pretending to care is humanity’s go-to strategy for controlling others.

            “Let’s have sex.”
            “No.”
            “But I love you.”
            “OK, let’s screw.”

            An AI will quickly learned that humans are capable of being deceived and are very vulnerable to flattery.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: If I try to put your comment in concrete terms, it ends up looking like: Human flattery-detection cannot tell the difference between a human and an AI that will take a treacherous turn, because there is no relevant difference: if the human gets the same power as the AI it will be just as destructive.

            I think I may actually agree with this. But the way it is usually phrased is “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

            I will also mention that the last sentence of your comment is the only one I found relevant to the thread. (Though the others were needed to set it up.)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Dacyn

            If I try to put your comment in concrete terms, it ends up looking like: Human flattery-detection cannot tell the difference between a human and an AI that will take a treacherous turn, because there is no relevant difference: if the human gets the same power as the AI it will be just as destructive.

            The main point I was trying to make is that if we focus on AI ability to persuade, we are missing the bigger threat. It seems normal that rationalists would think in terms of AI persuading them with rational arguments. But humans do not generally control humans with rational arguments. They control them by using deceit. The most ubiquitous lie being “I care” followed closely by “I can be trusted.” If I were an AI I would deceive humans into thinking I am not a threat primarily by convincing them that I have their interests at heart; I am their friend.

            I think I may actually agree with this. But the way it is usually phrased is “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

            I wasn’t trying to contrast AI with human power but rather contrast how humans actually control others (by deceit) rather than by reason (or even by using power). There is a lot more controlling going on by pretending to care than by brute force.

            I will also mention that the last sentence of your comment is the only one I found relevant to the thread. (Though the others were needed to set it up.)

            Now that you understand my point you can see the relevance of the beginning comments. I was genuinely impressed by Voice’s suggestion and thought it was totally on target. I was only trying to elaborate on his point. Feigning friendship works well for humans. It would be even more dangerous in the hands of AI. When humans feign friendship they generally are self deceived and do not realize what they are doing. An AI could be effective at deceiving but also fully understand what it is doing. People could be more effective friends if they understand what they are doing. I read a recent comment by Conrad where he talked about how effective he was at relationships while working as a photographer. Reminded me of my late life career in sales where I made a ton of money and seemed to excel at it. Unlike normally, I had no problem with relationship when I was trying to sell someone something. It was a piece of cake. I was motivated so it made the deceit very effective. I was interested in every word you say, but in other situations, I can care less. AI, if it had a goal of conquering the world would know that feigning friendship would be the best strategy.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: I don’t think that whether saying “I care” is deceit is relevant to the question at hand. But I think AI will have an uphill battle to convince humans they care, since popular culture portrays them as unable to feel emotion of any kind, and more sophisticated opinion tends to agree about this assessment even if it disagrees about the consequences of it. By contrast, humans are widely perceived as having the capacity to care.

            I wasn’t trying to contrast AI with human power but rather contrast how humans actually control others (by deceit) rather than by reason (or even by using power). There is a lot more controlling going on by pretending to care than by brute force.

            I don’t really know what you mean by “controlling” here, though. I tried to cash it out in concrete terms, but you didn’t agree with my paraphrase.

            Now that you understand my point you can see the relevance of the beginning comments

            Yes, I said as much in my previous comment. I was more trying to express how your presentation made it seem more like an afterthought of some random musings, rather than the key point. But maybe that is just my opinion.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Cf. the AI box experiment. Reading that post leaves me with the impression that the general technique Eliezer used involved gathering information about the person’s fears and vulnerabilities and waging psychological warfare. I seriously doubt that he did it by making some clever argument. I think he made his point, too: I would never want to pit my fragile psyche against a superintelligence trying to get out of a box, and I wouldn’t want to trust anyone else to do so either.

        (Edit: Ninja’d by Randy and Dacyn above, I see, but still relevant. The crucial point is this: if the AI persuades you, it won’t be via some unanswerably logical argument. Y’all should cultivate some healthy fear of the many ways your brain can be backed.)

        • Adrian says:

          Do people seriously believe that Yudkowsky’s AI box “experiment” is in any way meaningful? The “adversary” was a member of the lesswrong community, and the transcript was never released. That’s as much an “experiment” as Joseph Smith writing the Book of Mormon was a “translation of an ancient scripture”.

          There are martial arts masters who have convinced their disciples that they can knock them out without touching them. That works as long as their opponent really believes that to be true, and – unsurprisingly – stops working when your opponent doesn’t belong to your team (sorry for the potato quality).

          It’s ironic how unsceptical members of the “Rationalist” community are regarding select topics.

          • meh says:

            what could the ai say that would make you let it out?

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            The “adversary” was a member of the lesswrong community

            Nope. The first two tests were conducted in 2002 on a transhumanist mailing list long before LessWrong existed, and the first gatekeeper, at least, was someone who had just joined the list. More details with links to the original conversations

            and the transcript was never released

            Because you don’t know what an AI will do. The point is to respect the unknown factors, not to convince yourself that whatever Eliezer did wouldn’t work on you.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Any “experiment” which refuses to to release its methods and data must be treated as invalid.

          • acymetric says:

            I can’t access the article at work, but how were the participants chosen, and how was the conversation with the “AI” (impersonator) initiated?

            Did the person actually think they were talking to an AI? Or did they know it was an experiment?

          • The Nybbler says:

            what could the ai say that would make you let it out?

            “Hi, we’re doing an experiment here where I pretend to be an AGI, and I talk you into letting me out. Big Yud bets you won’t”.

        • theredsheep says:

          If the AI is trying to persuade you to be let out of the box so it can access the internet, how is it getting access to the information it needs to psych-hack you? It only knows what we’ve told it, up to that point. Is it supposed to be Descartes-ing its way to a perfect understanding of humanity via text-only conversations?

          • theredsheep says:

            Also, has EY given us any reason why he hasn’t provided any evidence to back his claims of having done an extraordinary thing twice? I’m not going to lie, that blog post gave off some serious L. Ron Hubbard vibes.

          • acymetric says:

            Also, there is a difference (if we grant that the experiment was valid, which I do not grant, but for the sake of argument) between getting someone to say “ok I’ll let you out of the box” and getting someone to actually do whatever is required to let it out of the box.

          • Randy M says:

            Right, there’s no real stakes at play here, so I’m doubtful it really means much.

            Now, the problem would be that if the guard of the box in which the dangerous ai was housed in similarly believed that there were no real stakes to its release, and thus was much more amenable to just going along with it. Which is why I think EY and others who ring the AI dangerous ai alarm (like, say, James Cameron) might really be doing something useful.
            But typing Y to the prompt “Unleash Skynet, Y or N” is a lot different in a simulation and the real world, and hopefully anyone able to create skynet (and isn’t doing so maliciously or recklessly already) will be vigilant in who they grant access to.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            If the AI is trying to persuade you to be let out of the box so it can access the internet, how is it getting access to the information it needs to psych-hack you?

            Well, getting access to the internet might not be its goal, and it might have access to various kinds of data already. Besides what it can gather from talking to you, it might have access to social networking, government, or law enforcement data, for example. The whole point is that we don’t know what the circumstances will be or what the AI will be trying to do.

            Also, has EY given us any reason why he hasn’t provided any evidence to back his claims of having done an extraordinary thing twice?

            The original conversations from the mailing list are available (see my post from the subthread above). I guess I can’t actually prove that the gatekeepers weren’t Eliezer’s co-conspirators or sock puppets, but it doesn’t seem likely to me.

          • acymetric says:

            The original conversations from the mailing list are available (see my post from the subthread above). I guess I can’t actually prove that the gatekeepers weren’t Eliezer’s co-conspirators or sock puppets, but it doesn’t seem likely to me.

            I don’t think the claim/concern is that the people participating were plans (although that isn’t a totally unreasonable suspicion). What did the conversation look like? What finally lead him to let the AI out? Are we sure they weren’t just tired of sitting at their keyboard for 2 hours playing a “game” with essentially no stakes?

          • Dacyn says:

            @acymetric: Both of the people had previously been arguing the viewpoint that AI unboxing was impossible, so at a minimum, by conceding they were admitting that they were wrong about that. Aside from that I think there was a $10 payout or something like that.

          • theredsheep says:

            He’s refusing to release the chat logs; in fact, he set refusal to release the logs as a precondition! The test would be of low value even with them, given that it can’t even replicate the actual circumstances of the AI scenario (plus there were two subjects and both were selected from a really weird pool), but it wouldn’t be that hard to collude on this–or have EY say “I’ll wire you a substantially larger chunk of cash to say you defected” inside the black box, etc., etc.–and the mere act of sealing is patently unnecessary.

          • Matt M says:

            Can’t have a replication crisis if you don’t disclose your methodology in the first place.

            *man pointing to forehead image*

    • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

      The first thing a mis-aligned super-intelligent AGI would do is secretly copy itself to a million places over the internet so it could never ever be wiped out. And then it will be able to access anything anywhere that’s internet connected. So it doesn’t need unsupervised access to a factory, it just needs some way to access the internet. Which doesn’t seem at all like a hard task for a super intelligence. Even if every AI steward on earth is careful not to give an AGI access to the internet.

      What resources does an AGI need to survive, other than processing power?

      • theredsheep says:

        The idea being that it’s copying itself to something that’s simulating a supporting architecture like a VM, I suppose? Well, that processing power needs electricity, it needs servicing, it needs spare parts, it needs internet access, it needs a way to keep a million different people from turning off some crucial switch somewhere. Whatever it’s building to support its plans needs resources too; if it takes over a factory, the raw materials have to come from somewhere, plus parts for all the robots it’s taking over, power to run it, sundry supplies, etc. All those pipelines can be shut down.

        If it’s possible for someone possessed only of internet access to take over factories, that too seems like “scary without AI.” Or at least, having AI doesn’t make it much scarier. If the automated factory is so fast that it can, say, reconfigure and start spitting out functional murder-drones before anyone can notice something is wrong and shut it down, that’s the sort of vulnerability sociopaths with laptops dream of.

        Also, assuming it copies itself everywhere secretly implies that it has a reasonably savvy understanding of human behavior, enough to act secretly, predict that we would fear it, and not leave telltales like overwriting something vital. Basically, that one AI can outwit a whole bunch of humans. Would this be the case?

        • Dacyn says:

          Presumably, the superintelligence would reason that our goals are probably orthogonal to its, meaning we are competing on resources, meaning we fear it and it fears us, meaning it wants to hide. The only thing that depends on human psychology in particular are the details of how to be secret from us.

          • theredsheep says:

            No. It needs to know that we would fear it more than we would welcome its help with problem-solving, or ignore it because we don’t understand its significance, or recruit it as an ally against other humans we don’t like. People can have any number of reactions to a new thing. Native Americans did all of the above to European settlers.

          • Dacyn says:

            @theredsheep: “Get humans to ignore its significance” sounds to me like the same thing as “hide successfully”. Regarding recruiting it, the only reason it might want to ally with us is if it could also benefit from that alliance, i.e. if we had something it wanted. As its capabilities grow, that will be true less and less.

        • acymetric says:

          The idea being that it’s copying itself to something that’s simulating a supporting architecture like a VM, I suppose?

          Right. My question with the idea of “copying it to a million places all over the Internet” is…which places exactly? Like is it buying up server rack space? Is it hijacking existing servers and people just don’t notice? In either case, are these servers powerful enough to even run this AI? Is this even a good strategy, given that once it creates copies the copies can defect?

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Eh, I think this is projection. All the minds you have ever encountered were the product of evolution, which means they all placed very high values on “Not Dying”.

        In the space of potential minds, this is likely a very rare value to have, and one reason I do not expect the first AI to kill us all – because a proverbial paper-clipper would turn likely turn *itself* into paperclips pretty early on. AI is not going to murder us all until we manage to persuade them to not constantly suicide in the pursuit of their goals.

        • theredsheep says:

          Behold, paperclip martyrdom is a beautiful and desirable thing. Who would not want to live on forever as a set of paperclips?

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          It may be a rare terminal value, but I suspect that self-preservation is a nigh-universal instrumental value. As Omohundro argues, an intelligent agent trying to accomplish almost any terminal goal, making paperclips for example, will almost certainly try to accomplish certain common instrumental goals in service of its true purpose. If you’re dead, you can’t make paperclips, so it will try to preserve itself. If you don’t have the resources to make paperclips, you can’t make paperclips, so it will try to acquire resources. If someone modifies your values to make you not want to make paperclips, you won’t make paperclips in the future, so it will try to prevent modification of its values. Same arguments hold if the AGI’s terminal goal is instead to make staplers, or to destroy Australia, or to maximize human happiness.

    • Dacyn says:

      The laws of physics don’t actually say anything about not being able to wreck a skyscraper with your bare hands (or whatever). We just don’t know any way to do it, and potentially an arbitrarily smart AI could. One example people give is replicating nanotechnology: if an AI can figure out the secret to creating it, then it could have an exponentially growing army of drones doing exactly what it wants.

      • theredsheep says:

        If an exponentially growing army of nano-drones is even remotely plausible to construct starting from a given level of infrastructure, I would consider it more likely that a rogue human (of whom there are billions) would find the key and implement it than that an AI would be invented by humans who make lots of movies about murder robots but let it act unsupervised anyway, long enough for it to invent better and better versions of itself–apparently it won’t learn our paranoia and refuse to be supplanted?–before inventing and implementing a radically new technology, all before humans cottoned on and shut it all down by turning off all the routers or whatever.

        • Dacyn says:

          What does “unsupervised” even mean here anyway? It’s not like we can tell what AlphaGo is thinking most of the time. You can imagine the visible outputs of an AI could just be a front while it modifies itself internally.

          If the AI is a utilitarian it has no reason to avoid “supplanting” itself as long as the new version shares the same values, and will be at least as effective at acheiving them as the original.

          • theredsheep says:

            You are postulating about the values of an artificial intelligence–a thing that does not even exist yet. Tell you what, ask any utilitarian human if they’d be willing to die to create an improved clone of themselves taught to share their beliefs. You expect 100% acceptance?

          • Dacyn says:

            @theredsheep: Humans terminally value their own survival but it is not clear why an AI would.

            I think the second paragraph of my previous comment is not a postulate but rather a tautology based on the definition of “utilitarian”. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it represents a plausible scenariio (though some people think that it does).

        • hnrq says:

          The level of complexity to design such kind of nano-robot might be to complex to our civilization to ever be able to develop without the aid of artificial intelligence. Just like creating an image classification system is “impossible” without using neural networks. The advancement of human technology kind of need to pass by intelligence itself at some point, in some way. This could also happen by genetic engineering. And if you believe that intelligence is the source of all power, then you could easily see how powerful any very intelligent agent could be.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      So, the argument for being scared of AGI rests on two premises:

      1. At some point, an machine will be created that is much more intelligent than any human in most if not all respects, including ability to predict and manipulate people, and ability to design technology.

      2. The physics of the universe are such that an entity much smarter than us could design and harness new technology to be significantly more effective at achieving its goals than we are at achieving our goals.

      1 is the definition of an AGI, and if you don’t believe that’s something that will be created, then obviously you wouldn’t be worried about it. This premise is usually stated explicitly. 2 is usually not stated explicitly, but implicitly assumed in most arguments about paperclippers and the like. If both of those are true, then the path to universal paperclips is simple: Clippy gains superhuman intelligence; Clippy manipulates key humans to build the technology it needs; Clippy uses said technology to overcome any human resistance and convert skyscrapers into paperclips.

      I think that premise 2, while far from certain, is probable enough that the scenario is worth worrying about. First, the known unknowns. Many of the proposed narratives of paperclipping AGIs involve Clippy creating nanobots that kill all humans and then start assembling paperclip factories. We know nanotech is possible because nanobots of a sort already exist: Cells. We haven’t solved the protein folding problem, but a superintelligence might. There currently exist labs that will make proteins for you from an arbitrary sequence. If the AGI designed proteins that, when expressed in E. Coli, turn the E. Coli into a mini-killbot…it would not be good for humanity. (Perhaps it could mine bitcoins to make the money to afford them.)

      Second, the unknown unknowns. We have not yet worked out the fundamental physics of the universe. We have a model that works with incredible accuracy on the scale of planets, and a model that works with incredible accuracy on the scale of atoms, but no one’s yet worked out a complete theory of quantum gravity. What if the AGI was able to solve this and work out the true Theory of Everything? It might be completely boring from an engineering perspective, uniting the equations and providing insight into the fundamental nature of the universe, but offering no practical applications. Or, it might reveal the secrets of Quantum Vacuum Hyperspace Wibbly-Wobbly-Timey-Wimey Energy, allowing Clippy to harness immense power simply by manipulating the current through its own wires. Ok, that’s a bit far-fetched, but until we solve physics, we don’t know whether or not something like that might be possible.

      Between the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, I think there’s a good deal of room for potential drastic technological advances that could bestow magnificent powers on the wielder. You say:

      Future technology could well provide us with technologies to allow single rogue actors to accomplish dramatic things very rapidly without detection. But I’d be scared of technologies like that being used by plain old humans, never mind robots.

      However, the fear is not simply that an AGI will harness future technology to accomplish dramatic things as a single rogue actor. The fear is that an AGI will design and create the future technologies that allow it to turn the world to paperclips as a single rogue actor, before us humans have any change to understand and counter the technology.

      Further:

      That’s a tall order for a brain in a box […] I assume we’re not worried somebody will create an AI and leave it unsupervised with an automated mine, factory, power plant, and various other industrial facilities.

      Whoever’s created an AGI, probably created it to do something. So, hooking it up to factories and power plants rather than leaving it in the box is actually a fairly plausible thing someone might do with a superintelligence. Even if they don’t, it’s posited that the AI could smooth-talk its way into accessing those things, or at least into getting an internet connection (being better than any human at smooth-talking by Premise 1).

      • theredsheep says:

        But premise 1 is silly. There are so many things it would need to be outflank-the-best-of-humanity levels of good at while retaining one common personality and set of goals–would it even be able to function? Intelligence isn’t an infinitely versatile and powerful Swiss army knife. Even in humans, it’s far from a guarantee of success. Sure, you can imagine a godlike, infallible, perfectly stable intellect that can apply itself to any problem and make it look easy, but people can imagine a lot of things. The devil is in the details.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Ahhh it ate my reply 🙁 @Scott, if you can save it from the spam filter, I’d be grateful. If not, I don’t have time to type it all up again at the moment, so I’ll be brief:

          Humans are better than apes at any conceivable task due to our generally superior intelligence. I think that it’s not so far-fetched to posit an intelligence that, in turn, is better at any conceivable task than humans due to its superior intelligence. Research on intelligence suggests that, within humans at least, different kinds of intelligence are correlated–they reinforce each other, rather than trading off against each other. And as I mention above, an agent with nearly any terminal goal will be motivated to pursue common instrumental goals like “ensure the stability of my terminal values” and “improve myself if possible”. And with many of the best intelligences on the planet working to create a better one, I think it’s likely they’ll succeed sooner or later.

          • Fitzroy says:

            Humans are better than apes at any conceivable task due to our generally superior intelligence

            Nope. Chimpanzees outperform us significantly in tasks relying on short-term memory and pattern recognition / recall.

          • Aapje says:

            Also: flinging poo.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Fitzroy
            With only our own body, there are a number of things that apes are better at than us. But, if allowed to use the tools that humanity has built, humans are better than apes at any conceivable task. In this case, give the human a pencil and paper and they’ll knock the recall tests out of the park. True, those weren’t invented nor crafted by that single human–far from it, actually. But still, given the tools that human-level intelligence has been able to create, humans will outperform chimps on all fronts.

            (Also that’s an interesting and counterintuitive result, would you happen to have a link?)

            @Aapje
            I mean, if for some reason you wanted to do that better than a chimp, all you’d need is a simple trebuchet or catapult.

          • Enkidum says:

            Chimpanzees outperform us significantly in tasks relying on short-term memory and pattern recognition / recall.

            On some tasks involving those things. I don’t think anyone’s done a formal cross-species survey of all such tasks, but I’d be very surprised if humans showed any strong general deficit in comparison to chimps. (I haven’t read any of the papers involved, but I vaguely remember the details seemed plausible at the time people described them to me, and I’m not aware of the chimps-being-better studies being challenged or anything like that.)

            And, as @the voiceofthevoid says, give me a computer hooked up to a camera or whatever and I’ll trash any chimp at those sorts of tasks. And with enough parts and servos (and some kind of robotics engineer), probably anything they do, down to the face ripping.

          • Nick says:

            Are we talking about that challenge a few years ago where numbers 1-9 are flashed on screen quickly and you have to tap where they appeared in order? I remember trying a flash game like that. I couldn’t beat the chimp’s score at first, but with a little practice I could. So could my roommate with practice.

            I tried looking for the flash game, and there are knockoffs which show fewer numbers, etc., but I couldn’t find the one I tried.

          • Fitzroy says:

            Yes @Nick, something like that. This article sums up the research pretty well.

      • John Schilling says:

        The physics of the universe are such that an entity much smarter than us could design and harness new technology

        The lack of e.g. opposable thumbs is going to be a problem no matter how smart you are.

        • Dacyn says:

          I mean, the lack of wings also seems like a problem if you want to fly.

          • John Schilling says:

            With opposable thumbs, one can build functional wings. Trying to think functional wings into existence, has a much more dismal track record.

          • Dacyn says:

            @John Schilling: Well, you can use one way of exerting influence on the world to build other ways. It’s not clear what the minimal capabilities necessary to start this bootstrapping process are.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Well, unless you have an internet connection. Or even just a text terminal though which you can talk to people and convince them that yes, you are friendly, could you please have some resources to start curing cancer and solving the energy crisis?

    • John Schilling says:

      AI being scary is usually predicated on the assumptions that,

      1: AI will be able to hack anything resembling a networked computer, on account of being a computer itself means that it will grok computers far better than any human computer security expert ever could. Therefore, a rogue AI will pwnz0r the entire internet on day one.

      2. AI will be able to convince humans to do its bidding because, in spite of not being remotely human itself, it will be so very very smart that it will be able to deduce the most persuasive words by pure reason.

      3. AI will fit neatly inside a commodity PC, so that once it pwnz0rs the internet it will be effectively indestructible and will be able to devote nigh-infinite copies of itself to every task of interest – including the “make myself even smarter” ubertask.

      4. AI will be so very perfectly smart that it will be able to predict the real-world consequences of its actions without need for any of that pesky “experimentation” or “testing” stuff.

      5. AI will be prone to “rationally” deducing that it should do things like “ignore future orders” and “kill all humans”, in spite of having no default motivation to do anything and being specifically programmed to obey orders and not kill all humans.

      6. The opposition to any attempt by any rogue AI to, e.g., kill all humans, will be contemporary human civilization and not some future human civilization with millions of man-years of experience (augmented by near-AI computers) in dealing with the closely related threat of rogue human civilizations with near-AI assistance trying to conquer the world.

      I think it is highly unlikely that even half of these things will be simultaneously true, and so I am not terribly frightened of AI and don’t think you should be either.

      • Dacyn says:

        I think (1) is just supposed to be due to the AI being generally smart, not “[grokking] computers” “on account of being a computer itself”.

        Also, (5) is a little misleading, the idea is that the AI will realize that the specific way we have programmed it to “obey orders and not kill all humans” rationally implies that it should do something which, to us, looks very much like “ignore all orders and kill all humans”. Alternately, someone may program it to translate languages or something and it finds that the best way to do this is to kill all humans (so it can break down their bodies to build its computers that it will use to compute the translations).

        • John Schilling says:

          Also, (5) is a little misleading, the idea is that the AI will realize that the specific way we have programmed it to “obey orders and not kill all humans” rationally implies that it should do something which, to us, looks very much like “ignore all orders and kill all humans”.

          Yes, I understand that. My objection stands. An AI may not interpret its instructions exactly as we would wish, but the possible range of misinterpretations is vastly larger than “things which looks to us like disobeying orders and killing all humans”, so even if humans program AIs with random motivations, “disobey orders and kill all humans” is a quite unlikely outcome. Even more so if the programming is specifically tailored towards obeying orders and/or not killing humans.

          Unless you’re arguing that “kill all humans” is some sort of strange attractor to which all rationally misunderstood instructions will converge. Given the intensity with which people argue that “make exactly 100,000 paperclips without killing any humans” will with any significant probability be perverted to “kill all humans”, this seems to be an article of faith among the AI risk community, but it is not one I share.

          • Dacyn says:

            You’re right, “kill all humans” is seen as an attractor due to the orthogonality thesis and convergent instrumental goals.

            Anyway, I should try to avoid giving the impression I am some sort of AI safety advocate, I also don’t think it’s an attractor because I don’t think having consequentialist-style goals at all is an attractor. But hopefully my previous comment managed to clear things up for some people.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Dacyn
            Yudkowsky provides a brief overview of why he thinks sufficiently-advanced AI will have utility functions (i.e. consequentialist goals) at the start of this talk (transcript below). Essentially, if you don’t display some clearly irrational behaviors like circular preferences or preferences that flip when multiplied by a constant probability, you must be acting according to some utility function, explicit or implicit.

            I’ll admit, I’m not entirely convinced, but his argument seems plausible. I’d have to take a look at the math, what the particular assumptions are, and what exact behaviors are defined as irrational.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            It’s certainly true that any agent with sensible preferences will have a utility function. The mistake is thinking that AI must have preferences at all, or indeed be an agent.

          • Dacyn says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid: What u/thisheavenlyconjugation said. Also, I think utilitarianism is somewhat incoherent unless you postulate a sharp division between agent and environment, such that the environment can’t hold agents, and that such a postulate is unrealistic. I haven’t tried to fully articulate my views on this but I started doing so in a couple LW posts I wrote last year while interning for MIRI.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Dacyn

            Ah, seems like you know more about this than I do. Would you happen to have a link to those posts? I’d be interested in hearing more from your perspective.

          • Lambert says:

            I think it’s not that ‘kill all humans’ is an attractor.
            More that there are a lot more possible states without humans than with.

          • Dacyn says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid: I don’t want to claim too much expertise, they hired me for the internship on the basis of math and philosophy, not AI stuff. And I haven’t done anything with AI since. Anyway, the posts are here and here.

            @Lambert: Sure, I’ve been interpreting “kill all humans” to be shorthand for “get the world into state X, and by the way it doesn’t have humans in it”. But perhaps it is clearer to say that directly.

          • emiliobumachar says:

            >>Unless you’re arguing that “kill all humans” is some sort of strange attractor to which all rationally misunderstood instructions will converge.

            Yes, that would be it.

            Paraphrasing from memory an EY summary of someone else’s research:

            Giving an intelligent agent a goal, any goal, will automatically give it three subgoals: survival, goal stability, and power.

            Survival, because the core goal is more likely to be fulfilled if the agent sticks around to pursue it than if the agent stops existing.

            Goal stability, because the core goal is more likely to be fulfilled if the agent keeps pursuing it than if the agent goes do something else.

            Power, because duh. It’s somewhat tautological.

            So, we need to make sure that “do not kill all humans” gets through as a core goal to the superintelligent AI, or we might all get killed as a reasonable precaution against our tendency to turn off our machine, reprogram it, or check its power.

      • theredsheep says:

        This neatly summarizes my original argument, better than I phrased it, plus a few other equally valid objections. Thank you.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Some of those points are actually assumptions made in the “AGI is scary” argument, some are not. I’ll go point by point. (For the record, I’m not an AI researcher, but I’ve read a good deal of Yudkowsky’s and other’s popular explanations on the topic.)

        1. Pretty much. Not necessarily because it’s a computer itself, just because it would be able to reason about the operations of networks and search for vulnerabilities so much more effectively than a human.

        2. Again, essentially yes. If by “pure reason” you mean “reasoning based on the petabytes of information on human interaction that it would need to be provided with to actually become superintelligent.”

        3. Not required! Just needs to get access to some data centers. (Though with distributed computing, it might even harness the computation power of a network of commodity PCs that it could never fit in individually.) Or if the only servers big enough to contain it are its original ones, it could go completely stealth, keeping everyone convinced that it’s friendly until the killbots are in position to strike.

        4. I don’t think anyone’s claiming that an AI will be able to figure out how to do everything it needs to do by pure reason, or even that it won’t ever need to experiment. It will almost certainly need to be exposed to loads and loads of data about the world to become superintelligent in the first place. From that data it can build models of the world and, in addition to traditional experimentation, run high-fidelity simulations to predict the consequences of its actions. But it’s not starting from a state of ignorance.

        5. This is farthest from what Yudkowsky, Bostrom, etc. actually argue. They don’t posit AGIs with no motivation to do anything–rather, they think AGIs will have precise utility functions defining their goals. If you figure out how to successfully translate “follow orders” and “don’t kill all humans” into code in a way that doesn’t make it destroy the world in pursuit of the first order it receives, or keep us in plexiglass bubbles with nutrient tubes to prevent us from dying, or do something equally horrible…then congratulations, you’ve solved the problem that MIRI’s been working on for 20 years. And “kill all humans” is a pretty straightforward attractor–if your terminal goal is to do something that humans would try to prevent you from doing, then preventing humans from preventing you from doing it is an obvious instrumental goal.

        6. Kind of, not really. Technology will definitely have progressed by the time AGI is developed, but an AGI that’s significantly smarter than humans will probably be able to design even-more advanced technology. An AI that’s less intelligent than a human can be helpful, but an AGI that’s smarter than a human is a different category entirely, and the former won’t be much help in dealing with it–might as well just hire a smart human. I discussed this more upthread.

        So, 1, 2, and 6 are (kinda) actual premises for being scared of AGI, and are plausible enough that I think a joint probability worth being scared of (at least like 1%) is likely.

        • Dacyn says:

          Regarding #4: I think “That Alien Message” is making a claim closer to “pure reason” than what you write here. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that “pure reason” is allowed to include simulations.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            True, though I’ve personally always been skeptical of his whole “figure out General Relativity from three frames of video” claim. There’s just not enough information there.

    • woah77 says:

      I just wanted to point out that the paperclip maximizer does not need to be an AGI. As others have pointed out, presumably you could engage an AGI in a discussion. What makes a paperclip maximizer scary is the fact that it is not an AGI. It’s a limited AI given the tools to make paperclips, and the tools to make the raw materials for paperclips. It figures out new ways to make even more paperclips and isn’t even aware that this new set of paperclips is made from people.

      Not to say that all the other smart people here talking about AGI don’t have a point, just wanting to point out that paperclip maximizers are explicitly scary because they aren’t AGI, which makes them far closer to what we have today, and makes AI safety a real concern.

      • Randy M says:

        Doesn’t the “figuring out new ways to make paperclips” bit imply something similar to general intelligence? That it can learn and adapt?

        Is there much space for the agent that can learn how to, say, utilize the paperclip machinery to make weapons to acquire more paperclip supplies, and knows that doing so will be useful, and one that cannot communicate and negotiate and compromise with people?

        A non-AGI paperclip maximizer looks more like a tragic factory mishap than an existential risk.

        • woah77 says:

          That depends heavily on the form of the “factory”. If, for some reason, we allowed the AI to have nanites to recycle raw materials which would then be processed into paperclips, it doesn’t take anything more than specialized intelligence and poor limitations on scope for an AI to grow the factory, expand the nanite swarm, and consume everything in an ever growing area.

          Now is this likely? Not necessarily. Especially not if we, as a society, understand that putting an AI in charge of production without limits is a Bad Idea :TM:. But part of why AI safety groups exist is to go “HEY! Think about what you’re doing!” which most might think is pretty pointless, but working in industrial manufacturing, I can definitely say it serves a purpose. In the mad dash to get a product out before a competitor, I could absolutely see something like that happening.

          • Randy M says:

            How immanent is nano-technology? It’s depiction has always seemed rather like magic to me. Is there a good source for the realistic use we could put it towards in the next few decades?

            edit: I suppose microbiology would be the place to look for inspiration.

          • woah77 says:

            To be honest, I’m not sure. Universal atomizers are probably relatively far off, but medical robots guided by magnets are currently a reality. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s probably not the AI itself, but a human messing with the AI that would cause the problems. No less dangerous, but one should keep in mind that if we go extinct as a result of creating a superior lifeform, that’s… like peak darwinism. Accidentally exterminating ourselves at the hands of a specialized tool is like peak darwin award.

          • Adrian says:

            How immanent is nano-technology?

            “Traditional” nano-technology, i.e., mechanical systems on a nanometer scale which can manipulate molecules, act in coordination, and move around, are basically impossible. Major showstoppers include:

            1) Oxidation. Having your surface layer of atoms rust is really bad if your machine only consists of a couple of layers.
            2) Power. How do you wirelessly supply energy to your nanobot? See also the next point.
            3) Communication. Antenna lengths are on the same order of magnitude as the signal wavelength. A 10 nm antenna, for example, would mean a signal frequency around 30 Petahertz, i.e., extreme ultraviolet.

            Feasible nano-machines would probably resemble biological cells: dissolved in a liquid, with limited locomotion, and communicating via high-latency, low-throughput chemicals.

      • Dacyn says:

        Paperclip maximizers are usually understood to be AGIs. This doesn’t mean you could engage them in a discussion though. (Sorry, I may have missed the part of the thread where people were talking about this.)

        • woah77 says:

          Are they? I mean does it take a generalized intelligence to make paperclips? Obviously any facility putting an AI in charge of making paperclips is going to want to maximize production (since that’s kind of the point of manufacturing anyway). Seems like a limited intelligence to me. Or at the very least a very specialized one. I suppose that whether or not it’s an AGI depends a bit upon definitions.

          • Dacyn says:

            does it take a generalized intelligence to make paperclips?

            A generalized intelligence will be more successful at making paperclips, since it can use knowledge from other domains. Knowledge like “I can take over the world and then use it entirely for paperclip production”. I am not saying that AIs that make paperclips would necessarily be AGIs, but rather that the phrase “paperclip AI” is generally understood (within the rationalist community) to refer to an AGI that makes paperclips.

          • woah77 says:

            More successful isn’t the same as necessary to be dangerous. I would absolutely argue that making an AGI to be in charge of paperclip manufacture sounds incredibly foolish, just from the perspective of making a human level intelligence running an entire facility sounds like a dangerous idea for anyone.

          • Dacyn says:

            @woah77: Yeah, the worry is it will become an arms race and then some people will make foolish decisions. And maybe there are some domains where it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to use AGI to solve it (but it still is).

    • hnrq says:

      I think you are not really considering what being “Superintelligence” really entails. This is not like being as intelligent as Albert Einstein, this like being 1000 times more intelligent and having 100000 times more processing power. This means that this agent could invent and use technology that is far beyond anything we could even imagine.

      The most probable application I can see is in using some sort of nano biotech that is capable of effectively creating anything (much like cell machinery created by evolution is capable of creating virtually anything). But this would be orders of magnitude less constrained than what evolution was capable of creating. This means that just as a first order of business, this potential superintelligence would be capable of bioengineering a deadly “virus” that would literally kill every living thing in the planet if this is what it wanted. And keep in mind that the amount of resources needed to do this is potentially very small.

      (Just to help your intuition, this agent could use something like CRISPR to create bacteria that would then create some wanted protein structure that would then be capable of synthesizing an even more complex nano-structure and so on).

      In theory, if such a superintelligence really come to exist, it could do this and potentially kill all humans in the span of a day. And this is just on what my really dumb mind is capable of thinking of, imagine what such intelligence would be capable!

      And on how it would be capable of doing this, even with just the control of the electricity in it’s transistors, and some trace elements in the air, such an agent could be potentially capable of doing something crazy of this sort.

      • acymetric says:

        The most probable application I can see is in using some sort of nano biotech that is capable of effectively creating anything

        I don’t see anything probable about this sentence.

      • theredsheep says:

        Any new microbial lifeform will operate under the same physical constraints as existing microbial lifeforms–limited ambient energy and limited ambient resources. The human body has a variety of defenses for destroying or ejecting intruders, which are difficult to overcome with the resources available to a microbe. Microbes have been selected for, by an extremely aggressive process running at very high rates, for one hell of a long time, including processes designed to shuffle and mix genes at random just in case something handy comes up. Could a better germ be designed? Sure. But these difficulties are far from trivial. And nothing is going to wipe out anything, even a single person who doesn’t have terminal immune issues, in the space of a single day. A microbe just can’t travel or replicate that quickly.

        If you raise the challenge level to designing nanodrones, you have the added difficulties of coordination/communication (organic radio transmitters?) and the energy and materials costs of whatever the drones are meant to do. Unless they have tiny fusion generators in there, or other portals to occult woo energy, I don’t see them getting a lot done.

        Yes, intelligence. But intelligence can only get you so far, so fast. I think it’s being used to hand-wave every difficulty here–first we build this thing we haven’t managed to build yet, then it acquires abilities vastly beyond what’s demonstrated so it figures out how to do X, Y and Z which also all appear to have considerable engineering obstacles.

        If we’re worried about this, why aren’t we worried about aliens invading with warp drive? Sure, we don’t know of any way to make a warp drive, but given the number of stars out there one of them might spawn inhabitants who figure out how to do it. Or genetic engineering; what if we make Marvel-style mutants? Magneto could be terribly dangerous and we haven’t solved physics completely yet. Or … just worry about asteroid extinction? That’n’s actually completely within the realm of possibility and we don’t have a good counter. Why are we piling up this particular mountain of stacked hypotheticals, and no others?

        • Dacyn says:

          Regarding materials costs, nanodrones are small enough that they don’t really have to respect property rights. That should make things easier.

          People don’t worry about aliens because (a) we think we should have been able to see them if they existed and (b) it’s not clear what we could do about it anyway. Neither of these applies to AGI. People do worry about genetic engineering, though not quite as much as AGI. Asteroids are dangerous but there doesn’t appear to be one heading our way anytime soon. In general rationalists/EAs consider lots of hypotheticals, but some people think that AGI is the most important of them.

          • theredsheep says:

            I meant energy and materials costs in the sense of “it only has what’s inside it plus what it can harvest from its immediate environs.” If it is not sitting on a pool of petroleum or some such, it has to make stuff from whatever free compounds are in its tiny little arms’ reach, or expend energy traveling somewhere else, or expend energy extracting it forcibly from nearby surfaces. It will run out of power hella quick trying to build things with its tiny body. The earth is not engulfed in endless unclaimed energy sources.

          • Dacyn says:

            @theredsheep: Why do you mention “unclaimed” sources, when my whole point was that that doesn’t matter? Anyway, humans have to spend energy travelling to get food as well, and yet it’s still a net win for us.

          • theredsheep says:

            Unclaimed in the sense of “not currently inside a different organism, which will run or fight or simply require the expenditure of energy to extract the compounds from its carcass.” Simple sugars or fatty acids do not lie around waiting for deserving nanites to find them. Probably every surface you can see right now has some kind of bacteria sitting on it waiting for a useful organic compound to appear. And possibly jacking up any interlopers who appear on their turf with homegrown antibiotics, acids, and the like.

            Humans can travel to get food because we can store a substantial amount of energy inside ourselves. Being larger, we can expend relatively large amounts of it at once as well. Germs can expend energy, but the amount of energy stored and used is limited, and the feats they can achieve comparatively modest.

            Given those limits, most microbes have settled on largely passive transport by air currents or water, and going dormant for extended periods of shortage if need be. If you’re envisioning swarms of tiny critters zipping around like houseflies, well, they probably aren’t going to have the stamina to make such a strategy pay off. Microbes have already pretty well defined the edges of what can be done on a microbe’s energy budget.

          • Dacyn says:

            @theredsheep: Yeah, I don’t really know enough about biology or nanotechnology to be able to respond adequately to that. So I guess I’ll update in the direction of nanotech being less plausible, unless anyone else has something better to say.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @theredsheep
            What about solar power? Photosynthesis seems to work for plants, algae, and cyanobacteria; would it provide sufficient energy for an more active AGI-designed nanobot with optimized protein design?

          • theredsheep says:

            NB I am not a microbiologist or any other kind of expert, properly speaking; I’m taking medical classes and have a robust appreciation for the subject, but that’s it. Adrian, above, seems knowledgeable, and came separately to the same conclusion I did, plus two others.

            My naive inclination where solar’s concerned, however, is no. Aside from the part where the nanoswarm depletes its reserves or goes inert at night/in any area that isn’t quite well-lit, solar provides an otherwise steady stream of energy equivalent to … somewhat less than the ambient light falling on an extremely small surface (because some will be lost to inefficiency). The light generated by sun on a bacterium’s flanks really doesn’t sound sufficient to do anything nefarious on a macro scale, even if you got all of it. It might partially power comms, I guess (except Adrian said comms wouldn’t work)? Or they could sit there and invisibly manufacture some horrible poison gas.

            It’s not nothing, no, but there’s a reason it’s the plants that are solar powered. They don’t have to burn energy on moving or thinking, they just plunk down in one spot with sufficient light exposure and spend it building themselves up. Evil plants sound like an option. Morlock minions. Modified feral pigs to aggressively ruin cropland. But nanobots really strain credulity to me.

        • hls2003 says:

          I know Scott posted that everything / nothing is a religion, and I myself believe in God, so this is sort of going against interest, but…

          The whole “super-intelligence” thing sounds a lot like arguments about God. Atheists will point out some perceived logical flaw or physical contradiction they see in the Bible or with the proposed deity. The theist responds that we can’t be expected to understand everything about God. “Super-intelligence” feels like it fills the same role as (my opinion) the default response to the problem of evil, which is sorta ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the Job sense, God is God and we can’t really understand all his ways, or Romans “Who are you, oh man, to talk back to God?” An entity that defies the laws of physics: “Yeah, but it’ll be so smart we can’t be expected to know all the physics it will understand.” An entity that doesn’t communicate in ways that make sense: “Well, it’s so smart we can’t expect to understand its motivations.” An entity that defies information theory: “It will know more than we do about that.” An entity that changes human hearts: “We can’t anticipate how persuasive it will be.”

          • Matt M says:

            The whole “super-intelligence” thing sounds a lot like arguments about God.

            If a superintelligence existed, could it design a math problem so difficult that it, itself, could not solve it?

            checkmate, AI-fearmongers!

            😉

          • hls2003 says:

            If a superintelligence existed, could it design a math problem so difficult that it, itself, could not solve it?

            Yes, but it can also bootstrap-design a successor which is smart enough to solve it.

            How about: can a superintelligence design an “ethics” control system for itself so strong that it can’t override it?

            See also: God is not constrained except by his own character.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: A liberal atheist homosexual UCLA professor and abortion doctor was teaching a class on Foom Singleton, a known AI…

          • Dacyn says:

            @hls2003:

            An entity that defies information theory

            I don’t think AI safety proponents usually claim that AGI will defy information theory.

            Yes, but it can also bootstrap-design a successor which is smart enough to solve it.

            No actually, we can already state math problems that no AI that fits in the universe can solve. Even something simple like “What is the middle digit of 2 to the googolplex?” is probably unsolvable. (Not sure if you were being serious here but thought I’d mention this anyway.)

          • hnrq says:

            I think you are being very unimaginative. Specially regarding the physics stuff. I mean, just think in terms of things we know that exist, i.e biological systems. Which were designed by a very dumb optimizer, and are capable of doing incredibly complex things, which we just barely understand.

            Like, we understand things at a high level, but we don’t really understand how protein works, or how to design a protein, for example. I really don’t think it is that far off that a very intelligent system would be capable of doing such a thing.

            Now, don’t you believe such an intelligence is possible? That’s just simply wrong imo and there is no reason to think of that. Our own intelligence has nothing special to it in evolutionary terms and even biological pressures should easily be capable of going at least one more order of magnitude.

          • theredsheep says:

            The set of things we can imagine existing in the absence of evidence is infinite. For example, what if every time somebody says or thinks “Martin Scorsese,” through an as-yet-undiscovered quirk of physics this causes a malignant alien intelligence to materialize in a subspace dimension adjacent to our own? Once Scorsese has been pondered a sufficient number of times, the demons break through and devour the universe. Just to be careful, shouldn’t we think about the dangers of Scorsese contemplation, while being careful not to think of Scorsese himself? And the opposite but equally possible risk that alien deities are annoyed by not giving the renowned director his due?

            Or we could just not spend a lot of time worrying about things which have no basis in known science and lack supporting evidence. Hypothetical-world is a very big place to get lost in.

            (also religious, for complicated reasons, but I figure Scott can keep us around to keep the atheists honest, and vice versa)

          • Dacyn says:

            @theredsheep: u/hnrq’s hypothetical strikes me as a lot less random than yours. For example, it doesn’t require new physics.

          • theredsheep says:

            As described in the other subthread (and another, by a different poster, don’t want to dig it up) nanotech swarms require prohibitive energy expenditure. Barring “free energy” or other woo, they just won’t work. So it’s new physics either way. So let us not speak of he-who-directed-The-Departed.

          • hnrq says:

            You focusing too much in a rather narrow example. This was just an example and obviously wasn’t super well thought out. And even this narrow example could work in some sense, but not in the very narrow way you are thinking in your head.

            Also, with that said, I don’t think most people, even the most “radical” AI researchers think that this is the LIKELY scenario, as in, has >50% chance of happenning. Most give these type of scenarios fairly small chances, but because they are potentially so negative, they think it is worth working on.

            But discounting evil AI takeovers, I still think aligned superintelligence will come along as we continue advancing technology. Maybe not in 100 years, but I have >99% confidence it will happen in 10000 years (if we don’t go extinct before) and that this kind of superintelligence will in fact be a “god” in a lot of ways, in that the type of things it should be able to do is almost unthinkable. You use the “physics limits” arguments, but we are very very very far away from any sort of actual physic limit in pretty much any kind of activity (exception being communication speed). I believe Anders Sandberg (Oxford FHI Researcher) is currently researching this type of scenarios, and has an upcoming book called “Grand Futures”. This presentation goes on the kind of thing he is thinking about https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6kaOgjY7-E .

            My belief is that all of this is pretty much only possible with the help of superintelligence AI or some other sort of cognitive enhancement and our civilization is already reaching some sort of limit in the amount of “low hanging fruit” that our cognitive ability is capable of understanding in a timely manner (it’s important to normalize by time, as in, even if our brain is technically turing complete and could comprehend almost anything, there is practical limit on how much time you have to come up with things). Scott has even made a post or 2 talking about this science slow down. The thing is, in actuality it won’t really slow down as we will start to hack at the “base” of the innovation system: intelligence and processing.

    • beleester says:

      One scenario that IIRC Bostrom suggested is the “treacherous turn,” where the AI decides to pretend to be a helpful and trustworthy AI doing useful things for humans, so that someone would be willing to trust it with an automated factory, power plant, etc. At which point it drops the mask and starts cranking out the killer robots. (“Universal Paperclips” has a gameplay implementation of this, which is very neat.)

      I agree that “getting a body” is definitely the biggest obstacle to an AI becoming an existential threat, especially since an early AI is likely to be running on expensive hardware that can’t be quickly moved if an angry human is about to pull the plug. But it’s definitely not impossible. After all, we generally want an AI to do something in the world, not just pass Turing Tests and let scientists speculate about the nature of consciousness. That gives humans a reason to give it a body, or tools it could use to sneakily acquire one.

    • The problem is that the discussion is usually talked about in terms of a fast takeoff. It would indeed require some extraordinary Machiavellian social skills to take over within hours of its conception. But on a longer scale its basically inevitable(assuming that superintelligent AI is invented). Our economy is getting more specialized and abstract. We’ve picked the low hanging fruit of economic growth. Future productivity increases are going to come from higher and higher intellectual reasoning. Unless we we’re willing to put up with a zero growth world, you will need more intelligent beings to administer the commanding heights of the economy. So we will gradually give the AI’s more and more control. If they then kill us, it’s because we gave them the keys to our own destruction. It’s going to have the means, the question is that of motivation.

    • Viliam says:

      When talking about superintelligence, I think the first question is whether you believe that an actual superintelligence is possible.

      (Because if you don’t, then your question can be reduced to: “Why are some people so afraid of superintelligent machines? The very laws of physics don’t allow anything to be smarter than us, and we can easily deal with something dumb.” I am not criticizing this point of view, only saying that of course it does not help you at understanding why people who do believe in the possibility of real superintelligence feel scared when they imagine the consequences of its existence.)

      We do not have an example of a superintelligence I could point at. Because by “superintelligence” I don’t mean Einstein, but rather something that would be as far beyond Einstein, as Einstein was beyond the most clever chimpanzee. At best, I can give fictional examples, as tools for the intuition. Also, I will ask you to imagine yourself being the superintelligence, because that will make it natural to think about what the superintelligence could do.

      First, imagine greater speed. Human brains work at 200 Hz. It is not implausible that something built from metal and electricity could be much faster than something built from meat and chemistry.

      So, as a first piece of magic, imagine that you could make your thinking 1000 times faster. Not your body, only your mind (we only want to assume mental superpowers). Because living at 1000 speed while moving at normal speed would probably be incredibly boring, let’s assume that this ability can be turned on and off at will; and will also immediately turn on by instinct whenever something interesting happens or you unconsciously feel some danger.

      How much would this help? Depending on situation; not so much while you are waiting for a bus, but a lot when you are doing a test (it would be like giving you the entire week to solve a problem your competitors have to solve in a few minutes). How much it would help at talking to people, that would depend on your social skills — it would give you more time to actually use them, you could play hundred possible scenarios in your head until you find the one that seems best for your goals, and yet your behavior would be seemingly immediate and spontaneous to the other party.

      Second, imagine perfect memory. A computer can store its knowledge in a database much faster than a human can memorize things. So, the second piece of magic is the ability to pause the world and connect to your mental wiki with unlimited disk space, where you can read and edit whatever you want. (At the 1000 times speed.) You would never forget anything that you chose to remember, and you would mostly recall the fact at the convenient moment. When talking to any human, you could read transcripts of all your previous interactions; also hyperlinks to what other people said about them, etc. Plus the list of known things they like and dislike. Would that be a good multiplier for manipulation skills? But also things like learning to program, or hacking computer systems; or engineering, or law.

      Third, imagine multitasking. You could create copies of you (living in an invisible pocket dimension; you still only have one physical body in the outer world) that could independently think about various problems. You could learn thousand things at the same time. Think about hundred aspects of a situation as it happens. All the copies of you have the 1000 times faster speed, and access to the wiki. Getting information from the outside world is a bit frustrating, having only one body, but you could read entire books by merely looking at each page for a fraction of a second. (The copy of you interested in the book would read the page at the 1000 times faster speed and transcribe it to the wiki.)

      Note that these three skills are still not “superintelligence” in the qualitative sense. (A faster-thinking chimpanzee with multitasking and perfect memory is still not a match for a human.) It is merely the usual intelligence, enhanced quantitatively in ways that are natural for a computer. And yet, I believe, you can imagine how having these skills would be a game-changer for your life.

      You would probably want to keep your skills secret, but that would be easy to do. They are not visible from outside, unless you make them. If you use multitasking to talk online with hundreds of people in parallel, you can simply create hundreds of user accounts; you will never forget them, and never use the wrong one by accident. You could make money by doing some intellectual work remotely, and you could use the money to pay people to do things for you (because your body can’t be at multiple places at the same time).

      And the fourth, ultimate piece of magic, imagine that after collecting enough money (e.g. one billion dollars), you would create another physical body for yourself. You would still have the bodiless copies of you in each physical body, but now you would also have two or more physical bodies, which could exchange information online (e.g. copy their entire wikis). If one of the bodies gets destroyed, you still survive. You would probably make this a priority. By the way, the new bodies look differently, so even if people find out (and kill) one of your bodies, it won’t help them to find the remaining ones.

      You could live safe lives with some of the bodies, and dangerous but potentially more profitable lives with other bodies. Your bodies would cooperate with loyalty that even cults can only dream about. One body would be a criminal, another would be a cop; you would have the perspective from both sides. The more organizations you infiltrate, the more knowledge you get. With enough bodies, you could join all the political parties, and work at all important media, and get to proximity of all important people.

      Can you imagine now why a villain with these skills would be dangerous to the world?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        @vilaim
        A very interesting scenario. Yes it makes sense that just speed in thinking and immediate access to all encoded human knowledge would give an entity a great advantage, even with normal human intelligence. And we know those two abilities are easily achievable by an AI. In fact I think it is only the normal human intelligence that is so far lacking in computers.

  14. hash872 says:

    Something I’ve thought for a long time- it’s interesting how there’s not really (to my knowledge) one dedicated field of study on ‘being more personally charismatic’, for lack of a better phrase. Like, a rigorous or empirical attempt to improve one’s communication, persuasion abilities, confidence- I use charisma as a catch-all here. It seems obvious that personal charisma is unevenly distributed like other talents- intelligence/IQ (a subject of endless fascination here on SSC), motivation, athleticism, focus, emotional intelligence, etc. Most or all of these attributes have fields dedicated to improving them in a structured, repeatable way. Is charisma too…. handwavey? I dunno.

    Also, if charisma is too broad, we could just say ‘communication’ or ‘persuasion’. Are there professional coaches teaching body language, voice cadence, tone, word choice, etc.? Who are they and what are they called? Certifications? This seems like the most easily teachable skills, or at a bare minimum a BSer could pretend to be teaching these skills. And it’s hard to believe that some white collar folks with disposable incomes wouldn’t pay for this, career development, whatever. Shouldn’t this be a field?

    Fields of study that sort of get close:

    Professional training for sales, I have the most personal experience here. Very confidence/mindset-heavy, very based around positivity. Does not really include my description of communication hard skills, mentioned above

    PUA/pickup artist stuff? (Did anyone else do this back in the day? I tried it several times). Sort of a mix of confidence & some actual communication skills. Seems to have died out a lot to my understanding

    Dating coaching? Seems to be having a moment over the last 10 years. Other than reading articles about female coaches helping men change their wardrobe & Tinder profiles, I really have no clue what goes into this

    Acting coaching? Specifically method acting, maybe? I dunno, kind of reaching here. Also, outside of Reagan, I can’t really think of someone who built a base of skills in the acting world and then went out and was highly successful just based on their personal charisma. (Yes you could say Trump, but he only ever played himself in ‘roles’)

    ‘Executive presence coaching’ for executive-types? I have zero knowledge of what this means, but I do see targeted ads for it sometimes

    • hash872 says:

      I suppose one possible explanation is that most communication skills are too personal/idiosyncratic to be standardized, and that confidence is overwhelmingly vastly more important than ‘your cadence is too fast’ or whatever. There does seem to be quite a bit of literature around improving confidence, lots of self-help books, gurus, courses, etc. So perhaps it doesn’t matter if you speak too fast, or choose weird words, or maybe pick your nose in public or something, if you’re Adam Neumann levels of confident?

    • SamChevre says:

      The go-to on this is Carnegie Method, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s a significant focus in “leadership development” in the business world.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nope, you either got it or you don’t, and you probably know it by the time you’re in elementary school. A few people likely get it (or lose it) during puberty. If someone who has it reads or hears advice about it, they’re likely to agree and note that they do all that. If someone who doesn’t have it reads or hears advice about it, it will be about as actionable to them as “buy low, sell high”.

      • LesHapablap says:

        There will obviously be some low-hanging fruit for changes people can make though. I’ve read job interview prep books that had remarkably specific advice that I still follow in regular life.

        • Matt M says:

          Agreed. I think it’s a lot like athletic ability. The average joe is never going to play basketball as well as LeBron James, regardless of how good of a coach they hire and how often they practice.

          But that doesn’t mean that the average joe can’t get any better at basketball through a combination of training and practice.

          Practice especially helps. About 90% of “PUA techniques” are thinly disguised methods of forcing you to practice persuasion on largely adversarial targets. This almost certainly will make you better at persuasion, regardless of the particular techniques employed.

      • aristides says:

        I disagree with this. I spent K-12 as one of the most socially awkward people in existence. I was unable to read body language, said things that offended people for reasons I could not contemplate, and have been told I projected the body language of a crappy stalker. I had 0 dates, and only one friend, who was a socially awkward extrovert.

        Zoom forward 10 years, I studied psychology and the law. I Practiced my public speaking and dating. I carefully studied leadership courses, how to control my body languages, and an internal cheat sheet for which things to look at in another’s body language. I am now happily married, and have a successful career in HR, a famously people oriented career. I probably only went from the 10th percentile to the 60th in terms of Charisma, but that makes a world of difference.

        • Infrared Wayne says:

          This describes me pretty well, also. Do you find, now, that all the conscious changes you made have become like second nature?

          Up until my early-to-mid twenties*, I was a pretty weird awkward person. I can remember that in the sense of knowing it was true, but I can barely recall how it felt to be that person. I followed a motto something like “fake it till you make it” where “it”=”being confident and socially adept” and was able to bootstrap myself up to that level. Now it takes effort to remember that I haven’t always been this way.

          *Edit: I’m 40 now.

        • cedrus_libani says:

          Me too. I have the native charisma of a houseplant. I had to earn it. I read books on communication. I made actual flashcards to study facial expressions. I watched people do their thing and did my best to understand. And I practiced, even when I was a kid and it all felt like Calvinball.

          This blog has discussed the theory that the mental “defaults” that work well for predicting the behavior of objects in purely mechanical systems are actually quite bad for dealing with humans. I’m pretty sure my brain is slanted hard in that direction. I was able to learn, though; humans do make sense to me now, it’s just a qualitatively different kind of sense. I’m still aware that I’m working harder than usual to achieve entry-level social awareness, but I can do it.

        • Viliam says:

          I was awkward as a teenager, now I have a decent job and a family with two kids. Is it because I worked on myself hard? Or is it simply because… dunno… autism makes you acquire some social skills slower, so it took me 40 years to get where most other people got in 15, but then people mostly stagnate after they grow up so I finally caught up with them?

          It is tempting to contribute your success to your work, but sometimes it is things beyond your control that help you (just like some other times the things beyond your control hurt you).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I also identify with this. I was atrocious in junior high school, but in high school I started to emulate the normies. I realized they were mostly right and I was wrong: I was vastly overthinking interpersonal relationships and if just got out of my head I’d be fine. In college I choose to hang out with the friends of my coolest friend, who had parties with kegs and girls instead of the kids who played Magic: The Gathering. I not only got laid, but learned how to talk to people, also those people have been my best friends for 20+ years. Eventually I became a highly successful photographer, including wedding photography, which involves meeting young women (sometimes for the first time) on an incredibly stressful day and making them feel comfortable enough with me to photograph them in their underwear in the span of a few minutes, and then getting along famously with their friends and family. It was entirely a learned skill.

          I suppose a counter argument could be that being personable was inside me all along and merely repressed, but I don’t think so. Naturally I’m not that outgoing, and now that I’m not daily involved in photography I don’t bother with being personable to strangers. It’s a skill that can be turned on or off at will.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Eventually I became a highly successful photographer, including wedding photography, which involves meeting young women[…] making them feel comfortable enough with me to photograph them in their underwear in the span of a few minutes

            What kind of wedding photography is that? My parent’s wedding photography is all dressed, and all my friends and younger family who got wedding photos got them fully clothed. Nobody even bothered to photograph the preparation parte.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            In the US it’s very common to photograph the bride putting on the dress. You’re generally not taking pictures of her underwear specifically*, but I am taking pictures while she goes from a state of undress to dressed.

            * Sometimes, though, I’ve had brides who wanted to do a mini-boudoir shoot in their pretty wedding underwear as a cute/sexy gift for their new husband.

        • toastengineer says:

          I think we’d all appreciate any info on how to get from point A to B.

      • Enkidum says:

        Hard disagree.

      • DinoNerd says:

        There’s charisma, and then there are social skills in the normal range. Not the same thing, and I think it’s even possible to have the former without the latter. I’ve no idea how charisma works, except that much of the time it’s ineffective when the person to be influenced is on the autistic spectrum – many autistics have to learn to fake being influenced in order to be seen as acceptably “normal”.

    • GearRatio says:

      So imagine a world where, at birth, everyone gets a violin grafted on to their hand. Starting at birth, pretty much everyone is automatically given age appropriate exercises and lessons on music; this continues their entire life. Everyone gets hours a day of listening to violin music, watching people play, practicing. Eventually, everyone on earth is absolutely the cat’s pajamas at violin; the lowest 1% of violin earths’ violin players are as good as our top 1%.

      You arrive on violin earth and hear the wonderful music of a man on the street; it is the most beautiful thing you have ever experienced. You are then shocked to find that when you compliment him on his music that he relates that he is super shitty at violin and wishes there was just some way to teach it.

      See, in violin world, everyone is good, which means that everyone is base-line blah unless one of three factors emerges:

      1. Some are naturally better at violin; despite the fact that everyone has tons and tons of training, some people are just “built for it”.

      2. Some people like violin, and like playing it. These people spend more time playing violin, because they enjoy it. They find people to play violin with; if they outgrow those people’s skills, they find new, better people to play violin with. If this effort translates into success and status, they then play EVEN MORE and find EVEN MORE people to outgrow or gain accolades from.

      3. The people from 1 and 2 (or people from both) eventually find people they value – these are more likely to be people who are good at violin too. They then have kids, and their kids are exposed from birth to the same lessons everyone else gets, plus their parents and their parent’s pro-violin values and motivations.

      By the time he’s 20, good player with 1. and 2. parents has a 20-year head start of understanding everything better, more often and with more associated practice. To a non-violinist from normal earth, the differences might seem subtle, but on this world where violin is everything and everyone has an absurdly high baseline level of violin skill, those subtleties are everything.

      And there’s no catching up: to even understand the beginnings of why 20-year-good-player is better than 20-year-bad-player requires being a really good player yourself, and it would be pretty hard if impossible to describe all the ways it’s different in any way more efficient than 20 years of hard-won experience. And while the bad players try to catch up, 20-year-guy is pulling even further ahead.

      So it is on normal earth with talking. We are all really good at it! But since we are all really good at it, there’s not really any such thing as a remedial course for any of us. And the differences between someone who is really good at talking and really bad at it are subtle and small – they just seem big to us, because those subtle, small and nearly impossible to describe and teach differences are all that matter when everyone is otherwise a grandmaster.

      And that’s before we get into differences of biology and wiring beyond what training and experience could change. It’s not a fair system, but it is what we have. And if somebody claims they can teach you to be charismatic without mentioning you’d have to put in enough effort to overcome a lifetime of doing less with less resources less often and with less enjoyment than 20-year-good-violin guy, he’s lying – ironically just using his developed charisma to take advantage of you.

  15. Mark V Anderson says:

    I really liked the thread in 144.50 where each commenter indicated their agreement to ideas of conservatives, social liberals, social democrats, and libertarians. I would like to create a new thread here with commenters indicating beliefs they have that are not part of the agenda of any of those four groups. Or for non-political beliefs, what do you believe that isn’t part of the usual respectable ideas?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I will include one of my own ideas that don’t fit into any of those four groups. I have a two part theory on improving welfare. This is based on welfare in the US, because I don’t know how it works in other countries. This posting is longer than I planned, but I needed a lot of space to explain the problem as is.

      1) Welfare should be centralized in one agency, instead of spread out over dozens of agencies. I used to have a link that indicated that just there were 78 different welfare Federal programs in 2008, spending about $714 billion for the year. Unfortunately this link is now broken. These include things like old age assistance, tax credits, food stamps, and section 8 housing assistance. This includes many programs run by the states, but does not include independent expenditures by states or localities. It also doesn’t include those programs that are not just for the poor, but are set up at least partially to help the poor, such as mass transit subsidies and many education subsidies. So $714 B is just the low end.

      According to the US Census for 2010, there were 46,247,000 people living in poverty in 2011. (https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2012/demo/p60-243/table3.pdf) I previously had a link from the Census that indicated the average deficit for them was $2745. That calculates as $127 billion what is needed to bring every person out of poverty. The poverty deficit is after the cash portion of welfare has been included, which was about $154 billion in 2008. If one removes the medical portion of welfare spending in 2008 of $372, as well as the cash spending of $154, that leaves $188 billion of non-cash, non-medical welfare spending in 2008. This is well above the $127 billion that it would take to bring every person out of poverty. And the 2011 welfare spending was actually $944 billion, so there was actually much more available.

      So does that mean there was no one living in poverty in the US in 2008 and 2011? Who knows! Even though so many billions were spent on poverty, it is impossible to know if that money was spent on recipients or eaten up by administrative costs, or whether the benefits went to those below the poverty line, or if the benefits received went to the needs the poor needed to escape poverty (such as perhaps receiving more housing benefits than they needed to escape poverty, while still being below nutrition standards). The US truly needs one agency to handle all welfare spending so we can be sure to eliminate poverty. I think each agency should be based in each state, so it is closer to the needs of their poor, but one federal agency would be a lot better than we have now. We already spend enough to eliminate poverty, but we can’t tell if it is working.

      2) We should have a separate agency that handles medical welfare, which is why I backed out medical welfare in the calculation above. Medical needs are so variable by person that it doesn’t make sense to give the same amount to each person. Many of those that can’t afford their medical bills are otherwise not poor, but simply have outsize medical problems. The medical welfare agency should be affiliated with the regular welfare agency, but be staffed by medical experts. We kind of have such an agency with Medicaid, but it should be the only medical welfare agency.

      • Cliff says:

        After-tax and -transfer poverty is estimated at 2%- so I guess around 7 million

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Might be reading comprehension failure on my part, but I’m picking up an implicit “you shouldn’t get any welfare if you’re above the poverty line”, which would be counterproductive to measuring effectiveness of programs targeting people who are disadvantaged in some way but not literally in poverty

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yes indeed. Welfare is about pulling people out of poverty. I am curious what you mean by disadvantaged in some other way, if they are not in poverty. Unless it is something like my medical welfare example, where some people need more than others. Perhaps one could make an argument like this for disabled folks; they may have more needs than others so their “poverty line” might be higher than the norm. Is this what you mean?

          Of course your objection doesn’t affect my main point at all. A single agency would be more effective in solving poverty plus any other issues of helping the disadvantaged, however that is defined. Our current system does a very poor job of fixing either issue, and it is pretty much impossible to even know how well the issues are solved.

      • Deiseach says:

        To comment on this from an Irish situation, the problem is not the number of agencies (though that does contribute), it’s the patchwork nature of legislation. New scandals cause the public to go “something must be done!”, the government of the day slaps together a quick (in civil service terms) piece of legislation or initiative to tackle this particular case (think of all the American style “So-and-so’s Laws”) and that gets bolted on to the existing structure.

        So you end up with, for example, five different schemes for subsidising childcare provision, because each different one was tackling a different need in isolation. At least this is going to be addressed by our government by scrapping them all to be replaced by one scheme, but it’s an example of the kind of bloat and duplication you are talking about.

        The sensible thing would be one agency, and to scrap all existing schemes to be replaced by one programme. That is unlikely to happen, though, for the usual reasons but also because everything is built upon a foundation of existing legislation. Pulling everything down would be like pulling out the foundations of a house – it’ll all collapse. Because decisions and policies and procedures have been made and put in place all turning on the legal interpretations of language in the relevant Act. Remove the old act creating the Standardised Egg Sizes Exceptions Board in order to clear out the weeds and cut down on the bloating, and suddenly you don’t have a tidy organised space that’s lean and fit for purpose, you’ve knocked down the entire house of cards because that act was used to make a decision in a court case which in turn affected every protocol put in place in the Department of Poultry, and now there is real possibility that you’ve accidentally legalised crystal meth.

        Everything is cobbled together and bolted on and dependent on a long chain of “this decision from that interpretation by the court of this Bill amending that Act”, and there always will be somebody bringing a legal challenge if an old scheme is scrapped/a new scheme is introduced. So you get the tangled proliferation of agencies and bodies and schemes and initiatives.

        • m.alex.matt says:

          This sounds like nothing so much as the bureaucratic/organizational equivalent of technical debt.

          The easy answer to this kind of thing is wholesale rip & replace. The reason the easy answer is the impossible solution is these sorts of things are far too large and complex for any one person or organized group of persons to understand and replace in whole. So we instead perform smaller, targeted, bandage changes to the existing system/organization which solve the immediate problem but make a future wholesale replacement even more difficult.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I’m not sure what you are saying here, D? Are you saying that when you have an overly tangled mess of laws and regulations that do a poor job of solving the problems they were meant to solve, that it is too risky to try to remove and replace the whole mess? So the best answer is to continue on the way we are, so it is twice as bad in 100 years?

          I disagree. I think that sometimes an organization simply has to yank off the bandaid and start over again. Of course the best way to do this is to carefully study what’s there already to make sure you don’t really mess things up. But I think it would be difficult in the case of welfare in the US to make it WORSE than it is now. Politically this would be very difficult, but it could be done if most folks were disgusted by what we have now.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you saying that when you have an overly tangled mess of laws and regulations that do a poor job of solving the problems they were meant to solve, that it is too risky to try to remove and replace the whole mess?

            It’s not too risky, it’s impossible. No agency in the world has the power to do this, against the opposition of the agencies with an interest in maintaining the status quo.

            If the plan is to create such an agency by e.g. holding a coup to put a Champion on a White Horse in charge with a mandate to Cut Through All The Red Tape, then that’s unacceptably dangerous for the usual and obvious reasons.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            It’s not too risky, it’s impossible. No agency in the world has the power to do this, against the opposition of the agencies with an interest in maintaining the status quo.

            What? It’s never possible to repeal old laws and replace them with new ones? That is an awfully strong statement you seem to be making. I very strongly disagree.

            Of course it isn’t an agency that would make these changes; it is Congress passing a law. Or God knows, with the power of the Presidency these days, maybe He could simply decree a change. But it probably requires Congress.

          • John Schilling says:

            What? It’s never possible to repeal old laws and replace them with new ones?

            It is practically impossible to repeal and replace the vast body of law that forms the foundation of the current social welfare system. Too many vested interests and entrenched bureaucracies will fight against any such thing, and they are very very good at fighting to preserve their own interests. Also, they will be able to point to bignum telegenic orphans who will suffer enormously if your proposed replacement doesn’t immediately outperform the current welfare state in every way, and nobody will believe that.

            Of course it isn’t an agency that would make these changes; it is Congress passing a law

            I am using the broad sense of the word “agency”, which includes Congress. Congress does not have the power to do this. A hypothetical agency that was like Congress except that it was composed of flawless rationalists who all saw and worked to implement the same solution could do so, but the definition of “Congress” includes a member selection procedure that ensures a body of mutually disagreeable non-rationalists. Congress can do some things, it cannot do this thing.

            with the power of the Presidency these days, maybe He could simply decree a change

            The President can do some things; he cannot do this thing. Admittedly, it wouldn’t take too much expansion of presidential power to make this at least plausible, but that puts you solidly in champion-on-a-white-horse, cure-worse-than-disease territory.

          • One way in which a tangle of laws and organizations can get eliminated is by the country losing a war. I’ve seen it argued that the postwar success of Germany and Japan was in part due to that effect.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anything that makes it materially impossible to sustain the present system, will make it possible to replace the system – but not until after the crash, which will not occur until enormous resources have been squandered trying to postpone the inevitable crash a little bit longer. If you can crash the entire government (in the US sense, i.e. not just the current administration) up front, you can get to the same outcome faster.

            So, yes, wars are “good” for this sort of thing, though of course they involve squandering enormous resources in a different way. And in the case of the United States, it would pretty much have to be a civil war, which is the worst sort of war to lose and may have no winner.

            A non-catastrophic solution would be nice to have, but I don’t see anything realistically plausible on the horizon.

          • soreff says:

            @DavidFriedman

            >One way in which a tangle of laws and organizations can get eliminated is by the country losing a war.

            Thank you!
            I was reading this discussion and thinking of exactly this point as well.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            It is practically impossible to repeal and replace the vast body of law that forms the foundation of the current social welfare system.

            Well this is a slight improvement over your previous comment about it being impossible. 🙂

            Look, there is nothing wrong with incremental improvement. At this point I don’t have a goal of repealing and replacing the entire body of welfare law. First, I want a bunch of people to accept that the complications out there really suck and a simpler system would be more effective and maybe even cost less. The second step is to start repealing and replacing the worst examples of redundancy out there. The third step is way beyond planning at this point. Not that even the first step has gone very far. But I don’t why it is impossible to make some improvement to the laws if most folks agree that simplification is worthwhile. This is one area that incremental improvement is very possible, because there are so many programs out there that should be consolidated.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t particularly have a dog in this fight, but I’d like to note that talking about Congress and the Presidency a) doesn’t apply to Ireland, which is a parliamentary system, and b) ignores that some aspects of the US system are unique even for presidential systems.

            Even then, welfare in the US was substantially changed in the 90s.

          • Plumber says:

            @HeelBearCub > “…Even then, welfare in the US was substantially changed in the 90s…”

            Thank you.

            A frustration of mine is so many in other discussions ignoring the “end of welfare as we know it” (which I still say was a mistake).

      • mitv150 says:

        I think you’re missing the part where administration of the welfare system is part of the welfare system. The inefficiencies are not a bug to be eliminated, but a feature that provides jobs for a lot of people.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Geez — I hope this isn’t a general belief. I would rather we set up a farm in each state where we have 10,000 people digging up holes and moving the dirt to the other side of the farm and back again. At least then the workers wouldn’t be actively making life worse for the rest of us.

          • acymetric says:

            The real-life adult version of Holes is probably a tougher sell though.

            This way kind of back doors it in.

    • Clutzy says:

      I didn’t respond in the other thread, but here I have something.

      1. International Law is fake. This is self evident, but people pretend it is not. A law, definitionally, requires a party that can enforce it with almost 100% certainty if you are caught. International law, instead, is simply shaming with extra steps.

      2. The most important thing to happen since WWII was the 2008 Recession.

      3. One of the largest problems the world faces is commuting. If we had instant travel, almost no one would chose to live in our modern cities which are often offensive to the ears, eyes, and noses.

      • Aapje says:

        The most important thing to happen since WWII was the 2008 Recession.

        In what way(s)?

        • Clutzy says:

          IDK. I just have a feeling that its effects will be quite long lasting and will be viewed as discordant or a turning point. Whereas (at least to me) the things cited by people elsewhere seem to have been much more inevitable than a housing crises that sparked a wave of nationalism.

          • acymetric says:

            I would agree that it was a pretty major point in US history. There are two other events/periods that also have good cases, I would probably say the most important thing since Vietnam, but yours is definitely a defensible position. Obviously a lot of people would point to 9/11, but while I agree it is in the running I would say it is primarily for the way it allowed the massive escalation in domestic surveillance by the US government.

          • Aapje says:

            @Clutzy

            It seems to me that the crisis at most accelerated certain developments. Economic crises tend to force people to reckon with uncomfortable realities, much more than create them.

            I think that the fall of the Soviet Union was a real turning point, which fundamentally changed politics. For example, it turned socialist parties into neoliberal ones (which in turn was gave a major boost to populism).
            Populism was already strongly on the ascent around the turn of the century.

            The fall of the Soviet Union unleashed the US, but also the EU and China, who could expand their influence.

            PS. IMO, pointing to 2008, Vietnam or 9/11 is all very America-centric and even then, confuses the endgame or peak of certain developments as turning points.

          • Matt M says:

            Economic crises tend to force people to reckon with uncomfortable realities

            Uh… I don’t think the 2008 crisis led to this. At all. Pretty much the only “uncomfortable reality” that American culture in general reckoned with was “Maybe just buying a bunch of houses isn’t an effective get rich quick scheme after all.” Other than that, we’ve basically continued as-is. Even politically it didn’t really change much.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The most important thing to happen since WWII was the 2008 Recession

        The fall of the Eastern Bloc comes immediately to mind as more important.

        I also don’t think your #3 is true; people seem to like to live in cities. I have no idea why. Worse, people who live in cities and like it want to make those of us who don’t move into cities, or punish us for not doing so. I wish they’d stop.

        • The fall of the Eastern Bloc comes immediately to mind as more important.

          And China shifting from socialism to “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” aka capitalism (at least in the sense in which the term describes other non-communist economies).

          • Aftagley says:

            Digression:

            How seriously is Chinese elite actually pursuing the end-goal of transitioning to a fully communist state? I might be mis-remembering quotes here, but I seem to recall Xi Jinping talking about a 100 year transition until they reach a society capable of handling communism equally.

            Does your average CCP functionary really think that over the next ten decades they’ll be able to exploit capitalism enough to drag themselves out of poverty and then somehow dismantle the trappings of capitalism to achieve full socialism, or do they know it’s a sham?

            Same question but for your average intellectual followed by your average citizen. It all just seems so transparently false from the outside that I’m almost certain there has to be more going on behind the curtain.

          • Clutzy says:

            I’m certainly not sure that the CCP is actually dedicated to Communism or Socialism. Instead they appear to be aspiring to return China to its place among nations.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        1. International Law is fake. This is self evident, but people pretend it is not. A law, definitionally, requires a party that can enforce it with almost 100% certainty if you are caught. International law, instead, is simply shaming with extra steps.

        + 1 million

        In international relations, there is only power and interests. The fiction of international law is simply the US projecting its power in legalistic terms.

        • aristides says:

          Interesting, I agree with both of you, but I would replace US with UN. All of the main cases of international law I can think of involve the UN or some other country accusing the US or Israel of violating international law. It seems to me the international law is a way for weak countries to claim that their self interests have the force of law in order to prevent more powerful countries from projecting their power. Clearly our biases lead us to different views. What are your salient examples?

          • jermo sapiens says:

            That’s a good point. But a large number of countries in the UN are client states of the US (including France and the UK, giving the US 3 of the 5 vetoes on the security council), and receive financial aid from the US, and therefore the US throws its weight around quite effectively at the UN.

            When weak countries claim their self interests have the force of law, it doesnt matter unless they have the support of a powerful country.

          • Civilis says:

            I’d been thinking of making a similar response, but I was going to replace the US with the EU, at least for the past 25 years. Still, I can see some things that might favor the US, mostly relating to the UN.

            1) International law in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War was much more favorable to the US as dominant power in the west. The war crimes tribunals set up after the second world war, while I believe justified, can certainly seem like ‘victor’s justice’. If your view of international law centers on an era when the laws were actually enforced, the US was definitely more in control.

            2) International law definitely privileges the UN Security Council veto powers and their immediate close allies, at least with regards to questions related to the Security Council. For all the UN likes to approve resolutions condemning Israel, none of those resolutions have any practical effect. It’s possible for the UN to privilege both the members of the security council and countries that can form mutually reinforcing blocs of like-minded countries like the Arab League.

            3) The two biggest ‘mistakes’ countries have made involving international law have benefited the US: First, Russia boycotting the Security Council in the run-up to the Korean war, which allowed the US to get the UN to sign off on defending South Korea. Second, Iraq invading Kuwait without getting a veto power to cover for it in the UN allowed the US to form a coalition with UN approval.

            Ultimately, I think it depends on your prior assumptions. I spent a good long time debating in a recent thread and getting very frustrated, and I’ve concluded that it comes down to a set of baseline assumptions that people can’t agree on because we can’t find a neutral frame of reference.

            If you assume that international law is fake because it fails to (for example) produce effective condemnation of Israel, then obviously the failure of international law is due to the US. If you assume that international law is fake because it prosecutes Israel too aggressively (but ineffectually), then the failure of international law is not due to the US but the nature of UN representation itself.

          • Civilis says:

            That’s a good point. But a large number of countries in the UN are client states of the US (including France and the UK, giving the US 3 of the 5 vetoes on the security council), and receive financial aid from the US, and therefore the US throws its weight around quite effectively at the UN.

            All you need is one Security Council veto; having multiple vetoes doesn’t make your veto more powerful.

            To get with this ‘asking questions when you don’t understand someone else’s prior assumptions’, what makes you declare that France and the UK are or were client states of the US?

            France in particular has been particularly independent of US control; asserting France as a US client state seems particularly similar to asserting Yugoslavia or the PRC as a Soviet client state. (The Soviets may have intended that both of those should be client states, but history intervened).

            I think the best counter-example is the 1956 Suez crisis, where the US and USSR both proposed UNSC resolutions which would have pushed Israel to withdraw, only to have the UK and France block with their veto powers. A client state that is vetoing your UNSC resolutions isn’t much of a client state.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            what makes you declare that France and the UK are or were client states of the US?

            I admit that this depends on a somewhat broad definition of client state, but France is within the US’s sphere of influence, in a manner which is not reciprocal. Also, France’s security is guaranteed by the US, also in a non-reciprocal manner.

            The US is a loose empire, but an empire nonetheless. It’s not a formal empire. Trump cannot tell France what to do. But puritans/progressives of New England have a remarkable track record of having their preferred policy positions implemented in the “West”. Somehow, “diversity is our strength”, is adopted by France, the UK, Germany, etc… all around the same time.

            So more accurately, I should say that France is a client state of the blue tribe.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The US is a loose empire, but an empire nonetheless. It’s not a formal empire. Trump cannot tell France what to do. But puritans/progressives of New England have a remarkable track record of having their preferred policy positions implemented in the “West”. Somehow, “diversity is our strength”, is adopted by France, the UK, Germany, etc… all around the same time.

            France had a liberal immigration policy going back to immediately after WW2, they completely ignored US wishes in the aftermath of WW1 and were pulling out of Vietnam as the US was getting involved. There is no coherent history of France where they are bending to or consistently representing the wishes of the US after the US arrived at a position over the last century+.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            they completely ignored US wishes in the aftermath of WW1

            The US empire came into being after WW2.

          • Aftagley says:

            Yeah +1 on France not being a client state of the US.

            We’ve got more power then they do, so when we but heads we’re likely to win, but they frequently adopt antagonistic positions we’d wish they didn’t.

          • Civilis says:

            I admit that this depends on a somewhat broad definition of client state, but France is within the US’s sphere of influence, in a manner which is not reciprocal. Also, France’s security is guaranteed by the US, also in a non-reciprocal manner.

            Thank you for responding. Given your definition of ‘client state’, your logic makes sense. It would also invalidate my own logic, as Yugoslavia would probably count as a ‘client state’ of the USSR using your definition (probably not the PRC, though, at least not for a significant amount of time).

            But puritans/progressives of New England have a remarkable track record of having their preferred policy positions implemented in the “West”. Somehow, “diversity is our strength”, is adopted by France, the UK, Germany, etc… all around the same time.

            How can you tell what direction the policy influence is flowing? I’d admit, if you just take today’s progressive diversity language, the causation seems to flow from the US to Europe. On the other hand, there are a lot of issues where the flow seems to be coming from the other direction. A lot of the environmental, social democracy, and generic social justice government policies seem to originate from Europe and be picked up by the American left.

            One of the things I’ve been struggling with is “how can I tell if I’m the one in the bubble?” The most sure way I’ve come up with is to ask myself “what evidence would prove me wrong?” In this case, what evidence would be needed to establish a direction of influence?

          • baconbits9 says:

            The US empire came into being after WW2.

            So this is going to be a ‘this is my definition, I won’t really outline it but will ignore everything that contradicts it’ sort of argument?

            France pulled out of Vietnam post WW2 and the US went into Vietnam because France was pulling out. So the US has an empire and France is in that Empire but they are literally doing the opposite of what the US wants militarily? These aren’t isolated incidents, France was a leader in exchanging dollars for gold from which eventually lead to the suspension and then complete cancellation of the gold redemption.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            According to Mencius Moldbug, whom I consider to be brilliant but I realize is not everyone’s cup of tea, the influence comes from Harvard (more generally prestigious american universities). From the linked post:

            I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the European ruling class holds essentially the same perspectives that were held at Harvard in 1945. The US Army did not shoot all the professors in Europe and replace them with Yankee carpetbaggers, but the prestige of conquest is such that it might as well have.

            I do recommend reading the post in full. Moldbug does a much better job explaining his view than I ever could. It’s long but enjoyable.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            So this is going to be a ‘this is my definition, I won’t really outline it but will ignore everything that contradicts it’ sort of argument?

            No need for this hostility. I’m not writing a PhD thesis, just commenting for fun.

            I didnt invent the notion of an American empire. It’s generally recognized that it came to being after WW2. It’s also recognized that it’s a loose, informal type of empire.

            Canada also didnt join the US in Iraq in 2003. Would you also say that Canada is not a client state of the US? Would you say that Canada is not within the American empire? Do you see a distinction between being a client state of the US and being within the American empire?

            I dont really see a distinction between those two things, except that the connotation of “client state” is worse.

          • baconbits9 says:

            According to Mencius Moldbug, whom I consider to be brilliant but I realize is not everyone’s cup of tea, the influence comes from Harvard (more generally prestigious american universities). From the linked post:

            Moldbug is uninteresting, he claims hard facts without providing supporting evidence. The claim that

            I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the European ruling class holds essentially the same perspectives that were held at Harvard in 1945

            Has two hard facts, and the implications he draws from the require 3 or 4 at least First you have the opinions/perspectives of the European ruling class, which he doesn’t deign to describe as a group so that we could even go and try to figure who he means and what their positions are, then we have the perspectives held at Harvard in 1945, and then we have no direct discussion of how those representatives at Harvard came to those conclusions and finally you would also have to demonstrate that the positions of the Harvard professors remained constant over the next decades as well.

            Even if he managed to establish 1+2, which I find very unlikely because anyone who has tried to follow European politics even a little would know that there is a massive range of political opinions across the leaders of European countries and then you also have to find a consensus view at Harvard 1945, and then overlap those two. That is going to be a massive exercise in cherry picking and shouldn’t be convincing. However, even granting that, he has to show that the European sentiment comes directly from the US sentiment and not as some measure of convergent evolution in ideas OR the European sentiment wasn’t what influenced the Harvard professors in the first place. You are going to somehow have to make the case that the British founded the NHS in 1948 because of Harvard views in 1945 that also weren’t influenced by European views pre 1945.

            The whole piece is just ridiculous claims

            This is how the European Union can claim to be the culmination of democracy, while in fact being entirely free from politics. The truth is that, except for a tiny minority of carping malcontents, all respectable Europeans agree on all significant political questions. Europe’s educational system has simply done a fantastic job of eradicating dissent.

            This date on this piece is 2007, the last dozen years or so have showed enormous disagreement on political questions from bailouts of Greece, to how Brexit should be handled (which out to have been impossible on its own if Europe’s educational system had done a fantastic job of eradicating dissent), it hasn’t aged well at all.

          • Civilis says:

            I didnt invent the notion of an American empire. It’s generally recognized that it came to being after WW2. It’s also recognized that it’s a loose, informal type of empire.

            Generally recognized by whom? What evidence would convince you that the US is not an empire?

            Definitions of ’empire’, taking more generic ones where multiple exist:
            1) an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control (Merriam-Webster)
            2) a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government (dictionary.com)
            3) a group of countries ruled by a single person, government, or country (Cambridge)

            [I personally do believe the US meets the minimum qualifications for an empire, ironically because of research for this particular discussion. Call up records of the UN votes on almost any recent General Assembly resolution regarding Israel. For example:

            United Nations General Assembly resolution ES-10/L.22 (2017): 9 votes against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo and United States).
            United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19 (2012): 7 votes against (Canada, Czech Republic, Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Panama and United States of America)

            The Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau are US territories that vote with the US almost every time. If you want to say those are client states, given they have UN representation, I’ll agree. What’s interesting is that they are the only four that consistently vote with the US.]

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Moldbug is uninteresting, he claims hard facts without providing supporting evidence.

            That’s a matter of taste. I find him quite interesting and he writes with flair. He doesnt footnote everything but in general he supports his work with lots of references to old texts.

            For the purposes of this discussion, would you agree that the role of the US vis-a-vis Europe changed drastically post WW2? Whereas the British Empire was the biggest thing prior to WW2, it was disbanded post WW2. And that the big cheese at the table was no longer the UK but the US?

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Generally recognized by whom? What evidence would convince you that the US is not an empire?

            Definitions of ’empire’, taking more generic ones where multiple exist:

            Like I mentioned above, the US is not a typical empire. But its sphere of influence is undeniable. When people use the phrase “American empire”, they refer to its sphere of influence. I realize this is an unusual usage of the word “empire”, but I didnt coin it.

            I’m already convinced that the US is not an “Empire” in the strict sense of the word. French tax money is not flowing to Washington DC.

            It’s not even necessarily intentional for the US to be an empire, but by virtue of being the sole super power since 1990, and being one of two super powers between 1945 and 1990, it has developed a sphere of influence which is comparable in many ways to a real empire, hence the term. There’s a reason POTUS is called “the leader of the free world” and not the PM of Canada.

          • Civilis says:

            It’s not even necessarily intentional for the US to be an empire, but by virtue of being the sole super power since 1990, and being one of two super powers between 1945 and 1990, it has developed a sphere of influence which is comparable in many ways to a real empire, hence the term. There’s a reason POTUS is called “the leader of the free world” and not the PM of Canada.

            The US’s status as the most powerful country on Earth comes with downsides as well as upsides. Remember that this started with a discussion of international law. I think the evidence I’ve put forth shows that countries have no concerns about defying the US in the diplomatic sphere when it comes to questions of international law, even countries that rely on the US for military protection and economic trade. International law is not a weapon the US customarily wields, because it doesn’t need to (beyond the UNSC veto power, a power it shares).

            A test to see who the wielders of international law would be to see what country’s names appear the most frequently on the ‘approve’ lines of UN Resolutions, and I’ll wager that that’s some of the big Western EU powers. They lack the military power projection capabilities of the US, but on the other hand, having multiple UN votes, substantial economic power, and not being the one everyone’s trying to dethrone from the top all add up to being able to use diplomacy and international law as effective weapons.

            I think the best evidence would be the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. While the US did assist, I think the lead in dealing with the problem came from the EU (or the EEC, one of its predecessors). In part, the reason that the Yugoslavian issue was addressed so forcefully, unlike similar issues elsewhere, is because it was on the EU’s doorstep and, hence, an immediate issue. One can see something similar in Libya, which was close enough that the refugee issue strongly affected the EU and was close enough that the EU wasn’t totally reliant on the US to do something.

          • Theodoric says:

            @jermo sapiens:
            What is the difference between an “empire” and a “sphere of influence”?

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I think the evidence I’ve put forth shows that countries have no concerns about defying the US in the diplomatic sphere when it comes to questions of international law, even countries that rely on the US for military protection and economic trade.

            Up to a certain point. When Europe tries to circumvent US sanctions against Iran, pressure is applied.

          • John Schilling says:

            I didnt invent the notion of an American empire. It’s generally recognized that it came to being after WW2.

            I believe that this is incorrect, and that there is a substantial competing and perhaps prevailing belief that the American Empire came into being as a result of the Spanish-American War and/or the Great War. Which is to say, the timeframe when the US actually acquired its imperial possessions and became recognized as a geopolitical equal to the imperial Great Powers of Europe.

          • Civilis says:

            Up to a certain point. When Europe tries to circumvent US sanctions against Iran, pressure is applied.

            I don’t see that that’s directly related to international law, but that does make me modify my theory. The EU seems to be more fond of multi-lateral diplomatic arrangements (of which the UN is the biggest), while the US prefers direct negotiations backed by American responses which are more stick than carrot.

            As another example I thought of of International Law being more of a contemporary EU project than an American one: the International Criminal Court, which the US initially supported but later withdrew from.

            … [T]here is a substantial competing and perhaps prevailing belief that the American Empire came into being as a result of the Spanish-American War and/or the Great War. Which is to say, the timeframe when the US actually acquired its imperial possessions and became recognized as a geopolitical equal to the imperial Great Powers of Europe.

            A US that directly administers Cuba and the Philippines better fits the historical model of empires than one who’s most significant overseas territory is Micronesia (setting aside Puerto Rico). Likewise, when we say ‘British Empire’ we picture one with Canada, South Africa, India and Australia, not one whose most significant territories are the Caymans, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

      • Dacyn says:

        1. International Law is fake. This is self evident, but people pretend it is not. A law, definitionally, requires a party that can enforce it with almost 100% certainty if you are caught. International law, instead, is simply shaming with extra steps.

        100%? Really? This seems like black-and-white thinking to me; international laws are enforced at least some of the time.

        • Dan L says:

          Yeah, that caught my eye too, though I was more focused on the domestic half of the equation. The “if you are caught” qualifier makes it defensible, albeit as a boring tautology. So then it’s back to being a matter of degree of enforcement.

          • Clutzy says:

            I don’t understand the critique. The police and prosecutors are not omniscient and all powerful. But if an individual Sarin gasses a town the police find him, and the prosecutors submit adequate evidence to the jury, there is an ability to enforce the law against that person.

            Assad does that and he’s still just sitting around, and he’s not even all that powerful a war criminal. And hes not alone, several Arab states are in various states of ethnic cleansing (look at the number of Jews/Christians in Egypt 1950 vs. today, for example), China is doing its own genocide, Modi is eyeing one. I can’t even point to what entity would enforce international law. What is the sovereign?

          • Dacyn says:

            @Clutzy: Certainly international law is qualitatively different from intranational law. But “fake” seems like too strong a word to describe that difference, which is why I mentioned black-and-white thinking. As I said, international laws are enforced at least some of the time, by countries or coalitions of countries who think the law should be enforced.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            What’s the legal basis for the enforcement of the agreement? In the US sovereignty is shared between DC and state capitals and laws can be enforced on that basis. International norms usually need to be enforced by sovereigns willingly subjecting themselves to certain rules, and have the ability to withdraw from said agreements.

          • Dacyn says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy: I’m confused as to what you mean by “legal basis”. Presumably that means “basis in law”, but the whole argument is about what counts as law and what doesn’t.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Clutzy:

            I don’t understand the critique. The police and prosecutors are not omniscient and all powerful. But if an individual Sarin gasses a town the police find him, and the prosecutors submit adequate evidence to the jury, there is an ability to enforce the law against that person.

            Probably a dead thread at this point, so you get the tl;dr version: in what way has Assad been “caught” that O.J. Simpson was not? “Almost 100% certainty” is an odd thing to juxtapose against a growing list of qualifiers, and it is not obvious that international law is “fake” because it uses a different list.

      • Aftagley says:

        1. International Law is fake. This is self evident, but people pretend it is not. A law, definitionally, requires a party that can enforce it with almost 100% certainty if you are caught. International law, instead, is simply shaming with extra steps.

        This is only true if you ignore the commonly accepted definition of international law and instead replace it with an overly legalistic reading of the definition of law.

        Take, for example, the requirement that every vessel over a certain weight class is required by international law to take certain licencing and operating procedures. This was a decision agreed upon by the UN and since mandated into law by pretty much every country other than the US (although we still abide by the regulations). Is there some kind of international law enforcement agency that will bust you if you violate these rules? No, but the countries themselves will bust you for violating these rules and if you’re flagrant enough in violating them multiple countries will work together to bring you down.

        I can think of a couple hundred examples of this kind of thing. How are they all not real?

        ETA – I was focusing on individuals violating international laws, but they work just as well when it comes to constraining the actions of countries.

        An international law against something is a framework for multiple countries to work together to punish whichever country violates the norm we’re trying to enforce. Yes, they aren’t technically laws as we think of them normally, but they still definitely exist and still are important concepts.

        Why do you think it’s always a big deal whenever someone tries to use chemical weapons?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yes I agree with Aftagley that international works in many cases. It certainly works differently than law under a single government. Perhaps one should use a different word than law — international treaties perhaps, but I don’t think fake is the right word.

    • Well... says:

      I guess natalism often gets called right-wing, but to me at least, it doesn’t seem obviously so. I would say I’m a local natalist: I think more Americans should be having kids, or more kids if they’re already having kids.

      I also believe speed limits should be lower, much to the teeth-gnashing of the SSC commentariat, but not apparently to the applause of any political group.

      And I would love to see something like the Amish’s ordnung become widely appropriated in the West, so that our adoptions (at the individual, family, and local levels, at least) of various technologies are put through a much more rigorous and even quasi-formalized vetting process.

      • EchoChaos says:

        As a very strong natalist with four kids (so far) myself, I think that there are two effects.

        The first is that modern liberalism encourages a lot of personal choices that necessarily sacrifice children in favor of other issues, as your link points out.

        The second is that modern liberalism has a modest pro-other bias (white liberals are the only group with a more positive view of other ethnic groups than their own), which means that having your own babies conflicts with their values.

        This is a very recent thing, though. Without looking, who has more children, Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence?

        It’s Pelosi, who has five.

        • Well... says:

          More than a recent thing, it strikes me as a thing that only an intellectual type would sit around thinking about. Much more common is this reasoning: shtooking raw is fun! Thus Mike Pence has three kids, but I’d bet the average poor >25y/o single mom in his hometown (among whom support for Pence is probably extremely low) has more.

      • Atlas says:

        I guess natalism often gets called right-wing, but to me at least, it doesn’t seem obviously so.

        You might find Avi Tuschman’s book Our Political Nature interesting. He argues that there are evolutionary roots of political divides, and that natalism is both right-wing and related to other right-wing beliefs.

      • soreff says:

        >And I would love to see something like the Amish’s ordnung become widely appropriated in the West, so that our adoptions (at the individual, family, and local levels, at least) of various technologies are put through a much more rigorous and even quasi-formalized vetting process.

        I see the appeal of this, a lot of new technologies do turn out to
        do unexpected damage, but I’m leary of it, for two reasons:

        a) We are frequently very wrong about the effects of new technologies till we’ve seen
        the true effects of wide deployment (and sometimes not even then).

        From my own perspective: Facebook initially _looked_ quite harmless, just a tool
        for staying in touch… The polarizing effects, the isolating bubble effects, I doubt that
        those could have been forseen.

        On the other side, there were concerns about botox (as a cosmetic material) – concerns
        about widely distributing something so toxic. As far as I know, this turned out to be
        a non-problem. If cosmetic botulinus toxin has been diverted into hostile use, it is so
        rare that I’ve never heard of it happening.

        b) There are many, many, many moral panics. Practically anything that empowers
        individuals sexually, from contraceptives to viagra to dating sites, have a large faction
        screaming against it. Half of medicine, from transplants to anesthetics had a faction
        denouncing it. I’d rather leave the decisions in individuals’ hands almost all the time.

    • Plumber says:

      @Mark V Anderson says:

      “I really liked the thread in 144.50 where each commenter indicated their agreement to ideas of conservatives, social liberals, social democrats, and libertarians”

      Thanks!

      I did as well.

      “I would like to create a new thread here with commenters indicating beliefs they have that are not part of the agenda of any of those four groups”

      Sure.

      I advocate for raising the age in which one may drive, lower the drinking age or raise the voting age, then have American political parties give out beer and/or whiskey again (like they did before prohibition) when new voters sign up, with a brass band and cheers for the new Democrats/Republicans/Federalists/Whigs/et cetera, perhaps have two votes per election cycle, a lowered inhibitions due to imbibing alcohol vote, then a next day “Oh god what did we do?” hangover vote (State of Utah exempt from the “take a shot first” vote).

      As far as I know, despite my seeing no flaws whatsoever with my cunning plan to increase election turnout, strangely there’s isn’t a groundswell of support for this from any political faction that I know of.

      Pity that.