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Open Thread 146.75

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1,110 Responses to Open Thread 146.75

  1. albatross11 says:

    This tweet by Bret Weinstein captures an idea I’ve thought a lot about, too. Understanding social and individual human behavior involves a mix of nature and nurture. For the last several decades, nurture mostly won the battle in the social sciences for ideological reasons, and pushed nature to a smallish fringe. Then technology started making DNA testing and GWAS studies possible, and nature started gaining ground over nurture. Sooner or later, the pendulum will swing too far to the nature side, and people will be casually discounting nurture-based explanations the way they currently do nature-based explanations. They’ll be about as wrong as before, just in a different direction.

    • Viliam says:

      When we learn more about the “nature” part, it may open the door to genetic engineering. But I believe we missed the chance to achieve something similar with the “nurture” part. Not only was nature-denialism stupid, but even the nurture-based theories were pure ideology with barely any fact-checking.

      In other words, imagine a society that completely denies nurture, believes everything is 100% nature, but at the same time its best nature theory is Lysenkoism. So the damage made to the understanding of nurture is not even compensated by progress in understanding of nature. — We live in a mirror image of this society.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yes, I think this is right. Perhaps the social sciences were inevitably going to be captured by ideology, but as it happened, we got a bunch of policy proposals w.r.t. addressing nurture-related problems that probably made things worse.

        My not-very-informed guess is that it’s hard to come up with an educational intervention or government program that does as much good as the harm done by the collapse of the norm of marrying/sticking around with the mother of your kids until they grow up, and ISTM that most of the social scientists given media access and attention during the relevant time were cheerleading that change.

        Also, I also think the social sciences have gone through a period in which a lot of their most important results were just wrong–usually the result of misapplied statistical methods and publication bias, sometimes the result of just making stuff up. Which means that even where ideology didn’t stick its hand in, we still got policy recommendations from the social sciences that were wrong in random ways.

        And on the other side, the results of educational improvements seem to me to often be swamped by the effects of selecting students. Maybe you can get slightly better student outcomes by some complicated, hard new educational technique, but you can reliably get much better student outcomes by somehow contriving to select a better population of students. As long as that’s going on, intentionally or not, it swamps any signal we’d get from actual better teaching methods.

    • broblawsky says:

      Is it weird that I think that nutrition is an equally important, third component of behavior distinct from the other two? It doesn’t quite fit into the common conceptions of “nurture” (social environment and economic conditions) or “nature” (which usually just means genetics, even though it shouldn’t).

      • albatross11 says:

        Stuff like lead exposure doesn’t fit intuitively into the model either. Really, you’d like to separate a bunch of stuff out, like

        culture/upbringing
        +
        genetics
        +
        physical environment
        +
        economic incentives
        +
        random stuff

        And of course, all these interact. For example, when you try to find correlations between upbringing (how your parents raised you, whether they spanked you, what kind of attitude they had about education and learning and books, how much money they made, how much social status they had) and genes, there’s a huge confounder there because your genes came from your parents unless you’re adopted, and another one because the kind of kid you are (probably affected by genes) drives some of how you’re parented. (Your parents may start out unwilling to spank you but determine that as a 5 year old, nothing else gets your attention. Alternatively, they may discover that even yelling at you seems to upset you so much it’s too harsh for most misbehavior.)

      • John Schilling says:

        It doesn’t quite fit into the common conceptions of “nurture”

        From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

        nurture (verb)
        nurtured; nurturing\ ˈnərch-​riŋ , ˈnər-​chə-​ \
        Definition of nurture
        transitive verb

        1: to supply with nourishment
        example: care for and nurture a baby

        So, yeah, the most basic and primal definition of the word. And being first-world natives with white-people problems, the one we assume has of course been satisfactorily resolved for absolutely everyone we care about, and move on to less important forms of nurturing.

        But you are correct that it has to be considered. And for categorization, we’d probably want to subdivide “nurture” into physical + critical psychological stuff where God help you if you get it wrong, and social + educational stuff where most everyone gets it a little wrong.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        “Nurture” in the context of Nature vs. Nurture means Shared enviroment and nonshared enviroment, or, shared enviroment and ‘other’ (other = nonshared + genetic mutation + measurement error )

        Insofar as people argue nature plays a role they do so with twin studies which use that framework, because you don’t generally test the effectiveness of specific interventions, you just measure how much of the differences collapse when you are raised in identical households or have nearly identical genes.

        Chronic lead exposure is likely more shared than non-shared, but if lead exposure were ubiquitous it might not explain much of the variance in a given trait even if it heavily influenced the trait for an entire population.

  2. Loriot says:

    Someone below stated that China is a low trust anti-social society. This sounds plausible based on the stereotypes I’ve heard, but evidence free assertions that sound plausible are exactly what one must be most vigilant about. So I was wondering if such a thing can be objectively measured, and what evidence there is for this statement.

    • marshwiggle says:

      I’m not sure how well objective measures would fare in the face of the massive falsification of statistics that happens at almost every level of Chinese society.

      If you are looking for evidence beyond the anecdotal (which I’ve got all too much of), you could look at the degree to which people feel the need to obtain insurance – not official financial products called insurance, but all kinds of ways of getting backup against other people or society acting in an untrustworthy manner. So you could look at what fraction of businessmen will trust non-family they haven’t arranged to have mutual blackmail material with. You could look at how much Chinese people want to buy foreign dairy products for their kids instead of local stuff that has been certified safe. One can never add up all the costs of failure to trust, but once can get an idea of the scale of the problem.

    • Clutzy says:

      I also am suspicious of this assertion based on the American-Chinese I know. Seems to me, that even if it is locally true, Chinese are a high-medium trust society with a low trust government superimposed on top of that.

      • Enkidum says:

        American Chinese aren’t in Chinese society? OP isn’t (unless I’m reading this very poorly) making any kind of genetic claim.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Yeah, Taiwan is pretty high-trust, so it’s obviously not genetic, which doesn’t mean that the PRC isn’t very low trust.

        • Clutzy says:

          People set up their own micro-societies. Chinatown isn’t really in “American society” either. Its their own thing under a larger umbrella. America as a whole is high trust, but there are low trust microclimates.

          • bullseye says:

            All of the Chinese-Americans that I’ve met are fully American, but I think that just means I don’t meet the ones who aren’t. I read that Lucy Liu was born in New York and speaks English as a second language.

          • An aspiring college student I interviewed was born in America and spoke English as her third language, the first two being French (father) and Mandarin (mother.

            When she got to school, possibly preschool, she discovered that none of the other kids could understand her in either language, so learned English.

          • Clutzy says:

            All of the Chinese-Americans that I’ve met are fully American, but I think that just means I don’t meet the ones who aren’t. I read that Lucy Liu was born in New York and speaks English as a second language.

            I’ve met both, to meet the less Americanized Chinese you mostly need to be in a city.

            But I’ve also interacted significantly with “non Americanized” Mexicans, them being a high % of my high school, and their % increased as my younger siblings went through. It is a troubling community to interact with because from my POV it looks like they have a low chance to assimilate once they have a decent sub population.

    • ana53294 says:

      I don’t think it’s Chinese culture per se, but everything the CCP has been doing for the last century to destroy trust. The Great Leap Forward, the One Child Policy, all that stuff. If anything, I think the One Child policy is probably more trust destroying (even the worst tyrants in history didn’t kill children on purpose, Herod being the notable, thus memorable exception).

      From what I’ve heard, Taiwan is a much higher trust society.

      the biggest difference between getting on a subway in China versus Taiwan, is that if you see an old lady get on board, the crowd parts to lead her have a seat, whereas in China, watch out because she will gladly crack open your skull with her cane because she knows she’ll never get a seat otherwise.

      He’s right. Queuing was the norm in Taiwan. In China? Not so much.

    • Enkidum says:

      There can be some attempt to measure such things with variants on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, but it’s not exactly ironclad evidence, and I don’t know that it’s been done to any great extent in China. I’d assume there would be large difficulties in getting permission to do so.

    • There’s the global corruption barometer, which surveys citizens on whether they’ve recently been asked to pay a bribe.

      https://www.transparency.org/research/gcb

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Well, I made that assertion. Mostly I got that impression from binging a bunch of YouTube videos from two specific YouTubers living in China for many years (speaking perfect Chinese, married a Chinese wife and having kids (laowhy, anyway)).
      [they’re not all about “China sucks”, but talk a lot about their experience, how things change, how things work and they obviously like China a lot, warts and all. They’re somewhat wistful about the liberal years having ended a while ago and things taking a turn towards authoritarianism and xenophobia]
      Mainly they’re windows into a culture that’s quite wild and interesting.

      https://www.youtube.com/user/serpentza/videos
      https://www.youtube.com/user/laowhy86/videos

      Also China is a very big place. The town that Laowhy lives in, where his children go to school is described in fairly iddylic terms. When the wife talk about giving birth in China though, it becomes semi-horrifying again. It’s quite fascinating.

  3. proyas says:

    Have any medical studies examined the link between face tattoos (not in cultures like the Maori where it may be a traditional practice) and mental illness?

    A simple study would involve finding at least 40 people who had face tattoos and screening them for mental illness using standard methods.

    • GearRatio says:

      I like the idea where we need a control group where we pin a bunch of people who test as normal down and forcibly give them cheek tribals.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      I don’t know about face tattoo specifically, but in general tattoos are correlated with mental health problems..

      • Well... says:

        I’ve caused a stir here before running my mouth about this but here I go again…

        I can’t wrap my mind around how someone can look at a piece of his body and think it would be improved by permanently jabbing ink into it to create some kind of picture or pattern…

        …Unless he has some kind of body dysmorphia where he sees his skin as a kind of “blank canvas” that needs the work of a tattoo artist in order to be made complete.

        I’m not interested in rehashing the argument over whether this is valid, I only mention it because it’s interesting, if we assume what viVI_IViv said is true.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I’ve semi-seriously considered it at one point because of the cool factor – i.e. not having anything to do with the tattoo itself.

          This being said, after a few years of interesting dating (catching up from a slow start) I’ve come to really appreciate girls with no tattoos. I’ve almost said no enhancements, but I happen to think lots of those are common sense (like braces).

          • Deiseach says:

            Getting tattoos seems to be a kind of addiction. Very few people seem to only get one or maybe two. There’s a family member who got tattoos and keeps getting new ones, and that seems to be the trend as far as I can see: someone decides to get a tattoo and then keeps getting ink. I don’t know if it’s the endorphin rush or what the heck, but there definitely is the “just one more” syndrome going on. Look at soccer players who have tats all over themselves.

            I was raised old-fashioned enough that I find tattoos unaesthetic to look at. Someone raised in a tribal culture with the traditional markings of that society looks okay; some white dude or dudette with poorly-drawn art* that is not part of an overall planned scheme randomly sticking spiderwebs, banners and skulls in any free space does not.

            *I’ve never seen any of the “sexy lady” art that looks any better than blurry cartoon art, at least not the conventional tattoo studios productions. And why the hell would you feel that the best representation you can get tattooed on or adjacent to your mons veneris is a set of brass knuckles???? Why do most tattoos just look trashy?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Deiseach it’s a sample of average taste. Average is scary.

            I’d love it though if they were safe and temporary. Messing around with one for up to a year would be fun.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Eh, I know a fair few people with either just one, or a very slowly growing collection. Part of it is that those people insist on quality, and getting a significant piece done by a top notch tat artist is both quite damn expensive, and requires scheduling way in advance, as the best artists have a pretty full order book.

            The thing I dont get is cases like Ruby Rose. I mean.. she can afford much, much better work than she has, and should have enough social clout to skip queues…

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I know.. exactly one like this. Great tattoos, and incidentally great person. Many more fit Deiseach’s profile.

        • Viliam says:

          For me the best argument against me having tattoos is remembering what kind of tattoos I would consider cool 10 years ago.

          That makes me wonder whether the people who have tattoos have more stable preferences, or they just don’t care about their future selves’ preferences. The latter seems like a red flag, but maybe this is motivated thinking on my side.

        • meh says:

          how do you feel about guys with long hair

          • Deiseach says:

            Again, it depends (some of the fashion choices in this video, on the other hand…). Long hair that you wash and keep tidy, in whatever way that means to you – perfectly fine.

            Dirty, stringy, lank hair in tangles – ugh. And unfortunately, a lot of the tattoos I see are in the “dirty tangled dreads” heap rather than the “clean-cut lines, good colours, well-planned” pile.

          • Protagoras says:

            As a bald guy, I feel that guys with long, thick hair are doing it as a personal attack, to taunt me.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Insofar as it appeals to me, the idea is that the picture depicted by the tattoo is something that is meaningful enough to turn one’s body into a medium for its expression. It’s signifies (not even “signals,” necessarily, as “discreet” tattoos are pretty popular) dedication to the [tribe/idea/person]. There are a few things that have shaped me enough as a person that I think I’d be comfortable doing this, and a tattoo of some combination of them is one of my long-term spending goals.

          • Well... says:

            I think this is probably the most common reason people (er, modern Westerners) get tattoos, at least the most common conscious reason. I still don’t get it. There are things that are super meaningful to me, but it would never occur to me to jab symbols of them into my body, because I like my body the way it is and don’t think it would be improved with a tattoo. The things that are meaningful to me remain meaningful even if I don’t have a picture of them anywhere. I don’t need little altars to worship them at.

    • brad says:

      This is off on a tangent but of all the things that make me feel old, how professional class twenty somethings from upper middle class backgrounds think about tattoos is one of the worst. When I was a kid smoking was not a class signifier but tattoos were a really strong one. Now it’s the opposite.

  4. Deiseach says:

    Today the Irish public (those who can be bothered to do so – it’s the weekend, there’s a wind warning for the tail of Storm Ciara and the Six Nations rugby match is on the telly) go to the polls in our general election, and the most interesting headline so far:

    ‘I have no meas on celery – no meat on it,’ says Healy-Rae after woman dressed as celery ejected from polling station

    Myself, I like celery, so had I a vote in that constituency he’d have lost it! 🙂

  5. Radu Floricica says:

    The Immoral Mazes sequence is over – has it already been discussed here?

    Mostly makes me happy I made the career choices I made – at some point I sortof regretted having missed The Game, and wondered how good I’d have been at it. The sequence was a good cure for that.

    Another point would be how inefficient our society is. I’ve always wondered how come corporations are so much more successful than small companies, especially since brief peeks inside suggested average competence wasn’t that great. My standard answer so far was “better scaling” and possibly very high competence at the top that makes up for perceived average. Now the answer would be … well, Mazes. Which mostly translates to regulatory help, but also more subtle cultural stuff like The standard career path being corporations, which funnels more competence there than it’d be worth it.

    • zqed says:

      I was disappointed.

      This sequence makes many more claims than Inadequate Equilibria (just count the ones in The Road to Mazedom), and justifies way fewer of them. It claims to develop a model, but what is developed is general to the point of obviousness, and still does not seem to provide an accurate map of any real-world territory.

      Inadequate Equilibria illustrated its core ideas with a variety of worked-out examples that actually happened (Bank of Japan policy, short bowel syndrome, equipping a house with full-spectrum lights, ketogenic diets, designing the CFAR curriculum) and could be evaluated independently. The maze sequence is devoid of that: it has zero case studies of actual management hierarchies or real-life bureaucracies.

      Worst of all, the sheer frequency of links to barely relevant articles gave me John Sidles flashbacks.

      • Viliam says:

        I liked the sequence, but I agree that the lack of specific examples was irritating.

        Now it’s like, if you believe the basic idea is correct, you will feel good that someone agrees with you, but if you doubt the basic idea, there is barely any argument that would try to convince you.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          That was my first comment when reading the final chapter. It needs empirical confirmation, badly.

          But I think it makes sense – the incentive structure in multi-leveled organizations is pretty much doomed to depart from what the author calls object-level reality. That’s just organizational entropy – nothing particularly new or controversial. Main question is – is it as bad as he thinks? And is it self-propagating to some degree? I don’t think it’s impossible.

          • Viliam says:

            One thing that I didn’t realize before reading the articles was how much it is “managers all the way up”.

            I mean, I already noticed that managers are mostly disconnected from reality, but I took it like “yeah, most of everything sucks, therefore most managers suck, too”. Which would imply that there are managers who don’t suck, proportional to the fraction of population that doesn’t suck.

            But when you realize that a manager has a boss who is also a manager, it means the rare type of manager who wouldn’t disconnect from reality, couldn’t succeed at the workplace. Because he is ultimately measured by how his boss perceives him, and his boss most likely is disconnected from reality. So the good managers actually have an “evolutionary disadvantage”.

            It also helped me explain my personal experience with two exceptionally good managers, and one mediocre manager (i.e. still significantly better than the bad ones).

            In one case, I was managed directly by the company CEO — in other words, by someone who didn’t have a manager for a boss. He was one of the founders, i.e. not someone who got to the top through the usual ladder. This is why he was extremely unlike the usual manager, in a good way. The remaining two cases were people new in their role — they haven’t been filtered for being bad managers yet. One of them soon quit the job, the other soon got fired; this was the filter in action, I suppose.

            Contrary to that, if you observe the utterly imcompetent managers, they somehow seem to be the people with greatest job safety. People are quitting or getting fired left and right, these ones stay and remain calm. Presumably their real strength is somewhere else, although I can’t observe it in action.

  6. Two questions with regard to the surveillance warrants on Carter Page, at least some of which the FBI director has now conceded were based on misleading information given to the court and so invalid.

    1. Has anyone looked at lower profile cases where the FBI obtained such warrants to see whether the sort of dishonesty that was turned up in this case is common?

    If it is common and not just an isolated failure, that indicates the need for some radical change in the process for getting such warrants. If, on the other hand, this is an isolated case, it supports the claim that the FBI was biased against Trump.

    2. Is the application for such a warrant given under oath? If so, it looks as though the FBI people involved were guilty of perjury and should be prosecuted for it.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t know about 2, but as for 1, it’s extremely difficult to get a look at a FISA warrant. These are super-duper secret intelligence warrants that are used less in the prosecution of crimes and more for keeping an eye on terrorists. You would only ever get to see the warrant if they used it prosecute a crime. There are far more warrants issued than I can find records of crimes being prosecuted as a result of FISA warrant surveillance. Googling for it I just find stuff about Page and controversy over a case in which someone was prosecuted for child porn charges using a FISA warrant. Without the government opening up the books and showing us the warrants, we’ll never know.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      In addition, given the extensive compliance failures we identified in
      this review, we believe that additional OIG oversight
      work is required to assess the FBI’s compliance with
      Department and FBI FISA-related policies that seek to
      protect the civil liberties of U.S. persons. Accordingly,
      we have today initiated an OIG audit that will further
      examine the FBI’s compliance with the Woods
      Procedures in FISA applications that target U.S. persons
      in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism
      investigations.

      IG report on Crossfire Hurricane (Executive summary, PDF)

    • John Schilling says:

      1. Has anyone looked at lower profile cases where the FBI obtained such warrants to see whether the sort of dishonesty that was turned up in this case is common?

      Such an investigation is under way.

      If it is common and not just an isolated failure,

      Pretty much everyone who was following this issue before they heard of Carter Page, expects that it is very common and not an isolated failure. Federal law enforcement is generally law-abiding, but they have long viewed laws regarding search warrants the way the rest of us view e.g. speed limits. The politicians have to pass those silly laws for political reasons, nobody really expects anyone to take them seriously, and getting things done requires doing what the politicians secretly meant them to do when they passed those silly laws, whether that means driving 15 mph over the limit or making up shit to give the judge plausible deniability when he rubber-stamps the warrant.

      I suspect the FISA court judges share this belief, but am less certain on that front. I also suspect that they are correct about what Congress secretly meant when the passed those laws.

      People who weren’t paying attention, generally learn about this sort of thing when the Feds get caught spying on one of their heroes, whether that means MLK back in the day or Carter Page now or anyone in between. And then jump to the conclusion that the Feds are hopelessly corrupt and biased against their tribe because they’re all secretly other-tribe loyalists.

      that indicates the need for some radical change in the process for getting such warrants

      But if we do that, the terrorists will win. Why, every other week we are saved from an attack that would have been 911 times worse than 9/11, only because Jack Bauer was able to wiretap the bad guys right away; if you make him stop to fill out an honest warrant application, you’re in league with the terrorists!

      Less sarcastically, if you think the system needs to be reformed, either you have the power to impose such a reform or you don’t. If you don’t, nobody but a few civil-libertarian weirdos will care. If you do, then you have the choice between reforming the system, or using the system to sic the FBI on your enemies. To anyone other than a civil-libertarian weirdo, that’s no choice at all.

      • Controls Freak says:

        I suspect the FISA court judges share this belief, but am less certain on that front. I also suspect that they are correct about what Congress secretly meant when the passed those laws.

        Here is a pretty good story about what happens when a FISC judge gets a whiff of DoJ not playing by the rules (in this case, his rather strict interpretation of the rules, because they genuinely see themselves and important protectors of civil liberties in an incredibly difficult space).

      • albatross11 says:

        Prediction: Nobody gets in any serious trouble (that is, nobody goes to jail or loses his job) over any of this, even if it turns out that making shit up for the FISA warrants is absolutely routine. Perhaps John Schilling is right that this is more-or-less what Congress wanted. Perhaps most congressmen just don’t care all that much and find it easier to go along and get along. Perhaps many congressmen don’t want to make enemies of the people running the surveillance aparatus and so are willing to give them a pass, because who needs a photo of the receipts from that little weekend getaway with the hot 19 year old campaign worker ending up in some reporter’s inbox?

        The same calculation applies to the president and his people, but with the extra idea that the president can hope to use the surveillance apparatus against his enemies.

        The politicians who keep voting for deficits even in economic boom years, and will support another pointless war in the middle east rather than take the risk of looking soft on terror, are never going to take a hit to their current political prospects to push back on the surveillance state. What’s in it for them?

        In 2016, there were apparently active investigations on both major party candidates, and the election may well have been decided by the announcements by the FBI w.r.t. their investigation on the then-frontrunner who lost. This included wiretaps that were issued on false information. If you read about this happening in any other country, you’d come to the obvious conclusion, and you’d probably be right. Somehow it’s harder when it’s your own country, though.

  7. bullseye says:

    Fiction isn’t true. But fiction authors seem reluctant to write one specific kind of untruth: I can’t think of any story in which the author’s religion is shown to be false.

    • sharper13 says:

      Good Fiction at its core is meant to be true, sometimes in ways (themes) that non-fiction is unable to easily capture. Bad fiction, of course, could be almost anything.

      The events, names, places, etc… in fiction are generally (not always) the invented parts.

      So I wouldn’t expect a piece of fiction to ever “prove” something false that the author didn’t believe was false. At best it’s considered appropriate for an author to truthfully present the arguments around something as more than strawmen. At worst, you get the equivalent of a cult-follower-like fish who doesn’t understand that their outlook is the result of swimming in water that not everyone has been restricted to and thus their characters never struggle with their own assumptions.

      • Kelley Meck says:

        “Fiction reveals truth reality obscures.”
        Except that’s probably a botched quotation somehow, because none of the reputable quote collection websites have it, and all the crappy ones do, and variously attribute it to several different people. Ah well.

        Anyway, what I mean is, +1 to sharper13’s point. The main thing fiction is good for is that it allow minds to find some of the kinds of ‘water’ that are out there in the world, and thus become more equipped to navigate the world. Reading no fiction is like never traveling.

    • D0TheMath says:

      Does UNSONG count?

      • Protagoras says:

        I was assuming that atheism wasn’t being counted as a religion, or you’d have a lot of examples of fantasy stories of worlds with true religions written by atheists. Probably a decent amount of horror stories by atheists as well, and some non-genre examples (like Sartre’s “No Exit”).

        • beleester says:

          I’d consider it a contradiction regardless of Scott’s religion, since it’s about one part Judaism to one part Christianity to two parts William Blake.

        • D0TheMath says:

          There’s also most of Rick Riordan’s books as even stronger counterexamples. I haven’t heard anything about his religion, but I think it’s safe to assume he’s Christian or has some sort of religion that isn’t Greek, Roman, Egyptian, or Norse.

    • rocoulm says:

      Lord of the Rings?

      Most fantasy with large amounts of world-building involving ancient gods and whatnot isn’t compatible with the author’s actual worldview. If that author is religious, then their religion is flase in the world they created.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        Short answer:

        Middle-Earth has God (Eru Iluvatar) who created the world; and His angels (the Valar and Maiar, known collectively as the Ainur).

        The strongest of the Ainur was Melkor, who rebelled against Eru and was cast out/down.

        That’s as compatible with Catholicism as the Old Testament is.

        • beleester says:

          On the other hand, it’s leaving out some rather important details, like God taking human form as his son and being sacrificed for our sins. I’m not Christian, but I’m pretty sure that part is important to them.

          And even then, I would still consider “religion with similar structure but significant differences in doctrine” to be contradictory to the author’s religion. Monotheism is “We worship one god,” not “We worship one god or the nearest acceptable substitute.”

          • broblawsky says:

            Middle Earth is an explicitly pre-Christian, pre-Covenant Earth, which is why the people there seem to believe in Eru but have few, if any, described religious practices: Tolkein couldn’t bring himself to make his heroes pagans.

          • Deiseach says:

            Those were particular and reasoned artistic choices on Tolkien’s part, both for the mythos as a whole and for The Lord of the Rings. Extensive quotation from the Selected Letters follows:

            Letter of 1951:

            Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its ‘faerie’ is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.

            For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read.)

            Letter of 1953:

            The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe to my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty resulting from it.

            Letter of 1954:

            Men have ‘fallen’ – any legends put in the form of supposed ancient history of this actual world of ours must accept that – but the peoples of the West, the good side are Re-formed. That is they are the descendants of Men that tried to repent and fled Westward from the domination of the Prime Dark Lord, and his false worship, and by contrast with the Elves renewed (and enlarged) their knowledge of the truth and the nature of the World. They thus escaped from ‘religion’ in a pagan sense, into a pure monotheist world, in which all things and beings and powers that might seem worshipful were not to be worshipped, not even the gods (the Valar), being only creatures of the One. And He was immensely remote.

            The High Elves were exiles from the Blessed Realm of the Gods (after their own particular Elvish fall) and they had no ‘religion’ (or religious practices, rather) for those had been in the hands of the gods, praising and adoring Eru ‘the One’, Ilúvatar the Father of All on the Mt. of Aman.

            …The Númenóreans thus began a great new good, and as monotheists; but like the Jews (only more so) with only one physical centre of ‘worship’: the summit of the mountain Meneltarma ‘Pillar of Heaven’ – literally, for they did not conceive of the sky as a divine residence – in the centre of Númenor; but it had no building and no temple, as all such things had evil associations.

            Letter of 1955:

            It is not ‘about’ anything but itself. Certainly it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political. The only criticism that annoyed me was one that it ‘contained no religion’ (and ‘no Women’, but that does not matter, and is not true anyway). It is a monotheistic world of ‘natural theology’. The odd fact that there are no churches, temples, or religious rites and ceremonies, is simply part of the historical climate depicted. It will be sufficiently explained, if (as now seems likely) the Silmarillion and other legends of the First and Second Ages are published. I am in any case myself a Christian; but the ‘Third Age’ was not a Christian world.

            On the other hand, it’s leaving out some rather important details, like God taking human form as his son and being sacrificed for our sins.

            That part gets discussed in some of the additional material that was published by the late Christopher Tolkien, the Athrabeth (which I love to bits) but which Tolkien later scrapped and did not include as he thought it was pushing too much towards including explicitly Christian theology into the mythos, and see above for why he didn’t want to do that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Re: the Incarnation, quoting from the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth:

            ‘How or when shall healing come? To what manner of being shall those who see that time be re-made? And what of us who before it go out into darkness unhealed? To such questions only those of the Old Hope (as they call themselves) have any guess of an answer ‘.

            ‘Those of the Old Hope?’ said Finrod. ‘Who are they?’

            ‘A few,’ she said; ‘but their number has grown since we came to this land, and they see that the Nameless can (as they think) be defied. Yet that is no good reason. To defy him does not undo his work of old. And if the valour of the Eldar fails here, then their despair will be deeper. For it was not on the might of Men, or of any of the peoples of Arda, that the old hope was grounded’.

            ‘What then was this hope, if you know?’ Finrod asked.

            ‘They say,’ answered Andreth: ‘they say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end. This they say also, or they feign, is a rumour that has come down through years uncounted, even from the days of our undoing’.

            ‘They say, they feign?’ said Finrod. ‘Are you then nor one of them?’

            ‘How can I be, lord? All wisdom is against them, Who is the One, whom ye call Eru? If we put aside the Men who serve the Nameless, as do many in Middle-earth, still many Men perceive the world only as a war between Light and Dark equipotent, But you will say: nay, that is Manwe and Melkor; Eru is above them, Is then Eru only the greatest of the Valar, a great god among gods, as most Men will say, even among the Atani: a king who dwells far from his kingdom and leaves lesser princes to do here much as they will? Again you say: nay, Eru is One, alone without peer, and He made Ea, and is beyond it; and the Valar are greater than we, but yet no nearer to His majesty, Is this not so?’

            ‘Yes,’ said Finrod, ‘We say this, and the Valar we know, and they say the same, all save one, But which, think you, is more likely to lie: those who make themselves humble, or he that exalts himself?’

            ‘I do not doubt,’ said Andreth. ‘And for that reason the saying of Hope passes my understanding. How could Eru enter into the thing that He has made, and than which He is beyond measure greater? Can the singer enter into his tale or the designer into his picture?’

            ‘He is already in it, as well as outside,’ said Finrod. ‘But indeed the “in-dwelling” and the “out-living” are not in the same mode’.

            ‘Truly,’ said Andreth. ‘So may Eru in that mode be present in Ea that proceeded from Him. But they speak of Eru Himself entering into Arda, and that is a thing wholly different. How could He the greater do this? Would it not shatter Arda, or indeed all Ea?’

            ‘Ask me not,’ said Finrod. ‘These things are beyond the compass of the wisdom of the Eldar, or of the Valar maybe. But I doubt that our words may mislead us, and that when you say “greater” you think of the dimensions of Arda, in which the greater vessel may not be contained in the less.

            ‘But such words may not be used of the Measureless. If Eru wished to do this, I do not doubt that He would find a way, though I cannot foresee it. For, as it seems to me, even if He in Himself were to enter in, He must still remain also as He is: the Author without. And yet, Andreth, to speak with humility, I cannot conceive how else this healing could be achieved.

            Since Eru will surely not suffer Melkor to turn the world to his own will and to triumph in the end. Yet there is no power conceivable greater than Melkor save Eru only. Therefore Eru, if He will not relinquish His work to Melkor, who must else proceed to mastery, then Eru must come in to conquer him.

            ‘More: even if Melkor (or the Morgoth that he has become) could in any way be thrown down or thrust from Arda, still his Shadow would remain, and the evil that he has wrought and sown as a seed would wax and multiply. And if any remedy for this is to be found, ere all is ended, any new light to oppose the shadow, or any medicine for the wounds: then it must, I deem, come from without’.

            ‘Then, lord,’ said Andreth, and she looked up in wonder, ‘you believe in this Hope?’

            From notes and commentary by Christopher Tolkien:

            Here this text ends. Finally, there is another isolated slip (‘C’), again taken from a document dated 1955, as follows:

            Query: Is it not right to make Andreth refuse to discuss any traditions or legends of the ‘Fall’? Already it is (if inevitably) too like a parody of Christianity. Any legend of the Fall would make it completely so?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Tolkien comes off as nearly impossible to please. Arthurian legend couldn’t do it, C.S. Lewis couldn’t do it…

          • cassander says:

            @Le Maistre Chat says:

            He was impossible to please. So he wrote his own faerie stories. And then spent his life revising and re-writing them because he was never happy with them either.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            He seemed happy enough with Beowulf. It surely helped that he never read this modern abridgment (in progress).

    • Bujold has a series of fantasies set in a world where a five god religion is true. I don’t know what her religion is, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t it.

      And there must be quite a lot of other examples of works where a religion is true within the story that the author doesn’t actually believe in.

    • beleester says:

      You mean, besides every fantasy setting with fictional gods?

      Even if you restrict it to stories that take place in “our world” (reasonable), that still leaves a good-sized amount of urban fantasy. And even when a real-world religion makes an appearance, it’s likely to be… doctrinally flexible. E.g., the Dresden Files has a Christian-ish deity nudging things along, but he’s apparently okay with an atheist Knight of the Cross (and a Jedi Knight in a later book!).

    • JayT says:

      A lot of the overtly Christian Biblical epics that were made during the Golden Era of Hollywood were written, directed, or produced by Jewish people. That would seem to count.

    • zqed says:

      If “some incompatible religion is shown to be true instead” counts, then there are plenty of examples: Steven Brust is Neopagan but wrote books where the Christian creation story is literally correct. Michael Tolkin is Jewish, but he wrote a script and directed a movie in which Evangelical Christianity turns out to be correct (and I bet he’s not the only Jew who did something similar in Hollywood).

      If you only accept “books that deal with the real-world religious beliefs of the author being shown false” as a main or major plot point, well, I can’t think of any non-fan-fiction examples either. However, I can’t even think of mainstream works that has “present-day religion disproven” as a plot point.

    • CaptainCrutch says:

      It doesn’t seem to me that people are reluctant to write about different rules of nature – and which religion is true is not so different. For Christian to write about polytheist world or for atheist to write about existence of benevolent god is like writing about world with faster-than-light travel.

      I think writing untruth about human condition is something you won’t see very often. You’d be hard-pressed to find alt-history on “What if Holocaust was justified and negroes were subhuman apes” that isn’t written by neo-Nazis, or “What if sex with children was good” that isn’t at least imply unreliable narrator.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not a direct examples, but give a shot to the Thomas Covenant series. There’s another special kind of untruth there – the main character (and by extension the author) is not a moral person.

    • Deiseach says:

      I can’t think of any story in which the author’s religion is shown to be false.

      Religion they currently hold and practise? I’d probably agree there, with the caveat that the author is likely to either (1) finger-wag at the conservative side if they themselves are liberal and (2) do the same in the opposite direction if they’re conservative and the other side is liberal.

      “Used to be this but realised it was all bunk/raised in this crap but escaped as soon as I could?” Plenty of examples of merrily beating the horse down to the sub-atomic level there, from Samuel Butler to Philip Pullman.

      “Don’t have any particular religion/don’t particularly care one way or the other?” Either invent a blandly pleasant fantasy religion that is all nicey-nicey, take care to mention religion of ethnic minority/minorities in approving fashion, or take the socially acceptable model of ‘it’s okay to criticise this version of religion’ and bash it, should they need to mention a religion at all (e.g. Stephen King characterising all Fundamentalists/Born Agains as the character Big Jim Rennie in Under The Dome; Pullman’s Calvinist Catholic Church, though in real life he seems to have plenty to say about Catholics and nothing about Calvinists, who still exist, Phil!)

    • The Nybbler says:

      “The Nine Billion Names of God”, by atheist Arthur C. Clarke, “disproves” atheism.

      I admit it would be rather impressive if e.g. a Catholic had written “The Star”. But I can’t imagine one doing so without either triggering a crisis of faith in themselves, or being too disgusted by the idea to publish.

    • Well... says:

      “Contact” by atheist Carl Sagan disproves atheism at the end.

  8. The Roman Empire is generally thought of as a monarchy in all but name but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. It was closer to a military dictatorship. After Augustus died, something like a dynasty was established but the emperors all had a loose biological relationship with the previous emperor and it ended only a few decades after his death. All the “dynasties” that followed were precarious at best. After the disastrous Crisis of the Third Century, you see more successful attempts at turning Rome in to a monarchy.

    Why does this matter? I think the Roman Empire’s unique system of government also explains it longevity. Rome’s republican heritage ensured that monarchy would be difficult to implant. Since most pre-modern states used blood relations as a marker of legitimacy, it meant the Romans needed an alternative. So the Emperors, more than other autocrats, relied on military power to legitimatize themselves. They had to prove to everyone, all the time, that they were capable military leaders and if they weren’t, they were replaced. Unfortunately, this increased the risk of civil war, and it was inevitable that someone would try to end it. You see stronger monarchical elements when the children of Theodosius “ruled”, but their inabilities brought the Western half of the empire to its end.

    • cassander says:

      rome lasted loner because it was more prone to internal dissension? I don’t think that’s the case. After all, the eastern empire also got more monarchical, though, and it survived.

      I see an early empire where the emperors rightly realized that the biggest threat to their power was a senate and senators deciding to re-assert themselves, followed by them working diligently to marginalize senators and keep them as far from power and glory as possible while keeping them comfortable. And they succeed brilliantly, but the result was a hollow military dictatorship where any sufficiently capable and ambitious general could make himself emperor.

      • Having a bad ruler can be more debilitating than a civil war. 15th century England is a good case study. After Henry V mostly won over France during the Hundred Years War, he died. His infant son was put in place, and he grew up to be an incompetent, but long ruling, king. Not only did he essentially lose all of France, but England fell apart while he was on the throne and then there was a civil war anyways. That was pretty much the worst case scenario. In Rome, an infant ruler wasn’t even considered until the end of the fourth century, and that’s when it fell apart. Before then, it was more Darwinian than that. Capitalism is actually a good comparison here. Yeah, having a bunch of competing companies selling nearly identical products is in some sense inefficient but the competition makes the end product better for the consumer. A market without the possibility for new entrants is stagnant.

        Just look at the end of the Roman Republic. They spent the first century BC under civil war more often than not. Augustus emerged on top and he was an extraordinarily competent ruler.

        As for the Eastern Empire, they were blessed with a more favorable geographic position and a capital in what is probably the most defensible city in the world. If it wasn’t for that and the Theodosian Walls, Constantinople would have almost certainly been sacked by the Huns. It gave them some breathing room for a while, but after the Arabs invaded, they never came close to the amount of power they did have.

        • cassander says:

          Having a bad ruler can be more debilitating than a civil war. 15th century England is a good case study.

          Can be, but usually isn’t. civil war pretty reliably tops the list of worst thing that can happen to a polity, and bad rulers frequently cause them.

          After Henry V mostly won over France during the Hundred Years War, he died. His infant son was put in place, and he grew up to be an incompetent, but long ruling, king. Not only did he essentially lose all of France, but England fell apart while he was on the throne and then there was a civil war anyways.

          As I said, really poor leaders lead to civil war.

          Yeah, having a bunch of competing companies selling nearly identical products is in some sense inefficient but the competition makes the end product better for the consumer.

          Definitely not the case when your polity has external enemies. And while that might produce better rulers the first time, in the long run it’s going to create a very unpleasant atmosphere where emperors handicap competent subordinates out of fear of them (see belesarius or stilicho)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Definitely not the case when your polity has external enemies. And while that might produce better rulers the first time, in the long run it’s going to create a very unpleasant atmosphere where emperors handicap competent subordinates out of fear of them (see belesarius or stilicho)

            Plus, it can easily compound crises: military defeat makes the current ruler look weak/vulnerable, leading to rebellion, resulting in the government being too busy with in-fighting to deal with the people who caused the defeat in the first place, making the results of the defeat much worse than they would be if everybody had pulled together and focused on the external threat. The aftermath of the Battle of Manzikert is an excellent illustration of this process: the Byzantine government was paralysed for the best part of ten years, resulting in the loss of half the empire’s territory and well over half its income and manpower to a bunch of disorganised Turkish tribes who in normal circumstances would have been little more than a nuisance.

          • I’m not saying that civil wars are in themselves good. My point is more that if a pre-modern polity puts too much effort in to minimizing civil wars, that usually involves crippling their military and that’s worse in the long run. Once you do that, it’s hard to recover. Cassander, it’s interesting that you chose Stilicho and Belisaurius because they served when the empire was more monarchical. At its height, an emperor would go out on to the field and fight wars themselves. This established their legitimacy, strengthened the army and deterred enemies. If Stilicho had become the sole emperor after the death of Theodosius rather than a mere regent, (I think he would have been if it was the third century rather than the fourth) I don’t think you would have seen the sack of Rome in 410.

          • cassander says:

            @Wrong Species says:

            I mention Stilicho and Belesarius as a contrast to, say, Agrippa. Augustus could have powerful competent subordinates and give them free reign because they weren’t a threat to him because the senate would never have accepted them as emperor. But over the course of the principate the senate gets more and more pushed away from actual power and glory, “the secret of empire” slowly gets out, and by the third century what you have is a monarchical system with no real legitimating principle besides raw power.

            I don’t disagree that if stilicho had been firmly in charge things would have gone better, if almost anyone had been firmly in charge, things would have gone better. The trouble was that no one was ever firmly in charge because any half competent general with an army could try and take over and had a decent chance of success. If Stilicho had been the western emperor he would have faced a similar problem. He might have imposed a period of order through sheer competence and longevity, but the problem was essentially cultural, making a play for the purple was basically just a natural step in a general’s career, which was a recipe for constant civil war and internal scheming.

            To be honest, I think it’s a damn miracle that the east didn’t fall because they had the same cultural issues. I really wish I knew more about early byzantine history and how they got away from the trap of constant usurpation. Geography helped, no doubt, it made the external challenges a bit easier. I also think the triangle of city, walls, and grain from egypt were a big factor. Those 3 things together gave the emperors personal control over enough potential manpower, money, and protection that deposing them by force was a lot tougher than in the west. When you look at the west, things don’t really start spiraling downhill until the loss of North Africa, and Byzantium almost immediately has their own time of troubles after the fall of Egypt.

          • The relationship between Augustus and Agrippa was really unique. Augustus was a fairly weak general who relied on Agrippa to win his battles. Augustus had complete trust in him and Agrippa was unswervingly loyal. That dynamic was never repeated in Ancient Rome. After that, you had Tiberius, who was extremely paranoid and the last three of the dynasty were assassinated.* Even from the beginning, the emperors had a tenuous hold on power.

            *Nero committed suicide but that was to avoid being executed.

            As for the Western Empire, I think it was the crossing of the Rhine that really did them in. The barbarians were never dislodged and because of that, the Vandals were eventually able to take over Carthage.

            I don’t want to say my theory fully explains the collapse of the West. The Battle of Adrianople and its aftermath showed serious problems. But competent emperors were able to hold it together.

            As for the East, I think geography mostly explains it. Egypt and Asia were far from the barbarian raids and Persia had its own issues. Even then, the fifth century emperors spent the time putting out fires which didn’t really stabilize until Anastatius.

    • Machine Interface says:

      There’s been plenty of non-hereditary monarchies though, so I don’t hink “hereditary” is that much of a central feature of “monarchy”.

      • John Schilling says:

        See, for example, the Holy Roman Empire. The essential part of monarchy isn’t hereditary succession, but personal sovereignty and life tenure. Pretty much all of the various entities calling themselves Roman Empires had that. Even when the military was in the business of choosing emperors, which represents only a small fraction of the time Rome was anything like an Empire, it at least pretended that those emperors had personally legitimate sovereignty and that the army wasn’t going to be replacing the current emperor before he died of natural causes.

        • it at least pretended that those emperors had personally legitimate sovereignty and that the army wasn’t going to be replacing the current emperor before he died of natural causes.

          The Praetorian Guard killed off an emperor for trying to restore discipline and then sold the office to the highest bidder. They were notoriously disloyal and was well known.

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      The various Roman dynasties were interesting, but I think my favorite was the Anatis.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I’d question whether Rome in the principate (that’s the “dictatorship” phase, from Augustus until the Third-Century Crisis) was really as non-hereditary as you make out. In fact, I’d say that from the beginning there was a strong hereditary component to the succession: Augustus owed his rise to his relationship to Caesar, and when he died, his step-son (or wife, or possibly Augustus himself) had his natural grandson Agrippa Postumus murdered in order to smooth the way for Tiberius’ succession. Postumus had no achievements of note, was possibly mentally ill in some way, and had spent the last few years exiled on a tiny island somewhere. In other words, he had nothing whatsoever to recommend him except his descent from Augustus; and yet this apparently made him enough of a threat to be taken out. The lack of stable dynasties in the early empire had more to do with the low fertility rates of the empire’s elites than anything else. When natural sons survived their father, they were almost always preferred; the military generally got involved when an emperor died without a clear heir.

      I’d also question whether the principate enjoyed better rulers than the average hereditary monarchy. If you look at medieval Europe as a comparison, monarchs there generally ranged from brilliant down to mediocre, with most apparently being moderately competent. You had a few bad ones, of course, but then so did Rome, and if anything Rome’s bad emperors seem to have been worse than medieval Europe’s bad kings (John, Richard II and Henry VI were bad rulers for various reasons, but at least none of them were homicidally insane like Caligula or Nero).

      Finally, whilst the late empire was theoretically more monarchical than the early empire, in practice most fifth-century emperors (at least in the west) were puppets of their senior generals, who jockeyed and fought for power much like previous claimants to the throne had. It’s not really clear that the empire would have been any better off had they been fighting civil wars over who got to be emperor rather than over who got to force the emperor to appoint them commander-in-chief of the army.

      • At a slight tangent, consider the Ottoman succession system — fratricide. When the sultan dies, any surviving sons, plus possibly brothers, who want to be sultan fight it out. It’s an expensive system for choosing rulers but it produces a ruler who is good at the mix of political and military skills needed to win a civil war.

        Arguably the end of the system marks the end of the period of Ottoman expansion.

      • Sure, people tried to establish dynasties but there weren’t very successful. Even if Postumus managed to get on the throne, he wouldn’t have survived. I believe that every single child emperor was murdered until the late fourth century. Also, Postumus was exiled by Augustus, so that’s not a very good example.

        I do think you’re on to something with the low birth rates. Augustus probably would have had a better shot at a long lasting dynasty if he had ten kids.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The greatest trick the Roman Empire ever pulled was convincing the world it ever existed. It’s particularly good for the longevity stats.

  9. albatross11 says:

    Interesting essay by Paige Harden[1] about the extent to which differences in intelligence are biologically determined.

    If I understood her point in this essay:

    a. There are a bunch of specific bits of DNA that are known, at least among the groups sampled so far, to correlate with IQ. Each one correlates a little with IQ, but there are a lot of them.

    b. Seeing that doesn’t guarantee that a particular gene is giving you some biological thing that causes you to be smarter. There could be some kind of confounding going on, where the gene is coding for something that causes you not to develop your intelligence as highly. As a simple example, suppose there’s some gene that makes you a really bad fit for the kind of education that is widely provided in your society. You may lose out on the IQ-boosting effects of added education[2] because of that gene, but maybe with a different style of schooling, that gene wouldn’t have much correlation with IQ.

    c. She didn’t mention this, but I suspect there are also genes that might make you underperform on a given IQ test relative to your actual mental performance. We know this happens for people on the autism spectrum, so maybe there are other categories like this.

    d. It’s possible that we’ll end up with a pretty simple model where each of 100 genes boost your IQ a little. It’s also possible that the picture will end up a lot messier–maybe in different environments it’s mostly a different set of genes that boost IQ. I think she’s of the opinion that there are some genes that really influence intellectual ability in a biological way, and others that probably influence it via interaction with the environment. But she also pointed out that there’s a wide range of possible ways it could shake out.

    e. She ended with a discussion of forced sterilization of people for having low intelligence. I think the two points she had there were that a lot of the talk about designer babies could end badly in a lot of ways that might seem fine at the time and later look as horrible as “three generations of imbiciles is enough” does to us, and that she worries about this research being taken up by evil people and ideas. (She mentioned seeing white nationalists linking to her Vox article on IQ (the one that was basically a hit-piece on Charles Murray, as far as I could see) and it clearly deeply creeped her out.)

    [1] Harden is a working researcher in psychology and genetics of intelligence, so she knows what she’s talking about.

    [2] There’s evidence that extra years of schooling add a little to IQ–I think the effect is pretty small, but it’s there. OTOH, if your whole school experience is massively disrupted and terrible, then you’re probably not developing your mental abilities the way you would in a less horrible schooling environment for you.

    • Viliam says:

      She ended with a discussion of forced sterilization of people for having low intelligence.

      Yes, that is the traditional way to show that people who believe that intelligence exists are evil.

      Generally speaking (not just this article, but the entire genre, including e.g. Taleb recently), articles like this have some good points: they point out how things could be different from their naive interpretation, how things can be complicated, what kind of mistakes scientists can make, etc. And that is all good, and people should think about that, and people should discuss that.

      The problem is that all this skepticism is actually performed in a service of dogma. These people don’t practice the art of doubt to show how all knowledge is fragile. They do it specifically to show how their opponents’ knowledge is fragile, and therefore how their own dogmas should be treated as a sacred truth. (The fact that “IQ can turn out to be messy” does not imply that “‘distributive and retributive justice’ is right”.) Try to apply the same amount of skepticism in the opposite direction, and watch how fast you get called a Nazi and fired from your job.

      It is automatically assumed that any amount of uncertainty means “therefore, my side wins”. (IQ could turn out to be messy? That means there are no smart nor stupid people, it’s all just the evil white space-lizard cisheteropatriarchy.) But of course one could easily imagine the same argument to be used in the opposite direction — for example, a white supremacist could argue that the differences between white and black people would be even greater if the black people were not living in a world containing inventions and social institutions made by white people. (You say the IQ is determined by social conditons? Nice, now go one step further and ask what are the social conditions determined by.) — This is not my real argument, I’m just showing how this type of reasoning is more flexible than it seems.

      It feels similar to me like listening to people explaining how evolution is flawed, and Yehovah is the only true answer for everything. Yes, if you have some misconceptions about evolution, they can show you the mistakes you made, and that’s good. The bad part is that instead of correcting your knowledge, they just use these mistakes to invalidate by association everything you know, and try to replace it by their own story.

      • Clutzy says:

        Yes.

        Cannot upvote this enough.

        Anti-IQism is an isolated demand for rigor, possibly the most extreme ever seen. I’d argue if we applied the same standards to its opponents, they could not even claim basic things like, “walking a mile a day improves health” or “smoking a pack of cigarettes a day increases the chance of cancer.”

        • Loriot says:

          While I don’t agree the social justice stuff, I think this is a case of don’t shoot the messenger, and in particular, my priors are that intelligence is very difficult to optimize.

          My understanding is that there are a lot of ways the brain can go wrong, and that fixing those leads to a boost in average intelligence. So there’s a lot of low hanging fruit like avoiding malnutrition, parasites, obviously deleterious mutations, etc. But once you’ve covered that, I don’t think you’re going to find any cases where simple genetic changes cause noticeable improvements with no downsides that evolution somehow missed. The best we can hope for is to find changes with downsides that were harmful in the ancestral environment and are less relevant today, and even that seems overly optimistic to me.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But once you’ve covered that, I don’t think you’re going to find any cases where simple genetic changes cause noticeable improvements with no downsides that evolution somehow missed. The best we can hope for is to find changes with downsides that were harmful in the ancestral environment and are less relevant today, and even that seems overly optimistic to me.

            The obvious place to look would be energy expenditure. If you can trade burning more calories for more IQ points, that’s a clear win today but not so good in the past. There would probably be other downsides though, like reduced longevity.

          • The best we can hope for is to find changes with downsides that were harmful in the ancestral environment and are less relevant today, and even that seems overly optimistic to me.

            Why? That environment had a lot of constraints that are not relevant to us today.

            Also, “harmful” in the evolutionary context means something that reduces extended reproductive success. That isn’t the objective of most moderns.

          • albatross11 says:

            Loriot:

            The analogy to physical performance doesn’t really support your position. Being bigger and stronger and faster and recovering more quickly from injury and having more endurance are all things that were definitely beneficial and selected for. And yet, there are a ton of performance-enhancing drugs people have come up with to improve their performance, to the point that it’s probably impossible for an athlete who doesn’t dope to compete in many sports. Our ancestors evolved in an environment with very different constraints and tradeoffs than we have, and there are many solutions to problems that evolution can’t really reach.

            We know that you can boost IQ a little by the brute-force approach of making the head bigger. There’s an obvious constraint to how far you can go along that line, but it’s not so important in a modern first-world environment. All three of my kids were born by C-section, because my first childwasn’t making it out the birth canal. (His head was and is very big.)

            There are probably other tradeoffs available that evolution wouldn’t have made, and others that evolution couldn’t have reached.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            We know that you can boost IQ a little by the brute-force approach of making the head bigger. There’s an obvious constraint to how far you can go along that line, but it’s not so important in a modern first-world environment. All three of my kids were born by C-section, because my first childwasn’t making it out the birth canal. (His head was and is very big.)

            The problem with relying on C-sections is that it assumes modern-quality medicine will always be available. If you have some big nuclear war or catastrophic climate change or whatever turning America into a third-world country, people who’ve genetically engineered their kids to have bigger heads are basically screwed.

          • John Schilling says:

            The people of Remulak have a solution for that…

          • Randy M says:

            @The original Mr. X
            Agreed, I’m very wary of intentionally adopting this kind of fragility.

      • Frog-like Sensations says:

        I’m honestly not sure whether it’s more charitable to assume you read the article or that you didn’t.

        If you didn’t, then you thought an article you didn’t even look at was a reasonable launching point for a diatribe on how everyone that thinks the things in the article is irrational.

        If you did, then you somehow decided that

        IQ could turn out to be messy? That means there are no smart nor stupid people, it’s all just the evil white space-lizard cisheteropatriarchy

        is a reasonable summary of an article that endorses the claim that

        you can measure intelligence and it’s heritable and it matters for life outcomes.

        Either way, you don’t appear to be in any position to lecture anyone on the selective use of rational scrutiny to favor your own side.

        • Viliam says:

          I get the appeal of being able to say, plainly and even a little bit obnoxiously – “You can measure intelligence and it’s heritable and it matters for life outcomes!”

          Yes, but the article is about how even this does not necessarily mean what it seems to mean, because:

          If you imagine a world where red-haired people are not allowed to go to school…

          And a hypothetical species where school attendance has a significant impact on IQ…

          Then scientists studying this species would find the gene for red hair, and call it “an IQ gene”. And yes, there would definitely be the correlation, but at the same time the causality would be caused by society, not by nature itself (i.e. in a society with no anti-red-hair prejudice, the red-haired people would have the same IQ as everyone else).

          …and this is the thing I wrote about. Yes, I agree that it is good to think about alternative interpretation of the data we have. I also see how any number of epicycles is acceptable to prove there is no such thing as a heritable difference in mental potential, but of course you could use exactly the same reasoning to go in the opposite direction (e.g. suggest that the school system is purposefully designed to reduce the IQ differences between students, as the slower ones get all the help, and the faster ones are artificially slowed down).

          • Frog-like Sensations says:

            Yes, but the article is about how even this does not necessarily mean what it seems to mean

            It doesn’t mean what it seems to mean only insofar as people interpret it with an incorrect understanding of heritability, treating that notion as equivalent to the non-technical stereotype of a genetically-caused trait.

            In particular, the quote does mean what it says in that Harden explicitly claims that intelligence exists, is measurable, and is important. Yet you decided to attribute both to her and all authors in this “genre” the view that “there’s no smart nor stupid people just [sneering at SJWs]”.

            And you’re still misreading Harden in your new comment. Take:

            I also see how any number of epicycles is acceptable to prove there is no such thing as a heritable difference in mental potential

            First, it should be clear to anyone reading the article that Harden isn’t trying to prove any such thing. She is arguing that the notion of heritability on its own does not guarantee that heritable differences in intelligence are heritable differences in mental potential (understanding “mental potential” as being a property which is the same between red-heads and others in the thought experiment from earlier).

            She further claims that the data we currently have is not enough to know whether, in your terminology, the heritability of intelligence will turn out to be primarily due to the heritability of mental potential. This is far from attempting to “prove” that none of it is from heritable mental potential.

            Not only that, she explicitly states in the article that she doesn’t think that none of it is from heritable mental potential:

            I don’t think that all of the genetic variants associated with intelligence will turn out to be related to intelligence via red-heads-can’t-go-to-school-type mechanisms, i.e., culturally-specific, social responses to arbitrary phenotypic characteristics

            And yet you decided to characterize her as trying to prove the very thing she says she doesn’t believe in the article. Surely at this point you have some inkling that you are unable to read people that disagree with you on this matter charitably.

      • albatross11 says:

        Villiam:

        Did we read the same essay? Harden is a researcher working in this field. If she thinks IQ, or intelligence differences, or genetic links with them are evil or nonexistent, she sure does have an odd way of showing it with her actual published research (some of which is on links between genes, IQ, and educational outcomes). She is very clear that intelligence exists and she believes some gene:IQ links that have been found are really biological in nature, but is pointing out that there can also be gene:IQ links that are mediated by the environment in some way. From her essay, I think she suspects that this is true of some of the links that have been found, but she’s also very clear that this isn’t at all settled yet, and that it may end up that all these genes linked with higher IQ are just driving some physical differences that make the brain work better.

        The reason this is important is that Harden is basically pushing an intellectual project of thinking through many human b-odiversity type ideas from a liberal perspective, and thinking about how they should inform policies and political ideas. One common way people react to gene-IQ correlations is to say “okay, then, I guess there’s nothing to be done for those poor bastards who got the low IQ genes.” This is a thread you see among human b-odiversity types on the right, along with a call for some compassion and policies that don’t screw over people on the left tail of the bell curve. (Sailer and Murray have both written a lot about this.) The assumption is that if you got a shitty roll on your INT score, we should try to make sure there’s still some kind of place for you in the world on humanitarian grounds, but we should give up on trying to teach you anything beyond the basics.

        But if Harden is right that many of the genes associated with low IQ are mediated through some social / environmental things, then that’s the wrong answer–we should figure out the places where we’re making an environment that stunts some peoples’ mental development and fix that.

        One good example that makes this seems plausible to me: In the last 20 or so years, we’ve seen boys do noticeably worse in school than girls on average–more girls than boys graduate high school and college and girls get higher average grades and so on. Now, one explanation is that girls are just smarter than boys so there’s nothing to be done but suck it up and teach the dumb boys to work with a shovel. But another explanation is that the current school environment, with less and less physical activity and no tolerance for rough-and-tumble play, is just a lousy environment for boys, and we could improve boys’ performance in school by fixing the environment. I think I’d like to try exploring the second approach before assuming that the current set of outcomes in school are etched in stone[1][2].

        There are plenty of dumb anti-IQ screeds out there saying that there’s no such thing as race because science and IQ is discredited racist pseudoscience and so we don’t have to worry about these inconvenient facts that threaten our worldview. But that’s not this essay.

        [1] Of course, there are dumb ways of doing this and smart ones. Smart ways of doing this would be trying some all-boys’ schools or schools that were more adapted to kids who need lots of physical activity and maybe a little more discipline to do well, and see how it works out. Dumb ways would be some kind of affirmative action for boys, or easier grading for boys, or whatever.

        [2] There’s an obvious parallel with blacks’ performance in school. Some folks have tried alternative schooling approaches for blacks, both some charter schools that offer strict discipline and uniforms, and some earlier efforts to have schools that were more Afrocentric to engage black students’ interest. People have also tried early intervention (head start). I don’t think any of this has had huge success, but it’s not a crazy thing to try, and maybe there’s a better approach nobody’s gotten to yet. Or maybe not–we should look at reality, not just what we hope is true. But starting out by acknowledging differences and then trying to see if we can make schools that work better for the different kinds of kids seems like the only logical approach, to me.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Taleb recently…how things could be different…IQ can turn out to be messy

        Taleb always says wildly different things than everyone else, but no one ever notices. Most of the articles you’re talking about are squid-ink, but Taleb is saying something completely different.

  10. AlexOfUrals says:

    There’s a common trope in science fiction, where a corporation or a faction maintains a monopoly on a key world-shaping technology over a long period of time, and thus has outsized power an influence (right now I’m listening to Pandora’s Star by Hamilton, but it’s really widespread). Have anything like that ever happen in real world, even with less crucial technologies? My impression is that each time a valuable new technology was discovered, it was quickly bought, stolen or reinvented by other parties.

    • Greek fire was supposedly kept secret by the Byzantines.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        “Supposedly” to such an extent that even we today don’t know the formula.

        I believe that is the source of the phrase “It’s all Greek (fire) to me” that Shakespeare used to indicate that some information is unknown.

        However, many Shakespearean scholars believe this is a misprint, and certainly Plutarch’s Lives has Casca describing Caesar’s supporters as “All geeks to me.”

        • sentientbeings says:

          I believe that is the source of the phrase “It’s all Greek (fire) to me” that Shakespeare used to indicate that some information is unknown.

          That claim strikes me as almost certainly false. It’s a common formulation in many cultures and languages, in which a language from an exotic culture, often will a different alphabet, is used to characterize something as being intellectually impenetrable.

          See here for a list of examples.

          • bullseye says:

            The claim struck me as so obviously false that it had to be a joke, but it’s hard to read tone in text.

          • sentientbeings says:

            @bullseye

            Maybe so, and certainly the last part would suggest that to me, but as you say it’s hard to read tone in text.

    • mendax says:

      Porcelain and silk production were kept secret in China, until they weren’t.

      Charley Douglass’ ‘laff box’ had the best laugh track and show business, which he was quite secretive about.

      • Statismagician says:

        Tea, also.

        • Lambert says:

          Until a Scotsman, pretending to be a petty noble from Mongolia or somewhere, managed to get a tour of their tea farms.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Porcelain and silk would certainly qualify, as well as Greek fire David mentions. I wasn’t thinking that far back in history. ‘laff box’ makes interesting reading, but it wasn’t a monopoly in that, e.g. in that Douglass couldn’t dictate what kind of sitcoms get filmed – the producer would’ve just get their laugh track from someone else, if lower in quality.

    • broblawsky says:

      In my field: Panasonic makes the best Li-ion batteries on the planet. Some of this is down to their proprietary cathode material, and some of it is down to their exceptional manufacturing processes, but no one has managed to take the throne from them yet.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        That’s exactly not what I’ve been asking about and not what we often see in sci-fi. Panasonic (for all I know) doesn’t have exceptional political influence, because if it says “No more batteries for you, Mexico, for screwing with my supply chain” Mexico will go buy them from someone else. Maybe those batteries will be somewhat worse but they’ll serve the same basic purpose. Likewise, if Panasonic manufacturing facilities are destroyed by alien Invaders, Earth won’t be paralised and thrown back into No Batteries Age. There’ll be shortages until other manufacturers ramp up, but that’s it.

        Compare with the Commonwealth Saga I mentioned, where CST – a monopolist on interplanetary travel – can shut off an entire world from the rest of the human race if they don’t like it. Or Star Wars, where only the faction controlling Kamino can use clones, because none else has the technology.

        • broblawsky says:

          Sorry, I thought you meant a corporation just having a monopoly on a product, not maintaining that monopoly via political influence.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Eh, I guess I still failed to make myself clear, apologies. What I mean is that the monopoly is so strong it generates great political influence, rather than needs to be maintained by it. Or at least, as in Star Wars example, makes the monopolist the source of the thingie – you either buy it from them or you have no thingie, period. You can’t just buy somewhat crappier version of it from some other source.

        • bullseye says:

          Kamino does not have a monopoly on clones.

          When Obi-Wan goes to the ’50s diner and hears about Kamino, he’s told that they’re “cloners, and good ones too”. Not the *only* cloners, or even the best, just good. Also, Obi-Wan has never heard of Kamino before, but he does know what a clone is.

      • JayT says:

        Kind of off topic, but how big of a difference is there between Panasonic and the competition?

        • broblawsky says:

          There’s no one way to measure battery performance, unfortunately. Comparing Panasonic cells used in Teslas to analogous cells from CATL (the largest battery manufacturer in the world), I’d say there’s a roughly 15% difference in energy density at normal EV discharge rates.

          • JayT says:

            Wow, that’s a pretty significant difference. I’m surprised I haven’t heard that before.

          • broblawsky says:

            It’s a weird industry.

          • GearRatio says:

            How does samsung stack up? for a long time they were gold-standard in the kind of higher amperage rating lithium 18650 e-cigarettes used from an industry perspective.

          • broblawsky says:

            OK, I just checked my reference material – these are for a slightly different battery size (18650 vs 21700), but:
            Panasonic: 3.45 Ah\12.53 Wh at C/5 rates, 3.30 Ah\11.13 Wh at C/1.5 rates
            Samsung: 3.49 Ah\12.63 Wh at C/5 rates, 3.32 Ah\11.08 Wh at C/1.5 rates

            So the Samsung 18650 is pretty competitive with the Panasonic 18650, even at higher rates, but it has some voltage profile characteristics that are indicative of shorter lifetime (higher impedance for most of its discharge with a distinct second plateau at lower potentials). This is probably a product of the characteristic high-quality Panasonic cathode material.

    • albatross11 says:

      The formula for coca-cola?

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        It was founded in 1886, and Pepsi-Cola followed just 12 years later. And Pepsi surpassed Coca Cola eventually in 2005, so whatever the formula is, it clearly wasn’t qualitatively different from what Pepsi Cola founder was able to reinvent. Besides, Pepsi objectively tastes better.

        • Deiseach says:

          Besides, Pepsi objectively tastes better.

          I can tolerate divergent theological positions on Hell, but this is beyond the pale! Die, heretic! 😀

          • JayT says:

            They’re both swill compared to Dr. Pepper!

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            I knew that there’s limits even to SSC tolerance to contrarian views, and this statement was pushing them.

            Incidentally, there’s a not-so-small radicalist sect among the people from the former USSR, who believe that Baikal, a Soviet attempt at copying colas, is far superior to both.

    • John Schilling says:

      The Lockheed-Martin corporation has had a monopoly (or nearly so) on fifth-generation multi-role combat aircraft for about fifteen years, and will try to extend that into the sixth generation as new entrants finally break into the fifth. This has had significant geopolitical consequences, e.g. the ability of the US government to maintain a presence in what is otherwise the de facto Russian protectorate of Syria. It has also been quite lucrative to Lockheed-Martin, and arguably their market power is enhanced by Washington leaning on its allies to buy in to the F-35 program rather than pursue their own programs.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Thanks, I guess that’s the closest you can get in the real world, at least in modern times.

        But, could you explain what 5th gen fighter has to do with American presence in Syria? I always assumed that 1) that presence isn’t secret or actively opposed by Russia, so doesn’t need to rely on stealth 2) stealth doesn’t offer good protection from large ground based radars of heavy air defense systems like S-300 anyway. Am I wrong about both?

        • John Schilling says:

          The experience of Israeli F-35s in Syria suggests that either they completely outclass the S-300, or that there is at least enough uncertainty on that front that the Russians don’t want to risk an embarrassing failure by taking a shot. Thus, they also won’t “accidentally” shoot down an American F-22 or F-35 at a critical moment, or chase the USAF out of the skies by illuminating them.

          Which in turn means that American ground troops in Syria, what few of them there are, cannot be denied air cover. Since I’m not sure the Pentagon knows how to fight without air supremacy, that’s pretty important to the current balance of power.

    • littskad says:

      Henry Wickham smuggled rubber tree seeds out of Brazil in the 1870s to break Brazil’s monopoly on rubber supply.

      Also until sometime in the 1800s, all nutmeg was grown on a few islands in the Banda Islands (Spice Islands). At one point, the Dutch East India Company had destroyed pretty much all nutmeg trees except those that they had in plantations on three of these islands.

      At about the same time, the Dutch were able to smuggle sufficient cinchona seeds and saplings out of Peru and Bolivia to plantations in southeast Asia to break South American monopolies on quinine.

      Almost all pistachios grown in America come from a seed that was smuggled out of Iran in the 1920s.

    • toastengineer says:

      Ma Bell, with the telephone, though I don’t think they were ever that powerful.

      • John Schilling says:

        Dr. J. Fever would disagree with you on that point.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Ma Bell was nationalized in 1917. Often with nationalizations, it’s hard to tell if the government was taking over the company or the company was taking over the government. In particular, Ma Bell got its monopoly from the government. But over time it lost political power, so that by 1956, it was banned from selling the transistor it had just invented.

    • DarkTigger says:

      Just as a datapoint: Your example is the first that came to my mind. Are you sure this trope is as far spread as you think?

      Also Hamilton notes, that the monopoly is imposed by state actors from the start. First the U.S. and then the later world goverment, because the ability to hit every place on earth instantly is a very strong military advantage, that you don’t want enemy’s or terrorists to have.

  11. Aftagley says:

    A few threads ago I mentioned that I’d be interested in doing an effort-post on a strange foible of New York City’s housing market. Inspired by articles like this, this and this, I wanted to take a look at why so many apartments in NYC were sitting empty when, presumably, people were desperate for places to live. As a TLDR for these articles, there’s been a glut of luxury condominium/apartment construction in NYC over the last decade, but a high percentage of these units remain unsold. Depending on what metric you track, the numbers range from 40%-50+% of newly constructed condominiums and other luxury units in NYC have gone unsold. These numbers are likely lower than reality, since it is highly likely that developers are not listing their full inventory of unsold units in an effort to artificially reduce supply.

    This seemed like a market breakdown – these unsold units represented billions of dollars of value just sitting around doing nothing – they aren’t providing homes for billionaires or giving investors any return on their money. Even worse, despite this evident market saturation, developers kept building new towers and putting more units out onto the market.

    The commonly cited wisdom as to why this happened seemed a bit too pat – basically the market was incredibly hot back in 2015 or so and a few people made a bunch of money, so now everyone else was trying to chase those same returns. These new people entering the market are seemingly unaware or not interested in the fact that supply of luxury property in New York is now way higher than it was back then AND that various international factors have resulted in there being less offshore money (mostly Chinese and Russian) flowing into NYC’s property market.
    My assumption going into this project was that there had to be something I was missing. There had to be some tidy explanation for why all this property was collecting dust. Just saying that the NYC’s property market in the first half of this decade was a classic example of a bubble and calling these condos and luxury apartments modern-day tulips seemed too reductive; there had to be something that explained this apparently irrational behavior beneath the surface. It’s 2020, people don’t just build skyscrapers and invest millions of dollars in tulips! There had to be something more.

    While trying to track down this hidden piece of information, my research took my down some weird pathways: I studied the history of 20th/21st century urban property development/management and how tax policy has a weirdly strong impact on America’s housing preferences. I got a crash course in international money laundering and some pretty good insights into both why Russians and Chinese multi-millionaires were so desperate to get money out of the country and why NYC property was such a good holding place for their ill-gotten gains, and finally I took a deep dive into the world of luxury property sales and the spending habits of the ultra-rich.

    All of these topics were, on their own fascinating, and together made me confident that I now understood the reason behind all these empty units: the property market in the first half of the past decade was a classic example of a bubble and these condos and luxury apartments are modern day tulips. I’ll elaborate a little bit, and please let me know if you’d like more detail on any aspect of this, but the prevailing narrative ended up being spot on.
    I’ll admit, it was kind of annoying to conduct a dozen or so hours of research to arrive at what is essentially the conventional wisdom, but at least now I’m fully aware of WHY the conventional wisdom is correct, so I suppose I’ve at least that to fall back on. If you’re interest in this topic is starting to wane, this is probably a good jumping off point, everything that follows from here is just more context around what is, again, not a particularly novel point of view.

    Editorial Input – I’ve written and deleted around 7000 words from the following section. Trying to make this concise, entertaining and factual is proving to be more difficult that I imagined, so I’m just going to steamroll through some of the causative factors here so I can be done with this post. If anything doesn’t end up being clear, please let me know

    1. The NYC Residential Real Estate Market has been screwed for around 30 years now:
    Every rents in cities. This is close enough to being true that the edge cases shouldn’t really be worth talking about. The life cycle of living in a city, especially living in a big building in the city is Move in while young, make your money, then move out to the suburbs when you get a family. As such, you’d expect the market to be primarily interested in catering towards renters. You get a little bit of this, but it turns out that making money as a large scale commercial landlord is really tough.

    It used to be easier. Pre 1986, our tax policy was set up in a way that made owning these kind of buildings really valuable as a tax shelter. You’d get a lot of wealthy individuals or LLCs willing to buy, build and “run” rental buildings and be perfectly happy with small returns, since the building’s value was mostly in how it let you write off your other gains. The Tax reform act of 1986 changed this. It decreased the top marginal tax rate, meaning people had less incentive to look for shelters AND decreased the ability of large property like this to help your average tax payer save money on taxes. (See this for a good primer on how exactly TRA86 affected real estate).

    At this point, basically no one wanted to own these buildings and definitely no one wanted to build more of them. Combine that with an increasingly mobile population (IE, you need to spend more to attract and keep quality renters) and these buildings just became money sinks. When the recession of the early 90s hit, people were willing to sell out for rock-bottom prices.

    This started a yoyo effect – since basically the early 90s, NYC has gone through fairly sharp periods of buying and selling property. When the traditional owners were scared out, private equity stepped in, bought a bunch of buildings and made a killing, this eventually drove up prices to ridiculous highs so by the time the 2008 crash happened, people were stuck with overvalued loans on under-performing buildings and were again desperate to cash out. (I’m skipping the .com bust because it’s effect was less pronounced on this market and because this post is already too long).

    The same cycle has repeated itself since then – people who were lucky enough to buy property at the start of the crash saw enormous profits when they sold out in 2013-2015. This both led other parties to buy buildings in NYC AND drove up the cost of real estate, which led to problem number…

    2. The value of this property apparently exceeds profitable things you can do with it.

    We’ve already addressed that you can’t really make significant profits renting out apartments in a building. Sure, there’s money to be made, but it’s difficult, requires pretty high upkeep and will only make returns over a long period. This isn’t what the private equity folks and REITs were looking for when they bought their towers in 2015. They wanted sky-high returns in the 5-10 year range.

    At the time, the easiest way to make these returns was to convert the building into luxury condos and then sell them individually. Each unit is valued in the millions, and once you’ve sold enough of them you can remove yourself from having to manage or care about the building by signing it over to the condo association. This both locks in profit and untangles the company from and future liability.

    From 2013-2017 (basically when the decisions over what to do with these buildings was being made) it looked like the luxury condo demand was big enough to support all this supply. Between Rich people looking for their 5th house, foreigners desperate to launder their money and smaller investors looking to get into the property game, demand seemed insatiable. Turns out, it wasn’t – sometime during 2015-2017 it looks like the demand was met and the pace of new units being added to the market outstripped people looking to buy.

    This issue compounds when you consider the lag time between buying an empty patch of dirt in NYC and having a finished tower, which we can roughly approximate to be somewhere in the 3-5 year range on average. This means that even after it became apparent that there were too many condos on the market, they kept putting out more. This becomes a problem when you realize that…

    3. You can’t do anything else with luxury condominiums.

    If you reduce the price on them, you’re both hurting your potential profit and messing with the property values of people who have already bought your condos. Most building owners are unwilling to do this, and while some of them are willing to negotiate somewhat (IE, by covering closing costs or allowing rent-to-own options) they haven’t been willing to budge on price. The bottom line of these companies depends on eventually selling these condos for a certain amount.

    You also can’t really convert luxury condominiums into anything else. What’s a second use for a two bedroom, 1600 sq/ft loft in downtown Manhattan? Even if the companies were willing to rent out the apartment, they’re nice enough that they’d price out everyone but the ultra-rich anyway, and if you’re rich enough to afford $6k a month in rent, you’re financially secure enough to just buy your own place anyway. You also can’t convert this property to commercial use either, at least not without seriously disrupting your whole business plan. As such, most developers seem content to just sit around and wait, which they’re free to do because…

    4. Banks don’t want the buildings either

    You’d normally expect these developers’ lenders to start sniffing around for blood at this point, but we’re not seeing this, at least yet. It looks like the lenders have realized they’re in the same position as the building’s owners – they have a product that is both not in demand AND difficult to offload. At this point, when the rest of the economy is chugging along, it looks like lenders are just as willing to wait as the owners.

    Future Expectations:
    We’re at an impasse. I expect this situation to maintain itself until the next recession, whereupon the banks will be forced to take action. If the past is any indication of the future, this will cause an overall bottoming out of the NYC real estate market and some enterprising individuals will make a killing buying at the dip. If I manage to get a couple billion in capital by the time the next slowdown happens, I’ll keep an eye on the city.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Even if the companies were willing to rent out the apartment, they’re nice enough that they’d price out everyone but the ultra-rich anyway, and if you’re rich enough to afford $6k a month in rent, you’re financially secure enough to just buy your own place anyway.

      One MIMA (finished in 2010) switched their condo units (they were a mixed building) to rental, but oddly they’ve now switched back to condo.

    • Statismagician says:

      Thanks for this – it was interesting and informative.

      It’s oddly refreshing for the conventional wisdom to turn out to actually be wise for a change.

    • bottlerocket says:

      Nice effortpost. Really well organized and super interesting to read.

      I’m guessing that the costs of just sitting on these properties isn’t that bad, then? It’d be something like the opportunity cost of having your capital tied up in this crappy investment plus whatever property tax you’re paying vs the cost of locking in the loss on all your units by selling at “market” price?

      • baconbits9 says:

        One of the big costs of sitting on these properties is depreciation which has a tendency to be lumpy. The HVAC systems for these buildings are pretty expensive and one day they will have to be replaced, and the expensive bathrooms and kitchens in your luxury condos will one day be out of style and you will have to renovate them to find a buyer. Year 1,2 or 3 probably doesn’t sting much, but at some point they will be major pressures.

      • Cliff says:

        If I recall, NYC has some kind of big property tax break for luxury condos. That might be the only thing that allows this, because paying 2% of the (artificially inflated by you) value in property tax plus eating the (at least 5-10%) opportunity cost and depreciation each year will kill you in short order.

      • Aftagley says:

        I’m guessing that the costs of just sitting on these properties isn’t that bad, then? It’d be something like the opportunity cost of having your capital tied up in this crappy investment plus whatever property tax you’re paying vs the cost of locking in the loss on all your units by selling at “market” price?

        Right. The costs, at least from what I read (other than taxes and upkeep) are mostly are in the form of interest on the loans you took out to finance these deals. Banks have been surprisingly willing to renegotiate with building-owners on these deals.

    • broblawsky says:

      Thanks for this. A couple of questions:

      a) Does this also explain why so many storefronts in NYC – especially Manhattan – stay empty?

      b) Is there some kind of tax incentive that helps reduce the cost of letting these developments stay empty?

      • JayT says:

        I wonder if the return on selling half the units covers the building costs, and the HoA fees cover the carrying costs, in which case it could actually make sense to sit on a bunch of units and wait for the next upturn in the real estate market.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Note: This is only true if you believe that the eventual upturn will be a net gain of more per-year increases than you would have gotten by just selling the units at a discount and tossing that money into a cheap Vanguard index fund. (average annual return for the last 5 years of the Total Stock Market Vanguard fund has been 11.21%- that’s nominal, so about 7-8% in real return per year)

          • JayT says:

            You also raise the value of the units you do sell if you release them slowly instead of all at once, so that would have to be factored in.

      • BBA says:

        There’s the infamous 421-a tax abatement: if a handful of units are set aside for a low-income housing lottery, the entire complex pays no property taxes for up to 25 years. This has been heavily gamed by luxury developers (look up the “poor door” controversy) and property values are high enough that the tax abatement more than offsets the loss of having to rent out a few apartments below cost.

        Section 421-a gets amended every few years, to change the terms for qualifying, close loopholes and open new ones, depending on whether the bleeding-heart liberals or the real estate lobbyists have the upper hand in Albany this week. Lately it’s the liberals, and they’ve made the exemption harder to get, but they haven’t been able to withdraw it retroactively from existing buildings yet. If they do, or if the bubble hasn’t popped by the time these exemptions start expiring, expect a bloodbath.

      • Aftagley says:

        a) Does this also explain why so many storefronts in NYC – especially Manhattan – stay empty?

        Same basic logic, but slightly different as a result of the commercial vs. residential aspect. Basically, the people who own the properties that would normally house these stores are
        doing so as an investment. This means that while they will rent it out, they don’t need to in order to make money, and barring some kind of either enormously profitable or very low risk deals, most owners would rather just let increasing property values earn their money for them.

        This is, I believe, the reason why you mostly only see either boutique stores or major chains – the chains are reliable enough that noone’s worried about them skipping out on the rent, and the boutique stores will pay a stupidly high priced rent. Your average blue-collar company, however, is willing to do neither, so they don’t get a storefront anymore.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Rather late to the conversation, but I disagree. I have no idea what’s going on, but your description doesn’t sound like logic, let alone the same logic.

          The logic of the condo building is that its units are a commodity with public prices, so it is afraid that lowering prices will affect sticky prices, plus its nominal value as collateral (and annoy the existing occupants). But those details don’t apply to the retail space. First, rents are not public, so cutting a deal with one store does not have much effect on the next one. (They probably have to tell the bank, but the retail space is a small portion of the building, so it doesn’t affect collateral much.) Second, there isn’t much retail space, so whatever effect a store has on the prospective stores is small compared to the effect of actually getting rent.

          Maybe the developer is afraid of selling/renting to less rich people because that will scare off the original demographic. Similarly, maybe the owner afraid that renting the retail to a wrong store will scare off residential tenants. But the empty condos are invisible, while the empty retail is visible. Your hypothetical “blue-collar company” might be worse than an empty storefront, but there is a pretty big range of stores that are better than nothing, both from the perspective of residents and the perspective of future commercial tenants.

          If the commercial tenant fails, the storefront becomes empty. That’s bad, but it’s already true! How can that justify not renting? Commercial leases are usually 10 years. So waiting a year to get a 10% higher rent is justified, but it seems a lot longer than that. Are the boutiques paying 2x the chains? That 2x can either pay for years of search cost or it can pay for the boutiques failing to complete their lease, but I think that there is some double-counting going on.

          Also, we’ve moved from the developer to the owner. The developer was trying to sell to end-users and cares about prices. Whereas the person collecting the rent check is in it for the long haul, or at least his ability to collect a rent check is exactly what he wants to sell to the next guy. I don’t know who the long-term owner of the commercial space is, though.

    • If you reduce the price on them, you’re both hurting your potential profit and messing with the property values of people who have already bought your condos

      Why should they care about the property values of those who have already bought their condos?

      Even if the companies were willing to rent out the apartment, they’re nice enough that they’d price out everyone but the ultra-rich anyway, and if you’re rich enough to afford $6k a month in rent, you’re financially secure enough to just buy your own place anyway.

      So why not reduce the rent?

      We’ve already addressed that you can’t really make significant profits renting out apartments in a building. Sure, there’s money to be made, but it’s difficult, requires pretty high upkeep and will only make returns over a long period.

      How much can maintenance cost? Maintenance as a percentage of rent cost should be lower in Manhattan than anywhere else. Are there restrictions on condo conversions in Manhattan?

      • John Schilling says:

        Why should they care about the property values of those who have already bought their condos?

        Because they own property right next door to property you are hoping to sell at a profit, and so can make it difficult for you to sell that property at a profit. This doesn’t even require petty self-destructively vindictive behavior; if they decide to sell or rent out their now-cheapened condo for unrelated reasons, they may wind up with upper-middle-class buyers or tenants instead of rich ones. When the developer then tries to sell his own virgin units, he’ll be selling the experience of living among the UMC rather than among the rich.

        Also, being themselves rich they’ll be able to do more than just leave a bad review on Yelp to sour the developer’s future prospects.

    • ana53294 says:

      Thanks for the writeup.

      Combine that with an increasingly mobile population (IE, you need to spend more to attract and keep quality renters) and these buildings just became money sinks.

      Are people really that mobile? I think that landlords that get many people moving all the time either raise their prices too much, or don’t screen tenants well.

      I personally hate moving, and wouldn’t move unless I could get much closer to work, or could significantly improve my housing situation. If the building is reasonably close to public transportation, and the rent is not ridiculous, why do people move so much?

      If families with kids are moving, either the rents are very high, or the place is not good for children (white flight due to crime). Otherwise, families tend to stay in the same place. If the rents everywhere are kind of the same (market prices), why would the uproot their whole family, maybe have to change schools, etc?

      • Aftagley says:

        Depends on your definition of mobile. To your average landlord in the 1960s, you would expect someone moving into your building to plan on staying there for a period of decades. Maybe some edge cases for places that specialized in catering to the really young, but even then (from what I’ve read) the expectation was that you’d work the same job for 40 years and live in the same apartment.

        Today, that’s not the case. I can’t think of any of my (equally young, yuppie, city-dwelling) friend group that’s willing to speculate on where they’ll be or what they’ll be doing in 3 years, much less 10. That’s what I mean by mobile.

    • Clutzy says:

      Very interesting. So it basically needs 2008 part 2 for this to clear.

      • Aftagley says:

        Maybe. Having thought about this more, I’m not quite as sure in that claim as I was previously.

        I think 2008-2 ElectroBoogaloo would clear this backlog, although I’m not sure what the new form would take. Maybe 6-10k new yorkers get some ridiculously nice apartments for a few years?

        That being said, the situation is inherently unstable, so even barring 2008-2 I think it will eventually unclog, I just have no idea over what time horizon this would happen.

    • sharper13 says:

      So from your description, it sounds like the two keys issue are:
      1. There is a 3-5 year time lag from developer’s making a decision to build (and for some reason the “losers” didn’t anticipate the demand shifting)
      and
      2. Developers have some kind of incentive to not lower prices in order to clear their buildings (it’s not clear where those incentives arise from, precisely, from your description. Apparently they value something more than letting their assets sit there not earning a return?)

      • John Schilling says:

        Apparently they value something more than letting their assets sit there not earning a return

        That would be their credit rating, which depends in part on the book value of the assets they are matching against there debts. Sell a few marginal condo units at “half price”, and the book value of all the unsold units also drops by 50%.

        In the short term, a good credit rating is more important than positive cash flow, because if you have one you can always borrow more than you can earn. In the long term, it hastens bankruptcy, but wishful positive thinking greatly discounts a nigh-inevitable but years-hence bankruptcy.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Re: 2, if you start reducing your prices to sell units, you are permanently taking a loss, and you have to immediately write down the value of all your remaining assets. IE, if you put up a 2,000 unit tower at a value of $1million per unit, you have a $2 billion tower. If you have to halve the price to sell everything, you just took a $1 billion loss.

        That’s both an accounting loss, and foregoing the opportunity to make more money a few years down the line.

        Renting in the short-term is pointless, because:
        A. you don’t want to own and manage this crap, you want to sell it
        B. renting to a bunch of young yuppies at lower rates means your building is now post-college yuppie, and you won’t be able to sell condos to the wealthy cardiologist looking for a mid-life crisis bachelor pad downtown.

        I mean, the market will eventually change. But the market can stay stupid longer than you can stay solvent.

        • baconbits9 says:

          That’s both an accounting loss, and foregoing the opportunity to make more money a few years down the line.

          I think the largest issue is that it is a collateral loss which can force changes up to, and including, bankruptcy.

      • Aftagley says:

        1. There is a 3-5 year time lag from developer’s making a decision to build (and for some reason the “losers” didn’t anticipate the demand shifting)

        Correct. Sunk cost fallacy is a bitch, especially when there’s not easy way out of your exposure.

        2. Developers have some kind of incentive to not lower prices in order to clear their buildings (it’s not clear where those incentives arise from, precisely, from your description. Apparently they value something more than letting their assets sit there not earning a return?)

        Hmm, maybe I didn’t explain this particularly well.

        Yeah, Like John and Beta said, selling their condos at the values that would clear their buildings wouldn’t earn them slightly less profit, it would lock in their loss.

        It’s hard to know this for certain, but reading through some real estate forums focused on luxury property (global, not just NYC, but I think the same lessons hold true) there are apparently building owners willing to move heaven and earth to unload their property right now. That won’t/can’t mess with the overall price too much for the reason that Beta said, but they’ll engage in extraordinary measure to make the deal more appealing. Stuff like covering closing costs, covering agent/finder fees, waving certain amenity fees for years… It’s likely that a motivated buyer could walk away with concessions from the owner worth at least a couple hundred k.

    • aphyer says:

      I’m surprised that this doesn’t mention rent control. I know NYC has it, and my impression has been that it has it worse than almost anywhere outside California. Is there some reason you don’t think that’s a more likely explanation for ‘why are owners not renting even when there’s obviously a lot of demand for rentals’?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Rent control (and “stabilization”, which for historical reasons is what NYC calls most of its rent control) screws up much of the NYC market, but the upper end is not rent controlled. This sometimes creates situations where you have a housing shortage for the low and middle but high-end apartments go empty, but I don’t think that’s the whole story now.

        • Theodoric says:

          I thought that rent control=”can’t raise the rent at all” and rent stabilization=”can only raise the rent by a certain percentage.”

          • brad says:

            That’s true in NYC, but in the larger context both would be considered variants of rent control generally.

        • zardoz says:

          Can you expand a little bit more on “the upper end is not rent controlled?”

          If rent control didn’t exist, the solution to the problem described here seems clear. Bring in a bunch of yuppies for a while until the market improves, then raise the rent dramatically to get rid of them all when the very wealthy clients start buying again.

          My guess is that the “raise the rent dramatically” part hits some political or legal issue here…

          • brad says:

            In NYC there’s three main categories of rent controlled units:

            1) Around 20k units that have been occupied since the early 70s by the current tenant or a legal successor (strict rules). These apartments cannot have their rent increased at all and in NYC jargon are the only units called “rent controlled”.

            2) Around 1 million units that were built prior to 1974 and remain in the rent stabilization program. These units have their annual rent increase set by a government body (landlords can also increase the rent for certain other reasons such as capital investments in the unit or building).

            Up until last summer there was a provision in the law that allowed for luxury de-control–that is if the legal rent reached a certain threshold, $2800 before the provision was repealed, it was removed from the stabilization rolls the next time it became vacant.

            The upshot of that rule is that there aren’t any apartments with high rents in this part of the rent stabilization program because they were all de-controlled when they hit a threshold rent.

            3) When developers or landlords take certain tax credits on new or existing buildings they agree in exchange to put some or all units in the building voluntarily in the rent stabilization program.

            For new buildings the most common of these programs is 421a which sets aside a certain percentage of units in a new building as “affordable” in exchange for a massive tax break. These affordable units are effectively in the rent stabilization program for the life of the tax benefit–typically 20-25 years, but for the market rate units the landlord is free to charge what the market will bear.

            For existing buildings the most common program is J-51, but again this is almost always used by landlords at the low or middle part of the market, not the high end.

            The real issue for empty high end units is that no one specializes in mixed condo/rental buildings. Developers go for one or the other and build/staff/market accordingly.

      • Aftagley says:

        Most of these are too new / too expensive to worry about rent control.

        Also, there are demands for rentals, but not demands for luxury rentals – these two products aren’t the same. That’s like saying “why does this porsche lot have so many unsold cars when the 2nd hand lot across the street is doing gangbusters?”

  12. Statismagician says:

    I was talking with somebody the other day about web forums, and I mentioned that for long posts I like to type them out in OpenOffice or whatever, then add in the appropriate HTML format tags before pasting them into the (usually small and annoyingly laid-out) forum text editor. Apparently, this is a weird thing to do – thoughts, anyone?

    • AG says:

      I do the same with Notepad. I feel like it’s not weird for anyone who has had the text editor eat their post, or needed to spend some time revising their post across days.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Only for effortposts. Otherwise right before I hit Post Comment I ctrl-A, ctrl-C.

        • Nick says:

          This. Notepad for the long posts, ctrl-A, ctrl-C for the short ones.

        • Anteros says:

          Excuse my ignorance – what does ctrl-A, ctrl-C do, and is it applicable to an ipad?

          • JayT says:

            ctrl+a highlights all of the text in the text box, and ctrl+c copies it to the clipboard so that you can paste (ctrl+v) it elsewhere. That way, if the browser crashes and you lose your post, you can just paste it back in. If you use a Mac, hold hit cmd+a and cmd+c.

            The iPad equivalent would be to hold you finger on the text and “select all” then “copy”.

          • Nick says:

            Select all and copy. That way, if you lose your post, you just open up the comment box and hit ctrl+v to paste it back in.

          • Anteros says:

            Thanks to you both

    • Well... says:

      I’ve done this before, especially if I want to respond to a comment that is for whatever reason separated by a lot of space from the field where I enter my own comment.

    • Dacyn says:

      I do this for a lot of the comments I write — mostly for the same reason as u/Well…

  13. rocoulm says:

    Somewhere (maybe here) I saw a link to a cool site that analyzed all kinds of different voting methods and plotted their results. They had 2D plots showing where candidates stood on two political “dimensions”, and color coded regions based on which candidate won vs. mean voting population opinion. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

  14. GearRatio says:

    I’m looking for a name for a concept that I imagine already exists:

    Imagine a narrative generic abrahamic-style god decides a nation (whichever) is sinful (for whatever reason) to a sufficient degree to deserve destruction and destroys it.

    In situations where narratives like this are advanced, I’ve seen a response that goes something like “This is a terrible thing! It either means there is no god, or that he’s evil”. There’s an implicit assumption sewed into this response that means something close to this:

    Taking the existence of a god and the truth of that story as givens, it highlights a difference in what god considers moral, right and just and what humans consider moral, right and just. To the extent god and humans disagree on these things, it is human morality that is assumed to be correct and god that is assumed to be wrong.

    I am not arguing for or against this view. But is there a name for it? I want to find strong arguments for it; I’m 100% sure I’m weakmanning/strawmanning it in my description above and would like to stop doing that.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Antitheism? Misotheism?

      • GearRatio says:

        Judging solely with my new wikipedia-level understanding of these concepts, I feel like these are more potential reasons or motivations for the believing what I’m talking about rather than what I’m talking about itself.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I am reminded of a question I asked many OTs ago, about whether there were any good reverse dictionaries out there.

          This looks like a prime example of a question that could be answered by the kind of RD I want. The closest I could find back then were dictionaries indexed (possibly inefficiently) on the definition, with a blank for you to type in words you think would be in the definition, and then basically just doing a keyword search. This was fine if you were looking for synonyms for “angry”, say, but hopeless if you wanted a term that meant “a molecule containing two phenyl groups attached to a benzene ring” or “a quadruped resembling a muskrat, native to Malaysia” or “a thought experiment or argument intended to illustrate an apparent flaw in divine morality by human standards”.

          The search continues. I’m sorry I can’t help with the original question…

          • Statismagician says:

            I guess you could do the indexing through a thesaurus-trained ML program… new startup idea?

          • Lambert says:

            1) The IUPAC, despite all appearances, is your friend.
            It’s terphenyl.
            2,3)
            Google it? I had to remove some words but I found stuff.
            That gives me: Asian House Shrew
            Euthyphro Dilemma

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Lambert: I think you’re missing the point. (Or you’re being cheeky; I can’t tell.) The point is to have an answer as definite as when one looks up a word in a dictionary, not a web search page of documents that might hopefully be good leads.

            Another possible contender is Google itself (or other search tools), when the question is presented cleanly, such as “89 * 42” or “capital of Argentina” or “building style that dominated DC in the early 20th century”. But Google won’t tell me everything. It doesn’t know the term for a number sequence that’s like Fibonacci, but in two dimensions, or for a large road in a city, or for a flat cylindrical hat for men with a brim with a lip, or for a function whose outputs are all inside another set.

            Another way of putting it is that a proper reverse dictionary would be indexed by meaning. For some cases, it’s easy, such as synonyms and antonyms. For others, the definition is more than one word, and if the searcher’s phrasing is too different from the definition as listed in a standard dictionary, the tool is lost.

    • AG says:

      Isn’t it more along the lines of the skeptic noticing that if a man did the exact same thing the god does, we would condemn the man strongly? Which shows that attempting to be more like god/”perfection” is a paradox?

      • Randy M says:

        I know this isn’t necessarily the thread for arguing about the topic, but I can’t resist pointing out that Christianity has this one covered. We aren’t supposed to act like God, because we aren’t in God’s position. We do not have his knowledge or authority, and presuming such is often a pejorative (as in “playing god”).
        But luckily God took some time out to show use how He would act if He were a man, and we can fairly safely look to that to emulate (though obviously with consideration for our own circumstances–not everyone should be childless itinerant preachers).

      • GearRatio says:

        @AG

        What you are saying isn’t quite it, but you/your skeptic is doing makes assumptions that match what I’m saying. It goes something like this:

        1. “We would condemn the man strongly” – I.E. There’s an assumption here that where the moralities of man and the god conflict, that the god is mistaken and the man is correct.

        2. “Which shows that attempting to be more like god/”perfection” is a paradox?” – This is a paradox only if we work under the assumption that the god’s morality was the incorrect system, not the humans’. The assumption itself is what I’m talking about, not the conclusions it leads to. There has to be some name for the “even in this for-instance, it is clear that man is the sole authority on morality” position.

    • Dacyn says:

      I disagree with your premise that this implicit assumption is “sewn in”. I am one of the people who makes these kinds of responses, but I don’t agree with the “implicit assumption” the way you’ve stated it. It is an issue of quotation versus referent. Perhaps this Sequences post can clarify things, though to be fair many people found the Metaethics Sequence confusing and I don’t know if there is a better exposition anywhere.

      • GearRatio says:

        Thus this bit:

        I’m 100% sure I’m weakmanning/strawmanning it in my description above and would like to stop doing that.

        • GearRatio says:

          I’m going to assume there’s a lot of context I’m missing that makes that article readable and meaningful; just “jumping into the pool” on it gave me the distinct impression of masturbatory I’m-very-smart writing from a 15-year-old.. Let me maker clearer here: A lot of you like this guy and I’m sure there’s some meaning here, but he rubs me exactly the wrong way – there’s no way I’m going to be able to read this in a non-hostile mindset.

          Could you summarize in a few paragraphs what he’s attempting to say?

          • Dacyn says:

            I’m going to assume there’s a lot of context I’m missing that makes that article readable and meaningful

            Yeah sorry it is the second-to-last post in the metaethics sequence so it’s not too surprising it’s missing some context. Anyway, I’m certainly used to hostile reactions to EY’s writing style and I think I get where people are coming from in that respect.

            Could you summarize in a few paragraphs what he’s attempting to say?

            Sure. If we ask the question “on what basis can we call things moral?” then we have to answer it using our pre-existing concept of morality. In other words, humans will endorse human conceptions of morality — but this is a tautology. What wouldn’t be a tautology would be saying something like “on what basis can we call things moral? Well, if they are moral under the human conception of morality.” That would be saying that if you observed you or others calling something moral, you can assume that it is. If you accept that, then the concept of morality becomes completely circular — EY has a nice analogy to mathematical axiom systems here but it’s not really necessary to understand the concept.

            To bring it back around to the topic of the OP, if I argue against genocide I am going to be saying things like “but that involves killing people! Innocent people!” and yes that is a human conception of morality, but I amn’t assuming that human conceptions of morality are correct, I’m just working within them. Similarly, if you wanted to say “but God said it was OK, so it is!”, you would also be working within a human conception of morality — the idea that when an authority figure tells you to do something, you can do it — but still you wouldn’t be assuming that human conceptions of morality are correct.

          • GearRatio says:

            Am I wrong that your model sort of assumes that there’s no “source” for actual morality, beyond preference/norms, though? I’m wondering how applicable it is to a conversation where the premise is that there’s an assumed non-human source of morality – if both my stance and yours are identical in your model, that sort of renders your stance and “there’s two different kinds of morality, from two different kinds of sources, and one is better than the other” illegible to each other.

          • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

            I’m finding the phrase “human conception of morality” ambiguous. In the general sense, there’s a conception of morality as being about right and wrong, and there are specific human intuitions about murder, theft, etc. Given that distinction, it makes sense (without being necessarily true) to say “a superbeing could know better than you do what is right and wrong”, ie they have better information about the same subject.

    • eigenmoon says:

      This seems to be a combination of two views, one detaching morality from god, and the other claiming that humans have access to that morality (secular humanism I guess).

  15. helloo says:

    Wibbly wobbly wreck of thoughts-

    Some stuff on Parthenon.
    Was that in the 7 Wonders? Checks. Nope.
    You know that really sounds click-baity nowadays rather than historical account(y?). Even given the lax style of historic accounts back then. Especially as it’s probably more accurately translated as the 7 sights of the world
    There’s lots of slogans and so for individual locations, I can’t recall any other “lists”.
    Was those types of advertising less effective back then? Or just fortunate that just this one survived and was remembered.
    What versions of “top x lists” will survive from the current media? (from bookseller, various websites/videos, grossing movies, etc.)

    • S_J says:

      Not quite sure what you are saying…the Parthenon was likely a well-known edifice when the lists of the Seven Wonders were created. But it might not have been large enough, or distinct enough, to count as one of the Seven Wonders.

      The list of the Seven Wonders was apparently created by a Greek-speaking person in the cultural context of the Macedonian Empire (and/or its subsidiary empires).

      Of note: only one of the Seven Wonders was in modern-day Greece. It was a Statue of Zeus at Olympia. The Parthenon was made within a decade or two of the Statue of Zeus.

      Three others were in the Greek-speaking world of Asia Minor (Temple of Artemis, Mausoleum of Hallicarnassis, Colossus of Rhodes). In form and function, the Parthenon was likely closest to the Temple of Artemis. But it may have been larger/grander, or the cult of Artemis may have had more cosmopolitan appeal than the cult of Athena.

      Two others were in Egypt: the Great Pyramid, and the lighthouse of Alexandria. Another was much further away, the possibly-legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (Some versions of the list replace the lighthouse of Alexandria with the Walls of Babylon…)

      The impression I get is that the Parthenon, while magnificent, wasn’t as magnificent as the other items on the list. Or it may have been less of a tourist-attraction than the Temple of Artemis for one reason or another.

      • Teldaru says:

        Rhodes is in modern day Greece though. It is a little weird that only the Pyramid survives to this day.

        • Tarhalindur says:

          Eh, not that weird. There’s a few things about the Great Pyramid that made it more likely to be durable compared to the other Wonders of the Ancient World:

          – Giza is far less subject to earthquakes than the Mediterranean (which runs along the border between tectonic plates). This is really the most important factor here; earthquakes are responsible for fully half of the destroyed Wonders (the Colossus at Rhodes, the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus), including the two most durable outside of the Pyramids themselves. Mesopotamia would have had a similar advantage, but the Hanging Gardens of Babylon run into the next point:
          – A big old pyramid made entirely of stone is pretty darn inherently stable (see also: the rest of Egypt; Mesoamerica), considerably more so than Greek columns and the like – especially buildings with wooden support beams that are vulnerable to the pyromaniacal ancient Greek equivalent of the modern school shooter. (*cough* Temple of Artemis at Ephesus *cough*) It also means it can survive long periods with very little maintenance, unlike said wooden beams or complicated mechanical mechanisms (the aforementioned Hanging Gardens of Babylon, assuming they existed).
          – The stone building blocks also weren’t particularly valuable (considering both the availability of stone and the amount of effort that would have been required to get at them); some of them were presumably taken away, but not enough to endanger structural integrity. (The golden cap, marble facings, and the actual grave goods at the Great Pyramid were valuable. Not coincidentally, all of them were looted!)
          – Egypt never ran into a ruler with both the desire to give the Great Pyramid the full Taliban Buddha statue treatment and the will to carry it out, unlike the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (though looters may have started the process). (IIRC the closest we ever got to that was actually Napoleon or someone in his retinue during his Egyptian campaign – I can’t track down the reference, but I distinctly remember something about a plan involving cannon shot that never came to fruition.)

        • cassander says:

          @Tarhalindur

          Egypt never ran into a ruler with both the desire to give the Great Pyramid the full Taliban Buddha statue treatment and the will to carry it out, unlike the Temple of Zeus at Olympia

          Frankly, even if they had, without modern explosives, getting rid of a pyramid would have been almost as much work as building one.

          • Tarhalindur says:

            As I said, “and the will to carry it out”. (To be more precise: “nobody was both willing and capable to go the the ridiculous amount of work that would have been required to do it, especially when there were much better things to do with the resources that would have been needed”.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          You could make an outside view argument via the Lindy effect / doomsday argument. At the time, the Great Pyramid was much older, so you should expect it to last longer. The list was made halfway between when the pyramid was built to our time. Whereas the others were only hundreds of years old.

  16. Deiseach says:

    A warning to all tourists contemplating coming to Ireland: beware of the spiked drinks! (Because it totally wasn’t yer man sitting in the boozer lashing into the jar that caused this).

    To clarify, it was the Norwegian businessman who was in the nude, not the bin lorry 🙂

  17. theredsheep says:

    Fellow-Christians, let’s talk about Hell. How does one reconcile it with the stark limitations on human freedom of will? Yes, we have free will, but it’s clear to me, at least, that it’s enormously constrained by weakness, and much of our character is shaped by circumstance and the weight of past experience.

    For example, take the one fellow we’re all pretty sure is in Hell, Hitler. The one bio I read of him said that he had about the optimal upbringing to produce a monster: his father was a cruel, arbitrarily domineering man who went out of his way to put his son down, while his mother tried to compensate by spoiling him rotten when daddy wasn’t around. The resulting youth was lazy, vain, mercurial, and deeply angry. While he was by no means predestined to murder tens of millions of people, it would have been an enormous uphill battle, from there, to reform his character into something decent.

    One hopes God grades on a curve. A guy who grew up in the Aztec Empire, and was taught that Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc really did need blood sacrifice, and has no notion who “Jesus” is, gets scored on how well he managed to stay within the lines as he understood them, and worked to nudge his better instincts along as far as he could. Divine Grace has to carry everybody a fair distance; he just gets lugged a little farther. Someone who had more advantages gets judged more strictly. Cf. Romans, gentiles having the Law written on their hearts, etc., allowing that sometimes your dad overwrites the Law with something totally insane and you have to squint through the palimpsest.

    Thoughts?

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      > Thoughts?

      I think you’re getting closer.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Hell is the destination for everyone, regardless of how good or bad you were in life, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

      Humans aren’t graded on a curve because we ALL fail. That is why grace is necessary.

      Now, once we have obtained the grace of Christ’s sacrifice, we try our best to emulate him and live in an acceptable way as Paul says in Romans “Shall I sin more that grace may abound? God forbid”.

      But let’s be clear that the most upright man you can think of is every bit as deserving of Hell as Hitler.

      There are debates about how pagans who never heard of Christ may be saved, if at all, but those aren’t relevant to the point you’re making.

      • Coldinia says:

        But is it arbitrary then whom He decides to save and whom not? And how can we delight in being saved and delight in others receiving just punishment at the same time? How can we delight in heaven in the utter mercy of our undeserved salvation knowing that millions are currently being punished (or, less horriffically, have been annihilated if you subscribe to that view) for eternity?
        I ask as a christian who grew up in the church and has trusted in God my whole life but am now utterly distressed by these questions

        • EchoChaos says:

          But is it arbitrary then whom He decides to save and whom not?

          No. Regardless of your belief on predestination, arbitrary is not the right word for it. Most Christians don’t believe in predestination, though, which means that it is your choice.

          And how can we delight in being saved and delight in others receiving just punishment at the same time?

          Humans are pretty good at holding contradictory emotions. But why would you delight in someone being punished? God is not willing that any should perish. He wants Hitler saved as much as you.

          How can we delight in heaven in the utter mercy of our undeserved salvation knowing that millions are currently being punished (or, less horriffically, have been annihilated if you subscribe to that view) for eternity?

          Because we will be living with God. And that is why we should spend our time on earth letting everyone know about salvation.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Humans are pretty good at holding contradictory emotions. But why would you delight in someone being punished?

            Because that is a manifestation of God’s justice, and therefore good.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Fair enough, but I would think there are plenty of things to delight in before that.

          • Nick says:

            The original Mr. X is right; God’s punishment is just. If you remember your Dante, even the damned don’t dispute that.

          • Coldinia says:

            But if He wants *arbitrary non-christian person* saved as much as he does me, why are they not? Is His grace resistible?

            Surely we cannot be saved by our own virtue, so no one comes to God by the process of being clever enough or wise enough or true-seeing enough to just ‘figure out’ that He’s real and other gods aren’t. As far as I can tell the Bible is crystal clear that you can’t seek God unless He puts that desire in your heart first, and that whom He has chosen he saves (Romans 8:29 but also THE ENTIRE BIBLE), so I wouldn’t have been saved unless He’d initiated it, and other people remain unsaved because He doesn’t initiate with them. How else can the bible be read

            See also Romans 9:22 and thereabouts for some weird what-ifs which I really don’t know how to read

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Coldinia

            You’re arguing against Calvinism, which is not a position I hold, so I am certainly not the right person to answer it.

          • Coldinia says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’m not sure it’s arguing against so much as struggling with. I’ll be honest I’m not particularly well-read theologically; I’ve spent a lot of time in a bible-prioritizing church so I know the contents of the Bible decently, but know very little about names of denominations or theological arguments etc. But what is your alternative to this that you find from the Bible? Or what is the name of it so I can look it up?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Coldinia

            The traditional Jewish/Catholic/non-Calvinist Protestant position is that humans have choice in their decisions, and that those decisions are either sinful or righteous.

            Since we’ve all made sinful decisions, we must ask God’s forgiveness for those. Note that even before Christ, Jews asked for forgiveness, which is why the Psalms have plenty such requests.

            Even without knowing the name of Christ that grants us forgiveness, understanding our need for it is what matters.

            Once we have asked, his grace is abundantly granted to us no matter how dark our sin.

          • Randy M says:

            If you remember your Dante, even the damned don’t dispute that.

            Honest question, how tongue in cheek was that? Dante is pretty much fan fiction, right?

          • Matt M says:

            Ascended fan fiction!

            “Word of Dante” is a trope namer for a reason!

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            But if He wants *arbitrary non-christian person* saved as much as he does me, why are they not? Is His grace resistible?

            It’s not just Calvinists who need to have an answer for this question. Is there one?

          • Randy M says:

            But if He wants *arbitrary non-christian person* saved as much as he does me, why are they not? Is His grace resistible?

            It’s not just Calvinists who need to have an answer for this question. Is there one?

            Yes, his grace is resistible. He wants everyone to choose be saved. Not quite the same as wanting everyone saved.

            You can say “Well, he should have only made people with strong, overwhelming desire to do what he commands, then.” Fair enough.

            Ultimately there’s going to be places where we find less than satisfactory answers. We can conclude that therefore it’s all myth, or that based on the weight of the evidence, it’s worth buying into and the bits we struggle with are due to our own inadequacy.

          • Coldinia says:

            @RandyM

            Maybe I’m just playing into old Calvinist argument cycles here, I don’t know, but my gut reaction to that is to ask how you then parse Romans 8:29, and all the OT groundwork for Israel being God’s chosen people, blessed not for worthiness but in spite of who they are, ephesians 1:5, 1:11. I hope I’m not just selecting quotes here – as far as I can tell this attitude is reflected not just in individual statements in the bible but also shines through as a general background attitude. But how can grace be resistible if he has foreknown and predestined? Is his will being frustrated if he wants everyone to be saved? Or does he want everyone to be saved generically, but wants specific people to be saved enough to do something about it? (This last one I feel like there’s a theological term for, something like God’s explicit will vs his moral will or something)

            If I come off as argumentative, then I’m sorry and do just leave it, I’m just confused

          • hls2003 says:

            @Coldinia:

            For a Reformed perspective on theology, including questions such as these, I would advise looking into books by Tim Keller (for a more contemporary flavor) or R.C. Sproul (for a more hard-edged flavor). A quick Google has Keller talking a bit about this question here.

          • Randy M says:

            But how can grace be resistible if he has foreknown and predestined?

            I don’t think merely knowing someone’s choice doesn’t take away that it was indeed their choice. But, yeah, there’s a lot here that is hard to reconcile–I’m not going to speak confidently on anything about foreknowledge or predestination.

            Is his will being frustrated if he wants everyone to be saved?

            Omnipotence does not mean being able to contradict logic, therefore I think it isn’t out of bounds to say that God doesn’t get everything he wants. In fact, it’s probably inevitable when dealing with independent entities.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            You can say “Well, he should have only made people with strong, overwhelming desire to do what he commands, then.” Fair enough.

            That’s not the only thing I could say, though: I could also say “He should want everyone to be saved, not just want everyone to want to be saved.” Pressing the distinction does restore the coherence of the theist story (and thanks for that), but at the expense of making it much less attractive– especially so in the usual case where the lack of an overwhelming desire to do what he commands is due to, at worst, ignorance or cognitive error rather than unusual wickedness.

          • Randy M says:

            but at the expense of making it much less attractive– especially so in the usual case where the lack of an overwhelming desire to do what he commands is due to, at worst, ignorance or cognitive error rather than unusual wickedness.

            I do believe allowance is made for cases of true mental or informational incompetence.

            Ultimately what matters is whether it is true rather than attractive. Although I know what you mean, you do not find it coherent and thus compelling. In my case I find it more compelling than the alternative.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Ultimately what matters is whether it is true rather than attractive.

            To be sure. I’m not trying to puzzle out why you believe– only why you approve.

          • Randy M says:

            Ah, well, I wasn’t exactly consulted on it, but given where we are, I think being on the creator’s side is for the best.
            At the very least, he’s not holding himself above or apart from the suffering that we experience.

          • rocoulm says:

            @Coldinia

            I’ve spent a lot of time in a bible-prioritizing church so I know the contents of the Bible decently, but know very little about names of denominations or theological arguments etc. But what is your alternative to this that you find from the Bible? Or what is the name of it so I can look it up?

            I’m not the guy you were replying too, but a good start is reading Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie. I don’t agree 100% with every point it makes, but it is overall a very Bibically-grounded summary of theology.

          • Coldinia says:

            @EchoChaos

            The traditional Jewish/Catholic/non-Calvinist Protestant position is that humans have choice in their decisions, and that those decisions are either sinful or righteous.

            Since we’ve all made sinful decisions, we must ask God’s forgiveness for those. Note that even before Christ, Jews asked for forgiveness, which is why the Psalms have plenty such requests.

            Even without knowing the name of Christ that grants us forgiveness, understanding our need for it is what matters.

            I don’t see how this leads anywhere but moral luck again though? I mean I see two alternatives: a) (from what I understand of the bible) we can’t repent unless God first leads us to repentance, so it’s up to Him to initiate, not us, though on His initiation we must act, or b) It is up to us to see our sin and repent before God will act, and some people will and some won’t, but the difference between them is either sheer moral luck or even more directly how God has created them – which again is not up to them?

          • Coldinia says:

            @hls23 and @rocoulm

            Thanks! Big Keller reader already, but will def check out the others. I I think I’ve had Sproul on the shelf at home for a while but never got around to starting…..

        • DragonMilk says:

          To me, it’s a mix of repentance and trusting God. Actions are human observable, and there’s the whole, “man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” thing.

          It’s not for nothing that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He did not condone the sins – he continued John the Baptist’s message of repentance, which is to turn away from sin, turn to God instead, and keep at it since sin is not a one and done thing.

          So to your specific question, it’s not arbitrary at all – God decides he wants to save everyone, which was the point of Jesus, and why Christians spread the gospel. Whether the individual accepts that salvation is between them and God at that point.

          And for those who have not heard of the gospel? Take Moses. At the end of his life, he was to never enter the promised land physically, and the New Testament makes it clear that being a Jew in itself didn’t save you (see John the Baptist saying God can make children of Abraham out of rocks if he wanted). There’s nothing that to suggest to me that non-Christians post-Jesus now have a different experience than the likes of Moses, other than maybe not being party to Transfiguration. I believe in God’s justice, so if in final judgment people still choose not to turn to him, then thy wills be done. Otherwise heaven isn’t heaven.

          But of course, any Christian should feel free to butt in and correct me if I’m wrong on the last point.

        • Deiseach says:

          How can we delight in heaven in the utter mercy of our undeserved salvation knowing that millions are currently being punished (or, less horriffically, have been annihilated if you subscribe to that view) for eternity?

          Lewis had a try at it in The Great Divorce:

          “And yet . . . and yet … ,” said I to my Teacher, when all the shapes and the singing had passed some distance away into the forest, “even now I am not quite sure. Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?”

          “Would ye rather he still had the power of tormenting her? He did it many a day and many a year in their earthly life.”

          “Well, no. I suppose I don’t want that.”

          “What then?”

          “I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.”

          “Ye see it does not.”

          “I feel in a way that it ought to.”

          “That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.”

          “What?”

          “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

          “I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

          “Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”

          “But dare one say-it is horrible to say-that Pity must ever die?”

          “Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty – that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”

          “And what is the other kind – the action?”

          “It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”

          Dante comes at it from the other side: the saved in Heaven do not repent any more of their sins on earth, because all that has passed and is gone. First Cunizza, then Folco, in the Sphere of Venus, the Third Heaven:

          Cunizza was my name and, overcome
          by this star’s splendor, I shine here.

          ‘I gladly pardon in myself the reason for my lot,
          nor does it grieve me — a fact that may
          seem strange, perhaps, to those unschooled among you.

          Yet here we don’t repent, but smile instead,
          not at our fault, which comes not back to mind,
          but for that Power which ordered and foresaw.

          ‘Here we contemplate the craft that beautifies
          such love, and here discern the good
          with which the world above informs the one below.

          So the idea is that sin no longer has any power over the blessed: not sin itself, not the memory of their own or others sins, and not the sinners who are damned. In the end, all we can say is what is said in the Parable of Lazarus and Dives:

          24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

          25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

          26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

          • Coldinia says:

            As an enormous admirer and enjoyer of C. S. Lewis’ work, I’ve returned to that passage many a time. But what it reminds me of now is nothing so much as when Jesus speaks with the rich young man in Mark 10. The discussion afterwards also highights the vast gulf between sinners and Jesus, and the disciples are astounded and shocked, seeing that no-one can climb that gulf themselves, and Jesus agress and says for man it is impossible but with God it is possible.

            I don’t know when I started writing that out I thought it was going somewhere in response to the Lazarus parable, but maybe not. I think when I was younger I thought that when I was in heaven and others weren’t that that would make me all the more glad and thankful for my undeserved and merciful salvation, but now all I can ask is why me why not them. How can I possibly hold this gift with that expectation? And what about those who think they are saved but who aren’t? they don’t even know that they’ve turned away, in the inverse to the pagan who’s never heard of Jesus

          • Sucrose says:

            In reply to Coldinia:

            I would suggest- Because You Chose To. In the end, we have to choose to follow Him, and to actively ward ourselves against our own preconceptions of what God desires, and instead listen to His actual will. Otherwise, we are just pretending our own desires are God’s commands.

            We will make mistakes, but as long as we remain teachable, request forgiveness, and continue to seek to do right, then at worst we will spend some time in Purgatory learning more painfully.

            That’s what I got from Lewis’s passage in the Great Divorce where George MacDonald is speaking on how the blessed realize that all their lives, even in the gray city, was actually in heaven. And how there is a bus out of there in that book at all.

          • GearRatio says:

            I think you might need to find another person with Calvinist-like views to talk to, honestly. It’s going to be hard for most of the Christians here to help you simply because we are incapable of having the exact problem you are having. A system where salvation is thrust on some and inaccessible to all others is very different than one where it’s available to all.

            It’s not just that we can’t experience the problem, but also that, like, in my case I wouldn’t want to defend it – I don’t think Calvinism is right partially because of some of the issues you are describing. I think you need to find a Calvinist of respectable intellect somewhere so you can get a steel-manned defense of it – I know I could only do about half a half-hearted defense, myself.

          • Coldinia says:

            I’m enormously up for not being a Calvinist! If Calvinism is nonsensical to you then it may well be nonsensical to me – I’m not looking for someone to bolster my beliefs, I’m looking for new and different perspectives!

          • broblawsky says:

            I realize that this thread is primarily for Christians, but I have to say that Lewis quote only works if salvation is still possible after death, which doesn’t seem to be scripturally supported. Otherwise, either the action of mercy becomes impossible after death, which seems like an arbitrary limitation on the power of God, or God is simply unwilling to grant mercy after death, which still seems fundamentally unjust. Lewis’ argument is only just if you assume:
            a) God is both willing and able to grant mercy after death;
            b) No one in Hell is willing to accept mercy after death.

            And (b) seems deeply contrary to human nature to me – I can’t believe that there’s any human being who would accept eternal punishment out of pure egotism, let alone that everyone who suffers in Hell would be willing to do so.

          • mendax says:

            @broblawsky

            (Also not-a-Christian) I think you’re right, but:

            I can’t believe that there’s any human being who would accept eternal punishment out of pure egotism, let alone that everyone who suffers in Hell would be willing to do so.

            If a) is true, then the punishment in hell is not eternal. For hell to maintain a population we would just have to look at the rate of new arrivals and departures. We would then also be able to answer the question of whether hell is exothermic or endothermic.

          • Dacyn says:

            I’ve always liked that CS Lewis passage. What occurs to me now is that besides active and passionate Pity, a possible relation between the happy and the unhappy is one of “seeking understanding”. Yes the unhappy may have chosen and still be choosing their fate, but they did not come out of that from nowhere — there must have been a reason for it, even if it was a bad reason. I think seeking to understand that is valuable and doesn’t require passionate Pity.

            This issue is relevant for me because based both on my principles and on my beliefs about what sort of God is likely if you assume that the Bible is true, I hope that I would reject what is described as the offer of salvation there. My hope for those who in this hypothetical made the opposite decision is that they would at least try to understand why I made my choice I did.

            (I hope I am not intruding too much on this thread by posting even though I am not Christian — though if you asked me for example if I was a Christian Atheist or a Muslim Atheist I would say “Christian Atheist”)

          • Dacyn says:

            Ah dang, I got ninja’d badly on the non-Christian front. Anyway @broblawsky, why do you say it has to be pure egotism? I certainly wouldn’t describe my motivation in those terms…

          • broblawsky says:

            Ah dang, I got ninja’d badly on the non-Christian front. Anyway @broblawsky, why do you say it has to be pure egotism? I certainly wouldn’t describe my motivation in those terms…

            I don’t mean to ascribe motives to you – rather, I’m describing the hypothetical non-repentant sinner Lewis describes in that passage, who sheds the “cunning tears of Hell”. Lewis frames the decision not to accept salvation as a calculated ploy on the behalf of the sinner, but that rings false to me. Lots of people make wholehearted commitments to be better people when evidence of their sins is placed before them; the problem is with putting in the work to be a good person all the time. Per Scanlon/The Good Place: “Working out the terms of moral justification is an unending task”. If the afterlife liberates you from that unending task, and accepting salvation is something you can do in a single moment, then everyone in Hell will do it eventually, without calculation.

          • albatross11 says:

            broblawsky:

            This almost feels like the gamber’s ruin from the other side. You can keep losing (failing to repent) for as long as you like, but win (genuinely repent) once and you’re good forever.

          • broblawsky says:

            Assuming that you no longer have the power to commit sins after that point, sure. It isn’t really a satisfactory answer either, though.

          • Deiseach says:

            And what about those who think they are saved but who aren’t?

            I’m not a Calvinist or Reformed so I don’t hold to the “once saved, always saved” theology. I can only quote you back more Dante, where he has St. Thomas Aquinas warn about judging on appearances:

            ‘Let the people, then, not be too certain
            in their judgments, like those that harvest in their minds
            corn still in the field before it ripens.

            ‘For I have seen the briar first look dry and thorny
            right through all the winter’s cold,
            then later wear the bloom of roses at its tip,

            ‘and once I saw a ship, which had sailed straight
            and swift upon the sea through all its voyage,
            sinking at the end as it made its way to port.

            ‘Let not Dame Bertha and Master Martin,
            when they see one steal and another offer alms,
            think that they behold them with God’s wisdom,
            for the first may still rise up, the other fall.’

            Despair and presumption are both equally sins: to say “I am too sinful, too wicked and evil, even God cannot forgive me” or to say “I need do nothing more, God will forgive me – that is His business after all, and I am a Good Person anyway”.

            The basic message is: look, don’t worry about “did that guy who lived five thousand years ago/five thousand miles away and never heard of Christ get saved?”, worry about your own soul and are you avoiding sin and seeking the love of God. If you know others and are worried about their salvation, try to help them. But trust God and leave it up to Him in the end, because Divine Justice is unerring and sees all, judges all perfectly.

            ‘How can I be happy in Heaven if others are damned?’ If you’re really worried about that, work and pray for their salvation here on Earth, where you and they can make a difference. After death there is no chance.

            Here’s the Fatima Prayer to start you off 🙂
            “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Your Mercy”

          • Dacyn says:

            @broblawsky: You may have missed my previous comment, where I wrote:

            I hope that I would reject what is described as the offer of salvation there

            If I did that (and to be fair I can’t be confident that I would), it seems that I would be a counterexample to “everyone in Hell will do it eventually”.

            Incidentally, I am not sure that Lewis considers the decision not to accept salvation a “calculated ploy”, though he certainly views the “cunning tears” as such.

          • broblawsky says:

            @broblawsky: You may have missed my previous comment, where I wrote:

            I hope that I would reject what is described as the offer of salvation there

            If I did that (and to be fair I can’t be confident that I would), it seems that I would be a counterexample to “everyone in Hell will do it eventually”.

            I did see it, yeah. I just don’t believe that anyone is capable of resisting the absolute certainty of eternal punishment and salvation for very long, let alone forever. It just doesn’t accord with my experience of human behavior.

            Incidentally, I am not sure that Lewis considers the decision not to accept salvation a “calculated ploy”, though he certainly views the “cunning tears” as such.

            In that passage, Lewis is definitely casting the sinners in Hell as attempting to exercise power over the saved in Paradise – he calls them the “makers of misery”. That’s ridiculous – it morally equates the suffering they directly caused on Earth with the suffering they cause the saved in the afterlife. However, the saved suffer when contemplating the fate of the damned because they have the capacity for compassion – that’s the literal definition of compassion. The same argument could be used to claim that the poor and the sick are morally at fault for the suffering we experience in this world when we feel compassion for them. It’s a deeply repugnant – and unChristlike – position.

          • Dacyn says:

            @broblawsky:

            It just doesn’t accord with my experience of human behavior.

            Fair enough. Your initial statement in this thread I quoted still strikes me as resting on false premises, but I suppose it doesn’t matter.

            The same argument could be used to claim that the poor and the sick are morally at fault

            That’s not true, since Lewis’s premise is that sinners are choosing Hell (or indeed refusing to “consent to be happy”), which makes them directly responsible for their own suffering in a way that the poor and sick aren’t. Although it’s a fair point that he doesn’t really justify this premise other than by authorial fiat.

          • broblawsky says:

            That’s not true, since Lewis’s premise is that sinners are choosing Hell (or indeed refusing to “consent to be happy”), which makes them directly responsible for their own suffering in a way that the poor and sick aren’t. Although it’s a fair point that he doesn’t really justify this premise other than by authorial fiat.

            The idea that the damned are refusing to “consent to be happy” might justify Hell on ethical grounds as long as the option to “consent” remains available, but I think it fails on logical grounds: there is no one who won’t consent eventually. If you believe otherwise, that’s your prerogative, but I don’t think human willpower stretches to eternity.

            Edit: Edited for clarity.

          • GearRatio says:

            I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really agree with Lewis on this , but I’m not really sure you can compare a spiritual disembodied human’s willpower/mindset to that of a embodied human. If we doubt a currently-in-a-body human could mentally withstand eternity in heaven without some changes (and a lot of people do) then we sort of assume some changes go down to make eternity not only tolerable but enjoyable. There’s no telling what those same changes from body-motivations to no-body-motivations do to somebody’s ability to be stubborn.

          • broblawsky says:

            That’s an interesting idea, but at that point, I feel like we’re getting into Calvinball territory with our afterlife rules. If spirits are capable of infinite stubbornness, what’s to say they even have the capacity for suffering?

          • Deiseach says:

            The same argument could be used to claim that the poor and the sick are morally at fault for the suffering we experience in this world when we feel compassion for them. It’s a deeply repugnant – and unChristlike – position.

            Great! So the guy (or girl) who threatens “if you break up with me I’ll kill myself” is totally justified and the person on the other side who refuses to go along with that kind of manipulation is repugnant in their reasoning and unChristlike?

            That’s the kind of hold the damned in Lewis’ example are trying to exercise over the blessed. I think in your own life if you had someone who made you and themselves thoroughly wretched and there came a time that you eventually said “I’m not doing this anymore”, you would not feel that you were being the Bad Guy there.

            Someone who hurts themself can’t keep using that as a sword of Damocles over the head of someone else. The second person has a right to be happy, and eventually they can move on and do so, and the misery of the first person is not their fault or concern anymore.

          • broblawsky says:

            We’ve all had experiences with people using our compassion to manipulate us – that’s not what I have a problem with. My problem with that passage is that Lewis is asserting that everyone in Hell is fundamentally unwilling to change, and I think that’s contrary to human nature; given enough suffering and enough time, everyone tries to change. Lewis is trying to use the intransigence of the damned to claim that the joy of the saved shouldn’t be diminished by their suffering, but he also seems to think that human intransigence is infinite.

          • Deiseach says:

            given enough suffering and enough time, everyone tries to change

            BUT THAT IS THE VERY ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. There is no change after death, there cannot be change after death: you can’t then go “oops, if I’d known my [favourite vice] would have resulted in this, then I’d have changed!” because of the ontological effects of sin on the soul – what you are in Hell is frozen, unchanging – it is the result of the choices you made when alive. You created this form and now you are stuck with it for all eternity.

            THAT is the urgency of preaching about sin and salvation on Earth – you really don’t have a chance other than the one you have NOW. Joyce was writing a spoof sermon of the kind given in his time, but he has the basic points down pat:

            Time is, time was, but time shall be no more! Time was to sin in secrecy, to indulge in that sloth and pride, to covet the unlawful, to yield to the promptings of your lower nature, to live like the beasts of the field, nay worse than the beasts of the field, for they, at least, are but brutes and have no reason to guide them: time was, but time shall be no more.

          • Nick says:

            @broblawsky
            For elaboration on what Deiseach is talking about, here’s Feser on Aquinas’s explanation of why, metaphysically, the soul is unchanging after death. Basically, it’s because we’re no longer corporeal, so there is nothing like senses to give us new information or passions to distract us or anything like that. We retain our intellect and will, which are incorporeal faculties, but they can’t actually do anything new, so our will is locked in.

          • broblawsky says:

            BUT THAT IS THE VERY ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. There is no change after death, there cannot be change after death: you can’t then go “oops, if I’d known my [favourite vice] would have resulted in this, then I’d have changed!” because of the ontological effects of sin on the soul – what you are in Hell is frozen, unchanging – it is the result of the choices you made when alive. You created this form and now you are stuck with it for all eternity.

            Lewis doesn’t actually seem to believe this. One of the ghosts in the Valley of the Shadow of Life makes the effort to journey to Heaven but can’t approach it, due to being burdened with the sin of lust, manifested as an ugly lizard. One of the angels – at his invitation, of course – almost instantly kills the sin and liberates him, allowing him to progress towards Heaven. He undergoes spiritual change after death. Why, then, can’t any sin be so remedied, if the soul in question undergoes enough suffering to motivate them to desire that unburdening?

          • Nick says:

            @broblawsky
            Lewis himself seems not to have thought his book was inconsistent with doctrine. His solution seems to have been that the people who repented were never really in hell at all; a Catholic might say that they were in purgatory, with the stain of sin being washed away. Or perhaps this was a period after death before their soul made its choice. I’m not sure he was certain himself. A few quotes from the work:

            “Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell: though if you don’t go back you may call it Purgatory.”

            Another:

            “But I don’t understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?”
            “It depends on the way you’re using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand.” (Here he smiled at me). “Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the beginning.”

            Another, perhaps the most relevant:

            “But there is a real choice after death? My Roman Catholic friends would be surprised, for to them souls in Purgatory are already saved. And my Protestant friends would like it no better, for they’d say that the tree lies as it falls.”
            “They’re both right, maybe. Do not fash yourself with such questions. Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time till you are beyond both. And ye were not brought here to study such curiosities. What concerns you is the nature of the choice itself: and that ye can watch them making.”

          • broblawsky says:

            For elaboration on what Deiseach is talking about, here’s Feser on Aquinas’s explanation of why, metaphysically, the soul is unchanging after death. Basically, it’s because we’re no longer corporeal, so there is nothing like senses to give us new information or passions to distract us or anything like that. We retain our intellect and will, which are incorporeal faculties, but they can’t actually do anything new, so our will is locked in.

            That’s very interesting, thank you. I should’ve expected that Aquinas would’ve anticipated these kinds of arguments. However, if that post accurately interprets his arguments, then it raises a different kind of question: why can’t a disembodied consciousness change its beliefs based on new information? If it can’t, it doesn’t seem like disembodied spirits think or, indeed, feel, in any way that we would recognize as consciousness, if I correctly interpret that argument. They can’t learn, or change, which makes spiritual consciousness seems much more limited than corporeally bound consciousness.

          • broblawsky says:

            Lewis himself seems not to have thought his book was inconsistent with doctrine. His solution seems to have been that the people who repented were never really in hell at all; a Catholic might say that they were in purgatory, with the stain of sin being washed away. Or perhaps this was a period after death before their soul made its choice. I’m not sure he was certain himself. A few quotes from the work:

            I appreciate that Lewis admits his own uncertainty about these questions; I shouldn’t judge him too harshly when he seems to advance a position that seems morally repugnant. To me, uncertainty seems like the most intellectually and ethically honest position when it comes to questions of the afterlife and ultimate justice. Our best hope – our only hope – is that, eventually, God is just in administering to each human the fate that they deserve, in a way that is both compassionate and fair.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        But let’s be clear that the most upright man you can think of is every bit as deserving of Hell as Hitler.

        I’d want to qualify that statement. Jesus’ words to Pilate in John 19.11 (“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin”) clearly indicates that some sins are more serious than others, as does 1 John 5.16 (“All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly”). So whilst it may be the case that we’re all (excepting young children, I suppose) worthy of punishment, not everybody is worthy of equal punishment.

        • EchoChaos says:

          There are absolutely greater and lesser sins, no question. But separation from God, which is what Hell is, is the baseline for all humanity.

          • Randy M says:

            Deserving is perhaps binary, but to say all are equally deserving carries a connotation of being equally harmful or malicious. I can’t really countenance a just and wise God who weighs murder and, say, insult to be actually equivalent, even though in each case you have turned the trajectory of your soul away from the narrow path.

            It’s kind of like being in the army, where desertion and active betrayal will both perhaps get you condemned in war time, but they aren’t both equally bad to the fate of the operation or your unit’s safety.

          • GearRatio says:

            @Randy M

            I wonder about this sometimes, and if some of the confusion we feel at this “murder is as bad as lying is as bad as being selfish with turns on the skip-it” is because we are inclined to view sins as practical matters that affect the things we can physically see while at the same time minimizing how big/small of a deal “divergence from the will of God” is.

            If God and people who are in line-of-sight with God put a value of, say, 100 billion bad points on “goes against God” regardless of method, then murder being 1000 times worse than lying isn’t nearly as big of a difference.

            Another potential difference I think about sometimes is that the main thing that keeps me from assaulting people isn’t, like, an internal scale of badness and caring so much as it is habits built out of risk-avoidance, if I’m being honest. I got away with lying quite a bit as a boy; I got away with hitting people basically never, and there were immediate loud reactions to the latter that were costly enough to me that I eventually stopped doing it.

            If anything I want to punch people much more than I want to lie, and much more often. I’m not “better” in my intents and desires, I just live in a world with bigger consequences for doing the latter. If God is looking at my intents, he’s seeing something like me doing something that’s easier for me to avoid than hitting people out of choice and just because I can get away with it when I lie, and seeing me avoid assault as opposed to other sins out of selfishness. I’m not sure that’s any better except in practical effects, and those probably look a lot different to a God who sees death a lot differently than living humans do.

      • Protagoras says:

        Good explanation of why I’m with Ivan Karamazov in finding the whole Christian edifice morally reprehensible. I am glad not to be capable of the kind of denialism of the horribleness of it all that most Christians engage in, and can make no sense of the Kierkegaard-style faith that somehow it’s all for the best despite the obvious horribleness.

        • EchoChaos says:

          You can certainly reject God if you want. I wouldn’t advise it, though and implore you to reconsider.

        • GearRatio says:

          I’ve noticed you wield this particular tactic a lot where religion is concerned – something close to “I have an opinion on this; it’s 100% right, and anybody who disagrees with me on this is both stupid and dishonest”. Is this your take on everything? Like, if you think natural law or postmodernism are wrong, do you just declare the matter settled and that everybody who disagrees with you is an idiot liar?

          I don’t like abortion; I think it’s really bad and that we should stop doing it. Even though this is true, I don’t sit around imagining that every pro-choice person is either an idiot or a monster sitting around in darkened rooms, rubbing their hands together and trying to figure out how to kill maximal amounts of children. It wouldn’t be productive in terms of changing minds or policy, and it wouldn’t be healthy for me either. I doubt it’s going to make a dent, but you are doing a very similar thing here, and it doesn’t accomplish anything, convince anybody or help you at all. It just lets people know you are incapable of being even-handed with differing philosophies you are hostile to.

          • Protagoras says:

            Saying people deserve eternal suffering for not being perfect is morally horrible. I do not know why you think I should describe it as other than it is. At least some questions have clear answers; when questions have clear answers, I do not pretend the answers are unclear to spare the feelings of those who have incomprehensibly committed themselves to nonsense. Would you expect me to pretend that creationism is intellectually respectable? Where answers are not clear, I equally do not pretend that they are clear; what to say about postmodernism is not clear (not least because it is so diverse), and so while I am an unapologetic analytic partisan, no, I would not declare all postmodernists to be idiot liars.

            Still, I am human. If there were not so many religious people ready to loudly proclaim the egregious lie that I am an atheist because I wish to evade responsibility for my own moral failings, I would probably be slightly more forgiving of the moral failings of religious people.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Protagoras:

            Saying people deserve eternal suffering for not being perfect is morally horrible.

            I’d take this objection a lot more seriously if this conviction made anyone who says it become a Hindu, as they teach that every bad afterlife is temporary and only the chit-ananda (consciousness-bliss) of enlightenment is eternal.
            Saying that Abrahamic religions are objectively morally horrible and then being a bog-standard Western atheist with no justification is trite.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m not an atheist because some Christians make morally horrible claims. I’m an atheist because there’s no God. I was discussing the morality of Christians because it was the currently relevant topic, not because it is the motivation for my atheism.

          • GearRatio says:

            @Protagoras:

            Right, that. That’s what I’m talking about. Let’s break it down:

            1.

            Saying people deserve eternal suffering for not being perfect is morally horrible.

            Unless it’s, you know, true. Or true and unavoidable; or true, unavoidable except at great cost, and mitigated completely for all comers at great cost to someone who had no obligation to mitigate it. And you can choose to disbelieve all those possibilities, but what you instead do ignore them and trim off anything that can’t be beaten with a single, lazy sentence.

            2.

            Saying people deserve eternal suffering for not being perfect is morally horrible.

            Indeed you don’t seriously engage the ideas in their actual forms at all; you just dismiss them and smirk.

            3.

            what to say about postmodernism is not clear (not least because it is so diverse), and so while I am an unapologetic analytic partisan, no, I would not declare all postmodernists to be idiot liars.

            Indeed, I haven’t in fact seen you dismiss anything so coolly, with such condescension or with less courtesy and charity than you do religion.

            4.

            Still, I am human. If there were not so many religious people ready to loudly proclaim the egregious lie that I am an atheist because I wish to evade responsibility for my own moral failings, I would probably be slightly more forgiving of the moral failings of religious people.

            I never made any claim about your moral failings. If you want me to guess as to why you behave this way, I’d guess that you feel bad about yourself or something else and having an other you feel you can be guiltless hostile to makes you feel superior, which makes you feel better.

            The reason I think this is that the particular kind of weakman/strawman subreddit-atheism you do doesn’t actually do anything to convince anybody pretty much every Christian you’d run into on the internet is already used to it. It probably pleases a particular choir, but that’s beating a dead horse. What it does do, though, is functionally the same as people calling democrats “libtards”; it makes people feel better with zero work.

            Meanwhile, there exist people like David Friedman. He’s an Atheist who doesn’t seem like he hates the people he disagrees with, as opposed to dripping venom at all times. He asks thoughtful questions to clarify things that he, an established scholar, admits he doesn’t understand about the beliefs. He does not come closer to belief in it, as far as I know, Using this increased understanding, he pokes at much more legitimate targets. I’ve been challenged by him, and I respect him. That to me is the significant difference between someone who simply possesses atheism as opposed to one who desperately needs it.

          • Protagoras says:

            It is true that I am not David Friedman. I am kind of interested in the fact that when I alluded to one of the reasons why I am sometimes irritated by religious people, your response was to first claim that you hadn’t done what irritates me, but then to immediately proceed to start doing it. I suppose I have provoked you, but if we’re giving debating tips to one another, I don’t think that move particularly strengthened your position.

          • GearRatio says:

            You are correct that I said I had not done that; I hadn’t. You are also correct that I immediately started doing it. When you said “moral failings” I interpreted it more heavily in the context of the religion, I.E. something like “they think I’m living in significant huge amounts of sin that I want to keep doing and this is my dodge to avoid having to deal with it with the religion”. The context did not demand that; call it a reflex. In my mind it was a “he says they accuse him of knowledge of great sins in himself he doesn’t want to abandon, I just think he’s using it to fill emotional needs” distinction, which there’s a good case was based on a misinterpretation on my part.

            I’m not backing off the general thrust of the accusation, however. It’s possible you sweep into every conversation on religion with light on thoughtfulness and heavy with declarations of personal superiority for reasons that don’t have to do with bolstering your ego, but for better or worse until I see a speck of meaningful content from you on the subject besides “just so everyone knows I’m very smart!” I’m going to end up keeping you generally filed in the “people who say libtards” bucket.

          • Deiseach says:

            Saying people deserve eternal suffering for not being perfect is morally horrible.

            Well it’s a good job that’s not what Christianity is saying then, isn’t it?

            And this is why I can’t seriously engage with such arguments: there’s such an assortment of cherry-picking, strawmen, and twisting the premises to “But you’re saying that Good People will go to Hell unless they agree with your fascist doctrines, you beast! Well, I am too nice and noble to agree with that, so there!”

            The saved are not perfect. We’re not Gnostics. And the damned are not simply “John was an ordinary guy, maybe had a bit of a short temper, but never really hurt anyone”.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Protagoras

            Saying people deserve eternal suffering for not being perfect is morally horrible.

            This position is perfectly possible within Christianity, whatever the Evangelicals say. I’ve brought up St. Isaac of Nineveh before (quoted from here):

            For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings; or to imagine any other weakness, or passibility, or whatever else might be involved in the course of retribution of good or bad as applying, in a retributive way, to that glorious divine Nature. Rather, He acts towards us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief, whether they cause joy or grief, whether they are insignificant or glorious: all are directed towards the single eternal good, whether each receives judgement or something of glory from Him—not by way of retribution, far from it!—but with a view to the advantage that is going to come from all these things.

            That we should further say or think that the matter is not full of love and mingled with compassion would be an opinion full of blasphemy and insult to our Lord God. By saying that He will even hand us over to burning for the sake of sufferings, torment and all sorts of ills, we are attributing to the divine Nature an enmity towards the very rational being which He created through grace; the same is true if we say that He acts or thinks with spite and with a vengeful purpose, as though He was avenging Himself.

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I’d take this objection a lot more seriously if this conviction made anyone who says it become a Hindu, as they teach that every bad afterlife is temporary and only the chit-ananda (consciousness-bliss) of enlightenment is eternal.

            There’s a lot of Universalists who are Christian and teach the same thing. Also the same objection has lead many Christians to believe that Hell is unmaking rather than torture. That includes Doctrinal Commission of the Church of England, which wrote in 1995: “Christians have professed appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster and left searing psychological scars on many”. I think that’s even stronger than what Protagoras is saying.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’d take this objection a lot more seriously if this conviction made anyone who says it become a Hindu, as they teach that every bad afterlife is temporary and only the chit-ananda (consciousness-bliss) of enlightenment is eternal.
            Saying that Abrahamic religions are objectively morally horrible and then being a bog-standard Western atheist with no justification is trite.

            I am not an atheist for moral reasons, and I think Protagoras is the same. There are few moral claims attached to atheism outside of a few obvious negative implications like “Divine command theory cannot be true.” You could be an atheist and believe in a natural law theory.

            I am an apostate because I don’t think Christianity is true. Adopting Hinduism which appears just as false to me, just because it makes different moral claims makes no sense.

            As a completely separate question, I agree with Protagoras that some branches of Christianity make claims that would seem morally reprehensible to many (maybe most) people. For example, it appears GearRatio and Protagoras agree that for many branches of Christianity, Christian doctrine is that “all humans deserve eternal suffering for not being morally perfect regardless of how close they came to perfection”. Having been a Christian, I’d bet that if you surveyed Christians who belonged to a denomination that has this as part of doctrine, somewhere between 20% and 80% would disagree with this doctrine. Some wouldn’t even realize it was part of the doctrine of their faith. Christianity is rife with accidental heretics and secret heretics from the point of view of an inquisitor.

            If there was a serious attempt within churches with such doctrine to root out such heresy, I think those Christians would probably just convert to another branch of Christianity with a theology more compatible with their beliefs. Maybe one of the ones eigenmoon mentions above.

            EDIT:

            You can even just read lower down in this thread to see Christians disagreeing over interpretations of hell and such. And I really doubt that who believes what aligns perfectly with the doctrine of the sect they nominally belong to. There is a relationship, but I think differences in doctrine determine what sect any given Christian belongs to a lot less than what sect their parents or friends belong to.

      • DinoNerd says:

        This, in a nutshell, is why I am not a Christian.

        (Yes, I realize some who call themselves Christian would not agree with this theology.)

        • DragonMilk says:

          Hell as default destination?

          • DinoNerd says:

            It’s a lot more complicated than that, and this is supposed to be a thread for Christians to talk about their theology, not for non-Christians to present what the Christians probably see as pretty standard unconvincing arguments.

            Maybe another thread, in another OT (this one’s getting pretty old) could talk about reasons to reject various religions – particularly theological reasons.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Yes, that’s a fair point about Hitler. Let’s assume he’s the worst person to ever live. Why was he like that? Was he made like that by either nature or nurture? In which case he’s not ultimately responsible. Or is it that his “soul” could have been good or bad and he consciously chose to be bad and therefore should be punished. Anyhow, I’m not making that decision and we’ll never know.

      But imagine if you’re a good christian and you go to heaven. Ok cool. But then you learn that your brother whom you loved very much was gay, so he’s in hell. Are you still enjoying your time in heaven?

      • EchoChaos says:

        But imagine if you’re a good christian and you go to heaven. Ok cool. But then you learn that your brother whom you loved very much was gay, so he’s in hell. Are you still enjoying your time in heaven?

        He’s in hell because he didn’t ask for forgiveness, not because he was gay. A good Christian isn’t someone who never sinned, just someone who was forgiven.

        I’ve got as many sins as any homosexual, perhaps more.

        And the presence of God is sufficient to make me enjoy my time in heaven. C.S. Lewis actually addressed this in the Great Divorce, by the way with a husband and wife.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          And the presence of God is sufficient to make me enjoy my time in heaven.

          Sure. I mean these are the types of things that need to be taken on faith, and things like “presence of God” and “time in heaven” are not concepts that I can honestly say I understand. But I think the general message is “trust that God thought about this because he’s freaking God and his plan is better than anything you can come up with”, which is a fair point. For everyday life, I translate that to “trust that acting in a way your conscience tells you is good is the better thing for you and for those you love”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “trust that God thought about this because he’s freaking God and his plan is better than anything you can come up with”,

            This is largely my attitude. I don’t know what heaven is like, I have little idea of the nature of hell, but I’m sure whatever it is will all work out, and when I meet God and see it all for myself it’ll all make sense.

        • Randy M says:

          He’s in hell because he didn’t ask for forgiveness, not because he was gay. A good Christian isn’t someone who never sinned, just someone who was forgiven.

          And it’s certainly not someone who was merely never tempted! If there is such a person, they’re only good by happenstance. Though I’ll certainly take that in a neighbor. Perhaps not in a foxhole.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Randy M

            Precisely. There may be attractive celibate gay men out there who are substantially better at resisting temptation than unattractive straight men who would succumb to every temptation to fornicate but never have anyone willing.

          • Nick says:

            @EchoChaos
            There are. You don’t hear about them for, well, obvious reasons.

      • theredsheep says:

        I think this relies heavily on a forensic understanding of sin–that sin is a crime in need of punishment. Our habit in Orthodoxy is to think of it as a disease in need of cure. The idea being that all sin, in some way, works counter to the correct way of being human, and therefore degrades our souls and makes us less human. Our communion with God constitutes acceptance of therapy.

        I don’t think about the details of homosexuality as a sin, because it’s not relevant to me. I know little to nothing about what it’s like to be gay. But presumably this gay brother would be excluded not merely because he slept with dudes and didn’t say sorry, but because that action contributed to an overall state of life which took him away from God. My question being how comfortable we are with the way one’s circumstances affect one’s personal moral choices.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          My question being how comfortable we are with the way one’s circumstances affect one’s personal moral choices.

          Right, and I have no issues trusting God with that, considering he’s supposed to be infinitely wise.

          • theredsheep says:

            As a general rule, I’m fine with that; epistemic humility is a good thing, and it scans. I’d drive myself crazy if I couldn’t accept that I’ll never know all the answers on this side of the grave. This whole thread is my way of finding what other Christians here think.

            And yet, every time someone appeals to divine ineffability, I can’t help remembering how hard I laugh when an AI-risk proponent says, “well yes, that seems an insuperable obstacle to us, but a hypothetical infinitely-clever AI could solve it in a heartbeat!”

      • Deiseach says:

        Are you still enjoying your time in heaven?

        Yes. Are you still enjoying your time as a free man even though your brother, the paedophile torturer-rapist-murderer, is in jail? (But you wuvved him!)

        Let’s all thresh that straw, by all means!

        • Coldinia says:

          But if you’re a paedophile torturer-rapist-murderer and you are free even though everyone knows what you did it’s not like you got away with it you did it and you’re free, and he did it and he’s not. That’s a different equation

          • Deiseach says:

            Coldinia, I am snappy about those kind of “but have you stopped beating your wife yet?” kind of questions, because it’s similar to the lines GearRatio is asking about in a comment upthread: where there’s a conflict between human morality and God, we’re supposed to come down on the side of “God is just being a jerk”.

            Asking about “but what about going to Hell for being gay?” is packing a set of assumptions in that are not outright stated: one, that being gay isn’t worth going to Hell for and two, that if we now rewrite our ethical and moral views to “we used to think it was bad but now we see it’s okay”, then God should do likewise.

            That’s why I said, turning the question about with the same kind of sickly-sweet simper of fake concern with which it was posed: “okay, how about a hard case in the other direction? let’s pick something most modern society would definitely say is a no-no; in that case, is ‘but he’s my brother and I love him’ an acceptable answer that would satisfy anyone asking ‘but why didn’t you turn him in to the cops?’ I don’t think so.”

            You won’t go to Hell simply for being gay. (I’m going to quote more Dante further on, that’s a threat). You can go to Hell for being gay and sexually active outside of marriage and die in unrepented mortal sin, just as if you’re straight and sexually active outside of marriage and die in unrepented mortal sin. Fornication is wrong no matter the orientation. The Catechism states:

            Chastity and homosexuality

            2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

            2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

            2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

            Nobody has to agree with the above. But don’t come along all “but what about my dearly loved family member who never did anything wrong but is still in hell – so unfair! – and will you really enjoy being in heaven then, you callous brute?” If it’s sin and it’s rightfully punished, I’m as okay with that as sending a rapist-torture-murderer to jail.

            Now, for some GAYS CAN BE SAVED AND GO TO HEAVEN all the way from the 13th century, here’s my boy Tenacious D afrom the city of the Golden Florin (note: souls in Purgatory are already saved, they are only working off temporal debt of sin. They’re not damned souls getting a ‘second chance’ at repentance or in-between souls getting ‘work your way through here first then you’ll be promoted to the big leagues’. Thank you for not misunderstanding this point of Catholic theology).

            There I can see that every shade of either group
            makes haste to kiss another, without stopping,
            and is content with such brief salutation,

            …When they have ceased their friendly greeting,
            before they take a new step to continue,
            each one makes an effort to outshout the rest.

            The new ones cry: ‘Sodom and Gomorrah!’
            and the others: ‘Pasiphaë crawls into the cow
            so that the bull may hasten to her lust.’

            …’tell me, that I may trace it on my pages,
            who you are and who is in that throng
            which is even now receding at your backs?’

            …’Those, who come not with us, all offended
            the same way Caesar did, for which, in triumph,
            he once heard “queen” called out against him.

            ‘Thus they move on crying “Sodom,”
            as you heard, in self-reproach.
            And with their shame they fan the flames.

            ‘Hermaphroditic was our sin.
            Because we did not follow human law,
            but ran behind our appetites like beasts,

            ‘when, in our disgrace, we move off from the others
            we shout her name who made herself a beast
            inside the beast-shaped rough-hewn wood.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I accidentally clicked the report button on Deiseach’s comment above while scrolling down the page. I don’t see a way to cancel the report, so my apologies both to Scott and Deiseach for the false report.

          • Coldinia says:

            @Deiseach

            Sorry, I see my response was really unclear. I was trying to get at the opposite end of that question – instead of thinking of a subset of people in hell as basically innocent and going from there, I was trying to start from the other end of what if I think of myself in heaven but as an absolute base sinner who has been shown mercy. I feel like those two are opposite ends of the same question, and for me the second is much more interesting?

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Oh that brother? How did you know about him? No I dont love him, he’s a real jerk. My other brother is by all accounts a good person, but he doesnt go to church on Sundays. And please forgive me if I do feel a bit of sadness as I think of him being tortured for eternity in a lake of fire.

          • Deiseach says:

            And now I’m going to quote Chesterton at you, from The Chief Mourner of Marne:

            “There is a limit to human charity,” said Lady Outram, trembling all over.

            “There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”

            “But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”

            “No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”

            He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.

            “We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”

            I’m very touched by the tenderheartedness shown to the gay brother or the brother who doesn’t go to church (but yes indeed, they’re Good People Anyway). Forgive me, though, for thinking you all think it jolly unfair of God to be such a rotter about it because there’s nothing wrong there, this is your non-jerk brother after all..

            And would you be so tender-hearted to the rape-torture-murder brother? Why not? After all, if over time first non-churchgoing then gay rights are A-Okay, why not in a century or so rape-torture-murder? No, it’s not a question of degree – small sins will damn you every bit as much as big, gaudy ones if you perservere in them over a lifetime, letting your heart harden and step by slow but incremental step walking on the path of your own will and not the will of God. Unless you can weep for the damned rape-torture-murderer of children, I’m rather afraid your tears strike me as crocodile ones.

            And fear not, jermo sapiens: if you or anyone thinks that merely spending an hour or three in church every Sunday is enough to assure going to Heaven (because you’re all Good People Anyway), then you may find yourself side-by-side with your non-jerk brother in that lake of fire. I’m sure, going by this, you will be very happy that in death you were not divided.

        • Protagoras says:

          Honestly, if my brother, or friend who I care about, is a paedophile torturer-rapist-murderer, I’m pretty seriously bothered whether he’s in jail or not for a variety of reasons (more so if he’s not in jail, but it’s not a pleasant hypothetical regardless). But you do get that some of us find your moral judgments hard to take seriously when you treat extramarital sex as being equivalent to being a paedophile torturer-rapist-murderer? Or do you not get that? I can never quite tell.

      • Yes, that’s a fair point about Hitler. Let’s assume he’s the worst person to ever live. Why was he like that? Was he made like that by either nature or nurture? In which case he’s not ultimately responsible.

        As some of you may know, this is referred to by philosophers as the problem of moral luck. I discuss it in part VI of an old journal article in the context of criminal, not divine, punishment.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Fellow-Christians, let’s talk about Hell. How does one reconcile it with the stark limitations on human freedom of will? Yes, we have free will, but it’s clear to me, at least, that it’s enormously constrained by weakness, and much of our character is shaped by circumstance and the weight of past experience.

      Our will is free in the sense that we can carry out our desires. I wanted to eat a burrito this morning, so I did. I could have eaten sand, but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t do that. What I did was determined by what I wanted, and what I wanted was determined by who and what I am. This seems like a reasonable enough expression of free will to me. One of the important things about Jesus becoming human is that it proves that human marrow and human sinew are physically capable of acting with perfect moral goodness. There is no physical barrier between any person and perfect obedience. If we sin, it’s for one reason only- that we want to sin.

      And of course everyone protests here that they don’t want to sin. Of course. Nobody (not even, I suspect, Hitler) desires “evil” as an abstraction; they desire things like comfort or friendship or money or status. Good things, or at least neutral things. Everybody wants to live morally right up until someone does something that you think is really, really, bad and you have to forgive them, or until you’re talking to your boss and you’ll come out looking so much better if you just phrase things a little differently (just to share your perspective, you know), or until you really need that day off and obviously nobody will care if you claim it as a sick day, or until you really, really want to sleep with that person and how could it possibly be wrong when you’re not hurting anyone?

      So say this for anyone, say that they did what they wanted to do. Even the person who does what the man with the gun tells them to do is making a calculation that they would rather obey then take the risk of defying and being shot. And while there are a lot of details and edge cases to discuss, I think, conceptually, if you start with a person and say, “This person wants to do a lot of bad things”, I think it’s at least reasonable to say we should keep that person out of the Paradise where no bad things are allowed.

      • theredsheep says:

        Ah, but what we consider bad things is itself open to shaping. For example, suppose you are brought up in a culture where it’s expected that, if someone insults you, you retaliate with violence to preserve your honor. There have been plenty of these throughout history, of course, and many survive today. Growing up in such a society, you are taught to respond with threats and aggression to any perceived slight; if you did otherwise, you would be thought cowardly and contemptible. Now, it’s easy to see how this adds up to a deeply unpleasant society, but if you’ve been trained for your whole life to respond to provocation in this way it’s very difficult to shake the habit, or even to understand why shaking it is desirable, because your whole conception of The Good is framed around good men being the men who stand up for their honor.

        So, does honor-culture man go to hell for standing by his values? This is leaving aside the part where we continually fail to conform to our own ideals …

        • EchoChaos says:

          So, does honor-culture man go to hell for standing by his values?

          Yes. God’s standard is written down and clear, and the fact that someone was taught a wrong standard doesn’t change that.

        • Deiseach says:

          it’s very difficult to shake the habit, or even to understand why shaking it is desirable, because your whole conception of The Good is framed around good men being the men who stand up for their honor.

          The 11th century has something for you on that; from the article on Burne-Jone’s picture The Merciful Knight:

          This picture is based on an 11th-century legend retold by Sir Kenelm Digby in Broadstone of Honour, its hero is a Florentine knight named John Gualbert (an anglicisation of Giovanni Gualberto). The explanatory inscription provided by Burne-Jones tells the viewer of a knight who forgave his enemy when he might have destroyed him and how the image of Christ kissed him in token that his acts had pleased God.

          John Gualbert was an Italian Roman Catholic saint, the founder of the Vallumbrosan Order. He was a member of the Visdomini family of Florentine nobility. One Good Friday he was entering Florence accompanied by armed followers, when in a narrow lane he came upon a man who had killed his brother. He was about to kill the man in revenge, when the other fell upon his knees with arms outstretched in the form of a cross and begged for mercy in the name of Christ, who had been crucified on that day. John forgave him. He entered the Benedictine Church at San Miniato to pray, and the figure on the crucifix bowed its head to him in recognition of his generosity. John Gualbert was later canonised.

        • Two McMillion says:

          So, does honor-culture man go to hell for standing by his values?

          I would say that your example is not specific enough to answer this question with certainty. Most honor cultures have rules by which conflicts can be deescalated without resorting to violence or losing honor. And there’s a lot more that goes into any given human act then just the societal conditions which surround it. In your example, what might the consequences be for defying these social norms? Would they be mere embarrassment, or would they mean death by violence? (After all, it is more permissible to use violence when the consequences for doing so are more sever.) Has the person in question critically considered the system in which he lives, or is he imitating without thought? Does he love violence for violence’s sake, or does he regard it as an unfortunate necessity of living in the world in which he does? All this and much more will play into the moral factors at work in any specific act, and “standing by his values” will encompass thousands of such actions throughout his life.

          As for the general question of, “What of the person who never heard the right and never had any chance to learn it?”, the evidence strongly suggests that no such person exists (as does the Biblical testimony, but let’s stick with the external evidence). The ubiquity of moral rules related to lying, theft, and the like show that certain shared moral principles arise wherever people live. We may not agree with the exact ideas of honor-culture man, but we share many of his principles regarding our personal status and honor, and an African Bushman, while probably not agreeing completely either, would at least find them comprehensible and understandable. But more interesting then the existence of shared principles is the existence of shared violations of principles. Everyone who agrees that lying is wrong can remember a time when they themselves lied; everyone who agrees that kindness and compassion are desirable is conscious of times when they have been neither. To bring about the damnation of all humanity, it is not necessary to postulate a distant god imposing an unknown standard; it is only necessary to hold people to the moral standards which they themselves believe and know about. People resist their entire lives being weighed and found wanting- they hate being told they are sinners- but almost none will dispute that they have sinned.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’m familiar with Lewis’s Dao, but it’s one of the points I disagree with him on. While most settled/civilized societies have had broadly similar codes of rules about lying, stealing, murdering, etc., it’s by no means so universal as he implies, and a simpler explanation is Darwinian: a society where liars are tolerated would not hold together for long.

            Plenty of societies, past and present, have tolerated what we would now call torture, infanticide, massacres, blood feuds, honor killings, variously abusive formulations of slavery (not getting into the biblical slavery thing), sexual abuse of minors, and so on. To look past those and say that cultures share a common moral code on the grounds that, in essence, they have a set of principles at all, strikes me as entirely too glib.

            A Plains Indian man four hundred years ago participates in a successful raid against a rival tribe, stealing many of their horses and taking several captives. The men are burned alive over a slow fire, as befits their enemies, and as our man would expect to suffer himself if their circumstances were reversed. The women are taken as concubines, their children adopted. The man feels no compunctions about this because he has been taught, from his earliest youth, to regard it as normal and right. As has literally every other human being he has ever encountered. Hell?

            (a lot of good points here, but I don’t have the free time to respond to all of them–sorry!)

          • Deiseach says:

            The man feels no compunctions about this because he has been taught, from his earliest youth, to regard it as normal and right. As has literally every other human being he has ever encountered. Hell?

            Yes, if we’re appealing to universal morality – and people arguing these points seem to be, as I’ve never seen anyone argue “well of course slavery is wrong now, but it wasn’t wrong back then because they thought it was okay by their standards”.

            Torture, rape and murder are wrong and are damnable sins if indulged in and you die unrepentant. It may be a heck of a shock to end up in Hell but it would also be a heck of a shock to our Plains Indian if we brought him forward four hundred years and put him in jail the minute he tried living by his cultural standards in our society.

            If we’re arguing for relativism, then the objections make no sense: you wouldn’t put someone in a lake of fire, but neither would you live like a Plains Indian. But you don’t think the Plains Indian should be condemned for his actions, so why condemn God based on your judgements which are based on temporal considerations and relative to your time, society, personal taste and culture?

          • Dacyn says:

            @Deiseach: Er, you are ignoring the distinction between objective and subjective culpability.

          • theredsheep says:

            My point is that the man’s entire life would seem to be a thoroughly stupid and pointless exercise: he is put on earth surrounded by people who will teach him to do terrible things, given no reason to believe there is anything wrong with doing terrible things, not even exposed to the idea that there are ways to live which do not involve doing terrible things–then punished for doing terrible things.

            He’s been set up to fail. It’s as close as you can get to Calvinism without actually stripping away free will; the man’s only escape would be to spontaneously invent an entirely novel system of morality with no external prodding. You might as well push a rock off a cliff and yell at it for falling.

            Mind you, I am thoroughly convinced of original sin, in the sense that most of us feel compelled to do things we really shouldn’t, all the time. I don’t believe anyone actually has, and consistently believes in, a coherent theory of moral relativism. I don’t believe it’s compatible with human nature to believe such a thing. We all think some values are real and true, even if we won’t admit it. Actual nihilism is an unworkable chimera.

    • Sucrose says:

      I have struggled a lot with this as well. The best answers I have found are in the theological writings of C.S. Lewis. I recommend the C.S. Lewis audiobook readings on YouTube, particularly The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce.

      I have less time and less thought devoted to the problem than Lewis, but what I took away was: Hell is the absence of God. It is not punishment, exactly, but the natural consequence of each class of sin, because each causes the sinner to focus on a particular thing other than goodness itself, or God.

      That thing focused upon, being imperfect, is not suited to this worship, and becomes a source of torment. The envy for others’ things blinds you to the value of what you have. Gluttony leads to you devouring things without really tasting them. Pride, deadliest of all, leaves you self satisfied in a hobbled state, and upset with those who dare surpass you, especially God Himself.

      And as your pursuit of the pleasures you once gained from the thing you focus upon continues, it becomes a mania that closes you off to other things, including God. At every step, even in eternity, He is offering to grant you Himself, and the Kingdom, and joy beyond your comprehension. But if you refuse Him to focus on your art, or your food, or your personal will, (which is all the easier if you haven’t heard of Him), eventually you don’t even hear Him anymore. That final state is what Hell is, and why it is inescapable. Because we lock ourselves in. We may hope that no one actually arrives there, though we all are on the path as soon as we sin.

      As for why we are able to sin to that unrepentant degree, I do not know. I speculate, as, I think, did Lewis, that it is a logical necessity for some greater spiritual good. That we need that degree of freedom to enjoy the fruits of the Kingdom as we are meant to.

      I hope this is of some help. These questions bedeviled me for decades before I found succor.

      Also, hello to all. I have been a contented lurker, but reading this, I had to act.

      Edit: I see that a lot of the points here were already made above, some with actual Scriptural support. I apologise for posting before reading everything.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Two overarching thoughts.
      1. There is no scales of justice notion at play here, the curve concept is not applicable
      2. Both/and rather than either/or regarding free will vs. fate
      3. Repentance is the only action necessary for grace

      1. In popular imagination, there’s always the construct that a deity takes out a scale, puts all good deeds on one side, bad deeds on the other, slides the lever to account for life circumstance, and bases admission to heaven on which way the scale falls. Salvation through works is the premise for a lot of religions including Islam, but is not at all the Christian message. Hypothetically Hitler could be in Heaven for all we know, because we don’t know much at all about an individual’s heart. Based on the evidence, though, I’d not take a one in a million wager on it, but my overall point is actions are more evidentiary rather than the source of grace.
      2. Read no more than Othello to see that the classical world was extremely fatalistic. Our modern pop-culture dismissal of the Fates is a curiosity as many philosophers still argue about whether free will is purely an illusion. In Christianity, the go-to example to illustrate that it’s both-and is Paul on the ship in the storm. He says to the passengers that God has indicated that there will be a shipwreck, but not one person will die. When the storm grows fiercer, some people want to escape on life boats, and he reprimands them, saying they will all perish unless everyone stays on the boat. So….what’s up with that? If everyone’s going to saved, what does it matter what they do? How is it that what they do suddenly changes the outcome? The parallel here for me is that God has offered free grace to everyone, but not everyone chooses to repent and ride out the storm on the boat, they rather take their own personal life rafts. Were they not separate from those who stay on the boat, then heaven wouldn’t be heaven.
      3. So what then does salvation consist of if free grace doesn’t mean everyone gets a pass into heaven? Repentance is not a Nancy Reagan, “just say no!” to sin. It’s an active turning away from sin and to God. And thankfully, neither you nor I are the judge here, as I am pretty terrible at knowing what’s on people’s hearts. By the way, heart doesn’t mean the emotional core in the Bible. Physiology wasn’t big in the ancient world and people likely speculated that the brain was a calculator of sorts. The heart wasn’t just the physical one, not just emotion, but where judgments were made, both intellectually and morally. God examines not just what actions your physical body undertook due to conditioning and upbringing, but the spiritual/deeper you. The one who senses inherent good/evil, right/wrong, creative/destructive, and acts accordingly…or not.

      At least that’s my understanding. And in the end, I’m not God (thankfully), and I trust that He knows what he’s doing. If He has decided an active Hell is necessary rather than non-existence, then I am not one to judge (I personally do sometimes wonder why eternal suffering is necessary rather than temporary into blinking out of existence, but those are separate philosophical debates on the nature of creation/existence, etc.).

      • Coldinia says:

        But how are we to understand God’s word in an honest way? (This isn’t a trick question I genuinely want to) The bible says taste and see that the Lord is good, the bible says to try every word, and there are tons of logical (by which I mean following an inherent chain of logic) arguments in the bible, and we are meant (as far as I can tell) to understand that God is a God of order and of reason.

        So how do we differentiate between when we need to use logic and to test what we hear and to grow in understanding directly, and when to say ‘I don’t know, but God is so much greater than me, I’m sure he knows best, I trust him’. Like clearly both are vital to a real faith – or is only the second one? And if so how can one come to trust God? And why does He order us to taste and see? I just am so thoroughly torn between trying to understand with my brain more of His character and His glory using the gifts of logic and reading that He Himself gave me, and trusting that He is good even if I don’t understand, and I don’t know how to reconcile the two, or even balance them???

        PS sorry I feel like I’m commenting on every comment chain here – I’ve lurked for a while but if this breaks good conversational etiquette please let me know and I’ll stop. It’s just a really important topic to me.

        • Two McMillion says:

          So how do we differentiate between when we need to use logic and to test what we hear and to grow in understanding directly, and when to say ‘I don’t know, but God is so much greater than me, I’m sure he knows best, I trust him’. Like clearly both are vital to a real faith – or is only the second one? And if so how can one come to trust God? And why does He order us to taste and see? I just am so thoroughly torn between trying to understand with my brain more of His character and His glory using the gifts of logic and reading that He Himself gave me, and trusting that He is good even if I don’t understand, and I don’t know how to reconcile the two, or even balance them???

          There’s a saying that the more moral a man is, the more his morality takes the form of a series of unprincipled exceptions. I think a similar principle applies here.

          • Lurker says:

            There’s a saying that the more moral a man is, the more his morality takes the form of a series of unprincipled exceptions.

            could you elaborate, please? It sounds interesting and the question above from Coldinia is one I have myself, so I’d like to understand your answer 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            For those who are shocked at my hard-heartedness not weeping at the thought of the damned (and I am saddened by the idea of damnation, I’m just not saddened by ‘but our society has decided that X is not a sin!’ since that is meaningless), let’s put it to bed with this.

            We are obliged to believe Hell exists. We are not obliged to believe any particular person is in there. If you really could not enjoy Heaven if you thought your best friend was in Hell, then take that consolation – you don’t need to hold it as proven that Good Old Bill is in Hell unless you know for sure one way or the other, and the only way you’ll know for sure is after death.

          • Lurker says:

            @Deiseach

            could it be that you ended up in the wrong subsub(sub?) thread with that?

            because the question I’m wondering about here is

            So how do we differentiate between when we need to use logic and to test what we hear and to grow in understanding directly, and when to say ‘I don’t know, but God is so much greater than me, I’m sure he knows best, I trust him’.

            which Coldinia asked.

            if you didn’t end up in the wrong subsub(sub?)thread: would you mind elaborating how the hell thing answers the question about when to use logic and when to just belive?
            (if it helps, I genuinely want to know, I’m what you’d probably call a lapsed catholic and I’m at the beginning of trying to get back into things)

        • DragonMilk says:

          My understanding of that psalm is not that it’s an order. If you have never tasted honey and by what you know, you just think that it’s bee vomit, you might very well avoid it as you can’t imagine that vomit would be any good for eating. So the Psalmist would encourage you to just taste the honey to see that it is good. So it goes with God. Have a taste rather than just go along with what others say about bee vomit, and bees being all over the place, surely there’s some pesticides that get in there, pollen might have fly poop and acid rain residual, etc.

          And so the most important thing to do (which I fail to do myself) is to read the Bible. Not commentaries, or interpretations, but the Bible for yourself. When there’s something you don’t understand, you probably weren’t the first to have that thought, so then you can turn to commentaries or sermons and the like.

          For the latter, I can recommend some sermons if you’re interested.

          • Coldinia says:

            @DragonMilk

            Thanks for kind and helpful commentary. I’ve been reading the bible more than ever the last year in trying to make sense of some of these things. And last year when I started this I used to say I was having some questions about God and that that was stressful, but you know, trust that He knows best, and honestly try and learn more about his character by answering those questions.

            Now however when people ask what’s bothering me, it’s not so much the questions any more as it is the answers to those questions that I have found time and time again in Scripture – and not just in individual verses, but running thematically through the whole thing, wherever I go, from Numbers through Joshua and Judges and Hosea and John and Mark and Romans – any book I’ve picked up (of the bible that is) for any reason the last year seems to me to have the same answers to my questions about who God is.

            And they aren’t answers I’m comfortable with. Now I know, my conscience is cracked and broken and I need to learn good from God, not squeeze him into my understanding of good, and I want to tune my heart to Him but how do I do that in an intellectually honest way? How do I combine humility with tasting?

            so yes any sermon recommendations taken with thanks

          • DragonMilk says:

            You mentioned elsewhere that you’re already a Keller reader, so have you already checked out his sermons? This Youtube channel is no longer active but does has some of his greatest hits since like…1991 or so, with the main website having more.

            If you don’t mind, could you clarify what is the main part of your understanding of good that differs from what you believe God’s is? is it that there’s a hell at all or that some otherwise perfectly good people who just don’t buy into the whole Jesus thing are condemned?

            If the former, I’d point out that if you live in an area like mine, you may be in a prosperous, peaceful, place where there’s no physical violence in your day to day, your friends seem upstanding, and anyone in your circle all seem quite…good. This is not the case historically, and there are many parts of the world where the opposite is true. Corruption runs amok, authorities are feared as enemies where it exists, and the knowledge that God is vengeful is the only thing that keeps people from taking matters into their own hands.

            If the latter, then I would say that God is by no means passive. If He is willing to die for everyone through Jesus, then like the parable of the lost sheep or coin, he seeks out those who still have not repented, and certainly did for me. It’s easy to think of the world like a deist in western society, but in my personal experience, He is quite active.

            But that all comes to…what exactly is your top question? Or top three? To bring it back to the root question at hand though, you could start with this sermon on youtube.

        • eigenmoon says:

          I believe that “God is good” is a description of a certain mystical experience, which is why it can be “tasted”. On LW, Valentine describes his Zen kensho thus:

          Here’s one way I used to try to convey part of the “it” from my kenshō:

          “I’m okay. You’re okay. Everything is fundamentally okay. Whatever happens, it will be fine and good. Even our worry and pain is okay. There is something deeply sad about someone dying… and their death is okay. Obliteration of humanity would be tragic, but the universe will go on, and it’s okay.”

          After several attempts at this, I gathered that many (but not all) folk were translating what I was saying into one of two categories:

          – Some thought I was saying that nothing matters and that all outcomes are equally good.
          – Some thought I was claiming that you’ll feel good no matter what if you’re enlightened.

          And… nope. Not even close.

          I find it possible that the Christian experience is analogous to what Valentine describes, with “God is good” expressing the same idea as his “it’s okay”. However I obviously can’t be sure.

          But check out David Bentley Hart calling Bach “the greatest of Christian theologians, the most inspired witness to the ordo amoris in the fabric of being. Yes, I’m seriously suggesting you to listen to Bach as an attempt to “taste” how God is good and see if that gets you anywhere.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I think you’re overthinking Hitler. He’s not in Heaven because he was anti-Christian: his mind turned against Christ and any God-concept that didn’t conform to his understanding of science. He was probably a Catholic when he painted this at age 24. Perhaps his upbringing was sufficient to crush his sense of empathy while spoiling his ego such that he could order as many killings as he did cock-sure that he was right to do so, but I think that’s underselling his ability to make a free intellectual choice of amoral scientism over God the Good. Surely we can find at least one Communist architect of mass murder who had a family life highly correlated with producing decent people!

    • rocoulm says:

      Yes, we have free will…

      Do we? We certainly have moral responsibility, but it’s not obvious to me that this implies free will.

      • Coldinia says:

        Yeah I’m keen for responsibility without free will I think that’s a really interesting concept. And I think one many nonreligious people must subscribe to as well so lends itself to cross-cultural discussion

        • rocoulm says:

          At the very least, our will cannot be as free as God’s; we have bodies with physical needs, so hunger, sleep, etc. can induce us to action. Only a being with no needs can be free from this.

          A lot of people seem to make the jumps from “we don’t have free will” to “everything is meaningless” and/or “any divine punishment for our actions is unfair”, and it’s never been exactly clear to me why.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Because to most people, “No free will” implies “No way out”, kind of.

            It is difficult to explain this without recursion in language. Hrm.

            Imagine a human strapped to a robot; the robot conducts all the actions, the human is rewarded or punished for what the robot does. This is kind of how they see the idea of “no free will”, except maybe the human doesn’t even know the robot is there.

            But to elaborate a little more by analogy, suppose we installed a chip in someone’s brain that allowed us to insert or prevent thoughts. We prevent any thoughts of avoiding doing evil, and insert thoughts of doing evil; having no reason not to do evil, being incapable of avoiding evil for which the person is punished. How do you feel about that situation? Intuitively, isn’t it obvious we, who put the chip in, are responsible for the person’s actions in a way the person is not?

          • rocoulm says:

            @Thegnskald

            Intuitively, isn’t it obvious we, who put the chip in, are responsible for the person’s actions in a way the person is not?

            I guess, but the thing that sticks out to me in that scenario is that the subject was presumably born without that evil inclination, then someone else took it upon themselves to in stall that chip in you.

            The reality is, we were born with evil tendencies. No one made us become that way; it’s how we always were.

          • Thegnskald says:

            If you are born evil, consider the divine punishment angle. From a religious perspective, God made you, made the single chip that makes up your brain. In what sense are you culpable, given that you had no choice in the matter?

            The “everything is meaningless” requires ascribing a kind of meaning to things I don’t grok, so I can’t really reply on those grounds. I suspect it may originate from the same kind of dualism, in which people think of their bodies as separate from themselves – the robot controlling your actions, or the chip – with their “true selves”/souls helplessly along for the ride.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I often link this sermon whenever free will comes up.

        It doesn’t address free will directly, as it’s name is, “Does God Control Everything?”

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      No time to get into the weeds of this conversation, but I recommend David Bentley Hart’s recent book That All Shall Be Saved for a scriptural, philosophically sophisticated defense of universalism. (Do note that it’s in DBH’s typical strident, iconoclastic style – not recommended for those who can’t bear to hear blasphemies on the name of St. Augustine!)

      • theredsheep says:

        This subject was brought to mind in the first place by my recently reading a First Things article accusing DBH of willfully mischaracterizing St. Basil the Great’s position (supposedly he takes a bit where Basil says “geez, I’m surrounded by blockheads who believe in universalism, in spite of X, Y, and Z” and summarizes it as “St. Basil said most of the Christians in his day believed in universalism”). Don’t have the article handy right now, though; I clicked to it on a different PC.

    • Kelley Meck says:

      Just leaving a +1 to everyone else’s comment that hell is the absence of God.

      In case anyone reading is a fan of the show Frasier, here’s my Frasier-delineated explanation. There’s a weird quality in mindspace, where two people with a million things to be proud of (e.g. Niles and Frasier Crane, who’re each extremely bright and who’ve each done massive amounts of hard work to become accomplished psychiatrists) who when they take credit to themselves for those things, are doomed to all matter of hellish squabbling, but when they give credit for those things to something outside themselves (e.g. their dad is a truly upstanding guy with a good heart and simple rules about honesty and integrity and hard work, and who loved them and gave them a great start on life) they get along with each other swimmingly, brimming with appreciation for each other’s accomplishments and abilities. When they remember to be grateful to their dad and loving toward him, and are reconciled with each other, well that’s heaven. The fact that their dad wants them to be reconciled with each other and with him, doesn’t change the fact that what happens will be mediated by their choices, not accomplished simply by their dad wanting it to happen.

      You can add some extra layers to this when you think about atemporal decision-making, an all-knowing god, and you get to the both/and stuff that people are pointing at. But if that stuff gets complicated to get your head around, just remember the important stuff isn’t the fancy explanations, it’s the actual reconciliation.

    • hls2003 says:

      I am not sure I have seen what I consider the traditional answer, namely that sinfulness is not (solely) something humans do, but something humans are. Adam, who seemingly had none of the disadvantages you mention (being prelapsarian by definition) chose to bequeath to his descendants a nature of sin and rebellion against God’s authority. For as long as people are rebels, they cannot be with God, nor would they wish to be. I have seen several sincere non-Christians comment below (and it’s not an uncommon response) that if Christianity turns out to be “the real deal,” it’s sufficiently offensive and/or absurd that they would not wish to be a part of it; and would at least hope they have the strength of will to refuse salvation on such terms as Christianity provides. If there are indeed “sides,” humans are by their nature no longer on God’s. Obviously this will result in “sin” in the common parlance, bad actions that contradict the laws of God and man, but the key problem is that Adam caused his offspring naturally to prefer rebellion and warfare and apostasy against the rightful kingship of God. For as long as you refuse to bow to the true king, you remain a rebel, and you cannot be a part of his kingdom. But though man’s nature is impossible for man to change, nothing is impossible for God, and thus Jesus was sent as the “new Adam” to champion and birth a new race whose nature is not born of the sinful nature but the Holy Spirit.

      Please note I am not saying this answers all questions – in the end it simply pushes the “problem of evil” and free will and foreknowledge and predestination back to Adam, and those are some big topics. And I’m not really prepared to get into a whole thing about Hell and annihilationism and all that. But for the specific question here, I was of the opinion that the above is at least a significant piece of it – damnation comes to rebels, and humans are all natural born rebels. Rebels, pretty much by definition, cannot be loyal subjects.

      • Deiseach says:

        if Christianity turns out to be “the real deal,” it’s sufficiently offensive and/or absurd that they would not wish to be a part of it; and would at least hope they have the strength of will to refuse salvation on such terms as Christianity provides

        I can’t quite get my head around that attitude, because it smacks of “well I don’t care if the materalist explanation of the universe is true and that there is no purpose, and the cold unfeeling mechanics of the unfolding process are the only reason suffering and tragedy happens, and I’m going to stamp my feet and refuse to accept that!”

        If it’s the truth, all your “no no no” is not going to make any difference. And there’s plenty of non-believers out there to tell believers to face up to facts and accept the truth, even if it shatters our rosy delusions. If this is how the world works, this is how it works. So I think the same applies in the other direction: if it turns out that it really is the Brahman or whatever, all the “well I don’t like it because it doesn’t fit with my preferences” is going to mean exactly nothing.

        I don’t like it that I can’t eat as much chocolate as I like and not put on weight, but tough luck on me: I can either diet or pig out and accept the consequences. Putting on airs about “I hope I have the strength of will to refuse to be a healthy weight while there is one person who gets fat from over-indulgence” would get all the “but Christianity is so icky” folks to look at you like you have two heads and particularly stupid heads at that.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          Suppose someone said to you: “You’re preaching a God who seems to me to behave like a moral invert, presenting black as white. Where moral values are so different, the values of pleasure and pain may be different as well. Even if your doctrines are literally true, God’s idea of good is so different from mine that I have no reason to expect the ‘salvation’ he has on offer to be preferable to his ‘punishment’.”

          • marshwiggle says:

            There’s 3 angles I want to look at that from. Also, feel free to take ‘you’ here as speaking generally about humanity, not personally, when it makes sense to do so.

            First, truth. Yes, in your hypothetical, Christian doctrines are true. But if they are true, then all kinds of assumptions that went into your idea of good are false. Your idea of good may be wrong because you believe a lie.

            Second, rebellion. This is in the context of what hls2003 was saying about sin being not just what you do but who you are. Consider the possibility that something about what you are is, well, rebellious. Against authority, against God, not because He is wrong but because he is God. That could be biasing your belief about whether God is morally wrong.

            Third, irony.

            When you say that salvation might be worse than punishment, you may well be right. Yes, an eternity in darkness away from God is really bad. But being subjected to the unmitigated weight of God’s presence while A) being the sort of person who goes to hell and B) not having received the rewards God’s children get… I am not entirely sure that would not be worse.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            When you say that salvation might be worse than punishment, you may well be right. Yes, an eternity in darkness away from God is really bad. But being subjected to the unmitigated weight of God’s presence while A) being the sort of person who goes to hell and B) not having received the rewards God’s children get… I am not entirely sure that would not be worse.

            I believe the Orthodox hold that everybody experiences God after death, and “Hell” is just the term for how the wicked find it to be in God’s presence.

    • rahien.din says:

      The key is to realize that God does not need anyone’s permission.

      It is useful and true to think of one’s afterlife destination as a result of their own operations – whether that means their actions or the contents of their heart. But we must never come to believe that God is somehow compelled to send a person to hell or compelled to admit a person to heaven.

      God does exactly as He pleases and whatever He pleases is right and just.

      God could send everyone to hell and that would be right and just. God could send everyone to heaven and that would be right and just. God could send some people to hell and some people to heaven and that would be right and just.

      We must even be willing to believe that – just as Job was selected for misery because of his great love of God, just as many saints were tortured on earth – God might send to hell those who love Him best. And that Hitler, instead, may be seated beatifically at Christ’s feet. That too would be right and just.

      This is the true meaning of Original Sin and the true meaning of grace. It is not, as has been claimed, a matter of stain and cleansing. “Original Sin” means “It doesn’t matter what you have done, God might send you to hell.” And “grace” means “It doesn’t matter what you have done, God might send you to heaven.”

      The afterlife is not a transaction, and God is not a vending machine. The only proper attitude toward God is total supplication.

      So, it is sinful to let concerns about the afterlife determine your actions, for two reasons. The first is that this is plain selfishness. The second is, you are acting on the belief that you can somehow compel God, or that He must adhere to some standard higher than Himself.

      It is also sinful to treat this world as a mere waiting room for salvation, or to treat the soul as a mere ticket. Your soul is you, and this is your only opportunity to work on it – an immeasurable gift. And if we focus our life on achieving something other than our life, we are rejecting that gift and trying to compel God, rather than submitting to Him.

      What a hideous mistake that would be. In fact, “Maybe there is something better than what God has given me, and I can probably make Him give me that better thing” is the very first mistake, and perhaps the only mistake. Even when people say “We should spend our lives converting people to Jesus and thereafter living only in the church,” they are making that mistake all over again.

      But God will not be outbid. We must not let fear of hell drive us into transactionalist rejection of God’s gifts – that is sin.

      The only thing you need is Christ’s two laws. Love God. Love one another. That’s it. Do not hide your light under a bushel or bury your talent in the dirt in the mistaken belief that this life is worthless and that God is compelled to accept you into bliss.

      • Nick says:

        Have you been reading Brian Davies? This is all sounding familiar….

        • rahien.din says:

          I am not familiar, where should I start?

          • Nick says:

            God and Evil: A Dialogue if you have journal access, his book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil otherwise. Instead of a theodicy Davies emphasizes the sovereignty of God.

          • rahien.din says:

            Instead of a theodicy Davies emphasizes the sovereignty of God.

            This does seem familiar, I will check him out. Thanks!

            Do you agree with Davies, or would you offer some counterpoint?

          • Nick says:

            Davies’ approach is easy to cohere with Scripture and has the support of theologians like Aquinas. I also think most parts of it are really compelling individually. It’s a tough pill to swallow, though.

          • rahien.din says:

            Just read this essay and it’s lovely. Thanks for pointing me to it.

            Aquinas had important things to say about the nature of God’s creative act. Everything flows from that.

            A good short essay on the radical nature of divine creation is Michael Tkacz’s Thomas Aquinas vs. the Intelligent Designers

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        You’ve reduced “right” and “just” to free-floating signifiers, devoid of any relationship to anything that we as moral agents can recognize as actual rightness or justice. To accept your view would be to embrace moral nihilism.

        • rahien.din says:

          “Right and just” describes actions taken within the context of a relationship.

          In a relationship between two independent agents, “right and just” denotes an ethical or moral goodness. It is an appeal to a external standard greater than either agent. Actions are permitted via consent and/or under certain conditions. There need be no nihilism between independent agents.

          If the relationship is between an author (God) and their subject or output (reality), “right and just” is no longer an appeal to an external standard. The author needs no one’s permission, and they constitute the standard. The actions of the subject, however, may still be described as “right and just” with reference to that standard.

          So “right and just” simply means different things depending on its application.

  18. metacelsus says:

    A very exciting new preprint about machine learning for protein engineering: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.23.917682v1

    Here we introduce a machine learning-guided paradigm that can use as few as 24 functionally assayed mutant sequences to build an accurate virtual fitness landscape and screen ten million sequences via in silico directed evolution. As demonstrated in two highly dissimilar proteins, avGFP and TEM-1 β-lactamase, top candidates from a single round are diverse and as active as engineered mutants obtained from previous multi-year, high-throughput efforts. Because it distills information from both global and local sequence landscapes, our model approximates protein function even before receiving experimental data, and generalizes from only single mutations to propose high-functioning epistatically non-trivial designs. With reproducible >500% improvements in activity from a single assay in a 96-well plate, we demonstrate the strongest generalization observed in machine-learning guided protein design to date.

    The claims are strong, but it seems like they’re well-supported. This looks like a huge advancement.

    And a somewhat unusual acknowledgement:

    G.K. was supported by a grant from the Center for Effective Altruism. E.C.A. was supported by a scholarship from the Open Philanthropy Project.

  19. Nick says:

    Sometimes when I’m reading a new publication or new episodic podcast or whatever, and I’m not interested in bingeing, I ask the question, “What’s the best content?” You wouldn’t expect this to be difficult to answer, but it is. Podcast aggregators will sometimes rank content; in no case yet have I found the critera, the way that Amazon, for instance, shows you the distribution of five star ratings, but I admit I haven’t looked very hard. With a one man show like Slate Star Codex I can just check Scott’s About/Top Posts page, but a magazine doesn’t have those.

    I could be going about this all wrong, of course. So what should I be doing instead? Is there a podcast aggregator that sorts best episodes in a reasonable and transparent way? Is there somewhere I should be looking to answer a question like, “What is this magazine or journal’s best content of the last 5/10/20 years?”

    • Randy M says:

      Find a forum for the respective media and ask there?
      If there’s not an obvious easy way, there may not be an easy way.

    • helloo says:

      Check out which individual pages has the highest hit counts/Google page rank (ie. searching “site:xyz.com”)?

      That often gets the popular/controversial rather than the “best”, but it is an independent ranking.

  20. chrisminor0008 says:

    I’d like to throw a question out for the thoughtful commetariat here. What are your predictions of how bad conditions will get in Asian countries besides China due to the coronavirus? Some of the stories I’m hearing out of China are bordering on apocalyptic. Not just the disease itself, but a complete halt to normal living. The official numbers coming out of China are laughable fiction.

    I am currently living in Japan with my wife and infant daughter. I’d like to leave Japan before it becomes an dystopian hellscape, but I worry that I’m working myself into a frenzy just reading stuff in my own little filter bubble. I realize if Japan is overrun, the rest of the developed world will be, soon, too, but I think it would be nicer to ride this thing out in a detached house and my own car in the U.S. rather than in a huge apartment building, relying on public transport.

    • Anteros says:

      Current number of deaths in Japan? Zero
      Prediction for eventual number of deaths in Japan? A few – probably single digits, possibly zero.
      I accept that your worry is real, but you could change that by using a less alarmist news source.

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        To be fair, the same argument would have worked in Hubei 45 days ago. The nature of exponential growth is that it’s minuscule until it’s not.

        I don’t necessarily want more or less alarmist sources, but more accurate.

        • Anteros says:

          Point taken, though my predictions for Coronavirus deaths in Japan (quarantined cruise ships included) still stands.
          Comparisons with the 2003 Sars virus may be helpful – the epidemiology seems not wildly different and the total number of deaths in Japan reached zero.
          I don’t think an exponential function is appropriate for the spread of this kind of virus
          Nevertheless, it may well be the case that there will be a certain amount of disruption due to governmental responses (judicious or otherwise) should more than a handful of cases appear in Japan. And if so, you will be the best judge of how much disruption you experience. I wish you well.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Comparisons with the 2003 Sars virus may be helpful – the epidemiology seems not wildly different and the total number of deaths in Japan reached zero.

            Even going by official numbers, SARS caused 8,098 confirmed infections in 9 months, nCov already caused 31,532 confirmed infections in 2 months. Clearly nCov spreads much faster. There is now an unchecked infection cluster in Singapore, the first outside China.

            I think it’s plausible to expect that infection clusters will soon be discovered in other Asian countries, and then in Europe and North America.

            Hopefully nCov doesn’t like warm climates, otherwise if it spreads to Africa and South America a global pandemic is pretty much unavoidable.

    • fibio says:

      I realize if Japan is overrun, the rest of the developed world will be, soon, too, but I think it would be nicer to ride this thing out in a detached house and my own car in the U.S. rather than in a huge apartment building, relying on public transport.

      So far the Coronavirus is hovering around a 2% reported death rate . I’d expect that number to go down, not up, and the fatalities to be primarily concentrated in the very young, very old or those with other respiratory issues. It is not going to bring about the end of civilization by any measure. The Spanish Flu was significantly more lethal, followed on the back of the most destructive war so far in human history, and still barely gets a mention in most history textbooks. Western countries with good healthcare systems (which I’d include Japan in) are unlikely to see the virus as anything more than an off-season spike in flu deaths.

      It is certainly worth taking precautions. Follow any advice from the government and make sure the pantry is stocked in case it becomes difficult to get fresh food. However, unless you’re actually in China or other continental countries there is no reason to go significantly out of your way at this time.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        So far the Coronavirus is hovering around a 2% reported death rate . I’d expect that number to go down, not up, and the fatalities to be primarily concentrated in the very young, very old or those with other respiratory issues.

        The death rate is likely to go up, because the virus is still in the exponential spread phase, hence it infects people faster than it kills them.

        • fibio says:

          I don’t follow your logic. Currently the virus is only being identified in a limited number of people due to a restricted number of testing kits. As more are made I expect more low impact cases to be discovered, reducing the proportion of serious incidents.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            There are two contrasting effects.

            One is, as you mention, that the virus is likely to be underdiagnosed and the diagnosed cases are biased towards the most severe ones. As less severe cases are diagnosed, fatality rate will go down.

            The other one is that the epidemic spreads very quickly hence the number of deaths lags behind the number of infections. As the epidemic enters the saturation phase (negative exponential), the number of death will catch up with then number of infections, and the fatality rate will go up.

            Estimating which effect is stronger can be quite hard, and I’m not an epidemiologist, but I play a know-it-all on the Internet, so let’s give it a try:

            The current doubling time of the epidemic is estimated to be about 6.4 days.
            I can’t find statistics on how long it takes to be diagnosed and to kill on average, but let’s consider the case of Li Wenliang, the doctor who first noticed the virus. He become infected around Jan 8 but was conclusively diagnosed only on Feb 1 due to the lack of test kits and he died in the night between Feb 6 and 7.
            When Dr. Li was diagnosed, the number of officially confirmed cases in mainland China was 14,380, when he died the number of confirmed deaths was 637. Assuming that a time span of 5-6 days between diagnosis and death is typical, then we can divide 637 by 14,380 and get a 4.4% fatality rate.
            This is about double the rate you get by dividing the current number of deaths and number of cases, which is consistent with a time between diagnosis and death being about the same as the doubling time.

            For comparison, the seasonal flu has a fatality rate of about 0.13%, SARS had a fatality rate of 9.6%, the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 had a fatality rate of 10-20% and the Black Death of 1347-1351 had a fatality rate of about 70%.

          • fibio says:

            Ah, I follow. Well fingers crossed for the rate trending down, not up.

          • Dacyn says:

            @viVI_IViv: That’s odd, I would have expected them to measure death rate as “number of people diagnosed at least 7 days ago and died” / “number of people diagnosed at least 7 days ago” or something like that, which would avoid the bias you describe.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            There are no official death rate estimates, as far as I know.

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        Death rate is not a static thing; it depends on the environment. You’re going to have a better shot if you’re one of the first infected and are attended to by a team of 5 people in PPE than if you’re kicked out of the hospital because it’s overflowing.

        Nevermind the fact that the numbers out of China are nonsensical. 2% is the result of a numerator that’s made up divided by a denominator that’s made up.

    • Chalid says:

      Just get two months worth of emergency food and some large water containers and keep them in your apartment. Then in the unlikely event that things get really bad, you could just quarantine yourself there.

      You should do this anyway as it has relatively low cost, and will help you be robust against many possible disasters, not just coronavirus.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      I’d not worry too much about Japan. China’s society has some very deep looming issues.
      For one they’re cultivating the mother of all real estate bubbles.
      [ghost cities and extremely shoody building quality is an outgrowth of this, caused by men buying up real estate to increase their value in the marriage market, which is difficult bcs. one-Child policy having led to a imbalanced gender ratio]
      And they’re extremely low-trust and antisocial.

      Japan is a country where little children can ride on the train alone.
      China is a country where when you run a man over with a car by accident, you drive backwards to make sure he’s dead.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d like to throw a question out for the thoughtful commetariat here. What are your predictions of how bad conditions will get in Asian countries besides China due to the coronavirus?

      Due to people becoming severely ill, not too bad. Secondary transmission of coronavirus outside of China seems to be sub-exponential, so quarantine and isolation will probably keep things within tolerable limits.

      Due to disruption of trade and commerce with China, which is just about everybody’s primary source of Stuff and to some extent Money in the region, very substantial. Japan’s economic ties with the United States and Europe will give it somewhat of a buffer in this respect.

  21. Tenacious D says:

    I’ve been through a few airports this week. There have been more people wearing face masks than usual, and at a couple points I had to answer whether I’d been in Hubei in the past 14 days. Between that and reading the ‘suicide hotspots’ post, it’s made me think of a question that I’ve wondered about before:

    If suicides (and perhaps other instances of mental illness) have a social/mimetic contagious aspect to them (like some commenters in that post suggest), are there examples of mental hygiene or some kind of mimetic quarantine* being effective at reducing their rates?

    *realistic examples, not SCP logs

    • Well... says:

      One example might be newspapers refusing to print the names of mass shooters. In practice it’s weak and ineffectual because they still report the shootings, but I think it gets at what you’re talking about.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      The UK has fairly detailed guidelines on media reporting of suicides- in particular, they are required to avoid ”excessive detail” about the method used to reduce the risk of copycat suicides, and advised to print the contact details of a suicide prevention charity (usually Samaritans) at the end of articles about suicides.

      Apparently Vienna noticed a sharp drop in the rate of suicide attempts in their subway system after similar media guidelines were adopted.

      • fibio says:

        There’s a tendency towards euphemism as well in the UK. ‘An incident on the line’ announcement is something anyone who commutes will be familiar with. It means someone got hit by a train, intentionally or otherwise.

        • Lambert says:

          Also they’ve started putting up loads of Samaritans posters on railway stations.
          Backs of tickets too, I think.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            A friend from university is now the head of suicide prevention at Transport for London. It seems like they are putting a lot of resources into it- not just advertising, but also things like training staff to recognise signs that someone might attempt suicide. Other railway operators in the UK have similar teams.

            Here’s something he wrote on Linkedin about his job.

          • Lambert says:

            I’d imagine on the employee side as well, you’ve got lots of people working shifts or spending their whole workday in the tubes with no natural light. Can’t be ideal for mental health.

    • Randy M says:

      I thought you were going to go a different way and wonder if suicidal behavior might be caused by a pathogen. Given the strange brain destroying parasites that prey on insects and such, it’s not out of the question.

  22. Plumber says:

    From The Atlantic Monthly: Growing numbers of people are joining unions in Hong Kong to pressure the authorities to respond to their demands.

    Of course there’s both a pro-Beijing and an anti-Beijing labor federation.

    Any Poles want to weigh in on commonalities and differences with Poland in the 1980’s?

    • Hoopdawg says:

      This reads like absolutely nothing like Poland in the 1980s. (I’m afraid nothing anywhere in the world right now could come close to the 1980 general strike, the window of the possible has shifted too much to the right.) Good for them, though.

  23. thisheavenlyconjugation says:

    Did Emma Sulkowicz Get Redpilled?

    Betteridge’s law is in effect, but interesting nonetheless.

  24. salvorhardin says:

    Looking at the Iowa results, it really seems like Presidential caucuses and primaries– especially those where there are lots of candidates who command significant percentages of support– would be better served by a ranked-choice voting system. “Better served” here means more likely to produce a result that a majority of primary voters think is a good choice.

    It also seems like in both of the last two broadly-contested primaries, RCV would have likely favored more moderate and establishment candidates. Notably, the Sanders + Warren vote and polling totals have been consistently less than 50%, and basically all other candidates are considerably more centrist than those two, yet the best estimates say there is a good deal more than a 50% chance of one of them getting the nomination. And until pretty late in the game in 2016 Trump was not cracking 50% among Republican primary voters either, yet of course he got nominated, in large part because the anti-Trump vote was so badly split, which RCV would have helped with.

    Are these impressions correct? If not, why not?

    • Skeptic says:

      Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think you’re correct, and I’m not sure Skeptic’s objection matters: the argument isn’t that RCV is perfect, just that it beats some of the awful failure modes of FPTP. The question then is why doesn’t anyone implement it? For official US elections, inertia is an obvious answer, but the parties have full control over their own elections: it should be much easier for the Democratic Party of Iowa to implement than the State of Iowa. So why haven’t they? Is it because:

      1) RCV is only popular among nerds on the internet. I’ve never heard the term uttered in the MSM, or IRL political discussions.

      2) The parties like FPTP because RCV would empower third parties: one could safely vote their true preference for the libertarian/green/pirate party without being scared of “throwing their vote away.” If people were more aware of this, and saw it worked well inside their party, an awful lot of people would start advocating for using it in the official government elections.

      3) Something else.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Good question; I dunno. I’m probably biased because I live in a jurisdiction (San Francisco) that actually uses RCV in municipal elections and has for awhile. It seems to work pretty well and often, though far from always, advantages candidates who are moderate by SF standards. I would think that Democratic Party officials would have taken note of that and of the recent statewide introduction of RCV in Maine, which seems to have been broadly supported among Democratic elected officials there.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I once lived in a place that did RCV, but it was for a city council where there were going to be X seats, plus one leader. It’s kind of the perfect case for RCV, and also a gateway drug for RCV.

      • Skeptic says:

        I think there are underlying assumptions here which are not correct.

        I’m at work so I can’t dive into this with the appropriate amount of effort, but my pushback would be something like this:

        Ranked choice voting (especially in primaries) does nothing to solve the actual problem statement of “choosing a candidate most Americans don’t actively hate” and yes I apologize for paraphrasing.

        RCV In general election: Democrats slightly improve, Republicans slightly improve but less (usually). The only difference is Dems capture the small but potential game changer of Jill Stein voters. Repubs pick up Johnson. Remember, using 2016 as an example, Trump would have won the election with a larger mandate from the public under this system.

        RCV In primaries: this really lets the freaks fly their freak flag. Even fewer of the already extreme partisans who make up the primary electorate have any incentive to vote for a compromise candidate. We get Sanders and Trump stomping on a human face, forever.

        The assumptions that I find incorrect are voters making decisions in a vacuum, primary voters not responding in a herd effect (subset of 1), and the incentives facing the partisan extremists that compromise the primary and electorate compared to the average resident of the US.

        Primary voters are much more extreme than even regular voters, who are more extreme than non-voters.

        Basically for your problem statement: figure out how Jim Webb wins the Democrat party nomination in 2016 and thus wins an absolute landslide 70-30 popular vote against Trump.

        How do you make sure Jim Webb is the Dem nominee? That’s your system goal. Anything that results in Hillary compared to Webb is already off the rails.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Hillary Clinton was much more popular with Democrats than Jim Webb. Otherwise, Jim Webb would have won, because there wasn’t a lot of competition over there.

          We would not have gotten Trump, though, because he was the second choice of very few non-Trump supporters.

          Unless I’m not understanding how ranked choice voting works. Yes, the freaks let their freak flags fly, but they don’t get enough votes to win on the first round because they’re freaks, and then they get very few second round votes because the alternative vote to my freak is probably not somebody else’s freak: it’s the boring guy.

          • Skeptic says:

            But the primary voters are freaks.

            I’m an Econ dude, so let me explain how I approach it.

            Anything that reduces the price of voting for extremist politicians in the primary will cause more extremists to “purchase” that option. Think of elasticity of demand for extremists versus compromise candidates.

            RCV In a primary will lower the price for purchasing Sanders versus purchasing Biden.

            Etc

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But the whole point of RCV is you can “purchase” multiple options. You won’t buy any less Biden you’ll just buy more Sanders on top of it

          • Guy in TN says:

            Anything that reduces the price of voting for extremist politicians in the primary will cause more extremists to “purchase” that option.

            But RCV doesn’t lower the “price” of voting for extremist candidates, it lowers the price of voting for minority candidates. Levels of extremity has nothing to do with it. One could just as easily imagine a counter-scenario where two extremist candidates are vying for majority in a FPTP system, while a minority, moderate, compromise candidate would be victorious under RCV.

            For example, in a RCV positional voting system in 2016, if every Republican put 1. Trump 2. Webb, every Democrat 1. Clinton 2. Webb, and a sizable percentage (say 10%) of independents listed 1. Webb, then Webb wins. FPTP would give Webb only 10%.

          • salvorhardin says:

            Yes, as Guy in TN says, the main case where I think RCV pushes against extremism is the case where a single extremist has a strong plurality base of support and the moderate vote is split among many contenders. This certainly doesn’t always happen– in principle it could just as well be the other way around– but seems to have happened a lot lately and there are at least plausible “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity” stories for why it is more likely generally.

            Not only do I think R primary RCV would have denied Trump the 2016 nomination, I doubt he’d actually have gotten a larger mandate with RCV in the general, because very few people who didn’t have Trump as a first choice would have been willing to list him among their non-first choices at all, regardless of who else they voted for.

            For your “cost to purchase extremism” logic to work in the 2020 D primary, it would need to be the case that a majority of D primary voters actually like Sanders best in their heart of hearts, but a significant number of them aren’t voting for him under FPTP for strategic/electability type reasons. If that were the case, I agree RCV would advantage Sanders. But from the polls of Democrats on policy issues I’ve seen, I don’t think it is the case. A majority of young Democrats, yes; of all Democrats, no. Could be wrong, of course, and would be interested to see what you think is the best evidence if you think I am wrong.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The Iowa caucuses in 2020 is actually a great example of this very phenomenon in action. In the first vote, analogous to the FPTP system, Sanders won handedly. However during the second round when the lowest-performing candidates were culled (analogous to instant runoff RCV), Buttigieg, the more centrist candidate, came within striking distance by being able to consolidate votes from the others.

          • We would not have gotten Trump, though, because he was the second choice of very few non-Trump supporters

            .

            Then why’d he keep winning after everyone else dropped out?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Conrad Honcho / Alexander Turok

            Yeah, one of the surprising things about Trump was how many people’s second choice he was. I remember after Jeb! dropped out when he was at ~5-10% and everyone thought they’d jump to an anti-Trump candidate, but the majority of those went to Trump. The commentariat was flabbergasted, but voters aren’t as rational as commentators.

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos > “…voters aren’t as rational as commentators”

            True enough for me, when I look deep into my heart I realize that my two top picks for nominee’s may be ’cause I they are the one’s I most enjoy seeing impressions of on Saturday Night Live

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Trump kept winning because he kept having more time, as a winner, to make his case. With RCV he would not have won any of the early primaries, and there would have been less media coverage for him because he wouldn’t have been threatening or relevant. A narrative of “Trump=loser we ignore” instead of “Trump=winner and we the media that Republicans hate are freaking out about” does not suddenly start winning.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve really thought sometimes RCV would have stopped Trump. My reasoning was that there was a lot of overlap between Rubio and Cruz voters, I think, and a lot of overlap between Cruz and Trump voters. So I could definitely have seen those two consistently stay above Trump, even if he were second or third choice of a lot of voters.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Politely disagree. Trump was the top first choice, and going to that with your second choice is pretty common. And with RCV, Trump is going to stick around to the end because everybody sticks around. And his case was compelling to Republican primary voters.

            Edit:

            @Nick Trump was a second choice for most Cruz voters, and the fact that they didn’t take swipes at each other until it was just them (and Kasich) was something that was commented on.

            Trump was also the second choice for a ton of Rust Belt voters who were supporting Kasich/Walker/etc.

          • Dacyn says:

            A staggered primary is an approximation of RCV (people who do badly in early primaries have their votes in later primaries transferred to others, just like in RCV, except with different populations voting each time), so I don’t see why we should expect a staggered RCV primary to have drastically different results than a staggered FPTP primary.

        • Plumber says:

          @Skeptic >

          “…figure out how Jim Webb wins the Democrat party nomination in 2016 …”

          I approve of your metric.

      • Anthony says:

        The Iowa caucus is a rough form of RCV, where they eliminate all candidates below a certain threshold at each caucusing location, and let people redistribute themselves to other candidates.

        Vote counting in RCV is much longer and more tedious than in almost any other system.

      • theifin says:

        RCV is not only popular among nerds on the internet. Ireland uses a form of ranked-choice voting (called “single transferable vote”) for all elections to both national and local government, coupled with a proportional representation system. The national government elections in Ireland are happening tomorrow! So if you are interested you can track them online and see this in action

        This STV system supports more moderate candidates (which everyone likes a bit, and so get some degree of preference from everyone) over more extreme candidates, and so leads to more centrist governments. PR supports a range of competing parties (not just two), and so leads to more coalition governments (both patterns very much hold in Ireland).

        The counting process is long, but exciting: there are repeated counts over the counting period, and fortunes rise and fall over the day as other candidates are elected or eliminated and their surplus votes are redistributed according to voters next preferences. I think this contributes to the relatively high level of political engagement in Ireland.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I prefer the way Republican caucuses have traditionally been run: each caucusing group elects a slate of delegates to represent it at the next tier of caucus (typically three tiers: precinct caucus, county/city caucus, and state convention) according to a variant of Robert’s Rules of Order election procedures: the caucus-goers cast repeated ballots until there’s an absolute majority (>50%, not a mere plurality), with procedures for eliminating delegate candidates as non-viable after each round in order to prevent indefinite deadlocks.

      Repeated balloting until a majority is reached has the benefit of advantaging candidates who are broadly acceptable, who are often better at representing the party as a whole than whoever has the majority (or plurality) of first-place preferences. You could get most of this benefit without a caucus, though, by using approval voting, range voting, or Borda count on a primary ballot. You don’t get the whole benefit of voters and delegates discussing and hopefully come to something resembling a compromise consensus, though, since that requires voters/delegates to be physically present.

      It’s also important to note that generally, choosing general election nominees is only a secondary purpose of caucuses. The main purpose of caucuses in most caucus states is to pick convention delegates for the local and state party organizing conventions that approve the party’s platform, ratify proposed bylaws amendments, and elect officers to handle the day-to-day running of the party organizations. In non-caucus states, these delegates are selected in other ways: in California, nominees for state or federal office get a certain number of delegates to appoint, chartered volunteer organizations get to appoint some delegates, and the rest are selected by the county party organizations’ Central Committees (CC members are elected by primary ballots, typically by voters who have never heard of any of the candidates before).

    • Hoopdawg says:

      Eh, “Trump only started getting over 50% of votes when he had only few opponents left” is not the argument that RCV would have prevented him from winning you think it is. And, of course, it bears repeating that economically Trump ran as a moderate, often outflanking Clinton from the left, and generally avoiding fuck-ups to the effect of Romney’s “47%” (or Clinton’s “deplorables”).

      In the current democratic primaries, your point probably only works insofar that Sanders would not have won the plurality of votes in Iowa once people to the economic right of him coalesced around a single candidate. But once you add Warren to his side, all bets are off. First, you then need to also add Yang, who’s significantly to the left of her, and together they already have 48% of the popular vote. Then, you need to remember that voting intention is not based on a single scale, or a single set of lanes. Apart from economic positions, you need to take all the identitarian and cultural stuff into account. All it would take for a Warren to win a RCV election is for a significant number of Klobuchar voters to switch to her due to “support women” sentiment. But more importantly, adding other dimensions takes your groupings apart entirely – culturally, Sanders and Yang are firmly in the moderate camp.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Fair point re multiple dimensions making it harder to predict the result of RCV. I would say though that Yang is nowhere near as leftish economically as Sanders and Warren: UBI is more a Grey Tribe proposal than anything else and he is not AFAICT on board with the rest of the movement-toward-socialism stuff.

  25. DragonMilk says:

    I am embarking on my first national park trip as an adult, and bringing along my not-so-outdoorsy-but-allegedly-open-to-hiking wife who has possibly impossible expectations of pristine washrooms.

    Looking for tips of what to see and logistical considerations (water, gas, food, parking, etc). Lodging agenda as follows, along with initial thoughts.

    a) Arrive in Oakhurst Monday evening Mar 16, depart Thursday morning the 19th.
    b) Spend Thurs/Fri in Yosemite Valley (lodging in Valley for Thurs night and have parking for both days as a result)
    c) Depart for Berkeley Friday afternoon/evening

    So essentially, 2 Yosemite Valley days at the end, and (probably) 2 non-valley days before. One of those I’m thinking of Bass lake, in which case I’d ask boat rental advice (type of boat) vs. hiking. Was also thinking of driving into the valley just to test how bad parking is.

    Chronologically, we’re hoping to spend a couple days at Joshua tree first, but I haven’t booked lodging for that yet. This would be 12 and 13th.

    Suggestions/tips?

    • Elementaldex says:

      As someone who has a not-outdoorsy-barely-tolerant-of-hiking-wife. Two person camping hammocks are cheap and make everything better. Hiking and tired – set up a hammock and cuddle in a beautiful place together. Get somewhere nice – set up a hammock and cuddle in a beautiful place together. Hungry and unhappy – set up a hammock and cuddle in a beautiful place together and eat in the hammock far away from bugs.

      I use Bear Butt which is a cheap and good knock off brand, buying the better straps is worth it though.

      Enjoy!

      • DragonMilk says:

        Would these fit in carry-on or should I purchase something like this once I arrive in LA and call it a wash?

        • Elementaldex says:

          That is exactly the product I use (though I do recommend better straps)

          It would definitely fit in a carry on. Radius of maybe 2.5 inches and maybe 9 inches long. Modestly squishy.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Oh, I left out an important bit. We’re flying into LAX with only our carry-ons and renting a car, so we’ll need to shop for outdoorsy essentials. What are these? Sun screen? Bug spray? Bear mace?

      • bean says:

        Sunscreen – definitely. Bug spray – probably not, but check with people who have been there (I’ve only been to Joshua Tree on your list). Bear mace – not unless you’re getting deep into the backcountry, which you shouldn’t be.

        I’d make sure your shoes/boots are good before you go as the most important thing. Also, make sure you have rain gear and plenty of water. Rain gear doesn’t have to be fancy. Even the cheap plastic ponchos are a lot better than being wet.

        • gbdub says:

          You can (at least at Glacier and Yellowstone, I’ve not been to Yosemite recently) rent bear mace, which is a good option since you can’t take it on the plane. Probably trivial cost compared to the price of the vacation.

          Much better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

          The one time I’ve seen a bear in the wild it was at Glacier, I was less than a mile from the parking lot (hardly “deep in the backcountry”) and hard I been 30 seconds faster I would have completely inadvertently ended up between a mama brown bear and her cub who were crossing the trail with thick brush on either side.

          You can bet I had one hand on my camera and the other on the safety pin of my bear mace.

          I guess disregard if you plan to stick to only the cattle call trails in Yosemite that are always packed, but if you’re on a trail where you expect even a modicum of solitude, bears are a possibility, and being unprepared for them is a mistake unlikely to bite you, but when it does it does so literally and definitively.

        • gbdub says:

          For practical advice on the other issues, bean is right on. I would add make sure you have a convenient way to carry plenty of water (camelbacks are great), and dress in layers of synthetics or smart wool (no cotton and especially no denim).

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Ooooo, you’re having the Brinkley experience, then. (I flew into John Wayne.) Hope you’re okay driving a loooooong way. Like, eight hours each way. And three hours between Yosemite and the Bay Area. The rental agent was very impressed when she saw my odometer.

        Confirming bean – sunscreen is good. Bug spray probably not necessary in February. You won’t need bear mace, bear bag, etc. An airhorn might be wise as an easy precaution that won’t expire by the time you need it, but I didn’t bother. You probably won’t need a pocketknife, but you should bring a park map. Don’t rely on Google Maps (in case that’s not already a no-brainer).

        Shoes or boots are probably the #1 thing to have in good condition. Tied for first is two one-pound water bottles (I just buy a thing of Gatorade and re-use the bottle). Get into the habit of topping them off every time you see clean water (from a fountain, not from a stream). If you must use a stream, bring iodine pills with you, and follow the directions. Aye to a simple poncho as well. February is probably cold, but you’re hiking, so dress in layers – simple tee, then a pullover or sweatshirt, and if you’re still cold, a light jacket. You will quickly remove these as you hike. Jeans are fine, but might even feel warm, too, so bring shorts just in case. They should have pockets.

        If you’re going LAX -> Yosemite, I wouldn’t go to the Grand Canyon unless you’ve got a lot of extra time. Palisades is much more on the way. So is Big Sur (if you don’t mind driving the PCH).

        Also, if you’re staying in the Bay area for a day, you might enjoy whale watching. FastRaft.com is my favorite venue for that – it’s a six-person raft rather than a yacht, so you can actually touch the water.

        • DragonMilk says:

          Trip will be March 11 to 23. Probably going LA -> Oakhurst on the 16th, and then Yosemite -> Berkeley on the 20th. Leaving out of SFO the 23rd.

    • Matt M says:

      I haven’t been to Yosemite, but FWIW I found Joshua Tree to be entirely pointless and boring. See if you can maybe do Death Valley instead? Or even go farther east and hit the Grand Canyon or some of the parks in Utah?

      • DragonMilk says:

        Oh really? Would you stay in LA proper itself instead?

        What made Joshua Tree so bad? I figured March might make the scenery alright?

        East and Utah will have to wait for another trip given the timing (just having Thursday and part of Friday)

        • Matt M says:

          It was just desert with a few weird looking cactus-tree thingies. At least that’s what I remember, maybe I missed the good part of it or something.

          My favorite thing to do near LA is just drive on the PCH. Going up the 1 from LA to Santa Barbara is quite scenic and beautiful. If you want some good beach time, you can stop off in Malibu.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Interesting, so our flight arrives 1am Wednesday the 11th into LAX, and we need to get to Oakhurst by Monday afternoon/evening.

            How would you split the time?

            We actually did some PCH driving three years ago, so I was looking into alternative activities this time around.

          • Matt M says:

            Fair enough. Honestly I’m going to bow out, you should get advice from actual Californians (of which we have many). I only lived there for 3 years, and left 10+ years ago.

          • gbdub says:

            The cooler (literally) thing to do near Palm Springs is take the cable car up the mountain, but February is probably not the best time for that.

        • bean says:

          Not Matt, also went to Joshua Tree, I guess about 4 years ago. It was OK, if definitely not one of the best National Parks. I was there to meet a friend, and we had a good time hiking, but it was more useful due to location than worth visiting in its own right. It’s pretty enough if you like deserts, and from what I heard, the flowers are really spectacular if they’re in bloom, and that might even be when you’re planning to go.

          That said, if you’re looking for other things to do in LA, my recommendation is entirely predictable. They even opened up Turret I recently, which I only found out about yesterday.

        • Randy M says:

          Joshua tree is beautiful and we had a great time clambering about on the rocks.
          But it is either very hot or very cold (possibly there’s a day of neither, not sure) and, as of my last visit, very crowded.
          California seems to be a lot more crowded even in the out of the way places than when I was a kid. the Redwoods at Sequia was like LA rush hour freeways, no joke, though that was a holiday weekend, so maybe there’s a better time.

          The Elk preserve just north of San Francisco was beautiful and surprisingly sparsely attended, though.

      • Elementaldex says:

        I’m going to chime in on the Joshua Tree is not that great train, I’ve camped there a few times and its not really worth it. That being said I live in the desert so nothing about it was new and exciting to me.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Parking was fine in September, so I expect you’ll be fine in February. Gravel lot.

      If you’re staying in the Valley’s tent village, you’ll have a permanent structure high enough to stand in, with a wooden floor, and cots. By my standards, this is pretty swanky, but maybe your wife will disagree? It’ll be a learning experience. The restrooms are concrete affairs with plumbing IIRC – a park with Yosemite’s traffic simply wouldn’t be able to manage dugout latrines. They might have a little mud on the floor IIRC, depending on the weather. There are probably seat covers available if your wife insists. On the trail, she will need to be okay with peeing behind a bush (no one’s going to complain). The park has clean water sources at key locations – I carried about two pounds of water with me and did fine.

      Yosemite Valley has a very well-stocked supermarket – like, a Wegman’s or Harris Teeter, complete with wine, etc. But it’s kinda pricey. I don’t remember for sure, but there’s probably a gas station there as well. If not, there will be some on the way in and out. …Yosemite Valley can be thought of as on the east end of a large basin that also contains a small town partway in. That town should have a filling station if the Valley does not. And Mariposa is about fifteen miles south of the Valley (and has a low-priced hotel, and the 1850 Restaurant serves excellent burgers).

      I can think of at least three major areas you might want to see: sequoias, the meadows, and the Half-Dome area. The sequoias are mostly in the west, and a bit of a drive from the Valley. (There was a major grove I didn’t get to see, as it was closed in the year I went (2016).) I know almost nothing about the meadows, but I imagine this is where you could go backpacking, pitch your own tent, etc. It’s probably the least crowded area, too.

      Half-Dome is the mountain most people think of when they picture Yosemite, and overlooks IMO the most scenic stuff, including Vernal and Nevada Falls, and the Valley itself. On my trip, I hiked to both falls, using the Mist Trail, which is short but steep. You could use the John Muir Trail instead, which is gentler but much longer, depending on how much hiking you’re up for. JM is basically walking slightly uphill; Mist is like stairs that are a foot or two high each. If you want the standard Yosemite experience, hike up Mist, enjoy the falls, hike down JM.

      Half-Dome itself requires climbing with the help of a rope; it’s steep, and you need a pass, which the park hands out in limited quantity. Don’t feel bad if you skip it.

      If you remember to refill your water at the top of Nevada Falls, there’s a four mile hike IIRC branching off the top of John Muir to Sentinel Dome, which has excellent views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and even some of the surrounding peaks beyond. It’s probably the most scenic point. You can drive there from the Valley, too, but it’s very roundabout, and…

      …Dunno how good you are with mountains, but I’ll go ahead and tell you that Yosemite was the first place I’ve ever driven where I was under the speed limit and still scared. The roads are well maintained, but they’re one lane each direction and often without guardrails, with a 100-plus-foot drop on one side. I must’ve lost five pounds driving on them, and I’m told I usually drive like a maniac elsewhere (where it’s flaaaat). So, be prepared for that. If you’re used to PCH, you’ll probably be fine. (I keep wondering how much they pay the guy who drives the tractor trailer in there every day.)

      Be reasonably careful up there. People do die there every year – I suspect they’re mostly just people hiking for the first time in their lives. If you’re used to hiking, you won’t find it dangerous.

    • Another Throw says:

      Wear two layers of socks. A thin (synthetic) under layer, and a thicker (woolen) outer layer. This will help wick moister (bad!) away from your feet and help prevent rubbing (bad!) between your foot and your socks/shoes. Keeping feet in good condition is extremely important for an army because their soldiers tend to do a lot of walking around in poor conditions and this advice is, IIRC, the product of a study on the subject.

      ETA: Sample study. I’ve heard of other studies but am too lazy to track down citations, so it might even replicate!

  26. Gossage Vardebedian says:

    Hi, gang. Looking for two history book recommendations. One for Venice, one for Central Asia/The Silk Road. I’m not looking to earn a PhD in the subjects, I just want a readable, reasonably complete story. For Venice, Crowley and Madden look similar at first glance, while Norwich appears more complete but fustier. For the Silk Road, the Frankopan looks great but seems . . . contentious? Hansen looks ok but short, and there are others.

    History is my weakest spot, so any help would be appreciated. Any thoughts? Anyone?

    • I’ve never read Frankopan’s book, but I’ve heard that it’s not really any kind of comprehensive history of Central Asia and that it has a lot of factual problems.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I haven’t read Crowley’s book on Venice, but I have read his book Empires of the Sea about the Ottoman/Habsburg conflicts of the 16th century, and I found it to be both interesting and informative. It’s also largely consistent with what I’ve seen on the subject from other sources, with the possible exception of the long-term strategic importance of the Battle of Lepanto (Crowley’s interpretation is defensible, but controversial).

      If his book on Venice is in a similar vein, I think he’s a pretty good fit for what you’re looking for.

    • theredsheep says:

      I enjoy Norwich in general. I read his Venice book; I found it sort of skimmed over the last couple of centuries, when the Republic was growing irrelevant, but it was a good read overall.

  27. Deiseach says:

    Plumber, this one’s for you!

    It’s Hard To Break Free From A Union (not a trades union in this case) 🙂

  28. acymetric says:

    Has the cluster**** in Iowa just been drowned out by the SOTU address and impeachment proceedings, or do most people just not care how totally botched that primary was (is)?

    • EchoChaos says:

      Has the cluster**** in Iowa just been drowned out by the SOTU address and impeachment proceedings, or do most people just not care how totally botched that primary was (is)?

      ¿Porque no los dos?

      Iowa really only matters for “who is a viable candidate” purposes. That narrative is done (Biden is hurt, Buttigieg is helped, Sanders is neutral), so we’re on to New Hampshire and the actual final vote doesn’t much matter.

      Republicans don’t want to harp on it too much because it doesn’t really matter to us and Democrats don’t want to harp on it because it’s divisive and New Hampshire is right on the horizon.

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect that Iowa screwing up the results hurt Buttigieg somewhat since he didn’t get the huge publicity boost from winning that he should have. OTOH, it probably doesn’t matter all that much.

        The SOTU, the (utterly predictable) end of the impeachment trial in the Senate, and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak are enough news that it’s hard for the Iowa caucus screw-up to stay in the headlines, especially when they really only matter for horse-race type coverage.

        • acymetric says:

          Or does it help Buttgieg, because he got at least some publicity for winning? With 97% reporting (although there are reportedly a ton of errors so who knows if these numbers are accurate) he is ahead in the SDE count by .1%, and behind in the popular vote by about 2,500.

      • acymetric says:

        Republicans don’t want to harp on it too much because it doesn’t really matter to us and Democrats don’t want to harp on it because it’s divisive and New Hampshire is right on the horizon.

        This is probably a big part of it. I’m not so much interested in “who wins” so much as I can’t believe the rampant errors in the data haven’t gotten more coverage (errors that appear to impact basically all the candidates so it isn’t clear who will benefit the most if they ever get corrected).

        Edit: I should add that I do think they are errors, as opposed to a sinister plot from the DNC. Just layers upon layers of incompetence all the way through the process from counting the votes to reporting the votes to releasing the results.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I should add that I do think they are errors, as opposed to a sinister plot from the DNC.

          Honestly, a sinister plot would do more to inspire confidence in the people asking to take control of the entire healthcare system in this country.

        • acymetric says:

          In case anyone is interested in what types of errors are being found, check out Nate Cohn’s Twitter (yes, yes, the NYT is terrible and so on, whatever he’s doing as good a job of following it as I’m seeing anywhere else).

          There are more than 100 precincts in Iowa with some kind of irregularity or inconsistency in the returns across one of the various vote counts…

        • nkurz says:

          > I do think they are errors, as opposed to a sinister plot

          It’s worth noting that the process of fixing random errors can lead to biased results, even if the original errors were purely accidental. If the errors are only noticed because answers don’t match the expectations of those checking the results, errors that go against the biases of the fixing team will be quickly corrected while errors in the other direction will silently remain. In a properly error-rich environment, unless one is careful, the more errors that are fixed the more biased the results can become, even in the absence of a “sinister” plot.

          • acymetric says:

            I think that is more of an issue with errors of the type “candidate x recieved y votes, that seems to [high/low]”.

            The main problem I’ve seen reported so far that needs correcting is

            “candidate x received 0 votes but was awarded 3 delegates”

            OR

            “candidate x received 10 votes and was awarded 2 delegates, candidate y received 20 votes and was awarded 1 delegate”

            which should be fairly easy to identify and fix without introducing bias.

            Of course, there could be and likely are other errors.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ah, the story of the global temperature datasets.

          • Matt M says:

            If the errors are only noticed because answers don’t match the expectations of those checking the results, errors that go against the biases of the fixing team will be quickly corrected while errors in the other direction will silently remain.

            Reminds me of how in 2000, we just knew the ballots were confusing or poorly counted, because how else would anyone actually vote for Pat Buchanan?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Pat Buchanan and the Reform Party agreed those votes probably weren’t his.

          • Chalid says:

            we just knew the ballots were confusing or poorly counted, because how else would anyone actually vote for Pat Buchanan?

            You must know that’s not actually the reason. Less of this, please.

          • Matt M says:

            I know that technically there was more to it than that, but I do recall that being how it was presented in the general interest media.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Wait, Chalid, can you explain? That literally was the argument, that Buchanan’s vote tallies in Palm Beach were indicative of error because those demographics were unlikely to vote for Buchanan, and his support there was out of proportion to his support in other counties in the state. Buchanan and the Reform Party agreed.

            I also agree, and I voted for Buchanan in the ’96 primaries, put a Buchanan bumper sticker on my car in 2000 and only at the very last minute voted for Bush so as not to “throw my vote away.”

            Matt M is right.

          • Matt M says:

            To be clear – I’m fine with saying “The unexplained presence of a significantly higher than average votes for a particular candidate in a particular jurisdiction should be treated as a red flag that something may be up.”

            I’m not fine with suggesting that such a discrepancy is, in and of itself, evidence of any particular wrongdoing. Significantly higher than expected votes for Candidate X in Precinct Y is smoke, but it isn’t fire.

            And I do think most coverage was a little too snarky about it because it was Buchanan specifically.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not fine with suggesting that such a discrepancy is, in and of itself, evidence of any particular wrongdoing

            I hate to be pedantic, he lied, but around here we would call that evidence. What it isn’t is proof, or probably even strong evidence, though that depends on the quantity.

          • Matt M says:

            Sure. I guess what I would say is that “disproportionately high votes for a generally unpopular candidate” is valid reason to launch an investigation. But if the investigation doesn’t reveal anything beyond that, you cannot conclude any sort of malfeasance or foul play. All you can conclude is “Huh, I guess Pat Buchanan was more popular than we thought” and perhaps “Out of ten thousand precincts in the country, there’s bound to be a few statistical outliers where he receives high votes.”

          • Randy M says:

            Absolutely, and I think Trump’s success probably would raise our probability estimate that some of those Buchanan votes were legit–absent other evidence, of course.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. Part of the reason I’m so sensitive to this is that in the more hardcore corners of the Russiagate scene, there are still people making an argument that basically goes, “How could the vote totals be legitimate given that Hillary had such a huge lead in the polls!”

            The correct answer is “Trump was more popular than you thought, and the polls were flawed.” Not any sort of conspiracy theory involving Vladimir Putin.

        • Guy in TN says:

          It’s important to keep in mind that a major part of the ambiguity surrounding Iowa comes from just how dang close the SDEs are between Sanders and Buttigieg. If it was a blowout victory for one of them, these calculation errors probably wouldn’t matter that much. The only reason we remember hanging chads in Florida is that the margins were so razor thin that they actually became relevant.

          And secondly, just to reiterate what others have said, the caucuses have probably always been error-laden like this. There’s no reason to think that the vote-counters across the state in 2020 were any less competent that they were in 2016 or 2008. The difference is, this time they were forced to “show their work”, meaning that everyone on Twitter and Reddit gets to find the errors they made.

          So no, I don’t think this was a conspiracy by the DNC to create a false-flag caucus failure, turning public opinion in favor of the more democratic primary system. That’s too 4-D chess for me. But if this debacle did result in the end of the caucus system, that would be extremely good IMO.

          • Chalid says:

            the caucuses have probably always been error-laden like this

            Remember how in 2012, the Republicans announced that Romney was the winner on election night, only to reverse themselves and declare Santorum was actually the winner two weeks later in a Friday midnight news dump?

    • Nick says:

      It seems like it to me. If nothing else, though, either Buttigieg or Sanders will be vindicated pretty soon; they’re virtually tied with 96% reporting. That ought to be reported on.

    • Matt M says:

      My new conspiracy theory is that the DNC set all of this up on purpose.

      And by “all of this” I don’t mean “Pete wins, or almost wins, or whatever” but “the result is total chaos.”

      This will be used as justification end the Iowa caucus system, which is a goal a lot of them have held for some time.

      • baconbits9 says:

        You think the plan to end the Iowa caucus system was to look like a bunch of idiots the day before the SOTU and two days before the acquittal?

        • Matt M says:

          Yes. I think they were counting on the media to spin it as “Those crazy non-diverse Iowans and their stupid confusing backward voting system caused this.” As to whether that succeeded or not, YMMV?

          • acymetric says:

            Seems unlikely they would be willing to risk throwing the 2020 election to accomplish this.

          • Matt M says:

            There is no risk, provided they can count on their allies in the media establishment to affirm and reinforce that the story here is “Iowans are incompetent” and not “Democrats are incompetent.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Trouble was that it wasn’t the stupid confusing backward voting system that was the problem, it was the shiny new hi-tec app created by a company that has a bunch of current and former Democrat candidate supporters aboard.

            So the people really at fault here aren’t the stodgy non-diverse Iowans, it’s the trendy new diverse (in a mild way) people who are part of those wanting to do away with the Iowa caucus system.

            If there is any corruption going on with ACRONYM and/or Shadow Inc., it looks more like ‘jobs for the boys’ and ‘cosy contracts’, i.e. using connections with and within the party to have them buy your shoddy new app to replace boring old dependable Windows they’ve been using since the last Ice Age, not any high-level conspiracy to cook the votes. Still not a good look, Trump’s campaign could get a lot of mileage out of “They want to run the country but they can’t even run their own selection process” from this one.

          • acymetric says:

            @Deiseach:

            Actually, at this point it appears that some precincts may have reported results incorrectly independent of the app issues, so it is not entirely on the app. The app had a lot to do with the delay in results, but is not the only source of inaccuracies in the reported data.

            There were some rule changes new to this year’s caucus which may have been a partial cause there.

          • Nick says:

            Trump’s campaign could get a lot of mileage out of “They want to run the country but they can’t even run their own selection process” from this one.

            Andrew Yang beat him to it!

          • baconbits9 says:

            If this conspiracy theory is honestly the case then they are a bunch of morons. There is no way to spin a Democratic primary failure as ‘those backwards Iowans’, the best case scenario is always going to be ‘those backwards Democratic Iowans’. Further the app which was supposed to improve things made things worse, which opens up all kinds of ‘the dems say X is broken, but look at what happens when they try to fix things’ attacks. Put in a string of events that mostly come off as impotent or incompetent this is pretty dumb timing.

          • Deiseach says:

            Actually, at this point it appears that some precincts may have reported results incorrectly independent of the app issues, so it is not entirely on the app.

            Agreeing with you there acymetric, as the reports I’m seeing make it look more and more like a complete dog’s dinner – and whatever is going on will provide even more fuel for any conspiracy theorists or those who just want to stir the pot.

            I do wonder why this year, of all years, they decided to scrap the old tried-and-tested system and run with something new. It’s not a great omen for the start of the Democratic selection process!

          • acymetric says:

            And now Tom Perez calls for a recanvas, which may or may not actually solve anything because some results may have been recorded wrong at the source.

            It is certainly wide open for conspiracy theorists at this point. Buttigieg and Sanders both have legitimate gripes about the way this botched election has effected their campaigns (while everyone who underperformed is breathing a sigh of relief that it appears nobody cares who wins what in Iowa anymore).

          • Matt M says:

            There is no way to spin a Democratic primary failure as ‘those backwards Iowans’,

            I think you underestimate their ability to spin.

            They managed to spin an event where a teenager smiled at a valor-stealing progressive activist and fringe religious group shouting racial slurs into a narrative on how catholic schools are openly embracing white supremacy.

            Spinning the events in Iowa as “this is because Iowa has a weird caucus system few people understand and not a simple primary, and hey why should they get to go first anyway?” is small potatoes compared to the typical amount of spinning they do on… basically every story.

          • dodrian says:

            I don’t go for conspiracy theories, but for the sake of fun, Matt M’s is the one I’d agree with.

            – It would have to have been organized before they knew the timing of the impeachment vote.
            – Plenty of media coverage asking the Why Iowa? question in the lead up to the vote
            – NPR this evening gave a whole segment to a “comedic” poem lamenting the death of the Iowa caucuses
            – I think the Democratic Party bigwigs have genuinely convinced themselves that it’ll be a cakewalk to beat Trump 2020, and can afford a little negative press that will easily be drowned when the primaries kick off for real (though I’m sure they’re underestimating Trump, and suspect they’re also underestimating how well he can turn this to his favor)

          • Deiseach says:

            while everyone who underperformed is breathing a sigh of relief that it appears nobody cares who wins what in Iowa anymore

            Yup, it needn’t be a big conspiracy (just normal human screwing-up) but it certainly doesn’t help but add fodder to any “they’re out to screw Bernie over again/the powers that be are pushing Joe” now that the big story is “Iowa caucus results complete waste; blame technology or the people running the show?” rather than “Biden in shock result fourth place” 🙂

    • Plumber says:

      @acymetric says:

      “Has the cluster**** in Iowa just been drowned out by the SOTU address and impeachment proceedings…”

      My Republican boss happily mentioned all three yesterday (most I’ve heard him talk politics since the Kavanaugh hearings), so I’m thinking not.

      The San Francisco Chronicle has had local matters on the top half of the front page instead, but The New York Times is full of all three (I don’t see The Wall Street Journal at our building snack bar anymore so for the “Right’s” views I have to rely on the two most talkative Republicans on the crew plus SSC comments).

      • Plumber says:

        My mistake, today’s Chronicle has “Trump acquitted” as a headline along with “S.F. plans sobering center for meth”, “Protecting the piers”, and “How FBI secretly got Nuru on tape” (the last about thr arrest of my former boss of my bosses boss).

        • Deiseach says:

          I’ll refrain from anything more than a mild dig that in the Democratic Wonderland of San Francisco, even their politicians and political establishment of the Caring Party have their own corruption, bribes and back-handers as well as “the so-called “city family,” a go-to official relied on by mayors and supervisors to clean up the sort of messes that can easily derail the career of a big-city politician” 🙂

          Politics is the same all over. We’ve had our own little corruption scandal in my last job, where a town councillor was jailed for four years for alleged bribery – receiving money from a local developer in return for lobbying for land rezoning. He got his conviction quashed just over a year ago, but he’s already served his sentence and had his career and everything else ruined (the irony being that in a separate trial, the alleged donor of the bribes was not convicted: how can you be guilty of taking bribes when the guy supposed to be giving them isn’t guilty of the same I can’t work out, but that’s the law for you).

          Pro tip: if, hypothetically speaking, you’re going to, um, increase your revenue stream by extra-curricular donations, don’t then dump your wife for a younger woman in a very, very messy break-up where your missus finds out you’re playing away because you mistakenly sent the text meant for your bit on the side to your teenage daughter. Scorned spouses may then tell all to the cops 🙂

    • BBA says:

      I remarked before that there’s no secret DNC cabal out to rig the election, or else Hillary would’ve won every time since 2004.

      I’m now starting to wonder if the national and state parties are trying to force a brokered convention, where after umpteen deadlocked ballots a savior will ride in on a white horse to rescue the Republic…

      Mitt Romney, as prophesied.

      • Plumber says:

        @BBA,
        Well Romney won a higher percentage of the popular vote than Trump did…

        ….but I think “Romney” is spelled “Bloomberg” now.

      • Deiseach says:

        Mitt the Misogynist who want(s)(ed) to keep women barefoot and pregnant?

        Obama senior advisor David Plouffe and traveling press secretary Jen Psaki spoke with reporters before boarding a plane to Iowa following the debate, criticizing Romney’s claim that he wasn’t against any woman having access to contraception.

        “He basically told tens of millions of Americans that he didn’t support legislation that would allow employers to make contraceptive decisions for female employers,” Plouffe said, saying he expects the issue to take on “increased importance.” “He was for it. It was as black and white as something can be.”

        Has he been rehabilitated enough now that selecting him as a candidate won’t cause cries of outrage at the danger to women?

        Make no mistake, when it comes to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s policies on women’s rights, there is little to distinguish the Republican presidential candidate from the more radical elements of his party. The many examples of waffling by Gov. Romney are nothing more than attempts to obfuscate his true positions and claim that he is a moderate regarding social issues when he most certainly is not. Here’s the real truth about Gov. Romney’s anti-woman agenda: Whether we’re talking about women’s health, reproductive rights, or economic independence, he would take women backward.

        I thought the manufactured fuss over the “binders full of women” was absurd at the time, and I don’t think it any less absurd that people who were willing to make hay out of “dangerous choice for the presidency, will bring about The Handmaid’s Tale in actuality” are now hailing him as statesmanlike and guided by principle. It’s all theatre done out of what will give most advantage to one’s own side.

        At least this guy is honest about the quid pro quo:

        Trump may not go down so easily, but there is still space for a “hero” in the room. It might as well be Mitt Romney. Make no mistake: I don’t believe the man is acting out of principle. A principled man would have never acquiesce to such a vile president whose hobbies include bigotry and contempt for the rule of law.

        But I do know Romney is one of the better opportunists on the right, and there can be value in a useful opportunist. He is someone who can match his careerist interests with some nominal level display of decency in speaking out against Trump and calling on his GOP senators to jump from a sinking ship.

        At this point, I don’t care if Romney is only interested in bolstering his place in history and perhaps running again for president alongside someone like Nikki Haley, another opportunist who claims to be better than Trumpism yet attached herself to it out of self-gain. All I know is that the longer Trump stays in power, the more dangerous it becomes for everyone in this country — particularly the most vulnerable among us. And if he is allowed to not only remain in office, but potentially extend his presidency for four more years, the tyrant in training wheels will sink this country more than he already has.

    • Plumber says:

      acymetric says:

      “…Iowa…

      …primary…”

      Something that caught my attention:

      “…Sanders won overwhelmingly among voters under 30 and Biden swept those over 65, Buttigieg’s voters were relatively well distributed across the generations (as were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s). Buttigieg’s strongest group: voters between the ages of 45 and 64…”

      What is it about those candidates that attracts support from those age groups?

      Sure, Biden’s older and attracts older voters, Buttigieg is younger and attracts voters younger than Biden’s, but Sanders is older still and his base of support is noticeably younger than Buttigieg’s.

      Why is that?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Sanders is a communist, and communism has long been popular among the youth… who both don’t know any better, and don’t have much in the way of wealth and property to be yielded for the common good.

        • acymetric says:

          Sanders isn’t a communist, but you’re smart enough that I’m pretty sure you already knew that.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Is there actual evidence for this? Sanders was in fact enamored of both the Soviet Union and Castro. Has he ever penned anything examining where he went wrong there, or even admitting that he was wrong?

            I’m asking sincerely, not just as a gotcha.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Because they think he’s going to forgive their student loans.

      • Matt M says:

        Biden non-ironically uses the word “malarkey.” How could he not dominate the over-65 demographic???

      • baconbits9 says:

        Sanders is winning with the crowd who has the least experience with taxes and promises about taxes, and are currently on the low end of the earning ladder. Student debt forgiveness/free college/free healthcare sound way better to a 25 year old than to a 35 year old, while tax deductions hit the 35-55 year old crowd much harder than the 25 year old crowd.

      • Guy in TN says:

        @Plumber
        Because over the past decade, young Democratic voters have lost faith in capitalism, and Sanders is the only socialist running for office.

        Gallup:

        Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%). This represents a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively.

        The more interesting question is why the relative support for socialism vs. capitalism is changing for young people.

        I’ll tell you one reason that I don’t think is a satisfactory explanation: The 2008 recession. Sander’s strongest support demo were in elementary school when that happened, and have experienced nothing but historical stock market growth their entire adult lives.

        • JayT says:

          I suspect it’s because they weren’t alive to see the worst of socialism, and so now they associate the term with countries like Canada or the Nordic Countries.

          • JayT says:

            I’d also go as far as to guess that the majority of those 51% of people that have a positive view of socialism wouldn’t mention things like “centrally planned governments” or “the means of production”. You would probably hear a lot about “free” healthcare, wellfare, and taxing the rich.

          • Statismagician says:

            I hope it’s not too controversial to suggest that the reason people are thinking of Scandinavia and Canada rather than the USSR might be because they want to emulate the policies of the former, not the latter?

          • JayT says:

            Right, but my point is that the word socialism doesn’t mean the same thing to the young people of today than it does to older people. The Nordic countries are some of the most free markets on the planet, more free than the US, yet people associate them with socialism because they have robust welfare programs, even though that really doesn’t have anything to do with the economic idea of socialism.

          • Guy in TN says:

            JayT

            I’d also go as far as to guess that the majority of those 51% of people that have a positive view of socialism wouldn’t mention things like “centrally planned governments” or “the means of production”.

            Isn’t Bernie’s central policy platform the nationalization of the healthcare industry? Do you really think people are unaware of this? I think at some point you have to abandon the “people don’t know what socialism actually is” arg.

          • JayT says:

            The perception that, when comparing countries with similar levels of development, the extent that a country’s industry is nationalized seems to be positively correlated with overall quality-of-life

            This is only true if you abandon the actual meaning of socialism. You can look at any ranking of economic freedom (ie, more capitalist) and the countries with the highest rating are almost always the countries with the highest quality of life.

            For example, compare this
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_economic_freedom
            to this:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where-to-be-born_Index

          • Statismagician says:

            Hang on a second, you can’t use a QoL ranking which includes GDP to prove that prioritizing economically-legible goals improves QoL, that’s obviously circular.

          • JayT says:

            You can choose some other QoL metric if you like, but just looking at the list it’s obvious that the best places to live are disproportionately weighted towards the top of the economic freedom list. Also, GDP is a big part of QoL, so if one system increases GDP more than others, then it will have a leg up on improving QoL, so even there, I think it is still an ok comparison.

          • JayT says:

            Isn’t Bernie’s central policy platform the nationalization of the healthcare industry? Do you really think people are unaware of this? I think at some point you have to abandon the “people don’t know what socialism actually is” arg.

            Support for a fully socialized healthcare system still is not very popular in the US. Bernie calls his system “Medicare for All”, and I believe that most people think that means “Medicare for people that need it, I can still keep my doctors if I don’t”, which they are in favor of. If you tell people that they are going to lose their current care, the popularity of the system drops off quite a bit.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @JayT

            These economic “Freedom Indexes” are not a measure of capitalism vs socialism. They are a measure of what the authors consider to be “freedom”, which has high overlap with things that socialists also consider to be “freedom”. For example, impartiality of the courts, judicial independence, sound money.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @JayT

            I believe that most people think that means “Medicare for people that need it, I can still keep my doctors if I don’t”, which they are in favor of.

            This is such a bizarre position to me. The only conceivable system that could guarantee that people will be able to keep seeing the doctor they like, would be the extremely authoritarian and slavery-esque. Capitalism certainly can’t guarantee it, people lose/change their health insurance constantly. And before Obamacare, people were simply priced out of seeing their preferred doctors.

            No candidate should be expected to make such an outlandish promise.

          • JayT says:

            And yet, that’s what people believe, and that’s one of the reasons I think a large portion of them don’t actually understand what socialism is about.

            https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/medicare-for-all-isnt-that-popular-even-among-democrats/

          • Clutzy says:

            I hope it’s not too controversial to suggest that the reason people are thinking of Scandinavia and Canada rather than the USSR might be because they want to emulate the policies of the former, not the latter?

            @statis

            It would be if you were in a debate with me, because they don’t seem to chart a logical course where the starting point of America is diverse populace with a fairly corrupt and incompetent regulatory state (for a western nation) and the endpoint needs to be a re-distributive, but very well run regulatory state (that is also light handed in many key areas), oh and by the way you don’t get to become less diverse or a higher trust society on the way.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Right wing rhetoric backfire, basically.

            Socialism, in US political discourse was deliberately made so insanely broad as to be goddamn useless, in order to permit the right to tar social democrats with the crimes of Stalin.

            After a couple of decades of people calling extremely civilized social democratic policies and politicians socialists as if wanting a national health care system that is not utterly dysfunctional necessitates the seizure of all land and all means of production, the youth of america, who have never experienced socialism to mean anything other than

            “any and all politics that does not see us ground under the heels of the plutocracy” then of course take the word to mean that. And embrace it.

          • cassander says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Socialism, in US political discourse was deliberately made so insanely broad as to be goddamn useless, in order to permit the right to tar social democrats with the crimes of Stalin.

            If you don’t want to be tarred with the crimes of stalin, maybe don’t describe yourself with the same terms that stalin used. And definitely don’t honeymoon in the USSR and spend decades talking about how their model was better. You don’t see anyone on the right going around today saying “I’m a nazi, but not like that hitler guy, he wasn’t doing TRUE naziism.”

          • DeWitt says:

            Ok, so keep tarring everyone to the left of Reagan a socialist. See how well that works out.

          • Clutzy says:

            Socialism, in US political discourse was deliberately made so insanely broad as to be goddamn useless, in order to permit the right to tar social democrats with the crimes of Stalin.

            If this were how people worked, people would have been identifying as racists and fascist en masse for decades. Those slanders are more overused, and have been for longer.

        • The more interesting question is why the relative support for socialism vs. capitalism is changing for young people.

          Yes.

          I don’t know the answer. More generally, I don’t have a clear idea of why intellectual fashion, the body of things that everybody knows although few can show why they know them, changes.

          One possible part of the cause is that an increasing number of people go to college and college is, to judge by my daughter’s experience, a political monoculture. But that’s an experience of only two schools, both relatively elite.

          • Guy in TN says:

            My top ten reason for increasing support of socialism:
            (Bias note: I am a socialist)

            1. “Socialism” became a partisan signifying term during the 2008 election. If Republicans are saying “Democrats are socialist and bad” and you don’t like Republicans, and definitely aren’t whatever they are, then average Joe thinks: Maybe I really am “socialist”? Its a way simultaneously of “owning the insult” and showing what group you belong to.

            2. (Related to 1.) Conservatives in 2008-2012 shifted the term “socialist” to make the attacks stick by expanding the term to include people who would be called “social democrats”, at most, by political scientists (e.g., Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama). The new definition has stuck with us, or at least shifted on the margins.

            3. (related to 1 and 2) The shift in the Democratic party from neoliberalism to social democracy, and the historical lack of the term “social democracy” in the US discourse. This renders the average Joe without the necessary vocabulary to describe this political shift, other than the word “socialist”.

            4. Rising anti-elitism on all sides (and globally), with the left’s version of anti-elitism being socialism. If you are a Democrat who is fed up with the status quo, why would you vote for someone like Joe Biden, who’s campaign is essentially a promise of return to the “good old days” of 2015? Who is the left’s version of “let’s shake things up” who isn’t a socialist, or socialist-leaning?

            5. The increasing penetration of the internet, allowing for the rise of alternative media sources, rendering people able to break the information stranglehold that capitalist-friendly media outlets had in the late 20th century. Sander’s success thus far is certainly despite the efforts of mainstream media outlets, not because of it. It’s difficult to image an outsider like him being able to cultivate an alternative media sphere even as recently as 2008.

            6. (related to 5) The lack of a major socialist enemy country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, shifted US propaganda from anti-socialism to anti-Islam, opening the door for more people to identify as “socialist” without fear of social retribution. Rising anti-Chinese sentiment may counteract this, but we aren’t there yet.

            7. Declining levels in general of racism, nationalism, and religiosity have allowed young people to instead increasingly identify their place in the world in terms of “class”.

            8. The concrete reasons: Increasing wealth inequality, stagnant wages (the counter-argument of “but you get so much more value via paying more in healthcare costs” doesn’t meaningfully counter this), and the increasing sense that our lives are controlled by billionaires.

            9. Mainstream liberal economists becoming increasingly theoretical in the late 20th century, relying more on axiomatic deductions and assumptions that come in conflict with people’s basic intuitions. For example: Telling us that we if we don’t like how things are, we can always buy control of these things to make them better per Coase Theorem. And if we don’t, that’s only evidence that we don’t value these things as much as rich people, and therefore rich people should continue to control them. The economic ideology of “capitalism” didn’t used to be like this.

            10. (wonks only) The perception that, when comparing countries with similar levels of development, the extent that a country’s industry is nationalized seems to be positively correlated with overall quality-of-life (e.g., the relative success of the Nordics compared to the US). “But what about Venezuela!” doesn’t hold much weight when Norway is sitting right there. Other countries are a lot more socialist that the US, and seem to be doing a-okay. The renders the 20th century’s “lesson of socialism” as less clear-cut than previously presumed.

          • Lambert says:

            Also the Recession and bailing out of the banks.
            And the reactions to it, such as Occupy.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            I think your #1 and #2 are spot-on. Right leaning media and pundits spent 8 years calling a pretty popular and moderate Democratic president a socialist at every opportunity, and by the end, they’d convinced lots of Americans that “socialist” meant “someone who likes the same economic policies as Obama.”

            Left-leaning media have spent four years so far doing the same thing with “white nationalist” and Trump. It would not be a shock to see that work out the same way.

          • and the increasing sense that our lives are controlled by billionaires.

            Many of your suggested causes seem plausible. But this one just pushes it back to my initial question of why people believe things.

            Do you think our lives are increasingly controlled by billionaires? If so, what’s the evidence? If not, why do people increasingly believe that they are?

  29. Nick says:

    Dread stirrings in the architecture world, SSC. From the magazine Architectural Record, “Will the White House Order New Federal Architecture To Be Classical?”:

    While the country was riveted by the President’s impeachment trial, a Washington rumor was quietly bubbling about a potential executive order that, if implemented, would profoundly affect the future of federal architecture.

    RECORD has obtained what appears to be a preliminary draft of the order, under which the White House would require rewriting the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, issued in 1962, to ensure that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for new and upgraded federal buildings.

    The story made its rounds, being picked up by the New York Times yesterday:

    WASHINGTON — Should every new government building in the nation’s capital be created in the same style as the White House?

    A draft of an executive order called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” would establish a classical style, inspired by Greek and Roman architecture, as the default for federal buildings in Washington and many throughout the country, discouraging modern design.

    Now, I want us to be absolutely clear here. The draft order, as both the original article and the Times‘ make clear, would establish a default style. A default, folks. From AR:

    The mechanism for the radical upending of these principles, in order to promote classical and traditional regional architecture (Spanish colonial style, for example, would be permitted in places like Florida), would be a President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture.

    From the NYT:

    If a style other than classical is proposed for a project, the order establishes a high bar for getting approval: it would establish a presidential “re-beautification” committee to review designs and would still give the White House final say.

    This point has been confused in every single discussion of this I’ve seen. Every single one. I’m not crazy, right? We all saw what AR said: the order promotes traditional regional architecture, too. We all saw, per the NYT, that there is a review process for non-classical designs. I’m not making this up.

    Let’s look at the American Institute of Architects’ response, however:

    “The AIA strongly opposes uniform style mandates for federal architecture. Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture and climates. Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy.”

    Uniform style bad, got it. So since this draft order doesn’t mandate a uniform style, the AIA has no problem, right? Meanwhile, the alternative is that buildings be designed for the specific communities they serve. Sorry, do traditional regional architectures fail that metric? Do they fail to reflect our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture, or climates, either? Do they—or classical architecture for that matter—fail to honor our past? I’m confused. If this draft isn’t what the AIA wanted, what is it they do?

    To answer this question we’ll look at recent federal buildings, products of the prior rules. Let’s talk about the San Francisco Federal Building. It has a Criticisms section longer than the rest of the Wikipedia article combined; you needn’t read the rest. We learn, in order, that the building’s bizarre design, intended to save on HVAC costs, in fact added millions to the price. Then we learn the architect, who was designing specifically to be as green as possible, never took LEED certifications into account. Then we learn it’s hated and dysfunctional:

    In 2010 the GSA commissioned a survey of employees in 22 federal buildings nationwide, to determine employee satisfaction with their workplaces. The San Francisco Federal Building was included in this study even though commissioning was still underway, and tenant improvements of some floors were not complete. The 22 buildings included in the study scored between a low of 13 and a high of 98% employee satisfaction. Seventeen of the 22 buildings scored above 50% employee satisfaction. While incorporating many green concepts more aggressively than other buildings, the lowest ranked building for employee satisfaction was the San Francisco Federal Building, with a rating of just 13%; the next-lowest was considered twice as satisfactory, at 26%. The San Francisco building scored well below the median in the categories of thermal comfort, lighting and acoustics.[11]

    A “green” building, built by a top architect, which fails its certification goals, public satisfaction, and the basic categories of “Am I hot or cold?”, “Can I see what I’m doing?”, and “Did you hear that-that-that-at-at-at?”

    I wonder, meanwhile: does this reflect California’s Spanish colonial heritage? Does it reflect our nation’s diverse places, cultures, climates? Ah, wait, I lied. There’s one line in the rest of the article that’s relevant:

    The San Francisco Federal Building won a Design Award from the AIA San Francisco chapter in 2008.

    Oh. Oh.

    The AIA was not the only one to criticize the draft order. Amanda Kolson Hurley reminds us that the architects of the US Courthouse in Austin, singled out in the order, don’t actually practice Brutalism or Deconstructivism, which the order says are influences today and have “little aesthetic appeal.” As an architectural journalist, Hurley need not be reminded that a building can be influenced by a style without being that style, but I digress. I want to emphasize another point universally missed by these discussions: classicism is not one style. Greek classicism and Roman classicism are distinct, each with rules of their own; there’s a style too for every Renaissance pattern book, there are neoclassical schools which combined classical forms and motifs with other styles, and there are a multitude of architects who began with pattern books and ended with their own style. Classical architecture, in reality, is a grammar and a vocabulary with which you can express any message you like. Architects who believe it to be stifling perhaps need reminded that absence of limitations is the enemy of art.

    This is no doubt obvious to Hurley, yet she strangely sounds the alarm that Trump has appointed such dreaded classicists as Duncan Stroik, too. As someone who with an ounce of familiarity with Stroik’s work (he’s designed some contemporary Catholic churches), I can tell you he is not some rigid copier of 16th century pattern books. If you don’t believe me, check out his stuff. Indistinguishable from a Roman temple, wouldn’t you agree?

    Hurley is a sober rationalist by comparison to our final take. Brian Goldstein, a professional architectural historian who worked for the GSA Office of the Chief Architect under Bush 2, recounts how the administration tried to get a classicist. After “an outcry in the profession” their classicist was given no work. Goldstein wishes fervently for this draft order to be “gummed up” until the next presidency. He closes by announcing that this is all about “whiteness.”

    I’m a classics student, so I must have missed the part where we learned about the strong racial identity of Greeks and Romans. Athens, as we all know, was obsessed with nothing other than its own whiteness. Besides that, I’m curious what the alternative is. What non-white places, cultures, etc. does the San Francisco Federal Building reflect? How about the US Courthouse in Austin? Quit gaslighting us, Goldstein: your favorite styles were invented by white people. Corbu is white. Van der Rohe is white. Not all of them are white today, of course, but then, neither was Julian Abele.

    All sarcasm aside, I want to end by tackling what I take to be the fundamental assumption here: that architects know best what to build. This animates the old set of rules, drafted by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wrote, “The design must flow from the architectural profession to the government. And not vice versa.” It’s behind the New York Times‘ broadside against the draft order, which quotes one architect after another saying that entrusting style decisions to us is “absurd,” that they need “freedom of expression” and “contemporary thought.” And it is false. It is so, so false.

    Contemporary architecture is a failure. It’s so hated that celebrated Brutalist masterpieces can’t get the funding they need to survive. Imagine that—building something so ugly that everyone hopes it will just fall down. The buildings are dysfunctional, because they throw out centuries of understanding how to make buildings comfortable and functional for humans. They’re ugly, and like, that’s just my opinion, man, but I share it with a vast majority. We have to live with what you build, you know. A building isn’t something you hang on the wall of your den, it’s out here in the world. We live and work and pass through the built world, and when it’s ugly it depresses us, and when it’s beautiful it makes us happy. I want to be happy. Let us please make beautiful things again.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I voted for him over immigration, but if achieved this Executive Order would be nearly as good.

    • Lurker says:

      I don’t like Trump. At all.
      But this has me going “Yes, please! Can we have that in my country, too? Pretty please?”

    • Plumber says:

      @Nick,
      I’m confused.

      No love for “National Park Service rustic” style (basically Craftsman, like the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite)?

      • Nick says:

        Rustic styles can be really nice when they don’t descend into kitsch. I make stuff like Ahwahnee Hotel in Minecraft sometimes, for instance. But let’s be real, for our rustic palaces Châteauesque is the way to go.

        • Deiseach says:

          Split the difference, rustication has a venerable architectural tradition. Plumber’s linked hotel looks quite reasonable as it’s built in a defined style using materials that reference the environment, and works where it’s located.

          You mightn’t want exactly the same thing in a civic offices building, but that’s where rustication comes in! If it was good enough for the Medici palazzo, it should be good enough for the Gopherville State Tax Bureau 🙂

    • ana53294 says:

      Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture and climates. Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy.”

      While I personally wouldn’t mind, I think using some of the USA’s rich diverse history in federal buildings would get you accused of cultural appropriation. But a federal building made of wood inspired on a longhouse sounds good. Any monstrosity made with wood instead of concrete would look better. Materials matter.

      While I like classicism, there is something obscene with concrete classical buildings. I’m going to be a purist, and say, if you’re going to use a classical style building, at least cover it with classical materials. Limestone is fine, you don’t have to use marble.

      • zzzzort says:

        Pedantic need to point out that the Romans made extensive use of concrete… cannot be suppressed…

    • Lambert says:

      Now maybe I’ve recently fallen into a rabbit hole after finding a savanna village in minecraft, but I propose that all federal architecture be built in a neo-sudano-sahelian style.

      Not-quite-vertical adobe walls suported by logs which stick out.

      Why can’t civil servants work in something that looks more like the Great Mosque of Djenne?

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m solidly anti-Trump, but I suppose nobody is so vile as to always make the wrong decisions. And I’m big enough to admit Trump doesn’t seem to have been wrong here.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Interesting, given the mixed bag of his properties I took Trump as a modern architecture fan. Or maybe I just took him as a skyscraper man. Was this in his campaign somewhere? Pleasantly out of left-field.

      • Nick says:

        The Times article says that Trump’s interior decorating style is lavish with a side of gaudy, then goes on to say… well, I’ll just quote it, it’s hilarious:

        Architects have regarded Mr. Trump, a former real estate developer who keeps close watch over his family’s portfolio of luxury properties, with a certain degree of wariness since he took office. His design style at his personal properties favors gilded furniture, marble flooring, and Louis XIV-style flourishes. But two of his higher-profile business projects, including the Trump Towers at Columbus Circle in New York City and The Trump Tower in Chicago, were built with modernist influences.

        “At one level, it’s aspirational, meant to project the wealth so many citizens can only dream of,” the author Peter York wrote in 2017 of Mr. Trump’s style. “The best aesthetic descriptor of Trump’s look, I’d argue, is dictator style.”

        • Deiseach says:

          “The best aesthetic descriptor of Trump’s look, I’d argue, is dictator style.”

          How else would one expect the God-Emperor to furnish his dwellings? 🙂

          • Lambert says:

            Emperor, yes.
            But a God-Emperor ought to go 19th c. Gothic revival.
            (because Pointy Arches = Religion)

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) There’s guiding principles for government architecture? Who knew? I thought the idea was “make it as ugly as possible, you want to look modern not like the fusty old past don’t you?”

      (2) Oh no, they will have to do a Neo-Classical pastiche style instead of yet another tubular glass construction or something that looks like it fell off the low-loader while in transit and crashed on the site. Goodness me, however will the public survive having to clap their eyes on this instead of that?

      (The MI6 buiding isn’t bad as such, just not well-integrated in its parts).

      • Plumber says:

        @Deiseach,
        When I visited Ottawa in the late ’80’s my friend and host took me to see the French Consulate there which overlooked the river separating Ottawa from Quebec, and looked like a very large beautiful private home of someone with great wealth and taste, she then took me to see the British Consulate building which was a very drab box on a block of other drab boxes.

        I’m sure the contrast between the consulate buildings was due to when they were built, but the temptation to read something about revealed national characters was strong!

        • jermo sapiens says:

          That’s an amazing spot. It’s right next to the Prime Minister’s official residence, and the view is stunning.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          The British diplomatic representation in Ottawa is a High Commission not an embassy or consulate (Commonwealth countries exchange High Commissioners not ambassadors). It is hideous, though, as is basically every British government building from around that time.

    • Matt M says:

      Just in case anyone is curious, right-wing Twitter is going nuts over this. They absolutely love it. Everyone from Steve Sailer to Faith Goldy has been lavishing praise!

    • BBA says:

      For God’s sake, stop yelling at the modernists for the horrific postmodernist architecture we’re getting now. As the names would imply, they’re different movements. If you can’t tell Saarinen from Gehry, we’re not going to be able to have a conversation.

      Honestly I think government policy should favor boring but cost-effective design. Regional Social Security offices don’t need to be cathedrals. For “flagship” buildings like courthouses, yeah, go traditional, but limit it to one flagship per county.

      • ana53294 says:

        boring but cost-effective design

        But that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean ugly.

        A lot of the fancy butt ugly modern buildings are actually very expensive.

        • BBA says:

          Ugly isn’t boring.

          Glass boxes are boring, but not ugly. And I assume they can be built efficiently because we have so goddamn many of them.

          • Nick says:

            Glass boxes are easy to build and, in themselves, cheap. But they have Issues. Heating/cooling and lots of glare are two.

          • Matt M says:

            Which is why it’s especially impressive that most recently constructed government buildings are both ugly and boring!

          • ana53294 says:

            Ugly isn’t boring.

            Counterpoints: 1, 2, 3.

            Some of them are not just ugly and boring, but dangerous also (while still being boring). And they end up as huge liabilities for cities, because nobody wants to live there, if there are better alternatives, so only poor people end up living there, creating ghettos.

          • acymetric says:

            I think the point was that ugly isn’t inherently boring, not that something can’t be both ugly and boring.

            For example, this is most certainly ugly, but I wouldn’t call it boring.

          • Nick says:

            There are kitschy buildings I’d call ugly but not boring, like the Abraj Al-Bait.

      • Matt M says:

        Gonna go out on a limb and guess that just because all of our modern buildings look plain and boring does not mean that they’re anything close to “cost-effective.”

      • Nick says:

        I only called it contemporary, not modern or postmodern. Though I did name Corbu and van der Rohe at the end, so you’ve got me there.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think government buildings should reflect the ugliness and implacability of the government itself. Something like the AT&T Long Lines building should be their ideal.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      A++++ rant, would be angered by again.

    • Deiseach says:

      Out of curiosity I had a look at those 1962 Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, and I can see both why and where Moynihan was coming from, and why the end result was more a mess than New Periclean Athens.

      It’s the same principles as with so much contemporary architecture (of the time and later) about building new Catholic churches, and all too often it ended up with “is this a church, or an aeroplane hangar, office space, warehousing or the Temple of the Estoeric Order of Dagon?”

      The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government. and not vice versa. The Government should be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of Federal buildings. Competitions for the design of Federal buildings may be held where appropriate. The advice of distinguished architects ought to, as a rule, be sought prior to the award of important design contracts.

      I understand what they were trying to do, but on the other hand – and this is probably my social conservatism and love of hierarchy speaking – I don’t have any strong objections to, and don’t see why there shouldn’t be, an official uniform style for government buildings. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be easily obvious, when you go to a strange city, as to which is the courthouse/city hall/official what’s-it, particularly if you’re a stranger needing to locate such a place to get your paperwork processed. If it works for chain restaurants and coffee shops, why not for government!

      I am sighing wistfully at this part, though:

      The policy shall be to provide requisite and adequate facilities in an architectural style and form which is distinguished and which will reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American National Government. Major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought. Specific attention should be paid to the possibilities of incorporating into such designs qualities which reflect the regional architectural traditions of that part of the Nation in which buildings are located. Where appropriate, fine art should be incorporated in the designs, with emphasis on the work of living American artists. Designs shall adhere to sound construction practice and utilize materials, methods and equipment of proven dependability. Buildings shall be economical to build, operate and maintain, and should be accessible to the handicapped.

      Vernacular architecture and fine arts? I wish! Instead we got concrete eggboxes (speaking for Ireland), whatever this is made out of, glass glass and more glass, and Extruded Wall Decoration Product.

      Speaking of Extruded Art Product, from the linked site, look at this Guernica rip-off. How many corporate headquarters decorators are going to even know what it’s referencing, apart from being told by the company that “oh yass, ver’ Fine Art, qaite the thing, doncha know”? (At least their botanical prints are inoffensive and tolerable, because the creators had to make the flowers look like flowers. Some of them I wouldn’t mind having to look at eight hours a day, five days a week, at work).

      • Nick says:

        I don’t have any strong objections to, and don’t see why there shouldn’t be, an official uniform style for government buildings.

        Yeah. The way I put it to a friend was, “I don’t think a default classical style is a bad thing. This is because I don’t think a classical style or a default style is a bad thing.”

        With a country as large and diverse as the US, though, I think there’s a great case for using regional architectures. Does Ireland have distinct regions the way the US or, say, France does?

        • Deiseach says:

          With a country as large and diverse as the US, though, I think there’s a great case for using regional architectures.

          That is a good point. I think the main problem with the modern architecture most of us are complaining about is that it really isn’t, in the end, any more diverse or responsive than the old-fashioned architecture it replaced: there’s a kind of International Style (the glass box, with weirder and weirder variations on it in order to win prizes and make your glass box stand out from the other guy’s glass box) that has been adopted and gets slapped up everywhere to signal “modern, urban, cosmopolitan, not some rural backwater!” where the cities are second- or third-tier and trying to make themselves look more impressive. But it’s a Standard Kit Impressiveness.

          Does Ireland have distinct regions the way the US or, say, France does?

          Not really. Firstly, Dublin tends to dominate and unbalance things because it’s the single largest population centre in the country as well as the capital. Secondly, thanks to ‘modernisation’ efforts in the 60s and 70s that involved a lot of political-developer collusion and corruption, a lot of our traditional built architecture got torn down for the sake of throwing something new, concrete, shoddy but profitable up in its stead. Thirdly, the most distinct area would probably be the West, where the ‘traditional native Irish-speaking culture’ is supposed to be preserved, and naturally a lot of that vernacular architecture was peasant-style, which is heavily associated with poverty and backwardness. White-washed thatched cottages are quaint for the tourists to take photographs of, but for a lot of the people who lived in them or their children and grand-children, they preferred modern houses when they could get them.

          Cue our own mini-furore over architecture: Bungalow Bliss turned Bungalow Blight. Back in the 80s there was pushback against it, and I was torn because (a) on the one hand, yes I agreed that the new houses people were privately building often looked terrible in themselves and completely out of place in the local environment but (b) I also agreed that most, or a lot, of the protest was indeed middle-class professionals in Dublin who never had to live in a traditional cottage, were living happily in their modern build homes, and who only saw the local environment for two weeks’ in the year when they visited their holiday homes down the country. To quote an article from last year in the Farming section of the Irish Independent:

          In recent years, the rural bungalow has attracted the kind of urban opprobrium normally reserved for hare coursing, country music and ham sandwiches.

          The wax-jacketed classes never cease to express their horror at their country cousins for abandoning the rustic bothán in the hollow for the white single-storey house on the hill.

          In my early childhood I lived in one of those labourer’s cottages, so I know what it’s like: this is why I say the single greatest thing ever is running water piped into the house (thanks, Plumber and all your fellow tradesmen!) It’s easy to be nostalgic when you’ve never lived in the poverty and poor-quality housing; but on the other hand, we have very poor or non-existent visual and built heritage appreciation here, so a bit more quality control wouldn’t go astray either.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This is unalloyed pure good news, Nick. And as we have learned to expect from anything good, it’s accompanied by lying screams from influential people with non-STEM degrees.

    • JonathanD says:

      I don’t hate this, but he’s missing the best architectural movement.

    • hls2003 says:

      I have a bit of a weird thought, given that Trump seems to have the focus and attention span of a teenager, and I’m not claiming this is true, but… for some reason this almost feels like something Trump might have been directly involved with. He’s a real estate and buildings guy. He has a strong sense of performative symbolism. He seems to have a regret for America’s “best days behind it” and to want to reverse course to more traditional ways. Pokes a finger in the eye of “decadent elites who think they know better than the common man.” And some of the wording in the order sort of sounds like his sloganeering. There’s probably no way to see the actual chain of decision-making, but I’d be fascinated to see if this was something he dealt with explicitly.

      • Nick says:

        The Times article points to Trump criticizing the FBI headquarters in DC. The name of the order, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” certainly sounds Trumpian, but I figure it’s likely as not that some office or whatever is pushing for it and hoping he signs it soon.

        ETA: Disclaimer for BBA’s sake: the FBI headquarters is Brutalist, which is not a style that’s built anymore (though I certainly see architects clamoring for its return). Still, that may be why the executive order singled out Brutalism among others in its criticism of contemporary architecture.

    • b_jonas says:

      To those like me who don’t live in the U.S., can you tell me how many buildings this may affect, and how many of them are outside D.C.? There’s this division between federal and state governments work, so I don’t know how many new buildings are there that are built specifically for the federal government. Does the post office in every small village count as a federal government building? I also don’t know how often these buildings are constructed specifically for the government, as opposed to the government buying an existing older building.

      • Nick says:

        According to the Times article, the guidelines only concern projects $50 million or more. So I don’t think this includes every post office. (My hometown, incidentally, has a very nice old brick post office which is now a bakery. Probably my favorite government building to visit, which I did on a regular basis.) It’s details like that that make me wish I could read and/or link you folks the actual draft. The quote, anyway:

        The order, spearheaded by the National Civic Art Society, a nonprofit group that believes contemporary architecture has “created a built environment that is degraded and dehumanizing,” would rewrite the current rules that govern the design of office buildings, headquarters, and courthouses, or any federal building project contracted through the General Services Administration that costs over $50 million.

        • Matt M says:

          According to the Times article, the guidelines only concern projects $50 million or more. So I don’t think this includes every post office.

          Is that a challenge? Because I’m sure they can find a way…

    • Kelley Meck says:

      I’ll just dump my thoughts.
      “The first function of architecture is to make men over make them wish to go on living, feed them fresh oxygen, grow them tall, delight their eyes, make them kind.” — Ray Bradbury
      I don’t have that many strong architectural instincts–as long as it’s functional, lots of very different styles, although not all of the weirder Gehry stuff, seem fine to me. (I wouldn’t wish living in one of his angular residences I know about on anyone.) I think the ‘starchitecture’ idea is one I don’t really know enough about to judge, but it does seem to me that e.g. the Sydney Opera House and the Louvre, and yes, Gehry’s Bilbao museum, pay for their eccentricities many times over with the number of people who travel to see them. And preventing architects who harbor ambitions of becoming starchitects from descending into incompetence or madness is a laudable goal… but I don’t know where the line is in advance, and I don’t really think our executive branch does either. Instead, I strongly suspect this will get handed to a bureaucrat or set of them who make the wrong choices, with exceptions being granted as plum political favors from the executive branch, on the rare occasion the executive isn’t too mired in more urgent concerns. I don’t want a more powerful executive.

      I like the Hatfield Courthouse in Portland, and I like National Park Rustic for stuff like national park lodges and gates. Chateauesque is great within reason for things like high schools and libraries, but so are other styles (e.g. hatfield courthouse), and whatever the style, keep it focused on function and floor space and price–we’re Americans, not Shah Jahan, and we have better things to do with our time and money and downtown spaces than to cover an acre of space with rows of stone buttresses or what-have-you, no matter how nice they would look if we didn’t have to sometimes remember the cost of building them.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        whatever the style, keep it focused on function and floor space and price–we’re Americans, not Shah Jahan, and we have better things to do with our time and money and downtown spaces than to cover an acre of space with rows of stone buttresses or what-have-you, no matter how nice they would look if we didn’t have to sometimes remember the cost of building them.

        Philistinism should not be a point of national pride.

        • Nick says:

          It makes very little sense, either, in the abstract. No one has ever been able to explain to me why the most fantastically, incredibly wealthy civilization to ever exist suddenly can’t afford architecture.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Labor costs increase faster than wealth, and the kind of architecture you’re talking about has high labor cost.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Labor costs increase faster than wealth, and the kind of architecture you’re talking about has high labor cost.

            Modern governments employ far more people, both absolutely and as a proportion of the population, than virtually any pre-modern government. The ability to pay people clearly isn’t an issue in modern society.

            Also, I’d dispute the claim that beautiful architecture has to have high labour costs. This building near where I live, for example, looks nice, and wouldn’t have required any more labour than the equivalent area of brick walls for houses would.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I was under the impression the ugly concrete buildings aren’t cheap, so who is saying we can’t afford architecture? We can afford it, are affording it, and for the same price or more we’re choosing the ugly concrete buildings.

          • Nick says:

            If we were paying sculptors to make every last detail by hand that would be a problem. But we don’t have to do that. Recall that in the late nineteenth century architects like Louis Sullivan were designing stunning and elaborate terra cotta facades. Check out here and here for a sense of it:

            Reactions to the Chicago fire in 1871 spurred interest in terracotta as a fireproof building material. In the age of skyscraper construction, the cast iron frame needed to be protected. Terracotta was a lightweight, moldable, fire and pollution resistant material that could be mass-produced. Architects such as Burnham and Root, H.H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan, and McKim, Mead & White became interested in using terracotta as a building material rather than just as imitation stone.[12]

          • Plumber says:

            @Nick,
            Maybe it has to do with where the wealth goes?

            Surviving pre-1930’s buildings seem (on average) far better looking than those built afterwards, though the few private homes built in the ’30’s look better than the post war ones if not as nice as the ones from the 20’s and earlier. 

            The early 20th century neo-classical San Francisco City Hall looks great, my house built in 1927 (when times were prosperous) looks mighty fine, the public buildings of the ’30’s look great, and since the Federal government was acting as the “spender of last resort”  then that makes sense, but the millions of single family homes built in the ’50’s and ’60’s look terrible, and so do the public buildings! 

            Come the ’90’s and some commercial and private buildings start to look good again, and a few public buildings start to look better as well in the 21st century (not as good as early 20th, but better than mid 20th century).

            Cars are an interesting contrast, those of the ’40’s and ’60’s look great (many of the ones from the ’50’s look too “rococo” for my tastes, but there’s great ones from that decade as wel!l), the only good looking cars of the ’70’s were ’60’s holdovers, and ’80’s ones are just plain awful looking, but some cars start to look better again in the ’90’s. 

            The building that I repair most was strongly built from 1958 to 1960 and has some nice interior marble, but otherwise is “brutalist’ and not something to look at, the new jail built in the ’90’s across the alley rises to “interesting looking, the Public Defenders building (which is the building I next most repair) that was built in the ’80’s is…

            …oh what an ugly shoddy steaming pile cluster foul up of mess it is, if it was cheap for the taxpayers that’s its only virtue!

            So what happened? 

            Pre-1945 urban and suburban single family homes were a luxury good, and looked like it, after the war the tenements emptied and the suburbs filled fast, building quick was prized over aesthetics, but as for public and commercial buildings? 

            Maybe it was a psychological holdover from the War that big buildings had to look formidable? 

            Everything was ugly in the ’80’s,  punk rock man!

            Come the ’90’s it’s (some) buildings as luxury goods again, also cities start to say “enough of this mess!”, in Berkeley there’s a neo-art deco/mission skyscraper built in the late ’90’s/early 2000’s that’s gorgeous, ’cause the city said “if you want it that tall don’t make it ugly!”, nothing good comes out of committees?

            Depends on who’s on the committee! 

            Also, kitsch is cool! Check out “Normandy/Thomburg Village” built in the ’20’s!

          • Lambert says:

            I wonder wether there are any cutting heads for masonry.
            You could mass-produce corinthian columns with a 5-axis mill.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Wow, so many comments about how a building looks. I wish there were more people like me, who don’t care a bit what a building looks like. Just make it cheap and functional. The world wastes far too much money pretending to make buildings “beautiful.”

      • Nick says:

        incoherent screaming

        • jermo sapiens says:

          lol

        • Kelley Meck says:

          Nick,

          I feel you likely have struck a nerve here, and a lot of people would enjoy if you tried making some lists of your favorite and least-favorite buildings, and why. Maybe you even say a little more about which buildings and styles are good, and why–I do have buildings I hate, and seemingly for reasons you’d agree with. E.g. Lewis & Clark Law School has half of its classrooms in a one-story brutalist bunker. The roof isn’t sound-isolated from the classrooms, so whenever it’s raining, which in Portland, OR is half the year, anyone who isn’t speaking into a mike is hard to hear because the rain is that loud. And, of course, the classrooms are all windowless, so whenever it isn’t raining, there’s no place on earth you’d more prefer to avoid than the windowless bunker building.

          Oh, also, I learned about half of all the architecture vocabulary I know from https://mcmansionhell.com/. If you’ve got time, why not point me toward some examples of good architecture, and why? I definitely enjoyed following the other links in this thread so far.

          • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

            This post did indeed strike a nerve so here I am bothering to actually log in and comment!

            1. Count me as another person surprised at my approval of a Trump decision.

            2. Agreed re: Hatfield.

            3. Why you gotta give me law school flashbacks? When I first moved to Portland I was convinced it had the ugliest architecture I’d seen outside of Russia.

            4. An example of a contemporary federal building that doesn’t suck to look at (and is in Portland): The Edith Green – Wendell Wyatt Federal Building. The “green wall” trellis is so perfectly fitting for the city.

      • Randy M says:

        Do you disagree that buildings can be beautiful, that anything can be, or just that it is worth paying a price for it?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @Randy
          A little of each. I guess theoretically a building can be interesting looking, but the prices we pay for this are insane.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I see this asserted a lot in these debates, but never with any actual argument or evidence to back it up. So the wealthiest and more technologically-advanced civilisation in history now can’t afford any nice buildings? Why not?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            To ballpark the lowest number:
            238902 architects in US
            Average salary $76,930

            Multiply that together indicates that architects’ salaries cost us $18 billion per year. Of course the real number for creating “beautiful” buildings over functional buildings are probably an order of magnitude higher than that. To mitigate this, I suppose we’d need some architects to create even some functional buildings, but I’d guess only a tenth of that.

            Yeah I can think of lots of better ways to use billions of dollars. Especially since one can NEVER get agreement on what constitutes a beautiful building. Maybe if we spent that money on making the buildings earthquake proof, allow more uniform climate control, don’t collapse when hit by jets, etc. I suppose some of those improved functions would also require architects, but at least we could all agree that the end result would be useful.

            Edit: Oh, as someone who invariably has a cubicle in the middle of office buildings, I’d like like to have sunlight somehow directed to interior portions of the building, but I don’t think architects have figured that one out yet, unless office is on top floor (with skylights).

          • Loriot says:

            Do you think architects do nothing all day besides draw “beautiful” buildings?

          • CatCube says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            I suppose we’d need some architects to create even some functional buildings, but I’d guess only a tenth of that.

            It pains me as a structural engineer to defend architecture, but I have to. You need architects to create buildings, functional or not. They’re the design discipline in charge of arranging the floor plan, to include providing egress and compliance with applicable building codes and laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act.

            How much space is there between the shitter and the partition walls in your office’s bathroom at work? Your building’s architect designed that. How many stairwells are there, and where do they let out? Architect. How wide are the halls? Architect. What materials and layouts were used for partition walls? Architect. Do the doorknobs comply with the ADA? Architect. Where do you need automatic openers for wheelchair access, which cost about $3,000 each? Architect. Everything permanently attached to a building that you touch except for the thermostat, light switches, and plumbing fixtures is designed by the architect.

            There are about 10,000 functional rules you need to make sure your building complies with to be safe and efficient, and you don’t have a hope of doing it without a professional. That professional is the architect.

            Is there a real problem with the modern architecture profession? Abso-fuckin’-lutely. The garbage that so-called “starchitects” inflict on the public is a disgrace, caused by these people forgetting that they’re designing buildings, not sculptures, and I absolutely support the proposed Executive Order to help rein these clowns in. However, there’s a lot of stuff that the discipline does that is absolutely critical, and the vast majority of your imputed costs are due to those critical things, not the clownish sculptures masquerading as “buildings.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Mark V Anderson:

            Erm, you are aware that all buildings, including functional or ugly ones, are designed by architects, right? Building nice-looking buildings instead of horrible ones isn’t going to increase architect costs, because you’d need an architect for a horrible building anyway.

            Especially since one can NEVER get agreement on what constitutes a beautiful building.

            Can’t one? This thread seems to have a pretty strong consensus that classical architecture is more beautiful than modern.

          • This thread reminds me of a book I read long ago by an British author, which complained that architects designing, I think, apartment buildings, were trying to impose their view of how other people should live on the future tenants, with no concern over how people actually wanted to live.

            My vague memory is that the author was a libertarian or classical liberal, but I do not remember either title or author.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Erm, you are aware that all buildings, including functional or ugly ones, are designed by architects, right?

            Wait a minute, every house is designed by an architect? I don’t think that is true. It has been my understanding that bigger buildings always have some architectural input, but I’m not sure why. Hallway space, egress requirements, etc., I don’t understand why they need to be different for every building. Sure someone has to verify that every building follows the 2 million different building codes. Does this person need to have “architect” next to their name? CatCube has discussed the various building requirements in the past, and I don’t think he’s an architect.

            This thread seems to have a pretty strong consensus that classical architecture is more beautiful than modern.

            Hmm, I’d be surprised if the commentariat even agrees as to what is considered “classical.” Should every building have non-functional Greek columns?

          • CatCube says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            There is something called the Residential Code that provides prescriptive designs for small, simple structures like single-family residences or townhouses. The rules are simple enough that they allow the homebuilder to execute them without certification by licensed design professionals (either an architect or structural engineer).

            These rules are too restrictive to be economical for larger buildings, so there you need an architect. Once you get into more complex occupancies, or even mixed occupancies, figuring out how the rules interact with each other becomes a task you need more design effort and experience for.

            Hallway space, egress requirements, etc., I don’t understand why they need to be different for every building.

            They might be different because of different occupancy categories. It really doesn’t make much sense to require a single set of rules for everywhere, since not everywhere has the same functions and hazards. As a trivial example, a general requirement for egress is that doors be freely operable by the people inside the building, but this obviously won’t work for prisons. Less trivially, something like a theater will have more-or-less the maximum amount of people packed into a small space, due to the economics and purposes of a theater. You will have both more danger to more people and a harder time for all those people to exit in an emergency, which leads to more aggressive requirements for exits. Compare to a store, where you don’t expect to have nearly as many people in an equivalent space.

            Sure someone has to verify that every building follows the 2 million different building codes. Does this person need to have “architect” next to their name?

            The person who verifies most of these requirements is the architect. Laying out a building floor plan and ensuring it’s an efficient use of space and meets code requirements is a huge part of architecture, and this is what most of the people making the average $76,000 you discuss above will be getting paid to do. I don’t know what you’re asking here…you just object to calling somebody who spends most of their time doing architecture an “architect?” I think this is more that you don’t have a good grasp of what the profession does, though to be fair apparently even most architects don’t know this until they become one.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @CatCube
            You are right, I don’t have a good feel for what architects do. I just came up with because I needed to push back on Mr X’s comment that we are a rich enough society to spend money on beautiful buildings. No one else gave any dollar numbers, so I had to come up with something. So now I get push back on my numbers. I still think the US spends billions of extra dollars on subjective beauty, even if my previous numbers are not convincing.

            Anecdotally, there was discussion in my city recently about spending x dollars on putting in a new bridge across the Mississippi, and many were saying we should spend millions more dollars than the cheapest price so we didn’t get an “ugly bridge,” whatever that means. I believe spending the extra money to get a “beautiful bridge” won the day, because government money is monopoly money and doesn’t mean anything.

            Edit: I still don’t see why you need an architect to build say a chain retail establishment, when they’ve already done 100 others just the same. Maybe these chains do spend a minimal architectural amount on each new store. I hope so.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You are right, I don’t have a good feel for what architects do. I just came up with because I needed to push back on Mr X’s comment that we are a rich enough society to spend money on beautiful buildings. No one else gave any dollar numbers, so I had to come up with something. So now I get push back on my numbers. I still think the US spends billions of extra dollars on subjective beauty, even if my previous numbers are not convincing.

            Even if the US really spends “billions of extra dollars” (and your lack of familiarity with how architecture works should perhaps make you question your assumptions about how much it can and does cost), living in a nice environment is an important contributor to people’s quality of life. The US already spends billions of dollars on quality-of-life improvements — TVs, cars, having more than one pair of clothes, medical treatment for non-fatal conditions, etc. — so unless you’re going to demand we give all of these things up as well, the claim that we should live in ugly concrete boxes just comes across as an isolated demand for rigor puritanism.

            Anecdotally, there was discussion in my city recently about spending x dollars on putting in a new bridge across the Mississippi, and many were saying we should spend millions more dollars than the cheapest price so we didn’t get an “ugly bridge,” whatever that means. I believe spending the extra money to get a “beautiful bridge” won the day, because government money is monopoly money and doesn’t mean anything.

            Anecdotally, the Scottish Parliament Building was completed three years late and at a cost of over ten times what was originally projected. Ugly =/= cheap.

            Edit: I still don’t see why you need an architect to build say a chain retail establishment, when they’ve already done 100 others just the same. Maybe these chains do spend a minimal architectural amount on each new store. I hope so.

            If you’re going to do that, then there’s no reason you can’t get the architect to design a nice-looking chain retail building.

          • albatross11 says:

            I find arguments that we should ignore aesthetics in favor of utility and low cost very convincing intellectually, but I also find that I’m happier in a more aesthetically pleasing environment and using more aesthetically pleasing products. I think Apple, in particular, makes products that are aesthetically pleasing in several dimensions, and that this often drives their ability to charge more money for the same basic functionality offered by some cheaper Windows or Android device. And I’ve had the experience of handling some devices that were just pleasant to have in the hand and felt right somehow–phones, handguns, some pens, and various tools have all had this impact on me. There’s something valuable there, I think, even if it’s hard to quantify.

      • Clutzy says:

        Cheap and functional actually will (mostly) adhere to these guidelines. Locally sourced material, like wood, and traditional building methods will result in a cheap and functional building that comes in on time and on budget.

        However, modern urbanists will decry these buildings as uninteresting because they will look like the cities built in the 1600s (which still stand today).

      • quanta413 says:

        If we want cheap and functional buildings, we’re almost certainly better off with the older style lovers ruling the roost than whoever currently is driving things. All that swooping glass seems unlikely to be cheap, and definitely isn’t functional.

        Those of us who mostly don’t notice should ally with the traditionalists to get cheaper (or at least not more expensive) and more functional buildings.

      • DarkTigger says:

        I kind of agree, but everyone who thinks modern architecture is “cheap and functional” is just wrong. They are build to be aestheticly pleasing to a certain kind of people that need to read Scotts article on how not to sound like an evil robot. And are simply not cheap for any meaningful defenition of the word.

        And while we’re at it, they are also not “sustainable”, or inclusive or any other buzz word you can come up with.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      What a bunch of dorics.

    • The original Mr. X says: