Open Thread 156

This is the biweek-ly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Comment of the week: superkamiokande from the subreddit explains the structural and computational differences between Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas.

2. There’s another SSC virtual meetup next week, guest speaker Robin Hanson. More information here.

3. As many areas reopen, local groups will have to decide whether or not to restart in-person meetups. I can’t speak to other countries that may have things more under control, but in the US context, I am against this. Just because it’s legal to hold medium-sized gatherings now doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I would feel really bad if anyone became sick or spread the pandemic because of my blog. I don’t control local groups, and they can do what they want, but I won’t be advertising meetups on the blogroll until I feel like they’re safe. Exceptions for East Asia, New Zealand, and anyone else who can convince me that their country is in the clear.

4. Some people have noticed that my toxoplasma post seems disconfirmed by recent protests, which reached national scale even though the incident was very clear-cut and uncontroversial. I agree this is some negative evidence. The toxoplasma model was meant to be a tendency, not a 100% claim about things always work. Certainly it is still mysterious in general why some outrageous incidents spark protests and other near-identical ones don’t. I think it’s relevant that everyone is in a bad place right now because of coronavirus (remember, just two months ago Marginal Revolution posted When Will The Riots Begin?), and that 2020 is the peak of Turchin’s fifty-year cycle of conflict.

5. Speaking of protests, the open threads have been getting pretty intense lately. I realize some awful stuff has been going on, and emotions are really high, but I want everyone to take a deep breath and try to calm down a little bit before saying anything you’ll regret later. I will be enforcing the usually-poorly-enforced ban on culture war topics in this thread with unrecorded deletions. I may or may not suspend the next one or two hidden threads to give everyone a chance to calm down. I hope everybody is staying safe and sane during these difficult times.

6. If you haven’t already taken last week’s nootropics survey, and you are an experienced user of nootropics, you can take it now.

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1,208 Responses to Open Thread 156

  1. johan_larson says:

    Welcome to our discussion of “The One I Love”, which is #40 in Rolling Stone’s Top 40 Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century.

    Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play a bickering couple (Sophie and Ethan) who are sent to a country retreat by their therapist. There they discover two copies of themselves. This is initially intriguing, since the copies actually seem like better versions of their real spouses. Later they discover that the therapist actually plans to replace them by their copies, while trapping them in the retreat. The therapist has done this multiple times: he traps a couple at the retreat, transforms them into better versions of another couple, who he in turn traps at the retreat, while sending the replacement couple to take over their lives in the outside world. Later, Ethan and Sophie escape from the estate, and it turns out Ethan actually escaped with the copy of Sophie rather than his original wife.

    You can find a more detailed plot summary here.

    In the film, we see Ethan I (the original) return from the retreat with what turns out to be Sophie II (the copy). Was this the therapist’s plan all along, or was that something he had not expected? Also, Ethan I recognizes that he returned with Sophie II. And she knows she is Sophie II. Does she know that he knows? Does the therapist?

    The part that doesn’t make sense to me is why the therapist would set up this elaborate scheme. He has one couple trapped in the country retreat. He physically transforms them into another couple, and teaches them to behave like the other couple, in order to have them replace this other couple in the real world. And he traps the other couple in the retreat, so he can keep repeating the cycle. Why? What is he trying to accomplish?

    If it was all a plan to find better matches for Ethan and Sophie, without having the couple visibly spit up, he could have been much more straightforward. People divorce and remarry all the time. He could just have told them they should both find other partners, and here are a selection to try. Easy. No weird magic needed.

    Bottom line, this film has a really cool concept. This notion of going somewhere to meet a slightly better version of your spouse (and yourself) is really neat. But I don’t think the setup for the idea quite makes sense. And the ending seemed a bit strange.

    Finally, a question for y’all. Is this actually a science fiction film?

    (Next week, we’ll be discussing Rolling Stone’s #39, “Another Earth”. )

    • bullseye says:

      I haven’t seen the film, but I agree the plan doesn’t make sense. Why not turn each couple into a better version of themselves? Wouldn’t that be easier, and also sort of what they signed up for?

    • TomParks says:

      Based on the ranking, I’d consider watching the whole movie. {Spoiler alert: That opinion changes by the end of this post. I am fickle.} My memory is that I got bored and went on to something else. This may simply be a hazard of our modern streaming world, where I place a pretty high value on the expected enjoyment I’ll get out of the average replacement movie or television show.

      The positive (from what I remember): Watching Duplass and Moss perform variations on the same characters and relationship. The negative: They were so good at playing low-level awful people that I wasn’t invested in what happened to them.

      Is it science fiction? Mmmmaybe. Speculative fiction can be pretty broad, and I’d hate to limit a genre that’s given me so much enjoyment. That said, I thought the premise there to be forgotten in service of letting the actors do interesting things. Worse, the premise wasn’t good enough to make me ignore that I wasn’t into the story, and the story wasn’t good enough to make me ignore that I wasn’t intrigued by the premise.

      “Writing is a process of discovery,” I’ve heard and I believe. In writing this, I’ve discovered that I won’t be attempting to fully watch this movie. I’ve also discovered that I’m grateful to @johan_larson for shining a light on this list.

    • digbyforever says:

      Question: are we 100% sure it’s Sophie II? I thought it was meant to be just slightly more ambiguous, although I agree that’s the most obvious conclusion. But maybe I’m importing more ambiguity than was meant.

      Given that there is a scene where someone runs into, essentially, a force-field, I do think it is science-fiction, although of the “let’s use tech as the justification for creating a thought-experiment world” rather than “let’s use tech and explore the ramifications of the tech” sci-fi. I suppose your mileage may vary about whether you think that’s sci-fi.

      I thought it was a good movie; I’d say ignore the plot holes about the plan, and enjoy it for the very solid Duplass and Moss lead / dual performances and the questions it raises about people and relationships.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m pretty sure it’s Sophie II. They made a big deal earlier in the movie about how Sophie I hates making bacon and Sophie II being ok with it. And at the end of the movie the Sophie who escaped is making bacon. Ethan certainly stops and highlights the significance of it. So I think it’s Sophie II.

        • digbyforever says:

          This makes total sense. I was trying to remember why I thought it was ambiguous, and finally remembered: I read the scene as, Ethan hears about the bacon, and wonders if it’s Sophie or Sophie II, and is uncertain as to which, but then realizes that either he doesn’t care or it doesn’t matter (or both). (Again, I may be trying to force more ambiguity into it than is there in a “Deckard–is he a replicant?” kind of way.)

      • Nick says:

        Given that there is a scene where someone runs into, essentially, a force-field, I do think it is science-fiction, although of the “let’s use tech as the justification for creating a thought-experiment world” rather than “let’s use tech and explore the ramifications of the tech” sci-fi. I suppose your mileage may vary about whether you think that’s sci-fi.

        Yeah, YMMV, but I agree this isn’t really exploring the ramifications of the tech. The therapist might as well have been a wizard or puckish demon. Honestly, I think puckish demon might have approached an explanation, since at least they have a history of this sort of thing. Drop hints at the beginning that the therapist doesn’t really practice therapy and has strange tomes on the shelves of his office.

        • digbyforever says:

          I’m just realizing that since Ted Danson plays the therapist, in light of his current TV show, “puckish demon” might well be the explanation!

    • Deiseach says:

      To me it sounds more like horror than science fiction (the way “Alien” was horror in space, not SF). It’s “psychological thriller/horror”, the SF trappings make no sense other than to ‘explain’ how the couple are trapped in the house (forcefields) and how strangers can be perfectly physically altered into your doppelgänger.

    • keaswaran says:

      Sounds to me more like Magical Realism than Science Fiction. Everything is just like the actual world, except one weird thing that functions as a McGuffin, and that doesn’t need a magical or scientific explanation. I think the genre term is usually associated with Latin American literature (and also some other developing world literary writing, like Salman Rushdie) but it also seems to fit things like this, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Invention of Lying, and so on.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s a good name for a genre that I like.

      • johan_larson says:

        Every work of fiction get to have one improbable thing happen. In this one, that’s the therapist’s ability to transform people. Transforming people is pretty standard stuff in the fantasy genre, though I would be willing to call it Magical Realism since this film is set in contemporary times. There’s a therapist (not a wizard) who turned people into other people (not frogs). Sure.

        That still doesn’t explain why he did it. Was there some sort of hint? Did I miss something?

    • Randy M says:

      Sounds faintly similar to the film Coherence, which is about a dinner party that gets shuffled around to alternate dimensions in various combinations.

  2. Aapje says:

    If you don’t get your dose of Dutch fixed expressions, send a ‘brandbrief’

    ‘Brandbrief’ = Fire letter

    A letter with a strident request for help and/or a complaint about misdeeds. This used to mean a letter that proved the damages caused by a fire, that one could give to the insurance company to get paid. Later, the meaning broadened to any demand for help or change.

    ‘Ergens een broertje dood aan hebben’ = Having a dead little brother of it

    Really disliking something. The sentence literally means that one’s little brother died of it, referring to a time when many children died of diseases. So a common explanation why someone disliked talking about a disease was that their little brother or sister died of it.

    ‘buigen of barsten/breken’ = Bending or bursting/breaking

    It will happen, one way or the other.

    ‘Goedschiks of kwaadschiks’ = Well arranged or bad arranged

    Same as the above. Either you cooperate or it will happen against your will, with force or other bad means.

    ‘Buiten de pot piesen’ = Peeing next to the pot

    Cheating on your partner or making a mistake. The former meaning seems on it’s way out. Goes back to at least 1615.

    ‘Een slippertje maken’ = slipping

    Cheating on your partner.

  3. Eric T says:

    @DavidFriedman – Now that we’re not talking about Culture War stuff, do you want to have that discussion about general Moral Philosophy?

    • Sure. I think I sketched the problem earlier.

      The starting question is what people deserve. One approach, the one that seems to me to be most workable, is that the question is what this person as he is deserves. If you are a kind, honest, honorable, productive person you deserve to have good things happen to you. If you are a cruel person who goes around being nasty to people and lives by swindling people you deserve to have bad things happen to you.

      My point is not the specific list, and I’m not talking at this point about how a just society will work — I don’t think institutions that reliably give people what they deserve are an option. My point is that what you deserve is a statement about you as you now are.

      The very tempting alternative is to ask whether you deserve to be as you now are. If the reason you are a nasty, hostile person is that you were abused as a child then you don’t deserve to be such a person, so don’t deserve to get worse outcomes than the person lucky enough to be reared by loving parents to be a kind, generous, honest person.

      One problem with this approach is that if you push it back far enough nobody deserves anything, good or bad, since every characteristic of a person can be traced to things that are in some sense not his fault, his genes as well as his environment. One could try to get out of this by introducing free will and claiming that some things are the result of voluntary choice rather than causal chains starting outside the individual, but it’s hard to know how to turn that approach into a coherent moral theory.

      What got me thinking about that was something you said about Asians, that (my summary from memory) if their talents should give them a ten percent higher than average income but, due to discrimination, they only ended up with a five percent higher income, things should somehow be fixed to get them back up to ten percent.

      So you were distinguishing between one subset of characteristics relevant to desert that people were entitled to and another they were not. I didn’t see on what basis you did that, given what seemed to be the logic of your r/Racism approach.

      Two other and briefer points. First, my basis for moral philosophy is intuitionism. For a long version, Michael Huemer has a book with that title. For a short version, see this draft chapter from the third edition of my first book.

      Second, an alternative criterion to desert, one that I think better suited for building a legal system on, is entitlement, a distinction I borrow from Nozick. You are entitled to something if you got it by a legitimate chain of transactions. Seen from that standpoint, one could argue that a current West Coast Japanese with an above average income was entitled to transfers to compensate him for property lost due to the imprisonment of his family during WWII, because such transfers undue a past illegitimate transfer. That’s the line of argument sometimes offered to justify transfers to the descendants of slaves.

      My point here isn’t to argue for any particular application of the approaches. It is that there is a fundamental difference between saying “someone should get something because he deserves it” and “because he is entitled to it.” Both might be used to argue for the same conclusion, but they are fundamentally different arguments.

      And the “deserves” version raises the problems I described above.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Second, an alternative criterion to desert, one that I think better suited for building a legal system on, is entitlement, a distinction I borrow from Nozick. You are entitled to something if you got it by a legitimate chain of transactions.

        What of the matter that these chains turn out to start with a conquest?
        English property rights are a strong thing resting on Weberian legal-rational authority, which every private party upholds because violations are punished in courtrooms.
        A property owner might even be able to trace their legitimate chain of transfers to 1067, with the decree of William the Conqueror that every acre of land was his property.

        • Ketil says:

          What of the matter that these chains turn out to start with a conquest?

          William took the land from the Saxons, who took it from someone else (the Celts or something), who surely took it from someone else.

          I think every entitlement started out with conquest of some sort, so in a way. Turtles all the way down, just like for deserts. I think the solution is how the system of justice usually deals with these things: having an expiry date on claims¹.

          For actual conquest (i.e. between states) we don’t really have that, so in principle, occupants like Turkey, Morocco, China, Israel, Russia, etc should return the land they occupy. In practice, the claims are only treated as nominal, except when vocal political factions keep them current.

          ¹ Or do we? Maybe this is only for criminal cases? I know that you have a much weaker case if you complain about a transaction (buying a house, say) if you don’t field your claim as soon as you become aware of the issue. Similar for things like trademarks, I’m pretty sure – if you don’t maintain your claim, you lose it.

          • DarkTigger says:

            Re: Footnote
            I recently looked up it up on Wikipedia, to learn how this is handeled in th US. Prescreption exists in the US for both criminal as well as civil cases.

          • sclmlw says:

            This is my understanding of the general rule for the US as it pertains to land:

            For squatting to translate to actual ownership of the land, the Adverse Possession has to be ‘open and notorious’. In other words, the owner of the land, if they were using that land in the first place, should be able to tell that it’s happening. This is true, even if it’s a small infraction, even if it’s unintentional, and even if the land owner does not – in fact – discover the adverse possession during the time they could legally assert their claim. The idea is that if someone is relying on a claim of possession – even an adverse one – for long enough, the law should treat that reliance as actual fact if the claim goes unchallenged.

            I seem to recall some case about a property owner building steps that encroached on a neighbor’s property, going over the property line a few inches. It was there for years, but the neighbor didn’t think anything of it, until for some reason they surveyed the land (wanted to pour a driveway, I think? Sorry, it’s been over a decade since I studied the case) and discovered that the steps were built too far over. They sued, thinking they could reclaim their property and build the driveway.

            They lost. The court decided that the adverse possession was open and notorious, and that had the legitimate land-owner wished he could have discovered the error any time in the intervening years, but didn’t do the land survey and so tacitly accepted the adverse possession.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          All land on the East Coast goes back to King George III iirc

      • Guy in TN says:

        Second, an alternative criterion to desert, one that I think better suited for building a legal system on, is entitlement, a distinction I borrow from Nozick. You are entitled to something if you got it by a legitimate chain of transactions.

        I should point out that “legitimate chain of transactions” is just one theory of entitlement. Alternative theories of entitlement are based off of distributive justice (i.e. the outcome, who ends up with what) rather than procedural justice (i.e. the process, how transactions occur).

        • Ketil says:

          I should point out that “legitimate chain of transactions” is just one theory of entitlement. Alternative theories of entitlement are based off of distributive justice (i.e. the outcome, who ends up with what) rather than procedural justice (i.e. the process, how transactions occur).

          Not sure I understand this. One problem is what constitutes a “legitimate transaction”. I think a government deciding to collect tax and redistribute it would be considered legitimate (at least in as much as the government itself is legitimate).

          Entitlement based on distribution sounds like it would be fair for me to take some of your money if you have more and I have less. While rarely explicitly stated, I think this is a common pattern, many seem to contrast e.g. the wealth of Bezos with their own – it is “unfair” that he is rich (from the work of others, even!) and they not. But aren’t this an argument from desert, that Bezos doesn’t “deserve” to be so much richer than me, who after all am a hard working and competent individual who by no means spends too much time in online forums doing philosophical hairsplitting…

          • sclmlw says:

            As another meta-level hairsplitting aside:

            Is it justified to treat income as synonymous with wealth in these calculations? Perhaps if we treated all methods of monetary gain identically, we could make that distinction?

            What of the multimillionaire who retired at thirty? That person is unemployed, according to labor statistics. Depending on how you calculate ‘deserts’ they could be deserving of government aid based on an income model*, while clearly being on the opposite side of the equation based on a wealth model.

            *You could calculate investment gains as income, but in a bad year for the millionaire’s investments, they could post significant losses while still having their personal chef cook up steaks every night. Could this same millionaire who loses money one year apply for – and receive – significant government aid because the system inappropriately judges their income situation to mean they’re deserving of assistance? (i.e. that they’re poor)

          • Guy in TN says:


            But aren’t this an argument from desert, that Bezos doesn’t “deserve” to be so much richer than me, who after all am a hard working and competent individual who by no means spends too much time in online forums doing philosophical hairsplitting…

            Arguments for redistributive taxation don’t have to be based on desert, although many people like to go that rhetorical route. One immediate road-block for someone arguing for taxation/transfers via work-based desert is that many people in our society just cannot or should not work (children, the elderly, the disabled, ect). Desert-based justice leaves them out in the cold.

            Entitlement based on distribution sounds like it would be fair for me to take some of your money if you have more and I have less.

            I was careful not to specify the details of a particular theory of distributive justice, since I wanted to leave it open ended. Total wealth equalization is a theory of distributive justice, but certainly not the only one. I mainly just want to draw a contrast between “things that are good because they followed a certain process” vs. “things that are good because they achieved a certain outcome”.

          • Guy in TN says:


            But “everybody deserves to have an equal share, just because they’re human and all humans are morally equal,” or “everybody should get enough to have their needs met, because human beings deserve to have their needs met” are also based on a priori theories of desert, no? They’re just not work-based theories.

            I suppose you could phrase it that way. But the most common desert formulations involve a person having completed some sort of choice or action in order to “earn” their just desert, with the desert being a “reward” or (if negative) a “punishment”.

            If you want to communicate that you think people should have things, but not because of any choices or actions they take, I think it is more clearly communicated as they are “morally entitled” to the things, rather than they “morally deserve” the things.

      • Aapje says:

        @DavidFriedman & Eric T

        A closely related problem is that what people can reasonably have from others depends at least in part on what they do for others.

        For example, let’s say that there are two hunter-gatherers who live in an environment with little food: Mary and Bob. Mary is great at catching fish. Bob is great at cooking it. Alone, they would be barely able to feed themselves if they spend all day on feeding themselves, because while Mary can catch fish relatively quickly, her poor cooking means she can barely cook enough edible fish for herself. The opposite is true of Bob, who can barely catch enough fish, but once he catches one, he cooks it quickly and well.

        If they work together, each specializing in what they are skilled at, they have time left over after feeding themselves, that they can use for increased prosperity. Making a hovel, clothes, having children, etc.

        Now imagine that Bob gets into an accident that makes him unable to fish. One might argue that Mary has an obligation to care for him, because she is relatively privileged by not having that accident. However, even without caring for Bob her prosperity has been greatly reduced by Bob’s accident. His ill fate made her much worse off.

        If she does try to feed him, they will both die, as she alone can only feed one person.

        So my point is that there is a feedback-loop. In the scenario without the accident, Mary can only provide certain benefits to Bob, because he provides benefits to her (which he can only do, because…).

        The same is true if you look at modern society, although it is much less visible and direct. Still, employers can only pay their workers as much as they do, because the workers do work for the employer.

        Another example. Scott smashes the car window of Alice, to steal her car radio, to sell for drugs. The police catches Scott before he can sell the radio and it is returned to Alice. However, this doesn’t undo the harm of her smashed car window. We now have the choice to:
        – Let Alice pay for the car window, so she is still worse off than if the theft hadn’t happened
        – Let Scott pay for the car window, so he is worse off than if he hadn’t done the theft
        – Let a third party pay, so they are worse off than if the theft hadn’t happened
        – A combination of the above

        There is no option to undo the harm, so no one is worse off, compared to the situation without the theft.

        A key aspect here is that the harm that was done comes in two variants:
        – reversible (taking and returning the car radio)
        – irreversible (smashing the window)

        Ultimately, if we have two possible realities, Utopia and Harm, where in the latter someone was harmed, then the only way we can turn Harm back into Utopia is if the harm that was done, is reversible. If that is not the case & it is almost never entirely the case, we can only redistribute the harm that was done.

        But at that point, we have an issue, because while many victims don’t deserve the harm that happened to them, we often also don’t have others who (fully or at all) deserve that harm.

        A third example. Hank and Anne have a loving relationship. Anne gets attacked by a drunk person and suffers brain damage that makes her violent & that cannot be undone. Hank dislikes being beaten (and having his children be beaten), so he wants to leave her.

        If we only consider the harm that happened to Anne and want to make her as much whole as we can, the logical thing to do is to force Hank to stay with Anne. For Anne, this is the closest we can make her life to the situation where she wasn’t harmed.

        Yet if we make that choice, it means that others will in turn be severely harmed.

        So based on these examples, I would argue that you cannot just look at what people’s lives would have been without harm. You have to figure out what is most fair in the situation where the harm happened. If you want to go beyond merely undoing the harms that were done, which is only possible to a very limited extent, you have to accept that you are throwing the switch in the trolley problem. You are causing a harm to innocents, which you may consider the most fair (or least unfair) solution, but it is not what they deserve to happen to them.

        • sclmlw says:

          The ‘reversible/irreversible’ scheme you outline above is closely related to the legal principle in tort law called ‘conversion’. If you steal my dog, you can still give it back. If you shoot my dog, you’ve ‘converted’ the possession in a way that it cannot be legally recovered through direct means. It has to be converted into some other kind of compensation, which is often difficult to calculate. (And in practice is based on statues and years of legal precedent about what it means to make the situation right.)

          The story of the addict brings in another legal principle. Once upon a time, if you were too poor to pay when a legal judgement went against you, the person you owed money to could accept non-payment in the form of prison time. This is what Jesus means when he says you’ll rot in jail if you owe money you can’t pay back (Sermon on the Mount) or how the debtor’s debtor threw people in prison for non-payment even after he got forbearance (parable). We abolished that practice years ago, such that today the drug addict who is stealing to support their habit will not pay anything to fix the car window. They are what we call ‘judgement-proof’; meaning that a judgement would not be able to collect anything against them because they don’t make anything. And since we’re no longer willing to throw people in prison for monetary damages (probably a good thing on balance, given the history behind the practice) the law can’t do anything to recover the judgement. The judgement becomes a piece of paper that conveys no promise of restitution by legal means. So Alice’s insurance pays to fix the window. Not because we’ve decided she deserves to pay the price, but because Scott is incapable of making restitution, and we’re unwilling to send him to a work camp to make him pay for it.

          This in turn creates interesting scenarios. OJ Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges for the murders of his wife and Ron Goldman, but he lost the subsequent civil case brought by the Goldman family. The criminal standard is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, and the evidence didn’t quite fit well enough to convict based on that requirement. But but the civil standard is a ‘preponderance of evidence’, so of course OJ lost (I want to say it was wrongful death?). Simpson was loaded, but he declared the Goldman family would not get a dime of the judgement against him. He moved to Florida, where the law prohibits recovery of damages from assets, only from income. OJ stated he was purposefully NOT going to work so he didn’t have to pay anything to the judgement. Despite his millions, he’d rendered himself judgement-proof.

          Later, he was preparing to publish a book called “If I did it” where he all but confessed to the murders. The Goldman family discovered this fact and successfully sued to have the book included as part of the judgement – it was new ‘income’ from OJ. (I think it helped that the publishing house was located outside Florida, but I can’t remember the details.) The Goldman family published it, shrinking the word ‘if’ in the title down to insignificance, and added a lengthy foreword of their own about their perspective of the murders.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        @David Friedman

        Your description of moral nihilism seems like an outside-description of morality. My rebuttal of it would be that when people are asking about moral philosophies, they are asking for internal (actor) descriptions.

        Is this adequate?

      • It occurs to me, looking at the responses, that there is a third category of moral theory that doesn’t fit either of the ones I described, a theory such as utilitarianism which hold that one should do whatever best achieves some objective, such as maximizing total utility. It isn’t allocating on the basis of either desert or entitlement, although I suppose one could cram it into the desert category with enough effort.

        • Eric T says:

          I’d consider myself like 2/3ds consequentialist/utilitarian. I do think that giving people what they “deserve” or maybe what they are “entitled to” is a net good on utility for a bunch of reasons.

          -People feel much happier when they receive what they think they’ve earned
          -Solving for inequalities increases efficiency
          -It is more likely to help the least well off (marginal utility)
          -When people believe justice will be done they act in a better way

          Stuff like that.

      • DinoNerd says:

        There’s yet another alternative here, that mostly turns up in a religious context. This is the idea that everyone is of equal worth, and deserves the same good treatment.

        This may be impractical – various arguments for this are obvious and well known.

        But it returns again and again in religious argument. (As an example, to many Christians, all are sinners, and deserving of ultimate bad, with small differences essentially irrelevant compared to the goodness of God.)

        It’s present in some versions of communist/socialist ideals, without the religious backing.

        You can argue this is not moral philosophy per se, because it’s not providing moral context for the recipient. But it’s telling all people, in their roles as givers/actors towards other people how they ought to behave, so I think it qualifies.

        I also think it’s lurking behind a lot of modern intuitions, just rarely stated as baldly except by a few religious writers.

        Also, FWIW, this can show up as entitlement – any time you hear “xyz is a right”, they’ve headed down this path. You don’t earn rights; you have them simply because you exist.

        It’s just that most people, unless they aspire to be or describe saints, stop before going all the way down that path.

      • Eric T says:

        Sorry for not responding! Real life caught up for a bit 🙁

        The very tempting alternative is to ask whether you deserve to be as you now are. If the reason you are a nasty, hostile person is that you were abused as a child then you don’t deserve to be such a person, so don’t deserve to get worse outcomes than the person lucky enough to be reared by loving parents to be a kind, generous, honest person.

        One problem with this approach is that if you push it back far enough nobody deserves anything, good or bad, since every characteristic of a person can be traced to things that are in some sense not his fault, his genes as well as his environment. One could try to get out of this by introducing free will and claiming that some things are the result of voluntary choice rather than causal chains starting outside the individual, but it’s hard to know how to turn that approach into a coherent moral theory.

        I think I can “get out of this” in two ways: First I think we can all acknowledge, even me, that the further back you go the less directly causal actions are on you as you are now. So probably like 100+ years ago we can only really discuss pretty major stuff, and even then I think the impact is diminished. I tried to in my other posts stray away from reparations from say slavery because of this very issue.

        Second I think we can introduce a pragmatic element here. It is pragmatically good for society if people have some degree of responsibility for their actions no matter what. I think if we offset responsibility 100% that does breakdown stuff in a meaningful way.

        Look – I’m a causal determinism. I don’t think that morally anything is anyone’s “fault” so to speak, we’re all gears in a machine. But I do think adhering to the principals of justice makes society better.

        What got me thinking about that was something you said about Asians, that (my summary from memory) if their talents should give them a ten percent higher than average income but, due to discrimination, they only ended up with a five percent higher income, things should somehow be fixed to get them back up to ten percent.

        So you were distinguishing between one subset of characteristics relevant to desert that people were entitled to and another they were not. I didn’t see on what basis you did that, given what seemed to be the logic of your r/Racism approach.

        I posted this earlier but I’ll repost it here, to breakdown what I think kind of broadly:

        I think people should be given as much a fair shake as possible. My ideal world would probably be one where everyone’s success and failure is based solely on their individual merit, but also one that has a sizable security net so failure=/= death or misery.

        In the context of race this would mean allowing each person of each race the ability to thrive. If we could actually excise all racist bias and aftereffects of Racist policy from modern world and there was unequal outcomes, I’d probably be fine with that. I understand that things like IQ are still part of the lottery of birth, but I think the other stuff is at least solvable. I’m not sure if that one is solvable in a way that doesn’t completely obliterate individuality.

        Like perhaps if there was a way to ensure everyone was born exactly equally without massively decreasing overall happiness, I’d be interested in it.

        Two other and briefer points. First, my basis for moral philosophy is intuitionism. For a long version, Michael Huemer has a book with that title. For a short version, see this draft chapter from the third edition of my first book.

        Second, an alternative criterion to desert, one that I think better suited for building a legal system on, is entitlement, a distinction I borrow from Nozick. You are entitled to something if you got it by a legitimate chain of transactions. Seen from that standpoint, one could argue that a current West Coast Japanese with an above average income was entitled to transfers to compensate him for property lost due to the imprisonment of his family during WWII, because such transfers undue a past illegitimate transfer. That’s the line of argument sometimes offered to justify transfers to the descendants of slaves.

        My point here isn’t to argue for any particular application of the approaches. It is that there is a fundamental difference between saying “someone should get something because he deserves it” and “because he is entitled to it.” Both might be used to argue for the same conclusion, but they are fundamentally different arguments.

        This is a really cool distinction and I’d love to talk more about it, but I feel like I should read Huemer or at least your draft chapter. Give me a bit, and I’ll circle back on this.

        I guess to me it seems like you could always run into this infinite regression here too right: couldn’t you go back far enough and find a transaction that is illegitimate. Below people brought up conquest. Is conquest a legitimate means of transaction? Why is it ok, but stealing/mugging isn’t for example?

        • My ideal world would probably be one where everyone’s success and failure is based solely on their individual merit

          But is merit predicated on what they now are, the position I argued for, or on what they would be if not for … ?

          Does my nasty person who is nasty because of his terrible upbringing deserve failure on the basis of his (present) merit?

          couldn’t you go back far enough and find a transaction that is illegitimate.

          That’s a potential problem. The best solution I can come up with is that it’s a matter of relative entitlement. If one could actually find out who the property was stolen from (assuming an initial just “mixing labor with the land” claim) a thousand years ago and trace his inheritance down, the heir would have a legitimate claim against the current owner. But you can’t, and the current owner got the land through a chain of legitimate transactions through people who continued to mix their labor with the land in various ways, so has a much better claim than a random person.

          You might be interested in my not very successful attempt to resolve the initial ownership problem in another chapter of the same book.

          • albatross11 says:

            Among other things, the whole moral argument for outcomes based on merit got a lot less convincing to me when I started understanding how much of intelligence is inherited.

  4. Plumber says:

    Because of @DavidFriedman’s recommendation I’ve been taking vitamin D3 pills, I’ve also seen some recommendations for some flavor of vitamin B (which one? B2? B12? I’ve no idea).
    Any other recommendations of supplements?
    (Preferably those that can be bought brick and mortar, I loath shopping “on-line”).

    • Monumental says:

      Vitamin B12 is commonly recommended for those that eat no or reduced quantities of animal products. It is surprising how few vegetarians and vegans know about this, as the consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency can hit fast, unexpectedly (often years after making dietary changes) and cause serious long term consequences.

      If the goal is to consume well-researched supplements that are safe, effective, promoting of long-term health, and often lacking in developed diets, I would also look at magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 – all of these are very easily to obtain.

    • I’m the local B12 advocate. My gut is only reluctant to absorb it even from a meat-rich diet and I made the mistake to try and go vegetarian to “help with my health issues” and skidded narrowly past dementia (narrowly by my measure; I was still entirely functional, just utterly miserable and palpably declining).

      Since it’s over the counter I generally recommend people who have symptoms that are remotely like mine were (sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, problems concentrating, poor sleep quality, catastrophic memory issues, frequent constipation; severe depression thanks to all of the preceding issues) to try B12 supplements for a week or two. For reference, I take about 20µg a day, though I’m going to be upping it to 30µg a day because I’ve had to switch suppliers; but the “ideal amount” I am trying to go for, personally, is 20µg.

      If you do try this, dear reader, be careful not to get a vitamin B combo product, while B12 is next to impossible to overdose on, the other B vitamins aren’t.

      (Also, methylcobalamin may be better than cyanocobalamin, but I’m happy with latter.)

    • albatross11 says:

      I’ve heard the claim that it’s hard to get the required vitamin D from supplements and easier to get it from sun, but I don’t know enough to be sure.

  5. Dino says:

    This is pretty esoteric, but hoping there’s > 0 people here interested in this. I’m fascinated by the theory of music scales, tuning systems, intervals/ratios, tempered vs non-tempered, etc. My question concerns the birds (cuckoos as the canonical example) that sing 2 notes that are a descending minor 3rd. Is it a tempered interval? or maybe using just intonation? Maybe some scientists have measured the actual frequencies, but I don’t know how to search for that data. The measurements would have to be pretty precise because the difference between a tempered minor 3rd (ratio = 1.1892…) and a just minor 3rd (ratio = 6/5 = 1.2) is pretty small (< 1%).

    For those who share this interest, I've written a software app – a tool to explore scales, intervals, ratios and intonations. You can use it to, for example, hear the difference between the 81/64 3-limit ratio major 3rd and the 5/4 "just" major 3rd and the tempered major 3rd, or find out that the "pure" 3/2 5th is 2 cents sharper than the tempered 5th, or that 60hz hum is 49 cents below a B. You can download it from DropBox using this link –

    • gdepasamonte says:

      I am not much of a musician, but it sounds from eg this recording that the upper note is not a single pitch. To me it sounds like a slight downward glide, with the initial pitch higher than an equal-tempered minor third. This site I just found has some interesting experiments with transcribing birdsong, and the author seems pretty clear that birdsong is both microtonal and liberally ornamented with glides.

    • viceni says:

      I have one of my degrees in music theory. I used to have similar questions, but not this one exactly. Can I ask why you got so intrigued by it.

      My prior, based on everything I’ve read in the past, is that an interval occurring naturally (like with birds) is likely to not be tempered. Tempering is something that happens artificially to accommodate the chromaticism that developed in Baroque music. If you ask people to sing chants from the Middle Ages, or if you look at some a cappella music today (barbershop quartet music comes to mind), I’m thinking it might not be tempered (that’s how barbershop quartets can achieve a really “ringing” quality that is fun and attractive).

      Basically, my prior is that natural things are going to be untempered. But I’ll admit it’s been a long time since I spent any time with it.

      • Dino says:

        Barbershop quartets not only use non-tempered (whole number ratio) intervals, they use the 7th harmonic (7/4 ratio) in their 7th chords. Famously dreaded by horn players, that’s 31 cents flat from the tempered 7th.

      • Lambert says:

        The problem with that is that choirs sometimes sing stuff that includes a comma pump.

      • AG says:

        Isn’t it the opposite? While musicians think in terms of untempered in order to read music, in practice, they play D-flat and C-sharp in minutely different ways to harmonize with what they’re hearing (if the instrument allows them to). Singing should have even more leeway to do that.

    • Dog says:

      I’ve done some sampling and manipulation of bird calls while producing electronic music, and my experience was that the birds were all really pitchy. So my guess is the question is not really answerable because birds’ pitches are not that consistent.

    • Lambert says:

      You got an audio file or a youtube video of the bird?
      I’ll try and feed the samples through a fourier transform.

  6. Anonymous` says:

    And associating police brutality with race, side-by-side condemnations of unrelated protests/gatherings during COVID-19 with excuses for these protests, releasing arrested looters, declaring that remaining silent is taking a position, declaring that opposition to one particular movement means opposition to black people… all this seems like the most concentrated example of toxoplasma we’ve seen yet.

    • Eric T says:

      *Cough cough* CW *Cough cough*

      • wonderer says:

        I’m a bit confused as to the rules regarding CW. Is the rule that CW should be discussed in the fractional open threads and not the whole numbered open threads? If so, what if Scott himself talks about a CW topic (like this one) on a whole numbered open thread? Are we allowed to discuss that topic?

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Yes, doesn’t matter, no, respectively. The doesn’t matter is because the thread post body != the thread itself, and Because Scott usually uses the post for various announcements, general responses, administrivia, and so on.

  7. theredsheep says:

    On a cheerier note, let’s talk about eccentrics. Does your metropolitan area have one? I’m talking about Emperor Norton type figures, men and women who live outlandish lives in public view and are generally adored for it.

    I live in Bay County, Florida, and we have a man named Decaris Hunter. Mr. Hunter’s exact background is not clear to me, but he spends a tremendous amount of time hanging out at busy intersections holding up signs that say “Spread the Love” and getting people to honk. As in, hours on end. I believe he treats it like a full-time job. We are not talking about a shoestring operation with crappy signs here. He has a number of snazzy custom-printed shirts; I’ve heard that he has corporate sponsors as well. He once pulled in behind me at a gas station, driving a big white Ford pickup with a bunch of Spread the Love stuffed animals on the dash and deafening Gospel music blasting out the open windows. He danced to the music while he was filling up, completely un-self-conscious about the crowds staring.

    When I tried to look it up, I found a news interview where he said he was an ex-con who wanted to turn his life around. Whatever the case may be, Bay County is very much behind his Spread the Love mission. Until COVID hit he did lots of selfies with random people. A year or so back a local mall drove him away for “loitering.” They felt the wrath of God for that, and quickly backpedaled. You do not accuse Decaris Hunter of loitering, he is a civic treasure.

    • SamChevre says:

      Richmond Virginia has “Happy the Artist“; he gave hugs to anyone who asked, drove very oddly decorated cars, and painted amazing murals.

    • xved says:

      Present-day San Francisco has Frank Chu, although he’s less “adored” and more a curiosity.

      • FLWAB says:

        He’s clearly a delusional paranoid schizophrenic. Sad.

        I once encountered such a person over the phone when I was a receptionist for a government agency. What he wanted was extremely unclear, though he was loud and passionate about it. He kept insisting that I visit his website. After three calls I checked it out, and there he laid out the whole story. Apparently he wanted to start a recycling plant and his many and varied enemies who were afraid that his recycling plant would put them out of business had conspired with his psychologist to falsely give him a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The website went on for many pages explaining in detail about how this diagnosis was just the cherry on top of a long history of people in power conspiring against him. He seemed incapable of recognizing that his paranoid ramblings did not help his case that his diagnosis was inaccurate.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      Boston has Keytar Bear if that counts.

    • ItsGiusto says:

      OrI had a few conversations once in central park in NY with Blackwolf the Dragonmaster (once featured in humans of new york):
      He’s a super kind person, from my brief interactions. He dresses like a really old wizard, and has a dragon puppet on his shoulder that he does ventriloquism for (though he doesn’t really try to make it look like he’s not moving his own mouth)

      • yodelyak says:

        Hm. The dragonmaster’s own site is down, his Facebook hasn’t been active since 2014 it looks like. I feel sad to have missed this phenomenon.

    • hnau says:

      Not my metro area, but Madison has Thong Cape Scooter Man.

    • John Greer says:

      Have you seen Errol Morris’ “Vernon, Florida”?

    • ltowel says:

      I recall seeing Matthew Lesko’s (the question mark suit guy) car a lot growing up. It’s unclear to me how much is legitimate eccentricity and how much is marketing.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I recall seeing Matthew Lesko’s (the question mark suit guy) car a lot growing up. It’s unclear to me how much is legitimate eccentricity and how much is marketing.

        It’s only legitimate eccentricity if the legal system institutionalizes him for fighting Batman.

    • yodelyak says:

      Portland has the unipiper, who is frequently seen with his bagpipes (often with flames coming from the pipes), a darth vader mask or other full-head mask, and a unicycle. On May 4th he always does his conventional Vader mask and plays Star Wars songs, because (say it aloud) “May the 4th be with you.”

      He does other holiday-themed things, and event/news-related ones too, like this bit re: covid-19.

    • yodelyak says:

      My older brother and I both wore an apple bucket with suspenders to cross-country meets in which we (not having made the varsity team) didn’t compete. We did so in imitation and appreciation of “The Barrel Man” –wearing a barrel somehow made his fandom feel wholesome and fun, rather than the weird loser-fascist vibe that some mega sports fans give off.

      So yeah, the barrel man was a Denver Broncos phenomenon until 2009.

    • noyann says:

      Not an answer (not metropolitan, mostly not contemporary) but maybe interesting for someone who follow this subthread, the biographical sketches of British people with rather peculiar habits or lifestyles in Tales of the Country Eccentrics.

    • Ragged Clown says:

      Bristol has a sixty-something who rides around and around the harbour on a bicycle fitted out to look like an oversized Harley Davidson or Honda Gold Wing. He has an enormous speaker on the back that belts out 70s rock so loud that you can hear him from several hundred yards away. He does this all day and (as far as I can tell) every day.

    • keaswaran says:

      Los Angeles has Angelyne.

      Berkeley has a whole listicle’s worth.

      Many universities have Brother Jed, and I think there are other individuals that are a lot like him, but are in fact distinct people. (The Wikipedia page doesn’t mention all the universities he hangs out at, because Texas A&M is definitely on the list.)

      • keaswaran says:

        Although, on re-reading your description, I think Angelyne is the only one of these that is generally loved for the eccentricity.

    • ninjafetus says:

      Fellow Bay County, Floridian here, and I will confirm that the Love must Spread!

      Before FL, I lived for a time in Albuquerque, NM, and one of the eccentrics was the naked thrifty guy. He’d walk in front of the UNM campus all the time wearing next to nothing, pulling a radio flyer red wagon with his stuff, holding up a sign that said something like, “I lived on $11,000 last year, and you can too! Ask me how!” I never asked, I assumed his lifestyle and fulfillment was self-evident.

    • King_Awesome says:

      There is a guy in Jacksonville, NC (a military town that hosts US Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune) who is known as the ‘Jacksonville Ninja’ who spends hours doing martial arts moves on the side of the road. No links because of spam filters but the news did a segment on him because he has been a local fixture for years and there is a video on youtube so you can see his moves yourself.

  8. Rewrite says:

    This seems to be a pretty good discussion of the problems of peer review, especially in the ‘Social Sciences’:

  9. Alexandre Z says:

    Are prescription stimulants and SSRIs nootropics for the purpose of this survey? They certainly are cognitive enhancers.

  10. nkurz says:

    I’m not sure if this is a deep question or a dumb one, but is there actually any “conservation of value” when there are crashes in the financial markets? That is, there’s a general belief that stocks and bonds are anti-correlated to some extent, such that when one does poorly the other does well. And it’s often believed that precious metals tend to do well after a market collapse. Is it reasonable to think that when stock market falls by some significant percentage in a short period, that there exists some other asset that has increased in value over the same timeframe? Or does the decrease in stock market value mostly just evaporate?

    I ask because in most of the recent stock market downturns, it frequently seems like everything is “down”, or at least, that nothing is “up” enough to offset the losses. But maybe this is because the size of the market components is nowhere near equal? Perhaps a 1% increase in US Treasuries does offset 10% drop in major indexes? Or maybe the “value of cash” has gone up, whatever that might mean? Or perhaps in a major drop, there really is just a loss of value: anything salable is liquidated to make margin calls, leading to lower prices for everything salable.

    On a practical level, I’d wonder what practical investments for individuals might exist that would be counter to another market crash like the one earlier this year. In that, it looked like basically everything was down: stocks, bonds, REIT’s, treasuries, TIPS, gold, silver, other commodities, you name it, it dropped. Different things recovered more quickly, some now showing overall gains, but in the moment, I think everything was down. Besides short positions in stocks (and various options strategies) is there anything that seems likely to anti-correlate to another similar drop if one occurs?

    • broblawsky says:

      Rotations (from stocks to bonds, or from one stock sector to another) conserve value. Panics, like what we just saw this year, do not.

      • nkurz says:

        Is there a named metric for the percentage of loss of different events? It seems like it would be useful for distinguishing “panics” from “rotations”, but in the popular press I don’t feel like I’ve ever seen this being discussed much less measured.

        • broblawsky says:

          Not really; I’d argue that a correction (>10% from a new high) is at least partially panic-driven, but like so many things in finance, these definitions are arbitrary.

    • Erusian says:

      There’s no conservation, no. Everything can go down.

      There are countercyclical assets, most famously gold, which is countercyclical largely because a bunch of people put their money there in a downturn. This inflates the price but doesn’t increase the return (it often decreases it). Also, US/Swiss/etc treasuries or secure bonds tend to go up in bad times because if those governments stop paying their debts the world is basically ending. (Gold had a very brief crash but is up, for example. US treasuries didn’t in this crisis because people preferred corporate bonds, implying fears of inflation or the US debt.)

      The issue is that countercyclical assets are countercyclical: they go down when everything else goes up, so if you just sit in them you’ll be losing money. This is usually because they’re more certain but have a lower yield, so volatility makes their value go up but in decent times there are better investments.

      You can tell the best place to put money if you know what sort of crash is going to happen. But that’s predicting the future. If you knew the coronavirus crash was going to happen, the best place to put your money would have been tech and pharmaceutical (PayPal is up like 50% since January). If you just knew a crash was coming and not the kind, gold or other commodities would still have worked. Most of them behaved normally.

      If you’re just looking for a general long term strategy, the answer is largely to ride it out. Even if you have a bad year, it’ll bounce back eventually. Usually in a few years at worst.

    • viceni says:

      The short answer is no…there is not conservation of value.

      To be really mathematical and precise, the value of a financial instrument is a function of only two inputs: the estimate of future cash flows, and the required rate of return used to discount those cash flows to the present. That’s all. End of story.

      The cash flow for bonds are really predictable – you get set coupons. The cash flow for stocks are are really volatile (you get only what’s left over). In a garden variety mild recession, two things usually happen: the value of the cash flow for stocks goes down (because the economy tanks), and the required rate of return declines (because the Fed lowers rates to stimulate). Lower required returns equates to a higher price. Thus, in a garden variety recession, cash flow for bonds is usually fine but rates go down, so bonds go up. For stocks, rates going down should push them up, but the reduction in cash flow often more than offsets the rates, so they go down.

      I’m a major crisis like the great financial crisis or the corona crisis, the cash flow for bonds is also at risk (bankruptcies everywhere), so they can also go down. But more pertinently, when uncertainty about cash flows gets very high, everyone just wants cash, so they liquidate, putting pressure on prices of assets. This is why you see “correlations go to 1” as traders like to say.

      Why is there not conservation of value? At a meta level it’s because cash flows for the entire economy (ie GDP roughly) can and do permanently change. Also, required rates of return for the economy can and do change.

    • cheezecat says:

      I’ve never liked the “value has disappeared” story that comes with stock market drops. The value might not be conserved in some other obvious stock-adjacent market, but surely every person that doesn’t own stocks has had their purchasing power increase by some (small) amount?

      Disclaimer: I believe most advanced economic principles are essentially witchcraft, and not to be trusted.

      • cassander says:

        When GDP declines, the decline has to come out of something. And even when it doesn’t, money can move from investment to consumption.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        For the stereotypical day to day stock market shift when the president makes an unnerving remark or whatever and speculators panic there’s a sort of conservation of value in that the number of factories owned by each company or whatever hasn’t changed, it’s just that either speculators overestimated the value before or now they underestimate the value; in that case the value of cash absolutely does rise or fall when stocks drop or rise as you can buy more of a company with your cash.

        But it’s of course possible for the size of the entire economy to change, as in factories shutting down during quarrantine or conversely new technologies being invented; after something like COVID appears your dollar might buy a larger percentage of the world economy but not get you any more value because the whole economy is slightly smaller.

    • alef says:

      What a complex question! I’d say the answers are no/no/only-slighlty.

      But we can imagine a situation in which the answer to the third question (does value just evaporate?) is a clearer ‘yes’. At one time you had people willing to pay $X for a stake in the market, but later now they will only pay, e.g., 0.9 $X. Has 10% of the value been lost? In each case – IF the investors are wise and rational – the price is supposely some expection of future (discounted) cash flow. But what if the change is due to coronavirus? People are out of work, the economy is hurt, there’s lots of disruption, people are dying; it’s really reasonable to suspect that mankind truly is worse off economically (not to ignore other ways) due to this virus. Perhaps companies can be legimitately expected to earn less. And so perhaps a fall in price really reflects a rational valuation of a _real_ loss in humankind’s expected wealth. If that’s what’s going on then – at least in aggregate – no financial instrument can paper over this real loss of wealth.

      To address your practical question for individuals: what’s wrong with just investing less in the market in the first place? What do you have against shorting/options? Are you hoping to hedge against the downside but still keep the upside if the market gains? Are there tax reasons? There’s not going to be a reliable (i.e. robust against a wide-ish range of possible futures) hedge that keeps give you most of the upside but limits the downside; at least not that anyone here knows or that you would have access to. (Though even without these caveats: you can safely assume that there’s not one.)

      • nkurz says:

        Thanks for your thoughts. Answering only the “practical” clarifications in the last paragraph:

        > what’s wrong with just investing less in the market in the first place?

        Selling and holding cash equivalents until things calm down is certainly a reasonable strategy. The downside is that it’s hard to determine when to get back in, and in an inflationary environment you might end up losing value over time. My guess is that the aftereffects of the COVID pandemic will be short-term deflationary on paper as measured with CPI, but inflationary with regard to most household expenses other than housing.

        > What do you have against shorting/options?

        Probably mostly lack of skill and knowledge, but I’d also like to avoid things that have unlimited downside if unattended. Right now I’m interested in learning more about things like the “options weaving” strategy described here: Essentially, chose something (like gold or silver) that you’d be happy enough owning on a price drop and selling the upside gain in return for income.

        > Are you hoping to hedge against the downside but still keep the upside if the market gains?

        I’m happy to trade off most of the upside on a market surge in return for better performance during an eventual market drop. I’m personally willing to bet that there will be some exceptionally poor earnings reports over next couple years, but I lack confidence is the timing on which the market will react to this, and on the time scale that will be involved. My guess is that at some point in the next 18 months we’ll see further drops of the sort that happened in March, and I’m wondering how to position for this.

        > Are there tax reasons?

        Sure, but not incredibly important. I sold my broad-market index mutual funds about half-way down during the March drop in a way that leaves me with a significant percentage of short-term losses that can offset most of what would otherwise be a poor tax-wise strategy.

        > There’s not going to be a reliable (i.e. robust against a wide-ish range of possible futures) hedge that keeps give you most of the upside but limits the downside; at least not that anyone here knows

        There’s a lot of smart people here, and a lot that I don’t know, so it seemed worth asking. There may well be easy to access hedges that I don’t know about that others here do. For example, when recently trying to learn about inflation protected bonds (TIPS), I accidentally found out about Series EE Savings Bonds. As a public service notice, if you are an American less than 60 years old, if you can afford it I think you should strongly consider the maximum limit of $10,000 per year: It makes me suspect that other such hedges exist as well, but that I just don’t know about them.

    • HomarusSimpson says:

      nothing is “up”

      My biotech fund has gone up massively. Might well prove to be transitory, when the ‘winner’ emerges (C19 vaccine) everyone else will drop back

    • Matt M says:

      The super-literal answer to your question is short-selling, or inverse-funds.

      For every $1 the S&P goes up, an S&P inverse fund goes down $1, and vice-versa. Now that’s not a “real investment” as such and it doesn’t really represent “market value” but it is a completely 100% anti-correlated thing that you can invest in.

      • Lambert says:

        > completely 100% anti-correlated

        The cities are rubble and radioactive glass. Bands of humans roam the shattered landscape looking for food. Warlords fund their activities using the infinity dollars they got from their inverse ETFs.


        • Matt M says:

          Hey, if “everything will be fine so long as you have infinity dollars” is considered a viable economic policy when the fed does it, I’m not sure why it wouldn’t apply just as well to the warlords!

        • Jake R says:

          There are 3 types of anticipated economic collapse:

          Buy Inverse ETFs
          Buy Gold
          Buy vegetable seeds and shotgun shells

          • Lambert says:

            Probably buy the seeds early.
            All the mail order companies were utterly flooded back in march/april. Half the time I’d check their websites and it’d just be a static page saying ‘please come back later’.

          • achenx says:

            Yeah I’m glad I didn’t wait until March this year to get seeds, I grabbed everything in January. Also got lucky with Internet service — Verizon did an equipment and bandwidth upgrade for me in February; by the end of March I was hearing they were majorly backed up and new service requests weren’t being scheduled until the fall. Also had a pound of yeast in the freezer already too.

            Some non-obvious things to think about keeping a supply of for the next plague, I guess.

    • eric23 says:

      A market crash means that the value of stocks relative to dollars has gone down. But that also means that the value of dollars relative to stocks has gone up. That’s the offset. Dollars are relatively more desirable, and stocks less desirable.

      If you want to anticorrelate, stick your money under the mattress, or less figuratively, in a bank getting whatever low fixed interest rate they are willing to give you.

  11. viceni says:

    What is the scientific view (or the full-fledged Scott view, or the rationalist view, or the informed-person view) of the Turchin cycle theory (or similar theories about social cycles)? I have seen some vague commentary about them being discredited. But then I keep seeing them referenced in credible places like here (and also some economic stuff I admire).

    Basically, has anyone reviewed the literature on this and can provide a shortcut?

    • mtl1882 says:

      I don’t think they’re precise or scientific, in the sense you can’t use them to predict exactly what will happen and in what year, but I think some of them identify actual recurring social patterns in organized societies. I’m most familiar with Strauss and Howe, but have also read Turchin and others. If you have specific questions, I can try to answer them.

      • viceni says:

        Ok sure. Do the various cyclical models make similar predictions? For instance, i believe Strauss-Howe suggest the 2020s are likely to be Very Bad. Do the other models say something similar?

        • original-internet-explorer says:

          The Long Wave cycle. The down cycle is on the front cover of an old book I have and it starts 2020-2021.

        • Tenacious D says:

          Ray Dalio has been posting his cyclical view of super-powers on LinkedIn recently. His graphs of power level give successive empires ~125 years on top, with a total length of 220 years including time for their rise and decline. So by his theory, the US is on track to be eclipsed by China around 2040. And the years leading up to a transition like that are expected to have debt, political, and other crises.

        • mtl1882 says:

          Yes, many of them converge on the 2020s. I don’t know if their models were of exceptional quality or if they just had a sense of this. I don’t think this is purely a generational/social cycle thing–there are other major trends going on that accelerate the issue. But it’s related to it. A younger generation reaches adulthood and slowly realizes things aren’t working as expected. As this persists, it reveals the existing instability of the system (institutions/expectations etc.) that has built up. The pendulum eventually swings. The overlooked incompatibility usually takes about 80 years to build up to this point.

          Turchin’s model predicted that “social instability and political violence would peak in the 2020s.”

          Strauss and Howe said around 2021, climaxing around 2025, and now Howe says “I think we entered [the crisis era] in the time of the GFC [Great Financial Crisis] 2008-2009 and I think we’re gonna be in it all the way until around the year 2030 right so that’s a good 22 years so we always predicted that in the 2020s we’d see an acceleration.”

          The Storm Before the Calm (George Friedman) also gets into this, but it was published earlier this year–pre-COVID (this seems to be similar to economic historian J. Bradford DeLong’s argument made years earlier). Looks more at institutional cycles, but it’s not unrelated—U.S. “regimes” probably have shifted about every 80 years because that’s how long it takes for generations to lose sight of the original trade-offs (which were crisis-induced and often don’t make intuitive sense in more stable times, especially if tech and other things have evolved). They take the system for granted, stop maintaining it, and try and optimize parts of it until it is out of balance–they treat the parts discretely instead of systemically. This relates to elite overproduction.

          The next generation then has to “rewire” everything so that it functions again. Post-WWII, we were increasingly able to build particularly sophisticated and extensive systems, which are causing their own problems and worsening the generational cycle issue. There’s less room to maneuver, and everything is interconnected.

          Howe recently said, “many others have written about this and that is the tendency of societies like ours to have huge Civic and institutional turning points periods of
          rapid transformation occur about the length of a long human lifetime about every 80 or 90 years and and guess what here we are right we’re right back there again and and the basic insight there and this would be Arnold Toynbee sort of generational forgetting thesis…”

          I don’t know how scientific it is, and it certainly isn’t exact, but I definitely felt my understanding of the world increased after I read the Fourth Turning and The Calm Before the Storm.

    • hnau says:

      I took Scott’s reference to the cycles as tongue in cheek given his somewhat skeptical book review. TL;DR: Turchin’s research seems sound, but given the shortage of data (especially clean data) and the flexibility in defining cycles there’s a decent chance that he could just be picking up random noise. Scott also mentions that his attempt at a literature review came up empty.

    • keaswaran says:

      I think any vaguely plausible version of the theory is going to have to say exactly what the possibility of external shocks to the system is. Something like the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t seem like it should be more or less likely at any point in the cycle (unless the frequency of human interactions with animals reliably changes in a particular way along a cycle?) and it seems like a big enough external shock to the system that it should disrupt the existing cycle. If a shock like this happens to disrupt one in ten cycles, that’s not so bad for the theory, but if external shocks of this magnitude are likely to occur within every cycle, then you should wonder whether the cycles would have much explanatory power at all.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Most claim there is a defining crisis in every cycle, because they are regular parts of human experience. Big pandemics happen at least every 100 years—they just weren’t disruptive in the same manner because living with high disease risk was considered part of life. Something incredibly deadly like the plague no doubt generally disrupted things. Strauss & Howe said the Civil War majorly warped the timeline on that cycle led to a generation archetype being skipped over—that event was much more disruptive than disease, but I think most soldiers actually died of disease in camp outbreaks. Soldiers not from the south were vulnerable to malaria.

        Pandemics happened regularly at the time, and the attitude toward death was wildly different—if you are used to having several kids die in childhood, a COVID-19 type illness is not going to be a big shock. People didn’t live much past 60 on average–it would barely have been noticed among all the other things that were killing people. I’m not sure COVID-19 will look like that big of a shock in hindsight—it accelerated things that were already happening. To an extent, it was more of an internal shock—the response and conditions/expectations in which it took place were very unusual historically and unique to our system. It is impossible to know for sure, of course, and we still don’t know how it will affect us in the next few years.

        The value of the cycles is in explaining how people respond to the crises, and how societies change as they move away from it.

        In The Fourth Turning, they propose some possible crises for our time (writing in 1991):

        Recall that a Crisis catalyst involves scenarios distinctly imaginable eight or ten years in advance. Based on recent Unraveling-era trends, the following circa-2005 scenarios might seem plausible:

        *A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft
        and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies launch a preemptive strike. The terrorists threaten to retaliate against an American city. Congress declares war and authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches. Opponents charge that the president concocted the emergency for political purposes. A nationwide strike is declared. Foreign capital flees the U.S.

        *An impasse over the federal budget reaches a stalemate. The president and Congress both refuse to back down, triggering a near-total government shutdown. The president declares emergency powers.

        *Congress rescinds his authority. Dollar and bond prices plummet. The president threatens to stop Social Security checks. Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling. Default looms. Wall Street panics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce the spread of a new communicable virus. The disease reaches densely populated areas, killing some.
        Congress enacts mandatory quarantine measures. The president orders the National Guard to throw prophylactic cordons around unsafe neighborhoods. Mayors resist. Urban gangs battle suburban militias. Calls mount for the president to declare martial law.

        It’s highly unlikely that any one of these scenarios will actually happen. What is likely, however, is that the catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crisis dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding responses and further emergencies. The core elements of these scenarios (debt, civic decay, global disorder) will matter more than the details, which the catalyst will juxtapose and connect in some unknowable way…At home and abroad, these events will reflect the tearing of the civic fabric at points of extreme vulnerability—problem areas where, during the Unraveling, America will have neglected, denied, or delayed needed action…[while the situation will likely stabilize prior to disaster] [d]istrustful of some things, individuals will feel that their survival requires them to distrust more things. This behavior could cascade into a sudden downward spiral, an implosion of societal trust…Aggressive individualism, institutional decay, and long-term pessimism can proceed only so far before a society loses the level of dependability needed to sustain the division of labor and long-term promises on which a market economy must rest. Through the Unraveling, people will have preferred (or, at least, tolerated) the exciting if bewildering trend toward social complexity. But as the Crisis mood congeals, people will come to the jarring realization that they have grown helplessly dependent on a teetering edifice of anonymous transactions and paper guarantees. Many Americans won’t know where their savings are, who their employer is, what their pension is, or how their government works. The era will have left the financial world arbitraged and tentacled: Debtors won’t know who holds their notes…At about the same time, each generation’s approach to its new phase of life will set off loud economic alarms, reminding people how weakly their Unraveling-era nation prepared for the future…

        • keaswaran says:

          Did pandemics actually happen *regularly*, or just *frequently*? The difference is whether there’s an actual period to the occurrence (which could then underlie part of a cycle), or if they’re just as likely to recur after 10 years as after 110 years (by some sort of poisson process) so that they would disrupt whatever process was occurring cyclically.

          • mtl1882 says:

            They don’t happen regularly, but I’m not sure why they’re being singled out. Most pandemics aren’t going to be the defining feature, or even have a huge influence on, a generational cycle. The 1918 flu, even combined with all the War deaths of young men, did not fundamentally warp the cycle, and was less significant in social trends than the war itself. Other pandemics have also occurred at times where more significant systemic changes, like wars. COVID-19 hitting even a few decades ago would not have been a huge systemic shock—definitely not 100 years ago.

            The cycles have to do, to a large extent, with social roles or scripts becoming incompatible with existing resources, opportunities, values, etc. External shocks matter if they cause an internal crisis under the circumstances. COVID-19 certainly will be a big deal internally, and could end up being the defining crisis, but that will largely have to do with the fact that the system, and people’s expectations and roles, are built based on an interconnected world without the threat of this kind of contagious disease, and that the modern system is uniquely complex and fragile and has an active older population. It’s likely a disruption would have come soon anyway, and it will accelerate it, but IMO it is unlikely to fundamentally change the trajectory of things.

  12. Monumental says:

    I had originally wrote a lengthy description of the protests in Canada shortly following the death of George Floyd, explaining why they were, at the start at least, significantly more toxoplasmic than what happened in the USA.

    I’m editing my post to remove all this to keep out of CW territory. Instead, and in the spirit of keeping tensions low, I will just say summarize by suggesting that the situation in Canada adheres to Scott’s theory much more closely. Either that, or protesters were angry over George Floyd, and were ready to protest over the next domestic incident, regardless of what it was.

    If you’re interested, the incident I am referring to is the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

    • Ketil says:

      If you post it in the previous (or next) fractional thread, I’d be interested in reading it.

  13. cassander says:

    Some old friends and I are starting up a D&D game, and we’re experimenting with some higher stakes rules. One of the open threads here had a great comment (or a link to an external article) with a catch phrase along the lines of “make torches last 15 minutes and weigh 2 pounds” about how getting characters to pay attention to some more mundane details of torches, henchmen, animals, etc. heightened the tension in the games they were playing and forced more interaction with the in universe world. I’d like to show it to my group, can anyone remember where it was and link me to it? My google-fu is failing me.

    • broblawsky says:

      Doesn’t the Light cantrip (and Continual Flame spell) make that rule almost pointless?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes. 5E has no mundane resource management unless the players end up picking an unusual combination of classes.
        Cantrips like light, Goodberries (Druid), a Ranger’s existence making it impossible to ever get lost or run out of food overland…

    • MisterA says:

      What edition? I’m not trying to start an Edition War (especially not in a non-CW thread!) but this kind of thing is a lot of what the Old School Renaissance has been about; I have been messing around with it and have been surprised by how much I enjoy original-flavor D&D and its retroclones like Labyrinth Lord. This sort of thing is a big part of it.

      That said, 5E does go a long way to trying to recapture the old school feel in a way the last couple versions didn’t, so I think this is totally doable with 5E. I can also strongly recommend Five Torches Deep, which is a set of additional rules for resource management in 5E that make things like this matter a lot, but which don’t add an insurmountable amount of bookkeeping.

      • Eric T says:

        Playing 5e with the extended rest rules (1 day = short rest, 1 week = long rest) is a lot of fun! Combine with the Shadow Rules and Travel Rules from the Adventures in Middle Earth and a couple house rules (like making the spell goodberry consume its material components) can make for a really gritty resource-management/survival style game.

      • cassander says:

        5e is the plan, largely by default. I’ll check out 5 torches deep, it looks interesting, but I’ll need the post to sell them on the concept of counting torches.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I really, really hate 5e. Sorry 🙁 I understand what the system is designed to do — it’s designed to let you quickly roll up a character and jump straight into roleplaying, without bothering with too many details. It does achieve this goal, but in the process, it completely locks you into a specific build based on your class selection. One Fighter is going to look pretty much the same as another Fighter, etc. This makes things much easier for the GM, admittedly; but as a player, I find this incredibly boring.

        If you don’t care about combat mechanics and just want to do RP, there are other systems that are way better at it, such as FATE (which is a lot of fun to play). If you want to play a more detailed tactical simulation, then there are lots of other systems for that, such as Pathfinder 1e. But IMO D&D 5e does neither of those things very well, and as the result, I just find it infuriating.

        • Spookykou says:

          My fighter multi-classed warlock at level 2, whoa whats next! Less flippant, fighter gets a lot of it’s play pattern from it’s subclass, a ranged battle master and a crit-fishing champion polearm master/dual wielder have totally different play styles.

          Also I disagree that Pathfinder 1e had more tactical depth, the problem with 5e is that the tactical depth is hidden, in pathfinder and 3-3.5 system mastery lets you make OP characters(A serious problem if you want to play any kind of tactical game actually), in 5e system mastery mostly serves to increase your tactical options.

          Those other systems also have a problem with, more choices means less choices, yes there are a ton of feats, and that mostly cashes out as either stupid minor feats that do almost nothing, or a math feat +1 to something, or a feat chain that heavily incentives you to do the exact same thing every round and always use the same kind of weapon. (5e has this a bit, with polearm master being too good 1-4, but in general it is not as bad, and polearm master does open up tactical choices that you wouldn’t have without it, instead of just making you really really good at charging every round)

          Finally it seems like you offer two extremes and say 5e is not the best at both, (while I disagree with oneboth actually(FATE and other ‘heavy RP’ systems A. Offer some sort of mechanical reward for RPing your character, which never works because people don’t fail to RP their character for that kind of reason, and 5e actually does that also. B. Have few rules so the rules don’t get in the way of the RP! At which point you are mostly paying for a setting book for your improve nights, again I feel that there is a value in restrictions for driving creativity and player interactions. A player who needs to can lean more heavily on their character sheet in RP situations while others can go off sheet and rule of cool with their DM.) and think it does offer one of the best tactical table top game experiences) which still opens it up to be a happy middle ground, with support for RP and support for a tactical combat here and there, in a way that at least FATE does not.

    • Lambert says:

      Aren’t torches more a trope because they look good in films than because they’re the best pre-edisonian way to light up a cave/castle at night etc?

      If you let your eyes adjust, a candle or oil lamp throws out enough light. They were used in mines before the invention of the davy lamp (which is really just a sort of oil lamp).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Apparently olive oil burns ~90% as long as modern lamp oils. That works out to 16.5 ml for an hour of light. (my Old School D&D players here: that’s 363 or 364 hours of light from a 6-liter jug)

    • Spookykou says:

      You need to cut or change cantrips and some spells and a few class/background features (or restrict class/background choices) to make 5e a resource tracking game.

      You can also change the way rests work, but this should largely change the pace of the story you are telling, not the pace of the action. The combat resource game is balanced around the ‘adventuring day’ which takes standard rests into account, and unlike the other resource management aspects of 5e, the combat one actually is pretty tight, if you are hitting their recommendations. If it works in story for your characters to only get into 5-7 fights then take a week off before they fight again, then make long rests take a week, if it doesn’t, well, casters become a bit of a trap choice. (Important to keep in mind that 5e caster to martial balance is very good and you mostly do not need to nerf casters)

    • a real dog says:

      There’s a game built entirely around that concept called Torchbearer. Never played it but seems like an interesting idea.

      Personally I noticed that the mundane stuff – making camp, crafting consumables, hunting, keeping watch – is great for both immersion and opportunities for roleplay/character interaction.

  14. broblawsky says:

    I just started playing Deep Rock Galactic with some friends. If you enjoy co-op shooter games and find the idea of a co-op shooter with a strong emphasis on terrain traversal and manipulation and Space Dwarves appealing, you should give it a try.

  15. MisterA says:

    Just thought folks here might find this interesting – the most recent episode of the Ezra Klein Show is an interview with D.W. Pasulka, a professor of religion who decided to do an ethnography of UFO believers as an emergent new religion.


    This is already a pretty interesting idea, but what made it much more interesting is that, as she describes it, this process exposed her to enough evidence that there was something actually going on with UFOs that she went through what she describes as an “epistemic shock” and revised her own view of UFOs, even though someone in her position is generally not supposed to weigh in on the truth claims of the believers she’s studying.

    She wrote a book called American Cosmic based on all this, which has been getting a lot more attention lately since the US Navy started just openly talking about all the UFOs their pilots keep encountering.

    I found the interview interesting enough to buy the book; I am still only in chapter 1, so I can’t say much about that yet.

    • Kaitian says:

      Maybe she just thinks the “there’s something going on with UFOs” angle is a better marketing pitch for her book than ethnography alone.

      • MisterA says:

        Very possible! And she must have been so jazzed when the government decided to go “Screw it, UFOs are real. We have no idea what they are, but check these videos out!”

    • noyann says:

      > “epistemic shock”

      Is there something akin to an intellectual Stockholm syndrome, where you get captured by a subject you study intensely? Investment (of time, energy, social costs,…) turning into belief and identification?

      • Matt M says:

        I think it’s less investment and more that as you get exposed more frequently to basically decent and reasonable people who happen to believe things that you think are purely outlandish, this creates a certain cognitive dissonance, that can only be resolved one of two ways.

        Method 1 is to update your views on the people – they simply aren’t decent and reasonable because they believe this outlandish stuff.

        Method 2, which seems nicer and easier, is to update your views on the beliefs – that even if you don’t agree with them, there’s probably “something to it.”

        I think this is how most agnostics and even less-extreme atheists view religion. Not that it’s right, but that “well clearly some people benefit from it and sometimes it does some good” etc. Because a worldview where lots of people that you know and like believe things that are completely and utterly false and entirely without evidence or merit is unsustainable.

        • Don P. says:

          You’d think this would be baked into the job description of “Professor of Religion”, though. That kind of person must study a lot of people who believe a lot of things, and they don’t all get converted.

          • keaswaran says:

            I think this is the origin of the extreme anti-realist relativism that many people associate with certain kinds of sociology/anthropology/humanities. If you’re studying a bunch of people who believe different religions, and you don’t want to say they’re mostly mistaken, you end up saying they’re all “the truth relative to this believer”.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          Honestly, I’m okay with thinking that people can be both decent and reasonable and still believe silly things. Even if I’m convinced that my own brand of reasoning can rule them out.

          Or they could be trolling you for what they see as your own good…

          • Ketil says:

            Honestly, I’m okay with thinking that people can be both decent and reasonable and still believe silly things.

            This. I know many religious people, but their beliefs make very little sense to me. I’m sure they feel the same way about my atheism. I’ve just had to accept this as a fact, and it doesn’t reduce my respect for them as rational and reasonable people in general, nor does it make me think that maybe there is something to supernatural or “spiritual” thought.

            It also makes it easier to accept that other hold strong beliefs that I find nonsensical (typically things I could list in a fractional thread).

            I imagine Method 1 applies mostly to beliefs you are not exposed directly through, typically by living in an in-group echo chamber. I suspect religious people who argue that without a belief in God everybody would rape and pillage ad lib don’t know many atheists.

          • albatross11 says:

            You can find tons of people who believe weird things in every area of life, not just religion.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Was “purgatory” originally a cave in Ireland where people would go for 24 hours of penitential meditation?

      Is it that easy to interpret St. Frances’ stigmata experience as a UFO encounter?

      What would you do differently if you knew there would be overt contact with aliens in ten years?

      My answer to that one surprised me. It was that I would learn to write poetry– the one thing I’m sure of, assuming we survive, is that the contact will be poetry fodder.

  16. Squirrel of Doom says:

    I’m interested in the “wokeness as secular religion/religion substitute” angle. I know Scott has written about it, though I don’t remember which blog post. John McWhorter also brings it up on occasion.

    Are there other worthwhile texts on this?

    Or, for that matter, any texts arguing against this concept, and/or how other ideologies are equally affected.

    • Spookykou says:

      Asking for recommendations is not necessarily an invitation to debate the topic. It might be neat to see a back and forth that is just people recommending articles and books and counter articles and books without actually adding any commentary of their own. Not regularly though, as I don’t like following links.

    • hnau says:

      It would be CW-ish to discuss in detail, but the post you’re thinking of is this one. See also here with regard to your last point.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      If you’ll take a podcast, this discussion with an ex-Scientologist might be of interest.

      The thing in it that was new to me is that one of the ways of hooking people into cults is telling them that it’s their obligation to save the world, but this is impossible.

      Actual discussion of the topic might be better in a CW thread, possibly 155.75.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      I have no intention of debating this, just looking for references.

      I can see how it’s getting a little close to the line though…

  17. [Thing] says:

    It seems like now matter how well educated and intelligent a native speaker of English is, they can’t be relied upon to get the who/whom distinction right 100% of the time. (I mean, maybe someone like Mary Norris does, but it’s striking how many smart anglophones don’t.) “Between you and I” is another common mistake (Mary Norris even wrote a book called “Between You & Me”); so it seems there is a more general difficulty with keeping track of the subject/object distinction. As a typical monolingual American, I wonder whether this is particular to English speakers, because we only have to do that for pronouns, or reflects some inherent difficulty with that feature of language production. Do native speakers of languages where most nouns have distinct subject and object forms make analogous mistakes all the time, or do they make such mistakes much less frequently because they get more practice, like Guugu Yimithirr speakers developing a strong absolute sense of direction, or speakers of tonal languages having perfect pitch?

    Also curious if anyone has other good examples, English or otherwise, of language rules that frequently trip up even very proficient speakers/writers (where there is an unambiguously right answer; e.g. I wouldn’t fault someone for not using “whom” when they’re “supposed to,” because it’s been falling into disuse for a long time, but using “whom” when “who” is correct is pretty indefensible). I just think it’s interesting how language is such a basic, fundamental skill, but at the same time complex enough that full mastery stretches us to the limit of our cognitive abilities.

    • ThaomasH says:

      English dropped case markings for nouns except for possessive a long time ago. There is no reason it could not do so for pronouns. It’s in the process of dropping gender markings

      As for mistakes in other languages, I’ve noticed that people Spanish frequently “misspell” some of the very few homonyms in the language. Since almost all words are spelled as they sound, they fail to learn well the few exceptions. “Has,” “haz” “as” are all pronounced the same but mean different things, “does” (familiar) “do” (as a familiar command) and “ace.”

      • [Thing] says:

        Ah, the “has”/”haz”/”as” example is interesting! You do see people make analogous mistakes in English, of course: your/you’re, its/it’s, their/they’re, etc. But certainly English speakers get a lot of practice with differently spelled homophones, so maybe proportional to the increased number of opportunities to mix them up, well-educated writers of English do so less often than those of Spanish?

        That reminds me of something I thought about adding just after posting my comment: Not only does language mastery stretch us to our cognitive limits, it often does so not because of the inherent complexity of the ideas we use language to express, but rather because of incidental complexity built into our languages by historical accident. I don’t think it would be controversial to say that, in the case of English, our only marginally phonetic and highly unpredictable orthography is the primary example of this phenomenon, but it seems like every language has at least one thing it does in an unnecessarily complicated way. In Spanish I guess it would be grammatical gender, although that’s still not so bad compared to all the different declensions and conjugations in Latin.

        • ana53294 says:

          In Spanish I guess it would be grammatical gender, although that’s still not so bad compared to all the different declensions and conjugations in Latin.

          Nah, Native Spanish speakers don’t struggle with grammatical gender. Except for edge cases like the heat and the sea (which are both male and female), most people don’t struggle with gender. Because you just know by the sound of the word, in most cases (words that end in a are feminine, words that end in o are masculine).

          No, what Spanish people struggle with in spelling are the accents.

          • Nuño says:

            “Calor” and “mar” were feminine in Middle Age poetry, btw.

          • ana53294 says:

            Yes, I know, but I’ve met people who considered the feminine form incorrect. They were Latinos, but I’m not sure that matters. In Spain, it’s very common to say la calor (mostly in the south), and quite common to say la mar among sailors/fishermen.

            Not sure which parts of Latin America it’s used in.

            I don’t agree with the RAE that la calor is vulgar.

            I think it’s like ships in English, which are obviously feminine, but many style guides are starting to use it for ships. Which is obviously wrong.

          • JPNunez says:

            I feel accent marks are 99% unnecessary.

            Can’t even think of a counterexample right now so I am not putting it at 100% just in case.

          • ana53294 says:


            Accents are what make Spanish a more phonemic language. I.e., a language that’s pronounced how it’s written, even if it doesn’t work the other way around.

            Thus, in English, I frequently read a word and have no idea how to pronounce it. I never have a doubt in Spanish, and it’s partly because of the accents. As soon as I read a word, I know how to pronounce it, and I know on which syllable I should put an accent on.

            In Russian dictionaries, for example, you will frequently have word – word with accent to tell you how it’s pronounced. I don’t want to check the dictionary while I’m reading a book, and it does make it more convenient to read.

          • JPNunez says:

            If you are reading a book, and meet a word you don’t know, you still gotta go to the dictionary anyway, so Russian sounds fine to me.

          • Alejandro says:

            There are many words in Spanish which the accent mark is needed to distinguish meaning. For example, “hable” is the verb hablar in the 3rd person subjunctive, so it means roughly “may/would s/he speak”, but “hablé” is the 1st person past, so it means “I spoke”. Since it is acceptable in Spanish to omit the noun/pronoun from a sentence, the accent mark can be the only way to distinguish them even in context. Similar things happens for most verbs, not just this one.

          • albatross11 says:

            One interesting place this comes up is in songs. Ones that started out being written in Spanish seem to line the accents up with the beat of the music in a way that sounds right; ones that were translated usually don’t.

        • alext says:

          incidental complexity built into our languages by historical accident

          Redundance. You add stuff to the message, so that it’s easier to decrypt and error-correct on the receiver’s end. The rules evolved through mass usage, over many years, so they seem chaotic. When something seems stupid, but has been working for many years for many people, it’s not stupid.

        • SamChevre says:

          English verb tenses are also very complicated. In my experience, they are the last thing speakers of English as a foreign language master.

          Try explaining, clearly, the difference between:
          I lived in Richmond.
          I have lived in Richmond.
          I had lived in Richmond.
          I was living in Richmond.
          I have been living in Richmond.
          I had been living in Richmond.
          I used to live in Richmond.

          And you will see what I mean.

          Even native speakers often get the subjunctive wrong. It’s “If I were a millionaire”.

          • albatross11 says:

            The subjunctive in English is weird because it exists, but we usually don’t think of it. And Spanish verb tenses are similarly complex.

          • KieferO says:

            I have heard that the subjunctive used to be common in vernacular English, but if it were, it at least had started to disappear sometime before 1963: the narrator of California Dreamin’ muses about being “safe and warm if I was in LA.” I like the subjunctive, but if it’s too ancient to appear in the pop music of my grandparents, I have no choice but to concede.

      • keaswaran says:

        Just as a note of syntactic pedantry – nouns in English don’t get possessive case marking either. The particle ” ‘s” that we use for possessive doesn’t attach to the *word* but rather to a whole *phrase*. This isn’t often clear in writing, but in speech we often say things like “the guy next door to me’s dog got out last night”, while we definitely *wouldn’t* say “the guy’s next door to me dog got out last night”, which is how it works in languages with actual case marking.

        There’s a weird thing that sometimes happens if a pronoun is conjoined with either another pronoun or a noun, where it’s unclear whether we use the ” ‘s” on the phrase or put the pronoun in the possessive case. Both “my mom and me’s dog” and “my mom’s and my dog” sound really awkward to me. Something like “my and his dog” sounds like it refers to two separate dogs, while “me and him’s dog” sounds like one dog belonging to both of us.

        And as for gender, while English is in the process of replacing masculine and feminine gender with a generic animate gender, there is no movement away from the distinction between animate and inanimate gender. “He” and “she” are being supplemented by “they”, but “it” is in a clearly distinct class. You can only refer to an *animate* being with singular “they”, where things like babies and animals are sometimes ambiguous between animate and inanimate (so that you can refer to them either by “he/she/they” or “it”). I’m not sure if anyone refers to boats with singular “they” the way they used to refer to boats with “she”. Countries, which also sometimes got referred to as “she”, would naturally be interpreted as plural “they” rather than singular animate “they”.

        • Statismagician says:

          I always mentally hyphenate those types of sentence-as-noun-stand-in – exactly like that, actually.

    • hnau says:

      I occasionally notice that “whom” would be correct in a situation (spoken or written) and decide to go with “who”. It’s passed the tipping point of common usage; “the wrong way” mostly sounds fine to my ear and “the right way” often sounds highfalutin. Ditto for “they” where the last generation would have used “he or she” (or just “he”). “Between you and I” on the other hand continues to horrify me, as do all other I/me conclusions… except “it’s me” where I follow the “wrong way”.

      Not sure what makes the difference. Maybe some combination of popularity and the degree to which “the right way” would stick out in various constructions?

      My favorite difficult rule in English (which I will fight for to my dying day) is the number/amount distinction: we have less time, but fewer hours, because hours are things you can count.

      • HomarusSimpson says:

        sounds highfalutin

        There are quite a few that go the other way, wrong usage that is incorrectly thought to be more formal, the obvious one is the use of myself/ yourself when it should be me/ you. Seems epidemic amongst call centre workers here in UK – “we will send yourself the contract, sign it and send it back to ourselves” (never quite that ridiculous)

        • wrong usage that is incorrectly thought to be more formal

          I interpret the use of “I” instead of “me” as in “He gave it to John and I” as coming from the idea that “me” is often misused for “I” by the uneducated. So an attempt to signal education.

    • Etoile says:

      I think the “between you and I” has been seeping into “acceptable usage” – and maybe even promulgated on purpose. I’ve been seeing it in recent movies, and it really, really frustrates me.

    • Kaitian says:

      In German, mixing up the non-nominative forms of nouns and pronouns (accusative, dative, genitive) is relatively common. But it’s perceived as an expression of dialect (Berlin sometimes uses dative for accusative), or of a low-class idiolect based on immigrant speech patterns. I think everyone who “speaks good” and has a reasonable amount of formal language education knows what the proper form should be in any case, there’s no confusion about the very concept of case like there is in English. But some people choose to use the forms differently.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      A friend who came back from the US told me how one of his American acquaintances said to him in amazement:”You don’t know x,y and z (words every American knows), but you use who/whom correctly.”

      I would say that the who/whom distinction is quite easy for speakers of languages with case markings.

    • johan_larson says:

      One thing that often trips up foreigners is the placement of the dollar sign. It goes before the number, unlike most unit markers.

      I pointed out one such error on another forum, and got called a pedant’s pedant, an appellation I will treasure for a long time.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        That’s an interesting point. The € sign goes after the number in almost every European language. It goes before the number in English (as does the £ sign). Cyprus, Ireland and Malta also follow British usage for understandable reasons.

        For some reason, it also goes before the number in Dutch (as did the old ƒ symbol for the guilder). This means that Greece and Cyprus, and Flanders and the Netherlands, put the Euro symbol in a different place despite speaking the same language…

        (The Greek drachma and Belgian franc abbreviations went after the number)

    • ArbitraryRenaissance says:

      The subjunctive mood is oftentimes forgotten about by proficient speakers of the English language. Hypothetical tenses augment the verb tense, changing things like, “if he was” to “if if were”.

      There are small things in writing that trip up proficient writers. “Everyday” vs. “Every day”, “oftentimes” and not “often times”, “altogether” vs. “all together”, etc.

      The past perfect tense trips native speakers up a lot. It can be unclear when you should say “He joined right after he had turned eight” or “He’d joined right after he had turned eight” or “he joined right after he turned eight.” I would probably chalk this up to genuine language ambiguity, though: sometimes two different options can both be considered correct.

      • [Thing] says:

        I don’t think I’ve ever properly understood how the subjunctive mood is supposed to work in English … I just play it by ear, but my impression is that most people don’t follow whatever the rules are very consistently, so it feels like I’m learning from a corrupted data set.

        • Andrew G. says:

          I’m pretty sure that in the entirety of my ~11 years of English language classes in the English school system, the term “subjunctive” was not once used by any teacher. (That was a good many years ago now, so things may have changed, but at least at secondary level those teachers were completely hostile to any attempt to even mention the existence of formal grammar let alone teach any of it.)

          • Lambert says:

            Most of my understanding of English formal grammar comes from reapplying what I’ve learnt in foreign language classes.

            Non native English speakers: do you get the same thing going on?

        • mcpalenik says:

          The first time I heard that English had a subjunctive was in French class.

        • Concavenator says:

          I do get the impression — no idea whether it’s justified — that there’s a lot more confusion about formal grammatical categories among native English speakers, e.g. what exactly is a pronoun, a verb, etc. Maybe anglophone countries have a different method of teaching grammar? (Or maybe I just read more content from there?)
          The worst case is certainly the passive voice, which so many people hate with a fiery passion despite not being able to recognize it at all.

          • Nick says:

            The worst case is certainly the passive voice, which so many people hate with a fiery passion despite not being able to recognize it at all.

            For those seeking quality entertainment this afternoon, linguist Geoffrey Pullum has several pieces on this phenomenon, e.g. here.

          • [Thing] says:

            I do get the impression — no idea whether it’s justified — that there’s a lot more confusion about formal grammatical categories among native English speakers

            Could it be that the native English speakers in your sample are more likely to be monolingual? Studying a foreign language would be one reason to learn something about formal grammar, but if your native language is English there’s less pressing need to, since you already know the international language of business, science, diplomacy etc.

          • Alejandro says:

            I have the impression, though, that English speakers are taught especially little about the grammar of their own language in school. I learnt how to analyze simple sentences in my own language (Spanish) with parsing trees (actually a different, but equivalent, kind of visual representation) in middle school, and I don’t think my school or my country were extraordinary in this, but I don’t think this is taught to American kids.

          • Concavenator says:

            Might be. I recall my lessons of (native) Italian grammar insisting heavily on definitions, tables, formal sentence analysis, etc., though I suppose they could have been planned keeping in mind the necessity to eventually learn other languages.

          • bullseye says:

            I’m American, and I learned formal grammar (including “sentence diagrams” resembling parsing trees) in English class. Maybe it depends on what school you go to? I went to a high-quality public school.

          • albatross11 says:

            We did this in grade school and in high school. Also, I went to a rural high school that was not very up-to-date on teaching methods and fads, where the English teachers required proper grammar on assignments. At that time, I think many of the more up-to-date public schools had moved on from worrying about grammar to whatever other thing they wanted to teac instead.

            When I went to the state university, freshmen were given entrance placement exams. I was put in the most advanced English class (the honors section of the sophomore-level composition class). After the first assignment, the professor started reviewing basic rules of grammar because so many of the students had turned in assignments full of incomplete sentences and such.

        • keaswaran says:

          There are two things that are described as subjunctive in many languages. English definitely has one and only sorta has the other. The one English definitely has occurs most commonly in conditionals.

          The indicative/subjunctive distinction is the distinction between the sentences “If Oswald didn’t shoot Kennedy, then someone else did” and “If Oswald hadn’t shot Kennedy, then someone else would have”. The former is indicative (and most of us accept it as plainly true), while the latter is subjunctive (and one’s judgment of its truth value, and even well-formedness, depends on whether one accepts various conspiracy theories – if one accepts that Oswald was part of a conspiracy that was strongly aiming to get Kennedy, then one might accept it as true, but if one thinks that Oswald wasn’t actually the one that shot, then one would reject the sentence as ill-formed). The indicative conditional is used for expressing correlations among your uncertainties about what did happen, while the subjunctive conditional is used for expressing one’s beliefs about the causal structure of possibilities other than the real world. For most people a subjunctive past tense looks identical to the pluperfect tense of the verb, though many people preserve a slightly older version where “were” is used in places where “was” would normally be used. (You can also get a distinction between indicative/subjunctive in the present/future tense of a verb: “what will you do if I sing out of tune” vs “what would you do if I sang out of tune” – the former is an indicative that emphasizes the possibility, while the latter is a subjunctive that makes it seem a bit more remote, and looks identical to the past tense, again with the was/were distinction.)

          The other thing that often gets called subjunctive is a construction like this: “he directed that the land be sold after his death”, where we use the infinitive “be” rather than “is” when it occurs in clauses with certain verbs of indirect speech, like “command”, “direct”, “require”, etc. I think this one isn’t consistently used by a lot of people. In languages like German and French, this construction is also used with verbs like “say”, which means that newspapers don’t have to use a word like “allegedly”, and can just state things in the subjunctive, and readers know that this is what someone is saying, and not necessarily what is actually true.

          Both of these constructions mark a distinction between what is actual and what is counterfactual.

    • sfoil says:

      While only relevant when writing, native speakers quite frequently use the wrong form of blond/blonde — the latter is feminine.

    • Concavenator says:

      In theory, Italian makes a distinction between a “proximate past” tense for recent events, and a “remote past” for distant ones (roughly equivalent to the English present perfect and simple past, respectively; e.g. sono andato vs. andai for “I went”). In practice, people from Tuscany tend to be the only one that do so out in colloquial speech; everyone from farther north uses only the proximate past, and everyone from further south uses only the remote past, regardless from the actual timing of the action. Written Italian is more likely to keep the distinction intact.

    • KieferO says:

      I am not a professional linguist or editor of English, so epistemic status of everything here should be “suspect” at best.
      I have heard that English is somewhat particular because many of the people responsible for determining the “prestige dialect” of English (in both the UK and the United States) had a great an fetishistic fondness for all things Latin. These people decided to lift all sorts of rules, which were real rules of Latin, and apply them to English regardless of whether this contradicted current practice or made sense. The most famous of these is probably the spelling of “aisle,” (cf. Latin ala) whose spelling was changed to match “isle” (cf. Latin insula). The grammar oddity that I can make the best case for being improperly lifted from Latin is the rule against split infinitives. My 16th edition of Chicago Manual of Style has this to say:

      5.106 Split infinitive. Although from about 1850 to 1925 many grammarians stated otherwise, it is now widely acknowledged that adverbs sometime justifiably separate an infinitive’s to form from its principal verb {they expect to more than double their income next year}.

      In Latin, splitting an infinitive is literally impossible because of how verbs are conjugated. I don’t have good sourcing for this, but I assume that English has many more apparent traps for the insufficiently educated because only English suffered a 75 year period where the best way to seem educated was to speak and write in a grammar that didn’t quite follow the usual rules of human language.
      With another epistemic leap, I would further argue that Marry Norris is right and the correct form is “between you and me.” I believe this to be true, because conjunctions in English seem to bind far more tightly than is taught by grammarians. The usual advice of “pick the pronoun that would make the sentence work if the rest of the conjunctive phrase were to be discarded” is wrong because you can’t just discard the rest of the phrase. In particular, I think that “and” can absolutely bind two subjects into one object and that’s what’s happening in the “between you and X” utterances.
      Regardless of exactly how far I get to walk on this particular epistemic tightrope, I feel confident in claiming that English is by far the most advanced language at making it’s speakers feel incorrect and dumb for following real and true vernacular rules that happen to contradict the preferences of 19th century necrophiliac grammarians.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I didn’t understand where this rule came from at all until I learned Spanish.

  18. My wife’s comment on teenagers was that she had been younger than that and older than that, but had not been that age. I think that’s true of our children as well, although I haven’t asked them. Probably of me as well.

    One obvious common factor is that I got along well with my parents, my wife with hers, and our children with us.

    • silver_swift says:

      My wife’s comment on teenagers was that she had been younger than that and older than that, but had not been that age.

      That’s a very good way of describing my experience as well.

      I did go through a phase where I basically decided that other people’s drama wasn’t worth the effort and just chose not to have friends at school or hang out with other people that weren’t related to me.

      Turns out that was not a great life decision and something I’ve really wanted to punch my teenage self in the face for, but I think it was too detached and reasoned out a decision to really count as typical teenage behavior.

  19. ThaomasH says:


    I think we should enjoin and wish that others “be safe” which implies not exposing others to risk, rather than just “stay safe.”

  20. Clutzy says:

    With HBO Max now launched, the streaming wars have reached a new level of complexity. No reasonable person can pay for Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, ESPN +, and all the others, so what is the stable state that shakes out? I don’t think that, in the end, there are going to be 3/4 that everyone subscribes to, but I do think the current number is larger than is probably sustainable. Some of the niche ones will stay, and some will die off. Based on their launches, I think the CBS and HBO services are in a lot of trouble unless they rapidly adjust, for instance.

    • sfoil says:

      what is the stable state that shakes out

      the pirate bay dot org + a VPN

      • cassander says:

        you don’t need a VPN if your neighbor has an easily guessable wifi password!

      • North49 says:

        Exactly; this is a solved problem. Netflix had a huge impact on piracy rates because it was cheap, convenient, and mostly has all the content. Media companies took exactly the wrong lesson in thinking people paid for Netflix because it was a streaming service. Making the streaming market as fragmented and expensive as cable tv is just forcing people to revert to well known and well developed alternatives.

        • Clutzy says:

          I think people on forums such as this overrate how much tech saavyness exists in the world. VPN + Pirating is a personal solution for some 10-15% of the population. But there is a reason a bunch of kids on Napster got tracked down and faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Most people, even young people, are not tech savvy. Its distinctly not generational. I know a 70 year old with a cracked firestick. I also know 20 year olds who don’t know to “try turning it on and off again” before calling IT. My cousin is in IT for a hospital and its a disaster.

          Young people use technology a lot. But they don’t KNOW technology in large numbers. In many ways the evolution of computers since the smartphone was popularized has increased this problem. It has definitely not expanded knowledge of tech. Kids know that Insta and Tik Tok are cooler than Facebook, but they don’t (generally) know anything about how they work.

          • HomarusSimpson says:

            If you did “try turning it on and off again” it’d still be off and not work.

            Although yes. My youngest could use the internet before she could read (so getting to sites by positional information of menus). Still say’s ‘the wifi doesn’t work’ if there’s no onward connection and can’t sort out any IT at all.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Amazon Prime streaming comes with faster shipping of products, the company’s core competency. So that stays.
      Disney+ and ESPN are both Disney. They’re not going away unless sports stay banned by law or their own public health decision long enough. Hulu is also tied up in this (Disney became majority shareholder upon the FOX buyout).
      Netflix has first mover advantage, but that doesn’t mean Amazon and Disney couldn’t eat their lunch in the future.
      CBS and HBO are looking like dumpster fires.
      Psychologically, I’d predict there’s room for 1-2 streaming service bills in anyone’s life. Most people will only pay one general-interest streaming bill, and they might have Amazon Prime on top of that.
      As sfoil noted, these companies are competing with piracy. Netflix was convenient moral salve when it had everything.

      • Clutzy says:

        I think I’d estimate there will be 2-3 that win rights for live events like sports. I know people pirate live sports, but the quality is much lower than other content. There is a delay to rebroadcasts that makes it lose something, and also there are huge stability issues with it.

        OTOH, one thing live sports and the equivalent of might be able to do is live only on live ads. So they could remain free?

      • Garrett says:

        It’s interesting. I got rid of my Amazon Prime subscription some months ago. And I’m buying off of Amazon more than ever due to the pandemic.

        I also got frustrated with their streaming video when they went out of their way to avoid supporting the browser I was using.

    • meh says:

      what is the total monthly cost of all of them combined, and how does that compare to premium cable tv costs 25 years ago?

      • Clutzy says:

        Netflix $13
        Hulu $6
        Disney $7
        CBS $6
        Apple $5
        HBO $15 (this and starz, showtime, etc are actually similar to their costs if you wanted them added to cable back in the day, so these are sustainable if they can keep the subspace of customers that would have subbed to them with cable).

        There is also the cost of internet, which here is $80 or so. Now, this isn’t 100% an entertainment cost. I need it for work as well.

        You’d have to tell me what old cable cost. I know my dad would, basically annually, see a change in the price and then yell into the phone for 2 hours to get his cable price back down to whatever “introductory rate” he had been at before.

        • Matt M says:

          You’d have to tell me what old cable cost. I know my dad would, basically annually, see a change in the price and then yell into the phone for 2 hours to get his cable price back down to whatever “introductory rate” he had been at before.

          You don’t even have to yell anymore, or threaten to cancel. This sort of thing has become so routine you literally just call and say “My bill went up, can you move it back down?” and they do it.

          That said, even the introductory rate is still pretty damn high…

        • meh says:

          No reasonable person can pay for

          Like Matt M says below, the prices seam to be pretty reasonable compared to the cost of premium cable.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, I’m paying over $100/month for cable TV and I already have about half of these services, so I call BS on the “nobody can pay for this” notion.

        Now “nobody will want to have to manage 10 different subscriptions and get 10 different bills just to be able to watch a bunch of shows” is a different case entirely. Part of the reason I’m willing to pay so much for TV is because it’s just one bill and just one thing I have to worry about and once I pay it, I can watch basically whatever I want.

    • johan_larson says:

      Broadcast television eventually consolidated down to three big commercial networks (NBC, CBS, ABC), one non-commercial network (PBS), and a bunch of independent stations here and there. I seem to recall something similar happened during the heyday of radio. So maybe three is the magic number.

      Personally, I have Netflix and Prime Video, plus I sometimes use iTunes rentals if neither streaming service has what I want. I would be reluctant to sign up for a third streaming service, but I tried Disney+ for a while. I eventually concluded it’s too kid-oriented and cancelled.

      • Clutzy says:

        Interesting theory. There are also 3 major Cable news channels, but Fox has also proven that a 4th National Broadcast channel can be sustained. Amazon, Neflix, Disney, Comcast (with one taking over CBS) might be a stable point. With some other niche offerings that know they will have way less subscribers still being around.

    • brownbat says:

      > what is the stable state that shakes out

      Serial subscriptions?

      A month here, binge, a month there, binge their stuff…

      Maybe apps or reminders to help people pull this off.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      What’s the cost for media? I’m not talking about simply making a copy, that’s bandwidth. But couldn’t it be that Netflix was actually subsidizing this cost with VC money, and the real cost to bring _all_ the media on a TV screen is closer to $100 than to $7?

      Well, real problem being this “all” – I’m still pissed that the current streaming services seem to be doing a lot of the choosing in our place. Spotify is a lot closer to what we want – searching for a random song has much better outcomes than searching for a random movie on Netflixes.

      • matkoniecz says:

        AFAIK most of the cost is licensing media not delivery of data, so it is hard to talk about “real” cost.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        As a thought exercise, I wonder what it would cost for one individual or organization to buy out all the major studios etc., so that you owned the copyright to pretty much everything?

        Google tells me that Disney is worth $130b, so I guess that sets a lower bound.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Warner Brothers is T (AT&T), which has a market cap of 217.3 billion (very similar to Disney, so I don’t know where you found that low market cap). Comcast and Sony are then tied for third-largest share of pop culture copyrights. Comcast has a market cap of 181.8 billion, while Sony… is Japanese, so good luck buying them out from an American start. Maybe USG would let Sony buy Disney. AT&T and Comcast? Its total assets are ~21 trillion yen, so only about 210 billion USD.
          Speaking of Sony, there’s a lot of copyrighted pop culture outside of the major studios, the biggest probably being video games. Gotta merge with Nintendo at the very least.
          ViacomCBS is in a private holding company owned by the Redstone family, so not for sale. It owns copyrights like everything by Nickelodeon and Star Trek.

    • matkoniecz says:

      No reasonable person can pay for Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, ESPN +, and all the others

      Rotate subscription over channels, mostly using free periods. Account sharing. Outright piracy.

    • a real dog says:

      The current solution practiced by my bubble is a bunch of subscriptions here and there, “family plan” accounts among people who are not exactly family, and lots and lots of crimes on the high seas.

      This is a shame because Netflix could have easily been the Steam of TV series, their user experience is really good compared to torrenting. Apparently the industry is too eager to divide the pie to the point of unusability.

    • Bobobob says:

      We just switched to Google Fiber, which is about $130/month when you throw in the subscription to YouTube TV. Before, we were paying Time Warner/Spectrum $200 per month for TV, internet, and phone (the last of which we never used). So I feel like we have plenty of room to expand our streaming options–we currently have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

      I’m sure next up will be Disney, because my kids will insist on seeing Hamilton.

    • Jake R says:

      In every new industry, the first wave of increased competition is viewed as a downside for the consumer. This never pans out. I think people are underestimating how much a cable subscription costs.

      That said, my strategy has been to sign up for a month, watch the one or two shows I want, and then cancel. Often I can get a one month free trial and do it for free, but if not I’m paying ten or fifteen bucks for multiple seasons of a show, which is still a pretty good deal

    • aristides says:

      I think sharing passwords is going to be the new stable state, unless streaming companies try to crackdown on it. It is too expensive to pay for all of them, but it is easy to pay for one, and trade that password for the others. That’s how it works in my family. The four different households each subscribe to a subset of services, share them around, and I have access to everyone of the ones you listed. I’m expecting that to be the new norm.

    • Don P. says:

      Data point: I have all the services you named, although I don’t pay for “others”. I have Netflix for the usual reasons, Prime as a side effect of of the delivery aspect (although the streaming was a selling point as well), HBO Max because I have HBO and it comes automatically from most cable companies, and the other 3 (Disney/Hulu/ESPN) in the Disney bundle, which turned out to be useless on the ESPN end the last few months obviously. (I find that I’ve been watching a fair amount of Hulu, though.) Oh, and Peacock, because it’s free with Comcast.

    • Retsam says:

      I’m a big believer that if we some how time-warped from 2005 to 2020 everyone would be amazed at how much better things are in television – it’s an amazingly better service – you’re not at the mercy of broadcast schedules and don’t have to watch ads – and even if you buy all of these subscriptions and keep them going 24/7 it’s still cheaper than most introductory cable packages.

      (And it not only replaces your cable subscription, but also largely replaces the habit of DVD buying, which has dropped ~85% since 2007, IIRC, so it’s saving even more money than just a straight “cable vs. streaming” comparison.)

      Rip Van Winkle would be absolutely ecstatic about the state of television if he woke up today. (Which is good, because frankly, he’s probably going to need the distraction from everything else…)

      But of course, the rest of us didn’t time warp from 2005, instead, everyone remembers the “golden age of Netflix” where companies drastically undervalued their streaming rights and sold them to Netflix for pennies on the dollar. That was never a sustainable model: eventually companies were going to realize what they were essentially giving away, but it set people with sky-high expectations about what streaming service “should” be priced at.

      But given that recreating the “golden age of Netflix” just isn’t economically viable, I think people’s sky-high expectations are going to have to cool over time, rather than expecting that somehow companies are going to choose to not compete in a lucrative market just because letting some other company have all the profits would be more convenient for the other company’s customers.

      So to the point: I think the current model is much more sustainable than cable, and that seemed to do okay, so I’m guessing it’s not going anywhere, in a broad sense, though we may still see some shake-ups in which particular services survive and what price points settle on, of course.

      • Statismagician says:

        This seems right.

        My one modification is that I think eventually somebody will figure out how to package products for streaming based on subject/style rather than who happens to own the copyright – a universal documentary streaming service rather than Netflix and Hulu both having a documentary section, say.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          What we had was cable TV, and a few premium things (HBO, Cinemax, Home Surgery Channel, Showtime) were available as add-ons, and easy to add/subtract those when you wanted.

          We had this same discussion about subscribing to newspapers for paywalls: subscribing/unsubscribing is a major pain, because each are their own portal who want to be reselling you other stuff and want you using their stuff. As much as we hated Cable TV, it’s amazing that it really did bundle the stuff in a convenient way that made adding/subtracting convenient.

          • Statismagician says:

            Fair point – everything old is new again.

          • Clutzy says:

            The thing I would point out is that, besides ESPN, none of the channels had carriage fees (aka what cable paid to them) over $5. Most were much below $5, which seems to be the minimum price any of these streaming services is trying to charge.

  21. Lambert says:

    Aristotle testifies that this is the case in his book Concerning the causes of the properties of the elements (1), in which he says that mortality of races and the depopulation of kingdoms occur at the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, for great events then arise, their nature depending on the trigon in which the conjunction occurs.

    the next one occurs December 21, 2020 (21:08 UT). At this time Jupiter is 0.1 degree south of Saturn. The 2020 conjunction is the closest since 1623.

    Well that explains everything.

    Making the next couple of fractional threads CW-free might be an option. Though I’d understand Scott not wanting the extra moderation burden.

    • johan_larson says:

      Making the next couple of fractional threads CW-free might be an option.

      I’ve thought for some time that we would be better off splitting up the discussion a bit. Current American politics, in particular, tends to bring out some of our most vehement posters, and it just goes on and on. If we had one CW-allowed thread per week, and one non-CW thread per week, both those of us who want the politics and those who don’t would always have a fairly current thread to use for our discussions.

      Or if we really don’t want to reduce the number of CW-allowed threads per cycle, we could switch from 3+1 every two weeks to 3+2 every two weeks.

      A third option would be to split the threads by topic area, rather than CW/non-CW. If we had four areas (Politics&Philosophy, Science&Technology, Art&Entertainment, This&That), most of the “CW” would be in Politics&Philosophy.

      • Ketil says:

        What exactly is the problem we are trying to fix? As far as I can tell, people have been generally civil in these threads. Is it just volume? If so, isn’t it better to split threads by topic, so have one fractional thread dealing with American politics, and another for everything else, for instance.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Is it just volume?

          2,463 RESPONSES TO OPEN THREAD 155.75

          • Ketil says:

            I take that as a ‘yes’, and that you agree that having separate OTs for specific topics would solve this?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Ketil: I’m just amused by it. If it were me, I’d be happy to get so many comments. It’s Scott’s call how he feels about getting 2,463 comments to hidden blog comment threads if and only if people are allowed to discuss the CW.

          • Garrett says:

            > 2,463 RESPONSES TO OPEN THREAD 155.75

            Like you had anything better to do.

          • Deiseach says:

            2,463 RESPONSES TO OPEN THREAD 155.75

            Chesterton, from “The Mildness of the Yellow Press” in the essay collection “Heretics”, 1905:

            The whole modern world is pining for a genuinely sensational journalism. This has been discovered by that very able and honest journalist, Mr. Blatchford, who started his campaign against Christianity, warned on all sides, I believe, that it would ruin his paper, but who continued from an honourable sense of intellectual responsibility. He discovered, however, that while he had undoubtedly shocked his readers, he had also greatly advanced his newspaper. It was bought — first, by all the people who agreed with him and wanted to read it; and secondly, by all the people who disagreed with him, and wanted to write him letters. Those letters were voluminous (I helped, I am glad to say, to swell their volume), and they were generally inserted with a generous fulness. Thus was accidentally discovered (like the steam-engine) the great journalistic maxim — that if an editor can only make people angry enough, they will write half his newspaper for him for nothing.


        • johan_larson says:

          There are three parts to the problem: volume, lack of selectivity, and tone.

          Volume is simple: this is a very active forum, with a lot of posters saying many things. Lack of selectivity is about the interface: this system makes it hard to read selectively. If you want to follow along, you get exposed to pretty much everything that’s said. You don’t have to read every post in detail, but you do see all the posts. Finally, there’s tone. There are some posters here who seem to be angry all the time, and the topic of American cultural politics is where I see them at their worst. There’s just no end to the perfidy of those darn leftists, is there? Wading through the resulting vitriol just gets tiresome. It’s fine that they are saying what they are saying. I am not calling for them to be kicked out. What they have to say is sometimes interesting. But I could stand to see a lot less of it.

          This combination of factors (volume, lack of selectivity, and tone) are why I am suggesting splitting up the discussion somehow. This wouldn’t be a problem if we had an order of magnitude less volume, or we were using a more sophisticated system that made it easy to read by thread, or the discussion were being carried out a bit differently.

          • Lambert says:

            >There are some posters here who seem to be angry all the time, and the topic of American cultural politics is where I see them at their worst.

            I’d argue that the problem is not the ones who are angry all the time. It’s the ones who are perfectly pleasant so long as they stick to non-CW topics.

          • Deiseach says:

            There’s just no end to the perfidy of those darn leftists, is there?

            ‘Tis yourself that said it! 🙂

            Look, we are getting very nearly close to finally having a government in my country after the election four months ago, and I don’t trust any of the three parties concerned, including my own.

            I’m equal-opportunity perfidy, me!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Look, we are getting very nearly close to finally having a government in my country after the election four months ago, and I don’t trust any of the three parties concerned, including my own.

            Y’all named a Party Fail.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            In a satirical Irish TV program from decades ago (Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, on RTE) that party was named “Feel and Fall” which is fairly close to the correct pronunciation.

      • Bobobob says:

        The volume of the open threads has become overwhelming, and I don’t have anything cogent to say about policing or social justice. I would love science/technology and arts/entertainment threads to further explore my own particular indulgences with intelligent people.

        • Deiseach says:

          The volume is certainly voluminous, but the upside is that connections can be made between very disparate ideas coming into conflict that lead to pleasing, intriguing and enjoyable rambles down by-ways.

    • DinoNerd says:

      If the problem is strictly volume, let’s have daily OT threads. (Yes, I mostly appreciate the CW material, and prefer threads where I am free to discuss current events.)

      OTOH, I can certainly understand people wanting at least the same proportion of non-CW threads as currently (1 of 4). So Let’s say the Wedn and Sunday threads are non-CW every week, and all the new threads are CW-OK.

      Or some vaguely similar concept – 14 threads a week replacing 4 might be excessive, though with 3300 comments in a single thread, perhaps not ;-(

      Or auto-spawn a new thread whenever the total comments on a single thread exceed some magic number. With the same CW-properties as the parent.

      Or – spawn a non-CW thread when a CW thread gets oversize, and vice versa (if the latter ever happens), so those frustrated by the prior thread get some of what they want. (But don’t be surprised if the folks having a nice CW discussion just stay in their thread, ignoring the fresh minty non-CW thread.)

      And automate the whole thing, because otherwise Scott will just laugh at all these propsals for giving him extra work.

  22. Spookykou says:

    I was a very mild teenager with almost no typical teenage problems, part of this is surely that my social life largely did not extend outside of school, which seems fairly a-typical for other people/teens, but also matches my experience at the various jobs I have had. I had friends at school, people I would talk to in all of my classes, people who I would eat lunch with, etc. We would joke and laugh, and I think most of them would call me ‘friend’ without hesitation. Then school was over, and I went home and played video games and such and largely did not communicate with my school ‘friends’ until I was back at school. I could get good grades without doing any of my homework or studying so the fact that all I did was play video games and watch TV didn’t actually create much friction with my parents. I was a latch-key kid as well and would simply lie if pressed and claim to be doing my homework first thing when I got home, instead of just not doing it/doing it at school. I had a bit of a problem with skipping school, but this was during the rise of the cell phone but before it was standard, and the confluence of my parents getting all of their communications on their cell phones but the school still holding our home phone, plus something was wrong with our home phone such that the schools auto-dialer absent report function did not work. All together these things prevented my bad habit from ever actually being known to my parents, which potentially headed off a classic ‘teenager fight’ a few other things like that, and all and all I would say I got through middle school and high school with only a handful of conversations that needed a raised voice.

    I am a second child, and I would say my older sibling had a more typical but still milder than media presented, teenage life.

  23. Writtenblade says:

    True or false: People have been heedlessly taking down Chesterton’s Fences for hundreds of years, so they must be doing it for a good reason, and unless we know that reason, we shouldn’t try to make them stop.

    • ArbitraryRenaissance says:

      Interesting thought experiment. It reminds me of an objection to pragmatism I came up with when I was an undergrad where it seemed to me that rejecting pragmatism as a theory of truth was a useful belief for anyone who was interested in learning more about the real world.

      I think Chesterton would argue that “heedlessly taking down Chesterton’s Fences” isn’t really a fence, since nobody propped it up in the first place. It’s not a part of our societal creed that we routinely take down fences that don’t serve an immediately apparent purpose: it’s just something that naive people happen to do when they lose respect for their current societal creeds.

      You could also argue that we actually don’t have a history of taking down Chesterton’s Fences. We just have a history of people wanting to do it, then failing to do it when they can’t meet their burden of proof. I’d need to think about this some more.

    • broblawsky says:

      Like many philosophical principles, Chesterton’s Fence is just a more sophisticated defense of ‘common sense’, e.g. the stuff you thought was obviously true and correct when you were growing up.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      True in general, still need to beware in each individual case. The general argument against fences in modernity is that things have changed dramatically, and since (for example) agriculture moved from a 99% of population to under 4%, chances are good the bull is somewhere in a bull factory, and not in front of you. This is true.

      But when you find yourself in front of a fence, you still should ask yourself the question. Not understanding the purpose of the fence is a potentially dangerous situation. Yes, if the fence looks old the prior HAS changed to pushing it down, especially if you do it from a bulldozer. But don’t forget, even at the height of modernity it still turned out AIDS was god’s punishment for homosexuality.

      There’s also another phenomenon here. Many of the bulls left are very slow running these days. You could actually talk about a generic “bull debt”, akin to technical debt. You take down a fence and cure disease, feed people, make them more free and happier. And 30 years later you have depressed, fat, single unhappy people.

      Was it worth taking the fence down? Hesitantly, yes. Should we strive to understand where the bull was? Hell yes. And if we manage to catch the next ones before they slowly gore us, even better.

    • original-internet-explorer says:

      10 points to Slytherin!

      The changes in our culture layer rest on a base layer. The base layer is something about energy – physical processes.

      If you were to cook a food the choice of heat application could be yes or no at time points. The business has a start – an end. There would be a bound – not too slow not too fast to prevent poisoning or burning. Inside a range the process might be preference.

      We’re trying to not give the Universe indigestion.

    • Yug Gnirob says:

      I’d say “heedlessly” and “for a good reason” are mutually exclusive. Also cows knock over fences when they can, and they’re not smart enough to have good reasons.

      We can also check historical revolutions, and compare the results of the ones with post-revolution plans going in to the ones with “we’ll figure it out as we go” attitudes, see which ones work out well and which ones turn into tyrannical bloodbaths, and extrapolate that into how important it is to understand the purpose of the fence.

    • alext says:

      People have been heedlessly taking down Chesterton’s Fences for hundreds of years

      I’m afraid you’ll have to prove this. Then, you’ll need to prove that things didn’t go wrong when they have, as opposed to when they’ve been *carefully* taking down Ch’s Fences.

    • GearRatio says:

      I think the answer is hidden in the construction of your question and of the Chesterton’s Fence thought problem itself.

      Background assumptions:

      A Chesterton’s Fence has implied knowability of purpose, and once someone knows that purpose they are cleared of CF objections. The point is to fill out one’s knowledge of purpose, and to then justify one’s taking down of the fence based on that knowledge. The point is to prevent good, useful fences from being taken down and the risk of this is thought to be enough to justify the increased responsibility of the reformer.

      The fence in the thought problem is not the only fence in existence. Each fence has or lacks it’s own justification for existing; defeating a single fence does not justify tearing down all fences. It’s probable that the a foolish reformer actually sometimes comes into existence by seeing other fences needfully taken down and creating a false algorithm of “fence tearing = good”, and that this over-simplification is the failing of a reformer. On the obverse, a successful defense of a single fence doesn’t defend all fences from knowledge-based destruction, and a “fences = good” oversimplification is the failure mode of a conservative.

      A Chesterton’s fence-taker-downer states that he “really doesn’t see the use of it” and wants to pull it down. He doesn’t have implied knowability of purpose; we know his purpose, which is to destroy things he doesn’t immediately see the use for.


      1. Your reformers aren’t the same as Chesterton’s reformers, or your question has already answered itself.

      If your reformer is “known heedless” and would answer as Chesterton’s does, we already know his reasons; he likes tearing shit he doesn’t understand down. He thinks that’s a good idea under a general algorithm. We are justified to block him from doing so if we deem his stated purpose to be harmful against useful fences.

      If your reformer is “assumed heedless”, and we don’t know his purpose in tearing down fences, then we need to figure out if our assumption was right, but we also have a guy who doesn’t fall under CF’s assertions in the first place.

      2. Heedless Reformers are a monolith, Assumed Heedless Reformers are individuals.

      All heedless reformers have the same motivation: they don’t like things like fences and unless they are somehow forced to know a justification for a particular fence will, unchecked, wander around tearing down all fences regardless of purpose. They are thus resisted as a group – if you run into a heedless reformer, you don’t let him tear down fences at all until he proves himself heedfull.

      Assumed heedless reformers cannot be assumed to be a group that can have done things for “hundreds of years” as you state. Like fences, they each have a potentially unique purpose, and like fences each reformer’s purpose is individually contained and is not necessarily justified or condemned based on defeating the purpose of another reformer.

      3. Reformer-defeaters have a lesser responsibility to ask the purpose of reformers, assumed-heedless reformers have an greater responsibility to tell.

      If I see a guy tearing down fences, I need to ask him why he’s doing that, but I’m justified in stopping him until I can find this out if I’m currently using the fence or know that others are. The fence already exists and might not be easily rebuilt; he is proposing the change. I can’t be justified in resisting him forever if he turns out to have well-reasoned justifications for tearing down the fence, but I get to know why he’s doing it before he causes irreparable damage. Building is expensive; demolition is cheap. Wandering livestock cannot always be recovered.

      On the flip, the reformer has to inform people of why he’s tearing down the fence unless his purpose is self-evident and immediately necessary. If he doesn’t, anyone who knows or suspects the fence has a purpose is justified in stopping him.



      “But you’ve already told me your purpose – you just don’t like fences you don’t understand!” said the fence-owner. “Haha! Ha!” shouted the heedless reformer, mega-heedlessly from his bulldozer. “But what if I have, like, a meta-reason I won’t tell you? What if that reason is shared among all reformers for all history?”. “Do you?” asked the fence-owner, distraught. “Who knows? Maybe! The part I enjoy is the part where I’m immune from all oversight or controls in a way fences aren’t!” The reformer yelled, embarking on a campaign of unexplained terror.

      Assumed Heedless, Justified, non-immediate:

      “Oh, really? I didn’t know I had built the fence out of nuclear bombs that are, if left assembled, going to destroy the whole of England.” said the fence-owner, now regretting his army-surplus bargain of yesteryear. “Yeah, I guess I have to let you tear it down now, or else you will be able to convince others to force me to, since you have undeniable justification”.

      Assumed Heedless, justified, immediate

      “Your fence is entirely about-to-escape Jeffrey Dahmers!” shouted the reformer. “Well, It’s more complex than that, but I don’t have time to tell you that and also catch Dahmer-fence! I will explain later, with the understanding that if my justification isn’t sufficient to sway outside observers I may face consequences!”

      Assumed Heedless, unjustified, unimmediate

      “Listen, man – both slats and posts are, like, gross. I think you understand” said the reformer, unconvincingly. “I don’t understand, and I’m glad I stopped you – I’m not against all fence-tearing, understand, but you don’t appear to have an actual reasoning here.” said the fence-owner.

      Assumed Heedless, unjustified, immediate:

      “I’m glad you asked! I think you will find my reasoning compelling!” said the reformer, in his post-fence destruction refractory period. “It’s this – fuck you, and fuck fences!”.

      Assumed Heedless, non-informative:

      “You won’t tell me why you want to tear down my fence, but I should still let you destroy my property just in case you have a reason?” said
      the fence-owner, doubtfully. “I know, I know,” said the reformer, oozing rebel charisma from every cool-ass pore, “Everyone in the Chesterton’s fence thought problem either already had information or had implied prospects of getting it, and it was never meant or implied to handle scenarios in which information was impossible to get. But you wouldn’t want to stand in the way of progress, would you?”. “Is this progress, though?” said the fence-owner, eagerly. “I’ll never tell!” shouted the reformer, awesomely. “Just let me break your shit!”.

    • keaswaran says:

      I feel like Scott had a post with this thesis a few months ago? Or maybe it came up in the comments?

      This seems to be the center of the argument for and against the Enlightenment.

    • John Schilling says:

      so they must be doing it for a good reason

      You have misread Chesterton. There is sure to be (or have been) a reason, but there’s no guarantee that it was a good one.

      and unless we know that reason, we shouldn’t try to make them stop.

      This is correct. We shouldn’t try to make them stop until we know why they are doing it. Fortunately, we’ve known why they are doing it since at least Chesterton’s time. And it isn’t a good reason. It’s wanting to think of themselves as cleverer than their parents, and wanting to change the world without all that bothersome “due diligence” that keeps one from making the world worse. Reason understood, determined not to be good, get on with tearing down that particular fence.

      • Garrett says:

        > without all that bothersome “due diligence”

        One thing comes to mind is that the “due diligence” itself has a cost to perform. And it’s not possible to compare the cost of the due diligence itself to the costs and benefits of the action being taken. Sadly, it’s very possible for the due diligence costs to dwarf the net downside (or upside) of tearing down a particular fence, and you won’t know until after that cost has been absorbed in the first place. There’s probably an argument to be made here for exactly the opposite of Chesterton’s Fence.

        • GearRatio says:

          One thing comes to mind is that the “due diligence” itself has a cost to perform. And it’s not possible to compare the cost of the due diligence itself to the costs and benefits of the action being taken.

          This seems a little intense considering that the due diligence being asked for is “don’t merely assume that anything you don’t understand is counterproductive”.

          Chesterton’s fence doesn’t demand absolute proof that intervention X creates better results than Status Quo Y; it demands and you at least sort of have any idea why Status Quo Y exists in the first place before you burn it down because “old things are bad, new things are good” or similar.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          It’s called “Move fast and break things”.

    • @ArbitraryRenaissance

      Interesting thought experiment. It reminds me of an objection to pragmatism I came up with when I was an undergrad where it seemed to me that rejecting pragmatism as a theory of truth was a useful belief for anyone who was interested in learning more about the real world.

      I find it useful to separate truth and usefulness.

  24. Majuscule says:

    If you’re in Philly, we’ll be having an outdoor SSC solstice gathering at our home on June 20th. We can host up to 10 individuals or households while remaining comfortably socially distant. Details on our Groups page!

    SSC Philadelphia

  25. mustacheion says:

    I don’t think I changed very much in any of those ways during my teen years. I am 30 now and would probably rate myself as higher on all six now than when I was a teen. Though I will note that I started puberty very late compared to my age cohort, and my life isn’t going as well now as it was then.

  26. hash872 says:

    How’s everyone’s meditation practice going? Is it unusual if, after about 20 or 30 meditation sessions, I don’t notice any difference in my day to day life at all? Everyone keeps saying that I will notice benefits like greater focus or mindfulness outside of meditation and I…. haven’t, at all, even a bit?

    Overall I’ve gotten a bit better at focusing during the meditation itself, but not much better, and I still have a ton of random thoughts bouncing around. And, if I’m worked up or excited about something prior to meditation, I literally cannot do it at all and have to stop early. Is any of this unusual? Would love to hear what benefits, if any, more experienced practitioners have gotten out of it

    • broblawsky says:

      Regular meditation has made me better at recognizing intrusive thoughts as intrusive in and of themselves. I’m not sure it’s made me any better at dealing with them, but knowing they’re not part of my normal, healthy internal monologue is a big step forward for me.

    • Skeptic says:

      I’m sure I will get mocked endlessly for this specific admission…

      I find the Headspace app programs moderately beneficial (I know, I’m sure there are better options). I use the app maybe 85% successfully every morning as part of my wake up routine.

      I don’t know if would say I’m more focused, but i would say that i am more able to be objective and rational throughout the day

    • janjanis says:

      Is it unusual if, after about 20 or 30 meditation sessions, I don’t notice any difference in my day to day life at all?

      Probably no.
      For me it took about 6 months of daily practice before I felt any difference in my daily life. I suggest learning to enjoy the process itself (as unpleasant as it is) and to be reallly fucking patient with this.

      As for benefits, for me personally they are fucking incredible
      1)Pleasure from sensory inputs increases three times
      2)Control over my thoughts and mental states
      3)very heightened ability to focus in work and social situations

      So it did wonders for me, but this isn’t controlled study so YMMV

    • Liface says:

      I like to use the analogy of meditation as “internal weightlifting”. It’s very rare to see progress after 20-30 actual weightlifting sessions — it takes months to see progress for many people. Now imagine that weightlifting is invisible and going on inside your head — how long should it take?

      • psmith says:

        At 3x/week, 20-30 sessions is 7-10 weeks. I would expect to see noticeable progress in 7-10 weeks of focused lifting, particularly in someone who was also paying attention to diet and who was new to lifting, coming back from a break, or ramping up to a peak.

    • zapgun says:

      hey, I’ve been meditating pretty regularly for the last 3 years, including a couple 10 days retreats. I was meditating irregularly for many years before that.
      I saw an impact of meditation on my life a few times, especially after periods of intensive practice or when I pickup a practice after a break, but they quickly wear off and in general I don’t see any sustained effect on my life. I think value of meditation (and many other things – psychotherapy, psychedelics) is greatly exagerated. You will always find a few people who swear by it, but for most people, if they have an average level of self-awareness to begin with, meditation will not change much.
      But neither will any other hobby, so I still meditate. I love the moments of deep peace of mind that I find when I practice regularly. I think it’s better to sit on the cushion than to watch another netflix show. I don’t hope for a radical betterment though.

      To your question about focus during the session – 20 or 30 meditation sessions is really early, especially if these sessions were shorter than an hours and spread through 20-30 days or longer. The minds learns to settle if you allow it, but it takes time. My best sessions are usually on days 3/4/5 of an intensive retreat where I meditate for 8h a day.

    • PhaedrusV says:

      I meditated on my own for about 6-8 months and didn’t notice any real changes, and dropped the practice.

      Recently however I tried the “Waking Up” guided meditation app by Sam Harris, and it’s pretty great. I’m about 24 days in and I’ve definitely noticed significant benefit. The first 6-7 days are free and after that there’s an annual charge, but if you want a free month Keybase or Reddit-PM me your email address; as a paid subscriber I can share a free month.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Hmm. Call me an anecdote for the other side- I agree with the model of meditation as internal/mental weightlifting, and just like weightlifting, you can see some results quite quickly if you don’t have a great deal of strength built up already.

      When I first started meditating (in high school), I noticed differences outside of active meditation within about 1-2 months, but only when I made a deliberate effort to “exercise” the same mental routines/skills/metaphorical-muscles that were used during active meditation. This was encouraged- my meditation began from a martial arts instructor who was trying to get people to take the mental attitude from meditation into sparring matches. Eventually, over longer periods of time, some of the focus/clarity/acceptance benefits bled out into larger parts of my life, even without deliberate attention to them.

      A decade or two later, how much I can get that effect in the rest of my life correlates pretty well to how much I’ve been meditating lately- it’s very frequent and noticeable in my day-to-day life if I’ve been engaging in serious, regularly scheduled sessions (3-5 times a week). When I get lazy and don’t do it, or do it for short, rarely scheduled sessions, I notice less day-to-day effect.

    • SamChevre says:

      I try to pray a Rosary daily, which is a kind of meditative practice among other things.

      What I find is that I can see the effects when I look back at my week, but am almost never aware of them in the moment. It’s not “I feel more focused”–it’s “huh, I didn’t do {random impulsive thing that I try to avoid} nearly as much as usual this week”, and “someone was rude and aggressive and it didn’t leave me angry all day”.

  27. WoollyAI says:

    If you’re suffering from Gender Dysphoria or work with people that do, live in California, and are trying to get insurance to approve related health care expenses, I recommend you look into Independent Medical Reviews at the California Department of Managed Health Care.

    An Independent Medical Review in CA is when you insurance does not approve a procedure, you can appeal to the state and an independent group of state experts will review the case and either uphold or overturn your insurance company’s decision. If they overturn it, the company is required to pay for it. The state has provided a wonderful dataset on this for every case in the past 20 years,

    I was doing some unassociated research and was surprised to discover that Gender Dysphoria is one of the best predictors of whether a decision will be overturned or not. There’s been 132 cases regarding Gender Dysphoria and in 116 of those cases, ~88%, the insurance company’s refusal was overturned. This means that people suffering from Gender Dysphoria looking to get insurance to cover facial feminization surgery, mastectomy, breast augmentation, or other services have a great likelihood of forcing their insurance to cover these procedures by appealing to the state.

    I don’t have the background or connections to look further into this but I’m posting this in the hope that someone with a personal or professional interest in this can get some utility and help some people with this.

  28. Soy Lecithin says:

    In 2010, Santa Fe art dealer Forrest Fenn hid a treasure chest filled with gold somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. He made a poem with clues leading to its location and, through a book and various media appearances, invited people to hunt for it. About a week ago he announced that someone had solved the clues and found the chest, ten years after the treasure hunt was started.

    Since then things have gotten a bit crazy. There has been no word on who the finder was, or (more interestingly) where it was, and Fenn himself has been unresponsive to requests for more info. Not so much as a photo of the chest or of its location have been revealed. It’s only been a week, but many people are warming up to the idea that the whole thing was a hoax. Various even wilder theories have been proposed on the big forums about the treasure hunt. (And I mean wild. I think people with crazy far-fetched ideas end up overrepresented in these online communities. Some solutions to the poem I’ve seen over the time I’ve been following this are pretty bizarre.)

    Since the treasure hunt was declared over, multiple people have claimed to be the finder, though none particularly credibly. There is a woman suing Forrest Fenn and the anonymous finder because she believes her computer was hacked and her correct solution was stolen. There’s also a mysterious website claiming the treasure was found already in August and auctioned off in May.

    I got into this too late, just a few months before it was found, but even now that it’s been found I’m still enjoying following the rabbit hole. Any fellow Forrest Fenn treasure hunters here?

    • Aftagley says:

      Any fellow Forrest Fenn treasure hunters here?

      I’ve watched it from the sidelines, I never got involved.

      I think people with crazy far-fetched ideas end up overrepresented in these online communities. Some solutions to the poem I’ve seen over the time I’ve been following this are pretty bizarre.

      Yeah, I’m not sure why, but the online portion of this crowd was really bizarre. My first exposure to the site was a reddit thread where someone posted about how they knew their “solve” was correct because they’d found a special message from Fenn while out looking. The message they’d found was a particular pile of stones that couldn’t have formed naturally. The person posted a picture of the stones, then said they’d cleared it to keep other’s off their tracks.

      The picture the person posted was of a trail cairn; something that hikers leave for eachother to mark a trail path that’s not super obvious. This person had not only not known what it was, but had also destroyed it, potentially making the path harder for fellow hikers. That’s an extreme example, but that same kind of basic ignorance when it came to the outdoors seemed to be endemic in the community.

      It’s only been a week, but many people are warming up to the idea that the whole thing was a hoax.

      I am very confident it’s either a hoax, or that he fed the solution to a friend.

    • Nick says:

      The question whether the whole thing is a hoax interests me; I’m reminded of a very different and very similar puzzle, the epitaph from Umineko, which despite being cruelly geographically specific did have a solution, and one person, apparently, hit very close to it. Gwern discusses the story on his book reviews page, if your browser can handle it. The relevant quote is from fn. 1:

      Apparently one Japanese who actually was living in Taiwan almost solved it; from a post-Umineko interview:

      KEIYA: I have heard and researched a little about that person who solved the epitaph, it seems it was someone who did a homestay in Taiwan, right‽

      Ryukishi07: It seems like that. I have a faint memory of reading something like “I am overbroad in Taiwan right now”. But, even those this theory was basically the correct answer, it was still following another popular main theory. It’s really like in Umineko itself, isn’t it‽ I thought to myself that this was actually close to the final answer of the riddle that I wanted to give in the main Episodes, but even though there are many followers, there were as many people who wouldn’t believe it and kept searching for alternatives saying, “I don’t buy it, let’s look at it differently!”.

      Gwern himself calls it “the equivalent of a Sherlock Holmes mystery.”

  29. Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt says:

    How bad is just suppressing the hell out of bad memories/intrusive thoughts/bad emotions really? The psychiatric establishment takes a dim view of it, but then they would wouldn’t they?

    • Aapje says:

      The best seems to be to rewrite the memories in a way that neuters the emotional impact. The second best to suppress them. The worst is to merely relive them, which is something that psychiatry has historically favored over suppressing memories.

    • Briefling says:

      I’ve always thought of emotional trauma as being analogous to physical injury. If it’s severe enough, best to leave it alone for a while. Eventually it should be (gradually) exercised to aid healing.

    • [Thing] says:

      What does it even mean to suppress them, in practice? I don’t feel like I have any control over when they arise, and while I have some ability to choose between giving in to the urge to reject and fight them, and mindful acceptance, which is less painful but requires more metacognitive awareness and effort, neither option feels like it’s successfully suppressing the intrusive thoughts, in the sense of causing them to arise less often or go away faster.

      • cuke says:

        Therapist here, love this topic.

        I would echo [Thing]’s question what does it mean to suppress them in practice? What we mean by suppress tends to not be very precise and there’s an important distinction between traumatic re-experiencing and ruminating on negative or obsessive thoughts.

        There’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer to “what’s the best way to handle this icky stuff that comes in”? Partly because the icky stuff has different origin stories and partly because we all vary a bit in what forms of “handling” feel most possible for us.

        A huge amount of the tools and tactics of therapy revolve around this question of what helps this person deal with the icky content in their head? Very mainstream modes of therapy do sometimes advocate for simple “thought-stopping” or “distraction” techniques in the face of chronic worrying or self-critical thinking or other negative content that circles back and back. Those could be considered suppression techniques.

        There’s a world of tools beyond that — replacing thoughts and images, mindfulness practices, working with the thoughts creatively, bringing other internal voices to speak back to the thoughts, using body-based techniques to dismantle “rumination” as a self-protection habit, and on and on.

        An important factor for many people it seems to me is awareness of what’s going on so that a person’s default mode doesn’t just keep running in the same way. A person can have a self-shaming thought running in the background (maybe triggered by something or not) and in suppressing the thoughts, they simply become irritable and defensive in their interactions with others, which leaves them feeling isolated and less capable, which makes the shame voices louder. So in that case, suppression may be kind of like a person with a chronic headache taking Tylenol over and over again when maybe they have really high blood pressure or are having a stroke. It’s not getting to the source of the problem and the problem will just keep showing up and proliferating adjacent problems.

        A person who has brought their self-critical voice into awareness and sees what makes it louder and quieter, how it plays out in their life, what kinds of expectations or beliefs feed it, and has decided they don’t want that voice driving the bus of their life quite so much — when that person hears the self-shaming get loud, they can say to themselves, “this voice isn’t helping me, I’m choosing to ask it to be quiet, and I’m going to actively work to give it less real estate in my head.” That person is more likely to notice when they are feeling more irritable or defensive with loved ones and to ask whether that’s happening because they’ve been running a self-critical default mode in the background more that day. They’re more likely to then ask why that’s happening — tired, hungry, stressed, some recent difficulty? And they are more likely to opt to cut themselves some slack as a result of that examination. And the practice of cutting themselves some slack (or getting rest or food or whatever) is likely to quiet the negative thinking rather than to have it amplified through unskillful interactions with others.

        So a person’s degree of self-awareness when encountering unwanted thoughts has a big impact on what suppression means and how it plays out.

        Traumatic re-experiencing is related to but somewhat different from unwanted negative thoughts we can ruminate on. In my own practice, I would say tending to traumatic re-experiencing requires additional pieces of work and that suppressing painful memories without a larger treatment plan or understanding about what this material is about is problematic.

        In general, if a person is repeatedly re-living either the experience of or the painful emotions associated with a trauma (and I would include things short of life-threatening, like school bullying or experiences of humiliation in here), then just continuing to suppress the feelings when they re-surface is not going to help them recover. There are tons of ways for a person to productively “process” a traumatic memory so that it doesn’t keep intruding and none of them is inherently better than another. But just “stuffing it” is more likely to lead to depression, substance abuse, and other problems.

    • Yug Gnirob says:

      Pure guesswork, but I’d worry that once you start suppressing bad memories, you’ll get used to it and start suppressing ever more trivial bad memories until you’re just ignoring any negative information that comes in.

      • cuke says:

        Yes, and it also tends to cause emotional numbing at the other end as well and so tends to reduce the capacity for joyful feelings.

    • noyann says:

      There is a substantial cost in evasive behaviour, flashbacks, being permanently tense and cramped, bad sleep, maybe more in the areas of relationship and work. Anxiety also has a tendency to generalize.

      No comparison to the serenity after shedding that burden though long and gentle and/or intense moments of kathartic therapy, from before of which it is nearly impossible to imagine what the difference will be. The psychiatric establishment position is a Chesterton’s fence.

  30. ArbitraryRenaissance says:

    In my own experience, I get a check for defiance towards the law (I pirated things online and occasionally trespassed with friends), a check for self-absorption (I overestimated how moral of a person I was, and I had a small sense of entitlement at times), and a check for risk-seeking (I took up skateboarding, did some more heavy-duty martial arts, plus the whole trespassing thing). But I wasn’t very moody (I never have been), I wasn’t interested in my own personal status (I was introverted and already felt fairly comfortable in my friend group), and I largely respected my family (my dad, at least).

    My prediction is that some of these natural changes are more prevalent in people with certain personality types. Readers of this blog are probably more introverted, and I think it’s mostly extroverted people who manifest status obsession during their teenage years; so I don’t think you’ll see as many testimonies of this trait in the people who reply to your comment. Introversion will probably also make some risks less accessible to people (like having sex and buying drugs), so others may report that they were less risk-seeking as well.

  31. ArbitraryRenaissance says:

    Does anyone know if there are any studies on an individual’s ability to read comprehensively and quickly? I want to know if this skill is reliably measurable, and if so, if it’s permanently trainable, and if so, what the best methods for training it are. Currently, my reading speed is about the same as that of your typical third grader, which makes me kinda hate reading things. I’d be interested in increasing this, but I also want to make sure I’m not wasting my time practicing methods or tactics that won’t get me anywhere.

    • Hyperfocus says:

      Studies: no. Anecdatum: yes! My brother and I are pretty similar in a lot of ways–and he doesn’t have dyslexia, or anything similar like that–but I’m a way faster reader than he is. The difference we’ve been able to suss out is that he pronounces each word in his head as he comes across it, whereas I don’t. I basically treat each word as a hashcode that maps to a concept, and don’t need to pronounce it in order to understand it.

      This site (with which I have no affiliation) is a good way to practice reading without internal vocalization. Just relax your eyes/mind and see the words. Once you can do that, the only remaining trick is being able to do that by moving your eyes instead of letting the page do that for you. At that point, you can blaze through paragraphs with ease.

      • Templar15 says:

        I suddenly realize that, despite focusing a lot on my internal monologue, I must be doing something close to hashcode reading, because had to force myself to mentally pronounce everything while reading The Name of the Wind (I wanted to savor it. It’s a really good book).
        On the other hand, I often get stuck writing things because I’m looping through pronouncing each bit instead of actually writing.

        • Hyperfocus says:

          Agreed! It blows my mind that the conversation about the moon in the Fae section of Wise Man’s Fear is made up of rhyming couplets, yet the formatting of the text does not highlight this in any way, and I didn’t even notice it on my first read.

          I just hope to be able to read Doors of Stone before I die.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            As I recall, Jo Walton has mentioned sneaking sonnets into her prose fiction.

            A Midsummer Tempest by Poul Anderson is set in a universe where everything Shakespeare wrote is literally true. The chapters end with rhymed couplets. For all I know, there might be some stealth sonnets.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            A Midsummer Tempest by Poul Anderson is set in a universe where everything Shakespeare wrote is literally true.

            That summary undersells the weirdness. Because everything Shakespeare wrote is true, including the anachronisms, the Industrial Revolution is starting during the English Civil War and the Puritans believe the English-speaking people in 13th century BC Athens were Israelites on their way to Britain. These are the bad guys and the good guys are Catholic and High Anglican Luddites trying to save the fairies.
            There’s also a cameo by Holger Dankse in an interdimensional pub.

      • silver_swift says:

        This site (with which I have no affiliation) is a good way to practice reading without internal vocalization. Just relax your eyes/mind and see the words.

        Does that site actually help you read faster? I’ve always been told that reading fast means that (in addition to not subvocalizing) you’re using information from surrounding sentences/paragraphs to more quickly decipher the intended meaning of a word. Training to read word for word seems like it would be harmful for that.

        Also, I’m a pretty strong subvocalizer (I basically can’t read anything without hearing the words in my head), but even at 400 words per minute, the maximum that site allows, I can easily follow along with the text. So if the idea is to break you out of the habit of subvocalizing by forcing you to read really quickly, it’s failing at least on me.

        • GearRatio says:

          It looks as if the underlying technology/app for that page (a program called spritz) allows for as much as 1000 wpm, and that page itself seems to allow 800 wpm if someone is logged into spritz. I was too lazy to actually verify this works, but if so 1000 wpm seems pretty respectable for anybody.

        • Hyperfocus says:

          That’s the idea of the site, but I don’t know why they limited it to 400wpm. Could’ve sworn that it let you do 800wpm before…

          Regarding word-by-word, I’m not an expert on this by any means, but there are definitely limits on how fast you can read if you do it that way. According to this paper, our eyes perform about 3 saccades per second, meaning that if comprehension time is not an issue, we max out at about 180wpm if reading each word one-by-one. Googling “average reading speed” gives 300wpm, so quick readers definitely do not just look at each word in order, but chunk by chunk. This is evident by the “Paris in the the springtime” phenomenon, where we skip the second “the” automatically; anyone evaluating each word one-by-one would not make that mistake.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I just don’t see how I could read like that and still retain as much.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        practice reading without internal vocalization.

        I can do this fine. Until I realize I am doing it! Then I can’t stop vocalizing the words in my head!

    • AG says:

      A lot of the other comments are about learning to stop subvocalizing, but I say lean into it, and simply work to read aloud faster. As a part of competitive debate, we had to learn to read evidence excerpts as fast as possible, and that ended up making us able to read and think even faster.

      So: Read aloud with a pen in your mouth. Read excerpts aloud backwards. Read excerpts aloud, but only every other word. Read an excerpt but say a one-syllable filler word in between every word. Do those two drills, but reading backwards. Do drills again but with a pen in your mouth. And then a regular reading, just as fast as you possibly can.
      This eventually forces you to be able to comprehend the next word while saying the current word.

  32. Radu Floricica says:

    I was a late child, and my puberty overlapped my mother’s menopause. Yeah.

    Didn’t do stupid stuff other than lots of arguing and occasional yelling, but I did have recurring fantasies of being away from home one way or another. Was _extremely_ happy to be off to college and to live alone. Ironically, when I got older and managed to see things in perspective I realized I had/have a very good relationship with my parents, both subjectively and statistically.

  33. clipmaker says:

    I just read the the Turchin/”Ages of Discord” review, which I hadn’t seen before. Wow. The review expresses a reasonable understanding of how things get worse in the downward part of a cycle, and a lack of understanding of how they get better in the upward part. Pikkety is mentioned as a possible explanation: events like wars decrease inequality by destroying existing wealth. There’s another book I’ve been wanting to read, which seems to say something similar: The Great Leveller, by Walter Scheidel. There is an author Q/A and some excerpts from the book in The Economist, here, which begins:

    IN AN age of widening inequality, Walter Scheidel believes he has cracked the code on how to overcome it. In “The Great Leveler”, the Stanford professor posits that throughout history, economic inequality has only been rectified by one of the “Four Horsemen of Leveling”: warfare, revolution, state collapse and plague.

    Scary stuff. And the current pandemic seems to be making inequality worse rather than better.

    • MeaningIsCultivated says:

      I don’t think I’ve read the review you’re referring to, but based off your comment you may be interested in this?

      Praise be to george mason for this kind of thing

    • Jacobethan says:

      I haven’t read Turchin. But my impression from Scott’s review is that his theory doesn’t necessarily require some kind of exogenous wealth-destroying shock (e.g., a war) to reverse inequality; it’s entirely possible for this to be something elites “choose” to do in a rationally self-interested way as the tide of discontent rises. I gathered, at least, that that was basically Turchin’s explanation for the post-1890s reversal: Progressive Era reforms enabling a more widely shared prosperity. The problem is fitting that sort of homeostatic mechanism in with the other components of Turchin’s theory, like the notion of elite overproduction.

      The other thing to mention is that the interest in Turchin’s having predicted the US reaching a high point of instability right now is tied to the “short” radicalism/moderation cycle, not the “long” inequality/equality cycle. And the mechanism regulating the former is a lot easier to conceptualize (whether you think it actually describes anything in reality or is just a neat model to play with).

      As I understand it (again, from Scott’s review), in periods of relatively high consensus and low conflict moderation starts to look like complacency and lack of imagination, and gradually radicalism starts to win over more and more converts as people look to more extreme solutions to society’s problems. Eventually this reaches a local maximum of instability, at which point people start to associate radicalism more with its excesses and begin pulling back toward moderation as a proactive, rather than merely passive or inertial, stance.

      This dynamic is essentially the subject of the 1983 film The Big Chill, which concerns a group of friends whose social life revolved around student radicalism in the years before 1970, but who now reconvene to discover that they’ve all since become to varying degrees actively pro-status-quo. And there’s a sort of quasi-Turchinian determinism to the way their attitude to this change is universally like, “Huh? How the hell did that happen to us?”, rather than chilling out being presented as a fully conscious decision at the individual level.

    • 10240 says:

      There is a strong assumption here that inequality is a problem, and it should be rectified. In particular, the view that the rich getting richer is a problem in and of itself, even if the poor is also getting less poor (as implicitly espoused in that interview) drives me up the wall. What’s so scary about the pie getting bigger and bigger, but the rich’s slice getting bigger faster than the poor’s?

      • Matt M says:

        The core assumption is that most people care about relative wealth more than absolute wealth. That is to say, that they’d oppose a plan where their neighbor gets $100 and they get $10 even if the alternative plan was that both you and your neighbor get $5.

        I’m not really sure if that’s right or not, but that’s the base logic underlying any and all complaints about inequality.

        • 10240 says:

          That’s precisely what drives me up the wall. Especially when thoughtful middle-class political/economic theorists endorse rather than condemn that approach.

          The origin of why I’m annoyed by it so much is that I grew up in a post-communist country. It was made very clear to me early on how capitalism works better for everyone (including the poor) than socialism even though it has more inequality.

          I guess the reason many people care about inequality and relative wealth is that for a fixed total, more relative wealth translates to more absolute wealth, and less inequality translates to more total utility due to the decreasing marginal utility of money. So people focus on (in)equality, and sometimes they get so used to it that they forget that it was originally an instrumental value (useful only to a point) towards the terminal value of welfare, rather than a terminal value.

          For some of these people, increasing their relative wealth (if they are taking a personal view) or equality (if taking a societal view) actually transforms into a terminal value, and they won’t go back to using absolute welfare as the terminal value even if they recognize that relative wealth was originally just a heuristic. For others, welfare (personal or overall) remains the terminal value, they just got so used to thinking in relative terms that they say silly things like that the rich getting richer is bad—but they may return to thinking in terms of absolute considerations if reminded that when total wealth is not fixed, relative wealth is only an imperfect proxy for absolute wealth.

        • Lambert says:

          I suppose it eventually reduces to ‘it’s a zero sum game’ but people complain about using money to buy power in zero sum games e.g. megacorp lawyer armies, regulatory capture etc, which seems like a different thing to people just wanting to keep up with the joneses.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          Yeah, but caring more about relative wealth means that you don’t really care about wealth at all, you care about status.

          • AG says:

            Or you don’t trust that your neighbor with their new $100 won’t use it to pay someone to kneecap you, since you and your neighbor were competitors for something. One has to defend against other people who care about relative wealth.

            Equality is insurance against defection.

          • Belisaurus Rex says:

            Here in America we have the Second Amendment for that.

          • No One In Particular says:

            If wealth is a synonym for utility, and people derive utility from status, then status is a component of wealth.

            Plus, status can be used to secure wealth.

    • thesilv3r says:

      Having read The Great Leveller, I will say that it’s argument is so well balanced that it doesn’t really present a strong end position in the end. The main thing I got out of the book was “the unending resilience of inequality”, sure the Black Death reduced inequality the first time it really hit Europe hard, but inequality bounced back within a couple of generations and the second and third time the plague hit the impacts weren’t nearly so pronounced. Similarly, China massively levelled out inequality (in a bad way!) during the 20th century revolutions, but it has sprung back very quickly.

      • I would expect the pattern of inequality over time to be different in a society where income was largely from property than a society where it was mostly from labor. In the U.S. at present, as I understand it, income inequality is mostly driven not be wealthy people clipping coupons but by doctors, lawyers, and other high priced professionals.

        In that situation, inequality could increase relatively quickly if the relative payoff to uncommon skills increased quickly, perhaps as common skills, physical strength, say, became more and more replaceable by machinery.

        It could also increase, perhaps more slowly, due to assortative mating.

  34. noyann says:

    Promising drugs against Covid-19 in a simulation? Sciencedaily, preprint

    Abstract: [ … ] We applied a workflow of combined in silico methods (virtual drug screening, molecular docking and supervised machine learning algorithms) to identify novel drug candidates against COVID-19. We constructed chemical libraries consisting of FDA-approved drugs for drug repositioning and of natural compound datasets from literature mining and the ZINC database to select compounds interacting with SARS-CoV-2 target proteins (spike protein, nucleocapsid protein, and 2’-o-ribose methyltransferase). Supported by the supercomputer MOGON II, candidate compounds were predicted as presumable SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors. Interestingly, several approved drugs against hepatitis C virus (HCV), another enveloped (-) ssRNA virus (paritaprevir, simeprevir, grazoprevir, and velpatasvir) as well as drugs against transmissible diseases, against cancer, or other diseases were identified as candidates against SARS-CoV-2. This result is supported by reports that anti-HCV compounds are also active against Middle East Respiratory Virus Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus. [ … ]

    How are past experiences to give estimates that the found drugs will be effective in vitro and in vivo? And if so, what would be a realistic time estimate for production increase, and deployment, first to hospitals, critical personnel and vulnerable groups, later, given that some are already approved and have passed the required safety testing? There will be no clear numbers, sure, but still — any experts with a feeling of a well-trained gut? 🙂

    • fibio says:

      Drug development is a very difficult field to make any strong predictions for. Having a list of drugs that might interact with the infection is a good start but it’s very much at the start of the process. If nothing else you have little evidence from the discovery phase whether the drug will have a positive or negative effect on the patient outcomes.

      From all these drugs you’ll first have at least a initial trial to detect whether there’s an obviously negative outcome, and hopefully it’ll be sensitive enough to also demonstrate a positive outcome. A large percentage will fail this step, either by being harmful or not measurably beneficial, and be dropped. However, these trials tend to be relatively cheep to run and can be performed scattershot. Note that, if you’ve got a completely new molecule there will also need to be a number of safety trials to prove that the drug is not harmful to animals or people, in that order.

      Once a company has a molecule that looks to be effective in the initial trials, they’ll move on to a full clinical trial. This will aim to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in patient outcomes over a wide population, generally hundreds to thousands of patients. A fair number drugs will also drop at this step, failing to replicate the initial success and having no measurable impact. This happens a lot in new drug development and a lot of these drugs will go on to be candidates for other uses, but that’s getting off topic and not very helpful for specifically COVID-19

      Finally, now that they drug has been proven, it has to be also cost effective. This is beyond my knowledge as it’s getting into the production side, but the effect has to be greater than the cost to procure. While this is rarely an issue with infectious diseases which tend to be quite binary whether they help or don’t, it can still pose a limiter if you don’t have a good candidate. If survival is only increased by 1% after a $30,000 dollar therapy then healthcare providers are going to be a lot less keen to take up the final product.

      The length of time this will all take is very elastic. Companies will be throwing bundles of money at their infectious disease pipelines right now, so it’ll definitely be faster than normal, but that doesn’t mean quick. Each trial takes a couple months to set up, run, analyse and then respond to. They can be performed concurrently but there’s an upper limit based on staffing (note, generally it’s nurses running clinical trials… they’re a little busy right now). If a drug breezes through all the trials and has an accelerated regulatory filing due to the pandemic it might be as little as a year from discovery to commercialization. If a company has to fall to the backup a few times, effect size is hard to demonstrate and the FDA gets persnickety, then it could be five.

      • Garrett says:

        FWIW, I think that a number of these issues are what made hydroxychloroquine especially appealing. It was a known drug with decades of widespread use, and it is cheap to manufacture and administer. The only thing which really needed to be evaluated was effectiveness, where trials could be performed very quickly.

        • fibio says:

          Yeah, it was a reasonable idea. It was just a shame it became famous. There’s really no point talking up a drug on a national stage when the initial trials are still going on. The failure rate is so high that you’re almost certain to look like an idiot by the time the actual results are in.

        • Matt M says:

          and it is cheap to manufacture and administer.

          And this lovely little factoid is what we have to thank for the countless conspiracy theories regarding how this drug is almost certainly super effective but they(big pharma and/or the politicians whom they control) don’t want you to know it – because then they couldn’t sell a much more expensive vaccine!

          • fibio says:

            I’m sure it’s just because conspiracy theories in your own area hurt more than those about someone else’s, but every time I hear this one I just want to scream: “No they wouldn’t want you to know. That is why the market is set up to stop people from doing it!”

          • Don P. says:

            Right, because the people who own the one effective treatment/cure for COVID-19 would never raise the price once they learned that’s what they had.

          • fibio says:

            Oh sure they will raise the label, but if its a reasonably well known generic then there will be twenty companies in India making it within the month for half the original price. Gouging is a serious problem in the Pharmaceutical world, but it is generally something that you only see in narrow markets where the cost of entry is much higher than the potential profits. See Valiant and Shkreli.

    • Lambert says:

      Considering the whole ‘we ran computer simulations that show that spike proteins kinda sorta look like they might bind to a haem group therefore SARS CoV 2 is obviously infiltrating red blood corpuscules’ study, I’m not overly optimistic.

    • mcpalenik says:

      I have a little bit of experience with Autodock from about 6 years ago. Docking programs are pretty hit or miss. Forget about whether this actually extends to in vivo. Even in the simple system that is being modeled, which is drug/protein or drug/part of protein, the interactions are modeled with so many approximations, that it’s not even clear that you’ll get a meaningful answer. So, basically what we get out of a docking algorithm is a list of drugs that have a slightly higher probability than average of doing something.

      I also work with someone who is exploring machine learning for synthetic chemistry (not quite what they’re doing here, but related). It’s riddled with problems, but you can certainly make it look like it’s doing a good job.

    • No One In Particular says:

      Does this raise the question of how likely we are currently in a COVID-treatment-simulation?

  35. DarkTigger says:

    I wanted to mention this too. Yes this is pretty CW, but Scott started it in the blogpost.
    The event that started the protests seems pretty clear cut. Kneeing on somebodys neck until he is dead, is simply unexcusable, even if that person would be a violent criminal.
    But some of the rethoric you get isn’t. For example I read several times Journalists writing “that could happen to me” and all I could think about in that moment was “oh, you get arrested for check fraud often?”

    Seems pretty toxoplasmic to me.

    • fibio says:

      I also don’t want to get into the CW but I will say one thing. You can argue with facts but you can’t argue with fear. If people tell you they are afraid of the police then it’s not rhetoric, they are afraid. And when otherwise innocent people are afraid of the people who are supposed to keep them safe then that’s a sign of a deep failing somewhere along the line regardless of the specifics.

      • DarkTigger says:

        That’s the point of Toxoplasm of Hate, isn’t it? When a educated middle class woman writes she is afraid to be killed during an arrest, that’s sounds pretty unrealistic to me. But it’s not at all what that sentence is about.

    • nkurz says:

      > I could think about in that moment was “oh, you get arrested for check fraud often?”

      In the interest of accuracy, I think it’s worth mentioning that the arrest involved the passing of counterfeit bills rather than check fraud. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with the owner of the grocery store explaining the events that led up to Floyd’s death:

      Someone who was with George presented a counterfeit bill to one of
      our clerks first and the clerk identified the bill as being counterfeit, returned it to to the friend of George, and that person left the establishment without the authorities being called. About 15 minutes later George Floyd came in and presented a different counterfeit $20 bill and the employee did not identify this as counterfeit and took the bill. George Floyd left the establishment and
      a few minutes later, after the bill was identified as counterfeit, that’s when
      the authorities were called on the counterfeit bill to take the counterfeit. Now when the authorities arrived, George Floyd was still outside and that’s when they approached him and arrested him.

      While most journalists probably commit check fraud, and while it’s not clear if Floyd was knowingly passing a counterfeit bill, it does seem reasonable that a journalist might fear unknowingly passing someone a counterfeit bill.

      For non-US readers who aren’t familiar with the terminology, checks pieces of paper that typically prefilled with the name, address, and bank account details of the payer. The amount and name of the payee are typically written in at the point of sale, then the check is signed, with many establishments requiring a picture ID to prove identity. The payee deposits the check to their bank, and several days later the funds are taken from the payer’s account. Check fraud would typically involve either using someone else’s check, or writing checks on account in one’s own name for which one knows sufficient funds are not available. Counterfeit bills are imitations of the official government currency, and range from easy-to-identify fakes made on at home on a color printer with plain paper to extremely realistic versions printed by other nation-states that are almost impossible for an expert to distinguish from real bills. While the “bad fakes” are probably only passed intentionally, it’s quite possible that one might receive a “good fake” as change and pass it on accidentally.

      • nkurz says:

        Oops, a last minute edit messed that up. Please read that as “While most journalists probably don’t commit check fraud”.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        While most journalists probably commit check fraud

        Paging @Well…, here’s another item to add to your list of things to dislike about journalists.

        ETA: ninjer’d by OP. I’m leaving it anyway because it’s funny 🙂

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It wasn’t check fraud. It was a counterfeit, or at least suspected counterfeit, $20 bill.

  36. abystander says:

    Another hypothesis as to why the stock market has been going up in the face of the pandemic is that gamblers who normally bet on sports have put money in the stock market.

    • Jon S says:

      The always-excellent Matt Levine has coined the term Bored Markets Hypothesis for this theory, particularly with respect to specific stocks/sectors (e.g. bankrupt stocks that are suddently worth 100’s of $millions again). “You could have a model of bored retail traders as the ultimate value investors: When no one else ascribes any value to a company’s stock because it is literally bankrupt, they will buy it for the lulz.”

    • PhaedrusV says:

      Turns out it looks like it’s some crazy reddit thread of day traders.

    • anon-e-moose says:

      This is one of those stories that sounds plausible to a layman, but is absolutely laughable to someone in the field. The premise that mom n pop retail investors are driving share prices of anything but bottom-barrel/unlisted/pink sheet equities is insane, and can be discounted immediately by looking at a depth of market book. “Volume” doesn’t get mentioned once, and that’s about all you need to know.

      A very, very brief explainer: When someone talks about “moving a market” they’re generally referring to making a purchase so large that it gobbles up the existing float or liquidity and sends the price higher. Simple concept. Moving the market in a (very) thinly traded security might be $500k purchase. The percentage of (non-professional) investors who make $500k purchases is really, really small. And that’s for a thinly traded security. “Moving the market” on something listed on a major exchange is millions upon millions. A big pension buy might be $50m. And professionals don’t trade like directly like that–you’re going to shop an order that large around to other dealers and try to get that filled off market if you can–precisely to prevent running up the price.

      TL:DR: This a bad analysis written by someone who’s never actually done the thing they’re writing about. I can push $1mm lot though pretty much anything in the S&P500 and a market maker will gobble that up with very little issue.

      • Jon S says:

        I agree that it’s mostly nonsense for this kind of retail flow to be driving the market as a whole. But I think it’s pretty clear that collectively they are driving a few stocks like HTZ that they pile into en-masse. Options also allow them to have outsize impact relative to their “investment”.

        • anon-e-moose says:

          Can you provide a link to that HTZ detail? I still haven’t see any evidence that retail is driving anything except the usual retail shit, but I’ll admit I haven’t looked very hard. Not a big matt levine guy, so very possible I’ve missed something.

          • Jon S says:

            Matt’s article on HTZ is the only specific thing I’ve got handy to link to

            Just in the last week, 96,000 people on the Robinhood investing app opened a position in Hertz Global Holdings Inc. …

            The stock is extremely hard to borrow and was up 10x off its lows after announcing their bankruptcy plans.

            I mean. Hertz filed for bankruptcy on May 22. It has about 142 million shares outstanding; at its $5.53 post-bankruptcy high, the total market value of its stock was about $785 million. “Hertz’s roughly $3 billion in corporate bonds were trading earlier this week at around 40 cents on the dollar,”

            So the debtors are asking permission to issue more shares and sell them in the open market (to put the proceeds towards a larger recovery payment on the bonds).

          • anon-e-moose says:

            Beautiful, thanks! My prior comment reads more accusatory than I intended, so sorry for that. Part of the reason I dislike Levine so much are PopFin stories like this one.

            The logical question here is: what % of transactions in HTZ are from “small dollar” traders, vs what’s being picked up on an big inst’l arb play vs what’s % distressed debt funds. He doesn’t even try to go there, it’s just an article about what might be a wHaCky cApITAl StAck! What about the 96k open positions on RH, is that the common? weeklies or leaps? What’s the short float? Why is there such a huge disconnect on the debt vs the equity pricing? (we know, but if you’re writing for the general public, they might not)

            He’s a good writer, but so half-ass.

      • No One In Particular says:

        You seem to be requiring that the market be moved by individual, large size orders, which is a rather odd requirement.

  37. toastengineer says:

    Hey Eric T:

    If 40 years from now my kid asks me what the social justice movement was about, what should I tell him?

    • Lambert says:

      I don’t see a decimal point in the thread number.

      • toastengineer says:

        Yeah, I’m specifically only asking for the pro side here. I think that makes it fall short of the line.

        • silver_swift says:

          Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics.

          I figure the future of the social justice movement definitely counts as a hot-button topic and should therefor go into the fractional threads.

          Only asking for (and thereby allowing) one side of the discussion is incredibly frustrating for the people on the other side of that discussion.

      • Anteros says:

        It’s the topic that is CW. Scott specifically says

        please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics

    • eric23 says:

      Interesting you say “was”

      • Viliam says:

        There are two possible ways for that to happen. First, people will lose interest. Second, in my opinion more likely, a newer variant will appear under a new name and young people will move there. Either way, in 40 years words “social justice” will mean “what old people did back in 2020s”.

    • Eric T says:

      I’ll try to avoid any CW topics and just give a sort of generic answer:

      It’s a bunch of people seeking for more equity in and fairness in a society we think is deeply lacking in those things.

  38. Tatterdemalion says:

    I recently had to rewrite a message to a friend, because without thinking I’d written “thank you for your concern”, but what I meant was “thank you for your concern”, not “fuck off and die in a fire”.

    Internet-speak is weird.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      If I’ve parsed you correctly that predates the internet by decades, if not centuries and flourishes all over.

      “Thank you for your valuable feedback” from anyone in retail/customer service means either exactly that or “For the love of god go away”, for example.

      Or my favorite, the many and varied meanings of “Yes, sir.” in the military.

  39. mikk14 says:

    I’ve written a paper about how content policing on social media tends to penalize neutral and unbiased news instead of extreme points of view and misinformation (at least the way it’s implemented now): “News on Social Media: It’s not Real if I don’t Like it”

    Right now, Facebook uses this crowdsources flags: users flags and stuff that gets flagged a lot is passed to expert fact checkers. From real Facebook data, I can see that most of the fact checkers get handed mainstream information. So I built up a model that can explain the data, and uses a mix of confirmation bias and homophily (= echo chambers). The model shows that extreme news don’t get out of their bubbles, thus they don’t get flagged, while mainstream news can percolate easily through the network, and so the extremists flag it.

    • Ketil says:

      The model shows that extreme news don’t get out of their bubbles, thus they don’t get flagged, while mainstream news can percolate easily through the network, and so the extremists flag it.

      I have only been censored once by Facebook, and it was for linking to inappropriate content, i.e. factual information in a forum I would very much describe as an echo chamber. One of the more enthusiastic participants also tried to cancel me by messaging my FB friends about how I was a nazi troll or something like that.

      So while N=1, I think the flagging method only serves to eliminate contrary or unpopular views, and doesn’t serve any real purpose of eliminating false information.

      (In this forum, I think the ‘Report’ button is mostly clicked by accident – hopefully in a uniformly random fashion 🙂

      • 10240 says:

        Were you censored by Facebook, or by the admins/moderators of a particular group?

        • No One In Particular says:

          One can argue that if the admins censor using tools provided by Facebook, then Facebook is a party to the censoring. It’s Facebook that ultimately decides what gets posted’ admins are just advising Facebook what they want censored.

          • matkoniecz says:

            It seems to unnecessarily muddy difference between “content banned sitewide” and “content banned in a specific group”.

          • No One In Particular says:

            If you want to make that distinction, then I think you should ask “Was it banned sitewide or within a specific group?”

    • No One In Particular says:

      Places like Facebook really need meta-moderation, where you can flag flags, and people who are inappropriately flagging things get a timeout. And of course at some point actual Facebook employees need to be involved; any peer system can be rigged.

  40. kotrfa says:

    If you wanted to find the most effective education for your children (i.e. you are not saving the world or trying to design for the whole population), which is neurotypical, parents are “rationalists” with slightly above average income, how would it look like (from pre-K onwards)? (Full question posted on LW)

    • a real dog says:

      I’ve heard good things about Montessori.

      Probably any alternative education scheme that emphasizes individual interests and initiative, instead of being optimized for creating an obedient 19th century Prussian factory worker, would put your child far ahead of the mainstream.

      • Cheese says:

        Montessori and similiar styles can be great but can have pitfalls.

        IMO, based solely on personal experience for myself and in the family, it can be great for earlier stages of education. It allows kids to skip far ahead based on their abilities, stopping them getting bored and allowing them to move at their own rate. However it has less of an emphasis on forcing them to work on areas of deficiency, so you can end up in a position where they may need remedial work in some area to catch up to their peers. I have seen this to be very teacher and school philosophy dependent.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Option the first: “Move to Finland, send them to public school”.
      Option the second. “send them to public school, spend money like water on one on one tuition”.

      A lot of the usual things people advocate and do are just goddamn useless, or expensive in ways people fail to count properly.

      Homeschooling – assuming one partner has the qualifications to do a good job of it, is costing you at least 40 grand a year in foregone earnings, and probably more.

      Private schools generally do no better than public schools in the districts they exist in, once you control for socio economic status – they just get to cherry pick a student body and fleece parents, complete waste of money.
      (and sending your kids to a distant private school imposes enormous time and social costs on them, and likely on you, too. It is very, very inconvenient not to live near your kids school in all sorts of ways)

      But Finland genuinely appears to just.. have better schools. And spending money on tutors works.

      Option 3, for the very cheap parent: Just damn well teach your kid how to use Anki.

      • a real dog says:

        Re #3, Anki seems way overhyped. For languages, I’m told that controlled exposure to living examples of the language is considered superior. For anything else, like e.g. biology, you want to understand what you’re talking about instead of regurgiating trigger-response pairs on demand.

        I’ve seen some people use Anki to prepare for exams on bio/med topics and it just seems like a more sophisticated way of cramming – even if they preserve the “knowledge” they can’t really use it or reason about it. I also know people who spent years learning a language as an adult via spaced repetition and they still suck at fluent speech or writing.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          I have friends who used Anki throughout undergrad, and they remember the topics much better than I do just because their Anki cards still come up. The real question is whether memorizing any of that stuff was useful to begin with.

          However, I’ll agree that it isn’t sufficient for languages.

      • Lambert says:

        Option between tutoring and homeschooling: Take an extremely active interest in their education.
        I feel like my parents unschooled me on top of me going to actual school.

      • Tarpitz says:

        If your account of the benefits of private school doesn’t include the value of the social connections made there, it’s very incomplete. This value may not be that great at a typical private school, but at the elite ones it’s enormous. Even if you don’t think Eton offers a superior academic education (or you think the direct benefits of such an education are not lasting) it would be foolish to disregard the social networks formed there.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          … You do realize you just entirely agreed with some of the very reddest critiques I have ever heard of private schooling? That is, that they are no better at education than the public system, but are effective transmission mechanisms of class privilege?

          Or in other words, the argument you just made is not an argument for attending Eton, it is an argument for legislating Eton out of existence.

          • Lambert says:

            Why should you limit yourself to looking at schools that shouldn’t be regulated out of existance?

            >(i.e. you are not saving the world or trying to design for the whole population)

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Well, mostly I think those red critiques are just wrong. – that is, I do not think the course of your life is actually set by who you were friends with in middle school, so I consider them wholly scams. I am just.. a bit flabbergasted to see marxist analytics be taken for granted.

          • Tarpitz says:

            I’m in no way, shape or form a Marxist, but I don’t think I need to accept any political theory of any kind to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of my lying eyes that old boy network nepotism is a source of career advantage in many fields, including my own (I am certainly a beneficiary of it). The notion that who you know socially makes no difference to your professional prospects seems so incredible to me that I can barely imagine an actual resident of this planet holding it.

            As it happens, I think most elite private schools actually do offer an appreciably superior education, and selection effects, increased human capital and networking are all important factors in explaining the success of their alumni. Most private schools are a waste of a ton of money. The top few are excellent value for even more. See also universities.

          • Clutzy says:

            You do realize you just entirely agreed with some of the very reddest critiques I have ever heard of private schooling? That is, that they are no better at education than the public system, but are effective transmission mechanisms of class privilege?

            Weird for this to be a private school critique when the current public school system does the same thing on a wider scale.

          • but are effective transmission mechanisms of class privilege?

            I think that describes at most expensive prep schools, which are a very small part of the total world of private schools.

      • Homeschooling – assuming one partner has the qualifications to do a good job of it, is costing you at least 40 grand a year in foregone earnings, and probably more.

        That assumes it’s a full-time job. For couples with the traditional pattern, husband earning money and wife running the household, it isn’t. Actual teaching doesn’t require much time spent by the adult, although adults can choose to spend more — the main constraint is that there must be an adult present in the house.

        Also, there are some jobs that can be done from home and don’t suffer too much from being interrupted from time to time.

      • John Schilling says:

        Homeschooling – assuming one partner has the qualifications to do a good job of it, is costing you at least 40 grand a year in foregone earnings, and probably more.

        Is that gross earnings, or net? We’ve discussed the two-income trap here before. If A: the expenses associated with a second full-time wage-earner consume a significant fraction of the gross income added, and B: what’s left goes mostly to buying a house in an expensive neighborhood with good schools, then it’s quite possible that you come out financially ahead if you home-school in a cheaper neighborhood.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Taking ten years out of your career has long term costs rather exceeding the immediate calculus.

          Further, money poured into the mortgage is not generally lost barring very bad luck. Not an investment with a huge return, but you do get the money back on the back end assuming there is still, well, an economy, when you retire.

          Bailing on the good school district and extracting that premium value is one reason why people in the US retire to points south, yes? (The European version is “To Spain”, which.. honestly, better deal than Florida)

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        Private schools generally do no better than public schools in the districts they exist in, once you control for socio economic status – they just get to cherry pick a student body and fleece parents, complete waste of money.

        That’s…what we’re paying for…

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          You are paying for an education. If the individuals who make up the student body of the private school would have learned exactly as much scattered around n public schools instead, then you are gaining nothing at a very high price. And that is the favorable case – sometimes they are simply worse schools once you control for SES.

          And I need to make this point again, if you are willing to spend this kind of dosh on your child’s education, sending them to public school and hiring tutors would be vastly, ridiculously more efficacious use of your funds. Tutoring damn well works, and ten thousand dollars worth of tutoring per year through primary school and twenty thousand per year through high school is a whole lot of tuition hours.

          • cassander says:

            You’re paying for a better peer group for your kids, which almost certainly matters more than how much they actually learn.

        • albatross11 says:

          You may also be paying for the school to teach your children according to your values (many religious schools), or for a pleasant environment for your kids with a nice peer group.

    • Purplehermann says:

      I think a lot of it is being a household that actually values learning (the kids should notice their parents learning new things at least occasionally, parents should indulge the kids’ interest in how things work, there should be books in the house) and making learning accessible (show them how to use Wikipedia themselves, find sites for them that will interest and teach them, etc).

      Beyond that just send them where they’ll have good friends, make sure they can read and do basic math.

      • AG says:

        Yes, parental support is critical, since school isn’t going to do it. My parents sent us to more technical summer camp/classes, but ones where we still got to pick the specific classes we wanted to attend. Later, they wholeheartedly supported the extracurriculars we chose to pursue, both financially and in transporting us where we needed to go (whether that be attended practices or competitions).
        Finally, our vacations were all oriented around museums, nature/hiking, and concerts, and I still have zero interesting in shopping-oriented vacations or events.

        It’s like enabling an unschooling environment outside of mandatory schooling.

      • albatross11 says:

        Also, the ability to see that your kid is miserable or struggling in one environment and move him to another is really valuable. Doing this at one point in my oldest son’s education made his life enormously better and seems to have worked out well.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you’re looking for a drastic alternative to mainstream education, Waldorf or Steiner schools. Due to circumstances, my two nephews did their pre-school/junior infants schooling in one, then integrated into mainstream schools at a later date with no difficulty (the elder is going on for an MA in English and the younger is currently doing a B Sc, so I have an Arts Nephew and a Science Nephew) 🙂

      Pros: child-centred learning, at their own pace, a lot of arts and crafts as well as academic subjects.

      Cons: arose out of the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, so depending on the school it may be very hippy-dippy. If you’re a Richard Dawkins-type parent who would be extremely uncomfortable about your kids making friends with the fairies at the bottom of the garden, this is not for you!

      • metacelsus says:

        Secondary con: many Waldorf parents are anti-vaxxers, so there won’t be herd immunity there.

        • Deiseach says:

          As I said, it depends on the school and parents; over here in Ireland they’re not that far gone, but certainly in Germany/other places very much into the whole biodynamic ball of wax, that’s a risk.

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        My sons went to a Waldorf school here in New Zealand, although this was mostly to keep them out of the school my oldest son spent his first year at, which was a total nightmare. The Waldorf school was excellent, we have nothing but good things to say about it.

    • PhaedrusV says:

      I’ve been trying to answer the same questions, and here’s where I am so far (mine are 3 and 1, so plans are still in development. I was homeschooled, so I know that homeschooling works just fine).

      Pre-K: I hear good things about Montessori as well, but I’m planning on just keeping the kids home at this stage. We have a great support network of adult relatives around who are very active and responsive, so we read to the kids, build things with them, engage them in conversation, answer their questions, etc. My main focus right now is to make learning fun. I’m trying to answer questions ‘bigly’ and not over-simplify, and if I can demonstrate the answer I do that before I talk about it. Playing outdoors, building with legos, reading with them (and by myself, to show how much I value it; great point earlier in the thread), exploring… We’re blending in some counting and letter recognition but only with positive reinforcement, songs, games, that sort of thing. If I weren’t so lucky in the support network my kids have then I would be looking at Montessori.

      Post-K: Check out Acton Academy. I’m going through their on-boarding right now; they seem like a great blend of Montessori principles updated with modern tools and informed by the lessons of the past millennia or so of societal experience with ‘classical’ education. In stage 1 of their on-boarding process they have a neat ‘recommended reading’ list; I read the entire list and recommend everything on it as well. My current plan is to start a micro-school (think halfway between homeschooling and private schooling: age-mixed classes of ~5-15 kids, semi-self-paced and guided). I have a few concerns about Acton’s method I haven’t been able to address yet, but I’ll be resolving those before I decide. The biggest one, as another comment in this thread noted, was how to handle lack of interest in core subjects. I’m honestly not all that concerned about whether I can handle that as the teacher; I’m a big believer in the importance of the “3 R’s” and I know how to make them all compelling and fun until their value is self-reinforcing. I also know that it’s OK to wait for the ‘teachable moment’, even if it doesn’t come in any given school year, because once you find the right one the learning is self-reinforcing and occurs at light speed. I just need to figure out how that might blend into the Acton system.

      If any of this sounds compelling to anyone else, or other people are going through similar discovery processes, PM me and I’d love to start a group discussion in a more suitable format.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        On reddit or keybase, that is.

      • I don’t think there is anything beyond reading, writing or (nowadays) typing with a computer, and possibly arithmetic, that everyone needs to learn in K-12. If a kid never gets interested in biology, he can always learn it later if he finds he needs it. Similarly for physics, algebra, history, economics, … . The important thing is that they are learning something interesting, not that they learn some list of core subjects.

        When our home unschooled kids approached college age and wanted to go to selective colleges, they studied the things necessary to fill in holes before taking the relevant exams.

        • SamChevre says:

          I would add from my experience very basic knowledge of the scientific method – not in the fully worked out sense, but in the “observe, hypothesize, test with a control” sense.

        • AG says:

          I can kind of see a “Lottery of Passions/Interests” kind of reasoning behind mandatory subjects, though. I wasn’t uninterested in STEM things, and can imagine a world where I pursued those things with much more ambition than I did in my actual life, where my focus was often “waylaid” by superstimulus arts and fandom things.
          Or, it’s unpredictable what subjects someone might be interested in if they’ve never been exposed to it. I had a classmate who was a total slacker until joining competitive debate on a whim, and that lit a fire under them to research all sorts of things they had zero interest in before that moment.

        • PhaedrusV says:

          Besides the 3 R’s, I think most of the best learning K-12 is meta-learning. Learning how to research something, how to think critically about information, how to become an expert at something useful, and how to grind out something that isn’t quite as exciting are all skills that will serve you well throughout your life.

          That’s why I like the unschool method, with the caveat you noted about the 3 R’s being necessary for adulting. My plan is to focus on the 3 R’s regularly, and help the kids learn meta-learning techniques on whatever other projects interest them.

          • My old example of that was all the time my kids spent playing Pokemon on their Gameboys. The skill they were learning was a useless one. But the skill of being dropped into a strange world and figuring out how it worked and how to accomplish things in it was not.

          • PhaedrusV says:

            That’s a good description of the benefit of video games in general, and any other interactive creative media. I expect I’m going to work pretty hard to limit my kids screen time though, not because things like Minecraft and Factorio are useless, but because of the opportunity cost.

            My cousin & her husband are homeschooling/unschooling their kids and they are big gamers, and they have pretty much allowed unfettered screen time as long as the stuff that has zero merit is limited to an hour or so a day. In practice, the kids are glued to one game or another pretty much constantly, and when I compare their capabilities, interests, and personalities to another homeschooling friend’s kids they fall very short, having not developed any significant interests due primarily to the low bar for access of mindless entertainment.

            On the personal side, I’ve had a tough time breaking free of video games but no trouble with avoiding TV and movies. TV and movies are too passive for my tastes, and we never even had a TV in the house growing up. I’d binge at friends’ houses, but by the time I got to college I just had no interest in it. Video games…. I’ve probably spent around 25-30,000 hours playing video games over the past 30 years, and opportunity cost was high. I’m going to be trying really hard to figure out a way to allow my kids access to games, but I’ll be working hard to minimize psychological addiction pathways, and if they end up showing addictive behaviors I’ll be getting rid of the games pretty quickly.

            It’s not that video games are useless, it’s just that compared to other things kids can learn if they don’t have dopamine-enhancing, stimulating escapism available at all times… the cost is too high.

          • AG says:

            Yes. “the skill of being dropped into a strange world and figuring out how it worked and how to accomplish things in it” is also something that could be accomplished by getting started early on science fair projects or spelling bee competitions, or other things that could go on the resume. This is also why I’m very unimpressed by the claims of English Majors that they learn/teach critical thinking or other soft skills.

            Our current college applications process rewards picking a “useful” passion early on and focusing on it so as to have meaningful accomplishments in it. Playing Pokemon doesn’t get weighted as much as being in the school band/choir, which doesn’t get weighted as much as doing an internship somewhere. (But, ironically, no points for working blue collar part time jobs.)

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          When our home unschooled kids approached college age and wanted to go to selective colleges, they studied the things necessary to fill in holes before taking the relevant exams.


          I enjoyed math, but I very much did not enjoy the way the SAT did it, and my final score was only 690 – even agreeing it was important, I don’t think self-directed learning is a good way to study something you dislike. If I knew then what I know now, I suspect I would find a good SAT prep place and see if I could get a set of classes/focused tutoring/whatever on just the math; that would probably have gotten me a better score. Given how well Dad did, 690 was rather a disgrace. (Even if, yes, the other sections were 800s. They don’t count; they weren’t holes.)

          That said, it worked a lot better for the subject tests; I picked American History because it looked easy to study for, read 2-3 test prep books, one lengthy and detailed history book, and the wikipedia pages for all the presidents (with a bit of editing for typos along the way), and got 770. Mind, I’m pretty sure I was also pulling answers out of general knowledge, historical novels, and at least one folk song – American History was easier to study for than World History, but History-in-general I picked because it fell under my interests.

          • PhaedrusV says:

            Are you still in college? Have you found that you have been limited by lack of early exposure to things that build up a significant body of knowledge? Not so much for the SAT; I’m sure a 690 in math and a few 800s got you into whatever school you wanted, but in other studies?

            My cousin’s example: She was unschooled, and while very smart, she didn’t have the math necessary to get into her first choice of veterinary school. She ended up studying chemistry and doing well, but she felt held back by lack of early and regular schooling in math.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            No and no; that was some time ago, but if anything I think I was better prepared than most of my peers. The thing is, suppose you land in, say, an astronomy and astrophysics course which uses a bit of trigonometry, and you never took trig. The course is giving you the formulas anyway, so you just need to look up a couple concepts and you’re home free. Now that was a core class (a really awesome core class), so it didn’t have very high math requirements, but in general I found that being able to quick-research and supplement class materials if necessary for your own learning was a really useful skill, and in my experience more valuable than having learned the standard curriculum – given how I did vis-a-vis everyone else. (Either that, or everyone else just didn’t care, in which case Thinking Learning Is Awesome is the key skill; I got that from homeschooling, too.)

            Now, a couple of caveats: I didn’t actually have a very math-heavy discipline I wanted to go into, I did find classes where most people had an extensive background and I had no background harder, though not impossible (chemistry) and most of the classes I was taking were ones where I either had a useful background* or where no background was needed since most people would first encounter it at the college level anyway. (Geology, for example – though I did have some background there. Or linguistics, where I had almost none.) The thing is, “writing effectively and grammatically” “reading effectively and remembering what you read well” and, again, “genuinely being interested” are skills with incredibly wide utility that my unschooling background supplied me with in abundance. I was kind of horrified when other students’ reaction to a class** being canceled was “oh good.” And I was much more willing to go to office hours/raise my hand and speak in class than most other students, which definitely benefitted me, and in hindsight was probably because I was raised to think teachers were not scary, and in fact, were on the same side as me – the side of Knowledge and Learning!

            The big things I found myself lacking were mostly practical things like “how to juggle four classes at once of homework” (I’d previously taken college-level classes, but they were summer classes so it was one intensive instead of four normal, which makes prioritization easier), and various things about how I learned/did best in class, but I worked that out all right; the worst consequence was one D. (Note to anyone reading this who has problems with procrastination: even if you get badly sick in the middle of a semester, never never never let the kind professor tell you your deadline is completely gone; you will not actually ever write the paper.) And it was in a 2-credit class, so I don’t think it even ended up on my eventual transcript.

            (Also “how to socialize with other students.” That one, uh, didn’t get fixed, but I’m not sure high school would have helped; long story.)

            … but yeah. I think avoiding bad habits, staying passionate, and developing writing/reading to the extent I did was more use than the standard classes would have been. Also the independent study skills thing.

            Oh, and thanks for the compliment, but no; that SAT score, plus a 770 and an 800 on SAT subject tests and some presumably glowing teacher recommendations from local university faculty (I took Italian over the summer at SCU; the teachers liked me), got me waitlisted and then rejected from my top choice, rejected from most of the others…

            … except for two, both of which offered me merit scholarships. Not being able to submit high school grades makes your results really swingy. It’s the big cost to unschooling, in terms of getting into college; I might have done better with 800/800/800, but even then I’m not sure I would have. I was prepared, but they could not tell I was.

            * Singing in early music choir = having lots of memorized latin texts, which makes learning latin much easier; it also provides memorized texts in a bunch of other languages, in case you want to learn Italian or Spanish or German instead. And just being widely read gives you an effective background in so many different things.

            **OK, my favorite class that period. Still.

          • PhaedrusV says:

            Interesting about the need for high school grades. Did you ever consider going to a junior college first, or would you try that route if doing it all over? I also didn’t have any official high school transcript due to homeschooling (I think my mom might have written a long list of the things I studied and wrote “4.0” at the top of a page, but maybe not, it’s been awhile). I did get an AA in liberal arts at the local JC, and then it was easy to get into my top choice as a transfer student with a 3.85 GPA and 1470 on the SATs.

            I’m not sure whether the JC grades or the time difference was more important though; my college applications were back around 2002, and based on your dad’s blog it looks like yours were closer to 2010 and I heard things got rougher for college admissions in that intervening decade.

            I agree entirely about the importance of developing a love of learning and ability to teach yourself; no question that anyone who has those and a few basic academic skills at 18 will do just fine in college and beyond.

            I’m very much on the fence about how formal to make my kids’ education when the time comes. The different facts I’m trying to balance are:

            1) I know that formal math, reading and writing and informal everything else works great, and renders the student completely capable of doing well in a demanding degree, because I experienced that type of homeschooling and then sailed my way to a 3.3 in mechanical engineering without needing to study outside of class.

            2) I strongly suspect that unschooling with some effort to build a interest in learning important math concepts like arithmetic and statistics would work just fine as well, based on several people I know or have chatted with online

            3) I’ve studied classical education a moderate amount, and I feel like it would be a mistake to dismiss any of the parts I don’t really get the purpose for, like the early rote memorization, simply because of the length of development and depth of the classical education system that we threw out and replaced with the Prussian model in the late 19th century. It’s hard to argue against the fact that some students brought up with the classical model had outcomes far superior to even our modern home- and un-schoolers.

            I’ve got some balancing to do. I expect I’m going to build a continuum reaching form unschooling to classical, and let each kid find the place that they can learn the most on that continuum.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Junior college… Like community college, an associate’s degree? I’d have to do more research, but my instinctive reaction is negative; my first choice was Vassar, and I don’t think they would have approved. Now, taking some classes at a local community college while I was high school age, purely for the transcript, and not worrying about the Associate’s degree, sure; quite possible I should have done that. But I would, perhaps naively, have expected a college like Vassar or Stanford to turn up its nose at someone who got an Associate’s degree instead of applying at 18 – think how snobbish Stanford already is about transfer students of any kind – unless they had an obvious, sympathetic justification (ill family member, poverty, etc.), and I didn’t.

            (Theoretically the grades from the classes at Santa Clara University should have helped, but apparently not enough.)

            As far as the general question of homeschooling goes, a few general thoughts:

            – For encouraging an interest in statistics, may I recommend How To Lie With Statistics? The companion volume, How To Take A Chance for probability theory, is also really fun.

            – We didn’t have formal math, reading or writing. I was slightly disadvantaged in math, though I think just leaning on it a bit more would have solved that – find some fun books of exercises and offer to check them for the kid, or something. Maybe a good math-teaching game; those worked wonderfully, but we didn’t have any for high-end math. Obviously would depend on the kid, but I think that would have worked for me. I was extremely advantaged in writing and reading. I think my reading lessons consisted of:

            “Becca, would you like to do a reading project?”


            Followed by going through several Dr. Seus books that I already had half-memorized (Mom read to me a lot) with me typing the words into the computer (I was better at typing than writing at that age), and then Mom making sentences with them and our names, for me to read. When I read the sentences I got to color in the pictures that went with them. (I recently found a few of those, they’re actually quite cute. Mom will claim she isn’t good at art, but she was very good at the useful-skill-for-a-homeschooling-mother level.) For the fourth book she bought a new Dr. Seus book that I had never read before, we started going through it the same way, and then she had to go do something else, and when she got back I had finished the book. That was my last reading lesson (although I did sometimes ask her how to pronounce words after that, especially when I started reading Elizabeth Peters, who was doing historical mysteries and therefore had somewhat archaic language.) And Mom did frequently hand me books – any time I asked, or had a cold, or of course that was my default birthday present. And I think we sometimes talked about books, though more as I got older – not a lot as a younger kid, not beyond “this book is great! Does the author have any more?”

            My writing lessons consisted of (at around the age of 15) “Hey Mom, look at this thing I wrote for my game!”

            “Hmm. Have you considered paragraph breaks?”

            “… Ah-ha! I knew something was wrong! Thanks, Mom! <3"

            … plus a whole lot of practice. It helped that I had a strong interest in writing, both stories and essays, and I sometimes showed things to Mom for comment, but mostly not – I mostly just got better by doing it.

            So in terms of your 2) my experience would bear that out.

            – I would be a bit wary of comparing "students brought up with the classical model" with "modern home- and unschoolers" just because of the numbers involved, unless you're being careful not just to notice the stand-outs. A method everyone is using is much more likely to provide exceptional, well-known prodigies than a method very few people are using. That said, if you've controlled for that, I'm certainly not in a position to tell you you're wrong. And "let each kid find the place that works for them" sounds like a really, really good idea – kids are different and need different things, and if you've figured that out and have a good idea of how to be flexible with it, you've already got the most important insight and should be just fine.

            Have you thought a lot about socializing? That was probably where our model had the most trouble; I was painfully shy, so I'm not sure what we could have done better, and introverted enough that just spending much less time than average with unrelated other children worked out fine for me, but a more socially-inclined child might not have done as well with it. It's certainly something I'm thinking a good deal about for when I have kids – how does one find a good community for child-rearing?

          • PhaedrusV says:

            I did the JC route and completed my AA at 18, which didn’t negatively impact my college admissions. Home/Un-schoolers have the benefit of being able to shift to a JC before they turn 18, and perform just fine.

            I’ll address the socialization out of order because it ties into the above. There was a tiny group of families when I was just starting homeschooling (~1990) in our local area. By the time I switched to exclusively JC at around 16 there were about 80 families that socialized together, did a few co-op classes, etc… Homeschooling networks are very much a “if you build it they will come” thing. There are a lot of strong networks already extant. Excellent homeschooling networks are one of the main reasons we ended up settling my family in South Texas; our city has 3 major homeschooling networks, including (somewhat paradoxically) an unschooling organization.

            I ended up being better socialized than my public school peers, because I had lots of experience working with people of all ages, including adults and younger and older kids. Even these days (I’m in my mid-30s) it seems like most of my peers are poor at socializing with people who are significantly older or younger than them, which is a problem I’ve never had. Sorry I can’t be more help; the lack of socialization is just never something I experienced.

            As far as the stats and math and such, I’m definitely planning on hitting complicated board games hard, possibly even to the point of making projects out of optimizing them. I’m huge on board games and over-analyzing them; one of the first python scripts I wrote while I was teaching myself python was a Monte Carlo simulator that brute-forced the odds of success for Risk Legacy battles. Since then I’ve done lots of similar work on D&D, specifically trying to figure out exactly when players should choose to use skills that lower the chance of hitting in exchange for higher damage output if they hit.

            There are tons of real-world ways to show the usefulness of all different levels of math; I’m not remotely worried about a “but when will I ever use this?” situation.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Okay, my first post buried the lede too deep. Most of the things people suggest, both here, and basically, always, are very, very expensive. In the 10-40 thousand dollars per year range. Potentially higher, if it is “have a university graduate homeschool the kids instead of working”.

      Tutoring does not cost that much. So, before you go wait-list at “Fancy-pants wallet Vampire Academy”, consider the alternative of spending that amount of money on one-on-one tuition instead. Because the academy is not going to teach your kid more than twenty thousand dollars worth of tutors per year. That level of hothousing is the kind of thing that lets you hammer 4 or five languages into the vic.. childs head by graduation at the customary age, or gets them into an ivy at 16.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        I’m really tempted by the idea of a small school with 4-5 students modeled on the “teacher on one end of a log and student on the other” ideal. LOGos Academy? Something like that. Micro-schooling is an under-developed concept, and obviously there are newly rediscovered benefits to reducing overhead and indoor time.

        • George Stigler said that, after many years of teaching, he had concluded that it might be just as effective to sit on the student and talk to the log.

          • PhaedrusV says:

            Yup, that’s the quote I was thinking of, thanks. Oliver DeMille’s series on leadership education (beginning with “A Thomas Jefferson Education”) is focused on the classical system coupled with great mentorship.

    • rahien.din says:

      Mostly unschooled. Talk to them every day about what they learned from the day.

      Lots of PE and team sports to develop social integration and physical health.

      Long undirected periods aimed at making them bored and forcing them to master it.

      Traveling around our country to see nature and history.

      Chores, both in maintaining our home, but also giving them projects that require some persistence.

      Intermittent tutored short courses or seminars in subjects that require directed instruction and graded practice.

      Require them to read broadly and to take notes on every single thing they read.

      Ad hoc Stoicism.

      In principle, I would want to teach them curiosity, self-mastery, and Rao-ian mediocrity.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Long undirected periods aimed at making them bored and forcing them to master it.

        This seems like a good way of avoiding the modern-day attention-deficit that forced task-switching can create.

    • ksdale says:

      We’re homeschooling our 4 kids, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and one thing that I believe is drastically underrated is whether kids *want* to learn. Most discussion of education systems focuses on what adults should do to kids day in and day out to get them to learn. But they basically all assume that education happens for most of a day, for most of a week.

      But, when the kids are younger, especially, a single weekend spent obsessively on a single topic can cover as much ground as weeks or months of a school’s coverage of the same topic. This also tracks with my recollection of my own education, where I would easily speed ahead of the class in anything I was remotely interested in, and it wasn’t until college that the daily reading actually reached the quantity of “things I’m interested in”.

      And then there’s actual retention of material. My own mental model of this is something like if the kids aren’t interested in something, but you teach it to them anyway, they’ll retain 20% (or less) of it. It they are interested, they’ll retain 90%.

      Combining the fact that kids can cover so much more ground on their own if they’re interested, and the fact that they retain so much more when they’re interested, the vast majority of our educational effort should be spent trying to make them more interested! And if they’re not interested, we shouldn’t try so hard to teach them that we make them resentful, because it’s far more important that they *eventually* become interested than it is that they learn any particular thing *today*.

      An oversimplified version of this is – If they never become interested in learning, they probably won’t learn anything in school anyway. If they do become interested in learning, school will be almost unnecessary.

      Anecdotally, I work in an office with people whose kids are the same age as mine and in public school, and I am surprised by both the quantity of work they do and how little ground they seem to cover.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is virtually impossible to teach anyone (including adults) something that they don’t want to know.

        You can sort of game the system by incentivizing them to want to know the things you want them to know (i.e. your boss tells you to learn a new software system, you don’t really “want” to, but you want to get fired even less, so you learn it), but this will only last for as long as the incentive remains in place (i.e. you begin to forget everything you learned about Biology the second you pass the final exam, unless you either really like Biology or will continue taking courses on it or working in the field).

      • and I am surprised by both the quantity of work they do and how little ground they seem to cover.

        When our kids were in a very small private school on an unschooling model, before we switched to home unschooling, some of the kids decided they wanted to learn math. The class started assuming no knowledge at all, got into algebra by the end of the year.

        • AG says:

          This sounds like the culinary school model, or other “teaching professionals” classes. They assuming zero preexisting knowledge, but the students are entirely self-selected (and with a clear incentive+application structure of helping their careers), and that enables covering topics at a greater density than primary or even secondary schooling.

        • ksdale says:

          Interesting! I’ve also often wondered something like – Assuming a person learned basic literacy and arithmetic (or maybe assuming they didn’t?), and assuming they cared, how long would it take to teach, say, a 16 year old, everything from each year of the average school curriculum.

          Reading through the first grade curriculum when my oldest was that age, I just kept thinking “We can work on that every day for a month…. or I can wait a few months until he’s older and teach it to him in a few days…” And this has worked without fail, going on a few years.

          I have this weird feeling in my gut that we could actual fit the whole 13 years of K-12 into a few years between 15 and 18 (mostly because the vast majority of stuff that is taught for the first several years could be learned in a couple weeks by an attentive young adult). And the reason this *feels* like a bad idea is because the only experience we have with people who make it to that age without completing that much school are almost perfectly selected to not be diligent learners.

          But then everything is made much more complicated by our… privilege is the word that comes to mind? Not all children have parents who are as attentive as my wife and I. I cannot imagine my kids not being literate, even if I never made an effort to teach them anything, because it’s basically impossible for a person to exist in our house without learning to read through osmosis. We just do too many activities that require reading. The same goes for basic math, and numerous other things, I’m sure. This makes a lot of schooling feel redundant because, “Why wouldn’t you learn to do that anyway?” and that’s just not an option for a lot of people.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:


            A twelfth-grader’s brain is more mature than a first-grader’s. Louis Benezet experimented with teaching children no math until seventh grade, after which it took only a few months’ instruction to get them to perform at a seventh grade level. It would sure be awkward if that was how everything worked.

          • Aftagley says:

            I remember in elementary-through-high school being constantly annoyed about how math concepts I’d learned in lower grades were constantly being revealed as useless, incorrect or kind of harmful to my current understanding of math.

            I could normally adjust pretty easily, but I remember that starting in 8th grade or so, most of the people who struggled to understand new concepts were mostly having trouble not because the new concept was more difficult, but because it seemingly contradicted something they’d previously been taught.

            I think a significant number of people in my classes would have been substantially better off just learning math from first principles at say, age 15, than they were having to trudge through 9 years of traditional education.

          • Fahundo says:

            I don’t remember anything in math through middle school or high school directly contradicting anything that came before.

            What are some examples?

          • Aftagley says:

            Contradict might be a bad word, but it definitely established certain principles of understanding that I saw people struggle to overcome.

            Take for instance the basic math problem: 3 + X = 5; solve for X

            I think I started seeing questions like this maybe in second or so grade. Definitely by fifth grade they were pretty common, and had been applied to operations other than addition, and had even moved past whole numbers so that you might see 4x=26, solve for X.

            This created a pretty strong association in my classmates’ minds that X wasn’t really a variable so much as a mask obscuring another number. Once you see an X, you use the rest of the equation to figure out what X is. Even when you start getting into quadratic equations, it’s still all about trying to solve for X.

            Then, at a certain point, you get to algebra, it’s revealed that no, actually f(x) is a function, x can be anything and it’s all about trying to model how the function behaves. Solving for f(x) = 0 is somewhat useful, but the purpose is no longer to solve for x.

            I know multiple non-stem people who basically never made that jump and “solve for x” comprises their total understanding of math. I kind of feel like if they’d been taught from the very beginning that variables can, and in fact do, stand for anything in functions they would have been much better off.

          • Fahundo says:

            Huh, I never noticed any confusion between those two uses of X.

          • because it’s basically impossible for a person to exist in our house without learning to read through osmosis.

            My wife taught our daughter to read, largely using Doctor Seuss books, in particular a subversive text entitled “Hop on Pop.” Her brother, three years younger, observed the process and taught himself.

          • Randy M says:

            Her brother, three years younger, observed the process and taught himself.


          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy: Hopping on his father, David Friedman. Like he said , it’s a subversive book.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I would take my kids to at least a couple of educational psychologists (preferably with different backgrounds and education themselves) and ask them to figure out what seems like the best ideas for each of my particular children.

      Periodically during their education I’d have them re-evaluated.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        You might end up disappointed with the quality of the educational psychologists’ insights. Observing your kids yourself and just bothering to try to figure out stuff that works with them will yield plenty of fruit.

    • Statismagician says:

      We will probably end up doing public school for basically social interaction and reality-check services, with actual learning handled by private tutors (there are lots of colleges in town to source affordable tutors from) and our own efforts. Teaching the children to think about school as basically a silly day-job and learning as what you do on your own when you’re interested in something or want/need to master a skill will be the goal.

      In an ideal world, some kind of group home/unschooling effort with other interested parents, but I’m not sure how easy that would be to do here.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        Legal restrictions notwithstanding, most areas in the US have very active homeschooling co-ops these days, and if there isn’t already one you might be surprised at how easy it is to start one if you’re willing to reach out to people.

        • Statismagician says:

          Thanks! I hadn’t looked at this as we don’t plan on having kids for a few years, but I have to say the HSLDA website may actually be the most intuitively useful one I’ve come across recently.

          • PhaedrusV says:

            Yeah, they do great work. We’ll be getting a lifetime membership when the kids are of age. Their research was also critical to my decision to move to Texas over Tennessee a few years ago.

    • In our case it was unschooling, with a lot of interaction of the kids with us. We alternated who put each of the two of them to bed, generally spent half an hour doing it, telling stories, or reciting poetry, or giving them simple math problems to solve in their head (two equations in two unknowns rigged to have simple integer answers), or talking about something. Lots of conversation at the dinner table. Encouraging them in what they found interesting. Unlimited internet access when the web became available and interesting, unlimited computer use, subject to available resources (initially only one computer in the household that all of us shared, later each of us had one).

      For more on the subject, see the articles on my blog.

      Initially they were in a small private school run on Sudbury Valley lines (unschooling), then when that developed problems done at home.

    • Elementaldex says:

      If one happens to be *cough* unusually lucky *cough* have their retired grandparents who live 40 feet away, have homeschooled four children, both have masters degrees (one in education, and desperately want to be involved in their education homeschool them.

      That seems like it would work.

  41. Gwythyr says:

    Long-time lurker, new poster here asking random people on the Internet for a mental health advice. Or maybe a life advice.

    I’m not sure how much background to include but I’ll try to list everything relevant. I’m from Russia. since 2012 I am suffering from some sort of brain cooties (Depression/apathy/anxiety surely, but some underlying issues are certainly present – but is it a personality disorder? Asperger’s? Schizophrenia? State doctors disagree with private ones). It has negatively affected my life in a major way. I’ve dropped out of the university, came back, dropped again, got a job, lost a job, and finally for the last 2 years has gone pretty much full NEET. Therapy helps me to feel better but not to be functional, drugs are either causing significant adverse effects or doing very little (ok, there was one drug which helped a lot, but it is impossible to obtain). I’m losing the last shreds of hope – especially since in the last 2 years I have trouble communicating with people and quickly and coherently articulating my thoughts (worsening illness or merely lack of socialization? Who knows).

    I have also been interested in rationality since 2010, though rarely engaged in commenting or discussion. Read the Sequences, some of the works which came after. Also knew about transhumanusm and considered it a good thing even before that (though before LW it was on a much more naive wow-basis). Again for the last two years I pretty much ignored everything mentioned above.

    Finally, after the brief engagement with Russian politics in 2010-2012 I have been mostly avoiding local news wherever possible, because the course seem to be set, opposition is not able to do a thing, and… it’s too fucking depressing. I have read, watched and played significantly more English-language things than Russian-language things for the last 6 or 7 years

    It seems that in the last 2 years or so I suddenly can’t handle much greater variety of depressing topics. Well, not every depressing thing but a lot of stuff which causes me to believe a future would be worse than I thought. A lot of it is CW (I’ll need to note that analysis or trying to comprehend the tendencies myself hurts more than any single example of bad behaviour no matter how unjust or destructive). But there is other stuff too – e.g. a lot of rational writing about Moloch and the like.

    Trying to avoid information doesn’t seem to be working. It is weird for me – for all my formative years I behaved as if there is no such thing as negative-value information, and while I acknowledge it in theory to behave that way conflicts with my perception of myself. It also leads to lost opportunities – e.g. had I not avoided news about China (because Chinese politics are depressing) I would likely prepare much better in the masks-and-sanitizer sense. Even though I never browse Twitter, Facebook, Imgur, Tumblr aimlessly anymore, nor do I follow anyone you still find links there sometimes. Never reading anything from those platforms seems like overreaction. Finally this stuff is out there to get you. Trying to get book recommendations on reddit this winter often ended up with books which are nothing like what was requested but were recommended nevertheless because how worthy they are in the eyes of redditors. A few days ago I tried to reconnect with my Ukrainian friends – who were entirely understanding of the fact that I dropped out of conversation for two months, but all they were talking about was current events un the United States. I am not sure whether I can explain how insane this seems to me.

    Would anyone here care to give some advice? It seems as if I have a choice between desocialization and depression and this is not a good place to be.

    P.S Maybe I should have waited till the fractional thread to post but this is the third time I try to write this down, I should have posted that a week ago. I have tried to remove suspect stuff, but it is necessary to mention it even when not discussing it.

    P.P.S. If anyone is interested in discussing mental health beyond the posited problem of managing my information intake I am open to further questions.

    • a real dog says:

      You probably want to fill your life with more positive interactions with people and your environment. The mainstream position of “why are you depressed, go run a bit” is not exactly helpful but has a grain of truth in it – you really, really need to be grounded in reality, otherwise abstract scaremongering on the internet will eat you alive.

      As a fellow Slav I certainly sympathize with the feeling that everyone around me is complaining all the time, that’s just how our societies are built I’m afraid. Still, go ride a bike, visit some friend you haven’t seen in a while, go camping as it’s finally summer. I believe the technical psychiatric term is “behavioral activation”, and it works.

      • Gwythyr says:

        Positive interaction with environment I am trying to do though it feels hard. Positive interaction with people boils down to “which people ?”. Even before the illness I have been pretty asocial (I got along with people just fine but don’t really needed them all that much). Now it’s even hard to talk with new people, and my old circle of the online interaction was somehow co-opted by Anglosphere CW.

    • Matt M says:

      I feel the same way as you on most of the things you discuss, although it doesn’t seem to be affecting me quite as badly.

      My advice may feel like a cop-out, but it is this – find things to distract yourself. This won’t necessarily be easy, especially as CW absorbs more and more hobbies that in theory should be neutral distractions (don’t worry – soon the NFL will be back and you won’t have to think so much about protests anymore, LOL!)

      In a best case scenario, this probably involves religion (although I’m told finding a non-CW church is increasingly difficult), friends, and family. The worst case scenario might be crippling videogame addiction. But that’s probably still better than whatever you’re going through now. Find stuff that can occupy your mind and spend as much of your mental energy on it as possible.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The worst best case scenario might be crippling videogame addiction.


      • Gwythyr says:

        In a best case scenario, this probably involves religion (although I’m told finding a non-CW church is increasingly difficult), friends, and family.

        Well, in Russia any CW in church would likely be coming from the other side than my Internet bubble so it’s a nice balance, but… meh. As long as I can remember myself all that formal religion stuff seemed silly to, and even on the fundamental question of existence of God I went straight from not thinking about it to the full blown atheism (though later). I was exposed from the crib to both Orthodoxy (I still can recite a few prayers in Church Slavonic) and sort of agnosticism, so it’s not like I was either brainwashed into atheism or reacted with atheism to attempted religious brainwashing.

        Even though I feel that faith can be a great comfort (I am less sure about religion), I do not see what could result in me getting one.

        Family is one of significant stressors in fact, so no help there. Friends as I said are bombarding me with CW, and I do not make friends easily – in fact the current group was acquired mostly because one of them wanted to be friends with me and practically forced me to interact ( I am glad that he did).

        • Matt M says:

          Videogame addiction it is, then!

          I suggest MMOs. You can waste all kinds of hours on those!

          Edit: On a more serious note, something like “constructive hobbies” is probably worth looking at. Can you get into gardening? Or homebrew? Pretty much anything where you “make” something.

          • Aftagley says:

            As an avid homebrewer, I don’t recommend homebrew for people who want a hobby to occupy their time. Home-brew will maybe fill 3-4 hours of your time maybe one Saturday a month. Less if you invest early on in kegs.

            I mean, it’s great in that it ends up with you having beer, but it really isn’t something you can spend a bunch of time on.

          • Gwythyr says:

            I probably will not go that way, but just in case – would anyone here care to recommend an MMO? I never cared to spend more than a year in a single MMO, usually less. What I enjoyed in the past: Lineage 2 (long time ago on weird heavily modified private servers), Rising Force Online, Granado Espada (this one is probably the best), Aion, WarThunder. WarThunder and the like are right out now – I do not think that session-based all-combat no-story would be right distraction. What I am probably looking for is probably something to distinguish it from the others either stylistically or gameplay-wise, preferably both. maybe some action elements. I do not think that I can remember every game I installed and dropped within a week, but two of them are Perfect World and EVE.

            Though I theoretically can swing a subscription, I would probably spend too much worrying about money spent, so probably only f2p.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, World of Warcraft is almost certainly the biggest in terms of “most amount of stuff to do overall” and “widest variety of stuff to do” and is the one I’m most familiar with, but is definitely not free…

          • a real dog says:

            @Gwythyr: Guild Wars 2 is pretty neat, should be right up your alley if you enjoyed Lineage 2. The pros include an interesting combat system, pretty deep customization and no chasing exclamation marked NPCs. The cons include atrocious crafting and said interesting combat turning into a chaotic clusterfuck when more than 2-3 players are involved.

            The base version without addons is f2p, too.

    • Purplehermann says:

      A few thoughts.
      1. “Never reading anything from those platforms” isn’t an overreaction in my opinion.
      2. If politics gets you down, avoid it. It is rarely useful, and individuals rarely matter on the scales.
      3. You don’t mention physical activities. Personally martial arts classes, hiking fore a few days, and running up and down a staircase 10 times are all tools I use to feel more alive and generally better.
      4. If you can find a chess club, martial arts class, or anything else where you will socialise around non-depressing things that would be helpful. The hobby itself is also good.
      5. I have a friend who went NEET for a while, getting a job that wasn’t too demanding (was part time too) but did require him to go to work was helpful for him.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      This is an observation and a request for advice rather than advice.

      Feeling bad and having trouble with doing things are pretty separate even though they’re both filed under depression.

      I’m fairly capable of enjoying hobbies, but doing things– and especially doing useful things– has a high risk of making me feel worse. The pattern of being able to take action, but not for taking care of oneself (the level and type of dysfunction varies a lot) is pretty common in sf fandom.

      Any ideas about what helps? I’m especially interested in what people have seen work rather than in what sounds plausible.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Acquire a habit or hobby that involves physical exercise. We are machines of flesh, physical fitness helps just about everything. Preferably something which you find fun, and is not solitary, because having to expend will power to stick with it means it will fail, having it be part and parcel of your recreation and socialization in some way means it persists much better.

        If you have already done this, I.. am very much at a loss to what other broadly applicable tips I can give. “First, clean your room”? That is from my mother, and also pretty solid.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It’s more that exercise falls into the category of things that are good for me which are difficult for me to get myself to do.

          Sometimes qi gong (which is movement but not exercise) is very hard for me to get to, even though it reliably makes me feel better.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            That is why I said “Not solitary”. Disappointing yourself by not sticking to your exercise routine is a very weak motivator. The obligation to show up for a group or duo activity you have scheduled has far more teeth, and if you enjoy it once you are doing it, you wont remove it from the calendar either.

      • I’m not sure if it is relevant to your problems, but my solution to feelings of generic blah, many years ago, was to assign myself two hours a day, seven days a week, of work on writing projects. That’s enough so I feel I am doing something, enough to actually accomplish something, and little enough to leave most of the day free for talking with people here, reading good books, etc.

        All play and no work doesn’t work for me. But it doesn’t take much work to solve the problem.

        That would be unnecessary for someone who had a regular eight hours a day job, but I didn’t, and am now retired.

        • Pierrot Lunaire says:

          For some reason reading “real nonfiction” was what did it for me. Not that I was avoiding pop-science or pop-history, just stuff that I felt like I was learning at least a little bit from, even if I didn’t know how the learning would ever be useful.

      • mtl1882 says:

        I experience something similar, and it has always seemed to me like a dissociative issue. When I’m conscious of myself, and doing actions that require me to assess myself and my goals in reference to the future, I develop an aversion to my own actions. This is because I now have trouble imagining a future or experiencing strong preferences for what happens next or how to get there. I don’t identify with my decisions. With hobbies, it feels like my self isn’t in play, and just the intellectual part of myself is operating, and it requires less justification. Since I began experiencing this, I can do really elaborate research projects and then fail to do the most basic stuff required of daily living. It functions as a form of escapism. Not quite sure what caused the split between myself and intellect, or how to fix it. If it is common in SF fandom, could it be related to having a capacity for elaborate imagination? I definitely feel that plays a role in my case–it’s like ideas are so fast and vivid in my mind, and actions disappointing and comparably meaningless when I go to act them out. What I’ve personally experienced as helpful is structure—concrete tasks imposed upon me, a schedule, etc., which I don’t have to justify. Something that turns off the monitoring/deciding/optimizing part of my brain for a bit.

    • Erusian says:

      Where are you in Russia? To be frank, large swathes of Russian society are not socially healthy. I know Slavs like to joke about this kind of thing but Russia, especially certain parts of Russia, suffer from deep social pathologies that make the Ukrainians look downright functional. It might be good to leave. I know a lot of happy Russian expats. Statistically, more middle class Russians live outside Russia than inside it. Maybe you should join them.

      More generally, I can only give broad advice. I’ve been in very, very dark places before and very, very bad circumstances. My suggestion: set a goal, a modest goal, to do something that will improve your life at least a little. And achieve it. It doesn’t have to be anything grand. Write a diary. Learn how to make coffee and start making yourself really nice coffee each morning. Clean your room. Doesn’t matter. The important thing is to regain a sense of potency: you will have changed your world a little and for the better. Then do it again. And again, until you don’t feel as bad. And then make a big goal. Something that would change everything for the better. And start to make a plan of these little steps that can get you there. You can endure a lot, terrible jobs or depressing news, if you know that just waiting it out and working hard tomorrow gets you closer to your goals. It clarifies your decisions, including those about information intake. Is your goal to start a coffee business? What does watching about Putin’s next move have to do with coffee? Is it to leave? Then why are you reading domestic news at all? And so on.

      I’m here if you want to talk.

      • Beans says:

        To be frank, large swathes of Russian society are not socially healthy. I know Slavs like to joke about this kind of thing but Russia, especially certain parts of Russia, suffer from deep social pathologies… It might be good to leave. I know a lot of happy Russian expats. Statistically, more middle class Russians live outside Russia than inside it. Maybe you should join them.

        I’ve had a great deal of contact with Russia and Russians, and I think this is unfortunately true. Russians are fundamentally lovely people held back by widespread neurosis and fatalism stemming from a bunch of complex and messed up events, and the happiest Russians I’ve known are the ones who have left it! (Aside from a few who remained but are wealthy enough to have a great life anyway.)

      • Gwythyr says:

        Where are you in Russia

        A small city (if for some reason precise information would be helpful – then not on the public forum). Economically there is little promise but socially probably above the 50% for Russia as far as both general public goodness and alignment with my values go.

        Regarding emigration – yeah, that would be nice. In fact it is probably about the second position in my Big Dreams. Doesn’t seem to be readily achievable from the current position (I am not merely unable to see how to do it tomorrow or this year, but unable to formulate a concrete plan for any length of time which would result in that).

        My suggestion: set a goal, a modest goal, to do something that will improve your life at least a little.

        That I am trying to do currently (with variable success).

        And then make a big goal. Something that would change everything for the better. And start to make a plan of these little steps that can get you there. You can endure a lot, terrible jobs or depressing news, if you know that just waiting it out and working hard tomorrow gets you closer to your goals.

        And that is where everything breaks down. I used to be very rational and efficient about this and nowadays I feel like I cannot overcome momentary impulses at all. When I am to depressed to get out of bed or, contrawise when I am enjoying a game (which is rare nowadays – I can have free time and end up doing nothing with it, without doing anything at all for myself) I sometimes cannot find any will (or strength. or energy. or spoons or whatever) to stop what I am (not) doing and do what is necessary.

        Then why are you reading domestic news at all?

        As I said I in fact did mostly successfully avoided local news for 7-8years and retreated to Anglosphere web (call it escapism, call it inner emigration, whatever). Now it is also not a good place to be (specifically hobby\entertainment communities which seemed 10 years ago to be much less politicized than Russian ones are more politicized nowadays).

        Also planning. If you plan emigrating you kinda need to know where you see yourself in 5 years, and for that you need to know how the place looks in 5 years. Again, I can see the idea “you’d never emigrate if you continue to read toxoplasma and then going to bed to sulk”, but going in blind is not going to succeed either. And distinguishing between useful and harmful information before reading is in fact one of the aspects of my initial question.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Regarding emigration – yeah, that would be nice. In fact it is probably about the second position in my Big Dreams.

          Leaving Russia, I’d recommend that you emigrate to another big country like Canada, the US, or Australia. You wouldn’t want to forget your Dreams.

          • yevterentiev says:

            I’ve spent some time researching emigration options and came to the conclusion that Canada is marginally better than Australia wrt to the ease of getting a PR. Other consideration like proximity to the US or the climate certainly add to that. I should mention that I have concerns and patterns of behaviour very similar to those of the op (I’m younger and located in Ukraine, though).

    • ana53294 says:

      there was one drug which helped a lot, but it is impossible to obtain

      Could you maybe obtain it in the black market?

      It seems like you’re going through some really bad times, so I would say if something helps, you could try to get it outside normal channels. I’ve heard a lot of the nootropic community gets stuff from India and whatnot, and it works for them.

      Or is it that the drug is expensive?

      • Gwythyr says:

        Expensive, yes, though not absolutely prohibitive. But you can go to jail for it now (and then never have a chance to emigrate anywhere with narcotics conviction even though it’s not a narcotic anywhere else).

        Numerous online outlets do offer it. At least some of them are honeypots. I even suppose that you can with sufficiently high probability make sure that supplier is genuine by collecting information from people, but I was not able to get myself organized enough to do that research (and I really did not want to self-medicate so idea of going outside of official channels occurred to me only in the last couple of months).

    • Elementaldex says:

      Some communities have far lower CW density than others. My main community is a group of adult epee fencers and we have CW related conversations less than monthly despite spending ~10 hours per week together. We spend a lot of time gossiping about fencers from other clubs and whining about what good actions someone keeps beating us with. Maybe hunt for a better community?

      • Aftagley says:

        Hmm, so you’re saying your group of epee fencers is unconcerned about the right (of way)?

        • Randy M says:

          That was a stretch. Almost a lunge, even.

        • Elementaldex says:

          While that is an excellent guess. We actually spend untold hours complaining about how horrible right (of way) is even though we are not personally subject to its whims.

          • I see right of way as an attempt to make up for the fact that in fencing nobody minds dying.

            It’s a problem I’m familiar with in SCA group combat, where we don’t have any equivalent rule. We are all heroes, which eliminates a large part of real world tactics.

          • Lambert says:

            From what I’ve heard, the transition from duelling with cut-and-thrust swords to rapiers ended up with a lot of situations where two novices would run each other through at the same time and die.

          • John Schilling says:

            two novices would run each other through at the same time and die.

            Think of it as evolution in action.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I’ve experienced something that sounds similar over the last few years, getting suddenly sensitive to negative information followed by worsening confusion and apathy. It definitely feels much harder to socialize without getting pulled into a jarring current events-related discussion, in almost any situation. I can’t tell if that’s true or if I just feel that way, but I also dropped a lot of current events reading altogether and was surprised to find it didn’t help as much as I expected. I suspect information intake in general is an issue for people who like learning, regardless of the type of information–my brain can’t be running in that mode all the time, and the Internet makes that a possibility. But I was a news junkie, so I figured the problem was mostly that I just paid too much attention. Yet it seemed like around the same time, everyone else started talking about it more, and I’m an introvert with few other topics to put forward. Increasingly, my family and extrovert friends didn’t seem to have other topics, either, even though they have more exciting lives than I do. It’s just constant talking points. I know socialization is key to improving, but it is so hard to meet people who are not draining in this way, especially if you are introverted.

      Some sort of structure is probably needed—is there some sort of activity where the conversation is structured that you could do? For example, teaching somebody something? (or taking a course?) Working on some sort of project? I find this helps a lot. As someone else said, I think restoring a sense of being able to take action in in the world, in small ways, goes far. Assisting someone else with a real task provides a ready topic of conversation and reason for interacting, as well as a feeling of capability. And it provides its own momentum, whereas goals you set to help yourself are easier to discard. I find that even giving directions to someone from out-of-town briefly stabilizes me.

  42. a real dog says:

    Regarding the increasing size of open threads, can the resident SSC PHP wizard consider creating an alternative, mobile-friendly view with pagination?

    Even reading the thread to the end is sometimes impossible on mobile as the tab may get evicted from browser cache and you lose the place you scrolled to. Writing a response in those megathreads has an input lag of literally 1 second between pressing a key and seeing the letter appear on my iOS.

    • Matt M says:

      Agree. My work laptop also has issues loading the pages when they get too big.

      I’d formally request Scott, that if you want to put the kibosh on CW for a bit, to still create the fractional open threads, but just to add a “no CW on this one” rule to them, so as to prevent this one OT from getting too huge.

    • Randy M says:

      You have to scroll to the end of a comment, but there is a hide button. How is that different from what you want?

  43. a real dog says:

    defiance, self-absorption, moodiness, status obsession, risk-seeking, estrangement from and contempt for family

    On leaving the teen stage – it’s kinda funny because I was told by my parents that the defiance is just a phase after which you become a normie. I’m still waiting over a decade later.

    On entering the teen stage – I’d say it’s the age when you realize that the world makes no sense and people are doing a lot of stupid things, but still have a feeling that someone, somewhere has a clue. Obviously you rebel, you’re unstable emotionally and you’re just oscillating wildly between strange ideas. Your 20s are when you realize that you’re supposed to have a clue now but you don’t, and nobody else does either.

    Also, the awakening sexual drive has quite an entrance in a young person’s life. Lots of confusion and embarassing anecdotes and you’re mostly left to yourself to figure it all out. 6/10, wouldn’t really recommend to an alien visiting Earth.

    The status obsession is definitely a teen thing, though. I’d kill to have as much confidence as I have now in my teens, when I meet people in late teens / early 20s now they just seem like a big ball of insecurities, sometimes covered by excessive showmanship. At least this part gets better over time.

    • Ketil says:

      On entering the teen stage – I’d say it’s the age when you realize that the world makes no sense and people are doing a lot of stupid things,

      It took me fifty years, but apparenty I finally made it to my teens.

      I don’t know if I have much useful to contribute, except that the teens is a turbulent and difficult period for most, and the combination of raging hormones, physical and mental development, liberation from parents and other authorities, and an outsized influence of peer pressure from other teenagers is obviously a receipt for chaos.

      I think it has gone pretty well for me both as a child and as a parent. But maybe it’s just the genes, choosing good neighborhoods, or dumb luck? If you ask for advice, I would suggest maintaining mutual trust at (almost) all costs, have a high standard for honesty over other transgressions, being constructive and supportive of their problems and actions, and critical only when strictly necessary.

  44. Deiseach says:

    Taking a deep breath and calming down – perfume recommendations.

    I don’t wear perfume very often and I don’t know anything about brands or popular ones at the moment, but this website has things I like. Link to American site here, for us Europeans here.

    Right now I’m trying their Ceci n’est pas un flacon bleu No. 1.3 and I like it (so far). I don’t ordinarily like patchouli as I find it too overpowering and musky in a bad way, but this formulation while present is not flagrant.

    You can get small tester samples at a reasonable price.

    • DarkTigger says:

      I have nothing to offer to your quest for an perfume, but think it’s funny you don’t like patchouli. Around here saying a women “smells like patchouli” is code for “she’s an esoteric hippy type”.

      • Deiseach says:

        I was a child to mid-teens during the 70s so yeah, patchouli did linger around from the hippy era and it was that kind of person who wore it and I just found it objectionably strong. It’s described as having a “musky, earthy aroma” and it was too much for me.

        This one though is a lot better, however it’s blended; it’s got that woody, spicy notes but none of the civet-cat muskiness I normally associate with patchouli.

      • Aftagley says:


        I don’t even know what Patchouli is or what it smells like, I just know it correlates to hippy-dom.

        • Deiseach says:

          I don’t even know what Patchouli is or what it smells like

          My own personal reaction is that it smells like a mommy cat and a daddy cat have been loving each other very, very much, but that’s only my own olfactory reaction 😀

          • Aftagley says:

            So… it’s perfume people wear to attract cats?

            Awesome, that clears up all my confusion.

          • Deiseach says:

            I am feeling my responsibility as a teacher and guide very heavily right now. 🙁

            Do not take me as an expert on anything (apart from being a cranky late middle-aged rural Irishwoman).

            A more better site describes it as such:

            Patchouli oil has a strong, slightly sweet, intoxicating scent. It’s described as having a dark, musky-earthy aroma profile, reminiscent of wet soil.

            To me (and I strongly stress this is me only) it doesn’t have that wet-soil aroma (I adore petrichor) but it does smell very heavily musky in an animalistic way. Plainly other people don’t find it so, since it’s so popular, and that’s why this particular scent I’m trying now is a pleasant surprise to me because it doesn’t have that animal musk but is spicy/earthy.

          • Nick says:

            This doesn’t affect your point, but it doesn’t have to be only you who experiences patchouli like that; with some such differences, it’s because you have different olfactory receptors, which is down to genetics. It’s why some folks say cilantro tastes like soap.

          • Aftagley says:

            I am feeling my responsibility as a teacher and guide very heavily right now

            Ha! I’m sorry, I should have properly marked my above post as being firmly sarcastic.

            I have pretty much total anosmia, so I always find it funny and weirdly interesting when people try to explain subtle smells. It’s just so far outside my normal sensory experience.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nick, I do get the “soapy coriander” taste so it may well be something there.

            Aftagley, don’t worry, I realised you were joking but I did want to clarify that this was idiosyncratic on my part 😀

    • Lambert says:

      I’m starting to wonder how hard it would be to build a steam still and formulate my own cologne from various herbs and spices.

      Looks like you can get myrrh for a not unreasonable price on Amazon.

  45. clipmaker says:

    I wonder if the explanation for the riots might be simpler: the collapse of a pluralistic ignorance. Suddenly everyone realizes that it’s not just PoC who are afraid of the cops. The Wikipedia article on no-knock warrants mentions:

    Use of no-knock warrants has increased substantially over time. By one estimate, there were 1,500 in the early 1980s whereas there were 45,000 in 2010.[1]

    So unlike a few decades ago, people who don’t think of themselves as already marginalized now understand that what happened to George Floyd could happen to them. There is now a backlash against police militarization, non-accountability, etc. It’s not just racism, it’s recognizing a condition of police-vs-everyone else and realizing that affects us no matter who we are.

    • Ketil says:

      I wonder if the explanation for the riots might be simpler: the collapse of a pluralistic ignorance.

      (CW?) But if not, what is your evidence for linking no-knock warrants to the riots? I would worry about getting swat’ed too, and try not to offend, well, certain kinds of people. But Floyd didn’t die in a no-knock raid, nor did the guy in Atlanta, nor any of the other high-visibility cases (as far as I know). While there is clear opposition to police violence most of the slogans and other messages seem to be racial. I don’t think we would have these protests at all if not for the widely held perception that cops are racist, and that the System at large (from the prosecution and judges to politicians to unions to hospital doctors forging autopsies) protects their transgressions.

    • silver_swift says:

      Maybe good to move this discussion to the next fractional open thread.

  46. ana53294 says:

    We have quite a few discussions about time travel and what you would do if you wanted to change history. Can anybody recommend fiction books on the topic?

    Specifically, time travel with alternative history explorations. I quite like Eric Flint’s several book series on that (although the quality of his 1632 series is quite uneven due to all the newbie authors).

    I prefer earlier than twentieth century, as I don’t want to read the different versions of world wars re-fought over and over. Especially not if it involves saving comrade Stalin (this is a fascination of the Russian self-publishing alt-history) or other morally dubious characters.

    • Jon S says:

      I really liked Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card.

    • Bobobob says:

      How do they save Comrade Stalin? He wasn’t assassinated, he died of a stroke. Do they travel back in time 50 years and tell him not to eat so much pickled sturgeon?

      • ana53294 says:

        Not save his life, but save him from Hitler’s betrayal and Zhukov’s incompetence. I’ve never read one to the end, but that’s the general type of story.

    • Concavenator says:

      Poul Anderson’s The Man Who Came Early, set in Norse Iceland is interesting as a practical critique of the concept of bringing modern technology to the past, and makes a very quick read.

    • Nick says:

      Once upon a time Scott recommended Island on the Sea of Time and the Emberverse by SM Stirling and The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson.

    • eliasgoldberg says:

      I remember The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neil Stephenson and Nicole Galland being really good.

      • John Schilling says:

        Agreed, though it turns out very little history is actually changed due to the constraints of the particular time travel method posited. It was a good example of the classic hard-SFnal problem of “assume X is possible with constraints Y; what will people actually do with that?”

        And it doesn’t ignore the issue of what happens when people in the past figure out that time-travelling secret agents are meddling in their present trying to control their future. Which results in things like N ohapu bs unvel anxrq 9gu-praghel Ivxvatf yrq ol n pyrire 12gu-praghel Inenatvna thneqfzna fnpxvat n 21fg-praghel Jny-Zneg, naq abg ybbxvat sbe gur boivbhf fbegf bs ybbg.

    • Clownfish says:

      A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, published in 1889 so you can probably find a free copy

    • Gwythyr says:

      IMO as a Russian (who read only two of those time-travel thingies, so that O is based mostly on the hearsay) there is one thing with which authors are even more obsessed than saving Stalin: introducing an intermediate cartridge. Even True Communists who would like to overthrow Stalin for not being True Scotsman Communist or Russia-that-we-lost Types who travel before the Revolution to save the monarchy introduce intermediate cartridges.

      • sfoil says:

        Harry Turtledove wrote a story (“The Guns of the South”) about time-traveling South Africans supplying the Confederacy with AK-47s — which does use an intermediate cartridge! I haven’t read it, only looked up the plot on Wikipedia after seeing the cover of Robert E. Lee clutching an AK when I was a boy.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      IIRC, Silverberg’s _The Men Who Killed Mohammed_ is one part of an alternate history fix-up in which the Roman Empire survives until the present day.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        There’s an Alfred Bester story called “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed”. Are You Sure you’re got the title right?

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          I must have substituted Bester’s more famous title. The Silverberg is called _A Hero of the Empire_ and is part of the _Roma Eterna_ collection.

  47. awalrus says:

    I’m looking for sources on some half-remembered quotes, intensive googling was no help because it apparently never is these days, so I’m hoping these happen to ring a bell for someone.

    One is a paragraph I think was from a rationalist-adjacent source, along the lines of “when you hear a rumor that someone you hate did something truly horrendous, and it turns out to be false, ask yourself if you feel relieved or disappointed.”

    The other, I saw quoted in some context about humanity’s long history of anthropomorphizing, an ancient philosopher(?) saying that we like cats (or maybe animals in general) because we see them as little versions of ourselves.

    • Concavenator says:

      I don’t know if it counts as rationalist-adjacent, but as for the first:

      Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

      — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952

      • awalrus says:

        Ah, that’s it! Now that I have an exact quote, I found out that it was quoted in a post on the SSC subreddit. I completely forgot the context aside from a vague association with SSC, but that idea has been stuck in my head since then. Thanks!

  48. Purplehermann says:

    I had a disagreement with a friend on intellectual property, and am looking for more perspectives.

    Is intellectual property a good thing, a bad thing, a mixed bag?

    Is it unethical to pirate books, videos, etc?

    • a real dog says:

      Intellectual property in the sense of attribution – very good thing.

      Intellectual property in the sense of monetary rights – a fossil of a bygone era when information could not spread freely. Between Patreon, Kickstarter and digital distribution platforms (where you just pay for convenience and support for the authors) I think you could just axe most copyright laws and the culture would adapt without much issue. Perhaps you’d get less AAA games and blockbuster movies, but that doesn’t sound like much of a loss.

      • JohnNV says:

        I’m going to come down on the other side of this. The copyright/patent system isn’t perfect, but creators and innovators deserve to be compensated for their innovations, and if you remove that right, you’d remove a lot of the incentive to innovate which makes everybody worse off. And yes, I think it’s wrong to pirate content same as stealing any tangible item. If it’s not worth the price to you, don’t consume it.

        • Purplehermann says:

          Does your opinion change where the creator is dead for 90 years?

          When stealing tangible objects, the other person now is worse off – they’ve lost that item. Content doesn’t work like that. Why isn’t this an important distinction?

          • matkoniecz says:

            Why isn’t this an important distinction?

            It is, that is why it is useful to distinguish “piracy” and “theft”.

          • Purplehermann says:

            JohnNV seems to think there isn’t much of a difference, at least morally.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I would sign up for a coalition whose mission it was to reduce the length of copyright, unless that coalition was full of people who couldn’t stfu about wanting to end all copyright.

            So I have not been able to find a coalition.

          • JohnNV says:

            Yeah, I agree copyright is broken, but I don’t think the solution is no copyright at all, I fully agree that 90 years beyond the death of the creator is too long. But on the second point, I’m not sure that there is or should be a distinction. If I shoplift something from a store with a price tag of $10, that’s what we say the amount of the theft was. Nobody asks how much it will cost to replace the item, it’s not relevant. Even if the store got the item for free as part of a promotion with manufacturer, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to take it, and I don’t think you’d find many people arguing that it is.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            I’d join your coalition.

          • matkoniecz says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            I’d join your coalition.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The copyright/patent system isn’t perfect, but creators and innovators deserve to be compensated for their innovations, and if you remove that right, you’d remove a lot of the incentive to innovate which makes everybody worse off.

          Not really because almost no innovations are once offs who are perfectly complete. IP laws serve to protect first movers at the expense of people who would have improved on those works. In fact it isn’t the innovators who typically benefit the most, its the management who does. Record labels are advantaged more than musicians, the founders of Microsoft more than the coders, and the owners of Marvel and not the actual writers and cartoonists making the comic books.

          • Lambert says:

            I’m not happy that the labels are taking such a big cut, but i’d rather the artists get something rather than nothing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is a false leap to go straight to ‘without copyright then artists make nothing’.

          • JohnNV says:

            They make nothing from selling their creation. Some people may choose to pay when they could otherwise get it for free, but that’s charity, or tips. Look, I wrote a book – I get 15% of the sale price of each book. The cost of printing and distributing it is (I’m guessing) another 40% so that means the publisher is making more than me on each sale of the book. And you know what? I’m OK with that. I have no idea how to print, market, and distribute a book. And it’s not like I could find someone else to offer me a better rate on a debut book. If it sells well (it didn’t), I could potentially negotiate a higher rate for subsequent books. With no copyright at all, I don’t bother writing it, the publisher has nothing to publish, and the government loses out on the tax revenue they would have gotten from my income. But honestly, if the instant I publish something, it could legally be copied and pasted for free, people who do it as a hobby (like Scott) would be OK with that, but people who do it to earn a living will find something else to do.

          • Aapje says:


            Musicians make most of their money from live shows, festivals, etc. Without copyright, they would still earn that money.

          • baconbits9 says:

            They make nothing from selling their creation.

            How? You have leaped from ‘I create something’ to ‘someone else has a copy of it and is distributing it for free’, there are a whole bunch of steps in the middle you are skipping to get to your assumed answer.

            I’m OK with that. I have no idea how to print, market, and distribute a book

            If it takes skills and knowledge to print, market and distribute a book how come it is the words on the paper that deserve the copyright? ‘I wrote a book, I deserve money if someone wants to read it’ completely falls apart if you say ‘someone only wants to read my book if it has been professionally distributed’. Now it is not clear how much ‘value’ your book has because of the quality of your writing vs the quality of everything else that went in.

            Additionally how did the publisher get a copy of your transcript? Why are you giving it to them without an agreement to get a portion of the sales?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Without copyright, they would still earn that money.

            You would still need some other IP right to stop me from performing my Billy Joel tour. And without copyright I could sell all the Billy Joel T-Shirts and CDs live at the event.

            “Artists make most of their money through live performances” strongly selects for artists whose audiences are middle-aged empty nesters and have boatloads of disposable income to recapture their youth.

            Even Taylor Swift sold the rights to her world tour to Netflix and that would not have been possible without copyright. Netflix could just film it themselves and broadcast it for free.

          • Aftagley says:

            Musicians make most of their money from live shows, festivals, etc. Without copyright, they would still earn that money.

            … I think this is putting the cart before the horse.

            Back in the 90s, before pirating music was widespread, musicians made the vast majority of their money selling their music. Sure, they made some of it from live shows, but selling records was the primary revenue source. Once it went away, basically nothing stepped up to replace it.

            I think you’re trying to draw too much meaning from the hellscape that is the post-2000s music industry. It’s not that touring is the primary revenue source, it’s arguably the only revenue source unless you make it mega-big.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Even Taylor Swift sold the rights to her world tour to Netflix and that would not have been possible without copyright. Netflix could just film it themselves and broadcast it for free.

            They could? They can tap into her mic feed and set up multiple cameras and perform sound checks, etc, etc, etc at her concerts without her permission?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Back in the 90s, before pirating music was widespread, musicians made the vast majority of their money selling their music. Sure, they made some of it from live shows, but selling records was the primary revenue source. Once it went away, basically nothing stepped up to replace it.

            Prior to the invention of vinyl almost 100% of an artists income came from avenues that were not related to selling records. If someone is putting the cart before the horse it is those who are starting in the 50s and extrapolating from then.

          • Aftagley says:

            Ok, let me make sure I’m following you – so you’re claiming the horse was originally before the cart, then the 1950s / recording era started and the cart was put in front of the horse. This cart -> horse situation managed to hold on for a half century, but was eventually destabilized by music piracy whereupon the natural horse/cart order reestablished itself?

            Jokes aside – you’re probably correct here, but it certainly looked like that 50 year period had an atypically high amount of amazing music.

            Your system only rewards people who can both write great music and have the abilities/desire to tour and perform music live. I’ve seen multiple artists I love either quit the music industry or fade back into the more-stable nether world of production and ghost-writing because they don’t enjoy touring. Is there any way to compensate people who enjoy creating, but not performing music in a world with rampant piracy?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Your system only rewards people who can both write great music and have the abilities/desire to tour and perform music live.

            Why? You think people who write great music and people who can preform great music can’t come to an understanding under normal contract law?

            Jokes aside – you’re probably correct here, but it certainly looked like that 50 year period had an atypically high amount of amazing music.

            How do you distinguish this from survivor-ship bias due to the fact that way more music made it to the present from that era than normally would have?

          • AG says:

            Is there any way to compensate people who enjoy creating, but not performing music in a world with rampant piracy?

            UBI plus the ways any internet influencer makes their money off of un-copyrightable content?

          • Aapje says:


            Piracy is not a counter-argument, because we are discussing the merit of the current system (which doesn’t stop all piracy), not the merit of a perfect system. If some consider the laws to be unjust and they are broken, then this is just as much a consequence of the system you are defending, as the actions of people who do follow the law.

            People also don’t get to defend our current drug laws by arguing that zero drug use is the best outcome. That is not actually the result of those drug laws.

            Either you need to defend different drug laws/enforcement (and their consequences), or you have to accept all the consequences of the current laws, including those that result from lawbreaking. The same goes for copyright laws/enforcement.

            Also, to what extent is the fairly low income from streaming and such, a result of increased competition (not just in the music business, but all entertainment, of which there is now way more available than in my youth)?

      • matkoniecz says:

        I think you could just axe most copyright laws and the culture would adapt without much issue

        Copyright around entertainment media may be the most visible but is not the only important part – and may be the least important part.

        For example, what about software? Losing AAA games is not so important but harming Windows and Linux and MacOS and every single other OS not licensed under MIT/PD sounds dangerous.

    • Lambert says:

      I’d argue it’s too much of a good thing.

      Copyright lasts too long and patents are too broad. Ceterum autem censeo DMCA esse delendam.

      • Ketil says:

        I’d argue it’s too much of a good thing.

        +1. I’m strongly negative on tech/IT patents (lawsuits over round edges on a phone and a zillion other idiot cases that stifle innovation and only benefit lawyers), agnostic on patents in general, and for pharmaceuticals in particular, and moderately positive on trademarks.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          Trademarks is as close to a perfect system as you can get in the legal world. It’s not very exciting though because the concepts are so fundamental/obvious.

          The real problems with Trademarks are that the Trademark Office is underfunded and has to deal with thousands (millions?) of bootleg Chinese application per day.

          In my opinion, Copyrights are too easy to get for how much of a pain in the ass they can be to the party on the other side. At least with patents and trademarks, you need to put in some effort to get protection.

      • Purplehermann says:

        Why do you think copyright shouldn’t last forever?

        • Cliff says:

          There’s the huge, existing problem of orphan works. No one knows who the owner is now but everyone is too scared to produce the work because if they do someone may pop up and claim statutory damages of $150,000, attorney’s fees, etc.

          Also the only reason copyright exists is to incentivize the production of artistic works. Infinite copyright duration is certainly not necessary for that.

          • Ketil says:

            Also the only reason copyright exists is to incentivize the production of artistic works. Infinite copyright duration is certainly not necessary for that.

            I don’t think this is true. Arguably, the thought that your grandchildren could benefit from collecting royalties might be a motivating factor for an artist, but factoring in future extensions of the copyright term is getting preposterous. Yet, time and time again copyright has been extended retroactively to cover works by artists long dead and buried.

            I think the main reason copyright exist – at least in their current form – is that powerful organizations and individuals lobby in their favor.

          • bean says:

            Arguably, the thought that your grandchildren could benefit from collecting royalties might be a motivating factor for an artist

            I really doubt this. Most people who create content for money are doing so so that they can get paid. Unless you’re already massively successful, the chances of your grandchildren getting paid for anything you do are minuscule, and if you want to benefit them, you’ll put some of the money you get from immediate royalties in a savings bond or something.

            The big issue with long copyrights is that nobody has the time horizon where they’ll write something with 100-year copyright that they wouldn’t with 50-year copyright. Corporations certainly don’t, and neither do individual human authors/artists/whatever. At which point, the long copyright terms are just rent-seeking by Disney and others with holdings from long ago.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If I buy and develop a piece of land, I assume that it will generate rents 50 years from now. Maybe I won’t be alive for all 50, but my ability to sell it in 10 years depends on the next person being able to generate rents as long as they want.

            If there is a jubilee that undoes property ownership every 49 years, I’ll be less likely to develop land. (Particularly close to the 49th year.)

            (PS: I don’t like old copyrights being extended. And I think copyrights are too long.)

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            If I buy and develop a piece of land, I assume that it will generate rents 50 years from now. Maybe I won’t be alive for all 50, but my ability to sell it in 10 years depends on the next person being able to generate rents as long as they want.

            This is a stereotypically masculine-centered understanding in that permanence of labor is assumed (vs. the impermanence of stereotypically feminine-categorized labor).

            People still decorate their homes and offices even though they know the work will be transitory. Likewise various renters perform minor maintenance and major landscaping on their rental properties. They do this despite not profiting at all when their tenancy ends (and possibly owing money from their security deposit to undo the modifications they’ve made).

            10 years from now the next person can pay the depreciated rate plus the underlying land value, and you’ll still have made a profit from the 10 years of rent.

            Even though patents expire, the unpublished research (e.g. all of the dead ends and promising leads not followed) leading up to that patent are still valuable.

          • zoozoc says:

            Also regarding land ownership vs. copyright

            Land is a physical thing. The arguments for land do not follow for copyright. In fact, I would argue that current copyright law decreases artistic output because people are not able to build off of other’s works. It would be like if patents lasted 100 years. Instead of innovation building off of other technology to the benefit of everyone, more stagnation would happen as only the original inventors could build off of their innovations.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Land is a physical thing. The arguments for land do not follow for copyright.

            Edward Scizorhands was not talking about land. He was talking about developing land, which is much more closely analogous.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There are a few different questions going on.

            1. Why do we need ownership for thought-stuff?
            2. Why doesn’t ownership of thought-stuff last forever, like it does for land?

            1 is because we want people to develop thought-stuff, the same way we want people to develop land, and the regime of private property has been effing awesome for wealth creation so we go with what we know works.

            2 is because ownership of land is simpler than ownership of thought-stuff to discern.

            Permanent land ownership is reasonable because if I want to build something on a particular piece of land, it’s trivial to find out who owns it. If someone designed a system of “finding out who owns this land?” 200 years ago there’s a good chance it would still be perfectly functional today. Lots of developed land is still extremely valuable 50 or even hundreds of years later, and we reward people who a good job at creating something long-lasting by letting them capture that value when they sell it to others.

            (And if land went “free” it would actually go to the government, not public domain for the public to do whatever they want.)

            Every state has a property tax so if someone abandons land you can easily buy it from the state. And land is unlikely to be subdivided into thousands of tiny pieces such that you have to negotiate with everyone to build something — and even then we have eminent domain.

            Things built out of thought-stuff can be composed of things that were originally built by tens of thousands of other people and we often have no idea who those people are, and IMO the only significant downside that IP law has for innovation is that there can be major uncertainty about someone showing up to claim ownership of one of those tens of thousands of pieces of thought-stuff.

            (So while I significantly support the concept of IP laws, but would like reforms. Ideas include shorter copyright terms, compulsory licensing, a requirement to actively register works to get the full length of terms, or safe-harbor provisions that allow someone to claim abandoned goods by giving notice of their intent to use.)

          • John Schilling says:

            2. Why doesn’t ownership of thought-stuff last forever, like it does for land?

            Because ownership of thought-stuff is a contractual right, and contractual rights basically never last forever even if you do trade them from one person to another. See e.g. stock options. The right to buy 100 shares of XYZcorp for $50 a share any time prior to 1 January 2021 is a valuable thing that you can own, buy, sell, sue people for defrauding you of, etc. It is property. And on 1 January 2021, it is worthless property that no court will bother with. So too with copyright. So too with any private IP contract you might negotiate in place of the default copyright – you can negotiate any terms you like, but courts won’t enforce “forever” or “until hell freezes over” or any other such thing.

            For that matter, even property ownership usually doesn’t last forever. It lasts for life and until probate has been cleared up, then the heir has their own new and independent interest in the land, independent of whatever interest their dead ancestor had. About the only eternal possessions are real property and material goods owned by corporate entities, a special case that is much easier and less disruptive to deal with than e.g. eternal copyright.

    • fibio says:

      Intellectual property rights are a vital part of every modern economy and one of the cornerstones of the innovation industry the Western World favors. That said it is a very broad term and it’s enforcement is rather behind the times, with both patents and copyrights having long tail effects that are neither beneficial to the world at large or the rights holder.

      I personally believe that it is unethical to pirate media, especially these days when streaming is so prevalent that it’s basically free. I’d put it in the same moral area as shoplifting. Technically wrong but generally meaningless to both the victim and the perpetrator.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        +1. The modern economy depends on people making thought-stuff. The amazing things that happen over the next 50 years aren’t going to be people making socks or collecting bars of gold.

    • matkoniecz says:

      Is it unethical to pirate books, videos, etc?


      If it is outright impossible to legally buy something in your country? I see no problem with piracy.
      If you pirate just to avoid paying, while book/movie/whatever costs 0.4% of your monthly income? Then it sounds like you should pay.

      In between there is plenty of gray area for “author died 90 year ago, copyright is owned by massive corporation” where piracy may be illegal but I see nothing clearly unethical. Or “Spotify pays author basically nothing” where it may be legal but I am not convinced that it is ethical.

      And there is plenty of fun legal cases where either legal or ethical status is not clear – see or

      Also, what you mean by “pirate”? For example in Poland AFAIK it is perfectly legal to download copyrighted music, images, text – though sharing it is illegal.

      Is intellectual property a good thing, a bad thing, a mixed bag?

      Mixed bag as everything else. There is plenty of bad behavior (patent trolls, copyright extending over 50 years past death of author (“The Mickey Mouse Protection Act”), absurd DMCA takedowns).

      But someone copying a book that someone else made? And without any agreement or permission selling it without giving anything to real author? That should be illegal. The same for images, software, maps and other works.

      There is additional problem of that rules are often hard to enforce against major corporations (for example Facebook maps are breaking copyright due to insufficient attribution of real source of data – and it is basically impossible to enforce that).

      • Purplehermann says:

        I’m specifically interested in personal download and usage.
        If it’s actually property, why shouldn’t copyright extend forever?

        • matkoniecz says:

          I’m specifically interested in personal download and usage.

          Legality depends on a country. In Canada “the downloading of a song for a person’s private use does not constitute infringement.” (though it was state in 2009).

          why shouldn’t copyright extend forever?

          Is it a serious question? Also, why it should?

          • Purplehermann says:

            Yes, I would like an explicit reasoning.

            If it is property, why should property last only so long? When I buy a painting I expect to own it unless I sell it (or lose it etc).

          • matkoniecz says:

            In short: overall benefits of copyright depends on copyright length, and “infinity” is certainly not an optimal position.

            For start, have fun with deciding who owns copyright to original Bible text. Or works of Homer. There is no benefit in this absurdity.

            If it is property, why should property last only so long?

            Because it is a special kind of property I see no problem with special rules for it.

          • zoozoc says:

            As others have said, the issue with copyright is not the person is owning a concept or artistic rendering of something. For example, it is against copyright to take the painting you bought and upload a picture of it on the internet.

        • bean says:

          If it’s actually property, why shouldn’t copyright extend forever?

          Simple answer? It’s not property. The basic logic behind IP, at least in the US, is laid out in the Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

          We give people rights to their creations to encourage them to create more. That’s it. It’s a utilitarian decision, because we want more books and movies and patentable innovations. It’s not because of any moral right the creator has. And after we’ve given the creator long enough to pay back their initial investment, if they can, we have whatever it is enter the public domain. The patent system is the best at implementing this, while copyright has been grossly extended.

        • AG says:

          Because the downloader has not taken the author’s property? They’ve duplicated it.

          If you own a painting, and someone else creates a duplicate of it, you still own the original painting.

          • Belisaurus Rex says:

            So if Edison copied your painting and then told everyone it was his, and started making merch and selling T-shirts with your painting on it, you’d be ok with that because you still have the original?

          • AG says:

            Yes? I don’t buy things just so I can sell them, I buy things so that I own them. I buy a DVD, I don’t care if my neighbor buys the same copy of the DVD.

      • Fahundo says:

        If it is outright impossible to legally buy something in your country? I see no problem with piracy.
        If you pirate just to avoid paying, while book/movie/whatever costs 0.4% of your monthly income? Then it sounds like you should pay.

        What about pirating things you’ve already bought? For instance, I buy a show on Amazon Prime, they let me stream it but not download it, I’d prefer to have my own copy, so I pirate it anyway. Well, ok, maybe I never paid for the right to download it, so what if I bought it on iTunes, and now I can download it, but can’t freely copy it to another device when I want?

        Or what if I own a physical copy of a console game from 15 years ago, but today I can play the same game on an emulator at higher resolution, perhaps with texture packs?

        I find it increasingly common that a pirated version of something gives me more freedom or ease of use than the paid-for version.

    • nes1983 says:

      My reading of I David D. Friedman’s book is that he would probably say that it’s a good thing, with a lot of caveats. One caveat being that intellectual property grants a kind of monopoly, and so the usual downsides of monopolies apply. Importantly, production of copies will be below the optimum level (you’ll need to read the book to understand the terminology; sorry).

      The other caveat is the practicality of enforcing the digital copyright. So, he might say that: if intellectual property was enforceable at a reasonable cost, it would clearly be a good thing (with some caveats, but still). But what’s the correct trade-off in a world where it can’t be enforced at a reasonable cost? Well, that’s harder to answer.

    • Jake R says:

      I’ve read lots of impassioned arguments for abolishing intellectual property. They make a lot of good points, but in my opinion none of them do a good job of explaining why anybody would bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book. That’s a deal-breaker. That said I am against the indefinite extension of copyright, where congress grants a ten-year extension every ten years. The authors death +50 years standard seems more than reasonable to me, and I have no ethical problem pirating anything outside that window.

      • Purplehermann says:

        Do you think differently on areas that will get created regardless, like philosophy, art, science etc?

        • matkoniecz says:


          Here anything funded by government should be obligated to be published on open license, in open access journals.

          Abolishing copyright is not needed to do that.

        • Jake R says:

          I don’t think “will get created regardless” is a boolean quantity. Some people will make art and science without financial incentive, but more people will make more and better if someone is willing to give them $1000 to do it.

      • Ketil says:

        bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book

        Because you hire someone to do it? While I’m as much a sucker for novelty as anyone, it’s not like I can manage to hear/read/watch even one percent of one percent of the available music/books/films that exist. I can’t even over my lifetime manage one thousandth of the books that get published in a single year. Do we really need an artificial government monopoly to ensure that we get more? And if yes, could we imagine other ways to ensure this?

        • Jake R says:

          The Witcher 3* had a budget of $81 million. I don’t have $81 million. If the answer is “Kickstarter for everything” I’m on board, but even then there is a gap. The number of people willing to invest money after seeing a proof of concept or some general ideas and then wait years before receiving a product is pretty small. The most successful kickstarter ever was a little over $20 million, so at best I would expect to get games 1/4 as good as Witcher 3. Generally I think there’s a lot of value left in the model where people can create a thing and then sell it after it exists. I don’t see how that works without some sort of intellectual property protection.

          *My favorite game ever is not Witcher 3, but I couldn’t find budget numbers for Shadow of the Colossus.

          • anton says:

            As with most everything there are trade-offs both ways. While witcher 3 may or may not have been made without copyright protections, witcher 3 mods will for certain never be made with copyright protections. While witcher 3 mods are not likely to be much good and maybe not worth the risk of witcher 3 never being made in the first place, the same thing can’t be said (from what I have heard) of steam engines. So it’s not clear to me on the balance which option is better.

          • Fahundo says:

            The most successful kickstarter ever was a little over $20 million

            That’s only because kickstarters have time limits. Crowdfunding can continue long after the initial kickstarter page is over with.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Star Citizen looks like a traditional on-going game that calls all its sales “crowdfunding” for PR purposes, and I would do the same thing if I were in their boat and could get free headlines.

            (It also seems to tilt the market in favor of established creators, but I’m not sure this is a good argument because only established creators would be able to raise $85 million in venture capital.)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          You can hire people, right now, to make your favorite video game or your favorite book.

          IP regimes are not stopping you. Just like capitalism allows communism to exist within it. You can create your project and pay for it and put it in the public domain to show others how it’s done.

          I can’t even over my lifetime manage one thousandth of the books that get published in a single year

          You don’t want most of them, but other people do.

      • AG says:

        why anybody would bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book

        Because people already do even though IP law currently exists?
        Cave Story. Cory Doctorow novels. Worm, Unsong, Northern Caves, etc. Fan films. Freeware. All pop culture from before IP law was put into effect (the Iliad, operas, Shakespeare, folk mythology).

        • Jake R says:

          I think it’s great when someone is willing to spend thousands of hours producing something for my enjoyment with no compensation, I just don’t think it’s very reasonable to expect it of them.

          I also can’t help but notice how everybody is jumping on the book example without giving much regard for video games, which frequently have 8 figure budgets.

          • AG says:

            See the freeware link.

          • Jake R says:

            I feel like the quality of the games on that list largely prove my point. CD Projekt Red spent $81 million and 3.5 years developing Witcher 3. Even if they did that out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they thought it was fun, or for whatever reason Scott wrote Unsong, I still think it would be unreasonable to expect them to.

          • Dan L says:

            I also can’t help but notice how everybody is jumping on the book example without giving much regard for video games, which frequently have 8 figure budgets.

            A glance at the Steam charts show they’re dominated by free-to-play multiplayer games. Epic is… unlikely… to be different. IP is effectively a non-issue in those models.

            Would IP protections disincentivize your Witchers? Undoubtedly, though now you’re talking about what is (unfortunately*) an increasingly narrow market segment. Something will inevitably be lost no matter what one does, though I bet your Stardew Valleys and maybe even Disco Elysiums will be fine. Dwarf Fortress, of course, soldiers on regardless.

            *For of all sad words/ of tongue or pen/ the saddest are these/ Freespace 3.// It might have been.

          • AG says:

            Some of the greatest, most enduring, pieces of art of all time were created under the patron system, before IP law was significantly implemented. Even today, opera houses making lavish productions of entirely public domain works don’t make up their money in ticket sales, and so are basically funded by patrons.

            So it could also be how your big budget video game still gets made, because a billionaire simply wants to play a big budget video game, or reap the status benefits of getting a big budget film made.

            The logic behind ad revenue/sponsorships still applies in a world without IP, so content would also continue to be produced with that level of support. It would be easier for some kinds of content, too, since said producers wouldn’t have to wrestle with copyright strikes anymore.

          • Lambert says:

            Most of ‘all time’ happened before IP law became a thing.
            It’s unfair to compare 3500 years of literature before the Statute of Anne with the 300 years after.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We probably lost several works of Shakespeare because the lack of IP protection meant that he kept his works hidden. People would try to memorize his plays and put on the same play at competing theaters. It’s the same way guilds worked hard to keep their inventions secret and tried to monetize them through second-order effects.

            We want these things public! We want them published! We’ve probably lost some incredible things because they were hidden and ultimately died with their creators.

            The things we lost, or that were never created, are Bastiat’s unseen.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            OTOH now that copyright (in the US, at least) is immediate with the creation of the work and doesn’t require publishing anymore, works can still be lost by dint of never being published.


            Kafka wrote: “Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread”.[168][169] Brod ignored this request and published the novels and collected works between 1925 and 1935.

            Today wouldn’t Brod have been breaking the law in publishing these works whose copyright was still owned by Kafka’s estate?

          • baconbits9 says:

            We probably lost several works of Shakespeare because the lack of IP protection meant that he kept his works hidden. People would try to memorize his plays and put on the same play at competing theaters. It’s the same way guilds worked hard to keep their inventions secret and tried to monetize them through second-order effects.

            Now you are assuming that the works we got would remain in a world where Shakespeare spends decades in a legal battle with the heirs of Saxo Grammaticus over Hamlet. Likewise we wouldn’t have the Iliad if Homer had to go back and get permission from every storyteller he had heard a version from before preforming his variation.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Today wouldn’t Brod have been breaking the law in publishing these works whose copyright was still owned by Kafka’s estate?

            A copyright violation, but, yes. He’d still be allowed to retain ownership of them, sell them, make them available to others to study and describe, and once the copyright had lapsed they could be openly published.

            Or the estate could have been paid money. They don’t necessarily have Kafka’s same interests.

            I think if someone wants their private unpublished writings destroyed, they ought to be destroyed. We encourage creators to contribute to the public domain, and IMO this is more ethical than forcing them to contribute to the public domain. But destroying all the copies should be something Kafka took care of doing before he died. A will isn’t some magic computer program that you unleash as a doomsday weapon after your death.

            where Shakespeare spends decades in a legal battle with the heirs of Saxo Grammaticus over Hamlet

            Even the US copyright terms, which I think are too long, would not last for over 300 years.

          • AG says:

            No, but Shakespeare would have to pay François de Belleforest, and the author of Ur-Hamlet.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Even the US copyright terms, which I think are too long, would not last for over 300 years.

            The point is that almost all of Shakespeare’s works are derivative to some significant extent, you can’t claim that copyright would give us more Shakespeare without considering this.

          • John Schilling says:

            So it could also be how your big budget video game still gets made, because a billionaire simply wants to play a big budget video game, or reap the status benefits of getting a big budget film made.

            No billionaire wants to play a video game badly enough to pay serious video-game development money just to make it happen. If he did, he wouldn’t be a billionaire.

            Paying for propaganda wrapped in serious video-game production values, that’s another matter. I don’t think it is an improvement if all big-budget video games are some billionaire’s professional propaganda, even if the message is just “Billionaire X is high status”. Which it often won’t be.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        That said I am against the indefinite extension of copyright, where congress grants a ten-year extension every ten years.

        Now that Disney has leveraged their extended monopoly sufficient to purchase rights to Star Wars, the Marvel cinematic universe, etc… they have no need to lobby to extend their mouse monopoly anymore. The extensions therefore will probably end.

      • but in my opinion none of them do a good job of explaining why anybody would bother to make my favorite video game or write my favorite book.

        We know that intellectual property can be created without IP laws because it has been. Consider all the works written before copyright law existed. For current examples, consider fanfic, open source software, and blogs. SSC is one example of very useful intellectual property whose creation does not depend on IP law.

        There are a lot of different ways it can happen. Some people write books for the fun of it, or to spread their ideas, or for the resulting status, which can take pecuniary forms. One result of being a novelist may be a job teaching at a university. One result of my books and articles is that people pay my expenses to go to interesting places around the world and give speeches, and sometimes pay for the speeches as well.

        Historically, one way of supporting authors is patronage. English books from a few centuries back sometimes start with a glowing tribute to some noble you have never heard of — who has probably been feeding the author for the last few years. The Orlando Furioso, one of the great works of Renaissance Italian poetry, includes a scene predicting what a wonderful person the descendant of one of the characters will be. Her name will be Lucrecia Borgia — which suggests who Ariosto’s patrons were.

        One modern version is Patreon. Another possible one, that I don’t think I have seen, would be for a firm such as Apple to sponsor the production of popular works — which would contain the artists’ thanks to the sponsor.

        Another way is first mover advantages. Back before the U.S. had a copyright treaty with the U.K., British authors got substantial royalties for U.S. sales, in part because the fixed cost and time lags in the printing technology of the time meant that the authorized publisher, who got the text from the author long enough before the book came out in England to have type set and books printed when it did, got all the early sales, which were typically most of the sales. If a pirate edition came out, the authorized publisher, with its fixed costs already paid, could bring out a cut rate fighting edition to keep the pirate from ever making enough to cover its fixed costs.

        That approach doesn’t work with modern printing technology, but there are still advantages to coming out first.

        None of this implies that we wouldn’t have less IP without IP law, but it’s clear that we wouldn’t have none at all.

        And in some ways, IP law hinders the production of IP, because old IP is sometimes an input to new. My current non-fiction book project is a collection of short works of literature that contain interesting economic insights, each to be accompanied by an essay of mine exploring the economics. It currently exists, in draft form with only some of the essays, as a web page.

        I probably can’t produce it as a book, because that would require permission from a large number of different copyright holders, requiring a lot of time and effort finding them and negotiating the permission. I can do most of it as a webbed page because most of the works are already webbed.

        One of my favorite pieces, a Poul Anderson story obviously written to make the economic point, used to be webbed in full, is now webbed only in part. If the author were still alive I expect he would be happy to give me permission to include it in my book for a proportional share of the royalties, as two other authors I have communicated with were, but unfortunately he isn’t and I haven’t had any luck with the agent who currently controls the rights.

        The chapter on property in my Hidden Order discusses the tradeoff between property and commons. One of the costs of treating something as property is the transaction cost of letting someone other than the owner use it.

        So that particular book would be easier for me to produce if there were no copyright law.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Orlando Furioso, one of the great works of Renaissance Italian poetry, includes a scene predicting what a wonderful person the descendant of one of the characters will be. Her name will be Lucrecia Borgia — which suggests who Ariosto’s patrons were.

          Great Merlin’s ghost!
          (For SSC readers who haven’t read the poem, the prophecy that Ariosto’s sponsors would be amazing is put in the mouth of Merlin’s ghost. Having encountered it in his tomb, the warrior woman Bradamante takes it as an order to convert Ruggiero to Christianity and marry him.)

        • AG says:

          Another possible one, that I don’t think I have seen, would be for a firm such as Apple to sponsor the production of popular works — which would contain the artists’ thanks to the sponsor.

          We see this on the regular with public broadcasting and live performance contexts, like symphony orchestras, operas, theater, and other large scale events. “This program was brought to you by/made possible by generous support from…”

        • nes1983 says:

          Wait, but after all that — what’s your hunch? In balance, is intellectual property good for the world or bad?

          • I don’t know. Levine and Boldrin make the argument for one side, and they could be right, but I haven’t looked into the historical evidence myself, or seen any attempt by someone else to debunk their account of it.

            I think it’s clear, for reasons I explore in Law’s Order, that traditional copyright makes more sense than either patent or the ways in which copyright has been expanded in recent years, because it covers something that works better as property. But whether it works well enough so that, given zero marginal cost, it is better as property than as commons I don’t know.

            The answer probably depends on a lot of details of the setting, such as how large first mover advantages are — hand set lead type vs photocopying, to take one example.

    • ana53294 says:

      I think that for scientific research, copyright is definitely a bad thing, and I think pirating is ethically warranted.

      The research would still be made, the papers still written and peer-reviewed, even if copyright on the papers did not exist.

      As for other forms of copyright, I favor a life + 25 years term.

      For patents & miscellaneous, more flexibility on derivative work (EU plant variety laws allow a lot more derivative breeding, whereas Americans patent a lot of plant varieties, thus making step improvements impossible).

      Thus, I think that substantial and significant improvements on somebody else’s patent should be exempt from the previous patent, as long as the improvement is substantial enough.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        As for other forms of copyright, I favor a life + 25 years term.

        I want a solid term of years, not an amorphous “life +”.

        Say X and Y marry. X works their butt off supporting Y through school and while writing their novels, while going further and further into debt. Y finishes a novel that gets best seller status and then dies immediately thereafter from a bus accident at the untimely age of 25, but not before incurring even more medical debt. X uses the royalties to pay off the debt incurred by X and Y, but then has nothing left. X spends the next 25 years treading water on the royalties and their minimum wage jobs, but then at the age of 50 the royalties end when the copyright ends. X ends up on the streets.

        Make the copyright 50 years or 60 years flat and X has less of a problem.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          +1. Making copyright length depend on the creator’s life is just weird. 50 years? Great, fine, let’s do it..

        • ana53294 says:

          Yeah, but with a solid 60 year term, you could get Y, who wrote a book, and at age 80+ is living in a super expensive care home, while Warner Bros. makes a super-duper expensive blockbuster based on their book while Y gets nothing.

          I don’t see why X, who didn’t write the book, should be prioritised over Y, who did.

          If you want to have a fixed number of years, make it an even 100 since publication. Then we won’t get situations like that. Plus, it’s easy to calculate.

          • Nick says:

            I learned recently that Beverly Cleary is still kicking, at 104! She’s been writing children’s books since 1942. So yeah, 60 years really wouldn’t do it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If something is still quite valuable IP at year+60, it was very likely to have been quite valuable and generating rents during the intervening years.

          • Randy M says:

            Most 100+ year olds aren’t relying on their current income to support themselves. Is the point to allow the creator to make maximum profit off the work or to have exclusive creative control during their lifetime?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s not like Beverly Cleary will be 101 and then suddenly realize “oh, shoot, all my royalties disappear today.”

            (I mean, I assume if we made copyright length 50 or 60 years, we would do that going forward, with some reasonable grandfathering for people who didn’t expect the expiration of their rights to happen in the next few years.)

        • Jake R says:

          This is reasonable, but I would amend it to “Life or 50 years, whichever is longer.” I don’t have a very rational argument for this but it seems weird to me that under your system if Jane Austen had lived long enough she’d have had no say in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Plus I doubt the difference actually matters all that often.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Yeah, this seems a good compromise.

            Though theoretically it could incentivize assassins, the copyright holder could avoid this by giving up copyright, or making licenses available to nearly anyone for a nominal amount.

          • Lambert says:

            Doesn’t need to be a traditional assassin, since you’re playing the long game.
            You could bribe the chefs at the restraunts they like to add extra salt and saturated fat to their meals. Or stand next to them while puffing on a cigar.

          • Statismagician says:

            Statistical assassination! I love it.

        • bean says:

          In theory, I agree, but I think some form of “life +” is probably a political/PR necessity, to avoid old and sympathetic authors whining about stuff. I’d go with 50 years or life + 5, whichever is longer.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Let them whine?

            Futureproofing! We really do not want copyrights to become perpetual again just because someone cures aging, after all.

            Books that still sell after 50-60 years have at that point made their author so much money that if they have problems, that is on them. Actually, same goes for 20. Most books are pretty ephemeral, and as far as actual earnings go, any term beyond a decade is almost entirely about making Hollywood pay up when they do an adaption.

            25 years would more than suffice

          • bean says:

            I’m rather skeptical on curing aging, but that’s a reasonable point. Less sure on 20 yrs vs 50. There are lots of long-running series that are more than 20 years old, and where, because it’s a long-running series, the author is still making money off the early books.

          • Books that still sell after 50-60 years have at that point made their author so much money that if they have problems, that is on them.

            Would that it were so.

            My first book will be fifty in a few years. It still sells — 53 copies of the paperback in the past month, a similar number of the audiobook, and I’m not sure about the kindle. But it never sold enough to make me rich, or even come close to supporting me at the average U.S. salary.

            And I expect there are a fair number of other books like that, selling something on the order of a thousand copies a year for many years.

    • keaswaran says:

      I think we tend to think of “intellectual property” in too monolithic a way. Even under current law, there are important distinctions between trademark, copyright, and patents (in terms of both duration and rights granted). It may well be natural to subdivide these further (perhaps software should be classified differently from either copyright or patent? perhaps copyright in musical melodies should be treated differently than copyright in text? perhaps visual trademarks should be treated differently from slogans and brand names? perhaps pharmaceutical patents should be treated differently from business processes?) And all of them could naturally have the set of rights changed (the duration extended or reduced, mandatory licensing).

      Some copyrights and patents could also naturally be replaced by automatic purchase by the government at some fixed price (some people describe this in terms of prizes, like the one for the invention of a means to measure longitude several centuries ago).

      All of this is just to say that intellectual property can be just as heterogeneous as other kinds of property, and could be subject to many modifications, just the way that real estate has easements while chattel property like furniture and clothing generally doesn’t.

    • rahien.din says:

      It is unethical to pirate books etc.

      But it is not because the victim has lost physical property – they haven’t.

      Nor is it because the pirate is withholding money that they definitely would have provided if not for piracy – every person has first rights to their own mind. Empirically punishing thoughtcrime is a gross violation of ethics.

      Nor is it because of the downstream effects on the arts industries. It may be that art was in a state of artificial scarcity, and the digital era has punctured a bubble. If people only value art to the degree that they would pirate it but not purchase it, this may be unwise, but it is simply the invisible hand moving.

      Piracy is unethical because it is espionage.

      • Purplehermann says:

        Could you expound a bit more on exactly what makes piracy espionage?

        • rahien.din says:

          Piracy is definitionally espionage : unlawful access to privileged or confidential information.

          That is its only undeniable criminal aspect.

          Any of its material effects may be imaginary, may be simple bubble deflation, and/or may be an opportunity to compensate artists in a more risk-healthy fashion.

          • Aapje says:

            That is nonsense. Copyright protects the way in which something is expressed, not what is expressed.

            It’s perfectly legal to write a book that contains all the information contained in a copyrighted book, if it is expressed differently.

          • rahien.din says:

            Writing a book that contains all the information of another book, just expressed differently, is called plagiarism.

            And it is certainly illegal according to copyright law.

          • baconbits9 says:

            link text

            Plagiarism is using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit. In other words, because you are not giving attribution to the owner of the original work or idea — you are presenting the idea or thought as your own.

            Plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal but quite common in academia.

          • rahien.din says:

            I stand corrected about plagiarism vis-a-vis copyright law.

            But you have helped to show how copyright law is essentially a legal framework for regulating aesthetic, to the exclusion of ethical concerns regarding content. This means copyright law is conceptually irrelevant to 1. the OP’s question of the ethics of piracy, rather than the legality thereof, and 2. my idea that piracy is an informational crime, rather than an aesthetic crime.

            If anything, this increases my certainty that our definition of and legal approach to piracy are misguided.

          • Aapje says:

            An example of a case where the difference was relevant was a court case about phone books. This is publicly available information, but the claimant alleged their phone book was copied by the accused. The evidence that was presented, was that there were the same errors in both books. Therefor, the claim was upheld.

          • rahien.din says:


            This seems to indicate that copyright protects what was expressed, rather than how it is expressed.

      • AlexanderTheGrand says:

        People may value art enough to buy it, but they value having the art AND their money more than having just the art, and thus pirate anyways. Rational buyers don’t always pay the price they think an item is worth, they pay at most the price they think the item is worth.

        • rahien.din says:

          That is true for some acts of piracy.

          But there is a class of items that you would partake in or enjoy, but would not willingly pay for. This is easy to see if you enlarge “enjoy but not pay for” beyond “piracy,” noting all the times we all do this. For instance, I will never pay for the New Yorker, but I will read it in the dentist’s office. And yet this is not piracy. Thus, for some acts of piracy, the pirate is fully justified in claiming “I would not have paid for this, even though I would pirate it.”

          You may contend that it is impossible to determine whether that is the case. It might even be impossible for the pirate! But we are not allowed to say “Regardless of what the market says, this work is worth $X, therefore the artist has a right to your money and your mind.” We are not permitted to convict the pirate by a priori voiding their rights to their money and their mind.

          Piracy is unethical, but the reason is not “The artist has not gotten sufficient material benefit, therefore the consumers are delusional.”

    • boylermaker says:

      I don’t think that there is any moral reality to “intellectual property”–as someone points out upthread, my having a recording of a song doesn’t keep someone else from having it, which is different from tangible property where you either have it or you don’t (I can’t remember the technical economics term for this).

      You should still, however, not lie. So in the absence of laws, I would say:

      1) Publishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by boylermaker: wrong; this is a lie
      2) Publishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (but not paying her royalties): fine
      3) Making a movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, based on the novel, again not paying J.K. Rowling: fine
      4) Publishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: A reimagining, under my own name, a reimagining that makes it clear it is a different book from the one J.K. Rowling wrote (think Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality): fine
      5) Publishing 2 Harry 2 Potter, my sickkkk Harry Potter fan fiction, under my own name: fine

      I think that piracy is wrong because laws have moral force even when their content is morally neutral, and so I don’t do it.

      I think that there probably should be some, maybe even a lot, of IP. It is a legal fiction that is useful because giving people temporary monopolies over ideas incentivizes them to spend time coming up with the ideas. But I think the position that maximizes the common good is probably less IP than we have now.

      Patents are great, but should probably be a bit shorter. I am confused by the situation with patenting genes and bioprospected molecules and don’t have an opinion on that.

      Copyright is a bit iffier. Authors should be able to copyright their works, and I’m willing to be talked into the idea that the copyright should last past their lifetimes, but probably by only a couple of decades. They should not be able to copyright their characters or worlds (i.e., for-profit fan fiction, like The Aeneid or the works of Shakespeare, should be fine).

      EDIT: I had forgotten about trademarks; my instinct is that using other people’s trademarks tends to fall into the category of lying, so I am more favorable to trademark-protections than I am to copyright or patent protections.

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t think that there is any moral reality to “intellectual property”–as someone points out upthread, my having a recording of a song doesn’t keep someone else from having it, which is different from tangible property where you either have it or you don’t (I can’t remember the technical economics term for this).

        This isn’t really the moral argument though. IMO, the moral argument is thinking of it in terms of a contract. The creator of a work makes said work available conditionally, and one such condition is “you can consume it personally, you can even sell it or give it away, but you can’t copy it, retain the original, and give the copy to someone else.”

        Issues like whether it’s tangible or whether the person buying the copy would have bought an original are completely beside the point. The person making the copy is violating their agreement with the creator (or the creator’s agent). The person benefiting from that violation is in a moral position roughly equivalent to someone buying stolen goods. Or purchasing blackmail secrets. Or something like that. You are directly benefiting from someone else’s clear moral/legal violation.

        • boylermaker says:

          I find this to be a compelling argument that you shouldn’t pirate under the current legal regime.

          I don’t think that in the absence of any IP law, the contract would be there by default, though. To give an example of what I mean, I think that if there were no laws against taking physical property, and you invited me to your house and left me alone in the room, it would be immoral for me to take your stuff: there is an implied hey-don’t-wander-off-with-my-sofa that comes along with your invitation to your house.

          But in the absence of any IP law, if you sold me a book, or told me a story from your past, or showed me a painting, and didn’t make me sign an explicit contract beforehand, I think I’m morally in the clear to publish an edition of your book, or make a movie based on your story, or a copy of your painting.

          • Matt M says:

            I dunno, I think in current western society, this part of the contract is pretty implicit and does not need to be explicitly stated. But part of that is because in current western society, we generally assume the law reflects commonly held social values.

            I.e. in a society that was exactly like ours except IP law didn’t exist, you may be right. Except that it’s a contradiction because a society exactly like ours would have IP law.

            It’s like the classic libertarian philosophical question: In a world just like ours but Ron Paul becomes President, can he solve all of our problems? No. On the other hand, any world in which Ron Paul becomes President is a world that looks very different from ours and is well on the way to solving most of the problems we’re currently complaining about…

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        One more case: publishing HP by JKR, but with errors.

        • boylermaker says:

          Hmm, well, if by “errors” you mean typos, then I guess I would say that if you are doing #2, you should make a good-faith effort at error-correction. All editions have typos, though, so I wouldn’t find their presence to be morally suspect.

          If you mean things like changing Dumbledore’s opening speech to “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! By the way I am straight as an arrow and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” … I think I would consider that to fall under #1 (it’s a lie to say that J.K. wrote that).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The obvious case is sloppy OCR.

            The annoying example I know of is a Russian copy of Sheckley’s “Protection”, which unfortunately damaged the last line by correcting the final word.

            Decent news– that one didn’t turn up in a fast search.

            Here’s a copy without that error:


            Sheckley was a clever writer with some rationalit or rationalist-adjacent topics who seems to be pretty much forgotten.

            Some stories: the misfortune of getting therapy from a mind machine designed for aliens. Being unable to sign a (grossly unfair colonialist) contract with aliens because their language changes so fast. Dealing with a make-anything machine which won’t do duplicates.

            He’s probably best remembered for “The Prize of Peril” a story about “reality” tv where the contestant is being hunted.

          • boylermaker says:

            Well, I definitely think there is some degree of sloppiness where it becomes immoral to present OCRed text as that of the authors. I think there is probably some gray area, and it’s pretty context dependent. So if you are presenting text as OCRed to people who know what OCR means and can see the original images if necessary (like the Biodiversity Heritage Library project, say), I think you can get away with a lot more garble than if you are doing OCR to print out a book for your grandma.

            It probably varies by text, too: the amount of garble needed to pervert the original meaning is higher for Harry Potter than for a collection of epigrammatic poetry, which is higher than for a calculus textbook.