I was browsing my RSS feed, as one does, and came across a New York Times article, "A Village With the Numbers, Not the Image, of the Poorest Place", about the Satmar Hasidic Jews of Kiryas Joel (NY).

Their interest lies in their extraordinarily high birthrate & population growth, and their poverty - which are connected. From the article:

"...officially, at least, none of the nation’s 3,700 villages, towns or cities with more than 10,000 people has a higher proportion of its population living in poverty than Kiryas Joel, N.Y., a community of mostly garden apartments and town houses 50 miles northwest of New York City in suburban Orange County.

About 70 percent of the village’s 21,000 residents live in households whose income falls below the federal poverty threshold, according to the Census Bureau. Median family income ($17,929) and per capita income ($4,494) rank lower than any other comparable place in the country. Nearly half of the village’s households reported less than $15,000 in annual income. About half of the residents receive food stamps, and one-third receive Medicaid benefits and rely on federal vouchers to help pay their housing costs.

Kiryas Joel’s unlikely ranking results largely from religious and cultural factors. Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews predominate in the village; many of them moved there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in the 1970s to accommodate a population that was growing geometrically. Women marry young, remain in the village to raise their families and, according to religious strictures, do not use birth control. As a result, the median age (under 12) is the lowest in the country and the household size (nearly six) is the highest. Mothers rarely work outside the home while their children are young. Most residents, raised as Yiddish speakers, do not speak much English. And most men devote themselves to Torah and Talmud studies rather than academic training — only 39 percent of the residents are high school graduates, and less than 5 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Several hundred adults study full time at religious institutions.

...Because the community typically votes as a bloc, it wields disproportionate political influence, which enables it to meet those challenges creatively. A luxurious 60-bed postnatal maternal care center was built with $10 million in state and federal grants. Mothers can recuperate there for two weeks away from their large families. Rates, which begin at $120 a day, are not covered by Medicaid, although, Mr. Szegedin said, poorer women are typically subsidized by wealthier ones.

...The village does aggressively pursue economic opportunities. A kosher poultry slaughterhouse, which processes 40,000 chickens a day, is community owned and considered a nonprofit organization. A bakery that produces 800 pounds of matzo daily is owned by one of the village’s synagogues.

Most children attend religious schools, but transportation and textbooks are publicly financed. Several hundred handicapped students are educated by the village’s own public school district, which, because virtually all the students are poor and disabled, is eligible for sizable state and federal government grants.

... Still, poverty is largely invisible in the village. Parking lots are full, but strollers and tricycles seem to outnumber cars. A jeweler shares a storefront with a check-cashing office. To avoid stigmatizing poorer young couples or instilling guilt in parents, the chief rabbi recently decreed that diamond rings were not acceptable as engagement gifts and that one-man bands would suffice at weddings. Many residents who were approached by a reporter said they did not want to talk about their finances.

...Are as many as 7 in 10 Kiryas Joel residents really poor? “It is, in a sense, a statistical anomaly,” Professor Helmreich said. “They are clearly not wealthy, and they do have a lot of children. They spend whatever discretionary income they have on clothing, food and baby carriages. They don’t belong to country clubs or go to movies or go on trips to Aruba.

...David Jolly, the social services commissioner for Orange County, also said that while the number of people receiving benefits seemed disproportionately high, the number of caseloads — a family considered as a unit — was much less aberrant. A family of eight who reports as much as $48,156 in income is still eligible for food stamps, although the threshold for cash assistance ($37,010), which relatively few village residents receive, is lower....“You also have no drug-treatment programs, no juvenile delinquency program, we’re not clogging the court system with criminal cases, you’re not running programs for AIDS or teen pregnancy,” he [Mr. Szegedin, the village administrator] said. “I haven’t run the numbers, but I think it’s a wash.”

From Wikipedia:

The land for Kiryas Joel was purchased in 1977, and fourteen Satmar families settled there. By 2006, there were over 3,000...In 1990, there were 7,400 people in Kiryas Joel; in 2000, 13,100, nearly doubling the population. In 2005, the population had risen to 18,300, a rate of growth suggesting it will double again in the ten years between 2000 and 2010.

Robin Hanson has argued that uploaded/emulated minds will establish a new Malthusian/Darwinian equilibrium in "IF UPLOADS COME FIRST: The crack of a future dawn" - an equilibrium in comparison to which our own economy will look like a delusive dreamtime of impossibly unfit and libertine behavior. The demographic transition will not last forever. But despite our own distaste for countless lives living at near-subsistence rather than our own extreme per-capita wealth (see the Repugnant Conclusion), those many lives will be happy ones (even amidst disaster).

So. Are the inhabitants of Kiryas Joel unhappy?

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The poverty may be partly illusory. It sounds like a lot of their economy is not money-mediated (inside the family or work done for social recognition). This means that their wealth is underreported by money-based statistics like median income. A common risk when comparing differently structured societies.

I think that's probably correct. According to rumors I hear, the leadership of the community structures everything so that the rank and file will be poor and therefore entitled to the maximum amount of public assistance.

For example, suppose you teach 30 hours a week at the local religious school. In a free market, you might get paid $25k a year for this work and spend $10,000 a year to rent your nearby apartment. But if it's the same organization which runs the religious school and is also your landlord, you can have an arrangement with a nod and a wink in which you get paid only $15k a year and pay only $4k a year in rent for your apartment.

That way, you show much less income for purposes of taxes and government benefits. Technically this is fraud since you really should be reporting your effective rent subsidy as income. However it would be really difficult for the authorities to actually prove this is what is going on. Especially if all the important communications involved are in Yiddish.

Anyway, I don't know if this is what happens in KJ but I wouldn't be surprised at all if they have a million little scams like this going on.

Especially if all the important communications involved are in Yiddish.

The communications don't even need to be spoken. This is exactly the kind of thing Robin Hanson keeps telling us our brains are built for.

Am I misreading you, or are you actually comparing the living standards of Kiryas Joel with a Malthusian equilibrium?!

These people are as far from a Malthusian bare-subsistence situation as the regular developed world middle classes. The only essential difference is that their culture has solved the problem of collective action when it comes to various burdensome signaling arms races that are de rigueur in the mainstream society, so they don't bother to keep up with those. (That said, I don't know how onerous their own peculiar signaling arms races are. It does seem to me like they have it better, but maybe it's just that the grass looks greener on the other side.)

There is of course the issue that they seem to live off rent-seeking to a large degree. However, nowadays the same can be said for a considerable proportion (arguably a majority) of high-status people. The Kiryas Joel folks at least mind their own business and do nothing destructive, unlike so many prestigious rent-seekers who enjoy public accolades. 

Am I misreading you, or are you actually comparing the living standards of Kiryas Joel with a Malthusian equilibrium?!

Kiryas Joel is, by definition, not in a Malthusian equilibrium because their population is expanding.*

However, they are far closer to Hanson's future Malthusian equilibrium than your average American community; probably they are the closest**. And so they are interesting from the utilitarian welfare point of view.

I'm not sure you understand Malthusian economics very well. A 'subsistence wage' is an arbitrary culturally set wage anywhere above whatever amount is required to not starve to death. Subsistence wages can vary dramatically, and can even fall over time. (Gregory Clark in Farewell to Alms points out that some African countries are actually worse off in per-capita wealth than they were millennia ago because modern medicine let their subsistence wage fall even further.) If I may quote one of the experts, David Ricardo, on what a subsistence wage is:

It is not to be understood that the natural price of labor, estimated even in food and necessaries, is absolutely fixed and constant. It varies at different times in the same country, and very materially differ

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However, they are far closer to Hanson's future Malthusian equilibrium than your average American community; probably they are the closest**. And so they are interesting from the utilitarian welfare point of view.

Looking for a community in modern-day U.S. that is the closest to a Malthusian equilibrium is kind of like looking at the members of a billionaire country club and asking whose circumstances are closest to those of a homeless beggar. Technically, the question might have a well-defined answer, but it won't give you any insight into the life of actual beggars.

Hell, I've lived in circumstances that make Kiryas Joel look like a billionaire country club in comparison, and it would be delusional for me to draw conclusions about Malthusian life based on my experiences.

I'm not sure you understand Malthusian economics very well. A 'subsistence wage' is an arbitrary culturally set wage anywhere above whatever amount is required to not starve to death.

I understand that. (In fact, the insight goes back even before Ricardo and Malthus, at least back to Adam Smith's concept of "the lowest [wage] rate which is consistent with common humanity.")

However, this wage is &q... (read more)

This society would not be evolutionarily stable since the members with the lowest standards will reproduce more causing the minimum standard to decrease. This process will continue until it reaches the point where standards are so low that any additional children would simply starve to death.
I can't see anything obviously wrong in that reasoning, but in Italy that situation has more-or-less obtained for decades and I can't see any sign of such a process happening. I guess what's happening is some process preventing the standards of some members to fall much below the standards of the rest of the society. (If you know your children will be ostracized by their peers, making their life much harder, unless they wear expensive clothes, have expensive toys, etc., then you might not want your children to wear cheap clothes and have cheap toys, even if in isolation they'd enjoy them just as much as expensive ones.)
It'd be interesting to know what is going on. If you argue from a sort of Malthusian ideological-lowering-of-subsistence-wages, that doesn't explain it since the subsistence wage is still way below the regular wage and ought to allow indefinite over-reproduction of the subpopulation. And these subpopulations often isolate themselves from the world and denigrate it as much as possible, so the world's standards shouldn't matter too much to them. My own suspicion is that there's some sort of diseconomy of scale to these subpopulations: they grow like gangbusters but the growth tapers off until total retention rate matches overall population growth rate. But I don't know this for sure. I don't know that members start leaving the large subpopulation for the main population at sufficient rates to offset the fertility, or why the leaving rates would change as the group grows. Certainly the Amish seem to be continuing to grow without a problem. It may be that there's a certain formula (decentralization?) which only a few have hit upon recently.
Yes, but evolution is much slower than cultural change. In principle, it is possible that a society might have very high and very uniform standards for the minimum wealth per child, so that it would take a very long time before evolution undermined these standards noticeably. In the meantime, it would make sense to speak of a Malthusian equilibrium. In reality, of course, such a situation is highly improbable and (to my knowledge) not attested historically. So it's not really a mistake to equate a Malthusian equilibrium with awful poverty and constant threat of famine. (The latter would of course also have its analogues in a Malthusian upload society, which are not hard to imagine.)
I wasn't referring simply to biological evolution.
Fair enough, but that's basically what I also mean when I say that the scenario is possible in principle but extremely unlikely in practice.
Ever shopped for an esrog? Even that has some parallels, such as thousand dollar melons in Japan.

Ever shopped for an esrog?

I did write that I don't know how burdensome their own peculiar signaling competitions are in comparison. The important point is that a lot of what seems like poverty and low living standards in the lives of these people is not actual deprivation, but a genuine lack of incentive to acquire the things in question, since they are not locked in the signaling arms race that motivates acquiring them in the mainstream. When it comes to things they care about, they're not any worse off than the regular middle classes.

A few details leave them worse off, as far as I can tell. First, the items Chassidim use as signals are almost all consumable or have their costs over the long term, in contrast to the middle class. Weddings and kosher food are examples of the first type, number of children and isolation from secular knowledge/intensive religious schooling for young men are of the second. The middle class has expensive weddings and vacations, but primarily is enslaved to owned cars/houses or educations that merely fail to be fully worth their opportunity cost. Second, having religious values in addition to other values deemphasizes the focus one can put on the other values. E.g., if I value my happiness, family, career, etc., I will put effort into each of them. If in addition I value baseball cards, I do so by taking money and attention from the other categories. It is true that one who only values happiness is unlikely to achieve it, and that valuing additional things such as the Yankees' winning would or does make some people happier. Nonetheless, the body of ordinances, injunctions, and so forth that these people are expected to follow is amazingly comprehensive and capable of crowding out much having to do with happiness.

The middle class has expensive weddings and vacations, but primarily is enslaved to owned cars/houses or educations that merely fail to be fully worth their opportunity cost.

I see quite a bit more stuff among the regular middle classes that looks like pure signaling waste, though you're clearly more knowledgeable how this compares with the analogous phenomena among orthodox Jews.

However, one very important issue you're not taking into account is that the primary objective that drives the North American middle classes to work their asses off is the need to afford living in an expensive enough neighborhood to insulate oneself and one's family from the underclass. (Clearly, various signaling and purely instrumental goals are entangled here.) With some luck and creativity, you can skimp on all kinds of signaling consumerism, but with this issue there's no joking, and it keeps imposing a horrible threat should you ever slack off. The lack of this pressure seems to me like a major point in favor of life in a deeply traditionalist community, so I think it counts in favor of the KJ setup.

Nonetheless, the body of ordinances, injunctions, and so forth that these people are expected to

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I find this claim surprising. I could just be ethnocentric, but it genuinely seems to me that modern middle-class Americans have significantly more personal freedom (of speech, of belief, of dress, of diet, of sexuality, &c.) than members of ultraorthodox communities. Is there any chance you could try to explain the outside perspective of which you speak?

My wording wasn't very clear here -- I didn't mean to compare middle-class Americans with ultra-Ortodox communities specifically, but to make a more general point about how people can consider themselves very free and really feel that way, even though things may look very different from an outside perspective.

Generally speaking, people feel unfree when they're suddenly constrained from doing something that they're used to and care about, or when constraints lower their status. In contrast, constraints that are ingrained in a culture are often not even noticed consciously by its people, or they are seen as self-evidently reasonable and necessary, since people are used to living under them, and are also at peace with the existing status hierarchy. However, this won't seem so to an outsider who is used to a different way of life and who perhaps derives status in his own community from some freedoms that are absent in their culture. Similarly, the level of discipline and regimentation (in both scope and intensity) is perceived subjectively depending on what one is used to.

So, ultimately, it depends on how you choose to measure freedom. In some extreme cases, it may be that one societ... (read more)

I partially agree with this Vladmir's statement. I doubt that modern middle-class Americans feel significantly more personally free or unfree than many other historical groups, despite being more free.
To take another angle on this, assume for simplicity that anything not wasted is "reinvested" in signaling. E.g. a Prius is somewhat practical and not just a signal, so more is spent on lawn care than if an SUV was purchased. An important factor will then be willingness to borrow and be in debt, and Orthodox societies have a very, very high tolerance for this. One explanation would be the prominence of the LORD as provider. There is one major signaling factor that the middle class does "spend" far more on, and that is aversion to certain government benefits (but not others, such as mortgage based tax benefits).
Could you please list some examples? I've been trying to think of some myself, and I came up with things like gift-based holidays (Christmas, Father's day, birthdays, etc...), brand-name color-and-style-matching clothes, and the search for high status jobs (there is a reason "flipping burgers" is an insult). But it feels like there is so much difference between a homeless man living in a shelter with cheap food/clothing/electronics and a typical middle class man that I fear I might be missing something big, even after reading all the things you and lessdazed already mentioned. Which would bother me, because if it means I am unable to see the middle class as a special case of how to live a life.
Yet for some reason religious people seem to put more effort into family then atheists.
I lack the context in which your comment makes sense as a counterargument or response to what I said. My argument is that they are worse off. You imply otherwise on the basis that they seem to try harder at one facet of life. Assuming that: religious people not only seem to put more effort into family, but do, and assuming this is true either on average, as a non-binary sliding correlation, or in some other significant way, and assuming that religiosity drives this, rather than this correlation being driven by a third factor, and assuming that it isn't having kids that causes religiosity, and assuming that the effort spent into family produces happiness at least as effectively than atheists produce it through their sundry efforts...why also assume that religious people would only (seem to) put that effort into family if it made them at least as happy as atheists when their religion itself is demanding that they do so on pain of ostracization and hellfire?
Citation needed, I think. Also separate "seem to put more effort" from "have better family life"; seeming to put more effort in doesn't always means getting better results, but in your sentence it still appears to score points.

Kiryas Joel functions to some extent in a model much like the charedim in Israel, relying on the outside world to provide necessary economic infrastructure and support. The most relevant example paragraphs in that article are:

.Because the community typically votes as a bloc, it wields disproportionate political influence, which enables it to meet those challenges creatively. A luxurious 60-bed postnatal maternal care center was built with $10 million in state and federal grants


Most children attend religious schools, but transportation and textbooks are publicly financed. Several hundred handicapped students are educated by the village’s own public school district, which, because virtually all the students are poor and disabled, is eligible for sizable state and federal government grants.

I'm not sure their happiness is terribly relevant, even if they are happy, it is a deeply unsustainable situation.

I'm not sure that this is at all similar to Hanson's hypothetical. In his hypothetical the uploads don't have any rights or recourse. Here the people have political pull. The situation for uploads could be much worse.

I like to look at this as a vindication of efficient markets. As the Times reporter shrewdly remarks, democracy offers profit opportunities for groups that can coordinate to form disciplined voting blocks. The coordination problem here is very difficult, but we nevertheless see an example of a group that has solved it with amazing success, so that the profit opportunities are not left unexploited despite the collective action problem!

As for the unsustainability, well, a whole lot of high-status people live off rent-seeking these days, except that it tends to be couched in elaborate rationalizations and smug moralizing. The Kiryas Joel folks are just specializing in a form of rent-seeking where their culture gives them a strong competitive advantage (since it solves the coordination problem). If that source of income dried up, I have no doubt that they'd be smart and enterprising enough to come up with something else -- which might well be some productive work, as it probably would be even nowadays in a society where rent-seeking is harder and less lucrative.

(Besides, as the article suggests, the lack of social pathologies in their community means that they might not be such devourers of public funds after all, and they do some productive work, so the net balance isn't that clear.)

. The Kiryas Joel folks are just specializing in a form of rent-seeking where their culture gives them a strong competitive advantage (since it solves the coordination problem). If that source of income dried up, I have no doubt that they'd be smart and enterprising enough to come up with something else -- which might well be some productive work, as it probably would be even nowadays in a society where rent-seeking is harder and less lucrative.

I don't think we're seeing anything that smart going on here. They are essentially just adopting that the MO the charedim use in Israel to the United States.

(Besides, as the article suggests, the lack of social pathologies in their community means that they might not be such devourers of public funds after all, and they do some productive work, so the net balance isn't that clear.)

The social pathology is there, it just is getting covered up and not addressed. Among the ultra-Orthodox there are terrible stigmas associated with mental illness for example. Similarly, spousal abuse is just not discussed. They try to cover up these issues since they can hurt status in the community and ruin the chances for arranged marriages. The evidence... (read more)

Well, yes, I don't think that their rabbis have studied The Encyclopedia of Public Choice and gleefully deduced an ingenious plan for hacking the American political system. However, even though their MO has had a complex and curious cultural evolution and draws on prior art from Israel, it works in both countries because the relevant aspects of their political systems are similar. It really is a workable plan for rent-seeking in any system that values disciplined voting blocks. Also, do you think these ultra-Orthodox groups would not be able to adapt to participation in the regular economy if their sources of government support dried up? I have the impression that they would be able to adapt very well, and are presently just taking advantage of their exceptionally favorable position to take advantage of government support. However, I'm sure you know more about them than I do, so I'd be curious to hear what you think. Obviously, they don't live in a utopia; some pathologies are the inevitable lot of every human society. However, when it comes to those measures of social pathology that do vary a lot among different communities, most notably violent crime and breakdown of public order, it seems like they are doing exceptionally well. Also, I should note that when it comes to some kinds of inevitable social pathologies, I have a very unfavorable view of the ways they are handled by modern institutions, so this could make me biased in favor of more traditional communities. But these are complex and difficult issues.

Also, do you think these ultra-Orthodox groups would not be able to adapt to participation in the regular economy if their sources of government support dried up? I have the impression that they would be able to adapt very well, and are presently just taking advantage of their exceptionally favorable position to take advantage of government support. However, I'm sure you know more about them than I do, so I'd be curious to hear what you think.

The short answer to this is I don't know. Over the last hundred years the ultra-orthodox have adopted a set of attitudes that has little in the way of historical precursors. Those attitudes include 1) a much more negative attitude towards secular schooling than existed previously and 2) an attitude that any line of work other than constant study of religious texts is bad 3) a strong aversion to interacting with people outside their own groups, even for business purposes. This makes it very difficult for them to do much other than this sort of rent-seeking behavior. However, in the other direction the more moderate end of the charedim have had some success getting jobs. A fair number are now doing work in IT or some actuarial jobs that mini... (read more)

Thanks for the answer! Looking at your comment and googling around a bit, it seems like I may have some significant misconceptions about various groups within the contemporary Judaism and their relations between each other and the wider world, especially on the Orthodox end of the spectrum. (For example, I just realized that my imagined Venn diagram of several of the groups you've mentioned was flawed.) Do you maybe know of some good book that has a comprehensive explanation of these divisions, preferably with reference to the historical context of their development, and also their ancestral geographic origins?

Do you maybe know of some good book that has a comprehensive explanation of these divisions, preferably with reference to the historical context of their development, and also their ancestral geographic origins?

Not really. As far as I'm aware most of the history books on this sort of thing are either books which focus on a specific group, or are books about the history of Jews from a very long time, and thus don't have as much focus on the last few hundred years when the modern divisions have arose. I've been told that Hayim Ben-Sasson's "A History of the Jewish People" is in general a good book written from a modern, scholarly perspective. It has a section on the modern era which should be good. I haven't read it myself though. I'm not aware of any book that focuses specifically on the chassidim which is what one would probably want. I suspect such books exist, but you can do a Google search as easily as I can, and I'm not going to be able to evaluate the books in any useful way.

However, the main divisions aren't that complicated to summarize, and one doesn't need much detail to have the context to follow things like New York Times articles about them. Data dump fol... (read more)

Thanks for the informative reply! As you note, however, the topic really is too complex to address in a single comment. For one, if I understand correctly, you're writing only about various Ashkenazi groups -- and one of the issues I find most puzzling is how they relate to the other geographic/linguistic/ethnic Jewish groups and their subdivisions. Another question where I can't find a clear answer is the relationship of various local Jewish groups with national governments, both in Israel and in other countries. In particular, in many countries there is the institution of "Chief Rabbi" that enjoys some government recognition, but which Jewish groups stand behind those? As for the attitude towards the State of Israel, my understanding is that religious Jews generally support it, except for an ultra-Orthodox fringe who believe that Zionism is an irreverent mockery, since it lacks explicit (Messianic?) signs of support from God, and it has created a secular state, which they dislike for obvious reasons. However, I have no idea where exactly on the Orthodox spectrum these ideas become prevalent, and I also don't know whether there is a significant opposition between more moderate anti-Zionist Orthodox groups and Neturei Karta (and perhaps other such groups that I don't know about?). Of course, I'm sure all these questions are further complicated by the contrast between the official leadership proclamations and the situation on the ground, just like it is for various conflicts between Christian denominations.

As for the attitude towards the State of Israel, my understanding is that religious Jews generally support it, except for an ultra-Orthodox fringe who believe that Zionism is an irreverent mockery...

This is a good (even the best) first step in the process of going from confusion to knowledge, but it's mostly wrong, somewhat less enlightening than replacing the concept of a banana with the concept of molecules, while ignoring atoms and quarks.

"Support [Israel]" doesn't mean only one thing without more context, even in most people's minds, any more than "like people" would if I asked if you "like people". About half the self-identifying Orthodox Jews in Israel and far fewer than that in America do not find any religious justification or basis for the modern state of Israel and are the Chareidim. This includes almost all Chasidim. Worse than not finding warrant for it, there is Talmudic justification for opposing its creation, while reactions to finding it created predictably differ.

The most noticeable members of this group are the dozen or hundred or so portion of the Neturei Karta who spend a lot of time and effort seeking to replace the state with a... (read more)

Thanks for the details. It's unnerving to think that there's drastically more detail behind the details, but I'm interested in whatever you want to write about them.
This just came to mind, in honor of the Passover holiday. As the Paschal sacrifice was/is an individual rather than communal sacrifice, it doesn't rely on having an intact temple or valid religious authority and certainly not a Messiah. Three types of issues prevent it from being done today. First are the religious ones as the exact nature of things now is not what they were then, but they are of a kind that are well within the limits of what precedent would call solved. The analogy between the past and present does not break down in a meaningful way as it does for other sacrifices and rituals. Second are the tradition-based ones. Just as the Religious Zionists go to the sources with the bottom line of "go along with what the non-Orthodox Jews are doing" already written in pencil (not ink), Chareidim have the bottom line of "change nothing". For example, weather and calendar century are not considered good enough reasons to change one's manner of dress from one's parent. As the Chareidim consider Religious Zionists blasphemous idol worshipers for writing their bottom line before reflecting on the will of the LORD, so too may Religious Zionists consider Chareidim derelict for deciding not to change their bottom line of continuing to not bring the Paschal offering. (Look for this type of issue to come up again [in snide remarks over kiddush] in the fall between Chabad and the rest of the Orthodox world as Chabad has developed the tradition of not sleeping in Succot booths, since the law clearly exempts one from doing so when it is cold and it was cold that time of year all the time in Russia. Now their custom is to never sleep there, and they do not, regardless of local weather.) It would be a change for Chareidim to conclude it was important to fulfill this commandment, and they do not so conclude, or lobby for the right to do so. That brings us around to the third reason, that Israel forbids it. The secular state annually blocks Religious Zionists from offerin
This is actually more or less how I imagined it (though of course I'm nowhere as familiar with all the details). Thanks for the very informative comments.
A certain historical factor is important here, I will try to expand on it. World religions are similar in that many have more liberal branches, more mystical branches, more conservative branches, more textualist branches, etc. For example, Sufiism and modern Breslov (Breslev/Bratslov) Chassidism or original Chassidism are similar mystical responses to institutional monotheism (however, the similarity here might be partially caused by direct Sufi influence on Judaism rather than convergent development). Similarly, different religions have produced people believing variously that: modern dating methods are fatally flawed, the Earth was created as if billions of years old, scripture was meant allegorically, scripture was not divinely given, or that the whole tradition is invalid. It is a matter of playing whack-a-mole in which one must admit to some unpleasant conclusions, but not all, and interpretation determines which. Religious Zionism was the centrist movement in religious Judaism around the founding of the state, the median and mode Orthodoxy, and probably the mean as well, to the extent that means anything. It was the result of biased interpretation of tradition and text to be in accord with the majority of Jews. This happened due to historical exigency and under circumstances that may well have been extreme enough to invoke such a reading under the tradition's own principles. What's important is that a secular twentieth-century movement was justified in a religious community. For a while Religious Zionists were heroes of the state and people, the secular majority's link to traditional Judaism, traditional justifications for Israel, and its evidence its conflict with the Chareidim wasn't simply the result of secular anti-Orthodox prejudice. This is what one would expect, considering that creating this unity was the justification for non-traditionalism. Yet, like all religions, Religious Zionism got stuck. Once the social milieu changed, it could not alter its
Fundamentalism is less prone to certain pitfalls than centrism. The more details one adds to an account, the more plausible it sounds but the less probable it is. Likewise, if I give you a grocery list with both categories of things and specific things, the more specific things I put under a category, the less likely it is I want something not listed that is in that category. If I wrote on the list "Many kinds of bread, white bread, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, bagels, whole wheat bread, and pumpernickel," it sounds more plausible that I want a bialy than if I only wrote "Many kinds of bread," which only has four bread related words. Someone with the latter list will have to take some initiative, while with the former it is possible to simply buy the breads on the list and pretend inaction is not a type of action, and that one has not made an independent decision. It is at least true that given the first list it's highly unlikely the bread product I want most is a bialy. We might still expect that someone who wrote the first list might like bialys more than someone who wrote the second list, simply because the author of the first list has indicated enthusiasm for bread products by writing so much about them. This is because we are used to normal human authors who emphasize by repetition, but if we know the author to be strictly logical, we will understand that the request on the second list is broader and more open-ended than that on the first. The barbarity and tedium of the Old Testament are both partially caused by enumerations of who to kill, and how, and when, in great detail (doubly so for bringing sacrifices and matters of purity [which includes lineages]). A normal human author, like those who actually wrote the texts, expressed their shortcomings thereby. Pretending the texts were written by a logical, autistic, single person turns this on its head. The more detail appended to when to kill, the less its a reinforcing admonishment against our innate hu
Lessdazed gave what seems to me to be a good answer to most of these questions so I'll just address the remaining one (which unfortunately is one of the one's I don't know as much about.) The Chief Rabbi as a separate institution evolved when in the late Middle Ages the various European states wanted official representatives of the Jewish population to talk to the government. Since for many purposes Jews were often autonomous groups this was the primary method of interaction. Somewhat similarly, in some places such as England, all recognized religions had to have a recognized chief clergy member who was actually considered to serve the monarch. For essentially historical reasons, this job has been generally taken up by a prominent Orthodox Rabbi in most countries where the title exists. In some countries with small Jewish populations (such as Norway and New Zealand) there's very rarely more than one Orthodox Rabbi and so this individual becomes the Chief Rabbi more or less by default. In countries with larger Jewish communities this position can be surrounded by heavy politics and other considerations. Also in some countries the Chief Rabbi is not actually a government recognized position but is the term used to refer to a certain position overseeing some large organization of shulls.
Thanks for all the info. For whatever reason, even though I usually have no problem finding and sorting out information about complicated and controversial topics, I find this one (i.e. the general topic of Jewish religious and ethnic divisions) very difficult to systematize, and your comments have clarified a lot. Of course, even I was much more knowledgeable about the topic, I'd still consider it a valuable opportunity to hear the perspective of someone who has some insider knowledge but nevertheless strives for objectivity.
It's deeply unsustainable in the sense that geometric population growth of any kind is unsustainable in the long run, yes. I don't know if it's unsustainable in the sense you seem to mean it. Every community is in a sense free-riding off of other communities (public goods in general); no complete accounting exists for Kiryas Joel, although the last quarter of the NYT article is basically discussing whether Kiryas Joel is a drain or not, with no clear conclusion. And the question strikes me as pretty much a distraction; if you don't like Kiryas Joel, one could look at more 'respectable' high-growth groups and ask the same Hansonian questions; the Amish and Mennonites come to mind as groups rarely criticized for being welfare queens and with high growth rates (sufficiently so that they keep spreading out and moving out of Pennsylvania to find farmland). Unfortunately, their rates are not so high as to be as dramatic as Kiryas Joel.
I find the second parenthetical statement deeply, viscerally terrifying. I'm going to tap out in terms of my personal rationality on this issue, but I would just like to ask all the interesting questions this raises: Will significant human natural selection happen before the extinction of the human race? If it were to happen, would it be a very bad thing?
Relax. These are genuinely nice people, even though they dress funny.

Genuinely nice people who still prevent people who, like me and (presumably) you, are cognitively atypical, from finding similar people across the world to socialize with.

and the thousand other awesome things about the world we have created for ourselves.

and the thousand other awesome things about the world we will create.

I don't want to tile the world with tiny genuinely nice people.

Consider various other groups that are presently in the process of demographic and migratory expansion, and whose typical members are similarly different from you, but whom it is low-status to rail against (and apt to invoke accusations of bigotry and extremism), unlike when it comes to fringe Christian groups. Does contemplating them fill you with similar fear and hostility?

I can think of groups but I am not sure if they count as similarly different from me. I experience fear and hostility but it is dissimilar and weaker. I consciously suppress it because I am aware that it is silly. It sometimes takes me a period of time to realize that a specific instance is silly. It seems like the question at issue is whether fringe Christian groups are different enough that it is right to fear them or whether they are similar enough that it is wrong to fear them.

So when you catch yourself feeling fear and hostility towards some demographically expanding group that is not a fringe Christian group, so that in polite society it would be seen as disreputable and extremist to dislike and fear them, you start with the a priori assumption that it is silly and wrong to fear them and you try to suppress your fear consciously. In contrast, when it comes to demographically expanding fringe Christian groups, you start with the a priori assumption that it is eminently reasonable to dislike and fear them. And it doesn't seem to you like there might be some slight bias there?

(I tried to come up with a more charitable interpretation of your comment, but this looks like the plain meaning of what you wrote.)

I object to your use of "a priori". I am aware of ironclad arguments that it is incorrect to dislike and fear certain groups. These arguments are not fully general - they do not apply to all groups. Is it obvious to you that these cases are symmetrical? It is not obvious to me. I never claimed to be unbiased. I, in fact, went out of the way to state a lack of confidence in my local rationality.
Seeing your reply to Eugine Nier, I must admit that your position is more thought out than I had assumed. I still disagree with your view, and I think your arguments are significantly biased. However, as much as I'd like to try and straighten out the issue, I think getting into this discussion would lead too far into problematic ideologically sensitive topics. So I guess it would be best if we could respectfully agree to disagree at this point.
Could you summarize, at whatever level of detail is possible without problematic idealogically sensitive topics, where you differ from my views and what statements I made you disagree with?
It seems to me that your criteria for evaluating the potential for trouble with various groups, given the present global demographic, ideological, and other trends, are seriously flawed. But getting into concrete details here is impossible without making a whole bunch of controversial and potentially inflammatory statements, so I really think the topic is best left alone.
Really, I'm skeptical. Can we hear them?

The argument is one of symmetry.

a.These groups are genetically almost identical to me. In the same situation as me, they would behave no worse than me.

b. Most of my cultural differences from these groups are morally insignificant. For instance, I would prefer that they speak my language so that I can more easily understand them, but from an objective perspective it makes just as much sense to demand that I speak their languages.

c. The other differences are memetically weak. Take the example of women's rights. Some developing countries have attitudes towards women's rights worse than any developed country, but they are not worse than past attitudes in developed countries. The same cultural changes that enabled us to free ourselves from these bad memes will enable them to free themselves as well.

Therefore, these people, if given resources, will put them to a use no worse than people from my culture would.

The Amish rejection of modern technology meme appears to me to be: 1, morally significant - leads to badstuff, and 2, memetically strong, having won its founding battle with Post-Enlightenment memes and showing no signs of losing any others.

I do not understand why it is obvious to th... (read more)


I sometimes feel like there is a shadowy half-underground group of LWers that is intelligent enough to stay away from bad signalling and has altruistic intentions, but has to deal every now and then with a slight twitch, reading something knowing they can't really state a proper response. It feels like there is almost a court nod when we read and comment each other's posts and hope inferential distance keeps disturbances away. It so tempting some times, it is almost like I just have to say out loud the unspeakable and a few will contact me and I'll be sure.

Other times I'm just afraid I'm sitting in a room having tea with the socoioeconomic Eldrich abominations teasing me with a wicked grin as everyone else moves obliviously to them, asking me if I'm certain that I haven't lost it.

Suppose this is a test, anyone who knows what I'm talking about please PM the right answer.

I sometimes feel like there is a shadowy half-underground group of LWers that is intelligent enough to stay away from bad signalling and has altruistic intentions, but has to deal every now and then with a slight twitch, reading something knowing they can't really state a proper response.

(linked comment) Delusions that are truly widely held and not merely believed to be widely held are far too dangerous to attack. There are sociopolitical Eldritch Abominations that it would serve LW well to stay well clear of and perhaps even pretend they don't exist for the time being.

The next time you feel that way, make yourself another identity, and use it to say the things you wouldn't otherwise. It really is quite liberating. It's very rare for a delusion to really be too strong to attack, especially here; it is only that you fear backlash.

As for the discussion this appeared in, let me get the unpleasant truths out of the way so we can stay meta: Intelligence is mostly heritable! Knowing someone's race conveys nonzero information about their their social status, suitability for jobs, wealth, and criminality! The gender imbalances in many professions are the result of innate differences, not discrimination! When groups with bad values and lower intelligence breed too much, it harms the future! These are all truths that any sufficiently advanced rationalist will recognize. And if you disagree with any of these, please direct your complaints to no one in particular.

All the 'unpleasant truths' you list seem to be facets of a single underlying issue of genetics. I consider none of them particularly shocking, especially in the weak forms you use there. Damn near any observable fact related to a given person will 'convey nonzero information about their their [sic] social status," so if you're going to use this persona to say what you otherwise couldn't get away with, how about you fill out your theory with some policy suggestions, or at least more specific predictions?

Careful; LW doesn't seem to scandalize easily, as this thread hilariously demonstrates as people try to discuss shocking things, and everyone fails to be shocked, so people up the ante by combining cannibalism and pedophilia, and so on, in a positive feedback loop.

Actually, don't be careful. That was a fun thread.

That is an outright brilliant idea, and the next time LW does one of these ridiculous "Everyone post your ever-so-supposedly controversial but rational opinions that actually just amount to outright misanthropy" threads, I'm going to do it.
What? No, it's not brilliant, it's nonsensical. "It's very rare for a delusion to really be too strong to attack, especially here; it is only that you fear backlash." Umm... that's what "too strong to attack" means. It doesn't mean that the arguments for it are intellectually devastating--it means that if you attack them, you will get in trouble. In other words, backlash.
Yes, that's why having a trollacter account mock the whole thing by "playing evil" is funny. It helps that many of these so-called ever-so-controversial "beliefs" are actually evaluative statements wrapped in wannabe-factual trappings.
If there is a group of lesswrongers who covers up their true opinions like so, I am not in it, and my post was not an example of that.
This response made me feel like I should be twirling my moustache and letting out an evil laugh as my fiendishly clever scheme comes to fruition. I fear there are not enough of Professor Quirrell's virtues in me to live up to such a standard. :) Will, I hope I haven't intruded on the conversation too much.
I think the most common socially acceptable thing that is best correlated with being a member of that group is being pro-PUA. What's the best shibboleth we can think of, analogous to asking if someone likes the taste of beer?

a.These groups are genetically almost identical to me. In the same situation as me, they would behave no worse than me.

Depending on which groups you're talking about this isn't completely obvious.

c. The other differences are memetically weak. Take the example of women's rights. Some developing countries have attitudes towards women's rights worse than any developed country, but they are not worse than past attitudes in developed countries. The same cultural changes that enabled us to free ourselves from these bad memes will enable them to free themselves as well.

I think you're looking only at the superficial memes. It's entirely possible that there are more subtly cultural factors, e.g., belief in progress, openness to new ideas, that are responsible for both our development of modern technology and our adoption of different attitudes toward women. Of course, now that the technology has been invented, they can import it without necessarily importing the memetic baggage.

Also, as Eliezer pointed out here even the most liberal person from the 18th century, say Ben Franklin, if transported to today would be so shocked by all the changes to prevailing morality that he might eve... (read more)

[E]ven the most liberal person from the 18th century, say Ben Franklin, if transported to today would be so shocked by all the changes to prevailing morality that he might even conclude that the monarchists were right about man not being fit to govern himself.

Well, that is basically the modern prevailing doctrine, though of course it's never spelled out so bluntly. The contemporary respectable opinion pays lip service to the idea of democracy in the abstract, but as soon as any really important issues are raised, it is considered incontrovertible that policy should be crafted by professional bureaucracies under the gentle and enlightened guidance of accredited experts. In fact, one of the surest paths to being scorned as a low-status extremist or troglodyte is to argue that an expression of popular will should override the decisions favored by the expert/bureaucratic establishment in some particular case.

Is this as true in non-US countries at is true in the US?
Generally speaking, it is even more true of other countries that are commonly recognized as democratic, though in some places that have authentic local democratic traditions there are still strong holdovers (e.g. in Switzerland). In Europe, in particular, the EU institutions are almost completely insulated from any real popular input. Not that this is a wholly bad thing, of course. Democracy works only in very specific cultural conditions that can't be established and reproduced at will, and arguably only on small scales. Otherwise, it usually produces a rapid and often bloody disaster. Thus, I'd say that the present standard of having a bureaucratic oligarchy with a veneer of democratic institutions is almost everywhere less bad than authentic democracy would be. (Though I'm not too terribly optimistic about its prospects either.)
I get the impression that it's even worse in Europe.
So my impression was based on this data: This kind of tendency in the US is connected to a desire for bipartisanship which comes from a veto-point-ridden legislative system which is not a common feature in Europe In Europe I understand that it's accepted that the people put a party in power and the party decides what happens, vs. in America people think that a grand bargain between the elites of both parties is necessary - but that is not necessarily what you're talking about.
From what I've seen here in France, you'd have something like what Vladimir_M describes without bipartisanship. I prefer the French system with runoff elections, which means that "minor parties" have a real chance, because it brings bigger diversity of positions to public debates, which seems healthy for political and intellectual life (and it may make politics less polarized than in the US, though they are still quite polarized). But despite those aspects, I don't think it changes much for the relationship between the bureaucracy and elected officials.
OK, I am thinking of something different.
Most European countries have multi-party systems, which have an even greater need for negotiations and compromise. Also Europe has the EU whose bureaucratic institutions are far more developed than its democratic ones.
This is an extremely good comment.
Well we may all be well and truly doomed. Or we may not be. We don't have a lot of evidence one way or another in this regard. I THINK our memes are strong enough that we can incrementally lift people out of the shadows. I think that a belief in progress in European culture was the result, not the cause, of progress. But I don't know. & aren't Amish people exactly those Ben Franklins?
I don't think so at all. Many become ex-Amish. Yet during the 18th century it wasn't an option to become ex-18th century. Likewise, no matter how innately conservative an American is, very few will be monarchist, and will instead espouse positions that were once only espoused by those with contrarian or radical natures. See also evaporative cooling of group beliefs. Not to mention the Amish at least know of so many modern things.
Except perhaps for those who lived long enough, and hung out in the right circles, to become 19th century?
Would you agree that all of the people who are still Amish take a Ben Franklin - like stance? The Ben Franklins we are discussing no of modern things. Ben Franklin himself, who did not know of modern things, brought us closer to modernity because he thought 1800 was better than 1750. If Ben Franklin knew about 2000, it is theorized, he might be so horrified that he would reject 1800 as leading to (gasp!) 2000, and so not invent fire departments and electricity and democracy, hyperbolically speaking. Those who choose to remain Amish make this same choice. The correct response to our Amish is more-or-less the correct response to developing country holdouts or to time-traveling Ben Franklins. This could include: Developing better arguments to convince them to join modernity. Improving conditions for ourselves until our awesomeness convinces them to join modernity. Letting them take up more and more land. Letting them take up the same amount of land but not allowing them to get additional land (through an increased price of land due to increased population density?) Leaving them be but preventing them from raising children to think the same way. Something more radical and ethically dubious. Something different but no more radical.
I'd go for a combination of these two. To the extent that their way works better, let them reap the economic rewards for such; to the extent that our way works better, let them either recognize and emulate or drown in their own willful ignorance.
The best strategy is not the strategy that maximizes long-term resource ownership.
If a given population is expanding and buying up a particular sort of real estate, my first guess is that they have a comparative advantage at making use of that sort of real estate and are more-or-less rationally taking advantage of that. People using comparative advantages to produce gains from trade is one of the cornerstones of the modern economy, from which everyone involved tends to benefit. Are you advocating taking resources away from those who could demonstrably make better use of them, for ideological reasons, and if so under what conditions?
So suppose group A has a rule of never taking loans from outside, and never selling capital or real estate to outside. It seems like they should be able to slowly grow in size even if they are very inefficient, no? Essentially the problem is if the Amish discount the future less than we do, they win the future. So maybe the problem is that we're discounting the future more than is morally appropriate? Can we fix that?
Not really. Without some edge over other potential uses for that land, they'd eventually overstretch and collapse (if they loan to each other, even in hopeless cases), or reach an equilibrium where they're losing land to things like property taxes, probate, and adverse possession as fast as they're buying it up. I can imagine a future scenario where Amish people own all arable land on Earth and everybody else lives in skyscrapers, arcologies, space stations, or some combination thereof. It seems weird, sure, but 1) I would take that as strong evidence that they're simply better at making use of arable land, since they'd still be selling food to everyone else and competing with e.g. terrain-independent hydroponics, and 2) they seem to have little or no interest in expanding beyond the agriculture and specialty-manufacturing industries, and that's the kind of thing where who does it isn't as important as how well it gets done. Shortsightedness has a well-known tendency to lead to longterm losses, yes. This goes back to basic rationality: if someone else is doing what you claim to want to do, and doing it better than you are, you'd better either start doing it their way, or figure out what you really want.
I forgot about property-taxes and things. I think that those are basically, pretty much, a way of us unfairly stealing their land. However there are no ethical issues with it - so I think that makes sense. As we become more awesome, property values + property taxes will rise until low-tech agriculture cannot compete.
I usually model taxes as payment for various services, like police and fire department coverage and roads. If they had to handle those things themselves, that would take money that they could otherwise use for expansion, and could in some cases result in them being unable to use land because they can't afford the relevant infrastructure, or having to sell land in one place to pay for infrastructure in another. It is plausible that it would be more efficient for them to handle those things themselves, but not immediately obvious that that's the case, at least. The economy of scale involved in having the government handle those things might outweigh any corruption or inefficiency or tendency to reallocate funds to programs that don't benefit the group in question.
I haven't studied the Amish in very much detail, but I mostly have a positive impression of them - the impression I get is not that they reject technology as much as they value community over technology, and will reject innovation that risks disrupting the community. What I read of their views some years ago seemed quite reasonable. Modernity can be quite disruptive (look at Africa), and lot of people claim that some things are fundamentally wrong in modern American society (though they might disagree about what exactly, and arguably people have been saying similar things since the start of Civilization), so it makes sense to be cautious. I don't see that as leading to badstuff, especially if it stays a minority.
Should we become Amish? If you were teleported into an Amish person's life, would you leave? My visceral fear is created not by their existence, but by the potential that they will not remain a minority. Could you see badstuff resulting from them becoming a much larger percentage of the population?
1Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
Should we become Amish? Probably not. If I were teleported into an Amish person's life, would I leave? No, I think I would stay. In some ways I think it would suit my personality better than the life I currently live.
I would like to "flag" this post as the point where "experienc[ing] fear and hostility" was warped into "feeling fear and hostility towards". That makes comments below subject to equivocation. It does not mean anything, at least not any one thing, to "[feel] fear and hostility towards" anything. The fear and hostility are in the brain and do not emanate therefrom. This is more than a semantic quibble. Consider the fallacy of composition. It is possible for a liberal to hate all poor people and love the poor, and for a Confederate soldier to have hated blacks and loved all blacks. I don't think "dislike and fear certain groups" is precise enough to have an non-careful conversation about because it is more than one thing.
I don't understand the relevant linguistic distinction here; it might be some finesse of English grammar that eludes me. Does saying "fear and hostility towards X" imply some observable action motivated by these feelings? The sort of "fear and hostility" I had in mind is of the same sort as your hypothetical liberal's love of the poor.
I'm a native English speaker, and I did not understand the comment either.

I don't want to tile the world with tiny genuinely nice people.

Beats the word eventually being tiled with very genuinely not nice people.

That is a true moral statement.
They're genuinely nice... aside from the Meidung, the restricted life opportunities and lack of many freedoms, whatever sexual (rape & incest, sometimes enabled by anesthetic) abuses are covered up by social structures, and all the other problems they have from our perspective. Let's not idealize them.
Indeed, but even if you take the worst imaginable view of them, you still have to admit that they respect the "good fences -- good neighbors" principle. I see no prospect that they might cease doing so in the foreseeable future, even if they expand greatly. I sure won't be joining them anytime soon, but this still makes it irrational for me to be frightened by them, considering all the the high-status mainstream people whose Meidung I have to fear if I speak my mind with too much liberty, who limit my freedoms and opportunities in ways I find suffocating and frustrating, and who run the presently powerful institutions with an incomparably worse record of abuses. (The latter often aren't even covered up in an active and planned way, but rather kept from scrutiny merely by the high status of the institutions in question, making it a self-destructive status-lowering move just to start arguing against them.)
What exactly is "natural selection" in this context? For example, smallpox is no longer part of our environment. Surely the absence of smallpox will have some effect on the gene pool. Would this count as natural selection? By the way, I also find it a bit troubling that at least for the time being, secularism seems to be on track to extinction.
Yes, but not significant in the sense I am using it here. Natural selection is changes in the frequency of genes not planned by wise and well-intentioned humans. Significant natural selection is when this leads to a shift in the fundamental values of the human race.
In that case, I would say that the answer is clearly "yes," in the sense that significant natural selection is taking place at a rapid clip in the present day. For example, the percentage of people in the world with blue eyes has surely dropped significantly over the last 100 years.
Technically using my odd definitions the debate on blue eyes is irrelevant because: Blue eyes do not shift the fundamental values of the human race. I think.
Fine, but now you need to specify what you mean by "fundamental values of the human race." :) (By the way, I recall that there are studies out there corellating eye color with personality traits. I'm not sure if this affects the example I gave, but surely there are other genes which affect personality traits in subtle ways. And it seems likely that some of those personality traits affect a person's fertility given that a lot of people in the West flat out decide not to reproduce. So it's reasonable to suppose that natural selection, as you have defined it, continues in the present and affects human attributes less superficial than eye color.)
Because blue eyes are recessive and blue and brown eyed populations have mixed more than they used to? How is that an example of natural selection in progress?
Because blue eyes are found mainly in people of European descent and the percentage of world population of European descent has dropped quite a bit with the population booms in Asia and Africa.
Ok, but that's mostly because you use that particular cutoff point, European decended populations just have gone through the demographic transition earlier and their share of world population is similar to what it was in 1750. It has nothing to do with any selection against blue eyes in the usual sense.
Well that brings us back to the question of what you mean by "natural selection" which you defined earlier as It sounds like you are limiting natural selection to frequency changes which are a direct result of the effects of the genes in question. Is that right?
That wasn't me, and I said "in the usual sense" specifically because the context was Will's (unusual) definition. I differentiate between selection and genetic drift like usually done and the case of blue eyes would be an example of the latter. I think the difference is normally described as selection being a consistent non-random effect. Personally I'd describe it as an effect on the relative frequencies caused by the presence of the gene.
I apologize for confusing you with him. Okay, well I would still guess that natural selection is going at a good clip these days. For example it seems pretty likely that the gene for twinning is spreading pretty fast.
In the absence of a Singularity? Who knows. Evolution wins eventually, somehow, but the details matter a great deal. That is the fundamental question of this post. Kevin Kelly argues in a somewhat related essay, http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/11/the_origins_of.php , that evolution winning might not even stop progress.
There are plausible scenarios for a singleton control without singularity. Our institutions could outpace evolution at the rate they get smarter and eventually decide to stop it. You'd just need to build some highly stable, global architecture. But nothing is perfectly stable. So I'm going to agree with your contention that Who, in fact, knows. Genetic evolution winning causes irreversible negative progress. If human value is complex, then genetic evolution necessarily destroys information about human value - information that will not be replaced because our descendants will not want to replace it. The question is how much value?
Has the article been withdrawn? The link to it doesn't work, and searching on Kiryas Joel doesn't turn up anything.
Huh? Which article? Gwern's article is here. Do you mean the NYT article?
No, the post to LW.
Right here. Note also that you can click from a comment to the general thread by clicking on the name of the thread at the way top of the comment.
Thanks. Your link worked. Clicking on the name of the thread at the top of the comment led to a "this page does not exist" notification.

The likely outcome of a Malthusian/Darwinian upload scenario isn't many near-subsistence human-like lives, it's something seriously inhuman and probably valueless. The analogy is incredibly weak.

You know, his scenario of erasing humanity as a byproduct of an optimization process indifferent to human values amounts to the unfriendly AI scenarios we discuss, just relaxing the requirement that the optimization process be sentient. I wonder if the following is a valid generalization of the specific problem that motivates the MIRI folks: Our ability to scale up and speed up achievement of goals has outpaced or will soon outpace our ability to find goals that we won't regret.
Thanks for the link to that Nick Bostrom paper. It's the best writing I've yet seen on the posthuman prospect.
Or, more succinctly, if we don't solve coherent extraoplated volition, we are screwed regardless of whether Kruel or Yudkowski is right about the specific threat of unfriendly AI.

I recently ran into an interesting description of the Ik people in Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies (copy):

"The Ik are a people of northern Uganda who live at what must surely be the extreme of deprivation and disaster. A largely hunting and gathering people who have in recent times practiced some crop planting, the Ik are not classifiable as a complex society in the sense of Chapter 2. They are, nonetheless, a morbidly fascinating case of collapse in which a former, low level of social complexity has essentially disappeared.

Due to drought and disruption by national boundaries of the traditional cycle of movement, the Ik live in such a food- and water-scarce environment that there is absolutely no advantage to reciprocity and social sharing. The Ik, in consequence, display almost nothing of what could be considered societal organization. They are so highly fragmented that most activities, especially subsistence, are pursued individually. Each Ik will spend days or weeks on his or her own, searching for food and water. Sharing is virtually nonexistent. Two siblings or other kin can live I side-by-side, one dying of starvation and the other well nourished, without the l

... (read more)

I recently became aware of some news stories that shed some additional light on this debate:

Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse

Sex abuse victim driven out of shull

Yeshiva U sex abuse extended beyond high school for boys, probe Finds

This is also relevant to the discussion Vladimir_M and and JoshuaZ had about whether or not the community had the ability to control social pathologies better than mainstream society (specifically it supports JoshuaZ's position).

My own view on the overall debate is that it doesn't matter if Kiryas Joel is happy or not. Happiness that comes from having mistaken beliefs isn't valuable. The majority of Ultra-orthodox Jews hold a false belief that they are giving up a normal life in order to serve a supernatural creature. Since the creature they are serving isn't real, their lives are much, much worse than they think they are. An analogous situation might be a person who gains happiness from donating money to help starving refugees, without knowing that the refugees were made up by a con-man who is really lining his own pockets with the donations.

This sex-abuse scandal means that the inhabitants of Kiryas Joel are even worse o... (read more)

Why not? Or, rather, in which sense do you use the word "valuable" here?
I mean that people in general do not value happiness that comes from mistaken beliefs. For instance, people generally want to know the answer to questions like "Is my spouse cheating on me?" "Has my child been kidnapped?" and "Do the refugees I'm donating money to really exist?" They want to know the answer to these questions even if the answer will make them unhappy. There are people who engage in acts of denial. But when encountering and reading about these people I am not given the impression that they are acting out of a rational and coherent desire to feel good by holding false beliefs. Rather, they are acting out of an irrational and incoherent desire to somehow stop the bad things from happening by denying their existence. Of course, it would be theoretically possible to create some sort of creature that did value the happiness caused by mistaken beliefs. But it seems to me that creating such a creature would be a bad thing. Creatures with such inhuman, ignoble desires should not come into existence (although it may be wrong to kill one if you screw up and create it). I am also not saying there is never any reason to believe comforting falsehoods. If a mad scientist threatened to torture me for decades unless I pressed a button that would cause me to believe some comforting falsehood I'd do it. The disvalue of the torture, in that case, outweighs the disvalue of holding a mistaken belief. Similarly, it may be that some people cannot properly control their emotional responses to certain knowledge, and will end up an emotional wreck who cannot function if they find out some horrible truth. In that case it may be better to believe a comforting falsehood. However, that is not because the happiness from the falsehood is valuable, rather it is because the disvalue of becoming an emotional wreck who cannot function outweighs the disvalue of having a mistaken belief. This is analogous to the torture situation, except in this case the torturer is your own emotiona
Mistaken from whose point of view? For example, you think religious people don't value their happiness that comes from their religious beliefs? I would think that they do, very much so. Would you say that they all engage in denial? I am not speaking of the cases where you deliberately close your eyes and, basically, block off certain truths from your mind. I am speaking of sincerely believing things which other people think are mistaken or wrong.
This doesn't seem to follow. Ghatanathoah says that "...people in general do not value happiness that comes from mistaken beliefs." A religious person will not consider their religious beliefs mistaken, and will therefore value any happiness that comes from them; even if they do not value happiness that comes from mistaken beliefs. If they, at some point, decide that those beliefs were mistaken, then that will of course change; but in making that decision, the person no longer holds those beliefs in any case.
In the case of the "fictional refugees" that I mentioned earlier the person donating money to the conman certainly valued the happiness it gave him very much. But he was mistaken to value that happiness, because it came from a mistaken belief (namely, that the money he was giving the conman was benefiting refugees). It's possible to attach a mistaken value to something, if you hold mistaken beliefs about it. There are some teachings of religion that are good things to follow regardless of whether or not you believe in the religion, these being basic moral lessons like "don't hurt people." But there are other teachings religions have that are only justified by the belief that there exists a supernatural creature who wants us to follow them, and we have a duty to obey that creature. The lifestyle the people of Kiryas Joel lead is based on the second type of teachings. I explicitly think these teachings are wrong, that such a supernatural creature doesn't exist, and that we wouldn't necessarily be obligated to obey it if it did exist. If these precepts are false, than any happiness those people derive from their piety is based on mistaken beliefs. In that case it would be better to call their beliefs mistaken or deluded than in denial. But yes, I basically do believe that all religious beliefs are mistaken, deluded, or in denial. How could I believe otherwise without becoming religious myself?
I am still confused. Let's take a person, say, Alice. Alice believes in Jesus. In fact, she believes in Jesus with all her heart and Jesus' love is the bright spot in her otherwise dreary life of quiet desperation. She gets a lot of happiness from her religious beliefs. You think that she is mistaken and deluded, Christianity's teachings are wrong, and her happiness is based on mistaken beliefs. Given all this, what does your phrase "happiness that comes from having mistaken beliefs isn't valuable" mean in this context?
One thing it could mean is that if Alice came to believe her beliefs were mistaken, she would no longer value the happiness that they engendered; she would not willingly choose to return to her old confidence in those beliefs, for example, in exchange for getting that happiness back. That said, I expect this is simply false for most Alice.
First, this is true regardless of whether Alice's original beliefs were mistaken or not. It's quite possible for Alice to hold true beliefs and then wrongly decide they were not correct. Second, the phrase says "is not" using unconditional present tense. It does not say "might not be in the future".
Re: first point, yes, that's true. "we don't value happiness that comes from having mistaken beliefs" does not imply "we always value happiness that comes from having true beliefs". Re: point 2... I'm probably misunderstanding you. Consider the following dialog: A: "Drinking poison isn't valuable" B: "But if I give Alice poison and she believes that it's medicine, then she will value drinking poison" A: "Well, I suppose, but if she knew what it was, she wouldn't" B: "But you didn't say 'Drinking poison might not be valuable if you know it's poison.' You just said 'Drinking poison isn't valuable.'" I don't mean to put words in your mouth here... if that's not analogous what you're saying, that's great! I'm misunderstanding you, and hopefully we can identify and address the causes of that misunderstanding. As it is, though, I'm at a loss for how to move forward. What I'm hearing you say is very much analogous to B's position here, which I think is just goofy. We don't value drinking poison, and the fact that we can be mistaken about whether we're drinking poison or not doesn't change that fact. (In local parlance, this is sometimes referred to as the distinction between "desire" and "volition"... Alice might desire to drink poison in this case, but her volition is to drink medicine. I'm not crazy about that language choice, but the distinction itself is important, whatever words we use.)
"Drinking poison" is an action with clear and unambiguous consequences. "Happiness" is a personal emotional state. I don't feel the analogy works well. Consider someone looking at his newborn daughter and feeling great happiness that she is the best, prettiest, most awesome child in the world. Oh, hey, that's technically a mistaken belief, the happiness is not valuable! Consider a medieval European society where life is nasty, brutal, and short, not to mention muddy and itchy. But on Sundays you go to the cathedral, a beautiful building with awe-inspiring stained glass windows and open your heart to unconditional love, forgiveness, and promise of eternal happiness. It makes life worth living -- but, sorry, that's not valuable, your beliefs are wrong even though you don't really have a choice about them (remember, medieval Europe). I think ultimately what ticked me off was the readiness to judge the value of other people's subjective emotional experiences. I am not a fan of such approaches.
OK, I think I now understand your position. Thanks for clarifying.
Formulated another way: happiness that comes from mistaken beliefs is not only unstable, it also prevents you from attaining greater happiness elsewhere. The idea of reflective consistency is relevant, here. If you possessed all relevant true beliefs, you would not be happy in that situation. (And if you disagree, please note that wireheading is very similar to this situation: you've taken control of your reward button and are pushing it without much change to your actual situation. If your utility system doesn't exclude solutions like this, you're going to have trouble when someone figures out a harmless euphoric...)
Do you imply "always prevents", "sometimes prevents", or "could possibly prevent"? Hm. So the equivalent statement would be "Happiness produced by wireheading is not valuable". Two things pop into my head: first, happiness and pleasure are different, wireheading produces the latter but not the former; and second, I still don't understand what does "is not valuable" mean.
Seriously? If I say that a year of happy, healthy, pleasurable life is valuable, it seems to me I've said something admirably clear. If I say that the loss of a year of happy, healthy, pleasurable life is not valuable, I think I've said something equally clear. Do these statements seem ambiguous to you? Can you summarize what their competing interpretations are?
I'm not sure I understand how your comment fits into a bigger picture. Let's say that a person had two options for spending the next year of one's life: 1. A year-long vacation, all expenses paid, allowing one to do whatever one wants except for wireheading. 2. A year-long wireheading session, which will cause one to experience something very close to the maximum possible level of pleasure, for a full year. Due to advanced medical technology, there will be very few, if any, adverse side-effects from this session at the end of the year. Why would a rational person ever choose (1) but not (2) ?

So, I'm not quite sure what your question has to do with my comment, so I suspect we're talking past one another as far as "bigger pictures" go.

But to answer your question, one possibility is that the person expects to spend the year earning enough extra cash (or learning the skills that they can later use to get a higher-paying job, or whatever) that, having done so, they can afford to spend two years wireheading. That is, they are trading pleasure now for more pleasure later.

Another possibility is that the person is committed to some project (say, generating QALYs for others by buying malaria nets, or reducing existential global risk by researching FAI theory, or nurturing their children) and they expect that they will be more productive on that project if they aren't wireheading, and they value the project sufficiently more than their own pleasure that they prefer to make the additional progress on that project rather than experience a maximally pleasurable year.

There are other possibilities.

I was browsing the comments and it looked like the parent thread was about wireheading, but I only skimmed it, so I could be wrong. Right, in both cases, you're basically saying, "there's something else the person could be doing besides wireheading, and that course of action has a higher expected value than a year of wireheading". That's a perfectly reasonable answer. But what if I extended my (imaginary) offer of wireheading to two years, or ten years, or the rest of the person's natural life ? In this case, your first objection (trading off time now for wireheading later) doesn't apply, but your second one (trading off your own pleasure for that of others) still does. But what if we lived in a fictional post-scarcity world where everyone could pick between options (1) and (2) ? Are there still any rational reasons to pick (1) ? The reason I ask is that most people here, myself included, have a strong aversion to wireheading; but I want to figure out if this aversion is rational, or due to some mental bias.
If I don't want wireheading at all, increasing the offered amount of it makes it even worse. Well, why do you not want to wirehead? Or for that matter, why do you think it is rational to want to? You haven't atually said, just posed what looks like a rhetorical question, "why would one not?", that simply presumes it to be obviously desirable, requiring some special effort to demonstrate otherwise. I can see how someone might philosophise themselves into that position, along these lines: pleasure is by definition what we want; therefore wireheading in a machine that delivers maximal pleasure must, if available, be the thing we want most. Is that what you have in mind?
I can't speak for Bugmaster, but for my own part: I value pleasure. If wireheading provides more pleasure than not-wireheading, and doesn't cost anything I value more than pleasure, I endorse wireheading. Those are big 'if's, though. The world in which they are true is not one I can readily imagine, and the easiest means of getting there (e.g., editing me so I don't value anything more than pleasure) I reject outright.
(shrug) Sure, if I live in a world where nothing I do can meaningfully advance anything which I value more than pleasure (either because I don't value anything more than pleasure, or because it's a post-scarcity world where I can't meaningfully add value along any other axis), and I value pleasure at all, then I ought to wirehead, since it's the possible act with the highest expected value. Said more succinctly, if nothing else I do can matter, I might as well wirehead. Relatedly, if we additionally posit that this fictional post-scarcity world is such that I get the same valuable benefits (happiness, pleasure, etc.) whether I wirehead or not, then I no longer ought to wirehead (though neither is it true that I ought not wirehead). In that world nothing I do or don't do matters; there is no act X such that I ought to X or ought not X. Which sounds kind of cool, actually, although I do realize there is social pressure to say otherwise.
Because said rational person does not regard pleasure as a goal. Personally, I wouldn't touch (2) with a bargepole. (I'm not keen on the concept of a "vacation" either, but that's another matter.)
Right, by "vacation", I simply meant, "a year free of any obligations other than those you impose on yourself", and I specified "all expenses paid" to ensure that you won't need to worry about food, shelter, travel, etc. You can do whatever you want during that year (besides wireheading). If what you really want to do is work at your current job, then you can do that too.
What is your attitude to option (2), though?
See my response to TheOtherDave, above.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky10y
I don't particularly want to wirehead, so I pick 1. (Assuming I'm in a situation where I can take a vacation in the first place, but this follows from taking the premise and hypothesis in its intended form.)
Value is basically a measure of desire. The statement "is valuable to me" means "I want it". When you say "is not valuable" I interpret this as "you don't really want it". At this point my instinctual response is to ask "and how do you know what do I want and what do I not want?". Take a close cousin of wireheading -- masturbation. You perform a short, usually solo activity and you get a jolt of pleasure -- very similar to "you've taken control of your reward button and are pushing it without much change to your actual situation". Please estimate the "value".
Yes, of course, "is valuable" is a two-place predicate... in principle, it's meaningless without specifying an agent who judges value. "Valuable to whom?" you might ask... "Me? You? Lemurs? Aliens from Alpha Centauri?" Similarly, "is poisonous" is a two-place predicate. Poisonous to whom? But in practice, I can say "X is poisonous" without any difficulty, and people understand me to mean "X is poisonous to typical humans". Similarly, "X is valuable" seems to unambigously mean "X is valuable to a typical human. So when you say you don't know what it means, I have difficulty taking that claim seriously. For example, I am pretty confident that a typical human values an additional year of happy, healthy, pleasurable life. I am pretty confident that a typical human doesn't value losing a year of happy, healthy, pleasurable life. On that basis, I have no problem saying "an additional year of happy, healthy, pleasurable life is valuable," and I don't think that statement is vague or ambiguous at all, as I said in the first place. I don't know whether we disagree about that, since you didn't answer my question. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe a typical human doesn't value an additional year of happy, healthy, pleasurable life. But even if that's so, it's still not vague or ambiguous, as you suggested initially. It's merely wrong. WRT masturbation, I'm not nearly so confident, but if I had to guess I'd guess that a typical human values it... in other words, that it's valuable.
I read your entire discussion the TheOtherDave and everyone else before replying. He said pretty much everything I would have said in these replies. Reading further through the discussion I found this statement by you: Remember that here I argued that, while happiness based on false beliefs isn't valuable, it isn't necessarily as bad as other negative things. For instance, I pointed out that if a mad scientist offered me a choice between decades of torture, or pressing a button that would alter my memory to make me hold a false belief, I would pick the button. Similarly, if the act of worship prevents someone's life from being utterly miserable (or from being tortured by the Inquisition), it may be the lesser of two evils. I'm pretty sure most people don't literally believe that their child is the best child ever by some objective measure. I think that those are phatic statements, they are meant to express emotions rather than convey factual information. In this case the emotion being expressed is "I really love my daughter." I certainly understand the tremendous moral hazard that comes with attempting to judge how much other people value things. But I don't think I'm out of line in stating that people generally don't place value on happiness that comes from falsehoods. Pretty much all people hate being lied to.
People generally don't place value on happiness that they believe comes from falsehoods.
Just to make sure I understand your position... consider two hypothetical instances of happiness, H1 and H2: * H1is my happiness at believing my relationship with my husband is a loving, honest, open one in which we don't deceive one another, which it in fact is. * H2 is my happiness at believing my relationship with my husband is a loving, honest, open one in which we don't deceive one another, which it in fact isn't. The following seems clear, given that context: * H1 is happiness that comes from truth. * H2 is happiness that comes from falsehood. * Neither H1 nor H2 is happiness that I believe comes from falsehoods... in both cases, my happiness comes from believing the proposition "my relationship with my husband is a loving, honest, open one in which we don't deceive one another" to be truth. Would you disagree with any of the above? If so, we can stop here and address the disagreement. If not, continuing... Suppose hypothetically that I don't value happiness that comes from falsehood, but I otherwise value happiness. In this case, it follows that I value H1 but don't value H2. For example, in this case if after ten years I discovered he'd been lying to me all along, I might feel cheated... I've spent ten years enjoying this happiness that I thought was valuable, when it turns out it wasn't valuable at all, since it came from falsehood. At that point, I'd regret those ten years, and wish I'd known how valueless my happiness was so I could make informed choices about it. Yes? (Again, if you disagree, we can stop here and address it.) Conversely, suppose hypothetically I don't value happiness that I believe comes from falsehood, but I otherwise value happiness. In this case, it follows that I value both H1 and H2. For example, in this case if after ten years I discovered he'd been lying to me all along, I might feel relieved that I hadn't discovered that sooner, because that would have ruined ten years of perfectly valuable happiness. Yes? (Again, if y

Unexpected consequences of the Orthodox growth: Unz points out an apparent massive fall in Jewish academic achievement:

For example, consider California, second only to New York in the total number of its Jews, and with its Jewish percentage far above the national average. Over the last couple of years, blogger Steve Sailer and some of his commenters have examined the complete 2010 and 2012 NMS semifinalist lists of the 2000 or so top-scoring California high school seniors for ethnicity, and discovered that as few as 4–5 percent of the names seem to be Je

... (read more)

If you're living near Malthusian equilibrium, there's probably no smiling involved. Not even the poorest people on Earth are usually living close to that point. In fact, I'm not really sure any modern humans ever have.

Frankly, I doubt the emulated brains would be sentient. Turning that off would make them far more productive, so that would be a logical early development. Happiness is probably a non-question in that case.

You seem to be interpreting Malthusian equilibrium in an odd way, as being at starvation or something. An equilibrium is simply when the population is not growing, when deaths equal births, with many possible permutations and variations. Why aren't the poorest people either currently or historically at equilibriums? In Farewell to Alms, Clark cites examples of how societies can raise per capita welfare in an equilibrium through methods like infanticide (China and the Polynesian islands) or poor sanitation & public health (England).
I could be wrong, but my understanding is that a specifically Malthusian equilibrium attains only at carrying capacity. Though it would be interesting to argue that human carrying capacity is multidimensional and so can be reached without starvation. That's a different argument, though.
The syntax is *Malthusian* or _Malthusian_. See 'Help' at the bottom right of the comment box.
It can. This isn't at issue (see elsewhere on this page). Carrying capacity is defined by subsistence wage, with starvation as the lower bound, and subsistence wages can vary quite a bit. So carrying capacity will vary from time to place to culture to tech level.
Explain your concept of sentience. It seems implausible to me that sentience could be removed without harming productivity, particularly in a realm of existence in which intellectual labour is the only labour.

Read Blindsight.

...OK, so it's a 380-page novel. Still, it's a ripping good read, and it will give you an intuition about why sentience isn't necessary for "intelligence" in the sense of effective goal-oriented behavior.

I'm not certain that that book made a good argument for that position. It was after all, fiction. Is there a serious non-fiction treatment of the question?

Is there a serious non-fiction treatment of the question?

Fortunately, Watts shows his homework and provides an entire appendix explaining the science he is drawing on (as one would expect from a scientist): http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm#Notes

I've read through a number of his references and a few things on his blog like PRISMs, although his main source, philosopher Thomas Metzinger's Being No One, kicked my ass. You want 'serious non-fiction'? Go to.

I also had my ass kicked by Being No One. To anyone interested, the book is worth picking up for the chapters on neuro-phenomenological case studies alone, even if the rest of the book is liable to melt your brain. Metzinger has another book on the subject, The Ego Tunnel, that is supposedly more accessible, but I haven't read it.
In Blindsight, a close relative of Homo sapiens sapiens is described as not consciously sentient but able to intelligently interact socially with humans. This seems unlikely. The not-conscious ET aliens were much more believable, since they were not a close relative. You got the feeling that their interactions with humans had a Chinese room feel to them.
Why? Already non-conscious animals like dogs, chimpanzees, and parrots are capable of some fairly sophisticated social interaction; dogs even understand gestures like pointing.

Already non-conscious animals like dogs, chimpanzees, and parrots

They're not conscious? I must have been in bed with the flu when this was explained to the class.

Yeah this looks like the old conscious/sentient/intelligent conflation (where the middle word seems to serve no purpose but to enable confusing the two on either sides of it...)
I plead guilty to perpetuating the confusion. If I try to be more correct and say something like 'Already non-self-conscious animals like...', then it looks like I have some complex idiosyncratic classification in mind and I mean something more sophisticated than what I do. There's no real good solution here.
I wonder when consciousness evolved in our ancestors? 4 Mya? 2Mya? 500 kya?
An excellent question. I've always enjoyed Julian Jaynes's theory of bicameralism where consciousness only truly developed ~3kya or so.
It makes for a good story, but I really doubt that's the case.
A fair point. Still, it blew my fragile little mind the first time I read it (this being prior to EY's sequences, which IIRC treat the point somewhere).
I did. It was pretty good, man.
Comprehensive self-awareness that we're familiar with as humans. In fact, turning this off is one of the first things we do, we just tend to call it "the zone" or whatever else. We're actually much more productive without it. Nick Bostrom actually posited a world wherein this dynamic prevails in his outsourcing scenario.
I think flow) is the technical term.
Yes there is. Moping around about how miserable your life is wastes resources and is in general not productive.

My mop doesn't mope but it's excellent for mopping and a smile is likewise useless on tile. There's no reason to presume that we couldn't have emotionally dead producers, there just may be no value to anything they do. But they're grandly productive.

Another question is whether the residents of Kiryas Joel are rational. On the one hand, their beliefs and practices seem pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, they seem to be doing a good job of achieving their goals, i.e. to preserve themselves and grow in numbers and influence.

They seem to have instrumental rationality in spades. Epistemic? Not so much.

Are the inhabitants of Kiryas Joel unhappy?

The best way to know that is to ask them if they are happy/unhappy. The next best way is to look at proxy measures of happiness or unhappiness.

Money is an extremely poor proxy measure of happiness. In fact the amount of money that one has is almost completely unimportant to ones happiness (with some obvious exceptions). Ones beliefs about the direction ones money is heading is however fairly important for most peoples happiness, if one is or one thinks that one will be gaining more then one is happier, but on... (read more)

And not especially useful proxies in this case; while divorce is permitted, I would be deeply surprised if it did not come with huge social sanctions and other deterrents in Kiryas Joel. Suicide is outright forbidden. Finally, JoshuaZ points out that the ultra-Orthodox generally lie/under-report about that sort of thing.
Although as Robin Hanson was just pointing out, suicide rates may not mean what we would expect...
Surely suicide rate is a much more trustworthy marker for (un)happiness than "numerical response to a survey question". So it is our previous flimsy understandings of what areas are happy (based only on the highly suspect methodology of surveys) that is wiped out by the new data regarding suicide rates. As gwern points out, divorce is a poor marker; suicide remains a useful marker because it is nearly-univerally forbidden.
I actually don't think I'd consider suicide rates a very reliable proxy for the average happiness of a population, although I'm not sure if a numerical response to a survey question would be better or worse. They might easily end up having more to do with rates of mental illness, or with sudden changes in individual happiness rather than its base rate; even if the absolute value of happiness does turn out to dominate, its variance over a given culture might be more significant to suicide rates than its mean. And then there are culture-bound attitudes to deal with, which grow considerably in importance when dealing with highly heterodox subcultures like Kiryas Joel. Self-reporting does have its own issues, though.
I don't mean to overstate the reliability of suicide rates for happiness. A variety of factors may influence them. However, there are reasons to believe they correlate with happiness. What is a good measure of happiness? Virtually all measures are deeply flawed, but the most reliable is probably: Intra-observer self-report in situations when signalling is unlikely. People are probably decent at knowing when they were happier or less happy within their own lives. Inter-observer reports are far harder to justify. People report being happier when they live in places with adequate sunshine; inadequate sunshine correlates with increased suicide rates. People report being happier when they are not facing loss of job, public humiliation, divorce, and a number of other events; these events correlate with increase suicide rates. People report being happier when mental illness symptoms are reduced (particularly depression); people with mental illness (particularly depression) have a higher suicide rate. Obviously, suicide rates are not a perfect proxy for happiness... but I cannot find a more reliable easily-measured statistic.
Thank you for that link, it was interesting. Did they take into account that Utah is an outlier within the US in the Religion aspect? Not that I expect that to be influential in the slightest. So then suicides are a strong indicator of personal unhappiness but a potential indicator of overall social happiness. That is very interesting. I know a decent portion of people on Less Wrong are utilitarians/consequentialists what are the implications of the results of this study from that perspective?
My first thought was that if everyone with a low happiness level had already committed suicide it would bump up the average happiness. I mean, the dead don't answer those polls. Killing the unhappy to make sure everyone is happy is an amoral solution, is my conclusion from a utilitarian perspective. Yep. Don't do that. Engineering peeps with higher happiness set points seems the moral counterpart, but we can't do that yet.

A new census of the Amish population in the United States estimates that a new Amish community is founded, on average, about every 3 ½ weeks, and shows that more than 60 percent of all existing Amish settlements have been founded since 1990. This pattern suggests the Amish are growing more rapidly than most other religions in the United States, researchers say. Unlike other religious groups, however, the growth is not driven by converts joining the faith, but instead can be attributed to large families and high rates of baptism. In all, the census counts

... (read more)

Info on the leadership struggles involving Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg: http://www.txtpost.com/hats-on-gloves-off/

I completely disagree with the position argued by some here that "happiness that comes from having mistaken beliefs isn't valuable." I think that such happiness is a good and valuable thing. I do not think it is merely "less bad" than other things; I think it is good. The false belief is bad, but the happiness that comes from it is good.

I do not think that my position about this is an unusual position for people to hold. It is fairly common for me not to correct someone's false belief because I think they are happier and better off with... (read more)


Doesn't this belong in discussion?