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On the error of failing to appreciate your opponents' three-dimensionality:

They had cliche answers but only to their self-created straw-men. To exaggerate only slightly, they had never talked to anyone who really believed, and had thought deeply about, views drastically different from their own. As a result, when they heard real arguments instead of caricatures, they had no answers, only amazement that such views could be expressed by someone who had the external characteristics of being a member of the intellectual community, and that such views could be defended with apparent cogency. Never have I been more impressed with the advice I once received: "You cannot be sure that you are right unless you understand the arguments against your views better than your opponents do."

Source: Milton Friedman, "Schools at Chicago," from The Indispensable Milton Friedman

H/T David Henderson at EconLog

Note: The final sentence of the passage, as presented by Henderson, is missing closing quotation marks. I have added them.

Of course, even in this case, you often cannot be very sure.

If any idiot ever tells you that life would be meaningless without death, Hyperion corporation recommends killing them.

--Borderlands 2

If you don't think your life is more important than someone else's, sign your organ donor card and kill yourself.

(House, MD deals with moral grandstanding)

Is the expected number of people you'd save by doing that actually greater than 1?

I checked the numbers on this recently. An average heart transplant costs about 1.1 million dollars, and has a mean survival time of about five years (at a very poor QoL). I think there's a pretty strong case that they shouldn't be done at all.

Kidney transplants have a much better RoI, but they don't require the death of the donor.

Does that include the cost of finding a donor?
There are other estimates available on the web, but I worked off this one: Cost of finding a donor is under 'procurement'. As far as I can tell, the immunosuppressant entry only covers the first year of post-transplant care, so factoring in a five-year mean survival time gives the $1.1 million figure I mentioned.
$1.1M was at least an order of magnitude larger than my guesstimate for the price of the transplant itself, so I wondered if that figure included something else. [follows link] OK, the figure for "physician during transplant" was indeed within an order of magnitude of what I expected, but hardly any of the other expenses had even occurred to me.
Correction: the median post-heart-transplant survival time seems to be a little over 10 years now, so the mean is probably close to that.. However, it's important to note that organ transplants aren't performed just before the patient dies of natural causes, so there's overlap between post-transplant survival and the lifespan the patient would have had without a transplant. Case in point: An acquaintance with COPD had a lung transplant, then died a year later of related causes. His condition at the time of the lung transplant wasn't good but wasn't that dire; it's quite possible he would have lived longer and had a better QoL without the transplant. The national registry on solid organ transplants is at, if anyone wants to do some data mining.
1Rob Bensinger
What do you mean by 'shouldn't be done'? Do you mean it's imprudent for an individual to spend that much money on a heart transplant, even though she values her own life? Or do you mean it's immoral for an individual to spend that much money on herself, rather than on greater utility for others? Or do you mean it's imprudent or immoral for medical practitioners and researchers to invest so much time and effort into performing heart transplants and gradually improving the technology? Or do you mean it's imprudent or immoral for the state to fund such efforts? Or do you mean it's imprudent or immoral for the state to permit individuals to purchase heart transplants?
If it's moral for someone to spend that much of their money on a house or a yacht, it's moral for them to spend it on a heart transplant, but it may be a net utility loss for the patient. The first heart transplant was performed 45 years ago. Almost half a century of effort has yielded a state of affairs that could politely be described as 'dire'. Immoral, no, imprudent yes. Yes and yes. The return on investment is appalling. A back of the envelope estimate I did a while ago, IIRC, showed that public health investment had a RoI 6 to 8 orders of magnitude better than organ transplants. I also think it's immoral that the donor's estate is denied even a tiny share of the revenue. See above, re: houses and yachts.
But the RoI for the patient himself is great. You present an argument against publicly funded research into heart transplants, but not against doing them at all.
If the patient is spending her own money, the RoI is still terrible compared to comparable interventions like hiring a personal trainer, diet coach, personal chef, etc. that could have forestalled the need for a heart transplant. Furthermore, the actually existing health infrastructure, particularly organ procurement, is so deeply entangled with the state, that it's difficult to speak meaningfully of strictly privately funded efforts.
Even having purchased all those, a person may need a heart transplant. Genes, disease, accidents, and nurture while young (and unable to choose one's own lifestyle) all strongly influence the eventual need for a heart transplant. So for many people, even a lot of lifetime investment into their health won't mean the RoI on a heart transplant will be bad. Also, at the point where you choose whether to have a heart transplant, the RoI needs to be compared with other things you can do with that money during the time you have left to live without a transplant. If you have a lot of money, and the transplant improves your QALY, then the RoI is likely good.
Why? What's the mean survival time and QoL for people who need a transplant but don't get one? Then by killing the donor, you get two kidneys and twice as much RoI. Is it worth the death yet?
The information is available, but takes time and work to interpret. I gave a link with data. From that page, you can get to which provides much more detail. Please consult it, and if you need more, I'm available starting at $100/hr. Point is, these discussions are kind of pointless without quantitative context. If you can give someone 80 years of healthy lifespan for a dollar, few people would object. If you can give someone one day of agony for a billion dollars, few people would support. Most medical interventions fall somewhere in between. Vaccinations are closer to the former, organ transplants closer to the latter. That's not how RoI works.
Why not? The investment here being the death of the donor.

The benefit is doubled in the second case, but the investment is much larger (obviously), so RoI is not doubled. In fact, the investment is more than doubled (you have to pay for two transplants instead of one, as well as killing someone), so the RoI plummets.

Thanks, it's clear to me now. It seems obvious but I didn't understand it correctly the first time around.
What IainM said. RoI is the ratio return/investment. The return is doubled, the investment is (substantially) more than doubled, thus the ratio decreases.
AFAIK yes. Up to 8 people.

Does it means "8 people saved (for unspecified time)" or "the saved people gain 8 times as much QALYs as the donor lost"?

AFAIK, the there are some problems with transplanted organs which require repeated medical attention and sometimes a lot of painkillers, so we convert X years of a healthy person to Y years of people with bad health.

On the other hand, a person willing to follow this advice and kill themselves probably suffers from depression, so we should reduce their remaining years estimate by a probability of suicide (other than the specific one recommended in this thread).

And if they don't actually commit suicide but still suffer from depression, or dislike living for any reason so much that they want to die, we should reduce their QALY in the equation.
When do we hit diminishing returns?
Let's find out.

You mean by calculation, right?

I mean, if every suicidal person saves the lives of up to eight people who want to live, it might be worth outright encouraging this approach, rather than having suicidal people kill themselves in ways that damage their bodies for this purpose, and then spend effort and money trying to bring them back.

Once a certain number of people is reached, though, there might be a degree of overabundance of organs compared to the needs, and unless you want to make the jurisdiction that allows this some sort of exporter of literal human resources, you should probably stop there.

Do you mean saving figuratively? (Also addressed at drethelin who used "save a life".) Heart, lungs, liver, left kidney, right kidney = 5, and that's being generous. Pancreas and corneas certainly improve quality of life, but aren't life savers. For skin grafts there's alternatives AFAIK. Is there a stash of secret organs I'm missing?
You can give a small part of the liver, which grows to a functioning liver in the recipient. Presumably that means that you could get multiple liver transplants from one suicide by organ donations.
Yes, to my knowledge that was only done with living donors, but you are correct: Interestingly, "living donor liver transplantation for pediatric recipients involves removal of approximately 20% of the liver", but you can't just take any 20% unfortunately. If only there were more focused, high-scale, no-holds-barred research efforts on growing organs in the vat, xenotransplants from engineered e.g. pigs, for all of which proofs-of-concept and actual human trials by isolated low-funded groups exist (e.g. artificially grown trachea for a swedish girl if I recall correctly)! We have the technology, as they say, we're just too reluctant to use it.
I have no idea where to find quantified data on average lives saved. Most of the people involved have an incentive to exaggerate.
Up to?
Not all of your organs will be usable or near enough to save a life. A lot depends on the way you choose to kill yourself.
I'd realized as much, but that still left me wondering what actual average "Up to 8" signifies. After allowing for different suicide methods and such, that "Up to 8" might be 8, or it might be something like 1.1. The result of a utilitarian calculation would probably be sensitive to the real world average being ≈8 versus ≈1.
Excellent game BTW. It's better than Diablo 3 at what Diablo 3 is supposed to be (kill-loot-repeat), and it has good and actually funny writing, and passable shooter mechanics.

A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit

Alex Tabarrok


In which Winnie-the-Pooh tests a hypothesis about the animal tracks that he is following through the woods:

“Wait a moment,” said Winnie-the-Pooh, holding up his paw.

He sat down and thought, in the most thoughtful way he could think. Then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks…and then he scratched his nose twice, and stood up.

“Yes,” said Winnie-the Pooh.

“I see now,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.

“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”




The real irony of the story is a historical context I think most readers these days miss: that when the real Plato paid court to a 'king' - Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse - it went very poorly. Plato was arrested, and barely managed to arrange his freedom & return to Athens.


And supposedly Plato was sold into slavery by the previous tyrant.

Another from the same site — on free will:

"It's my fate to steal," pleaded the man who had been caught red-handed by Diogenes.

"Then it is also your fate to be beaten," said Diogenes, hitting him across the head with his staff.

This works until the king sends armed men to confiscate your vegetables.

Damn near every one of them through the systemical implementation of taxation?



You can dynamite stones as an example to other would be stones.
"Would be". As in, "don't become a stone; if I can't get blood from you I'm liable to blow you up instead".
Which would be a problem if the dynamiter was trying to minimize the number of stones rather than maximizing the amount of blood, I suppose.
But you can destroy the stone, and put something you can get blood from in its place.
Well, you might be bulldozing the whole area.
Maybe you can destroy the stone, but you can't explain moral arguments to it.
"Once, Chuang Tzu was fishing the P’u River when the King of Ch’u sent two of his ministers to announce that he wished to entrust to Chuang Tzu the care of his entire domain. Chuang Tzu held his fishing pole and, without turning his head, said: 'I have heard that Ch’u possesses a sacred tortoise which has been dead for three thousand years and which the king keeps wrapped up in a box and stored in his ancestral temple. Is this tortoise better off dead and with its bones venerated, or would it be better off alive with its tail dragging in the mud?' 'It would be better off alive and dragging its tail in the mud,' the two ministers replied. 'Then go away!' said Chuang Tzu, 'and I will drag my tail in the mud!'"
Translation recommendation for Zhuangzi? (I've been reading Burton Watson's.)
Maybe undignified, but my favorite translations are from Tsai Chih Chung's series of manhua interpretations of the Chinese classics, specifically Zhuangzi Speaks: the Music of Nature and The Dao of Zhuangzi: the Harmony of Nature The kind of formal distance one usually sees in academic translations distorts Zhuangzi's message. The comic book form suits it very well.

Let me differentiate between scientific method and the neurology of the individual scientist. Scientific method has always depended on feedback [or flip-flopping as the Tsarists call it]; I therefore consider it the highest form of group intelligence thus far evolved on this backward planet. The individual scientist seems a different animal entirely. The ones I've met seem as passionate, and hence as egotistic and prejudiced, as painters, ballerinas or even, God save the mark, novelists. My hope lies in the feedback system itself, not in any alleged saintliness of the individuals in the system.

Robert Anton Wilson



"Critically consider the benefits and drawbacks of being in the box?"



I think people tell you that when you aren't as good at the inside the box things as your competitors and need to take a risk to set yourself apart. Thinking outside the box is a gamble, which may be the only shot for someone in a losing position. Of course, that's from a business perspective, where I've tended to hear it more. For a science/truth seeking perspective I'd say "Don't forget to look at the box from outside from time to time."

Therefore, the first and most important duty of philosophy is to test impressions, choosing between them and only deploying those that have passed the test. You know how, with money--an area where we believe our interest to be at stake--we have developed the art of assaying, and considerable ingenuity has gone into developing a way to test if coins are counterfeit, involving our senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch. The assayer will let the denarius drop and listen intently to its ring; and he is not satisfied to listen just once: after repeated listenings he practically acquires a musician's subtle ear. It is a measure of the effort we are prepared to expend to guard against deception when accuracy is at a premium.

When it comes to our poor mind, however, we can't be bothered; we are satisfied accepting any and all impressions, because here the loss we suffer is not obvious. If you want to know just how little concerned you are about things good and bad, and how serious about things indifferent, compare your attitude to going blind with your attitude about being mentally in the dark. You will realize, I think, how inappropriate your values really are.

Epictetus, Discourses I.2... (read more)


It is somewhat amazing to me that there are people who much less concerned about their ability to recognize false reasoning than their ability to recognize counterfeit currency. It seems pathetically obvious to me that sloppiness in the former, meta level would tend to be expensive at the latter, object level - for example, you end up with people placing their trust in tools like iodine pens to detect counterfeit notes when almost no evidence exists that such a measure is effective.

Currency is binary, either genuine or counterfeit. Ideas are on a continuum, some less wrong than others. Generally, bad ideas are dangerous because there's some truth or utility to them; few people are seduced by palpable nonsense. Parsing mixed ideas is a big part of rationality, and it's harder than spotting fake money.
5Robert Miles
A technicality: Officially, currency is binary, but in practice that's not the case. Fake currency that is convincing still has value. A fake dollar bill with a 50% probability of going un-noticed is in practice worth 50 cents (ignoring social consequences of passing off fake money). Fake currency with 100% convincingness is 100% as valuable as real currency (until you make enough to cause inflation).
2Robert Miles
Because it's immaterial to the central point. For a high enough level of "convincingness", fake money has significant real-world value.
In most societies this is more than outweighed by the sanctions for using it. As it should be.
You've got to multiply those sanctions by the probability of getting caught, though. (ISTM that robertskmiles is thinking purely CDTically/act-consequentialistically, ignoring acausal/Kantian/golden rule/rule-consequentialist concerns.)
1Robert Miles
That's accurate, yes.
Admittedly, there is a certain point where the odds of discovery are low enough that it balances out and can even have a net positive. Those are pretty rare, though - remember that the punishment for discovery usually vastly outweighs the benefit received. And, of course, higher denominations are subject to greater scrutiny.
I remember having a conversation with my mother where she recounted an experience of having a twenty dollar bill examined at a store, and wondering who on earth bothers counterfeiting twenties anyway. I said that if I were going to counterfeit money, that's the denomination I'd pick, because it's the largest bill that most people spend regularly and casually. Hardly anyone seriously examines them, so your chances of getting caught are that much smaller.
Related quote from the Buddha.

Often a person uses some folk proverb to explain a behavioral event even though, on an earlier occasion, this same person used a directly contradictory folk proverb to explain the same type of event. For example, most of us have heard or said, “look before you leap.” Now there’s a useful, straightforward bit of behavioral advice—except that I vaguely remember admonishing on occasion, “he who hesitates is lost.” And “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a pretty clear prediction of an emotional reaction to environmental events. But then what about “out of sight, out of mind”? And if “haste makes waste,” why do we sometimes hear that “time waits for no man”? How could the saying “two heads are better than one” not be true? Except that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” If I think “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” why do I also believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained”? And if “opposites attract,” why do “birds of a feather flock together”? I have counseled many students to “never to put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” But I hope my last advisee has never heard me say this, because I just told him, “cross that bridge when you come to it.”

The enormous appeal of cliché

... (read more)
Lazarsfeld is also discussed here under
These aren't exactly opposed - 'out of sight, out of mind' is generally applied to things and problems, not, say, warm relationships. Some of the others aren't exactly opposed either - I've generally heard not crossing a bridge before you get to it referring to trying to solve a problem you anticipate before it's possible to actually start solving the problem.
Really? I've seen it used twice for non-relationship contexts, but too many times to care to count (on the order of 50-80) in the context of long-distance relationships, usually as a warning that a couple should not hope to remain steady and trust eachother if they become far apart for a long period of time (months or more) for the first time since entering a relationship. In fiction, this either turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy or becomes the whole reason the main character can complete the main quest. In reality, the causal influence doesn't seem to be there, but anecdotally I observe that the drifting-apart usually happens regardless of whether any such prediction was made. Knowledge of this leads a significant fraction of couples to break-up preemptively when they're about to enter such a situation.
That's interesting. I'd more seen it used with annoyances. Maybe because I haven't seen much of LD relationships, and those that I did see, worked. And it was clear they were going to work from the outset because they were really serious about each other.
Yeah. The advice applies mostly to "Let's get married when you return!"-style relationships, where the couple met in meatspace, dated in meatspace, became a "couple" in meatspace, and then have to separate for a long period of time and things will all be better once they get back together... all of which often fails horribly. From three data points, it seems like those that survive the first separation might have no trouble with subsequent ones, or at least that the risk of repeat separations is greatly diminished (though if one cheated the first time, they'll likely be cheating the other times too, AFAIK, but that's 1 more datapoint + folk wisdom). 7/7 relationships I've seen that were started in cyberspace, stayed long distance for a while, then met in meatspace, then had to have a long-distance period, all survived (and are still healthy couples to this day as far as I'm aware). Seems like the filtering effect applies long before anyone ever meets eachother for cyberspace-started relationships, especially for long-distance ones.

After all, the essential point in running a risk is that the returns justify it.

-Sennett Forell, Foundation and Empire

A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.

-John Maynard Keynes

Breaking: To surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger.


What is he alluding to? (I don't watch lots of mass media these day, let alone American mass media.)

Traditional pundits are intimidated and frightened by Nate Silver's quantitative analysis. They see their comfy job pandering to the beliefs-as-attire market, with no expectation of accuracy, disappearing if pundits who can actually predict things take over.

edit: This comment, further down the page, explains well.

Exactly. Here is an excellent article elaborating further. (Only quibble is that is was not just Silver; other data-based analysts like Sam Wang and Josh Putnam made essentially the same predictions):

When we talk about the epistemology of journalism, it all eventually ties into objectivity. The journalistic norm of objectivity is more than just a careful neutrality or attempt to appear unbiased; for journalists, it’s the grounds on which they claim the authority to describe reality to us. And the authority of objectivity is rooted in a particular process.

That process is very roughly this: Journalists get access to privileged information from official sources, then evaluate, filter, and order it through the rather ineffable quality alternatively known as “news judgment,” “news sense,” or “savvy.” This norm of objectivity is how political journalists say to the public (and to themselves), “This is why you can trust what we say we know — because we found it out through this process.” (This is far from a new observation – there are decades of sociological research on this.)

Silver’s process — his epistemology — is almost exactly the opposite of this:

Where political journalists’ inform

... (read more)

other data-based analysts like Sam Wang and Josh Putnam made essentially the same predictions

A dataset including Wang & Putnam, with scoring of accuracy:


I assume he is referring to the tendency of the media to call a persistent but small lead "too close to call." It's confusing the margin of lead with the likelihood of winning.

Either that, or the tendency of partisan commentators to make predictions for their side that were totally unconnected to state-by-state polling results.

Many Republican pundits had elaborate theories about how polls were understating Romney's chances in the recent US presidential election, but the results turned out to match polls quite well.
Republicans talking about skewed polls were the most egregious example, but nonpartisan media was generally calling the election "razor tight", "a tossup" and similar things, too. In their case, the reason seems to be an ignorance of how statistics works. E.g. seeing polls with Obama up by 2% and a margin of error of 3, they would label it "a statistical tie", even though a) even with a single such poll, it implies a much higher chance of Obama winning, and b) with many polls giving numbers in that range, the chances of Romney being actually ahead drop to near-zero, barring systematic error.
True, also the media will tend to exaggerate the tightness of any race to make their news more exciting. Who will say up until the wee hours of the morning watching commercials and news, if the outcome is certain?
Assuming the “margin of error” is one sigma, that's a 75% probability of Obama winning, which hardly qualifies as “much higher” IMO. EDIT: Retracted. If, as James_K says, the margin of error is 1.96 sigma, that's a 90% probability for Obama.
The normal margin of error on a political opinion poll would be 1.96 sigma - a 95% confidence interval (that's how you'd get a margin of error of just over 3 percentage points on a poll of 1000 people.
If you look at the picture it seems to be: Numbers are better than fancy visualsations.

You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people you have to do things that are arbitrary and believe things that are false.

Paul Graham


I mean, grain of truth, yes, literally true, no. You can shock the hell out of people and distinguish yourselves quite well by doing rational things.

Paul Krugman says something similar

(ii) Adopt the stance of rebel: There is nothing that plays worse in our culture than seeming to be the stodgy defender of old ideas, no matter how true those ideas may be. Luckily, at this point the orthodoxy of the academic economists is very much a minority position among intellectuals in general; one can seem to be a courageous maverick, boldly challenging the powers that be, by reciting the contents of a standard textbook. It has worked for me!

(Very close to the end of Ricardo's Difficult Idea] )

Well, it is similar insofar as "reciting the contents of a standard textbook" and "doing rational things" are similar. Mileage varies.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Krugman's talking about Ricardo's Law in particular, very basic, very old, not disputed so far as I know, and not known to the general populace.

You can shock many people by doing some rational things - those preselected for not being done by most people already, and also those that are explicitly counter to important irrational things that many people do. And these specific rational actions have an availability bias. Conversely, once something is "normal", it's not a highly available mental example of "especially rational".

But can you really shock many people by doing a randomly selected rational thing? By giving the right answer on a test? By choosing the deal that gains you the most money? By choosing a profession, a friend, a place to live, based on expectations of happiness? By choosing medical treatment based on scientific evidence? By doing something because it's fun?

It might shock people that the choice is in fact rational; they may disagree that the deal you chose will earn you the most money. But when people agree about predictions, why would they be shocked by most rational choices? I think a random (but doable) irrational act is much more shocking than a random rational one.

You are correct, but I just want to point out that the original quote talks about distinguishing yourself, not shocking people. And I think most of what you said still applies.
Sometimes, yes, but only along certain dimensions. If your group performs rituals, they can't be rational because then they will be the same as other groups'. For example, the Jewish practice of eating flat bread on Passover is arbitrary [1], but it only works because it is arbitrary. [1] It's not entirely arbitrary if you believe the story of Passover, but that's a somewhat different point. Actually, it may be interesting to examine whether it's rational in that case—I can see arguments for both sides.
Interestingly, group rituals purely for the sake of group bonding needn't be irrational. It's irrational to believe that God is going to punish you if you eat leavened bread during Passover - I am caricacturizing Jewish theology here but the general point is sound - but it can be useful to set a test for group membership, or an action to marks you as part of a group, to help group cohesion. This is particularly useful if you're up against other groups that would like to exploit you and you need as much help as possible to stay together so your group can put up a united front. Arbitrary dietary restrictions seem like a decent way to do that. Not that anyone actually sat down and thought it out like this before deciding that Jews should abstain from leavened bread for a week every spring, or that Mormons shouldn't drink alchohol, and so on. But I think there's value in having an arbitrary ritual explicitly for the sake of group cohesion.
Sure, but that's a lot more difficult. There are so many arbitrary things to do, and wrong things to believe, that they're going to be the default because they're easy.


Partial duplicate
I think it's still worth leaving up, because the previous post left off the second half of the quote. The quote I posted is more comprehensive.

The inhabitants of Florence in 1494 or Athens in 404 BCE could be forgiven for concluding that optimism just isn't factually true. For they knew nothing of such things as the reach of explanations or the power of science or even laws of nature as we understand them, let alone the moral and technological progress that was to follow when the Enlightenment got under way. At the moment of defeat, it must have seemed at least plausible to the formerly optimistic Athenians that the Spartans might be right, and to the formerly optimistic Florentines that Savonarola might be. Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilization or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

I think he vastly overestimates the affect of optimism on technological development, vs say population size, disease levels and food supply.
And yet they couldn't even defeat the Spartans or keep Savonarola from taking power.
To be fair, with a general like Napoleon, how could the Spartans lose?
Fixed typo.
Or, more accurately, you and I would be non-existent and some other group of beings would be quasi-immortal.

If I have a Grand Unified Theory Of Everything, it's this: I believe that people always do things that make sense to them. Hard as it is to believe with all the hurting out there, almost nobody hurts others just to be a jerk. So if you want to change human behavior on a grand scale, you can't tell people "stop being a jerk." You have to dissect and then recreate their models of the world until being a jerk doesn't make sense.

Cliff Pervocracy


While I think there's some truth to this, it's easy for me to come up with examples of things I've done that never made sense to myself.

Fair point. I can't really think of anything I've done that didn't make at least some sort of sense at the time, but I can think of at least one thing I've done where I seriously have to strain to see how it ever could have made sense to me (though I remember feeling like it did). Looking back on it, I feel like I was carrying the idiot ball.

"Because they were hypocrites," Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, "the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefandous conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves-they took no moral stances and lived by none."

"So they were morally superior to the Victorians-" Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under. "-even though-in fact, because-they had no morals at all." There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception-he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."


... (read more)
I'm uncomfortable with Stephenson's take here* on hypocrisy because I think it neglects context. His implied analysis holds in the context of a homogeneous culture, but fails badly in a relatively heterogeneous one, and here's why: In a heterogeneous/multicultural society, the moral stances you publically advocate signal a frame for others, who hold different values, to engage with you. They tell others about what topics to avoid in discussion, how to predict your behavior, and so on--generally, how to behave politely and get along with you. In the heterogeneous society, the hypocrite is wasting other people's time, in forcing unnecessary behavioral accomodations on them. *: It's possible that Stephenson was entirely aware of what I'm saying here, since he's describing only the semi-closed neo-Victorians, but those who quote him take the description at face value.
I read that as a point against multicultural society.
The word "multicultural" deserves a better analysis. What exactly is a "culture" (besides that for many people it is an applause light), which parts of culture should we preserve and which are free for optimization, whether we can measure a utility function of a culture and whether that function itself is culture-specific, whether cultures can be extrapolated, how much can human cultures be different, et cetera. The important part is that we are speaking about human cultures, which puts some limit on how different they can be. We should not discuss them as if there is no such limit, as if an arbitrary set of values can be a culture, and each such set is automatically an applause light. To the extent that humans from different cultures can share values, there can be common values even in the multicultural society. And there can be cross-cultural hypocrisy with regards to these common values. In other words, we should not model humans from different cultures as incomprehensible aliens. Funny thing is that there two opposite political reasons to do so. The obvious one: racists/nationalists/etc. try to describe the other people as completely alien, to make it easier to explain why we should avoid them. The more subtle one: politically correct people sometimes also describe humans from other culture as aliens, just to signal how tolerant they are; because tolerance to an alien is more difficult, and therefore more noble, than tolerance to a mere human. In yet other words, the "multicultural" society -- as its greatest proponents and opponents imagine it -- does not really exist. There is just an interaction between different human cultures, which includes a lot of differences, but also a lot of shared values.
As far as I can see, "multiculturalism" is the belief that we should celebrate and encourage diversity because we are all really the same. If one looks at the competing Christological doctrines of early Christianity -- Arianism, monophysitism, monothelitism, Marcionism, Patripassianism, Nestorianism, Chalcedonianism, and so on, from a modern atheistic perspective it all looks insane. Even leaving aside one's presumption of the non-existence of the relevant supernatural entities, it still looks like a mass of confabulation accreted like a pearl in an oyster, around a seed of irritation resulting from thinking about how Jesus could have been both a man and God. So, after perusing that section of the Wikipedia page I just linked, look at the first paragraph of Wikipedia on multiculturalism. Doesn't it look just as insane? Is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit" any more meaningful a string of words than "the human nature and pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ were united as one divine human nature from the point of the Incarnation onwards"? What would the bishops who argued about the latter at Chalcedon have made of the former? Never mind agreeing or disagreeing with it, what would it even mean?
What exactly is "a society at ease with the rich tapestry of human life"? Am I "at ease" with cultures that have a hobby of cutting small girls' genitalia? Hell no! Does that make me an intolerant racist, or whatever is the most appropriate boo light today? So sue me, or at least make sure I will never get a job at academia! Multiculturalism is an applause light, until you look at specific details. Then it sometimes gets ugly. Of course, to remain "politically correct" you have to stay in the far mode, and ignore all the details. It's easier that way. Just like "desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit". Again, if your desire includes a desire to cut small girls' genitalia, then I think those girls deserve to have their opinion heard too. If that is against your sick religion, again, you have the choice to sue me, criticize me in media, assassinate me, or all three things combined. (In a sufficiently "politically correct" society you literally could do all three suggested things, and then have some educated people excuse your actions.) This all is a completely different thing from when people from village X decide to wear robes with red flowers, and people from village Y decide to wear robes with blue flowers. Or if Americans pour ketchup over all their foods, while Asians use the soy sauce. With that kind of culture I have no problems. I also have no problems with folk songs, operas, paintings, or books (assuming those books don't preach something I find repulsive). It is bad that these two things are often mixed together under a wide umbrella of "culture". Then it makes people objecting to genital mutilation seem like brain-damaged bigots obsessing about the right color of flowers on everyone's robes. And that is pretty dishonest. And evil.
To all those claiming that multiculturalism has no downsides, I would like to point out that "equal time for creationism" sprung from and used multiculturalism; the notion that you can justify anything using religious freedom can and does lead to Bad Things being justified thus. AFAIK no real society is perfectly multicultural, but that's poor implementation; a bug, not a feature. EDIT: I am in favour of all the Good Things that spring to mind when we hear "multiculturalism", and do not advocate the Bad Things associated with opposing it (ie a single monolithic and enforced culture.)
Not outside the US it didn't
Are you saying it didn't happen outside the US or when it did it had some other origin?
The former.
That's false. It happened in 1980 in Queensland, and 1985 in Turkey (the latter continuing to the present). Just a few years ago in Switzerland, many schools had science books that gave equal time for creationism, but it was controversial and ultimately rejected. While a separate issue, many Islamic countries ban the teaching of evolution or teach an "intelligent design" friendly version.
Exactly which multiculturalist do you think are "at ease" with that behavior? Assassination is not really an accepted political move in Western Europe or the US, which are the domains of political correctness. I challenge you to find a recent murder in either region that was not prosecuted by the government authorities for "political correctness" (as opposed to established legal doctrines like insanity).
About as many as there are environmentalists who are "at ease" with the mercury content of compact fluorescent bulbs, while campaigning to abolish incandescents. Female genital mutilation is a cultural practice, but instead of saying that this cultural practice is wrong and should be stopped, which a multiculturalist cannot do, some of them say that "there are cultural and political aspects to the practice's continuation that make opposition to it a complex issue", or that "the ritual of FGM has been the primary context in some communities in which the women come together", or that colonial attempts at eradication constitute "interference with women's decisions about their own rituals", or that "its apparent victims were in fact its central actors". Quotes from Wikipedia. A multiculturalist could take a different tack and argue that FGM is not a cultural practice, making it permissible to oppose. However, since it is a cultural practice, and is clearly understood and explicitly stated by those who practice it to be a cultural practice, that isn't so easy to maintain. But I doubt impossible; the insanity is not peculiar to philosophers and theologians, but is bred whenever one is obliged to cling to both sides of a contradiction.
On both points: what the flaming Hell are you talking about? Snopes says, (Wiki-link added.) See also the information - in particular, the graph of lifetime mercury emissions for incandescent vs flourescent - at So the comparison with FGM seems truly bizarre. I also don't think you have the slightest clue what you're talking about when it comes to FGM and multiculturalism -- in particular, I doubt you bothered to follow the link to the Lynn Thomas source. It seems straightforwardly descriptive. Feminists sometimes criticize attempts to impose a ban in African nations because bans tend not to work and may turn this horrific practice into a symbol of resistance to imperialism. I gather people have had more success by talking to mothers about the health risks. So this seems like a fine example of how: *understanding other cultures can help you talk to people and find common values *conservatives talking about feminism or "multiculturalism" often look really stupid.
And yet they have a problem with adding the trace lead amounts of lead to electronics necessary to prevent tin whiskers.
We are seeing political memes here, standard stories or arguments. First, the mercury in CFLs compared to the impact of incandescents. That one is just plain silly, and hairyfigment cited some good sources. Sure, mercury in CFLs is a matter of concern, but in the real world, we must compare choices until we have better ones. As to Female Genital Mutilation, I have a perspective on it, as I have a daughter from Ethiopia, a place where female circumcision is practiced, and there was some suspicion that she had been circumcised. (Believe it or not, it's not always easy to tell. The ultimate professional opinion was, No.) Is it "mutilation" or is it a "cultural practice" or does it have some other purpose? There are all kinds of variation in the process. But to start, what about "Male Genital Mutilation," i.e., circumcision, which is practically universal in Islam and Judaism? Female circumcision is controversial in Islam, and, apparently, was a pre-Islamic practice that was allowed, the Prophet is reported as saying, "If you cut your women, cut only a little." It was never considered an obligation by sane Muslim scholars. The horror stories that are told about FGM are far, far from a "little." Probably the soundest approach to alleviating suffering here would be education, and that is exactly what is going on in Ethiopia. Someone who imagines that there is some moral absolute here is dreaming. It looks like a cultural absolutism is being suggested. This culture is good and that culture is bad. Personally, I'm horrified by the extreme stories. However, I was also circumcised as a boy, it was routine, and my parents were Christian. And that has gone in and out of fashion over the years. Because my older boys were born at home, they were not immediately circumcised. There were problems, later, and eventually they went through the procedure. And it was a real problem, the doctor botched it. It would have been trivial at birth. Does that mean that boys should be circum
Would you mind describing the Schelling fence between those two things.
Policy debates should not appear one-sided. There are pluses and minuses to multiculturalism. Other cultures have good and bad aspects, and the default for humans is to reject anything out-group, good or bad. So a shove in the direction of the ridiculous caricature of multiculturalism above would generally be a good thing, on the whole.
Compared to what? If you have a sitation, where de facto, severla cultures are under a single politcal authority with a predominant culture, there are only so many things that can happen: 1) The minority culture(s) are physcially expelled--pogroms. 2) Wall are built within the state--apartheid, ghettos 3) The minority cultures are foricibly homogenised or converted 4) The minority cultures are tolerated. I think it is pretty clear that 4 is the least ugly. Even if it needs a little bit of (3) to work. Which is where most of the controversy comes from.
In point 4 you misuse the word pogrom, while deportation may include pogroms those aren't a necessary feature. And even when violent they often in the long term solve many difficult problems and resolve sources of conflict, see the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. 5) The multi-ethnic state is broken up along ethnic lines This can occur violently or relatively peacefully as in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia or the independence of Slovenia. Other times they are accompanied by violence see the independence of Ireland or Greece or some anti-colonial movements. This was the ideal in large part was behind the self-determination. See also self-determination. 6) The state is already practically mono-cultural, simply don't allow immigration where the immigrants are unlikely to assimilate Now depending on the features of the society option 6 might mean practically no immigration (Japan) or relatively high levels (19th century France or America for white immigrants) depending on various factors.
I could have included extermination, and I could have been accused of baising the issue even more That is the extreme of (2). Aparthied-era SA included "independent homelands". I was assuming that it isnt. You cant' solve the problem of de facto multi-ethnicity by wishing it had never happened.
Extermination was indeed historically used by states (especially in newly conquered territories) but to me it seems to be a separate solution from deportation or expulsion. Sometimes however deportation was used as a cover for extermination. By formulating it as you did originally you imported negative connotations. By picking this particular example you again import negative connotations. Many of these are pretty reasonable. Independence imports positive connotations, many of these are pretty reasonable. But you seem to refuse to accept the latter. Why? In any case I think there is a big difference between setting up say a Millet system or some other kind of separation in the same state and dissolving the state entirely and have each cultural community be sovereign. Isn't this a narrow perspective? Just because this isn't a solution to existing multicultural societies like say the US it doesn't mean it isn't a viable solution for many other societies (such as say Japan or Finland).
Only because you've chosen the alternatives in order to favour it. "The melting pot", as a description of America's former waves of immigration, does not fit any of them. "(4), oh, and with a little bit of (3)" is glossing over the problem, trying to save an unsalvageable idea by changing the words used to express it. Besides, a multiculturalist would give you stick for using the word "tolerated", which is insufficiently accepting these days. Try "celebrated", which suggests happy friendly things like colourful street parties and festivals, framing cultural differences as dressing-up games.
So what does it fit? (2) was tried at one time --Jim Crow. The US has not has a sngle consistent approach. Are you sure it is not a differnt idea? Are you saying anythign with the label "mutlicuralism" is unsalvageable, irrespective of what it is*? Some subtypes of MC-ist might. But werent you just saying that 1-4 are not exhaustive?
An alternative not on your list: immigrants aspiring towards assimilation into a single culture to which they give their allegiance, superseding their original one, of which nothing remains but the dressing-up aspects. I am saying that the concept described by the Wikipedia article I linked, which seems to me an accurate statement of what "multiculturalism" is generally used as a name for, is incoherent. Privately using the word differently doesn't change that. "(4) with a side order of (3)" looks more like a rationalisation of the incoherence of the original concept than a decision to use the word to name something else. ETA: On further thought, I might be being too inflexible. One might certainly present a model of how people of multiple cultures should coexist as "multiculturalism", even if the model deviates substantially from the current one that goes by that name. One would, in effect, be presenting the model as a new interpretation of a deeper, unchanging fundamental concept, superior to the previous interpretation. Certainly, that describes the history of Euler's Theorem: mathematicians coming to a better understanding of the underlying concepts and finding better expressions of mathematical truths. But then, there is an unchanging objective reality in mathematics. In sociology, not so much. Instead, one has to adopt the methods of religion, presenting a new concept as merely a better understanding of the old.
In a different subthread*, the line of reasoning went that this does not positively "deal with" multiculturalism, but rather eliminates or prevents it. This seems to be part of what is happening in Japan; IIRC they deliberately filter immigrants for willingness to blend in, though they do so in more politically-correct terms. * This one, though most of the replies that are most relevant will probably be hidden, since it appears Peterdjones is being heavily downvoted on this topic for some reason.
"let the problem solve itself".. How do you have a policy of people just voluntarily doing what is most convenient? Can you eliminate crime that way? ETA: All I can see is you stating that MC construed in a particular way has consequences you don't like. That isn't incoherence
I'm not familiar with the history of the migrations to the USA of the 19th and early 20th centuries beyond a quick look at Wikipedia, but from that, it looks like it pretty much did solve itself. There was friction. It passed. What has that to do with this discussion?
Weren't severe restrictions on immigration, practically closed borders, instituted during the early 1900s?
It depends a bit on ethnicity. Quotas were in place that favored Northern and Western Europeans over Eastern and Southern (Mediterranean) Europeans. And anyone from Europe was favored over Japanese or Chinese - thus things like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1880.
Those favored ethnicities were also those closest to the existing elites' desired American culture, which kinda makes the point: they felt the more dissimilar ethnicities couldn't be absorbed at their existing immigration rate.
Bussing, voter registration drives and reservations are all quite artificial and politicaly driven. Even pledging allegiance is a mildish form of (3). ETA: Incidentally, you have throughout been associating multiculturalism with immigration, but minority aborginal populations can be relevant as well. Among other things. It is a way of making the point that hoping that problems solve themselves is hardly ever a workable solution to anything.
You don't actually need one - people tend to do what's most convenient on their own. An attempt at policy tends to just get in the way. Sadly, no; crime is often what is most convenient.
People tend to do wha't convenient for them, left on their own. Hence crime.
Yes, and assimilation is frequently most convenient.
Given sufficient opportunity, yes.
I don't see where you see that. Rather, RichardKennaway seems to be saying that MC construed in the usual way is incoherent. I'm not seeing any mention of consequences.
Yes, he's said that it is incoherent. He hasn't said why. Sayign he doesn't like FGM doens't demosntrate incoherence.
Perhaps I should have made more explicit references back. The incoherence that I see is what I was talking about when I originally said this: It's that basic contradiction: 1. We are all different! Diversity! CLAP NOW! 2. We are all the same! Equality! CLAP NOW! that this thread has been about: how do you support "the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit" without prohibiting yourself from criticising abhorrent cultural customs like FGM? It's that contradiction that gives rise to the contortions around the subject of FGM that I earlier quoted from the Wikipedia page.
One common approach is called "liberalism". It ascribes certain notional boundaries — called "rights" — to each individual; and asserts that each individual may do as they choose to express their identity, so long as they do not transgress the notional boundaries of another person. This places certain limits on the ways each person can "express their own identity in the manner they see fit" in order to define a space in which all others can do so too.
The conflict between individuality and cultural consistency is practically as old as civilization itself. Most ideologies throughout history included ad hoc, unprincipled, case-by-case solutions to those problems. Why do you think that multi-culturalism is more inconsistent and unprincipled than any other historical solution to the individuality / group identity problem?
The problem is not that it is inconsistent and unprincipled, but that it is inconsistent and principled.
But it isn't inconsistent.
1Rob Bensinger
Prizing equal rights obviously isn't in tension with prizing diverse human exercise of those rights. You haven't cited a contradiction. However, we could use your argument to spin off a real tension: Similarity (e.g., our common humanity, our common interests and heritage and concerns) is valuable. But dissimilarity (e.g., cultural and individual diversity) is also valuable. So 'value' seems to be trivial. Response: What we really value is not 'being the same' or 'being different' in a vacuum. What we value is (a) being similar or different in particular respects, and (b) having a certain ratio of similarity to difference. The English language just isn't sophisticated enough to allow for easy slogans of either of those forms. We can't easily signal that we value diversity, but in specific areas and not in all areas; likewise for valuing some similarities, but not all. And we can't easily signal that we value a certain mixture of sameness and differentness, because too much of one or the other would make life less worth living. They seem like platitudes, but they aren't false, and they're worth taking seriously if only because they stand in for so many specific attributes that we need to take very seriously. It's just important to see past the surface structure of some virtues.
Thank you for clarifying. That really was unclear.
"Equality" never means identicality in the political context. It instead means equal value or equal worth.
That's what we're talking about. Requiring a religious day of rest every Friday, or every Saturday, or every Sunday, are indeed practices of equal worth. FGM is not of equal worth with those.
It means people are of equal worth. In liberal democracies you don't have to show that any kind of behaviour is of worth before you do it, you have to show that is does no harm and has consent.
That works until you start getting into details of exactly what constitutes "harm" and "consent".
In the overwhelming majority of the cases the distinction is clear-cut; it's just that the ones where it isn't tend to be much more salient.
And those are precisely the type of cases that gradually cause attitudes to change.
I don't know who would think that would demonstrate incoherence. And I don't notice RichardKennaway pointing out that he doesn't like FGM, so that seems totally irrelevant.
Ah, different thread, thanks. Yes, there doesn't seem to be anything in that comment where RichardKennaway connects FGM with incoherence. You seem to be jumping to conclusions.
I think that's a wrong question. I'm pretty sure the above was mostly just a reminder that policy debates should not appear one-sided. EDIT: Never mind, that comment is the opposite of that.
The red car effect/availability heuristic at work - I instantly thought of a Zizek quote. Or were you quoting this bit too? * Zizek on the "decaffeinated Other"
I'm more on the "good fences make good neighbors" side, which I guess is the opposite from Zizek (judging by this quote; I don't know more about his opinions). He criticizes the fear of harassment (and labels it "obsessive", just to remind the reader that it is a boo light); I would like to talk also about those specific situations where the threat is real. To me it seems that the "politically correct" description of people from other cultures is that they are a) completely different, but also b) completely harmless. On the other hand, my opinion is that people from other cultures are often very similar, but even the small differences can be dangerous. A "political correct" picture of a different people is something like this: They have green skin and worship ants... but if we will tolerate their green skins and ant worship, they will certainly be pleasant neighbors and our lives will be made more rich by their presence. My picture of a different people is something like this: They are mostly like me: they value truth, and they want to punish people who harm others. Unfortunately, their idea of truth is whatever their holy prophet said; their idea of harm is opposing the prophet's words; and their idea of proper punishment is to murder everyone who disagrees with their prophet. This is why they wouldn't make pleasant neighbors.
Yep, that picture is a lot like mine, but Zizek would add pages upon pages about religion to it, to show how the words of the prophet - if the prophet said anything interesting at all - can be twisted and turned until the resulting ideology is refined enough, and more viable in a civilized world. That's the massively oversimplifying cynical take on it, anyway.
It's also worth noting that human "cultures" behave remarkably like empirical clusters of loosely-correlated social norms, behaviors, signals, status rules, hierarchical systems, beliefs, and moral systems. This seems to strongly support most of what you've said here, and obviously there is some drift and some shared space between "cultures" depending on how you carve them.
What you're describing is the definition of "culture" (more precisely, a definition of "culture", and a good one). I'm not sure why you're giving the weaker qualification of "behave remarkably like" rather than "are".
This particular wording was meant to convey the sense that "Whatever people generally define as 'culture' or as separate 'cultures', even if they use rigid aristotelian categories, it still behaves pretty much like this."
see also
Of course it's easy to say one has no morals at all when the morals in question are so much more complicated - they'll seem permissive by your ability to manipulate them in contrived edge cases. This complication, though, is for adaptation to the real world - they have something useful to say about very real cases that Victorian morality completely chokes and dies on. But that's not really in conflict with the point of the quote, is it?

In a man whose reasoning powers are good, fallacious arguments are evidence of bias.

--Bertrand Russell, "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives". (The context is Descartes' philosophy and the obviously fallacious proofs he offers of the existence of God and the external world.)

Or laziness, or lack of time, or honest error. Multiple causes can have the same effect, and hanlons razor comes into play/
"Bias" can include those flaws, especially how the word is used on this site
"Bias" has a strict definition. Not all errors are biases. One can clearly be wrong and rational, for example, by not gathering enough information (laziness, or lack of time...).
I think men whose reasoning powers are that good are few and far between. (Women too, I'm not trying to be some sort of sexist here.)
I've encountered the phenomena described in this quote and used it as a signal in the game of Mafia. It's quite effective but I think has limited general application.

As the philosopher David Schmidtz says, if your main goal is to show that your heart is in the right place, then your heart is not in the right place.

Jason Brennan, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know


"Oh, sorry, I have this condition where I don't see or hear anything I disagree with."

"I had no idea that being human was a disease."

"A bad one! Everyone who contracts it eventually dies!"

Something Positive

See also:

"Look,” [Deutsch] went on, “I can’t stop you from writing an article about a weird English guy who thinks there are parallel universes. But I think that style of thinking is kind of a put-down to the reader. It’s almost like saying, If you’re not weird in these ways, you’ve got no hope as a creative thinker. That’s not true. The weirdness is only superficial."

New Yorker article on David Deutsch

(I saw this on Scott Aaronson's blog)


And then she said, "Ha ha ha, I figured out how to remove the closing quotation mark! From now on, the whole future is my story!

-Aristosophy. I like to think this is about the Robot's Rebellion.

well shit that didn't work."

"Reality Injection Attack" would make a great name for a mathcore band.

Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat. Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there. Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it!" Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.


Recognizing the startling resurgence in realism, Don Philahue (of The Don Philahue Show) invited a member of Realists Anonymous to bare his soul on television. After a brief introduction documenting the spread of realism, Philahue turned to his guest:

DP: What kinds of realism were you into, Hilary?

H: The whole bag, Don. I was a realist about logical terms, abstract entities, theoretical postulates - you name it.

DP: And causality, what about causality?

H: That too, Don. (Audience gasps.)

DP: I'm going to press you here, Hilary. Did you at any time accept moral realism?

H: (staring at feet): Yes.

DP: What effect did all this realism have on your life?

H: I would spend hours aimlessly wandering the streets, kicking large stones and shouting, "I refute you thus!" It's embarrassing to recall.

DP: There was worse, wasn't there Hilary?

H: I can't deny it, don. (Audience gasps.) Instead of going to work I would sit at home fondling ashtrays and reading voraciously about converging scientific theories. I kept a copy of "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny" hidden in the icebox, and when no one was around I would take it our and chant "The Nazis were bad. The Nazis were really bad."

-- A dialogue by Philip Gasper

Hilarious. It reminded me of Dennett's "Superficiality vs. Hysterical Realism" (which is much more serious and academic, though).

I've never heard more different explanations for anything parents tell kids than why they shouldn't swear. Every parent I know forbids their children to swear, and yet no two of them have the same justification. It's clear most start with not wanting kids to swear, then make up the reason afterward.

-Paul Graham in The Lies We Tell Kids

This sounds like a challenge. Would you prefer your children to not swear; and if yes, why? My reasoning would be that I want my children to be successful (for both altruistic and selfish reasons), and I believe that a habit of swearing is on average harmful to social skills. Disclaimer: There are situations where swearing is the right thing to do, so it would be optimal to swear exactly in these situations. But it would be difficult for a child to determine these situations precisely; and from the simple strategies, "never swear" (which often develops towards "don't swear in presence of adult people or someone who would inform them") seems very good.

I like to be around people who don't constantly emphasize their every word, making it hard to tell when something is actually important. Since swearing is a verbal marker of importance, its casual overuse is like shouting all the time; it's very wearying. And, lest I be accused of rationalising, I do not only apply this to children, but have also asked my wife to cut back on swearing.

As a side note, Americans are very loud, both in the literal sense of putting more decibels behind their voices, and in their over-reliance on swearing. I think you've fallen into the bad equilibrium that comes about when everyone has an incentive to be a little louder than the next guy, and there's no cost to being so.

Thank you for this. I've been wondering reflectively why I've been swearing more frequently lately, and I just realized that it's to make sure my voice is heard. I'll try to attack the root of this and instead get my attention-validation from having good things to say rather than saying them most crassly.
I'm almost sure this is mainly a status thing. Frequent swearing is perceived as crass, a lower-class practice, and so aspirational parents encourage their children not to. This intent then proceeds to backfire when children develop their own social networks: status relations among children and young teenagers are quite different from adult ones, and swearing in this context is often a marker of independence and perceived maturity. This gradually unwinds during the teenage years as swearing in the presence of adults becomes more socially acceptable and adult-style status relations start to assert themselves. The only thing that confuses me about this model is the lack of countersignaling, but perhaps children of that age can't reliably parse signaling at that level of indirection. Or maybe I just don't remember enough childhood social dynamics.
Or you could, y'know, try to think of a better way. That you know what a policy of punishing swearing develops into ("don't swear in presence of adult people or someone who would inform them") shows that you have the ability to think forwards into the consequences, but also hints at some sort of stopping, perhaps motivated (because hey, finding better solutions is hard). Clearly, you also have the ability to reason a bit further: What sort of microsociety does the above behavior encourage once they get into high school, where the majority of their perceivable world is a miniature scheduled wildland? When I was six and used swear words in front of my school principal (hey, when you spend half the day in the principal's office for the 13th time, you kinda get used to someone), he later brought it up with my parents (though I vaguely recall it wasn't in any negative manner). My parents immediately started reprimanding me, naturally, but he stopped them, and afterwards they changed strategies based on his advice and some insight they gained from reading more research and books on related topics. I'm certainly glad they did, in retrospect, because in the twisted social environment that high schools are, a good swearing strategy can be extremely effective. I don't know how widely this'd work, YMMV and all that, but a "leave me alone" usually didn't get prospective bullies off my back. If I then followed up with a steady gaze and a "leave me the fuck alone" (yes, I know, but that's how 14-year-olds talked when I was there), now suddenly they'd grow much more cautious and start re-evaluating whether they should still try to play their little status game and get their cheap fun, when someone who rarely ever swears had just signaled to them that shit got serious. All in all, "never swear" seems to me like it never actually works, and takes much more effort to attempt (by punishing every single instance of swearing that you can find, even though you know you can only find
Oh, I was not specific enough. What I wanted to write is that a habit of swearing is harmful to your social skills after you leave the school. Imagine a person at a job interview saying: "Yeah, I know the fucking Java, but NetBeans is gay, and if you ain't doing unit tests like all the time, you are seriously retarded, man." ;-) Probably no one would do this intentionally, but the problem is, if you get a habit of swearing, then sometimes a word or two slips through, often unnoticed (by you; but your audience is shocked). At some moment this happened to me (no, not at a job interview, at least I think so), and after getting a feedback I decided to be extra careful. Which I would want to teach my children. I was very lucky to get that feedback, because most people assume that others are well aware of all the words they use.
Since I don't have nor plan on having children I actually haven't given it much thought. I posted this because it gives a good example of rationalization in action.

Slogans like “practice random acts of kindness” feel good and are easy to put into practice. But if we don’t take our activism more seriously than that, our motive is probably a desire to feel good about ourselves, to help ourselves or those close to us, or to act out our self-identity. The endpoint of authentic compassion is a desire to do the most good that one can, to be as effective as possible in creating a world with less suffering and destruction and more joy. Figuring out how we can do the most good takes careful thought over a long period of time, and it means moving into new and possibly uncomfortable areas of advocacy. But the importance of taking our activism seriously and approaching it from this utilitarian perspective cannot be overstated. It will mean a difference between life and death, between happiness and suffering, for thousands of people, for thousands of acres of the ecosystem, and for tens of thousands of animals.

Nick Cooney, Change of Heart


"The boundary between these 2 classes [the Eloi & Morlocks] is more porous than I've made it sound. I'm always running into regular dudes - construction workers, auto mechanics, taxi drivers, galoots in general - who were largely aliterate until something made it necessary for them to become readers and start actually thinking about things. Perhaps they had to come to grips with alcoholism, perhaps they got sent to jail, or came down with a disease, or suffered a crisis in religious faith, or simply got bored. Such people can get up to speed on particular subjects quite rapidly. Sometimes their lack of a broad education makes them over-apt to go off on intellectual wild goose chases, but, hey, at least a wild goose chase gives you some exercise."

--Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning Was... the Commandline

The last project that I worked on with [Richard Feynman] was in simulated evolution. I had written a program that simulated the evolution of populations of sexually reproducing creatures over hundreds of thousands of generations. The results were surprising in that the fitness of the population made progress in sudden leaps rather than by the expected steady improv

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I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote. I think it would be better if these quotes were in separate comments, as recommended in the post.


I would like to abstain from voting on them, but to do so in separate posts.

I would like to upvote the Feynman quote. I am not interested in upvoting the Stephenson quote.

I would like to upvote the Stephenson quote, and not the Feynman quote.

You two talk between yourselves so that only one of you upvote the entire comment.

This reminds of how two high school classmates of mine eluded the prohibition from voting for themselves as class representatives by voting for each other.
Or, you both downvote the conglomerate and each write a comment expressing objection to the combination, approval of the desired quote and indifference to the other. (I downvoted the conglomerate on the principle "I wish to see less quote-comments that peopl