Fearing what might be true

I am not generally unhappy with my model of how the universe works. Yes, it would be pleasant if there really were a beneficient creator-god and an afterlife; it would be nice if “good government” were actually a sustainable possibility rather than a fond but deluded hope in the minds of statists; it would be just peachy if wishes were horses and everybody could be happy and rich. But I’m reconciled to these things being not true because it seems to me they are necessarily not true – that is, for example, I cannot imagine a universe in which the actual existence of an intervening creator-god is actually compatible with the observed regularity of natural law, nor a universe in which scarcity and agency problems do not imply that governments are subject to the iron laws of political economics.

Other people can imagine theism or statism to be true, and so could I at one time – before I understood enough to grok the contradictions they would entail. But I’m not actually writing to argue for anarchism or atheism today; I brought those up as examples to make a more subtle point. It seems to me it’s actually more difficult to deal with unpleasant possible truths that are only contingent, because you can imagine how things could be different if you lived in a universe that was slightly different but recognizable.

I’ll give two examples of this that I’m still struggling with. One: I fear feminism may be dangerously wrong. Two: I fear that the crowd calling for the abolition of all forms of intellectual property may be dangerously right.

I like living in a society where women are, generally speaking, as free to choose their own path in life as I am. I like strong women, women who are confident and look me in the eye and see themselves as my equals. But I wonder, sometimes, if sexual equality isn’t doomed by biology. The relevant facts are (a) men and women have different optimal reproductive strategies because of the asymmetry in energy investment – being pregnant and giving birth is a lot more costly and risky than ejaculating, and (b) a woman’s fertile period is a relatively short portion of her lifetime. Following the logic out, it may be that the consequence of sexual equality is demographic collapse — nasty cultures which treat women like brood mares are the future simply because the nice cultures that don’t do that stop breeding at replacement rates.

I’ve written before about how property rights are underpinned by Schelling points — places where the cost of rights enforcement rises discontinuously, creating boundaries that rival claimants can agree on even if they can’t signal each other reliably. I’m disturbed by the fact that even though I’ve been thinking about the matter for years, I haven’t found any Schelling points in the theory of IP rights that look really stable. This suggests that the IP abolitionists may win the argument in the end. That could be very bad, because there are important kinds of creative work I don’t see how to fund without IP rights that allow creaters to capture positive externalities. I’m not worried about software, because that can be funded from its value as an intermediate good; I’m worried about music and novels and artistic goods with economics like those.

The difference between these two cases and my first two is this: I know nothing about the universe that makes it impossible that women should have longer fertile periods. And there might be Schelling points in IP that I haven’t found yet because I’m looking in the wrong places. I hope so, anyway.

I haven’t gone into depth about any of these arguments because the specific beliefs I’m examining are not really the point of this essay, and you can’t address my issue by attacking them (that’s a hint to commenters, yes indeed it is!). What I’m actually poking at here is the nexus among belief, emotion, and imagination. The question I would like to hear from commenters about is this: If there is something that you don’t want to be true, but fear might be, and (like me) you’re pretty compulsive about following the evidence and the logic even if it leads you to unpleasant conclusions — how do you cope?

Am I alone in feeling like unpleasant but necessary truths are easier to live with than unpleasant but contingent ones, or does this tell us something general and interesting about the psychology of belief maintainence?

UPDATE: Some people have gotten the wrong impression. I didn’t ask “How do you cope?” because I’m having an existential crisis or anything, it’s that I’m curious about the range of cognitive and emotional strategies involved. I’m an engineer, I cope by finding the largest problem I can wrap my head around and attacking it with vigor; if we all do that, maybe we’ll win. It could be said that my strategy for emotional coping is “don’t be passive”.

214 thoughts on “Fearing what might be true

  1. “necessarily unpleasant truths are easier to live with than contingently unpleasant ones”
    Did you mean necessarily true unpleasant beliefs and contingently true unpleasant beliefs?

  2. Given how many people will go out of their way to avoid conflicts – even when the conflict is in their own best interest – I suspect the usual reaction to ‘unpleasant truth’, whether contingent or explicit, is ‘willful ignorance’.

    This is particularly trenchant when assessed in political circumstances and anarchistic world views.

    One of the didactic flaws of anarchy is this: If anarchy is such a desirable state, why has statism outcompeted for 6,000 years of recorded history? (This is also close cousin to the “So, when are you emigrating to Somalia?” response to anarchists…)

    I suspect that the real reason why functional anarchy is the exception rather than the rule is that conflict avoidance in humans. Lots of people will make lots of choices based on “I don’t want to deal with this right now.” The natural outcome of this, when aggregated in en mass, is delegation, followed by statism, followed by cumbersome redistributionism as politicians prey on demographic blocs.

    And that’s a pretty pervasive rot from expedience and “good intentions” for anarchy to hold off.

  3. >Did you mean necessarily true unpleasant beliefs and contingently true unpleasant beliefs?

    Yes. I’ll fix that.

  4. Regarding Intellectual Property, maybe one of your axioms is flawed. True, music and novels and artistic goods are enjoyable. But so is high-fructose corn syrup. You enjoy music and novels. But what if the reason there are no Schelling points is that those goods really don’t provide value to society? Why should novels and music get any more protection than mom’s apple pie? By taking protections away, the only things published will be those that enough people agree are IMPORTANT, even without a direct profit motive. The Jews managed to preserve the Bible over thousands of years because it was important to them. Similar to other works of other cultures.

    In short, abolishing IP rights is the best way to discourage spam.

  5. Oh, how do you cope? I say, follow the logic to its inescapable end and just accept your ostracism from society. You have called me batshit crazy. The reason you do that is because I followed one axiom through to its logical end: the Bible contains the words of the Creator-Deity. Being called batshit crazy by you doesn’t affect my reproductive capacity. People who follow a similar axiom tend to have high reproductive rates. If something “works”, then maybe examine why it works. Is the price of success too high to pay? I submit that for most atheists, it is.

  6. I think it’s healthy to be more bothered by things you might conceivably discover a way out of.

    “how do you cope?”
    Wine, Women, and Song

  7. If there is something that you don’t want to be true, but fear might be, and (like me) you’re pretty compulsive about following the evidence and the logic even if it leads you to unpleasant conclusions — how do you cope?

    Take your feminism example. I’ve often had the same questions (and I also have the same feelings about women as you). I cope by being aware that there’s nothing I can do about it! I can have close to zero influence over the feminist movement, and I accept that raising the questions I have will have social costs. I’m usually not willing to pay those costs.

    In the end I accept the internal tensions raised by being unsure about feminism in return for social acceptance.

  8. So your question is this: how do I cope with the fact that the universe isn’t quite the way I think it should be or would like it to be? I cope be realizing that I am not that important. I cope by realizing that I live in the universe, not the other way around.

    And by the way, in both your examples, I doubt your conclusions are true. It is true that ugly societies tend to have higher birth rates than better societies, however, better societies develop capabilities at a far higher rate, which is to say the per capita growth in capabilities in better societies increases faster than the number of heads in the ugly societies. The main problem is rather the intellectual slack minds in those societies (dare I use the word decadent?) that are unwilling to recognize the difference between the two types of societies.

    In regards to feminism, it all comes down to what that word means (as it often does.) I think it is rare in western societies to find people who would not agree that women should be treated equally under the law, have the same opportunities, and should not be discriminated against in the work force. If that is feminism, we are all feminists. However, if feminism means “all sex is rape,” or the woman who is a home maker is an evil slave of the oppressive patriarchy, or aggressive “reverse” discrimination is necessary to counteract the evils of the past, or any restrictions on abortion are the evil suppression of the White Male Overlords. If that is feminism, well, lets just say we are not all feminists.

    And in regards to intellectual property, perhaps you know from comments I have made here before that I think that IP law is horrible, and we would be better off without any of it. Further, if you honestly think that there would be no more books and no more music without IP, I think you are crazy. And if you think that the music and novels would be worse, I condemn you to a life of listening only to Britney Spears, and reading Jackie Collins novels.

  9. I personally don’t find the conclusions to evidence and logic as unpleasant. I find it liberating. Remember: “The truth shall set you free”.

    I think it often does not coincide with the rosy picture we are fed as kids, but that’s completely ok. It’s part of maturing and undertanding how the world really works.

    I feel people who hold on to illusions because these make them feel better are immature.

    On IP: the ideas have ever been free, but the physical medium on which they are transferred (book, etc) and the place of transfer (temple, classroom, etc) can be controlled enough to be charged for. This is the model that is collapsing fast: the charging for the medium and the place. Now, ideas actually have to compete on their own merit in the global electronic soup.

    On women and men’s differing biology: I explained to my 4 year-old son that guys don’t make babies (baby machine inside belly) because when the baby is being made, fighting for food is nearly impossible. So the tasks are split between men and women. I blame irrigation and agriculture for the notion that women have it worse. When it came time to go kill a bison, a mammoth, an auroch, or a prowling saber-tooth tiger, being pregnant or nursing must have been a good way to excuse oneself from going to the goring.

    The reality is that the world is a brutal place and competition is fierce. Anything that says different is a delusion.

  10. >I followed one axiom through to its logical end: the Bible contains the words of the Creator-Deity

    If the bible actually contains the words of an actual Creator-Diety, then the Creator-Deity is batshit crazy.

  11. As with Penn Gilette and Pat Condell, you’re someone with whom I’m not always in agreement, but whose clarity and intelligence are a breath of fresh air.
    Thank you sir,
    Chris

  12. # Christopher Mahan Says:
    > The reality is that the world is a brutal place and competition is fierce. Anything that says different is a delusion.

    I think there have been some great comments on this here. I loved this point though. I think it illustrates the crazy idea that we are uppity slightly evolved piles of sludge. The idea that the universe gives hoot about our sense of right and wrong is plain ridiculous. The idea that intellectual property laws are the epitome of injustice belies the simple fact that most of nature is based on the constant struggle to eat each other, or avoid being eaten, and the constant struggle to survive long enough to pass on a small sliver of DNA, with everything else being rather pointless. The fact that we are inevitably one gravitational tug away from the fate of the dinosaurs.

    Where I live ever seven years on a regular cycle, cicadas, small noisy bugs, are born from their eggs. They come out en-masse, live for about a week, breed, lay their eggs and die. Futile perhaps, but are humans much more than that really?

    I think intellectual maturity is truly reached when you are thinking about some problem and you bump your head on the ceiling, and realize you are just not smart enough to understand it any better. Not, like I have a low IQ, not, if I try harder or work longer I will get it, just that the problem is beyond the comprehension of the physics of the human mind.

    Well, that was depressing. How to cope? I believe the Creator-Deity recommended “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you will die.” And perhaps a dose of don’t take yourself too seriously, you share more with the cicada and the sludge pool than your do with the Creator-Deity.

  13. >>I followed one axiom through to its logical end: the Bible contains the words of the Creator-Deity
    >
    >If the bible actually contains the words of an actual Creator-Diety, then the Creator-Deity is batshit crazy.

    If being batshit crazy gives one reproductive success, then one should re-examine ones notion of craziness.

    Being called crazy so often, I know I did. I now have working definitions of “crazy” and “insane” that I think most people can agree to:

    Crazy: seeing things differently from other members of the herd and telling people what you see.
    Insane: seeing things differently from the herd and also differently from reality.

    Crazy means being out of step with the group mind. It is a state where your mind has a weak or tenuous connection to the minds around you. Human senses are weak and often make mistakes. Psychologists have shown that humans compensate by placing greater weight on what the people around them see than on what their own senses tell them. This has survival value; in aggregate, people are smarter than individuals. In aggregate, people see more than individuals do. But when the entire group gets divorced from reality, it can be VERY VERY hard for the group to find it again. When the group is out of step with reality, that is where hackers step in and have fun, and businessmen and con artists step in and make a profit.

  14. Eric, I see the IP issue going one of two ways. Either copyright dissolves into effective unenforceability, or we have mandatory Fritz chips in all our kit, with stiff penalties for violation and perhaps heavy taxes on the continued operation of old grandfathered hardware (servers and such) that go directly to the MAFIAA.

    I recently had this struggle with the global warming issue. I really didn’t want it to be true, but the science is pretty well established: fossil-fuel burning activity by humans has had a significant contributory effect to mean global temperatures. The concern was first proposed by (I believe) Niels Bohr in the 1950s when he described the quantum properties of the CO2 molecule as being particularly amenable to infrared absorption and re-radiation; and has been corroborated by decades of surface-temperature data and ice-core data dating back 800,000 years.

    Sometimes it takes overwhelming evidence to get me over the hump; but I’m rather protean in my position these days. 90% of skepticism is realizing that whatever is in your head that you consider “The Truth” is entirely contingent upon evidence to support it.

  15. The reality is that the world is a brutal place and competition is fierce. Anything that says different is a delusion.

    “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.”

  16. nasty cultures which treat women like brood mares are the future simply because the nice cultures that don’t do that stop breeding at replacement rates.

    Cultures reproduce memetically, not genetically. This sort of group selection requires a greater degree of isolation.

  17. Feminism is about women entering into politics because of the belief that women are endowed with the same rationality as men.

    The belief that nature is about ceaseless competition does not match with early human archæology where humans benefitted by living in tribal groups.

  18. I used to believe in strong free will (the unmoved mover). It took me quite a while to come to terms with physicalism.

    I’m afraid there is no nice answer I can see, but revulsion to anything that smacks of lying to myself – enough that it overwhelms any qualms I might have about looking down unpleasant trains of thought -seems to be at least self sustaining.

  19. When evils are sufficiently contigent, I can fight to prevent them or hope that others will do so.

  20. >I like strong women, women who are confident and look me in the eye and see themselves as my equals. But I wonder, >sometimes, if sexual equality isn’t doomed by biology. The relevant facts are (a) men and women have different >optimal reproductive strategies because of the asymmetry in energy investment – being pregnant and giving birth is a >lot more costly and risky than ejaculating, and (b) a woman’s fertile period is a relatively short portion of her lifetime.

    Like the animal world (which we are a part of it).

    But Eric , what you will say about our next revolution on human beings ??
    When human can “improve” and “exchange” their parts of body by mercy of Nano/Bio Technology ??
    This is not Sci-Fi anymore , and it seems that we are at the commence of that exciting era .
    In my opinion , we have broken some minor fundamental rules of evolution by inventing medicines (which increased our population on the planet earth) ; but the bigger step still remains : Stem Cells and Nano/Bio technology ….

    I’m just familiar with overall idea and talking about it is unscientific and out of my scope ….

  21. I’m not as worried about the second point, but this might be indicative of a generation gap (I’m 19). Content that is effectively redistributable and free seems to be produced at a high volume even today; already, I can listen to freely available (well, CC-BY-NC license mostly, but that’s just due to currently dominant memes) music that is at least as good as some traditional independent bands without resorting to either piracy or spending $20 on CDs. In perhaps a few decades, near-professional resources will be available to small groups of people.

    >The question I would like to hear from commenters about is this: If there is something that you don’t want to be true, but fear might be, and (like me) you’re pretty compulsive about following the evidence and the logic even if it leads you to unpleasant conclusions — how do you cope?

    In some models of the universe (multiverse?) that I consider fairly consistent with my other beliefs, you could postulate cosmos where sapients are constantly exposed to hellish scenarios, and as they are essentially possible, they exist.

    I’m not sure if I even really cope with it as much as ignore it and get on with my not-so-hellish life.

    >Oh, how do you cope? I say, follow the logic to its inescapable end and just accept your ostracism from society. You have called me batshit crazy. The reason you do that is because I followed one axiom through to its logical end: the Bible contains the words of the Creator-Deity. Being called batshit crazy by you doesn’t affect my reproductive capacity. People who follow a similar axiom tend to have high reproductive rates. If something “works”, then maybe examine why it works. Is the price of success too high to pay? I submit that for most atheists, it is.

    I have to admit, that is quite a unique argument for God there. But reproductive success and sanity are hardly the same thing: a point which could be made simply by visiting a family with several children.

    And demographics are on our side; the rate of irreligion is increasing steadily, and in my personal experience, there are plenty of godless fish in the sea. Unfortunately for me, most of them are still leftists, but I think that will change in a few years when everyone in my pool gets a job and realizes the blunt of the impact of the massive debt.

  22. The way to cope is to believe (as an article of faith) that there is always SOMETHING you can do to protect and advance your values, if you have enough time and are willing to face the facts. If you aren’t willing to face facts, then you don’t deserve to live; and if the bomb goes off before you can find the solution, well, shit happens.

    It is easier, though, to face the happening of shit with equanimity if you can believe in a creator-god who will ensure eschatological justice. ;-)

  23. Necessary truths are easier to accept because hoping otherwise is futile. Thus, we mentally reset our expectations and get on with reproduction.

    When things are not necessarily true, acceptance (and resetting expectations) becomes problematic. If false, acceptance could be harmful because it implies removal of safety checks on operations using that belief. Thus, our expectations must include both the “good” (false) and the “bad” (true) scenarios. Our emotions, trying to direct us to safety in this case, should be triggered to remove uncertainty (if we think that’s possible), so that we can deal with the truth appropriately.

    I cope by accepting an unpredictable death and even though I can’t always escape unpleasantries, I stand a better chance if my map shows the dragons. I also avoid stress by accepting what Baysian epistemology explains I can reasonably demand from my map.

    As an aside, I suspect religion is mainly a (not particularly good) shortcut to acceptance. Building beliefs through observation and consistency is tricky, evasive, and hard work. It involves emotional discomfort before you have a decent grasp of physics, psychology, and epistemology. Religion offers unshakeable (epistemological) comfort for the price of ignoring observations or consistency.

    On IP and books, out of curiosity, what were your incentives for writing, say, The Art of Unix Programming?

  24. >On IP and books, out of curiosity, what were your incentives for writing, say, The Art of Unix Programming?

    Well, it sort of went like this. When, in your early 40s, you have just triggered a cultural revolution, blown up the software industry, been seriously credited with fueling the dot.com boom and subsequent bust, and are already one of the dozen most famous geeks on the planet, what do you do for an encore?

    You’re right that I didn’t do it for the money. The above is funny and part of the truth; most of it, though, is that I’d had a vague goal of writing something like TAOUP since 1995 (e.g. before I was famous), as a tribute to a tradition I valued very much. (The main difference being absurdly famous made was that I could actually pull off things like gettiing Doug McIlroy and Ken Thompson to contribute cameos to it.) I think that is an unusual set of incentives, though, and it probably doesn’t generalize or scale :-)

  25. I’ve found this essay to be by far the most entertaining piece you’ve produced since I began following this blog. I’m not going to engage the unpleasant but likely outcomes that you have described. I have an abundance of my own to keep me occupied.

    Coping? The Kubler-Ross model when applied to an uncomfortable but inevitable ending such as death applies broadly. In other words, once your logic reverses, accept it and find something else to think about.

    There is a line in one of the Hannibal Lecter films (I can not recall which one at the moment):

    “The price of your instrument is fear”

    You could, at your discretion substitute fear with any other emotion or state (such as anxiety), however one generally indicates the other.

    So, pay the price, but don’t pay interest.

  26. >The reason you do that is because I followed one axiom through to its logical end: the Bible contains the words of the Creator-Deity.

    Ted Walthers, that statement is way too complex to qualify as an axiom. An axiom has to be something simple and basic. Your “axiom” might sound simple and basic at first glance because it is only 9 words long, but the length of a sentence in English is a terrible guide to how complex it is. Your “axiom” contains huge, complex implications about the nature of the universe. A real axiom should be a simple statement that allows you to deduce the nature of the universe without saying much about it itself. “My senses are usually reliable” is a good example.

    To put it in more concrete terms, suppose I took as an axiom that “the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs are inspired by the Creator-Deity and are all literally true.” That would have huge implications, such as that lions are solitary animals that live in jungles, an ape can be willing to raise a human, and that there are huge lost cities in Africa. Furthermore, since the Tarzan novels are in the same continuity as the Pellucidar, Amtor, and Barsoom novels, that axiom also implies that there is intelligent life on Mars and Venus, and that the Earth is a hollow ball with dinosaurs on the inside. All these things are patently false. Not only that, the novels contradict themselves, there are huge continuity issues in books 4, 7, and 8 in regards to the age of Korak, Tarzan’s son.

    But since I don’t live in, or plan to travel to Africa, or go to Mars, Venus, or the Center of the Earth for that matter, you could say that axiom would “work” for me. My fiancee already puts up with some weird beliefs of mine, so if I decided the Tarzan novels were divinely inspired that wouldn’t impact my reproductive success either. So the Tarzan novels pass the same test of yours that the Bible did.

    So claiming that something as complex as the Bible being divinely inspired can be an “axiom” is absurd, as absurd as making the Tarzan novels an “axiom.”

    In regards to the main discussion points, one thing I could point out about intellectual property is that so much of it currently exists that if all of it was suddenly available for free over the Internet, it would take lifetimes for anyone to read, watch, or otherwise use it all. If the amount of new media made was reduced significantly, there would still be titanic amounts of old media left, enough to last anyone forever. Furthermore, the same information technology that has created these IP problems has also made it cheaper than ever before to make media, it has radically reduced the price of SFX to name just one example. Maybe in the future without IP it will become so easy to produce movies, music, and novels, that people will start doing it for free as with software.

  27. You cope the same way you walk thru a fire.

    It is hypothetically possible that human beings are unimportant to the universe. Believer or atheist, you either admit that possibility to yourself or you become delusional. Those of us who are not omniscient must admit to ourselves that, as imperfect beings, no matter how much we want there to be meaning in the world, we and the entire human race might be completely insignificant and life might be completely meaningless to anyone besides ourselves. To claim certainty that we matter to the universe is to claim omniscience.

    After trudging thru that emotional Abyss, the potential problems with the fairness of our reproductive biology or the long-term viability of the Hollywood business model become slightly less shocking.

    Eric, why do you assume you are important enough that you need to find reasons to cope? From what authority do you even derive the right to cope? You feel bad that you may have proven that nature designed women to be powerless baby factories? You and all of us, as you already know, are lucky to be here and be reasonably healthy. Go tell your fears to a child in a cancer ward, or a quadriplegic old man, or the one stillborn runt in a litter of 7 otherwise healthy puppies, or the genius somewhere in the world who was born into slavery and died uneducated after a few decades of soul-crushing abuse.

    We who are lucky enough to have these few moments of life and reasonably good health, owe it to the others to try to make something better of the world. You do that every day, and you leave the coping to those who are certain that heaven exists.

  28. >Eric, why do you assume you are important enough that you need to find reasons to cope?

    I’m important enough to me, and that’s all that matters to your question.

    I may have given the wrong impression. The questions I raised trouble me, but they do not leave me feeling paralyzed by dead or angst. Truly not. An amusing idea, but one that would be utterly implausible if you had ever met me.

  29. > The questions I raised trouble me, but they do not feeling paralyzed by dead or angst.

    I’m going to parse that as “they do not [leave me] feeling paralyzed by d[r]ead or angst.” This leads fairly naturally to the question: how do they trouble you? Have you asked us how we cope because you’re looking for a better method of coping yourself, or are you just curious?

    ESR says: Correct, fixed.

  30. I am an existentialist. Maybe you are also, Eric. I have struggled with all kinds of intellectual and emotional issues, problems, and questions. And my brain is admittedly a lot less smart than yours. It seems to me that we are among the many who will always be vulnerable to being troubled by issues that we take very seriously.

    If we have good reason to think that we can make some substantial contribution to bettering the situation, we should try. Oftentimes, we know we can’t. This can trouble us greatly. We must somehow manage to get on with the other things in our lives. We must find a way to let go of the intractable things. I’m thinking here of something along Buddhist lines, although I am not a Buddhist and am not recommending that anyone take up Buddhism.

    If we don’t find some way to disregard or anesthetize ourselves to these troubles, or realize that we don’t have the duty or the ability to solve them, then these unattainable and powerful yearnings will consume us with intolerable mental distress.

    E.g., I think that Obama and all the others who want to stay in Iraq or Afghanistan are wrong. But I know damn well that none of these people would pay the tiniest heed to anything I might say on the subject, even if the improbable event of my getting a moment of their attention were to occur.

    Therefore, I don’t worry about Iraq or Afghanistan because I know I can’t do a damn thing about either one. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich can’t. It would be the height of conceit for me think that I could.

  31. Propositions that appear to be uncomfortably true to me:

    1) Civilization is not a sustainable condition.

    In order for a civilized society to survive, there must be cooperation and exchange of labor. These processes must be structured to reward genuine contributions and punish or exclude parasites. The development of structures to do that is in continual competition with the development of parasitical activities. If an agent can obtain sustenance without effort, that pattern is an evolutionary success. The development of structures is a slow, large-scale process. The development of parasites is a distributed, rapid, agile process. Mammals beat dinosaurs. When parasitism reaches a sufficient level in a society, its cooperation and labor exchange is replaced by all-out parasitism, and its resources are destroyed. I look at recent events, and see parasitism accelerating to potentially dangerous levels, with many possible ways it could surge to fatal levels in the near future.

    2) Software development is corrupted beyond recovery,

    The existing base of software includes a very large proportion of cruft. This is true of Open Soutce as well as proprietary code. ESR has just noted (and decided to tackle) the very serious problems of the code-repository platforms developed by the OS community. These platforms are the very infrastructure of OS development, but themselves are badly made. Other problems lie in the tools and methods which have been used to build the existing base. I have seen very cogent arguments against C and C++, and against PHP. Most software is developed for Windows with Microsoft’s tools and components, with all the crud that entails. Few development groups actually maintain adequate documentation, backups, or source control. There is an ocean of developed code out there, and most of it is muck. Millions of semi-competent developers and poorly organized shops add to it every day.

    3) It is impossible for a society to sustain an adequate level of public and personal moral behavior without some arbitrary and often dictatorial moral authority.

    Most traditional cultures had strong and powerfully enforced norms; moralities, proprieties, expectations, often backed up by religious authority. Starting with the Enlightenment and down into recent decades, these norms and authorities have been systematically denigrated and undermined. It is possible to live by a moral philosophy constructed from first principles, but very few people are capable of it. When the Lawgiver goes away, the society runs on habit for a while, but it rots later on.

  32. What you fear to be true (at least the examples you’ve given) require an odd mix of stasis and change coupled with an odd mix of widespread intellectual curiosity/evolution and complete inability to adapt. By the time IP rights are abolished, it’ll be a different world and we’ll adapt – perhaps computers will be better book writers by then anyway. By the time demographics start to tilt heavily against non-breeders, perhaps all children will be born in incubators anyway. Who knows? It’s fun to think about, but I can’t imagine the point of worrying about it. Life will find a way.

  33. I think the problems with the end of IP, though real, are transitional. I don’t see why novels can’t be peer-produced in a similar way to software. Live-action movies depend on IP, but animated movies also could be peer-produced. (You can copy animated characters, but you can’t copy actors)

  34. >Have you asked us how we cope because you’re looking for a better method of coping yourself, or are you just curious?

    Curious, but not ‘just”. I appear to have an adequate coping strategy, but I might learn a better one. To oversimplify slightly, it’s to find a corner of the largest problem I can wrap my head around and pile into trying to solve it. If enough other people do likewise, maybe between us we’ll solve the big ones.

    For me, not being passive is emotionally essential. You are what you do. Yes, this does have an existentialist flavor. but where existentialism is depressive and bleak about it, I’m not. That’s not how my brain chemistry works.

  35. >Cultures reproduce memetically, not genetically.

    Cultures evolve memetically. The vast majority of people are born into the culture in which they live their lives, and birth their own children.

  36. >Cultures evolve memetically. The vast majority of people are born into the culture in which they live their lives, and birth their own children.

    You’re confusing “genetic” with “hereditary”.

  37. I feel the same way about the Malthusian argument. I fear it may be right, even though I don’t want it to be. For the first 30 years of my life, I thought as you seem to now about statism, and without reservation. I still think it’s dangerous to ignore the iron laws you’re pointing to, but there is another danger I’m slowly becoming aware of with respect to individualism.

    Follow this thought experiment. Consider an investor with tons of money, living in an ideal Libertarian society. He’s engaged in a pattern of behavior where he buys up large plots of land, poisons it, and resells it. The poison has an extremely long half-life, and there’s no way known to clean it up. Full disclosure is given when he sells, but he’s able to get something for it, because the land is still ok for habitation, just not agriculture. The guy is so well financed and so pathological that he’s able to cover most of the landmass of the U.S. with poison in a couple of decades, rendering it barren. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume no externalities, for example the poison is prevented from contaminating public waterways, etc. Property rights are close to absolute in this ideal Libertarian society, so he has committed no crime. He has a perfect right to poison his own land if he chooses to do so.

    Question: doesn’t this demonstrate that individual property rights on real property have to be balanced with the needs of society and future generations? If you say no, then you have to accept that this kind of behavior could exterminate or badly cripple your society. If you say yes, then I think you’ve conceded enough ground that a pure Libertarianism crumbles.

    The behavior need not be intentional, and it would be unlikely to have macro effects if we were only dealing with one problem individual. But it’s a very short stretch to get from a single nefarious individual in our thought experiment, to large groups of individuals exercising their own rights to the detriment of society and future generations. The former shows that absolute Ayn Rand style individualism is illogical; the latter is how it actually falls apart in real life.

    Now consider human overpopulation. I feel literally sick when I contemplate the state or any other collective intruding into the decision of how many children I can have. But let’s consider hypothetically you began to see real, convincing evidence that we were approaching a maximum planetary carrying capacity. In that case, we can argue all day long about exactly what form it will take, but in the end will you not be forced to acknowledge some kind of collective check on the individual’s right to procreate?

    It’s not the kind of world I want to live in, but IF the evidence leads us there, I fear that delivering up more and more of our individual rights to the collective may be inevitible.

  38. >Follow this thought experiment. Consider an investor with tons of money, living in an ideal Libertarian society. He’s engaged in a pattern of behavior where he buys up large plots of land, poisons it, and resells it. The poison has an extremely long half-life, and there’s no way known to clean it up. Full disclosure is given when he sells, but he’s able to get something for it, because the land is still ok for habitation, just not agriculture. The guy is so well financed and so pathological that he’s able to cover most of the landmass of the U.S. with poison in a couple of decades, rendering it barren.

    Sorry, you’ve piled up so many implausibilities that I don’t consider this instructive even as a thought experiment.

  39. The Malthusian argument is a red herring.

    The real argument is about group differences and who deserves control of resources.

    When we discuss overpopulation, we’re discussing third world, lower mean IQ group overpopulation.

    When people indicate that they fear population control might be necessary, they usually mean one of two things: (1) they would like to control the lives of everyone around them; (2) in their heart of hearts they know that eugenics is needed to sustain first world civilization, but it’s too un-PC to say so.

    No-one in their right mind wants to limit the number of kids a 130 IQ engineer and his 120 IQ pharmacist wife have. It’s that other stuff that gets socially dangerous to discuss.

  40. >(2) in their heart of hearts they know that eugenics is needed to sustain first world civilization, but it’s too un-PC to say so.

    I used to think this way. I’m no longer worried; within a pretty short time I think we’re going to have the ability to engineer high IQ into the DNA of an ovum or sperm cell(s). Lots of people will scream that this is unnatural, but the people and cultures who don’t gene-mod their children will be outcompeted by those who do. Problem solved.

  41. Sexual equality – a while ago I was debating with a few friends about what is the best way for men to find and keep really great women, and what we found relates to this question. Generally, if it’s a fact that once a couple gets into bed women have disproportionately bigger parental investment to make, and knowing that Nature always seeks balance (I don’t really mean teleology, it’s just a figure of speech), the only way to balance it out is that men have to make disproportionately bigger investments BEFORE getting into bed. The purpose of this is to convince the woman that if and when there will be a child, we will be absolutely loyally there. This is true even in relationships where people don’t yet want children, because it’s a hardware feature, women aren’t wired to see sex as something purely for pleasure, there will always be a sex is something that can get them pregnant view hardwired, even when the general culture isn’t pregnancy-oriented and everybody uses protection.

    Thus, we must accept that we must go through a couple of dates getting her in the expensive restaurants etc. and all we’ll get back is just a kiss, or maybe just a smile, we must accept that in the initial phases the relationship will be very imbalanced in her favour because of the above. Thus, the real secret of the casanovas is simply to be an old-fashioned gentleman, accept a long courting phase, and make a lot of effort and spend serious amounts of money.

    I’m not sure it helps in this problem you mentioned. Maybe it might, though. Can’t it be one of the important reasons of falling birthrates that many young men no longer take courting investment seriously, they go to a bar, find a chick, buy her a beer and expect to go in bed two hours later? It’s perfectly sensible that women don’t want children from men who don’t express it through a long and expensive courting investment phase that they will be 100% loyal and support the kid all possible ways, financial, emotional etc.

    Cultures treating women as breeding animals (say, Islam) require very little courting investment from men. Actually, zero – the investment is paid to the father, not to the woman: like two camels for the gal, or something. No surprise that in such situation women only have children when they are forced to. Western cultures aren’t very big on courting investment these days either, but we don’t force women to have children, and the result is dropping birthrates. Maybe if we took courting investment seriously again (and damn the Sexual Revolution :-) ) like our granddads did, women would be just as willing to bear children as they were in 1920 or so?

  42. IP: focusing on entertainment and industrial patents as of know – are we sure that the pattern we are having for popular culture or R&D is the ideal pattern?

    As for R&D it’s clear that R&D and capital accumulation needs to be kept in balance. There were periods of history like the end of the steam age where capital accumulation was higher than the level of technology – there were steam engines everywhere, even in applications where they are not very well suitable and everybody was begging for a better technology – they had the money at had to investt, just please, please someone invent it already! I think now we as a world are having it the other way around: overinvestment in R&D and underinvestment in capital. What’s the point of having “smart” phones whose 90% of features we never use when billions of people don’t have a cell phone at all? I’m not arguing for bleeding-heart egalitarianism but about sensible business: there is much money to be made by making very simple and very cheap phones, and it requires not much R&D but a lot of capital investment. Doing away with IP would reduce the R&D investment to the levels that can be financed without patents, only by customer trust and the experience advantage the innovators gain. Back to a capital-driven economy, as opposed to a “knowledge economy”. Would that surely be a bad thing?

    Similar things can be said for entertainment. Probably the stupid modern pop culture is the result of IP. No IP would advantage live performances and disadvantage selling music, which in turn would probably advantage really great musicians at the expense of mediocre “stars” because the live performances are supply-constrained, driving the price up. The most beneficial effect would be that pop and movie stars would be less of a role model for children, elevating industrialists and other serious people back to the role model status they enjoyed in the 19. century, which would have a good effect on children.

  43. Two comments caused me to snort:

    “Maybe in the future without IP it will become so easy to produce movies, music, and novels, that people will start doing it for free as with software.”

    “I think the problems with the end of IP, though real, are transitional. I don’t see why novels can’t be peer-produced in a similar way to software. Live-action movies depend on IP, but animated movies also could be peer-produced. (You can copy animated characters, but you can’t copy actors)”

    I have a challenge for you.

    Next month is NaNoWriMo. You gentleman have a week to come up with a method for producing a crowd sourced novel or screen play that will get you egoboo. You then have all of November to write it in.

    If you complete it, you may optionally take a second challenge: You have until January 1st 2011 to get the film adaptation onto BitTorrent. You may incorporate copylefted and ‘released to the public domain’ material in the film.

    Since the argument is that in a world where IP laws don’t exist, creativity will flourish, let’s put that to the test.

    Here’s my wager:

    I’ll put up a copy of one of my boardgames as the prize for this. Eric and two other people of his choice can be the judge, so there won’t be any sort of favoritism charges going on. If you’re the lead dev on a crowd sourced novel that Eric and two other people of his choosing say “is good”, I’ll donate a copy of Squadron Strike to up to three people.

    If you fail, you have to create an open source project that automatically scrapes ScibD for copyright violations and generates automatic DMCA-compliant take-down notices, including sending them. This does mean finding an algorithmic answer to ‘fair use’.

  44. esr:
    > my model of how the universe works

    Out of curiosity, which is what?

  45. “that’s a hint to commenters, yes indeed it is”

    Sorry, didn’t read that at first. OK. So: since Karl Popper, there is no such thing as knowing that something is true, (except for analytical a priori statements of the Pythagoras Theorem kind, but usually the problematic ones are the synthetic, empirical ones). Therefore, one can always hope something will be proven wrong – if it’s falsifiable, it’s OK to hope it will be falsified. The coping strategy must depend on the case. As for afterlife or reincarnation, there is no reason not to hope there is one, because either the statement “there is no afterlife nor reincarnation nor anything like that” is unfalsifiable, in which case it’s OK to hope it’s wrong, or if it is falsifiable, it’s OK to hope you will falsify it. This hope has nothing to do with that understanding that it has a low probability and arranging our things in a way to prepare for final and irrevocable death.

    As for political stuff like feminism or IP, it doesn’t even matter – I think the first rule of politics must be caution, because the stakes are too high, one should not take much chances with stuff affecting millions of people. In order to change an institution, it should not be enough to prove that it would be probably be right or just, but also to demonstrate it will not cause any major problems if it is implemented. This cannot be done a priori, only by testing – like, trying out a moderate version of the reform on a small communtiy, and then a bit less moderate one in a bigger one, each time running the test for at least 2-3 generations. Without such caution, all major political change must be IMHO categorically opposed for the sake of prudence, therefore, it doesn’t really count much what we believe.

  46. @esr:

    >>On IP and books, out of curiosity, what were your incentives for writing, say, The Art of Unix >>Programming?
    >
    >….
    >
    >You’re right that I didn’t do it for the money. … I think that is an unusual set of incentives, though,
    > and it probably doesn’t generalize or scale :-)

    Maybe not so unusual. I have been a software engineer, who once thought he approached hackerdom (although I didn’t get peer recognition widely, so I won’t assume the title). Now I’m retooling to become a writer, because I _want_ to write. I think I may have a few stories to tell that may be interesting to others as well as myself. (I’ve been working on-and-off for more than a decade on a novel about the consequences of a plausible next step in genetic engineering. It’s not yet out-of-date. :-D ) Somebody may wish to pay me for what I have written, although I expect (like you, Cory Doctorow, and others) that some or most of my stuff I will also make available for free on the ‘Net.

    To earn a living by writing, I expect that I’ll contract to write copy for travel agencies, commercial advertising, whatever – but that’s not the stuff that motivates me, just what I’ll do to pay the bills.

  47. >Next month is NaNoWriMo. You gentleman have a week to come up with a method for producing a crowd sourced novel or screen play that will get you egoboo. You then have all of November to write it in.

    If anything, NaNoWriMo proves that people with jobs and families can write novels without necessarily pursuing a state-granted monopoly. However, most attempt it alone (including myself). My current idea, which I’m otherwise fairly satisfied with, wouldn’t work well on film, so unfortunately I must decline your offer.

  48. Ken Burnside Says:
    > I have a challenge for you.

    Here is the problem with your challenge Ken. You are assuming that the world of IP protected movies is somehow optimal, that is to say, it is some optimal point between what society is prepared to pay for entertainment and the resulting entertainment. That is not the case, the market is deeply skewed by a lot of government interference, including IP rights. That is to say, the money society spends on movies might be better spent on different types of entertainment, innovative and different from what we have, were the market for that not buried under the rent seeking of IP laws.

    A world free of IP would produce, I predict, entirely different types of entertainment product. I cite as an example the youtube phenomenon. For sure, the quality is lower, but it is a world of far greater innovation than Hollywood or Bollywood has produced for many years. However, it all still sits in a whole mess of IP law that continues to skew the medium. Imagine what could happen if existing media could be reused and resampled easily and without threat.

    I suggest that art, in general, is better when produced by people who love the art in itself, rather than people who’s primary goal is money.

    More to the point, I think that the movies is a perfect example of what is wrong with the whole thing. The movie business could very easily control their content better if they chose to do so, by simply restricting it to movie theaters, and better controlling (and possibly fingerprinting) preview videos. They want to maximize their profits by getting a second bite at the cherry in home video, and that is the source of their problems. Why not release the home video on bittorrent for free (after 12 months in the theater), and perhaps embed some advertising or other material to generate revenues.

    Why not find other ways to generate revenue? When the government allows you to use their police to extract rent, you don’t have to innovate in revenue generating models. Without that crutch, movies would continue to generate lots of money, just in different innovative ways. However, if you can make money the easy way, why do it the hard way.

    Perhaps movie stars would be less able to own private jets and beachside properties, but that is a matter for the marketplace to determine.

  49. ” You are assuming that the world of IP protected movies is somehow optimal, that is to say, it is some optimal point between what society is prepared to pay for entertainment and the resulting entertainment.”

    Yes, this is the point I was trying to make, although in a different way. I hope the result of no-IP wouldn’t be the YouTube world which aims at the lowest common denominator sufficient for popularity. After all the No. 1. feature of the YouTube culture is that the authors don’t expect to make any money with it – so from their point of view it really does not matter if there is IP or no. I think the “democratization” and with that, the low quality of motion picture that defines YouTube is entirely a technological phenomenon, made possible by lowering the technological barrier of entry and has nothing to do with IP. I’m thinking rather about bringing back the time of the great artists like Mozart and the end of the pop culture as such, as an industry. I think pop culture would continue in the YouTube form – cheap, bad, and free of charge, while there would be a rebirth of quality culture. The reason is simple economics. The supply of CDs and for-charge downloadable music is elastic and the marginal cost of selling another 1000 copies is very low. In a no-IP world the major source of income would be live performances which have an inelastic and limited supply due to the limited capacity of facilities and it would incentivize a selection process for the best artists. A much increased competition of artists for the best venues, higher ticket prices, all sorts of things that would move the level upwards. For-profit music would cease to be a cheap mass produced good like bread and rather would become something comparable in economics and in quality to restaurants. In the meantime cheap and bad non-profit music could go on in huge quantities through media like YouTube.

    BTW I think by accidentally mentioning restaurants I found an excellent example. Recipes aren’t patented, they aren’t IP. Still it doesn’t stop excellent cooks and excellent restaurants from making serious amounts of money, because there is more to it than the recipe. And despite that recipes have no IP there is no serious “theft” going on, once you taste real Chinese food in China or real goulash in Hungary you will wonder WTF you were sold at home under the same labels.

    But I must emphasize that I do no advocate the immediate doing away with IP. The first rule of politics is utmost caution. If the pricinple of removing IP would be approved, then hundreds of smart people should brainstorm for years to find out what can go wrong with it. And then try to design a limited experiment etc.

  50. JB
    > in their heart of hearts they know that eugenics is needed to sustain first world civilization, but it’s too un-PC to say so.

    I’m not convinced that eugenics as it is conventionally understood would work at all. In the cases where it was attempted, the people who were prevented from reproducing seemed to be simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (in the wrong ethnic group or women who became pregnant outside of marriage and had no money). The attempts to breed out hereditary diseases were also harebrained in the light of modern genetics; they got rid of a few people who manifested the disease condition but did nothing to reduce the frequency of carriers in the population. I think people with money and connections would reproduce just the same regardless of their genotype.

    I suppose genetic engineering becoming commonplace, as ESR suggests, might be more effective, but it would mean that a large proportion of fertilizations would be in vitro. Unless and until that technology becomes radically more convenient and efficient, it would mean putting a lot of women through a lot of expensive treatments.

  51. On relative overpopulation and IQ:

    Let’s undertand IQ as an inborn _potential_ for developing human capital. In itself it doesn’t solve anything because it 1) it requires education i.e. material capital to turn it into _actual_ human capital 2) actual human capital is often useless without access to expensive technological devices which too requires material capital.

    IQ in the parts of the world without access to enough material capital is not very useful. I don’t say it’s useless – for the guy farming with two oxen and a plow IQ could be useful for making a little bit more efficient but the efficiency gain won’t even be in the same order of magnitude as the difference between his farm and a Western one.

  52. > (2) in their heart of hearts they know that eugenics is needed to sustain first world civilization, but it’s too un-PC to say so.

    >I used to think this way. I’m no longer worried; within a pretty short time I think we’re going to have the ability to engineer high IQ into the DNA of an ovum or sperm cell(s). Lots of people will scream that this is unnatural, but the people and cultures who don’t gene-mod their children will be outcompeted by those who do. Problem solved.

    If intelligence is something that can’t naturally sustain itself in the population (such that we need to artificially create it into the genes of the populace), couldn’t that suggest that maybe intelligence simply isn’t as valuable as we traditionally judge it so?

  53. Ken, statism hasn’t existed for 6000 years, it is relatively recent and coincided with the rise of technology, unless you consider the various tribes and feudal kings from past centuries to somehow be “states.” As for esr’s points, tough to answer his question when he’s wrong about both of his examples. Reproductive capacity hasn’t been important in a century, what dominated this last century was the culture one grows up in. The US would still be globally preeminent with its freer markets if it had half its current population, unless other cultures start to adopt similarly free markets which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be happening too fast anywhere. As for IP, some form of intellectual property rights will always exist, though I see no reason for govt enforcement as IP enforcement can be reproduced contractually if necessary. I was unfamiliar with Schelling points so I read Friedman’s piece on how they lead to property rights. The theory strikes me as an irrelevant tautology, he seems to say that rights come from culture which comes from some shared, collective unconscious. Wow, that’s helpful, ;) more useless academic mumbo-jumbo. I like the Coaseian formulation much better, that some negotation takes place that all parties are happy with. The solution for compensating content creators is micropayments, the fundamental issue with content today is payment not IP rights. As for esr’s questions, you follow the logic where it leads. If you don’t like the result, construct an existence that avoids that truth as much as possible. For example, the fact that most people live in brutish poverty doesn’t stop the few of us who live in the first world from living fairly satisfying lives and moving on. As for “contingent” truths, you try to ascertain what part of that truth’s necessary and what’s amendable and follow the former strategy with the unavoidable part and try to fix the latter.

  54. # Shenpen Says:
    > After all the No. 1. feature of the YouTube culture is that the authors don’t
    > expect to make any money with it

    Three points, number one, the vast majority of music made today is made without expectation of making money.
    Two, like on youtube, the vast majority of music made today is not very good, only a small percentage is good.
    Three, you are incorrect, there is a growing phenomenon of using youtube as a source of money making, partly from google’s move to monetize it through advertizing (potentially sharing with the video maker), second, many, many videos are made in such a way as to advertise a web site or other service of the maker. So the simple fact is that there is a growing movement toward monetizing the “free” videos on youtube.

    Additionally, youtube is used very frequently for other, non directly money generating purposes, such as advertising, political campaigning and so forth.

    In summary, I completely disagree with this point.

    > made possible by lowering the technological barrier of entry and has nothing to do with IP.

    Again, I entirely disagree with this. The lowering of the technological barrier has everything to do with IP, or the lack of IP more to the point. Modern computer systems and the technology infrastructure that they are based on grew up in a largely IP free world, that allowed massive innovation, free and unfettered copying and improvement, and in a world free of the threat of lawsuits and patent trolls. Unfortunately, that has all changed, and the advance of technology has been getting slower as a direct result.

    > I’m thinking rather about bringing back the time of the great artists like Mozart

    You only think of the time of Mozart as great because Mozart is one of the only musicians you know from that time. As with any time, most musicians of that time undoubtedly sucked badly. Mozart and his like only come along once in a generation, and that is no different today. It was no golden age of music. Today is the golden age of music, and it too was driven by the rapid development of technology in the non-IP world of electronics until that all was captured by the evil lawyers.

    However, you do raise one point, namely that in times past music was often produced via the sponsorship of rich people, or groups who loved music. That is a model that could readily be applied today, and is certainly one way that music could be produced without the need for a tax on numbers.

    > [summary -- Music could be funded by concert venues]

    Yup, that is another way.

    > But I must emphasize that I do no advocate the immediate doing away
    > with IP. The first rule of politics is utmost caution. If the pricinple of
    > removing IP would be approved, then hundreds of smart people should
    > brainstorm for years to find out what can go wrong with it. And then try
    > to design a limited experiment etc.

    Unfortunately, this is a classical political solution: get a group of wise beard strokers with PhDs to design a solution. This is the way of the politburo. The solution is to immediately eliminate all the IP laws, and allow the hundreds of millions of wise consumers, innovators, engineers, profit seekers and capitalists use the proven successful power of the market to solve the problems, find funding mechanisms and allow a proper balance of supply and demand, protection and liberty to be found. It is messy, but it works.

    BTW, this relates to one of the reasons I am not opposed to DRM, it could potentially be a tool to facilitate this. Of course, I strongly object to legally forcing manufacturers to put “fritz” chips in all electronics, and horrors like the DMCA. However, producers have a legitimate right to attempt to protect their content, as long as they don’t impose on the liberty of others. FIWW, though, I think DRM is dead and gone, and I am not sorry to see it go.

    BTW2, I want to make it clear that by IP I am referring to copyright and patents. Traditionally, IP law includes trademarks and trade secrets. Both of these are quite different in character, and although the laws are not perfect, there is a legitimate interest in legislation here.

    BTW3, Google’s attempt to monetize the content (and share with the producers) is greatly hampered by their legitimate fear of IP owners, and the possibility that they get sued. This is making the monetization process much harder.

    BTW4, completely off topic: Am I the only person who hates all the bs about blurring out people’s faces and license plates in Google street view and similar products? If you are in a public place, you are, by definition, in public, so you have lost all expectation of privacy.

  55. > I used to think this way. I’m no longer worried; within a pretty short time I think we’re going to have the ability to engineer high IQ into the DNA of an ovum or sperm cell(s). Lots of people will scream that this is unnatural, but the people and cultures who don’t gene-mod their children will be outcompeted by those who do. Problem solved.

    It doesn’t solve anything. Intelligent people are dangerous for a civilisation, because they are the ones doing the revolutions, in politics as in technology. We need a sea of stupid people to have the inertia the society needs to work. We needs people ready to consume, to work, to be the society robots without questioning everything. As you increase the proportion of intelligent people in a society, you increase the risk of collapse of the society. So in the long run, the less intelligent society, if let independant, has more chances to survive.

    Of course, i’m only speaking about gene-moding intelligence, not resilience to illnesses.

  56. Just as I finished typing the last comment something struck me. The acronym IP is used commonly with two meanings in the computer world: intellectual property, and internet protocol. It strikes me as a biting irony that the runaway success, and breathtakingly beneficial world transformation that one IP brought about was entirely due to the lack of the other IP being applied to it.

  57. @Shenpen:

    > Recipes aren’t patented, they aren’t IP. Still it doesn’t stop excellent cooks and excellent restaurants
    > from making serious amounts of money, because there is more to it than the recipe.

    Exactly! You missed an important distinction – cooking is a “performance art”. I could get the recipes from the world’s best restaurants and chefs, obtain the finest ingredients from the world over, and I *could not* duplicate what they do. No-one would pay to eat my cooking.

    A closer analogy would be that sheet music or guitar chord charts, even if freely available, would not permit me (or any other random musician of lesser talent) to perform the music of the Beatles or Beethoven to such a degree that would make people want to pay to hear us do it.

    Electronic and computer technology has permitted us to “bottle” musical and theatrical performances (including screen `plays´, i.e., movies) in a relatively whole state, to be replayed later ad infinitum, or to be copied and distributed widely for essentially no cost. The current IP laws try to preserve the financial advantage of this to the holder of the IP “rights´´ (almost always *not* the actual performing artists). I expect that what we will end up with in the medium-long run (approximately. 10-20 years) is a situation where live performances will be the most important thing that artists do to earn a living, with recorded content becoming a secondary “swag” (like concert posters, T-shirts, etc. are today).

  58. @esr:

    > The question I would like to hear from commenters about is this: If there is something that you don’t
    > want to be true, but fear might be, and (like me) you’re pretty compulsive about following the
    > evidence and the logic even if it leads you to unpleasant conclusions — how do you cope?

    > Am I alone in feeling like unpleasant but necessary truths are easier to live with than unpleasant but
    > contingent ones, or does this tell us something general and interesting about the psychology of belief
    > maintainence?

    I’m probably not as OC as you are (seem to be) about “following the evidence and the logic” – not that I explictly maintain contradictions between my sets of beliefs, or between my beliefs and actions, but I think I’ve just gotten to the point where I (more-or-less informally) have things in pretty good alignment in my head.

    I do agree that it’s easier to live with “unpleasant but necessary truths” than things that may be contingent; yet, I have reached the point where I have to pick my battles carefully. Both in terms of what I may have to lose, and in terms of how much energy/time/$$$ I have to “tilt at windmills”. Where I *can’t* work an issue, I (somewhat) comfort myself with the serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

    “God[dess] grant me the serenity
    To accept the things I cannot change;
    Courage to change the things I can;
    And wisdom to know the difference.”

    Just my $0.02 worth.

  59. >If intelligence is something that can’t naturally sustain itself in the population (such that we need to artificially create it into the genes of the populace), couldn’t that suggest that maybe intelligence simply isn’t as valuable as we traditionally judge it so?

    High IQ has costs. Thinking is energetically extremely expensive; the brain eats 25% of your daily calorie budget. Ashkenazic Jews as a group were ruthlessly selected for IQ during the last thousand years by their role as tax farmers for the Polish-Lithuanian Empire (also the reason Eastern European gentile peasantry has inherited a bone-deep hatred for them); we know from observing the pattern of disorders such as Gaultier’s disease among the Ashkenazim that when you crank average IQ high enough various exotic neurolipid syndromes start making life unpleasant. So there’s a tradeoff; how bright the population will be depends on how much the environment of adaptation rewards intelligence.

  60. # esr Says:
    > High IQ has costs. Thinking is energetically extremely expensive; the brain
    > eats 25% of your daily calorie budget.

    Do you have any evidence that our “dumb as a box of rocks” friends use less calories in their brain than our “sharp as a tack” friends? Also, given that thinking is a way to reduce the cost of obtaining food, did you consider that that benefit might outweigh any such putative cost anyway. I suggest that on the latter point evolution agrees with me, since it made you and me out of chimps.

    > Ashkenazic Jews as a group were ruthlessly selected for IQ … when you crank
    > average IQ high enough various exotic neurolipid syndromes start

    That seems to me to be a pretty big conclusion. Other ethnic groups with high average IQs don’t suffer the same problems, so I don’t think your conclusion is obviously justified. The fact is that in groups with small gene pools such as Ashkenazic Jews, genetic defects become more concentrated and common (because the smaller selection of mates means that it is harder for these defects to be selected out of the gene pool.) Additionally, the group of Jews has suffered from a strong selection bias in genetic testing. They seem to have more genetic disorders because they are studied more by geneticists for various reasons. (Not that I am questioning that they do have a higher level of genetic problems, just that it seems larger than it probably is.)

  61. “If intelligence is something that can’t naturally sustain itself in the population (such that we need to artificially create it into the genes of the populace), couldn’t that suggest that maybe intelligence simply isn’t as valuable as we traditionally judge it so?”

    But we’ve also been practicing dysgenic policies, both here and in the third world. There’s nothing natural about that.

    “I used to think this way. I’m no longer worried; within a pretty short time I think we’re going to have the ability to engineer high IQ into the DNA of an ovum or sperm cell(s). Lots of people will scream that this is unnatural, but the people and cultures who don’t gene-mod their children will be outcompeted by those who do. Problem solved.”

    I agree that this would solve many problems, although the actual social policy implementation is beyond my grasp (and obviously depends on the reach of the technology.)

    “It doesn’t solve anything. Intelligent people are dangerous for a civilisation, because they are the ones doing the revolutions, in politics as in technology.”

    In my view, intelligent people are dangerous for a civilization only as long as there are a lot of stupid people to follow them. This isn’t as much of a problem when everybody is smart or smarter.

    In fact, wouldn’t anarchocapitalism only be possible in an era where genetic engineering would obliterate wide disparities in cognitive ability?

  62. “> High IQ has costs. Thinking is energetically extremely expensive; the brain
    > eats 25% of your daily calorie budget.

    Do you have any evidence that our “dumb as a box of rocks” friends use less calories in their brain than our “sharp as a tack” friends? Also, given that thinking is a way to reduce the cost of obtaining food, did you consider that that benefit might outweigh any such putative cost anyway.

    There’s no doubt there’s a price to pay for high IQ individuals; certainly, greater statistical likelyhood of other things going wrong.

    But clearly not in EVERY case, which suggests this may simply be a computational problem. If we can crank trillion variable linear equations through a quantum computer at some point, might this not be solvable?

  63. JB wrote:
    > When people indicate that they fear population control
    > might be necessary, they usually mean one of two things:
    > (1) they would like to control the lives of everyone around them;
    > (2) in their heart of hearts they know that eugenics is needed to
    > sustain first world civilization, but it’s too un-PC to say so.

    For the record, I don’t fall into either of those two categories.

    With respect to (1) I’ve always been a Libertarian at heart, but as I mature, I’m beginning to understand a major flaw with Libertarianism lies in its fundamental assumptions. We’re interconnected whether we like it or not. My private decisions do affect others, whether I’d like to admit it or not. OTOH like many here, I also consider socialism well intentioned but foolish.

    For over a century now, we’ve been arguing about whether private or state control of the means of production in society is the way to go, and it seems to me the question is still far from settled. The east has moved farther to the right while the west has moved to the left, and I find no coherent philosophy that describes this centrist position we occupy now. What I hope for is a new renaissance that will take the discussion to the next level. I envision a time when we smile patronizingly on today’s economic theories, recognizing them as an important but rudimentary first stab. What I fear is what could happen before that enlightenment arrives.

    I consider (2) to be a side issue. I’m unconvinced that IQ is the be-all-end-all you seem to think it is, and I think esr’s prediction about genetic engineering for IQ may not be far off the mark.

    > No-one in their right mind wants to limit the number
    > of kids a 130 IQ engineer and his 120 IQ pharmacist
    > wife have.

    Well, that would depend on how many of those people we had, wouldn’t it? What do we do if we get to a point where there are 15 billion or so of us, and we all have 160 IQs? Or 30 billion? 50 billion? Is there any level of human population you’d consider dangerous or unwise, absent off world colonization capability? Is your ideology so intertwined with this ethos of abundance that you simply can’t grok the Earth as a finite resource, no matter how many people you put on it?

  64. “I’m not convinced that eugenics as it is conventionally understood would work at all. In the cases where it was attempted, the people who were prevented from reproducing seemed to be simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (in the wrong ethnic group or women who became pregnant outside of marriage and had no money).”

    Actually, I think it would work very well were there actual political will to try it.

    Sterilization is unnecessary and unsellable. Tying welfare benefits to long-lasting birth control is a much easier sell, since it is reversible and already encouraged. There’s not a strong moral argument for freedom (to reproduce) without responsibility (to support the offspring.)
    @Shenpen:
    “On relative overpopulation and IQ:

    Let’s undertand IQ as an inborn _potential_ for developing human capital. In itself it doesn’t solve anything because it 1) it requires education i.e. material capital to turn it into _actual_ human capital 2) actual human capital is often useless without access to expensive technological devices which too requires material capital.

    IQ in the parts of the world without access to enough material capital is not very useful. I don’t say it’s useless – for the guy farming with two oxen and a plow IQ could be useful for making a little bit more efficient but the efficiency gain won’t even be in the same order of magnitude as the difference between his farm and a Western one.”

    I don’t particularly understand your argument. Obviously, IQ is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for developing a first world society. However, it provides an investment opportunity that given the right structure of incentives would attract a massive inflow of capital. What would happen if North Korea (with its reputed over 100 IQ) joined the world community tomorrow?

  65. >In my view, intelligent people are dangerous for a civilization only as long as there are a lot of stupid people to follow them. This isn’t as much of a problem when everybody is smart or smarter.

    I don’t think that will solve anything, since once everyone becomes more intelligent, it could be possible that we simply discover a new set of problems to worry about and we end up in the same situation; eventually, while the new average man would be a “genius” by our standards, he’ll still be stuck in the middle of the bell curve in the same powerless position, while the more wealthy individuals (who can afford for better gene therapy) will contribute the upper and and the not-so-wealthy the lower end.

    It seems that the Gaussian distribution will continue to work it’s magic, although with much higher standards.

    Plus, we have to remember: the only reason we consider intelligence so valuable is because it’s a scarce commodity. At one time, physical manpower was just as scarce as a commodity and it was considered *just as* valuable. However, machines eventually showed themselves to be superior to raw human power, and it became worthless. What if X years from now AI will make intelligence no longer a scarce quality?

    I don’t know what would happen, but I’d imagine that everyone would probably just live together free to follow whatever desire or passion that interests them, without any sort of metric of who would be more or less valuable, as at that point we would all finally be equal.

  66. People who are mature, responsible, and non-spoiled and non-selfish will always have children. Yes, the “costs” have risen some. You can have an amazing life without kids — so much money, time, and energy to really suck the marrow out of life. I would never trade my life for that. Have I had to sacrifice? Of course! But here I am, pregnant with child #3. They are worth more to me than anything.

    But the same people who have serial divorces when the going gets tough will probably also not have the ability to really cherish children and the work that goes into them. That’s fine — the rest of us will make up for it.

    Partly, it helps to ignore popular culture. I don’t feel like I have to do all the crazy things other people do. My kids don’t *need* new, brand-name clothes. They don’t automatically deserve 27 special classes. Heck, I don’t even have to negotiate with school, and fundraisers, and all the insanity of parents trying to outdo each other at school, because I homeschool. I’m not one of those people who gives thanks for the school year beginning — I like my kids and I want to be around them. (You know, most of the time….)

    I think a lot of popular feminist culture is actually dooming women. They’re taking their best years for having kids and getting married and they’re spending them at school and on careers. They end up 40 and realize that their fertility is gone. But society punishes women who listen to their bodies and know that it’s perfectly fine to get married when they’re 21 and have kids in their early to mid-20s when it’s optimal! But, typically, you are looked down on for that. Or you have difficulty starting a career at a later age. That sort of culture is toxic to families.

    ANYWAY — yes it’s tough when you confront something and you find yourself on the losing side. :) A lot of people just go into denial. They are too weak to face the truth. Strong, smart people continually challenge everything they believe. I always do — I’m a born scientist, even if it isn’t my job anymore. (As an aside, most scientists these days *aren’t*.) I you argue with yourself in your head, you present yourself with arguments from all sides, and find smart people to debate with. I find that if I pick a side and I can’t defend it, it convinces me pretty well.

    But there’s always a time that something happens and it shocks me. And it does throw you for a while. But you have to hold on and don’t let yourself sink into denial and lying to yourself. It’s hard. You confront it head on.

    Oh, and I read things that comfort me. The Tao te Ching. Anything by Milton Friedman. Adam Smith. Benjamin Franklin. :D That and good music. Or a margarita and a really good enchilada. I mean, you can’t be unhappy with a good margarita and an enchilada… Oh! And a Scots-Irish-Taoist sense of humor. Anything can be funny if you look at it the right way.

  67. esr:
    > Ashkenazic Jews as a group were ruthlessly selected for IQ during the last thousand years by their role
    > as tax farmers for the Polish-Lithuanian Empire (also the reason Eastern European gentile peasantry
    > has inherited a bone-deep hatred for them)

    Yeah, the hatred is so deeply seeded that Germans during occupation were executing whole families for helping Jews and Poland still tops the Righteous among the Nations list.

  68. >Yeah, the hatred is so deeply seeded that Germans during occupation were executing whole families for helping Jews and Poland still tops the Righteous among the Nations list.

    On the other hand., some of the most enthusiatic SS Einsatzgruppen were recruited from Lithuanians and Latvians. And the Jews got essentially no help from gentile Poles during the Warsaw Ghetto atrocities.

  69. > And the Jews got essentially no help from gentile Poles during the Warsaw Ghetto atrocities.

    People are generally unmotivated to help others if risk is involved. What help did interned Japanese-Americans get from fellow Americans?

  70. Ummmm, I can’t understand:

    It seems to me it’s actually more difficult to deal with unpleasant possible truths that are only contingent…

    How do you know that the possibility of God existence is pleasant, because Cristian God is pleasant?. God can exist and multiple lives can exist, this doesn’t mean it to be pleasant. In fact, God could be a son of a **** too.

    Indian people believe in multiple lives, but that your live in this will affect the next one, next lives could be way worse than this too.

    The only thing that we know is that here we are, living, in fact you could live again even without God existence, if the universe is big enough, and for what we know about it is HUGE, what makes you you could be created again in a finite period of time.

    God existence is independent of our fears. If he exist, he will exit even if we fear or believe nothing, if he doesn’t he won’t whatever we believe or think.

    Believing in God is believing in infinite, and we will never know or touch the infinite.
    We can get to the limits of the universe, (we had not) but then we can find another universe, or the fact that we don’t see another universe doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    So believing in God is as rational as not believing in it.

  71. > And demographics are on our side; the rate of irreligion is increasing steadily, and in my personal experience, there are plenty of godless fish in the sea. Unfortunately for me, most of them are still leftists, but I think that will change in a few years when everyone in my pool gets a job and realizes the blunt of the impact of the massive debt.

    Although atheists may be increasing their percentage of the pool, the pool itself is shrinking. There will be (and has been repeatedly in the past) a tipping point where the religious folk increase to a point where they expand the size of the pool again.

    >>The reason you do that is because I followed one axiom through to its logical end: the Bible contains the words of the Creator-Deity.
    >Ted Walthers, that statement is way too complex to qualify as an axiom. An axiom has to be something simple and basic. Your “axiom” might sound simple and basic at first glance because it is only 9 words long, but the length of a sentence in English is a terrible guide to how complex it is. Your “axiom” contains huge, complex implications about the nature of the universe. A real axiom should be a simple statement that allows you to deduce the nature of the universe without saying much about it itself. “My senses are usually reliable” is a good example.

    The axiom is not too complex at all. What you are protesting is the complex results of applying the axiom. You might as well protest against Conways game of Life, and the Mandelbrot set. They too are expressed very simply but lead to almost infinitely complex worlds and interactions. Ones that we can’t predict ahead of time. If you can grok the mandelbrot set and the generation of fractal images in general, then you can’t use your complexity argument against the axiom that I follow. Now, we could make it a bit more rigorous, by breaking it into three separate axioms: 1) there is a Creator-Deity 2) He spoke words to his creation. 3) Some of those words are preserved in the Bible. Does that make you happy? I know in Law one can object to a question if it assumes facts not in evidence. Those three axioms together have the same effect as the one axiom.

    Following the axiom above has indeed allowed me to deduce much about the nature of the universe, and more especially, to understand a lot of the human power relationships around me.

    As for reproductive success, following the axiom above doesn’t just “not negatively impact reproductive success”. It cranks reproductive success through the roof compared to everything else. It is like putting reproductive capacity on crack, crank, steroids, cocaine, sugar, guarana and meth all at once, plus all the vitamins and nutrition needed to be sustainable long term. No other set of memes in history has even come close to reproducing its success.

  72. @Dustin

    “Take your feminism example. I’ve often had the same questions (and I also have the same feelings about women as you). I cope by being aware that there’s nothing I can do about it! ”

    There is plenty you can do about it.

    http://tinyurl.com/5o842

  73. Following the axiom above has indeed allowed me to deduce much about the nature of the universe

    That is not a good way of testing your axiom; indeed, you may be able to deduce anything from it, in which case it is useless.

  74. >That is not a good way of testing your axiom; indeed, you may be able to deduce anything from it, in which case it is useless.

    If I could deduce anything from it, it would be useless. However, nothing that can be deduced from it is provably false. For instance, noone has ever proven that pork is a healthy food. All available evidence supports the opposite contention.

  75. However, nothing that can be deduced from it is provably false.

    Well, maybe it’s not inconsistent, maybe it is. It’s certainly inconsistent with the remainder of science; you know, the stuff that people use to build bridges and computers, etc. Have fun spreading your useless genes/memes.

  76. I really don’t want to be involved in an irrelevant discussion (doubly irrelevant even) but sometimes things just leap out and itch:

    > noone has ever proven that pork is a healthy food

    Here in Australia where there are no Trichinella spiralis, pork is the safest meat. There is a (tiny but measurable) chance of some sort of parasite with beef, lamb etc. but none with pork. Even in countries with Trichinella spiralis by far the most dangerous meat is poultry. An ancient book that correctly warned that poultry was the most dangerous meat might have more credibility. (It still could have been a fluke.) Failing to correctly identify poultry (still very safe – but orders of magnitude more dangerous than anything else) as the most dangerous meat for humans to consume implies…

    A silly, trivial example – but one of many examples where those books are wrong.

  77. > I also consider socialism well intentioned but foolish.

    “well intentioned”? How many times does someone have to hit you in the head with a rock before you stop thinking that their good intentions matter?

    The argument for considering intention an excuse is basically that the bad result came from ignorance or unforseen circumstances. However, that argument assumes that the miscreant is not likely to reoffend, learns from the experience, and perhaps even teaches others.

    None of that applies to socialism. In fact, their “good intentions” are basically how they work themselves up to screwing you. As a result, said intentions are actually bad.

  78. > Recipes aren’t patented, they aren’t IP.

    Actually, some are. (Novelty is a high bar, but there are novel recipes.) And many others are copyrighted.

    And, you’re forgetting trade secrets, the recipe for Coca-Cola being an obvious example.

  79. @Ted Walther:

    Although atheists may be increasing their percentage of the pool, the pool itself is shrinking.

    No, actually, it is not. That’s nothing but a huge piece of misinformation, possibly even disinformation.

    1) there is a Creator-Deity 2) He spoke words to his creation. 3) Some of those words are preserved in the Bible. Does that make you happy?

    No. Especially your first and third axioms, those are inexorably complex.

    Thought experiment: If no one had ever told you about the BIble or your Creator-Deity, how would you know about either of them?

    Additional food for thought, before you comment on the thought experiment: how do you know the Bible contains some of those words that your Creator-Deity spoke to his creation? The sole source of authority of the Bible containing the words of your Creator-Deity is the Bible itself. It’s like a Web site with a self-signed SSL certficate: it is what it says it is because it says so. Such circular logic is ridiculous to any reasonable, thinking human being. Save the “I know it in my heart” and “I talk to God” rubbish for some other forum where fuzzy thinking and broken logic won’t get you laughed at.

    And your pork comments are patently ridiculous and laughable. Any food, taken in moderation, provides health benefit. The problem people have with pork, or beef, or poultry, even is simple: 1) they don’t take proper handling precautions (in terms of the safety of food) and 2) in terms of other health problems caused by meats, the problem is that many, especially in the West, and most especially in the United States, eat far too much of it, poultry and beef included, not just pork. Medical science has spent much time pondering the question of what to eat, and medical science has proven beyond doubt that the largest portion of our diets should come from fruits, vegetables and grains and that meats should be eaten but in lesser amounts.

    Disclaimer: I am not an atheist, so arguing against atheism won’t get you anywhere.

  80. > Additional food for thought, before you comment on the thought experiment: how do you know the Bible contains some of those words that your Creator-Deity spoke to his creation? The sole source of authority of the Bible containing the words of your Creator-Deity is the Bible itself.

    Based on Godels Theorem, there are lots of things you just can’t know. Reason and rationality break down in our world. They are useful tools, but at the end of the day you have to put them back in the toolshed and have a warm mug of hot chocolate with your family by the fire. Or are you the sort of person who wears your boots into bed?

    Without those unknowables out there, often you have to take something and run with it to see if it works. Be definition, axioms are unprovable. That is why they are axioms. Axioms are building blocks, just like prime numbers. You either accept them or you don’t. You can disprove axioms, but you can’t prove them. Which ties in to Karl Poppers work on falsifiability. The majority of the world’s population accepts the main tenets of the Bible as being true, so that is a good place to start. If it was easy to disprove the Bible, I’d have done it by now. I’ve taken it about as literally as is possible.

    > And your pork comments are patently ridiculous and laughable. Any food, taken in moderation, provides health benefit.

    Regarding pork, you are wrong. It causes cancer and overloads your digestive tract. No amount of cooking it or eating it in moderation changes these properties. For further information I recommend the work of Doctor Hans Reckeweg and Doctor Carey Reams.

    > Thought experiment: If no one had ever told you about the BIble or your Creator-Deity, how would you know about either of them?

    That is a thought experiment at the heart of most of my current studies. The closest I can come to is that people without access to the Bible must be open to receiving a revelation/theophany, then follow it up when it comes. And it will come, in some form or other. Its characteristics will be that it explains and illuminates the tribal history and traditions that one has access to, speak directly to a persons life situation, have predictive power, and would be congruent with the tribal traditions recorded in the Bible, since they all come from the same source.

    That is the current working hypothesis. Then there are miracles of course. Events which are so out of the ordinary they grab your attention and make you look for the intelligence behind them.

    Ted

  81. > Well, maybe it’s not inconsistent, maybe it is. It’s certainly inconsistent with the remainder of science; you know, the stuff that people use to build bridges and computers, etc. Have fun spreading your useless genes/memes.

    You are wrong. There is nothing in the Bible inconsistent with the stuff that people use to build bridges and computers. Inconsistent with some myths that technical people hold dearly, yes. But not with the stuff we actually use to do nitty-gritty work.

    Ted

  82. Shelby Moore contacted me privately and said he was having problems posting. I am posting the following on his behalf:

    >> However, nothing that can be deduced from it is provably false.
    >
    > It’s certainly inconsistent with the remainder of science; you know,
    > the stuff that people use to build bridges and computers, etc.

    Scientifically incorrect (with specific examples for computers):

    http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/node/1277#comment-51742
    http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/node/3637#comment-51736

    If you knew anything about computers, you’ve heard of Turing and the
    Halting problem.

  83. The majority of the world’s population accepts the main tenets of the Bible as being true, so that is a good place to start. If it was easy to disprove the Bible, I’d have done it by now. I’ve taken it about as literally as is possible.

    That’s an appeal to popularity. If a majority of the world’s population thought that the Earth were flat, that does not make it so.

    Regarding pork, you are wrong. It causes cancer and overloads your digestive tract. No amount of cooking it or eating it in moderation changes these properties. For further information I recommend the work of Doctor Hans Reckeweg and Doctor Carey Reams.

    You use an appeal to authority, and then name two people spreading around psuedoscientific garbage as your authorities? Are you deliberately trying to get labelled as a quack and a crank?

    That is a thought experiment at the heart of most of my current studies. The closest I can come to is that people without access to the Bible must be open to receiving a revelation/theophany, then follow it up when it comes. And it will come, in some form or other. Its characteristics will be that it explains and illuminates the tribal history and traditions that one has access to, speak directly to a persons life situation, have predictive power, and would be congruent with the tribal traditions recorded in the Bible, since they all come from the same source.

    Humans tend to believe in a God or Gods because we’re wired that way, but who’s to say that that person would receive a “revelation” or “theophany” for your God? Note that there have been several scientific/anthropological studies that show that, in the absence of education and other inputs, people tend towards polytheistic beliefs. In fact, if you were educated at all about the Judaic peoples, then you would know that they were, originally, a polytheistic people. What we call modern “Judaism” started as a cult to one particular deity in the Jewish pantheon.

    Someone please make it stop. I can’t stop laughing and my sides are starting to hurt.

  84. @Morgan: arguably, with Catholicism (I don’t really know about other strains of Christendom), they’re back to polytheism.

  85. I apologize for derailing the discussion a little but this is insulting and just wrong…

    esr:
    > On the other hand., some of the most enthusiatic SS Einsatzgruppen were recruited from
    > Lithuanians and Latvians.

    And yet the core and leadership had to be comprised of Germans. Every occupant will find some traitors willing to work for him, it was still much more difficult in the former Polish-Lithuanian Empire than it was in France or Norway.

    > And the Jews got essentially no help from gentile Poles during the Warsaw Ghetto atrocities.

    What kind of help would you expect, when even the Warsaw Uprising — organized a year after the ghetto was destroyed, when the Third Reich was losing on the eastern front and already lost the battle of Britain; with forces over 30 times larger than the Jewish underground — failed after two months?

    You do not offer any reasoning to support this opinion, so I can only disagree:
    > The Council to Aid Jews operated under the auspices of the Polish Government in Exile through
    > the Government Delegation for Poland, in Warsaw. Å»egota’s express purpose was to aid the
    > country’s Jews and find places of safety for them in occupied Poland. Poland was the only
    > country in occupied Europe where there existed such a dedicated secret organization.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%BBegota

  86. > That’s an appeal to popularity. If a majority of the world’s population thought that the Earth were flat, that does not make it so.

    Appeal to popularity is when you use popularity as an argument in favor of your position. I did nothing of the sort. I used the popularity of the belief in the Bible to determine a starting point for my investigations. Starting point is about as far as you can get from a conclusion. They are at opposite ends of the process.

    > You use an appeal to authority, and then name two people spreading around psuedoscientific garbage as your authorities?

    Have you so quickly read the writings of the two doctors I named, so that you can confidently call them pseudoscientific? Shame on it!

    > In fact, if you were educated at all about the Judaic peoples, then you would know that they were, originally, a polytheistic people. What we call modern “Judaism” started as a cult to one particular deity in the Jewish pantheon.

    What makes you think I’m not a polytheist in the same way the early Judaics were? Taking the Bible literally leads to results VERY different from modern Judaism AND Christianity. Closer to Buddhism and Taoism.

    You might be laughing, but the joke is on you.

  87. >Shelby Moore contacted me privately and said he was having problems posting. I am posting the following on his behalf:

    He asked to be banned. I thought this request was screwy, but I honored it because he’s been annoying a lot of my commenters with posts that are longwinded and extremely cranky.

  88. >Are you [Ted Walther] deliberately trying to get labelled as a quack and a crank?

    I don’t think it’s deliberate. Very effective, yes, but not deliberate.

  89. A quack and a crank for taking an ancient text and applying modern scientific and mathematical principles to its interpretation?

  90. >A quack and a crank for taking an ancient text and applying modern scientific and mathematical principles to its interpretation?

    Yes. Garbage in, garbage out. You can apply all the logic you want to a jumble of noise and contradictions; all you’ll get back out is noise and contradictions.

  91. How sad. If only for the Song of Songs, the Bible is a net win for humanity. I don’t believe its religion, I’m appalled at some of its chronicles, yet it has taught me much, and there’s powerful psychology and philosophy in it, apart from the history. To dismiss it with two sentences is petty and sad (as might, of course, praising it with two sentences. Funny).

  92. Appeal to popularity is when you use popularity as an argument in favor of your position. I did nothing of the sort. I used the popularity of the belief in the Bible to determine a starting point for my investigations. Starting point is about as far as you can get from a conclusion. They are at opposite ends of the process.

    In your original statement you said:

    If it was easy to disprove the Bible, I’d have done it by now. I’ve taken it about as literally as is possible.

    I originally ignored it because it was obviously silly. No one is going to expect that someone who studies the Christian faith, particularly not someone who is a faith-holding Christian, is going to put forth an earnest attempt to disprove the Bible.

    Everything that is needed to disprove the Bible is contained wholly within the Bible. I’m not going to go into that argument here because it’s probably off-topic, but I will make several recommendations that might just help you with your struggle to disprove the Bible:

    Ken’s Guide to the Bible, a book by Ken Smith (who is, incidentally a Christian) – search your favorite major bookseller’s website, it’s in print.
    The God Who Wasn’t There, a movie directed by Brian Flemming (thought I throw in a link to the site with trailer ’cause I know ESR would appreciate that movie.)
    Try taking a class in the “Bible as literature.”
    Research this question: if the man named Yeshua bin Miriam was so important, why was it that the writers of the Gospels waited until 50-80 years after his death to write abut him? Also, who, exactly who was Saul of Tarsus and what, exactly, did he believe about this Yeshua guy? (large hint: he wrote a few letters. Another large hint: he never actually believed that this Yeshua figure existed in flesh and blood form on this earth.)
    Research this question: Why did the Romans keep no record of Yeshua bin Miriam’s birth? Weren’t they pretty big into those records because they collected taxes?

    (Here’s hoping Adriano got his wish ;)

  93. @Morgan: conflating a series of books (quick, what does ‘Biblia’ mean?) as a single entity, and pretending to ‘disprove’ it is ludicrous. I don’t know which wish of mine did you allude to, actually. I’ve posted twice in this thread, and it’s been long since I said anything about religion here otherwise. What did you mean?

  94. Adriano: You said you found it distasteful that the BIble was dismissed with two sentences. I thought I’d write a bit more for your benefit. :)

  95. >To dismiss it with two sentences is petty and sad (as might, of course, praising it with two sentences. Funny).

    That’s a remarkably thick-witted way of interpreting what I said. I myself admire the sonorous language of the King James Version, not being competent to read the koine/Hebrew/Aramaic original.

    The point is more general. Logical analysis cannot rescue *those parts of* any ancient text that are noise and contradictions. Deduce from nonsense and you will get nonsense. And whatever one might incidentally admire in it, there is no shortage of nonsense in the Bible.

  96. > Research this question: Why did the Romans keep no record of Yeshua bin Miriam’s birth? Weren’t they pretty big into those records because they collected taxes?

    In fact, according to Michael Baigents latest book, the Jesus Papers, there is several records left by the Romans that speak of their interactions with Jesus. As for Paul not believing that a flesh and blood Jesus ever existed, you’d have to look outside the Bible to find that. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

  97. > Research this question: if the man named Yeshua bin Miriam was so important, why was it that the writers of the Gospels waited until 50-80 years after his death to write abut him?

    You hang out on esr’s blog, and yet you know so little of the workings of ancient mystery religions? Lots of things are kept in oral form and only written down when they are in danger of being lost. The attacks from the other sects of Judaism made that possibility real.

  98. Honest question for you Ted: how do you explain this.

    In one sample of God’s speaking that you have already given as an example, The Bible, consider this. In 1Samuel 15, the prophet Samuel goes nuts at King Saul. You see God had commanded Saul to kill the Amalekites, all of them, men, women, children, babies, animals, all. And that despicable Saul had only killed some of them. To be clear verse 2 clearly states that it was God’s command, not some bright idea by Samuel. I think it is particularly interesting that this God not only commands killing the children, but makes sure to include the babies as a separate item in his command. Here it is, verse 2 and 3:

    1Samuel 15:2-3
    This is what the Lord Almighty says: … Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”

    So Ted, tell us, are these really the words of your God — kill everyone, including the innocent children, and whatever you do don’t forget the babies. If you found out that King Saul had spared the babies from the massacre would you have been hoping mad like Samuel was, or would you have appreciated his compassion. Or is Christian compassion reserved only for those unborn babies on the steps of an abortion clinic?

    Are you a worshiper of Jehovah the baby killer, or did I misunderstand the very plain words in this passage? You who claims to take everything as literally as possible, how is this working on your gag reflex? Can you, will you answer?

    You are right, you can disprove an axiom. I propose that this passage disproves your axiom that the Bible is the words of a good, moral God.

  99. QUOTE: Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    There is stuff in the Bible that seems wierd, or even offensive to human sensibilities. But God isn’t a human.

    QUOTE: 1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (Job 5:13)

    Just because you, with your limited senses and limited experience, judge things one way, that doesn’t mean they actually are that way. A Creator-God by necessity has more and better knowledge with which to make such judgements of morality. If his judgements give you a gag reflex, maybe it is to make you stop and reflect on your life, and how to prevent such judgements from coming upon yourself.

    From a practical point of view, 1Samuel15 is no different from the Viking sagas. Do the Viking sagas seem immoral to you too? For the Vikings said, if you are going to kill your enemy, rise up early and do it before he awakes. If you are taking someones land, doesn’t it make sense to remove any possibility that they will make a later claim on it, perhaps several generations down the road? You may consider this practice barbaric; but I know of families today who are undergoing a process of attrition, their members being assassinated systematically to remove their claim on land. Times have not changed. But because people believe they have, they are blind to such crimes. The Bible forbade such generational feuding. The conflict was to be done once and for all in a clean sweep. If this wasn’t done, it wasn’t to be continued. Saul and his sons were all killed as punishment for trying to kill a group of Canaanites who had survived the first onslaught.

    I could couch all this in modern evolutionary terms, using many words to do so. But I’ve given you enough of a start. If you take every detail into account together, you can see the ramifications and balances and counter-balances that make it work like a well-oiled machine.

    In programming languages, side-effects are to be avoided, because it overloads the comprehension of the human brain. In the Bible, almost every single thing has more side-effects than direct effects. This is why the meaning of most of the Bible is concealed from those who don’t practice the disciplines it outlines. You can’t easily reason out the side effects; you just have to go through the process and experience them. And some of them take generations to manifest, like the hop-a-long fractal. And many of them can seem scary and difficult when you have never done them before. But they always end up being easy and lead to harmonious results.

  100. Jessica, can you please tell me what the cicadas did in the summers of 2007, 2008, and 2009? Anything interesting? Were they asleep?

  101. >There is stuff in the Bible that seems wierd, or even offensive to human sensibilities. But God isn’t a human.

    Right, there’s the all-purpose escape hatch. We throw any nonsense, contradiction, or atrocity in the bin marked “God is INSCRUTABLE!”, and we don’t have to explain it any more.

    Fuck that with a chainsaw, sideways. Same old poisonous drivel being peddled from the same old stand.

  102. Ted Walther Says:
    > Just because you, with your limited senses and limited experience,
    > judge things one way, that doesn’t mean they actually are that way.

    See here is the problem Ted: you are trying to use pseudo science to argue your case. You talk about axioms, you talk about Godel, you mention Turing and the Halting problem, and so forth, however, it is just mumbo jumbo. Because one of the fundamental principles of science is falsifiability. If there is no possible way to prove a statement false (not due to my limitations, but intrinsically because of the way you frame it), then its is basically meaningless, and any further discussion on the subject is pointless. You are taking it on faith, and all your rambling claims of logic and science are just vacuous fluff.

    Your statements are unfalsifiable, therefore you have nothing to say.

    > Jessica, can you please tell me what the cicadas did in the summers of
    > 2007, 2008, and 2009? Anything interesting? Were they asleep?

    I have no idea.

  103. A numerologist once told me “you don’t have to understand it for it to work”. For the Abrahamic faiths to have expanded their market share to more than half the worlds population, they must be doing their jobs well. Islam and Christianity are even taking over inside China, the last bastion of non-Abrahamic religions.

  104. > See here is the problem Ted: you are trying to use pseudo science to argue your case.

    Not at all. I have no need to prove the Bible to you. I am saying that honest attempts to disprove it have failed. And the advantages are very clear and present. In the circumstances that a) noone has proven it false and b) it provides considerable advantage to the propagation of my genes, it would be irrational to ignore it or throw it away.

    If science only stuck to things it could prove, it would never advance. Instead it progresses by disproving things and tossing them out, and paying more attention to what is left. I have merely taken this same approach to understanding the Bible.

  105. There are many things in the Bible that could be falsified, thus making it a falsifiable document. The particular items you chose, judging the morality of the Bible, is not falsifiable. I don’t think Godel, Popper, and Mandelbrot are mumbo-jumbo. I think they provide useful mental tools for decoding the world around us.

  106. esr, Shelby just emailed me, asking me to post “one last post” to this thread. I thought it was well-written and reasonable. I respect your ownership of this blog and request permission to go ahead and post his comment. I posted his earlier one because I didn’t know that you had banned him.

    ESR says: Shelby’s posts are landing in my spam queue. I do not trust your judgment of what’s “reasonable”, as I consider you a crank only a few angstroms shy of raving loony. If I see “one last post” from Shelby Moore that actually looks like it adds value, I will approve it myself.

  107. So let me get this straight. The Bible is a book that was written thousands of years ago, over a period of thousands of years, in a hodgepodge of languages that today are the sole domain of academics, which has been translated into English thousands of times. On top of that, there have been numerous disputes, both ancient and modern, about just what constitutes part of the Bible, anyway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_apocrypha). So which Bible do you use? Which group of fallible humans do you entrust with your unconditional faith? Because have no doubt, whether it was divinely inspired at the beginning or not, much will have been lost in translation, much may be only expressible in the original languages, and much is immediately the product of fallible humans. What do you regard as divinely true? The Gospels, for instance, were avowedly written by, again, fallible humans; they’re simply about someone deemed divine. Where do you draw the line? At this point, my debates about religion don’t even reference those who think the Bible literally true; they’re considered to be in the same ballpark as those who think that we never landed on the moon. I will readily admit that the Bible contains much good advice; perhaps some of it even was divinely inspired (I try to assume an open mind on the issue). However, again, if you believe that the killing of every man, woman, and child of the Amalekites was divinely ordained to the point that the king having compassion on some of them was an offense worthy of a cussing-out by the prophet, then I have nothing to say to you.

  108. > You who claims to take everything as literally as possible, how is this working on your gag reflex? Can you, will you answer?

    I think my gag reflex is in better working order than that of people who enjoy reading Crowley.

  109. > So which Bible do you use?

    I am learning Hebrew so I can read the original Bible. A few trusted sources have identified a dozen or so minor amendations that need to be made to the original text, some others have provided some checksums for verifying the text, and already even with a little knowledge of Hebrew the Bible is springing to life as a robust, simple set of behavioral codes.

    I take a cross-checking approach to the texts of the Bible, and isolate questionable segments for further study in the future. I do experiments to confirm that things are physically possible. I do calculations to find out the costs and logistics of various things, to see what implications arise.

    The Gospels themselves do not deem Jesus divine in the Trinitarian sense. The Aramaic translations of them do.

  110. By “original text” I am taking the Tiberian (Aleppo) tradition as the most reliable, but with confirmation and cross-checking from other archaelogical finds like Qumran and Nag-Hammadi.

    One of my experiments revealed that the scarab beetle, sacred to the Egyptians, is the likely shape that the menorah was built in. I think that would make both Christians and Jews indignant. It doesn’t bother me though.

  111. @Jessica: You seem really stuck on that chapter of the bible, you’ve mentioned it before. I have a few comments about it: Samuel cast Saul off not because he failed to kill children, but because he had kept animals. According to Saul, the animals were to be sacrificed, but Samuel answered “does God prefer sacrifices, or that you obey him?”. Note I’m not quoting, only paraphrasing. The Bible I quote from is in Italian, based on ‘the original texts’.

    This does nothing to explain or relieve us from the horror. I ask now: do you really hate them because they killed children, or because they put it in writing? It’s actually no excuse, but Jews recording this for posterity must mean (the simplest explanation that comes to me) that it was a common occurrence at the time. And having read about Assyrians and others, sacking and massacring was not uncommon at all. Sennacherib comes to my mind. So they justify their killing as ‘God ordered this’. Christian popes were also quick to say ‘Deus vult!’, a bit closer in time.

    All this does not excuse jack shit, but it does dilute (for me) the ‘Jehovah the baby killer’ idea you’re so keen on, because everyone else did so at the time. I’m only positing that you’re judging those times from our moral compass today, and it does not make a lick of sense.

    There’s also the episode about the brothers of a jewish girl raped by a nearby people’s leader, that then fell in love with her. This leader asked then for her in marriage, and the answer was that all his people had to be circumcised to join the Hebrews. Having done so, when all of them were weak and in pain, the Jews killed them all. Does that make any sense, judged with 21st century ethics? Now, does it make some more sense when the average life expectancy was nearly half of ours (I might be wrong about this), when war between tribes was a lot more common?

    Applying a ‘God wills it’ to the fact (if fact it is) afterwards just makes it a bit easier to swallow for the populace.

  112. Adriano Says:
    > This does nothing to explain or relieve us from the horror. I ask now:
    > do you really hate them because they killed children, or because they
    > put it in writing?

    I suggest you read what I wrote again. I do not hate Saul and the Jewish nation who perpetrated this. The point is not that it occurred, the point is why it occurred, the point is who ordered it.

    The point is not that the Jews did it, the point is the GOD commanded them to do it, and was pissed when they didn’t go the full measure.

    You contrast it with the story of the rape of Dinah. Read the story, you will see that her brothers committed genocide on the men of Shechem also, but they did it of their own volition, not under a command of God, so the two are not really parallel.

    My condemnation in the matter of Saul and the Amalekites is not on the Jews, it is on the God who commanded the genocide of babies. (BTW, the Hebrew word translated infants literally means children who have not yet been weaned.)

    Ancient peoples were brutal and lived short unpleasant lives. I grant you that. However, I do not seek them for moral guidance. I do not worship them, I do not hold them as my model of love, I do not hold them as my model for life.

    This is not about Saul the baby killer, it is about Jehovah the baby killer.

  113. Ted Walther Says:
    > Not at all. I have no need to prove the Bible to you. I am saying
    > that honest attempts to disprove it have failed.

    Let us assume that the Bible is a true, accurate and consistent record of the word and dealings of God.
    The Bible says that Jehovah advocated the genocide of a whole race of his enemies, and advocates the mass murder of babies.
    The Bible says that Jehovah is loving, gracious merciful God.
    The two preceding statements contain contradictory facts, therefore the initial assumption is incorrect.

    This is what is known in mathematics as proof by contradiction.

    This is an honest attempt to disprove the bible, that, as far as I can see has not failed.

    Now, let me ask you this Ted: if I cannot convince you that a God who orders the mass murder of babies is evil, then what exactly does it take to convince you that such a God is evil? Can you name any other circumstance where mass murder and genocide would not be labeled as evil?

    Perhaps I don’t understand the mysterious ways and thoughts of the great and mighty Jehovah, but if he advocates the mass murder of babies, regardless of his inscrutable motives, do you really want to hang around with him, and take his advice?

  114. Ted Walther Says:
    > If his judgements give you a gag reflex, maybe it is to make you
    > stop and reflect on your life, and how to prevent such judgements
    > from coming upon yourself.

    Ted, if his judgment to order genocide and the mass muder of babies does not give you a gag reflex I suggest it is you who needs to do a little reflection, not me.

  115. Think about this Jessica. All people die. Every single one. Why? Because the Creator decreed it so, from the beginning. Is he evil for decreeing that some infants die by the sword, but not evil for decreeing that all human beings die? Is not the Creator of genes well qualified to determine if some genes are so flawed that they should be eliminated?

    You see a contradiction between being loving and merciful on the one hand, and between carrying out a complete surgical strike on the other. I take that you are therefore opposed to the death penalty being applied to serial killers. It follows logically that you are opposed a persons right to die with dignity (euthanasia). It follows that you should be opposed to surgery that removes cancer cells from a body.

    You quibble about some Amalekite babies, and don’t even bother to mention all the babies, of all species, who died in the Great Flood.

    At the end of the day, the Creator gave life, so he can take it back. When he chooses, as he chooses. And he can give it back again!

    As for his motives, babies grow up to be men and women. It is not such a long time before your enemies son grows up and seeks to take his inheritance back by the sword. It is not such a long time before your enemies daughter, who grew up in your household, holds the door open at night so her uncles and cousins and creep in and murder you. Mercy? A quick and total destruction is merciful. A painful and lingering death is not.

    I think you can understand this applies to individual humans. I think you should expand your mind a bit and see that this also applies to human societies. Should you have an infected tooth yanked quickly, or slowly drilled out over several days?

  116. Also, a short and total war will take fewer lives and produce less pain than a long and protracted generational feud. You have seen the photos of children injured by land mines. I had dinner last night with an Afghani man who was blinded as a child by a mine. Do you say God is unmerciful, when his commands minimize death, and prevent children from being crippled for life? War is a fact of life, a fact of humanity. The Bible shows the most humane way to carry it out.

  117. # Ted Walther Says:
    > Think about this Jessica. All people die. Every single one. Why? Because the
    > Creator decreed it so, from the beginning. Is he evil for decreeing that some
    > infants die by the sword, but not evil for decreeing that all human beings die?

    Ah, the Jim Jones justification, your going to die anyway, why not now!!! (Oh and by the way, I am still pissed at God about that whole all mankind has to die thing. How come? I’d rather not if you please.)

    > Is not the Creator of genes well qualified to determine if some genes are so
    > flawed that they should be eliminated?

    Ah, the eugenics justification. Vee will make a MASTER race.

    > You see a contradiction between being loving and merciful on the one hand,
    > and between carrying out a complete surgical strike on the other.

    Ah, the “they deserved it” justification. (BTW, surgery is usually done under anesthetic, in Saul’s case, the babies probably witnessed first their parents death, and tean a brutal laceration, causing them to bleed out slowly and end their short and tragic lives in excruciation pain amidst the tortured anguish of their parents, brothers sisters and friends. Nice.)

    > I take that you are therefore opposed to the death penalty being
    > applied to serial killers.

    No, I am opposed to the death penalty for innocent babies, is all I’m saying. Sorry if I was unclear on that.

    > It follows logically that you are opposed a persons right to die with
    > dignity (euthanasia).

    Oh, sorry if I was unclear on that one too Ted. No, I am not opposed to euthanasia, just putting grandma out of her misery while she begs and screams to be allowed to live a little longer. (I you can have that antique dresser if I can keep the china.)

    > It follows that you should be opposed to surgery that removes
    > cancer cells from a body.

    No, I am opposed to the removal of healthy organs from live people, against their will though. (And if you are going to do it, a little anesthetic would be appropriate at least.)

    > You quibble about some Amalekite babies, and don’t even bother
    > to mention all the babies, of all species, who died in the Great Flood.

    Sorry about that, yes I find that staying focused on one passage helps prevent people from slipping out of the true consequences of what the Bible says, but you are right there are many other passages in the Bible that would serve as a similarly useful exemplar.

    > At the end of the day, the Creator gave life, so he can take it back.
    > When he chooses, as he chooses. And he can give it back again!

    Really, so you are of immaculate conception too? As for me, my mommy and daddy made me.

    > As for his motives, babies grow up to be men and women. It is not
    > such a long time before your enemies son grows up and seeks to
    > take his inheritance back by the sword.

    So you you favor killing people for what they might do in the future?

    On to the next comment:

    > Also, a short and total war will take fewer lives and produce less pain
    > than a long and protracted generational feud.

    How can you take less lives that “everyone”, exactly?

    > You have seen the photos of children injured by land mines.

    Have you seen photos of fields full of eviscerated babies, hidden only by the gore and bile and bodies parts of their parents, brothers, sisters and friends?

    Come on Ted, instead of trying to justify what someone has told you to believe, how about actually thinking. You are trying to justify and explain the unjustifiable and inexplicable. And you accuse other people of intellectual dishonesty.

  118. I’m a bit concerned about “feeding the troll” – because I just looked up “Doctor Hans Reckeweg and Doctor Carey Reams” and I doubt they would be cited except to try and elicit a reaction. Nonetheless:

    > At the end of the day, the Creator gave life, so he can take it back.
    > When he chooses, as he chooses. And he can give it back again!

    This entity you call Creator seems capricious and cruel to me. When my final curtain arrives and I’ll be pretty surprised if it isn’t oblivion and nothing for me to worry about. In the hypothetical case that there’s a pearly gate and St Peter offering me eternal paradise if I repent, I dearly hope that I would have the backbone to turn down the offer because it means kow-towing to such an evil entity. I’m not worried it’s likely; but _if_ it happened I hope I would have the guts to take a moral stand against such an evil entity – even if it means eternal damnation.

  119. The pearly gates of heaven are a Catholic belief, not a Biblical belief. The Bible says that whatever comes after death is unknowable to us in this life.

  120. The pearly gates are Revelations 21:21 and are irrelevant anyway. If there were a hypothetical option of eternal paradise for condoning the actions of the “Creator” entity, if put in that situation I hope I would have the balls to turn it down on moral grounds.

  121. ESR, for gametheory and evopsych applied to relationships, read:
    The Game – Neill Strauss
    The venusian arts handbook – Mystery aka Eric von Markovic
    http://roissy.wordpress.com

    And there are many more, as I’m sure you know….

  122. @Jessica: I understand your point. It’s just that, reading that, I read ‘we did this, so we’ll say God ordered us’ instead of ‘God ordered us, so we did this’. Or ‘that crazy old Samuel coot and his mad fellow priests are pushing us to eradicate the Amalekites by saying YHWH will be mighty pissed if we don’t ‘, which makes even more sense to me.

  123. esearch this question: Why did the Romans keep no record of Yeshua bin Miriam’s birth? Weren’t they pretty big into those records because they collected taxes?

    In fact, according to Michael Baigents latest book, the Jesus Papers, there is several records left by the Romans that speak of their interactions with Jesus

    You changed the subject. There is no official record of his birth. At all. None. The birth record would have been required for tax purposes. The Romans were extremely picky about such things. They make the IRS look like nice guys.

    As for Paul not believing that a flesh and blood Jesus ever existed, you’d have to look outside the Bible to find that. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

    Philippeans 3:20: But our commonwealth is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ

    Somewhere in one the letters Paul even says something to effect in reference to Jesus that “Had He even walked on this earth…” etc. Much of what Paul says about Jesus only makes sense if Paul sees Jesus as a mythological figure.

    You hang out on esr’s blog, and yet you know so little of the workings of ancient mystery religions? Lots of things are kept in oral form and only written down when they are in danger of being lost. The attacks from the other sects of Judaism made that possibility real.

    Pfffft. Paul’s letters were written many years before the gospels were written. Also, all of the gospels are based on Mark. And Mark has all of the marks of allegorical literature, which was very popular at the time. I should also point out that the Gospels don’t even agree on what Jesus’ last words were, even despite the fact that they are all obviously based on Mark.

    Also, you should research the Council of Nicea, and find out, exactly, what they chose to be put into and left out of the Bible. For example, John’s Book of Revelation almost didn’t even make the cut. There was a very strong contingent that wanted to use Peter’s eschaton instead of John’s, which they saw as bizarre.

  124. Something to be careful about when dealing with this sort of troll: to these people, normal senses of morality, as the rest of us would agree on, do not apply. If you take the book as true, then by definition any action or command of god is inherently Good, and any action against god is Evil, and there is nothing more to it. If all things flow from god, then even morality must be judged with god as the fulcrum. It’s a wonderful fantasy construction to use when you want to vindicate your actions, and makes it extremely difficult to argue against portions of the book where a ‘kind and just’ god does or commands despicable things. These people live in a separate reality namespace than the saner examples of humanity.

  125. jsk Says:
    > Something to be careful about when dealing with this sort of troll

    In my assessment Ted is not a troll at all, in the conventional sense of the word, that is someone who posts provocative material simply to seek attention for himself, or upset or irritate people. On the contrary, Ted, I don’t doubt, sincerely believes what he is saying, and probably feels that by posting here he is justifying his own philosophical ideas to himself, and probably feels he is engaging in a little proselytizing.

    I think it is worth engaging with people like that, partly because the intellectual jousting is fun (though Ted is a target so easy that it almost feels cruel to push too far), and perhaps engagement might challenge Ted to open his eyes a little and not get locked into a course in life that will be very damaging to him. I assume from his posts that Ted is still pretty young. So, from my perspective, perhaps my comments might dissuade him from a lifetime of religion, and that is worth a few paragraphs in my opinion.

  126. 19 men of Arab descent hijacked four planes.

    All fervently believed that they were doing God’s will. They were doing the will of the same God of Abraham that you venerate.

    Two groups succeeded in their mission.

    One group had a partial success.

    God was clearly on the side of the terrorists. They were following an Abrahamic manifesto to strike out at those who are unrighteous and tresspass against God’s land. Very Old Testament.

    The fourth plane was taken down by people who were scared, who were thinking of their families, who were thinking of what would happen if they did NOT do this. If they plead to God for resolve, it likely fell on deaf ears…but they did it anyway.

    I choose to venerate human cussedness and self reliance, rather than someone building the analogy that as we are to sheep, God is to us. Which means that as sheep are to us, we are to God:

    Let’s examine this: Sheep are a food source (and a source of clothing fiber. Ideally, you kill them young before they get old and tough to eat. You let the elders live out to provide a stable breeding population, and so they can be fleeced.

    So, God wants you to die young while you’re still tender and tasty, and if He is not Hungry, he wants you to be fleeced yearly.

    Pardon me, I’d rather venerate the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  127. So, God wants you to die young while you’re still tender and tasty, and if He is not Hungry, he wants you to be fleeced yearly.

    Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhthagn!

  128. Jessica, it seems to me that Samuel 15:2-3 is easy to defend/explain. The full quote is:

    Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy [a] everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”

    A simple explanation is Samuel misrepresenting the message, no?

  129. The irony is that I would love to believe in some sort of earth spirit God, modernized animism that admits the possibility of an afterlife or some other kind of spiritualism that would allow me to plumb it depths at my leisure and perhaps find things dark and a little terrifying as well as noble and good. However, I am compelled by the evidence of my experiences to embrace Mormon Christianity. I am not schizophrenic, I studied physics in college, I have witnessed first hand some of the worse, shocking third world poverty and suffering this world has to offer and I still can’t deny the weight of the evidence of my own personal experiences (I am not trying to be sarcastic or insulting either).

  130. # a Says:
    > A simple explanation is Samuel misrepresenting the message, no?

    Undoubtedly Samuel made up the whole thing (assuming there is much historical truth to the record anyway.) But if that is the case, what conclusion are we to draw regarding the veracity of the Bible? And if that conclusion is not positive, what conclusion are we to draw regarding the God who, allegedly, wrote the Bible?

  131. # ChrisGreen Says:
    > I am compelled by the evidence of my experiences to embrace Mormon Christianity.

    What evidence? Are you down with the whole glasses and golden tablets thing?

  132. >What evidence? Are you down with the whole glasses and golden tablets thing?

    No, not that. I can understand why you might assume that, but to me, it doesn’t make sense to be convinced by what other people have seen and felt. My beliefs are based on my own experiences, although many of them are connected in one way or another to the Book of Mormon and other scripture. Generally speaking, I am hesitant to share the kinds of personal experiences that led to my beliefs in a forum like this. It is not because I don’t respect ESR or the regular readers of his blog. It just that the general reaction to the kinds of experiences I would relate fall into 2 categories:

    1. What’s the big deal with that, why did that convince you of anything, or
    2. I don’t believe you, you must be lying or mental

    In general, the exchange isn’t very productive unless I’m talking to someone who knows me well enough to not simply assume I’m crazy. I’m perfectly happy talking to someone (one on one) about it, and if you want to, feel free to email me at statbio.cg@gmail.com (this is my risk account so I’m not an idiot for putting it out there). However, I don’t feel comfortable broadcasting the nature of my very personal experiences (at least of this nature) on a blog.

  133. @Chris:

    I think most everyone has had some experiences that they would qualify as ‘mystical’. To some extent, I think ESR is right when he says that people are wired to see things that they can’t explain, odd coincidences, feelings and intuitions that they can’t explain and all sorts of things as supernatural. And, in fact, if you go back through time and history you can see evidence of this over and over. When people didn’t know what made the sun appear to move through the sky, they figured it must be some kind of supernatural being or occurrence. There’s real psychological truth to the statement that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    I, too, have experienced things that lead me to my spiritual path in neopaganism.

    However, I will say this: whether any of what I have experienced was simply my imagination, coincidence, or just plain entropy, I don’t know. I personally think the gods are real, but only because we make them real. I choose to believe that we are spiritual creatures living a physical existence, but whether I can prove that, whether it is real beyond my own mind and imagination? I don’t know. And I don’t care. I don’t have any need to prove or disprove it. Seeing the world this way works for me on some level, even if it is a complete delusion. I guess in that way, you could say I’m sort of a “neopagan agnostic.”

    I think it’s stupid when people try to “prove” their own religious beliefs, no matter what they are trying to use to prove them. It’s stupid because there is no way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything of a spiritual or supernatural nature exists. Since you can’t, by definition, prove a negative, there’s no way to prove it doesn’t exist, either.

    One thing I will say is that if your religious beliefs require you to ignore or dispute the findings of rational human beings conducting science in the usual way (a belief in creationism that excludes evolution, a belief that the earth is 6,000 years old, whatever.), if you find science at all a threat to your philosophical or religious beliefs, you need to find some new beliefs or, at the very least, discard the ones you have.

    And, by the way, that is not the same thing as saying that you must have some sort of odd, unwaivering faith of science as conducted by obviously flawed human beings. Science has proven itself wrong before and will doubtlessly prove itself wrong again; you just have to realize that science represents humanities current “best guess” at how the universe works and that attacking it because it disagrees with your religious dogma is narrow-minded and stupid. I also think the complete obverse is true: attacking a belief only because it cannot be scientifically proven is also stupid and narrow-minded. (OTOH, attacking a belief because it is held completely irrationally is okay. ;)

  134. > Undoubtedly Samuel made up the whole thing (assuming there is much historical truth to the record anyway.)
    > But if that is the case, what conclusion are we to draw regarding the veracity of the Bible?

    I thought we were talking about internal consistency of Bible, not about what “really” transpired. In these terms, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with assuming that statements in Bible are true and not having problems with the order reported by Samuel. Bible might report truthfully what Samuel said without necessarily implying it was true. Interpretation of Samuel 15:10-11 becomes then interesting, but I don’t see a contradiction.

  135. @a: You’re talking in circles. What is 1 Samuel? It’s the story of Samuel and his ministry, right?

    If you agree on that, then what purpose does the author have for telling the story of Samuel and his ministry? Is it not at least partially to retell Samuel’s account of his dealings with Yahweh?

    If Samuel is lying here in chapter 15, then why should we believe anything Samuel tells us? If Samuel is telling us a bunch of lies, then why write about him and his story at all? Wouldn’t that make him a false prophet? Wouldn’t his actions constitute blasphemy? And if Samuel is lying here, then how come Yahweh doesn’t punish his sorry blasphemeing ass with a fireball or some lightning or by killing his wife or something? C’mon, Yahweh has plenty of tricks of up his sleeves: locusts, pestilence, big floods, massive flamage…he can be one mean bastard. No, instead, if we’re to believe your interpretation a, Yahweh immortalizes Samuel and his ministry in his Big Book, rather than striking down the worthless blasphemer! Wow, is that Yahweh dude schitzophrenic or what?

    Don’t play stupid, a.

  136. Is YHWH’s retribution because he/she feels threatened, or is it petulance? Either way it doesn’t make him/her an entity worth venerating. If you feel the need for something supernatural the FSM is exactly as likely, and a much nicer omnipotent being.

  137. If a bully is terrorizing other kids in the classroom, the teacher takes him out of the classroom. This is bad for the bully, but provides net good for the greater number. YHWH’s mercy is on the scale of the entire world.

  138. YHWH is merciful, but not a pushover. Push him too far, and it is lights out for you and all your genetic descendants.

    Really? So planning terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people doesn’t qualify as pushing Yahweh, El, Baal, Elohim, El Shaddai, or whatever the hell your deity has chosen to call himself this week, “too far”? Because Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his descendants are, in fact, still alive. Perhaps ol’ Allah (oh sorry, you probably prefer the Hebrew translation of that name, ‘El’ or perhaps ‘Elohim’ or Yahweh even) was on his side and those 3,000 people just deserved to die?

    BTW, Ted, Elohim is a non-gender-specific plural Hebrew noun which appears as the name for “God” 2,750 times in the Old Testament. Curiously, it is also used for “gods” when describing so-called “false gods” in the Old Testament as well. Your just supposed to look at it in context, I suppose, right? After all, it couldn’t have possibly been that the word was deliberately misused or mistranslated, could it?

  139. > What is 1 Samuel? It’s the story of Samuel and his ministry, right?
    > If you agree on that, then what purpose does the author have for telling the story of Samuel and his ministry? Is it not at least partially to retell Samuel’s account of his dealings with Yahweh?

    How would I know?

    > If Samuel is lying here in chapter 15, then why should we believe anything Samuel tells us? If Samuel is telling
    us a bunch of lies, then why write about him and his story at all? Wouldn’t that make him a false prophet?
    Wouldn’t his actions constitute blasphemy? And if Samuel is lying here, then how come Yahweh doesn’t punish his sorry blasphemeing ass with a fireball or some lightning or by killing his wife or something? C’mon, Yahweh has plenty of tricks of up his sleeves: locusts, pestilence, big floods, massive flamage…he can be one mean bastard. No, instead, if we’re to believe your interpretation a, Yahweh immortalizes Samuel and his ministry in his Big Book, rather than striking down the worthless blasphemer! Wow, is that Yahweh dude schitzophrenic or what?

    I don’t quite see your point. All I’m saying is that there is a simple explanation of Jessica’s problem with Samuel 15:2-3. Indeed, it raises questions about no follow-up fireballs, but aren’t such questions far less problematic?

    > Don’t play stupid, a.

    Save the offences for someone else, please.

  140. > After all, it couldn’t have possibly been that the word was deliberately misused or mistranslated, could it?

    Elohim could be mistranslated, and it often was. I know what Elohim means, and am comfortable with the implications.

  141. Returning to the original question in this thread, I think humanity will extinct itself, and there is nothing I (or anybody else) can do about it. We already have a global population size that would use up all the earths resources if every person had a reasonable standard of living (not USA/Western Europe standard but rather something like South American middle class). People will strive for improved standard of living, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is just that we are already too many people on this planet for this to be sustainable. On top of this, we have a strong built in desire to have and bring up children. In general, the poorer you are, the more children you will have. There are two reasons for this: First, you need surviving children to support you in your old age. Having many children improves your chances of getting that support. Second, contraceptives are too expensive if you are poor and abstaining has never been an option, whatever the Catholic Church may say. This all leads to poor people having to to attain a certain level of wealth (incurring higher usage of the global natural resources) before their nativity will drop to sustainable levels. Unfortunately this will happen at a level which requires several times the surface of the earth for food growth, energy harvest, forestry and other renewable resources. We are already seeing symptoms of these problems, with the Amazon and South East Asian rain forests being replaced by agriculture and forestry at an alarming rate. Peak Oil will accelerate the rate of land conversion. Eventually all the pristine forests of world will be gone, with all their flora and fauna. All land will be farmed or unusable for farming. To keep the production levels as high as possible, enormous areas of mono cultures will be the norm (think US Mid-West wheat fields). These mono cultures are always susceptible to catastrophes – sicknesses, pests, unusual weather. Something will eventually trigger a situation with widespread famine among people who are not used to starving. What happens after is anybody’s guess, but I don’t think that voluntary family control and the brotherly sharing of the scarce resources will be on the agenda.

    This is still the positive scenario. It assumes that global warming doesn’t do us in before we can consume all the resources. It does not take into account the conflicts that may arise from a shortage of cheap oil (if you think gas can remain cheap, you really need to study the numbers; oil extraction can’t increase and demand will grow as the Chinese and others increase their standard of living; basic market principles will establish a higher price point for gasoline; all other forms of energy will gravitate towards this higher price). There are also the interesting scenarios with new epidemics that we for some reason fail to stop before they incapacitate such a large part of society that civic society breaks down.

    I am enough of an optimist to think that my main scenario is the one which is most likely, and indeed, it is possible that some humans will survive. It is even possible (though unlikely) that they may be able to retain a fair portion of the knowledge that we have collected. However, I expect to be long dead when the shit hits the fan, and how much I should care is an interesting moral dilemma.

  142. Jacob, you retail several alarmist fallacies but I’ll point out that your main one about food is wrong, as elaborated on in this 2000 interview with Norman Borlaug. Extinction is always a possibility but only the epidemic scenario, of all the ones you list, has a slight probability of taking us out, that or some new technology that we cannot control. Energy and everything else we’ll figure out as we go along, as we’re doing now, and man-made global warming is a myth.

  143. Returning to the original question in this thread, I think humanity will extinct itself, and there is nothing I (or anybody else) can do about it.

    I actually have a plan for that. It calls for the elimination of all warning labels, the removal of all anti-stupidity legislation, etc. We simply allow natural selection to do what it is designed to do. Survival of the fittest. We simply let the stupid people kill themselves off.

    Since that would remove a rather large portion of the population based on my admittedly non-scientific study and estimation of the percentage of stupid people based on the driving habits of people around me as I cruise into work, I think the problem would be solved.

  144. a wrote:

    How would I know?

    Such things can be gleaned from context by reading it. Haven’t you ever taken a class in reading literature? It’s often pretty easy to spot an author’s intent, because it’s not as if authors usually go out of their way to hide the reason they wrote something. In fact, they usually leave all sorts of clues about their intent in their writings. Sometimes, they even state it outright. This is what I mean by ‘playing stupid.’ I’m assuming if you’re hanging out here, you’re probably pretty literate and fairly well educated, since ESR doesn’t exactly post things intended for an illiterate or uneducated audience. (Otherwise, he’d be posting about American Idol or OMG!!! PONIES!!!! or something… :-P)

    Indeed, it raises questions about no follow-up fireballs, but aren’t such questions far less problematic?

    No, no they aren’t. That would show great inconsistency in Yahweh’s behavior.

    You can’t just ignore the parts of the Bible you don’t like. If you’re taking it as your central dogma and claiming your deity wrote the whole thing, then it’s all or nothing.

  145. Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > I actually have a plan for that. It calls for the elimination
    > of all warning labels, the removal of all anti-stupidity legislation, etc.

    Morgan, that actually made me laugh so much that I spilled my coffee. You owe me three dollars for dry cleaning :-)

  146. # Jacob Hallén Says:
    > Unfortunately this will happen at a level which requires several
    > times the surface of the earth for food growth, energy harvest,
    > forestry and other renewable resources.

    I presume I don’t have to point out that people have been predicting the demise of civilization due to resource limits for forty years now. According to “Population Bomb” it should already be over.

    However, all these nutty predictions simply fail to take into account the incentivization to fix problems, the innovative technologies to fix them, and the realities of economics, supply and demand and substitution of goods.

    For example, you claim the world doesn’t have the farm land to feed the world’s population. That simply isn’t true. By my calculations we could feed all 6 billion people in the world pretty well by farming an island the size of Cuba with intensive tri-level agriculture, and genetically modified foods. Of course, perhaps you prefer your hamburger made of beef than beans, or you think GM food is the creation of the devil; either is your choice, if you are willing to substitute other resources for that choice (which is to say, pay the appropriate price.)

    > We are already seeing symptoms of these problems, with
    > the Amazon and South East Asian rain forests being replaced
    > by agriculture and forestry at an alarming rate.

    And that is bad exactly why?

    > Peak Oil will accelerate the rate of land conversion.

    This is based on predictions of the end of oil that have also been made for decades without coming true. Here are the plain facts: there is lots of oil left in the ground right now. In fact, Saudi Arabia has more known reserves of oil today than it did in the 80s. Plus there are huge known reserves off California, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Add to that the fact that Alberta and the Orinoco basin are both basically floating on tar sands full of oil, and that there are a dozen or so mountains in Colorado made of oil, then remember that the Fischer Tropsch process can make oil out of natural gas (of which there is a massive amount untapped), and we are nowhere near the mid point of oil consumption. However, in a sense we are near peak oil simply because of government interferences driving up the price of oil and massively limiting its supply. So if you mean politically, you might be right — for sure governments definitely hold down the standard of living everywhere, and especially so in less developed parts of the world.

    > Eventually all the pristine forests of world will be
    > gone, with all their flora and fauna.

    You base this claim on what? Under what circumstances do you think that the US Government will sell Yosemite National Park? And if you are truly concerned, get together with some like minded people and buy some large swaths of Amazonian rain forest, and preserve it forever. Can’t afford it? Then why are you making me and everyone else buy it for you?

    > This is still the positive scenario. It assumes that
    > global warming doesn’t do us in before we can
    > consume all the resources.

    Lets just talk about global warming for a moment, since it offers an interesting illustration. I think nearly everything said about global warming beyond “the earth is probably getting a little warmer (please see the fifty pages of attached disclaimers)” is mostly bunk. But lets assume for a moment it is true.

    Recently, as a publicity stunt the Prime Minister’s cabinet from the Seychelles (a small island group in the Indian ocean) conducted a cabinet meeting in scuba gear at the bottom of the ocean. Their point? Because of rising sea levels their Island was going to disappear. What is their proposed solution? All the world should cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

    So they have a problem, and they want someone else to solve it for them, even though the cost to civilization would be insanely large. Here is an idea: why don’t they buy some dredgers and dig up some sand from the ocean floor, and raise the level of their beaches a few feet. That sould see off the worst predictions for at least a hundred years.

    You see that is a relavtively inexpensive solution, that they can do themselves. It is a technological solution that will fix the problem without all the imposed cost. And they can spend twenty, thirty, forty years doing it. And here is the crazy thing: if all the nutty predictions about global warming are wrong, they can stop doing it.

    But no, the solution is a massive political alliance to tax the whole world for their benefit.

    You are simply wrong Jacob, pestilence and death are not headed our way. The cause of most of the world’s problems is government interference in the market place and other elements of the private sphere. The cause of most of the world’s poverty is lack of education (usually monopolized by the government), lack of capital formation due to government control, regulation and caprice, and tyrannical government oppression. I suggest that the solution is less of that stuff, not more.

  147. (Assuming for the sake of argument that the relevant predictions about global warming are true:)

    So they have a problem, and they want someone else to solve it for them

    The “problem” being an external cost imposed on them. Not that qualitatively unreasonable (though maybe quantitatively in this case).

    Here is an idea: why don’t they buy some dredgers and dig up some sand from the ocean floor, and raise the level of their beaches a few feet.

    This won’t exactly elevate existing land. Or do you mean build dikes? Is this a feasible solution for low-lying places in general, including cities on continental coastlines?

  148. # Nick Tarleton Says:
    > The “problem” being an external cost imposed on them. Not that
    > qualitatively unreasonable (though maybe quantitatively in this case).

    As has been discussed extensively in this blog, there is no such thing as an externality, only transaction costs. Please refer to Coase’s theorem. Adding more transaction costs does not improve the situation.

    > This won’t exactly elevate existing land. Or do you mean build dikes?

    Most of the Seychelles land is hundreds of feet in elevation, their concern is the encroachment of the ocean on the beach areas. Hence this solution is quite appropriate.

    > Is this a feasible solution for low-lying places in general, including cities
    > on continental coastlines?

    The thing about the free market is that it adapts and comes up with solutions to specific individual problems by the incentive of profit, the ingenuity of the reward seeker, and the seeking of return on investment by the capital owner. So does this solution solve every problem? No. Of course not.

  149. For example, you claim the world doesn’t have the farm land to feed the world’s population. That simply isn’t true. By my calculations we could feed all 6 billion people in the world pretty well by farming an island the size of Cuba with intensive tri-level agriculture, and genetically modified foods. Of course, perhaps you prefer your hamburger made of beef than beans, or you think GM food is the creation of the devil; either is your choice, if you are willing to substitute other resources for that choice (which is to say, pay the appropriate price.)

    Or, for that matter, we could create artificial islands and farm algae. I tend to agree with you that actually running out of resources is not our problem.

    However, I tend to think that global warming is a bigger problem than you treat it as. I am currently rather conflicted as to whether global warming in its Al-Gore alarmist incarnation is happening or not (I tend to disbelieve the more doomsaying hypotheses), but it seems that there is a reasonable chance that the predictions of death and destruction are true, if only because, lists of five hundred scientists aside, it does seem that a majority of climatologists believe them to some degree, and I am not (yet?) cynical enough to believe that all of them are in the pay of the UN (or whatever). In any event, reducing carbon emissions is a good thing anyway, because even leaving aside global warming the applications that produce the most carbon (cars, power plants, etc.) tend to also release other nasty pollutants that are objectively bad (acid rain, anyone?), and it is also true that we will eventually run out of coal/oil (when is a matter for vigorous debate, but we obviously will eventually), it seems reasonable to assume that this will occur while humans are still present as an industrial society, and when it does occur it would be really nice to have a usable renewable-energy infrastructure. I agree that immediate major cuts in carbon emissions would be problematic, though we would probably survive; however, as a medium- to long-term goal (next hundred years or so) ending our reliance on burning hydrocarbons for energy would be very desirable.

  150. > Such things can be gleaned from context by reading it. Haven’t you ever taken a class in reading literature? It’s often pretty easy to spot an author’s intent, because it’s not as if authors usually go out of their way to hide the reason they wrote something. In fact, they usually leave all sorts of clues about their intent in their writings.

    I’m personally suspicious of such reasonings. That the content of the book would usually allow you to derive the author’s intent, whatever this might be, seems like a proposition strong enough to treat it with a healthy dose of skepticism and ask for supporting evidence, the claims of literature teachers notwithstanding.

    >>Indeed, it raises questions about no follow-up fireballs, but aren’t such questions far less problematic?

    > No, no they aren’t. That would show great inconsistency in Yahweh’s behavior.

    Sure they are. Even if they show inconsistency (I’d love to see the proof, though), the concept of inconsistent, loving and gracious creator would still be much less problematic than the concept of loving, gracious creator who happens to order slaughter of children, no?

    > You can’t just ignore the parts of the Bible you don’t like. If you’re taking it as your central dogma and claiming your deity wrote the whole thing, then it’s all or nothing.

    What exactly am I ignoring?

  151. Tom Dickson-Hunt Says:
    > it does seem that a majority of climatologists believe them to some
    > degree, and I am not (yet?) cynical enough to believe that all of them
    > are in the pay of the UN (or whatever).

    Just as a matter of fact, the majority of climatologists are actually in the pay of the UN, or more commonly, other government entities, since weather forecasting and research is almost exclusively funded by government organizations. I know that what you are actually meaning is that most are not deliberately disguising the truth because they have been bribed, and I agree that that is not the case, but influence in science, and opinion forming in science is rather more complex that you are making it out. Most science is teaking the ends, not re-engineering the whole corpus.

    I would also encourage you to carefully consider what the word “scientist” actually means. All to many in the general public see a white lab coat and assume that everything spoken by the attached head is gospel. The truth is that there is a spectrum of scientists, ranging from chemistry to social scientists, and everything in between. Some are hard science, some soft. What is the defining characteristic, that is to say, how does one measure the hardness of science? It is quite simply the ability to apply the scientific method to that discipline.

    For example, a chemist claims that running an electric current through hydrochloric acid liberates the hydrogen and chlorine as free gasses. No one doubts the truth of this, why? Because you can repeat the experiment yourself very easily. Climate science is at best a moderately soft science, because once cannot apply the scientific method to it generally speaking. That is to say, there is no way to perform an experiment to deduce if global warming is actually happening. Of course there are scientific processes that can be used in climate science, but the basic principle of repeatable experimentation is not generally possible.

    Frankly, any true scientist who hears terminology like “consensus of the scientific community” immediately wants to hurl.

    But there is also another very important thing to consider in regards to the meaning of the word “scientist”. Specifically this: just because you are really good at one thing does not mean you know squat about a different thing. We see this all the time with scientists who get out of their area of expertise and say really dumb things.

    My concern with respect to the theory of anthropogenic global warming is not necessarily that I claim the world is not getting warmer (though I think that is certainly disputable), or even that the origins of any warming trends are necessarily anthropogenic (and I think that is very disputable), but rather what actions should result from such a situation.

    The commonly held view amongst all these scientists who know about climate not politics, economics or industry, is that we need to cut “greenhouse” gasses, and that we need to put in place massive, destructive and restrictive international treaties to enforce such a thing. It is this latter conclusion that I object to most strongly. Why? Because anyone who knows anything about politics, economics or industry, knows that all it is is empty posturing, it will never actually get done in anything approaching a helpful way. (And that is even assuming that it is the right thing to do in the first place.)

    A solution that can’t actually be implemented in the real world is not a solution at all. In fact it is the opposite of a solution, it is a hindrance to a solution. There is no reason to panic. If there are any tiny effects of AGW, then we can readily deal with them as they come up. That is the point I was making in the Seychelles (or about the Seychelles, I wish I were making it in the Seychelles!) Pumping sand on the beaches allows you to fix it as it comes up. Politicians need grand, spectacular schemes to make them look good, but the solution to the problem, if one even exists, is just the everyday fixing methodologies that are applied to millions of other types of problem every day.

  152. The commonly held view amongst all these scientists who know about climate not politics, economics or industry, is that we need to cut “greenhouse” gasses, and that we need to put in place massive, destructive and restrictive international treaties to enforce such a thing.

    @JessicaBoxer: I agree with you that the last part of this statement and the implication that any such treaties, if you could even get the entire (or even most of the) world on-board, is so implausible that it is, effectively, not possible and that it is not a solution.

    OTOH, there are plenty of statistics that show the earth is getting warmer, and that there does seem to be at least some statistical correlation with the increase in greenhouse gases. Of course, correlation != causation, either. However, perhaps cutting greenhouse gases is useful; the way to do it, though, is through the free market. If enough people are worried about cutting greenhouse gases, they’ll purchase low-emission vehicles, cut their power usage, cut their waste, etc. The thing is that even if cutting greenhouse gases does nothing, there are plenty of other benefits from doing so: the less people spend on power, oil, and natural gas, the more money they’ll have to spend on other things in the market place. The less waste, the fewer landfills we need. The less oil, the less we as a nation are dependent on countries that don’t like us very much for their oil.

    The benefits of these things are clear, even if AGW turns out to be complete bunk.

    Oh, and BTW, global warming experiments can be repeated. All we need is another earth-like planet or two. No big deal, I’m sure. ;)

  153. # Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > OTOH, there are plenty of statistics that show the earth
    > is getting warmer,

    Yes there are, and exactly how reliable are those statistics? And exactly what has been happening for the past ten years? I know you can find graphs that draw massive increases over the past one hundred years but nearly always they are presented in very dishonest ways with axes that are designed more to mislead than inform. And there are many other criticisms one could make regarding the quality of the data. I remember reading (I don’t have a cite so take it for what it is worth) that 90% of weather gathering stations in the United States are below acceptable standards of quality and maintenance. If that is what it is like in the United States, what is it like in Vietnam and Guyana. Nonetheless, I think it is probably the case that the earth is getting a tiny bit warmer, though there are strong indications that that is no longer true. All is said is that the claim is open to dispute.

    > and that there does seem to be at least some statistical
    > correlation with the increase in greenhouse gases. Of
    > course, correlation != causation, either.

    In fact there are indicators in this data that the causation is more likely reversed or independent, not the way currently implied. (For example, the lag in the correlation favors this interpretation.)

    >If enough people are worried about cutting greenhouse gases,
    > they’ll purchase low-emission vehicles, cut their power usage,
    > cut their waste, etc.

    You strike me as a smart guy, with some grounding in economics. The first question any economist asks here is “at what cost”. For example, if you start driving low-emission vehicles, what is the cost? Often those vehicles are much lighter and less sturdy. So the cost is traffic deaths. Do we want to trade carbon credits for dead babies? I’d say no. All choices have a cost, no matter how self righteous one might feel driving a Prius.

    > The thing is that even if cutting greenhouse gases does
    > nothing, there are plenty of other benefits from doing so:

    Right, will you acknowledge that there are also costs?

    > the less people spend on power, oil, and natural gas,

    The less productive they will be and the less goods and services they will provide.
    Oh but you say, we will research new ways of making the same goods and services with less power, oil and natural gas. And you may be right, but if you applied the same innovative energy and capital to different pursuits, you would have new and innovative goods and services instead of a reduction in power usage. Which is better?

    > The less oil, the less we as a nation are dependent on
    > countries that don’t like us very much for their oil.

    I suggest that the best way to make friends with people is to have a common interest with them, such as mutually beneficial trade. I also suggest that if our government stopped all the BS we would have our own sources of oil in our own backyard, making the friendship relationship less co-dependent.

    > The benefits of these things are clear, even if AGW
    > turns out to be complete bunk.

    Yes indeed, however, the costs are less clear. And the reality is that if the “free-market” were going to produce these goods, that is, if people judged them the right goods to buy, then we would not be having this discussion. The hidden implication in your view is that our government and scientific community should mislead the public to encourage them to do what they consider right. That is a view I do not subscribe to.

    > Oh, and BTW, global warming experiments can be repeated.
    > All we need is another earth-like planet or two. No big deal, I’m sure. ;)

    Does anyone have Slartibartfast’s phone number?

  154. You strike me as a smart guy, with some grounding in economics. The first question any economist asks here is “at what cost”. For example, if you start driving low-emission vehicles, what is the cost? Often those vehicles are much lighter and less sturdy. So the cost is traffic deaths. Do we want to trade carbon credits for dead babies? I’d say no. All choices have a cost, no matter how self righteous one might feel driving a Prius.

    This strikes me as specious. It’s certainly doable to make low-emission vehicles that aren’t less sturdy than traditional ones. This is certainly not an argument against low-emission vehicles in general.

    Frankly, any true scientist who hears terminology like “consensus of the scientific community” immediately wants to hurl.

    I don’t refer to the ‘consensus of the scientific community’ because I think that scientists are omniscient, I do so because the ‘scientific community’ is the community of scientists, and so is probably more reliable (in the fields of the scientists in question, anyway) than J. Random Internet Commenter. I have yet to see any evidence that the ‘consensus of the scientific community’, in this case, is more suspect than any other piece of information. Arguments about the proper response to AGW, assuming it exists, are a separate issue.

  155. # Tom Dickson-Hunt Says:
    > This strikes me as specious. It’s certainly doable to make
    > low-emission vehicles that aren’t less sturdy than traditional
    > ones.

    You will accept, I presume, that developing such a car takes place at a cost? Now lets say we applied that same cost to making traditional cars even more sturdy. If so, the choice remains, regardless of whether one moves the goalposts. The basic question is this: does the benefits of a low emission car outweigh the costs of doing so, whether these benefits are direct, indirect, or opportunity.

    Either one can sit in one’s ivory tower (or in this case politburo meeting) and decide, or you can allow the combined decision making power of billions of people decide. If the latter, I think the decision is clear. However, if government places a heavy finger on one side of the balance, we will get a suboptimal solution.

    (And before you head down the road of “internalizing externalities”, I would refer you back to the many comments on Coase’s theorem.

    >> Frankly, any true scientist who hears terminology like
    >> “consensus of the scientific community” immediately wants to hurl.
    > I don’t refer to the ‘consensus of the scientific community’ because
    > I think that scientists are omniscient, I do so because the ’scientific
    > community’ is the community of scientists, and so is probably more
    > reliable

    I think there is some merit in this position, nonetheless, I stand by my original contention that any true scientist is deeply troubled by the consensus argument. It is the very opposite of science. This argument is made simply because a true scientific argument cannot be made. (Again, I am not claiming that climatology is not scientific, I am claiming that it is a moderately soft science, about the same as economics.)

    >Arguments about the proper response to AGW, assuming it
    > exists, are a separate issue.

    Right, and that was my point originally, even if I bought AGW hook, line and sinker, I would be deeply troubled by the proposals to deal with them. No doubt most people who advocate them do so out of a deep, honestly held viewpoint. However, sincerity is no guarantee that one is correct, and I have no doubt that the true political leaders of such movements have an deeply troubling, and concealed agenda that has little to do with polar bears and penguins.

  156. Does anyone have Slartibartfast’s phone number?

    “You want to do what? And ruin my lovely fjords?”

  157. The actual data (carbon in the atmosphere versus estimated global temperature) is available online. If you look at the trend over the last 1000 years, it is interesting.

    If I remember correctly (I don’t have the data with me)
    Everything warmed up around 800 or 900 AD
    Everything cooled down again around 1350 AD
    Everything warmed up again around 1650 AD
    Everything cooled down again with a minimum around 1800 AD
    Around 1850, the cold trend started reversing.
    Current temperatures are about where they were at the peak of the last warming period (1650).

    Now, it is true that carbon in the atmosphere which was relatively constant over the last 1000 years also started going up in the second half of the 19th century for obvious reasons. However, at about that time, we were due for a warming trend anyway. Carbon has probably had some impact. There is no question it is a greenhouse guess, but I don’t think scientists have a very good idea with regard to how much is natural and how much is man made. In fact, they will admit that the ‘constants’ they use in their simulations are estimates which is another way of saying what I just said.

    Now, if temperature over the next 50 years keeps going up, and goes right on past the maximum of the last warming period, I would say we are in trouble. However, we just don’t know at this point.

  158. One could take the position that it is better to be safe then sorry and act as if we were causing global warming. I agree insofar as the measures to be taken don’t have enormous costs. However, if we really are causing global warming, nothing the US and Europe can do will prevent it unless China, India and the developing world get on board. So far they have shown NO inclination to follow our moral leadership and stop building coal based power plants.

    With that in mind, the best thing we can do to prevent the POTENTIAL threat of global warming is to develop alterative energies (algae based diesel, solar, wind, nuclear) to the point that they are competitive with fossil fuels. At this point, the developing world should have much less difficulty ditching fossil fuels. To the extent that cap and trade accelerates the development of these alternative energy sources, it might provide some long term benefit. However, as far as reducing global emissions significantly enough to forestall global warming, I don’t think cap and trade will do much good. Perhaps the money would be better spent on enormous X-prizes for breakthroughs in alternative energy cost, scalability and development.

  159. #JessicaBoxer says:
    > The thing about the free market is that it adapts and comes up with solutions to specific individual problems by the incentive of profit, the ingenuity of the reward seeker, and the seeking of return on investment by the capital owner. So does this solution solve every problem? No. Of course not.

    It’s possible to divide the solution space along the no coercion / some coercion boundary. Free markets cover the entire area on the no coercion side. Political solutions fall on the side of some coercion. So, tell me, what problems are solved better when you introduce violence and threats thereof? Remember that you have to count the cost of the violence, the cost of people defending themselves against the violence, the cost of people changing their ways to less desirable ways in order to avoid the violence, and the cost of the coerced choice being wrong. Re the last, I apply the same principle as that of the glassware shop: you break it, you bought it. If you’re going to start fixing problems by threatening to hurt people, you’ve taken on the responsibility of being wrong.

  160. # ChrisGreen Says:
    > One could take the position that it is better to be safe
    > then sorry and act as if we were causing global warming.

    Chris, you might get dental cavities, and they could be quite painful. I suggest that you go have all your teeth pulled to prevent this, after all it is better to be safe than sorry. To put it another way, it is only better to be safe than sorry if the cost of being safe is lower than the cost of being sorry.

    Kyoto and similar anti global warming initiatives have MASSIVE, OBVIOUS costs, (along with even more massive non obvious costs). They have almost no measurable benefit based on their own predictions. The alleged costs of global warming are far from obvious, and it is completely non obvious to me why we can’t solve any that might come up when they come up, with such complex solutions as building taller sea walls, or planting different mixes of crops, or buying higher SPF sun block.

    > I agree insofar as the measures to be taken don’t have enormous costs.

    You think that the measures proposed will not have enormous costs? I suggest you take another look.

    > With that in mind, the best thing we can do to prevent the
    > POTENTIAL threat of global warming is to develop alterative
    > energies

    What is the cost of doing so, in the sense, what technologies would we not have because we are spending effort developing these ones? Perhaps the discovery of a new drug to cure cancer? Perhaps a type of food crop that can be grown so easily and that is so nutritionally dense and complete that it solves most of world hunger? Perhaps a technology that allows people to vacation in orbit? Perhaps new technologies that allow all the world’s poor to get a decent level of education? For sure, you can develop these alternative fuels, but what do you give up to do so?

    >To the extent that cap and trade accelerates the development
    > of these alternative energy sources,

    Cap and trade is the most ridiculous notion. It seems to completely ignore the realities of trade, and the typical behavior of people. It is the sort of nonsense written by some kid fresh out of political science school. The cap and trade bill should be called the “Export our Jobs to China bill”. If you greatly increase the cost of energy production and manufacturing in the United States, guess what happens to manufacturing, and other industries that need a lot of power? If you guessed “Shanghai Express”, go the the top of the political science class.

    > Perhaps the money would be better spent on enormous X-prizes

    If governments are going to try to influence technological development this is about the best way to do it. However, there already is a very large X Prize out there in the marketplace, it is called “profit”.

  161. Either one can sit in one’s ivory tower (or in this case politburo meeting) and decide, or you can allow the combined decision making power of billions of people decide. If the latter, I think the decision is clear. However, if government places a heavy finger on one side of the balance, we will get a suboptimal solution.

    Pearls of wisdom from Tom Slee:

    The neo-conservative right has wielded the promise of individual choice very effectively to discredit organized collective action such as that carried out under the umbrella of trade unions or governments, presenting unions and governments as obsolete bodies whose sole purpose is to restrict choices. But if individual choice can lead us into traps, we will need collective action to make our escape.

    –T. Slee, No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart

  162. # Jeff Read Says:
    > The neo-conservative right has wielded the promise of individual
    > choice very effectively to discredit organized collective action

    This is a false choice Jeff. Markets are very effective at collective action. You are confusing collective action with government action, which are two entirely different things with different consequences. I am not at all opposed to unions, as I have said before, what I am opposed to is the types of unions we typically have, and pernicious ideas like closed shops, and the President’s frightening Card Check scheme. But the best aspects of things like electricians unions, and plumbers unions are great.

    Here is the simple fact about Walmart. When they overcame massive opposition from the city to open a store there, they had 30,000 applicants for about 350 jobs. Apparently, people don’t in general agree with the Union’s perspective that Walmart is a horrible oppressive employer.

    > –T. Slee, No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart

    Right, but they do, which indicates that Walmart is apparently providing a much better service to customers than the much vaunted Mom and Pop store.

    By the way, I love shopping at Walmart. Where else can you by a cake, a pair of pants and a shotgun in one store?

  163. # Jeff Read says
    > –T. Slee, No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart

    Just one other thing: Mr. Slee makes a valid point in his title, however, I don’t doubt he probably doesn’t agree with the alternative title “No one makes you join the union.”

    However, I didn’t read his article, so perhaps I am unfairly stereotyping him.

  164. Here is the simple fact about Walmart. When they overcame massive opposition from the city to open a store there, they had 30,000 applicants for about 350 jobs. Apparently, people don’t in general agree with the Union’s perspective that Walmart is a horrible oppressive employer.

    The first chapter of the book (online) doesn’t even get into Wal-Mart’s hiring practices. Rather, using Wal-Mart as an example, it shows how seemingly maximizing choice can deny choice, as a Wal-Mart moves in, attracts customers, and proves ruinous to downtown while driving competing stores out of business.

  165. What is the cost of doing so, in the sense, what technologies would we not have because we are spending effort developing these ones? Perhaps the discovery of a new drug to cure cancer? Perhaps a type of food crop that can be grown so easily and that is so nutritionally dense and complete that it solves most of world hunger? Perhaps a technology that allows people to vacation in orbit? Perhaps new technologies that allow all the world’s poor to get a decent level of education? For sure, you can develop these alternative fuels, but what do you give up to do so?

    Yeah. And if we spend resources and effort developing orbital vacations, who’s to say that we won’t have the cancer drug instead? And if we instead devote ourselves to cancer drugs, then might we not have the perfect staple crop? This argument can be extended to any technology; it’s basically an endless train of what-ifs. It’s definitely not an argument against developing alternative energy. Neither is your above comment about the safety of cars an argument against low-emissions cars. I think maybe you have a bit of a bias here–you can always say, to anything, “You shouldn’t be devoting resources to that, because you could be developing cancer drugs instead!” It’s a fallacious argument.

  166. Jeff Read: Mr. Slee goes off the tracks where he conflates voluntary collective action with coerced collective action. From the solutions he lists, he’s in favor of forcing people to do things his way. If that’s indeed what happens, that might not be so bad. But once you create the tool of coercion, you can’t control who uses it. And who uses it in America are the rich and the powerful. THAT is why I don’t want the tools of coercion to exist. It’s not that I fantasize that I’ll control them, like Mr. Slee. It’s that I don’t want them to exist AT ALL.

  167. Tom Dickson-Hunt Says:
    > It’s definitely not an argument against developing alternative energy.

    It wasn’t presented as an argument against alternative fuels. It is a response to this argument “you might as well develop alternative energy, why not be safe than sorry.”

    How do we choose? Cancer drug or biofuel? Orbital vacations or OPLC? Either you get a bunch of beard stroking PhDs in the politburo to decide; a methodology that has consistently produced terrible results, or you harness the expertise and opinions of billions of consumers, entrepreneurs, capital owners, bloggers, newspapers and so forth to work together to find the best decision. This latter is called “the free market”, and has produced almost every worthwhile thing that exists today. I choose the market.

  168. > This latter is called “the free market”, and has produced almost every worthwhile thing that exists today.

    How about penicillin, ENIAC and Internet.

  169. # a Says:
    > How about penicillin, ENIAC and Internet.

    That my single letter friend is why I said “almost everything.” However, to claim that Al Gore is responsible for the Internet is a gross distortion of history. For sure, DARPA did much early work, but the Internet only became what it is today when it was released from government control. The internet of 1985 is completely different than the internet today. And most of that is due to the innovation and capital investment of hundreds of private corporations working entirely within the relatively free market of the computer industry, and often despite the attempts of the government to screw the whole thing up.

  170. Jeff, you really believe that this guy Tom Slee has anything valuable to add to the discussion? Anytime I read someone attacking the “neo-conservative right,” I know that they’re painfully ignorant and have chosen a bogeyman to rail against because their collectivist philosophy is increasingly being rejected. It is fascinating that you attack open source for its collectivist mentality, which I mostly agree with you with, yet endorse such collectivist drivel.

    Tom, I think Jessica’s trying to make the point that there are much better uses of our time than developing alternate fuels. However, the beauty of the market is that we can all do our own thing: you can invest in alternative fuels research, I might invest in voice recognition research. The problem is when you compel me to pay for alternative fuels research by saying the govt should fund it with taxes. For example, I’m all for stem cell research but I don’t think it’s right for the govt to compel people who’re morally against it to pay for it, although I’d be against govt funding regardless. ;)

    Regarding some of Jess’s earlier points, the difference between the soft and hard sciences is also largely one of controllability. The hard sciences like physics or engineering limit themselves to situations that they have a high amount of control over, while the soft sciences often deal with subjects that are highly complex and much less controllable, such as weather systems or human behavior. The hard sciences have had great success with airplanes or electrification while avoiding chaotic systems, the soft sciences don’t have much of a choice and are stuck with the harder problems. However, they’ve mostly proven themselves completely incapable of dealing with this difficulty, often aping the methods of the more successful hard sciences cargo-cult style (Why are economics and other soft sciences so obsessed with mathematicization of their models?) rather than coming up with better analytical methods for their own disciplines, hence our disdain for them.

    I will also push back on one argument Jessica makes about the market, the familiar free market argument that, “If that idea’s so great, why hasn’t the market done it?” The truth is that most people in the market are fairly dumb, any economic system is only as good as its constituent parts, the people who work within it. We’ve found that the market is phenomenally better than any other system at producing results, because it provides for competition that motivates the participants, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong a significant percentage of the time (the old Fischer Black quote about the market only being right within a factor of 2). What’s fascinating are the leftists who then want to remove any progress by getting rid of that market, rather than at least having a market to spur some progress.

  171. > the internet of 1985 is completely different than the internet today. And most of that is due to the innovation and capital investment of hundreds of private corporations working entirely within the relatively free market of the computer industry

    Very true (though some might argue it’s yet another example of the free market doing its job only after the government has laid grounds). But wouldn’t you agree that these examples, hardly insignificant, show that the government can and not so rarely does produce very useful goods? The process might be less efficient, but as long as there is progress, why does it matter much?

  172. # a Says:
    > But wouldn’t you agree … that the government can and not so rarely does produce
    > very useful goods?

    Yes I would agree with that, (though I am hesitant on the “not so rarely” part.)

    > The process might be less efficient, but as long as there is progress, why does it
    > matter much?

    Yes, it matters a lot. Please look up “opportunity cost” in an economics dictionary (or read my many previous comments illustrating opportunity cost.)

    Let me put it this way: the 1800s were very much more advanced than the 1500s; would you be happy trading your lifestyle today for the lifestyle of the 1800s?

  173. The internet of 1985 is completely different than the internet today. And most of that is due to the innovation and capital investment of hundreds of private corporations working entirely within the relatively free market of the computer industry, and often despite the attempts of the government to screw the whole thing up.

    Yes, the internet was privatized and look where it got us: deep into a Facebook-addled September that never ended.

    It is fascinating that you attack open source for its collectivist mentality, which I mostly agree with you with, yet endorse such collectivist drivel.

    That open source is collectivist is not my beef with open source. The collective aspects of open source are precisely its sole redeeming features — and precisely the things that no one from the ordinary world cares about.

    The problem with open source is that it is like a good conspiracy theory: its primary consumers are also its producers. Conspiracy theories resonate powerfully with an audience that are already prone to believe that the Zionists are running the world’s banking systems from a hidden lair deep inside the Great Pyramid, under orders from the lizardmen of Arcturus V. Hence, they are crafted to have salient features that capture that audience. Once the theory mixes with the concerns of the everyday world, however, its force becomes diluted until it doesn’t have any effect at all.

    Likewise most open source is designed by hackers, for hackers. Its salient features are things that hackers value, like easy programmability, but open source developers are generally not tuned into the needs of those outside their small segment of the user base. Once their fiery go-get-em idealism mixes with the concerns of ordinary users who just want to write this memo/design this layout/compose this symphony, the things that make open source great are diluted in their importance.

    Might it be possible to devise a means of collective action aimed at developing great user-friendly software, on a par with what Microsoft and Apple have done? Perhaps: the AmigaOS and AROS communities, for instance, have an open source bounty system that actually works (yielding OWB, a phenomenal web browser for modern AmigaOS, and a cutting-edge open-source USB stack) and a value system in place that puts productivity of the end user (i.e., not wasting his time or effort) above all other concerns.

    All of which brings me to another potential truth I fear: that the open source community, at least in its free-Unix-centric current form, will never mount a significant challenge to Microsoft and Apple, and hence will never receive the support and attention those two platforms will receive when it comes to use, hardware support, and services.

  174. > Yes, it matters a lot. Please look up “opportunity cost” in an economics dictionary (or read my many previous comments illustrating opportunity cost.)

    This assumes that whatever the government produces _would_ actually be produced by the forces of the free market. But I don’t see why it’s necessary the case. Companies are more reluctant to sponsor longer term basic research than the government, for one.

    The opportunity cost considerations cut both ways. Consider the cost of all the physicists working for Wall Street.

    > Let me put it this way: the 1800s were very much more advanced than the 1500s; would you be happy trading your lifestyle today for the lifestyle of the 1800s?

    No. But again, important ingredients of progress came to be not via free market.

  175. Jeff Read Says:
    > Yes, the internet was privatized and look where it got us:
    > deep into a Facebook-addled September that never ended.

    Yes indeed Jeff, lets return to the days when only Universities had access to the Internet, and where the internet consisted of email, gopher and nntp. Lets forget all the benefits of disintermediation, lets forget the dynamic blogosphere that has transformed democracy, and news reporting. Lets get rid of all that nasty talking, talking, talking. Lets get rid of all that nasty access to information. Lets get rid of google maps and search, lets get rid of hyper-powerful comparison shopping and ebay. After all, in the past we could whip all these new students into shape real quick, now anyone, even trailer park trash can express their opinions in a worldwide forum, and sell their shit on ebay like little capitalists.

    Facebook, how tacky.

  176. a Says:
    > This assumes that whatever the government produce
    > _would_ actually be produced by the forces of the free market.

    No it doesn’t in fact it assumes exactly the opposite — that the free market would make better choices.

    You have missed my point I’m afraid. Again I am not claiming that the government does nothing, I am only refuting your claim that it doesn’t matter if the government does things less efficiently that the free market. It does. It matters a lot.

    > Companies are more reluctant to sponsor longer term basic
    > research than the government, for one.

    This is a myth. It is simply not true. Companies sponsor long term research all the time. They just sponsor different research than governments do. For two reasons: the incentives for government research are different, and so different choices are made (is it more important to research cancer drugs than build huge particle colliders?) And because the space for “government type” research is already occupied by government projects. Why pay for stuff when someone else will pay for it?

  177. > it assumes exactly the opposite — that the free market would make better choices.

    I understand this assumption, but it doesn’t feel intuitively obvious. Why do you think a market left to its own devices would come up with enough physics, say, to construct an MRI?

    > This is a myth. It is simply not true. Companies sponsor long term research all the time.

    I should have stressed the “basic” part more – I meant areas such as pure mathematics and theoretical physics

    > Why pay for stuff when someone else will pay for it?

    But would the stuff be paid for if there was no government to provide money?

  178. > This is a myth. It is simply not true. Companies sponsor long term research all the time.

    I should have stressed the “basic” part more – I meant areas such as pure mathematics and theoretical physics

    Again, it’s not true. The reason that corporations mostly don’t fund things like research into pure mathematics and theoretical physics these days is that someone is already doing it.

    At the end of the last millennium I worked for General Motors. They actually had several mathematicians and (yes!) theoretical physicists on staff. Years ago, they had been hired to do things such as working with metallurgists and engineers to develop cutting edge automotive technologies. In the days I was working there, most of them spent all day doing (practically worthless) PowerPoint presentations. One guy who was a mathematician that I knew actually did come up with an algorithm for determining what vehicles and vehicle packages to ship to which dealerships based on past and current buying patterns. It was actually brilliant, though I have to wonder how much it got used after I left.

    I realize that last example is hardly basic research in mathematics or theoretical physics, but some of those guys did spend some time down at GM R&D working on stuff like that, but that was a legacy from when GM had 60% market share. These days, I’ll bet their R&D centers are all but shut down.

    But would the stuff be paid for if there was no government to provide money?

    Yes. It’s obvious that there is a need for it. If no one is providing it for free, and someone needs it, they will pay for it. What part of free market economics do you not understand? Anything that there is a need for will get purchased by those who need it. When you run out of milk in the fridge, do you sit around and bitch at the government to give you more? Or do you dig out $3 and run to the store?

  179. Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > At the end of the last millennium I worked for General Motors.

    Wow, last millennium? Jeepers Morgan, no wonder you are grey!

    Another example of this that I know of is Bell Labs in Cherry Hill NJ. They did a hug amount of this kind of blue sky research, and were often left without much constraint at all. Of course, it is shut down now for the most part, because the government occupies this space, and probably other reasons. Additionally, a great deal of this research takes place in Universities. Often it is sponsored by the government, but if it were not then large corporations would do so (they already do despite the competition from the government.)

    Of course the mix would be different, but that is OK, AFAIK.

  180. Tom Glee makes some valid points. However, he also presents a false dichotmy between Wal-Mart and “the downtown stores.” It’s as if there are no other options and that Wal-Mart has taken them all away. Clearly, this is not true. Furthermore, there is some assumption that what killed ‘downtown stores’ is Wal-Mart. This is also not true.

    Wal-Mart’s massive buying power comes from selling what most people want. If you want a clear picture about how Wal-Mart sells, check out their book section. You’ll find lots of romance novels, popular fiction, popular non-fiction, and books about gardening, home maintenance, even a few books about how to use computers, like using Microsoft Office, the Internet, Quicken, etc. Stuff that most people buy.

    What you won’t find is any books about theoretical physics, Linux, Perl or Python, software engineering, or chemistry. These are niche subjects; a store that specializes in books such Border’s or (better yet) websites such as Amazon will carry a plethora of books on these subjects.

    Now understand that the book section is a microcosm of the entire store. If you walk through the camping section, automotive section, hardware section, clothing section, etc., you’ll find that each of these sections follows the same general pattern that the books do.

    Wal-Mart carries the kinds of things that most people would buy — they cater to the lowest common denominator. They are to retail what Microsoft is to software.

    That still leaves huge gaps in the free retail market! There are even similar stores, such as Target, that basically carry things that Wal-Mart won’t because they are just a little bit out the ordinary (as witnessed by my recent inability to purchase a memory foam pillow at Wal-Mart; OTOH, Target did have it). There are specialty stores from big box store chains like Home Depot, to smaller specialty “boutique” store chains like Aeropostale or Old Navy, to smaller ‘mom and pop’ stores that carry things like antiques and collectibles or (really big here in Florida) scuba gear or surfboards.

    What killed downtown? Chain stores and suburban malls — urban sprall. The suburbanization of America. Wal-Mart had little to do to with that, they just rode the wave. What’s killing malls? The Internet and the convenience of being able to shop in your underwear (or bathrobe and bunny slippers for you people in colder climes. It’s going to be in the low 80s to day where I am. :-P)

    Now to the actual point of my post: Tom Glee is picking and choosing his facts to fit his fantasy of how the world should work rather than fitting his view of how the world should work based on facts about how the world does work now. He’s playing on people’s stupidity and gullibility to further his own agenda.

  181. Morgan Greywolf says:
    >Now to the actual point of my post: Tom Glee is picking and choosing his
    > facts to fit his fantasy of how the world should work rather than fitting his
    > view of how the world should work based on facts about how the world
    > does work now.

    I have not read Mr. Glee’s book, and have no plans to do so, since I have heard all the arguments before. The anti-Walmart argument simply comes from a fundamental philosophical point of view. Namely, people like Tom believe that an company exists to provide for employees, whereas I believe that a company exists to provide for its shareholders, and employees benefit as a result. My contention is based on what is actually written in most incorporation papers, the other side is based on feelings of what should be right, with no substantive justification. Until that fundamental issue is resolved there can be no resolution to these issues.

    Bottom line, frankly, I hate the whole employee benefit system. It is mostly a twisted consequence of a messy tax system. The world would be a better place if benefits did not exist, and employees simply agreed to exchange their labor and skills for money, and they bought any of these benefits directly themselves. However, employees have far more votes than shareholders, so that is unlikely to happen.

    I think Walmart represents all that is good about America, it is the very epitome of the American dream, minor mistakes notwithstanding. I for one am proud to shop there.

  182. > It’s obvious that there is a need for it. If no one is providing it for free, and someone needs it, they will pay for it. What part of free market economics do you not understand? Anything that there is a need for will get purchased by those who need it.

    Unless the purchase would need to happen 50 years in advance. This is what I’m having doubts about – which sane corporation would hire a number theorist to spend time freely on research thought of as completely impractical? Weren’t the GM physicists still supposed to carry out cars-related research?

    > Of course the mix would be different, but that is OK, AFAIK.

    Unless opportunity would be lost by not spending more on basic, non-commercial research.

    In other words – I don’t see how, in the world without government support for the base sciences, the free market would provide incentives to sponsor research with fruits not on any kind of horizon.

  183. # a Says:
    > Weren’t the GM physicists still supposed to carry out cars-related research?

    Aren’t CERN researchers supposed to carry out particle physics related research?

    > In other words – I don’t see how, in the world without government support for
    > the base sciences, the free market would provide incentives to sponsor research
    > with fruits not on any kind of horizon.

    Then you need to look again at the examples provided. And you also need to look at the fact that nearly all scientific research was performed without government sponsorship up until the twentieth century. It was sponsored either by private companies, or by scientific institutions, or by special bequests (such as the Nobel Prize), or self sponsored, or as part of a University setting. Government sponsored research was usually for specific government needs such as research on longitude measurement, sponsored by the British Admiralty.

  184. # a writes:
    > The process might be less efficient, but as long as there is progress, why does it matter much?
    Because there would be more progress if the government would stick to its knitting.

  185. a, why should the government sponsor research if, as far as anyone can tell, the money will be completely wasted finding out things that nobody cares about? I mean, that’s your argument, right? Because if someone cares about the result, they have an interest in funding it, and it will be provided by the free market. You want the government to research useless facts. <— frankly I think you need to have your head examined.

  186. a, essentially your argument is that government has a longer time horizon than companies. And yet companies are immortal. As long as their property rights are secure, a company can look infinitely far into the future. Timber companies plant trees they won’t be able to harvest for another 70 years, but they do it. Power companies keep track of when each and every pole was put into the ground, and they proactively replace them every 30 years. Look at the poles — they’re all numbered for exactly that reason.

    A politician can only afford to look 2, 4, or 6 years into the future. Nothing exists beyond that horizon unless they can manage to get re-elected. That’s why you see so many laws passed whose negative consequences happen 2, 4, or 6 years (or more) later.

  187. To be fair to a, I think he’s talking about longer-term research that may end up being hugely useful and that corporations are too short-sighted to fund. I think the solution is private research institutes, that could be funded by various corporations and individuals together. In a sense, research universities sort of provide this function today when they take private research money, only they usually force their researchers to teach too. As for having govt fund it, nobody denies that the govt might get lucky and fund one or two successful projects: the problem is their incentives are screwed up and they’re as likely to fund a bunch of junk, as we see today. Is it worth all that money the govt wastes on junk research for the few unlikely successes? I and others here don’t believe so. As for a’s examples of govt successes, I don’t see much there. The internet was based on many privately funded technologies, to give the govt credit cuz the trivially simple TCP/IP was govt funded is just silly (also, the protocol was actually thought up by private contractors and we’d just have used one of the later privately created protocols like AppleTalk if TCP/IP hadn’t been around). The same with ENIAC except even more so, and I don’t see any indication why penicillin should be credited as a govt success. All research is speculative, but the hope is that by having private funding the directions taken can be more on point and likely to be worthwhile.

    Jeff, the reason open source can’t mount a challenge to closed source is because of its collectivist nature, which you’ve criticized before when you said work deserves to be paid for. I’ve offered a compromise position with my hybrid license, where work is paid for through closed modules and the codebase might be sufficiently open to let innovation and participation come from anywhere, but it hasn’t found much purchase with the open source zealots here. No matter, if I’m right it will win out for precisely those reasons. :)

  188. @Russell,

    The company may be “immortal” but the brain of the company – the people actually making decisions are not only mortal; but unlikely to stay with the company for any longer than it’s convenient.

    I believe in the free market; but I can’t help but play devil’s advocate when I see a statement like one implying companies take a long-term view. It’s possible but it isn’t necessarily so.

    In general, shareholders are too disorganised to have any say. CEOs and CFOs and such make decisions in their own best interests – which are likely to be good for the company; but I’m not convinced that they’re the optimum for the company.

    If a CFO makes enough to buy his own island and the company increases in value by 10% and has 10 years of growth to look forward to that works for him, and who can argue that the company may have increased in value by 5 % but had 100 years of future growth?

    Making decisions based on the long-term is not how he got the job; nor is it what is in his best interests. He is unlikely to do so.

  189. > or as part of a University setting.

    And the universities were usually sponsored/created by whom, US aside? And how much of US universities’ budgets would disappear without the culture of alumni funding, hardly explainable by the free market’s invisible hand?

    > You want the government to research useless facts. to give the govt credit cuz the trivially simple TCP/IP was govt funded is just silly

    Before TCP/IP, there was IPTO, at least according to Wikipedia.

    > why penicillin should be credited as a govt success.

    What entity provided means for St Mary’s Hospital?

    > Is it worth all that money the govt wastes on junk research for the few unlikely successes?

    I don’t know and you don’t know. You could ask the same question about the money the free market “wastes” on entertainment, fashion, real estate and what have you, when they could be taxed away and spent on medical/base sciences research.

    What I do know is that I’d rather not live in the world without penicillin and Internet.

  190. Seems like something was cut out. Reposting:

    > You want the government to research useless facts. frankly I think you need to have your head examined.

    This is precisely the proof why it is very unlikely a corporation would pay any number theorist to research useless facts. Fast forward 50 years, have fun doing commerce on the Internet without cryptography.

  191. Unless opportunity would be lost by not spending more on basic, non-commercial research.

    a: This is your problem. You see a difference between ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’ research. I, along with the other free market advocates on here, am telling you that in a free market economy there is no difference. You make the same mistake as others do when you refer to closed source software as ‘commercial’ or ‘proprietary’ — open source software is proprietary. ‘Proprietary’ means that it is owned by someone. ‘Commercial’ simply implies that something is used in commerce. SugarCRM is very much open source; it’s also proprietary and commercial.

    Now, back to my point: Companies with sufficient funds often do invest for the long-term. Check out the projects at Microsoft Research. How is writing a programming language for composable DNA ciricuits, for example, going to benefit them in the near future? This looks like a much longer-term project to me. Do you think Microsoft is somehow unique? They’re not. Not by a long shot.

  192. I’ve got very mixed feelings about IP, just as I have about the corporate form, because they are both creatures of coercion: IP depends on a government granting a power to suppress the actions of others, and corporations depend on government shielding people from common-law liabilities that they probably *should* have.

    Our patent law system is premised on a trade: tell us how to implement your idea, and we’ll enforce a monopoly on it for a while. The trade is *disclosure* for a *time-limited* monopoly. The supposed benefit of this is that there will be more inventions and our lives will be improved by them, if we make this deal.

    So, I have to ask: without a patent system, does invention stop? Will all the inventors refuse to invent, if they can’t get that monopoly period? I’ve also seen many instances where a patent choked off further development of an idea until the patent expired, and then suddenly applications and variations of the previously patented technology appeared.

  193. # Some Guy Says:
    > corporations depend on government shielding
    > people from common-law liabilities that they
    > probably *should* have.

    Some libertarians oppose the idea of limited liability corporations, I am not one of them. A corporation with limited liability, when they do business with you, do so under a particular set of legal rules that both parties are well aware of. There are clearly alternatives, such as partnerships and single person companies, and there are many such organizations. People should be able to contract together under whatever terms they want to, and government (or some other agreed upon agent of coercion) should be able to enforce the contracts.

    > The supposed benefit [of the patent system]. is that
    > there will be more inventions and our lives will be
    > improved by them, if we make this deal.

    Given the importance of this basic assumption, you would think it has been proven through numerous studies and tests. However, it has not. On the contrary, there are some surveys the demonstrate the opposite is true: namely patents stifle innovation. In fact, the industry that is the very poster boy for patents — drug design and manufacture — recently had a study done by the GAO of the US Government, and the conclusion was precisely that, that patents in the drug industry stifle innovation.

    Were it not for patents, medical care would be MUCH cheaper, and consequently most people would be able to readily afford it. Patents are an insult to liberty, and a massive anchor on civilization, their impact only made manageable by the extraordinary inefficiency of the organization implementing them (that is the courts and the executive branches of government.) Patent trolls introduce a little free market efficiency into this process and look what happens, disaster. I have said it before — the patent system is one big troll.

  194. On one side we have the free marketers quoting Microsoft’s programming language for composable DNA ciricuits and the astonishing number of practical and theoretical discoveries developed by Bell labs .

    On the other side (perhaps characterized as the ‘government funded research isn’t a complete waste of time’ group) quoting the first artificial nuclear reactor, the internet, and the microprocessor.

    These all seem like anecdotes to me. I don’t mean that as an insult. Most of the time, philosophy backed up by anecdotes are all we’ve got. It is the absolute certainty of opinion that gives me pause. The list above doesn’t even scratch the surface of the government funded stuff or the privately funded stuff, or what stuff was first government funded, then later fully developed privately or vice-versa.

    However, I will quote two other interesting anecdotes. At the beginning of WWII, shipyards under government contract were taking several months to put together a military transport. By the middle of the war, at least one shipyard put out a transport in 6 days and most were, I believe, only taking a couple of weeks. The motivation was patriotism. Their son’s were going off to war and they wanted to do their very best to do their part. NASA put a man on the moon, developing much of the technology that made the micro-processor possible, in an extremely short period of time, for much the same motivation.

    I’m not saying most government funded projects operate under the same motivation, not even close. However, I am suggesting that the line between what is efficient and what is not may sometimes be a little blurred. Simple, elegant, catch-all philosophies often come apart when an attempt to implement then with actual human beings is conducted. I’d be interested to see what happens if and when a truly free market system comes about.

  195. Jessica, soon you won’t be able to buy a shotgun at Walmart. A couple years ago they passed down a policy from Arkansas that as each store undergoes its next remodel, all firearms facilities (and necessarily sales) in that store will be removed. My local Walmart is getting emasculated early next year.

    >Russell Nelson Says:
    ># a writes:
    >> The process might be less efficient, but as long as there is progress, why does it matter much?
    >Because there would be more progress if the government would stick to its knitting.

    The less efficient X is, the more must be spent on it for any particular value in return.
    The more that must be spent on X, the less that is available for anything else.
    The basic economic theory of opportunity costs.

  196. By the way, when I try to think of something close to a free-market, Britian and the US during the 19th century comes to mind. These weren’t free market systems but they were pretty close compared to now, right? I’m not really sure about that, so someone let me know if I’m way off base.

    Anyway, if I’m correct, then perhaps there is a way to judge between a free market system and a partially free market system. There has to be some measure of technological growth (number of patents maybe?) and that measure has probably been increasing exponential since 1800. However, I bet the constants of the exponential growth have been fluctuating. Perhaps we could determine during which historical time period the constants were highest/optimal, look at the market regulation during that time period (if such regulation existed), and declare a winner of the argument. Everyone would then happily align their political and market philosophies with the results of this experiment.

  197. ChrisGreen Says:
    > These all seem like anecdotes to me.

    Right but one anecdote is all that is required to disprove the claim that private companies do not do basic scientific research. They do, as the anecdotes illustrate.

    > Anyway, if I’m correct, then perhaps there
    > is a way to judge between a free market
    > system and a partially free market system

    I think that would be very hard to do in a convincing way. However, one can test the free market against the non free market every day. Here where I live you need to buy a tax sticker for your car every year. You can buy the sticker at the a local grocery store, or you can wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Someone once told me that a traffic jam is the free market in car production meeting the government controlled market in road production. Think about what the cumulative opportunity cost of traffic jams all over the country.

  198. JessicaBoxer:
    > I cope by realizing that I live in the universe, not the other way around.

    You anti-solipsist, you. :-)

  199. @William B Swift:
    Jessica, soon you won’t be able to buy a shotgun at Walmart. A couple years ago they passed down a policy from Arkansas that as each store undergoes its next remodel, all firearms facilities (and necessarily sales) in that store will be removed. My local Walmart is getting emasculated early next year.

    [citation needed] I googled and couldn’t come up with a single news item or blog post about it. Furthermore, I doubt the veracity of this claim in part because the WalMart I shop at was built within the last year or so and they do, in fact, carry shotguns. Not that you’d necessarily want to actually buy a shotgun from Walmart according to what I’ve heard from some people whose judgment I tend to trust, but AFAIK, there is no policy to stop selling shotguns at Walmart. Besides, it would be way out-of-character for them to stop selling any sort of high-demand item like that unless they were unable to maintain the sort of volume they need to make money.

    Walmart makes very few business decisions based solely on politics; they do all sorts of marketing studies and what not to see what the sales impact of anything they do is or would be. It’s all about maximizing profit, which is exactly how I’d expect any Fortune 500 company to behave.

  200. The New York State Wal*Mart near me doesn’t sell guns. They sell *ammo*, but not guns.

    # a blathers: “This is precisely the proof why it is very unlikely a corporation would pay any number theorist to research useless facts. Fast forward 50 years, have fun doing commerce on the Internet without cryptography.”

    Sorry, a, but I’m tempted to use a bad word to describe what I laughingly call your “thought process”. Clearly there is a benefit to number theory, no? So the question isn’t whether a corporation is going to fund that or not. The question is: who has a longer timeline: corporations or government. I’ve already shown you that governments have a short timeline, and corporations have a long timeline. Both David and Ajay point out, corporations *can* have a long timeline, and I’ll point out that governments *can* have a long timeline also. The question is not what is capable, but what is achieved.

    So, in the end, you’re defending government spending on research which CAN HAVE NO PLAUSIBLE APPLICATION EVER. And I, as a taxpayer, have to ask why you’re that stupid.

  201. Eric, if Sholem Aleichem is any clue, the majority of Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Empire weren’t tax farmers, and it’s implausible that there’s be a need for so many tax farmers.

    My impression is that there were a lot of people doing very ordinary scut-work: drovers, (kosher) butchers, charcoal burners.

    If there was selection for intelligence (and I still think a lot of what was going on was cultural), it has another source. Talmudic study and disputation was a major mode of male competition. The other one was making money. A rich man could gain status if one of his daughters married a brilliant Talmudic scholar. The family would be poor, but the young man’s genes get a better chance than they would in most cultures.

    Again, this is an impression– I’m not a student of the era.

    What I mean by cultural is that I think a lot of cultures are nervous about intelligence, and the display of it. There can be a fear that smart children won’t respect their parents, or that showing intelligence won’t give as large an advantage in bargaining as feigning stupidity.

    Ashkenazic culture takes the brakes off. Imagine a culture which is as straightforwardly in favor of intelligence as American culture is in favor of athletic ability.

    About the genetic disorders. They seem to be rare. I know a lot of Jewish people, and I know one person who might have torsion dysonia (except that I’m not sure whether he’s Jewish), and I’ve heard of one family with Tay-Sachs, which I don’t think is one of the disorders that might be associated with intelligence.

    *****

    I’d have a lot more respect for the rules from the Bible is boiling the drinking water had been included.

    ****

    About dealing with a depressing idea which seems to be true: I was thinking about the issues in the previous discussion of feral guy, and it occurred to me that people have really different preferences for their social interactions– the topics, the amount and kind of conflict, the degree of formality, you name it. I’m pretty sure that people have a fair amount of flexibility in what they can accommodate, but not so much in what they enjoy.

    The consequences are that the communication styles of social groups are run by dominant people who get the sort of interaction they want, and that no group can be comfortable for everyone. This isn’t always a matter of overt control.

    Groups aren’t monoliths– there can be sub-groups with different styles.

    My observation is that the style of groups is generally presented as a moral issue. It’s not just what people want locally, anyone who wants something different has something wrong with them.

    It’s plausible that, in very small groups, the enforcement mechanisms can be more about consensus and less about dominance.

    When I first realized this (it still seems sound to me), I distanced myself from it as “3 o’clock in the morning thoughts”. At this point, I’m trying to figure out why it was possible for me to think that it could be possible for everyone to just be comfortable with each other. It would be nice (assuming that my wants are the rule), but I probably wanted to get what I wanted without the need for enforcement.

    *****

    About feminism: You really can’t know how the future will play out on that one. I haven’t heard of anyone who expected the demographic transition to smaller families, and it took them a long time to figure out that women’s rights was the crucial factor rather than the increase of wealth.

    I’ve been thinking for a while that the trend towards smaller families might not be stable: there’s a selection for people who really want children, whether the reasons are genetic or memetic.

    The real competition might be between systems that add up to “have as many children as you can afford to raise well” and those that say “have as many children as you can”. Another factor in play is whether “afford to raise well” is driven higher because of status competition, or lower because people would rather have more well-raised children than more status.

  202. >Eric, if Sholem Aleichem is any clue, the majority of Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Empire weren’t tax farmers, and it’s implausible that there’s be a need for so many tax farmers.

    Aleichem was writing a century after the final collapse of the empire (aka commonwealth). The tax farmers weren’t nobles: probably, when the Austrians and Russians and Germans carved up the territory in 1795, they either emigrated or sank back into the peasantry.

    >If there was selection for intelligence (and I still think a lot of what was going on was cultural), it has another source. Talmudic study and disputation was a major mode of male competition.

    Sure. Thar’s how the Jews were pre-positioned to become the tax farmers and petty bureaucrats of the Commonwealth. I don’t have much information on how the arrangement evolved, but I rather suspect they’d had a similar role in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania before the union with Poland in 1569. Royal contracts with Jewish tax farmers are recorded as far back as the 1200s in Spain and Portugal.

  203. Mu point was just that tax farmers were presumably a tiny proportion of the Jewish population at any time, but thanks for the historical context.

    You said: Ashkenazic Jews as a group were ruthlessly selected for IQ during the last thousand years by their role as tax farmers for the Polish-Lithuanian Empire (also the reason Eastern European gentile peasantry has inherited a bone-deep hatred for them);

    Aside from that a fast googling suggests something more like 4oo years of tax farming, not a thousand, your more recent comment suggests that some sort of intelligence amplification was already in place.

    I’m not sure what sort of intelligence being a tax farmer would select for. The math probably just needs to be adequate, and the rest would be interpersonal skills.

  204. >I’m not sure what sort of intelligence being a tax farmer would select for. The math probably just needs to be adequate, and the rest would be interpersonal skills.

    Well, the ability to do math and the ability to spot when the rubes are holding out on you seem like two obvious ones. The ability to run accounting fiddles on your employer might be another…

    I did a little more digging and found that the Ottoman Empire also seems to have used Jews extensively as tax farmers. One document I found an excerpt from mentions Salonika and Nicosia, so there’s direct attestation from Greece. I also found reference to tax contracts being held by Jews in the Ukraine in the 1400s, which tends to confirm my guess that the Commonwealth inherited a tradition already established in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

  205. 1) What we call ‘The Universe’ will really end as a cosmic desert after the last black holes evaporate.
    2) That there are things in reality that intrinsically cannot be understood by their nature by any kind of mind.
    3) (I know this is true) within the next few billion years, all life on the earth will be obliterated as the sun increases in temperature and swells.

    It really startles me that you would _want_ for an intervening overmind to control the entire universe, because, as Mr. Hitchens believes; it wold be like a cosmic North Korea, the only differences being that the dear leader really can control reality, you can never leave, when you die the real fun is just beginning, and you will be judged for all the thoughtcrimes you may have committed. and all of this is _for your own good_

  206. I’ve had a number of these “fearing-what-might-be-true” crises, starting in college (I’m 23 now) and I think I’ve kind of gotten the hang of dealing with them.

    1. You can’t do much to help people with government.
    2. There doesn’t seem to be evidence for the existence of God.
    3. There may be unpalatable physiological differences between the sexes or races.
    4. There is an enormous amount of suffering in the world, most of which will not be relieved.
    5. I do not have the motivation to be a math professor.

    Basically, I don’t cope *well*, but I cope. Usually I try to find a workaround. (You can’t help people with government, but you can help people *despite* government. I may not stay in academia, but I can work in industry and enjoy it. Whatever science finds out about the races, I can strive to treat people fairly as individuals.)

    Sometimes there just isn’t a workaround, though. “People suffer” doesn’t have a workaround. Some people grok that, and snap, and then believe in the magical efficacy of their favorite plan (and I see this happen to smart, secular, apolitical people; it’s not just the usual suspects.) Some people manage to not care. Or they have so many immediate worries and obligations that the big-picture Issues never surface. Me, I don’t know — sometimes I’m really motivated to help others, sometimes less so; sometimes the fact that life sucks for most of humanity is *unbearable* and sometimes my own life is so good that I’m not too bothered. It’s a big confusion.

  207. A few other things spring to mind that you didn’t include, and I wonder how you feel about, for example, the possibility that claims of anthropogenic climate change might be true. (I think you’ve said that it’s a plot to generate a crisis that’s addressable only with massive state control of everything, but I’m not sure how that’s compatible with the perspective that there’s a libertarian solution to any conceivable problem.)

    Or, perhaps, that there’s an entirely environmental (i.e., not inherent or unchangeable) explanation for black people testing poorly, and therefore any work built on the basis of that poor test performance being inherent has been responsible for a tremendous amount of needless prejudice and harm.

  208. Okay, yes, prospiracy rather than conspiracy, few or no mustache-twirling supervillains; got it. But more to the point, these seem like things which, if true, would lead to some kind of crisis of faith for you, considerably worse than the thoughts you described in the original post; why didn’t they make the fear-list?

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