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The Selfish Gene remains one of my favorite books of all time and although published in 1976 it remains a compelling and insightful introduction to the brute mechanics of natural selection. Richard Dawkins later acknowledged that his book's title may give a misleading impression of its thesis, erroneously ascribing conscious motivations or agentic properties to non-sentient strands of DNA. The core argument is dreadfully simple: genes (as opposed to organisms or species) are the primary unit of natural selection, and if you leave the primordial soup brewing for a while, the only genes that can remain are the ones with a higher proclivity towards replication than their neighbors. "Selfish" genes therefore are not cunning strategists or followers of some manifest destiny, but rather simply the accidental consequence of natural selection favoring their propagation. Nothing more.
Dawkins is responsible for coining the word 'meme' in the book to describe how the same principles behind gene replication can apply to ideas replicating. I thought about this when I read WoodFromEden's post about the origin of patriarchy. Their explanation for why male dominance persisted historically for so long is elegantly tidy:
Men make war. Or rather, groups of men make war. The groups that were good at making war remained. The groups that were less good at making war perished. That way, human history is a history of successful male military cooperation. Groups with weak male bonding were defeated by groups where men cooperated better.
Here too, there is no dirigible trajectory mapped out ahead of time. Cultural values which valorize physical male violence and facilitate its coordination at scale will become the dominant paradigm purely as a result of the circumstances' ruthless logic. Any deviation from this set of values would lead your tribe towards extinction, which accidentally also meant your bards wouldn't be around to write songs and poems extolling the virtues of sex equality. At least not until there have been an extensive change in circumstance.
This "security dilemma" may have been borne out of petty squabbles over hunting grounds in the Serengeti but its ramifications persisted throughout history. Military service today may be seen as a low-status and distasteful profession — quite literally grunt work — but it used to be venerated deeply as a path to honor and a cornerstone of civic duty. This philosophy is epitomized by the recurring and central portrayal of military men in stories from a long time ago (Homeric heroes of ancient Greece, Genghis Khan, Jedi knights, etc.), their deeds forming the backbone of societal narratives and cultural mythologies.
The historian Bret Deveraux analyzed the grand strategy video game Europa Universalis 4 to illustrate the war-hungry reality of the late medieval period:
Military power requires revenue and manpower (along with staying technologically competitive) and both come from the same source: the land. While a player can develop existing provinces, taking land in war is far cheaper and faster. The game represents this through both developing old land and seizing new land requiring similar resources [but compared to incorporating newly conquered land, development is about 4x as expensive while providing only marginal improvements]. That may seem like the developer has placed their thumb a bit unfairly on the scale, but, as Azar Gat notes in War in Human Civilization (2006) for pre-industrial societies that is a historically correct thumb on the scale. Until the industrial revolution, nearly all of the energy used in production came out of agriculture one way or another; improves in irrigation, tax collection and farming methods might improve yields, but never nearly so much as adding more land. Consequently, as Gat puts it, returns to capital investment (hitting the development button) were always wildly inferior to returns to successful warfare that resulted in conquest.
For most of history, living the good life meant killing people and taking their shit. The men of martial prowess — those exceptionally good at killing people and taking their shit — were appropriately exalted and deified for the base survival and material gain they were able to provide to their community. Fundamental to this community's well-being is a male's ability to commit acts of horrific physical violence in his individual capacity and to coordinate others to do the same (this too with violence if necessary). Any folklore or morality code which facilitated this core mission will replicate, spread, and become enshrined as humanity's unquestioned zeitgeist. Not because it's the "right" thing to do, but solely because no pacifist egalitarian civilization could have possibly survived to say otherwise.
I've written before about slavery, along a similar vein of Devereaux-inspired historical analysis. Although subject nowadays to some quixotic revisionism about why it existed, there is nothing at all remarkable about slavery's near-universal historical pervasiveness. The only justification anyone ever needed to press another into bondage is the universal desire to have someone else do all the work. Any mythology pasted on top (including institutionalized racism) was always just set dressing. When industrialization made slavery increasingly politically and economically untenable, the moral and legal consensus conveniently caught up.
Consider the chasm with how much material circumstances changed. Promises of milk and honey used to serve as the bounty of divine compacts, but today I can performatively buy entire vats of the stuff and barely notice the financial hit. Cheap and abundant electricity is part of the reason I have trivial access to luxuries ancient royalty could only dream about. Buckminster Fuller coined the term energy slave as a way to contextualize energy consumption by calculating the equivalent kilowatt-hours a healthy human could provide through labor. It's a crude equivalence for sure but with some basic assumptions  we can calculate the average American relies on the "labor" of about 150 energy slaves. Well what do you know, that happens to be around how many slaves George Washington owned.
The most fascinating book I've never read is The Secret Of Our Success which essentially argues humans succeeded because we're uniquely adept at making shit up — social conventions, cultural norms, religious mythology, etc. — which happens to be directionally useful.
One of the reasons stone tool technology languished for millions of years is likely a result of the brute limitations of a then-human's cognitive capacity. It took about 3 million years of evolution for the human brain to triple in size; a pace too glacial to contemplate but still remarkably fast for natural selection. By contrast, the pace of cultural memetic evolution is not constrained by the corporeal cycle of birth and death. Once the human brain got swole enough, the jet fuel that really powered the next few thousand years of technological advancement was almost entirely a result of cultural advancement. Our ability to create viral memes, in other words.
I'm an atheist who believes religion is a fiction, but I happily recognize it as a materially useful fiction. The Dunbar limit normally would make us dreadfully wary of any interactions with Person No. 151, a hurdle which would have otherwise foreclosed the already impossibly long alloy trade routes necessary to start the bronze age. BUT if you make some shit up about how Person No. 151 is actually totally cool to trade with because they're of the same religion or K-pop fandom or whatever, the cultural fiction is soothing enough for your flighty lizardbrain to let its guard down. Keep this up long enough and maybe pencils can exist.
Our mind's rational capacity to observe patterns, question assumptions, and test hypotheses provides us with an envious advantage in mastering the physical world with everything from tracking game to optimizing steam turbines. But paradoxically as Gurwinder notes in his highly-recommended essay Why Smart People Believe Stupid Things, the very same intelligence can become an effective source of delusion:
As a case in point, human intelligence evolved less as a tool for pursuing objective truth than as a tool for pursuing personal well-being, tribal belonging, social status, and sex, and this often required the adoption of what I call "Fashionably Irrational Beliefs" (FIBs), which the brain has come to excel at. Since we're a social species, it is intelligent for us to convince ourselves of irrational beliefs if holding those beliefs increases our status and well-being.
Unlike George Washington, I don't support slavery (please clap). But also unlike Washington, I conveniently happen to benefit from a dense tapestry of infrastructure and tendinous globe-spanning supply chains affording me near-immediate satisfaction of my most trivial of whims. Based on the evident historical record, without the environmentally deleterious bounty fossil fuels facilitated, most of us would be conjuring up creatively compelling excuses for why forcing your neighbor to work for free is the Moral thing to do. Gurwinder cites exactly such an example with the 19th century physician Samuel A. Cartwright:
A strong believer in slavery, he used his learning to avoid the clear and simple realization that slaves who tried to escape didn't want to be slaves, and instead diagnosed them as suffering from a mental disorder he called drapetomania, which could be remedied by "whipping the devil" out of them. It's an explanation so idiotic only an intellectual could think of it.
The cynical ramifications of my argument might be impossible to avoid completely. Perhaps acknowledging how much our technological milieu guides our moral spirit could beckon us to intensify our agentic nature. To the extent the field of evolutionary psychology can be deployed to shed light on past and present mysteries, perhaps it can shed insight into the future too?
But ultimately, how scary is it to know your deeply held convictions are subject to materialistic opportunism?
 As Scott Alexander noted: "If you're allergic to the word "patriarchy", reframe it as the anthropological question of why men were more powerful than women in societies between the Bronze and Industrial Age technology levels."
 The average per capita consumption in the US is 300 million BTUs. A human can sustain 75 watts of work over 8 hours, which translates to 2,047 BTUs of energy per day. If we generously also give our energy slaves the weekends off, that's 260 days times 2,047 BTUs, or 532,220 BTUs of energy per year. I very likely fucked this up but I stopped caring hours ago.
 Another crude equivalence, but Washington's net worth in today's dollars is around $700 million, far outstripping every other US president until Trump showed up.
It was...plain. Brown hair, white skin, and vague facial features made up the head, while the body was a t-shirt and jeans.
It felt like the Nike Off-Whites of Funko Pops.
"I gotta ask, what do you do with all the money you make off making these?" I asked off-handedly.
"Save money, but I always splurge a bit. Tonight, I'll probably buy a roast ham for my family if you buy this one. It's a milestone."
In my mind, I suddenly held the power of life over some distant pig, a dirty thing that was treated poorly until the time came to hack it apart. I would certainly never do such a thing myself, a half-eaten salad sitting on the front passenger seat of my car.
"You've got yourself a deal," I said as I handed over the money.
The Funko Pop pair in my hands were unique in that both were considered part of the same product.
The first had blue hair and fancy glasses over its feminine features. The cheeks were slightly bubbled. Tiny dots along the t-shirt indicated a host of pins and stickers, while its right hand held a cell phone up at the viewer. If I turned it, the screen was painted to look like it was writing a short bird message. There was some sentence about believing science on whatever space was left of the t-shirt.
The second had soft red hair and freckles. The eyes and mouth were curled into a smile, giving it a grandfatherly-expression. The clothes were that of a cowboy, but I could make out the words about making the nation great again on the shirt.
"You know who these two people are, right?" I asked the seller.
"Didn't this one literally set a hospital on fire?"
"And the other killed someone at the same protest, yeah."
"And you don't think it's weird to make figures about them?"
"Nothing weird about it. I'd be a fucking idiot to not try and cash in on currently trending people. What's weird are the people who come to buy it."
"What about them is weird?"
"Well, some are outright buying it because of what they did at that protest. The other type just buys it because they liked what those people did before the protest."
I nodded in understanding. Both were renowned philanthropists, responsible for funding education, housing, and medical facilities for the impoverished. Even my grandmother, who didn't pay attention to the news, effusively praised them.
"What about collectors who just want a full collection? Like me?"
"To be honest, you struck me initially as the kind of person who buys things because other people hate it."
"You've got yourself a deal," I said as I handed over the money.
This Funko Pop's hair was longer than I had expected, the blonde curls extending to the waist. I did like, however, that the book in its left hand was in pristine condition, that was hard to get and why I had driven so far to get it. Also, the business shirt and skirt looked damn cute.
"Kinda weird to see one for her," I remarked.
"I don't, uh, follow? Sorry, it just feels totally normal that they made one for her. I mean, fuck TERFs and all that, but she is a billionaire." The seller squinted at me. "Are you a TERF? I don't sell to them."
"No, no, not at all. Just found it weird, that's all. It's just, the reason she's famous is way old now. It had its moment, who cares now?"
"Yeah, but all the kids who read her stuff grew up and can now buy movie tickets and merchandise. Like a Funko Pop," they said, gesturing to the figure in my hand.
"True, true. Are you-"
"Listen, I'm very busy. Are you going to buy it or not?"
"Sorry, just checking one last thing. I thought you said in your text you'd be free all day, though? Just wondering, that's all."
"She," the seller pointed at the figure, "is coming to this town to talk about how everyone needs to tell their representative to vote a certain way on that one bill, and I don't want to be in this place when she gives her hateful rant. I'm only here because you're the only one willing to buy this from me, everyone else I know won't touch it."
It made sense, I supposed.
"You've got yourself a deal," I said as I handed over the money. Untraceable at the seller's insistence, since officially tracked re-sales sent a portion of the money to the depicted person.
I frowned at the figure in my hand. The hair looked even more painted on than official images suggested. It was as if a black sharpie had been used on the chocolate skin instead of permanent paint. Still, at least the red clothes and skull necklace didn't look as cheap.
"So...Hey, HEY! Can you turn that down a bit!" I shouted at the seller.
They turned the music down. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"Uh...I forgot. But that was his famous song, right?" I pointed at the figure.
"He's got multiple famous albums, my friend. But yes, it was his music. I have all his stuff."
"Neat. How come you're selling this, then? Do you not like Funko Pops?"
"Nah. That's for kids to play with." They paused. "Or collectors to buy, sorry."
I waved it off with my other hand. "Did you hear about what he said recently?"
"What are you referring to?"
"He was talking about how he would ensure all people of certain religions were removed from government positions."
"Oh, really? I guess I need to catch up on the news. I drove a while to get here, so..."
"Right. You've got yourself a deal," I said as I handed over the money. I knew a portion of it would undoubtedly find its way into the depicted person's political campaign.
I didn't even look at the figure in the seller's hand. "Excuse me, are you by any chance-"
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'm Adolf Hitler. The man who ordered six million Jews and many others killed. I started World War 2 and got resettled here as a condition of surrendering."
"Huh. So...why are you dealing in Funko Pops?"
"I'm trying to establish myself as an artist, and making custom figurines pays well. Do you want it or not?"
"...Out of curiosity, what do you do with all the money you make? I saw that you made several hundred thousand just last year alone."
"Fund my local Neo-Nazi chapter. They killed two undesirables last month, I really wish they wouldn't slack like that. Anyway, do you want it or not?"
I stared at him for a moment, then down at the figure.
"You've got yourself a deal," I said as I handed over the money.
As I drove home that day, I looked at the plastic box placed where the passenger's feet would be. It had been empty when I started and was now totally full. In terms of collecting, it had been a spectacular success.
A part of me wondered just how stained my soul had become this day.
As a Christian and a father I not infrequently find myself faced with a certain moral dilemma. Specifically, my income is pretty good and I’m in the position of deciding what to do with it.
Of course, there is no end of uses for money. Our family is growing and we need a bigger, better home. The sort we want in our area will run us about $6k/month in rent, or $1.2m to buy. The public education system is less ‘broken’ than it is actively ruinous (but both), so private schooling and tutoring considerations apply. There’s retirement planning in the face of an increasingly cartoon economy.
My parish, naturally, wants tithes. They want a whole ten percent! Off the top! And in fairness, if my dollar was the one to determine whether it thrived or failed, that would be the best investment I could make. Our community is amazing and the only place I’d want to raise my children. We run a thrift store (like Goodwill) that is an absolute lifesaver for many of the area’s poor. Also, we practice almsgiving, which is acts of charity above and beyond tithing, if not always monetary.
But many other mouths cry out to be fed as well, from crook-smiled politicians who nonetheless are important to support over the other guy to NGOs trying to staunch an arterial rupture of human tragedy with the equivalent of band-aids for want of bigger budgets.
And life’s finer things are to be considered as well. I like good art, soundly-crafted furniture, stylish clothing (important for my job too), high-quality ingredients for cooking, and the occasional getaway to see family, friends, or just interesting places. The kids want enrichment also, and while I’m not going to call this demand a pit, it certainly is bottomless. Too, there is the notion of self-care; that it’s important to expend enough resources on my own well-being that I continue to be able to generate the income.
Only, as all of these are valued in dollars, they directly trade off against each other. And in the way of autists, I can’t help but grope my way down the thing toward the root of the problem. It has taken me to some pretty intense places.
~All human societies hold in common an understanding that it is a father’s duty to protect and provide for his children. This is enshrined in law, culture, and everywhere else. Of course a father would do anything to save his child — rob, murder, cheat, lie, or give up his own life without hesitation. To do otherwise would be reprehensible.
This principle is not without its exceptions. Men in office, for example, are expected to set aside their familial obligations when acting in their official capacity (And, actually, one could find far worse yardsticks of a people’s worth than their ability to hold to this standard consistently). If a soldier on the front lines receives word of a family emergency, efforts are often made to excuse him to attend to it, but where this conflicts with operational considerations he is expected to stay put, and failure to do so is generally agreed to be worthy of capital enforcement, even if our hearts are understandably with him.
I have heard a saying along the following lines attributed to the Bedouin of the deep desert:
Me and my tribe against the world
Me and my clan against the tribe
Me and my cousins against the clan
Me and my brother against our cousins
Me against my brother
If my daughter and the neighbor-kid are both starving I am expected to feed my own and let the other die. So with my nieces and nephews over my second-cousins’ kids, all the way up the enumerated hierarchy. This is understood. This is a human universal. Most, I expect, would agree that this is the very foundation of morality, though as we will see I am not so sure.
Where exceptions come in it is because a man has taken upon himself the role of father to a greater family than that of his immediate. We honor enormously the Patriarch who puts the good of the clan above his own children. We remember with fierce admiration the Emperor who adopts a competent successor as his son while consigning his own degenerate offspring to some idle pleasure dome in the countryside. We exalt the young man who gives his own life in the trenches while his pregnant wife waits for him anxiously back home. We depend upon such men. We call them heroes. This, too, is moral. It is perhaps even a higher sort of morality.
A messiah is one who brings such benefit to his People at the grandest scales. A typical Christian narrative on the subject goes something like: The Jews were conquered by one hostile nation and then another, denied their own homeland, constantly at risk of enslavement and extermination, and were able to survive all of this by virtue of their hope in a coming promised messiah. They had many specific expectations of what he would be like, too. He would bloodily uproot the foreigners, bring the earth under his dominion, and elevate his own race to lordship, never to be so threatened again. When Jesus came to Jerusalem the people laid down palm fronds that he (or his mount(s)) might tread upon these instead of the dirt. They were elated. They knew exactly what was coming, and they were ready as only centuries of bitter anticipation can make a people. And then the State executed him in their ugliest fashion and he didn’t even attempt to resist. Even the disciples, whom Christ had tried to prepare for this over and over again, understood that all was lost and that Jesus was not the messiah. Messiahs do not lose. They conquer.
Let me shift gears now and talk about Hitler. There is no figure more reviled in our culture. He serves as our icon of utmost evil; of the worst aspects of human nature. To publicly question this in the slightest is to run a very real risk of losing everything and, in many Western countries, even runs up against laws that will land one in a jail cell.
Yes, I realize that I’m committing an unspeakable breach of social etiquette by asking. Yes, I know that many of us, even here, have an uncontrollable disgust reflex on the topic. Even those who are more or less comfortable with discussing differences in average racial IQs or impulse control, or personality trait variances between men and women.
The usual answer for someone in such circles is, “Because such discourse is controlled by the Jews, etc., yada yada yada” and while there is certainly something to this it is, at least at this resolution, entirely beside the point I’m trying to make. So please bear with me — that is not where I’m taking you.
One day a few months ago I, in the way of autists, asked myself what exactly was so unusual about Hitler that he should occupy the mythological position that he does. One can of course enumerate a long list of terrible atrocities for which he was responsible. Only, as I went through them, I couldn’t help but notice that not only were they all basically par for the course for the Father, the would-be messiah of a people, but that worse examples of each can be found (both quantitatively and almost always qualitatively) in the biographies of other leaders — including, not to put too fine a point on this, those seen often enough on t-shirts in public without ruffling anyone’s feathers particularly.
So, finding myself at a loss, I escalated the question to some trusted friends, and discovered that while it was extremely upsetting to most of them, none even attempted to answer, but rather clucked at me while shaking their heads in horrified exasperation. These are people, you understand, whose capacity for decoupled analysis I generally respect very greatly. Disconcerting, to say the least. Can’t you pick as a mascot, one said, someone other than the craziest and most evil man in history?
Only, I cannot fathom how anyone sees this when they look at Hitler. Here was a man who sincerely held the best interests of his People in his heart. He came of age in a time when his nation was — historical aggression notwithstanding — brutally, horrifically, oppressed. Countless of his countrymen, women and children, starved to death needlessly under spiteful, vindictive post-war Allied blockades. The economy was so saddled with reparation debt that rebuilding would take generations if it were ever possible at all. The people had no hope. Men and women who wanted families faced down a seemingly-insurmountable challenge in doing so. The risk of watching their babies die of starvation was all too real. And what chance had those children of decent lives even if they did survive to adulthood? They would end up de facto slaves, servants to the sneering foreigners who now controlled everything.
Germany’s culture — within living memory arguably the pinnacle of human achievement — was brought low, rapidly to be replaced with this new post-war thrust which we can now recognize as the antecedent to the sort of moral and cultural disintegration with which we are today so familiar.
And this man! This man was nobody. He was a failed art student. But he decided that he was not going to let that happen. He was going to save his people or die trying. Yes, in pursuit of this goal he engaged in some of the most reprehensible methods imaginable. But in what sense was he not playing the highest, most honorable role for his people — that of a messiah? Was the alternative really any more moral? Are we clutching our pearls and sobbing because it was mean to kill political opponents when what he should have done was to suffer the children of his nation to starve to death in the streets while foreigners feasted in the beautiful homes built by his forefathers? Can we really suppose for one moment that the Jewish zealots of AD 66 would have had any problem with Hitlerian tactics were the shoe on the other foot and being executed by Eleazar ben Simon against the Romans? Yes, Hitler was a mess and riddled with countless inexcusable flaws, but are we truly to believe that he did what he did simply because he enjoyed causing others pain? The man was a vegetarian for goodness’ sake!
Now contrast this with Stalin (or Lenin). How explicit do I need to be here? Whether they acted more out of lust for power or a sincere ideological commitment to, idk, ‘the working class’ (imo doubtful), these guys did not act out of love for their people, and did not hesitate to consign millions of them to starvation in pursuit of power.
And they killed so many more. So many more. But our politicians can admire them openly and the common man has only the haziest idea of why this might be a problem. And while, sure, the opposition will attempt to make much hay of this, the younger generations increasingly seem uninterested in what they have to say about it.
Last night a friend told me,
my opinion is that you've been brainpoisoned into calling evil good and good evil and rather than leaning into the caricatures of your enemies by using the word 'hitlerism' to refer to good things you should not do that
(Not that I was — it’s precisely the distinction that I’m trying to draw, but we’ll get to that.)
So on the subject of ‘my enemies’, let me tell you a few things I notice about them.
They get abortions
They permanently sterilize themselves, or
They take pills to trick their bodies into thinking they've just lost a baby because this spiritual distress is preferable to them over the prospect of actually reproducing.
They purchase chihuahuas, and pekinese, and felines, and portage them around in equipment intended for human children which will never exist
They agonize over the irresponsibility of their own kind having children, but gasp in horror at anyone who suggests that African birthrates might become a problem
They desire to privilege children of other races above their own, ceding educational access, preferential employment, etc.
They get nervous at portrayals of healthy white families with several children
They will loudly insist that they do not have a culture
They really don’t like borders and seem to think that it’s their responsibility to feed and clothe the world
This list could be ten times as long, of course. You get the idea. So to circle back around to my original point —
My enemies do not feed their own children first. My enemies sell their children at the market and immediately donate the proceeds to the worst, most irredeemably valueless people they can find. And if they can’t find one close enough to hand, they go looking. And it’s disgusting. It’s reprehensible. It offends me to a degree that I have difficulty conveying without jumping up and down and screaming until I’m red in the face and collapsing into a pile of tears. Only, I seem to remember Jesus telling us to do what my enemies are doing — or it’s at least close enough that I can’t help but notice.
Which brings us back to my daughter. As her father, where does my responsibility to her end? At what point should I give a dollar to feed notional children on the other side of the world rather than investing it in her future? How stiff will her competition be? How can I know in advance which investment will turn out to make all the difference?
Consider the following scenario. I am walking down the street and notice my neighbor’s two year old breaking free from her front door and running into traffic. Of course if I can safely rescue her I should, but suppose I’m not sure that I can without endangering my own life in the process, and leaving my children fatherless? I could maybe look her parents in the eye afterward and say “There just wasn’t anything I could do” and they’d likely catch the nuance and understand and even bitterly sympathize.
But supposing I had plenty of time to save the child, and just choose not to because this would mean I don't have time to read my daughter a bedtime story. Is that equivalent to murder? I say yes. Trying to delineate between the two is an unseemly thing for a man to do and belies a womanly discomfort with agency. But when I spend a few extra bucks to get her the pink scooter someone, somewhere, is going hungry, and in aggregate dying.
Or imagine that I’m the chieftain of one of two small tribes on a small island. Resources are getting scarce and everyone knows that at some point soon it’s going to be us or them. Does a good leader, a good father, wait for the threat to ripen, for the enemy to choose the place and time for battle? Or does he strike preemptively? It will be either our children or theirs who die. We will eat their babies or they will eat ours. Shouldn’t a father make sure of which it is? Isn’t that what a good father does?
The reason our society is so reflexively disgusted by Hitler is because we have mostly internalized the notion that our children should die that others might live, and the man with the tiny moustache represents the polar opposite of that.
Hitler seems to me, at heart, a very good father. If I emulated him, I should not hesitate to feed my own child first, even upon the corpses of my neighbors’ children. I should lie and cheat and steal and murder in game-theoretically optimal ways to bestow upon my children as many resources as possible, that they should not themselves end up in chains or on the dinner plate. The notorious Fourteen Words — “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” — make the connection so explicit and unassailable that the Left dares not to look upon it.
But the icon-stand in my heart labeled “Father” does not have Hitler’s portrait in it. Actually the picture there is blank, ha ha, but that’s another story, and the point is that Christ fills in pretty well. My Father does not feed His own child first. He feeds His child to us. Bit by blood-soaked bit, forever. I can struggle with the apparent discrepancy between disinheriting my daughter to feed what looks to me like a total waste of the Imago Dei, but there it is. I am certain that the difference between my girl, whom I can assure you I adore unbearably and who always seems to have a beam of sunshine on her in my eyes — that the difference between her and the most contemptible human being ever to exist, is as nothing compared to the difference between God’s son and my daughter, or myself.
But the gorge does rise in my throat when I consider failing to protect what seems, to me, the most beautiful person, and the most beautiful People, ever to exist in favor of… that. Every cell in my body says that I should sooner glass an entire foreign continent rather than allow harm to befall one hair upon my daughter’s perfect golden head.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
And we can’t even expect the problem to go away. The least of these will always be among us. He said so. Maybe the only clean way out of this is to not have children in the first place. I’m afraid He might have said that too.
I try to console myself with precedent. I try to believe. We have established two types of morality: A baseline morality of feeding one’s own children first, and a higher morality of sacrificing one’s children for the greater good of the People. But Christ would seem to indicate a third sort, which is to love the foreigner's child more than one’s own. This is, after all, what God did.
And for a minute there humans actually did it too! As Scott says,
The early Christian Church had the slogan “resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39), and indeed, their idea of Burning The Fucking System To The Ground was to go unprotestingly to martyrdom while publicly forgiving their executioners. They were up against the Roman Empire, possibly the most effective military machine in history, ruled by some of the cruelest men who have ever lived. [...] this should have been the biggest smackdown in the entire history of smackdowns.
And it kind of was. Just not the way most people expected.
Food for thought, I guess.
So it seems to me that if I'm to be a Christian, this directly implies feeding my child to the dogs. And if I'm to do otherwise, this fully generalizes to Hitler. Either way I had better get serious about whatever it is I'm doing here.
Long story short, I’m currently trying to decide between this apron and this one for my daughter for when she’s painting at her easel. The first is a little bit cheaper, but she’ll like the second one better because it has unicorns. Hoping someone can offer some insight here.
I have a short Substack post about AI regulation which is itself a teaser for my much longer article in Areo Magazine about AI risk & policy.
When Chat GPT 3.5 was released, I was tribally. But within weeks my emotions switched tribes, even though my actual rational opinions have been more or less consistent. Basically
We have almost no real-world understanding of AI-alignment, we need open, visibile experimentation to get it.
There really is risk, AI-development needs legal limits,
Those limits should be more about rule-of-law than administrative power.
The goal is to create and delimit rights to work on AI safely.
But do read the actual articles to unpack that.
That's what I want, but what I'm afraid we'll get (with the backing of the AI-risk community) is a worst-of-both-worlds. Large unaccountable entities (i.e. governments and approved corporations) will develop very powerful Orwellian AIs, while squelching the open development that could (a) help us actually understand how to do AI safety, and (b) use AI in anti-Orwellian tools like personal bullshit detectors.
I understand the argument that crushing open development is Good Actually because every experiment could be the one that goes FOOM. But this Yuddist foomer-doomerism is based on an implausible model of what intelligence is. As I say in Areo (after my editor made it more polite):
Their view of intelligence as monomaniacal goal-seeking leads the rationalists to frame AI alignment as a research problem that could only be solved by figuring out how to programme the right goals into super-smart machines. But in truth, the only way to align the values of super-smart machines to human interests is to tinker with and improve stupider machines.
Any smart problem-solver must choose a course of action from a vast array of possible choices. To make that choice, the intelligence must be guided by pre-intellectual value judgements about which actions are even worth considering. A true-blue paperclip maximiser would be too fascinated by paperclips to win a war against the humans who were unplugging its power cord.
But even if you did believe in foom-doom, centralising development will not help. You are just re-inventing the Wuhan Institute for Virology.
I was struck by a passage from Barack Obama's recent autobiography, describing how each day in the oval office, he would read 10 letters from concerned citizens, and occasionally direct government agencies to reach out and help one. He didn't feel a lot of accomplishment from this, however, because he knew that for each individual he helped, there were tens of thousands struggling in the wake of the financial crisis.
I thought this passage was interesting, because while this sort of dejection might be appropriate for a person trying to maximize their impact at the helm of a huge bureaucratic apparatus, it would be a totally counterproductive attitude for many everyday citizens just trying to help out their communities. Clearly our society needs people with a wide distribution on the intended-scale-of-impact trait, and maybe individuals should also have their own distribution over the scale their various activities act on...?
As a PhD student, I felt for a long time that the highest EV thing I could do was learn things or work on projects, but as I've started to appreciate the miniscule impact most papers (...even many fields... lol) have, I've started to question whether that was the right call.
I was just curious how people here think about this. How do you approach diversifying the scale of impact of things you work on?
The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:
Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.
Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.
Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.
Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).
Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.
The death penalty has various serious problems and lifetime imprisonment is really really expensive.
I guess we should be happy every time someone so thoroughly bad we want them out of society forever (like a serial murderer) does us the favour of killing themselves. Nothing of value is lost, and the justice system saves money. Right?
It seems to me it logically follows that we should incentivize such suicides. Like: 5000 dollars to a person of your choice if you're dead within the first year of your lifetime sentence, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
It feels very wrong and is clearly outside the overton window. But is there any reason to expect this wouldn't be a net benefit?