site banner

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.


We have somehow survived another move.

I feel like a broken record here, but, seriously, good job everyone, and thanks. While the moderators of a community are important, the community simply doesn't exist without its members. Y'all came over here and kept on posting, and that's exactly what we needed.

With luck, this is going to be the last move we ever need to make; we have our own domain and servers, we're no longer really existing with any specific other person's permission.

We are, however, not out of the woods.

I mentioned during some of the original Reddit-exodus posts that I had a serious medium-term worry about userbase. We've cut ourselves off from the Reddit pipeline and that means we're in danger of slowly eroding away; people will always leave the community and right now we don't have a good way of getting new users. We wouldn't be the first community to do so! Every community needs an influx of people, and now we need to figure out the right way to manage that.

So I now have a few requests, ordered roughly by how comfortable I am asking it.

First: Send links to people that you think will be interested. If you know someone looking for political discussion, send them a link to the site as a whole; if there's a specific post you think they'll be interested in, link that. Remember that we have The Vault, which has unfortunately gone a bit neglected while I worked on this changeover. Please don't spam anyone - I don't want anyone just posting links to our front page on a hundred subreddits - but if you have a good opportunity, either regarding friends or communities that you're an established member of, take it.

Second: Propose places that might be willing to do a link trade. I'm planning to reach out to a bunch of subreddits shortly and see if they're willing to crosslink, especially places that are serious-political-discussion-adjacent in the hopes that we can draw off that section of their population and both be better off for it. If you have personal connections you can bring it up to them yourself, otherwise just let me know and I'll see what I can do. I expect a low success rate but even a low success rate might be pretty dang valuable.

(And don't limit this to subreddits! There's a number of good communities out there that aren't on the big social sites.)

Third: If you have time, help out. We have a dev server that you can join if you want to work on a huge number of pending issues, and it's thanks to the people on this server that we've had such a constant flow of updates, fixes, and tweaks. If you're less programmery but more editorial, we do have a lot of Vault-related editing that we'd like to get done; this goes faster than you might think. If there's some other skill you have that you think might be valuable, hop on the dev server and send me a message.

And finally, fourth, which is the one that I really hate to ask, but I'm doin' it anyway.

I've set up a Patreon to take donations. If you have spare cash and think this is a worthy destination for it, please chip in.

I'm not sure what this whole "money" thing is going to end up looking like. At the very least this will pay for server costs; any income above that will go into making the site better, in whatever way seems most valuable. I've been thinking about taking out ads in an attempt to pull more users here, for example, and that isn't cheap.

This is going to be very experimental and will probably involve false starts. I'd love to hear suggestions on good ways to spend money on the site - if you have any, let me know - but note that in order to hire programmers we would need a lot of money.

For those who are more crypto-minded, I'm also taking donations via Ethereum (0xa97e126DCEcC7Ea3AF05d252B49c03ae35547dD9) and Bitcoin (bc1qnj0mvg90dfawjq3kxq4wdvcq0ejksgyf2m0xnq). All of these links are on the new (and very primitive) Support page.

I know there's going to be people who think that we left Reddit just so I could cash out. I frankly suspect that even if I just pile all of the results into a giant sack with a dollar sign on it and walk off while cackling evilly, I still won't be making minimum wage, so this would be a terrible plan :V No, I do actually like this community a ton, and want it to keep going, but I can't fund an indefinite amount of stuff on my own. And part of this push is to figure out just how useful this site is to all of you, in order to see what can be justified and what can't be justified.

So there's the ask! If you have connections, use them; if you have time, contribute it; if you have money and want to put it towards this, please provide financial support so I can figure out how to keep the new-user pipeline going.

If you don't, that's cool! Keep on posting and I hope you enjoy your time here.

Finally, this is the new Bugs/Suggestions/Small Comments thread. If you have feedback, post it here! A lot of the stuff in that Pending Issues link up above was submitted by users, and we're getting through it slowly.

Let's say you want to fix up a length of road. There are various strategies for this. Traditionally, you would perform a "resurfacing": mill away two or three inches of the existing asphalt, and replace it with the same thickness of new asphalt (of a type prescribed by the pavement experts—not all asphalt is the same). However, such a project carries with it certain extra costs, such as the federally-imposed requirement of upgrading all the pedestrian curb ramps in accordance with the ADA standards. In recent years, resurfacing has been largely displaced by "pavement preservation"—the application of a thin layer of asphalt (1 inch or less) directly on top of an existing surface that still is in reasonably good condition. For example (making some numbers up because I'm not a pavement expert), instead of doing a resurfacing every ten years, you might do a resurfacing in year 0, then pavement preservations in years 5, 10, and 15, and restart the cycle with another resurfacing in year 20, resulting in cost savings over years 0–19 in comparison to just doing resurfacings in year 0, year 10, and year 20. (It is being rumored that the asphalt industry now has gotten angry that roadway organizations aren't ordering as much asphalt, and is spinning up its lobbyists to promote a return to resurfacing, so pavement preservation may fall by the wayside in the future.)

So, anyway, let's say you want to "preserve" the pavement on a particular stretch of road—or, rather, the pavement experts in your organization have decided that this particular stretch of road should receive a particular preservation treatment, and they tell your bosses to design the project, and your bosses assign the work to you (the roadway engineer). What's the first step? Getting a survey of the area? No—the first step is getting the jurisdiction maps, to see which roads are actually the responsibility of your organization. You (the reader) already know that public roads in the United States are variously designated as municipal, county, or state roads. ("State", "US", and "Interstate" highways all count as state designation. US and Interstate highways are not owned by the federal government, but a project on a state road can be paid for by the feds if the road is in the National Highway System, or if the state government receives a one-time grant through the Surface Transportation Block Grant program. The state also gives grants to its subordinate county and municipal governments.) What you probably don't already know is that, very often, the jurisdiction does not match the designation. When a state-designated road intersects a county- or municipal-designated road, the state government usually will assume jurisdiction over the entire intersection, including any ramps or jughandles, and sometimes extending several hundred feet up the nominally county-owned road. (This can get very complicated when a state road that's controlled by the Department of Transportation, a state road that's controlled by a different organ of the state government (such as a toll-road authority or an interstate port authority), a county road, and a municipal road all meet in a single interchange.) So you (the roadway engineer) need to check your organization's archive of jurisdiction maps, to see exactly what the extent of the paving will be. Maybe the pavement experts told you to pave county roads X and Y, but it turns out that state road B will chop a few hundred feet out of your project where it intersects road X, and on the other hand municipal road N that runs between roads X and Y was signed over to county jurisdiction back in 1965, and you've also got to deal with some negligible pieces of municipal roads Q and R that intersect road Y. (And, of course, it's possible that the jurisdiction map is missing from the archive. In such a case, you can do nothing but take your best guess.)

What's the next step? The next step is to get a detailed map of the road where the work will be proposed, called "topo" (short for "topographic survey") in the jargon of the field. Ideally, a professional survey was performed for a resurfacing project five years ago, and the electronic files still are in your organization's database (or can be requisitioned from the consultant that designed the project), so you can just make some minor modifications to those files and go on your merry way. More likely, however, no professional electronic survey has been done (maybe the last project that was done on this road was a generic "maintenance and resurfacing" project that used no formal construction plans at all), and your organization isn't going to shell out the cash for a new survey for the sake of a mere pavement-preservation project. Therefore, what do you have to do? That's right. You, the roadway engineer, will have to MANUALLY draw the ENTIRETY of the multiple-mile project yourself—using as a basis either ten-year-old, one-bit-per-pixel scans of fifty- or seventy-year-old "as-built" plans of past resurfacing/reconstruction/original-construction projects, or (if no as-builts are available, which is somewhat unusual but definitely not impossible) dozens of Google Earth screenshots. This can take several weeks just by itself (I can say from extremely painful experience).

But that's not all. Topo alone is not sufficient for laying out construction plans. You also need the baseline—the set of lines and circular arcs that defines precisely where on the 2D plane the highway is located. (Earth's surface is 3D, but each state has at least one "state plane" for survey purposes.) Ideally, a baseline is included with the topo from the five-year-old resurfacing project. If there's no electronic baseline, then the second-best option is that, when the road was originally constructed fifty or seventy years ago, dozens of "monuments" were installed alongside it, and your in-house surveyors can uncover those monuments (find them with a metal detector and literally dig them up from where they've been buried by eroded soil) and get GPS coordinates for them, and you can relate those coordinates back to the as-built's "tie sheets", which are likely to have (1) all the bearings and radii, but (2) either (a) no coordinates or (b) coordinates in an outdated coordinate system that (i) can be manually copied into your CAD software, floating unmoored in the 2D plane, but (ii) cannot easily be converted to the current coordinate system and fixed in their proper place. (Converting between coordinate systems isn't just a matter of translation and rotation. There also is complicated scaling involved. I once tried to convert between coordinate systems using ArcGIS, and ended up with nothing but egg on my face and a shamefully inaccurate set of baselines. But maybe that's a me problem.) More likely, however, you have tie sheets, but the monuments were destroyed and not replaced when the roadway was widened thirty years ago, or no monuments ever were installed in the first place. What is a humble roadway engineer to do in such a circumstance? The closest thing to a monument—something that's very unlikely to have been moved since the roadway was constructed—is a drainage inlet on the side of the road. Therefore, the engineer is forced to use a few dozen inlets as ersatz monuments, send out his in-house surveyors to get GPS coordinates for them all, and manhandle the baseline from the as-built tie sheets (which, again, is just floating unmoored in the 2D plane at this point) to match those coordinates as closely as possible. (If it's a divided highway, don't forget that your organization's policy probably requires you to draw one baseline for each direction. And don't forget to draw baselines for all the ramps as well. This can get pretty annoying, especially when there's a typo in the as-built tie sheet from year 1985 and you need to figure out what's wrong by comparing it with the actual angle of the road.)

What's next? Can we start drawing the proposed work now? No, we can't. Now the engineer must draw the typical sections of the road. The typical sections are just slices of the roadway—not just the surface (lane widths, and the sideways slopes necessary for proper drainage), but also the materials that make up the subsurface (surface course, intermediate course, base course, subbase, the hundred-year-old concrete road that seventy years ago was paved over rather than being "rubblized" into subbase…). Ideally, the limits of your project perfectly match the limits of an old as-built, and you can redraw the typical sections from that raster as-built in vector format with minimal changes. More likely, however, this roadway was drastically reconstructed piecemeal in half a dozen different projects over the years, and the as-builts from those old projects are like puzzle pieces that you must fit together while keeping in mind that some have been partially overwritten by others. (And don't think that you can skip this step just because you're doing a project where the contractor won't interact with the subsurface at all! Even pavement-preservation jobs require typical sections to be included. My current, unusually-large project may end up with as many as seventy different typical sections, which could take up something like 15 or 20 sheets. My bosses are hoping that we'll be able to get their bosses to update the procedures for pavement-preservation jobs so I don't have to spend a week or two drawing all this stuff that the contractor will have no use for.)

Now for temporary traffic control. On a pavement-preservation project, this isn't too bad. Since slathering a thin slurry of bituminous material onto the pavement is a one-night job (the road can be opened to traffic on the following morning), responsibility for determining temporary detour routes falls on the contractor rather than on the designer—and, let me tell you, drawing a detour route for each of the dozen ramps on a project, including a list of all the signs that need to be installed for each detour, is a very tedious task. However, even without detour routes, the designer still needs to go through his organization's list of standard traffic-control details and estimate how many drums, cones, barricades, and square feet of temporary construction signage the contractor will need to employ. (Most contractors will just reuse the equipment that they already have and bid something like one dollar per unit for each of these items, but we are not allowed to make such assumptions in our cost estimates—it's full price for everything.) Even on a pavement-preservation project, you may still need to draw a nonstandard traffic-control detail if the bigwigs who drew the standard details failed to take into account a particular situation, like a ramp or a roundabout. (Oh, you thought something as commonplace as closing a ramp for overnight paving would be in the standard traffic-control details? Well, you thought wrong.)

Finally, we can start figuring out the quantities of the proposed work. Asphalt? No, not yet! I'm talking about the (permanent) pavement markings. You've got to compile a spreadsheet listing every single stripe segment in the entire project—white or yellow; four-inch or eight-inch (or six-inch on Interstate highways); broken (colloquially called dashed), solid, or double solid (or broken on one side and solid on the other side, or that newfangled dotted)—including any upgrades that need to be done (e. g., changing the line along an auxiliary lane from broken to dotted). And don't forget the RPMs (raised pavement markers—those little shiny things that your headlamps highlight when it's raining), with different spacings in different places! And the rumble strips (not just in the outside shoulder, but also in the centerline, or in the inside shoulder if it's wide enough)! And the "markings" (made of a different material than "stripes" proper, thermoplastic rather than epoxy—e. g., 8-inch crosswalk lines, 24-inch stop lines, and "← ONLY" at intersections)! And the separate pay items for removal of the existing pavement markings before the pavement treatment can be applied, and for the application of temporary pavement markings during construction!! (My current project's stripe calculation spreadsheet has around 800 rows, but this project is unusually large. My previous project's spreadsheet had around 200 rows, and my spreadsheet for the project before that had around 300 rows. All three projects are/were pavement preservation.) Oh, and don't forget—three paragraphs ago you drew all the road edges from as-builts. You need to draw all the existing pavement markings as well. (They normally would be picked up in the survey, but this part of the survey technically isn't included in the same "topo" file, since it's shown only on the striping sheets, not on the construction sheets. Or maybe I'm just being too pedantic.) I hope you're proficient with your CAD software's offset tool!

The pavement markings are only the most important part of the "incidental work" that surrounds a pavement-preservation project. Less important, but still needing to be done, is the inspection (typically via Google Street View) of all the drainage inlets that sit in or alongside the pavement within the project limits. If you're a bicyclist, you may be aware that, over the past few decades, the slotted grates that will catch your front tire and flip you over the handlebars have been gradually replaced with "bicycle-safe grates", which replace the long, wide slots with smaller holes. This process still is ongoing. Additionally, sometimes the "curb piece" of an inlet that's embedded in the curb has incurred damage after too many tractor-trailers ran over it, and needs to be replaced. There are the environmental regulations: a curb piece whose mouth is taller than two inches allows too much debris to enter waterways, and must be replaced with one that has a smaller mouth. There are concerns received from the maintenance experts: Way back when the aforementioned environmental regulations were instituted, people didn't want to go to the trouble of replacing all those zillions of curb pieces, so instead they tried affixing a little slotted faceplate to the front of the curb piece in order to cover up the overlarge mouth. It turned out, though, that these faceplates tend to catch on snow plows, so now any curb piece that received that treatment needs to be replaced in its entirety anyway. And, finally, there are the rare occasions where the concrete box underneath the grate appears to be broken (as evidenced by a suspiciously low grate elevation), requiring the entire inlet to be replaced. (And some non-inlet incidental work: the designer should take a field visit on the day after heavy rain, and check for any ponding that can be fixed with some localized milling and paving.)

At long last, we can draw the proposed asphalt. This step is relatively simple, as are the steps of (1) referencing everything into the actual plan sheets, (2) labeling all the proposed work on the construction and striping sheets, and (3) summing up the quantities and plugging them into the (somewhat finicky) estimation software… Wait a minute—did I say it was simple? No! No, you've got to run everything past more environmental regulations! Increasing the elevation of the roadway by just half an inch requires the project to be reviewed for flooding. Some pavement-preservation treatments (thankfully including the one that's being used on my current, oversized project) are thinner than half an inch—but others are not. So now you have to wait for the environmental consultant to review your work. Somehow, the in-house environmental experts who coordinate this review are understaffed even though they've got their thumb in every pie, so your project probably will be delayed by a month or two past its originally-scheduled submission date. And, after all this rigmarole, the environmental experts will tell you to mill down one or two arbitrary 500-foot segments of road by an extra inch, and that'll be that. Also, don't forget to mill underneath any overhead structures, in order to maintain the existing clearance—not just bridges, but also sign structures. I hope you didn't forget to draw the sign structures into your topo file! They probably aren't included in the roadway as-builts that you were looking at before, because structural stuff is done separately, so it's back to Google Earth screenshots for you. And also-also you've got to do a little bit of milling wherever your new pavement meets old pavement (at intersections and at ramp terminals), in order to avoid a sudden change in elevation (also known as a bump). And also-also-also you need to mill along the curb, because otherwise you'll change the drainage characteristics of the roadway. And finally don't forget to ask the electronics experts about any electronic stuff that's embedded in the road—you can't mill over it without replacing the whole system afterward. (But maybe the electronics experts want it to be replaced as part of the same project, since you're already working in the area.)

After that, it passes out of your hands and into the hands of the bigwigs who do pencil-pushing stuff like drawing up the tentative construction schedule, compiling the construction specifications (the standard boilerplate, a bunch of lines that need to be filled in by the designer, special stuff that the pavement or environmental or structural experts think need to be added, affirmative-action requirements from the "affirmative-action experts", construction-office requirements from the construction experts, etc.), and making the final electronic submission to the bigger wigs (the project manager, the in-house reviewers, and I think some kind of FHWA review).

For the xianxia fans: 哭笑不得 (I don't know whether I should laugh or cry). For the zoomers: 😂.


I'm not a regular poster on /r/TheMotte. I've done a bit of work getting this website up and running and I plan to stick around and try to help a little more, but I don't know that I will contribute much to the discussion. I just wanted to say that I appreciate that there exists a place where people can discuss the sorts of things that get you banned everywhere else, while setting aside their partisan, political, religious motivations (for the most part) and demanding effort and evidence. That's valuable to me, even if I'm not participating. It's important that someone, somewhere, can do that.

So I appreciate everything you guys do. Thanks for being here.

I've got a new feature almost ready to go. I'm pretty stoked about this one because I've been wanting it for quite literally years, but it was never possible on Reddit.

Hey, guess what? We're not on Reddit!

But before I continue, I want to temper expectations. This is a prototype of a first revision of an experimental feature. It is not going to look impressive; it is not going to be impressive. There's a lot of work left to do.

The feature is currently live on our perpetually-running dev site. Log in, click any thread, and go look below the Comment Preview. You'll see a quokka in a suit asking you for help. (His name is Quincy.) Click the cute li'l guy and you'll be asked to rate three comments. Do so, and click Submit. Thank you! Your reward is another picture of Quincy and a sense of satisfaction.

So, uh . . . . what?

Okay, lemme explain.

This is the first part of a feature that I'm calling Volunteering. Once in a while, the site is going to prompt you to help out, and if you volunteer, it'll give you a few minutes of work to do. Right now this is going to be "read some comments and say if they're good or not". Later this might include stuff like "compare two comments and tell me if one of them is better", or "read a comment, then try to come up with a catchy headline for it".

These are intentionally small, and they're entirely optional. You can ignore it altogether if you like.

I'm hoping these can end up being the backbone of a new improved moderation system.

Isn't this just voting, but fancy?

You'd think so! But there are critical differences.

First, you do not choose the things to judge. The system chooses the things it wants you to judge. You are not presented with thousands of comments and asked to vote on the ones you think are important, no, you are given (at the moment) three specific comments and information is requested of you.

This means that I don't need to worry about disproportionate votecount on popular comments. Nor do I need to worry about any kind of vote-brigading, or people deciding to downvote everything that a user has posted. The system gets only the feedback it asks for. This is a pull system; the system pulls information from the userbase in exactly the quantities it wants instead of the userbase shoving possibly-unwanted information at the scoring systems.

Second, you can be only as influential as the system lets you. On the dev site you can volunteer as often as you want for testing purposes, but on the live site, you're going to - for now - be limited to once every 20 hours. I'll probably change this a lot, but nevertheless, if the system decides you've contributed enough, it'll thank you kindly and then cut you off. Do you want to spend all day volunteering in order to influence the community deeply? Too bad! Not allowed.

But this goes deeper than it sounds. Part of having the system prompt you is that not all prompts will be the system attempting to get actionable info from you. Some of the prompts will be the system trying to compare your choices against a reference, and the system will then use this comparison to figure out how much to trust your decisions.

That reference, of course, is the mods.

I've previously referred to this as the Megaphone system or the Amplifier system. One of our devs called it a "force multiplier". I think this gets across the core of what I'm aiming for. The goal here is not majority-rules, it's not fully decentralized moderation. It's finding people who generally agree with the mods and then quietly harnessing them to handle the easy moderation cases.

(We have a lot of easy moderation cases.)

There's another important point here. The mods are only human and we make mistakes. My hope is that we can get enough volunteer help to provide significantly more individual decisions than the mods can, and my hope is that the combined efforts of several people who don't quite agree with the mods in all cases is still going to be more reliable than any single mod. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there's people out there who are better at judging posts than our mods are! It's just hard to find you; some of you may not even comment, and you're pretty undiscoverable right now, but you will certainly get a chance to volunteer!

Also, this will hopefully improve turnaround time a lot. I'm tired of filtered comments taking hours to get approved! I'm tired of really bad comments sticking around for half a day! There are many people constantly commenting and voting, and if I can get a few minutes of help from people now and then, we can handle those rapidly instead of having to wait for a mod to be around.

Wow! You get all of this, with absolutely no downsides or concerns!

Well, hold on.

The big concern here is that virtually nobody has ever done this before. The closest model I have is Slashdot's metamoderation system. Besides that, I'm flying blind.

I also have to make sure this isn't exploitable. The worst-case scenario is people being able to use this to let specific bad comments through. I really want to avoid that, and I've got ideas on how to avoid it, but it's going to take work on my part to sort out the details.

And there's probably issues that I'm not even thinking of. Again: flying blind. If you think of issues, bring 'em up; if you see issues, definitely bring 'em up.

Oh man! So, all this stuff is going to be running real soon, right?


First I need some data to work off. Full disclosure: all the current system does is collect data, then ignore it.

But it is collecting data, and as soon as I've got some data, I'll be working on the next segment.

This is the first step towards having a platform that's actually better-moderated than the current brand of highly-centralized sites. I don't know if it'll work, but I think it will.

Please go test it out on the dev site, report issues, and when it shows up here (probably in a few days) click the button roughly daily and spend a few minutes on it. Your time will not be wasted.


Right now this site's block feature works much the same as Reddit's. But I want to change that, because it sucks.

My current proposal is:

  • If you block someone, you will no longer see their comments, receive PMs from them, or be notified if they reply to your comments.

  • This does not stop them from seeing your comments, nor does it stop them from replying to your comments.

  • If they attempt to reply to your comment, it will include the note "This user has blocked you. You are still welcome to reply, but your replies will be held to a stricter standard of civility."

  • This note is accurate and we will do so.

That's the entire proposed feature. Feedback welcome!

User Flair and Usernames

We're going to start cracking down a bit on hyperpartisan or antagonistic user flair. Basically, if we'd hit you with a warning for putting it in a comment, we'll hit you with a warning for putting it in your flair. If anyone has a really good reason for us to not do this, now's the time to mention it!

Same goes for usernames. On this site, you can actually change your display username, and we're just leaving that in place. So we'll tell you to change your name if we have to. Extra for usernames: don't use a misleading or easily-confused username, okay? If it looks like you're masquerading as an existing well-known user, just stop it.

I'm currently assuming that both of these fall under our existing ruleset and don't need new rules applied. If you disagree strongly, let me know.

The Usual Stuff

Give feedback! Tell me how you're doing? Do you have questions? Do you have comments? This is the place for them!

Are you a coder and want to help out? We have a lot of work to do - come join the dev discord.


[This version has embedded images]

A long time ago, some primitive apes got addicted to rocks.

The earliest stone tools were crude bastards, made by smashing large river pebbles together and calling it a day.

Stone choppers like the one above took the prehistoric neighborhood by storm almost 3 million years ago. However dull the tools themselves may have been, this was the cutting-edge technology for literally more than a million years, a timescale I have no capacity of comprehending. Not until around 1.7 million years ago (again, no idea what this means) that someone got the bright idea of chipping away both sides of a rock. You can see what the (tedious) process looks like.

The end result is the unassuming tear-drop shaped hand axe, by far the longest used tool in human history. There are no accessories here with the hand axe, its name comes from the fact that you use it by holding it directly with your hands.

On top of being tedious and painful to make, you can imagine that it's not terribly comfortable to hold while using. Hand axes also have to be somewhat bulky because of the necessity of combining the sharp useful end with the blunt holding end. But what if --- stay with me for a second --- instead of holding the thing directly with our pathetic squishy hands, we held something that "handled" the tool for us? It took humans about another million years to discover hafting, with the earliest examples from around 500,000 years ago but the technique didn't really find its stride until the microlith era of stone tools around 35,000 years ago.

Then humans found metal.

"Technological advance is an inherently iterative process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and produce a Dataprobe. We use crude tools to fashion better tools, and then our better tools to fashion more precise tools, and so on. Each minor refinement is a step in the process, and all of the steps must be taken."

-- Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Looking God in the Eye"

The historian Bret Devereaux has an excellent and highly-recommended series on the history of iron. The popular depiction of iron being a rare commodity (typified within medieval and fantasy genre) obscures some of the reality. As a material, iron is extremely abundant --- the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust, making up 5% of its mass. The hurdle with iron wasn't finding it but rather getting it out of the ground and into a useable form. It required a lot of dead trees and broken shins. One of the illustrations Devereaux cited is from 1556, and shows how workers wore shin protection as they crushed the ore into useable chunks.

Think about how many mangled limbs had to accumulate before medieval OSHA cared enough about this hazard. After the ore is dug out of the ground, the next hurdle was figuring out how to reach the high temperatures needed for processing. Because of how finicky iron is about absorbing too much carbon, the only feasible avenue was charcoal, which is made from wood, which is cut from many many trees. As Devereaux notes:

To put that in some perspective, a Roman legion (roughly 5,000 men) in the Late Republic might have carried into battle around 44,000kg (c. 48.5 tons) of iron -- not counting pots, fittings, picks, shovels and other tools we know they used. That iron equipment in turn might represent the mining of around 541,200kg (c. 600 tons) of ore, smelted with 642,400kg (c. 710 tons) of charcoal, made from 4,620,000kg (c. 5,100 tons) of wood. Cutting the wood and making the charcoal alone, from our figures above, might represent something like (I am assuming our charcoal-burners are working in teams) 80,000 man-days of labor. For one legion.

To understate it, much has changed since. A stainless steel spoon today is a trivially manufactured artifact. But just the material from that spoon would have represented thousands of times its weight in stone and tree, all excavated by hand. I think about what this spoon, held in the palm of my hand, would have previously cost in terms of human toil and crushed limbs.

This post is about AI.

I feel like I'm holding a hand axe right now, while everyone around me is revving up their chainsaws. I feel like I'm a peasant awestruck at the intricacies of a steel spoon, unaware of its bargain bin progeny.

It's difficult, and exhausting, to keep up with the pace of AI developments. I also question my ability to make any sort of concrete or realistic predictions in this field, so I'll try to keep it semi-grounded in the present.

What already seems evident is that, even if we assume a complete halt to any further developments, content creation is already utterly trivialized. Do you want a picture of a cat riding a unicycle while smoking a hookah? Here's 50. Do you want those same drawings but done as if Picasso was tripping out on LSD? Done. Do you want the script from an 80-episode television series involving these psychedelic Picasso unicycle cats as they work to solve a murder mystery on a cruise ship in a black hole? And you want each cat voiced by a different rap artist from Kanye West to DMX? Why not also make it a choose-your-own adventure series controlled by each viewer? Sure, whatever, done. Some of these require a little work to stitch together, but you can have it all.

Part of where my feelings are settling are a bizarre mix of trepidation, ennui, fatigue, and...excitement? I'm not the only one to ever experience mild frustration that a given movie, TV show, book, video game, etc. wasn't exactly just right, and if only the creators changed this one thing that would've been so much better.

I encounter this feeling constantly with video games and for that same reason I tend to gravitate towards extensively modifying big-budget video games to my liking with mods. For a period of time, I definitely sunk in more hours finding, installing, and configuring Skyrim mods than actually playing the game itself. This was only possible because other people were insane enough to pop the hood open and get their hands dirty. If I wanted cold weather survival elements added to Skyrim, I was lucky enough that someone else had the gumption to analyze the game files, draft up pseudo-scripts, and collect custom-made assets into a coherent package that actually worked.

I also appreciate the estorism of open-source oeuvres made entirely by coding hobbyists, like the suburban apocalypse simulator Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. Cataclysm is a jury-rigged amalgamation, cobbled together over the years by dozens of drive-by developers. Some aspects of the game are painfully undercooked, such as the lack of any real ending, while others are pathologically overdeveloped, such as the ridiculously intricate vehicle physics system which manages to accurately simulate drag resistance in a game where no one will ever the difference. The only reason there's any progress made on these projects is because there are enough enthusiasts roaming around with actual coding talent, but they'll only chase after their own whims and then move on. Anyone else with ideas either has to convince one of these sensei to take up their cause, or drudge through hours of coding tutorials on YouTube to ever stand a chance. Lots of fields stay fallow then.

Outside of play and in the realm of work, much of my time is chasing after tedium. A few tasks manage to reliably trigger my procrastination reflex with the main one being legal research and writing. Let's say I'm trying to have incriminating statements or evidence suppressed. If the scenario is even slightly interesting, I am not likely to find a case precedent within my jurisdiction that is perfectly on point. Instead, I dump a few search terms into a legal database and then spend hours with dozens of tabs open, dutifully reviewing each hoping I can find enough adjacent precedent to triangulate into an answer into my own case. Judicial opinions are almost never written in a uniform manner, so I often find myself realizing a given case is worthless only after already wasting several minutes reviewing it. After all that research, I have to synthesize it into something legally accurate without boring the overworked judge to death.

It's all tedious boring work. It's also a perfect use-case scenario for chatGPT because it would be trivial for me to just ask it to quickly find and summarize whatever is analogous to what I'm looking for, then write something custom-tailored. The day that Westlaw incorporates chatGPT is the day that Thomson Reuters will become a pseudo-branch of the Treasury Department, for its ability to just print money from the legal profession. To be clear, my concern here is not job loss. I imagine that with greater productivity comes greater expectations, especially with AI helpers at our side.

I wonder, why bother with any of it now?

On the consumption side, whatever game I choose to play now will only get way better in a few months as I'm able to trivially customize it to my mind's whim. Same with whatever television show, or movie, or book. Or existence.

On the production side there's so much more I want to write but I also wonder, why bother writing anything if it's just going to be swallowed up whole and incorporated into the labyrinthian halls of a Borges infinite library. Realistically the only effect this post will ultimately leave upon the world is a faint whisper of an errant memory. The rest will either be carved up into individual tokens or buried under a figurative mountain of indecipherable pages. I see the entire corpus of mankind's creative output as a tiny ship, a gnat really, about to swallowed by a towering ocean wave. Part of me just wants to sit and wait for the flood.

I wrote this entire post without chatGPT, to prove something I guess. It took hours. I had to look up some new concepts, read enough to understand them, revisit old essays I read, and review them to refresh my memory. After all that, I had to use my dumb fingers to tap buttons on my dumb keyboard, over and over again.

I'm the idiot holding the hand axe. I'm the imbecile mangling my shins with rock debris. Why bother?


[Originally posted on Singal-Minded back in October & now unlocked. Sorry for telling the normies about this place!]

It's an homage to a philosophical pitfall, but the name is also thematically fitting. It conjures up a besieged underdog, a den of miscreants, an isolated outpost, or just immovable stubbornness.

It's The Motte.

This is an obscure internet community wedded to a kinky aspiration --- that it is possible to have enlightening civil conversations about desperately contentious topics. Previously a subreddit, it finally made the exodus to its own independent space following mounting problems with Reddit's increasingly arbitrary and censorious content policies. The Motte is meant as the proverbial gun-free zone of internet discussion. So long as everyone follows strict rules and decorum, they may talk and argue about anything. At its best, it is the platonic ideal of the coffeehouse salon. This tiny corner of the internet has had an outsize influence on my life and yet despite that, I've always struggled to describe it to others succinctly.

In order to do so, I'll have to explain medieval fortification history briefly. Picture a stone tower, sitting pretty on a hill. It may be cramped and unpleasant, but it's safe. Likely impenetrable to any invasion. This is the motte. One cannot live on a diet of stone fortification alone, and so immediately surrounding the motte is the bailey --- the enclosed village serving as the economic engine for the entire enterprise. The bailey's comparative sprawl is what makes it more desirable to live in, and also what makes it more vulnerable, as it can be feasibly fortified only by a dug ditch or wooden palisade. So you hang out in the bailey as much as possible until a marauding band of soldiers threatens your entire existence and forces your retreat up the hill, into the motte. Bailey in the streets, motte in the event of cataclysmic danger, as the kids might say.

We don't have a lot of real-life mottes and baileys these days, but we do have a rhetorical analogy that is very useful: the motte-and-bailey fallacy. Someone bold enough to assert something as inane as "astrology is real" (bailey) might, when challenged, retreat to the infinitely more anodyne "all I meant by astrology being real is that natural forces like celestial bodies might have an effect on human lives" (motte), and who can argue against that? Once the tarot-skeptical challenger gives up on charging up the rampart, the challenged can peek from behind the gate and slink back to the spacious comforts of the bailey, free to expound on the impact of Mercury in retrograde or whatever without any pesky interruptions. Once you recognize this sleazy bait-and-switch, you'll spot it everywhere around you. Other examples are motte: common-sense gun control; bailey: Ban all civilian firearm ownership. Or motte: addressing climate change; bailey: Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. On and on.

Back to the history of my favorite online community: In the beginning, before The Motte was The Motte, they were the Rationalists (a.k.a. "rat-sphere" or just "rats"). These are a bunch of painfully earnest and lovable nerds unusually mindful about good epistemological hygiene.

Across their odyssey, they gather around various Schelling points, with the blog-cum-encyclopedia LessWrong as one of their most prominent congregation points. Whatever hurdles to logical reasoning (confirmation bias, availability heuristic, or motivated reasoning, to name very few) that you can come up with are guaranteed already to be extensively cataloged within its exquisitely maintained database.

It is understandably suspicious when a group names itself after what is presumed to be a universally lauded value, but you can see evidence of this commitment in practice. My favorite vignette to illustrate the humility and intellectual curiosity of the rat-sphere happened when I attended my first meetup and overheard a conversation that started with "Okay, let's assume that ISIS is correct... " with the audience just calmly nodding along, listening intently.

Even if you don't know about the rats, you may have heard of the psychiatrist and writer Scott Alexander. His blog remains a popular caravanserai stop within the rat-sphere. While his writing output is prodigious in both volume of text and topical scope (everything from mythological fiction of Zeus evading a celestial amount of child-support obligations to a literature review of antidepressant medication), what consistently drew the most attention and heat to his platform were his essays on culture war topics, perennial classics like Meditations on Moloch or I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup to name a select few.

Culture wars are best understood as issues that are generally materially irrelevant, yet are viciously fought over as proxy skirmishes in a battle over society's values. (Consider how much ink is spilled over drag queen story hours.) But something can be both materially irrelevant and fun. And inevitably, like flies to shit, people were most drawn to the juiciest of topics --- the proverbial manure furnaces that generated the brightest of flames. Scott *tried *to keep all this energy contained to a dedicated Culture War Thread on his blog's subreddit, but the problem was that it worked *too well *in encouraging unusually intelligent and cogent articulations of "unthinkable" positions. In part because Scott has made some enemies over the years, and said enemies have eagerly sought opportunities to demonize him as his star has risen, the internet peanut gallery frequently (and disingenuously) attributed the most controversial opinions on the subreddit to Scott himself. This in turn directed ire at the host for "platforming" the miasma. And so in early 2019, Scott emancipated the thread, and a crew of volunteers forked the idea away onto its own subreddit and beatified it with its new name: r/TheMotte.

Because the space was rat-adjacent from the beginning, it had a solid basis to succeed as an oasis of calm. Even with that advantage, the challenge of building a healthy community almost from scratch should not be underestimated. Props to the moderators, who kept the peace with both negative and positive reinforcement. As you might expect in a community dedicated to civil discussion, you could get banned for being unnecessarily antagonistic or for using the subreddit to wage culture war rather than discuss it.

But equally important was the positive reinforcement part of the equation. If anyone's post was particularly good, you would "report" it to the mods as "Actually A Quality Contribution," or AAQC. The mods collected the AAQC and regularly posted roundups. Consider for a moment and appreciate how radical a departure this is from the norm. The internet has developed well-worn pathways from the constant barrage of wildebeest stampeding to the latest outrage groundswell, famishing to feast on its pulped remains. This machine increasingly resembles one purpose-built for injecting the worst, most negative content into our brains every second of every day. And instead here were these dorks, congregating specifically to talk about the most emotionally heated topics du jour, handing out certificates of appreciation and affirmation.

The AAQC roundups were a crucial component of the community, particularly when they unearthed hidden gems that would otherwise have remained buried. Reddit's down/upvote feature is often ab/used as a proxy for dis/agreement (leave it to the rats to create two-factor voting for internet comments), but the mods made sure to highlight thought-provoking posts especially when they disagreed with them.

Part of the draw was just how unassuming it all was. A small handful of people who wandered in happened to already have well-established writing platforms built elsewhere. But by and large, this was an amateur convention attended by relative nobodies. And yet some of my favorite writing ever was posted exclusively in this remote frontier of Reddit.

The highlights are numerous. How about a grocery store security guard talking about his crisis of faith about modern society that happened during a shift? Or the post that forever changed how I viewed Alex Jones by reframing his unusual way of ranting through the prism of epic poetry tradition? Or the philosophy behind The Motte, where Arthur Chu is cast as the villain? Or how people talk past each other when using the word "capitalism"? Or an extended travelogue of Hawaii's unusual racial dynamics? Or this hypothetical conversation between a barbarian and a 7-11 clerk? Or how Warhammer 40k is a superior franchise to Star Wars thanks in part to higher verisimilitude in its depiction of space fascism? Or this effortlessly poetic meditation on Trump's omnipresence? Or an ethnography of the effectiveness of rifle fire across cultures? Or how the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox straddles the trad/furry divide? Or this catalog of challenges facing a Portland police officer? Or this dispatch from an overwhelmed doctor working during India's horrific second COVID-19 wave? Or a technical warning about Apple's ability to spy on its customers? Or why the major scale in music has such broad multicultural appeal? Or a man brought to tears by overwhelming gratitude while shopping at Walmart? Or how the decline of Western civilization can be reflected in the trajectory of a children's cartoon series? Or how RPGs solved a problem by declaring some fantasy races to be inherently evil only to create another issue? Or how about the potential nobility of --- get this --- indiscriminate retributive homicide from the standpoint of a Chinese military officer going on a shooting rampage after his wife died of a forced abortion?

The structure of the community was such that it gained a sort of natural immunity to trolls. The community was primed to take the arguments trolls made seriously, and this meant drafting intimidating walls of text in earnest. And that wouldn't be the end of it, because you could reliably expect the community to obsess and mull over that same topic for weeks on end, churning out thousands of words more in the process. Most bad-faith actors find it impossible to keep up the charade for that long, and it's just Not Fun™ when a troll's potential victim reacts by obliviously submitting immaculately written essays in reply. Consider an example of the type of discourse that gets prompted by something as wild-eyed as the question of "when is it ethical to murder public officials?". The goal of trolling is to incite immediate, reactive anger, and it must've been dispiriting to enter the space solely to cause trouble, and to slink out having encouraged more AAQCs instead. Anyone dumb enough to try a drive-by bait-and-snark quickly found themselves exhausted and overwhelmed.

Places that explicitly herald themselves as an offshoot to the mainstream quickly gain a reputation as a cesspit of right-wing extremists. Setting aside the question of overall political dominance, it remains true that major institutions (media, finance, tech, etc.) are overwhelmingly staffed by liberal-leaning individuals. Conservatives who feel hounded by the major institutions can opt to carve out their own spaces, and yet nearly every attempt to create the "conservative" alternative to social media giants ends up a toxic waste dump (See Voat, Parler, Gab, etc.).

Scott Alexander described this best when he wrote:

The moral of the story is: if you're against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.

So it's unsurprising that people have criticized The Motte for being a den of right-wing rogues. For what it's worth, a survey of the community found the modal user to be a libertarian Hillary Clinton voter. But homogeneous thinking is explicitly not the goal here, and the point of the entire enterprise is to have your ideas challenged. Sterilized gruel is the antithesis of critical thinking and the reason why we need places like The Motte.

That's the backstory, and here's how it impacted me personally.

I've always been insatiably curious. But communicating in writing was a momentous struggle for me. Although I coasted through college, writing assignments were virtually the only source of anxiety for me. I once described the writing process as "struggling to take a painful shit." Eking out anything remotely worthwhile was a cataclysmic struggle. I'd stare at a blank page with dread, draft voluminous paragraphs, find myself meandering into gratuitous prose, delete passages until I forgot the point I was making, and then sift through the remaining dessicated husk wondering why anyone would give a fuck. Years ago, before I found my groove in my current job as a public defender, and outside the veil of school-mandated writing, I had ideations of making a living as a writer. A few more of the above-described painful shit sessions conclusively disavowed me of that delusion.

In contrast, though, talking about ideas came naturally to me very early. I was always indefatigable and relentless and confrontational and (with all due humility) easily ran laps around people who had the misfortune of engaging in discussion with me in real life. Few were surprised that I became a lawyer.

My frustrations with writing never sapped my passion for reading, but consuming others' work left me feeling forlorn about my own inadequacy. It was hard for me to admire prominent writers without also feeling pangs of envy. But browsing The Motte only sharpened my frustration because these weren't big-name writers churning out incredible posts --- they were random nobodies. So when it first started, I mostly lurked and did not write much, because I did not believe I had the requisite caliber to contribute anything worthwhile.

I changed my mind about contributing after getting drunk with a friend in the backyard of a bar while a Bernese dog eyed our uneaten sandwiches. My friend (a bona fide socialist) and I got into a passionate but civil discussion about the ideal contours of free speech. The specific disagreement doesn't matter, because that afternoon reminded me how invigorated I feel by in-person discussions. It dawned on me how I could properly contribute to The Motte. A few weeks later I memorialized my pseudonym with a fresh new account, and my immediate goal was to start a podcast. Naturally, it was called The Bailey.

Our release schedule may not be the most reliable, but we have put out 29 episodes so far (for the record, that's more than the hilarious and informative legal podcast ALAB). In between recording episodes, I wrote posts on The Motte, almost as an afterthought. But the point here is that I wanted to start a podcast because I thought my writing sucked.

I always knew I could anticipate some vociferous pushback at The Motte. The pushback was crucial, as it was the whetstone to my rhetoric. I knew that if I were going to do something as foolish as post on The Motte, I had to be loaded for bear. I'd sling the grenade by hitting "post," but the notifications that followed promised some reciprocated shrapnel. All the better.

Posting on a dusty corner of Reddit about some culture war bullshit was obviously very low-stakes, but then a very curious thing happened: People noticed my stuff. I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit how gleeful I was telling my girlfriend that something I wrote was recognized as an AAQC and included in the roundup. And it kept happening, again and again. Eventually I was picked to be one of the moderators (joining veterans like podcast apprentice Tracing Woodgrains) in a process that mirrored how the Venetian Doge was selected. I realized over time just how much of a gargantuan amount of writing I had absent-mindedly accumulated over the years just by posting on The Motte, and so when I started my own Substack almost a year ago, its only purpose was to find a home for that compendium.

I kept writing there for years, obliviously using its space to workshop my writing craft and barely noticing. It wasn't until some of my writing escaped into the wild earlier this year (assisted by a certain sentient fox) and received recognition by the powers that be that I realized how grateful I am for the precious space cultivated here.

I could not have accomplished any of this without The Motte. I owe that space --- especially the jerks who deigned to disagree with me --- so much.


This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.


I think anyone who's been watching this switchover has noted it hasn't been the smoothest. I'm still kinda decompressing from that and I figured I'd write up why, just so you could all marvel at the ridiculous chain of catastrophes.


We get the site up. People register their accounts. People start almost immediately reporting 429 errors when registering.

429 Too Many Requests is an error that means a user has done too much stuff lately, commonly known as "rate limiting". A lot of the site is rate limited, but it should be rate limited well above what an actual human will do. For example, the account creation is rate-limited at 10 per day per person; if you need more than ten accounts every day then uh maybe you're not behaving quite like we want.

Of course, people weren't making ten accounts per person; rate limiting was broken.

We looked into the rate limiting code. Rdrama runs on a service called Cloudflare, which relays connections and does a bunch of fancy caching and performance optimization and also doesn't provide service if you're farming kiwis. An annoying thing about this kind of a service is that it makes it a little trickier to figure out "who" someone is; Cloudflare includes that information on requests, but it's not in the normal place. The rate limiting code was using the Cloudflare-specific IP info. Problem: We're not on Cloudflare. So that info was just wrong. I took out the Cloudflare-specific stuff and the problem did not get fixed in any way.

Well, Cloudflare does all this fancy optimization (it's called "reverse proxying", please don't ask why), but actually, so do we. The Motte runs on the same server setup as The Vault, and The Vault is specifically designed to be extremely cacheable. We've got our own little similar frontend server doing something identical, and all connections, including Motte connections, go through it. This means we needed to get the IP from our own reverse proxy, using a different technique, which we did, and which also entirely failed to fix the issue.

At this point I tried to disable the rate limiter entirely. The rate limiter refused to disable. We'll get back to this one.

The reason, I guessed, the reverse-proxy IP didn't work is that our reverse proxy is actually behind another reverse proxy. It's reverse proxies all the way down. You may not like it, but this is what peak web development looks like. Anyway, we were getting one layer further up, but we needed to be another layer further up. The hosting service I use does in fact have a switch for enabling this; it's called Proxy Protocol. I turned Proxy Protocol on and the entire site instantly went down. So I flipped it back and the site came back up. Then I did this a few more times just to be sure it wasn't a coincidence. It wasn't.

It turns out that the reverse proxy run by me requires some very specific configuration settings to be compatible with the Proxy Protocol setting. The problem is that I'm running this proxy in sort of a weird way. Most people using this server architecture have, like, an entire devops team. I don't! It's just me. And I don't really know what I'm doing. So cue half an hour of occasional outages as I try something new. It is worth noting that some of the changes I made also broke the site, but I was suspicious that the two changes had to be made together to work at all, so sometimes I'd break the site, then I'd break the site in another way, then I'd sit there for a minute hoping it worked, and it wouldn't, and then I'd revert both changes.

Finally I figured out the magic incantation! The site worked, we got IPs, the rate limiting was functional. The 429 error was forever vanquished! I looked at the site, and checked the perf charts, and noted that we were capping the CPU on the absolute-bottom-barrel server I'd chosen, so I figured, hey, I tried moving servers before as part of a test, this should be fine, let's just fork over an extra $12/mo and boost the server a bunch, and I did this, and the site broke entirely.

I spent another thirty minutes trying to fix it; if anyone noticed the site being entirely down for a while, well, that was me trying to untangle what was wrong. I tried connecting directly to the site from its own computer; it didn't work. I spent twenty minutes analyzing this and eventually realized I was just doing it wrong. Worked fine once I did it wrong. I eventually decided this was a routing issue and had a deep suspicion.

See, Proxy Protocol was set using a switch on the hosting provider's GUI. But that's sketchy as hell - why is it a manual switch? I went back and checked and sure enough it had gotten turned off. So I turned it back on.

Site back up and running.

As near as I can tell, there is a switch on the GUI. But this switch is also overridden by some settings in my configuration. Importantly, it's overridden irregularly; sometimes you'll do something, and it'll say "oh shucks, gotta go check that switch!" Because I hadn't realized this, it went and checked it and dutifully turned it off again.

I think I've fixed that now.

So, what was the deal with rate limiting not turning off?

If you use Kubernetes to run a process, and you tell it you want the latest version of a Docker image, it will download that latest version every time you restart the process.

If you tell it you want a specific labeled version, then it won't. It'll just use whatever it has, even if the label has changed.

So if you changed from "latest" to "dev" and "main" . . . then things just don't update when you think they will, and this change happens silently unless you're aware of what Kubernetes is about to do.

I think I've fixed that now too.

I bet this new server makes things faster, doesn't it?


Turned out the CPU usage wasn't even coming from The Motte. It was an Archive Warrior I was running on that just to soak up some extra bandwidth. Apparently it's just stupidly CPU-hungry?

I think I've fixed that also.

And that was my day, more or less.

How's your day going?

(Extra thanks to the various people who were helping out on Discord, incidentally, especially Snakes who fixed a whole bunch of not-quite-as-critical-but-still-pretty-dang-important stuff while I was fighting with the servers.)

(Edit: I forgot to mention that I also spent a few hours trying to unclog an HVAC drain line so it wouldn't flood the house. That doesn't even feel like the same day anymore.)

There comes a time in every discussion forum user's life that they espouse an unpopular opinion. Not something unpopular in a way that they have broken any rules. But unpopular in a way that many other users want to chime in with their disagreement.


On twitter it is called getting "ratioed" where the unpopular tweets have a higher than normal number of comments relative to likes and retweets. It is viewed as a negative thing to happen when you are on twitter, because saying unpopular things on twitter is seen as bad.

Here on themotte saying unpopular things is not bad. We are here to have discussions with people who have different points of view. If you say something unpopular but not against the rules then you are serving the purpose of themotte. Not only have you not done something bad, you have done something good. You have provided everyone else here with content. There might be some tribal instincts in the back of your head screaming warnings at you "oh no! you have said something unpopular. quick! defend yourself, moderate your position, attack your most aggressive detractors!" These instincts are wrong. Instead, by saying something unpopular you have become the bell of the ball. The star athlete that all the recruiters want. Etc etc. We all want to talk to you!

Death by a thousand cuts

Being the center of attention and wanted by everyone can be stressful, especially when it feels like a form of infamy. There is a common failure mode that we as the mods have to witness happen again and again. The person that is at the center of attention is getting minor attacks that don't rise to the level of moderation. Multiple people might say the equivalent of "I think you are wrong because you aren't smart", or other forms of implied insults. The person at the center of attention will eventually get worn down by all these small cuts and jabs, and they will lash out at someone making the jabs. The lash out often does rise to the level of moderation.

You are the solution

The mods have talked about this phenomenon and we have realized that there isn't a good way to solve this problem through moderation. But! That doesn't mean there is no good solution at all.

These are the strategies I have used when getting ratioed, they've kept me sane, kept me calm, and helped me enjoy my time far more:

  1. Attitude - You are the popular one. Everyone wants to talk with you. Keep these in mind to avoid the tribal anxiety of 'everyone hates me I have to defend myself!'

  2. Match Effort - There are lots of responses flying at you and these responses have varying levels of effort. If someone has a low effort comment I do not respond with a well researched and cited response, I will often try and avoid responding to low effort comments altogether. Remember, you are the bell of the ball, they need to come to you.

  3. Prioritize the Best - Try and respond to your best disagreers first. The ones that bring up the best points, address all the things you said, or are just very polite about how they say it. You should be rewarding their effort, and hopefully signalling to other potential commentors that this is the type of comment you will respond to. This also helps with the next piece of advice:

  4. Refer back to yourself - Don't get frustrated saying the same thing a bunch of times. If you find yourself having the same argument in two different places, then only have it in the place with the better disagreer, and then point the other people to those posts, or just extensively quote yourself. "I addressed your point while talking with [other user], see my comment here(link)".

  5. Limit the back and forth - I will usually only give one response to most users. I will try and match their effort and address their points. I will try and have an extended discussion only with the best disagreers. So many instances of me moderating people happen ten or fifteen comments deep into a conversation, when almost everyone else has stopped reading. Both sides have already said the same thing multiple times, and they just become frustrated at each other "How can you resist the amazing logic and beauty of my arguments! Only a cretin and scum could fail to be convinced!" My suggestion is to just say your point and get out. You should expect to not have the last word when you are getting ratioed, so just embrace that reality up front.

  6. Leave when you are done - Sometimes even with all these strategies you might reach the end of your patience. You just don't want to talk about it anymore. Try and be introspective and recognize when you have reached this point. Once it happens, thank your best disagreer for the good discussion, say you are done with this topic and leave the discussion. Do not feel obligated to respond to additional comments. Your further participation is only likely to get you in trouble. You will likely get more and more frustrated until you lash out.

I also have advice for when you see someone getting ratioed and you want to join in on the dogpile. But that advice is more of a charitable nature, like it would be helpful to the community as a whole, but probably not as much to you personally. If people are interested I'll add it.


In Paul Fussell’s book on class (I think), he says that people are really worried about differentiating themselves from the class immediately below them, but largely ignorant of the customs and sometimes even existence of the classes above them. When I found SSC, and then The Motte, and stuff like TLP, I was astonished to find a tier of the internet I had had no idea even existed. The quality of discourse here is . . . usually . . . of the kind that “high brow” (by internet standards) websites THINK they are having, but when you see the best stuff here you realize that those clowns are just flattering themselves. My question is, who is rightly saying the same thing about us? Of what intellectual internet class am I ignorant now? Or does onlineness impose some kind of ceiling on things, and the real galaxy brains are at the equivalent of Davos somewhere?


I'm a latinamerican psychologist, and I've been working for 5 years in this field. Starting in my undergraduate years, I've always been very aware of some fundamental flaws of my profession, and I've gathered some arguments that I'd like to discuss. My point is the following: Psychology is grossly overrated, and this allows all sorts of abuses. I believe that I'm not saying anything new, and I'm certainly not the first one to bring up this issue. However, I've found that psychologists have very little interest in discussing it.

For the most part, all of my arguments stem from a conference given by philosopher Georges Canguilhem at a conference back in 1956. My main thesis is the same as his, but I say it in my own words, and I have adapted it to the recent developments of psychology.

This conference was called: What is psychology? So, what is it?

If we go to the American Psychological Association's webpage, we'll find the following definition:

Psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life.

They then go on to detail the different fields on which a psychologist may work. Notice how the emphasis is less on what psychology is, and more in what psychology is useful for. This is because, as Canguilhem says, as psychologists cannot define what they are, they are forced to justify their existence as specialists by means of their efficacy.

Now, this isn't necessarily bad. You can help people without knowing why or how you are helping them. The problem is that psychologists take their efficacy as proof that their theories are right. For instance, let's take one of psychologist's objects of study: Depression. There are literally hundreds of psychological theories about depression, and you'll find the whole range of them: From those that state that it's merely a neurochemical imbalance in the brain; to those that state that it's a lack of positive reinforcement in life; to those that believe it to be an existential and spiritual crisis arising from capitalist conditions. They all have techniques to treat depression, and they all work. But they cannot be all equally correct at the same time. It's the Dodo bird Verdict: "Everyone has won and all must have prizes".

A psychologist may argue that this is in fact something good, since psychology studies a complex problem, and having a diversity of opinions broadens the discussion. And perhaps, there must be some common factors that explain why different, and even opposing theses all seem to work at the same time. This is a good argument, but it's already far from mainstream psychology: Each psychological school is only interested in selling their particular brand, and they explain the other schools' success only because of the parts of their own theory that the other schools implement. And there's a good reason for this: It's simply impossible to integrate all of psychology without a common language. And this common language has never existed (Watson, the founder of behaviorism, complained in the 20's that two psychologists with different formations would define a simple concept like "emotion" in a different way). So the integration path only leads to an eclecticism where everything that is useful is sewed up into one profession in order to give the impression that it's just one seamless discipline, an eclecticism where everything works but nobody knows why, but the fact that it works is taken as the only and definite prove that it is true. As a psychologist called Steven Hayes said: "What is considered true is what works". I'm still still at awe at how a psychologist such as Hayes, who is one of the fathers of contemporary psychology, can blatantly speak about the epistemological bankruptcy of psychology in such outrageous terms, and how can he believe, even for a second, that it's a satisfactory answer to the problem at hand!

In the current state of the matter, the only reason why cristal therapy and angel therapy are not psychological therapies approved by the APA, is because they are lacking evidence of their efficacy. But this lack could easily be fixed if we really wanted to. Under the right circumstances, literally everything works. There's art therapy, massage therapy, cognitive therapy, psychoanalytical therapy, sex therapy... hell, under the right circunstances, even murder may be therapeutic. We can produce thousands of working solutions to a problem, without shedding any light on its nature.

Psychology is, therefore, the science of producing solutions that work for people that need them. Sounds too broad? It is. Psychology knows no limits. Are you depressed? There's some psychological advice for you. Are you having children? There's some for you too. In love? Out of love? Yep, we got it. Are you a political candidate? A psychologist may counsel you. A mathematician? Psychology is the science of cognitive processes. You want revolution? Not without psychology. Are you a failure? Then you need a psychologist, obviously. Are you the most successful man in the world? Psychology will help you manage all that success. Since all problems are human, and since psychology studies human beings, there's no single problem where psychologists don't meddle. This should be cause for caution. We shouldn't hurry to find solutions to problems that we do not yet understand. But psychology goes in the opposite direction, and it goes the whole nine yards, and then some.

But, by what authority? Why do we trust psychologists to speak about politics, family, or work? Because, according to them, they are grounded in science. But we have shown that this science is epistemologically bankrupt: It works, therefore it's true. So we may not argue with psychology's results, but we may question its authority. How do we know that psychology is more than just a systematization of common sense, categorized by the criteria of efficacy, and translated into scientific terms? I believe that this is why psychological theories are oftentimes awfully boring. They are just made to suit a specific audience, to answer a specific question with the terms that are popular at the time when it appears, and made to be discarded, not when better evidence comes up, but when something else becomes popular.

So, does this mean that we should stop teaching psychology, and burn all psychology books? Not at all. Psychology is useful, and it does help. But the fact that you have an effective technique to treat anxiety, does not mean that you get the authority to determine what's rational or what's irrational. You only have that: A technique to treat anxiety. And that's good enough, in my opinion. I believe that psychology's problems may be fixed with a healthy dose of skepticism and humility - two things of which we are in dire need nowadays. Psychology, to me, is a good example of how scientific hubris plants a whole forest in order to hide one leaf. In the current state of affairs, perhaps not all problems can be solved, and there are things that are outside our control. We shouldn't try to hide those problems, we should try to understand them to the best of our ability and live them as the problems they are. Psychology simply has too many solutions, and too few interesting questions.

Here are some references that I quoted on this text, I'm too lazy to cite them all in APA format:

Canguilhem, G. (1958). What is psychology? First published on Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale.

Hayes, S. (2004). Acceptance and commitment therapy, relational frame theory, and the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapies. In S. C. Hayes (Ed.), The act in context: The canonical papers of Steven C. Hayes (pp. 210–238). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it.

Definition of psychology by the APA:

It is of note that I didn't even mention the replication crisis in this text, which further complicates psychology's epistemological basis. Here's the wikipedia article about this problem:

An intensive deep dive into what remain the Pinnacle of the real time strategy genre, and why I believe it might just be the greatest spectator game every created and most strategically interesting game that currently has an active community.

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.


I'm going to talk about what the Boring Company is doing and why I think it is not only not a terrible idea, but actively a good idea!


This is a complicated idea with a lot of moving parts, both metaphorically and literally. You will have totally reasonable questions! Hopefully they will be answered by the time I reach the end, but keep reading until you get to the end; in written format I can only answer questions one at a time, and your specific question might take longer to get to.

In addition, this is describing the system that I think Elon Musk is working on. He hasn't announced that this is what he's working on - it's guesswork and theorycrafting by me - but there is some evidence to it.

A summary: Elon Musk is attempting to redesign urban and suburban transportation on a grand scale, so thoroughly that the majority of commuters choose to use this system because it's better. This is not a thing you accomplish by building a few tunnels under Las Vegas. The Loop is a prototype of a prototype of a prototype; the beginnings can be seen there, but claiming his plans are invalid because of Loop's problems is like criticizing the concept of trains based on Locomotion #1's terrible speed.

Elon Musk has a unique goal: to make a fast inexpensive public transportation system.

Uber and Lyft have a similar goal! They want to make a fast public transportation system, and they have succeeded! They don't care about inexpensive, and in fact they can't accomplish inexpensive, because drivers are expensive. They're working on self-driving vehicles, and this will help, but it won't solve the issue because Uber and Lyft need lots of roads, roads take up land, and land is also expensive. Note that land isn't just financially expensive, it's valuable - we only have so many square meters of sunlight surface on this planet, and it's a shame we're using it on transportation. This is opportunity-cost even if we don't normally count it as a cost of roads; it's kinda factored in right now because we don't have an alternative, but we could have an alternative and we should consider land usage as part of cost.

Car manufacturers also have a similar goal! They want to make a fast inexpensive transportation system, and they have succeeded! They've abandoned "public" by requiring people to buy into the system with a large upfront expenditure (specifically, "buying a car".) This allows them to get rid of that whole "pay for a driver" thing - the passenger is the driver. It's not as inexpensive as it could be, though, because cars need lots of roads, thus land, thus expense.

Public transport systems also have a similar goal! They want to make an inexpensive public transportation system, and they have succeeded! But it's not fast. In fact, it cannot be fast. Group transportation is intrinsically slow; putting more people on a vehicle either requires frequent stops which slows down everyone else on board, or it requires stops at junction nodes which implies transfers which also take a lot of time. Short-to-mid-distance buses, trains, and subways cannot match uncongested cars, and you can test this on Google Maps by going to a city of your choice, picking two positions, and twiddling with the "Start At" option until you find the fastest times for cars and the fastest times for public transportation; in almost all cases, cars are significantly faster, and I've never found a case where cars are more than a minute slower.

(Airplanes have the same problem, but they're fast enough that people put up with it; nevertheless, an airplane trip still involves an hour or two of bureaucracy and waiting on either side, and chances are good you're not landing at the exact time you'd prefer to. Long-distance trains also have the same problem and the same solution, specifically, "we put up with it because the speed makes it worth it". In both cases, avoiding all that added complexity would make them significantly better. If you can think of a way to accomplish that without a drastic price increase you will become extremely rich.)

tl;dr: Transportation has traditionally been "fast, inexpensive, public; pick two", and Elon Musk is trying to pick all three at the same time.

The Basic Idea

If you haven't heard of the Boring company or the Las Vegas Loop, here's the concept:

Elon Musk thinks tunnels can be built for much cheaper than they previously could be. He is building a large underground network under Las Vegas, with something like 45 stops (this number keeps increasing as they add more to the plan). You will walk up to a stop, request a car, and travel to any other stop in the network. You can do this today, although right now they only have 3 stops, but construction continues.

This is literally the basis of the plan; "let's make tunnels and drive cars through them". I acknowledge this sounds dumb, but it may actually be the best way to accomplish Fast, Inexpensive, and Public.

Let's tackle the easy ones first.

Boring Company tunnels are public because you don't need to buy in with a large investment to use them. You can just show up at a stop, pay a fare, and ride a vehicle to wherever you want to go.

Boring Company tunnels are fast . . . sort of . . . because it's point-to-point transportation. The vehicle is ideally already at the stop, or close by, when you request it, and it takes you directly to your destination, as long as your destination is on the system. This "on the system" limitation is a flaw! We'll get back to that, though.

Boring Company cars currently require drivers, which is expensive. They've said multiple times that this is a stopgap until they have self-driving working. I see no reason to doubt them and the rest of this post is going to take on faith that they'll get self-driving working. Again, prototype of a prototype of a prototype. If you're skeptical about self-driving in general, note that as of this writing there are multiple companies running public services in multiple cities; if you're skeptical about Tesla self-driving, well, me too, but they can always license it. I'm going to just accept this part as solved-in-the-next-decade-one-way-or-another.

Boring Company tunnels are inexpensive because oh god this is where the complicated part starts


Tunnels are, traditionally, very expensive.

There's a lot of reasons for this. Cost disease, in general, is one of the big ones, and if Boring Company gets hit by cost disease then this entire thing might be doomed. I think they're more resistant to this because they are not having cities come to them asking for services, they are going to cities to propose services, and if they're expensive, they won't get any contracts. Note that Boring Company has already turned down a contract because the company was going to waste a lot of money on things that weren't the tunnel, and they just didn't want to be a part of that. I'm going to just cross my fingers that this doesn't happen.

Tunnel size is another big one. Tunnels get much more expensive as they get larger. Train tunnels need to be surprisingly large; they need to hold a train that's big enough for people to stand up in and walk around in. They also need to hold some kind of emergency exit system. With trains, this traditionally hasn't been compatible with the train rails themselves; the cross-ties are a tripping hazard. If you have to run a second extra walkway next to your train then that makes your tunnels even larger. Finally, you need a lot of emergency equipment. The reason this is required is that stations are rather far apart; if stations were closer, the safety regulations let you basically say "look, there's an exit right there, just walk to the exit". Far-apart stations cause significant added tunnel expenses.

The biggest issue, surprisingly, is the underground stations. The most common way of making an underground station is as simple as it is costly:

  • Knock down all the buildings above the station

  • Dig a giant rectangular hole

  • Reinforce the top of the hole

  • Fill the top of the hole back in

  • Build new buildings on top

This isn't a lack of foresight on the part of the builders, this is actually how it tends to be done. Underground stations are horribly expensive, and this has consequences for the rest of the system. Remember how I kind of skimmed past "far-apart stations cause significant tunnel expenses"? Well, they do, but this is still cheaper than building more underground stations!

This is how the Boring Company is going to solve tunnel price:

  • Cars are much smaller than trains [citation needed] and don't require as much sheer size.

  • Cars travel on concrete, not rail, and this surface is perfectly suited for passenger exit, meaning that you don't need an extra passenger lane as long as there's enough room to get past the cars. (Note: in the current Loop tunnels, there is, even though it's not obvious in a lot of the videos that have been posted. It's not comfortable, but it's enough for emergency evac.)

  • We can reduce the necessary emergency equipment by having frequent stations. Trust me on this for now! I'll get back to this one very quickly.

All of this put together makes Boring Company tunnels a whole lot cheaper than train tunnels.


Twice, now, I've glossed past issues with stations. The Las Vegas Loop requires stations at every stop so people can get on and off; our emergency system also requires frequent stations. These can both be solved by having lots of stations.

but wait, I thought stations were expensive Nope! Stations are cheap. Underground stations are expensive. The solution is that you just put your stations above-ground. Any parking lot can become a station terminal, as can underground floors of already-constructed buildings.

This works for Boring Company cars because car station positioning is far more flexible than train station positioning is. Train stations have to be long because trains are long; cars are short and so car stations can have basically any layout. Trains run on rails, which have extremely low friction - this is good from an efficiency perspective, but means that trains cannot handle significant slopes without expensive equipment like cable cars. If trains can't handle slopes then above-ground stations for underground rails simply aren't possible. Meanwhile, the minimum footprint of a full-fledged aboveground car station connecting to an underground network is the same footprint as a small house; a tunnel up, a tunnel down, and a few parking spaces, done.

Now we have cheap stations! We can toss a station at every casino on the Las Vegas Loop and not think twice about it. Our tunnels become smaller because we don't need as much emergency equipment, and our trips are faster because you can enter and exit from the cars in more places.

This is a reasonable solution. But it's not a great solution. We still have to drop people off at stations and pick people up at stations; what if someone doesn't have a station nearby? What if someone wants a car from their house off in a suburb or true rural area? Do we need to build tunnels to every single neighborhood, and then require that people walk across half their neighborhood to get home? It's 108 degrees out right now, I'm not walking in that weather. Screw that. And worst, we still need significant land dedicated to this system for the parking-lot terminuses, and land, as I've mentioned, is expensive.

We can do better.

Stationless Point-To-Point

This is where I move into speculation territory. But I really do think this is the plan.

We have an underground network of self-driving vehicles. We have cheap entry and exit tunnels. This is all we need to finish the entire system.

We keep our entry and exit tunnels, and we put them everywhere (which also solves our emergency exit requirements.) However, we get rid of the stations. The tunnels are simply a way of transiting from the underground network to the aboveground road network. "The aboveground road network", you ask? Sure; we're going to co-opt the aboveground road network for part of this. We're not using it for long-distance travel, so we can get rid of the giant tangles of freeways and onramps. But we are using it for last-mile travel, because it's there.

When you request a vehicle, one shows up at your doorway. You get inside and it heads to the nearest convenient tunnel entrance. Most of your trip is spent underground, and then it pops back up into the sunlight to bring you straight to your destination.

No stations, low land usage, point-to-point congestionless travel.

That's the actual goal.

Common Objections

Moved to its own comment due to character count limitations.


The goal of the Boring Company is to make the first fast inexpensive public transportation system. Cars are fast and kinda inexpensive, but not public; Uber/Lyft are fast and public, but expensive; trains and buses are inexpensive and public, but not fast. Elon Musk is trying to get all three at once, and the decisions being made are in service to that. The thing being designed really could not exist before self-driving vehicles; it is a truly 21st-century transportation system and hopes to redesign the urban landscape on a level that we haven't seen in a century.

I have no idea if it will succeed.

“It is not by speeches and majority resolutions that the great questions of the time are decided... but by iron and blood.” So spoke Bismarck after the failures of the revolutionary year of 1848, a year whose actors very consciously sought to either repeat or avoid the years of 1793-94. But in this book author Timothy Tackett persuasively argues the opposite – that it was the emotional currents and fluctuations of the French Revolution that ultimately, but not inevitably, led to its bloodiest and best-remembered period.

I came across this book in the library and was immediately engrossed when I realized what it was. For a long time I wondered why there were not more “emotional” histories: monographs that cover an event or time period through the emotional reactions it inspired in the people who lived through them. The French Revolution is in many respects an ideal subject for such a treatment, given that it was a simultaneously transformative and utterly unexpected; but that it also came, not entirely uncoincidentally, at a time of great expansion in literacy and literary expression. The vast number of diaries, letters, pamphlets, newspapers, treatises, etc. that the Revolution produced no doubt made it vastly easier to approach with this framing. The book suggest this itself in its structure; despite it being the central event, it falls to one of the shortest chapters to cover the bulk of the Reign of Terror and the “Great Terror”, as all the previously prolific writers of Paris simultaneously mute themselves in an attempt to avoid Madame Guillotine.

Tackett assumes the reader knows most of the details of the standard narrative; little attempt is made to sketch out the larger situation at any given time and much of the material is structured thematically rather than strictly linearly. It helps to know the differences between the National Assembly and Legislative Assembly and National Convention (for this review’s purposes I will instead refer in general to “the legislature”). The pre-revolutionary political situation is covered in a scant six pages in favour of devoting attention instead to the worldview and circumstances of those who would become the revolutionary élites that the book primarily draws from. They were largely bourgeois, middle-class types: lawyers especially, but also shopkeepers, merchants, artisans. They were religious, but not exceptionally devout. They had no great criticisms of the nobility; they had little inkling or expectation that the current social structure would ever changed, and seemed content to relying on the existing system of noble patronage. They were men of reason, and unlike the peasantry took pride that they were not prone to being swayed by rumour and conspiracy. And most notable of all, Tackett stresses that among those Third Estate members who had written political pamphlets prior to the Revolution, only one – no points for guessing who! - gave indications of paranoia. So what could explain how these devotees of liberal enlightenment found themselves waist-deep in blood five years later?

When the Revolution came, it did so suddenly and by surprise. When Louis XVI called the Estates in order to address the state of France’s finances, the future revolutionaries of the Third Estate only had modest ambitions: lifting of total press censorship, freedom of assembly, greater influence in government for commoners, some kind of permanent representative legislature. The Estates-General convened on May 4, 1789, and after a sudden and intense period of political and class awakening, within six weeks the Third Estate deputies had broken off from the rest and formed a hostile and sovereign legislature, which immediately declared the entire existing tax system as illegal. The famous Tennis Court Oath where they swore to write a constitution followed a few days later, and a week after that the clergy and noble deputies grudgingly joined. Paranoia suddenly grew when foreign mercenaries began massing in Versailles – could Louis merely be feigning acceptance, while preparing to crush them? - but after the storming of the Bastille the King appeared to back down, coming before the legislature to give his blessing to their self-appointed powers. The patriot elites decided that the violence, while unfortunate, had regrettably been necessary. This basic cycle – enthusiasm about reforms, followed by sudden anxiety that they might be reversed, menaced by vast conspiracies that justify further violence – becomes the vicious circle of Tackett’s emotional narrative. One small-town barrister wrote of how keenly he felt the “striking contrast between good and evil, anguish and hope, joy and sadness, which so rapidly follow upon one another.” This turbulent emotional cascade is the throughline of the book.

The years of 1789-93 provided an incredible series of events to feed both anguish and hope. I cannot and will not attempt to write at any length about the course of the Revolution and its consequences because it is beyond the scope of this post (and the book it is trying to review). There’s a reason historians tend to use 1789 as the starting point of modernity. All of a sudden the philosophies which dominate the modern consciousness emerged all at once; from the void stepped out nationalism, feminism, socialism, conservatism, atheism. Even single days could seemingly change everything: on August 4, 1789 a staged speech of a liberal noble renouncing his seigneurial dues resulted in an “electric whirlwind” of changes as other deputies got caught up in the emotions of the moment. By the end of the night not just seigneurial dues but also noble courts, exclusive noble hunting rights, a variety of excise and consumption taxes that were noble-exempt, sale of offices, the entire patronage-appointed royal administration, Church tithes, and a series of other noble and clergy privileges had been eliminated: feudalism felled in a single day. The rapid and unprecedented shifts generated a wave of euphoria among the French commons. An institution that had ruled largely unchallenged and unchanged for over 1,000 years suddenly seemed mutable. Tackett frequently refers to the “spirit of ‘89”: this emergent idealism and utopianism that anything and everything could be changed, that one could create a new future for mankind. He quotes numerous onlookers who were simply stunned by events: familiar themes in the responses were that entire centuries had been condensed into a span of days. Many declared that only divine intervention could have led such a breathtaking transformation; churches across the country held special ceremonies so that people could give thanks to Heaven. Spontaneous instances of collective oath-taking broke out across the nation, swearing allegiance to the decrees of the legislature.

But there were threats to the gains that had been made. The virtually-overnight abolition of all the nation’s institutions did not come without a major breakdown of order. With the traditional power structures dismantled, regions were forced to create ad-hoc replacements of their own, with varying legitimacy. At the same time an enormous surge of new media entered the market now free from censorship, praising ideals of freedom, equality, and abolition of hierarchies. Army units mutinied, police and judges fled their posts, urban workers striked while peasants refused to pay all taxes. Dissident nobles had begun leaving in July and August 1789, fleeing from the potential of violence or seeking the aid of those who might restore their privileges. When the Church was subordinated to the national government in 1790, about half of the nation’s 50,000 priests refused to swear allegiance to the legislature instead of Rome, and many patriots feared what betrayals might fester in the regions these refractory priests held sway. Mass psychosis gave these mainly rural, humble priests extraordinary resources and influence, but some grand conspiracies were true. The King indeed was merely feigning cooperation with the legislature, and in June 1791 made a failed attempt to flee the country, leaving behind proof that he was conspiring with escaped nobles and foreign kings to crush the Revolution. The threat of war from reactionary foreign powers fuelled endless anxiety.

It was this simultaneously chaotic, hopeful and paranoid society that tumbled confidently into a near-uninterrupted stretch of wars that would last a further 23 years. Initially during the Revolution there was an international sense of fraternity: in May 1790 the legislature and agreed that never again would France declare war on a brother nation. 18 months later, a sense of bellicose nationalism was aggressively pushing a war on the entire world, a “universal crusade for liberty.” Confidence was extremely high: “if we firmly desire it, we can liberate Europe in six months and purge the earth of all tyrants” one patriot predicted. The initial failures of the war and the sudden (suspicious?) surrender of key French forts fuelled a rise of extremism and violence across the nation which ended in the toppling of the King and the declaration of the Republic. Just as this occurred, a wave of French victories followed which simultaneously ended the internal violence and convinced the radicals of what they had always suspected: France’s failures were solely due to internal treachery. After the execution of Louis XVI, the now-invincible Republic declared war on Spain and the UK as well. “One more enemy for France will bring one more triumph for liberty,” declared one patriot. It was under this pressure of a four-front war that Paris demanded conscripts from the provinces, sparking a massive and long-feared counter-revolution in the West of the country. As war without and within threatened to consume the nation, the heat turned up on the government: could they secretly be traitors too? A mob stormed the legislature in June 1793 and forced the legislature to order their arrests. This launched a fresh wave of federalist revolts as many cities turned their back on the legislature. Seeing no alternative, the new Revolutionary government – now led by the infamous Committee of Public Safety - announced the levée en masse in August. The entire nation would be mobilized: young men would fight (1.5 million called up in the first round of conscription alone), women and others would support the war effort. The obvious question loomed: if all France’s fighting men were at the frontiers, who would defend the women and children against the vast number of internal traitors? There was only one solution.

Tackett rejects several of the traditional theories for how the Terror came to be. He takes a dim view to ideological explanations: the Revolutionary elites held nothing that could be coherently described as an ideology, let alone one that would inevitably end in Terror. Describing them as “liberal” functions only as a crude short-hand; they did not see themselves as such and some of what are now fundamental tenets of liberalism, like freedom of religion, was something the Revolution only stumbled into accidentally. The participants themselves in their writings and actions more typically drew from Classical writers than from recent Enlightenment philosophers. The Revolution itself was an accident of history and going into it those who would lead it had no inkling that they would oversee or even desire anything more than the limited aims they had when the Estates-General convened. Marxist theories on class struggle are similarly rejected: the most significant period of reforms, 1789-90, featured a legislature that was majority-composed of former members of the nobility and clergy. View of social class was much more analogous to that of immutable race, and many quoted in the book use that terminology exactly; that so many of the liberal nobles who willingly shed their own privileges ended up being executed reinforces this. Nor does he accept explanations that the Terror was the unique product of the external pressures facing France in 1793-94: the Revolutionaries were always much more concerned with internal threats than external even at the darkest stages of the War of the First Coalition, and the bloodiest stage of it was the last seven weeks after the worst phases of both internal and external threats were past. More remarkably, much of France had been largely untouched by the Terror: while some 35-40,000 were killed in the process of the Revolutionary tribunals, six departments saw zero deaths and over a third had fewer than ten. Meanwhile, the west bathed in blood: some 250-300 thousand died in the taming of the counterrevolution in the Vendée.

Tackett devotes much effort to cataloguing the development the paranoid conspiracy mindset that would dominate the Terror. He sees forerunners of this mentality in the wild rumours people would concoct in the early days of the Revolution; at the time they focused principally on murderers and robbers. Several times all of Paris was illuminated overnight in order to forestall some vague mass plot; this defensive measure would be returned to constantly during times of future anxiety. As the menace of counter-revolution grew, nobles and refractory priests took the place of common criminals. After the King’s failed flight, all manner of conspiracies were vindicated. Patriots prided themselves in their eagerness to sniff out betrayal. Various social clubs took blood oaths to defend the lives of accusers, or adopted the All-Seeing Eye as a badge of their vigilance. Prominent writers declared a “declaration of rights of the accuser.” One then-hero, future-traitor Mirabeau wrote “an act of denunciation… must be considered as the most important of our new virtues, as the protector of our nascent liberty.”

The humiliation and fear of trusted individuals being revealed as traitors was a reoccurring theme: not just become some were indeed schemers, but also the increasing radicalization of the Revolution meant to stay firm in your principles eventually shifted you from being a revolutionary to a reactionary. The metaphor of a traitor with a mask being more dangerous than an armed enemy was a frequently espoused sentiment. In the various organs that were set up to process these accusations of treachery, they turned increasingly inward until they were mainly aimed at other revolutionaries.

This conspiratorial mindset aided greatly in the factionalization of France. Tackett makes the argument that such splits – first between the Jacobins and the Feuillants, then the Jacobins and the Girondins, and then within the Montagnards – were largely not rooted in ideology, but rather breakdowns of personal relationships. On the major issues the legislature voted with near unanimity; there was no great partisan split in the actual operation of the country. There was even a charming – if ominous – act of solidarity when all the deputies swore together to die rather than let foreign enemies alter the constitution they had written. Rather, at the beginning of each of these schisms seems to have been some kind of personality conflict, that only later manifested itself into an ideological shift. “There exists only two parties in France,” Robespierre declared in October 1792, “the party of good citizens and the party of evil citizens.” One woman who is frequently quoted through the book and had been brimming with a sense of fraternity in ‘89, later wondered of her former friends, “how could such good individuals have become so vile?” The most outspoken individuals who would take charge of each faction were incredibly cavalier with accusing their counterparts of vast treasons. During the trial of Louis for example, leading Jacobins claimed that their opponents were secret monarchists working on behalf of the King; the Girondins likewise claimed that the Jacobins were being funded by the British to kill the king so they could declare themselves dictators. They never bothered to support any of their claims with proof – after all, why would their enemies be so lax as to let proof of their misdeeds remain behind?

The term “stochastic terrorism” has predictably become abused in online discourse. I’m not sure whether Tackett knew of the term while writing this or deliberately neglected to use it, but it is the one that feels most apt at many points. The term “terrorism” of course comes from this Terror, though the revolutionaries used in unambiguously in a positive sense: “make terror the order of the day!” was a common refrain in fall 1793. But a strong impression I got from reading this book was how reluctant the shifts towards mass violence were. While the revolutionaries were very eager to use vicious invective and happy to level the most extreme accusations of treachery at their political enemies, it was rarely the elites themselves that began the violence. It was the mob that stormed the Bastille, assaulted the Tuileries, massacred prisoners, invaded the legislature. After each of these incidents the elites seemed somewhere between embarrassed and furious. For example, after months of accusations of treason at their Girondin counterparts, when the mob stormed the legislature and forced the Montagnard deputies at gunpoint to arrest these traitors in June 1792, they were still given very lenient treatment (and most ended up escaping their very lax house arrests). While the violence was typically justified afterwards, the elites seemed genuinely disturbed that people would take their words to their logical conclusions. The polemicists were of course to some degree aware of the potential of arousing the fury of the mob, and this was one of the reasons Robespierre targeted them with a purge in spring 1794.

It was certainly amusing to see how much of contemporary discourse on misinformation, press freedom, and conspiracy theories could be fitted (albeit somewhat awkwardly) onto the situation in 1792-93. With the sudden transition from the rigidly-controlled media environment of the Ancien Régime to the total free-for-all of the Revolution, there was a complete lack of social mores, acceptable standards of conduct, and a fundamental aversion to honesty in the wave of newspapers and pamphlets that flooded France. It’s not hard to draw parallels to the present, nor is it difficult to find examples of public denunciations for lack of civisme. So maybe that element hasn’t changed, but this feels like a raw deal: I’ve felt the anxiety and paranoia, but not the euphoria. I’ve never been able to escape cynicism, I’ve never felt that utopian spirit of ‘89. But now at least I can partially convince myself that it’s for the best.

If you've never read a standard history of the French Revolution, I would highly recommend you do. I don't think there's another historical event more instrumental in shaping the present - at least not one so constrained, geographically and in duration. Beyond its importance, it is so rich in drama and twists that it makes for endlessly fascinating reading - even larger histories have to give short shrift to some of the most flamboyant and influential characters. The "emotional" approach to the Revolution that Tackett takes in this book makes for a compelling and persuasive narrative for how the Terror came to be. I would definitely be interested in seeing other events tackled in a similar manner.


Internet addiction is something that I've struggled with for well over a decade now. Innumerable days, weeks, probably years, lost to aimless scrolling with no goal in particular. My interests are more "intellectual" than the average social media addict who only looks at TikTok and Instagram, so perhaps my habits are more defensible in that regard, but I think it's still had a significant negative impact on my life and has prevented me from spending more time on things that I actually care about.

I wanted to see if anyone struggles with the same issues, and also share some of my recent thoughts on the nature of internet addiction.

  • First, it has to be recognized that the internet can be both a force for great good and a force for great evil. Unlike hard drugs, total abstinence is neither possible nor desirable. The internet made me the person I am today, and gave me so many wonderful, unforgettable experiences. I can't just repudiate it entirely - rather I have to learn to live with it, and take better control of my relationship with it.

  • I don't support the use of strategies like apps that automatically cut off your access during certain times of the day. Nietzsche once said something to the effect of, "only the weak man wants to pluck out his eyes to avoid looking at lustful things". It's a sentiment I agree with. Any solution that "forces" you to reduce browsing time is just putting a band-aid over the problem. The goal is to fundamentally reconfigure your desires and dispositions so they're more naturally aligned with your actual goals.

  • A key factor in understanding internet addiction is understanding the need to accept boredom. Before smartphones, people used to get bored way more often. Sometimes you'd just have to sit there with literally nothing to do, not even anything to think - you won't always want to read a book, or entertain yourself with your own thoughts. Smartphones permanently cured boredom - scrolling the web is infinitely entertaining, and takes zero effort. It's like a liquid that seeps in through the cracks furnished by boredom and gradually fills up all available space, taking over every second of time that you have. I think that one of the biggest keys to reconfiguring my relationship with the internet, for me anyway, is accepting and embracing that there will simply be times where I am bored and I just sit there doing literally, absolutely nothing. But that's not an excuse to resort to web browsing in those cases.

  • I'm currently trying to take an organic approach where I accept that the internet is extremely fun and beneficial, and I will browse it multiple times a day, but I try to consciously remind myself to limit it and make time for other things as well. For example, making short-term plans like "I won't look at my phone until I'm back from my morning walk, at which points I will check websites X Y and Z, and then I won't look at my phone again until after lunch". We'll see how it goes. The unfortunate thing about addiction isn't that any one mitigation strategy is difficult to implement and stick to, but rather that I seem to have little control over exactly what person I'm going to be next week. I always seem to wind up back in a place where, on a meta-level, I simply no longer have a desire to control my web browsing at all and I no longer see it as a problem, so I ditch any prevention strategy and I just go back to unrestricted scrolling. I'd really like to fundamentally reconfigure myself so that doesn't happen anymore. But I don't know how to do that.

I view this as a societal problem, not just an individual problem with me. I saw a family of three at a restaurant the other day, mom and dad and a young boy, and all three of them were glued to their phones, ignoring each other. That made me very sad. I hope that more will be done in the future to raise consciousness of internet addiction, and smartphone addiction in particular.

A piece I wrote on one of the most fascinating and incredible thriftstore finds I've ever stumbled upon.

The Edwardians and Victorians were not like us, they believed in a nobility of their political class that's almost impossible to understand or relate to, and that believe, that attribution of nobility is tied up with something even more mysterious: their belief in the fundamental nobility of rhetoric.

Still not sure entirely how I feel about this, or how sure I am of my conclusions but this has had me spellbound in fascination and so I wrote about it.

On this day five years ago, Scott made a list of graded predictions for how the next five years would pan out. How did he do?

He correctly predicted that Democrats would win the presidency in 2020. He correctly predicted that the UK would leave the EU and that no other country would vote to leave. He seemed under the impression that Ted Cruz would rise up to take Trump's mantle, but to my mind the only person in the Republican party who has a meaningful chance of opposing Trump is DeSantis. I think a lot of the technological predictions were too optimistic (specifically the bits about space travel and self-driving vehicles) but I don't work in tech and amn't really qualified to comment.

Near the end of the article, in a self-deprecating moment, he predicts with 80% confidence that "Whatever the most important trend of the next five years is, I totally miss it". To my mind, the most significant "trend" (or "event") of the last five years was Covid, and I think he actually did okay on this front: the second-last section of the article is a section on global existential risks:

Global existential risks will hopefully not be a big part of the 2018-2023 period. If they are, it will be because somebody did something incredibly stupid or awful with infectious diseases. Even a small scare with this will provoke a massive response, which will be implemented in a panic and with all the finesse of post-9/11 America determining airport security.

  1. Bioengineering project kills at least five people: 20%
  1. …at least five thousand people: 5%

Whether you think those two predictions cames to pass naturally depends where you sit on the lab leak hypothesis.


As the academic system is slowly imploding, my career followed suit and I recently found myself licking my wounds in a cushy industry job (read: adult daycare) and dreaming of startups. This was one of my brainstorms, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out a way that it could ever be profitable, so I’m releasing it into the wild.

You’ve probably heard of the hygiene hypothesis; in a nutshell, our immune systems ‘evolved’ to deal with lives that were, immunologically speaking, nasty, brutish and short. Consequently, the dial on the thermostat got turned up a bit too high for our fully [immunologically] automated gay space communism with pesky luxuries like vaccines, soap and plumbing. The incidences of immune conditions like asthma, allergies, MS, Crohn’s, T1D have gone up three to four fold in the last 70 odd years in developed nations which is too rapid for dysgenics as an explanation. Some interesting pieces of evidence hinting at a deeper truth;

  1. Adult immigrants from developing nations to the first world are by and large unaffected, but their children do have increases. This suggests an environmental rather than genetic etiology, and furthermore, that the environmental influences have to happen while the immune system is developing (though the evidence for this latter point is not particularly strong in my opinion). 1 2 3 4 5

  2. Abiotic mice (no bacteria or fungi in their gut, skin, esophagus, etc) have very defective immune systems. Whole compartments of the immune system fail to develop properly, suggesting that interplay between pathogens, benign commensals and the immune system is required.

  3. A number of studies have shown that even within developed nations, individuals raised on farms or exposed to animals at very young ages have lower incidences of atopy and autoimmunity.

  4. Your immune system develops in ‘waves’ and is ‘educated’ throughout your development (and almost certainly beyond!). Furthermore, there is substantial variation in our immune systems due to infectious history/environment. (Note that some competing papers took similar approaches with significantly different conclusions). These all point towards significant environmental influences* on these complex immunological diseases.

You’ve probably also heard of Alex Jones claiming that the US government is turning the frogs gay. With this audience, you probably also know that, uh, ‘turning the frogs gay’ isn’t a very honest description, but it is a real problem. Indeed, the process for dumping a new chemical into the environment is labyrinthine, but it probably isn’t particularly effective at screening substances that might influence the immune system. They seem largely focused on chemicals that mimic hormones (see: declining sperm counts and the aforementioned gay frogs).

The crux of this post: Why isn’t more effort expended towards identifying environmental factors, preferably added in the last 70 odd years in the developed world, that modify the immune system?

The hypothesis: Increased exposure to certain chemicals in our environment (food, makeup, air pollution, water contamination), when intersecting with susceptible genotypes, has led to an increase in allergy and autoimmune disease in the developed world.

So, to test it, you’d want to screen large numbers of chemicals in some kind of high-throughput immune assays. Good news: The dataset exists, and you can download it yourself! Bad news: It’s crap! Half-good-half-bad news: Nobody (as far as I know) talks about it or uses it for anything.

About 10 years ago the EPA decided to modernize environmental toxicology and generate The Dataset to end all datasets. They spent (wasted?) tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars building the data architecture, contracting an army of adult daycare inmates like myself to carry out the assays all to generate a half-dozen low-impact publications nobody has ever read (don’t trust their publications page, it’s padded with anyone who uses the data for any purpose) and this monstrous dataset. Here’s a 728 page pdf some poor soul generated to describe the in vitro assays.

I fiddled around with the data about a year ago at this point, and generated this list of compounds if anyone is interested. I mostly focused on assays relevant to T cells (due to personal biases - B cells are Boring, T cells are Terrific) that came up with a Ka < 10uM, although keep in mind that the majority of these things will be false positives*. Tldr; pesticides are really, really bad and you shouldn’t eat them; they light up every assay like a roman candle. Triclosan was an interesting hit as it’s been (weakly) shown to influence autoimmunity in some mouse models as well as an association with allergy development. Here it came up as a potentiator of lck activity, which is one of the major stimulatory proteins in T cells.

So…who cares? I suppose one might imagine mining some of these molecules as precursors to new drugs after the medicinal chemists have their way with them, although that kind of ‘pharma 1.0’ thinking never really appealed to me. Then again, everyone tells me to just try to make something work, and then your second company can be your vanity project/moonshot. Alternatively, I’ve got to assume that such a large database is amenable to machine learning, maybe along the lines of this paper? I think the largest problem is that the majority of the data here is without a doubt crap. Less relevant to the startup perspective is what the EPA actually wants to do, which is regulate some of these compounds. This would probably be prosocial, but then, if you wanted me to do prosocial stuff you should have given me my academic lab, ja?

*Note that, as complex traits, there are obviously genetic influences on the development of atopy and autoimmunity. The intersection of susceptible genetics and environment leads to disease.

**Cons: - Tons of false positives as many of these compounds won’t be bioavailable or aren’t present in quantities large enough to be relevant

Dataset sucks and others have claimed it to be unreliable

Unclear that people suddenly started being exposed to these things in the last 70 years

Assays poorly optimized and either cell-free (very prone to false positives) or done artificial overexpression systems


spoilers, y’all

This movie is a story for sale to the general public, in which the protagonist hunts for a story to sell to the general public. He learns the deep and abiding value of stories, and then loses all faith in stories sold to the general public. It’s a bit like The Last Psychiatrist listened to Shit Town while swiping on Tinder, then roasted everyone responsible through the medium of film. One reviewer called it “egotistical and grandiose” and accused the filmmaker of “undersell[ing] his characters, and belittl[ing] his audience.”

Y’all might enjoy it as much as I did.

Aspiring podcaster Ben Manalowitz yearns to be “a voice,” an intoner of wise observations on modern America. He is not a man with an idea desperate for a microphone. He is a man with a microphone desperate for an idea. In a casual chat with his friend who runs a podcasting network, he pitches his grand social theory about - I don’t remember.

She says no one cares about your theories. Tell them a story.

Unfortunately, Ben is barren ground for stories, because he is the kind of person who has friendships like this:

Ben Manalowitz: Do you ever wonder, if you did find something deeper with somebody, if that would somehow be more meaningful?

John: I do, sometimes. Like right now, I'm casually dating, like, six or seven different women. But I do wonder, deep down, what it would be like to seriously date two or three.

One night, mid-hookup, Ben gets a phone call from a stranger with a Southern accent who tearfully breaks the news that, “Abby is dead.”

Abby who? Ben roots through his contacts and finds an “Abby Texas,” a fling whom he barely remembers.

The stranger, Abby’s brother Ty, is under the impression that Ben is Abby’s devastated boyfriend. “She talked about you all the time.” He pressures Ben into flying to Abilene, Texas for the funeral.

There, Ben discovers Abby's death has been ruled an accidental overdose, but Ty is convinced it was foul play, possibly involving local drug dealers. Ty wants Ben’s help avenging her, because, “We were the men in her life.”

Suddenly, Ben has a story. It’s about dumb hicks living in denial of their own dysfunction, inventing conspiracies to make themselves feel better. He sets out to make his breakout hit podcast. He plans to call it “Dead White Girl.”

From there, the movie plays out kind of like a thread here on The Motte. It serves up hot takes which are doused by cooler ones, only for another to flare up. Conflicting evidence makes a mess everywhere. A highly educated, heterodox man strolls in and out, communicating solely through hypnotically eloquent insight porn.

The movie makes an effort not to idealize or demonize either its pretentious East Coast elites or its rubes in flyover country. It presents both as having their little shibboleths. In one scene, Mr. Insight Porn admits he went to school “in New Haven.” Ben admits that he went to school “in Boston.” This little exchange nicely mirrors the recurring “Bless your hearts.” (It would have been better if the movie hadn’t explicitly translated the latter.)

The movie does rely on predictable fish out of water comedy, but its funniest moments play with stereotypes. In one scene, Abby’s teen sisters tell Ben that, “We’re not really a gun family.” They only have… a long list of rifles, shotguns, and handguns, including the kids’ personal sidearms. The girls are baffled by the suggestion that this might be cause for concern.

Literary fellow that he is, Ben explains, “There’s this playwright, Anton Chekhov, and he says that if there’s a gun in Act One of a play - “

“There’s no guns in any one of his plays I can think of,” says the overweight sister in the leopard print pants. “Cherry Orchard, no. Uncle Vanya, no - ”

“I’m not actually that familiar with his plays,” Ben says impatiently, before steering back to his point.

Of all the guns introduced in Act One of the film, none is fired by the Texans.

Vengeance is, fundamentally, a murder mystery, and I honestly loved that this storyline was ultimately played straight. Ben makes a hilariously milquetoast vow to Abby’s family that he will identify her killer and achieve justice through podcasting: “I will find this person or this generalized societal force, and I will define it. I'll define it.” But he truly does investigate. He truly does find the killer. In the end, her death is exactly what he believed it was, but it is also exactly what her brother wanted to believe. After all the irony and ego-puncturing, we get the traditional, unironic satisfaction of rough justice.

The movie wants to be about so many things: the yawning social emptiness of endless freedom, choice, and atomization; our various self-medications for the resulting tedium and emotional starvation; the meaning achieved through narrative; the immortality achieved through leaving a record of one’s existence; the empathy but also the dehumanization of seeing other people as characters; our acute vulnerability when we become characters to the general public. It’s a lot to pack into a fish out of water murder mystery comedy. Many viewers will find it pretentious, unfocused, and shallow. Probably it is. The denouement strains the suspension cables of disbelief, and for some they’ll snap.

But I like this egotistical and grandiose movie. And I laughed really hard at this:

Ty Shaw: [Abilene, Texas] is the most, uh, wretched, godforsaken stretch of land on the face of the earth. And I'd never leave.

Ben Manalowitz: Yeah. That's how I feel about Twitter.

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.


Mottizens sometimes use terms with obscure origins that can be confusing to newcomers. This is an attempt to provide a brief explanation of what these terms mean and where they came from to help anyone new to the community.

50 Stalins: A style of commentary which pretends to criticize something while actually praising it, e.g. “critiquing” Stalinist Russia by suggesting that it is not Stalinist enough and it should have even more Stalins. The term was coined by Scott Alexander in Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-sized Nutshell (2013).

Chinese Robber Fallacy: A dishonest argument that uses a generic problem to attack a specific person or group, even when the other groups have the problem just as much, e.g. complaining about the problem of Chinese robbers without providing evidence that Chinese people are more likely to be robbers than other groups. It was first described by blogger Alyssa Vance in 2015.

CultureWarRoundup / CWR: A splinter community of the Motte that lives at the subreddit /r/CultureWarRoundup, founded primarily by users who felt that the Motte's moderation policies were too strict. It has very little moderation.

Effective Altruism / EA : A philosophical and social movement that aims to use evidence and reason to do the most good possible. It has a lot of overlap with the rationalist community and LessWrong and experienced much of its early growth on LessWrong.

Human Biodiversity / HBD: A viewpoint that holds that there are socially relevant differences between groups of people that are genetic in origin. Most controversially, HBD advocates generally maintain that the observed differences between the average intelligence of people of different races originate in genetics.

Ideological Turing Test / ITT: An exercise where you try to pretend to hold an opposing ideology convincingly enough that outside observers can't reliably distinguish you from a true believer. It was first described by economist Bryan Caplan in 2011.

LessWrong: A discussion forum founded by AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky in 2009. The forum focuses on cognitive biases, rationality, artificial intelligence, and other topics. It is the primary nexus for the so-called “rationalist community.” LessWrong could be considered an ancestor forum to the Motte, since Scott Alexander blogged there before founding Slate Star Codex and this community originated in the subreddit for Slate Star Codex.

Lizardman's Constant: The share of the population (around 4%) who gives absurd responses in opinion polls (such as saying that lizardmen run the world); perhaps a combination of trolls, people who don't understand the question, people who just want to agree with the pollster, and people who are completely apathetic to the poll. It was coined by Scott Alexander in Lizardman's Constant is 4% (2013).

Motte and Bailey fallacy: A dishonest form of argument where one conflates two positions, one easy to defend but with limited implications (the motte) and another hard to defend but with far-reaching implications (the bailey). The fallacy was named after a kind of castle. It was coined by the philosopher Nicholas Shakel in 2005 and popularized by Scott Alexander via Social Justice and Words, Words, Words (2014) and All in All, Another Brick in the Motte (2014). The motte-and-bailey fallacy is the namesake of the Motte; in this community, we would like people to only hold positions that they can defend.

Neoreaction / NRx: A right-wing political philosophy whose signature viewpoint is that monarchy is a better form of government than democracy. Its most famous advocate is the blogger Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug. The neoreactionary movement first grew on LessWrong, although they were always a very small faction there.

Prior: A term from Bayesian Statistics that essentially means one's belief about something before they take new evidence into account. To say that one's prior is X is essentially to say that one's belief is X. To say that one has "adjusted their priors" is essentially to say that one has changed one's mind to some degree about the topic at hand based on the evidence presented; in theory this is done by applying Bayes' theorem.

Quokka: A kind of Australian macropod. They have no natural predators and are therefore not particularly fearful. Some people, beginning with a 2020 Twitter thread by “Zero HP Lovecraft”, who believe rationalists are too trusting or naive compare rationalists to Quokkas.

Rationalist: An online community of people originally formed around the blog Overcoming Bias, founded in 2006 by economist Robin Hanson and AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky; the discussion forum LessWrong, founded in 2009 by Yudkowsky; and the blog Slate Star Codex, founded in 2013 by Scott Alexander. The rationalist community is generally focused on cognitive bias and reason. Because the Motte originated in the subreddit for Slate Star Codex, it could be considered part of a rationalist “diaspora.”

rDrama: A humorous forum about Internet drama. Originally the subreddit /r/drama, the community now lives at The Motte forked the code they use to run their site when we moved from Reddit to this website in 2022 because it was a proven example of a Reddit community successfully moving offsite and had many of the features we wanted.

Red Tribe / Blue Tribe / Gray Tribe: Terms used to describe different cultural groups in America. The terms were coined by Scott Alexander in I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup (2014). They are sometimes used interchangeably with the concepts of Republicans (Red Tribe) and Democrats (Blue Tribe), but in their original conception, Red Tribe (or Blue Tribe) meant something more precisely stated as “the sorts of people likely to be Republicans (or Democrats), regardless of their actual political views.” For example, a vegan Harvard graduate who lives in Manhattan and loves musical theater is part of the Blue Tribe even if he is actually politically conservative. The Gray Tribe is a sub-tribe of the Blue Tribe characterized by things like working in STEM fields and often having libertarian-ish politics.

Scissor Statement: A highly controversial statement that reliably provokes arguments. Coined by Scott Alexander in Sort By Controversial (2018), a work of fiction in which scissor statements are generated by a machine learning system trained on Reddit comments.

Slate Star Codex / SSC / Astral Codex Ten / Scott Alexander: Scott Alexander is a psychiatrist who lives in the Bay

Area. He blogged from 2013-2020 at Slate Star Codex and since 2021 at Astral Codex Ten. The Motte was created as a subreddit in 2019 as the home for a weekly "culture war roundup" thread that was hosted on the subreddit for SSC until then. The culture war roundup threads were removed from /r/slatestarcodex at Scott Alexander’s request. Scott Alexander’s writings are a major influence on the norms of this community. His blog and the community around it are generally considered part of the rationalist community. Scott Alexander was a popular writer at LessWrong before founding SSC and the community around SSC has a lot of overlap with LessWrong.

SneerClub: A community of people critical of the rationalist community, including the Motte, that lives at the subreddit /r/SneerClub.

Steelman: The strongest possible form of an opposing argument; the opposite of a strawman.

TheSchism: A splinter community of the Motte founded in 2020 that lives at the subreddit /r/TheSchism.

Weakman: A weak argument that someone has actually made (so it’s not a strawman). A poor form of argument is to choose the weakest argument that someone has actually made in favor of a position and argue against that while ignoring stronger arguments for that position.