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Small-Scale Question Sunday for January 29, 2023

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.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

I remember a few months ago there was a credit card company that instituted a $1000 (or so) fine for politics, then walked it back when people protested as an "error", then later put it back into their terms and conditions. Anyone remember this story or have an article for me? I don't remember enough details to be able to find it via google.

It was paypal

Thanks, looking into it more it's not quite as bad as I remembered

Really? It looked pretty bad to me. Maybe everyone just gets used to every new bullshit thing that happens, and the previous bullshit doesn't look as bad by comparison.

Well I was wrong about them putting it back. I don't think they put it back, rather, their policies were already pretty bad and they reverted to those (better but still terrible) policies.

What is Donald Trump at risk of being arrested for?

Do you know some system inteneded for writing/keeping diaries? With feature that you can sort edits by time whey were made (like git/wiki) or can sort edits by time which they described?

Also, how do I fix lousy grammar and meaning in this my posting?

I've seen TiddlyWiki recommended on 4chan.

uh.... does it require making an account? I'd prefer something free if available...

It's free (libre and gratis). You're supposed to install it on your own server.

Adversarial Reading

I think there's a valuable practice when it comes to reading that I don't see many people use at the same time - reading the same thing but from opposing perspectives. It's easy for anyone to write authoritatively, much harder to write while taking into account the arguments of the opposition.

Are there any pairs of books that would let me do this? Say, if we are talking about topic X, then a book that is pro-X and one that is anti-X?

Not a pair of books, but I find that and its sister sites do a good job of aggregating news articles and op-eds with dueling perspectives.

Edit: How could I forget the most obvious answer to your question? The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers are classics of political philosophy, if you haven't read them already.

Conversely, an interesting thing to do is to practice adversarial writing, where you deliberately choose to defend the anti-thesis of something, especially if you agree with the initital thesis, or find someone willing to be adversarial.

Then after that exercise is done, one should observe how intellectually honest he has been and how much is he being deaf/selective to the presented evidence. I find most mottizens to be incapable of ambivalent fine grained discussions. It's a disease.

I you want I can defend/attack ~any position about any tribalizing topic, pick one.

Why aren't car manufacturers raising their prices? Prices for used cars have doubled and there is a shortage of new cars because prices are too low, causing ridiculously long waiting periods. Dealerships are reportedly trying to raise prices but manufacturers don't want them to. Why do the manufacturers care and why don't they just raise prices themselves and increase their profits?

I think some of (all?) the big automakers do in-house financing. Maybe there's a fear that raising prices could end up with them holding the bag if things go to shit. Their financial arms could also lack the capacity to take on 20% or more 'debt' per vehicle.

It's also possible that, with higher interest rates, their financing segment is doing quite well. Maybe raising prices of the vehicles would disqualify many buyers (since I'd imagine the in-house financing at these places are a bit more selective), and ultimately lead to lower profits. I'd imagine the rich and poor alike aren't financing their purchase through the automaker. Their market is a certain type of middle-class buyer, and it's possible that they are price sensitive enough that if the sticker price goes up, they might go to their bank or a credit union looking for a better rate.

The automakers probably prefer to have customers finance through them, because it most certainly leads to customers buying their next vehicle through them. If you're financed through Ford, then it'll be easier to get a new vehicle (and trade in your old one) through them.

So automakers might be leaving a couple grand on the table, but higher interest rates have likely made up for that. And more importantly, they are thinking about their revenues in 5+ years, and the cost of a few grand to ensure a return customer is pretty cheap.

Existing price points, product features, industrial design, branding, marketing, etc. are the result of elaborate, long-running efforts by automakers to segment the market in a way that they believe works to their benefit.

Raising prices significantly would cause a misalignment between what the industry has taught different segments of the market to want, and what people within those segments could actually afford. Automakers have probably decided it's not worth risking their carefully cultivated segmentation just to bank some short-term profits.

They are effectively doing this by only keeping top trims & high margin cars in stock.

They don't just want to make short term profits, they want to permanently change buying behaviors.

If there is a shortage then prices are below the market clearing price. Why are they and why do manufacturers not want dealers to charge those market clearing prices?

Because the automobile industry is in the middle of an existential disruption from new electric car manufacturers. They would rather maintain their market position than make a few extra dollars in this process. The scariest proposition is someone buying another car.

3 low margin Camrys is better than 2 high margin Camrys + 1 Tesla/Rivian/etc. sold. They want to starve out the new players.

out the new players.

so it's an anti-competitive trust?

They are increasing

The average price of a new car reached an all-time high of $48,182 in July, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s a 11.9% increase over the same month last year, and it too is significantly higher than the most recent overall inflation rate.

Yes, I know that dealers are raising prices, but why are they facing resistance from manufacturers and why are they not raising them by enough to keep the backlog of orders clear? Why are the manufacturers not taking advantage of the shortage by raising prices until the shortage disappears?

An order in backlog is better than an order that switches to a substitute good, namely a used vehicle. Besides which, Dealer Agreements often are in the form of a promise to buy X units at Y prices over 24 months or whatever, so may limit steep hikes.

From an economic actor standpoint, if I expect price hikes to be temporary, I'm gonna postpone my transaction. If I expect a slow but steady rise in prices, I'm gonna move it forward.

Can anyone recommend a left-wing analysis of how economic Marxism* seemingly got supplanted by "woke" or "bioleninist" Marxism in the U.S.? I'm interested in learning (1) what caused the shift, (2) a history of the shift itself, and (3) how economic Marxists view this change (i.e. how would they describe the phenomenon in Marxist language).

  • There's probably a better term for this, but I don't know it. I'm referring to labor union/working class Marxism that seemed to dominate for most of the 20th century.

Late, and there are some pretty good answers/theories from other commentors, but I will give my own highly abridged explanation. I have some more lengthly explanations I posted on Reddit that hopefully I can dig up later.

  • The failure and the atrocities that arose and were revealed to the West in the latter half of the 20th century. Especially the Cultural Revolution in China, Khrushchev's Secret Speech and other USSR atrocities. This dampened a lot of support for orthodox Marxism and its derivatives.

  • Liberal/social democracies actually did a pretty good job of give their workers a decent quality of life, especially when compared to USSR (i.e. Marx was wrong). Which made economic/orthodox Marxism and revolution unattractive to the working class.Marcuse in particular complained about this constainly as a barrier to revolution (and influenced the pivot from the workers to the students, academia and the disaffected social groups as the new vanguard of the revolution.

  • Frankfurt School and neo-Marxists, including figures like Marcuse (who was an academic rockstar), Horkheimer etc grew incredibly popular in academia as an alternative to orthodox Marxism (the foundation of the New Left).

  • Social liberalism is far easier to subvert with "social Marxism" than economic liberalism is to subvert with economic Marxism. Aided by the postmodern revolution in academia and the obssession with manipulating language.

I can only talk about Europe, but this may explain some of what was also seen in the US.

The collapse of the USSR was a major thing for many of the extreme left, even if they were not tankies. There was no anti-capitalist superpower that would indicate “to see that it is possible, even if we disagree with the Soviets, it is not the US.” But when the USSR collapsed and Anglo-Saxon liberal capitalism seemed victorious forever - it was the age when it was possible to write books titled "The End of History" not ironically - the extreme left had a little crisis.

Tankies, of course, had the worst problem, because their ideological northern star, which financed not a few groups, just imploded. They scattered themselves into the wind and washed out in all sorts of strange places. But even non-tankies had to reassess and find out if their ideologies were blindfolds in the post-historical era, and if they hadn’t better switch away from the prole revolution for something they could really work on. (Whether it was a tactical regression with the intention of continuing to start a revolution in a more appropriate time, or a wholesale change of ambition and reconciliation with broad capitalism, varied.) In addition, when literally Moscow-guided and funded parties disappeared, the Overton window shrank and suddenly being a Social Democrat with some strange ideas about gender would be enough to put you in the vanguard and get a radical chic.

Some of this was the reinforcement and continuation of existing trends. Eurocommunism and the Third Way began in the 1970s, which moved the left wing from the Soviets and orthodox Marxism. The New Left basically dates back to the 1960s. But I am quite convinced that the collapse of the USSR opened ideological-ecological niches on the extreme left, which were quickly filled with identity politics. No collapse of the USSR and identity politics probably still plays the second violin for the old class struggle analysis.

(I am not sure why there was not much to be attached to Maoism and the PRC. Higher cultural barriers? The CCP has always been less interested in exporting the revolution than the Bolsheviks, and China had a much smaller presence on the world stage before Xi took the helm. Or perhaps it was expected that the PRC would either fall similarly - on 4 June 1989, it was also just a few years before the 1990s - or it would open up and reform when it joined the WTO.)

That all makes a lot of sense, especially the point about the shrinking of the Overton window.

I'm obviously not read up on the theory, but my vague impression of Maoism from reading Chinese history and spending sometime over there as a student is that Chinese Communism and Maoism were never really intended to be universal ideologies, hence the "with Chinese characteristics" qualifier. It always seemed to me that Maoism was merely a tool to seize and maintain power rather than an evangelical quasi-religion like Marxism-Leninism. This would neatly explain all the weird contradictions in Chinese Communist thought and why each leader is easily able graft on their own "thought" to that ideological chimaera.

I think "seemingly" may be doing a lot of work there. While certainly not universal, a lot of the people (most?) I've encountered on- or off-line who are outspoken about their left-leaning beliefs are pretty strongly anti-capitalism and talk about economic issues a lot. That is, looking for why there are fewer economic Marxists might be the wrong question; you should be asking why you don't hear about them and their beliefs. The generally proposed answer is that the Culture War is an intentionally imposed distraction from real economic issues, but that doesn't really answer the question (imposed by whom and by what mechanism, for instance).

Thanks, this is something I hadn't considered.

The generally proposed answer is that the Culture War is an intentionally imposed distraction from real economic issues, but that doesn't really answer the question (imposed by whom and by what mechanism, for instance).

What's your opinion on this? It gives me flashbacks to discussing politics in college where it was always "They" and "The Capitalist" and "The System" and "They" who were implied to be conspiring to prevent regular Joes from developing class consciousness, but I never got any clear explanation when I pressed for more detail. I freely admit that this is probably an uncharitable take though. Is there a steelman for such a conspiracy/prospiracy?

I think the usual claim is that all media companies are owned by rich people with a vested interest in exercising their editorial control to limit talk of class consciousnesses.

The coverage of Occupy Wall Street was probably the place I can recall where this was most blatant, where working class solidarity got to be big enough a news item that the news media couldn't completely ignore it, but instead did everything they could to downplay it and not talk about the goals of the protests. Even so, the protest managed to have one meme that was too good/pithy for the media to completely suppress, the idea of the "1%" vs. the "99%", which is a pretty concise message of working class solidarity, although Sanders's focus "billionaires" may be a clearer version of that message.

The Toxoplasma of Rage should probably also be considered: that is, you don't need a secret cabal pushing Culture War items, modern (social) media structurally encourages Culture War content because it maximizes engagement=ad money.

The transition to a service economy.

Less factory work, and more of it offshore and insulated. Increased credentialism and changing costs to education. The trailing effects of three decades of suburbanization hollowing out cities. Union socialism was on the wane even before Thatcher. Combine this with the economic and strategic prosperity of 90s America and socialism looks pretty unappealing.

I really don’t think social justice has much ideological continuity with Marxism. There was very neoliberal lull in the 90s and 00s until the crash made “eating the rich” cool again. Identity politics didn’t get nearly as much traction from that. I know some commenters are going to point to Cultural Marxism and the obvious alliance of woke and socialist activists. But I’m convinced that this is convergent evolution. Both economic and cultural Marxism want to be framed as counter-establishment. Sticking it to the Man, as it were. (See also certain elements on the far right—the kind of things that people cite as horseshoe theory.) That leads to common cause where SJWs try to make themselves palatable to tankies, and vice versa.

No idea what the credentialed Marxists would say about this.

It’s likely the CIA is involved in some way. Consider that they boosted up abstract expressionism, which (inadvertently?) reduced the power of regionalism. They then boosted atonal composers and 20th century classical music forms over Bach/Mozart etc through the Congress of Cultural Freedom. In 1953, the CIA founded Encounter Magazine which was an anti-Stalinist Left publication (thanks Bill Kristol’s Dad!). We like to think the intelligence agencies have gotten less powerful over these decades, but this is certainly false — we have gotten easier to control, the surveillance and technological state makes it easier to influence people. They are spying on us through all of our phones and computers. Whoever got the DSA to go full-send on the feminized IdPol stuff probably got a raise.


You think the CIA managed to install idpol…why, exactly? Cui bono? I guess dismantling Marxism fits with their goal, but goodness, they took their sweet time.

The best evidence you’ve got is copying from the wiki article on abstract expressionism, specifically the Cold War section. It cites a single book (dead link) and a quote from a former CIA spook, who I’m sure has no incentive whatsoever to inflate its impact. I notice you stop right before the paragraph where it argues against this theory.

What’s the best example of domestic CIA interference after the Iron Curtain fell, and how does it compare to redirecting half the Democratic Party?

Sadly the CIA does not publish what they do, so our best guess is to extrapolate from past actions. The CIA doesn’t even tell congressional oversight members what they do, despite that being illegal. Multiple CIA directors have simply lied to their congressional overseers. The intelligence services are so omnipotent that they have a backdoor in all of our devices and we only learned about this from whistleblowers. This should clue us in to their power and range of activity. It would be foolish to think that, despite knowing their breadth of activity from the 50s to the 80s, and despite knowing they have grown in power and funding since then, that we ought to conclude they are not involved in social movements simply because we lack evidence. Because no, we will never have evidence. Journalists who seek to obtain such evidence are spied on.

So first, the CIA boost of modern art is widely agreed upon. Plug those terms into google scholar and you should be able to find that. You can read articles written by MOMA and Guggenheim talking about this.

But cui bono? I think two things. It completely neuters the left from doing anything but lobbying for diversity. The left can’t even accomplish unionizing anymore. Literally 100 million hours of leftist cognitive labor have been spent on questions related to gender and sex. Second, the diversity acts as a justification for America to become de facto world power. There were intelligence briefings leaked about this:

The second reason is important, because the CIA needs to motivate its own recruits to fulfill its mission. Intelligence agency recruits come from Ivys and many of them truly believe in IdPol, so casting America as the globohomo superpower is necessary to capture and retain intelligent employees.

Consider that our involvement in Syria was hardly as criticized as in Afghanistan, because by then “Assad” began coding anti-IdPol. Finally, our involvement in Ukraine is beloved by the Left, because Russia firmly codes anti-IdPol. Russia is anti-gay, anti-democracy, etc.

The most interesting explanation along those lines is that it dates from the PMC increasing investment in the stock market. Mutual funds, 401ks, etc. All of that really started getting emphasized in the 90s. This investment aligned the PMC with capital, rather than labour. So the political beliefs shifted to something which capital could support, could pretend to be the good guys. Also labour could be weakened and outsourced, and this would be morally okay because of the their newly questionable beliefs.

401ks are a massively underappreciated piece of social engineering. They were a genius move on the part of capital to defend their interests.

I don't know that he's ever done an analysis of this, but your question makes me think of Brian Leiter. As of right now, the top headline on his blog is "Class, not diversity." He's an interesting case of an unapologetically hard radical (really, he's a genuine communist I think) who is deeply anti-woke, who regards postmodernism and all its children as horribly distracting from the Marxist project. It's one of those rare cases where a genuine scholar appears to have actually noticed the modernism of Marxism and the postmodernism of wokism are not compatible, and then actually disavowed the postmodernist stuff.

Unfortunately that only really answers (3), but you might be able to dredge up more on (1) and (2) by trawling his site a bit.

Thanks, this looks really interesting.

There's probably a better term for this, but I don't know it. I'm referring to labor union/working class Marxism that seemed to dominate for most of the 20th century.

This probably answers it: the decline of unions are probably largely to blame

Im not gay but I also have a question for gay posters here. Something I thought was jarring was that Bill loses his gay virginity to Frank within maybe three hours of pulling him out of a homemade booby trap at gunpoint. Nobody else seems to think this is weird. One thing I’ve considered is that maybe this is considered normal because they’re gay. I’m trying to imagine the scenario playing out with a straight hetero couple and it still feels weird to me. Or maybe it’s not weird under any gender combination and I’m just now realizing I’m a prude?

It seems like ‘man rescues girl/woman, they have sex not long thereafter’ is a… not uncommon plot device.

I’m trying to imagine the scenario playing out with a straight hetero couple and it still feels weird to me.

How long does it take for Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese?

I’m trying to imagine the scenario playing out with a straight hetero couple and it still feels weird to me.

Ever seen Fury? There's an example adjacent to this about a third of the way through.

The end of the world (and warzones kind of qualify, if reporters and poets after the fact are to be believed) kind of encourages some short-term thinking. You'd probably have to handwave it away with "also there's a sterility plague" though.

Not gay but I loved the episode.

Regardless of Bill being gay, this might be the most positive depiction of a conservative in the past few years of TV. Bill is a conservative prepper who distrusts the government and calls them “NWO fucks”. He loves his guns and practices self-sufficiency. He will code conservative in the mind of the viewer. And yet, he is shown as possessing great strengths and real moral value. He’s depicted as cultured, caring and intelligent. Maybe such a positive portrayal could only be accomplished by making the character also gay, but in any case I’m happy that such a powerful character was unabashedly conservative.

It’s interesting to compare Bill to another Nick Offerman character, Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. Ron similarly codes conservative and is a much beloved character, but he’s unambiguously straight. I’ve seen posts describing both characters as models of healthy masculinity from, I assume, liberal redditors.

That was the best part imho. They spent a lot of time setting viewer expectations and then actually subverting them, but without devaluing the character, and indeed they fully confirm that yeah, he's a hardcore gun nut paranoid prepper type but, well, he likes dudes.

The quick shot of the Gadsden Flag had me a little anxious because that one has been coded hard as a 'right wing extremist' dog whistle by many recent media properties.

But to have someone come into his life that gives him something to protect and how his instincts are pretty much proven to be correct made it way more interesting. The scene where he's sitting at the table across from Joel with one hand on his gun was pitch perfect. Protecting what he built and what he loved was foremost on his mind at all times.

Indeed, the guy literally got to live out the entire prepper fantasy of holding out against the apocalypse through thorough preparation and know-how, riding out the worst of it with a person you love at your side, enjoying a quiet, self-sufficient life for a while, then going out on your own terms.

The fact that the loved one is a guy instead of a woman changes very little about it, other than removing the possibility of kids from the picture.

Clinical or no? I've heard not-terrible things about Watson LIMS (Thermo) in a clinical setting.

No idea althouth I'm curious what's you're studying?

Sorry english is not my native language so it can rarely albeit sometimes be ambiguous to me, by "I support"

do you mean that's your job? Or do you mean that you are a philanthropist that sponsor original research in pharmacology?

I have an extreme interest in maximizing lifespan/healthspan, you should look for example into mitochondria targeted antioxidants.

What's up with the apparent Israeli attack on Iranian military facilities? Surely that's an act of war? Any chance of retaliation/escalation?

I've been meaning to write at greater length on the concept of rejection of process and how it has affected the traditions around declaring and waging war. But the short version is that for a variety of reasons, the concept of "act of war" is basically meaningless in today's world.

If it's perceived as being in your country's overall advantage to go to war, or maybe just to the advantage of a particular leadership clique, then you will wage war. Something will be perceived as an act of war, or false-flagged, or they'll just do it anyways and count on nobody really noticing or caring. If it's not, then all sorts of things that could be considered acts of war may be ignored, or responded to in kind only rather than escalated. I don't think either Israel or Iran have any interest in or real ability to wage proper war against each other, so it won't happen.

Surely that's an act of war

More than what has been done by both sides already? For all intents and purposes they are at a low intensity war.

Surely that's an act of war?


Any chance of retaliation/escalation?

Basically zero. Iran has more to lose than to gain from it.

It was an act of retaliation for a terror attack by an Iran backed militia, wasn’t it?

Can't say I read up on the details. I saw something about a drone factory getting bombed, so it looked more like a move in the war in Ukraine, than anything to do with Iran in itself.

So, how do you refresh your memory of the books you've read? Do you have a set process or use a third party app?

It depends.

For fiction, I mostly don't. I mostly focus on the language, the plot, the characters, etc. If there's a particularly good line or segment, I'll copy it to my quote file in Obsidian.

For non-fiction, I collect fragments into Obsidian. For paper books, I use google lens for OCR and copy/paste into a dedicated Obsidian file. For ebooks, I highlight stuff in moonreader, then export it all when I'm done. I do a little bit of clean up using sed, then put everything into Obsidian.

Occasionally, I review my notes, bolding or highlighting+bolding fragments that seem the most valuable. (This is lightweight BASB). If something is sound tactical advice, I'll write down a little checklist at the top of the file. If a group of ideas seems extremely valuable, I'll write a short summary so that I can refresh my memory quickly whenever, even when I'm using my phone.

If I want something to become muscle memory, like vim commands, I make a few cards for anki. I started this just recently.

I've been doing the notetaking for about a year. It's proven very lightweight--I've probably spent maybe 2 hours total on cleaning/organizing/tagging--and it's proven useful for both writing as well as refreshing my memory about specific bits and pieces.

I reference it in discussions or share the best excerpts with people to spark a discussion (mostly here, /r/slowhistory and /r/Irishhistory) I've burned some excerpts into my head this way because they always seem to be relevant.

If I don't know a book well yet often I'll read something online and it'll trigger an urge to scrounge through my bookshelf to find the particular book and particular page that I have a feeling says the thing I vaguely remember. Usually these are physical books but I ctrl-f'd my way through a few Hayek books once because I was certain that he had used the term 'Anglo-Saxon countries' (iirc the argument concerned the 'Anglo-Saxon traditions' in some Republican manifesto being a novel term that some thought was a dogwhistle).

Ideally I'd write proper reviews of each book and discuss them online, but I haven't developed the ability to regularly produce those yet.

I like to use post it flags that stick out the edges. I then highlight the section. I have a system of color coding that I've developed that I really enjoy.

It's also quite interesting to see how the good books end up full of flags sticking out the side.

For non-fiction, I just take notes and save the key quotes in Obsidian. We forget things easily, so I think it pays off.

Oftentimes I just go on TVtropes, which has the most memorable bits catalogued quite comprehensively.

Not high-quality analysis, but reminds me enough to refresh things.

If its a NON-FICTION book, that's a harder ask. Occasionally there's good youtube videos available.

It's be really nice to have an online collaborative website where we can highlight sentences in books per thematic/criterion of highlight.

We have so much content in this world and the signal to noise ratio is so low, that's the usual ineptia I guess

I don't know if Kindle still does this, but it used to underline in dotted lines commonly highlighted lines in books.

Yeah it still does that.

For large classics I often read digitally, whether on Kindle or a specialized app (the Bible) that allow highlighting. So I read a section or the whole book, then go back through and read highlights I took throughout.

I don't. If it's not sufficiently interesting for me to remember, I don't see any reason to force it. If I ever need it again, I can just open the book again.

I make notes and quote selected portions I want to remember. In my experience writing about what you've read is a pretty good method of forcing retention, and if you forget anyway you can just return to your notes.

I don't usually bother to be honest, I just rely on half-remembering then googling the details if I need them. But I hear great things about Anki if you actually want to memorize more stuff.

So, what are you reading?

I'm still on Watts' The Way of Zen. So far his discussion of relativity has been clarifying.

Reading more about the 1916 Rising (got distracted from reading The Seven and I've just picked it back up). Seems relevant to discussions on LARPing and aiming for real change, what if you self-consciously LARP so hard it works?

Hobson had 'hot arguments' about [the planned insurrection] with Pearse, arguing that guerilla tactics had a better chance of success than gambling everything on one throw, but Pearse said what mattered was to have a sacrifice, and it had to be a sacrifice of high theatrical impact. As Conor Cruise O'Brien put it, 'What he was aiming at essentially was the staging in Dublin of a national Passion Play, but incorporating a real life-and-death blood sacrifice'.

Pearse is one of the best Irish nationalist writers, but he is also absolutely crazy. As Yeats said to Ezra Pound, "Pearse was half-cracked and wanting to be hanged. He has Emmet delusions same as other lunatics think they are Napoleon or God."

Becoming Trader Joe - after learning it existed in this viral tweet

This probably seems weird to Americans, but up in Canada, we have a certain reverance for those uniquely American food chains. We have burger joints, but they're no In-N-Out. Donut shops, but they're no Krispy Kreme. Grocery stores, but no Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's occupies a special place in this pantheon because its products can be brought back. "Oh my god, Sasha went down to Seattle on the weekend and brought back cookie butter from Trader Joes! Cookie Butter! eeeee!". For a while, we even had a guy running a grey market Pirate Joe's.

Oh it's the guys before Aldi, now that does sound interesting.

Which is funny, because Trader Joe's is just the American emanation of German grocery company Aldi Nord.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri. It's well-written, but making me depressed.

I’m ready Neal Asher’s Polity series from a rec on here. It’s alright, enough to keep me reading, but not as good as other AI driven sci fi I’ve read like The Culture or The Commonwealth Saga.

I'm currently reading Jonathan Losos' Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution. It's a book that I've been aware of for a bit but only got around to now; it explores the convergence vs. contingency debate in evolutionary biology and attempts to tackle questions like "how deterministic is evolution?".

Losos in the book focuses quite heavily on the perspectives of two scholars, one who exemplifies the "convergence" perspective and the other espousing "contingence": the former being Simon Conway Morris, and the latter being the late Stephen Jay Gould. I have a decent working knowledge of both of their positions, and I have very little regard for either of them. Conway Morris is a devout Christian who seems to be using evolutionary convergence to import his own personal brand of theism back into science, whereas Gould was an incredibly politically motivated scientist who let his profoundly leftist ideological bias inform not only his evolutionary theory but also his criticism of cognitive measures like IQ and g, and whose reputation was nothing short of mud in his own field.

The book is pretty even-handed, though. Losos starts out by detailing pretty standard examples of evolutionary convergence (e.g. the placental mole vs the Australian marsupial mole), and evolutionary idiosyncrasy (e.g. the entirety of New Zealand, which provides a pretty interesting alternative vision of a bird-dominated biosphere with adaptions radically different from their mammalian counterparts despite filling similar niches). He then delves into the field of experimental evolution to further answer this question. One of the experiments he covers are the famous ones on guppies, where guppies were moved from high-predation to low-predation environments. In the low-predation areas, male guppies in a period of only a few years became colourful due to the lack of predation pressure allowing sexual selection to run amok. This would seem to provide strong evidence in favour of convergence, but the form the colourfulness took was not predictable: some populations became more vibrant by increasing the amount of all colours, whereas others became more iridescent. Whether this data point skews in favour of Conway Morris or Gould is left up to the reader.

I'd say it's pretty entertaining - I was already previously quite acquainted with the subject material and the way it's written is fairly easy to parse so it's not a particularly strenuous read.

I finished Homicide by David Simon, am breezing through On Writing by Stephen King, and plan to start The Corner next. Really obsessed with Baltimore crime statistics at the moment. Not sure why.

Funny, I'm just starting Homicide myself.

Let me know how you like it. I thought it was a terrific piece of writing.

You wanting to write a book?

Just today finished Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson. Unfortunately it was probably my least favorite work of his so far. I could tell right from the get-go that it would be extremely gentle towards the main character, a wheelchair-bound woman named Rysn. She was a fine character but it was fairly clear from the start that she would never fail or struggle much, a suspicion which unfortunately proved correct. The closest thing to character growth in the book was one character realizing that their (very, very mild) teasing occasionally hurt others' feelings. With emotional stakes so shallow, no wonder I didn't get invested.

I don't regret reading it though; I found it only a bit worse than the litRPG trash I usually occupy myself with.

Gave the longer book I was reading on the philosophy of personal identity (Daniel Kolak's I Am You) a break to read David Pearce's The Hedonistic Imperative. 1995 Manifesto on how and why we should use bioengineering to totally eliminate suffering. Not just specific kinds of emotional suffering in the Buddhist sense, but literally all negative-valence qualia. He does a good job anticipating and responding to most objections too. Was a huge influence on Nick Bostrom and it's publicly available online if anyone is interested:

Is this like most interesting topics on earth, something where humanity has pathologically, systematically stopped the depth of the discourse at the introductory level, or has this author or any human on earth cared enough to specify a semblance of a roadmap towards the stated hedonistic goal via bioengineering?

Where can I find a e.g. an exhaustive list of pharmacological pathways that promote positive valence qualias and of pharmacological pathways that downregulate or dampen negative-valence qualias?

Thanks, that's fascinating. I'll check it out

Lmk what you think

The Future of Conflict in the 1980s, from 1982. A collection of essays from a think tank/working group. I saw it in a bookstore and thought it would either be hilarious or informative.

So far, it’s been about as dry as might be expected. But wow, the 70s were a rough time for America.

The Weirdest People in the World about the effects of the hajnal line on European culture.

Could you share a gist of what it says?

I've read the intro of the wiki page on the hajnal line and it just seems from a quick glance to be a refuted ? theory on a fertility divide.

It is well known that fertility is inverselly correlated with wealth so that divide might have been partially true.

I’m only about 2/3 of the way through, and this is my first time reading a treatment of the hajnal line which doesn’t focus on HBD. But the thesis is that the marriage laws of the medieval Catholic Church led to individualism, capitalism, urbanism, widespread literacy, democracy, and innovation in Western Europe and not other parts of the world specifically because of their effects on family formation(that is, marriage of unrelated adults by free consent), and most of the book is taken up by comparisons to other parts of the world with bits and pieces of the same process going on. I will likely write a fuller review when I finish it, but for now it makes a strong case for the cultural effects of the hajnal line, hampered by a few historical view errors and the book’s unwillingness to think about HBD.

What does he say about the seeming counter-example of Ireland, which was both extremely Catholic and outside the Hajnal line?

He points to Ireland as a strange place that was halfway in the hajnal line but subjected to the same pressures much faster than say, the Ile de Paris.

Sorry what does HBD mean?

Human BioDiversity- group differences are at least partially influenced by genetic differentiation.


Not-so-small scale question but this is probably the only place I can get an informed answer on this not constrained by political correctness: what’s your overarching theory of why Western Europe and its descendants are the world’s most influential civilization of the past few centuries?

A small scale answer to a large scale question: being really really good at boats.

My working theory is basically a mirrior of my theory of how Christainity managed to spread so widely. As several users here are fond of pointing out Christianity (and to a lesser extent the other Abrahamic religions) are stupid, irrational, seem to actively harm it's adherents evolutionary prospects, and poorly optimized for memetic spread. By all rights and contemporary social theories Christianity it should never have outlived it's founder, never mind conquer Europe.

The answer I think is in what Christianity as an ideology/memeplex was "optimized for" and that was for fostering cooperation and trust in dangerous low-trust environments. As a result Christian communities held together where others succumbed to crab-bucketing and chronic-backstabbing-disorder, Christian armies stood their ground where others fled. And this tendency can be expanded to the wider "Western World" as until relatively recently "the western world" and the "Christian world" were practically synonymous.

That is a very interesting question, although there is a converse question that might be insightful too, why hasn't China (or civilization X) reached the industrial revolution and/or the scientific/analytical/empirical culture?

I don't remember exactly the name but China had its glory scientific/economic period in a way, I don't remember the name nor the specific reasons exactly but it seems there has been a cultural shift, china entered in an era of opulance (richest country in the middle age) but of stagnation and of obscurantism, it saws a significant scientific decline because of allegedly a change of epistemological culture, IIRC induced in parts by confucianism.

Of course even in that era of decline there was some outliers but this hypothetical epistemological hibernative state china had entered was long lasting and it is an unknown how many centuries/millenias would have been needed for China to reverse from this shift, had they not met the west.

About India I know much less, India had one of the first if not the first civilization on earth, the indus valley,

possibly the first well thought city architecture, and one of the first proto-written language (but maybe not an actual language),

that civilization mysteriously disappeared.

Then much later, they were populated by a mysterious central asian "empire" that has from ethnic origin "europe" and spoke a lost indo-european language, therefore that would make Indians much more ethnically or culturally european than the Chinese but no idea how much it diluted or lasted.

Another interesting question is, would have europe developed the industrial revolution without the technological transfer it received from China and the middle-east?

e.g. has Guttemberg been influenced by Chinese press/paper technologies?

has the import of explosive powder influenced research and conceptions about the sources of energies?


IIRC the excellent book The Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth’s Magnetism shows that China influenced or brought the compass to Europe, which is key for navigation.

I believe those imports of non-western technologies have had a major impact and probably, a necessary impact.

why Western Europe and its descendants are the world’s most influential civilization of the past few centuries?

one could speculate on IQ/racial theories but I doubt that is necessary, it might have given an edge to europeans but even so it's not studied enough today, e.g. chinese people have generally high IQ so we would need another more selective metric of cognitive abilities to diffferentiate an ability to innovate.

Genes that drive a tendency towars anti-conformism, a rejection of authority, and a megalomanism seems key to scientific disruptors.

Let's not forget that access to food also is a big factor.

But the main drive was not racially based but cultural and institutional/organizational.

The rise of early proto-capitalism/access to private funding for research has been a key driver.

IMHO it was not a given that the european would be the firsts since it seems catholicism was actively and potently obscurantist.

another question is about the blockers of past civilizations, for example it is notorious that a Roman centurion implied that Rome was not actively funding the building of engineering machines because he was afraid it would drive a tremendous rise in unemployement..

Of course one should not forget about the economic and energetic multiplier that are slaves.

The Industrial Revolution happened in Britain specifically, and not other parts of Europe, because the precursor technologies were in place to deploy a steam engine at the same time as a real demand for the steam engine(draining coal mines) while a high cost of labor and lack of slavery made conventional means of doing so expensive enough for real demand for a replacement.

The alternate universe where China developed the Industrial Revolution before Britain is one where the cost of labor skyrockets and stays high, while the Chinese invest in researching technologies that precede the steam engine(mostly making better cannon), while switching en masse to the use of coal for fuel.

In history most academics still see be defining work on this as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.

Guns, Germs and Steel is actually pretty poorly regarded in academia, although it has had a significant influence on popular understanding.

From what I recall of my undergrad days, two main books on the topic were 'The Great Divergence' by Kenneth Pomeranz and 'The European Miracle' by E L James.

Isn't "Guns, Germs and Steel" actually incredibly controversial?

I've never quite agreed with the critiques, and I believe Jared Diamond's book is broadly plausible, but I recall a number of anthropologists and historians criticizing it for going beyond what it could responsibly claim.

I don't remember whose theory it was but someone proposed that the combination of the black death and the discovery of the new world (and the existence of the necessary technological preconditions) caused the industrial revolution.

The black death caused a excess of capital in comparison to the population size in Europe and the new world sustained it by allowing excess population to migrate if conditions weren't favourable enough in Europe. This was particularly true for England.

This caused economic consolidation and a strong desire for investments that didn't hinge on human capital. This in turn led to everything else, from technological inventions to things like fractional reserve banking.

Plate armour and ocean-going ships. Of course, this raises the question why they were developed in Europe and not elsewhere.

IIRC Chinese ships were capable of long range exploration? They would more have been bottlenecked by a lack of investment and especially by a non-colonialist/deshumanizing culture

e.g. Chinese went to sommalia a century before the europeans

The question is, could they have done it much earlier? When exactly did they developed such ships technology?

But there are much more potent historic anachonisms, such as the Indo-greek kingdom

or the fact greeks went in the Xinjiang, China

What is less known is if those anachronic explorers managed to do knowledge/technology/culture/artefact transfers.

The radhanites seems remarkably interesting

The pop-sci explanation is that the Chinese had everything they wanted, while the Europeans lost access to the Asian spice market after the Ottomans took over the Near East. It made sense to send out armoured men on ocean-going ships in all directions to find and/or seize another trade route. And it turned out a few ships of angry European dudes could [roflstomp]( most resistance.

I never thought about it but the disappearance of past african/asian trade routes with europe and therefore of key assets such as spices would have stimulated europe to rebuild those routes by itself.

The european exploration is often seen as an era of discoveries (new foods and kinds of tools/arts) but in a big part it was in fact a restauration of a previous state of wealth and cultural imports.

As shown the radhanite were the leading group maintaining the previous roman merchant routes from the year 700 to the year 900.

About their disappearance

The causes may have been the fall of Tang China in 908, followed by the collapse of the Khazarian state at the hands of the Rus' some sixty years later (circa 968–969). Trade routes became unstable and unsafe, a situation exacerbated by the rise of expansionist Turco-Persianate states, and the Silk Road largely collapsed for centuries

They were replaced by the Italian city states but the issue with your theory is that it has a gap of 500-600 years, although I have not studied exactly when was the silk road restored, especially for spices.

It seems it was still partly working for some assets such as slaves.

Had the europeans an active desire to restaure the silk road as early as the 900s but couldn't before the 1400-1500s because of technological limitations? (ships technologies?)

edit marco polo is in 1270 but still a 400 years gap

The Mongol expansion throughout the Asian continent from around 1207 to 1360 helped bring political stability and re-established the Silk Road

300 years and not restored by europeans

I am talking about the next disruption: the Ottomans emerged as the biggest power in the Eastern Med that blocked Genoa and Venice from trading along the Silk Road, driving the prices up. Previous disruptions of the Silk Road happened before Europe had the technology to literally go around the problem.

The obvious answer is the industrial revolution.

The more nuanced answer is all the things that led to the Industrial revolution occurring in England and not anywhere else.

It was always going to be between 3 great civilizations. Europe (the west), China & India.

The key years were 1400-1600. Everything after was unsurprising.

Key events:

  • Competitors fall behind due to Mongol/Islamic invaders, but the west doesn't

    • The fall of the last wealthy Hindu empire - Vijayanagara to Mongols (Mughals)

    • The fall of the last wealthy Han empire - Ming dynasty to Mongols (Manchus)

    • Post-crusade stability allowed the space needed for the Renaissance to happen

  • Sea based superiority

    • India and China move to inland capitals (Delhi, Beijing) cutting their focus from the sea

    • Western Europe has access to an ocean that the rest of Europe didn't have

  • First contact

    • First ships from Europe land in India + China. Most importantly, in fringes of the current empire

    • Columbus lands in America

  • Establishment of extractive colonies & economic slack

    • America, Coastal India, Coastal China, Philippines are colonized

    • Britain has the money to think & build

The industrial revolution was by no means guaranteed. But, it is not surprising that it occurred in England. Best colonies, best access to the ocean, best protection from war.

It is possible for the industrial revolution to have never happened. In the case, I can see the ebb & flow of power between the various great civilizations switching hands again. But, the industrial revolution allowed England, and subsequently the west, to overshadow everyone else overnight.

Case to be made that needing coal for fuel and having flood-prone coal mines was why Newcomen developed the steam engine and later why Watt improved it-

I'll place a chip on the invention of fractional reserve banking. Every advantage of the west is due mostly to its superior wealth, and the growth of wealth is impossible without an expanding money supply enabled by fractional reserve banks. This growth in wealth enables everything else from scientific research to military conquest, and the forward-looking nature of financial contracts causes the society to adopt a favorable disposition to planning, stability, and economic investment.

For reference:

I think a couple different things factor into it. The most important aspect is that European languages use an alphabet with discrete letters, which is relatively uncommon compared to languages like Chinese that use glyphs, or Arabic that uses cursive. This means that Europeans have the easiest time using printing presses, which are required for speedy scientific advancement. Human scientific knowledge exploded shortly after the invention of the printing press. In 1450, things weren't vastly more impressive than a lot of things you'd find in like 50 BCE. There were definitely some new inventions, and gun powder weapons changed up warfare a lot, but really things weren't too different considering 1500 years had passed. Then over the next couple hundred years, before you even get to the industrial revolution, you had people like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. Hell this [](list of greatest ever scientists) I looked up to give myself a few more examples has ends "ancient times" at the 1500s; something clearly happened to speed up science and I think it's obviously the printing press. And that scientific advantage let them achieve the industrial revolution and dominate everywhere in the 1800s.

Secondly, for why the West in particular is most influential than say Russia, I think it is just that the West, being the in the west, was able to colonize the Americas more easily. Obviously the Americas will be strongly influenced by the countries that colonized them. Then doubling up on that, Eastern Europe and then China basically crippled itself when it "chose" communism in the 20th century, communism with the benefit of hindsight being just an objectively worse system than capitalism.

HBD stuff may play into it too, but honestly I think some aliens could've dropped into aboriginal Australia in the 1200s and gene edited every human to have 20 extra IQ points and things wouldn't be too vastly different today in terms of geopolitics if they weren't able to have a discrete alphabet and printing press.

I'll answer this by comparing the West to each of the potential alternatives.

The Middle East: I would say the difference here stems from family structure. The Catholic church banned cousin marriage early on and this had the tendency to reduce clannishness and create a high-trust society in which cooperation on a national scale was possible. In the Muslim world on the other hand, the Arab practice of cousin marriage, which developed as a way to keep valuable herd animals within the clan under resource-poor conditions, spread across the Islamic caliphate and had the opposite effect, likely both reducing IQ due to accumulation of deleterious mutations as well as enforcing or creating tribal structures that inhibited large-scale cooperation and altruistic behavior. The Islamic Golden Age was really more of a flowering of Persian culture under the relative peace of the early Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates rather than a peculiarly Muslim phenomenon, and even they seem to have been dragged down afterwards by the burdens of repeated nomadic invasions and the impact of tribalist politics.

China: The standard answer is Jared Diamond's geographic hypothesis, where the lack of physical barriers in eastern China as compared to Europe promoted political unification, reducing interstate competition and removing incentives for the development of (mostly military) technology to get the edge on rival nations. I don't really buy into the more determinist version of this argument, but the consequences of political unity vs division, whatever their provenance, on technological development seem quite clear. During the Opium Wars Qing Dynasty soldiers were digging up centuries old cannons to use against the British because they were more advanced than anything they had produced recently. Some argue that the Chinese writing system being too difficult to learn is also a contributory factor, as mass literacy is quite important in industrial development, but the success of Japan would seem to contradict that.

India: Here, the caste system concentrated literacy and intelligence among a very small fraction of the population and had more or less the same effect as Arab tribalism in the Middle East. While the Brahmin class is clearly quite intelligent and has produced some of humanity's greatest literary works, as well as thriving on an individual basis in modern developed nations, the segregation and lack of inter-caste cooperation within India itself has created a low-trust society and retarded its development in recent times relative to China.

Eastern Orthodox Europe: Geography may be a factor here as well. Russia was devastated by the Mongol invasions and subsequent centuries long occupation, and since then has tended to centralization, forever paranoid of its flat open borders without any natural barriers. Like in China, the stability of a large autocratic state tends to discourage experimentation and technological advancement. I'll also note that civilization and settled societies came to this area relatively late compared to the lands to its west and south.

Native American Civilizations: These simply did not have enough time to develop, the region having been settled later, and the societies in Mesoamerica and the Andes were just reaching the cultural level of the early Bronze Age on the eve of colonization. There was also minimal communication between the two major civilizations, as large stretches of ocean and tropical jungles lay between them, so each had to evolve in almost complete isolation.

Everywhere Else: I'll go with the cold winters hypothesis here. The descendants of people who migrated north during the ice ages (i.e. Europeans, Middle Easterners (and by extension the Indo-Aryans of South Asia), East Asians, and Native Americans) were under substantial selective pressure for intelligence, long-term planning, and resourcefulness to survive the harsh conditions.

Re the Muslim world, the refusal to adopt the printing press for centuries certainly must have been a factor.

some argue the Chinese writing system being too difficult to learn... but the success of Japan would seem to contradict that.

Isn't Japanese writing quite a bit easier to learn than Chinese, although still more difficult than the Latin Alphabet?

I mean, to be literate in Japanese one must master two phonetic systems (Hiragana and Katakana) in addition to thousands of Kanji characters, with each of those Kanji having potentially multiple readings, not all of which are monosyllabic as they would be in Chinese. If Japan went through the same process as South Korea and phased out the use of characters for most written purposes that would simplify things, but that is definitely not the case at present and the average educated Japanese has memorized as about as many characters as his Chinese counterpart.

I have no proof for this, and believe that it is fundamentally un-provable, but I believe that for whatever reason, Western Europe has developed a culture that is the most highly optimized in existence for embracing and taking full advantage of a long series of compounding technological advancements. I don't have a full list of exactly what this entails, but I believe it includes:

  • Belief in individual liberty - others can do as they please as long as it doesn't harm you

  • Low role of honor/shame/guilt - if you screw up, you can fix it, try again, start over with something new, etc

  • Low dedication to any particular elite - anyone who comes up with a new idea good enough to put them on top can go ahead and take that slot

  • Openness to criticizing yourself and your culture and embracing new ways of doing things

Obviously not every single individual member of this overall culture believes all of these about everything all the time, but I think it's still essentially the dominant core values of the culture. Other cultures succeed or fail in the modern world to the extent that they embrace these values.

Many other cultures have attempted to catch up by embracing the current top level of technology, but if they don't adopt all of the values along with it, they will eventually fall behind when the next advancement comes along. I think of Japan and China, which have at various stages done a pretty good job of adopting the current top level of technological advancement, but seem to inevitably fall behind when the top level moves ahead. Russia could probably be described about the same.

How many of those traits were incorporated back in 1400?

The Spanish and Portuguese colonizations happened before the Enlightenment, before the Reformation. Catholicism was the only game in town. Monarchies were not particularly limited by a sense of forgiveness or openness-to-criticism. Neither were the Greek and Roman influences which shaped the Renaissance.

I don’t think you’re wrong that liberal, secular humanist cultures have an advantage…I just don’t think it’s been around long enough to explain European success.

I couldn't say about 1400 specifically. I'd say I basically think that many aspects of these traits were at least present in sort of a prototype form at least as far back as that. As in, not necessarily openly embraced by the notional leaders of nations, but often present in the mid to upper layers of the societal elite. Stuff like the Enlightenment and Reformation didn't magically appear out of nowhere. I'd note that Columbus was able to secure funding for his voyage despite being completely wrong in his calculations about the size of the Earth. Did anything like that happen in China? I expect they had the resources to do such things, but if they have, I've never heard of it.

Climate seems to have an impact. When you have long winters, you need to plan ahead and develope large ag or industrial capacity.

If you can just pick fruit off a tree all year. No need.

It’s pretty hard to find any warm

Climate country that produces cars. Though I imagine there’s local South American brands I don’t know if perhaps.

If you can just pick fruit off a tree all year. No need.

Is that the case, though? Any tree whose fruits can "just be picked" at any time would be stripped bare pretty quickly, and Malthus would rear his head soon. Hunter-gatherers and horticultors in tropical jungles have to work really hard for their food, water, and toolmaking resources. Even in the lushest jungle the vast majority of biomass is useless to humans. Besides, warm weather does not necessarily lead to lush jungles -- monsoon or savanna climates with long dry seasons often result, and harsh deserts as well. Is life significantly easier for the San or the Yanomamo than for the Inuit?

Mexico and the US south both have pretty large industrial capacities. India and Vietnam do too.

Where climate has a truly large impact seems to be on the development of long distance trade to obtain luxuries that cannot abide cold winters, like sugar or pepper.

But that wasn’t really true until 100+ years after industrialization. The Civil War would have looked pretty different if the South developed industry as fast as the North.

Still, I think any explanation has to start way before the 1800s, so maybe trade is the key.

I think any explanation has to start way before the 1800s

Why not the fact that slavery is a lot more economically feasible when your crops spoil very quickly when picked, have relatively constant harvest times, and don't lend themselves very well to even rudimentary mechanization (ox + plow + wheel and axle will not help you generate more tree fruits to anywhere near the same extent those things will help you get more grain per harvest)?

When labor is cheap, and you inherently need lots of it due to the properties of one's crops, how can you justify spending the money to mechanize for only marginal benefit? The only other real option is defense/arms races, and the American civilizations really had no concept of what kind of destruction the Sea Peoples were going to visit on them when they arrived. No need for selection pressure there, just sit back and relax, we're the only people in the world.

But spoilage was not a problem for the crops that slaves in the New World were imported to work on: cotton and tobacco in the US; sugar in Brazil and the Caribbean. And of course cotton did lend itself to mechanization, in the form of the cotton gin.