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Small-Scale Question Sunday for May 7, 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.

Why do many people find it more upsetting to see animals suffer than humans? I don't like seeing any living creature suffer, but my rankings, from worst to least bad, are human children, then animals, then human adults.

On a conscious level, I know that animals can't be entirely innocent, because they kill smaller creatures, but I think maybe they're just innocent enough that they remind me of children on a subconscious level. Or maybe they literally don't realize the meaning of their actions.

Is anyone familiar with the YouTuber Ryan Chapman? He has a number of videos on socialism, fascism, etc, but I'm not sure what his ideological bias is. (I assume he has one, as most people do.)

Someone recently pointed out that with the advent of tools like GitHub Copilot, we will reach a point where most of the code Copilot is trained on will have been generated by Copilot or other, similar tools.

What weird/negative effects do you predict this will have on tools like Copilot and ChatGPT? Will successive generations of AIs mindlessly amplify small quirks in the original human-generated data set? Or will AIs become good at detecting AI generated content and assign it a lower weight? Or will something else happen?

I'm not sure it matters because the Copilot code that has been committed has been filtered by a developer, so it's a bit like RLHF. The human is still in the loop, so the only qualities that get amplified are the ones the humans want.

How do you call (which words) situation where one asks search engine something (how to turn off feature X) and gets links to the opposite of what was asked (how to turn on feature X)

I was very surprised to discover Yudkowski's twitter rant about fat loss and "metabolic disprivilege". What real condition he might refer to?

Compare, e.g. very real and documented diseases

Some of which lead to accumulation of extra glycogen in muscles that cannot be used, muscles look larger but weaker than normal muscles. And it's pretty rare. If such condition existed for fat, it would be studied both in vivo and in vitro, right?

There are real metabolism related diseases that result in extra far storage that aren’t all that rare. The most obvious one is probably hypothyroidism. Of course the mechanism of action is still regulating energy expenditure and calorie input, but that doesn’t mean the diseases aren’t real. It also doesn’t mean they are anything like what Yudkowski imagines they are.

Is there a way you can change how we hide and unhide post replies? I found myself trying to collapse comments and, especially when I’m deep into the comment order (4th order and beyond), the comment collapse function is quite the challenge. I find myself closing comments that I didn’t want to close. Reddit seems to have this figured out well by simply tapping right next to the commenters name.

I use an iPhone on Google chrome for my usual scrolling.

What advice does The Motte have for someone who has never managed people before?

I'm starting a new manager role. I will have 4 reports who are customer facing engineers.

Camille Fournier, The Manager’s Path is a good book.

Some tips from me:

  • learn to delegate. "I want to do it" or "I can do it" should no longer be valid reasons for you to do something yourself instead of delegating. Even "I am the best one to do this" is no longer a slam dunk

  • learn what makes your subordinates tick and what deflates them, what they like and hate, when their birthdays are and the names of their kids. Write it down if you're not good with this

  • one-on-ones are important. They are a pain to schedule, but necessary

  • communicating the deadlines is not you shifting the responsibility or playing forwardball. Your subordinates can't meet the date you haven't given them and they can't challenge it either. Your stakeholders can't adjust their plans and expectations if you don't tell them about delays in advance.

  • give feedback and solicit feedback. Both are fucking uncomfortable, but you will feel better after you're done

Thanks, this is helpful.

Delegation is almost done, I think. I'll be fully out of IC tasks by next week, and from then on I'll only be working on low-priority tech work to keep my skills sharp (my boss encourages this).

I'm taking copious notes during 1:1 because I am indeed bad with kids' names and birthdays. But more importantly I want to be able get into their heads as you describe and motivate them by findng cool career building opportunities and stimulating work for them.

What's your strategy for feedback? I'm thinking of asking for written feedback quarterly in the vein of "What are two things I could be doing differently to better serve you and the team?" but also asking for opinions on individual during our weekly 1:1s.

Direct communication of deadlines and task assignments is something I'm not too worried about since I've never really felt guilty or awkward about it. I've personally always liked terse, direct managers because it keeps the interaction short so that I can go back to what I was doing. I think it also helps to know your people so that you can triage work to people who will enjoy it and anticipate pushback from people who might not. Any potential pitfalls I might be missing due to my inexperience, though?

I'm taking copious notes during 1:1 because I am indeed bad with kids' names and birthdays. But more importantly I want to be able get into their heads as you describe and motivate them by findng cool career building opportunities and stimulating work for them.

Some of the most pleasant surprises in my career happened when I was overworked, reached out to one of my ICs and said, "sorry, I know it's not really your area of expertise, but my hands are full and you told me you had some unused capacity this week. Could you help me and give it a go?"

What's your strategy for feedback? I'm thinking of asking for written feedback quarterly in the vein of "What are two things I could be doing differently to better serve you and the team?" but also asking for opinions on individual during our weekly 1:1s.

I don't like written feedback. F2F feedback is easier, because you can modulate it on the go. I try and give examples of things I myself wasn't happy with and proud of and ask if they have some different events in mind that they think beat my own self-evaluation.

Direct communication of deadlines and task assignments is something I'm not too worried about since I've never really felt guilty or awkward about it. I've personally always liked terse, direct managers because it keeps the interaction short so that I can go back to what I was doing. I think it also helps to know your people so that you can triage work to people who will enjoy it and anticipate pushback from people who might not. Any potential pitfalls I might be missing due to my inexperience, though?

Pushback is great. An IC that tells you, "fuck you, I won't do this task" is much better than one that doesn't do it silently, East Asian style.

Oh, one theory I quite enjoy using is situational leadership. Basically, as people mature as ICs, they go through four stages, each of which requires different leadership approach. This ladder is more dependent on the specific task than the specific person, if it's something new, you go back to the beginning, except you can run through it faster with more experienced ICs.

  • when they are super green, you provide direct instruction. Just break the task down into specific steps and feed it to them

  • when they have tasted success, you teach, adding "why" to "how" and praising their results

  • when they have learned from you, you push them out of the nest, no further instruction necessary, just moral support

  • when they are confident with the task, they already know they are good, no need to praise them for succeeding at specific tasks

when they have tasted success, you teach, adding "why" to "how" and praising their results

Can you elaborate on this? Do you mean that instead of "Please do task X which includes items A, B, C, and D" you say something like "Please do task X so that we can accelerate our progress on task Y?"

No, it's more like:

  • stage 1: "when you receive an incident about no access, it should contain the number of the access request ticket. If it doesn't, click this button and ask the user for it. Copy the number and open it in the the incident management system. The bot should have written the list of groups in this field. If the names of the groups don't immediately tell you which one is responsible for the access, open the document at that link and find the description of the groups there. Open AD, get the CN of the user from that field, put it in like this and look at the groups they are a member of. If they are a member..."

  • stage 2: "as you've noticed, we use AD membership for both authN and authZ. There are a few issues with the pipeline. First, the author of the access control document can make a mistake when filling in the request ticket template. Then, the ticket software itself is still barely out of the MVP stage and has some integration errors with the incident management system. Finally, our authZ backend has terrible UX for the access admins. Now you can see why there is a constant trickle of tickets 2LS can't handle and why we handle it the way it is. We have a meeting with the head of 2LS later today, here's what I'm going to ask from them to minimize the flow, do you have any suggestions?"

  • stage 3: "I really like your idea about automatically validating our access control document against AD and turning it into the ticket template and I want to ask you to drive it forward. If you want, I can sit with you on the first few meetings to demonstrate my support, but I am completely sure you can handle everything else. You know what to do when they invariably ask for money, we've handled this together when we restructured our authZ backend"

  • stage 4: "Any new issues with authZ? Great, let me know if you can be done with it by the next Thursday, I've emailed you the new idea our infosec came up with"

What do you do if you're managing incompetents and you know that if you let them do something, they're going to screw it up and that you'll have to clean up the mess?

Recommend them for promotion or to another position

Open a new tab and go to LinkedIn. Either I am managing incompetents or I am an incompetent manager myself, in both cases we will be happier apart.

You need to bear as much of the communication brunt as possible. Let the engineers focus on their jobs and protect them from whimsical business needs shifts, and protect the business from misguided but well-intentioned engineers.

Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Inspire your reports to do their best work.

Looking for reading recommendations on social status and group formation.

Some claims along the lines of what I'm looking for (arguments or evidence for or against these claims):

  1. Social status basically is a person's value to a group.

  2. Different groups can value someone differently, so there's not necessarily a notion of 'true' or global social status.

  3. It's forbidden (or at least, low-status) to talk about status explicitly.

  4. People can prove their high status by being magnanimous towards lowly people. Someone of lower status faces more of a threat from the next rung down so they can't safely praise lowly people.

  5. People who are more productive (in ways the group cares about) have higher status.

  6. People whose roles relate to the sacred (doctors for example, who save lives, which are sacred) have higher status.

  7. The sacred is a big part of what forms group identity, differentiates in-group vs. out-group members, and helps groups persist over time.

I'm particularly looking for books or essays that frame these things in terms of game theory or economics. "Sociology for systematizers" if you will.

You might want to read this paper on Reverse Dominance Hierarchy:

I got to it from which you might want to read first, as an aperitif of sorts.

Totally different but I have this on order at my local bookstore after reading this interview with the author. He seems to be talking primarily about fashion, but of course fashion can mean anything from how a pair of pants is cut to what books we read to what Gods we pray to and what political opinions we hold.

His argument seems to be that status is created in fashion by distinctiveness, and that fashionistas are constantly contrarians trying to create change, but that in order for a change to really take hold it has to have a story behind it that people believe in. Something of a fashion version of Friedman's dictate that

“Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

W David Marx is great, I used to read his blog neomarxisme years ago. I didn't realize he had a new book out. Thanks for posting.


Does what we know about microplastics/estrogenics justify making lifestyle changes to avoid them?

Microplastics and EA (Estrogenic Activity) chemicals are somewhat orthogonal.

This paper is a decent introduction to how widespread EA chemicals are, especially when the polymer is stressed (UV, microwave, dishwasher, etc). I'd think it's fairly common knowledge not to microwave and use the dishwasher with plastic, but hey, if not, that's a low hanging lifestyle change.

Microplastics at this point are ubiquitous, and unless you're using your own filtration system (reverse osmosis or similar) that you have tested for all the water you use, you're going to have some level of exposure. What level is acceptable? Last I checked, the science hadn't really settled there, so let's wait while they make mice chug microplastic water to see if anything bad happens. My personal level of risk tolerance for microplastic lands around processed meats: unclear mechanism for harm, but if avoiding them is cheap and easy, why not?


Were you homeschooled or are you homeschooling your children? Why / How are the outcomes?

Any opinions on specific curriculums

We're concerned with the progress of our 4th grader. We've had several conversations with the school, and a SPED eval, all scores average or above. Our school / district is in the top decile of our state.

My wife has Ph.D, and is currently SAHM. She would prefer a more classical / Latin curriculum.

I'm not keen on our schools curriculum, though I'm also not sure it matters that much. I do think the social interaction in school is important. My preference would be for more copy work, cursive instruction, and traditional literature, this doesn't seem to be on offer in public schools anymore.

I have close experience with several children who were homeschooled for a while and it did not go well, mainly because the homeschool teachers in these cases weren't on top of things. If your wife (whom I presume would be the teacher) is conscientious and organized then the academic curriculum should be easy going. As far as the curriculum, don't choose one that requires children stay "at grade level", where "grade level" is a one-size-fits-none affair.

For my own kid, I considered homeschooling them as a way to preserve their enthusiasm for learning. They can move at their own pace and learn things that are interesting to them. We haven't homeschooled (yet) mainly because their current school is really great at tailoring the curriculum to be interesting and challenging for each child. Also, there's no conscientious parent to be the teacher.

I do think the social interaction in school is important.

I am on the fence as far as whether the social interaction kids get in school is useful. School is kind of like prison, in that you're thrown in with people you don't necessarily like and you can't leave. Real life is very different; you can usually curate your social environment much more. The things you can get away with in school would get you booted (or dropped) from most social environments as an adult. And you're not necessarily learning how to be valuable, just how not to get expelled.

We're homeschooling our son, because Russian special ed schools suck and are full of asbo kids regular schools got rid of. It was perversely liberating to drop out of the educational rat race and concentrate on the 3 R's as the ultimate goal.

What's your solution for socialization?

We go to a private special ed non-profit a couple times per week for this.

I do think the social interaction in school is important.

As someone that was homeschooled in a rural area, I'm comfortable saying that this part is easily resolved with a bit of assistance from parents in making sure there are opportunities to get together with other kids. For me, this often meant playing pickup basketball, which then led to other friendships off the court. For what it's worth, I am not aware of any meaningful deficiencies that resulted from being homeschooled - I always had good friends, started dating at a normal age, and had no trouble continuing to have close friends and romantic success. The only thing that I ever really felt bitter about was that the local school district wouldn't allow me to join the teams there, for what always seemed more like spite at my parents for pulling me out of school than any legitimate rationale.

My kid is 9 and has been homeschooled the whole time. She is far ahead of grade 4 (she just finished gr 8 math, but math is pretty a priori, so it's easier to push than history or something) and she isn't that much weirder than the other kids. I'm not even sure her weirdness is from homeschooling- it might just be hereditary. I am a public highschool teacher, and quite apart from the low-balled curriculm and culture war stuff, just talking to other teachers is enough to make me prefer death in the street to sending my kid to school, at least until 10th grade (I'll consider it then).

Social interaction is absolutely the biggest problem. We live in Canada, in the reddest part of the country (although blue is the colour of the red tribe here, and red is the colour of the blue tribe), so there is no shortage of homeschooling families but they are a)weird as hell and b)hyper individualists who prefer to opt out rather than to work within a system. I don't blame them, that's why we homeschool too, but the result is that the slightest disagreement over vaccines, or theology, or which video games kids are allowed to play, leads to ghosting. These are people who REALLY fear that their kids will develop the wrong values, so they try to find people with perfectly matched values. This works great for Mormons, but not for anyone else.

The next part of the problem is that virtually all social interaction is mediated by mothers and determined by their relationships to each other. Just dropping your kid off at their friend's house is pretty rare. If the kids are hanging out, the moms are hanging out too, so the moms have to be friends. Sometimes they form Mom Groups. Often these groups become Machiavellian dens of intrigue and betrayal, and now your kid's friend just doesn't exist anymore. If you try to organize stuff yourself, it freaks out the moms.

So maybe you sign your kid up for soccer or swimming or something so they can make friends there with some normal kids. The problem is that no other parents thinks of these places as incubators of friendship- that's what school is for. So if you suggest that your kids hang out together sometime, people act like you just invited them to a threesome.

Now, my kid has like 4 friends, and I went to school and had like 4 friends too, so maybe she's not missing out, but maybe she is. I tell myself that it's a tradeoff- you can't count on getting a liberal arts education at university anymore, and you shouldn't try anyway because of the costs, so this way I can give her something like that between ages 12-17, and then she can go get technical training and in any case, who still talks to their elementary school friends?

So if you're opening yourself up to "You kept me isolated throughout my entire childhood," you want to be able to say "No I didn't but also, look at the education you received."

Math is easy. Push Khan Academy. My kid starts Algebra 1 next month, and she's 9. That's not prodigious, but it's pretty good. She'll understand it at least as well as the average kid in Algebra 1. I pushed her pretty hard, pretty young, which led to a lot of rage from me and I don't recommend it and I wont do it with my other kid. Eventually I figured out that as long as her age matches the grade level (9 years old = grade 9 math) everything works okay. If we creep beyond that (because you can advance through this stuff really fast when you aren't doing a crossword about fractions every Friday) she muddles through but it's just not worth it. This takes about 45 minutes per day.

Reading is easy. Teach your kid to read early. My one kid could read by 3, the other one is taking a little longer, but will be semi-fluent by 4. This literally adds years to the kid's info-absorbing life and boosts vocab hugely. This isn't just a party trick, since vocab limits comprehension of text. Push reading fiction to learn words and culture, and non-fiction to build a model of the world. Building an accurate model of the world is the most important way schools fail children. This takes about an hour per day.

Writing is less easy: Get the kid to write poetry and descriptive stuff, emulating the style of distinctive things they have read. There is a book called "Writing Power" by Adrienne Gear which has a lot of good tips for making a kid's writing suck less. This varies hugely. Writing about a trip to Disneyland takes 15 minutes, writing a 12-line poem can take an hour.

Science is easy: Science up to like grade 7 is just general knowledge. If the kid reads a lot, you're good. We follow our province's curriculum as a minimum standard, but it's stuff like "opposite poles attract, similar poles repel." Pretty simple stuff. We do this as the opportunity arises. Maybe an half an hour per day when we're doing it.

History is easy: History up to grade 12 is just bien-pensant propaganda. If your kid reads a lot, you're good. My kid is now at the age where we watch a lot of pop history videos, and we also read The Story of The World, which is a homeschooling classic and is a good starting point for building the model. We cover our province's curriculum in about 10 minutes every year just to be safe: "What happened to the Indians?" "Everyone was mean to them." "Was residential school a good thing?" "I'd say no." Done. This mostly is covered by reading time and conversations in the car.

Gym: BJJ and lots of swimming and biking. She has no idea what to do with a basketball or a baseball. I'd sign her up if she asked, though.

If your wife has a PhD, the above is probably all you need to do. We tried The Good and The Beautiful, which might be good for older kids, for for a small kid it was a lot of "Write 4 facts about Switzerland" and "Memorize this poem of dubious artistic merit that was clearly chosen for no other reason than its memorizability." It's made for stay-at-home essential-oil-selling moms with no real education of their own, and is pretty good for those situations. My wife sorta falls into that category so she gets my kid to do a lot of Duolingo and stuff like that, but I supervise most of the real work.

It's a ton of work. I help my kid with her math in the morning before I go to work and check her writing when I get home and ask her about the books she's reading and read classic stuff to her at night and show her the movies of cultural importance that she can understand. But when it goes well, the pride is indescribable, and we share enough of a common language that when she asks something like "What came before God" I can explain most of the debate pretty quickly in terms she can understand and she wails in frustration as she realizes that some things are not just unknown but unknowable because she really does understand the problem. This might happen if she went to a regular school, but the . . . intellectual(?-she's 9?) . . . relationship wouldn't be there, it would be- if it existed at all- between her and a childless 30-year-old wine-aunt teacher who obsessively watches The Bachelor. There's a fine line between "Why have kids if you're going to have someone else raise them?" and "I'll keep your body in the freezer so we'll never be apart," but I think all this effort and interaction and conflict leads to a better parent-child relationship, and I wouldn't want to cede that to an appointee of the state. Many parents have ceded that relationship with their kids to me without even knowing it ("I asked my mom about this stuff, but she doesn't know anything"), and I don't feel good about it.

I've heard good things about Writing with Ease, if your interested in expanding the writing instruction.

I am jealous of you even having this option, even though I harbor no hopes of being able to do it anywhere near as well. Maybe I'll need to emigrate to Austria or some other place that doesn't outright ban homeschooling, after all. No idea whether the daughter would be fit for it, though.

What did you do with your two-year-old?

She's 3. We're working on reading one day at time. You can't do anything really until the kid can read.

One thing I'm curious about is if you ever have trouble getting your child to listen to you and follow through on the work. My son lives in mortal fear of disappointing his teacher, which serves us well, but I feel like I would end up in a constant battle of wills if I was teaching him. Just trying to get him to do extra practice on things at home is like pulling teeth.

There was a lot of enthusiasm at the start, then a period of much conflict from ages 7-8, and now we're out a more neutral "I'd better get this done," which I'm happy to accept.

My kid starts Algebra 1 next month, and she's 9. That's not prodigious, but it's pretty good.

It's not Von Neumann or Tao, but it's definitely child prodigy level. Recall that the state of California has treated "we can't really teach Algebra I to the top 13 year old math students" as if it's a serious proposition to debate and not just grossly unfit educators outing themselves.

I mean it seems fairly common although definitely above average for homeschooled kids I know.

This description of your homeschooling fills me with indescribable longing. I would have loved to grow up learning from my father in this way. It’s a vision board of my dream relationship with a daughter of my own.

I do worry about proper socialization, but in my enthusiasm that seems surmountable. To me, the most fascinating thing is that you’ve chosen this while teaching in a traditional setting yourself.

Teaching in a traditional setting is what convinced me that homeschooling is necessary.

If you've ever told that story at more length, I'd love a link.

It's not a story. I just have something that half-approaches the old liberal/renaissance-man education (literature, philosophy, general science, music, am swole, etc) and I see how it enriches my life and how the lack of it impoverishes the lives of pretty much everyone I meet. It took me YEARS of autodidacticism to get here, and other than teaching me some math, school did not help one bit. I got all this education at the expense of productive technical training, but I think I can arrange things so that my kid gets most of what I have before she starts technical training so she doesn't end up a wordcel like me. There's no way she'll get it a school though.

School is a colossal waste of a kid's time. I taught elementary school for years, and anyone of average intelligence or higher spends most of the day colouring while the teacher tries to coax a 0.1% improvement out of the sub-average kids. No one wants to do "more challenging work", so they just draw or read the crappy school-provided books. High school is the only place where you will be told that you MUST either learn calculus and quantum physics OR learn how to make jam. This reveals that the primary goal of the institution is not to transmit a considered body of knowledge to a student, but to occupy his time.

Socially, school teaches the wrong lessons. Kids spend most of the day being told not to socialize, and when they are allowed to socialize it's with a bunch of people exactly the same age, which is great for commiseration but bad for education. The main lessons in elementary school are that everyone has to obey the prettiest girl and that you must use authority figures as weapons against your enemies (relentless tattling). The main lesson in high school is that anarcho-tyranny is here and you'd better just accept it (this may not be such a bad lesson . . .)

Ex: Because we can't tell who is ripping the toilets off the walls, no one is allowed to leave class to go to the bathroom, but the toilet-rippers were never in class in the first place. Etc.

Teachers are generally not people you want your kid hanging around if you care about intellectual development. The education system is very much a welfare system for people with bachelor's degrees (I fully admit my participation in this) and is completely ideologically captured, so teachers are almost never the best and the brightest. This wouldn't be so bad if they confined themselves to showing the kid how to do math or explaining how chemical reactions work, but the daily grind is not enough for around half of all teachers. They are there to teach students "how to think, not what to think." THAT wouldn't be so bad if they showed literally any sign at all of possessing such knowledge themselves. It has been my UNIVERSAL experience, however, in numerous schools, at numerous conferences, in various parts of the country, that teachers do not have original thoughts and are incapable of judging a thought beyond the most rudimentary "That's just like, your opinion, man". The most philosophically inclined might sometimes drop a "correlation is not causation," but only with regard to the opinions of others, never their own. Their opinions are totally off-the-shelf, NPC platitudes. They are usually PMC/progressive platitudes, but the dissenting ones only ever rise to FoxNews-style "If a MAN acted like that he'd be in jail, but a woman got away with it" type of stuff. Luckily, such people will never teach your kid how to think, but they'll do their damndest to teach your kid what to think (whether they are successful is an open question- kids openly talk about how you just have to say the white guy in the story was bad and Mr #%^ will give you an A, so they see what's going on, but that just turns the school into the Junior Greengrocers) The rest of the teachers are grill-pilled, which doesn't set a great example for a developing intellect.

Teachers hate learning. Hatehatehate it. Teachers love credentials, and believe that since they got a credential twenty years ago, the matter is settled. English classes study the 4 books the teacher studied in university. History classes repeat historiography from the nineties. Gym teachers are 10 years behind the times with regard to exercise science. I asked a biology teacher where the chromosome pairs actually ARE in the cell because I had been wondering, and she literally did not understand the question- she just drew the same diagram of the 23 pairs that every textbook contains. A week later she came back with an answer after a bunch of research. Good for her, I guess, but had the question never occurred to her? I spent a year learning Latin. It's a niche interest, sure, but my coworkers absolutely could not understand why anyone would learn something just for the fun of it. "So teachers are normies and you're a half-aspie weirdo?" I guess. But in a billion-dollar system that claims to foster intellectual development, I think it's reasonable to expect a little more intellectualism.

I was homeschooled, from 2nd grade all the way through the end of high school. My siblings were homeschooled all the way. Basically here is why it started, as I understand it (secondhand obviously, since I was too young to remember it well):

  • During a parent-teacher meeting, my 1st grade teacher told my parents that I was reading at a 5th grade level. My parents were concerned that I would be bored and stop trying to learn, so they asked if the curriculum could be advanced some to keep me challenged. They were told no, the curriculum was fixed and it was what it was.

  • They enrolled me in the local Catholic school for the rest of 1st grade, and decided that wasn't to their liking either. Not sure why - they never told me, and I was never curious enough to ask. I would guess expense (farmers don't make much money), but not sure.

  • The next year they started homeschooling me, and my brother/sister as well (though at different grade levels, I'm 4 years older than my sister and 5 years older than my brother).

For all of us, through the 8th grade we were given books to self-study various subjects (math, English, social studies, and so on). My mom bought the books from Bob Jones University Press, and was pretty hands-off when teaching us. She was there for questions, but otherwise it was self-directed study. The books were... OK. They are fundamentalist Christians (Baptists specifically iirc), and that bias really came through strongly in the books at times. They were pretty openly anti-Catholic at times, and you best believe that the books had things to say on things like evolution being false. But apart from when the ideological bias got in the way, I recall the books being fairly decent.

Starting from 9th grade, I was enrolled in a correspondence course for high school (so that I would get an actual diploma and not have to take the GED, iirc). I was part of a program called Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools. The main difference for me was that for major assignments (essays, tests etc) I had to mail them in for someone at the physical school to grade them. There was some feedback from the teachers at the school IIRC, but not a whole lot. It was real impersonal. But I did OK (not great, due mostly to my own academic laziness than anything else). When they got to 9th grade, my brother and sister went through a similar program, but a different school providing it. They had a personal teacher assigned for all the years of high school, and she would work with them a lot more on areas she saw needed improvement when she graded their work. Still not the same as having an in-person teacher (naturally, this was like 2004-2005), but a lot more hands-on instruction than I got from HS.

Along the way my parents participated in various activities like area homeschool groups (where we would do things like take music lessons from a retired music teacher, for example), had us in 4-H, we were involved in church, and so on. That more or less covered the "teach the kids how to interact socially" aspect of school for us.

My brother, sister and I all wound up graduating with real actual HS diplomas, and my brother and I went on to college and both did well (admittedly: my laziness meant I did poorly in my early 20s, but finished in my late 20s and did very well). My sister did not go to college but she was really, really not cut out for it so that's not really that surprising. We are all relatively well-adjusted adults, or at least I'm unconvinced our flaws are due to our school situation. So, it went OK.

All that said... there were downsides I feel. The big one is like I said, my mom was very hands-off as a teacher. This got worse as we got older, because Mom started to have physical problems that kept her in pain a lot of the time. Some days she would take meds for her medical condition that just put her straight to sleep, and she'd be that way most of the day. For my brother and me, that was actually OK. We're bright, and while we fucked around a lot (as kids will) we would eventually do our work. For my sister... not so much I think. She has severe dyslexia, and I think she really could've benefited from a teacher who a) was more hands-on, and b) had more training/experience dealing with kids who had learning disabilities. I need to stress my sister is not stupid, she's actually very smart and continues to do self-directed learning to this day (on topics she finds interesting). But she really struggled hard in school, and while I can't prove it I think it didn't have to be as hard for her as it was.

Second, while my parents made efforts to socialize us I personally (can't speak for my brother or sister) had issues learning that stuff as easily as it seemed like my peers did. I was always, always the odd kid out until I was decently into my teenage years. Some of that is because kids are mean and single out anyone who is different (I got flack for having big ears in 1st grade for example), but some of it I do feel is due to how I was socialized relative to a lot of my peers. Eventually I learned, of course. Nowadays I have no trouble socializing compared to anyone else. But it took a while to get there, and there were a lot of times (even as late as being 16-17 years old) where I would commit a faux pas that I honestly had no idea was problematic. So I think that part of my education didn't go as well as it could have. My brother seems to have done OK in that regard, and my sister... she's just a really eccentric person and always has been. I don't think anything would have helped her with that (if anything, public school might have made her a huge bully target).

So, do I have regrets? Not really, no. I made it to adulthood fine and I don't think I'm (at this point at least) any worse off for it. My brother the same (imo), and my sister probably came out somewhat worse for it (though it's debatable, as I feel she definitely would've been a bully magnet in the school system). So overall, not a horrible track record. But if I were in my parents' shoes, I'd do a couple of things differently. First, be more active in the kids' education than my mom was. I really think it wasn't a great showing from her even if it worked out OK. Second, when one of my kids showed signs that maybe they had unique challenges I wasn't equipped to deal with, consider looking at more traditional schooling options where they can get their needs met better. Knowing my parents, I doubt that was ever on the table for my sister.

Whether or not I would homeschool my kids (I don't have any) is tougher. I think public schools today are honestly kind of fucked in a lot of ways. I would be absolutely horrified if my kid came home with their teacher or peers teaching them about how they were non-binary or transgender or something (just one example, but a hot button topic these days). So I feel like if I wanted my kids to grow up with good values and culture, I would have to do something to change their peer group and who was teaching them. IDK if that would be homeschooling, or a private school, or what. But I would at least consider homeschooling to be an option on the table for my own hypothetical kids.

I've always found myself rather confused by the uniquely American obsession with homeschooling.

Without getting into the Culture War aspect of it, in most of the places I've been, the very idea would warrant confusion and raised eyebrows. At the least, people would assume you had way too much time on your hands if you could afford to tutor your kids in that manner.

India has pretty poor schooling, even at prestigious institutions like the one I went to. You see, the teachers at schools know really well that the majority of students are going to be receiving private tutoring outside the school, and thus don't really teach rigorously enough to do a good job at covering the syllabus; leaving aside the very large class sizes. This paradoxically only increases the need for private tutoring, since parents know their kids ain't learning shit at school.

When I speak of private tutoring, we have both 1:1 coaching, as well as academies that offer larger lectures. The former is still quite affordable to the middle and upper end of the middle class, and the latter is quite cheap all considered.

Honestly, a lot of people go to sham schools that don't actually teach or take attendance, using that time to go study at those places for far more personalized and thorough instruction.

(In hindsight, my then undiagnosed ADHD would have made me do much worse if I didn't have a tutor watching me like a hawk, so I'm grateful for that much!)

How long was your school day in India? Ours is ~7:40 - 15:40. Including the bus ride to/from school. Were we to add tutors, that would eat into unstructured time that I think is important. When my wife was in school in Germany it was only a half day, but with a much heavier homework load than our children have. Even my elementary school in the mid-80's in California had much more assigned homework.

If I had to include the bus ride for my school it was 7 am to 3 pm. You could shave off maybe an hour if your school wasn't as far as mine.

And sadly, a child's free time is the first of many casualties when it comes to running the academic rat race. I had at least 1 hour of tuition a day till high school, when it became common to attend 2 to 3 hours on top of regular schooling most days a week.

Not as bad as Korea or China, but same energy really.

India also has, by Western standards, a very strong culture/very strong cultures and family structures. North America has basically no traditional culture at all and is extremely socially atomized, which makes school the chief influence on kids after Tiktok. So if you care about transmission of cultural values, public schools are unattractive and will in many cases actively work to subvert the values of the families whom teachers consider their culture war enemies. I am a teacher, and I see it every week, if not every day. Add to this the fact that schools in North America are expected to teach nearly nothing, and fail even at that, and homeschooling starts to look okay.

I was homeschooled through seventh grade by my stay-at-home mother. My memories of my homeschooling experience grow increasingly hazy with distance, but IIRC I just docilely worked through the workbooks that my mother told me to work through*, and read a lot of library books on the side. In public middle school and high school, I achieved grades sufficient for two colleges to offer full-tuition scholarships. I have a job that pays reasonably well.

*Exception: I wasn't interested in the Spanish workbooks that she bought for me, and instead (intrigued by all the species names listed in Encarta) I insisted on learning Latin—mostly by translating texts from English into Latin with dictionaries (1 2) and consulting the grammar information in a workbook, rather than the usual method of actually working through the workbook and translating texts from Latin to English. I can't say that I achieved fluency, but I did acquire enough knowledge to skip to the third-year Latin class in high school, after being forced to take a year of Spanish anyway in eighth grade.

My younger brother was homeschooled through sixth grade. Again, my memories are hazy at this point, but I think my mother had to take a much more hands-on approach with him, actually guiding him through the workbooks rather than just leaving him to do them himself. As far as I am aware, he did merely okay in public school and college (community college, after flunking out of West Point), but he, too, now has a job that pays reasonably well.

I have extremely blurry memories of one or two homeschooling groups and churches that my mother may have occasionally joined (my family was at least a little religious at some point, but dropped religion early on), but I don't think we participated much in such things. I have bad social skills and zero friends. My brother appears to have good social skills and several friends.

So, what are you reading?

I'm still reading Sargant's Battle for the Mind. Can't say I find him very reliable, but I do wonder if I can find some similarity between the models of the mind which he has laid out and tropes about how humans behave.

Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills - The doorstopper textbook of mountaineering. It's not really something you read, more something you eventually have read after opening it enough times.

It explains the basics of just about every aspect of climbing a mountain from how clothing works (yes, really: "Clothing helps a person stay comfortable by creating a thin insulating layer of air next to the skin." Um. thanks book.) all the way up to crevasse rescue techniques and alpine rock climbing.

It's nice to have as a reference bible in an age where anyone can throw up a quick tutorial on YouTube. Is that really how it's done? Is that knot standard practice? Better double check the textbook. Ah, yes, there it is.

I just started The Triumph of Christianity. I like the framing laid out so far, but haven't gotten more than a few pages into it yet.

I finally finished Asimov's Foundations trilogy and just wow! What a read! I was surprised by how much of a page turner it was, I normally read in the morning with some coffee before heading to work and I definitely stumbled in later than I should a few times. I know it's just "Roman Empire in Space the Book" but it's just one of those books that captures the imagination and sticks Asimov's clever ideas into your mind.

I picked up John C. Wright's Count to a Trillion a few weeks ago and started really reading it today. The first few pages have been good, if not a little pretentious. However, having gotten through hook where Menelaus injects himself with the serum I'm starting to see some worthwhile stuff.

Found myself digital versions of Sam Chamberlain's My Confession. Haven't read beyond page one so far, but I'm looking forward to it with the caveat that there seems to be no obtainable version of the book that is easily readable on modern devices, contains the original illustrations, and has not had passages removed. Still need to pick my poison.

I finally got around to picking up Cormac McCarthy by grabbing Blood Merdian. I'm not far in, but it's immediately compelling and brutal.

Hot damn. I'm anxious to hear your thoughts about it.

Oh, I appreciated "Notes on Blood Meridian" by the way. Thanks for that rec! Wish it had started with the analysis first and then the historical references afterward though.

You're very welcome.

I'm re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn again. It's still one of my favorite novels of all time, the gentle yet incisive humor, the occasional poignancy interspersed with belly aching laughter, all of them make it a great read.

I cry over this every time:

I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.

I'm reading The Western Canon by Harold Bloom, a pretty entertaining mix of anti-resentment culture war from the 90s with literature worship. Got me listening to the Paradise Lost audiobook.

Halfway through The Darkness that Comes Before. My prediction is <nvm deleted because we don’t have spoiler tags?>

You're in for a great ride. Definitely curious to hear your thoughts after you finish it.

Since you're interested in religious philosophy, I'll note that Bakker has by far the best conception of religion in a fantasy world I've ever seen. His knowledge of how religion shapes us and is shaped by us goes incredibly deep.

It's double | instead of reddit's version.

conphas did nothing wrong

The tags don't work on mobile, or at least Chrome on Android. I can clearly see the text, @ZorbaTHutt

Okay thanks I was gonna say My money’s on Skeaos being in The Consult, he’s the brains of the empire and just seems too reserved. Don’t tell me if I’m right or wrong ofc.

I’ve just started reading Lacan’s Seminar III: The Psychoses, as the first step in a project I’ll be embarking on to do an in-depth reading of several of his seminars (currently the itinerary includes seminars III, VII, and XX, although I may slip X in there as well).

Lacan has a collected volume of essays and papers known as the Écrits which is largely indecipherable, and bears most of the responsibility for his reputation as a “postmodernist obscurantist charlatan”, but the in-person lectures and seminars he gave were much more lucid and grounded.

My main interest in this seminar stems from its (relatively brief) discussions of hysteria and OCD, although I’m hoping that I’ll find his discussion of schizophrenia to be illuminating as well.

Human Biodiversity is the Foundation of the Woke Civic Religion

I enjoy a long Sunday walk ("Just like Dickens and Beethoven," I think to myself as I stare at my own reflection in the local duck pond), mostly as a primed canvas for whatever thoughts pass my way. Today, I was captivated (or captured) by the concept of "Native Americans;" a term we apply as a gift of copium to once-enormous numbers of Russo-Asians who, a long time ago in a biome far far away, happened to be curious about where that land bridge led. In Canada and ANZAC territory, they are called "First Nations" or "Aborigines," again applying a Cracker Jack prize term to groups of people whose claim to fame, whose founding mythology, whose justification for sanctity in our modern era is.... getting there first and doing nothing about it.

The irony is especially delicious in that the "Indigenous" term is exclusively applied to those who wandered the farthest from their native lands, and that "Sacred Native Land" is a term applied exclusively to the territory where the "Indigenous," at least as far as the story goes, just happened to stop wandering for an unspecified period of time. The brouhaha over Mt. Rushmore and Indian Reservations and all the rest of it has about as much sanctity as Richard Nixon claiming the Sea of Tranquility or the North Pole as Ancient Sacred Nixonian Lands.

Yet, for once in my life, my thoughts today were not captured by Futile Fury (my natural emotional resting state nowadays), but instead by the mere concept of... "us." For all of its hilarious hypocrisies and unaware self-satire, I believe that the Woke Civic Religion's lasting legacy will be a potent dissolution of any concept of "the human race;" a term which, for a 1990s schoolboy at least, evokes images of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" music videos, children's books about the Summer Olympics, and felt cutouts of the world's children - all of which required the paints, inks, and dyes of every skin tone and every form of native dress known to man.

If the past is any sort of indicator of the future, the de facto leaders of the WCR (aka angry young women and their social hostages in Washington) will eventually clarify and codify the currently uncomfortable contradictions within their worldview concerning the treatment of races as something akin to various "species" or "tiers" or "sanctities" of human being. This new dictum will most likely appear for the first time in a viral TikTok from the mouth of a vaguely-transish black person who teaches one or all of the social studies at an exurban public elementary school. And I predict that the WCR will, while publicly reviling the concept of HBD-RedEdition as the mindset of an IncelFascist, reveal HBD-BlueEdition.

It will not be a sensational revelation; it will have its real origin sewn, in the now-trademark Actually1984 manner of the WCR, deep into the goldfish memory of the populace, such that, by its second week of existence, HBD-Blue will appear to have AlwaysBeenThere.

Because, without HBD-Blue, the Indigenous are just "us," and the Black Trans Women are just "us," and the Asians we need to StopHating are just "us," and suddenly no one is special and everything is an accident of history and, worst of all, that blood relative you hate who DefinitelyVotedForTrump... is "us" too. The WCR wholly relies, in the only part of its identity that has any foundation at all, on an unshaken belief in the metamorphosis of humanity into the Twelve Tribes of InThisHouseWeBelieve.

Over the land bridge, Humans became Indigenous.

In darkest Africa, Humans became BlackandBrownBodies.

Through the vast deserts of the Middle East, Humans became Asians.

Hidden in a university dorm, or a Lower East Side nightclub, or a San Francisco bathhouse, Humans became TransLives.

And over the straits of the Bosphorus, on papyrus rafts across the Mediterranean, or rock hopping around Gibraltar, Humans remained Humans, a crime for which we will pay with our blood and our bounty until the children are standing on the same number of boxes, and then onward still, until the poor whites of West Virginia or Florida or Alabama retreat to the swamps and caves and outlying trash heaps, and then onward still, until their offspring view the homosexual as purity and the heterosexual as filth, and then onward still, and then onward still.

And then, just when the BaBBs have been reeled in to the precipice of the doorframe of power, HBD-Blue will be at its most useful. For only then will the BIPOC and the Activist, the Queer and the Ally, who always believed themselves to be the greatest servants in the Master's House, come to realize that they are merely the last lines in our modern remix of "First they came for the... but I was not a..."

And there will be new reservations for these new Indigenous, these muted urban aborigines who, just like the Cree and the Mohawk and the Nez Perce, once thought they ruled their land, only to realize that, an ocean away, another species had harnessed thunder.

So the question… how does it really end? When are the scales balanced, the veils torn, the doors open?

There’s…not actually a question in there.

That said, you may find value in this list. By my count, you hit 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7. Next time, try to work in the rest!

Or—I know this sounds crazy—you could try actually engaging with the opponent’s ideas, rather than a caricature.

Could you please share some anecdotes from your lives of successfully asking people out?

For context: there's a girl I really like in my small group from church. This group is going to stop meeting at the end of the month, after which I'd only see her occasionally unless I make it happen otherwise. So I'm going to give it a shot; I can't die wondering what might have been, I know I have to at least try. She and I have a pretty good relationship, which includes an interesting kind of bantering back-and-forth, and we've had some nice conversations in odd occasional moments; I already have her phone number, and we've been inside each other's residences. But we've never spent time together one on one, and I've not expressed my romantic feelings for her.

It's strange for me to be posting this, in that I actually have asked girls out before. Indeed I've done it lots of times, and had success on enough occasions that I know I could possibly succeed again. I've had several relationships; I am sure if I put my mind to it, I can think of some fun way we can spend time together such that, if she actually says yes, we may have a good time. I'm pretty weird-looking tbh but that's never really stopped me before. As Red Green put it, "If they don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." I'm pretty handy. Or something.

I'm just really psyching myself about it. She and I are both in that late-20s/early-30s stage of life where, at least for me, actually forming an emotional connection to someone before asking them out has become kind of uncommon - that's something I remember from middle/high school, before the adult world of swiping on apps. I'm scared, because it is scary! I really want to not fuck it up - even if she says no, which to my mind is the most likely outcome, I am determined to at least make my best effort and give a good account of myself. So - if anyone can tell me about a time where things did work out for you, it would be most helpful, if only to put some positive images in my mind. Any other advice, pep talk, etc. is also welcome.

I always start with 'do you have a boyfriend?' That makes it unambiguous that I'm asking her out and gives her a graceful way to reject me.

If she says no, then I'll suggest an event or drinks. Maybe there's a cool bar I've been meaning to visit or something.

One helpful tip I was told once is to go to more than one place in an evening. This makes it feel like two dates and moves her closer to the 'I can seriously consider this guy romantically' bit.

You'll have to adjust your approach given that she's a church girl I guess, but if she knows you then she probably already knows whether she'll say yes or no. You just need to give her the opportunity.

You're in luck, I've got the perfect anecdote. Last month, I successfully asked out a church girl, I knew her a bit and had built up camaraderie.

What I did to not psych myself out was this:

Be very clear and unambiguous in the approach, I asked my girl if she wanted to go on a date at x time, x place. While a proposal for a coffee hangout has its advantages, being upfront is far simpler and easier than subtle hinting.

Let go of expectations

I can't stress how little importance the exact way you ask someone out has. The only thing that matters is that you do it casually and with conviction. This woman is either open to date you or she isn't. Don't bother with a girl who won't immediately work to reschedule if x time doesn't work, or "has to think about it". People are very flattered to be asked out, and if they don't meet your vulnerability with some kind of enthusiasm, leave.

I can't stress how little importance the exact way you ask someone out has.

As a girl, this. She knows you. Either she would like to see more of you or she wouldn't so the wording won't really matter. If you have her number feel free to just text her if you don't want to do it in person.

Let us know how it goes. I'm invested now

I have not had a successful relationship. But, I will say- asking someone out(which I have done multiple times) has ruined my preexisting friendship with that girl exactly once, and we were both teenagers. So go for it, ask her if she wants to have coffee sometime, and if she says no then be friendly but don’t ask her out again.

Find some event, be it a movie, gallery exhibit, new restaurant opening, power tractor pull, airshow, whatever. An event that has a set time. Ask her to that in a way that suggests you are excited to go to it. She will say either yes, no, or put you off. If either of the latter, you will hace a good sense of how interested she is in how she does them. If the former, you're golden.

I would strongly suggest never "telling her your romantic feelings." Or, not for a very long time past the moment when romance has already blossomed, assuming it does. There is, among many young men of otherwise high intelligence, a strong urge to put in words one's feelings. That urge should be squashed.

Good luck!!

I would strongly suggest never "telling her your romantic feelings." Or, not for a very long time past the moment when romance has already blossomed, assuming it does.

This is a handy reminder. I feel like I knew this a long time ago, and had kind of forgotten about it. There is a time to talk about that stuff but it's not any time soon.

I got kind of trapped by the last girl I asked out: she immediately said to me, "Are you asking me on a date?" I said yes - I figured it was better than waffling. And she actually did agree to go on the date after that! It didn't go anywhere after that, but you never know until you try.

Find some event, be it a movie, gallery exhibit, new restaurant opening, power tractor pull, airshow, whatever. An event that has a set time. Ask her to that in a way that suggests you are excited to go to it. She will say either yes, no, or put you off. If either of the latter, you will hace a good sense of how interested she is in how she does them. If the former, you're golden.

Thanks for this. It really is as simple as this. I'm definitely overcomplicating it in my mind.

Don't just ask her in a way that suggests that you are excited. Be excited. Pick something that you want to do.

"Hey, I'm going to <EVENT> on <DATE>. If you'd like to come with me, I'd enjoy your company. Let me know by <OTHERDATE>."

Then do it and have fun. Even if she says no, even if she says yes and flakes.

"Are you asking me on a date?"

"If you're there with me, sure."

I have tons and tons of examples from apps I can share and 0 irl. I think if you’re not unattractive best bet is to move somewhere with lots of women in your age group and get on the apps. But I also only avoid in-person approaches because I’m short and brown.

Thankfully I don't need to do a cold approach, I'm talking about a girl I already know. I just saw her today in fact. This situation is more like the norm of dating from 50 years ago, where you meet people via organized social activities and build up a relationship organically; or at least that's what I'm hoping to do. We'll see how it works out this time. It may indeed be something that's only possible for me because I have a decent level of height, idk.

Seems pretty straightforward for you tbh, maybe try some anxiolytic drugs before you ask? A hit of THC usually does the trick for me in anxious situations, I’ve heard great things about phenibut.

I can smell weed on people easily. Maybe avoid smoking a jay before approaching a church girl, unless you know she's into that, too. She might not take you seriously, or might think you're not her style.

Do not take a hit of weed - take a shot. Weed has a high chance of making you tongue-tied while alcohol won’t.

Dab pens have no smell or a mildly pleasant smell

I've never asked out a girl who wasn't from a dating app specifically romantically, because that always felt too high a chance of rejection and awkwardness. When I'm in a position like yours I'd ask them out in a way that's ambiguously romantic or platonic. If I was in your position, I'd just send her, "Hey, it's a shame the group's going to stop meeting, but would you like to go grab dinner or go to a movie on ___?" Then if it goes well, ask her to go on more dates, and at some point when it feels natural make it clear you're romantically, not just platonically, interested.

I've got several cutesy anecdotes I share with people about how I met my current girlfriend (and exes, when appropriate), but they're all incredibly long and I can't be arsed to reproduce them here. I think if you dredge back several months, maybe like 6 or so, you can find me mooning over her.

That being said, I'm no looker, but I am quite tall and funny. Turns out having a good sense of humor is a great means of flirtation, as some wag on Twitter said, the reason ugly comedians end up landing hot chicks is because the more you make 'em laugh, the less time they spend with their eyes open.

Or as I'd put it, they let me hit cause I'm goofy.

I have no doubt you’re a fun, funny dude irl, but “tall” might doing most of the work here.

It’s basically a meme at this point that women—consciously or subconciously—downplay the importance of height and oversell the importance of other characteristics to look/feel more wonderful. “What attracted me to my boyfriend is his sense of humor and him being a great listener. It just so happens that he’s 6’3”! Teehee.”

It's not like I can separate the two, so your guess is as good as mine!

If you're bantering back and forth, you're already in a good spot. There's two ways you can go.

You can ask something where there's obvious subtext, like "we should get coffee/dinner sometime", or make it even more strong by actually setting up a specific time to get coffee or dinner. This was how I asked out my now wife, and at least a couple previous girlfriends. Of course, I also failed with this many times, too. You can do this if you feel you already have a good enough rapport such that she probably already likes you, or if she thinks highly enough of you such that she would be flattered by you asking her out, not weirded out.

Alternatively, you can try to start setting up social engagements with groups and include her in them. This is safer, and you can use it to keep building rapport, but eventually you'll probably have to try to "ladder leap" by doing the first thing anyway.

I'm doing a deep dive on puberty blockers, and I'm getting to the stage where I want to move on from criticizing the mainstream message on them, to finding the best arguments available. I went back to an old hang-out of mine from the ancient times, a blog called Science-Based Medicine, because I remember them going strongly pro-trans a few years ago. I want to avoid using strong words, so as not to color the conversation (any more than I already have), but let's just say I'm not impressed by the quality of their arguments. Does anyone know anything better than the article I linked?

I don’t have a good answer to your question. I just want to say that I appreciate what you’re doing, and I look forward to reading the results.

I think the Wikipedia page for them has some decent arguments

Thanks. I did read that wiki page a while back, though I could dig through the references a bit more, so it might be worth another look.

However, I'd like something better, that would address some of the counter arguments. For all my issues with SBM l, they do do that, and they do it pretty exhaustively, so I'd actually rate them higher than wiki. Would you say the wiki page is better than the article I linked?

I didn't read the article you linked and honestly I don't really care enough about the topic to.

Weird suggestion, but Jesse Singal? He is highly skeptical of youth transition but he's also a stickler for nuance. If he identified an argument worth looking into that might be a good indication of its quality.

Thanks. I admit I follow him a bit less than other trans-skeptics so I might have missed something, but the issue is that even if I disagree with him on something related to this topic, I'm pretty sure I'd be happy to split the difference. I need someone who's going to argue The Science.

I realise this may come across as stirring the pot, but I hope I've been here long enough to have earned the benefit of the doubt.

In the context of the HBD debate, could someone please ELI5:

  • The concept of heritability and how it relates or doesn't relate to genetic causes of individual or group differences. I am aware of the "books at home" example. Is that all there is to it?

  • What precisely g is?

  • Steelman(!) Turkheimer's position. No, I don't want to hear about his politics.

  • Roughly summarise the position of Kirkegaard et al.

This whole debate always gets technical so quickly that I very often just get lost. I don't want to rehash the arguments here, I would like to understand the basics. But the waters are often so damn muddied (purposely so, I suspect) that it's very hard to get a grasp of what people are even fighting about.

Low-rigor response because I think you do have to study the object level a bit to evaluate the sides.

What precisely g is?

Precisely what its definition says. As Jensen himself put it:

It… reflects individual differences in performance on tests or tasks that involve any one or more of the kinds of processes just referred to as intelligence. The g factor emerges from the fact that measurements of all such processes in a representative sample of the general population are positively correlated with each other, although to varying degrees. A factor is a hypothetical source of individual differences measured as a component of variance. The g factor is the one source of variance common to performance on all cognitive tests, however diverse.

This is the definitive blog post refuting a popular methodological criticism.

Do you mean what it corresponds to in reality? I suppose it's just a holistic brain performance index, that's also predictive of general health. There isn't one physical thing that creates g, but the sum of diverse brain factors (half of our genome gets expressed in the brain) ensures that it emerges in the factor structure of our mental abilities, conditional on similar amount of training useful for each, and that predicts both general functioning and peak achievement. It isn't surprising that our abilities are highly correlated. We have a very homogenous brain made up of extremely complex computational elements (neurons) implementing simple task-agnostic learning algorithms, so most of the complexity and variation of our basic architecture (though not specific structure acquired over the lifetime) is shared between neurons or in their generic connectivity. Random genetic errors or (non-localized) environmental insults create different perturbations of the neuronal function, but on the whole-brain level they all push the system away from its optimal regime, no matter what it's trying to learn or to perform. You're unlikely to score in the 99th percentile on arithmetic and 20th on vocabulary if your axonal conduction is shot or your synapses are too sparse or do not get pruned well or your total cell count is too low or if your cell migration was too noisy or intracellular metabolism is somehow defective. And even if you've somehow developed specific tricks to cope very well with your shortcomings in a given skill, on the population level the power of the general factor becomes overwhelming.

Much of the issue is reducible to signal/noise ratio. High-performing brains ride the edge of metastability and wrangle representations easily; low-performing ones waste power fending off chaos and lose track of the context.

The concept of heritability and how it relates or doesn't relate to genetic causes of individual or group differences. I am aware of the "books at home" example. Is that all there is to it?

Steelman(!) Turkheimer's position. No, I don't want to hear about his politics.

But it is politics ultimately: we should be super, duper, ultra skeptical of HBD-related stuff and probably censor it for good measure, because Holocaust. He is leery of political implications of HBD acknowledgement regardless of specific merits of a given study.

Closer to the object level, I think he was recently steelmanned by Tailcalled:

People might read that intelligence is genetically correlated with myopia, or that homosexuality is genetically correlated with depression, and conclude that these are due to a direct biological link, rather than due to smarter people straining their eyes reading or staying indoors more, or homosexual people being discriminated against. Yet as we saw with education, this assumption is unwarranted; phenotypic causality leads to heritability.

Or put another way: the whole causal chain between genes and outcomes matters, for it may have links that depend on contingent properties of the environment. If proven, this would invalidate our assumption about this trait's heritability in a more general case. In our ancestral environment, smarter people probably hadn't been more myopic, because there had not existed the contingent segment «smart – reads a lot – sits indoors more than others – stupid monkeys haven't yet built good indoors lighting – not enough dopamine signaling in the retina – extended axial elongation period – myopia». It can be highly heritable, we can even find explanatory genetic polymorphisms – but the relationship disappears whenever we stop having our smartest children spend more time indoors with poor illumination. Likewise for all contingent chains. Therefore, even though everything is heritable, the first law of behavioral genetics does not mean that genetics is destiny or that people's phenotypes are molded by their genes in the intuitive strong sense the texture of their hair is.

This line of critique is pretty old, used by Lewontin etc. already, and is fair enough on its face, but assumes that some common mitigations psychometrists know about are insufficient, and it's only when it comes to proving this that we see clearly how Turkheimer is politically driven.

Roughly summarise the position of Kirkegaard et al.


We are living in a saturated and humane age. Human brain development is actually surprisingly robust and insensitive to inputs that are scarce in developed economies (even if some of them were scarce not so long ago in the past), and human cognitive development mostly proceeds close to the optimal way so long as you don't severely and obviously fuck up brain development or deviate far from low-effort common sense in nurture. Thus, developed societies have exhausted reasonable interventions that target contingent hazards disproportionately affecting g in different demographics; probably all hazards that bring down g in the population at large. While some differences in positive factors remain, they're long in the diminishing returns regime for more advantaged groups, as far as intelligence is concerned; and negative factors are similarly minor and maintained not by any iniquity, scarcity or coercion but out of their free choice by people who are worse off; and the rest is completely unsystematic. There's no low-hanging fruit left. No more toxic lead paint we can scrape off walls of homes where redlined minorities live, no malnutrition we can solve with food stamps, no miracle iodine-enriched brain-enhancing diet that only upper class kids are getting, no worms in ponds peasants have to drink from, no education reform that can remove some unnecessary cultural pressure. We've optimized and homogenized our environment to the point that practically all subpopulations realize the same, very high, percentage of their genotypic potential for g that is possible at the current technological/infrastructural level, and so differences in outcomes predicated on differences in g are explained by true differences in heredity, and are not amenable to elimination via any social policy change we'd recognize as fair.

Mostly the same logic applies to non-cognitive factors that influence outcomes, if to a lesser extent.

This model is corroborated by an extreme wealth of evidence and by the complete failure to create a competitively powerful model that rejects its premises, despite nearly a century of trying to do so, generous investment and genuine desire of talented researchers. This knowledge is being obfuscated and suppressed by political means.

Thank you! Very helpful.

Two more questions if you'll indulge me:

  • What are the most common anti-HBD arguments you encounter that aren't sophistry?

  • Gun to your head, what are the most persuading arguments against the position that the observable inter-group IQ gap is genetic in origin to a significant degree?

For me it was Chandy's research with IRS data that showed that income reversion to mean was the same for Black girls as for the White population. I suspect he's just doing something stupid but I can't dismiss the results especially since they are based on the largest sample ever collected in this space.

Thanks! Could you elaborate a bit? What makes this a good argument? What does it imply?

First off, it's Chetty. Sorry! I got him confused with a paper on distributed deadlock detection.

Chetty managed to convince the IRS to give him detailed income data on... everybody. Yes, literally everybody. It's a sociologist's wet dream. Anyway, he did a bunch of analysis comparing parental vs. child incomes. The idea is that populations tend to mean-revert but they do so differently across races, etc... Whites mean-revert to a higher income level than blacks. It's a neat way of getting rid of the influence of starting conditions. The study itself is here: The precise graph I'm talking about is here:

A lot of HBD arguments rely on the assumption* that Black underperformance is due to genes. However, there isn't much of a reason that Black women should consistently have better IQ-related genes than Black men (or at least none that I've heard yet). If outcomes between Black women and Black men diverge substantially, that implies that Black underperformance might not be related to their genetics after all.

  • An assumption with a lot of at least circumstantial evidence behind it (imo)...

That's not "the same for Black girls as for the White population", it's the same for black women and white women, the white male curve is noticeably higher. And on a meta level, it's always suspicious when a paper drops categories midway through. Whatever conclusions you want to infer from this graph, they would be much firmer if it also had asians.

Good catch on white women vs. white men. I wonder what causes the difference. I do think your comment on Asians is a bit of a non-sequitur.

Why a non-sequitur? Earlier parts of section IV show a higher steady state for asians than for whites, then they get dropped from the comparison. If they were included in this graph, it would either show that their advantage is also mostly male and asian women match white women, in which case maybe this graph says a lot more about gender than about race. Or the asian over white advantage is maintained for both genders, which would make for a much stronger anti-HBD argument. Because one of the more appealing HBD talking points imo is that by Occam's razor the black/white gap and the white/asian gap have the same basis.

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"Books at home" is presumably shorthand for a wide range of parenting practices, and indeed I would bet that it originated as a relatively easily measured proxy for parenting practices.

Btw the graph from here happened to be going around today; it shows a large gap in cognitive skills between identical and fraternal twins, but also a substantial gap between siblings raised together and siblings raised apart. (Note that some small pct of the difference between identical and fraternal twins might conceivably be caused by parenting, since at least in the past parents often tended to treat identical twins identically-- dressing them the same, etc -- which might also manifest itself in forcing both to experience some of the same experiences (eg, if one wanted to take violin lessons, both had to). Again, I would guess that would have a very small effect even if true, but of course that is a guess).

Also, one consideration that I never see mentioned in popular discussion of HBD is potential congenital, but not genetic, causes. Eg if poor people have dumber kids than other people, is it all either genetics or upbringing? Or is some the result of greater propensity for drinking, drug use, poor diet, etc during pregnancy?

Also, one consideration that I never see mentioned in popular discussion of HBD is potential congenital, but not genetic, causes. Eg if poor people have dumber kids than other people, is it all either genetics or upbringing? Or is some the result of greater propensity for drinking, drug use, poor diet, etc during pregnancy?

So if this were a HBD discussion someone would quickly point out that propensity for drinking is also partly genetic, therefore ???

I do not understand why this is brought up so often. Presumably you could claim that there is a policy solution for this (i.e. preventing pregnant women from drinking) and therefore the difference resulting from this type of parenting behaviour (even if it is partly genetic) is not set in stone?

Everything is genetic at some point. Without arms, it is more difficult to steal. Having arms is genetic. Do you deduce that stealing is genetic? Then everything will be genetic. But everything will also be social, political, physical, economical, sexual...

Drinking might be partly genetic, but a woman who has the drinking genes and does not drink (for example because she can't, as there is no alcohol in her country) will have healthier children than a women who drinks even though she has no drinking genes (say someone forces her to drink). So the gene is only relevant as a factor in the drinking behavior. The behavior is everything.

On the other side, if there is an intelligence gene, no circumstance will change the final result: she can live her life however she wishes, it won't change the result. The only important element is whether the children get the gene or not. The behavior is not relevant.

So if this were a HBD discussion someone would quickly point out that propensity for drinking is also partly genetic, therefore ???

Therefore this is a complicated issue, which is part of my point.

I do not understand why this is brought up so often. Presumably you could claim that there is a policy solution for this

  1. Yes, there are obviously potential policy solutions

  2. Why can't it be brought up simply in order to better understand an interesting phenomenon? I saw an article the other day re why dogs cock their heads to the side when people talk to them. I read the article despite it having no policy implications at all.

Just saw this posted today.

It's not just partially genetic. The difference in intelligence between two individuals is mostly genetic. Most people, including the credentialled, naively assume the opposite, thus coming to incorrect conclusions about many social problems. That's one reason it gets mentioned a lot here. The other, more important reason, is that the Motte is one of the only places where a reasonable discusssion about HBD is allowed to take place. If we wanted to talk about baseball, there are a million other forums for that.

My apologies, that was awkwardly phrased on my part. What I meant was that I do not understand how the observation that many environmental factors could also be driven by genetics is a counter-argument to the position that in-between group differences are partly genetic. Yet I very often see that happening in HBD discussions.

Also, one consideration that I never see mentioned in popular discussion of HBD is potential congenital, but not genetic, causes. Eg if poor people have dumber kids than other people, is it all either genetics or upbringing? Or is some the result of greater propensity for drinking, drug use, poor diet, etc during pregnancy?

How is it possible you never saw it mentioned? Twin adoption studies specifically rule out these sorts of issues.

No, they don't. They rule out an argument that some part of the variation between identical twins raised together and apart is caused by the environment in the womb. But it does not rule out an argument that some part of the difference between identical twins born to a poor woman and identical twins born to a middle class person is caused by the environment in the womb.

They do rule out the argument that the variation between groups of identical twins of the same socio-economic class is caused by the environment in the womb, though.

Only if the correlation between identical twins of class X is identical to the correlation between identical twins of class Y. Is that what studies show? Because I know in other contexts the effect of genetics is mediated by socioeconomic status.

They don't need to be identical. The genetic correlation just has to be bigger than the SES correlation within a given SES group. Or you can just look at kids born to rich families but who got adopted out to parents of various classes.

It was my impression that this is what the studies, in fact, show. Maybe an earnest full-HBDer can give a link, I'm just a reluctant and partial one, that prefers the whole thing to be proven false.

They don't need to be identical. The genetic correlation just has to be bigger than the SES correlation within a given SES group

I don’t know what you mean by the SES correlation within a given SES group. Within each SES group, every kid is coded with the same SES. There is no variation in SES to use to calculate correlation, is there?

Regardless, if there is a difference between the pct of variation explained by genetics in twins born to low SES mothers and the pct of variation explained by genetics in twins born to high SES mothers, then that difference is caused by something, right? That is true even if the genetic correlation is enormous.

Or you can just look at kids born to rich families but who got adopted out to parents of various classes

Yes, but my question is whether such studies have ever been done.

I don’t know what you mean by the SES correlation within a given SES group. Within each SES group, every kid is coded with the same SES. There is no variation in SES to use to calculate correlation, is there?

There's still some income variation within a group, no?

Regardless, if there is a difference between the pct of variation explained by genetics in twins born to low SES mothers and the pct of variation explained by genetics in twins born to high SES mothers, then that difference is caused by something, right? That is true even if the genetic correlation is enormous.

Yes, but if the genetic correlation significant (doesn't even have to be enourmous) that already requires us to overhaul the way we talk about social issues. If you want to focus on the environmental things we can do to improve outcomes for people, go right ahead, but you can't presume isms because groups have different outcomes.

Yes, but my question is whether such studies have ever been done.

Once again, I believe so, but it would require digging through ages old SSC / TheMotte posts, or the materials of Kirkegaard / Sailer / Murray. I'm inclined to do neither, as I wish we could bury the whole idea.

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The concept of heritability and how it relates or doesn't relate to genetic causes of individual or group differences. I am aware of the "books at home" example. Is that all there is to it?

As a term of art--that is, aside from its colloquial sense--heritability is "the proportion of phenotypic variation (VP) that is due to variation in genetic values (VG)." This is a mathematical concept established on population-level statistics. I am not aware of the "books at home" example or what you take from it, so I'm afraid I am unable to tell you whether that is "all there is to it." But that link to Nature is a pretty short read, if you want to know more about how heritability factors into our understanding of highly heritable traits (like IQ).

What precisely g is?

G is also a mathematical concept that turns up in statistical analysis. Researchers who assign what are believed to be diverse cognitive tasks nonetheless observe high correlation in the ability to perform well on these tasks. G is the variable assigned to track that correlation. The fact that the correlation exists tends to undermine competing theories e.g. of "multiple intelligence."

Maybe to make it more of an ELI5, it's common in American culture to think of oneself as a "math person" or a "language person," or maybe even more particularly as a "history geek" or a "physics nerd." In all kinds of standardized testing we find it's actually quite unusual to be noticeably bad at, say, linguistic analogies, while being exceptional at, say, calculus. Even things like self-regulation tend to correlate with g--in a study of prison inmates, for example, populations with higher IQs were less prone to violence (PDF warning). While there are cases of extreme divergence (sometimes so extreme we call them "idiot savants"), statistically speaking high apparent cognitive ability is multi-domain.

Note that IQ is not the same as g, but is an attempt to measure g. Note that I also say "apparent" cognitive ability: you might argue that, for example, the ways in which we parse out "separate" cognitive tasks might not actually be separate, or something. It is important, in discussing intelligence science, to recognize just how much of a "black box" our brains still are to us. We can measure inputs and outputs, and we can even get some limited sense of what is happening internally, but beyond that most of our best guesses are inescapably statistical and of limited (but probably not zero) value at the level of individual humans. But in those analyses we find strong correlations of success across task domains (defined to the best of our understanding), which is extremely difficult to explain in the absence of something like g.

Steelman(!) Turkheimer's position. No, I don't want to hear about his politics.

I know you've posed this as a "small scale question" but what position?

Roughly summarise the position of Kirkegaard et al.

Again, you're going to have to be more specific.

Thank you! That is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. Already learned a lot, thanks!

As a term of art--that is, aside from its colloquial sense--heritability is "the proportion of phenotypic variation (VP) that is due to variation in genetic values (VG)." This is a mathematical concept established on population-level statistics. I am not aware of the "books at home" example or what you take from it, so I'm afraid I am unable to tell you whether that is "all there is to it." But that link to Nature is a pretty short read, if you want to know more about how heritability factors into our understanding of highly heritable traits (like IQ).

In a lot of HBD discussions I come across people who will claim that heritability is not identical to genetic causation. I do not understand on what basis this claim is made. To quote myself:

But in every single HBD discussion, there is someone claiming that heritability and genetic influence are not identical. They usually bring up something clearly environmental, such as "having books at home" and claim that this would also be heritable. I do think it has something to do with how many environmental circumstances such as parental behaviour might themselves be influenced by the parents' genes. But this doesn't seem like a refutation of genetic impact to me.

G is also a mathematical concept that turns up in statistical analysis.

So g is essentially a latent contruct that is not directly measurable and IQ is our attempt to come as close as possible?

I know you've posed this as a "small scale question" but what position?

Turkheimer seems to be the poster child of the position that in-between group differences, especially as related to IQ, are not biological in nature. He very often is cited authoritatively in this regard. I am aware of his political position that this type of inquiry is unsavoury (and I agree to some degree), but I am not aware of the scientific basis of his argument. It seems to be some kind of "everything is heritable, we don't know what might be the case in radically different environments, so who knows?" which just seems nonsensical to me. I am looking for a good steelman of his position but I don't even know what his position actually is.


Likewise, Kirkegaard seems to be Turkheimer's main opponent. I tried making sense of some of his blog posts, but they are all way over my head.

As I said, I am in dire need of ELI5 because I don't even know what questions I should ask to improve my understanding.