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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 14, 2024

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Conspiracy Investigation Done Right

In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the ocean off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 people on board. After an extensive four-year investigation, the NTSB concluded the explosion was caused by a short circuit ignition within the center fuel tank. Or at least that's the official story.

Now normally when you encounter a disclaiming phrase like that it tends to be a klaxon warning to strap in because you're about to hear some crazy shit about what really happened. I'm not going to argue for some crazy shit though, instead I want to showcase a real-life illustration on how to properly investigate and litigate what otherwise would be dismissed and derided as some crazy shit.

Someone (thanks Jim!) brought to my attention this pending lawsuit that aims to challenge the TWA 800 official narrative.[1] The basic summary you need to know is that, in contrast to the official story, the "alternative" narrative claims the airplane was hit by an SM-2 surface-to-air missile launched by the United States government during a weapons testing exercise. You can read the 38-page lawsuit complaint yourself where they allege:

Defendants [Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, US Government, etc.] negligently, recklessly, or intentionally authorized and conducted the testing of missiles in commercial airspace. As a result of these tests, a missile downed TWA 800 and killed Plaintiffs' decedents.

And humorously enough:

Defendants owed decedents and Plaintiffs a duty not to negligently test missiles in commercial airspace. Defendants breached that duty by negligently testing missiles in commercial airspace.

TO BE CLEAR: I find the overall claim to be extremely implausible based on Bayesian reasoning I'll get to later, but the focus here is less about delving into the specific allegations[2] and more about showcasing how one should go about uncovering a criminal conspiracy that otherwise sounds kooky on its face.

As far as I can tell, the law firm involved has a reputation for serious lawyers doing serious work. The complaint they filed directly addresses many procedural issues that would normally be a hindrance for these types of claims. For example, the major hurdle would be the statute of limitations given that the explosion took place in 1996 but the lawyers cite the fraudulent concealment exception based on some FOIA foot-dragging:

Specifically, key evidence confirming that a missile caused the crash of TWA 800 was hidden from the public and the victims' families for over 25 years. This evidence was only recently unearthed by Dr. Tom Stalcup in his hard-fought FOIA litigation, which has now been pending for over ten years....Before April 15, 2021, the Plaintiffs were not aware of, or on notice of, the information that forms the basis of this complaint, nor have the Plaintiffs had any reasonable opportunity discover their injury, its cause, and the link between the two.

The legal system relies on attorneys as an (imperfect) screening mechanism to separate valid claims from the torrential garbage. Before an attorney can rouse a court into examining a claim, Rule 11 requires them to affirm that the attorney has made reasonable efforts to investigate it themselves to make sure they're not just re-shoveling whatever bullshit their client dropped on their lap. The lawsuit offers specific allegations about which government agencies were involved in the cover-up, when the cover-up took place, and how it took place. A sample:

The FBI essentially froze the NTSB out of the investigation. The FBI removed all copies (original and duplicates) of Navy radar tapes from the Navy, placing them out of the NTSB's reach, and refused to allow the NTSB to conduct eyewitness interviews or review the FBI's records that indicated the true cause of the TWA 800 crash...the CIA concocted materials to discredit eyewitnesses who could confirm that TWA 800 had been downed by some kind of projectile. These materials included a video and animation that was displayed during a nationally-televised FBI press conference that attempted to reconcile the eyewitness testimony that the plane was struck by a projectile with the U.S. Government's official position that the crash was caused by a defect in the plane's center fuel tank.

They even pontificate on what might have prompted a rush towards testing live warheads over a populated area:

The Aegis System's radar also needed improvement in its ability to operate close to shore and to properly integrate into existing systems...These serious flaws could result in a missile striking an unintended target...Instead of waiting five years for ships to be properly constructed with the SPY-ID(V) [an advanced radar system] so that testing could be conducted far from congested air corridors and at established test ranges, the SPY-ID(V) was tested on an expedited basis in and around the CSEDS in New Jersey, in a highly congested area.

And they managed to track down evidence of missile testing right around the time and place of interest:

An electrician on the roof of a nearby Long Island hospital was filming the sunrise and captured the second missile witnessed by the Coastguardsman on his VHS camera [five days before TWA 800 went down]...on November 16, 1996, almost precisely where TWA 800 went down off Long Island, a Pakistani Airlines pilot reported to Air Traffic Control that a "rocket" rose in front of him and continued rising above his altitude.

I've only picked a sample, there's a lot more details in the complaint. In contrast to the persistent and arguably intentional vagueness found in many disdained conspiracy theories, I'm genuinely impressed by how comprehensive the lawsuit's claims are regarding who/how/why. They explain exactly which organizations are involved in the cover-up and the evidence behind that belief, which missile system brought the plane down and the evidence behind that, specific reasons for why live warhead testing took place in a busy air traffic corridor, and explanations for why it took so long to uncover all this.

If (again, arguendo) TWA Flight 800 was indeed brought down by reckless missile testing involving a live warhead and this was covered-up by the government, then the way this lawsuit is conducted is the best opportunity for legal redress. The legal system has serious and persistent deficiencies with its inability to offer all petitioners the relief they're owed, but certain rules and expectations it has developed over time are worthy of replication.

As a foil, the strengths of how the TWA 800 complaints are presented become more obvious when it's contrasted against another lawsuit whose deficiencies resulted in Rule 11 sanctions for the lawyers that filed it. In 2020, two Colorado attorneys filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all registered voters in the country, and sought $160 billion in punitive damages, alleging the election was stolen from Trump.[3] Their 84-page complaint (plus a dozen affidavits) alleges that a wide roster of defendants (Dominion, Facebook, various state governors, and "1 to 10,000" as-of-yet unidentified co-conspirators) engaged in unspecified-but-definitely illegal conduct. For example, here's what one of the supporting affidavits claimed:

After much research and contemplation, it has come to my attention that the 2020 general election, and probably many more, have been compromised by a number of persons, including a corporation in the United States called Dominion Voting Machines, Inc., and others, such as, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; and other individuals acting as governors and secretaries of state, including, Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, and Gretchen Whitmer and Jocelyn Bensen from Michigan.

Contrast this "research and contemplation" with the straightforward allegation of "The Navy and various defense contractors caused an airline explosion by deciding to test live warheads in a highly-populated area". The magistrate who ordered sanctions against the Colorado attorneys noted their conspicuous aversion to investigation:

It appears that Plaintiffs' counsel's process for formulating the factual allegations in this lawsuit was to compile all the allegations from all the lawsuits and media reports relating to alleged election fraud (and only the ones asserting fraud, not the ones refuting fraud), put it in one massive complaint, then file it and 'see what happens.'...Material, including affidavits, from other lawsuits was accepted at face value, with no apparent critical assessment. Mr. Fielder says he watched videos and listened to talk show interviews with some of the experts involved. He also says relied on his own many years' experience as a lawyer to "connect the dots."

Pro-tip: don't decide to file a lawsuit after listening to a podcast.

Back to the TWA 800 case, the central claim involving the US accidentally shooting down a passenger airline isn't impossible because it happened once in 1988 with Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 people on board. What's least plausible of all with TWA 800 is how the military, the defense contractors, and the law enforcement agencies involved managed a successful cover-up over so many people over such a long period of time.

There's an oft-utilized but facile heuristic that claims that if there was a cover-up, then someone would've leaked it, and so therefore no leak = no cover-up. This is unreliable because there plenty of government cover-ups that were successful, at least for a while. The Tuskegee Syphilis study went on for 40 years until an AP story in 1972. Operation Mockingbird, MKUltra, and COINTELPRO all took place in the 1950s but weren't exposed until the 1970s. Project SUNSHINE which involved collecting body parts from dead children to study radioactive fallout started in 1953, didn't become publicly known until 1956, and the full extent wasn't fully exposed until the 1990s.

However, the common elements with these schemes is that they all involved either a small number of conspirators, or had victims that no one really gave a shit about. None of this is reflected in Flight 800, its 230 dead, and the multiple entities implicated.

The incentive behind the cover-up doesn't make much sense either, because anyone helping with the cover-up has no way of knowing ahead of time whether it will remain under wraps, especially if perpetual silence relies on the cooperation of hundreds or thousands of people. You only need one leak and if the whole thing blows open, no one wants to be left holding the proverbial gun while everyone is pointing fingers at each other. Anyone at the decision fulcrum faces an obvious pay-off from defection that needs a serious countervailing cooperation pay-off to convince them into shouldering that level of culpability.

The lawsuit allegations also rely heavily on eyewitness testimony (though with some video corroboration), which is particularly unreliable and prone to suggestion when it involves widely publicized events like an airline crash. Lay witnesses who lack the appropriate specialized training and background are vulnerable to misinterpreting what they see or hear.

Implausible is still not the same as impossible, and crazier shit has happened before. If there's any validity to these wild claims at all, this lawsuit tees up a stellar attempt at uncovering the truth.

[1] I've long had an aversion to describing anything as a 'conspiracy theory' because it's often wielded as a discussion-terminating cudgel. Once the label is affixed, the very notion of scrutinizing, investigating, or grappling with the underlying claims is dismissed as a waste of time.

[2] The Flight 800 Wikipedia page has lots more of the technical details if you're so inclined.

[3] The two lawyers, Gary Fielder and Ernest Walker, were acting on their own and had no connection to Donald Trump or his campaign.

You only need one leak and if the whole thing blows open, no one wants to be left holding the proverbial gun while everyone is pointing fingers at each other.

The idea that big conspiracies can't happen because one leak is enough to stop the conspiracy in it's tracks and get everyone involved busted relies on, well, that axiom. That one leak stops it. There's even mathematical modelling of whether conspiracies are viable with this premise baked in. But in the real world, there are plenty of conspiracies where a single leak doesn't stop it from proceeding. In fact there are plenty of conspiracies where tens of thousands of leaks doesn't do anything to stop it. Obvious examples of such could fill a book so I'll just provide a few dissimilar examples.

A political example is the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart in East Germany. That this was actually being used not to protect East Germany from Fascists, but instead to stop East Germans from fleeing to the West, is a conspiracy theory involving something of great importance and implicating tens of thousands of military and political figures in a secret plot to prevent emmigration. And basically everyone knew it. Yet this did nothing to stop the conspiracy until the eve of the fall of the regime engaged in it anyway.

A military example is the Little Green Men that occupied Crimea. That these were actually Russian troops engaged in a plot to annex Crimea is a conspiracy theory involving something of great importance and implicating tens of thousands of military figures in a secret plot to invade and seize territory from another country. And basically everyone knew it. Yet this did nothing to stop the conspiracy, which proceeded to it's completion anyway.

And a medical example is Flibanserin, a drug that almost certainly doesn't work to treat a disorder that almost certainly was made to fit the drug than the other way around. That this was actually just a plot to make money off women in shitty marriages is a conspiracy theory involving something of... admittedly modest importance, and implicating thousands of researchers and clinical workers. As part of the conspiracy, the owner of the drug's IP even set up astroturfed advocacy groups insisting that the FDA needs to approve it, and that if they don't, it's because of sexism against the "female Viagra". And it's very much an open secret. Yet this did nothing to stop the FDA from approving it and it's ongoing albeit limited use.

Yes, the examples you cite are valid. I could've phrased it better but when I said you only need one leak, I meant one that provided substantive evidence and in the context of a hypothetical TWA 800 cover-up. You're absolutely right that leaks do not necessarily guarantee exposing a conspiracy.

You’re conflating difference senses of the word “stop” here I think.

There’s “stopping it from being hidden” and there’s “stopping it from continuing” and there’s “stopping it from being effective” at a minimum.

The quote you cite is focusing on the “hidden” aspect.

Unsubstantiated leaks become rumours, which is how a lot of conspiracy theories are created in the first place. I would think that several conspiracy theories just never gained enough traction and evidence to prove them. I'm not saying we should lean towards believing conspiracy theories, but "Where there is smoke, there's fire" as a saying came from somewhere.

Ironically sometimes that smoke is itself the product of a conspiracy. For instance, my understanding is that the KGB spread, uh, speculation that the United States created AIDS in a lab.

Many claims that something is a conspiracy theory imply the equal and opposite claim that someone's conspiring to spread a conspiracy theory.

"However, the common elements with these schemes is that they all involved either a small number of conspirators, or had victims that no one really gave a shit about. None of this is reflected in Flight 800, its 230 dead, and the multiple entities implicated."

The United States government performed unethical human experimentations on many, many people. It wasn't all black people, or foreigners, or people in mental hospitals or whatever. Random people from ordinary hospitals were selected to be irradiated. The victims were selected on the basis of convenience. If "a large number of random Americans belonging to no particular group" counts as "victims that no one really gave a shit about", why shouldn't the 230 people on Flight 800?

I'm not familiar with what you're referring to. As best as I can parse, victims distributed across different places and time is much easier to ignore than a dramatic single event where hundreds perish at once.

Subjectively, that response seems post-hoc to me. Or special pleading might be a better term for it.

I outlined several examples and drew common elements between the examples I cited. I apologize if what I said came off as either a comprehensive list of elements, or that it should apply to incidents I wasn't even aware of.

... I think your perspective is rather badly turned into word games, in a way that is only persuasive to lawyers.

((I also have some big rants about the extreme rarity of sanctions against prosecutors, even in view of high-profile and serious misconduct, but they're often not operating under civil procedures and I expect you have bigger complaints given your vocation.))

As a metaphor, have you ever heard of the Subway Tuna lawsuit? If not, the complaint is here. It's an absolutely fascinating read, filled with bombshell allegations where genetic testing revealed 'tuna' products containing not only no tuna but not even fish...

And which were fake. At best, the plaintiffs depended on a claim of this genetic testing's relevance for this sort of food authentication from some citation laundering out of context; more likely, they had to actively shop (as the New York Times did) to find a lab willing to take their money for a test that they'd have to disclaim was meaningless. And the plaintiffs (or at least their lawyers, did the whole monty of other trumpy behaviors, such that the eventual order about sanctions read:

Counsel failed to meet deadlines, including deadlines to serve discovery responses; failed to serve expert disclosures; failed to file all of the supplemental materials ordered by Judge Cisneros on March 17, 2023; filed an untimely and false declaration with Judge Cisneros regarding their failure to comply with discovery deadlines; produced deficient discovery responses; served an improper deposition notice; and misstated the record in both their motion to dismiss and their opposition to Subway’s motion for sanctions.

Of course, there's a punchline:

But that does not demonstrate that counsel acted recklessly or in bad faith when pursing Amin’s claims before and after April 2021.

By any reasonable colloquial (or normal human) use of the terms, they absolutely did. I'll be exceptionally charitable, and perhaps rather than trying to shakedown or embarrass a sandwich shop with false claims, Amin was merely incredibly go-focused and managed to find an unscrupulous lab on the very first try. When this returned chicken in most samples (for those in the audience, American tuna salad is made using mayonnaise, which in turn is made using chicken egg) in a substance that was not chicken to the naked eye, they perhaps genuinely believed Subway somehow had developed secret technology. The inappropriateness of DNA barcoding as a technique in many conditions is not hugely obvious; Derek Lowe rather famously let his preconceptions hit an industry he already (if reasonably) didn't like.

But two years in, faced with masses of documentation consistent with tuna sourcing, the plaintiffs had nothing but a single set of genetic tests. They did not investigate; academic discussion of the inappropriateness of DNA barcoding for canned or vacuum-packed pre-cooked tuna was well-established as early as 2015. They found (laundered) citations offering what they wanted to believe, and fought as hard as possible to obfuscate that.

There's some meaningful difference there, to judges and lawyers. To anyone else, it looks like the plaintiffs just carefully split off the people making hilariously false claims from the people making the lawsuit, despite clear connection in focus and interest.

I don't know what actually happened for TWA800. The official story is far more reasonable than the conspiracy theory, but I'd have said the same for Ted Stevens, Waco, etc. Shootdowns have happened, although the timeline

But I can tell you that this complaint stinks in the same way.

The complaint depends heavily -- in many ways, near-entirely -- on claims made by Thomas Stalcup of private conversations or interpretations of long-public knowledge in implausible ways. Nearly a page (76-82) consists of unnamed persons who supposedly encountered missiles after TWA 800 (and, perhaps more importantly, after the missile theory had been publicized). The named sources are often paraphrased aggressively, in exactly the sort of ways that would be done if attempting to mislead (most critically, "personally aware of at least a dozen Aegis missile tests off the East Coast of the United States around this same overall time period" would be absolutely critical evidence if it meant a dozen live tests near New York City in early 1996, and absolutely meaningless if it was the well-disclosed Wallops Island, VA testing center that the public knew about in September 1996).

Edit: to be clear, this is not a defense of the standard theory for twa800, or of your electionisy lawyers. And I do recognize there are reasons these symptoms are this way. But it looks a lot less like clear duty of candor to the court, or even focus on the dignity of the court; given your two examples, it seems more a matter of the dignity of the judge.

I'm not sure what your criticism is or what word games I'm playing. My post was addressing what is admittedly a very low bar to clear, namely how to present allegations of a conspiracy competently. I'm not denying that lawyers lie or conduct sloppy investigations or do some expert-shopping, but all that is collateral to whether or not the allegations are described coherently and with sufficient detail. Even knowing that the Subway Tuna lawyers shopped around and misrepresented their DNA findings, that doesn't change the fact that their theory was coherent and had enough details. The falsification of my argument would be if the Subway Tuna lawsuit didn't bother with any testing at all and instead filed an affidavit from some rando who said "I have come to believe that Subway Tuna is not in fact tuna" without explaining foundation.

I don't think you're playing word games, so much as you're getting played by word games.

At the trivial level, I think the Krick complaint has a pretty sizable amount of what O'Rouke's final order on sanctions on calls out as :

Given the circumstances of this case, it was not enough to merely accept as true (or potentially true) what might be stated in the media, what had been pushed out over the Internet, or even what was included in other lawsuits filed around the country.

There's some sunlight between it and O'Rouke, but not much. Quite a lot of the 'specific' citations have nothing to do with the actual legal theory, and even some of the ones you highlight are just pulling statements by randos out of their original context, or taking routine actions as evidence of a dire conspiracy. And while you emphasize affidavits with a lot of padding, there's a number of specific and actual (though false!) claims with connections to violations of law (that the plaintiffs misunderstood or had no standing to challenge).

My deeper objection is that this distinction is pretty uncompelling to normal people, and in ways that undermine your point. The precise legal theory and the relevance of specific claims to it is interesting, and it does genuinely matter when someone submits unmoored claims or specious legal theories to the court, and hurt when people aim pants-on-head-crazy ones at you. There's reason that courts are more likely to assign sanctions for 11(b)2 than 11(b)3 for reason, and it's not just that judges can evaluate those questions more easily and review them more reliably, or even that lawyers can.

But it would be kinda nice to know that the lawyers in question had checked if a Pakistani Airlines pilot had actually seen a missile anywhere near an SM-2 (or even what his or her name was) or what if any conclusion the FBI had pronounced after investigation, or what the relevance of PCR for canned tuna would be, or if Wisconsin drop boxes were operated in violation of state law, in addition to whether this mattered for the underlying question of law and whether they are sufficiently specific. That's the more conventional read of "the attorney has made reasonable efforts to investigate it themselves to make sure they're not just re-shoveling whatever bullshit their client dropped on their lap". This is part of Rule 11 (b3, to be precise), and it's possible to get sanctioned for failing this test, but it's extraordinarily uncommon and the standard is extremely forgiving. (see discussion here under "Reasonable Inquiry").

There are reasons this stance is so forgiving, and I can be persuaded that fair and open access to the courts is worth the costs of spurious lawsuits. But if your selected example of one includes a full pepe silvia of questionable newspaper clippings and depends heavily on a couple bullet points that are little more than "Trust This Rando Pro Se Litigant, he totally has retired navy and FBI people dropping hot tips, bro," it runs into problems. Or where the complaint, across three amendments, launders claims because the PhD biologist must have missed the people citing him.

You're probably even right in the sense that the people with their names on the complaint are totally hands-clear. Krick doesn't have Stalcup on the complaint or submitting an affidavit; Amin merely hired rather than submitted as an honest expert witness Dr. Barber. But it's not like the behavior in O'Rouke was better where it followed that trick: the initial complaint launders several specific factual complaints originating from Johnson v. Benson in Detroit. But we recognize that the plaintiffs were on notice for O'Rouke when we seldom do the same for people with comparably bad factual allegations.

In summary:

step1 : - spend a couple decades going to law school, join a successful law firm

step2 : - set up a bunch of CCTV in places where people might be committing bad stuff

step3 : - spend years suing people over this stuff

step4: - ???

step5: - some dude on some random website congratulates you for doing a good job

Gee-whiz, I wonder how people ever got anything done before lawyers were invented. Perhaps the Trojans would have believed Laocoön if he had been to law school.

It’s one thing to make it clear that you don’t like lawyers. Dressing it up in sarcasm, though, moves it firmly into sneering territory.

Every month or so, you get a warning for this. Every time, you come back and alternate between actual engagement and this sort of sneer. Take three days off this time.

I think the real thing that differentiates this kind of coverup from something like the Tuskegee case or MKULTRA or COINTELPRO or whatever is that none of those involved a specific event; they were just government programs that happened to be going on at the time. I remember when that crash happened and the highly publicized investigation. Before the official report came out, there was a lot of suggestion in the media that it was caused by an explosion, though, IIRC, it centered more around terrorists planting a bomb in the cargo hold than an errant missile. Hell, I remember it being news when the investigation revealed that it wasn't a bomb. So here we have a situation where there's a newsworthy plane crash and a lot of people suspect it was a bomb, and people are looking for evidence of such before the investigation is even completed. If you're in a position to know what really happened then you're on notice that this is something of public interest in a way that you wouldn't be if you're a participant in a government program that you don't find particularly controversial and that no one is even suspecting exists.

Perhaps relevant to your interests, Scott Greenfield commented on my substack and has previously posted about seeing a missile that day.

Before the official report came out, there was a lot of suggestion in the media that it was caused by an explosion, though, IIRC, it centered more around terrorists planting a bomb in the cargo hold than an errant missile. Hell, I remember it being news when the investigation revealed that it wasn't a bomb.

Witness statements claiming to have seen a missile of some kind were first proposed days after the crash, and the FBI pushed it fairly hard as a possible terrorist act for quite some time. A handful of witnesses took out newspaper ads, encouraged when a few early tests of wreckage turned positive for trace amounts of RDX and PETN in late August. (The official story is that these traces were left over by Gulf War transport runs.) By November, a retired federal Senator had endorsed the theory of a Navy blue-on-green incident.

Some of this was serious belief, and some of it was just an accident of different and conflicting approaches to community relations. The NTSB is famously resistant to publishing information before a final report, excepting where (a partner) orders regulatory or emergency shutdowns; the FBI held press conferences when they found information, in the theory that they should be asking both partner agencies and the public to report any unusual observations.

I remember TWA800, and there was a missile theory at the time. Complete with fuzzy video. This isn't new.

Yes this is true, a TWA 800 cover-up is materially much more difficult on a dimension beyond just the number of conspirators you'd have to pay off or cajole.

One of the interesting things about MKULTRA is that it was revealed because a small cache of documents survived a document destruction order by the Director of the CIA. It seems to me we can logically infer the possibility (perhaps even the probability) of similarly audacious programs that have been successfully concealed simply because the relevant documents were successfully destroyed.

I agree with your point that government cover-ups can work, and obviously if some can work for some time it implies some can work permanently, or at least still can be working today. But I also think that leaks, frankly, are not that as damaging to the integrity of a cover-up as one might believe.

The problem is that from the outside leaks just look like random baseless rumor. There is a process for laundering such leaks or rumors into consensus reality, often quite literally via the New York Times. The reason Watergate became a scandal was because the leaker respected the process and got the Times on his side. Amusingly, this is also the exact same reason that everyone is talking about UFOs right now: a small group of media-savvy people made a coordinated effort to get it into the Times. I was aware of the "Tic-Tac" incident long before the Times published it (partially via personal connections that alerted me when it "leaked" all the way into a niche publication) but it was not taken seriously by e.g. Congress until it was laundered into mainstream respectability.

You can sort-of map this on to MeToo. My hazy recollection at least was that part of the premise or background of the movement was that there were a number of predatory people, who were known to be predatory (this certainly, at a minimum, seems to be the case for Harvey Weinstein). It was quite literally an open secret that the guy was engaging in harassment at best and outright rape at worst. But until the open secret was laundered into a mainstream narrative Weinstein went unpunished. I am of course fingering the Times as the standard-bearer of this narrative, but I imagine many similar dramas have played out on smaller scales, even within a family.

Another conspiracy I am curious about is the drug-running out of Afghanistan. Rumors have reached me, both online and in-person, that US military aircraft were used to move large amounts of drugs out of Afghanistan during our occupation of the country. (Similar rumors sprung up and were even published regarding the Vietnam war.) I don't know if these rumors are true (I guess I'll believe them when I read them in the Times) but I frankly would be a bit surprised if anyone in the Times was aware of them, and very surprised if they were investigating such a story, even though I imagine they would concede it was possible. I am not sure I can exactly articulate why, but I think everyone has a sense of what I am saying. Somehow it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that should come out now. Perhaps in 20 years, when it will be long too late to change anything that happened.

Which is part of what makes the timing of this lawsuit interesting. It's based on FOIA documents that were extracted from the bowels of the bureaucracy after a few decades. If the allegations are true (and I am not arguing that they are or aren't, I haven't even read the complaint) it seems like a very plausible outcome is a settlement and no jail time for people who negligently killed hundreds of people at random. But then again, that's exactly what happened on Iran Air 655: a settlement was paid, and nobody was disciplined, despite the fact that the missile was fired under verifiably faulty pretenses (I don't think there was a conspiracy here, just a very, very big mistake).

This is a little meandering, so let me come to a point. I think people believe that if there's a "leak," if a single person talks, then somehow magically the truth will out and we'll all read about it in the papers tomorrow. But that's not how these things work. I think it's something like a preference cascade, where the problem isn't what is true and what isn't. Rather, it is a coordination problem. And if the people in charge of the covert endeavor (whether it's Harvey Weinstein and his PR/legal team, or "the CIA," or the people in charge of ensuring that my medical and legal records remain confidential, or what have you) are better at coordinating than the leakers, the leakers can "leak" all they want, but it won't make its way into the collective consciousness whether that's of a single family or an entire nation. Or sometimes, even if it does make its way into the collective consciousness, it can be too awkward to openly acknowledge. You see this at the level of a family or community, but I think sometimes it happens at the national one as well.

I'd propose that when evaluating the plausibly of keeping something secret, then, we shouldn't evaluate the odds of one person blabbing. Rather, we should evaluate the coordination problem at play, and the incentive structures involved. I think that viewing things through this lens has some good explanatory power as to why some covert endeavors fail, some succeed, and many come out several decades later. After many years, the power balance in coordination shifts. Criminal underlings have less of a desire to protect their pals long after the statutes of limitations have expired; victims of abusers accumulate in number, grow in power, and begin to coordinate effectively; people in office lose their allies due to chance and time.

I'd propose that when evaluating the plausibly of keeping something secret, then, we shouldn't evaluate the odds of one person blabbing. Rather, we should evaluate the coordination problem at play, and the incentive structures involved.

Yes you bring up many excellent points. I did not intend to imply that exposing conspiracies is as simple as one person babbling, it depends on a lot more factors than just that.

I’ll take issue with this bit because I encounter it a lot:

There's an oft-utilized but facile heuristic that claims that if there was a cover-up, then someone would've leaked it, and so therefore no leak = no cover-up. This is unreliable because there plenty of government cover-ups that were successful, at least for a while.

This is actually a very reliable heuristic regarding supposed US government plots in more recent times. The examples you cite regarding the CIA/IC/DoD are the classics in the genre. But the key context to keep in mind is that the Cold War was a very different time, with very different norms and processes. Significant changes for oversight were made in the 1970s and the Overton Window for acceptable behavior shifted a fair bit the last few decades. So when evaluating present claims of a plot you can’t over index on what took place so long ago. (The same dynamic goes for the medical study example you cite; it was a different era and if anything we’ve overcorrected on medical ethics.)

In other words, the half life of cover ups is shorter and the big crazy stuff is just not going to fly. Things like the Bush torture and warrantless wiretapping programs come to mind. Or the cover up around Pat Tillman’s death. Or the shoddy justification for the invasion of Iraq (the IC takes major efforts to avoid repeating the mistake of politically influenced/misused assessments after that). We had multiple broad, sensitive leaks under the Obama administration and the Trump administration was chock full of leaks and tell alls. And investigations of investigations.

If there are public allegations of some plot, then it’s already past the point where the plot, if true, managed to avoid being detected.

Everybody knows how easy it is for a leak or an investigation to happen and intelligence bureaucrats are strongly incentivized to avoid the very appearance of evil, or anything sensational.

The IC is a big place and mistakes and shenanigans happen, but it’s very different from the Wild West days of the earlier part of the Cold War and grand plots and cover ups are very, very hard.

In other words, the half life of cover ups is shorter and the big crazy stuff is just not going to fly.

This is false. As others pointed out MKUltra got exposed by a lucky coincidence. The full extent of the program is still not known, and an alternative version of events were all the documents were properly disposed of, and we never hear of it outside of the testimony of a few traumatized kooks, is hardly implausible.

You can’t call my theory about hypothetical modern day plots being far more unlikely false by citing an ancient one as you have because you aren’t addressing any of the points I made about why the past was different.

You’re simply not engaging the points I made by describing the particulars of MKUltra.

I disagree. The point I'm making is that MKUltra got exposed not due to a "half-life on cover ups", but because of a fluke, where an alternative version of events could result in it always remaining a rumor (a.k.a. crazy conspiracy theory) at most. A shorter half-life cannot fix the issue, because that was not the source of it.

Now you might say that whatever changes were implemented after the cold war would not have allowed it to go undetected (rather than merely catching it sooner), but you haven't really backed your claim, if it is the claim you are making.

I’m using “half life” metaphorically. I’m not literally saying there is a causal mechanism directly affecting every plot the way it works in chemistry.

An MKUltra today would be far less likely to either get off the ground or remain covert for the reasons I outlined. That the actual MKUltra was exposed by the dint of luck back in the day does not challenge what I am trying to relate.

This is probabilistic thinking applied to evaluating incomplete evidence. The environment has changed a lot in 50+ years and so directly mapping plots of yore onto potential plots today is a faulty model because the priors are not updated sufficiently.

In other words, the half life of cover ups is shorter and the big crazy stuff is just not going to fly.

What about Epstein's "suicide"?

He probably just killed himself. God knows he had plenty of reason to; his life was basically over. He had already tried to strangle himself two weeks earlier. I get that it looks sus what with all the video cameras not working etc but there is a very parsimonious explanation: jails are often run like shit. Fuckups are the rule, not the exception.

I don't really see what an assassination would accomplish either. The theory goes that some powerful somebody wanted to cover up their sex crimes, but between Ghislaine Maxwell, the victims, and the staff, surely there were and still are plenty of witnesses to whatever (and whoever) was going on.

Yes, the great likelihood is that Epstein did in fact kill himself. If there was a ‘conspiracy’ it’s that he got his lawyers to bribe prison staff to make it easier for him to kill himself, not that he was murdered. He was 100% going to be convicted and spend the rest of his life in jail as a sex offender, alternating between getting shanked like Chauvin and being locked up in solitary confinement with no hope of ever being released.

The theory that Epstein would talk has no substance. He was already old, there’s no way public pressure would allow for a sweetheart deal where he got out after 5 years in exchange for ratting out everyone else, especially with the victims on TV discussing his crimes.

The theory that Epstein would talk has no substance. He was already old ... He was 100% going to be convicted and spend the rest of his life in jail as a sex offender, alternating between getting shanked like Chauvin and being locked up in solitary confinement with no hope of ever being released.

By the same token, why wouldn't he talk? What does he have to lose? If I were going down with my criminal empire, I wouldn't want to go down alone.

Because Epstein’s whole thing (in addition to teenage girls) was being a rich socialite who enjoyed the company of powerful and brilliant people, that’s why he donated money to STEM college faculties (unlike most donors, he had no children he was trying to buy admission for) and liked associating with scientists and professors. Epstein wasn’t betrayed by Prince Andrew or Bill Clinton, he was ‘got’ because public and journalistic pressure mounted and prosecutors built up a lot of evidence. His friends didn’t betray him per se, even if they were unable to protect him.

If you and your friend are both involved in a criminal conspiracy, but you make a series of dumb mistakes and get caught, why rat them out, especially if it won’t reduce your punishment in any appreciable way? The most obvious theory is that Epstein didn’t feel betrayed by his associates and so had no reason to turn on them for zero benefit other than ‘revenge’, which probably wasn’t applicable in this case.

One guy dying, very possibly due to foul play and government involvement is not a major plot, and obviously, it was an extremely poorly done cover up because here you are talking about it.

The more scrutiny there is and the longer it goes without conclusive evidence emerging, the more I would adjust to “not a plot.”

obviously, it was an extremely poorly done cover up because here you are talking about it.

If taken seriously, this makes your claim unfalsifiable. Nobody can ever prove a coverup is successful because if they're even able to talk about it, it's not successful.

It's a well-done coverup because nobody's going to be jailed or even arrested for killing Epstein. And it's a "well-done" coverup in the sense that ymeskhout's standards would imply that he shouldn't believe it's a coverup, even though it obviously is. The fact that everyone else can say "hey, Bayseian probability, this wouldn't have happened by chance" and figure it out won't change that.

I think the most likely explanation is that Epstein did indeed kill himself, but I also don't consider it unreasonable to doubt that explanation even without any conclusive evidence in favor of the murder theory. If someone wants to hold the murder theory with confidence greater than "hmm, looks sus" then ideally I'd want to see some attempts to shore up the specifics.

We can prove with the benefit of hindsight a coverup was successful for some amount of time.

Sometimes, extremely successful intelligence operations get declassified after some decades and we get to look at what success looks like.

Epstein has had a lot of theories floating around him for a while. Other commenters here have described why suicide is still a very plausible explanation and so you can read them for counter theories.

But I’ll reemphasize that the framework I was describing about cover ups and maintained secrecy applies mainly to large plots, not necessarily the death of a single guy in prison where at least theoretically a small group of rogue actors could have taken action.

You bring up a good point that I hadn't considered before. It's potentially inappropriate to over index on norms and plots from half a century ago, and that we should instead use more recent cover-ups as the template. That's reasonable, though I'm reluctant to draw too definitive of a conclusion because I don't want to assume that something doesn't exist just because we haven't heard about it.

It’s more about tweaking one’s priors a bit than making any definitive conclusions.

Things we haven’t heard of that at least someone would find controversial certainly exist in the shadows. But the really sensational stuff like QAnon had going is just incredibly unlikely in today’s more politically correct, partisan, and digital US environment.

Though I will say this method won me a good chunk of change with a smart guy willing to put money on the line that Trump was going to expose a number of plots along QAnon and RussiaGate lines.

Or look at this modern plot from Taibbi about some supposed binder of CIA misdeeds about Trump. Why the hell is this binder allowed to exist by the Deep State, or, why wasn’t this dealt with when Trump was in office? In the opening paras of the actual Substack article he says his sources say Trump ordered it declassified at the end of his term. So why didn’t that happen? Why is this breaking news three years later?

The most likely story is Taibbi is listening to dumb people describe things they don’t understand.

Not to completely dismiss your talents but I think the biggest factor that made you money was being lucky enough to find someone willing to put up cash on something so bonkers.

Taibbi has no credibility with me. His reporting on the Twitter Files appears accurate enough but he gets indignant when you point out the obvious conflicts of interest of him tailoring his criticism of Twitter to avoid saying anything bad about its new owner. My conclusion from back then was "Taibbi feels constrained from criticizing Musk because Musk is too valuable a source" and the dude just voluntarily tweets out his text message to Musk admitting this. He exhibits very selective curiosity about the stories he covers, stopping short of what becomes inconvenient to his narrative. If his sources are accurate about the declassification of this surveillance report, why doesn't he just get the report itself instead of bizarrely reporting on the number of inches of the binder it's contained in.

He was a very early member of the rationality community and liked the practice of making bets.

Plus a tendency for conspiratorial thinking.

The election stealing and RussiaGate theories are likely going to be popular for decades, annoyingly. At least classic conspiracy theories weren’t so partisan.

If by "done right" you mean ignoring the obvious elephant in the room to focus on largely irellvant legal details i suppose that explains a lot.

The elephant in this case being how do you launch an SM2 in Long Island sound without anybody noticing? At the very least you're talking about buying the silence of 250 or so sailors plus everyone on duty at New York approach that night. Though i suppose you'll dismiss such an observation as mere "vibes" rather than "evidence". After all "the law firm involved has a reputation for serious lawyers doing serious work."

Why would I dismiss something as mere "vibes" if I've already brought it up to explain why the overall theory is extremely implausible? I've specifically outlined that the number of people you'd have to pay off for this conspiracy to work is implausibly high. You have a history of making up positions I do not hold and then criticizing me for holding the positions you just made up, why?

I don't think the US Navy has to pay people off to conceal things; that happens routinely. However, I am skeptical that fudging paperwork translates over well into "OK guys we're gonna cover up the deaths of a few hundred people."

To be fair, TWA 800 exploded over the Atlantic, south of Long Island and outside of Long Island Sound; most of the friendly-fire theories involve the "30-knot" track that was a further 3nm south of TWA800's last known position at the time of explosion.

Which is still really close to have this sort of report. Which is... a good part of the problem for almost all the Krick's second-hand reports of alleged rocket 'near-misses' being an SM2, rather than other object; this does not look like the behavior any of the witnesses describe.

That's a decent amount of people, but it's not like the US Navy hasn't infamously bought the silence of sailors about fuckups before. And it was 1996 so people weren't constantly videotaping their surroundings.

This isn't a situation like the Iowa where pretty much everyone with direct knowledge was already dead or the Bonnie Dick where it was basically one guy's word against the CoC's. Forget subpoenaing the radar tapes (those are going to be classified anyway) subpoena the deck department, heck subpoena the cooks, if a missile was launched, they would know.

I think you bring up a good point but you could afford a bit more charity to @ymeskhout, even if he is a lawyer.

A summary of The Socialist Phenomenon by Igor Shafarevich

A free online version of the text can be found here.

The first entry in this series was lost in the 02/24 site rollback. This post will cover the first chapter of part one, and the first section of the second chapter.

Part One: Chapter 1: The Socialism of Antiquity (p. 23-33)

In Chapter 1, Shafarevich examines socialism and socialist themes in ancient societies and literature. He begins with a discussion of Plato’s Republic, which represents chiliastic socialism in its ideal form. He then examines how the ideals of Plato’s Republic can be found throughout the ancient world, in the utopian writings of other Hellenistic authors, in the teachings of religious sects which sprung up around early Christianity, and in the desired of mass-movements of the pre-medieval era.

The Republic sets out Plato’s vision of the perfect state. The essential quality of this ideal state is justice, which Plato defines as meaning “that each one man must perform one social service in the state for which his nature was best adapted. (433a).” From this axiom, Plato’s ideal republic is stratified into four castes: philosophers, guardians, artisans, and peasants. The castes are rigidly structured and largely hereditary, with artisans and peasants prevented from upward mobility. Guardians may be demoted for poor behavior.

The philosophers are men with gnosis, “the kind of knowledge which reveals to them something of that essence which is eternal, and is not wandering between the two poles of generation and decay….such a man will not suppose death to be terrible (485b-486b).” Because of their special knowledge, the philosophers wield absolute power. They control the guardians, who are raised from birth as child soldiers meant to have the temperament of obedient guard dogs who neither “by sorcery nor by force can be brought to expel from their souls…this conviction that they must do what is best for the state. (412e).”

The philosophers inculcate obedience through compulsory education from birth to the age of thirty-five. Strict censorship over all information, especially art, is exercised to eliminate the possibility of children becoming aware of any concept which was not specifically designed to support the state. Censorship extends to speech and there is a strict moratorium on any talk implying that death is frightening, of the injustice of fate, of criticism against the state, any manifestation of fear, grief, famine or death. All lying is forbidden, except for the philosophers, who are encouraged to lie in order to ensure that the other castes remain in absolute unity.

According to Plato, the absence of absolute unity among the people is the primary defect of all other states. In his view, the primary cause of disunity is the ability to conceive of differences between people, or to conceive of private property. “That city, then, is best ordered in which the greatest number use the expression 'mine' and 'not mine' of the same things in the same way. (462c)"

“The guardians' life is regulated accordingly.” Their communities are organized as military detachments. Private property and money are illegal. They are given strict diets and must eat communally. There is no freedom of movement.

As the concept of families would threaten to create differences between guardians, families are also strictly forbidden. Women are held in common and cannot cohabit privately with the men. Children are raised in common and cannot know their parents, nor can the parents know their children. Rather than marriage, the philosophers allow temporary unions for physical satisfaction and to ensure a stable population.

From this examination of Republic, Shafarevich concludes that Plato’s system is a “scheme for the destruction of the subtlest and most profound features of human personality and the reduction of human society to the level of an ant hill….[and] founded on the denial of personality…[and] egoism.”

Pivoting away from Plato, Shafarevich discusses the extensive utopian socialist literature in the Hellenistic era. Plato’s ascetic ideals where often replaced by friendlier utopian descriptions of happiness and free love. These ideals often played a role in sects which arose around the early Christian faith.

The sect of the Nicolaites, for example, preached the communality of property and women. In the second century, the Carpocratians, a gnostic sect located in Alexandria, taught that faith and love elevated man beyond morality and that distinctions between persons were evil:

"God's justice consists in community and equality….The Creator…established laws in accordance with his justice without distinguishing female from male, wise from humble and in general one thing from any other…. The private character of laws cuts and gnaws the community established by God's law. …'Mine' and 'thine' were spread to the detriment of community by virtue of the law…. Thus, God made everything common for man; according to the principles of communality, he joins man and woman…he has revealed justice demanding communality in conjunction with equality….they can possess all in common as the animals do…. For he himself invested us with desires, which moreover must be safeguarded as they are necessary for procreation. But even more laughable is the phrase 'your neighbor's wife,' for in this way that which is common is forcibly turned into private property. (7: p. 117)"

Similarly, Manicheism gave rise to many sects in the third and fourth centuries which professed socialist doctrines. In the fifth century, a Persian movement inspired by Manicheism and Mazdak taught that “contradictions, anger and violence are all related to women and material things” and therefore all women and material wealth must be held in common. This movement spread across the country. Historian Tabari wrote that "[f]requently, a man did not know his son nor the son his own father, and no one possessed enough to be guaranteed life and livelihood."

Part One: Chapter 2: The Socialism of the Heresies (p. 35-102)

In Chapter two, Shafarevich discusses the chiliastic socialism of the Christian heresies. Chapter two is split into two sections. First, Shafarevich conducts a general survey of chiliastic heresies and demonstrates key and consistent features of their theology, morality, and behavior. Second, Shafarevich more closely examines the role that the ideas of chiliastic socialism played in the overall ideologies of the heretical movements.

Part One: Chapter 2: Section 1: General Survey (p. 35-89)

Shafarevich’s general survey examines five heresies in largely chronological order: (1) the Cathars, (2) the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Apostolic Brethren, (3) the Taborites, (4) the Anabaptists, and (5) sects in the English Revolution of 1648. This general survey provides a clear description of socialist theology, the link between theology and morality, and the results of putting that morality into practice.

Cathars (p. 35-41)

In this section, Shafarevich discusses the Cathars, a religious sect that played a pivotal role in the development and spread of chiliastic socialism. Shafarevich’s examination of the Cathars highlights several key themes, including the origins of socialist morality, the link between socialist morality and anti-human behavior, and the historical origin of socialism as a driver of mass-movements.

The Cathars (“the pure” in Greek) spread across Europe in the eleventh century. The movement came westward from Bulgaria in the wake of the Bogomil heresy of the preceding century. The Cathars were composed of many sub-sects and shared doctrines with other sects, chiefly the Albigenses. All of these groups are usually categorized as gnostic of Manichean heresies. For the sake of clarity and complexity, Shafarevich describes the beliefs common to all such groups.

The foundational contention of all these groups “was belief in the irreconcilable contradiction between the physical world, seen as the source of evil, and the spiritual world, seen as the essence of god” resulting in a great deal of dualism and the belief in two gods. The evil god created the material world while the good god created the spiritual world. They identified the god of the old testament to be the evil creator of the physical world, and the god of the new testament to be the good god of the spiritual world. Because of these views, they considered the material and spiritual realms to be irreconcilable and denied the bodily incarnation of Christ.

Material things, including their own bodies, were evil. They believed that their souls transmigrated through time and space, eventually ending up in their current bodies so as to receive liberation from the imprisonment of matter. “The ultimate goal and the ideal of all mankind was in principle universal suicide. This was conceived either as in the most direct sense…or through ceasing to bear children.”

This theology shaped the Cathars’ social structure. Although the hierarchy of the Catholic church was rejected outright, the Cathars’ had their own system. The Cathars were divided into two groups, the perfecti (or “perfect”) and the faithful. Like Plato’s philosophers, the clergy were drawn from the perfecti and were the only group privy to all doctrines of the sect, most of which was intentionally kept hidden from the faithful. The perfecti observed strict rules. They could neither touch women nor possess property (although they controlled the holdings of the sect). They could not keep a permanent dwelling and lived their lives in constant travel. In compensation for observing these rules, the faithful worshiped the perfecti as gods.

The Cathars’ theology also shaped their views on sin and salvation. The existence of free will was denied. Most persons, including the faithful, were trapped in their evil corporeal forms, and thus doomed to commit sinful behavior through no fault of their own. The perfecti, however, were incapable of sin by definition.

The society of the Cathars reflected many of the traits common to chiliastic socialism. Reproduction was the work of the devil and the sacraments, including matrimony, were denied. As the commandment to not commit adultery was the commandment of the evil god, some Cathars considered promiscuity to be free from sin. Writings of the period often accused the Cathars of practicing free love and holding women in common.

Eating meat or anything produced by sexual union was prohibited. Secular authority was also the work of evil, and so the Cathars rejected temporal laws, oaths, and arms. Contact with outsiders, except for proselytization, was often considered a sin. As property was of the material world, it was necessarily evil. Cathars preached that one could not be a true Christian unless property was held in common.

Although murder and violence were prohibited, exceptions were made for Catholics and Catholicism. Iconoclasm was common. Some sects systematically destroyed churches, killed priests, and burned crosses.

Catharism spread rapidly across Europe in the eleventh century. The heresy was particularly successful in southern France, where it was supported by the local nobility. The heresy was only routed out of France in the thirteenth century after several crusades and thirty years of warfare.

Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Apostolic Brethren (p. 41-46)

Moving on from the Cathars, Shafarevich next discusses two additional Christian heresies known as the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Apostolic Brethren. Shafarevich’s discussion of these sects brings the praxis (a socialist term meaning a fusion of practice and theory) of socialist morality into sharp relief. It demonstrates the causal relationship between socialist morality and violent and amoral behavior. This section also shows the ideological roots of modern ‘humanist’ socialism in the man-as-divine theology of these chiliastic sects.

The Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Apostolic Brethren were influenced heavily by the twelfth century figures Joachim of Flore and Amalric of Bena. Joachim, an abbot, promulgated a doctrine he claimed was inspired by revelation, or gnosis. In essence, Joachim preached that the history of man involves progressively greater comprehension of god. History, for Joachim, was a predetermined process that could be calculated. Accordingly, he divided history into three epochs, the first of slavish submission, the second of filial obedience, and the third of freedom.

In the last epoch, the chosen “would abide in peace, freed from labor and suffering.” No one would understand “thine” or “mine.” It would be an era of perfection brought forth on earth by the hands of men.

Amalric taught a system of theology similar to Joachim’s. He conceived of history as a series of three stages of divine revelation. Amalric proclaimed that the third revelation had come, and that he and his followers had now become as Christ. Amalric’s new Christianity had three basic theses: (1) "God is all," (2) "Everything is One, for everything that is is God," and (3) "Whoever observes the law of love is above sin." Whoever followed these teachings could attain identity with God through ecstasy and was thus incapable of sin.

The “Free Spirits,” a sect with views very similar to Amalric’s teachings, arose in central Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Free Spirits believed that man could become transfigured into god by passing through many years of novitiate in the sect and renouncing all property, family, and will.

Shafarevich explains that the extant historical sources agree that the state of godliness meant that Free Spirits were the complete equal of god “without distinctions” and were thus liberated from all moral constraint. A Free Spirit is sovereign over all of creation and may dispose of it at will. Those who resist can be killed. As one Free Spirit wrote, “[l]et the whole state perish rather than he abstain from the demands of his nature.” Free Spirits thus despised the Catholic Church because its doctrines purported to restrict their absolute freedom of will. In this absolute freedom, Free Spirits were equal.

A Free Spirit broke completely with his past. “What had been blasphemy for him in the past (and remained so for "rude" folk) now became a sign of the end of one historical epoch and tie beginning of another —the new Eon.” Accordingly, orgiastic masses and worship of Lucifer were considered ideologically and morally desirable as heralding the new epoch.

The Free Spirits considered man as divine and that divinity was intended to destroy earthly and spiritual hierarchy. The biblical Adam was conceived not as a sinner but as the perfection of man, and played a central role in their teachings. Some called themselves “New Adams.” Here, Shafarevich rightly observes that the Free Spirits arguably represent “the first prototype of the humanist ideology which would later attain worldwide significance.”

Shafarevich examines the 1320s anti-papal uprising in Umbria as a vehicle to explain how the Free Spirits influenced social life. The Free Spirit ideology was widespread among the Umbrian nobles and permitted and ends-justified approach to violence. Whole towns were slaughtered. Like the Cathars, the godly Free Spirits were relatively few but surrounded themselves with the Beghards and Beguines, groups of poor, celibate men and women engaged in petty labor. These masses knew little about the radical nature of the doctrine. The masses were concerned with the aspects of the doctrine common to chiliastic socialism of all sorts. All extant institutions of society were rejected, including private property, family, church, and state. All was to be held in common. Marital sex was considered a sin.

The Brethren of the Free Spirit influenced a later Italian sect known as the Apostolic Brethren. This sect followed Joachim’s teachings and declared themselves the inheritors of a new spiritual world. “Everything was permitted in defense of the faith, any violence against enemies, while, at the same time, the persecution inflicted by the Catholic Church on the Apostolic Brethren was considered to be the gravest of crimes.” These ideas were put into practice in 1404. Five thousand members of the sect followed their leader, Dolcino, into the mountains of norther Italy and proceeded to raid the surrounding villages and destroy all trace of Catholicism. This war lasted for three years until the sect was put down by force.

Taborites (p. 46-51)

This section discusses the Taborites, a chiliastic sect which played a critical role in spreading socialist writings and beliefs across Europe. Shafarevich’s examination of the Taborites shows how the socialist’s calculus of moral praxis repeatedly and reliably escalates to genocide and the attempt to devolve society to the level of hunter gatherers. The Taborite’s belief that destroying libraries would hasten the coming of the utopia in which no one had need of books, for example, was driven by the same, intentional moral calculus that caused identical behavior in more recent socialists like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

The 1415 burning of Jan Hus gave rise to the Bohemian anti-Catholic movement of the Hussites, the radical faction of which was located in Tabor. Preachers from heretical sects across Europe came to Tabor. Chiliastic socialist theories were common, as were attempts to put them into practice.

The Taborite’s believed that the end of the current world, the “dominion of evil,” world would occur in 1420. This would be accomplished by their hands, and so all evil people needed to be exterminated forthwith. The Christian concept of mercy was abolished and replaced with a duty to revolutionary violence. “Anyone who protests against the shedding of the blood of Christ's enemies shall be cursed and punished just as these enemies are. All peasants who refuse to join the Taborites shall be destroyed together with their property. (19: p. 81)."

This violence would establish God’s Kingdom for the elect. Evil would not be fully exterminated, only subjugated to the good. Christ would return, and with him the good would be liberated from material restrictions. “No one would sow or reap.”

To put their theory into practice, the Taborites proclaimed that all institutions and laws must be abolished, including the church, whose wealth was to be redistributed to the populace. Churches and church symbols were thus destroyed wherever they were found. Many priests were tortured and killed. All personal property was confiscated from the group’s enemies. Libraries were also destroyed as they believed that in the world to come, there would be “no need for anyone to teach another. There would be no need for books or scriptures and all worldly wisdom will perish. (19: 159).”

In Taborite areas, all money was seized. All private property was banned. It was written that “[i]n the town of Tabor there is nothing which is mine or thine, but all possess everything in common and no one is to have anything apart, and whoever does is a sinner. (19: pp. 99-100).” Taborite preachers taught the communality of wives and, the abolition of marriage and of the family.

The emperor and the Pope launched crusades against the Hussites. However, the Hussites beat the crusaders back and launched a successful offensive campaign against neighboring countries across all of central Europe. The Pope was forced to make concessions and an agreement was reached with the Hussites in 1433. The Taborites rejected the agreement and were eventually destroyed in subsequent battles. These wars spread chiliastic ideas and writings across all of Europe.

Anabaptists (p. 51-57)

Following the Hussite wars, the reformation caused an upsurge in socialistic sentiment and the invention of the printing press magnified this effect. Socialist sentiment of the period was especially strong among Anabaptists, a sect which spread to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Holland, and later, to England. This section highlights how socialist theology and morality became more expressly political and intentionally revolutionary.

Individuals within the sect called each other “brother” and were named by their enemies as Anabaptists for their rejection of baptism for the young and the practice of a second baptism for adults. Shafarevich describes the doctrine of the Anabaptists, which at this point should be very familiar. Anabaptists rejected the entire Catholic Church and all of its teachings which were not specifically present in the Gospels. They also believed the true meaning of the Gospels was revealed to every man through gnosis. Like the sects discussed above, Anabaptists rejected oaths, refused to participate in non-Anabaptist society, and considered murder to be a cardinal sin. Yet, in some periods, there were militant calls for the impious to be exterminated.

Anabaptists largely organized themselves like the Cathars. The movement was led by Apostles, who renounced marriage and property and lived a transient life. Apostles elected Bishops, who formed councils or “synods.” Often bishops from across Europe came together for synods. Anabaptist social views were highly variable, but the common threads of chiliastic socialism could be found throughout. One sect was described in the 16th century by Bullinger as follows:

They understood Christian freedom in a carnal sense. For they wished to be free of all laws, presuming that Christ had liberated them…Some of them, desperate libertines, seduced silly women into believing that they could not become spiritual without breaking wedlock. Others believed that if all things must be in common, then also wives. Still others said that after the new baptism they had been born anew and could not sin: only flesh sins…They set forth as a new monastic order rules regarding clothing…eating, drinking, sleeping, leisure, standing and walking about.

Continuing to chronicle the movement, Shafarevich describes that in the 1520s the Anabaptists “renounced the conspiratorial character of their activities and entered into an open struggle with the ‘world’ and the Catholic Church.” The second baptism was to be practiced openly.

Anabaptists failed to gain primary control of the Reformation and were exiled. After this period, Anabaptist social behavior began to more closely resemble Plato’s ideal republic. In St. Gall in 1525, Anabaptists forbade participation in public life and adopted a uniform of coarse gray fabric. In bohemia, Anabaptist communes strictly regimented all aspects of society, which were overseen by “good police.” Clothing, sleeping, and work were centrally and strictly prescribed. It was forbidden to cook for oneself or to eat alone. Unmarried men and women slept in sex-segregated dorms. Children were separated from parents and raised in common. Marriages were arranged. Occupations were assigned.

Anabaptism became increasingly revolutionary in Germany. The Zwickau Prophets considered science and the arts unnecessary. The leader of this group, Klaus Storch, proclaimed that all priests must be immediately exterminated “[f]or once the sheep are deprived of a leader, it will go easy with the sheep. Next it will be necessary to attack also those who fleece others, to seize their houses, plunder their property, and raze their castles to the ground." (28: p. 53).”

This surge coincided with the 1525 peasant war in Germany. The socialist teachings of this time are typified by Thomas Muntzer, who put chiliastic ideas into practice in the town of Muhlhausen. In 1534-35, Anabaptist militancy led to an outbreak of violence which Shafarevich characterizes as an attempt to bring about an Anabaptist revolution in northern Europe.

The town of Munster was the focal point of these events. Anabaptists gained control of the municipal council and subjugated the town. All property in the town was seized and made communal. Polygamy was introduced. Women of a certain age were forced to marry.

Revolt spread out from Munster and Anabaptists came from across Europe to join the revolution. The local catholic bishop called up an army and laid siege to the town. Within the town, Johann of Leyden was proclaimed king of the world, and he surrounded himself with wives and spent his time beheading recalcitrants. Munster was eventually taken by assault and the leadership executed.

Sects in the English Revolution of 1648 (p.57-63)

Finally, Shafarevich examines chiliastic socialism in the English Revolution of 1648. This section highlights the evolution of the man-as-divine socialist theology into a more explicit atheism. It also provides key developments in socialist literature, including the increasing focus on political socialism and express apologia for illegal and amoral behavior on socialist moral grounds.

Shafarevich traces chiliastic socialism in the 1648 revolution to a 1536 synod in Westphalia that resulted in a schism between Anabaptists. All parties involved agreed that Munster-style armed struggle was necessary, but they disagreed about whether they should enact the struggle immediately or in the future (a schism which has recurred among socialists identically throughout history, such as in the schism between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks). As a result of the schism, the militant faction emigrated to England and merged with the Lollards.

The 1648 revolution in England gave rise to a flurry of chiliastic sentiment. A Quaker book said of the suppression of Munster that “German tyrants, who literally like devils oppressed the souls and the bodies of the common folk….Their uprising was violent because their oppressors were still more violent.” A sect known as the Ranters arose which, like the Free Spirits, believed that good and evil were morally identical, man-made constructions. The Ranters denied morality and embraced an ostentatious amorality. They rejected property and marriage, and performed rituals which were parodies or inversions of Christian communion and marital sexual union.

Another sect, the Diggers, wrote literature which strongly echoes socialist writings of the modern period. Garrard Winstanley wrote pamphlets proclaiming the illegitimacy of private land ownership after these teachings were “revealed” to him in a vision. He wrote:

And so long as we or any other maintain this civil property, we consent still to hold the creation down under that bondage it groans under, and so we should hinder the work of restoration and sin against light that is given unto us, and so through the fear of die Resh (man) lose our peace. And that this civil property is the curse is manifest thus: those that buy and sell land, and are landlords, have got it either by oppression or murder or theft; and all landlords live in the breach of the seventh and eighth commandments, "Thou shalt not steal nor kill." ("The True Levellers' Standard Advanced: or. The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men.") (35: p. 85)

Diggers were one part of the wider Leveller movement. In a manner almost indistinguishable from Marx, One Leveller, William Walwyn, argued that abolishing property would necessarily cause all people to behave in perfect moral unity, thus causing the government to wither away:

this would destroy all Government, answered, that then there would be no thieves, no covetous persons, no deceiving and abusing of one another, and so no need of Government." (32: pp. 185-186)

Similarly, A newspaper called “The Moderate” criticized the execution of a group of robbers on the grounds that the existence of private property “forces them to violate the law in order to sustain life.” Extreme Leveller groups advocated for terror. One such pamphlet was entitled “Removal Is Not Murder.”

Shafarevich notes that socialism and atheism were common among Leveller groups. Some of these writings “exhibit a purely rationalist spirit” and belong to the group of utopian socialist literature discussed in Chapter 3.

This book seems to distort almost everything it touches. I don't have the time to pick apart everything so I'll tackle only one quote, but the problem is more general:

William Walwyn, argued that abolishing property would necessarily cause all people to behave in perfect moral unity, thus causing the government to wither away:

this would destroy all Government, answered, that then there would be no thieves, no covetous persons, no deceiving and abusing of one another, and so no need of Government." (32: pp. 185-186)

This quote comes from Walwyn's Wiles, a book that was not written by Walwyn, but directly promulgated by his enemies while he was imprisoned.

Shafarevich then writes:

"The author informs us that Walwyn never disproved these assertions."

This is a deceptive sleight of hand. Note "disproved." Walwyn dedicated an entire book to refuting the allegations, but that's not disproving.

Courtesy of Walwyns jvst defence against the aspertions cast upon him in a late un-Christian pamphlet entituled Walwyns wiles by William Walwyn (1649):

That which remains in generall, is, that I aim at the destroying of Religion, and at the subversion of all Government: But why should I do either Where's the advantage? I have alwaies profess'd the contrary, and ever practised the contrary; as those that reade my Whisper to Mr Edwards, and my still and soft voyce, fore-men∣tioned, will easily believe. And I begge and intreat both young and old to reade them, before they give sentence in their own hearts of me, that I should be so irreli∣gious, as to utter such profane language concerning the Book of Psalms, or Proverbs, or that horrid expression of the Book of Canticles, as that it was nothing else but one of Salomons Epiphonemacs: a word that I never spake, nor yet know well how to pronounce, nor ever did apply the meaning of it to so vile an end (speak the rest, whoso will for me) and if the Author had had any modesty or Religion in him, how∣ever it had come into his thought, he would have silenc'd it, rather then such bla∣sphemy should be seen in print; I abhor the words should be in any of my paper; having never entred my thought, or past my lips.

If you scratch basically anywhere in the text, you'll find similar intellectually indefensible omissions and distortions that are only plausible if you're not actually familiar with the source material.

I appreciate you taking the time to engage with my post but I think this comment is more heat than light.

In the context of a uniquely anti-government revolution and civil war, man notorious for anti-government writings is imprisoned for treason in tower of London, from which writes pamphlet insisting he isn't treasonous.

I don't think that's a good standard of evidence. But more importantly, I don't think that your criticism of Shafarevich's characterization of Walwyn suits your claim that:

This book seems to distort almost everything it touches. I don't have the time to pick apart everything so I'll tackle only one quote, but the problem is more general...If you scratch basically anywhere in the text, you'll find similar intellectually indefensible omissions and distortions that are only plausible if you're not actually familiar with the source material.

If that is your contention, I would appreciate your thoughts more directly on the thesis of the book itself. For example, do you disagree with Shafarevich's characterization of socialist morality? Or his thesis that socialist morality is consistent across time? Criticism on those, central aspects of his work would be better suited to your claim. "Walwyn said he wasn't guilty so Shafarevich's entire thesis is wrong and unworthy of attention" is just poisoning the well.

This will probably get some play and is a bit of a different topic. Former CEO of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicicki son died of a drug freshman year of college at Cal.

The obvious implications is he took something laced with fentanyl. Culture war wise concerns about fentanyl are red coded though issues with fentanyl seem apparent in both red and blue states and people.

Overall I feel like this issue has lost its place in the news cycle. A quick google overdose deaths topped 112k in 2023 an all-time record. I am seeing a current U.S. population of 334 million. So to put this in perspective 112k multiplied by an average lifespan of 80 years is like 9 million deaths. Or close to 3% of US population at current rates will die by a drug overdose. I think I can fairly say it’s a huge issue even if you disagree with how I’m calculating the average persons risks of OD at around 3% in their lifetime.

Quick analysis of the kid he looks in shape for a 19 year old and was majoring in math so he’s the dream of any parent. Odd thing is he was found unresponsive at 4:23 pm on a Tuesday. That is going to be weird and details will come out as that time frame is more of an addict death. Versus I expected a weekend OD and he did some fentanyl laced coke/Molly during the weekend.

From people I’ve talked to opioids are amazing. I do not know if I’ve ever done them. They have to be if people do them. I’ve done molly/coke/mushrooms in the past. The big thing to me is I’m paranoid I’m doing something laced now and have largely cut out doing anything now.

The midtwit take is that dealers either sell both and cross contaminate or lace other drugs to get people addicted. Personally opinion and perhaps a difference without a difference is it’s probably lacing just so people say it’s the good shit.

Sorry for their loss.

Culture war issues

  1. Plays into the immigration debate of not controlling the border

  2. Blue states seem to be adopting a let it happen and treat but it doesn’t seem to be working

  3. War on drug topics. I don’t think the old war on drugs ever dealt with the death rate we have now but war on drugs doesn’t seem stupid when it’s a 3% population level lifetime death rate which is far higher than COVID and killing people with high life expectancy

  4. Other policy considerations. Some would say things like legalize drugs to kill fentanyl and people get “safe” drugs. Some conservative arguments that something’s should just be illegal. Opioids probably are fantastic but the death rate for someone who tries opioids seems extremely high.

My numeracy tells me this is a big problem and I believe an order of magnitude bigger problem than COVID. I don’t think it’s quite as hard coded in culture wars.

I’m paranoid I’m doing something laced now and have largely cut out doing anything now.

There are safety precautions when taking something that didn't come from a pharmacy:

  1. Fentanyl test strips
  2. Reagent test to make sure you got the expected substance
  3. Never use alone and have Narcan on hand. That way if you have an adverse reaction someone can call the paramedics in time.

dealers either sell both and cross contaminate or lace other drugs to get people addicted.

The dealer's incentive is to get people addicted to something that will get the user coming back frequently to buy more. Fentanyl is cheaper by weight than many other drugs and doesn't last very long before it puts the user into withdrawals and causes them to seek out more.

If a first-time user comes in for drug X and then get addicted to fentanyl the dealer then has a daily recurring revenue stream.

In this case a potential pipeline is that the deceased user started with a party drug in the past, but it was laced with fentanyl and he then became addicted. Like you say it is hard to imagine what other drug he would have been intending to use on a weekday afternoon that would have been laced.

some would say things like legalize drugs to kill fentanyl and people get “safe” drugs

The DEA scheduling system is absurd. They should make some of the safer ones legal (especially psychedelics) so that:

  1. People are getting a pure substance
  2. People can create safe environments to use the legal drugs in (because if the drug is legal then you can legally have medical and support staff in the environment).
  3. Takes money away from the drug dealers (who are selling impure/laced product) and creates tax revenue (which can be used on support services to get people to quit more dangerous drugs).

The trouble with legalization is that if it’s perfectly legal for just anyone to have it, it’s going to be in homes. This increases the chances of kids getting it and tryin* it at younger ages. The first alcohol most kids take is often taken from the refrigerator at home where dad keeps it around. If hard drugs become legal, the same thing happens for those drugs, kids try whatever the grownups buy and have around the house.

This is already an issue with prescription drugs that are far more addictive and dangerous than psychedelics. This risk could be further mitigated by diversion control requirements like: the newly legal drugs must be stored in a locked location that only adults have access to, a log must kept anytime the drug is consumed/sold/gifted.

If a parent allowed kids to consume the drugs then they could face harsh penalties under the existing laws regarding providing controlled substances to a minor.

It’s illegal to let kids drink at home. That hasn’t stopped them from drinking. In fact drinking parties are so common that they’re practically a rite of passage for teenagers. It’s not going to be easy to catch something like that, and even if you did, figuring out if the kid got if from mom, dad, older sibling, by himself with a fake ID, or from a friend isn’t easy.

The principal you're implicitly espousing here is that if something is too dangerous for children to have access to, adults shouldn't be permitted access to it either. That is not at all compatible with a free society.

I’m not saying never ever, however I think it’s an important consideration because it will very likely happen. And especially for more dangerous or addictive drugs, I think it’s prudent to at least ask the question about the harm done by the drug being available to younger children.

A twelve year old trying pot is not really that big of a deal. The addiction is more psychological than physical, the LD50 is pretty high, and beyond the general dangers associated with smoking anything, it doesn’t cause much harm to the body.

Something like Cocaine or Heroin I think would be worse in all of those ways. Both are pretty physically addictive, have a fairly low LD50, and cause damage to the body. I can’t see a case to be made that the risk of a child of 12 trying crack is outweighed by the benefits of having crack be legal in the US. I’m sure there’s a steel man somewhere, but it seems a pretty high bar.

There's no need for a steelman, the principle itself is invalid.

I think it’s prudent to at least ask the question about the harm done by the drug being available to younger children.

That's stealing a base. You're asking about the harm done by the drug being available to adults on the assumption that if the drug is available to adults, it will also be available to children. Which is at least qualitatively true. But it's also true of knives, guns, poisons, matches and accelerants, fireworks, classified information (right Hunter?), cars, sex toys, etc. Proposing to keep drugs illegal on the grounds that if adults can have it a child can get it is an isolated demand to child-proof the world.

Like you say it is hard to imagine what other drug he would have been intending to use on a weekday afternoon that would have been laced.

I definitely knew people who did coke on weekday afternoons in college, presumably cost wasn’t an issue for him.

Also, I thought fentanyl test strips are often ineffective for eg laced coke because it could be just a tiny fraction of the powder that’s fentanyl, so the strip could come back fine even if the drug isn’t?

I definitely knew people who did coke on weekday afternoons in college, presumably cost wasn’t an issue for him.

But coke is usually a social drug and he was found alone. If he wanted a stimulant to use alone I assume he had access to prescription Adderall or Ritalin. I don't have personal experience on this subject so this is just speculative guesswork.

Also, I thought fentanyl test strips are often ineffective for eg laced coke because it could be just a tiny fraction of the powder that’s fentanyl, so the strip could come back fine even if the drug isn’t?

That is true that there is a detection limit on test strips. You could just test a larger sample, but then you'd have to turn the coke/water mixture back to coke or take it sublingually.

The culture in public schools seems to have changed a lot in the 1-2 decades since I've been there, but surely they still tell kids, "drugs are bad, mkay"? I have a similar reaction to this as I do when people talk about the "suicide epidemic". There is a very simple solution, don't kill yourself.

Why would kids listen to a teacher and not the famous, status-signaling rapper than shows up on their YouTube feed glamorizing drugs? One of them is presenting a way to money and power, the other one is giving them homework.

Indeed, YouTube complicity in the opiate crisis is why I consider this death the least bad possible opiate death. While still a tragedy, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving parent. I only wish that all parents of opiate victims worked in the music industry.

What the hell?

You're going to have to elaborate on "Youtube complicity." I'm struggling to imagine what policy they implemented that made you hate their former CEO more than, I dunno, the dealer. The manufacturer. Whatever rapper you have in mind.

It’s quite simple: YouTube allows drug glamorization culture and music videos to be watched by young people. For vulnerable young people, there is a straight line from idolizing a rapper to doing the drugs of said rapper. See: Lil Peep (1 billion+ views, mostly teenagers). Some of these rappers are a walking advertisement for drug use. When you’re then at a party listening to their music and there’s drugs available, you are more likely to participate in taking drugs.

dealer, manufacturer

— are not engaged in a sophisticated emotional manipulation campaign to get adolescents to find drugs cool.

I think this is all too far. Notably, crime-glorifying rap was around well before YouTube was able to become a star-maker. I don't think YouTube not being around would have made that much difference for rapping about fent charting on radio or whatever.

But I don’t think that absolves them of their crime, because as per my OP, I think all of the players involved are complicit and not only YouTube. If our culture wanted they could make this music require an 18+ identification card for consumption, but there’s too much money to be made and they don’t care about the consequences of their actions.

If our culture wanted they could make this music require an 18+ identification card for consumption

I mean, we kinda tried, though it perhaps wasn't overly strict and the high-contrast label they slapped onto those albums arguably only made them more desirable. Our culture is not set up for this.

I don’t see how allowing a certain type of content is comparable to making that content, let alone making the stuff which the content is about.

That’s the same reasoning which leads to colleges banning public speakers.

Colleges are environments specifically designed for intellectual inquiry among adults. And even then, a speaker whose entire shtick is “drugs are good and fun” should probably be prevented from speaking without serious warnings and counter arguments. YouTube is an environment for young peoples’ entertainment, which is very much unlike a college. The content is algorithmically fed to young people, and YouTube profits off of it. As a parent doesn’t escape jail by saying they only allowed their children to drink alcohol, a content server should not escape guilt and shame by saying they only allowed impressionable young people to watch music videos glamorizing opiate use.

Notably, YouTube bans holocaust denialism, which is a less bad thing than the promotion of opiates.

Guilt and shame isn’t equivalent to jail time. Algorithmic service isn’t the same as actually providing drugs. Which, at least in freedom land, isn’t actually illegal, not from a parent to his or her child. Not that youtube provides a parental or even collegiate level of authority over viewers!

Frankly, the analogy is completely incoherent.

We could imagine a scenario where a parent serves their child a reasonable amount of alcohol in their presence. But clearly, in this context, “a parent allowing their child to drink alcohol” isn’t referring to that. This is a discussion on illicit drug use, so a reasonable reader would interpret that in its intended meaning, as an illicit act. But I can be more detailed, if that’s important:

As a parent doesn’t escape jail by saying they only allowed their children to drink too much alcohol when they were not around

There we go.

Guilt and shame isn’t equivalent to jail time

But what do they have in common? They are considered the just responses to an infraction. Our society deemed it an infraction to allow children to drink alcohol illegally, and parents aren’t excused by claiming they merely permitted it and merely had the alcohol out in the open for easy access. Now, at least among many people, showing young people a glamorous depiction of drug use by their idol is considered shameful. The YouTube CEO is not excused from shame by merely permitting it and merely having it in the open for easy access.

So the analogy is comparing the relevant commonality of the two cases. Analogies are by their nature simplifications to save time. But your analogy re: college didn’t work because the expectations of freedom of speech on a college campus are distinct from the expectations on an app used by young people and children, from which the CEO derives profit per view.

Algorithmic service isn’t the same as actually providing drugs

Is it the same as providing a desirable lifestyle of drug use? Why or why not?

How would you react if someone went up to a teen and showed them really cool depictions of drugs? That would be pretty shameful, right? YouTube does this knowingly using middle men.

Does YouTube allow the “promotion of opiates”? From their website:

the following content isn't allowed on YouTube: Hard drug use or creation: Hard drug use or creation, selling or facilitating the sale of hard or soft drugs, facilitating the sale of regulated pharmaceuticals without a prescription, or showing how to use steroids in non-educational content.

I think videos explicitly encouraging illegal opiate use are probably banned on YouTube given they likely involve the use of hard drugs.

Does YouTube allow the “promotion of opiates”?

Yes. From their website:

Yea I do them drugs, I don't give a fuck What u think

I don't eat food but I take blues

You can hear more of his lyricism in works such as Overdose, Benz Truck, and Giving Girls Cocaine. All on YouTube. He is not the only rapper who glamorizes opiates.

videos explicitly encouraging illegal opiate use are probably banned

Not if they encourage the drug through catchy lyrics and interesting music videos designed to be memorable to adolescents.

There's a lot that Susan gets flack for, chief among them being the CEO of YouTube during its TV-ification.

Second least bad, surely. It could've been a Sackler.

I have a similar reaction to this as I do when people talk about the "suicide epidemic". There is a very simple solution, don't kill yourself.

You sound like you have a complete disconnect from other people's experiences and suffering, while also believing in free will.

Is this sarcastic? Do you genuinely not understand that many people live lives of despair and feel they have no hope of things ever getting better?

Most people don't want to OD from drugs or commit suicide. They do because their lives are purposeless, hopeless, and devoid of meaning.

"They do because their lives are purposeless, hopeless, and devoid of meaning."

Y'know, most people would say that people kill themselves because they feel their lives are purposeless, hopeless, and devoid of meaning.

Or alternately, because they think doing some drugs would be fun or cool, and pick up a habit.

I doubt the Stanford freshman son of the CEO of YouTube had nothing to live for.

Why doubt that? Just because he had status and wealth doesn't mean he had anything he cared about deep inside. Our culture is corrosive to purpose and meaning, I'd think wealthy scions would be more susceptible to a lack of meaning in some ways since so much is handed to them.

"Purpose" and "meaning" seem to be used here to refer to some sort of internal phenomenon which could probably be produced by the right drugs.

Oh I’m not disputing that the rich can be suicidal at all, just that if he was, it probably wasn’t because of a lack of opportunity in his life.

Yeah, I think we're talking past each other a bit. Opportunity =/= purpose and meaning. If anything a massive amount of opportunity can drain purpose and meaning, as you get slammed with the paradox of choice.

Whenever Richard Cory went down town, We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentleman from sole to crown, Clean favored, and imperially slim.

Maybe this is an obvious reference for the Anglophones, but why not just post the poem in its entirety?

You actually misspelled Cal with Stanford. Which is sort of curious because even though I’ve heard Stanford is no fun now her son would have seem connected enough to get into Stanford with a mere mortals test scores. I would assume 99% of people who get into Stanford and Cal go to Stanford.

Yes, I read somewhere it’s typically considered easier for extremely well-connected Silicon Valley individuals to get kids into Stanford than Berkeley, private colleges having more flexibility. Seems he was probably pretty smart then.

Material success is not known to prevent suicidal ideation. Humans require a purpose greater than “make widget, do drugs and women”.

Yeah if anything, it's probably living too much that got him.

I tried estimating this another way -- 32.1 crude death rate from drug overdoses in the 12 months ending 1Q2023 (last data available) divided by 944.1 crude death rate from all causes in the same period. The result is 3.4%, so your estimate checks out. Assuming nothing changes, of course.

Among other things, as with COVID, one change will be killing off those likely to be addicted. As the easily addicted die faster than they are born, we'll start to run out.

I would be not so sure. I listened to some podcast where they had good data which supported a dysgenic effect thesis which boiled down to the fact, that getting pregnant is in modern times just another one of larger cluster of female risky behaviors ranging from having many sexual partners, having unprotected sex, being more prone to substance abuse etc. Remember, all it takes for evolution is for people to reproduce. It is "perfectly okay" from evolutionary perspective to have mother of three overdosing in her early twenties only for her offspring taken care for by welfare state to likely face similar fate.

The vast majority of overdose deaths are between 25-54, and the highest rates are between 35-54. In the same way that Covid didn't necessarily improve the overall health of the population, but it killed off so many immune-compromised or aged people that if we got a new similar disease it would have a lower death rate because the dead wood has cleared out. Eventually we're going to be killing off addicts faster than we are producing new ones, even if the overall rate of addicts doesn't change.

Eventually we're going to be killing off addicts faster than we are producing new ones, even if the overall rate of addicts doesn't change.

Why? If addicts reproduce faster than the rest of the population before they die due to OD, and if addiction is heritable, then we will in fact not be killing the addicts off faster than we are producing new ones. That is my argument: susceptibility to addiction is related to overall susceptibility to impulsive behavior including things like having unprotected sex, forgetting to take pills and other risky behavior related to fertility.

A quick google overdose deaths topped 112k in 2023 an all-time record.


I believe an order of magnitude bigger problem than COVID.

Trying to put some actual numbers to this:

According to the NYT COVID data page, weekly COVID deaths in the past year have ranged from 490 (July 2-8) to 2,462 (Jan 7-13) or 0.9%-3.6% of all deaths. Of course, this is deaths from acute COVID, actual COVID deaths is somewhat higher than the official numbers, but hard to get good data on how much higher, so let's stick to these numbers. Also, going back further the numbers are a lot higher and less regular, I'm assuming the past year is a much better approximation of what to expect going forward than including any older data. (Also, I'm not seeing an official 2023 death count... looking I found this 2022 report published in May 2023 so it's probably just too early for finalized 2023 numbers.)

112k/52 = average 2,153 deaths/week from overdose deaths, doesn't seem hugely different from number of COVID deaths, although since overdose doses are mostly young and COVID deaths are mostly old, measuring in QALYs would likely paint a different picture... although if you're measuring QALYs, not trying to measure the impact of post-COVID conditions seems unfair, and I'm not sure how that would affect the conclusion.

There's also the obvious issue that COVID is practically unavoidable, although there's ways to reduce the impact (vaccination, antivirals, not getting old being healthier), while avoiding an overdose is straight forward: Don't Do Drugs(tm). Or, at least, that's the oversimplification in the popular conception of the two.

Yes when I say OD are an order of magnitude (or close to that) bigger issue it was adjusting for life expectancy loss.

Yeah, it's bad.

If you have a 3% chance of dying of an OD, and the average OD death shaves 50 years off a person's life, then easily 10% of life expectancy reduction is due to overdoses.

Someone might object that, when a junky finally ODs, society has not actually lost that much. Which is somewhat true. But that's only because of how much was already lost when a healthy person was gradually turned into a junky in the first place.

Let's consider the millions of people who are harmed (but not outright killed) by drug addiction. In terms of QALYs lost, drugs are one of the worst perils our society faces, possibly up there with heart disease and obesity.

A new war on drugs would save the equivalent of millions of lives.

A new war on drugs would save the equivalent of millions of lives.

If, really big if, it is effective.

Comparing the badness of various problems to COVID isn't a meaningful basis for a response because the response to COVID wasn't driven by how bad it is.

It's tempting though, isn't it?

"We spent 10 trillion for zero (or possibly negative) value during Covid. Surely we can spend 10 billion on my issue".

Also works for Afghanistan/Iraq wars.

I want to take this in another direction. - 'The universal empathy for the remaining life of a parent who has lost a child at a young age.' Susan is a billionaire with power, access and status. Everything you wish for, she has. And I am certain that she would give it all away to bring her son back.

Events like this hold up a familiar but often ignored mirror to the face of young people like me. My parents are still around. I will have kids one day. I have the one thing Susan has lost: time and agency.

Or close to 3% of US population at current rates will die by a drug overdose

No matter how much money I earn, it takes 1 not-so unlikely event to unilaterally turn me into a hollow husk of a person. Whether that be a permanent disability due to a car accident, death of child/spouse or slightly misplaced tap on my head.

From a utilitarian perspective, I am better off minimizing the changes chances of a unilaterally disastrous event, than trying to get billions. Because the money only matters if these disastrous events don't happen. I could live an unimpressive life where my kids live tiil a ripe old age, and I bet Susan would trade my life for hers any day. The negative utility of losing a child is THAT high.

Have kids, help them not kill themselves and you're already living a life that's the envy of many billionaires.

After a 24 hrs existential crises resulting from having the mirror held to my face, I shove it into the closet of 'things to think of when I have time.' I wake up, 2 continents away from family, 1 continent away from my partner, and innocently continue grinding it out in hopes of making a couple of millions in silicon valley at the expense of my 20s and 30s. Some people never learn. Hopefully, I won't stay this way for too long.

Even on this anonymous no-name forum, I feel the urge to say I'd never wish such a tragedy on anyone. I wish she finds the support and space needed to get through this difficult time.

Susan is a billionaire with power, access and status. Everything you wish for, she has. And I am certain that she would give it all away to bring her son back.

Have kids, help them not kill themselves and you're already living a life that's the envy of many billionaires.

I think you are typical minding someone who is not typical minded. There were dozens, if not hundreds of things Susan could have done differently in how she waged the culture war in her position of chief censor of one of the largest media platforms in the world to prevent this from happening. Not just for her own family, but prevent it from happening for hundred or thousands of other families. She did not. I do not expect her to change her behavior.

We'll see. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Youtube will adopt as capricious and neurotic a censorship regime against drugs as they have against guns, Republicans, COVID "misinformation", claims of election denial, etc. But somehow I doubt it. I sincerely doubt it.

I really quite doubt your culture war complaints against her (valid as they are) have anything to do with her freshman son probably accidentally taking some drugs laced with fentanyl. I also doubt if she was previously a YouTube drug warrior that would have saved her son's life.

There were dozens, if not hundreds of things Susan could have done differently in how she waged the culture war in her position of chief censor of one of the largest media platforms in the world to prevent this from happening.

You can't change human nature. Young guy (so risk taker), college age, smart (so thinks he has it all figured out and won't end up like the dumb addicts) and wants some fun. Drugs are no big deal, the whole war on drugs thing is right wing conservative Republican freakout. Plenty of people do drugs and have no problems. Heck, his parents generation, so there's a good chance his parents did too, did drugs in their time and they're successful, economically productive citizens. All his friends and the people he's hanging out with are trying different things. It's just fun, he's not going to become an addict.

You can tell your kids till you're blue in the face "don't do thing" but you can never guarantee it will catch, never mind if you're poor or a billionaire thought leader.

Drugs are no big deal, the whole war on drugs thing is right wing conservative Republican freakout

designed to tyrannize innocent BIPOC, of course.

See Portland moving to re-criminalise drug possession. My oh my, who could ever have foreseen that only nice, respectable, non-criminal, non-junkie drug users who confined it to the weekend for recreational fun, didn't need to steal or rob to feed a habit, and were perfectly rational about their drug use would not be the only ones using drugs under the scheme of de-criminalisation? Who could have imagined that making it easier to have and use drugs would mean the types who shoot up in public, beg, steal, and act like feral dog packs would also be out and about taking advantage of this? Such a shocking surprise, why did nobody warn them about it? No, it's all the fault of those right-wing conservative Republicans this utopia never materialised!

Maybe Youtube will adopt as capricious and neurotic a censorship regime[...]

Indeed, this is what I suspect. Wojcicicki and Troper (yes, the kid had a father) will indeed try to do something, but they'll do it by flailing in ways that wouldn't have helped their kid, that probably won't help anyone else's kid, and will do general harm.

Apocryphally the billionaire Bill Ackman who was recently also behind ousting of Claudine Gay from Harvard may have gotten redpilled by his own daughter who is apparently very into Western Marxism and overall Social Justice, at least according to what she - a History Teacher - follows on LinkedIn.

This is depressingly true. So much activism is centered on "root causes" which often expresses itself as trying to isolate people from the consequences of their actions. And it only makes things worse and worse. Doing the wrong thing is much worse than doing nothing.

I hope I'm wrong and she comes out hard for criminalizing drugs again and locking dealers in prison. But I doubt it.

criminalizing drugs again and locking dealers in prison

Good news: they are currently illegal to possess and dealers get locked up. That's true almost everywhere in the US, Portland and Seattle excluded.

I'm still a believer in the desirability of liberty, if too blackpilled to be an actual libertarian, so I can't endorse that. Fentanyl and other opioids and most stimulants remain criminal, so I don't know what you mean by "criminalizing drugs again"; certainly I doubt he died from pot. The drug warrior approach might have saved him from death, though perhaps he'd have preferred it to the life in prison or drug rehab drug warriors would offer. If his death was indeed due to adulterated drugs or just drugs of unusual purity, then the libertarian approach might have saved him as well.

In many places in the United States, it is the policy of the police not to arrest anyone for drug possession, and even drug dealing is tolerated. For example, you can consume and sell drugs with impunity in my hometown of Seattle. This is what is meant by "decriminalization". Recriminalization simply means that existing laws are enforced again.

Recriminalization certainly doesn't mean that a young person would be thrown in prison for life for possessing a small amount of drugs. That is an absurd strawman.

‘If you get caught doing drugs, your life is over, and we WILL catch you if you try doing drugs,’ sounds like exactly what’s needed to fix the opiates epidemic.

You like shrooms, LSD, cannabis, ok, I don’t approve but we can argue about legalisation or appropriate penalties. But for anything harder, don’t do them, don’t associate with people who do them. It cannot possibly be that hard.


(and also this )

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Recriminalization certainly doesn't mean that a young person would be thrown in prison for life for possessing a small amount of drugs. That is an absurd strawman.

The charge gets upgraded to possession with intent to distribute, for all but the most trivial amount of drugs. Maybe you can plea-bargain it down, but if the prosecutor is in a law and order mood that week (re-election coming up?), no. You don't get life for that but you do get prison time unless there's a diversion program (rehab). The conviction disqualifies you from most white collar jobs, but fortunately still qualifies you for the kind of marginal labor you can do to make just enough to get a fix until you get tossed into jail again.