When Craterus wanted him to come and visit him, “No,” he replied, “I would rather live on a few grains of salt at Athens than enjoy sumptuous fare at Craterus’s table.” He went up to Anaximenes the rhetorician, who was fat, and said, “Let us beggars have something of your paunch; it will be a relief to you, and we shall get advantage.” And when the same man was discoursing, Diogenes distracted his audience by producing some salt fish. This annoyed the lecturer, and Diogenes said, “An obol’s worth of salt fish has broken up Anaximenes’s lecture-class.”


Important Rationality Celebrity Julia Galef posted on Facebook about how she mysteriously got a request to talk at a superyacht conference, and how it would be funny if she started talking about cognitive biases in yacht design or something but that really she didn’t think she could do much with this one.

Because I am mean, I recommended the topic “Effective Altruism For Superyacht Owners: Literally Anything Other Than Superyachts”

Julia said that was actually a good idea and she was going to see if the conference organizers would let her given an effective altruism talk.

So I just Fermi-estimated some numbers. Assume fifty superyacht owners at the conference. Each one has average net worth $50 million. And assume Julia’s talk causes them on average to raise their charitable spending 0.1%. That’s $2.5 million.

It is entirely possible that one snarky comment on Facebook will improve world utility more than everything else I will ever do in my life combined :(

It’s all about framing. “I just potentially generated a huge quantity of world utility with one short Facebook comment, aren’t I awesome? Imagine what I could do with two Facebook comments.”



George Washington warned us about parties.

The Case for High Barriers to Entry to Fandom


Exclusionary fandom environments don’t just keep out people who don’t know enough about the community or whose values and interests don’t line up with the existing fandom; they also keep out people who are bothered by exclusionary environments. I actually think the latter group is at least as large as the first two groups. When a fandom acquires a reputation for being exclusionary, that deters talented would-be content creators from trying to immerse themselves in it. It deters people who do create content from sharing it with the fandom. It actually deters a lot of people from reading the work in the first place.

Perhaps, but from the point of view of existing fans, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Consider an analogy: Imagine you’re running a business owned by someone else, and you could increase net welfare of the world by giving away some of your products, though this would have a negative impact on your business. It would be wrong of you to do so, because you have taken on a duty to increase the business’s value. Analogously, when fans decide on a policy for a fandom or community, they’re seeking to increase the fandom’s value to themselves - to the already existing fans - rather than “give away” some of the value to potential new members.

Also, larger fandoms might have a smaller percentage of content that matches any individual fan’s tastes, but they produce so much more overall content that I think any individual fan will find more of the content they prefer. Even if you think 99% of fan writing in low-barrier-to-entry fandoms is crap, a fandom with 80,000 works (Marvel on A03) has 800 good ones. A small fandom may have 800 A03 listings total.

This is a good point. However, there are several problems. First, you have to sift through a lot of bad content to get to the good stuff, which may not be easy, and the expected value could easily be lower than it would’ve been in a smaller fandom. Second, it reduces common culture. In some fandoms, a large part of the value comes not from the work itself but from the discussions, memes, and general culture that form around the work, and that’s only possible when people are consuming the same works. Even if you find something you like, if you can’t talk about it with anyone, some value is lost. Third, the most important content creators are those outside the fandom, i.e. the ones who created the works around which the fandom is centered. If they change what they create because of a change in customers’ (fans’) preferences, that can have a colossal impact on a fandom.

And fandoms that don’t grow, die. I would say that upwards of half the BNFs in online communities burn out, get new irl obligations, or lose interest within a few years. Attrition rates are probably higher among casual contributors. It’s hard to sustain growth at that nice desirable assimilation level. Often in practice, the choice is between fandoms that slowly and steadily become less active, or fandoms that survive off a constant influx of new people with new ideas and different norms.

I agree that there’s a tradeoff. The question is whether it’s better for a good fandom to exist for a few years or for a less good fandom to exist for longer. There’s no obvious ideal answer, but at the same time it’s unlikely that not being exclusionary at all is the optimum. Also, newer fans brought in from the general population are less likely to be obsessively dedicated to a fandom, and so the fandom may not last, anyway.

Another way to look at this is to to observe that the internet has dramatically lowered barriers to entry in fandom. Is there more, higher quality, and more varied content now than in fandoms of the past? My instinct is that the answer is ‘yes’. There are other considerations (is fandom higher or lower status? are the original works more or less widely available?) but barriers to entry seem a big part of it.

I don’t know, I wasn’t a member of any fandoms before the existence of the Internet, but it wouldn’t at all surprise me if there are old comic book fans who hate the influx of newcomers. What I have seen is internet communities becoming popular and attracting new members who didn’t understand how things worked and who changed the norms in a way that removed much of what was interesting about the community in the first place.

(Source: eccentric-opinion)

The Case for High Barriers to Entry to Fandom

Sometimes I see people, both on Tumblr and elsewhere, talking about how some fandoms are too exclusionary and not accepting enough of new fans. While there may be some valid points there, it tends to be a one-sided analysis that favors new fans at the expense of older fans. From the perspective of older fans, it may be rational to not want to attract new fans.

The quality that makes a work interesting can be broadly subdivided into two components: artifice and appeal. Artifice is how well-made the work is: how polished it is, how well thought-ought, etc. In the case of movies, for example, good directing and editing are both examples artifice. Everyone likes artifice, and generally agrees about whether something is an example of it. In contrast, appeal is more subjective and necessarily not of interest to everyone, as it is the attribute that aims at specific interests possessed by the intended audience. There is a tradeoff between being interesting to wider audiences and having high appeal to a narrower audience. While everyone likes artifice, everyone likes things that appeal to them and dislikes things that appeal to others. Appeal is an adjustable quality: a content creator can choose to have broad but less strong appeal, and can also choose what interests to appeal to. Artifice is a largely uncontrollable quality: to a certain degree, it’s correlated with budget, but beyond that, some of it depends on how much the content creators care about the work, some of it depends on the local culture where the work is created (e.g. the workplace culture where the artist works), and some of it is simply luck.

Some works have appeal for a particular subculture, and some works even create a subculture (initially) centered around them. For some time, certain content creators design their works to appeal to this subculture, because it’s their customer base, and small dedicated fandoms form around these works. Members of these fandoms have deep knowledge of their works: they pay close attention to continuity, analyse each sentence, etc. Then there’s a shock - perhaps there’s a movie adaptation of the work, and it may be high in artifice. People outside the fandom become interested, and content creators realize they can make more money and/or gain status by changing the appeal of their works to aim at a larger audience (the new fans). This means that less content is produced of the kind that old fans like. The old fans then have a reason to not want the fandom to be expanded - they’re okay with new individual fans, but only as long as they have similar tastes to existing fans.

Another reason old fans may not want many new fans to be created is to avoid the Eternal September effect. Fandoms often have communities where they discuss the work, as well as miscellaneous topics that are of interest to them. They also have certain norms of discussion that they like that are specific to their group or subculture. Normally, a new fan joins the community, pays attention to how more veteran members interact with each other, and then starts to contribute. When a large number of new fans drawn from the general population join these communities, instead of adopting the old norms, they introduce the norms common in broader society, a change that older members dislike.

tl;dr: Old established fandoms can be threatened by new fans - indirectly by reducing how much content creators try to appeal to them, and directly by changing established community norms.

When you “advocate capitalism”, don’t you risk alienating all of the people who hate the status quo but might come to love the free market? It’s possible, but I doubt it. Yes, opponents of the free market habitually associate it with “pro-business” economic policies. But this is usually a deliberate rhetorical strategy on their part. Almost all self-styled “anti-capitalists” hate free markets per se. But it’s easier to incite outrage against visible injustices than against the invisible hand, and they take the path of least resistance.

Don’t believe me? Try going to an anti-globalization rally. Tell people you’re for free trade, but against government subsidies for exports. Tell them you favor freedom to form unions - and the freedom to fire workers for joining unions. See what happens. I bet it won’t be pretty.

- Bryan Caplan


living in a small town is wonderful

  • are there a lot of modes of transportation? nope! you either drive or you’re out of luck basically
  • are there a lot of job opportunities? no! of course not
  • are there things to do? hang out at the grocery store or go to the only movie theater the town has!
  • are the people nice? of course not! not at all!
  • are you close to anything interesting? nope! everything interesting happens hours away and you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere

My small town didn’t even have a movie theater.

(via drethelin)

Tags: about me

"Suppose the socially desirable outcome is not to have houses built in a particular flood plain but, given that they are there, to take certain costly flood-control measures. If the government’s policy were not to build the dams and levees needed for flood protection and agents knew this was the case, even if houses were built there, rational agents would not live in the flood plains. But the rational agent knows that, if he and others build houses there, the government will take the necessary flood-control measures. Consequently, in the absence of a law prohibiting the construction of houses in the flood plain, houses are built there, and the army corps of engineers subsequently builds the dams and levees."

— Edward Prescott and Finn Kydland, “Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans”

"Would we accept ‘if you don’t want to get shot, just do what the EPA regulator tells you’? Would we yield to ‘if you don’t want your kid tased, do what the Deputy Superintendent of Education tells you’? Would we accept ‘if you don’t want to get tear gassed, just do what your Congressman tells you’? No. Our culture of individualism and liberty would not permit it. Yet somehow, through generations of law-and-order rhetoric and near-deification of law enforcement, we have convinced ourselves that cops are different, and that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be able to order us about, at their discretion, on pain of violence.

It’s not acceptable. It is servile and grotesque."

Sunil Dutta Tells It Like It Is About American Policing | Popehat (via brutereason)

(via michaelblume)

A different perspective



Not exactly. People have a certain association/feeling/qualia associated with something they classify as right or wrong, but they don’t have a sense that naturally identifies something as right or wrong. People have moral intuitions that have various origins (biology, environment, personality quirks, etc), but these intuitions don’t actually identify whether something is moral or not, different people’s intuitions can vary wildly, and even one person’s intuitions can be inconsistent with each other. People can intuitively respond to an act with a feeling of “That’s morally right” or “That’s morally wrong”, but that doesn’t actually identify whether it’s morally right or wrong.

ehh but that sounds to me like the existence of a sense, and of illusions that trick the sense

I don’t think it’s a sense. It seems similar to something like mathematics - there’s no mathematical sense, but there are still mathematical intuitions and the feeling that something should work a certain way.

(Source: charliedermot)

A different perspective


As far as I can tell, most people have the natural ability to identify certain things as either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Not exactly. People have a certain association/feeling/qualia associated with something they classify as right or wrong, but they don’t have a sense that naturally identifies something as right or wrong. People have moral intuitions that have various origins (biology, environment, personality quirks, etc), but these intuitions don’t actually identify whether something is moral or not, different people’s intuitions can vary wildly, and even one person’s intuitions can be inconsistent with each other. People can intuitively respond to an act with a feeling of “That’s morally right” or “That’s morally wrong”, but that doesn’t actually identify whether it’s morally right or wrong.

Double standards


It does not seem consistent then.. They are saying something is wrong, and they then continue to fund the activities they condemn. Maybe “hypocritical” was the wrong choice of word. Thank you.

It’s not inconsistent, either. It’s similar to using the welfare state while calling for its abolition - you’d rather it didn’t exist, but as long as it exists, you might as well make use of it. Or, to put it generally, such a person’s preferences are: X doesn’t exist > X exists and I take advantage of it > X exists and I don’t take advantage of it. There’s nothing inconsistent about having preferences like that.

Double standards


Do people know and just ignore their hypocrisy when they condemn child labour and human rights abuse in mines, sweatshops and ‘third-world countries’ in general yet still enjoy the use of their mobile phones and new clothes? Or are they actually oblivious? I think not.

Calling for the abolition of X while taking advantage of X while it exists isn’t hypocritical.

Is the veil of ignorance a remotely plausible meta-norm?

Not really. Sure, if you were ignorant of a bunch of obvious facts, you would probably want very different things, leading you to make very different choices. But so what? It is hard to see why wants and actions grounded on the world as it is are morally inferior to wants and actions grounded on the world as it is not. In fact, the opposite is true. “You should keep the agreements you actually made” has some moral force. “You should keep the agreements you never made, but would have made if you were ignorant of obvious facts about yourself” has none.

You could reply, “Wants and actions grounded on morally objectionable circumstances are morally inferior to wants and actions not grounded on morally objectionable circumstances.” Fair enough. But then you have to identify “morally objectionable circumstances” before you can apply the veil of ignorance, leaving it useless as a meta-norm for breaking prior moral deadlocks. If an egalitarian considers inequality a morally objectionable circumstance, and a libertarian considers forced equality a morally objectionable circumstance, no veil will bridge their worldviews.

- Bryan Caplan


Do you know what I think of when someone asks for solidarity? I think of cops. Nobody shows more solidarity than cops. You could have a cop on video beating the crap out of someone, with a dozen of his fellow cops standing there watching, and not a one will cross that blue line to do what is right…

Solidarity is about group cohesion, which means you have to see value in group belonging. And I don’t. I’ve never wanted to belong to a group. All too often, group belonging means conformity. It’s why the Amish all dress the same. It’s why every kid in middle school has to run out and buy the same pair of jeans as their friends…

If you want me to do something or support something, do not appeal to me on the basis of group identity. Appeal to me on principle. Appeal to a real human relationship that we have. If I think your cause is just, I’ll be there…

If you just want solidarity, join the mob or the white nationalists or the police force.


Melanie Pinkert