Daddy, why didn’t you blog about Trump?

A few days ago, Terry Tao, whose superb blog typically focuses on things like gaps in the primes and finite-time blowup in PDEs, wrote an unusual post, arguing that virtually everyone knows Donald Trump is unqualified to be President, so the challenge is “just” to make that fact common knowledge (i.e., to ensure everyone knows everyone knows it, everyone knows everyone knows everyone knows it, etc).  Tao’s post even included the pseudo-mathematical

Proposition 1: The presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, is not even remotely qualified to carry out the duties of the presidency of the United States of America

together with some suggestions for how this proposition might be “proven” (e.g., using Hillary’s recent San Diego speech).

In thus speaking out, Tao joins Stephen Hawking, who recently called Trump “a demagogue, who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”  Now Ed Witten just needs to issue his statement, and we’ll have a trifecta of “the three greatest geniuses.”  This shouldn’t be a stretch: Witten started his career by campaigning for George McGovern, and has supported liberal causes for decades.  I’m not expecting him to be seen around Princeton sporting a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.

Notwithstanding this site, I don’t belong on any list with Tao, Hawking, or Witten.  Nevertheless, friends have expressed surprise that I’ve had almost nothing to say on Shtetl-Optimized about what’s already—regardless of what happens next—the most shocking US political development of my life.  Of course, I’ve mined the subject for humor.  When I gave the Strachey Lecture on “Quantum Supremacy” on a recent visit to Oxford, I started out by asking whether I should disavow support from quantum supremacists, before averring that I needed to research the subject more.  (Get it?  I need to research it more?)

I didn’t say more because … well, what could I possibly say that wasn’t being said 1010000 other places on the Internet?  Shouldn’t some little corner of human discourse remain Trump-free, so that civilization has a base from which to rebuild after this is all behind us?

Against those considerations, I recently realized that there’s an argument for speaking out, which goes as follows.  Suppose Trump actually wins (as of this writing, Predictwise still gives him a frighteningly-high 27% probability).  Suppose my family somehow survives whatever comes next, and one day my daughter Lily comes to me across the rubble of the post-thermonuclear hellscape and says, “daddy, in the Good Days, the days before the War of the Small-Hands Insult, the days when there was plentiful food and water and Internet, didn’t you have what used to be called a ‘blog’?  Then why didn’t you speak out on this blog, why didn’t you do whatever tiny amount you could to prevent this?”  So, alright, this post is my answer to her.

Trump, famously, doesn’t even try to refute the ubiquitous Hitler comparisons; instead he sneeringly invites them, for example with the faux Nazi salutes at his rallies.  Certainly with Trump, there’s the eerily familiar sense of how could this possibly happen in a modern country; and of a candidate winning not despite but because of his open contempt for Enlightenment norms, his explicit promises to elevate his will over the law.

At the same time, I think there’s a deep reason why Trump is not Hitler.  Namely, Hitler believed in something, had a purity of conviction.  Late in the war, when every available resource was desperately needed at the front, Hitler and his deputies still insisted that scarce trains be used to transport Jews to the death camps.  To me, that shows some real dedication.  I’m not convinced that an examination of Trump’s long career in bullshit artistry, or of his unhinged statements today, shows a similar dedication to any cause beyond his own self-aggrandizement.

Yet as many others have pointed out, “not being Hitler” is sort of a low bar for a President of the United States.  If Trump were “merely” a Pinochet or Putin level of badness, I’d still see his election as a calamity for the US and the world—like, maybe an order of magnitude worse than the in-retrospect-mini-calamity of Bush’s election in 2000.

Since Tao was criticized for not explicitly listing his reasons why Trump is unqualified, let me now give my own top ten—any one of which, in a sane world, I think would immediately disqualify Trump from presidential consideration.  To maximize the list’s appeal, I’ll restrict myself entirely to reasons that are about global security and the future of democratic norms, and not about which people or groups Trump hurled disgustingly unpresidential insults at (though obviously there’s also that).

  1. He’s shown contempt for the First Amendment, by saying “libel laws should be opened up” to let him sue journalists who criticize him.
  2. He’s shown contempt for an independent judiciary, and even lack of comprehension of the judiciary’s role in the US legal system.
  3. He’s proposed a “temporary ban” on Muslims entering the US.  Even setting aside the moral and utilitarian costs, such a plan couldn’t possibly be implemented without giving religion an explicit role in the US legal system that the Constitution was largely written to prevent it from having.
  4. He’s advocated ordering the military to murder the families of terrorists—the sort of thing that could precipitate a coup d’état if the military followed its own rules and refused.
  5. He’s refused to rule out the tactical first use of nuclear weapons against ISIS.
  6. He’s proposed walking away from the US’s defense alliances, which would probably force Japan, South Korea, and other countries to develop their own nuclear arsenals and set off a new round of nuclear proliferation.
  7. He says that the national debt could be “paid back at a discount”—implicitly treating the US government like a failed casino project, and reneging on Alexander Hamilton’s principle (which has stood since the Revolutionary War, and helps maintain the world’s economic stability) that US credit is ironclad.
  8. He’s repeatedly expressed admiration for autocrats, including Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, as well as for the Chinese government’s decision to suppress the Tiananmen Square protests by arresting and killing thousands of people.
  9. He’s expressed the desire to see people who protest his rallies “roughed up.”
  10. He said that, not only would he walk away from the Paris accords, but the entire concept of global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

Would Trump moderate his insane “policies” once elected?  I don’t know, but I’d say that electing someone who promises to ignore the rule of law, in the hope that they don’t really mean it, has one of the worst track records of any idea in human history.  Like, I acknowledge that a Trump presidency has a wide distribution over possible badnesses: whereas a Ted Cruz presidency would be pretty much a point distribution concentrated on “very bad,” a Trump presidency would have appreciable probability mass on “less bad than Cruz,” but also appreciable mass on “doesn’t even fit on the badness chart.”

Anyway, for these reasons and others, Shtetl-Optimized unhesitatingly endorses Hillary Clinton for president—and indeed, would continue to endorse Hillary if her next policy position was “eliminate all quantum computing research, except for that aiming to prove NP⊆BQP using D-Wave machines.”

Even so, there’s one crucial point on which I dissent from the consensus of my liberal friends.  Namely, my friends and colleagues constantly describe the rise of Trump as “incomprehensible”—or at best, as comprehensible only in terms of the US being full of racist, xenophobic redneck scumbags who were driven to shrieking rage by a black guy being elected president.  Which—OK, that’s one aspect of it, but it’s as if any attempt to dig deeper, to understand the roots of Trump’s appeal, if only to figure out how to defeat him, risks “someone mistaking you for the enemy.”

I remember watching the now-famous debate in August, where Megyn Kelly confronted Trump with his long history of derogatory comments about women, and Trump replied with a smirk, falsely claiming that his comments were “only [about] Rosie O’Donnell”—bringing down the house (both men and women) in laughter.  At that point, something clicked; I got it.  From then on, Trump’s continuing rise often scared or depressed me, but much less about it surprised me.

I think people support Trump for the same reason why second-graders support the class clown who calls the teacher a fart-brain to her face.  It’s not that the class literally agrees that the teacher’s cranium is filled with intestinal gases, or considers that an important question to raise.  It’s simply that the clown had the guts to stand up to this scolding authority figure who presumes to tell the class every day what they are and aren’t allowed to think.  (As far as I can tell, this has also been the central operating principle of right-wing shock artists over the decades, from Rush Limbaugh to Ann Coulter to Milo Yiannopoulos.)

Support for this thesis comes from r/The_Donald, the main online clearinghouse for Trump supporters.  Spend some time there, and many of the themes will be instantly recognizable if you’ve followed the interminable controversies about campus political correctness over the last few decades.  Perhaps the most popular theme is the self-referential one, of “refusing to be silenced” by the censorious Social Justice Warriors.  Trump supporters, for example, gleefully share articles about the university administrators and students who’ve treated “Trump 2016” and “Make America Great Again” chalked on campus sidewalks as hate crimes to be investigated and punished.

(Every time I read such a thing, I want to yell at the administrators and students involved: how can you not see that you’re playing directly into the other side’s narrative, giving them the PR bonanza of their dreams?  Actually, I’ve felt the same way about many left-wing campus antics since I was a teenager.)

I explained earlier how abysmally I think Trump comes across under the cold light of reason.  But how does he look to my inner five-year-old, or my inner self-serving orangutan?  Well, Trump’s campaign has attracted some noxious anti-Semites, who surely want me dead for that reason, but I see little indication that Trump himself, or most of his supporters, feel similarly.  I can’t say that they’ve said or done anything to threaten me personally.

Meanwhile, many of the social-justice types who are Trump’s ideological opposites did try to destroy my life—and not because I hurt anyone, tried to hurt anyone, or said anything false, but just because I went slightly outside their Overton Window while trying to foster empathy and dialogue and articulate something true.  And having spent a year and a half reading their shaming attacks, on Twitter, Tumblr, Metafilter, etc., I’m well-aware that many of them will try again to destroy me if they ever see an opportunity.

So on the purely personal level, you might say, I have a hundred times more reason to fear Amanda Marcotte than to fear Donald Trump, even though Trump might become the next Commander-in-Chief (!?), while Marcotte will never become more than a clickbait writer.  And you might add: if even a nerdy academic in Cambridge, MA, who’s supported gay rights and environmentalism and Democrats his whole life, is capable of feeling a twinge of vicarious satisfaction when Trump thumbs his nose at the social-justice bullies, then how much the more might a “middle American” feel that way?  Say, someone who worked his whole life to support a family, then lost his job at the plant, and who’s never experienced anything but derision, contempt, and accusations of unexamined white male privilege from university-educated coastal elites?

The truth is, there’s a movement that’s very effectively wielded social media to remake the public face of progressive activism—to the point where today, progressivism could strike an outside observer as being less about stopping climate change, raising the minimum wage, or investing in public transit than simply about ruining the lives of Brendan Eich and Matt Taylor and Tim Hunt and Erika Christakis and Dongle Guy and Elevator Guy and anyone else who tells the wrong joke, wears the wrong shirt, or sends the wrong email.  It strikes me that this movement never understood the extent to which progressive social values were already winning, with no need for this sort of vindictiveness.  It’s insisted instead on treating its vanquished culture-war enemies as shortsightedly as the Allies treated the Germans at Versailles.

So yes, I do think (as Bill Maher also said, before summarily reversing himself) that the bullying wing of the social-justice left bears at least some minor, indirect responsibility for the rise of Trump.  If you demonstrate enough times that even people who are trying to be decent will still get fired, jeered at, and publicly shamed over the tiniest ideological misstep, then eventually some of those who you’ve frightened might turn toward a demagogue who’s incapable of shame.

But OK, even if true, this is water under the bridge.  The question now is: how do we make sure that the ~30% probability of a Trump takeover of American democracy goes toward 0%?  I feel like, in understanding the emotional legitimacy of some of the Trump supporters’ anger, I’ve cleared a nontrivial Step One in figuring out how to counter him—but I’m still missing Steps Two and Three!

In the weeks leading to the 2000 election, I ran a website called “In Defense of NaderTrading.”  The purpose of the site was to encourage Ralph Nader supporters who lived in swing states, like Florida, to vote for Al Gore, and to arrange for Gore supporters who lived in “safe” states, like Massachusetts or Texas, to vote for Nader on their behalf.  I saw correctly that this election would be razor-close (though of course I didn’t know how close), that a Bush victory would be a disaster for the world (though I didn’t know exactly how), and that almost any novel idea—NaderTrading would do—was worth a try.  My site probably played a role in a few hundred vote swaps, including some in Florida.  I think constantly about the fact that we only needed 538 more, out of ~100,000 Floridian Nader voters, to change history.

Is there any idea that shows similar promise for defeating Trump, as NaderTrading did for defeating Bush in 2000?  Here are the four main things I’ve come across:

  1. Terry Tao’s proposal: All the respected people who think Trump is gobsmackingly unqualified (even, or especially, “normally apolitical” people) should come out and say so publicly.  My response: absolutely, they should, but I’m unsure if it will help much, given that it hasn’t yet.
  2. Paul Graham’s proposal: Democrats need to turn Trump’s name-calling and other childish antics against him.  E.g., if voters love Trump’s referring to Rubio as “Little Marco,” Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” etc., then why doesn’t Hillary start referring to “Baby Donald” or “Toddler Trump,” having another temper tantrum for which he needs a pacifier?  My response: again I’m skeptical, since Trump has already shown an uncanny ability to absorb all ridicule and shaming without injury, like the giant saucers in Independence Day.
  3. Trump needs to be baited into more social-media wars that make him look petty and unpresidential.  My response: while it’s obvious by now that he can be so baited, it’s unfortunately far from obvious whether this sort of thing hurts him.
  4. Hillary should hold debates against the libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, thereby helping to shift conservative votes from Trump to Johnson, and also making an implicit statement that Johnson, not Trump, is her legitimate conservative opposition.  My response: this is maybe the most interesting idea I’ve heard (besides the obvious one, of the so-called “NeverTrump” Republicans bolting to start a new party—which, alas, it looks less and less likely that they’re going to do).

If you have additional ideas, feel free to share them in the comments!  As you work it out, here’s my promise to you.  Just like I dropped my research in 2000 to work on NaderTrading, so too over the next five months, I’ll do anything legal if I become convinced that it draws on my comparative advantage, and has a non-negligible probability of helping to ensure Hillary’s victory and Trump’s defeat.  Even if it involved, like, working with Amanda Marcotte or something.

338 Responses to “Daddy, why didn’t you blog about Trump?”

  1. Jim Kukula Says:

    Another approach to the situation is to focus more on the issues and less on the person. Trump himself is a skilled con artist, at least that is my present theory. Scott Adams had some good insights in this direction: … I just don’t want to play games with a master wizard like that.

    Insight into the issues might come from Joe Baigent, RIP: … I think it is counter-productive to tell Trump supporters that they are blind or stupid. Instead, we need to understand exactly why they support Trump, which is that people are really unhappy and think that radical change is necessary and Trump is the guy with the courage to instigate radical change.

    The intellectual argument I would like to develop is that radical change, per se, will most likely lead to some horrific catastrophe. Maybe the patient is sick, maybe thoracic surgery is required, but I wouldn’t put any maniac with a knife in the operating room! We need courage, yes, but also skill. However, I think this argument is too abstract.

    So I think the approach that might work is to go concrete. Look at the concrete issues, starting with the evaporation of working class jobs. The American Dream is practically dead and people are really unhappy about that. They want their dream back!

    The key point is, Trump is not going to bring that dream back! Trump is typical of the elite nihilists who have eviscerated the country. Give that guy a knife and he’ll be broiling fresh flesh an hour later.

    Bottom line, I would focus on the issues that drive his supporters. For those supporters to rethink their support, they need to see that their concerns will be better addressed by a different candidate. They need to feel better understood elsewhere.

  2. dhaus Says:

    Convince Bernie supporters who are hesitating to support Clinton. If the Obama coalition turns out, Trump is defeated.

  3. Chris Says:

    Shorter Scott: “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

  4. David Karger Says:

    Scott, I think this article provides some terms from psychology that ground your speculation about why trump is doing so well. “Negative Reactance”.

  5. James Babcock Says:

    > “I think constantly about the fact that we only needed 538 more, out of ~100,000 Floridian Nader voters, to change history.”

    No, 538 votes would not have been sufficient. The Florida election was swung by hacked voting machines. During the election night confusion, Volusia County initially reported a negative vote total. At the time, the meaning of this wasn’t well understood. Later, Harri Hursti discovered and documented that the vote tabulating machines Florida was using were vulnerable to the Hursti Hack: by inserting an extra memory card into the process with positive votes for one candidate and negative votes for another candidate, someone can alter vote totals without messing up the turnout numbers. If done correctly, this would be undetectable; but if someone screws up and puts a memory card into a process *in the wrong place*, then the result looks like what happened in Volusia. Since the exit polls had Gore winning, the natural assumption is that if Gore got a few extra real votes, the fraudster(s) would have simply stolen that many extra votes to get the result they wanted.

    This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t work to convince people to vote for Hillary and not Trump. But we also need to pay as much or more attention to the dirty tricks that are going to happen.

  6. Scott Says:

    Chris #3: Huh? That’s what you took from this post?

    I liked Paul Graham’s recent tweet:

      Unless someone is a bad writer, an alternate phrasing of something they said that’s shorter is not what they meant.
  7. Scott Says:

    David Karger #4: Thanks!! It’s reassuring that a New York Times writer would say many of the same things I did (right down to a Trump vote as rebellion against the 8th-grade homeroom teacher), but in more professional language, and with quotes from Jonathan Haidt and Cass Sunstein. 🙂

  8. Scott Says:

    James Babcock #5: That sounds … surprisingly worthy of investigation. I certainly remember the weirdness with Volusia County from election night. Wikipedia says that the Volusia error was quickly corrected and didn’t affect the final “total,” but had already been important in creating the impression that Bush had won and that Gore was just trying to steal the election. And of course, if the hack had been done correctly elsewhere, your account (if true) implies that we wouldn’t have known about it.

    Do you have sources? Did Hursti himself, or any other reputable voting-machine researcher, lend credence to the idea?

  9. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, thank you for this principled essay.

    A small but effective act is to point colleagues, friends, and relatives — especially those of the right-wing persuation — to Caleb Howe’s passionately conservative RedState column “OUCH: This Brutal Anti-Trump Ad Will Hurt Him with the Unconverted” (of 6 June 2016) and to the youtube video “Grace” that RedState links to.

    As Howe says:

    Since I assume you are a human being and not a piece of c**p, you don’t need an explanation of why this is an effective ad.

    This video is the most principled, and in consequence the most effective, 60-second Trump exposé that many folks (including me) have seen to date.

  10. Ely Spears Says:

    I’m reminded of one of Robin Hanson’s recent posts, “Can’t Stop Lecturing” on Overcoming Bias. Here’s a quote:

    “Imagine a not-beloved grade school teacher who seemed emotionally weak to his students, and was fastidious about where exactly everything was on his desk and in his classroom. If the students moved things around when the teacher wasn’t looking, this teacher would seem disrupted and give long boring lectures against such behavior. This sort of reaction might well encourage students to move things, just to get a rise out of the teacher.

    Imagine a daughter who felt overly controlled and under considered by clueless parents, and who was attracted to and tempted to get involved with a particular “bad boy.” Imagine that these parents seemed visibly disturbed by this, and went out of their way to lecture her often about why bad boys are a bad idea, though never actually telling her anything she didn’t think she already knew. In such a case, this daughter might well be more tempted to date this bad boy, just to bother her parents.

    Today a big chunk of the U.S. electorate feels neglected by a political establishment that they don’t especially respect, and is tempted to favor political bad boy Donald Trump. The main response of our many establishments, especially over the last few weeks, has been to constantly lecture everyone about how bad an idea this would be. Most of this lecturing, however, doesn’t seem to tell Trump supporters anything they don’t think they already know, and little of it acknowledges reasonable complaints regarding establishment neglect and incompetence.”

    To me, a ton of these posts about Trump, unfortunately including this one too, read exactly like they are all about lecturing. We just need to find a way to lecture people about how bad Trump is, with itemized lists, planned insult campaigns, social media dogfights, etc.

    I don’t know if the U.S. middle class has fully reached a level of disenfranchisement that the collective response to such “look, we know better than you” would really result in a contemptible “oh yeah, well we’re going to stay out past curfew, eat ice cream for dinner, and elect Trump anyway” knee-jerk response, or if that will have to wait for the next presidential election cycle — but either way I see this sort of debate as less civic prudence and more treating symptoms instead of causes. That the populace is happy to play chicken with their presidential election is a statement that they don’t particular trust or respect really any part of the political establishment, and Clinton is unfortunately a pretty easy target if your goal is to put salt in wounds that everyone will associate with overarching establishment.

  11. Aloni Says:

    If Trump is to win in November, he will have to convince voters who are currently (strongly) against him to vote for him. Here’s an idea (that’s probably 6 months too late): have people commit to their dislike of Trump now in an attempt to convince their future selves to vote against him. There are (at least) two ways to do this:

    (1) Use something like (which I’ve never used, nor do I know of anybody using). As I understand it, the idea is that I would commit to donating $100 to an anti-charity (to neo-Nazis, say) if I vote for Trump. I designate a trusted referee who will have control over the money and to execute the pledge. It could be used in a different mode: donating more than I wish to donate to a cause I agree with — then only I suffer the negative consequences of failing on my commitment.

    (2) Alternatively (or in tandem), one could write a letter to one’s future self. I suggest that there is something (emotionally) compelling about one’s former thoughts, and perhaps a letter from one’s past self will be more convincing than blogs / editorials / tweets / etc written by others.

    So, I suggest a webpage where a person writes an email to to be delivered sometime close to election day. In the letter, Present Self should plead with Future Self not vote for Trump in whatever way P.S. thinks F.S. will find most compelling.

    Likely, only a small percentage of people who wrote such an email to themselves would switch to Trump in the election, and a small percentage of those would be swayed by their past-self, but I don’t believe either percentage to be negligible.

  12. Scott Says:

    Ely #10: So then what do you suggest?

  13. Chris Says:

    Scott #6: No, it really wasn’t, and no disrespect intended. I just couldn’t help smiling at the fact that your brief engagement with the (I agree, unhelpful/facile) idea that Trump=Hitler so perfectly recapitulated the greatest line from the greatest movie.

  14. zodphaybroxlebeeb Says:

    A Trump supporter recently brought up Rotherham on BBC radio and the host said it didn’t happen. I’d say UVA, Clockboy, Rotherham, Gamergate, BLM, and Cosby have all substantially contributed to the current state of affairs. Hopefully quantum resources will help media reliably verify stuff (e.g. protect+confirm the identities of witnesses) and maybe keep markets from randomly crapping themselves. Could also fix DRM or let people make anonymous criminal accusations that are secure until reaching a threshold (“The Cosby Limit”).

  15. keith Says:

    My concern with a Hillary presidency is that the sentiment behind Trump’s support (and indeed Sanders’) isn’t likely to dissipate and may well become inflamed – she surely won’t turn her back on her multinational donors and TTIP – and then the next guy saying crazy Hitlerish stuff might be unstoppably popular and more practically like Hitler. Trump isn’t a wicked person. He’s petty and narcissistic BUT he’s accountable: he’s exactly the asshole he appears to be. I’m genuinely on the fence about what result I’d like from the general election, from a long term perspective.

  16. andrew Says:

    Is vote pairing definitely legal in the US? Vote trading is illegal. Seems like a grey area as to whether pairing votes is a trade of votes.

  17. Scott Says:

    Chris #13: Aha, I totally hadn’t gotten that that was a movie quote—thanks!!

  18. Scott Says:

    keith #15: But it might be just a few more elections, before the changing demographics of the US drastically change the electoral map anyway (e.g., by turning Texas blue). I think Trump’s white-nationalist supporters are right to fear that. Of course, I’m someone who sees it as a more positive than negative development.

  19. jk Says:

    i’d like a series of very brief ads, maybe 15 seconds:

    “some politicians will say anything to get elected:
    [followed by trump saying something and then saying the opposite.]”

    he’s taken both sides on just about every issue and then, as scott adams has said, relied on his supporters’ confirmation bias to think they know what he REALLY means. enough of these ads will jog people into wondering if they can trust their confirmation bias.

  20. Ely Spears Says:

    Well, first, I think it’s fine to describe problems without having to propose solutions or talk about how the problem has to be solved or avoided. Sometimes a problem is just a problem, or a problem is unlikely to be avoided, and it’s a lot better to spend time on just the descriptive part than the normative part. This is related to another of Hanson’s posts, “The What-If-Failure Taboo” — but no need to go down a rabbit hole.

    I’m not particularly knowledgeable about politics and do not believe myself any kind of expert or even particularly thoughtful person on coming up with ideas. But since you asked, I will at least say that my feeling is it’s a lot more important to address legitimate concerns and complaints about the political establishment being untrustworthy and generally not living up to promises. By instead talking about what a disaster Trump would be, you’re not telling people how their lives will be better if they vote for your preferred candidate. Instead, you’re telling them that you tacitly support the same sort of covert, behind-the-scenes screwing over of the lower classes and preferential treatment of corporate America as has been going on for a long time.

    Basically it’s like saying Trump = (well-known bad stuff) + (new, crazy bad stuff), whereas Hillary = (well-known bad stuff). As long as (new, crazy bad stuff) > 0 in badness space, then yes, indeed this would suggest badness(Trump) > badness(Hillary). But instead, everyone is choosing a different way of measuring badness, and effectively saying that if the term (well-known bad stuff) is going to appear *at all* well then rationality be damned, we’re just simply not participating in whatever this process is that has led us to perpetually having (well-known bad stuff) all the time.

    For me, the goal ought to be to get people to care about some kind of rational ordering again, and that seems fundamentally about how to dislodge the (well-known bad stuff) term and convince people to trust some system to actually help them out with that. Otherwise, if they have to live with (well-known bad stuff), well, then (so they figure), they might as well live with (new, crazy bad stuff) as well, what does it matter to them?

    Full disclosure: I consider myself strongly libertarian, but have felt so disenfranchised that I decided long ago I would not be voting in the presidential election. When it appeared that Bernie Sanders potentially had a chance to win the nomination, I was interested and open to re-evaluate my feelings. Now that he is no longer a realistic candidate, I feel it’s likely not a productive use of my time to think much about the presidential election — certainly not to think much about whatever the candidates might say publicly. It’s not so much that Sanders’ particular ideology resonates with me (I identify more as libertarian after all), but that he seems (perhaps only superficially) to be the only candidate not decidedly in the pocket of corporate America. I view Hillary and Trump as nearly equally well-controlled by corporate interests, to the point that I feel Trump would not be permitted to enact some of the flagrantly sensationalist things he claims, while Hillary, like Obama, may be forced to be complicit in things that are mostly as bad as what Trump would choose.

    Between the two of them, I think the world would be a little worse off with Trump, but not substantially so, and that for the average American’s audio/video sensory stream over the next four years, the only sincere difference will be which set of Saturday Night Live parodies we will be oversaturated with.

    Again, I freely, and even emphatically, state that I am not especially knowledgeable about politics, would not advocate for anyone else to share my opinion, and have no real interest in convincing anyone to share my political opinions.

  21. Scott Says:

    andrew #16: Yeah, that question is what all the interviewers wanted to ask back in 2000, while I just wanted to talk about the game theory. 🙂 I’m not a lawyer so I can’t opine in detail, but my understanding is that the laws (then, and I assume still today) simply don’t say anything specific about an unenforceable commitment to trade votes. They clearly prohibit trading votes for gifts, money, etc., so then the legal question becomes whether trading a vote for another vote should fall under the same statute.

    My own inclination is to say “obviously not”: vote-trading is a completely different category of thing, meant to increase the voter’s say in the electoral process rather than decreasing it. And it was clearly possible long before the Internet, so if the laws wanted to ban it, then they should’ve said so specifically.

    What happened in practice is that attorneys general (hey! I got to use the correct plural!) in Democratic-controlled states let the vote-swapping sites in their states continue, while the attorneys general in Republican-controlled states shut the sites down. There were lawyers who were confident that they could get the site shutdowns overturned, but this was all happening like two weeks before the election, so there was no time to litigate, and I don’t think the question has been tested in court to this day.

  22. ThirteenthLetter Says:

    Saying that Stephen Hawking is on your side politically is hardly an endorsement of your political views, given Hawking’s support of outright anti-Semitic BDS campaigns. Just, you know, FYI.

  23. echo Says:

    “doesn’t even try to refute the ubiquitous Hitler comparison”
    “I tried being conservative. The left called me Hitler.
    I tried being libertarian. The left called me Hitler.
    I tried being liberal. The left called me Hitler, and sneeringly asked me if they thought I deserved a cookie.”

    If nothing anyone does stops the left calling them Hitler, why let them control you at all? If you didn’t want an irrational opposition, maybe you should have spoken out against the purging of the rational one.

    “I’m well-aware that many of them will try again to destroy me if they ever see an opportunity.”

    8 more years is going to give them a lot of opportunities, and there’s already preparation going on. At least you’ll be able to say “I brought this on myself… maybe I shouldn’t have said it was cool for anti-leftists to be imprisoned back before I was labeled an anti-leftist”.

  24. Scott Says:

    ThirteenthLetter #22: I didn’t claim it as an endorsement for my views; I thought it was clear that the whole “genius” section of the post was meant tongue-in-cheek. FWIW, I sharply disagree with Hawking about BDS and was sorry he lent his name to it (I also disagree with him about the urgency of human space colonization, the relevance of Gödel’s Theorem to physics, and what counts as solving the firewall problem). Obviously, I agree with Hawking that black holes radiate and that Trump is a demagogue. 🙂

  25. Scott Says:

    echo #23: Maybe I should be grateful that, for all the nasty names the social-justice people called me, not one of them, as far as I remember, compared me to Hitler.

  26. Adam C. Emerson Says:

    I’m not sure about the idea of Debating Gary Johnson. If we really think Trump is likely and there’s not much else to do it might be a good idea.

    I have been expecting a number of Republican voters to stay home on Election Day and not vote for anyone for any office, giving Democrats more seats in Congress and Hillary Clinton a Congress less wholeheartedly devoted to doing nothing. Giving Gary Johnson more free publicity would undo that. The Republican voters would vote for him for President and Republicans for Congress.

  27. jonathan Says:

    I think a general problem here is that many Republicans prefer an objectively unqualified president who (probably) agrees with their ideological views, to an objectively qualified president who (unquestionably) disagrees with their ideological views.

    Then there is the substantial minority (I hope!) of the population that sees a lack of objective qualification as an *attractive* feature of Trump. He speaks for the common man, he’s genuine, he’s not a corrupt politician, etc.

    So I think there are at least three pools of potential Trump supporters who accept proposition 1 (the two above, plus the “punch the teacher in the nose” group you mention). Of course, there is some overlap in these groups.

    Then there’s the “Trump is a secret genius who’s just playing the fool in public to win the election” view, where you nod and wink knowingly at the antics because you think you’re clued in on his act. These are people who reject proposition 1, though they know the relevant evidence.

    (For the record, I’m a registered Republican who will be voting for Hillary — but I might have voted for her anyway, even over my preferred GOP candidate (Jeb), just because of global warming.)

  28. steve e Says:

    Maybe you could revive the idea of nader trading by having someone who would vote republican in a swing state agree to not do so, in exchange for some concession, like someone (or multiple people) not voting democrat in a non-swing state?

    This plan seems harder to execute than nader trading, b/c there is a wider gulf between democrats and republicans now than there was between gore and nader supporters in 2000, but perhaps there is a way to make it work? After all, not all republicans are Trump supporters, and it seems possible to convince some of them to not vote for Trump. I don’t think Trump’s hardcore supporters can be convinced to not vote for him, but I do think some republicans can be convinced that Hillary is the lesser evil. The strategy is to reach out to these people.

  29. Orlick Says:

    I want Bernie. If I can’t have him I’ll take Trump. Hilary is simply a more conservative version of Obama (who is quite conservative) and as such cannot offer us any hope. But Trump is so insane that there is a (small but non-negligible) chance his presidency might finally galvanize America into taking a serious turn to the left. As such I plan to do everything I can to help Trump win if Bernie is not the democratic nominee.

  30. Anon Reluctant Trump-eter Says:

    As someone who’s seriously considering supporting Trump, despite agreeing with almost all your points against him, here’re my reasons. If you can deal with these, you’ll have gone far to deal with him.

    * “Middle America” has been killed. No one in politics, except for Trump and Sanders, even cares. Rather, they’re sneering at it for its supposed hidebound racism, cissexism, patriarchy, and all other sins. Trump probably won’t help it, but he’ll bring it back on the radar screen.

    * I view the social justice bullies as a much more serious enemy than you apparently do. They’ve taken over many universities, half of Silicon Valley, and now the Department of Education. They’re seriously talking about – to take just one enormity – fining people who use incorrect pronouns in New York City. As a cis-hetero white male Christian working in the software industry, I view them as one of the most imminent threats to me and my friends. Electing Romney or Cruz probably wouldn’t have done anything substantial against them, just like electing Bush didn’t. Electing Clinton will only move them forward. Electing Trump will probably set them back.

    * Finally, I view our institutions as strong enough to survive the damage Trump might do to them at least as well as they’ve survived what Bush and Obama did to them. Trump will misunderstand the judiciary’s role? Judges will continue hearing cases, and bureaucrats and marshals will enforce any injunctions. Trump will issue unconstitutional executive orders? Obama’s done the same thing. Trump will order the military to murder innocent civilians? Bush’s done the same thing. America has survived them; it can survive Trump.

  31. tas Says:

    The more liberals/the elite/PC enforcers/leftists/social justice warriors/whatever attack Trump for saying “wrong” things, the more his supporters will rally around him.

    Elizabeth Warren is probably a huge asset for Trump; she condescends Trump and his supporters for having immature thoughts like she is some kind of enlightened thought police.

    I agree with your assessment of why Trump appeals. Trying to bully or silence him only strengthens his anti-PC appeal.

    I’ve avoided saying anything about Trump, as I suspect that whatever little influence I have will be counterproductive.

    My suggestion: Ignore Trump. Instead of being negative about Trump, try being positive about Clinton.

  32. Peter Woit Says:

    Congratulations on not just stating the obvious that needs to be said, but also getting people to think a bit about why Trump is so popular, beyond just assuming that the people voting for him are ignorant racist/sexist yahoos. My political sympathies are very much on the left, but the vindictive self-righteousness of a very prominent part of the left is doing a lot of damage. This not only drives away potential supporters who don’t appreciate being personally attacked as evil subhuman beings, but the way this has been turned against Clinton is Trump’s best hope of getting elected. When I look at Salon’s coverage of Clinton, it’s pretty much the same as what’s on the Drudge Report. American politics has become all about demonizing people who you think disagree with you, turning this country into an uglier and uglier place. Those on the left should consider trying to not do this, or at the very least stick to demonizing their real opponents rather than their potential allies.

  33. Scott Says:

    Orlick #29: Glad to know there’s someone who continues the proud tradition of the early 20th-century Communists, who bitterly opposed progressive reformers trying to improve people’s lives, and made common cause with reactionaries, because their only real interest was in “galvanizing” the proletariat to revolt. Viva la Arrow’s Theorem!

  34. Shecky R Says:

    The Hitler comparisons ARE apt, not because Trump=Hitler, but because the disgruntlement/conditions giving rise to Trump is similar to that which earlier led to Hitler (and we see it in current parts of Europe as well).
    Beyond being a demagogue, Trump’s mental health appears very questionable.
    Thanks for speaking up Scott.

  35. echo Says:

    @Scott #23
    There was “robot-worshipping nazi manbaby” on metafilter, but they might have been mixing you up with Other Scott.

  36. echo Says:

    Scott, you might find it useful to read some letters between Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno before the latter’s death.

    Adorno was terrified by the german student left, who were threatening professors with struggle sessions, vandalism, threats of violence–the usual.
    Marcuse politely accused him of making common cause with the reactionary oppressive capitalist police, because Marcuse didn’t have anything to worry about while his American students were burning other people’s offices down.

    Both, of course, hated fascists, which they defined as anyone to the right of Hannah Arendt.

    Just an interesting historical snapshot from another period when loonie-left activism was in vogue. It’s the kind of thing that puts one’s own deeply held political views in perspective.

  37. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    In hindsight, I don’t think we should be that surprised by the Trump phenomenon. (But, without hindsight, I was surprised…)

    Basically, democracies/republics are the worst forms of government (except for all the other ones). Tons of absolutely disgusting, corrupt, overtly racist, and/or completely incompetent leaders/parties have been elected or otherwise come to power with widespread popular support. E.g., Hamas, Berlusconi, Morsi, Putin, Ahmadinejad, Syriza, Hitler, Bibi, like every eastern European politician, etc. The US and western Europe have seemed to be largely immune, but there’s no obvious reason why that should be the case. And, in almost every European country, the far-right tribalist idiots like Marine Le Pen do remarkably well, though so far without power.

    Politics appeals to people’s tribalism and desire to signal various attributes much more than it appeals to their common sense/common decency. This isn’t just true of the prototypical dumb middle American. It’s equally true of us academics–though we get some points for mostly trying to signal intelligence. Even a few of your commenters are apparently supporting Trump, in order to signal their dislike for Hillary or their ability to think differently or whatever. (People who are reading a blog that’s primarily devoted to nerdy ideas like quantum computing are supporting a presidential candidate who thinks that climate change is a myth invented by China and that nuking ISIS makes sense!)

    Like everyone else, I don’t really know how to break this spell. The goal is to figure out a way to criticize Trump that does not cause his supporters to just get defensive and dig in. The recent controversy over the ethnicity of judges seemed to actually legitimately hurt Trump. Maybe he’ll implode on his own. (God, I hope so.)

  38. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    Also, some issues just get people angry on a visceral level. What matters more, finding the optimal level of cultural political correctness or getting US foreign policy right?

    I would argue that, from a utilitarian perspective, the US’s relationship with, say, Latvia is much much much more important than any of the current PC issues—let alone our handling of the cold war between India and Pakistan (now with nukes!), the ongoing Israel-Palestine crisis, the war in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis, the ongoing threat of North Korean nukes and the plight of the North Korean people, Putin’s meddling in the former Soviet states, US trade relations with China, extreme poverty in much of subsaharan Africa and southeast Asia, etc etc.

    There are actual important things to worry about!

  39. Yuval Levental Says:

    Okay, let’s say Trump wins.

    What are the odds that there would be any significant differences as compared to Hillary Clinton? There is only one president and >300 million people in the United States.

    Some would say that Trump’s presence would enable bigotry from his supporters, but seeing how there was violence and obstruction at various Trump rallies caused by people with viewpoints against his…

  40. iso Says:


    Come on, lose the weasel words: which race(s), specifically, are those such that a reduction in their population percentage would be a positive development?

    Now, with that phrasing in mind: If prominent members of said race(s) said that a reduction in the Jewish population percentage would be a positive thing, would you feel comfortable with that?

  41. hlynkacg Says:

    The cynical bastard in me is inclined to point out that Clinton has far more in common with Trump than she does Johnson.

    Furthermore I would argue that Trump is substantially less likely to be a disaster than Clinton because he wears his hostility towards the rule of law on his sleeve and we can trust the media and the buerocracy to be suitably on guard against anything truly heinous.

  42. Mark S. Says:

    Scott: “Now Ed Witten just needs to issue his statement, and we’ll have a trifecta of ‘the three greatest geniuses.’ This shouldn’t be a stretch: Witten started his career by campaigning for George McGovern, and has supported liberal causes for decades. I’m not expecting him to be seen around Princeton sporting a ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball cap.”

    Brilliance in physics is not necessarily a great correlate for trustworthy political analysis. It’s difficult to find two people who deserve more credit for inventing quantum mechanics than Heisenberg and Jordan, and both became Nazis. For what it’s worth, Witten (like Hillary but unlike Trump) supported going to war in Iraq for regime change: Given everything that’s happened, someone with more foresight would have preferred the counterfactual where Saddam stayed in power with his non-existent weapons of mass destruction. From a few minutes of web search it’s easy to find other string theorists with extremely hostile and reactionary views on social issues, climate change, and economics.

    One big difference between science and political analysis is that politics is inherently not just about competence and finding the best ideas but also whose side you’re on and where your sympathies lie, because policies where everyone wins don’t generate much debate. Specifically concerning mathematical super geniuses like Tao and Witten, suppose I’m the man recently laid off from the plant and am reading their take on the election. I’d have trouble ignoring the fact that they have received large prizes and/or grants (and are excellent candidates for future awards if they remain in good standing) from billionaires like the Facebook founder, Simons hedge fund manager, and King of Saudi Arabia whose economic interests on trade, immigration, internet privacy, and financial speculation taxes are probably very different from mine.

  43. Gil Kalai Says:

    This is a well-thought and well-written post, in the obvious opposition to Donald Trump and his dangerous racist, anti women, anti-democratic and violent rhetoric and actions.

  44. jonthefrench Says:

    Thanks for the well-written post, I agree with many points, including the “bullying wing of the social-justice left bears at least some minor, indirect responsibility for the rise of Trump”.

    As for a fifth idea I’d propose a website to make someone very popular very soon, so that Clinton picks him as her VP co-ticket. It should absolutely be someone that tick some of anti-establishment boxes that are so popular with both Trump and Sanders supporters. So basically a 40-something non-politician male, with a track-record for being successful himself, intelligent, and not-too-much-from-an-elite background. Someone like Elon Musk would be ideal except he’s not US born. I’m sure there are a few good possibilities, I don’t know enough the US to say who.

  45. foo Says:

    Why don’t we just cogently state some Clinton/Trump diffs? I’ll begin:

    + She’s a woman.
    – He’s not a woman.

    + She’s the target of an FBI investigation.
    – He’s the target of an IRS audit chain.

    + She’s a Bilderburg-attending globalist.
    – He’s an American.

  46. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    All I want to say is thank you for writing this.

  47. Anonymous Says:

    You are overreacting to Trump. I’m Italian (check the IP) I’ve seen a Trump first hand, he was called Berlusconi over here. He’s going to be bad but not nearly as bad as you imagine.

    International agreements and industry and banking lobbying utterly dominate policy decisions, big shakeups are impossible. Besides all your current candidates, Trump and Bernie included, are deeply rooted in the establishment. Do you really think someone with a bunch of huge towers around the country is going to do anything radical? Why?!

  48. John @ Says:

    Scott #21, @ Andrew #16. “Is there any idea that shows similar promise for defeating Trump, as NaderTrading did for defeating Bush in 2000?”
    Perhaps not *directly*? At least, defeating Trump is not what our idea (outlined at is for in the first instance — not, of course, because that’s not extremely important, but because we’re out to dislodge the political rationality that makes a Trump possible (and at the same time makes possession of the formally-and-cognitively-unsatisfying predicate *not-being-Trump* into sufficient reason to endorse an otherwise-highly-questionable candidate.) In short, we want to declare war on the spoiler effect.

    I think there’s some affinity between our idea and what you were after in 2000, and (without implying the remotest obligation) I’m very curious how you would respond to our argument. As we say there, and as I mentioned on Tao’s blog, we’re looking for explicit feedback — including and especially rebuttals, if this is, for some reason, a flawed/known/failed idea. (Originally we presumed that it must be, but were unable to find an instance of it being tried, and a few years of discussion with clever people have failed to produce a viable counterargument… So we’re reluctantly coming to the conclusion that we might, improbably enough, be right. (And apologies if this argument develops the vote-pairing idea in too-different a direction to justify invoking it, or seeking your feedback, in this thread.))

  49. Jacques Distler Says:

    1) I don’t think it is a very good idea to speculate on the motivations of Trump’s supporters. It is highly unlikely that you will guess correctly. Much better to ask them.

    2) I think Terry Tao’s thesis (that Trump’s singular lack of qualifications for the job is “mutual knowledge,” but not “common knowledge”) is obviously incorrect. There have been plenty of people (from Mitt Romney on down) who have quite loudly proclaimed — to use Tao’s analogy — that the Emperor has no clothes. These proclamation have had negligible effect not because people have been unaware of them, but because (if you read their survey responses) Trump’s supporters really don’t care about those qualities that Tao would consider “qualifications” for the job of President.

    3) At this point, I doubt very much that there is anything you could do or say that would convince Trump’s core supporters to change their minds. On the other hand, there is a class of people (some of whom have commented on this thread) who think that, as awful as Trump is, Clinton would be worse. She has stunningly high unfavourable ratings — as high as Trump’s, and climbing whereas his are more-or-less stable.

    (To be strictly fair, Clinton’s unfavourables include disgruntled Sanders supporters, who may eventually come around to supporting her — so those numbers will surely come down a bit.)

    4) Right now, some 40% of registered voters support Trump over Clinton. While that’s not enough to win (if the election were held today, Clinton would win in a blowout), it’s a lot closer than a “reasonable” person would expect.

    5) Your best bet, for influencing the outcome, would be to make a compelling case that Clinton would be good for the country. I think there’s ample scope for making such a case, but your endorsement (you’re not alone in this) is at-best lukewarm.

  50. Joe Says:

    I’ll bet Gary Johnson could get pretty far if he started denouncing Social Justice Warriors and playing to the same base of support that Trump has done. It’s basic Median Voter Theorem in action. Think of hot dog stands on a beach. All Gary Johnson has to do is be a bit more left wing than Trump and he can scoop up a bunch of Trump’s votes. Therefore he should spend a ton of time attacking Hillary and no time at all attacking Trump, but make it clear that he’s a sane and respectable presidential candidate. It’s very similar to the strategy Cruz used, and Cruz was Trump’s most credible rival.

  51. Berkeley Man Says:

    The main thing I take from this post is that you really don’t understand what’s happening in the United States right now, and you probably never will. I’ll confine myself to making two points.

    One: the USA is about to undergo a severe political realignment of the sort that occurs only once per lifetime, and so takes everybody off guard. Trump and Bernie are merely symptoms of a seismic shift that will continue even if both of them drop dead tomorrow. America has reached a point where all its elites (including most university professors, as well as the Republican and Democratic parties) are actively and openly hostile to the interests of most Americans (especially white, working and lower-middle class Americans), and are gleefully crushing the old-school Americans through immigration and trade globalization while sanctimoniously lecturing them on their “bigotry” for opposing their own replacement. The new political alignment will be globalist vs. nationalist. In my opinion, the globalists are evil and the nationalists are the John Wayne good guys, though I expect you and most of your readers will choose the other side.

    Two: The lives of many working and lower-middle class Americans really are being destroyed by immigration and bad trade policy, and Americans who object are demonized as “racist, xenophobic rednecks” and subjected to Hitler comparisons. You probably don’t see yourself as contemptuous of the salt-of-the-earth working Americans who once made this country great, but that’s how you come off: as a professor insulated in a safe upper-middle class buffer from which you never have to observe how the bulk of America is suffering. History shows that mass migrations always lead to racial strife and ultimately war. There is an iron law of human nature: DIVERSITY + PROXIMITY = WAR. No amount of social engineering will ever change that. Now that the insane elites have invited millions of Muslims into Western Europe, it is absolutely certain that the Muslims and the white Europeans will soon be fighting a genocidal civil war and the streets of Germany will run with blood. Nothing can prevent this. Lecturing people about xenophobia definitely will not prevent it!!! America is in similar danger, but there might still be time to prevent civil war in America if fast action is taken.

    In conclusion: All your carping about Trump is missing the blindingly obvious point that America is on the fast track to violent class and racial warfare, and the entirety of Western Civilization may be poised at the point of collapse. Rather than plotting against one person who wants to try to mitigate the problems before they cause the civil wars to end all civil wars, it would be more productive to suggest alternative ways to prevent the coming earthquake that is galvanizing Trump’s supporters and driving the permanent realignment.

  52. Daniel Böttger Says:

    Maybe focus on penetrating the red/blue filter bubbles? These bubbles seem to me like they’re near the root of the issue. They make sure Democrats know a ton of reasons to hate Trump. They also make sure Republicans know a ton of reasons to hate Clinton. I don’t know how many people are aware of the bubbles, but I’d wager very few are prepared to actively defend them, so maybe there’s an opportunity there.

    I imagine a project where individual voters go out and find a friend who plans to vote for the other candidate. And then have “the friendly chat that the media is trying to stop us from having”. Not a debate, not another grassroots campaign, just a chat across bubbles. What does my candidate look like to you? Here are three things I like about your candidate. What do you like about your candidate? Can you name three things you like about mine? What parts of the picture do you think I’m missing?

    To have this draw on your competitive advantage, make it look as similar to NaderTrading as possible, emphasize in the interviews that while you were obviously a liberal then you’ve had a lot of trouble with leftists since, and supply a pop sci explanation of Aumann’s agreement theorem.

  53. Scott Says:

    Yuval #39:

      What are the odds that there would be any significant differences as compared to Hillary Clinton? There is only one president and >300 million people in the United States.

    I’d think that recent experience—Bush started a war of choice that cost $2 trillion, Obama didn’t, etc.—is evidence enough that who’s president matters to people’s lives.

  54. JB Says:

    It always surprises me how these discussions go on at length without considering why all this is happening in the first place: first-past-the-post voting. Your electoral system is undemocratic and incentives parties and voters to polarize irreversibly.

    Token efforts like nadertrading or focusing on third party candidates won’t change that, the public knows they only have 2 choices, but strangely, doesn’t want to change that.

    It’s as if the propaganda about “land of freedom” is too ironclad to make Americans consider it.

  55. eventhisoneistaken Says:

    Speaking of the comment 171 affair, do you stand by your being ok with men who commit thoughtcrime being “thrown in prison for life”?

  56. Scott Says:

    Noah #38:

      I would argue that, from a utilitarian perspective, the US’s relationship with, say, Latvia is much much much more important than any of the current PC issues

    I’m curious: do you know anything specific affected by the US relationship with Latvia? (The first three possibilities I could think of: (1) a small amount of trade, (2) trying to limit Russia’s sphere of influence, and (3) making sure the great quantum computing theorist Andris Ambainis can continue to visit the US without visa problems.)

    Anyway, I’m not sure I agree with your implication. Think about how much the campus politics of the 1960s affects our lives today, for both good and ill (with the balance, of course, depending on where you stand). Those politics are what helped produce the Sexual Revolution, the dating mores we now take for granted, the election of Nixon (which was partly a reaction against those politics), and even the modern-day division between Democrats and Republicans and the widespread distrust of government.

    I agree, it can seem like an absurd diversion when (say) Oberlin students are debating whether incorrectly-prepared banh mi sandwiches in their cafeteria are a racist act of cultural appropriation. But like it or not, this stuff matters, because historically it’s created cultural norms that have propagated to the rest of society with maybe a couple decades’ delay.

  57. Scott Says:

    iso #40:

      Come on, lose the weasel words: which race(s), specifically, are those such that a reduction in their population percentage would be a positive development?

    Huh? All I meant was that the changing demographics of the US, e.g. the increasing Latino population, are a negative insofar as they cause racial tensions (as we’re seeing in this election), but a positive insofar as they either ensure a permanent Democratic majority, or else force the Republicans to co-opt Democratic policies to compete. (As a lifelong Democrat, I’d be intellectually dishonest if I claimed not to regard that as a positive.) I wasn’t talking at all about the eugenic or dysgenic qualities of the various races.

  58. Scott Says:

    jonthefrench #44: I think the historical record suggests that VP selections don’t actually matter to voters. (Was Sarah Palin the closest there’s been to a counterexample?) Then again, this election has already violated so many of the normal rules of US politics (e.g., completely throwing off Nate Silver) that maybe anything should be on the table!

  59. Philip Calcott Says:

    Great Post Scott, on many levels. I think you managed to walk the deliacte tightrope of not endorsing Trump any way while being able to raise the issue of the very real currents in US discourse that have made a Trump candidacy possible. Will any of the PC vindictivores take any notice? Almost certainly not, but well done for airing the issue. Also, good luck with the reducing-the-27%-chance-of-armagedon campaign.

  60. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #47:

      You are overreacting to Trump. I’m Italian (check the IP) I’ve seen a Trump first hand, he was called Berlusconi over here. He’s going to be bad but not nearly as bad as you imagine.

    As a lifelong fan of almost everything Italian, I say this with respect: the world can probably survive the Berlusconization of Italy better than it can survive the Trumpization of the US.

      Do you really think someone with a bunch of huge towers around the country is going to do anything radical? Why?!

    Based on long evidence of history, I’m completely unwilling to rely on appeals to economic rationality in predictions about politicians’ behavior. What they say they believe might actually be a better guide (!).

  61. Scott Says:

    Jacques Distler #49:

      Your best bet, for influencing the outcome, would be to make a compelling case that Clinton would be good for the country.

    Well, I think Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were clearly the two best presidents of my lifetime so far. I think Hillary would more-or-less continue their successful policies, which for me, is an overwhelmingly sufficient reason support her. And I don’t at all see her as a “lesser evil”—I actively prefer her policies over Sanders’, which I regard as well-intentioned but not very well thought-out.

    It’s true that Hillary is flawed: she’s shown very little backbone for doing the unpopular right thing, and has been beset with scandals. But the very fact that we’re debating her improper use of a private email server, while in the meantime Trump is basically promising to suspend freedom of the press and an independent judiciary, and renege on US debt (!), to me shows how ludicrous it is to compare the two in terms of their respect for the rule of law.

    It might also be worth reminding ourselves that, in different circumstances, people would be positively excited about electing the first female president. It’s only a confluence of improbable factors—the fact that we just had the first black president, Bernie Sanders’s challenge from the left, this being Hillary’s second campaign, the urgent need to stop Trump—that’s made her seem like the tired, gray, establishment choice.

  62. Scott Says:

    Joe #50:

      Think of hot dog stands on a beach. All Gary Johnson has to do is be a bit more left wing than Trump and he can scoop up a bunch of Trump’s votes.

    That’s an interesting theory, but I think it’s refuted by the actual experience of third-party candidates in the US. E.g., Ralph Nader got only 3% of the vote; Bernie Sanders, with a similar hard-left ideology, could’ve gotten 45% or more had he won the primary. Pat Buchanan, on the Reform Party ticket, got only 0.4% in 2000; Trump, with a similar nativist ideology, will at least come uncomfortably close to winning the election. So the evidence suggests that endorsement by one of the two major parties matters enormously, and that active steps would be needed to make it matter less.

  63. anon Says:

    +1 to Yuval#39, who’s making basically the same point Elon Musk did in his recent Code Conference interview with Mossberg and Swisher: the executive branch is a big ship with a small rudder, and people massively overestimate how important the president is. It’s easy to point to the W administration (or for that matter various terrible policies of the Obama administration) and see the presidency as becoming more and more important each year, and in some sense that’s true. But the concentration of power in the Executive is really bringing us closer to a China-style, pseudo-meritocratic, pseudo-corrupt-oligarchic system (albeit with some healthy democratic constraints from the confirmation process for political appointees).

    This system works precisely as well as the people who staff it. In this regard, the true “threat” of a Trump Administration is that he won’t hire qualified people, whether by choice or because they will refuse to work for him. I’m pretty skeptical of that premise (I think Trump will govern in a pretty conventional manner), but I’m equally skeptical that the supposedly-qualified establishment people really know what their doing anyway.

    To take foreign policy as an obvious example, some of Scott’s concerns center (sensibly, I think) on the potential for Trump’s rhetoric and diplomatic views to lead to a renewed nuclear arms race. But as people who actually pay attention know, such a renewed arms race has already been simmering for years: a decade ago, the foreign policy elites started believing that the US might be able to “win” a nuclear war with Russia; more recently, Russophobic hawks in NATO are ratcheting up tensions in eastern Europe even as I write this.

    And of course, similar points can be made about various other of Trump’s supposed sacrileges. A Muslim immigration ban would be an unprecedented violation of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion? Tell me with a straight face that you think neither the NYPD’s counterterrorism efforts nor the US CPB’s construction of the no-fly list involve any elements of religious profiling. Or that the FBI’s standard practices of planting informants in Muslim communities and entrapping mentally-ill Muslim youths into taking part in poorly conceived “terrorist plots” raise no ethical or Constitutional concerns.

    Who would ever countenance the killing of families of terrorists? Oh yeah, Obama. (Yeah, yeah, “just an accident, sorry!”)

    And then there’s the matter of expressing admiration for autocrats

    Some of Scott’s case against Trump boils down to policy disagreements that are not really unique to Trump (e.g. many Republicans are skeptical of the Paris Agreement, or at least they would be if it actually involved any economic sacrifices big enough to have a meaningful effect on emissions). Most of the rest, it seems to me, boils down to mood affiliation with “respectability”, since it’s more about the fact that Trump’s rhetoric violates certain norms rather than that his policies actually broach new ethical territory.

  64. Scott Says:

    Philip #59:

      Will any of the PC vindictivores take any notice?

    I love your “vindictivore” coinage and might steal it sometime!

  65. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    Scott #52:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

    I’m curious: do you know anything specific affected by the US relationship with Latvia? (The first three possibilities I could think of: (1) a small amount of trade, (2) trying limit Russia’s sphere of influence, (3) making sure the great quantum computing theorist Andris Ambainis can continue to visit the US without visa problems.)

    I meant to choose a country that probably wouldn’t sound that important to the average American/Shtetl Optimized reader. I did think about the fact that Latvia has some geopolitical importance, since it’s in NATO, borders Russia, and is one of the countries that Putin might want to invade eventually.

    Anyway, I’m not sure I agree with your implication. Think about how much the campus politics of the 1960s affects our lives today, for both good and ill (with the balance, of course, depending on where you stand). Those politics are what helped produce the Sexual Revolution, the dating mores we now take for granted, the election of Nixon (which was partly a reaction against those politics), and even the modern-day division between Democrats and Republicans and the widespread distrust of government.

    I agree, it can seem like an absurd diversion when (say) Oberlin students are debating whether incorrectly-prepared banh mi sandwiches in their cafeteria are a racist act of cultural appropriation. But like it or not, this stuff matters, because historically it’s created cultural norms that have propagated to the rest of society with maybe a couple decades’ delay.

    I see your point. (This is the first time that someone has made me really question my views on this.) But, “campus politics of the 1960s” is a broad category!

    I’ll grant that the Sexual Revolution is roughly comparable to the current SJW debates. (I’m certainly tempted to say that the SR was far more significant for a variety of reasons, but this might be hindsight bias.) But, there was a larger argument going on–over the Vietnam War, over the Cold War in general, and even over capitalism itself. Hell, they burnt down the Isla Vista Bank of America (granted, in 1970)! And, there was the civil rights movement. (Some SJWs might argue that the current debates are comparable to that, but that’s obviously ridiculous.)

    Plus, the SR obviously had an outsized influence on our particular demographic. I’m not sure how relevant it ended up being to the majority of the people in the world.

    (Also, I think that the original point that I was trying to make–that Trump’s policies on climate change, nuclear proliferation, ISIS, US sovereign debt, North Korea, etc., are all far more important than his reactions to political correctness. I started the tangent, but it is a tangent.)

  66. jonas Says:

    Scott: Can you tell us what you would do if Bernie Sanders became the president nominee of his party? Would you still recommend voting for him as president as strongly as you support Hillary Clinton, and devote your resources to supporting him? Could you claim that he does not fail any of the ten points you brought up against Donald Trump?

  67. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    I could obviously be wrong, but I don’t think that Gary Johnson will take many votes. He’s a really bad politician. He spent a large percentage of his air time during the 2012 election talking about horse crap on public trails where he’s not allowed to ride his bike (as an example of failed government intervention or something… seriously). I also interviewed him during that election (it’s a long story…), and I was amazed at how poorly he comes off in person.

  68. John Sidles Says:

    There is a tendency among STEM professionals to critique Trump’s candidacy on strictly rational grounds. To appreciate the limitations of rationality in this regard, a useful resource is the web-site Out of the Fog

    Out of the FOG was launched in 2007 to provide information and support to the family members and loved-ones of individuals who suffer from a personality disorder.

    We are a supportive, close-knit community, encouraging one another through the many challenges that come with having a family member or significant other who has a personality disorder.

    People often arrive at our site feeling a range of emotions including fear, anger, confusion, guilt, a sense of isolation, hopelessness and powerlessness. It can be a tremendous relief to discover that others have been where you are and are struggling with some of the same issues.

    A concrete exercise is to read the most recent dozen or so Out of the FOG Forum comments (chosen at some randomly selected time). Then while reading the individual comments, consider whether the problems described arise from deficiencies in rationality, as contrasted with deficiencies in empathy.

    It is striking (to me) that the most intractable randomly-selected Out of the FOG problems originate far more commonly in empathic deficiencies than in rational deficiencies.

    As a general rule, persons with personality disorders are highly skilled at rationalizing their empathic deficiencies … and it is precisely these overdeveloped rationalization skills that are so problematic for families and communities.

    This is Trump’s disqualifying personality trait: he’s unempathic to such a degree that he’s notably incapable even of credibly pretending to be empathic. Which is the incapacity that Stanley Kubrick satirized so effectively in Doctor Strangelove

    “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”

    Conclusion  Empathic incapacity is OK in a casino owner — it’s even advantageous — but it is utterly unacceptable in a President or a nuclear-armed Commander-in-Chief.

  69. Anonymous Says:

    “the world can probably survive the Berlusconization of Italy better than it can survive the Trumpization of the US.”

    But my point is that there’s nothing to survive. I’m old enough to have seen italian politics before Berlusconi, during Berlusconi and after Berlusconi. As much as I hated him at the time I’m forced to conclude that there was no discontinuity.

    When italians talk about “Berlusconization” they usually refer to the shift of focus from parties to strong governor candidates, that’s the only true long lasting negative influence I can ascribe to Berlusconi, but in that sense the US was Berlusconized long before Italy.

    anon’s comment #63 pretty much covers everything I would want to say about this issue.

  70. Scott Says:

    eventhisoneistaken #55:

      Speaking of the comment 171 affair, do you stand by your being ok with men who commit thoughtcrime being “thrown in prison for life”?

    I’ll tell you what: I hereby officially disown my comment about that, and apologize for it.

    Disowning the comment is easier than you might think, since even at the time I made it, I was very clear that it had no actual implications for anything (even in a hypothetical world where I was President or something). It was purely an expression of personal contempt for men who think that women have no place in science. But it was made during one of the most stressful periods of my life, and it didn’t come out right.

  71. Anonymous Programmer Says:

    If you knew the truth, you would know quite literally that Hillary Clinton is the God damned “Whore of Babylon” from Revelations.

    If a rich billionaire wanted Scott Aaronson and his family dead, all he would have to do is pay the Clinton Foundation a shit ton of money and place the order. For extra money to the Clinton Foundation, the Aaronson family could be tortured too. Whole countries have fallen simply by paying the Clinton Foundation enough money and placing the order.

    Hillary Clinton is a perfect whore — she will do anything — no matter how disgusting or evil — for enough money.

    Donald Trump is way more moral than Hillary Clinton.

  72. fred Says:

    What’s really significant about these elections is that, despite their best efforts, both parties are losing their grip on the presidential election process (amazing how two private entities have basically “coned” the American public into thinking this is all constitutional stuff).

    The fact that Trump and Sanders got that far in the process is just incredible.
    Now the two parties have to deal with it, with reforms, or this will only intensify with subsequent elections.

  73. Michele Amoretti Says:

    I think that both candidates are bad, but Trump is the worst one. I hope Hillary Clinton will win, although I think she is far below Obama standards.

    Trump reminds me Biff of “Back to the Future”. 😛

  74. Scott Says:

    Anonymous Programmer #71:

      If you knew the truth, you would know quite literally that Hillary Clinton is the God damned “Whore of Babylon” from Revelations.

    OK, thanks for the info! Still voting for her over Trump though. 😉

  75. eventhisoneistaken Says:

    Oh wow. To be honest, I was expecting you not to approve my comment, much less reply and even less to take back the remark! I am very pleasantly surprised (and humbled a bit). You’ve made my life a bit difficult though, since I’ve turned this into a bit of a crusade on my blog:

    I guess I’ll now have to go back and post updates… Which I’ll be glad to do.

  76. Eli Sennesh Says:

    Anyway, for these reasons and others, Shtetl-Optimized unhesitatingly endorses Hillary Clinton for president—and indeed, would continue to endorse Hillary if her next policy position was “eliminate all quantum computing research, except for that aiming to prove NP⊆BQP using D-Wave machines.”

    Even so, there’s one crucial point on which I dissent from the consensus of my liberal friends. Namely, my friends and colleagues constantly describe the rise of Trump as “incomprehensible”—or at best, as comprehensible only in terms of the US being full of racist, xenophobic redneck scumbags who were driven to shrieking rage by a black guy being elected president. Which—OK, that’s one aspect of it, but it’s as if any attempt to dig deeper, to understand the roots of Trump’s appeal, if only to figure out how to defeat him, risks “someone mistaking you for the enemy.”

    If you endorse Clinton, you’re objectively in support of Trump. For the exact kinds of reasons you list, a sneering, social-issues liberal who chiefly represents the urban professional upper-middle class has no hope against Trump. American elections have shifted in recent decades from a winning strategy of capturing the “swing voters” who are presumed to be “in the middle” to a strategy of rallying one’s base to reduce the percentage of swing voters needed. Donald Trump rallies the Republican base. Hillary Clinton puts her boot to the face of the Democratic base.

    The Democrats had two choices: a candidate who can rally the base and represent the working class, or a candidate who can sneer at the base and represent the professional class. They chose the latter.

    They will now proceed to lose the election. I will be voting for Jill Stein and drinking to the end of all things on election night.

  77. Scott Says:

    jonas #66:

      Can you tell us what you would do if Bernie Sanders became the president nominee of his party?

    I would absolutely still support him over Trump, albeit with less enthusiasm than I support Hillary over Trump. I think Sanders showed surprising naivete for a presidential candidate (e.g., he had no idea when questioned which legal avenues might be used to “break up the big banks,” perhaps his central campaign issue). I also support Hillary’s positions over Bernie’s on Israel, gun control, and several other issues. On the other hand, Bernie’s naivete is still not as great as Trump’s, and is moderated (as it’s not, in Trump’s case) by integrity and decency.

    Incidentally, I’ve now seen examples of the following preference rankings:

    Hillary > Sanders > Trump (me)

    Sanders > Hillary > Trump (most Sanders supporters, I hope)

    Trump > Hillary > Sanders (many/most Trump-supporting Republicans?)

    Sanders > Trump > Hillary (the Sanders supporters who, as Greg Kuperberg put it, “just want a revolution, and aren’t too particular about which kind”)

    Trump > Sanders > Hillary (same but for Trump supporters)

    So, that leaves only

    Hillary > Trump > Sanders.

    Any takers??

  78. Scott Says:

    Eli #76:

      They [Democrats] will now proceed to lose the election. I will be voting for Jill Stein and drinking to the end of all things on election night.

    Will you also put your money where your mouth is, by buying Trump futures for 27 cents on the dollar at Predictwise? At least the cash infusion might help you survive the end of all things…

  79. Michele Amoretti Says:

    I am surprised no one mentioned the “Trump University” affair..

  80. Scott Says:

    Michele #79: As I understand it, Trump University was a program to teach people how to become con artists, bearing the imprimatur of one of the world’s most famous con artists, which turned out itself to be a con in which the famous con artist had almost no involvement. Which, I dunno … seems like pretty sound pedagogy to me!

  81. Kevin S Van Horn Says:

    “the rubble of the post-thermonuclear hellscape”

    Seriously? There is much to dislike and fear about Donald Trump, but he is the least hawkish of any of the major candidates we’ve seen. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, seems hell-bent on provoking a war with Russia. Given a choice between an authoritarian government run by a strong-man, or nuclear war… oh, hell, I’m going to have to move to someplace like New Zealand. 🙁

  82. James Babcock Says:

    Scott #8: Hursti’s report is at . He describes how the hack works and talks a little bit about Volusia, but doesn’t have the Bayesian perspective necessary to talk about how strong a piece of evidence that was.

  83. Haelfix Says:

    Finally, someone who gets it. Completely agree with everything in this article.

    I’ll say it another way. People for years have always said politicians are all weasels, not to be trusted, and will say anything for votes. Well, for the most part I completely disagree. Until now. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the first example in a long time.. From an outsider nonetheless.

    I will now make a new prediction. Namely that Trump, in order to get elected, is going to radically 180 on a host of issues for the general, and start appealing to minorities.

    This is what con men do, they realize there is no penalty for being inconsistent.. So they exploit that blind spot in the American psyche!

  84. dorothy Says:

    I hate to say it but I suspect the way the highly paid political lobbyists and campaign groups do things is probably the most productive.

    Having said that, there a number of categories of potential HRC voters who might not vote HRC but could possibly be persuaded to and each one needs to be addressed. I would love to know some numbers here (Nate Silver?). I suspect that for you in particular your best best is to go for exactly two of those subgroups (the groups overlap heavily). Those are:

    – People who would have voted for BS and regard HRC as too establishment, right-wing and unexciting.
    – Anyone with a college degree, particularly a good college degree.

    Given you have a well known name now, could you persuade major media outlets (old or new fangled) to cover your views on why BS lovers should vote HRC? If they need an angle, you could make amusing connections to quantum matters. Alternatively, you could try to collect a number of geniuses together in the same article or online video which might be an easier sell for news outlets that are looking for clicks and viewers. Along these lines: you could collect scientists or mathematicians or a wide range from professors of anthropology to quantum physicists to each present a unified account of why the future of the US depends on the right vote. All have advantages and I am sure that many related ideas could work.

  85. jonathan Says:


    “So, that leaves only

    Hillary > Trump > Sanders.

    Any takers??”

    *Raises hand*

    Admittedly, I am not confident that this is my preference ordering, since I haven’t given much thought to Sanders, as I considered him extremely unlikely to be the nominee from the start. But I *think* I would vote for Trump over him, on the grounds that an erratic con-artist businessman on an ego trip is better than an outright socialist.

    It’s interesting to me how many people make the Trump = Hitler comparison, while giving Bernie a free pass on similar historical analogies. I certainly don’t grant that Trump is Hitler, but I *do* agree that he’s at least a few steps down the road terminating at Hitler. But by that logic, Bernie is several steps down another road, at whose end lies Stalin and Mao; and all along that road are the wreckages of various 20th and 21st century economies, Venezuela being perhaps the most recent example.

    If I had to choose between Chavez and Berlusconi, I think I prefer the latter. But I’m very happy that I don’t have to make that choice.

    (Though I will happily grant that Bernie is more *personally* virtuous than Trump — he seems to legitimately believe in his ideology and think that it will produce good results for America, whereas Trump is just cynically hacking our political system for his own unclear ends.)

  86. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Kevin S Van Horn #81,

    Hillary was the primary coordinator for the attempted Russian Reset so I don’t know where you get the idea that she wants a war with Russia. Donald Trump is literally the first major party nominee since Barry Goldwater who has talked about using nuclear weapons in any context other than a full-scale nuclear war scenario.

  87. 271 Says:

    On the nickname front, my nomination: ArmaggeDON

  88. Michael P Says:

    “the bullying wing of the social-justice left bears at least some minor, indirect responsibility for the rise of Trump”

    IMO the bullying wing of the social-justice left bears far more than some minor indirect responsibility for that. The rise of Trump is the rise of aggressive anti-intellectualism, the rise of emotions over reason, the refusal to conduct reasonable discussions, the rise of emotionally charged demands to oppress in the name of social justice those who are perceived “entitled”… And it so happens that a very large portion of this has been perpetrated by far left, and much of it on university campuses.

    For example, “progressive” Oberlin College students demanded college to replace professors and administrators because of the color of their skin and to designate spaces on the campus for black students only. How are these demands for racial discrimination and segregation any less obscene than Trump’s speeches about “mexicans”? How is refusal of, say, BDS to conduct reasonable discussion any less immature than Trump’s conduct? How is militant feminism turned misandry any less terrible than Trump’s comments about women? Somehow it became fashionable to declare “Black life matters” and frown at “All life matters”…

    IMO there is this odd symmetry between the conduct of far left and far right that makes them equally culpable for what’s coming after Trump gets elected.

  89. dorothy Says:

    jonathan #85 “But I *think* I would vote for Trump over him, on the grounds that an erratic con-artist businessman on an ego trip is better than an outright socialist.”

    I am unlikely to persuade but I think one has to guess whose extreme views are likely to be implemented whose are likely to be moderated by realpolitik or perhaps more accurately, the current political norms and realities.

    Let’s take two examples:

    Trump probably could encourage or allow nuclear proliferation.

    Let’s assume congress moderates Trump. Trump probably could carry on talking in a racist manner and thereby endangering the safety of millions of people and making the lives of a whole lot more all the poorer.

    What could Sanders realistically do as president that would be anywhere near as bad? Six weeks paid maternity leave as a right?

  90. lewikee Says:

    How about some sort of pledge where Democrats promise to vote for all Republicans running for legislative office on their ballot, in return for Republicans pledging to vote for a non-Trump presidential candidate?

  91. Gil Kalai Says:

    There is a small lesson here also for democrats. In the early days of the primaries the democratic party encouraged supporters to act that Trump will participate in the debates and will be counted as a legitimate candidate. It looks that they saw it as their interest that Trump will make much mileage on the republican primaries, either to ridicule their opponents or even to have a republican candidate with lower chances. The logic that “the worse the contenders on the other side the better it is for my side” can backfire.

  92. Doug K Says:

    for me, Zeynep’s analysis is the most persuasive:

    some extracts from that:
    “Anti-semitism is the socialism of fools” is a German saying from 1890s. That old. The response can’t be tsk-tsk’ing.
    If people see no path to a good future, they will vote in a strongman who promise to solve all this with an iron fist.
    ** end extracts **

    American exceptionalism makes it harder to understand just how common the Trump story really is. We tell ourselves comforting stories that the US is a middle-class society, with opportunity for all: when that has been false for decades.

    The Sanders/Warren movement has by and large recruited the young, who can see perfectly well what is going on, and are in general not much for racism. The Trump movement captures the angry white guys who have been marginalized by both parties.

  93. Scott Says:

    lewikee #90: I doubt it would work. With NaderTrading, the idea was to pair off people who kind-of, sort-of agree on overall goals and only disagree on how best to achieve them, then get them to make a trade where they can pursue both paths. (Incidentally, it’s not necessary for this that all Gore voters and all Nader voters “agree on overall goals,” only that some do.) Because of the shared values, both voters can hopefully trust each other not to secretly renege at the ballot box, or at least “80% trust each other,” which is actually sufficient here.

    By contrast, Democrats and Trump-supporting Republicans seem locked in much more of a zero-sum game, where neither would trust the other not to renege. And if that weren’t enough, in this case (in contrast to NaderTrading), each side would be accepting a real cost to its values by holding up its end of the bargain.

  94. Justin Says:


    I wish you didn’t pressure Edward Witten into taking a political position against Trump. I have the deepest admiration for Witten as a mathematics and physics legend, but it seems to me that — like many geniuses — Witten is naive on these kinds of issues. I don’t like seeing you put group pressure on him to conform; I have little doubt that given Witten’s left wing history, he will without hesitation. If Ed wants to come out against Trump on his own, that’s fine, but I wish he wasn’t coerced into it by people like you.

  95. jonathan Says:


    I rather like that idea. I had a similar thought several weeks ago, which was that it might be useful to publicly commit to voting for any downballot Republican who publicly repudiated Trump, and encourage others to do likewise.

    The idea was to shift the incentives of Republicans to repudiate Trump, and to normalize ticket-splitting. My reasoning was that a substantial minority of Republicans might prefer Hillary to Trump, but might prefer overall GOP victory to overall Democratic victory, and so would support “their nominee” for fear of a Democratic landslide. If we could successfully decouple Trump’s success from downballot Republicans, we could substantially reduce Trump’s chance of victory.

    (As an aside, I like the idea of normalizing ticket-splitting in general. The argument is as follows: in general there are two dimensions to a candidate: qualifications and ideology. But these are rather different: voters generally disagree on ideology, so that voting on ideology is approximately zero-sum in the aggregate. But we all benefit from qualified candidates. Thus there is a sense in which voting for highly qualified candidates, even ones you disagree with ideologically, is a public good.)

  96. Scott Says:

    Justin #94: I confess, the idea of little me “pressuring” the great Witten put a smile on my face! 🙂 He’s not a wilting flower, and will make his own decision about what to say if anything.

    (In any case, my post actually expressed skepticism about the idea that famous, respected people coming out against Trump will make any significant difference, given that it hasn’t yet.)

  97. Disqualification Round – GO! | The Only Winning Move Says:

    […] in that spirit that I want to complain about a section of Scott Aaronson’s thought-provoking piece on Trump. Aaronson has a section where he lists out all the reasons that Trump is not qualified to be […]

  98. wolfgang Says:

    @Shecky #34

    >> disgruntlement/conditions giving rise to Trump is similar to that which earlier led to Hitler

    Right. Germany had only lost a world war, experienced hyper-inflation and unbelievable unemployment.
    But I guess this must have been almost as bad as people getting harassed on twitter and facebook.

  99. Shmi Nux Says:

    Seems rather unscientific of you not to mention the Scott A of the Dilbert fame, one of the few or maybe the only person who predicted the rise of Trump back in August, when considering how Trump can be stopped (or whether he should be stopped, which is not a trivial question).

    Sort of like ignoring a physical model whose unlikely predictions have been soundly confirmed over and over.

  100. Scott Says:

    Shmi #99: This post wasn’t really about predictions of Trump’s rise, but yes, it does seem like Scott Adams had crucial insight that most pundits lacked.


    (1) Since you mentioned “over and over,” which other unlikely predictions of Adams’s “model” have been confirmed? And which predictions have been wrong? (Actually, I seem to remember that the third Scott A. had a post discussing that question a while back…)

    (2) Supposing we agreed about Adams’s amazing insight, what do you think the implications would be for how to stop Trump? When I searched just now, all I found was Adams’s offer to work to stop Trump for $1 billion, with the payment conditional on Trump’s losing the election. I don’t have that kind of money, and even if I did, and even given Adams’s correct prediction, just handing it all to him conditional on a Trump loss seems like a suboptimal plan. The fact that a cartoonist can impressively predict something doesn’t imply that he can change it—particularly if everyone knew that he had $1 billion riding on a Trump loss, so that the Trump campaign would ignore his advice, his fans would disregard any anti-Trump things he said, etc.

    Incidentally, while Adams’s correct prediction makes me very willing to listen to him on (e.g.) the subject of how to stop Trump now, it does little to make me trust him on the question of whether Trump would be good or bad. From his writings, Adams seems himself like an ironic-crypto-Trump-supporter (and also an ironic-crypto-creationist, and an ironic-crypto-lots-of-other-things—or maybe just the planet’s most accomplished troll!). But, OK, Trump has millions of supporters, many of whom probably predicted from the beginning that their man would win, since it’s human nature to predict victory for one’s own team. Should I therefore accept all of these supporters as authorities on Trump’s fitness for office?

  101. eventhisoneistaken Says:

    I’ve posted appropriate updates on my blog. At the risk of stretching your patience too thin with off-topic comments, do you agree with this prognosis regarding malicious AI?

  102. Scott Says:

    eventhisoneistaken #101: For my part, I try to avoid words like “obvious” and “thoroughly convinced” when discussing the motivations of a far-future human-level AI. 😉

  103. adamt Says:

    Honestly, the one thing that would probably help is a wikileaks style leak of his recent tax returns showing:

    1) That he isn’t as rich and successful as he claims and thereby opening him up to ridicule that will *really* bite and show him to be a phony to his supporters

    2) Show that he is a massive tax cheat

  104. Sk Says:

    Scott, just wanted to say that I admire you speaking out against Trump on your blog. I know it must’ve been a hard decision given all the dirt that’ll probably get thrown your way now. I’m sure you’d much rather prefer to just spend your time with your family, students, research, and life in general.

    Bravo, sir!

  105. adamt Says:


    BTW, I preferred to have Bernie over Hillary, but this is largely just because I doubt her judgement when it comes to the efficacy and benefit of engaging in foreign wars. She is quite clearly more at home with using our military in foreign wars than either Obama or Bernie.

    That said, she is HUGELY more compelling than a President Trump and I am very comfortable voting for her against a potential President Trump. As far as domestic politics, I think Bernie has good ideals, but just like you I think he hasn’t thought out the details for my taste and Hillary is more likely to get parental leave passed for instance.

  106. hlynkacg Says:

    At Wolfgang, Comment #98

    Lost Jobs, lost prospects, debt, inflation that we wont call inflation because things like energy, food/water, and housing aren’t considered in the calculation. and if you complain, you’ll be marked as one of “those people” an ignorant fucking slope from jesus-stan.

    Remember that the brown shirts started as a volunteer organization to protect right wing rallies and businesses from vandalism by communists.

    Lets say we see more of this
    ( as the election draws nearer.

    What sort of odds would you lay on pro-Trump volunteers to begin assembling on their own to “defend” Trump rallies from Democratic thugs. From there it’d be a logical step for Trump to officially endorse them and provide them with some sort of impromptu uniform ( and “The Red Hats” are born.

    Are you that 1930s vibe yet?

  107. Sk Says:

    About the comparison with Hitler, I point people to this article in the NYT, by Justin Smith, a philosopher. He says it best:

    Mr. Trump himself appears indifferent to history, as well as to the grave significance of the comparisons of him to Hitler. It’s true that Donald Trump is not Hitler. But the fact that the comparison has any traction at all, that it is a recognizable part of our new political dialogue, and that the man at its center is not actively seeking to prove it wrong, shows how severe the current crisis is, and hints at how dark the future might get.

  108. Cav Says:

    If only Hillary wasn’t so terrible, and the working-class white voters not dealing with their ‘Straight Outta Compton’ moment in history, this would be so much easier.

    The email server is as low as anything from Trump’s past. And the only thing that needs more sunlight than Trumps tax returns are the Clinton Foundation and its donors.

  109. Joscha Says:

    I agree that Trump does not seem to have consistent positions beyond the one that he really really is going to be the totally best president ever. I think that his strategy was unusual and surprising: he started into the race as a non-Establishment candidate, and since he would now have fit into the disenfranchised educated principled liberal segment served by Sanders, his audience had to be disenfranchised conservative working class voters. He knew or quickly realized that he did not have the support of the media establishment. (Sanders has a similar problem: while he got three times as many mentions on social media as Hillary, he got only a fraction of her media coverage.) Trump overcame this by picking messages that were positive or neutral for his target voters, but that would spark outrage with mainstream and liberal media. He just needed to violate our social signaling norms, for instance be being “non-racist in the wrong way”: “Look at my African American over there!” This is a good example among many: said African American was totally fine with Trump’s statement, but liberals were outraged (on behalf of the black Trump supporter). Whenever Trump violates our signaling norms, we cannot afford to keep quiet, but have to signal to each other how much we are on the right side, and as a result, we amplify Trump’s messages, and increase his support among those that feel disenfranchised by us. Unlike Scott, I do not think that Trump really considers banning all Muslims from entering the country etc. He has the ability to change his opinion twice in the space of five minutes. Truth and consistency seem to be totally irrelevant, the only thing that matters is convincing his voters; after the deal is done, it’s a new day.

    Even though Trump had no base in the GOP, his strategy was good enough to obliterate the conservative competition. It probably won’t suffice to win the election against a centrist candidate, so Trump will need a new strategy: invite the support of established people that (unlike Trump) do have ideas for policy. He is going to open his doors for people like Thiel, and probably for neocons, and whoever else is well-connected and has a bit of a power base somewhere. As soon as established folks are invested in Trump’s success, they will provide adult supervision and make sure that his reputation is going to improve.

    I suspect that Trump can get elected only if he manages to turn his image from “infant terrible” to “presidentially reformed marketing guy that leaves details of government to a bunch of pretty good experts”. I think it is not clear if he can really turn down the volume.

    While Trump makes me shudder on all levels, I am not really worried about the terrible things he might do. At this point, he does not have a lot of support in the institutions, either in his own party or outside. The Obama period has demonstrated how little actual change can be instigated even by a very smart president with good intentions, if the institutions and the opposition work against him.

  110. Sk Says:

    Joscha #109

    “While Trump makes me shudder on all levels, I am not really worried about the terrible things he might do. At this point, he does not have a lot of support in the institutions, either in his own party or outside. The Obama period has demonstrated how little actual change can be instigated even by a very smart president with good intentions, if the institutions and the opposition work against him.”

    I realize that American institutions can restrain the President as it did with Barack Obama. But Obama is a sane, non-vindictive, morally anchored, politically and personally coherent man who, while being frustrated at his inability to effect change, wouldn’t strike out like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

    It is much, much harder to create positive change than to destroy stability and order. So the evidence that Obama couldn’t effect large positive changes is only very slight evidence that Trump can’t effect massive destruction — both literally and metaphorically.

    I’ll let the Washington Post do the rest of the arguing:

    “Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that lay down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?”

  111. Ross Snider Says:

    While not an advocate for a Trump presidency of any kind, the thing that pains me about this election is that it is so much about electing the least-of-two-evils and not at all about electing a representative who has any similarity whatsoever to personal politics.

    Clinton is a war candidate and a candidate who, besides some issues she’s temporarily flip flopped on (such as immigration policy), is would be considerd conservative in most of the developed world. She outwardly supports a top-down system of governance, preferring large instruments of national power in industries over civil rights.

    Her policies in the South China Sea I think will be disastrous. If you don’t buy the simplistic and self-aggrandizing narrative that overwhelms American media about Chinese aggression and see the US trying to create a containing security architecture in the East (read: balance of power to maintain US hegemony), I think you’ll see the United States playing itself both into a rhetorical corner and making similar mistakes that European powers made during the rise of global American strength.

    One can quite easily hang Trump with his rhetoric. Clinton – she’s a professional. Her policies I predict will involve the United States in further series of war crimes, and I’m not sure how effective their outcomes will be, but her rhetoric sounds right. If I could believe her rhetoric had anything to do with her policies, I could vote for her.

    In any case. Agreed that a Trump presidency would be a very large departure from the traditional forms of US might. The mere suggestion that the US might try to compete with China toe-to-toe in industry seems shocking. I’m not sure we would win that fight. It does fall in line with the mythology of American thinking on “free markets” – whereas the economic protectionism promised by Clinton with her almost certain reversal on TPP is too be sure a more strategic way of containing China’s economic might – I don’t think such neoliberal strategic thinking can reverse the trends of the disappearing middle class.

    Broadly I think we need a candidate who can find strategies to keep America strong, minimize its addiction to war crimes and interventionism, uphold freedom and meritocracy (not just here, but abroad), and find a way to invest in the upward mobility, political participation, education and eroded civil rights of American citizens.

    The most cynical of us think that such policies amount to magical thinking – that there are inherent tradeoffs between these categories – and that ultimately steps taken in any of these directions must be paid for out of the pocket of the others. I’m not such a cynical thinker.

    Unfortunately Clinton nor Trump fit this bill. Again, it’s likely I will find myself voting for an obscure Third Party Candidate.

  112. Joe Says:

    Thanks for the reply, Scott. It’s plausible that you’re correct, but I’ll offer some points arguing against.

    * The US has undergone major political party shifts in the past: If we were ever going to undergo another one, now seems like about the time. The internet has blown the overton window open by giving people the chance to find others who are like-minded and supportive no matter how fringe their political views.

    * Bryan Caplan thinks people mainly vote for the purpose of signalling. If I’m either voting for Trump or for Hillary, either way I’m sending a bad signal to some friends & associates, because there are many around me who hate one or the other. Voting for Johnson doesn’t send such a negative signal, and also may send a positive signal that I’m thoughtful and nonconformist. I almost think Johnson should boost his presence at the very last moment before the election, right at the moment when both Trump and Hillary are totally covered in mud.

    * Libertarian billionaire Koch brothers (also the people who fund the center employing Bryan Caplan, Robin Hanson, Tyler Cowen, and other bloggers you might like–which convinces me that they are not actually bad guys) have publicly expressed dissatisfaction with Trump. I imagine it wouldn’t be very difficult for someone with that much money to elevate Johnson to the status of a national contender.

    * Finally, Johnson doesn’t have to capture a huge fraction of the electorate in order to be a spoiler for Trump–your own experience with Nader backs this up.

    My sense is that for my Gary Johnson idea to work, we’d want Johnson to capture much of what is fundamentally appealing about Trump (including willingness to frankly discuss tricky & important questions like whether illegal immigrants are more likely to be criminals) while actually knowing how our government works, being an honest and principled person, not insulting people, but also not seeming like a “Trump knockoff” the way many of the other Republican primary contenders seemed when they started moving right in response to Trump. Hammering on the idea that both Trump and Hillary mean a bigger and more bloated government should help him seem like less of a Trump knockoff. And he’d want to get someone who’s actually good at persuasion (people Scott Adams calls “master persuaders”) to have a big role in shaping his campaign message.

    An easy way to get in the news is to say something about Trump. So a simple way to do this would be for Johnson to make an interesting mix of statements that are alternately supportive and condemning of Trump. For example, in your 10 reasons to not support Trump, I noticed you didn’t mention Trump’s illegal immigrants comment, which I agree with. I acknowledge there are lots of good reasons to be against Trump, but I don’t think the illegal immigrants comment qualifies. Check out the original video… he seems to be pointing to Mexicans in the audience and remarking that they are Mexico’s “best people” before explaining that illegal immigrants have lots of problems. Of course, this bit about pointing to people in the audience is never displayed on TV. (Based on reading Trump supporters online, I’m pretty sure this kind of media bias is the #1 reason people support Trump. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t seen the media write much about this possibility. In the same way I don’t trust the oil industry for unbiased reporting on oil, I don’t trust the media industry for unbiased reporting on the media. In general I always try to find the full video of him saying stuff and watch the minute before and the minute after so I can get the full context.) So Johnson could do something like say that Trump is right and illegal immigrants have criminal tendencies (assuming this is in fact true, my guess is that statistics would back it up), but then turn around and say that building a wall an expensive, infeasible con man’s campaign promise and we need drones patrolling the border instead, which will be much less costly. Boom, tons of press coverage, a non-insane proposal, and he’s simultaneously differentiating himself from Trump while scooping up votes from a bunch of right wingers who still care about keeping the government small.

    (Note: it may or may not be a coincidence that the policy platform I suggest for Johnson matches very closely to my own)

  113. wolfgang Says:


    >> Lost Jobs, lost prospects, debt, inflation that we wont call inflation because things like energy, food/water …

    unemployment < 5% , inflation < 2%, oil/gas prices less than 1/2 of what they were a few years ago, …

    I am not saying the economy is doing great, but it is surprising how little it takes to get people really angry
    and ready to go follow a strongman nowadays …

  114. Curious Says:

    Scott he only cares about America and wants to prevent illegal immigration. If latinos are not here the menial jobs would be given to poor people from many countries (not just south america) hence benefiting many countries . Why don’t you support him? The only reason democrats support hispanics is because they are unskilled (mostly) and hence not a threat to the ruling (white) status quo for the foreseeable future. Also they really do not like skilled people like Tao or anyone else.

  115. Bernie or Bust Says:

    Scott #77 on Bernie Sanders: “I think he showed surprising naivete for a presidential candidate (e.g., he had no idea when questioned which legal avenues might be used to ‘break up the big banks,’ perhaps his central campaign issue).”

    It would be perfectly sensible to break up the banks by giving them a maximum size at which they would no longer be too big to fail and letting them organize their own breakup, which was essentially what Bernie said. There’s nothing really free market about these bailed out banks who have access to the Fed’s discount window, but if you’re going to implement a breakup then this is the most free market way to do it. Imagine that the MIT administration decided for some compelling reason (building space?) that the EECS department had to be split into a computer science department and a separate electrical engineering department. Which of the following two breakup plans do you think would work better: the Hillary idea that the adminstrator responsible for the breakup should be ready with a specific organizational chart detailing how the two departments to be constructed, or the Bernie idea to give EE and CS size caps in terms of faculty/students/labs/etc. and then let EECS decide how to split itself?

  116. Donald Sanders Says:

    Scott reason #1: “He’s shown contempt for the First Amendment, by saying ‘libel laws should be opened up’ to let him sue journalists who criticize him.”

    Libel is already a crime irrespective of the first amendment. Trump just doesn’t think the penalties are harsh enough to deter it. Our great independent media also is seriously biased against candidates like Trump or Sanders who depart from mainstream views. Why is there so much more coverage of Trump University scandals than the Clinton Foundation scandals?

    Clinton’s commitment to free speech is also seriously questionable. Her initial reaction to the attack in Benghazi was to incorrectly blame it on a video insulting Islam that only had only 17 views on Youtube, and suggest that such videos shouldn’t be allowed, and her State Department was supportive of efforts from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s campaign at the United Nations to censor speech critical of Islam.

    Scott reason #2: “He’s shown contempt for an independent judiciary, and even lack of comprehension of the judiciary’s role in the US legal system.”

    The judiciary has shown contempt for democracy by making laws without having democratic accountability, like finding hidden clauses in the constitution mandating gay marriage, legal abortion, and corporate personhood. It’s hypocritical for any supporter of Judge Curiel to selectively whine about the rule of LAW when he himself has presided of scholarship awards to ILLEGAL immigrants. What part of illegal don’t Trump critics understand?

    Scott reason #3: “He’s proposed a ‘temporary ban’ on Muslims entering the US. Even setting aside the moral and utilitarian costs, such a plan couldn’t possibly be implemented without giving religion an explicit role in the US legal system that the Constitution was largely written to prevent it from having.”

    So would it have been illegal to give any special preferences for Jewish refugees rather than generally displaced Europeans during WWII since this would have given religion an explicit role in the legal system? Where were the Trump haters when we discriminated in favor of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union? Where are they when Obama is disproportionately admitting Muslim rather than Christian refugees from the Middle East even though basically all Christians are being persecuted and basically all the persecutors are Muslim? Serious legal scholars actually think Trump’s proposal is indeed constitutional because Muslims outside the US don’t have US constitutional rights.

    Scott reason #4: “He’s advocated ordering the military to murder the families of terrorists—the sort of thing that could precipitate a coup d’état if the military followed its own rules and refused.”

    Trump has walked this back.

    Scott reason #5: “He’s refused to rule out the tactical first use of nuclear weapons against ISIS.”

    One of the most serious actions encouraging nuclear proliferation in recent history was the Obama/Clinton decision to help overthrow the government in Libya. Gaddafi peacefully reached a deal with President George W. Bush, which he apparently kept, to voluntarily relinquish his nuclear weapons program. This is an extremely strong concession that greatly benefited our security. Clinton decided it was worth it to break the deal in order to help the Libyan people get rid of Gaddafi. If we ever want another leader to peacefully give up nuclear weapons then due to Clinton’s and Obama’s actions they would have zero reason to trust us.

    Scott reason #6: “He’s proposed walking away from the US’s defense alliances, which would probably force Japan, South Korea, and other countries to develop their own nuclear arsenals and set off a new round of nuclear proliferation.”

    Trump has now walked back his comments on allowing allies to develop nuclear weapons. The real problem is that you shouldn’t have to be as radical as Noam Chomsky or Chalmers Johnson to see that we have a Roman-like empire of military bases spanning the globe. With the cold war over there is no reason that some of the richest countries in the world like Japan, South Korea, and Germany shouldn’t pay for their defense if they are truly worried about invasion from North Korea or Russia. Americans don’t think it’s at all unusual that we have military bases in Italy, but how would you feel if there was a giant Italian military base in your neighborhood?

    Scott reason #7: “He says that the national debt could be ‘paid back at a discount’—implicitly treating the US government like a failed casino project, and reneging on Alexander Hamilton’s principle (which has stood since the Revolutionary War, and helps maintain the world’s economic stability) that US credit is ironclad.”

    Senator Clinton voted against raising the debt ceiling four times and abstained two other times. It’s probable that Clinton wouldn’t seriously consider this if her vote was more than symbolic, but it’s still a much closer call to default than Trump’s offhand interview response, since failing to raise the ceiling could entail reneging on commitments like government bonds. It’s also disgusting how media commenters went through the roof about Trump’s comments but rarely have any problems with establishment Republicans or Wall Street Democrats who support cutting social security benefits that retirees have earned or who raise the possibility of social security going “bankrupt,” when according to the law the social security trust is to buy government bonds that must be repayed just as any other form of debt. Trump has departed from establishment Republicans like Paul Ryan in wanting to preserve social security. President Clinton was just barely stopped from cutting a Wall Street-backed privatization deal by the distraction of the Lewinsky scandal.

    Scott reason #8: “He’s repeatedly expressed admiration for autocrats, including Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, as well as for the Chinese government’s decision to suppress the Tiananmen Square protests by arresting and killing thousands of people.”

    If saying nice things about autocrats should be a disqualifier then how about Bill Clinton’s statement upon the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the country that is probably the world’s chief financier for evangelizing Islamic extremism, from whom Hillary also accepted a gift of $500,000 worth of jewelry?

    “I had many dealings with His Majesty during and after my presidency, as did Hillary both inside and outside the State Department. And we are grateful for his support of efforts for peace in the Middle East; our close economic cooperation; the Kingdom’s humanitarian efforts around the world; especially its contributions after the earthquake in Haiti; and his efforts to modernize Saudi Arabia’s economy and education systems – as embodied by King Abdullah University, the Kingdom’s first coeducational institution of higher education. Hillary and I are also grateful for his personal friendship and kindness toward our family and we join the Saudi people in mourning his loss and send our heartfelt condolences to the Royal Family.”

    The Wikileaks files on Secretary of State Clinton’s support for the coup in Honduras also don’t paint a picture of someone committed to democracy.

    As for Putin, yes he’s a bad guy but his electorcal victory margins and approval ratings should put US politicians to shame. The US and Russia are both nuclear powers and one of the top priorities for the entire world should be ensuring stable cooperation. The Victoria Nuland intercepts and plenty of related material show Clinton and Rice’s State Department were instead playing the Great Game in Eastern Europe and supporting color coded revolutions in places like Ukraine. The media has painted Putin as the devil incarnate over issues like gay rights, but from just a little pattern recognition skill you can see that this has more to do with his indepdnence than depravity. The media were celebratory throughout the Yeltsin years when the shock therapy privatization resulted in handful of oligarchs outright stealing the country’s assets, there was a massive decline in life expectancy, and the whole project was cheered on by Clinton Administration officials like Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.

    Scott reason #9: “He’s expressed the desire to see people who protest his rallies ‘roughed up.”

    Pretty much all of the problems at Trump rallies are initiated by social justice warriors who want to prevent him from speaking and interfere with democracy. When peaceful Trump supporters are attacked by SJWs the media disgustingly blame Trump. If Hillary is elected you could easily see a normalization of violence from SJWs, just as they are never prosecuted or even suspended for interfering with speakers and illegally occupying buildings on college campuses. You don’t see Trump supporters try to shut down Hillary’s speeches, but Hillary’s condemnation of her SJW warrior supporters has at best been very tepid.

    Scott reason #10: “He said that, not only would he walk away from the Paris accords, but the entire concept of global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese.”

    Anyone who thinks climate change might really create an extinction level calamity should be aware that per capita carbon emissions are much lower in the third world than the first world, and hence if the species really depends on it should want to prevent large scale migration from the former to the latter. I don’t understand the science of global warming, but because they never mention any ill environmental effects from immigration increasing the US population by tens of millions of people over a relatively short period, I conclude that global warming activists aren’t really serious. In the case of the Sierra Club it was bribed by Wall Street billionaire David Gelbaum to change its official position that “Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S.” Without crunching the numbers I have no idea if this problem would be better or worse if Trump rejects the Paris accord but closes the border than if Hillary implements the deal.

  117. Bram Cohen Says:

    I’ve already made some very public direct criticism of hairman:

  118. Anonymous Says:

    For what it’s worth, when I see intellectuals I otherwise respect come out with hysterical anti-Trump posts (this one is a little less hysterical in tone, but very much so in content), it tends to reduce my respect for the blogger, not for Trump.

    (I’m not American but I favour Trump over Hillary for the usual reasons someone might do so).

  119. Dave J Says:

    So because Trump sucks (a position I agree on for many reasons, most of which you listed and thus don’t need to get into) you endorse Hillary Clinton?

    Hillary Clinton is a textbook corrupt politician who stands for nothing other than wanting to be president. She voted for the Iraq war, the Afghan war, and was one of the biggest forces that led america to conflict with Libya. She takes bribes from megacorps (thinly disguised as “donations” “speaking fees”) which has led to her flip flopping on many issues, most notably going from supporting single payer universal healthcare to being against it after millions of dollars in donations from healthcare providers. Of course she thinks we are all stupid enough to believe that the millions she has gotten in donations and “speaking fees” (for speeches she has strangely refused to release the transcripts of) has led to no policy influence whatsoever.

    Trump and Clinton both rightfully have pretty horrible approval ratings. This could potentially lead to a successful third party run. Are you a conservative and/or libertarian minded? Why not consider Gary Johnson? Did you support Sanders, are you a leftist? Do you want single payer healthcare? Do you just really want to see a female president? Why not consider Jill Stein?

    Of course everyone will insist they have “no chance” because third party candidates “can’t win”. Apparently many other countries around the world can have more than just two parties that are relevant but for some reason America “can’t”. The “no chance” argument is why Sanders lost by the way. Lots of people liked Sanders on policy more than Clinton but voted for Clinton anyway because they thought she had a better chance of winning because they thought America wouldn’t vote for a socialist.

    This is why the megacorps control everything in America. They only have two political parties to pay off because Americans have been conditioned to believe that they absolutely have to vote for one of the two major parties or they will be “throwing away their vote”.

  120. eventhisoneistaken Says:

    One last follow-up: the post in question,
    seems not to reflect your current position vis-à-vis item 5; you might consider posting an update to clarify.

    You said “it had no actual implications for anything (even in a hypothetical world where I was President or something)” but I disagree. Ongoing technological developments are pushing the prospect of punishing crimethink from the realm of fantasy into one of a very real possibility:

  121. George Says:

    A muddy forehead is easily defined, blue eyes are also.
    Presidential candidacy cannot be. It is relevant. Other people can prove/believe that Trump is fit, others can say the opposite.

    Politics belong to social sciences. Social sciences are not science (may be quantum computers one day will make them science but not yet…)

    So, ‘induction’ does not work in politics.

    But ‘influential’ scientists’ opinion masked as “science” does… but it is unethical to do so (even if it is masked as a “scientific joke”…)

    ‘Vote for Hillary’ is more ethical anyway.

  122. Scott Says:

    George #121:

      But ‘influential’ scientists’ opinion masked as “science” does… but it is unethical to do so (even if it is masked as a “scientific joke”…)

    So it’s unethical for influential scientists to express their political opinions—or they’re allowed, but just not using the humor and idioms that come naturally to them? What about non-influential scientists? What if they’re asked their opinion? Must they decline to give it, since someone might mistake it for an ex cathedra “pronouncement of science”?

    Also, does this ethical commandment extend to music and sports stars? Business and religious leaders? All, you might say, are “unfairly exploiting their influence” if they discuss politics.

    In any case, you need not fear! I doubt that all the scientists in history who’ve shared their political views with the public, from Albert Einstein on down, have ever once swayed an election.

  123. DP Says:

    Scott, I will do the opposite of what you ask – I will suggest an idea of how Trump can win. If Clinton or Trump were willing to do anything to win, I believe the case for Trump would be much easier to make.

    My idea simultaneously achieves three objectives: (1) make Trump look more presidential, (2) unify the GOP, (3) move to the middle to attract more independents.

    Here is the way to do it. Trump should pick a couple of issues on which he is well positioned to bridge Republicans and Democrats, and ask Congress to address these issues now, in order to save him time once he becomes president. His solution should be designed to force the Republican party to move to the middle, and to demonstrate that he is capable to influence his own party. Here are two such issues.

    1. He should say that, although he will build the wall, the Democrats will try to block him, so, as a compromise and first step, Congress should pass G.W. Bush’s immigration reform, which the Democrats supported, including passing national I.D. laws. He should insist that the current Congress does it now, before the election.

    2. He should say that the Democrats will try to block his Supreme Court nominees, so the current Congress should consider Obama’s nominee. Alternatively, he could suggest that Obama and Republicans together come up with several options and, hopefully, can agree on one of them now, before the election.

    Even if these turn out to be infeasible, Republican congressmen should at least act like they take it seriously and attempt to negotiate with Democrats. Trump can thus claim that he is not a partisan demagogue and that he is already building bridges instead of simply attacking the other side. Of course, he should continue attacking Clinton for her lack of judgement (Iraq was, middle east, reset with Russia, etc.), which is a genuine point that many people agree with.

    I realize that Trump is unlikely to follow this advice, but I am just saying that if I could be an omnipotent campaign advisor, I would go with Trump.

  124. dm Says:

    DP (#123) describes a unicorn, then names it Trump. Unfortunately, this is part of Trump’s appeal. If you apply highly selective filter to the enormous volume of things Trump has said (ignoring contradictions, scape-goating, racism, out-right absurdities,etc), then you can no doubt find what you want to see. Its the Trump U scam applied to politics.

  125. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #118:

      For what it’s worth, when I see intellectuals I otherwise respect come out with hysterical anti-Trump posts (this one is a little less hysterical in tone, but very much so in content), it tends to reduce my respect for the blogger, not for Trump.

    It’s funny: what you saw as a “hysterical anti-Trump post,” I saw as me bending over backwards to try to understand the roots of Trump’s appeal and the legitimacy of some of his supporters’ grievances with the social-justice movement—even to the point of alienating my liberal friends. Is there any way I could’ve blogged about my opposition to Trump that you wouldn’t have considered “hysterical”?

  126. DP Says:

    dm #124: you reinforce liberal fruitcake stereotype that Scott described in his post by not listening to the point I was trying to make and by putting words in my mouth. I always vote D across the board, but this time I am considering voting for Trump and D otherwise.

    Anonymous #118: Scott is moving to Texas, so his post could not possibly have been hysterical anti-Trump.

  127. anonymous Says:

    “..who’ve shared their political views with the public, from Albert Einstein..”

    Did Einstein express POLITICAL opinions? I remember he was against US dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, and that he was a pacifist in general. Was he taking sides with that or another POLITICIAN?

    I don’t see any of the influential scientists raising their voice against the siege US and NATO put on Russia, against the army bases and “antimissile shields” they are putting near its border, while at the same time discussing the possibility of a preemptive military strike on Russia. Did you know that NATO + US military budget is 20 times larger than that of the “Russian agressor”? Do you think it is only games which the western generala are playing in order to scare Russia into surrendering? And above all, if millions of russian people would die at such preemptive strike, and if Russia would not succed to strike back (because otherwise the answer is clear), WOULD YOU CARE? (as you care about millions of jewish people who died in WWII?)

    So where are you, influential scientists, when there is a need to raise your voice about something which TRUELY matters, not some “divide the pie” games of your “democratic” oligarchy?

  128. Scott Says:

    Dave J #119 (and others): Let me make something clear—I will be voting for Hillary without a clothespin on my nose. For one thing, because a clothespin would be uncomfortable and make it hard to breathe! But also, because I like Hillary’s policies more than those of Sanders or any other candidate I know about (though of course I prefer Sanders’ to the “policies” of Trump). Also, Hillary is experienced and intelligent, and clearly capable of getting at least some of her agenda enacted, insofar as that’s possible for any president facing an intransigent Congress.

    For me, the best would’ve been a third term of Obama, with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate (and as long as I’m dreaming, opposed by libertarians rather than by Republicans). But Hillary as president, and as many Democrats as possible in Congress, is the closest available alternative.

    That Hillary is good at getting money from rich people, I see as basically a wash. Some of her rich, mostly left-leaning friends and donors might influence her in directions that I disagree with, others in directions I agree with.

    From my standpoint, Hillary does have four serious drawbacks, any one of which might cause me to favor an alternative, were such an alternative available:

    (1) She’s shown poor judgment on multiple occasions.

    (2) She carries with her a vast orbiting debris cloud of scandals, some manufactured by Republicans but others indeed partly caused by her poor judgment.

    (3) She’s shown very little inclination to do what’s right when it conflicts with what’s popular.

    (4) She’s made no attempt at all to dissociate herself from what I previously called “the bullying wing of the social-justice left.”

    Again, though: I regard Trump as an existential threat to American democracy and rule of law, of a kind I’ve never seen in my lifetime and never expected to see. And if that’s how you feel, then you’ll probably look at this stuff the same way one might look at a relentless focus on the scandals and inadequacies of Otto Weis and Ludwig Kaas in the 1933 German election. “Why, oh why, must we choose between these spineless buffoons and Hitler? A pox on all their houses!”

    Speaking of which, can I get any volunteers to print up T-shirts and bumper stickers that say

    “HILLARY 2016: Bad only within normal parameters”

    ? 🙂

  129. adamt Says:

    I’ll buy one of those T-Shirts!

  130. Scott Says:

    anonymous #127: In the second half of his life, Einstein spent a huge fraction of his time expressing political opinions—which included, among many other things, support for liberal Zionism, socialism, anti-Nazism, pacifism (with a major exception for fighting Hitler), civil rights for blacks and other minorities, and the creation of supranational government, like the UN but much stronger. (Fair warning: Einstein’s writings about these subjects do tend toward dense and boring.)

    As for specific politicians: Einstein publicly denounced Joe McCarthy (and Hitler, obviously), and had friendly relations with David Ben-Gurion and with Franklin Roosevelt. Everyone knows about Einstein’s letter to FDR advocating that the US start an atomic bomb program (and Einstein’s subsequent guilt over it), but his extensive other political interests don’t seem as widely known they should be. Maybe because they’re hard to square with the popular image of the otherworldly, absentminded genius?

  131. Shmi Nux Says:

    Scott, first, I was a bit uncharitable in my original comment, sorry. Your post was indeed not about predictions of Trump’s rise.

    Scott Adams made multiple predictions about many candidates, including about the famous “low energy” Bush label, and many others. He also stated (whether he really means it or not) that he does not support Trump and expect to do worse personally if Trump wins.

    Scott Alexander, even though he is the most impartial person I can think of (and as brilliant as the other two Scott As, from where I sit, way down there), seems to have a visceral dislike for Trump that you share, and his analysis of Adams’ analysis of his own predictions is not nearly as thorough as of the issues he really puts his heart into.

    I agree that Adams comes across as “the planet’s most accomplished troll”, but it seems unwise to lump Adams with “all of these supporters”, given how thorough and accurate his analysis has been so far, compared to the others, and given his claim that he can stop Trump, something you and many on the left, right and center are eager to do.

  132. Anonymous Programmer Says:

    President Obama is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler and wants to destroy Israel before he leaves power. I am the reincarnation of John the Baptist.

  133. jonas Says:

    Scott re #130: no, more likely because people back then didn’t have the internet where they could conveniently read the opinions of many famous scientists about politics. They had radio and newspaper, but it’s just not the same.

  134. Michael P Says:

    Scott #128:

    “She’s shown very little inclination to do what’s right when it conflicts with what’s popular.”

    This is very important to me. You can also replace “to do what’s right” with “to tell the truth” and your statement would still be true, and that’s also important to me. Although she is not nearly as bad as Trump, I find it difficult not to abstain from these elections.

    “HILLARY 2016: Bad only within normal parameters” or something like “Hillary 2016: Not as bad as Trump” – great idea, I would certainly buy a T-shirt like that.

  135. Scott Says:

    Anonymous Programmer #132:

      I am the reincarnation of John the Baptist.

    I’m curious: did your reincarnation itself cause you to doubt the Christianity that you presaged in your previous life as John the Baptist? Maybe convert to Buddhism or Hinduism or something?

  136. Anonymous Programmer Says:

    If you read all the posts on my blog by clicking “Anonymous Programmer”, you will have a good idea what I believe.

  137. Greg Says:

    ” Say, someone who worked his whole life to support a family, then lost his job at the plant, and who’s never experienced anything but derision, contempt, and accusations of unexamined white male privilege from university-educated coastal elites?”

    ^This is where I part ways with the social justice left. As someone who had a decidedly lower working-class rural Australian upbringing, I feel like I missed the meeting where it was agreed that college leftists may borrow the term “privilege” — our rhetorical device for shaming rich college kids! — to wield against demographics which are in large part constituted of underprivileged, struggling people. (Whilst P(white|rich) may be close to 1, P(rich|white) is surely tiny.) As a de facto representative of said working class, I hereby demand that our word be returned to us immediately.

    (That’s not going to work, is it? I guess I tried, at least.)

    On a more serious note, if I didn’t already experience culture shock, upon first setting foot on university soil, at the sheer thickness of the bubble separating the socioeconomic elite from society at large, I might be surprised by just how cringingly unfit the typical social justice narrative is for consumption by the average person. It’s a shame, too, because the average person could sorely stand to take some lessons on such matters as gender and race.

    Oh, on Trump: you do you, America. I mean…try not to elect the candidate most likely to instigate WWIII, sure. But skimming this comments section has been enough of a tax upon my time, without having to engage in protracted political debates with libertarians and whatnot to dubious ends. So I’m bowing out.

    eventhisoneistaken #75: have you seen some of the comments that Scott approves on here? I have to guess the moderation step is only there to prevent grossly indecent spam from filling the comments section.

  138. Maximillion Pegasus Says:

    Check out the history of Trump vs. Clinton polling:

    Right now they’re about neck and neck (with a slight lead to Clinton), but look at what happened in March. They were within a few points of each other, and then Trump started falling throughout the month, to the point where he was 12 points behind Hillary, a lead people were saying was utterly insurmountable unless Trump did something spectacular like, idk, convince black voters he was on their side. Now he’s back, seemingly for no real reason – so much for that theory.

    It seems like pretty much no one is able to predict what, if anything, hurt Trumps, so if I was trying to hurt him I would attempt to figure out what happened in March that caused him to slip so much, and what happened in April and May to make him gain it all back.

  139. DP Says:

    Why is Putin’s Russia worse than Saudi Arabia?

    Isn’t nuclear conflict (I assume involving Russia) a much more likely scenario under Clinton than Trump?

    Aren’t you afraid that Clinton will deal with Putin by eliminating all quantum comPUTINg research?

  140. Tomas Says:

    A good related read:

    Orlick should take note: “But then Hitler wasn’t Hitler—until he was. At each step of the way, the shock was tempered by acceptance. It depended on conservatives pretending he wasn’t so bad, compared with the Communists, while at the same time the militant left decided that their real enemies were the moderate leftists, who were really indistinguishable from the Nazis. The radical progressives decided that there was no difference between the democratic left and the totalitarian right and that an explosion of institutions was exactly the most thrilling thing imaginable.”

    I hope that Trump will supply the Emperor Has No Clothes moment himself. He’s almost done that already with the “Mexican” judge thing.

  141. Stephen V Says:

    Steps two and three, I suspect, are going to be “start commenting on pro-Trump sites in order to develop a reputation for respect and insight, in that order, among the relevant audience” (namely, “people who don’t already agree with you”), followed by – some time later – actually starting to outline to that audience “why Hillary might not be so bad”.

    I’m not sure, at this point, that five months is enough time to accumulate enough respect to have step three work at all, and for that matter it doesn’t directly draw on your comparative advantages of “having a well-written blog, and having experience of the receiving end of a shaming campaign” beyond leaving a link back in your presumably equally-well-written comments.

  142. Darien S Says:

    The best strategy is to do everything possible to keep the economy from facing any serious issue in the near term. Trump is unlikely to win without something boosting his odds.

    If there’s a significant economic crisis prior to the election, Trump’s chances will go way higher, I venture to guess. So as long as it is in the president’s power he should do everything possible to avert any possible signs of economic trouble.

  143. Haelfix Says:

    I do think exaggeration is a big problem in this campaign, and more generally in society at large.

    The fact is, every single time the NYT runs a hit piece of Trump, his approval ratings go up. Meanwhile CNN has never uttered a single positive spin on the man, and every day runs a story like ‘Did Trump say x and offend Y???’. To the point where comparisons to Hitler and accusations of racism are now everyday occurrences (of course Trump is neither of these things, but that nevertheless doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous either). So of course none of it sticks anymore, it’s like the boy who cried wolf phenomena. More generally, it’s clear that a large portion of the demographic simply disbelieves everything coming out of the msm.

    This cynicism by the electorate is warranted in some sense, but it’s been taken to an extreme by people who can’t accept nuance. So remember next time you tell someone that the msm is all lies and propaganda, bc guess what, that is exactly the phenomenon that leads to people believing in conspiracy theories, Truther movements, anti Vaxxers and all the rest of the craziness out there.

  144. adamt Says:

    Leaving Trump for a second and focusing on the social justice movement over the latest two crusades: the family of the toddler who fell into the gorilla enclosure and the family and friends of the Stanford rape case… It is striking to me the levels of righteous fury that can be conjured up by this mob justice mentality. Righteous anger is so seductive to the social justice masses that, leaving aside empathy towards the targets of these mobs, I can’t help but worry that this is doing a lot of damage to individual lives of those who participate in the mob.

    Righteous anger is harmful and nothing good comes of it.

    It is harmful to the targets of it, but equally (and even more so in some cases) to the wielders of it. I think it is high time we start turning our lense of collective concern onto this epidemic of righteous anger that people feel emboldened to display in the age of the internet and social media.

  145. Mark Callaghan Says:

    Terry Tao seems to have provoked a fantastic outpouring of bile from Lubos Motl with his anti-Trump post.

  146. Scott Says:

    Stephen V #141:

      for that matter it doesn’t directly draw on your comparative advantages of “having a well-written blog, and having experience of the receiving end of a shaming campaign”

    I also have the advantage of considerable expertise in quantum query complexity lower bounds, quantum proof and advice complexity classes, quantum money schemes, and the classification of reversible gates—just in case any of those things might be helpful in stopping Trump.

  147. George Says:

    @Mark Callaghan #145
    Yes, this way everybody will come to know that Trump is unfit to become president, the thing will then become ‘common knowledge’ and “pufff” magically nobody will vote for Trump, or all potential Trump voters will drop dead after x days or will go surfing the elections day or whatever… (where x the post’s viral spread speed).

    Well… it may also go the other way around:
    Trump will be shown as more “victimized”, the voters will feel more sympathy and vote for him and eventually become president…

    I insist, ‘vote for Hillary’ works better.

    Nobody (no matter how much idiot he is) can be persuaded that #113 in the US billionairs (with a b) list is an idiot and unfit to become president of the US…

  148. Stephen V Says:

    Scott #146:

    Well, query complexity lower bounds, quantum or not, might well help in estimating just how long it’ll take to get past the culture shock inherent in visiting pro-Trump sites (or, more generally, estimating the amount of culture shock encountered as the sites/cultures you visit diverge from your own), but beyond that, well, I’m not the one with the expertise you describe.

    Personally, stopping Trump seems more to me like triage of the symptoms, where the disease is “ideological (partisan) segregation” – and since the current methods of broadcast communication (the “mainstream media”) are either untrusted or inaccessible, more personal methods of communication are what’s left.

  149. Aaron Says:

    Jacques Distler> I don’t think it is a very good idea to speculate on the motivations of Trump’s supporters. It is highly unlikely that you will guess correctly.

    Most people don’t have a very good grasp on their motivations, and are unable to articulate them well. I expect this to hold for Trump supporters as well.

  150. Wellwisher Says:

    I am interested in the ability to make predictions based on analysis. That is not foolproof but a better measure of someone’s ability to analyse.

    I predict dramatic and Black Swan level of gun and other related violence if Hilary Clinton becomes President instead of Trump. Anyone who reads this, keep this in mind for the 4-8 years of Hilary.

    Once this prediction is made, your ability to improve your analysis increases. Think about it

  151. anonymous Says:

    @Scott #130

    I think there is a great difference, on the one hand, between going against the current, such as advocating against the atomic bomb BEFORE it was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and such as disenchanting oneself with a particular kind of zionism (which is the kind prevailing today in Israel), as early as 1948 (!) (from wikipedia: “Einstein was one of the authors of an open letter to the New York Times in 1948 deeply criticizing Menachem Begin’s Herut (Freedom) Party for the Deir Yassin massacre (Einstein et al. 1948) likening it to “the Nazi and Fascist parties” and stated “The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the Freedom Party”), and, on the other hand, advocating for the main candidate of the establishment of your country (seen by many, including me, as a war criminal – not only her, of course).

    And therefore I doubt that Einstein, would he be alive, would stay silent in front of the undeclared war (fought until now largely without arms, and via proxies) which US wage on Russia. And I doubt very much he would endorse the simplistic view of today’s Russia, promoted by your “mainstream media” and the State Department, and which is the reason, perhaps, for you not answering my comment.

  152. Ash Says:

    Great post, and you nailed it. Trump’s supporters have been alienated by both the Republicans who promised them a better life and the Democrats whose authoritarian left wing simply wants to tell them they are religious bigots simmering with white privilege, and who are far more concerned about getting LGBT people to use the right restroom than getting average working class Americans jobs. Neither of the parties has actually tried to understand them. Big surprise they support Trump.

  153. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Maximillion Pegasus at 138,

    What happened in March is that a lot of Republicans thought that maybe a contested convention would occur and Trump wouldn’t end up as the nominee. After it became clear that wasn’t going to happen they’ve gone back to rallying around their nominee.

  154. Scott Says:

    anonymous #151: Before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein, like most people, wasn’t even aware that they’d been built. (Though it’s likely that he would’ve opposed their use had he been consulted, which he wasn’t.)

    In any case, I think you’ve made your position clear. What you’re against is not so much scientists expressing political views, but rather, their expressing political views that you disagree with.

  155. anonymous Says:

    @Scott #154

    “Einstein, like most people, wasn’t even aware that they’d been built.” – yes, it seems, checking on the internet, that his struggle against nuclear weapons began after the bombs were dropped on Japan. A false memory, probably.

    “In any case, I think you’ve made your position clear. What you’re against is not so much scientists expressing political views, but rather, their expressing political views that you disagree with.” – sorry, but my position was that influential scientists, whatever that means, are not raising their voice against a conflict with Russia, deliberately pushed forward by your country and which can possibly lead to a nuclear war, and that moreover perhaps you are indifferent to the issue, because of the antirussian propaganda of your media and politicians. Which is, in my opinion, a much more important issue than that which you, and other influential scientists, chose to raise.

  156. anonymous Says:

    @Scott #154

    No, this was not a false memory after all:

    “By early 1945, it seemed clear to Szilard that Germany would not succeed in creating an atomic bomb, but that America would. Szilard became concerned that the US would choose to use its new weapon as an instrument of war rather than as a means of deterring the German use of an atomic weapon. Szilard made frantic attempts to stop the US from using the bomb that he had been so instrumental in creating. He went back to Einstein in an attempt to arrange a meeting with President Roosevelt. Einstein wrote another letter to Roosevelt on Szilard’s behalf. The President’s wife, Eleanor, wrote back agreeing to meet with Szilard in her Manhattan apartment. Szilard received the letter with great excitement, but his excitement was dashed when later in the day the news was announced that President Roosevelt had died. It was April 12, 1945.”

  157. James Cross Says:

    Maximillion 138

    I think Trump gained as other candidates dropped out whereas Clinton was still battling Sanders. Now that the Democrats are unifying and the Republicans are in disarray the trend is going to head the other way.

    Darien S 142

    Unfortunately you have a point but it not just the economy. It also terrorism or a bad outcome to the email server mess.

    Something like a major terrorist attack near the election would make a Clinton win really difficult even though most rational people understand that can’t always be prevented. What’s more ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc probably have a positive incentive to disrupt the US elections.

  158. Jr Says:

    I will start with two nitpicks:

    Scott #122: Paul Painlevé was prime minister twice of France which presumably had something to do with what he said. He is famousish for his work in math.

    Scott #135: Actually Christianity thinks John the Baptist was some sort of reincarnation of the prophet Elijah. Martin Luther was described as the “third Elijah”, which would make him the second John the Baptist presumably.

    On a more serious note I agree with most of what you say in your original post. I think that Trump is not just a buffoon but might be a total disaster as a president. Hilary is a safe bet in comparison, not that I like her. Unlike probably you, I also think there is a 15% probability that Trump be a better president than Hillary and maybe 5% probability that he would be significantly better. The latter would represent possible worlds where Hillary entangles the US in disastrous wars that Trump would have avoided. I have no doubt that the expected value of Hillary is better.

  159. dm Says:

    Like many liberal fruitcakes, I’ve (perhaps naively) regarded Trump as the least dangerous of an appalling set of Republican candidates. He is more likely to be embarrassing than dangerous. He is also the least ideological of the bunch and would likely quickly lose support of even a Republican Congress. If nothing else, he has done a great job of exposing the deep cynicism of the Republican leadership and others.
    All that said, what he seems to fear most is exposure of his lengthy record as scam artist (e.g. the Trump U suits) and business cheat. So lets do more of that.

  160. Garrett Says:

    I say this as a libertarian who’s voted for Republican Presidential candidates in the past, and who will likely be voting for Hillary this fall, the analysis of Trump/Hillary you’ve put forward suffers from a large number of problems:

    1) The strength of the 1st Amendment protections is unique in its strength around the world. To allow for what Trump is talking about would only require converting to more European models of libel law. I’m personally in favor of the US model, but so many other European goods are considered good by nature of their being common (universal health care) that I find this fascinating.

    Also, this is incompatible with what I see the Left arguing for when it talks about banning “hate speech”.

    1a) The US Constitution is clear on its protections for the rights of firearms ownership, yet Hillary is incredibly hostile to such rights. It strikes me not as carry about the Constitution, but caring about a bludgeon to use against others.

    2) As opposed to other politicians who think the judiciary is legitimate only if it rules the way they think they should. I await Hillary championing Bush v. Gore.

    3) Good point. Of course, objecting to Trump because of his rejection of Enlightenment norms while he is objecting to the entry of others due (in part, I think) to their rejection of enlightenment norms, I’m not sure that this is a good point to be standing on.

    4) Not enough detail to make a strong comment. Probably horrible.

    5) He also hasn’t promoted their use. I see this as purely a negotiating tactic.

    6) Why should the US be covering a large amount of the cost of defending other countries if there isn’t an existential threat, like communism? The target for NATO GDB spending was 2% and all but the US and occasionally the UK have been below that. These countries aren’t even doing their part. And in many cases the locals don’t want us there. The governments do because it cuts their expenses. Let them cover for themselves.

    7) Since the US debt is denominated in dollars and the US has been involved in inflation/quantitative easing for decades, all borrowed money is paid back at a discount. If that isn’t what he means, I don’t know what he’s thinking.

    8) Admire in the “snappy dresser” or “really good at oppression” kind of way, or a “I have been ideologically inspired by them and will attempt to model my rule on their example”? Very suspect, but not determinative.

    9) Somebody trespassing (with a history of trespassing) other events isn’t exactly getting the hint. I don’t advocate mob violence, but I will admit to getting a bit of a thrill out of seeing people I loathe on multiple levels getting slapped around a bit.

    10) That’s nuts. Or, the solutions proposed by Climate Change activists substantially benefit the Chinese, but it certainly hasn’t been created by them. In contrast to science denialism like linking vaccines to autism.

  161. Scott Says:

    Garrett #160: Maybe “the Left” as an entity feels differently, but speaking for myself, I would say that

    (1) the experience of Europe can give us crucial empirical evidence about the likely impacts of various policies (say, universal healthcare),

    (2) even if European countries agree that something is good or moral, that’s at most extremely weak evidence that it is good or moral, or that Americans are bad or immoral if they judge the issue differently. So, to give two examples, I have no problems with Americans’ greater emphasis on individual freedom, or with our greater speed of restaurant service. 🙂

    With regard to free speech, I’m uniformly opposed to legal bans on “hate speech” (even, say, the German bans on Holocaust denial and pro-Nazi advocacy, which would be justified if any such laws ever were). I have no hesitation in saying that American policy in this area is superior to the policies of countries that have these bans. Incidentally, I also oppose attempts within the US to render the First Amendment “nullified in practice,” by (e.g.) ensuring that anyone who expresses opinions outside the Overton Window is unable to find employment.

    Regarding the claim of hypocrisy, with First vs. Second Amendments—we’ve had this debate before on my blog, but I personally see no reason why one needs to construe “a right to bear arms” to include a right to bear semiautomatics, or other weapons much more deadly than what was known at the time the Bill of Rights was written. And the reason why we know this to be true, is that no one, not even the NRA, construes the Second Amendment to include the right a bear, say, nuclear missiles. But by not so construing it, they’ve implicitly conceded the point: sure, it says a right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say which arms!

  162. Jr Says:

    Scott #161 Why this devotion to the constitution at all? It contains some great parts, and I am personally very fond of the First Amendment as interpreted by the courts, but I don’t get the near-religious devotion it attracts from Americans. Especially, since it, like other religious scripture, attracts so much creative interpretation.

    On the second amendment point, I think your response is weak. Interpreting the First Amendment literally would be absurd as well. If “no law” restricting the freedom of speech could be passed then actual threats to kill would be permissible. Once one abandons the literal interpretation it also becomes a question of line-drawing. And drawing the line to allow bans of hate speech and more Trump-friendly libel laws would be consistent with a lot of historical practice in the US (the Supreme Court once upheld laws against group libel that was pretty much an anti-hate speech law) and the norms of Western democracies generally today. As I indicated I think the US actually has the line correct now, but I would not claim it is the only possible or sensible interpretation of the First Amendment as a legal text.

    On the other hand, a lot of Democrats, including I think Hillary, pretty much want to read the Second Amendment completely out of the Constitution so if fidelity to the Constitution was the relevant consideration than Trump might be the better candidate.

  163. Jr Says:

    I see some discussion about illegal immigrants in this thread. I think it is a complete myth that they are causing a lot of problems. They probably contribute to lowering the wages of certain jobs, primarily unskilled ones. That is of course good for many Americans, and bad for a few. (In principle it might be good or bad for people in higher-paying jobs, but I think most economists in this case believe they benefit and I have certainly not seen any serious analysis from the Trump camp to refute that.) I don’t think they cause big expenses for the public sector either. They don’t commit much crime and the very fact that they are illegal mean that they can not use a lot of the welfare state. Estimates indicate that they are a net plus for the government financially. Some people seem upset about the principle of the thing, but that is probably hypocritical. I am sure that nearly every critic of illegal immigration has speeded, or cheated on their taxes, or had a sip of bear underage, etc. All of there are actually crimes against American law, unlike being in the country without permission. As for the government not enforcing the law stringently, prosecutorial discretion is an uncontroversial part of American law. (Though Obama very likely is acting illegally in his immigration policy, I will concede that.)

    I do not think most of Trump’s supporters come from the group of people who really lose from the competition with the illegal immigrants, and even if you really were concerned about them there are better ways of helping them than stopping immigration.

    I would think people who are pro-capitalist would be in favor of free trade and immigration but Republicans in the US often break that pattern.

  164. adam Says:

    anonymous #156: It looks like in this letter from Einstein to Roosevelt, Einstein is claiming that Szilard didn’t tell him any details about what he wanted to discuss, though clearly he knew it was about work on the bomb.

    “The terms of secrecy under which Dr. Szilard is working at present do not permit him to give me information about his work; however, I understand that he now is greatly concerned about the lack of adequate contact between scientists who are doing this work and those members of your Cabinet who are responsible for formulating policy. In the circumstances I consider it my duty to give Dr. Szilard this introduction and I wish to express the hope that you will be able to give his presentation of the case your personal attention.”

    (Google Books link in my name)

  165. Scott Says:

    Jr #162: I don’t idolize the Constitution. Even if we leave aside the obvious stuff (slavery, women’s suffrage) that was only fixed a century or so later, I think having two separate houses of Congress was a serious mistake—an unprincipled political concession that’s at least partly responsible for the gridlock we see today. And there are other things one would want to do differently today—e.g., the whole idea of “local control,” which requires devolving lots of power to the states, arguably makes a lot less sense in an age of instant communication.

    On the other hand, this was the first time that anyone explicitly tried to found a country on the principles of the Enlightenment—an idea that’s since spread (in more-or-less diluted forms) to most parts of the earth, and arguably proven more successful than any other social experiment our sorry species has ever tried. So, if one had to be reverent about something from the past, the US Constitution would be far from the worst choice. (Or better yet, the Bill of Rights, where what we’d recognize today as liberal democratic values come through more clearly than in the original Constitution itself.)

    More pragmatically, if we’re discussing the actual US (as opposed to a hypothetical new country that we get to design from scratch), the Constitution is the foundation of our legal system and the thing each President swears to uphold—so if a presidential candidate treats it cavalierly, that’s a strong warning sign that he might ignore any sort of restraint on his own power.

    Certainly there’s enormous scope for interpretation, and certainly applying any law to a new situation involves a sort of negotiation, involving what the text literally says, how people have interpreted the text up till now, what we consider reasonable today, and what we think the law’s author would’ve said they meant if confronted with the new situation (assuming they’re no longer around to ask).

    So, while I’m very far from a Constitutional scholar, if you like, my own preferred readings of the First and Second Amendments reflect my mental equilibrium about those questions. More concretely, I think the Founders had no concept of a world with deadly automatic weapons, most of the population living in dense urban centers, and no “well-regulated militias,” and I suspect they would’ve worded the Second Amendment differently if they had. On the other hand, I think throwing people in jail for what some group considers to be “hate speech” is something they did understand—and that they opposed it then for the same reasons why you and I oppose it now.

  166. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    I have always regarded myself as solidly left of center, (and always will), but over the past couple of years I have really opened my eyes and realized that in the USA, virtually all of the racism, bigotry, hate speech, misrepresentations, bullying, narcissism, lack of empathy, abuses of power, support for fake victims, opposition to real victims, violence, criminality, attacks on free speech, insanely nutty ideas, and cult-like activity come from the Democratic Party and The Left in general. I’m shocked to realize that The Left in reality, bears so little resemblance to what I always thought it should be it should be. It’s time for The Left to look inwards upon itself, and try to completely change into a force that can make the world a better place, instead of the horrifyingly negative force it is now. I believe I am one of millions of traditionally left of center voters who have opened their eyes and in this election will vote for Donald Trump and the Republicans, in the hope that the Democrats/Left, while out of power, will see that they absolutely have to purge their many toxic components.

  167. Scott Says:

    AnonLeftyForTrump #166: The trouble is that historically, losing elections has been an incredibly unreliable way of teaching political parties how their policies need to change. A party is just as likely to conclude that it needs to double down even harder on its original policies (after all, those policies reflected divine truth, so it must just be a matter of explaining them more to the ignorant, right? 🙂 ). Or it might change its policies in the opposite direction from how you think they should be changed, to capture a different set of voters.

    Indeed, it seems to me like one could argue as follows with just as much plausibility: “it’s only because the progressive half of the country is under constant threat of losing power, that parts of it have developed a thermonuclear hostility to any progressive who they see, rightly or wrongly, as ‘aiding the other side’—why the slightest deviation from the approved ideology can make you an ‘apologist for rape culture’ or something else even worse than a Republican. Only when progressives feel more secure in their power, is there any chance that they’ll listen sympathetically to the victims of social-justice bullying.”

    Again, I don’t really believe this, but it seems just as plausible as the opposite idea, that losing power is the way to make them change.

  168. BPP = NEXP Says:

    Speaking of Nader trading, Ralph seems to have a very similar take as yours on the Trump phenomenon. He also has the courage (which is rare these days for those on the left) to point the finger of blame at the out of control politically correct crybullies:

  169. Scott Says:

    BPP = NEXP #168: Thanks for that interesting link! I’m glad that Ralph Nader now has such a keen understanding of the ability of the left to sabotage its own goals. I wish he’d shown the same understanding back in 2000—it could’ve saved us from Bush.

  170. Regan Says:

    How about this:

    Problem: low voter turnout in anti-trump populations, due in part to logistics.

    Solution: Using our new cultural comfort with ride sharing services, we organize motivated voters/activists with cars to ferry swing state populations which are largely anti-trump {e.g. Latino, Hispanic, or Muslim} to the polls.

    Poll shuttles are ageless, but they’re blunt instruments: those who need rides have to know where to find the shuttles, and have to overcome inertia to *get* to the shuttle.

    Instead, they could summon a ride to wherever they live or work. For bonus points, the driver would make sure they get to the right polling place {in case they haven’t re-registered after an in-state move} and that they remember to grab everything they might be legally required to have in order to cast a ballot {appropriate ID, tiny american flag pins, etc}. The ability to enter a home address and receive the the location of the correct polling place should be native to the platform.

    Ideally, volunteer drivers would be able to sign up simply and quickly.

    Of course, the efficacy of this idea is proportional to how widely it’s adopted, which is a non-trivial task in itself. As a less-good alternative, maybe a company like lyft which is always offering coupons would be willing to do some kind of promotion: free rides to polls. The trade off there is that it’s not targeted.

    —One idea from a fellow Cantabrigian.

  171. Regan Says:

    After rejiggering my search terms to filter results relating to Austin’s vote on ride sharing, I found this.

    That app, and the others I could find, don’t have the same simple “summoning” interface; they all require at least some coordination with a stranger, which is a lot to ask of an unlikely voter. It’s gotta be effortless.

    Anyway! Good blog; thanks for your thoughts on this, and for whatever energies you wind up devoting. I’ve been seriously considering asking my PI for a leave to do my part in banishing Trump to his home dimension. It’s encouraging to be reminded that others are taking this just as seriously.

  172. Vitruvius Says:

    Donald Trump has a Bachelor of Science degree. Hillary Clinton has a Law degree. So does Barack Obama. H. L. Mencken said, “All the extravagance and incompetence of our present government is due, in the main, to lawyers. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizen has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a Mahjong factory, we’d all be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half.”

  173. TrumpSupporter Says:

    What, exactly, is it that you’re afraid will happen if Trump becomes president? A clearly articulated response to this question would be the first step to change my vote in the general election. Because thus far it seems like the primary objection to Trump is that he inspires moral indignation.

    Like for example, you don’t actually believe Trump is gonna drop nukes in Syria on a whim, do you? If not, then point 5 seems to be a form of virtue signaling. In all honesty, the purpose of this whole post seems to be virtue signaling – you admit as much in the fifth paragraph. This is a common theme in articles that talk about why Trump will be a disaster. The goal of the author is usually to telegraph what a good humanistic politically correct liberal they are, and have a nice worldview circlejerk.

    You’re right that many people support Trump because he’s the joker flipping off the teacher – but the main objection to Trump seems to be the same thing, that he’s a big ole meanie hurting people’s feelings.

    The only objections you raise that seem to be serious, valid, and important are 7 and 10. 7 is not a deal breaker to me, and while Trump won’t be good for the environment, I’m not convinced his actions as president will affect the environment that much.

  174. Scott Says:

    Vitruvius #172: You can’t be serious. To whatever extent Trump has demonstrated expertise in anything, that thing mainly involves manipulating zoning, bankruptcy, and other laws to his advantage, as well as backroom deals and PR. In that respect, he seems much more similar to a lawyer than to someone who builds or invents something.

  175. Scott Says:

    TrumpSupporter #173: I’m glad that you’re open at least in principle to changing your vote.

    Here’s an analogy. I felt certain in 2000 that Bush would be a disaster for the world. Yet if you’d asked me: “what exactly is the bad thing you expect will happen?,” I couldn’t have said. Could I have predicted the war in Iraq, the failure to prevent 9/11 or the subprime mortgage crisis, or the horrendous (non-)response to Hurricane Katrina? All I knew was that Bush talked like a malignant idiot and thought like a malignant idiot, like someone who had no business making decisions for a car-wash, let alone for the US.

    “Aha!” you could’ve responded. “Then you’re just virtue-signaling. Your issue is merely that Bush doesn’t talk like any of the ‘smart’ people you respect, not that electing him will actually have any horrible consequences.”

    And yet electing him did have horrible consequences. There was, it turned out, a tight connection between the way he talked, the way he thought, and the way he acted.

    In the same way, I don’t know precisely what Trump would do that would be awful (though trying to implement his stated policies would be a start). I do know that he comes across like something between a con-man and an unhinged would-be dictator.

  176. Wellwisher Says:

    @Scott #173
    This is a clear error which is I guess a known “bias”.

    You are leaning in a particular direction and that is why you see the causality the way you see it. Take someone who leans right and he will see that it was Clinton who was long term destructive for pushing bank loans on to the poor and minorities and enabling finance with the ability to create smoke screens. A right leaning Economist “knows” the financial crisis of 2008 was seeded by Clinton who is widely viewed as having been a good President. Observe how “widely viewed as correct” generally ends up in the long term.

    A right leaning Sociologist (only a handful left) “knows” the current societal destructive tendencies of the Social Justice Warriors and Feminists were also seeded in the Clinton era.

    A right leaning Academic knows the current overwhelmingly one sided view inside Academia (Engineering may not be that one sided still) was seeded in the Clinton era.

    Any two of the above can lead to the eventual fall of a great nation.

    A Right leaning Philosopher “knows” a Clinton Presidency will begin an unstoppable fall of a once great Nation. With Trump that fall gets a chance to stop. A very small chance. But the excesses built up in the system get a chance to naturally heal. Because otherwise there will be blood eventually. That is the history of the world.

    I don’t know who is right or wrong but I am aware of the way I lean. All I can tell you is that the probability that your grand daughter could ask you Why did you not vote for Trump is about the same as the probability of the question you think your daughter will ask you.

  177. Richard Gaylord Says:

    why are you discussing american politics in your blog (and why is Hawking commenting on politics in a country other than his own?). as for your comment “Shtetl-Optimized about what’s already—regardless of what happens next—the most shocking US political development of my life.”, this only indicates that you’re young, not that it’s very shocking (or even significant – do you remember other recent unqualified modern presidential candidates like Ross Perot and George Wallace?). i’ve lived through a Presidential assassination 1963, a Presidential resignation 1974, a Vice-presidential resignation 1973, a Presidential impeachment 1998 (Nixon resigned before he could be impeached), a foreign war in Vietnam 1955-75 fought using a national draft (that i was caught up in) to provide the requisite bodies, the 1968 Chicago democrat convention. and if personal integrity is a criterion for being president, Hillary is probably as unqualified as The Donald to the same order of magnitude)

  178. Scott Says:

    Richard #177: I was born in 1981. So, the one other US political development of my lifetime that rivals this one in shockingness, is the contested election of 2000 and subsequent ascent to power of the astoundingly incompetent Bush (who still respected our system of government much more than Trump seems to). Ross Perot was also a clown, but he never had a serious chance of winning, only of helping Clinton win. The Lewinsky circus in 1998 was shocking at the time, but in retrospect seems kind of like a sideshow, except insofar as it helped facilitate Bush’s rise to power two years later.

    I agree that some of the events you mention, which my parents also lived through and told me all about but which I hadn’t shown up for yet, were at a similar or higher level of shockingness.

    I agree that Hillary and Trump both get pretty low scores on “personal integrity,” but that’s only one thing I look for in a president, and not the most important. A spineless operator who more-or-less respects our system of government is far preferable to someone who subjects the system to his will out of a sense of deep conviction.

  179. Jr Says:

    Trumpsupport #173, I genuinely think Trump might be a threat to American democracy. I think republican norms are too strong for him to simply proclaim himself president for life but I think he might use his executive powers to go easy on supporters who break the law, and harass critics. Most people have committed some type of crime and merely the power to investigate would be annoying. Imagine the IRS auditing Trump critics extra thoroughly. All of this would be illegal but it might not be easy to get an effective remedy.

    Or imagine he orders the extra-judicial arrest of people he thinks are annoying. Presidents as diverse as Bush and Lincoln have had people imprisoned without trial, so there some precedent. They at least used it for people who credibly could be said to be engaging in armed hostilities but who knows what Trump would try.

  180. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Richard Gaylord and others maintaining that Hillary is as bad as Trump are out to lunch.

    The bad side of Hillary is that she is a typical American politician, with the associated good and bad sides. But, typical American politicians have managed to develop by far the best country in the history of the world (before anyone wastes time bad rapping the USA, observe in which direction people are climbing over the fence).

    Trump is much worse than a loud mouth buffoon. His main attractions are:

    1. Defying “political correctness” by spouting racist and misogynist crap, providing a “thought leader” for dummies everywhere to do the same.

    2. Blaming various groups for everything wrong in people’s lives, and implying that he will “fix things”.

    3. ??

  181. jonathan Says:

    @Scott 174:

    I think you undersell Trump here a bit. I read his (admittedly self-serving) autobiography Art of the Deal, and if it is remotely accurate he has a pretty good understanding of how to develop and run high-end real-estate properties, including real understanding of construction, and vision for how the area/property will turn out. He also ran a large company, which involved all the normal things you expect from high-end management (networking, delegating, judging character in hiring, etc).

    Whether these skills are transferable to running a country is, of course, highly questionable. But then again, he seems to have as much relevant management experience as the current president, of whom you are a great fan.

    For some discussion of Art of the Deal from a mutually respected source, see Scott Al’s post:

  182. jonathan Says:

    @Garrett 160:

    I think your pointwise response to the specific concerns Scott lists misses the bigger picture here. Trump has shown an overall disregard for the norms that govern the office of president.

    For example, in isolation arguing that libel laws should be changed, or criticizing a judge (even accusing him of racial bias), are not so unusual. However, in this case it is clear that Trump is making these statements as a tool to beat people who personally oppose him. He wants to loosen libel laws not because he thinks this is a good policy, but as a way to threaten the media and scar them into giving him better coverage. He criticizes a judge, not out of genuine concern that he is biased, but to put political pressure on him to avoid personal loss and embarrassment from a lawsuit.

    Politicians have a lot of soft avenues of influence and power, and we have norms governing their behavior to prevent them from abusing this power.

    We also have norms governing what sorts of laws and policies are on the table. If you talk glibly about dramatic shifts in US policy (towards our alliances and policy on nuclear proliferation), or toss around half-formed ideas about illegal and deeply immoral actions (banning entry to the US based on religion — not just “anti-enlightenment” Muslims, mind you, but *all* Muslims — killing innocents because of the guilt of their family members, using nukes), you can create a great deal of uncertainty.

    Another problem is that the tone set at the top trickles down. When Trump talks about roughing up protesters, he is giving his supporters license to engage in all sorts of nastiness (whether in person, on social media, etc). When he talks about waterboarding, US troops in the field might feel more free to take extra liberties in interrogations. When he talks about abandoning our allies, some of them might be tempted to start exploring alternative relationships.

    So while most of Scott’s points could be *individually* rebutted or explained away, I think that the whole list paints a picture of a man who is hugely disruptive to existing norms of the presidency and the balance of power in this country. Sure, maybe it’s mostly bluster, persuasion, and negotiating tactics. But that’s a pretty big risk we run, when we’re talking about putting someone in charge of our country.

    What will he do? “Don’t worry, we don’t know what he *really* means!” isn’t very reassuring. If our best hope is that he doesn’t mean what he says, and will be completely unpredictable — well, is Hillary really *that* bad?

  183. JimV Says:

    Thanks for another excellent post.

    To add to your list, Trump has bragged that he would bring back torture as an official policy.

    What to do? Kevin Drum had a recent column judging all the various “scandals” fomented against HRC by conservatives as “nothingburgers”. Somehow the actual facts of all those “gates” needs to get disseminated widely because many people (such as my parents) have gotten video tapes in the mail presenting a biased view and asking for contributions to get the Clinton’s prosecuted. (My father sent the Falwell organization $1000 in response to their tape – which Jerry Falwell disavowed on camera in a “60 Minutes” report.) It’s probably too late now, but I’m thinking of a one-hour or two-hour documentary citing objective journalists and legal experts. It should also mention some of the pro-bono work HRC did defending black defendants early in her career, to balance some of the mistakes which the documentary would also have to cover. She’s far from perfect, like all of us, but is not person her enemies have portrayed her as.

    For example, as Kevin Drum pointed, out the genocide in Rwanda which occurred during the Clinton administration may have persuaded her that non-intervention can be worse than intervention, hence her support for the Iraq and Libya interventions.

  184. TrumpSupporter Says:

    Scott #175: You think if Al Gore or Clinton or Obama were president, 9/11 and the financial collapse would not have happened? Can you explain your thinking here? Gore may not have invaded Iraq if he were president, but Clinton certainly would have. (I would probably vote for Gore over Trump.)

    @Jr #179: I don’t mean to be rude, but some of the objections you raise seem to be the usual hysteria I keep hearing. Are you seriously worried that Trump will crown himself dictator of the US (if his Republican mores don’t get in the way)? That is essentially an impossibility. It’s like Scott’s concern that Trump is going to nuke Syria on a whim. These kinds of arguments make it difficult for Trump supporters to take arguments against Trump seriously. I’m not sure to what extent all these points from you, Scott, Terry Tao are serious. Moreover, to paraphrase Trump, Hillary is plenty crooked herself, and my impression of her is that her primary concern is clawing her way to the top, so what would stop her from doing these things?

    You give the somewhat more realistic example of “Imagine the IRS auditing Trump critics extra thoroughly.” The IRS has already been doing this, except disproportionately targeting conservatives ( Seems like a relatively minor issue and not worth affecting one’s choice of president, given all the other stuff going on in the world. If Trump sets up a gestapo to target his political enemies he will quickly be impeached. There are enough people in congress who dislike him already that this wouldn’t be difficult.

  185. Scott Says:

    TrumpSupporter #184:

      You think if Al Gore or Clinton or Obama were president, 9/11 and the financial collapse would not have happened?

    I don’t know, but I think there’s at least a non-negligible probability that they wouldn’t have. There were many opportunities to stop both; they both had a significant aspect of the president, and people who the president appointed, being asleep at the wheel. (During the entirety of the Clinton and Obama administrations, I count 0 calamities on American soil that were anywhere near as shocking as 9/11, the financial collapse, or the Katrina non-response.)

    Incidentally, no, I don’t think the fact that Clinton voted for the Iraq war implies that she would’ve pushed for it herself as president (and if she had, she’d likely have handled it more competently—it would be hard for the occupation planning to have been less competent). For Bush, as far as anyone knows, it might really have just come down to the fact that Saddam tried to kill his father.

  186. Shane Says:

    Scott, Thanks for putting the subject of Presidential politics into play here. I would like to use this forum to amplify, and give color to some of the other comments already put forth.

    Identifying the many short comings of Trump is, while your comments are not entirely wrong, unhelpful, or well motivated is to some degree, the easy part. The more interesting question is why? Trump is a symptom of a much larger problem in US politics. As an engineer reminded me for example, about change management in corporations relative to subpar products, services, quality, and feasibility in the market, going after problems without understanding the context and system in which they arise almost never works and often leads to distortion.

    The larger problems in the US are, going from the more prevalent and tactical to strategic are,

    1) Media, especially in TV and radio, more and more work off the same song sheet as Trump: gossip, inflammatory remarks, name calling, creating suspicion, and creating scandal. Trump knows this and plays the media well. Why? The payoff is clear: he gets media time.

    2) Media is part of the red v. blue; the them vs. us mentality which goes to increasing and amplifying silo-ed partisanship. For example recent Federal rulings against Obama care are often written up as political wins for Republicans: see? Look the GOP got payback for the sissy, mealy mouthed, jelly fished Democrats and progressives who spend other people’s (tax) money to get political access to anybody who would vote for them. What’s really at is issue is US healthcare. Filing for bankruptcy because of medical bills is typical. I have a special needs son and have plenty of experience with medical costs and the medical establishment. I also have a son of good health who just needs regular things. Those with money manage. Those that don’t get worse off. However, too many reports avoid those difficult issues. The larger issue is that the pharm industry, doctors, and medical establishments do not have pricing pressure signals such that when costs go stupid they loose customers, profit, and market. And that’s because payment, true costs, and cost variability (which, like US education) is legion throughout the US are hidden from the consumer largely behind insurance. I work in STEM: we help the world by inventing products, manufacturing procedures, and services, that get better with time. US healthcare (and education) gets worse insofar as it costs more and more to stay even. And on the most routine things — vaccinations, emergency care, delivering babies, and so on — the cash we spend is subpar relative to the OCED. It’s mismanaged to put it politely.

    3) The misplaced emphasis on Presidential power and elections. We Americans use it to vent. It’s not that the President isn’t powerful or is useless. I don’t think that. It’s that all but one of the most serious problems in the US are not substantially about the President. The main problems are with the US Congress. Whether it’s debt, current account deficit, social security feasibility from 2020+, border control funding and laws, immigration law, gun laws, gerrymandering, trade deals, inability to be present in DC to work, inability to rein in lobbyists, the fact that politicians spend too much time raising money, just routine funding of the Federal government by passing bills, our rating on the debt, simplifying the tax code both having competitive corporate tax rates whilst ensuring corporations pay their fair share, the US Congress has no record here. No wonder that Obama has a 50% approval rating and the US Congress is under 10%. While the President can throw red meat to his/her constituents, these items are first and foremost in scope for the legislative branch. It’s so bad now that the US Congress and those like Hilary associated with the establishment crowd have no, none, zero credibility.

    4) Too many voters don’t. That follows from (3).

    5) The one area the President should focus on is prosecution for JUSTICE not payback and political point scoring. STEM, unlike white collar finance, is able to make money and progress without having the FBI, SEC, CFTC and attorney generals babysit them 24x7x365. The fact that legions of companies got off with only fines and no jail time, got bailouts (and even then whine about inability to retain talent with bonus pools), got access to special discount windows is an absolute travesty. Here again establishment politicians who are associated with the K street lobby crowd have been so far up in their insulated bubble, they failed to see just how PO’d America is. That’s why Berrnie and Trump are a surprise. I fully agree with Obama who fired his AG – the idea that banks can’t be sued or that white collar crime can’t put you in jail is a joke. But those how are in-the-power, don’t want this changed. See here for how blithely one market player wants to keep things the same:
    The person being interviewed there strikes me as part of what’s wrong with the US: insulated, lazy, secure, and doesn’t want the boat rocked. Ditto for police abuse eg. Chicago, Baltimore.

    6) Trade deals and immigration: I believe immigration is good for the US. Period. As long as you got here “right”, you’re in. I don’t need to know, and will not ask about your protected status. I do insist you (same for me) follow the law and are equal under the law. That’s all. However, globalism and the outflow of manufacturing has gone too far. Democrats and progressives rarely use money in their arguments. But for example, they do when it comes here. For example, watch Eleanor Clift on the Mclaughin Group. She often uses money as a conceit to fool the other side thinking we’re like Pavlov dogs. There’s money to be saved or gotten? Let’s do that. She points out that cheap labor keeps costs down. Made in China keeps costs down. But this is America, right? In America while money is important, money is not the measurement of all things, right? American worker security has been weakened through handouts to corporations and globalism. It’s gone too far. The pendulum needs to return to a more neutral point where by, through better deals, better tax structure America needs to prioritize manufacturing in the US. For me and my family, buying Made-in-China/India/Pakistan cheap clothes, cheap pencils, backpacks, or phone chargers is longer the main point.

    7) The American two party system is good at absorbing and co-opting what they see as runaway politicians. Hence the focus on lobbyists and campaign reform.

    8) Trump phrased it somewhat sloppily, but the idea that NATO partners don’t carry their fare share is hardly a new idea or complaint. The US is TOO ready to say YES to war. The NATO partners are TOO willing to let the US do the heavy lifting. I recall reports from the “Economist” in which the French ran out of ammunition during a NATO exercise. Not only has US meddling in the Middle East cost trillions of dollars, it doesn’t work. US Presidents have been blabbing on about a strong dollar and energy independence going back to Nixon over state-of-nation speechs. But they don’t do it. Here, Cruz/Trump is right and Clinton is wrong: when push comes to shove, and shove comes to push the US must chose regional stability over human rights in the Middle East. Because otherwise it makes the US net-weaker, and the Middle East net-less-stable. We need more US Presidents going the Middle East (ME) with a tear-down-that-wall-speech and less bombs. Frankly, unless the US willing to make a ME territory a wholly owned, governed, and run part of the US the US will not be able to force that part of the world to separate religion from government, to increase human rights, to get stability, and give rights to say, women, to drive a car all by themselves. Trump is right because the idea is right: actual energy independence from the ME and less direct military involvement is net-better. Of course, individuals will suffer there, but that whole regions is WAY overdue for a reformation. They whine about the West all the time, but the East doesn’t even follow its own ancient wisdom. Re-read the Orestia if you have any doubts.

    All of these points have a thread in common: there is a palpable sense of inequity, and sense that what used to work no longer does. But the establishment is not only too insulated to see this, it has too much to loose in making the change. Obama has all the favorability, none of the weakness of Clinton or Trump, and even he found changing DC is tough. The worst thing that can happen in the next US election is for the US President to be at an impasse with the US Congress. For me, the most important question is: besides prosecution which the President can do within his/her own sphere of constitution power, who can help best to fix the problems in the US Congress by working hand in hand. Bernie is too idealistic. Clinton will polarize the Tea Party. For me I will be spending more time to see who is running for the US Congress and voting in responsible parties.

  187. Raoul Ohio Says:

    #184 and #185:

    Obviously no one can know what would have happened, but the Republican tradition of putting simple minded ideologues in charge of things certainly did not help.

    An all time worst example is postwar Iraq. It is quite possible that Iraq could have become the shining example of a Middle East democracy once Saddam was out of the way. Bumbling mismanagement by neocon hacks turned everything to crap in short order.

    You can’t entirely blame Bush for this all, he is probably not smart enough to realize what was happening. Most likely, Chaney got his minions put in charge so they could scam oil deals, but total ignorance of how things work in Iraq doomed everything.

  188. Shane Says:

    I my previous point I glossed over some things, and gave too much emphasis to one item.

    1) TYPO (correction in capitals): For me and my family, buying Made-in-China/India/Pakistan cheap clothes, cheap pencils, backpacks, or phone chargers is NO longer the main point.

    2) Foreign Policy is of course the second area of focus for the President in this election. I should have written two, not one. But even here the US Congress has been too passive at letting the US President exercise the military without constraint. It’s a wink-and-nod scenario. And all US wars have to be authorized by the US Congress. So with this point in mind, I still assign the greater blame to reckless foreign policy with the Congress: our representatives voted for it. That’s a problem.

    3) “Bernie is too idealistic” meaning he has no how to match the what. While he had his own problems, Newt was a good example on what it looks like to have a plan.

    4) “Clinton will polarize the Tea Party”: the Tea Party is a whole special problem by itself, and is big reason the US Congress is a problem. But that needs to be solved by the Speaker of the House, and voting the can’t-do-anything-but-pout-people out. The Presidential candidates can’t directly fix this. Had the Tea party put forth a MESSAGE of inclusion AND competent fiscal policy I would support them. But they didn’t. For example, remaking the market boundaries, conditioning Federal money so that it’s pay-for-quality-not-pay-for-activity, getting discounts on drugs at the Fed level, would help everybody in Healthcare. But, again, all they did was whine about Obama and Obama care. It’s obvious they have no message or intellect for a message.

    5) I will put skin in this game: I typically vote Republican, but have been trending Democrat as I get older. I do not now nor have I ever put on the go-team-go-cheer-leading outfit for the GOP. Hardly. The GOP has got big problems. The Dems have them too; they are just harder to see right now. But if Clinton could show she understands just how much she’s willing to be a value add in facilitating the fixes I identified above in legislation by co-leading then, it’d be an easy decision: Clinton to win. It’s like this: the American President is best identified as the point person that American’s look to … however, in this case, that point person needs to be clear they have a deft, clear, and agreed-to plan to work with the US Congress. And to make that work, the US Congress needs to grow up bigtime too. It’s pointless to think Clinton anymore than Obama can fix the structural problems that are mostly about the US Congress from the WhiteHouse.

    We need a government in which the two branches work together. I don’t see that from Trump so far in addition to his own reckless words. The only reason Ryan signed on was because it was the least damaging move he could make. Telling the GOP voters (the few of them that actually voted) to jump in the lake seemed too far to go. The sad truth is America may need to get net worse for one more four-year period before we get serious.

  189. BPP = NEXP Says:

    I’ve read many popular accounts of Kurt Godel having been dissuaded by Einstein during his citizenship hearing from expounding on a logical loophole in the US constitution that would allow for a legal dictatorship, but neither these accounts nor Wikipedia mention what Godel thought he found. Do any readers here know what it was, or is this a detail that’s been lost to history?

  190. Australia’s Censorship of Science | Exploring The Unexplored Says:

    […] that it is about time that people publicly stand up against Trump. Similarly, computer scientist Scott Aaronson and John Baez  have written posts on the serious dilemma humanity faces with Trump’s […]

  191. Richard Gaylord Says:

    “Bush (who still respected our system of government much more than Trump seems to)”. your blog is not the best place to discuss america politics (personally, as a radical libertarian – free market anarchist – i rejected the use of any government funds for my own research which wasn’t very difficult to do because of its theoretical rather than experimental nature), i despise ANY and ALL politicians but i do want to note that Obama has done more damage to the essential nature of our government than Bush (or was it Cheney?) ever did. Obama’s extraordinary use of executive order, undercuts the fundamental separation of powers that underlies the control of our various government components. i’m not blaming Obama for doing it in order to overcome the deliberate unwillingness to the other two branches, especially the legislative branch, to carry out their responsibilities, but we have already heard Hillary publicly state that she will use executive orders to bypass congress (is that what she means when she says that she knows how to get things done?) and it is only the separation of powers that can save us from the lunacies and idiocies of Trump’s stated plans should that jerk become president. i’m just hoping that the ultimate destruction of the greatest experiment in government and personal freedom will not occur in my lifetime. watching this political catastrophe unfold is nearly as depressing to me as observing the physics community seriously discuss the metaphysically nonsensical idea (lunacy) of the multiverse (is Deutsch being serious when he asks ‘where’ are quantum computations taking place and what the heck is his so-called constructor theory even about?).

  192. Scott Says:

    BPP = NEXP #189: That’s an excellent question (I don’t mean whether BPP=NEXP, I mean what “loophole” Gödel found in the Constitution).

    Here’s Morgenstern’s written account of the incident, which is the closest history is probably ever going to get and which unfortunately provides no details about the loophole. You can read speculation about it here or here or here among other places.

    The leading contenders seem to be:

    – The constitutional amendment process

    – The President’s ability to suspend normal constitutional protections in wartime

    – The commerce clause, which lets the federal government do almost anything it wants by declaring it relevant to regulating interstate commerce (indeed, that’s been the main justification that the courts have used to allow the dramatic expansion of the federal government in the 20th century)

    Alas, all three proposals seem to me to have the drawback of being way too obvious.

  193. George Says:

    I really cannot understand why ultraclever people like Hawking, Tao, Aaronson, 13 nobel laureates and others are so concerned about Trump becoming a president. So lets make a poll:

    -Why prominent scientists are taking sides in this presidential election?

    A) Because #113 in US billionaires list Trump is incompetent?

    B) Because Trump will go to schools and give guns to young children in order to defend themselves against bad guys?

    C) Because Trump will put illegal immigrants, muslims and gays into concentration camps?

    D) Because Wall street will collapse in order for the real estate balloon to go stratospheric?

    E) Because Trump will close universities and fire all prominent scientists because they spread evil to the ‘peoples’?

    F) Because Trump is a bloody communist?

    G) Because all scientists work for the petroleum and defense lobby and want Hillary for president?

    H) Because Hllary’s lobby gives more money for research?

    I) Because Hillary has greater probability to become a president and todays ‘political correctness’ will pay off better in the future?

    J) Because they didn’t like ‘The Apprentice’ show?

    K) Other? (please feel free to add to the list…)

    I vote for J…

  194. Michael P Says:

    BPP = NEXP #189 & Scott # 192,
    I don’t know the details of Godel’s findings, but would like to add a bit to speculations. 🙂
    I think there is indeed a way for legal assumption of power by one of the branches of the government, bordering on dictatorship, but the branch is judicial rather than executive. We have seen dramatic increase of judicial power throughout decades, including a perfectly legal assumption of legislature (just declare whatever law the Congress tries to pass “unconstitutional”), executive (any judge can order immediate and unlimited imprisonment for “contempt of court”), in 2000 Supreme Court decided presidential elections, etc etc etc. Given the widespread practice in US of courts definng laws by precedent and SCOTUS power to declare anthing at all constitutional or unconstitutional, the Supreme Court might as well, purely theoretically of course, legally assume dicatorial power.

  195. Jr Says:

    Michael #194 The president appoints the military bosses who report to him. He has a much easier job to assume dictatorial power than anyone else. I think there is a suggestion in the political science literature that presidential systems are more prone to dictatorship than parliamentary ones. The US has never come close to becoming a one-man dictatorship (whatever other democratic deficits you may find) but many other countries with presidential systems have had fragile democracies. (For example in Latin America.)

    Scott #192: I suspect that if Gödel had had some amazing or even quirky insight that would have been preserved as part of the story. That it was not suggests it was a boring, obvious one. I suspect the amendment process. The commerce clause merely makes the federal level more powerful than intended, without threatening democracy (I suppose you could argue that turning 50 states into dictatorships is more difficult than one federation but that seems rather an indirect connection). The president’s emergency powers are mostly implied or extra-textual and I am not sure anyone would be lead to consider them by reading the text. The amendment process is an obvious potential risk however.

  196. Says:

    “I felt certain in 2000 that Bush would be a disaster for the world. Yet if you’d asked me: “what exactly is the bad thing you expect will happen?,” I couldn’t have said.

    And yet electing him did have horrible consequences. There was, it turned out, a tight connection between the way he talked, the way he thought, and the way he acted.”

    In my opinion, this is the strongest argument I’ve heard made against a Trump presidency. Very eloquent – I wish this was the totality of your original post, Scott.

    At extreme moments in history, the president is uniquely positioned to influence events. Off the top, consider isolationism vs. involvement in WW2, abolition, desegregation, 9/11.

    Not all presidents have faced such monumental decision points. But when they arise, we want the best possible person at the steering wheel.

    So it’s not about predicting the future and stating “Donald Trump is unqualified because he will commit action X upon being elected”.

    Rather, people should ask themselves something along the lines of: “Would I rather have Donald or Hillary making decisions during an event similar to the Cuban missile crisis?”

  197. Jr Says:

    By the way, Scott, I retract the suggestion that you are “devoted” to the constitution. I was reacting to what I see as a common tendency of American political debate, and as I perceived it found in points 1 and 3 of your list, to refer to the constitution rather than directly to the political principles one wants to protect. In Sweden one might profess ones support for free speech but one would do so directly most likely, not refer to article 10 of the ECHR or the Freedom of the Press Act. I see that as more honest, since most people care about the actual policy, not what the best interpretation of a legal document might be.

    I am reading now about the tragic news from Orlando. I don’t want to seem insensitive, but it is clear that it might have political impact. Trump might try to exploit the tragedy but the counter-argument must be that it shows the dangers of homophobia and other bigotry, which can hardly help Trump.

  198. szopen Says:

  199. jonathan Says:

    I haven’t looked into the matter closely, but Stephen Hawking writes (in “God Created the Integers”), that Godel’s concern was with the president’s power of recess appointments. He gives Morgenstern as the source for this.

  200. Michael Murden Says:

    Just curious… Does it matter to the respondents to this post whether rising wages in the places that are taking U. S. manufacturing jobs is a net plus for worldwide human happiness and well being?

    And if free movement of goods and free movement of capital is good economic policy, why would free movement of labor not be good economic policy?

    Might it not be the case that the prosperity the U. S. enjoyed from the end of World War Two to the oil shocks of the 1970s might be the anomaly?

    Regarding identity politics, why was it okay to enslave African-Americans and deny women basic rights? Because of identity politics. I think that once you introduce identity politics you can’t un-introduce them. To complain about political correctness, social justice warriors and the like is to ignore history. People who were at any one time in history persecuted for their group affiliations don’t forget that persecution. To ask African-Americans, Native Americans or women to renounce their hostility to and mistrust of white men is to ask them to pretend that the persecution never happened.

  201. anonymous Says:

    @adam #164
    yes, to say that Einstein was “advocating against the atomic bomb before it was dropped on Japan” is incorrect.

  202. keith Says:

    9/11 and the financial collapse would have happened under Clinton or Obama but the emotional response would have been far more mature. That’s a very big part of leadership. You’re looking for a father for the nation (or mother I suppose).

  203. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    Michael Murden (Comment #200). You and all the people who think like you, need to scream your message from every rooftop. You’ll drive millions of traditionally left of center voters to vote for Donald Trump.

  204. Ola Hoya Paranoia Says:

    1. Don’t conflate Internet “feminists/civil rights/[whatever] activists” with actual people. Internet political “discussions” have been nothing but echo chambers for PR sock puppets since 2003.

    2. I’m starting to think that three Ukrainian conspiracy theories are right: (a) Russia’s trying to incite a color revolution in America using the NED color revolution playbook; (b) Trump’s controlled by the FSB; and (c) the Oath Keepers are a Russian Fifth Column. The anti-Muslim/anti-feminist/anti-TPP/pro-nativism/GTFO-of-Pipelineistan combo is just a *bit* too convenient for Putin…

    3. I bet you an autographed copy of Death by Black Hole that Trump and/or Clinton will be forced out of the race after their conventions but before the November election.

    Furthermore, if #3 happens, I strongly suspect that (a) Christie will replace Trump, and/or (b) a Biden/Warren/Gore ticket will be chosen to replace Clinton. (Needless to say, Clinton will walk away with a sweetheart deal.)

  205. Jr Says:

    @Michael #200: I do not know any African Americans or Native Americans but I do know many women and none of them have any hostility or particular mistrust of white men. Social justice warriors more stir up a hostility that does not exist before, than react to a pre-existing one.

    I also don’t understand why mention white men in particular. Women, if we accept they have been oppressed by men, which I don’t, have been oppressed by plenty of men of other skin colors and white. Nearly all cultures have been male-dominated and western culture has not been the worst in its treatment of women.

    I also note that slavery of black Africans was very widespread in Muslim/Arab culture. Do you think African-Americans should mistrust Arab men?

    Finally, you are on dubious ground with your claim about enslavement. Slavery was a complicated institution, practiced in many cultures and not always based in any racial prejudice. The above mentioned Arab slave trade, which was as cruel in many ways as the Western one, was not motivated by racism. Many women were openly used as sex slaves and the children born of these unions were accepted, unlike the racist reaction to mixed-race offspring in America.

    Even for American slavery, it is more true to say that slavery caused racism, than the other way around. Originally slaves were taken from Africa because of practical reasons (there being willing sellers among African rulers) and religion (they were not Christian and thus could be enslaved). Only later did an elaborate racial ideology arise.

  206. Graham Says:

    @TrumpSupporter #184 – I don’t think anyone is saying he can simply “crown himself emperor.” But it’s not that hard to imagine paths he could take to become a dictator that people like Clinton could not. Trump is great at commanding a mob, and has no compunctions about encouraging them to use violence. He promised to use his money to legally defend his supporters who engaged in it. The notion of him having the power of a Presidential pardon is terrifying. I could easily see him wanting to pass legislation that would greatly expand executive power, and when Congress pushes back, he encourages his supporters to show up outside congress to “show support,” and if they get a little carried away, don’t worry, he can pardon them. Nobody else who was running can command that kind of fanatical support, except maybe Sanders, and he seems principled enough not to use it.

    Do you really think that this is not in Trump’s character? It’s not like the encouragement of mob violence is the first indication he’s given. He’s shown every sign of being this sort of person. He has a long history of abusing the legal system by filing frivolous but ruinously expensive lawsuits against people who say things he doesn’t like. Having him in office would give him freedom to actually write and pass laws to punish people who do it.

    I’m pretty cynical about politics, I think pretty much every politician would choose to become a dictator if they were unconstrained, but there are lots of systematic constraints that stop them. Trump is untethered to existing power structures in a way that no other politician has been. In the best case scenario, that could leave him free to pursue great policies that no other politician could touch, but we haven’t seen anything like that from him. No great policy suggestions, or indication that he has a grasp of policy at all. What we have seen from him are all the hallmarks of authoritarians, and in the worst case scenario, that’s exactly how we’ll see him behaving.

    To steal a thought experiment from Sam Harris, imagine you have a crystal ball that tells you what happened four years from now. It can’t tell you who was elected, just what happened. What you see is absolute catastrophe, would you bet that this means Clinton or Trump was elected?

  207. MattF Says:

    I’ll just mention one thing– Trump’s cruelty. I didn’t see that ‘feature’ of his political personality right away, but I think now that it explains part of his attraction. It’s ugly to say, but I think there’s a significant part of the Trump constituency that admires him because he’s cruel and gets away with it.

    Just consider his ‘plan’ to go after the families of suspected terrorists– explicitly, it’s ‘Do what I want or I’ll kill your mother’. So.

  208. Māris Ozols Says:

    The rise of Donald Trump is indeed very concerning. It is good to see high-profile scientists engaging with this issue and making their voices heard!

    Coincidentally, on the other side of the ocean a different kind of apocalypse is looming – the upcoming “Brexit” vote. This too has become serious enough for high-profile scientists to raise alarm! Here is a link to Tim Gowers’ post arguing for the case of “in”:

  209. Scott Says:

    Māris #208: I confess that I don’t have feelings about Brexit nearly as strong as my feelings about Trump. I.e., I’m not sure that either choice would be “apocalyptic,” and whatever feelings I have, they’re not strong enough for me to feel like telling the people of a faraway island what to do. 🙂

    Thanks very much for the link to Timothy Gowers’ post! As expected, he makes a very strong case for “in,” and I appreciate his laying the case out so clearly from his perspective.

    On the other hand, when I visited David Deutsch on my recent trip to Oxford, I learned that Deutsch is a strong Brexit supporter (something I could also have learned from Deutsch’s Twitter feed). Deutsch’s arguments appealed to the existence of something distinctive and individual-freedom-valuing in the British national character, the thing that enabled Britain to fight Nazism even while the rest of Europe succumbed to it (besides, of course, Britain being an island 🙂 ). Of course, that’s a perspective diametrically opposed to the unabashed internationalism of Timothy Gowers’ post (“I also have far more in common with a random European academic, say, than I do with a random inhabitant of the UK”). I guess I see something in both. So, uh … may the voters of Britain choose wisely!

  210. John SIdles Says:

    The condemnation of Trump’s embrace of abusive and cruel rhetoric (by Graham in #206 and Mattf in #207) extends to Trump’s notorious advocacy of torture as state policy.

    To many people (including me) public advocacy of torture is entirely disqualifying for any job that requires:

       • supreme command of the armed services
       • executive direction of the intelligence agencies
       • nominations to the Supreme Court
       • prosecutorial discretion and pardoning power
       • visits to the wounded at Walter Reed

    In Trump there is no shortfall of rationality, but rather a shortfall of empathy so profound that Trump himself is utterly unconscious of this shortfall.

    It is regrettable too, that the self-proclaimed “Party of Lincoln” should nominate a candidate who is so entirely unconscious of Lincoln’s General Order 100 (formally “Instructions for the government of armies of the United States in the field”, also known as “the Lieber Code”):

    Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another, and to God.

    Military necessity does not admit of cruelty, that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions. It does not admit of the use of poison in any way, nor of the wanton devastation of a district.

    It admits of deception, but disclaims acts of perfidy; and, in general, military necessity does not include any act of hostility which makes the return to peace unnecessarily difficult.

    Every officer of every US military service is instructed in Lincoln’s General Order 100 and its history; it is disqualifying that Donald Trump, or any other political leader who aspires to responsibility for military and intelligence oversight, should be so woefully, willfully, and arrogantly ignorant of it.

  211. Michael P Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Regarding your original post, the answer you can give to your daughter after Trump destroys this country: those who voted for Trump are just not the same demographics that you or Terry Tao or Stephen Hawkins or even Edward Witten could possibly reach. It looks like Trump voters are almost exclusively from the not-very-well-educated wing of Republican Party:

    If Trump supporters hear that the above mentioned academicians are warning against the dangers of electing Trump all they would say would be: “Scott who? Terry who? Stephen who? Edward who?”

    It seems they the best way to prevent Trump from winning is to gain support of popular football players, not scientists…

  212. Scott Says:

    Michael #211: Yes, my post itself made that same (obvious) point. That someone has a moral duty to say something, doesn’t imply that their saying something will convince many people!

    Of course, it’s not just scientists who’ve denounced Trump. From a few minutes of googling, here’s a very incomplete list of the celebrities who’ve done so, counting only ones who I’ve personally heard of, and excluding anyone who’s mostly known for politics or liberal activism:

    Chris Brown, Russell Simmons, Chrissy Teigen, Muhammad Ali (before he died), Stephen King, Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Samuel L. Jackson, Chelsea Handler, Cher, Ben Stiller, J. K. Rowling, George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp, Miley Cyrus, Louis C. K., Shakira, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Rosie O’Donnell, Bette Midler, Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin, Matt Damon, Neil Young, Tim Allen, Salma Hayek.

    Of course, none of them seem to have had a huge impact either! 🙂 (Or would Trump’s support be even greater without their denunciations? It seems rather doubtful…)

    I do note that Trump has done surprisingly well with sports stars (Mike Tyson, Tom Brady, etc). So maybe the issue is indeed that we need fewer denunciations from Hollywood, and more from the NFL and NASCAR?

  213. George Says:

    Scot #212: More and more people like Trump because they want change, they want real change. They want the good old ‘american dream’ back. They don’t want to work 10-15 hours a day just to pay their loans and eat a plate of food. They want the present inequality to end. Trump is clear and understandable in his speech as he addresses those problems. His words might seem simple and crude but that’s what the people like to hear.

    The question is still:
    Why scientists “denounce” Trump. What change will bring to their lives? You are 1 in a million, maybe 1 in 10 million talents that you can work for 6 figures everywhere in the world, anytime you want. What is your (plural) problem with Trump? How much more he can f.k up things than the previous presidents?

  214. John Sidles Says:

    George (#213) describes scientists as “1 in a million”

    The US Census Bureau’s “Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: American Community Survey Reports” provides in “Table 4. Selected Characteristics by Employment in STEM Occupations: 2011” the following figures on aggregate US STEM employment:

        •  007,227,620  [STEM employed (direct)]
        •  007,829,769  [STEM-employed (related)]
        •  101,387,919  [non-STEM employed]
        •  116,445,308  [total]

    Thus the total number of STEM-employed (eligible) voters is about 15% of total employed (eligible) voters.

    Under the three plausible assumptions of (1) high voting rates for the STEM-employed cohort, and (2) pronounced aversion to Trumpian STEM-denialism, and (3) strong influence of STEM-professionals among family and friends, Fermi-estimate of the number of anti-Trump STEM-voters is 10-30  million.

    This anti-Trump STEM-voter cohort is comparable in size to the landslide victory margins of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton over (respectively) Landon, Stevenson, Goldwater, McGovern, Mondale, and Dole.

    Conclusion  The cohort of STEM-employed US voters — a cohort having good reason to “speak up early, speak up plainly, and speak up loudly” — numbers sufficiently many (if unified) as to ensure the defeat of Trumpian ideology in a landslide.

    Thanks are extended to Shtetl Optimized and many other STEM-related blogs, for speaking out early, plainly, and loudly, and for encouraging and enabling individual members of the STEM community to speak out early, plainly, and loudly.

  215. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    The Onion has a hilarious take on Hillary Clinton’s declaration of beliefs.

  216. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    Scott, I wonder if you could provide a range of font-sizes for commenters to highlight their views. I was considering some remarks on the topic “ILLEGAL immigration”, but realized I could get my point across better if only I could type “ILLEGAL” in the diameter-of-the-observable-universe font-size, and type “immigration” in the Planck-length font-size.

  217. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    Mathematicians might not have much to say about Trump but a mathematician’s uncle, Thorstein Veblen, might. In particular, Veblen’s discussion of the difference between prowess and diligence (in “Theory of the Leisure Class”) might be relevant.

    I suspect the basis of the Trump movement is the belief that success should only be based on prowess instead of diligence. All else is commentary. The Trumpkins resent foreign competition and immigration because they think of it as based on the unfair use of diligence by foreigners. They don’t trust the Establishment because they think of it as a fraudulent establishment by diligent people who have usurped the role of people of prowess. They especially dislike Ted Cruz for his use of diligence and lack of prowess.

  218. Elliott Says:

    Read Scott Adam’s blog posts about Trump. He and his campaign manager understand the science and art of persuasion.


    Presidential disqualifiers:
    1- Bush Jr, Obama, and Hillary and Bernie are all more against the 1st amendment than Trump. They are also against the 2nd amendment. Hillary is openly against both.

    2- So has Bush Jr, Obama, and Hillary.

    3- So has every economics expert.

    4- Obama forced the laws through congress that allow for a president to do that. Obama is responsible for the laws that are worse than the PATRIOT Act. Hillary is in favor of those laws.

    5- Yeah, okay. That’s a potential problem. Everyone else would has lied about it, though, so at least he’s being honest. There is no case where a political power has a weapon that it is 100% unwilling to use. We have nuclear defense because we’re willing to use them.

    6- Don’t care, not a problem. He’s good at negotiation and persuasion, so he’ll be able to make that work with said alliances.

    7- The debt is a huge problem. Confronting it directly is the only way it’ll ever stop being a problem. Bush Jr, Obama, and Hillary have all swept it under the rug, ensuring that it will get worse.

    8- Showing admiration for one’s enemies shows an understanding of how to play the complicated game of politics. It’s also strategist 101 to admire the successes of the enemy.

    9- Hillary and Bernie supporters have actually roughed up trump supporters while protesting trump rallies.

    10- Global warming exists. Carbon Dioxide control is a hoax invented by someone or a group of someones to increase control and taxes. Sure, he’s misidentifying the hoaxer, but he’s still right. It’s better to treat global warming as a hoax so that we can procure proper research records than to let the whole thing go on as it is. Most global warming research at this point is falsified, so it’s as close to a hoax as you can get without actually being a hoax.


    Proposals on how to defeat trump (of which you question):
    1- Not gonna happen. If it does, then all of the experts who are in favor of Trump will come out and publicly admit it. And the ability to influence others of those experts outweighs the ability to influence others of the experts who are against Trump.

    2- Trump isn’t using name-calling and childish antics, he’s using persuasion tactics. Which means he has by default already trumped name-calling and childish antics. So anyone who tries those against him will lose that game.

    3- He’ll win that too. The one thing Trump supporters universally like about trump is his willingness to speak. Trump supporters are in favor of free speech. All attempts at making him look foolhardy have thus far and will forever be his opponents demonstrating that they are unwilling to both speak and listen, and are thus against free speech.

    4- Trump sets the stage of who’s important. If Hillary debates someone else specifically to ignore Trump, she’ll be kicking herself out of the game, and she’ll look like a petty, sore loser for having done so.

    Now, if you want someone to actually beat trump, here’s how: Have someone on the democracy side be unafraid to speak. Never gonna happen, because Democrats have built an identity around not offending people.
    So far, every attempt by Trump’s competition to harm his character has demonstrated that they are inherently wrong on many levels, thus proving that Trump is a better option.


    RE: support as low as 20-30%. He wasn’t trying to win the presidential election. He was trying to win the Republican primaries. Now that he’s won the republican primaries, he’s gonna start trying to win the presidential elections. Probably around 30% will flip to supporting trump, because he’s good at negotiation and persuasion. Hillary’s support, on the other hand, will continue to fall, because she sucks at negotiation and persuasion. It’s not possible for Trump’s support to fall below ~10%, because those ~10% view free speech as the most important thing by far, and fear of offending someone as the most damaging influence on society by far. And that number is rising.

    Out of the republican and democratic presidential candidates, Trump is the only one who has a track record of being successful, and the only one who supports policies which have a track record of being successful. Sure, he supports risky policies too, but a mixed bag of success and failure is infinitely better than the guaranteed complete failure that is Hillary or Bernie’s policies.

    Between Hillary and Trump, Hillary has a track record of being disrespectful, while Trump has a track record of being respectful. This is even evidenced in this campaign, where it’s more disrespectful to avoid offending someone than it is to offend someone. Hillary playing the woman card is disrespectful to all women (treating them as if the only thing that matters about a woman is her gender, and dooming them to a life of never being respected for what they accomplish but instead only because they are a woman who accomplished what a man could have done), whereas Trump has only been disrespectful to his direct opponents, and Rosie O’Donnell.


    Let me put character politics another way. Trump controls who he is. If you attack his character, he either demonstrates strength of character or he changes. All other candidates have built up an identity to use as a mask. If you attack the identity, you can easily break it because it’s not who they really are. They have no character, they only have a front identity.

    You, personally, want one of the false identities to win against a human who has character. That ain’t gonna happen, and all attempts merely reveal the falsity of the identity and the realism of the character. You want me to vote for a false identity? I refuse, that’s why I hate US politics. That’s why I hate US news media. What I hate about anything is it’s false identity. I hate false identities because they are non-sustainable to the point that they literally always fail. And in the process of their failure, they harm every human in the vicinity. The one thing that is morally important to me is the thing that is most harmed by false identities.

    The people who support trump saw this pattern happen thousands of times in their life, with no counter-examples, and want it to stop happening.

    At this point, the majority of government law and policies and politics is designed purely to stave off the inevitable failure from adhering to false identities. That’s where our economy is at right now. That’s where our social structure is at right now. That’s even where a lot of our science is at right now. Trump is the only chance we have at reversing that. It is for that reason, and that reason only, that I endorse Trump. All other points are inconsequential.

  219. Anonymous Says:

    > Is there any way I could’ve blogged about my opposition to Trump that you wouldn’t have considered “hysterical”?

    Bit late to get back to this, but the hysterical part was where you acted like it’s highly likely that electing Trump will literally cause the apocalypse. I realize you were probably being humourous there, but much humour is really only a mild exaggeration of actual beliefs.

    (To me Trump seems at worst no more apocalyptic than Clinton, which may not be saying much…)

  220. Elliott Says:

    @MattF #207:
    Don’t forget that Obama is the one who forced the laws through congress that allow the president to do stuff like that.

  221. Anonymous Says:

    Also one other point is that everyone on the left keeps talking about Trump’s supposed encouraging of violence, etc. But from what I’ve seen on the news, there have been a lot more violent attacks *on* Trump supporters than *by* Trump supporters. To me this comes across as (paraphrasing elsewhere) “leftist violence is free speech, rightist free speech is violence”. This is another reason why I don’t think Clinton is safer than Trump.

  222. Elliott Says:

    @Scott #12: @Ely #10:
    Stop lying to your kids, and tell them the truth. Don’t act out of fear. Don’t act with a scarcity mentality. And then from that standpoint, tell the child a story of your own life where you, the parent, made the mistake of going after the “bad boy”.
    Kids can smell the lying from miles away. And if your understanding of the current situation is wrong, they’ll call you out on it. It is for this reason that parents are deathly afraid of telling the truth to their kids, because that means they’ll get truth in response.

    If you want to beat trump, that’s the only way. The problem is, your understanding of the situation is wrong.

  223. Elliott Says:

    @Jim Kukula #1:
    Remember when Obama said “Change” “Hope” and “Yes we can”?
    Did you not realize that those were used to emotionally manipulate the nation into following him like a cult leader?
    Remember when Obama’s state of the union address was the exact same as the first time?
    Did you vote for Obama? Because if so, you are clearly willing to vote for someone who demonstrated a willingness to manipulate millions of people for political gain.
    Do you reject Obama in the same way you now reject Trump? Because if so, then you’re racist according to Obama supporters, and you’re misogynist according to Hillary supporters.

  224. George Says:

    John Slides #214:
    “Shall we criticize Terry Tao — and now Scott Aaronson and increasingly many other prominent STEM professionals — for speaking up earlier and more plainly and more loudly”

    It is not criticism, it is good for prominent scientists to make their political opinions public. But, as scientists, they ought to justify what their say.

    Some do, in detail, like Aaronson in this post, but not most of them.

  225. Elliott Says:

    @Scott #8:
    Clint Curtis testifying in court that he did rig voting machines as a test, commissioned by a political group.

  226. jonas Says:

    @Scott: ok, here’s a more difficult question. There’ll be a referendum held in the United Kingdom about whether the country remains part of the European Union. If the people there vote on leaving the European Union, would that cause more trouble than if the people in the U. S. elect Trump as the president?

  227. Scott Says:

    Jonas #226: See #209.

  228. Rick Mayforth Says:

    Dr Arronson, let me begin by saying I identify myself as primarily libertarian and individualist as embodied in the US constitution. I believe that people have the right to be individually free to live however they please as long as they do not infringe on that same right of others. I also believe that progressivism equals societal poison, because the roots of progressivism are found in Marxist ideology that puts the collective ahead of the individual. When individuals are unimportant, abuse of individuals follows. We have seen this everywhere Marxist ideology has been employed. Progressives also believe that a small political elite should make decisions for everyone else rather than letting us make decisions for ourselves. That leads to the bloated, inefficient, spendthrift federal government that today stifles our economy. Progressivism started with Republican Theodore Roosevelt. Progressives are found in both major political parties. They are bad wherever they hold political power. Comments below reflect these views.

    Regarding Trump, in part I agree with you. I’m no fan of Trump, largely because of his history of progressive positions regardless of what he says today. Barack Obama lied his way into office in 2008. His record of broken campaign promises is well documented, and his progressive policies have done considerable damage to our economy. Hillary Clinton is lying about her personal corruption, and Trump may be as well about his actual positions. Either Clinton or Trump appear from their histories to be unethical, and Clinton has been repeatedly connected with actual criminal behavior. Trump has made many untrue statements during the campaign. But unlike Obama, Trump professes positive love for traditional America, which I see as the primary reason for his support (Scott Adams on his Dilbert blog offers an excellent analysis of Trump’s persuasive abilities). Many of us are tired of Obama’s constant apologies and dismissal of American exceptionalism. Trump says he will change that. Nevertheless, as the presidential race stands, we simply have no good choices.

    About your 10 points, I have a few rejoinders. I take no issue with your points except as noted below.

    1-The progressive left shows far worse contempt for the 1st amendment than Trump ever has. Consider all the activists on campuses shouting down or refusing even to let “conservative” speakers express their ideas. Obama, Clinton, et. al. in pushing the “religion of peace” and Islamophobia narratives are letting the Muslim Brotherhood stealthily implement sharia law in the US. Sharia defines slander as a statement that offends the target, even if the statement is true. That is a clear denial of free speech, yet the progressive left kowtows to the Muslims. A point against Trump here – when Pamela Geller held a Draw Muhammad contest in Dallas, Trump blamed her for inciting violence. In fact, she was expressing her right to free speech. It was a pair of Muslims that incited violence. They were killed for their troublemaking, and justly so.

    3-Actually the president does have the right to declare persona non grata regarding foreign nationals in time of national emergency. Since the root of virtually all terror attacks in recent years are by Islamists, a president would be completely correct to institute some sort of ban, such as Muslims from Syria or other violent areas until Congress passes a strong vetting process into law.

    5-I see no problem using nuclear weapons in battle if the end result achieves our victory. After all, the difference between conventional and nuclear bombs is a matter of degree. Consider the WWII firebombing of Dresden. A nuke would simply have been more efficient. And, we already crossed the line 70 years ago. Clearly, a president would need to decide about the geopolitical consequences of using nukes, but I doubt President Trump would be able to press the button by himself.

    10-Trump apparently understands that the science regarding climate has been corrupted by politics. I recognize you disagree, but believe that is from a lack of due diligence on your part.

    I offer one more comment on your statements about hate crimes. Individuals should be held accountable for their acts, not their thoughts. Proving hate requires guessing someone’s thoughts, a wholly subjective act. In my view there should be no hate crimes, only consequences for acts that physically harm others.

  229. Aula Says:

    Scott #185: I think there is a fallacy in your reasoning; you assume that preventing one event would have precluded all other events of the same kind. In the first case, you assume that if airport security had been improved enough to make the terrorists give up the idea of trying to ram large airplanes into large buildings, they would not have been able to make similarly devastating attacks, and in the second, that if tighter regulation had cured the subprime mortgage insanity, no one would have come up with equally idiotic investment schemes. I think both assumptions are quite simply wrong.

  230. Scott Says:

    Aula #229: By your logic, then, it’s not worth stopping any crime, since any time you do, the criminals will just come up with some other way to break the law. So we should dismantle the police forces, the FBI, etc.

    Once the logic is spelled out explicitly, it almost refutes itself, but in case a refutation is needed: while it’s true that criminals can sometimes come up with countermeasures, and that law enforcement should constantly be thinking about that, on the whole, the job of law enforcement is to make criminals’ goals harder to achieve! Which is very often worth doing (the criminals, after all, have only finite resources and ingenuity) even if one can’t make their goals impossible.

  231. Sandro Says:

    I’m disappointed that my comment #74 is still awaiting moderation. I didn’t say anything controversial or offensive, nor was I rude that I can see.

  232. Sandro Says:

    [progressivism is] less about stopping climate change, raising the minimum wage, or investing in public transit than simply about ruining the lives of Brendan Eich and Matt Taylor and Tim Hunt and Erika Christakis and Dongle Guy and Elevator Guy and anyone else who tells the wrong joke, wears the wrong shirt, or sends the wrong email.

    I wouldn’t even say “wrong” in most of those cases, I’d say “tactless”. You’d be hard-pressed to argue that we have a moral duty to not send such e-mails or not tell such jokes, ie. it’s a violation of etiquette not ethics. Which makes the shaming campaigns so much worse, because they amount to a thousand Mary Poppins chiding others for being rude couched in the language of ethics, and chiding everyone else for associating with such a rude person. The downside being, other people listen and lives get ruined.

    Scott #61:

    I actively prefer her policies over Sanders’, which I regard as well-intentioned but not very well thought-out.

    I’m surprised, because Bernie has been on the right side of history on every policy he’s stood behind. Hillary is the diametric opposite. She wanted the Iraq war, and she pressured Obama to get heavily involved again in Syria. She just seems dishonest, and a little too cavalier with military intervention.

    I totally agree with you that Bernie’s policies aren’t properly fleshed out, but that doesn’t entail his position is wrong. As president, he can really only champion certain causes, he mostly can’t push them through. But he’s shown an incredible ability to motivate the people, which I think is crucial to pushing a real progressive agenda that will address the problems America is facing.

    I’m disappointed that Bernie didn’t get enough support, but heartened that he’s still pushing right to the end in order to demonstrate that his policies have *enough* support from the people to pressure Hillary to make her policies more progressive.

    It might also be worth reminding ourselves that, in different circumstances, people would be positively excited about electing the first female president.

    There are far better candidates that would have generated exactly this excitement, even in current circumstances, like Elizabeth Warren. When “first female president” is the only reason to get excited for Hillary’s presidency, it’s not a promising sign.

  233. Scott Says:

    Sandro #231: Extremely sorry! I just missed your comment, that’s all. It’s here now (at the bottom, #232, so as not to mess up the numbering of all the other comments).

  234. jonas Says:

    Scott re #227: ah thanks. I’m sorry, I was trying to search for previous comments, but I missed #208 and #209 which don’t have keywords like “British”, “Kingdom”, “Union”, or “referendum”.

  235. adamt Says:

    Scott #230,

    I have seen this same logic used over and over to argue against gun control under the theory that laws are useless since only the law abiding will give them any heed.

    The other one I keep seeing is along the lines of, “If we can’t eliminate all gunman/terrorists from getting the tools we want we shouldn’t try at all.”

    I like to say these are akin to my two year olds telling me, “Why wipe our butt papa since they are only going to get dirty again!”

    Spelled out that way I also think these arguments are self-refuting, but time and time again I run into gun aficionados who fail to see the obvious errors. I hate to speculate on the filthy state of their assholes.

  236. Scott Says:

    adamt #235:

      I like to say these are akin to my two year olds telling me, “Why wipe our butt papa since they are only going to get dirty again!”

    LOL! Did you ever actually have a two-year-old tell you that? If so, that’s extremely advanced—Lily is 3.5, and only just starting to make up faux justifications for what she wants. (I’ve certainly used the same argument, not in that context, but in the context of cleaning up around the house, much to Dana’s chagrin.)

  237. Terete Says:

    Scott #209

    Very nicely put.

    You have used the the word “probability” more than all others in this thread, and isn’t that the main thing missing from the “worst-case-X vs worst-case-Y” discussion on both sides in both debates?

    As a conservative, I personally want to see a big enough upside opportunity before I’d vote for radical change with any significant downside risk (rather than just reaction to general dissatisfaction).

    My PDF on brexit gives: eurgh…but remain
    My PDF on US election: eurgh…but Clinton

  238. AdamT Says:

    Scott #236,

    Ok, you caught me. I think the two year old was more like an eight year old and it was my mother-in-law who gave the analogy, not me 🙂

    I further confess that I have been guilty of the same faulty logic. It appeals to lots of lazy people or people who just want an excuse for doing nothing.

    I think it should be called the Dirty Ass Fallacy henceforth.

  239. anonimous Says:

    > [progressivism is] less about stopping climate change, raising the minimum wage, or investing in public transit than simply about ruining the lives of Brendan Eich and Matt Taylor and Tim Hunt and Erika Christakis and Dongle Guy and Elevator Guy and anyone else who tells the wrong joke, wears the wrong shirt, or sends the wrong email

    I certainly feel that way. That is, that Hillary stands more for this foolish name-and-chaming, and campus policing, than for minimal wage and climate change.

    But, in the end, what if it was not so? What if she was an utilitarian’s best choice? Do we allow ourselves to always choose what is best for everyone, when other people are getting theirs by taking ours? When girls are getting their ‘safety’ at the expense of my free-speech?

    If so, we are quite easy to manipulate and despoil

  240. amy Says:

    Okay, I’ll mouth off first, read 3/4 of the comments later.

    One, on what Trump is:

    A long time ago I had a NYC fancy-prep-school boyfriend, and I used to go out with him and his friends. Just to pin down one end of the spectrum of “fancy prep school boys”: one of their classmates was Robert Chalmers, the Preppy Murderer. The rest of them, I’m happy to say, had better self-control, but common to all the kids I met in that circle was a complete lack of understanding that anything in the world was off-limits to them — except the things that violated their own group’s sense of internal manners. None of them had any sense of money’s meaning anything. All of them were wrapped up to some degree in competitive thing-having, including father-fame-having. Boorishness and arrogance were competitive sports. None of them had any acquaintance with actual poor people, but all had strong opinions on how to regulate their existence. Nearly all these kids were also radically boring. The interesting people in the families was usually the fathers, the ones who’d made the money…though as I got older I realized that these guys weren’t all that fantastically interesting, either. Good at making money, by whatever means. But once I could have the kids’ conversations before they’d actually spoken them out loud, I quit hanging around, and one of the reasons I didn’t marry that boyfriend was that I had no intention at all of going to whatever social events his friends were having.

    Donald Trump is, to me, immediately recognizable as one of these kids. I’m not at all surprised he went to Dartmouth; lots of those who crack a book now and then do, and they go on behaving the same way there. The hypertrophied entitlement, the treatment of words as meaningless outside their use as a tool to get something you want, the theatre of monied bloviation, it’s all part of the show.

    What little I’ve seen of these kids in middle age says to me that they develop at least some sense of self-deprecation, of learning not to take themselves seriously, although it’s still pretty warped; they’re happy to throw everyone else into the toilet along with themselves when they flip to shrugging and fuck-it-all, because they still don’t know what the toilet is. I don’t think this guy ever developed that sense. He’s fixed on the idea that he’s going to have this thing, the Presidential seal and all the boats and whatnot, and the rest of it’s a lot of baloney to him. In the dystopian world where he gets elected, he has no original thoughts and no coherent plan for anything beyond More and Fuck Those [String of Expletives].

    He’s not an interesting guy. He’s a fucked-up too-rich prep-school boy who has an abiding fantasy about being a mobster. He thinks it’s glamorous.

    As for his popularity: look, man, people are stupid. If you give them two words of a phrase they already enjoy they’ll assume you’ve said the rest. And they’ve been trained on reality shows for 15 years now. I was in a tiny minority in banning them from my house because (a) they’re hideous and (b) I was actually paying attention when I read A Separate Peace and Lord of the Flies and all those other nicely descriptive novels. (Also Stephen King’s short story that eventually turned into The Running Man.) But people eat this shit up, even people with college degrees and professional jobs, and you really don’t have to be a genius to serve it to them. Loud helps. They like loud. Lots of them are also incredibly bored by their own lives, and low-grade pissed about it most of the time, and maybe that’s the part that’s hardest for people like readers of this blog to understand. They want a loud show, some spectacle, something to break up the monotony. If it involves someone putting out some of the aggression they can’t afford to show, then hooray.

    If you want a nice too-smart view of how it works, watch A Face in the Crowd. Andy Griffiths said afterwards that he wouldn’t play any kind of a role like that again because it did real damage, turned him into a terrible person.

    Part of it — a large part, maybe — is that so few people are interested in the fact that President of the United States is a serious job. A real job. They don’t know or care what the job actually entails, and that’s the killer for Hillary. She’s got a hell of a cv, if it were an organization with professionals doing the hiring she’d do fine, but for some reason — and maybe this is the most damning thing about her candidacy — she’s chosen to turn her hiring over to millions of people people with the attention span of a plastic bag in a wind eddy.

    As for political correctness: In the hands of the sane the phrase means “being thoughtful and decent to people whose lives may be quite different from your own, and may be hurt by things that don’t hurt you at all, things you’ve never thought of before, or not thought about enough.” Are there disturbed idiots out there playing cop, sure. But I’m usually slow to condemn, because in the end things don’t change unless someone forces change, and among those someones are usually some pretty serious zealots. I am decidedly a beneficiary of past zealots’ work. It’s not precision work, the unintended consequences are wild, but I can’t fail to see that my own life and my daughter’s would have been much, much smaller, more difficult, and less happy without those crazies’ work.

  241. amy Says:

    Gah! Wharton, not Dartmouth. Sorry, Dartmouth on the brain tonight.

  242. amy Says:

    Daniel #52, about bubbles — I think this happens more often than people imagine, within families, or at work, or simply in friend groups. For me it happens distressingly often at work: my boss just thinks it’s amusing to test my reactions, and I don’t think she means any ill by it, but I certainly can’t speak freely in those conversations. And when there’s a friendship at stake people will, to some degree, hold back anyway.

    I do frequently find myself being quizzed by others, probingly, about my views, and I can’t say I know why. Often it seems they’re litmus-testing me; sometimes they’re trying to make up their minds about something. Sometimes it sounds like they’re trying to find teammates or recruits (“But don’t you think — “). In general, I find I’m happier if I don’t ask why people believe what they do; the answers are often depressingly banal or simpleminded, and I don’t have much of a poker face.

    I think maybe the thing you’re talking about works best if what you’re really after is understanding the person, rather than the stance. I once asked a guy why he was so wrapped up in Ayn Rand’s books, for instance, and he took the question seriously, and after thinking a bit said he just wanted to follow someone who was right. And it was true, he needed something, wasn’t a guy who’d see much point to leading himself. I asked another guy, a professor doing consulting work, whether he didn’t sometimes feel like a fraud, and he also took the question seriously, said he’d thought about that before, and then (waving at his bookshelf) said he realized he’d read all these, and the people he was consulting for hadn’t. I asked another guy, a former professor of French literature, why he was doing PR work for so ghastly an outfit as SHAPE (NATO hq in Europe), and he was distinctly nonplussed and talked about the fact that his children needed bedroom furniture. I used to get asked a lot whether I didn’t think I’d want to get married again, but the answers I gave were much more about me than they were about marriage.

    When people talk about the candidates they’ll vote for, or dislike, they’re telling their own stories, I think, about themselves. You can try to get representative about that — journalists do — but I don’t really know how meaningful that is. And I think that’s because we don’t really know these candidates well at all. I don’t, and I live in Iowa, where you see a lot more of these people than you do elsewhere, assuming you’re not a bajillionaire. We know the advertising, we can get a sense of the person in a room. But do I really know what motivates any of the candidates? No. All I know is something about the kind of people they are, which almost always boils down to the childhood worlds they came from. So the only thing left to talk about is yourself and what you find in that world-representative, what it’s got to do with you.

  243. amy Says:

    Sandro #232 – the 15-minutes-of-shame people you mention (Dongle Guy, Tim Hunt, etc.) weren’t attacked for etiquette breaches; they were attacked for contributing, from highly visible places or highly authoritative positions, to ongoing problems in STEM that drive women out. There’s nothing particularly mysterious, at this point, about the leaky pipeline, but thoughtless sexism, and indeed at times outright misogyny, remain perfectly acceptable in STEM — until it suddenly happens in public, outside STEM. This isn’t a matter of eating the salad with the fish fork or botching the speaker order on a panel. It’s about damage to people’s lives and careers.

    There’s a rule I have for yelling that makes no apparent sense to me. If a lot of people are yelling, and whatever they’re yelling about doesn’t seem to me a serious problem, I assume I’m wrong, and that I’m failing to understand what the problem actually is. And — assuming I’ve got time — I go and listen. Sometimes the actual problem’s one to which I’m just not sympathetic, but I assume that there’s a real problem, rather than vaporing or people “just wanting attention”.

    That doesn’t mean, incidentally, that all the people yelling understand or even care seriously about the problem.

  244. FedUpPleb Says:

    I think this anti-Trump hysteria is completely overblown. You can not like Trump, you can think he is an idiot/buffoon/clown/bully/blowhard/etc/etc. But I don’t think he’s such a massive deal that mathematicians worldwide need to stop what they are going and care about US politics as a matter of urgency (For the NSA maybe, not for Trump).

    Trump, ultimately is the electorate’s blowout, because they’ve been treated like crap for years. You can either let them have their blowout, or try to contain the explosion for four more years. Given that Trump is not _entirely_ unprecedented (Roosevelt I, Jackson?) I’d be inclined to let them blow off steam this time.

    TL;DR I’d take Trump now, over whatever might come later.

  245. DP Says:

    Amy #240: political correctness includes not only what you described.

    Let us consider “islamic terrorism” as an example. Obama said yesterday that we know who our enemies are, and we don’t gain anything by “naming” them. In this case, political correctness is about more than hurting people’s feelings, it’s a cover-up. Islamic terrorism in the form of Wahhabism sponsored by Saudi Arabia is the real enemy, and identifying it would make real difference. Imagine if the US were friends with Russia instead of Saudi Arabia. How would Saudi’s behave in that case? Would they think twice before sponsoring terrorism around the world? But, of course, having Russia as the enemy sells a lot of weapons, in particular, to our friend in Saudi Arabia.

    People made fun of Trump’s speech after Orlando massacre, and I admit it wasn’t his best (he should never use teleprompter). But when he said that relatives and friends always know, he was right. The wife knew, but did not tell.

    Hillary indeed has a nice resume on paper, but she also has complete lack of good judgement.

  246. Sandro Says:

    they were attacked for contributing, from highly visible places or highly authoritative positions, to ongoing problems in STEM that drive women out.

    Even assuming I accept that argument, what you describe is exactly a breach of etiquette, not ethics. Or do you believe we have a moral duty to not make people uncomfortable?

  247. John Sidles Says:

    Amy remarks  “When people talk about the candidates they’ll vote for, or dislike, they’re telling their own stories, I think, about themselves.”

    This fine observation (as it seems to me) applies to domains broader than politics. Meditations upon this topic include Colin McLarty’s “Hilbert on theology and its discontents: the origin myth of modern mathematics”, which is collected in Apostolos Doxiades’ (of Logicomix fame) and Barry Mazur’s Circles Disturbed: the Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative (Princeton University Press, 2012). An algorithm-centric counterpoint is supplied by Sherry Turkle’s STEM history-centric (and wittily titled) essay collection Simulation and Its Discontents (MIT Press, 2009).

    It was the evolutionary sociobiologist Ed Wilson who famously remarked “The history of philosophy when boiled down consists mostly of failed models of the brain”. A natural corollary, which is grounded similarly in volutionary sociobiology and neuroscience, is that “the history of libertarian rationalism when boiled down consists mostly of empathy denial”.

    This corollary very naturally accounts for the otherwise surprising levels of support that Trump’s grotesquely unempathic worldview is receiving from the more empathically retrograde circles of libertarian rationalism.

    A converse exercise (that has been illuminating to me) is to systematically survey all of the articles (to date) in the Simons Foundations’ Quanta Magazine: Illuminating Science — in all four of Quanta’s focus areas of physics, mathematics, computer science, and biology — in light of the integrative question “What is this research saying about human empathic capacities and practices?”

    This exercise assists greatly assists appreciation of the essential unity of Quanta articles as superficially disparate as the biology-centric “New evidence for the necessity of loneliness” and the mathematics-centric “A life inspired by an unexpected genius”.

    Needless to say, not everyone agrees that empathic narratives, norms and practices are becoming central (or should become central) to the STEM community’s understanding of itself. However it is inarguable that the literature of STEM-empathic studies is substantial, vigorous, and growing.

    The growing appreciation within the STEM community of the multiple crucial roles of empathy in STEM-practices — an appreciation that is partly implicit and unconscious, and yet increasingly is explicit and conscious — accounts (as it seems to me) for a considerable portion of the Trump-revulsion that is such a strikingly prominent feature of the contemporary STEM blogosphere.

  248. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Being pretty far from the Confederacy, you would not expect to find Trump supporters in Ohio. But no such luck:

  249. amy Says:

    Well, that’ll teach me to post while seriously sleep-deprived. (No it won’t.) Robert Chambers, not Chalmers. Doesn’t matter.

    Sandro #246: Oddly enough, hanging with those rich kids left me with a baroquely-articulated sense of etiquette. This is what happens when you don’t have anything real at stake, like, say, “I wonder how I’ll pay the rent next month,” or “I sure hope my husband finds a kidney match.” The crying-lab-girls-in-dongle-shirt-etc. stuff was certainly not to do with etiquette. (Actually if you want a pleasant, amusing, and accurate exposition of the distinction between etiquette and manners, check David Mitchell’s Radio 4 programme on manners.)

    A long time ago, before Giuliani and Disney cleaned things up, I used to fantasize about what I’d do with certain well-off people from nice families who liked to air opinions about bootstraps and how great they are. I used to imagine them dropped, sans money or known identity or lifeline, into the middle of Times Square and left to fend for themselves for a year. I suspect that if you were to work in, say, elementary education in the US, which is heavily female-dominated, and you were to be subjected to the level of discrimination, mistrust, sexual harassment, and belittling of ability that women in STEM routinely experience, you’d be screaming bloody murder about it, and you wouldn’t be yelling about any etiquette or “discomfort”: you’d be yelling about discriminatory behaviors and attitudes that were damaging your life and shooting holes in your career.

    DP #245: I think you’re confusing political correctness with actual politics, business of. Also, if you ask me, HRC’s got some pretty rad judgment, depending on the kind you’re talking about. I was dubious as hell about her ability to do the job last fall; she ran a perfectly crap campaign in Iowa despite eight years’ prep time. But as every strategy-minded student knows, once you know the score you need to get in a terrible course’s exam, you’re wasting your time doing better. And she got what she needed from the primary electorate and didn’t waste a single breath doing more, as far as I can see.

    I’m really too old to be excited about voting for any politician. If they’re visible enough for you to be voting for them, they’re almost certainly terrible human beings. Nobody else makes a career out of making laws and regs for millions of other people to live by, and nobody else spends all day pretending to enjoy talking to appalling and often deeply stupid people who happen to have votes and dollars. But there’s terrible and then there’s disastrous, and once in a while terrible with some things that aren’t bad. The best I ever did was almost getting to vote for Paul Tsongas (he dropped out before my primary). HRC’s no Tsongas, but I don’t think she’s disastrous, either.

    What this race does remind me of was something I was thinking about in 2009, how the American subsidence wasn’t going to be cured by policy, and how this really wasn’t going to be something the electorate would want to look at. How we’d likely have this increasing-amplitude oscillation from one party to the other until things broke and we got us a strongman. But I didn’t think at all that it’d happen so fast. I really thought we’d be running from one side of the ship to the other for a couple of decades, maybe more.

    Which reminds me: the thing that makes me think a Trump vote’s not impossible is Teddy Roosevelt. If you take a look past all the bunting for that guy, you see a horrifying human being. Very big on the killing with his own hands, that give-me-a-shot-at-manliness crap. We still go nuts for him. And we reliably vote in guys with not much but buzz, buzz, buzz going on in that braincase. If Trump can actually muster enough self-discipline to do a facsimile of a reasonable human for the next few months, I think he could pull it off. But I’m also fairly confident that he hasn’t got that much self-discipline.

  250. anon 85 Says:

    Scott, consider closing down the comments – Amy is starting a STEM debate again.

    Amy, you say

    There’s a rule I have for yelling that makes no apparent sense to me. If a lot of people are yelling, and whatever they’re yelling about doesn’t seem to me a serious problem, I assume I’m wrong, and that I’m failing to understand what the problem actually is. And — assuming I’ve got time — I go and listen. Sometimes the actual problem’s one to which I’m just not sympathetic, but I assume that there’s a real problem, rather than vaporing or people “just wanting attention”.

    If you applied that rule consistently, perhaps you’d pause to reflect on why people like Scott Aaronson (or Scott Alexander, or other nerds) are yelling about feminist bullies.

  251. dorothy Says:

    FedUpPleb #244 I feel a number of people have made similar comments on Scott’s blog so I have picked on you at random.

    When you say “But I don’t think he’s such a massive deal […]”, do you regard his comments about banning muslims or everyone from a country that has lots of muslims in it from entering the US as unlikely to have any negative consequences? If he had made the same comments about Jews, Irish or black people would you hold the same view?

  252. Aula Says:

    Scott #230: Oh boy. I seem to have done a pretty poor job of expressing myself, so let me try again. First of all, I never intended to imply that law enforcement is futile; on the contrary, I think it’s one of the most essential aspects of organized society. However, that is completely beside the point I was trying to make, namely that if you want to blame President George W. Bush for event X, then you should show that President Anyone Else would have prevented X from happening. If X is the Iraq war or the abysmal response to Katrina, it’s easy to see that, but not so much with either 9/11 or the subprime mortgage crisis, because I think there are overwhelming reasons to believe that there would have been a severe terrorist attack against the United States in the early 2000’s, and a global financial crisis before 2010, regardless of who was POTUS at the time or what they were doing.

  253. Scott Says:

    anon 85 #250: Naw, it’s OK. As it happens, Amy learned about this thread when she visited me at MIT in person yesterday. She and I had an extremely nice conversation over lunch. I’m sure we still disagree about shirtgate, political correctness, and various other things. But a year and a half ago, what set me off emotionally wasn’t any intellectual disagreement (which I can handle 50 of before breakfast each morning); rather, it was that Amy

    (a) was clearly articulate, intelligent, attuned to human realities, and not just a boring ideologue, but
    (b) also clearly regarded me as a male chauvinist pig.

    Because of the honest, open dialogue that we were able to have on this blog, I succeeded in solving problem (b): Amy no longer regards me a male chauvinist pig. Ironically, because of the very same dialogue, 50,000 other people, who wouldn’t otherwise have heard of me, do now regard me as a male chauvinist pig … but that’s a separate problem! 🙂 I’m sort of like the AI that my rationalist friends constantly discuss—the one that serves you a cup of coffee or whatever other task its utility function told it to maximize, but which also obliterates the earth in the process, which its utility function never specified that it shouldn’t do.

    Anyway, Amy is more than welcome to share her views here. I might disagree with her, I might move on to other topics, but I don’t think I’m going to get set off like last time.

  254. Scott Says:

    Amy #240: Good to have you here as always. You write:

      I’m usually slow to condemn, because in the end things don’t change unless someone forces change, and among those someones are usually some pretty serious zealots. I am decidedly a beneficiary of past zealots’ work. It’s not precision work, the unintended consequences are wild, but I can’t fail to see that my own life and my daughter’s would have been much, much smaller, more difficult, and less happy without those crazies’ work.

    As I read that passage, I kept thinking to myself: what would you say about someone who defended American military adventurism in the same terms? I.e., sure, it’s not precision work; sometimes you bomb a hospital or a wedding, or you topple a dictator only for an even worse dictator to take his place. And any war effort is bound to attract some crazies, people who just want to torture POWs or whatever. But on the other hand, without past exercises of American military might, I wouldn’t have any of the freedoms that I now enjoy, so I ought to be slow to condemn.

  255. anon 85 Says:

    Scott, I’m glad to hear you and Amy get along, and that she no longer thinks you’re a chauvinist pig. But as a male in STEM myself, and someone who identifies with dongle guy et. al. (“Je suis Dongle Guy”), I can’t help but feel like Amy still thinks *I’m* a chauvinist pig.

    Actually, Amy, I’m kind of curious about this. You seem to believe Scott is a decent person, and also that Dongle Guy maybe sort of deserved to be fired for making a sexual joke at a conference (or at least, you wouldn’t condemn his firing). Now, I can guarantee that Scott has made a sex joke at some point in his life (I can think of a few just from his blog). He probably made some at a conference as well, since he goes to a lot of those, and the atmosphere is often fairly informal. Does Scott deserve to be fired for this?

  256. anon Says:

    If there are enough people screaming at me, I just say ‘no’.

    Taking on a moral obligation of hearing people that are being obnoxious is just incentivizing people to be more obnoxious.

    Taking on a moral obligation of cooperating/helping/elevating the rights of people who are being obnoxious is, again, incentivizing people to be obnoxious.

    It is essential never to give in to obnoxious people like the people that condemn the pin-up shirt like they did. I don’t think they are right (i.e.: I don’t think the pin up shirt causes any harm to women who want to become scientists, and I do think that forbidding it causes harm to men) but, even if they were, given the way they pursue their goals (piling up on the guy, rather than, say, petitioning for a dressing code) is enough for me to feel justified not only in ignoring them, but opposing them.

    If you try to shame me into helping you, I’ll not help you and campaign against helping you, and that is, to me, the only stance that can keep morality itself from being hijacked by the loudest screamer.

    So, as you tried to shame me into voting Hillary, the right thing to do is to vote Trump. (In this last phrase, especially, ‘you’ is a bit metaphorical, and should only be felt personally by select readers – Scott notably not one of them)

  257. anon Says:

    Or, in shorter terms: no cooperation in response to agression. Ever. (Unless you are a child or mentally ill – necessary caveat not meant as an accusation)

  258. Scott Says:

    anon 85 #255:

      Now, I can guarantee that Scott has made a sex joke at some point in his life (I can think of a few just from his blog). He probably made some at a conference as well, since he goes to a lot of those, and the atmosphere is often fairly informal. Does Scott deserve to be fired for this?

    Not only can I confirm your suspicion, but I’m willing to bet that Amy, and most other women in academia, have also made jokes at conferences that wouldn’t pass ideological muster if shared across Twitter the next morning. I don’t think any of those women deserve to lose their jobs over this (except in extreme cases, e.g. where there’s a clear intent to bully someone)—just as I don’t, and as Dongle Guy didn’t.

    I don’t want to speak for Amy, but from my experience, when confronted with this apparent inconsistency—i.e., would you, social justice activist, consent to having your every off-color remark scrutinized to see whether it constitutes a firing offense?—the response virtually always involves the concept of “punching up versus punching down.” I.e., the problem, the activist will say, isn’t off-color remarks per se, but rather the use of off-color remarks by “those in power” in order to “keep the powerless in their place.”

    This, however, is precisely the theoretical edifice that I believe collapses on closer examination. I.e., I don’t accept that there’s any interesting sense in which Dongle Guy “represented the men in power in our patriarchal society” when he whispered his joke to his friend—any more than some random American Muslim “represents the murderous jihadists who want to impose Islam on the world” (or you can easily invent other examples). What’s more, I’d say that if there’s any human tendency that history has taught us to resist, it’s the tendency to take some individual who didn’t mean any harm, and close off the possibility for sympathy with them, by reconceptualizing them as the embodiment of a vast, impersonal social force that needs to be crushed before there can be any justice in the world.

    Anyway, I already regret getting into this debate again, and I haven’t even clicked “Submit”! 🙂 But in any case, while I know that Amy’s position on these issues differs from mine, I believe her view to be sincerely held and won’t take her likely disagreement personally.

  259. adamt Says:

    anon #256, sounds like a terribly self-defeating strategy, but enjoy your pyrrhic victory i guess 🙁

  260. anon 85 Says:

    I don’t doubt her views are sincerely held, I’m just curious whether those sincerely held views include a desire to see you fired (you’re a white male, so surely you’re punching down rather than up in the SJW worldview).

    I’m guessing the answer is no, she does not want you fired – but then I can’t help but wonder how that can be squared with her views on the Dongle fiasco.

  261. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    In theory, theoretical goodness is good. In practice it’s (often) not.

  262. Shane Says:

    Re: comments thinking Obama lied his way into office.

    I believe your analysis is quite wrong, and my analysis is right. I seriously doubt Obama knowingly and with pre-mediatation told people ‘X’ so he could be free to do ‘X’ or ‘Y’ depending on his real wish later on. (That’s Hillary’s problem). By the time Obama was running the US was already sick-and-tired of the insiders. Now that feeling has only grown worse.

    See my #186, #188. I think Obama, however, seriously underestimated the systemic break down in DC. He significantly underestimated the difficultly of working with Congress viz. good co-equal management with Congress. He failed to realize that of the major issues Presidential candidates are throwing red meat at then and now, that in fact the US Congress is first and foremost in scope to fix it. I also think he realized that closing GITMO was harder that at first it seemed.

    It’s worth pointing out, and I am a lifer Republican and Libertarian, that it’s highly specious to suggest Obama caused the 2008 financial crisis or that he responded poorly to it. In fact, if ANY federal branch dropped the ball it is AGAIN the US Congress. The US has not conducted, passed, or performed much serious structural change other than what was left not-watered-down in the Dodd-Frank. We’ve been QE all the way. An easy one: we still have crappy, 3rd world infrastructure.

    It’s vitally important that the next President works well with the US Congress. Four to eight more years of will be bad.

  263. Curious Says:

    @Shane ‘An easy one: we still have crappy, 3rd world infrastructure’.

    which third world country would it be?

  264. amy Says:

    anon 85 #255 (and Scott) — you know, I’ll have to go back and see if I can find comments I made back in dongledays, and see how they line up with what I’m saying here.

    Here’s what I think: I think both companies handled it miserably. (I’ve forgotten all the actual names involved.) Granted, it was early days for twitter mobs, but terror of twitter mobs is not a way of doing business. An adult way of handling it would’ve been to recognize that something was wrong with a corporate and industry culture that says “girls in STEM!” out of one side of its mouth and sends out invites to corporate stripper parties and the like on the other. And also to recognize that Dongle Guy, while an idiot, thought his idiocy was within bounds because his business told him it was. So to deal with that you change the way your company operates and make it clear that this is not tolerable behavior. And then if people don’t knock it off you make good on your promise and discipline, then fire them. Your PR, meanwhile, maintains transparency about what you’re doing in recognizing and dealing with the problem. (Which I understand takes some significant nerve, because you’re going to be freaking out others in your industry, Gravity Payments-like, by doing the right thing and taking the needle off the record. Operative word is “adult”.)

    Did he deserve the public embarrassment? I have no problem with it. If you’re 30something years old and you haven’t figured out that a professional venue is not the place for your dick jokes, even if your industry is assuring you that it’s fine, then here’s your edX.

    As for Matt, who was clearly caught completely off-guard — you know, again, by that point in his career, he should’ve known better. But were we to relive it, I’d be asking, Hey, where’s Matt’s boss, who’s responsible for setting the tone here? What the hell, why was this viewed, organizationally, as okay?

    As for me and off-color etc. jokes at conferences…you know, I’m actually pretty sensitive to this stuff. It’s not so much a matter of blue talk as awareness of the demographics, opportunities, advantages of the people in the room, because it’s very easy to go blind and forget that whatever group this is, there are probably people on the outside, or even on the quiet periphery of the room, wanting in and having trouble getting there because they don’t look like In, or even because they didn’t grow up thinking of themselves as In — they came from working-class or farming families, and negotiating academic and literary worlds is often work for them. It’s also too easy to be default USian and treat others as popping in from the fourth dimension to play honorary USians for the day, which is lazy and stupid both. So I’m aware throughout these meetings of assumptions being made about the people who are in the room and about the world outside it. That’s not merely about a sense of politeness and inclusivity; I’m sold on the idea of diversity, of the importance of backgrounds and what’s informing how people think about whatever we’re talking about.

    Where I run into trouble is in the fact that I am now An Old, and things that were quite acceptable when I was young certainly are not now, and for excellent reasons. So now and then something will leave my mouth, and as it does, I think, “oh shit.” And I would apologize readily if called out on any of those things.

    The last conference I was at that involved sexy jokes was one where people went out drinking late afterwards, and after a few hours things turned abruptly and relentlessly harassing, with one young woman in particular the target of a sexual-innuendo game. I tried turning the conversation away from that, but the guys wouldn’t let up, so I left; the woman stayed. I got in touch with the organizers the next day — one of the organizers had actually been involved — and said it wouldn’t do; I got swift apologies and assurances that it wouldn’t happen again, and left it at that. Were I to go and see it happening again I’d publicize it.

  265. amy Says:

    Incidentally, there’s something we don’t talk about much in these conversations, I think, and it’s the “where are you supposed to have learned about x” piece. I don’t know, but I’d guess that the reality of a world in which Dongle Guy gets pilloried for a dick joke at a conference was a real surprise for him. This kind of narrowness isn’t rare. When I work with grad students, I often find that they do *no reading at all* outside their fields, and that they haven’t just, out of curiosity, gone wandering around to see what’s out there artistically, intellectually, culturally. They don’t know about music or art; some will know some history, but it’s not usual. No economics, no social sciences. Same thing happens in the humanities; STEM is a foreign land. In fact that’s how I got into these conversations in the first place, trying to understand why so few literary worlds involved science as a thing, a mode or sensibility, that exists as part of the backdrop.

    I think there is some obligation, as a member of a society, to go for a walk every so often and see what else there is outside your own house. What’s going on. So I am less than sympathetic when an early-middle-aged-man is blindsided by the idea that an industry awash in dick jokes and casual harassment makes having a career there difficult for women, and that this is a problem.

    I think we were talking about the election. There’s a response I’ve left hanging somewhere, will get back to it soon.

  266. anon 85 Says:

    We have corporate stripper parties in STEM!?!? I get left out of everything here…

  267. anon 85 Says:

    Also, I can’t help but feel like you avoided my question, Amy. You have no problem with public embarrassment for Dongle Dude; but Scott is an admitted guy-who-once-told-a-dick-joke-at-a-conference. Do you, or do you not, think Scott deserves public embarrassment for it?

    (As an aside, Dongle Guy *did* apologize immediately when confronted, just like you said you would do.)

  268. Scott Says:

    anon 85 #267: Actually, I can’t recall ever telling a “dick joke” at a conference (that’s not normally my style of humor…). All I meant was, I don’t doubt that I’ve cracked some joke in private conversation at a conference, sometime, that I’d deserve public condemnation for according to the standards that the social-justice people are trying to make universal. But I’m also sure that the same could be said for pretty much anyone who goes to conferences a lot, including the social-justice people themselves!

    Lest I’m inadvertently advertising the field, I should admit that CS theory and quantum information conferences are usually extremely tame! When I try to remember anything risque, the closest I get is FOCS’2001, which was held at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, literally right next to a lingerie show. So, imagine CS grad students and lingerie models wandering the same lobby for coffee breaks (typically easy to distinguish, for example by their attire). Imagine someone giving their 20-minute talk on their FOCS paper, and having it interrupted partway through by a beat-box blaring from the next room and the announcer saying “NUMBER 36 – RED LACE PANTIES WITH MATCHING BRA – NUMBER 37 – …”

    If anyone, male or female, regardless of political orientation, could make it through three days of that without humor, I’d want that person hospitalized and given an EEG.

  269. anon Says:

    > I think there is some obligation, as a member of a society, to go for a walk every so often and see what else there is outside your own house. What’s going on. So I am less than sympathetic when an early-middle-aged-man is blindsided by the idea that an industry awash in dick jokes and casual harassment makes having a career there difficult for women, and that this is a problem.

    Funny how it seems OK to put burdens on others, without stopping to think about it.

    The burden of ‘going outside your hut’ is a burden (and, for all we know, the guy was really into classical music)

    The burden not only of listening to the theories (theories in a loose sense. Perhaps the most correct term is rationalizations) that dick jokes harm women, but also accepting them fully

    And last, but not least, the burden of changing your private behavior (in that case, it was a private joke, not a presentation) in accordance to those theories.

    This is, in part, a general problem with left politics, these days. Here, just take the burden of increased immigration of poor people from a vastly different culture. Dare you complain? Here, just take the burden of not making jokes (about mohammed|about dicks). Dare you complain? Of not wearing shirts. Of not speaking your mind on twitter. Dare you complain?

    Not enough dialog, too much >less than sympathetic.
    And too much ‘you have to help me anyway’.
    No, I don’t. Not really.

  270. Not so radical thinker Says:

    I have a rather radical idea: how about addressing the issue that is creating anger among the American population? The reason that they have given up on political elite? How about have a clear policy to make sure Americans can earn a living, go to college, … How about addressing the issue that wages of 90% of Americans have not seen any significant increase over the past 4 decades while the wealth of super-rich doubled every year? How about accepting the fact that majority of Americans do not want to share their country with illegal immigrants and have a right to kick people who have entered the country illegally out (even if it doesn’t do much economically for them they have a right to do so if they want to)? How about accepting that free-trade agreements and globalization has hurt a large number of Americans in place of trying to advocate for TPP as Obama does? How about talking about the fact that all social justice for women and immigrants that the left talks about have hurt the white male Americans without addressing the negative effects of these policies on them? How about reforming tax laws so the super-rich pay at least as much tax on their income as those on payroll do? How about cutting the influence of the money in politics? … The list is long and it is late so I will leave it there.

    I am myself on the left of American spectrum but I can understand the anger felt by these people who correctly understand that for decades the political elite, both democrats and republicans, have ignored them. The democrats are for redistribution of wealth from middle class to lower middle class while those at the top are not touched, in fact democrats are often those who enacted the free-trade deals, the laws that benefit financial corporations at the expense of average Joe. The republicans on the other hand have nothing to offer other than tax cuts and after four decades average American understands that trickle down economics does not work for them. They use the cultural wars between right and left to cover the fact that they are not addressing the real issues that are impacting the life of average Joe. And Average Joe hates taxes because he doesn’t see those taxes benefiting him, it is forcefully taken from him in the name of giant bureaucratic government that is disconnected from his issues.

  271. Sandro Says:

    amy #249:

    The crying-lab-girls-in-dongle-shirt-etc. stuff was certainly not to do with etiquette.

    I think you’re confused about the broad meaning of etiquette as opposed to specific examples of etiquette. Any set of rules that ought to be mandatory for all human beings are ethics. Any rules we personally think others should follow but that don’t fall under the ethical umbrella are thus inherently specific to a society or group of people, and fall under etiquette.

    So like I said in my last post, unless you think we have a moral duty not to make other people uncomfortable with our words, then dongles and sexist comments fall under etiquette, not ethics. The same is not necessarily true of actions of course.

    Under the categorical imperative, universalizing dongle jokes does not yield a contradiction, and so they’re not unethical under this deontological framework that I can see.

    You might have a case in suggesting it’s unethical by utilitarian standards that aim to maximize happiness, or some other value, but you have an uphill battle here to argue this value is actually good. Utilitarianism also permits all sorts of unethical behaviour and forbids all sorts of behaviour generally considered benign. Except a utilitarian view of sexist humour implies that if a woman is enjoying the humour, then you are in the wrong if you try to stop it. So you have no cause to forbid it entirely.

    Certainly forbidding dongle jokes are not a clear moral fact like, “all else being equal, a child undergoing a painful surgery ought to be given anesthetic”. So by what objective standard do we declare discomfort ethically forbidden? And how do you prevent it from applying equally to those you wish to reform? You can’t yell and shame bigots if making people uncomfortable is ethically forbidden.

    Or you can go the anti-realism route and claim that moral facts don’t exist, and that all ethical statements are expressions of attitudes or something else. But then ethics and etiquette are one, and ethics have no true normative power other than censure from your fellows for violating their arbitrary rules. Hardly compelling.

    Which isn’t to say that I think everyone should go around making dongle jokes, because I want a society with a certain etiquette where people can enjoy various comforts as well, but the proper classification of a rule determines my response to a breach. I wouldn’t want someone fired over a breach of etiquette, and the fact that you do, and the fact that this sentiment is common, is troubling.

    Other examples you’ve cited, like the sexual innuendo-fest after hours, lack sufficient context, but certainly it seems that if your “victim” didn’t mind it, then you way overstepped your bounds in going over their heads to complain. If she did mind it, then it seems cowardly not to just confront them in the moment with their breach of etiquette. If you had, you probably would have gotten your apologies right then and there.

  272. sf Says:

    It may be interesting to look at Tao’s proposition 1 in a game-theoretic framework – specifically what’s known as the Ultimatum game:
    which has also been the subject of many popular articles. It’s usually used to test for intrinsic bias for altruistic behavior, and as the wikipedia indicates, in this context its “typically played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue”.

    The point is to look at the larger debate in which this proposition 1 fits as a repeated Ultimatum game where one player ‘the elite’ is proposing accept/reject choices of how to split the gains on various policy changes (globalization, deregulation, etc.) to the 2nd player ‘General public’ (or ’the 99%’). Now, if the choice Trump/Clinton is just a one-off game, then it’s rational enough to just take Clinton, but in the repeated game context General public has a strong interest in just ‘drawing a line’ and refusing the offer – to incite better offers in future rounds. This may be interpreted as saying that splits offered are not perceived as fair, or (because we’re in the repeated game context) just as a power struggle.

    This illustrates also why math (even rationality in general) and politics are not so easy to marry – there’s always a difficult choice of what time scale is relevant, or what other simplification to a closed-system it is useful to apply. Never ending debates on the middle-east for example can often be understood by just noticing that opposing sides are framing the question in different ways (e.g. time scale choices in debates involving who attacked first).

  273. FedUpPleb Says:

    do you regard his comments about banning muslims or everyone from a country that has lots of muslims in it from entering the US as unlikely to have any negative consequences?

    I don’t think it will be a very big deal in the scheme of things.

    If he had made the same comments about Jews, Irish or black people would you hold the same view?

    I’m from Ireland actually. I’d be delighted if the US put an ban on Irish immigration, as this country could do without the loss of ever more people abroad. A lot of people here would disagree with me of course, but not everyone.

    I don’t think any of this hysteria is really about Trump. Clinton has literally authorised bombing of some the countries Trump is talking about, yet no-one bat an eye. Trump proposes immigration limits and everyone considers that the larger sin? Objectively? Really? I think political tribalism is more at play here.

    As far as I can see, Trump is a classic American isolationist, and Hillary is a classic American interventionist. Which of these is an objectively worse position? Which position deserves closer comparisons to dictators and the end of the world? If I told you instead about two candidates Ronald Rumpf and Billery Ninton (or Ernie Landers) in Syldavia, with the same objective sets of policies, which one would people really end up backing? Perhaps they’d spare more thought to the current state of Syldavia and why the Syldavian voters are backing these people “all of a sudden”. I think most people would conclude that Syldavia is in trouble and needs new political parties and general electoral, economic, and financial reform.

    Or everyone could continue to accuse the other team of being possessed by the devil.

  274. HeartlessNeocon Says:

    @Dorothy #251, I’m one such person. I think your question is a bit unclear as Trump has already made that comment and we can see that there have been no significant negative consequences. If you’re asking about the policy, I don’t think it will have any negative consequences if put in place. If you’re asking about my opinion of the policy, I think it’s not a bad idea and could easily prevent future terrorist attacks on US soil. It wouldn’t really make sense for Trump to say such things about other groups since eg Irish terrorism is not much of a problem in the US. If it were, a ban on Irish immigration might be appropriate.

  275. HeartlessNeocon Says:

    @Amy #243, It would be nice if instead of writing off struggling working class people yelling in favor of Trump with a quick “ppl r dumb lol”, you afforded them the same courtesy you give to upper middle class white collar people yelling about dick jokes and ugly shirts.

    (In all honesty I don’t understand how the dongle joke was sexist. If the dongle were a big breast instead of a big penis, would that be somehow ‘sexist’ against men? Or would it be not sexist? I doubt it – it would probably still be considered sexist against women. Since the allegation of sexism is apparently independent of the symbolism and logical structure of the joke, it seems that the real complaint here is that it’s considered socially acceptable for men to tell crude sex organ jokes, but not for women. I don’t think the solution is to castigate joke-tellers. In any case, I’m of the opinion that teaching people to wear a thicker skin is a better and more equitable strategy than starting witch hunts.)

  276. Shane Says:

    Curious Says:
    Comment #263 June 15th, 2016 at 6:34 pm
    @Shane ‘An easy one: we still have crappy, 3rd world infrastructure’.
    There’s no need to be pedantic. Continents like Africa is one; I bet bits of Egypt have their issues too. To address the implication (as I guess it to be), and remake my point again, checkout:
    We all know full well some “3rd world countries” have a better scenario that America. Many, many Americas can’t believe one of the busier airports is something crappy like Kennedy. Or EWR. Or Laguiardia. Ever try Amtrak? Been over the Verrazano bridge? This is but one of the few strucutrual changes the US hasn’t done. We still do QE though.
    And BTW the Flordia case is just remaking my point: here again the President or Presidential candidates can yack on all they want. This is yet another campaign issue that will not move unless and untill the US Congress wants it to.

  277. Shane Says:

    (I wish we could edit our comments. I am like Columbo; I only know of what I want to say after I press submit.)

    >This is yet another campaign issue
    Meaning gun laws.

  278. Wellwisher Says:


    Imagine a group of males with about equal levels of cognitive ability and they form this group and become very united forming a cohesive organization. Also because of their numbers they have considerable voting power and Politicians pander to them.

    Now imagine that all the high paying jobs are captured by a smaller group of males with much higher levels of cognitive ability. These people are so intellectual that they don’t form a group and vote based on their individual interest. And one of these males makes a dongle joke with these men from the earlier group behind them.

    Now tell me who will the dongle joke affect?

    Everything is fair in love and a strategy to gain more power for yourself.

  279. John Sidles Says:

    Wellwisher invites SI readers to “Imagine that all the high paying jobs are captured by a smaller group of males with much higher levels of cognitive ability.”

    The comedic aspect of Wellwisher’s universe is illuminated when we consider the following enlightened extension of it:

    “Imagine that all the high paying jobs are captured societal norms and practices are specified by a smaller group of males diversely aged, gendered, and raced cohort with much higher levels of post-rational and empathy-centric cognitive ability.”

    The ideals and practices of the 21st century’s post-rational empathy-centric Enlightenment are outstandingly exemplified (as it seems to me) by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf’s recent, explicitly empathy-centric historiography “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (2016).

    There are multiple fruitful ways to read the Gordon-Reed / Onuf Jefferson-narrative. Two that work for me center upon the following two questions:

    Is Donald Trump empathically suited — by any reasonable stretch of the imagination — to responsibly undertake an Oath of Office that swears to uphold Jefferson’s vision of democratic governance?

    Here the plain answer is “no” (as it seems to me).

    Does the narrative of Jefferson’s “Empire of the Imagination” — as distilled by Gordon-Reed and Onuf — parallel in illuminating respects the narrative of the “Empire of Quantum Supremacy”, as envisioned by John Preskill, Aram Harrow, and Scott Aaronson (and many others), and as thoughtfully critiqued by Gil Kalai (and many others)?

    Here the plain answer is “yes” (as it seems to me).

    No doubt there will be plenty of Shtetl Optimized essays and comments in coming months and years, as the US electorate struggles to accept or reject Trumpism.

    Concurrently the STEM community will be struggling to realize Quantum Supremacy in practice (which of course would be a thrilling achievement), and will be struggling too to appreciate more deeply the fundamental obstructions to the feasibility of Quantum Supremacy and the practical consequences of those obstructions (at least some of which are thrillingly beneficial).

    No matter what, plenty of excitement is in the offing, and some very considerable dangers too, as we collaboratively struggle to construct our 21st century’s “Empires of the Imagination” (both political and scientific).

    This excitement and these dangers alike are good!


    PS  From a recent trip report by a young PNW kayaker:

    The only damper on my enjoyment of the sound [Kyuquot Sound] was the enormous logging scars visible on all the surrounding mountains. Industry has really done a number on the west coast [of Vancouver Island]! I hope the money they got from cutting these ancient, beautiful forests was worth it — if we stop logging the west coast now, it will be the 25th century before we see forests like the ones that were lost. I’d hate to find out the money had already been spent and forgotten long before that. Surely that wouldn’t happen, right?

    Emphasis as in the original.

    A very substantial cohort of folks (both young and old) adamantly reject Trumpist economic policies as being insufficiently respectful of these long-term considerations. Because it’s plainly evident that crucial elements are lacking in the artificial experiences that are constructed by Trump Hotels, Trump Casinos, and Trump Golf Courses, aren’t there?

    What might those crucial missing elements be? How do they figure in the 21st century’s evolving “Empire of the Imagination” (in both its political and STEM-centric aspects).

    Is it probable, that President Donald Trump (yikes!) could grow in office as a person, sufficiently to respect the Jeffersonian foundations of American governance, and to repair the ecological and cultural resources that are being so devastatingly degraded by short-sighted Trumpist deal-centricism?

    Most folks say (rightly), it’s not likely.

  280. Shane Says:

    Comment #279: It’s pointless to go out of one’s way to slam Trump on his particular economic activities. They don’t confer distinction, and in any absolute sense are not worse that whatever you or I do. My problem with the things in the US are more fundamental and, in other ways, far more damming:

    For all our economic know-how, why aren’t there better pricing signals to the highest inflation, least equitable, worst managed, and poorest or poor equaly sectors in the GDP like US education and healthcare? Costs go up quality does down or stays the same. How can this be? Why isn’t the full cost of pollution reflected in the cost of oil, natural gas, or gasoline? Any appreciable percentage? Will the cost of hard wood go up in the future? Why not if forests are disappearing?

    Just taking the 20th century and multiplying through by isn’t the answer. Price distortions create distored outcomes, distorted priotiization, and distorred politics.

    My father and all his friends are fulltime, lifetime field biologists working throughout Canada and America. Managing the land was part of their job. I bet he is quite familiar with the Kayak locations you post about. He built and ran a naturalist lodge in the Canadaian NW for many years too. I spent my childhood in the “bush.” I asked one of his friends about managing the land in places like the Canadian NW that is desirable for gold, minerals, diamonds: why they don’t just shut it all down from development? His reaction was no: keep to the middle road. A full NO invites hard pushback. A full YES invites non-sustainable usage. The best course of action is limited access: it cuts off the howling from the other side, allows people who know and care about such things to make informed decisions, contributes to GDP and jobs.

  281. John Sidles Says:

    Shane wonders “Why aren’t there better pricing signals to the highest inflation, least equitable, worst managed, and poorest or poor equaly [sic?] sectors in the GDP like US education and healthcare?”

    Here are three working answers:

    • Healthcare policies that have long worked well in Europe, and were advocated by centrists in both parties — under the labels “RomneyCare” and “HillaryCare” — have been vehemently opposed by neoconservative and libertarian ideologues for reasons that (to US voters) scarcely seem rational any longer.

    • Neoconservative advisors in the Bush administration initiated an ill-advised Middle East land war whose projected costs of have proved to be too low by a factor of order one thousand ($2B projected costs, $2T real costs). And this is to say nothing of the immense costs of this war in hero’s blood.

    • The anti-empathic political ideology initiated by Ronald Reagan — who originated the political motto “It’s your money” — generated a short-term economic stimulus during Reagan’s administration, but in the long-run Reaganism has caused disastrous reductions in long-term public investment in infrastructure (including education).

    A small cohort of already-wealthy Americans — including Trump himself (needless to say) — have become immensely wealthier as the result of Reaganism, neoconservatism, and “Trumpism”, but the vast majority of American families, and especially American children have been leading poorer lives, both economically and socially.

    Also important to SI readers are the grotesquely inexcusable levels of anti-STEM denialism that have been so strongly correlated with Reaganism, neoconservatism, and “Trumpism” (and their political equivalents in other nations).

    Reaganism, neoconservatism, and “Trumpism” all remain stubbornly and publicly committed to failed short-sighted / anti-STEM  / denialistic policies; fortunately (as it seems to me) it appears likely that a strong (and growing rapidly stronger) majority of American voters will dissent, in common-sense consequence of their bitter experiences during the last three decades.

    Is it any wonder that the STEM community’s consensus rejection of “Trumpism” is comparably strong to the STEM community’s consensus rejection of climate-change denialism?

  282. Vitruvius Says:

    Y’all may find this chart from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances interesting and enlightening, in terms of understanding the general sentiment of a significant portion of Americans. “Let them eat cake” may not be a viable response.

  283. Shane Says:

    John Sidles Says:
    Comment #281 June 17th, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    You make some decent points. But may I take some liberty and deflect the discussion thusly: we need to keep it in the middle. Reagan & Volker did what they did in the fact if needlessly high taxes, inflation, high interest rates, home ownership fallofff, poor savings and whatnot. And absolutely it’s gone too far the other way since such that the upper .01 percent are not reaping the benefits almost to the exclusion of everybody else.

    >($2B projected costs, $2T real costs)
    And, for what? Did we even achieve much? No, we didn’t. We destablized the Middle East. As I say in #186 that unless we’re going to own a chunk of the Middle East for once and all time — I do not suggest we do this — leave it alone. My bet is that it’ll get worse in the next 75 years anyhow. I mean what are they going to do as the OCED and others trend away from fossil fuel? Fight over sand? Knowing how we humans work, there will no shortage of reasons to fight still.

  284. dorothy Says:

    HeartlessNeocon #274

    “[..] I think it’s not a bad idea and could easily prevent future terrorist attacks on US soil. It wouldn’t really make sense for Trump to say such things about other groups since eg Irish terrorism is not much of a problem in the US. If it were, a ban on Irish immigration might be appropriate.”

    You do realise the practical consequences of this wonderful idea I assume? The US would have to have a religion test they applied at the border. I suppose the US could forge an international agreement that religion is added to people’s passports but this still doesn’t deal with converts or sympathisers. Once you have managed to stop all Muslims entering the US you still have the problem of US born Muslims (such as O. Mateen for example). I suppose a brief period of internment where they could each be interviewed to test their true beliefs would work (perhaps with light waterboarding if they are not being cooperative). Are you now or have you ever been a Muslim?

  285. dorothy Says:

    FedUpPleb #273

    “I don’t think any of this hysteria is really about Trump. Clinton has literally authorised bombing of some the countries Trump is talking about, yet no-one bat an eye. Trump proposes immigration limits and everyone considers that the larger sin? Objectively? Really?”

    I assume Clinton isn’t suggesting everyone Muslim in those countries should be killed. Given that a major part of the criticism of a blanket religious ban for entry into the US is the blanket nature of it, your analogy doesn’t seem to hold at all.

    ” I think political tribalism is more at play here. As far as I can see, Trump is a classic American isolationist, and Hillary is a classic American interventionist.”

    If I can return the compliment. Really? When did religious tests become acceptable in the US or in any way “classic”? Isn’t religious McCarthyism almost the definition of un-American?

    As you ascribe this to political tribalism you would presumably have to believe that religious discrimination has always been acceptable to one tribe or the other. Which one is it?

  286. John Sidles Says:

    Shane asserts “Knowing how we humans work, there will no shortage of reasons to fight [in the 21st century].”

    Please allow me to disagree, respectfully yet entirely, with the proposition that “We humans know how we humans work.”

    A principle thrust of recent history is in the opposite direction: modern STEAM-studies are providing an ever-increasing abundance of ever-more-cogent reasons and ever-more-effective social strategems for rejecting violence.

    Reasoned philosophy  SO readers who prefer their peace-studies to be reasoned and scholarly will find ample material in Steven Nadler’s Tablet Magazine essay “In or Out: The Spinoza Case”. Nadler summarizes a recent symposium in Amsterdam that focused upon “the merits — for and against — lifting the herem on Baruch Spinoza.”

    The Amsterdam symposium’s four invited speakers were the eminent (and indisputably old-white-male) historians and philosophers Jonathan Israel (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Yosef Kaplan (Hebrew University), Steven Nadler (University of Wisconsin), and Piet Steenbakkers (University of Utrecht). For background and context, Nadler’s survey “Why Spinoza still matters” (Aeon Essays, 2016) is a good introduction.

    Search engines readily find multiple thoughtful accounts of Amsterdam “The Spinoza Case” symposium. Einstein, a life-long Spinozist and rationalist, no doubt would have approved of this peaceful dialog! 🙂

    Rationality: adorning and obscuring  Young people of course have ample grounds for concern that progress in regard to the Spinoza case has been unduly slow (350 years and counting). Could it be that the traditional cloaks of philosophical rationalism may have served to obstruct (at least in part) our appreciation of the advances toward peace that Spinoza advocated? That Spinoza advocated in company with so very many other heretics (as peace-makers commonly are labeled) from all of the world’s major religions?

    Metameric comedy  Uniquely in our 21st century, heretical comedians have begun to partner, consciously, rationally, and effectively, with heretical philosophers in advancing the causes of peace. Negin Farsad’s metameric lectures (“A highly scientific taxonomy of haters”, TED2016) and books (How to Make White People Laugh, 2016) are particularly commended in this regard.

    Not everyone finds Negin Farsad’s brand of metameric comedy to be funny (needless to say) but it’s abundantly plain (to me anyway) that Einstein and Spinoza would have laughed.

    After all, for orthodox Spinozists and metameric comedians alike, the foremost human virtue is hilarity, isn’t that right? 🙂

    Donald Trump, in disqualifying contrast, would no laugh much.

    PS  Kudos to Aram Harrow for introducing the wonderful word “metameric” to STEAM discourse. I for one find “Quantum Metameracy” to be comparably thrilling to “Quantum Supremacy”, and indeed metameric themes are becoming prominent across broad domains of our modern age of STEAM.

    PPS  Dorothy’s comments (#284-5) are essentially hilarious in the Spinozist sense (as I read them anyway), but maybe would benefit from some hilarious Farsad-style punch lines?

  287. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    Hi Scott,

    We must have different ideas of friendship. Someone who would join the mob’s efforts — or at least light their torches — to destroy my career because of a bit of ribald humor? For me, there isn’t a loose-enough definition of friendship to fit the bill.

    You’ve highlighted this friendship with Amy before, most recently in your Quora session:

    “Amy…is now a personal friend, which is something I wish my attackers would put into their pipes and smoke!”

    It sounds like you’re still hoping to convince the mob that you’re not such a shitlord after all. As if, somehow, this friendship will provide the crucial piece of evidence (on top of the mountain already in existence) needed convince people like Amanda Marcotte.

    On more than one occasion, you’ve expressed admiration for Amy’s style of writing and intellect. In contrast, I see only rambling paragraphs passing judgement on all manner of groups. It shows a predictable lack of self awareness that she characterizes herself as “slow to condemn”.

    People can be eloquent, both in speech and in exposition, and still express repugnant views. For me, this characterizes Amy and most of what she has contributed here.

    Why would I write this? I really like this blog. It’s where I invest an embarrassing amount of time (as my wife knows) and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it improves my life. I don’t expect this comment to change your position one epsilon amount, but I feel obligated to offer my disagreement, however indelicate.

    Now, back to reading STOC papers.

    @Anon85: I wouldn’t hold my breath. Over the past year, if Amy has shown any expositional ability, it is the art of equivocation. But I don’t think it’s hard to extrapolate an answer from her past condemnations of various groups.

  288. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    Scott #258: `…social justice activist, …—the response virtually always involves the concept of “punching up versus punching down.”… ‘

    The Social Justice Warriors view the world in terms of fixed immutable groups (kind of like creationism) in a fixed immutable power structure, against which a fixed immutable power struggle is needed.

    In the light of recent events, perhaps the SJWs could enlighten the rest of us on a certain Political Correctness technicality. When Muslims kill Gays, are they “punching up or punching down”?

  289. Scott Says:

    AnonLeftyTrump #288: After reading your contributions to this thread (for which I thank you), I do have one question—in what sense are you a “Lefty”? 😉

  290. Shane Says:

    >John Sidles Says:
    >Comment #286 June 18th, 2016 at 8:44 am
    >Shane asserts “Knowing how we humans work, there will no >shortage of reasons to fight [in the 21st century].”
    >Please allow me to disagree, respectfully yet entirely, with the >proposition that “We humans know how we humans work.”

    It’s not that hard to convince me to read some philosophy time to time. So I’ll give those references a try. How to get along in the world is a broad subject. Alas I don’t know enough about Spinoza to respond specifically. But if he’s still on the outs, Voltaire probably has no chance with the Catholics.

    It’s sometimes amazing to think we’re here at all. The Greeks, for example, were well known for waring despite the obvious advantages of co-operation. From that great culture, I read the “Oresteia” for the first time last year. The general arc is that of two warring families each being wronged in abhorrent ways that eventually turned inside the families too. Many of the players therefore had legitimate scores to settle, and some then moral grounds on which to do so. The “Furies” — those lesser gods but always present, always nagging, unrelenting entities — press their subjects into payback in the getting it and giving it. The play sort ends in book III when the senior most gods have a kind of tribunal or court hearing in an effort to break the cycle of pay-and-pay-back. There is a definite turn from the tribal, personal, cultish, local and immediate good to the more societal, reasoned, and global long term good. Like the book says without that more rarified kind of justice such societies will always succumb to dictators (and, if we multiply through by minus one so to say) chaos.

    In our 21st century whether it’s social technology, progressive politics, the smaller world, the world citizens, world order, environmental degradation or interconnectedness relationships are being stressed more and more. So now what? Many science fiction books have only depressing thoughts when the society and relationships take precedence over self-freedom. Or just try being a women in Saudi Arabia nowadays. “Lord of the Flies” makes clear that just because you had all the education, British antiques, Persian carpets, and Ivy League education growing up … well, it doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.

    Anyway — random thoughts — I’ll give Spinoza a spin.

  291. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    Scott #289 “…I do have one question—in what sense are you a “Lefty”?…”

    1. I have always previously voted left of center.

    2. I agree with all the left wing stuff, except for all the stuff I disagree with.

    3. The proponents of the parts I disagree with have become alarmingly more powerful.

    4. The objectionable things can be found on either wing – it’s not really a left/right thing – it’s just that at the moment I find the bad parts of the left (e.g. Progressive Supremacists) to be much more powerful and terrifying than the bad parts of the right (e.g. Christian Supremacists).

    5. Etc. – I don’t feel like spelling out an entire personal manifesto – but it seems perfectly consistent for someone like me to have various ideals and principles that are ethical and sensible and somewhat leftish, while at the same time being so appalled and horrified by certain factions of The Left that I want them to be smashed into oblivion, and I will side with those who share that goal.

  292. HeartlessNeocon Says:

    Dorothy #284: “You do realise the practical consequences of this wonderful idea I assume? The US would have to have a religion test they applied at the border.”

    It’s not that hard. For starters, we can just ban the immigration of people from Muslim heavy countries and regions, eg Syria, Chechnya. This alone would have prevented almost every major Islamic terrorist attack including both WTC attacks, Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, and Ft. Hood I.

    “I assume Clinton isn’t suggesting everyone Muslim in those countries should be killed. Given that a major part of the criticism of a blanket religious ban for entry into the US is the blanket nature of it, your analogy doesn’t seem to hold at all.”

    The intention was, I believe, not to draw analogy, but to point out that blowing up innocents by the dozen is a tad worse than banning Muslim immigration. Although in speaking to many liberals, I get the impression that they are more upset by the latter – discrimination is worse than death.

  293. John Sidles Says:

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

    If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

    In having lunch together (#253), and finding common interests, and arriving at a condition of shared mutual respect — rather than devoting their energies to “smashing each other into oblivion” — Scott and Amy used their time together very wisely and enjoyably (as it seems to me).

    While I’m at it, please allow me to praise too, the writings of Ted Chiang, who is (for me anyway) by a considerable margin the most Spinozist of all “hard” science fiction writers, past or present. As for optimistic modern-day SF writers, any such list (if compiled by me) would include Kathleen Ann Goonan.

  294. dorothy Says:

    HeartlessNeocon #292

    “It’s not that hard. For starters, we can just ban the immigration of people from Muslim heavy countries and regions, eg Syria, Chechnya. This alone would have prevented almost every major Islamic terrorist attack including both WTC attacks, Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, and Ft. Hood I.

    That’s a different policy with its own flaws. It’s quite easy being a politician if the electorate replaces what you say with the closest policy they themselves agree with.

    In the spirit of continuing the debate. how long would *your* proposed policy have had to be in place to prevent the Orlando murders for example?

    “The intention was, I believe, not to draw analogy, but to point out that blowing up innocents by the dozen is a tad worse than banning Muslim immigration. Although in speaking to many liberals, I get the impression that they are more upset by the latter – discrimination is worse than death.”

    This is a logical fallacy. First, there are not only two alternatives that a president must choose from. And second, it’s very hard to argue that a particular immigration is policy is right by saying that some other unconnected policy is wrong.

    Having said that, I do like the idea implicit in your writing that a Trump president would be a pacifist, never using the US military to harm others and desperately trying to find policies, now matter how unconventional, that make the US great again without harming any humans on Earth.

  295. Raoul Ohio Says:

    To cleanse the palate after a week of TrumpTalk, nothing beats a simulation of black hole mergers in the “mosh pit” at the core of a globular cluster:

    That looks like fun!

  296. amy Says:

    Scott #240: Hi, Scott — yeah, I went back and forth about that bit, but I think in the end it’s true, and probably far more directly than the adventurism example might be for you. (I trust a tangible-personal-interest example much more than I do a theoretical-interest one.) For you the only comparable example, and it’s not very good, might have to do with Foxman, or even the Six-Day War. And by the time you were born, the disadvantages our fathers had, as Jewish men in this country, were more or less gone. Unless maybe they wanted to join white-shoe law firms, or some of the Waspier country clubs. Even Mary Tyler Moore had rallied against anti-semitism in a sitcom by that time.

    Some of the women engaged in the feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s were genuinely nuts, and violent for the cause. Some were just cracked enought to turn their lives over to a cause for some span of years, and I think that most who do that work are propagandists at heart. Not people I am actually comfortable spending time with. I actually went to a Planned Parenthood march in DC once, and in amongst the politely committed were the genuine loons who, in the end, make a movement go. You don’t want to wind up next to them. But there are specific freedoms they’ve won for me, and won fairly recently.

    Last week you had lunch with a longtime single mother who has her own property and career and is not only free, legally and socially, to travel and speak for herself, she’s under no compulsion to remarry. Social or financial. I’m not a lesser person, legally, because I am single. These are all changes that have taken place within my lifetime. You met my daughter, who bears no mark of shame for having a single mom — that’s also something that’s changed within my lifetime. On one side, that child’s 12th-generation American, because I didn’t marry Jewish, something else that would’ve been a scandal, particularly for a woman, when I was little. You met one child and not three because of changes in the law that happened when I was Lily’s age. And I’m part of this conversation about presidential candidates because of the zealotry of certain women a hundred years ago. All over my life, I can point to the changes in law and society that, as a very nice byproduct, allowed us to have lunch. Come to think of it, also as a byproduct of those changes, you could have lunch with a single woman without setting tongues wagging. 40 years ago the presumption would have been that I was there on a campaign to steal you away from Dana (why else would a single mother keep writing to you, visit you? What nerve!). The idea that such a woman could be someone who had things to talk about with you, let alone have a friendship — this wasn’t part of the landscape, when I was little. So I owe those crazy feminists, and so do you.

    Have we still got far to go, yes, I’d say so. You know my daughter and I went to look at Wellesley, which I’d turned down in the 80s in part because that business about women’s careers was still pretty new, and hanging out with almost-exclusively-women seemed like the wrong direction. As it turns out — and as all the moms on the tour were visibly aware — it is to this day women who help women in business and the professions. I think this is unfortunate and a sign that we’re not done. But it’s not surprising to me now that even though I said no 30-some years ago, many of my middle-aged friends went to Wellesley. It’s a beautiful campus with tremendous opportunities for young women precisely because there’s a missionary sense among so many very successful women. They don’t need to physically attack magazine publishers, as one feminist activist famously did; they can write checks. But not on the scale that happens at MIT, and there are reasons for that. Not done yet.

    I see the same thing in the gay community. Last semester I was teaching communication to pre-health-professional students, and when I thought about the most effective public health campaigns I’d seen myself, most of them were to do with AIDS. And that was because of two things: one, the people involved in those campaigns were top media professionals, financial people, and government people who knew what they were doing; and two, other people in that movement were ready to scream at people and crack heads in ways I hadn’t even heard about outside race and labor riots. You’re a little too young, I think, to remember ACT UP, but I do, and these guys were frightening. They were absolutely ready to be violent in the fight for both AIDS drugs and recognition as human beings. The two in concert – media/money/governmental smarts and will to violence – produced profound social changes. I do not think that without the violent guys 30 years ago we’d have legal gay marriage, or even thinkable gay marriage, today.

    Same with labor, for that matter. The new US Dept of Labor overtime regs, which wouldn’t have existed without generations of people — mostly but not all men — willing to be violent, will affect me. In fact they affect me today: I’m writing this instead of reading a student’s manuscript because I’m thinking much more carefully now about who gets my time, and who I’ll bend a rule for. I have some decisions to make about how I’m going to work, and I have that power because of those fights (which also, incidentally, played some role in my having been able to visit you — vacation time, job security, all those union vestiges).

    So yes, I am slow to condemn. I wouldn’t have gone and shouted at Zuccotti Park, I’m not going to rant around for Bernie. But — in the crudest and simplest of ways — in their aims they’re right, and maybe there is no other way of getting there. I know about their aims more directly than a lot of them do, for the same reasons Paul Krugman waxed about in an essay maybe 15 years ago: I’m old enough to remember a middle class, and what it meant for people, for this country. Around the time you were born was when it really started to die. The kids I teach now don’t know what it is. My kid believe she’s middle class because she grew up in a vestige of it, a university town that lives on tax money, taxes high, and routinely votes socialists to city council. We’d never live this well in most of America. Not just physically, but in the sense of what it is that one can do with a life. (Compare with my alma mater, a private university on the edge of a collapsed industrial town: that place is something out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel now.) I don’t think we will have it back without those headcases who go too far in places like Zucotti Park. I’ll be very pleased if we do, but I don’t expect it.

    In the end it’s about time: how long any suffering people can wait for the majority of those in control of whatever is needed for relief to (a) recognize the suffering; (b) recognize the injustice of the suffering; (c) do what is necessary to relieve the suffering. There’s a book Martin Luther King wrote about that very thing: Why We Can’t Wait. I think this is what it comes down to each time.

  297. amy Says:

    Which is a nice transition back to Trump.

    What the Trump supporters are living with is real, as real as the spike in white middle-aged suicides. I’m also far enough out of touch with struggling in this country now to have been really shocked by an unemployment stat that showed up in NYT not long ago — I don’t remember the number, but some massive proportion of adults under 50 are still unemployed, particularly among the poorly-educated. These are people who not only live miserably but are watching their lives evaporate, watching themselves do nothing but get old and have less, do nothing for their variously-addicted children who also have nothing. We have generations now that have grown up, and are growing up, to expect little or nothing from life.

    I don’t think there’s anything new about the fantasies that grow up in an environment like that: hellfire and salvation, various forms of magic. Huddling. Perimeters. Reinterpretations of reality that allow for glory. If you have no control over anything real except the people nearby who are smaller than you are, and no way of getting out, of course you go live in these fantasies. I really don’t think these people can wait very much longer for anything. They are actually dying. The last time we were in this situation, we were richer, and a war and an aristocratic reformer came along and saved the day — but not before we had all kinds of pathology going on, everything from Coughlinism to streetcorner Commies to American Nazis to traveling shows of big squalid families falling down speaking in tongues.

    I don’t know what would induce us, though, to the kind of wealth-spreading that the war induced. And short of that, maybe a Trump is what you get. I don’t mean to sound expressionist and apocalyptic, but I also don’t know how to push the conversation away from that picture. It’s where those stories go.

    A few months ago, my daughter, having seen for the first time the drowned-cities sea-rise-projection simulations, freaked out at the shortsightedness of Boomers and the problems that were being left to her generation, and then suddenly asked me what my generation had done. The question caught me completely by surprise, and the best I could answer in the moment was “We survived?” And then: “We preserved things for you?” This was not a ringing endorsement of my generation, and I wasn’t at all happy with it. But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s likely accurate. The idea of a middle class, the idea of public arts, of the ability of any ordinary person to make something of his or her life, and to speak and be heard…of a coherent society that involves personal liberties…of science as a mode of thought, of the ability to think and write and play…of public places, and quiet places, and places more or less free of human beings…it seems to take a lot of force to preserve these now and teach young people what they are. Not only what they are, but a sense of entitlement to them. The preservation and transmission of that culture is difficult.

  298. amy Says:

    Anon #269: implicit in a social contract are obligations to others. A reasonable and humane society recognizes that some of the normal burdens are insupportable for various people at various times — suppose you’re ill, for instance, and have to turn all your attention to your own life, or you have small children and don’t have time to read the news. If you’re able, though, life in a society does require you to go out and see what’s going on, and do for people you may not know.

    Heartless Neocon #243: Yep, you’re right.

    Various others wanting to philosophize in pretend Cartesian worlds about dongles and harassment: Context matters and so do realities like housing, paying for one’s old age, and bias in hiring and promotion. Were the harassment and dick jokes merely unpleasant, like, say, depressing conference-center decor, they wouldn’t matter. Where they reinforce a discriminatory landscape that actively harms people, they matter. (And no, I am not here to teach a course on gender bias in STEM. If you’re actually interested in learning about it, I invite you to use your institutional access privileges and go read. If you don’t have institutional access privileges, let me know.)

  299. amy Says:

    JASA #287: You know, you can always skip mine. Way long ago I said I wasn’t here (or anywhere) as part of an army, incidentally. And that’s true. You’ll also note that I said both companies overreacted in the dongle case. But yes, I do think that an employee who, despite warnings, continues to behave in a way that aggravates known problems in a workplace or industry should be fired.

    Raoul Ohio #295: Oops. Sorry.

    John Sidles #293: (about lunch) I agree! And I’m sorry we didn’t have longer. We were just getting started on a good conversation about teaching when we had to get up. I think what you’re talking about to Shane, though, is the inevitability of finding reasons to fight (rather than the general ability to find reasons to fight, which is what I think he was talking about.)

    I didn’t really pay attention to peace studies when it got rolling as a field — it seemed really soft and mushy next to the power-up-and-win-the-game technocratic training I got in the 80s, and I thought it was probably baloney. I’m pretty sure I was wrong about that, though — peace is a valuable and unusual condition, so why wouldn’t you study it and try to learn how to preserve and deepen it? And now I’m seeing other fields wandering over to it — there’s an OCW lecture series I started watching last month to do with urban planning for peace. It sounds like a great idea, really, being thoughtful about how urban design promotes or dissuade what’s essentially cosmopolitanism. Can a cosmopolitan city disintegrate, sure, but maybe a cosmopolitan city is less inclined than a divided city is to war. (Or maybe Robert Frost was right, even when one neighbor is poor and one is rich.)

  300. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    @amy 299

    “You know, you can always skip mine.”

    Interesting. In the past, is that how you’ve reacted to content you found objectionable?

    So, no, I really can’t skip your comments. I think that not challenging bullies is exactly how we’ve ended up with bullies as de facto representatives of the Left.

  301. eventhisoneistaken Says:

    De-lurking specifically to give a virtual upvote and major props to @JustAnotherShitlordAnon. You’re not alone. Keep reading those STOC papers, good luck with the CS career. Be careful what you say in public — keep in mind Tim Hunt, Larry Summers, James Watson and others. You can eventually afford to develop a bit of a post-tenure Tourettes, but even that, within limits.

  302. amy Says:

    JASA #300, not so much in the past, but in the more-or-less-present and I expect in the future, yes, often. The internet, as you know, is full of people being wrong, and even the ones who aren’t wrong can be damned unpleasant. And life is short, and I’ve got other things to do.

    If the someone appears to be specially bright, or particularly insightful, and I disagree, I’ll still hang around and read. But if someone’s looking like garden-variety, been-said-a-thousand-times, not-particularly-smart wrongheaded? Neh. Pass.

    So, you know. If you’ve got no particular respect for what I’m saying, then by all means, skip. I’m sure you don’t feel obliged to read everything in every other venue you light upon, either. Lot of writers in the world, lot of blatherers.

  303. Daniel Seita Says:

    Sorry for finding this blog post late. First, I’d like to congratulate you for stating your opinion on this, which I wholeheartedly agree with. I wish more professors would write about politics in their blogs.

    Second, sorry (again!) about asking this, but I couldn’t help but imagine the following situation: Marcotte and Trump are the only two candidates for being the US president, and you have the power to pick one of them, and your pick will be the definitive one (perhaps all other voters in the world skip the election).

    For fun, we can even throw in Lubos Motl, for a three-way race for being president.

    I honestly don’t know who I’d want among those three. I’m guessing we would both slightly lean towards Marcotte but I really am not confident in that prediction.

  304. eventhisoneistaken Says:

    Oh @amy? Since you seem to care about women’s issues, can I get your thoughts on a certain religion that stones women for adultery, whips them for driving, and imprisons them for reporting rape? Surely that’s worse than anything Trump has ever done, no?

  305. Scott Says:

    Daniel #303: In the terrible situation you describe, the one silver lining is that I’d have the power of kingmaker. So I would see what public, binding concessions to pursue reasonable policies I could extract from Marcotte, Motl, and Trump in exchange for me appointing them president of the US. Probably I’d hold a long series of televised three-way debates, with me as the chief moderator (and a panel of sub-moderators, composed of the experts in each field who I most respect), using the unusual situation to focus attention on the issues I cared about. My guess is that Motl would be eliminated early on, since he shares all the lunacies of Trump and furthermore isn’t even American (which means appointing him would violate the Constitution, admittedly not more than we’ve already violated it in this exercise! 🙂 ). Marcotte could put herself in the lead with an extended, soul-searching apology for past cruelties (not just to me but to others) and a commitment to theoretical computer science research and math/science magnet schools. But if she didn’t, and if Trump changed his tune about most of his platform—something I wouldn’t put past him, given his behavior in this election—my threat to defect to him would be credible.

  306. John Sidles Says:

    Amy remarks  “When I thought about the most effective public health campaigns I’d seen myself, most of them were to do with AIDS.”

    Plenty of illuminating examples support Amy’s cogent observation.

    In hindsight, it’s plain that 20th century works like Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award-winning Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1993) paved the way for our 21st century acceptance of gay marriage.

    Needless to say, it took great creative talent (on Kushner’s part) to transform a devastating medical tragedy into society-transforming art.

    In sobering contrast, mathematician Serge Lang’s arch-rationalist files on AIDS (1993-2005) nowadays read not as any kind of art or science, but as the tragic record of a supremely rational intellect disastrously subjugated to its own rationality.

    Are these themes continuing in the present day? Two examples are The Onion’s brilliantly compassionate review by Peter Rosenthal of Pixar’s Finding Dory (2015) and the much-anticipated release of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (to be released this coming fall under the title Arrival ).

    These empathy-centric artworks can be appreciated as mass-culture reflections of Terry Tao’s dryly formal yet explicitly empathy-centric essay “Epistemic logic, temporal epistemic logic, and the Blue-Eyed Islander puzzle lower bound” (2011), which Tao links in support of his more recent essay “It ought to be common knowledge that Donald Trump is not fit for the presidency of the United States of America” (2016).

    It seems that few or no folks are discussing why Tao saw fit to link “temporal epistemic logic” to “Trump unfitness”. As the empathic lessons of Pixar’s Finding Dory and Chiang’s Story of Your Life become more culturally assimilated, will the empathic implications of Tao’s mathematical essays be assimilated more completely into the evolving traditions of rationalism? And will this empathic assimilation require profound (Tao-style) transformations of the epistemic foundations of rationalist culture?

    Surely it is rational to hope so!

    And might this evolution extend the concept of “mathematical maturity” to encompass “empathic maturity” (including the epistemic extensions to mathematical logic that Tao’s 2011 essay surveys)?

    Surely it is rational to expect so.

    Indeed this empathic extension already is vigorously and irretrievably underway (as it seems to me) across a broad domain of STEAM enterprises. Tao’s essays are just one reflection of the transformative empathic extension of the 21 century’s STEAM enterprise.


    PS  Today’s essay by Michael Harris “Is it common knowledge that anyone is fit to be US President?” (Mathematics Without Apologies, 20-6-2016) has regrettably continued the all-too-prevalent, yet profoundly dysfunctional (as it seems to me), rationalist tradition of ignoring (Tao-style) empathic assessments of (Trump-style) political fitness.

  307. amy Says:

    Hey John, respectfully, what are you on about with this empathic stuff? It seems plain that whatever you’re talking about is A Thing, with its own terminology and discussions, but I don’t know anything about it. Is there a fundamental essay floating around somewhere, or something else people can read about it? Or can you explain?

    I will say I’m dubious about STEAM. STEM, on inspection, has enough trouble holding together as A Thing; the attempts STEM and arts have made to meet seem to me to involve a lot of smiling and nodding and not a lot of real generativity. I meet precious few STEM people who know what arts are, or anything about how they’re done; the closest connection is usually music, but the real music people I meet, the grownup musicians who spend their lives at it, don’t seem to get very close to STEM. The classical musicians get as far as linguistics and librarianship, and occasionally a toe in math. It’s something they had an interest in when young.

    And the writers don’t usually come near unless they’re science fiction people, in which case the quality of their writing doesn’t usually get them invited to literary-writer circles, which is where the fine art happens. I think I’ve yet to see the visual arts really make anything happen with STEM. Performance arts, same. You get decorations and forays but not art.

    I think you’re right on, though, about Angels in America, which was not just about a medical tragedy but about a time, and it was exceptionally well-observed by someone whose time it wasn’t, and who understood the dream quality of fiction. Kushner came of age in the 70s, not the 80s, but boy, did he know how to see. Unfortunately its timebound quality has hampered revivals. There are plays that can open up to accept a new time, but I think you’d need another such plague to make this one do it, and then I don’t know what you’d do with the rest of the 80s that’s in there, the power-madness at the end of the Cold War.

    I still have trouble accepting “Icahn Field” as a thing, incidentally.

  308. adamt Says:

    JASA #300 and Amy #302,

    Not just the internet, but the whole world is full of wrong people! Great Spaghetti Monster how annoying they are! And how are they wrong? Here is how:

    They look inward and find an ‘I’ that is all important and must be defended at all cost. They look outward and see a sea of ‘I’s that they divide into ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ and ‘neutrals.’ And by what criterion do they separate ‘friend’ from ‘enemy’ and ‘neutral?’ Here is how:

    They look upon someone who is agreeable or pleasant with respect to their own ‘I’ and judge them friend.

    They look upon someone who is disagreeable or unpleasant with respect to their own ‘I’ and judge them enemy.

    They look upon someone who is neither or is uninteresting – not arousing any passion – and judge them neutral.

    But what happens when someone who we label ‘friend’ does something we disagree with? They instantly start appearing more and more like an ‘enemy’. And what happens when someone who we label ‘enemy’ does something we agree with? They instantly start appearing more and more like a ‘friend’. And what happens when they do things we don’t care about? They instantly start appearing more and more ‘neutral’ and we become uninterested.

    Look and see if that isn’t what is happening at a base level.

    Regard those you label ‘enemy’ as your teachers. Regard your ‘friends’ as your teachers. Pacify and subdue your mind. Realize that all ‘I’s are insubstantial and unreal… like an illusion.

    Develop compassion and empathy and good qualities for all the wrong people on the internet and in the world who are suffering from the delusions. Whose happiness – just like our own – is held like a prisoner of the delusions.

    Or just keep fighting it out and thinking the other person is literally JUST. THE. WORST. and completely devoid of any good qualities at all and could never understand anything because they are just so awfully wrong… LOL

  309. AnonLeftyForTrump Says:

    After conducting a successful war against aggressions, and a kilo-war against milli-aggressions, the remaining injustices are so miniscule that we now have a mega-war against micro-aggressions. This will escalate to a giga-war against nano-aggressions followed by a tera-war against pico-aggressions. It won’t stop there.

  310. Anon Says:

    Amy #298, RE: Anon #269

    My problem is not with the existence of the societal burdens. My problem is with the imposing. The lack of dialog, the decision that whatever is the consensus (about dick jokes) in woman’s studies departments is a “universal consensus” that you ignore at your own peril. That is not how societal consensus is formed! That is not a recipe for a society in which most people are OK and feeling represented. This “heavy hand” consensus will bring resistance, and that is not surprising.

    Or, perhaps, back to Trump: The idea that the liberal “consensus” about immigration and about the rights of muslins (and consequent obligations of non-muslins) is fixed and cannot be discussed is a big imposition. Resistance is here, in the form of Donald Trump. It is not surprising a development, nor is it, in my opinion, a bad one.

  311. Mayra Montrose Says:

    Good column, Scott. I have a correction to make:

    “Notwithstanding this site, I don’t belong on any list with Tao, Hawking, or Witten.” Ahem…

    Wishing you and your family the very best!

  312. John Sidles Says:

    Amy remarks respectfully (#307) that “[Empathy is] A Thing, with its own terminology and discussions, but I don’t know anything about it. Is there a fundamental essay floating around somewhere, or something else people can read about it? Or can you explain?”

    Mathematical answers  In regard to abstract algebra, Emma Noether was fond of saying “Es steht alles schon bei Dedekind” (“This is all already in Dedekind”). An beautiful account of the context for Noether’s maxim is Colin McLarty’s article “Emmy Noether’s ‘set theoretic’ topology: from Dedekind to the rise of functors”, which is collected in The Architecture of Modern Mathematics. (Oxford University Press, 2006).

    Similarly of empathy it might be said “It is all already in Spinoza”, or “It is all already in Homer”, and essays upon this theme might be collected under the aegis The Empathic Architecture of Modern Mathematics.

    Such a collection would be terrifically interesting (as it seems to me), and indeed there are several modern collections that approach it; one such is Apostolos Doxiades’ and Barry Mazur’s collection Circles Disturbed: the Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative (Princeton University Press, 2012).

    Bill Thurston’s much-praised essay “On proof and progress in mathematics” (which was written as a response to critics of Thurston’s style of mathematics) similarly includes discussions of the roles of intuition, association, and metaphor in mathematical cognition; these elements are crucial to empathic cognition also.

    On the other hand, Homer and Spinoza and Dedekind and Noether and Thurston are all long dead; and for all that their authors write with great passion, their essays and books tend to be pretty dry.

    A friendlier answer  With a view toward a friendlier answer, the following exercise suggested itself: choose a dozen empathically significant passages from Ted Chiang’s novella “Story of Your Life”; then comment (with further references) upon the mechanism(s) and meaning(s) of the various forms of empathic cognition that Chiang novella presents.

    This exercise has turned out to be considerably richer and more challenging (even harrowing) than I first anticipated; still I promise to post at least a brief outline of a STEAM-friendly empathy-centric “Story of Your Life” commentary in the next few days. Examples follow:

    An easy passage  “I have a sixth sense about these things,” you’ll say. Your face will give nothing away.

    “I get the feeling it’s going to be a scorcher. Good thing you’re dressed for it, Mom.”

    I’ll glare at you, and say good night. As I lead Nelson toward his car, he’ll ask me, amused, “I’m missing something here, aren’t I?”

    “A private joke,” I’ll mutter. “Don’t ask me to explain it.”

    Why doesn’t Dr. Louise Banks (the story’s linguist-protagonist) want her date Nelson to ask for an explanation of the “private joke”? Why does Banks’ daughter insist upon making this joke, despite her mother’s opposition? And why does author Chiang include this joke in the story?

    A harder passage  Like physical events, with their causal and teleological interpretations, every lin- guistic event had two possible interpretations: as a transmission of information and as the realization of a plan.

    “I think that’s a good idea, Colonel,” I said.

    It was an ambiguity invisible to most.

    A private joke; don’t ask me to explain it.

    What “invisible ambiguity” does Dr. Banks have in mind? Why is Dr. Banks again reluctant to explain this second joke? Why does author Chiang include this second joke in the story, or indeed, include any jokes at all? What would be lost if all jokes were excised from “Story of Your Life”? More specifically, what elements of human empathic cognition would not be illuminated? To what extent do joke-synthesis and joke-appreciation serve as unforgeable social certificates of empathic capacity? Does help us to understand why a human capacity for joking, even in the face of tragedy, is culturally universal and evolutionarily conserved?

    Definitely this empathy-centric deconstructive exercise has greatly increased my anticipation of Hollywood’s film version of Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (arriving in fall of 2016, retitled as Arrival).

  313. Sandro Says:

    amy #298:

    Various others wanting to philosophize in pretend Cartesian worlds about dongles and harassment.

    I take it that’s an offhand reference to me. It’s interesting that you think I live in a Cartesian world when you’ve now explicitly equated the dongle joke with harassment, a particularly grievous and unethical behaviour. I’d love to hear the argument supporting that conclusion.

    I don’t think anyone that isn’t already entrenched in the outskirts of the feminist movement would label it so, despite the “discriminatory landscape”.

    As an aside, I’m simply amazed every time these blow up, and I usually just wait to read the responses by professional philosophers that analyze each side’s argument.

    Here’s the rough correlation I’ve found: the extent of the blowup is inversely proportional to the ethical stakes. Essentially, yet another instance of Sayre’s law. Which is a shame, because it takes much needed attention away from the real issues in science and engineering.

    Were the harassment and dick jokes merely unpleasant, like, say, depressing conference-center decor, they wouldn’t matter. Where they reinforce a discriminatory landscape that actively harms people, they matter.

    Since you don’t want to engage these issues on principled grounds, where I don’t think they’ll survive scrutiny, on more practical grounds where we might like to bridge the gender gap through active measures, I also reject your claim that the scenarios you’ve mentioned reinforce discrimination in STEM.

    If anything, going after the trivial infractions of etiquette that have been discussed here just reinforce some of the absurd stereotypes that feminism is trying to destroy. You’re also creating your own enemies via the aforementioned Sayre’s law, and then pointing to them as proof of how dire the situation is.

  314. amy Says:

    John #312 – you can’t be dry on a wine-dark sea. Don’ know nuthin bout Spinoza, though.

    One of the things that told me that the internet was making a new culture was a shared joke. I don’t remember what the joke was — something to do with All Your Base, a language-and-culture joke itself — but it was between a Turkish kid and another non-anglophone-country kid, and it was very funny, and and a very specific, obviously shared kind of humor, one I understood, too. It was something I hadn’t seen before, that quickness and ease in joking among strangers from very different places, different cultures. It’s difficult to remember now, but people overseas really did used to be very far away, very expensive to have a real-time conversation or joke with, and foreign humor seemed foreign. To me, anyway.

    I’m still finding the rest sort of puzzling, though — why this urge to reason through these things? Why are recognition and enjoyment not enough?

    I just finished rereading Light in August — the first time I’d read it in over 20 years, and so much easier this time around; the language is as beautiful as ever, but the stories are laid out plainly to me now. I’d had to work very hard, as a young woman, to understand what the book was about. I imagine, though I don’t know, that it’s because I just know much more about people and how they do than I did 20 years ago. But it’s as good as it is in part because he does understand both the small change and the heavy currency in the commerce among people, their relationships, what the words and gestures and omissions bear. That’s a thing common to all fine novelists and story writers and playwrights, that understanding and the ability to relay it.

    Sandro #313 – reading philosophical analyses and reasoning is not a good way of understanding these problems. Seeking to understand the lives of other people — with the intention of understanding, rather than arguing — is a great aid, though.

  315. JustAnotherShitlordAnon Says:

    @ eventhisoneistaken #301

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, in academia, expressing even a fraction of what I’ve said here would be dangerous to my career.

    @ amy #302 and #264

    “If you’ve got no particular respect for what I’m saying, then by all means, skip.”

    “Did he deserve the public embarrassment? I have no problem with it.”

    First, you needn’t concern yourself with how I spend my time.

    Second, as to why I won’t skip your comments: whether I respect your views is irrelevant. The important thing is that you deserve to be heard without fear of the mob.

    And that simple idea is where we differ. In your world, it’s okay for an individual to be publicly destroyed because his/her beliefs don’t align with yours. But in my opinion, this kind of behavior is lethal to any society worth having.

    Ideas should be expressed – that’s a critical step in refuting the dubious ones. But the refutation part is important. By not vocalizing my opposition to your bullying behavior, it feels like I’m condoning it.

    @ Scott

    This brings me back to Trump and what we can do to prevent individuals of his caliber from being taken seriously in the future.

    I think the Left has lost credibility because we’ve remained silent on even the most easily refuted tactics used by the bullies on “our side”. And since we’ve let our bullies speak for us, the Right has trotted out their best bully in response.

    Academia is a good example of this terrible silence. Imagine if a few hundred academics at major universities issued a public statement that the 77-cent wage gap is *not* evidence of sexism? Or that defining racism according to a “punching up vs punching down” rule is nonsense?

    Perhaps nobody would care, but I suspect the opposite given recent events in the press. At the very least, we’d no longer be abdicating our responsibility to challenge bad ideas, and that’s a step in the right direction.

  316. John Sidles Says:

    At Seattle’s Amazon BookStore yesterday, I was struck by a prominently displayed book by Dr. Michele Borba, titled UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World (2016). It turns out that this book is commonly purchased together with Dr. Borba’s Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing (2002) and Dr. Bob Sornson’s Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy (2013).

    These empathy-genre books all are highly rated by the buying public (modal rating 5-of-5) and the posted comments too are overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

    Many comments are by parents, and these comments reflect enormous and ongoing familial investments in cultivating empathic cognition. So Sayre’s Law (of Sandro’s comment #298) doesn’t apply, does it? Because in child-rearing, the stakes most definitely are high.

    The brisk sales of empathy-centric child-rearing books, as appreciated with due regard to the tremendous parental commitment that is associated to child-rearing, strongly support Amy’s observation (#) that empathy-studies and parenting-for-empathy have become “A Thing, with Its Own Terminology and Discussions.”

    Along parallel lines, multiple SO comments by “JustAnotherSh*tlordAnon” (and his/her supporters) have motivated me to enquire whether “sh*tlordism” or “sh*tlordality” might also be “A Thing, with Its Own Terminology and Discussions”.

    The answer appears to be “yes”; still I have not found any in-depth descriptions of sh*tlordosis (or whatever it is called), or any whole-hearted defense of the practical or moral advantages of sh*tlordist cognition.

    Unironically we are lead to ask, is there any popular literature along the lines “How to raise your child to be a sh*tlord”? If not, why not? Heck, its not apparent (to me) why anyone would voluntarily choose to label themselves as a “sh*tlord”.

    Seriously, what’s up with that?

    PS  Please don’t infer that I’m a pro-empathy true-believer. For me, Dr. Borba’s UnSelfie focuses upon empathic practices that are insufficiently dangerous and heretical. Which is to say, practices that plausibly are beneficent for children, but for adults are “weak tea”. There’s no shortage of adult-grade empathy-positive literature whose cognitive impact is more like a shot of strong whisky than a cup of weak tea! 🙂

  317. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Leonard Susskind’s Open Letter on “The Lunatic” Says:

    […] my own anti-Trump post two weeks ago, I started out by mentioning that Terry Tao and Stephen Hawking had recently […]

  318. William Cohen Says:

    Scott, thanks for a thoughtful post and leading a thoughtful discussion. My concrete suggestion would be to run a vote trade site for Bernie supporters that are tempted to vote for Trump as a protest against Hillary. You’d trade a Hillary vote in a contested state for a write-in-for-Bernie protest vote in a safe state.

    More generally, the main new dynamic this cycle seems to be how pissed off people are. A Clinton vote is rationally the best choice but certainly doesn’t scratch that itch.

  319. amy Says:

    Hi, William – as someone working another side of Nadertrading in 2000, I don’t see how such a thing could hurt (though at some point someone’s bound to yell about the “sale of vote” aspect), but I will say that it was damn near impossible to get Florida Naderites to trade. If your vote is an act of pure expression, you’re probably not inclined to think strategically enough to trade. I got a lot of talk back then about how Gore and Bush were the same and so it didn’t matter which one won; talk about wanting to “vote my heart”; wildly inaccurate and firmly-held ideas about how the federal government works; you get the idea. My point is I think that such a site’s likely to be low-yield and, in a much more social-media-borne world than 2000 was, more likely than Nadertrading was to prompt cries of dirty pool. (Yes, I realize my point migrated.)

  320. anon Says:

    John Sidles, Comment #316:

    Calling oneself a shitlord is a (first, crude) attempt at negating the power some people gain when shaming you. In time, one develops better tools.

    It is hard to be shamed for thinking/saying things. Even when I say obviously bad things (in retrospect), if I say them to the right ‘crowd’, I get constructive criticism. But the wrong crowd might make your life hell, even if you say something totally benign.

    Btw, I think empathy is greatly overrated. I mean, as a tool, to understand peoples motivations and better deal with people, it is fine. But trying to appease people just because they are sad/hurt/harmed is foolish. Better to seek your own self-interest, and help people only when taking part of mutually beneficial agreements (or when it costs you little). That is more sustainable and less prone to manipulation.

  321. Sandro Says:

    Amy #314:

    reading philosophical analyses and reasoning is not a good way of understanding these problems. Seeking to understand the lives of other people — with the intention of understanding, rather than arguing — is a great aid, though.

    Empathy is a nice start, but it’s not enough. In fact, empathy will often lead you to make poor moral choices.

    So while I agree that a detailed understanding of circumstances is critical in discerning moral content, only philosophical analysis of those circumstances will yield justifiable, coherent conclusions about what is morally right and what is wrong. Everything else is special pleading, and it’s unfortunately far too common.

  322. Sandro Says:

    John Sidles #316:

    So Sayre’s Law (of Sandro’s comment #298) doesn’t apply, does it? Because in child-rearing, the stakes most definitely are high.

    Firstly, twins studies in behavioural genetics have demonstrated that a significant fraction of our temperament, cognitive abilities and religious/philosophical views are genetically determined. The most significant influence of child rearing is in the emergence of mental disorders, substance abuse, and IQ. So it seems the stakes of child-rearing are much lower than most assume — only being an obviously bad parent, via substance or child abuse, will really stunt your child’s development.

    Secondly, even if the stakes of child rearing were high, it seems evidence that we should first determine what type of rearing we ought to encourage before committing. As I argued above, unrestricted empathy does not seem like a promising choice in this regard.

  323. John Sidles Says:

    another swede affirms (#163)  “It is a bad thing for the vast majority of people to allow the juridical system of civil society to be privatised and shaped as a tool for big corporations to maximise their profit, that should be easy enough to see if you care at all about social equality.”

    Supposing that we affirm Another Swede’s proposition in its negative sense, stating this same proposition in any reasonably comprehensive positive sense isn’t easy, is it?

    Just in the last two days:

    • Trump has given a major speech proposing economic reforms: the promised improvements are transformational; the details are entirely lacking.

    • Clinton has given a major speech proposing economic reforms; the promised improvements are incremental; the details are thoroughly worked out.

    For many folks (including me), the prudent course is to reject Trumpism’s foggy promises and (with a sigh) accept the Clintonian incremental improvements.

    The reason is grounded in history. Plenty of ‘isms’ have promised utopian social transformations (if your favorite ‘ism’ is missing, please accept my apologies):

    Transformation-isms  altruism, anarchism, Bayesianism, Buddhism, capitalism, Catholicism, communism, determinism, environmentalism, exceptionalism, fundamentalism, Islamism, Judaism, libertarianism, Maoism, nationalism, objectivism, populism, progressivism, Protestantism, racism, rationalism, sexism, socialism, Reaganism, Spinozism, Stalinism, Trumpism, and (last but not least) vegetarianism 🙂

    Needless to say, delivering the promised ‘ism’-transformations has proven to be problematic at best and catastrophic at worst.

    A notable positive-sense exception (as it seems to me) has been the 20th faith and practice of scientific medicine — which is not even an ‘ism’. Here the positive-sense ‘faith’ is that recent Moore-doubling improvements in medical capacities can be sustained for many future decades, and the positive-sense ‘practice’ is the equitable extension of first-class medical care to all the citizens of the world.

    A crucial positive-sense medical lesson from STEAM-history (the way that I read it anyway) is that we are at present sufficiently far from the fundamental limits to the domain and range of medicine’s STEAM-engine of social transformation, that the sustainment of progress is both feasible and desirable as a crucial central element of social policy.

    ObamaCare has been a good positive-sense start. So let’s keep going. Let’s push harder. In coming decades, the resulting capacities will be sufficiently transformational as to gratify humanity’s most ‘ism’-istic desires and fantasies. Hopefully! 🙂

  324. amy Says:

    Funny thing.

    So I’m reading a Brexit piece that points out the disparities in the votes, poor minority voters (Remain) v. middle-class white ones (Leave), and the selfcharacterization of the white voters as victims under the EU, even though they’re considerably better-off than the minority voters are. And once again it seems to me that the issue is not “do you have enough” but “do you feel like you’re better than somebody else”. Because what’s terrifying those Leave voters is that they see the people they’d thought of as safely beneath them being brought up to their own level, or, more frightening, their own being lowered.

    It’s an ugly thing, that mode. When I started dating again, a few years after getting divorced, I quickly found that there was a subgroup of single men who were trying to date me specifically because I was a single mom and didn’t have much money. The idea was that I must be so far down on the totem pole that I’d be compelled to respect and thank them merely for having to do with me. If I didn’t want to date them, they’d be enraged, and I’d get nasty remarks about what they perceived my station to be, relative to theirs: how dare I reject them! I was a huge failure, I should be grateful they were interested! And the idea that someone could be anything apart from their rank, or that the ranking system itself was baloney, would send them through the roof. They clung to it like a religion: how else could you know what you should think of yourself, or where you belonged? You had to be better than some people, worse than some people.

    I know that there are people like this, men and women. In a continuous panic about what other people think of them, suspicious that others are judging them, unable to stop thinking about it. I think you do get that crabbed “best to look out for myself and not bother with anyone else unless I get something out of it” mentality in there. The problem is that it’s pathological. These aren’t happy people, and they know they’re not happy people. The only time they’re happy is in the flush of having — in their minds — won an elevation, and the glow fades fast because then they have to defend their new rank. Friendship and love are contingent on loyalty, helping with the rank maintenance. Empathy, in this world, is a snare, if not a horror, because it takes your eye off the ball.

    And it’s nuts. I think the internet’s made this look like a reasonable and dominant mode when it really is not. And that’s because when you look at the people who build the internet and make its rules, it’s a bunch of guys who live this way and really don’t know how to do it any other way. These aren’t happy people. These are people with maybe not the world’s greatest social skills, and what they like working with is ordered systems that operate on something they take for reason. And they’re bound and determined to succeed, so you have to have metrics and ranks. Most points, most pageviews, most dollars, most followers, most whatever. And that’s supposed to earn you a status, and god help anyone who says your status is bullshit and doesn’t matter. Or who humiliates you and makes you come tumbling down in rank, by your own perception.

    It’s just so *dumb*. And, as we keep on seeing, destructive. But it’s real, I think. (Not new, either. I mean that’s the entire character of George Costanza, except it’s played for laughs, because everybody, including George, knows that George is a schmuck.) Here’s the part I really don’t get: the being at a loss, being unable to know what to do with oneself or how to think of oneself, without that ranking system.

  325. Manu Says:

    I attended your talk yesterday at NYAS and spoke with you afterwards. Thank you for the wonderful analysis! and it mirrors my thoughts on Trump exactly, especially the bit about second-graders and the class clown.

  326. anon Says:

    @amy 324: What article were you reading?

    I’ve seen something similar, but that alleged that ‘leave’ was more justified: people voting for it had been stagnant economically for years (

  327. amy Says:

    Yeah, England’s hinterland’s been in trouble since Thatcher took a mace to it and killed off what she could of the welfare state. I remember the days. If you’re old enough you’ll remember the skinhead stuff that went on then, too; this racism we’re seeing isn’t new. If you want a humane take I recommend Mike Leigh’s early movies, esp. Life is Sweet and Topsy Turvy, and then, if you don’t want to breathe for a while, Naked. (And then, for something more acrid, Fish Bowl.) It was strong enough stuff that it gave me a real twinge staying with friends in Canary Wharf decades later. The banks moved in there as they did in the US (ours followed theirs, actually), public assets sold off, privatized. The difference there was that they haven’t our ridiculous Randian bootstrappy foolishness and it wasn’t actually possible to kill off the social safety net entirely…although it’s true the council flat in London where I used to live was sold for about a million pounds some time ago.

    Anyway. The midlands problem there was same as the rust belt’s problem here: disappearance of reason for being. And that (pouring myself some organic Willamette Valley wine; I learned the style even if I wasn’t willing to do what it took to maintain the balances) isn’t an EU problem, it’s a commodification problem. The stuff they used to make there, mine there, all went to what used to be the third world, including China. The whole of England can’t work at Glaxo. And the North of England, as far as I can make out, has been forgotten quite as thoroughly as, say, Ohio has. Whose fault? Well.

    One thing that struck me the last time I was in London — a changed city from the days before the Single Market — was how very young it was. What a marvelous place to be if you’re in your early 30s, with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and rich, from anywhere. This is not the case in cities working hard to survive. Chicago is a city of gray heads on bikes. Philadelphia is middle-aged. But I can’t say I’m surprised that London and all its money has untethered.

    The problem is that the remedy the losers seek is not a remedy. And the winners don’t understand the problem. Really do not. I know it, but I’m the wrong generation, know what Bruce is singing about.

    I’ll admit to rambling. (Nice wine.) I am remembering traveling around Britain on my own at the age of 16, hitchhiking. Since I was the nearest representative of the Empire a great many cranks wanted to take me home and give me tea and talk at me, and I let them. Only pinkos wanted to rant at a young American in Reagan’s days. The labour movement was different from here — stronger, redder, more powerful in government. More literary, too, and certainly more rhetorically accomplished — although I think Ted Kennedy would certainly have been at home. I think that to have a sense of what’s happened in Brexit you have to hear that underneath. I still have some books from those days; here’s a blurb from the back of Tony Benn’s _Arguments for Socialism_ (Benn was a high-up and frequent minister for Labour in the 60s and 70s): “Benn’s faith in the capacity of ordinary people to govern themselves emerges here as the most attractive feature of the politics of a man so often caricatured by the popular press as the Labour Party’s major threat to democracy and freedom.” This is very different from the revolutionary air in the US at the time: I’ve also taken off the shelf William O. Douglas’s _Points of Rebellion_ — he was a Supreme Court justice, remember — I open it up at random and it says, “Secrecy about crucial facts concerning Soviet or Chinese plans is the Pentagon’s most powerful weapon.” It’s all about the ability of a man to speak, to stand for nature, for the poor, for himself, in the face of a crushingly powerful and paranoid government. It’s about Johnny Tremain, not Marxism.

    If you draw a line from Benn through Mike Leigh’s movies and the privatized banker’s world of Canary Wharf and straight on to Brussels, you see the problem: these are not just losers, these are labourers who once ran their own worlds, or nearly did so, whose lives have been technocratically removed from them with the help of money from everywhere. A technorectomy. And that’s what’s meant in context, I think, by globalisation.

    Plus a whole basket of racial slurs, decades’ worth.

  328. abrit Says:

    amy ##327

    I think the Brexit vote in the UK is less well understood than it might be. First, people voted Leave for a whole host of reasons, some of which haven’t hit the press yet as far as I can tell. As an example, I went to one area where farmers were voting to leave because of the way the EU had treated them over mad cow disease! (This was a problem for UK cattle farmers from 1996-2006.)

    In my experience people simply hanged any political discontent they had at all on the referendum whether or not it was rationally connected to the EU at all. It is highly unclear, for example, that leaving the EU will reduce the number of Muslims in the UK or solve the housing crisis in the South-East or improve the NHS which seemed to be three of the aims of those who voted to Leave. The point being a) that immigration is a net economic benefit to the nation and b) the main reason why immigration might go down is if the UK economy is weaker thereby making it less attractive as a destination. In effect the referendum question become in many people’s minds “Have you ever been really annoyed by anything that you can blame on politics?”.

    Second, the Leave campaign simply ran a brilliant (if mendacious) campaign. They persuaded the population that all expert advice was evidence of a conspiracy by the elite against the working man/woman and should therefore be discarded. This in one stroke nullified the main case of the Remain camp, which was that (almost literally) everyone who was qualified to know, thought it would be a disaster to leave. The Leave camp then ran a Trump style campaign of fear, borderline and actual racism and nationalist jingoism (e.g. “Take back control”, “Breaking point” (in relation to immigration)). Some leaked memos suggest they were directly inspired by Trump’s success.

    I strongly suspect that had the leave camp run their campaign less brilliantly, and with fewer outright but successful lies, then they would not have won.

    The point being that a 55/45 win for Remain would not have resulted in this analysis of the UK population’s psychology that we have seen and could well have the been the outcome had only a small number of things worked out differently.

  329. Andrey Babitskiy Says:

    If so many people across the partisan divide seriously believe that he’s a real danger to the future of United States, why don’t they act accordingly? When facing a real national threat, both parties usually cooperate.
    On the part of Republicans, it means public repudiation of Trump. He only won so many republican votes during the primaries, so there is a considerable upside for those who dare to go against the current, not only a downside.
    As for Hillary, I think she could win lots of votes if she suggested some kind of Moncloa pact. She could promise, for example, to make a republican the Secretary of State, or voluntarily curb some of her presidential powers for the first term in the White house. It would cost her some Sanders’ voters and some executive elbow-room, but the possible gains are enormous. Not only she saves the State which she claims to like, but she also enters the history as a Great Peacemaker (instead of a Hereditary Plutocrat or something).
    Now it looks like a Zugzwang. The American people can expect to be ruled either by Trump or by Hillary-who-just-defeated-Trump. The latter, I guess, is much worse than Hillary-as-usual, because her political mandate will be inflated by universal recognition of the narrow escape just undertaken.
    I realize that both Dems and Republicans know their public choice theory and don’t care about the future of the country, but in that case there is nothing anybody can do.

  330. anonymous Says:

    Problem with SJWs is heavily underestimated in this article and neither of solutions involve it. I guess, this article made the situation worse by treating SJW’s as natural phenomenon. While SJW’s are in favor, any kind of Trump/Hitler/Mugabe is possible.

    For Hillary supporters, there’s no solution, but to publicly accept, that there is the issue with SJW, and by no matter it’s a minor issue.
    Actually I believe there’s certain ballance in this world, and scale of SJW issue is on par with Trump presidency.

  331. anonymous Says:

    Instead of saying how Trump is a bad person, we need to think about the future of the US of A under the Clinton administration. She fully endorses political correctness and the narrative of “social justice” especially as regards gender relations. Thus, “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) will feel much more at home and free to attack everyone with impunity. No matter how much closer Prof. Aaronson might get towards proving P = NP, he could be driven ultimately to resign from his job because he is insufficiently politically correct in the opinion of any given SJW at any given time.

  332. anon Says:

    Anonymous #331 has the right sentiment.

    I think that my tribe (scientists, mathematicians, engineers) have more to fear from hillary than Trump. That hillary’s PC on campus will harm my tribe, and hillary’s PC on cities will harm my tribe. That, for me, is the beginning and the end of it.

  333. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » The Ninth Circuit ruled that vote-swapping is legal. Let’s use it to stop Trump. Says:

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  334. Lex Corvus Says:

    As a counterpoint, here’s what I see in the list of Trump’s supposedly disqualifying statements and beliefs: a misunderstanding of the nature of negotiation.

    To those familiar with negotiation, it’s obvious that all of Trump’s supposedly crazy proposals are anchoring first offers designed to lead to a better final agreement. For example, by proposing a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the US, Trump lays the groundwork for a more moderate solution (“extreme vetting” from certain terrorist-prone countries, say) that allows him to make concessions while still getting what he wants.

    I suggest watching the negotiation haggle from Monty Python’s Life of Brian to get a sense of how ridiculous the hyperventilating over Trump’s statements looks to a viewer wise in the ways of negotiation.

    “Four? For this gourd? Look at it! It’s worth ten if it’s worth a shekel!”

    “You just gave it to me for nothing!”

    “Yes, but it’s worth ten!”

    “All right, all right!”

    “No, no, no, no. It’s not worth ten! You’re supposed to argue. ‘Ten for that! You must be mad!’ [Brian leaves.] Oh, well. One born every minute.”

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  338. And the winner is… Harambe | A bunch of data Says:

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