Exciting opportunities at Kabul University!

Update (Sept. 6): Alright, as promised in this post, I’ve now matched a reader’s generosity by donating $2,000 to NARAL’s Avow fund, which is fighting for abortion rights for women in Texas. Woke people on Twitter, I invite you/youse/y’all to figure out some creative ways to condemn me for that.

Normally, early fall is the time when I’d use this blog to advertise positions in quantum information and theoretical computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, for prospective PhD students, postdocs, and faculty. This year, you might say, anyone trying to recruit academics to Texas has a … teensy bit of a PR problem. We already had PR problems, first over the “failure by design” of our electrical grid in the winter, second over Governor Abbott’s battle against local mask mandates, which has made Texas the second-most notoriously covid-friendly state after Florida.

Now, of course, Texas has effectively outlawed abortion—well, after the 6th week, which is before many women even realize they’re pregnant, and when the fetus is still the size of a grain of rice and looks like this.

There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and—this is the “novel” part—there’s a bounty system, with $10,000+ fines for anyone who helps in any way with an abortion, payable to anyone who snitches on them. Texas has openly defied Roe v. Wade and, for the first time in half a century, has gotten five Supreme Court justices (three appointed by Donald Trump) to go along with it. Roe v. Wade is de facto no longer the law of the United States.

With a 15-week cutoff, a right to abortion would still functionally exist. At 6 weeks, it no longer functionally exists.

And as for our recruiting at UT Austin … I fear we might as well now be trying to recruit colleagues to Kabul University. It’s like, imagine some department chair at Kabul U., this week, trying to woo a star female physicist from abroad: “Oh, don’t worry … you’ll get used to wearing a burqa in no time! And the ban on being alone with unrelated males is actually a plus for you; it just means you’ll be freed from onerous teaching and committee assignments. Best yet, I’ve received personal assurances from our local Taliban commander that you almost certainly won’t be stoned for your licentiousness and whoredom. Err … no offense, those were his words, not mine.”

For five years, my recruiting pitches for UT Austin have often involved stressing how Austin is a famously hip, tolerant, high-tech, educated city—a “blueberry in the tomato soup,” as Rick Perry put it—and how Texas itself might indeed turn blue any election cycle, given the explosive growth of its metropolitan population, and how the crazy state politics is unlikely to affect an Austinite’s personal life—at least, by noticeably more than the crazy national politics would affect their personal life. I can no longer make this pitch with a straight face, or certainly not to women.

Like, I’m lucky that none of the women in my close family have ever needed an abortion, and that if they did, it would be easy for them to travel out of Texas to get one. But having carried to term two healthy but difficult pregnancies, my wife Dana has often stressed to me how insane she finds the very idea of being forced by the government to go through with such an ordeal. If women considering moving to Texas feel likewise, I can’t argue with them. More than that: if Texas continues on what half the country sees as a journey back to the Middle Ages, with no opt-outs allowed for the residents of its left-leaning urban centers, Dana and I will not be able to remain here, and many of our friends won’t either.

So why aren’t we packing our bags already? Partly because the current situation is inherently, obviously unstable. SB8 can’t long remain the law of Texas while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the United States: one of them has to give. I confess to being confused about why some abortion provider in Texas, with funding from national pro-choice groups, hasn’t already broken the law, welcomed a lawsuit, and forced the courts to rule explicitly on whether Roe v. Wade still stands and why or why not, rather than gutting a core part of American jurisprudence literally under cover of night. I’m also confused about why some solid blue state, like Massachusetts or Hawaii, isn’t right now passing a law that would let any citizen sue any other for carrying a firearm—thereby forcing the five Supreme Hypocrites, in striking down that law, to admit that they don’t believe after all that state laws get to trample what the Supreme Court has held to be constitutional rights, merely by outsourcing the enforcement to random vigilantes.

My best guess is that Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett are already plotting to replace Roe by something much more restrictive, albeit probably not quite as shockingly draconian as Texas’s current ban on all abortions after six weeks, nor quite as breathtakingly insane as its bounty system for anyone who snitches about abortions. My best guess is that they saw last week’s ruling as a way to test the waters and soften the country up: if you’re going to rescind what multiple generations of Americans have grown up seeing as a fundamental right, best not to do it too suddenly. My best guess is that Democrats will respond by making abortion a central campaign issue in 2022 and 2024, and that given the public’s 58%-32% support for Roe, the Democrats will do pretty well with that—to the point where, like the proverbial dog that finally catches the car, Republicans might come to regret actually sinking their jaws into Roe, rather than just conspicuously chasing it down the street for half a century.

I have friends who are sincere, thoughtful pro-lifers. I admire, if nothing else, their principled dedication to a moral stance that regularly gets condemned in academia. But I’d also say to them: even if you think of abortion as murder, a solid majority of Americans don’t, and it’s hard to see a stable way of getting what you want that skips the step where you change those Americans’ minds. Indeed, there’s long been a pro-choice critique of Roe, which says that, by short-circuiting the political loosening of abortion restrictions that was already underway in the 70s, Roe fueled the growth of the radical right that’s now all but destroyed America. For Roe falsely convinced pro-lifers that all they needed to do was seize control of the Supreme Court, by any means fair or foul, when what they really needed to do was convince the public.

And, let’s be honest, convincing the public means convincing them to adopt a religious as opposed to secular framework for morality. (And not just any religious framework: Orthodox Jews, for example, while not exactly fans of abortion, are fine with it under many circumstances. In the Jewish view, so the old classic goes, the fetus attains full personhood only after graduating medical school.) Of the Americans who want abortion to be illegal in all or most cases, 94% are at least “fairly certain” that God exists, and 79% are “absolutely certain”—consistent with my experience of having met highly intelligent and articulate pro-lifers, but never secular ones. Modulo Lizardman’s Constant, virtually all pro-lifers have metaphysical commitments about God and the soul that presumably do some of the heavy lifting for them. If the case for a blanket abortion ban can be made in terms that are compelling to a secular, rationalist, tradeoffs-based morality, no one seems to have done it yet.

From the standpoint of secular moral philosophy, my own opinion is that no one has ever improved on the searching analysis of the abortion question that Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan published in 1990. After painstakingly laying out scientific facts, moral hypotheticals, and commonsense principles, Sagan and Druyan ultimately conclude that the right question to ask is when the fetus develops something that’s recognizably a human brain, processing thoughts and emotions. In practice, that probably means drawing a hard line at the end of the second trimester. Coincidentally, that’s almost exactly where Roe v. Wade drew the line, but Sagan and Druyan’s reasoning is completely different: they reject Roe‘s criterion of viability outside the womb, as both morally irrelevant and contingent on medical technology.

Reasonable people could disagree with the details of Sagan and Druyan’s analysis. But if we agree that

(1) a sperm and unfertizilied egg have a “personhood” of 0,

(2) a newborn baby has a “personhood” of 1, and

(3) whatever “personhood” is, it’s somehow tied to the gradual growth of neurons and dendrites in the physical universe, rather than to a mystical and discontinuous moment of ensoulment,

… then by the intermediate value theorem, for all p∈(0,1), there’s going to be some stage of fetal development where the fetus has a personhood of p. Which means that we’re going to be drawing a debatable line, making a compromise, just like the majority did in Roe. To me, one of the strangest aspects of the abortion debate is how both sides came to view Roe v. Wade as the “pro-choice maximalist position,” forgetting how it itself was an attempted compromise between conflicting moral intuitions.

Another strange aspect of the debate is how the most visible representatives of both sides seem to have given up, decades ago, on actually arguing for their positions. Maybe it’s because people simply threw up their hands in futility; or because all the ground had been covered with nothing left to say; or because the debate was so obviously entangled with religion, and we have a polite norm of not arguing about religion; or because both positions hardened into tribal identity markers, to be displayed rather than defended. Whatever the reason, though, by the mid-90s everything became about border skirmishes one or two steps removed from the actual question: e.g., if the woman is under 18, should her parents be notified? should she be shown pictures of her fetus and given a 24-hour waiting period in hopes she’ll reconsider? is this judicial nominee hiding his or her anti-abortion views?

Now that Texas and five Supreme Court justices have launched a frontal assault on Roe—it’s impossible to see it any other way—it seems to me that the long armistice is over. The pro-life side will have to make the case for its moral framework to a populace that will suddenly be paying more attention—and that includes tens of millions of Americans who hadn’t even been born the last time mainstream figures debated abortion head-on. The pro-choice side can then counterargue for its moral framework. If any pro-lifers are raring for this fight, I’ll point out that one of the most dramatic demographic changes, since the last time abortion was a “hot war,” has been a doubling in the percentage of Americans who are atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated.

Let me close this post with two things.

Firstly, if anyone is still unclear where I stand: over the next week, I will match Shtetl-Optimized readers’ donations to NARAL up to $2,000. If you’d like to participate, just leave a comment with the amount you donated. If I’ve argued with certain strains of feminism on this blog, that gives me all the more obligation to support the strains that I regard as fundamentally correct.

Secondly, come join us at the University of Kab … I mean Texas at Austin! For grad students, see here; for faculty, see here; for postdocs, email me a CV and recent publications and have two reference letters sent to me by December 31st. In the US, the east coast is now being ravaged beyond recognition by hurricanes and the west coast by wildfires. Here in Texas, all we have to deal with is extreme heat, a failing electrical grid, runaway covid, and now the ban on abortion. Hook ’em Hadamards!

224 Responses to “Exciting opportunities at Kabul University!”

  1. Opportunities at Kabul University by furcyd - HackTech.news Says:

    […] Read More […]

  2. Middle Eastern Says:

    Scott, there are Afghan academics all around the world including in Texas and Afghanistan. They have prevailed with great accomplishments despite so much struggle and oppression and I don’t think they’d appreciate this kind of condescending language. It is possible to criticize what’s happening in Texas or in the US while leaving Afghans alone, and for a great communicator such as yourself, that should go without saying.

  3. Scott Says:

    Middle Eastern #2: I was writing from a position of extreme sympathy for the plight of Afghan academics. As I previously wrote on this blog, I opposed the American withdrawal, or certainly the way Biden handled it, mainly because of my concern for all the Afghans (but especially women), in and out of academia, who want to live lives consistent with Enlightenment liberalism and who will now be forcibly prevented from doing so. While researching this post, I explored the homepage of Kabul University a bit, and was filled with melancholy at how normal it all was (the list of requirements for a Masters in CS, etc), and how crippling a blow it will now be dealt. So, I apologize if you read condescension into my post, because nothing could’ve been further from my intention.

  4. Matty Wacksen Says:

    > whatever “personhood” is, it’s somehow tied to the gradual growth of neurons and dendrites in the physical universe, rather than to a mystical and discontinuous moment of ensoulment,

    Uh isn’t this really the controversial part? I mean I’m sure you’ve seen these arguments 100x before but it seems weird to have such a reductionist, physical definition for something as unreductionist and (arguably) nonphysical as “value of a human life”. Not that I have a clear/coherent/rational position on this, but if anything in this world is mystical then it is life and it’s value (if neccessary I’d say even redefine mystical until this statement is true).

  5. dankane Says:

    Scott, I’m not at all clear on your assumption (2). From what I can tell birth makes an important dividing line for abortions, but not because of any significant development milestones. Birth is relevant because after birth adoption becomes a much more viable alternative to abortion.

    This leads me to my other hypothesis that the anti-abortion side is going to win the debate in the long run, because eventually we are going to develop artificial wombs, and after that, what’s the point in arguing with them?

  6. ND Says:

    I’m not sure having a developed brain, capable of processing thoughts and emotions is the right criterion either, though. I mean, there are plenty of adult animals that have a more developed brain than a newborn. Does that mean it’s morally more wrong to kill them than to kill a newborn human? I’m firmly pro-choice, but I seem never to have heard a pro-choice argument that really addresses the standard pro-life argument. It seems the two sides simply have completely different axioms and they talk past each other. A pro-lifer simply believes being human is what makes it wrong to kill someone. Not brain functions or anything like that.

  7. Domotor Palvolgyi Says:

    I’m not sure I can agree to that “a newborn baby has a “personhood” of 1”, though this is of course quite irrelevant to the rest of the argument.

  8. Saddam Says:

    Abortions for kikes only

  9. Jeff Says:

    Sharia law is a thousand times better than what people like you want to impose.

  10. JimV Says:

    The religious argument, as I see it, can’t be based on the moral rights of the fetus, because if you believe in souls (I don’t), souls can’t be destroyed. If you believe in reincarnation, they’ll just get another chance, or in an afterlife, they’ll go to the afterlife. No harm, no foul. As I understand, some Catholic priests explicitly followed that logic in certain colonial expeditions in South America.

    So it has to be that the women who do it will get bad karma/hell from doing it, and we have to save them from themselves? But the omniscient karma-adjudicators/gods will judge them based on their intentions anyway. Maybe unless they repent, but they could do that after an abortion too. “Judgment is mine, sayeth the Lord.”

    So i conclude there is no logical argument stemming from religion, and it is purely the evolutionary instincts of selfish genes at work.

    As I also see it, life is a wash (old corporation slang) as an experience. It has good experiences and bad experiences usually every day. So I personally feel I would have no cause to complain (and of course no capacity to) had I been aborted.

  11. Aster Says:

    This is really shitty and Islamophobic Scott. Why would you make this out to be about Islamic radicalism when this is home-grown Christian radicalism?

    If you’re unaware, read up on the history of abortion in America.

    Here’s a thread on twitter by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explaining it

  12. pete Says:

    Nice post – I was counting the days from when I thought you should do this – it was 2.

    I have looked around for an explanation on why the legal strategy is so different from past attempts to upend Roe but I haven’t found one. Yes it puts the power in the hands of the vigilantes but it is in fact a law that can be struck down. What made it so confusing to the 5 justices? Maybe it needs an actual trial as you say. Still, some kind of reasonable coherent description of the legal issues would be helpful, if any readers can suggest one.

    BTW you might end up moving no matter how this law ends up. For example, if the court allows, for example, the Mississipi law, there will surely be further degradation – what’s so special about 17 weeks? The only thing that will protect women will be the (blue) states.

    It’s a pity for the tech revolution that’s supposed to be centered in Texas.

  13. Alexandre Zani Says:

    I would suggest that the personhood space is not connected and that there is no connected path in the personhood (or moral patienthood) space from sperm+egg to fully adult human. Therefore, the map from development time to moral patienthood is not continuous and so the intermediate value theorem does not apply.

  14. pete Says:

    oops 15 weeks not 17.

  15. Statistics Says:

    “I’m lucky that none of the women in my close family have ever needed an abortion”
    — if you know that for a certain fact, color me moderately surprised! The average number of abortions an American woman has in her lifetime is somewhere between 0.5 and 0.8. So if you know two women who are at least in their 40s, in expectation they’ve had >= 1 abortion.

  16. Scott Says:

    Saddam #8 and Jeff #9: Your comments are every bit as charming as they are insightful, and I’m proud to let them appear here, to show my other readers the kind of thing I deal with every day.

  17. Scott Says:

    Aster #11: Your comment saddens me, in exactly the same way I’m saddened by the people who want to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it contains the N-word. It’s like, do you care at all about the deeper point of anything I wrote, or are you just passing my words through a should-I-be-triggered finite state machine?

  18. Scott Says:

    Statistics #15: I was very careful to limit the statement to women in my close family, and not make any assumptions about women whose detailed personal lives I don’t know.

  19. John Says:

    In terms of secular arguments against abortion, what do you think of the following argument? (I think it’s due to Josh Greene)

    Consider the following three scenarios:
    1. Aborting a second trimester fetus
    2. Killing a 1 month old baby
    3. Killing a pig for food

    Most people believe that 1 and 3 are OK but 2 is evil. But this combinations of views is inconsistent. Let’s ask ourselves: why is 2 evil? There are two possible reasons:
    A. It’s immoral to take away the baby’s future life
    B. It’s immoral to kill anything whose current level of intelligence passes a threshold

    If B is the reason, then killing a pig (3) should also be immoral, because an adult pig is more intelligent than a 1-month old baby.
    If A is the reason, then abortion (1) should also be immoral, because the fetus has just as much of a future life.

    This argument seems to also imply that contraception is also immoral. My followup thoughts are:
    – Under the total utilitarianism view of population ethics, you are indeed obliged to try to have as many children as possible, as long as their lives are positive utility.
    – But no one really believes in total utilitarianism — in most people’s moral intuitions, we aren’t obliged to take every action that’ll increase total utility. Rather, it matters whether we *cause* some change or not — we’re obliged not to *intervene* in a way that decreases someone’s utility. Under that view, it does seem like abortion is an immoral intervention, because the fetus is on track to become a full human and living a full life. Yes, it requires some effort and suffering on the part of the mother, but so does raising a child. So it’s not clear why abortion is less bad than infanticide.

  20. Jon Awbrey Says:

    Let me get this straight.

    Citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, or so we’re told.

    But any State so inclined can now pass a law enabling private citizens to sue anyone who keeps and bears arms or aids and abets another person doing so.

    Consider the posse-bilities.

  21. Pedro Says:

    John #19: Clearly we have much deeper moral obligations towards humans than other species. Morality is a social contract between humans so there isn’t a reason we’d expect the same terms to apply to other species. It’s immoral to kill because it would suck to live in a society otherwise — you or someone you care about might get killed, so we agree to make killing immoral. Since none of us are pigs and very few people care about pigs, we don’t extend that contract to them.

    I think your line of reasoning pressuposes that morality must come from universal logical principles, and it simply doesn’t.

  22. Mike Williams Says:

    I hope that everyone is listening to what women have to say on this issue, including notes to the effect that
    * rich people will still get abortions as they have always done; the law targets the poor. Poor women will die from backyard chemical abortions and the like (if you will the bleach/ivermectin route). I heard a radio series about twenty years ago where women of my mother’s generation and earlier were interviewed about their experiences pre- legalised safe abortion. I couldn’t manage how I was going to cry and throw up at the same time.
    * the regulators are only interested in keeping a fetus alive until it is born; they have no interest in providing healthcare, education, COVID safety, etc for the child from that point on
    * there is no penalty for false accusation by vigilantes
    * the penalty for a woman terminating a pregnancy caused by rape/incest is greater than that for a rapist.

  23. Paul Pritchard Says:

    It could be worse, Scott. My uncle once told me, passionately, that masturbation was morally equivalent to the murder of a person for each sperm ejected, a few hundred million, I understand. If you guess he was Roman Catholic, you are correct.

  24. math_and_law_nerd Says:

    “There are no exceptions for rape or incest”

    I’ve never understood what incest is doing there. Rape is not consensual so it makes sense to treat rape differently than other sexual encounters.

    If the incest is not consensual it would also be rape and so would be covered under a rape exception.

    If the incest is consensual what justifies treating it different from any other consensual sex?

  25. Scott Says:

    So, even as I went out on a limb in this post to defend abortion rights, even as I took predictable abuse for it from some right-wingers, a Berkeley CS student named Pratyush Mishra has taken to attacking me on Twitter for my “polite racism” and “Islamophobia.” Say what?? Apparently, you’re allowed and indeed encouraged to point out when American evangelical Christians are behaving like the Taliban, but you can’t dwell too closely on that comparison, or it might seem like you’re also accusing the literal Taliban of behaving like the Taliban, which is Islamophobic and therefore a huge no-no. I wish I had a more charitable way to interpret it and I wish I were making it up! But it’s a perfect illustration of how Enlightenment liberalism, often ridiculed as a weak and milquetoast position, actually means getting pummeled by the confident absolutists of all sides, despised by your enemies but never so much as by your “allies” and “friends,” and unable to win no matter what you do.

  26. Scott Says:

    Paul Pritchard #23: Thanks for sharing—I always thought “every sperm is sacred” was just a Monty Python sketch! 🙂

  27. Myst_05 Says:

    Assuming one has the means to buy a flight ticket and a few nights in a hotel room, is this new law an actual barrier? I can certainly see it being a big deal for low income women but do mid and high income women care about this law from a practical point of view? In other words, if someone chooses not to work for a University in Texas, would they be doing so on purely moral grounds or actual practical grounds of not wanting to take a 1 hour flight in case they need a medical procedure?

    To some extent this also applies to Covid… are people personally concerned of getting the virus and thus not trusting the vaccine to work? Or are they worried about overwhelmed hospitals? Or is it a purely moral opposition to the lack of mask mandates?

  28. J.D. Says:

    It seems to me that personhood is irrelevant, and thus we need not trifle with decidedly non-trivial questions like exactly how many neurons one needs to qualify as a person. Even if we grant full personhood to zygotes, no person should be able to use the body of another without their consent. It would be wrong of me to take one of your kidneys without your consent, even if I needed it to live and even if you would probably live just fine with one kidney (with only a small chance of dying on the operating table or from post-partum…I mean, post-surgery complications). Similarly, assuming a zygote is a person, it shouldn’t be able to use the mother’s body without her consent, even if it needs her body to live. Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term against their will is morally equivalent to forcing people to donate organs or submit to medical experimentation against their will; it’s repugnant, and as a violation of bodily integrity and autonomy it’s in the same (im)moral ballpark as slavery and rape.

  29. bagel Says:

    It’s probably not a view that Carl Sagan would have endorsed, but in the interest of completeness even birth isn’t the last landmark that large numbers of people have staked full personhood on.

    Today the issue is abortion, in which there are tendencies to see personhood as starting earlier or late. The tendency for pro-abortion people is to see personhood as occurring as late as possible and the tendency for anti-abortion people is to see personhood as occurring as early as possible. But in the past, before modern medicine, the dominant issue was infant mortality and it carried a very different tendency, which was only to see personhood as starting as late as possible. I’m most familiar with the Jewish tradition, in which newborns don’t get a name until as late as eight days after birth, and formal mourning might not be permitted for a neonatal death until after thirty days of life – or at all in births known to take place before month 8. (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 374.8) Before modern medicine, people were more resigned to the idea of infant mortality. While other religions, such as Christianity, respond differently – moving fast to Christen a child so their soul is earmarked for heaven – ultimately it still points to a reality in which the fact of high infant mortality drove motivated curation of the data along the lines of one’s belief system.

    Today Cuba secularly continues this tradition by shifting deaths from the “early neonatal” category, which contributes to published infant mortality statistics, to “late fetal” deaths, which do not. (Source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24487269)

    So this isn’t just a data dispute of a few years or a few decades, it’s been going on for millenia at least.

    Or, as the Jewish joke goes, you’re not a man until you get your doctorate.

  30. Econiomist Says:

    Great post and great analogy, Scott! Please ignore trolls like Aster #11 and Pratyush Mishra.

  31. asdf Says:

    I may have more to say later, but if you’re still looking for organizations to donate to, https://lilithfund.org is right there in Austin.

  32. Chip Says:

    ND #6: “A pro-lifer simply believes being human is what makes it wrong to kill someone. Not brain functions or anything like that.” So…turning off the life support machines keeping a brain dead individual alive is murder? Because if you think that genetic humanness confers moral personhood despite the need need for external life support and the lack of some minimal level of neural development and function, that’s the inevitable conclusion.

    I used to think this was a patently obvious _reductio ad absurdum_ to the naive “pro-life” position you stated, but it’s starting to look like decades of refusing to engage the personhood issue is leading to stuff like this: https://www.salon.com/2021/05/16/when-the-line-between-life-and-death-is-a-little-bit-fuzzy_partner/

  33. Martin Mertens Says:

    J.D. “It seems to me that personhood is irrelevant, and thus we need not trifle with decidedly non-trivial questions like exactly how many neurons one needs to qualify as a person. Even if we grant full personhood to zygotes, no person should be able to use the body of another without their consent”

    If we grant full personhood to the zygote (which I don’t) then I gotta take its side here. It didn’t ask to be in this situation. If we grant full personhood to the zygote (and suppose there are no major health complications) getting an abortion seems similar to leaving your 5 year-old in the woods somewhere. You might say that’s completely different because the zygote is using the mother’s body while the 5 year-old is using her time/energy/resources but that’s still the same (im)moral ballpark as slavery.

  34. Domotor Palvolgyi Says:

    Scott #17: Regarding Huckleberry Finn, I also thought it was ridiculous to ban it but this 6-min short movie changed my opinion about that:

  35. STEM Caveman Says:

    > use the body of another without their consent

    The woman’s body is not “used” by anyone (sans rape, which is why that exception exists) without consent at any point in the process. The effect of an abortion ban is to forbid certain uses of a woman’s body (i.e, as the site of a medical procedure) from coming into existence. Restrictions on prostitution, various surgeries, and any number of other body-use cases have the same type of effect and are not remotely as controversial. The pro-abortion argument that actually corresponds to reality here would be that people have a God-given right to arrange any safe and consensual medical procedures that a doctor is willing to perform on their bodies. Such as obtaining an ivermectin prescription, just as a precaution. Oh, wait.

    (The argument that a fetus qualifies as a “user” rather than a part of the woman’s body strikes me as bizarre. It has no agency nor, as far as we know, sufficient consciousness to use anyone or anything. It originates in the body, shares a blood supply, “eats” the same nutrients, and is inseparable until a much later stage of the gestation than the time at which most abortions are performed.)

  36. Boaz Barak Says:

    It is amazing that the “right to life” in Texas extends to making the most personal choices over women’s bodies but somehow not to wearing a mask or getting a prick in the shoulder. However I agree with you that unfortunately Texas’ days as an outlier are numbered.

    I am not a Muslim (not sure any non anonymous commenter is?) but I didn’t see anything disparaging about Muslim scholars or the University of Kabul in your post. I also remember your strong stance for Iranian students in https://scottaaronson-production.mystagingwebsite.com/?p=3167

    You were just commenting that while their situations are extremely different, both Kabul and Austin share the unfortunate circumstances of being recently in the news as being located in states whose rulers are intent on undoing positive progress and dragging them back into the past.
    It’s not easy being an academic in such environments, but it’s the government that is to blame and not the people that try to do science and make progress in spite of it.

  37. Richard Gaylord Says:

    it’s worth noting that Ruth Bader opposed the Roe v Wade decision (or at least the reasoning behind it). She did not think that the right to privacy is a proper basis for abortion rights. Rather, she supported abortion rights on the basis of gender equality (in her own words ““It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision maker, that her choice be controlling. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex.” Of course the Texas legislature opposition to Roe v Wade is not based on Ginsberg’s reasoning (it seems to be based on their support of fetus equality (the use of the adjective unborn indicates that they view a fetus as having a right based on what it will become AFTER it is born (ie., after it becomes a person) which seems a peculiar basis upon which to base a right. And the Texas legislature deputizing the general civilian population to be law enforcers is not really strange; at least, it’s a common occurrence in western movies (see “Blazing Saddles”) if not in real life.

  38. LK2 Says:

    What really saddens me is the hypocrisy of our times. Scott wrote a funny/tragic post on real problems (in Texas but also in Afghanistan, en passant) and he gets attacked because he offends christians, offends muslims, you cannot mention Huckleberry (a great piece of world culture, and I’m not American) otherwise you offend coloured people. Asians feel offended for something else, LGBT+++ people complain about something else etc etc. We are arriving to a point (or we got there already) where you cannot say/write anything otherwise you are a racist/communist/fascist/religious fanatic (of the wrong religion, whatever it is). Down this road we are becoming blind about the real problems, incapable to get the core point of a writing (like this post), interpreting it always with some ideological filter. Sometimes I wonder if all of this might be one of the root causes of the decline of the west. The real revolution (in my very humble opinion) should start from the schools, and in this regard, US is quite bad, with a too large divide among social classes. See? I also offended the American school system! Teachers will put me on their ban list now!

  39. Dfeldmann Says:

    Scott #23 : I wish you would not have posted this, perhaps even more depressing that the main subject of this entry

  40. barbara Says:

    As a woman, I always found it strange that politicians, who are in general way beyond the age of becoming parents thereselves and who are most often male, are in a position to “allow” or “forbid” abortions. I fully agree that there is a point, where abortion is not an abortion anymore, but murder. I however think that there is a point which is way later then six weeks, where parents shall be able to decide to not give the gift of living to a child, as this will not be a gift, but a punishment for the child itself.

    I agree with Mike Williams #22, that a pregancy does not only mean caring for a child during 40 weeks and giving birth to a new human being. It means to care for and give love to it till the end of your life. And I am deeply convinced, that every woman who knows that she will not be able to guarantee this, should have the choice of not giving birth. As sad as each abortion is – in total, this will be better for our society.

    Therefore – thank you for your post and showing me that not the total of our society is rolling back to the middle ages 🙂

  41. vkn Says:

    People getting mad at irreligious Scott for calling a Lie group a group not a manifold.

  42. Scott Says:

    Dfeldmann #39: To clarify, I shouldn’t have posted it because I was wrong about something, or because I was right but the reality of what people say on Twitter is too depressing to think about?

  43. Scott Says:

    Richard Gaylord #37: Yeah, I’m well aware that RBG thought that Roe was decided on the wrong Constitutional grounds (right to privacy rather than gender equality)—even though had she lived, she very obviously would’ve joined Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer, and Roberts in granting the emergency injunction against SB8, and voting pro-choice in all the other upcoming cases, thereby completely changing their outcome. It brings to mind how Sagan and Druyan thought that Roe picked the wrong scientific criterion for personhood (viability outside the womb rather than brain function), but broadly agreed with its conclusion anyway.

  44. Dfeldmann Says:

    Scott #41 : Of course you should have posted it (same as you post regularly a sample of your hate mail). But indeed, it is depressing ; my only consolation is that it does not come from a leading figure of what passes as social sciences in the US (see the Sokal affair), but from one of those Muslim students conditioned to knee-jerk as soon as they see a word in their (always shifting) list (of course, nothing special against Islam here : same goes for any student who maintains such a list : feminists, anti-communists, pro-life, pro-abortion, transhumanists…). Obviously, the fine art of reading long texts, being aware of multiple meaning, irony, metaphors and so on is almost completely lost now (and not only in America)

  45. Scott Says:

    Myst_05 #27:

      if someone chooses not to work for a University in Texas, would they be doing so on purely moral grounds or actual practical grounds of not wanting to take a 1 hour flight in case they need a medical procedure?

    Obviously I’m not a woman in this situation, but my guess would be that it’s some of both. I.e., they don’t like the inconvenience, indignity, or expense of having to fly out of state to arrange a medical procedure that they regard as their basic right (and crucially, even if the abortion is out of state, I believe that anyone in Texas who knowingly helped them—by driving them to the airport or whatever—could still be sued for $10,000 plus court costs!!!). And the inconvenience and indignity reminds them of the even much worse situation faced by women who can’t afford such things, and who are vastly overrepresented among the women who actually seek abortions.

    Likewise with covid, and here I can speak from experience. I’m not happy that I have a somewhat greater risk of dying, or of my kids dying, or of my parents dying, than would be the case in a state with the same population density and so on but that mandated masks and vaccinations for schools and other public facilities. I’m even more unhappy about the still greater risks faced by Texans who don’t have the relative privilege we have, to work from home, interact only or mostly outdoors, etc., without needing to worry about job security. But in any case, the one thing reminds me of the other.

  46. Scott Says:

    Dfeldmann #44: I don’t believe the student is Muslim, but in any case thanks for your support!

  47. J.D. Says:

    Martin Mertens #33: Your analogy between slavery and the obligation to take care of your children is not particularly apt. Parents volunteer for that obligation, much as a person can become obliged to carry out some task by freely entering into a contract to carry it out. What do I mean by “parents volunteer”? Well, a parent or guardian can always surrender their obligation and give up their child for adoption or otherwise transfer their obligation to the state or another willing person. By choosing to not give up their child for adoption they have taken the duty of care upon themselves (in contractual terms parents also get ‘consideration’ in the form of parental rights). Slaves do not freely volunteer for their servitude, get no bargained-for consideration, and are not free to leave their servitude – as such they are not obligated to obey, rather they are compelled to obey by force or fear. So can this parental duty of care extend to carrying a zygote to term? What if the mother initially chose to have the child, but then later changed her mind? Well, with current technology there is no way for a mother to transfer the burdens of pregnancy to the state or another willing person. As such the analogy between pregnancy and the duty of a parent to care for their child breaks down. Bodily autonomy is a crucial principle – consent should never be irrevocable when it comes to your body. If you consent to having sex, or to donating an organ, or to becoming pregnant, you should always be free to change your mind and withdraw your consent. To put it a different way, the government should not be sending people with guns to force you to continue having sex against your will, or to go through with donating an organ against your will, or to carry a pregnancy to term against your will.

  48. J.D. Says:

    STEM Caveman #35: I see that you regard the word “use” to have connotations of deliberateness. That is reasonable, although not intended on my part. Consider, for example, if I get into a car accident and am put into a coma, and you are a bystander to the accident. If the responding paramedic sees that I need a blood transfusion, and they compel you to give up blood, in a certain sense I am “using” your blood to live without any deliberateness or intentionality on my part. That is the same sense in which a zygote “uses” the body of the mother. Perhaps a different word would be more to your taste and less prone to miscommunication, so I welcome any alternatives you can think of. Regardless, just as you are within your rights to refuse to donate blood to begin with, or to pull out the needle and walk away at any time, even if doing so means certain death for me, so too a woman ought to be able to refuse to donate her bodily resources to a zygote even if that means it dies.

  49. William Gasarch Says:

    Will this really affect UT Austin (and other schools in Texas) admissions? Some thoughts

    1) Timing: By the time students decide where to go (ugrad and grad) will the issue be more clear? This might not matter, as some may say `even though Texas ended up not having that law, the fact that they wanted to is a bad sign of things to come.’

    2) UT Austin- what percent of ugrads are in-state and what percent are out-of-state? I wonder if you will have a big drop in out-of-state but only a small drop one in in-state.

    3) While clearly there are people who won’t go to UT Austin, or other schools in Texas, because of the law, are there people who will look at UT Austin more favorably and want to go there because of the law? Frankly I doubt that since the Vigilante-aspect of the law may turn them off. It should turn everyone off.

  50. jonathan Says:

    At several points your argument seems backwards to me. Roe (and Casey) established a constitutional right to abortion, which took it out of the democratic legislative sphere. Overturning Roe wouldn’t by itself limit abortion — it would merely make this an open question to be determined by democratic processes.

    For example, you write:
    “My best guess is that Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett are already plotting to replace Roe by something much more restrictive, albeit probably not quite as shockingly draconian as Texas’s current ban on all abortions after six weeks”

    But at most they will simply overturn Roe/Casey, which will allow states to pass laws limiting abortion. They presumably will not seek to actually limit abortion directly.

    Likewise, you write:
    “But I’d also say to them [sincere, thoughtful pro-lifers]: even if you think of abortion as murder, a solid majority of Americans don’t, and it’s hard to see a stable way of getting what you want that skips the step where you change those Americans’ minds.”

    But surely a majority of _Texans_ feel this way. Roe/Casey has made their opinion irrelevant — abortion is the law of the land, by Court decree. If Roe is overturned, it will then fall to pro-choicers to persuade Texans of their views on the merits.

  51. Richard Gaylord Says:

    Scott #43 – i didn’t know about Sagan’s position on brain function. When i grade an exam, a student gets zero (0) credit for a correct answer they obtained via an invalid calculation.

  52. Doug Says:

    I’ve donated $2000 to NARAL (well, to AVOW, which is the donation link at the front of NARAL’s homepage. It appears they are routing towards a Texas-specific group from their main page right now? Seems reasonable.)

    J.D. #28 is where I’m at too – this seems much more about autonomy, which is also fortunately much easier to navigate than ‘personhood’ which practically *invites* mysticism. I feel legislature has as much right to mandate someone carrying a fetus to term as they do to mandate a blood transfusion. None. The argument that women forfeit that right when they consent to be a slut, which caveman #35 is making (a man, you say? let me collect my jaw from the floor) still doesn’t hold. If a drunk or reckless driver injures someone, clearly committing a wrong, we still don’t grant the state an interest in their organs or blood. Some people just really hate women.

    And re the Berkley comrade on Twitter; ugh. I suppose the student mob in the Chair is a bit too hamfisted to be an interesting pole in a dialog, but not so much so to be unrealistic, eh?

  53. Scott P. Says:

    But surely a majority of _Texans_ feel this way. Roe/Casey has made their opinion irrelevant — abortion is the law of the land, by Court decree. If Roe is overturned, it will then fall to pro-choicers to persuade Texans of their views on the merits.

    You’re assuming that Texas is a state where the will of the majority determines the actions of the legislature. Texas is already gerrymandered, and has passed new voting restrictions. The goal is to ensure permanent minority control of the state government.

  54. noahmotion Says:

    Texas has openly defied Roe v. Wade and, for the first time in half a century, has gotten five Supreme Court justices (three appointed by Donald Trump) to go along with it.

    My emphasis on that last bit because my understanding is that the majority refused to enjoin the state from enforcing the law, which is to say that they didn’t “go along with it” or issue a ruling about its constitutionality. Indeed, I gather that they pretty carefully avoided doing so.

    As mentioned in the post and above by other commenters in various contexts, this law was written in a clever/devious way to make it difficult to know who to sue if one wants to do so. But the fact that there are precedents that make it unclear exactly what to do in this situation doesn’t directly say anything (that we didn’t already know) about how any of the justices would rule on a case related to this law (or any other Roe/Casey-related case).

  55. Boaz Barak Says:

    My own Twitter take is that actually your post might be one of the few arguments that can reach the deaf ears of GOP leaders. They don’t care about women but might care about losing STEM talent and they need someone to spell out the obvious connection to them.


  56. Timothy Chow Says:

    My own views on abortion are colored by my religious beliefs, but if I were to take up Scott’s implicit challenge to devise a secular argument against abortion, then I would start by arguing for the value of cultivating a sense of awe and reverence for the world around us.
    The word “reverence” here should not be interpreted theistically; at most, I mean something pantheistic a la Spinoza or Einstein. But in fact, anyone who has been struck with wonder at the majesty of the universe, or the beauty of mathematics, or the birth of a baby, should have some intuitive sense of what I am referring to.

    I suspect that many of those who feel most strongly about animal rights or protecting the environment are, at bottom, motivated by this sense of reverence. But because our culture is dominated by a certain style of cost/benefit analysis which typically does not recognize the value of reverence, they are faced with a quandary. Some try to remain faithful to their core feelings, but they are typically derided as tree-huggers. Others adopt a kind of absolutism that leads to PETA-type antics. Neither approach carries much traction in today’s world. Now don’t get me wrong: I laughed as hard as anyone else at “feed two birds with one scone.” But I do think that our collective inability to recognize the sense of reverence underlying such clumsy attempts at expression is systematically eroding the foundations of modern society at an alarming rate. We tend not to recognize that we’re sawing off the branch we’re sitting on until the branch starts to sag, and by then it’s too late.

    The debate about abortion, as I see it, is fundamentally a debate about the criteria for membership in human society. Since it’s a social thing, I don’t think it makes sense to imagine that personhood is a computable function of the physical properties of a fetus, considered as a closed physical system. Instead, I suggest that we take a step back and recognize that the current debate is dominated by a cost/benefit analysis that does not adequately value the sense of wonder that we all experience, to a greater or lesser degree, when the universe introduces a new member into our society. The secular argument against abortion would then run something like this: Society agrees to mark the entry of a new member at the moment of conception, not because of some theory of the soul, and not just to avoid trampling on specific religious groups, but because we recognize that trampling on the sense of reverence experienced by a large fraction of society amounts to trampling on our own fragile sense of reverence for the way the universe brings us into being, and because we want to celebrate and cultivate our society’s commitment to defending those who are defenseless.

    Any such argument would, of course, need to be accompanied by enormous societal support for those who are faced with paying the price for not having an abortion. Typically, they are also among the most vulnerable members of our society, and so merit our support. Part of the problem with the way the abortion debate has been politicized is that inordinate attention has been focused on what is legal or illegal, with far less effort (on either side of the political fence) being devoted to doing whatever possible to transform the pregnancy from a tragic situation into a joyful one.

    Finally, I agree with dankane #5 that technology may soon advance to the point where “membership begins at conception” becomes (ahem) a no-brainer.

  57. Nick Drozd Says:

    Just a reminder to everyone that one of the radical forced-pregnancy activist judges behind this, Brett Kavanaugh, is an attempted gang-rapist. That kind of misogyny is what animates the forced-pregnancy movement. They don’t actually care about children; if they did, they would also be in favor of things like free childcare, etc. All that stuff about “the sanctity of life” is just a smokescreeen. The real goal is to restrict the autonomy of women, and to force women into a lifestyle that includes having children.

  58. Michel Says:

    Thanks, Excellent way to express my anger/rage. $50 just paypalled to Naral from a Dutch follower. No furter comment…

  59. Scott Says:

    Nick Drozd #57: I find it plausible that Kavanaugh is an attempted rapist, and plausible that his motivations are exactly as misogynistic as you describe. But I also personally know pro-lifers, male and female, who are definitely not misogynist, who are often liberal on social issues like free childcare, and who sincerely believe they’re like 1830s abolitionists, speaking up for the human rights of the not-yet-born as part of the general moral progress of humanity. As I said, what they have in common is seeing the world through some more-or-less explicit Christian theological framework. I think the most effective approach for us pro-choicers is not to deny these people exist, or to claim they must all be misogynists who are lying about their motivations, but simply to say: OK fine, try to convince enough of the country of the validity of your moral framework. Just don’t try to impose your moral framework when two-thirds of the country disagrees with you—or if you do try, then expect those two-thirds to push back.

  60. Richard Gaylord Says:

    barbara #40

    why say “as a woman…”.? your gender has nothing to do with what you find strange. does the self-declaration that you are a woman give your any greater validity to your comment. if not, why mention it?

  61. Scott Says:

    Richard Gaylord #60: Sorry, I’m banning you from this comment section for one month, for a long pattern of trollish and annoying behavior.

  62. Gabe Eisenstein Says:

    As Sagan agreed with the pro-choice conclusion while disagreeing with the scientific reasons given, I agree with Scott’s sentiments and conclusions while disagreeing with the philosophical reasoning he gives (based on “personhood”). In my view the best arguments against abortion depend not on properties of embryos, fetuses or babies taken individually, but on the role of reproduction (and treatment of women during and after pregnancy) in the society. The community at large does have an interest in the birth, education and well-being of its members, both actual and potential. (This fact seems to many liberals to work against them, so they deny it in this case.) But one must look at the empirical realities of life for women and children in our society—rather than abstract metaphysical principles—to discern the most ethical policies regarding reproduction. Looking at the facts in detail, one sees that legal sanctions against abortions don’t contribute to the general welfare which they claim to promote, but rather lead to more suffering and social dysfunction. Unfortunately this empirical examination doesn’t proceed with the elegance of a proof, and will not fit on a bumper sticker. So we couch our intuitions in metaphysics.

  63. Michel Says:

    It may be instructive to consider Ursula Le Guin’s words in her book ‘Always Coming Home’ where she describes a future society where the practice of doctors also includes ‘human abortion , which was considered neither a minor nor a reprehensible operation’ .

  64. STEM Caveman Says:

    > regard the word “use” to have connotations of deliberateness

    The exact semantics of what “use”, “force”, “hijack” etc mean don’t change the argument, which was that talking in those terms is a rhetorical bait-and-switch con game to emotionalize the discussion with the imagery of bodily coercion (a thing that does not happen in this scenario) rather than one of a hundred restrictions on laissez-faire medical contracting (which is exactly what happens under an abortion ban).

    Whether consciousness, personhood or some other precondition is required for being the “user” or “hijacker” only affects who is cast in the role of villain within the bait-and-switch fantasy, i.e., is the woman being used by a zygote, hijacked by the father, forced by the Texas legislators, coerced by society, or some other account. I’m indifferent to who exactly gets blamed in a story that is deceptive to begin with.

    The language of using, forcing and hijacking only makes sense if the default state of nature is medical or bodily libertarianism so that an abortion option that always existed is being stolen away. I’m all in favor of such libertarianism, which would include not only abortion, but the ability to obtain ivermectin pills on demand as well as not being “forced” into vaccination by vax passports, employer mandates, travel restrictions and the rest of the Social Credit campaign in areas controlled by the Talibanized left. But when people are severely exercised about this unenforceable Texas nothingburger (the 10K bounty program will be found illegal, and the abortion providers will simply omit or falsify age of the pregnancy in documents) while fine with the very big national burger then that is just special pleading for a pet political cause. A “Roe scare” if you will.

  65. Alexandre Zani Says:

    Scott #15,

    I think you should probably not have posted a link to that tweet. I think you have a lot of readers and with high probability some are going to go harass this person. (Because pretty all large groups have a lot of jerks.) Might I recommend either posting a screenshot with their name blanked out or maybe just pasting the contents of the tweet in the future?

  66. MB Says:

    If one takes just a little step outside the pro-choice pro-life debate, it is absolutely clear how the positions expressed by J.D on comment #47, and Timothy Chow on comment#56 can be merged.
    Support women’s choices by either providing the conditions for women to be able to carry out a successful pregnancy and posterior education regardless of women’s difficulties, or by terminating a pregnancy that the woman, by herself and with all that support, feels that it is still not ment to be.

    By providing adequate support, then the choice is truly free. And in the end you may end up getting less abortions altogether, with better cared for babies, and less anxious women.

    Yes, it does cost $$$. But if the underlying issue (birth) is so dear to both pro-choice and pro-life sides, why shouldn’t it be spent there?

  67. Pete Says:

    Myst_05 #27

    Consider the case of a 17 year-old, with well-off parents but no funds of her own, who finds herself pregnant. She’d have to tell her parents in order to travel, for funding and because she’d need to be out of town for a few days (assuming that the parents were pro-choice).

    I think, in any case, that she should have the right to keep it to herself which she could do by going to a local abortion clinic. I bet this happens a lot in Texas (prior to the new law taking effect).

  68. 1Zer0 Says:

    Unless that part of the universe which is the evolving human, the baby, already has a consciousness, I do not see an issue with disassembling it again. Well, we do not exactly know when qualia arises or under which conditions (I think you called this the “pretty hard problem of consciousness” in your IIT post) and I believe unless this can be firmly established, judging the legislative handling of abortion by the axiom

    1. Qualia arises from neural patterns

    isn’t any better than

    2. Qualia arises from a soul

    (I don’t claim those are the only options, just the only relevant options for this case).

    But no matter whether 1. or 2. are valid, I do believe, and I have nothing but subjective personal experiences for that, that consciousness itself “is there” around the time the developing mind is capable of saving memories and thinking about itself.

    Either way, it’s fascinating that parts of the universe originating from a singularity billions of years ago are given a name, observe and think about the universe (Which, I would argue, is just another way of saying the universe thinks about itself), have “internal experiences”, and is capable of self reference. I believe the actual feeling of self is just a little corrolar once qualia has been established due to mind’s ability to not just analyze, observe and reference the world around, but also make a reference to itself.

    It’s probably important to clarify when a state of matter can be seen as conscious in order to create legislative directives in that regard.

  69. matt Says:

    I have basic questions about how this new Texas law makes legal sense. For example, since a person can be sued for $10000 by a private individual for helping someone get an abortion, is there a limit on the number of people that can sue them? If not, then it seems like the potential damages are infinite (or, at least, can be as large as $10000 times the Texas population, which is still pretty large). If only one person can sue them, doesn’t this allow tricks like the following: person A gets transport from person B to hospital; then person A sues person B for helping them; neither A nor B retains a lawyer but they represent themselves; B does not contest the suit; A gives the money they win back to B. Now, no one else can sue B.

  70. Scott Says:

    matt #69: You can read the law here, but no, I don’t think the same person can be sued multiple times over the same abortion. Which means: you may have indeed figured out how to nullify this law’s effect! All the clinics in Texas should now reopen! Alas, the part of the law that says the court must issue an injunction against future abortions means that this won’t work—see below for more.

  71. Scott Says:

    Alexandre Zani #65: You can check that what really happened, in response to my linking to Mishra’s tweet, is that a few readers of this blog who are on Twitter, including my colleague Boaz Barak (who’s usually well to my left politically), politely argued with him. I didn’t see any harassment. Of course they didn’t change Mishra’s mind—he’s a hardcore ideologue who explicitly believes that liberalism is just a cover for racism and fascism, and who’s repeatedly attacked me before from that perspective—but polite argument seems like the best possible outcome. In general, I’m a huge fan of people writing things under their own names and taking responsibility for what they say, and I’ve lived my whole life consistently with that, including when I, like Mishra now, was a CS theory PhD student at Berkeley.

  72. J.D. Says:

    STEM Caveman #64: vax passports, employer mandates, travel restrictions and the like are not in the least incompatible with bodily integrity. You are free to not get the Covid vaccine, and others are equally free to not associate with you, to not employ you, or to not invite you onto their property on the basis of you being unvaccinated. You are free to make choices about your own body and your own property, but so is everyone else.

  73. John Pancake Says:

    > (c) Notwithstanding Subsection (b), a court may not award
    relief under this section in response to a violation of Subsection
    (a)(1) or (2) if the defendant demonstrates that the defendant
    previously paid the full amount of statutory damages under
    Subsection (b)(2) in a previous action for that particular abortion
    performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, or for the
    particular conduct that aided or abetted an abortion performed or
    induced in violation of this subchapter.

    I think that this Wikipedia page is informative: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_law . It puts Texas on par with Peru (abortion only legal if there is a risk to a woman’s health or her life). Also Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt.

  74. M2 Says:

    “For Roe falsely convinced pro-lifers that all they needed to do was seize control of the Supreme Court, by any means fair or foul, when what they really needed to do was convince the public.”

    This is incredibly (and ironically) unfair. Pro-lifers were perfectly contentedly engaged in trying to convince the public when the *pro-choice* Supreme Court handed out an illegitimate decision (whose reasoning few will still defend) taking that possibility away from them. Since Roe, it hasn’t mattered how many of the public you convince — you still can’t do anything about it, because legislatures can’t ban abortions.

    A correct statement is, “Roe correctly convinced pro-lifers that there was only little point trying to convince the public until Roe was overturned through seizing the Supreme Court, as the left had already seized it, and this became a democratically addressable issue again.”

  75. M2 Says:

    Matt’s workaround does not work: according to the statute, if a plaintiff prevails, then the court must issue an injunction to prevent the defendant from performing any more abortions. Further abortions would therefore be punishable by jail (contempt of court).

    I don’t know who wrote this law, but it was somebody with exceptionally good grasp of the ins and outs fo what they were doing.

  76. Scott Says:

    M2 #75: Yeah, you’re right; I deleted my update encouraging people to try this. The “injunction on future abortions” clause is key, but it also makes this less like a diabolically clever new scheme and more like a straightforward we’ll-throw-you-in-jail-if-you-perform-abortions law, with a bounty system awkwardly grafted onto its front end. It also underscores that this law would have had no chance — zero — of being allowed to go into effect even temporarily by any Supreme Court of the past half-century, besides the current one that was stacked by Trump and McConnell for the specific purpose of overturning Roe. That fact alone should temper any admiration anyone might feel for the law’s “evil genius.”

  77. M2 Says:

    That may be true, although the lawyer friends I’ve talked to, who work in related areas (and in one case did a Supreme Court clerkship) have largely said that the majority was clearly correct as regards procedure. I suspect you’re right that earlier courts would have innovated in some way to stop the law from going into effect, but I don’t know if they would have been right to do so. It seems to me that Congress might need to amend section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act to provide some kind of pre-emptive attack on this mode of law. In the meantime, I do think the author was exceptionally clever.

  78. Scott Says:

    M2 #74: At the time of Roe, abortion was still illegal in most states (as it had been since the late 19th century), but the pro-choice side was winning the public argument — abortion laws were being liberalized, as part of the broader sexual revolution. Roe dramatically sped up something that would probably have happened anyway.

    On reflection, though, you’re right that my analysis is unfair. It’s unfair because it ignores the way Republicans have not only seized control of the Supreme Court, but also entrenched themselves in something like permanent minority rule through gerrymandering and voting restrictions (and, of course, the biases built in to the Senate and Electoral College).

    Opinion polls clearly show that, in a fair democratic contest, draconian abortion restrictions would lose almost everywhere — yes, even in Texas! So if those restrictions survive voters’ wrath in 2022 and 2024, it will only be because, in addition to seizing control of the courts, Republicans have also seized control of the machinery of voting. And you know that, and I know that you know, and you know that I know that you know.

  79. M2 Says:

    Scott #78: I don’t disagree that momentum was in a pro-choice direction in 1973, but that’s irrelevant. Prolifers were engaging in those arguments and debating in a democratic mode, as one would hope.

    Did Roe only speed up what would have happened anyway? Maybe, but we’ll never know for sure, because *it ended the possibility of democratically addressing the issue.*

    Which is the real reason your post was unfair. It’s unfair to take away the other side’s ability to achieve their ends democratically and then criticize them for not trying to achieve their ends democratically — the moreso when that’s the only way they were trying to achieve their ends before *your* side resorted to undemocratic means.

    As to whether abortion would be legal if left to purely democratic means: that is complicated. First, because (as I’ve pointed out) the pro-life side hasn’t been particularly incentivized to carry out its arguments primarily in that way, since it doesn’t matter anyway. But second because this is not a direct democracy, and while most people may support legal abortion, I suspect that *far* more people have anti-abortion laws as their number-one decisive issue than have pro-abortion laws as the same. And as we see in many different areas (gun laws are another), if you can get a large number of people to make something their number one issue, then they can probably achieve their aims; and that is true with or without gerrymandering, even if it helps at times.

    Trump, for example, was elected President precisely because of this issue. No doubt there were plenty of voters who voted for Trump for other reasons and are pro-choice, but they didn’t care about that issue nearly as much as the millions of evangelical Christians who were pro-life and voted for him despite disliking him very strongly (at least at first).

  80. Scott Says:

    Everyone: I was confused by how this massively, unapologetically left-wing post caused me yet again to get attacked from my left (!!), so I spent some time reading the Twitter feeds of the people attacking me. And despite my years of experience with these sorts of attackers, I was still surprised by what I found.

    Apparently hard leftists, led in part by Ilhan Omar, have spent the past few days condemning the more moderate leftists who’ve gleefully compared Texas Republicans to the Taliban, because the hard leftists find such comparisons to be “Islamophobic,” which in this context presumably means unfair to the Taliban.

    Like, you know Titania McGrath, the woke parody on Twitter who’s always praising the mujahideen for their intersectional feminism? There’s a segment of the left that’s trying actually to be that reductio ad absurdum, and my post inadvertently collided with it.

    Of course it’s more “complicated” than that. The hard leftists will occasionally admit, abstractly, that the Taliban is also kind of bad — maybe even almost as bad as Lt. Gov. Ken Paxton — but they’ll then find a way to blame even that on the evils of US imperialism, to which the discussion is immediately shifted back. Crucially, the apparent difficulty of blaming everything — even a 7th-century ideology that treats women as chattel — on American neoliberal capitalism is not a bug of this system but a feature, since it provides endless opportunities to prove one’s own rhetorical cleverness, and presumably, the better someone is at it, the higher their status in the movement.

  81. myst_05 Says:

    Scott, please ignore those Twitter wokes. You’re a wonderful scientist, blogger and educator. No amount of woke cancellation policies could possibly harm your future income in any appreciable way. Let them raise up all the stink in the world – I seriously doubt anyone of real authority would possibly care.

  82. Mike Williams Says:

    Jonathan at #50 wrote “Roe (and Casey) established a constitutional right to abortion, which took it out of the democratic legislative sphere.”

    No. The Federal government could have passed an actual law re-framing this decision at any time since 1973. Elizabeth Warren has advocated for this: https://lawandcrime.com/opinion/elizabeth-warren-just-unveiled-her-abortion-protection-plan-heres-how-it-would-work/

    It should also be noted that rolling state-based legislation to clone the Texas law will not likely stop inside the US. Whatever social diseases the US has it likes to pass around the world. Wealthy conservatives fund like programs all over the world and Trumps sprout and prosper knowing how much you can get away with unchallenged in the US. The military-industrial complex has a willing bride in the retrograde moral-evangelical complex. Until the US focuses its nation-building efforts on itself, it will continue to be a petri-dish for anti-democratic endeavours globally.

  83. mjgeddes Says:

    1Zer0 #68

    Yes, I’m not so sure that cognitive capability is really a good criterion for drawing the line in the abortion debate. I would more favor a bodily autonomy approach, and by that notion, the line is where the baby could survive independently of the woman’s body.

    Incidentally, I’m confident that I solved consciousness. Basically, it’s a computation, and I think it’s the computation that is modeling time (generating the perception of time passing or temporal flow) that is identical to consciousness. There are 3 main components to the model of time: *Could*, *Would* & *Should*. The brain tries to predict what *could* happen and it’s combining this with a model of what it wants to happen, i.e., what *should* happen, to produce a generative model or simulation of a ‘self’ involved in possible outcomes (counterfactuals), indicating what *would* happen if given actions were taken.

    More recently, I realized a crucial point: All these cognitive processes (models of could, would and should) are actually on a continuum of the unified ‘model of temporal flow’. This falsifies Bostrom’s ‘Orthogonality’ hypothesis: values ( *should*) cannot be disentangled from truths (*could*), because the 2 are integrated into designs ( *would*). So, in a sense, moral value seems to come from the constructive generation of ‘counterfactuals’, which may be thought as the opening or *actualization* of pathways through possible worlds.

    No point in bringing the Taliban into it, because they’re outside the envelope of people we could reasonably debate (i.e., they couldn’t be included in any sort of western social contract).

    You might think that fundamentalists would be hostile to transhumanism, science and technology etc., but this wouldn’t be correct at all. The key insight into these religious folks is that they’re *authoritarians*, they want to push other people around, and it follows that they themselves need to *be* pushed around.

  84. Corey Says:

    There is a bit of a catch-22 here if this law causes a decreased drive from those opposed to it to recruit folks to move to TX. I think an argument should be made that this (tragedy of a) law should perhaps motivate us opposed to it and its clearly illiberal (in the classical sense) and minoritarian goals to push even harder for like-minded people to move to the state. Especially since (as the recent census demographic data has confirmed explicitly) TX is one of the few states in the US where the reins of government could plausibly change hands in the forseeable future due to changing population patterns. You laid out the broad strokes of this argument in your post from last December titled “The case for moving to a red state” https://scottaaronson-production.mystagingwebsite.com/?p=5209, so I won’t parrot it all here, but I think perhaps that list could use an addendum:

    20. In the meantime the current state government will do everything in it’s power to a) make life more punishing for those living there without the means to leave themselves if things don’t change and b) further entrench themselves by whatever means possible so as to make a loosening of their control even more difficult with time.

    Of course, I’m not naive to the fact that such an argument doesn’t directly grapple with the the fact that with this law on the books moving to TX would make the lives of some people (but especially women) demonstrably worse, at least in the short term. It doesn’t seem fair to be asking people to make this sort of sacrifice, but what lasting alternative is there?

  85. Mahdi Says:

    Scott, I’m not sure if I understand your comment about Ilhan Omar. What’s the idea there? Do you have a source that provides the context of what you’re referring to?

  86. Ashley Says:


    Somehow I cannot grasp the notion of the ‘personhood’ of a fetus starting from 0 and then continuously reaching 1 where he or she is born. If so then I would rather accept that only enlightened Buddhas have a personhood of 1 (why stop at birth?), and killing them alone is murder. In my view the personhood takes a jump from 0 to 1 when the sperm and the the egg fuse together, because I cannot grasp the concept of existence of personhoods from (0,1) as I explained above. Please note I am not referring to the concept of soul here, though one might think I am slyly doing that. Of course I don’t think there is anything novel in this argument and you must have heard this before.

    (From a more practical viewpoint, does not the brain start developing much before the end of the second trimester? And we don’t know how to define when the nervous system is developed enough to call it “now processing thoughts and emotions”, right?)

  87. Ashley Says:


    I don’t know how people call you Islamophobic (I mean, I *know* that a lot of people do a lot of those kind of things, but don’t understand *how* they could do that). Nevertheless I think your sarcastic comments involving Kabul University etc. were a bit offensive. Of course, the sarcasm was not directed at Kabul University, but that is not how it works. I think you were being a bit Sheldon Cooper :-). Not to be a Sheldon Cooper is a lesson that I too have learned, at times painfully. Just my two cents. I am not an Afghan BTW.

  88. Scott Says:

    Mahdi #85: See here. People thought they were being rigorously woke by sharing that cartoon on Facebook, but Rep. Omar has now out-woked them!

  89. Scott Says:

    Ashley #87: When I “focused-grouped” this post with someone close to me before putting it up, the bit about Kabul University’s recruitment of female faculty was one of the only parts that made them smile, given the otherwise unremittingly depressing subject matter. Since I started this blog in 2005, I’ve already moved it extremely far in the direction of worrying what strangers on Twitter will think of every word I write — of writing for people who don’t care how The Simpsons and Futurama and South Park and Mel Brooks and Seinfeld and Monty Python and Bill Maher were the non-scientific teachers of my youth, and who might be triggered by a single stray molecule. If I moved completely in the direction of satisfying them, I fear that nothing of this blog would be left, save purely technical posts.

  90. Rich Peterson Says:

    On the book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, far worse than the use of the n-word, is the passage:

    Now I struck an idea, and fetched it out:
    “It warn’t the grounding – that didn’t keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head.”
    “Good gracious! anybody hurt?”
    “No’m. Killed a nigger.”
    “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt. Two years ago last Christmas your uncle Silas was coming up from New Orleans on the old Lally Rook, and she blowed out a cylinder-head and crippled a man. And I think he died afterwards. He was a Baptist. Your uncle Silas knowed a family in Baton Rouge that knowed his people very well. Yes, I remember now, he DID die. Mortification set in, and they had to amputate him. But it didn’t save him. Yes, it was mortification – that was it. He turned blue all over, and died in the hope of a glorious resurrection. They say he was a sight to look at. Your uncle’s been up to the town every day to fetch you. And he’s gone again, not more’n an hour ago; he’ll be back any minute now…”

    I’ve quoted a bit before and lot after those terrible words starting with “No’m. Killed a nigger” and ending with “..sometimes people do get hurt.”, but it’s clear to me that the context doesn’t reduce the horror of what Huck and Mrs. Phelps said, but shows them as friendly, unpretentious people, making it even more ghastly to me. I don’t know if Mark Twain was unconscious to the horror, or if it was a literary device or something.

  91. Scott Says:

    Rich Peterson #90: Holy shit, are you being sarcastic? Or do you really not get it? That is the famous passage where Twain rubs the reader’s face in the inhumanity of the white southerners’ worldview, by illustrating how the death of a slave not only doesn’t count as an affirmative answer to the question of whether anyone died, but barely even merits a mention in the conversation (except in Huck’s view). No, it’s not pleasant to read. It’s not supposed to be. But it’s one of the pivotal moments in American literature, and I was grateful for the opportunity to explain it to my then-7-year-old daughter when we read Huck Finn together last year.

  92. Pete Says:

    M2 #77

    Can you elaborate on what you meant with the comment “… the majority was clearly correct as regards procedure…”. My understanding of the legalities here is not great.

    For example, suppose that the law allowed any number of people to sue over a single abortion, effectively making the financial penalty limitless. Would the court still be correct in allowing it to take effect?

  93. Mahdi Says:

    Scott #88: I don’t know the back story of that cartoon but Omar’s concern in the tweet makes perfect sense to me (as someone from a Muslim country, I too consider that cartoon harmful and it was absolutely a no-brainer to me.). The Taliban are horrible and nobody, including Omar, disagrees on that. Her point is that the misery of what the Muslim community has to endure under the control of extremist groups such as Taliban (or ISIL, for that matter), including the oppression on women, should not be taken advantage of as a tool to prove a point that has nothing to do with the Muslim community’s suffering (such as the TX situation). Moreover, this cartoon amplifies all kinds of the usual stereotypes against Muslims or anyone from a Muslim background which literally harms them and we have enough of. In order to assess if a cartoon is harmful or not, you have to look at its face value, that how it’s perceived in the eyes of an *average* audience. Whether or not there’s some brilliant, witty, and noble idea the cartoonist has in mind is completely irrelevant to whether the cartoon is harmful. You can already see the degree of harm brought by that cartoon in the discussion under the tweet that you quoted. Let me also second one of the comments: “If someone shares that a message is harmful to their community, we don’t get to tell them that it isn’t.” In short, it is possible and perfectly OK to oppose what’s going on in TX without equating that with what the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan. They are simply very different leagues and it’s unfair to think or imply that the levels of oppression are any comparable.

  94. asdf Says:

    NARAL, well, I guess a safe but rather establishment choice. It’s ok though, I’m not on twitter ;).

    If you want something edgier, try this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_on_Waves

    Donations: https://www.womenonwaves.org/en/donate

  95. asdf Says:

    Oh yes, also this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Thieves_Vinegar_Collective

    I don’t know if they are still around, and their thing was technically a bit dubious, but attention getting. They published plans for some kind of DIY molecular synthesis thing that people could supposedly use to make, among other things, abortion drugs (Mifepristone) at home.

  96. dorothy Says:

    It’s been said before but I suspect almost no anti abortion believers *really* think that abortion is murder of a child. They just say that for emotive and political reasons. If they really believed it then the woman would be a child murderer and sent to jail for years. Also they don’t *really* believe that life begins at conception because if they did then the child would presumably become a US citizen at that point which makes it hard to accept any female foreign tourists. The problem is that anti abortion believers just want everyone to accept their own set of incompatible views and to hell with anyone who doesn’t.

  97. Chip Says:

    Noahmotion #54: “My emphasis on that last bit because my understanding is that the majority refused to enjoin the state from enforcing the law, which is to say that they didn’t go ‘along with it’ or issue a ruling about its constitutionality. Indeed, I gather that they pretty carefully avoided doing so.”

    Well, of course they did. They *had to*. The Mississippi case is still pending, so they had to at least engage in the *pretense* that this said nothing about _Roe_ and the constitutionality of the law. The thing is that everybody involved — not just *including* the people who wrote the Texas law, but *especially* the people who wrote it — knows damned well that it’s unconstitutional under _Roe_. The problem with the majority decision is that it rewards the Texas legislators and authors of the bill for deliberately weaponizing standing to evade pre-enforcement challenges. And unless the aiding part applies to facilitating someone getting an abortion outside the state, there is no way to set up a test case that doesn’t involve one of the limited number of clinics in the state getting shut down while appeals work their way through the system.

  98. Rich Peterson Says:

    No, I didn’t get that, although you are probably right(wouldn’t that be what i called a literary device)? …In all of the conversations I have had with other people about (Mark Twain, racism, school boards wanting to take Huck Finn off the curriculum), no one remembered the sick conversation between Huck and Mrs. Phelps, I guessed because they didn’t find it notable. So they didn’t get your point either. As a college student, although not a humanities student, I read thru 1950s era literary criticism of Twain. One hhullaboo i ran across was Huck’s reliance on Providence to help him invent lies, a seeming inconsistency since Huck had recently decided to “go to hell” for the sake of Jim’s freedom. Since the Providence part is just a few words from “my passage”, I have to think they didn’t get your point either!(I mean, the critique that I read could at least have pointed to Huck’s callous words as another inconsistency, or have defended Huck as just saying what he needed to say to rescue Jim). Ive bought a number of books similar to Cliffs Outlines that students use, and not once did I see discussion of the passage…A few years ago, I tried to get mention of the passage incorporated into the Wikipedia page on Huckleberry Finn, without success…so it wasn’t notable enough, at least not to the recognized secondary sources that my fellow wikipedia editors relied on.. let’s see I read Kurt Vonnegut decrying the censorship of Huckleberry Finn, but as far as I could see, he thought it was being censored because of the n-word.(Imagine being African American and reading Huck and Mrs Phelps horrid conversation, and being told it’s a great novel, and yet the passage isn’t even noted let alone explained, or explained away, by the famed literary critics! …Since the entire universe is plotting against me, a web search shows lots of discussion by literary critics of the passage. All i can say about that is at least the college library i went to in my student years didn’t have it, and neither did cliff Notes.
    We should look both at what Mark Twain’s actual intentions were awe can look at the novel as given. If we look at Twain’s intent, ideally we would presume he put the passage in as a master stroke. Or he might not have noticed what he had wrote. But viewing the novel as given, your probably right, it’s a great passage rubbing the inhumanity into the readers face, at least to modern readers.

  99. JM Says:

    Rich #90:

    I know, right? It’s crazy how awful some people are, to write things like that! Twain was probably so trapped in his cultural worldview, and so narrowly focused on whatever message he was trying to write about (something about potamology? IDK, to be safe I haven’t read the book) that he didn’t even notice the sheer inhumanity of what he wrote. Whenever I look, I find there are monsters like Twain everywhere. It’s especially bad when I read people far away from me ideologically, such as people who existed far in the past.

    Eg, I once read this really horrible article saying that poor people could easily become prosperous — all they had to do is sell their children as food to rich people! To be eaten! Can you believe that? And the author had the gall to call this proposal “modest”!

  100. Jr Says:

    Roe v. Wade is no more overturned than New York Times Co. v. Sullivan is overturned. Whenever someone is sued they can raise the constitutional defense and the Texas courts have to recognize it, just like someone who gets sued for libel can raise a first amendment defense.

    It likely will be limited though or overturned in the future, though, by the majority on the Supreme Court. In my view, it would be a good thing if the question returned to the democratic arena.

    It was interesting reading the dissenting justices opinions. They really have no idea how to phrase their preferred order within the accepted legal framework. Formally, a court is not supposed to repeal a law, it only enjoins its enforcement, but it is very unclear who should be enjoined here.

  101. Jr Says:

    John #19: I do think that so-called pro-lifers should be vegetarians, if they took their secular arguments seriously. (I think the same is largely true of people who oppose capital punishment.)

    Timothy #56: What does the data say about support for mothers as a way of decreasing abortion? The evidence from European welfare states seems to be that it is not a successful method, but maybe if it were combined with legal restrictions or social condemnation of abortion it could work for the abortion opponents.

  102. Jr Says:

    By the way, regarding this: “But I’d also say to them: even if you think of abortion as murder, a solid majority of Americans don’t, and it’s hard to see a stable way of getting what you want that skips the step where you change those Americans’ minds.”

    I think that a majority of Americans do support legal abortion, but this is not true in all states, and my reading is that even a majority in the country would support restrictions that current caselaw does not allow. It is also odd to say abortion opponents only focus on capturing the courts, when the entire reason there is regular litigation of around abortion is that they manage to get laws restricting abortion passed in the democratic process. (Of course, a law being passed in the democratic process does not mean it has the support of the majority of the population, but that is true on every issue. A majority probably wants to ban affirmative action but the vocal minority who wants to keep it legal is better organized.)

  103. dorothy Says:

    Myst_05 #27

    The wealthy have never had problems getting abortions. The problem is for the majority of women who are not.

  104. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Through most of human history true infanticide has been widely practiced. In pre-history this is evidenced by skeletal remains. Presumably a utility decision was made at the individual, family, or tribal level and an infants life was terminated. In most cultures female infants were disproportionately terminated but some, including Japan, males were terminated in the majority. In Japan females had higher sale value than males. In the Roman Empire a decision was often made at 12 months by the father of the family if an infant would be kept or discarded. Infanticide practices were culturally determined.

    I agree with you mostly. I am strongly pro choice but find the usual pro life arguments with appeal to the moral high ground lacking and decidedly ineffective. If one has axiomatic beliefs that exclude abortion as a moral undertaking, then what use are pro choice arguments that claim the moral high ground. Without an absolute standard personhood and infanticide are culturally determined and the cultural determination changes through time. If you do have an axiom of universal standards and you face eternity either in heaven or hell then reasonably you would err on the side of caution in determining when abortion is acceptable. You are led inexorably to conception in this case. The moral high ground plea of pro choice advocates must be an appeal to self evident truths inherent in the Western intellectual tradition. This appeal to self evident truths is most often simply a kind of arrogance in the view of much of the world. The evidence is also against the argument that global population will reach zero growth through education and exporting these self evident truths of the Western intellectual tradition to the entire globe. There are cultures that are extremely resistant to these beliefs as is increasingly clear and so the self evident claim is invalidated at least in practice.

    I also often hear pro-choice arguments that are completely reflexive in the sense that the opposite argument could be made with equal force of logic.

    I have every confidence that access to abortion will continue but it will be culturally determined and not due to any essential moral superiority.

  105. Nick Drozd Says:

    Scott #59

    Of course there are some reasonable people who have reasonable arguments against abortion. Some of them are here in this thread. But they are politically insignificant, and they don’t represent the forced-pregnancy movement as it exists today. That movement is instead represented by well-known serial rapists like Donald Trump.

    It’s possible to imagine a “pro-child, pro-mother” political party. Such a party might be against abortion, but would also be in favor of universal childcare, free school lunches, paid maternity leave, convenient options for breastfeeding, and other policies that benefit children and mothers. They would most likely be anti-war as well, and they would certainly not elect rapists as their leaders.

    Needless to say, this imaginary party bears no resemblance to the Republican party. The fact is that most of these anti-choice zealots will go on and on about the “sanctity of life”, but will immediately turn around and call you a communist if you suggest that all children should get to eat at school. They will call a black woman a “welfare queen” for having “too many” children, and they think breastfeeding in public is gross and obscene. And, of course, they elect rapists as their leaders. It’s misogyny.

  106. Mike Ball Says:

    Brilliant post Scott.

    Lets hope those people jumping on yet another opportunity to misrepresent you actually read and digest your post.

  107. Nick Drozd Says:

    Scott #80

    I think I’m about as much of a “woke leftist” as any commenter on this blog, and I thought the post was great. Religious fundamentalists in America should certainly be compared to religious fundamentalists in Afghanistan, and Israel too, and India, and other places. The sad fact is that misogyny is a powerful motivator all over the world, and there’s no end in sight.

    > The hard leftists will occasionally admit, abstractly, that the Taliban is also kind of bad…but they’ll then find a way to blame even that on the evils of US imperialism, to which the discussion is immediately shifted back.

    Let me try to explain this point of view.

    First, the Taliban is a truly vile organization, and they have made and will again make life miserable for the women of Afghanistan. There is no question about that. I’ll also add that I think burqas as a disgusting cultural artifact, and women everywhere would be better off if that practice were eradicated worldwide. (I’m talking here specifically about the full face-coverings; head-scarves and other robes are a different matter.)

    Are we all onboard still? Here’s the “but”. Those vile Taliban guys are mostly illiterate peasants living in the most backwater region on the planet. Where do they get their ideas? Where do they get their money?

    The answer turns out to be: mostly from Saudi Arabia. And who supports Saudi Arabia? Well, you can probably guess. The USA gives a shitload of money to Saudi Arabia, and lots of that money in turn gets spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to places like Afghanistan. That’s to say nothing of the direct support given by the US government to the Taliban in the past, when Islamists were considered allies in the fight against communism. (Those communists were also trying to modernize Afghanistan and improve the lives of the women there, but I guess those weren’t such important objectives back then.)

    That’s why American imperialism is brought up in these discussions. Propping up the oppressive and backwards Saudi regime has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy for decades, and the Saudi regime spreads a maximally-hateful ideology, and then we go in to blow up the places where that ideology takes hold. That’s a bad way to do things.

  108. Scott Says:

    JM #99: Alright, that’s enough. To be honest, I now feel sort of bad for using language like “Holy shit!” in my response to Rich Peterson. I feel like I’ve been given this amazing window into a whole world of people who are deeply engaged with Huck Finn, who can discuss it articulately, yet who somehow missed the central point of how Twain uses biting black humor and irony to offer social commentary. It would be like, I dunno, meeting a world expert on the cultivation of strawberries, who never knew that the main reason people grew strawberries was to eat them. It expands your conception of what’s possible.

  109. Rollo Burgess Says:

    Scott – when I saw this I thought about the piece you posted a while ago about the idea of non-Republican voters moving to Texas to move the demographics such that the state would no longer reliably return GOP legislators and electoral college reps.

    I’m not suggesting that this is an actual plan of anyone’s, but passing legislation that makes Texas less attractive as a place to live for Democrat voters makes the state more likely to stay Republican…

  110. Jr Says:

    Nick #107:

    Are you aware what methods the communists used to modernize Afghanistan? Or why they alienated a large part of the population?

    Also, if the US was not “propping up” Saudi Arabia, how exactly would anything be better? The Saudi regime does not seem dependent on US support to remain in power, and if it were, the alternative might be an even more fundamentalist regime.

  111. Scott Says:

    Mahdi #93: OK, thanks for explaining!

    I should tell you that I reject the axiom, central though it is to woke discourse, that the members of an oppressed group get to render unappealable verdicts on what is or isn’t offensive regarding that group. For example: my own views, on which jokes are or aren’t antisemitic, are relevant but not determinative—and not only because other Jews can (and almost certainly will) disagree with me. The person who told the joke and the people who laughed at it also get to defend themselves—even if they’re not Jewish. Intent matters.

    In the case at hand, I’d summarize the cartoon’s perspective as follows (though well-aware that all jokes, like frogs, die when dissected):

    (1) The plight of women under the Taliban is horrific, and is much, much worse than the plight of women in Texas (if it weren’t, there wouldn’t have been a joke).

    (2) Having said that, we in the West should not imagine state-enforced misogyny as “only a problem of those weird faraway Muslim places.” We can see the same impulses at work in our own culture.

    I confess that I fail to see anything wrong with either of these messages.

  112. Doug Says:

    Scott #108: Yeah this makes sense. It can go the other way too. I was certain, for *years,* that Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” *had* to be sarcastic.

    Though in fairness to past me, I at least didn’t attempt to publish any books explaining how this was so.

  113. Scott Says:

    Rollo Burgess #109: Now that I think about it … goddammit you’re right. In the mind of Governor Abbott, for example, deterring the big tech companies from expanding in Texas may have switched from a bug of ultra-right-wing policies to a feature, because it delays the day when Texas switches over to a blue state. That would explain a lot.

    In which case, the central point of this post could be rephrased as follows: while Dana and I “took one for the team” by moving to Texas, and while we’re thrilled by all the other Democratic voters who are choosing to do likewise, we can’t in good conscience urge people to come here, while reassuring them that Texas’ current right-wing policies will have little or no direct effect on their lives.

    I don’t know the solution to this game-theoretic problem—any suggestions?

  114. Scott Says:

    STEM Caveman #64:

      I’m all in favor of such libertarianism, which would include not only abortion, but the ability to obtain ivermectin pills on demand as well as not being “forced” into vaccination by vax passports, employer mandates, travel restrictions and the rest of the Social Credit campaign in areas controlled by the Talibanized left.

    As far as I’m concerned, take as much horse dewormer as you want, but yeah, like others here, I confess that I totally don’t understand the last part. Don’t even libertarians believe that “your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins”? So then why isn’t it equally true that your right to spread a deadly disease ends where my lungs begin? I.e., why are public health restrictions around an airborne pandemic—including vaccination requirements for anyone who wants to be in an enclosed public space—the slightest bit incompatible with libertarianism? Of course, when it comes to private employers imposing such requirements, libertarians should treat it as even more of a slam dunk.

  115. Mahdi Says:

    Scott #111: Likewise, thanks for explaining!

    I didn’t say members of an oppressed group get to decide what is or what is not offensive. They do get to decide, though, what is literally harmful to them. There is a difference between offensive and harmful, and they should not be confused. One is quite subjective (and you can be offensive but harmless), the other is less so and has a clear definition. I am harmed if someone in the street yells at me and asks me to get back to my county, I’m harmed if the US President implements a Muslim ban, or a Muslim is harmed if someone sets their local mosque on fire or threatens them, etc. My comment and Ilhan Omar’s and the one I quoted all only talk about harm.

    As for your summary of the cartoon’s perspective, that’s probably what the cartoonist had in mind. But again, you are an accomplished intellectual and experienced blogger and way over at the tail of the Gaussian curve. So, as I mentioned in my comment, alas what you think of the cartoon doesn’t count in terms of whether or not it’s harmful.

    I’d be surprised if you did see anything wrong with the cartoon’s message. There may be lots of things right about both the cartoon and your blog post (and we may argue it’s the higher-order bit that matters). But what is wrong with them (and we know by evidence that lots of people see something wrong with both) have a nontrivial intersection. So you’d likely see one if and only if you see the other.

  116. Richard Peterson Says:

    To JM #99: You didn’t read what I wrote, or at least carefully, or your sarcastic reply wouldn’t have typecast me that harshly.

  117. ira Says:

    Shana Tova — Happy New Year — May this year be a year of health, joy, and fulfillment !

  118. Scott Says:

    ira #117: Thanks so much, and Shana Tova to you too! With everything going on right now, I enjoyed the honeyed apples, gefilte fish, tsimmes, matzo ball soup, and brisket all the more last night. (And of course, whatever else happens to Texas, I do expect the brisket to remain excellent here.)

  119. Sam Says:

    @Nick Drozd: It is indeed true that US’s foreign policy has helped to create the current situation in Afghanistan, but that is just one side of the story. Many share pictures of women students in Kabul university in 1970s to give a rosy picture of a golden time, but the truth is in the large swaths of the land, things were similar as Taliban era of 90s even then. It is true US-Soviet cold war, formation of Israel, Pakistan-India conflict, capitalistic interests of west related to oil, military-industrial complex, multiple other factors like sweeping waves of cultural changes from the west, ignited the fire. But the fuel mixture of tribalism, regressive social practices and political Islam was there.
    See the lines following “Our culture could not accept sending their girls outside to school,” Shakira recalled. “It was this way before my father’s time, before my grandfather’s time.”
    Many other societies had similar reservations and regressive views, but there are no other places where they started killing schoolteachers who were in favor of educating girls. Why so? Perhaps the harsh weather, lack of education, basic necessities like food, the cruelty of the imperial regimes supported by west, long history of violent conquests can cause such barbaric mentality, but surely nothing (including the vicious role of American foreign policy) can justify it.
    @ Mahdi: It is not Islamophobic to say Talibans are terrible or burqas are terrible. We are well aware that there are good human beings in Afghanistan and other Islamic countries. I would like to think that most are good, most are kind, normal people. We must ensure that such criticisms does not harm innocent people, but we if we do not criticize the fundamentalism, that harms real people too. Don’t you poke fun at fundamentalists in US?

  120. Scott Says:

    ND #6, John #19, and others: Sorry, I just realized that I never responded to the fundamental objection to Sagan and Druyan’s arguments for allowing abortion before human-like brain activity. Let me rephrase the argument as follows:

      If complex brain activity is the crucial property, then an adult pig seems to have at least as much of that as a human infant, yet we slaughter the pig. This strongly suggests that we care, at least as much, about the potential for future complex brain activity. Yet a 3-week old embryo, or unfertilized egg for that matter, has the potential for future activity just as much as a late-term fetus or an infant does, so that can’t be the argument for abortion rights either!

    I admit that this is a cogent objection—although I’d say it’s very conspicuously missing the step where we go “… and therefore, we should draw the line at conception, or at 6 weeks.” To me, those alternatives remain even more open to reductio ad absurdum than Sagan and Druyan’s proposal does!

    Rather, what we learn from this objection is simply that, with abortion, we care about some complicated combination of what currently exists and its future potential, just like in a criminal trial, we care about some complicated combination of what actually happened and the defendant’s intent. As I can attest from recent experience, a 3-month-old human infant can already react to stimuli in ways that neither an adult cat nor a few-weeks-old human embryo ever would—laughing uproariously when you poke its stomach, make funny faces at it, etc. etc. OK, but why do we care about those reactions; why do we assign them any moral weight? I admit that it’s impossible to answer that question without bringing in our knowledge of what the infant can eventually become.

  121. Doug Says:

    Re: the Taliban reference and cartoons, I feel like these should all be a lot less harmful because of the possibility of specificity in naming. It’s not saying there is something fundamentally backwards or uncivilized about Afghanistan or Islam, it’s really about the Taliban, quite specifically. Similarly we can call out ‘Saudi Arabia’ and not ‘Arabs.’ It’s harder with, say, ‘China’ or ‘Israel’ – especially if with Israel, you want to call out the current Israeli government but not the state’s right to exist. Harder to cartoon about. But the Taliban?

  122. Vladimir Says:

    Scott #114:

    > Don’t even libertarians believe that “your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins”? So then why isn’t it equally true that your right to spread a deadly disease ends where my lungs begin? I.e., why are public health restrictions around an airborne pandemic—including vaccination requirements for anyone who wants to be in an enclosed public space—the slightest bit incompatible with libertarianism?

    The way society deals with the issue of people swings their arms into other people’s noses is by punishing such swinging after the fact, rather than by installing mind-control chips which prevent the possibility of inappropriate swinging. Our society would probably mandate the installation of such chips if they were available; an ideal libertarian society wouldn’t. Also, libertarians take issue with the concept of “public space”. Insofar as they do find it necessary, it is in the sense of “a space owned jointly by the public” rather than “a space any member of the public may freely enter”, which I think is what you had in mind. A libertarian would have a much easier time accepting vaccination requirements in e.g. government buildings than in restaurants, viewing the former as a public space, the latter as private property.

  123. Scott Says:

    Vladimir #122: The trouble is that you can’t prosecute the specific stranger who infected you with covid, because you almost never know who it was. We only know that if you, e.g., walk around crowded buildings unmasked and unvaccinated, then you’re probabilistically infecting other people without their consent. And in any society that I’d want to live in, the latter knowledge is enough to take action.

    It’s like, we also don’t let someone walk down a crowded street firing an AK-47 in random directions, even if they don’t intend to hit anyone and even if they happen not to. Spraying deadly virus particles in random directions—or rather, failing to take sensible precautions against doing so—should be thought about in much the same way.

  124. ira Says:

    > Also, libertarians take issue with the concept of “public space”

    The microbial world, especially the viral one, would beg to differ. Strongly.

  125. fred Says:

    “Personhood” of a fetus is proportional to the number of scientific papers it will publish two decades after its birth.

  126. Scott Says:

    ira #124: LOL!

  127. Vladimir Says:

    Scott #123:

    Presumably the extent of action you think is appropriate depends on the expected value of the probabilistically damaging act. I haven’t made a serious attempt at estimating this EV, but I’m pretty sure the comparison to spraying bullets in a crowded street is several orders of magnitude off. I also wonder what action you think is appropriate in response to a typical seasonal flu, these being roughly 10% as deadly as COVID. Does the appropriate action depend linearly on the EV?

    Anyway, I think the distinction between public space and private property is the main point, from a libertarian perspective. If a restaurant does not insist on diners being vaccinated (and does not hide that fact from potential diners) any risk thereby is freely accepted by anyone who walks in.

  128. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Considering cultural attitudes toward abortion I looked at the current male/female ratios in China and India as a proxy for frequency of selective abortion based on sex. In the US selective abortion is very rare and the ratio of males is 1.05 in the age group 0-5. More males die in every 5 year age group (XX protective) and so by age 37 females are in the majority.

    In China the male ratio is 1.14 in the 0-5 age group and women are are not in the majority until age 65.

    In India the male female ratio in 0-5 age group is 1.11 but males are in the majority until 69 years of age. I understand India has recently liberalized abortion laws so will be interesting to track this ratio over the next few years.

    This to me represents an enormous difference in abortion attitudes between the West and call it a third of the global population in just these two countries.

    I fully support the Western intellectual tradition, and believe it is superior, but just point out that cultural attitudes vary significantly. That is why I am non-plussed by those that have benefitted enormously from life in the west are often the cadre that seeks to dismantle it.

  129. fred Says:

    The claim that criticism of IS/Al-Qaeda/the Taliban is Islamophobic relies on the implicit assumption that they will never outgrow their “oppressed” minority status because they’re just too dumb to ever reach their stated main goal of eventually imposing a global Islamic caliphate onto the rest of the world… i.e. the claim is itself Islamophobic.


  130. Scott Says:

    Vladimir #127: I completely agree that someone has to make calls about the tradeoffs: how dangerous is this virus, and how transmissble? Is it worth mandating masks? School closures? A stay-at-home order? For how long?

    Of course, this is traditionally the job of a public health agency—which is not a new invention; their forerunners have been around for centuries, for as long as people have understood that diseases spread through air. I appreciate that it might be uncomfortable, for a hardcore libertarian, that the biological realities seem to allow no alternative to a government agency that exists to make these sorts of judgment calls.

    Personally, I have enormous sympathy for the Silicon Valley nerds who are generally libertarian, but who, in early 2020, were frantically urging the government to take more action, on the theory that if government has any inarguable role, then surely it’s to protect the populace from extreme events like terrorist attacks, earthquakes, hurricanes, and pandemics. I.e., exactly what it mostly failed to do with covid.

    I’d probably be fine with private restaurants that were “safe spaces” for the unmasked and unvaccinated—so long as the patrons of those restaurants, having all infected each other, wouldn’t then patronize the spaces for sane people! 🙂 In any case, as you probably know, in the US the big debates now are over public and often quasi-public facilities like schools, hospitals, and airports. A thorough libertarian would surely say the government shouldn’t be involved with those facilities at all, but given that it is, the question arises of what those facilities’ covid policies should be!

  131. Tu Says:


    Thank you for writing this post. Despite feeling like I was following the story via WSJ, NYT, etc, I learned much more about the actual content of the law from your very entertaining post– thanks!

    I am sad that just enough thought was put into the construction of this purely insane bill to stop me from supplementing my paltry TA stipend with income from phoning in attempted abortions on every Republican state lawmaker (or his spouse).

    You have explicitly laid out your fear that a complete absence of moral scruples and basic competence in Texas state leadership might discourage otherwise-interested people from moving there. I can confirm that this is the case. When I was slightly younger, I was very excited by the prospect of moving to Texas (Austin, specifically) and almost accepted a job there. At that time I would have estimated P(I live full time in Texas at some point) = .85. I now assert the above probability to exactly 0, and exactly because of what you outlined in this post. First-world countries or bust for me!

    Unrelated to the above– I am sure it is a crappy feeling to see someone from your place of doctoral study ripping you on Twitter. If you are at all afraid that you may be drifting out of touch with the “kids these days” engineering departments around the country, I would hope to assuage that fear a bit. As a “kid this day (?)” I cannot think of a single person on the internet with whom I am more ideologically and politically aligned than you.

  132. Scott Says:

    Tu #131: Thank you—that was an awesome comment that made my day!

    Yeah, whenever I get attacked by young wokes on Twitter, I do wonder whether I’m just hopelessly out of touch with “the kids these days.” Then I go teach, get a room (or Zoom window) full of undergrads laughing at my jokes, and feel a bit better, chalking up the Twitter attacks to selection bias. 😀

  133. Vladimir Says:

    Scott #130:

    A public health agency, having access to expertise and data unavailable to most individuals, can use these to come up with more accurate estimates of any risks associated with the virus than most individuals would come up with. This does not in any way detract from individuals’ right to decide which risks they are willing to take. More generally, no aspect of reality ever forces any human action. Freedom includes the freedom to starve, etc.

    > Personally, I have enormous sympathy for the Silicon Valley nerds who are generally libertarian, but who, in early 2020, were frantically urging the government to take more action

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the main thing they were urging the government to do was get out of the way (of distributing vaccines), i.e. exactly what libertarians are always urging the government to do?

    > A thorough libertarian would surely say the government shouldn’t be involved with those facilities at all, but given that it is, the question arises of what those facilities’ covid policies should be!

    The fact that government is involved with a facility to some extent does not mean it should determine every aspect of its operation. The higher the local autonomy, the better.

  134. M2 Says:

    Pete #92,

    Yes. Not because the law would be constitutional (or because this one is) but because, until somebody actually uses it to sue somebody, there is nobody to sue (because nobody is “enforcing” it), and because the relevant federal civil rights law doesn’t authorize one to sue a judge to prevent enforcement of a civil law before the fact.

    So the issue here is that the possible people to sue is “everybody in Texas,” which is not going to work. Once one person sues another person under this law, then the defendant in that case can challenge the law’s constitutionality. Like Scott, I don’t know why abortion providers haven’t just put together a fund, very publicly provided an abortion, and then waited to be sued (or even had a friend sue them to challenge the law). I’m sure they’re discussing it. (It would be very public for the woman involved, I suppose.)

  135. Scott Says:

    Vladimir #133:

      Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the main thing they were urging the government to do was get out of the way (of distributing vaccines), i.e. exactly what libertarians are always urging the government to do?

    That was one thing they were urging, but many were also urging immediate lockdowns and travel restrictions. See, e.g., the Twitter feeds of Paul Graham or Balaji Srinivasan from back then if you’d like to check my memory!

  136. Scott Says:

    Nick Drozd #105:

      Of course there are some reasonable people who have reasonable arguments against abortion. Some of them are here in this thread. But they are politically insignificant, and they don’t represent the forced-pregnancy movement as it exists today. That movement is instead represented by well-known serial rapists like Donald Trump.

    Suppose I grant all that. Even so, when I go out on a limb and publicly defend a controversial position, I hate it when people answer me by arguing that

    (1) many of the most powerful people who agree with me about X have ulterior motives, and/or other beliefs that are horrifying and insane, and

    (2) I haven’t yet earned the right to be taken seriously about X, because I haven’t spent enough time fighting for what we all agree is the right side on related issues Y and Z.

    It’s like, if I’m wrong about X, then why can’t you just explain why?

    That’s why Sagan and Druyan’s essay (have you read it?) felt like such a breath of fresh air to me, or maybe a blast from the past: even though they’re firm pro-choicers, they clearly understand and respect the pro-life side enough to engage its strongest points directly, with zero whataboutism or evasions. It’s also why, despite my own tribal instincts, I tried to follow Sagan and Druyan’s example when writing this post.

  137. Mahdi Says:

    Sam #119: I’m sorry, where does that strawman come from? In fact, if you asked me, I would tell you that in my view it is Islamophobic to think that extremist groups such as the Taliban or ISIL and such are even Muslims! Or that extremist ideas such as burqas are something that are required or even suggested in Islam (last I checked, no verse in the Quran, which is the definition of Islam, talks about that.).

    For what it’s worth, you’re not all of a sudden “woke” to suggest that Muslims get to decide what is or isn’t harmful to their own community. If anything, it’s “woke” to think that a cartoonist from Seattle who is completely out of touch with the Muslim community and what they’re going through can dictate what is or isn’t harmful to them even when enough Muslims beg to differ.

  138. ira Says:

    Vladimir #133

    > If a restaurant does not insist on diners being vaccinated (and does not hide that fact from potential diners) any risk thereby is freely accepted by anyone who walks in.

    But what about their employees ? I know libertarians love the line, ‘anybody is free to not take a given job.’ They conveniently omit that nobody is free from having to eat (or needing shelter, clothing, and clean water.)

  139. John Stricker Says:

    Scott – “Woke people on Twitter, I invite you/youse/y’all to figure out some creative ways to condemn me for that.”



    fred #125: That would be “professorhood” I believe…

  140. Rich peterson Says:

    To Scott #108: thanks for defending me but being honest also. This is weird of me, I’m upset although not mad, but I don’t know how to say the rest without some defensive sarcasm that you honestly don’t deserve, you’re being kind, not mean…

    Maybe I’m an overeducated idiot not bright enough to contribute on this blog.(true, as a child,I was in the 6th percentile in intelligence, until I was educated(overeducated?) up in developmental clinics to 99%). Am I, like others in the amazing window you just saw, educated beyond my intelligence, a diligent well intentioned overeducated mediocrity, who can’t see the obvious?

    Dropping my sarcasm, if that’s what it was: I never before yesterday, saw anyone else besides me, who noticed the passage, and then realized you, and some literary critics on the web, knew about it. Maybe I didn’t get involved in the internet soon enough, so I didnt see them till now. Is it really “THE famous passage” as you said, though?? I feel like I’ve been crying in the wilderness about it and suddenly everyone says yes, we knew that already.

    Anyway, publish this or not, it’s ok either way.

  141. Scott Says:

    Mahdi #137: I mean, I might be ashamed of the antics of certain Orthodox Jews, like (say) the late Meir Kahane. I might even try to score points by pointing out where their actions seem to have no basis in the Torah or Talmud. But it wouldn’t occur to me to claim they’re not “really” Jews, let alone call someone else antisemitic for describing them as Jews! They obviously represent one extreme of a continuum that also includes many other kinds of ultra-Orthodox and modern Orthodox Jews, not to mention Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and secular Jews. I’m not personally responsible for some ultra-Orthodox sect’s religiously motivated behavior, but Judaism is “responsible,” insofar as a religion can ever be held to be “responsible” for anything. Indeed, the ultra-Orthodox are plainly much closer than I am to the beliefs and practices of ancient Judaism—which doesn’t mean they’re all that close themselves, or that maximizing fidelity to the beliefs and practices of 2600 years ago should be a goal in the first place. But it does mean that they’re Jews, if anyone is.

    Why is the situation different with the question of whether ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban etc. are “really” Muslims?

  142. Scott Says:

    Rich peterson #140: I admire your honesty. So here’s a bracing confession of my own: I have no idea how famous that passage actually is. I assumed it must be famous, because it’s one of the most striking, jarring, socially-relevant passages in arguably the single most celebrated novel in American history, but it’s not like I actually read up on Twain scholarship to be sure.

    Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle: the passage is well-known to Twain enthusiasts, but not as well-known as the pivotal scene where Huck decides to rescue Jim even though he thinks he’ll burn in hell for it. Maybe not even as well-known as the scene where Huck’s abusive father drunkenly rages about the searing injustice of a black man he’d encountered being a distinguished professor, when he ought to have been chained and sold at auction—and how that’s the ultimate proof that America is going to hell.

    Man, when you spell it all out, it is kind of crazy that Huck Finn is taught in high-school English classes. Isn’t it too bitingly good for our risk-averse, bureaucratized system?

  143. Mahdi Says:

    Scott #141: That’s why I said “in my view”, to emphasize that while I never claimed what the commenter has implied, my personal view could actually be quite the opposite.

    I’m of course not a Muslim scholar and don’t even know the very basics, but I think when you say “Islam says you have to do X”, that X has to be in the book at least under some accepted scholarly interpretation. Quran has remained unchanged for over a dozen centuries and remains the only precise and reliable source of what defines Islam. So the question would be whether an extremist group such as ISIS has sufficiently deviated from the book according to Muslim scholars and authorities. At least in Shia Islam, who has the authority to judge is clearly defined ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marja%27 ), and there have been some who have declared extremist groups such as ISIS to be outside Islam and harmful to the religion.

    Apparently, there are even conferences related to the topic! For example: https://makhaterltakfir.com/en/Conferences/View/1118/The-International-Congress-on-Extremist-and-Takfiri-Movements-in-the-Islamic-Scholars-View-

  144. Timothy Chow Says:

    Mahdi #141: “I think when you say “Islam says you have to do X”, that X has to be in the book at least under some accepted scholarly interpretation.”

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but there are some interesting test cases, such as X = “refrain from visually depicting Muhammad” or X = “affirm that Muhammad was never a polytheist even before receiving revelations from God.” The Quran says very little about Muhammad himself, but there are many Muslim beliefs surrounding Muhammad that are in practice (for vast numbers of Muslims) as mandatory as things that are explicitly in the Quran.

  145. Mahdi Says:

    Timothy #144: Regarding your specific values of X, visually depicting the prophet is not universally banned in Islam. Examples can be found in Shia Islam, such as in Iran. The prophet’s religious views before Islam is also up to debate even among Muslim scholars, and some verses in the Quran are considered to provide some hints.

    But you are right that the Quran is not the exclusive reference, the second being Sunnah: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunnah
    and that’s where all major disagreements among Muslims originate. The prophet’s Sunnah is almost universally considered to be the second scholarly reference in Islam. Other forms of Sunnah and Hadith are considered less reliable and accepted by some branches of Islam but not others. If you ask a Shia Muslim about what is Islam and what is allowed or not allowed, you may get a very different answer compared with Sunnis and the discrepancy almost always comes from the question of what should be included in Sunnah.

  146. DR Says:

    To clarify,
    1. Did the US Supreme Court just say Roe vs Wade is not valid,
    2. thus allowing this new Texas law to exist?
    3. Wouldn’t this then encourage some other states to pass a similar law?
    4. And allow people in ALL states to challenge choice successfully?

    Maybe 2024 is going to be all about this. I think that’s what this is about. Testing the waters for 2024.

  147. Scott Says:

    DR #146: If you haven’t been reading about it, then yes, for the first time in half a century, the Supreme Court majority has allowed a situation to arise that obviously contradicts Roe. Shockingly, scandalously, they did this “in the dead of night,” without ever explicitly repudiating Roe—like I said, as if they’re “testing the waters” for a repeal or rewrite of Roe to come very soon (and they indeed have an Alabama Mississippi case on the docket that would let them do this). No one can make sense of it otherwise, since the glaring contradiction between the Texas law and Roe can’t be put off for long.

    And yes, of course, other red states are now rushing to copy what Texas did.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats will try to pass a national law that explicitly protects abortion, removing the need for Roe. The Republicans will surely filibuster to prevent that.

    Many blue states already have state laws that protect abortion. In the likely event that the Supreme Court repeals Roe, and the Democrats don’t manage to pass a national law, the abortion situation will revert to how it was before 1973 (and to how the marijuana situation is now): legal in some states, illegal in others. In the no-abortion states, there will be a huge impact on those women who can’t afford to travel across state lines to get to an abortion clinic. Pre-1973, that meant a lot of dangerous back-alley abortions.

    Yes, you should expect to hear much, much more about this in both the 2022 and the 2024 elections.

  148. asdf Says:

    These corporations bankrolled the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban

    The politicians who sponsored Texas’ abortion ban are backed by some of the nation’s most prominent corporations. These same corporations hold themselves out as champions of women’s rights.

    AT&T, for example, is one of the top donors to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban, also known as SB 8. Since 2018, AT&T has donated $301,000 to the sponsors of SB 8. Yet, in AT&T’s 2020 Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Report, CEO John Stankey said one of the company’s “core values” was “gender equity and the empowerment of women.

  149. DR Says:

    The comment on Kabul University was fair. It is a great comparison particularly now, because Afghanistan is on everyone’s mind. And their poor treatment of women that is protected by law, is a fair comparison to Texas. Not that Texas is anywhere close to that extreme, but the comparison is interesting and meaningful.

  150. Boaz Barak Says:

    Wow this comment thread has grown.. didn’t follow but for people that have any interest in the women (or people in general) of Afghanistan, this New Yorker article is really worth reading: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/13/the-other-afghan-women

    This article is not proving a point or winning an argument for one side or the other. Just deep reporting showings perspectives and voices that are very seldom heard.

  151. M2 Says:

    DR #146:

    1. No. They said nothing of the kind.
    2. They allowed the Texas law to exist for now. They let it stand, specifically, on the procedural issue that the people who were sued in the suit that came before them have nothing to do with enforcing the law; and one can’t know who *does* have anything to do with enforcing the law until such person (a private citizen) brings a suit. So any suit to stop the law will be procedurally invalid, presumably. However, once somebody tries to enforce the law (by filing a lawsuit), then the constitutionality of the law will be properly before the (district) court, and it will have to decide that. That will assuredly go back to the Supreme Court.
    3. Yes, and that’s already happening. However, those laws will only stand up if Texas’s actually stands up once it is evaluated on the substance. Since the Court did not reach the substance and thus did *not* overturn Roe, the Court at that point will have to either overturn the law or overturn Roe (which, as Scott points out, they may already have done by then, using the Mississippi — not Alabama — case before them, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.)
    4. Well, presumably only states with Republicans in control of the legislature and governorship, but yes.

  152. barbara Says:

    This post has nothing to do with the current discussions. However, I need to write it.

    Scott #61: thank you so much, I am now even more deeply indebted to you and your work.
    Richard Gaylord #60: being privileged to have grown up in an environment which tries to consider both sexes at equal (besides biological differences, you seem to have forgotten), I was deeply chocked by your question. Let me just answer yourself by using a quote of RBG I found in your post #37: “It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision maker, that her choice be controlling. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex.”

  153. Jr Says:

    Mahdi 143:

    Of course Shia muslims are going to reject ISIS, they are Sunni. No different from Protestants viewing Catholics as non-Christians. What is part of Islam or not is best judged by outsiders, not by Muslims whos biases are too large. And from the perspective of a neutral outside observer, it is obvious that that the practices of the Taliban and ISIS are only more extreme versions of common Muslim beliefs.

    I mean, what is written in the Quran and the hadith is evil and barbaric in many ways. Not particularly surprising considering the era they were written, and Islam is not the only religion to have outdated scriptures, but at the moment Islam seems to have the largest problems with modernizing among the world’s major religions.

  154. Jr Says:

    Ira #138:

    “But what about their employees ? I know libertarians love the line, ‘anybody is free to not take a given job.’ They conveniently omit that nobody is free from having to eat (or needing shelter, clothing, and clean water.)”

    I don’t see how that affects the logic at all. So what if people have to eat? Why is that the employers problem? if anyone, they should be the last to be held responsible since they have already done something by offering them a job. It makes much more sense from my ethical intuition to force a third-party, like Ira, to pay if we think workers receive too little money.

  155. Alejandro Estrumia Says:

    Veo que la discusión está totalmente enfocada en los derechos individuales: la izquierda prioriza las madres, la derecha prioriza a los niños. Dado que no hay acuerdo sobre esto, podría ser útil ampliar la discusión a las implicaciones para la sociedad.

    Algunos argumentan que, en las últimas décadas, el control de la natalidad contribuyó a disminuir la tasa de delitos, sino también la población, y solo en aquellos países donde se permitió.

  156. 1Zer0 Says:

    mjgeddes #83

    I agree – partially; I personally don’t view consciousness, to be more specific qualia “The green of green”, “the sound of waves” as a computational process or the result thereof.
    In the end, a computational process is just a change of state according to some lookup table, a mechanical operation, in conjunction with consciousness, it leads to too many paradoxes and inconsistencies.
    I eventually came to the conculsion that a possible world like ours doesn’t need to have only properties which can be defined in classical mathematics, reduced to set
    theoretical statements in first order logic. Instead, A world may also have additional properties which can be defined as statements of first order logic (or some other logical system) as
    “informal axioms”. Hilbert wanted, in his sixth problem, an axiomatic description for physics. I suppose he meant ZFC + Logical Axioms and Modus Ponens + some domain
    specific physics axioms which restrict the generality of ZFC. Let’s say there exists a finite axiomatization for our world as demanded by Hilbert. So by definition, this
    would fit the “standard requirement” of worlds in Kripke/ Modal Frames: such a world is logically possible.
    What I came to believe is that for our world there is an additional not necessarily fully compatible (to ZFC + physics axioms and all the implications thereof) list of axioms or a finitely representable list of infinitely many axioms – an axiom schema – for consciousness (and maybe even a few things more we don’t know about yet!) such that the world is described by (at least) two theories with not chance of reducing one to the other. Actually, maybe the two theories could be merged using paraconsistent logic.

    In general, I agree with you that modalities are an integral part of cognition and evaluation of possibilities are essential especially in solving problems.
    But in essence, I can also see these things as part of the thinking process of a philosophical zombie, there may not be qualia necessary for this or vice versa, I certainly do not believe that evaluating modalities is sufficient to “generate qualia”.

    That ” So, in a sense, moral value seems to come from the constructive generation of ‘counterfactuals’, which may be thought as the opening or *actualization* of pathways through possible worlds.” sounds interesting, could you elaborate more on it? Not sure I fully grasp it.

  157. Scott Says:

    Alejandro Estrumia #155: In this blog’s 16-year history, I believe that’s the first time I’ve ever received a comment that was entirely non-English but also (as I learned from Google Translate) on-topic and not spam. What gives? Are you just toying with people? Trying to encourage me to learn Spanish, if I am planning to stay in Texas? 🙂

  158. Mahdi Says:

    Jr #153: So, Shia Muslims are unfit to reject ISIS and must be treated the same as ISIS because from the eyes of an outsider who has no idea about the religion they look the same, and you must be sufficiently ignorant to be qualified to decide what Islam is? What?! I have news for you, the complement of Shia Islam is Sunni Islam, and last I checked, they were not rejected by Shias and went to Hajj together.

    In other news, of course a Nobel prize laureate is going to say Scientology is not science, because as a neutral outside observer, they sound the same to me. And science is obviously evil and barbaric in many ways because they inject microchipped vaccines in your body that track you and also murder babies in wombs.

  159. Mahdi Says:

    DR #149: As you yourself suggest, in what metric space is the oppression in Kabul even remotely comparable to the oppression in Texas? Just the fact that they happened at the same time and bear the word “oppression” makes it fair? No, in my view it’s unfair and possibly an insult to Afghans to reduce what they’re going through (for decades, mind you) and suggest that it is at a comparable level with what’s happening in Texas, where the has been a pseudo-law that in all likelihood won’t survive a year. What’s next? Compare the 2021 blackouts in Texas with the 2010 Haiti earthquake?

  160. Ocelot Says:

    Thank you for speaking out against BOTH of these restrictions of women’s rights.

    I think it’s safe to say that any group that wants you to look the other way is in the wrong.

  161. Jr Says:

    Mahdi #158:

    I never said Shia Muslims must be treated the same as ISIS. Every Shia Muslim should be judged on his own merits. Some are slightly better than ISIS (like the Shia clerics who rule Iran), other are much better. But I stand by that Muslims are not qualified to judge what Islam is, and I also stand by that the problematic parts of ISIS ideology have counterparts in widespread Muslim beliefs and in accepted Muslim theology.

  162. Karen Morenz Korol Says:

    I too agree with J.D. #28. I don’t think the personhood argument makes sense – you don’t cease to be a person just because you’re temporarily braindead. We do resuscitate such people, because they are still people, and we have good reason to believe they have at least the potential to have a fully functioning brain in the future. Likewise we don’t consider people with less functional brains to be less human. We have every expectation that if we wait around doing nothing, the early fetus will also in future have a fully functional brain.

    But, like J.D. says, that doesn’t mean the government should mandate organ donation, either of a uterus or a kidney or any other body part. J.D. forgot to mention that kidney donation is the quintessential example because it has similar risk of death and long term health issues to pregnancy, and similar life-saving potential for the recipient.

  163. Mahdi Says:

    Jr #161: So, every Shia Muslim should be judged on their own (and apparently you don’t think there are any female Shia Muslims), but also a country that has about 40% of the Shia population in the world is in your eyes only marginally better than ISIS. Your line of thinking is what creates things like Trump’s Muslim ban, but apparently in your view he has top qualifications to judge what Islam is, so at least there’s some consistency there. For the time being, I’m going to send your quote as a tip to The Onion, “Muslims are not qualified to judge what Islam is.”

  164. Anonymous Says:

    I kind of feel like the pro-life (in actual sense, being against killing people) on all sides should unite for common sense regulation of gain of function research to prevent pandemics, and these are important issues but I’m just shocked around the lack of coverage that this is getting: https://twitter.com/R_H_Ebright/status/1435053515785662464?s=20 Almost everyone knows multiple people who have been affected by the death of a loved one from COVID and we still don’t know if it escaped from a lab. According to Ebright, we don’t even need China’s cooperation to have a real investigation.

  165. fred Says:

    I think that the abortion issue for many “pro-life” people often isn’t about when consciousness begins, or some rating of consciousness on some continuous scale (i.e. the degree of awareness the fetus will endure when being killed), but about the actual missed potential from killing the fetus, without ever giving it a chance to express itself, and this starts as soon as the sperm fertilizes the egg, because that’s when an actual new potential life starts. So whether the organism is 1 day old or a toddler, there’s no difference. The loss is the same, the tragedy is the same (*): both the toddler and the fetus are the seeds for a new person that will fully realize itself if nothing goes wrong. Which is also why the death of children is considered particularly unbearable. Whether the child suffers a lot or not at all (e.g. in his sleep) when dying isn’t the only/main factor that makes it horrible, it’s also the lost potential, especially that they’re still blank slates and we just don’t know the true potential that’s been missed.

    But when sperm or eggs aren’t fertilized yet and are “wasted” away, no new life has started yet. The life potential in that case is a pure counterfactual: “man, I wonder what my kids would have looked like if I had met someone and started a family…”.

    Or when you disconnect a brain dead patient from life support, there’s hardly any potential left for the unfolding of that life.

    (*) the tragedy may not be the same for the parents: when the pregnancy is really early, the parents haven’t got a chance to build their dreams, expectations and anticipations yet, so noone is attached to the fetus the way lots of people already care a lot about a toddler, but from the ethical point of view of such pro-life ppl, the tragedy is the same, i.e. you don’t need to worry and find extra people to care about a toddler (he’s already well loved), but there’s hardly anyone there to protect the potential of the fetus.

  166. Fdr Says:

    @Mahdi: The problem is not the spiritual or devotional aspect of Islam, but anti-democratic nature of the ruling class and clergy and their misconceptions. For example, the belief Muhammad is the last prophet and his words are the only true religion leads to persecution of other religions in Islamic countries. But this is a belief that axiomatically defines a Muslim (Shia or Sunni). I don’t think everything is bad in Islam or Christianity or any religion, but we must see things with an open mind and reject whatever is bad (interpretations or actual statements). I know that in post 9-11 world, Muslims have faced harassments in the western world. In West, many educated Muslims joined progressive causes (like being pro-LGBTQ, pro-abortion, pro-socialism) partly due to political realities, partly by convincing themselves that Quran does not clearly ban such things. But that does not show that medieval theocratic laws are the best for Muslims, best for humanity and they are the most humane or most enlightened laws or better than Christianity or Judaism (even if some of the laws were in favor of women, even if some of the laws are good).

    Of course, the main issue on abortion being discussed here has nothing to do with Islam, but they way some religious persons are getting touched by the comparison between extremists of two religions show they want to see the world from a theological perspective, which is a major problem in itself in my opinion.

  167. Scott Says:

    fred #165: But the idea that any “potential” human life needs to be protected is vulnerable to completely obvious reductio ad absurdums, from the Monty Python “every sperm is sacred” song, with its implication that male masturbation (and presumably menstruation) is murder, to all the potential children who you “murdered” by not marrying the person with whom you would have had them. So clearly the actuality of what’s present — is there a brain there? just a clump of cells? — has to matter for our judgments in addition to its “potential.” Any pro-life argument that fails to grapple with this is as intellectually dishonest as a pro-choice argument that fails to grapple with whether infanticide is morally permissible (as many cultures have considered it), and if not why not.

  168. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, while it’s far from obvious what moral standing to give to merely potential people, even if we do accord them moral standing, the case for outlawing abortion is still far from a slam dunk! For example: all else equal (behind Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”), I think I’d choose not to be born, than to be born to a mother who wanted to abort me and who would have if she could have. Which, now that I think about it, is probably one of the strongest intuitions in favor of allowing abortion, at least in the early stages of pregnancy before consciousness is plausibly present.

  169. Mahdi Says:

    @Fdr 166: Thank you for sharing that article! I think it sums up the concerns by many, including those dubbed here “woke people on Twitter”, quite eloquently, and I would advise everyone, including Scott, to read it. Those cartoons, for example, not only miss the point of the root cause of what’s happening in Texas, but also try to score points at cost of more stigma against, say, an Afghan student in the US who is already subject to lots of bigotry every day and may even be an atheist.

  170. Chip Says:

    Fred #165: Whatever you personally may think, that’s certainly not the position of the Catholic Church, which makes up a non-trivial chunk of the anti-choice movement. They see no reason to view fertilization as a special step in the causal chain that produces babies, and view interfering with fertilization via contraception as “objectively immoral.” See, for instance, https://sacredheartwinchester.org/catholic-beliefs-about-contraception/ (“But [married couples] should never act to suppress or curtail the life-giving power given by God that is an integral part of what they pledged to each other in their marriage vows. This is what the Church means by saying that every act of intercourse must remain open to life and that contraception is objectively immoral.”)

    By the way, anyone who thinks that if _Roe_ falls there won’t be a push to go after _Griswold_ next hasn’t been paying attention (https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/05/griswold-v-connecticut-supreme-court-decision-disaster/). Note that Amy Barrett explicitly refused to say if _Griswold_ was correctly decided (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/barretts-hearings-were-a-frustrating-charade-but-they-were-still-chilling/2020/10/15/836c2f58-0f14-11eb-b1e8-16b59b92b36d_story.html).

    Also, it’s worth taking a look at the paper by the former TX Solicitor General who came up with the strategy behind the Texas abortion law (https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/URLs_Cited/OT2017/16-476/16-476-3.pdf). This isn’t going to be a one-off, this is a blueprint for kneecapping federal judicial review, with this Lubbock case involving a local abortion ordinance being a test run: https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/01/abortion-planned-parenthood-lubbock/, decision at https://thetexan.news/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Order-Dismissing-Case-for-Lack-of-Jurisdiction.pdf.

  171. anon85 Says:

    Scott #135: OK, I’ll call your bluff here 🙂

    I just searched Paul Graham’s twitter from Jan-March 2020, using this query:

    (this is searching for “virus”). The only policy-related result I see is Paul quoting from an article, saying “If you just shut down your societies, your economies and hope for the best … the virus is just going to sit you out.”

    I.e. Paul was arguing against COVID restrictions.

    As for Balaji, he does seem to have talked about the virus a lot more, including supporting travel restrictions. Though he spent more of his energy complaining about government restrictions on testing, as predicted by another commenter here (and he spent even more of his energy complaining about the media, as is usual for him, though I have to say that my personal experience was that the media seemed OK and I was concerned about the coronavirus back in January 2020 despite only getting my information from the media).

  172. Pace Nielsen Says:

    Scott #168: Most abortions occur because of financial pressures together with other familial pressures (such as caring for elderly parents, not having a spouse, etc…). There is a third option besides (1) raising the child, and thus shouldering the added financial and familial strain, and (2) aborting the child; namely, (3) selflessly allowing the child to be adoption.

    When someone facing abortion is informed of this third option, and they see numerous examples of parents hoping and praying for a child to adopt, they often choose this path. There are so many loving parents who want to adopt a newborn child. And it isn’t hard to find many personal accounts of people who are grateful that their birth mothers chose to put them up for adoption, rather than ending their lives via abortion.

    Thus, the choice isn’t always between a bad family situation or nonexistence. I’m totally in favor of expanding laws which help in informing people about this third option, and helping pregnant mothers follow this path by helping with medical bills, etc… Timothy Chow’s comments on this have mirrored my own thoughts.

  173. Anon93 Says:

    I’m really worried that both the wokes and religious people will want to ban things like embryo selection and CRISPR in humans. This would be great and it will increase our IQ and so on. I know that you Scott said you were in favor of them. I totally agree. The wokes will say it is “eugenics” even though it does not share the anti-liberty aspects of 20th century eugenics, and the religious will say it is playing god or whatever. The awful discourse around abortion does not give me hope about this.

  174. Anon93 Says:

    “So why aren’t we packing our bags already? Partly because the current situation is inherently, obviously unstable. SB8 can’t long remain the law of Texas while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the United States: one of them has to give. I confess to being confused about why some abortion provider in Texas, with funding from national pro-choice groups, hasn’t already broken the law, welcomed a lawsuit, and forced the courts to rule explicitly on whether Roe v. Wade still stands and why or why not, rather than gutting a core part of American jurisprudence literally under cover of night. I’m also confused about why some solid blue state, like Massachusetts or Hawaii, isn’t right now passing a law that would let any citizen sue any other for carrying a firearm—thereby forcing the five Supreme Hypocrites, in striking down that law, to admit that they don’t believe after all that state laws get to trample what the Supreme Court has held to be constitutional rights, merely by outsourcing the enforcement to random vigilantes.”

    I agree with the first point. There will be a lawsuit and it will go to the courts. See https://www.metaculus.com/questions/?order_by=-activity&search=roe%20wade for some predictions on this. I think the latter point is wrong though. The Second Amendment is literally part of the Bill of Rights. It has a very different status than Roe v Wade. The Constitution does not mention abortion at all. Any ban by a blue state would get struck down as unconstitutional. It’s not clear to me that Roe v Wade was decided constitutionally in accordance with the 10th amendment. I’m all for legalized abortion but that’s orthogonal to the question of whether this was the “correct” Supreme Court decision.

    I also think there’s a big electoral aspect. The Republicans want to hold Texas by appealing to religious Hispanics. I think that’s what a lot of this is. They want to maintain the gains they got with Hispanic voters between 2016 and 2020. It’s not clear to me otherwise why Texas Republicans would do this now, when they have a much smaller majority than they used to. Why now, in 2021, do they pick to focus on abortion? Again the only hypothesis that makes sense is a desire to consolidate gains with Hispanics.

  175. Scott Says:

    Pace Nielsen #172: Yeah, you’re right of course. One would hope that further decreasing the need for abortion, by making everyone well aware of and able to use all the other options from contraception at the one end to adoption at the other, would be a complete no-brainer that both sides could work together on, but maybe that’s asking too much of our broken world. Or maybe not! After all, the number of abortions per woman in the US has more than halved since the late 70s.

  176. OhMyGoodness Says:

    The most complete abortion data in the US is widely considered to be from the Guttmacher Institute (pro choice). Their data shows a decrease in abortions from a peak of 1.6 million in 1987 to 860,000 in 2017 (last year available without estimation). The decreasing trend is due to wider use of contraceptives, thankfully.

    Rates By State-
    The abortion rate is calculated as the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 years old. The ten states with the highest abortion rates were:

    District of Columbia (32.7)
    New York (29.6)
    New Jersey (25.8)
    Maryland (23.4)
    Florida (20.6)
    California (19.5)
    Nevada (19.4)
    Connecticut (19.2)
    Rhode Island (17)
    Delaware (16.7)

    The 10 states with the lowest rates of abortion-

    Wyoming (1.3 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    South Dakota (3.1 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    Kentucky (3.8 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    Idaho (3.9 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    Missouri (4 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    Mississippi (4.3 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    West Virginia (4.4 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    Utah (4.4 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    South Carolina (5.3 per 1,000 women 15-44)
    Nebraska (5.5 per 1,000 women 15-44)

    The national average is 10.8 and Texas is about 9.

    There are numerous apparent interesting correlations with this data but then correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation.

  177. Greg Guy Says:

    Comparing US attitudes to abortion with those horrid Islamistanis is always a problem when if you don’t have much understanding about the rest of the world.


  178. OhMyGoodness Says:


    “Again the only hypothesis that makes sense is a desire to consolidate gains with Hispanics.”

    The only Hispanic that voted in favor was Eddie Lucio Jr from Brownsville. His son, Eddie Lucio III, even voted against.

    You have to consider that many legislators actually voted their conscience (I know it seems naive).

    In the spirit of the original post, those fleeing Texas do enjoy safe overland routes and seats are available on the inside of commercial aircraft.

    I have every confidence that Texas will be a good host to the Afghan immigrants as it is to so many others. Houston enjoyed a sizable Afghan population for some years and has one of the highest immigrant populations, by percentage, of any US city. It must be more attractive to those from international locations than those from some areas of the US.

  179. fred Says:

    Scott #167
    “But the idea that any “potential” human life needs to be protected is vulnerable to completely obvious reductio ad absurdums, from the Monty Python “every sperm is sacred” song, with its implication that male masturbation (and presumably menstruation) is murder, “

    But I did try to address that point about sperm and eggs in my post already:

    “But when sperm or eggs aren’t fertilized yet and are “wasted” away, no new life has started yet. The life potential in that case is a pure counterfactual: “man, I wonder what my kids would have looked like if I had met someone and started a family…”.

    Considering that fertilized eggs are sacred because they’re the start of an actual human life (not an abstract notion of a virtual person from some counterfactual) and requiring that all women on earth (who can bear child) be constantly pregnant (so as to not be wasting any sperm and eggs) are two separate things.
    Of course you can also say that once a fetus is killed by abortion, talking about the loss of “potential life” also rests on the counterfactual of imagining what would have happened if it had not been killed (he/she is dead, it’s over). But the same argument would apply to murder of adults (death penalty and whatnot).

    Anyway, it’s all a matter of personal ethical stand point, there obviously isn’t some proof of which side is right here.

  180. Scott Says:

    fred #179: I apologize that I missed where you addressed that, or I would’ve written my comment differently. But the truth is that many people, including me, see even a fertilized egg as still only a “potential” human life rather than an “actual” one. Whatever the people on Twitter and Sneerclub might think I think, 🙂 I don’t believe human beings are their DNA sequences (identical twins being just one obvious counterexample)—I’d rather say, if I had to pick, that human beings are the connectomes of their brains. For me, then, fertilization is merely one more step in a continuous process of turning potentiality into actuality—indeed, it’s a step that will still lead to miscarriage (often without the woman even knowing about it) in a large fraction of cases! So as far as I can see, this really does come back to whether one believes that there’s some metaphysical “ensoulment” that happens at the moment of fertilization, or whether fertilization is just one more arbitrary cutoff.

  181. fred Says:

    I have a thought experiment:
    Imagine a country had a special law that said “only male fetus can be aborted”.
    Let’s say it’s to address some sort of unbalance on the actual gender ratio in the adult population (like in China).

    I have no idea if that changes the earliest time you can abort (I don’t know when gender is fixed), but we could probably still be within the time window considered reasonable by either pro-abortion or even anti-abortion people.

    Doesn’t this tweak on abortion sounds unfair and wrong even to pro-abortion people?
    That’s because, in this case, we’re forced to turn the fetus into a person, we start to imagine his future person, as “some guy”.

    It’s always easier for pro-abortion people to keep the fetus as un-person-like as possible (e.g. Scott posting that photo of an early fetus), while anti-abortion people will do the opposite (and post photos of later fetal stage, where they look like a tiny person).
    But once you start searching for some definite characteristic, like its gender, suddenly it’s way less abstract, even if consciousness may not have emerged much yet (and this we really don’t know for sure).
    The only case when it helps to bring a definite characteristic is when we look for really serious genetic disease and problems… but even this can be controversial.

  182. Scott Says:

    Greg Guy #177: It’s certainly true that there are now many Muslim-majority countries with much more liberal abortion policies than the state of Texas! That’s not surprising, since there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, and only a tiny fraction of them are trying to return the world to the 7th century by force. In this post, though, I specifically talked about the Taliban, which is part of that tiny fraction. Wouldn’t a person who thinks “Muslims in general” every time they read “the Taliban” be one who, in your words, “didn’t have much understanding about the rest of the world”?

  183. fred Says:

    Scott #180

    No problem 🙂

    I don’t have a definite opinion on all this, I also understand the argument that a woman should be in charge of her own body, even if there’s a life inside.

    I’m more worried about world overpopulation, and would try to limit its growth or even reduce it, but I don’t see abortion as a means to it.
    I would rather encourage couples to not make their own babies, and instead go for adoption.
    I would favor “open border immigration” if it’s through the a world-wide exchange of babies.

  184. I see your abortion ban – posttenuretourettes Says:

    […] of entry. Which brings me to Scott Aaronson’s calm, measured, and not-at-all over-the-top post comparing Texas to Kabul. How oh how will we attract quality students and staff to this medieval […]

  185. fred Says:

    “this really does come back to whether one believes that there’s some metaphysical “ensoulment” that happens at the moment of fertilization, or whether fertilization is just one more arbitrary cutoff.”

    I’m still not sure.
    You can sit all by yourself and do whatever you want with your own body, but regardless of the amount of time you wait (9 months or 20 years), your sperm won’t magically turn into a person.

    Whereas, if you consider a pregnant woman with a fertilized egg, all you have to do is wait 9 months and you’ll get a person. Except for some accident or an abortion.
    In this case the future person is very real, just as real as saying that a new born baby will also one day turn into an adult (except for some accident, disease or infanticide), you just have to wait 9 months less.

    In a way, it’s strange to claim that because the new born baby has more “functional brain” in it, it’s suddenly not right to interrupt its realization into a future adult. If the worry is that a new born baby is conscious enough to suffer, you can always cause death without any pain at all.

    Note that this has nothing to do with “ensoulment” at all.
    I don’t claim that fetus have a soul at all, or are conscious, or capable of computation (your own version of ensoulment)… I’m just saying when there’s fetus, there’s a real person coming out way in our branch of the multiverse, we just have to wait 9 months, it will happen no matter what, unless you kill the fetus.

  186. fred Says:

    We all die one day.

    If you ask anyone why it’s bad to kill a 20 year old, it’s because ~60 more years of potential life as an adult are suddenly lost.

    If you ask why it’s bad to kill a a new born, it’s because ~80 more years of potential life as a kid and then as an adult are suddenly lost.

    If you ask me why it’s bad to kill a fetus, I’ll tell you it’s because ~80 more years of potential life as a kid and then as an adult are suddenly lost.

    Note that the details of the death are irrelevant here. You can always be killed without any pain at all.

    And you can always replace “kill” and “death” above with “they will be kept under general anesthesia or kept under hibernation until the sun burns itself out”. It becomes then obvious that what we’re talking about here is unrealized life of an actual life “thread” in space time that could proceed if we decide to turn off the anesthesia or hibernation.

  187. fred Says:

    one last post and I shut up.

    If a couple is having sex, and say we know an egg will be successfully fertilized.
    Any interruption that happens or doesn’t happen during the act will have a butterfly effect, probably changing which spermatozoa will fertilize the egg. So, if you knock on the window a bit, you’ve replace a future life (say, little Mary) with another (little Bob).
    What’s clear here is that there is potential for life, but it’s all still in a very chaotic state, infinitely sensitive to the initial condition.

    Whereas, once the egg is fertilized, that’s it. The dice have been thrown. Not to say that we can predict what person will be realized (because we can’t predict anything), but as far as the parents’ main input goes, a lot has been decided. If you kill the fetus after a week, or after 9 months, or at 1 year old, … we’re talking about interrupting a very definite and unique biological space time thread.

  188. matt Says:

    Scott 108: “It would be like, I dunno, meeting a world expert on the cultivation of strawberries, who never knew that the main reason people grew strawberries was to eat them.”

    Or perhaps like, something I see all the time, a world expert on computational complexity who isn’t aware that the main reason people built computers, at least in the early days, was to calculate things? Or say, a world expert on computational complexity who can’t use an email program? 🙂

  189. Scott Says:

    matt #188: I’ve never once encountered the former, while the latter seems completely unsurprising to me.

  190. OhMyGoodness Says:

    The commonly held estimate is 160 million new children born per year for a global net population gain of 80 million per year. People often speak of declining fertility but when you look at the numbers not many countries at real ZPG because of local births or due to migration.

    Previous estimates of the carrying capacity of the Earth for humankind (Club of Rome/Ehrlich/Malthus) have been in error but it is a finite system.

  191. John T. Says:

    I just want to say to Timothy Chow #56 that this is a beautiful comment that brings up what I think is the key issue. What disturbs and frightens me about, call it “Enlightenment scientism”, is its tendency toward materialist reductionism—its blindness to what you call “awe and reverence”. To me this is the extremism of our civilization, and its greatest danger. At some level our “soul” (whatever that is) rebels against the tendency to reduce the value of life to neuronal activity or some other quantitative measure. If we start doing that, don’t we risk getting to a point where similar arguments are used to justify the replacement of “obsolete” humans by some kind of Skynet on utilitarian grounds? If you take away the awe and reverence, you open the door to all kinds of horrors, imo. Abortion is one of those issues where this problem is first felt, but AI is potentially even worse. I don’t have any solutions, but I don’t think it’s something that can be decided by legal or scientific arguments. It’s ultimately a metaphysical question of “what is sacred?”. For some, abortion is one of those practices that makes people fear that the answer, according to scientific utilitarians, is “nothing”.

  192. mjgeddes Says:

    1Zer0 #156

    It seems to me that once something is *actual*, it’s computational. To say that something is actual is just to say that it is in principle *comprehensible* to some mind. And to say that something is comprehensible is just to say that there is a finite set of simple steps (i.e computations) that could be followed to *construct* the idea of the given thing.

    If we look at the debate concerning abortion, we see it’s revolving about these notions of modality and time, i.e., could, would, should. So the differences between potentially and actuality are indeed playing a role in ethical debates.

    What needs to be clarified then, is exactly what we mean by the modalities of could/would/should, and what the distinction is (if any) between possible worlds and actual worlds.

    Thinking more clearly about all this, I realized that the math of values and AI alignment is actually all about: p-adic numbers! 😀

    I’m serious. p-adic numbers could in fact be the right math for understanding modalities and temporal inference, and value alignment as well.

    I’d previously talked about ‘the sphere of knowledge’, a representation of reality as a sphere of computation where the ball ‘fills in’ from the outside, so that in some sense, ‘it’s bigger on the inside than the outside’. Now I’ve recently realized that p-adic numbers have exactly the right mathematical properties to represent this.

    See this Quanta article:


    “Using the p-adics, Gubser and others had discovered a remarkable fact about the AdS/CFT correspondence. If you rewrite the surface theory using the p-adic numbers rather than the reals, the bulk is replaced with a kind of infinite tree. Specifically, it’s a tree with infinite branches packed into a finite space, resembling the structure of the p-adic numbers themselves. The p-adics, Gubser wrote, are “naturally holographic.” ”

    The p-adic numbers have a fractal-like structure which is exactly what is needed to represent the notion of something that can go to infinity in terms of complexity, but still remain comprehensible in the limit due to self-similarity!

    Mathematician Peter Scholze believes that topological spaces are better explained in terms of p-adics, and geometry, functional analysis and p-adics (topology) can then be unified. This links p-adics to dynamical systems ( and thus to temporal inference).

  193. fred Says:


    “The commonly held estimate is 160 million new children born per year for a global net population gain of 80 million per year.”

    Ok, and estimate of deaths/births = world population / avg life expectancy = 7.9B / 72.6 ~ 108 million.

  194. fred Says:

    “Breakthrough achievement in quantum computing” at the University of Texas at San Antonio:


  195. Dan Staley Says:

    I’m late to the party, but wanted to weigh in on the whole Twitter-Islamophobia thing.

    I think there’s an important distinction to be made between the comic Ilhan Omar tweeted about as being Islamophobic, and Scott’s post.

    The comic just shows two generic women in burqas talking about Texas. It pretty heavily implies that any women in burqas are necessarily oppressed, marginalizing women who *choose* to wear burqas because they choose to follow that particular religious practice. Is this Islamophobic? I’m not sure, but there’s at least a good case to be made and an interesting discussion that could result.

    Of course none of this applies to Scott’s post, which is comparing Texas to a much more specific situation – namely, Afganistan as it is being re-taken by the Taliban. There’s no reasonable way anything Scott says can be interpreted as a statement about Islam in general, or even specific aspects of Islam beyond what the Taliban is doing in Afganistan.

    But of course, the internet is a place where most people don’t like thinking too hard and ideas get boiled down until they’re memes. So some people saw Ilhan Omar’s tweet, boiled it down to “Comparing the Middle East to Texas is Islamophobic, it must be true because Ilhan Omar said so”, and went on a march of righteous virtue-signaling that made themselves feel good.

  196. Gerard Says:

    mjgeddes #192

    > It seems to me that once something is *actual*, it’s computational. To say that something is actual is just to say that it is in principle *comprehensible* to some mind. And to say that something is comprehensible is just to say that there is a finite set of simple steps (i.e computations) that could be followed to *construct* the idea of the given thing.

    There are “things” that do not meet any of your criteria. The experience of seeing the color blue (ie. a qualia) is neither computable, communicable nor even representable. There is no representation that fully encodes the nature of that experience.

  197. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    What “real” Islam is might be an unanswerable question.

    Holy texts necessarily leave a lot of room for interpretation.

    Scott@141 offers a range of Jewish variants, but are Jews for Jesus real Jews? Who decides?

    On the other hand, everyone who’s concerned about whether what they’re doing is real Islam at least have that much in common.

  198. pete Says:


    I read the article you linked and it is fascinating. Not to hijack the thread but the experiments seem rather unlikely to work. Gravity is famously weak and how much will they actually produce? Isn’t there a back of envelope calculation they can do to estimate the magnitude and decide whether measurement is feasible? Do they need vacuum chambers the size of the milky way?

  199. Anon93 Says:

    OhMyGoodness #178: That’s a good point. Thanks for bringing that up. Still I suspect that there is a gap between the Hispanic legislators who are mostly Democrat and the Hispanic voter base. It’s only a recent phenomenon that the Texan Hispanics swung so far toward Trump, and this may well not be reflected in the demographics of the Hispanic representatives. I generally expect that Hispanic voters are more likely to be Catholic Conservatives and be anti-abortion. Still the whole thing is weird to me. Why is Texas the state doing this? Aren’t there other states where the public opinion is more anti-abortion than Texas, in particular in the Deep South? Texas is a state where Beto came close to winning a race. A state like South Carolina or Mississippi is very Republican, and many of the Democrats are religious Bible Belt Black Christians who do not like abortion either. Isn’t it surprising to you that Texas passed such a bill before these states did?

  200. Renato Laguna Says:

    I’d be willing to go for a strong pro-life position, protecting human life from conception all the way to decomposition. This includes being against the harvesting of organs from the brain-dead.

    Not really a matter of “life or choice” to me… but rather a matter of sacred/profane. Human life, death, our basic form and our reproductive cycle have some level of sacredness. I see abortion as sacrilege.

  201. Jr Says:

    For those who want a good explanation of the argument against abortion as a constitutional right Judge Amul Thapar has a a concurring and dissent opinion here: https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/21a0215p-06.pdf (Scroll forward past the majority judgement until you reach his opinion.)

    Note also that it clearly establishes Roe v. Wade is not overturned, even Thapar agreed he was bound by precedent to enjoin enforcement of some of the restrictions at issue.

  202. 1Zer0 Says:

    I can perfectly comprehend the set of real numbers or the set of all infinite languages with finite word lengths over {a,b}. Yet I cannot enumerate them :- /. I can also comprehend the continuous lorentz manifold the universe is yet I can never enumerate each point in spacetime, not even all the points in spacetime between the upper left end of the monitor I am looking and the lower end. Yet I could describe that set in set builder notation  as an uncountable infinite set, which is a finite representation of something beyond my ability to fully algorithmically enumerate. 

    I think there are clear example are to what is an impossible world, using some sort of “unrestricted comprehension” akin to naive set theory to specify a world, like “The world with the property that it cannot be argued about metalogically”, “The world where a statement and its negation can be true”, “The world in which I can talk to the number pi and turn it into an unicorn”, “The world of all world in which there are no self referential paradoxes” – I think it’s obvious that it’s trivial to construct non sensical yet grammatically valid sentences with no meaning using natural language so there have to be some restrictions, like demanding worlds to be strictly spatiotemporarilly separated. In essence, I personally divide abstract objects in multiple categories, the pure fictional one where the examples just mentioned – they are all valid in (fictional) impossible worlds. 
    I also see a potential human as an abstract object, however, one that is clearly possible and could be concrete within our own world. 
    So when someone says: “The aborted child is an abstract/ potential human and would have become fully fledged human” I disagree, since an aborted child is already concrete/ materialized. A potential human could have been my not existing brother or sister. They don’t exist in reality but I would argue exists in other possible worlds.  
    Or maybe in our own world in some MWI branch – but the wave function branches are not worlds in the Lewis sense. 

    “Now I’ve recently realized that p-adic numbers have exactly the right mathematical properties to represent this”

    I personally don’t see how you could build up a semantics for modal logical formulas using p-adic numbers instead of possible worlds in a Kripke Frame. 
    Judged by the content of the Quanta article, I believe you intend to judge a world “being concrete” and fit to be used in the set of world in a Kripke frame not by being logically possible, but by fulfilling some restrictions defined by p-adic numbers. 

    My main reason for being pro abortion after all is actually that given the state of the warming planet and the already stretched ability to ensure a somewhat equal standard of living, a further growing population is contraproductive, so abortions should probably be encouraged. The world would probably be fine with 3-4 billion people. Additionally even if the fetuses have some sort of qualia and “proto-consciousness” in the womb, I think the bodily autonomy of the mother should be evaluated higher. 

  203. 1Zer0 Says:

    Ohh I forget to add, comment was @ mjgeddes #192

  204. OhMGoodness Says:


    In the 2020 election the South Texas counties that voted for Trump all reelected Democratic representatives to the Texas House of Representatives. I have not seen any comprehensive polling results to examine the massive switch in presidential vote but the informal man on the street interviews have indicated it was due to border security and crime. Not one person that I have seen mentioned abortion.

    Maybe Texas Republicans did a sophisticated political calculation and courted the religious Hispanic vote in order to consolidate power, but then the calculation specifics not at all apparent to me.

    You may be right but it seems to me that for this to be an effective political strategy it would require different polling results then I have seen and would require high confidence in the polling results.

  205. Matthias Says:

    The new Texas law was passed by a democratically elected legislature.

    The Supreme Court case was decided by a bunch of appointed judges on less than flimsy constitutional support.

    On an object level, I prefer the federal rule here. But what if next time you prefer the state rule, over the federal rule, eg for drug policies?

    If you like either democratic legitimation, or if you like federalism, you should be very concerned that so much hinges on this flimsy supreme court case, but also that it second guesses what state legislatures should decide.

  206. Gadi Says:

    I can’t believe you still fall for the abortion divide and conquer tactic. Some issues like abortion, LGBT rights, so called racial equality, are issues that politicians will gladly focus on because just taking a stance improves their support at zero cost.

    While you’re dealing with these issues (that honestly, aren’t so important), politicians are robbing you blind with increasing taxes, insane budgets for all their corruption projects, printed currency and competition stifling regulation compiled by lobbyists of the strongest monopolies. But hey, at least your corrupt politician has the same opinion as you on abortion rights, so you’re distracted.

    When was the last time you looked at the budget?

    You should refuse as a matter of principle to discuss, consider or give any attention to anything any politician does that doesn’t cost that politician any power. Focus on the budget first of all, and on getting rid of all politicians which pushed for that monstrosity from either side.

    Or keep fighting over abortions. Politicians absolutely love it. People are so incredibly easily distracted.

  207. ultimaniacy Says:

    The obvious point which both sides love to dance around in these discussions is that being pregnant is extreme pain. While conservatives rant about infanticide and murder, liberals pretend that the only issues at hand are matters of vaguely-defined abstract principles such as bodily autonomy or gender equality — both pretend that the suffering of people who are forced to endure unwanted pregnancies doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.

    Pro-choicers don’t like to acknowledge this point because it feels scary to acknowledge how abhorrent pro-life ideology really is; much more comforting to pretend that the opponents only want to undermine intangible values rather than hurting real people. But now that abortion rights are actually under threat in America again, it’s important that liberals get over their fears and tell it like it is, because almost all the bullshit that pro-lifers throw at you loses its rhetorical force instantly when you remember that we are talking about real suffering being inflicted on real people, not just abstract philosophical issues.

  208. Yoni Says:

    I have read a fair bit on this texas anti-abortion law and supreme court ruling (or is it non-ruling?) from across the pond, but one simple thing always seems to be missed out which I would like an answer to:

    Is it *currently* practically possible for a woman in Texas to get an abortion (post-6-weeks)?

    My take from reading conservative stuff seems to be that in practice nothing has changed, the non-ruling of the supreme court is basically just pushing it into the long grass but in practice they will have to rule on it soon enough (when someone attempts to enforce this new law) and won’t overthrow roe vs wade.

    My reading from the liberal side (including this blog post) is that this has de-facto overthrown roe vs wade.

    But what’s the current status of “facts on the ground”? Have service providers changed anything they do in practice?

  209. Yoni Says:

    With regards to Orthodox Judaism’s view on abortion; worth noting that for at least the right wing of orthodoxy the matter is nowhere near as vague as Wikipedia would have you believe:


  210. Scott Says:

    Yoni #208: The facts on the ground are that no abortion providers in Texas—none, zero—are currently offering abortions after 6 weeks. That’s the only reason why there hasn’t yet been a “vigilante” lawsuit against an abortion provider—because the providers are fully complying with the law (I might rather that one of them defy the law yesterday and bring on the lawsuit, but the law contains a provision that could permanently shut them down once they do that). Providers are telling women after 6 weeks to go out of Texas (including possibly to Mexico) to get an abortion. The richer women are doing that, while the poorer ones are … well, it’s not clear. Abortifacient drugs, which the Republicans are also trying to make illegal? Coat hangers?

    Admittedly, I haven’t visited any abortion clinics to check myself, but the facts above are readily available at Texas news websites.

  211. Scott Says:

    Yoni #209: OK, but if a segment of right-wing Orthodox Jews now militantly opposes abortion, to what extent does that have any deep halakhic roots, and to what extent is it just a byproduct of the global right-wing campaign against abortion of the last half-century, led by American Christians?

  212. Avicenna Says:

    Yeah, you should take that seriously and do any possible actions to prevent it. Kabul or Balkh the place I was living and doing research and establishing modern Medicin would not seem to be even close to today’s Kabul, so yes! When we have been doing science, Texas was not even discovered on the map of the world. Later powerful nations also did not appreciate the wealth and contributions of Persian culture to science/human history and civilization to back it and empower it. So see Afghanistan through the lens of history and you can see how it could be so possible and close! Long Live Son!

  213. Pete Says:

    Great commentary Scott. I’ve browsed the comments and seen many insanely disingenous responses to what you are saying (that you are racist towards Muslims, etc etc–I’ve been reading you for years, and my own father is a Muslim born in Malayer, Iran…never once got the whiff of racism towards Middle Easterners.

    Keep highlighting their misinterpretations to them in the hopes they eventually understand, and keep doing what you’re doing!

  214. Fatimah Says:

    Let me proclaim my position first to go through the discussion, I am agnostic, raised in a moderate mixture of Shia, Bahai, and Zoroastrian environments in Iran.

    I read the discussion on religion and religious texts, and I think the political, social, economical and cultural factors are heavily missing in the discussion about the rising, falling of a particular sect of religion. While it is, of course, a fully legitimate discussion to consider the capacity of each ideology, on its own. But that would not, of course, be the full truth and it would not help much to identify and to see the full picture if it is discussed in a vacuum and in an abstract way!

    To begin with, all religions in history had gone terribly to the side of violence, for example, the Bosnian genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Jewish genocide, etc. But what remains interesting scholarly to ponder are:

    1. Cultural factors: different faces of the same religion in different cultures. For instance, check different shapes of Isalm when it reaches Persia(Modern day Iran), Egypt, Arabia and India. On the same line, Christianity, see differences between Middle Eastern, German, French, Anglo-Saxon, Romans.
    Polish Jews were given asylum in Iran in WWII, the reason why that happened is partly political, but the reason why they stayed is cultural and the reason why some of them left the country is political(Watch The Lost Requiem by Khosrow Sinai).

    2. Political factors: that which sec of religion is funded, supported and fueled heavily depends on political factors. I will give some examples, but happy to provide in-depth resources if one wants to go deeper than Wikipedia. The rise of Shai in Iran had a historical and political reason, and many Zoroastrians who had not converted to Islam converted to Shia due to that reason in the Safavid era. While some Europeans were not fancy of Sunni Ottoman, they would happily have economic ties with the Shia counterpart. Or the political reasons behind the idea of a Jewish state. If you want an example in the context of Afghanistan, check why some Mujaheeds after the Soviet dissolution and the cold war received funding and support but leaders like Ahmad Shah Massoud(a Sunni Tajik who studied in Kabul’s University, and had western-ideas about democracy in Afghanistan) were not supported anymore. Check also who were Europe’s allies in Afghanistan and who were allies of the USA.

    3. Economical factors: An example relevant to today’s Afghanistan, check how much of the Afghanistan war was handled by contractors, and when the war against Islamic terrorism was switched to economical benefit and loss equation. What was the content of Doha’s deal? After the Afghanistan invasion, what happened to the Opium industry, what was the substitute for Afghans who were working on Opium farms. Which secs of Islam are okay with this industry which secs are not.

    Are Christians and Jewish ideologically okay with the arms industry? Is this an ethical industry for them?

    Not to mention, the lands which were conquered for resources in the name of sending Jesus’s message to all men(not women!)! Back then not being religious was counted as barbaric and retarded!

    Anyway, it is a short glimpse of what is missing in the above abstract discussions.

  215. Fatimah Says:

    p.s. The auto-proofread changed economic to economical in the above text!

  216. Yoni Says:

    Scott #210

    Then it really is a sad situation! I think I watch way too much US conservative media. But then again I find the commentary over there on both sides of the isle to generally be too sensationalist (a trend that seems to have been creeping up over here too).

    Scott #211

    I am neither a knowledgeable enough halachasist nor historian to be able to confidently answer your question. But then again I’m not sure it’s really that relevant. Judaism is as Judaism does after all and OJ in particular has a long history of retrojecting its current views. I posted the comment as it bothers me how so many of OJ’s current positions are hidden from public discourse by a well oiled PR machine that has grown up around it while under the surface the “segment of right-wing Orthodox Jews” are increasingly seen as the “correct” or at least “best” version of OJ in general. And this from someone (mostly) on the inside of the system.

    In practice it is your colleagues, family, community etc. being affected by this Texan law and my siblings, friends, daughters (!) being affected by the reality on the ground in the OJ community (and it’s nowhere near as fringe in that community as you may think).

    Shana tova by the way

  217. Chip Says:

    Regarding Gadi #206 “Some issues like abortion, LGBT rights, so called racial equality, are issues that politicians will gladly focus on because just taking a stance improves their support at zero cost. While you’re dealing with these issues (that honestly, aren’t so important), politicians are robbing you blind…”

    How very nice for Gadi that they apparently have the luxury of not having to worry about being fired because of their sexual orientation, or who gets to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated, or who will inherit assets if they die intestate, or whether they or their partner get the same employer benefits that an opposite-sex long-term couple would be eligible for, or etc., etc., etc. But make no mistake: 1) not having to worry about those things is absolutely a luxury that many people historically haven’t shared, and given the continued reaction from the Right are hardly gains that can be counted on as secure, and 2) minimizing and trivializing the significance of those issues to people who don’t/haven’t shared that luxury reflects a mind-boggling level of arrogance.

  218. Nkv Says:

    Now that two pro-choice randoms have sued Dr. Baird, is it possible that pro-choice citizens across the US file so many lawsuits as to overwhelm the judicial system?

  219. Anon93 Says:

    Scott I found a way for the woke left to get mad at you for this post. See https://twitter.com/RichardHanania/status/1440810253768003590 . How dare you fight for abortion rights for WOMEN? MEN can get abortions. Trans Lives Matter!

  220. Michel Says:

    Now many so called ‘pro-life’ fanatics (or even moderates) are pro-car driving (~40.000 fatalities a year in the US), lots are ‘pro gun bearing’ (again, 40.000 fatalities a year, of which ~2000 minors).
    So the questions is: Why are those pro-lifers willing to take the risk of killing or having killed people in other ways. Taking away the potential of a good future?

    Of course, this question has also to be asked to ‘pro-choice’ people.

    But the former are willingly taking the risks of killing or grave harm to themselves and other people, and still consider themselves ‘pro-life’.

    Something like a veganist hunter: “I just kill the beasts, I don’t eat them’ . I must be missing something here.

  221. armin Says:

    Sorta off-topic but also kinda relevant: what is your take on relegating thefts and concluded crimes to 311 instead of 911 in Austin?

  222. Scott Says:

    armin #221: I hadn’t heard about that! Where should I read about it?

  223. Armin Says:

    I think I read about it here:

  224. Texas-Sized Problems | Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP Says:

    […] issue noted by Scott in a comment is whether the law allows someone to be sued multiple times. If not, then being sued once would be […]

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