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Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 December 2014 10:00:43PM *  5 points [-]

Where you are going to spend your time and your energy is one of the most important decisions you get to make in life.

Jeff Bezos

Comment author: dxu 16 December 2014 03:43:17AM *  0 points [-]

For an after-the-fact rationalization, that's actually not bad. On the other hand, I think Martin might actually push it a little too far; reality isn't as pretty as most fiction writers make it out to be, true, but it isn't actively out to get you, either. The universe is just neutral. While it doesn't prevent people from suffering or dying, neither does it go out of its way to make sure they do. In ASoIaF, on the other hand, it's as though events are conspiring to screw everyone over, almost as if Martin is trying to show that he isn't like those other writers who are too "soft" on their characters. In doing so, however, I feel he fell into the opposite trap: that of making his world too hostile. Everything went wrong for the characters, which broke my suspension of disbelief every bit as badly as it would have if everything had gone right.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 December 2014 05:57:51PM *  2 points [-]

For me, it's not just a problem of suspension of disbelief, it's a problem of destroying involvement in the story. If too much bad happens to the characters, I'm less likely to be emotionally invested in them. Martin's "The Princess and the Queen" (a prequel to ASoIaF) in Dangerous Women is especially awful that way, through the characters aren't developed very much, either. I'm hoping he does a better job in the main series.

Comment author: Salemicus 17 December 2014 10:42:14AM *  4 points [-]

I think emr, above, makes some very good points, but I think you guys are all missing some crucial aspects of the situation.

The places where a distinctively Islamic terrorism has taken off (Algeria, Chechnya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria) are all areas that have been ravaged by civil war or foreign occupation, leading to the breakdown of co-operative mechanisms in the wider society. In other words, the only move is defect. Yet at the same time, these societies (or sections of them) retain a distinctively Muslim identity and aspiration, so the natural way of forming new, co-operative institutions is to base them on that shared Muslim identity. Those participating in these movements no doubt see themselves as conducting a new Abbasid Revolution. This also draws in sympathisers from outside the country. Yet the outcome often becomes terrorism, because:

  • There are non-Islamic, or non-Sunni counter-currents within that society
  • Islamic regimes arouse massive hostility in the West
  • Precisely because these movements arise in the context of existing civil war/violence, it leads to a Hayekian "Worst Get On Top" dynamic, where more moderate groups get forced out.

In other words, suppose you're a Sunni in Eastern Syria or Central/Northern Iraq, and you want to co-operate to protect your friends and family from, say, being kidnapped and tortured by the police. You tried voting for al-Iraqiyya, and indeed they won the election, but half their candidates got thrown out of Parliament, so they can't legally stop the state machinery from persecuting you. And those guys aren't gangsters, so they can't use extra-legal means to protect you. So maybe the co-operative move, at least in a lesser-of-two-evils sense, is to join ISIS. And hey, maybe that worked, because ISIS's success caused Maliki's government to collapse, and maybe the new government in Baghdad will govern in a non-sectarian way, at least for a while, in the same way that al-Qaeda-in-Iraq's initial successes gained concessions and allowed the 'Sunni Awakening.'

As for why these organisations are able to recruit worldwide - I don't know why you consider it so surprising that they should get "anyone at all." It's like medieval Christians signing up for the Teutonic Knights, or Georgian Hellenophiles going to fight for Greek independence. These people are ignorant and idiotic, with a notion of what they're doing that's utterly divorced from reality, but there's never been a shortage of romantic fools.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 December 2014 05:31:47PM 1 point [-]

That may be enough to explain it, but I do think groups that compete in committing the worst public atrocities are somewhat unusual-- Hitler and Stalin made some effort to conceal the worst of what they were doing.

Thanks for the Hayek link. Do you recommend the savageleft site?

Comment author: emr 16 December 2014 11:36:56PM *  4 points [-]

I think the linked article hits a few common themes about why this might happen:

  • Sunni Islamist groups manage to convince some Sunni Kurds that the "Sunni" part overrides the "Kurd" part, at least while there's a good opportunity to gang up on a more-hated outgroup.
  • Broadly, an Islamist group will claim that they represent the larger and true community of cooperators, and so defection is presented as the true cooperative move.
  • The defining feature of culturally foreign recruits has been low-status, while only a weak Islamic heritage seems to be required. It's possible that literally no mainstream group wants some of these people, while a terrorist group will promise them status. Radical groups are often unwittingly assisted in this by a foreign media which dramatically exaggerates the seriousness of these groups. (This is connected to the oft-cited effect that media coverage has on encouraging school shootings).
  • The community is unable or unwilling to punish defection. Bluntly, most recruits come from communities where they can expect at least ambivalence, if not some support, for actions we would describe as terrorism. Think of Saudi Arabia. Given the official ideologies, one has to resort to game theory (signaling) to explain why there aren't more recruits, and to things like Reason as a memetic immune disorder to explain who acts and who doesn't.
  • The few recruits who can genuinely be described as defecting from the entire local community are more puzzling. My best guess still involves low status, the law or large numbers, and (at least sometimes) a pathological inability of the host society to respond to defectors who don't defect in culturally familiar ways, as in the recent Australian terrorist attack.
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 December 2014 01:53:22AM 1 point [-]

I rather clearly shouldn't have included the link about the Kurds-- it's a distraction from the question I'm more interested in, which is why organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS exist and are able to recruit worldwide.

Unless I've missed something, most eras don't have anything comparable.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 December 2014 03:07:50PM *  2 points [-]

It seems to me that Islamist terrorists are trying to maximize defection from the larger society, and they're even able to recruit Kurds. Admittedly, they're only getting a tiny proportion of people, but why are they getting anyone at all?

Would anyone care to take a crack at whether there are conditions under which this makes sense in terms of game theory?

Comment author: swfrank 13 December 2014 04:42:50PM 65 points [-]

Hi everyone. Author here. I'll maybe reply in a more granular way later, but to quickly clear up a few things:

-I didn't write the headlines. But of course they're the first thing readers encounter, so I won't expect you to assess my intentions without reference to them. That said, I especially wanted to get readers up to half-speed on a lot of complicated issues, so that we can have a more sophisticated discussion going forward.

-A lot fell out during editing. An outtake that will be posted online Monday concerns "normal startup culture"--in which I went to TechCrunch Disrupt. I don't take LW/MIRI/CFAR to be typical of Silicon Valley culture; rather, a part of Bay Area memespace that is poorly understood or ignored but still important. Of course some readers will be put off. Others will explore more deeply, and things that seemed weird at first will come to seem more normal. That's what happened with me, but it took months of exposure. And I still struggle with the coexistence of universalism and elitism in the community, but it's not like I have a wholly satisfying solution; maybe by this time next year I'll be a neoreactionary, who knows!!

-Regarding the statistics and summary of the LW survey. That section was much longer initially, and we kept cutting. I think the last thing to go was a sentence about the liberal/libertarian/socialist/conservative breakdown. We figured that that various "suggestive statistical irrelevancies" would imply the diversity of political opinion. Maybe we were overconfident. Anyway, after the few paragraphs about Thiel, I tried not to treat libertarianism until the final sections, and even there with some sympathy.

-"Overhygienic," I can see how that might be confusing. I meant epistemic hygiene.

-letters@harpers.org for clarifying letters, please! And I'm sam@canopycanopycanopy.com.


Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 December 2014 04:00:31PM 13 points [-]

Thanks for showing up.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 December 2014 10:49:54PM 2 points [-]

And to think that it all began with a vague uncomfortable feeling and a desire to understand!

You might be interested in Thinking at the Edge-- it's the only system I know of for getting cognitive value out of those vague feelings.

Comment author: timujin 12 December 2014 09:17:25AM 2 points [-]

Another stupid question to boot: will all this make me more content with my current situation? While not being a pleasant feeling, my discontent with my competence does serve as a motivator to actually study. I wouldn't have asked this question here and wouldn't receive all the advice if I were less competent than everyone else and okay with it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 December 2014 10:15:04PM *  1 point [-]

That's a really interesting question, and I don't have an answer to it. Do you have any ideas about how your life might be different in positive ways if you didn't think you were less competent than everyone about everything? Is there anything you'd like to do just because it's important to you?

Comment author: advancedatheist 08 December 2014 07:44:20PM *  1 point [-]

Did organized Objectivist activism, at least in some of its nuttier phases, offer to turn its adherents who get it right into a kind of superhuman entity? I guess you could call such enhanced people "Operating Objectivists," analogous to the enhanced state promised by another cult.

Interestingly enough Rand seems to make a disclaimer about that in her novel Atlas Shrugged. The philosophy professor character Hugh Akston says of his star students, Ragnar Danneskjold, John Galt and Francisco d'Anconia:

"Don't be astonished, Miss Taggart," said Dr. Akston, smiling, "and don't make the mistake of thinking that these three pupils of mine are some sort of superhuman creatures. They're something much greater and more astounding than that: they're normal men—a thing the world has never seen—and their feat is that they managed to survive as such. It does take an exceptional mind and a still more exceptional integrity to remain untouched by the brain-destroying influences of the world's doctrines, the accumulated evil of centuries—to remain human, since the human is the rational."

But then look at what Rand shows these allegedly "normal men" can do as Operating Objectivists:

Hank Rearden, a kind of self-trained Operating Objectivist who never studied under Akston, can design a new kind of railroad bridge in his mind which exploits the characteristics of his new alloy, even though he has never built a bridge before.

Francisco d'Anconia can deceive the whole world as he depletes his inherited fortune while making everyone believe that he spends his days as a playboy pickup artist, when he in fact he has lived without sex since his youthful sexual relationship with Dagny.

John Galt can build a motor which violates the conservation of energy and the laws of thermodynamics. Oh, and he can also confidently master Dagny's unexpected intrusion into Galt's Gulch despite his secret crush her, his implied adult virginity and his lack of an adult man's skill set for handling women. (You need life experience for that, not education in philosophy.) On top of that, he can survive torture without suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms.

So despite Rand's disclaimer, if you view Atlas Shrugged as "advertising" for the abilities Rand's philosophy promises as it unlocks your potentials as a "normal man," then the Objectivist organizations which work with this idea implicitly do seem to offer to turn you into a "superhuman creature."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 December 2014 10:10:27PM 2 points [-]

The three people Akston was talking about didn't include Rearden. They were D'Anconia, Galt, and Danneskjold (the mostly off-stage pirate). I feel as though I've lost, not just geek points, but objectivist points both for forgetting something from the book, but also because I went along with everyone else who got it wrong.

The remarkable thing about Galt and torture isn't that he didn't get PTSD, it's that he completely kept his head, and over-awed his torturers. He broke James Taggart's mind, not that Taggart's mind was in such great shape to begin with.

Comment author: alienist 11 December 2014 04:56:30AM 4 points [-]

On top of that, he can survive torture without suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms.

PTSS almost seems like a culture-bound syndrome of the modern West. In particular there don't seem to be any references to it before WWI and even there (and in subsequent wars) all the references seem to be from the western allies. Furthermore, the reaction to "shell shock", as it was then called, during WWI suggests that this was something new that the established structures didn't know how to deal with.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 December 2014 05:54:15PM *  5 points [-]

Not everyone who's had traumatic experiences has PTSD.

More information

The scientists have a theory, and it has to do with the root causes of PTSD, previously undocumented. As compared with the resilient Danish soldiers, all those who developed PTSD were much more likely to have suffered emotional problems and traumatic events prior to deployment. In fact, the onset of PTSD was not predicted by traumatic war experiences but rather by childhood experiences of violence, especially punishment severe enough to cause bruises, cuts, burns and broken bones. PTSD sufferers were also more likely to have witnessed family violence and to have experienced physical attacks, stalking or death threats by a spouse. They also more often had past experiences that they could not, or would not, talk about.

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