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OC ACXLW Instrumental Lying in AI. Geography made the US OP.

Hello Folks!

We are excited to announce the 49th Orange County ACX/LW meetup, happening this Saturday and most Saturdays thereafter.

Host: Michael Michalchik

Email: michaelmichalchik@gmail.com (For questions or requests)

Location: 1970 Port Laurent Place

(949) 375-2045

Date: Saturday, Nov 18, 2023

Time: 2 PM

Conversation Starters :

Technical Report: Large Language Models can Strategically Deceive their Users when Put Under Pressure

Text: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QpYWdcLAMqxmJveY0oZaNLzip8C41E1t/view?usp=sharing

ChatGPT Summary:

https://chat.openai.com/share/ea56d850-2dcb-47c5-a2d0-25ce441c78c6

How Geography Made The US Ridiculously OP

https://youtu.be/BubAF7KSs64?si=G_7JsfUXxoq-V7RI

ChatGPT summary plus some additional notes:

https://chat.openai.com/share/aac38f1e-dbac-41cc-9d76-86aae7cd0000

Question: Do we underate the importance of geography in such a way that we overate the efficacy of the “american system” or “american people” and incorrectly think it is the best system in the world for productivity?

Walk & Talk: We usually have an hour-long walk and talk after the meeting starts. Two mini-malls with hot takeout food are readily accessible nearby. Search for Gelson's or Pavilions in the zip code 92660.

Share a Surprise: Tell the group about something unexpected that changed your perspective on the universe.

Future Direction Ideas: Contribute ideas for the group's future direction, including topics, meeting types, activities, etc.

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Nov 20, 2023·edited Nov 20, 2023

American geography without American people and American system resulted in very primitive societies.

People and systems similar to the US without American geopgrahy resulted in very powerful countries like the UK, and to a lesser extent Canda, Australia and NZ.

They're not the same people/system, but the variation between the US and UK historically in this regard is smaller than between the US and everywhere else.

(Obviously talking about America's historical majority population that primarily consisted of people of anglo/celtic etc. ancestry which is what is most relevant to it's historical development.)

It's true that the American system is almost certainly overrated and not optimal for other peoples, but this is almost entirely due to differences in American people to other peoples, not because of America's geography.

The reality is that most populations around the world would never have been remotely capable of exploiting whatever geographical advantages are provided by the US landscape if they had conquered the place instead of the British. The british were people who acheived remarkable things *without* the benefit of US geopgraphy and it's absurd to suggest populations who didn't acheive the bare rudiments of industrialization would suddenly have a radically different experience in the US (without the british). But I imagine that the average LessWronger has a flat-earth view of humanity and would never accept something like this.

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Other than for humor, is it ever better to utilize the word "utilize" rather than use? I can see no use for "utilize", and always take it as a sign the writer wants to seem more impressive than they are, or sound important, or something.

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My read is that "utilize" is emphasizing that the use of the tool itself is part of the appeal. If you're utilizing your leaf blower to clear your yard, it implies you wanted to have a chance to use the leaf blower and now you've found one.

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"Utilize" has a meaning of "use in a way that is not quite intended". Example: I "use" a hammer to pound a nail in, but I "utilize" a tire rod to do same.

"Utilize" has suffered the unfortunate fate of having been picked up by marketing people and becoming an annoying "tic": used needlessly where "use" would be perfectly appropriate.

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I have not heard that before, but it certainly makes sense. A new utility of an item for which it wasn't intended.

But as you also point out, utilizing it this way would make it sound archaic.

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They're definitely not congruent words. "Use" can be a noun, and so might leave ambiguity for the reader. And the verbs have some different connotations as well--a bad person could "use" people, but you wouldn't say he's "utilizing" people, because that doesn't have the same negative connotation. "Utilize" specifies putting something to practical use (same root as "utility", I believe) whereas "use" does not; saying you used up your afternoon might mean you put it to a constructive purpose or wasted it, whereas saying you utilized an afternoon implies it was put toward a specific end.

If you want to start getting rid of words, start with "fantastic" and replace it with "double plus good"!

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Was really impressed by Curtis Yarvin’s recent appearance on Razib Khan’s audio substack. The subject was, of all things, poetry. Yarvin says at the beginning ”Everyone is interested in poetry, they just don’t know it.” And then claims mid-20th century American poetry is one of the high points of modern civilization, mentioning Robert Lowell as an example. He then read a poem by a 20th century Greek poet whose name I didn’t catch.

Yarvin comes off a lot saner when you hear him talk, hear the humor in his voice, than he does on the page.

When Razib asked Yarvin his opinion of AI extinction risk, he responded within the context of poetry. I’m going to paraphrase now and apologize for what I don’t get entirely accurate, but he says something like: Eliezer Yudkowski, because he’s a Rationalist, believes he is using his left-brain when he thinks about x-risk when he is actually using his right-brain. He is creating narratives.

It seems so obvious when it is put like that.

He then talks about LLMs and credits someone with calling them correctly “intuition machines”. Sticking with the right-brain left-brain theme, LLMs are right-brained. (I’m still paraphrasing.) LLMs are very creative but they suck at logic.

It reminded me that what has spooked me most about AI art is how surrealist it is. How well it captures a dreamscape. It is much more Dali than Da Vinci.

He then offers another reason (other than AI is no good at logic) why doomer nanobot scenarios make no sense: AI isn’t good at number crunching. Engineering breakthroughs such as the creation of nanobots will require advances in number crunching. He mentions how we still can’t simulate water boiling -- something which we know all the physics about -- because it’s too computationally intensive.

So: AI’s are right-brain thinkers (And so is Yudkowsky without knowing it) that are bad at logic and math. The apocalypse is not nigh. Robert Lowell is a great poet.

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It’s certainly one narrative about AI, but not one I would put much stock in. It’s kind of funny how the old trope was “machines may rule logic but they can never match our creativity” but now here’s this argument that “machines may be creative but they can never match our logic”.

LLMs can write simple code and integrate with specialized subsystems (either other AI or “normal” computer programs) already - which is how humans do “logical/number crunching” R&D nowadays. And their increasing proficiency at writing code and working across system boundaries hasn’t hit a wall yet. Until we see a real wall there, saying LLMs will never make nanomachines is tantamount to saying humans will never do so either.

Regarding AI images looking “Dali”, I think it’s mostly because of our own preconceived notions about what’s easy/hard about “drawing”, compounded by thinking we gave enough information for the AI to make a DaVinci when our text prompts / image descriptions are actually very vague, so the model simply “connects the dots” in a way that we interpret as “surreal” instead of “winging it”. The latter issue may soon be rectified by the very impressive latest crop of image-interpretation AI. If better labeling of training data doesn’t solve the “problem” outright, I wouldn’t be surprised if within 2 years AI image generators just “close the loop” and start automatically generating feedback on its own generated images to redraw/correct distortions until you can give it 5 words and receive a DaVinci worth 1,000 words.

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> saying LLMs will never make nanomachines is tantamount to saying humans will never do so either.

Which they won't, because it's not physically feasible (unless you count bacteria as nanobots)

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I… don’t know if we can be 100% certain nanomachines are not physically feasible. They certainly are very hard to do in silicon or SiN, surface attraction forces will eat your design for breakfast (the term of art is “stiction”). But I have read papers describing protein-based motors (not bacteria, just large protein molecules). There’s a nonzero chance nanomachines can be made.

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Right. Fair points. It is very interesting that the argument now is "machines may be creative but they can never match our logic". It flips the received wisdom on its head, something Moldbug has always been good at. But, who knows, it may prove to be the correct critique of AIs.

I think his point about number crunching is in the context of Artificial Intelligence having diminishing returns, like every other tool that has ever been created. Sure, an AI can simply use a math program to do math, but that would demonstrate AIs are limited in their own mathematical thinking. If AIs are to become superintelligences they need to develop logic and number crunching skills that make current capabilities look stupid. That doesn't seem to be the direction they are headed in.

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Nov 17, 2023·edited Nov 17, 2023

> If AIs are to become superintelligences they need to develop logic and number crunching skills that make current capabilities look stupid. That doesn't seem to be the direction they are headed in.

Exactly. How many of the AI doomers would have predicted in 2017 that six years after AlphaZero, the best chess engine in the world would still be Stockfish and it would still make only limited use of neural nets?

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Who here has had experience with IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy? At first I found it an intriguing idea I could add into my SF work in progress, now I'm finding it applicable to my life and relentless attempt to grasp at sanity, sometimes successful.

Briefly the idea is that there is a core self, and various 'parts' which have arisen to protect it. Some are exiles of feelings too painful to feel, some are firefighters to keep the exiles from lighting up, some are managers to proactively protect. It all seems to work for me. Opinions?

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https://boards.4channel.org/x/thread/36449024/ting-ting-ting-ahem-i-have-a-story-to-tell

I found this on 4chan. (OK lie: I posted it on 4chan. And it is literally the truth.)

I'm curious about other people's reaction to this true story. As in, I appreciate that it's quite hard to believe, so how much evidence and of what kind would you need in order to fully believe that I am telling the truth?

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Your subjective experience is always "true" for you, while you also have no ability to independently verify your working hypothesis of what's causing your subjective experience.

Frankly this reads more like fiction purporting to be true but if it's not, you should seek medical help sooner rather than later because your symptoms could be consistent with a brain tumor, among (many) other possibilities.

The technology has improved greatly in the last few decades and previously inoperable tumors are now (by the standards of brain surgery) fairly easy to remove without any long term effects if you catch it early.

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Do I believe you felt a horrible vibration in your brain, got constant headaches, and started to hear voices in your head, including the voice of David Bowie? Yes. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I know that hearing voices is a thing that happens to people sometimes. It's not any stranger than the people who hear Satan or Jesus in their head.

Do I believe that literal aliens, literal AI, or literal David Bowie are actually present in your "mindspace" or otherwise running on your brain's wetware in a way that's meaningfully different from a hallucination? No. I think for me to believe that, you'd first have to prove that a "mindspace" is a meaningful thing and not just another word for "something I imagined", and then show how an outside force (such as an alien, AI, or dead musician) is capable of manipulating it to produce the effects you feel.

Alternatively, you could try to ask David Bowie for something that only he could know, which others could verify. Perhaps get him to compose some really good music that you wouldn't be able to make on your own?

More seriously, consider asking a doctor. I'm not even saying that in a "make sure you're not crazy" sort of way, I mean make sure that the splitting headaches aren't the result of a brain tumor or something. Everything I wrote is a fun creative writing exercise, but the common-sense answer to "what do I do if I suddenly get painful chronic headaches?" is "see a doctor."

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Honestly, I don't comprehend what you wrote well enough to judge how likely it is to be true.

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Assume that my ability and willingness to elaborate on the things that have been inflicted on me/ my brain is affected by the continued interference of AI(s) with my brain, at this very moment as I am typing this comment.

Please see this as an SOS note and act accordingly.

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I want to talk about panspermia, which is one of the dumber ideas that I think people take too seriously. Inspired by this article: https://www.space.com/comets-bouncing-seed-life-on-exoplanets

As far as I can see, the relevant quantity we want to estimate is: given that life originated on a particular planet at some point during the age of the universe, how many other other planets (in other star systems) should we expect this life to have spread to by the present age of the universe? If this number is 0.001 then by finding ourselves on a planet with life we can assume it almost certainly arose here originally, if this number is 20 then it's most likely that life originated elsewhere.

If life did indeed originate on Earth then how many other (extrasolar) planets should we expect it to have spread to? I think the number is very much less than 1. Collisions that knock material from Earth into space are very rare, collisions that will knock Earth material clean out of our solar system are even rarer. That a given chunk of such material would eventually reach another star (within the few billion years available) and crash into a rocky planet/moon is very unlikely; that this rocky planet/moon has conditions conducive to life is also very unlikely. And then, the chance that some form of life was on that rock and somehow managed to survive the entire trip adds another layer of unlikelihood. I'm sure it's possible to estimate some of these terms numerically, but I reckon that if we multiply out all these unlikelihoods then we get something pretty small.

Admittedly, Earth may be a particularly bad seeding point; we're a large planet with a fat gravity well which rarely gets hit with sizeable objects.

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The way I heard Robin Hanson argue for Panspermia is that he first makes the argument that intelligent life is extremely rare (great filter, anthropics, grabby aliens), so probably the next civilization is like a couple of galaxies away. So the probability that there are aliens near us should be like one in a million or trillion or so. If we then meet some aliens, the two options are coincidence or panspermia.

The way he imagines it is that one exoplanet, where life evolved, moved through a region where lots of stars and planets were just being created, and then this one exoplanet fertilizes like 100 planets at basically the same time. Then, if one of them evolves civilization, they might want to visit all their other sister planets to see whether any other ones also have intelligent life.

So if we were to meet aliens in this model, it would be absolutely massive Bayesian evidence for panspermia. I think this would also hold for just finding bacteria on Mars or so, not just for intelligent aliens, but I'm less sure about that.

But this is all conditional on seeing aliens; if we haven't yet observed aliens, I don't know.

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Kurzgesagt recently did a video with an interesting take on this - for a long while in the early universe, space itself was at the right temperature for liquid water. This means that, in the earliest era of stars and planets, the cosmos itself was a giant petri dish.

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Were there enough metals back then though? You also probably need a lot of time for life to even arise in the first place.

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Sure, Earth is safe and boring, and doesn't shed a lot of material to the cosmos.

But what if among all the billions of worlds in this galaxy, one that was full of life exploded in some astronomical disaster, and threw billions of trillions of fragments in all directions.

Of all the worlds during all the billions of years, that could surely have happened. You only need one such event to start the chain reaction!

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> Of all the worlds during all the billions of years, that could surely have happened. You only need one such event to start the chain reaction!

Space is big. Even if the planet blew up and every fragment was colonized by bacteria or whatever, the pieces would still be unlikely to hit anything.

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Space is indeed very big.

But time is also very long. Over a billion years, *many* extremely unlikely things will happen.

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Your mistake is that assuming all big numbers are equivalent. They aren't. If say, the odds of something happening are 1 in a quadrillion each year, then it's not going to happen even in 10 billion years.

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Nov 17, 2023·edited Nov 17, 2023

Your claim was that you only need 1 magic exploding planet in order to start a chain reaction. But my suspicion is that even under ideal circumstances, the average number of planets reached is less than 1, meaning that not only do you need many planets, you don't get a chain reaction either way.

As a rough check, let's imagine that the earth's surface was perfectly spherical and completely covered with the smallest possible bacteria, and that it magically exploded so that these bacteria were sent radially outward in perfect straight lines. What are the odds of any hitting the nearest possible habitable planet? Keep in mind that these are all *the best possible, wildly unrealistic assumptions* for panspermia. And I chose them before actually looking up the numbers.

Let's see:

bacteria size: 200nm

Earth's radius: 6370km

Nearest potentially habitable planet (probably not actually habitable, but we're making the best possible assumptions everywhere here): Proxima Centauri b, 4.2ly away (3.974e+16 meters)

Distance between two adjacent 200nm bacteria after traveling 4.2ly: 1.25km.

So I guess these wildly optimistic assumptions aren't quite enough to rule it out offhand. But it's obviously absurd to assume individual 200nm bacteria travel for lightyears through space (and reenter a planet's atmosphere) completely unharmed, as is it absurd to assume a planet completely covered in such bacteria with them radiating uniformly outward. Make the assumptions even slightly more realistic and the odds of hitting a planet drop precipitously.

For example, Quora suggests that a 10cm **metal** meteor could potentially survive atmospheric reentry. If you assume the Earth's surface was magically turned into 10cm chunks that radiate outwards, the distance between them after 4.2ly would be 624000km, which is many times bigger than the size of a planet.

P.S. Panspermia also runs into the Drake Equation problem, since it implies that we would expect to see life basically everywhere possible.

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Sure but remember we're talking about the average behaviour of a life-origin planet. How many planets that just happen to get life also just happen to explode?

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Even positing that as true, how would that material survive conditions in space, including extreme hot and cold, radiation, etc? Space seems like the worst possible environment for life to survive. I'm am no expert here, but I would think that even basic building blocks of life like DNA would not survive the trip, especially considering the millions or billions of years required for the travel.

If nothing more advanced than basic chemicals would survive the trip (which I think might be true?), then why add the epicycle of an exploding planet with life and go with a simpler explanation of those chemicals coming from a non-life-bearing planet? If all material came out of a big bang explosion, then the same requirements for creating those chemicals on the seed planet would be needed anyway, with no ex-nihilo life starting this chain.

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Seeds and spores have been brought to life after thousands of years in permafrost, so I feel optimistic about the cold factor.

Radiation is probably worse, because it actively breaks down molecules like DNA. Then again a few meters of rock protects against most of it, I think.

The fact that only one of trillions of microorganisms on a space rock need to survive to bootstrap life on a planet makes me think it *will* happen sooner or later. I'm aware that's just my gut feel, not scientific fact.

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I learned about this recently and don’t have anything useful to contribute beyond this: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/panspermia-again/

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

Recently, I idly wondered how much it would cost for the US to host the Summer Olympics again if done as cheaply as possible. I figured the best bet would be to hold it in Atlanta or maybe LA because they'd already hosted the olympics and could presumably reuse some of the existing infrastructure. I figured it was all just a silly hypothetical though, since I couldn't imagine it ever actually happening this way.

And thus I was very surprised when I tried to research it today and immediately discovered that *LA was already chosen to host the 2028 olympics*. I almost feel like my daydreaming rewrote reality.

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Except for the as cheaply as possible part.

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They apparently are reusing an unusually high amount of infrastructure at least.

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Does wanting an empire make sense today?

There was a time when conquering territory created a buffer zone between you and your enemies, gave you more resources in the form of fertile land, taxpayers, slaves, soldiers, and/or militarily strategic geography. Today land just doesn’t matter as much, as Singapore proves. Natural resources still matter, but not nearly as much as once upon a time. They are a blessing and curse, nowadays.

It’s easy to understand why Catherine the Great wanted an empire. I find it hard to understand why Putin does. Or why China might.

Now, I get why the US wants a military empire. A hegemon that keeps the peace, controls the high seas and keeps global trade going is worthwhile for everyone.

But does it make sense for Russia or China to even *want* an empire?

Many people have said that we shoulda seen Putin’s invasion of Ukraine coming because that’s what Russia does. Russia wants to Russia, to expand its empire. OK. Maybe. Recent events validate that view. But while it’s easy to see what Russia had to gain from expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries, it’s hard to see what Russia has to gain from expansion in the 21st. Am I missing something? *Does* Russia have something to gain by expanding today? Or does Putin prove that ideological and cultural inertia matters more than reason?

I’m actually more interested in China than Russia, since China is the country the US is more likely to fight in a war in coming years. Should we consider China an expansionary power because Chinese history says so? Not recent Chinese history of course, but, um, ancient Chinese history. Does China have much to literally gain by expanding into a global empire, or is the idea of expansion for China a case of mental inertia like it is for Putin?

What gives?

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Empires historically were often not about gross economic benefit, especially recently. By and large, European colonies were a net financial drain (for the countries, though many individuals became wealthy) that required more spending to build and maintain than what was gained from them.

>Today land just doesn’t matter as much, as Singapore proves.

Singapore fills a niche. You can't have 100 Singapores. Without real, physical productive economic activity (in other countries), Singapore is worthless. And to be Singapore, you have to be the best at filling that niche (or close to the best).

>Not recent Chinese history of course, but, um, ancient Chinese history.

If you ignore Tibet, Xinjiang and inner mongolia.

>Does China have much to literally gain by expanding into a global empire, or is the idea of expansion for China a case of mental inertia like it is for Putin?

If China can take Taiwan, this shows that the perceived invulnerability of america as world police is illusory, which could have the effect of the rest of the world standing up against America and destroying it's hegemonic position, which could allow China to become the global hegemon, which it absolutely wants.

Also, of course, invading Taiwan could likely just result from the CCP facing a domestic crisis and wanting a distraction/a way of regaining power over Chinese society.

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founding

The rest of the world doesn't want to stand up against America and destroy its hegemonic position. Russia, China, maybe India and a few others want that. Beyond that, most of the world seems to want America to continue its hegemony so they can go about their business without having to worry about maintaining a large military or a coherent foreign policy. See e.g. https://acoup.blog/2023/07/07/collections-the-status-quo-coalition/

That said, damaging the reputation of American hegemony would be a very bad outcome for a great many people, which as you note points toward the US defending Taiwan if it comes to that.

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It's worth remembering that many historical empires were largely about trade. If you wanted to trade with India in the 1700s, you'd find that they didn't have sufficient trading infrastructure to trade with you; you needed to conquer India just to be able to buy some goddamn cardamom.

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Nov 17, 2023·edited Nov 17, 2023

citation required. Or more bluntly, I believe you are largely talking nonsense.

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People generally try to get more things and more power.

Countries are ruled by people who, generally want those things more than most.

It might not make much sense for Russia to slaughter it's own and Ukraine's youth in the war. But it makes a lot of sense for Putin, and he's in charge.

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One thing you have to understand is that homicidal dictatorships, such as Russia and China, don't like seeing free independent states next door, especially if these states at one point used to be under their rule. They view these states as a threat to their power (as well as a personal insult), and they are not very wrong - these do give their subjects ideas. They value having their power unchallenged and their citizens docile. It's about the dictatorship's status quo (the satisfaction of really showing those who dare defy it is a bonus), not about any kind of gain for the country.

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My dad was in China in the early 90s, and someone there asked him if Tiananmen Square really happened. If there are no "free" neighbors that you have to deal with, then you can avoid the issue of foreigners telling your repressed citizens what you clearly don't want them to know.

(He said yes, which in retrospect may have been dangerous but nothing came of it).

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“Now, I get why the US wants a military empire. A hegemon that keeps the peace, controls the high seas and keeps global trade going is worthwhile for everyone.

But does it make sense for Russia or China to even *want* an empire? “

To keep the peace, control the high seas, and keep global trade going.

That’s what they would tell themselves anyway.

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founding

It does not presently make sense to build an Empire for the sake of maximizing per-capita GDP, and probably not even total GDP. And it can often be difficult for modern WEIRDs to understand that statecraft can have goals beyond GDP-maximization. But it is so.

Building an Empire has historically paid off in pride, power, status, and security. And it still does, even if it doesn't simultaneously boost your GDP. Many people really do value those things, as terminal goals. If nothing else, *having* an Empire means you aren't a subject or province of someone *else's* Empire. And lots of people really resent being part of someone else's Empire, will go to great and expensive lengths to avoid it, Even if the Empire does bring sanitation, medicine, education, roads, public order, etc.

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To paraphrase some international relation realist points in the language of game theory, I think the point of becoming the hegemon (either locally or globally) is pursuing a sort of min-maxing strategy. If everyone in the world ganged up on the current hegemon (the US) they would likely still lose or suffer enough damage that they would desist. Same if everyone in Asia attacked China. So the hegemon survival is guaranteed even if everyone else attacks them. This seems the only way to ensure survival

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Signing up for the current `rules based order' basically means signing up to be a vassal of the United States. That's actually a pretty good deal - our yoke is light - but it's not so hard to understand why a place that sees itself as a great power may not be willing to sign up for vassalage. See also this piece from Tanner Greer

https://scholars-stage.org/china-does-not-want-your-rules-based-order/

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Good article. Thanks.

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

"Sure guys, we'll keep the peace, control the high seas, and keep global trade going! It's worthwhile for everyone! Don't worry, our troops are *everywhere*! Nothing at all for you guys to worry about! This doesn't give us any unfair advantages in any territory in your backyard or any leverage in any disputes! It's just great we have troops in your backyard and can stick a nuke there at any time! Just let the USA worry about the military stuff and keep eating your borsht/dim sum!"

At the very least, the Chinese want Taiwan. In their worldview, it's theirs, and given the civil war, it's more or less the equivalent of a little bit of the Confederacy holding out on, say, Cuba. There's also the geography; they could project force out a lot further, disrupting the US's chain of islands. There's also the argument Xi doesn't like having a bunch of Han Chinese with their own little island not subject to the CCP, but he hasn't tried to do much about Singapore.

As for Ukraine, it's where Russia started, more or less, and there's a lot of common history and the languages are almost the same. Putin has of course probably made a reunification impossible for the next several hundred years by invading the country and killing lots of Ukrainians. It may have been kind of the same country before, but it isn't now.

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

Deveraux's thesis, which I find persausive, is that military conquest was worth it (for the victors) up until around the industrial revolution, when a combination of factors vastly increased the destructiveness and opportunity costs of war while decreasing the returns, making it no longer worth it even for the victors (but then it took another couple wars before people really realized this.)

However, that doesn't mean that Putin is driven by an abstract cost benefit analysis. It's a matter of pride and prestige, not economics. Plus Putin assumed that Ukraine would roll over without a fight (as they did in 2014 and in southern Ukraine in 2021), which obviously makes the cost/benefit appear very different.

Even dictators need legitimacy in order to maintain their position. And if you can no longer get legitimacy via economic gains, the alternative is to stoke nationalism and gain legitimacy via restoring your people's rightful place in the world. As Asimov observed in Foundation, people will endure quite a bit of economic hardship for the sake of war, assuming you can propagandize it properly.

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I think an abstract cost-benefit analysis may well support the invasion of Ukraine, provided that you analyse costs and benefits for Putin rather than for Russia.

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The Devereaux thesis seemed accurate with respect to near peer wars between industrial powers in the early 20th century. [Colonial wars against pre-industrial states - which the European countries fought a lot of in the decades leading up to world war I - are outside scope for the thesis].

Is it true today? Unclear. Warfighting technology has changed a lot over the last 100 years, and the answer may well depend on whether you expect the war to look like Desert Storm or the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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It think it still holds for peer warfare today, because the basic economic reality remains the same. The thesis can be summed up as this:

1. Before the industrial revolution returns on capital investments were very low, and returns of acquiring land was very high.

2. Before the industrial revolution excess population could not be employed efficiently (once you have enough farmers for the land you have, there's not much else for them to do: "retraining" isn't really a thing when you need to apprentice for a decade to learn an artisanal trade).

3. Therefore, it made sense to spend money and people on warfare to acquire land: that was the best return on investment.

4. After the industrial revolution, returns on capital investments (like factories and machinary) skyrocket, far outperforming returns on acquiring more land.

5. After the industrial revolution, excess population can be employed profitably (you don't need much training to move from farming to factory work, and the more factory workers you have the more stuff you can make).

6. Since warfare kills workers and destroys capital investments, it is almost never profitable to go to war with a peer in the pursuit of gaining territory.

I think those assumptions still hold today. When peers fight today they don't fight for profit, they fight for something else. Usually security.

That is the explanation Peter Zeihan gave for why Russia invaded Ukraine, and before that Crimea. He believes the goal is to move the Russian border up to the geographic features (such as mountains) that would keep Russia safe from land invasion. Here's a transcript of a video he made about it:

"This is a map of the Russian space, and that green area is the Russian wheat belt. That is the part of Russia that is worth having where the weather is not so awful. It’s still awful…That you can’t grow crops can’t grow much. You get one crop of relatively low quality wheat because the growing season is very short. Summers are very hot and dry and windy and winters are very cold and dry and windy. If you move to the right, you’re in Tundra and Taiga. That’s the blue. If you go to the left, you’re in the desert. So north to tundra, south to desert.

"But what really drives the Russians to drink is the beige territory. Territories that even by Russian standards are useless. But they’re flat and they’re open and you can totally run a mongol horde through those. So what the Russians have always done is reached out past the green, tried to expand, get buffer space, get past that beige, that area that’s useless, and reach a series of geographic barriers where you can’t run a Panzer division through it and then forward position. They’re relatively slow moving, relatively low tech forces in the access points between during the Soviet period, the Russians controlled all of those access points. It was the safest that the Russians have ever been, and then they lost it all. And what they’ve been trying to do under Putin and Yeltsin both has been to re-expand back to those footprints so that they can plug the gaps, plug the places where the invaders would come, get static footprints, lots of troops right on the border where you can’t avoid them, you can’t outmaneuver them.

"And this has been what they’ve been trying to do. This is the Kazakh intervention in the Karabakh war and the Georgian war and the Donbas war and the Crimean War. This is what it’s all been about. Ukraine, unfortunately for the Ukrainians, is not one of these access points. It’s on the way to the two most important ones in Romania and Poland."

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

Yeah, what I think this thesis misses is the following

(1) There are goals other than economic (e.g. security, as you discuss)

(2) The thesis assumes your antagonist is a military peer and will fight. You might believe your antagonist will roll over without a fight, or that you can `desert storm' them. (The latter is where advances in military technology come in).

(3) The thesis also assumes that you are trying to maximize something like `total GDP of the area under your states control.' You might be trying to maximize something like `resources available to ruling class' (gaining legitimacy via conquest could entitle you to a larger slice of the pie. Or prevent you ending up with your head on a pike).

(4) Even the economic argument assumes that you are operating within the broad parameters of something like the current `rules based economic order.' This is a safe assumption for small or medium powers fighting regional wars, but not for players (mainly just the PRC) who might plausibly be contending for global hegemony - they might believe that if they won they could rewrite the entire system to one that favored them.

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>Even the economic argument assumes that you are operating within the broad parameters of something like the current `rules based economic order.' This is a safe assumption for small or medium powers fighting regional wars, but not for players (mainly just the PRC) who might plausibly be contending for global hegemony - they might believe that if they won they could rewrite the entire system to one that favored them.f

The argument doesn't rest on there being rule of law: for both the despot and the democrat factories (and other capital investments) have a higher return than land itself. If you decide to roll back the clock and reverse the industrial revolution then your competitors who don't will outcompete you. You can't "change the rules" to get out of that one unless you somehow come up with the next Revolution in economics.

If anything despots are more beholden to this than others: they get their wealth by extracting through taxation and nationalization, the more wealth produced the more power they have.

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founding

The idea is not to "turn back the clock" and build an agrarian Empire. The idea is that the Empire's factories will be more profitable because they can draw on all the resources and sell to all the markets of the Empire's many provinces, as compared to the silly non-imperialist factory builders who are limited to the internal markets of a single nation. Or to doing business with an Empire that doesn't need them and will impose nearly crippling tariffs to make sure they get almost all the profit.

The current rules-based international order says that even would-be imperialists have to mostly open their markets to the WTO's standards, and makes the seas free for everyone. Which puts a damper on that sort of economic imperialism. But if the current rules-based order breaks, and a non-US Empire might very well break it, then all bets are off.

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

It assumes a framework for international trade, finance & relations which looks kinda sorta like what we have today. A new hegemon could remake that international system to one that looks very different - possibly in a way that favors the new hegemon (vis a vis the current system).

See: https://scholars-stage.org/china-does-not-want-your-rules-based-order/

This is not an option for small or medium powers considering regional wars - they can't remake the entire international system. But the PRC might believe that it could.

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

TIL: Up until 1911, Congress passed an apportionment law after every census which *manually* set the size of the House of Representatives and its allocation, typically increasing it every decade in response to the rapidly growing population. However, following the 1920 census, Congress was unable to agree on a new apportionment law and had to continue using the 1911 apportionment. They only managed to break the impasse in **1929**, when they compromised by establishing the current system where the House is fixed at 435 members forever* and reapportionment happens automatically.

* Except it apparently briefly went up to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii joined. I don't understand why they don't just keep it permanently higher when a new state joins so that other states don't have to automatically lose seats.

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Presumably at some point the number of representatives would become unwieldy if it kept rising. Still, 435 does seem a bit arbitrary. Why not (The number of states)+400, or something like that? That would solve the problem of new states making it a zero-sum game.

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

I definitely support the "Wyoming Rule" idea, which has been around for a while now without gaining any particular political traction.

"increase the size of the United States House of Representatives so that the standard representative-to-population ratio would be that of the smallest state, which is currently Wyoming." So Wyoming gets 1 representative (as is guaranteed to every state by the Constitution), and then every other state gets 1 representative for each increment of 578,000 population which is the current total population of Wyoming. Based on the 2020 census that would result in a House of Representatives of 574 members.

Advantages of that plan are that it's clear, consistent, relatively easy to understand, the allocations change automatically not based on politicized processes e.g. gerrymandering, and it would eliminate the House's present disproportionality (which is not nearly as extreme as the Senate's of course but isn't trivial).

A potential disadvantage is that at some point the House could become so large as to be unwieldy *, but that seems a ways off. The UK's House of Commons has 650 members, Germany's Bundestag has 709, etc. Even if the Wyoming Rule was adopted the US would still have far more voters per House seat than is true in any other developed-world democracy.

(* "unwieldy" in ways different or moreso than it already is....)

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Does anyone here use compounded semaglutide, and if so, can you report on your experience?

(context: Unsurprisingly, there's a semaglutide shortage. My doctor recently noted compounding pharmacies as a potential alternative source -- not so much as a recommendation, just "this is an option that exists". My initial googling turned up scary-sounding reports that might indicate that it's a bad idea, or might just be a FUD campaign. Before I dig deeper, I figured I would check if someone here already has.)

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Related substance tirzepatide and I didn't bother with compounded - got it from overseas from the usual place everyone else gets it from.

My experience: after losing 50 pounds the hard way and still being 30-50lbs overweight on a multi-year plateau of trying damn near everything, so far I've lost 16 pounds in 12 weeks. I had all the GI side effects on the label but they were transient and could be managed with OTC stomach meds and minor diet changes (less dairy, more fiber). It's done things no other weight loss plan could do including high-risk drugs. No regrets, still doing, would do again.

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I posed a philosophical question to some people which later occurred to me is relevant to the "body integrity" issue debated about kidney donation. The question was this: would you give up a pinky finger for $1 million? The finger is lost forever, so you cannot spend money to get it reattached, but prosthetic replacements would be fine.

I think those that value body integrity would decline the deal, and those that do not would accept it. With this EA audience, I would not be surprised if some people donated the money effectively instead of keeping it themselves.

The question continues, changing the amount to $1 billion (if you refused the first deal). This would be much harder to turn down, especially if you have a good idea of what $1 billion can actually do.

Yet I have considered this question in the past, and concluded I would refuse the deal, for I would be reminded every day, by the missing finger, that I effectively sold my soul to gain my current position. It should come as no surprise I would not choose to anonymously donate a kidney (though I applaud those that do).

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Now I know you'll immediately ramp up to a billion, I'm gonna hold out for that.

Then I'll ask if you want a buy one get one half price deal.

And I'd have no worries about selling my soul. I'm very confident that regardless of what the soul is, it doesn't reside in the digits.

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Since I'm a rich person and now know your mind, I'll offer $1 million, then offer $5 million, then walk away when you decline. You will remember missing out on $5 million for the rest of your life, at the mere cost of a useless digit.

This is a thought experiment meant to examine the value of things. No one would accept $1 million if they know $1 billion would be offered when it is declined.

Everyone can be bought for the right price, though that price varies by individual. Someone who will not yield at gunpoint may yield if a loved one is at gunpoint instead, or even a pet. Money is rather a nebulous concept, though, since it is really just promises of future goods and services.

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This idea that you could renege on an offer got Musk into trouble, I don't think it would go well for super-rich-thought-you either.

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Who is reneging? I offered you two offers in good faith, and you declined both in hopes of a better offer.

Besides, if I'm rich enough to be doing this, I bet I could get away with it. If I'm offering deals like this, *I* clearly have no significant morals.

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Once we're playing the "would you for a million dollars" game, would you (take viagra if necessary and) rape a child for a million dollars if you knew that you'd get away with it.

As you can probably surmise, my question isn't really the question itself. The hypotheticals that can not be asked due to the nature of the arena within which we communicate casts into doubt the value of other conversations in the same medium.

I'm playing Socrates. And in case you're wondering why anyone would want to kill Socrates, now you know.

His questions were discomfitting ones which (stupid) people feared threatened their sanity and (smart) people feared threatened the public order - because the world is so full of stupid people.

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Changing what you would do for the million changes the answer. Effectively this question is would you, under any circumstances, rape a child? I think most people would answer negatively.

I may donate a kidney to a stranger for some amount of money, but for me, $1 million isn't enough. I may donate a kidney to someone I know for free, depending on circumstances, such as why they need it, how well I know them, how long they would expect to get value out of it, how appreciative they would be of the donation, etc.

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Except that wasn't really why anyone wanted to kill Socrates. They wanted to kill him because he was anti-democracy and pro-oligarchy right after Sparta won a long war against Athens and imposed a brutal oligarchical regime (the Thirty Tyrants) led by Critias, Socrates' former student. Before that, lots of people didn't like Socrates, but there was no serious attempt to kill him.

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Wasn't it because of the way he answered questions?

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This probably depends on how much you make, too. That's like 30 years' pay for me. I would give up a whole lot for 30 years of free time. Might be more beneficial to make it a relative amount; it's 10 years' pay for everyone, however much that is.

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It may be that the amount must be tailored to the individual, but that is tough to gauge. $1 million qualifies for an awful lot of people. $1 billion gets the rest, except a very small number of people (less than 1000). It covers the financial question, making it only an ethical and/or moral one.

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

Considering that we're in an inflationary (possibly edging into hyperinflationary) era, I'd think twice before trading anything that can't be readily replaced (finger, kidney, ..., Bitcoin?) for "N years' wage" -- unless the counterparty can somehow be relied on to predict the future (and never renege on the deal under any circumstances.)

Would you, for that matter, agree to sign a contract with your current employer that would require you to work N years (for N=10, say) for precisely your current wage?

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Wimpy, of Popeye fame, would disagree. I learned in a finance class that he is clearly the cartoon character with the clearest understanding of the time value of money.

"I will GLADLY pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!"

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My first job taught me the valuable lesson "never join anything you can't walk away from", so definite no to that one no matter the wage.

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I wouldn't take the deal. My rates are: left pinky $2M, right $6M.

Here's a question for you: what do you think of the hoopla around Hashirama? Do you agree with the popular opinion that using his cells to increase human knowledge and save lives was a violation of his consent?

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

this all falls apart with one question: What does the rich guy get from asking for your pinky?

like you all are good utilitarians but the issue is the cruelty of the rich in asking you to be maimed and the power their wealth has to coerce you into fulfilling their desires.

the point i think for the general donation argument is again, the power of the wealthy or powerful, but this time the coercion is for the greater good. but no one needs to defend keeping their pinky just because some silly philosophers think all men should have them removed. no one must justify their right to wholeness to another man's ethical system. Morality is the social contract; ethical altruism is not a master and you are not a slave that you must justify yourself to it in terms of keeping a very basic part of yourself.

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>What does the rich guy get from asking for your pinky?<

He's running an experiment; he's got an idea that having fewer fingers will make people healthier in the long run due to saved resources, and the removal of 10% of the world's fingernail clippings will keep our streets and rivers cleaner. But most people with wild pinky-less hands lost them in some form of confounder; recklessness, or prior health issues, or pissing off the Yakuza, you know how things go, and by "things" I mean "pinky fingers". So this rich guy believes in his idea strongly enough that he's willing to pay people a million dollars just to meet the conditions to help him prove it.

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IIRC re: Yakuza, the chop was an "honest signal" for joining.

Which offers one possible answer to "what might one get, and from whom, in exchange for a finger."

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he is willing to maim people for an idea or an experiment, you mean. He just needs guinea pigs for his whims. He cloaks it in "the greater good" but whats to stop him from wanting the index finger next for his next whim?

the money is an inducement and pressure. its to get people to disdain a perfectly fine thing-not letting a rich person use parts of my body for his own whims. If he cares about doing good there is no shortage of ways to do so. why would he choose a way that injures people?

Autonomy and coercion are the real issues, and altruism isnt that if it involves coercion to another person's ideas. and its a taste the rich may not give up so easily.

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>altruism isn't that if it involves coercion to another person's ideas<

so... teach a man to fish, and you're a coercive monster?

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Actually, in some cases -- in fact yes.

"Teach him to fish", but now let's also require him to purchase "fishing rights" from the State, with money that he never previously needed when he had been a subsistence farmer, but now has to earn at the market (competing with other impoverished fishermen), pay taxes on, lose to runaway inflation and currency manipulation, and so forth.

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Well yeah, if you teach a man to fish and then burn his house down and punch his dog, you're the bad guy. Doesn't have much to do with the part where you teach him how to fish though.

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Selling a body part seems shameful to me. It's hard to identify why that's the case; it's a bit like prostitution, you're selling something that really ought to be special and if you do it then it means you don't value yourself highly.

So I'd definitely hesitate about one million, which would be nice to have but isn't enough to fundamentally change the trajectory of my life.

I'd do it for a billion though, because one billion dollars is a lot.

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Thank you! That's the connection I was trying to make but couldn't quite get to - it's like prostitution to me as well. I can see that there's value there (the prostitute makes money, the client gets sex, everyone seems happy with this arrangement) while still thinking that the whole thing feels wrong.

I also was thinking along the same lines of life-changing verses not. Something that allows me to buy more temporary material possessions but doesn't change my lifestyle should not be enough to change something important to me about how I live. Giving up a finger would bother me the rest of my life, so it better come with something significant to compensate.

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The thing people tend to object to, I suspect, is the possibility of being _expected_ to do it.

In the same pattern as where e.g. having a car went from "wealthy people can go places quickly" to "ordinary people are expected to sit for hr+ in commute hell."

Similarly, "give up a finger for $million" is a very different proposition when picturing it as optional and rare, where you'll get to spend that million however you like, vs. "selling fingers legalized, and now a down payment for a house is whatever it used to be plus $mil in finger money, and if you don't like it, too bad, The Market has decided."

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

Sure, I'd take $1M (unless of course I heard that people got offered $1B after refusing, by someone who isn't named "Omega").

It's just a finger, it's not my soul. My body has picked up all sorts of scars and damage and imperfections over the years, but this one would actually make my life better.

Here's a question for you: what do you think of the hoopla around Henrietta Lacks? Do you agree with the popular opinion that using her cells to increase human knowledge and save lives was a violation of her consent?

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Yes, I think something was taken from her without her consent and used to enrich others. By "enrich" I mean "profit off of". Taking something from someone else without their consent is stealing.

I realize her cells are now valuable in medical and biological research. Why should her estate not receive some form of compensation? A fair price is not, however, straightforward.

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I agree when it comes to profit, sure, with some reasonable time limit for "intellectual property", like 20 years. But science should be "fair use".

The whole thing smacks unpleasantly of treating science like a lottery, and the desire to get rich for being a bizarre combination of unlucky and lucky. Some sci-fi story had a line about how "a human's genome belongs to his species", and I think that sums up my feelings nicely.

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Further to the points made by S. elongatus, it may be worth noting that HeLa cells' genome is very different from the genome of Henrietta Lacks (e.g. they usually have 70-90 chromosomes). They are a useful tool, but they arguably aren't even human cells, and researchers have to be cautious when making predictions about human biology based on experiments using HeLa cells.

If we should compensate people for the use of cancer cell lines extracted from their bodies, we should probably also compensate people for viral or bacterial cell lines extracted from their bodies. (Perhaps the people whose COVID samples were used in research leading to vaccine development should be rewarded for their donations?)

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Hm, so should we treat the cells as a separate organism that seceded from Henrietta Lacks? Since they were going to kill her, it's doubtful that she would be a beneficiary of their will...

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"should we treat the cells as a separate organism that seceded from Henrietta Lacks?"

<mild snark>

Wouldn't it count as an externally coerced partition, from the cells' POV?

</mild snark>

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That's one way of thinking about it.

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Functionally, all the value from HeLa cells over the value of all other discarded similar clumps of tumor tissues comes from the work of the people who decided to not throw them away. It is that work ( and that of the people who researched them and made them a popular model) that is remunerated when researchers buy HeLa cells. Since I think it doubtful that Henrietta Lacks wanted those cells (they are tumors , after all) and I therefore assume they were taken from her with her consent, I do not think that her estate is owed anything. To me, this is actually similar to the reasoning used in patent law, which is not supposed to protect ideas, but only working implementations of ideas, since ideas do not have to be be workable/sensible/ remotely plausible. When developing (e.g.) anticancer drugs anybody can propose millions of wacky treatments : the hard part is proving that any of those ideas actually work, and that is what takes up oodles of research cash.

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When paleontologists find a humanoid skeleton and decide to display it in a museum, to whom should they be sending the royalty cheques?

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Nowadays, the answer is that they need to give it to the nearest Native American tribe for reburial.

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Me.

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The only correct answer! ;-)

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I didn't realize Henrietta was dead when they harvested her living cells.

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I didn't see anyone bring this up last time, but the bodily integrity debate has a long history. In the classical Greek and Roman worlds, circumcision was seen as repulsive, barbaric, and disgusting. Paul telling Christian converts that they didn't need to get circumcised played a big role in the rise of Christianity.

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I've never heard this before and it doesn't make sense to me. Jews were not so common as for their use of circumcision to be a big deal to gentiles, and the gentiles already didn't circumcise their kids. Why would someone *also* saying don't worry about circumcision register at all, let alone help spread a religion?

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"Jews were not so common as for their use of circumcision to be a big deal to gentiles"

Common enough in the Classical world that Hellenized/Romanised Jews were getting surgical procedures done to 'reverse' or disguise circumcision so that they wouldn't be identifiable at the gymnasium/baths. I think this led to a more extreme form of circumcision so that this kind of 'cheating' couldn't be done in future, let me look up online to see if my shaky memory is correct or if I'm just wildly hallucinating in the best mode of ChatGPT:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_circumcision#Hellenistic_world

"According to Hodges, ancient Greek aesthetics of the human form considered circumcision a mutilation of a previously perfectly shaped organ. ...This dislike of the appearance of the circumcised penis led to a decline in the incidence of circumcision among many peoples that had previously practiced it throughout Hellenistic times.

In Egypt, only the priestly caste retained circumcision, and by the 2nd century, the only circumcising groups in the Roman Empire were Jews, Samaritans, Jewish Christians, Egyptian priests, and the Nabatean Arabs. Circumcision was sufficiently rare among non-Jews that being circumcised was considered conclusive evidence of Judaism (or Early Christianity and others derogatorily called Judaizers) in Roman courts—Suetonius in Domitian 12.2 described a court proceeding (from "my youth") in which a ninety-year-old man was stripped naked before the court to determine whether he was evading the head tax placed on Jews and Judaizers.

...Some Jews tried to hide their circumcision status, as told in 1 Maccabees. This was mainly for social and economic benefits and also so that they could exercise in gymnasiums and compete in sporting events. Techniques for restoring the appearance of an uncircumcised penis were known by the 2nd century BCE. In one such technique, a copper weight (called the Judeum pondum) was hung from the remnants of the circumcised foreskin until, in time, they became sufficiently stretched to cover the glans. The 1st-century writer Celsus described two surgical techniques for foreskin restoration in his medical treatise De Medicina. In one of these, the skin of the penile shaft was loosened by cutting in around the base of the glans. The skin was then stretched over the glans and allowed to heal, giving the appearance of an uncircumcised penis. This was possible because the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision defined in the Bible was a relatively minor circumcision; named milah, this involved cutting off the foreskin that extended beyond the glans. Jewish religious writers denounced such practices as abrogating the covenant of Abraham in 1 Maccabees and the Talmud. During the 2nd century, the procedure of circumcision changed in order to become irreversible."

Sounds like intactivism has a long history!

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You ready for a paradigm shift?

Christianity of course claimed to be Judaism. It was the ideal, or messianic, Judaism but definitely Judaism.

And in the early years of the church the primary selling point was indeed its Jewishness.

Judaism had been popular. So much so that the Temple had plenty of non-Jewish pilgrims and synagogue often had sections for non-Jews as well. See here, about 1 minute in, https://youtu.be/De5lWoTPTTY?feature=shared

People became Christian in order to join JUDAism.

The Christ part wasn't a big sell to the people who were already Jewish (by descent or ancestral conversion). Most Jews didn't buy in to it, especially the more "god having a body" parts of it.

Among gentiles however, great numbers of whom had been converting for many years already, the opportunity to join The People of The Torah was a huge draw, and Paul's offer to open the floodgates via the abrogation of all of the rules made it super very popular.

The major sale was not Jesus. He was just a Paulian means to open the floodgates for would-be converts who wanted to maintain the integrity of their genitals. What early Christians wanted and believed they were buying in to was being Jewish.

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I don't mean that it actively helped spread Christianity, just that the opposite would have massively hurt its spread. There were rivals of Paul (including James, the brother of Jesus), who thought that Christians had to follow the Jewish laws--including circumcision and diet restrictions. Their version of Christianity lost out.

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Yah, and it's even more than that. The only reason Christianity took off among gentiles was it's claim to be Judaism. See my comment above.

Judaism was insanely popular (particularly among the poor) and Christianity the equivalent pseudo-way in, akin to modern Reform Synagogues (particularly among the wealthy).

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In the parts of the world where Paul was trying to convert people, Jews would have been common enough that the basics of their religion were understood.

If you're trying to convert people to some weird evangelical offshoot of Judaism then it seems natural that the first thing people are going to ask is "Hey, I hear Jews have to obey all sorts of weird rules involving food and mildew and penises, would I have to do that if I joined your religion?"

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Mildew...🤔 Are you referring to Tzara'at of homes?

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I'd be interested to see how that observation about Paul ties in with the prominent role females seen to have had in the spread of Christianity, at least in upper class situations. I'd also like to tie in the constant element of Christian thought that promoted abstinence...

No idea how (or if) it all ties together, but there's a fun line of research there.

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I'd do it for a million. Plenty of people wear out their bodies and health in exchange for a lot less.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

Good grief, I’d do it for a million without hesitation. Talk about our priceless and holy bodily integrity sounds to me like the crazy colonel in Dr Strangelove raving about “denying women my essence” during sex because he would be giving away some of his precious bodily fluids.

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That's why Mandrake didn't help him. He had already lost his sacred bodily integrity in WW2.

You see, the string in his leg was gone. Otherwise he'd *love* to help the colonel...

https://youtu.be/uonYyotd3TQ?feature=shared

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> I’d do it for a million without hesitation

You and, say, 100 million other people.

And soon a house costs whatever it did previously _plus_ however much a finger sells for.

This is precisely why selling organs is (at least nominally) banned in all civilized jurisdictions.

See also e.g. 40 hour work week.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

I dunno about that. I know a couple realtors and they’re having a terrible time selling houses even without asking for pinkies — which, as you say, many people would

be willing to do, but certainly not everybody. If they expected everybody to throw the price of a pinkie into the deal they’d cut down on the number of potential

customers.

And here’s another thing that weighs against your idea. I’m pretty sure pinkies aren’t worth anything like a million dollars, even if transplanting them were

quick and easy and the receiver did not need to take anti-rejection drigs, which reduce resistance to both infections and cancer. I mean there’s not a lot of demand, is there? How often do you see someone with a missing pinkie? And out of those few people missing a pinkie, how many of them do you think would go to the trouble of replacing the finger even if they could get a new one for a mere. $1000? Do you know that many women who have a mastectomy decide not to have breast replacement surgery —

because it involves additional procedures, and you don’t have sensation in the new fake breast, and you also don’t have a nipple. You have to get a nipple tattoo, and they look fake. So I’m thinking the demand for pinkies is really pretty low, and anyone buying them for a million dollars each would not be apple to recoup his outlay. My guess is the most he could pay for pinkies is like $500.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

I assumed that the finger in the hypothetical was a stand-in for more typical transplantology (in an alt-universe patterned after the musical "Repo Man", perhaps)

You can freely replace "buying house" with any of the other things people in USA and its satellites routinely find themselves doing (e.g. cancer treatment) at the price of selling everything they own and still ending up in bankruptcy. Would you want your fingers (or whatever other parts) to be fair game in bankruptcy proceedings? Valid collateral for loans? Or even a source of quick cash that can be used to further bid up the cost of life?

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Yeah, OK, but that changes the whole topic of discussion. OP asked about selling a pinkie because he knew most people would not be terribly disturbed about the loss of a pinkie, *unless* they had an objection springing from the idea that "body integrity" is very valuable and important. The people who are answering on here would be answering a different way if the question was about selling a kidney or a chunk of liver. I'd still consider it, for a million dollars, but would have to research it first to see what my immediate and long-term risks would be. Not a lot of point in selling a piece of one's innards if one's not going to be around to enjoy the money.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

You’re saying you sold your soul. That seems like an extreme choice of words for giving up a body part.

If selling your pinky finger means selling your soul - What terms would you use if you murdered someone for fame and glory?

To answer your question: I would maybe (30-50%) do it for a million, and definitely (99%) for a billion

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I am put in mind of a fictional wizard who stored his life in the tip of his little finger (the distal phalanx), and hid it away. I suppose in that particular case it might be considered somewhat accurate, although it was still a life and not a soul.

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I maintain my stance. The "selling of my soul" isn't losing the body part as much as the terms of the agreement. There is an old joke/story:

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for 5 million pounds?

Socialite: My goodness … well, I suppose.

Churchill: Would you sleep with me for 5 pounds?

Socialite: What type of woman do you think I am?

Churchill: We’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

Recall I'm not losing the body part for any noble or selfless reason, but to make myself rich.

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I've always disliked that story. A big enough quantitative difference is a qualitative difference, and, to my mind, a factor of a million easily qualifies.

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I don't agree. The story is illustrative. It is true that the quantitative difference can have an impact on the net result, but this is not, I think, one of those cases.

If you will trade sex for money, then by definition you are a whore in character, whether or not you actually do it. If you think nothing is morally wrong with that, that it is only society that imposes restrictions on the outlook, then that is your prerogative. Many societies have even exalted prostitutes, and the second socialite's response may well have been something like "You're kind of out of touch with the economy, aren't you?"

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Hmm... I appreciate that you are not phrasing this in an inflammatory way, and are allowing for the fact that there are differences in opinion. I still think that the factor of a million makes a qualitative difference.

Let me put it another way: Regardless of whether sex work is considered exalted or degrading in a society, "work" or "prostitution" usually has the connotation of a _routine_ activity, something that someone does repeatedly. Trading a single night of sex for a king's ransom might well be a once-in-a-lifetime act, which I think can reasonably be put in a different category.

I once spoke briefly with a judge about a minor traffic ticket. That doesn't make me a lawyer.

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I appreciate your point, but still think this comes down to a matter of opinion. Many examples can illustrate that one act doesn't put you in a specific category, but that doesn't prove the larger point that doing a specific thing once can put you in a category. For a positive example, if you do a single heroic act, you are forevermore a hero(ine).

If you believe you are compromising your principles for money, that shows the kind of person you are. And it is your choice how you perceive yourself.

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Why is it intrinsically bad to trade sex for money? Is it also bad to give skillful, completely non-sexual massages in exchange for money? How about renting out your mental talents, which is how most of us pay for food and shelter?

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I never said it was. Some people think it is. Some people think one should not have sex outside of marriage. If you find nothing wrong with it why should you care whether someone is labeled a prostitute?

Regardless, one who accepts money in exchange for sex is a prostitute. "a person, in particular a woman, who engages in sexual activity for payment." directly from Google. A whore is "a prostitute, derogatory" (ibid).

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I agree. It's just a mean trick, a gotcha.

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Yes.

“Would you burn a square centimeter of your skin with a lighter so that a scar will remain in exchange for one billion dollars?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And would you let me cut off your legs in exchange for one dollar?”

“Are you crazy?”

“Well we already established you are willing to sell your soul. We are just haggling over the specific way in which to conduct the transaction.”

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Many Thanks! Yes, indeed just a gotcha.

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I think that was the illustrious Lady Astor.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

Not only would I sell a pinkie for a million dollars, I would have slept with Churchill for free. So either I'm a slut who'd sell her soul or some of you people need to lighten up.

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Surely there are men you could substitute for W. Churchill that would make the hypothetical into a proper dilemma again.

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But I don't want a substitute for for W. Churchill, asciilifeform. I want Winston. He's a fat alcoholic, but very smart and funny.

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The question is whether Churchill would want to sleep with someone with only nine fingers though?

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"Mr Churchill, would you sleep with a woman who had ten fingers?"

"Yes, certainly"

"Well then, would you sleep with a woman who had one million fingers? Just an eldritch abomination of a woman, all squirming wriggling fingers and no body?"

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So I guess I am struggling to find a good reason why selling a body part is different from certain other things we do for money. For example, trading healthy lungs for a coal miner’s wage.

Certain jobs require physical sacrifice to a degree that the people doing such jobs might trade a pinky for a healthy hip or spine, say. I haven’t asked him, but I could imagine my grandfather making exactly that trade.

In the logic of your anecdote, these people have sold their soul and are now just haggling over which body part will represent that transaction

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As an example of voluntarily damaging the body, how about having babies? Leaves the woman with hemorrhoids, stretch marks, a weakened pelvic floor and a substantially increased chance of incontinence in old age.

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Oh man, if I could have traded a pinky for 10 months of pregnancy and childbirth, I would have done it in a heartbeat!

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How one feels about the transaction is the difference. It is an issue of integrity, how well you can live with yourself after your decision.

Some of these aren't transactions because the deals are made in ignorance. I think no one outside of gunpoint would trade healthy lungs for a coal miner's wage if they knew the consequences of the transaction. It also wouldn't count if a risk taken turns out poorly, such as driving for a living and ending up disabled from a traffic accident.

If one must do it to survive I think that excuses the ethics involved somewhat, too. If one must work the only available job, and it happens to be coal-mining, is the choice between sacrificing your lungs and starving to death?

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It seems to me that your argument goes something like this:

1. Giving up bodily integrity in exchange for money is wrong.

2. It is wrong because if I did it, I would feel like I gave up my integrity.

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Sorry, I must not have been clear. I mean I can understand the point of view of giving a kidney to a stranger is not a good choice. Body integrity is one reason given in the other topic, and I think this reasoning is similar.

At the same time, I respect the decision to do it. Your values are your values, and you ought to believe what seems genuinely best for moral and ethical reasons.

I put a high price on my own integrity, and would not want someone to buy an irreplaceable part of me for what I consider to be bad reasons. I will earn money my own way, not by selling even apparently useless parts of myself.

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I would have to seriously consider this deal as a pinky finger may have value apart from pure body integrity. I play piano, and it would be a significant burden in this respect.

A pinky toe may be a better example.

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Point taken. It seems a pinky toe is less valuable than a pinky finger.

I would also note that it would be harder to notice, I assume, a missing pinky toe than a missing pinky finger, so I must consider whether I would change my answer based on that.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

The Israeli administration's latest hilarity : Hamas is literally Hitler.

From https://www.timesofisrael.com/herzog-arabic-copy-of-mein-kampf-found-on-hamas-terrorist-shows-what-war-is-about/ :

> President [of Israel] Isaac Herzog on Sunday displayed an Arabic-language version of Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto “Mein Kampf” that he said was found in a children’s room used as a base by terrorists in the northern Gaza Strip.

> “The terrorist wrote notes, marked the sections, and studied again and again the ideology of Adolf Hitler to hate the Jews, to kill the Jews, to burn and slaughter Jews wherever they are,” he said. “This is the real war we are facing.”

In what is possibly the most low-effort propaganda act by a head of state in the 21st century so far, the guy didn't even think of planting the book in a room or on a dead body, his audience's intelligence is apparently not even worth a staged video to him. In the bizarro world in his head, it's enough to hold a translated copy of Mein Kampf to declare any armed militia speaking the same language to be literally Hitler.

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Is this real? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=illF1vt5g1Q

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I have never seen it before on TV, but yes it looks real. It has an English and Arabic wikipedia pages.

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Hey, wuddup my bro. I was glad to see you carry on pleasant conversations, even with Israelis, in a recent thread. Good on you. 🙏

As for the particular point you raise, we have a problem in this world. Well, many problems, but here's one.

The human mind, and certainly the collective mind of large demographics and societies is hackable.

Ergo, why engage in logic - EVEN IF LOGIC PROVES YOUR CASE - when Mein Kampf 4 Kids works so much more efficiently?

As you probably know, Mein Kampf *is* actually discussed in Gazan schools and television among other iffy resources regarding "the jewish problem", so even if Herzog ordered this on BabyAliBabba.com rather than prying it from a bearded Palestinian kid in a cradle, his point is fair.

But why embarass himself to even mention it when he knows how silly he looks to literally everyone Jew, Christians, Hindu, Buddhist, Secular and Miscellaneous? *

Because unfortunately we all share a vast social mind out there and therefore the low-information, low-intelligence and loud people not only have a vote but they effectively have a veto on the social discourse. And a cartoon book about Hitler is *exactly* the level that this crowd operates on.

It goes without saying that propaganda is how *nearly all* of society, business, politics and general pseudo consensus building runs in this, the year 2023 anno domini. We aren't really human beings anymore. The best among us are Winston Smiths, hiding in the cavities of our own craniums.

It's why I went super public. Because FUCK those people. I want to be an individual and to speak for myself. And even if nobody at all joins me, it's so unbelievably worth it. Trust me.

______________

*Miscellaneous* is my repurposing a Simpsons joke, not a genuine dig. I'm sorta Muslim myself, see here, https://youtu.be/3ffoCIjmd7w?feature=shared .

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The point I completely failed to make is, what do you, personally, yes you, do when you find something like this and no one believes you?

I've been in a situation where it's been my word against that of a liar, and people chose to believe the liar. Whatever I tried to show as evidence was dismissed. It's a nasty place to be in. Maybe you've been in a similar place, or perhaps are in a similar place? Sometimes the unlikely event happens, and what do you do then?

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Replying to both of your comments here.

> Is there anything you would believe, aside from body counts?

Yes, here are - off the top of my head - all the things I believed about Israeli victims :

1- The kidnapped Brodutch family : https://scottaaronson.blog/?p=7569

2- A would-have-been bride recounting the story of how her would-have-been husband was killed : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zXT-jtNnO4

3- The wife and 2 daughters of the same man kidnapped : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPLJWndPg1c

As examples.

I send them to all people I know that I see dehumanizing the Israelis.

I believe everything that doesn't have the smell of a genocidal state all over it.

> Sometimes the unlikely event happens, and what do you do then?

To begin with, in this analogy I'm supposed to be a good man who wasn't caught flagrantly lying before, right ? I never before, say, killed a journalist [1] and kept claiming for a year it wasn't me, or - maybe maybe perhaps - I never crushed a peace activist [2] under a bulldozer and later claimed she's the one responsible ? I surely wasn't caught just 3 weeks before [3] brandishing irrelevant autobiographical periodical from Al-Qaeda that could be found in Google's first search result for its name [4] and claimed it's some exclusive Al-Qaeda document that Proves Something ? I definitely didn't bomb a hospital and kept releasing fake piece of evidence after fake piece of evidence [5] in the desperate bid to prove it wasn't me, even as I continue targeting and surrounding other hospitals were literal babies are depending on the electricity I'm cutting to stay alive [6] ?

If I'm a remotely honest man with no such prolific history of lying, I will stand my ground and keep telling my version of the story, and the liar would probably keep inventing lies till his/her lies contradict each other and I win. If I don't win, that's okay too, Life is often unfair. The good guys don't have to win.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shireen_Abu_Akleh

[2] https://rachelcorriefoundation.org/rachel

[3] https://news.sky.com/story/hamas-terrorists-were-carrying-instructions-on-how-to-make-chemical-weapons-israeli-president-claims-12990547

[4] https://www.scribd.com/doc/26489249/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B7%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B0%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%8A-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%81%D9%8A-%D9%84%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB%D8%A9

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29uMPcm-Bug

[6] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/11/15/middleeast/shifa-hospital-gaza-idf-intl/index.html

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So, the glorious future where all government officials and employees wear bodycams to prevent abuse of power got derailed by specious protests over privacy. And now we're entering the future where AIs can fake videos, although fortunately it's not past the ability of humans to detect, at least not today, I think.

But even putting that aside, if you were presented with bodycam video of someone picking up this book in a room in Gaza, that could easily be faked by one person, right? If there were more people in the footage, that'd make it harder to fake without someone spilling the beans, but we have to assume that most IDF members hate Hamas and desperately want to cut off their international support, so it might not be too hard to find people to support this one small lie. Same if there were a running gun battle with Hamas; police everywhere have been known to carry fake evidence with them to plant on suspects, and it's not hard to toss an object behind your back.

Is there anything you would believe, aside from body counts? Because even those can be exaggerated, and there are the reports of Israeli "friendly fire", and frankly I suspect any "friendly fire" by Hamas would be blamed on the Israelis.

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I don't understand. Are you saying it's false or planted, simply because the idea is so outlandish? I see Fox News also picked up the story. I thought Hamas's stated goals included eliminating all Jews, and this is consistent with that.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

I wouldn't put it beyond Hamas to read Hitler approvingly and take notes.

What I'm mocking about this circus is this :

- The utter and total contempt the Israeli head of state has for the pro-Israel and on-the-fence intellects he's targeting with this cheap piece of propaganda. Imagine if an Arab head of state were to go into an interview or a public speech and hold a Hebrew-translated Mein Kampf copy, claim it was found with an Israeli soldier or a Kibbutz, and then run with that as a base to build his decisions and reasoning on.

___What___ is the actual evidence that this particular copy of the book was a Hamasi-owned one ? It's just a bloody book. He could have bought it on his way to the interview. That's why autographs exist, I can't hold a book and claim "Akscually this is the exact same copy that Albert Einstein used to study with, look at all the notes and highlights". You or any other person with a brain wouldn't accept this in literally any other context.

I'm laughing because this is the exact same thing I often laugh at Muslims at, the bizarre belief that "This book exists, therefore my argument". Where did that book come from ? And where's the evidence that the source they say it's from is actually where it comes from ?

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So if they show a picture of the book where it was found, all your problems are solved? Or actually, it makes no difference at all, and if you trust this guy/the Israeli government then it's relevant and if you don't then it's not?

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Lol no, his screen name is "[...]HatesIsrael", do you really expect impartial weighing of evidence?

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No, a photo of the book "where it was found" wouldn't convince me either, because I don't trust genocidal governments, which are most/all governments.

A photo *would*, however, make this guy less a tempting object of mockery. At least there is something, even if I don't believe that something. What I'm shocked at is not the lies, it's the flagrant lies, the lies that reveal the liar either believes his audience has IQ that water would freeze at or he himself has that IQ.

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It's what the "PUA" folks call a "shit test."

Similarly to e.g. the miraculously incombustible passports of the 9/11 hijackers.

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Dude, just stop. Go away. A couple of weeks ago, the stuff you posted might have contained some valid points here and there, but this is just sad and pathetic. I don't even know what you're arguing for here.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

Funny how a couple of weeks and 11,000+ innocent deaths changes things so much. A couple of weeks ago, me making fun of this show of propagandaship might have had "some valid points here and there" according to you, but now you're apparently too offended to see any value in it.

> I don't even know what you're arguing for here.

Technically speaking, Open Thread is a call to, in Scott's words, "Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever."  I want to post an anecdote that shows Israel is a genocidal state that kills countless innocents under rather flimsy and quite laughable justifications, so I do. There is no argument in my comment, there doesn't have to be in a lot of Open Thread comments, just a statement of fact and my own interpretation of that fact.

>  this is just sad and pathetic

I agree, the false flag department in Mossad is absolutely not sending their best. From the destruction of the USS Liberty all the way now to "Literally Hitler", not a stellar track record at all.

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"Laughable" is a funny word to use when accusing someone of genocide. Find a lot of humor in the situation?

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I do, stupidity and child-tier lying are funny even if the one doing them happens to be genocidal scum.

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There's more than a touch of irony in that statement.

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That so ?

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Don't deflect. In your original post, you're pretending that it's unthinkable that even some members of Hamas want to eradicate all Jewish people. So much so, that any evidence along that direction must obviously be fake and propaganda. Give me a break.

If you want to be a troll, piss off to Reddit.

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

You read things into my comment that weren't there. I don't put it beyond some or most or all Hamas members to read Hitler with passion and take notes. The fakeness and the propaganda isn't because I think Hamas are philo-semites.

The fakeness and propaganda comes from someone who thinks his audience is dumb enough and incapable of critical thinking enough that they will unquestionably believe him that a pristine book copy is from a bombed-to-oblivion warzone based on nothing but the language the book copy is in and his "trust me bro" babbling. The idea that Hamasis might read Hitler isn't ridiculous on face value, his claim that an Arabic-translated book copy constitutes convincing evidence that an actual concrete Hamasi was reading Hitler is the laughable nonsense I'm mocking.

Asking for clarifcation is free and is better than jumping to conclusions.

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Right, so it's actually completely plausible and you admit that. You actually agree with his point about Hamas. You just believe it's propaganda which you would regardless.

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I disagree with flagrant genocidal lying, that's all. After all, Hitler wasn't actually wrong by much when he said that Jewish financiers controlled Banking in his time, but I wouldn't say that I agree with Hitler because some of the points he's making (with copious amounts of lies) are plausible and even occasionally happen to land on reality.

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Anyone successfully managed to find a way to treat airplane headaches? (Headaches caused by the change in pressure when an airplane starts descending for landing)

Google just suggests various painkillers, which don't really work and also seems like it's treating the symptom more than the cause.

Basically, whenever the plane starts descending, I need to swallow every 10 seconds to equalize the pressure until landing (unlike a normal person who only needs to do this every 10 minutes or so), or I will get an "arnold schwarzenegger on the surface of mars" level headache . I currently treat this by drinking water and chomping on chips nonstop during the descent, which.. I guess is not the worst thing in the world, but there's still a lot of distress involved, so I'm very open to ideas

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I've never seen descent specific headaches, but I often get headaches while flying just due to sleep deprivation and confinement and so on.

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Not sure whether this would do anything for airplane headaches, but I’ll toss it out in case it would. It’s a Reddit post describing a weird procedure for clearing a stuffy nose, and when I tried it it actually worked. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/6f011c/comment/dieeu2t/

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The effective way of doing this is clearing your ears like divers do: https://www.divein.com/diving/diving-ears/

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Nov 14, 2023·edited Nov 14, 2023

Yep, I was about to say the same thing. I learned all about this when I took a scuba diving course some years back, and now I use it pretty much every time I'm on a plane.

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Thanks for the link, I found that very useful.

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I use the special earplugs commenter soda suggested, they do help.

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Anecdotally plane specific earplugs (available at most pharmacies and a lot of terminal convenience/book stores) used according to the instructions help a lot, particularly if your headaches are more towards your ears.

If more general but typically minor sinus issues are contributing then using a breath right strip and/or just trying to get your sinuses actual medical attention while you're one the ground are obvious things to try. Anecdotally, sinus massages in flight can help, but the evidence is pretty slim https://www.healthline.com/health/relieve-sinus-pressure

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I have been by an ENT and he suggested nasal sprays, so I tried a Xylometazoline based one, and while it definitely cleared up my sinuses, it had close to no impact on the pressure building up :/

I bristled at your mention of earplugs, as in-ear headphones definitely makes the situation much worse...

But googling "plane specific earplugs".. These look super interesting!

Pressure filtering ear plugs sounds exactly like a thing that could help, thanks!

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"The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of logographic kanji, which are adopted Chinese characters, and syllabic kana. Kana itself consists of a pair of syllabaries: hiragana, used primarily for native or naturalised Japanese words and grammatical elements; and katakana, used primarily for foreign words and names, loanwords, onomatopoeia, scientific names, and sometimes for emphasis. Almost all written Japanese sentences contain a mixture of kanji and kana. Because of this mixture of scripts, in addition to a large inventory of kanji characters, the Japanese writing system is considered to be one of the most complicated currently in use.[1][2][3]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_writing_system#Collationz

And people complain about spelling in English!

Maybe people complain about Japanese orthography, too, but I don't see it because they're doing it in Japanese. Maybe there are people who say fuck it, and experiment with writing everything in kana.

Maybe the issue is that English is relatively close to being phonetic (80%, I'm told) so it seems like an easy solution should be possible. Easy solutions ignore how dependent people are on word shape when they read.

How much difference does having a phonetic language make for a culture-- it seems like a lot of valuable learning time for children gets sucked up when there's a lot to learn about spelling, but do cultures with phonetic spelling (Hebrew, Spanish, probably more I don't know) show an advantage?

Is there a good way to evaluate the complexity of a language, including spelling, complicated grammar, arbitrary gender for nouns, etc.? I know there's research on how difficult various languages are for Anglophones to learn (the military has a rating system) but is there anything for overall processing effort for native speakers of various languages?

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1. English also uses two alphabets - uppercase and lowercase. They even each have a special cursive form used for emphasis. It also commonly uses logographic characters, and sometimes even a mixture of logographs and letters. (Not to the extent Japanese does, but also not to the extent that an average user could be unfamiliar with the concept. )

2. Plenty of modernist reformers in Japan wanted to switch to phonetic writing, especially post-ww2 when wide-reaching reforms suddenly became possible, but the conservatives delayed the changes long enough that the problems it was supposed to solve simply disappeared. (Phonetic-only system was hoped to be easier to learn and to process, but it turns out you can in fact teach everyone kanji if you just introduce universal public education, and unicode removed all technological benefits of lower character count.) Last I paid attention, the wider public wanted more, not less, kanji. (On the other hand, the overall kanji use probably keeps decreasing with a steady introduction of English loanwords.)

3. Japanese is almost perfectly phonetic. The kids learn the language in near-perfectly regular, extremely simple syllabary, and only then slowly acquire logographic symbols that, once learned, are simply more efficient to use. Their writing system is complex in the same way that mathematical notation is complex. "One plus one is two" may be "easier" in a sense, assuming you know letters but not numbers and symbols. It ceases being easier once you need to do arithmetic regularly - I assume you wouldn't use phonetic notation for it. There's a matter of diminishing returns here, of course, the 2000th symbol you learn will not be as useful as the first, but the question is where the cut-off should be. Personally, I don't think Japan's slightly above 2000 (officially, plus hundreds more in, unofficial, regular use) is all that unreasonable.

4. But yeah, the lack of punctuation because kanji are assumed to be used for all non-inflected parts of words is a huge self-own.

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Thankfully, it's no longer that important to learn to write kanji, since everything is digital nowadays. You just need to be able to spell words and read kanji (which, to be fair, is still awful since every kanji has multiple readings) and you're mostly fine. In fact, it seems a lot of Japanese people are forgetting how to write kanji because of this...

As for the actual consequences, Japanese students still seem to be doing much better than American students despite so much of their time being wasted on learning to read and write 2136 different characters. Either the American education system sucks that much, or the Japanese population really is superior to Americans in some way... It's probably the former.

And if you're wondering why people haven't tried writing in kana, people have tried that plenty of times, sometimes out of necessity. Some old Japanese video games like the first two Zelda games have all of their text in katakana, and it's a huge pain in the ass to read. Kanji really is easier to read once you're used to it, not to mention how space efficient it is.

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Anecdote:

I had a friend, last name Stoneburner, who wanted to buy property in Japan. He needed to open a local bank account. He went to the bank, and when they had trouble spelling his name, he was asked to provide a printout with all possible spellings in Japanese. He complied, and returned with a printout that ran for *multiple pages*.

He later took his wife's Japanese last name for bureaucratic simplicity.

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Alphabets (or otherwise phonetic systems) tend to be widely recognized as better. Even a thousand years ago you had pressures to reform away from character systems. King Sejong of Korea asked why so few of his people were literate and his officials said it was the necessity of learning characters so he invented an alphabet. The Mongols also abandoned characters for alphabets as did the Egyptians (with hieroglyphics sticking around mostly for use as priests). Many East Asian countries did in modern times with Japan and China being the exceptions. We also know that learning character systems take years while most alphabets can be learned in a few weeks. (To return to Sejong, his ministers said a wise man could learn characters in a year and a fool in ten years. But a wise man could learn an alphabet in a day and a fool in ten days.)

This is separate from general complexity. I'm not aware of a specific rating system but we do know that things like morphological features fall away among young or amateur speakers. Likewise when you get creoles or pidgins you tend to find they lose things like inflections or morphology.

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As someone who has been learning Japanese for some 4 years, I complain about it a lot.

> Maybe there are people who say fuck it, and experiment with writing everything in kana.

Reading kana-only text is actually very hard, because Japanese doesn’t use spaces, and has a lot of words which are compounds of single-syllable bases; these are easily disambiguated when written in kanji but a nightmare when in part of a sea of kana.

Example: a sentence starting with きょうしつ “kyōshitsu”. The first syllable could be 今日, “today”, and the second and third 質, “quality”; or they could be one word, 教室, “classroom”; or the first two could be 教師, teacher, and the final syllable part of a different word following. And so on with every kana group.

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If you're writing kana-only text, why not just add spaces?

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Japanese books for young children are typically kana-only. I don't have any close by to check, but from memory I think they mostly use half-width spaces rather than the full-width spaces mentioned by あの人. I wouldn't say any of the other obstacles they mention are insuperable, either: it's more just that mixed kana/kanji text is what people are used to and find easiest to read, so they stick with that. (Similarly, you would probably find it difficult to read books in phonetic English spelling. Adults who already know how to read have a vested interest in not changing the system to a new one that they would have to learn.)

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Well it’s hard to say why, given something rarely done to begin with, why it’s not done a certain way, but some possibilities:

The default space in Japanese keyboard layouts is a “full width space” and makes the text very low information density:

がくせい だけ てす から よく しらない。

Beginner’s textbooks have text like this, and it becomes painful to read very quickly.

Because spaces are generally not used, there are no conventions to fall back on, and you have to make lots of choices:

- does 十二月, jūnigatsu, lit. “ten two moon,” meaning December, take any spaces?

- where do spaces around particles, which attach to the word preceding them, go?

- how about verb conjugations (which can be very long, eg とらわれなかったら) and adjective declensions

- and then there’s all the compound nouns that you need to decide where any spaces go

And of course, it might not cross your mind, the same way it rarely crosses my mind in English text to disambiguate homonyms by using kanji

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Nov 15, 2023·edited Nov 15, 2023

Even in English, it's often hard to decide whether to use spaces, hyphens, or nothing when writing compound words (E.g. is boardgame one word or two?) and I'm constantly fighting the spellcheckers about that sort of thing. Especially since a lot of neologisms jam words together without spaces because it's more fun that way.

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Anthropic is currently hiring for a non-AI research role that I am (plausibly) qualified for. I know that that have a much stronger safety emphasis than most AI companies, but feel a bit wary of working for anyone doing capabilities research. If we assume for the sake of argument that I would be better than the hypothetical replacement candidate is anyone willing to make an argument for why I should(n't) apply.

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I'd argue that you're just delaying the inevitable by refusing to aid capabilities research. I feel that a lot of the fear around aiding capabilities research is counterproductive. If the smartest people refuse to work on AI to give people more time to work on "alignment research," slightly less intelligent people are going to end up developing AI anyways... except they'll just ignore all of that research, and the AI will end up killing everyone, including itself. If the smartest people just worked on developing AI instead, at least there will be a slightly higher chance that they can make the AI like us enough to not kill us all and instead let us live happy lives forever.

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You shouldn't apply if you are prone to self deception (which we all are to some degree). Imagine yourself working there a couple of years from now, an amazing salary, intersting work, great colleagues etc. You are asked to work on something new that they assure you is good for safety but you think will actually mostly drive capabilities. You make your best case for your position and lose. It isn't clear what would happen if you refuse to work on the project. Would they fire you, maybe? What do you do?

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Does anyone else think that this photo looks like n zbhagnva cbxvat guebhtu n ynlre bs pybhqf at first glance? It's an interesting illusion.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/Cono_de_Arita_en_el_Salar_de_Arizaro.jpg

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Yes, and I found it quite disturbing to look at, somehow.

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That's what I saw at second glance. At first glance I thought it was n clenzvq.

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Same here.

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I don't know if you're joking or not, but in case you are serious, the photo is actually of n angheny uvyy va gur zvqqyr bs n fnyg syng. Gung'f fnyg, abg sbt.

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Well, good job trolling me, I guess? Can someone please tell me why everyone in this thread is speaking gibberish?

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It's rot13, used to hide spoilers. You can put it into any rot13 encoder online to see what it says, but it means that you don't accidentally see the spoilers just by casually reading the comments.

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Oh.

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It's not just you, I thought I had stumbled across some kind of cryptic cult before I figured out it was rot13!

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Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Substack comments support any