New WordPress blog

Hey everybody! I want you all to know that I have a new blog at I know a lot of people have been unhappy about the awful ads and awful commenting system on my Patheos blog, which has in turn left me not-very-motivated to blog more, which has led to the blog just sort of dying. This is my solution to that. Also, it’s been at least a year since I’ve done much atheism blogging here. I may still… Read more

Effective Altruism and the LessWrong-o-sphere: an observation

Ozy has an excellent post up titled “On Exclusion”, that makes a distinction between anti-evangelistic, non-evangelistic, and evangelistic groups. Anti-evangelistic groups  are the ones that active throw up barriers to entry–religions that prefer members be born into them, like Judaism. Evangelistic groups are the obvious ones–political movements, Christianity. The interesting case is non-evangelistic groups. They just don’t care one way or the other. If someone randomly encounters the group and likes what they see, it will be easy to join,… Read more

Effective Altruism and feminism

Disclaimer stolen from Ben’s blog: “this should probably not be the first thing you read about effective altruism. It’ll give you a pretty biased impression! If that’s you, try something from the reading list I compiled instead.” So there’s been a bit of arguing on the internet in the past week over whether the Effective Altruism (EA) movement needs to be more inclusive. I was hesitant to comment on this at first, because one of the big things I like… Read more

How bad is life at subsistence?

In my previous post, I compiled citations from historical thinkers on how awful life was back in their day. But such citations aren’t conclusive–maybe they were exaggerating for effect. Or maybe people with severe depression are grossly overrepresented in the ranks of intellectuals. Or who knows. So in this post, I want to examine the question more directly. Specifically, I want to ask how bad life really is at subsistence. That is, how subjectively bad is it to live a life where you have… Read more

Historical thinkers on human misery

The possibility that some–perhaps many–lives may not be worth living is depressing to think about. But it’s one that should worry effective altruists and people interested in utilitarian ethics. Among EAs interested in animal welfare, it’s widely thought that the lives of animals in factory farms are so bad as to not be worth living. Some have expressed similar thoughts about wild animal suffering. Similar concerns apply when we look ahead to the far future: Robin Hanson predicts a future of… Read more

Self-interested activism and gay rights

On Tumblr, Kelsey (a.k.a. theunitofcaring) had a really good post on the politics of coming out (I’ve bolded a paragraph that I think is especially important): Hmm. Harvey Milk’s time is sufficiently different from ours that I’m not sure I can disagree with him, but I think I do disagree about today. My sister and I (both cis) teamed up on our parents to explain trans stuff. My parents started at ‘if they’ve gotten the surgeries so you can’t tell… Read more

How selfish are voters?

Last month, I wrote a post where I talked a bit about Bryan Caplan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter. Specifically, I talked about the idea that because any one voter is unlikely to swing the outcome of an election, voting provides a way for people to feel altruistic on the cheap. Therefore, in some situations, it may be easier to get for people to vote for a policy than to make analogous changes to their individual behavior. But how altruistic… Read more

Notes on Robert Fogel’s Without Consent or Contract

In response to my previous post on animal rights and slavery, Wayne of Direct Action Everywhere suggested that the argument made in that post was at odds with the findings of economist Robert Fogel as to how slavery was abolished. So I picked up Fogel’s book Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. Having read it, I’m honestly confused as to why Wayne would think it supports his views of social movements.  Let me start by clearing up a… Read more

Slavery abolition and animal rights: the biggest problem

When I talk to people involved in animal rights, I frequently hear people make analogies to the abolition of slavery, made with an optimistic spin: “if we managed to abolish slavery, we can abolish animal agriculture,” “if these tactics worked for abolishing slavery, they should work for abolishing animal agriculture,” and so on. I think there’s an obvious problem with these analogies, so obvious that it didn’t occur to me to point it out in any of my previous posts in this… Read more

Harry Potter and the problem with genre deconstructions

So, Eliezer Yudkowsky’s long-running Harry Potter fanfic, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, is now complete. I’ve been holding off until now to post some thoughts on it I’ve had since the climax was posted ~2 weeks ago. Readers of TVTropes will be familiar with the concept of deconstruction–not in the pretentious post-modern sense, but in the sense of literary works which try to poke holes in the conventions of other literary works, often (as TVTropes puts it) by asking, “‘How… Read more