1) “Why did I become a doctor? Well gosh, I guess it’s because ever since I was a little boy I just wanted to help people. You know, I don’t tell this story often, but I remember when I was seven years old, one time I found a bird that had fallen out of its nest, so I picked him up and I brought him home and I made him a house out of an empty shoebox and… oh my God! [breaks up laughing] I became a doctor for the same four reasons everybody does: chicks, money, power, and chicks. But, since HMOs have made it virtually impossible to make any real money, which directly effects the number of chicks that come sniffin’ around, and don’t ask me what tree they’re barking up, ’cause they’re sure as hell not pissing on mine, and as far as power goes, well: Here I am during my free time letting some thirteen-year-old psychology fella who couldn’t cut it in real medicine ask me questions about my personal life, so here’s the inside scoop there, pumpkin, why don’t you go ahead and tell me all about power.” (Update 2: Here’s the clip, the sequence starts at 2:30)

“Relationships don’t work the way they do on television and in the movies [US: do note that this is a quote from a tv-series]. Will they? Won’t they? And then they finally do, and they’re happy forever. Gimme a break. Nine out of ten of them end because they weren’t right for each other to begin with, and half of the ones who get married get divorced anyway, and I’m telling you right now, through all this stuff, I have not become a cynic, I haven’t. Yes, I do happen to believe that love is mainly about pushing chocolate covered candies and, y’know, in some cultures, a chicken. You can call me a sucker, I don’t care, because I do believe in it. Bottom line is: it’s couples who are truly right for each other wade through the same crap as everybody else, but the big difference is they don’t let it take them down. One of those two people will stand up and fight for that relationship every time. If it’s right, and they’re real lucky, one of them will say something.” (Update: After a short search, I was able to find the clip here)

“Do you know any women who hate themselves enough to date me?”

(Percival Ulysses Cox, Scrubs)

2) “One of the effects of civilization is to diminish the rigour of the application of the law of natural selection. It preserves weakly lives that would have perished in barbarous lands.” (Francis Galton)

3) “Faith has never moved anything at all. It is doubt that moves.” (Poul Henningsen)

4) “Future comes by itself, progress does not.” (-ll-)

5) “So I say live and let live. That’s my motto. Live and let live. Anyone who can’t go along with that, take him outside and shoot the motherfucker. It’s a simple philosophy, but it’s always worked in our family.” (George Carlin)

6) “I realized some time ago that I’m not separate from nature just because I have a primate brain – an upper brain – because underneath the primate brain, there’s a mammalian brain, and beneath the mammalian brain, there’s a reptilian brain; and it’s those two lower brains that made the upper brain possible in the first place. Here’s the way it works: The primate brain says, “Give peace a chance.” The mammalian brain says, “Give peace a chance, but first let’s kill this motherfucker.” And the reptilian brain says, “Let’s just kill the motherfucker, go to the peace rally and get laid.” (George Carlin)

7) “The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.” (Napoléon Bonaparte, written in 1798)

In case you think of him as ‘the good guy’ now, because of that quote (/unlikely, but…), here’s another: “The life of a citizen is the property of his country.”

8 ) “The more is given the less the people will work for themselves, and the less they work the more their poverty will increase.” (Leo Tolstoy, ‘Help for the Starving’, 1892)

9) “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)

10) “Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.” (Ambrose Bierce, ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’)

11) “Learning, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.” (-ll-)

12) “Liberty, n. One of imagination’s most precious possessions.” (-ll-)

I could probably keep quoting Bierce all day, so I’ll just leave the link and you can read all of it yourself, if you’re so inclined.


August 23, 2010 - Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms


  1. 1) Dr. Cox rulez!
    2) Factually true. So has living in herds, packs, rooms, pods, swarms, etc. for many species.
    3) Props.
    4) I am not sure about this one, I can think of too many intentions, contexts, and implications – some of which I like, and some I do not. I call this one a Rorschach blot type of quote.
    5) M-hm. Carlin was an old style liberal.
    6) See 5.
    7) I am left with the distinct impression that people who dismiss the effectiveness of torture (including the hormonally deficient Frenchman) are unfamiliar with the game theory behind repeated games. Yes, if you torture some poor bastard until nerve-damage-level pain overtakes his self-control, he or she will say anything to make it stop. That’s the naive, stupid way. The smart way is to describe a painful treatment (and maybe administer just a little of it) and offer him no pain for information you can verify to be true. Then come back and ask for more (verifiable!) information, and reward it, and punish false information with increasing amounts of pain. Eventually, you will bump up against the limit of his knowledge, but not before you have extracted much useful information. Yes, it still does sound psychopathic. No, I do not like it or endorse it. But, nonetheless, torture, if applied smartly, does work.
    8) I tried reading Tolstoy when I was 11, then again when I was 15, and I gave up then. For one insight like this one, you get literally volumes of naivist religionist BS.
    9) See 8, plus crudely implied “why don’t they change to be like me?”
    10-12) I’ll drink to Bierce any day, any amount my liver can handle.


    Comment by Plamus | August 24, 2010 | Reply

  2. Plamus:

    7) The most interesting thing about that quote to me was who made it – ie. a guy who has the power to have people tortured and probably had used that power before, or had people under him who had.

    Also, the repeated games kind of stuff is one way, but hardly the most efficient – going after the guy’s family and friends will almost always work. It’s one thing to endure torture yourself, but seing your loved ones get tortured and/or perhaps killed on the other hand… Combine it with the optimal incentives systems of the repeated game standard approach and little is likely to be kept from you.

    8-9. “why don’t they change to be like me?” – if Lenin and Stalin had done that, the world would have been, and would be, a very different place.

    Anyway, I know, I’ve read the guy’s collected works (that’s technically true, even though all it means it that I read a book the title of which was ‘Collected Works’… -btw. it’s the oldest book I own, printed in 1928). Some of it is very good stuff and some of it is decidedly not, time has been hard on some of it. Anyway, I didn’t read that stuff in order to know the guy’s philosophical insights, I read it in order to know more about how it was like for an individual to live in Russia in the 19th century.

    More generally, if a fiction writer has hidden some great insights in his books, that’s just great, but I don’t read fiction in order to know the author’s philosophical insights. It is a lot simpler to just buy some damn non-fiction philosophy books instead, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, so I tend to do that instead. I believe a lot of fiction authors think they are great thinkers, philosophers with thoughts that are much deeper and more profound than the rest of us, and I also believe that far most of them can’t tell a modus ponens from a modus tollens.

    Comment by US | August 24, 2010 | Reply

  3. I fully agree on torture. I went off on an implicit assumption that a torturer does not have access to the tortured’s loved ones, which is rarely the case. But even the threat of it is indeed to make torture that much more effective.

    On Lenin and Stalin – true, but there are always “buts”. It can also be argued that the reason Russian peasants today live much the same way they did in Tolstoy’s times (no electricity, back-breaking manual labor, abuse by the state and the local “lords”) is that they live the Tolstoy way – work, pray, take abuse without pushing back. That’s socialist self-delusion minus the revolution – “ah, if only people could all change!” Of course, human nature does not, and as Ben Franklin said, those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who didn’t. I would argue (just my humble opinion) that the disarmed, meek, pious peasantry of Russia – Tolstoy’s ideal – enabled Lenin and Stalin.

    On the reasons to read fiction, you say “I read it in order to know more about how it was like for an individual to live in Russia in the 19th century”. There is certainly an element of that, but I personally find fiction an inefficient means to that end – to a large extent due to the internet putting vast information resources at our fingertips. Fiction writers are beholden to telling a story, and thus stuff too much “fluff” into their works along with the valuable factual nuggets. Furthermore, they are also prone to distorting truth in order to promote the storyline – admittedly, Tolstoy probably less so, as he did live the Russian peasant life (still not as a simple peasant though).

    Comment by Plamus | August 25, 2010 | Reply

  4. I think Nietzsche’s criticism of the ‘slave morality’ of Christianity at the time was sound, but even if the inactivity of the peasants (and don’t overplay that either, they had a civil war going that went on far longer than WW1 – also, don’t forget that many of them had been fighting for years before the communists even took over, most of them as ill-equipped, ill-supplied cannon fodder; as always, I can recommend Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914) is part of the reason why things turned out as they did, I direct most of my blame elsewhere – towards the people doing the killing. And once the system was in place and the power consolidation of the new rulers completed, without outside intervention it was almost impossible to change anything. To be meek increased your likely of survival – and it had been that way in Russia for hundreds of years. In order to stop the peasants from taking the abuse, somebody had to speak up – and when somebody did, somebody got sent to Siberia or got shot. We’re talking about an equilibrium condition here – CoD are and were too high on an individual level. Also, peasants couldn’t afford guns and many of them didn’t have any when they were fighting. It’s too easy to blame the masses – what would you have done, and could you reasonably expect millions of others to do the same? What if there was a third option – flight (‘go to Germany’ or another Western country, as some jews did following the progroms in Russia)?

    “Fiction writers are beholden to telling a story, and thus stuff too much “fluff” into their works along with the valuable factual nuggets.”

    True, and if the story was irrelevant, it would be a very inefficient way of getting the information. But it very often isn’t.

    Comment by US | August 29, 2010 | Reply

  5. “And once the system was in place and the power consolidation of the new rulers completed, without outside intervention it was almost impossible to change anything.” – I must disagree here. The British managed to make one tyrant (Charles I) part with his head as early as 1649; the French did it to Louis XVI in 1793; the ragtag American colonists defeated the full force of the world’s most formidable military at the time (1775-1783).

    “In order to stop the peasants from taking the abuse, somebody had to speak up – and when somebody did, somebody got sent to Siberia or got shot.” – No, speaking up from a position of weakness never works. Someone – and that’s of course the peasants themselves – had to take a stand. I think history has always been (to tie into our other line of discussion) about telling a story. This-and-this brave man lead this-and-this rebellion, etc. The importance of “leaders” is an atavistic narrative from the times when the biggest male of a tribe led the rest to raid the tribe next door. The Afghanis beat back the British, then the Russians, and now are doing it to the Americans. Have you heard of a great Afghani leader, who led the unified troops into battle?

    “It’s too easy to blame the masses – what would you have done, and could you reasonably expect millions of others to do the same?” – Tying into the end of the previous paragraph, it’s not important what I alone would have done, what is important is what millions others would have, and that can only be determined by culture – some cultures, like the Afghanis, value freedom (on various levels, of course – no broad generalizations), and some, like the Russian peasants, do not. Nekrasov’s works may depict a heart-rendering picture of their misery, but it also absolves them of all responsibility for changing their lot. Now, I am not trying to dodge the question of what I personally would have done – I am just aware that my answer would come tainted with my 21st century knowledge and perspective. Anyway, what I would have done is, of course, asymmetrical warfare. My enemies depend on me for their food. Stop sending them food, and they come to you to take it by force. Capture a few of them, if you can get away with it cheaply, and tell the survivors that next time there will be no mercy – they’ll spread the word for you. Torch the mansion of the local serf-owner at night. Hide the food. Poison the food they manage to confiscate from you. By itself, all of those would not change much. When thousands of incidents like that pop up, then the rulers have to listen, or the hungry mobs in their cities begin to storm their palaces. When the “feudals” vacate the land, because it does not pay to stay around, plus you might get pitchfork in the back, occupy it, claim it, and defend it. “They could not afford guns” is a circular (of the vicious circle kind) excuse. They could not afford them, because they let themselves be robbed. It’s not an easy status quo to break, as you point out, but if it’s not broken, it will (almost by definition) continue – and for the Russian peasants, it does.

    “True, and if the story was irrelevant, it would be a very inefficient way of getting the information. But it very often isn’t.” – I think I was a little unclear. By “story” I meant a plot. To take on an easy, almost too-obvious example, “War and Peace”: I found it impossible to follow through all the meandering character-building. Bezukhov tantrums, Natasha’s teen insecurities and crushes, Bolkonsky’s naive existentialist pains – to me, it was more than I could bear; it was like a cheap full-length soap opera, played in ve-e-e-e-ry slow motion. Perhaps it’s just me – I need a certain rate of input of useful information to keep me engaged. This level of signal-to-noise ratio loses my attention.

    Comment by Plamus | August 29, 2010 | Reply

  6. The passage you write about asymmetrical warfare leads me to believe you don’t know much about the Russian civil war. The peasants did try to stop the communists from taking their food, they did take up arms time and again, this has been well documented. That’s part of the reason why the civil war didn’t stop until some time after NEP was introduced and the systematic food extortion was reduced significantly. When the peasants did fight back, the communists came back with machine guns and torched the village and killed almost everyone in it. They used poison gas against the rebels in Tambov.

    Warfare in 1920 or so was very different from the warfare of the 17th or 18th century. One man with a machine gun could kill 30 people in ten seconds. Most of the peasants had nothing but pitchforks and the like to fight back with. They never had a chance, and even small stuff got you killed. A lot of the communist soldiers in the civil war were deserters from the army and quite a few of them still had guns. Pipes has documented that Lenin bought guns from the Germans during the war. The communists were much better equipped and supplied than the peasants.

    “They could not afford guns” is a circular (of the vicious circle kind) excuse. They could not afford them, because they let themselves be robbed.”

    Would you have said the same about prisoners from the Warsaw ghetto who got themselves killed by the Germans? If they’d just saved more, they’d have won? You act as if the peasants could just have saved their ‘money’ (a lot of Russia was still to a large degree barter economy at this point) instead of handing it over, used the money to buy guns and then fought back. Even if some of them did – mostly peasants living in areas not yet controlled by the communists – no way. If you didn’t hand over the crops and livestock required, you got a bullet through your head, simple as that. Some people got a bullet through their head even if they’d given everything they owned – a lot of people got killed simply because they couldn’t fulfil the quotas set by the communists; if you hadn’t supplied your share, you’d probably dug down the surplus somewhere, hidden it from the communists, and doing that was a capital offence. The mere suspicion that you’d done something like that would get you killed; no trial, no nothing. If you had a gun in your house, you’d get a bullet through your head for being a counterrevolutionary and the communists would have another gun – and where would you get it in the first place?

    Yes, if a lot of people had stood up for themselves, things would have been diffent. But a) I never said anything about the need for a leader, what I’m saying is that there’s a massive coordination problem here, because nobody wants to be the first guy to take a stand. That problem is always there, it’s there in Afghanistan too right now so I don’t like the culture explanation. The people of Afghanistan have fought back and won against foreign oppressors, but they’ve never beaten their domestic oppressors. Half of them, those people with two X cromosomes, are little more than slaves in the eyes of the other half. You try go to Afghanistan and talk openly about how you think islam is a loser religion and that women should be free to do as they please, no matter what their husbands or father thinks. If you do that for long, you get killed. If a lot of people stood up and did this (all women?), things would probably be different. They don’t. It’s not just about culture, even if culture of course matters to some degree, as I also noted above. Where the coordination problem is big enough to constitute a binding constraint to the great majority of people, things are unlikely to change, even if a majority would like it to change. The constraint is binding in Afghanistan too, it just works on a different level. b) Nobody knew what was going on 200 kms away, besides perhaps people like Stalin and Lenin. There’s no coordination, no nothing at this point. The medias, to the extent there are any, cannot be trusted and most people who’d benefit from knowing what was going on can’t read. c) The incentives structure implemented by the soviets favoured collaboration. Tell on a kulak, get a share of the loot (or maybe ‘be spared’). Don’t tell on him and you risk being killed for your silence if/when someone else does. People respond to incentives, and they do a lot of weird things when they’re afraid to die from starvation. d) When taking up arms, you didn’t know about Holomodor, you didn’t know about the Great Terror, you didn’t know how big Gulag would be in 30 years. You knew there’d been a war going on for years. Even if the bad guys won, things were likely going to get better once the war was over. In 23, by the time the civil war was over, Russia had been involved in armed conflict for almost a decade.

    As to the culture thing; Cuba, Albania, Russia, China, North Korea – all of these communist systems lasted decades. No European country under Nazi rule managed to kick them out and defeat them on the hometurf. It’s not always about culture, and I don’t think this explanation gets us very far, even if you probably know that I have no problem with abusing religious sentiments such as those of the Russian peasantry for doing harmful stuff to the people who believe in them. Maybe it’s because Americans have never been occupied by foreign forces, I don’t know, but I think in general your views would probably be very uncommon in Europe.

    If you want to know more about this timeperiod, I can recommend A Concise History of the Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes. I draw from that as well as August 1914 by Solzhenitsyn and 1914-1918, The History Of The First World War, by David Stevenson, the latter of which provides much detail as to ‘how war was fought at that time’ and how it developed during the war, much of which was of some interest to me when I read the other books.

    Comment by US | August 29, 2010 | Reply

  7. While I agree with a good bit of what you say, I am not sure why we focus on the 20th century. But even then, yes, the communists did manage to suppress the rebellions, and then almost starved to death. By the way, the communists horribly bungled the Nov 7, 1917 coup, and were saved by the even more staggering ineptness of the tsar’s forces – for god’s sake, they let their forces mingle and talk to the people they could be expected to order them to fire on. My point is, the communists were not the smooth, efficient killing machine they were portrayed to be, and only compensated for it with ruthless cruelty. By the way, while no expert, I would say I am reasonably versed in modern Russian history, and not just Denikin’s march and Wrangel’s Crimean stand. In Feb 1918, the Germans steamrolled the Red Guard, and could have brought down the communists with virtually no resistance, but stopped when the communists signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty – the source of endless pain ever-since.

    But I think you are missing my point. You are talking about a man with a machine gun killing 30 other men. That is true, in a pitched battle, but pitched battles are not what asymmetrical warfare is about. I am not talking about peasants gathering in a horde and storming cities under this-or-that washed-up general. I am talking about micro-resistance, of the kind that makes the huge rural heartland of the empire a death field for the government’s force. The communists could not put a garrison in every village. All they could afford were punitive operations. Yes, that kind of warfare may get peasants killed, and their families may suffer cruel reprisals – but this is where culture, I think comes into play. It’s about whether you are willing to die for freedom, or as it turned out, still die in virtual slavery, or toil mindlessly, if you lived. I’d claim it’s culture that determines whether you resist without a unifying force, without knowing whether the next village or even farm is doing it too, or whether you need someone to “organize” you.

    I must admit, I admire the Afghanis for their fierce independence. That does not mean many of them are not vile savages when it comes to treating women, or adherents of other religions, as you point out – that is why I added “on various levels, of course – no broad generalizations” to “value freedom”.

    As to your last paragraph: I must admit that I am puzzled. Have you forgotten about survivorship bias? Think of all the countries where communism did NOT last decades – mostly because it was never allowed to take over in the first place. I think the ratio is very skewed against communism. Finally, I hate to break good tone, but why the cheap zingers about Americans? Is this a cheap argument of the kind “you have never been a slave, you don’t know jack about slavery”? Should I retort that maybe it’s because Europeans always used to invade and subjugate each other (last time in the 1990s), your views would be very uncommon in the USA? Or should I say that may that such American views are exactly why Americans have never been occupied by foreign forces?

    Comment by Plamus | August 29, 2010 | Reply

  8. By the way, just to be clear, I do not consider myself and American. I live in the US, but I grew up in Europe, and I try to pick for myself the best of the two, without blindly signing up for the bundled goods package deal. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” I look at macro-events through the prism of culture, because it works, but I never presume culture upon any individual; I am not a cultural determinist.

    Comment by Plamus | August 29, 2010 | Reply

  9. I meant no disrespect as to the American thing, I’m sorry that I offended you.

    It’s just that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone arguing from that side of the fence before and that these views of yours are probably quite uncommon in the part of Europe I inhabit (Europe is a big place). I think most people in my cultural sphere think of some of these views of yours as some sort of ‘blaming the victim’-position that they really don’t like and that’s probably one of the reasons why I’m so prone to arguing against it.

    I don’t live in Russia, so I don’t have a dog in this fight either, but based on what I do know about that particular matter, my opinion is that it’s blatantly unfair to blame the peasantry much for what happened. And yes, as hinted above I do know quite a lot more than most non-Russians about this – as do you, I now know, but I didn’t know that when I wrote my comment and you unfortunately gave me the opposite impression in your comment. It was not as much a:

    “you have never been a slave, you don’t know jack about slavery”

    -argument as much as it was a…

    “I live in a region where governments have historically been overthrown and subjugated by other governments on a regular basis for centuries, and I’ve read some stuff about it – and some stuff about this particular thing – and ceteris paribus I think I know more about this subject and its particulars than you do because I consider it unlikely that you’ve focused as much on this subject as I have given that you live in a country where such things have not occured in a long time”

    -type of argument. I’d expected you to know less, and I’d noticed that people over here usually reach conclusions that are different from yours. But I also said “I don’t know”, I was just thinking out loud. In my previous comment, I was of course being overconfident about the correctness of my viewpoints as well as underestimating your knowledge of the matter at hand – the two go hand in hand – which I should thank you for pointing out, whether you meant to do that or not.

    By mentioning the many different countries, I wasn’t at all suggesting that communism is a great system or some such, or that ‘it will always win’. Of course not. I was thinking that there’s a big difference between Chinese people and Russians, and between Russians and Cubans – I’m thinking along the lines: ‘So did all these countries have cultures that aided the communist takeover or are there perhaps many other important reasons we need to look at to explain why it went so wrong in these countries’?

    A different way of saying something similar would be: ‘If all these different countries, thousands of kilometers apart, all had cultures which made a communist takeover more likely that other places, does the culture variable really tell us all that much’?

    As to the other stuff, in short I think some of our disagreement stems from philosophical differences (as to the ‘to which degree is it permissible/morally justified for an individual to choose to live in slavery instead of giving his life for X’, X in this case being ‘freedom’, we’re likely positioned at different points on the scale) and some of our disagreement stems from different interpretations of the facts at hand, probably primarily relating to how feasible and how likely to work ‘micro-resistance’ would have been – and yes, I know you weren’t talking about ‘hordes storming cities’. Are you willing to leave it at that?

    Again, sorry if I came off a bit unpleasant, you should know that this debate touched upon a subject I know much about and have strong feelings for. Some of my reasons for opposing your viewpoints is surely that usually when people look at factors such as the ‘culture’ variable you mention, they end up removing the focus from the people who I consider far most responsible for what happened – those doing the actual killing. These people really don’t get enough attention as it is, in my mind. My guess would be that far more than half of all Danes know the name Heinrich Himmler, but not one in fifty know either of the names Dzerzhinsky or Yezhov. I dislike the size of that disparity.

    Comment by US | August 29, 2010 | Reply

  10. I accept the apology, although it was probably unnecessary, and want to apologize in turn if I came across as moody and touchy.

    I also do not mean to remove the focus from the actual murderers – they deserve all the opprobrium you can heave upon them, plus a painful death. In fact, I think mostly they get not enough of either – let’s remember that Mao is still venerated in China, and Stalin is still considered by many in Russia as “the good old times”. However, as you note, we have some philosophical differences (always a good and welcome thing!). I tend to like historical readings for the facts, but I dislike, and actively try to discount the general proclivity in historians to assign causality, and therefore blame, simplistically. Thus, I am probably more likely then you are to “blame the victim”. No, I will not take it to extremes, but also no, the victims do not get a totally free pass.

    I’ll try an example, and can only hope I will not bungle it: if you (nothing personal, just using “you”, “me”, etc for an example) attack me and stab me, you do get the majority of the blame. I do not know how much – 90%? 95%? But I supplied the chest that you thrust your knife in, and I did not defend it. Your thrusting motion was a almost-but-not-quite sufficient condition for the atrocity; my chest being there undefended was a necessary condition too. I would never advocate prosecuting someone for not defending themselves, but I also would not shy from telling them they ought to be smarter. A girl who goes into the Bronx at night in a mini-skirt with a bare midriff is definitely NOT asking for it – but she definitely is allowing it, unless she’s packing an FN P90 and is a sharpshooter, and possibly a martial artist too, because you cannot carry that much ammo.

    Let’s reduce this to simple logic. You can say “A is the cause of B”, or more precisely “A is the only cause of B”, if and only if [iff? :)] P(B|A)=P(A). This is clearly not the case with our soon-to-be-sorry girl – there are attempted rapes that do not succeed, because the victim fights back, and even more that are never even attempted, because the would-be victim was smart. It’s also clearly not the case with peasantry being oppressed – if anything, in Europe and in the USA these days farmers extort the rest of the taxpayers for abhorrent subsidies. Thus some of the blame is not with the perpetrators. I know this sounds callous, but it’s how I see it. I am not willing to ignore logic in order to spare a victim’s feelings. I think we live in a world of too much feelings, and not enough cold logic, which leads to many people getting hurt, often repeatedly.

    Best regards, and please do feel free to leave the discussion at this, if you so prefer. I did not drop it, because I find it useful, and because I feel strongly about the subject matter, as do you. I raise a glass of 2006 Chateau de Paillet-Quancard to the fine people of Europe, wishing they’d lose a little bit of the victim mentality. I would raise a glass of Jack Daniels to the Americans being a bit less of cowboys, but mixing these two fine beverages will affect work performance today.

    P.S. Parting note: I am always amused how Europeans like to refer to Americans as “cowboys”, and how many (by far not all, but still many) Americans view being a “cowboy” as a good thing. Ain’t culture great? 🙂

    Comment by Plamus | August 30, 2010 | Reply

  11. By the way, if you read Russian, here’s some bone-chilling reading on the Tambov rebellion:

    This comes from a cache of documents that the communists thought they had destroyed. It includes specific orders from Tuhachevsky on how many hostages to take from each village, when to execute them, how to use gas in the forests of the “occupied” territories, etc.

    Yeah, I’d say sometimes torture is justified – screw the high moral ground. Make it public too. When you execute the families of people, who are fighting your robbing them in order to feed those same families, you need to be drawn, quartered, beheaded, have your head on a pike, on fire, and put out with hydrofluoric acid, and then laid to rest in a sewage tank.

    Comment by Plamus | August 30, 2010 | Reply

  12. “No, I will not take it to extremes, but also no, the victims do not get a totally free pass.”

    To say that the victims should get a totally free pass is to take it to extremes too, and that is not my position, which I thought my remarks on the incentives which the peasants faced made clear. You can argue that my hesitancy to discuss the relevant blame-level of the peasants is a signal that I give them ‘a totally free pass’, but I don’t see it that way. Anyway, as I stated before, the communists to a significant degree changed the relevant incentives systems of the peasants, but even if ‘people respond to incentives’, in my mind behaviour that hurt others does not become ‘moral’ just because you’re responding to an incentive which makes such a line of behaviour more attractive to you – even if it perhaps tips the scales a little in your favour if you had no influence on the extant incentives structures. However as I also hinted at in my last comment, the question to me is more of a pragmatic meta-question along the lines of: ‘which issues should we be discussing’-question than it is a ‘could the victims really not have done anything’? Unless there was literally nothing the victims could have done differently to change the expected outcome – and sure there almost always is – one can argue that they share some of the blame. Again, the question is how large a share? Here we disagree. Part of the reason of the size of our disagreement might be because I don’t think of the two questions: ‘could they have done something differently?’ and ‘were their behaviour “moral”?’ as equivalent, ie. because of the ‘how much could you reasonably have demanded from these people at the time without any knowledge of what the future would bring?’-question as well as the ‘what would you have done?’-question. I think our answers to these questions are perhaps quite different. In my defence – or well, I don’t know if it’s a defence really, but – I’m very aware of that fact that to argue that the peasants should have fought back, when I’m not sure if I’d have fought back myself if I had been in the same situation, is more than bordering on hypocritical behaviour, and this is probably part of the reason I feel compelled to take the position I do as to the behaviour of the peasants (and no, in case you were in doubt, this sentence does not in any way mean that I am accusing you of hypocrisy).

    One might also argue that it was partly the fault of the British’, the Germans or perhaps even the Japanese. No, I don’t want to take up those discussions either. One might argue that the development taking place was impossible to stop, as the development in Russia was simply the result of the historical laws that govern the evolution of human societies, or that most of the peasants actually loved the communists and there really wasn’t all that much fighting going on in the first place. I’d probably be inclined to participate in that kind of discussions, because they’re filled with lies. There are a lot of discussions of this sort. The Germans have argued about their own share of the blame of the actions of their grandparents for decades already – discussions such as these never end, so I think I’ll call it for now. The fact that I don’t want to partake in such a discussion does not mean that I think the peasants should get a free pass as much as it means that I consider this discussion to be relatively unlikely to yield much in terms of results or new insights, compared to other discussions one might have on this subject.

    I’m afraid I do not read Russian; Danish and English and a little bit of French and (even less) German is all I can deal with, but I’ve book-marked the link anyway.

    As an aside to part with, I’ve never called Americans ‘cowboys’, but in my mind it oughtn’t be taken as an insult. ‘Lawyer’, ‘priest’ (‘catholic priest’ if you want the extreme version…) or ‘politician’, sure, I could see why people’d get offended by being called that. But cowboy? I’m on the American side on that one.

    Comment by US | September 1, 2010 | Reply

  13. re #7: torture is an excellent method for NP-complete problems.

    Comment by gwern | October 22, 2011 | Reply

    • 🙂 That was a way of putting it I’ve not heard before and which I will try to remember. Though I’d probably prefer to use a different term – ‘effective’ might be a better word than ‘excellent’, right?

      Comment by US | October 22, 2011 | Reply

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