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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Froborr
    May 17, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

    Ah, yes, much better than the old draft of this bit.

    As I noted in my comments on that (and, like then, this isn’t a suggestion for a change but rather simply something you made me think of), “simultaneously looking at one’s self as the person making a decision and as a person who evaluates your decision-making process externally” is a pretty good first-order description of Avoidant Personality Disorder, or at least my subjective personal experience therof, and I can assure you, it fucking sucks.


    • Froborr
      May 17, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

      Shit, hit the button too soon. Wanted to say, symptoms include halting speech, becoming easily overwhelmed in interpersonal interactions, especially when dealing with multiple people at once, persistent feelings of low worth and unlikability, hypervigilance/hypersensitivity to how others respond to you, high comorbidity with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s really not at all a fun way to approach life, and the idea that someone would deliberately cultivate it is viscerally horrifying to me.


      • Aberrant Eyes
        May 17, 2016 @ 7:02 pm

        “symptoms include halting speech, becoming easily overwhelmed in interpersonal interactions, especially when dealing with multiple people at once, persistent feelings of low worth and unlikability, hypervigilance/hypersensitivity to how others respond to you, high comorbidity with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s really not at all a fun way to approach life”

        As somebody who recognizes himself in all of that (though I’m willing to admit that the first two might just be my own subjective experience), no, it isn’t.


  2. Aberrant Eyes
    May 17, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

    “It’s just that the reason racism might be insoluble is less, as Derbyshire suggests, a fundamental “trend to separation” and more that there are still white people like John Derbyshire who are inclined to wax poetic about the precise reasons they hate black people, and that they exist in dangerously high numbers. This is not to deny the existence of racism even on the progressive left, nor to say that progressive racism is not just as much of a long-term danger. Rather, it’s to point out the practical scariness of white nationalists: their presence ensures that an intelligent or productive discussion of race is always going to be poisoned by a bunch of dipshits chiming in to rant about human biodiversity.”

    I almost reblogged this when I got to it last night, just because of that disgrace to the noble name of Derbyshire, famous for the 2001 National Review column in which he wrote about Chelsea Clinton’s “vile genetic inheritance” and the inherent criminality thereof*:

    Chelsea is a Clinton. She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past — I’m not arguing for despotism as a principle, but they sure knew how to deal with potential trouble — recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat.

    He cited Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and Imperial China approvingly. He should’ve been fired then, rather than 11 years later when he wrote “The Talk, White Version,” which was so appallingly racist that even the heirs of Hector Godfrey, I mean William B. Fuckley, couldn’t pretend it was anything other than objectionable in parts for all. So fuck John Derbyshire and the high-horse he rode in on.


  3. Anthony D Herrera
    May 17, 2016 @ 7:32 pm

    My dad is Mexican and my mom is white and one time when my little brother was 4 he was asked by a family member what race he was and my little brother said, “I’m half Mexican and……half human.” and it made everybody laugh and it still makes me laugh today but holy shit.


  4. Samuel Millerick
    May 17, 2016 @ 7:58 pm

    I would be interested to see what exactly you mean by “European culture is unique in never having experienced is being taken over by another culture”. Taken as a historical statement it seems false unless you are highly selective in your definition of European culture (which is a not very coherent concept by itself). You could perhaps make an argument for Anglo-American culture (if that makes any sense as a concept) if you define the dates at which events start to count fairly arbitrarily.


    • Ozman Jones
      May 18, 2016 @ 6:33 am

      Yes, a lot depends on the cutoff date, and what Phil defines as ‘European Culture’; just from the end of the First World War, perhaps? When the first stirrings of a modern unified Europe seemed to begin. Or maybe after WWII and the Americanisation of Europe.

      Otherwise my first thoughts were also of the Mongols (Russia and northern Europe), then the Moors (Spain and Portugal), and that’s just to begin with off the top of my head.

      And the fact that there are still very strong reactions from various identifiable cultures within the land mass designated as ‘Europe’, that reject being identified as European and want their own original and diverse cultures back.


      • Kit Power
        May 18, 2016 @ 8:23 am

        The lazy version of this I remember hearing in a London pub once was an east end chap loudly declaring the UK ‘had a 1000 year unbeaten record at home’, which is crude but I think essentially accurate.


        • Aylwin
          May 18, 2016 @ 4:07 pm

          That would be England, surely?

          And there’s a protesting-too-much evasion about the old “unconquered since 1066” line, deflecting attention from “yes, but what about 1066?”. The Norman conquest was, after all, not just an intensely traumatic political event but a process of (incomplete but very far-reaching) cultural replacement that continued for over three centuries. Even after conquerors and conquered became ethnically indistinguishable, resonances of the conquest experience continued to bob up, as in the central role of the “Norman Yoke” in 17th-century political dissent. And it has never been undone, even symbolically – to stick with the sporting metaphor, the bragging rights remain with the conquerors.

          It’s a psychic wound that still seems to retain surprising vestiges of tenderness, as I think can be seen in the persistence of odd historical categorisations. The invented category of “Anglo-Saxon” remains the standard designation for pre-1066 English history and culture, while the category the people in question applied to themselves – “English” – is usually studiously avoided, sometimes on the comical grounds that it is anachronistic. Significantly, while the still more distancing “Saxon” has largely fallen out of use as a blanket term for the pre-conquest English in general, it still crops up when discussing the Norman conquest itself. Conversely, post-conquest England’s ethnic-French aristocracy are routinely referred to as “English”. A sense persists that “proper” English history begins in 1066, preceded by a hazy, fragmented and barbaric “Dark Ages”. The English have in effect othered their past, constructing the implied equation “English = Saxon + Norman” to ward off the shame of identification with the subjugated and submissive.

          All of which is a somewhat off-topic ramble, but anyway. If I have a point, it’s that even at a great distance in time, even when submerged and unacknowledged, and even in a society usually framed as archetypal doers-to rather than done-to, historical experiences of being politically and culturally taken over can still hang over a culture in peculiar ways.


          • Iain Coleman
            May 18, 2016 @ 10:36 pm

            One of those peculiar ways being The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s work had its roots in his desire to recreate the lost culture and literature of pre-Norman England, much as Loennrot did for Finnish culture in the Kalevala.

            There was a wonderful anecdote I read about one of Tolkien’s academic colleagues talking to him in about 1940 about how terrible the war was, and Tolkien profoundly agreeing, only for his colleague to eventually realise that Tolkien was talking about the Norman Conquest.

          • Aylwin
            May 19, 2016 @ 10:40 am

            Yeah, it’s one of the main sources or focuses of the sense of loss and ruination that pervades his work, along with the Fall of Man, the Industrial Revolution, experiences of his childhood, a significant portion of Old English poetry and, er, the destruction of Atlantis…

      • Aylwin
        May 18, 2016 @ 10:18 am

        Not to mention the Ottomans.

        I think, as you say, that Phil is referring to Europe as a single cultural bloc, perhaps with the Catholic and post-Catholic Latin zone chiefly in mind, and so meaning that since its early-medieval coalescence as a cultural entity, “Europe” has never been wholly or preponderantly taken over by another culture.

        However, the meaningfulness of that unit here seems to depend heavily on “Europe” being the instinctive focus of cultural identity. Which is very questionable where actual Europeans are concerned, and the more so the further to the cultural-political Right you go. Even to the extent that it does have force, “Europe” as a significant focus for identity is a rather recent phenomenon, which means that the historical experience of Europe-as-a-unit has had a fairly limited role in forming the kind of deep cultural psychology Phil is discussing here. Ethnic self-identifications tend to focus on the national, not the continental level. On that scale European history contains quite a bit of experience of undergoing conquest, subjugation and forcible cultural penetration (though less so in the Franco-German “core”), both by other European cultures and non-European ones. Hence, the idea that that kind of experience has not played its part in European cultural formation seems pretty dubious.


  5. CC0
    May 18, 2016 @ 1:51 am

    Do you guys in the UK and USA have to deal with “reverse racism” as we do here in Brazil? I mean, there are some people (and even some African-American who support them) who REALLY believe that the system is somewhat trying to take their rights and giving it to the black people.


    • Aberrant Eyes
      May 18, 2016 @ 2:12 am

      I can’t speak for Blighty, but we have more than our share here in Unistat. We have so many, in fact, that on learning they’re a thing you have in Brazil as well, my first reaction was “oh shit, we’ve started exporting our surplus yahoos.”


    • David Gerard
      May 18, 2016 @ 10:04 am

      In the UK it’s more xenophobia, i.e. the eastern Europeans and/or refugees get a long list of imaginary privileges and subsidy (and depress house prices and cause cancer). Raging xenophobia is acceptable in the public discourse here in a way that non-dogwhistle racism isn’t.


  6. Gareth Rees
    May 19, 2016 @ 11:13 am

    This extract seems overly dismissive in two places.

    First, “The obvious solution [to Newcomb’s problem] is to declare that magical beings that can perfectly predict human behavior are inherently silly ideas”.

    This is a common objection to Newcomb’s problem, but it’s an attempt to dodge the problem rather than to answer it. A thought experiment aims to illustrate the consequences of a principle in an artificial setting where the issue is clear-cut. You can always respond that the setting is artificial and so you don’t have to consider the issue, but then you might be missing something important. For example, if you say that Schrödinger’s cat is inherently silly because macroscopic objects can’t be put in superposition, then you’ll miss the idea of quantum computing. If you say that Maxwell’s demon is impossible because you can’t make machinery that small, then you’ll miss the role that information erasure plays in entropy.

    Newcomb’s problem is a thought experiment that aims to show a flaw in causal decision theory. Causal decision theory is an account of rational decision-making that works by adding up the future consequences caused by each option. Newcomb’s problem shows that this theory doesn’t work in cases where the consequences are suitably entangled with the decision. The artificiality of Newcomb’s setting (with the impossibly perfect predictor) is there to make the issue clear. The issue still applies if the predictor is less than perfect: as the Stanford Encyclopedia says, “if Newcomb’s problem seems untroubling because [it’s] unrealistic, realistic versions of the problem are plentiful.”

    Second, “This, however, is a complete misreading of Turing’s paper”. Since you don’t present your preferred reading of Turing’s paper, it’s hard to respond to this. But the first paragraph has always seemed straightforward to me:

    “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’ This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms ‘machine’ and ‘think.’ The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude is dangerous, If the meaning of the words ‘machine’ and ‘think’ are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the meaning and the answer to the question, ‘Can machines think?’ is to be sought in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll. But this is absurd. Instead of attempting such a definition I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.”

    The idea was to advance the debate about machine intelligence by replacing a woolly question (can machines think?) with a concrete question that can be operationalized (can machines pass the imitation game?). The bulk of the paper is an argument that the concrete question is a good proxy for the woolly question. Turing considers ESP because if it existed (and Turing is clear that he thought it does not), then it would be a way in which the imitation game would fail to be a good proxy. 1950 was very early in the history of ESP research (J. B. Rhine started to publish in the 1930s), so the inclusion of this argument is not as silly as it might seem now.


  7. Gareth Rees
    May 19, 2016 @ 8:17 pm

    So the “complete misreading” line is a joke based on an ambiguity in Turing’s description of the imitation game?


    • Aylwin
      May 20, 2016 @ 7:12 am

      No, it’s a straightforward statement that, in Phil’s view, the notion most people have of “the Turing Test” fails to represent what Turing was actually getting at. Did you read the piece linked by mr_mond?


      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        May 20, 2016 @ 7:28 am

        I’ll make it super-easy for Gareth and paste in the relevant paragraph:

        It is notable that this latter question is, in several regards, closer to Turing’s other interests. Turing was not a linguist, and for the paper to draw conclusions about the basic use of language would be at least slightly odd. Turing was, however, heavily involved in espionage and cryptography, and was a closeted gay man to boot. The suggestion that he might have thought about things in terms of impersonating and passing is, in other words, credible. But even if one wants to restrict the discussion to his intellectual work, look at the idea of the Universal Turing Machine and the halting problem, which is clearly a study of imitation. It’s also a question with clear roots in the history of philosophy, the word “imitation” evoking Aristotle’s observation in the Poetics that man is an “imitative” creature.


        • Gareth Rees
          May 20, 2016 @ 1:00 pm

          Perhaps “joke” was the wrong way to describe this kind of reading — would “jeu d’esprit” be better? (But you do describe it as a “sly joke” in the opening paragraph.)

          I mean, I do like the linked post, but I think that its approach doesn’t work so well in the context of setting out to show where your targets have gone badly wrong. In this context you need to accurately locate the point that they went off the rails. That fact you have another reading of Turing does not make the conventional reading a “near universal misunderstanding”.

          Similarly, in the case of Roko’s basilisk, the point where Yudkowsky goes badly wrong can’t be the point at which he fails to immediately dismiss Newcomb’s problem as unrealistic. Otherwise, we’d have to say that all the philosophers who have considered the problem, from Robert Nozick onwards, have also gone badly wrong.


          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            May 22, 2016 @ 4:01 am

            Eh. shrugs I’ll throw Nozick under the bus for the sake of a few laughs.

  8. pillsy
    May 19, 2016 @ 9:08 pm

    I just finished the pre-release for backers, and am still mulling it over. Based on what else I’d read, in terms of reviews, reactions and excerpts… it was not really what I expected. The sense that Yudkowski and Moldbug, at least, are the (probably doomed) protagonists in horror stories does come through, and I thought the book seemed to convey some genuine if obviously conflicted affection for them.

    Less so with Land; there’s more respect for his ideas, but he seems to be treated much more coldly.

    It could definitely use some real chapter breaks.

    I remember coming across Derbyshire via his pretty decent popular book about the Riemann zeta function, and being rather dismayed when I encountered his political writing a short time afterwards.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 20, 2016 @ 7:28 am

      Perhaps it could use some real chapter breaks, but structurally it really doesn’t have them.


  9. Doug M.
    May 22, 2016 @ 7:53 am

    “the one thing European culture is unique in never having experienced is being taken over by another culture.”

    Well, unless you’re Irish (England), Polish (Russia), Finnish (Sweden then Russia), Serbian (Turks), Greek (Turks), Russian (Mongols) or Ukrainian (Mongols then Crim Tatars then Russians).

    Doug M.


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