Which technology should we unlearn?

by on December 20, 2015 at 12:37 am in History, Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Todd, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

If you had the power to make civilization unlearn one technology or theory in use today, what would it be?

I’m not ready to say nuclear weapons, which so far have been a major net force for peace, at least until the next one goes off.

Music streaming (or is it the MP3?) doesn’t seem important enough, still I do not think it will improve creativity over the longer run.  In this sector I care more about the total quality of product than about maximizing the sum total of consumer plus producer surplus.

How about the Facebook technology which limits you to 5000 friends?  (just joking…)

Modern ketchup?

Land mines are a possible pick, but that wouldn’t help South Korea any.  Drones are another candidate, too early to tell.

In my rather strongly held view, most technologies are net improvements.

But I think I’ll go with cluster bombs.  Or poison gas.  The Kalashnikov?

1 Dzhaughn December 20, 2015 at 12:55 am

The mechanism that lets humanity to unlearn something is my first priority for unlearning.

After that, the Auto-tune machine.

Then various cosmetic medical procedures, ones that are thought to restore youthful appearance.

2 Ian Brown December 20, 2015 at 12:57 am

Wonderful comment, agree with all these.

3 TMC December 20, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Especially the pouty lips. Why do actresses think looking like they just got punched in the mouth is sexy?

4 Derek December 20, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Because they date Democrats?

5 Richard December 20, 2015 at 6:26 pm

+1000

Brilliant. Comment of the month.

6 MK December 20, 2015 at 12:58 am

Wouldn’t “unlearning” the Kalashnikov just mean that people used some other rifle? Unless you’re going to go with “all assault rifles”, I don’t think that’s super useful. I think I’m leaning nukes, even though my family’s history might have been dramatically different.

7 Mark Thorson December 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Mine, too. Dad spent most of the war running a radio shack on Kauai for Navy intelligence (mostly searching for Japanese submarine communications). Then near the end of the war, they took him off that duty and were teaching him how to throw hand grenades. Scary stuff. Then suddenly the war ended. He finished his service in the harbormaster’s office in Fukuoka, while the guys who actually saw combat went home. I might not be here without The Bomb.

I’m tempted to say coal is the worst technology, but without it the Industrial Revolution would have come later and more slowly. Oil, perhaps, because that was a key enabling technology for cars. You can have trains and ships without oil, but cars would be mostly electric (expensive and crappy) without liquid petrochemical fuel. Without cars, air pollution and climate change are much more manageable, because we’d then make a smooth transition from coal to nuclear once the global warming threat became apparent. Doing that now for the power grid won’t solve the problem because we’re addicted to the heroin of cars.

8 John Mansfield December 21, 2015 at 8:21 am

Cars create a large fraction of air pollution, but only a fraction. For whatever reason, though, they are what our minds fix on when we think of air pollution.

9 Ronald Brak December 20, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Kalashnikovs combine low cost with extremely high reliability and durability. Remove them from the picture and having to rely on second best solutions for organised murder would probably reduce the total number of light arms in the world and potentially reduce the number of deaths and casualties from conflict around the world. There might even be beneficial knock on effects. Perhaps no Kalashnikovs would have resulted in greater technical competence amoung child soldiers as they continually struggle to repair and maintain their Brazillian made under US licence M-16s.

10 willy dolla$ign December 20, 2015 at 1:02 am

Hm, I wonder if ‘innovations in advertising that more effectively target children and those under the age of 18, and the understanding that those demographics are important to focus on’ could be unlearned, without unlearning different techniques for data manipulation.

If so, that would be my pick.

11 Dzhaughn December 20, 2015 at 1:14 am

I am sympathetic with unlearning of mind control techniques. Perhaps starting with methods of torture, like waterboarding.

But it is hard to separate these from knowledge of psychology or even human experience. It is a good thing to know (generally, if not too presonally) what it feels like to be drowning, and to understand the effect of severe pain and relief from it. How can we really imagine any gap between understanding the causes and effects of pain and being able to inflict it and control others with it?

12 GoneWithTheWind December 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

To use the words “waterboarding” and “torture” in the same sentence without the word “not or isn’t” says so much about your intelligence and political belief system.

13 Dont_Think_Twice December 20, 2015 at 1:21 pm

“Says so much about …”? If a statement doesn’t reflect in some way on the speakers intelligence or political belief system, then it is probably small talk or shop talk – i.e. either meaningless or tooo domain specific to be of interest to most.

Couldn’t you have posted basically the same comment to 95% of the posts on MR?

14 Pfft December 20, 2015 at 2:08 pm

You, on the other hand, would submit to several hours of waterboarding and come out laughing. Not like all these stupid weak liberals.

15 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 11:36 pm

How about you ask someone to waterboard you before feeling qualified to say such things.

16 TMC December 20, 2015 at 1:06 pm

“waterboarding”. Humans will always torture, if driven far enough. Why eliminate a method that does not permanent damage?

17 albatross December 20, 2015 at 4:49 pm

The problem with disappearing knowledge of torture is that it would very quickly be redeveloped, because “do what I say or I’ll hurt you” is about the most obvious strategy for controlling people there is.

I suspect terrorism and mass-shootings are both things that didn’t have to arise, but that once they arise, they self-perpetuate. Making the human race somehow unlearn them might buy us many decades or centuries until someone re-invents them.

18 anon December 21, 2015 at 12:02 am

Waterboarding doesn’t cause long term psychological issues?

I’m afraid to think about how you treat people in your personal life if you have no concept of psychological trauma.

19 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 8:04 am

At least with physical torture you can show people scars and say “people did this to me” and get sympathy or maybe even compensation. With psychological torture – which leaves no evidence – you get people like TMC who, if they even believe the story in the face of zero evidence, will say “man up, it’s not like it was real damage.

20 Cooper December 21, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Waterboarding. Who cares?

The number of people who were waterboarded by the CIA was in the low single digits.

Surely there are bigger fish to fry here…

21 Saint Fiasco December 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm

@Cooper

The CIA are not the only ones who use(d?) waterboarding. It was a common torture method in South America as well. We call it “submarino”.

22 ChrisA December 20, 2015 at 1:10 am

Well the questioner mentioned theory as well as technology – so the obvious choice is Communism. But if it were a technology, I would either go for chewing gum or cigarettes. Both of which have huge externalities for the small pleasures they bring to the user.

23 Alain December 20, 2015 at 2:42 am

While communism/socialism have caused more human suffering than perhaps any other technology/theory, neither one is non-obvious (I would like other people’s stuff/liberty), so if we unlearnt them they would be discovered rather quickly and people would experiment with them now rather than in the past. Given that there are more people today as opposed to yesteryear the amount of suffering generated by these experiments would likely be higher.

24 Broken Record MR Commenter December 20, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Liberalism is bad, mkay?

25 albatross December 20, 2015 at 4:54 pm

If you disappeared the idea of making/growing addictive substances, and also disappeared the addictions and memories of the addicts, you could probably make the world a much better place. Though that ignores the possibility that the other positive effects of the addictive substances and use outweigh the negative ones. Post-surgery, you’re probably going to be pretty unhappy that the making of morphine and related painkillers has been lost. And I have no idea how you’d account for the positive effects of alcohol or tobacco or marijuana, or for that matter crack or meth. Certainly a lot of people seem to find s great deal of pleasure in their use.

26 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 11:37 pm

How so?

27 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 4:01 am

Which is more likely to lead the world into a catastrophic war: militant Islam or militant Christianity? Imagine Cruz or Carson with keys to the nukes! Anyways, I consider militant Islam as more of a reaction than a cause.

How about the theory that Bible school (or madrassas) is a real education?

28 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 5:50 am

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 4:01 am

Which is more likely to lead the world into a catastrophic war: militant Islam or militant Christianity?

That has to be trolling. No one could be that puerile.

Imagine Cruz or Carson with keys to the nukes!

I am imagining. And guess what? The world would be fine.

Anyways, I consider militant Islam as more of a reaction than a cause.

Of course you do. Reality would require an actual substantive response from you. Better to retreat into drug-hazed alternative worlds.

How about the theory that Bible school (or madrassas) is a real education?

Bible schools like …. Yale? Or do you mean the Sorbonne? Oxford? Bible schools like those perhaps? Or perhaps you mean like Georgetown University?

29 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 6:06 am

Militant Christianity has access to a lot more, a bigger, bombs than militant Islam. You have Christian Republican candidates competing on who is more willing to be genocidal in the Middle East. I’m 100% serious.

Cruz or Carson with keys to nukes? Cruz wonders what colour the sand will be glowing when he’s done. That’s scary.

Militant Islam is a cause. We colonized them, and then significantly interfered in their domestic politics for most of post-WWII, removing leaders we didn’t like and blocking the losers from the political process. If you can’t see that as a cause for militancy, then it’s hard to take you seriously. I’m not against military interventions across the board, but the way it’s been done is bound to ruffle some feathers. Moreover, the USA trained the precursors to Al Qaeda and armed them thinking it would help to fight the Russians, which in my books counts as a cause.

None of the universities you mention have operated as Bible schools whatsoever in recent generations, although they still have a faculty of theology, which any diversified university should. I’m referring to K-12 education which teaches one religion to the exclusion of others.

30 dearieme December 20, 2015 at 7:23 am

“I’m referring to K-12 education which teaches one religion to the exclusion of others.” Really? You guys must have an Established Church of an old-fashioned sort.

31 chairman December 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

“Militant Islam is a cause. We colonized them, and then significantly interfered in their domestic politics for most of post-WWII, removing leaders we didn’t like and blocking the losers from the political process. If you can’t see that as a cause for militancy, then it’s hard to take you seriously.”

If militant Islam were taken off the table they could have channeled their discontents into a revolutionary ideology less harmful than Radical Islam. A secular pan-Arab nationalism, secular anti-imperialist socialism, etc. Probably any of those things would lead to some human suffering, but more or less than militant Islam?

32 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 6:06 am

Not a single militant Christian has access to a single bomb. It is absurd to claim because someone in the chain of command goes to Bible study that militant Christians pose a danger to the world. More people dealing with nuclear weapons are likely to play D&D but we do not say the Society for Creative Anachronism is a nuclear power.

Not that there are any militant Christians anyway.

Of course you are serious. But you are not a serious person. No one is planning genocide anywhere.

We did not colonize the Middle East and militant Islam has been killing people since the 7th century. Not our fault. We have not been very successful interfering in their internal politics either. Our friends always lose.

I like your …. inconsistency. Yale has not been a theological college for 50 years so it is not a Bible school. Militant Christians have not been killing each other for about 200 years but Cruz is Torquemada re-born.

33 Adrian Ratnapala December 20, 2015 at 8:22 am

I have my doubts about Yale.

34 Glenn Mercer December 20, 2015 at 11:59 am

I dunno, I have one of their products on my garden toolshed…. oh wait, sorry, yes, now I get it. 🙂

35 Art Deco December 20, 2015 at 9:47 am

He’s not trolling. Silly rhetorical question and absolutely in character.

36 Mike December 22, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Very fair comment, until Oxford and Sorbonne are deemed bible schools. No they’re not.

37 8 December 20, 2015 at 6:11 am

I can’t tell if you’re trolling. Militant Christians helped create the modern world.

38 Keith December 20, 2015 at 7:36 am

Can you name any leader in the last 50 years who has entered into a war in the name of Christ? Being a Christian is not the same thing.
Your comments seem to always be simplistic and not well thought out.

39 daguix December 20, 2015 at 11:01 am

George W Bush?

40 TMC December 20, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Bush is a technology? I thought it was Cheney who was Darth Vader.

41 serious question December 20, 2015 at 2:49 pm

@Keith,

Why limiting to the last 50 years?

42 A Definite Beta Guy December 21, 2015 at 10:45 am

Cruz is a non-interventionist and the least likely person on the stage to use any kind of bombs besides Rand Paul.

43 James Oswald December 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

Oh man, I didn’t think of religions. Uninventing a violent religion is probably likely to have positive impacts, although you could make the case that even an extremely peaceful religion (judged by foundational rhetoric, not behavior) like Christianity still managed to be very violent in practice, so who knows.

44 wazmo December 20, 2015 at 1:42 am

Twitter.

45 karl December 20, 2015 at 2:09 am

Is that a noun or an imperative?

46 Adrian Ratnpala December 20, 2015 at 5:21 am

The imperative would be “Tweet!”

47 karl December 20, 2015 at 5:05 pm

So the noun would be “twit”?

48 Antonios December 20, 2015 at 2:11 am

Seems like the low-fat foods theory has been a catastrophic failure.

Meant soft drinks were condoned (they’re sold everywhere, even in schools), meant traditional foods that tasted better and are healthier (butter, animal fats, ghee) were replaced with vegetable oils.

Absence of flavour through fats meant people went heavy on the sugar, thereby also destroying people’s palettes and the range of food on offer.

49 Jeff R. December 20, 2015 at 10:56 am

Yeah, I’d say that’s a good candidate. If you had to limit it to actual technology, though, how about unlearning how to make high fructose corn syrup?

50 Regular Guy December 20, 2015 at 2:18 am

Its a tough call because the modern world is pretty terrific really.

But if pressed I think unwinding modern weaponry back to blades, archery and perhaps muzzle loaders would be a smart move…. if we could keep the war-preventing large scale weapons (like Tyler said… “so far”).

I guess that means unlearning the modern powder-encased bullet?

51 TMC December 20, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Cause the civil war was so … civil?

52 ZZZ December 20, 2015 at 1:26 pm

From the Romans to the Rwandans edged weapons are the preferred tool of genocide. I don’t see how eliminating the metallic cartridge or really all modern weapons would save any lives.

53 fwiw December 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm

I think it would make loss of life more predictable.

i.e. if you are in a safe place (like a movie theater), you can expect to be safe. If you are in an unsafe place (like Sudan), it will still be unsafe.

54 Kronrod December 20, 2015 at 2:21 am

What about overly expensive medicine? Overly expensive medication introduces an ethical dilemma as it forces the rational human to not use it and thereby intentionally cause suffering. Without the existence of overly expensive medicine, we would not face that dilemma. Btw: I would gladly agree to be treated with the technology of 1990 if the medical insurance cost would also be frozen on the level of 1990.

55 Larry Siegel December 20, 2015 at 4:52 am

Obviously you don’t have HIV (there was no usable treatment in 1990) or one of a number of rare cancers that are now treated fairly easily.

56 Aaron December 20, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Replace “Obviously” with “Statistically.” Reads nicely.

57 TMC December 20, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Yep, statistically, he’d be dead.

58 ivvenalis December 20, 2015 at 2:34 am

Synthetic pathogenic organisms.

59 Brandon Berg December 20, 2015 at 3:38 am

This was my first thought, and the one that scares the hell out of me. Control over biology has the potential to do tremendous good, even end natural death. But I don’t see how we get to that level of control without also getting to a point where a lone nut, or perhaps some kind of cult, can engineer a pandemic.

60 prior_test December 20, 2015 at 4:38 am

You just need enough ferrets, as noted in 2011 –

‘This week the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), following advice from the independent National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), recommended that the journals Science and Nature withhold key details of two studies in which mutant H5N1 flu strains gained the ability to spread between ferrets by the airborne route. HHS promised to work on a mechanism for providing the full details to scientists who need them.

One of the studies was done by a team led by Dr. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands and was submitted to Science. The other, led by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo, was submitted to Nature.

The editors of the journals have said they are considering the government recommendation and waiting to see what sort of plan officials propose for sharing the details with experts.

The concern is that publication of the reports could lead to the unleashing, through a laboratory accident or criminal activity, of a highly dangerous virus: an H5N1 strain that could spread quickly from person to person across the globe. H5N1 disease is often lethal in humans, with a fatality rate of about 59% in confirmed cases, but the virus has not gained the ability to spread easily in people. The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 574 cases of H5N1 since 2003, including 337 deaths.’ http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2011/12/fears-about-mutant-h5n1-hinge-ferrets-flu-model

This is how easy it is to do, by the way – ‘Naturally occurring H5N1 viruses act much the same in ferrets as in humans: They cause severe disease but they do not spread efficiently, either by respiratory droplets or direct contact. Fouchier and his colleagues wanted to identify mutations that would make H5N1 spread more easily in ferrets, and by implication in humans as well, so that scientists could be alert for those mutations in wild strains.

Fouchier’s team introduced various mutations into H5N1 viruses and found that as few as five single mutations enabled them to bind to human nasal and tracheal cells in lab cultures, according to a Scientific American report of Fouchier’s comments at a European meeting in September. But this mutant strain still didn’t spread easily in ferrets.

The scientists then allowed the mutant strain to evolve naturally in ferrets, according to the report. They infected one ferret and, after it got sick, used a specimen from it to infect a second ferret. Ten repetitions of this “passaging” process led to an H5N1 strain that could spread among ferrets by air, without direct contact. This mutant strain was said to be just as lethal in the ferrets as its predecessor.’

Maybe we should just unlearn germ theory? Because let us be honest, this process is really, really cheap, and involves nothing that even a totalitarian state is likely to pick up on before an ‘improved’ form of an already naturally occurring and deadly virus is sweeping through the population. And punishing the ‘evildoers’ will be pretty tough, if it is just one person hiding out in a cabin in the woods, ala the Unabomber.

61 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 5:03 am

Thanks for the information. I would add that H5N1 mortality estimates are most likely a vast overestimate, given that the strain of most flu sufferers is never identified, except in cases of mortality. It still concerns me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual number were more like a few percent (uneducated hunch).

62 prior_test December 20, 2015 at 6:07 am

The estimates for influenza fatality rates are always imprecise. But then, here is what a fatality rate of between 3 to 5 percent looks like – ‘The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus.[1] It infected 500 million people across the world,[2] including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million (three to five percent of the world’s population[3]), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic

63 albatross December 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Unlearning the germ theory of disease would kill unbelieveable numbers of people.

64 Various December 20, 2015 at 2:48 am

I’m with MK. Having no AK-47s wouldn’t matter because there are other similar rifles out there, many of which are superior. I also would scratch cluster bombs because cluster bombs aren’t any nastier (in my humble opinion) than plain old bombs (MK 81, Mk 82, etc.) and artillery. A few things I would consider putting on the list: the ICBM (i.e., which implies first strike capability), income tax withholding, the VT “proximity” fuse.

65 yenwoda December 20, 2015 at 9:50 am

The problem with cluster bombs isn’t wartime lethality, it’s the greatly increased and harder to detect postwar UXO.

66 C.L. December 20, 2015 at 2:49 am

Facebook, Twitter, Spam, Cellphones, Communism, Islam, Utilitarianism, Rawl’s Theory of Justice, Universal suffrage, Environmentalism, Homeopathy, Leaf Blowers and Windows Vista.

67 Samuel December 20, 2015 at 4:08 am

Can you count?

68 fwiw December 20, 2015 at 2:32 pm

I think his list can be summed up as ‘people who aren’t me’.

69 Various December 20, 2015 at 2:52 am

Actually scratch the VT fuse. I put it on the list because the U.S.’s superiority in air power means we lost lots of aircraft to these in Vietnam, etc., and will probably lose more in the future. However, I forgot the lives saved in England during the 2nd blitz and off Iwo Jima and Okinawa, were these fuses were essential to defeating the V-1s and Kamikazes, respectively. My bad.

70 Fulk Nerra December 20, 2015 at 3:14 am

I would probably go for the jet engine. Easy international air travel is turning the world into a greyish goo of international hotels, coasts smeared in concrete and a cultural mush in which more and more of the world’s variety is being sucked and dissolved.

71 Larry Siegel December 20, 2015 at 4:56 am

You must not have any relatives or close friends in New Zealand or Uganda or some place that takes five days to get to by propeller plane.

I think that air travel is one of the top three innovations in all of modern history. The others are the car and the telephone.

72 Ed December 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

That’s interesting, since international air travel, the car, and the telephone is exactly what came to my mind when I first thought about innovations we would be better off without.

Though on second thought, I like the suggestion that the world would be better off without the invention of Islam.

That is the problem with these threads, they are too sprawling and dependent on emotional, superficial reactions. Taking a specific innovation and asking “did the benefits really exceed the costs” would promote a much better, more in depth discussion.

73 fwiw December 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Christianity?

Serious question, which religion is responsible for more deaths and cultural destruction, do you think?

74 really? December 20, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Serious? Try ignorant or deluded, and that’s being charitable.

Most here could probably name Islam, but the one that holds the record for both is clearly Marxism, in total body count as well as rate of killing. The cultural revolution and critical theory are both explicit attempts to eradicate culture entirely, putting the most extreme wahabi iconoclasm to shame.

Well, at least your question was ignorant/bigoted enough to get me to respond, so I might as well address the OP’s question.

Banning ideas is stupid – even if the idea is as evil as communism. Marxism is based on envy and spite, and those are just the dark side of human nature. Unlearning technologies is similarly futile, as long as the pressures that led to their development still exist.

Motion pictures/TV have enabled mass society and the atrocities of the 20th. century, but they were all but inevitable. Similarly, one can argue the pill has reduced women to the status of public sex utilities and destroyed the family and society, or one can simply acknowledge that when the pill didn’t exist, certain men were willing to expend great effort to create it, and they succeeded.

So the whole premise is really anachronistic – a throwback to the idea of banning witchcraft and sorcery. Technology is not a force shaping human destiny, but rather a tool (albeit powerful) that humans use to shape their destiny.

The forces that shape human destiny are the biological imperatives of survival and reproduction in the face of epistemological and cognitive limitations, channeled through our biological and cultural heritage.

Once we recognise this, we can talk about how best to go about the task, keeping in mind that our vaunted logic remains a slave to those imperatives, and cannot therefore be used to avoid conflict.

All that having been said, the single most potentially destructive idea out there is the idea of peace through unity. This would only be possible if we were all to agree to the answer for all fundamental questions. The resulting lack of diversity would see the end of the human race in a very short time, since the chance of getting all the answers right is for all practical purposes zero (assuming a complete such set of cosmic “right” answers even exists).

Still, you cannot ban the idea – humans have dreamed of avoiding conflict and sacrifice for as long as they have been on this earth. And it remains perhaps the single most important cause of conflict (with incompetence a close second).

75 fwiw December 20, 2015 at 11:46 pm

Way to dodge the question.

It’s not an obvious answer at all. People have wiped out entire civilizations in the name of Christ.

76 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 11:48 pm

I`m not convinced that the eventual downfall of the authorities in either Russia or China would have led to fewer casualities had the revolutionaries appealed to some other “ism” to mobilize people.

It’s the problem with blaming the deaths on “isms”. Arguably, certain groups (wannabe elites who are close to power but now in it?) will end up to appealing to any old “ism”, whichever one they feel is most likely to motivate the masses into fighting the war.

Re: the pill. I think women appreciate this more than men. It gives them control over their bodies.

I also disagree that we have to agree on all fundamental questions to have peace. If we can reduce those fundamental questions to one thing: “anyone who attacks anyone gets a shitstorm from everyone else and ends up dead”, then you pretty much have it. We can still disagree on loads of other things which are vitally important to diverse cultures.

77 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 1:58 am

fwiw December 20, 2015 at 11:46 pm

It’s not an obvious answer at all. People have wiped out entire civilizations in the name of Christ.

Yeah? Name three. Christians usually put more effort into saving and preserving other cultures that destroying them. That is why most Third World peoples learn to write their language from missionaries.

While on the other hand one of the early Muslim accounts of India say their army took a city and after they slaughtered everyone in it, they found a lot of books. But no one could tell them what they said because there was no one left who could read that language.

It is no contest. Islam has destroyed more. That is why there are none of the original inhabitants in places like Sindh and soon there won’t be any left in the Middle East either.

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 11:48 pm

I`m not convinced that the eventual downfall of the authorities in either Russia or China would have led to fewer casualities had the revolutionaries appealed to some other “ism” to mobilize people.

Yes but why would anyone take this opinion seriously? Given by your own admission you do not know much. Communism is uniquely violent and murderous. More so than any other -ism. No other ideology in either Russia or China could possibly have resulted in the same death toll. Why would anyone want to kill so many harmless people?

Arguably, certain groups (wannabe elites who are close to power but now in it?) will end up to appealing to any old “ism”, whichever one they feel is most likely to motivate the masses into fighting the war.

See what I mean?

If we can reduce those fundamental questions to one thing: “anyone who attacks anyone gets a shitstorm from everyone else and ends up dead”, then you pretty much have it. We can still disagree on loads of other things which are vitally important to diverse cultures.

We can’t do that in the West any more because the Left simple re-defines what an attack is. Apparently wearing a sombrero is equivalent to genocide or something. Certainly the rest of the world cannot do it – look at Islamists who claim they are under attack because they can’t throw gay people off buildings or stone adulterers to death.

78 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 3:45 am

SMFM – More people died in the Taipeng Rebellion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion) than during the communist conflicts. Ergo, communism is not necessary for lots of people to die.

Re: Islam, perception they are the ones being attacked, and gays – They aren’t claiming that they are under attack because they can’t kill gays (although this bothers me). They claim they are under attack because they’re under attack. I don’t like Taliban or any of the other violent extremists (Christian extremists included), but given that in both Iraq and Afghanistan, US-led forces engaged in military invasion to overthrow the Islamists, it boggles my mind that people can’t understand why they feel like they are being attacked. FEEL like it?

We overthrew the god damned system. If that’s not attack then what the hell is?

Now tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t take your concern for gay Muslims seriously. I think you’re using it as propaganda and really couldn’t gives two shits about gay Muslims being thrown off buildings. After all, it doesn’t seem that you could care less about the well-being of Muslims in general, so why believe that you care about the gay ones?

79 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 5:45 am

Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 3:45 am

More people died in the Taipeng Rebellion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion) than during the communist conflicts. Ergo, communism is not necessary for lots of people to die.

Define conflict. Yes, the Taiping rebellion killed a lot of people. Civil wars do that. It doesn’t mean the Taipings killed them all. You may as well say the war against the Japanese killed about as many as the Taiping rebels and Mao is to blame for everyone. Mao and his Communists killed twice as many during three years of peace because they wanted to force the peasants into collective farms and then take all their crops from them. Mao and his friends killed a tenth as many in 1950 alone because they wanted to create terror in every village in China.

They aren’t claiming that they are under attack because they can’t kill gays (although this bothers me).

Yes they are. Get out more.

I don’t like Taliban or any of the other violent extremists (Christian extremists included)

Name three violent Christian extremists. Again you are young. You need to grow out of this.

but given that in both Iraq and Afghanistan, US-led forces engaged in military invasion to overthrow the Islamists, it boggles my mind that people can’t understand why they feel like they are being attacked.

Nor can I given no one gave a damn about Afghanistan until they attacked the US. If they want to be left alone, they need to leave other people alone. No one gave a damn about Iraq until they invaded Kuwait and every country on the planet begged the US to do something about it. They are not being attacked. They are lying and paranoid.

Now tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t take your concern for gay Muslims seriously.

I don’t care if you do. What relevance is it?

80 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 8:42 am

“Define conflict.”
– high level conflict is defined by many experts as more than 1000 casualties per year. Since the conversation seems to be “who killed the most people ever” I don’t think we need to trouble ourselves with such arbitrary definitions.

” Mao and his Communists killed twice as many during three years of peace”
– most of them died during a famine in the 1950s, and arguably drought was the main cause (collectivization policies presumably didn’t help). It is believed that, due to poor communication, Mao didn’t even know people were dying until most of the 10-30 million starvations occurred. It was, and long had been, a country or poor peasants. You can’t blame every early death on Mao.

“Yes they are” (claiming that they are under attack because they can’t kill gays)
– I understand that openly LGBT people have it pretty bad in Muslim countries (and since you recently mentioned Uganda for its good job in preaching about moral ethics, don’t forget that Uganda recently reinstated the death penalty for being gay). But they claim they are under attack because they are literally under attack. OUR armies are in THEIR lands. I support fighting ISIS and the Taliban, but an entire century of incessant meddling in their political systems, including many CIA-assisted coups to dump elected Islamist governments, suggests that – YES, THEY ARE UNDER ATTACK AND HAVE BEEN FOR A VERY LONG TIME.

“Name three violent Christian extremists”
– They join the army and get medals when they kill lots of people. Not to insult the army in general, as people end up there for all sorts of reasons, but easily there are tens of thousands of violent Christian extremists within the ranks of the US army.

” Christians usually put more effort into saving and preserving other cultures that destroying them.”
– This is a very recent thing (late 19th century British and French efforts in particular), and these missionaries were supported by the empire, not because they wanted to PRESERVE culture, but so they could document it and better understand how to control/govern the colonies. I appreciate these efforts because I can learn about some cultures through works which are now off copyright and openly available on the internet, but you are sorely mistaken if you think the resource allocation was driven by an actual desire to preserve culture. And even from the missionaries’ perspective? They were missionaries for God’s sake. They wanted to understand the people so they could figure out how to convert them! Is the goal of converting everyone not the same as the goal of destroying the culture?

“Yeah? Name three” (entire civilizations wiped out in the name of Christ)
– How about every single civilization/culture that existed in Europe. Hear much about Thor these days? How about druids? How about the diverse pagan religions? There’s the three that you asked for, and I suggest that there are dozens or hundreds more, because presumably most were based on oral tradition and ritual practices and had not written scripture to offer us solid proof of their practices/existence. ALL OF THEM, COMPLETELY DESTROYED. And they did a pretty complete job at almost completely eradicating a great number of civilizations in the Americas too, although in most cases there were enough survivors to at least recall some notion that they had formerly been something.

Meanwhile, diverse religions have coexisted with Islam in the Middle East well into the 20th century, and it is only a very recent thing (e.g., ISIS) that some violent radicals have turned to the practice of apparently trying to wipe out other religions. The Qur’an is very explicit. Conversion is not to be under compulsion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Baqara_256.

81 dearieme December 20, 2015 at 3:28 am

TV. Statins. Global Warmmongering.

82 S December 20, 2015 at 3:52 am

The bicycle. Good invention, but bike activist are the most annoying people on the planet. It will be worth the cost.

83 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 3:56 am

Disagree. Car activists are worse. They want others to pay for their wasteful lifestyle, for example building massive roads that provide poor connectivity and high congestion compared to a widely used mass transit, or refusing to pay for the full cost of wide car ownership on society such as related to pollution.

84 S December 20, 2015 at 4:05 am

It was joke, man. That said, you did really a good impersonation of an annoying ass bike activist.

85 dearieme December 20, 2015 at 5:25 am

Nathan is a leftie. He doesn’t get jokes.

86 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 6:09 am

Here’s a joke. Hardline right wingers always think that moderates are left wing. Oh, it’s not a joke, it’s true.

What leads to you have the opinion that I’m left wing?

87 ladderff December 20, 2015 at 7:15 am

And there’s your answer.

88 Adrian Ratnapala December 20, 2015 at 8:19 am

It didn’t look much like a joke to me either.

Anyway, it makes perfect sense that bike riders and car drivers would each want the road rules to suit them. Though it is fair enough that cars get the most attention. The trouble is that some of the rules (when you can turn left, what counts as a one-way) that make sense for cars don’t make sense for bikes.

89 really? December 20, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Nice theory, except that what bike activists want is dangerous and utterly unsuitable for bikes, but they are happy to sacrifice a few cyclists for power. A bike-friendly policy would seek more bike lanes in visible positions on (slow) access roads, which is completely compatible with a car-friendly policy that optimises traffic flow on (fast) arterial roads. Much more important, a bike-friendly policy would provide for secure parking of bikes, because theft is probably the biggest deterrent facing cyclists.

The watermelons would fight such a policy to the bitter end, of course, because they really don’t give a rodent’s posterior about either bikers or the environment. They are in it to salve their crippled egos and to impose their ideology on others. Envy and spite are powerful emotions.

90 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 11:52 pm

Most of them just want 3 feet to themselves so they’re not continuously on the verge of getting run over.

91 T. Shaw December 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

“. . . want others to pay for their wasteful lifestyle,”

You don’t know much about CAFI and numerous auto efficiency and emissions regulations and the costs they added to autos, do you?

Beginning with the above higher costs and sales taxes on the auto purchases and running through gasoline taxes and bridge/road tolls, car owners/operators pay for their “wasteful” lifestyle. The roads and bridges no longer need tolls. They have been paid for over and over. It’s mass transit that runs on huge deficits.

In NY, drivers pay huge tolls on bridges, much of which is redistributed to uneconomical mass transit. NYTA fares barely cover mass transit operating expenses much less necessary capital expenditures.

Plus, many auto operators pay multitudes on Federal, local and state income taxes. So, saying they want others to pay is just wrong.

Yeah, NW, you’re a leftist. Thing is (like most elitists) you have a massive deficit in self-awareness and a galactic surplus in hypocrisy. If you are a moderate, it’s moderate commie.

92 Dont_Think_Twice December 20, 2015 at 1:31 pm

“You don’t know much about CAFI and numerous auto efficiency and emissions regulations and the costs they added to autos, do you?”

Those regulations are an attempt to internalize the externality cars create when they emit pollutants into the air.

93 really? December 20, 2015 at 9:09 pm

If we charitably concede that those regulations are actually attempting to do that, we must concede that they do the very opposite.

Once such large sums of capital are sunk into meeting those standards, we are locked into the obsolete technology they are “regulating”.
The economically literate way to internalise pollution costs would be a tax on actual pollution (as opposed to, say, income) emitted, which can be reasonably estimated from existing emissions test + odometer readings.

But that would defeat the real purpose of CAFE, wouldn’t it?

For the record, I am actually in favour of collecting taxes for things like roads and pollution from cars (i.e. based on environmental footprint), but not as long as the present system of taxes and pollution “regulation” remains in place (in other words: or, not and).

The loudest opposition to such improvements would, of course, be led by the watermelons (e.g. bike activists).

94 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 4:00 am

really – I also (I think ideologically) favour the pollution tax (“incentive”) approach to addressing externalities because I believe free marketist mantras about human ingenuity and market solutions. It bothers me that implies that very wealthy people would be essentially unmoved by the size of tax that would influence most people.

A good argument in favour of regulation of car makers rather than taxes on consumers is that corporations are more “rational” – they may respond to regulations designed to influence fleet-wide production, whereas consumers may just say “oooohhh I LIKE the way this one drives” and neglect to account for the future pollution taxes they might pay.

Oh whether bike/car lobbies are more annoying: well, given that the car industry is one of the largest on the planet, it shouldn’t be surprising that they do a better job of crafting messages which appeal to the ear and in particular America’s love of driving and hate of taxes – bike lobbyists are pretty amateurish in comparison, and do not benefit from things like focus groups to weed out messages/strategies which will piss off people like the guy who started this thread.

I like the Chinese approach: very high cost for licensing in cities with pollution and congestion problems, designed to reduce the number of cars on the road. Major roads also have an additional lane separated by a boulevard which is generally used by cyclists and motorcycles.

95 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 12:02 am

Sorry, I forget that externalities are a fabrication of the imagination.

I stupidly assumed that this concept reflects reality and duly repent for my hypocrisy.

Mass transit would be incredibly economical if it weren’t for America’s love of wasteful cars, which limits the potential efficiencies of scales due to lower ridership. I’m sympathetic to the idea that there’s quite a lot of consumer surplus for those who simply prefer their own space, but the notion that it’s not wasteful doesn’t make sense to me.

Observe that I haven’t revealed my preferred policy, yet you are convinced that I’m practically communist for pointing out the fact that wide ownership of cars is wasteful compared to wide use of mass transit. I’m not the one suffering from ideological affiliation here.

96 Jeff R. December 20, 2015 at 11:01 am

If we’re just going for eliminating annoyances, I’d say start with car alarms.

97 Cooper December 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm

I think when they first came out, car alarms helped to reduce auto thefts.

There are undoubted tens of thousands of cars that went undisturbed thanks to those alarms. The effect might have worn off by now but there was clearly still a positive impact of a period of time.

98 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 3:52 am

Music streaming is very useful for some artists to attract an audience.

I’m with Dzhaughn – unlearning mind control and psychological torture techniques would be good, with the exception that it would have to be unlearned everywhere because if the Russians/Chinese/ISIS/etc. are good at it and the CIA/et al. unlearn it, then this is a major disadvantage if agents get taken into custody and are unaware of or unprepared for it. Then again, it’s sort of a natural (?) extension of things like good parenting and schooling, where you have positive reinforcement for “good” behaviour and negative reinforcement for “bad” behaviour – just applied to the extreme and to generally evil ends.

99 prior_test December 20, 2015 at 3:58 am

Man, still the best satirical site on the web, especially in light of this remark – ‘Music streaming (or is it the MP3?) doesn’t seem important enough, still I do not think it will improve creativity over the longer run. In this sector I care more about the total quality of product than about maximizing the sum total of consumer plus producer surplus.’

Maybe Prof. Cowen should read the blurb for In Praise of Commercial Culture, written in 2000. A book that argues ‘that the capitalist market economy is a vital but underappreciated institutional framework for supporting a plurality of co-existing artistic visions, providing a steady stream of new and satisfying creations, supporting both high and low culture, helping consumers and artists refine their tastes, and paying homage to the past by capturing, reproducing, and disseminating it.’ The author of that book seems convinced that capitalism, a form of economic activity that notably cares only about surplus in the form of profit, is the basis for producing quality, though mainly as an apparently unintended side effect.

Maybe Prof. Cowen could have a chat with that author about their differing views?

100 Ray Lopez December 20, 2015 at 4:21 am

Ho-hum, boring. TC should go to the jugular and reference this book, which is chock full of good ideas (as is this author, who is the editor for several such books):

This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress (Edge Question Series) – John Brockman

101 Jer December 20, 2015 at 11:26 am

nice. some entries include:

Steven Pinker dismantles the working theory of human behavior

Richard Dawkins renounces essentialism

Sherry Turkle reevaluates our expectations of artificial intelligence

Geoffrey West challenges the concept of a “Theory of Everything”

Andrei Linde suggests that our universe and its laws may not be as unique as we think

Martin Rees explains why scientific understanding is a limitless goal

Nina Jablonski argues to rid ourselves of the concept of race

Alan Guth rethinks the origins of the universe

Hans Ulrich Obrist warns against glorifying unlimited economic growth…

But, I imagine that it gets preachy, existential, sentimental, and indulgent… which is quite ironic to the title and intent…

102 J December 20, 2015 at 4:31 am

The Pill. I mean cheap, easily accessible Pill. It has destroyed traditional morality and weakened family.

103 prior_test December 20, 2015 at 4:40 am

Though it has prevented a large number of abortions, which has to be a net good, right?

104 Larry Siegel December 20, 2015 at 4:59 am

Sure, but not the most important one. The world’s population growth rate is finally under control, and after growing for millennia, population will peak sometime in this century – at a level only 30-40% above the current level. It’s practically a miracle, but it’s not actually a miracle – it’s due to economic growth plus easy availability of birth control.

105 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 6:00 am

The Pill has not prevented any abortions. People are not the simplistic creatures you seem to think they are. What the Pill has contributed to is a growth of the number of people with a morally disordered life style. That in turns means more abortions. We have a lot more now than when abortion was first legalized.

Back before the Pill people were careful who they had sex with. Thus few abortions. After the Pill they were encouraged to sleep around and they did. Thus lots of abortions. You can see this in the African American community and increasingly in the poor White communities.

It is also true of HIV. It is why the Pope is right about AIDS. And why there have been few successes against HIV beyond Uganda’s insistence on a moral traditional morality. More condoms seems to mean more HIV.

106 prior_test December 20, 2015 at 6:09 am

‘The Pill has not prevented any abortions.’

You really should start talking with more women, to be honest.

107 fwiw December 20, 2015 at 2:36 pm

I think the problem is probably that they don’t like talking with him.

108 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Nice attempt at shaming there dudes. I like the idea that the great moral issues of our day should be settled according to whether they help you get laid or not. Speaking of which, thanks for your concern, but I do not need to adopt a fake male-feminist persona to get laid.

In the meantime this is a question of fact. What you personally think or hope about what women do is irrelevant. What they do do is what matters. As we see with the African American community which has the highest rates of abortion in the country. Despite widespread contraception use. Which is not surprising as people like Planned Parenthood started out trying to eliminate Blacks.

109 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 6:22 am

What’s a “morally disordered lifestyle’? Sex is natural.

The notion that the pill does not prevent abortions is beyond absurd. But not nearly as absurd as your claim that the pill CAUSED more abortions. People in all times and places have slept around to varying degrees. No one needed to encourage them to do this. It is natural.

HIV – much like teenage pregnancy, lecturing people about morals is basically useless. Condoms work, and that is the main thing to talk about in a world where people may choose to engage in risky behaviours. HIV infection rates are down in loads of countries, so the case of Uganda does prove anything. The most effective thing is for people to understand that a) it exists, b) it’s sexually transmitted, c) the types of risky behaviours which increase the probability of exposure (without lecturing them on “traditional morality”, but pointing out that multiple partners is a risk factor) and d) ensuring affordable access to condoms.

110 Keith December 20, 2015 at 7:30 am

Sex is natural. So is murder, rape, incest etc. You have to do better than that.

111 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 7:49 am

Keith – sex is not only natural, but it’s pleasurable for all involved. When between two consensual adults, what can be said against it?

Murder, rape and incest are universally despised. Not at all the same thing.

112 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 6:22 am

Only a child would think that because something is natural it must be good.

The Pill does not prevent abortions. This is a fact. Accept it as it ain’t going to change because you do not like it. As can be seen by the growth of abortions since Roe v Wade.

People have slept around in varying degrees. The key words being “in varying degrees”. So again you miss the point. The degree has indeed varied. The pill allows it to do so. The more disordered people’s private lives are, the more abortions they have.

The only thing that has worked for HIV so far is Uganda’s ABC campaign. Which was, as you say, lecturing them about morals. Condoms do not work. We have pushed condoms as hard as we can, if you will forgive the expression. They have not done much for HIV infection rates. The more we push condoms, the more people we will ensure get HIV. The Pope is actually right on this issue.

113 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 7:49 am

sex is not only natural, but it’s pleasurable for all involved. When between two consensual adults, what can be said against it?

So again we are back to reality needing to change to fit your desire to get laid? It is irrelevant whether it is pleasurable or not. We are not discussing that. You may need to keep changing the subject, but it is not going to help your argument. A lot can be said against it. Sex does not occur in a vacuum nor does it have no lingering effects. But saying so would be irrelevant as it has nothing to do with this discussion.

Murder, rape and incest are universally despised. Not at all the same thing.

No they are not. Get out more.

114 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 12:08 am

SMFS – “Condoms do not work.” – haha. OK, not 100%, but mostly that’s because people don’t use them 100% of the time or aren’t careful.

EH – HIV rates in Botswana are declining: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.AIDS.ZS

I understand that multiple partners is the main risk factor for STDs. Instead of lecturing people on morals, just educate them clearly on this fact. There is no particular reason to believe that Uganda’s lectures on morals were effective, and that instead is was education about risk factors like multiple partners.

115 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 2:07 am

Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 12:08 am

OK, not 100%, but mostly that’s because people don’t use them 100% of the time or aren’t careful.

No, they don’t work because if you encourage people to sleep with anything that moves, but to always wear a condom, they are likely to get it half right. You increase moral disorder and you increase all sorts of moral disorders. Including the ability to use a condom.

I understand that multiple partners is the main risk factor for STDs. Instead of lecturing people on morals, just educate them clearly on this fact.

So you think that telling people science says not to sleep around because of HIV will work, but telling them that science and the Pope say they should not sleep around won’t? An interesting theory.

It is always easier to work with traditional views than against them. Telling people life should be one long non-stop sausage-fest as long as they wear a condom is complex and likely to be ignored. Telling them that sleeping around is unhealthy has been shown to work.

There is no particular reason to believe that Uganda’s lectures on morals were effective, and that instead is was education about risk factors like multiple partners.

In other words you cannot accept what contradicts your priors.

116 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 4:03 am

I’m not saying that the Pope should shut up. I saying that the Pope’s message isn’t reaching people who sleep around.

Try science.

117 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 5:50 am

Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 4:03 am

I’m not saying that the Pope should shut up. I saying that the Pope’s message isn’t reaching people who sleep around.

Well that is kind of obvious isn’t it? It is not as if people who sleep around are listening to him almost by definition. However when the government of Uganda pushes his message too, it does work. It may also be behind successes in places like Thailand – the Thailand government has pushed condoms but actually there has been a massive change in behavior. Men have stopped sleeping with quite so many prostitutes quite so often.

Try science.

The science says the Pope is right and condoms do not work.

118 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 8:48 am

“The science says the Pope is right and condoms do not work.”

Where do you get this idea?

Do you think things worked in in Uganda because of a moralizing message from the pope, or because someone spread the word that HIV is real and that having sex (without a condom) with lots of people is one of the main ways to get HIV (in that context)?

I highly doubt that the moralizing message was very relevant. I believe that simply pointing out transmission risk factors was the main factor.

119 A Definite Beta Guy December 21, 2015 at 10:23 am

“I understand that multiple partners is the main risk factor for STDs. Instead of lecturing people on morals, just educate them clearly on this fact. ” -That’s called slut-shaming, sir. Please report to your nearest safe space for re-education.

120 albatross December 21, 2015 at 11:29 am

SMFS is right in one important respect: From the moral beliefs of most people in the US as of, say, 1900 (at least the widely expressed ones), the sexual revolution led to a world that is shockingly immoral. It doesn’t strike most of us in the early 21st century as immoral for much the same reason that the stuff we find shockingly immoral in, say, 1900 or 1950 mostly didn’t upset the people living then and there. (For what it’s worth, I’m happier with the world we have now in moral terms, unwed mothers and all, than the world of 1900 in moral terms.)

I suspect the pill is only one part of that revolution–IUDs are probably capable of triggering a sexual revolution about as well as the pill and require less technology. There was a large collection of forces at work driving that change, and technology was only one part. (Also, I suspect greater mobility and greater mechanization both contributed a lot to it.)

121 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 8:48 am

Do you think things worked in in Uganda because of a moralizing message from the pope, or because someone spread the word that HIV is real and that having sex (without a condom) with lots of people is one of the main ways to get HIV (in that context)?

We have been trying to tell Africans to always wear a condom across Africa. It has not been working. Uganda tried telling people not to sleep around. It worked. It is true that if you deny HIV like South Africa’s ANC government did, it does not help. But no one else is doing that so it is irrelevant.

I highly doubt that the moralizing message was very relevant. I believe that simply pointing out transmission risk factors was the main factor.

Science is fun until it violates your priors isn’t it? But the evidence is what the evidence is. You can accept it or not.

122 Anon December 20, 2015 at 4:53 pm

The abortion rate has been falling ever since the early eighties. Isnt this “morally disordered lifestyle” of which you speak declining in popularity despite the existence of the pill.

123 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm

It may be. Or not. There is some evidence it is because online porn means people staying home and w@nking themselves into a coma. Which has limited risks as far as abortion goes.

But it also may be a feature of the reporting. Since the 1980s we have had morning after pills or the like. Most of these reports are based on asking Planned Parenthood how many abortions they have carried out. If women are opting for a more DIY solution, it won’t come up in the figures.

It may also be because of the aging population.

124 anon December 21, 2015 at 12:24 am

The rate of teen pregnancies has fallen much more than the amount of sex that teens are having.

125 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 4:05 am

The morning after pill is not an abortion.

The pill gives women control over their bodies, and therefore reduces unwanted pregnancies.

126 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 5:56 am

Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 4:05 am

The morning after pill is not an abortion.

That is a quibble. Even if you were right.

The pill gives women control over their bodies, and therefore reduces unwanted pregnancies.

That is a mindless political slogan. And the evidence shows it is not true. If you undermine traditional family structures, if you encourage sex outside marriage, if you endorse a disordered moral life, then you get more abortions. We have done this experiment. The number of abortions did not go down after the invention of the Pill. It sky rocketed everywhere the Pill was introduced.

You can take that as a disaster or you can take it as a good thing. It doesn’t matter. It remains what it is.

127 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 8:55 am

“The pill gives women control over their bodies, and therefore reduces unwanted pregnancies. … That is a mindless political slogan.”

Not mindless. People really feel that way. It means that women can have sex and not get pregnant. That’s a really big deal. That’s control over their bodies. You may not like it, but that’s real control.

“And the evidence shows it is not true. … The number of abortions did not go down after the invention of the Pill. It sky rocketed everywhere the Pill was introduced.”

Man oh man. Statistics 101. Correlation is not causation. The pill didn’t cause the abortions. The pill became widespread at a similar time to when abortions became allowed. I can similarly argue that the lack of pirates is causing global warming, a central tenet of faith in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/03/23/true-fact-the-lack-of-pirates-is-causing-global-warming/.

128 So Much For Subtlety December 21, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 8:55 am

Not mindless. People really feel that way.

So it is mindless. You seem to think the two contradict each other.

It means that women can have sex and not get pregnant. That’s a really big deal. That’s control over their bodies. You may not like it, but that’s real control.

That is the theory. It has not been the practice.

Correlation is not causation. The pill didn’t cause the abortions. The pill became widespread at a similar time to when abortions became allowed.

Then the rate of abortions should have gone down. It didn’t. It went up as life styles changed. Correlation is not causation. But causation is.

129 Don Reba December 20, 2015 at 5:07 am

Troll farms.

130 MichaelG December 20, 2015 at 5:08 am

I’m going to shoot much lower. Get rid of car alarms. Useless and annoying.

131 Curt F. December 20, 2015 at 9:23 am

+1, best answer so far.

132 Randall Parker December 20, 2015 at 3:35 pm

+1

With MichaelG on car alarms.

133 daguix December 20, 2015 at 5:11 am

Cigarettes of course! You would save one billion lives during the course of the century. Second would probably be alcohol and third crack-cocaine.

134 jim jones December 20, 2015 at 6:57 am

You really think you are never going to die if you don`t smoke cigarettes?

135 Curt F. December 20, 2015 at 9:25 am

Smoking as a form of drug delivery is a good answer. It’s vastly inferior to a long list of technologies that we now have. If only we could go back in time and teach the original tobacco farmers the virtues of transdermal absorption.

136 daguix December 20, 2015 at 10:59 am

Without cigarettes, people will die later and less painfully.

137 Cliff Arroyo December 20, 2015 at 5:39 am

smartphones! They make everything worse!

138 Joan December 20, 2015 at 5:44 am

Nuclear weapons because a major nuclear war could do as much damage as a comet impact and is more likely.

139 albatross December 20, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Nuclear weapons make sense to me, too, assuming you can keep them from being reinvented. If mankind wipes itself out in the next 30 years, it’ll probably be from nukes. But that means disappearing all kinds of physics knowledge, or disappearing the knowledge would just lead all the great powers to rerun the Manhattan project with modern technology.

140 James Drogan December 20, 2015 at 5:53 am

Machine learning; I fear there is an uncontrollable dark side here.

141 jp December 20, 2015 at 6:04 am

“Music streaming (or is it the MP3?) doesn’t seem important enough, still I do not think it will improve creativity over the longer run. In this sector I care more about the total quality of product than about maximizing the sum total of consumer plus producer surplus.”

Maybe *you* care more about that. Because you’re well off. So what you are saying here is you don’t really care about people who are less well off.

My vote goes for cigarettes.

142 prior_test December 20, 2015 at 6:13 am

Prof. Cowen cares a lot about the less well-off. As a matter of fact, he thinks the less well-off in America should have the option of living in favelas, USA style – ‘We also would build some makeshift structures there, similar to the better dwellings you might find in a Rio de Janeiro Favela. The quality of the water and electrical infrastructure might be low by American standards, though we could supplement the neighborhood with free municipal wireless. Hulu and other web-based TV services would replace more expensive cable connections for those residents. Then we would allow people to move there if they desired. In essence, we would be recreating a Mexico-like or Brazil-like environment in part of the United States, although with some technological add-ons and most likely greater safety.’ From Prof. Cowen’s latest work, Average Is Over, by the way.

143 Anony December 20, 2015 at 4:56 pm

You are a sad sad man

144 GW December 20, 2015 at 6:09 am

Electrically amplified sound.

145 PM December 20, 2015 at 7:09 pm

If you excluded home music systems from that, I’d say yes. Home music systems have allowed me and millions of others different kinds of music that have given me enormous pleasure.

Outside of that, I would say yes. Rock and roll would still have developed, but the guitar would not be part of it. When one hears Sing, Sing, Sing you can argue that could have formed the basis for arranging modern rock music.

146 N Park December 20, 2015 at 6:49 am

The Internet.

Or at least the bits that allow for commenting on blog posts.

147 RoyLC December 20, 2015 at 6:49 am

Income tax witholding, Nescafe, secret police, the list goes on and on

148 N Park December 20, 2015 at 6:49 am

And keep your grubby little hands off my cigarettes.

149 floplo December 20, 2015 at 7:11 am

Does the question imply that we not only ‘unlearn’ but are also blocked from inventing it again ?

Just think about any counterfactual world which is missing just that one invention (nukes, land mines, mp3, cheap reliable automatic rifles, etc) and it’s clear that it has the obvious capability and especially also incentive to make that particular invention again.

Otherwise I would nominate abortion, hundreds of millions of deaths with relatively limited upside (but obviously this is conditional on your view when life begins…)

150 albatross December 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Some inventions took a long time to invent after they became possible; others required a huge up-front, uncertain investment before they were made workable. Both of those classes of inventions would be good candidates for forgetting, because they’d probably take awhile to reinvent.

I suspect the most interesting answer to this question will involve pay dependency–if you think we’d have gotten enormously better engines if only we’d not been led down the path of internal combustion engines, then forgetting that technology could actually make the world a better place in the end.

151 PM December 20, 2015 at 7:15 pm

It would have to be artificially induced abortions, because women’s bodies naturally abort huge numbers of potential humans. As many as 25 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, in cases where the woman knows she is pregnant. Many more occur without the woman knowing she is pregnant.

152 rayward December 20, 2015 at 7:21 am

“I’m not ready to say nuclear weapons, which so far have been a major net force for peace, at least until the next one goes off.” Of course, they are a net force for peace only if there’s a balance of power between the antagonists (so neither has the advantage). Balance of power is the key, not the weapons themselves. Balance works in contexts beyond nuclear weapons. In economics, balance provides stability: in times of imbalance, the economy experiences instability as natural forces (markets) work to bring back balance. Oddly, a fair number of economists haven’t learned this simple lesson, supporting as they do an imbalance that causes instability, at once praising markets while being oblivious to the natural forces (markets) working to bring back balance. It’s encouraging that Cowen understands this simple lesson. Balance, a net force for peace and economic stability.

153 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 12:13 am

Balance of power is key, but MAD is even better.

154 John S. December 20, 2015 at 7:35 am

How about producing electricity with fossil fuels.

155 TMC December 20, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Without it we’d be still in the dark ages.

156 Rob December 20, 2015 at 8:12 am

Factory farming, because of the higher level of harm to captive animals.

157 jp December 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

Great one. Probably the best.

158 PM December 20, 2015 at 7:27 pm

I’d like to see data on whether factory farming helps people in poverty have more affordable food and whether abolition would lead to more human suffering. We also might find out which modifications to large scale food production create the right balance. The food industry has such data. In the case of chickens, some argue that life in a chicken yard is no picnic, as chickens are mean little SOBs who peck, fight, and maim lesser birds.

So, this is a thought provoking suggestion but I would want to see a thorough cost-benefit analysis.

159 Nathan W December 21, 2015 at 12:15 am

Truly poor people can’t even afford factory farmed meat – they eat plant protein. (With the exception of goat herders, etc. who live in places where plants don’t grow well but goats can still eat what grass is available.)

160 MMK December 20, 2015 at 9:49 pm

Factory farming sucks for captive animals and I am not insensitive to that issue, but factory farming’s true evil is the risk of anti-biotic resistance or super-viruses.

161 anon December 21, 2015 at 12:19 am

Food would become significantly cheaper due to so much land, labor, and feed being spent to produce meat as well. The environmental cost of factory farming is also massive, both locally in some cases but also in regards to global warming.

162 Slocum December 20, 2015 at 8:13 am

The exercise seems a little pointless — is there anything on anybody’s list that, once unlearned, would not be quickly reinvented? And when it comes to the obvious candidates of weapons of war, we have to keep in mind that the invention of powerful modern weaponry has coincided with dramatic declines in per capita war death rates.

163 Gary Leff December 20, 2015 at 8:33 am

Room 641A and similar implementations.

164 Jesse December 20, 2015 at 8:49 am

Biological weapons, whether weaponised natural pathogens or synthetic. These are not possible to control once used, and even a single use could have global reach. At least with nuclear weapons it is possible to have limited use. See WWII as an example.

165 joe December 20, 2015 at 8:58 am

The Haber–Bosch process. It is directly responsible for allowing the human population to break through the hard limit of ~3 billion imposed by natural nitrogen fixation.

166 Ed December 20, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Excellent choice, another would be the green revolution.

167 Jesse December 20, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Why not throw antibiotics in as well if we are trying to make life suck. Go all the way and get rid of fire!

168 joe December 20, 2015 at 5:13 pm

The point about agricultural innovation is that for the most part it had (until relatively recently) only allowed more people not necessarily lowered the number who were malnourished. The higher yields were immediately used up by the larger numbers of human beings.

169 albatross December 21, 2015 at 11:39 am

So you’ll need to take this issue up with the guys who want to disappear contraception.

No green revolution + no contraception = 2 billion people living at subsistence + epsilon

Green revolution + no contraception = 20 billion people living at subsistence + epsilon

No green revolution + contraception = 1 billion people living at better than subsistence

Green revolution + contraception = current world

170 Toby December 20, 2015 at 9:10 am

The vending machine.

171 Art Deco December 20, 2015 at 9:46 am

1. Contraceptive and reproductive technologies.

2. Television

172 carlolspln December 20, 2015 at 3:10 pm

‘Contraceptive & reproductive technologies’

You don’t get laid, do you?

173 CRL December 21, 2015 at 12:06 am

He’s too old. It stopped working years ago. Why do you think he’s such an asshole?

174 chuck martel December 20, 2015 at 9:47 am

The most pernicious technology, and the one whose elimination would have the most positive effect on humans, is time measurement. In only a few generations the cyclic rhythm of the celestial bodies and the seasons as markers of the passing of time has been replaced by the frantic accounting of it in a linear manner that plays a primary role in all aspects of life. Time has become a commodity of a sort. Unlike other commodities, however, the more time that an individual appears to have, the poorer he is seen to be.

175 Ed December 20, 2015 at 10:02 am

Canada

176 Andy December 20, 2015 at 10:19 am

preemptively: AI

177 celestus December 20, 2015 at 10:39 am

The guitar. Cigarettes are a good suggestion. Chemotherapy. Qwerty.

178 PM December 20, 2015 at 7:28 pm

The electric guitar only? Really a lousy sounding instrument. Acoustic guitar music can be very good.

179 JD December 21, 2015 at 12:54 am

It is obvious that you have never shared a roof with a banjo player.

180 JD December 21, 2015 at 12:56 am

… an aspiring banjo player …

181 ad December 20, 2015 at 10:43 am

I’m not ready to say nuclear weapons, which so far have been a major net force for peace

This does sound a little like saying “I’m not ready to say jumping off the Empire State Building was bad idea, because so far I have not hit the ground.”

182 GMC December 20, 2015 at 10:46 am

If I had that power, I would not use it.

I assume I am neither wise enough to choose the correct technology nor prescient enough to understand the actual, rather than the obvious, consequences of foregoing it.

183 Jer December 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

Since technology is a manifestation of human cultural values in a logic-applied-to-curiosity form – you would have to dim a part of human culture to focus on that fragment of technology to subdue/ reverse/ discard. So let’s axe: over-the-top escapism, beyond relaxation and simple indulgences — so that would put us into different types of narcotics, implants, and other mind-altering mechanisms. The mechanisms and implants are probably so intertwined with other good tech that it may be more realistic to remove the LSD, etc., set of hallucinogens, non-medicinal mind-altering substances, etc. I am sure that that sub-set of pharmacology would not be too hard to nip.

184 yo December 20, 2015 at 11:27 am

computer viruses, spam and online ads.

185 albatross December 20, 2015 at 5:13 pm

All were invented within a few years of when it became possible to create them, so I would expect them to be reinvented pretty quickly.

186 Nick_L December 20, 2015 at 11:38 am

Surely the point here, is that society does unlearn the stuff and idea’s that do not work? We’ve unlearnt the Ptolemaic model, discarded witchcraft, disposed of lead in gasoline, moved past certain racial theories and think democracy works pretty well. We continue to test and question these things as we move along, the important thing being that the tools we use to question the technologies and ideas continue to be refined and improved. Which is what this blog really gets at, no?

187 Glenn Mercer December 20, 2015 at 11:58 am

If I were answering seriously, I agree wholeheartedly with “cigarettes.” I understand that humanity would find another way to ingest nicotine etc. instead, of course, but nothing matches ciggies for low-cost, high-speed, “attractive” delivery of the stuff. (Cigars stink, pipes go out, chew leads to spitting, etc.) I wonder how many early deaths would have been avoided if we had somehow leaped directly to e-cigs? (Not that I am endorsing them or condemning them).

If I were answering with more humorous intent (that’s intent, not necessarily results!), I would go with “Any coffee-making machine costing more than $50.” That would be a stand-in for a whole range of technologies which, while they may be wonderful, generate as a byproduct a huge amount of wasted time. In this case arguing over how to grind beans, Hawaii versus Ethiopia, the right temperature for a latte, going the extra mile to find the artisanal shop, etc. Is there an economic term for the “drag” created by a technology which in itself, on some sort of stand-alone basis, has clear benefits? (I absolutely concede that expensive coffee machine make better coffee.) I remember reading once that the single most used software installed on all Windows computers over all time (Apple fans please insert knee-jerk Microsoft attack here) was Solitaire. So even as the personal computer enabled incredible productivity improvements, it also unleashed a massive productivity sink. Showing my age, I will assert that it was hard to play Halo on the corporate mainframe…

188 Anon December 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm

+1 for Windows Solitare

189 Jody December 20, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Reversing the flow of time.

Screws with causality, which as I think we all remember from the Hungarian incident is a pretty big deal.

190 Dagon December 20, 2015 at 12:10 pm

> In this sector I care more about the total quality of product than about maximizing the sum total of consumer plus producer surplus.

Can you expand on that? Does this translate to “on this topic, I care more about myself than others”?, or something else?

191 Ed December 20, 2015 at 12:28 pm

These things fall into two categories.

The first are inventions or innovations which first came about for military uses, even if they were later adapted for civilian use. There is a two-fer with this. First the military use of the innovation made warfare much more destructive. Second the civilian use, which supposedly made it all worth it, is usually very mixed in terms of its benefits and often arguably a net harm, even if the military use is ignored.

The internal combustion engine, the jet engine, the haber-bosch process, and nuclear power all fall into this category. All made warfare much more destructive, and there is at least an argument that the increased power they gave humans in peacetime is outweighed by the harm to the environment/ biosphere.

In the second category I would put innovations which primarily gave governments and their corporations greater powers with surveillance and propaganda. Television clearly falls into this category, as does alot of communications and computer technology.

Its actually more interesting to make a list of post-second industrial revolution advances whose benefits did in fact exceed their costs.

192 Robert December 20, 2015 at 1:08 pm

You must unlearn what you have learned.

Automobiles in the cities. Not an optimal combination in my opinion.

193 Gochujang December 20, 2015 at 1:08 pm

The Two Party System

(Which I understand is actually an emergent property of a certain sort of representative government.)

194 Dr.Cornelius December 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Female Genital Mutilation

And more broadly the idea that coercive control of female sexuality or mate choice is moral.

195 Kyle December 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm

One way to approach the question is to assume that all these technologies can be re-invented and are just unlearned for now. Then what you’re looking for is path dependent decisions that can be re-routed by temporally unlearning a technology. So, the internal combustion engine going away could set us on a path to electric cars. You could make a similar case for coal, hoping to build out enough other energy infrastructure before coal becomes competitive again. Some of the food suggestions others made about low fat or processed sugar might work. Nuclear weapons could be dangerous since reaching stable equilibrium can be hard. Long term parking on city streets?

196 Dr.Cornelius December 20, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Financial Engineering

Not all FE, but the extreme strains that serve no purpose other than to transfer wealth from the unsophisticated to the more sophisticated and politically connected. Also the highly leveraged and secretive FE that can threaten to take down the entire financial system. See Long Term Capital Management et al.

197 Brian December 20, 2015 at 2:09 pm

The upside-down trackball.

198 Ed December 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm

I don’t think suttee was that good an idea either.

199 Thoams December 20, 2015 at 2:37 pm

It’s obviously fire.

200 honkie please December 20, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Blog comment sections or, more generally, pissing into the wind.

201 Doug December 20, 2015 at 3:12 pm

“Shareholder Value”

202 Randall Parker December 20, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Its not a technology but social scientists really need to unlearn the Standard Social Science Model.

203 albert magnus December 20, 2015 at 3:43 pm

I would suggest alcohol dustillery. While you can get drunk on beer and wine, distilled spirits had a huge impact in parts of the world.

204 JD Etalia December 20, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Two innovations which have caused hundreds of millions of people daily frustration and would find no rationale support:
Robocall systems;
CD jewel cases.

205 Eric Hirschhorn December 20, 2015 at 4:13 pm

The “science” of polling. If not that, then the DialMaster5000.

206 dsgntd_plyr December 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm

For me it’s a battle between advertising*, universal suffrage (bring back poll-taxes!), abortion/birth-control, common law (judges can “discover” new rights), and no-fault divorce. I’ll go with universal suffrage as the worst for now.

*I was going to say TV, but then that would mean no Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Hannibal, The Americans etc. TV > movies.

207 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 8:21 am

So Canadian has Catholic schools from K to College? Tell me about all those Canadian Catholic jihadis who have been murdering people lately? I can only think of one mass shooting spree in Canada. He was a Muslim.

Granted, I wouldn’t believe for a second that there is indoctrination to the extent that is happening in some madrassas in, say, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.

No. You just said it. Either because you don’t think before you post, or your were trolling.

But the point about religious indoctrination was really not that relevant to my main point.

So you say now. Because you know everyone will notice you were wrong. So you will change the subject once more.

The main point was that there is militant Christianity in addition to militant Islam, and that highlighting one while pretending the other doesn’t exist is … I dunno, hypocritical (?), a little blinded (?), something along those lines.

The other doesn’t exist and you have not provided one shred of evidence that it does. Even if it did exist, it is not killing people so it is irrelevant – except in so far as it enables you to escape the moral consequences of the real world. As long as you can pretend we are as guilty as them, you do not need to do anything or support anything that might help the victims of genocide. You can remain safe while other people do that for you.

As one of a million possible anecdotes, consider the availability of the “Christian assault rifle” named “the Crusader”

You are seriously comparing something even the maker thought was a joke with ISIS? Good one Nate. How many people have been killed with Christian assault rifles lately? Would that be …. none?

208 Hazel Meade December 21, 2015 at 11:17 am

Haha. I went to one of those Catholic schools then switch to public school when we moved to the US. It’s pretty much the same as a public school except for the Religion class. By contrast a madrassa pretty much doesn’t do anything EXCEPT religion. The students just sit there and memorize the Koran. Also Catholics have no problem with teaching evolution, having learned from their mistake with Galileo. They just say the the creation story is a metaphor. I even got Sex Ed.

209 So Much For Subtlety December 20, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 6:06 am

I’m referring to K-12 education which teaches one religion to the exclusion of others.

The Democratic debate seems to have been held in Saint Anselm College. A college run by monks with a monastery attached. Clearly clerico-fascists. No doubt their student shoot up abortion clinics all the time.

Care to condemn the DNC for endorsing these Christian jihadis?

210 Richard December 20, 2015 at 7:11 pm

The Talmud.

211 Jeff Rensch December 20, 2015 at 9:30 pm

recreational plastic surgery? (and a lot of related things you can name as well)

212 Floccina December 20, 2015 at 10:07 pm

How about health insurance?

213 Jon Teets December 20, 2015 at 11:08 pm

Gunpowder. To say so exposes immediately how unsatisfying such a hypothetical can be. Any reasonable alternative would likely find its way into the niche, the demand is simply too high, and many technologies with similar enabling powers tend to come together.

A delay in the combustion engine might have given Edison and Ford a chance to create a viable electric vehicle. I don’t think that would have had too much of an effect on oil and coal use in the short run as batteries need to be charged, but intense battery development at that stage might well have resulted in portability in many other technologies far earlier. It probably would have solved the intermittency issues of solar and wind power before they showed up. It might have also allowed development of a less vulnerable grid and perhaps a more decentralized society.

Another candidate for the eraser would be nuclear reactor designs taken over from the early nuclear submarines which are susceptible to many kinds of accidents, including meltdowns. Some design variations currently gaining currency for safety and relatively little waste were drawn up initially in the 50s and 60s. It’s not hard to imagine a radically different world had fission not gotten such a bad rap so early on. Throw in the aforementioned batteries it’s unlikely ISIS and the various sympathisers of their caliphate would be all the rage, to say nothing of smog and global warming.

Lastly, I might delay Black-Scholes a bit. Not that it’s inherently bad, but it’s arguable the computing power required for really derisking many of the instruments derived using it just isn’t there yet. There were a lot of reasons for the 2008 crash, but I saw a number of instances (after the fact, talking to quants) where no more than 4 times as much computing power would have shown the bets taken too risky. Almost no one expected housing price drops of 12 percent, never mind 30-50%, so the requisite Monte Carlos were never computed for them.

214 AG December 21, 2015 at 12:05 am

Vuvuzela

215 Ceounicom December 21, 2015 at 4:25 am

The Blog

216 Hazel Meade December 21, 2015 at 6:43 am

Social media.

Not only is it a cesspool of moral posturing, playing perniciously upon the worst human social instincts , but it’s ultimately a horrifying tool of social surveillance and control. Before facebook, twiitter, and the like, people’s online identities were largely anonymous. Now your boss wants to read your facebook page and high school administrators require students to friend them so the school can spy on their online comments.

217 Dan Weber December 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

Student loans.

218 A Definite Beta Guy December 21, 2015 at 10:58 am

Protestantism. Most religious insanity as we know it today arises directly from the American Protestant factionalization and radicalization of the 19th Century (Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism actually is from this period). A united Catholic Church throughout the West throughout the years would’ve prevented the disastrous 16th and 17th century wars, along with the toxic Reformist and Evangelical beliefs of the late 19th and early 20th century.

219 James Oswald December 21, 2015 at 11:05 am

I think the best answers are of the form: “things that work poorly and wasted effort” rather than “things that are effective at doing evil things”. You can say “mines” but honestly how long would it take people to reinvent sticking explosives in the ground? AK-47s have tons of substitutes as well. Maybe uninventing nukes would have an impact, but it would probably be negative. Nukes mean that the leaders of countries have to fear war, not just the common man.

Uninventing a techonology that has been a waste of time, or useless is more likely to have a positive impact because people aren’t likely to go down that same bad road again. Maybe DSGE models (I am an economist, so my examples are biased in that direction), although their negative impact on the world has been very minor, relative to weapon related answers.

220 DavidC December 21, 2015 at 11:45 am

Mountaintop removal mining? Drove down the cost of coal production at massive environmental cost, all while setting back efforts to switch to solar, wind or even natural gas. Hitting peak coal even 2 years earlier would have prevented something like 100,000 premature deaths. And that’s without getting into CO2. It reduced electricity costs, but when health and environmental costs are placed against it, it was a net negative.

221 Jeff December 21, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Music videos. Before MTV, it mattered whether or not an act sounded good. Afterwards, they could sound lousy so long as they looked good doing it. Music videos are why the popular music of the 60’s and 70’s was so much better than what came later.

222 Joshua Miller December 21, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Hannah Arendt argued that totalitarianism was a unique governmental system that was additive of imperialism, racism, and a certain kind of historical determinism that works through a combination of bureaucracy and propaganda. She warned that once it had happened once it spelled a new possibility for human affairs forevermore, which is why we saw the same patterns from both Hitler and Stalin. So call it a social-political technology: surely we’d be better off if the world unlearned it.

223 Allan December 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

“supply-side” economics

224 Anonymous December 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Electric hand dryers at restrooms. In theory it could work with several times more heat and thrust, but in practice the goddamn things never work, they have no paper towels, and you have to use your shirt.

225 Niko December 21, 2015 at 5:45 pm

There are several traffic pattern designs which are candidates for un-learning. Also the tasteless but ubiquitous iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese.

226 Dave December 21, 2015 at 8:48 pm

Cigarettes

227 Euripides December 21, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Social media

228 Ian D Osmond December 22, 2015 at 7:49 am

What would happen if we didn’t have the idea of inheritance of property? What would happen if you were allowed to, and expected to, give your children whatever advantages in terms of education and upbringing that you had in your power, but didn’t hand over your property to them when you died?

What would our world be like if families didn’t have the ability to gather and control larger amounts of resources generation after generation, and if everybody was expected to start off from a more-or-less even starting point?

229 Mike December 22, 2015 at 1:03 pm

We should never unlearn technology, instead we should learn from it. Think about that one.

230 Ian Random December 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm

For me it is a tie between keyboard overstrike and speaker mode on smart phones.

231 Stanley Willis December 23, 2015 at 11:43 am

The question is totally absurd! The Romans lost up to 75,000 men in a day at Cannae (216 BC) and there was nary an AK-47 or nuclear weapon in sight. The problem isn’t any particular technology or technology in general, it’s human nature. Figure out a solution to that!

232 Nathan W December 20, 2015 at 8:21 am

dearmieme – In several Canadian provinces there are publicly funded Catholic schools co-existing alongside the secular public schools, for historical reasons.

I was sort of assuming that there are similar things going on, and a quick Google search yields some hits which suggest that denomination-specific schools are very much present in the USA.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_schools_in_the_United_States
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_school
http://www.thebestschools.org/features/30-best-christian-boarding-schools-america/

Granted, I wouldn’t believe for a second that there is indoctrination to the extent that is happening in some madrassas in, say, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Educational standards make it impossible to devote the time to religious indoctrination that occurs in madarassas.

But the point about religious indoctrination was really not that relevant to my main point. The main point was that there is militant Christianity in addition to militant Islam, and that highlighting one while pretending the other doesn’t exist is … I dunno, hypocritical (?), a little blinded (?), something along those lines. As one of a million possible anecdotes, consider the availability of the “Christian assault rifle” named “the Crusader”: http://www.businessinsider.com/you-can-buy-christian-assault-rifle-2015-9.

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