New Evidence on the Genetics of Homosexuality

Since I moved to the University of Colorado Boulder in the Summer of 2016, I have added social science genetics to my research portfolio. Recently I was made a Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the last three years, I have been impressed with the quality of the research being done in this area. Social science genetics suffered its replication crisis early compared to other areas of social science—the era of the “candidate gene study” in which testing out many genes led to de facto p-hacking. Since then, sample sizes for human genetics data have become large enough that one can get significant results even after careful correction for multiple hypothesis testing across a huge number of genetic variants.

The basic finding for most traits of interest to social scientists is that a large number of genes each has a tiny effect. So there typically isn’t a gene for anything but a few diseases. In the absence of a single determinative gene, there are two key things that can be done: (a) look at what kinds of genes are related to a particular trait, how they compare to the genes for other traits, and how great an R-squared genes could in principle get to and (b) construct linear combinations of genes (called “polygenic scores”) that can predict the trait—always with a lower R-squared than is possible in principle because the weights in the linear combination have estimation error.

The August 30, 2019 issue of Science includes an article “Large-scale GWAS reveals insights into the genetic architecture of same-sex sexual behavior” looking at the genetics of homosexuality in this careful way. The authors were able to use data on almost half a million individuals. Here is their “Structured Abstract”:

INTRODUCTION

Across human societies and in both sexes, some 2 to 10% of individuals report engaging in sex with same-sex partners, either exclusively or in addition to sex with opposite-sex partners. Twin and family studies have shown that same-sex sexual behavior is partly genetically influenced, but previous searches for the specific genes involved have been underpowered to detect effect sizes realistic for complex traits.

RATIONALE

For the first time, new large-scale datasets afford sufficient statistical power to identify genetic variants associated with same-sex sexual behavior (ever versus never had a same-sex partner), estimate the proportion of variation in the trait accounted for by all variants in aggregate, estimate the genetic correlation of same-sex sexual behavior with other traits, and probe the biology and complexity of the trait. To these ends, we performed genome-wide association discovery analyses on 477,522 individuals from the United Kingdom and United States, replication analyses in 15,142 individuals from the United States and Sweden, and follow-up analyses using different aspects of sexual preference.

All quotations in this post are from “Large-scale GWAS reveals insights into the genetic architecture of same-sex sexual behavior.

Unsurprisingly, there is no “gay gene,” but instead many, many genes that each has a small effect on the likelihood of having had at least one same-sex sex partner:

The SNPs that reached genome-wide significance had very small effects (odds ratios ~1.1) (table S7). For example, in the UK Biobank, males with a GT genotype at the rs34730029 locus had 0.4% higher prevalence of same-sex sexual behavior than those with a TT genotype (4.0 versus 3.6%). Nevertheless, the contribution of all measured common SNPs in aggregate (SNP-based heritability) was estimated to be 8 to 25% (95% CIs [Confidence Intervals], 5 to 30%) of variation in female and male same-sex sexual behavior, in which the range reflects differing estimates by using different analysis methods or prevalence assumptions … same-sex sexual behavior, like most complex human traits, is influenced by the small, additive effects of very many genetic variants, most of which cannot be detected at the current sample size (22). Consistent with this interpretation, we show that the contribution of each chromosome to heritability is broadly proportional to its size (fig. S3) (14). In contrast to linkage studies that found substantial association of sexual orientation with variants on the X-chromosome (8, 23), we found no excess of signal (and no individual genome-wide significant loci) on the X-chromosome (fig. S4).

Homosexuality is still rare enough that a sample of half a million or so is still not enough to get precise estimates of just what fraction of the variation in homosexual behavior could in principle be predicted by genes. For linear combinations of common genes, the key quotation from above is:

… the contribution of all measured common SNPs [single nucleotide polymorphisms] in aggregate (SNP-based heritability) was estimated to be 8 to 25% (95% CIs, 5 to 30%) of variation.

Based on a wider ranges of genetic variation, the key quotation is as follows:

By modeling the correspondence of relatedness among individuals and the similarity of their sexual behavior, we estimated broad-sense heritability—the percentage of variation in a trait attributable to genetic variation—at 32.4% [95% confidence intervals (CIs), 10.6 to 54.3] (table S4). This estimate is consistent with previous estimates from smaller twin studies (7).

In any case, don’t fall into the fallacy that “genetic” means “unmodifiable” and “environmental” means “modifiable.” Many things that are environmental are hard to modify because it is hard to modify the environment, while many things that are genetic are easy to modify. For example, nearsightedness can easily be corrected by eyeglasses and contact lenses. In the case of homosexuality, there have been, in effect many messily conducted experiments in modifying homosexuality that directly show that in many, many cases it is essentially impossible to modify. Genetic evidence does not speak directly to “modifiability.” In other words, you can’t use genetic evidence to say whether something is a “choice” or not.

The notion that genetic effects are hardwired physical effects is not always on track. Genetics for complex traits often operate through an effect on people’s preferences. That doesn’t mean those preferences are a small thing. Except to protect other people, it is cruel to block the expression of people’s preferences. For example, whether to be an economist or not is clearly a choice, but it would both make some of us miserable and get in the way of important contributions to the world if it were made illegal or socially disfavored to be an economist. Inhibitions to freedom, whether legal or social, need strong justification in reducing harm to others.

Also, there can be physical effects that are not genetic that are at least as hardwired as physical effects. Men who have more older brothers are more likely to be gay. (See the Wikipedia article “Fraternal birth order and male sexual orientation.”) People theorize this might be due to maternal immune-system reactions to previous male fetuses.

Surprises in the Genetic Data

There are several important findings in the genetic data that will surprise some and confirm the prior beliefs of others. First, having had at least one same-sex sexual partner seems to be a different thing for men than for women:

To assess differences in effects between females and males, we also performed sex-specific analyses. These results suggested only a partially shared genetic architecture across the sexes; the across-sex genetic correlation was 0.63 (95% CIs, 0.48 to 0.78) (table S9). This is noteworthy given that most other studied traits show much higher across-sex genetic correlations, often close to 1 (1821).

A 63% correlation between the genetic predictor for men having had a same-sex sexual partner and for women having had a same-sex sexual partner is still a substantial correlation, but that means there are important differences.

Second, having had at least one as opposed to no same-sex sexual partners is not the same thing as having predominantly same-sex partners:

To maximize our sample size and increase the power to detect SNP associations, we defined our primary phenotype as ever or never having had a same sex partner. … the genetic effects that differentiate heterosexual from same-sex sexual behavior are not the same as those that differ among nonheterosexuals with lower versus higher proportions of same-sex partners. This finding suggests that on the genetic level, there is no single dimension from opposite-sex to same-sex preference. The existence of such a dimension, in which the more someone is attracted to the same-sex the less they are attracted to the opposite-sex, is the premise of the Kinsey scale (39), a research tool ubiquitously used to measure sexual orientation. Another measure, the Klein Grid (40), retains the same premise but separately measures sexual attraction, behavior, fantasies, and identification (as well as nonsexual preferences); however, we found that these sexual measures are influenced by similar genetic factors. Overall, our findings suggest that the most popular measures are based on a misconception of the underlying structure of sexual orientation and may need to be rethought. In particular, using separate measures of attraction to the opposite sex and attraction to the same sex, such as in the Sell Assessment of Sexual Orientation (41), would remove the assumption that these variables are perfectly inversely related and would enable more nuanced exploration of the full diversity of sexual orientation, including bisexuality and asexuality.’’

In other words, the authors suggest a model with two parameters: attraction to men and attraction to women, with some people attracted to both, some people only attracted to men or only to women, and some people attracted to neither.

Scientifically, one of the interesting questions is how genes that increase the probability of homosexual behavior have survived in the gene pool. The authors mention this issue and its importance, but do not suggest any resolution:

We observed in the UK Biobank that individuals who reported same-sex sexual behavior had on average fewer offspring than those of individuals who engaged exclusively in heterosexual behavior, even for individuals reporting only a minority of same-sex partners (Fig. 1B). This reduction in number of children is comparable with or greater than for other traits that have been linked to lower fertility rates (fig. S1) (14). This reproductive deficit raises questions about the evolutionary maintenance of the trait, but we do not address these here.

Conclusion

Before solid evidence about the genetics of homosexuality was available, many people talked as if the genetics of homosexuality could usefully inform how gays should be treated. But it doesn’t. What the genetics of homosexuality does do is help us to appreciate the complexity of sexual attraction.


John Locke on Peace through Surrender to Tyranny


Overthrowing tyrants is a public good with much greater social benefit than private benefit. Hence, when there is genuine tyranny, it is a serious problem that individuals, encouraged by their family and friends, will put the private benefit of being safe from reprisals by a tyrant over the public benefit of helping to overthrow the tyrant.

But what about the cost to everyone of a civil war to overthrow a tyrant? Typically, those who actively work to overthrow a tyrant bear a disproportionate share of the direct cost of a civil war relative to their share in the benefits from a better government. And in their altruistic concerns, emotionally mature opponents of tyranny will be likely to weight the costs on others of a civil war fairly against the benefits of a better government.

It may be that some individuals gain a huge private benefit of perceived glory or identity confirmation from opposing a tyrant, and so may not strike the right balance. But a more common criticism those opposing a tyrant may face is that their altruism toward strangers is unusually strong compared to their altruism towards friends and family members who may also suffer reprisals from the tyrant.

In any case, except for selfish reasons (when one is, oneself one of the family and friends of the opponent to tyranny), it seems like only rare situations would justify discouraging someone from fighting against tyranny, even though there is likely to be collateral damage. The reason is that most opponents to tyranny do care about collateral damage and try to weigh the costs of collateral damage against the benefits of a better government.

Where those who style themselves as opponents to tyranny don’t seem to care much about collateral damage—as when they send suicide bombers to kill civilians—then one should suspect they have other motives than simply opposing tyranny.

John Locke does not discuss these tradeoffs in quite so much depth, but in Sections 228 and 229 of Chapter XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government” of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, he does speak to the basic justice of fighting against tyranny even if there will be some collateral damage—but speaks of collateral damage in ways that are not very vivid: “destructive to the peace of the world,” “If any mischief come in such cases,” “inconveniences.” In this way, I think John Locke tries to make the issue of collateral damage look smaller than it really is. By contrast, John Locke appropriately speaks very powerfully of the benefits of overthrowing a tyrant:

§. 228. But if they, who say it lays a foundation for rebellion, mean that it may occasion civil wars, or intestine broils, to tell the people they are absolved from obedience when illegal attempts are made upon their liberties or properties, and may oppose the unlawful violence of those who were their magistrates, when they invade their properties contrary to the trust put in them; and that therefore this doctrine is not to be allowed, being so destructive to the peace of the world: they may as well say, upon the same ground, that honest men may not oppose robbers or pirates, because this may occasion disorder or bloodshed. If any mischief come in such cases, it is not to be charged upon him who defends his own right, but on him that invades his neighbours. If the innocent honest man must quietly quit all he has, for peace sake, to him who will lay violent hands upon it, I desire it may be considered, what a kind of peace there will be in the world, which consists only in violence and rapine; and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors. Who would not think it an admirable peace betwixt the mighty and the mean, when the lamb, without resistance, yielded his throat to be torn by the imperious wolf? Polyphemus’s den gives us a perfect pattern of such a peace, and such a government, wherein Ulysses and his companions had nothing to do, but quietly to suffer themselves to be devoured. And no doubt Ulysses, who was a prudent man, preached up passive obedience, and exhorted them to a quiet submission, by representing to them of what concernment peace was to mankind; and by shewing the inconveniences might happen, if they should offer to resist Polyphemus, who had now the power over them.

§. 229. The end of government is the good of mankind; and which is best for mankind, that the people should be always exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes liable to be opposed, when they grow exorbitant in the use of their power, and employ it for the destruction, and not the preservation of the properties of their people?

One of the interesting things John Locke is doing is to try to enlist a sense of honor and anger as motivations to oppose tyranny:

  • … they may as well say, upon the same ground, that honest men may not oppose robbers or pirates, because this may occasion disorder or bloodshed.

  • If any mischief come in such cases, it is not to be charged upon him who defends his own right, but on him that invades his neighbours.

  • If the innocent honest man must quietly quit all he has, for peace sake, to him who will lay violent hands upon it, I desire it may be considered, what a kind of peace there will be in the world, which consists only in violence and rapine; and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors.

  • Who would not think it an admirable peace betwixt the mighty and the mean, when the lamb, without resistance, yielded his throat to be torn by the imperious wolf?

  • … which is best for mankind, that the people should be always exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes liable to be opposed …

The thing I worry about most is people who don’t really know what the situation is in a nation and think they are nobly opposing tyranny, when given the facts on the ground they are doing something else. This is a manageable problem, but gets worse when there are people actively trying to deceive others into imagining a tyranny that is not there. (Of course, tyrants try to do the opposite: to get people to think there is not tyranny when there is.)

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

On Being a Copy of Someone's Mind

Robin Hanson’s book The Age of Em is a fascinating and important book applying economic theory to analyzing a dramatic technological possibility in the future: the possibility that before we truly understand the human mind and before artificial intelligence built up from first principles can match human intelligence, we might be able to make functional, faithful, software emulations of the workings of particular human brains. Robin gives these emulations the affectionate nickname “ems.”

There is much too much in The Age of Em to talk about to fit into a single blog post. Today I will address only one issue: if a copy of your own mind is made into an em, what is the experience like once that em is started up?

At one level the answer is easy. The em that is a copy of you will act just like you and say and do the same kinds of things you would say and do if you suddenly found yourself a bit of software in a virtual world but otherwise were yourself.

As I say in “On the Effability of the Ineffable,” the mysteries we talk about are not really ineffable, because we are talking about them! (Ineffable: Beyond expression; indescribable or unspeakable.) An em that is a copy of your mind will talk about things in exactly the way you do. And what the em says and does, or readings of its brain emulating activity will be the only access anyone else has to what it is like to be that em, just as what you say and so and readings of your brain activity are the only access anyone else has to what it is like to be you.

There are two obviously important cases. (I’d be glad to hear about others.) One is if dualism is true. If there is a spirit or soul inside of you that does the experiencing, then what the experience of an em is like depends on whether ems get to have a spirit or soul or not. That then depends on facts about what the gods or natural processes that grant or produce spirits or souls do.

The other obviously important case is if our experience comes from the interactions of particles and fields that are either now or someday will be known to physics, none of which individually has any more of spirit or soul than any other particle or field. In that case, it is hard to see why ems would not experience things. Since—if they are truly faithful emulations—they would speak and act as if they are experience things at exactly the same depth as human beings, it is also hard to see why they wouldn’t be experiencing things in the same way as human beings.

But is an em that is an emulation of your brain more like another human being who is eerily like you, or more like a you? On the assumption that experience comes from particles and fields known to physics (or of the same sort as those known to physics now), and that the emulation is truly faithful, there is nothing hidden. An em that is a copy of you will feel that it is a you. Of course, if you consented to the copying process, an em that is a copy of you will have that memory, which is likely to make it aware that there is now more than one of you. But that does NOT make it not-you.

You might object that the lack of physical continuity makes the em copy of you not-you. But our sense of physical continuity with our past selves is largely an illusion. There is substantial turnover in the particular particles in us. Similarity of memory—memory now being a superset of memory earlier, minus some forgetting—is the main thing that makes me think I am the same person as a particular human being earlier in time.

Noah Smith’s religion guest post “You Are Already in the Afterlife” makes this point nicely: we continue to become different than we were before, yet consider ourselves the same person. ]

Why should I consider myself the same person as the Miles Kimball twenty years ago, who in many ways was very different in characteristics, but think an em copied from me right now and started up a minute from now, who is much more similar to me, is a different person?

Just as important, if I seem to have a continuity of conscious experience despite the fact that the particles making me up keep changing, there is no reason to deny that there is a continuity of conscious experience from me to the em that is a copy of me. The weird thing is that with such copying, there would be several different continuities of conscious experience. One line of conscious experience that ended up outside any computer and another line of conscious experience that ended up inside a computer. (Note that distance in time is not a big issue: we are used to what counts as a “continuity of consciousness” having a sleep state intervening. Being in “suspended animation” as a recorded computer state is less of an interruption than a sleep period, because a sleep period changes the state more.)

In the technological environment Robin and I are considering, after the copying event these two lines of conscious experience are isolated from one another as any two human beings are mentally isolated from one another. But these two consciousnesses that don’t have the same experience after the split are both me, with a full experience of continuity of consciousness from the past me. If one of these consciousnesses ends permanently, then one me ends but the other me continues. It is possible to both die and not die.

The fact that there can be many lines of subjectively continuous consciousness that are all me may seem strange, but it may be happening all the time anyway given the implication of quantum equations taken at face value that all kinds of quantum possibilities all happen. (This is the “Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.”) Indeed, although one type of splitting originates in macroscopic events and the other type of splitting originates in picoscopic events or smaller, they have the same qualitative description as things that have all the same observable consequences of real splitting with all paths continuing, even if one wants to deny that it is real splitting with all paths continuing. There is complete observational equivalence.

Note that, along the lines of what I said in “On the Effability of the Ineffable,” if there is any way I can even think to myself something ineffable, that is enough brain activity that it could, in principle, be revealed to someone else. So—short of hardcore dualism with a spirit or soul—it is hard to see what distinctive magic there could be to the “true me” to distinguish it as me and the copy of me as not-me. Is being composed largely of water really the magic that makes it the real me?

And my problem with hardcore dualism is this:

  1. If a spirit or soul influences any of my decisions, then it has enough effect on particles in the brain that it should be detectable by physics with the sensitivity of instruments we have now.

  2. If a spirit or soul is affected by the body but does not itself have any effect on the body (Epiphenomenalism), then it is not through any causality from that spirit or soul the spirit or soul that we talk about because it has no causal pathway to move our mouths. God might make our bodies so they talk about our epiphenominal spirits or souls. But our spirits or souls in this case are not talking about themselves on their own behalf.

Conclusion. The bottom line is that I think an emulation of my brain would have a genuine continuity of consciousness with me as me. There would be a weirdness of there being more than one of me, or one me that ends and another me that continues, but that would be “just the way it is.”

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John Locke: If Rebellion is a Sin, It is a Sin Committed Most Often by Those in Power

Who is the rebel? The Empire or the Rebellion? John Locke says it is the Empire.    Image source   .

Who is the rebel? The Empire or the Rebellion? John Locke says it is the Empire. Image source.

In Sections 223-227 of Chapter XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government” of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, John Locke is answering the objection that his doctrine “lays a ferment for frequent rebellion.” John Locke’s three answers are:

  1. People don’t need Lockean doctrine in order to rise up. They would rise up anyway if things are really bad.

  2. People don’t rise up over small things.

  3. Who is the real rebel? Those overthrowing tyrants, or those who rebel against natural law by becoming tyrants?

On the 2d answer, see “Governments Long Established Should Not—and to a Good Approximation Will Not—Be Changed for Light and Transient Causes.”

As for the 1st answer, in Section 224, John Locke writes:

§. 224. But it will be said, this hypothesis lays a ferment for frequent rebellion. To which I answer,

First, No more than any other hypothesis: for when the people are made miserable, and find themselves exposed to the ill usage of arbitrary power, cry up their governors, as much as you will, for sons of Jupiter; let them be sacred and divine, descended, or authorized from heaven: give them out for whom or what you please, the same will happen. The people generally ill treated, and contrary to right, will be ready upon any occasion to ease themselves of a burden that sits heavy upon them. They will wish, and seek for the opportunity, which in the change, weakness and accidents of human affairs, seldom delays long to offer itself. He must have lived but a little while in the world, who has not seen examples of this in his time: and he must have read very little, who cannot produce examples of it in all sorts of governments in the world.

As for the 3d answer, here is how John Locke puts his challenge “Who is the real rebel? The tyrant or those rising up to restore the social contract?"

§. 226. Thirdly, I answer, that this doctrine of a power in the people of providing for their safety, anew, by a new legislative, when their legislators have acted contrary to their trust, by invading their property, is the best fence against rebellion, and the probablest means to hinder it: for rebellion being an opposition, not to persons, but authority, which is founded only in the constitutions and laws of the government; those, whoever they be, who by force break through, and by force justify their violation of them, are truly and properly rebels: for when men, by entering into society and civil government, have excluded force, and introduced laws for the preservation of property, peace, and unity amongst themselves, those who set up force again in opposition to the laws, do rebellare, that is, bring back again the state of war, and are properly rebels: which they who are in power, (by the pretence they have to authority, the temptation of force they have in their hands, and the flattery of those about them) being likeliest to do; the properest way to prevent the evil, is to shew them the danger and injustice of it, who are under the greatest temptation to run into it.

§. 227. In both the forementioned cases, when either the legislative is changed, or the legislators act contrary to the end for which they were constituted; those who are guilty are guilty of rebellion: for if any one by force takes away the established legislative of any society, and the laws by them made, pursuant to their trust, he thereby takes away the umpirage, which every one had consented to, for a peaceable decision of all their controversies, and a bar to the state of war amongst them. They, who remove, or change, the legislative, take away this decisive power, which nobody can have, but by the appointment and consent of the people; and so destroying the authority which the people did, and nobody else can set up, and introducing a power which the people hath not authorized, they actually introduce a state of war, which is that of force without authority: and thus, by removing the legislative established by the society, (in whose decisions the people acquiesced and united, as to that of their own will) they untie the knot, and expose the people anew to the state of war. And if those, who by force take away the legislative, are rebels, the legislators themselves, as has been shewn, can be no less esteemed so; when they, who were set up for the protection, and preservation of the people, their liberties and properties, shall by force invade and endeavour to take them away; and so they putting themselves into a state of war with those who made them the protectors and guardians of their peace, are properly, and with the greatest aggravation, rebellantes, rebels.

I consider the heart of these two sections to be this passage from Section 226:

… men, by entering into society and civil government, have excluded force, and introduced laws for the preservation of property, peace, and unity amongst themselves, those who set up force again in opposition to the laws, do rebellare, that is, bring back again the state of war, and are properly rebels: which they who are in power, (by the pretence they have to authority, the temptation of force they have in their hands, and the flattery of those about them) being likeliest to do; …

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

On the Effability of the Ineffable

Ineffable: Beyond expression; indescribable or unspeakable.

There is a paradox in the use of the word “ineffable”: by saying that something cannot be described, the word “ineffable” often points to a common human experience—and thereby communicates. And this is not so different from ordinary words. Many ordinary words are only understandable because of the common human experience and common human nature that we share. (That is the theme of my Linguistics Master’s Thesis. See “Miles's Linguistics Master's Thesis: The Later Wittgenstein, Roman Jakobson and Charles Saunders Peirce.”) Similarly, things that are called “ineffable,” like the pleasure of a sunset, or a mystical experience in a religious context that regularly produces such mystical experiences in coreligionists, or consciousness, are understandable to the many people who share those experiences due to their human nature. (Don’t miss my sermon “The Mystery of Consciousness.”)

One of the big jobs of the Humanities is precisely to express what had previously been ineffable—to be able to point to or evoke feelings and thereby given them a name, even if the name is the length of a novel.

The subject matter of the Humanities is also reachable by science. If anything can be expressed in words or in a painting or in music, then multimedia surveys can ask about it. And once a survey can ask about it, it can be quantified. A good thing, too! Because continuing to improve human welfare at some point involves helping people grab hold of more of the wondrous intangible things that they want. I am proud to be heavily involved in research in the economics of happiness—which is really not just about happiness alone, but about all the wondrous and the quotidian, intangible and tangible things people want.

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Governments Long Established Should Not—and to a Good Approximation Will Not—Be Changed for Light and Transient Causes

A key passage of the Declaration of Independence is:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

In this passage, those who had a hand in crafting the Declaration of Independence show their knowledge of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government. In Chapter XIX, sections 223-225, John Locke writes:

§. 223. To this perhaps it will be said, that the people being ignorant, and always discontented, to lay the foundation of government in the unsteady opinion and uncertain humour of the people, is to expose it to certain ruin; and no government will be able long to subsist, if the people may set up a new legislative, whenever they take offence at the old one. To this I answer, Quite the contrary. People are not so easily got out of their old forms, as some are apt to suggest. They are hardly to be prevailed with to amend the acknowledged faults in the frame they have been accustomed to. And if there be any original defects, or adventitious ones introduced by time, or corruption; it is not an easy thing to be changed, even when all the world sees there is an opportunity for it. This slowness and aversion in the people to quit their old constitutions, has, in the many revolutions which have been seen in this kingdom, in this and former ages, still kept us to, or, after some interval of fruitless attempts, still brought us back again to our old legislative of king, lords and commons: and whatever provocations have made the crown be taken from some of our princes heads, they never carried the people so far as to place it in another line.

§. 224. But it will be said, this hypothesis lays a ferment for frequent rebellion. To which I answer, 19 First, No more than any other hypothesis: for when the people are made miserable, and find themselves exposed to the ill usage of arbitrary power, cry up their governors, as much as you will, for sons of Jupiter; let them be sacred and divine, descended, or authorized from heaven: give them out for whom or what you please, the same will happen. The people generally ill treated, and contrary to right, will be ready upon any occasion to ease themselves of a burden that sits heavy upon them. They will wish, and seek for the opportunity, which in the change, weakness and accidents of human affairs, seldom delays long to offer itself. He must have lived but a little while in the world, who has not seen examples of this in his time: and he must have read very little, who cannot produce examples of it in all sorts of governments in the world.

§. 225. Secondly, I answer, such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be borne by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered at, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected; and without which, ancient names, and specious forms, are so far from being better, that they are much worse, than the state of nature, or pure anarchy; the inconveniences being all as great and as near, but the remedy farther off and more difficult.

On a much larger scale, this claim is like the claim that for every person who complains about a product, there are many, many other people who felt the same way, but felt it was too much trouble or too scary to lodge a complaint. Dissatisfaction with a government passes through a strong filter before any revolution comes out.

We live in a time when new political forces are arising both on the right and on the left. One might ask “Is this just polarization, or has our government genuinely heaped a long train of abuses on the American people that partisans interpret in different ways?” I tend to thing the answer is still that it is just polarization. What the right complains about is quite different from what the left complains about. And in US presidential elections, the electorate seems close to evenly divided in complaining about very different things. So I don’t think it is time to change the US government in any big way. Regular elections should give the American people a chance to change what is wrong with government decisions if they can agree on which government decisions are wrong.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Can Religion Reduce Suicide?

I was quite interested to read the scientific article “Association Between Religious Service Attendance and Lower Suicide Rates Among US Women,” by Tyler J. VanderWeele, Shanshan Li, Alexander C. Tsai and Ichiro Kawachi. I was wondering by what magic they were hoping to get the causal effect of religious attendance on suicide from the non-experimental data in the Nurse’s Health Study. (I wrote about dietary evidence in the Nurse’s Health Study and the statistical issues in interpreting that evidence in “Hints for Healthy Eating from the Nurse's Health Study.”)

It would have been interesting to see the regression coefficient for a change in religious attendance. Unfortunately, it seems they didn’t look at that, but rather “controlled” for past religious attendance. “Controlling” for a variable by including it in a regression isn’t really controlling for what that variable is intended to measure or is proxying for when that variable is measured with error relative to what it is proxying for. It is only partially controlling. Whether or not one is “controlling” for variables can only be verified when one explicitly thinks through measurement error issues. And “controlling” for variables is seldom achieved without thinking through measurement error issues. (The advantage of using the first difference of religious attendance as a right-hand-side variable is that the first difference of religious attendance should measure the true change in whatever religious attendance is intended as a proxy, plus error. The error should bias the coefficient toward zero, but is less likely to change the sign and statistical significance of the sign of the coefficient.)

But the biggest issue with the paper lies in a different direction. They recognize the issue and try to parry it in these passages:

For an unmeasured confounder to explain the HR estimate of 0.16 (95% CI, 0.06-0.46), the unmeasured confounder would have to both increase the likelihood of religious service attendance and decrease the likelihood of suicide by 12-fold above and beyond the measured confounders; weaker confounding would not suffice. To bring the estimate’s upper confidence limit of 0.46 above 1.0, the unmeasured confounder would still have to both increase the likelihood of religious service attendance and decrease the likelihood of suicide by 3.7-fold above and beyond the measured confounders.

Our study made use of observational data. Although we adjusted for major confounders regarding the association between religious service attendance and suicide, the results may still be subject to unmeasured confounding by personality, impulsivity, feelings of hopelessness, or other cognitive factors. However, in sensitivity analysis, for an unmeasured confounder to explain the effect of religious service attendance on suicide, it would have to both increase the likelihood of religious service attendance and decrease the likelihood of suicide by greater than 10-fold above and beyond the measured covariates. Such substantial confounding by unmeasured factors seems unlikely, given adjustment for an extensive set of covariates and the known risk factor associations for suicide.

Unlike the authors, it is not hard for me to think of a very powerful potential confounder. Having one’s life be a mess could easily both reduce religious attendance powerfully and powerfully increase the probability of suicide. That is a story in which there wouldn’t have to be any causal effect of religious attendance on suicide at all.

Note that one’s life being a mess could both lead to more suicide and reduce any kind of social engagement and community support. So this is a problem not just for showing that religiosity can reduce suicide—which it might through social support and community—but for showing that any other kind of social support and community reduces suicide.

Even if something religious is causally reducing suicide, it definitely doesn’t have to be religious attendance. Anything correlated with religious attendance could also yield the evidence they point to. To see this point, suppose someone very much wanted to attend church, but was geographically too far away to make it feasible. One could easily imagine that if there are religious forces that reduce suicide, many of them might still be operative. Indeed, the authors recognize that it might be a matter of religious belief that both helps lead to religious attendance and reduces suicide:

Although religious service attendance has commonly been used in previous published studies and tends to be the strongest religious predictor of health, religiosity is multidimensional, and different aspects of religion and spirituality may therefore be differently associated with suicide. Data on religious service attendance were collected through a self-reported questionnaire and, moreover, may be subject to measurement error and possible overreporting, although the relative ordering of frequency might still be preserved. Further research could examine other religious practices, mindfulness practices, other aspects of spirituality and religiosity, other race/ethnic and demographic groups, and other forms of social participation.

In the whole paper, the most persuasive evidence about the effect of religiosity on suicide is that religious attendance seemed to have a bigger proportional effect on Catholics than on Protestants. The best I can come up with as confounders for this results are

  1. Relative to Protestant teaching, Catholic teaching doesn’t stop people from committing suicide, but makes people underreport suicide more if they are a believing and attending Catholic. And those who provide or withhold crucial evidence on cause of death often have similar religious beliefs and attendance to the one who died. This could in principle be addressed by looking at differences between the attendance of the one who died versus the attendance of the ones who provided or withheld crucial evidence about the cause of death.

  2. Relative to Protestant teaching, Catholic teaching makes people especially unwilling to attend when their lives are in a mess.

Despite these possible stories (which may or may not be true and may or may not have any oomph to them), the fact that the differential content of Catholicism vs. Protestantism seems to matter is the strongest evidence they have that there is causality running from religiosity to reduced suicide.

I would love to see a paper that tried to get identification to test the effect of church attendance on suicide in the typical way economists try to get identification. For example, do people who live further from the nearest church commit suicide more often? That might be a doable research project. And one could do some good placebo tests by running regressions with closeness to community centers, or stores or bars as well as the regressions on closeness to a church.

For another post at the intersection of religion and statistics, don’t miss “Who Leaves Mormonism?

John Locke: Bad Rulers May Be Removed

One of the longest sections in John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, is section 222, in the final chapter: XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government.” In reading this, I sense his righteous anger at bad rulers. In the title of this post, it was hard to be as emphatic as he is. “Bad Rulers May Be Removed. Period.” might say it better.

I consider this sentiment to be something deeply ingrained into the human heart by evolution. Our cousins the chimpanzees feel it too, as you can see by following the link to the video shown above. I am in full agreement with John Locke in what he says in Section 222—not only with the substance of what he says, but also with the passion with which he says it:

§. 222. The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society, that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making; whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society. What I have said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor, who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly pre-engages the electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has by solicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised beforehand what to vote, and what to enact. Thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of election, what is it but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public security? for the people having reserved to themselves the choice of their representatives, as the fence to their properties, could do it for no other end, but that they might always be freely chosen, and so chosen, freely act, and advise, as the necessity of the commonwealth, and the public good should upon examination, and mature debate, be judged to require. This, those who give their votes before they hear the debate, and have weighed the reasons on all sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare such an assembly as this, and endeavour to set up the declared abettors of his own will, for the true representatives of the people, and the law-makers of the society, is certainly as great a breach of trust, and as perfect a declaration of a design to subvert the government, as is possible to be met with. To which, if one shall add rewards and punishments visibly employed to the same end, and all the arts of perverted law made use of to take off and destroy all that stand in the way of such a design, and will not comply and consent to betray the liberties of their country, it will be past doubt what is doing. What power they ought to have in the society, who thus employ it contrary to the trust went along with it in its first institution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he, who has once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer be trusted.

I should say that the principle that bad rulers can be removed is, I believe, satisfied relatively well by our periodic elections in the US: our elections have the power to sweep out the bulk of our rulers within a period of six years.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

How Mormon Scripture Declares the US Constitution to be the Work of God

There are many interesting features of Mormonism as a result of its having writings or “scripture” considered the “word of God” produced by Joseph Smith (the preeminent founder of Mormonism) in the first half of the 19th century in America. One is that Mormon beliefs are 100% consistent with all of the scientific principles generally known by 1844 when Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. (And indeed, it is my belief that if Joseph Smith had not been murdered, and had lived to see the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, Joseph would have incorporated evolution much more fully into Mormonism.)

Another interesting feature of Mormonism due to its origin in the first half of the 19th century in America is that the word of God according to Mormonism declares that the Constitution of the United States had a divine origin. The key passage is Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80, in which Joseph Smith reports God saying this:

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

In addition to this that Joseph Smith reported as being directly the word of God, Joseph Smith said, according to the journal of James Burgess (and similar things according to others):

… the time would come when the constitution and government would hang by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands but this people the latter-day saints will step forth and save it.

This is an idea that could easily be an important inspiration and motivation for many Mormon politicians; ideas that get into one’s head at an early age can be very powerful emotionally. I know this idea had an effect on me when I was a young Mormon.

Although not all the effects of this Mormon belief that the Constitution is divinely ordained and that the Constitution needs to be tended and defended are benign, on the whole I think it is quite helpful that a subgroup of the American population take the US Constitution so seriously.


Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Don’t miss these guest posts on Mormonism by my brother Chris Kimball:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

The People Have the Right to Erect a New Government When the Previous Government Betrays the Trust It Has Been Given

One of the most remarkable things John Locke says in his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, in Chapter XIX, “Of the Dissolution of Government,” sections 219 to 221, is that the people may erect their own government either when the previous government has descended into anarchy, or when it has betrayed the people’s trust. He argues that the people have an inherent right to

… a settled [government], and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it.

(Here I have translated the noun “legislative” as “government.”) Besides anarchy, the people, he says, have a right to erect a new government when the previous government betrays its trust:

The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

If the people have this right, it is appropriate to make it possible for the people to exercise this right in a relatively low cost way. Democracy is one of the simplest—and in practice the most effective known way of lowering the cost of the people to exercise their right to erect a new government when the old one descends into anarchy or betrays the trust given to it.

Democracy in the real world is far from perfect. But it has this treat virtue: if the vast majority of people hate the government, then the government falls. Otherwise it is not a true democracy.

Even democracies in form that are not true democracies because the elections are rigged, still have some benefit in paying homage to the principle that if a government is horrible, the people get to replace it. And having a tradition of elections in form has, I believe, a positive effect on the likelihood of possible futures in which makes elections take full force. For example, who should be the successor in a dictatorship or semidictatorship is not always clear. Sometimes that question of succession will end up being resolved an election even though the elections before that were sham elections.

Moreover, in our world of 2019, elections have become a time when the rest of the world is watching. That is valuable.

If an autocracy really is looking after the welfare of the people (as most claim but do not do), then John Locke’s principle does not require democracy. But if an autocracy really is looking after the welfare of the people better than anyone else or any other organization would, it should be able to win an election. So if an autocracy is actually legitimate, there would be no harm to having a democracy instead, with the erstwhile autocrats being converted into election victors. (I don’t think John Locke would have any truck with the notion that the people are not good judges of their own welfare.) This way of looking at things does, however, suggest that one should not diss autocrats who genuinely govern putting the people’s welfare first and with high competence, then at some point institute elections and win them fairly.

In relation to these powerful ideas, it is well worth reading John Locke’s own words:

219. There is one way more whereby such a government may be dissolved, and that is, when he who has the supreme executive power neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made can no longer be put in execution. This is demonstratively to reduce all to anarchy, and so effectually to dissolve the government: for laws not being made for themselves, but to be, by their execution, the bonds of the society, to keep every part of the body politic in its due place and function; when that totally ceases, the government visibly ceases, and the people become a confused multitude, without order or connexion. Where there is no longer the administration of justice, for the securing of men’s rights, nor any remaining power within the community to direct the force, or provide for the necessities of the public, there certainly is no government left. Where the laws cannot be executed, it is all one as if there were no laws; and a government without laws is, I suppose, a mystery in politics, unconceivable to human capacity, and inconsistent with human society.

§. 220. In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good: for the society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a settled legislative, and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it. But the state of mankind is not so miserable that they are not capable of using this remedy, till it be too late to look for any. To tell people they may provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, when by oppression, artifice, or being delivered over to a foreign power, their old one is gone, is only to tell them, they may expect relief when it is too late, and the evil is past cure. This is in effect no more than to bid them first be slaves, and then to take care of their liberty; and when their chains are on, tell them, they may act like freemen. This, if barely so, is rather mockery than relief; and men can never be secure from tyranny, if there be no means to escape it till they are perfectly under it: and therefore it is that they have not only a right to get out of it, but to prevent it.

§. 221. There is therefore, secondly, another way whereby governments are dissolved,and that is, when the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.

First, The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Chris Kimball: Grief in the Journey

I am pleased to have another guest post on religion from my brother Chris. (You can see other guest posts by Chris listed at the bottom of this post.) Below are Chris’s words. When he writes “Church,” it means the Mormon Church, but those who have been in other churches or faiths may have had similar experiences.


I read a short article in Psychology Today titled “Four Types of Grief Nobody Told You About” (And why it’s important that we call them grief). I turned to the article out of curiosity and thinking about recent and not-so-recent deaths that affected me. What I found was surprisingly applicable to people I know in faith crisis. I generally prefer the term “faith journey” but the kinds of grief Sarah Epstein (the author) talks about refer me to the crisis part of the journey. I found it validating to see these described and recognized as important.

 Here are the headers from the article, with my personal experience following. I fight the temptation to generalize, believing that these stories are best told in raw first person.

1. Loss of identity: A lost role or affiliation.

Being an active all-in Church member was an identity, a role, an affiliation. The loss of identity is hard.  “Grief” seems like a good word. It is not a public grief, not dependent on other people knowing or any kind of formal change in membership or even attendance. Grief is about my own feelings. Sitting in a pew on Sunday knowing I don’t belong, knowing I will not be participating when others are called, knowing I am not the person I grew up thinking I was.  

2. Loss of safety: The lost sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

The loss of safety may not be obvious to an outside observer, but I have often observed that one of the things the Church “offers” (scare quotes because I believe it is a false promise) is a feeling of safety and that can be lost. Keep the commandments at the temple recommend level—which gets you into “the house of the Lord”—and you’re good. Get your children sealed to you, on a mission, married in the temple, and you will be together forever. So goes the promise.

When I started questioning the promise, one result was to feel unsafe. I remember getting up from my knees (almost 25 years ago) with the words fear and trembling in my mind: “From now on you live in the world of working out salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

For me, growing up in a fully active multi-generation family with a grandfather who was an Apostle, the Church felt like home. Felt like family. I no longer feel that. I feel like an outsider. Like I'm wearing a disguise when I take up space in a pew on Sunday morning.

Even though the overall process is one of growth and independence, I grieve the loss of “safe" and "home" feelings, even if they never were fully justified.

3. Loss of autonomy: The lost ability to manage one’s own life and affairs.

I’m not sure about the loss of autonomy. The faith crisis happened to me. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t go looking for trouble. That out-of-control feeling might well fit this loss-of-autonomy category. It may also show up as a frustration when I hear “just don’t think about it” or “choose to be faithful” and know that is so not helpful. My annoyed reaction underscores an inability to take charge and make it right.

However, that all happened years ago and subsequent events—a cancer diagnosis—overwhelmed any Church-related loss of autonomy in my life. I cannot manage my life, but the highlight in my head is an invader trying to kill me, not the Church.

4. Loss of dreams or expectations: Dealing with hopes and dreams going unfulfilled.

This one really strikes home. I grew up in the Church. I expected to graduate from seminary. I did. I expected to go on a mission. I did. I expected to marry in the temple. I did. I expected to have normal sorts of callings and live much of my life inside the Church. I did . . . until age 40. I expected to hit an early retirement and spend most of the rest of my life in Church service. However, at around age 40, I realized with crystal clarity that I was stepping off the path. That my future was unknown except that it would not be what I grew up expecting. 

A lot of years have passed since I got up off my knees with an uncertain future, but it is not quite as simple as water under the bridge. My cousin and his wife—almost exactly my age—are mission president now in Japan Fukuoka. I think about what might have been. There are several ways it never would have worked (including my health), but “what might have been” doesn’t go easy. It is a loss and I hurt.

In the big picture I am happy and enjoying my second life. But the grief is there too. I have lost an identity, I have lost a sense of safety, I have lost control over my life, and I have lost dreams and expectations. I am better for naming and recognizing, but that doesn't make it all better.


 Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these other guest posts by Chris:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

John Locke on Monarchs (Or Presidents) Who Destroy a Constitution

Link to the Wikipedia article on “Louis XIV of France.”    Among other actions during his reign, Louis XIV presided over ethnic cleansing of the    Huguenots    (the Protestants in his realm) and centralized power in his own hands.

Link to the Wikipedia article on “Louis XIV of France.” Among other actions during his reign, Louis XIV presided over ethnic cleansing of the Huguenots (the Protestants in his realm) and centralized power in his own hands.

John Locke, in Chapter XIX of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of the Dissolution of Government,” lists four ways in which a monarch can subvert the constitution of a nation in a way that effectively undoes the government and so eliminates any obligation to obey the unconstitutional pretense of a government that replaces the legitimate government:

  • Ruling by decree instead of duly enacted legislation

  • Preventing the legislature from meeting or constraining free speech and free deliberation within the legislature

  • Stealing or fixing elections

  • Giving people to a foreign power

By “monarch” I am referring to the “single hereditary person” in John Locke’s description of a should-be-constitutional monarchy:

§. 213. This being usually brought about by such in the commonwealth who misuse the power they have; it is hard to consider it aright, and know at whose door to lay it, without knowing the form of government in which it happens. Let us suppose then the legislative placed in the concurrence of three distinct-persons.  

  1. A single hereditary person, having the constant, supreme, executive power, and with it the power of convoking and dissolving the other two within certain periods of time.  

  2. An assembly of hereditary nobility.  

  3. An assembly of representatives chosen, pro tempore, by the people. Such a form of government supposed, it is evident,  

However, the same principles apply to a president or any other top ruler in a nation.

Here are John Locke’s four no-nos for a monarch, president or other top ruler that are serious enough to dissolve any obligation of obedience to the remaining pretense of a government.

Ruling by decree instead of by duly enacted legislation.

§. 214. First, That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed: for that being in effect the legislative, whose rules and laws are put in execution, and required to be obeyed; when other laws are set up, and other rules pretended, and inforced, than what the legislative constituted by the society have enacted, it is plain that the legislative is changed. Whoever introduces new laws, not being thereunto authorized by the fundamental appointment of the society, or subverts the old, disowns and overturns the power by which they were made, and so sets up a new legislative.  

Preventing the legislature from meeting or constraining free speech and free deliberation within the legislature.

§. 215. Secondly, When the prince hinders the legislative from assembling in its due time, or from acting freely, pursuant to those ends for which it was constituted, the legislative is altered: for it is not a certain number of men, no, nor their meeting, unless they have also freedom of debating, and leisure of perfecting, what is for the good of the society, wherein the legislative consists: when these are taken away or altered, so as to deprive the society of the due exercise of their power, the legislative is truly altered; for it is not names that constitute governments, but the use and exercise of those powers that were intended to accompany them; so that he, who takes away the freedom, or hinders the acting of the legislative in its due seasons, in effect takes away the legislative, and puts an end to the government.  

Stealing or fixing elections.

§. 216. Thirdly, When, by the arbitrary power of the prince, the electors, or ways of election are altered, without the consent, and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also the legislative is altered: for, if others than those whom the society hath authorized thereunto, do chuse, or in another way than what the society hath prescribed, those chosen are not the legislative appointed by the people.

Giving people to a foreign power.  

§. 217. Fourthly, The delivery also of the people into subjection of a foreign power, either by the prince, or by the legislative, is certainly a change of the legislative, and so a dissolution of the government: for the end why people entered into society being to be preserved one entire, free, independent society, to be governed by its own laws; this is lost, whenever they are given up into the power of another.  

John Locke then explains why the monarch or top ruler is usually to blame when these things happen, although the monarch or top ruler usually has accomplices (sometimes within the legislature):

§. 218. Why, in such a constitution as this, the dissolution of the government in these cases is to be imputed to the prince, is evident; because he having the force, treasure and offices of the state to employ, and often persuading himself, or being flattered by others, that as supreme magistrate he is uncapable of controul; he alone is in a condition to make great advances toward such changes, under pretence of lawful authority, and has it in his hands to terrify or suppress opposers, as factious, seditious, and enemies to the government: whereas no other part of the legislative, or people, is capable by themselves to attempt any alteration of the legislative, without open and visible rebellion, apt enough to be taken notice of, which, when it prevails, produces effects very little different from foreign conquest. Besides, the prince in such a form of government, having the power of dissolving the other parts of the legislative, and thereby rendering them private persons, they can never in opposition to him, or without his concurrence, alter the legislative by a law, his consent being necessary to give any of their decrees that sanction. But yet, so far as the other parts of the legislative any way contribute to any attempt upon the government, and do either promote, or not, what lies in them, hinder such designs, they are guilty, and partake in this, which is certainly the greatest crime men can be guilty of one towards another.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 


Charlotte Graham-McLay—New Zealand’s Next Milestone: A Budget Guided by Well-Being

I am proud that the Well-Being Measurement Initiative, headed by Dan Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Kristen Cooper and me, is involved in this New Zealand effort. In the summer of 2015, I spent three weeks at the New Zealand Treasury working on this effort. Data collection is slated to take place this summer.

I do not see guiding policy by well-being as inherently left-wing. It only becomes left-wing when important aspects of well-being that are especially important to those on the right are omitted from data collection. In our approach, we strive to include a wide range of aspects of well-being.

John Locke: The Obligation to Obey the Law Does Not Apply to Laws Promulgated by Invaders and Usurpers Who Do Not Have the Consent of the Governed

If one regards the Witenagemot as the legitimate 11th century body to decide who the King of England should be in cases of contested succession, then William the Conqueror was a usurper. But I’ll bet John Locke regarded many of the successors to William the Conqueror as legitimate rulers. How can that be? The key is that anyone who ascended to the throne from a power politics point of view as the successor to a usurper has the opportunity to make their case to the people to become a ruler by the consent of the governed. Back then, this was not always done by submitting to an election, but still involved trying to appeal to the people. For example, Queen Elizabeth I made many efforts to appeal to the people for support and willingness to be governed by her.

The way John Locke frames things in Chapter XIX of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of the Dissolution of Government” is that both invasion and usurpation return people to a state of nature in their obligations. Then they have the right to decide on whether they agree with a particular proposal for a new government with a new ruler:

§. 211. HE that will with any clearness speak of the dissolution of government, ought in the first place to distinguish between the dissolution of the society and the dissolution of the government. That which makes the community, and brings men out of the loose state of nature, into one politic society, is the agreement which every one has with the rest to incorporate, and act as one body, and so be one distinct commonwealth. The usual, and almost only way whereby this union is dissolved, is the inroad of foreign force making a conquest upon them: for in that case, (not being able to maintain and support themselves, as one entire and independent body) the union belonging to that body which consisted therein, must necessarily cease, and so every one return to the state he was in before, with a liberty to shift for himself, and provide for his own safety, as he thinks fit, in some other society. Whenever the society is dissolved, it is certain the government of that society cannot remain. Thus conquerors swords often cut up governments by the roots, and mangle societies to pieces, separating the subdued or scattered multitude from the protection of, and dependence on, that society, which ought to have preserved them from violence. The world is too well instructed in, and too forward to allow of, this way of dissolving of governments, to need any more to be said of it; and there wants not much argument to prove, that where the society is dissolved, the government cannot remain; that being as impossible, as for the frame of an house to subsist when the materials of it are scattered and dissipated by a whirlwind, or jumbled into a confused heap by an earthquake.  

§. 212. Besides this overturning from without, governments are dissolved from within, First, When the legislative is altered. Civil society being a state of peace, amongst those who are of it, from whom the state of war is excluded by the umpirage which they have provided in their legislative, for the ending all differences that may arise amongst any of them, it is in their legislative, that the members of a commonwealth are united, and combined together into one coherent living body. This is the soul that gives form, life, and unity, to the commonwealth: from hence the several members have their mutual influence, sympathy and connexion: and therefore, when the legislative is broken, or dissolved, dissolution and death follows: for the essence and unity of the society consisting in having one will, the legislative, when once established by the majority, has the declaring, and as it were keeping of that will. The constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act of society, whereby provision is made for the continuation of their union, under the direction of persons, and bonds of laws, made by persons authorized thereunto, by the consent and appointment of the people, without which no one man, or number of men, amongst them, can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to the rest. When any one or more, shall take upon them to make laws, whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey; by which means they come again to be out of subjection, and may constitute to themselves a new legislative, as they think best, being in full liberty to resist the force of those, who without authority would impose any thing upon them. Every one is at the disposure of his own will, when those who had, by the delegation of the society, the declaring of the public will, are excluded from it, and others usurp the place, who have no such authority or delegation.

The lack of obligation to obey laws promulgated by rulers who do not have the consent of the people is highly relevant in the situation in Venezuela, as of June 1, 2019: Nicolas Maduro, who has most of the army behind him, does not currently have the consent of the people in the sense of being able to win a free and fair election, which in addition to being an attractive principle in its own right, was the constitutionally established way of choosing a ruler. Many Venezuelans have therefore transferred their loyalty to Juan Guaidó, who has the consent of a large number of Venezuelans to be their ruler, as well as the diplomatic recognition from many other countries as a ruler chosen by a constitutional process, as least for an interim leading up to an election.

Having a dominant army at one’s command does not make one a legitimate ruler. The people must consent to one heading the government, or there is no legitimacy and no obligation to obey new laws.

To avoid anarchy, a good rule is that old laws, duly enacted by duly chosen rulers should still be obeyed while the struggle with invaders and usurpers is carried on. No one should feel they can commit murder unrelated to the struggle for freedom simply because a usurper is on the throne. And many crimes, such as rape, have no legitimate role in any struggle for freedom. It might be inconvenient that old, duly enacted laws may become somewhat outdated if the struggle for freedom continues on a long time before resolution. But even in those cases, leaning hard toward obeying old, duly-enacted laws is an important shield against anarchy.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Disregard for truth as a Sign of a Totalitarian Impulse

The headline: “MFA confirms offensive remarks from patrons, bans two members.”

Link to the tweet above. Link to a more recent Boston Globe article about the incident.

I responded to Melissa McDaniel’s tweet above with these tweets:

It is dangerous to our society when finding out and verifying the truth is denigrated. Racism and sexism are real. Proving that they reared their ugly head in a particular instance is a valuable service in fighting them.

Let me say that in relation to sexual harassment and sexual abuse, a good Bayesian assessment of whether it occurred in a given instance requires an understanding of how high the base rates are. But we don't want to create strong incentives (now quite weak) for false accusation.

The temptation to set aside or denigrate truth in service of a cause is an old one. Many religions, believing that people’s eternal souls or the fate of the world were at stake, have subordinated ordinary garden variety small-t truth to what they considered a grander Truth. But as I said in “What is a Partisan Nonpartisan Blog?” I am with my best friend Kim Leavitt in believing

We are in trouble if we let our devotion to Truth get in the way of our devotion to truth.

In particular, those who show a disregard for truth in their eagerness to get particular results betray a certain controlling—and in the extreme—totalitarian impulse. Or to take another perspective, one time that deception and lying is justified is in wartime. But by that analogy, lying to me is a sign that the liar is my enemy. I would much rather make a judgment myself, knowing the truth, than let someone else make that judgment for me. Any argument that I am not able to make that judgment puts me at a lower rank than those who can be trusted to know the truth. In some contexts, such as national security or grand jury testimony, I am OK with being at a lower rank. But in regard to, say, making a judgment about, say, Brett Kavanaugh, as I did in “On Guilt by Association,” or Donald Trump, I would not be OK with the antidemocratic approach of saying only others could be trusted to see the evidence.

Trust but Verify: Bayes Rule. Let me explain my remarks about a Bayesian approach. Bayes’ Rule says that the probability P( ) that someone is guilty of, say, sexual abuse, given being accused, is

P(guilty given accused) = P(guilty) P(accused when guilty) /

P(guilty) P(accused when guilty) + P(innocent) P(accused when innocent)

The fact that sexual abuse is common makes P(guilty) high for the accused and non-accused combined. This “base right” that so many people are, in fact, guilty of sexual abuse makes it more likely that any particular person who is accused is, in fact, guilty. But something that can drag down the probability that any particular person is guilty when accused is if the probably of being accused even when innocent—P(accused when innocent)—is high. Currently, I think the probability of being accused of sexual abuse when innocent is only of moderate magnitude. (It becomes higher in custody battles and political battles where there is more to gain from a false accusation.) And the base rate of being innocent when including both the accused and non-accused—P(innocent)—is high. So if the fraction of innocent people who are accused ever were to become high, that would totally change the equation.

We currently have a system that asks for enough verification that the incentives to falsely accuse are kept in check. But if we ever stopped asking for verification, the number of false accusations could skyrocket. One cannot generalize from a small number of false accusations now to a small number of accusations in a future world where we stopped asking for verification (leaving the accuser unavenged or unhappy if verification cannot be found).

Conclusion. To me, confirming is a noble thing. We need to know what is true and what is not. Anyone who can help us in that regard is doing a good thing. (I talked about some of the key exceptions in my discussion of blackmail in “The Government and the Mob.”) Wherever public policy relies on concealment or deception, we should always be looking for alternative ways of achieving the end (assuming the end is worthwhile) that do not require concealment or deception.’

In the arena of truth, I feel that scientists—both natural and social scientists—have an extra responsibility to serve the truth. It makes me angry to ever see a scientist subvert truth for the sake of other ends—whether those ends are furthering a career or furthering a cause. Trying to turn this principle on myself, I wrote in “What is a Partisan Nonpartisan Blog?

In a fractal recapitulation of the “team-loyalty versus unvarnished opinion on each issue” conflict, fidelity to the truth can sometimes hurt the overall thread of one’s argument on an issue. Here, fidelity to the truth has to come first. Let me list the legitimate excuses: (a) there is no duty to mention facts that seem to run against one’s argument that are actually unimportant and could easily be answered; (b) for clarity it is permissible to defer dealing with even important, widely-known facts until a commenter sets up the Q part of the Q&A; and (c) human language always deals in approximations, especially in short-form essays. But for a blogger who hopes to have the trust of readers, it is never OK to say something one knows to be false and misleading, even in the service of what one might think is a higher Truth.

I am also angry with anyone who says, in any context, that it isn’t important to verify the truth before rushing to judgment in any matter of consequence.

Related posts:


John Locke: How to Resist Tyrants without Causing Anarchy

In the first half of Chapter XVIII of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Tyranny,” John Locke describes how tyrants differ from lawful rulers. (See “John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant.”) In the second half of that chapter, he lays out an argument he must confront. What if his interlocutor said something like this:

§. 203. May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all polities, and, instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion. 

John Lock gives a subtle answer, laying out how to appropriately oppose a tyrant.

John Locke’s Rules for those Who Would Oppose Tyrants

1. Don’t escalate the use of force; don’t start by physically attacking the tyrant.

§. 204.  To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and man; and so no danger or confusion will follow, as is often suggested, for,  

§. 205. First, As, in some countries, the person of the prince by the law is sacred; and so, whatever he commands or does, his person is still free from all question or violence, not liable to force, or any judicial censure or condemnation. … unless he will, by actually putting himself into a state of war with his people, dissolve the government, and leave them to that defence which belongs to every one in the state of nature: for of such things who can tell what the end will be? and a neighbour kingdom has shewed the world an odd example. In all other cases the sacredness of the person exempts him from all inconveniences, whereby he is secure, whilst the government stands, from all violence and harm, whatsoever; than which there cannot be a wiser constitution: for the harm he can do in his own person not being likely to happen often, nor to extend itself far; nor being able by his single strength to subvert the laws, nor oppress the body of the people, should any prince have so much weakness, and ill-nature, as to be willing to do it, the inconveniency of some particular mischiefs, that may happen sometimes, when a heady prince comes to the throne, are well recompensed by the peace of the public, and security of the government, in the person of the chief magistrate, thus set out of the reach of danger: it being safer for the body, that some few private men should be sometimes in danger to suffer, than that the head of the republic should be easily, and upon slight occasions, exposed.

Any kind of immunity of a tyrant can seem galling, but John Locke points out that personal immunity typically typically does not, by itself, allow a tyrant to do a huge amount of harm.

2. Question, oppose and resist unjust, illegal acts, regardless of a tyrant’s endorsement of them, while continuing to respect and obey just and legal actions of the tyrant.

§. 206. Secondly, But this privilege, belonging only to the king’s person, hinders not, but they may be questioned, opposed, and resisted, who use unjust force, though they pretend a commission from him, which the law authorizes not; as is plain in the case of him that has the king’s writ to arrest a man, which is a full commission from the king; and yet he that has it cannot break open a man’s house to do it, nor execute this command of the king upon certain days, nor in certain places, though this commission have no such exception in it; but they are the limitations of the law, which if any one transgress, the king’s commission excuses him not: for the king’s authority being given him only by the law, he cannot impower any one to act against the law, or justify him, by his commission, in so doing; the commission, or command of any magistrate, where he has no authority, being as void and insignificant, as that of any private man; the difference between the one and the other being that the magistrate has some authority so far, and to such ends, and the private man has none at all: for it is not the commission, but the authority, that gives the right of acting; and against the laws there can be no authority. But, notwithstanding such resistance, the king’s person and authority are still both secured, and so no danger to governor or government.  

For those on a tyrant’s staff, one of the best ways to resist an unjust or illegal command of the tyrant is to do nothing. Whenever doing nothing can stop the tyrant in his tracks, this is a very attractive option.

3. Exhaust opportunities for appeal before taking up arms.

§. 207. Thirdly, Supposing a government wherein the person of the chief magistrate is not thus sacred; yet this doctrine of the lawfulness of resisting all unlawful exercises of his power, will not upon every slight occasion indanger him, or imbroil the government: for where the injured party may be relieved, and his damages repaired by appeal to the law, there can be no pretence for force, which is only to be used where a man is intercepted from appealing to the law: for nothing is to be accounted hostile force, but where it leaves not the remedy of such an appeal; and it is such force alone, that puts him that uses it into a state of war, and makes it lawful to resist him. A man with a sword in his hand demands my purse on the highway, when perhaps I have not twelve pence in my pocket: this man I may lawfully kill. To another I deliver 100l. to hold only whilst I alight, which he refuses to restore me, when I am got up again, but draws his sword to defend the possession of it by force, if I endeavour to retake it. The mischief this man does me is a hundred, or possibly a thousand times more than the other perhaps intended me (whom I killed before he really did me any;) and yet I might lawfully kill the one, and cannot so much as hurt the other lawfully. The reason whereof is plain; because the one using force, which threatened my life, I could not have time to appeal to the law to secure it: and when it was gone, it was too late to appeal. The law could not restore life to my dead carcass: the loss was irreparable; which to prevent, the law of nature gave me a right to destroy him, who had put himself into a state of war with me, and threatened my destruction. But in the other case, my life not being in danger, I may have the benefit of appealing to the law, and have reparation for my 100l. that way.  

A key test of how bad a tyrant is is whether the tyrant tries to interfere with an appeal of his decision to a court of law.

4. Enforce the law yourself before taking up arms in civil war.

§. 208. Fourthly, But if the unlawful acts done by the magistrate be maintained (by the power he has got,) and the remedy which is due by law be by the same power obstructed; yet the right of resisting, even in such manifest acts of tyranny, will not suddenly, or on slight occasions, disturb the government: for if it reach no farther than some private men’s cases, though they have a right to defend themselves, and to recover by force what by unlawful force is taken from them; yet the right to do so will not easily engage them in a contest, wherein they are sure to perish; it being as impossible for one, or a few oppressed men to disturb the government, where the body of the people do not think themselves concerned in it, as for a raving madman, or heady malcontent to overturn a well-settled state: the people being as little apt to follow the one, as the other.  

To distil this into a maxim: “Don’t be a rebel when you can be a vigilante instead.”

5. Take up arms in civil war only if the tyranny is systematic.

§. 209. But if either these illegal acts have extended to the majority of the people; or if the mischief and oppression has lighted only on some few, but in such cases, as the precedent, and consequences seem to threaten all; and they are persuaded in their consciences, that their laws, and with them their estates, liberties, and lives are in danger, and perhaps their religion too; how they will be hindered from resisting illegal force, used against them, I cannot tell. This is an inconvenience, I confess, that attends all governments whatsoever, when the governors have brought it to this pass, to be generally suspected of their people; the most dangerous state which they can possibly put themselves in; wherein they are the less to be pitied, because it is so easy to be avoided; it being as impossible for a governor, if he really means the good of his people, and the preservation of them, and their laws together, not to make them see and feel it, as it is for the father of a family, not to let his children see he loves, and takes care of them.  

§. 210. But if all the world shall observe pretences of one kind, and actions of another; arts used to elude the law, and the trust of prerogative (which is an arbitrary power in some things left in the prince’s hand to do good, not harm to the people) employed contrary to the end for which it was given: if the people shall find the ministers and subordinate magistrates chosen suitable to such ends, and favoured, or laid by, proportionably as they promote or oppose them: if they see several experiments made of arbitrary power, and that religion underhand favoured, (though publicly proclaimed against) which is readiest to introduce it; and the operators in it supported, as much as may be; and when that cannot be done, yet approved still, and liked the better: if a long train of actions shew the councils all tending that way; how can a man any more hinder himself from being persuaded in his own mind, which way things are going; or from casting about how to save himself, than he could from believing the captain of the ship he was in was carrying him, and the rest of his company to Algiers, when he found him always steering that course, though cross winds, leaks in his ship, and want of men and provisions did often force him to turn his course another way for some time, which he steadily returned to again, as soon as the wind, weather, and other circumstances would let him?

To me, a key sign of whether the tyranny is systematic is whether resisting often leads the tyrant to give in and do better, or whether resisting leads to an escalation on the part of the tyrant against those who are resisting. Escalation by a tyrant goes a long way toward making the tyranny systematic, which, if carried far enough, may justify taking up arms against the tyrant.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Who Leaves Mormonism?

Stephen Cranney’s BYU Studies article “Who Is Leaving the Church? Demographic Predictors of Ex–Latter-day Saint Status in the Pew Religious Landscape Survey” not only answers an interesting question, but also provides some basic lessons on interpreting statistics. In as close to a representative sample of the US population as any survey that provides the needed data, he compares 191 people who grew up Mormon who no longer self-identify as Mormons and 379 who grew up Mormon and still think of themselves as Mormons. (Let me say that I refuse to accommodate current Mormon Church President Russell Nelson’s disavowal of the nickname “Mormon.” An earlier Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley embraced the nickname “Mormon.”)

On overall numbers leaving, Stephen points out that it is roughly the same as the number of converts, so that growth of Mormonism in the US is largely from natural increase: births minus deaths. (Mormons still have relatively high fertility and are younger than population averages, so natural increase is substantial.)

Stephen asks the interesting question of what religious status ex-Mormons go to. The answer (with some sampling error in it) is:

  • 58% went to “no religion” or unaffiliated

  • 18% went to evangelical Protestant denominations

  • 8% went to Mainline Protestant denominations

  • 10% went to generic Christianity

  • That leaves about 6%, about equally split between becoming Buddhists, joining a Mormon splinter group or going to some other religion not listed above.

Stephen’s Table 2 in this article gives a logit for predictors of leaving Mormonism rather than staying, among this sample of individuals who all grew up in Mormonism. I favor the logit that includes all covariates at once: the rightmost column. Stephen makes no multiple hypothesis testing correction, but the hypotheses he is testing are natural enough that at least I am not worried about a lot of hidden hypotheses that are not reported.

In my own research with coauthors, I have found using a false-discovery-rate (FDR) threshold to be so convenient and practical that there isn’t much of an excuse for anyone to neglect making multiple-hypothesis-testing corrections any more. (I hope to do a blog post in the future on using the false discovery rate approach.) A false discovery rate of x% means that on average no more than x% of the claims made are likely to be false. The more claims made, the more total claims are likely to be false, but the percentage of claims that are false in expectation is below the threshold.

Doing the false-discovery-rate approach myself, I can see that in the rightmost column of Table 2, everything with *** is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 1.5%, everything with ** is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 3.75%, and everything with * is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 15%. (Mechanically, take the p-value for which the significance level reported in the table is a ceiling, multiply by the number of hypotheses tested—15—then divide by the number of claims made up to that point, including the current claim, when they are made starting from the lowest p-value and going up. One of the ***s is the first claim. The ** is the fourth claim. The * with the lowest p-value is the fifth claim. There are some caveats to this procedure, but it is generally quite accurate.)

Given that in this case am not worried about hidden hypotheses that were tested, found wanting and then put in a drawer, these significance levels are adequate.

Here are the results, from ones we are more sure of, to those we are less sure of, with some of Stephen’s interpretative comments.

FDR threshold of no more than 1.5%

Cohabiting and divorce are correlated with leaving Mormonism. Stephen is admirably cautious about interpreting this:

Because there is no information on when people left the Church, it is difficult to speculate about why ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be divorced more than those who remain in the Church. It is theoretically plausible that the trauma of undergoing a divorce led to a loss of faith, activity, and ultimately identification with the Church; it is also possible that a loss of faith led to intermarital strife with a member spouse; finally, it is possible that Latter-day Saint marriages tend to have lower divorce rates overall. Some incidental support exists for this last point in the fact that the Latter-day Saint sample here has a significantly lower chance of being in the divorced category than the general non–Latter-day Saint PRLS sample, whereas the ex–Latter-day Saint sample does not show a statistically significant difference with the general sample. This suggests that ex-members may simply lose whatever Latter-day Saint–specific protections against divorce that may exist.

Political liberalism is correlated with leaving Mormonism. Stephen is careful to put things in perspective:

Ex–Latter-day Saints do appear to be more liberal than those who stay (see tables 1 and 2). However, the political switch may be less of a switch from “conservative” to “liberal” than from “conservative” to “moderate.” Contrary to stereotypes about liberal ex–Latter-day Saints, many ex–Latter-day Saints (27 percent) still identify as politically conservative, with 39 percent identifying as political moderates, and only a minority (35 percent) identifying as politically liberal.

While on their face the political findings support the familiar narrative of liberal latter-day Saints leaving over social issues, the fact that only a minority of ex–Latter-day Saints identify as liberals and that hardly any of them switch to liberal Protestant denominations nuances this perspective. While social issues are undoubtedly salient for some people’s exodus from the Church, it is likely that this narrative receives a disproportion- ate amount of attention in informal and online discourse on this subject, and the size of the liberal Latter-day Saint exodus over social issues should not be exaggerated.

FDR threshold of no more than 3.75%

High education predicts a lower probability of leaving Mormonism. Again, Stephen is admirably cautious in interpreting this result:

In the summary statistics, ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be less educated, with lower income. While distinct, these findings conceptually support prior research that has shown that, unlike most religions, for Latter-day Saints education is positively associated with activity.4 However, when education is controlled for, income becomes insignificant, suggesting that those who stay in the Church are wealthier because they are more educated.

… there are a number of theoretically plausible stories for why ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be less educated and have lower incomes. It could be that there is a Latter-day Saint emphasis on education and occupational success that leads to higher incomes and more education, or it could be that people are more likely to stay in the Church if the lifestyle is working out for them socioeconomically.

FDR threshold of no more than 15%

Men are less likely to leave Mormonism. For most of those who grow up in Mormonism, gender can be taken as fairly exogenous. Given the controversies about how Mormonism treats women, one might have thought that women would be more likely to leave. Here is what Stephen says about that:

Related to the issue of leaving over social issues is the question of gender. For a religion with an all-male priesthood that treats the notion of gender seriously, it is worth investigating whether women are more likely to leave than men. In this sample, men are overrepresented among those who have left; these results comport with prior findings in the large American Religious Identification Survey that men tend to disproportionately leave the Church.2 This difference may be a Latter-day Saint– specific manifestation of the fact that in the United States men tend to be less religious than women.

Older people are more likely to have left Mormonism. Stephen tends to dismiss this finding because he focuses less than I do on the logit with everything in it. I think this is real, because a simple hazard model would suggest that if one is ever going to leave Mormonism, having more time pass makes that more likely to have happened already. (Even if some people return to Mormonism after having left, when starting with a group that are 100% Mormon in childhood, there is likely to be convergence—which is most likely to be monotonic—to a higher fraction non-Mormon.)

Those living in Utah are less likely to have left Mormonism. Stephen explains the interpretive issues:

Ex–Latter-day Saints also appear to be less likely to reside in Utah in the summary statistics (34 percent versus 26 percent, but this barely misses the cutoff for significance at p = .065), and the Utah effect is sporadically significant in the regression analysis, suggesting that, whether because they are more likely to leave when growing up outside of Utah or because they are more likely to move outside of Utah after they leave (or a combination of both), ex–Latter-day Saints are disproportionately found outside of Utah compared to Latter-day Saints who did not leave.

Being Hispanic is not associated with leaving Mormonism (in a sizeable enough way to be reliably detected in this size of sample), but being Black non-Hispanic or of a race other than White, Black or non-Black Hispanic is correlated with leaving Mormonism. Here is what Stephen writes about that:

Finally, the racial effects found here lend themselves to any number of interpretations, but perhaps the most reasonable is that being a racial minority in a predominantly white Church may cause its own stresses that make continued activity and identification with the Church less likely.

A bit of background here that Stephen doesn’t here is that the Mormon Church is thriving in Latin American countries and the Mormon Church has many congregations with church services conducted in Spanish in the US, so that Hispanics in the US may feel somewhat less like outsider minorities in the Mormon Church than their raw numbers (4%) suggest.

Update May 20, 2019: A reader asks on Twitter “I'd be interested to know if your experience aligns with the paper.” My reply:

I left Mormonism. Positively correlated with that: I am politically moderate, male, older and have lived outside of Utah since age 24. Negatively correlated with leaving: I'm married (1st time), highly educated (with a PhD in Economics, which never challenges religion) & white.


Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Don’t miss these guest posts on Mormonism by my brother Chris Kimball:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for








John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant

Chapter XVIII of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Tyranny,” discusses two marks of a tyrant: going beyond the law and working for their own (often unenlightened) self-interest rather than for the good of the people. John Locke says this several times in sections 199-202. I especially like this formulation:

… the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite.  

Drawing from sections 199-202, which you can see below, let me collect descriptors for a lawful ruler and a tyrant here:

Lawful Ruler(s):

  • making use of power for the good of those who are under it

  • commands and actions directed to the preservation of the properties of his people

  • the law as the rule

  • acknowledges himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of his people

  • bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom

  • glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws

  • makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government

  • uses power for the preservation of the properties of the people

Tyrant(s):

  • exercise of power beyond right

  • making use of power for private separate advantage

  • his will the rule

  • commands and actions for the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.  

  • thinks his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites

  • makes all give way to his own will and appetite

  • uses power to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it

  • transgresses law to another’s harm

  • exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not

In section 202, John Locke argues that rulers bear a greater responsibility to obey the law and further the public good the more power they have. Great power does not absolve them of responsibility:

… the exceeding the bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

Below is the context for all of these points I have drawn out:

§. 199. AS usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.  

§. 200. If one can doubt this to be truth, or reason, because it comes from the obscure hand of a subject, I hope the authority of a king will make it pass with him. King James the First, in his speech to the parliament, 1603, tells them thus, “I will ever prefer the weal of the public, and of the whole commonwealth, in making of good laws and constitutions, to any particular and private ends of mine; thinking ever the wealth and weal of the commonwealth to be my greatest weal and worldly felicity; a point wherein a lawful king doth directly differ from a tyrant: for I do acknowledge that the special and greatest point of difference that is between a rightful king and an usurping tyrant, is this, that whereas the proud and ambitious tyrant doth think his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites, the righteous and just king doth by the contrary acknowledge himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of his people.” And again, in his speech to the parliament, 1609, he hath these words, “The king binds himself by a double oath, to the observation of the fundamental laws of his kingdom; tacitly, as by being a king, and so bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom; and expressly, by his oath at his coronation; so as every just king, in a settled kingdom, is bound to observe that paction to his people, by his laws, in framing his government agreeable thereunto, according to that paction which God made with Noah after the deluge. Hereafter, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease while the earth remaineth. And therefore a king governing in a settled kingdom, leaves to be a king, and degenerates into a tyrant, as soon as he leaves off to rule according to his laws.” And a little after, “Therefore all kings that are not tyrants, or perjured, will be glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws; and they that persuade them the contrary, are vipers, and pests both against them and the commonwealth.” Thus that learned king, who well understood the notion of things, makes the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite.  

§. 201. It is a mistake, to think this fault is proper only to monarchies: other forms of government are liable to it, as well as that: for wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many. Thus we read of the thirty tyrants at Athens, as well as one at Syracuse; and the intolerable dominion of the Decemviri at Rome was nothing better.  

§. 202. Wherever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and him whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another. This is acknowledged in subordinate magistrates. He that hath authority to seize my person in the street, may be opposed as a thief and a robber, if he endeavours to break into my house to execute a writ, notwithstanding that I know he has such a warrant, and such a legal authority, as will impower him to arrest me abroad. And why this should not hold in the highest, as well as in the most inferior magistrate, I would gladly be informed. Is it reasonable, that the eldest brother, because he has the greatest part of his father’s estate, should thereby have a right to take away any of his younger brothers’ portions? or that a rich man, who possessed a whole country, should from thence have a right to seize, when he pleased, the cottage and garden of his poor neighbour? The being rightfully possessed of great power and riches, exceedingly beyond the greatest part of the sons of Adam, is so far from being an excuse, much less a reason, for rapine and oppression, which the endamaging another without authority is, that it is a great aggravation of it: for the exceeding the bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

Chris Kimball on `A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church'

Chris Kimball and his grandson

Chris Kimball and his grandson

When I wrote “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church” I had already arranged with my brother Chris that he would write a guest post as a response. I was reassured to know that any errors of fact or emphasis I made because of my increasing distance in time from being a Mormon would be corrected. Below is Chris’s response.

In my own defense vis a vis one of his themes, let me point out that I had previously written about some of the other important changes Russell Nelson has made in the Mormon Church besides those I mentioned in “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church.” See the links to other related posts at the bottom of this post.


A letter to my brother in response to “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church”

Dear Miles:

I read with interest “A Liberal Turn in the Mormon Church” two weeks ago. In the friendliest and most loving way (a standard opening for sharp disagreement), I have a couple of things to say.

Before diving in, let me say that this is a letter between brothers chock full of personal opinion and 50% confidence statements. Knowing you are going to publish it, but not caveating every other sentence to make this some kind of pronouncement or “truth” or careful lawyer’s brief. Just one brother talking to another. 

Now diving in, my first observation is that you increasingly write as an outsider to the Church. I think you would acknowledge that (and hopefully not take umbrage). On the flip side I am conscious of the fact that my most recent piece (generously referenced in your “Liberal Turn”) was so much an insider view that we both agreed it was unpublishable outside the Bloggernacle--the segment of the blogosphere focused on Mormon issues. 

“Outsider” means several things for my review. First, it means that you select and give attention to changes you notice, which is an interesting and revealing subset of the whole. Second, it means that your characterization of Church leaders seems more resume-based than listening based. Third, it means that your “liberal” label is an outside-looking-in label.

You highlight changes in the temple ceremony, calling an African-American General Authority, and reversing the 2015 policy on people in same-sex marriages and their children. No question these are newsworthy changes, and I have written extensively about the third so I can’t honestly downplay them. However, I will argue that they are somewhat less important than you make them out to be, and only three among many.

Less important in the following ways—

Changes in the temple ceremony occur from time to time. They are seldom talked about much, out of respect for the temple, strong secret/sacred bonds on certain parts of the ceremonies that make insiders cautious about discussing any parts, and a mystique that the ceremonies are “revealed truth” in ancient, unchanged, and unchangeable form (which is obviously not true in the strong sense, for anybody who pays attention, but is a valuable myth that many would like to preserve). In addition, the observant among us report particular instructions not to discuss these recent changes. But for all the quietness around the temple ceremony, it is relatively well known that changes do occur—and the Church said so in the context of these recent changes—and probably will continue.

With respect to the changes having to do with “sexist” language, my perspective is rather more cautious or measured than some of the excited reports in the Salt Lake Tribune. My perspective is that the changes I know about have been needed and talked about for forty years at least. They have been identified in focus group and survey results. Furthermore, the changes were only part of the work that seems needed. (All my opinion, of course.) The interesting questions to me are not “where did this come from?” but “why now?” and “why not finish the job?”

Calling an African-American General Authority is wonderful. But inevitable. From the first days after the 1978 inclusion of all men in priesthood roles and all men and women in temple activities without respect to race, there have been highly qualified African-American men available and holding responsible positions. As a practical matter (not theological or doctrinal) there is a very long “working up” ladder for high Church callings and I didn’t expect an African-American General Authority right away. However, 40+ years later the inclusion of the first African-American General Authority speaks to me of absolutely no affirmative action, no inclusive outreach, but simply business-as-usual. Notice that Elder Johnson joined the Church in 1986 at age 19. He is now 52, having spent his entire adult life in a  Church that fully recognized his value and worth. From what little I know he is highly qualified and well respected, but just like all the new General Authorities with a lifetime of experience and service in the Church. Remarkable in that select company only for his skin color. Again, the interesting questions to me are not “why Peter Johnson?” but “why now (and not sooner)?” and “why just one?”

Reversing the Exclusion Policy had to happen. It was a blot on the Church. I know very well there is a large constituency of Church members who maintain the Church never makes a mistake. However, in this case there is an unusually large contra group, who believe—without regard to the Church’s attitudes and practices regarding LGBTQ persons—that the Policy was a mistake. For myself, I believe the reversal was a 39-month exercise of internal consultation and consideration at the highest levels, from a baseline of recognizing the Policy as a mistake. What is interesting is not that the Policy was reversed, but that it was reversed relatively quickly and without doing the full job. The full job meaning to squarely address the civil marriage parity question (which I argue has only one acceptable workable outcome). For the third time, “why now?” and “why not more?”

Three among many in that the changes in the first 15 months of the Russell M. Nelson presidency are stunning in number and breadth. In addition to the three you focus on, we have seen:

·       New attention to the name of the Church. The naming conventions change from time to time, including change to the scripture that is often cited for the official name of the Church. But I thought this was reasonably settled in 1990. A 30-year type change.

·       A new Sunday School curriculum, a change to the system I have been familiar with since 1986. A  30-year or 35-year change.

·       A two-hour block for Church meetings. Although meeting schedule tinkering happens from time to time, this is the biggest change since 1980. A 40-year change.

·       A collapse of adult priesthood quorums into one at the local level. The last change of this magnitude was the 1986 elimination of Stake-level 70s quorums. Another 30-35 year change.

·       Adopting a ministering program in place of home teaching and visiting teaching. “Ward teaching” was the 1912 program. “Home teaching” was the 1963 version. A 50-year change.

·       Missionaries allowed to call home weekly and on special occasions. This may seem small, but it is extraordinarily meaningful for missionaries and families of missionaries. The mission programs change regularly, but I don’t remember a time when missionaries were free to contact family like they are today. A more than 60-year change.

·       Young men can now be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood as early as age 11, and the correlative change for young women means that 11 year-olds can now attend the temple for the first time. The prior 12-year-old schedule was set in 1908, and probably believed to be inviolable by most people alive today. A more than century change.

There are far-reaching consequences of these changes. Some are apparent already. Some will play out in the decades to come.

Why Now?

I think the most interesting question you raise is why now? I think your analysis of leadership change, policies that don’t work, and declining numbers, is reasonable but skewed by viewing through the lens of “liberalizing” practice. When I remove the “liberalizing” lens and ask myself about change more broadly, I conclude that it is all about President Nelson.

But I should explain.

There are traditional Mormons declaring that President Nelson is a visionary of a sort we haven’t seen since Joseph Smith, as though the heavens have opened and dropped revelation after revelation. Or maybe I should say “dreamer” as in “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2:17. And yes, I have heard “last days” talk. It won’t surprise you when I say this isn’t me. With all due respect to President Nelson, I look for more ordinary earth-bound explanations.

I grant that the numbers are not looking good. I assume this is a constant concern; it should be. The growth rate is down, the birth rate is down, there is reason to believe tithing receipts have declined (although there are no reliable numbers outside the Church, to my knowledge). For all that, my deepest concern would be changing numbers and attitudes in younger generations. As noted by Jana Reiss in her new book The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the Mormon Church, “Mormonism used to keep about three quarters of its adherents. Among young adults it is now retaining less than half.” With respect to same-sex marriage, an important tell-tale of attitudes by generation, Reiss shows that 58% of Mormons of our generation strongly agreed with the now-reversed policy, but only 40% of Mormon millennials strongly agreed. More telling (to my mind) former Mormons strongly disagreed with the policy in even higher numbers and with little generational difference.

I do believe President Dallin Oaks is an instrument of change himself. I know he is typecast by many as an ultra-conservative disciplinarian. But I see him as strongly inclined conservative but more importantly a deep thinker able to learn and change his mind and work effectively in a dynamic world. Persuadable, in other words.

Also, it should be noted that there are pressures from several years when former President Thomas Monson was either unwilling or unable to direct needed change, leading inevitably to an accumulation or backlog of changes and decisions and a likely spike in the number of significant changes with any new and decisive President.

All this I grant, but I still think the greatest reason for change is President Nelson himself. I think he is the key to the current dynamism in the Church. I see this in the following characteristics:

·       He is vigorous but at 94 years old it can’t last. He is in a hurry for good reason. While it may be a small additional impetus, I believe he looked up to Spencer W. Kimball who called him as an apostle in 1984, and recognizes the early years of SWK’s presidency as an example he would like to emulate, and the later years as a fear he is racing.

·       He is self-confident—he believes in himself in that he pays attention to and has confidence in the promptings and nudgings and visions and dreams, and he believes in himself in that he makes decisions.

·       I view him as a pragmatic problem solver before an ideologue. I suspect he is politically conservative, I am fairly confident his social policy views are conservative, and I hear from the pulpit conservative theology and doctrine (in a mid-20th century conservative sense). But I think he solves problems first. 

·       Most remarkably, especially for the leader of a large institution that has historically been slow to change and never apologize, he seems able and ready to experiment, to make a decision, watch it play out, and make another. If I were to choose one characteristic only, it would be this.

So why now? Because there is a need, it’s the right thing to do, and there is a man in place who is ready and able.

Love from your brother,

Chris.

P.S. It occurs to me that you and I have discussed some of these changes with varying degrees of approval or dismay, and  I do have strong opinions about some of the changes. But this letter is really about the high rate of change and the reasons for that high rate of change. 


Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these other guest posts by Chris:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

John Locke: Usurpation is a Kind of Domestic Conquest, with this Difference, that an Usurper Can Never Have Right on His Side

Chapter XVII of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Usurpation,” has a very simply point, expressed in the title above. By simple usurpation, John Locke means taking a role in a government one is not entitled to, without otherwise changing the form of the government. Increasing the power of that role beyond what that role is entitled to would be tyranny added to usurpation:

§. 197. AS conquest may be called a foreign usurpation, so usurpation is a kind of domestic conquest, with this difference, that an usurper can never have right on his side, it being no usurpation, but where one is got into the possession of what another has a right to. This, so far as it is usurpation, is a change only of persons, but not of the forms and rules of the government: for if the usurper extend his power beyond what of right belonged to the lawful princes, or governors of the commonwealth, it is tyranny added to usurpation.  

Even simple usurpation is a serious violation of the principle of consent. Indeed, John Locke repeatedly compares a violation of the method a state has for choosing its leaders as being akin to anarchy:

§. 198. In all lawful governments, the designation of the persons, who are to bear rule, is as natural and necessary a part as the form of the government itself, and is that which had its establishment originally from the people; the anarchy being much alike, to have no form of government at all; or to agree, that it shall be monarchical, but to appoint no way to design the person that shall have the power, and be the monarch. Hence all commonwealths, with the form of government established, have rules also of appointing those who are to have any share in the public authority, and settled methods of conveying the right to them: for the anarchy is much alike, to have no form of government at all: or to agree that it shall be monarchical, but to appoint no way to know or design the person that shall have the power, and be the monarch. Whoever gets into the exercise of any part of the power, by other ways than what the laws of the community have prescribed, hath no right to be obeyed, though the form of the commonwealth be still preserved; since he is not the person the laws have appointed, and consequently not the person the people have consented to. Nor can such an usurper, or any deriving from him, ever have a title, till the people are both at liberty to consent, and have actually consented to allow, and confirm in him the power he hath till then usurped.

I find John Locke’s comparison of usurpation to anarchy puzzling. Even in the Roman Empire, where usurpation occurred with stunning frequency, the situation was much better than anarchy. And if usurpation occurred only occasionally, the improvement over anarchy might be quite substantial, assuming those usurpations were not combined with tyranny. (It is possible that the word anarchy did not have quite the same connotations in John Locke’s day as it does now.)


For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: