Related to: Politics is the Mind-KillerKeep Your Identity Small

Followed By: How to Not Get Offended

One oft-underestimated threat to epistemic rationality is getting offended. While getting offended by something sometimes feels good and can help you assert moral superiority, in most cases it doesn't help you figure out what the world looks like. In fact, getting offended usually makes it harder to figure out what the world looks like, since it means you won't be evaluating evidence very well. In Politics is the Mind-Killer, Eliezer writes that "people who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue." Don't let yourself become one of those zombies-- all of your skills, training, and useful habits can be shut down when your brain kicks into offended mode!

One might point out that getting offended is a two-way street and that it might be more appropriate to make a post called "Don't Be Offensive." That feels like a just thing to say-- as if you are targeting the aggressor rather than the victim. And on a certain level, it's true-- you shouldn't try to offend people, and if you do in the course of a normal conversation it's probably your fault. But you can't always rely on others around you being able to avoid doing this. After all, what's offensive to one person may not be so to another, and they may end up offending you by mistake. And even in those unpleasant cases when you are interacting with people who are deliberately trying to offend you, isn't staying calm desirable anyway?

The other problem I have with the concept of being offended as victimization is that, when you find yourself getting offended, you may be a victim, but you're being victimized by yourself. Again, that's not to say that offending people on purpose is acceptable-- it obviously isn't. But you're the one who gets to decide whether or not to be offended by something. If you find yourself getting offended to things as an automatic reaction, you should seriously evaluate why that is your response.

There is nothing inherent in a set of words that makes them offensive or inoffensive-- your reaction is an internal, personal process. I've seen some people stay cool in the face of others literally screaming racial slurs in their faces and I've seen other people get offended by the slightest implication or slip of the tongue. What type of reaction you have is largely up to you, and if you don't like your current reactions you can train better ones-- this is a core principle of the extremely useful philosophy known as Stoicism.

Of course, one (perhaps Robin Hanson) might also point out that getting offended can be socially useful. While true-- quickly responding in an offended fashion can be a strong signal of your commitment to group identity and values[1]-- that doesn't really relate to what this post is talking about. This post is talking about the best way to acquire correct beliefs, not the best way to manipulate people. And while getting offended can be a very effective way to manipulate people-- and hence a tactic that is unfortunately often reinforced-- it is usually actively detrimental for acquiring correct beliefs. Besides, the signalling value of offense should be no excuse for not knowing how not to be offended. After all, if you find it socially necessary to pretend that you are offended, doing so is not exactly difficult.

Personally, I have found that the cognitive effort required to build a habit of not getting offended pays immense dividends. Getting offended tends to shut down other mental processes and constrain you in ways that are often undesirable. In many situations, misunderstandings and arguments can be diminished or avoided completely if one is unwilling to become offended and practiced in the art of avoiding offense. Further, some of those situations are ones in which thinking clearly is very important indeed! All in all, while getting offended does often feel good (in a certain crude way), it is a reaction that I have no regrets about relinquishing.


[1] In Keep Your Identity Small, Paul Graham rightly points out that one way to prevent yourself from getting offended is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

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A corollary:

If someone asks you to do or say things a little differently, in order to not scare, upset, or worry them ... don't get offended.

A lot of people turn into "slogan-chanting zombies" when someone informs them that they've scared, upset, or worried someone, when they had no intention to do so. They react with protestations of innocence; with accusations that the unhappy person is "oversensitive", or that their plea is a cynical ploy for a political cult; with baseless cries of censorship; or with biting, dismissive mockery.

This is unfortunate ... and it's bad rationality, too.

If someone goes to the trouble of informing you that the way you're acting or speaking leaves them feeling unsafe, unhappy, or uncomfortable around you ... they are giving you information. If you are interested in not having those effects on others, getting offended and defensive when someone informs you of them is a very bad idea.

It's a fact of the world that some ways of expressing yourself will come across as threatening, triggering, or creepifying to others. This is not because those people want to feel threatened, triggered, or creepified, or even necessarily that they have un... (read more)

Hmm, why does this sound familiar? =]

Also, I just want to point out that the best way I can think of testing whether someone wants to be offended is by apologizing and not doing it again ... and then seeing if they're still following me around and pointing out how I offended them that one time.

Upvoted for proposing a useful test.

If someone asks you to do or say things a little differently, in order to not scare, upset, or worry them ... don't get offended.

You should be happy that they are helping you create a better argument for this type of readers.

Of course there is a difference between "saying things differently" and "not saying things". Sometimes the offensive thing is not how you present the information, but the information itself. For example, you can speak about atheism without using ad-hominem arguments about Pope, or without mentioning child abuse in churches. Those parts are not the core of your argument, and are actively harmful if your goal is to make an "Atheism 101" presentation for religious people. On the other hand, if someone is offended by the mere fact that someone could not believe in their God, there are limits about what you can do about it. You could make the argument longer and slower to reduce the impact of the shock; use an analogy about Christians not believing in Hindu deities; perhaps quote some important religious guy saying something tolerant about nonbelievers... but at the end, you are going to say that nonbelievers exist, without immediate... (read more)

FYI, this pattern matches on "disagreeing with my complaint makes you part of the problem," at least to me, with all the problems that implies. The first two statements in particular are quite true, although insufficient in themselves to defeat your point. For the record, I don't think that's how you meant it. This, on the other hand, I wholly agree with. Getting offended in such a case is silly. I think it may arise from the perception that it grants others power over you if you have to change your behavior to suit them. I think the cure is to realize that you don't have to change anything -- but might choose to based on the extra information they were kind enough to give you. I for one wish people would tell me about such impressions more often. I've alienated a few people in my time because I was doing something irritating, lacked the social skills to realize it, and was never informed. (and therefore could not correct the problem)
Interesting. I see what you mean, but I don't see a clearer way of pointing to a particular cached-thought reaction that I anticipate some readers having. Any ideas?
Honestly, I'm not sure. Your intent seemed to be to pre-empt certain arguments you believe to be bogus. Doing that without appearing to discredit dissent in itself, may be difficult. "Catch-phrases such as...." implies that all similar arguments are presumed bogus, and "...yeah, that's the defensiveness" appears to discredit them based on the mindset of the arguer rather than the merit of the argument. Listing specific arguments along with why each of them is wrong (edit:or insufficient to reach conclusion) probably would not have given me the same impression. I am thinking of some religious figure who, writing to argue for God's existence, gave a series of statements along the lines of "these are the objections to my argument that are known to me; I answer each of them thusly...." I think it might have been Aquinas. I remember being impressed by the honesty of the approach even though I don't believe in the conclusion. (I am not sure who downvoted you or why. Responding to honest criticism with a request for suggestions seems laudable to me.)
On reflection, I think this statement specifically is my problem, and not because of what it's saying about the argument, but about the arguer. My reaction is something like "well, damn, now if I object I'll appear to be an unnecessarily defensive jerk, even if I'm right." It feels like "God will send you to hell if you question his existence"; where that one exacts penalties for the act of figuring out if there really are penalties, yours socially censures the act of questioning the justification of censure. Such double binds always strike me as intellectually dishonest. Again, I don't think you actually meant it that way; it just pattern matched on certain similar arguments (which I'll leave unstated to avoid a mindkiller subthread) by people who actually do mean it that way.
The problem with caching is just that sometimes the cache falls out of sync; you want to evaluate some complex problem f(x), and if you've previously evaluated some similar f(y) it's faster to evaluate "if (resembles_y(x)) then cached_f(y) else f(x)", but if resembles_y(x) isn't precise enough, then you've overgeneralized. But the correction "Stifle it" doesn't seem to be pinpoint-precise either, does it? It's an overgeneralization that just generalizes to the opposite conclusion. If you don't want people to overgeneralize, then you have to be specific - "in cases where A, B, or C hold, then you want to avoid giving offense; if D, E, or F hold then giving offense may have higher utility", etc - and just trying to begin nailing down this kind of precision is likely to require hundreds of comments, not just a couple sentences.
Agreed on basically all points. Did you feel this post was attempting to defend or rationalize offending people?

No. I did think it was likely to be used as a source of rationalizations by people who do offend people, though, without some caveat that, well, offending people is ceteris paribus bad; and that a lot of common responses people have (especially online) to complaints of offense are actually rather weak rationalizations.

My response was intended in the spirit of Eliezer's "Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People" — that this sort of thing may unintentionally provide ammunition for bad behavior.

I used to feel that getting offended was useless and counterproductive, but a friend pointed out that if people are not treating you with respect, that can be a genuinely problematic situation.

Wei Dai suggests that offense is experienced when people feel they are being treated as being low status. So if you feel offended, a good first question might be "do I care that this person is treating me as low status?" If there is no one else around, and you don't expect to see the person again, then your answer may be no. If there are others around, or you expect to see the person again, then things may be more difficult. Yes, you can politely ask people to be more considerate of you, but that's not exactly a high-status move.

So, I don't feel that "never act offended" passes the "rationalists should win" test as a group norm. It might actually be good that "That's offensive" represents a high-status way to say "You're treating me as low status. Stop."

It might even be worthwhile to expand the concept of offense. Currently it's only acceptable to be offended when people treat you as low status in certain narrow ways. If someone says s... (read more)

Wei Dai suggests that offense is experienced when people feel they are being treated as being low status.

I would generalize this and say that offense is experienced when people feel they are being treated as being lower status than they feel they are/deserve.

The reason for the generalization: some people get offended by just about everything, it seems, and one way to explain it is a blatant grab for status. It's not that they think they're being treated as low status in an absolute sense necessarily, they just think they should be treated as higher status relative to however they're being treated.

I think that's much closer (and upvoted), but you don't need to invoke such an extreme example to demonstrate it; you just need to notice that offense thresholds are different in different contexts. Treating your boss as if she's your drinking buddy is likely to provoke offense. So's treating your drinking buddy as if he's a child. Yet you're generally safe treating boss as boss, buddy as buddy, and child as child -- in other words, giving people the status they contextually expect.

I agree

Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince" about the similar dilemma of advice. If you let everyone give you advice, you seem like a pushover, but if you don't take any advice, you'll probably do something stupid. His recommendation was to have a circle of people who you take advice from, and to ignore everyone else.

A similar system could work well for offense. If you want to be high-status, when most people lower your status, get offended. But for a select few (probably the people who you work with when you're seeking truth in some form or another) practice never taking offense, as the original post suggests. Ideally, these people would know they could offend you, so they wouldn't censor potentially helpful ideas.

If someone lowers your status and you act offended, then it makes you look weak because it confirms that they've successfully hurt you. What you could do in those situations is to offer them advice on how not to offend you - promote their communication skills. That way you reassert your authority by determining the standard of dialogue you allow around you and potentially improve them as a resource. That said. There's a difference between discounting a certain noise level of offence - I'll try not to be offended if I believe you're honestly offering criticism and don't meant to offend me. And discounting all offence. I would suggest that the former is vastly preferable. If someone rocks up to you and starts tearing a strip off it seems worth getting offended over. # I'm not sure I buy into Machiavelli's idea that accepting advice lowers your status though. Well, not entirely anyway. In old Chinese courts courtiers used to advise their Emperors by means of heavenly prophecy. In - I forget which king's reign it was but in France - a king was famous for having two people on opposing sides of an issue debate it and then saying 'we shall see', and that was how he got his advice, he was one of the most powerful, at least in political terms, kings that France ever had IIRC. So there are ways of mitigating it without having to shut yourself off completely from advice, as Machiavelli supposes. And then a lot of it depends on how you react to the advice, and how it's given - even if it's given directly in person. If someone comes up to you and is all pro-social: "Hey we could do this too and it might work even better!" "Fantastic, why don't you come on board and head up that part of it?" That's potentially something that's been good for both of you and made more people want to work with you and share their ideas - and that gives you more power, not less. Working with others is a very complicated sort of thing. I think the most important lesson of it may well be that p
I don't think Machiavelli would actually disagree with you to any large extent (although he does not consider delegation here). He writes: There's also an OB discussion about why taking advice might lower your status.
If you take that Machiavellian idea one step further... How about shifting the view of who to take advice from. People can only make you more like themselves... so only take advice, in any particular area, from someone who has ALREADY ACHIEVED the results you are seeking... otherwise, what is the point? Also, though, your boss should not 'become offended' if you treated them as a drinking buddy... that would be unprofessional on HIS part... he should have a discussion with you, in a rational manner, about the roles that you both are to play in your working environment. I do not agree that people have certain areas where they would 'benefit' from being offended. Being offended often simply validates the person being offended, not matter what the offended person retorts with. If someone is rude to you in some way, and then you are rude back, it just makes the first rude person feel justified in their being rude to you in the first place. If someone is INTENDING to be insulting to you, then rising to the occasion only proves to them that they have power over you. If they were NOT intending to be insulting to you, then all you have done is proven how much of a boob you are.
Learning from other people's mistakes.
Feeling offended is a mental lever that causes status-restoring behavior. If you can recognize when you need to restore your status and do so without feeling offended, it's simply better for you.
The best approach is to be conscious of what will advance your goals and act accordingly. You may think a cop is not recognizing your status but you may be best served by letting it pass and getting out of the situation more quickly.
That's a good point. I can easily imagine places where the nose comment would be cause for justified offense though. Saying it to anyone in a context where high status treatment is expected - in a professional context, or an elder.
Does any of that help locate truth in the search space, other than maneuvering into a position of social power?

No, but social power + respect can be useful for achieving your goals (especially if one of your goals is social power and respect, which seem to be true for a lot of people).

Yes, but on lesswrong, at least, we've been exposed to enough social psychology to understand why that's a dangerous intrinsic goal to have. It's certainly seductive, but aren't there better things to do with increased agency than to seek to dominate other potential agents?

Last I checked (which was admittedly a while ago), there are a decent number of Less Wrong users who act obnoxiously high status in real life (including some who are quite prominent). I'd love to have the egalitarian norms you describe, but I think first we'd have to convince them to stop.

This may not be trivial. I've noticed that my high status behaviors often seem pretty instinctual, and I've also noticed that I have a fair amount of mental resistance to giving up status even if I'd like to in theory (ex.: apologizing).


...there are a decent number of Less Wrong users who act obnoxiously high status in real life (including some who are quite prominent). I'd love to have the egalitarian norms you describe, but I think first we'd have to convince them to stop.

The way you worded this makes it sound as if there are a few people ruining it for everyone. If this is actually the case, then the solution is, when these people begin acting obnoxiously high status, say "You're being obnoxious. Stop." Bystander effect, etc. If you try this and it doesn't work, let me know so I can update.

Without identifying the people involved, can you describe in more concrete terms the behaviours you are talking about?
Name three?

Name three?

You are asking John to do something that is clearly unwise for him to do in a form typically used with the connotation that if the person does not comply it is because they can not. This is disingenuous.

Good point, though he might reply to him in a private message.
If John wants a problem to stop, it would be nice to first identify more clearly the source of the problem. Otherwise he's just doing the LW analogue of vaguebooking.
It's not obvious to me that "the source of the problem" and "the people most saliently exhibiting the symptoms" are the same thing. It's also not obvious to me that "the source of the problem" necessarily refers to any particular set of individuals.
The utility function is not up for grabs.
In the abstract, sure. But we exist within a particular social context here - specifically, people supposedly come to this website, and participate in this forum, to attempt to be less wrong. Instead, it appears that many people are engaging in (as someone else put it) obnoxious status displays, playing "look how edgy and selfish and status-motivated I am", rather than actually attempting to aid each other in being less wrong. And that's fine if that's an indicated maximum of your utility function, but I would think that other people would act to collectively punish that behavior rather than reward it, lest we turn into the kind of obnoxious circle-jerk/dickwaving contest that most of the internet tends to devolve into. That is why status is a dangerous goal to pursue - because it tends produce an affective death-spiral until all other goals subordinate to gaining status.
Agreed -- Less Wrong is a particularly bad place to pursue the goal of social power.
I also agree, especially if one is trying to look high-status to the average person in the general population. Science and rationality is still looked at as nerdy, unfortunately.
Oddly, I tend to feel like having high status among nerdy types is the only time it actually "counts." I get a rush when something I say here or within other nerd and geek communities is well received, or if I'm treated as an authority on X, etc...wheras, say, people calling me "sir" or otherwise treating me as higher-status at work makes me extremely uncomfortable. So do compliments from normals in general. [Edit: "Status granted by a tribe I don't identify with feels like a status hit instead" might be a good way to put it.]
Well, why would I care what status people who don't regularly non-trivially interact with me assign to me? Same here, but I think the main reason for that is that it makes me feel ‘old’. (Teenagers and people in the early twenties aren't usually treated that way (no matter how cool they are in the eyes in their peers), and I don't exactly revel in being reminded that I'm no longer one.) ETA: I do like the fact that I'm now economically independent, though. (Edited to add scare quotes around “old”, lest thirtysomethings resent me, as they usually do when I say I feel old.)
It is totally okay to want social power and respect. You want social power and respect. If you believe that you don't want social power and respect, then you will be motivated to lie to yourself about the actual causes of your actions.
"better" according to whom? The only one who can set a different standard for yourself is yourself, yet if you already do have that "dangerous intrinsic goal", then, well, you already do have that goal (yay tautology). You can weigh it against other goals and duly modify it, but presumably if other goals outweighed your need to dominate, that would already have happened. Since it has not (for those who have that goal), that is reason to surmise that from the point of view of those agents there isn't in fact anything better to do, even if they'd like to think that they think there was.
Not if it is, in fact, your intrinsic goal! Of course there are occasions where having goals makes it less likely to actualize them, and so incentives exist roughly isomorphic to the ones which collapse CDT to TDT. The advice in How To Win Friends and Influence People is of this type - it advises you that in order to achieve social dominance and manipulate others you should become genuinely interested in them. But this is orthogonal to mindkilling.
Then maybe this is a deontological question rather than an ontological one. I would very much appreciate any help understanding why people seek to dominate other potential agents as an intrinsic goal.
If I was particularly interested in the question why people have the terminal values they have, I'd look into evolutionary psychology (start from Thou Art Godshatter) -- but if one doesn't clearly keep in mind the evolutionary-cognitive boundary, or the is-ought distinction (committing the naturalistic fallacy), then one will risk being mind-killed by evo-psy (in a way similar to this -- witness the dicks on the Internet who use evo-psy as a weapon against feminism), and if one does keep these distinctions in mind, then that question may become much less interesting.
meta: I find it interesting that your post got voted down.
I didn't downvote but I was ambivalent. The main point was good but that was offset by the unnecessary inflammatory crap that was tacked on.
What was inflammatory? Also: I find it wryly interesting that a post with a good point and informative links would be judged inflammatory in an article about not getting offended.
I insulted anti-feminist amateur evolutionary psychologists. ;-) (Actually, I hadn't noticed that, but that's a great reason (excuse?) to not edit my comment.)
I think both you and ialdabaoth have missed the point of the post. It is definitely not an invitation to be more inflammatory. It encourages not taking offense because taking offense has negative side effects. To the extent those side effects matter provoking them in others would also seem undesirable.
What do you mean "use as a weapon against" and why is it obviously a bad thing? Would you say it's a fair complaint against EY that he uses Bayesianism as a "weapon against" religion?

I believe what army means is that some people mistakenly use evo-psy to make claims along the lines of "we have evolved to have [some characteristic], therefore it is morally right for us to have [aforementioned characteristic]".

I'd add that many people appear to exercise motivated cognition in their use of ev-psych explanations; they want to justify a particular conclusion, so they write the bottom line and craft an argument from evolutionary psychology to work their way down to it. Although it would be hard for me to recall a precise example off the top of my head, I've certainly seen cases where people used evolutionary just-so stories to justify a sexual status quo, where I could easily see ways that the argument could have led to a completely different conclusion.

It's not evolutionary psychology so much, but I've seen quite a volume of evolutionary just-so stories in the field of diet and nutrition: everyone from raw vegans to proponents of diets based on meat and animal fats seems eager to justify their findings by reference to the EEA. Generally, the more vegetarian a diet, the more its proponents will focus on our living hominid relatives; the more carnivorous, the more the focus is on the recent evolutionary environment.

Which aren't exactly vegetarian.
Which serves as a reminder that those who tend to craft evolutionary arguments are not only those who can do so accurately.
Remember, it all adds up to normality. Thus we should not be surprised that the conclusion of evo-psych agree with the traditional ideas. When people claim that they're final argument tends to be a lot less convincing and involve a lot more mental gymnastics than the original.

Remember, it all adds up to normality. Thus we should not be surprised that the conclusion of evo-psych agree with the traditional ideas.

We should expect a perfected biology to predict our cultural data, not to agree with our cultural beliefs. 'Normality' doesn't mean our expectations. 'Normality' doesn't mean common sense or folk wisdom. It means our actual experiences. See Living in Many Worlds.

When people claim that they're final argument tends to be a lot less convincing and involve a lot more mental gymnastics than the original.

How strong is that tendency? Try to quantify it. Then test the explanations where possible, after writing down your prediction. Did the first get an unfair advantage from status quo bias? Did the rivals seem gerrymandered and inelegant because reality is complicated? Did any of the theories tend to turn out to be correct?

Actually, yes it does. The results of the theory should agree with our common sense and folk wisdom when dealing with situations on ordinary human scales (or whatever the appropriate analog of "ordinary human scales" is).

Actually, yes it does. The results of the theory should agree with our common sense and folk wisdom when dealing with situations on ordinary human scales

You're making two claims here. First, you're making a substantive claim about the general reliability of human intuitions and cultural institutions when it comes to the human realm. Second, you're making a semantic claim about what 'It all adds up to normality' means.

The former doctrine would be extremely difficult to substantiate. What evidence do you have to back it up? And the latter claim is clearly not right in any sense this community uses the term, as the LW posts about Egan's Law speak of the recreation of the ordinary world of perception, not of the confirmation of folk wisdom or tradition. The LessWrong Wiki explicitly speaks of normality as 'observed reality', not as our body of folk theory. Which is a good thing, since otherwise Egan's Law would directly contradict the principle "Think Like Reality":

"Quantum physics is not "weird". You are weird. You have the absolutely bizarre idea that reality ought to consist of little billiard balls bopping around, when in fact reality is a perfectly no... (read more)

First let me repeat part of my comment with the phrase you seem to have missed in bold: In particular had Newton claimed that apples fall up, that would have been reason to reject his theory. That nevertheless works, and frequently works better than what our System II (conscious reasoning)-based theories can do. And remember our conscious reasoning is itself also a product of evolution. A program to compute the area of a circle that uses pi=3.14 will be systematically mistaken, it is also likely to be sufficiently close for all practical purposes. Your intuitions and cultural traditions are evidence. As for possessing "intrinsic trustworthiness" I have no idea what you mean by that phrase. There is a Bayesian reason to think that our intuitions will in most cases resemble the right answer, at least in the sense that GR resembles Newtonian mechanics.

on ordinary human scales

But this just isn't so. Humans get things wrong about the human realm all the time, make false generalizations and trust deeply erroneous intuitions and aphorisms every day of their lives. 'It all adds up to normality' places a hard constraint on all reasonable theories: They must reproduce exactly the data of ordinary life. In contrast, what you mean by 'It all adds up to normality' seems to be more like 'Our naive beliefs are generally right!' The former claim is The Law (specifically, Egan's Law); the latter is a bit of statistical speculation, seems in tension with the historical record and the contemporary psychology literature, and even if not initially implausible would still need a lot of support before it could be treated as established Fact. So conflating these two claims is singularly dangerous and misleading.

That nevertheless works, and frequently works better than what our System II (conscious reasoning)-based theories can do.

You're conflating three different claims.

  1. Egan's Law: The correct model of the world must yield the actual data/evidence we observe.

  2. We should generally expect our traditions, intuitions, and folk theories to be co

... (read more)
When Newton(?) claimed that objects of different mass but negligible air friction fell at the same rate, that theory was rejected. Copernicus. Natural intuitions, common sense, and folk wisdom have consistently shown that they cannot identify a theory which explains the actual observations better than they can. Common sense and folk wisdom say that has changed, and we will now accept a new, more correct theory without challenging it.
So the Aztec add up to normal? Because I'm not seeing how a culture that thought human sacrifice was a virtue has much folk wisdom in common with the modern era.
7Rob Bensinger
Why was this down-voted? This is an on-point and sane response. If 'normality' is defined as tradition, then history should be a sequence of confirmations of past traditions and common sense (e.g., the common sense claim that the Earth is stationary and the Sun goes around it), as opposed to disconfirming our beliefs and providing alternative explanations of our perceptual data. The epistemic disagreement between cultures, and the epistemic change within cultures, both refute this idea. 'It all adds up to normality' in the original sense of 'The right theory must predict our ordinary experience' is a correct generalization 100% of the time. (It's The Law.) 'It all adds up to normality' in Eugine's sense of 'The right theory must agree with folk wisdom, common sense, and traditional doctrine' is a generalization that, historically, has almost never been right strictly, and has only sometimes been right approximately.
Well, I didn't downvote, but saying the Aztecs viewed human sacrifice as a virtue is at best an oversimplification. They sacrificed a lot of people and believed they were virtuous in doing so, but my understanding is that sacrifice within the Aztec belief system was instrumental to worship, not virtuous in itself; you wouldn't be lauded for sacrificing your neighbor to Homer Simpson, only for sacrifices serving established religious goals. The broader point, though, seems to be that the appeal to societal normality equally well justifies norms that call for (e.g.) sacrificing children to the rain god Tlaloc, if sufficiently entrenched. That logic seems sound to me.
3Rob Bensinger
I think it would be missing Tim's point to suppose that he's ascribing some sort of quasi-Kantian value-in-itself to Aztec meta-ethics, when all he seems to be noting is that the Aztecs got torture wrong. If you want to reserve 'virtue' for a more specific idea and historically bound idea in Western ethics, I doubt he'd mind your paraphrasing his point in your preferred idiom. It takes a pretty wild imagination to read Tim's comment and think he's saying that the Aztecs considered human sacrifice a summum bonum or unconditionally and in-all-contexts good. That's just not what the conversation is about.
Yeah, you're right.
Given the way they ran their empire, it would probably have collapsed without the intimidation factor that human sacrifice provided.
If we take as given that a nonspecific criminal act against a specific-but-not-here-identified person is required to sustain an empire, does that mean that drone strikes have virtue? (Vague and awkward phrasing to avoid discussing a violent act against an identifiable person) (Note the hypothetical statement; in the least convenient world that statement is provably true)
I never said anything about virtue, merely about cause and effect.
How is that consistent with the Aztec adding up to 'normal' as used upthread?
I'm not sure I understand quite what this means. To clarify: if at a given time common sense and folk wisdom are understood to predict a result R1 from experiment E where E involves a situation on ordinary human scales (or some appropriate analog), and at some later time E is performed and gives result R2 instead, would you consider that state of affairs consistent with the rule "the results of the theory should agree with our common sense and folk wisdom", or in conflict with it?

Remember, it all adds up to normality. Thus we should not be surprised that the conclusion of evo-psych agree with the traditional ideas.

If my observations are unreliable, I should not expect more rigorous study of the subject to confirm my observations.

Yes; OTOH, if you can already guess in which direction your observations will be moved by more rigorous study, you should move them already.
Not quite true. Say I have a d100 and I have two hypotheses---it is either fair or it is biased to roll '87' twice as often as any other number. I can already guess that my observation from rolling the die once will move me in the direction of believing the die is fair (ie. I can reliably guess that I will roll any number except 87). However, if I do happen to roll an 87 then I will update towards 'biased' to a greater degree. It isn't the direction of the expected evidence that is conserved. It's the expectation (the directions of all the possibilities multiplied by their respective degrees).
Yup. There is, of course, potentially a big difference between how confident I am that my position will change, and how confident I am that my position will change in some specific direction.
The problem is that adding up to normality, while necessary, is not sufficient. It's possible to explain the sexual status quo by appealing to patriarchy, sexism and institutionalized male privilege just as easy as by appealing to evo-psych. Any number of mutually-inconsistant theories can each indivually add up to normality; adding up to normality by itself does not tell us which theory is right.
I never said it was sufficient. One common criticism of evolutionary psychology is that "it justifies the sexual status quo", my point is that this criticism doesn't hold water.
Not if the "traditional ideas" don't necessarily reflect how things have been done for much of human history. Some of the gender norms people support with such arguments are genuine human universals, many others are not. I've known people to make evo-psych arguments justifying a sexual status quo which were implausible or even refuted by known anthropology. I think you're assuming a higher baseline level of credibility among people who ascribe to your own position than is actually the case.
Because anthropology is not at all full of people doing shoddy work and using it to justify pre-concieved beliefs. <\sarcasm> Edit: added link to Gene Expression.

Right. Many armchair evolutionary psychologists don't understand the nature of the evolutionary-cognitive boundary.

What I've seen tends to be more like, "we have evolved to have [some characteristic], asserting a deontological duty not to have [aforementioned characteristic] is not a good idea".
I didn't mean that using a theory as weapon against (i.e., in orter to argue against) a different theory is always obviously a bad thing; in particular, I don't think that using Bayesianism to argue against religion is bad (so long as you don't outright insult religious people or similar). But in this particular case, evo-psy is a descriptive theory, feminism is a normative theory, and you cannot derive “ought” from “is” without some meta-ethics, so if someone's using evo-psy to argue against feminism there's likely something wrong. (The other replies you've got put it better than I could.)
Feminists frequently make "is" assertions, and justify their "ought" assertions on the basis of said "is" assertions. In any case, you seem to be arguing that feminism will now be joining religion in the trying to survive by claiming to be non-refutable club.
They do, but their “is” assertions are stuff like “women have historically (i.e. in the last several millennia) been, and to a certain extent still are, oppressed by men”, which aren't actually contradicted by evolutionary psychology, which says stuff like “humans are X because, in the last several hundred millennia, X-er apes have had more offspring in average”. (And the “ought” assertions they justify based on “is” assertions are stuff like “we're further south than where we want to be, so we ought to move northwards”; IOW, they're justifying instrumental values, not terminal values.) That wasn't my intention, but at the moment I can't think of a good way to edit my comment to make it clearer.
Another typical feminist claim is "differences between the behavior of boys and girls are due to socialization". This is, as you'd imagine, the kind of claim that is easily subject to falsification by evolutionary psychology. The related normative claim that "we ought to socialize boys and girls as androgynously as possible", becomes challenged by the evolutionary psychology claim that "we ought to socialize boys and girls in ways that take into account their inherent differences.
I expect claim C1: "for all differences D between the behavior of boys and girls, D is due solely to socialization" is false, and I expect claim C2: "there exist differences D between the behavior of boys and girls such that D is due solely to socialization" is true. I expect claim C3: "differences between the behavior of boys and girls are due to socialization" to generate more heat than light, by virtue of being ambiguous between C1 and C2. If I assume by C3 you mean C1... I expect the claim C4: "there are people who would assert C1, and that the vast majority of such people self-label as feminist" is true, and I expect the claim C5: "the majority of people who self-label as feminist would assert C1" is false. I expect the claim C6: "'differences between the behavior of boys and girls are due to socialization' is a typical feminist claim" to shed more heat than light, by virtue of being ambiguous between C4 and C5.
I suspect that many of the feminists who are willing to admit C1 is technically false will insist it applies to the particular D under discussion. In any case, claims of the form C1(D) "the difference D between boys and girls is due solely to socialization" work just as well for my point. I suppose now you'll claim that most feminists never really believed that the differences in question where solely due to socialization, and this discussion will develop a tone similar to that of debating a theist who gradually dials down what his religion actually claims.
5Rob Bensinger
Out of curiosity, Eugine, what sort of background do you have with feminism, feminists, feminist texts, etc.? Many feminists define feminism as 'gender egalitarianism', 'activism for gender equality', or 'activism for gender equality plus belief that women are disproportionately disadvantaged by current sociocultural norms relative to men'. How would you define 'feminism'? What is your view of the importance of specifically anti-sexist intervention and memecraft, and/or on the prevalence of harmful or overapplied gender schemas? I want to get a clearer idea on the background and aims you're bringing to this conversation, rather than skirting around the heart of the matter.
Feminism has two common definitions 1) Someone who believes in equality of opportunity for women. 2) Someone who accepts the results of feminist critical theory. A lot of feminists tend to play bait-and-switch games with the above two definitions. In this context I mean something closer to (2).
... Not quite. I'd say that the first definition is somewhat uncontroversial (People opposing it usually deny the continued existence of the problem rather than denying the feminists desire, reactionaries excluded) and the second may be mis-named and is extremely fragmentary with a whole bunch of different schools of thought, a few of which have thin coatings of anti-epistemology.
What would count as evidence that a particular behavior was caused solely by socialization? I'll admit that evidence of sex-linked behavior among non-human primates is evidence that the similar behavior in humans is sex-linked. But before we start talking about proof, we need to agree what sorts of things count as evidence. There are many behavior differences that cannot be explained solely on the basis of socialization. The most obvious is that women generally sit to pee, while men generally do not. Or we could look to some pregnancy related behavior that is not performed by men since they generally don't get pregnant. Likewise, there are some behaviors that we have strong reason to believe are pure socialization. For example, male preference for blue and female preference for pink is less than a century old.
I think you just answered your own question.
But if I pick a more controversial example from history, shouldn't I predict that you will blow off that evidence by saying something sarcastic like: Because anthropology is not at all full of people doing shoddy work and using it to justify pre-concieved beliefs. <\sarcasm>. In short, a reasoned discussion needs a more concrete rule for what counts as evidence than "I know it when I see it."
Something that is more likely to occur if the theory is true than if it is false. (Given the current state of cultural anthropology, this doesn't include the writing of modern cultural anthropologists.) As for what an appropriate filter to use in this context is, analogous to the filter of scientific evidence used in the hard sciences, I'm not sure. This is itself a hard problem, which probably deserves to be discussed somewhere more prominent than below the fold on a week old thread.
I read that second link, and I am confused. He criticizes cultural anthropolgy for using concepts he believes are politically infected. On of his examples is "heteronormativity." As I understand that word, it means something like: I understand if you don't think that type of social pressure is bad, but do you deny it exists? What should we call it?
Khan's complaint is that "heteronormativity" is used as a boo light, just like the other words on his list: "Privilege. Oppression. Colonialism. Patriarchy."
Yes, he thinks heteronormativity is fine. I don't. I asked you if it occurs, not if you disapprove of the phenomena of heteronormtivity. Because if it occurs, then your argument that anthropology is unconnected to reality needs a better justification. Biased != unconnected with reality. Even biased evidence should have the potential to change a Bayesian reasoner's probability estimate in the direction that the producer of the evidence suggests.
I mean boo light in the technical LW sense. I don't know whether Khan approves of heteronormtivity, I'm more sure he doesn't approve of oppression, which is in the same list.
I'd add that 'heteronormativity' and the other words on the list are also sometimes used as spammable boo lights, sometimes leading to rather word-salad-like philosophies of condemnation, and that 'privilege' sometimes (but usually does not) forms part of an anti-epistemology. I'd also add that specifically 'colonialism' and 'patriarchy' (also 'capitalism' when used as a quasi-boo-light) are occasionally treated as almost Platonic properties attached to society at large that automatically color every interaction, even among people who should be able to resist their influence or do not have a concrete reason to care. That said, I think that all of these things have a very real meaningful existence and all of them are, usually, actually bad.

I think it's pretty dangerous to describe terms from other fields of study as merely being applause or boo lights. Consider how frequently LW-newbies use "rational" as an applause light until corrected by others. Instead of taking terms from other fields as merely being applause or boo lights, we should consider that the terms might be frequently misused by novices or in popular culture, in just the same way that terms like "rational" or "rationalist" are. (TVTropes link.)

Take "privilege", for instance.

It seems to be widely assumed that when social critics or activists attribute "privilege" to someone, that they are calling that person evil, arrogant, irresponsible, or something of the like. Because "privilege" is used in sentences that are spoken angrily, it is taken to be not merely a boo light but something akin to a swear word. And indeed it is sometimes used that way, because, well, people get angry sometimes when discussing starvation, rape, police brutality, and other things that activists talk about.

"Privilege" has a pretty specific meaning though. It means "social advantages that are not perceived a... (read more)

It is perhaps worth noting that the word "status" often gets used on LW to describe position in a social structure, with the understanding that individuals with higher status get various benefits (not always obvious ones), and that a lot of human behavior is designed to obtain/challenge/protect status even if the individual performing the behavior doesn't consciously have that goal. I suspect that talking about the blue weasels as a high-status subgroup would not raise any eyebrows here, and would imply all the patterns you discuss here, even if talking about the "privilege" possessed by blue weasels raised hackles.

Somewhat to my amusement, I've gotten chastised for talking about status this way in communities of social activists, who "explained" to me that I was actually talking about privilege, and referring to it as status trivialized it.

When in Rome, I endorse speaking Italian.

That's an interesting complaint. It suggests that we might understand and talk about social organization in ways that're denotationally familiar to these communities of social activists, whoever they are, but that certain connotations are customary in that space that aren't customary here. As others have noted I don't think status is all that good a term for what's going on in the weasel example, but insofar as our understanding of status does overlap with the activist scene's understanding of privilege, I think this is a good argument for preferring our own framing. At least unless and until we can decide that we actually want those connotations.
I might object since this is an abuse of the concept of status. Status is about how a person is thought of by other people. It is not about who happens to benefit from an established Schelling point, especially if the group benefiting had nothing to do with establishing it.
I'm assuming it's acceptable to treat weasels as "people" in this example. Can you clarify how, on your account, the way red weasels in this example are thought of by other weasels differs (or doesn't differ) from the way blue weasels are thought of?
I don't know, i.e., it's not at all clear from the example, and that's my point. Analyzing the example in terms of status doesn't work.
OK; thanks for the clarification. It seems clear to me, for example, that red weasels are thought of in the example as possessing an abnormal temperature sense, and blue weasels are thought of as possessing a normal temperature sense. Would you disagree with this?
Well fubarobfusco stipulated they are and it's his hypothetical situation. Aside from that, I'm not sure what you're asking. As I mentioned here, I'd analyze the weasel example in terms of Schelling points. As fubarobfusco referred to the weasels using standard room temperature and citing Wikipedia, I assume the weasels chose their Schelling point based on human norms, most likely they've adopted any human norms wholesale in an attempt to emulate the successful human civilization. I realize I've just massively expended fubarobfusco's hypothetical, but that's the thing about Schelling points, they can make irrelevant aspects of the scenario relevant.
Yes, I agree that in fubarobfusco's presentation of his hypothetical situation, the red red weasels are thought of in the example as possessing an abnormal temperature sense, and blue weasels are thought of as possessing a normal temperature sense. Which is why fubarobfusco's presentation of his hypothetical situation seems to me to clearly provide enough information to determine at least some ways in which red weasels are thought of by other weasels differently from the way blue weasels are thought of. Which is why I was puzzled when you claimed fubarobfusco's presentation didn't provide enough information to determine that. Hope that clarifies what I was asking. No further answer is required, though; I think I've gotten enough of a response. WRT Schelling points, if properly understanding your analysis depends on reading Strategy of Conflict, I'll defer further discussion until I've done so. Thanks for the pointer.
I assumed the hypothetical took place in a world only populated by weasels, where Wikipedia was written by weasels, and the room temperature article ultimately reflected the historical thermostat setting standard set by blue weasels.
"Privilege" has two disadvantages vis-à-vis "status", though. First, it suggests a binary distinction - privilege or no privilege -, as opposed to degrees of status. Second, status can be acquired, while the way I hear "privilege" used seems to exclude that.
Folks who use "privilege" as part of their usual vocabulary often note that people can have (and lack) different sorts of privilege, actually — for instance, racial, religious, or heterosexual privilege — that these are not projected onto a single dimension.
Yes, the usual term for this is "intersectionality," but I have yet to see a good theory of how intersectionality actually works, that does not consist mainly of just repeating the word (as a teacher's password). Status does seem like a superior conceptual tool, for the reasons Creutzer cited. (It helps explain why, say, football players may have obvious 'privilege' only in certain situations and with certain people, and may actually be underprivileged in other situations.) The only thing it is lacking is a widespread understanding & terminology to reflect the fact that people (especially high-status people) are often oblivious to status differentials & treat them as basic features of the universe.
I'm not sure about that, in my experience it's low status people who are more likely to treat status differentials as basic features of the universe. High status people seem to be more aware of status, as indicated by how much effort they put into fighting for it (mostly against other high status people).
Not sure. That may start to tie into Moldbug's Cathedral a bit? Alternatively, you may be ignoring the full scale. I'd say that the people most likely to ignore status or just consider it basic are those who are secure in their own status.
I didn't say low status people ignore status, rather they tend to treat it as basic features of the universe, specifically I was referring to existentialism in this sense.
As far I can tell, intersectionality is just the observation that if A is worse than Ā and E is worse than Ē, then AE is usually worse than ĀE and AĒ. Which of course isn't always the case. EDIT: IOW, intersectionality is the idea that this remotely makes sense.
Thinking about it I think the biggest problem with "intersectionality" and the concept of "privilege" in general is that it groups together many differences that actually have very little else in common and encourages people to apply ideas appropriate to one of these categories to others where they are frequently wildly inappropriate. To take three examples from the chart that are in some sense maximally different consider race, religion, and disability. Race is an innate property that controversially correlates with certain abilities and behaviors. Disability is an innate property (or practical purposes at least) that perfectly and inherently correlates with ability. One way to see the difference between the two is to notice that a procedure that makes a blind person sighted is an unalloyed good that would more-or-less completely solve the problem, whereas a procedure that turns a black person's skin white doesn't solve any of the relevant problems. Religion is a choice (subject to the person's tradition). While there are in fact to reasons to avoid discriminating by religion except when its directly relevant they are somewhat different from the reasons for the other traits.
I agree with almost everything, but: For some value of “choice” and “subject”, it is... OTOH, I think (though I'm extrapolating like hell, so I'm not very confident) that many fewer people convert to a different religion than dye their hair (at least among females), and still saying “hair colour is a choice (subject to the person's genome)” would sound kind-of weird to me.
I frequently hear "privilege" used in ways that allow for it to be acquired or lost, and I frequently hear it used in ways that allow for different groups to have more or less privilege relative to one another (that is, degrees of privilege). But I'm willing to believe that other linguistic communities exist that behave as you describe.
Remember, just because people are using a term incorrectly does not mean that the term does not represent something empirically useful. In this case, the nuance between "Status" and "Privilege" is that "Privilege" is a special kind of status; it is status acquired based on group identity. There's an entire branch of study called "Intersectionality" that touches precisely on the ideas that 'privilege' exists in degrees, can be gained and lost, and is often situational. Even there, though, there's a lot of BS and politicking. But remember that that doesn't invalidate the usefulness of the concept, any more than "just-so stories" and BS justifications invalidate evolutionary psychology as a discipline. Intersectionality is clearly a fruitful area for cultural research that is in desperate need of a rationalist approach.
Mostly agreed. Intersectionality does need better rationalism. I'd add that some intersectioanlity has the drawback of fighting a War On Keeping Your Identity Small, and in many cases, when activist groups dedicated to a single purpose absorb the idea of intersectionality, they rapidly assimilate into the the greater Social Justice Bloc, with all the positives and all the negatives that entails. Furthermore, intersectionality sometimes appears to stand against utilitarian strict optimization.
Yes, one thing that bothers me about social justice folks is that they sometimes sound very essentialist (“they assume a homeless white man is more privileged than Oprah Winfrey”, as I've seen someone put it).
They do have their explanation there. The essentialim I have noticed usually comes from radical feminism (which is often taken to mean 'extremist feminism' but while nearly all radical feminists are extremist, the term when used by radical feminists actually refers to a specific and rather essentialist + one sided view of gender relations). They have a tendancy to conceptualize patriarchy as a diffuse property of society that colors everything that even slightly involves gender, and tend to be unwilling to slice it up into its component parts. They also tend to ignore how immense the possible gender-relations-space is outside patriarchy/!patriarchy. The thing I find most frustrating is how learning about intersectionality leads to groups being assimilated by the Equality Borg. It's almost like an infohazard for progressives.
I would like to point out that you've just swapped the definition of "privilege" from the one fubarobfusco gave to the one I mentioned in this comment.
Yup, agreed with all of this. (Not sure if you thought otherwise.)
For a while now, this has been my number-one example of a word that's useful to taboo. Since the definition is that succinct, and the word "privilege" has a tendency to derail what could have been a good conversation, we're probably better off simply not using the word.
That makes sense to me — but only for reasons analogous to why one might want to taboo "rationality", namely that it's easy to be misunderstood since the listener has heard lots of low-information uses of the word. Still, if I were to tell someone else that they have to taboo their field's terminology — and start speaking in novel (albeit succinct) synonyms — in order to convince me that they're not simply emitting applause or boo lights, that would seem like a hostile move on my part. I'd be telling them that they have to take on the cognitive load of translating from their usual language (with words like "privilege" and "heteronormativity") into a language that I've deigned to accept (with words like "misnormalized advantages" or "opposite-sex assumptions").
Yeah, pretty much this. When communication seems to be failing, my instinct is to taboo my own communication-disrupting language and adopt my interlocutor's language instead. When I don't understand my interlocutor's language well enough to adopt it, my instinct is to ask questions about it. When communication has failed so thoroughly that I can't ask such questions and understand the answers, I pretty much give up.
It seems like a lot of people don't do this. I wonder why? It seems common for people to resist adopting any of the other party's terminology. Some possible explanations: 1. I'm mistaken. It's actually rare for people to resist adopting the other party's terminology — I'm just exercising the availability heuristic. 2. This is like speciation. The cases where people don't adopt the other's terminology are those where it's advantageous (to whom?) to pick one side of a language barrier (and defend it) instead of mixing. When that isn't the case, people already have mixed their terminology — invisibly. 3. It's a way of pushing cognitive costs around as a primate status fight — "I'm too important to bother to understand you; you have to understand me." (In the extreme case this would lead to the creation of low-status roles that specialize in understanding without expecting to be understood. Do those exist? Some wag would probably say "wife" or "husband", ha ha.) 4. It's a way of defining and defending territories — "Yes, you get to insist on your language in that magisterium, and I get to insist on mine in this one." (This seems to be more what goes on in academia than #3.) 5. People are ignorant of the benefits of understanding one another. Only awesome people like you and I have figured out that understanding other people is awesome. (This seems really unlikely, but it seems to be the premise of some schools of communication improvement.) 6. People are afraid that if they started using the other party's language they would mess up their command of their current language. (Economists can't afford to learn to talk like cultural anthropologists because they might slip up and use anthro-jargon in front of their economist buddies and seem ignorant of economics jargon.) 7. People are afraid that if they started using the other party's language they would become disloyal to their current affiliations. (Economists can't afford to learn to talk like cultural anthropolo
In my experience, they're called "employees".
9. Language carries with it many framings, assumptions, associations, and implicit value judgments (see: The Noncentral Fallacy). Letting the other side set the language lets them shape the playing field, which gives them a large home field advantage. 10. People are cognitive misers who mostly rely on cached thoughts. For example, the arguments that they make are arguments that they've thought about before, not ones that they're thinking up on the spot. And their thoughts are cached in their own language, not the other party's language. (Related to #3, but it's not about status.)
/#1 might certainly be true, but if so it's true of both of us; it seems common to me as well. I agree with you about #3 and #4, though I mostly think of #4 as a special case of #3. I find #5 unlikely, but if we're going to list it, we should also note the symmetrical possibility that you and I overestimate the benefits of understanding one another. A variant of #7 is that using the other party's language is seen as a signal of alliance with the other party's tribe, which might cost them alliances with their own tribe... e.g., even if the economist isn't convinced of cultural anthropology, their economist buddies might think they are. (Which arguably is just another special case of #3.) As long as we're listing lots of possibilities, I would add #8: They believe their language is superior to their interlocutor's language, and that the benefits of using superior language exceed the benefits of using shared language. And, relatedly. #8b: Behaving as though they believe #8 signals the superiority of their language (and more generally of their thinking). Which arguably is just another special case of #3.
I see the difference between #8 and #3 being that using superior language might be positive-sum in the long run, whereas pushing cognitive costs onto someone else is zero- or negative-sum.
I suppose. That said, if your thinking is superior to mine then you gaining status relative to me (whether through cognitive-cost-pushing as in #3, or through some other status-claiming move) might be positive-sum in the long run as well. Regardless, I agree that #8 is distinct from #3.
I should also note that the strategy I describe often fails when people interpret my questions about their language as veiled counterarguments, which they then attempt to decipher and respond to. Since my questions aren't actually counterarguments, this frequently causes the discussion to fall apart into incoherence, since whatever counterargument they infer and respond to often seems utterly arbitrary to me. It's not surprising that people do this, since people do often use questions as a form of veiled counterargument.
I don't think "understanding without expecting to be understood" is quite it, but there are a number of relatively low-status roles, in domains with specialized vocabularies, whose job is basically to act as a translation layer between specialist output and the general public. Tech support is the obvious example. In medicine, family practice seems to have shades of this, and it's low-status compared to the specialties. Grad students sometimes pick this up in their TA role. I'm not sure if anything similar happens in law.
(Continuing Unnamed's list) 11. They suspect (perhaps correctly) that the other side's terminology has anti-epistemology embedded within it.
11*. Each party suspects this (perhaps correctly) of the other. (This is the same but with the usual ethical symmetry assumption that the other is at least in theory capable of occupying the same position towards us that we occupy towards them.)
Is that not a special case of #8?
Would you be willing to do this in a discussion with say a theologian or a creationist?
Sure. I've done the former many times, the latter a few times.
I've occasionally been given definitions of "privilege" by activists, and each time the definition is different. A more common one is "an unfair advantage that people have by virtue of being in certain groups".
You're right, and both definitions tend to be used interchangeably. I'll work on correcting that in my own speech, but I think in the meantime here's the essence of it: Privilege is a phenomenon that occurs as the result of a special kind of status, but the term also gets used to describe the form of status that generates the phenomenon. When a status based on group identity is pervasive enough to be invisible to members of that group, the resulting assumptions lead to a set of behavior called "privilege". It's probably even clearer to use the term "privileged status" than mere "privilege", when talking about the status itself rather than the resulting behaviors; I'm going to try using that myself for the next few weeks and see if I can anchor some critical self-analysis to the process.
That still doesn't work since the weasel example involves "privilege" in fubarobfusco's sense but as I pointed out here doesn't actually involve status.
Upvoted for pretty good description, and I agree that all of these are actually usually used in a meaningful (if not optimal) way. It might be added that in some privilege cases, the experience of not having the privilege is totally alien and leads to things like lonely men envying sexual harassment.
By the way, if you're interested in what I consider a better analysis of your weasel example, I recommend looking at Thomas C. Schelling's Strategy of Conflict, particularly chapter 3. (I don't think I can do justice to his analysis in this comment.)
Is that about something similar to these posts?
For small values of similar I suppose.
What reaction do you expect to get by pre-emptively putting words in my mouth with this kind of a sneering tone? Because my reaction is to immediately lose all interest in further discussion with you. If that was the reaction you expected, then you're successfully predicting the results of your behavior, which is great. If that wasn't the reaction you expected, then I hope this helps you calibrate your behavior better in the future. Tapping out; downvoting.
I don't mean to criticize you choice here, because you certainly are entitled to set your own boundaries. But I want to note for any readers of this thread that this is what evaporative cooling of group beliefs can look like on a particular topic.
What group belief does my comment illustrate the evaporative cooling of?
There is dispute in this community (and society as a whole) about whether anything is wrong with gender dynamics, and how to talk about making changes. Eugine has a fairly hostile position to the current methods of talking about what needs changing. You have a less hostile position to those methods. If he's the only person who talks about this topic in this venue, he gets to control this venue's position on reflexive examination of social norms, by moving the position towards more extreme hostility.
I'm not opposed to reflexive examination of social norms, although I do believe it should be done carefully. My objection is to the methods you seem to prefer for examining social norms don't correspond to reality.
Thanks for the clarification; this is not at all what I'd initially understood you to be saying. In general it's worth staying aware of the differences between "nobody talks to X about gender dynamics" and "only X talks about gender dynamics," as it's the latter (or approximations thereof) that cause the problem you describe... but I agree that if X is consistent about involving themself in all discussions of gender dynamics, the former starts to approximate the latter. So yeah, I'd say you're right, this is one of the ways evaporative cooling works. (And I understand that that's not meant as a personal criticism, except perhaps in the most technical of senses, and I'm not taking it as one.) Edit: Hm. Annoyingly, actually, I do seem to be taking it as one. So let me say, rather, that I don't endorse taking it as one, and will work on getting over it. :-)
To be fair (I'm not sure on who---maybe Dave, maybe everyone here) nothing that has gone on in this backwater of a subthread can be considered at all representative of a group position on anything. From the beginning this has been about slinging mud and taking offense at positions allegedly possessed by various groups of people that presumably exist somewhere on the internet. Most people just wouldn't touch this with an 11 foot pole.
I'm not sure I agree. This discussion is one example of what seems to me to be a representative pattern of behavior. Obviously, I am at substantial risk of mind-killed biased perception, but it seems to me that the local consensus is basically: That has the effect of cutting out the extremists on both ends, but also cuts moderate-extremist social change activists out without addressing their counterparts on the other end of the continuum. Behaviors that punish +5, +4, and -5 (on the continuum of positions) will skew what is said aloud so that it appears to outsiders that the local consensus is different than what is actually is. Much like the complaint about political correctness, that punishing +5, -4, and -5 will change what newcomers see as acceptable.
My position is that the quality of discussion on that particular subject is a disgrace that I don't want to be associated with and would prefer not to have to put up with here. Years of experience suggest improvement is unlikely and that suppressing the conversation is the least harmful outcome. I don't think I'm alone in that position (and so challenge your proposed 'consensus'). If newcomers were to see no conversation about moralizing sexual dynamics at all then they may be given the impression that this isn't a good place to moralize about sexual dynamics. That would seem to be the best outcome that is realistically attainable.
You'd like a venue that talks about how to figure out what object-level moral injunctions to put onto a super-intelligent artificial entity, but doesn't talk about how to talk about how one large group of humans treats another large group of human? I'm sympathetic to your disgust with the quality of discourse, but I think you are asking for the impossible. Separately, it isn't that hard to find examples of disparate treatment of various positions on the continuum, independent of how extreme they are. In other words, there are lots of -4 discussion posts and comment that are well received, while there are fewer +4 discussion posts and comments equally well received. So even if the consensus you wanted were possible, I don't think it is actually being implemented.
I'd expect people's ideas of where the zero point is to vary considerably, mainly thanks to selection effects: on average, people tend to be exposed mainly to political ideas similar to their own, partly due to political tribalism and partly because of geographical, age, and social class differences. That gives us a skewed local mean, and selection bias research tells us that people are not very good at compensating for that kind of thing even when they know it exists. On average, therefore, we'd expect people with strong opinions on both sides of the aisle to feel that their side is meeting with a slightly harsher reception on the margins. That seems to explain most perceived political bias in this forum pretty well; taking the last poll results into account, if any mainstream position has an unusually hard time on the margins I'd expect it to be traditionalist conservatism. (Disclaimer: I am not a traditionalist.)
Yes. "Who--whom?" is not the sort of moral question I would like to discuss here.
Ideally I would like a venue where I just prevent people from slinging bullshit. That isn't an option available to me. An option that is available is to make use of my trivial "downvote" and "make comments" powers to very slightly influence reality in the direction of less bullshit slinging contests.
I was trying to preempt a way the discussion could go. As for how I expected you to react, I'm generally not in the habit of psychoanalyzing my interlocutors. Although here is an example of how I respond to words being put in my mouth without flipping out.
And both claims are wrong- The only correct way of phrasing the normative claim is "We ought to socialize boys and girls in the way that maximizes instrumental value." It might have instrumental value to socialize boys and girls differently, even if there is no biological basis for the difference. It might be more valuable to socialize them the same, even if there is a biological reason why they are different.
Citation needed. A more typical claim might be "socialization is the cause of the vast majority (but not the entirety) of the observed difference between boys' and girls' behaviors and skills," and this easily falsifiable claim is borne out by the available data, never mind evo psych just-so stories about what worked in the EEA.
A lot of nitpicky LW discussion could be avoided if we implicitly qualified absolute-sounding claims about relations in real life with "in most cases". It would be rare that someone would object to e.g. a claim such as "differences between the behavior of boys and girls are due to socialization" being amended by "in the vast majority of case", or by "... but there are exceptions." We can default to claims as absolute when they refer to theoretical frameworks, for which absolute claims typically work out more, and are intended more often.
I've danced this dance before, with Robin Hanson no less.
Let me side with your youthful incarnation from five years ago: Beyond just clarifying, you did seem to have taken the initial comment at face value, even though you probably suspected the intended meaning. I agree with you regarding making the intended meaning as plain as possible as best practice; however, sidetracking the discussion in such a way often leads to "gotcha" continuations of minor details (minor because most people will side with you interpreting claims about human behavior as non-absolute by default, and follow the discussion correctly without such clarifications/rebuttals), which tend to replace other, more substantive discussions.
Sure. But it gets a little more sticky when one is attributing a false absolute claim to some other party, as Eugine did.
Or, you know, a google search. From memory even a google site search would be adequate. (Which is not to say that such claim is inherent to feminism itself. Merely that the specific observation by Eugine that it is often made by feminists is not worthy of 'citation needed' stigma.)
Since the claim that is actually often made by feminists is both weaker and, according to current research, true, Eugine's "observation" is a strawman. And I snort at the notion that my reply imparts a "stigma".
That's a far more complicated claim than it appears, with much of the complexity hiding inside the word "oppressed".
When I find other people's motivations mysterious, I find it helps to see if I have anything like that motivation (for dominance, it might be a desire to be in charge of anything at all) and imagine it as much more important in my life.
Unless there's a friendly AI which has been built in secret somewhere, we're still all human. With all the weaknesses and foibles of human nature; though we might try to mitigate those weaknesses, one of the biggest weaknesses in human nature is the belief that we have already mitigated those weaknesses, leading us to stop trying. Status interactions are a big part of the human psyche. We signal in many ways - posture, facial expression, selection of clothing, word choice - and we respond to such signals automatically. If a man steps up to one and asks for directions to the local primary school, one would look at his signals before replying. Is he carrying a container of petrol and a box of matches, does he have a crazed look in his eye? Perhaps better to direct him to the local police station. Is he in a nice suit, smartly dressed, with well-shined shoes, accompanied by a small child in a brand-new school uniform? He probably has legitimate business at the school. And inbetween the two, there's a whole range of potential sets of signals; and where there are signals, there are those who subvert the signals. Social hackers, I guess one could call them. And where such people exist - well, is it a good thing to pay attention to the signals or not? How much importance should one place on these signals, when the signals themselves could be subverted? How should one signal oneself - for any behaviour is a signal of some sort?
Except that what's being discussed here is the exploitation of those weaknesses, not their mitigation. And seeking to exploit those weaknesses as an end in and of itself leads to a particular kind of affective death spiral that rationalists claim to want to avoid, so I'm trying to raise a "what's up with that?" signal before a particular set of adverse cultural values lock in.
Ah, I see; so while I'm saying that I expect that some exploitation will happen with high probability in any sufficiently large social group, you are trying to point out the negative side of said exploitation and thus cut it off, or at least reduce it, at an early stage.
We are humans, and even our truth-seeking activities are influenced by social aspects. Imagine a situation where someone says that you are wrong, without explaining why. You would like to know why they think so. (They may be right or wrong, but if you don't know their arguments, you are less likely to find it out.) If they consider you too low status, they may refuse to waste their time explaining you something. If they consider you high status, they will take their time to explain, because they will feel a chance to get a useful ally or at least neutralize a potential enemy. Generally, your social power may determine your access to information sources.
That's true, but at the same time it should be mentioned that we do live in the era of the Internet (ridiculously accessible information, no matter how low status and not worth their time anyone thinks you are). With each passing day, we're moving closer and closer to a world where trying to build accurate models of the world is a different activity than socializing. For example, it seems plausible to say that emotions are The Enemy in epistemic discussion, but one of the main things to be engaged in and optimized for in a social setting.
I knew and tried to mention that social power has instrumental value; are you saying that signalling offense can lead to someone explaining the reasons why you are wrong often enough to be worth introducing the noise to the technical discussion?
Or, more often, who else thinks so and how much power they have...
Maneuvering into a position of social power is an intrinsic, biologically-mediated goal for many humans (cf. the "Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis"). Thus, treating 'status' as an intrinsic rather than instrumental goal is a very common trap for humans to fall into, especially particularly clever humans (since 'cleverness' probably evolved primarily to serve precisely these purposes, and so the stimulus will activate those modules preferentially). If locating truth in the search space is a preferable goal to gaining social status, then it might be worthwhile to taboo the word 'status' for awhile, especially on lesswrong - it seems to be collecting a lot of unfortunate cached subtext. Also: be very careful asking questions like that, because they tend to signal low status if you ask them wrong. ;)
Sometimes I find that signaling low status is usefull. Sometimes I don't intrinsically care about status and signaling low status is more instrumentally valuable. Sometimes I am low status and signal honestly. And sometimes status is efficiently distributed and what is instrumentally useful to a tribe is also high status.
It's not clear that everyone can learn not to be offended, and being offended imposes costs on the group in terms of the things they're going to consider and share. But assuming that everyone could learn not to be offended: Everyone can learn not to be offended by the few offensive people, or a few offensive people can learn to be less offensive. The group where the latter holds has made much more efficient use of its time and can work with a wider range of other groups. So, for all you need people who can discount a certain level of offence in order that they can share differing ideas, I don't know whether don't be offended is the most efficient group norm to put in place for dealing with cases of disrespect and/or wilful offence.
A more useful policy would be to exclude people who give willful offense or are willfully offended and apply effort equally to preventing being accidentally offensive and to disregarding accidental offensive events.

I second this! The mental state of being offended is not useful.

However, I want to point out that I believe there's some typical mind fallacy popping up this post? I think it's geared at the particular group of people whose knee-jerk impulse is to perform offendedness once they are in the offended mental state because the post doesn't clearly precisely distinguish between the two. But that's not the knee-jerk reaction of everyone. For example, I am very conflict-avoidant (to the point of doormat-ness), so I actually had to teach myself to perform offendedness for the social benefit of enforcing boundaries, which is pretty important but is only briefly touched upon in the post. My natural impulse was to tolerate (sometimes deliberately) offensive behavior and do nothing, so because I didn't get defensive or angry, I would just get hurt and sad and ... take it. Until I eventually realized this was a bad strategy. Therefore! I think it would be useful to clean up that distinction and make sure that it's the offendedness mental state that is a bad habit.

Were you commenting on an earlier version of the post, or something? ISTM that the “not everyone is the same” point is addressed by the fourth paragraph and the “behaving as though you were offended is not always useless” is covered by the fifth paragraph.
I made there be an earlier version. 8) (Because I asked for edits, so that increased the chances of there being a later version because that's what edits are. Which then implies that there was an earlier version because you can't have an later version without an earlier version ... yeah.)
katydee has been editing in response to suggestions.
Thanks for the feedback! I have a followup post on the way that I think will clarify some of the issues that you are referring to. I definitely agree that the mental state is what's really important here. Overall one thing that I think is not discussed enough on LessWrong is how all the thought processes trained by the typical LW canon can be derailed under certain circumstances. You might be the most rational person in the world, but if you're too angry/sad/joyful to think straight, you may not be as effective as you would hope.

Thank you for your reply! I'm really glad you're planning to cover this topic more, and I definitely agree that extremely emotional mental states are derailing for rationality.

Unfortunately, I don't think your reply quite addressed my concern, and I'm starting to see a lot of comments from other people who are also reading this post as "don't get angry" rather than "detect your offended/victimized mental state, don't make any decisions and speedily think yourself out of it" because of the conflated language throughout the post. I would really super-appreciate it if you could edit it to be precise, because it seems to use "getting offended", and "acting angry" and "acting defensive" interchangeably in a lot of places.

Not all offended people act angry. Some people have really peaceful-looking offended states where they're secretly making mental notes to hold a grudge forever! They might read this post and think it doesn't apply to them. Some of us don't get offended at all and need to teach ourselves to socially demonstrate that something is wrong. Some people unfortunately don't even think they're allowed to get offended because they think they deserve every bad thing :(, but aren't in the scope of this post. They might read this and think there isn't anything to learn here.

Awesomeness! Thank you.
My concern with your assertions is that there is a serious risk that it with be used as a complete counter-argument to certain disliked social movements (proto-example here). I'm not saying that all of my putative allies are rational, or have terminal values that can be reasonably implemented. Clearly, that is not the case. But a great deal of that problem is caused by the general low sanity line across the political spectrum. In short, I'm concerned that your message will be interpreted as narrowly focusing that criticism to only one part of the spectrum. EDIT: Fubarobfusco said it better

As a special case of a special case, I've been taking note whenever someone makes a comment about me that I find offensive. More often than not, it's because I've just been called out for a negative characteristic that I do, in fact, possess. Litany of Gendlin applies, and it's almost certainly more productive to deal with the issue at its core than to waste time actually being offended.

Getting offended is a way of discouraging antisocial behavior, perhaps even the primary way. Because this is a public good, it is probably underprovided. (And yet you go on to recommend against it! Frankly, I'm shocked.)

Getting offended for one's own sake, alternatively, is probably a Pavlovian learned behavior because criticism feels bad. Being able to distinguish between different causes of offense seems like a useful skill, due to the costs of being offended that you point out.

More generally, one can better callibrate one's offense-giving by training to be offended at antisocial actions iff your offense actually has the deterrent effect. There is little utility in being offended by someone who is not in front of your face. There is also little utility in disapproving of people do not care for your approval. Inasmuch as people care about being disapproved of even when they are not looking, however, you may wish to cultivate offense even then.

... I think this may lead to a theory of acausal insult.
Personally, it's my strategy to insult anyone who could have contributed to my being born, but didn't.
That's kind of the opposite approach to the one most people take vis-a-vis the set of people who may or may not have copulated with their mother.
If someone other than my father had copulated with my mother sometime in late 1986, a person other than me would have been born.
I believe that it is both possible and desirable to discourage antisocial behavior without becoming (or even acting) offended. Further, in many cases "calling people out" serves to derail conversations into a nonproductive or semiproductive state where the offense (or lack thereof) becomes the focus of the conversation. This seems necessary only in the most extreme cases. Personally, I find that allowing such things to pass and then talking them over with the offender after the fact seems a better method of handling things. "Praise in public, criticize in private."
I realize this is possible, but is it actually effective ? Entire social movements have been built on the basis of acting offended; and some of them, f.ex. the Civil Rights movement, have been spectacularly successful (comparatively speaking). Of course, one could argue that their success wasn't worth the cost...

Entire social movements have been built on the basis of acting offended; and some of them, f.ex. the Civil Rights movement

This seems like a pretty big oversimplification.

(Counterexample: Any act of civil disobedience under risk of violence seems to be ill-characterized as "acting offended".)

In addition to calling for edits, I'm going to be a proactive human and type out my procedure for dealing with an offended mental state. Maybe it'll be helpful to people?

  1. Notice that you are in an offended mental state, which generally feels like being hurt, angry and the victim of an attack. It feels like the person was trying to hurt you, or should have known what they did was going to hurt you.
  2. Make a mental note not to do anything important or make any decisions until you get out of this state, and then start working on getting out of it. Personally, I find it helpful to go over the facts of what happened, but if this makes the feeling worse then you may instead want to distract yourself, do breathing exercises to calm down, cry*, etc. Whatever works for you.
  3. Go over the facts of what happened precisely.
    • Do you really have evidence that the person was trying to hurt you? Would the thing be hurtful to someone else? If the answer is yes, then you should probably speak up that they have done a hurtful thing in a firm but respectful way. Generate social pressure that doing hurtful things isn't cool and you're not going to let them slide. If they get defensive or refuse, disengage
... (read more)
  • Note: Some people react weirdly to the crying (and I don't know why).

I may be one of the people you'd describe as reacting weirdly to the crying, and my reason for it is this.

In order to not be seen as an Insensitive Person, when someone you know starts crying in your presence, especially if it's because of you, you're obligated to Do Something about it.

I do not have a cache of appropriate procedures for Doing Something.

If you've ever been in a situation where you say exactly the wrong thing, and find yourself scrambling for a way to rectify the social faux pas (tvtropes link), that's more or less what it feels like.

I'd like to propose another procedure! 1. "Are you okay?" This covers the Sensitivity angle by Showing Concern. 2. "Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" This allows you to obtain a procedure for Doing Something, but not only are you Doing Something, you are also doing the exact Thing that the crying person wants you to do. Customization! Sometimes, crying people don't want you to do anything, but also if they tell you something random at step 2 and see you actually do it, they might be more inclined to trust you with the actual Thing they want you to do. I think this is pretty versatile!
I do tend to give responses like this, but they feel awfully fake to me. I may appear more authentic than I feel when giving them. One time I asked my mother if she would describe me as a warm person (I wouldn't, but I wanted to know what other people thought,) she said that she generally wouldn't, but sometimes I am, and gave an example of a time when she was distressed over a cancer scare, and when she started crying, I immediately walked up and hugged her. But I also remembered that event very well, and to me, hugging her didn't feel like a natural reaction to consoling someone in distress, it felt like "Crap, I am required to Do Something, what do I do?" and desperately searching for a socially appropriate response. This probably makes me sound a lot more uncaring than I actually am. It's certainly not that I don't empathize with others' distress, but I'm not nearly as emotive as I am emotional, and I become distressed when I feel like I suddenly have to signal compassion in a way that's different from my response to actually feeling compassionate.

This probably makes me sound a lot more uncaring than I actually am.

Not at all. It makes you sound exactly like I feel a lot of the time–as someone who didn't naturally pick up a lot of social scripts, it just feels frustrating that people have these scripts, and expect you to know when and how follow them even though they're completely counterintuitive, and that people care about how you appear, not your intentions (or what you actually get accomplished).

I do tend to give responses like this, but they feel awfully fake to me. I may appear more authentic than I feel when giving them.

Fake it till you make it! And take this as consolation: plenty of people's natural, instinctive responses to people in distress aren't helpful. The fact that you're actually thinking consciously about your response means you can notice over time what works and what doesn't and adjust accordingly.

I definitely know what that feels like; whenever people come to me with a problem, I immediately start trying to solve it, which probably comes off as awful pushiness if they just wanted someone to signal compassion at them. But it comes from compassion! People with problems need to stop suffering from them as soon as possible! I only feel compelled to give people hugs when the problem is unsolvable, like someone dying. (As a result, I'm really bad at greeting-hugs.) Here are some questions: What would you want others to do for you if you were crying or upset? How often do people actually do the thing you want? Because if it's not that often, you may want to let them know. I think actually most people appreciate feeling helpful in situations like that. Like if someone is giving you a hug and you don't want it, ask them to do something else instead? Eventually, they should condition to always do the other thing when you're upset. Hopefully. Personally, it really bothers me when people get distressed if I'm upset or crying, because it feels like they care more about making me stop than actually resolving the problem that caused it. Like the more they let me cry, the less I will like them later or something. Or as if my crying bothers them so much that they just want to shut it off. Whereas I prefer to sit there and cry until I figure out what I need from them. Therefore, I would argue that being distressed at upset people isn't instrumental, because it sends this weirdly selfish message sometimes. I also think that general non-manipulative, upset people appreciate a stable not-upset person around them? I hope. (Does anyone have a non-manipulative case where they're upset and want to upset everyone around them?) Also! I think as an addendum to step 2, I would say find the 10 most common Things To Do that people appreciate, and start listing them if the person's not articulate enough to given an answer. "Would you like a hug? Would you like a glass of water? Would yo
If I were crying? Not be there. Even if I never got it from my own family, the socialization for men not to cry in front of others is pretty strong. It might seem like a socially unenlightened perspective, but honestly, the embarrassment of having someone see me cry would probably be more acute than whatever comfort they would offer. I think that men are often at a loss dealing with crying people for this reason. If I were upset, but not crying, then situation could go two ways. They could ask if I want to talk about what's bothering me, and I say yes, and explain what I'm upset about. Realistically, I've already thought about ways to solve the issue, so I'll be bothered if they try to contribute ways to solve the problem before I relate my thoughts on the matter. After having shared my distress, I'll tend to feel somewhat better. The other way it could go is that they ask if I want to talk about it, and I say no. I won't do this out of a desire to seem tough or bottle things up, but because I honestly don't trust or feel comfortable enough with the person to want to relate my concerns to them. In this case, I'll feel worse than if they hadn't asked at all, because by asking them to leave, I've been forced to signal my lack of solidarity with them. In this case, the best thing the person can do is leave without asking me anything, so I can deal with the issue myself without having to tell them that their presence will only make matters worse. This contributes to my distress in dealing with crying people, because I know that if I were in their place, the same actions could make my mood better or worse depending on something the other person couldn't be expected to know about.
Yes! I definitely know that feeling. There are some times where people offering hugs is exactly what I need and there are times where hugs are exactly the opposite of what I need. This is kind of why I kind of think asking people stuff and requesting stuff are really the best policies, even if they don't feel socially sensitive-looking enough sometimes and can be subverted by manipulative people. I think I understand? It's like this unthinkable thing you can't imagine happening to you so you don't know what to do when it's happening to someone else. But thinking about unthinkable things is useful and good for your brain! (One day, you might be around some onions or something.) I still think that specific "distress" reaction not useful, and maybe can be helped by working out a specific procedure and sticking to it like a robot even when you feel weird. I've been in these absurd situations where a guy gets so upset that I'm crying, that I have to comfort him even though he did the thing that made me cry in the first place. I've also had people assume not crying about something means it's not important. I think it would be nice to demystify crying as an imperfect physical process that doesn't always correlate with importance, clarity, sensitivity, etc.
In my own entirely anecdotal experience, some crying people react very negatively to #2; a fewer number react negatively to #1. This procedure is far from universal.
I wish there was some way to prove that my procedure is optimal under uncertainty and we should just train everyone to use it, but I might be drastically overestimating the number of articulate-while-crying people or knowing-what-they-need-while-crying people or expect-you-to-read-mind-while-crying people. =P Maybe someone could build a model and then we can take a huge poll to fill in the model numbers.
Upvoted for procedure, but there's something this doesn't cover: How to deal with an offended mental state when the offender is malevolent and disengagement under 3.a is impossible. That would be useful to know. For bonus points, answer from an epistemic rather than instrumental rationality perspective. I've dealt with sociopaths recently -- or, if not sociopaths, at least Babyeaters. My usual offense strategy is very similar to yours and had no decision path for the situation. The gap is kind of on my mind.

So I think I originally had "leave" and I changed it to "disengage" to try to encompass situations where you can't physically leave and I was referring to checking out mentally from the conversation. I'm not sure how many situations this covers (work?), but you could keep repeating "I'm not going to talk about this anymore," and force your brain to space out. A handy epistemic perspective here says to think of what they're saying as "meaningless chunks of wordmeat," which I've personally found to be helpful.

As someone that doesn't get offended in the typical way, I had a huge breakthrough when I realized that there exist people that don't mean what they say. (Whaaa?!) From what it looks like to me, some people get mad and then grasp at the closest words in their cache to verbalize their madness feelings and then spout them out at other people. But once they've done that, their madness feelings go away! So they can't really model them anymore and so they don't even remember what they said, just that they yelled at you. So what would happen to me is that they'd apologize for yelling at me, and I'd say "We have to talk about that thing you... (read more)

I know exactly what you mean, and can add a point: The people who don't mean what they say assume that you don't mean it, either. It is a personal policy of mine to say exactly what I mean, and only what I mean, whenever possible. Yet I routinely run into people who will take something I said, extrapolate or delete from it until it resembles what they "thought I meant," and then answer that. Then judge me on it. Needless to say, the mismatch is both harmful to communication and incredibly frustrating. I have a suspicion they're making heuristic guesses that are acceptably correct when dealing with other verbally-inaccurate people, but fail when dealing with someone going out of their way to be precise. I admit I don't really have evidence for that hypothesis.

When I'm feeling snarky, I will sometimes respond to this sort of thing with some variant of "That response only makes sense to me if I assume what I actually said was something more like X. Is that what you heard?" The sorts of people who skew my output on input frequently respond to that in entertaining ways.

I've occasionally done that in text, now that you mention it. My in-person verbal comprehension has such a high latency that I can't really do it there. (by the time I've worked it out the conversation has moved on) Pre-caching expected misinterpretations may help, if I can anticipate them accurately enough.
When it isn't incredibly frustrating like you described, this works to my advantage because I generally mean it whenever I say something awful. And they assume I was just venting or whatever. =P

I generally mean it whenever I say something awful. And they assume I was just venting or whatever. =P

I am reminded of the following exchange between two housemates in my youth:

X (to Y): "Don't take this the wrong way, but: fuck you."
Y: (laughs)
X: "No, y'see, you're taking it the wrong way."

My strategy in situations like that is to try to get rid of all respect for the person. If to be offended you have to care, at least on some level, about what the person thinks then demoting them from "agent" to "complicated part of the environment" should reduce your reaction to them. You don't get offended when your computer gives you weird error messages. Now this itself would probably be offensive to the person (just about the ultimate in thinking of them as low status), so it might not work as well when you have to interact with then often enough for them to notice. But especially for infrequent interactions and one time interactions I find this to be a good way to get through potentially offensive situations.
Oddly enough, I get much angrier at my computer for not working than I ever do at other humans. Though I wouldn't say I often get "offended" by either. I wonder how common this is?

My ambivalent reaction to this post motivates me to make a distinction between two kinds of advice; I will call the first "community-normative" advice and the second "agent-pragmatic" advice.

On one reading of your post (as community-normative advice), you're basically telling people in general to do what the title says: "Don't get offended!" My gut reaction to that is along the lines of handoflixue's comment, only with less profanity. Everything anybody ever says is a speech act, and some speech acts are harmful, and some are intentionally harmful. So telling someone not to get offended is kind of like telling them to stop getting in the way of moving fists. Potentially a sign of moral myopia.

On another reading of your post (as agent-pragmatic), I see sensible advice for any individual thinker in the abstract. Yes, if it's possible to cultivate a general disposition not to be offended, that might be a good idea, in the same way as cultivating an immunity to arsenic might be a good idea if you live in an Agatha Christie novel.

I think the difference between the two is that if you say "Don't get offended!" without disclaiming the community-normative implications, you're imputing blameworthiness to those who are (perhaps maliciously) offended.

To be fair, you did actually disavow those implications.


So telling someone not to get offended is kind of like telling them to stop getting in the way of moving fists. Potentially a sign of moral myopia.

Yes, telling people not to get offended is like telling them to stop getting in the way of moving fists. And on a case by case basis, it generally is bad to blame people for what other people are doing to them. But on a long term basis, if you find yourself constantly on the recieving end of moving fists, you might want to seriously consider learning to dodge better. Similarly, if you find yourself constantly getting offended to the point that your epistemic rationality becomes impaired, you should seriously consider practicing ways to better manage your emotions.

That really, really depends though. Two different people may find themselves in that situation for completely different reasons. Some folks really just can't catch a break; others really are ready to see a slight in anything that remotely discomfits them. Some folks need to learn to dodge better, some folks probably won't get far with any advice that tells them to do something different since all these moving fists are not their idea and they're taking pains to avoid as it is, and I daresay many folks will encounter both types of situations because moving fists are not a single class of thing...
At the low end of the mind, you're absolutely right. The options are: take the hit, dodge, hit back, or redirect the punch away, or don't even get near people in the first place. The best of those options is to redirect the punch away, which is very difficult to do. At the high end of the mind, where extreme layers of subtlety exist, where most people don't even have the ability to be aware of at any time during their life, there is another way: realize that the punch is not directed at you. At that level of depth into the mind, the offendee actually entices people to say offensive things in order to get offended. One layer deeper than that, the offendee's subtle body language, and overall "air around them" or "feeling they give off", is what entices people to say things that person will find offensive. At this level, the method is to realize that the punch is not only not directed at you, but is actually directed at the puncher. As offensively blunt as it is to say: the reality is, it's always the fault of the person who gets offended. Of course, most of the time, all people involved are offended, and so it's everyone's fault. In the end, what I'm trying to say is not "don't be offended", but instead: listen to your feeling of being offended. It knows better than you. It's not telling you what's wrong with other people, it's telling you what's wrong with yourself. It's right.

Don't get hurt. Pain is natural and very easy to experience, but it interferes with your capacity for rational thought, and that's clearly suboptimal!

Ironically, the text of your post seems unambiguously correct to me.
Yes. That's because what I'm riffing on is the superficially-reasonable nature of your statements here. That's kind of the idea behind sarcasm -- tone and context alone make the difference between two very different readings of the same utterance.
That being said, I agree with some other commenters that a generalized disposition to not take offense strikes me as problematic and a little Spocklike. I am put in mind of Aristotelian ethics, wherein one is recommended to pursue the virtue of righteous indignation (that term had less baggage in Aristotle's time) in contrast to the opposite vices of irascibility and complacency. In certain very specific cases, yelling at the top of your lungs and banging on the table might be the entirely correct thing to do in response to a person's actions or words, and the sense of offense you feel is useful, because it is what provides you the necessary motivation to do so.

I'm also reminded of, IIRC, Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed containing the directive to not allow oneself to become angry, because anger distorts clear thinking, but also observes that sometimes it is necessary to display anger so as to effect desirable change in the world.

Not really. There is a qualitative difference between being harmed and being offended. And as usual the word "offended" can range in meaning from a perceptual experience of distaste or dissatisfaction to a surrender to anger and outrage. It's clear to me at least which end of that scale katydee is advising us to avoid. Of course it wouldn't make sense to advise people to avoid disliking things that are contrary to their values. But it makes perfect sense to advise mindfulness in the face of strong emotional responses. "Keep a cool head under fire" is uncontroversially good advice, and not equivalent to blaming people for being shot at. Also, katydee's advice works when applied to itself, because clearly too there would be nothing useful about being emotionally outraged at the idea of advice-as-victim-blaming, and none of the reasonable critical comments here seem to be couched in the form of incoherently angry rants.

I've been trying in the back of my mind to summarize something about this discussion since it started, and I think I have something useful:

A lot of people will hear "don't get offended" as "don't care about what people say or do; avoid being hurt or upset by becoming numb, cynical, or hyper-relativist." This is the sense in which, for instance, Internet trolls mock people for being offended by casual use of racial or sexual slurs.

But self-modifying to not care about what people say or do means throwing out some part of your value system; giving up on it — and specifically, giving up on the part of your values that says I prefer to live in a world where people are kinder to each other.

A different take on it, though, is "keep your value system; keep valuing kindness — but notice when your reactions to unkindness are effective at discouraging unkindness and when they are not." If, in a particular situation, blowing up at someone off for using racial slurs is likely to accomplish the desired result — communicating that you actually give a shit about people of other races and aren't OK with asshole behavior towards them — then blow up at them. For that matter, if blowing up at them can rally other people to say that asshole behavior is not OK, that'll be worth it to. But notice when offense works and when it doesn't — and don't burn up your own neurotransmitters giving too many fucks when it isn't going to help.

But self-modifying to not care about what people say or do means throwing out some part of your value system; giving up on it — and specifically, giving up on the part of your values that says I prefer to live in a world where people are kinder to each other.

The preference is not given up. What is given up is attachment to reality being a different than what it is. You give up the notion "if <thing I don't prefer is the case in the universe> then ". That leaves you free to be happy, content and socially alert and competent while you go ahead and pursue the things you want.

Right, so I think what is being missed here is the functional role sadness, anxiety and offense play in motivating human action. Sadness has intensionality - it is about something - and its proper role in a human mind is to motivate various complex responses along the lines of "avoid this" or "prevent this from ever happening again." Lose the sadness and you lose the motivational power it contains. I don't think this motivational power is actually replaceable by a more generic abstract preference. (Or else charity fundraising would just say "we offer 20 utilitons per dollar" and that would be enough.) Of course, the kind of emotional distancing recommended here might be necessary if the sadness/anxiety/offense actually becomes, in itself, an obstacle to achieving your goals - which can certainly happen. But it is not the general case. EDIT: Just to be clear, I am talking descriptively about humans, not prescriptively here. It's too bad that we aren't strongly motivated by "20 utilitons per dollar." We should be! But we aren't.
The functional role sadness, fear, suffering, and all such emotions plays is the same role pain plays: It is an indicator, telling the mind where the problem is. There are certainly multiple ways to "fix" the problem. In the end, however, the methods that in any way dampen progress are methods that don't actually fix the problem. (The problem is never external) Roughly 80% of the time, people are offended by things that they don't know they do themselves. That's why it is very important to listen to the emotional pain: to figure that out. Roughly 20% of the time, people are offended by things that they do the opposite of on purpose, and take pride in. In this case, it is equally important to listen to the emotional pain: to figure out that they are doing the wrong thing. These two things can overlap. Roughly 50% of the time, people get offended at their own imaginations; and what they are offended by has no bearing in reality. As in: they put words in people's mouths, or they alter definitions. At these times, there is no reasonable way to avoid offending these people. They alter their understanding of reality so that they can be offended. They're basically addicted to getting offended. Yes, I really mean 50%.
This does not follow. If the motivational power of sadness is replaceable by a more generic abstract preference, but most people do not perform that replacement, then charity fundraising would appeal to the "most people" baseline.

I've read a few gun bloggers' comments that having a gun available to them made them -less- likely to consider violence, less likely to treat insults seriously; they had implicit knowledge that whatever slurs or insults came their way, that's all that it would amount to. They couldn't be bullied, and offense was removed from the equation.

For them, a gun was a stoic focus.

I've seen others for whom martial arts provided a similar stoic focus.

For a lot of people in a lot of situations, taking offense is in fact an offensive maneuver, of the train of thought that "The best defense is a good offense." It's an opportunity to demonstrate that they will defend themselves. Remove the perceived need for that, and things get considerably simpler. People are at their most easily offended when they feel the most vulnerable.

Thus, I suggest anybody who is easily offended consider and address their sense of vulnerability first. It's entirely possible the offense taken is at a perceived threat, rather than the words themselves.


It seems that it would be easier to keep one's identity small the less one deviates from the norms.

Literally screaming racial slurs in a person's face is an offensive act. Acting cool may be one good defensive strategy, but other strategies are not unwarranted.

Maybe I'm having a problem with 'offended' as a mental state as opposed to something like 'angry'. 'Angry' seems more of a mental state or feeling within yourself, while 'offended' seems less of a feeling but more a description of an act that you are attributing to the other person.

I read this post more as "Don't get angry" than as "Don't get offended" or "Don't feel attacked"

A large part of one's identity is acquired by conforming to and identifying with social norms.
Not least because identity isn't just under one's own control — it's also imposed from without by other people. So if person X is unusual in some salient way, other people are likely to end up impressing that fact upon person X, even if person X wants to discount that aspect of their identity.
Not that it's impossible mind. Just harder. Still, good point.

As jooyous noted, one of the most important skills is to be able to notice when you are offended, or otherwise emotionally hampered. This is not at all trivial, as you can see from the discussion threads here, where people who are clearly emotionally compromised behave as if they were acting rationally. (Yes, I am guilty of this, too.) I am not sure how to develop this skill of noticing being offended while being offended, but surely there is a training for it. Maybe something as simple as a checklist to go through before commenting would be a start. Checklists are generally a good idea.

The training method is called Taoist meditation. Do this: be aware of yourself. Once you can do this to some extent, do the next step: be aware of your awareness of yourself. Keep practicing this forever. That is meditation in a nutshell. A checklist can help as long as it's used to further the practice of being aware. If you're having trouble being aware of yourself, practice being aware of other things first. Oh, and another trick is that the fastest way to improve is to never go beyond 70% of your ability. One should only do so to gauge one's ability, to better know what 70% is.

There's an emotional state, and there's disagreement about terminal values.

How should I communicate disagreement about terminal values? How should I behave to try to change the terminal values that society as a whole implements / tolerates?

Good question. First of all, is it even possible to change an individual's terminal values ? My guess is that the answer is "no"; that's why they are called "terminal values". Or, rather, even if it were technologically possible to change a person's terminal values, doing so would probably amount to murder. It would be akin to reprogramming Clippy to care about butterflies instead of paperclips. If changing an individual's terminal values is impossible, and if you are committed to a very low level of violence, my guess is that you should attempt to instill your desired values in as many young children as possible -- and let time take care of the rest.
That's not what "terminal values" means. It simply means the values from which all of a person's other values can be derived. It is perfectly possible to change one's terminal values -- for instance, a young child cares only about itself, while almost no adults care only about themselves.
That's a good point. Another example is going through puberty. Although one could imagine an AI whose terminal values are always the same, and thus make changes to their behavior only due to acquiring new knowledge, it seems that humans are literally built for their terminal values to shift in particular ways.
That's a good point about children (and puberty, as Crux said); it's possible (and IMO likely) that some of their terminal values are malleable. But I also agree with what William_Bur said on a sibling thread: issues like racism and segregation are instrumental values, not terminal ones.
I don't think that's necessarily true -- see for instance Haidt's work on moral foundations. Plenty of people who opposed interracial marriage framed it as a matter of purity/contamination.
There have been many historical examples that look like changes in terminal values. For example, George Wallace appears to have changed positions on racism in government (going from pro to anti). As you yourself note, the US Civil Rights movement appears to have successfully changed the US society's terminal values. Although I'm not sure "getting offended" is an accurate paraphrase of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's strategy or tactics.

I don't believe those were terminal values. If someone changes their position from pro-segregation to anti-segregation, I would expect that in their previous model, segregation seemed better, but later they updated their model, and under the new model, segregation seemed worse. Better and worse in making everyone happy, for example.

Some people sincerely believed that segregation brings better results for everyone. Whether they were right or wrong, segregation was just a means of achieving some other value.

EDIT: I think we should be careful about assuming that our opponents have different terminal values. More likely, they have a different model of reality.

I agree with what Villiam_Bur said. I think our terminal values are more along the lines of "seek pleasure, avoid pain", with the possible addition of "...for myself as well as my descendants". Issues like racism matter to people because, in the long run (and from a very general perspective), they cause pain, or inhibit pleasure.
My first thought here was, "No, we don't know what our terminal values are yet" and to nitpick the particular ones you proposed. Then I realized: "Terminal values" are an idea in a mathematical theory. They're not things out in the world. They're a data object in a model that is a deliberate simplification of behavior for the purpose of highlighting particular features of it. "Terminal values" exist in the map, next to Homo economicus and markets in equilibrium — not out here in the territory where there's mud on our boots. Nobody does something because of a terminal value. Rather, people do things, and some folks (very few) explain those doings in terms of terminal values. Others explain them in terms of dramaturgy) or other maps, each of which highlights different things. Moreover, if we expand the mathematical map to the level needed to encompass something as complicated as people ... well, the sorts of things that people think of and say, "These could be human terminal values!" are usually not even the sorts of things that we should expect could be human terminal values. The difference is as big as the difference between the syntax accepted by a text adventure game's command parser and the syntax understood by a natural language speaker.


I think this is hugely important. I want to add to it though: even as a manipulation it's usually pretty silly. What can you really accomplish that you'll feel good about afterwards? The main thing it accomplishes is to get people to stop throwing uncomfortable potential truths at you. Like any other knee-jerk emotional reaction, it tends to be pretty short sighted.

There's a good substitute too. I try really hard to avoid taking offense, and in the very rare cases where offense seems potentially useful, I've gotten good results by merely pointing out ... (read more)

While true-- quickly responding in an offended fashion can be a strong signal of your commitment to group identity and values[1]-- that doesn't really relate to what this post is talking about. This post is talking about the best way to acquire correct beliefs, not the best way to manipulate people. And while getting offended can be a very effective way to manipulate people-- and hence a tactic that is unfortunately often reinforced-- it is usually actively detrimental for acquiring correct beliefs.

Getting offended gives you a reputation that tends to s... (read more)

Responding firmly and effectively to actual attacks may preserve status and discourage others from abusing or taking advantage of you. Being emotionally upset is not an important part of that response. In fact, responding excessively or inappropriately to perceived but unintended attacks loses you some respect and can discourage others from involving you in social activities or cooperative tasks. We may respect a badass, but we don't like an arsehole. Getting angry is easy because we have neural circuitry dedicated to it, whereas thinking clearly under stress is difficult. It's commonplace, however absurd, to rationalise a failure to think clearly under stress as a wise social signalling strategy :)
I endorse not responding excessively or inappropriately to attacks, and I endorse responding firmly and effectively to attacks. I agree that if my emotions are preventing me from doing these things, that's worth correcting. And I agree that this is a common problem. The solution is not necessarily (or typically, in my experience) to not have the emotion in the first place.
Agreed and voted up. Of course, you don't get a choice about whether to have an emotion, at the base level. Not sure "offended" is a primary emotion though. It seems to me (by introspection) to be bundled together with a lot of culture-dependent and habitual behaviours, associations and memes, all of which are sub-optimal for any given situation, and could do with being brought under conscious control before being allowed to influence my actions.
I get a choice about whether and how I experience emotions, in the same sense as I get a choice as to whether and how I run marathons. That is, I can't decide right now to run a marathon, or to not feel anger, but I can make choices that will reliably eventually get me there. What I'm saying isn't that the latter is impossible, but rather that I don't endorse doing it. I agree that offense is bundled together with and mediated by lots of culture-dependent and habitual stuff. I would say the same about a lot of emotional patterns. And yes, some (though not all) of that stuff is suboptimal for any given situation. And yes, the ability to choose how I act even when emotional or otherwise experiencing influences on my behavior is valuable. I agree that offense is not a primary emotion, if I understand what you mean by the term.
I don't think that's true. I've seen lots of cases of manipulation where being emotionally upset was the whole focus. Genuine distress evokes sympathy from onlookers and persecutors alike.
Attempting to evoke sympathy by displaying distress is another kind of response I suppose. But its success depends entirely on the reactions of your onlookers and persecutors: they may be amused and encouraged, for example. And even where successful, its success still doesn't depend on actual internal loss of emotional equilibrium. Whereas being aware of and in charge of your emotions in a stressful situation is always a winning strategy. Just as for an aggressive offended response, a manipulative whiny offended response can still lose you respect and social advantage if it is misjudged. And you are more likely to misjudge it if you are acting in a poorly controlled way out of emotional upset, rather than in a conscious attempt to communicate clearly. BTW, I don't particularly rate the argument that because you've seen people easily manipulated by displays of distress, it's an advantage to be genuinely distressed by things. Obviously it stops being an advantage for the manipulator if the onlookers are able to control their own distress at seeing someone else apparently upset. But I think we're wandering away from the topic a little. Being offended isn't the same as being distressed, except for pathological narcissists.
In theory people could try faking emotional reactions, hoping for a similar effect. In practice, they run into the cheat-detection mechanisms in other people's brains. If they get found out, there's a risk of getting a reputation for "faking it". In many cases, its easier and simpler to be genuinely offended, upset - or whatever.
Easier, simpler, still not a great idea, for all the reasons I gave above.
That only applies among adults, and possibly not even all of them.

"Don't get mad, get even, or whatever the smart thing you decide is appropriate"

Very nice, I see your point, this is a skill that benefits (actually allows) most cognitive processes (or would make you a fantastic chess player).

I would like you to elaborate more on this idea:

Humans are gregarious, in ancient times it was our greatest asset against most predators, (ironically it made us the most terrifying) therefore it was (is) of utmost importance to be part of the tribe. Apparently we are genetically programmed to follow this tribal behavior.

Many times when I witness human interaction I see “power play” (I am sorry to say this but th... (read more)

The extreme scenario need not even be the dominant factor. Even the less drastic effects of status degradation you mention result in less sex with desirable mates, less access to resources (including food) and fewer social consequences for rivals attempting to exploit you.
Also note that if your status is low, higher status people can and frequently do hurt you for the fun of it.

Gee, well it's not like you're contributing to that problem.

You might as well bow out before busting out the ad homs.

so it's just got to be genes, right

Eugine_Nier never said it was "just" the genes, on the contrary. If you were making the claim that genes are not involved, the onus is on you to show so. Asking for evidence isn't an argument from ignorance. It would be astounding if there were genetic variations leading to endless variations in everything except cognition. The default assumption (even with no cognition-specific data) is &q... (read more)

I have heard the term "heritable" used to mean something like: "Parental life outcomes are strong predictors of child life outcomes, and both outcomes will likely be similar." At that level of abstraction, heritability is a true phenomena. But that says nothing about mechanism. The two obvious candidates are: * genetics * environment Eugine seems to be rejecting environment, so I'm not sure what he thinks is the causal mechanism for heritability, if not genetics or similar unalterable in-born traits.
I'm not rejecting environmental causes, I'm objecting to whowhowho's claim that genetic causes aren't even worth discussing.

I didn't say that only hard science is worth considering. In fact, the "hard science" / "soft science" distinction functions to marginalize subjects like history, sociology, and anthropology.

What I said was that that rigorous science is worth taking seriously. With the implication that there's a fair amount of normative pressure for certain fields to sacrifice rigor in order to produce the "correct" results. Particularly in popularization, both evo. psych and anthropology are at terrible risk for this sort of bias.

Social sci... (read more)

I would add than a narrow focus on quantifiable data can be limiting, especially when you are researching culture and doing content analysis. Coding is a way to convert that content into numbers - counting mentions of words or themes - but that requires a lot of qualitative analysis to begin with and certain aspects are often lost in translation. Any social scientist worth their salt will take into account as many biases as they can and devise an experimental design to control for them as much as possible. But again, you have to be prepared to defend why you did what you did and human nature is complicated. Having said that, I think a mixed qual/ quant designs are pretty great, especially when you have meta analyses to back you up.
I didn't say the humanities shouldn't be taken seriously (I hate the term "soft sciences"). The humanities study fields where scientific evidence is generally not available, thus they have to rely on other kinds of evidence. Unfortunately, this makes it easier to get away with sloppy work, BS, or even outright lies in those fields. This should be taken into account when assigning probability values to various statements.
You're misunderstanding Julian's claim, albeit I think for reasons of inferential distance rather than deliberate misreading. The claim was not that anthropology/Sinister Cathedral Orthodoxy endorses inborn gender identity, despite its being wrong, for its political utility to trans rights. Such Orthodoxy is precisely the basis on which he thinks it is wrong. The claim was that activists endorse this false belief for its political utility, and that he and other Sinister Cathedral Agents don't feel particularly obliged to go out of their way to correct it (although doing so was precisely what he did in that post.) If there was a widespread belief that washing your hands protected you from demons, I would not fault epidemiologists for failing to prioritize disabusing the public of this. Nor does it strike me as an affront to science that epidemiologists, as a general rule, have normative commitments that extend beyond scientific inquiry and on to the belief that health is better than sickness.
My point is that one way or another the claim obtains the official stamp of approval as being the "scientific" and that this is an argument to be highly skeptical of anthropological claims with this approval.
Which claim? The one that anthropologists are endorsing is not the one that's politically convenient to them.
Of course not. Her claim is the the great and noble anthropologists are deceiving the public for the greater good.
Okay, so at this point we're basically disagreeing over what someone intended by what they say. Unless Julian wants to clarify I'm going to tap out.
I don't believe so. At least I can't see where your position differs from mine. The difference is you object to my formulation her position in a way that doesn't make anthropology look good.
First, let's taboo "humanities." No disrespect for the literature professors, but the type of analysis aimed at determining whether Hamlet is really insane, or pretending so for political / social advantage . . . is not what we are talking about in the conversation. Instead, we are trying to talk about academic fields that are attempting to examine human beings and human societies in order to make useful and falsifaible statements about them. We are also talking about philosophy-of-science, particularly analytical, conceptual, and methodological considerations for the human-studying field. Because random controlled trials (RCTs) are impossible or unethical in these fields, the quality of the data is much poorer than in fields where RCTs are practically possible. And quality of data is an important bulwark against nonsense, particularly politically motivated nonsense. That still does not justify claiming that entire fields are filled with liars. To make an equally ridiculous claim, the so-called harder sciences are filled with liars because fraudulent retractions are commonplace. Anthropology results should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. But you argue the stronger claim that anthropology is worthless, through and through. Regardless of some folks here announcing a willingness to stretch to make a point, that doesn't prove the experts in the field are doing misleading things. Stick your neck out - tell us what evidence would make you believe that heteronormativity exists. (I can easily list facts that would make me doubt the phenomena of heteronormativity). I don't understand your reference to this article. To quote it: To the extent Eliezar asserts that there is empirical, but non-scientific evidence, I reject the usefulness of the distinction.
My central example of "humanities" are things like history and philosophy. No, the justification for claiming anthropology is filled with liars is that they don't make strong attempts to hide this. Or as they'd prefer to call it they pursue goals other than pure truth-seeking. The difference is that in the hard sciences people who commit fraud or otherwise lie are made pariahs, in the "soft sciences" it is frequently the people who refuse to go along with the official lie of the moment who are made pariahs. There is no a priori reason why anthropology should be completely worthless, it's just that the people who are currently in it are more interested in pursuing a political agenda than truth seeking. It's not just a few folks doing misleading things. It's that the official "scientific" results, i.e., the things that will get you dismissed as a crank of you question them, are based on such "stretchings". Experience and some theoretical arguments have shown that when humans restrict to using scientific evidence they are less likely to fall into various collective failure modes.
First, no commentator in this venue is a leading researcher in sociology or anthropology, so anything said is incredibly weak evidence for your strong claim that researchers / academics "who are currently in [those fields] are more interested in pursuing a political agenda than truth seeking." Second, you have not stated what evidence you could see that would make you believe the sociological / anthropological theories are true. An outside observer could think that your assertions about misconduct in these fields exist to justify your disbelief in the substantive results. If Omega (who is always right) told you that anthropology is not more politically driven than physics, would you accept anthropological theories?
FWIW, I recently saw the thesis talks of a few graduands in social psychology, and they seemed to me qualitatively different from those of physicists: in the former, the professor who introduces the graduand to the audience will spew out lots of applause lights (e.g. “Ms So-and-so is going to speak about $topic, which is such a big problem nowadays that affects so many people”), professors will occasionally interrupt the graduand with comments like “yes, this is a great idea, I hope to see more of this in the next years”, and after the talk they will ask stuff like “why did you choose this particular topic” (trying to elicit applause lights from the graduand themselves); in the latter, the introduction will be limited to “Mr So-and-so is going to speak about $topic”, full stop (even when they could in principle mention how graphene is such a revolutionary material or whatever -- they just don't), no-one will interrupt the graduand unless they say something unclear, questions at the end will be strictly technical (or occasionally “what applications can this have”), and there are hardly any applause lights except trivial ones such as “thank you for your attention”. BTW, while I'm not familiar with linguistics except through the internet, ISTM that it is seen as a hard science (for the purposes of what's being discussed in this subthread) by insiders but as a soft science by most outsiders, and as a result once in a while a non-linguist will be disappointed when a linguist refuses to espouse boo lights about non-standard language usage (e.g.).
Just to confirm: you're proposing that when linguists refuse to condemn non-standard language usage, that's an expression of different cultural norms between the hard-science and soft-science communities regarding the use of boo-lights, rather than an expression of linguists not negatively valuing non-standard language usage?
Not quite -- more like, what the linguists say is “an expression of linguists not negatively valuing non-standard language usage”, but what the non-linguists asked them and what they will think when they hear the answer is “an expression of different cultural norms between the hard-science and soft-science communities regarding the use of boo-lights” to some extent -- but for some reason I don't terribly like this way of putting it.
Ah, OK. Thanks for clarifying. WRT the second quote... in what way do you dislike it? E.g., does it seem that I've factually misrepresented the position, or that I've framed it negatively, or...?
Weird... On reading it again it no longer sounds that bad to me, and I can't quite remember why it did.
If you have any insights as to what caused either the initial reaction or its termination, I'm interested.
I think I might have been primed to think of the phrase “boo light” as a boo light. My inner Hofstadter is laughing.
Consilience, i.e., independent verification of their claims by people from other fields and few instances of refutations of their claims. I would mostly update in the direction of him not being Omega. Now if he made a claim that was at least plausible, like anthropological theories having some political drivers but not enough to overwhelm the science that would be another story.
Er... why? You wouldn't expect the proof of the Poincaré conjecture to be independently verified by phoneticians, would you?
I don't expect every claim to be independently verified. What I do look for is that the claims that can be independently tested will be confirmed rather than refuted.