Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
  • Post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
New Comment
199 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Analysts do not achieve objective analysis by avoiding preconceptions; that would be ignorance or self-delusion. Objectivity is achieved by making basic assumptions and reasoning as explicit as possible so that they can be challenged by others and analysts can, themselves, examine their validity.

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. page 10

Good quote. People should write down all their assumptions when doing data analysis. It's a very contingent game.

There's a sort of Gresham's Law of conversations. If a conversation reaches a certain level of incivility, the more thoughtful people start to leave.

--Paul Graham

Reminds me of Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs
I recommend reading the linked article; it's interesting.
I recommend the whole thing, too. And I bet we're not hearing from men who don't like fighting.
More generally, if one wants to learn about the distribution of opinions in a group X, one needs to make some kind of a poll, instead of listening to the self-proclaimed speakers for the group. Otherwise the result may be more strongly influenced by "what makes people become public speakers for a group" than by merely "belonging to the group X". Maybe we should always remind ourselves about the forces of self-selection. Looking at a Mensa member, instead of just "a highly intelligent person" we should also think "a person who prefers to publicly associate with groups defined by innate traits (as opposed to behavior or achievements)". Looking at a professional feminist, instead of "a woman", we should also think "a person who built their career on hating men". Looking at a men's rights activist, instead of "a man", we should also think "a person who got burned by a divorce". Etc. It is also important to notice how much easier is this to do for the groups one doesn't like (where it feels like an obvious step that doesn't even require an explanation), than for the groups one does like (where it feels like an unfair generalization). But this reminder itself is not sufficient to find out the opinions of the silent majority. (Reverting stupidity is not intelligence.) Recognizing that we have noisy data doesn't automatically un-noise them. Unfortunately, even the public online poll would suffer from "people who prefer to express their opinions in online polls" selection bias.
Unfortunately, it's even worse than that, because the same issue (selection bias) arises in polls. In fact, a lot of missing data work that tries to deal with bias adjustment was done in the context of analysis of survey data, I think.
I find myself agreeing with your general statement, that it is important to not treat the outspoken members of a group as indicative whether good or bad, while being somewhat worried that you have fallen into the same pattern in the process of trying to explain it. Your examples of feminist and men's rights activist generalizations seem to be examples of the sort of one-sided generalizations you warn about in the very next paragraph. Men's right's activists are generalized in a positive fashion - they are victims of circumstance, trying to avenge the wrongs done to them - while feminists are portrayed in a negative fashion - one dimensional bigots building a career on hating men. I think it would have served your point better if you had attempted positive generalizations for both. How you have it now just seems like it is undermining your general point. In fact, you should probably avoid contemporary political groups when giving examples to avoid this sort of this altogether. It is possible that you deliberately chose those generalizations in order to demonstrate the trap many people fall into. If that is the case, I think you need to make it more clear. Examples of failed rationality are useful, but should be clearly labeled. Additionally, I don't see how learning the opinions of the silent majority is reversed stupidity. We already know the opinions of the vocal minority, wouldn't learning the opinions of the silent majority give us a clear picture of the whole group's opinions? I suppose there could be a third group left out by this, some sort of Mumbling Moderates, but it should be easy enough to pick them up in well designed polls as well.
My description of men's rights activists is usually used as negative. First, it implies they are losers, i.e. low-status, which for most people means that their opinions are not worth to consider seriously. Second, it implies that they merely generalize from their personal issues, which against means that they are biased, and that people who don't have the same issues can ignore them. To put it in a near mode, imagine that you are at a lecture where someone speaks about men's rights, and then someone in the audience whispers to their neighbor "this guy had a nasty divorce recently". Is this remark meant to make the person who heard it treat the lecture more seriously, or less seriously?
I think that's true of many kinds of activists in the early stages of their (later successful, somewhat) movement. For instance, AIDS activists were considered losers and biased, people of colour were considered losers and biased and so on and so forth. I'm not saying that men's-right activism is going to become mainstream, since it may be true of all movements. I can't bring to mind a successful example of a çountermovement that has been later successful, however. The only example I can think of is neo-nazism. As maligned as MRA's are, it obviously unreasonable to equate them with Hitler. I for one think they have valid problems, but suboptimal, counterproductive and frequently mean ways of dealing with them. To bring it back to quotes, I feel this one could speak to them: -Nick Vujicic BAM!
Social desirability bias remains even in randomized, anonymous polls. But the result would be less wrong than self-selected, public polls.
How fascinating!

If you feel satisfaction because you’ve seen a critique of a weak argument for an opponent’s position while ignoring the strong ones, that’s the feeling of becoming stupider.

Put A Number On It!

That same quote is also from Eliezer Yudkowsky in the Blogging Heads interview 2008. Are you sure of the source?
Haven't seen the video (and am not going to watch it now), and the article didn't contain a link. So I can't answer this. If you give me the exact time when it is said in the video, I will retract the comment.
I thought you were not allowed to quote LWers?
I interpreted "Do not quote from Less Wrong itself" as things posted directly on this website, not as things posted anywhere by anyone who also happens to have an account on this website. (Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson are mentioned as specific exceptions.)
I also remember hearing that the point of that rule is to prevent the RQ threads to become echo chambers and therefore it should also apply to things LW regulars say elsewhere, but if so I'd very much rather the rule said that explicitly.
FWIW this is also my interpretation of the intention, but WIW may not be very much since I have never been very active in either posting or voting on Rationality Quotes.

All the successful black people you mentioned are basically dancing bears.

Nancy, why is this dude still here?

Serious question: have the admins checked The_Lion's comments for evidence of vote manipulation? Their apparent popularity is surprising (and arguably sends a very bad message about the current state of the Less Wrong community), and their content seems to match the interests and opinions of a user who is well-known for abusing the voting system.

It is currently not easy for admins to investigate voting on comments. I'll add that to the list of changes to investigate.

Heh, typical Eugine. Making a good point in the least pleasant way (preferably also with some exaggerations). The username changes, but the style doesn't.

Sometimes a writer has no choice but to hedge a statement. Better still, the writer can qualify the statement—that is, spell out the circumstances in which it does not hold rather than leaving himself an escape hatch or being coy as to whether he really means it. If there is a reasonable chance that readers will misinterpret a statistical tendency as an absolute law, a responsible writer will anticipate the oversight and qualify the generalization accordingly. Pronouncements like “Democracies don’t fight wars,” “Men are better than women at geometry problems,” and “Eating broccoli prevents cancer” do not do justice to the reality that those phenomena consist at most of small differences in the means of two overlapping bell curves. Since there are serious consequences to misinterpreting those statements as absolute laws, a responsible writer should insert a qualifier like on average or all things being equal, together with slightly or somewhat. Best of all is to convey the magnitude of the effect and the degree of certainty explicitly, in unhedged statements such as “During the 20th century, democracies were half as likely to go to war with one another as autocracies were.” It’s not that good writers never hedge their claims. It’s that their hedging is a choice, not a tic.

-- Steven Pinker, Why Academics Stink at Writing (Behind Paywall)

These days I actually liked my mother-in-law. Before Michael and I were married, her habit of referring to me as “her” and my family as “the outlaws” had rubbed me the wrong way. She seemed to grow a lot fonder of me once Michael and I had gotten married—though I found myself wondering if she was just resigning herself to the inevitable. But eventually, after a conversation with Rose Noire, I made a resolution to consider everything Mrs. Waterston said to me in a positive light—even if it sounded like criticism.

So if she commented, “You’ve gained a few pounds, haven’t you?” I would say, “Why yes! Thank you!” as if pudging out was something I had been working frantically to achieve. If she mentioned that the boys were a grubby mess, I would beam and say “Yes, isn’t it nice that they’re so active!” If she mentioned how loud they were I would enthuse, “Yes, is there anything more delightful than hearing the happy voices of children at play?” If she commented on any shortcomings in the housekeeping, I would pretend to think she was complimenting me on achieving a comfortable, unstuffy, lived-in house.

I’d gotten to the point where playing the lemonade game, as I called it, was actually quite enjoyable, and these days, for whatever reason, she gave me far fewer opportunities to do so. I wasn’t sure if she was making fewer snide or critical remarks or if I was just less apt to misinterpret random remarks as intended slights, but either way, we got along better.

--the character Meg Langslow in the novel Duck The Halls by Donna Andrews, p. 247

This is one of the worst comments I've seen on LessWrong and I think the fact that this is being upvoted is disgraceful. (Note: this reply refers to a comment that has since been deleted.)

This note is for readers who are unfamiliar with The_Lion:

This user is a troll who has been banned multiple times from Less Wrong. He is unwanted as a participant in this community, but we are apparently unable to prevent him from repeatedly creating new accounts. Administrators have extensive evidence for sockpuppetry and for abuse of the voting system. The fact that The_Lion's comment above is heavily upvoted is almost certainly entirely due to sockpuppetry. It does not reflect community consensus

Whoops, my apologies. Thanks for noticing. Corrected

To clarify, there are 4 embarrassing/disgraceful/noteworthy things happening here, which are embarrassing to different people in different ways.

First, the fact that The_Lion thinks this way is a disgrace for The_Lion.

Second the fact that his comment is heavily upvoted is due to the fact that he has sockpuppet accounts which he uses to upvote his posts. It is slightly embarrassing for The_Lion that he chooses to interact with the internet in this way.

Third, the fact that The_Lion has not been banned despite making comments like this one and generating upvotes in violation of the site's policy is a sign of how woefully undermoderated LessWrong is. It is actually worse than it appears from this one example, because The_Lion is the fourth account by a person whose first 3 accounts were banned for similar abuses of the karma system. But after each account is banned, he makes a new account, continues to act in the same ways, and doesn't get banned again for several months.

Fourth, the fact that many people are responding to The_Lion as if this was a serious discussion, despite how transparently false and odious his comments are, and despite (many of) them knowing The_Lion's four-account-long history, shows how badly LessWrong as a community has failed at the virtues behind "don't feed the trolls" and avoiding "someone is wrong on the internet".

Cloud Atlas is my favorite movie ever and I recommend it to anyone reading this. In fact, it is my opinion that it is one of the most important pieces of early 21st century art.

The downvote is however not for your bad taste in movies, but for intentionally misgendering Lana. More generally, you can consider it payback for your efforts to make Less Wrong an unwelcoming place. I care about this community, and you are doing your best to break it.

At this stage, I call for an IP ban.

As expected, my karma fell by 38 points and my "positive percentage" fell from 97% to 92% shortly after leaving this comment
Cloud Atlas is my second favourite movie, after Master and Commander. I find myself confused because Metacritic believes Sense8 (63/8.1) was better than Jupiter Ascending (45/4.5), whereas I would argue the latter is more compelling. V for Vendetta (62/7.3) also doesn't seem to deserve its mediocre scores.
Given that Eugine very likely will be able to get around an IP ban, I wonder if it is legally possible for MIRI to take out a restraining order that prevents him from posting to Less Wrong? This will of course only be possible if we can discover his real identity.
Listen, the right way to go here is what Vaniver is trying to do (and ultimately do a whitelist for posters, not a blacklist). Our good friend EY moved to fb groups for partly this reason, I think.
Don't be silly.
Please explain. Do you believe that it is legally impossible, or that it is possible, but it shouldn't be done for some other reasons...?
All of the above. Really, think about the issue for 30 seconds.
Downvoted. I personally agree that username2's idea is naive, but it seems sincerely held, and making fun of it instead of explaining its problems is dickish.
Unfortunately, I do not possess your capability of determining the sincerity of the poster on the basis of one short comment on the 'net. Obviously stupid ideas are obviously stupid. Sincerity doesn't help them, anyway.
a) I don't think that would be taken seriously by the law and b) I don't WANT things like that to be in the jurisdiction of the law.
That would be an absurd overreaction. I can't see the law taking the matter seriously, even if anyone knew "Eugine's" real identity.
Before trying to invoke the law it might make sense for a moderator to ask Eugine for a Skype chat.

I'm pretty sure that was "black pride"

I'm not an expert on the history of these things, but according to Some Guy On The Web the first "black pride" event in the US was in 1991 and the first "gay pride" one was in 1970.

basically dancing bears

Here's a tip for you. If you wish to be seen as someone who simply follows the scientific evidence where it leads and sees that black people are on average of lower intelligence than white people, rather than a garden-variety racist, you might do better not to pretend that no black people are genuinely really good at anything. (Seriously, Louis Armstrong, notable only for being able to play jazz at all despite the handicap of being an inferior black person? Really?)

still not very impressive

I think this says more about what you're prepared to be impressed by when it's done by gay people, than about what gay people have achieved.

pad out the list

You wish to deny that Tim Cook is a good example of a successful gay person? OK, then. I'll just remark that it's not a very uncommon opinion that Cook was as critical to Apple's success as Jobs.

the same ultimately pathetic feel

Certainly not for the same rea... (read more)


calling their opponents vaguely defined negative terms, like "horrible racists"

Curious. I say I have no position on the question, and immediately some words I use are exemplary of how bad the people on the other side from you are.

Anyway, for the avoidance of doubt, I do not call all "race realists" horrible racists. For instance, I think Lumifer and Jiro right here on LW are on record as believing that there are genuine racial IQ differences, and I do not think either of them is a horrible racist. (I don't know either of them well enough to be sure they aren't, but they haven't given me that impression so far.)

The people I call horrible racists are the ones who seize every available opportunity to rant about how awful black people are, how stupid people who aren't "race realists" are, etc.; whose negative comments about black people go well beyond anything that could be justified by halfway-plausible versions of "race realism"; who, in short, behave as I would expect someone to behave who seizes on the (alleged) scientific evidence with glee because it suits their pre-existing prejudices.

It is perfectly possible to believe that black peopl... (read more)


Oh, really.

"Gay pride" was, I take it, the granddaddy of them all. It doesn't seem difficult to think of some successful gay people, but here in case you're having trouble is a very short list. Oscar Wilde, world-class playwright. Tim Cook, CEO of the world's most successful company. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, prime minister of Iceland. Benjamin Britten, greatest English composer since Purcell. Freddie Mercury, rock star. Alan Turing, mathematician, computer pioneer and helped win WW2.

"Black pride" is a thing, I guess. Martin Luther King, ... (read more)

Off the top of mine, Lana Wachowski.
This is nitpicking really, but 'greatest' according to whom? I'd say that folks like Sullivan, Elgar and Holst (not to mention Vaughan-Williams) are a lot more notable than Britten, and even if you want to restrict your attention to reasonably modern composers, Brian Ferneyhough is more worthy of attention.
Decca, some guy writing for the New York Phil, some guy writing for the Daily Telegraph, etc. Seriously: of course anyone trying to offer an actual careful assessment will say something like "one of the greatest" or "arguably the greatest" or something. As you'll see if you follow all my links above or search the web yourself, one very common practice is to say "widely regarded as the greatest" :-). Personally I rate him well above Sullivan and Holst and roughly equal with Elgar and RVW. I don't know enough Ferneyhough to have a useful opinion.
Well, yes; it seems that he really had a strong fanbase, mostly among his fellow musicians. But I think you may be underestimating the popularity of Elgar, Sullivan and RVW's music (if not Ferneyhough's). I mean, these might as well be household names among relevant audiences; you can't really say the same for Britten. Now, if I had to mention gay composers who are genuinely notable for their musical output, I'd say Lully and (most obviously) Tchaikovsky.
I wasn't talking about popularity. I'm sorry if I gave the wrong impression somehow. (But yes, in terms of popularity Tchaikovsky certainly trumps Britten.)

“Rationality is not just something you do so that you can make more money, it is a binding principle. Rationality is a really good idea. You must avoid the nonsense that is conventional in one’s own time. It requires developing systems of thought that improve your batting average over time.”

-Charlie Munger on average decision quality and systems vs goals.


Because the people who have been explicitly racist to me, where that racism has not been intended to humour me, have been people who they themselves aren't successful. This helped me realise this discrepancy and adjust the credence I give to that perspective that my racial identity makes me worth less as a person. Conversely, it suggests the pride in my racial identity that I attribute to the success of other people of my race is misplaced and that I ought to earn my own.

People who are successful and want to be racist to you might not be obvious about it. They could smile at you and then just not hire you or whatever.
I don't believe that kind of racism is so big a deal. Its like the racial equivalent of second gen feminism.

Experience has shown that it is by no means difficult for philosophy to begin. Far from it. It begins with nothing, and consequently can always begin. But the difficulty, both for philosophy and for philosophers, is to stop.

Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. 1 (trans. Swenson & Swenson).

Let me know when you make it to the end of the sentence in gjm's comment that I quoted.


Well, if we go with skin colour as the dividing line, I can certainly come up with quite a number of successful non-whites under several definitions of success.

Wealth? Consider Cyril Ramaphosa, whose current net worth is estimated (by Forbes) at US$450 million.

Politics? Consider Barack Obama.

Those are two fairly well-known definitions of success; there are plenty of successful non-whites for non-whites to be vicariously attached to.

(I notice that other comments have already provided a number of examples of successful gay people.)

“It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort.” ― Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves, page 31

Cynical, but is it actually true? It seems to me that a lot of people are actually quite strongly committed to the cause of the environment, or defense against terrorists. They do not necessarily take effective action for those causes, but they would certainly vote for someone who signalled similar commitment.
I think it is true. So true. People whom I have upbraided for selling rare flowers or digging vegetable gardens on protected territories immediately began to talk about oligarchs having private residences in our beloved forests and why am I not doing anything about that?..
I've experienced this as well, in different contexts. It's depressing to watch birders and even more commonly bird photographers trample on protected habitat just to get a better look at a bird. That being said, there's perhaps a fallacy here. It is absolutely true that some people value their personal comfort and wealth over broader values like environmental protection or the general health of the population, at least some of the time. It is also true that some people pick broader values like environmental protection or the general health of the population, even at some cost to their personal comfort and specific wants, at least some of the time. Neither statement is true of all people, all of the time. The real questions we should ask are: 1) How many people, how much of the time? 2) Which people? And why? 3) What can we do to require less specific sacrifice in favor of the general good? Both of these questions are better asked of very specific cases. For instance, you'll get different answers if you talk about, for example, reducing marine speed limits in Florida to protect manatees or installing smokestack scrubbers on coal-fired power plants. Talking in generalities often avoids the hard work of quantification on real world problems in favor of ideologically motivated displays of tribal allegiance.
Okay, I apologize for my cynical answer, I have met people who tied themselves to the branches of the trees in their park (and were cut down). However, if anything I would expect voting to be an example of ideologically motivated displays of tribal allegiance.
The first two questions you pose seem to me impractical, since even a single 'nature user' can undo the effect of many 'non-users' (who often simply don't intervene and so don't bring [apparent] harm). If in my village the tradition to burn meadows in spring persists even though they have not been massively used as pastures for twenty years, whom will I address? Most likely, some boys set fire to the dry grass to have fun, and the rest are simply used to smelling the smoke in early spring to say anything of it. Now, the third question is rather interesting, but also has the weakness that the less specific the sacrifice, the less control one has over it. In my experience, it was always a kind of give-and-take - I understand that you will keep doing this, but I caught you this time - Oh well, I promise not to do it again - By the way, where did you collect these pasqueflowers? - Oh, in such-and-such place - All right, we'll do our best to have the place reserved - Please do, although you will need our village's head consent, and she wants to sell the plot for a large sum! - Dreadful - Awful - Bye - Bye. Probably with power plants it is worse. There's always someone one level above you. There's always a way to present your actions as motivated by money. This is, among other things, a reason to affiliate yourself with a group that doesn't get paid for doing this kind of negotiations, but on the other hand, you need funds to do any kind of constructive work (much less for simply spreading the word or running after individual offenders). You need to buy the gas to drive into remote places, for example. Other people decide to quantify RWP and you see them signing quotas for cut wood or something, and you know there's no way to check how much wood will really be cut unless you make it your business, which means 1) the people who sign quotas give the cutters ammunition, 2) the people who sign quotas won't involve themselves further, 3) you still need the gas to go there, a

From a mere act of the imagination we cannot learn anything about the real world. To suppose that the resulting probability assignments have any real physical meaning is just another form of the mind projection fallacy. In practice, this diverts our attention to irrelevancies and away from the things that really matter (such as information about the real world that is not expressible in terms of any sampling distribution, or does not fit into the urn picture, but which is nevertheless highly cogent for the inferences we want to make). Usually, the price p

... (read more)

Well, the quote applies to most identity-based movements; there's nothing in it that would be specific to "white" folks. Paul Graham is very clear that keeping one's identity small is often more conducive to success and personal satisfaction.

Heck you had to pad out the list with "Tim Cook, CEO of the world's most successful company", even though it is pretty clearly not his efforts that lead to this state of affairs.

What about Peter Thiel?

Initial steps for this symposium began a few billion years ago. As soon as the stars were formed, opacities became one of the basic subjects determining the structure of the physical world in which we live. And more recently with the development of nuclear weapons operating at temperatures of stellar interiors, opacities become as well one of the basic subjects determining the processes by which we may all die. -- Opacity Calculations: Past and Future, by Harris L. Mayer

I agree with Randall Munroe that it is an awesome opening paragraph for a physics paper

I agree that it's a great opening paragraph, but is it really a "rationality quote" in any useful sense?
It's places facts about a seemingly simple effect (opacity) into a context of the grandest possible scope thereby showing the surprising complexity of everything if taken seriously. At the same time it uses this as a cool literary device. It doesn't tell you this upfront but I saw it as teaching to think big in a true way. Either this is too hidden or I interpreted something that isn't there.

none of the others were anywhere near this impressive

The original question was not about "impressive" but about "successful". Are you willing to agree that being elected President of the United States constitutes success?


That depends on how you define "success".

I can't avoid all my problems by drawing squirrels, but when I can, I do.

--Randall Munrow

*Randall Munroe
Why is this being downvoted (apart from misspelling the name)? I take the quote to be a version of "If it's stupid and works, it's not stupid."

At some point you have to choose between (1) accepting the good and bad within a person versus (2) accepting the good and bad of being forever without this person

-Karen Salmansohn
-Karen Salmansohn

Mr. Furious: Okay. Am I the only one who finds these sayings just a bit formulaic? "If you wanna put something down, you gotta pick it up". "If you wanna go left, you gotta go right". It's...

Sphinx: Your temper is very quick, my friend. But until you learn to master your rage —

Mr. Furious: Your rage will become your master? [The Sphinx freezes, caught] That's what you were gonna say, right? Right?

Sphinx: ... Not necessarily.

-- Mystery Men

In Soviet Russia, fear changes you!
Not all changes are good. In fact, most potential changes would be absolutely awful.
That is no reason to fear change, "not every change is an improvement but every improvement is a change" and all that.
That depends on the situation and record, doesn't it? If 90% of changes that you have undergone in the past were negative, then wouldn't it be reasonable to resist change in the future? Obviously you shouldn't just outright refuse all change, but if you have a chance to slow it down long enough to better judge what the effects will be, isn't that good? I guess the real solution is to judge possible actions by analyzing the cost/benefit to the best of your ability in cases where this is practical.
That's a ridiculously pessimistic thing to say
I suspect you read this as "most (well-meaning) potential changes" while The_Lion means it as "most (random) potential changes". Most random changes to highly organized structures would, indeed, be awful.
All the changes that people make are "well-meaning", even those being made by ISIS. A word that better makes the distinction is "intentional".
Not necessarily. I know that if I get really angry, I sometimes make (generally small) decisions out of a desire to hurt whatever I am angry at. I don't think that counts as "well-meaning".
Depends on your definition of "well" and that line of approach would lead us into the usual definitional morass :-/ And, technically speaking, there is also compulsive behaviour.
How would you feel about this? Or about a definition of a (local) maximum that says that all other (adjacent) options are worse?
I don't have any particular feelings about since I don't see how you are relating it to the quotes. Could you please clarify? I believe it's a concept and reckon it's a pretty good Wikipedia article...
Live your happiest life by tapping into choice not habit in your words and actions. Karen Salmansohn
-Karen Salmansohn

I like how you added some italicized text to the end of your comment, there. Sneaky.

I think this comment suffices as an answer.


His Wikipedia article is rather vague on how he made his wealth,

He is or has been a director of a lot of companies; you can find a substantial background on his directorships over here. Given the salaries that high-end directors tend to receive, it;s no wonder he's built up that sort of wealth.

So is being one of the worst presidents in US history something to be proud of?

I'll admit, my knowledge of US history is very poor, as I do not live there. All I really know about Obama is that he seems to be a substantial improvement on Bush; I have absolutel... (read more)

There was a recent thread in discussion trying to objectively evaluate Obama's presidency. The general conclusion seems to be, based on comparing policy outcomes and polling data with that of other presidents, that Obama is a fairly mediocre president, and unless some evidence surfaces that he was secretly the mastermind behind ISIS, in no way among the worst.
Yeah, that's about what my gut feeling would have said, too.

I have no idea whether anyone to speak of actually does consider George Washington Carver an important scientist, though the available evidence suggests he was a very clever guy. Neil deGrasse Tyson, so far as I know, isn't considered important as a scientist by anyone, including himself, but he seems to me very obviously an outstanding popularizer of science on his own merits.

None of which is actually relevant to your remark about dancing bears. The point about the dancing bear, remember, is that it may be an absolutely hopeless dancer by the standards we... (read more)

We're not talking about ability to do science, though. The question is which people should be considered notable, or unusually successful due to their achievements. And it's rather obvious that, e.g. Norman Borlaug (considered by some as "agriculture's greatest spokesperson") is a lot more notable than G. Washington Carver. Indeed, if we're looking for someone worthy of being compared with Albert Einstein or even Marie Curie, Borlaug seems especially appropriate.
I completely agree: George Washington Carver seems to have been a smart and interesting guy but doesn't belong on any list of the world's greatest scientists, and if some school textbook chooses him as one of a small number of scientists to profile then I bet it is indeed largely because he was black. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It would be bad if they claimed "here are three scientists of comparable greatness" (or "comparable prominence" or "comparable brainpower") and then listed Einstein, Curie, and Carver. I haven't seen those textbooks, but I'm guessing they didn't. If they said "here are three scientists" (subtext: "... whom you might want to use as role models if you're that way inclined") I don't see a problem with that. (Eugine might, if he believes that black people's statistical inferiority is so dramatic that as a group they should be systematically discouraged from getting into science.)
Perhaps, but I think this says more about subcultures in the U.S. than anything else. Do you think branco or moreno kids in Brazil would have any problem with adopting Pelé as a role model due to his significant African descent?
I don't know enough about Brazilian society to have much idea about your final question. I expect your first sentence is right -- it's not hard to imagine variant societies in which being black is no obstacle to taking Einstein or Curie as a role model -- but if that's meant to make something I've said wrong, I'm not seeing why.

When it comes to scientific importance, it's important to separate out popular visibility and scientific visibility. If you're not a string theorist, for example, you might have difficulty sorting the names on this list by impact instead of alphabetically. It's probably easier to recognize who on that list have written books or TV shows targeted at the popular audience that it is to recognize which of them have won Nobels!

(Sylvester James Gates, Jr., on that list, is black. But is he important? I'm not a string theorist, and I only know about him because he taught at my alma mater.)

He's also "involved" in heavily critiquing the current (ANC-led) South-African government. Of course, this struggle does not "fit a currently popular narrative", and so it has not contributed to his being "famous". Overall, this seems to say a lot more about the determinants of popular fame than it says about Desmond Tutu.

I'm pretty sure that MLK and Desmond Tutu would be quite notable even if their minority status wasn't a factor. I'm not familiar enough with jazz music to be able to say much about Louis Armstrong one way or the other, but Scott Joplin certainly qualifies as successful (The Entertainer is possibly his most popular piece, but he wrote plenty more of course). And what about sportspeople like Pelé (one of the greatest soccer players of all time)?


“The end is not to eliminate choice (or the lessons that may be learned from misguided choices), but to remove from the market choices that will more than likely be made only by those who are susceptible to non maximising considerations. … given the comparative advantage that sellers have with respect to knowledge about their products, and given the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of potential customers, minimum quality and safety standards (and occupational licensing) represent an attempt to overcome the worst effects of exploitation.”

-Kleinig 1983, pp. 183-8, in Allens


“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”

-Richard Bach

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the nonpharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.”

-John W. Gardner

  1. Know the benefits of a victim mentality.

There are a few benefits of the victim mentality:

  • Attention and validation. You can always get good feelings from other people as they are concerned about you and try to help you out. On the

... (read more)
Seems to me that people with the victim mentality often make a very unhealthy generalization: they start with something like "doing bad things to other people is evil; not doing bad things to other people and suffering from other people's bad actions is good"... and gradually simplify it to: "doing things is evil; not doing anything is good". -- In extreme cases they may admit it openly, and perhaps call it an ancient wisdom. But in the typical case they would refuse this as strawmanning; yet their reasoning and action is as if they believed this. At that moment, they refuse to take any steps to improve their situation, simply because the good side is defined by not doing things. If you need some rationalization, here it is: People who do something, sometimes do something bad, if only by a mistake. Doing bad things when you had the option of not doing bad things, is evil. Even risking the possibility of doing bad things is immoral negligence; and people who try to improve something are suspect of being slowly driven to the evil side by their corrupted hardware. There is sometimes an exception to this rule, some kind of messiah who is above all the human weakness and cannot be corrupted by the evil influence of action -- for example some politician or a political party. Then the person with the victim mentality expects this specific person or movement to save them. Anyone else who tries doing something still remains evil. (I know this is a lot of wild generatization, and the model does not properly describe every nuance of real life. Still it corresponds to some things I have observed.)
I really liked this analysis. I reckon whoever was callous/conceited enough to downvote might have been calling out the:

The original question was about being a source of vicarious pride.

The actual original words: "so then need to attach yourself vicariously to the success of other white people". As I say: success rather than excellence as such.

does being one of the worst US presidents count?

For this purpose, it doesn't matter whether you consider him "one of the worst", nor whether he is objectively "one of the worst" (whatever that might mean). It matters whether he's someone black people might attach themselves vicariously to the succe... (read more)


As discussed elsewhere in this thread, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is "media science personality" not a successful researcher.

That moves him into the bullet below, not off the list altogether.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

“People want an authority to tell them how to value things but they choose this authority not based on facts or results,” Burry writes in a letter closing down his fund. “They choose it because it seems authoritative or familiar, and I’m not and never have been familiar (and I'm not and have never been familiar)”


You're posting too many quotes in this thread.


I missed that name in your list, didn't help that none of the others were anywhere near this impressive.

How about Michael Jordan? Usain Bolt? Chuck Berry?


All the successful black people you mentioned are basically dancing bears.

Mmmm, what about people like Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt or Chuck Berry, who are better than all or almost all non-black people in their respective fields?

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Heck you had to pad out the list with "Tim Cook, CEO of the world's most successful company", even though it is pretty clearly not his efforts that lead to this state of affairs.

What if gjm had said "Peter Thiel" instead?

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

“”If you are busy drinking and fighting all the time, you accomplish nothing, so then need to attach yourself vicariously to the success of other white people as a source of your 'pride.' But it is utter hypocrisy.

—Singer (and former white supremacist) George Burdi.

I'm not white and this helped me feel more secure about my racial identity. I'm not secure about my LessWrong or Reddit identity either and sometimes ask myself, then why do it?

The road to hell was never in need of repair.

The career of truth is not a person's only vocation, but it may be the only one upon which the intervention into that person's life can be justified. Can any other basis – even if all parties agree to it – free itself of the partialities of convention?

— Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self

especially outside the fields of sports and Entertainment

I think you spelled "except in" wrong.


“A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough.”

-Alain de Botton (ADB)


...But those whose statements baffle all attacks,

Safe by evasion, -

Whose definition, like a nose of wax,

Suit all occasion, -

Whose unreflected rainbow far surpassed

All our inventions,

Whose very energy appears at last

Scant of dimensions: -

Are these the gods in whom you put your trust,

Lordlings and ladies?

The hidden potency of cosmic dust

Drives them to Hades.

-- J. C. Maxwell

The destroyer of science and rationality isn't the uneducated blue collar, but the "fortune cookie" journo trying to "communicate" science.

Nassim Taleb

Yeah, you have to have some power to go against scientific community. Media, tobacco, oil companies and governments are obviously more dangerous than average Joes.
Hello back, Eugine.