What truths are actually taboo?

by sunflowers2 min read16th Apr 2013295 comments

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LessWrong has been having fun lately with posts about sexism, racism, and academic openness.   And here just like everywhere else, somebody inevitably claims taboo status for any number of entirely obvious truths, e.g. "top level mathematicians and physicists are almost invariably male," "black people have lower IQ scores than white people," and "black people are statistically more criminal than whites."  In my experience, these are not actually taboo, and I think my experience is generalizable.  I'll illustrate.

You're at a bar and you meet a fellow named Bill.  Bill's a nice guy, but somehow the conversation strayed Hitler-game style to World War II.  Bill thinks the war was avoidable.  Bill thinks the Holocaust would not have happened were it not for the war, and that some of the Holocaust was a reaction to actual Jewish subterfuge and abuse.  Bill thinks that the Holocaust was not an essential, early plan of the Nazis, because it only happened after the war began.  Bill thinks that the number of casualties has been overestimated.  Bill claims that Allied abuses, e.g. the bombing of Dresden, have been glossed over and ignored, while fantastic lies about Jews being systematically turned into soap have propagated.  Bill thinks that the Holocaust has become a sort of national religion, abused by self-interested Jews and defenders of Zionist foreign policy, and that the freedom of those who doubt it is under serious attack. Bill starts listing other things he's not allowed to say. Bill doesn't think that the end of slavery was all that good for "the blacks," and that the negatives of busing and forced integration have often outweighed the positives.  Bill has personally been the victim of black-on-white crimes and racism.  Bill is a hereditarian.  Bill doesn't think that dropping an n-bomb should ruin a public career.

Here's the problem:  everything Bill has said is either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness.  Yet you feel nervous.  Perhaps you're upset.  That's the power of taboo, right?  Society is punishing truth-telling!  First they came for the realists... Rationalists, to arms!

Or.

We can recognize that statements like these correlate with certain false beliefs and nasty sentiments of the sort that actually are taboo.  It's just like when somebody says, "well science doesn't know everything."  To this, I think, "duh, and you're probably a creationist or medical quack or something similarly credible."  Or when somebody says, "the government lies to us."  To this, I think, "obviously, and you're likely a Truther or something."  Bill is probably an anti-Semite, but Bill doesn't just say, "I'm an anti-Semite," because that really is taboo.  He might even believe that he shouldn't be considered something awful like an anti-Semite.  Bill probably doesn't think Bill so unpleasant.

That's the paradox:  "taboo" statements like black crime statistics are to some extent "taboo" for sound, rationalist reasons. But "taboo" is not taboo:  it's about context.  People who think that such statements are taboo are probably bad at communicating, and people often think they're racists and misogynists because they probably are on good rationalist grounds.  If you want to talk about statistical representatives on the topic of race, be ready to understand that those who are listening will have background knowledge about the other views you might hold.

All this is the leadup to my question:  what highly probable or effectively certain truths are genuinely taboo?  I'm trying to avoid answers like "there are fewer women in mathematics" or "the size of my penis," since these are context sensitive, but not really taboo within a reasonable range of circumstances.  I'm also not particularly interested in value commitments or ideologies.  Yes, employers will punish labor organizers and radical political views can get you filtered.  But these aren't clear matters of fact.  I also don't mean sensitive topics like abortion or religion, nor do I mean "taboo within a political party."

Is there really anything true that we simply cannot say?  I have the US in mind especially, but I'm interested in other countries as well.  I'm sure there are things that deserve the label, but I've found that the most frequently given examples don't hold water.  I think hereditarianism is a close contender, but it's not an "obvious truth."  Rather, my understanding is that it is a serious position.  It's also only contextually taboo.  If it were a definitive finding, it could perhaps become taboo, though I think it more likely that it would be somewhat reluctantly accepted.

Any suggestions?  If we find some really serious examples, we might figure out a way to talk about them.

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[-][anonymous]8y 39

I think I thought of one: "Most children enjoy genital stimulation." I'm not 100% sure that is true, but I think it is true. At least, I know I did and I believe that many children engage in a fair amount of self-stimulation. I can't think of any situation where I would be comfortable discussing the positives of giving sexual pleasure to children.

Most Western people don't want to allow sexuality even to post-puberty teenagers, at least before the ages of 15-16. Some people are even opposed to any sort of sexual education.

The issue is more socially complex than the (true) fact it's taboo. Most people are not guided by "what would be best / most enjoyable for the children", but rather "what would be proper" or "what would build the kind of society we want when the children grow up".

6savageorange8yThere's also the rather disturbing trend of parents treating their children, to a greater or lesser degree, like pets. This is a relatively modern development, since the point that children were no longer required to work from a young age. Pets having sex is, at best, eye-rolling. I tend to prefer this kind of explanation because "what would build the kind of society we want when the children grow up" seems too sophisticated and neat to be an accurate description of what's going on. I suspect that dynamic comes into play only sporadically, with moralizing (what's proper, what's presentable or impressive, what doesn't discomfort me) taking centre stage most of the time.
1NancyLebovitz8yWhat do you mean by parents treating their children like pets?

I realize not everyone is familiar with or has witnessed or has even heard of the kind of interactions that are described when children are compared to pets, but it still baffles and surprises me on a gut level whenever someone asks about it.

Here's a few contrasting examples as a (weak) attempt to McGuyver an intuition pump:

To Roommate: "Your music's bothering me, I need to concentrate / have calm for XYZ reasons, could you please turn it down a bit?" (justification usually given or implicit)
To Pet: "Your meowing's loud, shut the fuck up." (optional addition: *gives a cookie to shut it up*)
To Child: "Turn down your music! It's loud!" (No justification given, usually even upon request)

To Roommate: "Could you wash the dishes? I'm really tired and I still have to do XYZ. (or insert X'Y'Z' reason)"
To Pet: ... (pet eats in dirty dishes, or at best rinsed with flowing tapwater)
To Child: "Do the dishes before 5 PM." "Come do the dishes NOW or I'm unplugging your computer / gaming console / (insert other arbitrary unrelated top-down punishment)"

To Roommate: "I'll take care of cleaning my room/space, I don't care about ... (read more)

5savageorange8yYes, this is exactly what I mean. In my case I was also thinking of the way some parents train their children to make their parents look good -- as objects to show off, just like dogs or cats at a show, not individuals whose accomplishments are largely their own.
4NancyLebovitz8yIt's a good thing I asked-- my guess was that you meant that children were coddled but not trained.
3MTGandP7yI don't think this is so much "treating children as pets" as it is "treating children like not your peers". When your boss asks you to do something, does she say "Hey, would you mind helping me out with X? I'd really like to get it done this week."? More than likely, she says "I need you to finish X by Friday." You only need to give justifications to peers. A person in a higher position of authority can make a request of a subordinate without justification. So it is with officers/privates in the military, managers/employees, and parents/children.
2DaFranker7yTo adress your second point: The point isn't in justification. The difference I'm pointing at is the attitude and mental model of the world of the Commander, i.e. the parent. And this causes some crucial differences in behavior that aren't accounted for by the lack of need to justify oneself or even the consideration of not being a peer. Sure, we could say some (or perhaps even most, YMMV) workplace managers behave a certain way that is similar to those parents and children. We could say the same for militaries. I care little for what one could say about the similarities or the words that can or "should" be used. Key point: Children are often treated by their parents in a manner completely dissimilar to every other case of family member or person with whom they live. Key point 2: This behavior of parents towards children has sufficient differences from typical cases of social-class or not-peer behaviors for me to not label it as a standard case of such. I believe it would be very misleading. Parents often carefully control the "private life" of their children; what they eat, what they do at any given time, who they interact with, what they say, and even what they think to some extent. Even in military settings, moreso in workplaces, these examples are not at all carefully monitored and controlled with punishments and threats of various kinds, and even those that are generally end the moment your shift ends and you walk out the door, with some exceptions regarding PR and such (e.g. politicians and people with similar occupations). Key Point 3: Behaviors, social norms and laws differ between all those cases, and I would argue that laws and social norms, at least, are more similar between pets and children than they are between children and employees/nonofficers. If an employee doesn't behave as a manager wishes, they are limited in their options, and the interactions and roles are socially clear. A manager cannot threaten to confiscate an employee's phone for
3wedrifid8yIn some ways the child in your examples is actually treated worse than the pet (particularly along the scale of invasive coercion).
7DaFranker8yI know right? Guess the best part. Go on. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (spoiler: All of them are true examples of things that have happened dozens or hundreds of times to myself or other humans in my circles during their childhoods, and they're only select examples that are easy to compare out of dozens more similarly-bad cases I could list.) Fair disclaimer: This subject engages me a lot and it's on my long laundry list of Subtopics Of Things To Protect.
1Eugine_Nier8yOn the other-hand the taboo against children having sex isn't a modern development. Rather, questions of propriety and morality refer to memes that were presumably selected by memetic evolution for some combination of the children's individual and collective benefit.
1DaFranker8yIt's not? Damn, that 12-year-old girl in feudal England must be so happy that there's a social taboo against children having sex. That way she doesn't have to worry about being done stuff she doesn't even understand when she gets married next moon to some 19-year-old page boy she's only ever met twice.Oh wait.(TL;DR: [citation needed]) Edit: (gwern wins some more internets [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h87/what_truths_are_actually_taboo/8uvi] - by actually providing citations! I stand corrected.)
2Nornagest8yI'm not an expert on developmental sexuality in preindustrial Europe, but for most of the feudal era child marriage was a lot rarer than pop culture would have us believe and almost exclusively an upper-class phenomenon. It also didn't necessarily imply immediate consummation; most of the feudal women we know about that did marry at thirteen or fourteen didn't bear children until a few years later. Women from the peasant and mercantile classes (the vast majority of the population) often wouldn't marry until their early twenties, for a variety of basically economic reasons. Upper-class feudal women did marry young by our standards, but usually that would have meant sixteen to eighteen, not twelve.

From Farewell to Alms; Asia:

In Asia, as Malthus knew, the norm for women was early and nearly universal marriage. Recent studies of family lineages and local population registers suggest that first marriage for Chinese women around 1800 took place on average at age 19. A full 99 percent of women in the general population married.9 Men also married young, first marriage occurring on average at 21. But the share of men marrying was much lower, perhaps as low as 84 percent. Chinese males were no more likely to marry than their northwestern European counterparts. This was because female infanticide created a surplus of males, and men were more likely than women to remarry after the death of a spouse.10

Egypt:

The one even earlier society for which we have demographic data is Roman Egypt in the first three centuries AD. As in preindustrial China and Japan female marriage was early and universal. The estimated mean age at first marriage for Egyptian women was even lower, at 17.5.15 Marital fertility rates, however, were lower than in northwestern Europe, but higher than in China and Japan: about two-thirds the Hutterite standard. This early and universal marriage, and relatively high

... (read more)
3DaFranker8yThanks! This makes a strong enough case to upturn the history book I read (in high school, and of typical epistemic quality for high school history books).
8gwern8yI'd say it's more that 'it's complicated and dependent on region'. After all, there is a specific claim there that in Grecoroman society the stereotype that girls got married the moment they started bleeding was true. And no doubt anthropologists could list societies fitting every marriage age bracket from before conception to 'never'. (But it does mean that we can't pride ourselves on how civilized we are compared to our barbaric ancestors as of, say, 5 centuries ago.)
3Eugine_Nier8yOr feel ashamed at how much more sexually repressed we are as savageorange [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h87/what_truths_are_actually_taboo/8tz1] was doing above.
0gwern8yMore materials: http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/GESUND/ARCHIV/GUS/HISTORYCHHS.HTM [http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/GESUND/ARCHIV/GUS/HISTORYCHHS.HTM] http://womenofhistory.blogspot.com/2007/08/medieval-marriage-childbirth.html [http://womenofhistory.blogspot.com/2007/08/medieval-marriage-childbirth.html]
7sunflowers8yThat's.... a really good one, actually. Perhaps disguise the idea in a critical discussion of Brave New World?
5TimS8yReally the only acceptable conversation I can think of goes something like:
9sunflowers8yIf memory serves, it was something about not hitting 6-month-olds for touching themselves in Marriage and Morals that prevented Russell from teaching at City College years later...
4wedrifid8yWith the another evident exception being this conversation and those like it that employ sufficient indirection. The ancestor is currently at +4, 100%.

Hrm? I'm not sure why you think I disagree with your comment. Taking a step meta is generally acceptable. People claim the Holocaust never happened is not taboo, even if The Holocaust never happened is taboo in many contexts.

I think the ancestor is a +12 because it is a great example of what the OP requested - a true, probably taboo sentence.

-7wedrifid8y
2Username8ySee this excellectly written blog post on should we allow sex play in Kindergarden? [http://www.matusiak.eu/numerodix/blog/category/issues/page/3/] (SFW, seriously)
1[anonymous]8yThis hasn't been a taboo since Freud's time. (For one data point, I never masturbated until I was about 15, as far as I can remember, but... teenagers talking about when they masturbated as children weren't terribly uncommon.)
4TimS8yPrepubescent children? Babies touch themselves while being changed - most of the parenting books I read said not to worry or make a big deal about it. Such a warning seems unnecessary if most people normally followed the advice.
0[anonymous]8yI guess that “taboo” in the OP means ‘what you can't say [http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html]’, not ‘what you can say but still lots of people are wrong about’. Otherwise it'd be faaaar easier to find taboos.
0TimS8yYeah, I debated a separate post on that point. To me, it is pretty clear that the OP is using taboo in Graham's sense. Then I decided too much time had passed to make that post worthwhile.
-4sunflowers8yPerhaps it should be? I'm not sure how we can rely on ourselves to give sexual pleasure without any sort of self-gratification, and using children for sexual gratification is a big no no in my book. Lots of moral hazard in this form of pleasure that is quite avoidable by finding one of the billion other things kids like doing.
4MugaSofer8yThat seems like an astoundingly arbitrary position. Good thing + good thing somehow equals bad thing? Mind you, I'd say any argument that even tangentially endorses pedophilia - including all those arguments that are trivially wrong but filled with applause lights - is massively taboo.
-2sunflowers8yI agree with the second part of your comment, as I've said. Good thing + good thing? I don't think that using children for sexual pleasure is a "good thing" at all. It would be if we lived in a universe where the formula is pleasure + pleasure, but it obviously isn't. Do terms such as "meaningful consent" or "exploitation" have any relevance here?
6MugaSofer8yPerhaps this example will help: A pedophile lives in a holodeck and molests holographic children. Is this worse than a analogous situation involving holographic adults? Why?
1[anonymous]8yAre the holographic people actually people (as defined by the Turing test/the generalized anti-zombie principle)?
1MugaSofer8yNo, sorry, that was what I meant to imply by "holodeck". As for the actual mechanics of it, maybe it pulls data from parallel universes, maybe they're the puppets of a (sentient) AI (zombie-master hypothesis) or maybe consciousness is easier to fake than you might expect, so they run sophisticated chatbots certified by a nonperson predicate. Damned if I know. It's basically an experience machine / catgirl volcano lair, is the idea. Only, y'know, icky.
1[anonymous]8yIn that case, it doesn't squick me much more if they're children than if they're adults. But then again, few of the examples in section “Emotion and Deontological Judgments” in this post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/74f/are_deontological_moral_judgments_rationalizations/] squick me much, so I may be the wrong person to ask.
0sunflowers8yI think his fantasies are perverse and contrary to values I have about human autonomy, but I don't think the situation is significantly worse. His actions are not going to put a kid in therapy. I also completely fail to see the relevance.
3MugaSofer8yIf children masturbating makes them feel good, and pedophiles feeling good about having sex with them isn't inherently bad, then pedophiles helping kids masturbate is just efficient use of labor. Goes the logic.
3sunflowers8yGoes the logic that works so long as you do not care about meaningful consent. This is a lot like the "if she's sleeping, it's not rape" argument we heard in the aftermath of the Steubenville case.
2DaFranker8yWhat is this meaningful consent thinghy you mention? Do I need it to play tag with other children (given that I'm a child)? Does an adult need it when playing tag with children? Do you need it when washing eachothers' backs in the bath? Do you need it when washing your child in the bath? Do you need it when your child asks for a massage? Do you need it when your child asks for a "massage"? Where, and how, and why, does one draw the line? My value system is incompatible with your statement and has no entry for this reference of "meaningful consent". Edit: Split away irrelevant part of the comment.
4DaFranker8yFTR: If I had any sort of relationship like this when I was a minor (sadly, I didn't) and someone sued my S.O. / partner over this "meaningful consent" thing, I would have resented them and would still resent them to this day, and would most likely have pressed charges and sued them back into oblivion as soon as I turned legally capable of suing people, over all kinds of privacy breach, life alteration, or whatever other morality-based claims that I could find, in the same way I would sue anyone who pressed charges against me for having sex with my current girlfriend.
-2MugaSofer8yWhen you say "minor" - are we talking teens, preteens, infancy? A month below the local AOC? Does it matter? (Also, good luck with that lawsuit.)
2DaFranker8yNot really. I've always found the moral intuitions most people have here rather lacking. Put a 3-year-old in her mother's body. The kid wants to have sex 'caus she has her mother's biosystem, drives and body. Is it okay? Put a 40-year-old in a 6-year-old's body. Or better yet, take one of the existing people who just have the same body they did when they were 12. Is sex okay? Take a 2-year-old WBE that ran at a subjective time factor of 50 since their start. They get transferred to a modified cloned 9-year-old body that has already gone through puberty. Is it okay to have sex? So yeah. Doesn't really matter, as long as both parties are aware of the typical downfalls and issues and are capable of enjoying it. (and that they actually do enjoy it, or stop if they don't)
-1MugaSofer8yGood to know. How, exactly, do you do that? Doesn't puberty alter the mind as well as the body? You'd have to create a whole new mind, extrapolating what the 3-year-old would be like with "her mother's biosystem, drives" without making any of the other alterations aging brings. Assuming they're mentally unchanged, I would guess most people would be OK with it, albeit somewhat squicked at the thought. Although some people object to cartoon child porn, so maybe you'd get people claiming it encourages pedophiles or something? Holy cow, that's a thing? What? Are they simulating baseline human biochemistry? I'm sympathetic to this position - I'm pretty sure these so-called intuitions are just social mores, other societies marry and such much younger - but I think you're failing to account for power imbalance. We don't let officers in the military sleep with their subordinates, and with the kind of power adults have over children in our society, the same logic applies.
1DaFranker8yYeah, power (im)balances is the most important form of many variants of coercion, both implicit and explicit, that come rain down on my ideals of optimal sexual interactions and freedoms. And they can be so insidious or deeply implicit or just so dang entangled that sometimes, even if we do know the full situation, we can't make sense or trace any sort of natural line. In some cases there's even no schelling point. But there's so much to say here about this topic it might grow into an entire article's worth of stuff if I keep going, and I'm sure there could be more optimal ways to communicate or use both of our times, especially considering that I suspect many of the issues I've thought of have also crossed the mind of most people on LW. Or, at the very least, there should be some significant overlap between any two given people. I don't quite know enough yet to pinpoint which of my insights overlap and (more importantly) which don't. Anyway, power and perceived power can majorly fuck up most heuristics and investigations we're currently capable of using/doing. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing any post on LW about social power balances and the many ways they influence peoples' decisions or patterns that come up where sub-optimal situations arise because of them (or the perception of them). I've seen some things alluding to it or passing mentions as if everyone knew all the aspects of the topic, though. And I've found one old post on the current subject [http://lesswrong.com/lw/67h/the_phobia_or_the_trauma_the_probem_of_the_chcken/] too. However, I suspect the science on this to be rather... incomplete. Thoughts? Regarding that, here's probably the most extreme case we've ever seen [http://www.examiner.com/article/20-year-old-toddler-syndrome-x-traps-adult-child-s-body] . Why does that part matter? Maybe consider if they are, and then if they aren't, and see where the difference is? To me there's no relevant difference as far as I can tell.
-1MugaSofer8yIn this specific case, I think the socially-constructed adult/child divide might actually work - sure, it's arbitrary, but it should largely reflect whether the kid in questions views someone as An Adult or just another kid. Of course, this sorta falls apart when you have to deal with two kids of different ages. Or, for that matter, "young adults" who view older people as somehow authoritative, although that's not as pervasive. Hmm, maybe we should use the infamous half-your-age-plus-seven "creepiness law"? Oh, I vaguely heard about that. I though that was unique though? Well, most of these intuitions are dependent on a human biochemistry. You want to fuck a robot, knock yourself out. Unless it's, like, a sex-hating robot. That said, a hundred-year-old human in an adolescent body sounds like they would be allowed to have whatever sex as they wanted, within the usual limits. Indeed, I believe it's a common excuse in Japanese stuff to have that girl actually be a 700-year-old demon in human form.
5DaFranker8yWhat's that? O.o I think in most circumstances that would be relevant, social roles largely outweigh and override this. In most cases, minors are forced into roles by circumstance and because people who already have greater power force them to be in such roles. For a better intuition pump towards what I mean, think of The Internets, particularly hacker culture. There, age is probably the most irrelevant out of any culture I've seen - only maturity, skill, and some online social likeability matter. Some mature 12-year-olds wield immense power (relatively speaking, in terms of social and cultural power within the limited scope of hacker culture) over some of their peers, and this almost certainly leads many major adults to take suboptimal decisions or actions within the context. Sometimes, gamers can also form similar small groups where young people with the proper, more powerful "role" can wield relatively disproportionate power over the leisure time and entertainment quality of their peers. I've sometimes experienced this firsthand, though the worst cases I saw didn't happen to me personally. For a toy example of what I'm talking about, consider gaming "clans", groups of people who for some reason or another end up gaming with eachother and forming a common In-Group mentality and generally acting like a tribe for the purposes of playing videogames (or some small set of games). Often, some gamers will get really invested in this tribe, emotionally and psychologically, and will make friends there, and spend lots of time making emotional attachments, and so on. More often than not, these groups have a "Leader", who holds rather disproportionate authority, much like a tribe. In fact, these usually work pretty much exactly like a tribe. Anyway, this emotional involvement can mean that that kid who would be considered a minor and unable to consent due to power imbalances actually has more power over you now, because failure to comply can, in typical tribal fashio
-2MugaSofer8yAs the name I referred to it by suggests, you divide your age by two and add seven; anyone below that would be "creepy" to sleep with or otherwise engage romantically. Not sure where it comes from, but it's been featured in XKCD at least once. Yup. And in our society, all kids are in these situations, and many (especially younger) kids may assume such a context in pretty much all interactions with adults. Not to mention the fact that, currently, most people who actually do have sex with children are in such a position of "soft power" over the child.
0[anonymous]8yI assumed that Randall Munroe had just made it up on the spot.
4Eugine_Nier8yI'm pretty sure I heard of it before the comic.
2MugaSofer8yI've always found "informed consent" (probably the same thing) to be a damn good heuristic, myself, although I certainly don't terminally value it. Are those meant to be rhetorical questions?
-1MugaSofer8y... actually, I'm of the opinion that conflating that sort of thing with, y'know, the sort of thing people picture when you say "rape" leads to both overestimation of the harm it causes and devaluing of the suffering caused by violently raping someone. It is, of course, bad, and it should be discouraged with punishments and so on, but I don't think it shares a Schelling point with "real" rape. However. What about this "meaningful consent" that renders it valuable? At what point does consent become "meaningful"? We usually allow parents to consent on behalf of their children, presumably because they will further the child's own interests; should this apply to sex? What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it? Let's pry open this black box! [Side note: I personally am against legalizing such relationships, but I worry that I'm smart enough to argue convincingly for this position regardless of its truth, so I'm not going to elaborate on my reasoning here.]
3sunflowers8yWhich in my experience people picture extremely inaccurately. They picture girls getting grabbed off a park sidewalk by a ravenous stranger. That's a very atypical case. Outside of prison, rape is typically perpetuated by friends and lovers and dates. This is unsurprising given pure opportunity, just as it's unsurprising that children are typically victimized by families and trusted friends of their families, not by strangers with candy. Requiring rape to be "violent" is to require that most extra-penal rape be reclassified as not-rape. There is usually the implicit threat of violence, and the (typically) women in such circumstances are made to understand they have no choice or power. Anyone who looks at this issue will quickly meet people who insist that it isn't "rape" if the woman did not violently resist and never succumbed, or if there were no beatings involved. "Rape" is only as meaningful as "meaningful consent." Babies cannot give meaningful consent. Children can sometimes give meaningful consent, but it is difficult to determine. We allow parents to make decisions for their children in weighty matters - within strict limits. We do not allow them to give their kids liquor and cigarettes nor restrict them to "alternative medicine" for deadly disease. All of this makes sense: by and large, we do not allow families to stunt and cripple development. (I give one exception: it is still considered acceptable to give a child a poor diet to the point of severe obesity. I think this should be at least as criminal, if not more, than allowing cigarette-smoking.) "Meaningful consent" comes in degrees: adults are better at it than young teenagers. Most states have age of consent laws which, while allowing sex with minors, only allows it within a certain age bracket. Differential intellectual capacity matters. You'll notice that I haven't tried to give a definition. With complicated concepts, it is often better to talk about them as if they were meaningful, and notic
3TheOtherDave8yAmong my friends this sentiment is encapsulated as "You always hurt the ones you love, cuz they're the ones in range."
0Eugine_Nier8yConsider the examples in this [http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4934&cpage=1#comment-400452] comment: Which of these count as "meaningful consent" by your definition?
-1MugaSofer8yPoint. Still, you know what I mean. Forcible rape, not things-that-are-bad-and-sexual-so-we-call-them-rape. Well ... yeah? That's not the same thing as it being perfectly acceptable, mind. Oh, yeah, threats should totally be included AFAICT. But the example under discussion was a sleeping/unconscious victim, wasn't it? That is to say not meaningful at all, because you're treating meaningful consent as a fundamental property of things. Why not, if they can express desire for sweeties or whatever? At what point do they stop being "babies" and become "children", under this schema? Are we including toddlers here? Aha! He admits it! Pedophilic relationships can be OK! There are some issues where we can safely say we know better, just like, say, an adult consenting to an addictive drug. But how could sex be one of those cases, when it's only harmful if the person doesn't consent in the first place? (Ignoring for a minute STDs and such, which parents (and many kids) should be able to take into account.) Why? From hence did this meaningful concept come to you? What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?
1sunflowers8yI wish we could get past slogans. Ok, we're trying to determine whether or not "meaningful consent is meaningful". A question: could you guess with high reliability what situations I think constitute meaningful consent or not? A scenario: suppose I slip a girl a roofie, slip her into my car, take her home, and fuck her. Then I sneak her back into the party. Was my crime "slipping a girl a drug", or was my crime "that and rape"?
1MugaSofer8yThis particular slogan was selected for usefulness. It retains it's meaning when considered as a question solely in the current context. Sure. All I have to do is check what the culture you live in condemns. As I have indicated before, I consider the term "rape" to include multiple Schelling points in act-space, most of which I condemn and advocate pushing, but to different degrees. As such, I would appreciate if you tabooed "rape" when asking this sort of question. Taking my own advice, his crimes were slipping the girl a drug and violating her right to bodily integrity, the same as if he had preformed surgery on her, given her a piercing or tattoo etc. Note that a crime is not the same a harm; technically the girl has not been harmed, we just prefer to enforce this right for game-theoretic reasons. Also, I note you failed to specify if it was "safe" sex.
3sunflowers8yWhen I try to believe that, I become confused. I've found in this and other threads that my being reminded of rationalist truisms correlates with something other than a failure of rationality. Right, which is why you'd be able to guess that I support lowering the age of consent under certain circumstances and relaxing penalties in others. You have a bad discriminant. You are weak at something you shouldn't be. That's another thing. My being asked to taboo something here usually - there are exceptions - correlates not with understandable confusion or ambiguity, but with something else. So her "right to bodily integrity" extends to penis-in-vagina? We're trying really hard to not see the obvious. Go on, use the word. She hasn't? Under what "technically" are we working? Are "we" just preferring to enforce this right for "game-theoretic reasons?" Are you assuming too much on the part of "we"? That "failure" was deliberate and appropriate.
-1MugaSofer8yMaybe. I was genuinely asking, not censuring you for failing to follow the tenets of our faith. Are you intending to respond to my question, or just muse about my motives in asking it? Except that doesn't necessarily reflect anything real besides the details of the culture in question. See also: witchcraft. In this case, while I am not confused by your meaning, you are rendering this discussion too ambiguous for me to make my point. If I insisted on referring to homosexuality as a "fetish", (or "perversion" or something else that boiled down to "sex thingy that's not mainstream",) and replied to arguments about how homosexuality is qualitatively different with discussions of "fetishes", asking me to taboo "fetish" and talk about the facts of the matter would be reasonable, don't you think? (This is not a hypothetical example.) I submit that giving someone a tattoo while they're drunk is not the same as raping them. OK: I prefer to punish this in order to discourage it in general, even if, in this specific case, it has negative net utility. And yes, having something happen to you that does not cause physical damage or mental distress (because you don't know it happened) can reasonably be categorized as not containing "harm", although obviously there are different possible definitions of the word "harm". Well, I guess it's a good thing I noted it then, isn't it? Seriously, though, that failure is not appropriate, because there is a difference in the resulting harm caused by safe and unsafe sex; to whit, possible pregnancy and the risk of STD transfer. Both of these have measurable effects that the victim remembers, and indeed are likely to reveal that the rape occurred (depending on the individual in question.) You are deliberately trying to conflate different things, here. Stop it. Even if it turns out what we care about is identical in both cases, what you are doing amounts to refusing to discuss the question at all.
0sunflowers8yJust muse. Except [supporting lowering the age of consent under some circumstances] doesn't necessarily reflect anything [real] besides [culture], [like witchcraft!] Word salad. What you could have said is, "I was mistaken, as I could not have predicted that," or, "I was correct, because lowering the age of consent is a really popular right now." I think people should have a say in what happens to them, be it politically or otherwise. Would it "harm" a child to keep him locked in a giant playground/amusement park, with everything he could ever want provided, but kept from any education? Would it "harm" the human race as a whole to be kept in a state of perpetual orgasm, kept alive, but forgetting everything else? Is a slave being harmed, even if his master does not beat him and feeds him well? I'm with the old-school utilitarians on this. Utility is not hedonism. Immediate pleasure and pain are not the sum of all harm. I think that women and men should have some say in what happens to their bodies. That's why I'm not fond of circumcision, especially fgm. (Another cultural prediction?) That's why I have no problem with almost any type of relationship between consenting adults. Bondage? Sure. Open relationships? I've had them and they're my favorite. Polyamory? Why not? Homosexual? Obviously. Incest? With some exceptions concerning guardian/minor relationships, but otherwise, why not? I would even support tax breaks/rights for polyamorous relationships similar to those now granted for monogamous couples, the scale of which to be determined after research into outcomes for children and other - to my knowledge - unknowns. But this is obviously "culture", which you would have predicted. That's why it wouldn't have helped you to use "meaningful consent", right? If I were to give some other LWer a checklist of predictions about my feelings about sexual relationships, and tell him to use "culture", he - statistically a `he' - might use polls. If I tell him to use "meani
-3MugaSofer8yPretty please? Huh? A minute ago you were complaining I was being contrary because the predictions worked fine. I can predict what you'd disapprove of for reasons of ""informed consent" just fine. I just don't think it refers to anything in the territory beyond the bit of the map labelled "informed consent". Or at least, if it does, you seem to be having trouble pointing to it. As I said, I recognize the right to bodily integrity, which is violated in both cases. I also value, y'know, not traumatizing people (which you seem to dismiss as "hedonism".) Also, honestly, I think you probably overestimate the value of freedom and choice and so on. They're nice and all, but they're massive applause lights in our culture; other cultures don't seem to have been so impressed by them. Thanks for the extra data o pinpoint the precise subculture I should be checking. Except you cannot explain "meaningful consent" except by pointing to culture/yourself-as-black-box. Why should I treat them as separate theories to be tested? How should I treat them as separate theories, if I haven't already grown up in our culture? Hey, it could be worse - your point might have simply sailed over my head. He could have cut off her foot. In fact, lets talk about that scenario. Lets say there's a well-known crime, stealing someone's purse. This traditionally involves cutting off their foot, because people chain their purses to their feet. But sometimes, a cunning criminal tricks someone into giving them the key to this chain, or steals it out of their pocket, resulting in a purse-theft without the loss of a foot. Is it a good idea to talk about how this gut is a foot-thief just because the dictionary says a "foot-thief" is someone who teals the purse someone attached to their foot, and attack anyone suggesting (say) a lighter sentence or something as defending those horrible people who cut off feet? Is it useful to ignore the loss of people's feet and increase the penalty for all foot-thefts

We're only allowed to talk about the fact that we are almost universally demonstrably evil by the standards of our own professed moral systems in a joking context.

Or the context of religion.

8Viliam_Bur8yBut the religion pretends to have a solution -- you do a ritual, and now you are magically less evil.
1[anonymous]8yIt depends on which religion -- apparently, Orthodox Judaism doesn't [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h8/tsuyoku_naritai_i_want_to_become_stronger/].
9sunflowers8yThis is actually one of my favorite conversational topics. People find it uncomfortable, but not in a "you're sinister" sort of way. But yeah, not a great way to make friends.
3DiamondSoul8yCould you expand on this? It's not clear to me how this is the case.
4JoshuaZ8yRational charity and utilitarianism make it extremely hard to justify how much most of us spend on ourselves or on feel-good charities rather than high impact results like giving money to high impact charities.
1Baughn8yI'd like to hear your reasoning for that. It's not obvious at all to me - unless you're talking about eating meat, in which case.. well, I'm still unsure how the equation works out.

In my experience, these are not actually taboo

Then I think your experience is atypical. If you can say things like this in front of your peer group without being ostracized, you have an atypical peer group. I have an atypical peer group and I still think I would lose friends for saying some of these things.

My peer groups have ranged from good ol' boys to academics to leftwing activists. I don't think my experience is atypical for somebody who knows how to carefully introduce taboo topics. If my experience is atypical, it's due to the thought I've put into communicating such topics.

Edit: Changed "good topics" to "taboo topics."

Do you think that the position that Larry Summers was in is atypical, or do you think that he was bad at carefully introducing good topics?

5sunflowers8yAgain, the emphasis of the post is "obvious truths." But yes, I think the reaction to Summers' talk was atypical. Gender differences and IQ and women in mathematics are standard topics in introductory psych textbooks. I think the reaction to his talk was deplorable, but I think that a big part of the explanation here has to do with "former administration official" and "university president." People with these titles are subject to stricter rules.

It is no longer clear to me what you mean by "taboo." Can you, erm, taboo this?

3amacfie8yAny particular reason why you write "erm" even though (I assume) you don't have a British accent?
5arundelo8yI had been reading this (and its more common cousin "er") for years before I saw someone point out that they're just different spellings of "um" and "uh". Edit: Not different pronunciations (modulo the difference in accent) [http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2008/05/uh-er-um-erm.html], for anyone who doesn't know what amacfie and I are on about.
7randallsquared8y...but people (around me, at least, in the DC area) do say "Er..." literally, sometimes. It appears to be pronounced that way when the speaker wants to emphasize the pause, as far as I can tell.
2amacfie8yI hear "er", literally (rhotically), quite infrequently and I always assumed that people said it that way because of seeing "er" in written English and not knowing that it was intended to be pronounced "uh"; similarly, I've heard "arg" spoken by people who thought "argh" from written English was pronounced that way.
2arundelo8yIn my previous commented I restrained myself from linking to Ant Phillips's Um & Aargh [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhIt3fRC1og] but now you've given me sufficient excuse. (The chorus sounds to my American ears like "um and ah".) Edit: Grumble grumble Markdown parser bug grumble grumble.
0randallsquared8y...but "argh" is pronounced that way... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOlKRMXvTiA [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOlKRMXvTiA] :) Since the late 90s, at least.
4westward8y'My reading of the use of "erm" here is as a replacement for "my repetition of the word taboo seems awkward in this context (since the point is we don't share a mutual understanding of the word) but I don't know a better word of phrasing this". Do the British commonly use "erm"? I didn't know that.
4fortyeridania8yI think you may have missed the point. "Erm" is just a British spelling of what Americans would spell "um." The pronunciations are quote close. (Similarly, British writers use "er" where Americans would write "uh.")
-1MugaSofer8yReally? I've always considered those distinct sounds, but then I read a lot from both sides of the Atlantic as a kid.
2fortyeridania8yHere's some evidence. * Er: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/er#Etymology_1 [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/er#Etymology_1] * Uh: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/uh#Pronunciation [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/uh#Pronunciation] * Erm: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/erm [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/erm] * Um: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/um#Etymology_1 [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/um#Etymology_1] I think the recordings at those pages are misleading, because they're all from a US speaker. The phonetic markings are what to look at.
-1MugaSofer8yUm ... evidence? pronounced: /ɜː/ etymology: copying the sound people make when hesitating. pronounced: /ʌː/ No listed etymology, but attached to a list of such sounds from various languages [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/uh#Translations]. pronunciation: no phonetic markings listed; recording only. no etymology listed, but attached to an entirely different list of such sounds in other languages [http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/erm#Translations]. pronounciation: /ʊm/ etymology: Also, I've ignored the recordings - I actually can't listen to them on this computer - but why would there be a mispronounced pronunciation guide? I mean, wouldn't people who aren't US speakers correct it, if they knew better? I'm not a US speaker, and I would. ETA: apparently "hum" may come from the old English version of this - from which we also get um and hmm. Or something.
0SilasBarta8yExactly. As an American, I obviously prefer "er" instead.
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yIt's more fun? I dunno.
-5sunflowers8y

Most sexual relationships are between people who are settling for what they can get.

Cynicism about love is taboo? Where have I been?

It's fine until you change a vague statement about "most" relationships (which obviously means outgroup-people's relationships) into a specific one about people in the conversation, or friends of people in the conversation, or other ingroup members. At which point, I'd say it's just offensive, not taboo. Offensive, hard to justify, based on the outside view when people with inside view information are around... yeah, probably instrumentally unwise to say most of the time, too.

settling for what they can get.

You mean optimizing.

You mean optimizing.

Wouldn't satisficing be more correct?

Agreed. Although if you include the cost of searching, satisficing is the optimal solution.

3MixedNuts8yAs opposed to what?
4DanArmak8yTrue Love [http://what-if.xkcd.com/9/].
0MixedNuts8yYeah, that was pretty much the only thing I could think of. But given that people do not in fact have randomly assigned soulmates who are a much better match than anyone else, holding out for your soulmate is not a possible policy. Another thing that would qualify is meeting everyone in the world (in reasonable age brackets and filtering by gender if appropriate, and maybe some amount of filtering on culture and interests still counts as not settling) to determine the best possible match, not because you can only be happy with them but because you refuse to settle for the infinitesimally inferior second-best match. But it's very unlikely that you'll be your first choice's first choice, forcing at least one of you to settle for an inferior match or remain single. Gratuitous bragging: my calculations suggest that there are about ten thousand people in the world I'd be more or less as happy with as with my boyfriend. (It's not that lucky, I meet an incredibly skewed sample.) I have on average two more chances of finding another good match if we break up, and I'm not unhappy about this prospect, which makes "settling" a strange descriptor.
3Prismattic8yBut this is only an issue at all because we're weirdos here [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/11/why-underestimate-acceptable-partners.html] .
-2MugaSofer8yClaiming that people did not have their mate selected by their subconscious and pheromones or whatever is not the same as saying they did not have them selected by random draw by ***ing cupid.

In my experience, these are not actually taboo, and I think my experience is generalizable.

Who are the twenty people you interact with most often? Make a list.

Meet with each of those people in person. Work each of those three observations that you think are obvious and not taboo into the conversation. Notice whether or not you feel any reluctance to bring up the topic. Pay close attention to their reaction, and where they try to steer the conversation.

I strongly suspect your experience will be that these topics are actually costly to discuss (i.e. there actually is a taboo).

Notice here that I sought to counteract selection effects. Yes, there are lots of people I can talk to who think those things are reasonable beliefs. But there are also lots of people who, if I mention the quantitative implications of the black-white IQ gap, will not see it as a good idea to be friends with me anymore. Correspondingly, I don't discuss that topic with them.

We can recognize that statements like these correlate with certain false beliefs and nasty sentiments of the sort that actually are taboo.

This is, of course, a very destructive self-fulfilling prophecy. If pointing out the negative side ... (read more)

5sunflowers8yYour suggested experiment wouldn't be very good. I do think that appearing to have become suddenly obsessed with holocaust revision would cost me. Talking about these things as one would actually talk about these things makes for a better experiment. Here's an interesting outcome: I've never been called an anti-Semite for discussing Holocaust revision - partly because it's made clear that I think anti-Semitism a form of mental illness and it's obvious I blame the Nazis for a genocide-that-yes-duh-happened. Now, I have been called an anti-Semite for supporting Palestinian human rights. Of course I at times feel reluctance to bring up topics like this. I'm pretty sure I've admitted the existence of sensitive topics already. There are risks and costs to certain truths, but those risks and costs rarely if ever approach those associated with serious taboos like vulgar racism. It's sound inference. It's updating on evidence. Sometimes. I keep saying context context context, but do go on. That'd be just awful. Has it happened? Are we really not allowed to do a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis of immigration?

I think anti-Semitism a form of mental illness

This is an extreme claim that I would dismiss without strong evidence.

It seems that you only make it as an applause light. I doubt you have real evidence that anti-Semitism is a mental illness, rather than a normal mental state which is common in certain societies and is not harmful to those who possess it.

You have to profess this belief to allow you to discuss taboo claims that seem anti-Semitic without letting people think you're an actual anti-Semite. The fact you are forced to make this claim, which is probably irrelevant to the discussion at hand (e.g. what exactly happened in the Holocaust), is evidence that you are discussing a taboo subject.

4sunflowers8yA sensitive subject not in itself taboo so long as one includes provisos to prevent reasonable inferences leading to their concluding that I have views that actually are taboo. I think that anti-Semitism is a qualitatively distinct form of racism which ought to be considered on the borderline of mental illness. I'll admit fault for calling it a mental illness without qualification. Here's one reason [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/03/the-2-000-year-old-panic/306640/] I consider anti-Semitism to be almost in a category of its own: Racism is something segregated groups do more or less automatically, starting from early age and due to an evolutionarily sensible preference of the familiar to the unfamiliar. Anti-Semitism doesn't happen like this. Anti-Semitism is not only racial but also religious and nationalist, and it can happen anywhere. It's highly paranoid; the Jews frequently take an Illuminati-type role as the masters of everything. Any infinity of other racisms and poisons are naturally subsumed within it. Garden-variety racists are not typically racialists with a well-constructed theory to support their bigotry, but anti-Semites almost always are. Anti-Semitism is System 2. Conspiracies about Chinese and Japanese subterfuge wax and wane, but anti-Semitism stays. Jews are blamed simultaneously for the worst excesses of capitalism and socialism, for the kidnap and murder of children for ritual, food, and sport. They are out to undermine the true religion and dilute the blood of the best races, and turn the nations into beggars. And it's been like this for centuries.

I think that anti-Semitism is a qualitatively distinct form of racism which ought to be considered on the borderline of mental illness. I'll admit fault for calling it a mental illness without qualification.

Let's be clear we're talking about the same thing here. The definitions for mental illness that I'm familiar with say that mental illness must be something that is not widespread in the person's culture, a beliefs or behavior that others consider weird or irrational. People imitate and conform to other's beliefs and actions so much, that anything that is common to a large segment of the population (e.g. religious belief) cannot be usefully called a mental illness. Anti-Semitism clearly fails this test.

Anti-Semitism is not only racial but also religious and nationalist, and it can happen anywhere.

Hating outgroups based on religious and nationalist lines, is just as normal and widespread as on racial lines. Almost every multi-religious society has or had in the past a large degree of segregation, distrust, and perhaps sectarian violence. The same goes for populations of "mixed nationalities".

Since the Jews historically lived among people where they were at once ... (read more)

5sunflowers8yI still disagree, but kudos for a very reasonable response. May I plead time constraints in the hope that we may revisit this topic later?
2DanArmak8yOf course.

It's sound inference.

I agree that it's sound inference, given the hypotheses "racist" and "not racist."

What is more important is the importance given to those hypotheses. I think you're mistaken about what taboos are: they're signals of "not my tribe." Someone who supports Palestine over Israel is against the 'tribe of Israel,' in the way that a measured discussion of the Holocaust after professing love for the tribe isn't. It may be socially or instrumentally rational to yield to such politics, but never mistake it for epistemic rationality. (That is, the phrase "politically correct" is literally true.)

Are we really not allowed to do a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis of immigration?

What do you mean by "we," "really," and "allowed"? No one will throw you in jail if you do such analysis and post it on your blog, but don't be surprised when the SPLC puts you on hatewatch. The more important question is, "are the people who actually decide immigration laws doing a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis?"

1sunflowers8yYes, given mutually exclusive and exhaustive - if fuzzy - categories that necessarily exist. Ok. Are you saying that it's an unsound inference? My tribe here being correct and not completely morally reprehensible, which includes lots of people who aren't in what I consider my in-group. I'm not sure how familiar you are with this debate. If you were, you would understand it to be a reflexive response against criticism of Israeli expansion and aggression. The Jewish critics of Israeli militarism are also called anti-Semitic. It has a lot more to do with power worship than tribal signalling, though the latter certainly plays a role in party discipline. You'd probably think Bill is a racist. Bill is an extreme example, but for him or a more realistic case could you let me know why inferring this would be a failure of rationality? I would be very surprised. I've followed Hatewatch before. Give me an example of this. If these exist, they must not be common. More important? Sure. Related? No. Of course they aren't. The party that wants the xenophobe vote doesn't need to do that, and the party that wants the Hispanic vote doesn't need to do that.
1Vaniver8yYou may be interested in this article [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/].
2sunflowers8yI've read it. Still waiting for your examples.
5Vaniver8yOf Hatewatch targeting people who oppose immigration? You realize that's one of their tags [http://www.splcenter.org/blog/topics/anti-immigrant/], right? I recommend reading it again. Consider what you wrote in the great-grandparent: Don't it seem odd that the only dimension on which immigration is politically relevant is personal warmth towards Hispanics? As a policy decision, it has way more impacts than that. To pick just one dimension, where are the environmentalists comparing per capita carbon production in Mexico and America, and analyzing what impact Mexicans moving to America will have on global carbon production?
3sunflowers8yYes, and I searched that tag before responding, and I didn't find people listed for doing careful cost-benefit analyses. Instead, I saw neo-Nazis and "minutemen." Don't it seem odd that ain't what I said? Duh, but your question was whether or not politicians are conducting cost-benefit analyses to arrive at their positions. They aren't. Republicans are busy trying to figure out how to get more of the hispanic vote without "alienating the base." Do you think the base will be alienated out of a concern for carbon emissions? I'll ask once more for you to answer the question you keep refusing to answer: where is the failure of rationality in inferring that Bill is a racist? Why is it that true statements cannot serve as signals for the presence of false beliefs, or why is it that that rule, if sometimes sound, is not sound in this or similar cases? Edit: Whoa I needed to fix some grammar.
2Vaniver8yDid you seriously expect the SPLC to say "this guy is an evil racist who hates immigrants, but he brings up sound, quantitative points that we ought to consider"? To the best of my knowledge, there is no American Thilo Sarrazin [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thilo_Sarrazin]. Peter Brimelow might be close (and the SPLC excoriates him accordingly), but I haven't looked for or found anything carefully quantitative by Brimelow. Similarly, Steve Sailer is worth paying attention to, but calls for cost-benefit analyses rather than doing them himself (beyond back-of-the-envelope ones). Thank you for repeating the question; that made it clearer what you were interested in. In my opinion, strongly caring whether or not Bill is a racist is a mistake. There are reputational concerns about associating with racists, but I think it is poor epistemic hygiene to weight those concerns highly. Even then, supposing it were important to care whether or not Bill was a racist, I think that most people overestimate the likelihood ratio of racism vs. non-racism upon hearing a politically incorrect comment.
4MugaSofer8yI suspect most people do, in fact, weigh this too highly, but could you articulate why?
5Vaniver8yThis [http://lesswrong.com/lw/z/information_cascades/] is a good place to start. If you have more time, chapter IX of Mysterious Stranger [http://www.shsu.edu/~eng_wpf/authors/Twain/Mysterious-Stranger.htm] is also relevant.
-3MugaSofer8yI'm ... not entirely clear why that's relevant. Are you saying we should deliberately handicap our estimation of racism, because even people who disagree will go along with it?
4Vaniver8yI'm saying that the question of "Is Bill a racist?" has structural similarities to "Is Bill a witch?", both in how the question is pursued and the social consequences of the conclusion, and that tacit support of the witch-hunting apparatus because of the of the social costs of not supporting (rather than because of a genuine dislike for witches) is a group failure mode that could be avoided by conscious acknowledgement of it being a group failure mode. Further, it seems to me that rationalists with an interest in epistemic rationality should make that investment in avoiding that failure mode.
0MugaSofer8ySo ... you're saying you're worried that everyone will overreact to the correct estimate of racism, because they expect everyone else to and don't want to be excluded? I suspect I still don't understand, since that doesn't really sound like an epistemic failure...
5Viliam_Bur8yMathematically speaking, not overreacting in estimating the racism of accused people is a weak evidence for being a racist. Both a moderate non-racist and a moderate racist have a few reasons why we should not organize witch-hunts against people who said something that can be interpreted as racism. However, the moderate racist has one additional reason for not doing that: self-interest; because the next day it could be him. (In a different context, people who speak about right for fair trial for people accused of terrorism, are suspect of being sympathetic to terrorism. In middle ages people who spoke against killing of heretics were suspect of heresy. Etc.)
0MugaSofer8yExactly. It doesn't sound like an epistemic failure, because it is, in fact, true.
3Viliam_Bur8yThe epistemic failure would be to assume that if X is evidence for Y, it must be an overwhelming evidence. As in: "the only reason why anyone would care about X is because they are Y." (Common subtrope: "If you are not a criminal, you have nothing to hide from the government.")
0MugaSofer8ySure, overreaction would be an epistemic failure - if it were genuine. But the whole point of this idea is that it's not. It's faked, based on correctly realizing that not overreacting is dangerous. That's not to say it isn't a failure mode, just not an epistemic one. In any case, I was just curious if I had missed some relevant epistemic failure. Tapping out, unless you think there is such an additional failure and I'm just an idiot.
1sunflowers8yNo. What I don't expect is for somebody who does decent work to end up on Hatewatch. Which is what you said I should expect. Which I don't. Because I shouldn't. Because the stuff about immigration which ends up on Hatewatch actually tends to be in the indefensible territory. Good, so we'll be answering it! No, we'll be saying it's not worth answering. Well shit.
[-][anonymous]8y 20

What Bill said is criminal in Germany, and so is your account of what Bill said. Criticism of Islam is criminal in some Muslim countries. Without exaggeration, to convert from Islam to Christianity carries the death penalty in some Muslim nations. In the USA it is sometimes illegal to not sell your goods and services to whoever asks (ie you must sell flowers to a gay couple's wedding even if that is against your morals). People in prison have profound restrictions on their free speech .

Holocaust denial is criminal in Germany, but I was not aware that correct revisions of the Holocaust-as-popularly-understood were. I obviously wouldn't have trouble thinking of tabooed truths in Muslim countries. And restrictions on trade and discrimination in business are not about tabooing factual statements.

Almost the entirety of my post concentrated on what I wasn't looking for.

3DanArmak8yAt some point the law must decide what is a correct revision and what is an "incorrect" revision attempt that would amount to denying the (legally enshrined) conception of the Holocaust. Regardless of the net value of the law against Holocaust denial, it is a law restricting speech.
3sunflowers8yRight, I disagree with the law, in case you were wondering. I don't think it contributes any significant value. I support marginalizing bigotry, not criminalizing it.
0DanArmak8yLaw can criminalize things, but it can't marginalize them. It may be that the politicians who make the laws agree with you that a society whose people voluntarily marginalize Holocaust denial would be better than one where the government suppresses Holocaust denial by law. But to them, it's not a directly available option, so they prefer to play it safe.
9sunflowers8yThis is an aside, but yes it can. I'll explain my view. Here are two entirely consistent statements: 1. The falsity and awfulness of a view correlates with a need for marginalization. 2. The falsity and awfulness of a view correlates with a need for legal protection. See Mill's On Liberty. On this view, the United States does mostly well. Klansmen have a hard time getting newspaper columns, TV shows, and contracts with major publishers. Association with the Klan is a serious cost in polite society. But we provide police to protect their marches.
0DanArmak8yHow?
5sunflowers8yDo a before and after of the American labor movement with the central event being the Red Scare. Do a before and after of Christianity in Russia with the central event being the Bolshevik Revolution. Legal crackdowns can ultimately affect thought.
-1DanArmak8yI'm not really familiar with US history, so let's talk about Christianity in Communist Russia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians_in_the_Soviet_Union]. It wasn't merely marginalized, it was almost entirely outlawed after the Revolution. The church organization was dismantled, its property and funds were confiscated, including most actual churches, and new ones were not allowed to be built. People could legally practice religion in private, but anyone who publicly declared their religion was forbidden from being a Party member, from holding any senior post, and generally was persecuted and oppressed. Many people (and in particular many priests) were persecuted much more harshly, being murdered, tortured, deported, etc. by the regime. And after the Communist regime fell, in only a few years Russia has become about as publicly religious as the US. Which goes to show the Communist attempts at atheist education failed, in part because people were attracted to anything the Communists were against. I don't see, in this example, either how the legal crackdown was marginalizing but not outlawing religion, or how it succeeded in affecting thought.

It wasn't merely marginalized, it was almost entirely outlawed after the Revolution.

Yes, and that outlawing worked. Orthodoxy fell from holding near-universal adherence and being a pillar of state power to a fragmented, hated patchwork, which was re-allowed to exist during World War II as a submissive state organ.

While the state lasted, Russians really did become atheists and Marxists, though as Bertrand Russell footnotes his History of Western Philosophy, this practically meant replacing Tsar-worship with Stalin-worship. Criminalization led to marginalization. Similar things happened to "infantile leftist" communists and "factionalists," and with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, militant anti-fascism.

These are just particularly dramatic examples. Unfortunately, not all censorship and oppression has the Streisand Effect. I think regimes would act at least a little differently if it did.

2DanArmak8yI thought you were going to bring up examples of how [http://lesswrong.com/lw/h87/what_truths_are_actually_taboo/8sql] the law can marginalize something without making it illegal. Instead this is an example of the law marginalizing something by making it illegal. It seems we misunderstood one another. I originally said that the law couldn't (merely) marginalize something, it could only outlaw it entirely (and then it might be marginalized or disappear entirely). So, if the German politicians want to marginalize Holocaust denial, the only legal tool they have is to outlaw it entirely.
4sunflowers8yAh, we were talking about different things, then. But yes, I think it can do that too. I think that Supreme Court rulings helped to make racism taboo. Returning to the labor movement, passing laws that prohibit forming closed-shop contracts are a great indirect means of marginalizing labor, or simply the non-enforcement of laws against firing labor organizers.
3MugaSofer8y... which is significantly lower than before it was outlawed.
1Oligopsony8yHad it never been officially discouraged in the first place, I would still expect it to be less popular in 2013 than 1913. Wouldn't you?
3gwern8yThe "secularization hypothesis" is seductive and common, but if you google, you'll see that it's debated whether societies do in fact become less religious as they get richer.
-2MugaSofer8yHonestly, I'm so uninformed any opinion I have on the subject is almost totally uncertain. I've typed out multiple replies to this comment, and deleted them all because I simply didn't have a high enough confidence rating. Sorry! OTOH, religions can either get more or less popular, so all things being equal (which I doubt they are in real life) lowered popularity is evidence for the laws working.
0DanArmak8yBut is still higher than other Western countries today, and is a very sharp rise over the past twenty years, which may be still continuing.
1MugaSofer8yWould this be true if communism hadn't fallen? Still, you're right, it doesn't seem to have stuck.
2TheOtherDave8ySo, if you pass a law that doesn't make it illegal to X, but does mandate that I can no longer do X in public buildings, and mandates that I have to pay substantial annual license fees in order to do X, and that the licenses must be applied for in person at City Hall during business hours... how is marginalizing X different from what that law does to X?
-2DanArmak8yThe law regulates X. Whether it succeeds in marginalizing X is an empirical question. Many things are legally regulated and yet not marginalized, in the original sense of being not just rare but frowned upon by mainstream society. A few examples off the top of my head: drivers' licenses (state-issued and can only drive approved cars). Gun carrying and shooting (state permits for carrying, for purchase, can't shoot in the air anywhere you please). Selling food (food quality inspections, registration/permit to open a business, can't open a shop in the wrong city zone, special taxes). Etc, etc.
2TheOtherDave8yI agree with all of this. My point was simply that it's possible for the law to succeed in marginalizing X... as you say, it's an empirical question. It had originally sounded like you were claiming it was an impossibility... that the law can't marginalize things... but I gather that's not what you meant.
0DanArmak8yOriginally I simply meant that the law can't order things to be marginalized. Parliament can pass a law, or the government can issue an order, saying something is forbidden; but they can't directly say something is marginalized. So they have to work through side effects. Of course that's possible and sometimes it does succeed. But it's highly uncertain ahead of time whether a law will succeed in marginalizing something, much more so than whether a proposed law will succeed in reducing or eliminating a behavior it explicitly outlaws.
0Prismattic8yI think you two are having a semantic argument that can only occur because English doesn't distinguish between imperfective and perfective verbs (roughly speaking verbs of process and verbs of completion/result).
0DanArmak8yI speak Russian, so I have no problem thinking in these terms. What distinction of perfective/imperfective do you think we were arguing about? (And our argument's been resolved since.)
0Prismattic8yWhether "to marginalize" means to attempt to push something to the margins or to succeed in doing so.
0DanArmak8yI don't think that was the source of the difference / misunderstanding. A law can sometimes have the effect of (imperfective) marginalizing something, and so it can sometimes achieve an end result of (perfective) having marginalized something. But it's very hard to deliberately, successfully frame a new law to marginalize something, because the law can't come outright and say "this is now marginalized, by law" the way it can say "this is now forbidden, by law".
0Eugine_Nier8yYes, it does. Compare: "He opened the door" vs. "He was opening the door".
0TheOtherDave8y(nods) Makes sense. I'd just misunderstood you initially. I'm now amused by the notion of passing a law that explicitly mandates that, say, gum-chewing is marginalized. That is, we're all obligated by law to frown on it in public, shun its practitioners, and so forth. (I don't mean to suggest that this would reliably marginalize gum-chewing, merely that it amuses me.)
-5[anonymous]8y

Reading this post and the comments to it, I think that "Fake Bold Iconoclasm" may actually be a more important category than taboo truths.

As to taboo truths, I think that most would be along the lines of futility of discourse, and maybe some as to failures of ethics/meta-ethics, such as possibly 'a huge amount of what we consider absolutely bad and universally traumatizing is actually socially constructed'.

3MugaSofer8yOoh, that's a good one.

Is there really anything true that we simply cannot say?
...
what highly probable or effectively certain truths are genuinely taboo?

  1. Edolo sat ignore quidnis memere qui vertorum fugit.

  2. A caret tibusdam sit altus docet: nonamus quor ultus exeati nec mensus essit biscripta.

  3. In hero me digno neque abuntum et cupitersum obos caris femina vitabique? Prae? Tetimeo Dausa iam aud longistio ventis!

  4. Hic volunt quod absenere linera dat revertas.

Or to put that another way, if there were, then by definition we could not say it.

I've found that the most frequently given examples don't hold water.

Well, if they're given, in public, they wouldn't be taboo. What are you really asking here?

Honestly I think that one of the main factors is what you imply from your statements. If talking about statistical truths, there's a tendency, even among rationalists, to implicitly speak as though correlation implies causation. Or rather, there is rarely an explicit statement to the contrary and since humans are naturally biased, we parse the sentence as implying direct causation.

For example: yes, crime rates are higher among certain genetic subgroups of people. That statement is true. If you stop there, it implies that you believe that to be an innate property of their genes, rather than due to other intermediate factors: mainly demographics and social factors such as how those people are treated and what cultural norms/scripts they're given.

And I believe there's a taboo regarding genetic supremacism. I believe that given phenomena like stereotype threat and self-fulfilling prophecies, that's a valuable taboo to have. See another comment of mine on the subject.

As long as you talk about the statistics as being manifest through external factors, though (which they largely are) I think most people are mostly fine about this.

For example: yes, crime rates are higher among certain genetic subgroups of people. That statement is true. If you stop there, it implies that you believe that to be an innate property of their genes,

I believe that genes that have a strong influence on the prevalence of violent criminality exist, and are likely distributed differently in different populations. Given that intelligence, self-control, personality, and so on all feed into propensity for violent crime, and all of those are known to be at least partly heritable, it seems odd to believe otherwise.

rather than due to other intermediate factors

Emphasis mine. I don't know of a single hereditarian who disavows the influence of other intermediate factors. The debate is always over how much they explain- is heredity 40% of IQ, or 80%, or somewhere in the middle? But there are many people who want heredity to explain 0% of IQ, or criminality, or so on, which seems like an odd hypothesis to privilege.

9MalcolmOcean8ySo I agree with you on the points of intelligence, etc. I would guess that most people do... although I guess I'm not certain of that. At the very least I would suspect that there is known causal evidence about these sorts of things. By contrast, here's an article [http://liberationfromthelie.com/2012/04/are-blacks-more-violent-than-whites-an-example-of-the-awesome-power-of-the-truth-to-liberate-us-from-racism/] that explores how certain racial groups appear to be more violent, until you control for class and demographic, when they suddenly aren't. And yet a lot of conversation ignores the second half, which is actually the key to finding a solution. As a man, I will note that one of the strongest correlates with violence is being a man. Given what we know about things like testosterone, there's probably a substantial degree to which this is genetically/biologically caused. I just find most people emphasize the genetic aspects more than they can reasonably be confident about. For example, regarding heredity of IQ: 30 million fewer appears to be about 12 million vs 42 million. Note also: So even within families, this can be an issue. You said: I've recognized a tendency in myself to attempt to go to 0%. Consciously I realize it can't possibly be that low, but I can't be confident it's more than 2%. Or rather, I think that genetics possibly plays a large role now, but that if we raised people better than we could essentially eliminate these issues without focusing on genes. If, 300 years ago, you were to describe a society in which large portions of the population can do algebra, or several centuries earlier, you were to describe a society in which basically everyone can read, the people you spoke to would probably assume this was a society of high-intelligence people. Rather, it's just today's genetically-basically-identical people, who are learning more effectively, and more, period than people used to. Sure, genes play a role. But I'm not sure what the v
2CellBioGuy8yhttp://pss.sagepub.com/content/14/6/623.short [http://pss.sagepub.com/content/14/6/623.short] http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67168735/heritability%20of%20iq.pdf [http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67168735/heritability%20of%20iq.pdf] "Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children". To make a long story short, this analysis of a large cohort of children assigned a 'socioeconomic status indicator' to each family they were following from 0 to 100 based on a large number of factors. They found that the heritability of IQ was a VERY strong positive function of socioenomic status. At the bottom, they think less than 5% of IQ variation is moderated by genetics. At the top of the scale, over 80%. Obvious interpretation: low socioeconomic status masks genetic predisposition.
2Vaniver8yThat is to say, violence and class have common causes. Intelligence, self-control, personality, etc., all immediately come to mind as relevant, but let's call this cluster of common causes of violence "harmness". Even though the presence of harmness may screen off the ability of race to contribute to predictions of violence and class, one still observes more harmness in the population of blacks than the population of whites. I'm sorry, but this test in no way differentiates between the hypotheses of biological heredity of IQ and verbal transference of IQ. As is, this just shows that there's an attribute which is positively correlated with being talked to by your parents and academic success, and negatively correlated with welfare. To quote the newspaper article: Even among links which are strongly supported- like breastfeeding raising IQ- there are selection effects that are hard to estimate, because almost all of our evidence is observational. (Breastfeeding is still a good idea for most parents, even if we're not quite sure how good it is.) If cleverer parents are more likely to breastfeed because of the purported IQ-boosting link, then in order to start separating out the effects of breastfeeding and the effects of heritability we would need to measure the IQs of the parents of both groups, moving from a simple observational study to a massive project (that would still have possible unmeasured selection effects, like the amount they care about health and cleanliness). Emphasis mine. The probability of this conclusion being made by correct reasoning from the evidence supplied is epsilon, and if you didn't realize that when reading that quote, I beseech you to give that lapse of rationality solemn contemplation. The probability of an unbiased survey of the literature returning this conclusion is epsilon. I suggest updating. I think it is worth considering the mirror of this concern. "Anyone who says X must mean Y" is its own self-fulfilling prophecy, which c
0drethelin8yIf parents talk more to girls but men are the stereotypically intelligent ones, how could talking more to kids be the difference?
5MalcolmOcean8y...by some stereotypes. There's also the "men are stupid" stereotype. So I'm not sure about your premises. However, I don't think your argument is valid, either. Its structure is something like: A: females get more words during critical period B: females more intelligent than males ... If A, but lots of people think !B, how could A => B be true? Just because lots of people think that !B is the case doesn't make it the case. And if we're talking about success in school (which the article emphasizes) then note that more women go to (and succeed at) post-secondary education than men. Fewer in STEM fields, but that appears to be largely due to stereotypes anyway, not aptitude. I would also guess that the male-female discrepancy is much smaller than the poor-rich discrepancy.
0Watercressed8yWhat model of hereditary intelligence predicts significant hereditary differences in the current environment and negligible differences in an environment where people are raised better?
5drethelin8y(this is talking out of my ass but:) Variation in genetic robustness/fragility. A known example of this is Iron deficiency in women. If iron in the food is plentiful, no one will notice iron deficiencies, and if it's non existent then everyone will suffer. But if there's an almost sufficient amount of Iron, women will be far more likely to be deficient than men. Women are less robust to lack of environmental iron than men. You can imagine brain development such that everyone has the ability to develop a great brain in a great environment but certain genetics will deal better or worse with certain deficiencies.
1MalcolmOcean8yI was not saying that everyone would have the same level of intelligence, but merely that the baseline might be high enough that violence becomes less of an issue. That was the original subject. Similar to drethelin's comment.
0Eugine_Nier8yI would argue that the higher the variance the more of an issue variance becomes. Edit: Ignore this, I misread macolmmcc's comment.
1MalcolmOcean8yWhat do you mean "sic"? "violence" was what I meant. The original comment was: Now, it may not be the case that if you raise everyone's intelligence that violence decreases, but it's plausible that this is the case (given the original argument). I didn't use the word variance and didn't mean to. I respectfully ask for the downvote rescinded.
7PrawnOfFate8y...in certain societies
3[anonymous]8yThis: For very good reasons, most things we say explicitly carry a large boatload of implications, whether or not we actually mean them. This effect is exacerbated when people who say the same thing with the express purpose of conveying the implications - it becomes a widely-recognized signal. It's still usually possible to approach the taboo in question, but it has to be done very, very, very carefully, like approaching a police officer who thinks you may be a violent criminal.
1DanArmak8yYes, yes it does. The point made by the OP is that is a true implication. If crime rates are higher in certain genetic subgroups, that is valid (if perhaps weak) evidence for a purely genetic correlation with crime, all else being equal. So it's reasonable to conclude someone believing the first fact, also believes the second one to a degree. And this would not be a problem if the issue were not taboo.
8Jack8yThe word "implies" in the phrase "correlation implies causation" typically uses the technical meaning of imply in logic [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_implication] which is quite different from it's common usage as a synonym for "hint" or "suggest".
2DanArmak8yGood point. I wonder if people (other than me) normally understand this sentence that way?
0Larks8yMost people do not know logic, so it's unlikely to be that widespread.

Being able to delicately bring up certain topics with close friends after a few drinks is different from being able to bring them in your public life. But I would also suspect that Less Wrong posters, contrarians in general and the less neurotypical among us are likely to have difficulty approaching taboo topics with tact. I would subsequently expect those with better social skills (perhaps like yourself) to feel like such topics aren't as taboo as other's think they are.

I agree that social skills would help a lot in stating taboo opinions safely. On the other hand, social skills consist in some measure of not stating taboo opinions, and in general, opinions your listeners won't like.

7sunflowers8yI'm hardly a social genius. I haven't kept any childhood friends, and I alternate between making large numbers of friends and months of self-imposed isolation. I read math textbooks at bars for entertainment. I think most people could do better than me. At the same time, I'm a socialist atheist living in Tennessee, and I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to sensitive topics. I'll admit the possibility that my disposition could help to make my experiences atypical. But I've seen people have the "typical" experience, and I can usually instantly tell when they've failed and how they could have done better.
2Jack8yIt's less about being able to make a lot of friends or forcing oneself to be social and much more about being able to calibrate how you're coming off to others and head misperceptions off at the pass. Quoting from this wikipedia article on autism spectrum disorders [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociological_and_cultural_aspects_of_autism#Asperger_syndrome_and_interpersonal_relationships] . Edit: Btw, you aren't in eastern Tennessee by chance are you?
1sunflowers8yI am, near Knoxville.
1Jack8yNeat, I'm likely moving to Asheville in the next few months.
1sunflowers8yIt's a beautiful, beautiful place. I used to drive through it fairly often in a big, ungainly truck, and it always seemed to be storming. Probably my stare-offs with imminent destruction made it even prettier.

Bill thinks the war was avoidable. Bill thinks the Holocaust would not have happened were it not for the war, and that some of the Holocaust was a reaction to actual Jewish subterfuge and abuse.

Here's the problem: everything Bill has said is either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness.

I wouldn't classify the above statements as either true or likely/reasonable. As to the statements being seriously debated, please provide a link or something.

5sunflowers8yThere were abuses by bankers and capitalists, many of whom were Jewish. There were "Jewish Bolsheviks." And there was resistance and terrorism [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_resistance_under_Nazi_rule#In_Germany]. As for the war being a prerequisite for the Holocaust, see the intentionalist vs. functionalist [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functionalism_versus_intentionalism] debate. The avoidability of the war is a more subtle question. Along with Orwell, I think war was inevitable and obvious by 1936, at least if we consider the conquest by Germany of continental Europe possibly excepting France, Switzerland, Belgium, and other fascist powers unacceptable. Even then, the war might have been confined. I see little historical necessity for e.g. the alliance of Japan and Germany or the attack on Pearl Harbor. At what date would you agree the war was avoidable? 1918? 1930? If you'd like me to find particular historians - I'm not including Pat Buchanan - I will do that. But there's a pretty wide range of opinion here. (Aside: I'd like to find resources that framed the question primarily in terms of German-Soviet relations instead of Anglo-Polish ones.)
6shminux8yFYI, Did you know that most Jews in the 1920s Germany self-identified as Germans first and Jews second, if at all? That they were just as patriotic as the "true" Germans? Same applies to Jews in, ehm, Soviet Russia and other places which did not have institutionalized anti-semitism or had a break from it for a few decades at least? Same applies to many other ethnicities, by the way.
5sunflowers8yAnd German and Austrian Jews had a distinctive culture and identity, to the point that you could find bigotries amongst them against other Jews. What history of Russia have you been reading?
-6MugaSofer8y
5TimS8yI'm not sure what reasonable position is being gestured towards by Bill's statement. Are you willing to cash it out a little? (Other than the quoted statement and the "Holocaust as reaction to Jews," I agree that Bill's positions are arguable - although I don't agree with many of them). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- On a totally separate topic, I think the International Relation Realists [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_%28international_relations%29] have the better of the argument. WWII was inevitable in the same way that the wars of Louis XIV, Napoleon, and WWI were inevitable. It just seems to be a property of multi-power regions that a power with a plausible chance of dominating the region will try to dominate the region by military force - in the absence of outside intervention (like the US military presence in Germany since essentially the beginning of the Cold War to today).
4Oligopsony8yFor serious (though hardly undisputed) evidence that slavery wasn't, in certain respects, "not all that bad" see Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross. Note also that Fogel and Engerman were allowed to say this and that they both remain highly respected academics, despite Engerman existing in just the sort of field that the Sheeple Can't Handle My Thoughtcrime crowd would predict to be most witchhunty.
4TimS8yIn case it wasn't clear, I think people who think "Slavery wasn't so bad" are widely under-weighing the suffering caused by the violent enforcement of the status quo. Slaves tried to escape all the time, and fugitive slave enforcement was incredibly violent - and the violence was state-sanctioned. I was asking to try to understand how the statement imputed to Bill addressed that issue - because without addressing the violence of fugitive slave enforcement, the statement did not even seem plausible to me. The central premise of Time on the Cross - that slavery was economically profitable and unlikely "wither away", and this had some positive effect on the treatment of the slaves, seems quite plausible to me. (That said, I believe this is only true after the invention of the cotton gin). But I find it implausible that this benefit outweighed the negatives of the fugitive slave enforcement in the US.
4Oligopsony8yThe first half of the thesis is most assuredly true. It could be that if not for the invention of the cotton gin, slavery would not have been profitable in the cotton-growing regions of the US South, but slavery was extremely profitable and economically dynamic elsewhere, so I wouldn't be inclined to lay too much emphasis on the gin (except as a matter, possibly, of where slavery came to be located, as it did die out "naturally" in the areas where it was unprofitable.) However, it is also true that northern and/or metropolitan political leaders generally believed (however incorrectly) that free labor would generally be more efficient than slave, which to be fair it was in the industrial production processes that the abolishing regions had a comparative advantage in. I am extremely skeptical of the second part of the thesis, because most everything I've seen indicates that slaves were worse off than black sharecroppers were worse off than southern whites were worse off than northern whites. But I haven't actually read Time on the Cross too closely.
0sunflowers8yI'd have to do some reading before responding to the second half of your comment, but to the first, that's relatively easy. During slavery: black people are somebody's valuable property. After Reconstruction: black people are a hated but cheap source of labor you can do pretty much anything to.
6Prismattic8yGranting that I haven't done a detailed study of the literature on this, but I think you're taking an exceptionally narrow view of what was bad about slavery in the antebellum US. After reconstruction, for example, black sharecroppers could not have their spouses and children arbitrarily seized and sent elsewhere.
6gwern8yHow sure are you of that? Sharecroppers were often kept indebted as a method of control, and the US had debtors' prison just like England did.
2Prismattic8yAs I said, this is not within my area of expertise. However, given that the family-destroying aspect of slavery is much commented upon, and various other evils of Jim Crow are much commented-upon, the fact that I have never encountered complaints about the family-destroying aspect of Jim Crow is sufficient for me to feel moderately confident that the situation was not equivalent on this dimension.
2sunflowers8y"Jim Crow" is a pretty small part of the story here. "Criminalization of black life" is a better description.
0sunflowers8yIt wasn't designed to be a erudite summation of what slavery was like, but rather a succinct illustration of how slavery was not at that time an obviously worse outcome than the consequences of abolition. It's obvious to me at least that the abolition of slavery has proved a Good Thing, but it would not have been obvious in 1890.
0MugaSofer8yInteresting argument, although I think it overestimates the protection offered by slavery and underestimates the downsides. Maybe change it from "either true or arguable" to simply "arguable"? You're losing status by implicitly endorsing these positions.
5Prismattic8yI'm wondering how you get from the premises "some Jews were bankers" and "some bankers did bad things" to Bill's conclusion about the Jews. The logic strongly reminds of this: http://xkcd.com/385/ [http://xkcd.com/385/] , and I would not characterize it as reasonable. Regarding "Jewish Bolsheviks", while a number of prominent Bolsehviks were Jewish, most politically active Jews in Russia had not been Bolsheviks (the Bund dwarfed any of the other socialist parties for a long time), and in fact the main distinction between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the time of the split, rather than ideology, was ethnicity; about 86% of the Bolsheviks were ethnic Russian and only about 37% of the Mensheviks; Jews and Georgians who had been SDs were much more likely to be Mensheviks. Furthermore, by the time period that is relevant to this discussion, Stalin had largely purged the prominent Jewish Bolsheviks from the Soviet leadership.
4Dan_Moore8yI'm also having trouble connecting the dots between the functionalist position that the Holocaust was caused by mid-level Nazi bureaucrats and the assertion that the Holocaust would not have happened were it not for the war.
0sunflowers8yIt's not just a "mid-level vs. top-level" split, but a question of when something like the Holocaust was formulated or became likely to happen. "Hitler planned it all along" sets a much earlier date than "mid-level bureaucrats were competing for Nazi brownies during the War."

It is taboo to talk about your personal monetary benefits of the recent death of an (innocent) person even if you really benefited and are just stating it and it is taboo especially around the close friends and family of the deceased.

0ShardPhoenix8yNot in my experience.
0Randy_M8yI suspect the timing is critical here. And tone moreso.
[-][anonymous]8y 7

Here's the problem: everything Bill has said is either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness. Yet you feel nervous. Perhaps you're upset. That's the power of taboo, right? Society is punishing truth-telling! First they came for the realists... Rationalists, to arms!

You might find this post interesting.

4sunflowers8yThanks for the link; I had not seen it before. But I think the topic here is somewhat different. Were there solicitations for taboo truths in the comments I didn't read? Was there an explanation similar to mine about context?
4lfghjkl8yWell, that OP asked an almost identical question to yours (he wanted taboo opinions while you want taboo "true" opinions) and got over 800 responses. From what I remember when I read it months ago, and given the nature of this forum, most of the discussions seemed to revolve around different statistics and facts painting "uncomfortable" truths.
4sunflowers8yI haven't seen particular comments doing what I'm doing here. Of course some opinions are taboo! I think my question somewhat less trivial.
5Multiheaded8yHi, I've been considering and investigating various uncomfortable/unpleasant/dark matters more thoroughly since making that thread, drawing on sources from radical feminists (e.g. Susan Bronwmiller) to "conspiracy nuts" (e.g. Jeff Wells [http://rigint.blogspot.com/]) to far-right (e.g. Moldbug) and far-left (e.g. Maoist) extremists to unorthodox psychologists (e.g. Alice Miller [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Miller_%28psychologist%29]) to anti-natalists/VHEMT (e.g. Sister Y [http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com/]). Fortunately, my Weltanschauung has proven flexible enough to handle depressing stuff without me going stark raving mad, turning into a fascist/totalitarian, etc (although a few times I did want to break with this dark obsession). As an added effect, my politics did grow more radical (and harder to summarize), although I consider myself less mind-killed then when I started out. Feel free to contact me through PM if you want to exchange any opinions! Also, while we're on to all this, check out The Hoover Hog's "thoughtcrime" blog [http://hooverhog.typepad.com/] - remarkably erudite and charitable with lots of links to such stuff. Much of it is boring, nasty reactionary crap (sorry, people - "keeping blacks and women in their place and letting the White Man reign in glory" is not a novel, surprising or insightful idea, especially to someone aware of the last 200 years of ideological history in the West - and "let the weak slave away for us or perish" is sadly timeless)... but some is rather fascinating.
1Pablo8yI agree that much of it is "nasty reactionary crap", but also that "some is rather fascinating." For instance, check out the early interview with Brian Tomasik [http://hooverhog.typepad.com/hognotes/2008/10/introductionthere-are-many-ways-to-get-what-you-want____________________worlds-of-suffering-an-interview-with-alan-dawr.html] , at a time when he was still publishing under the pseudonym "Alan Dawrst".

When the server asks if the meal was good, it usually wasn't good. Most meals are satisfactory or poor.

6[anonymous]8yThen why don't you change restaurant?
3SilasBarta8y"Good" is calibrated to the implicit mapping between "actual merit" and "what the patron would say now" in that context. It's just like when you ask someone how they're doing. It's not a lie (I claim) to say, "I'm doing fine", even if lots of things in your life suck and are stressing you out, because such a response is interpreted differently than a serious "life analysis" inquiry, and the person asking the question knows this and therefore is not deceived. I wouldn't say it's "taboo", but rather, a case of using slightly different language in some situations that (knowingly, knowably) conceals a lot of information.
2sunflowers8yIt's not hard to criticize a meal at a restaurant. Now, it is hard to criticize a meal when you're a guest in somebody's home. I'll file this under "context specific."
0MileyCyrus8yReally? I've never had the guts to tell the server that my meal was "satisfactory".

That's not taboo. If you go ahead and do it, you won't face ostracism. Your feeling awkward about it doesn't count. Otherwise, asking someone out on a date would be taboo.

5sunflowers8yI'd recommend trying it, especially if you usually get suboptimal meals. Make recommendations. Frequent a restaurant enough to know the staff and for the the staff to know you and your preferences.
3Desrtopa8yRestaurants are generally an avoidable enough expense that I don't think I'd be likely to visit a restaurant repeatedly if I was unimpressed the first time.
4sunflowers8yHere I have no idea whether or not my experience should generalize, but I have good luck finding a nice regular place simply by being a regular there. This holds for coffee shops, bars, and just about any other sort of establishment. It's worth risking a second bad meal to guarantee a practically unlimited number of good ones.

I do feel a little upset, but it's not the power of taboo. It's the prospect of dealing with a crazy person.

Most (but not all) of the individual examples of your Bill are things that could be "either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness." But pack them all into one paragraph, with the loaded language and I become very doubtful that Bill is interested in a reasonable discussion. I'm heading for the door. Maybe it's a bad example?

I do have conversations about some of these issues, but only wi... (read more)

That's the paradox: "taboo" statements like black crime statistics are to some extent "taboo" for sound, rationalist reasons. But "taboo" is not taboo: it's about context. People who think that such statements are taboo are probably bad at communicating, and people often think they're racists and misogynists because they probably are on good rationalist grounds. If you want to talk about statistical representatives on the topic of race, be ready to understand that those who are listening will have background knowledge abo

... (read more)

Science really doesn't know everything.

9OrphanWilde8yScientists rarely perform actual science.
6NancyLebovitz8yWhat do you have in mind for actual science?
6OrphanWilde8yAiming to falsify ideas rather than confirm them would be a nice start; that seems to be the most common rut.
8shminux8yHow is this a forbidden discussion topic? Most of the public agree with this sentiment, and so do the scientists. Do LWers think otherwise?

Yes, but they agree in different ways. As Dara O Briain says, "Science knows it doesn't know everything; otherwise, it'd stop." But the phrase "science doesn't know everything" in common usage has more to do with filling the gap with whatever fairy tale the speaker is fond of.

5NancyLebovitz8yFrom the OP: I thought it was amusing that someone could wreck their credibility so quickly by saying something so obviously true. There might be some markers which would indicate whether someone is heading off into nonsense with a claim that scientists don't have a complete understanding of the universe. Personifying science might be one of the markers.
9TimS8yI can count on one hand the number of times that I've heard someone worth listening to say "well, science doesn't know everything" in response to anything I've said or heard someone else say. If the conversation goes: A: I believe X. B: X is contradicted by (citation to some study). A: Well, science doesn't know everything. then there is essentially no chance A has anything interesting to say about empirical topics - at least those unrelated to that person's job.
8sunflowers8yTone matters here. Whoever says it as if any scientist were under the opposite impression has some serious problems. Sometimes, saying something true is excellent evidence for believing falsehoods. Sometimes, giving knowledge is excellent evidence of ignorance. See Rand Paul's recent performance at Howard.
6Paul Crowley8yRight, that's the OP's point.

Life would be better if God existed.

Which god?

1AlexSchell8yCharitable interpretation: an ontologically fundamental Friendly AI
5PrawnOfFate8yHow can something be fundamental and artificial?
2Luke_A_Somers8yMaybe drop its being artificial? The post makes more sense that way.
1Manfred8yCreates a new universe for which it is fundamental.
0PrawnOfFate8yLike J K Rowling is Harry Potter's God? That waters down the meaning of fundamental.
6Manfred8yLike JK Rowling would be Harry Potter's God if she wrote herself into the books as god.
7buybuydandavis8yIf only there was a Celestial Pyschopath to torture me eternally.

If the Celestial Psychopath is also a Utility Monster and gets a lot of utility from your torture, why not?

EDIT: This is more or less the official theological explanation. God's utility function is infinitely bigger than human's, therefore torturing a human eternally even for the smallest offense against God is fair. Of course there are some applause lights on the top of that.

1JoshuaZ8yThis is to some extent a rephrase of some specific Christian apologetic justifications. Note that not all religions which have such a deity which tortures people for eternity. For example most forms of Judaism and some forms of Christianity and Islam believe in at most finite punishment in the afterlife.
4IlyaShpitser8yYou should read smart theists for a different perspective (e.g. C. S. Lewis). Full disclosure: I don't like C. S. Lewis, but you are laughing at a man of straw, it's like mocking science based on crackpots.
1buybuydandavis8yYes, the man of straw made of a thousand years and more of the dogma of hell, and the majority of monotheists still. That's the reality of monotheism. Smart, compared to a lot of his brethren, who also are one chromosome away from a chimpanzee. Do you plan on spending your life reading the smart astrologers? Me neither.
6IlyaShpitser8yThe majority of monotheists are stupid. How good would their opinion be on an easily verifiable topic? If you ask stupid monotheists about evolution, they would tell you garbage. If you ask them about God, they would tell you garbage too. You shouldn't update much in either case, even if they believe one but not the other. If you want to be an atheist, you steelman theism first.
2buybuydandavis8yThe original statement was about God, not Thor. I can't think of anything I particularly have against Thor, besides being a tiresome, pompous ass in Marvel comics. In an honest reading of the bible, God is a sadistic psychopath. There are more or less horrific gods. I wasn't responding to a statement about a god who grants wishes and poops happiness gum drops, and I see no point in engaging in wishful thinking about what the bestest and shiniest god could be.
0Randy_M8yhe did say life, not afterlife.
1buybuydandavis8yIs afterlife the "life after", like the after party? Your eternal life, as opposed to your mortal life? No matter how you slice it, I don't see improvement in this life from the existence of God as portrayed in the Bible (or Allah in the Koran).
4sunflowers8yI don't think that's taboo in any sense, but I think life would be better with a superpowerful, ultra-benevolent God.
1DanArmak8yDepending on who you're talking to, it may also be taboo to suggest God doesn't already exist. Or even that life could be better.

What Bill said is criminal in Germany, and so is your account of what Bill said. Criticism of Islam is criminal in some Muslim countries. Without exaggeration, to convert from Islam to Christianity carries the death penalty in some Muslim nations.

In contemporay America, it is generally forbidden to publically criticize or defame Muhammad or Islam, particularly on public media. Compare/contrast treatment of Christianity/Catholicism/Jesus on comedy shows, particuarlly on Comedy Central. The debacle with South Park is the most notable.

The South Park debacle is a great example of media cowardice, but it's not hard to criticize Islam on public television. Hitchens had no trouble, and I don't think anybody in the right wing press has trouble. The left-wing press is semi-censorious about it.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

I think that some of the paragraphs in this post are true but if you stated them (in isolation as something you believe, rather than along with the other two in the same triad as an example of the pattern) publicly with a straight face, you would be frowned upon (to say the least).

There's one I can think of but I'm not sure I want to post it publicly (so it must be real :P).

Also, there are things (which can be rephrased as what I think are high-probability factual statements) which have explicitly been made taboo on Less Wrong itself.

"Taboo" also has a different meaning in local jargon. It appears at first that you are referencing the local use "taboo [phrase]", meaning "instead of using [phrase], explain what you mean by [phrase]". (Example: Taboo "True Scotsman")

Then you go into the common language understand of taboo: Violation of local customs.

I don't think sunfowers is using taboo this way at all.

8sunflowers8yIf I misunderstand, correct me, but are you saying that I am confusing common usage with rationalist taboo [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Rationalist_taboo]? I didn't think this was ambiguous here.
0Decius8yStrictly speaking, I only said that it appears that way. What does it mean to "claim taboo (common language) status for a truth"? Suppose I did believe in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and considered myself a follower of that God; that would certainly be un-Rationalist and morally deplorable of me, but why shouldn't I say it if it is true?
5sunflowers8yYour first question. From the post: You can say it under a reasonable range of circumstances. "I can only whisper it to close confidants" is not a reasonable range. "I can get away with it except in the comment section at HuffPo" is. Your next statement, which I think separate. You should say it if it's true. That would be a quite important truth. But it isn't, and I don't see the relevance.
2Decius8yIs there any sentence which communicates only something which is objectively true which is also taboo? I think it's the connotations associated with stating the fact that are taboo. "I follow x philosophy" as an objectively true statement causes listeners to hear the [Having no objective truth value] statement "I am an immoral person." in quite a few contexts; likewise with "I have [position] on [topic]" for several topics. Bill's statements at the top are taboo because by saying them, Bill is also saying other things about himself. By saying "the end of slavery wasn't all that good for "the blacks," and that the negatives of busing and forced integration have often outweighed the positives.", Bill is making a statement about his value system and/or ability to evaluate the consequences of past events. The subtext is very nearly the same as the subtext would have been if he made an overt declaration that he was a white supremacist. (Which is itself an objectively true statement) White supremacy is taboo because it is socially rejected in most cases. Statements which imply or support white supremacy are taboo where they are perceived to be made in support or defense of white supremacy.
3sunflowers8yThat's the theme of the post, yes. With this and the rest of your comment, I think we're on the same page.
1Decius8yThen, to answer your question: Things are taboo when they identify the speaker as an outsider or otherwise excessively different from the main group. Subtexts like "I am not embarrassed to talk about sex." or "I am a racist." or "I do not believe that Eliezer cannot be very wrong about something that he has considered carefully." are taboo wherever the perceived social identity is contrary to that. ETA: A simpler question: Is there any sentence one can speak which communicates only the content of a claim which has an objective truth value, without even implying that the speaker endorses the claim?

So controversial that no credible people will go on record (in non-insane states)? Not indisputably true.

Facts (and predictions) that are hard to obtain or verify, that are essentially answering "is controversial public policy X a good idea?" may earn you scorn or reprisal, so you keep quiet if you're not looking for a career in political gang-warfare. Anyway there's so much noise in that department that it's hard to justify searching for or disseminating such truths.

If I'm wrong, though, feel free to PM / irc / email me any awesome truths. I keep confidences.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

It is taboo to talk in what ways has the recent death of someone (innocent) benefited you, especially in regards to monetary benefits and around his close friends and family.

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

One of the bonuses of a first amendment it that people are free to say what they think is true, and other people are free to hear them. Under those circumstances, it will be hard to find something that is universally taboo.

This comment is missing the point of either the first amendment or taboo topics.

The first amendment deals with what powers the government has with respect to free speech. Taboo topics are ones that other people will punish you for bringing up. Your peers are not the US government.

You're free to say anything, and your peers are free to shun you for saying anything.

-9RomeoStevens8y