Politics is the mind-killer. A while back, I gave an example: the government's request that Kelloggs  [EDIT: General Mills, thanks CronoDAS] top making false claims about Cheerios. By the time the right-wing and left-wing blogospheres had finished with it, this became everything from part of the deliberate strangulation of the American entrepreneurial spirit by a conspiracy of bureaucrats, to a symbol of the radicalization of the political right into a fringe group obsessed with Communism, to a prelude to Obama's plan to commit genocide against all citizens who disagree with him. All because of Cheerios!

Why? What drives someone to hear about a reasonable change in cereal advertising policy and immediately think of a second Holocaust?

This reminds me of something I used to notice when reading about politics. Sometimes there would be a seemingly good idea to deregulate something that clearly needed deregulation. The idea's proponents would go on TV and say that, hey, this was obviously a good idea. Whoever by the vagary of politics had to oppose the idea would go on TV and talk about industry's plot to emasculate government safeguards. Predatory corporations! Class solidarity! Consumer safety!

Then the next day, there would be seemingly good idea to regulate something that clearly needed regulating. The idea's proponents would go on TV and say that, hey, this was obviously a good idea. Its opponents would go on TV and say that all government regulation was inherently bad. Small government! Freedom! Capitalism!

I have found a pattern: when people consider an idea in isolation, they tend to make good decisions. When they consider an idea a symbol of a vast overarching narrative, they tend to make very bad decisions.

Let me offer another example.

A white man is accused of a violent attack on a black woman. In isolation, well, either he did it or he didn't, and without any more facts there's no use discussing it.

But what if this accusation is viewed as a symbol? What if you have been saying for years that racism and sexism are endemic in this country, and that whites and males are constantly abusing blacks and females, and they're always getting away with it because the police are part of a good ole' boys network who protect their fellow privileged whites?

Well, right now, you'll probably still ask for the evidence. But if I gave you some evidence, and it was complicated, you'd probably interpret it in favor of the white man's guilt. The heart has its reasons that reasons know not of, and most of them suck. We make unconsciously make decisions based on our own self-interest and what makes us angry or happy, and then later we find reasons why the evidence supports them. If I have a strong interest in a narrative of racism, then I will interpret the evidence to support accusations of racism.

Lest I sound like I'm picking on the politically correct, I've seen scores of people with the opposite narrative. You know, political correctness has grown rampant in our society, women and minorities have been elevated to a status where they can do no wrong, the liberal intelligentsia always tries to pin everything on the white male. When the person with this narrative hears the evidence in this case, they may be more likely to believe the white man - especially if they'd just listened to their aforementioned counterpart give their speech about how this proves the racist and sexist tendencies of white men.

Yes, I'm thinking of the Duke lacrosse case.

The problem here is that there are two different questions here: whether this particular white male attacked this particular black woman, and whether our society is racist or "reverse racist". The first question definitely has one correct answer which while difficult to ascertain is philosophically simple, whereas the second question is meaningless, in the same technical sense that "Islam is a religion of peace" is meaningless. People are conflating these two questions, and acting as if the answer to the second determines the answer to the first.

Which is all nice and well unless you're one of the people involved in the case, in which case you really don't care about which races are or are not privileged in our society as much as you care about not being thrown in jail for a crime you didn't commit, or about having your attacker brought to justice.

I think this is the driving force behind a lot of politics. Let's say we are considering a law mandating businesses to lower their pollution levels. So far as I understand economics, the best decision-making strategy is to estimate how much pollution is costing the population, how much cutting pollution would cost business, and if there's a net profit, pass the law. Of course it's more complicated, but this seems like a reasonable start.

What actually happens? One side hears the word "pollution" and starts thinking of hundreds of times when beautiful pristine forests were cut down in the name of corporate greed. This links into other narratives about corporate greed, like how corporations are oppressing their workers in sweatshops in third world countries, and since corporate executives are usually white and third world workers usually not, let's add racism into the mix. So this turns into one particular battle in the war between All That Is Right And Good and Corporate Greed That Destroys Rainforests And Oppresses Workers And Is Probably Racist.

The other side hears the words "law mandating businesses" and starts thinking of a long history of governments choking off profitable industry to satisfy the needs of the moment and their re-election campaign. The demonization of private industry and subsequent attempt to turn to the government for relief is a hallmark of communism, which despite the liberal intelligentsia's love of it killed sixty million people. Now this is a battle in the war between All That Is Right And Good and an unholy combination of Naive Populism and Soviet Russia. This, I think, is part of what happened to the poor Cheerios.

Now, if the economists do their calculations and report that actually the law would cause more harm than good, do you think the warriors against Corporate Greed That Destroys Rainforests And Oppresses Workers And Is Probably Racist are going to say "Oh, okay then" and stand down? In the face of Corporate Greed That Destroys Rainforests And Oppresses Workers And Is Probably Racist?!?1

One more completely hypothetical example. Let's say someone uses language that objectifies women on a blog. Not out of malice or anything, it was just a post on evolutionary psychology, it's easy to write evolutionary psychology in a way that sounds like it's objectifying women, and since obviously no one would objectify women on purpose to insult them it will be clear to everyone that it was just a harmless turn of phrase. Right?

And let's say some feminist comes along and reads this completely innocent phrase about women. Let's say the context is the entire history of gender relations for the past ten thousand years, in which men have usually oppressed women and usually been pretty okay with doing so. And a society that's moving towards not oppressing women and towards treating them as full and equal human beings, but it's still not entirely clear that everyone's on board with this.

This poorly-worded phrase is now a symbol of All Those Chauvinists Who Think Of Women As Ornaments Or Toys Only Good For Sex And Making Babies2. The feminist is unhappy. He or she asks for the phrase to be removed.

Let's say some person who is emphatically not a feminist notices this request for removal. Let's say the context is a society where men are generally portrayed in popular culture as violent bumbling apes who cause all world problems. A culture where women can go on for hours about what boors men are, but any man who says a word about women is immediately branded a sexist pig. A culture where a popular feminist once said that all sex was rape [EDIT: Or not. Apologies for misquote], and many people believed her, one with affirmative action laws mandating that women be hired over equally qualified men, one where you can't say "chairman of the board" without someone calling you sexist and accusing you of taking advantage of your male privilege to ignore male privilege if you disagree.

This request to remove a potentially offensive phrase is now a symbol of All Those Feminists Who Hate Men And Want Them To Feel Guilty All The Time For Vague Reasons. He or she gets angry, and certainly won't remove the offending phrase.

I'm not sure that's what's happening in this case, but I don't think a few poorly worded phrases followed by a polite request to change those poorly worded phrases would have reached five hundred fifty comments divided over four top-level posts if people were just taking it as a request to use slightly different language. In our completely hypothetical example, of course.

I call this mistake "missing the trees for the forest". If you have a specific case you need to judge, judge it separately on its own merits, not the merits of what agendas it promotes or how it fits with emotionally charged narratives3.

 

Footnotes

1: This gets worse once it gets formally organized into political parties. You get people saying something like "How can you, as an atheist, support the war in Iraq?" and thinking it makes perfect sense, because, after all, the war in Iraq is a Republican initiative, and the Republicans are the party of religious conservatives, therefore... Oh, yes, people think like this.

2: Oh, and this answers a question I sometimes hear asked half-seriously on message boards: how come derogatory jokes are okay in some settings but not in others? For example, how come Polish jokes are generally considered okay, but black jokes definitely aren't? Or how come it's considered okay for a black person to make a racist-sounding joke about black people or use the n-word, whereas it's not okay for a white person?

I think the answer is that if I were to make a Polish joke, it would be interpreted as what it is - a joke that needed somebody to play the part of a stupid person to be funny, and Polish people have traditionally served that role. There is no active well-known ongoing context of persecution of Polish people for the joke to symbolize, so it symbolizes nothing but itself and is inert. If I were to tell a joke about black people, even if it was clear that I wasn't actually racist and just thought the joke was funny, then since most people have a very active concept of persecution of black people, my joke would be a symbol of that persecution, and all right-thinking people who oppose that persecution would also probably oppose my joke. 

This leads to the odd conclusion that in a society known to be without racism, no one would mind racist jokes or slurs. In fact, this is confirmed by evidence. Black people are, society generally assumes, above suspicion when it comes to anti-black racism, and therefore black people can use the "n-word" without most people objecting.

This is what led to me developing some of these thoughts. I told a joke which I considered to be making fun of racism. Someone who heard it misinterpreted it and thought it was racist, accused me of racism, spread rumors that I was racist, and generally started a large and complicated campaign to discredit me. After that, I noticed that I was always coming to the defense of people who were accused of racism, and was willing to dismiss practically the entire concept of racism in society as a self-serving attempt at personal gain by minorities, a one hundred eighty degree turn from my previous attitude. Eventually I realized that I was just re-fighting the battle I had to fight after this one joke, and fitting everything to my "sometimes false accusations of racism unfairly harm majority group members and we need to protect against this" narrative. So I stopped. I think.

This also could explain why, contrary to Robin Hanson's hopes, people will never stop using disclaimers. They're ways of saying "I did this action for reasons that do not relate to your narrative; please exclude me from it", and this is not people's default position.

3: One objection could be that the specific case could start a slippery slope, or create a climate in which other things become viewed as more acceptable. In my experience, neither of these matter nearly as much as they would have to to justify the number of times people invoke them.

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One person's "overarching narrative" is another person's set of Bayesian priors.

Take, for example, your pollution discussion. An economics textbook will tell you that there is an ideal level of taxation, yes. However, it won't tell you about regulatory capture, mission creep, the Hayekian knowledge problem, etc. There is always a correct set of contextual data to be used to interpret and resolve problems in isolation, yes - but determining what this set is and how we should interpret the probabilities of various events occurring is pretty much always going to invoke an overarching narrative unless you really, really think that this screws everything up.

But as an economist - a Masonomics student, no less - I'm inclined to see a greater harm in "markets fail, so assume a benevolent social planner and imagine what policies she could implement" approach to solving economic questions than the harms of dirtying one's self in the morass of historical context. This is why social science is hard - and why it should be hard. It's not that we should be indifferent to the injection of ideology into these debates, but that it's liable to create greater harm if we try to avoi... (read more)

I have found a pattern: when people consider an idea in isolation, they tend to make good decisions. When they consider an idea a symbol of a vast overarching narrative, they tend to make very bad decisions.

If I recall correctly, these are generally called Grand Narratives. And it is one of the agendas of post-modern philosophy to try to undermine and eliminate them in favor of more nuanced ways of thinking about things.

Admittedly, most "po-mo" folks aren't as selective as we'd like, since they, often, consider rationality one example of a Grand Narrative.

"What drives someone to hear about a reasonable change in cereal advertising policy and immediately think of a second Holocaust?"

you have to one up everyone else commenting on a subject in order to get attention. attention = potential higher status.

A culture where a popular feminist once said that all sex was rape

Misquote.

9Scott Alexander12yCorrected with apology, although for the sake of the argument it's only necessary that people think this was said.

And in fairness, someone did say something like that.

7thomblake12yIt's not much of a stretch though. MacKinnon did claim that talking about rape is equivalent to committing rape, and having read a good deal of her work, it certainly seems like "all sex is rape" is the sort of thing she'd say. Of course, people really should find something crazy that she's actually said if they want to criticize her.
6SilasBarta12yYvain could have been referring to Dworkin, who, in the link, says ETA: Her next sentence is to self-servingly disavow the "all sex is rape" attribution, and my initial post left this out. Considering the part that I did quote, and its context, it should be clear why such a disavowal carries no credibility. Because I didn't make this all clear the first time around, the discussion turned to the topic of why I cut off the quote, and I present my reasons in the comments that follows. My case is best summarized by an analogy in this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/13k/missing_the_trees_for_the_forest/yrh] comment. Yeah, it sure sucks when people slightly misquote your actual beliefs, doesn't it? It's like with Ronald Reagan [http://www.snopes.com/quotes/reagan/redwoods.asp]. What he REALLY said was But ignorant liars always quote him as saying What an undeserved smear on Reagan's reputation to have such a quote attributed to him.
6thomblake12yThe ellipsis conceals "I'm not saying that sex must be rape". You seriously don't think "All sex is rape" would therefore be a misinterpretation of what Dworkin said? ETA: Note that I'm primarily responding to academic bad form.
5SilasBarta12yDworkin spent her life espousing an ideology that saw guilt in everything men did. Normal, well-adjusted people who actually read her works could not make any sense of them except to mean that men automatically do lots of oppressive, evil things, and got the impression -- right or wrong -- she believed all sex is rape, which probably spiraled into a rumor that she said exaclty that. When finally held to account for her views, she's forced to realize how absurd her views actually are, and what they imply. So, she does what everyone would do -- she backpedals: "Oh, no, I didnt' actually believe that." But note that even when she has to disavow the minimal amount necessary to maintain street cred, she still groups all sexual intercourse in the same category as "violence". Yes, Dworkin was misrepresented -- just not by very much, and certainly not enough to warrant all the handwringing.
0thomblake12yI don't think there was all that much 'handwringing'. Most references to "all heterosexual sex is rape" are misattributed to MacKinnon, and if Dworkin did any favors for feminist discourse, it was to speed up the loss of credibility for radical feminism. I was primarily pointing out that it is disingenuous at least to interpret a quote out of context where the context contained the negation of your interpretation.
1SilasBarta12yThe issue is whether Dworkin's views imply "All sex is rape", and her personal disavowal of that position when under the spotlight counts for nothing, which is why I don't think it's necessary for context. The critical part is what she still clings to, not what she can sheepishly disclaim. Look, Thom, most anyone can voice a coherent sentence. So the fact that they say something, even about themselves, does not make it true. (It is weak Bayesian evidence of its truth if the statement is self-serving.) I'm going to show you a trick: I, Silas Barta, have the utmost respect for both men and women, and I never use language that is in any way objectifying to either. See? I made a claim about my statements and character. And that doesn't make it true! In fact, it's going to utterly fail to convince Alicorn. Can you start to see how the part I didn't quote is less important than what I did quote? Can you start to see why "Oh, no, I totally don't believe that stuff about all sex being rape" doesn't carry much weight?
7lavalamp12yThis is a statement about your prior actions. This is a statement about her prior statement. I don't think these two are analogous. I don't know anything about Dworkin, but when you're telling someone what they really think (in spite of their explicit statement to the contrary), you're on pretty shaky ground. It's much better to just call their statements inconsistent than to insist they really mean X. EDIT: The fact that you find someone's views weirdly and obviously inconsistent implies one of two things: their internal state is muddled (or they are rationalizing/confabulating), or you don't actually understand their view. I've been on both sides of both cases in my life, it's hard to tell the difference. It's extremely frustrating when people who don't understand my view on something try to tell me what I really think.
1SilasBarta12yThey're both statements about the speaker's position, and I explained the parallels, which you need to address. It's elaborated here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/13k/missing_the_trees_for_the_forest/yrh]. You know what's even better than that? Quoting them. You know what's even better than that? Quoting their reaction to criticism of the view in question. You know what's even better than that? Quoting the part that shows how close the accusation is to being correct, because of what they'll admit to when "defending" themselves. Look back: which one did I do? You know what's also frustrating? -When someone's writing is so vague that most people read it as "all sex is rape". -When I'm told all my life that I'm an oppressor, and have to watch out for the invisible acts of oppression that I'm committing, which can only be revealed by consultation with a special class of offical censors, all the while men who ignore these rules attract all the women. Where's my pity party? It seems that patience is reserved for those who say inflammatory things, propogate myths for decades, and then manage to say with a straight face, "no, no, I didn't mean -- what was the unpopular part again? -- yeah, that. That I didn't mean. But yeah, sex is violence. You can keep feeling guilty."
5lavalamp12yReplying to this separately so it can be voted up/down separatly. Do you have a bias against feminism that goes beyond disagreement? This sounds to me to be the statement of someone who feels personally injured.
2SilasBarta12yYes, I do feel personally injured. I'm told all my life what is proper behavior around women and what is not, while, right in front of my face, men flout these rules (as best I understand them) and are, for lack of a better term, rewarded by those women. I cannot interpret advice, of the type Alicorn has given, any more charitably than "I'm trying to clean the gene pool of any man submissive and stupid enough to actually follow this advice in the real world." To the extent that Alicorn is sincere and honest, she is an extreme outlier, and is asking for special treatment that cannot be justified by preferences of women in general. To see why it would be special treatment, please refer to my previous comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/13j/of_exclusionary_speech_and_gender_politics/ylh], which may have the side effect of demonstrating my humanity. It details how I, like Alicorn, experience a negative physical reaction from PUA threads, but, unlike Alicorn, see this as a failing I need to overcome, rather than a reason to demand suppression of a topic.
7pjeby12yThen you have impaired translation skills. Alicorn has actually given advice here in the past that -- when properly translated -- is actually quite in accordance with many PUA teachings. She just didn't use PUA buzzwords like "social proof" or "direct game" to describe them. (Granted, she tended to also use very blunt and judgmental language... but no more blunt or judgmental than I'd have expected from a male of her age.) Outlier, yes. Extreme, no. She may or may not be correct about what "works" for her, but either way, it's none of our business or concern. She has clearly separated her statements about the way she believes things should be from discussion of how they actually are, so I don't think that disagreements with her regarding the "should", should be conflated with her misrepresenting the "are".
-4SilasBarta12yI'm not familiar with those discussions, so my previous statements don't refer to them. All the advice I'm aware of from Alicorn is: 1) Her suggestion that presupposes [http://lesswrong.com/lw/zt/mate_selection_for_the_men_here/s5i] your problem getting dates is already 99% solved [http://lesswrong.com/lw/zt/mate_selection_for_the_men_here/s6s], and that fundamental changes in your life, like getting an entire new set of friends with numerous female contacts receptive to you is easy [http://lesswrong.com/lw/zt/mate_selection_for_the_men_here/s7o] 2) The infamous "Why can't you whiners just meet women off the internet?" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/10j/typical_mind_and_politics/up7] (gently brought back to reality by HughRistik). 3) Her current advice, that men should navigate the world with extreme caution that they might say something on the forbidden list. With respect to the other Alicorn posts you refer to, she may be right. But, if I were going for a minimum-message-length optimized description of the above Alicorn posts, a great hypothesis would be indeed "She's trying to clean the gene pool of any man submissive and stupid enough to actually follow this advice in the real world." I meant that she was an outlier in being offended by the "get a woman" usages, not that she's an outlier in general honesty or sincerity. Just the same, she should distinguish her own idiosyncratic preferences from fundamentally unethical treatment of others, and in this area, she's failed. The world simply does not agree with her claim about the atrociousness of talking about "getting a man" or "getting a woman" "because I have a lot of money/looks".
7MrHen12yI really do not know how to feel about this comment. While I appreciate the honesty, I really have problems with things like this: I think it is strange that you have essentially acknowledged a pack of inconsistencies in your experiences and teachings but are unable to show charitably to one particular side. Why that side? Why does the fault automatically lie in this direction? I assume there is a long history filled with reasons and this probably isn't the place to hash everything out. But if you are unable to see Alicorn's side charitably it is likely there is something wrong with your perspective.
4lavalamp12yIs it not equally likely that you are the outlier? That you have had an unusual experience combination of inaccurate advice from women? Or that you interpret such advice differently than normal? I think that most people couldn't express consciously what would attract them (as they don't know until they see it-- and everyone on this website is probably an exception to this rule to some extent), so I'm loath to accept your conclusion that they're trying to remove you from the gene pool. People teaching you "proper behavior around women" are generally not trying to help you in the way you seem to expect. (In my experience, anyway) Anyway, my only point was that you are not very neutral on this subject (which you admit), and you don't seem to be taking that fact into account.

Silas definitely is not neutral on this topic, and perhaps could do with lowering the snark. That being said, he is not alone.

The kind of experiences Silas mentions seem common for men with certain types of personalities and social experiences (or lack thereof). They are common in the seduction community, which is massive (there is a pickup club called a "lair" in almost every major city in the world). It's not at all uncommon for the following drama to unfold:

  • Male interprets prescribed behavior from women, or from various cultural authorities (e.g. religion, feminists, the media)
  • Male attempts to manifest those behaviors, yet encounters rejection due to some of those prescriptions being wrong, or incomplete
  • Male watches other men being successful who aren't playing by the rules he was taught, or even engaging in diametrically opposite behaviors
  • Male becomes bitter

I've done several posts on this subject on my blog: When You Have Feminist Guilt, You Don't Need Catholic Guilt and Why Respecting Women as Human Beings is not Enough

I don't think that female misstatement of their preferences is an attempt, conscious or subconsciously evolved, to eliminate men from the gene ... (read more)

2lavalamp12yI can't really argue with this. I fit your described demographic quite well, but I don't have a very similar experience. If it weren't for the internet I'd probably still be single (and by now, bitter, too, perhaps...)
1RobinZ12yVery interesting - thank you for the links.
1SilasBarta12yNo, it not equally likely that I'm the outlier. Keep in mind, PUA instructors consistently, universally have the problem of "unlearning" their students of their previous conception of how to treat women. My shackling to this unhelpful carefulness about "respecting women" is typical. So typical, in fact, that simple misogyny often results in improvement in generating attraction. The cause of an adaptation, the shape of an adaptation, and the consequence of an adaptation, are all separate things. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l1/evolutionary_psychology/] It's not necessary that women be trying to remove me from the gene pool, but certain adaptations give them certain rules for handling certain kinds of men. The useful advice that PUAs give, diverges sharply from any advice any woman will openly give you. So why is female advice so consistently divergent from working advice? See how the mechanism might work? Women want male children that can "get the job done". One way to filter out men who can't given them those genes, is to feed bad advice to men. The only one who will listen to it are the ones who would let women walk all over them. And so they're more likely to encounter men with good genes. I'm not proposing this as a theory; I'm just showing how my proposal (women give bad advice to feed out the dumb and submissive) doesn't require any ill will or conscious deception on the part of women; it can just be something they naturally gravitate toward without understanding why. If what I expect is something that will actually lead to a relationship with mutual desire, that is correct. I'm not neutral on the topic, but that doesn't matter. I'm the living evidence of what it's like to walk on eggshells around women in the possibility that I might accidentally oppress them. That biases me in favor of telling others not to fall into the trap of buying into feminist standards while you get crowded out of the dating pool.
3Jack12yYou make the mistake of thinking that women prefer alpha males/assholes consciously and intentionally while lying to you. This is almost certainly not the case. This is strange since the whole reason for PUA stuff coming up is that it represents an incidence of often unconscious bias. In any case I firmly reject the view that "game" requires you to be a misogynist. My bet is that line of thinking is a useful error that some men find helpful for overcoming their previous tendencies to place women on pedestals and worship them. If you have general self-confidence treating people as your equal will end up resembling some versions of PUA style game.
5SilasBarta12yGood points, but I object to these: I don't think it's that. I see two scenarios that are more likely to generate what I observe: 1) When women give advice, the question they are answering is, "Which attributes would I like to add to a guy, while changing nothing else?" rather than "What would make me actually attracted to a guy?" and the difference is enormous. Frequently, when I get advice from women, what I'm thinking in my mind is, "No, you're telling me what you would like. I'm asking for what would work." 2) Women have a hard time articulating what generates attraction in them, and, once they put it through the filter of "social acceptability" and "hurting feelings", it just reverts to a repetition of what they think they're supposed to like. I don't think it's an issue of misogynist/not misogynist. It's an issue of "doing/not doing what I have been taught is 'respectful'". That is, the autistic-spectrum male "learning algorithm" may mistakenly infer certain behaviors as being "not respectful" and therefore "don't do", while this was not actually entailed by any teaching received from a female (at least, given the female's implicit assumptions).
7Jack12yPart of the problem might be boys learning to respect women by respecting their mother or some other female authority figure. But boys don't treat their mothers as equals, they treat them as superiors. I wonder if there is a correlation between men who are popular with women and those with little sisters. In any case, the solution surely isn't to get pissed at feminists but to recalibrate your understanding of what it means to respect women. Respect=/=defer.
4pjeby12yThe author of the "Double Your Dating" products actually explicitly teaches men to treat a woman they're interested in as if she were "your bratty kid sister", so clearly at least one PUG has noticed this connection.
3thomblake12yOff the cuff, my advice would be to find someone for whom you don't need to worry about what behavior "would work" and instead find someone who genuinely shares your interests and is a joy to be with, and pursue a relationship with them. But then, having been in a love-at-first-sight sort of situation, my advice is probably as helpful as "let them eat cake."
7HughRistik12yI'm glad you acknowledge this is a "let them eat cake response." Not worrying whether one's behavior is "working" is a privilege of those with behavior that works. Of course, it sounds mechanical, perhaps even objectifying to be talking about whether one's behavior "works" "on" others, as if they were a machine being fed input. Yet this pragmatic mode of thinking is forced on some of us by being the only viable way to solve deficits in social and dating experience and knowledge, deficits that were also forced on us due to negligent socialization [http://lesswrong.com/lw/zt/mate_selection_for_the_men_here/s6s].
3conchis12yFWIW, to me, the big difference between a particular mode of thought being objectifying or not has less to do with how one models people's reactions than what one's goal is. If what "works" just means what gets you laid or makes you happy, regardless of its effect on others, then you're treating the other person as just a tool to your own satisfaction. That, to me, is "objectifying" and, well, makes you a shitty, bad person as far as I'm concerned. If, on the other hand, you actually care about the prospective other person's feelings as well, and what "works" is what makes both of you happy, then I can't really see a problem.
1Lightwave12yBtw, it's mechanical on the side of the man as well - being forced to output behavior which you normally would not, and might even object to doing.
3conchis12yThis is one of the things that puzzles me about the whole PUA thing. Is the point of a guy changing his behaviour in such ways: 1. to get his foot in the door, and then, once that's done go back to being "himself"; 2. to have to keep up the charade forever; or 3. to change "himself" for good (i.e. keep up the behaviour, but in such a way that it ceases to be an unnatural charade)? 1, I can sort of understand. 2 seems like a great way to ruin your life. 3 seems like a disaster as well if it involves becoming someone who routinely does things that one now thinks are objectionable; but could be rather more positive if it instead involves, say, becoming someone who is more fun to be around and better able to enrich the life of a significant other. Or is all of this missing the point, which is just to get laid in the short term, and not be around for the long term anyway?
3Lightwave12yYou need to do 1 and 2 (keep the charade for as long as you need) as a temporary solution, since changing yourself permanently (acquiring the necessary social skills, building confidence, body language, etc) can't be done quickly and easily. What is more, having an interim solution can be helpful and gives a boost to the process of improving yourself as well, e.g. even a modest success with women can increase your confidence and give you necessary social practice. It's sort of a multiplier on your efforts of improvement.
2pjeby12yThe answers to those questions are as diverse as the individuals themselves. Different teachers certainly advocate different things, but the more ethical ones advocate, as you say... And grasping some of the ideas involved in that has certainly been helpful in my marriage.
1Jack12yThink of #3 the same way you think of any kind of self-improvement work (or if you like, a bootstrapping AI). There is no reason for it to be at all objectionable. People change things about themselves all the time and no one objects. This "self" business is probably nonsense anyway.
0conchis12yI certainly never meant to suggest that change is objectionable per se. But saying "just think of it as self-improvement" begs the question of whether it's actually improvement. If you find yourself trying to become someone who regularly does stuff you now find objectionable (as per the comment I was responding to) then there's a decent chance you're actually engaged in an act of self-debasement instead.
0thomblake12yJust a reminder that "begging the question" and its variants are jargon in logic, and so it seems the colloquial meaning should be avoided here.
0conchis12yFWIW, I didn't intend the colloquial meaning ("raises the question"): I meant that the response "think of it as self-improvement" assumes precisely what is at issue (i.e. that the change is for the better).
-5bogus12y
0Lightwave12yBtw, how is that different from Alicorn feeling 'personally injured' (or offended) by us having PUA discussions on LW? Can't SilasBerta feel offended by any attempts to censor the topic?
4lavalamp12yI wasn't trying to say he shouldn't be offended. My implication was that because he's offended, SilasBarta is having trouble dealing with the issue rationally. If Alicorn has a similar bias, she hides it better. (Disclaimer: I haven't read all the comments on all the posts this has come up)
3MrHen12yWell, he can, but I wouldn't put "being offended by [topic]" and "being offended by being offended by [topic]" in the same categories.
2Lightwave12yAlicorn is offended by a certain problem she perceives (objectification of women). SilasBerta is also offended by a problem - silencing of discussions on a problem unrelated to Alicorn's problem, but discussions on which happen to possibly include objectifications of some sort. I don't see why both shouldn't be on an equal standing.
2MrHen12yI think there may be a typo in there somewhere. I am not trying to downplay SilasBerta's feeling offended, and it is very possible that SilasBerta's offense and Alicorn's offense are about the same topic from different sides. If that is the case than my comment is probably out of place.
1pjeby12yWhy not?
2MrHen12yIn my opinion, getting offended by [topic] reflects a potential issue with [topic] that may be worth addressing. Ideally, the offense as a result of the [topic] should disappear due to either (a) [topic] becoming less offensive or (b) the offended becoming unaffected by [topic]. Being offended by being offended by [topic] can be resolved by resolving the first layer of offenses. If there is a problem with the initial offense, getting offended doesn't actually help since the initial offense is not likely to be resolved with the secondary offense. In addition, a terrible cycle can appear if the initial offended takes offense to the offensive of the initial offense. Granted, you do not always get to choose what offends you, but when dealing with multiple layers of offense I think it is best to deal with the initial offense. So, perhaps "categories" can be replaced by "priorities."
1Lightwave12yNot if resolving the first layer depends on resolving the second layer first. I.e. he can't resolve his problem because he's being silenced when he attempts to discuss it.
1MrHen12yThe first layer problem existed before the second layer problem did. Why would the second layer have to be solved first? Also, silencing someone is not really the same thing as being offended. Unless you are talking about a scenario where silencing someone is the solution to the original problem? In that case the second layer really has nothing to do with offense to offense. I feel there may be a huge misunderstanding here. I wouldn't be surprised if it was my initial comment's assumption that the second offense was an offense to an offense.
3Lightwave12yBecause they've become interconnected. I'm viewing PUA discussions as part of the solution to SilasBerta's problem. Imposing a ban on such discussions hinders SilasBerta, which is why he's offended. Basically, a ban on PUA discussions is effectively a ban on part of the solution to SilasBerta's problem. Now, I'm not saying that Alicorn and SilasBerta are equally justified in their requests. But both need to be evaluated as valid concerns.
3pjeby12yHardly. It's not like there aren't plenty of other places on the 'net to get information, free or paid, and if he lives in or near a major metropolitan area there's probably a "lair" he can join and the occasional professionally taught workshop or bootcamp. Unless you're looking for specifically rationalist-friendly information, this isn't really the place to get it. It's only on-topic here to the extent it's relevant to various sorts of bias and akrasia issues. For example, the PUAs' "3 Seconds Rule" is relevant to akrasia, and I almost brought it up in reply to the "It's all in your head land" article, except that I'm really NOT wanting to start new PUA-related threads.
0Lightwave12yWell, a ban is a hindrance to the extent that a rationalist community could develop more rigorous and testable theories, and incidentally, they will probably weed out all of the misogynist and objectificationist (is there such a word?) stuff.
3pjeby12yYou must be new here. ;-) All kidding aside, this community could develop plenty of rigorous and testable theories. It's just incredibly doubtful that any of them would actually work in practice, for almost any definition of "work", unless they were developed by people who already had practical experience. In particular, this community is inflicted with massive "should" bias -- i.e. confusing "ought" and "is", while vehemently insisting that things that do work, shouldn't, don't work, should, and coming up with ludicrous explanations for both sets of falsehoods. See, for example, the recent complaints about "marketing"; e.g. deriding breaking cryonics cost down to $1/day. There's a reason marketers do that... and it's because marketers have forgotten more than most people posting on this site have ever known about overcoming akrasia. Because, if a marketer can't overcome somebody's akrasia enough to get them to shell out actual money, the marketer doesn't get paid. That's why I group PUA and marketing under the same heading, of Arts That Work. When they're too far wrong, the marketers don't get paid and the PUAs don't get laid, so there's an inherent control over how far they can stray from the truth. This control does not apply so well to general works of self-help, or to armchair ev-psych theorizing. I actually learned far more about akrasia and motivation from marketers and PUAs than I ever did from self-help books or science papers. (Btw, the scientific principle behind using per diem breakdown is incredibly relevant to any sort of personal change project, and it involves a statistical rule discovered by Prochaska, Norcross et al regarding the precise number of standard deviations in a person's change of evaluation regarding the pros and cons of a decision that will make them shift from "contemplating" to "acting"... a rule that holds constant across a dozen different kinds of changes, such as quitting smoking, starting an exercise program, etc. Per diem b
0MrHen12yIf this is the case, than he is not offended by Alicorn's offense. He is offended by a ban on such discussions. Which makes sense and has nothing to do with the layers I was talking about. Like I said, I think there is misunderstanding of my original comment. To reword this: As this: Might help.
2Alicorn12yHave I claimed to be "personally injured" anywhere? I don't think I have, but if I said something that sounds like that, I'd like to know.
1Lightwave12yWhat I'm implying is that both you and SilasBerta are having a negative emotional reaction. Can you say your reaction is justified while his is not?
3Alicorn12yI don't think I can answer that question unbiasedly, because SilasBarta routinely makes me very frustrated.
0thomblake12ySaid much more diplomatically than mine. Good job.
5lavalamp12yI think you changed the example a little bit there ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/13k/missing_the_trees_for_the_forest/yrh [http://lesswrong.com/lw/13k/missing_the_trees_for_the_forest/yrh]). What you wrote there I don't have any problem with. Whether it's a charitable reading of Dworkin or a straw(wo)man, I have no knowledge. Since I don't feel like reading up on her, I am inclined to grant you that interpretation for the sake of conversation. That's fine, but packing that whole line of thinking into the act of omitting half of a quotation is bound to give people the wrong impression. If you think "all sex is rape" is consistent, on the whole, with someone's work, you can just say that's what you think. Hell, I don't know anything about her in particular and personally find radical feminist thought to be weird and wrong, so I wouldn't even argue with you. But don't do half a job quoting someone; if in your original comment on the subject contained the words "and I know immediately afterwards she disclaims the obvious interpretation of this sentence, but that is clearly an out-of-character statement for her and probably does not reflect her true view, given all the other things she's said," then we would not be having this conversation. I certainly don't support what you're reacting to. If it's not already clear, I find radical feminism quite hypocritical, assuming I understand it. I suppose my few comments on this have given the impression that I'm on Alicorn's "side", whatever that means, but I'm actually pretty neutral on the whole thing, I can understand both positions. My comments have admittedly been on the "moderate feminist" side, but only because it's been less well represented (quantity, not quality, my subjective opinion) and I thought I could contribute something positive.
4SilasBarta12yOkay, fair point. I thought it was obvious why the next sentence should carry so little weight, but even so, I should have explained that that was the reason for the exclusion. ETA: I've added a clarifier to the initial comment.
2lavalamp12yThank you; I have to admit I'm pleasantly surprised. There aren't many blogs you can see a comment like this on.
4SoullessAutomaton12yWe're generally fairly reasonable folks around here, even while having a ridiculous multiple-day politically-charged feud.
4thomblake12yBrief intro: Radical feminism, simply put, is isomorphic to radical marxism. Where the marxist would interpret virtually anything as an instance of "class warfare", the radical feminist would interpret virtually anything as an instance of "oppression by the patriarchy". The "patriarchy", in this sense, is that complex web of behaviors and assumptions that, on the whole, radical feminists believe was constructed by men to keep women down. There is a charitable interpretation of the "patriarchy" that suggests that it was not created specifically by men, and it is not intended to keep women down, but then "patriarchy" is a bad name. Radical feminist works usually make more internal sense if you just read it as though "patriarchy" referred to an illuminati-like organization with immense power hell-bent on subjugating women using insidious methods like making the Washington Monument look phallic. While there are still quite a few radical feminists alive and kicking, their views are largely discredited and a serious thinker should be embarrassed to use their arguments. The Wikipedia article [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism#Movements_and_ideologies] does a decent job of summarizing different movements in feminism. (For reference, when I put on my "feminist" hat, I'm a "liberal feminist". Note that "Liberal" here is used in the same sense as in "Classical Liberal" or "Liberty")
1thomblake12yWere your parents killed by angry feminists when you were a child? This has been happening all your life? I've actively studied radical feminism and I don't feel like I've been exposed to such a dire situation. And radical feminism lost credibility and practically died over decade ago now (I believe most scholars of feminism place it around when Carlin Romano penned his now-famous "Suppose I raped Catherine MacKinnon" review). Really, give it up man, war's over, Dworkin's been dead for many years and nobody important takes her work seriously. EDIT: removed undiplomatic remark.
-11bogus12y
4thomblake12yIf you're going to interpret her charitably, then her clarification that she doesn't mean to say that all sex is rape is relevant to understanding what she did mean. Leaving out her clarification is deceptive. If you're not going to interpret her charitably, then it doesn't matter what she said, as you can twist her words into meaning whatever you'd like.
-3SilasBarta12yVery well. Any future comment you make about my beliefs on this topic must now include the quote, "I, Silas Barta, have the utmost respect for both men and women, and I never use language that is in any way objectifying to either." After all, wouldn't it be deceptive to leave out my clarification that I have respect for women and never use obectifying language? I mean, I said it with a straight face, and everything! Don't people deserve to hear the full story? "It's not the speeches you can deliver, it's whether you can deliver on the speeches." -- paraphrase of a cheesy Hillary Clinton quote
1thomblake12yYou're being ridiculous. Her clarification was in the very next sentence of what you quoted, and it directly contradicted what you said. It's nearly as bad as if you said "I'm not saying that blacks are inferior to whites" and I quoted you out of context as saying "blacks are inferior to whites".
-1SilasBarta12yAnd my point is that her disavowal (did I use too obscure of a word?) of that belief counts for nothing, when the rest of her actions say the opposite. That was the whole point of my comment about how people can say whatever they way, but that doesn't make it true. And truth was the issue, not what someone can assert in a sheepish backpedal. No, it's like if I wrote book saying, "It would be much better if America didn't have any blacks. Lynchings of blacks are, in a philosophical sense, an act of liberation." And then rumors went around saying that I think blanks should be lynched, and I responded to them by saying, "Certainly, tossing a rope around a black person's neck is a great idea. Of couse, I wouldn't advocate lynching blacks. But we have to remember the need for racial purity." And then someone posting on Less Wrong, that hey, SB's views weren't really misrepresented, because look at what he said even when defending himself, "Certainly, tossing a rope around a black person's neck is a great idea ..." And then you vigorously protesting that, "But look at the next sentence! Doesn't that void everything else he's ever written?"
2thomblake12yYou're misreading me as well. I'm no fan of Dworkin, and it's very clear that "all sex is rape" certainly sounds like the sort of thing she'd say (I'd make the same case for MacKinnon). I pointed out that leaving out her clarification was deceptive. It was a paradigmatic example of taking a quote out of context. Perhaps my wording was a bit strong in this comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/13k/missing_the_trees_for_the_forest/yqs] when I said: But it is very clear that you were not even attempting to read her charitably, nor give other people the chance to do so, by leaving out relevant context.

This post exhibits a common fallacy in both economics and politics. I'm not sure what, if anything it's traditionally called, but for the moment I propose the "We are all on the same side" fallacy. Let me explain.

"Let's say we are considering a law mandating businesses to lower their pollution levels. So far as I understand economics, the best decision-making strategy is to estimate how much pollution is costing the population, how much cutting pollution would cost business, and if there's a net profit, pass the law. Of course it's more complicated, but this seems like a reasonable start."

Actually, no. Non-owners of a polluting business will rationally prefer that the business is to be made to stop polluting, even if that costs that business more dollars than they are willing to pay for clean air/water/etc. Classical economics suggests that in this case the business owner should pay the populace for the right to pollute, but that's never been practical or seriously considered.

In reverse, owners of polluting businesses prefer to pollute even if the benefit to them of polluting is far less than the cost to everyone who suffers their pollution. This is the classic ... (read more)

2christopherj8yAnd then, all the totally unrelated industries that are at risk of losing money from regulation, and all the people pushing for regulation in any industry, will add their voices to the argument -- a precedent will advance their goal, after all.

I came to the wrong conclusion in the Duke Lacrosse case, even though I didn't think our society is all that racist. I messed up because I just assumed the authorities wouldn't do what they did unless they had good reason. I have since changed my assumptions.

I'm afraid I have to take issue with your Cheerios story in the linked comment. You say of the 4% cholesterol lowering claim, "This is false. It is based on a 'study' sponsored by General Mills where subjects took more than half their daily calories from Cheerios (apparently they ate nothing but Cheerios for two of their three daily meals)." You link to http://www.askdeb.com/blog/health/will-cheerios-really-help-lower-your-cholesterol/ but that says nothing about how much Cheerios subjects ate.

I found this article that describes the 1998 Cheerios... (read more)

1mps12yI think the author's point was not to claim one side was right and the other wrong, but to say one's determination of who is right/wrong in a situation like this should probably be more independent of one's political party affiliation than it actually is. I take that no one actually studied the correlation among people's opinion on this matter and their party affiliation; my impression was the author was speculating that such a correlation would exist.
1HalFinney12yA typical comment from an anti-Cheerios advocate. Is this what LW is coming to? Cheerios lovers unite! Anyway it was probably not clear but I was a little tongue in cheek with my Cheerios rant. I think what I wrote is correct but mostly I was having fun pretending that there could be a big political battle over even the narrow issue of the Cheerios study and what it means.
0Scott Alexander12yHm, I had an article from which I got my numbers, but now I can't find it anymore. I do see several that say three cups of cheerios per day and 450 calories of Cheerios out of a 1900 calorie diet, but I have no idea where I got that "half your total calories" phrase. Possibly I made a mistake and multiplied 4503, when the 450 is already 3150, or possibly copied from an article that did so.

This is... impressively level-headed, like orthonormal's post was. The net result might be to shame me into shutting up on those hot-button topics, which would be a good thing. We really had better stop and move on. Although the last couple days have been an obscene karma mint for many commenters including me.

I agree with the logic of this analysis, but I have a problem with one of the implicit premises: that "we" should care about political issues at all, and that "we" make governmental decisions. I think this is wrong, and its wrongness explains the seemingly puzzling phenomenon of jumping from tree to forest.

There was no need for anyone beyond the jury to have an opinion on the Duke lacrosse case. We weren't making any decisions there. I certainly wasn't, anyway. So of course when people do express an interest, it is for entertainment and... (read more)

I gave an example: the government's request that Kelloggs stop making false claims about Cheerios

Cheerios is made by General Mills, not Kellogs.

0thomblake12yHa... I was wondering if this was a mistake, or if I'd missed something in that controversy.

The more time I spend thinking about it, the more I come to realize that Narrative Is the Enemy, at least where attempts to see and reason clearly are concerned. One heuristic has proven surprisingly useful time and time again, in efforts of rationality as well as creativity: don't try to deliberately tell a story.

3thomblake12yBut narrative is our primary means for understanding; it's where we get the context for situating our ideas. Even the 'self' is a story we tell ourselves, to give narrative unity to the disparate actions we take. While many philosophers have written about this in recent years, I shall point to the one most likely to be respected here. Dan Dennett: The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity [http://cogprints.org/266/]
1colinmarshall12yYou're absolutely right; it's the overuse of narrative we need to be concerned about. Humanity can't get by without it, but one inch too much and we're in self-delusion territory.
1thomblake12yAgreed. At least postmodernism got something right.

I like the concept of narratives (make it "affective narratives"). Every problem looks like a nail. This bias doesn't necessarily determine what gets decided, as the factions can fight over the outcome, but it results in discarding all the relevant considerations, leaving only the sufficiently polarized ones. The perception of facts gets distorted without an agreed-upon affective bias for a specific cause. A cult-anticult field that doesn't necessarily consist of a pair of organized cults. When the cults are organized around the poles, it gets wo... (read more)

I get the feeling sometime that people tend to be "blunt objects", that there is a tendency to see one issue that does have some importance, or a few, and then go slamming against that issue and things that resemble it. Then your slamming becomes an issue and other people start hammering against your whole position and related views. If this system works at all, it hopefully works by this pounding back and forth settling somewhere close to where we think things ought to be, based on the relative 'objective' merits that give a bit more fuel to one... (read more)

3orthonormal12yIAWYC [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/IAWYC], but I want to caution against too much arguing by analogy [http://lesswrong.com/lw/rj/surface_analogies_and_deep_causes/]. I can always find a neat-sounding analogy for any problem (especially facets of human psychology), but that as persuasive as such analogies often are to sympathetic audiences, they tend to have very little predictive power. That being said, they can be very pithy and memorable, so they're a good tool when they're justified.
0FrankAdamek12yGood point and agreed. Here I sought just to share a descriptive analogy I found interesting, in agreement with Yvain, but any description could even unintentionally be used later for argument (by myself too of course), so that's something for me to watch out for, thanks.

I agree.

In fact, I think the "vast overarching narrative" is often something very basic. In many cases, I think a given policy is seen simply as "punishing" a group, and is resisted by people who think that group deserves more respect.

For instance, why are so many people against increasing taxes on the wealthy to cut deficits? Are they really worried that these people will lose incentive to work hard, and the economy will suffer? Or that markets for luxury goods will crumble? I suspect what many really feel is that successful peop... (read more)

3matt12yThere are many who would love to achieve the assumed goals of government regulation, but have noticed a law of unintended consequences [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequence#Causes] or have studied public choice theory [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice_theory], and believe that advocating sensible regulation isn't the same as getting it.
3thomblake12yI doubt the economists on that side of the issue have fallen into this trap. It seems at least more charitable to assume they mean it when they say it will disincentivize creating wealth.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Even though I don't think there was anything really new in this post, I like it anyway because it finds additional evidence and helps build the body of evidence to support the idea that politics is the mind killer.

As far as actually talking about bias in general, I don't think this post adds anything that hasn't already been said, for instance in "Politics is the mind-killer". In terms of the current discussion, I thought the idea was to drop it and move on.

2Jonathan_Graehl12yI thought it was well-repeated.