Once upon a time, in a lonely little village, beneath the boughs of a forest of burning trees, there lived a boy. The branches of the burning trees sometimes fell, and the magic in the wood permitted only girls to carry the fallen branches of the burning trees.

One day, a branch fell, and a boy was pinned beneath. The boy saw other boys pinned by branches, rescued by their girl friends, but he remained trapped beneath his own burning branch.

The fire crept closer, and the boy called out for help.

Finally, a friend of his own came, but she told him that she could not free him from the burning branch, because she already free'd her other friend from beneath a burning branch and he would be jealous if she did the same deed for anyone else. This friend left him where he lay, but she did promise to return and visit.

The fire crept closer, and the boy called out for help.

A man stopped, and gave the boy the advice that he'd get out from beneath the burning branch eventually if he just had faith in himself. The boy's reply was that he did have faith in himself, yet he remained trapped beneath the burning branch. The man suggested that perhaps he did not have enough faith, and left with nothing more to offer.

The fire crept closer, and the boy cried out for help.

A girl came along, and said she would free the boy from beneath the burning branch.

But no, her friends said, the boy was a stranger to her, was her heroic virtue worth nothing? Heroic deeds ought to be born from the heart, and made beautiful by love, they insisted. Simply hauling the branch off a boy she did not love would be monstrously crass, and they would not want to be friends with a girl so shamed.

So the girl changed her mind and left with her friends.

The fire crept closer. It began to lick at the boy's skin. A soothing warmth became an uncomfortable heat. The boy mustered his courage and chased the fear out of his own voice. He called out, but not for help. He called out for company.

A girl came along, and the boy asked if she would like to be friends. The girl's reply was that she would like to be friends, but that she spent most of her time on the other side of the village, so if they were to be friends, he must be free from beneath the burning branch.

The boy suggested that she free him from beneath the burning branch, so that they could be friends.

The girl replied that she once free'd a boy from beneath a burning branch who also promised to be her friend, but as soon as he was free he never spoke to her again. So how could she trust the boy's offer of friendship? He would say anything to be free.

The boy tried frantically to convince her that he was sincere, that he would be grateful and try with all his heart to be a good friend to the girl who free'd him, but she did not believe him and turned away from him and left him there to burn.

The fire crept closer and the boy whimpered in pain and fear as it spread from wood to flesh. He cried out for help. He begged for help. "Somebody, please!"

A man and a woman came along, and the man offered advice: he was once trapped beneath a burning branch for several years. The fire was magic, the pain was only an illusion. Perhaps it was sad that he was trapped but even so trapped the boy may lead a fulfilling life. Why, the man remembered etching pictures into his branch, befriending passers by, and making up songs.

The woman beside the man agreed, and told the boy that she hoped the right girl would come along and free him, but that he must not presume that he was entitled to any girl's heroic deed merely because he was trapped beneath a burning branch.

"But do I not deserve to be helped?" the boy pleaded, as the flames licked his skin.

"No, how wrong of you to even speak as though you do. My heroic deeds are mine to give, and to you I owe nothing," he was told.

"Perhaps I don't deserve help from you in particular, or from anyone in particular, but is it not so very cruel of you to say I do not deserve any help at all?" the boy pleaded. "Can a girl willing to free me from beneath this burning branch not be found and sent to my aide?"

"Of course not," he was told, "that is utterly unreasonable and you should be ashamed of yourself for asking. It is offensive that you believe such a girl may even exist. You've become burned and ugly, who would want to save you now?"

The fire spread, and the boy cried, screamed, and begged desperately for help from every passer by.

"It hurts it hurts it hurts oh why will no one free me from beneath this burning branch?!" he wailed in despair. "Anything, anyone, please! I don't care who frees me, I only wish for release from this torment!"

Many tried to ignore him, while others scoffed in disgust that he had so little regard for what a heroic deed ought to be. Some pitied him, and wanted to help, but could not bring themselves to bear the social cost, the loss of worth in their friends' and family's eyes, that would come of doing a heroic deed motivated, not by love, but by something lesser.

The boy burned, and wanted to die.

Another boy stepped forward. He went right up to the branch, and tried to lift it. The trapped boy gasped at the small relief from the burning agony, but it was only a small relief, for the burning branches could only be lifted by girls, and the other boy could not budge it. Though the effort was for naught, the first boy thanked him sincerely for trying.

The boy burned, and wanted to die. He asked to be killed.

He was told he had so much to live for, even if he must live beneath a burning branch. None were willing to end him, but perhaps they could do something else to make it easier for him to live beneath the burning branch? The boy could think of nothing. He was consumed by agony, and wanted only to end.

And then, one day, a party of strangers arrived in the village. Heroes from a village afar. Within an hour, one foreign girl came before the boy trapped beneath the burning branch and told him that she would free him if he gave her his largest nugget of gold.

Of course, the local villagers were shocked that this foreigner would sully a heroic deed by trafficking it for mere gold.

But, the boy was too desperate to be shocked, and agreed immediately. She free'd him from beneath the burning branch, and as the magical fire was drawn from him, he felt his burned flesh become restored and whole. He fell upon the foreign girl and thanked her and thanked her and thanked her, crying and crying tears of relief.

Later, he asked how. He asked why. The foreign girls explained that in their village, heroic virtue was measured by how much joy a hero brought, and not by how much she loved the ones she saved.

The locals did not like the implication that their own way might not have been the best way, and complained to the chief of their village. The chief cared only about staying in the good graces of the heroes of his village, and so he outlawed the trading of heroic deeds for other commodities.

The foreign girls were chased out of the village.

And then a local girl spoke up, and spoke loud, to sway her fellow villagers. The boy recognized her. It was his friend. The one who had promised to visit so long ago.

But she shamed the boy, for doing something so crass as trading gold for a heroic deed. She told him he should have waited for a local girl to free him from beneath the burning branch, or else grown old and died beneath it.

To garner sympathy from her audience, she sorrowfully admitted that she was a bad friend for letting the boy be tempted into something so disgusting. She felt responsible, she claimed, and so she would fix her mistake.

The girl picked up a burning branch. Seeing what she was about to do, the boy begged and pleaded for her to reconsider, but she dropped the burning branch upon the boy, trapping him once more.

The boy screamed and begged for help, but the girl told him that he was morally obligated to learn to live with the agony, and never again voice a complaint, never again ask to be free'd from beneath the burning branch.

"Banish me from the village, send me away into the cold darkness, please! Anything but this again!" the boy pleaded.

"No," he was told by his former friend, "you are better off where you are, where all is proper."

In the last extreme, the boy made a grab for his former friend's leg, hoping to drag her beneath the burning branch and free himself that way, but she evaded him. In retaliation for the attempt to defy her, she had a wall built around the boy, so that none would be able, even if one should want to free him from beneath the burning branch.

With all hope gone, the boy broke and became numb to all possible joys. And thus, he died, unmourned.

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I'm sorry about your pain, but I don't think LessWrong is the right place for this post, as it cuts too closely to identity politics to be productively discussed.


It's one thing to argue that non-consensual celibacy is painful; that's a fact that's often neglected when talking about sexual dynamics. It's another to frame the issue as a situation entirely perpetuated by women who are resisting for trivial reasons. That casts women as malicious, when that's not a universal or common case.

Like NancyLebowitz said, why is it acceptable to leave out the costs that women face in this dynamic?

If your point is that some sexual assaults are the product of desperation and tragedy, I agree. That doesn't make them acceptable, and you seem like you're implying that.

I'm not really sure what you're hoping to accomplish here. The fable isn't framed in a way that accurately represents reality. The sympathetic arguments you're making could be made without euphemism. The story falsely equivocates refusing sex as maliciously refusing to save someone's life.

If you're hurting, I'm sorry. I have sympathy for people who are unable to be sexually active and have few or no solutions. This, however, is bad framing at best, and harmful at worst.

I'm not really sure what you're hoping to accomplish here. The fable isn't framed in a way that accurately represents reality. The sympathetic arguments you're making could be made without euphemism. The story falsely equivocates refusing sex as maliciously refusing to save someone's life.

Given that the author has, in other comments, mentioned suicidal tendencies... I'd suggest the equivalence might be real to them.

Shrug I dunno. I find this poorly written, and poorly thought out, and fails to touch much at all in me; granted, my moments of compassion are few and far between.

But the hostile response is disproportionate to what was actually written, to the point where I must conclude that this piece has successfully made its readers feel deeply uncomfortable, and the hostility is a rationalization to cover that discomfort.


That's fair, I suppose. I do feel accused of callously ignoring a population of people for whom I have a great deal of sympathy. I think my criticisms stand, but I guess I could have been kinder.

I want to engage and think about this more, but I'm not sure I can have this conversation without feeling hostile.

Which is why the anti-politics rule exists, I think. Because most people can't disengage enough. The downvotes are perfectly fair, otherwise any authentic-enough political crying fit would be a heckler's veto on the anti-politics rule, which would just become politics by another name as people tried to decide what qualified as authentic.

But people should view stuff like this as... exercises in recognizing and overcoming their biases. Not excuses to attack wrongthought.

You make good points. I'm not going to redact, because I don't think I'm incorrect, but I'm tapping out of this thread.
I agree that refusing sex is not malicious. However, these things could be interpreted as malicious -- slut shaming, anti prostitution, anti pornography. A lot of that comes from women. If a woman refuses to have a sex with a "sexually starved man", that's perfectly okay. It's just not okay if she also goes on a political crusade trying to prevent him from getting sex or some sex-substitute by other means. For example if she writes an article about the danger of sexbots -- that I would classify as malicious. It's no longer "I don't want to be involved in solving this person's problem", but it's "I prefer that person to suffer". Yet this hostile behavior is often accepted in our society, and often encouraged.
Yes, thank you. I agree with all of that. If there are means by which a sex-starved person can get sex, that don't infringe on anyone's agency...and that means is still maligned? I think there's a strong case for its critics being malicious (or at best, severely misguided).

The metaphor doesn't even make sense, assuming it's about sex. If the burning branch represents virginity, then it would be possible to pay a girl to free the boy from the branch, but it would not be possible for another girl to put him under again. If the branch represents "having regular sex", then it would be possible for a girl to put him under the branch again, but it would also mean that the girl given the gold nugget has to be given a continuous stream of gold nuggets or she would also put the boy under the branch again.

Also, dragging someone under the burning branch to free yourself doesn't make sense even as rape. Rapists do not turn other people into virgins.

So don't assume it's about sex. The author stated as much.
Extreme matriarchal community with slavery somewhat like in Rome (some men earn freedom, most don't, discussing it at all i taboo). Sex in itself is secondary.

I made one reply to this, and later deleted it. Then, I made another reply, and deleted that one as well.

I feel mind-killed and I can't tell who else is mind-killed. I'm just going to take this in stride as a time-appropriate refresher course on why we don't discuss politics.

This post just doesn't really reflect real life. Well, not for all sides involved.

If anyone got to the pq-system part of GEB, can we get some various interpretations here? Because what I think the burning branches are, apart from crude violations of the laws of physics, are basically defeatism on the boy's part.

You might not like reading it but I ran a search and it seems like to only have been posted here and despite being a badly written story that doesn't really reflect reality I think that you have one thing going and that is story-writing and you shou... (read more)

In my experience, good parables seldom reflect real life. They reflect a distorted, amplified caricature, so as to better make a point that might be missed with a more realistic story. Also, I think you're on the right track with defeatism and depression.

Looks to be a fable about natural selection and how it works on learned helplessness.

I, for one, like my moral assumptions and cached thoughts challenged regularly. This works well with repugnant conclusions. Hence I upvoted this post (to -21).

I find two interesting questions here:

  1. How to reconcile opposing interests in subgroups of a population of entities whose interests we would like to include into our utility function. An obvious answer is facilitating trade between all interested to increase utility. But: How do we react to subgroups whose utility function values trade itself negatively?

  2. Given that mate selection is a huge driver o

... (read more)
Seems to me that the interests are often not literally opposed, such that one group literally has "X" as a terminal value, and the other group has "not X". More often, the goals are simply anticorrelated in practice, thus wanting "the opposite of what the other group wants" becomes a good heuristic. This is why calmly debating and exploring all options, including unusual ones, can be a good approach. For example, in this specific situation: (1) legalize prostitution, and create safe conditions so that the prostitutes are not exploited; (2) create good cheap sexbots, or maybe rent them.
In practice the debate is about the price payed for providing everybody with sexual accounters. This article completely ignores it. As such it's not a good article for checking cached thoughts. For checking cached thoughts it makes much more sense to actually engage with the real arguments for the subject. In Germany the price of legalizing prostition is that a lot of the prostitures aren't prostitute out of their own free will but are forced into it. You can say that price is worth paying, but simply ignoring it and instead informing your opinion of the subject by what makes sense in unrealistic parable makes no sense.
I don't know the details, but my guess is that mere legalization without regulation will not be enough to overcome a strong "tradition". To explain, imagine an alternative society where e.g. computer programming is considered extremely low-status and also illegal, so that most people who have the necessary skills would never do it voluntarily. But there is a market demand for applications, therefore some criminals will start kidnapping people with math skills and forcing them to write programs. Of course the programmers would be abused in various ways, and most of the payment for the programs would be taken from them by the criminals. If one day the government would merely decide "let's make computer programming legal", what is the most likely outcome? A few programmers would volunteer for the work, but the existing criminal networks would stay in their place with expertise and contacts to customers, only with less risk. I would expect that even in the new system a few people would be kidnapped and make to work as slaves, simply because the infrastructure already exists, and has become a "Schelling point". The real change would require breaking the existing "Schelling point". The details would depend on specific situation. One solution could be that every programmer would have to register themselves at some government office... and employing programmers who are not registered would still be illegal and harshly punished. And the government would check actively whether all employees of software companies are registered. That would reduce the temptation of the software companies to kidnap a person or two to improve their profits, just like in the old days.
It's very misleading to compare the psychological effects of the activity of prostitution with those of software programming. If a software programmer get's drugged an put under pressure so that he can't think clearly anymore he won't be able to do his job. On the other hand there's a market for prostitutes that do whatever the client wants them to do and who take part in drug orgies. Apart from drugs there are strong psychological forces involved in sex that simply don't exist in software programming.
You seem to focus on details and ignore the main point, which was: If there is a "tradition" of (1) forcing people to do (2) illegal stuff, one does not remove the tradition by merely declaring the stuff legal. One also has to make extra steps to ensure that all participants are there voluntarily. Otherwise the already established "infrastructure" for forcing people to do stuff will remain there.
My Googling suggests that in Vienna where prostiutes have to be registered around half of the registered prostiutes are victims of human trafficing. The policy of registration which as of the beginning of this months also entered German law, doesn't seem to result in an elimination of prostitution that shouldn't be there. I think your arguments also rests on the fact that there are programmers who actually want by their own volition to do the programming jobs that customers demand. On the other hand there are prostitution services that are demanded by customers that very few woman actually want to do.

I don't think that it valid to hide politically incorrect thought on LW behind metaphars. If you want to make a point make it directly and hopefully cite statistics to back it up.


... a fascinating world, exactly as written. Seeing that the lifting of the branch seems like a totemic thing, a ritual absolutely structuring the society, would it not be logical that: 1) spouses lawfully married to each other can covertly negotiate that the wife lift a branch off a boy badly in need, which would bind him to them as a servant until a girl willing to have him comes along, but most probably for life? 2) incest is not an offence so much as a favor? 3) girls generally have more chance at entering and staying in the workforce? 4) it is preferable to have more girl children, as possible negotiation material?

As has been said, there's no need to view this as bad goth poetry.

A bit heavy-handed and overspecified. For this style of narrative, you should identify and address the root of the social phenomenon you're writing about, and wrestle with that, instead of translating it as literally as possible into an arbitrary metaphor.

I'm interested to know if anyone would have considered voting this up if the attempted rape portion of the metaphor had been omitted and the story had been ended just before then?

I wouldn't upvote this in any case, as it doesn't belong here as it stands.

With some thorough editing, and a lot of boiling down, it could turn into an insightful discussion of the blind spot so many people have where social needs are concerned; that education or internet are something like a basic human right, but sexual satisfaction, which is far more primal and necessary to us, isn't. It's a necessary blind spot in ideologies which treat needs as rights to be satisfied by other people, because it's full of ugly truths about those ideologies.

But I doubt the insightful post would be received well, either. Perhaps I overestimate people, but I suspect most people have an inkling of the currents running under the surface, here.

Interestingly, there appears (at least in my local cultural circle) that being attended by human caretakers when incapacitated by age, is supposed to be a basic right. Hence, there must be some other reason - and not just the problem about rights being fulfilled by other persons, why the particular example assumed to underlie the parable, is reprehensible to many people.
There is another reason. In social-standing friendly language, "Sex is sacred". For the less socially-friendly approach... sex is clearly not sacred, and the issue isn't the idea of sex being a right, as one can readily see by looking at people who can complain about involuntary celibacy without much social risk, and do so. I'm not going to name the ugliness, both because it's broad and ill-defined - a patch of area defined more by what a set of ideologies fail to say, than what they explicitly name - but also because it's something you have to see for yourself to believe.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I thought it was very bad[1] even aside from the attempted-rape bit. [1] I mean in quality rather than morally, though the attempted-rape part (at least) is horrible morally too.
I can't find it - where IS the rape part?
2nd to last paragraph.
As I write this, the parent comment is at -1 despite the fact that it simply answers a question someone asked. There is something very strange about the voting in this post's comments.
Someone downvoted your comment as well. Elsewhere in the thread, username2 asserted that Nancy could not be trusted as a moderator. I am pretty sure that comment was negative before, now it is at +4 with 55% positive. So that looks like some kind of vote manipulation.
There are some comments on this post where I wonder about vote manipulation because they seem to have changed score rapidly, some considerable time after posting. TheAltar's comment upthread, and my comment on it, don't seem like examples of that. I think they may be unreasonable downvotes but not improper ones, if you see what I mean. (My reading of the situation is that there are some people on LW who have a strong aversion to anything suggestive of "social justice", and that that's responsible for a lot of the downvotes here. E.g., someone suggests that one bit of the OP is endorsing rape or complaining about people getting punished for rape; vocal opposition to rape is a Social Justice Thing and therefore bad in these people's eyes[1]; and then anything that engages with that without condemning it -- e.g., TheAltar's comment -- is guilty by association.) [1] How could anyone have a problem with vocal opposition to rape? Well, the idea is that the word "rape" gets attached to things that are not rape (e.g., in phrases like "rape culture", "rape apologist", etc.) and then those things can get smacked down almost as if they were actual rape, even if they don't remotely deserve it.
EphemeralNight and Old_Gold's posts seem to have jumped up in votes massively in the last 1-2 days when they were both in the negative iirc.
Old_Gold seems to be Eugine. (My subjective probability is about 70% at this moment.) EphemeralNight behaves quite differently. If I had to guess, I'd guess that Eugine used his sockpuppets to upvote him.
This is a behaviour I have often observed on the scores of comments from Eugine_Nier/Azathoth123/VoiceOfRa/The_Lion. (And, I think, more generally on the scores of "neo-reactionary-friendly" comments[1].) It's tempting to attribute this to Eugine's socks, but it could also be that there are a few people of a particular political persuasion who happen to read LW only every few days, and happen to do so in sync. It might perhaps be worth noting that Lumifer called out Old_Gold as Eugine redivivus practically as soon as he appeared. Make of that what you will. [1] I don't like this terminology; perhaps someone can suggest something better. I mean comments that say highly negative things about groups that traditionally have low status but that more recently one is supposed to be positive about and understanding of: those who are female, black, gay, poor, transgender, etc.
I suspect it's because infrequent old members like myself only check the site every couple of days. I didn't upvote because the fable was good; I upvoted because I felt the author was being unfairly penalized by the downvoting.
Doubtful. The differences are large, one-sided, and occurred in a cluster. They also don't match LW's general leanings for voters.
I've seen the votes fluctuate and some posts with odd points counts. The karma amounts do seem to be balancing out into what I would generally expect from LW users over time though. (The entire thread has slowly moved from -22 to -17 which seems odd.)
I can see a reference to rape in the second to last paragraph if I squint real hard and look at it through rape-colored glasses, but when I take the glasses off or stop squinting it simply doesn't look like rape anymore.
Many LWers are careful enough to notice when even the slightest signaling towards a hot button issue crops up. This is just a good idea as a form of basic social hygiene since people in other environments have very powerful reactions to even the slightest of comments made towards those topics and can easily put you into an Enemy category or become much less comfortable around you for the foreseeable future. Much of the annoyance at this thread was the fact that it included a signalling towards that at all since it's a substantial faux pas. This is especially true if the story was meant to have a different purpose as the writer later claimed.
This is a horrible thing to do from a rationality stand-point since it amounts to pre-mindkilling yourself.
IMHO the 'attempted rape' claim is far more interpretation than substance - an interpretation that is specious at best.
In my experience, people who are not the likely victims of a kind of danger are much less likely to spot the warning signs of that danger than those who are. Women spot potential-rape more frequently, the same way that soldiers that have been stationed in the middle east are more likely to spot potential IEDs - not every discarded thing on the road is an IED, and not every "man roughly handling a women" is a potential rape... but some are... and some women have gotten better at spotting the latter due to either being trained to do so, or having had the experience themselves... In other words... just because many people didn't see it for a potential-rape... doesn't mean it can't easily be interpreted as pattern-matching on exactly that kind of situation. To some extent, it doesn't even matter that it was not the original intent of the author to represent rape. It was close enough that it was a plausible interpretation (specious or no) for those who know what to look for. I expect the author has learned something about how people can interpret things even when they are unintended... Interestingly, and vaguely related, there's an ongoing debate about the Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes series: apparently many women interpret the relationship between Holmes and Watson as containing a lot of sexual tension... and a lot of men (and the writer(s)) think that idea is rubbish.... it all has to do with how close they stand to each other, and the way they are portrayed to gaze at each other.
I'll admit that I'd missed that part when I first read the post, I only noticed it after I went through the comments section While almost everyone who commented interpreted it that way, I think it's also worth pointing out that at least one person in the comments thread missed the metaphor completely.
The firefighters should just put out the fire.

Why isn't there another forest that traps girls?

Why aren't there some people immune to falling branches?

Why can't some boys be freed by boys?

But more generally, why bend over backwards to invent some convoluted justification for rape?

The individual who wrote this is calling for help, I'll observe. I don't have much in the way of charitability in me, and little patience for helping people, but I can't help but notice that where someone else would get sympathy (physically disabled people certainly get at least some measure of sympathy for this very complaint), this person belongs to a class of people who get nothing but scorn and derision instead.
Why would you interpret it this way, when there are more charitable and better fitting interpretations? Not everything has to be about gender.
It's a fable about sexual politics. Gender is inescapable to the discussion.
When I reverse the genders, or make the branch lifters those with blonde hair, the story still works. I disagree with your statement.
If any of those other scenarios were applicable, the fable wouldn't have been written in the first place.
The story would be improved by making it about hair color, actually.

Utterly absurd allegory--there's no actual parallel. Obviously a lot of involuntarily celibate people are unhappy, but prostitution does nothing to cure this. Their problem isn't lack of sexual release--they can always masturbate. The source of their unhappiness is the lack of emotional intimacy and requited love, which prostitution can't solve--it's just assisted masturbation.

Don't push this all on the girls! Any boy could dress up as a girl convincingly enough to fool the magic and lift the branch himself. The only reason they did not was because they would take a similar status hit as the girls would for giving away their magic for free.

(More practical advice from an unwillingly celibate lesbian who is as disgusted with the idea of getting touched by dudes as you: learn to masturbate, and/or seek ways to relieve or avoid other types of stress that exacerbate the problem.)

I mean, charitably speaking, I imagine that the second-to-last paragraph could easily have been an argument from consequences, rather than rape apology.

The parable doesn't really characterize the boy as right, rather as desperate. I don't think that it's unreasonable to make an argument that some rapists are desperate for sex, nor that if fewer men were desperate for sex, there'd be less rape. Not saying it's true necessarily, but that it's at least arguable. That doesn't mean women should be forced into sex, of course, but it could still be true at the... (read more)

I quite understand the point author is making or a feeling that he has, which could be described by this one sentence: It is so easy for women to give sex and so important for men to get sex, that for women not to give it to men is just plain cruel. Everything is OK with this reasoning except one thing - assumption that it is easy for women to give sex. It is actually hard. Now this might not be obvious or intuitive from a man point of view, but you can get to this conclusion if you consider evolution. When evolution took place, to have sex with a man for... (read more)

Well, that wraps it up. This post, and some of the asinine comments to it, have persuaded me that I have no further use for this site.

Richard, I don't think Less Wrong can survive losing both Ilya and you in the same week. I hope both of you reconsider. Either way, we definitely need to see this as a wake-up call. This forum has been in decline for a while, but this week I definitely think it hit a breaking point.

Interesting. The cynics are jumping ship.

But no. If Richard leaves because a heavily-downvoted article and the comments trying to direct its author to think a little bit deeper offends his sensibilities, that of course is his choice, but it says little about the forum as a whole. Like Ilya, I don't overly mind him, but he's also not a critical piece of the infrastructure; they both did little constructive work, and the forum is oversaturated with people willing to tell low-status members what they're doing wrong anyways, with nobody saying what they're doing right.

I've got some sympathy for not wanting to be in a social environment when you're disgusted by the low end. I still like SSC on the whole, but it's drifting far enough right that it's not as much fun for me as it used to be.

People who are inclined to be disgusted by the "low end" might do well to remember there are people watching them from further ahead still, as they berate their "lessers" for not being so advanced as themselves. You look forward, to those who are where you aspire to be - do you want them telling you how disgusting and backwards you are? Will being shoved backwards help you forwards?

No community will survive the impulse to spit on those still climbing up in lieu of a helping hand.


(1) The last two paragraphs need to be changed immediately. Currently, it puts rape in a sympathic perspective. If you don't change it, I think moderators should delete this post.

(2) If we ignore the last paragraphs, the parable is not badly written and matches the lived experience of many members of this community. It is a message that needs to be heard.

(3) That said, Less Wrong is not the right forum for this content. It is important to have a general purpose rationality forum, and it cannot survive association with perspectives that are this taboo and... (read more)

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I was expecting an ending where the devil comes into town and sells him a magical crimson pill for the low low cost of his soul. The boy gains demonic powers and gets the burning branch off but commits enough devilry in the process that the cultural norms have been violated even further than before and everyone is left unhappy and unsatisfied with the situation.

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Thanks for the fable. It was a nice reading!

I tried to pattern-match the metaphor against many things; I failed. Could you please provide the key to the metaphor, as I sense there's hidden meaning underneath this story?

I don't want to guess a false meaning.

It's clearly about credit card debt

The burning is the unsatisfied desire for sex, and lifting the branch is offering sex. At the end of the story, the boy goes to prison for attempted rape. I presume you were joking in saying that you did not recognize this, or that you simply intended to say that you consider it a bad analogy.

In any case, I agree that such an analogy is pointless, and that is why I downvoted the post.

Thanks ! I wasn't joking. Now that I read the whole thing once again, the metaphor should have been perfectly obvious, but I guess I wasn't in the right state of mind yesterday. Well, now I understand, I wish there hadn't be any metaphor. Here it conceals the point rather than offering a new perspective on it.
or dating or romance or finding love and companionship at all while being heterosexual or having children (a very big goal for a lot of people that demands a partner and often a lifelong one) or if we switch the genders for a moment it could be represent women asking men out on dates, women making marriage proposals, or women finding solid companionship (look up Japanese Host Clubs for a perspective on this last one) heck, it could even be a person attempting to get a job with the boy being an under-credentialed applicant and the girls being business owners! (in places like Nigeria, you pretty much can never get any job without bribing someone first. source: Nigerian former coworker) Yes, it's probably about sex, but I think we can steelalien it further and to better things. It pattern matches to a lot of things in my mind and explains a type of cultural failing that occurs in different cultures from time to time. People have lots of different needs that a culture can make very difficult to obtain. It also clearly points out that no one person is acting particularly in the wrong for most of the story (exception obviously being the boy at the end) and the antagonist in the story is the setup of the culture itself. If the culture itself is a problem and making it that hard for a person within it to get their basic needs met then the person has a fairly strong justification for moving to a different culture rather than defecting from their own and bringing harm to others.
Here's a hint. The magical forest is in Canada... or perhaps the UK, or France. The foreigner who agreed to free the boy was visiting from a village in the U.S., where the village chiefs were just starting to decry the high amounts of gold that were being traded for such heroic deeds...

OP Upvoted.

It's been stated elsewhere that a long standing member of the LW community was leaving because of this post. Well, to counterbalance that, I'm also strongly considering leaving LW, but it's not because of the OP. It's because of these comment threads.

In particular, the comments have shown me just how far the LW community has fallen. I'd really rather not be around people who both get offended so easily and are so willing to mindkill themselves should the slightest opportunity present itself. FYI, the OP isn't about you. It's not about your ... (read more)

The overwhelming majority of comments in this thread have little to do with the topic and are meta-discussions that people have strong opinions about. These have almost nothing to do with identity, their pet projects, or what they personally stand for. Discussions like these cropping up in an unfavorable thread aren't surprising to me at all and are fairly standard non-political topics for strong disagreement on a forum. The consensus opinion on the thread seems to in fact be that it wasn't well written, doesn't necessarily accomplish its purpose, was overbearing, and should be downvoted as not really relevant to LW.

For anyone just coming into the mix, the main comment threads are:

The upvotes/downvotes in the thread, Eugine, and keeping around annonymous public accounts

The role of having threads that people strongly disagree with continue to exist on LW rather than be deleted

Vote manipulation going on.

How the thread doesn't really belong here

Moderator actions and the overall role of moderation on LW (which makes up over 37% of the thread's comments).

Who is banworthy

The overall harmfulness of the article and arguments back and forth about it

Posts like this driving peo... (read more)

the OP isn't about you [...] You're just not that important.

None of the criticism of the OP, however intemperate, looks to me as if it's based in the idea that "the OP is about you"; quite the opposite. The basis of the criticism is that (e.g.) the OP is about women, or the OP is about rape, or the OP is about sex. I don't think you can say "just not that important" about those.

Of course not. My point was that people are taking it personally, are taking it as a personal attack on something they identify with. But the reality is that it's not about them.

What makes you think they're taking it personally? Is it just the fact that they're taking it seriously and getting cross about it? (It seems to me that one can perfectly well get cross about something without taking it personally.) Or is there something else?

to which you have successfully contributed by writing this comment.
Five years ago, we weren't just coming down from a spree of witch-hunts in which online mobs destroy people's lives for being insufficiently politically correct. I suspect lots of "be on the look out for anything that looks sexist" conditioning still hasn't worn off. But I might be mind-projecting. Actually, it seems worth a poll. did/did not take it as something close to rape apologia, are/are not worried about doxing or other such harassment campaigns? [pollid:1126]
The great majority of the comments so interpreting it were written before the author made any statement about his goals.

What's missing from the fable is the idea that sex also has costs and risks for women, not to mention that women have preferences which are as important to them as sexual preferences are for men. The last bit isn't all that's wrong with the post.

This is the moderator speaking-- I want an answer for how you could think it was reasonable to leave out female preferences.

At the same time, there are real problems with the way that men who are bad at attracting women are treated. Not all of those problems come from feminism.

I agree with others that this is not an appropriate use of moderator demands.

This is the moderator speaking-- I want an answer for how you could think it was reasonable to leave out female preferences.

I find this request to have worse implications than the post itself, because if this request is serious, it destroys discourse. Normally when discussing a topic, one must leave things out. Requiring people to justify leaving things out amounts to "every person is banworthy".

Everyone is "banworthy", in the sense that the moderators have the power to ban anyone for any reason and so far as I know there are no defined limits on their actions.

This particular post

  • is in no way actually on topic for LW
  • appears to have been the last straw in leading one long-standing contributor to give up on LW
  • fits right into an anti-LW narrative that's already not so uncommon ("LW has become a sinkhole of racists and sexists and fascists, because the site's supposedly rational norms give no way to make them unwelcome but they make everyone else feel unwelcome")
  • seems at the end to be trying to imply that it's unjust for rapists to be punished, if they feel frustrated and upset and the person they rape wasn't very nice to them

and I think some kind of moderator action in response is eminently reasonable. Personally I'd have gone for "This article is not suitable for LW because [...]; I will wait two days so that anyone who wants to preserve what they've written can take a copy, and then delete it; further attempts at posting this sort of thing may result in a ban".

(I think Nancy was right to ask "what about women's preferences?" and right to apply a bit of moderatorial intimidation, but I don't think the two should have gone together.)

Your reasons amount entirely to "The hecklers want to veto this" and "I don't like this content". We've had worse than this before.

I'm not serious very often, particularly here, but I am entirely serious when I say this: If you think the prohibitions on political discourse exist to prevent this content, you do not understand the prohibitions on political discourse; they exist to prevent these responses.

That is plainly untrue. The second and third things I said about this post kinda-sorta pattern-match to "the hecklers want to veto this" ... provided you take care not to look too carefully. (One person found it the last straw and is leaving. Does that mean he "wants to veto" it? No, it means he's gone. It fits into an anti-LW narrative that encourages people to stay away. Does that mean the people saying mean things about LW "want to veto" it? No; actually, they're probably glad it's there because it gives them another stick to beat LW with.) The first and fourth kinda-sorta pattern-match to "gjm doesn't like this content", but again only if you take care not to look carefully. I gave specific reasons why I think it's bad, and it is to those rather than to the fact that I don't like this post that I appealed. Would you collapse all criticism into "X doesn't like this content"? If so, then classifying a particular bit of criticism that way conveys zero information. If not, why does what I wrote deserve to be so collapsed? So what? I didn't say anything about "the prohibitions on political discourse". In particular, when I say this is in no way on topic for LW, I don't mean "... because of the prohibitions on political discourse". I mean it's simply not on topic here. It isn't about rationality (the notional main subject here), nor is it a discussion topic particularly suited to "refining the art of human rationality" (as the LW header has it). It isn't about AI (the main focus of the people who pay for LW). It isn't, to judge from all the downvotes, something LW users as a whole want to discuss here.
I'm going to be ruder than I usually am, and tell you that you only have one true argument here: That this is harmful to Less Wrong. Your perception, which you fairly plainly state, is that this is harmful to your identity group. Should I link you to the appropriate material about identity and mindkilling? Should I note the irony in the situation? This is not Orphan amusing himself. This is Orphan telling you that this path will lead to ruin. Less Wrong will survive a user's unpopular opinion if it deserves to survive at all, but it certainly will not survive a precedent of content-based mindkilled moderation. This is not your Final Exam in rationality; there are no final exams in rationality in the real world. But this is -an- exam. Rationalize your prechosen answer or humor your teachers' passwords at your peril.
Almost any argument that something should be subject to moderatorial action on Less Wrong can be summarized that way. Even so, you have managed to be incorrect: it is not harmful only to Less Wrong. In the (admittedly not very likely) event that some reader is inspired by it to think as the author seems to, that will be harmful to them (because it will mess up their relations with women) and potentially to any women they may encounter (for the same reason). And while that hypothetical reader can ipso facto be considered part of "Less Wrong", those women can't. You just made that up. (I'm not even sure what my "identity group" even is; I can't think of any plausible candidate for which what you say applies.) I certainly haven't "fairly plainly" stated what you claim I have. How about content-based non-mindkilled moderation? Do you consider that no one could have a serious problem with this material other than by being mindkilled?

In the (admittedly not very likely) event that some reader is inspired by it to think as the author seems to, that will be harmful to them

Is that reductio ad absurdum applied to basilisks..? X-D

Constructing a memetically safe space is... dangerous.

Sure. It's just as well no one is proposing to do that. The situation here is as follows. The OP is really bad, for several different reasons. Nancy made a comment that rather vaguely suggested that she might invoke her moderatorial powers somehow if the author didn't justify some of what he wrote. But now you're pointing to one of the things I say is bad about the OP and saying "it would be bad to ban people for just this". Yup, it would, but no one was suggesting that.
Actually, no. I'm pointing to one of the thing you say is bad about OP and saying "You're being ridiculous. Stop digging."
If you can't keep from commenting on things that are immaterial to the matter at hand in your arguments, you can't complain when other people assume that the things you comment on are material to the matter at hand to you, and treat your arguments as such.
Fortunately, I am not complaining about that.
Your argument proves too much. That would require the participants be not-mindkilled, which you clearly are, since you think moderating bad literature is a good idea. I find it badly written, but that's not a moderation-worthy offense. It presents no serious argument and poses no threat of inspiration. It's about as noteworthy as the average teenage goths' poetry describing what dying would feel like, and cringeworthy for about the same reasons. I'm forcing this conversation into two positions, in case you haven't noticed: Either you concede it's terrible but harmless and not -worth- moderating, or you now argue that it's actually dangerous.
Do please go ahead and show what it proves that shouldn't be proved. I do wish you'd stop saying false things about what I think. You seem very fond of boasting of how you're manipulating this and forcing that and dark-artsing the other. I feel about this roughly the way you feel about Gleb T's writing. Nope. What I actually say is: (1) it's probably harmless, but that doesn't suffice to make it not worth moderating, and (2) there is a small but nonzero chance that someone takes it more seriously than it deserves and ends up harmed by it. (Unless you are adopting a very broad definition of "harm" according to which, e.g., something that is merely boring and unpleasant and irrelevant is "harmful" because it wastes people's time and attention. In that case, I would argue that the OP is harmful. Of course that's not the same as "dangerous" and yes, I did notice that you opposed "harmless" to "dangerous" as if the two were one another's negations.) On #1: well-kept gardens die by pacifism and while Eliezer is there arguing mostly for energetic downvoting of bad material, I suggest that the same arguments can justify moderator action too. If someone is contributing a lot of low-quality material and nothing valuable, maybe it's OK to ban them. If something posted is low-quality and irrelevant and liable to bring Less Wrong into disrepute, maybe it's OK to delete it. If someone is persistently obnoxious, maybe it's OK to ban them. None of this requires that the thing being sanctioned be dangerous. On #2: people can be inspired by the unlikeliest things. (I went to a rather good concert once where one of the better pieces of music was a setting of what may be the worst poem I have ever read, firmly in teenage goth territory.)
If I were going to boast, it would be about how you changed your mind on multiple things simultaneously to avoid the obvious feint - and apparently didn't notice. Your arguments at this point are so weak as to fall apart at the touch; "probably harmless" and "small but nonzero chance of harm" are such a weak standard of evidence for moderation that nothing would be permitted to be discussed here. It would be much harder to prove your prior version proved too much - but you did the work for me. But go on and keep thinking that what I'm doing is boasting.
You are, not for the first time in this thread, arguing against things I have not said.
I didn't argue at all there. I pointed out that your position changed in anticipation of an objection you expected me to raise, to forestall the objection from having merit. The argument, you see, is already over. You played your part, I played mine, and the audience is looking for a new show, the conclusion for this one already having played out in the background.
You got me there!
That's similar to saying that cops have the power to shoot anyone for any reason. There's some truth in it, in one sense, but in another sense, it's quite untrue.
Jiro's argument is, in effect, that if the moderators can threaten to ban someone if they don't justify the holes in their analogies then they can threaten to ban anyone. That's true, but no truer than the fact that they can (in any case) threaten to ban anyone. In either case, the scenario to worry about is unreasonable moderators; and if we have unreasonable moderators they can threaten to ban, or ban, as they please even without this precedent. (I should maybe remark that Nancy didn't in fact threaten to ban anyone; she didn't make any specific threat. I'm not sure that actually makes anything better, but this discussion is developing somewhat as if she'd said in so many words "answer or I ban you", which she didn't say.)

The issue isn't whether a threat to ban was made explicitly or not (the only moderator powers are to ban and to delete posts, as far as I know, therefore "I ask as a moderator" implies "I have a gun in my hand, give me a reason to not use it"). The issue is whether moderators are in charge of policing posts and comments on the basis of "does it offend my sensitivities".

The EphemeralNight's post was compared, justifiably in my opinion, to bad adolescent goth poetry. Do you think that "I want an answer for how you could think it was reasonable to leave out female preferences" is, in any way, an adequate response to bad goth poetry?

It could also be "I have a gun: you might want to consider keeping on the right side of me lest I use it later". As you can see from (e.g.) Richard Kennaway's comment, the votes on Nancy's question, etc., it is by no means only Nancy's sensitivities that are at issue here. Whether something is as badly written as bad goth poetry is an entirely separate question from whether it should be judged as if it is bad goth poetry.
Your list of reasons seem to me to be the very reason we have karma. Why does this post deserve moderation in a system where karma sends the message about the community's desire for more of the same?
I'm not certain whether it does. The obvious disadvantages of moderator action are (1) effort and (2) heavy-handedness (real or perceived). The advantages of moderator action are (3) to make it more explicit that this sort of stuff is not wanted around here and (4) to get rid of it more thoroughly so that, e.g., people are less likely to stumble across it in search engine results and there's no danger that future trolls with sockpuppet armies will vote it up out of spite[1]. I'm not sure how those weigh up against one another, and indeed it's not hard to cook up arguments that #2 is actually a good thing ("sending a message") or that #4 is actually a bad thing (all else being equal, destroying even low-quality information is sad). But on the whole I think #3 and #4 are advantages, which is why moderator action is at least worth considering. [1] This isn't as crazy a scenario as it sounds. There is at least one LW user strongly suspected of using sockpuppets for upvoting, generally hostile to Nancy, unsympathetic to (let's say) "women's causes", and known to be untroubled by scruples about what's considered acceptable behaviour on LW...
Fair enough. I don't follow the personalities here, so the situations where someone engages in sock-puppetry would totally escape my notice. My priors incline me to preferring good speech as the remedy for bad speech.
And those are legitimate reasons to ban him. And none of them are "we require that posts don't leave out how the humans feel, and if you do leave that out you should get banned". I agree that we should ban him. I'm just saying we need to be careful about what justification we give for banning him. Do you have any idea how much is covered by the requirement "you can't ignore humans in your posts", or can be spun as covered by it? "In your torture versus dust specks example, tell me why we should ignore the feelings of the person actually suffering the torture. You can't just dispassionately compare them and ignore that you're saying a human being should suffer". "What? You oppose the minimum wage? Tell me why you left out anything about the poor person who starves to death because of your policy."
I agree. See the last sentence of what I wrote. Yes. It would be bad if it became the norm that any time anyone makes an analogy that doesn't match the thing it points at in every detail, or made an argument that failed to consider the preferences and feelings of some people, the moderators of LW demanded that they justify themselves. We should not have that norm, and I have not (so far as I can tell) suggested that there should be one. Precisely because of the unusual badness of the thing Nancy was responding to (and, perhaps unlike you, I think that does have a lot to do with its apparent indifference to women's feelings), I don't think there's any way to get from "a moderator challenges EphemeralNight on these grounds here" to "moderators issue similar challenges to everyone who posts anything that can be claimed to neglect anyone's feelings". Incidentally, I think the challenges you mention in your second paragraph are (without the element of moderatorial intimidation) reasonable challenges. The answers might be, respectively, "We absolutely shouldn't ignore the feelings of the person suffering the torture; they are a very big deal. But we also shouldn't ignore the feelings of the people suffering the dust specks, which are indeed small in isolation but add up to a lot because of the unthinkably colossal number of people involved." and "I didn't intend to leave out anything about the poor person who starves to death because their pay is too low; I just say that we should also consider the poor people starving to death because they have no pay at all as a result of the minimum wage.". (I do not necessarily endorse TORTURE over SPECKS or disapprove of a minimum wage; the point is that you can do so without ignoring anyone's feelings, and that if you were ignoring anyone's feelings then that would be a strike against your position.)
This post is of a quality that it harms the community by driving valuable people away. As such I think it does make sense to ask the author to justify his choices. If we want a LW 2.0 where the people who left LW come back I don't think that's compatible with allowing posts like this.

That's what the downvote system is for, and it is working perfectly fine. Moderation is for abusive behaviors.

As for Richard, if he's going to be offended that a heavily-downvoted post exists, well, good riddance. You want a good culture, it doesn't start by putting the Heckler's Veto on a shrine and worshipping it.

I don't think Richard is the only one driven away by posts like this. In general people who are willing to have their public identities linked to this website are more likely driven away because they don't want to be associated with that kind of content. It furthermore produces a climate unwelcoming to women.
After a certain point, no one wants to be associated with all the content + comments occurring and everyone generally feels unwelcome and judged. This is the worst case scenario for a discussion and a very strong reason to not have political discourse here.
Not allowing posts which don't pass some arbitrary threshold that smells of social justice will drive more people away.
I think it's one thing to allow every position to be argued. It's another thing to allow any position to be proposed with a story while the author tries to escape arguing for it. NancyLebovitz requests here that the author argues for the position he takes.
I haven't noticed any attempts to escape. I would like to suggest they are products of your imagination.
He escaped into the medium of a parable.
/rolls eyes So, parables are now non grata on LW? Perhaps you'd like to revise the Sequences and take all parables out of it, too?
I think the plural is non gratae. (SCNR.)
Yes, but if you want to get that technical, the correct form depends on the gender of the latin word for "parable". The two options are parabola (which has the "parable" meaning only in late Latin, I think) and fabula ( == fable, e.g. Aesop's). Luckily, both are feminine so non gratae is correct. Although you can make an argument that the English word "parables" has the neuter gender and so it still should be non grata :-)
I was thinking of feminine parabola, but... :-)
That's not what I said. I think that when it comes to emotionally charged topics it's important to focus on on explicit discussing of arguments. Post shouldn't be banned because just because they spread a certain opinion or just because they use a certain style but posts that do voice problematic opinions in a non-fact based style shouldn't be here.

posts that do voice problematic opinions in a non-fact based style shouldn't be here.

How about you start with Three Worlds Collide, then?

Remind me, why do you think you're entitled to answers? And what makes your perspective on what's included in a piece of fiction and what is not anything special? If we are going into the "some animals are more equal than others" direction, this will end badly and soon.
OK, trying to be fair to the original poster, since it appears that he doesn't plan on responding directly in public. Please take this in the nature of "even the devil deserves an advocate" and an exercise in resisting the fundamental attribution error. It's also informed by the thought that the implication that someone is actually advocating rape is an exception claim, so must be supported by exception evidence. And it's informed by a cussed refusal to be mind-killed. Take a look at the quantity of words. About half of the piece happens before the foreign girls show up. That seems to be a metaphor for people who can't get sex through the types of relationships that the median person has. The second half is almost entirely given over to the foreign girls arriving, trafficking in branch-lifting, and getting prohibited from the community, with the result that the protagonist is vilified. That seems to be a metaphor for prostitution, its illegalization, and the effects on someone found to be buying the services of a prostitute. Then we get one awful sentence. I'm not justifying it if it means what others have read it to mean, and I'll come back to it at the end. If by leaving out female preferences, you are referring to just that one sentence, I tend to agree with you that the one sentence is reprehensible if intended. But I don't think that criticism is fair for any of the rest. The first half of the piece is showing the effect of preferences (female in context, but not gendered by necessity). When you make a point, it doesn't have to be perfectly balanced, especially if your goal is to draw attention to some aspect that you believe has had has had insufficient attention. The second half of the piece actually respects some female preferences. Specifically, it respects the preferences of those who prefer to be sex workers. It points out one of the negative effects of oppressing those preferences (by ejecting the foreign girls). Again, it isn't balanced, but I don't