Can the Chain Still Hold You?

by lukeprog3 min read13th Jan 2012360 comments

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Robert Sapolsky:

Baboons... literally have been the textbook example of a highly aggressive, male-dominated, hierarchical society. Because these animals hunt, because they live in these aggressive troupes on the Savannah... they have a constant baseline level of aggression which inevitably spills over into their social lives.

Scientists have never observed a baboon troupe that wasn't highly aggressive, and they have compelling reasons to think this is simply baboon nature, written into their genes. Inescapable.

Or at least, that was true until the 1980s, when Kenya experienced a tourism boom.

Sapolsky was a grad student, studying his first baboon troupe. A new tourist lodge was built at the edge of the forest where his baboons lived. The owners of the lodge dug a hole behind the lodge and dumped their trash there every morning, after which the males of several baboon troupes — including Sapolsky's — would fight over this pungent bounty.

Before too long, someone noticed the baboons didn't look too good. It turned out they had eaten some infected meat and developed tuberculosis, which kills baboons in weeks. Their hands rotted away, so they hobbled around on their elbows. Half the males in Sapolsky's troupe died.

This had a surprising effect. There was now almost no violence in the troupe. Males often reciprocated when females groomed them, and males even groomed other males. To a baboonologist, this was like watching Mike Tyson suddenly stop swinging in a heavyweight fight to start nuzzling Evander Holyfield. It never happened.

This was interesting, but Sapolsky moved to the other side of the park and began studying other baboons. His first troupe was "scientifically ruined" by such a non-natural event. But really, he was just heartbroken. He never visited.

Six years later, Sapolsky wanted to show his girlfriend where he had studied his first troupe, and found that they were still there, and still surprisingly violence-free. This one troupe had apparently been so transformed by their unusual experience — and the continued availability of easy food — that they were now basically non-violent.

And then it hit him.

Only one of the males now in the troupe had been through the event. All the rest were new, and hadn't been raised in the tribe. The new males had come from the violent, dog-eat-dog world of normal baboon-land. But instead of coming into the new troupe and roughing everybody up as they always did, the new males had learned, "We don't do stuff like that here." They had unlearned their childhood culture and adapted to the new norms of the first baboon pacifists.

As it turned out, violence wasn't an unchanging part of baboon nature. In fact it changed rather quickly, when the right causal factor flipped, and — for this troupe and the new males coming in — it has stayed changed to this day.

Somehow, the violence had been largely circumstantial. It was just that the circumstances had always been the same.

Until they weren't.

We still don't know how much baboon violence to attribute to nature vs. nurture, or exactly how this change happened. But it's worth noting that changes like this can and do happen pretty often.

Slavery was ubiquitous for millennia. Until it was outlawed in every country on Earth.

Humans had never left the Earth. Until we achieved the first manned orbit and the first manned moon landing in a single decade.

Smallpox occasionally decimated human populations for thousands of years. Until it was eradicated.

The human species was always too weak to render itself extinct. Until we discovered the nuclear chain reaction and manufactured thousands of atomic bombs.

Religion had a grip on 99.5% or more of humanity until 1900, and then the rate of religious adherence plummeted to 85% by the end of the century. Whole nations became mostly atheistic, largely because for the first time the state provided people some basic stability and security. (Some nations became atheistic because of atheistic dictators, others because they provided security and stability to their citizens.)

I would never have imagined I could have the kinds of conversations I now regularly have at the Singularity Institute, where people change their degrees of belief several times in a single conversation as new evidence and argument is presented, where everyone at the table knows and applies a broad and deep scientific understanding, where people disagree strongly and say harsh-sounding things (due to Crocker's rules) but end up coming to agreement after 10 minutes of argument and carry on as if this is friendship and business as usual — because it is.

But then, never before has humanity had the combined benefits of an overwhelming case for one correct probability theory, a systematic understanding of human biases and how they work, free access to most scientific knowledge, and a large community of people dedicated to the daily practice of CogSci-informed rationality exercises and to helping each other improve.

This is part of what gives me a sense that more is possible. Compared to situational effects, we tend to overestimate the effects of lasting dispositions on people's behavior — the fundamental attribution error. But I, for one, was only taught to watch out for this error in explaining the behavior of individual humans, even though the bias also appears when explaining the behavior of humans as a species. I suspect this is partly due to the common misunderstanding that heritability measures the degree to which a trait is due to genetic factors. Another reason may be that for obvious reasons scientists rarely try very hard to measure the effects of exposing human subjects to radically different environments like an artificial prison or total human isolation.

When taming a baby elephant, its trainer will chain one of its legs to a post. When the elephant tries to run away, the chain and the post are strong enough to keep it in place. But when the elephant grows up, it is strong enough to break the chain or uproot the post. Yet the owner can still secure the elephant with the same chain and post, because the elephant has been conditioned to believe it cannot break free. It feels the tug of the chain and gives up — a kind of learned helplessness. The elephant acts as if it thinks the chain's limiting power is intrinsic to nature rather than dependent on a causal factor that held for years but holds no longer.

Much has changed in the past few decades, and much will change in the coming years. Sometimes it's good to check if the chain can still hold you. Do not be tamed by the tug of history. Maybe with a few new tools and techniques you can just get up and walk away — to a place you've never seen before.

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It's inspiring to know that we really can create a better and more peaceful society, just by pursuing some simple ideals like killing fifty percent of males.

(I didn't fully understand that part. So the males who ate the infected meat didn't spread the TB to females? And when the male/female ratio changed, that shifted the social dynamics and made everyone more peaceful because there was less reason for status competition? Or because the next generation had only nonviolent female role models and so learned less violence?)

No. I have heard Sapolsky tell that story before, and unless I completely misunderstood it the point is not that killing males made them peaceful, but that the strongest and most aggressive males disappeared. Then the remaining baboons in the troop were females and submissive males, and any new arrivals were integrated in a baboon "society" that had been created by females and submissive males.

This is otherwise known as the Dexter Principle: if you're gonna kill 'em anyway, you may as well make the world better while you're at it.

8NancyLebovitz9yFaint memory-- I think the higher status males had more access to the tainted food.

As I've heard it explained, there was a lot of contention for the free food in the garbage pit. It was highly desirable, so the most agressive alpha males took it over, and jealously guarded it. So, the weaker males (and females and young) stayed behind.

So the true lesson of this post is that we should get rid of all the aggressive alpha males in our society. I guess I always found the idea obvious, but now that it has been validated, can we please start devising some plan for implementing it?

So the true lesson of this post is that we should get rid of all the aggressive alpha males in our society. I guess I always found the idea obvious, but now that it has been validated, can we please start devising some plan for implementing it?

Sod off! Overt aggression is a pleasant relief compared to the subtle, catty 'niceness' that the most competitive humans excel at. Only get rid of aggressive alpha males who act out violently (ie. those without sufficient restraint to abide by laws.)

6[anonymous]9yOr just use advanced technology to make it so that violence has no overly unpleasant or permanent consequences.
3Wrongnesslessness9yHmm... Doesn't this look like something an aggressive alpha male would say?.. Uh-oh!
7wedrifid9yIt's almost as though I responded to scheming to kill all people with the traits 'male' and 'aggressive' with benign aggression deliberately. For instance it could be that I would prefer to designate myself as part of the powerful group as opposed to the embittered group trying to scheme against them!
-2TheOtherDave9yIf we want to keep the aggressive alpha males who don't abide by the rules of subtle catty 'niceness,' why not also keep the aggressive alpha males who don't abide by 'laws'?
8wedrifid9yI don't understand the relevance here. Why on earth should keeping people who aren't bitchy Machiavellian moralizers mean you must also keep people who break the laws to do physical violence upon one another. That's a seriously bizarre reference class to try to enforce consistency within. In general I don't put much stock in moral, ethical or values based arguments of the form "If X then why not also Y. I say X is similar to Y!". Usually the appropriate response is "because I want X and I don't want Y - the fact that you identify one common feature between the two is meaningless to me". In this case however the "if then you must" barely makes sense at all!
0TheOtherDave9yThere are some things we collectively discourage one another from doing. Some of those, we discourage via laws. Call that set A. Some of those, we discourage via "the rules of subtle catty 'niceness'". Call that set B. (Of course, A and B are not disjoint.) For some of those discouraged things it turns out to be valuable, or at least desirable, to have some people around who do them anyway. Call that set C. It seemed to me you were suggesting that the intersection of B and C is non-empty (and therefore we should keep the people who ignore "the rules of subtle catty 'niceness'") but that the intersection of B and A is empty (and therefore we should get rid of people "without sufficient restraint to abide by law"). I find it pretty implausible that we've defined our laws in such a way that that's true, especially given how much variation there is in law from place to place. So I find it implausible that getting rid of the A-averse B-doers in each municipality is the optimal approach. I have no idea what the phrase "if then you must" is doing there.
1wedrifid9yFor what it is worth, I didn't. I didn't suggest anything about set B whatsoever. The closest relationship of that concept has is that the behavioral tendencies declared to be more undesirable than aggressive alphaness - the more sophisticated and hypocritical aggression - can sometimes superficially portray themselves as "set B enforcement". It means I would probably have rejected the game of "Moral Reference Class Tennis" even if this one wasn't non-sequitur. I reject nearly all of them.
3loup-vaillant9yYou might want to be extra-careful with your plan. Because, you know, power corrupts [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Note].
8Viliam_Bur9yI think some famous feminist recommended unspecified disappearing of 90% of males to make the world a better place, but right now I can't find the quote. However, from scientific point of view, this situation could be an inspiration for some interesting experiments. If you remove dominant males from one generation, how long does it take until the next generation creates new ones? (I would expect one or two at most.)

It's Mary Daly, Catholic theologian and radical feminist: http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j16/daly.asp?pf=1

0[anonymous]9yHow can you ... uhm ... be both?

Well, there's some evidence that having a ratio skewed in favor of males in a society increases violence. I don't know if you could make the contrary claim that one skewed in favor of females would actually decrease violence.

You'd have to distinguish between the relatively uncontroversial claim that unmarried males (who'll be more common with a pro-male sex ratio) are the most likely group to commit violence, versus the very speculative claim that even if all males have sufficient opportunity to marry off, more female presence will make them less violent - either because "female values" dominate the society, or because the less competition for "sufficiently good" mates they expect, the less competitive they will act.

4TheOtherDave9yIf I'm understanding you right, you are assuming that a ratio not skewed to favor males or females would result in no more unmarried males than a ratio skewed to favor females. Am I understanding you right? If so... that seems unlikely to me. Can you say more about why you expect it?
7Scott Alexander9yYou are of course right, although I stick to the general point that we have to distinguish an effect of fewer unmarried males from an effect that does not directly involve fewer unmarried males.
5Prismattic9yThis is a really bizarre desire for a feminist to express -- not saying it didn't happen, just that whatever feminist said it didn't think too far ahead [http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/02/revisiting-the-marriage-supermarket.html] .

I guess a feminist that imagines a perfect continent inhabited only by women, does not imagine it inhabited by heterosexual women.

All my information about this topic is second-hand, but it seems to me that a few feminists were promoting female homosexuality as a weapon against "patriarchy".

4MixedNuts9ySome were, and some were promoting something they called "lesbianism" but that didn't involve any actual sex. More like an asexual society that encouraged sort-of-romantic relationships between women.
-6HungryTurtle9y
4TimS9yEither my model is wrong or this story is false. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/if/your_strength_as_a_rationalist/] Specifically, I doubt an famous feminist's considered opinion was that the world would be better if a substantial number of people "unspecified disappeared." Cocktail party quips do not count.

Read the reference Ozy gave.

WIE: Sally Miller Gearhart, in her article "The Future—If There Is One—Is Female" writes: "[...] The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately ten percent of the human race." What do you think about this statement?

MD: I think it's not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore.

Admittedly, this can be interpreted as sex selection of gametes and embryos, not disappearance of currently living people.

Your model of feminism is probably wrong. Feminists are varied and complicated. Some parts of feminism are completely rotten and people in them claim that all porn is rape, that rape of men doesn't matter, that no woman enjoys blowjobs. In particular, Mary Daly said some awful things about trans people, and refused male students in her classes.

Wowzers! Daly is so essentialist (i.e. thinks women all inherently have certain mental characteristics). I'm not surprised that someone held her positions so much as I am surprised that she's considered an (recent) influential feminist. I thought that all (contemporary?) feminism was just applied post-modernist (i.e. noticing that gender roles are historically contingent). But that's clearly inconsistent with Daly. Model updated.


That said, I suspect I'm a lot more sympathetic to many of the arguments than you are. I don't think I need to reject Andrea Dworkin in order to reject the essentialism of Daly. That said, I hope that Dworkin hasn't said that the gender of the rape victim matters, because it shouldn't matter. (She essentially agrees with your other examples, I think).

4Oligopsony8y(Academic) feminist theory has gotten much more postmodern (perhaps more specifically poststructural) over the past three decades, but constructionism isn't the major axis of differentiation. When difference feminists were important they tended to be a bit more post-y than the dominance theorist, who were very often as modernist as the day is long.
0TimS8yThanks. My recent experience is that my philosophical reach often exceeds my philosophy terminology grasp. I know what I think - and people have told me that it's a "deconstructivist" position. But I definitely don't know the ins and outs of particular schools of thought - I had a discussion recently with a third-wave feminist who argued that rejecting intersectionality [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality] was an essential element of being second wave feminist. I don't doubt that many second-wavers implicitly (or explicitly) rejected intersectionality - and I think intersectionality is an important structure in the correct theoretical framework. But I'm not familiar enough with the schools of thought to know whether second-wave is inherently inconsistent with intersectionality. In short, are there accessible references that lay out the central positions of the various schools of thought - at a more nuanced and detailed level than wikipedia? The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is at the right level, but doesn't seem to be directed at the topics I'm referring to here.
3Oligopsony8yAs with most things, my experience is that specialist encyclopedias are your best bet for knowledge per effort. There's nothing as high-quality and legally accessible as the SEP, but the standard other places should have you covered. Depending on the level of detail you're looking for, Cambridge Companions, Oxford Handbooks, and Very Short Guides tend to be pretty accurate and accessible. (As for intersectionality I have yet to see a definition which isn't either trivial or theoretically problematic. Which isn't to say that realizing and incorporating the trivial form is itself trivial, but I don't think either version would really hold up as a necessary or sufficient condition for differentiating waves. Waves are noticed based on broad shifts in theory and are thus necessarily fuzzy. But this is just IMO.)
3thomblake9yI can't find a cite but I'm sure someone in that school of thought has made that claim explicitly ("Men can't be raped"). That said, Dworkin and others have indicated that all penetrative sex is rape, specifically of the sort that a male perpetrates upon a female, so that would suggest that it could not happen the other way 'round.
8MixedNuts9yMeghan Murphy has written a blog post [http://www.feminisms.org/386/can-a-man-be-raped-by-a-woman/] entitled "Can women rape men? I'm not sure I care.", though she later retracted it. I don't think anyone has explicitly said "penetrative sex is rape"; they do use phrases like "inherently degrading and violent", but I've only ever heard opponents rephrase it as such.
4thomblake9yYes, I think the furthest Dworkin has gone is saying that a) penetrative sex is inherently violent, b) sex that is not initiated by "the woman" is never consensual, and c) men's pleasure is necessarily linked to victimizing, hurting, and exploiting.
9Bugmaster9yIs this a generally accepted notion in feminism, or does it represent a fringe view ? The reason I ask is because this sounds exactly like something a Straw Feminist [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StrawFeminist] might say...
9Viliam_Bur9yWhat algorithm do you use to tell the difference between a feminist and a straw feminist? According to this algorithm, are Mary Daly and Andrea Dworkin straw feminists? It seems to me that any feminist suddenly becomes a straw feminist when an offensive or clearly irrational quote made by them is presented in a discussion about feminism.

I think a straw feminist is meant to be a character (a fictional character, or a persona played by a troll, or an imaginary opponent), not a person sincerely expressing their position. So Daly and Dworkin weren't (or kept up the charade for quite a long time). Straw feminists say stupid and offensive things to make actual feminists look bad. Bugmaster meant that the quote sounds more like something someone would attribute to a feminist in order to make feminism look bad, than like something a feminist would say.

But there are in fact fringe feminists who are indistinguishable from their parodies.

3wedrifid9yI don't have a complete algorithm handy but I know that the first line includes the query "Does this person exist?" It would be (arguably) legitimate to make that redesignation if the character is a fictional feminist. Then determining whether it is a 'straw feminist character' or 'feminist character' would entail an evaluation of to what extent the beliefs or behaviors reflect that which is within the realms of 'feminist', also taking into account inferences about the author's motives in creating the character. (Then you just shut up and say it is 'straw' if that makes your side of the debate look better.)
2Oligopsony8yCould you provide evidence that Daly or Dworkin did assert such a thing? I've read quite a bit of Dworkin, nothing suggesting anything of the sort; I've read less Daly, and while I found all of it pretty silly I would be surprised if that was among them. The "all sex is rape" claim is most often attributed to Dworkin or MacKinnon, which makes me strongly suspect that while surely someone somewhere has believed it, prominent radical theorists were not among them.
5Viliam_Bur8yIn another comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/5nza] in this thread there is a link [http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j16/daly.asp?pf=1] to Daly saying, in an interview: A short look at wikiquotes of Dworkin [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Andrea_Dworkin] gives this: So assuming these are the best quotes to be found (I did not try too hard), it would be more precise and fair to say that Daly enjoyed the thought that 90% of men would be "decontaminated" by "an evolutionary process"; and Dworkin said that every man (under patriarchy, which means anything) is a "rapist or exploiter". None of this really makes any of them a sick person, does it? I mean, if I said that "if life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth; a natural process resulting in drastic reduction of the females" and "under feminism, every women is a rapist or exploiter of another man", those would also be perfectly OK, politically correct, inoffensive, and uncontroversial statements, ready to get me to the textbooks as a defender of equality and everything good. (Just joking, those are not my opinions.)
6Oligopsony8yWell, you won't find me defending Daly; everything I've read of her suggests she's a nut. As you yourself note the passage doesn't directly imply the sex=rape thesis, and there's always context etc. (Dworkin for instance has some quotes describing sex as conceived by what she considers patriarchal ideology that have been taken out of context) but it also doesn't seem like a perverse interpretation. Ah, but surely as rationalists we must not let emotions cloud our judgments or subject truth to the inquisitorial glare of political correctness, if men universally evolved to be scum may we should want to believe that they did, human biodiversity between untermenschen and überfräuen ought be celebrated, &c.
2Viliam_Bur8yI don't have a problem to believe things like "most mass murderers are male", etc. (I just hope people around me are good enough at math to recognize that the statement is not equivalent to "most males are mass murderers".) Just give me evidence from a reliable source. Show me a sustainable utopia with 10% males (I would actually encourage feminists sympathetic to this idea to try it, but only with volunteers), give me reliable reports from independent sources, and I might be convinced. Until then, it is just a hypothesis in the idea-space, and I find other explanations more likely.
2Oligopsony8yMy last paragraph was, like yours, just joking and not my actual opinions. I'm a pretty strong constructionist on gender and also a dude, if that means anything.
0MugaSofer8yI'm having trouble telling which parts of this are ironic. I'm sure some of this must be ... I just can't tell what.
9Viliam_Bur8yNon-ironic: Daly and Dworkin said some repulsive things, and a non-mindkilled person would recognize some problems with their ideas. (Here are the quotes, and I did not even try too hard to find them.) Ironic: If I said the same things publicly, only with genders reversed, the people who consider Daly and Dworkin sane, would consider me sane too. (Not likely.)
0MugaSofer8yThanks for clarifying. It's sometimes hard to tell in a text environment.
-3TimS8yIn the absence of a closer association between Daly and Dworkin, conflating their positions is like conflating Stephen J. Gould [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kv/beware_of_stephen_j_gould/] and Steven Pinker because they both claim to apply the theory of evolution. As I and Oligopsony have said, Daly can go piss off. Dworkin's quote is just articulating her definition of patriarchy. If you think we aren't living in that society, her definition is not particularly interesting. But it isn't like there's no evidence that she's somewhat accurately describing our current society.
2Bugmaster9yMixedNuts and wedrifid said it better than I could.
1thomblake9yIt fits well into the memeplex of radical feminism. While I haven't had my finger to the pulse of feminism for a few years, I've gotten the impression that radical feminism hasn't been mainstream since the 1990s.
9MixedNuts9yRadical feminists are a varied bunch. Twisty "everything is rape" Faster is a radfem, but so are a whole bunch of genderqueer BDSM pornographers.
7arborealhominid8yI don't think the genderqueer BDSM pornographers usually call themselves "radical feminists"; they do call themselves both radicals and feminists, but they don't usually combine the terms. The term "radical feminist" seems to have been largely monopolized by the Andrea Dworkin/ Mary Daly/ Twisty Faster crowd.
2MixedNuts8yI don't know if unpleasant second-wavers are the most common radfems or just the noisiest on the Internet. I tried doing a bit of a research but couldn't bear it, so you'll have to dig the everything-positive radfems up yourself if you're interested. There are a few I've talked to, but they apparently don't blog.
4MugaSofer8yThat's ... pretty far. I mean, damn.
0MugaSofer8yThat distinction seems pretty fine; "degrading and violent sex" sounds a hell of a lot like rape (or perhaps some BSDM simulating rape, I guess.)

Rape is very often not violent, and there are many contexts where it wouldn't be thought degrading by the victim or by the culture, such as marital rape in a culture where it's considered normal.

Consensual degrading and violent sex is certainly kinky, but not necessarily a kind of kink that counts as BDSM and certainly not necessarily rape play. (I feel like I should be making innuendo here about developing your imagination or something.) The "cunnilingus and cuddles" feminist crowd probably don't think it can truly be consensual, but they're just obviously wrong; people might be brainwashed by the patriarchy to go along with something their partner wants, but not to seek it out secretly.

0MugaSofer8yExcellent points. Even if the word "rape" isn't being used, it seems to me - and this may be a failure of imagination - that it nonetheless simulates rape, or at least something close to it. You sure about that?
8MixedNuts8yThanks. There's some nitpicking to be done about precise definitions of "degrading" and "violent". It seems fair to describe any pain play (at least if sufficiently intense and fast) as violent. And handing one's date a flogger with a grin and a "Pretty please?" doesn't look much like rape at all. Here's an example of very degrading sex that's not rape play either. (The domme gives orders to the sub, and there's one act the sub is reluctant to perform, but throughout the scene the sub expresses consent verbally and physically.) This story is extremely gross porn; there are two characters; the domme is a crossdressing woman; the sub is a woman; seriously I mean the "gross" part, you have been warned: Piggy, by Jen Cross [http://web.archive.org/web/20100813140953/http://www.fishnetmag.com/archives/2010/02/piggy.html] . It might be fair to classify all reluctance play as "simulating something close to rape" (e.g. "Stop hitting me"), and even anything involving restraints if you're being very inclusive, but if someone's begging to be hurt and to do something degrading (and there's no roleplay where they're being forced to or anything) I don't see the resemblance. Nope! I just dismiss it as a Cartesian demon hypothesis. If you're going to question what someone's sincere introspection tells them they want when they think about it alone and at leisure and they never have to tell anyone about it, you might as well question your own impulse to question things; are you brainwashed by the patriarchy into slut-shaming women who have sex you don't like, or into denying women's agency, or into erasing female desire? Any amount of introspection that's sufficient for you to decide you aren't should also suffice for the person whose desires you're questioning. And if you're not just questioning patriarchy-approved activities like intercourse and leg-shaving and slut-shaming, but also fetishes patriarchal thinking condemns as weird, you'd better also question your love of cunni
2MugaSofer8yI didn't read the story based on your warning and the fact that you gave a ... synopsis ... that seemed sufficient. I think I see your point; it does seem possible that sex could independently be violent and degrading, for most values of "violent" and "degrading", without utilizing rape play, although that would seem to be the easiest route. That's basically what I was thinking of. Funny thing, but I seems to have been thinking that "degrading" meant nonconsensual. Which is stupid, now that I think of it. I guess "degrading" is an ambiguous term, come to think.
5DaFranker8yYes, it simulates something close to it, but I think the two-step distinction is enough that avoiding the word "rape" and its connotations is very appropriate. The "degrading and violent" taps into certain emotions, but lacks certain key other emotions and characteristics that make rape so bad and hurtful. To name some, the helplessness feeling is most likely not present (since it's consensual, as stated), and the whole existential crisis that is triggered by the emotional cascade and status markers and mental model updates that all happen at the same time during or in the aftermath. The trauma oft associated with "rape" seems to come mostly from those missing elements, so I wouldn't include this in my carving. I'm actually thinking that the reverse is more likely true: People can (and probably are) be brainwashed by culture/patriarchy to secretly seek out something. I see no reason why they couldn't, and I feel like I could draw a graph of at least one plausible way it could happen if I put some brain time into it.
-1MugaSofer8yObviously, there is a distinction between rape and BSDM play that simulates rape. Still, the claim that all penetrative sex is either rape or an attempt to capture certain emotional elements of rape seems very close to the statement that all penetrative sex is actual rape.
3DaFranker8yOh wow... I've failed my Psychometric Tracery [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ve/mundane_magic/]. I didn't think that was the actual claim being discussed. I find it to be a very silly claim; this makes me all the more curious to hear their rationale for it.
-1MugaSofer8yThis discussion has stretched on pretty long ... and I can hardly object to someone pointing out that a specific claim was wrong just because it doesn't refute my original point. For reference, this particular argument started with this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/5nzs] comment.
8TimS9yYes, I agree that Dworkin equates coercive sex and penetrative sex. If Dworkin thinks that understanding rules out male rape victims (female tool use, to say nothing of homosexual rape), that would make me sad. After all, male tool use on females would be coercive according to her. Edit: Forgot central point, which is that saying "men can't be raped" is very different from saying "male rape victims don't matter" The first is an argument about definition and perspective. The second blatantly contradicts the assertion that rape is wrong. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- At a certain level, I think it is right to say sex is generally coercive, in much the same way that going to work is generally coercive. If you don't go to work for a long enough period of time, you will be the subject of violence. (e.g. eviction) That understanding of coercion has the twin failings of (1) not being the ordinary usage of the word, and (2) not saying much that is interesting. Everything is Dworkin-coercive, just about.
7Prismattic9yI don't understand this analogy. It really is necessary to work. It's not necessary to be in any intimate relationships. Taking a vow of celibacy does not lead inevitably to getting raped. Within a relationship, there will be increasing pressure to have sex as time since last coitus increases, but there is typically the alternative of ending the relationship, at least in modern Western society.
2TimS9yIt's not necessary to be in a relationship. Nor is it necessary to engage in sexual relations within the relationship. But there is social pressure to be in a (hetero-normative) relationship and to perform sex acts. Dworkins' first point is that this pressure is gendered. The social norms function to make women feel worse for violating them than men. And the amount of pressure isn't close. Dworkins' suggested response is to remake society to remove (and prohibit) this type of pressure. Whether she admits it or not, this conflicts with "freedom of speech." But so do most anti-discrimination and anti-group defamation laws (the latter have not been generally implemented in the United States). That doesn't meet we must implement Dworkins' vision to avoid hypocrisy. But I think it is valuable to notice the trade-off we are making. To use economic language, one might call the gendered norms an opportunity cost of arranging society the way we have. And if the referenced norms seem wrong to you, then you ought not to think of Dworkin as an idiot. Feel free to continue thinking badly of Mary Daly (with my blessing and encouragement).
1[anonymous]9yI don't follow. Dworkin criticises something stupid, that doesn't make ver not an idiot.
6TimS9yDworkin is from the school of thought that helped us notice those particular costs of the setup. If post-modern thought doesn't appear, we might not notice any of the problems it identified. I suggest that post-modern thought looks foolish now because more mainstream thought appropriated and applied most of its greatest insights. What "remains" of post-modern thought is much less insightful.
4[anonymous]9y"Its not wrong when it happens to the out-group" is standard human thinking. Also overall people do tend to care less about average male than average female suffering.
4[anonymous]9yThey're not very different in how they are actually understood by listeners. The perceived differenced is based on a notion that humans consciously manipulate their mental categories by arbitrarily choosing explicit verbal definitions and that's not the case [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/A_Human%27s_Guide_to_Words].
2TheOtherDave9y"Suggest" very loosely, in that we would have to ignore both cases where both the penetrator and the penetratee are male, and cases where artificial tools of various sorts are used to perpetrate penetration, in order to draw that conclusion. Which is not to say that there aren't people who would argue precisely that.
3thomblake9yI thought it would be sufficiently damning that it already rules out 'ordinary' female rape of males. If your definition of 'rape' includes consensual sex and does not include this [http://pjmedia.com/blog/ask-dr-helen-can-a-man-be-raped-by-a-woman/], then we've stopped talking about rape.
0[anonymous]8yI've heard non-obviously-bogus arguments that it should, e.g. men cannot get pregnant as a result of rape.
1MixedNuts8ySome can. It's probably a very different experience though. And many women can't. If it's unknown to the rapist, asserting power through a threat of forced pregnancy might still happen, but if she's like sixty-five that's not going to happen. But gender does matter. A man raping a cis woman has a gender wars element to it, usually something like "Men want sex and women don't, so this man is taking it from this woman, scoring one for Team Men. She's a slut for letting it happen, unless she can prove she's a perfect victim and he's a complete monster, in which case she's a victim of female weakness and needs protected by a strong good man.". Conversely, a man raping a man hinges more on "A man weak enough to let someone rape him is not a real man, but gay-female-feminine. He is ridiculous and pathetic.". There are other gender-dependent examples with female perpetrators, with prison rape, with corrective rape, with rape as a weapon for cultural domination, with isolated communities, and so on. Of course it doesn't matter in that some rapes count and some don't, and it shouldn't matter at all. Just saying, you should expect different support structures, not identical rape shelters which just happen to be 25% male-populated.
0TimS8yIn addition to what MixedNuts said, the question I was raising was whether this was a feminist position. To the extent that it is, I'd like to know whether it is from the methodologically incorrect branch (represented in this discussion by Mary Daly) or the methodologically more correct branch (represented by Andrea Dworkin). It would surprise me to hear that Dworkin has asserted that men can't be raped - and if I heard it, I'd need to re-examine whether her arguments about the social effect of porn are valid (even if she's right, there are knock-on concerns that weigh against censorship). More generally, conflating Daly and Dworkin is like conflating Stephen J. Gould [http://lesswrong.com/lw/kv/beware_of_stephen_j_gould/] and Stephen Pinker.
1[anonymous]8yI think I saw a comment subthread on The Good Men Project along the lines “What's it matter whether it's a man who has sex with a woman too drunk to consent [or something like that] or the other way round?” “The woman can get pregnant, etc., etc.” “Wow, that's some serious Dworkin you're channeling”, but I can't find it right now, so I might have dreamt it or something.
0MugaSofer8yUnwanted pregnancy can be a result of rape, but rape seems like a separate Bad Thing that can happen to someone.
8MugaSofer8yYup. Mysandry is a real thing, if rarer than the reverse. Hell, since stereotypes of men are much less likely to be challenged then those of women, it's arguably more common (on a far lower level than your examples, obviously.) The mistake is to stereotype all "feminists" as spouting such nonsense, of course.
6MixedNuts8yHooray, I get to recommend No Seriously, What About Teh Menz? [http://goodmenproject.com/category/noseriouslywhatabouttehmenz/] and other nifty things [http://ozyfrantz.com/] by Ozy Frantz [http://lesswrong.com/user/_ozymandias/]. ...and zie's the only person I know of who writes about misandry without turning into a giant douche.
0[anonymous]8yPlenty of posts on The Good Men Project in general are surprisingly sane given their subject matter, too. (The comments are less good though, especially recently with the allegations of rape apology.)
0MixedNuts8yI haven't seen any good ones that were about misandry specifically, but yeah, there's lot of good stuff. The series on male depression [http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/how-to-love-someone-with-depression/] 's good. Most of the articles are fluff along the lines of "Hats are cool", though. And right now I'm just a little bit reluctant to recommend the site that published the "I raped a few people, but partying is fun so I don't mind" article.
4[anonymous]8yI do see the point of publishing such articles; but unfortunately they (and I) overestimated the sanity (in the LW sense) of the readers -- see the third paragraph of “Belief as Attire [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i7/belief_as_attire/]”. Turns out that some of the readers are more like Alabama bar patrons than like nerds, and unfortunately there's no way of saying ‘X did Y because of Z’ to Alabama bar patrons that won't sound like ‘it was right for X to do Y’.
2MixedNuts8y"Rapists justify themselves by claiming consent is complicated" goes over well all the time. "I'm a rapist, but consent is complicated so it's a risk I'm willing to take" is supposed not to go over well. Knowing the justifications rapists use is not useless. But "I had an e-mail exchange with an anonymous rapist, and here are some quotes" would suffice, whereas "Here's an article by a person I disagree with" implies some degree of respect for the defended position.
2ChristianKl8yHaving a few quotes doesn't give you a full understanding of the justification. If you really want to understand the justification the article is much better for that purpose.
3MixedNuts8yMeh, not really. How People Rationalize Rape Culture is Feminism 102, and the article was the same old excuses. There was one bit that wasn't drop-dead standard, where he described committing rape as a risk for him to take, rather than the potential victim, but even that is kind of an extension of "consent is hard". What we need is insight into the actual motivations for rape, and those aren't going to be in articles written for the express purpose of making the author look good. Rudolf Hess's notebooks and his psychiatrist's rarely agree. And even then, the editor's note should be scathing enough to compensate for the status boost of publishing his article, not a half-hearted refusal to endorse.
0MugaSofer8yI defy you to reproduce such an article from your model of rapists.
2ChristianKl8yI think that depends on the people in the discussion. If you discuss among high status folk where everyone agrees that all the participants of the discussion have reasonable views then there no problem to point to articles with crazy views. If you discuss in a group where there a chance that someone actually supports the crazy view you have to be more careful.
0TimS8yI mostly agree with what you are saying, but I'm not sure what the phrase "high status" is intended to add. High status is not the same as "clear thinking" or "rationally weighing the evidence" - and it is dangerous to pretend otherwise.
0ChristianKl8yWhether or not I'm clear thinking doesn't depend on the group in which I'm operating. The views that I can espouse do depend on my social status within the group. If I'm high status I'm not constrained to argue views that are socially accepted. I can argue views based on their intellectual merits. Fellow members in the group will value me for arguing views based on their intellectual merits without any consideration of respecting ideas. If I'm operating in a low status enviroment it's more important to signal respect to popular ideas and disrespect to the wrong ideas. Of course I can also say that I don't care about the approval. If I fail to give respect to the right ideas on LessWrong it won't have much bad implications for my daily life. If I'm however arguing in a sphere where the approval of other people matter, it effects the views that I can publically espouse.
0MixedNuts8yThe website is public and has a rather large audience. Moreover, it talks about misandry (and generally gender from a male perspective) a lot, and therefore has originally tried hard to distance itself from those who call themselves Men's Rights Activists.
-1MugaSofer8yConsidering the article in question didn't actually defend his actions, I'm not sure why.
2[anonymous]8yI either disagree or ADBOC depending on what exactly is meant by "respect". People didn't stop printing copies of Mein Kampf, did they?
2MixedNuts8yMein Kampf is a pretty good example. In many countries [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mein_Kampf#Current_availability] buying and selling it is banned except under special circumstances, or requires specific notes, or is legal if you don't look like you endorse it. The Bavarian government controls the rights, and usually forbids reprints. Most people would certainly be very suspicious of someone distributing Mein Kampf unless they did a whole annotated song and dance about how it's an absolutely horrible book but they have a duty to preserve historical evidence, disgusting as it is. "Here's a person whose conclusions I disagree with" implies that the arguments are worthy of consideration, not just evidence about the person's psychology. As opposed to "Here's what goes on in the head of a freaking rapist ew ew".
5MugaSofer8yWasn't the point of publishing the article (and the other articles they're getting flamed over) to aknowledge the fact that rapists are not necessarily Evil Mutants?
4Oligopsony8yThe most useful function of such an article would be if readers approached it as "evil rapist thoughts ew ew" but not "rapist mutant." (Obviously neither of these implies the other, even if they do suggest them.) Then they might be able to notice rapey thoughts when they appear and stop them with a disgust reaction. I suspect this is how most moral edification works, even.
1[anonymous]8yYes -- and that's indeed what most commenters to those articles other than "how dare you point out rapists are human" said they would be doing.
1MugaSofer8yI would argue that approaching them as "ew ew" interferes with our understanding of these thoughts, but actually I had interpreted the comment as meaning "ew a rapist" not "ew rapist thoughts".
1MixedNuts8yAren't you confusing "We should empathize with rapists, because someone with their whole life history would probably also rape" and "We should sympathize with rapists, because someone in the situation they chose to rape would probably also rape"?
4MugaSofer8yNo. We should empathize with people - of whom rapists are a subset - because this gives us a more accurate model of them than loud declarations that the Hated Enemy is pure evil. "We should sympathize with rapists, because someone in the situation they chose to rape would probably also rape" is an interesting notion, but I do not espouse it and the essay in question does not actually claim that it is true, although the author does admit to considering the notion.
3MixedNuts8yOkay, so we are trying to do the former but not the latter. It's pretty important to understand the psychology of racism. It's always a big social problem, with cyclical increases, one of which is currently affecting most of Europe, and whose extreme supporters are very dangerous. Would you be okay with the Forward running an article by a neo-Nazi who admits he committed at least one hate crime but thinks that occasionally beating up someone is justified by how fun Nazi Party rallies are? If so, doesn't the increase of anti-Tutsi sentiment in Rwandan media in the years leading up to the genocide kinda bother you?
7MugaSofer8yBy "the latter", I assume you mean sympathize with rapists. Well, I doubt that any actual racist thinks like that. But I would be OK with, say, a movie portraying a Nazi as a sympathetic character while showing them gassing Jews, as long as they didn't show this as a good thing to do. Helping people understand how people - not monsters, people with hopes and dreams and children - can become so confused as to kill someone without realizing they have done something wrong is a valuable service and I would absolutely support anyone doing it. Of course, they should avoid inadvertently furnishing actual racists with arguments to defend their racism when they show racist rhetoric, but that's hardly a unique problem - any sufficiently charismatic villain could risk persuading viewers (or strengthening their beliefs) and it is the responsibility of any author to avoid that while still portraying a convincing villain; this is usually accomplished by having the the hero or some other sympathetic character lecture the villain, pointing out why the villain is, in fact, evil. ... I'm sorry? That doesn't seem relevant to our discussion; if it is, could you please explain why?
0MixedNuts8yThat's not a fair comparison! The movie handles the framing. Show the Nazi eating cream with his children on Christmas, cut to him herding children into the gas chamber, be praised for the powerful point you make through contrast by an easily impressed critic who hasn't been to the movies since 1909. Here, the rapist really exists, and is writing the article himself. He's very much portraying his decisions as good, even though they imply rape. Definitely. But helping people understand how people thus confused excuse themselves after the fact is a much less valuable service. Well, yeah, exactly. Noah Brand's note didn't say why the article was wrong, or even that the author was a rapist at all. It said he disagreed with the author. Near telling Light "I disagree with your assessment that Kira should rule the world" wouldn't carry much punch. People advocate bad things, are allowed to keep advocating bad speech because of explicit anti-censorship reasons, other people are convinced and do the bad things.
3MugaSofer8yI was thinking of a movie that shows how the Nazi was mislead into gassing people, not simply one that makes the bald statement "this man is an ordinary human, yet also kills people". Re-read the article. He doesn't claim his actions were the correct decision. That was just an aside, TBH. But IIRC the author of the essay does criticize his own reasoning where it lead him to rape, although obviously not enough to stop. And he doesn't offer any defense of rape at all, he just assumes it to be bad (which seems reasonable.) ... which is relevant how? We're not discussing someone advocating bad things and it being defended for anti-censorship reasons.
0MixedNuts8yThe article doesn't show how he was misled into thinking that someone flirting with him while they're both drunk is consenting to any sex act, or into thinking that he gets to weigh the damage rape does to his victims against his fun. It just says that he thinks that, then adds "But I don't wanna feel like a bad person, waaaah!". It's right there in the title. Also at the end Yeah, but that's like our Nazi character saying "Sure, it's sad when we kill Jews. But if we don't they'll destroy the Aryan race, so it's worth it.". He's advocating laxer social punishment for people who rape at parties. You're defending it because you think people should know about his reasoning.
5MugaSofer8yI think you need to re-read the article. It describes, from the inside, someone who raped without believing that rape is OK. Most people in our society are aware that rape is Bad. Obviously rapists are more likely to believe that rape is OK, but here we have a rapist who acknowledges that what he did was wrong, and thus is able to give significantly less biased account. That's valuable information for most people. Saying "I'm going to do this" is different from providing arguments why that's the correct decision. He admits he can't justify it; Deciding someone is an inhuman monster is not a punishment, it's an error of rationality.
1MixedNuts8yLots of people [http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/] believe "rape is bad, rape is a stranger leaping out of the bushes, rape isn't sex with someone too drunk to know who you are". That isn't news. This guy believed that, then learned better, then shrugged and kept on raping. I guess the valuable info is "Telling people what rape is might not convince them to stop". He doesn't even admit it's bad. ("And maybe finding it livable-with condemns us all to hell. I don’t know.") The reaction he's going for is "Yeah, it's more complicated than I thought, we shouldn't be so harsh on you.". In particular he's telling that to himself, and hoping to get external validation for that. It'd be a very different story if he was saying "This is horrible, but I can't bring myself to stop. Where can I get help?". Aren't you reading too much into the denotation of insults? He's a specimen of H. sapiens with normal psychological development given his environment. He's also a person whose actions are harmful, and who should be pressured to stop through guilt and shunning. (And removed from society, but we don't know who to jail; if Brand has info he's not saying.)
5MugaSofer8yIt's possible that you know so much on the subject that this essay genuinely doesn't contain any information you can use. He admits, repeatedly, that it's bad. He also admits that he's conflicted, and a mixture of akrasia, uncertainty and plain old hypocrisy means that he's not modifying his behavior as a result of this fact. But he doesn't claim that this is in any way the "right choice". Furthermore, he doesn't claim we shouldn't punish him or whatever - although clearly he's not exactly turning himself in - he claims (more or less) that we should stop modelling him, and others like him, as The Enemy and more as, well, people. People who have done things with some horrific consequences, but nonetheless people, not "predators" hiding beneath a human skin. To model our political enemies as Evil Monsters is a persistent fault in human rationality, for obvious evopsych reasons. It may not do all that much damage when it deals with rapists (although it's harder to stop something you don't understand.) But this is nonetheless a bias that should be fought, because in other, less forgiving circumstances it can produce horrific results (including some rapists more dangerous than this guy, ironically.) It would be happier ending, sure, and obviously I wish that's how it had ended. But the virtue ethics of the author does not tarnish the information in the text, as long as it's not biased (it's a hell of a lot less biased than most such essays.) Once again, there is a difference between deciding, for the good of the tribe, to treat this man like a demon that crawled into your friend's skin if you meet him on the street. (Although I suspect that's suboptimal, somehow.) But in terms of rationality - y'know, the thing this site is about? - it is factually wrong to be modelling him as one. And it's dangerous, judging from history, to start demonizing those who don't demonize.
0MixedNuts8yArticles and studies on the psychology of rapists aren't rare. If someone doesn't understand all that much how rape works, they should read the Yes means yes [http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/] blog, not an article saying "Consent is complicated". I'm confused. Can you describe some differences between the two models? The man who believes it's sinful for his wife not to put out is following moral principles, and is just factually mistaken. The woman who rapes someone, then is horrified and turns herself in, is trying to follow correct moral principles and failing due to akrasia. The man who knows he's raping people but is uncomfortable with admitting he should stop and thus doesn't try... isn't that best described by "evil monster"? Dude is the villain of his own story! You mean because it shows the cognitive dissonance between "rape is bad" and "I don't wanna stop raping" head-on?
3MugaSofer8yInformative ones, by actual rapists, who aren't defending rape, are pretty damn rare. Funny. Please stop claiming that's all this is. I've refuted it like five times now. Imagine two serial killers. One is a robot, sent from the future to kill Sarah Conner. The other is crazy, and believes that only he can stop the Moon People from taking over. Pretty much. It's not trying to persuade you that rape is OK, it's trying to help you understand why (some) rape happens, and that it doesn't require an evil mutant or even a particularly dangerous person (except to the people getting raped, obviously.) PS: I don't understand this bit.
-2MixedNuts8yOkay, so you're trying to say that... rapists don't literally endorse hurting humanity? They know that rape does so, and they don't try to figure out a way to stop, and you have to use force to make them stop because moral concerns don't move them, but unlike evil mutant robot monsters, they feel guilty about it and write self-pitying essays? No it isn't. It's trying to help me understand what rapists tell themselves is why rape happens. I very much doubt those are the real causes. If the scores of articles by feminists about how anyone, no matter how charming and friendly and good to have in your tribe, can be a predator don't convince people, but this one article by a rapist does... then the article is worthwhile and I weep for humanity. I was giving examples of rapists who think of themselves as good people. The first has incorrect beliefs about morality, and does what he believes is right. The second has correct beliefs, but fails to follow them once, though she does most of the time. Someone who has correct beliefs about morality and consistently fails to act on them (akrasia shmakrasia, he's not trying to figure out a way to make himself stop) pretty much has to think of himself as evil.

articles by feminists about how anyone, no matter how charming and friendly and good to have in your tribe, can be a predator

Chirping in: This formulation is problematic. Rapists aren't "predators disguising as people" until they shed their social pretense and let loose their inner evil upon unsuspecting victims. This is not a "one of them could be inherently rapist, we just don't know who".

Until they rape, rapists are just people in the exact same way that until they get elected/nominated politicians are just people. It could be argued that for the entire set of all humans, there exists for each human at least one non-contrived configuration-space of "current situation" in which they would rape, either by choice while aware of it, by choice while not realizing that it's rape, or with some form of pressure that makes it clearly unreasonable not to.

After the rape, have those people become fundamentally changed in some way? Are their neural systems now different, and now optimizing for a completely different utility function that has a parameter for reducing other peoples' utility as much as possible? They're still the same people, to the extent tha... (read more)

0MixedNuts8yThere is such a thing as a rapist type. A little over half of rapists are repeat offenders [http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/], with six victims on average. This group is also more likely to slap or choke people they have sex with, and to hit children. (And also to commit sexual assault, but at this point that's obvious.) The remaining group, of one-time rapists, probably matches your model. I'm pretty sure that's false, assuming we're counting fuck-or-die situations (where both parties are being raped, anyway) and messing with meds as contrived. To stretch your metaphor horribly, until Obama was first elected he wasn't president, but he was the type of person who wants a political career and has positions that fit in a party's platform and can give good public speeches and raise money to campaign and so on, in the way that most people aren't. To take a N=1 sample, I can't think of a non-contrived situation where I would rape. What's more, when I model myself being born in the kind of environment that would lead me to rape, the person stops being recognizably me long before puberty. Whereas other unfortunately-raised mes remain me well into invading Poland or going postal or torturing heretics. There are certainly some people, possibly more than I think (but way less than the whole of humanity), who can lose control. And as they're still the same people, once they regain control of themselves, they are horrified and atone as much as they can. Or are you thinking of something like war, where (or so I heard) people go berserk and kill and rape indiscriminately? That I'll buy. (It does change people fundamentally, but doesn't replace them with evilbots.) But that's nowhere near what we're discussing here. Wait, is the jump from "anyone who chooses to do this is evil, I do this, I know ways to stop doing this, I'm not taking them" to "I'm evil" far-fetched? Isn't that as basic as cognitive dissonance gets?
1MugaSofer8yI understand there's some questionable statistics here, but I have to admit that that's reasonable enough that I don't care if it should really be one-third or something. My model predicts that there is indeed such a cluster. Doesn't mean they're "'predators disguising as people' until they shed their social pretense and let loose their inner evil upon unsuspecting victims." as DaFranker so helpfully put it. They all match my model, except the actual psychopaths and such. Who, while probably over-represented among rapists, are by no means the norm. That doesn't change the fact that rape, while it obviously selects somewhat, does not rewire you into a cartoon villain. ... and that doesn't indicate to you that your model may be inserting magical personality-rewrites into Evil Mutants? It sure as hell would to me. In fact, it has. Always proved right so far. If you can't empathize with them, you don't understand them. Might not work on aliens, but it sure as hell works on humans. There are certainly some people, possibly more than I think (but way less than the whole of humanity), who can lose control. And as they're still the same people, once they regain control of themselves, they are horrified and atone as much as they can. I wouldn't say they "kill and rape indiscriminately". They just kill and rape the enemy. It's not like they're people, right? Because if they were, that might make killing them wrong. Can't have our soldiers thinking that, can we? (I understand the US army, at least, has switched away from demonizing their enemies in Basic Training for precisely this reason.) Calling people "evil" is tricky. There are a lot of conflicting metaethics and definitions floating around the issue. But I think it's fair to say that "not maximizing morality" is different from "evil". You ever spend money on chocolate? Fuck you. That money could have gone to charity. Saved lives. And you spent it on chocolate instead? Who the hell do you think you are, to put your
7Nornagest8yThis is a complicated subject. To begin with, it's pretty hard to get more than a small percentage of soldiers to kill people at all: until after WWII, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of combatants in any given battle didn't fire their weapons, and the great majority of shots fired weren't aimed. Modern training methods aim to reduce this through associative conditioning, making training as realistic as practical, and a variety of other techniques that sometimes include dehumanization of the enemy. Now, there's a spectrum running from battlefield killing to full-blown atrocity, but atrocity's also got some unique features. If you're ordered to execute prisoners, for example, the prisoners end up dead or they don't: you can't shoot over their heads, or run ammunition or tend to the wounded instead of fighting, as you could in pitched battle. Because of this atrocity can be used as a tool of policy: soldiers who've committed war crimes have no choice but to justify them to themselves and each other, distancing them from their enemies and bonding them with a shared rationalization. This is bidirectional, of course; committing atrocity makes it easier to commit further atrocities, and a war where many gray-area cases come up (engaging enemy fighters in civilian clothes, for example, or mistakenly shooting a surrendering soldier) is one in which deliberate atrocity becomes more likely. The US army in the last few wars has tried very hard to draw a line, partly for PR reasons and partly because atrocity isn't well suited to recent strategic models, but the psychology involved doesn't lie entirely within institutional hands -- though institutions can of course exploit it, and many do.
-1MugaSofer8yYay, an expert! That occurred to me, and I decided not to bother adding a caveat, since they presumably justify it by demonizing the enemy anyway. Although I guess that some "accidental" rapists probably rationalize their crime as not a big deal when if realize what they did, which could indeed lead to more rapes. That's a different proposition to actually turning them into a cartoon villain, but still.
-2MixedNuts8yYou claim that I model rapists as Evil Mutants, but I don't know what you mean by that. Can you name one false prediction of my model? Edited; previous version was: It would help if you named one false prediction that my model of rapists as "Evil Mutants" makes.
6wedrifid8yThis would require interpreting your "rapists are Evil Mutants" claim as about making falsifiable predictions, which would be unreasonable interpretation of your comments thus far. Instead "Rapists are Evil Mutants!" seems to be presented tautologically for the purpose of signalling your own strict virtue and social dominance within the role of moral arbiter. We can arrive at a falsifiable interpretation if we interpret "Mutant" as an indicator that the labelled individual must be in someway genetically different from a 'typical' sample of the species homo sapiens sapiens---or even stretch it to mean that extreme environmental conditions have impacted it sufficiently that the individual can not be said to be exhibiting behaviors representative of its species. It is hopefully obvious to most that this makes "Rapists are Evil Mutants" both falsifiable and trivially false. This is particularly the case if we are using the rather general definition of 'rape' that MixedNuts prefers. (See, earlier mentions of strict consent standards [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/82oj] and a rejection of the intuitive notions [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/82fe] of what rape is.) It is in fact the case that rape is bad. Violent stereotypical rape is bad. Other complicated things with insufficient quality or admissibility of consent that we call rape are also bad. Yet these are bad things that many or most actual humans would do in the right (or perhaps wrong) circumstances. Many of them are not even considered 'evil' by all cultures, much less as evidence of a bizarre deviancy. Your enemies are (probably) not innately evil [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i0/are_your_enemies_innately_evil/].
-1MugaSofer8yIn fairness, that's probably an overly narrow interpretation of their views. They don't seem to believe rape is genetic, at least. It seems closer to "liberals" than "Jews", in stereotype terms. That's not to say it can't produce inaccurate results, of course. Otherwise it wouldn't be rational to avoid stereotyping.
-1MixedNuts8yThat's what I'm whining about. MugaSofer claims that I believe (something ey rephrases as) "rapists are Evil Mutants", and that the essay we're discussing is valuable because it's evidence for the true claim "rapists are not Evil Mutants". I'm trying to figure out what these claims mean. So far we have ruled out "rapists are genetically abnormal" (we agree this is untrue), "rapists hold true beliefs about morality but don't care" (we agree this is true is this case), and "rapists rape due to choice, not just akrasia" (we also agree this is true in this case).
2wedrifid8yThese beliefs all seem sane. (And thankyou for explaining.) For future reference when making comments like this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/82x4] it may be worth making it clear that you do not in fact have the belief that your words literally attributing to yourself and are instead being misrepresented. I'm afraid the literal interpretation seemed to fit reasonably well so I did not immediately interpret it as a countersignal [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1sa/things_you_cant_countersignal/].
1MugaSofer8yThat's probably true for some rapists, sure, but it's clearly not true for all of them. It's generalizations that are the problem here.
0MixedNuts8yYeah, just talking about this guy. I gave examples of someone who sincerely believes marital rape is okay (falsifies "true beliefs") and someone who immediately regrets raping and takes steps to avoid it (falsifies "choice, not akrasia").
-1MugaSofer8yWell, I'm not sure how someone not raping falsifies choice, not akrasia. It just means they chose right. (And that they happened to beat akrasia.) Or do you mean it would invalidate your claim that most rapists have already made that choice?
2MixedNuts8yThe person with akrasia I mentioned rapes once (or, if sufficiently good at introspection, not at all), then stays well clear of any situations that would require them to exert willpower not to rape. This can be done by automatically learned aversion ("Holy crap I just raped someone" being a strong punishment), by turning oneself in, by getting therapy, by avoiding the context where they raped (such as being drunk), by avoiding all sexual activity in that context, by getting away from the kind of person one is likely to rape, etc.
1MugaSofer8yWell, for one thing you seem to think that this particular rapist wrote this as part of a calculated ploy to reduce society's defenses against him (and other rapists?) But I'm not sure how we could test that. By "Evil Mutants" I mean you're using the neuroarchitecture that demonizes political opponents and Hated Enemies in general, if that clears anything up. I understand you're pretty knowledgeable about rape; could you mention some predictions you don't already know to be true? (Of course, I suspect some of your predictions regarding things you know about are wrong anyway because of poor data or whatever, but that's harder to find and, y'know, rarer.)
3MixedNuts8yNot quite. I believe that the effect of the article is to reduce society's defenses against that type of rapist, and that the author would still publish the article if he shared my belief about this. I think it's unlikely that he has consciously thought about it, or that he would share my belief if he did. I believe that he did not decide to write the article in order to get this effect. I believe that the cause of this decision was cognitive dissonance between his beliefs "rape is bad" and "I'm a good person", which led him to seek reassurance of the latter. I wouldn't know what he believes was the cause; I doubt it's "to make myself feel better" (or any other phrasing of what I think is the true cause). It's not an answer I can use, as long as we don't have an MRI handy. So we'll have to settle for wrong predictions. * Rapists target victims who are easiest to rape and least likely to get the rapist in trouble. (pretty sure) I make no claim as to how much of that selection is conscious. * * Visibly strong people are less likely to be raped. (somewhat confident) * * People who display willingness to attract attention or to fight are less likely to be raped. (pretty sure, but I'm not sure I can honestly claim not to know this) * * Disabled people are more likely to be raped. (somewhat confident) * * Cognitively disabled people are more likely to be raped than people with other kinds of disabilities. (pretty sure) * * Locked-up people get raped ten ways to Wednesday. Obviously I know about prison rape, but that covers nursing homes and long-stay psychiatric hospitals as well. (near certain) * * Most behaviors commonly believed to increase risk of being raped in fact do so. Of course this is compatible with many other explanations. (pretty sure) * * People who have personal harm to fear from reporting rape are more likely to be raped. This includes un
1MugaSofer8yI'm saying that they're human, and best modeled as such. I am not advocating any particular method of rape prevention, but since we're on LessWrong it should come as no surprise that I think understanding the problem fully is probably going to make our solutions better. No, it isn't. He's clearly an atypical rapist in that regard. If he was a typical rapist, then the essay would be hopelessly biased and would never have been published. Instead it is only mildly biased, and offers an opportunity to see into the mind of a rapist via his future self, who is now aware that his actions were rape and thus doesn't try to excuse them. Just because someone is charming doesn't mean they can't be a monster. Most actual psychopaths are pretty good at hiding the fact. But that doesn't mean that we should assume that just because someone is both charming and hurting people they're a psychopath. Because it doesn't take a psychopath to hurt people. If it did, the world would be a very different place. Oh. Why?
-1MugaSofer8yMein Kampf was aimed at people in Wiemar Germany, so I'm not sure it retains much persuasive power for modern, say, French.
-1MugaSofer8yCan't argue with you about the hats, but I'm not sure what people's problem is with publishing that article. It's not like he was defending himself, just giving useful information on how someone's life can lead them to rape despite consciously committing to the principle that Rape Is Bad. Are they worried that understanding the enemy better will force them to stop viewing people as Evil Mutants?
-2MugaSofer8y... is that a stealth insult?
2MixedNuts8yDo you mean to Ozy? It was supposed to be praise. Or do you mean to you? If you write about misandry, I have yet to see your writings, so I'd be hard-pressed to insult you based on them. Or do you mean something else?
2MugaSofer8yWell, I wrote a comment on it. Right there. You replied to it. ... I guess I was just imagining things, although your comment was slightly ... tangential. Such comments are rarer than those criticizing the parent. Hell, I even opened this comment by contradicting you. ... thanks for the recommendation.
5[anonymous]9yI imagine females will also be reduced to 10%. Gender is pointless. I know I'd like to be (sexually) female sometimes, futanari (is there an english word for this?) sometimes, and male sometimes, and the rest of the time something totally different. Probably with tentacles. I think I'd like to be totally sexless sometimes too. When you spend enough time on certain places on the internet, radical feminists look like conservatives on gender issues.
3thomblake9yIndeed. Reading about the details of sex between one "male" and one "female" partner as though it's the only kind of sex, really reads to me like trying to enforce a (outdated and sexist) traditional view of how humans are supposed to self-identify and relate to each other.
2MixedNuts9y"No-op trans woman"?
4arborealhominid8yTechnically accurate, but not general enough. A futanari, as I understand, is a person who has a penis, but otherwise has the physical characteristics typically designated "female" (breasts, wide hips, etc.). A no-op trans woman would fit this description, but so would someone who started out with the typical "female" phenotype but had their genitals modified and kept the rest of their body the same. (As far as I know, this hasn't happened in real life, but it's theoretically possible.) Also, though I'm not aware of any such condition, I suppose there could be an intersex condition that produces a "futanari" phenotype. (If anyone is aware of one, I'd be curious to hear about it.)
0[anonymous]9yApparently not [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Daly#Views_on_transsexualism]
0thomblake9yDepending on what you mean by futanari, 'hermaphrodite' or 'shemale' are common, though the latter is almost surely slang (and checking what Google has to say on the subject is almost surely NSFW).
2MixedNuts9yThe latter is a slur [http://www.queerty.com/lets-learn-the-nine-anti-trans-slurs-we-should-avoid-20110620/] .
2thomblake9yWell, by that link, both "transvestite" and "hermaphrodite" (NTM "it") were on the list of slurs. I think it was just indicated as a slur for transsexual people, not inherently a slur.
3[anonymous]9yI'll just keep calling it futa. It's the only word for that mode of being that I have not seen used offensively.
0wedrifid9yI must say that I haven't seen it used offensively either. Nor, for that matter, have I seen the sun rise && false. (ie. Using the word futa may not be optimal for communicating object level content with people who speak English.)
0[anonymous]9ygood point
1Raemon9yModern, generally accepted term in english is intersexed [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex]
4thomblake9yI'm pretty sure "intersexed" is more general than the sense of "futanari", or at least the sense meant above.
-1MugaSofer8yI dunno. The option would be nice, but I think I'd still spend easily 90% of my time as a "male" and I doubt that's unusual; the categories of "male" and "female" still have meaning if some women spend their holidays as dolphins.
2Bugmaster9yIt could be, but, after reading that interview, I get the feeling that MD wouldn't mind it at all if currently living people (male ones, that is) got disappeared, as well. That interview is actually quite fascinating.
8[anonymous]9yYou are pretty unfamiliar with some of the more obscure aspects feminism. Even if the SCUM manifesto [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCUM_Manifesto] was really satire (which I don't think it was), there where plenty of calls for the elimination or even enslavement of men by academics and radicals. As with all political and ideological movements some join them just because they seem the best available tool to harm a despised out-group. Some feminists really do just hate men.
2NancyLebovitz9yI think Mary Daly did.
1JoshuaZ8yThe SCUM Manifesto was written by someone with severe mental health issues and isn't taken seriously by the vast majority of feminists. It isn't representative in any useful way. Edit: That is not to say that there aren't some people out there with extreme views of this sort, they'll show up in any large movement. But that context is important.
1MugaSofer8yIt appears your model is false, then. Progress! (Not that you should switch to a model with even poorer predictive history, i.e. the "feminists just hate men" one.)
0[anonymous]9yI suspect Viliam_Bur is talking about Valerie Solanas' SCUM Manifesto [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCUM_Manifesto]. Which does seem to fit the bill, assuming you don't read it as satire -- but Solanas is mainly famous for shooting Andy Warhol, not for her contributions to feminism. ETA: Or not. MixedNuts' comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/5nza] above fits better.
3NancyLebovitz9yThe baboon story implies that how males are treated has something to do with their behavior-- it's not innate. I think the more interesting question is whether pacific baboons can co-exist with the more usual sort.
7Viliam_Bur9yThe line between the nature and learning is often blurred. Simply said, if someone's genetic code contains an instruction "when X, do Y", should we say [http://lesswrong.com/lw/np/disputing_definitions/] that the behavior Y was caused by the code (is innate) or by the presence of X (is learned)? The story implies than in conditions X1 baboons behave violently, and in conditions X2 baboons behave peacefully. The word "conditions" here includes both their environment and their history, and it seems that X1 = "lack of food OR recent history of violence" and X2 = "enough food AND recent history of peace". When there is enough food, both X1 and X2 seem self-perpetuating, though the experience with X2 is very short yet. My prediction is that adding violent baboons to the group would create an X1 situation. (A less certain prediction is that even without external baboons, sooner or later the group will generate a violent individual. Problem is, due to the "sooner or later" part, the second prediction is unfalsifiable.)
7smk9yI thought there were violent baboons added to the group?
2[anonymous]9yHow the hell did anyone reading this subthread (including me) miss that?
2NancyLebovitz9yPossibly because the concept of a violent male disrupting a peaceful group is a violent adult male, perhaps even a violent alpha, while the violent males actually coming in are relatively young.
3NancyLebovitz9yWe can guess that abundant food is needed to stabilize peacefulness among baboons, but the hypothesis isn't tested, though it's plausible. I don't think it's obvious that one violent baboon would be enough to get a peaceful troupe to return to the usual-- it sounds as though systematic mistreatment of new males is needed to get a standard troupe, and I don't think one violent male has enough time or attention for the job.
3Viliam_Bur9yThis is one of the situations that would be better answered by experiment. I wouldn't mind being proven wrong, but I would like to know how exactly I am wrong. How exactly would a new violent baboon not disrupt the peace in the group? Would he be like: "see, there is enough food, and no one is preventing me from eating as much as I want, so why don't I just relax and enjoy this piece of paradise"? Or would he attack the other males, but when no one fights back, he would be like: "oh, this is so boring, and by the way there is enough food, so what don't I just relax..."? Or would the other males fight him back, but despite their new first-hand experience with violence, they would keep the libertarian ethics that it is wrong to initiate violence, and it is only ok to defend oneself? Or perhaps would the males in the group instinctively attack any other new male (even without him attacking first), but would maintain the peace among themselves? There are many alternatives to return to global violence, but I would like to know which one of them will happen. Though, at this moment, the return to global violence seems the most probable option to me.
2Anubhav9yThere are no baboons in the Pacific, as far as I can tell. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
0ChickPea9yAre you perhaps thinking of Valerie Solanas, and the SCUM manifesto? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Solanas [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Solanas]
-5wedrifid9y
5prase9yIt probably won't work with humans. It has been tried during the Paraguayan war [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Triple_Alliance#Casualties] and I don't know of any evidence that Paraguay is an extraordinarily peaceful society today.
4lukeprog9yThe relevant section of the Radiolab episode [http://www.radiolab.org/2009/oct/19/] explains this in more detail.
-1MugaSofer8y(I'm pretty sure it was just an example of game-changing social upheaval; the actual reason it happened isn't described and may or may may not have been determined.)

There was no interesting, non-emotional takeaway for me from this post. I bet I can find 10 anecdotes where nature prevailed over nurture...

Luke, your posts might become more interesting (to me at least) if you go and beat your head on a hard problem for awhile. I know that sounds like "go have an awful life so you have some interesting stories to tell us", but hey, that's how life works :-/ As far as I know, Eliezer's sequences were the aftermath of a sort of hero's journey, that's why they have so many new insights. Just copying the surface pathos won't get you there.

Now that I'm Executive Director I don't have much time to bang my head on hard (research) problems, though I did start doing that a while back.

This is a "merely" inspirational post, but I think there's room for that on LW. There isn't much new insight in A sense that more is possible, either, but I found it valuable.

Luke, I thought this was a good post for the following reasons.

(1) Not everything needs to be an argument to persuade. Sometimes it's useful to invest your limited resources in better illuminating your position instead of illuminating how we ought to arrive at your position. Many LWers already respect your opinions, and it's sometimes useful to simply know what they are.

The charitable reading of this post is not that it's an attempted argument via cherry-picked examples that support your feeling of hopefulness. Instead I read it as an attempt to communicate your level of hopefulness accurately to people who you largely expect to be less hopeful. This is an imprecise business that necessarily involves some emotional language, but ultimately I think you are just saying: do not privilege induction with such confidence, we live in a time of change.

It might quell a whole class of complaints if you said something like that in the post. Perhaps you feel you've noticed a lot of things that made you question and revise your prior confidence about the unchangingness of the world...if so, why not tell us explicitly?

(2) I also see this post as a step in the direction of your stated goal... (read more)

7Technoguyrob9yI agree so much I'm commenting.
9MixedNuts9yThat strikes me as an extremely wrong way to allocate human resources. Good executive directors can't be rarer than good FAI researchers.

I wouldn't say I'm a good FAI researcher. I'm just very quick at writing up the kind of "platform papers" that summarize the problem space, connect things to the existing literature, show other researchers what they can work on, explain the basic arguments. For example.

5Vaniver9yI imagine it is easier to motivate people to be FAI researchers than executive directors.
3Qiaochu_Yuan8yBut wouldn't you prefer to have an executive director of foos with the technical expertise to be a foo himself, so he has a better understanding of the foos that he's executively directing?
2MixedNuts8yYes, but ceteris ain't paribus. If foo=software engineer, sure, make one of yours executive director, then throw a brick in the Bay Area and hire the one you knocked out.
4Dr_Manhattan9y* I think inspiration is important * Some of the sequence re-writes (I'm thinking specifically of the ones on facingsingularity web site) are better written than the originals, and there is some value in that.
5lukeprog9yWell, they're more compressed, anyway. But they only accomplish that by having the luxury of linking to dozens of Eliezer's original, more detailed and persuasive articles.
4Will_Newsome9yTo add this, it may be that e.g. deep knowledge of the heuristics and biases literature helped Luke become a better thinker, but most people I know from SingInst became good thinkers either before or without reading much social psychology or decision science. Empirically it seems that microeconomics and Hofstadter are the biggest influences on good thinkers in this social sphere, but I wouldn't put too much weight on the importance of either. Bayesian probability theory is also a big theme, but note that Eliezer's devotion to it seems to have stemmed from a misconception about how fundamental it is, 'cuz at the time of his optimization enlightenment he doesn't seem to have known about key problems in decision theory that Bayes isn't obviously equipped for. In general it seems wise to be skeptical of claims that we know very much about why various people have had whatever success we think they've had; it's very easy to unknowingly fall into cargo cult "rationality".
2elinws9yThere is really very little separating nature and nurture. An example from gibbon research - gibbons are the textbook example of monogamy amongst primates. They mate for life, eat a high quality diet (fruit and insects with some leaves and other greens). The pair sing together in the mornings and evenings to proclaim there territories. The female takes care of infants until they are weaned and then the male takes over rearing offspring. Before the infant is weaned they are the color of the mother then when their father takes over they become the color of their father. At puberty males stay black like their father and the females become golden like their mothers. Within the family females tend to be dominant and males tend to defend the family against outsiders but they aren't strongly hierarchical. That said there is a group of gibbons that no longer have the same high quality diet their diet is primarily leaves and greens. Their social structure is one or two dominant males with a group of subordinate females. Thus their social structure resembles that of baboons rather than other gibbons. So, does high quality diet lead to sexual equality and pacifism or are these just anecdotes?
1Vivi9yThis is rather misleading. You have not accounted for other variables that may have influenced gibbon behavior. Moreover, this anecdote does little to support your initial point, which seems to have been forgotten altogether at the conclusion. You neglected to elaborate on gibbon diet, which I assume is your main example. The information that you have given on their development seems unnecessary. Also, you misspelled several pronouns, and neglected to show possession. I still see no relevance in your comment.
-2elinws9ySorry I was unclear and yes, I indulged myself on the development because I think it is so neat. To clarify the conclusion I am proposing that diet may be the key to social structure in both the baboon and gibbon case – high quality food -> non-hierarchical and pacifist – low quality food -> hierarchical and aggressive. Since diet part of the experience of the animal is it nature or nurture or something in else? Does the diet trigger a genetic reaction or is it that with secure access to high quality food there is no reason for hierarchy and aggression? And yes, it should be, “The pair sing together in the mornings and evenings to proclaim THEIR territories” not "there territories". Thank you.
2Vivi9yBut, food only euthanized the aggressive baboons in the previous example. That does not reflect a high quality diet.

When taming a baby elephant, its trainer will chain one of its legs to a post. When the elephant tries to run away, the chain and the post are strong enough to keep it in place. But when the elephant grows up, it is strong enough to break the chain or uproot the post. Yet the owner can still secure the elephant with the same chain and post, because the elephant has been conditioned to believe it cannot break free. It feels the tug of the chain and gives up — a kind of learned helplessness. The elephant acts as if it thinks the chain's limiting power is intrinsic to nature rather than dependent on a causal factor that held for years but holds no longer.

This is such an excellent allegory that I do need to ask whether there's a citation. I googled briefly and only found motivational texts and discussions of the morality of chaining elephants in circuses.

7Grif9yRoger Bannister allegedly broke the four-minute mile by applying a lesson in flea training. You train fleas by putting them in a lidded jar. As they jump and jump and jump, they hit their head on the lid and condition themselves to jump only so high--even after the lid is removed. Bannister, according to inspirational coach Zig Ziglar, knew that for centuries it was judged "impossible" to break a four-minute mile, and all the negative input from trainers and doctors and coaches was erecting a mental barrier to what was possible. History speaks: within a month or two of him breaking the limit, over a dozen MORE runners broke the four-minute mile--something which had been biologically impossible since ancient Greece. According to Zig, anyways.

This story is not true. Bannister broke 4:00 in May of 1954. The next person to do it was John Landy 46 days later. Bannister's training partner Chris Chataway did it the next year, as did another British runner. However, I think Bannister and Landy were the only two to do it in 1954. The first American to do it was Don Bowden in 1957.

I found a list for the US here Also a master list of many runners, but difficult to parse.

There were three runners close to the sub-four mile in the early 50's. The other two were Wes Santee and John Landy. They didn't race each other while trying to break 4:00 because Santee was American, Bannister British, Landy Australian.

According to Neil Bascomb's The Perfect Mile, the race to sub-4 was highly publicized, and most people believed that it could in fact be done. There are some quotes from Landy saying that 4:00 was an unbreakable wall, but I believe these were mostly comments from him in dejection after early failures to beat the mark.

Bannister also wrote a memoir about running sub-4. I do not remember the flea story from it. Google books doesn't return any hits in that book for the word "flea"

Wikipedia says:

The claim that

... (read more)

I have learned today not to fluff my posts with phrases like "a dozen more runners" and "ancient Greece" unless it makes sense to do so. Upon further reflection it's also possible that Zig said "Roger Bannister was a flea trainer" in a metaphorical sense--though he most definitely used that kind of words.

The "impossible 4-minute mile" myth, also upon reflection, seems like a similar myth that I stopped believing in, that some boxers, fighters and martial artists were required by law to register their hands as lethal weapons. I heard it from an insanely powerful kung fu sifu my best friend trained under, so I figured that, as strange as it sounds, it was very relevant to a master of fighting, and probably reliable. Later I learned that professional boxers did this purely as a publicity stunt, and the ceremony had zero legal effects. I could use more strength as a rationalist.

4ChristianKl8yOn Skeptics Stackexchange there a thread about it: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/7796/can-an-elephant-be-trained-to-be-lightly-leashed [http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/7796/can-an-elephant-be-trained-to-be-lightly-leashed] . Unfortunately as of the time of this writing it has no answers :(
3philh9yI've heard that it's false, but can no longer find the reference.
1adamisom9yWell, I've certainly heard the story several times. I think it's sometimes told in Indian context, so try including India in your research... I don't care enough to find that out personally
5Raemon9yThe most I could find were photographs of Indian elephants being held by (what looked to me, anyway) like rather small chains. But yeah, I see a lot of references to the nice allegorical story without a real citation. My prior is still on it being true to some degree, not because it sounds nice but because I know training animals often works approximately the same way.

This post seems too vague to be useful.

I just got done re-reading Stephen Pinker's book How the Mind Works and seeing the phrase "largely circumstantial" in this post reminded me of Pinker's discussion of the so-called "nature-nurture issue." He points out that it's absurd to think that because nature is important, nurture doesn't matter, but he compares the statement "nature and nurture are both important" to statements like, "The behavior of a computer comes from from a complex interaction between the processor and the input," which is "true but useless."

I feel the same way about statements like "more is possible." I understand the desire to be inspirational, but my brain is objecting too much. How much more is possible? Under what circumstances? etc.

3Dr_Manhattan9yInspiration would be wothless anyway if it was useless (other than making yourself feel good I guess) Try and find out! The way I understood this is that people are overly pessimistic and do not attempt things within their reach. (I might have been a somewhat specific message to the "rationalist" crowd since we tend to overthink, be skeptical and highly risk averse).
1Insert_Idionym_Here9yI believe the point is that we do not know how much more is possible, or what circumstances make that so. As such, we must check, as often as we can, to make absolutely sure that we are still held by our chains.

Religion had a grip on 99.5% or more of humanity until 1900,

Is this true? How could one know?

5Craig_Heldreth9yThis is a question where fiction might give us more insight than fact. If you read realistic novels from the 19th century you will find right away that many of the characters are atheists or agnostics. The gold standard novel is War and Peace which contains only one overtly religious character (Maria Bolkonskaya) if I recall correctly. More than one of the characters is overtly atheist. Tolstoy could put this into fiction when his counterparts in the Physics department and the Philosophy department and the Political Science department would not dare to say it.
-2MugaSofer8ySeems legit.
3Vaniver9yIf you're flexible with what you mean by "grip," simply having a state religion in the country you live in might have counted as enough. But even with a definition like that, it's not clear where the 1 in 200 figure is coming from.
0satt9yYeah. I thought lukeprog might be using "grip" in some more general sense like what you suggest. But if that were so I expect he'd have cited statistics on more general measures of religiosity, rather than estimates of the proportion of non-religious people.
2DavidAgain9yIf you follow the footnote, it goes to an article on his old website, which takes the figure from the World Christian Encyclopedia, 'a trusted source on religious demographics'. I would be incredibly sceptical about it: as you said, how would we know? People on all sides of religious demographics debates have an awful habit of comparing like with unlike, and those sort of encyclopedias often just get the 'best' figure for point X and point Y while ignoring how comparable they are. In the original article the stat seems (and I'm cautious here, because my general view of blogs centred on atheism is far worse than the impression I get of Lukeprog from this site) to be used as a rather cheap initial aside: the article is actually about why religion has dropped in Scandanavia and similar, which isn't clearly linked to the worldwide 1900-2000 statistics given. As an aside: 'state religion' is a dangerous one. It suggests for instance that the UK is 'in the grip of religion' in a way than Syria, India and for that matter the US.
1[anonymous]9yIIRC, typically statistics about the number of Christians actually count anyone who has been baptised and has not apostatised. As such, they include lots of people who aren't under the “grip” of the Church in any meaningful sense.
5kilobug9yHum, I think it greatly depends of the country. In some countries (like Germany) you officially declare your religion because it affects your taxes. In some others like France, the state just doesn't care about your religion, but (both public and private) institute perform samplings in which they ask people if they have a religion and if what it is. On the polls, results depend greatly on how the question is formulated (depending on the wording, people who identify themselves as culturally christian but don't believe in god will answer differently), but the latest detailed poll done, according to Wikipedia, gave something like (simplified and translated by myself) : Sondage CSA 2006-2007 Catholics : 51 % among which : Believing catholics : 27 % Agnostics catholics : (don't know if God exists) : 15 % Atheist catholics (don't think God exists, but identifying themselves as culturally catholics) : 9 % Atheist : 31 % Muslims : 4 % Protestants : 3 % Jew : 1 % Other/not answering : 10 % Which leads to a majority (55%) of atheists or agnostics. But if just asking '"are you christian ?" you'll get a majority of christians... the joy of polls and statistics.
-1Multiheaded9y1% of people worship a cheesy Hollywood movie about a giant shark?
0kilobug9yIt was "jew" not "jaw", sorry for the typo... fixed.

So you are hopeful because of a single disequilibrium (peaceful baboons) supported by outside inputs (humans killing meat for the baboons). This makes more sense if you carry through the analogy and replace baboons by humans and humans by AIs.

0endoself9yI don't think that that would add anything beyond all the other posts about AI.

The part about baboons was where the post should be cut.

Too many good stories are ruined this way on lesswrong.

I like it exactly the way it is.

Personally, I don't think I would have understood the point he was trying to make if it had ended there.

Sure, just ending on "Until they weren't." would have killed.

But "ruined" is too much. The links are useful to people who don't already know them. And there's an elephant-chain story you might like at the bottom.

Many of his later points about slavery, smallpox, religion etc. were extremely dubious or forced at best. It was literally painful to read that part after awesome part about baboons. And Singularity Institute self-congratulations were even worse than that.

The elephant chain story on the other hand was good.

[-][anonymous]9y 13

.

5lukeprog9yThis is my specialty! Lots of upvotes, almost entirely negative comments. :)
0Kevin9yReally? I find it quite annoying, but mostly because it's endemic of the problem on LW of many, many more people complaining about the useful content produced by others than actually producing useful content.
9[anonymous]9y.

This was incredibly inspiring, in particular because of the specific examples you cited. Thank you.

8Jonathan_Graehl9ySo inspiring that, even though I trust Sapolsky on the quality of his "Zebras" book, I wonder if the telling isn't slanted a little. I love the idea of other species of animals than humans having extensive+powerful transmissible culture (even though we already knew this about tool use - cracking nuts w/ stones, etc.).

Uplifting and inspiring.

But with that said (not sarcastically), is there anything in particular you're talking about? Because "you should check for solutions before giving up on a problem" seems overly vague and applause-lighty to me.

8amcknight9yI thought the whole point was to make it clear that Learned Helplessness is a real problem that anyone might actually have despite the first common first reaction that they "obviously" don't. Maybe that wasn't intended but that's what I got out of it.
[-][anonymous]9y 8

What's does the chain represent in this metaphor? Any limitation whatsoever, or some specific one? Some of your examples make it plain that some persistant features of ourselves and our communities shouldn't be destroyed, even if they can be: we've seen baboons turn pacifist, but I'll bet money that we can terrorize some typically pacifistic bonobos into violent monsters. So the fact that we can break a chain (if this refers to any habit or constraint to which we have become habituated) doesn't mean we should.

So "break your chains" seems like bad advice on its own. What else can we add to it to make it good advice?

3[anonymous]9yI think the right response is: if the chain isn't actually preventing you from taking a course of action, don't let the chain be the reason you reject that course of action. Or: shatter all chains, so that you can truly choose where you want to go. (You may not want to go where the chain was preventing you from going, but you can only really only ask that question once you are free).
0Viliam_Bur9yOn which level is this "true choice" made: group level or individual level? The story describes a change in the group. It does not necessarily follow that all individuals in that group were happy with the new situation. Just as not all individuals were happy with the old situation. A group dynamic can change... some individuals may feel better, some individuals may feel worse. Why should we call this a "true choice"? Whose choice precisely?

Today I encountered a real-life account of a the chain story — involving a cow rather than an elephant — around 24:10 into the "Best of BackStory, Vol. 1" episode of the podcast BackStory.

0Raemon4yCool, I'd be wondering about that. :)

The human species was always too weak to render itself extinct. Until we discovered the nuclear chain reaction and manufactured thousands of atomic bombs.

Again, it's still not clear that this is true. There aren't enough bombs to kill everyone, and it's likely humanity would survive a nuclear winter (even if most humans wouldn't).

6NancyLebovitz9yIt's possible that we'd be able to wreck civilization with a relatively small number of decisions, but "wreck civilization" is vague, and might not be true. It's certainly the case that it's possible to kill more people with fewer decisions than ever before.
2vi21maobk9vp9yIt is hard to estimate whether there were enough bombs to kill everyone at any moment. On-ground detonation of entire arsenal of all nuclear powers could cause quite a lot of fallout. It is another question that it would not happen even in a nucleart war, because detonating the nuclear bomb above a military base or a factoy would instantly burn a large area while causing less fallout. So it was considered more effective and more predictable.
0orthonormal9yCitation? I'm curious to know what the current consensus is on the likelihood that full-scale nuclear war is an existential risk for humanity.
2Vaniver9yThis [http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/how-i-learnt-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb/] is the source that changed my mind, although it appears to be somewhat controversial.
3orthonormal9yIs the "complete destruction radius" the same as the "everybody dies in this radius"?
0Vaniver9yI am not an expert in the nuclear weapons business, and so the best I can give you is ">50% chance?".
0Prismattic9yIt could be that I am misunderstanding that infographic, but it appears only to count deaths from the actual blasts and possibly from fatal short-term radiation poisoning. It does not appear to include subsequent deaths due to starvation and economic collapse.
0Vaniver9yI believe your interpretation is correct. I find it hard to believe, though, that everyone would die in the event of an economic collapse (even economic collapse plus nuclear winter), though it seems very likely most would.
[-][anonymous]9y 5

Slavery was ubiquitous for millennia. Until it was outlawed in every country on Earth.

Which is why slavery is now basically extinct... right?

The proportion of humanity held in slavery is probably the lowest it has ever been. And no human has been the legal property of another since the institution was abolished in Saudi Arabia in 1962. (I think. It was an Arabian nation in the sixties anyway.)

7thomblake9yAccording to the Abolition of slavery timeline [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline] (linked to in the article), it's 1981 in Mauritania.
5[anonymous]9yTrue, but I find proportional arguments fundamentally wrong. I mean, I can't make up for any atrocity I commit simply by out-breeding my victims! So if slavery is wrong, then the situation is certainly much worse right now than it ever was in history, regardless of how many non-slaves there are now.
4David Althaus9yThat's true. But IMHO every moral evaluation has to distinguish between the action in question and the consequent state of the universe. I think you're still a bad person if you father three children (who are really happy most of the time) but also rape one child. Why not simply father three children without the raping-part? Almost everybody can do that! But it's not inconsistent to claim that an universe without the raped child and whithout the three happy children is worse than the universe with all four children. Or does that sound completely bizarre to you?
2[anonymous]9yI agree that we also have to look at actions, in the sense that even if my biased treatment of my children (treat some well, others badly) would reduce the proportion of suffering children, you might still condemn that because it at least encourages me to not just treat all children well and so to pursue inefficient solutions. (According to Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_sexual_abuse], child sexual abuse affects about 19,7% of female and 7,9% of male children, btw. I'd be careful with using "almost everybody".) I do disagree that "1 more suffering person, 3 more happy persons" (or whatever ratio) is better than "no additional people". I find it non-obvious that it should be true, even just as an intuition. I find the opposite intuition much more plausible. I think the claim rests on two (somewhat independent) assumptions: 1. Benefits and harm to a person can be directly compared, so that if I harm you for -3 utilons and benefit you for +5 utilons, that's equivalent to benefiting you for +2 utilons. 2. Bringing more people into existence is not bad, at least on average. Assumption 1) is of course straightforward utilitarianism (in most formulations), but it's not clear to me at all why it should be true. My previous comment was meant to highlight the fact that I find this assumption (common as it is) absurd, especially because it makes you look at 10+ million slaves and propose that slavery is basically gone, simply because non-slaves drastically outnumber them. It's not a solid argument (nor intended as one), but at least for me, it's a stronger illustration of the underlying disgust I feel when considering the closely related Repugnant Conclusion. Maybe as a different illustration, imagine a room with 3 suffering and 6 happy people in it. If I now bring in 6 more happy people, have I halved the harm inside the room? Have I improved the situation even at all? Of course, this is just an appeal to intuition, not an actual argument, but
0David Althaus9yOops. (Let's change "rape" to "rape and eat them while they're alive". That should be sufficiently evil, even for humans.) That's probably correct. FWIW I think that 1) is true (say 85%) and 2) is also true, but I'm less confident in my judgement (say 65%). I guess most folks believe that 1) and 2) are true and are much more certain than I am. Seems like you're surrounded by Paperclippers.
4Prismattic9yThe proportional argument is relevant insofar as one is interested in the efficacy of legal prohibitions on slavery. If slavery was legal in the 21st century, do you not think the situation would be much worse than it is now?
-1[anonymous]9yI don't think we can draw this conclusion. For one, we don't have any kind of control. However, looking at other illegal trades like the drug war, I don't think there is any good reason to assume laws to be effective. It seems that things like urbanization and ending poverty are the major factors here, but I'm certainly not an expert nor have I yet had time to look at the literature. If, say, the volume of human trafficking before and after the introduction of legislation outlawing it fell sharply, I would consider such laws successful. I doubt good numbers exist, but I haven't had the time to look for them yet.
7[anonymous]9yThis comment doesn't seem completely silly when read as referring only to the legal abolition of slavery in undeveloped, backwater countries at the end of the twentieth century. But it's not the only reading that makes sense given context of the discussion. Historically there existed societies that were well-developed by the standards of their respective periods and had a strong rule of law and could effectively prohibit slavery but still chose not to. In fact, in one such nation, not too long ago, slavery was abolished rather abruptly. I heard there was a huge civil war over the entire business which suggests to me that in that particular country the laws could be (and eventually were) effectively enforced. If developed, stable societies didn't choose to abandon slavery over the last 150 years or so, the situation today would be much worse and we don't need any kind of control to draw that conclusion.
4Vaniver9yThis implies a number of quantitative measures that I'm not quite sure I agree with.
1[anonymous]9y... which are?
7Vaniver9yI could have been clearer in the grandparent. As stated, the great-grandparent can be taken several different ways, and most of them I have trouble with. One interpretation is that you're essentially judging a business by its expenses and nothing else. I agree with you that proportional measures are sometimes dodgy- oftentimes it's better to look at profit than profit margin- but just because there are more slaves today than there were when the world was much smaller doesn't mean that things are worse now than they ever were in history. That suggests a deeper contention: I think pure harm-minimization ethics are, well, bland.
2Will_Newsome9yI think this is a good reductio of many meta-level non-moral-realist FAI approaches like CEV. They retrospectively endorse genocide. (ETA: And of course they also very much disendorse anti-natalist preferences/tendencies, for whatever that's worth.)
3wedrifid9yI've had thoughts along similar lines myself. However I must point out that it isn't CEV that is retrospectively endorsing genocide so much as it is the hypothetical people who commit genocide prior to having their CEV calculated that are (evidently) endorsing genocide. Yes, extrapolating the volition of folks who are into genocide (that you don't approve of) is a bad idea. It is rather critical just which set of agents you plug into a CEV algorithm!
5Will_Newsome9yI wasn't really thinking of the same people doing both so much as Germans gaining more biological fitness than Poles due to the Holocaust, where their descendants' population differences might have massive effects on the output of CEV. You can't really blame the current Germans or Poles for existing more or less and yet CEV still doesn't attempt to adjust for this, which seems to violate normal moral intuitions about consistency. If we accept that natural selection isn't a moral process and is beyond the reach of God (which doesn't make any sense, but whatever), then it seems really odd to just accept its results as moral even after we've gained the ability to reflect and fix past errors.
5wedrifid9yI don't see any violation of moral intuitions there. It isn't the business of CEV to second guess what morality should be. It works out the morality (and other preferences) the input class has and seeks to satisfy them. So if you look at CEV you will see a CEV that does take into account the impact of past injustices according to whatever your moral intuitions are. Once you eliminate the effects of natural selection - and assorted past genocides - you don't have anything left. It isn't odd to accept whatever morality you happen to have as morality when there isn't anything else. I happen to have my morality because having it helped my ancestors kill their rivals, stay alive and get laid. Take away those influences doesn't leave me with a more pure morality it leaves me with absolutely nothing.
3Will_Newsome9yI take this (very real) possibility as strongly indicating that CEV-like approaches are insufficiently meta and that we should seriously expend a lot of effort on (getting closer to) solving moral philosophy if at all possible. (Or alternatively, as Wei Dai likes to point out, solving metaphilosophy.)
1TheOtherDave9ySure. Put slightly differently: if I have some set of ethical standards S against which I'm prepared to compare the results R of a CEV-like algorithm, with the intention of discarding R where R conflicts with S, it follows that I consider wherever I got S from a more reliable source of ethical judgments than I consider CEV. If so, that strongly suggests that if I want reliable ethical judgments, what I ought to be doing is exploring the source of S. Conversely, if I believe a CEV-like algorithm is a more reliable source of ethical judgments than anything else I have available, then I ought to be willing to discard S where it conflicts with R.
0thomblake9yHere's a version, then, that does not rely on the number of non-slaves: If the growth rate of the number of slaves was x, and now it is x/2, then I'd say the situation has improved, even if the number of slaves is higher now.
0[anonymous]9yCould the downvoters please explain their decision? I'm genuinely confused why this warrants -4 at the time of writing. I can speculate that they might think proportional arguments in such cases are obviously correct. If so, could you at least, say, link to an argument? (The controversial nature of the Repugnant Conclusion at least shows that it isn't obvious.) Or is it something else?
6MixedNuts9yThe point of the slavery example is that all countries have decided slavery is bad, and fought to stamp it out. That humankind, after millennia of slavery as the way things are, has rejected slavery. This is an example of moral progress. You pointed out that some people are slavers, and this is a good point; despite moral progress, even moral progress for all of humanity, some people still choose to do things that are wrong: there is hope of exposing evil, and hope of fighting it alongside all the world's governments, but not so much hope of every human rejecting evil, unlike in the baboon story. Yet, Barry Cotter says, this doesn't mean the fight is insincere - lip service and government passing silly laws like the drug war - it does reduce slavery. There may be little hope of every human rejecting slavery, yet humankind has in fact decided that slavery is wrong, and will free as many slaves as it can. Moral progress is a real force in the world. That it can't necessarily help people faster than they are born, and thus may let total damage grow, is completely irrelevant.
4[anonymous]9yI haven't downvoted but my guess for the reasons is that people see your argument as unreasonable and forced plus the fact that what you said resembles an attempt to signal world-weary cynicism or fatalism and that sort of thing isn't looked upon kindly around here.
3[anonymous]9yGood point about the cynicism. Can you think of a way I could've said it that wouldn't have signaled that? I find it problematic to express "Luke's cheering strikes me as weird, or at least way too premature, given what bad shape the world is in" without it sounding cynical. I also don't object to Luke's intention, namely to write some propaganda that progress is possible, but his specific examples (killing half the male population, questionable (and very costly) abolishment of slavery, even worse anti-religion sentiments, premature cheering for rationality feats that haven't proven their worth yet) don't support it and so I think the post is manipulative, though probably not maliciously so. I agree with taw [http://lesswrong.com/lw/99t/can_the_chain_still_hold_you/5nrh] that if he had simply made a point that demographic changes can bring rapid behavioral changes and stuck to the baboons, it would have been a much better article.
1[anonymous]9yThe point of that is that slavery used to be something normal, and now it no longer is.
0[anonymous]9yI didn't read lukeprog as asserting a proportional argument. Rather, he was asserting an argument about historical trajectory. As far as I can tell, the amount of slavery-suffering occurring now is irrelevant regarding whether European and United States abolition of slavery (and serfdom) was a net positive. (That said, I haven't voted on the comment).
-1wedrifid9y(Upvoted grandparent towards zero. I don't support absolute arguments any more than I support proportional arguments but there is nevertheless a point to be made along the one you made there.)
0adamisom9yI think this is wrong, though that's a clever point regarding outbreeding as a reason for decreased slavery. Even if that's true, it's done and gone, a sunk cost. The fact that there are far fewer slaves, a much lower proportion, and no legal slavery is what we should be concerned about.
6[anonymous]9yI don't understand what you mean. What's the sunk cost here? Luke was making a point that outlawing slavery has ended an institution that has existed throughout much of recorded history, but that's disingenuous, I think, because there are more slaves than there ever were. I don't see how changing the legal status of an institution, without changing the actual practice (in fact, making it more widespread) has improved the situation. It reminds me of war-against-drugs rhetoric. Another point in favor of disregarding lower proportions: would you feel better if tortured one of my children, if I also made two other children I treated nicely? After all, I would've decreased the rate of tortured children in the world.

Luke was making a point that outlawing slavery has ended an institution that has existed throughout much of recorded history, but that's disingenuous, I think, because there are more slaves than there ever were

If one looks only at absolute numbers, I imagine there are very few things, good or bad, which are not at a historic peak.

Another point in favor of disregarding lower proportions: would you feel better if tortured one of my children, if I also made two other children I treated nicely? After all, I would've decreased the rate of tortured children in the world.

This is a restatement of the fundamental meaning of utilitarianism, if one eliminates the rhetorical equation of 'torture' with 'treated nicely'. Given the survey results, I feel fairly confident that he would, yes.

4Nisan9yReally? I recall the Less Wrong survey result that most of us are consequentialists. And it's safe to assert that torturing a baby is theoretically compensated by an improvement in the welfare of a sufficient number of preexisting babies (with some hedges thrown in that might prevent torture in practice). But the ethical significance of creating new persons is not clear, especially in light of impossibility results in population ethics [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/repugnant-conclusion/#AccImpSatPopEth]. And in light of anthropic difficulties, Eliezer himself leans towards privileging the welfare of already-existing persons [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ws/for_the_people_who_are_still_alive/].

would you feel better if tortured one of my children, if I also made two other children I treated nicely? After all, I would've decreased the rate of tortured children in the world.

It is not obvious that over 34% of children in the world right now are being tortured.

4[anonymous]9yYou're right, my intuition failed me. I would've to compensate according to the present rate, and of course child torture was a gratuitous example, so I retract it.
4wedrifid9y"Wrong" or "misleading" seem like more appropriate terms here. There is no indication that Luke isn't being sincere.
5[anonymous]9yYou're right. I don't question Luke's sincerity, only his argument.

The elephant acts as if it thinks the chain's limiting power is intrinsic to nature rather than dependent on a causal factor that held for years but holds no longer.

What the imaginary and true limiting powers for the lesswrong community? Maybe some list could be useful.

-12[anonymous]9y

literally have been the textbook example

Cute.

Thank you for this. I found it very inspiring. If transhumanism had a religion, this would surely be an entry in its holy book.

Luke, I sympathize with wanting to motivate people that change is possible, but i feel that in your essay you are not promoting the need of a specific change, but change for the sake of change.

In the list of your analogies you discuss how recently humans have become strong enough to render itself extinct.

The human species was always too weak to render itself extinct. Until we discovered the nuclear chain reaction and manufactured thousands of atomic bombs.

To me this is a strong case for why if anything we should show some restraint in the chains we... (read more)

[-][anonymous]9y 0

That elephant example immediately reminded me of the JYJ vs SM case, because everyone uses that example for them. That case showed us that doing what's right isn't easy in the real world - the "bad" guys will make up something even worse to get their way. I'm sure that you guys have all read additional examples in literature where doing the "right" thing by going against what's generally accepted in society damages the people who try it. So, what I'm trying to say is that it's great that someone has freed themselves from the chain - but... (read more)

[-][anonymous]9y 0

I think this idea has been developed on lesswrong a few times already, but these are some interesting examples to support the point. As material to explain to new rationalists what this site is about, this is an excellent post.

But then, never before has humanity had the combined benefits of an overwhelming case for one correct probability theory, a systematic understanding of human biases and how they work, free access to most scientific knowledge, and a large community of people dedicated to the daily practice of CogSci-informed rationality exercises and to helping each other improve.

How do you know that these set of circumstances are only present, and only have been present, at your institution?

4vi21maobk9vp9yWhere does the text claim that this is present only in this institution? It is just that the combination of the conditions was, strictly speaking, infeasible for purely technical reasons (nonexistence of means of access to such large bodies of information and of some of the sceintific fields).
2adamisom9yIf there are a few weaknesses in the article, I'm not sure this is one of them. The field of cognitive biases have only been around 40 years; free access to most scientific knowledge has been greatly enhanced by Google Scholars and since it's otherwise fettered, that part's not unreasonable; even the Bayesian interpretation of probability theory has only been accepted for... well, I'm not sure, but I think only since World War II; and perhaps most restricting of all, the Web enables large communities that probably couldn't otherwise exist and is pretty new. These facts in conjunction make his statement reasonable.

even the Bayesian interpretation of probability theory has only been accepted for... well, I'm not sure, but I think only since World War II

Try half a century later. Until very recently -- about twenty years ago -- the Bayesian view of probability was very much a minority view, and it has only really picked up steam in the last 10 years. Several things happened around 20 years ago:

  • Faster and cheaper computers became available. Bayesian methods tend to be computationally intensive, and this limited their use.

  • Rule-based expert systems fizzled out and began to be replaced by Bayesian networks after practical algorithms for inference with BNs were developed.

  • Awareness of Markov chain Monte Carlo methods (which can be used to sample from a Bayesian posterior distribution) spread to the statistics community, and the free BUGS software made it easy for non-experts to create and evaluate new Bayesian models.

These developments made it practical to apply Bayesian methods... and people started finding out how well they could work.

Compared to situational effects, we tend to overestimate the effects of lasting dispositions on people's behavior — the fundamental attribution error. But I, for one, was only taught to watch out for this error in explaining the behavior of individual humans, even though the bias also appears when explaining the behavior of humans as a species. I suspect this is partly due to the common misunderstanding that heritability measures the degree to which a trait is due to genetic factors. Another reason may be that for obvious reasons scientists rarely try ver

... (read more)