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?)

Not 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).

By "Evil Mutants" I mean you're using the neuroarchitecture that demonizes political opponents and Hated Enemies in general, if that clears anything up.

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.

could you mention some predictions you don't already know to be true

  • 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 undocumented immigrants, sex workers on the job (major confounding here), trans people (also confounding, also I can't claim I don't know that), gay people where that's illegal, and people in communities that disapprove of airing dirty laundry such as the kinky scene (confounding) and small religious communities. (pretty sure of the general idea)
  • Rapists target victims they find attractive (this should correlate with conventional attraction), but the effect is less strong than that of vulnerability. (somewhat confident)
  • Rapists are a little, but not a lot, more likely to commit non-sexual violence. (somewhat confident)
  • Active rapists have greater variance in status than non-rapists; they're more likely to be either very high- or very low-status. (somewhat confident)
  • The smaller the social unit, the stronger the above effect is. (conditioning on it, pretty sure)
  • Medium- or high-status men who gain status become more likely to rape. (unsure)
  • Rape in a relationship (not necessarily one that's supposed to include consensual sex), like other forms of abuse, is used as a punishment (by which I mean occurs more frequently after the abused has disobeyed, voluntarily or not, the abuser, but is unlikely to leave the relationship) if the rapist is male (near-certain) or female (somewhat confident).
  • Creepiness is correlated with rape in men (pretty sure) and in women (unsure).
  • Effects of situational partner availability (dispreferred gender, lower attractiveness, taboo pairings) are stronger for rape than for consensual sex if the rapist is male. (unsure)
  • Rape by men is strongly correlated with testosterone level. (somewhat confident)
  • Rape is strongly correlated with sexual jealousy. (somewhat confident)
  • Rapists are more likely to be friends with other rapists. (pretty sure)
  • Rapists are more likely to be friends with rapists with the same methods of operation (familiarity with the victim, use of violence, use of alcohol, use of other substances, criteria for choice of victims). (somewhat confident)
  • Rape is correlated with making rape jokes, mild disregard of consent (such as tickling protesting people), and what I'm going to call "comments on the victim's behavior before and during the rape" when discussing rape cases, correcting for frequency of such behaviors in the social circle. (unsure)
  • Rape is negatively correlated with close relationships with known rape victims (of other perps, obviously). (somewhat confident)
  • If you ran that empathy study where people write "E" on their foreheads on men, they would be less empathetic primed with images of women than with images of men (pretty sure), and the effect would be stronger in active rapists of women than on non-rapists (conditioning on previous, pretty sure).
  • If you ran that study on women, they would be less empathetic primed with images of men than with images of women (somewhat confident), and the effect would be stronger in survivors of recent rape by a man than in non-survivors (conditioning on previous, somewhat confident).
  • Men who rape without use of violence are rougher when raping than when having consensual sex. (somewhat confident)
  • Male rapists are on median worse in bed (as judged by consensual sex partners) than non-rapists of similar sexual experience. (There's a question of how to count the rapes toward sexual experience.) (unsure)
  • The kick of power (I don't know if we know how to detect it, but it's a clearly recognizable emotion) is stronger (in the same individual) when raping than when having consensual sex in male rapists of men (pretty sure), in male rapists of women (somewhat confident), and in female rapists (unsure).
  • On average, rapists seek the aforementioned feeling of status elevation more than non-rapists if male (somewhat confident) and if female (unsure).

Any disagreements? Any sources for resolution?

Can the Chain Still Hold You?

by lukeprog 3 min read13th Jan 2012360 comments


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.