Robin Hanson has wondered why folks seem concerned about inequality based on some stuff, like race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability, but not other stuff, like height, appearance, intelligence, sleep, conscientiousness, and perhaps most importantly, happiness.

My explanation: Race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability are fairly discrete ways of classifying people.  Most people (though not all) can be categorized fairly neatly in to a single race, birth gender, desired gender, and sexual orientation.  By contrast, looks, smarts, and happiness all vary in a continuous fashion.  For some/all of these characteristics, there's a bell curve--many people in the middle and fewer people at the extremes.

Why should this matter?  One of the things that comes up a lot on this blog is how irrational people tend to get when talking about politics.  For a really rousing political argument, you need group identification--hence the Greens and the Blues in Eliezer's original politics essay.  How would that essay be different if everyone was a different shade of turquoise, somewhere on a continuum between blue and green?

Or here's another thought experiment: Instead of height varying in a continuous fashion, everyone in society is either a Tall or a Short.  Just like in the real world, taller people tend to make more money and assume more leadership roles, but instead of saying "he got the job because he's taller", people would say "he got the job because he's a Tall".  How well do you think society would handle this?  (BTW, looks like shorter people live longer, so height inequality may actually favor shorter folks on balance.)


Speculation on factional conflict and social distance

The hypotheses I'm advancing here is that an argument between, say, a radical feminist and a men's rights activist, is not all that different in kind from an argument between a Democrat and a Republican, an Israeli and a Palestinian, or a Hutu and a Tutsi.  (Regarding gender in particular: factional conflicts may be harder to spot when almost every human is a member of one relevant faction or another.  There's no big, neutral third party to say stuff like "wow, this is getting kinda out of hand".)

Why do people think about competing factions this way?  Well, humans are social animals that evolved to live in tribes.  Much hunter-gatherer violence was inter-tribal.

The more iterated a prisoner's dilemma is, the more it makes sense to lean towards cooperation.  Dilemmas between fellow tribe members would be highly iterated; dilemmas between tribes less so.  Additionally, people of different factions would likely have lower genetic similarity--note family feuds, for example.

The below XKCD comic illustrates what I suspect may be a resulting fact about human nature: we're less likely to have friendly, empathetic feelings for those who seem distant or abstract.

More evidence for this idea:

  • The book Bargaining for Advantage cites studies showing that negotiations via email face an increased risk of impasse.  This effect can be mitigated by giving email-based negotiators each others' photos and explicitly instructing them to "schmooze" and share information on hobbies, families, etc.
  • In Randall Collins' book Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory, he writes that infantry in close combat use their weapons at a lower rate than artillery/snipers.  Also, "Battle victors hate to see the eyes of the enemy they are killing... Eye-to-eye confrontations, however truncated, between holdup man and victim, appear to be unbearable for the gunman to sustain."  (HT TGGP.)
  • The identifiable victim effect--people are more willing to donate to charity when presented with a single, identifiable victim than casualty statistics.
  • It seems people have a tendency to give more nice/socially desirable answers to phone surveys than web surveys.
This may be a way to optimize for cooperation among those who are members of our clan/tribe while making it easier to defect against tribal outsiders.

But this is the modern world... we've got plenty of food and competing with outsiders is useless!  There's no real reason not to feel deep compassion for everyone you talk to, and doesn't it feel great?  Unfortunately, seeing people face-to-face may be critical for empathizing with them, and face-to-face communication through web pages is rare.  If this theory is true, it could go a long way towards explaining how dysfunctional gender conversations often are online.

Speculation on equality and fairness

Why does so much inter-factional conflict focus on issues of inequality?  Robin Hanson's guess: "our distant ancestors got into the habit of complaining about inequality of transferable assets with a tribe, as a way to coordinate a veiled threat to take those assets if they were not offered freely."  I'm not sure agree with this 100%.  I suspect that inequality between tribes (e.g. over access to salt, as mentioned in War Before Civilization) may have been a bigger issue than within-tribe inequality.  And "veiled threat" doesn't seem quite right--I suspect the feeling that things are unfair and I deserve more is just a signal for me to take stuff from others, in the same way hunger is a signal for me to eat stuff.  (Yes, many of us modern humans are generally pretty good about suppressing this "things are unfair" instinct, but that doesn't mean our ancestors were.)

To replicate one's genes, it's useful to have certain things like food, water, and respect.  But there's not always an unlimited supply of this stuff, and the only way to get more of it may be to get others to give it to you.  You could forcefully demand all of it, but if there's more than one person doing that, you're liable to trigger an expensive fight (or lose your credibility for making forceful demands).  Additionally, demanding all of a resource will trigger fiercer resistance from others, who really need at least some of it.  Demanding that you get one Nth of some important resource, where N is the number of people fighting over the resource, is a strategy that won't cause you to come in to conflict with others doing the same.

Equitable distribution doesn't necessarily maximize collective utility, however.  A world where the supply of disposable diapers was distributed equitably would have substantially less utility than the current world, where disposable diapers are concentrated in the hands of people who have young children.


From fairness to empathy

Pat and Jesse are roommates.  Pat enjoys doing something that also happens to annoy Jesse.  Consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario A: Jesse asserts a right to not be annoyed.  Pat responds by accusing Jesse of being oversensitive and asserts a right to continue with the activity.

Scenario B: Jesse shares preferences.  Pat shares preferences.  They work together to find the solution that satisfies their collective preferences maximally.  This solution could involve a behavioral change on Pat's part, a behavioral change on Jesse's part, some combination, or Jesse just learning to live with the activity.  Throughout their discussion, they make it clear to each other that they respect and like one another and care about each others' preferences.  They don't worry too much about who is "giving in" or "making a concession", and are careful to make requests rather than demands.

I think most people would agree that Scenario B is ideal.  Unfortunately, many modern conversations about social justice look more like Scenario A.  It's common, for instance, for members of different groups to argue about who has it worse.  This seems like a failure mode for a number of reasons:

  • Speaking for myself, I know that the problems I am experiencing myself are way more salient in my mind than the problems I hear that others have, and I tend to assume my problems are more widespread than they really are.  So even if one party does have things worse, this may not be clear to the other party unless they correct internally for these effects.
  • If my problems weren't salient already, complaining about them to someone else in an emotionally heated argument will ensure that they become salient.  Yay, problems I'm constantly thinking about!
  • When others ignore your complaints about your own problems and focus on their own, that causes you to become resentful.  If they're not going to listen to you, why should you listen to them?  The result is that everyone complains, getting increasingly resentful, and no one listens.
  • And finally, figuring out who has it worse doesn't immediately take steps towards achieving anyone's preferences.

This dialogue may be better than nothing, just because preferences do end up getting communicated.  But I think we can improve on it.  In particular, listening to other peoples' preferences seems pretty key for priming cooperative, friendly behavior and getting them to consider yours.  "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  (Note: This can be tough.)

To give a concrete example: Maybe women have a preference for not being objectified sexually that men don't share.  Men can respect and work to achieve that preference even if they don't share it--empathy over fairness!

Of course, if priming cooperative behavior fails to work, continued loud complaining may be optimal.  Sometimes cycles of defection can't be broken.


Non-ideal brains

Several years ago, I was taking a political science class and the professor was discussing feminism.  At one point, the (male) professor said something like "But beyond all this, women are just better than men, and I think we all know it."  This offended me, and I fumed to myself internally, thinking that if he'd made the opposite claim he'd probably get in trouble with the administration of the college, etc.

You may already have an opinion on this issue, thinking that either I should not have gotten offended or the professor should not have made his statement.  But lets look through this issue through the Pat and Jesse lens.  I have a preference for people to respect me, and for me not to feel angry and offended.  There are a few different ways for these preferences to be achieved.  There's not necessarily a "right" way.  Preferences about my misfiring fairness neurons are preferences like any others.  (I'm living in a first-world country that's the product of thousands of years of technological development.  I've got all the food I want.  In theory, grabbing even more resources shouldn't be a very high priority, but my brain still wants to do it.  Hence the "misfiring" allegation against my neurons.)

Unfortunately, we all have these unwanted instincts.  I think it makes sense to try to avoid activating the instincts in both yourself and others.  I'm glad that saying "People of Group X suck" is considered worse than saying "You suck"--Western society has developed some useful memetic antibodies to nip inter-factional conflicts in the bud.


Thanks to HughRistik for offering feedback on this post.

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Firstly, I would like to say that I really enjoyed this post, and hope to see more like it!

It seems to me that (sane) MRA's and (sane) feminists should be natural allies. The "generic" version of feminism officially points to gender equality (NOT female supremacy), and feminists have previously allied with the LGBT movement, and racial suffrage (though that alliance went south when one group got suffrage before the other), and taken other social justice fights on as well.

As a sane feminist, I was happy to discover sane MRA type sites such as ozy's No Seriously, What About teh Menz?, and the over-arching The Good Men Project. These sites opened my eyes to the valid concerns of the MRA movement, such as issues regarding male rape, child custody, and the censure and unavailability of feminine style toys (dolls, dresses, EZ Bake Ovens, etc) for little boys.

These issues fit perfectly into my gender egalitarian style of feminism, and I thought that if it weren't for the bad blood between the two sides, that feminists should/would have taken up these particular issues the same way they often pick up other social justice issues.

The problem is that, (pulling numbers out of the ai... (read more)

Perhaps instead of being "(sane) feminist" or "(sane) MRA", the sane gender-issues people should all just call themselves "Gender Egalitarians".

Unfortunately, this label already seems to be undergoing the same connotation creep that quickly happened to "Race realism" and is about to happen to "Human Biodiversity". Both of those are - justly or not - suspected to be cover labels that racists adopted when the old "Scientific Racism" became disreputable, so now many people with "mainstream" views on racial differences equate the three.

From what I've read of MRA discussions, some of them are definitely trying to trade the label for "Gender Egalitarianism", which they position as neutral or hostile to all kinds of feminism - so, as dumb and ridiculous as this might be, the words "gender egalitarian" might acquire a connotation of "feminist-hater", or simply "misogynist".

(Great post btw!)

Do you have any links? None of the first few Google hits for "gender egalitarianism", at a first glance, look like that.
I'd go with “anti-sexism”. No, wait... That might sound like I'm in favour of sexual abstinence. “Anti-genderism”? (Belated edit: looks like the word we're looking for is “sex-blindness”.)
That sounds like you're against gender.
(For certain values of "gender", that's not terribly far from truth.)

However, the men's rights movement is not so large. Say only 1.5% of males are MRAs. This means that 2/3 of their movement is the insane 1%, and only 1/3 are sane. The MRA movement is not large enough to contain the crazy 1% while still remaining overall sane. So MOST MRA stuff out there is the insane stuff.

Even if there's a much larger proportion of sane, reasonable MRAs to start with, if the proportion of crazy ones is high enough, the reasonable ones are liable to start distancing themselves from the movement to avoid being tarred by association, increasing the proportion of crazy ones identifying with the movement. This is exactly why I personally exercise a great deal of caution in letting anyone know that I sympathize with the movement at all.

What was the proportion of sane feminists in those days when the feminism was new?

I am not asking how many sane women agreed with the proposed women rights, but what kind of women was the first to publicly self-identify with the label, and do something that drew attention to them.

Looking at the Wikipedia article on "Suffragette", I read about "setting fire to mailbox contents, smashing windows and occasionally detonating bombs". Imagine what would be the public opinion about MRA movement if the first MRAs did this, if merely expressing their opinions impolitely on internet is enough to label them as insane.

Most sane men do not join MRA movement because, honestly, most men don't give a shit about other men in general. We often see each other as competitors, and we focus on our jobs and families, and a few friends. A man usually becomes a MRA activist when something bad happens to him personally. Now of course such person is extremely prone to mindkilling; that should not be surprising.

There were feminists who said that all men are rapists, or that in a perfect world 90% of men would disappear from the planet... and they are still considered a legitimate part of t... (read more)

and they are still considered a legitimate part of the movement which is supposedly not against men, but for fairness, equality, and everything good.

Well, these days, more feminists are inclined to do whatever they can to marginalize them, claim that they're not "real" feminists, or that they flat out do not exist. Yvain discussed this in a very interesting livejournal post

What struck me most about that very interesting post was how "legalistic" the MRA controversial claims were. I'm a lawyer, that's not a slur. It's an interesting contrast between the feminist controversial claims, which are mostly about social dynamics, and the MRA controversial claims, which I could write a model statute to fix in practically no time at all. And since writing statutes to fix social dynamics is a crude tool at best, and often counter-productive, reasonable MRA activists and reasonable feminists have a great deal of trouble avoiding talk-past-each-other-itis.
Depends, if the social dynamics where themselves created by bad statues, fixing or repealing the statute seems like at least a start.
That's a good point, but it's worth noting that the "obviously reasonable" MRA claims are mostly social issues that are not effectively addressed in our society. A lot of the "obviously reasonable" ground for feminism has already been won, and many of the more uncontroversially reasonable matters that could be addressed by statute already have been. Earlier generations of feminism have eaten up a lot of the low hanging fruit, whereas MRA hasn't really accomplished much.
I don't really agree with your history. Consider the first of the "controversial" MRA claims: In the United States, one way to create immediate improvement (from the MRA perspective) would be repeal of Federal Rule of Evidence 413 or its state law equivalents. Historically, this rule is actually quite recent, dating from 1995 - Congress actually overruled the Rules Committee recommendation not to have Rules 413-415. Personally, I think 413-15 are inconsistent with how the criminal justice system normally deals with prior bad acts of the defendant. Nonetheless, that's very different from asserting that the issues haven't been addressed. Things once were closer to what the MRA now advocates, society considered the issue, and the position now adopted by MRA activists lost. My sense of the history is that most of the more legalistic desires of MRA listed in Yvain's post are also attempts to reverse previous defeats.
I don't see that this addresses my comment. The "currently controversial" claims are controversial because there are plenty of people who're convinced that they're going too far in the wrong direction, so it's no surprise if some of them are lost ground to people who think, for instance, that the relative levels of protection should be more favorable to women. The "controversial" issues have seen more social and legal address than the "uncontroversial" ones, because feminists are a much more effective lobby group, and have mostly moved past the "obviously reasonable" issues on their own end and are moving the borders of the "currently controversial," while MRA has more or less failed to effectively agitate for even their "uncontroversial" positions, let alone the "controversial" ones, so the activists addressing the "controversial" issues are almost all coming from the feminist side.
In my original comment, I wasn't trying to divide controversial from non-controversial. I was dividing MRA from feminist. In brief, my perception was feminist = social dynamic, MRA = legalistic. That's an over-generalization, but I thought it was interesting - and a partial explanation of the difficulties you noted with alliances between the reasonable on each side. Analytically, this helps one explain the interactions between MRA and feminists without assuming oppression is a necessary part of the human condition, it's all status games, or that either side is innately evil.
My response to that point was that feminism seems less legalistic now because the low hanging fruit which could readily be addressed by legislation largely already has been, so social dynamics and things that are not easy to address with legislation (at least in the current political climate) are what's left. "Equal pay for equal work" is sort of a holdout, in that an employee can legally sue their employer for discriminatory practices for not providing equal pay for equal work, but on the other hand, companies aren't required to divulge their pay standards, either to all their employees or to any oversight body charged with ensuring equal salaries. So while it's generally regarded as "uncontroversial," its legal protection is very incomplete in large part because the measures necessary to guarantee it are opposed to business interests which are themselves a powerful lobbying force. It's not that feminism is inherently less legalistic than MRA (at least, I don't think we have the evidence to conclude that,) but that the difference in focus is largely due to the gap in the amounts of ground the movements have already covered.

I think that “feminism” is a very counter-intuitive label for that memeplex (imagine anti-racism was called “blackism”), and that that might have contributed to people misunderstanding what (‘sane’) feminists are about. (In Italian it's even worse -- sexism is usually called maschilismo, so people assume femminismo is reverse sexism, and even use it as a slur against people they perceive to be misandrist, and MRAs call themselves anti-femministi.)

As a sane feminist, I was happy to discover sane MRA type sites such as ozy's No Seriously, What About teh Menz?, and the over-arching The Good Men Project.

Me too. I'm pleasantly surprised to find out that there are people who can discuss certain issues with extremely low levels of mind-killing, which made me change my mind about what I wrote earlier. (Well, this too.)

That and sane people in general speaking less hysterically and drawing less attention than insane people.
Yeah. That place just went to hell (although it seems like everybody I consider an ally is Not Daring To Urge Constraint).
Thanks. I knew I had read a post by EY describing exactly that failure mode, but couldn't remember which it was.
I spoke too soon. I've been seeing plenty of mind-killed people on the GMP lately.

I wish I could upvote this more than once; it aligns neatly with several things I've been wanting to say for months but haven't found a chance to. There's just a couple things I'd like to add.

First, I suspect the relatively small size of the MRA sphere distorts outsiders' perception of it in ways other than making hateful personalities proportionally more common. Specifically, it's too small and too new for well-developed sub-movements to be self-sustaining: there are identifiable tendencies (compare the average comment on Spearhead to the average on Owning Your Shit [ETA: or not; see below]), but there's far more cross-posting between them than on comparable feminist sites, and I'd attribute this directly to feminism's far greater age, size, and level of development as an ideology. Since not a few prolific cross-posters fall into the "hater" category, and since offensive comments are always going to be disproportionately salient to readers, this ends up tarring the whole community.

But that's just a perception thing, more or less. Even if a viable egalitarian-looking men's advocacy programme manages to magic itself into existence, I think problems might be still cause... (read more)

I just looked at a few comments on the two sites you linked (never having visited either before) and I couldn't tell the difference. I'm not sure what you intended to say by comparing them.
I'll admit I didn't review any recent comments on Spearhead before posting. I visited the site months ago and was so annoyed by the commentariat that I haven't read much there since. It's possible that I caught a bad patch or that they've gotten more moderate since, in which case I've misrepresented them and I apologize. But I have seen similar sentiments expressed towards them elsewhere in the interim.
The comments were unpleasant to awful there, but they were mediocre to awful on the other site too. There were a few more "This is a great post." style comments on Owning Your Shit but that was the main difference that I saw from clicking through a couple articles.
Fair enough. The comments are indeed awful on both sites, but that's true in broad strokes for most political blogs. I was mainly trying to point up accusatory and gender-essentialist strains I remembered from Spearhead that seemed much attenuated in OYS, but in light of this the difference evidently either isn't there or isn't glaring enough to be clear to first-time readers from context-free links. Since I don't particularly feel like doing the muckraking myself and I can't expect people to do it for me, I retract that comparison. Pity we can't strikethrough portions of a post.

I was happy to discover sane MRA type sites such as ozy's No Seriously, What About teh Menz?, and the over-arching The Good Men Project.

Since when are "No Seriously, What About teh Menz?", and "The Good Men Project" MRA sites?

Since when are "No Seriously, What About teh Menz?", and "The Good Men Project" MRA sites?

I believe those are the sites where I learned about men's rights issues such as male rape, child custody, etc, so I put them under the MRA umbrella, though they may not identify themselves that way (probably due to not wanting to be tarred with the same brush as the insanity)

If you DON'T think that those sites are MRA, then I would update towards ALL MRA to be of the insane kind, since those sites are the only ones I've seen on that side that I consider to be sane. (Though I welcome links to the contrary)

The MRA label very quickly became stabilized as an antifeminist identifier, such that I'd guess "male ally" and "MRA" are almost perfectly exclusive self-descriptors. But the intension of MRA as a typical self-descriptor and as you've been using it may not perfectly cohere either, so this may not be a "real" update that you're forced into.

Thank you, apparently I've been using the wrong words. I had been reading "men's rights" as "you care about the rights of men, and male-specific gender issues", NOT as "you don't like feminism." I would like to edit my post with a better term that is actually accurate for what I am trying to get at (the first definition I listed above). Do you know what a better term is? "Male ally" doesn't seem right, since most of them ARE males. And also, in that case, it's actually useful that the insane "People Who Care About Men's Rights" are considerate enough to separate themselves out from the sane "PWCAMR", which leaves the sane ones free to develop their own movement! lol

I had been reading "men's rights" as "you care about the rights of men, and male-specific gender issues", NOT as "you don't like feminism."

It's probably worth remembering that names are not catalog numbers that facilitate filing into categories. Attempting to reverse-engineer a compound noun phrase by looking only at its parts will often swing you wide of the actual target.

Agreed. Most science fiction has little or no science.
That'd be an example of making the error I'm trying to point out here. "Science fiction" is not "fiction about science"; the term has a long and varied history and in point of fact, no single, well-defined rigorous use has predominated. Indeed, there are so many currents, subgenres and subsubgenres contained within the umbrella term that it's simply not very specific. Here are a bunch of big names in the field offering different ideas about what constitutes science fiction; when you read it, keep in mind it's a small slice of the pie. Here's a map of the history of the genre. Take note of its variety:
I'm not sure whether you're agreeing with me or not. I was bringing up the lack of science in science fiction as an example of the sort of thing you were talking about.
Possible incorrect pattern-match, then -- I've heard been party to a few too many genre-definition squabbles.
I read a lot of discussion of "what is science fiction?" on usenet. [1] There were two results for me: a theory that people base their prototypes on strong emotional experiences, but don't recognize that it's their internal process, so they think their idea of "real science fiction" is an objective fact. They get very upset when someone else makes a strong claim that real science fiction is something else. Actually, I do the same thing. I know someone who believes that science fiction is optimistic. How can he say that Kornbluth and Dick weren't writing science fiction? The other thing I learned from those discussions on usenet was that I want to avoid discussions of "who's a Jew?". I have successfully avoided them. Oddly enough, there was one successful definitional discussion-- it was settled that milsf is science fiction about people in a chain of command. This explains why I don't like milsf generally, but do like Bujold's Miles stories. [1] Is Pern science fiction? It has dragons! On another planet! The dragons are telepathic and can teleport, but (perhaps as a mercy) people tended not to get into the question of whether psi should count as fantasy.
0Rob Bensinger
I'm not a fan of letting MRA take over the term 'men's rights.' It's useful to maintain parity with women's rights. A simple, broad term for the salient grouping MRA falls into is 'antifeminists.' Feminists recognize that women are systematically disadvantaged, and desire gender equality; so antifeminists will reject either the former fact (sex/gender inequality denialism) or the latter value (male supremacism), or both. You could pick out the MRAers who aren't just supremacists as 'antifeminists who happen to care a lot about men's rights,' but this may not actually be a useful category, since it glues a harmful value to a virtuous one. As for men's rights supporters who aren't 'MRA,' these will simply be feminists (or, if you prefer, 'profeminists') who have an interest in men's rights. Speaking phrasally is uncatchy, but also diminishes misunderstanding and essentialism.
The important thing is whether this category reflects reality or not. Let's start the analysis there, not with the bottom line.
1Rob Bensinger
That's a very interesting response, but I think the issue of 'natural kinds' is more pertinent to fundamental physics and metaphysics than to classifications of high-level phenomena like social groups and ideologies. The more complicated the phenomenon, the harder it is to single out clear joints of Nature. That said, I think the above terms ('feminist,' 'antifeminist,' 'denialist,' 'supremacist,' 'egalitarian'...) are useful starting points for their relative precision and simplicity.
If you don't follow "nature", then the definition is kind of arbitrary. The arbitrary definitions can be used to help or hurt the cause. If you complain about "gluing a harmful value to a virtuous one", I feel like you have already decided to dislike A and like B, and you are biased to think about definitions that will hurt A and/or help B. The definition itself becomes a weapon. (Related: this article.) As an example, imagine there is a movement around some concept C consisting of a sympathetic person P1, average people P2, P3, P4, and an unsympathetic person P5. If you like C, you are motivated to invent a definition that includes P1, P2, P3, P4 and excludes P5. Then "C is movement popular among many people, including such paragons as P1". If you dislike C, you are motivated to invent a definition that includes P5 and excludes P1. Inclusion of P2, P3, P4 depends on whether you prefer to describe it as "a dangerous movement" (include) or "a fringe belief" (exclude). My translation: "In my opinion, C pattern-matches P5." My translation: "You could pick out other member of C, such as P1, P2, P3, P4, but this may not actually be a useful [for what purpose exactly?] category, since it glues P5 to P1".
-4Rob Bensinger
What could "arbitrary" mean here? Paraconsistent logic is not "arbitrary," though it is hard to say in what sense it follows nature. As it happens, no human being employs a language that has been completely purified of all interests, all values, all pragmatic considerations, of everything but the Truth. But from this it does not follow that all the non-joint-carving terms in human language are completely arbitrary; they may even be universalizable, if the prudential or moral values they are predicated on happen to be shared among the relevant linguistic community. Guilty as charged, I suppose. I do indeed dislike denialism and male supremacism, and I do indeed like supporters of men's and women's rights. Is this an unacceptable leap? Does intellectual seriousness demand that I maintain perfect neutrality at all times regarding the existence or moral character of systemic sexism? Absent an argument for taking denialism seriously as a factual claim, or for conferring respect upon supremacism as a scalable moral project, I see no reason to even consider actively linking these practices to productive social activism, any more than I see a reason to coin a catchy new term for 'environmentalists who deny the occurrence of anthropogenic climate change,' or 'white supremacists who regularly give to charity.' Certainly there are such people, but we have no responsibility to rhetorically fortify their position for them by gerrymandering a more respectable slice of peoplespace in their honor. That goes well beyond steel-manning. Remember, I did not suggest inventing a term merely to promote gender egalitarianism or human well-being or what-have-you. All I noted was that the values in question are potentially hindered if we go out of our way to coin a new term linking denialism or supremacism to the general idea of the promotion of men's (or women's) liberties, rights, welfare, etc. As it happens, this also isn't a natural kind, isn't one of Nature's privileged Joints; but I
On meta level: Fallacy of gray. Just because we are not perfect, does not mean that some ways are not better than other ways. Humans are not perfectly unbiased, but we could still avoid the most obviously biased arguments. Liking or disliking a group is not a problem per se. The problem for a rationalist would be if your liking or disliking motivated you to change your own perception of reality (for example by intentionally using non-natural categories) in a way that would make you more likely to believe false statements. For example, if X% of MRAs believe that women should be chained in kitchens, we should want to believe that the number of them who believe so is X. Not X+1. Not X-1. This is unrelated to whether you consider women chained in kitchens to be the most horrible idea ever, a neutral culture-specific choice, or the best idea ever. One way to change the value of X is to include or exclude the people from the original set, so that the ratio within the new set becomes smaller or greater than X. Usually, when people do this, they only report the number, and not the difference between the original set and the new set. For example one could say: "I have statistically proved that 100% of MRAs want women to be chained in kitchens (and here are the raw data)" and omit the part "...because I used a definition that only those who want to chain women in kitchens are the true MRAs." There could be other numbers for other definitions, for example "people who self-identify as MRAs", or "people recognized as MRAs by other people who self-identify as MRAs" or "people who agree with MRA ideas, regardless of the fact how they self-identify" (and then we also have to include our definition of "MRA ideas"). And for even greater justice one should also include a number of non-MRAs who want to have women chained in kitchens (instead of silently assuming that it must be zero). On object level: Feminism is not clearly defined, so neither is anti-feminism. Does anti-feminis
General principle: When people like something, they assume that the best examples are typical of it. If people don't like something, they assume that the worst examples are typical of it. Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crud) is an attempt to break out of that habit.
So taken together, there are at least three big problems with describing a set of things. 1) People are more likely to notice and remember the things which match their biases. This will be reflected in their descriptions, even with honest intentions. 2) People are likely to further shift the description for political reasons to make the described thing appear better or worse. 3) The results may significantly differ according to what weight we assign to the individual items of the set. When speaking about books, do we consider all published (or even unpublished? unfinished?) books as equal, or do we weigh them by number of exemplars printed (or sold?) or by how many people read them (and how often?) or liked them? When speaking about a political movement, do we weigh opinions by the number of people who hold them, by the number of articles (or books? or lectures?) expressing them, or by the number of members who read those articles / books / listen to lectures and agree with them?
Only if there are exactly 100 MRAs in the world. ;-)
-4Rob Bensinger
Straw-man fallacy. (And fallacy fallacy. A word to the wise: Your arguments so far have been extremely vague and have only rarely intersected with my specific claims. You may be relying too much on general pattern-matching of vaguely similar argument types, rather than grappling specifically with what I've suggested here.) Nowhere did I suggest that we should make 'obviously biased arguments.' But what is meant by 'biased' here? If admitting that we believe 'sex-based discrimination exists' and 'sex-based discrimination is bad' immediately makes us 'obviously biased' in the context of any discussion about sex and gender, then we seem to have committed ourselves to a rather untenably austere True Neutrality stance. Would admitting that I believe the Holocaust occurred, and that the Holocaust was bad, similarly call into question my credibility and objectivity as a reasoner? I think that's a bit over-the-top. You're reifying categories too much. The way we group the world is almost never a completely neutral, interest-free sorting of empirical clusters. The take-away lesson from that isn't 'Despair of ever identifying any of Nature's joints,' nor is it 'Despair of ever being unbiased.' The take-away lesson is to beware of essentializing, i.e., of treating groupings we adopted for convenience as ultimately real. The advice you give is good in broad strokes, but unworkable if it requires that we simply stop having any terms we've defined as we do for purposes of convenience. Our choice of everyday terms is not (nor should it be) in all cases a deep worldly matter, even if the things we assert using those terms is indeed in all cases a deep worldly matter. Yes. Nothing I've said suggests otherwise. Coining a new term specifically for people who care deeply about the welfare of men and think sexism (or female-directed sexism) doesn't exist would not help us better understand the world or its property clusters. Respond to my assertions, not to the most proximate schemat
That's a funny way of characterizing it, since MRA was just "men's rights activist", which seems like a perfectly sensible thing to call someone who tries to organize people to action because she cares about men's rights. It was turned immediately into a pejorative, and I'm surprised there are circles where non-abbreviated "men's rights" is even something you can say without being associated with Nazis.
8Rob Bensinger
There are other terms in the neighborhood that haven't been contaminated in this way, like 'men's studies' and 'men's liberation.' On the other hand, 'masculinist' seems to have followed very much the same trajectory as 'men's rights (activism).' My proposal is intended to refocus the discussion on the points of substantive, specific disagreement, while also incrementally remedying the stigmatization of 'men's rights' as the counterpart of 'women's rights.'
As I mentioned here, the criterion you use for sanity appears to be way too weighted towards agreeing with you. The example you gave of an MRA being "insane": is not encouraging here. While this position does sound absurd, that's not the same as insane. The way to test insanity would be to look at their arguments for the above position. Having said that I don't actually know much about the official men's rights movement except that they have legitimate grievances and that the PUA community says nasty things about them. Nevertheless, you might want to start here.
That was my first thought as well. I like both projects a lot, but I wouldn't have placed them in the MRA sphere.
The mistake daenerys is actually fairly common. She wants to talk to some "sane" MRA people, where by "sane" she means ones who more-or-less agree with her. The problem is that real Men's Rights Advocates don't agree with her positions, so she finds people who do who are talking about men and declares them the "sane MRA faction".
Note that this can be a rhetorical strategy as well as an honest mistake! (I make no claims about what was going through particular posters' heads.)
In my view, these are not MRA issues. These are feminist issues. There doesn't need to be a "Men's Rights Movement"; because men's rights should be an inherent component of the feminist perspective, which is that femininity should be nurtured and encouraged instead of being stamped out. Whether a feminine [i.e., nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious] personality happens to bud within a body with a vagina or a penis should be irrelevant. It should be part of the feminist foundation, at the "bedrock" as it were, that people have the right to choose their orientation, their personality, their gender, and their social roles regardless of what kind of dangly bits they have, and that judgments about the worth or suitability of a particular person should be made based on that person's actual capabilities, rather than based on social assumptions or even aggregate statistical stereotyping. If rape is bad, then feminism should be against rape, not merely against rape of women. If gender stereotyping is bad, then feminism should be against gender stereotyping, not merely against gender stereotyping of women. If external reproductive control is bad, then feminism should be against external reproductive control, not merely against external reproductive control of women. If using gender norms to devaluing the personhood of human beings is bad, then feminism should be against any process that would use a gender norm to devalue the personhood of human beings, including processes within so-called "feminism" that would say "our concern is only what happens to women." This is why, as a human being with a penis, I feel that I can legitimately say "I am a feminist", rather than merely saying "I am a feminist ally".

In my view, these are not MRA issues. These are feminist issues. There doesn't need to be a "Men's Rights Movement"; because men's rights should be an inherent component of the feminist perspective, which is that femininity should be nurtured and encouraged instead of being stamped out. Whether a feminine [i.e., nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious] personality happens to bud within a body with a vagina or a penis should be irrelevant.

Personally, I think the idea that being nurturing, compassionate, and socially conscious, are inherently feminine and thus the natural province of feminism, is just as unreasonable and offensive as saying that courage and proactiveness are inherently masculine and therefore causes like getting more women involved in the military or police work are naturally not the province of feminism.

I would agree that there was no need for a Men's Rights Movement if there were a Gender Egalitarianism Movement that reliably functioned as such, but feminists do not reliably support addressing all issues of gender inequality. I think most people would agree that women are, on net, more societally disadvantaged than men, but from t... (read more)

Whether a feminine [i.e., nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious] personality happens to bud within a body with a vagina or a penis should be irrelevant.

I can see where you're coming from here, but I think that the work should instead be put into broadening masculinity. To make a loaded analogy, saying "it's okay for boys to act feminine" when they want to do something traditionally female is like saying "it's okay for black people to act white" when they want to do something traditionally european. You can define the words so that the sentence parses, but you can't remove the additional meaning to make the sentence a good idea.

Besides, it's fine to use different words to describe people focused on different things, even if they use the same toolbox.


Once you describe "feminine" as "nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious" and define feminism as a movement to protect all things feminine, I think you have gone far beyond what most people mean by either word.


As Eugine_Nier just stated, it isn't the feminists who want to place "nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious" solely within the label "feminine."

If we could stop labeling virtues by sex, that would be a definite improvement.

Actually "nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious" is pretty close to the definition of "feminine" traditionalists use when arguing in favor of separate spheres for men and women.

In other words, traditionalists deny men the right/obligation to be nurturing, compassionate, cooperative and socially-conscious - exactly like feminists always say. Lol.

Using feminism to refer to issue's of men's rights is like using the phrase white power to refer to issue's about african american rights. Whatever argument you then make about broadening the meaning of the term is obviously and instantly undermined by the linguistic problems present.

Also: a LOT of people use feminism to mean "more rights for women and who cares about men?". Your more broad species of feminism is inclusive almost to the point of being meaningless. It's like using the word feminism to mean "good".

I'd like that. It would allow me to take such professions of tribal affiliation as net evidence that the speaker is not sexist, rather than the reverse.

I think most people would agree that Scenario B is ideal. Unfortunately, many modern conversations about social justice look more like Scenario A. It's common, for instance, for members of different groups to argue about who has it worse.

This failure mode is often deliberately induced, as part of a larger process called derailing. For example:

A: "I feel, as someone with a mental disability, that it is often difficult for me to have my desires and feelings respected by others."

B: "LOL first world problems. Look at children in Africa and then tell me how bad you have it."

C: "Brother, us C-types have had it far worse than you A-types for far longer. Wait your damn turn."

D: "I think that your A-typeness gives you too much privilege to be complaining about people disrespecting your desires and feelings, and us D-types experience exactly the same rejection of our perspectives far more acutely than you ever will."

At which point, A can try to show how their complaints are valid in comparison (which immediately buys into the "who has it worse" misery poker), or A can simply restate "nevertheless, I feel that my desires and feelin... (read more)

B: "LOL first world problems. Look at children in Africa and then tell me how bad you have it."

Forgive me, but I actually think there's a somewhat valid argument to be made along these lines. After having the thoughts that this post outlines, my response to social justice arguments are now something like "Oh, someone's preferences aren't being achieved. Well, I can't please everyone all of the time, but I'll try to keep their preferences in mind." Doing stuff beyond changing my own behavior does have opportunity costs, and part of the reason I shared these thoughts is because once I had them, they allowed me to spend less cognitive bandwidth thinking about social justice issues (while also decreasing my overall resistance to hearing others' complaints).

In the US, people often complain about how "special interest" or "lobbying" groups have so much influence on the government. Special interest groups work to achieve the preferences of US citizens, but they tend to work towards achieving the preferences of small groups of citizens that have really strong preferences. If a large group of citizens shares a weaker preference, or is poorly coordinated, it's less likely they'll have a powerful special interest group. In the same way, I'd prefer not to devote my time and energy to problems just because they involve group conflicts and are inherently interesting for that reason. Currently I estimate that there are more efficient ways for me to manufacture utility.

The validity of the argument depends on context. Sometimes it is: "sorry, I can't help you now, because all my resources go to higher-priority cases". Sometimes it is: "meh, I don't care... but I can use a comparison with this other case (that I am not really contributing to) to make you seem pathetic".

In other words, if someone says: "I don't care about your problems, the children in Africa have it worse", and the person does contribute to a charity for African children, then the response is valid (although we could discuss the optimum way to say the same message).

If someone says: "I don't care about your problems, the children in Africa have it worse", and the person does nothing to help children in Africa (or anyone else), then it's just a convenient excuse and a move to gain relative status at the other person's expense.

Forgive me, but I actually think there's a somewhat valid argument to be made along these lines.

Of course it is. But so is "children in Africa have it really bad, so why are you bothering to buy Christmas presents instead of helping them?"

Unfortunately, past a certain point it just comes down to "hey, can we try being less of a dick to each other all the time?", which everyone can agree with but which no one actually seems to be able to resolve into actual strategy.

I'm not a complete altruist. I do care more about the people I know than random other people. I don't care about people more just because they live in the same country as me, though.
I think Ragen Chastain does a pretty good job of not being a dick. She believes that people should work on the causes they care most about, and let other people work on the causes they care most about. She can be harsh about people she thinks are seriously wrong, but she doesn't attack people for not being quite right.
Another option for A, if they have superhuman levels of compassion and understanding, would be to say something to C and D along the lines of "yeah, that sucks too. Is there anything I can do to help you with that?" The initial framing might also be a target: for example, A could give a specific story about a time they felt their desires and feelings weren't being respected and focus on how much it sucks rather than getting others to change right off the bat. (Hopefully triggering empathetic cooperative behavior rather than zero-sum resource scrambling. Might require superhuman patience and restraint.) Of course, I agree that B/C/D are the best targets for debugging. Regarding deliberate derailing and strategic misery poker: I'd be interested to hear what you think of Are Your Enemies Innately Evil?
Sure, but when A is expressing frustration specifically because they're feeling their compassion and understanding breaking down, what then? We're all human, and we all need help and forgiveness sometimes. It often does, especially when A is describing processes that lead B, C and D to consider A as socially worthless. That's a big part of the problem - we tend to not even bother thinking about whether A has a point if we don't like A or need something from A to begin with. I think it's an incredibly accurate assessment of the situation, which just redoubles the tragedy. Even people who deliberately play misery poker and who deliberately derail aren't doing it out of abject evil, they're doing it because they're part of a process that finds their actions advantageous. I have a hard time calling people 'evil' simply because I tend to not see people as experiencing much agency in their lives.

Can we taboo "social justice"?


Political egalitarianism tends to be concerned with socially contestible dimensions of power, rather than just the unequal distribution of anything that might make someone happy. This is why height isn't particularly politicized and the (hard) left tends to be hostile to charity or positive thinking.

It is more than a bit disturbing to me how much this perspective appears to be absent from the analysis, and indeed, most such discussion threads about the subject. It's kind scary when you realize these people are picturing Harrison Bergeron, the movie, not realizing that the original work was a parody of that mindset.
Political empathy is hard, and the principles motivating a particular ideology - especially if the LW consensus that we underestimate individual variance in thinking styles is correct - can be frequently nonobvious. Factors exacerbating this include that persuasion of the uncommitted often proceeds "cynically," along appeal to values held by centers rather than tails, and that people seem predisposed to constructing the image of the enemy as a photo negative of themselves (or elsewise just incoherent and insane.) Oftentimes, sea shifts in social values are driven by (as a necessary but insufficient condition) a disciplined ideological core with a coherent set of principles - consider feminism or what would be called neoliberalism. When successful such movements tend to be much more successful at popularizing object-level intuitions (even when grouped under vague headers like "freedom") than the framework that motivates them.
There's something to that, although I think LW's homogeneity matters here -- the aggregate impression LW leaves me as someone who lies outside most elements of the demographic core cluster is that most LWers live in a fairly similar bubble of ideas about the world, and have little idea what the world outside it is actually like, relying mostly on third-hand distillations of pop-sci for information about stuff beyond their areas of expertise. Pragmatically, when it comes to social justice, LWers in general also seem to be allergic to history -- this post is a good example; the author is talking about the "How come equality" thing (regarding race in a US context, say) and all I can think is "Well, it may have something to do with how a buncha Europeans decided to declare each other off-limits for slavery, created the very modern idea of race to justify it, stole land, stole people, used pretty much everybody else to build a country on the cheap, and used it to create a game rigged in their favor." That's essentially what anti-racists in the US are on about -- they want to de-rig the game or to have viable alternatives to participating in it -- but here I see people speculating about which evopsych dynamics explain the ostensible desire for equality. I'm all for intellectual curiosity unrestrained by social fashions, but this is not a big mystery. It's just something LW in aggregate knows very little about. The answer is both more simple (in terms of how hard you'd have to work to render it legible to a lay person) and more complex (in terms of the actual underlying process) than that.
I haven't commented directly to the post because it seemed weirdly abstract to me. It might be worth looking at when inequality is used as a basis for change, as distinct from "we're us! and we ought to be in charge!" (possibly more useful for coups than revolutions) or "we're wonderful! and we've been mistreated! we ought to be in charge!".
I think you vastly overestimate the prevalence and credibility of "...and we ought to be in charge!", and the fact that I've unpacked this specifically as "We want to unrig the game, or be able to ignore you when you play it" in the post above makes me wonder if you concretely realize and/or believe this. Do you think anti-racists primarily want to replace a white-centric society with a -centric one that otherwise looks the same? Do you think this is a significant subset of anti-racist movements? If so, why?

I haven't studied anti-racists in general. I've seen some trends I don't like (setting up prejudice against white people in general and white men in particular, claiming that the pain unprivileged people feel must always trump the pain they cause to privileged people-- I get especially suspicious if that's accompanied by being enthusiastic about eventually getting a demographic win), but I don't know whether that sort of thing will turn out to be the major result of anti-racism.

I've seen some moderation of the excesses I saw during RaceFail (less "Educate yourself!" as educational materials were developed, more realization that allies are useful for talking with people in their own groups who don't listen to Others, and less of a habit of dumping rage). I honestly don't know what the long run is going to look like.

The weird thing is, when I posted about "we ought to be in charge!" I was thinking about people who aren't anti-racists-- in fact I very specifically had Nazis in mind for the second bunch, and was just being a bit coy.

The general trend of my thinking (the question was pretty fuzzy at my end, which may explain part of why my comment seems to have been a Rorschach blot) was to wonder whether there'd been a historical shift in the reasons for trying to change hierarchies.

Some of them would like to see a Brahmin-centric society. A society where being black isn't a reason to deny a person a prestigious job, but speaking incorrect thoughts is. (The second link is not about racism, but the concept is similar.) I am not sure how to estimate the number of such people. Also, some people in the movement are leaders and some are followers, so it would be important to know the number among leaders.
So he said something empirically true as far as he could tell ("there is research indicating...") but connotationally-loaded (the equivalent of a statement like "All Jews are apes"), in a public forum (billing it as "an attempt at provocation" no less). At best, it's inept communication; at worst it's deliberate shit-stirring and then as a result... What, people got angry at him? And it didn't come to much except that there were some people angry at him? Seriously, look at what happened in this article you're citing. The guy got a large number of people griping his direction, a lot of support, not even the administrative equivalent of a slap on the wrist, and Stephen Pinker passionately defending him with confused comments about "the difference between a university and a madrassa" (protip, Pinker: a university is a madrassa, because madrassa means "school.") All of this, while also being implicated in a conflict of interest scandal, and losing the university lots of money on derivates? This is simply amazing job protection. It's not like he was removed forcibly from his position -- the guy resigned a year later, with a year's paid sabbatical and a university-subsidized million-dollar loan on his house! Whereupon he was immediately given a prestigious position as professor at another university and management over a hedge fund, and even put onto the National Economic Council until more conflicts of interest did him in. This is your example of the PC brigade denying someone a job?
I'm pretty sure Pinker was aware of that. He's relying on the connotations of words. His point (which seems valid) is that the ideal of a university as it is commonly understood allows more free inquiry and statements that may turn out to be wrong, as opposed to for example an institution which has a large amount of theological dictation about what may be studied or proposed. (For what it is worth, I think almost everything that Summers said was wrong, and is demonstrably wrong given the differences between American and Western European university demographics, but it does seem like he was attacked in an essentially ideological fashion.) Edit: I do however agree with a fair bit of your analysis, I think that what happened to Summers was to a large extent connected to other ongoing problems, and is in many ways pretty removed from any strong notion of censorship. There were a lot of problems with his administration and focusing purely on these comments misses how many things were going wrong, and misses how he was in practice actually treated.
Really? I doubt most Anglophones, even educated ones, know that -- certainly the way the term is bandied about in the English-speaking press as though it were synonymous with "Extreme Islamist Indoctrination Centre" would make me guess that he's less likely to be aware of that; it seems like very few people I hear using the term that way realize that a madrassa is often explicitly secular.
That's not totally accurate. While in some dialects of Arabic 'madrassa' simply means 'school' in both secular and religious settings, in other dialects the word refers only to where religious Islamic teaching takes place, and not secular schools.
Well, I did, and my impression is that Steven Pinker is in general substantially more educated than I am, especially where issues of culture are concerned. So I would assign a high prior to him knowing any piece of cultural knowledge that I would. (Although I probably know substantially more Arabic than a random English speaker). At the same time, there's another relevant direction here: Words can have different meanings than they do in their native tongues, and it isn't unreasonable to use in English the word madrassa just to mean the Islamic universities even though in Arabic the word just means university. In that context, the intended meaning of Pinker's statement is clear. In that context, a possibly more relevant worry is the use of an Islamic example as the go-to rather than say a yeshiva where the point would work even better since both Hebrew and Yiddish have common, distinct words for universities v. schools devoted to religious study. But in that context, Pinker's point is probably balanced by general pithiness given how much most Americans know (I suspect a lot more have heard the word madrassa than have heard the word yeshiva for example).
He cited a list of forager societies in Angels of Our Better Nature that didn't include any foragers, so I wouldn't be inclined to give him too much credit there. He sourced it from someone else, but the fact he didn't recognize the inapplicability certainly didn't convey much confidence about that.
Can you expand on this or cite? I know there was some controversy or whether some of the groups he described as foragers were foragers, but I'm not sure what you are talking about.
I've discussed this with several posters on LW in the past so while searching for my previous citations, I found this much better summary of the issue: The distinction being made here is that foragers practice immediate-return food acquisition and usually don't build up much of a surplus; they are nearly always mobile (simply because most biomes vary in their productivity) with the few exceptions who occupy especially-rich areas where they can be sedentary posing some other confounds that may warrant treating them as a distinct type of society (though this is not yet a part of mainstream consensus within the field). The societies Pinker cited had either been engaged in traditional forms of agriculture or horticulture, which are quite distinct patterns of resource acquisition and social organization, or had experienced pronounced discontinuities with their traditional resource base for some time after colonization (it would essentially be like inferring about a traditional Native American society from a poor reservation community of today).
Thanks, That's apparently talking about one of the lists in The Blank Slate rather than Angels, but for purposes of your point works just the same.
Also, my feeling is that big social changes are twenty years or more in the future, and highly dependent on decisions that haven't been made yet.
I suppose this is a bit of a sideline, but I was only able to identify Harrison Bergeron (the book; I haven't seen the movie) as satire by placing it in the context of Kurt Vonnegut's other works. It can be read as sincere on its own, if more than a bit heavy-handed.
Can you expand on this? I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Why should height not fall into a socially contestible form of power?
Well, there haven't been many situations where one's height was used as a basis for oppression. There may be some positive discrimination around height, inasmuch as height often correlates with other benefits -- but it's difficult to separate out all the confounds, and the biggest negative factor influencing it is simply health and adequate nutrition during childhood, which is so important that average adult height is used to calibrate standard-of-living and quality-of-life estimates. (While genetics can have major influence on height for individuals, it's also subject to regression toward the mean, resulting in it being a minor influence when taken statistically -- hormones are the other major, contributing biological factor). Basically, things have to be pretty bad somewhere, for populations to get strongly sorted out from each other by height. If you're on the negative end of an ingroup/outgroup height gap, you probably have bigger problems. Put another way: nobody decided your name sounded too tall and refused to call you back for an interview, or invaded your country intending to civilize the shorties, because the variance on height is pretty continuous in most populations and the positive discrimination associated it does not form a clear signal disentangled from other life factors.
Yes, but how often does a short person once they get to an interview get less likely to be hired than a tall person? This is pretty hard to test, but the difficulty in detecting a form of discrimination doesn't make it not present. Most of your reply doesn't seem to address whether this is really a socially contestible form of power, and in so far as these are valid questions, it looks like there are signs of discrimination. For example, there are scholarships that specifically are for tall people. Source. But there is no equivalent for short people. Maybe I should start a short persons rights movements. Best way to measure success is how many discussions about correlated biological variables we render as completely mindkilling topics. The continuous nature of the distribution is a definite problem though.

Robin Hanson has wondered why folks seem concerned about inequality based on some stuff, like race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability, but not other stuff, like height, appearance, intelligence, sleep, conscientiousness, and perhaps most importantly, happiness.

My explanation: Race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability are fairly discrete ways of classifying people. Most people (though not all) can be categorized fairly neatly in to a single race, birth gender, desired gender, and sexual orientation. By contrast, looks, smarts, and happiness all vary in a continuous fashion. For some/all of these characteristics, there's a bell curve--many people in the middle and fewer people at the extremes.

How would wealth or income inequality relate to this? Wealth and income are clearly not a discrete group, but a large number of people are very concerned about wealth and income inequality.

Wealth and income are clearly not a discrete group

People certainly act like they are. Folks who want to diffuse concerns about income equality often deny the existence of classes in America, while those who want to raise concerns recently divided the entire country into 2 discrete groups (the 1% and the 99%).

I'm not sure if this goes for or against the hypothesis though. If it's that easy to draw arbitrary lines, then the continuous nature of traits like height shouldn't be much of a barrier to being concerned about it.

Indeed. Parts of the internet divide people (at least men) by height with words like "manlet", and specific numbers for the cutoff.
I was thinking further on this topic after reading your post, and I noticed something about the main post that I wanted to consider. There are complaints like "Those people don't add any value, and they can still get money! I have to WORK for a living!" That richer people will throw at poorer people, (Because they are able to live on government subsidies.) and that poorer people throw at richer people (Because they are able to live on the wealth of their investments.) It seems like a lot of the phrasing for acceptable wealth or income (in)equality arguments relies on being able to cast your opponents as being lazy. The rhetoric that I have heard doesn't usually include complaints about the people who work 80 hour days, whether those people hold 3 minimum wage jobs, or whether they work long hours at a business making millions. If you do think "Well, Bob works just as hard as I do at his middle class job, but Bob has a Mercedes. Fucking Bob. I want his Mercedes!" That seems to be portrayed much less acceptably. This makes me wonder if I should try to say something about "Effort inequality."(?) Except I'm not sure where to start or even if it really relates to the other inequalities.

Perhaps a perception that other people got their money through factional conflict makes one more likely to solve the problem using a factional conflict. People are more likely to use violence if they feel the violence was used against them.


  • Some people don't work and yet get money, because some philanthropist gives them? Not my problem.

  • Some people don't work and yet get money, because they organized against me successfully and made government take my money and give it to them as welfare? Fuck them! I want a government that stops this!

  • Some people have billions, because they have put a lot of time and hard work to their projects, or they have an extraordinary talent? Not my problem.

  • Some people have billions, because they organized against me successfully and made government take my money and give it to them as subsidies and bailouts? Fuck them! I want a government that stops this!

Perhaps this is just my thinking, but I feel a desire to go to conflicts in cases of self-defense. In case someone is already attacking me and winning, not fighting back does not seem like a winning option. The dichotomy is not "lazy" versus "diligent", but "attack... (read more)

This is a good counter example to the effort inequality concept I was ruminating on, thank you for mentioning it.
I'm not sure if this works for or against the theory, but it's not terribly uncommon for activists to take parameters generally thought of as discrete and reconceptualize them as continuous: for example, by pointing out the existence of intersexed individuals or bringing up the Kinsey scale. Doesn't seem to happen quite as much for race, but I've seen it occasionally: the paper bag test sometimes seems to refer to one version, for example.
A test that I would likely pass in February but not in September. (Also, what part of your skin do they compare with the bag? The back of my hand is darker than the palm...

At one point, the (male) professor said something like "But beyond all this, women are just better than men, and I think we all know it." This offended me, and I fumed to myself internally, thinking that if he'd made the opposite claim he'd probably get in trouble with the administration of the college, etc.

He probably offended the feminists too. See feminists' reaction to Roger Ebert's "Women Are Better Than Men" column.


I suspect the feeling that things are unfair and I deserve more is just a signal for me to take stuff from others, in the same way hunger is a signal for me to eat stuff.

Not at all surprising and something I consider incredibly obvious, but on second thought it might not seem obvious at all.

Generally I become much more willing to defect against others when I think things are "unfair", especially if I perceive those around me as being "unfair" towards me. Does anyone recall any studies that might be related to this?

Sure — see Press and Dyson on extortionate strategies. Extortionate strategies put the opponent in a position where they will always be better off if they cooperate, even in the face of the extortionist defecting — by disproportionately punishing defection while opportunistically defecting themselves. To me this seems like a natural analogy for certain forms of social unfairness. For instance, a woman in a patriarchal regime may be individually better off if she cooperates with men who treat her as an inferior, because they will disproportionately avenge any defection she might offer. However, the strategy that she implements may be better off if its members defect en masse by reliably punishing male defection in a Tit-For-Tat manner, thus driving the extortionate male strategy to extinction over many generations; albeit at individual sacrifice.

My explanation: Race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability are fairly discrete ways of classifying people. Most people (though not all) can be categorized fairly neatly in to a single race, birth gender, desired gender, and sexual orientation. By contrast, looks, smarts, and happiness all vary in a continuous fashion. For some/all of these characteristics, there's a bell curve--many people in the middle and fewer people at the extremes.

In many societies around the world race is continuous. Yet racism and anti-racism seem to have many of the s... (read more)

I'm not so sure about that - in Europe there's been a good deal of friction between groups that are not that different; even when there's a "smooth continuum" of people (in terms of physical appearance and genetics), language and religion can constitute discrete enough differences to cause friction similar to racism in the US (see Belgium, or Ireland, or Yugoslavia, or the Basques ...). Of course, added to that there are some recent immigrants that are so different from the "natives" that it makes more sense to speak of "racism". I think the cultural importance of the US combined with it's pretty special demography (people from "very" different backgrounds, not that mixed until recently) makes black-white racism the archetypical "friction and animosity between groups", whereas historically, it's a bit of an outlier.

BTW, looks like shorter people live longer, so height inequality may actually favor shorter folks on balance.

From the link:

The authors suggest that the differences in longevity between the sexes is due to their height differences because men average about 8.0% taller than women and have a 7.9% lower life expectancy at birth.

Is this a correlation/causation thing?

You're suggesting the authors may have forgotten to control for gender when concluding that shorter people live longer?
Not suggesting, just asking. I'm actually somewhat confused by their wording, reading it out of context.

I appreciate the hat-tip, but you might have wanted to link to the more thorough explication of that chapter from Collins' book, which Hanson discussed here.

EDIT: Some of what you quoted is in my comment you linked originally, and not in my follow-up post. Hope nobody got confused when they weren't able to find those quotes.

Thanks, linked.

Why does so much inter-factional conflict focus on issues of inequality?

Because complaining about "inequality" is currently high status.

Throughout much of recorded human history there were almost no complaints about inequality even though inequality was much worse then.

I also find it amusing how all the people, who normally complain that evolutionary psychologists don't take into account cultural differences, are offering gushing praise when confronted with ev-psych of which that is actually an accurate criticism.

Really? Were peasant revolts not a thing that happened? Or were peasant revolts not caused by perceptions of inequality (economic, social, political, or other)? It's really noteworthy that the end of the severe wealth disparities of the medieval era in Western Europe have led to a dramatic decrease in peasant revolts.
Peasant revolts were actually pretty rare. The only reason it seems otherwise, is that lists like the one you linked to compress centuries of the history of all of Europe into a few lines. Also, like Desrtopa said until the 17th century, if not later, peasants revolts were about specific grievances rather than an abstract concept of inequality.
John Ball (priest), in a sermon during the 1381 Peasant's Revolt. Like fubarobfusco says elsewhere in the thread, there were probably similar memes behind other similar revolts, that were suppressed and didn't survive into recorded history. (This one did because of the huge "memetic fitness" of the rhyming question at the start; I read it many years ago, and remembered it well enough to Google it and find the source now.)
Interesting, it appears I misremembered when that rebellion occurred by a couple centuries. Updating accordingly.
Prior to the Enlightenment and secularism, "the abstract concept of inequality" was described as a religious concept rather than a secular one; and was a common feature of medieval "heresies".
What exactly is the difference? I want equality, and I have a list of specific changes (grievances, if you prefer) that I think would create equality. Giving the peasants what they wanted would have reduced inequality. I assume the peasants leaders were smart enough to notice that fact. For every revolt large enough to actually make it on to a list like that (about one every generation), how many smaller, historically unimportant defiant acts in favor of equality occurred. The fact that the local elite didn't keep detailed records doesn't mean they didn't happen. In parallel, major slave revolts in continental North America also happened about once every generation (it's hard to compare to peasant revolts because the historical record is better). Surely that isn't evidence that the slave population didn't express (or desire to express) complaints about inequality when they weren't engaged in armed uprisings.
For a striking contrast with North American slavery, consider the case of slavery in ancient Greece and Rome, where they where, despite the occasional rebellion, sufficiently confident in how much control they had over their slaves to use them as cops and prison guards.
The Greeks and Romans didn't practice chattel slavery (with serious legal and social limitations on manumission). So it's not surprising that they were able to trust slaves to a degree unthinkable in the Antebellum South.
What definition of "chattel slavery" are you using? By the standard definition (slaves can be bought and sold) the Greek and Roman practice qualifies.

Apparently, a really stupid definition.

When I've heard experts talk about about the differences between ancient slavery and antebellum slavery, "chattel slavery" was used exclusively to refer to the latter - which was also described as harsher (measured by the difference between slave and typical underclass).

But I can't find any cites to support my previous understanding of the difference between ancient and antebellum slavery. Adjusting beliefs accordingly.

I'm falsifying John's claim that most inter-factional conflict focusing on issues of inequality is a historical universal. That fact only seems as salient as it does because we live in a culture that places high value on equality. For another perspective look at how Confucianism is able to combine a justification for peasant revolts under some circumstances with support for a strong social hierarchy. The difference is that the slaves lived in a culture where "all men are created equal" was already an established meme.
He claims it is a universal now - but I don't see the claim that it was a historical universal. Also, your response does not explain the distinction I'm asking about - I mostly understood the general context of why you were attempting a distinction, but I'm still confused by the disconnect you seem to be drawing between object level expressions like "I'm poor, you caused it, grr" and abstract concern with inequality.
He attempts to provide an ev-psych explanation, which makes no sense unless it's a historical universal or near universal. It's not "I'm poor, you caused it, grr", it's "I don't have enough food/money/free time [to live the lifestyle I'm accustomed to], you're causing it, grr". The peasant doesn't have a problem with the lord having more and better food than he does any more than he has a problem with birds being able to fly and him not. The problem is that he's not getting the amount of food he feels he's entitled to.
"accustomed to" and "entitled to" don't really have the same meaning when the existence of an anti-inequality motive is at issue. But I agree that there is a disconnect between the ev-psych invocation and the lack of any other claim of universality.
My point is that this distinction is extremely modern.
Do you have an accessible cite explaining this point?
I think one could make a case that peasant revolts were generally more about fighting specific cases of victimization; being overworked, overtaxed, underfed, etc. rather than trying to obtain equal social status to the nobility. So in that case peasant revolts would be more like worker's union strikes. I don't consider myself informed enough to take a stand on either position; the French and Russian revolutions at least certainly were strongly motivated by a drive to equalize social status.
Regardless of the particular cause (political, economic, social, etc), the existence of peasant revolts falsifies the assertion that "there were almost no complaints about inequality" before the modern era (which I'll broadly define to stretch back to the 1700s or late 1600s if Eugine thinks it helps his case).
Not if you don't take peasant revolts as complaints about inequality. Workers may go on strike without agitating for equal status with their bosses. I'm not standing by the position that they aren't, but I don't think that you've really established that their occurrence qualifies as a refutation either. (As an aside, I'm going to note that I'm not the one who's downvoted your comments.)
At this high level of abstraction, is there more to a peasant revolt than "I'm poor, you nobles caused it, grr"? Sure, the proximate cause of any particular rebellion will be much more nuanced than that, but I sincerely think that the abstraction is essentially accurate. If that abstraction is accurate, aren't peasant revolts seeking less inequality. You don't have to demand identical circumstances to in order to be pro-equality (as the label is used), do you? In short, a labor strike with the explicit goal of reducing but not eliminating the disparity in wages between management and workers seems reasonable to call "pro-equality" as that political label is normally used.
Would you draw a distinction between a goal or reducing disparity in wages, and a goal of raising wages for the underpaid? Obviously, unless you also increase wages for the managers, this will reduce disparity, but I don't think it follows that reducing disparity is the motive. If the employers could increase benefits for the workers while at the same time increasing benefits for managers (in practice they generally can't,) then workers in an equality-motivated strike would reject that solution, whereas workers striking purely out of self interest or self preservation would not.
I think the rhetoric of reducing inequality is merely an attempt to communicate the shared self-interest of the members. People just aren't used to being even the slightest bit analytical about their lives, so there's very little pressure to improve the coherent of the rhetoric that leads to the alliance building before edge cases actually occur (plus: mindkiller). As a lawyer, I'm well aware of spite as a motivation for (less than optimal) decisions, but I think rejection of a plan that calls for a larger share of a bigger pie is not optimal, even measured by the judgment of an anti-inequality activist. In the (more common) bigger piece of pie, smaller share of pie, bigger overall pie offer, anti-equality strongly suggests rejection, but that's not usually what happens in the real world, regardless of the pre-deal rhetoric.

I think the rhetoric of reducing inequality is merely an attempt to communicate the shared self-interest of the members.

This is not the only rhetoric that can do this job and historically wasn't the only one (or even the most common one used). You may want to look into the works of Confucius and the theory of the mandate of heaven for an example of an alternate theory of social organization and rebellion.

There were quite a lot — but they were suppressed with a totality of violence that many modern readers might erroneously think had been invented as recently as Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. Look up the Albigensian Crusade sometime, or the Savoyard massacre of the Waldensians — complete with mass rapes and mutilations. Many medieval "heresies" seem to have been mass movements with explicit doctrines rejecting both ecclesiastical and feudal hierarchy, and asserting religious and social equality among all believers. One problem is that the victorious hierarchs tend to systematically burn the books of the heretics, so records of them are poor, and progressively worse the further back in history we look. However, we should expect that the above cases are not unusual, that (until the Enlightenment and mass literacy) one social era was much like another; and thus that there have been similar movements — and similar massacres and suppressions — throughout human history. For that matter:
Good point. Although I suspect it's still true that most inter-factional conflict was not about (in)equality.
If I understand this correctly, I mostly agree with your point. I think the post would have been improved and more focused if the discussion of ancestral environment were simply omitted. (Please don't let me put words in your mouth - if I've misunderstood this part of your position, let me know).
You don't think peasants resented their lords at all? If they had resented them, I don't think we would expect to know about it, because peasants couldn't write, right? ;)
They had an oral culture, much of which was eventually written down.
Do we have much evidence for peasant culture oral culture in say Western Europe being written down? Almost all classical sources I'm aware of are from the more literate end of things. What wasn't written by nobles seems to have frequently been views of the emerging merchant classes and the like. Are there specific example sources you have in mind?
It's called "folklore." How hard do you have to look to find a King James Bible, letters between political leaders, or a copy of a monograph by a distinguished English scholar from 200 years ago? Not very, if you know where to start. Much of it may be available at your local library. How hard do you have to look to find a Penny Dreadful, or a Marxist tract from the turn of the last century? Much harder.
The folklore we have is a) very late (e.g. Grimms is 1821) b) from fairly narrow areas. We have very few sources that date any time back to when there was still heavy feudal aspects. Yes, and none of that is the stuff being written by peasants, so I'm confused by your point. Or are you agreeing with my point here?
You are confused. I am pointing out that preservation of written accounts is not a constant; not everything is deemed equally valuable and not everything is agreeable to those with the resources to do that preservation. Um. Really? Because Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden would like a word with you.
Ah, yes, I see. Ok. I understand the point. The point was, and maybe I wasn't being clear, we don't have much in the way of folklore type sources that were written in the feudal era. Is this wrong?
The earliest surviving written European folktale (excluding epics, semi-historical stories, and anything Greco-Roman) that I can think of off the top of my head is Le Roman de Renart, an early Reynard story written in the late 12th century. The Codex Regius, the oldest source for the Elder Edda, was written down a century or so later but is generally thought to represent folklore and mythology from an earlier point (though it's difficult to judge how much is legit and how much is interpolation). There's several others of slightly later vintage. However, people only started aggressively collecting and reinterpreting European folklore in the 17th century or so, which is why pretty much all traditional European folktales that still get told passed through the likes of Perrault (a revisionist writer) or the Grimms (a bit more on the ethnographic side). The short version is that we've got a few, but they're pretty rare.
That's pretty close to my understanding then: We have isolated stuff, but no systematic or large scale collections until after the feudal period.
Because there is enough of most thing to go round, and because such complaints have worked before.

Consider that concerns over fairness may be nothing more or less than a defensive heuristic. Very high inequality is invariably a product of force, fraud or both. Individuals who are genuinely contributing many times the norm to the common veal are far more rare than thieves, conmen and robbers. (and mostly do not care overly much about riches, save as a means to an end) Thus, when society as a whole is highly unequal, - IE: When there are many, many persons claiming that they deserve the income of an Edison going "Eh.. Someone is being robbed blind here, and it is quite likely to be me" is perfectly sensible.


Small terminology gripe on the fifth paragraph - "men's rights activist" is, as far as I know, that group's nomenclature of choice, while very few feminists would self-identify as "radical". Comes off as slightly non-neutral.

Radical feminism is a fairly specific theoretical tradition with which people do in fact self-identify, not just the condition of being really really feminist.

"Radical" in feminist parlance isn't a judgment call or a marker of extremism -- it describes a particular school of thought, one which favors overturning existing gender dynamics rather than incrementally changing or working within them. I've met several self-identified radical feminists.

Oops, I actually wasn't aware of that.
Centrists view "radical" as a derogatory term, but I've come across lots of folks who embrace it.

When people complain about inequality it concerns me that perhaps they are the same kind of people who self-handicap and by consequence are less able to resolve that inequality by raising the standards of wealth of the poor. Thought's aren't facts!


"But beyond all this, women are just better than men, and I think we all know it." This offended me, and I fumed to myself internally

What I would have thought instead of getting offended is that it is a tautology issue. If you take the preferences of men into account, by those values men are clearly not worse at doing whatever men like. The professor was probably working from the assumption that everybody agrees with an already feminine value system, and from that angle men are rather obviously worse at implementing those values.

A feminine va... (read more)


My explanation: Race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability are fairly discrete ways of classifying people.

Other potential explanations:

These groups of people have more vocal interest groups, because whatever disadvantages they suffer are seen as the result of formerly much higher disadvantages. So, heightism does not seem to have been huge in the past, not bigger than today while when the mentally ill were imprisoned and so on it created as huge stigma that is still affecting them.

Even if this is true, why were people historically oppressed according to one set of criteria but not the other?
Okay, this is a bit of complicated topic. First of all we live in a world now where people are supposed to live for their own purposes. This is called freedom, and an equalization of chances to achieve them is called equality and these two are the defining features of modernity. But it all boils down to individualism, of individual goals and choices. When people are denied parts of it, that is defined as oppression. But it was not so in the past. People did not live for self-actualization but for more socially prescribed roles, which ultimately came from competition for scarce resources and for group level status ("glory"). It can be demonstrated that gender roles boil down to war. Slavery and racism are the the end of the day are how more technologically developed people used other people in their system of production who were weaker in this sense. Grow cotton, make uniforms, go to war. Disability has a lot to do with people's actual utility for social purposes. If you see a society as something like a war machine with everybody being some sort of a cog in the machine the whole thing begins to make sense. Then with the Enlightenment, all this "live for your own goals" thing was invented. However it started at the highest ranking members of society and moved slowly down on the ladder, with all kinds of fights. We still don't see the end of this process. I am fairly pessimistic / conservative about it . Perhaps if one day really everybody lives for doing what they like, no social coercion to fill predetermined roles, things will stop working. Because, I guess, we still need a machine even if it is perpetual peace. We see the reproduction part breaking down. If for example having to work for a living will also been seen oppressive things may grind to a halt.
Multidimensional notions of oppression are easier to defend intellectually, but poorly optimized for politics. Politically, you need to be able to say that your group has all the oppression so Utilitarianism gets all the spare resources,

Who is TGGP?

A political blogger, here's a taste.

I don't like the idea of being labeled a "political blogger" (I don't think I wrote anything about the election or its run-up), but it's hard to deny that politics is discussed a lot at my blog and I don't really have any other forte I could claim to displace it. I could defend myself by linking to Razib Khan on how many of the "science" blogs on his old blogroll spend most of their time discussing politics (generally, politically inflected atheism), but for one who accepts "politics is the mind-killer" that's just a "but they do it too". The post you link to could be construed as "sociological" rather than "political" and would be relevant in an alternate universe without politics.

Sorry for the labeling then. In any case, I like your writings a lot.
Just because I don't like the label, doesn't mean it's inapt!
The argument reminded me of a line I heard:
He is a blogger and is a common commenter on Overcoming Bias (a blog you really should read if you are reading LessWrong).

The Keeley book you linked has been discredited. See here, e.g.

Certainly people have challenged that book. But my understanding is that its findings have held up well and that, to the contrary, it is Ryan and Jetha's book that has been variously ignored and discredited, especially for their highly misleading presentation of others' data and the literature generally. See e.g. here.
Robin was one of the people initially impressed with Ryan & Jetha, later persuaded by Saxon in "Dusk". I personally recommend Azar Gat's "War in Human Civilization" as much more sweeping than Keeley's book. Despite the title, it's range precedes civilization, and even the emergence of humanity (although those are smaller portions of the book near the beginning). My posts about it are here. At any rate, there seems to be substantial evidence for warfare (or at least something analogous to "gang war" given their social scale) among hunter-gatherers, even if not to the extent of primitive agriculturalists like the Yanomamo or New Guineans.

One of the things complaining is not, is a passive noting that certain things are bad. It's way of doing something. Rational complainers complain about thing they can affect, which tend to be relatively small scale and close to home.

Another thing complaints about inequality are not is a substitute for threatening or grabbing. Those who have the power to grab, grab, those who can issue plausible threats do so. Complaints about inequality are part of a process of rationally discussing resource allocation, and can lead to reallocations that are preferable eth... (read more)