This essay was requested by the highly qualified rationalist and extremely-sex-positive Paul Crowley, who (like me) is frustrated by the absolute refusal of certain political groups to explain their actual ideas rather than shout at each other. The shouty people in this case are sex-negative conservatives and second-wave feminists, and the thing they’re shouting about is that our society has become too hedonistic. Do they have a point?

Well, the strongest argument in favor of social conservatism is common sense – in this case, the idea that society is the way it is for a reason, and that any large scale change is therefore liable to have severe negative societal consequences. Society might feel like a construct, but it’s actually evolved in much the same way as us. As such, trying to ‘fix’ society is like modifying human RNA to vaccinate against a disease – a completely insane notion that obviously demands extreme caution but something which can apparently be done if you put your best and smartest people on the job. The problem is that when it comes to modifying society, not only are the smartest people not in charge, nobody is in charge, there is no quality testing whatsoever and nobody even seems aware of how absolutely insane that is.

Liberal commentators dismiss this concern in the name of utilitarian consequentialism: the idea that even if a proposed change seems scary, you should just shut up and do the math and then implement it anyway if the numbers work out. And from the perspective of progressives, the math is firmly on their side. Conservatives warned that society would collapse if interracial marriage was legalized, and yet here we are. They said the same thing about gay marriage, and women’s rights, and literally every other time there was a proposal to make society even slightly more open and tolerant. And now they are singing the same tune about Trans people (No, unisex bathrooms and women’s sports are not their real primary objections – they’ve just gotten into the habit of censoring their own best arguments). Clearly, conservatives are just a lodestone whose existence only serves to slow down progress, and the best solution is to either silence them or else to simply ignore them until they become irrelevant.

But from the perspective of social conservatives, the exact opposite is the case. Sure, society didn’t collapse immediately when the most obviously necessary changes were implemented, but it’s hard to argue that democracy isn’t functioning less well now than it did before. Conservatives warned that doing away with even seemingly arbitrary rules would diminish social cohesion, and Americans are now more divided than ever. Conservatives warned that boys need male role models, and after losing out on male teachers boys are doing worse than ever. After progressives unilaterally took over schools and universities (sometimes through little more than bullying) the Flynn effect has reversed and IQ is dropping for the first time in forever. Suicide rates are up, and life expectancy is down for more reasons than just the pandemic alone.

If all of that is not enough to convince a reasonable moderate that there may be something to the notion that encouraging people to treat life like a fun game is a bad idea, the last US president was a literal reality TV star, and most Americans now support the idea of running a celebrity as president.

But okay, Paul originally asked about the appeal of sex negativity in particular, so let’s focus on that. It seems easy to grant that something might be up with society in general, but how could anything as simple and innocuous as porn cause a problem as big as that?

Well, I was raised with the idea that “the key to happiness is low expectations”, and I think that’s simply empirically true. I don’t agree with progressives that everything is relative, but some things really are, and happiness is definitely one of them. As such, I feel like Yudkowsky’s a sense that more is possible should have maybe come with a warning label in the same way that TVtropes does. You see, the hedonic treadmill means that if you make someone experience something ultra-fun just once, you can literally make the entire rest of their life more miserable simply by making everything else seem drab and grey in comparison. There are accounts of torture being made worse by intentionally giving the victim false hope of freedom, and the most naïve forms of utilitarianism simply cannot account for that.

For someone like Paul Crowley, there is an easy solution to this: Just have ultra fun superjoy all the time! And, well, maybe that’s an option if you look like an eternally young sexmeister like he does (pfffff), but sadly that’s not an option for the rest of us. To a homely straight dude who is trapped in a cubicle with no prospect of escape, dangling the notion of ultra-superfun in front of his nose may be downright cruel.

Similarly, there are entire communities of people who used to think that they were moderately attractive (because duh) until the modern media came along and they were bombarded with images of supermodels. It’s hard to know for sure why, but the happiness of women in particular has been declining for the last 50 years, even as their expectations rise. That doesn’t look like progress to me.

Essentially, the disagreement between social conservatives and progressives boils down to this:

Setting high expectations causes increased misery until they're realized

I should note first, with great clarity, that I have no problem whatsoever with the inevitable future where, if we do not destroy each other first, everyone gains the technology to transform themselves into catgirls if they so wish. But in between now and then lies the point where people spend all day fantasizing about being and/or having sex with a catgirl without actually having the technology to make that happen. And I’m not so convinced that there is any causal relation whatsoever between progressives angrily asserting that the world ought to be a certain way and us developing the technology to actually get there. So in this extended analogy, attempting to drive down the valley too fast may only result in us crashing at the bottom, never to rise again.

I should add that none of this is hypothetical. Right now, as we speak, young people are being actively encouraged by progressive parents, teachers and activists to ask themselves the question if maybe they’ve been born in the wrong body. And while progressives insist that this can’t possibly do any harm because all sex-related matters are unique in being the only human traits that are fully genetic and on which environment has zero effect, my counterargument is that that’s horseshit.

Even if you insist that the number of trans people is kept constant across time and space by some kind of universal law, their suicide rates are still some factor ~18 higher than the rest of society, and you cannot possibly expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with them being constantly told by trans activists that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it (by the way, I don’t hate you.) So from my point of view, progressives are only making impressionable young people more miserable by convincing them that their current reality is intolerable and evil.

Porn is of course different from catgirls in that we do in fact have the technology to create porn itself, but it does tend to raise one’s expectations of what real sexual encounters ought to be like, and this may have contributed to a pandemic of loneliness and a huge drop in sexual encounters amongst the young. Now I realize that young people having sex is something social conservatives traditionally argue against, but we’ve reached a Godzilla threshold here where people like Ross Douthat are going out in the street screaming “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO BACK TO BEING DEGENERATE, OUR SPECIES IS DYING!” When your former worst enemies desperately beg you to please let them give you everything you ever asked for in exchange for not destroying the world, that’s probably something worth taking seriously.

Now, do I actually believe that banning porn or facebook would make the world a better place? Ehh… no. It didn’t work out with alcohol prohibition, and it wouldn’t work here. But do I think people are making sub-optimal choices? Ho yes. Whenever I see students survive on fast food and Coca-Cola and then prove unable to tell the difference between margarine and real butter, I can’t help but feel like they’ve calibrated their sense of taste to such an extreme that they’ve effectively ruined their taste buds. To give a more extreme example, would you give your kid crack cocaine if it didn’t make them medically addicted or cause ill health? If not, does it make sense to give them access to hardcore porn?

It’s worth mentioning at this point that some progressives really have tried to ban, tax or regulate sugary drinks. I actually support such a tax (not a ban) because internalizing negative externalities in the form of public healthcare costs is just good economic sense. But how can you be in favor of regulating taste-superstimuli, yet insist that porn (which is also addictive) is perfectly fine? It makes no consistent sense.

The same is true for highly addictive video games. If I play Hearthstone, I frequently end up feeling miserable, to the point where I wonder what possessed me to dig it out of the trashbin after I deleted it the last time. The economic notion of revealed preference just doesn’t seem to work here. And I can’t help but notice that conservatives don’t seem to struggle with Akrasia nearly as much as liberals do. They are also consistently happier, even when they have lives that objectively suck. And this is just from memory, but all of the politically effective progressives seem to have been raised by social conservatives. Could it be that a philosophy of applied hedonism makes people not want to subject themselves to the painful banality, theater and bureaucracy of modern politics? If so, it’s a good thing that programming as a field is relatively interesting and rewarding, or we’d all be fucked.

In summary, it’s true that the arguments from social conservatives tend to be pretty sucky, but there are underlying reasons for their taboos which are genuinely important and correct. Namely that too much fun can be self-destructive, that stoicism really does tend to make you happier in the long run, and that society cannot function if people’s expectations for life are too high. 

In other words, porn itself is not uniquely evil, but drowning oneself in fantasies and escapism is. Like I said earlier, I don’t actually think that banning porn or putting social conservatives in charge of everything is a good idea. But it might not be such a bad thing to let them give us some advice now and then on how to raise our kids.

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Sidestepping the politics here: I've personally found that avoiding (super)stimuli for a week or so, either by not using any electronic devices or by going on a meditation retreat, tends to be extremely effective in increasing my ability to regulate my emotions. Semi-permanently.

I have no substitute for it, it's my panacea against cognitive dissonance and mental issues of any form. This makes me wonder: why aren't we focusing more on this from an applied rationality point of view? 

I think this basic idea – 'avoid superstimuli' – is in fact focused-on pretty reliably!

What makes you think "we" aren't focusing on it as much as "we" should? (And who's "we" exactly?)

I am unconvinced by this:

[trans people's] suicide rates are still some factor ~18 higher than the rest of society, and you cannot possibly expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with them being constantly told by trans activists that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it

... "Unconvinced" is too weak a word. There are so many things about the argument I think you're making that seem badly wrong to me.

1. Haven't trans people's suicide rates been tremendously high since before there even were any trans activists to speak of?

2. The survey report you link to includes the following figures: (1) about half of all respondents in their survey who had experienced >= 4 instances of discrimination and violence in the last year attempted suicide in that year; (2) among all respondents in their survey, 7.3% attempted suicide in the last year. To me, that looks as if suicide rates among trans people are much more to do with actually being treated badly than with fearing they will be treated badly. (If so, I am cautiously optimistic that those terrible trans activists trying so hard to raise awareness of transness and reduce the extent to which trans people are regarded as strange and sinister are in fact making it less likely that any given trans person attempts suicide.)

There are a whole lot of other findings in that survey with the same sort of shape: it seems like every sort of mistreatment-by-others trans people might experience is associated with a substantial increase in suicide attempts.

(Of course, for obvious reasons the survey won't find people who successfully committed suicide, which makes interpreting these figures trickier, but I think they still mean what they appear to: much of what makes trans people commit suicide more than not-trans people is that other people treat them in ways they find distressing.)

3. This survey was exclusively of adults and it is not at all obvious how well it generalizes to the "impressionable young people" you're talking about; from your references to parents and teachers, I take it you're thinking of people who are not yet adults. (I don't mean to imply that this difference necessarily means that those people are less at risk of suicide; just that generalizing from one population to another is unreliable.)

4. So far as I can make out, "trans activists" are not telling those impressionable young people "that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it".

5. Let us suppose that those "trans activists" are finding impressionable young people who don't think of themselves as trans and persuading them to think of themselves that way. It seems obvious to me that these people (1) are not typical of the not-trans population before this happens, because most not-trans people would not easily be persuaded that they are trans, and (2) are not typical of the trans population after it happens, because most trans people didn't need to be persuaded by trans activists; they experienced years of miserable gender dysphoria and figured it out for themselves. (#2 might be becoming less true, if a large fraction of today's young trans people were persuaded to be that way by "trans activists", but to whatever extent that's so the current young trans population is in turn not typical of the 2015 adult trans population studied by that survey.) In particular, wouldn't you strongly expect these people to be more at risk of suicide than the general population even before starting to identify as trans, and less at risk of suicide than the trans population as a whole after starting to identify as trans?

Social-conservative arguments along the lines of "Trans people have bad lives, so it is irresponsible for progressives to try to normalize transness" ring false to me, because so much of the badness of those lives is because those same social-conservatives are working hard to make those lives bad, or at least to stop them being made less bad. (They used to say the exact same thing about gay people, and I'd say the same about that case as about this one.)

2. The survey report you link to includes the following figures: (1) about half of all respondents in their survey who had experienced >= 4 instances of discrimination and violence in the last year attempted suicide in that year; (2) among all respondents in their survey, 7.3% attempted suicide in the last year. To me, that looks as if suicide rates among trans people are much more to do with actually being treated badly than with fearing they will be treated badly. (If so, I am cautiously optimistic that those terrible trans activists trying so hard to raise awareness of transness and reduce the extent to which trans people are regarded as strange and sinister are in fact making it less likely that any given trans person attempts suicide.)

Here is a possible counter-argument to this: if social pressure and discrimination cause suicides, we would expect the suicide rates of trans people to increase after hormonal treatment or surgery. After all, before transition, gender dysphoria is not particularly visible. From the point of view of most people who are not intimately familiar with the person, a pre-transition trans looks just like someone cis. After transition, however, they may or may not "pass", and in many cases it is immediately obvious that they are trans (e.g. MtF still having a male voice unless they do the fancy vocal cords surgery). But we observe exactly the opposite: gender-affirming surgery greatly reduces the suicide rate of trans people.

Note that I don't think that trans activists are causing the suicides either. My working hypothesis is that gender dysphoria (as in, not feeling at ease in your own body) is horrible by itself, and is the cause of suicides. Hormones and surgery might make the trans-ness more visible, but if it alleviates the mismatch between your body map and your actualy body, it might still be a net benefit.

I can't speak for all trans people but my experience lines up neatly with that hypothesis. Hrt massively improved qol by alleviating dysphoria, and then I also got a new set of things to worry about but after the crushing weight of untreated dysphoria it doesn't bother me so much...

... of course, I live in one of the most trans friendly places in the US, so I'm sure someone who was stuck in the deep south would have a very different experience.

I agree that almost certainly a lot of suicides among trans people are neither the result of being treated badly nor the result of expecting to be treated badly: as you say, gender dysphoria is apparently extremely horrible for many who suffer it. (My guess is that a substantial part of the distress comes specifically from being treated by other people as being of a gender that feels wrong to you, in which case much of it is "being treated badly" in an extended sense, though not necessarily one that involves any element of malice or anything from the people doing it.)

But I think there's something amiss in your model. Suppose you're (let's say MtF) trans. There are commonly (at least) three phases, not two. Phase 1: you are living as a man but inwardly feel that this is terribly wrong. Main source of misery: gender dysphoria. Phase 2: you are living as a woman but haven't made any drastic physical changes via hormones or surgery. Sources of misery: gender dysphoria (hopefully less than in phase 1), obnoxiousness from other people. Phase 3: you are living as a woman and have made substantial physical changes. Hopefully not much gender dysphoria now (though I'd guess many trans people remain less than fully satisfied with the state of their body). Hopefully less obnoxiousness from people who read you as male rather than female. Maybe more obnoxiousness from people who discover you're trans and feel like you're trying to deceive them.

As far as possible causes of misery goes, the 1->2 transition makes some things better (less gender dysphoria) and some things worse (more opportunities for people to discriminate, be deliberately offensive, etc.) The 2->3 transition, though, seems like it makes them all better. Your body is nearer to how you feel it should be, and your transness is less likely to be immediately obvious to people who might respond badly to it.

I think it's quite common to spend a non-negligible amount of time in phase 2. So even if a lot of trans suicides are the result of social pressure and discrimination, we shouldn't be surprised to see that hormonal and surgical treatment greatly reduce the suicide rate.

The best line here is "I don't hate you".

Seriously, it's awesome and people should tell it to each other much more easily.

(My therapist said he doesn't hate me. It was the single most liberating thing I've heard in a while.)

(My therapist said he doesn't hate me. It was the single most liberating thing I've heard in a while.)

😲 What were your priors?

None articulated. Imagine my surprise :)

(A relative of mine is a psychologist, but not, in my opinion, a grown-up person. They discuss their clients at home. I found, and find this excruciating. To see how this had affected my expectations of a totally different person was eye-opening.)

...still, I think now that people should tell such things to people, if they mean them.

Well, for the record, I don't hate you either. (Yay, cheap utilons!)

And I don't hate you!

(And - thanks.)

in the event of any collapse, it is uncanny how quickly hierarchy and patriarchy is restored

Historically, patriarchy and deviancy can easily coexist, e.g. in ancient Greece or Rome.

Please correct me if I misunderstand you here, but you propose two mechanisms why cultural changes are bad, and they seem to be (a bit ironically) somewhat the opposite of each other.

In one case, the changes are good in short term, but bad in long term. (Let's make people free to do X, in short term a few people are made very happy, in long term some social mechanism we took for granted collapses, and now many people are unhappy.) In other case, the changes are good in long term, but bad in short term. (Let's show people a vision of utopia they didn't realize was possible, but it will take a lot of time to actually get there, and in the meanwhile people are angry that we are not there already.)

First, yes, I believe that you are making a good point. Two good points, actually.

But we need to distinguish between "this is ultimately harmful" and "this is temporarily harmful, but worth it in long term". The former should perhaps not be done (unless we find a way how to make it okay in even longer term), the latter... I guess, could be better timed, not to be in the worst part of all the curves at the same time. How to do that, though? Our clickbait culture seems incapable of the virtue of silence, though some politically incorrect ideas were successfully removed from the center of public discourse.

On individual level, you could perhaps improve things by making the change you want to see in the world. If you believe that Facebook is evil, make a Nicebook, and perhaps it will still be profitable (much less than Facebook, but that could still be enough money for you personally). If you make a shop that only sells healthy food (for prices comparable to other shops), I would be happy to shop there. Perhaps give people courses on how to be happier? (I wonder if there is an economic concept of "barely profitable" company, i.e. one that tried to generate exactly as much money as needed to avoid loss, but otherwise optimizes for other goals.)

In a perfect world, we would have a Progressive-Conservative Coalition for Better Life, that would explore ways how to time and shape social changes to achieve long-term improvement without short-term setbacks.

Yeah, I'm willing to entertain the idea that there's a tradeof to be made between the short term and the long term or something like that... but to be honest, I don't think the people who push these ideas are even thinking along those lines. I think a rational discussion would just be a net plus for everyone involved, but people are unwilling to do that either because it's not in their interest to do so (lobby groups, media agencies) or because they don't understand why they should.

Don't get me wrong, I do think there are some left-wing groups who have had discussions on how to best change things. But mostly I think that people are just unwilling to criticize their own side, allowing the craziest voices to rise to the top. 

The closest thing I've seen to anyone seriously discussing these ideas was when Bill Maher suggested that the US needs a "tea party of the left", full of people so batshit crazy that they make people like him look like the reasonable ones. So maybe I'm not giving progressives enough credit and they did actually did do a calculation along those lines at one point, and decided that people being temporarily miserable was a worthwhile sacrifice. But for the most part, I think it's just been reflexive partisanship, and little else.

I'm going to focus most of the post on the theme of trans people, I think it exemplifies the first of the two main problems behind a "social conservativism" approach.

  1. Conservatives generally don't provide good arguments for their worries.

The model they'll present will rarely stand as a coherent reasoning or have moving parts you can examine. "Gay marriage -> loss of societal cohesion", with a not really explained "loss of validity for traditional marriage" in between. 

When there are detailed models, usually scientific literature will prove most of the concerns wrong. Progressives are usually the ones that seem to be aligned with the science, at least in the recent struggles (if one can provide counterexamples they are free to do so. Currently the strongest one I could think of is transgender athletes in sport, where both sides are misaligned with the studies - transgender athletes seem to regain an advantage with the current guidelines, but it's not enough to make women sport a one-sided battle that are dominated by trans athletes or to be reasonably certain it's there, and treating all sports as being influenced in the same way it's nonsense).

 

2. The current situation might well be running at full speed toward a crash. 

A cautionary approach that says "don't change anything, you don't know what you could break in our society" would be considerable only if it seems we are at a really good and stable points. 

But broken stuff in our society can carry costs and problems that compound, which seem to be pretty much the situation we are in at the moment given the number of crisis our society is facing, up to extinction risks, so stasis doesn't seems an option. 

 

I should add that none of this is hypothetical. Right now, as we speak, young people are being actively encouraged by progressive parents, teachers and activists to ask themselves the question if maybe they’ve been born in the wrong body. And while progressives insist that this can’t possibly do any harm because all sex-related matters are unique in being the only human traits that are fully genetic and on which environment has zero effect, my counterargument is that that’s horseshit.

People are being actively encouraged in knowing that there are some people born in the wrong body, not to ask if they are really cis. I've yet to see an activist write something that would encourage random persons to question their gender identity, save in the kind of internet places you go look if you are questioning your gender identity, and they generally say stuff like "if you think that these experiences match your own, you might want to keep questioning your gender identity, here are other experiences that aren't related to that to help you differentiate".

 

There is very strong evidence that people can't change their sexual orientation or their gender identity on command, such as the staggering, complete rate of failures of every sort of therapy that ever tried to obtain that.

My (more or less informed) guess is that a lot of people have a sexual orientation that's more or on less on the bisexual spectrum, and so could their environment would influence if they acknowledge and/or follow on it or not. But the environment can only work on cases where the innate preference isn't too marked. If you're bisexual with a 50/50 preference you'd have a hard time not noticing it. If you have a 90/10 preference, you might believe you are straight (or gay if the preference is same sex) if you grow up in an environment, or notice that 10% if you grow up in another.

Similarly, gender identity also seems to follow a continuous scale. Some people might go either way, since transitioning isn't exactly easy environment would likely influence their decisions on the matter. A lot of people who will "pop out" as trans depending on the environment will likely be people who are very much trans, and that will notice they are because they are informed on the subject.

 

I do agree that some harm might come of it. The number of people who transition and then de-transition will rise as the social stigma, huge hassles, and other problems associated with transitioning will also increase.

But, given that the numbers seem to be hundreds of de-transitioners who would suffer from it and millions of trans people who would greatly reduce their sufferings, it seems that for now we should floor it on the "more education on transgenderism" and check on what follows. Being trans and not noticing/not being able to act on it is a real harm. 

 

Even if you insist that the number of trans people is kept constant across time and space by some kind of universal law, their suicide rates are still some factor ~18 higher than the rest of society, and you cannot possibly expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with them being constantly told by trans activists that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it (by the way, I don’t hate you.) So from my point of view, progressives are only making impressionable young people more miserable by convincing them that their current reality is intolerable and evil.

As a trans person this is not my experience at all. Trans activists usually provide more support to trans people than depressing content. My worries about how the world would treat me if I were trans decreased as trans activism became more prevalent, because you get a sense that a growing number of people would just accept you. 

 

Transphobia is, by far, the most likely suspect in the suicide rates of trans people who have transitioned. Trans people are still shown to be heavily discriminated and at a much higher risk of assault or unemployment, discrimination correlates a lot with these increased suicide rates. 

Locker room talk you hear in high school, transphobic medias of all kind, stuff like that will convince you that the current reality is intolerable and evil, even if you don't hear about aggressions and discrimination about trans people in the news. In high school I went straight "nope, not worth even considering the question" because of these things, and trans visibility was basically zero (and by the way, thank you for expressing support!).

Activism will tell you "it's bad, but it's getting better, there are people and places that will accept you right now, and we can make this even better". So, in this sense, it will make more trans people be out, and make more trans people realise I'm trans, which is not a bad thing because gender dysphoria and all that follows from it take the lion share in the suicide rates before transitioning. Even despite transphobia and discriminations, trans people are much more at risk of suicide before transitioning, gender dysphoria it's just that bad.

 

The trans problem wouldn't get worse if society tried to go the stasis route, but it would still mean paying a huge amount of sufferings and deaths with no good reason.

So what you are saying is, the Conservatives have a bunch of 'settings' for every aspect of our lives.  They 'worked in the past' and 'worked well enough to make it'.  Even when a particular setting doesn't make any rational sense, we should just 'have faith our ancestors knew what they were doing'.

Also conservatives in many cases want the government to force us through coercion and outright violence to obey laws written from Conservative social 'values'.  For example, the obvious being a marriage, where this is a legal contract that is 'one size fits all', you either agree to the terms or you are not married.  There is no room for modernization or amendments, just "the arbitrary way inherited from our ancestors is the way or the highway".  (even a pre-nup doesn't amend the marriage, just exempts pre-marital assets)

Your argument that "it worked well enough to get us here" is moderately compelling.  I can point out that other cultures, especially Asia, sometimes do things differently.  Therefore the "different settings" are also valid.  In fact in terms of success, due to higher population numbers, the Asian way appears to be 'more correct'.  If you really wanted to 'do what is best for future children', it seems we need to adopt some mixture of Chinese and Indian cultures, because apparently in objective terms they work the best.  Guess you better invite your parents to live with you.  Hope they can find you a wife.

My other thought is I have had arguments sometimes with my father, who doesn't understand why I am not interested in car tinkering or car culture.  To me, a car is a machine to reach a destination, and I should buy the one with the lowest total operating costs.  

He sees car culture as a conservative value.  Except, uh, it isn't one that has stood the test of time, it was "made up" somewhere in the 1920s by auto manufacturers.  

Similarly, conservatives trumpet things like celibacy before marriage as a value that has "stood the test of time", ignoring the fact that people used to marry far, far younger...

Anyways, back to the main subject.  If catgirl porn is your thing, well, you can watch Fox News or Storage Wars or Cops or catgirl porn in the evenings.  I'm not seeing a compelling argument how the first 3 are "better" for your life and well being if you really really like catgirls.

Sure, you might now feel unsatisfied with any sexual partners who are not catgirls.  But then again, Fox News is designed to make you feel dissatisfied with anything a Democrat is trying to do, feeling a sense of imminent doom, where the President is about to just cut loose with executive orders and let the entire population of Latin America through the border all at once in one day.  And defund the police in every city.  (this is what conservatives seem to really believe).

Storage Wars makes you feel dissatisfied that you are not running your own business scavenging millions in value.  Cops makes you feel unsafe and a Conservative might check that their firearm is loaded and aimed at the door after an episode.

Just not seeing a difference.

I can point out that other cultures, especially Asia, sometimes do things differently.  Therefore the "different settings" are also valid.

I think it is not unusual among conservatives to accept that different cultures have different rules. "The traditions must be followed" can coexist with "we follow our traditions, and they follow their traditions". There are multiple valid options, but everyone should stick with the one they grew up with. We believe that our option is the best one, but we respect that others may believe otherwise.

Interaction between cultures requires finding out the intersection, the behavior that is acceptable to both sides. Cultures used to deal with strangers can have a distinction between "this is forbidden to us, but okay for the other side if their culture permits it", such as eating taboo foods, and "this is forbidden and must be punished, no exception", such as blasphemy against our god(s). Sometimes things are "forbidden in our territory, and that also applies to visitors; but when I am a visitor at your territory, your rules apply".

Now that I think about it, I am probably much closer to the progressive end of the spectrum than to the conservative one. Yet, when I interact with conservatives, I usually find it easy to follow the above-mentioned rules, and the protocol works, despite the object-level differences. The interactions with progressives are more difficult, because despite many object-level similarities, we do not have a good protocol to deal with the few differences. That is, the protocol itself seems to be conservative, while the progressive protocol is... how to put it politely... "if you are not 100% with us, you are against us"?

Sure. My point is the OP is not just saying these traditions are traditional but that we should follow them because they are proven to work by the fact of our existence.

And I am just saying this is suboptimal. Even if I can't make up a new tradition - say a new holiday for my bi roommate and me and our children together and her girlfriend to all celebrate - I should at least steal working ideas from the best.

In slightly clearer terms:
what should I do in my life?
rational answer: Output = max( utility_heuristic( alternative actions) ). Output = watch more catgirl porn. Conservative Answer: Output = (Query("What did my parents do")) Output= "watch more Fox News" Optimized answer: Output = ("Query("what did the most successful parents do?")) Output = "invite parents to live in house to provide child raising help and find me a wife"

I'm not too sure the conservative idea as you put it, is to simply "have faith" but rather know the why before you assume it's arbitrary (see the chesterton fence parable). Your concerns on whether a particular setting must make rational sense to work id argue is irrelevant. Evolution doesn't care about literal truth, just passing genes. See how the religious produce more children. Religion might be literally untrue and make no rational sense to you, but it's working pretty well from an evolutionary perspective so who cares if it makes sense to you.

You pointed out that Conservatives want the law to enforce conservative social values, but what's your point? Isn't all law whether it's a conservative value or a progressive "value" ultimately enforced by violence?

You pointed out other successful groups and argued this as a reason to adopt their behaviors, but from an evolutionary point of view behavioral variance is a good thing for overall human survival. But what's your point here anyways? Your only examples provided of other successful groups happen to be very traditional/conservative socially. Doesn't this go against the argument you're trying to make?

You said "...conservatives trumpet things like celibacy before marriage as a value that has 'stood the test of time'"Are you sure thats really why conservatives believe in the value of celibacy? Usually when I hear the argument for celibacy it's either in a religious context or a family values context (celibacy promotes sex within a marriage framework where there's a two parent household. Which btw the data shows kids thrive more so under two parent households).

Focusing on the main point.  I am saying that if evolution has found sets of ideas that work, and you genuinely want your life to use the ideas that work the best (so you have many children), it appears you should adopt the ideas that work the best.

Which are not USA conservative values, they are Chinese and Asian values.  Everything else you are saying is simply that 'the way that work in the past is best'.  Which it is - for the purpose of having as much reproductive success as possible.  That is the only 'constraint' applied to it.

Years of accumulated experience and metis point the other way, at least for this audience. Anyone who has spent time in rationalist or rationalist adjacent spaces knows that a huge percentage of rationalists* are trans. After many years of being an active rationalist* I literally know dozens of trans people in or adjacent to the community. If a rationalist is struggling with whether to transition they should try transitioning. A huge number of rationalists think trying hormones was the best decision they ever made, very few seriously regret it. If a rationalist tries transitioning I strongly predict they will think it was a good decision. Though there are some people who have regrets the expected value is very good.

I will note that the people who do best don't get too preoccupied with philosophical debates about the true nature of transition. The extremely simplistic ideas like 'transwomen are women, transmen are men'** do great however. Rationalists who give transition a real shot are usually happy they did so. Taking HRT for a month or two is mostly reversible but you don't have a time machine. You cannot get back the years you spent miserable.

 

*For simplicity, I am just going to say rationalist. But I am including anyone active in spaces adjacent to the community such as effective altruism. I am not going to count people who are only weakly involved, for example, they just read SSC.

**No intent to erase non-binary people!

LGB people don’t reproduce, and yet their numbers grow.

Not so sure about the B.

(Plus there is this evolutionary hypothesis that L and G help their siblings raise children.)

Do you believe it? An obligate homosexual sibling would need to help their siblings have an additional 4 children who survive to reproduction in order to break even. That is a significant burden — especially given infant mortality rates in the ancestral environment, we're potentially talking about 8 additional pregnancies, at which point it seems implausible.

Ockham's razor might tell us that LG, where the individual has a mind which motivates against reproduction, are simply the consequence of some developmental failure?

We do not live in the ancient environment we evolved for. I agree that today in developed countries, each homosexual person having 4 extra nieces/nephews sounds very unlikely -- most people don't have 4 kids.

But in the ancient jungle... okay, I am not sure what exactly was the most likely reason for death, but I would guess war for men, childbirth for women, and dying as a child from malnutrition or disease or accident for both. Women having maybe 15 kids on average, of whom maybe 3 reach adulthood... and especially if you have matriarchy, that is kids belong to their mother, fatherhood is an unknown concept, men naturally take care of their nieces/nephews... especially considering that most men did not reproduce anyway... it sounds possible.

(It would make even more sense from the evolutionary perspective as a conditional response: a gene which, if you are male, makes you gay if you are below-average masculine compared to the rest of your tribe. You were most likely not going to reproduce anyway, don't risk your life fighting the local alpha male, focus on feeding and protecting your relatives instead.)

Makes me wonder... in societies without homophobia, do gays live longer than heterosexual men on average?

Ok so I did some reading and my sense is that obligate homosexuality is not very common in the type of matriarchal hunter-gatherer societies you mention (and is not found in wild animals), but is found in domesticated humans and animals. There does appear to be some genetic component as there is a bit of heritability. The obvious question is if there is some selection effect present in domestic environments not present in the wild.
 

There are two hypotheses which seem somewhat plausible; in both, the gene persists largely due to low mate choice on behalf of domesticated females. In the first, (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40750-016-0056-6), domesticated females are coercively mated with males without regard to sexual preferences (by parents who arrange marriages in the human case, and human breeders in the animal case), and so the defect is not subject to much selection pressure and gains prominence through drift. At first glance, this seems more convincing for the animal case and less so for the human case — I imagine that in many arranged marriages where there is an obligate homosexual male partner, many of the children are not his. In the second, females have to compete for high-status mates in a highly stratified society (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4534200/), and the gay gene makes them especially seductive. This seems somewhat just-so to me (is a wealthier husband worth a gay brother when it comes to fitness?), but the preliminary regressions at least don't count against it.

I like the logic of a conditional response gene, but it doesn't seem to bear out, at least in our society. Many homosexuals manifest gender-atypical behavior well before puberty, which seems to be evidence against the hypothesis.

Also (and this is really just from-the-seat-of-pants-musing), coalitions seem to be very important for tribal social dynamics. In my anecdotal experience, homosexuals seem to have higher coalition-building skills than heterosexuals on average. If anything, they might be more threatening to the "alpha" male (to the extent one would even exist) — again, anecdotally, macho types seem to be pretty bad at playing that sort of soft-power coalition-building game.
 

"Societies without homophobia" — let me know if you find one! I don't say this gleefully.

"Societies without homophobia" — let me know if you find one!

Ancient Greece? Maybe Japan? Dunno, never cared about this topic deeply, but I assume the obvious candidates would be countries without Christianity or Islam.

The point is that now you're descending into nonsense.  If we cannot use rational thought to decide what to do, but instead have to trust some old irrational idea, which idea is the correct one?  Oh, 'someone' said that television rots our brains.  Ok are all the rest of their ideas good?  You are likely to find the answer is no.

Entire cultures have deep respect for their elders and are highly conservative in that whatever advice their elders give is treated as a good idea.  This works except when it turns out that the 'elders' have 10 different incompatible bits of advice, or things that simply don't work at all.

Conservatism is an ideology built for a world that runs best free of interference. 

We do not live in the 1800s anymore. We have nuclear power plants, and securitized bundled mortgages, and a million other things that go very fucking badly for a whole lot of people who have no practical means to consent to the possibility of harms occurring from them or cope with the destruction that comes from their failure or even understand why these systems cause problems that they do. We require a centralized regulatory authority capable of tending to the garden of human projects. 

Any socially conservative value worth keeping will be re-invented in the same manner that tech startups eventually re-invent the bus ("What if we have an uber on a pre-determined schedule and the stops are at set times and everyone splits the cost via a monthly membership fee?"). Any value that isn't re-invented belongs in the trash bin of history. 

And of course, every socially conservative take finally boils down to the following, in full display by the assertion that trans activists are lying about the social status of trans people : 

"Society worked so well when you accepted that you were a joke, and didn't deserve respect. Now you're asking me to treat you with respect, and that makes me angry. Therefore, you are causing social discord."

This same argument was tried with the blacks in the 60s and the gays in the 80s. It was stupid then, and it's stupid now. 
 

Well, the strongest argument in favor of social conservatism is common sense – in this case, the idea that society is the way it is for a reason, and that any large scale change is therefore liable to have severe negative societal consequences.

...

Liberal commentators dismiss this concern in the name of utilitarian consequentialism: the idea that even if a proposed change seems scary, you should just shut up and do the math and then implement it anyway if the numbers work out.

Rinse and Repeat. 

This has basically been the American 2-step since the countries founding, and of course the social and political dance between Conservative and Liberal forces is a common thread throughout the entire history of Human Civilization. You can't have one without the other, otherwise you lose sight of what makes 'good' things so 'good', right?

I don't take a lot of issue with this post overall, although I question particularly the summation:

In summary, it’s true that the arguments from social conservatives tend to be pretty sucky, but there are underlying reasons for their taboos which are genuinely important and correct.

Specifically the idea that socially conservative (or even socially progressive) 'taboos' are "genuinely important and correct." 

From Googles entry for the search "def: taboo"

noun: taboo; plural noun: taboos; noun: tabu; plural noun: tabus

a social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.

I think taboos are possibly the entire problem facing the world today; and while in some cases they are helpful and informative, forbidding the discussion and/or research into many important areas considered 'taboo' is tantamount to censorship and allegiance to cultural myths and stereotypes that perpetuate the very problems they supposedly are trying to solve. 

For instance, the taboo against research into areas like gun violence and the actual potential medical benefits of illegal drugs in past decades, has had disastrous implications for the world because of how society chose to 'solve' those problems. In these cases we are only just now starting to have conversations that are having an important impact on society in relationship to arguable very important cultural and societal problems. 

Now if you changed the word 'taboo' to  something like 'concerns' I would agree wholeheartedly. i.e

 "In summary, it’s true that the arguments from social conservatives tend to be pretty sucky, but there are underlying reasons for their concerns which are genuinely important and correct."

I would be onboard with this statement, because many taboos are areas of human knowledge and experience that tend to be governed by extremely dated and inaccurate information and knowledge. Concern for the implications of changing or keeping 'taboos' becomes a conversation starter, whereas making something 'Taboo' has the chilling effect of closing down conversation for fear of severe social or legal consequences.

Hence the 'prohibition' of homosexual behavior because of what the Bible says, resulted in the chemical castration of Alan Turing post WWII even though his brilliance contributed to helping the Allies crack the Axis ciphers, he died of supposedly a self induced cyanide poisoning; or the classification of Marijuana as a schedule 1 drug because of the business interests of potential competitors in industries like timber, and because of racist and bigoted concern regarding the use of it. 

These are 2 examples among many others or how declaring something 'taboo' and illegal has made it difficult to prove the validity of the taboos surrounding these practices because anything associated with it was considered illegal and criminal and the punishments for committing these crimes and getting caught was severe.

'Concern' is reasonable in many cases, but I think in the year 2021 with the entirety of human scholarship and research at our disposal through the technological wonders of digital and network technologies (except for things that are deemed 'top secret' or 'taboo' or behind 'paywalls' or written in 'legalese' or otherwise so much domain specific 'jargon' so as to be undigestible except to experts in that particular field) that the number of truly useful taboos is likely fewer then there are currently in practice. 

I think as a result of the aggregate effect of the prohibitions surrounding a specific pattern of subjects deemed 'taboo', the hedonistic, youth obsessed culture of the Contemporary Western Tradition is what's continuing to cause world wide cultural shockwaves and 9/11 and the horrible war following it are direct results of this. The active measures aimed at disrupting our democratic elections and governmental apparatus from Russia and it's allies as well, are simply technologically amplified echos of the Info/Psychological Warfare operations of the Cold War era, and the influence war of the reinvigorated battle between the West and the East is the future of warfare. 

We need to seriously reexamine our priorities in the West if we expect to reduce our potential weaknesses in this domain of contemporary warfare instead of increasing them. Using our taboos against us becomes a moot point if they become concerns we learn to deal with appropriately instead of criminal acts which cause severe social consequences.  The Local is Global, and the Global is Local in this interconnected world, for better or worse.