Related to: Leaky Generalizations, Replace the Symbol With The Substance, Sneaking In Connotations

David Stove once ran a contest to find the Worst Argument In The World, but he awarded the prize to his own entry, and one that shored up his politics to boot. It hardly seems like an objective process.

If he can unilaterally declare a Worst Argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member."

Call it the Noncentral Fallacy. It sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?

It sounds dumb only because we are talking soberly of categories and features. As soon as the argument gets framed in terms of words, it becomes so powerful that somewhere between many and most of the bad arguments in politics, philosophy and culture take some form of the noncentral fallacy. Before we get to those, let's look at a simpler example.

Suppose someone wants to build a statue honoring Martin Luther King Jr. for his nonviolent resistance to racism. An opponent of the statue objects: "But Martin Luther King was a criminal!"

Any historian can confirm this is correct. A criminal is technically someone who breaks the law, and King knowingly broke a law against peaceful anti-segregation protest - hence his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

But in this case calling Martin Luther King a criminal is the noncentral. The archetypal criminal is a mugger or bank robber. He is driven only by greed, preys on the innocent, and weakens the fabric of society. Since we don't like these things, calling someone a "criminal" naturally lowers our opinion of them.

The opponent is saying "Because you don't like criminals, and Martin Luther King is a criminal, you should stop liking Martin Luther King." But King doesn't share the important criminal features of being driven by greed, preying on the innocent, or weakening the fabric of society that made us dislike criminals in the first place. Therefore, even though he is a criminal, there is no reason to dislike King.

This all seems so nice and logical when it's presented in this format. Unfortunately, it's also one hundred percent contrary to instinct: the urge is to respond "Martin Luther King? A criminal? No he wasn't! You take that back!" This is why the noncentral is so successful. As soon as you do that you've fallen into their trap. Your argument is no longer about whether you should build a statue, it's about whether King was a criminal. Since he was, you have now lost the argument.

Ideally, you should just be able to say "Well, King was the good kind of criminal." But that seems pretty tough as a debating maneuver, and it may be even harder in some of the cases where the noncentral Fallacy is commonly used.


Now I want to list some of these cases. Many will be political1, for which I apologize, but it's hard to separate out a bad argument from its specific instantiations. None of these examples are meant to imply that the position they support is wrong (and in fact I myself hold some of them). They only show that certain particular arguments for the position are flawed, such as:

"Abortion is murder!" The archetypal murder is Charles Manson breaking into your house and shooting you. This sort of murder is bad for a number of reasons: you prefer not to die, you have various thoughts and hopes and dreams that would be snuffed out, your family and friends would be heartbroken, and the rest of society has to live in fear until Manson gets caught. If you define murder as "killing another human being", then abortion is technically murder. But it has none of the downsides of murder Charles Manson style. Although you can criticize abortion for many reasons, insofar as "abortion is murder" is an invitation to apply one's feelings in the Manson case directly to the abortion case, it ignores the latter's lack of the features that generated those intuitions in the first place2.

"Genetic engineering to cure diseases is eugenics!" Okay, you've got me there: since eugenics means "trying to improve the gene pool" that's clearly right. But what's wrong with eugenics? "What's wrong with eugenics? Hitler did eugenics! Those unethical scientists in the 1950s who sterilized black women without their consent did eugenics!" "And what was wrong with what Hitler and those unethical scientists did?" "What do you mean, what was wrong with them? Hitler killed millions of people! Those unethical scientists ruined people's lives." "And does using genetic engineering to cure diseases kill millions of people, or ruin anyone's life?" "Well...not really." "Then what's wrong with it?" "It's eugenics!"

"Evolutionary psychology is sexist!" If you define "sexist" as "believing in some kind of difference between the sexes", this is true of at least some evo psych. For example, Bateman's Principle states that in species where females invest more energy in producing offspring, mating behavior will involve males pursuing females; this posits a natural psychological difference between the sexes. "Right, so you admit it's sexist!" "And why exactly is sexism bad?" "Because sexism claims that men are better than women and that women should have fewer rights!" "Does Bateman's principle claim that men are better than women, or that women should have fewer rights?" "Well...not really." "Then what's wrong with it?" "It's sexist!"

A second, subtler use of the noncentral fallacy goes like this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us an emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that same emotional reaction to X even if X gives some benefit that outweighs the harm."

"Capital punishment is murder!" Charles Manson-style murder is solely harmful. This kind of murder produces really strong negative feelings. The proponents of capital punishment believe that it might decrease crime, or have some other attending benefits. In other words, they believe it's "the good kind of murder"3, just like the introductory example concluded that Martin Luther King was "the good kind of criminal". But since normal murder is so taboo, it's really hard to take the phrase "the good kind of murder" seriously, and just mentioning the word "murder" can call up exactly the same amount of negative feelings we get from the textbook example.

"Affirmative action is racist!" True if you define racism as "favoring certain people based on their race", but once again, our immediate negative reaction to the archetypal example of racism (the Ku Klux Klan) cannot be generalized to an immediate negative reaction to affirmative action. Before we generalize it, we have to check first that the problems that make us hate the Ku Klux Klan (violence, humiliation, divisiveness, lack of a meritocratic society) are still there. Then, even if we do find that some of the problems persist (like disruption of meritocracy, for example) we have to prove that it doesn't produce benefits that outweigh these harms.

"Taxation is theft!" True if you define theft as "taking someone else's money regardless of their consent", but though the archetypal case of theft (breaking into someone's house and stealing their jewels) has nothing to recommend it, taxation (arguably) does. In the archetypal case, theft is both unjust and socially detrimental. Taxation keeps the first disadvantage, but arguably subverts the second disadvantage if you believe being able to fund a government has greater social value than leaving money in the hands of those who earned it. The question then hinges on the relative importance of these disadvantages. Therefore, you can't dismiss taxation without a second thought just because you have a natural disgust reaction to theft in general. You would also have to prove that the supposed benefits of this form of theft don't outweigh the costs.

Now, because most arguments are rapid-fire debate-club style, sometimes it's still useful to say "Taxation isn't theft!" At least it beats saying "Taxation is theft but nevertheless good", then having the other side say "Apparently my worthy opponent thinks that theft can be good; we here on this side would like to bravely take a stance against theft", and then having the moderator call time before you can explain yourself. If you're in a debate club, do what you have to do. But if you have the luxury of philosophical clarity, you would do better to forswear the Dark Arts and look a little deeper into what's going on.

Are there ever cases in which this argument pattern can be useful? Yes. For example, it may be a groping attempt to suggest a Schelling fence; for example, a principle that one must never commit theft even when it would be beneficial because that would make it harder to distinguish and oppose the really bad kinds of theft. Or it can be an attempt to spark conversation by pointing out a potential contradiction: for example "Have you noticed that taxation really does contain some of the features you dislike about more typical instances of theft? Maybe you never even thought about that before? Why do your moral intuitions differ in these two cases? Aren't you being kind of hypocritical?" But this usage seems pretty limited - once your interlocutor says "Yes, I considered that, but the two situations are different for reasons X, Y, and Z" the conversation needs to move on; there's not much point in continuing to insist "But it's theft!"

But in most cases, I think this is more of an emotional argument, or even an argument from "You would look silly saying that". You really can't say "Oh, he's the good kind of criminal", and so if you have a potentially judgmental audience and not much time to explain yourself, you're pretty trapped. You have been forced to round to the archetypal example of that word and subtract exactly the information that's most relevant.

But in all other cases, the proper response to being asked to subtract relevant information is "No, why should I?" - and that's why this is the worst argument in the world.

 

Footnotes

1: On advice from the community, I have deliberately included three mostly-liberal examples and three-mostly conservative examples, so save yourself the trouble of counting them up and trying to speculate on this article's biases.

2: This should be distinguished from deontology, the belief that there is some provable moral principle about how you can never murder. I don't think this is too important a point to make, because only a tiny fraction of the people who debate these issues have thought that far ahead, and also because my personal and admittedly controversial opinion is that much of deontology is just an attempt to formalize and justify this fallacy.

3: Some people "solve" this problem by saying that "murder" only refers to "non-lawful killing", which is exactly as creative a solution as redefining "criminal" to mean "person who breaks the law and is not Martin Luther King." Identifying the noncentral fallacy is a more complete solution: for example, it covers the related (mostly sarcastic) objection that "imprisonment is kidnapping".

4: EDIT 8/2013: I've edited this article a bit after getting some feedback and complaints. In particular I tried to remove some LW jargon which turned off some people who were being linked to this article but were unfamiliar with the rest of the site.

5: EDIT 8/2013: The other complaint I kept getting is that this is an uninteresting restatement of some other fallacy (no one can agree which, but poisoning the well comes up particularly often). The question doesn't seem too interesting to me - I never claimed particular originality, a lot of fallacies blend into each other, and the which-fallacy-is-which game isn't too exciting anyway - but for the record I don't think it is. Poisoning the well is a presentation of two different facts, such as "Martin Luther King was a plagiarist...oh, by the way, what do you think of Martin Luther King's civil rights policies?" It may have no relationship to categories, and it's usually something someone else does to you as a conscious rhetorical trick. Noncentral fallacy is presenting a single fact, but using category information to frame it in a misleading way - and it's often something people do to themselves. The above plagiarism example of poisoning the well is not noncentral fallacy. If you think this essay is about bog-standard poisoning the well, then either there is an alternative meaning to poisoning the well I'm not familiar with, or you are missing the point.

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I just registered http://worstargumentintheworld.com - it redirects to this post, and should be available shortly. Much easier to mention in conversation when other people use this argument, and don't believe it's a "real thing."

Great piece of work, Yvain - it's now on my list of all-time favorite LW posts.

I just registered http://worstargumentintheworld.com - it redirects to this post, and should be available shortly. Much easier to mention in conversation when other people use this argument, and don't believe it's a "real thing."

"Real things" have their own domain. I registered this domain, therefore...

Hahaha, nice.

I was imagining a situation in which someone makes an argument of this type, you say something along the lines of "that's a great example of the 'Worst Argument in the World'," and the person replies "you just made that up..." or "that's just your opinion..."

Providing a pre-existing URL that links to a well-written page created by a third-party is a form of evidence that shifts "Worst Argument in the World" from something that feels like an opinion to the title of a logical fallacy. That can be quite useful in certain circumstances.

Exactly! Logical fallacies are bad, and the Worst Argument in the World is a logical fallacy!

(Actually valid because it's a typical, central logical fallacy, not an edge case. If you'd asked me to list the most common logical fallacies even before I saw this post, I'd hope that I'd remember to put argument-by-categorization-of-atypical-cases into the top 10.)

4yonemoto
Is not the "Worst Argument in the World" itself a form of categorization (by form of argument), and how can you be sure any given instance of it is not itself an atypical case, that ought not to be compared against the obviously bad =murder or =hitler cases?

and how can you be sure any given instance of it is not itself an atypical case, that ought not to be compared against the obviously bad =murder or =hitler cases?

By checking.

6prase
When in the discussion under the well-written page created by a third party the first party openly admits registering the domain in order to use it as argumentum ad verecundiam, the whole thing loses much of its power.

If I debate with someone, he tells me something like "abortion is murder", I point him to http://worstargumentintheworld.com/ and he takes the pain to read the article AND the discussion and sees why/how the domain was registered, I would claim victory in "raising the sanity waterline".

The argument authority of having a domain pointing to may (I hope it'll) increase the chance the person does at least read a bit of the page instead of discarding it, but I doubt it'll do anything into making him/her accepting that the argument is wrong behind that.

3prase
OK, that sounds reasonable.
5joshkaufman
Anyone who visits this page can judge the merits themselves: there's no argument from authority involved. No one is claiming this form of argument is invalid because it's on LW, or because Yvain wrote it, or because it has a catchy name that's published on a website, or because it now has an easy-to-remember URL. I made a simpler citation, nothing more.
2Alexey
"Argumentum ad verecundiam" translates to "argument from authority" in sounding-smart-speak (saving effort of googling for those who come after me) And he doesn't appeal to authority, he's correctly addressing the points made by the theoretical opponent: "you just made that up..." and "that's just your opinion..."
6Eli Tyre
The link seems broken? : (
7habryka
Yeah, I also noticed this a while ago and was quite sad.
3BlueSun
I was writing an article and trying to refer to www.worstargumentintheworld.com but it appears to be down. Is the registration still valid and/or going to be renewed?

I strongly recommend not punishing people for saying that it's taken them time to learn something.

That's... probably a good idea.

4tut
xkcd
[-][anonymous]420

Yvain, here is a challenge. Many of your examples are weak versions of strong right-wing arguments that you do not accept. (by your remark about Schelling fences, it seems you're aware of this). I challenge you to replace each of these examples with a weak version of a strong left-wing argument that you do accept. Since policy debates should not appear one-sided, there should be no shortage of weak arguments "on your side." And it would be an interesting kind of ideological Turing test.

Perhaps I'm wrong about "what side you're on" and you already accept the strong right-wing arguments. In which case you got me, well done!

"X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't."

This is the original definition given for TWAITW. Note that the examples Yvain gave all had the form of: "X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain negative features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features." However, working with the explicit definition outlined by Yvain, as opposed to the implicit definition used by Yvain, we can easily conjure liberal examples:

  • Abortion is a medical procedure.
  • Pornography is art.
  • Welfare is charity.

Other liberal examples, using Yvain's implicit definition:

  • Homophobia is hatred.
  • The War on Drugs is Prohibition.
  • Pornography is sexist.

However, I am not entirely sure if our capacity to conjure examples matters.

Edit: Changed the free speech examples.

[-]Kindly230

I very much like "Abortion is a medical procedure". It's actually a believable WAitW to make, and has the admirable feature that it completely ignores every aspect of abortion relevant to the debate.

I think the "free speech" examples don't quite have the right form: the central question probably is whether or not pornography or flag burning is free speech, and the conclusion "Flag burning is free speech, therefore it should be legal" is valid if you accept the premise.

I really like "Abortion is a medical procedure". I suspect that we could remove some of the mind-killing by presenting the examples in pairs:

  • Abortion is murder
  • Abortion is a medical procedure
  • Evopsych is sexist
  • Evopsych is science

Hmm, creating these pairs is harder than I thought.

2Ben Pace
No problem here. Not even non-central.
9wedrifid
Someone uttering this may claim that they are not using the worst argument in the world as defined: They claim that it does have the critical features in question. Even the person they are arguing against may agree that it is equivalent to shouting out loud "My country is a @#$% disgrace! Screw my country!". The disagreement seems to be whether one should be permitted to do that kind of thing.
3Sarokrae
"Flag burning is freedom" should be a legitimate example along the same lines.
5evand
How would you say the War on Some Drugs is different than Prohibition?
3Emile
Unlike the other examples, this one doesn't really fit the pattern: it's "X is like Y" and not "X belongs to category Y". The difference is that "X is like Y" does not sneak in any connotations; it's well understood that "The War on Drugs is Prohibition" is a rhetorical way of saying "The War on Drugs is very similar to the Prohibition of the 1930s". "Affirmative action is like hanging people just because they're black!" doesn't carry the same sneaky rhetoric as "Affirmative action is racist!"

The challenge is an interesting exercise, and I will try to think up some examples, but your comment also contains an implied accusation which I'd like to respond to first.

By my count, this post includes critiques of four weak right-wing arguments (abortion, euthanasia, taxation, affirmative action) and three weak left-wing arguments (eugenics, sexism, capital punishment). As far as I know, neither side thinks MLK was a criminal. That means I'm 4-3, ie as balanced as it's mathematically possible to get while seven remains an odd number.

And I think the responses I see below justify my choice of examples. Shminux says the pro-choice converse of "abortion is murder" would be "forced pregnancy is slavery"; TGM suggests below it "denying euthanasia is torture". These would be excellent examples of TWAITW if anyone ever asserted them which as far as I know no one ever has. Meanwhile, I continue to walk past signs saying "Abortion Is Murder!" on my way to work every day. I don't know who exactly it would be helping to give "Forced Pregnancy Is Slavery" equal billing with "Abortion Is Murder" here and let my readers conclude that... (read more)

[-]TGM240

If you can think of left-wing WAITWs that are as well-known and catchy as "abortion is murder!", I will happily edit the post to include them

"Property is theft"

Is an example of the left using the WAITW.

American liberals aren't that kind of left. And Proudhon did mean "property is wrong for the same class of reasons theft is".

8Vaniver
Arguments that your stereotypical leftist and stereotypical rightist will both see as bad are the sort of thing that would, ideally, dominate the article.

As a leftist, this seems like a useful exercise. Here are a few claims I've heard more than once from fellow leftists that might qualify.

  • A fetus is a clump of cells.

  • Corporations are not people.

  • Money is not speech.

8kilobug
The first one is a good leftist example of the WAitW... and with a bit of shame I've to admit I used it in the past. I wouldn't say the other two qualify because they are negatives. "X is not Y" is quite different from a rethorical perspective than "X is Y".
2DaFranker
Let Y = (Not Z) X is Y. Using this, I'd argue that "Corporations are not people" is somewhat valid as an example of the WAitW, since the idea is to put the emphasis on people, and everything else is just property, things. It puts Corporations in some abstract, undefined category of not-people things that, when phrased appropriately, can carry a strong connotation. I fail to see the connotation in the "not-speech" for the third example though, and I don't quite see how one would use that example to argue against or for money - the label / categorization doesn't seem like it would sway anyone either way.
4pragmatist
The money is not speech argument is used (just like the corporations are not people argument) to protest against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. The claim is that although speech is constitutionally protected, this does not mean that wealthy individuals have the right to spend large amounts of money to get their poltiical views heard (by, say, contributing to SuperPACs). The idea is: although it's true that the government should not be allowed to prevent people from expressing their opinions, the government should be allowed prevent people from spending money to buy ads expressing their opinion because in that case the regulation is on the person's expenditure of money, and money is not speech (or, if you prefer, money is not-speech). I think this is an example of the WAitW. The first amendment gives Americans the right to free speech. Wealthy people claim that this means they can spend their considerable wealth in order to broadcast their opinions. After all, if the government can't restrict my speech, surely that means the government can't prevent me from utilizing my own resources as a medium for that speech. But, the leftist responds, the government can totally prevent wealthy people from doing this, because the wealthy people are spending money in order to get their opinions broadcast, and hey, money is not-speech, so like many other examples of not-speech, restricting its use is not a violation of the Bill of Rights.
4Vaniver
Buckley v. Valeo disagrees. More conveniently, it prohibits Congress from regulating the freedom of the press, i.e. the printing press, i.e. the technological means of reproducing ideas so that others may consume them, as in television ads. Which is why I found the Citizens United decision so baffling- the reasoning they used to reach their conclusion was not at all the reasoning I would have used. (But, then again, I would rule the vast majority of laws Congress outputs unconstitutional, which is one of the many reasons I have not been nominated to the Supreme Court.)
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
I agree with all three examples as WAITW even if the last two are negative. It's also very rare that you can settle policy questions through the negation of a categorization. Corporations aren't typical people and money isn't typical speech, but neither of those observations settle the policy question or even debate it - these are just slogans.
2Unnamed
The negative examples are different because they don't suggest an argument, only a counterargument. If X is an apple then various conclusions (typically/intuitively) follow, for instance, that X is edible. But if X is a non-apple then nothing much follows from that; it only serves to block the apple-->edible argument (and suggest that X is not necessarily edible). "Money is speech" implies that all of the protections that get applied to speech should be applied to spending. If money is not speech, then who knows? Nothing much follows directly from that (it's not as if there's some general principle that things which are non-speech should be banned); it just suggests that we don't necessarily have to apply the speech protections to spending. It's more similar to the "MLK was not a criminal" counterargument than to the "MLK was a criminal" argument (note that being a non-criminal doesn't make someone especially admirable), but it doesn't fall into the trap of being obviously false.
[-][anonymous]160

"Profiling is discrimination"

"Racial profiling is racist."

While I can see this argument apply as a sort of justifiable use when humans are doing such profiling, though even in that case I think it should be used sometimes, I find it a bit absurd when applied to say data mining systems. Are we to apply Bayesian reasoning to everything except predictors tied to certain sacralized human traits like gender, dress, class, race, religion and origin? Why don't we feel averse applying it to say age?

"Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell."

To avoid nitpicking that cancer cells have no ideology, I will point out that if they did, they would share the ideology with all life forms on the planet.

"Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of life!"

Doesn't sound as evil no?

seven remains an even number

Either this is a joke or you mean "odd".

You saw nothing!

I think the difference is that the right wing examples are examples of core beliefs that many stereotypical conservatives believe. Thus leftists feel like they are scoring points when they read it. The left examples, however, aren't really core beliefs of the Democratic party. Democrats may lean against capital punishment, but no presidential candidate in my memory has made that a core tenant of eir campaign.

I also think it's wildly generous to suggest eugenics as a leftist issue. I can't remember ever hearing someone seriously suggest that genetic engineering is eugenics. And typically, it's conservatives who are opposed to genetic engineering, generally on the grounds of playing God.

And when I was reading it, MLK got lumped in with conservatives for a number of reasons. First, the strong conservative examples primed me to put it there. Second, the civil rights act was largely pushed for by a Democratic legislature and president. Lastly, African Americans tend to line up with democrats in modern demographics.

The best leftist example I could come up with is "Meat is murder". I think that merits including. Or mixing in with the abortion one.

8[anonymous]
I was surprised people didn't notice that both the sexism and eugenics arguments where somewhat "right wing". I think a key thing might be that perception of "right" and "left" are tied to the current American political landscape. The important role of religion in it means that conservative politicians don't often make arguments for their policies based on evolutionary psychology or the high heritability of IQ or conscientiousness. The America right seems almost as invested in blank slate notions as the left.
8[anonymous]
Of course not! MLK was a Communist philanderer. That's worse. ;)
7MixedNuts
"Arguing against homosexuality is hate speech!". Many anti-queer statements are hate speech, e.g. promotion of murder, but others are along the lines of "People shouldn't act on same-sex attraction because...". Quite a few conservatives complain that the latter form of argument is dismissed as "hate speech", even though "People shouldn't drive SUVs because..." is never taken to mean you hate SUV drivers.
4Scott Alexander
So this may be more complicated than I thought, in that all of the examples below seem really bad to me, but that might just be an example of my personal bias. I think if any of them get, let's say, more than ten upvotes I'll assume they're generally agreed to be a good argument and I'll put them in - does that sound like a reasonable bar? That means upvote them if you think they're worthy of inclusion. I was trying to think of further liberal examples, and I think some references to "human rights" might qualify - for example, "health care is a human right". The meaning of "human right" that allows us to assert this seems very poorly defined, whereas the meaning of "human right" that allows us to say that negative rights like free speech are human rights seems well-defined, even though I don't agree with it. So calling health care (or housing, or something) a "human right" might be a way of trying to claim that we should view health care as exactly like free speech, free religion, etc, even though it is quite different in that it requires positive action by other people. I'm not quite willing to include that one just because the total ambiguity in the definition of "human right" makes it pretty hard to pin down exactly how the argument is being made. EDIT: Just saw "Property is theft" has 15 upvotes. Do people think this one should be added?
2shminux
I'm not fond of any, either. See if you can find something you like here.
4shokwave
It might be easier to come up with examples if you go back to your original definition and note that it allows for categories with positive qualities lending their positive qualities to category members who lack those physical qualities. (Leftist arguments as a rhetorical class are usually phrased in terms of including things in positive categories, whereas rightist arguments are more well-known for including things in negative categories.)
2Vaniver
For example, something like "we should support racial diversity because of the benefits of ideological diversity"?
2shminux
Not quite any wing: the jailed Pussy Riot members should stay behind bars because a killer requested their release. There are similar Western examples with Wikileaks/Anonymous.
2A1987dM
Judith Jarvis Thomson? (Well, she didn't use the word slavery but still.) As for the euthanasia-is-torture one, I heard that a lot on the media at the time of Terri Schiavo and similar cases. (Maybe none used the word torture but still.)
[-]gjm190

I have the impression that (1) when people post things in LW that are politically leftish, it's quite common for them to get a response along these lines -- complaining about leftward bias and suggesting that it should be addressed by a deliberate injection of rightward bias to compensate -- whereas (2) when people post things in LW that are politically rightish, they basically never receive such responses.

I have no statistics or anything to back this up, and it's not clear that there's any feasible way to get (or informatively fail to get) them, so I'd be interested in other opinions about whether this asymmetry is real.

If it is real, it seems to me quite interesting.

(One possible explanation, if it's real, would be that leftish views are much more common here than rightish ones, so that people with rightish views feel ill-treated and want the balance redressed. Except that I think I see distinctly more rightish than leftish political commentary here, and the rightish stuff more often gets large numbers of upvotes. I suppose it's possible that what we have here is a lot of slightly leftish people and a smaller number of rightish ones who feel more strongly. Again, this is probably hard to get a good handle on and I'd be interested in others' impressions.)

[-][anonymous]270

Well right wing people are almost certainly a minority here, but don't forget that makes such positions convenient for hipster fun. Some LWers who argue for right wing positions have stated that they feel more and more unwelcome in the past few months. Not only that I think they make a good case for pro left bias being very prevasive on LessWrong. I think what you are seeing is some users trying to correct for it.

I find the fact that both people who see themselves as left leaning and those who see themselves as right leaning suddenly feel there is favouritism for those who disagree with them is a much more worrying sign. I think this is what being on one side of a tribal conflict looks like from the inside.

The most popular political view, at least according to the much-maligned categories on the survey, was liberalism, with 376 adherents and 34.5% of the vote. Libertarianism followed at 352 (32.3%), then socialism at 290 (26.6%), conservativism at 30 (2.8%) and communism at 5 (.5%).

-- Yvain's 2011 survey

I have the impression that (1) when people post things in LW that are politically leftish, it's quite common for them to get a response along these lines -- complaining about leftward bias and suggesting that it should be addressed by a deliberate injection of rightward bias to compensate -- whereas (2) when people post things in LW that are politically rightish, they basically never receive such responses.

My explanation of this perception is that posters, in general, know better than to post rightish things at LW unless they are correct. Every now and then you get a new Objectivist who gets downvoted because they aren't discussing things at a high enough level.

Lots of beliefs that are common on LW are uncomfortable for the stereotypical leftist- like human biodiversity in general. To see someone brazenly state that, yes, there is a difference in measured IQ between the races and that reflects reality rather than our inability to design tests properly, or that men and women are actually neurologically distinct, will seem like a "not my tribe" signal to the stereotypical leftist- but people here don't hold that opinion (as far as I can tell) because of racial or sexual enmity, but because they put evidence above wishful thinking and correct beliefs above politeness.

But now imagine that for the stereotypical rightist. How big of a "not my tribe" signal is atheist materialism and evolution?

I am thinking that one possible asymetry between "the left" and "the right" is that the former is a rather homogenous group, while the latter is heterogenous. The left generally means socialist(-ish), and the right generally means non-socialist. The left is a fuzzy blob in the concept-space, the right seems like a label for points outside of this blob.

As an example, both Ayn Rand and Chesterton would be examples of "the right". What exactly do they have in common? (Religion: the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever? Individual or community? Mystery or reason? The great future or the great past? Selfishness or selflessness? Should women be allowed as leaders? Etc.) The common trait that classifies them both as "the right" is the fact that neither of them is a socialist.

Well, I could also says that neither of them "considers hinduism the best thing ever"... but why should that information be used to classify them? Well, for a hinduist that would be an important information. Then it follows that classifying many diverse views under one label of "the right" makes sense to you mostly if you are a socialist. (Or if being ver... (read more)

I am thinking that one possible asymetry between "the left" and "the right" is that the former is a rather homogenous group, while the latter is heterogenous. [...] The left is a fuzzy blob in the concept-space, the right seems like a label for points outside of this blob.

Beware the out-group homogeneity effect. People tend to see their own group as more heterogeneous than other groups, as differences that look small from far away look bigger up close.

With left and right, I have also heard the exact opposite claim: that the "right" represents a narrower, more coherent group. In the US, the "right" is based in the dominant, mainstream social group (sometimes called "real America"), drawing disproportionately from people who are white, male, Christian, relatively well-off, straight, etc., while the "left" is a coalition of the various groups that are left out of "real America" for one reason or another. Alternatively, conservatives are the people who support the existing social order and want to keep things roughly how they are; liberals are the ones who want change - and there are more degrees of freedom in changing things than in keeping things the same.

[-]prase110

This is an interesting point, that one about the left being more homogeneous than the right. I am not sure whether to believe it, so let me present some objections that I can think of, without evaluating their merit.

A) Assuming the left is indeed more homogeneous, isn't it true just because of greater variability of right between different countries, with a typical single country's right being as homogeneous as the same country's left? (The objection hasn't a particularly strong bearing on the perceived LW left/right imbalance, but may be relevant to the more general question of how the categories of left and right are defined.)

The left generally means socialist(-ish), and the right generally means non-socialist.

B) This may not be accurate; beware availability heuristics.

Environmentalists aren't necessarily socialists as their opinions about the optimal economic order aren't the defining part of their ideology and may differ. Yet the environmentalists are usually classified on the left. Anarchists aren't necessarily socialists; many of them oppose any form of organised society, while archetypal socialism is a very organised society, from many points of view more than market ca... (read more)

8Emile
I don't think that quite described the US, or Western Europe - the stereotypical redneck is low-status but on the right (same for ploucs here in France), and buying organic food seems to be more common with the rich, but is associated to the left. A better description of the left/right gap may be that each represents a status ladder, and that people support the status ladder on which they have the best relative position. The details of what counts tend to vary with time and place, but on the left you tend to get status for being educated, open-minded, environmentally aware, original, etc., and on the right you tend to get status for being rich, responsible, having a family, being loyal to your country, etc. At least, that angle of approach seems better than looking at policies; if you compare the policies of the French left and the American left, the policies might seem so different that they don't deserve the same label; but if you compare the kind of people who support either parties, the similarities are much more apparent.
2NancyLebovitz
I have a notion that in the US, left-wingers tend to focus on defection by high-status people and right-wingers tend to focus on defection by low-status people.
6Peterdjones
But there are any number of sub-varieties of socialism, so it is itself a fuzzy blob. Moreover, the non-right in many countries, particularly the US, barely has a whiff of classical socialism, Who is advocating a centrally planned economy or worker control of production in the US? It's a standing joke in Europe that the US has two parties of the right. That's "perception" of course. It's also a US perception that public healthcare "is" socialism -- the idea is seen as mainstream and cross-party elsewhere. What is going on is that the right have this convenient label "socialist" to lambast the non-right with, and the non-right don't have a corresponding term to hit back with. That doesnt mean anything about ideaspace.
4mrglwrf
About as big as "human biodiversity" is for a leftist. I think you are severely underestimating the strength of conviction among people whose beliefs disagree with your own, or the extent to which these are moral disagreements, rather than exclusively factual.

I've posted such complaints about left wing bias, so I'll elaborate on my impressions.

I perceive the left wing comments come with much more of an implicit assumption by the poster, and the respondents to it, of the moral superiority of left wing positions, and that all attending will see it the same way.

Most of the non left wing views don't seem to me to come with that presumption on the part of the speaker that everyone here shares their moral evaluation. If anything, the tone is of someone who expects to be taken as a crank.

The liberals are more generally accustomed to being in an ideologically homogeneous environment while the libertarians are accustomed to being in the minority, and both speak with a tone appropriate to the general environment, and not to the particular environment here, where liberals and libertarians are equally represented.

For my part, I also find instances where the absent conservatives are caricatured and snickered at, again with the presumption that all right thinking folk agree, and the bile rises in the gorge, and I feel the need to respond.

2[anonymous]
Isn't that reasonable though? If you're a X-winger, isn't the whole point that X-wing positions are in fact morally superior?

Isn't that reasonable though? If you're a X-winger, isn't the whole point that X-wing positions are in fact morally superior?

Morally superior perhaps, but they lack the hull plating and durability to survive ongoing combat and the offensive payload pales in comparison to what the Y-wing can deliver.

[-]gwern130

The Y-wing was an outdated piece of junk even by the Battle of Yvain; that's why the Rebels had it at all. The X-wing's proton torpedoes deliver the hurt when necessary (just ask Tarkin or Ysanne Isard), and if you want more than that, well, that's what the B-wings are for... Between them and the A-wing, there is simply no role for Y-wings at any point - except cannon bait!

4GeraldMonroe
Shouldn't that be spelled "canon bait"? Heh.
5buybuydandavis
Assuming that everyone would see it the same way when manifestly they do not is just an empirical mistake. Yes, everyone think's their position is right, but not everyone speaks to audiences who disagree with them expecting them all to agree.
[-]prase130

What is the strong version of "taxation is theft", for example? I can recall arguments against taxation stronger than this, of course, but none of them I would consider a version of the "taxation is theft" argument.

As for the arguments mentioned in the OP, "taxation is theft", "abortion is murder" and "euthanasia is murder" are typically right-wing, "affirmative action is racist" is also probably right-wing (although general accusations of racism fit better into the left wing arsenal) while "capital punishment is murder", "ev-psych is sexist" and "genetic engineering is eugenics" sound quite leftist to me. Not sure about "M.L.King was a criminal", but the examples seem balanced with respect to the stereotypical left/right division. With respect to Yvain's opinions the choice might be less balanced, of course.

8Swimmy
Simple: "taxation is theft and is also just as wrong as mugging because 1) the supposed benefits of government programs aren't really there and 2) majority voting doesn't make mugging any better than theft by a gang of robbers is better than theft by a single robber." All of these arguments can be made stronger by specifying the reasons you should ignore the major differences between the moral issue in question and the archetypal example's.
8[anonymous]
Well I can give you one example. Neoclassical economics makes a pretense of being neutral about how resources are distributed. The focus is instead on the absolute amount of resources. As I think Steven Landsburg puts it, taxes are no fun to pay, but they are fun to collect. The problem is that taxes can be avoided, and that resources put into avoiding taxes (and collecting them) are wasted. There is an identical economic argument against theft: the issue isn't that the thief deserves to have the painting less than the museum, it's that resources the museum puts into defending the painting (and that the thief puts into procuring it) are wasted. Naturally that is a criticizable line of reasoning, but it gave me a lot to think about the first time I heard it.
6kilobug
But private property also requires resources to defend it (which are wasted like the ones to collect taxes), so in fact, neoclassical economics agree with Proudhon that "property is theft" ? :)
2SilasBarta
I think the standard rejoinder is that private property incurs greater benefits than the general cost of securing it, owing to true "tragedy of the commons" type situations it attempts to avoid.
3TheOtherDave
Agreed that the anti-capital-punishment stance exemplified by "capital punishment is murder" is more attached to the American left than the American right, as are accusations of sexism in general (including but not limited to those applied to evo-psych). "Genetic engineering is eugenics" seems trickier to me. In the U.S. at the moment, I'd say Republican voters are more likely to endorse a "science can't be trusted" argument than Democratic ones, and Democratic voters are more likely to endorse a "corporations can't be trusted" argument than Republican ones. "Genetic engineering is eugenics" can be spun both ways, I think. That is, if I wanted to convince a randomly selected Democratic voter to vote against genetic engineering, I could use rhetoric along the lines of "evil corporations want to use genetic engineering techniques to breed a so-called superior race of food crops, which will eradicate the food crops ordinary consumers know and trust and leave us at their mercy. Don't let them get away with it!" pretty effectively. (Though less effectively than they could have 30 years ago.) If I wanted to convince a randomly selected Republican voter, I could use similar rhetoric with "corporations" replaced by "scientists" and "consumers" replaced by "ordinary people". Both of those, I think, would be invoking the spectre of eugenics, the only change would be how the eugenicists are characterized... that is, are they elite academic eugenicists, or greedy corporate eugenicists? All of that said, I endorse eugenics, so I'm probably not a reliable source of information about the rhetorical charge of these words for the mainstream.
5prase
Different perspectives, probably. In most European countries, I dare to say, everything associated with genetics is suspect to the left and the left also more often sides with the anti-science rhetoric in general. This is partly because the European right-wingers are less religious than in the U.S. (although I have heard creationism had become political issue in Serbia few years ago) and perhaps somehow related to the differences between Continental and analytic philosophy, if such intellectual affairs have real influence over practical politics.
3TheOtherDave
Yeah, that's been a significant shift over the last few decades in the U.S. There's still a significant anti-scientific religious faction within the American left (New Agers and such) but they've been increasingly joined by factions that thirty/forty years ago would have been considered right, making the coalition as a whole a lot more secular than it was. Meanwhile the right's power base has increasingly moved towards more rural states, and the . anti-scientific religious faction within the American right (evangelical Christians and such) have gained more relative power within it. Three or four decades ago I think were were more aligned with the European model. I have no idea whether the distinctions between continental and analytic philosophy have anything to do with it, and am inclined to doubt that the philosophical schism is causal if so, but I'd love to hear arguments supporting the idea.
2Emile
I would tend to put "Genetic engineering is eugenics" in as a left-wing argument, because the left seems more likely to compare the right to Nazis, call them racist, etc. (with the right, of course, comparing the left to Stalin). But on the other hand the American Right seems to have been up in arms about "Death Panels" or something, so I gotta admit I'm uncertain; I don't follow the minutiae of politics on your side of the Atlantic.
2TheOtherDave
Yeah, I think in a global context I would agree with you. The U.S. Left and Right are at this point their own beasts. Also, at this point in the U.S., pretty much everyone compares everyone else to Hitler, and pretty much nobody remembers exactly who Stalin was. Actually, I suspect that >60% of the population, if asked whether the Soviet Union was allied with the U.S. or with Nazi Germany during WWII, would state confidently that it was allied with Nazi Germany.
2Emile
But it was, for a time at least!
2kilobug
I would say that "USSR was an ally of Nazi Germany for a time" is an example of WAitW. They had a non-aggression pact for a while, but both side knew it was just a matter of time before they will fight each other, and they didn't do anything to actually help the other - USSR mostly used all the bought time to prepare itself for war against Nazi Germany. For borderline values of "ally" you can call them allies, but that's sneaking in the usual connotation of being allies (actively helping each others) which was just not present.
2NancyLebovitz
I thought the standard left-wing argument against genetic engineering was that only the rich will be able to afford it, with an implication that the rich will be able to unfairly stabilize their advantages.
[-]gjm120

I don't understand how you get from "policy debates should not appear one-sided" to "there should be no shortage of weak arguments 'on your side'". Especially if you replace the latter with "there should be no shortage of weak arguments of this sort on your side" -- which is necessary for the challenge to be appropriate -- since there could be correlations between a person's political position and which sorts of fallacies are most likely to infect their thinking.

In particular, I predict WAITW use to be correlated with explicit endorsement of sanctity-based rather than harm-based moral values, and we've recently been talking about how that might differ between political groups.

[-]Larks110

I think this is because of the way you're deconstructing the arguments. In each case, the features you identify which supposedly make us dislike the arcetypal cases are harm-based features. Someone who believed in sanctity instead might identify the category as a value in itself. Attempts to ascribe utilitarian-style values to them, which they supposedly miss the local inapplicability of, risks ignoring what they actually value.

If people genuinely do think murder is wrong simply because it is murder, rather than because it causes harm, then this is not a bad argument.

9Scott Alexander
Absent any reason to do so, disliking all murders simply because they are murders makes no more sense than disliking all elephants simply because they are elephants. You can choose to do so without being logically inconsistent, but it seems like a weird choice to make for no reason. Did you just arbitrarily choose "murder" as a category worthy of dislike, whether or not it causes harm? At the risk of committing the genetic fallacy, I would be very surprised if their choice of murder as a thing they dislike for its own sake (rather than, say, elephants) had nothing to do with murder being harmful. And although right now I am simply asserting this rather than arguing it, I think it's likely that even if they think they have a deductive proof for why murder is wrong regardless of harm, they started by unconsciously making the WAITW and then rationalizing it. But I agree that if they do think they have this deductive proof, screaming "Worst argument in the world!" at them is useless and counterproductive; at that point you address the proof.
7Larks
Absent any reason to do so, disliking instances of harm simply because they are instances of harm makes no more sense than disliking all elephants simply because they are elephants. I don't want to assume any metaethical baggage here, but I'm not sure why "because it is an instance of harm" is an acceptable answer but "because it is an instance of theft" is not.

Keeping your principle of ignoring meta-ethical baggage, dis-valuing harm only requires one first principle, whereas dis-valuing murder, theft, elephants, etc require an independent (and apparently arbitrary) decision at each concept. Further, it's very suspicious that this supposedly arbitrary decision almost always picks out actions that are often harmful when there are so very many things one could arbitrarily decide to dislike.

8Larks
This sounds like the debate about ethical pluralism - maybe values are sufficiently complex that any one principle can't capture them. If ethical pluralism is wrong, then they can't make use of this argument. But then they have a very major problem with their metaethics, independant of the WAitW. And what is more, once they solve the problem - getting a single basis for their ethics - they can avoid your accusation, by saying that actually avoiding theft is the sole criteria, and they're not trying to sneak in irrelivant conotations. After all, if theft was all that mattered, why would you try to sneak in connotations about harm? Also, I think you're sneaking in conotations when you use "arbitrary". Yes, such a person would argue that our aversion to theft isn't based on any of our other values; but your utilitarian would probably claim the same about their aversion to harm. This doesn't seem a harmful (pun not intended) case of arbitrariness. Contrariwise, they might find it very suspicious that your supposedly arbitrary decision as to what is harmful so often picks out actions that constitute theft to a libertarian (e.g. murder, slavery, breach of contract, pollution, trespass, wrongful dismissal...) when there are so very many things one could arbitrarily decide to dislike.
3DaFranker
This line of argument seems to err away from the principle that you can't unwind yourself into an ideal philosopher of perfect emptiness. You're running on hardware that is physically, through very real principles that apply to everything in the universe, going to react in a certain averse manner to certain stimuli to which we could assign the category label "harm". This is commonly divided into "pain", "boredom", etc. It is much more unlikely (and much more difficult to truly explain) that a person would, based on such hardware, somehow end up with the terminal value that some abstract, extremely solomonoff-complex interpretation of conjointed mental and physical behaviors is bad - in contrast with reflective negative valuation of harm-potentials both in self and in others (the "in others" being reflected as "harm to self when harm to other members of the tribe"). Then again, I feel like I'm diving in too deep here. My instinct is to profess and worship my ignorance of this topic.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Shouldn't there never be a shortage of weak arguments for anything? Strong arguments can always be weakened. / Isn't there enough chance of finding a weak argument to at least make it worth trying? You never know, you might find a weak argument somewhere.

I have tried constructing a pro-choice example similar to "Abortion is murder!" ("Forced pregnancy is slavery!"???), but it ended up pretty unconvincing. Hopefully someone can do better:

Leaving rape cases aside, the archetypal example is an unwanted teenage pregnancy due to defective or improperly used birth control or simply an accident. Forcing her into letting the embryo develop into a fetus and eventually into a human baby would likely make the woman significantly worse off in the long run, financially, physically and/or emotionally, so she should have an option of terminating the pregnancy.

An example a pro-life person thinks of: aborting a healthy fetus, possibly in the second trimester, as a habitual birth control method.

I find "Forced parenthood is slavery!" to be pretty convincing, actually. Though I may be prejudiced by having grown up around a Libertarian father (now, alas, more Republican(!??)) who went about proclaiming that jury duty was slavery.

3shminux
Does this qualify as "a weak version of a strong left-wing argument that you do accept"?
7TGM
"Denying euthanasia is Torture!" Given the majority of legislators are male, for abortion: "Forced pregnancy is mysogyny!" though that may be too tenuous.
4lizmw
It seems to me that the left-wing slogan "My body, my choice!" and its variations are a version of the WAitW. Although the slogan itself doesn't follow the "X is a Y" format, its underlying argument does: it asserts something like, "This fetus is a part of my body; I am entitled to do whatever I choose with any part of my body; therefore, I am entitled to do whatever I choose with this fetus." This version of the WAitW emphasizes the similarity between a fetus and other parts of a woman's body (the part in question is inside her; the part in question is made up of her cells; etc.) while ignoring the relevant differences (most of her body parts, if left to their own devices, will not go on to have their own life outside her body, while the fetus will; most of her body parts have no potential for sentience or moral agency, while the fetus does; etc.) By equating the fetus with her body parts, the argument implies that the fetus is MERELY a part of a woman's body. While most people will agree that a fetus is technically part of its mother's body, I think most people will also agree that a fetus is not morally equivalent to a woman's liver, kidneys, or small intestine. "My body, my choice!" conceals this inequivalence.
9benelliott
The boundaries are inherently fuzzy and ill-defined, but I count 5 right wing arguments and 3 left wing arguments. Doesn't seem too unbalanced.
9[anonymous]
Excellent idea. It would be beneficial to how the community deals with politics, something that I've been very concerned about recently, to see this written out.
8Will_Sawin
Off the top of my head: Economic inequality is an unequal distribution of resources. The most salient example of this is an unequal distribution of resources that all have equal claim to, like a pie a parent bakes for their children. But [various convincing arguments in favor of at least some economic inequality.] War is killing, which is bad because murder is bad. (Or eating meat, or capital punishment.) Gay marriage is good because it's a right, and the most salient rights are good. Welfare is good because it's a form of helping people, and helping people in ways that don't produce bad incentive effects and without taking from anyone else is good. Processed food is bad because putting the most salient synthetic chemicals in food would be a really bad idea. Note that "genetic engineering to cure diseases is eugenics" and "evolutionary psychology is sexist" are probably left-wing viewpoints, though not ones Yvain agrees with.
6DaFranker
ISTM that categorizing many of those as "Left-wing viewpoints" or "Right-wing viewpoints" is a strong category error, one that we should attempt to reduce rather than redraw or blue boundaries. "Evolutionary psychology is sexist" is, afaict, a word error. It is not a position, but an implicit claim: "Because evolutionary psychology is sexist, it is bad, and thus evolutionary psychology is wrong!" - this is usually combined (in my experience) with an argument that the world is inherently good and that all humans are inherently equal and so on, which means that theories that posit "unfair" or "bad" circumstances are wrong; the world must be "good" and "fair". Stereotypicalism would call for a reference to religion here.

It may be a word error - I don't think it is, "Evolutionary psychology is riddled with false claims produced by sexist male scientists and rationalized by the scientists even though the claims are not at all well-supported compared to nonsexist alternatives" is a coherent and meaningful description of a way the universe could be but isn't, and is therefore false, not a word error - but if so, it's a word-error made by stereotypically left-wing people like Lewontin and Gould who were explicitly political in their criticism, not a word-error made by any right-wing scientists I can think of offhand.

In general, we should be careful about dismissing claims as meaningless or incoherent, when often only a very reasonable and realistic amount of charity is required to reinterpret the claim as meaningful and false - most people are trying to be meaningful most of the time, even when they're rationalizing a wrong position. Only people who've gotten in a lot more trouble than that are actively trying to avoid letting their arguments be meaningful. And meaningless claims can be dismissed immediately, without bringing forth evidence or counterobservations; meaningful false claims require more demonstration to show they're false. So when somebody brings a false claim, and you dismiss it as meaningless, you're actually being significantly logically rude to them - putting in less effort than they're investing - it takes more effort to bring forth a meaningful false claim than to call something 'meaningless'.

I dislike accusations of sexism as much as the next guy, but in the last year or two I have started to think that ev-psych is way overconfident. The coarse grained explanation is that ev-psych seems to be "softer" than regular psychology, which itself is "softer" than medicine, and we all know what percentage of medical findings are wrong. I'd be curious to learn what other LWers think about this, especially you, because your writings got me interested in ev-psych in the first place.

5MichaelHoward
As in about the likelihood of certain kinds of explanations?
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Can't think anything without a concrete example.
5sixes_and_sevens
I am going to rehearse saying this in a robotic voice, while spinning round and round flailing my arms in a mechanical fashion.
6moocow1452
Can you put it up on Youtube when you're done?
3J_Taylor
Off the top of my head: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S096098220701559X
7NancyLebovitz
So far as I know, the association of pink with girls and blue with boys is a western custom which only goes back a century or so.
4Jiro
Response to old post: Appears to be an urban legend. Summary: Checking Google Books shows lots of references to pink for girls/blue for boys, and no references to the opposite, going back to the 19th century. Note: Wikipedia links to this article, but summarizes it in a way which makes it sound much weaker than it really is.
2J_Taylor
Precisely.
2novalis
This seems like a qualitative argument, when a quantitative argument would be more interesting. Who is the John Ioannidis of evolutionary psychology? Or, what research has been published that has later turned out to be false? (Also, why do you dislike accusations of sexism? Shouldn't you only dislike false accusations of sexism?)
3Decius
I dislike accusations of sexism for the same reason I dislike accusations of any other negative behavior. Those accusations signal either sexism or false accusations of sexism, both of which are net negatives to me.
4Paul Crowley
This is a worthy steel-manning when trying to reach an accurate conclusion about ev-psych, but I think you give the typical person who claims "ev-psych is sexist" too much credit here.
2coffeespoons
Natasha Walter makes the argument that Eliezer refers to in Living Dolls (not really about ev-psych, but about the idea of innate differences between genders in abilities), and I'm sure there are other examples (I haven't actually read all that much feminist writing). However, I have also encountered people who won't even discuss the issue with anyone who is pro-ev psych because they think that they're so morally appalling. Not sure how typical the people I'm encountered are though - I suspect they may be more extreme than most, and the most extreme people are the loudest.
8Paul Crowley
There's definitely a temptation to identify a belief we agree with with its best advocates, and a belief we disagree with with its typical advocates. I definitely see this when people talk about how stupid eg "the left/right" is. I may be encouraging that error...
4dspeyer
Thorium reactors are a nuclear technology. OK, I don't accept that one, but it's left wing.
3kilobug
Support/opposition to nuclear technology seems pretty orthogonal with left/right to me. The anti-nuclear left tend to be more pro-solar/wind/hydro instead, while the anti-nuclear right more pro-oil/coal/gas instead, but there are pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear is both "sides". Even in a country like France where we have like a dozen of significant political parties, all the parties but one (the greens) have internal disagreement about nuclear energy in general. That said, yes, "thorium is nuclear" is a good example of TWAITW.
3Paul Crowley
It feels to me that until recently the pro-nuclear left was a very small faction, but growing with the likes of George Monbiot passionately switching over.
3kilobug
Depends where, here in France, of the 4 left-wing parties (PS, PCF, Les Verts and PG) two (PS and PCF) are mostly in favor of nuclear energy, the two others (Les Verts and PG) mostly against it, while all but Les Verts are internally split. But that may also be because France has a strong nuclear industry, and the left-wing parties tend to be friendly with the unions, and the unions defend nuclear energy because it creates jobs (both for our own energy and because we export nuclear technology).
4cousin_it
Thanks for the link to Caplan's post, it's a very nice thought experiment. How about a thread where right-wing folks can give their strongest versions of left-wing arguments and vice versa, all the while quietly laughing about each other's misconceptions but not stepping in to correct? I could give it a try, as a right-winger imitating a left-winger, but I'd probably just embarrass myself.

You know who else made arguments? Hitler.

[-]gwern320

No, Hitler didn't make arguments, he made assertions; and you know what else was an assertion? Your comment!

6JQuinton
I purposefully use this version of worst argument in the world when talking about homosexuality/homophobia or atheism, etc.: You know who else didn't like gay people / atheists / Communists? Hitler
4DaFranker
Time for the meta: You know who else uses versions of the worst argument in the world when talking about relevant topics? Dark Lords.

I love the article, but this is a bad name for a fallacy, as it hinders neutral discussion of its relative badness compared to other fallacies.

If I could pick a name, I'd probably choose something like "tainting categorization".

[-]prase260

it hinders neutral discussion of its relative badness compared to other fallacies

Not only that, but it is also non-descriptive.

7Patrick
The philosophers beat you to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_%28fallacy%29
2AlexanderRM
I don't think that name is very descriptive and is also hard to say. On the other hand I like the initial example use on Wikipedia, regarding surgeons, because it's an apolitical one that nobody actually believes. (or at least it is today. It could be that Artistotle was writing at a time when surgery was very new and not widely accepted, and many people made derogatory comments like calling surgeons butchers. Especially considering that surgery in those days was probably super-dangerous so a lot of people would die on the operating table and the increased survival rates would be hard to see. But for the present day it works great.) On the other hand, the Wikipedia page fails to give any indication of how prevalent the fallacy is, which political examples are probably required for, as Yvain pointed out. But the surgery one might be optimal as a replacement for the MLK example in the first section, pointing out how absurd the fallacy is, before going into political examples to show how common it is.
3chaosmosis
I'd choose something like "the fallacy of naive deduction" because it reminds me of those awful proofs that the Greeks used to write which were essentially just the premises that contained their hidden assumptions, and then extremely simple deductions which followed straightforwardly from the premises.

I don't see what this has to do with "loss aversion" (the phenomenon where people think losing a dollar is worse than failing to gain a dollar they could have gained), though that's of course a tangential matter.

The point here is -- and I say this with all due respect -- it looks to me like you're rationalizing a decision made for other reasons. What's really going on here, it seems to me, is that, since you're lucky enough to be part of a physical community of "similar" people (in which, of course, you happen to have high status), your brain thinks they are the ones who "really matter" -- as opposed to abstract characters on the internet who weren't part of the ancestral environment (and who never fail to critique you whenever they can).

That doesn't change the fact that this is is an online community, and as such, is for us abstract characters, not your real-life dinner companions. You should be taking advice from the latter about running this site to about the same extent that Alicorn should be taking advice from this site about how to run her dinner parties.

8Alicorn
Do you have advice on how to run my dinner parties?

Vaniver and DaFranker have both offered sensible, practical, down-to-earth advice. I, on the other hand, have one word for you: Airship.

2shminux
Not plastics?
9Vaniver
Consider eating Roman-style to increase the intimacy / as a novel experience. Unfortunately, this is made way easier with specialized furniture- but you should be able to improvise with pillows. As well, it is a radically different way to eat that predates the invention of the fork (and so will work fine with hands or chopsticks, but not modern implements).
3DaFranker
Consider seating logistics, and experiment with having different people decide who sits where (or next to whom). Dinner parties tend to turn out differently with different arrangements, but different subcultures will have different algorithms for establishing optimal seating, so the experimentation is usually necessary (and having different people decide serves both as a form of blinding and as a way to turn up evidence to isolate the algorithm faster).

signal your outgroup hatred with a downvote and move on.

Downvoted because I don't find it appropriate to uncharitably interpret the meaning of any downvotes one receives, and certainly not out loud and in advance.

It's bad when people use the dictionary to make political arguments, but it's worse when they write their own dictionary. For example:

  • Normal people define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, even if that means hurting other people." Objectivists define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, but never hurting other people." Hence, selfishness can never morally objectionable.

  • Normal people define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex." Feminists define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged." Hence, men can never be victims of sexism.

  • Normal people define "freedom" as "the ability to do a lot of stuff." Catholics define freedom as "the ability to do as God wishes." Hence, laws enforcing Catholic norms are pro-freedom.

[-]prase190

Objectivists define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, but never hurting other people."

Not to mention that they define "hurting" as "damaging or destroying other's life, health or property by direct action" where normal people understand the word much more broadly.

Normal people define "true" as "good enough; not worth looking at too closely". Nerds define "true" as "irrefutable even by the highest-level nerd you are likely to encounter in this context." Hence more or less all of Western philosophy, theology, science, etc.; and hence normal people's acceptance that contradictory things can be "true" at the same time.

(Yes, I'm problematizing your contrast between various groups you dislike and "normal people".)

and hence normal people's acceptance that nerd-contradictory things can be normal-"true" at the same time.

Namespaced that for you.

2SilasBarta
People need to do that more often!
2magfrump
This is relevant to the discussion below of the second bullet point--however it resonates well regardless and I wouldn't change it unless you had something else that felt like part of the same tribe.

Long time ago, me and my sockpuppet lonelygirl15, we was scrollin' down a long and boring thread. All of a sudden, there shined a shiny admin... in the middle... of the thread.

And he said, "Give a reason for your views, or I'll ban you, troll."

Well me and lonely, we looked at each other, and we each said... "Okay."

And we said the first thing that came to our heads, Just so happened to be, The Worst Argument in the World, it was the Worst Argument in the World.

Look into my brain and it's easy to see This A is B and that B is C, So this A is C. My heuristic isn't justified But I know it's right 'cause of how it feels From the inside...

I want to respond to James G's critique of this post. First because it was pretty intense, second because I usually enjoy reading his blog, and third because maybe other people have the same objection. I'm doing it here because his blog is closed to comments.

There is no basis to allege that everyone who says, “affirmative action is racist” is trying to position “affirmative action” in the very heart of the “racism” cluster. Clusters-in-thingspace, especially nebulous ones like “racism”, are huge volumes. That affirmative action belongs somewhere in this volume, rather than well outside, is a claim worth making even if affirmative action isn’t a central member...Affirmative action is racist!” draws attention to a cartographic error. “Affirmative action” shouldn’t be remote from “racism”; it is a marginal member of the racism cluster.

I would ask James why exactly we're trying to create a "racism" cluster to begin with. Are we ontologists who place things in categories for fun in our spare time? If so, his cartographic metaphor is apt; we're just trying to draw a map of conceptspace and we should be politely reminded that "affirmative action" is in the wrong pa... (read more)