The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

by Scott Alexander7 min read27th Aug 20121751 comments


FallaciesConversation (topic)Rationality

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.



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 - 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 - 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.)

4prase8yWhen 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 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.

7Alexey10mo"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..."
4elityre2yThe link seems broken? : (
5habryka2yYeah, I also noticed this a while ago and was quite sad.
[-][anonymous]8y 31

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!

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)

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.

9MixedNuts8yAmerican liberals aren't that kind of left. And Proudhon did mean "property is wrong for the same class of reasons theft is".
6Vaniver8yArguments 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.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky8yI 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.
4kilobug8yThe 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".
[-][anonymous]8y 12

"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?

9MixedNuts8yEither this is a joke or you mean "odd".

You saw nothing!

8RobertLumley8yI 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.
6[anonymous]8yOf course not! MLK was a Communist philanderer. That's worse. ;)
5[anonymous]8yI 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.
4MixedNuts8y"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.

"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.

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.

7wedrifid8ySomeone 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.

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]8y 19

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?

9Viliam_Bur8yI 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 versus not-being a socialist is the dominant question in your political paradigm.) An "Ayn-Rand-type" non-socialist and a "Chesterton-type" non-socialist would otherwise feel uncomfortable under the common umbrella. I am not saying there are no differences among "the left", but to me they seem more like a matter of degree. This observation may be culture-dependent. I am from eastern Europe, where "the left" basically either wants "what communists did" or "something similar to what communists did, just less, and if possible without all the violence". -- I suppose in USA the diversity of "the left" is greater, because there is no such attractor. Actually, the Republican party may serve as a similar (though weaker) attractor for "the right". OK, what I tried to say was this: suppose that the leftist opinions are pretty similar, and the rightist op

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.

7prase8yThis 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.) 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 capitalism. Feminists rarely dream about socialist utopias as they have a different fish to fry. Yet both feminists and anarchists are usually considered standing on the left. In fact I could use the examples of these groups to make a mirror argument of yours, namely, that the right is capitalist(-ish) while the left is everything opposed to capitalism. I don't think this is a good definition since there are counter-examples to it too (e.g. the nazis who are against capitalism but still "right-wing") but at least I don't immediately see this description being less reasonable than yours. Of course this all hinges on the definitions of socialism or capitalism, discussions about which might better be avoided for their pointlessness. It is not clear whether there is a sensible definition of left and right other than "arbitrary convention set up by historical accident", but if
5Emile8yI 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.
4Peterdjones8yBut 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.
7buybuydandavis8yI'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.

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.

5Swimmy8ySimple: "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.
4[anonymous]8yWell 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.
4kilobug8yBut 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" ? :)
7gjm8yI 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.
9Scott Alexander8yIn 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 [].
6Larks8yI 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.
7Scott Alexander8yAbsent 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.
4Larks8yAbsent 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.

5Larks8yThis 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.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky8yShouldn'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.
7[anonymous]8yExcellent 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.
5benelliott8yThe boundaries are inherently fuzzy and ill-defined, but I count 5 right wing arguments and 3 left wing arguments. Doesn't seem too unbalanced.
4shminux8yI 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.

4Will_Sawin8yOff 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.
4DaFranker8yISTM 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.

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".

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

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

5Patrick8yThe philosophers beat you to it: []

You know who else made arguments? Hitler.

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

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

That's... probably a good idea.

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.

3Alicorn8yDo you have advice on how to run my dinner parties?
8Bugmaster8yVaniver and DaFranker have both offered sensible, practical, down-to-earth advice. I, on the other hand, have one word for you: Airship.
5Vaniver8yConsider 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).

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...

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.

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)

I want to eventually retitle this "Guilt by Association Fallacy" (or something)

Please do! Please do! "The Worst Argument in the World" is the Worst Name for an Argument in the World. It's like someone describing a film as "the best film ever made", when all it is is the most recent one they saw that made a big impression.

And while I'm on the subject, "Fundamental Attribution Error" is just as bad. Could people practice calling it the Trait Attribution Error instead?

4cousin_it8yIs the argument "refusing to donate to Africa is like refusing to rescue a drowning kid" an instance of the WAITW?
5[anonymous]8yI don't think it's a case of the WAITW as Singer lays it out, though it's easy to see how the argument would go if it were. All the work of Singer's argument is to adress and argue against the idea that there are important differences between those two cases. The WAITW characteristically tries to skip that work.
3cousin_it8yThat's a great answer, but did Singer eliminate all the potentially important differences? Carl Shulman has a nice post [] pointing out one such difference, and there may be others. It looks like detecting instances of WAITW can be difficult and controversial.
4Vaniver8yThe cat's sort of out of the bag on that one. Not quite. Oftentimes, this sort of argument is deployed to point out contradictions or hypocrisy in the other person's position. For example, I know a number of people who call themselves anti-racists. I have been unable to find a difference between their "anti-racism" and "racism against whites," and so the statement "affirmative action is racist" highlights that hypocrisy of the name more than it is a fervent appeal against their dislike of racism. (If they actually disliked the practice of judging by racial membership, I expect they wouldn't be racist against whites.)
3[anonymous]8yJames_G responded to this here [].

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.

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".)

9folkTheory8yNamespaced that for you.

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.

since you're lucky enough to be part of a physical community of "similar" people

Was Eliezer "lucky" to have cofounded the Singularity Institute and Overcoming Bias?

The causes of his being in such a happy situation (is that better?) were clearly not the point here, and, quite frankly, I think you knew that.

But if you insist on an answer to this irrelevant rhetorical question, the answer is yes. Eliezer_2012 is indeed quite fortunate to have been preceded by all those previous Eliezers who did those things.

EY owns LessWrong

Then, like I implied, he should just admit to making a decision on the basis of his own personal preference (if indeed that's what's going on), instead of constructing a rationalization about the opinions of offline folks being somehow more important or "appropriately" filtered.

[-][anonymous]8y 15

Related to: List of public drafts on LessWrong

Draft of a critical response to this article

  1. The worst argument in the world already has a different name. Philosophers call it the logical fallacy of Accident.

  2. Calling out the worst argument in the world is not useful in practice. It is really hard to stop it from being a fully general counterargument against any high level abstract argument. The article seems to hold that for communication to work properly all statements must refer to “archetypes”, central members of a cluster in thing space. If so, this conflicts with the very idea of parsing reality into clusters-in-thingspace, which is inevitable. Every cluster, being a cluster and not a point, has more and less central members. If arbitrarily marginal members of clusters are invalid members, arbitrarily many things said by humans are The Worst Argument In The World. To banish statements that don’t locate one cluster-in-thingspace right into the centre of another cluster-in-thingspace is faulty, especially when the statements are slogans and the words highly abstract. To use it properly you have to come up with an argument that shows that either the rule or generalization you ar

... (read more)

Since we think largely in words, pointing out similarities between Thing We Think Is Bad and Thing We Think Is Good requires us to examine the connotations of the words we use. We should be doing that all the time. Just as this alleged "worst argument in the world" can be used to sneak in connotations, it can also be used to force examination of connotations that have previously been sneaked in.

I agree. I'm not saying that this form can't be used as a means of examining our intuitions. For example, "meat is murder" is a snappier way of asking "Why, given that we're so worried about harming humans, are we so callous about harming animals?"

But then once the other person answers you with something like "It's because animals have no natural rights" or "Because animals don't have sophisticated enough nervous systems to suffer" or whatever it is they say, the debate has to shift to whether or not that objection is valid. So "but meat is murder!" shouldn't be used as a counterargument to "Animals don't have sophisticated enough nervous systems to suffer", because this latter statement is already answering the question the former was intended to ask.

5SisterY8yFrom that example, it sounds like mindless repetition (non-responsiveness) is the worst argument in the world, whether or not it contains an analogy. What is the special harm of analogy that makes it worse than other kinds of mindless repetition? (Worse than, say, other kinds of seductive, poetic language like rhyming words, a la "if it doesn't fit you must acquit.") And is an analogy still "the worst argument in the world" if it's NOT mindlessly repeated?
8Scott Alexander8yI don't think it's precisely about mindless repetition. For example: A: I think eating meat is morally okay, because animals have simple nervous systems and can't feel pain. B: But meat is murder! Here even though A spoke first and there is no repetition involved, I still think B's response is inadequate, because B is accusing A of double standards after A has explained the double standard away. The reason why this is more dangerous than (if not worse than) "If the glove won't fit, you must acquit" is that B looks like she is making a novel and nontrivial point and it's not immediately obvious that this is a non-argument already addressed by A's statement (whereas hopefully no one takes the glove argument seriously as an argument)
6SisterY8yAgain, the objection seems to be more about the particular USE of the argument than the nature of the argument itself (what I call above "non-responsiveness"). I would genuinely like to understand why analogies of the kind you call the Worst Argument in the World are so harmful (and I appreciate your engaging on it). Is it your claim that people are particularly likely to take analogies seriously as arguments, more than other arguments? Is it their very power that makes them so bad? Rhyming and other poetic tricks, like showing a picture, make statements feel more true to hearers; are those tricks less dangerous than analogy because we (think we) are immune to them? I can kind of intuitively understand what you mean by something being a real argument or not ("as an argument"), but I'm not sure why things taken seriously as arguments are more dangerous than sneaky, non-argument cues that make things seem true. I wonder if what you really want to destroy are "things effectively masquerading as arguments that aren't really arguments." That class is not exhausted by inexact analogies (which is to say all analogies), nor are all inexact analogies members of that class. I think metonymy (association, like eugenics --> Hitler) is a much more harmful cognitive sin than metaphor (which at least requires a theory of why things are similar).
6TGM8yIf I wanted to do that, I would phrase things differently, to avoid the connotation issues (of, for example, Taxation is Theft!): "We think burglary is bad, but tax is good, yet they have some similarities. Are we right to judge them differently?" or even "I think the things that make burglary bad are X Y and Z, but X is shared by taxation, and Y is partly shared by taxation. I conclude that taxation is not as bad as burglary, but still a bit bad"
9SisterY8yGreat, clear statement of the position. Wouldn't the "worst argument in the world" taboo apply just as strongly to any use of figurative language in the context of an argument? Instead of making an analogy, for instance (e.g., "X is the mindkiller"), why not just use literal language? No danger of connotative contamination, then. Instead of making a joke, why not just explain what you mean, rather than requiring your audience to grasp for the insight it contains? (Apparently hyperbole is allowed, as it's incorporated into the NAME of the argument - why is hyperbole okay, but not metaphor?) I understand the ideal here. But I think cutting off our own linguistic balls, so to speak, gives us only the illusion of cognitive cleanness - and much is lost. We are not motivated by pure logic to engage logically with an idea. We are motivated by "epistemic emotions" like curiosity and confusion. A title like "Should Trees Have Standing?" is emotional and poetic and could be literally replaced with "Should our legal system treat inanimate objects as ends in themselves for social reasons not entailed by property rights?" But I don't think the former is cheating, and I don't think the latter would have been as successful in motivating cognition on the topic. I would even defend good old "Meat is Murder!" as a compact little ethical puzzle for beginners, rather than the Worst Argument in the World!

We can reflectively apply our intuition - we can use the phrase "Capital punishment is murder" to remind other people that capital punishment does share some of the same disadvantages that all other murders have

More generally, it is worth noting that a very tempting class of bad arguments is those which are slightly true, such as this.

7kilobug8yReminds me of []

You should probably mention at the top that this is cross-posted from your personal blog. I am glad you posted here; it's an excellent post.

I requested the crosspost.

And George Washington was a traitor. ;)

And George Washington was a traitor. ;)

I'm pretty sure the definition of 'traitor' includes "and lost" in there somewhere!

"Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

Sir John Harington)

I think Eridu's downvotes were mostly well-deserved.

I don't think this is a good idea.

I wonder if we could solve this problem from another direction. The issue from your perspective, as I understand it, is that you want to be able to follow every interesting discussion on this site, in semi-real time, but can't. You can't because your only view into "all comments everywhere" is only 5 items long, so fast-moving pointless discussions drown out the stuff you're interested in. An RSS feed presumably isn't sufficient either, since it pushes comments as they occur and doesn't give the community a chance to filter them.

So if I've reasoned all this out correctly, you'd prefer a view of all comments, sorted descending by post time and configurably tree-filtered by karma and maybe username. But we haven't the dev resources to build that, and measures like the ones you describe are a cheap, good-enough approximation.

Do I have that right?

6Emile8yI think it's more than that - he also doesn't want other people to notice the pointless discussions, so that 1) people stop fanning the flames and feeding the trolls 2) people post in the worthwhile threads, resulting in more quality there (and I agree with this point of view)
6Eliezer Yudkowsky8yAbove all: 3) Newcomers who arrive at the site see productive discussion of new ideas, not a flamewar, in the Recent Comments section. 4) Trolls are not encouraged to stay; people who troll do not receive attention-reward for it and do not have their brain reinforced to troll some more. Productive discussion is rewarded by attention.
6NancyLebovitz8yThe discussion with eridu was probably worth ending, but I saw someone say it was the best discussion of those issues they'd ever seen, and I'd said so myself independently in a location that I've promised not to link to. I am very impressed with LW that we managed to make that happen.
6Wei_Dai8yDid you learn something useful or interesting, or were you just impressed that the discussion remained relatively civil? If the former, can you summarize what you learned?
3NancyLebovitz8yI learned something that might turn out to be useful. I got a bit of perspective on the extent to which I amplify my rage and distrust at SJ-related material (I had a very rough time just reading a lot of racefail)-- I'm not sure what I want to do with this, but it's something new at my end. The civility of the discussion is very likely to have made this possible.
4Wei_Dai8yI'm having trouble understanding this sentence. First, I guess SJ = "social justice" and racefail = "a famously controversial online discussion that was initially about writing fictional characters who are people of color"? But what does it mean to amplify your rage and distrust at some material? Do you mean some parts of the SJ-related materials made you angry and distrustful? Distrustful of who? Which parts made you feel that way? Why? And how did the eridu discussion help you realize the extent?
5[anonymous]8yThat discussion sucked. I was appalled at LW when I came back after a few hours and still "patriarchy" "abuse" etc hadn't been tabooed.
5Bugmaster8yI dislike this solution, for several reasons. * I realize that we want to get rid of trolls, and I agree that this is a worthy goal, but one single person shouldn't be in charge of deciding who's a troll and who isn't. * Now that everyone knows that downvotes can cause a person to lose their ability to comment (I assume that's what "ban" means, could be wrong though), unscrupulous community members (and we must have some, statistically speaking, as unpleasant as that thought is) can use their downvotes offensively -- sort of like painting a target with a laser, allowing the Eliezer-nuke to home in. * Downvoting a comment does not always imply that the commenter is a troll. People also use downvotes to express things like "your argument is weak and unconvincing", and "I disagree with you strongly". We want to discourage the latter usage, and IMO we should encourage the former, but Eliezer's new policy does nothing to achieve these goals, and in fact harms them.
4DaFranker8yIf the problem is differentiating between trolls and simply weak, airy, or badly formed comments/arguments, I think the obvious simple solution would be to do what has worked elsewhere and add a "Report" or "Troll-Alert" option to bring the comment/post to the attention of moderators or send it to a community-review queue. It certainly seems easier to control for abuse of a Report feature than to control for trolling and troll-feeding using a single linear score that doesn't even tell you whether that -2 is just 2 * (-1) (two people think the poster is evil) or whether it's +5 -7 (five cultists approve, seven rationalists think it's a troll) (unless moderators can see a breakdown of this?).

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.

9gwern8yThe 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!

And okay, a tiny fraction of the time people are just trying to use words as a Schelling fence.

I'm not sure it's that tiny, especially once you're using the "steel man" version of the arguments; i.e. things like "Schelling fences" do not often appear in the reasons given for the disagreement, but that can still be what it boils down to.

People who object to abortion may be objecting to a weakening of the social stigma against the murder of innocents - that social stigma performs a useful function in society, so allowing anything that could be described as "murder of innocents" is perceived as bad, regardless of whether that thing is in itself bad.

In other words, even if words are hidden inferences with leaky generalizations etc. - social norms are still defined in terms of words, and so "pointless" debates over definitions still have their place in discussions of morality. Questions that shouldn't be morally relevant ("is abortion murder?") become so because of the instrumental value of social norms.

So yes, sometimes pulling out a dictionary in the middle of a moral argument may be justified. The discussion can then turn to something more useful, like "is it worse if the norm against murder is slightly weakened, or if women have to keep children they don't want?".

Even if that is true (and I stick to my guess that it's only a tiny fraction of the time) I still think deconstructing the argument is valuable. If people's true rejection of abortion is Schelling fences, then let's talk Schelling fences! I would ask why birth doesn't also work as a Schelling fence, and I would get to hear their response, and maybe one of us would change our mind.

But if their true rejection is based on Schelling fences, and instead they're just saying that abortion is murder, there's not much we can do except play Dueling Dictionaries. And the reason that has no chance of working ("Really? Merriam-Webster defines murder as killing a human after birth? Guess I'll go NARAL!") is directly related to it not being their real issue.

8fubarobfusco8yThere are real-world examples that could be described as getting the "dictionary" changed — for instance, the successful campaign to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [] , the American Psychiatric Association's "dictionary" (as it were) of mental illnesses.
8Emile8yI just thought of another good illustration: "Marijuana is a drug!" This fits perfectly under Yvain's description (it associates Marijuana with the worse kinds of hard drugs that turn you into a skinny toothless zombie willing to sell his grandmother for his next fix), and a concern of some opponents to legalization is that making one form of recreational drug will lower the taboo on drugs as a whole. And that is a legitimate concern, considering the damage hard drugs can cause! (though of course it's to weigh against the damage caused by marijuana trafficking, which would be significantly reduced if it was legal - and if it was legal it would cluster less naturally with the hard drugs).

I've banned all of eridu's recent comments (except a few voted above 0)

Bravo. I have no idea whether that was someone pretending to be ignorant and toxic for the purpose of discrediting a group he was impersonating or whether it was sincere (and ignorant and toxic). Fortunately I don't need to know and don't care either way. Good riddance!

as an interim workaround, since hiding-from-Recent-Comments and charge-fee-to-all-descendants is still in progress for preventing future threads like these.

Is it just me or do others also find that Eliezer coming of as a tad petulant with the way he is handling people systematically opposing and downvoting his proposal? Every time he got downvoted to oblivion he just came back with a new comment seemingly crafted to be more belligerent, whiny, condescending and cynical about the community than the last. (That's hyperbole---in actuality it peaked in the middle somewhere.) Now we just keep getting reminded about it at every opportunity as noise in unrelated threads.

Is it just me

It's not just you.

I'm starting to think there should be community-elected moderators or something, and Eliezer should stop being allowed to suggest things.

9TheOtherDave8yMostly he's coming across to me as having lost patience with the community not being what he wants it to be, and having decided that he can fix that by changing the infrastructure, and not granting much importance to the fact that more people express disapproval of this than approval.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky8yKeep in mind that it's not "more people" it's more "people who participate in meta threads on Less Wrong". I've observed a tremendous divergence between the latter set, and "what LWers seem to think during real-life conversations" (e.g. July Minicamp private discussions of LW which is where the anti-troll-thread ideas were discussed, asking what people thought about recent changes at Alicorn's most recent dinner party). I'm guessing there's some sort of effect where only people who disagree bother to keep looking at the thread, hence bother to comment. Some "people" were claiming that we ought to fix things by moderation instead of making code changes, which does seem worth trying; so I've said to Alicorn to open fire with all weapons free, and am trying this myself while code work is indefinitely in progress. I confess I did anticipate that this would also be downvoted even though IIRC the request to do that was upvoted last time, because at this point I've formed the generalization "all moderator actions are downvoted", either because only some people participate in meta threads, and/or the much more horrifying hypothesis "everyone who doesn't like the status quo has already stopped regularly checking LessWrong". I'm diligently continuing to accept feedback from RL contact and attending carefully to this non-filtered source of impressions and suggestions, but I'm afraid I've pretty much written-off trying to figure out what the community-as-a-whole wants by looking at "the set of people who vigorously participate in meta discussions on LW" because it's so much unlike the reactions I got when ideas for improving LW were being discussed at the July Minicamp, or the distribution of opinions at Alicorn's last dinner party, and I presume that any other unfiltered source of reactions would find this conversation similarly unrepresentative.

Let me see if I understand you correctly: if someone cares about how Less Wrong is run, what they should do is not comment on Less Wrong -- least of all in discussions on Less Wrong about how Less Wrong is run ("meta threads"). Instead, what they should do is move to California and start attending Alicorn's dinner parties.

Have I got that right?

Let me see if I understand you correctly: if someone cares about how Less Wrong is run, what they should do is not comment on Less Wrong -- least of all in discussions on Less Wrong about how Less Wrong is run ("meta threads"). Instead, what they should do is move to California and start attending Alicorn's dinner parties.

That's how politics usually works, yes.

Can we call this the social availability heuristic?

Also, you have to attend dinner parties on a day when Eliezer is invited and doesn't decline due to being on a weird diet that week.

3SilasBarta8yDon't worry, I'm sure that venue's attendees are selected neutrally.

I've moderated a few forums before, and with that experience in mind I'd have to agree that there's a huge, and generally hugely negative, selection bias at play in online response to moderator decisions. It'd be foolish to take those responses as representative of the entire userbase, and I've seen more than one forum suffer as a result of such a misconception.

That being said, though, I think it's risky to write off online user feedback in favor of physical. The people you encounter privately are just as much a filtered set as those who post feedback here, though the filters point in different directions: you're selecting people involved in the LW interpersonal community, for one thing, which filters out new and casual users right off the bat, and since they're probably more likely to be personally friendly to you we can also expect affect heuristics to come into play. Skepticism toward certain LW norms may also be selected against, which could lead people to favor new policies reinforcing those norms. Moreover, I've noticed a trend in the Bay Area group -- not necessarily an irrational one, but a noticeable one -- toward treating the online community as low-quality relative to local groups, which we might expect to translate into antipathy towards its status quo.

I don't know what the weightings should be, but if you're looking for a representative measure of user preferences I think it'd be wise to take both groups into account to some extent.

I will be starting another Less Wrong Census/Survey in about three weeks; in accordance with the tradition I will first start a thread asking for question ideas. If you can think of a good list of opinions you want polled in the next few weeks, consider posting them there and I'll stick them in.

You... know I don't optimize dinner parties as focus groups, right? The people who showed up that night were people who like chili (I had to swap in backup guests for some people who don't) and who hadn't been over too recently. A couple of the attendees from that party barely even post on LW.

You... know I don't optimize dinner parties as focus groups, right?

It is perhaps more importantly dinner parties are optimised for status and social comfort. Actually giving honest feedback rather than guessing passwords would be a gross faux pas.

Getting feedback at dinner parties is a good way to optimise the social experience of getting feedback and translate one's own status into the agreement of others.

6[anonymous]8yFWIW, I eat chili but I don't think the strongest of the proposed anti-troll measures are a good idea.
5CCC8yIf I were to guess, I'd guess that the main filter criteria for your dinner parties is geographical; when you have a dinner party in the Bay area, you invite people who can be reasonably expected to be in the Bay area. This is not entirely independant of viewpoint - memes which are more common local to the Bay area will be magnified in such a group - but the effect of that filter on moderation viewpoints is probably pretty random (similarly, the effect of the filter of 'people who like chili' on moderation viewpoints is probably also pretty random). So the dinner party filter exists, but it less likely to pertain to the issue at hand than the online self-selection filter.
4komponisto8yThe problem with the dinner party filter is not that it is too strong, but that it is too weak: it will for example let through people who aren't even regular users of the site.

I very much appreciate the attempts at greater moderation, including the troll penalty. Thank you.

9Sarokrae8yMe too. Troll posts and really wrong people are too distracting without some form of intervention. Not sure the current solution is optimal (but this point has been extensively argued elsewhere), but I applaud the effort to actually stick one's neck out and try something.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky8yThank you both. Very much, and sincerely.
9Will_Newsome8yAccepting thanks with sincerity, while somewhat-flippantly mostly-disregarding complaints? ...I must be missing some hidden justification?
5philh8yPeople who agree are more likely to keep quiet than people who disagree. Rewarding them for speaking up reduces that effect, which means comments get closer to accurately representing consensus.
5wedrifid8yHe is thanking them for their support, not their information.
8Bugmaster8yThat's fair, and your strategy makes sense. I also agree with DaFranker, below, regarding meta-threads. This said, however, at the time when I joined Less Wrong, my model of the site was something like, "a place where smart people hold well-reasoned discussions on a wide range of interesting topics" (*). TheOtherDave's comment, in conjunction with yours, paints a different picture of what you'd like Less Wrong to be; let's call it Less Wrong 2.0. It's something akin to, "a place where Eliezer and a few of his real-life friends give lectures on topics they think are important, with Q&A afterwards". Both models have merit, IMO, but I probably wouldn't have joined Less Wrong 2.0. I don't mean that as any kind of an indictment; if I were in your shoes, I would definitely want to exclude people like this Bugmaster guy from Less Wrong 2.0, as well. Still, hopefully this one data point was useful in some way; if not, please downvote me ! (*) It is possible this model was rather naive.
5TheOtherDave8yEY has always seemed to me to want LW to be a mechanism for "raising the sanity waterline". To the extent that wide-ranging discussion leads to that, I'd expect him to endorse it; to the extent that wide-ranging discussion leads away from that, I'd expect him to reject it. This ought not be a surprise. Nor ought it be surprising that much of the discussion here does not noticeably progress this goal. That said, there does seem to be a certain amount of non-apple selling going on here; I don't think there's a cogent model of what activity on LW would raise the sanity waterline, so attention is focused instead on trying to eliminate the more blatant failures: troll-baiting, for example, or repetitive meta-threads. Which is not a criticism; it is what it is. If I don't know the cause, that's no reason not to treat the symptoms.
4Emile8yNo; you're conflating "Eliezer considers he should have the last word on moderation policy" and "Eliezer considers LessWrong's content should be mostly about what he has to say". The changes of policy Eliezer is pushing have no effect on the "main" content of the site, i.e. posts that are well-received, and upvoted. The only disagreement seems to be about sprawling threads and reactions to problem users. I don't know where you're getting "Eliezer and a few of his real-life friends give lectures on topics they think are important" out of that, it's not as if Eliezer has been posting many "lectures" recently.
6DaFranker8ySometimes AKA the "Forum Whiners" effect, well known in the PC games domain: When new PC games are released, almost inevitably the main forums for the game will become flooded with a large surge of complaints, negative reviews, rage, rants, and other negative stuff. This is fully expected and the absence of such is actually a bad sign. People that are happy with the product are playing the game, not wasting their time looking for forums and posting comments there - while people who have a problem or are really unhappy often look for an outlet or a solution to their issues (though the former in much greater numbers, usually). If no one is bothering to post on the forums, then that's evidence that no one cares about the game in the first place. I see a lot of similarities here, so perhaps that's one thing worth looking into? I'd expect some people somewhere to have done the math already on this feedback (possibly by comparing to overall sales, survey results and propagation data), though I may be overestimating the mathematical propensity of the people involved. Regarding the stop-watching-threads thing, I've noticed that I pretty much always stop paying attention to a thread once I've gotten the information I wanted out of it, and will only come back to it if someone directly replies to one of my comments (since it shows up in the inbox). This has probably been suggested before, but maybe a "watchlist" to mark some threads to show up new comments visibly somewhere and/or a way to have grandchildren comments to one of your own show up somehow could help? I often miss it when someone replies to a reply to my comment.
6Bugmaster8yUpvoted for the "watchlist" idea, I really wish Less Wrong had it.
3[anonymous]8yEach individual post/comment has its own RSS feed (below your user name, karma scores etc. and above “Nearest meetups” in the right sidebar).
5[anonymous]8yIn case you need assurance from the online sector. I wholeheartedly welcome any increase in the prevalence of the banhammer, and the "pay 5 karma" thing seems good too. During that Eridu fiasco, I kept hoping a moderator would do something like "this thread is locked until Eridu taboos all those nebulous affect-laden words." Benevolent dictators who aren't afraid of dissent are a huge win, IMO.
4MBlume8yAt risk of failing to JFGI: can someone quickly summarize what remaining code work we'd like done? I've started wading into the LW code, and am not finding it quite as impenetrable as last time, so concrete goals would be good to have.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky8y []
3wedrifid8yThose who actually don't care about such things what people think don't tend to convey this level of active provocation and defiance.

I have about 15 responses to this comment or other comments I've made in this subthread, and all of them are disgustingly antifeminst.

Many of the immediate responses disagreed with you. That's the structure of this type of forum. Agreement = silent upvote. Disagreement can lead to responses (or silent downvotes).

  • Not all the responses have been equally hostile to your position. Distinguishing between them is good advocacy.

  • People have written comments supportive to your position in the discussion of this topic.

  • You are engaging in radical advocacy. Receiving negative feedback from the supporters of the status quo should be expected. Noting that you expect negative feedback is not good advocacy. Specifically, it increases (NOT decreases) the frequency of negative feedback.

As Foucault shows, there is no conflict between being a good empiricist and advocating for changes to social norms. But you aren't being very effective in advocacy right now. As I said elsewhere, there are substantial reasons not to trust current Ev. Psych. But those reasons are not obvious because of status quo bias. If you continue advocating as if those problems are as obvious to everyone as they are to you and me, your advocacy will fail.

My sarcastic "trigger warning" was a darkly humorous prediction of this rather predictable outcome to voicing feminist thought on this website.

Your "darkly humorous prediction" falls under a pattern we've seen lots and lots of time, where some radical something - some radical reactionaries (e.g. monarchists, racists, etc), some of them radical progressives like yourself, judge in advance about how close-minded we'll be to their ideas, just because we dare to disagree with aspects of their own particular brand of politics. Nothing new here.

They also all tend to judge our downvotes much like you have. In advance, and cynically. Because Politics is the Mind-Killer, and therefore anyone disagreeing with you politically must be The Evil Enemy, deprived of any sincerity whatsoever

Since you downvoted anyway, apparently you do care more about signalling that you are part of the anti-feminist ingroup rather than being a good rationalist.

It's not I but you who argued on consequentialistic grounds in favour of scientists not speaking with honesty. Therefore it's your comments that I now find suspect: Do you really believe what you're saying, or are you just finding ... (read more)

First, it is false. Polls put Obama over Romney among female voters by 8, 10, or 16 points, according to the first three results I found in Google News. Moreover, in 2008 Obama won the female and tied the male vote, while now he seems to be winning the female vote by a somewhat smaller amount, but losing substantially the male vote. So looking at the female/male ratio (to control for the state of the economy and other general features) it looks as of now that Romney does worse with women than McCain did.

Of course, not every false statement about women is sexist. But I would say that an analysis attributing (in a false and unsubstantiated way) women's voting choices to irrational, subconscious factors as opposed to conscious ideological preference or self-interest, while not making a similar analysis for men's voting choices, is sexist.

Also, in my opinion it edges into outright misogyny because the paragraph

Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.

is not merely an objective analysis that in the author's opinion women will see Obama as weak/emasculated//whatever for having daughters instead of sons: it actively mocks Obama and expresses contempt for him on that basis, thus reinforcing the idea that women are less valuable than men.

And preventing the creation of a new life prevents the relationships that person would eventually develop.

Really? An appeal to counterfactual consequences? By this line of reasoning, each day you're not having sex with the intent to procreate is tantamount to murder, starting from the moment you hit puberty until you're no longer fertile. There are no remaining schelling points in-between, AFAICT. All that remains is cold hard utilitarian multiplication. Cold hard utilitarian multiplication is, well, hard - and it might not agree with you.

My preferred approach is what you said for eugenics: just admit that I'm alright with murder some of the time, as per the economically efficient amount of crime (such as theft!).

You're hitting Cooperate and telling this the other player (whose game habits you have no information on) on a one-shot P.D. Are you sure you really want to do that?

Here's a fictive example of the "argument":

Blue: X is good!
Green: But X can in theory be defined as an element of Y!
Audience: *gasp!* Ys are bad!
Green: Indeed, Ys are bad!
Blue: Ys are bad because of K, P, Z, C and G. 50% of the badness comes from G, 40% from K, P and Z, and the remaining 10%... (read more)

I observe that wedifrid has taken advantage of this particular opportunity to remind everyone that he thinks I am belligerent, whiny, condescending, and cynical.

I notice that my criticism was made specifically regarding the exhibition of those behaviors in the comments he has made about the subject he has brought up here. We can even see that I made specific links. Eliezer seems to be conflating this with a declaration that he has those features as part of his innate disposition.

By saying that wedrifid is reminding people that he (supposedly) believes Eliezer has those dispositions he also implies that wedrifid has said this previously. This is odd because I find myself to be fairly open with making criticisms of Eliezer whenever I feel them justified and from what I recall "belligerent, whiny, condescending, and cynical [about the lesswrong community]" isn't remotely like a list of weaknesses that I actually have described Eliezer as having in general or at any particular time that I recall.

Usually when people make this kind of muddled accusation I attribute it to a failure of epistemic rationality and luminosity. Many people just aren't able to separate in their min... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 11

I've banned all of eridu's recent comments (except a few voted above 0) as an interim workaround

Is "ban" meaning "delete" a reddit-ism?

When I hear "ban" I think "author isn't allowed to post for a while".

"Ban" here means "make individual posts and comments invisible to everyone except moderators". (I agree "ban" is confusing.)

5Eliezer Yudkowsky8yCorrect. Sorry, the button I use says "Ban".
7DaFranker8yBad button! [] Sorry, it was very tempting. =P
[-][anonymous]8y 10

But now that you've stated this, you have the ability to rationalize any future IRL meta discussion...

Agreed that science journalism is a cesspool and we need to fix that. That said, I wouldn't say quantum mechanics is woo, nor complain about people discussing it before checking if they're talking about the real thing or a bastardization. Ditto for evpsych and sexism.

feminism (the social movement to destroy gender)

You're the first feminist I've read who promotes this. I'd like to hear more about your position (PM? I don't want to discuss politics on LW.), but please don't claim it's universal among feminists

Some feminists want men and women to be equal (and believe it's possible without destroying gender), some want everyone to be equal but still care about being called "he" or "she" or "zie" and go to men- or women- or genderqueer-only spaces (and believe it's possible), some want women to do male-coded things with no social cost but don't care about the reverse, some want everyone to conform to gender roles but want to change the roles a bit so they don't include standing barefoot in the kitchen with no vote, some want women to rule over men and use good feminine things like intuition and not bad masculine things like science (and I wish they would stop writing bad fantasy novels).

Apple uses the WAITW when commenting on the Apple vs Samsung case:

"In a statement the firm [apple] thanked the jury for sending 'a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right' "


Willie Nelson: How much oil is a human life worth?

Economist: Well, in the United States workers value their lives at about $7 million. With current crude oil prices at around $100 a barrel, a human life is worth about 70,000 barrels of oil.

If that bothers you, you may consider that whining that people find you whiny might not be the optimal strategy for making them change their mind.

I wonder if there can be a race condition, when a comment is started before its parent is downvoted to -3, but submitted after, resulting in an unexpected karma burn.

6Nornagest8yYes. That happened to me yesterday; not only does it produce karma loss, but the warning message doesn't pop up.

If LW were being honest with itself

Please consider addressing your comments to individuals rather than presuming the existence of a group consensus.

"LW" is composed of lots of different people — whose views on the subject range from considered feminism to considered anti-feminism; whose politics range from left to right and monarchist to republican to anarchist; whose levels of education range from "smart high-schooler" to "published researcher"; whose reasons for being here range from thinking it helps save the world, to shootin' the shit.

4thomblake8yThat conflicts with eridu's political philosophy. They are simply not a methodological individualist.

This has traditionally been a very divisive point within radical feminism, and it typically divides the discussion into transphobic social-constructionist radical feminists (like the source of my original infographic) and neo-essentialist post-feminists.

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.

Genetic engineering to cure diseases is eugenics. And eugenics has more wrong with it than guilt by association. It's inherently a dangerous activity, potentially far more dangerous than anything Hitler did.

That's the worst argument in the world.

Its danger is contextually expanded due to our dearth of understanding of the processes we engineer

And that is closer to discussing the substance instead of the archetypal example in the category, so might as well skip the first part.

I've edited this in a way that hopefully removes some of the controversy. Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll here. Actually, wait, no, the opposite of that. The two options ended out perfectly balanced, plus a bunch of people wanted me to make it even snarkier, and it was super confusing.

Anyway, I decided to respect the split poll by making a combination of the two drafts. The name has been changed to "the marginal fallacy", credit to James_G (sorry, Konkvistador, but I really do think that the fallacy of accident is something slightly diff... (read more)

4Eliezer Yudkowsky8yEr... "marginal fallacy" sounds like it should involve failure to think on the margins. Sorry I'm late, but how about "the noncentral fallacy" or "the categorization fallacy"?

I'm guessing it's more likely to work out when it's the partner of a LessWronger who initiates it, than when it's the partner of a nonLessWronger.

I (and any other casual visitor) now have only indirect evidence regarding whether eridu's comments were really bad or were well-meaning attempts to share feminist insights into the subject, followed by understandable frustration as everything she^Whe said was quoted out of context (if not misquoted outright) and interpreted in the worst possible way.

Agreed. I would prefer that a negative contributor be prospectively banned (that is, "prevented from posting further") rather than retrospectively expunged (that is, "all their comments deleted from the record"), so as to avoid mutilating the record of past discussions.

For precedent, consider Wikipedia: if a contributor is found to be too much trouble (starting flamewars, edit-warring, etc.) they are banned, but their "talk page" discussion comments are not expunged. However, specific comments that are merely flaming, or which constitute harassment or the like, can be deleted.

4NancyLebovitz8yAgreed. In this case, what I read of the discussion which included eridu indicated that they weren't worth engaging with, but I'm actually rather impressed with what I saw of the community's patience.

Remember, this discussion started by discussing whether evolutionary psychology is sexist. If LW were being honest with itself, I'd expect the discussion to stay there, rather than drifting to "is patriarchy real," which is where it almost immediately went to.

It's easy to see how that happened, since in your original comment you equated sexism with "perpetuating patriarchy". At that point, the only options are (1) agreeing with you; (2) arguing that evolutionary psychology reduces patriarchy; or (3) denying that patriarchy exists.

ED... (read more)

No. If I can't be happy until everything is good, then I can't expect to feel happy ever. At that point, I give up on trying to make things better because I hate anyone who'd try to make me that unhappy.

Rationalism itself does not preclude "treating arguments as soldiers" within an adversarial debate (most political debates are adversarial). It just cautions aganst doing this within individual deliberation or public deliberative-like processes, where truth-seeking efficiency is an instrumental goal. Nevertheless, the social norms of LessWrong do discourage (1) political discussion, as well as (2) "treating argument as soldiers" in any discussion, be it political or otherwise.

One interpretation of TimS' behavior is that he places a hi... (read more)

Feminism holds that gender is a social construct

And if feminism happens to be factually false in that particular respect? Even partly false, so that gender is 90% a social construct, and 10% a result of biology?

The existence of gender identity dysphoria indicates that people can have "genders" which they were not assigned to socially -- the dysphoria arising from the discrepancy between their "real" genders, and their societally assigned genders.

I've not studied if/how feminism (as you describe it) can be reconciled in this respect with pro-transgender thought -- do you have any thoughts on the subject?

I've seen an even worse argument: Imagine the worst possible consequences of the other side's policies. Assert that the other side (or at least its leaders) intend those consequences.

It is not as if we have no half-baked evopsych theorizing here; and there's Hanson, who is particularly guilty. Who can read some of his wilder posts and not regard it was a wee bit discrediting of evopsych?

All of the arguments are of the form A is an X, when A is not a typical example of X. Here are some arguments that are of that form.

-"Having sex with an passed out stranger is rape."
-"Sleep deprivation/sensory deprivation/stress positions is torture."
-"Writing and cashing bad checks is theft."

Are these all instances of the worst argument in the world? If they aren't examples of the worst argument in the world, why not?

If the main reason that these arguments are acceptable is our disapproval of A, then your worst argument in the world is not a valid. It is just a way to discount rhetoric you don't like.

Consider a X that is bad for reasons R1, R2 and R3. R1 and R2 are really strong, while R3 is quite minor.

Consider an atypical case of X, A, which has only the reasons R1 and R2. Saying "A is X" doesn't do much harm. The real reasons for which you reject X (R1 and R2) are present in A, so saying "A is X so A is wrong" is acceptable.

Now consider another atypical case of X, B, which only share R3. Saying "B is X so B is wrong" is using the emotional power of the horror of R1 and R2, which B doesn't have, against B, just because B can be said to be part of a cluster in which the typical elements have it. That's a really fishy argumentation. That's what Yvain called "the worst argument in the world", because it's wrong but convincing, and very hard to counter in a debate (it requires deconstructing "why is X is bad", extracting R1, R2, R3, showing that B only shares R3, so may be slightly bad, but not nearly as much a typical X).

Let's analyze the first one : "Having sex with an passed out stranger is rape."

Rape is very bad, I hope we all agree with that. Why is rape bad ? It's bad for many reasons. Some of the reasons (that ... (read more)

Morality is not about a balance of things - it is a set of rules to be followed.

This is a claim that consequentialism is incorrect and deontology is correct. It's insufficient to merely make this claim -- you have to actually argue for it.

(The prevailing view around here is consequentialism, although if I recall correctly we have at least one deontologist and one virtue ethicist among the long-time members.)

I don't think it's much of an exaggeration.

Speaking from my 2170th perspective, I must point out that Time Cube was perfectly standard 20th century physics: it was distributed on their premier form of scholarly communication the Internet, was carefully documented in the very first versions of Wikipedia (indicating the regard it was held in by contemporaries), it dealt with standard topics of 20th century American discourse, conspiracy theories (which thankfully we have moved beyond), it was widely cited and discussed as recent citation analyses have proven... (read more)

Where can i find out what "near-type" means here?

It refers to "near-mode," which is jargon in construal-level theory for "construed concretely." So in context, it means direct and involving personal experience, as opposed to reading or discussing abstractly.

Robin Hanson applies construal-level theory speculatively in numerous posts at Overcoming Bias. A concise summary of construal-level theory can be found in my posting "Construal-level theory: Matching linguistic register to the case's granularity.".

I'll take a shot.

What we choose to measure affects what we choose to do. If I adopt the definition above, and I ask a wish machine to "minimize sexism", maybe it finds that the cheapest thing to do is to ensure that for every example of institutional oppression of women, there's an equal and opposite oppression of men. That's...not actually what I want.

So let's work backwards. Why do I want to reduce sexism? Well, thinking heuristically, if we accept as a given that men and women are interchangeable for many considerations, we can assume that any... (read more)

3TheOtherDave8yI certainly agree that telling a wish machine to "minimize sexism" can have all kinds of negative effects. Telling it to "minimize cancer" can, too (e.g., it might ensure that a moment before someone would contract cancer, they spontaneously disintegrate). It's not clear to me what this says about the concepts of "cancer" or "sexism," though. I agree that optimizing the system is one reason I might want to reduce sexism, and that insofar as that's my goal, I care about sexism solely as a pointer to opportunities for optimization, as you suggest. I would agree that it's not necessarily the best such pointer available, but it's not clear to me how the given definition cuts off that use. It's also not clear to me how any of that causes the violent reaction DaFranker describes. If you can unpack your thinking a little further in those areas, I'd be interested.
4MBlume8y"Sexism" is a short code. Not only that, it's a short code which has already been given a strong negative affective valence in modern society. Fights about its definition are fights about how to use that short code. They're fights over a resource. That code doesn't even just point to a class of behaviors or institutions -- it points to an argument, an argument of the form "these institutions favor this gender and that's bad for these reasons". Some people would like it to point more specifically to an argument that goes something like "If, on net, society gives more benefits to one gender, and puts more burdens on the other, then that's unfair, and we should care about fairness." Others would like it to point to "If someone makes a rule that applies differently to men and women, there's a pretty strong burden of proof that they're not making a suboptimal rule for stupid reasons. Someone should probably change that rule". The fight is over which moral argument will come to mind quickly, will seem salient, because it has the short code "sexism". If I encounter a company where the men have a terrible dress code applied to them, but there's one woman's restroom for every three men's restroom, the first argument might not have much to say, but the second might move me to action. Someone who wants me to be moved to action would want me to have the second argument pre-cached and available. In particular, I'm not a fan of the first definition, because it motivates a great big argument. If there's a background assumption that "sexism" points to problems to be solved, then the men and the women in the company might wind up in a long, drawn-out dispute over whose oppression is worse, and who is therefore a target of sexism, and deserving of aid. The latter definition pretty directly implies that both problems should be fixed if possible.

First, you clearly are not an average female.

Which doesn't contradict Dave's idea that LW women / the women that LW members date might be more likely to respond well.

Are you sure you know how you would react...

Totally sure. My last boyfriend attempted to give me fluff and I tore through it. I always want to get down to the bottom of why a relationship did not work. Even if reality is devastating, I want reality. You can tell I'm strong enough to deal with criticism because I invite it often. You can tell I'm strong enough to swallow criticism b... (read more)

invoking evo. psych to make the statement true makes the statement actually effective at deflecting moral responsibility.

No, it doesn't. There is no moral license to be human. If action X is harmful, ascribing an evolutionary cause to X doesn't make it not harmful — and to a consequentialist it is harm that is at the root of immorality.

If evolution built me to rape nubile young womenfolk, well, evolution can just fuck off.

9mantis8yThat's the second misunderstanding of what evolutionary psychology means that leads people to reject it on moral rather than factual grounds: if they're not indulging in the naturalistic fallacy, they're indulging in biological determinism, or think the evolutionary psychologists are. "X is a natural part of human behavior that exists because it was favored by natural selection in the past" does not mean "X is good," nor does it mean "X is inevitable" -- evo. psych. is about identifying tendencies, not certainties. Evolution couldn't build you "to rape nubile young womenfolk," period, because humans are far too behaviorally plastic for that. What it could do, and, judging by the history of human behavior, probably did do to at least a large proportion of the male population, is built you to have an impulse to rape under some circumstances -- when rejected by a woman with whom you're already alone and with whom you had some expectation that you might have sex, for example, or when encountering a female member of an enemy population in war. Whether you act on that impulse or not depends on both the hereditary aspects of your personality and, probably more important, how you were socialized: these factors affect whether you feel any shame, empathy for your potential victim, fear of consequences, etc. that could outweigh the impulse to rape. It's also important to understand that evo. psych. is not saying that rapists are motivated by a conscious desire to reproduce: the impulse generally takes the form "I want to get my rocks off" and/or "I want to hurt this b!+(#," not "I want to make a baby." That's probably true of the individuals committing the rapes even when rape is organized and officially sanctioned by military or political leaders as a way of "invading" an enemy population's gene pool, as in Bosnia or the Sudan. It's also notable that evo. psych. tells us nothing about why any particular man committed rape while another man in similar circumstances did not

Figure out if what is the case ?

I did read through Intercourse in college, but it was a long time ago, and, knowing my past self, I probably only skimmed it. My main impression of it at the time was that Dworkin a). really dislikes men, and b). dehumanizes women. IMO (b) is even worse than (a); at least she recognizes that men are people, albeit unpleasant ones.

Anyway, that was a bit off topic. What is it that I'm supposed to be figuring out by reading Dworkin ? And what happens if I do read the relevant passages, but still conclude that she is wrong ?

She talk about women's wants a lot less than I expected. About cis women who want intercourse with cis men, she writes:

Women have wanted intercourse to work and have submitted--with regret or with enthusiasm, real or faked--even though or even when it does not. [...] Women have also wanted intercourse to work in this sense: women have wanted intercourse to be, for women, an experience of equality and passion, sensuality and intimacy. Women have a vision of love that includes men as human too; and women want the human in men, including in the act of intercourse. Even without the dignity of equal power, women have believed in the redeeming potential of love. There has been--despite the cruelty of exploitation and forced sex--a consistent vision for women of a sexuality based on a harmony that is both sensual and possible.

She might be saying "Women only ever want intercourse with men they love". Even if you count any kind of liking and desire for intimacy as "love", this rules out cruising for casual sex.

She also says things about women wanting very gentle intercourse without thrusting, whereas men go poundy-poundy. This is quite unlike the reports of sex blogg... (read more)

4fubarobfusco8yThere does seem to be a bit of a trope of certain sorts of scholars (the early Wilhelm Reich comes to mind) developing strong and specific opinions on what kind of sex other people are supposed to have — down to specific positions and motions! — in order to be enlightened, liberated, rational, or holy. One wonders by what means a person could arrive at such knowledge, and what other hypotheses were raised to attention and dismissed by evidence.
6NancyLebovitz8yThis isn't just about sex, of course. There are all sorts of claims that people don't really want what they say they want, and they don't want what they seek out, either. This essay [] introduced me to the idea that such claims are pervasive. Anyone have a more general overview? Even at Less Wrong-- you won't really like that shiny toy so much, give the money to SI instead!
4Vaniver8yThis is one of my favorite essays on libertarianism, by the way.

At a first glance your type of feminism seems to seek to put both men AND women in smaller and darker cages, as it seems to seek to ban more and more behaviors for both genders, instead of permit more and more.

Seriously "penis-in-vagina sex"? I don't think there's ever been a society so oppressive to both genders as to ban even that.

3ArisKatsaris8yAh, true. And they were rather egalitarian-minded too.

What sort of language and tone have you used while doing so? Have you ensured that you did this in a way so as to be non-condescending and helpful, or were you being a man who explains things? Did you consider that there are harmful social consequences to a man "teaching" a woman anything about feminism? Did you at least feel intensely conscious and uncomfortable around this issue, knowing as a good feminist that you were in dangerous territory?

To answer this in particular because I think they're all valid points you probably have more experie... (read more)

Also, since when was being better than average the goal of LW? As rationalists, we don't compete against each other, we compete against the universe.

Frankly, I don't think an ideal response to your particular response would be dramatically different. Maybe your argument is 100% correct and LW folk would discover this upon a full examination of the facts, but we're not starting from a place where that's obviously true - we're starting from a place of "you have made several assertions, and then demanded people read up on all the actual arguments on t... (read more)

Yes, probably. And likewise, you would probably say that anyway, and we can recurse down this rabbit hole indefinitely.

I have a history of having my mind changed by people I formerly disagreed with. I may not be perfectly debiased, but to the best of my ability I avoid looking for excuses not to change my mind.

In reality, the media already selectively reports research and hides information. It reports research that is by and large acceptable, and hides information that isn't. That's why very unscientific things often get reported -- they still meet di

... (read more)

charge-fee-to-all-descendants is still in progress

Once again, please don't do that. (Hiding-from-Recent-Comments is totally okay, however.)

I've been watching Less Wrong for a while, too, and feminist points of view get mixed responses, with the trend becoming somewhat more positive.

You were trolling in favor of something you support?

Gaah, PC is a problem. My impulse is to say "Are you completely out of your mind?", which might be rude to people with mental problems, but I can't seem to come up with alternate phrasing.

6bogus8yThis is more common than you'd think, particularly since "trolling" is often in the eye of the beholder. I do think that eridu's style of advocacy is unlikely to be effective.

I don't think I'm culpable for everything society does, so I will automatically assume anyone who says I am is prone to making obviously false statements about that sort of thing; that doesn't sound like they are using good tactics either. Also, it is not the case that the only alternative to "everyone should be guilty" is "this singled-out subset here should go on a guilt trip".

[-][anonymous]8y 7

what is the purpose of making people feel guilty? Is it to spur them into corrective action? or is it just sadistic submission-seeking? Without some suggested correction (as TimS requested), guilt is a rather empty and useless concept.

it also pattern-matches very strongly to the "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th century.

Part of the issue is that as far as I know said "scientific racism" was never scientifically discredited (the underlying facts may even be true). It was simply socially discredited in a "this leads to genocide and other horrible things" kind of way and a memetic immune system was set up to fight these memes. However, as mentioned in the linked article said immune system is no match for rational thought.

4fubarobfusco8yWhen it appears that an intellectual edifice has been constructed to portray as necessary a particular status-quo — in the case of scientific racism, that of slavery and subjugation by race — we may reasonably suspect that the overturning of those social conditions is all the disproof that is needed to overthrow the entire edifice of rationalization, too. Imagine that there exists a complicated, deeply explained theory to explain why no green-eyed, black-haired person [] has ever been, or ever will be, elected president. And then one is. The theory is not merely socially discredited; it is empirically disproven. Scientific racism was concocted to explain curious observations such as that black people liked to run away from slavery [] and sometimes did not work as hard as they could for a slave-master []. These curiosities are better explained by modern evolutionary psychology, with its notion of the psychological unity of mankind [], than by the convoluted rationalizations created to justify past systems of social relations.

Scientific racism was concocted to explain curious observations such as that black people liked to run away from slavery and sometimes did not work as hard as they could for a slave-master.

I feel I should point out that these two examples are pretty lame examples: they were proposed by the same guy, before Francis Galton (generally considered the father or grandfather of any genuinely scientific racism), have never been used by any except anti-racists, and indeed, were widely mocked at the time.

To claim that they are an example of a motivating problem in scientific racism is roughly like someone in 2170 saying TimeCube was a motivating problem in the development of a since-discredited stringy theory.

Almost 400 comments but not a word of discussion of the parsing Yvain provides for his seven examples! But if Yvain's parsing is wrong—as I think it is—then his analysis will serve to further bias our understanding of positions we disagree with and to forsake any charity in understanding these positions.

The question that is fairly asked of Yvain is what distinguishes his "worst argument" ("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.&qu... (read more)

If we must use an acronym to refer to this, could it be WAitW or WAW instead of WAITW? My delicate sensibilities thank you in advance.

Judging from the comments this is receiving on Hacker News, this post is a mindkiller. HN is an audience more friendly to LW ideas than most, so this is a bad sign. I liked it, but unfortunately it's probably unsuitable for general consumption.

I know we've debated the "no politics" norm on LW many times, but I think a distinction should be made when it comes to the target audience of a post. In posts aimed to make a contribution to "raising the sanity waterline", I think we're shooting ourselves in the foot by invoking politics.

7David_Gerard8yReading that HN thread, the problem appears to be a troll (who also showed up on Yvain's original blog post).

This is an assertion, not an argument. Why is morality about rules, not conseqeuences?

I don't actually understand what people mean when they say in principle it's the rules which matter, not the balance of the good and bad consequences which occur. If consequences were unimportant, why have the rules that we have? Surely you agree that proscriptions against rape, murder, theft, torture, arson, etc all have the common thread of not causing undue suffering to another person?

I can understand (and in most cases accept) the argument that human beings are too f... (read more)

4prase8yTo play the devil's advocate (I am not a deontologist myself), the converse question, i.e. why care about the consequences we care about is about as legitimate as yours. It is not entirely unimaginable for a person to have a strong instinctive aversion towards murder while caring much less (or not at all) about its consequences. Many people indeed reveal such preferences by voting for inaction in the Trolley Problem or by ascribing to Rand's Objectivism. You seem to think that those people are in error, actually having derived their deontological preferences from harm minimisation and then forgetting that the rules aren't primary - but isn't it at least possible that their preferences are genuine?
[-][anonymous]8y 7

Is it always illegitimate to bring up the facts that abortion ends a life, that taxes are not paid voluntarily, and that affirmative action benefits some races at the expense of others? If someone with right-wing views on these policies does weave one of these facts into his arguments on less wrong, will he be adoringly referred to this page as though it were a drop-dead refutation?

If in the course of an argument you become frustrated by the other party mentioning true things, perhaps he is making the worst argument in the world. And perhaps there is another explanation.

Taxes are not paid voluntarily and affirmative action benefits some races at the (immediate) expense of others, I agree. But note that in saying "abortion ends a life", you described things on somewhat of a higher level and used a more value-laden word than in the other two cases - like saying "Taxes are stolen" or "Affirmative action discriminates". "Abortion ends a life" is still sneaking in connotations, since we imagine ending a human life, rather than a cat's life or an ant's life, and the other person may well object that the embryo's life hasn't quite reached the ant level yet. In general, there's no license to bring up a categorization like 'life', as an unquestionable assumption or 'fact', if the other person is going to disagree with the connotations of the categorization, like "life is precious".

You can bring up as a fact that the embryo has 256 cells capable of metabolism but not capable of surviving outside the uterus. Calling it a 'life' is an attempt to Sneak in Connotations and establish a value judgment, because we all know that life is precious, even though we don't care very much about accidentally inhaling ... (read more)

6Emile8yM, they may be able to argue some, though it's a minority; for example if I promised to my grandmother on her deathbead to never eat fish on Tuesdays, than the morality of certain actions may hinge on the common usage definition of "fish". Similarly, the morality of saying "I did not have sex with that woman" may depend on what is understood exactly by "sex" (not that a dictionary is necessarily the final arbiter!). And more generally, rules and norms and laws may refer to words, and while the rules themselves should be evaluated on consequentialist grounds, judging whether one followed the rules may depend on common usage definitions. For example, it's a nearly universal norm in western societies that racism is wrong. With the way humans are now, it's probably better than a situation where there was no norm against racism itself, but rather acts and beliefs were judged individually as right or wrong - that would leave too much leeway for rationalization. So instead we have the lesser evil of the definition of "racism" becoming overly broad and contested. (Overall I mostly agree with you; definitions are totally useless on settling empirical disagreements, and mostly useless for moral disagreements)

Is it always illegitimate to bring up the facts that abortion ends a life, that taxes are not paid voluntarily, and that affirmative action benefits some races at the expense of others?

No. If you didn't get that, you should reread the post. The point is to discuss the relevant features of the subject in question, not say "murder" or "theft" and stop thinking.

5[anonymous]8yThat is the author's stated intention. But what he's created is an easily referenceable [] refutation of weak versions of strong arguments. You're concerned about someone crying "murder" or "theft" instead of thinking. I'm concerned about someone linking to this very popular article instead of thinking, or anyway instead of grappling with a strong argument.

As Alex Mennen brought up on my blog, the problem you're worrying about is that someone will say "That's an example of the Worst Argument In The World, which is typically a weak argument", even though that particular version of the argument is actually quite strong.

Luckily, I hear there's a new post addressing exactly that error!

6Luke_A_Somers8yThere is no general way to make people think. Everything can be misused.
6DaFranker8y...therefore [], we should not be concerned when well-intentioned articles risk generating new Fully General Counterarguments and having other possible negative effects on rationality. Even if the net expected utility is negative.
5DaFranker8yNo and no (hopefully) and yes and yes. The examples you give bring up specific points of those, the specific facts that are negative. The Worst Argument In The World is when you don't state the particular negative fact, but instead (truthfully) proclaims that X is part of larger set Y which notoriously also contains that one specific negative fact (which X really does have), but also many others which give Y a large net negative value, making X have a large net negative value (to uninformed audiences) by virtue of being part of Y. Bring up the specific fact, not an arbitrary large subgroup which also contains both X and the specific fact and is known to have a massive net connotation. In Lesswrong discussion, I've seen similar arguments made, and the most frequent response was "Taboo X and Y", followed closely by a more elaborate reduction.

At least in my (admittedly limited) personal experience observing my family, friends and acquaintances. Certainly the cultural stereotypes bear it out, as well.

Your perception of the people you know plus cultural stereotypes is really pretty weak evidence. I could make the following argument: In my immediate family, the men are more emotional and less analytical/reserved than the women - they tend to get angry/aggressive in response to difficult things, whereas the women seem to stay calm. Plus, cultural stereotypes bear out the idea that men are more agg... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 6

FWIW, personally I think genders without any -archy at all (i.e., some behaviours are more typical of men than of women and vice versa, but neither men nor women are frowned upon when exhibiting behaviours typical of the other gender, and neither group is obviously worse off overall) wouldn't be bad at all.

Your current worldview seems to be unfalsifiable without very expensive experiments. (How would you even know if patriarchy had been destroyed anyway?) Maybe we're doing this backwards. What caused you to become a feminist? What evidence could you have encountered that would have made you a non-feminist?

Third wave feminism is chiefly this endorsement of compulsory sexuality, plus an individualist "identity" conception of gender that is actively harmful to feminist struggle.

Of course, third-wave feminists say that it is your brand of radical feminism that is "harmful to feminist struggle". I would love to see some long-term studies that provide some evidence one way or the other -- but, as far as I understand, liberal feminists don't have the funding, and radical feminists believe that the very act of gathering evidence harms their c... (read more)

8simplicio8yAgreed. A useful line of questioning for eridu might be "How much coercion is acceptable in sexual relations, given that essentially any outside causal influence can be glossed as some finite amount of coercion?" On the one hand I think it's an excellent point the feminists make that implicit/explicit consent to sex is not the end of the story ethically, if the consent is seen to be coerced by external factors (e.g., "Our relationship depends on his sexual satisfaction, and he has made me financially dependent on our continued relationship"). On the other hand, it's going too far if we say that the ONLY ethically acceptable motivation for sex is one's own purely hedonistic desires (which are the only motivations I can think of that CANNOT be glossed as coercive).
3fubarobfusco8ySure they can! Someone has wired up your pleasure center to respond to doing what they want you to do, even though that course of action is ultimately self-destructive for you. (Fictional example: the tasp in various Niven stories.)
3mantis8yThat's an awfully damning assessment. If true, it implies that radical feminists believe that their cause can be destroyed by the truth, and don't think that it should be. I'm not convinced that this indictment, as stated here, is true of any actual radical feminist, though.
4simplicio8yNot quite. I disagree with Eridu's position, but it doesn't come down to a Moore's paradox situation. Eridu's position is that there are truths that cause harm within certain social contexts, and that in those social contexts (but not otherwise) those truths ought to be suppressed. This is pretty plausible if you think of some thought experiments involving vulnerable groups. Suppose that you are a rationalist/consequentialist cop in 1930's Germany, and you are investigating a case in which a banker, who was Jewish, embezzled some money from the Society for the Protection of Cute Puppies. Although ceteris paribus, your job is to expose the truth and bring criminals to justice, in this case it might be a very good idea to keep this out of the papers at all costs, because due to anti-semitic narratives society lacks the ability to process this information sanely. Eridu claims that because of sexist narratives, society lacks the ability to process the claims of evo-psych sanely.
4mantis8yI find it interesting that both you and MixedNuts have found it necessary to invoke Nazis in order to construct a marginally convincing case for your interpretations of eridu's position. Your thought experiment boils down to an equation of "the patriarchy" as it exists in present-day Western society with Nazi Germany (which would put eridu in pretty clear violation of Godwin's Law*), and MixedNuts' counterexample to my proposed Generalized Anti-Creationist Principle is a variant on the classic example of when it's not only morally acceptable but morally obligatory to lie: "when hiding Jews from the S.S. in one's basement." It also seems as though the "certain social contexts" where the results of evo-psych research ought to be suppressed, according to eridu, are pretty much every social context that exists outside of Women's Studies departments and the internal discussions of radical feminist organizations. That seems untenable to me. * I just realized that Godwin's Law is meant to prohibit a special case of Yvain's Worst Argument in the World: the case in which the archetypal member of the category into which one places X is Naziism.
4TimS8yThe non-Eridu argument against evo-psych is that many such researchers are abusing/ignorant of the halo effect that leads to biased results/unjustified moral assertions about sex roles in society. Somewhere in the archive is an article by lukeprog where he decided to break up with his girlfriend and wanted to let her down easy. In deciding how to do that, he debated with himself about telling her that his desire for a woman with larger breasts was an evolution-caused preference, not a comment on the woman specifically. That's nonsense, and uncritical acceptance of evo-psych runs the serious risk of exacerbating the problem.
7wedrifid8yThe problem with LukeProg's decision to write that break up essay wasn't evo-psych. The problem was that writing a huge essay on why you're breaking up with someone, including detailed analysis of why there is insufficient attraction is a horrible thing to do to someone without even giving any benefit to yourself. This doesn't constitute an argument here against evo-psych as an accurate description of reality. It does constitute: * A solid illustration of how social awkardness can result in doing harm to others despite all the best intentions. * An extremely weak appeal to consequences---an argument that evo-psych should not be studied because bad things could happen from people understanding evolutionary psychology. I describe it as weak since there is little indication that the insult Luke gave given his awareness of evo-psych is any worse than the insult he would have given if ignorant. For example "I'm dumping you because I like big tits, it's just the way I am" is about as insulting as "I'm dumping you because I like big tits, I just evolved that way" (details changed as necessary). In conclusion, keep your moralizing out of my epistemic rationality! At least while posting on this site, please. You can argue that a particular subject should not be discussed here for instrumental reasons in accordance with your own preferences. However it is never appropriate (on lesswrong, I assert) to argue that a belief must be considered false because of perceived consequences of someone believing it.
6mantis8yI don't know that that's necessarily the case. My first serious girlfriend wrote me a very long e-mail before our break-up, laying out her rational analysis of why she believed our relationship was untenable in the long term; she actually succeeded in persuading me to see it her way, which I'd been resisting for emotional reasons. That allowed us to have an amicable parting of ways, and we remain good friends to this day.
8Alicorn8yThat's amazing. Can we see a copy of the email?
4mantis8yI'll think about that -- from the upvotes, it appears you're not the only Less Wronger interested (at least, I assume an upvote to a one-liner request like that means "I'd like to see it, too"). I wouldn't post an unedited copy, as there are some details in it that I consider very private, as, I think, would my former girlfriend. But I'll take a look at it later and see what would need to be redacted. I would also have to ask her permission before posting any of it, of course, and I'm reluctant to bother her just now -- she has a newborn daughter (as in, born last week), so I expect she's rather preoccupied at the moment.
3NancyLebovitz8yThere's a large difference between writing an analysis of what's going wrong in a relationship based on information about the relationship itself and writing an evo-psych analysis which concludes that the other person has the whole weight of evolution against anyone finding them attractive. It occurs to me that what you've done there is a common enough pattern, though I'm not sure it's exactly a fallacy-- seeing that something causes bad outcomes, but not being clear on what the scope of the something is. Here's the quote []:
3Bugmaster8yWell, maybe not just any feminist, but eridu specifically did claim that, since the findings of evolutionary psychology are frequently misused to advance the patriarchy, no one should study evolutionary psychology. As far as I can tell, he feels that way about all research that deals with sex and/or gender, not just evolutionary psychology specifically.
4MixedNuts8yThere were anti-Semitic pamphlets that quoted studies of Jewish populations where blood type B was most frequent and Aryan populations where blood type A was, kept quiet about studies showing the reverse, and used that as proof that Aryans and Jews were different races that shouldn't mingle and should be ranked relative to each other. If someone thought that publishing counterpoints (the rest of the data, or pointing out that blood type distribution doesn't imply any of the conclusions) would be ineffective and had instead advocated banning statistics on blood type, it'd be rather uncharitable to say "They believe gathering evidence hurts their cause".

Can "Direct email, skype or text-chat communications to E.Y." count as a venue? Purely out of curiosity.

it is a recurring theme on LessWrong (that isn't), that people persist in acting, or failing to act, in ways that they "feel bad" about.

I agree.

As a strategy for change, "feeling bad" doesn't seem to be effective, does it?

I disagree. One of the reasons akrasia is so notable is that feeling bad usually works. Usually touching a hot stove or hit your thumb with a hammer once is enough to change your behavior. Often being mocked by your peers, or sensing genuine disappointment from your mentors, is enough to change your behavior. ... (read more)

under patriarchy, and consider whether it is really usually in women's best interest to have PIV sex.

What happens if a woman desires to have PiV sex, seeks out a man to have it with (rejecting unqualified men in the process), and enjoys the experience ? The reason Andrea Dworkin (and radical feminists in general) is often portrayed as "sex-negative" (*) is because, as far as I can tell, she denies that such a scenario can exist, thus directly contradicting the life experience of many women.

Thus, we end up in a peculiar situation where radical... (read more)

Emotional work is everything one needs to do to maintain a positive affect because the positive affect is expected from your social role.

For example, you don't think that the fast-food worker is really that happy to see you?

If one spouse in a relationship is expected to repress emotions in this way, that's unfair. If society doesn't give the spouse credit for the circumstance, that's even worse.

Historically, that spouse was the wife - hence feminism's concern about emotional work.

I still don't like the idea of the indiscriminate whole-thread toll

It looks like that idea has already been replaced with hiding subthreads rooted on comments that are -3 or lower from recent and top comments.

I like the idea of hiding bad subthreads, but wish it's a manual moderator action instead of based on votes. A lot of discussions that descend from downvoted comments are perfectly fine and do not need to be hidden.

I've thought of another option: maybe prohibit a user from posting anywhere in a subthread under any significantly-downvoted comments

... (read more)

There is a Report button when I view comments that are replies to my comments, or when I view private messages.
There is no Report button when I view comments normally.

It's impossible to have "good faith" as a rationalist. I have an accurate understanding of LW, and if voicing that understanding as a prediction and being slightly snarky about it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so be it.

Others here contest that your understanding is accurate. Please recognize that you cannot fairly expect us to take the assertion that you are right and we are wrong as given.

People occasionally come here and make criticisms of ideas accepted by the in-group here, and are heavily upvoted for bringing well-formulated criticisms t... (read more)

I don't think "preventing the current thread from happening again" is anywhere near an important enough goal to justify heritable karma penalties -- let alone retroactive ones.

6Paul Crowley8yI've not seen retroactive penalties proposed anywhere; the current system warns you when you start if a penalty applies for making a comment, presumably that wouldn't change.

Meta-note: Right now, as I check the top comments for today, all the top comments for today are replies to heavily downvoted comments. This is the behavior the downvoted-thread-killer was meant to prevent, but we don't yet have "troll-toll all descendants" feature. Noting this because multiple people asked for examples and how often something like it happened.

5DanArmak8yI was one of those who asked for examples. This is indeed a good example, and I take it to heart. I am still uncertain what the effect of the new and planned rules will be (troll feeding fee etc.). But it's now less a case of "what problem are you trying to solve?" and more "how should we solve this problem?" In more detail: I missed this thread, but skimming the remaining comments, I think it would have been a waste of time to participate. But since many others did participate (while saying in many comments that eridu was quite irrational and/or wrong), it's possible I would have been drawn in if I had the opportunity. So I'm glad you stopped it.

"This has traditionally been a very divisive point within radical feminism, and it typically divides the discussion into transphobic social-constructionist radical feminists and neo-essentialist post-feminists."

I'm just wondering would you mind reading Moldbug? I want to see the resulting philosophy for the lulz.

I have never behaved in the alleged patriarchal, controlling, caging, nefarious manners towards women which I am being accused of

No. By eridu's argument, this is a category error. Nothing about your behavior, beliefs etc. could have changed the fact that you are 'oppressing' people, for some meaning of 'oppression'. Your status as "patriarchal, controlling, caging, nefarious, etc." is simply ascribed, in a quasi-tautological way.

Yes, I do think this is "The Worst² Argument in the World". It basically amounts to dogma-based emotional manipulation.

4Bugmaster8yWell... a slightly more charitable way to represent eridu's argument, IMO, would be something like this: "I believe that you are sincere in your belief that you have never engaged in these nefarious behaviors which you'd just enumerated. Nonetheless, you do engage in many such behaviors, not because you are some mustachio-twirling villain, but because you see such behaviors as normal or even beneficial. You say that you have always done your best to avoid such actions, and I believe you, but your best simply isn't good enough".
[-][anonymous]8y 6

You are using way to many fuzzy labels and dancing the rhetorical category shuffle far too vigorously. Taboo your words and explain why a relationship between a man and a woman is bad in the same sense that archetypal case of physical abuse is bad.

The fact that there is power and control is a red herring if everyone is happy with the arrangement and no one is getting their teeth punched out.

The word control is being use idiosyncratically. In a certain sense, everyone exerts control over everyone in ways that are not examined self-reflexively.

The problem was not with the word "control", but with the word "exert". eridu claimed that, for example, I exert power and control over my wife, without any information other than that I am "non-feminist" (by eridu's definition of "feminist"). This is strange, as I would not normally say that X exerts Y in the absence of any information about in what ways X mig... (read more)

May I ask which woman's body I'm currently "owning"? Please be specific. It would be helpful for me to know, as I might want to impose my sense of entitlement upon it.

Even if a difference does exist, is it worth publishing, knowing that you are perpetuating patriarchy?

The consequentialistic problem with a scientist not publishing truthfully because this truth will help perpetuate some injustice, is that the scientist's word becomes worthless when the truth will help destroy some other injustice... For every injustice-destroying truth they reveal, their opponents will be able to claim "Of course, they never reveal those results that don't suit their political purposes".

In another forum I've talked about &qu... (read more)

6[anonymous]8yI see your point, and I have to say I hadn't thought of it before. I still think I'm right, but I'll have to consider this further.

Further, a consequentialist scientist knows that what they publish will be reported, and misreported, and must judge the ethical consequences of publishing based on those actual outcomes, not social scripts related to "free information" or any other idealized concept. This is similar to the recurring theme in LW of scientists witholding results like UFAI, sun-destroying bombs, or powerful spells (in HPMOR). Even if a difference does exist, is it worth publishing, knowing that you are perpetuating patriarchy?

The actual outcome of publishing cor... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 6

I find myself questioning how many readers will actually do the unpacking you describe rather than just use the Worst Argument in the World as a club to beat their opponents over the head. Especially since title is such that it will probably attract many readers off LessWrong.

"Taboo murder." works better than "Calling X murder is the worst argument in the world!"

Note that, on gender issues at least, it also pattern-matches very strongly to the "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th century.

No it bloody doesn't except on the Internet. Read "The Psychological Foundations of Culture" and quote me a paragraph that pattern-matches anything like that. And then perhaps you'll give me back your respect point, because in a flash of enlightenment you'll suddenly understand why I was puzzled by people having issues with EP.

8CronoDAS8y"The Psychological Foundations of Culture" does not discuss gender issues in detail. More specifically: Sexual Strategies Theory [] tends to agree with modern cultural stereotypes of men and women, much as "scientific racism" tended to confirm cultural stereotypes of people of different races. (I do acknowledge that "Sexual Strategies Theory" is far from settled science and has been heavily criticized - but it's a large part of what comes to mind when people think of ev-psych.)
6DaFranker8yI've had the luck of understanding both why people were puzzled and why they were wrong to be puzzled, since I only really learned any real ev-psych after I came to LessWrong. What Crono says is pattern-matching is, well, yes mostly on the internet. However, it's also somewhat present out there, but it's not the Ev-Psych itself that pattern-matches - it's the behaviors and arguments of idiots who use Ev-Psych as ammunition. What I've seen personally is mostly cases where "Evolutionary Psychology" could be substituted for "Magical Scientific Explanation" and no meaning would be lost, or cases where you could reasonably assert that a magical giant goat head yelling "facts" at people could have been the arguer's only source of information - i.e. the "fact" they pulled from ev-psych was technically true in the exact sense that "light is waves" is true, but they had no understanding of it whatsoever and their derivations from that were completely alien to the science.
6satt8yOh boy, this is going to be one of those "reference class tennis" arguments, isn't it?

Guilt by association, as has been mentioned before, is probably a better name.

The point of the argument from authority here is to catch the opponent's attention. If he goes as far as looking up who registered the domain, we can be confident he has read the article as well. The argument from authority won't work any more, but we don't care: it has served its purpose.

In the rest of the world, when I find it necessary to invoke the concept, I generally ask people to clarify what they mean by a word and then echo back the phrase they used the word in, substituting their explanation.

Generally speaking, people respond to this as though I'd played some dirty rhetorical trick on them and deny ever having said any such thing, at which point I apologize and ask them again to clarify what they mean by the word.

Among conversations that continue past this point, it works pretty well. (They are the minority.)

Basically, and I'm not all that clear on his point myself, but basically you can create the appearance of making a point, and look cool while doing it, if you express yourself with confident quirkiness and keep your statements as ambiguous, unexplained, and as obscure as possible. People will then pattern match whatever "revelation" they can into your words and then even give you credit for it!

For example, If I'm right, and I'm always right, Bartlefink proved hypercomputational phase warps in the predimensional wave-nurgle causes a condition wher... (read more)

5Larks8yIt is a skill to not correct people when they mis-interprit you as having said something clever.

This implies that there is an intrinsic "wrongness" somewhere inside "theft" itself. Where, then, does the human hand reach into the vast void of existence to retrieve this wrongness to which theft is associated?

"Theft", the word, does not have any wrongness. Otherwise, we could use "Borbooka" instead. Let's do that. Does Borbooka have inherent wrongness? Well, what is Borbooka?

Borbooka is, apparently, when an item, which some animals apparently say verbally and apparently implicitly mutually agree is for the exclus... (read more)

I think there are two cases where you forgot to type the word "fallacy" after the word noncentral.

But in this case calling Martin Luther King a criminal is the noncentral.

This is why the noncentral is so successful.

(On a sidenote, eridu did claim that "treating women different than men" is impossible, because the patriarchy is pervasive and omnipresent. Even when you think you're treating women the same as men, you aren't -- which is why he's against liberal feminism.)

A very small piece of evidence that eridu might have a point: A while ago, I was faced with a person who I didn't know at the time was a transexual in transition. I felt like I didn't know what to do or say to them. (I'm reasonably sure I just looked blank at the time, or at least we're on ... (read more)

3[anonymous]8yMe too, but 1) the sets do overlap by a substantial amount, and 2) I think it's more a case of potential sexual partners vs everyone else than of women vs men -- with women I'm not sexually attracted to at all, I behave pretty much the same as if they were male (except for different cultural norms such as --in Italy-- kissing them on the cheek instead of shaking hands, which I don't consider any more relevant that the use of different pronouns). (Edited to replace ''romantic'' with ''sexual'' -- I've introspected myself and ISTM that the set of people with whom I'd use the first set of behaviours almost exactly coincide with the set of people with whom I'd want to have protected sex if they offered, and promised not to tell anybody and to try not to let that affect our future interactions in any way -- which is a somewhat broader criterion than me being willing to have a monogamous romantic relationship with them.)

iV) Affirmative action is racist

It is racist. there is no Issue here . Indeed the bad argument is yours. You argument appears to be that if something is 'good' then it can't be racist. This is just incorrect. There is nothing that implies morality within the definition given in English lanaguge dictionaries apart from those published by the Marxist left (whom I implictly reject).

The problem here is not that Yvain has made flawed arguments but rather that you incorrectly interpreted the post.

Yvain is not arguing that affirmative action is or is not raci... (read more)

This is not a logical fallacy. It is either wrong or right and it depends on two issues: in The Anglo Saxon world of common law ( that's USA, Canada,Ireland, UK , New Zealand, most Carribean countries etc ) Murder must be i) The Killing ii) Of a person, iii) In being iv) unlawfully and v) with malice aforethought.

You are assuming that the person asserting this proposition is referring to the legal concept of murder (in a particular jurisdiction) rather than the common-sense notion of murder. This assumption is probably false in the large majority of cases. The rest of your objections suffer from similar maladies.

For better or worse, you seem to have steel-manned eridu's position. Eridu appears to believe that it is irrelevant whether ev psych (or any other empirical project) has anything to say about appropriate gender relations.

But you can't really be porn-positive without supporting normative body types

I think the book, "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" does a pretty good job of disproving that there is any single body type people look for in their porn.

you certainly can't be sex-positive without supporting the notion that consent is possible under patriarchy

So, are you saying consent is something that doesn't actually exist and never has? That would seem to be a confused definition of consent.

These are all good answers.

The term is very googlable.

I am trying to be cautious when googling any terms [radical] feminists use, because the meanings they assign to them often differs radically from common usage. For example, words like "patriarchy", "oppression", "privilege", etc., have very specific technical meanings in a [radical] feminist context, and if I googled them, I'd form a wrong impression. That is perfectly ok, IMO; every discipline has its jargon, f.ex. the words "client", "handshake" an... (read more)

7DaFranker8yFrom what I've inferred (this inference may be wrong), eridu seems to be asserting that "radical feminists" (not necessarily including himself) believe that these conditions are currently impossible to be met. My intuition is that this is for the same reason that they became feminists in the first place (a feminist subset of anthropomorphic-like phenomena?) - that is, that they were/are surrounded with almost exclusively ultra-patriarchal-behaving groups, where it is common that men get blowjobs in return for opening car doors for women and obtain sex in return for gifting high-heeled shoes (and yet of course, the reciprocals do not apply). I feel like most of what this position considers literally omnipresent in everyone but themselves is a poor representation of some cultures and social groups. For example, the PiV point is definitely not applicable everywhere. In my own circles, there is not a single man or woman that considers PiV sex in any way offensive, dominating, or any other of the qualities that would qualify it as "patriarchal": There are two people, they play a sport (something very fun for both), one of them happens to be a woman, the other happens to be a man. This is not sexist or patriarchal, ceteris paribus. There are two people, they watch pictures of their childhood and reminisce on their grewing up together (something very personal and intimate for both), one of them happens to be a man, the other happens to be a woman. This is not sexist or patriarchal, ceteris paribus. There are two people, they rub parts of their bodies together while having strong positive emotions (something very fun for both + something very personal and intimate for both), one of them happens to be a man, the other happens to be a woman. This particular woman-man combination happenstance happens to geometrically permit parts of their bodies to rub in a particular even-more-fun manner which is difficult for other gender combinations. This is not sexist or patriarchal,

The reason Yvain's proposed argument is arguably much worse is that the argument you propose is a clear, visible fallacy with spectacular failure modes and many people will indeed simply walk away or mark the person making the argument as crazy, while Yvain's argument, in the situations where it is the worst argument, is not only wrong and erroneous logic but also still manages to convince uninformed people that it is valid, and so they will accept its conclusion as true, while at the same time tricking opponents into debating the wrong points and formulat... (read more)

But that's almost certainly false. IRL input has distinct selection bias from viewing meta threads, but not no selection bias.

3TheOtherDave8yYeah, exactly. Which is why I took it to mean a simple preference for considering the community of IRL folks. Which is not meant as a criticism; after all, I also take more seriously input from folks in my real life than folks on the internet.
4komponisto8yEven when the topic on which you are receiving input is how to run an internet forum (on which the real-life folks don't post)?
3TheOtherDave8yWell, I don't do that, clearly, since I don't run such an Internet forum. Less trivially, though... yeah, I suspect I would do so. The tendency to take more seriously people whose faces I can see is pretty strong. Especially if it were a case like this one, where what the RL people are telling me synchronizes better with what I want to do in the first place, and thus gives me a plausible-feeling justification for doing it. I suspect you're not really asking me what I do, though, so much as implicitly suggesting that what EY is doing is the wrong thing to do... that the admins ought to attend more to commenters and voters who are actually participating on the thread, rather than attending primarily to the folks who attend the minicamp or Alicorn's dinner parties. If so, I don't think it's that simple. Fundamentally it depends on whether LW's sponsors want it to be a forum that demonstrates and teaches superior Internet discourse or whether it wants to be a forum for people interested in rational thinking to discuss stuff they like to discuss. If it's the latter, then democracy is appropriate. If it's the former, then purging stuff that fails to demonstrate superior Internet discourse is appropriate. LW has seemed uncertain about which role it is playing for as long as I've been here.

It's easy to see:

But since many others did participate (while saying in many comments that eridu was quite irrational and/or wrong), it's possible I would have been drawn in if I had the opportunity. So I'm glad you stopped it.

... and read "It's obvious that eridu is stupid and irrational, and people said so yet kept blabbering and that could have made me join in, so thanks for stopping all this idiocy."

It actually tempted me to downvote too, but the comment is overall useful and that is a very uncharitable interpretation of the wording. It'... (read more)

Well, I prefer to avoid getting too close to an object-level discussion of eridu's views, but suffice it to say that I would want to check with eridu before making any such assumption about what he does not consider sexist.

In any event, my point was that eridu's views on patriarchy are a crucial premise of his argument that ev psych is bad, so a discussion of them was inevitable.

But also, I think it's false as a matter of simple fact to say that my only argument is the stupidity of LWers. That was an entirely tangential garnish of snark in my original post, and it wasn't my decision to start focusing on it.

I agree that it was tangential to your point (it was much less so for that white nationalist guy); but that kind of thing - snark, accusations against the community in general, angry-sounding tone, etc. - are probably the biggest cause of the downvoting and deletion of your posts.

I agree that in an ideal world we should be ab... (read more)

They'll use that as an applause light, but they won't actually constrain their behavior.

FWIW I think that the majority of people arguing with you on these threads have stayed on topic, and attacked your argument rather than yourself -- which is much more than I can say about pretty much any other Internet forum. Of course, I am admittedly biased, since I myself do not support your position.

That said, when you say or imply things like "the only possible reason you'd downvote me is to express out-group hatred, so go ahead, make my day" -- as you... (read more)

6komponisto8yAgreed, and this is a major reason why I am much less concerned about threads like these on LW than Eliezer is.

While the discussion arguably veered off-topic with respect to the original article, I don't think we actually have a rule against that. And I don't think eridu was actually trolling, though they do seem to have an overly-dismissive attitude towards the community. I do think there's a place for social constructivist / radical feminist views to be aired where they apply on this site, and I don't think eridu was doing a particularly bad job of it.

If we have a diversity of views, then people will disagree about fundamental sorts of things and we'll end up w... (read more)

I do think there's a place for social constructivist / radical feminist views to be aired where they apply on this site, and I don't think eridu was doing a particularly bad job of it.

Right now that sounds like one of the most brutal criticisms you could have made of radical feminism.

3thomblake8yI should note that I'm not a fan, so that sort of thing should be expected.

In that case, you run into the issue ArisKatsaris pointed out here.

To the extent that science as an institution has any trustworthiness at all, it's come by it by not behaving in the manner you prescribe.

If you know that an institution deliberately filters evidence to support an agenda, then you must assume that the real state of the evidence is worse than what they're trying to show you. Hiding information looks bad (it shows you have something to hide,) so if you hide information, and can't hide the fact that you're hiding it, then what you're signall... (read more)

It seems (and I think we've talked about this before) that you are a liberal/equality "feminist," in which case we're equally opposed. Why should I stop rather than you?

Well, it seems to me that TimS is doing much less to give people an aversive reaction to feminism.

When you say things like this, you're taking an adversarial stance to most of society. Most men and women do not agree with such a position, and do not want to be affiliated with it.

As Yvain discussed in thisblog post, there are some positions associated with feminism that are wi... (read more)

Rationality means winning.

According to some terminal values, which you've not yet specified in regards to how they relate to your feminism, and which I'm not certain you're very clear about yourself. Any particular political struggle should normally be of instrumental value only.

Nice. It seems that we no longer have a wholly unfalsifiable and meaningless argument. You are now resorting to the old trope that "we" are fully rational and conscious individuals who use reason to actualize ourselves and achieve our moral values, whereas "they" are mindless sheeple whose individual potential is neutralized by force, coercion or pervasive social pressure. I suppose that this counts as progress, in a way.

  • Treat arguments as soldiers
  • Claim to be a good empiricist
  • Be internally consistent.

Pick two.

Edit: Ok, that was snarky.

I agree that people act to reinforce social norms all the time, every day. But there are facts. If it turns out that men should not be primary care-givers of children because men, but not women, have a 5% chance of murderous rage when caring for children, society is morally justified in taking that fact into account.

But if a scientist reported that finding as an experimental result, they're failed to be properly empirical (give... (read more)

Ability to get pregnant is not, even now, a difference between men and women.

I reject some combination of your usage of "is", "difference" or "men and woman" as impractical. I suggest that whatever kind of wordplay is used to make this claim could be used to make all sorts of utterly absurd claims that MixedNuts would reject as pure silliness and yet which are less objectively absurd than the claim in question.

but that we should ignore the correlation with gender.

Ignore the correlation with gender. Of pregnancy. That se... (read more)

Making the world more sane requires understanding it. Knowing that there is a biological, evolutionary force behind rape allows to take more appropriate measures to actually fight rape. Blinding ourselves on the true cause of an evil will never allow us to defeat that evil.

In grade school we learn that "X is like Y" is a simile, and "X is Y" is a metaphor, and that there is some crucial difference between the two. Perhaps there is, but I haven't seen an argument to that effect. Mainly, we call both of these "analogy" or "metaphor."

So the argument for tabooing The Worst Argument in the World is that, since many analogies are unusually powerful and people may not recognize that they're analogies rather than perhaps identities, every analogy is The Worst Argument in the World. Even though... (read more)

All employment is comodification of human time, and therefore objectification of human beings. Part of living in the real world is making peace with that. The fact that people want to single out porn is silliness. That's what I meant. Is this really what this whole conversation has been about?

Yes. If you had said "All employment is comodification of human time, and therefore objectification of human beings. Part of living in the real world is making peace with that. The fact that people want to single out porn is silliness." this would allow p... (read more)

4TimS8yIn the spirit of constructive criticism: I totally agree with your stated point, and you made the point well. But the function of the quoted sentence is winning a status contest, not advancing your argument. The post would be vastly stronger without it.

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...

Consistent with Korzybski and General Semantics, you're objecting to the is of identity and the is of predication. Also, in GS terminology, all your examples use highly intensional terms, as opposed to extensional terms - racist, theft, murder, sexist.

Korzybski and the general semantics crowd go on and on about this issue. And often do.

Reading Korzybski can be a little tedious for his messianic tone and verbose writing style, so I recommend articles from General Semantics groups to get a background in their analysis, which I consider highly rewarding for ... (read more)

I would say that the War on Some Drugs is sufficiently like Prohibition to make this not an instance of the WAitW. It's still a fairly weak argument, since it's lacking in details, but I don't think it's trying to sneak in any connotations, and I think basically all of the problems with Prohibition are also problems with the War on Some Drugs.

Prohibition was unpopular with a large portion of the population. It caused a lowered respect for the law in general, because so many people casually broke the law in response. It funded organized violent crime. It in... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 5

This is a special case of Agree Denotatively, Object Connotatively.

I'd quibble about "clearly," even in context. Wars are just too damn random.

Nothing against cost-benefit analysis in the abstract, but, in practice, invading a country seems like one of those very complicated choices that may inherently risk some major, major unintended consequences. I'm mostly thinking negative, but I suppose this would go both ways -- unexpected ultimate positive consequences might be possible as well, but still hard to calculate at all.

Note, however that "X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features", is strong evidence that X does in fact have those features.

Until some other bozo comes up with a different category. Then we get to play tennis.

Ending on a high note: "Deontology is the philosophy of enshrining the Worst Argument In The World as the only acceptable form of moral reasoning." Discuss.

-Original (and in my opinion better) version of this article

Do we, though, agree to the rape of a woman if said rape results in the feeding of 10 starving children in Africa? Of course not.

When arguing with consequentialists, you may find it useful to use larger numbers. I recommend Graham's number.

I think this should be explicitly connected to "policy debates should not appear one-sided". The incorrect response to the worst argument in the world results from forgetting this and trying to deny the downside to your position that your opponent has pointed out. The correct response is to acknowledge the downside but argue that the upsides outweigh it.

"Affirmative action is racist!" True if you define racism as "favoring people based on their race", but though the archetypal case of racism (white people keeping black people down) has nothing to recommend it, affirmative action (possibly) does. In the archetypal case, decisions are made based on race, success is completely decoupled from merit, and disadvantaged groups are locked into a cycle of poverty with little to no escape. Affirmative action keeps the first disadvantage, arguably escapes the second disadvantage depending on the

... (read more)

I'm not sure "This specific example has something to recommend it" saves the example from being legitimately described in terms of the category. I'm minded of "Yeah, I killed him, but he deserved it" - that is, everybody thinks their example has something to recommend it, something that makes it distinct from the categorical description, that's why they support it/did it to begin with.

You think I could replace "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged" with "unfair treatment of a woman based on her sex" ?

I am saying that the subset of feminists that are unsophisticated enough that they exclude unfair treatment of men from their definition of 'sexism' and yet sophisticated enough that the implicit definition in use is actually dependent on history is comparatively small.

5MileyCyrus8yI don't know what you're talking about. I'd wager 10-1 odds that women the "unsophisticated" feminists who ascribe to the "men can't be victims of sexism view" have more education than the general population. The historical dependency is taught in intro WS classes and feminism 101 blogs; they call it "power plus prejudice." Not all feminists agree with the redefinition, but more than a "comparatively small" number do.

And okay, a tiny fraction of the time people are just trying to use words as a Schelling fence.

[citation needed]

Except Time Cube is incomprehensible gibberish, not just wrong. But I'm not saying that it was actually mainstream, you understand.

I'm not sure we could say anything better of Isaac Newton's alchemy.

Unless, of course, you're saying our understanding of recent history is quite as bad as the closing paragraph there.

Popular understanding can be pretty bad. The more I read in history, the more I realized I didn't understand the past anywhere near as well as I thought I did; revelations ranging from spherical earths to gay presidents to the Founding Fath... (read more)

It seemed a reasonable to me; after all, shminux's comment wasn't random unrelated criticism, it was a germane followup to a previous comment. Posting it in the other thread eliminates the entire purpose of the comment.

3chaosmosis8yI dispute the accuracy of shminux's comment, and yet also feel reluctant to challenge the comment because it would be a digression from the topic of the above comments. That's a problem. I recognize the need to draw from other sections of the site in order to talk about LessWrong as a community; I'm fine with that. But if we're going to do that then I think we need to at least use good arguments while discussing those other threads. Otherwise it becomes too easy to just criticize things in contexts where they're difficult to challenge. I'd like to hear other possible solutions though.

Heh. Even taking that into account, I still think your odds are better with a randomly chosen LWer as a recipient than a randomly chosen partner-of-a-female. But that's admittedly a pretty low bar.

Fair enough.

I'd like to request some constructive criticism: What would you suggest someone do when they think an empirical field has been tainted by normative claims?

I really do think that historical study of other cultures provides evidence that contradicts some psychological "findings." But it is the nature of the endeavor that "harder" sciences like psychology carry more weight than softer sciences like history. I could point to cases like Bradwell v. Illinois for examples of tainted scientific processes, but I acknowledge that do... (read more)

No, but all that requires is adding the qualifier "academic" to the noun "subject" in my principle, so it can't get misapplied to very unusual and extreme situations where knowledge of the specific situation could be more dangerous than the lack of that knowledge.

Welcome to LessWrong!

A bit of fair warning: If you haven't done so already, the About LessWrong and Welcome to LessWrong pages along with the FAQ should cover most of the community norms and important stuff you'd want to know to frequent this place.

None is required reading, but users will frequently point you to the Sequences if you're doing or saying something that has been covered already, especially using words, labels and categories incorrectly.

More relevant to this post, the above sequence on words is in direct relationship with both your points and ... (read more)

If I claim I like Amaro Montenegro then I must have been brainwashed and/or be (consciously or subconsciously) lying for signalling reasons or something. How could I demonstrate that I actually enjoy its taste?

Blind taste test. Preferably several, where you don't know if Amaro Montenegro is among the drinks you're tasting in any particular test.

If you can't single out for a high rating the one that you profess to like the taste of, then you've falsified the hypothesis that you like it for the taste.

If you can single it out for a high rating in blind ta... (read more)

3MixedNuts8yMRI wouldn't help. If you can recognize amaro, you'll go "Oh, that's amaro, I'm supposed to like this" and produce a pleasure response, the same way wines believed to be expensive do to identical wines believed to be cheap.

an individualist "identity" conception of gender

So... what's your position on trans people and non-binaries?

you can't really be porn-positive without supporting normative body types

Mainstream porn has an incentive problem where it needs to appeal to a large audience or it won't be profitable, but alt porn, especially by amateurs, can show varied body types. There are Tumblrs that do that - they're reposting, not producing, so there's still a bias toward conventionally attractive types, but they're not judged differently.

The trouble with this argument is that the feral condition is not the natural condition for humans, as philosophers once imagined it to be. A whole slew of development doesn't work without the appropriate stimuli which are provided by all human societies, for instance exposure to language during the critical period.

The gold standard for demonstrating that something is due to socialization is to demonstrate difference among societies or social groups (subcultures, classes, etc.) — not to compare a healthy person to one that has been developmentally impaired... (read more)

reality and physics would be your worst possible Enemy, seeing as how it is currently the strongest Jailer than restricts and constrains you the most.

This should answer most of the questions above. Yes, the universe is terrible. It would be much better if the universe were optimized for my freedom.

Which other values can be traded off?

All values are fungible. The exchange rate is not easily inspected, and thought experiments are probably no good for figuring them out.

it's subject to the Loss Aversion effect where the dissatisfied speak up in much greater numbers

But Eliezer Yudkowsky, too, is subject to the loss aversion effect. Just as those dissatisfied with changes overweight change's negative consequences, so does Eliezer Yudkowsky overweight his dissatisfaction with changes initiated by the "community." (For example, increased tolerance of responding to "trolling.")

Moreover, if you discount the result of votes on rules, why do you assume votes on other matters are more rational? The "com... (read more)

Publishing a paper entitled "Psychological effects of nonconsensual sex between spouses" would count as informing rather than controlling; it would also be vastly less effective than making marital rape illegal, portraying characters who rape their spouses as horrible monsters, and shaming rapists.

I don't think this is evident enough to be affirmed without supporting evidence. There's evidence that such laws and shame-guilt-tripping might be much less effective than publishing a good comprehensive paper.

Prime example: Videogame piracy. Strong... (read more)

The system of government here is enlightened absolutism.

This is a community blog. If your community has a dictator, you should overthrow him.

3ArisKatsaris8yIs the overthrowing of dictators a terminal value to you, or is it that you associate it with good consequences?

True. For that to be an effective communication channel, there would need to be a control group. As for how to create that control group or run any sort of blind (let alone double-blind) testing... yeah, I have no idea. Definitely a problem.

ETA: By "I have no idea", I mean "Let me find my five-minute clock and I'll get back to you on this if anything comes up".

Generally, I, like most humans, think that people doing bad things should feel bad about it.

And I happen to think that anyone who is trying to make me feel bad about things should be crushed like a bug and their attempts to control through shame disempowered to whatever extent it is convenient to do so.

(I also observe that most people with healthy boundaries will tend to be much more likely to avoid those who are predisposed to attempting to control through guilt or shame.)

5MixedNuts8yYou're eating babies. The wide-eyed idealist points out that eating babies is bad and you are a bad and evil person who must mend his baby-eating ways. You tell the wide-eyed idealist that you refuse to interact with people who try to control you through shame. The wide-eyed idealist thinks for a minute, shrugs, and shoots you.

You're thinking like a LW reader, not a typical feminist activist (who is also liberal). Most of these people don't have any background in any science and are more skilled at literature criticism than empiricism.

They should fix those deficiencies forthwith.

[-][anonymous]8y 4

Generally, I, like most humans, think that people doing bad things should feel bad about it.

This is a thought-provoking sentence. I think I don't want anyone to feel bad, even when they do bad things.

4[anonymous]8yAs for me, I'd say it depends on whether them feeling bad makes them stop doing bad things [].
3Nornagest8yIf we're counting guilt as suffering in an ethically consequential sense -- which seems reasonable, since it's pretty profoundly unpleasant and there's a pretty clear functional analogy to physical pain -- and if that suffering is additive with other kinds, then consequentialists should want people to feel guilt when they do bad things if and only if that guilt eliminates more suffering (of any type) down the road. Don't know if you're a consequentialist, but this seems like a good starting point. In any case, that condition seems like it's sometimes but not always true. Guilt over immutable or nearly immutable urges seems like a net loss unless those urges are both proportionally destructive and susceptible to conditioned reduction in the average case. Guilt strong enough to be unpleasant but weak enough not to overcome whatever other factors are making people do bad shit is likewise a loss. Interestingly, this seems to indicate that consequentialists should sometimes prefer intense over moderate guilt, unless it's gratuitously intense relative to what's needed to stop the behavior: sufficiently disproportionate guilt is also a loss. The obvious objection to this line of thinking is that certain categories of socially constructed bad shit -- not to name names -- might stick around if and only if they stay at or above a certain level of prevalence in the population, sort of a memetic equivalent of herd immunity. Since these patterns can persist for an unbounded length of time and cause suffering as long as they do, anything capable of incrementally degrading them could have second-order consequences much larger than its first-order effects, potentially enough to justify any and all related guilt. In this case uncertainties about the problem structure seem to dominate consequential reasoning, much as per Pascal's Mugging.

I hope you don't mind me jumping into this discussion; I find it fascinating.

Brains are plastic. They are reprogrammable. They are computers. There are differences between the brains of people socialized as men and the brains of people socialized as women. They are a result of gender socialization...

Would the below statement be an accurate rephrasing of your views ?

"Any differences in behaviors between men and women are due entirely to their upbringing. Their biological makeup has no measurable effect on such behaviors."

I think this is a reas... (read more)

I think this is false as a matter of simple fact. I'll bet money on it.

I'd take that bet, for reasonable values of "privileges men over women".

I might expect controversy if we were asking whether that bias is entirely unidirectional, whether "patriarchy" is an accurate or productive way of describing it, or how pervasive it is, but I'd expect the existence of systemic gender bias favoring men in certain domains to be challenged only by a minority of posters here. That's really a fairly low bar, and while gender issues weren't disc... (read more)

Thanks. I'm impressed with the story in the link, but also more convinced that he might as well be treated as a troll because he criticized someone for being a man explaining feminism to women.

What would a (radical) feminist utopia look like, out of curiosity?

I should think that being mindkilled is very likely to include not being aware of being mindkilled.

Your time is valuable, but if you can afford to comment on Internet websites, it isn't that valuable.

I avoided getting into it for a while, for that reason.

I have failed to appreciate the glorious rationalism of Less Wrong.

No, I was lecturing you on using bad rhetorical tactics. (Historically Less Wrong does pretty poorly when gender politics comes up. This was the best gender-politic discussion I've seen, which was particularly interesting.)

I admit this IS still pretty bad, but the opening comment wasn't something that had much chance at all of pro... (read more)

9Kindly8yActually I think that was the problem. The first response to that was met with "hivemind" and "so much for your vaunted rationality" and after you start seeing things like that there's pretty much no chance any future discussion will be productive.

I disagree with the claim that the entire LW community, or even a majority of it, is incapable of discussing this subject rationally, and I also disagree with the claim that most LWers will assign karma to your posts based on buzzword content.

However, I find your other claims and the overall assessment of the situation minus the above to correlate rather strongly with what has experimentally actually happened so far in the discussion in the majority of what I observed.

Honestly, (speaking as a feminist, albeit not a radical feminist, who's been frustrated by a lot of the male-rights-apologist sentiment on this website), I think this thread went amazingly well. Yes, people disagree with you. Some of those people are expressing outgroup hatred. Some of those people are (reasonably) honestly looking at your position and still disagreeing because *it's a complicated position that requires them to read multiple books to even have a reasonable understanding of, and there are loads of other similarly complex positions that migh... (read more)

3thomblake8yYou may have accidentally left off the folks that are pretty conversant with various varieties of radical feminism and still disagree with eridu's take.