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.
I just registered http://worstargumentintheworld.com - it redirects to this post, and should be available shortly. Much easier to mention in conversation when other people use this argument, and don't believe it's a "real thing."
Great piece of work, Yvain - it's now on my list of all-time favorite LW posts.
"Real things" have their own domain. I registered this domain, therefore...
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.)
If I debate with someone, he tells me something like "abortion is murder", I point him to http://worstargumentintheworld.com/ and he takes the pain to read the article AND the discussion and sees why/how the domain was registered, I would claim victory in "raising the sanity waterline".
The argument authority of having a domain pointing to may (I hope it'll) increase the chance the person does at least read a bit of the page instead of discarding it, but I doubt it'll do anything into making him/her accepting that the argument is wrong behind that.
I strongly recommend not punishing people for saying that it's taken them time to learn something.
That's... probably a good idea.
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!
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:
Other liberal examples, using Yvain's implicit definition:
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:
Hmm, creating these pairs is harder than I thought.
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)
"Property is theft"
Is an example of the left using the WAITW.
American liberals aren't that kind of left. And Proudhon did mean "property is wrong for the same class of reasons theft is".
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.
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?
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.
Doesn't sound as evil no?
Either this is a joke or you mean "odd".
You saw nothing!
I think the difference is that the right wing examples are examples of core beliefs that many stereotypical conservatives believe. Thus leftists feel like they are scoring points when they read it. The left examples, however, aren't really core beliefs of the Democratic party. Democrats may lean against capital punishment, but no presidential candidate in my memory has made that a core tenant of eir campaign.
I also think it's wildly generous to suggest eugenics as a leftist issue. I can't remember ever hearing someone seriously suggest that genetic engineering is eugenics. And typically, it's conservatives who are opposed to genetic engineering, generally on the grounds of playing God.
And when I was reading it, MLK got lumped in with conservatives for a number of reasons. First, the strong conservative examples primed me to put it there. Second, the civil rights act was largely pushed for by a Democratic legislature and president. Lastly, African Americans tend to line up with democrats in modern demographics.
The best leftist example I could come up with is "Meat is murder". I think that merits including. Or mixing in with the abortion one.
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.)
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.
-- Yvain's 2011 survey
My explanation of this perception is that posters, in general, know better than to post rightish things at LW unless they are correct. Every now and then you get a new Objectivist who gets downvoted because they aren't discussing things at a high enough level.
Lots of beliefs that are common on LW are uncomfortable for the stereotypical leftist- like human biodiversity in general. To see someone brazenly state that, yes, there is a difference in measured IQ between the races and that reflects reality rather than our inability to design tests properly, or that men and women are actually neurologically distinct, will seem like a "not my tribe" signal to the stereotypical leftist- but people here don't hold that opinion (as far as I can tell) because of racial or sexual enmity, but because they put evidence above wishful thinking and correct beliefs above politeness.
But now imagine that for the stereotypical rightist. How big of a "not my tribe" signal is atheist materialism and evolution?
I am thinking that one possible asymetry between "the left" and "the right" is that the former is a rather homogenous group, while the latter is heterogenous. The left generally means socialist(-ish), and the right generally means non-socialist. The left is a fuzzy blob in the concept-space, the right seems like a label for points outside of this blob.
As an example, both Ayn Rand and Chesterton would be examples of "the right". What exactly do they have in common? (Religion: the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever? Individual or community? Mystery or reason? The great future or the great past? Selfishness or selflessness? Should women be allowed as leaders? Etc.) The common trait that classifies them both as "the right" is the fact that neither of them is a socialist.
Well, I could also says that neither of them "considers hinduism the best thing ever"... but why should that information be used to classify them? Well, for a hinduist that would be an important information. Then it follows that classifying many diverse views under one label of "the right" makes sense to you mostly if you are a socialist. (Or if being ver... (read more)
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.
This is an interesting point, that one about the left being more homogeneous than the right. I am not sure whether to believe it, so let me present some objections that I can think of, without evaluating their merit.
A) Assuming the left is indeed more homogeneous, isn't it true just because of greater variability of right between different countries, with a typical single country's right being as homogeneous as the same country's left? (The objection hasn't a particularly strong bearing on the perceived LW left/right imbalance, but may be relevant to the more general question of how the categories of left and right are defined.)
B) This may not be accurate; beware availability heuristics.
Environmentalists aren't necessarily socialists as their opinions about the optimal economic order aren't the defining part of their ideology and may differ. Yet the environmentalists are usually classified on the left. Anarchists aren't necessarily socialists; many of them oppose any form of organised society, while archetypal socialism is a very organised society, from many points of view more than market ca... (read more)
I've posted such complaints about left wing bias, so I'll elaborate on my impressions.
I perceive the left wing comments come with much more of an implicit assumption by the poster, and the respondents to it, of the moral superiority of left wing positions, and that all attending will see it the same way.
Most of the non left wing views don't seem to me to come with that presumption on the part of the speaker that everyone here shares their moral evaluation. If anything, the tone is of someone who expects to be taken as a crank.
The liberals are more generally accustomed to being in an ideologically homogeneous environment while the libertarians are accustomed to being in the minority, and both speak with a tone appropriate to the general environment, and not to the particular environment here, where liberals and libertarians are equally represented.
For my part, I also find instances where the absent conservatives are caricatured and snickered at, again with the presumption that all right thinking folk agree, and the bile rises in the gorge, and I feel the need to respond.
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.
The Y-wing was an outdated piece of junk even by the Battle of Yvain; that's why the Rebels had it at all. The X-wing's proton torpedoes deliver the hurt when necessary (just ask Tarkin or Ysanne Isard), and if you want more than that, well, that's what the B-wings are for... Between them and the A-wing, there is simply no role for Y-wings at any point - except cannon bait!
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.
I don't understand how you get from "policy debates should not appear one-sided" to "there should be no shortage of weak arguments 'on your side'". Especially if you replace the latter with "there should be no shortage of weak arguments of this sort on your side" -- which is necessary for the challenge to be appropriate -- since there could be correlations between a person's political position and which sorts of fallacies are most likely to infect their thinking.
In particular, I predict WAITW use to be correlated with explicit endorsement of sanctity-based rather than harm-based moral values, and we've recently been talking about how that might differ between political groups.
I think this is because of the way you're deconstructing the arguments. In each case, the features you identify which supposedly make us dislike the arcetypal cases are harm-based features. Someone who believed in sanctity instead might identify the category as a value in itself. Attempts to ascribe utilitarian-style values to them, which they supposedly miss the local inapplicability of, risks ignoring what they actually value.
If people genuinely do think murder is wrong simply because it is murder, rather than because it causes harm, then this is not a bad argument.
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.
I have tried constructing a pro-choice example similar to "Abortion is murder!" ("Forced pregnancy is slavery!"???), but it ended up pretty unconvincing. Hopefully someone can do better:
Leaving rape cases aside, the archetypal example is an unwanted teenage pregnancy due to defective or improperly used birth control or simply an accident. Forcing her into letting the embryo develop into a fetus and eventually into a human baby would likely make the woman significantly worse off in the long run, financially, physically and/or emotionally, so she should have an option of terminating the pregnancy.
An example a pro-life person thinks of: aborting a healthy fetus, possibly in the second trimester, as a habitual birth control method.
I find "Forced parenthood is slavery!" to be pretty convincing, actually. Though I may be prejudiced by having grown up around a Libertarian father (now, alas, more Republican(!??)) who went about proclaiming that jury duty was slavery.
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.
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 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".
Not only that, but it is also non-descriptive.
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.
Vaniver and DaFranker have both offered sensible, practical, down-to-earth advice. I, on the other hand, have one word for you: Airship.
Downvoted because I don't find it appropriate to uncharitably interpret the meaning of any downvotes one receives, and certainly not out loud and in advance.
It's bad when people use the dictionary to make political arguments, but it's worse when they write their own dictionary. For example:
Normal people define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, even if that means hurting other people." Objectivists define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, but never hurting other people." Hence, selfishness can never morally objectionable.
Normal people define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex." Feminists define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged." Hence, men can never be victims of sexism.
Normal people define "freedom" as "the ability to do a lot of stuff." Catholics define freedom as "the ability to do as God wishes." Hence, laws enforcing Catholic norms are pro-freedom.
Not to mention that they define "hurting" as "damaging or destroying other's life, health or property by direct action" where normal people understand the word much more broadly.
Normal people define "true" as "good enough; not worth looking at too closely". Nerds define "true" as "irrefutable even by the highest-level nerd you are likely to encounter in this context." Hence more or less all of Western philosophy, theology, science, etc.; and hence normal people's acceptance that contradictory things can be "true" at the same time.
(Yes, I'm problematizing your contrast between various groups you dislike and "normal people".)
Namespaced that for you.
Long time ago, me and my sockpuppet lonelygirl15, we was scrollin' down a long and boring thread. All of a sudden, there shined a shiny admin... in the middle... of the thread.
And he said, "Give a reason for your views, or I'll ban you, troll."
Well me and lonely, we looked at each other, and we each said... "Okay."
And we said the first thing that came to our heads, Just so happened to be, The Worst Argument in the World, it was the Worst Argument in the World.
Look into my brain and it's easy to see This A is B and that B is C, So this A is C. My heuristic isn't justified But I know it's right 'cause of how it feels From the inside...
I want to respond to James G's critique of this post. First because it was pretty intense, second because I usually enjoy reading his blog, and third because maybe other people have the same objection. I'm doing it here because his blog is closed to comments.
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)
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?
Related to: List of public drafts on LessWrong
Draft of a critical response to this article
The worst argument in the world already has a different name. Philosophers call it the logical fallacy of Accident.
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
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
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)
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.
I 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)
If 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"
Great, 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!
More generally, it is worth noting that a very tempting class of bad arguments is those which are slightly true, such as this.
Reminds me of http://lesswrong.com/lw/aq2/fallacies_as_weak_bayesian_evidence/
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.
Maybe also link: Sneaking in Connotations.
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.
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.
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.
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'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.
There 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.
I 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).
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.)
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)
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.
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).
But now that you've stated this, you have the ability to rationalize any future IRL meta discussion...
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.
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.
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?
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?
That's the worst argument in the world.
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'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.
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?
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.
To answer this in particular because I think they're all valid points you probably have more experience with than I do, I used the same text with the women as I used with men to whom I taught the same thing, and it was done through an impersonal text-only chat interface, and no I did not "know as a good feminist" all that much because I was merely, in my mind, correcting a behavior reinforcing unfairness. I had not learned to think more than four steps of causality forward in counterfactuals, at the time, nor of how to compute recursive not-exclusively-self-reinforcing social trends.
No, I did not feel intensely conscious and uncomfortable about these things, because ceteris paribus, it is better to feel good about doi... (read more)
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 higher value on following LW's established social norms than he does on promoting his political cause. Alternately, he may believe that flaunting the norms of LW would be mostly unhelpful to his political advocacy.
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.
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)
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' "
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:
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)
This 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!
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 to the table (the highest voted post on Less Wrong is an example,) and some posters such as XiXiDu have gotten most of their karma in this way.
On other occasions, people come here and argue, for instance, that we should all reject Bayesianism because Popper proved induction is impossible, or that mainstream physics is completely wrong and science should be about making descriptions of the world that make intuitive sense rather than making accurate predictions about reality. And they argue fiercely that their poor reception is proof of how bad we are at evaluating ideas that challenge in-group beliefs.
Now, maybe we are rejecting key... (read more)
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 their own." And it's not clear that reading up on this is more important than reading up on, say:
Time is valuable. I agree with most of your positions, and frankly, had I not already been familiar with them, I would not have been persuaded by your rhetorical skills to give them higher priority than the above problems. You stated explicitly that you were here for fun, and I hope that's true... (read more)
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.
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.
EDIT: In other words, the topic you describe as "is patriarchy real" was the topic you brought up, whether you realized it or not.
Actually 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.
Another valuable outcome is that instilling chronic, free-floating self-doubt into someone can convince them that oppression directed at them is deserved and proper - in fact, this happens to be a common feature in emotional abuse. It can also inspire them to do all sorts of things which are beneficial to the "movement" - not least of which is propagating the meme by guilt-tripping others.
This is a very "cool" sort of mindhacking - especially for people who happen to be high-functioning sociopaths who seek coercive power over others.
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.
Which is why I largely ignore science reporting by news media.... (read more)
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.
This 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.
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 "shallow" and "deep" egalitarianism. To demand that people of group A and people of group B must be treated with equal respect because these groups are in their nature identical in all measurable characteristics is shallow egalitarianism. The deeper egalitarianism is that you should treat people as individuals, not judge them on what group they belong to, even when those groups are measurably differently in average.
The shallow egalitarianism is eventually a failing and unsustainable proposition because it rests on factually false premises. People should choose the deeper egalitarianism which doesn't require any false claims, and is therefore sustainable in the long term.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.") from any form of rule-governed reasoning in ethics (whether deontological or rule-utilitarian). When the examples are expanded and recast in those terms, they do not express Yvain's "worst argument"; they rather simply express moral premises subject to disagreement.
Taxation is theft. I'm no libertarian, but the argument isn't that taxation shares features with "archetypal" theft but that any taking of unearned property is wrong for the same basic reasons as "archetypal" theft is wrong, whether natural law or utilitarian calculus.
Abortion is murder. The claim almost always comes from a fundamental... (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.
Reading 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 flawed to figure out and understand the consequences. Therefore, in most cases we should stick to tried and tested rules which have reduced suffering and created peaceful societies in the past and shut down the cognitive processes which say, "But maybe I could murder the leader and seize power just this once if the whole group will benefit...."
But I can't see how the point of morality is rules. If that's the case, why are the rules not completely random? Why is morality not fashion?
By the way, 10 people is probably too low a number for me to sacrifice myself, especially given that I can just donate a large portion of my i... (read more)
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, and finally, the author lectured and taught at the only surviving center of American learning, MIT.
The historical case is simply open and shut! This isn't a random layman myth like Nixon mentoring Obama and running dirty tricks in his first election (as every informed historian knows, Nixon was of the Greens while Obama bin Laden, of course, was a Blue).
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 cause... so we're kind of stuck in a "she said / she said" territory here.
There are several initiatives on the liberal feminist side that campaign for the promotion of a healthy female body image, in all media including porn (*). On the flip side, there is tons of porn out there that promotes any body type you can imagine, and possibly a few that you cannot.
Agreed.... (read more)
Agreed. 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).
The 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:
I 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.
That's amazing. Can we see a copy of the email?
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.
That'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, ... (read more)
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.
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 feminists appear to be seeking to actively make women's lives worse, by denying them an activity that many women see as an important aspect of their self-expression (not to mention, a lot of fun).
Of course, a radical feminist might answer by saying, "my end goal is not to improve the lives of women, but to destroy the patriarchy by any means necessary", but I'm not sure if any real radical feminists would answer this way.
(*) It's also why Dworkin is considered to be a kind of troll by some liberal feminists; IMO unjustly so, since she sincerely believes the things she says.
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.
I'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.
I'm just wondering would you mind reading Moldbug? I want to see the resulting philosophy for the lulz.
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 widely agreed to be completely reasonable, some that are contentious and are effectively the battleground for which modern feminists are fighting, and some that very few women or men want to align themselves with. When debating for the sake of the contentious issues, people who support them tend to attempt to legitimize them by associating feminism with the least contentious aspects of feminism, while people who oppose them attempt to discredit them by associating them with the most radical aspects. The people who do the most to influence people on the contentious issues, where the actual "swing vote" takes place, generall... (read more)
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.
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.
"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.)
Oh boy, this is going to be one of those "reference class tennis" arguments, isn't it?
I'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.
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 the semantic hygiene it provides. For Korzybski himself, I highly recommend the usually neglected sections on math and science at the end of Korzybski's "Science and Sanity".
EDIT: A more concise characterization of the fallacy, garnered from Max Stirner, is the mistake of valuing according to your categories, instead of categorizing according to your values.
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.
Hey, check out this article.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Can "Direct email, skype or text-chat communications to E.Y." count as a venue? Purely out of curiosity.
These are all good answers.
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)
From 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 i... (read more)
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)
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.
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.
Ignore the correlation with gender. Of pregnancy. That se... (read more)
I'm having a little trouble interpreting your comment. In your view, can a proposition be both true and sexist? If so, are you saying we shouldn't believe (some) true propositions if they "perpetuate the patriarchy"? Thanks in advance.
The actual outcome of publishing cor... (read more)
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!"
Guilt by association, as has been mentioned before, is probably a better name.
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)
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)
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.
But that's almost certainly false. IRL input has distinct selection bias from viewing meta threads, but not no selection bias.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
Which doesn't contradict Dave's idea that LW women / the women that LW members date might be more likely to respond well.
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 because of my elitism thread - check out the note at the top. I feel kind of dumb for not seeing these problems in advance (hindsight bias, I guess?). Now that I do see how awful my thread was - in public of all places - have I vanished, or gone crybaby or begged anybody for emotional support?
I am stronger than that.
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)
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.
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)
They should fix those deficiencies forthwith.
This is a thought-provoking sentence. I think I don't want anyone to feel bad, even when they do bad things.
Thanks for the reply. What I'm getting from you is the idea that there are probably some practices in our relationship (and those of couples in our reference class) that, although they look benign to us now, would after a certain amount of consciousness-raising come to be seen by us as toxic.
I consider this very plausible (and I can think of attitudes held by me in the past, about gender and other things, which seemed trivial but which I now regard as toxic).
I am really interested in moving from the abstract to the specific though. So seconding Bugmaster's... (read more)
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)
It's easy to see:
... 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)
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)
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.