All of Vladimir_M's Comments + Replies

Things are good as long as most interactions have at least one side familiar with existing site culture, but once you start getting outside users talking with other outside users in volume, there's not much left maintaining the older culture.

Worse yet, the new users may comply with the culture in form but not in spirit. In the concrete case of LW, this means new users who are polite and non-confrontational, familiar with the common topics and the material covered in the classic OB/LW articles, making appeals to all the right principles of epistemology ... (read more)

Have you adjusted for the likely event that you have become more rational, and what you have actually observed may have been LW becoming at a lower level relative to you, whilst staying relatively flat or even improving?
This was my biggest fear in joining this community; I did not want to be the clueless kid who forced the grown-ups to humor her. I'm quite new, so I don't know how accurate this is, but I must say that the oldest comments on Overcoming Bias (around 2007-2008) were actually of a much lower quality than the 2009-2010 comments on Less Wrong. Maybe it was because OB, being sponsored by Oxford, had a higher rate of drive-by trolling? As far as I can tell, Less Wrong is still intimidating enough to deter well-meaning newcomers from saying too much, although nothing but boredom kills trolls. Still, anything that increases traffic will pull quality of discourse toward the mean, unless we can somehow accomplish the miraculous task of bringing newcomers up to the LW mean. Is there a way to quickly bring people up to speed on the spirit of the law, rather than just the letter of the law? Is there a way to make people want to display their curiosity, their ability to admit mistakes, their thick-skinned, careful consideration of criticism? Saying “I was wrong,” “Thanks for explaining my mistake,” “I’m confused,” etc is a sign of status among more established Less Wrong members (admittedly, the mistakes made shouldn’t be too elementary, and it definitely helps if you’re high status already). How do we get newcomers to care about this particular measure of status from the get-go? Make It Stick [] gives us a simple heuristic for getting ideas to burrow in people's heads and inspire them to action: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Story. This says to me that we need to distill the spirit of truth-seeking and truth-speaking into something with the emotional resonance of a proverb - while avoiding the creepy cult vibe that the overtly religious phrasing of the Sequences tends to bring about. We then need to display this short credo pr

When I first joined, I barely commented, because I felt it would inexcusably lower the average comment quality. I still refrain on topics which I’m interested, but not competent in; but for the last 18 months or so I’ve felt more comfortable with the vector my comments apply to the site average.

Separately, I generally agree with Will Newsome about the high quality of your contributions.

I was thinking the same, but I don't know how to convince myself that there has been a clear decline or a markedly improved past state. My take is that LW has always had problems with user-generated content measuring up to the blog content core of the site. I don't think I followed the forum that closely during the first year or so after the OB age, and the conversation in the pre-LW OB comment system often seemed pretty dismal to me.
This sounds plausible, but it also sounds like something I'd expect at least one old timer to feel even if it isn't true. Furthermore, I've read many of the comments on the sequences, and they don't seem to support this hypothesis. Can you provide any specific evidence?

Failing all this I think we really should consider if the overly-strictly interpreted no mindkillers rule that was prevalent as little as a few months ago that much reduced political discourse wasn't a good thing that should be restored.

I used to be excited about the idea of harnessing the high intellectual ability and strong norms of politeness on LW to reach accurate insight about various issues that are otherwise hard to discuss rationally. However, more recently I've become deeply pessimistic about the possibility of having a discussion forum that w... (read more)

Are you concluding too hastily about the cause of deterioration? In the early days, OB had two major voices with conflicting ideologies. I think that's what lent it greater intellectual excitement. I do not think it a matter of ideological alignments being absent in the golden age. Rather, it allowed space for discussion of fundamental differences--as opposed to the analysis down to quarks of the highly obvious that's taken front seat today. Consider this old posting on OB []. The level of objectivity wasn't higher, but the level of engagement with fundamental issues was.
Uh huh. I fully endorse your analysis. Except that I'd say (1) would still leave us far better off than the typical confrontation-allowed political forum out there, because LWers would probably at least be willing to state their positions clearly [], and would accept help in clarifying/refining those positions - even if the art of changing one's mind should be lost, LW discussion would still retain some value. So I'd rather have (1) than (3). Please consider that both Torture vs Specks and Three Worlds Collide are, as it seems to me, very much political - indeed, the latter could be construed as today's very Blue vs Green with a touch of imagination, yet the debates on those have been quite OK.

If I remember correctly, you replied to several of my comments on fairly controversial topics recently, but for the record, I didn't downvote any of them. I downvote direct replies to my comments only if I believe that someone is arguing in bad faith, or when I'm annoyed with some exceptionally bad failure of basic logic or good manners.

Cool, thanks. Good to know. FWIW, I can recall upvoting at least one of yours which had previously been at -1. Aargh, meta rathole ...

It seems like you're losing focus of my point. I am merely trying to demonstrate that it's wrong to consider studies of this sort as solid and conclusive evidence about the overall effects of the social interventions under consideration. I mentioned this scenario only as one plausible way in which one of these studies could be grossly inadequate, not as something I'm trying to prove to be the case.

I suppose I don't find it to be particularly plausible. Moreover, it seemed that you were discounting the study as offering any evidence at all regarding long-term effects; whereas it seems to me that short-term effects offer weak evidence regarding long-term effects. If we know something is short-term beneficial, that isn't strong evidence of it being long-term beneficial — but it isn't evidence of it being long-term harmful either. It's worth it to keep looking — I certainly agree that it's a failure of many social interventions to look at only short-term effects, especially when this failure is iterated. That's where we get Campbell's Law from. (That said, it would be really surprising if deeper investigation of social reality happened to closely confirm the preconceived notions of one particular political faction. I mean, seriously, why that one?)

I'm not sure what exactly you're trying to imply with this comment. You have complained that I was reading your comments too uncharitably in the past, so I'm trying to interpret it as something other than a taunt, but without success.

As it usually happens in the social "sciences," it's very naive to believe that in any of these cases we have anything like solid evidence about the total effect of the programs in question. Even ignoring the intractable problems with disentangling all the countless non-obvious confounding variables, there is still the problem of unintended consequences -- which may be unaccounted for even if the study seemingly asks all the relevant questions, and which may manifest themselves only in the longer run.

Take for example this nurse-family partnershi... (read more)

This sounds like the fallacy of gray. You can seem sophisticated by saying that it is naive to take any research at face value - that there are always limitations to the studies, and possible unmeasured effects. But there are some cases where the evidence is stronger than others, and where the existence of large unmeasured effects in the opposite direction is less plausible. Paying attention to that evidence is updating. The particular case of Nurse-Family Partnership looks like one of more strongly supported programs. It has been studied extensively using randomized controlled trials, with data collected on a variety of outcomes (including a follow-up study looking at 19-year-olds who had been through the program as infants). GiveWell [] named it a top-rated US organization in 2010 (they now say that it is outstanding but lacks room for more funding). Your story about a possible hidden cost does not sound very plausible, and I imagine that some of the studies include data which speak to some of the steps in your story (e.g., whether women who take part end up having more additional children than those who do not).
(Don't be mistaken, I see single motherhood as a serious problem, although not an insurmountable one - it was high in the post-war USSR, yet that generation turned out well enough, considering all the deplorable circumstances. What alarms me is how the proposed practical response to it is always either status punishment of, by and large, downtrodden and psychologically unwell women, or even more aggressive measures. Perhaps liberals are to blame for this. No, seriously, I mean the fact that in the West liberal movements have been neglecting the issue except for ivory-tower talk, and gave the hard Right a monopoly on proposing solutions.)
But somehow I can guess that you do trust the negative results shown... right?
I found this an interesting overview of examples of unintended consequences. A Really, Really, Really Long Post About Gay Marriage That Does Not, In The End, Support One Side Or The Other []
Well, it's not like we have no evidence either way. We have weak evidence for a positive effect. It may also happen that people in dangerous and impoverished situations pursue early and fecund reproductive strategies: if you can't count on each child surviving and prospering, then you have more kids (and start earlier) to increase the chance of some child surviving and prospering. In this case, lowering the risks to children and mothers would result in fewer children. I find it exceedingly unlikely that increasing "stigma and fear" will reduce such behavior. For instance, out-of-wedlock births, teen pregnancy, divorce, etc. are all higher in more socially conservative societies — including when we compare the U.S. vs. Western Europe, or "red states" vs. "blue states" within the U.S. ...

Clearly it's a very complex topic, but generally speaking, I do believe that Haidt's recent work is more or less on the right track in this regard.

That said, much of his insight is not very original, and can be found in the work of other, often much older thinkers, some of whom Haidt cites. Haidt's significance is mainly that he's trying to pull off a "Nixon in China," i.e. to leverage his own liberal beliefs and credentials to formulate these insights in a way that's palatable to liberals, who would be instantly repulsed and incensed by the oth... (read more)

Given that my view of virtue ethics was considerably influenced by Haidt, I'd be curious to hear how his opinion of it is wrong.
Thank you.

It's hard to tell, but if they have been influenced by that post, then considering the lack of adequate reception of the post in the first place, this probably didn't improve their understanding of my comments, and has perhaps even worsened it.

Also, I don't claim to be anywhere near the ideal of optimizing for feedback in practice. After all, "When vanity is not prompting us, we have little to say." But I would certainly change my posting patterns if I were convinced that it would improve feedback.

I also don't think that low returns from top-l... (read more)

Most of the points relevant to your comment are covered in this reply to Tyrrell McAllister, so to avoid redundancy, please follow up on that comment if you think it's not an adequate answer.

How do you reduce autonomy to sacredness? I think of sacredness as something that inheres in some single object of veneration towards which a group of people can genuflect, such as a family shrine, a flag, a saint, or (for the left) "the environment". I would also extend the notion of a "single object" to slightly more abstract things, such as a single holy text (which might exist in multiple copies) or a single ritual way of eating (which might be enacted on multiple occasions).

One way in which sacredness commonly manifests itself i... (read more)

I'm having trouble distinguishing your notion of "sacred" from the very broad notion of "deserves respect". Is there something more to your meaning of "sacred" besides "deserves respect"? I agree that liberals believe that lots of things deserve respect. I agree that, typically, every individual's sexual autonomy is among these things. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of liberals added sexual autonomy to their list of things-that-deserve-respect because of some sort of Schelling-point-type phenomenon. Are you saying something beyond this? There's no denying that liberals use the language of respect a lot. Furthermore, I doubt that many liberals would want to deny it. So, in that sense, you could say that liberals appeal to sacredness a lot. But I thought that Haidt was using "sacred" in a different sense. How is your disagreement with him here more than semantics?
How much would someone have to pay you for you to be willing to slap your father in the face (with his permission) as part of a comedy skit? $ ___ People tend to give high numbers for this question (or aren't willing to accept any amount), much moreso than if they are asked about their willingness to slap a friend. It is a violation that crosses some important boundary which one might label "sacred". But in moral foundations theory, it is not a violation of the purity/sanctity foundation. It's a violation of the authority foundation. Conclusion: "sacredness" (in this sense of a special-feeling boundary which people feel a strong aversion to crossing) is not limited to the purity foundation. It can apply to other foundations as well. There are many more examples of taboo actions, for all five foundations, here []. This collection is from a paper by Graham & Haidt (2011), Sacred values and evil adversaries: A Moral Foundations approach []; many of the examples were developed in Haidt's earlier research. Graham and Haidt say that the examples from all five foundations are violations of sacred values (even the ones that do not involve purity/degradation). They define "sacredness" separately from the purity foundation: It's worth checking out the table at the end of the Graham & Haidt paper where they put together the pieces for a moral narrative based on each of the five foundations, including what people, things, and ideas that have become "sacred objects" and what evil they need to be protected from. For the Harm foundation, sacred values are "nurturance, care, peace", sacred objects are "innocent victims, nonviolent leaders (Gandhi, M. L. King)", evil is represented by "cruel and violent people", and examples of idealistic violence are "killing of abortion doctors, Weather Underground bombings". (Killing abortio

I haven't read The Happiness Hypothesis, but I've just read these pages on Amazon's preview. It seems to me that this was indeed an earlier phase of Haidt's thought, when he advocated a much more simplistic theory of the moral foundations and was still a partisan liberal. (I'm not just throwing around an ideological label here -- these days Haidt indeed describes himself as a "partisan liberal" in past tense.)

In these cited pages, Haidt gives some clearly biased and unrealistic statements. For example, we are told that "On issue after issue... (read more)

As an aside: To what degree do you agree with Haidt's analysis of religion and tradition in relation to human psychology in that interview? I would very much like to know. Feel free to PM me a one-sentence answer instead of posting, if you wish.

Just in case I don't remember correctly, I've just checked The Righteous Mind's index for "abortion." It lists three pages, each of which mentions abortion only in passing as an example of a public moral controversy, without getting into any analysis whatsoever of the issue. To the best of my recollection, there is no such analysis elsewhere in the book either, nor in anything else I've read by Haidt.

As for the blog you link to, I strongly suspect that the author is in fact extrapolating from his (her?) view of what Haidt believes, not relaying an actual argument by Haidt. I might be wrong, but a few minutes of googling didn't turn up any relevant statements by Haidt.

Using Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" feature, I found some discussion of abortion (along with birth control) on page 209 of Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis. I wonder if that book is working with an earlier version of his theory, because he talks very explicitly about the importance of autonomy to liberals on those pages.

I'm not complaining about a lack of upvotes and links, but about the lack of responses that leave me with more insight than I started with, and also a general lack of understanding of the nature and relevance of the problems I'm trying to discuss. I'd rather have a comment buried deep in some obscure subthread with zero upvotes, which however occasions a single insightful response, than a top-level post upvoted to +200 and admiringly linked from all over the internet, which however leaves me with no significant advance in insight (and possibly only reinfor... (read more)

Even within the pure feedback-egoist framework (really?) do you think people haven't had that post in mind in later discussions with you?

I haven't read Haidt, so I don't know how he accounts for "concern for autonomy" under his system. Does he reduce it to fairness and harm somehow? Or does it arise incidentally out of diminished concern for authority?

I've read Haidt's book, and I'd say he skirts around the topic of autonomy (sexual and otherwise) in liberal thinking, never giving it a satisfactory treatment, and avoiding issues where it would unavoidably come to the fore. For example, as a notable and glaring omission, the book doesn't address the controversies over abortion a... (read more)

I would taboo the word "autonomy" in this context, or at least give a clear definition, because there are at least 2 different things that it could refer to. In Haidt's six foundations theory, the closest thing to "autonomy" as it is being used in this discussion is probably the liberty/oppression foundation (the 6th foundation to be added): The liberty/oppression foundation is somewhat underdeveloped in Haidt's book, and discussed separately from the other foundations in a way that's organized a bit strangely, probably because the book was already in progress when he decided to count liberty/oppression as a sixth foundation. Haidt does not seem to have any published papers yet on the liberty/oppression foundation, but he does have one [] under review which focuses on libertarians. In Richard Shweder's three-area theory [], which was the original basis for Haidt's theory, "autonomy" has a different meaning. It is one of the three ethics - "autonomy" is the blanket label given to the individualistic/liberal approach to morality which involves harm, rights, and justice. The ethic of autonomy is contrasted with the ethic of community (ingroup and hierarchy) and the ethic of divinity (purity and sacredness). In one of Haidt's earlier papers, which used Shweder's system, experimental participants were given this definition of autonomy: If you look at that definition and think "but that's all of morality, mushed together in one big category" then congratulations, you're WEIRD. In Shweder's approach, being obsessed with autonomy is precisely what is distinctive about liberals. The utilitarian, who applies cost-benefit analysis to everything and is willing to make any tradeoff, is just one member of the autonomy-obsessed family of moral perspectives. People who rigidly apply concepts of rights, liberty, or justice are pa
How do you reduce autonomy to sacredness? I think of sacredness as something that inheres in some single object of veneration towards which a group of people can genuflect, such as a family shrine, a flag, a saint, or (for the left) "the environment". I would also extend the notion of a "single object" to slightly more abstract things, such as a single holy text (which might exist in multiple copies) or a single ritual way of eating (which might be enacted on multiple occasions). In other words, sacredness should have some close connection to group cohesion. While I haven't read any of Haidt's books, I've listened to a couple of interviews with him, and he seemed to be very interested in the "groupish" qualities of the values in his system. In his interview, he even seemed to go so far as to suggest that group selection explained how some of these values evolved. Autonomy doesn't seem like it would fit into such a notion of sacredness. "Individual autonomy" is a "single thing" at only a very abstract level. Every individual has his or her own autonomy. Unlike a shrine or a holy text, there is no one autonomy that we all can worship at once. In principle, we could all gather together as a community to worship the one idea that we are each autonomous — the Platonic form of autonomy, if you will. But I don't get the sense that most people have a sufficiently concrete notion of the general idea of autonomy to be able to hold it sacred. For example, they would lack the confidence that everyone else is thinking of precisely the same idea of autonomy. Something can't serve as an object of community worship if the community members aren't sure that they're all worshiping the same thing. People might have a sufficiently concrete conception of "my autonomy" or "your autonomy" or "her autonomy". These are things that we can easily latch onto as values. But then we're talking about a bunch of different "autonomies", which lack the unity that a sacred object
This blog author [] critiques an analysis of the abortion controversy that he or she attributes to Haidt. So Haidt evidently applies his theory to abortion somewhere.

I tried that a while ago, but the results were disappointing enough that in the meantime I've grown somewhat embarrassed by that post. (Disappointing both in terms of the lack of interesting feedback and the ruckus occasioned by some concrete examples that touched on controversial topics, which I avoided with less scrupulousness back then.) For whatever reason, insofar as I get interesting feedback here, it looks like I get more of it per unit of effort when I stick to run-of-the-mill commenting than if I were to invest effort in quality top-level posts. (I don't think this is a general rule for all posters here, though.)

What about comments that are basically article length posted in the open thread? I've found them a useful place to write drafts and have had some interesting commentary on them. Also I would say you are heavily underestimating just how useful it is to other LWers to have a well thought out article on a certain subject available for future reference, even if the comment section isn't that great.

The post has 63 upvotes and has been repeatedly linked to. Talking about controversial hypotheses in the hypothetical and presenting them by citation/quotation seem like manageable ways to reduce some of those downsides.

You're right, these topics do make me sound like a broken record, and I also didn't take into account the broader context. It's just that I'm really irritated with papers like these.

Why not make a top-level post or two that you can just link back to occasionally? This would also help to avoid derailing new comment threads, as discussion could take place at said posts.

(retracted, see below)

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
Incentives explain a lot. Add to that incomplete information and intellectual and emotional biases. There are reasons that large organizations are often such hell holes. Another help is evolutionary theory. If an organization actually solves a problem, it will cease to exist. But if it makes the problem worse, it will be eternal and grow without bounds.

To me this reads like changing the subject to your favorite topics. But, in fact, you don't want to have a public discussion about them, so this winds up seeming pretty useless.

Perhaps I'm wrong, do you have some line of investigation into institutional incentives or ideology that would, e.g. greatly help Stuart in his effort to parse expert opinion on AI timelines? Or is his problem an exception?

That would indeed be a fully general counterargument, but it's not the sort of argument that I'm making. My theory is not that liberals elevate harm and fairness so much that they should be called "sacred" for them. Rather, my theory is that they have their own peculiar moral intuitions of sacredness -- which is evidenced by the fact that if these intuitions are challenged by arguments based on harm or fairness analogous to those they accept in other cases, they react with emotions and rationalizations in a manner typical of people brought into dissonance by an attempt to elicit conflicting moral intuitions.

Of course, my view may be wrong, but I don't think it can be dismissed as a fully general counterargument.

Right. And, to be clear, I did not mean to accuse you of that. I did not mean that you were using the fully general counterargument to say that liberals don't care about harm and fairness. I was only considering the possibility that you were using the fully general counterargument to say that concern for sexual autonomy is really about sacredness. You seemed to be alluding to different arguments regarding harm and fairness, which you hesitate to give in full detail. I haven't read Haidt, so I don't know how he accounts for "concern for autonomy" under his system. Does he reduce it to fairness and harm somehow? Or does it arise incidentally out of diminished concern for authority?

OK, if you want to delve into a concrete example with all the inflammatory details, PM me your email address. (I find the PM interface on this site very annoying.) If the discussion produces any interesting results, maybe we can publish it later suitably edited.

I'll also post a further reply later today, addressing some of your points that I think can be answered satisfactorily without going into too much controversy.

Sorry, I composed the above comment in a rush, and forgot to address the other questions you asked because I focused on the main objection.

Regarding other forums, the problem is that they offer only predictable feedback based on the ideological positions of the owners and participants. Depending on where I go, I can get either outrage and bewilderment or admiring applause, and while this can be fun and vanity-pleasing, it offers no useful feedback. So while I do engage in ideological rants and scuffles for fun from time to time on other forums, I've never ... (read more)

Considering the source of the arguments, they most likely have not been seriously evaluated by many other careful thinkers, so you must have very high confidence in your ability to distinguish between good and bad arguments from object-level considerations alone. If you can actually, on your own, synthesize a wide-ranging contrarian theory from such diverse and not pre-filtered (and hence low in average quality) sources that is also correct, I would say that you have extremely unusual epistemic skills. I agree with your assessment of this as a problem and an opportunity. But instead of trying, by oneself, to gather such good insights from otherwise biased and irrational people, it would be a better idea to do it as a community. If it seems too difficult or dangerous to try to change LW's community norms to be more receptive to your mode of investigation, you should build your own community of like-minded people. (From Konkvistador's not entirely clear description in the parallel thread, it sounds like you've already tried it via a mailing list, but you can probably try harder?)

I agree that this is a valid concern, but I don't think your evaluation of the situation is entirely fair. Namely, I almost never open any controversial and inflammatory topics on this forum. (And I definitely haven't done so in a very long time, nor do I intend to do it in the future.) I make comments on such topics only when I see that others have already opened them and I believe that what has been written is seriously flawed. (In fact, usually I don't react even then.)

Therefore, while I certainly accept that my incomplete arguments may cause the proble... (read more)

I'd say that it's their very tone - diplomatic, refined and signaling broad knowledge and wisdom - that adds to the provocative value. After all, nobody would get very stirred up over a usual internet comment like "Your soooo dumb, all atheists and fagz will go 2 hell 4 destroying teh White Man!!" I do not suggest that you deliberately decrease your writing quality, of course.
Comments like yours - where people hide behind unspecified claims of inferential difference, mindkilling, and unspoken reasoning - piss me off more than the most hateful comments I've seen on the internet. That's probably a failing, but an understandable one. Manipulating and teasing my curiosity with the intent of having me take you more seriously than you deserve is something I really don't appreciate. I dislike you.

I think the concrete objection from your comment fails to recognize the relevant concerns I outlined above.

Yes, it's quite possible that you've thought through these issues more thoroughly than I have. But one thing that makes me more skeptical than usual is that you're the only person I know who often makes claims like "I privately have better arguments but I can't share them because they would be too inflammatory". If your arguments and conclusions are actually correct, why haven't other people discovered them independently and either made t... (read more)

I don't have any significant disagreement here, except that I'm not sure if you believe that people's ideological views tend to be actually motivated by this kind of self-interest. I certainly don't think this is the case -- to me it seems like a very implausible model of how people think about ideological issues even just from common-sense observation, and it's also disproved by the systematic evidence against the self-interested voter hypothesis.

I think my problem with your responses on this thread so far has been that you've taken various liberal positions, said "Obviously this a sacredness value, liberals say it's about harm but they are lying", and not justified this.

"Lying" is not the right word, since it suggests conscious deception. The term I have used consistently is rationalization.

In order to demonstrate that liberal sexual values are sacredness rather than harm based, you'd need to point out some specific practice that was harmless but which liberals still vio

... (read more)

You're right, I shouldn't have used the word "lying". That mistake bothers me when other people do it, and I'm sorry for doing it myself.

But other than that...I'm afraid the whole point of my last post was to ask for examples, that we have different standards of what constitutes an example, and that I'm still not happy. For me, "Liberals have strong norms around equality" is not an example; I'm thinking something more along the lines of "You know how liberals are pro-choice? That's irrational for reasons X and Y and Z."


... (read more)

Laissez-faire in sex leads to all kinds of expensive negative-sum signaling and other games. Why not crack down on those, which would lead to a clear improvement by any utilitarian metric?

Are there liberals who try to crack down on commercial advertising wars? As far as I know, some liberals may grumble about the social waste of Coca-Cola and Pepsi spending millions to expand their relative share in a zero-sum competition, but they don't actually try to suppress it.

If it's OK for the government to ban smoking and other activities harmful for public he

... (read more)

So, while I can readily point out concrete examples of the sort you're asking, unfortunately in many of them, crossing the inferential distances would be an uphill battle, or there would be immediate unpleasantness that I'd rather avoid. Therefore I'll limit myself to a few more vague and general points:

I've often seen you say this kind of thing in your comments. Do you participate in another forum where you do describe the details? Or alternatively, are you preparing us to eventually be ready to hear the details by giving these vague and general points... (read more)

Not completely sure they're actually negative sum. They might look like that from a purely materialistic perspective ("lotteries are bad because the expectation value of how much money you'll have if you play is less than if you don't play" -- it is, but that also applies to going to the cinema), but if you factor in Fun Theory aspects... I can't think of a way to achieve that (without large costs/risks/drawbacks).
"Traditional sexual norms" (and the power relations they entail) did not arise through a process that optimized for harm reduction; they arose through a process of cultural evolution. At various points in time, patriarchal societies — by treating women as baby factories and men as killing machines — could outbreed and conquer less-patriarchal ones. That's when and why those "traditional sexual norms" arose. It would be remarkable if this process had arrived at even a local minimum for harm, for the same reasons that it would be remarkable if biological evolution had arrived at a maximum for intelligence, happiness, or any other trait that we individually find desirable. (Heck, "traditional sexual norms" are optimized for sending excess boys to go kill other tribes' men and rape their virgin daughters. We call it "warfare" and it even today involves quite a lot of rape.) So proposing "traditional sexual norms" as a harm reduction appears to be some combination of naturalistic fallacy and privileging the hypothesis; we have no reason to bring this particular set of norms to mind when we think of strategies for harm reduction, since it was selected for other goals. But we can also ask, "For what reasons would it come to certain people's minds to politically advocate 'traditional sexual norms' if they don't actually want the things that 'traditional sexual norms' are optimized for, namely lots of conquest and rape?" Since we know about self-serving bias and privilege denial, we may suspect that at least some such advocates do it because it would serve their personal interests at the expense of others. That said, this runs the risk of fundamental attribution error. It is more likely the case that certain people find themselves in situations where they feel personally challenged by sexual laissez-faire, and respond by claiming the morality of traditional sexual norms, than that they do so because they are fundamentally misogynistic people.
I don't know about automatic (and I am not presenting my own position) but it is certainly legitimate for a person to be hostile to being coerced into a worse situation because someone else believes (even correctly) that other people will benefit from said coercion. Similarly, it is hardly unreasonable for the one person who is being tortured for fifty years to be hostile to his own torture, even if that torture is a net benefit to the population. If you want to do harm to people (whether paternalistic control or counterfactual torture) you should expect them to fight back if they can. Martyrdom is occasionally noble but it is never obligatory.

Fallacy of gray? Arguably no one has completely removed all minor unconscious belief in purity/sanctity/authority based values, but I think endorsing harm/fairness values at least correlates with holding fewer values based on P/S/A, even secretly.

There are two distinct questions here:

  1. Are the standard liberal ideological positions (in the American sense of the word) really as low on the sacredness/authority/in-group values as Haidt would claim?

  2. Are there, generally speaking, significant numbers of people (perhaps weighted by their influence) whose id

... (read more)
If you can reduce autonomy to sacredness in this general sense, I wonder if you're employing a fully general counterargument []. If someone says, "My values aren't based on sacredness; they're based on X!", you could always reply, "Well, if X is the basis of your values, then you've elevated X to such a high level of importance that it's basically sacred to you. So, you see, your values turn out to be based on sacredness after all."

I think my problem with your responses on this thread so far has been that you've taken various liberal positions, said "Obviously this a sacredness value, liberals say it's about harm but they are lying", and not justified this. Or else "Some people say they are utilitarians, but obviously they are lying and have sacredness and purity and authority values just like everyone else" and not justified that either.

For example, where exactly is this liberal sacredness around sexual autonomy? The place I see liberals really get worked up abou... (read more)

Looking back at my comment, I did perhaps use a very broad brush at certain points, which is unfortunately hard to avoid if one wishes to keep one's comments at reasonable length. However, I'd still be curious to hear where exactly you think my description diverges from reality.

I think part of the difference between my experience and your statement, is that the liberals I know tend towards the libertarian end of the spectrum. At least on the drug issue, this might be a function of age.

The liberal argument against libertarianism is not that it is irrational to have a preference for liberty, but that (a) liberty is a more complicated concept than libertarians say it is (see Amartya Sen, for instance), (b) that libertarians often equivocated between the moral and practical arguments for libertarianism (see Yvain's non-libertarian ... (read more)

Well, yes, but that's basically a rationalization for the glaring inconsistency, which in fact exists as a sheer historical accident. Americans would be bothered by explicitly random traffic stops. But in reality, cops have the de facto authority to pull over whomever they want, and you have no right to defy them even if they decide to do it purely on a whim.

Note that it's irrelevant for my point that you can get tickets and charges suppressed later if you somehow manage to convince the judge that you were pulled over without reasonable suspicion. I'm focusing purely on the interaction between you and the cop on the spot.

The thing is, what determines when autonomy is absolute and inviolable, and when it should be weighed against other concerns?

When it comes to interventions in human affairs by the state and other institutions, modern liberals pride themselves on their supposed adherence to (what they see as) rational and scientific cost-benefit analysis and common-sense notions of equality and fairness. They typically assert that their opponents are being irrational, or acting out of selfish interest, when they insist that some other principle takes precedence, like for ... (read more)

I believe you misframe the liberal position. Liberalism can be meaningfully defined as the erosion of the presumption of a privileged ontology. Rational debate is possible, to the extent that it serves to undermine privileged ontologies.* When somebody raises a proposal, the argument that might follow typically involves participants inferring and teasing out the relevant premises, and then arguing them. In contrast, Liberalism tries to identify the ontologies underpinning the premises, and then encourages you to recognize that ontology as arbitrary, have the self-awareness to treat that ontology as a rationalization for your motivations, and decide whether you're willing to be a bully and acknowledge yourself as such. (I suppose OCPD creates its own motivations, allowing elegant and/or simpler models to dominate for some people.) In the end, the policies adopted by liberals can't be argued for. They just can't be argued against effectively, except in a creative gut context informed by predictive models and evidence. *(or creatively flesh out and validate/invalidate predictive models) I would end the comment here, but I can't resist quibbling on one point. I believe you are confusing liberalism's erasure of the old regime with a rejection of regulation. Sex is more policed now than ever, in a state enforcement context, a social coregulation context, and a support system context – all this with dramatic consequences. "Sacredness" is a word we use to create moral models around feelings. If liberals choose to "make way" for those feelings, does that mean they've bought into a sacralizing mentality? No.
'Using the purity foundation' =/= 'Unable to think about it rationally and genuinely consider both benefits and costs.' The purity foundation involves specific patterns of thought & feeling including the emotion of disgust and modeling the world in terms of purity and contamination, or elevation and degradation. People can be absolutist and unwilling to consider tradeoffs for moral views that come from any of the foundations (including harm/care, e.g. not wanting to torture a child no matter how big the benefit). This is a wild exaggeration. There are large domains of life where liberals favor a large amount of freedom. See the 1st amendment, for instance. The standard distinction puts liberals higher on social liberty but lower on economic liberty; Haidt has used the term "lifestyle liberty" to describe the kind of liberty that liberals support. Liberals are relatively consistently opposed to legal restrictions on self-expression, for example, and they generally have social norms encouraging it (with some exceptions where it runs afoul of other norms). I don't see a very plausible story of how the purity pattern of thinking would form the basis for norms of sexual permissiveness (maybe you could fill in some of the details?). The simplest explanation that I see is that sexual restrictions became tagged, in liberals' minds (and in liberal culture) as traditionalist/oppressive/sexist/bad. (Because a lot of sexual restrictions did fit that pattern.) So, by pattern matching, now any proposed sexual restriction sounds bad, like something they support and we oppose. There are various particular psychological and cultural mechanisms that contributed to making this stick. For instance, it probably helped that sex can fit within the social/lifestyle/self-expressive category where liberals tend to be more laissez-faire. And it helps that they (the people who want to restrict human sexuality based on their retrograde puritanism) continue to exist (rather prominently, in ma
Do we actually see this hand-wringing from liberals, though? I'm not really sure what you're talking about, unless it's gay marriage, in which case most liberals don't seem to be hand-wringing so much as pushing forward along the same path as ever: towards more sexual freedom. There's hand-wringing from conservatives, but I don't see how this is relevant to your point.

the sexual norms based on sacralized individual autonomy end up working very badly in practice, so that we end up with the present rather bizarre situation where we see an unprecedented amount of hand-wringing about all sorts of sex-related problems, and at the same time proud insistence that we have reached unprecedented heights of freedom, enlightenment, and moral superiority in sex-related matters.

The unprecedented amount of hand-wringing might not be indicative of an increase in the number or magnitude of sex-related problems if it turns out that pr... (read more)

This is probably the most insightful comment that I've seen on LW in a long time.
I think you and I must know very different liberals.

On the contrary -- it seems to me that the modern Western societies are, by all historical standards, exceptionally obsessed with sacredness norms on sex-related issues. See my old comment I linked earlier, in which I elaborate on some particularly striking manifestations of this.

(Also, among the most amusing posts on Overcoming Bias are those where Robin Hanson elicits outrage from the respectable progressive folk by putting some sex-related issue under dispassionate scrutiny and thereby violating their sacredness intuitions.)

As for the polyamorists, I ... (read more)

Purity is an unusual foundation, since it can apply at the object level or the meta level. On the object level, people believe things like "don't eat pork because it's unclean" or "don't have premarital sex because it takes away your purity." On the meta level, moral purity can apply whenever people hold firmly to a principle or policy. Republicans demand ideological purity in opposing all tax increases, and Kant gets accused of valuing his own moral purity more than another person's life for refusing to lie to the murderer at the door. More generally, any misdeed feels "dirty", so moral purity motivates people to avoid breaking any moral rule. This does seem to involve genuine feelings of purity/sanctity/contamination/disgust - witness the the large role of sin and purification in many religions, and the Lady MacBeth effect [] in the general populace (i.e., college sophomores). Violating a moral rule is a stain on you, which you may or may not be able to cleanse away. Meta-level purity supplements a moral rule which has other bases. I don't think that moral values against taxes and lies are based primarily on purity, even if there is some purity thinking involved in treating them as sacred values and refusing to compromise or consider tradeoffs. Lady MacBeth may have become obsessed with washing her hands but that does not mean that the (felt) wrongness of murder is due to it being a purity violation. The principle that the government should not interfere in people's sex lives sounds like another case where purity is operating at the meta level, where the primary foundation is something else. In this case, it's probably foundation #6, liberty/oppression, which is activated particularly strongly for liberals because sexual restrictions have been a form of oppression against women and gay people. There are other cases where people vehemently want the government to keep its hands off (e.g. guns on the right, abortion
(Let's leave aside, for now, the less thoughtful liberals and conservatives, since what they think isn't interesting). I don't understand why you put autonomy in the category of sacredness. Haidt considers liberty an independent foundation, and I don't think it requires rationalization to consider nonconsensual sex to be a case of harm!

But I think it's probably wrong to say that all discussion of morality is rationalization. If that were true, nobody would ever be swayed by a moral argument. In fact, people do change their views -- and they frequently do so when it is pointed out that their stated views don't match their actions.

This is a non sequitur. An argument may change people's moral beliefs and intuitions by changing the underlying tacit basis for their rationalizations, whereupon they get displaced by new ones. The most frequent way this happens is when people realize that a r... (read more)

But isn't that precisely what the west has done (not completely, of course), and what the polyamorous community has done to a much greater degree?

Or to take an even more poignant example, what will happen if you refuse to be humble and obedient when you get pulled over by a cop? Historically, in many places and times, this example would have had similarly great emotional power as those employed by the author of the original post.

(In fact, I find it fascinating that present-day Americans would see it as a creepy totalitarian idea if you proposed that cops should be authorized to stop and detain pedestrians for random paper checks, even though the same thing is considered a normal and unremarkable fa... (read more)

Well... driving a car is much more dangerous (especially for others) than walking, so requiring a licence to do the former but no special requisite to do the latter doesn't seem that arbitrary to me.

The number of instances that a typical American will need to be 'humble and obedient' - such as while getting pulled over by a cop, are possibly far fewer than the number of instances a woman in a traditional society such as the one described by Haidt is required to do so.

Possibly by an order of magnitude.

Isn't randomly stopping vehicles a result of some cost-benefit analysis, e.g. if cops didn't stop drivers, more people would drive without a driver's license, while drunk, with a faulty vehicle, etc? Given that cars are fairly dangerous things (cause of many deaths), it makes sense to have stricter control than of pedestrians.
I think you are seriously underestimating how negative US sentiment toward random vehicle stops is. This is quite distinct from being stopped for a traffic violation.

Even if humans have loyalty, authority and sanctity built-in, they can still recognize their instrumental role and can only instrumentally optimize for those.

The trouble is, absent certain unusually favorable circumstances, attempts at such optimization run into insurmountable practical problems. For start, such analysis would be tremendously difficult even for a superhumanly unbiased intellect. And then there is the even worse problem that realistic humans will be under an almost irresistible temptation to bias their analysis in favor of their own particular authority, sanctity, and in-group norms.

The questions Haidt ask are about what we judge to be moral. I simply don't judge disrespect for authority (for instance) as immoral in itself.

I am not going to analyze you in particular, but what I write certainly applies to typical people who adhere to modern ideologies that claim to be concerned exclusively with harm and fairness.

These people would presumably insist that they "don't judge disrespect for authority... as immoral in itself." But what people say are rationalizations, not the real motivations for their beliefs and actions. To e... (read more)

I certainly agree with the descriptive claim that people often rationalize, and that western liberals often do have their own ideas of sacredness. But I think it's probably wrong to say that all discussion of morality is rationalization. If that were true, nobody would ever be swayed by a moral argument. In fact, people do change their views -- and they frequently do so when it is pointed out that their stated views don't match their actions. I suspect that this will come down to a question of what is sacred. For instance, the French definitely have a very strong food culture, but I suspect that they mostly would not regard violations of that as immoral. And, of course, the particulars of which sexual arrangements are considered sacred has varied widely across human cultures. If the sacred in food and sex evolved to combat parasites, then it is at this point, in Western societies, an onion in the varnish. Like many other cases where changes in technology have cause unprecedented social arrangements (agriculture allowing cities, for instance), purity norms in sex and food may weaken or disappear.

If you want to get a job providing safety equipment for workplaces, you should probably not proclaim that you believe that workplaces are too safe.

It looks like here you have inadvertently provided a good argument for the opposite of what you wanted. Namely, what you write applies even if your belief that workplaces are too safe is correct. (Workplaces can certainly be too safe by any reasonable metric, at least in principle. Imagine if office workers were forced to wear helmets and knee pads just in case they might trip over while walking between the ... (read more)

That's odd, it looks to me as if you're taking a rather loose analogy in a direction somewhere away from the topic. Getting back on topic: My point was that "conservatism" isn't a thing — it's a label, and that people's responses to that label have to do with what they take it as referring to. It's been noted elsethread that the survey has serious problems. One of them is that it doesn't ask what the surveyed psychologists think they are talking about when they say "conservative". If you ask someone, "What do you think about conservatives?" you will get different answers based not only on what that person's values are, but what they think "conservative" means. If scientists use "conservative" to mean "a person who values religious doctrine over scientific results", then you are ill-advised to represent yourself as "conservative" when trying to get a job from a scientist. Especially if you don't mean that when you say "conservative"! Note the difference between "scientists use 'conservative' to mean 'a person who values religious doctrine over science'" and "scientists think that conservatives value religious doctrine over science". The latter implies that scientists are referring to an objective class of "conservatives" whereas the former considers that scientists may not be referring to the same set of people when they say "conservative" that someone else refers to by that word. I think we have a problem of sneaking in connotations [] here.

It is, however, missing a piece: why are there people who don't share all five foundations?

You are right that Haidt is missing that piece, although judging by his recent writings, he might be slowly converging towards the answer. Namely, the answer is that, contrary to Haidt's model of contemporary ideologies, there are in fact no such people.

What does exist are people whose ideology says that harm and (maybe) fairness are the only rational and reasonable moral foundations, while the other ones are only due to ignorance, stupidity, backwardness, malic... (read more)

8Scott Alexander11y
Fallacy of gray []? Arguably no one has completely removed all minor unconscious belief in purity/sanctity/authority based values, but I think endorsing harm/fairness values at least correlates with holding fewer values based on P/S/A, even secretly. I am also not clear whether you're saying only that mainstream large liberal parties like UK Labor or US Democrats secretly have many P/S/A values, or whether you would say the same is true of people like Peter Singer or the more pragmatic/less ideological strains of libertarian. I think the gradient from the Pope to Nancy Pelosi to Peter Singer is quite clear, even if the last might still have some P/S/A values lurking somewhere. If you disagree, can you name a few purity, sanctity, or authority based values you expect intelligent liberals or libertarians on LW to endorse?
"Namely, the answer is that, contrary to Haidt's model of contemporary ideologies, there are in fact no such people." This seems to be obviously untrue. Unless "no such people" has finally become a synonym for "very few such people percentagewise" Even if you replace "morality" with "instinct" this is almost certainly untrue. Sincere utilitarians, labelled as such or not, do in fact exist. There are also people who naturally lack some or all such instincts altogether. "As for the claim that "you need loyalty, authority and sanctity to run a decent society," I would actually go further and say that they are necessary for any sort of organized human society. In fact, the claim can be stated even more strongly: since humans are social beings who can live and reproduce only within organized societies"" Humans can reproduce and live outside of organized societies (unless you define a pair as a society). Authority is a word that adds nothing to a neutral description other than a means for demonstrating deference. Perhaps some kind of policing type people are necessarry but calling it an authority isn't. Not all humans are social beings. "What does exist are people whose ideology says that harm and (maybe) fairness are the only rational and reasonable moral foundations, while the other ones are only due to ignorance, stupidity, backwardness, malice, etc. Nevertheless, these same people have their own strong norms of sacredness, purity, authority, and in-group loyalty, for which they however invent ideologically motivated rationalizations in terms of harm and fairness." Who are you talking about? (some group I assume) This doesn't sound implausbible. The vast majority of humans are hypocrites barring significant cost, or amoral enough enough in the first place to be incapable of hypocrisy (not that this is a bad way to be if you're optimising for politics.)There would have to be a hell of a selection effect for any group to not be made up of a majority of such people.
What is the difference between an ideology and morality? The questions Haidt ask are about what we judge to be moral. I simply don't judge disrespect for authority (for instance) as immoral in itself. I'm also not convinced that purity is as instrumentally necessary as you say; and judging by that article, neither is Haidt. And loyalty can, at least in many cases, be replaced with the algorithm for which it is is a heuristic: reciprocal altruism.

I would actually go further and say that they are necessary for any sort of organized human society.

While they are likely necessary for organized human society, I think the argument is that their purpose is purely instrumental. It's sort of like how in the prisoner's dilemma, the concept of 'trust' ('tit for tat with forgiveness' variants) is an instrumentally useful strategy for winning points in a group of a certain kind of agents. Even if humans have loyalty, authority and sanctity built-in, they can still recognize their instrumental role and can only instrumentally optimize for those.

Could you make the link go both ways?


Basically, the problem is that K&T-style insights about cognitive biases -- and, by extension, the whole OB/LW folklore that has arisen around them -- are useless for pretty much any question of practical importance. This is true both with regards to personal success and accomplishment (a.k.a. "instrumental rationality") and pure intellectual curiosity (a.k.a. "epistemic rationality").

From the point of view of a human being, the really important questions are worlds apart from anything touched by these neat academic categorizations... (read more)

By Django, that needed saying!
I agree for most topics, but there are applied cases of clear importance. Investment behavior provides particularly concrete and rich examples, which are a major focus for the K&T school, and "libertarian paternalists" inspired by them: index funds as preferable to overconfident trading by investors, setting defaults of employee investment plans to "save and invest" rather than "nothing," and so forth. Now, you can get these insights packaged with financial advice in books and the like, and I think that tends to be more useful than general study of biases, but the insights are nonetheless important to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.
Worse than useless, give illusion of insight. (And I feel like many comments on this post are sort of exemplary of that problem—as you put it in a different context, the equivalent of magic healing crystals are being talked about in a frighteningly serious manner.)

I really like this post. Could you make the link go both ways?
That said, I think you are overstating your case.
Also, if you figure out what local social norms are and that the stories are BS, you can accomodate the norms and ignore the stories internally. You can also optimize separate internal stories and external ones, or alternatively, drop out of the official story entirely and just be some guy who hangs around and is fun to talk to and mysteriously seems to always have enough money for his needs (the secret being largely that one's needs turn out to... (read more)

My vague impression is that it's closely related to distrust of authority. If one trusts authority, any change takes you farther away from a trusted safe state and thus carries a large hidden cost.

On the other hand, unless you have the enormously rare constellation of talent and circumstances to give you a realistic chance to rise to the very top, too little trust in authority leads to a state of frightened paralysis or downright self-destruction. What you need for success is the instinct to recognize when you should obey the powers-that-be with your he... (read more)

It seems to me that the decision theory generally favors acting as if one has rare talent and circumstances, as opposed to the alternative, more likely hypothesis, which is probably the contrarian hypothesis of being a simulation in any event. Attempts to justify common sense, treated honestly, generally end up as justifications of novel contrarian hypotheses instead.

Also, one who tries to conform to official norms rather than to ubiquitous surrounding behavioral patterns will rapidly find oneself under attack, nominally for violating official norms. ... (read more)

One of my favorite quotes from Hamming's 'You and Your Research' [] was on just this topic (C-f the sections around 'Another personality defect is ego assertion').

Looking at the world, we can see that even if not perfect, there are many cases of things which are done "outside of the market" but does works, from CERN to Appolo project, EDF/SNCF as I said in my original comment, European-style universal healthcare, ... it feels to me that being libertarian in this context is more like akin to refusing vaccines and keeping Azathoth alone.

When you mentioned economic "engineering," the first thing that occurred to me were various schools of macroeconomics and their proposed measures for economic pl... (read more)

Of course, for competition to really work out, immigration should not be regulated.

How does this follow? Unless I'm having a severe case of reading misapprehension, this is equivalent to arguing that there should be a market in housing because competition between landlords will result in good housing with reasonable rents -- and then adding, as if it were obvious, that for competition to work out, landlords should not have any rules for screening potential tenants.

I think his point was more like 'the landlords / cities must allow people to freely leave.'
I have no real ideological objection to immigration regulation but it seems that at the moment it is a big barrier to making governments really competitive among each others. If there were many charter cities within a relatively small area, I guess it wouldn't be an issue if some of them had stricter immigration rules. My personal guess is that governments with lighter immigration control would be the most successful (that was the case of the US a few decades ago) but I'd be happy to be proved wrong. As long as there is a realistic option for citizens to move from one government to the other, competition will work.

I'm not a principled libertarian who will defend the "free market" consistently (in fact, I think the very notion is rather incoherent), but the sort of "engineering" you're talking about runs into two problems:

  1. We still lack the epistemological means to obtain the expertise necessary for such engineering, except for some basic simple insights that were already known to governments of civilized countries centuries ago. Insofar as any economic engineering interventions have been successful historically, they have been based on this anc

... (read more)

I understand this point of view, but it doesn't feel to really watch the situation we are in right now.

We are more like with current medicine : we don't yet how to build a purely synthetic body that will not age, be sick, tired, ... and the best we have is the Azathoth-built biological frame, but yet we can do lots to improve that biological frame (like vaccines) or fix its flaws (glasses, painkillers, pacemaker).

Looking at the world, we can see that even if not perfect, there are many cases of things which are done "outside of the market" but do... (read more)

"Illegal contracts" is a misleading term here. These are not contracts that are illegal because they stipulate some action that is ipso facto criminal (like e.g. an illegal drug sale contract) or because they stipulate a transfer of rights that is inherently unenforceable in the existing law (like e.g. an indentured servitude contract). Rather, the issue is about perfectly normal and ordinary transactions that just happen to run afoul of the law in some relatively minor way, as in the given examples of ordering a meal in a restaurant that stays o... (read more)

If the institution looks at the terms of the contract and declines to have anything to do with the matter […] that is not a limitation on anyone's freedom to enter into such a contract. They can still write that contract. They merely do not have a claim on anyone else's assistance in enforcing it against the will of the other party.

The problem with this argument is that in the modern liberal order (and again ignoring some marginal exceptions), the state has a monopoly of violence, including violence that may be necessary to enforce a contract. Therefor... (read more)

The argument is vanishing up its own fundament. With any general philosophy or morality, one can tie it in a knot by asking how it applies to itself. What is the empirical evidence for empiricism? Does positivism satisfy its own verifiability criterion? What is the utility of utilitarianism? What is the inductive evidence for induction? Libertarianism places a high, even paramount value on freedom, and a correspondingly negative value on coercion. So, playing the circularity game, we can ask: does freedom include the freedom to give up one's freedom? Is coercion allowed if it was previously agreed to but is against one's current will? Whatever institution is set up to provide resistance to coercion for those unable to resist it themselves, should it not merely ignore, but join in with such coercion? Either way, it will be applying coercion against one party or the other. I don't see a slippery slope when the state decides to cut off the entire tangle without going even one turn around the loop, and decides that such contracts are void. This is true of all principles. None of them are workable in any general and absolute formulation.
Germany reportedly enforces illegal contracts [].

Conformity too. This is a factor often overlooked in discussions of this sort.

(There are in fact two ways in which education signals conformity. The first one is the fact that you have conformed to the social norm that you are supposed to signal your intelligence and conscientiousness with this particular costly and wasteful endeavor, not in some alternative way that would signal these traits just as well. The second one is that you have successfully functioned for several years in an institution that enforces an especially high level of conformity with c... (read more)

(Conformity can feel like consistency [] from the inside [].)

I wouldn't call the present U.S. system "absurdly lenient." The system is bungling, inefficient, and operating under numerous absurd rules and perverse incentives imposed by ideology and politics. At the same time, it tries to compensate for this, wherever possible, by ever harsher and more pitiless severity. It also increasingly operates with the mentality and tactics of an armed force subduing a hostile population, severed from all normal human social relations.

The end result is a dysfunctional system, unable to reduce crime to a reasonable le... (read more)

It seems to me very different to say that it is difficult to assess whether something is a provocation than to say that there are some definitions of provocation under which it is and some under which it isn't.

If we could read minds (including those in the past), it would probably be possible to come to agreement about which concrete acts have been provocations in all cases, by looking for the mens rea: was the given act specifically motivated by the desire to induce a hostile reaction?

But since we can't read minds, the practical criteria for what coun... (read more)

Assuming your summary is correct, it would be an insult for the cargo cults to use them as a metaphor for this sort of "science."

Another important reason is that Americans have in the meantime embraced a lifestyle that would have struck earlier generations as incredibly paranoid siege mentality. (But which is completely understandable given the realities of the crime wave in the second half of the 20th century.)

Yet another reason is, of course, the draconian toughening of law enforcement and criminal penalties.

Which would, nevertheless, be considered absurdly lenient by the standards of any pre-20th century society.
To clarify I was commenting on murder rates specifically in light of how trauma medicine has reduced the fraction of violent assaults that cause death. The factors you describe seem more along the lines of avoiding violent assault in the first place. Controlling for improvements in trauma medicine, today's murder rate would be three times that of the 1960s, but the numbers would be better than the controlled for medicine 1990s numbers, which where five times 1960s levels. In other words yes in the past 20 years Americans seem to be getting assaulted less and I think all of what you describe played a role. There is also the unfortunate problem of police sometimes having nasty incentives to misclassify crimes so some of the drop might be fictional.

Even in that scenario, Japanese victory is conditional on the political decision of the U.S. government to accept the peace. My comments considered only the strategic situation under the assumption that all sides were willing to fight on with determination. And I don't think this assumption is so unrealistic: the American people were extremely unwilling to enter the war, but once they did, they would have been even less willing to accept a humiliating peace. Especially since the Pacific great naval offensive could be (and historically was) fought with very... (read more)

Are you familiar with the signaling theory of education? I think that, properly considered, it makes sense of a lot of the things you find so aggravating.

Sort of (if ability is hard to directly observe, but higher-ability people find it easier to obtain credentials, then there could be an equilibrium where one needs a credential in order to be taken seriously, even if the process of obtaining the credential doesn't actually do anything), but not in any substantive detail. But really (notwithstanding a book I had daydreamed of writing), it's probably better that I don't look into it. As I keep telling myself (and keep neglecting to take my own advice), it's much healthier to just focus on doing good intellectual work, rather than waste any more precious time and emotional energy continuing to feel pointlessly bitter and resentful that "society" (whatever that means) doesn't care about the sorts of things I consider good work. (Speaking of healthy working habits, I'm going to try taking out a $20 StickK [] contract and putting "\n127.0.0.1\n127.0.0.1" in my /etc/hosts for 14 days to see if I can remember what it feels like to not be constantly distracted; wish me luck.)

Steve himself seems to be pretty tonedeaf- I suspect a lot more people would listen to him if he didn't post stuff on such overtly racist locations.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was writing for respectable mainstream conservative papers. The trouble is, once you've written too openly about certain topics, you will be ostracised from the respectable media, and these limits of acceptability are getting ever stricter and narrower. And once you've been placed under such ostracism, unless you're willing to restrict yourself to writing for free on your personal blog, you can only write for various disreputable outlets where you'll have to share the URL or column space with less seemly people.

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