Offense versus harm minimization

post by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T01:06:23.475Z · score: 62 (102 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 429 comments

Contents

  FOOTNOTES
None
429 comments

Imagine that one night, an alien prankster secretly implants electrodes into the brains of an entire country - let's say Britain. The next day, everyone in Britain discovers that pictures of salmon suddenly give them jolts of painful psychic distress. Every time they see a picture of a salmon, or they hear about someone photographing a salmon, or they even contemplate taking such a picture themselves, they get a feeling of wrongness that ruins their entire day.

I think most decent people would be willing to go to some trouble to avoid taking pictures of salmon if British people politely asked this favor of them. If someone deliberately took lots of salmon photos and waved them in the Brits' faces, I think it would be fair to say ey isn't a nice person. And if the British government banned salmon photography, and refused to allow salmon pictures into the country, well, maybe not everyone would agree but I think most people would at least be able to understand and sympathize with the reasons for such a law.

So why don't most people extend the same sympathy they would give Brits who don't like pictures of salmon, to Muslims who don't like pictures of Mohammed?


SHOULD EVERYBODY DRAW MOHAMMED?

I first1 started thinking along these lines when I heard about Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, and revisited the issue recently after discovering http://www.reddit.com/r/mohammadpics/.

I have to admit, I find these funny. I want to like them. But my attempts to think of reasons why this is totally different from showing pictures of salmon to British people fail:

• You could argue Brits did not choose to have their abnormal sensitivity to salmon while Muslims might be considered to be choosing their sensitivity to Mohammed. But this requires a libertarian free will. Further, I see little difference between how a Muslim "chooses" to get upset at disrespect to Mohammed, and how a Westerner might "choose" to get upset if you called eir mother a whore. Even though the anger isn't being caused by alien technology, it doesn't feel like a "choice" and it's more than just a passing whim. And if tomorrow I tried to "choose" to become angry every time someone showed me a picture of a salmon, I couldn't do it - I could pretend to be angry, but I couldn't make myself feel genuine rage.

• Muslims' sensitivity to Mohammed is based on a falsehood; Islam is a false religion and Mohammed is too dead to care how anyone depicts him. I agree with this statement, but I don't think it licenses me to cause psychic pain to Muslims. I couldn't go around to mosques and punch Muslims in the face, shouting "Your religion is false, so you deserve it!".

• It is necessary to draw pictures of Mohammed to show Muslims that violence and terrorism are inappropriate responses. I think the logic here is that a few people drew pictures of Mohammed, some radicals sent out death threats and burned embassies, and now we need to draw more pictures of Mohammed to convince Muslims not to do this. But it sounds pretty stupid when you put it in exactly those words. Say a random Christian kicked a Muslim in the face, and a few other Muslims got really angry, blew the whole thing out of proportion, and killed him and his entire family. This would be an inappropriately strong response, and certainly you could be upset about it, but the proper response wouldn't be to go kicking random Muslims in the face. They didn't do it, and they probably don't even approve. But drawing pictures of Mohammed offends many Muslims, not just the ones who send death threats.

• The slippery slope argument: if we allow Muslims' concerns to prevent us from drawing pictures of Mohammed, sooner or later we'll have to accept every two-bit group with a ridiculous superstition and we'll never be able to get anything done. I take this more seriously than the previous three arguments, but I've previously argued that granting large established religions special rights is relatively immune to slippery-slope. And anyway, drawing pictures of Mohammed is such an unusual thing to do that we can stop doing it without giving up our right to keep doing something else that's actually useful if the situation comes up later.

None of these excuses really does it for me. So my provisional conclusion is that yes, people who draw pictures of Mohammed where Muslims can see them are bad people in the same way that people who go around showing photos of salmon to Brits are bad people.

So the big question is: why is this so controversial in the Mohammed example, when it seems so obvious in the salmon example?

A BLAME-BASED CONCEPT OF OFFENSE

I think several features of the salmon example trigger consequentialist moral reasoning, in which the goal is to figure out how to satisfy as many people's preferences as possible; several contrasting features of the Mohammed case trigger deontological moral reasoning, in which the goal is to figure out who is a good person or a bad person and to assign status and blame appropriately. These two forms of reasoning give different results in the two different cases.

The word that comes up a lot in discussions of this sort of issue is "offensive". When someone draws Mohammed, it is considered offensive to Muslims. When someone writes a story where all the sympathetic and interesting characters are male, it is considered offensive to women.

For me, the word "offensive" brings up connotations of "It was morally wrong to say this, and you are either inexcusably ignorant of this fact or deliberately malicious. You must immediately apologize, and it is up to the group you have offended to decide whether they accept your apology or whether they want to punish you in some well-deserved way."

This means that ever admitting you were offensive is a huge status hit implying you are some combination of callous, ignorant, and racist. Sometimes people may be willing to take this status hit, especially if upon reflection they believe they really were in the wrong, but since most people's actions seem reasonable to themselves they will not be willing to accept a narrative where they're the villain.

More likely, they will try to advance an alternative interpretation, in which their actions were not legitimately offensive or in which they have the "right" to take such actions. Such an interpretation may cast the offended party as a villain, trying to gain power and control by pretending to be offended, or unduly restricting the free speech of others.

The controversy over drawing Mohammed has several factors that predispose to this sort of interpretation. There is already a history of misunderstanding and some enmity between Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims' status as a minority makes ideas of "political correctness" readily primed and available, making people likely to miss the trees for the forest. Muslims are often of a different race than Christians, so conflicts with them risk tarring a person with the deeply insulting label of "racist". And because there are reports of Muslims rioting and hurting other people because of Mohammed drawings, they are easy to villainize.

This risks embroiling everyone in an unproductive argument about whether an action was "legitimately offensive" or not, with much status riding on the result.

A CONSEQUENTIALIST CONCEPT OF HARM MINIMIZATION

The British salmon example, on the other hand, was designed to avoid the idea of "offense" and trigger consequentialist notions of harm minimization2.

The example specifically refers to the displeasure that salmon cause the British as "psychic pain", priming ideas about whether it is acceptable to cause pain to another person. The British are described as politely asking us to avoid salmon photography as a favor to them, putting themselves in a low status position rather than demanding we respect their status. British are white and first world, so it's hard to think of this as a political correctness issue and wade into that particular quagmire. And because the whole salmon problem is the result of an alien prankster, there's no easily available narrative in which the British are at fault.

A consequentialist reasoner would consider how much disutility it causes not to be able to use pictures of salmon where the British might see them, then consider how much disutility it causes the British to see pictures of salmon, and if the latter outweighed the former, they'd stop with the salmon pictures. There's an argument to be made about slippery slope, but in this case the slope doesn't seem too slippery and other cases can be evaluated on their merits.

And a consequentialist British person, when considering how to convince a foreigner to stop using pictures of salmon, would try to phrase eir request in a way that minimizes the chances that the foreigner gets upset and confrontational, and maximizes the chances that they actually stop with the salmon.

If the foreigner refused to stop with the salmon pictures, the British person would try to shame and discredit the foreigner into doing so only if ey thought it would work better than any less confrontational method, and only if the chance of it successfully stopping the offending behavior was great enough that it outweighted the amount of bad feelings and confrontation it would cause.

This is a healthier and potentially more successful method of resolving offensive actions.

OFFENSE AND TYPICAL MIND FALLACY

I post on a forum where a bunch of regulars recently denounced the culture of verbal abuse. The abusers, for their part, said that the victims were making mountains out of molehills: exaggerating some good-natured teasing in order to look holier-than-thou.

I was friends with some of victims and with some abusers; neither side were majority bad people, and it surprised me that people would view requests to stop verbal abuse as a Machiavellian ploy.

Not to say that asking for verbal abuse to stop can't be a Machiavellian ploy. In fact, as far as Machiavellian ploys go, it's a pretty good one - take something your political enemies do, pretend to be deeply offended by it, and then act upset until your enemies are forced to stop, inconveniencing them and gaining you sympathy. A conspiracy such is this is not impossible, but why is it so often the first possibility people jump to?

I think it has to do with something I heard one of the abusers say: "I would never get upset over something little like that."

I know him and he is telling the truth. When someone is verbally confrontational with him, he takes it in stride or laughs it off, because that's the kind of guy he is.

I am of Jewish background. I've had someone use an anti-Semitic slur on me exactly once. My reaction was the same mix of confusion and amusement I'd feel if someone tried a vintage Shakespearean insult. And yet I also know of Jews who have been devastated by anti-Semitic slurs, to the point where they've stopped going to school because someone in school taunted them. These people may differ from me in terms of Jewish identity, extraversion, demographics, social status, anxiety, neurogenetics, and some hard-to-define factor we might as well just call "thin skin".

The point is, if I use my own reactions to model theirs, I will fail, miserably. I will try to connect their reaction to the most plausible situation in which my mind would generate the same reaction in the same situation - in which I am not really upset but am pretending to be so for Machiavellian motives.

In the case of anti-Semitism, it's easy to see factors - like a history of suffering from past prejudice - that make other people's responses differ from mine. It's less obvious why someone else might differ in their response to being called ugly, or stupid, or just being told to fuck off - but if these differences really exist, they might explain why people just can't agree about offensive actions.

A thick-skinned person just can't model a person with thinner skin all that well. And so when the latter gets upset over some insult, the thick-skinned person calls them "unreasonable", or assumes that they're making it up in order to gain sympathy. My friends in the online forum couldn't believe anyone could really be so sensitive as to find their comments abusive, and so they ended up doing some serious mental damage.

SUMMARY

Consequentialism suggests a specific course of action for both victims of offense and people performing potentially offensive actions. The victim should judge whether ey believes the offense causes more pain to em than it does benefit to the offender; if so, ey should nonjudgmentally request the offender stop while applying the Principle of Charity to the offender, and if ey wants the maximum chance of the offense stopping, ey should resist the urge to demand an apology or do anything else that could potentially turn it into a status game.

The offender, for eir part, should stop offending as soon as ey realizes that the amount of pain eir actions cause is greater than the amount of annoyance it would take to avoid the offending action, even if ey can't understand why it would cause any pain at all. If ey wishes, ey may choose to apologize even though no apology was demanded.

If the offender refuses, the victim should only then consider "punishment" by trying to shame the offender and make em appear low status, and only if ey thinks this has a real chance of stopping the offending behavior either in this case or in the future. Like all attempts to deliberately harm another person, this course of action requires of the victim exceptional certainty that ey is in the right.

Although people pretending to be offended for personal gain is a real problem, it is less common in reality than it is in people's imaginations. If a person appears to suffer from an action of yours which you find completely innocuous, you should consider the possibility that eir mind is different from yours before rejecting eir suffering as feigned.

 

FOOTNOTES

1) Thanks to Kaj Sotala, Vladimir Nesov, and kovacsa-whose-LW-name-I-don't-know for originally encouraging me to turn the original essay into an LW post.

2) The deontological notion of offense doesn't really supervene on an idea of pain to other people. If two white people, talking where no black people could possibly overhear them, make a racist joke about black people, that is still "offensive", because racism is wrong no matter what. A consequentialist notion of offense could better ground such examples by theorizing that whites telling racist jokes to other whites creates a climate in which racism is considered acceptable, which eventually will end up hurting someone directly. Or it could decide not to, if it decided the link was too tenuous and hokey - but now any disagreement on the matter is honest disagreement about empirical facts and not philosophical disagreement about who's a bad person.

429 comments

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comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T01:50:28.223Z · score: 124 (112 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain:

The offender, for eir part, should stop offending as soon as ey realizes that the amount of pain eir actions cause is greater than the amount of annoyance it would take to avoid the offending action, even if ey can't understand why it would cause any pain at all.

In a world where people make decisions according to this principle, one has the incentive to self-modify into a utility monster who feels enormous suffering at any actions of other people one dislikes for whatever reason. And indeed, we can see this happening to some extent: when people take unreasonable offense and create drama to gain concessions, their feelings are usually quite sincere.

You say, "pretending to be offended for personal gain is... less common in reality than it is in people's imaginations." That is indeed true, but only because people have the ability to whip themselves into a very sincere feeling of offense given the incentive to do so. Although sincere, these feelings will usually subside if they realize that nothing's to be gained.

comment by fburnaby · 2011-04-16T13:51:34.323Z · score: 26 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Beautifully put. So according to your objection, if I want to increase net utility, I have two considerations to make:

  • reducing the offense I cause directly increases net utility (Yvain)
  • reducing the offense I cause creates a world with stronger incentives for offense-taking, which is likely to substantially decrease net utility in the long-term (Vladmir_M)

This seems like a very hard calculation. My intuition is that item 2 is more important since it's a higher level of action, and I'm that kind of guy. But how do I rationally make this computation without my own biases coming in? My own opinions on "draw Mohammed day" have always been quite fuzzy and flip-floppy, for example.

comment by Torben · 2011-04-19T12:57:47.800Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But how do I rationally make this computation without my own biases coming in?

One way is to try and compare similar countries where such offensiveness bans are enforced or not, and see which direction net migration is.

This may be difficult since countries without such bans will in all likely become more prosperous than those with them.

Another alternative might be comparing the same country before and after such laws, e.g. Pakistan.

comment by fburnaby · 2011-04-20T12:54:17.558Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Look at the world". Always a good answer!

I have a bad head for history. Do you know of anyone who has done this for me, ala Jared Diamond, for the case of free speech? It seems like it may still be hard to find someone who is plausibly unbiased on such a topic.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-04-23T14:11:01.650Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One way is to try and compare similar countries where such offensiveness bans are enforced or not, and see which direction net migration is.

There are many other factors affecting migration. Is it possible to evaluate a single factor's direct influence?

comment by Torben · 2011-04-24T10:32:13.349Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know.

Perhaps "freedom of speech" (or whatever variable to call it) is so tightly bundled with other variables -- most of all affluence -- that it's impossible to asses properly.

OTOH, if this bundling is evident across nations, cultures and time, it probably means that it truly is an important part of a net desirable society?

comment by a363 · 2011-04-18T09:30:15.362Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That is indeed true, but only because people have the ability to whip themselves into a >very sincere feeling of offense given the incentive to do so. Although sincere, these >feelings will usually subside if they realize that nothing's to be gained.

I'm reminded of how small children might start crying when they trip and fall and skuff their knee, but will only keep on (and/or escalate) crying if someone is nearby to pay attention...

comment by Lightwave · 2011-04-18T09:34:28.099Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

people have the ability to whip themselves into a very sincere feeling of offense given the incentive to do so. Although sincere, these feelings will usually subside if they realize that nothing's to be gained.

I agree with what you're saying and it sounds logical, and I'm just wondering if you (or anyone, actually) would have some experimental evidence from psychology (or any related field) that people do that.

This view does seem to be somewhat intuitive to lesswrongers, but if you try to present it to outsiders, it would be nice if it's backed by evidence from experimental research.

So anyone?

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T19:30:15.920Z · score: 3 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure people can voluntarily self-modify in this way. Even if it's possible, I don't think most real people getting offended by real issues are primarily doing this.

Voluntary self-modification also requires a pre-existing desire to self-modify. I wouldn't take a pill that made me want to initiate suicide attacks on people who insulted the prophet Mohammed, because I don't really care if people insult the prophet Mohammed enough to want to die in a suicide attack defending him. The only point at which I would take such a pill is if I already cared enough about the honor of Mohammed that I was willing to die for him. Since people have risked their lives and earned lots of prison time protesting the Mohammed cartoons, even before they started any self-modification they must have had strong feelings about the issue.

If X doesn't offend you, why would self-modify to make X offend you to stop people from doing X, since X doesn't offend you? I think you might be thinking of attempts to create in-group cohesion and signal loyalty by uniting against a common "offensive" enemy, something that I agree is common. But these attempts cannot be phrased in the consequentialist manner I suggested earlier and still work - they depend on a "we are all good, the other guy is all evil" mentality.

Thus, someone who responded with a cost/benefit calculation to all respectful and reasonable demands to stop offending, but continued getting touchy about disrespectful blame-based demands to stop offending, would be pretty hard to game.

One difference between this post and the original essay I wrote which more people liked was that the original made it clearer that this was more advice for how people who were offended should communicate their displeasure, and less advice for whether people accused of offense should stop. Even if you don't like the latter part, I think the advice for the former might still be useful.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T20:52:35.726Z · score: 65 (41 votes) · LW · GW

If X doesn't offend you, why would self-modify to make X offend you to stop people from doing X, since X doesn't offend you?

It's a Schellingian idea: in conflict situations, it is often a rational strategy to pre-commit to act irrationally (i.e. without regards to cost and benefit) unless the opponent yields. The idea in this case is that I'll self-modify to care about X far more than I initially do, and thus pre-commit to lash out if anyone does it.

If we have a dispute and I credibly signal that I'm going to flip out and create drama out of all proportion to the issue at stake, you're faced with a choice between conceding to my demands or getting into an unpleasant situation that will cost more than the matter of dispute is worth. I'm sure you can think of many examples where people successfully get the upper hand in disputes using this strategy. The only way to disincentivize such behavior is to pre-commit credibly to be defiant in face of threats of drama. In contrast, if you act like a (naive) utilitarian, you are exceptionally vulnerable to this strategy, since I don't even need drama to get what I want, if I can self-modify to care tremendously about every single thing I want. (Which I won't do if I'm a good naive utilitarian myself, but the whole point is that it's not a stable strategy.)

Now, the key point is that such behavior is usually not consciously manipulative and calculated. On the contrary -- someone flipping out and creating drama for a seemingly trivial reason is likely to be under God-honest severe distress, feeling genuine pain of offense and injustice. This is a common pattern in human social behavior: humans are extremely good at detecting faked emotions and conscious manipulation, and as a result, we have evolved so that our brains lash out with honest strong emotion that is nevertheless directed by some module that performs game-theoretic assessment of the situation. This of course prompts strategic responses from others, leading to a strategic arms race without end.

The further crucial point is that these game-theoretic calculators in our brains are usually smart enough to assess whether the flipping out strategy is likely to be successful, given what might be expected in response. Basically, it is a part of the human brain that responds to rational incentives even though it's not under the control of the conscious mind. With this in mind, you can resolve the seeming contradiction between the sincerity of the pain of offense and the fact that it responds to rational incentives.

All this is somewhat complicated when we consider issues of group conflict rather than individual conflict, but the same basic principles apply.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-19T14:33:32.986Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have strategies for distinguishing between game theoretic exaggeration of offense vs. natural offense?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-19T18:52:28.498Z · score: 18 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The question is better phrased by asking what will be the practical consequences of treating an offense as legitimate and ceasing the offending action (and perhaps also apologizing) versus treating it as illegitimate and standing your ground (and perhaps even escalating). Clearly, this is a difficult question of great practical value in life, and like every such question, it's impossible to give a simple and universally applicable answer. (And of course, even if you know the answer in some concrete situation, you'll need extraordinary composure and self-control to apply it if it's contrary to your instinctive reaction.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-19T17:01:36.252Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have strategies for distinguishing between game theoretic exaggeration of offense vs. natural offense?

I don't see the distinction you're trying to make.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T12:02:54.340Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Tentatively-- game theoretic exaggeration of offense will simply be followed by more and more demands. Natural offense is about a desire that can be satiated.

However, there's another sort of breakdown of negotiations that just occurred to me. If A asks for less than they want because they think that's all they can get and/or they're trying to do a utilitarian calculation, they aren't going to be happy even if they get it. This means they're likely to push for more even if they get it, and then they start looking like a utility monster.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-19T22:44:47.298Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Tentatively-- game theoretic exaggeration of offense will simply be followed by more and more demands. Natural offense is about a desire that can be satiated.

What do you mean by "satiated"?

From a utilitarian/consequentialist point of view, a desire being "satiated" simply means that the marginal utility gains from pursuing it further are less than opportunity cost of however much effort it takes.

Note that by this definition when a desire is satiated depends on how easy it is to pursue.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T23:03:53.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you're hungry you might feel as though you could just keep eating and eating. However, if enough food is available, you'll stop and hit a point where more food would make you feel worse instead of better. You'll get hungry again, but part of the cycle includes satiation. For purposes of discussion, I'm talking about most people here, not those with eating disorders or unusual metabolisms that affect their ability to feel satiety.

I think most people have a limit on their desire for status, though that might be more like the situation you describe. Few would turn down a chance to be the world's Dictator for Life, but they've hit a point where trying for more status than they've got seems like too much trouble.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T20:29:26.102Z · score: 15 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Voluntary self-modification also requires a pre-existing desire to self-modify.

People have motives to increase their status, so we can check this box. Of course, this depends on phenotype, and some people do this much more than others.

I wouldn't take a pill that made me want to initiate suicide attacks on people who insulted the prophet Mohammed, because I don't really care if people insult the prophet Mohammed enough to want to die in a suicide attack defending him.

You can't self-modify to an arbitrary belief, but you can self-modify towards other beliefs that are close to yours in belief space. See my comment about political writers. You can seek out political leaders, political groups, or even just friends, with beliefs slightly more radical than yours along a certain dimension (and you might be inspired to do so with just small exposure to them). Over time, your beliefs may shift.

If X doesn't offend you, why would self-modify to make X offend you to stop people from doing X, since X doesn't offend you?

To protect/raise the status of you yourself, or of a group you identify with. I proposed in that comment that people might enjoy feeling righteous while watching out for the interests of themselves and their in-group. When you get mad about stuff and complain about it, you feel like you are accomplishing something.

Thus, someone who responded with a cost/benefit calculation to all respectful and reasonable demands to stop offending, but continued getting touchy about disrespectful blame-based demands to stop offending, would be pretty hard to game.

The problem is that other people only care if you are with them or against them; they don't care about your calculation.

The second problem is that it can be hard to distinguish these two things. People who have a sufficiently valid beef might be justified in making blame-based demands to stop offending, and your demand that they sound "respectful" and "reasonable" is itself unreasonable. Of course, people without a valid beef will use this exact same reasoning about why you can't make a "tone argument" against them asking for them to sound more respectful and reasonable.

There might be a correlation between offense and the "validity" of the underlying issue, but this correlation is low enough that it can be hard to predict the validity of the underlying issue from how the offense reaction is expressed, which weakens the utility of the strategy you propose for identifying beefs.

However, your strategy might be useful as a Schelling Point for what sort of demands you'll accept from others.

One difference between this post and the original essay I wrote which more people liked was that the original made it clearer that this was more advice for how people who were offended should communicate their displeasure, and less advice for whether people accused of offense should stop.

It may have been tough to get the message, because the British salmon example is hypothetical. A real-world example of some group succeeding in claims of offensive might be useful.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T20:43:34.048Z · score: 52 (44 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. I formally admit I'm wrong about the "should usually stop offensive behavior" thing (or, rather, I don't know if I'm wrong but I formally admit my previous arguments for thinking I was right no longer move me and I now recognize I am confused.)

I still believe that if you find something offensive, a request to change phrased in the language of harm-minimization is better than a demand to change phrased in the language of offense, but I don't know if anyone is challenging that.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-04-17T21:12:02.004Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I still believe that if you find something offensive, a request to change phrased in the language of harm-minimization is better than a demand to change phrased in the language of offense, but I don't know if anyone is challenging that.

"Request to change" is low status, while "demand to change" is high status. The whole point of taking offense is that some part of your brain detects a threat to your status or an opportunity to increase status, so how can it be "better" to act low status when you feel offended? Well, it may be better if you think you should dis-identify with that part of your brain, and believe that even if some part of your brain cares a lot about status, the real you don't. But you have to make that case, or state that as an assumption, which you haven't, as far as I can tell (although I haven't carefully read this whole discussion).

Here's an example in case the above isn't clear. Suppose I'm the king of some medieval country, and one of my subjects publicly addresses me without kneeling or call me "your majesty". Is it better for me to request him to do so in the language of harm-minimization ("I'm hurt that you don't consider me majestic"?), or to make a demand phrased in the language of offense?

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T04:06:32.733Z · score: -9 (16 votes) · LW · GW

It would be much better for you to make a request in the language of harm-minimization. If you do that sort of thing often, then it may so damage the aura of divine right (or whatever superstition your monarchy rests on) in that country that your descendants will never again be able to perpetrate the sort of crimes that your ancestors committed with impunity.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T21:29:25.482Z · score: 13 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I still believe that if you find something offensive, a request to change phrased in the language of harm-minimization is better than a demand to change phrased in the language of offense, but I don't know if anyone is challenging that.

I see at least two huge problems with the harm-minimization approach.

First, it requires interpersonal comparison of harm, which can make sense in very drastic cases (e.g. one person getting killed versus another getting slightly inconvenienced), but it usually makes no sense in controversial disputes such as these.

Second, even if we can agree on the way to compare harm interpersonally, the game-theoretic concerns discussed in this thread clearly show that naive case-by-case harm minimization is unsound, since any case-by-case consequences of decisions can be overshadowed by the implications of the wider incentives and signals they provide. This can lead to incredibly complicated and non-obvious issues, where the law of unintended consequences lurks behind every corner. I have yet to see any consequentialists even begin to grapple with this problem convincingly, on this issue or any other.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T21:32:24.972Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

We may be talking at cross-purposes. Are you arguing that if someone says something I find offensive, it is more productive for me to respond in the form of "You are a bad person for saying that and I demand an apology?" than "I'm sorry, but I was really hurt by your statement and I request you not make it again"?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T22:05:44.838Z · score: 16 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It depends; there is no universal rule. Either response could be more appropriate in different cases. There are situations where if someone's statements overstep certain lines, the rational response is to deem this a hostile act and demand an apology with the threat of escalation. There are also situations where it makes sense to ask people to refrain from hurtful statements, since the hurt is non-strategic.

Also, what exactly do you mean by "productive"? People's interests may be fundamentally opposed, and it may be that the response that better serves the strategic interest of one party can do this only at the other's expense, with neither of them being in the right in any objective sense.

comment by kurokikaze · 2011-04-18T09:38:07.215Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe the most productive variant is just to ignore the offender/offence?

On a slightly unrelated note, one psychologist I know has demonstrated me that sometimes it's more useful to agree with offence on the spot, whatever it is, and just continue with conversation. So I think in some situations this too may be a viable option.

comment by torekp · 2011-04-17T13:08:24.932Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To protect/raise the status of you yourself, or of a group you identify with. I proposed in that comment that people might enjoy feeling righteous while watching out for the interests of themselves and their in-group.

So I can raise the status of my group by becoming a frequent complainer and encouraging my fellows to do likewise?

I won't say that it never happens. I will say that the success prospects of that sort of strategy have been exaggerated of late.

comment by bgaesop · 2011-04-17T23:07:37.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So I can raise the status of my group by becoming a frequent complainer and encouraging my fellows to do likewise?

Sure. See, for example, the rise in prominence of the Gnu Atheists (of which I am one).

comment by Costanza · 2011-04-16T20:39:36.367Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If X doesn't offend you, why would self-modify to make X offend you to stop people from doing X, since X doesn't offend you?

Status games. There's a satirical blog which addresses this, at least in the context of Western sophisticates:

....the threshold for being offended is a very important tool for judging and ranking white people. Missing an opportunity to be outraged is like missing a reference to Derrida-it’s social death.

ETA: In the context of Islamic reaction to the Mohammed cartoons as well as the burning of a Koran, there may be some value for a demogogue to conjure up atrocities by some demonized enemy in order to unite his (and in this case, it will be "his") followers. Westerners have done the same sorts of things as well, most obviously in wartime propaganda.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-04-16T20:42:26.387Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If X doesn't offend you, why would self-modify to make X offend you to stop people from doing X, since X doesn't offend you?

Surely there are a great many reasons other than offense why, for various different things X, it might be (or seem) useful to me to stop you from doing thing X. For example, if thing X is "mocking my beliefs": if my beliefs are widely respected, I and people like me will have a larger share of influence than if my beliefs are widely mocked.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-04-23T14:19:46.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure people can voluntarily self-modify in this way. Even if it's possible, I don't think most real people getting offended by real issues are primarily doing this.

I think such modification mostly happens on the level of evolution, especially cultural and memetic evolution. Individual humans are adaptation executers who can't deliberately self-modify in this way, but those who are more pre-modified are more evolutionarily successful.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-16T13:56:14.926Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In a world where people make decisions according to this principle, one has the incentive to self-modify into a utility monster who feels enormous suffering at any actions of other people one dislikes for whatever reason.

The incentive is weaker than you seem to suggest. Surely, I gain nothing tangible by inducing people to tiptoe carefully around my minefield. Only a feeling of power, or perhaps some satisfaction at having caused inconvenience to my enemies. So, what is the more fruitful maxim to follow so as to discourage this kind of thing?

  • Don't feed the utility monster.

or

  • Poke the utility monster with a stick until it desensitizes.

Somehow I have to think that poking is a form of capitulation to the manipulation - it is voluntary participation in a manufactured drama.

comment by florian · 2011-04-16T15:59:25.749Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The incentive is weaker than you seem to suggest. Surely, I gain nothing tangible by inducing people to tiptoe carefully around my minefield.

Yes, you do. If everything unpleasant to you causes you a huge amount of suffering instead of, say, mild annoyance, other people (utilitarians) will abstain from doing things that are unpleasant to you as the negative utility to you outweighs the positive utility to them.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-16T17:18:16.128Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What you say is certainly true if the utility monster is simply exaggerating. But I understood VM to be discussing someone who claims offense where no offense (or negligible offense) actually exists. Or, someone who self-modifies to sincerely feel offended, though originally there was no such sensitivity.

But in any case, the real source of the problem in VM's scenario is adhering to an ethical system which permits one to be exploited by utility monsters - real or feigned. My own ethical system avoids being exploited because I accept personal disutility so as to produce utility for others only to the extent that they reciprocate. So someone who exaggerates the disutility they derive from, say, my humming may succeed in keeping me silent in their presence, but this success may come at a cost regarding how much attention I pay to their other desires. So the would-be utility monster is only hurting itself by feeding me false information about its utility function.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T23:27:52.400Z · score: 16 (15 votes) · LW · GW

But I understood VM to be discussing someone who claims offense where no offense (or negligible offense) actually exists.

The crucial point is that the level of offense at a certain action -- and I mean real, sincerely felt painful offense, not fake indignation -- is not something fixed and independent of the incentives people face. This may seem counterintuitive and paradoxical, but human brains do have functions that are not under direct control of the conscious mind, and are nevertheless guided by rational calculations and thus respond to incentives. People creating drama and throwing tantrums are a prime example: their emotions and distress are completely sincere, and their state of mind couldn't be further from calculated pretense, and yet whatever it is in their brains that pushes them into drama and tantrums is very much guided by rational strategic considerations.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-17T23:45:47.946Z · score: -11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

So, if I understand you, under certain strategic situations (particularly when they enjoy disconveniencing other folk), people will self-modify so as to feel more pain from certain common annoyances. And you, yourself are able to detect when this is happening. And you feel that you can create disincentives against their performing this self-modification by making the annoyances even more common. And you are yourself so rational that you are not subject to the temptation to self-modify yourself (by, say, convincing yourself that someone asking you to take their preferences into account is doing so ultimately because they enjoy disconveniencing you.)

I guess I understand your point now.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-18T00:48:42.976Z · score: 26 (21 votes) · LW · GW

You are now sneering instead of making an honest attempt to understand what I'm writing. (Although, just to be clear, it wasn't me who downvoted your comment.)

My point is not some arcane insight open only to a superior intellect. On the contrary, examples of it can be seen everywhere in regular life. Kids will throw more tantrums if it always gets them what they want -- and a kid throwing a tantrum is not acting, but under genuine distress. Similarly, when you have to deal with people who create drama over petty things, do you think a better strategy is to appease their every whim or to ignore their drama (and thus disincentivize it)? Again, people of this sort are typically not consciously calculated manipulators who fake their distress when they create drama.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-04-18T23:42:45.112Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So perhaps in these situations a good way to reduce hostility is to emphasize that while you're opposed to what the other party's subconscious status calculations are trying to do, you have no beef with their conscious selves. (Though often their conscious selves aren't completely innocent either.)

comment by drethelin · 2014-12-27T01:43:45.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is probably a great way to increase hostility if you say it like that, equivalent to "I know it's your time of the month but you should try to look at this reasonably"

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T03:58:35.472Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

And you feel that you can create disincentives against their performing this self-modification by making the annoyances even more common.

Even as a snide caricature, this is wrong. A lot of commenters here don't seem to acknowledge three responses possible to claims of offence: to capitulate to them, to ignore them, and to flout them. The last two should not be conflated; the difference between them is the difference between illustrating an article on Muhammad with pictures (scroll down, since this example leans a little bit in the direction of capitulation) and participating in Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-18T14:29:01.900Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Respectfully, I do not conflate ignoring and flouting. In a g-g-grandparent, I call these responses 'not feeding the utility monster' and 'poking it with a stick'. Capitulation would correspond to 'feeding the monster'. I implicitly advocated not feeding the monster; i.e. ignoring the claims of offense.

What I may have done, though, is to conflate VM with one of the many people here who advocate 'poking them'. If so, I plead guilty with extenuating circumstances; I was seduced by the formal beauty of a side-by-side comparison of two diagnoses of mental malfunction:

  1. They dislike us; we dislike them.
  2. They therefore gain utility by annoying us; we gain utility by annoying them.
  3. They annoy us by inducing us not to draw Mohammed; we annoy them by drawing Mohammed.
  4. But that only annoys if we want to draw Mohammed; and the other only annoys if they despise having people draw Mohammed.
  5. So we self-modify to want to draw Mohammed; and they self-modify to feel real pain when people draw Mohammed.
  6. We accomplish this self-modification by convincing ourselves using arguments involving slippery slopes, lines in the sand, and the defense of freedom, together with an intuitive understanding of their devious psychology and a grasp of game theory. They accomplish this self modification using arguments involving slippery slopes, lines in the sand, and defense of the faith, together with an intuitive understanding of our Satanic psychology and a grasp of game theory.
  7. And a jolly time is had by all.
comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-20T20:37:32.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What I may have done, though, is to conflate VM with one of the many people here who advocate 'poking them'.

I think that this is what happened. There are people here who have advocated poking them, and I agree with you about that. But VM is not one of them.

I like your comparison.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-04-17T23:38:56.388Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Only in the sense that a country with secure borders is hurting itself by forfeiting potential gains from trade. If what they want is to avoid being contaminated by your ideas, to avoid being criticized, that minefield is doing it's job just fine.

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-16T14:18:37.477Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My real-world working theory on utility monsters of the type you describe is basically to keep in mind that some people are more sensitive than others, but if anyone reaches utility monster levels (roughly indicated by whether I think "this is completely absurd"), I flip the sign on their utility function.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-04-16T15:02:11.332Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Excuse me, but I think you should recheck your moral philosophy before you get the chance to act on that. Are you sure that shouldn't be "become indifferent with respect to optimizing their utility function", or perhaps "rescale their utility function to a more reasonable range"? Because according my moral philosophy, explicitly flipping the sign of another agent's utility function and then optimizing is an evil act.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-16T14:51:53.152Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My own real-world working theory is that if someone I respect in general expresses a sensitivity that I consider completely absurd, I reduce my level of commitment to my process for evaluating the absurdity of sensitivities.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-16T14:20:33.828Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you consider it to be a major source of positive utility to antagonize them?

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-16T18:52:52.923Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Tongue-in-cheek, yes.

comment by Nominull · 2011-04-16T01:59:51.302Z · score: 59 (55 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are too quick to discard the Machiavellian ploy hypothesis. In particular, I think the term "Machiavellian" is misleading you. You (rightly) find a vast conspiracy of offense-pretending Muslims to be ridiculous. But the best way to run a conspiracy is not to run it, and the best way to pretend to something is not to pretend.

Have you stopped to ask why group X might find behavior Y of group Z offensive? I'm not doubting their pain, I'm not suggesting that group X cynically decides to find Y offensive, I'm just asking, how does offense arise in the first place? Why are human beings such that they take offense to things?

My view - taking offense begins as a response to a norm violation. "Not cool, dude," we say, because the dude has done something outside of what the group is prepared to accept. We feel uncomfortable when others violate norms, because if we just sit by and do nothing, we may be accused of being in on the norm violation.

But sometimes people take offense to things which are not norm violations. The general US norm is not that drawing the prophet Muhammed is forbidden, it's not that violent videogames are a sin, it's not that the casual treatment of women as nothing but sex objects is unacceptable. Yet people take offense to these things anyway! What is going on?

Here I am going to repeat again that I do not think that Muslims, game-pacifists, or feminists are consciously conspiring. I think, rather, that it is natural to take offense not only at things which are actual norm-violations, but also things which you wish were norm violations, things which would boost your status if they were norm violations. There is no conscious consideration of this, but somewhere deep in our hypocrite brains, we decide to pretend that our desired norms are the actual norms.

And the math gets even better for taking offense when you consider the meaning of being labeled offensive! "It was morally wrong to say this, and you are either inexcusably ignorant of this fact or deliberately malicious. You must immediately apologize, and it is up to the group you have offended to decide whether they accept your apology or whether they want to punish you in some well-deserved way," you say, and I think you have the right of it. This is a powerful weapon to use against your enemies, and a powerful threat to use to keep people from becoming your enemies in the first place. You think your brain isn't going to seize on it whenever possible?

Now, I know you are arguing from a harm minimization standpoint, you might say, "it is not these people's fault that their brains see an opportunity to score points by being offended and cause them pain". And that's true. The vast majority of people who take offense are, I'm sure, not doing it in a conscious, cynical manner. And by freely and gleefully offending them, we are doing them undeserved harm. It sucks to be them, and I say that in a spirit of sympathy. However, if we give in to offense, if we explicitly act to avoid giving offense rather than acting to right object-level wrongs, then we risk emboldening the true villains, the hypocrite brains who are torturing people to score cheap political points. Better to put our feet down now, because if being offended is a useful strategy, people will go on being offended, even if they don't want to.

comment by GilPanama · 2011-04-16T10:03:13.473Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The general US norm is not that drawing the prophet Muhammed is forbidden, it's not that violent videogames are a sin, it's not that the casual treatment of women as nothing but sex objects is unacceptable.

Either I'm being confused by a triple-negative, or we are living in very different contexts. Even people who are avowedly anti-feminist will usually say that casually treating women as nothing but sex objects breaks their norms. They might disagree that a model on a billboard is a sex object.

More generally, the problem is not manufacturing offense where none exists, but deciding where it can reasonably exist. And even if you don't think that this is a meaningful problem, and that the best answer is to simply not take offense, ever, note that this:

we risk emboldening the true villains, the hypocrite brains who are torturing people to score cheap political points.

... sounds suspiciously like another kind of offense, the offense of anti-offense backlash. This line of argument also makes out feminists and game-pacifists to be "inexcusably ignorant" or "deliberately malicious," and thus is wielding a very similar rhetorical club to the one that was just denounced.

There is no conscious consideration of this, but somewhere deep in our hypocrite brains, we decide to pretend that our desired norms are the actual norms.

"The actual norms?"

Like "general US norm," that's a phrase that does not, as far as I can tell, dissect the space of possible norms in a useful way. If there were a single agreed-upon set of norms, or even an agreed-upon set of rules for describing an agreed-upon set of norms, these discussions would be a lot easier. As it stands, declaring offense can, in fact, shift norms if done enough. In some cases, it can shift them for the better.

comment by Guanyin · 2015-10-24T08:51:57.907Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You could just say, "Okay, I won't draw Muhammed anymore. It was my mistake, but you didn't need to be so outraged; you only needed to ask and I would have agreed." In other words, you're politely rejecting that you're a bad person because you violated the norm (that wasn't really a norm), but still avoiding a fight.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-16T07:31:43.571Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"The general US norm is not that drawing the prophet Muhammed is forbidden, " There do exist places other than the US, you know. Those places have cultural norms of their own but also have internet access.

comment by Nominull · 2011-04-16T15:05:23.806Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The "Everybody Draw Muhammed Day" festival that offense was being taken over was started by an American, though, so it's America's norms that would have jurisdiction over her.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-16T15:18:35.224Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But not over the people who took offence, which I thought was the point.

comment by Sideways · 2011-04-16T04:37:00.608Z · score: 36 (36 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not convinced that "offense" is a variety of "pain" in the first place. They feel to me like two different things.

When I imagine a scenario that hurts me without offending me (e.g. accidentally touching a hot stovetop), I anticipate feelings like pain response and distraction in the short term, fear in the medium term, and aversion in the long term.

When I imagine a scenario that offends me without hurting me (e.g. overhearing a slur against a group of which I'm not a member) I anticipate feelings like anger and urge-to-punish in the short term, wariness and distrust in the medium term, and invoking heavy status penalties or even fully disassociating myself from the offensive party in the long term.

Of course, an action can be both offensive and painful, like the anti-Semitic slurs you mention. But an offensive action need not be painful. My intuition suggests that this is a principled reason (as opposed to a practical one) for the general norm of pluralistic societies that offensiveness alone is not enough to constrain free speech.

I'm not sure which category the British Fish thought experiment falls into; the description doesn't completely clarify whether the Britons are feeling pained or offended or both.

comment by pjeby · 2011-04-16T16:17:44.559Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not convinced that "offense" is a variety of "pain" in the first place. They feel to me like two different things.

Extremely important point. And the "offense" variety of feeling is the dangerous one - the one we shouldn't accede to.

(A side note: one of the most insidious forms of procrastination is taking offense at a problem, rather than actually solving it. Offense motivates punish-and-protest behavior, rather than problem-solving behavior.)

comment by byrnema · 2011-04-17T03:25:14.866Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

A side note: one of the most insidious forms of procrastination is taking offense at a problem, rather than actually solving it. Offense motivates punish-and-protest behavior, rather than problem-solving behavior

Wow, this is so true. My least constructive response to being told to do something by my boss is taking offense, and I have to wait hours (or sometimes days) before I don't feel offended anymore so that I can focus on figuring out how to do what I've been asked.

comment by pjeby · 2011-04-17T17:27:12.217Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

My least constructive response to being told to do something by my boss is taking offense, and I have to wait hours (or sometimes days) before I don't feel offended anymore so that I can focus on figuring out how to do what I've been asked.

A faster way: state your offense in the form of a "should" or "should not" that is being violated. (e.g. "I shouldn't have to do this stupid s...tuff."). Then, restate that in the form of a pair of statements about your preferences, first what you don't like, and then what you do.

e.g. "I don't like it that I have to do this stupid s...tuff", followed by, "I would like it if I didn't have to do this stupid stuff."

As you make the statements, pay attention to your emotional response to each one. The first should bring righteous agreement ("damn straight I shouldn't have to!"), followed by something more like, "Yeah, I really don't like it, but I guess I do need to do it" for the second one, and "Gosh, that really would be nice if I didn't have to do it. Maybe I could just try and get it over with quickly."

If you don't get responses like these, try playing with the phrasing or subject matter of the perceived offense. Oftentimes, there is more than one norm being violated, and sometimes your unconscious norms are not immediately obvious to conscious introspection.

It also helps to question the standards themselves -- offense and the corresponding protest-punish motivation is a terrible influence on clear thinking, because it deludes you into ignoring the facts of the situation. (e.g., you might not want to do something, but you probably still need to do it.) While our brains are concerned with protesting the situation, they essentially operate in a state of denial about the situation. Appropriate litanies can also be helpful here... i.e., "if I have to do it, then I want to know that I have to do it... and admitting it won't make it any worse."

Offense-taking is essentially the true antithesis of rational thinking and action, because at a fundamental level it is insisting that what's happening isn't "really" happening, on the grounds that it's "not supposed to" be!

And it thus directly prevents actual problem solving, since it keeps you from even admitting to the basic facts upon which any effective plan of action would actually depend. ;-)

comment by byrnema · 2011-04-17T19:13:03.874Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. It seems like it would work, and I would be interested in being more introspective about the source of my indignation in any case.

So now I'm looking forward to being offended.. which will also help.

comment by Xachariah · 2011-04-21T10:37:45.776Z · score: 35 (37 votes) · LW · GW

I notice that I would not support showing British people pictures of Salmon.

I notice that I would support showing Muslim people pictures of Mohammad.

These two situations seem nearly identical.

I notice that I am confused.

I see two analogous situations, and yet I come to two different conclusions. Therefore, there must be some difference between them, even if it only lies in my perceptions. Perhaps by carving these situations at their joints, I can find why it is I come away with different conclusions. Explicitly, I remember the stated differences.

1) Race/Culturism - The British are British and not Muslim

2) Blame - The British are not "at fault" as victims of a prank while the Muslims are "at fault" by virtue of being members of a religion

As a detirminist, I cannot say that the Muslims chose to be Muslims any more than British people chose to be waylayed by a prankster in the night. That seems very damning; this only leaves the option that I must be racist. However, there is perhaps a third option that is missing. Implicitly, I notice a number of unstated differences that can only be assumed.

3) Treatability - The British people have an electrode installed, which implies to me they receive the same disutility for every salmon picture seen. After year of salmon pictures, the 366th day of seeing salmon pictures would hurt just as much as the 1st day. In Muslims, the disutility of seeing pictures of Mohammad decreases until it eventually disappears. It is possible to 'cure' a muslim of recieving disutility from pictures of Mohammad in a way it is not possible with the British.

4) Resistance - The British people do not want to have an aversion to salmon. If given the choice to remove the salmon reaction, they would do so. The Muslim people want to have an aversion to Mohammad. In fact, they consider it morally right to hate pictures of Mohammad.

5) Propagation - A salmon averse Briton would hate seeing pictures of Salmon all his life, and then would die. In the worst case, the world has to live without pictures of salmon for 100 years, assuming the singularity doesn't hit before then. Muslims will teach their children to have the same aversions they do. Worst case scenario, 10,000 years from now we'll be sending messages to our other planets across galaxies but we still can't make pictures of the prophet Mohammad.

6) Mutation - A Briton would be pained by pictures of only Salmon until their end of days. The aversion to pictures of Mohammad has already mutated into anything critical towards Islam. Specifically, Van Gogh died due to women's rights, a trait only marginally related to Mohammad in as much as his film used verses from the Quran. An appropriate analogy would be if salmon-aversion mutated to hating all pictures or discussion of fish, because they're somewhat similar to salmon.

7) Virulence - Losing the right to show salmon to British people would only hurt a small subset of nature photographers. Losing the right to criticize Islam already hampers a number of humanitarian efforts in the Middle East (eg women's rights). If we were to extend the salmon analogy, we would require the British to hate fighting climate change, because it's sort of related to saving fish.

8) Pathogenicity - The British seem to respond to seeing pictures of fish with polite inquiries to stop and social pressure. Muslim extremists respond to pictures of Mohammad or media critical of Islam with death threats, assassinations, and government blocks.

These are significant differences, and most of them I didn't notice until I started enumerating the differences. The question is, is the difference in my reaction caused by the explicit differences (#1-2) or the implicit differences (#3-8). I shall return to the original scenario and remove those explicit differences. If my reaction to the modified scenario remains constant, it means that I made my decision based on explicit differences. If my reaction to the modified scenario changes, it means I made my decision based on implicit differences.

Imagine that one night, an alien prankster secretly implants electrodes into the brains of an entire country - let's say Britain. The next day, everyone in Britain discovers that pictures of salmon suddenly give them jolts of painful psychic distress. Every time they see a picture of a salmon, or they hear about someone photographing a salmon, or they even contemplate taking such a picture themselves, they get a feeling of wrongness that ruins their entire day. The chip also modifies the British people's behavior such that they believe having this sense of wrongness is morally right. When their children are born, they implant these salmon hating electrodes in them. Interestingly, these electrodes have a number of flaws (or features), such as repeated exposure to salmon burns out the salmon-hating batteries. Another flaw (or feature) is that this aversion to salmon can mutate to an aversion of any sort of aquatic animal or cause relating to aquatic animals. Great Briton quickly becomes currently the only country attempting to fight against reduction of Global Climate Change. A number of climate change scientists and activists receive death threats by the British people for their work. Tragedy strikes when filmmaker Al Gore is assassinated for his quote "salmon-loving ways" unquote.

Sweet zombie jesus! That's a scenario that sends shivers down my spine. I would do everything I could to burn out those salmon-hating microchips. It seems that the difference in my reactions really is based on implicit differences I could not easily identify. On further reflection, Race and Nationality and even (surprisingly) Religion were irrelevant to my decision making compared to the consequences caused by the salmon/Mohammad meme.

Now another scenario. Imagine that those Muslims who hate seeing Mohammad got chosen by the prankster to get the salmon-hating electrodes in their brain. (The original salmon-chips Yvain made, not these nightmarish self-replicating, self-mutating ones I made.) They hate seeing both pictures of Salmon and pictures of Mohammad. In this case I would not support showing the Muslims pictures of Salmon, but I would support showing the Muslims pictures of Mohammad. This is consistent with my prior decisions and internally consistent with my morals.

Let me revisit my first statements now, with sticky and emotional words dissolved.

I notice that I would not support showing any people pictures of anything, if it caused pain but did not make the world a better place.

I notice that I would support showing any people pictures of anything, if it caused pain but helped make the world a better place.

These two situations are not nearly as identical as they appeared at first glance.

I notice that I am no longer confused.

comment by MugaSofer · 2014-11-17T16:43:44.800Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This analysis seems be assuming that Muslims will deconvert if only they're shown a sufficient number of pictures of Muhammad.

comment by JohnWittle · 2012-10-07T02:47:55.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This needs more upvotes.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T09:51:18.302Z · score: 32 (38 votes) · LW · GW

Offense is a lot more cognitive than pain. How do I know that? Because I am a political writer (blogging at FeministCritics.org. I show people what parts of feminism they get offended by, and what parts they should take seriously.

Political writers are offense-mongers. Why? Because on their own, people don't always know what they are supposed to find offensive.

Pain has a cognitive dimension, but many types of pain are non-cognitive. In complex social situations, offense is highly cognitive. There could be many ways to view a particular phenomenon, and political writers will choose the way that is most offensive to the group they are backing.

Offense doesn't always just swoop in and attack innocent people, people go looking for it. They seek out political writers they identify with to learn what they are supposed to be offended about today. In a complex social world, this behavior makes a lot of sense. You don't always know what might threaten your status, so you look to knowledgeable people to show you what to make into a Schelling Point. They tell you what you should be offended about, to inspire you to action that will protect the status of the identity group that you share.

Of course, political writers themselves are generally quite sincere (I certainly am!), which is part of why they are effective (at least in getting people stirred up). It's their job to get offended and then write about it. Furthermore, they gain positive reinforcement and an echo chamber if they can consistently stir up their flock and provide them a constant diet of offense, so that people will feel properly vigilant about protecting the status of groups they identify with.

There is nothing wrong this ecosystem, as long as we have no illusions about how it works.

This reminds me that I need to make a post about male-bashing in music videos. There are some patterns that I'm sure people will see if I point them out. I am of course right, but it's possible that political writers other than me have biases that lead them to perceive spuriously offensive patterns.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T02:04:38.962Z · score: 27 (31 votes) · LW · GW

Another unpleasant implication of the consequentialist attitude towards offense is that societies should be as homogeneous as possible with regards to people's values and beliefs. (And I'm not talking about Aumann-agreement here!) As the diversity of a society increases, the set of statements and acts that can be done in public without offending one group or another necessarily shrinks, which implies an inevitable trade-off between the pain of offense and the pain of people who have their freedom curtailed and are increasingly forced to walk on eggshells. I'll leave the more concrete implications in the context of today's politics as an exercise for the reader.

It also implies that a certain level of isolation between societies is desirable, in direct opposition to the present trends of globalization. What is regular business in one society may well be extremely offensive in another. So, if there's an intense mutual interest and exchange of information between societies, we get the same problem as within a single diverse society. This can be mitigated only by isolating these societies from each other so that their members are not exposed to the painful sight of the offensive alien customs.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T19:39:12.812Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

All of this seems pretty true to me. There were even studies that showed pretty clearly that ethnically homogenous communities were happier than ethnically mixed ones.

There are lots of good reasons not to actually exclude different people from a society. Immigration's been shown to be a net good for most people involved, and of course uprooting people from a society they've grown accustomed to is harmful. But these only counterbalance the above claim, not disprove it.

I think it's pretty self-evident that anything that brings nudists together with those Arabs who freak out if every inch of a woman isn't covered by a burka is going to be a net loss for both groups.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T04:29:00.550Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Point of information: Although women from many ethnic/language groups (including Arabs) will wear burqas, It's mostly Pashtuns who require them to the point of freaking out.

comment by teageegeepea · 2011-04-18T03:38:37.348Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like you are referring to Robert Putnam's research. I spun his results as a positive here.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-16T05:34:16.793Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not clear on the relevant Muslim sensibilities/doctrine, but are they upset merely by seeing pictures of Mohammed, or by the existence of pictures of Mohammed? It may be that without actual policies/norms/etc. stringently forbidding drawing Mohammed, they will experience a non-negligible background level of upset based on the probabilistic expectation that someone, somewhere, is drawing Mohammed where they can't see. What does this model of offense etc. say to this situation?

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T08:54:30.149Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're right that the seeing vs. existing is a big part of why people's intuitions about salmon vs. Mohammed may differ in the example. British people (in the example) aren't trying to stop the existence of salmon pictures they can't see, whereas some Muslims are trying to stop the existence of Mohammed pictures they can't see. Even if only a minority of Muslims holds that attitude, it might be sufficiently annoying and scary to some non-Muslims that they are willing to annoy other Muslims by making pictures as a protest.

Yvain almost covers this case:

Say a random Christian kicked a Muslim in the face, and a few other Muslims got really angry, blew the whole thing out of proportion, and killed him and his entire family. This would be an inappropriately strong response, and certainly you could be upset about it, but the proper response wouldn't be to go kicking random Muslims in the face. They didn't do it, and they probably don't even approve. But drawing pictures of Mohammed offends many Muslims, not just the ones who send death threats.

Except kicking someone in the face violates Western notions of rights, while drawing pictures of Mohammed somewhere doesn't. Drawing pictures of Mohammed to protest Muslims who try to deny the right of others to do so is not a violation of anyone's rights, according to Western concepts of rights. Westerners feel they must treat any attempt to deny their rights as a Schelling Point.

Yes, it is still annoying for the set of Muslims-who-are-bothered-by-pictures-of-Mohammed-but-aren't-trying-to-take-away-the-right-of-people-to-do-so. Yet people who draw pictures of Mohammed might feel they are justified in annoying those Muslims in order to protest the subset of Muslims that attempt censorship. Perhaps they hope that moderate Muslims will understand why they must defend that Schelling Point, or perhaps they hope that moderate Muslims will bring the radicals in line.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-04-16T16:35:13.947Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Analogously, If this theoretical scenario were to take place, I would be doing wrong if I were to force British people to look a salmon against their will, same as if I hurt them against their will buy punching them in the face.

But they would have no justification for acting against say the "Australian Salmon photographers association" who happen to enjoy taking pictures of Salmon themselves but have no intention of exposing British people to them against their will.

In the Danish cartoons example, they were originally given a very minor circulation in Denmark, they were not airdropped into Mecca or whatever. The objection to Muslim 'offense' is that they are attempting to restrict others self regarding actions that do no harm to them. [Also in that specific case there was deliberate political manipulations.]

comment by orthonormal · 2011-04-16T15:46:16.206Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Westerners feel they must treat any attempt to deny their rights as a Schelling Point.

I don't understand this use of Schelling point- could you explain?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T19:30:57.979Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand this use of Schelling point- could you explain?

When there is a potential for conflict over some issue, people can communicate and negotiate as much as they like, but the most important piece of information is hard to communicate reliably and credibly: namely, the line that one is committed to defend without backing off, even if the cost is higher than the value of what's being defended. (Such commitment is usually necessary to defend anything effectively, since if you defend only when the cost of defense is lower than the value defended, the opponent can force you to back off without fighting by threatening an all-out attack whose cost is disproportionate to the prize, and which would not be profitable if you defended at all costs.)

The key insight is that such commitment is easier to assert credibly by drawing the line at a conspicuous focal point, which will enable both parties to come to a tacit mutual agreement. However, if you're not really committed to defend a particular focal point and your opponent senses that, he has the incentive to mount an attack that will make defense too costly and make you back off. And you can't back off from a focal point by giving just a small concession -- you can only withdraw to the next conspicuous focal point, and even then, it will be harder to assert commitment to defend it given your history.

I recommend this essay by David Friedman, which explains how the concept of Schelling point applies to property rights, in a way that's clearly generalizable to all other issues of rights and social norms:
http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Property/Property.html

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-17T16:27:20.965Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

From that essay:

Agreeing to tribute costs the victim not only the tribute but the only available Schelling point.

This is where all the slippery-slope arguments come from. Without "speech free from repercussion" as a Schelling point, there appears to the West be no other natural point until you reach complete submission to Muslim dictates. The Muslim tradition would prefer if the conflict was resolved on their side of the issue - in itself a strong strategy for moving towards more complete submission to Muslim tradition. (Given this, an unreasonable attachment to what the West perceives as the Schelling point is a sound strategy for the West - cue cries of free speech).

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T19:59:02.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What Vladimir_M said. The line in the sand being defended in this case is the right of Westerners to create media that is offensive to the beliefs of some Muslims, even though it doesn't tangibly harm Muslims in any way.

comment by JenniferRM · 2011-04-17T02:32:21.223Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

In the case of your alien-hacked British, they would notice their mass modification and be able to search for a cause. They would be able to scan their own brains and see the electrodes that were implanted by aliens. The idea of repudiating their new emotional reactions would be cognitively accessible, and this would inflect much of their behavior and the politics around the phenomenon.

Even as they outlawed pictures of salmon, they could (for example) put time limits on the laws, fund medical research into safe electrode removal, and make efforts to ensure that their foolish emotional reactions weren't memetically passed on into subsequent generations.

In the case of Muslims, there are no electrodes, and no hope of removing the electrodes. The material cause of their psychological situation is thus distinct and raises many of the issues from the diseased thinking essay. In practice, the people with the relevant emotional reaction were brought into being by cultural practices that include a philosophic endorsement of their over-reactions. The religious leaders benefit from the installation of this craziness in their followers by cultivating and directing the emotions it produces. People in their culture will publicly praise high fidelity memetic transmission of the emotional reactions and so the craziness can be expected to propagate like something living instead of receding like an injury healed by the passage of time.

The emotional reactions of Muslims to sacrilegious symbols are woven into their identities, and thus in some ways deserve more respect than the alien-hacked British with "photofishophobia", but in other ways they seem to me to deserve less respect.

Communities potentially have self-regulating agency over time. If a community has chosen to cultivate bad values over years and centuries (and partially succeeded in this project) , then the thing that gives them the most respect as self-regulating humans is to disrespect their poor regulatory choices.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T04:29:44.672Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

"Say a random Christian kicked a Muslim in the face, and a few other Muslims got really angry, blew the whole thing out of proportion, and killed him and his entire family. This would be an inappropriately strong response, and certainly you could be upset about it, but the proper response wouldn't be to go kicking random Muslims in the face. "

Several times you seem to equate speech or illustration with a punch in the face. They don't seem interchangeable to me. The American founding fathers made a strong case for protecting speech, they argued that people should be able to say what they would without fear of violence in return. I'm pretty sure they never contemplated that face punching should be protected. I see the a bright line between the two behaviors.

Some of the people passing around pictures of Mohammed surely mean to insult. Others are demanding that a bright line between speech and physical harm be observed by all. They are appealing to more reasonable muslims to "police their area" and part of the plan is draw out the muslims who need policing.

I'm not defending that as an optimal plan but I sure think the bright line is a swell idea.

comment by alexflint · 2011-04-18T20:53:37.031Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The whole point of Yvain's post was to call that bright line into question on consequentialist grounds. You may very well disagree, but you should engage with the arguments more than "they don't seem interchangeable to me".

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-19T01:03:15.065Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

To hold that speech is interchangeable with violence is to hold that a bullet can be the appropriate answer to an argument.

comment by brianm · 2011-04-19T14:22:53.322Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

But the argument here is going the other way - less permissive, not more. The equivalent analogy would be:

To hold that speech is interchangeable with violence is to hold that certain forms of speech are no more an appropriate answer than a bullet.

The issue at stake is why. Why is speech OK, but a punch not? Presumably because one causes physical pain and the other not. So, in Yvain's salmon situation, when such speech does now cause pain should we treat it the same or different from violence? Why or why not? What then about other forms of mental torment, such as emotional pain, hurt feelings or offence? There are times I've had my feelings hurt by mere words that frankly, I'd have gladly exchanged for a kicking, so mere intensity doesn't seem the relevant criteria. So what is, and why is it justified?

To just repeat "violence is different from speech" is to duck the issue, because you haven't answered this why question, which was the whole point of bringing it up.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-20T01:04:41.314Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"But the argument here is going the other way - less permissive, not more."

No, I'm defending a bright line which Yvain would obliterate. If they are interchangeable it follows that answering an argument with a bullet may be the efficient solution.

"To hold that speech is interchangeable with violence is to hold that certain forms of speech are no more an appropriate answer than a bullet."

So which to which argument would you prefer a bullet?

"The issue at stake is why. Why is speech OK, but a punch not? Presumably because one causes physical pain and the other not. So, in Yvain's salmon situation, when such speech does now cause pain should we treat it the same or different from violence?"

The brits are feeling the pain of a real physical assault, under the skin. That's not mental torment, it's electrodes.

A crucial difference is that we can change our minds about what offends us but we cannot choose not to respond to electrodes in the brain and we cannot choose not to bleed when pierced by a bullet.

"To just repeat "violence is different from speech" is to duck the issue, because you haven't answered this why question, which was the whole point of bringing it up.

It is not my comprehensive answer but I think it is a sufficient answer. They are not interchangeable. Many words would have hurt me deeply 15 years ago but hardly any can now because I've changed my mind about them. It is within my power to feel zero pain from anything you might say. People really can change their minds to take less offense if they want to. They cant choose to not be harmed by a punch or a bullet.

Different.

comment by brianm · 2011-04-20T10:20:43.009Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If they are interchangeable it follows that answering an argument with a bullet may be the efficient solution.

That's clearly not the case. If they're interchangable, it merely means they'd be equally appropriate, but that doesn't say anything about their absolute appropriateness level. If neither are appropriate responses, that's just as interchangable as both being appropriate - and it's clearly that more restrictive route being advocated here (ie. moving such speech into the bullet category, rather than moving the bullet category into the region of such speech).

The brits are feeling the pain of a real physical assault, under the skin.

So what distinguishes that from emotional pain? It's all electrochemistry in the end after all. Would things change if it were extreme emotional torment being inflicted by pictures of salmon, rather than pain receptors being stimulated? Eg. inducing an state equivalent to clinical depression, or the feeling of having been dumped by a loved-one. I don't see an inherent reason to treat these differently - there are occassions where I'd gladly have traded such feelings for a kick in the nuts, so from a utlitarian perspective they seem to be at least as bad.

The intensity in this case is obviously different - offence vs depression is obviously a big difference, so it may be fine to say that one's OK and the other not because it falls into a tolerable level - but that certainly moves away from the notion of a bright line towards a grey continuum.

A crucial difference is that we can change our minds about what offends us but we cannot choose not to respond to electrodes

This is a better argument (indeed it's one brought up by the post). I'm not sure it's entirely valid though, for the reasons Yvain gave there. We can't entirely choose what hurts us without a much better control over our emotional state than I, at least, posess. If I were brought up in a society where this was the ultimate taboo, I don't think I could simply choose not to be, anymore than I could choose to be offended by them now. You say "It is within my power to feel zero pain from anything you might say", but I'll tell you, it's not within mine. That may be a failing, but it's one shared by billions. Further, I'm not sure it would be justified to go around insulting random strangers on the grounds that they can choose to take no harm, which suggests to me that offending is certainly not morally neutral.

Personally, I think one answer we could give to why the situations are different is a more pragmatic one. Accept that causing offence is indeed a bad action, but that it's justified collateral damage in support of a more important goal. Ie. free speech is important enough that we need to establish that even trying to prevent it will be met by an indescriminate backlash doing the exact opposite. (Though there are also pragmatic grounds to oppose this, such that it's manipulable by rabble-rousers for political ends).

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-20T14:44:09.799Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If they are interchangeable it follows that answering an argument with a bullet may be the efficient solution.

That's clearly not the case. If they're interchangable, it merely means they'd be equally appropriate, but that doesn't say anything about their absolute appropriateness level. If neither are appropriate responses, that's just as interchangable as both being appropriate - and it's clearly that more restrictive route being advocated here (ie. moving such speech into the bullet category, rather than moving the bullet category into the region of such speech).

I don't understand this... the notion of a "more restrictive route" doesn't seem to make much of a difference to the objection - the suggested move involves placing a certain type of speech act into the realm of "bullets", and as such makes bullets an appropriate response to such acts, whereas they were not before. Is that right?

Edit: That is, if speech B is now equivalent to shooting someone, it's not a case of "harmless speech A can now be responded to with bullets or B," but of "speech B can now be responded to with bullets."

comment by brianm · 2011-04-21T08:51:00.198Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

and as such makes bullets an appropriate response to such acts, whereas they were not before.

Ah, I think I've misunderstood you - I thought you were talking about the initiating act (ie. that it was as appropriate to initiate shooting someone as to insult them), whereas you're talking about the response to the act: that bullets are an appropriate response to bullets, therefore if interchangable, they're an appropriate response to speech too. However, I don't think you can take the first part of that as given - many (including me) would disagree that bullets are an appropriate response to bullets, but rather that they're only an appropriate response to the specific case of averting an immediate threat (ie. shoot if it prevents killing, but oppose applying the death penalty once out of danger), and some pacifists may disagree even with violence to prevent other violence.

However, it seems that it's the initiating act that's the issue here: is it any more justified to causing offence as to shoot someone. I think it could be argued that they are equivalent issues, though of lesser intensity (ie. back to continuums, not bright lines).

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-21T14:54:51.791Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I think I've misunderstood you...

I'm only interjecting, if there is a misunderstanding, it's probably with jtk3. For my part I think the positions being argued are much clearer now, thank you!

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-20T02:29:30.327Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What would you say to someone who replied "Many punches would have hurt me deeply 15 years ago but hardly any can now because I've studied martial arts. It is within my power to feel zero pain from any blow you might deliver. People really can change their physical capabilities to take less physical pain if they want to."?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T03:17:09.809Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A series of physical blows can endanger a person's life and, even more probably, incapacitate them for a prolonged period or permanently by breaking a bone, rupturing an internal organ, and the like. For this reason, a physical assault must be taken very seriously.

If an action proximally causes psychological suffering, that does not make the action, merely for that reason alone, wrong in the slightest. Suffering of the sort caused by speech is caused by disappointment of our desires, and we typically do not have an inherent right to have the desires in question fulfilled. If we suffer, there are two causes of our suffering: (a) that we desired a certain state of affairs, and (b) that our desire was thwarted. Someone who is insulted, desired to be treated with respect, and his desire was thwarted. Someone who has been rejected romantically, similarly, desired acceptance, and his desire was thwarted. In neither of these cases did the person have any right to get what he desired. That he suffered on account of his disappointment does not in the slightest increase his right to get what he wanted. If it did increase his right, then a person could thereby gain the right to anything he wanted merely by wanting it very very much. Rights would then be assigned to whoever could throw the most impressive temper tantrum.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-20T12:45:36.105Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, or at least close enough, with all of that. But none of it is unique to psychological suffering.

For example, diseases caused by airborne pathogens can cause physical suffering. They can endanger a person's life, incapacitate them for a prolonged period or permanently, and I therefore endorse taking them seriously. However, if someone's immune system is so compromised that they cannot be around other people without becoming extremely ill, they don't thereby gain the right to go wherever they like and have everyone else leave.

If your goal is to argue that suffering doesn't give me the right to get what I want, I'm right there with you... but you don't need to draw an artificial bright line between physically mediated suffering and psychologically mediated suffering in order to achieve that goal.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T21:12:30.353Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, or at least close enough, with all of that. But none of it is unique to psychological suffering.

I'm not sure about that. Let's look at the example.

... if someone's immune system is so compromised that they cannot be around other people without becoming extremely ill, they don't thereby gain the right to go wherever they like and have everyone else leave.

This is true. But the obvious explanation is this: a person who is harmed may have harmed himself. He may be to blame. So it's not that there isn't any harm in the first place, but merely that he may be to blame for any harm that results to himself. Someone with a compromised immune system who goes out in public has only himself to blame if he's infected.

In contrast, someone whose desires are disappointed hasn't typically been harmed to begin with. That's where it typically stops. It doesn't rise to the level of identifying a culprit, because there isn't anything to be a culprit about, because no harm has been done.

If someone knowingly exposes himself to the possibility of infection, we typically think such a person deserves an Honorary Darwin Award and the ridicule that goes with it (with occasional exceptions, e.g. if he is being heroic). But if somebody deliberately exposes himself to disappointment - well, what's so terrible about that? That only means that he's shooting for the stars, etc. Usually it's the people who avoid disappointment by never striving for anything that we think are approaching life the wrong way.

As far as I know, not even the Muslims who threaten the lives of artists who depict Mohammed are interpreting their own feelings of disappointment as a harm. They don't seem to be interested in their own psychological state. They seem to be interested in the act of depiction itself, which they evidently believe they have a right and a religious duty to stop. I am talking specifically here about those who threatened artists for depicting Mohammed.

From Wikipedia:

Chesser wrote, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh if they do air this show.”

That doesn't seem particularly interested in the psychological suffering caused by the depiction of Mohammed. It's focused on the depiction itself, which is called "stupid". The word is not "hurtful", but "stupid". There is scant expressed interest here in the speaker's own psychological state.

If your goal is to argue that suffering doesn't give me the right to get what I want, I'm right there with you...

Okay, so we agree on that, and that's a pretty important point. Maybe everything else is just splitting hairs.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2011-04-21T08:21:38.338Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A series of physical blows can endanger a person's life and, even more probably, incapacitate them for a prolonged period or permanently by breaking a bone, rupturing an internal organ, and the like. For this reason, a physical assault must be taken very seriously.

I would like to second this and more generally point out that I am bothered by the focus on pain rather than damage from physical assaults. Of course, this is not LCPW; we can talk about attacks that are primarily about pain rather than damage, e.g. slapping someone. I just think we should be explicit about doing so.

comment by pjeby · 2011-04-20T04:20:27.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If we suffer, there are two causes of our suffering: (a) that we desired a certain state of affairs, and (b) that our desire was thwarted.

This isn't entirely accurate. The thwarting of a desire may be required for suffering, but it isn't sufficient. One must also have an attachment to the object of desire - a belief that one should have the desire fulfilled, or that something bad will result if it is not.

Desire and attachment are commonly conflated, but they are distinct. One can have attachment without desire, and desire without attachment.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T04:30:16.341Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

One can have attachment without desire, and desire without attachment.

Sounds like a Buddhist analysis.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-04-20T04:58:39.383Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but also one that does a good job of describing certain situations.

For example: Alicorn has recently moved in with me. We have what should be a very agreeable situation when it comes to keeping the house clean: I don't care and strongly prefer not to clean; Alicorn cares slightly more and doesn't mind cleaning; we each clean only to the degree that we feel like cleaning or want the house to be clean, and so far that's actually working quite well. (The fact that normal fairness is mostly not relevant here probably helps, though Alicorn and I being unusually compatible as roommates go may be a larger factor.)

However, I was raised with the idea that people will care about cleanliness to a degree that will cause them to consider the usual state of our living space unacceptable. This is not something I desire, but it is a thought to which I am attached, and as a result I find it mildly stressful to ignore that in favor of reality - I find myself worrying about whether it's really okay, or if Alicorn is just putting up with it and will eventually start complaining, or silly things like that. It's relatively minor in this case - I trust Alicorn enough in the relevant ways that I don't really think she thinks those things - but if I were more predisposed to that kind of worry I could certainly see it turning into a significant source of discomfort even in the face of evidence. (And yes, I'm working on it. She's only been here two and a half months and it's already significantly better than it was.)

comment by pjeby · 2011-04-20T22:35:20.382Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like a Buddhist analysis.

Because I stole the word "attachment" from them, yes. But really, it's a matter of affective asynchrony -- i.e., the ability to have mixed feelings.

Human motivational emotions aren't a single scale, where disutility is subtracted from utility to yield an output value. Instead, they're points on a plane, where utility and disutility are axes, and certain co-ordinates are unreachable.

So, it's possible to have things whose absence causes pain, but whose presence doesn't cause any pleasure (aka "satisficers"), and things whose presence creates pleasure, but whose absence doesn't cause any pain. (Among other possible combinations.)

The "axes" for these things seem relatively independently programmable - that is, you can usually remove an "attachment" (conditioned displeasure) without affecting the "desire". (I've never tried the reverse.)

(Also, this is still a bit of a simplification, since "desire" is kind of vague -- we have things we feel driven to do, but which don't provide us any pleasure, and things which provide us pleasure, but which we don't feel driven to do. Human beings are seriously f'd up in the head. ;-) )

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-20T03:05:47.721Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What would you say to someone who replied "Many punches would have hurt me deeply 15 years ago but hardly any can now because I've studied martial arts. It is within my power to feel zero pain from any blow you might deliver. People really can change their physical capabilities to take less physical pain if they want to."?

There is play there, but the ability to your ability to change your body is really not remotely close to your ability to change your mind.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-20T13:06:35.051Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to follow that the "bright line" between physical and psychological harm is a quantitative difference.

More precisely, it's not that people are able to "choose not to be harmed" by psychological influences but unable to do so for physical ones, but rather that people are more able to choose not to be harmed by psychological than physical influences.

Based on that I conclude that the important factor here is how much ability the sufferer has to protect themselves from suffering, and what the cost to them of doing so would be. Whether the suffering is physical or psychological or neither is at best a stand-in for that; it is not important in and of itself.

Obliterating the "bright line" you want to draw here (as you claim yvain does) and replacing it with a consideration for ability to protect oneself does not justify "answering an argument with a bullet."

Sure, if in a particular case we're for some reason unable to come up with a better estimate of how much ability the sufferer had to protect themselves, we can select a prior based on a clumsy metric like "you can protect yourself from psychological harm but not physical harm."

For example, if I know nothing more about a particular conflict than that person A was talking to person B and person B shot person A in response, I have a pretty high confidence that person B reacted inappropriately.

But I don't have to embrace a misleading sharp line between physical and psychological harm in order to reach that conclusion.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-25T00:00:37.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For example, if I know nothing more about a particular conflict than that person A was talking to person B and person B shot person A in response, I have a pretty high confidence that person B reacted inappropriately.

But what it it's one person A who is committed to drawing cartoons which offend a billion muslims. He flatly refuses to stop over an extended period of time. Eventually one (or more) of them kills A..

Did the killer(s) act inappropriately in this case? It looks efficient under Yvain's calculus, doesn't it?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-25T13:16:42.157Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So, I'll emphasize that the point that you quote was tangential to this, and had to do with the implications of reasoning under conditions of incomplete information.

But, to answer your question: I don't endorse murder as an appropriate response to offense.

Why not? Well, one simple reason is that I would rather live in a culture where people offend one another without recourse than a culture where people kill one another without sanction over idiosyncratic grounds for offense, were those the only choices (which, of course, they aren't).

That said, if you could convince me that no, actually, we'd all be better off if we established the cultural convention that killing people for drawing offensive cartoons was acceptable, I would (reluctantly) change my position. I can't imagine how you could actually convince me of that in the real world, though.

Moreover, it seems to me that this sort of consequentialist reasoning for what is and is not an appropriate response is entirely consistent with Yvain's post, and I don't expect that he will disagree with my conclusion. (Though I'd be interested if he did.)

And, just to be clear about this, the difference between physical and psychological harm that you started out arguing the importance of is completely orthogonal to my reasoning here. If instead of killing A, the hypothetical muslims put A in a sensory-deprivation tank until A goes irreversibly mad, my answer doesn't significantly change. (Does yours?)

Digressing a little... note that when the grounds for offense are sufficiently endorsed by the mainstream culture, we have a way of no longer calling it "murder"... or, if we do, we create special categories to distinguish it from, you know, real murder. For example, there exist municipalities where, if I walk in on my wife having sex with another man and kill him in response, this is considered different from if I walk in on my wife serving ice cream and kill him in response... and this is completely independent of my personal feelings about sex and ice cream.

Conversely, when an act offends enough of us, or offends powerful enough individuals, we often criminalize it... whereupon we respond to it by deputizing state agents to forcibly restrain the person and deprive them of safety, comfort, and liberty (and, in extreme cases, life).

All of which is to say that this business of responding to "merely psychological" offenses with "physical" retaliation is not solely the province of putative extremists from a different culture than my own. Not that you were stating otherwise, but I often find it helpful to explicitly remind myself of that.

comment by ameriver · 2011-04-21T06:30:10.014Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is very nicely put, and is sort of what I was thinking when I commented, but couldn't articulate. Thanks!

comment by ameriver · 2011-04-20T04:19:12.885Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you be willing to support/expand on that claim further? I have low confidence since I haven't spent a whole lot of time thinking about it, but this runs counter to my intuition.

comment by alexflint · 2011-04-20T08:46:15.148Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So which to which argument would you prefer a bullet?

Any for which the consequences of the alternatives are less desirable than the consequences of a bullet. Such situations are rare but not unheard-of in practice, though it's not hard to come up with hypotheticals to demonstrate this.

comment by MugaSofer · 2014-11-17T18:52:12.133Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To hold that speech is interchangeable with violence is to hold that a bullet can be the appropriate answer to an argument.

I wouldn't consider a picture of Muhammad to be an "argument", would you?

comment by Maelin · 2011-04-17T08:18:46.103Z · score: 19 (27 votes) · LW · GW

This is an interesting post, but Yvain, your made-up pronouns hurt my head. Every time I come to one it disrupts my reading flow and feels like my train of thought crashes into a brick wall. It genuinely makes the post more difficult and less pleasant to read for me. Couldn't you just flip a coin for each new character you reference and give them male or female pronouns based on that?

comment by Manfred · 2011-04-17T09:25:04.697Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Another option would be to use "they".

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-17T10:22:04.506Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I always use "one" as an indefinite pronoun, similar to how I would do it in German. Is that wrong?

...and only if one thinks this has a real chance of stopping the offending behavior either in this case or in the future.

or

...if so, one should nonjudgmentally request the offender stop while applying the Principle of Charity to the offender, and if one wants the maximum chance of the offense stopping, one should resist the urge to demand an apology or do anything else that could potentially turn it into a status game.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T10:50:19.712Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I always use "one" as an indefinite pronoun, similar to how I would do it in German.

From what I've heard, these days there are attempts to condemn man in German as sexist.

In English, I also like using "one" but it's often too clumsy. As for those "ey" and "eir" pronouns, I find them not just extremely ugly, but also a very annoying obstruction while reading.

comment by robertskmiles · 2011-04-17T15:10:10.685Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As for those "ey" and "eir" pronouns,

Is that what that was? I had assumed that the text had been copied from some typesetting system that made a 'th' ligature glyph which didn't survive the copying process.

I actually stopped noticing it pretty quickly. That's what comes from reading a lot of poorly OCRed ebooks.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-20T07:14:49.251Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

As for those "ey" and "eir" pronouns, I find them not just extremely ugly, but also a very annoying obstruction while reading.

Is it worth working to eliminate that negative reaction?

For what it's worth, alternate pronouns don't bother me. I don't love them-- I've never wanted to use alternate pronouns-- but I just treat them like new vocabulary in science fiction (deduce meaning from context) and proceed.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-20T07:49:03.823Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, alternate pronouns don't bother me.

Oh? "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again."

I kid.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-17T11:21:03.708Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From what I've heard, these days there are attempts to condemn man in German as sexist.

True (because it is pronounced the same way as "Mann"), but what can we do about such problems? It seems that using "made up" pronouns until they are integrated is the most natural way of fixing the problem?

You could also work around the problem though, but it requires some effort:

The victim should judge whether ey believes the offense causes more pain to em than it does benefit to the offender; if so, ey should nonjudgmentally request the offender stop while applying the Principle of Charity to the offender, and if ey wants the maximum chance of the offense stopping, ey should resist the urge to demand an apology or do anything else that could potentially turn it into a status game.

versus

Victims should judge whether they believe the offense causes more pain to them than it does benefit to the offender; if so, they should nonjudgmentally request the offender stop while applying the Principle of Charity to the offender, and if they want the maximum chance of the offense stopping, they should resist the urge to demand an apology or do anything else that could potentially turn it into a status game.

Or you simply use "an agent" so that you can use "it"...

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T12:02:25.036Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In the grammars of Slavic languages, including my native one (Croatian), grammatical gender is so pervasive that it would be altogether impossible to speak without using the masculine gender as the default. For example, in the past tense even verbs have gender, so if you want to ask, say, "who was that?", you have to say "who masculine-was that?" Asking "who feminine-was that?" is ungrammatical, even if the answer is certain to be female. There are countless such situations where you simply have to accept that the male subsumes the female to be able to speak at all.

Therefore, when someone claims that using masculine by default is evil, he (hah!) is thereby claiming that my native language is evil, and irreparably so. Should I get offended?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-17T16:25:54.951Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

(shrug) "Evil" confuses the issue.

Just to get away from the politics around real-world examples, suppose I speak a language that genders its verbs based on the height of the object -- that is, there are separate markings for above-average height, below-average height, and average height.

It's an empirical question whether, if I'm figuring out who to hire for a job, asking the question "Whom should we tall-hire?" makes me more likely to hire a tall person than asking "Whom should we short-hire?" If it's true, it is; evil doesn't enter into it under most understandings of evil. It's just a fact about the language and about cognitive biases.

If the best available candidate for the job happens to be tall, but I ask myself whom I should short-hire, the way I'm talking about the job introduces bias into my hiring process that makes me less likely to hire the best available candidate. This also isn't evil, but it's a mistake.

If my language's rules are such that this height-based gender-marking is non-optional, then this mistake is non-optional. My native language is, in that case, irreparably bias-ridden in this way.

Suppose I want to hire the best candidates. What can I do then?

Well, one thing I might do is deliberately alternate among "short-hire," "tall-hire," and "average-hire" in my speech, so as to reduce the systematic bias introduced by my choice of verb. Of course, if my language forces me to use "short-hire" for an unspecified-height target, then doing that is ungrammatical.

Another option is to make up a new way of speaking about hiring... perhaps borrow the equivalent verb from another language, or make up new words, so I can ask "whom should I hire?" without using a height-based gender marking at all. But maybe, inconveniently, my language is such that foreign loan verbs must also be marked in this way.

A third option is to systematically train myself so I am no longer subject to the selection bias that naive speakers of my language demonstrate. But there are opportunity costs associated with that training process, and maybe I don't want to bother.

Ultimately, what I do will depend on how important speaking grammatically is to me, how important hiring optimal employees is, and so forth. If I lose significant status or clarity by speaking ungrammatically, I may prefer to hire suboptimal employees.

Should I get offended if someone points that out? Again, it depends on my goals. If I want to improve my ability to choose the best available candidate, then getting offended in that case is counter-productive. If I want to defend my choice to speak traditionally, then getting offended works reasonably well.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T22:23:54.992Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My above comment was made in a bit of jest, as I hope is clear. Still, some people do make a deep moral issue over "sexist" language, and insofar as they do, moral condemnation of much more heavily gendered languages than English is an inevitable logical consequence.

Regarding the supposed biases arising due to gendered language, do you think that they exist to a significant degree in practice? While it's not a watertight argument to the contrary, I still think it's significant that, to my knowledge, nobody has ever demonstrated any cross-cultural correlation between gender-related norms and customs and the linguistic role of gender. (For what that's worth, of all Indo-European languages, the old I-E gender system has been most thoroughly lost in Persian, which doesn't even have the he-she distinction.)

Also, when I reflect on my own native language and the all-pervasive use of masculine as the default gender, I honestly can't imagine any plausible concrete examples of biases analogous to your hypothetical example with height. Of course, I may be biased in this regard myself.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T00:05:04.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that some people do treat as moral failings many practices that, to my mind, are better treated as mistakes.

I also think that some people react to that by defending practices that, to my mind, are better treated as mistakes.

Regarding the supposed biases arising due to gendered language, do you think that they exist to a significant degree in practice?

I'm not sure.

One way I might approach the question is to teach an experimental subject some new words to denote new roles, and then have the subjects select people to fill those roles based on resumes. By manipulating the genderedness of the name used for the role (e.g., "farner," "farness," or "farnist") and the nominal sex of the candidate (e.g., male or female), we could determine what effect an X-gendered term had on the odds of choosing a Y-sexed candidate.

I have no idea if that study has been performed.

So, for example, would I expect English-speakers (on average) selecting a candidate for the role of "farness" to select a female candidate more often than for the role of "farner"?

Yes, I think so. Probably not a huge difference, though. Call it a 65% confidence for a statistically significant difference.

What's your estimate? (Or, if you'd rather operationalize the question differently, go for it.)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-19T18:41:21.610Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What's your estimate?

I was going to write a more detailed reply, but seeing the literature cited in the book linked by Conchis, I should probably read up on the topic before expressing any further opinions. It could be that I'm underestimating the magnitude of such effects.

That said, one huge difficulty with issues of prejudice and discrimination in general is that what looks like a bias caused by malice, ignorance, or unconscious error is often in fact an instance of accurate statistical discrimination. Rational statistical discrimination is usually very hard to disentangle from various factors that supposedly trigger irrational biases, since all kinds of non-obvious correlations might be lurking everywhere. At the same time, a supposed finding of a factor that triggers irrational bias is a valuable and publishable result for people researching such things, so before I accept any of these findings, I'll have to give them a careful look.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-19T19:03:46.547Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that attribution of things like malice, ignorance, error, and bias to people is tricky... much as with evil, earlier.

This is why I reframed your original question (asking me whether I thought gendered language introduced bias to a significant degree) in a more operational form, actually.

In any case, though, I endorse holding off on expressing opinions while one gathers data (for all that I don't seem to do it very much myself).

comment by conchis · 2011-04-18T22:58:31.439Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding of the relevant research* is that it's a fairly consistent finding that masculine generics (a) do cause people to imagine men rather than women, and (b) that this can have negative effects ranging from impaired recall, comprehension, and self-esteem in women, to reducing female job applications. (Some of these negative effects have also been established for men from feminine generics as well, which favours using they/them/their rather than she/her as replacements.)

* There's an overview of some of this here (from p.26).

comment by steven0461 · 2011-04-18T23:47:29.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if they tested whether individuals suffer similar negative effects from plural generics.

comment by conchis · 2011-04-18T22:56:51.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding of the relevant research* is that it's a fairly consistent finding that masculine generics (a) do cause people to imagine men rather than women, and (b) that this can have negative effects ranging from impaired recall, comprehension, and self-esteem in women, to reducing female job applications. (Some of these negative effects have also been established for men from feminine generics as well, which favours using they/them/their rather than she/her as replacements.)

  • There's an overview of some of this here (from p.26).
comment by nshepperd · 2011-04-17T14:09:19.703Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes I wonder why it's called "grammatical gender" at all, when it so often has no connection to actual gender whatsoever. In your example, there's no gender information transferred at all! It may as well be called "grammatical colour" or "grammatical arbitrary class".

On the other hand, you'd be lucky to be able to exert enough control on convention to make "he" into that kind of word.

comment by komponisto · 2011-04-17T14:48:47.387Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes I wonder why it's called "grammatical gender" at all, when it so often has no connection to actual gender whatsoever. In your example, there's no gender information transferred at all! It may as well be called "grammatical colour" or "grammatical arbitrary class".

As it turns out, that's exactly the original meaning of the word "gender" -- of which the French translation is genre.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-04-17T22:02:12.944Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The Chinese and Japanese character for "sex" (as in, which reproductive organs you have) can also be translated as "a quality" or "nature": 性 is the same character used for "nature" in the expression "Buddha-nature", i.e. "the characteristic quality of a Buddha". The concept could possibly also be expressed as "distinction", as in the limerick of the young lady from Exeter; or as "difference" as in the French expression "Vive la différence" ("Long live the difference" between men and women).

The concept of "grammatical gender" in linguistics is often taken to be a specialization of the more general concept of "noun class". Some languages, particularly African languages closer to the likely point of origin of human language, grammatically distinguish a large number of different noun classes, for particular kinds of things. Some European languages make a distinction between animate and inanimate nouns, but most preserve only the distinction between masculine and feminine nouns.

This may be taken as indicating that as human languages continually diversify and mix in human societies, that the distinctions which are preserved are those which human societies find the most significant: distinctions of sex. Which isn't surprising, since humans do need language to talk about and perform mate selection, where (for almost all humans) sex is highly significant.

English does not express grammatical gender on nouns in general, as French or German do. Indeed, even remaining feminizing suffixes such as -ess are falling out of use: uses such as "poetess" and "authoress" are now seen as dated (and sexist), and even "actress" is obsolescent. However, like other Indo-European languages (but unlike the Finno-Ugric languages, or many East Asian languages) English retains gendered pronouns.

It is not at all clear that removing gender from pronouns is a step in the direction of a less sexist society. Japanese does not use gendered pronouns except for intimate relations; but few would assert that Japan had perfect sexual equality. Sweden is often identified as a society with an unusually high level of sexual equality; but Swedish has gendered pronouns. However, deliberately using gender-neutral pronouns in English draws attention to the gender distinction, and implicitly asks, "Why are we making this distinction here, when we're not doing mate selection right now?"

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-04-18T05:20:22.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Japanese does not use gendered pronouns except for intimate relations.

Only partially true: the Japanese language has differently gendered versions of "I". Pronouns for "you" are indeed generally reserved for intimate relations, and third person pronouns don't seem to exist at all, as far as I can tell.

comment by nshepperd · 2011-04-18T14:53:52.581Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that's interesting, although it still doesn't explain - or rather, justify - the use of the words masculine and feminine for a distinction that has nothing to do with sex. You'd just end up with people getting confused by the words and thinking words like feminine-was have genders or something (whatever it even means for a string of phonemes to have a gender).

comment by conchis · 2011-04-18T23:04:43.849Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Although I agree it's odd, it does in fact seem that there is gender information transferred / inferred from grammatical gender.

From Lera Boroditsky's Edge piece

Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures). And we can also show that it is aspects of language per se that shape how people think: teaching English speakers new grammatical gender systems influences mental representations of objects in the same way it does with German and Spanish speakers.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-17T10:41:10.331Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's generally correct in English to use "one" as an indefinite pronoun, but it's not common casual usage and is not easy to do smoothly.

Though I would nevertheless consider it preferable every time to using made-up pronouns. Singular "they" generally works more smoothly than either alternative.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-04-16T05:18:22.050Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

A couple points.

You miss an important issue, which is the western concept as speech as a right. The Folsom street fair can have a promo poster of the last supper as Jesus as a naked black dude surrounded by transvestites, dominatrixes, and sex toys, and no major Christian organization will propose that anyone should be killed. They may try to get funding taken away from the fair, but that's their right. Westerners have a concept of appropriate levels of conflict, and if someone violates them, we want to punish them. If someone asks me politely to keep it down, I probably will. If they tell mento shut up or they'll kick my ass, my instinct is to talk even louder (especially if they're bluffing). This is sensible as annoy of punishing improper behavior.

I also take issue with your characterization of offense as pain. In some cases - where it's directed at someone, like racial slurs, it is. But in cases of taking offense at untethered actions, pain isn't accurate. It's not exactly painful when, say, a Klansmen sees an interracial couple, even if he finds their behaviour offensive. And even if it were, it seems obvious to menthat the couple should not allow that to affect their behaviour. If the Brits in your example just got arbitrarily angry about seeing trout pictures, I'm not sure the same reaction follows. Perhaps if you taboo offense, you get a more coherent picture of two separate emotional reactions.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T21:21:18.029Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to believe the Klansman (I was considering changing this to Klansperson, but political correctness is probably inappropriate in this situation) doesn't feel anything like real suffering when he sees an interracial couple, but I have no evidence for this except my desire to sweep his feelings under the rug so I don't have to use them in ethical calculus.

For example, I am strongly pro gay rights and gay marriage, but I admit that seeing public displays of affection between gays gives me a negative visceral reaction more than the same displays among straights do. If I could self-modify to remove this feeling I'd do so in a second, but given that I can't self-modify it seems like this preference is worthy of utilitarian respect; eg insofar as they want to be nice to me, gay people should avoid PDAs around me when it's not too inconvenient for them (and if gay people have the same feeling in reverse, straight people who are nice should avoid hetero PDAs around them).

I have no reason to think I can model Klansmen well, but when I try, I imagine their feelings around an interracial couple as being a lot like my feeling around gay people having PDAs.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-17T00:59:36.795Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"I have no reason to think I can model Klansmen well, but when I try, I imagine their feelings around an interracial couple as being a lot like my feeling around gay people having PDAs."

Yes, except the feelings of the Klansman are far stronger - more similar in intensity to the feelings of many muslims toward depictions of Mohammed.

"f I could self-modify to remove this feeling I'd do so in a second, but given that I can't self-modify ..."

From my own experience I suspect you could self-modify but have insufficient incentive to do so. (That's not intended as a criticism.) I once had a very strong revulsion to gay PDAs, now I have a very mild aversion to it, perhaps similar to what you describe:

"I admit that seeing public displays of affection between gays gives me a negative visceral reaction more than the same displays among straights do".

Since you are apparently behaving decently toward gays and not massively uncomfortable in most situations with them there's not much reason to change. No doubt you have bigger fish to fry.

I feel similar to that but I'm confident that my mild aversion would decrease if I became close friends with a gay couple and spent a lot of time with them. My aversion would easily be swamped by more important values.

comment by Davorak · 2011-04-17T20:20:02.872Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. When I hear people say the equivalent of "I can't self-modify" I always want to ask "what have you tried so far," and "how long have tried for." Normally that answer is not much(only a few approaches) and not very long. It often comes from lack of incentives and a belief equivalent to "thats just the way I am."

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T01:31:41.223Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's consistent with the point I was making, but let me dial back a bit.

I don't want to commit the Typical Mind Fallacy by generalizing too much from one example. In recent years I've realized more and more that my mind works in a fashion that is not typical of most people I've met. Some things which are very easy for me seem very difficult for others, and some things difficult for me seem easy for them.

Options available to one are not necessarily available to others.

It's fine to offer my experience but I'd do better to be more conservative about speculation on the options available to other particular individuals. Yvain is obviously a top poster here who I assume has done a lot of introspection and thought a lot about self modification so it was cheeky of me to assume I might know more about how he can self-modify than he does - in one of my first posts.

Oops.

comment by Davorak · 2011-04-18T03:19:26.227Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. If I am reading your post correctly, then I also might have committed a Mind Projection Fallacy when I read your post, projecting lack of assumption when there was some.

it was cheeky of me to assume I might know more about how he can self-modify than he does - in one of my first posts.

From your post I thought you were expressing that at one point you reacted to gay affection similar to what he described and similarly thought that you could not self modify. You now know that you can so it makes sense to spread the news and method to someone who thinks they can not(who would probably want to if they could) and might be in a similar position you once were and might apply the same solution. Of course maybe Yvain is not in a similar situation and your solution would not apply. You might know more, but there is a better chance that the two experiences do no overlap.

My response comes from the use of "can't self-modify" rather then "can't self-modify due to lack of time/resources," "my continuing efforts have not yet borne fruit," "I have tried all of my ideas and I am seek new ones," "other projects consume my time and it is not currently worthwhile to pursue," and etc. I have seen many people put road blocks in front of themselves by saying "can't" which often reenforces the belief in "can't" rather then staying cognizant of the conditions that make something unworthy of investment.

It may be cheeky to assume that you know weather this particular self modification is worth the resource use to Yvain, but it is not cheeky ask for more details(which are only for Yvain to share at his discretion) or offer personal experiences that Yvain may glen some insight or solution from.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T06:24:25.147Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"From your post I thought you were expressing that at one point you reacted to gay affection similar to what he described and similarly thought that you could not self modify. You now know that you can so it makes sense to spread the news and method to someone who thinks they can not(who would probably want to if they could) and might be in a similar position you once were and might apply the same solution."

That's all correct. But...

"My response comes from the use of "can't self-modify" rather then "can't self-modify due to lack of time/resources," "my continuing efforts have not yet borne fruit," "I have tried all of my ideas and I am seek new ones," "other projects consume my time and it is not currently worthwhile to pursue," and etc. I have seen many people put road blocks in front of themselves by saying "can't" which often reenforces the belief in "can't" rather then staying cognizant of the conditions that make something unworthy of investment."

...on reflection it seemed unlikely to me that pretty much all of this hadn't occurred to him. And I didn't have much more to offer - I changed my mind over time by thinking about it.

Considering his involvement with LW, which is all about self modification, I think the reasonable interpretation of "I'd modify this in a minute but I can't" is approximately "I've tried to modify this without success", not " I think this kind of change is impossible". What I characterized as cheeky was my reading in of the latter interpretation.

I don't have any further advice that shouldn't be obvious. And like I said I've developed an appreciation that some things are a lot harder for people than others. Weird little things in many cases.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-16T21:40:00.971Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

How should this interact with people who are interested in seeing the display in question? (E.g. I once made out with a girl on a bus full of people and we got lots of, er, positive attention. How should I have weighted that vs. your discomfort with public displays of gay affection if you had been on the bus with us?)

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T21:44:29.954Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I just realized that when I said "gay", I meant "gay male".

Although to answer your question, you'd have to sum up the positive and negative preferences of people who might see you. I expect you'd probably be in the clear at a college pub, less so at the Retired Baptist Womens' Convention.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-16T21:52:18.835Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I just realized that when I said "gay", I meant "gay male".

Yeah, I thought that might be it. (Of course, when I see gay guys being affectionate my response is "awwwwwww", so the same sort of question can be constructed.)

comment by bgaesop · 2011-04-17T23:43:17.367Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

insofar as they want to be nice to me, gay people should avoid PDAs around me when it's not too inconvenient for them

It seems to me that encouraging this sort of behavior has many, much larger consequences that you either aren't thinking of or are deliberately omitting. Consider, for example, the closeted classmate of the gay couple, who knows that they are gay and takes a bit of strength from seeing them express their love publicly--it gives him hope that one day he can do the same. Upon the gay couple taking your advice, however, he sees that even people who proclaim themselves his ally (you) don't actually want him to be affectionate with people of his sex (this is by far the most common interpretation of your request, in my ample experience. Recall that in this framework your intention doesn't matter, merely its effects). On the contrary, he sees you and people like you punishing gay behavior and not doing the same to equivalent straight behavior (note that you don't request straights not to have PDAs, you merely think it OK for others to do so, and in an environment where gay PDAs have already been shot down as inappropriate, this is an extremely risky request for the closeted fellow to make). Thus, this heavily encourages people to remain closeted, which is a very harmful condition. So much moreso than being offended that I venture to say that I cannot think of an offense I would not inflict if it meant that a frightened, closeted queer* could come out without negative consequences.

Edit: I am leaving the following sentence here because it has provoked an interesting discussion, but please think of it as a separate post from the preceding one, as it seems to sharply change people's opinion of the rest of the post:

*similarly to nigger, this is our word, not yours, and so my use of it is not offensive, but if you were to use it in a way other than by quoting me, it would be

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-17T23:49:04.234Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Goshdarnit, I had you upvoted until you pulled the "our word" thing. That really irks me. I adhere to rules like that because I usually don't want words that "belong" to other groups more than I want to avoid the firestorm, but... Hey, I'm bisexual. Suppose I declare that it's okay with me if Yvain uses the word "queer" to describe people who identify as queer. Then is it okay? I mean, it's my word, right? Can't I share it?

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T05:16:47.467Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I often use the term ‘queer’ as a catch-all term for LGBTetc (and much shorter than an ever-growing acronym); the definition is basically anybody who fails to conform to mainstream expectations of gender and sexuality. (The antonym of ‘queer’ is ‘straight’, which for me is rather more specific than ‘heterosexual’.) As a queer person myself, presumably I have the right to do this (although I'm not gay, so maybe not?), but actually I would like others to do so as well.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T13:48:42.305Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I'm concerned you're free to do this. Then again, I started using "queer" instead of "gay" years ago precisely because I wanted my language to be more inclusive.

comment by bgaesop · 2011-04-17T23:59:54.094Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Goshdarnit, I had you upvoted until you pulled the "our word" thing. That really irks me

Haha, the ironing is delicious. I was throwing that in there not because I typically find it offensive, but to draw attention to yet another detail that was perhaps overlooked. Not that Yvain did so, but since the topic is things that offend people, I thought it worth bringing up.

Hey, I'm bisexual. Suppose I declare that it's okay with me if Yvain uses the word "queer" to describe people who identify as queer. Then is it okay? I mean, it's my word, right? Can't I share it?

Do you have black friends who have decided that you can say "nigger"? It's the same issue, more or less.

My actual opinion on the subject varies greatly depending on the context. Is it a bunch of non-hetero people talking? Then sure, fire away. Is it a heterosexual that I know personally to be supportive of lgbtqetc rights, has positive opinions of other sexual orientations, et cetera, and the group they're with takes no offense at their use of it? Then sure, absolutely.

But what if it's a heterosexual that I don't know? Well, then it makes me a bit squicky. What if it's you and Yvain talking, and you've previously (before I arrived) said that it's okay for Yvain to say it? I show up, I don't know you're bisexual, Yvain does something that indicates he(?) is heterosexual, and then uses the word queer. I would be weirded out, feel significantly less comfortable, and depending on my prior mood, either push the issue or try to leave.

What if it's just some straight guys talking? Then it has exactly the same problems as a bunch of white people using the word "nigger" amongst themselves. Even more, because there are people who appear to outsiders' glances to be straight, but really aren't, whereas there are very few people who appear to be white but are actually black.

I think it is a very good general rule that if you are not part of a minority, you should not use words that have been specifically socioengineered to cause offense to that minority. White people shouldn't, in general, say "nigger" or "darkie", with rather few exceptions. Similarly, straight people shouldn't, in general, say "queer" or "faggot" or "dyke", with rather few exceptions.

So to actually answer your question, I would say that that makes it perfectly okay for Yvain to use in conversations between the two of you or between him and other people who have expressed the same sentiment as you. That does not make it okay for Yvain to then use that with carte blanche in all social situations.

Sorry for using you as the example, Yvain, when you haven't actually done any of the things we're discussing.

edit: I am quite curious about the downvotes I'm receiving. Could the people who are downvoting me please respond and say why, as Alicorn did? Probably not, since me editing this won't send you a notification, but I thought I'd ask. I would also be extremely curious to know the sexualities of the people who are upvoting Alicorn but not me, vice versa, both, or neither. As a separate question, does anyone know of a way, perhaps similar to Reddit Enhancement Suite, to see the number of upvotes and the number of downvotes, rather than just their sum?

comment by Torben · 2011-04-20T12:25:45.268Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Libertarian white straight male here. "Our word" is the map, not the territory.

Everything is context and many people will fail miserably at using "nigger", "queer" etc. in even marginally appropriate contexts. Moreover, probably >99% of the time whites/straights use the words they're meant to be offensive. Which is all the more reason (for members of these groups) to avoid the use to avoid confusion.

However, that also includes members of said minorities who belive that from their merely being members of such groups they have rights or sensibilities others don't. They don't. It's just that they're pretty much guaranteed not to be denigrating their own group*.

So to me the issue is transparency. If I as a straight white male somehow could achieve the same level of transparency regarding my goals and intentions, I should be able to use such words just like black gays. My scheme allows for that; yours doesn't.

Finally, many people take offence at "nigger" or "queer", even when used by the in-groups. I feel pretty uncomfortable when you guys do that, so would you please stop it?**

ETA: would you yourself "use ["queer"] with carte blanche in all social situations"?

*: At least in the way of the original haters. **: Semi-tongue-in-cheek.

comment by bgaesop · 2011-04-23T05:55:06.863Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Our word" is the map, not the territory.

In the realm of social interaction, the territory you're navigating is made up of other people's maps.

However, that also includes members of said minorities who belive that from their merely being members of such groups they have rights or sensibilities others don't. They don't.

I'm not sure what you mean here. They do have extra sensibilities, in the sense that they're sensitive to things others aren't: you aren't hurt (or at least, not in the same way) by the words "nigger" or "queer", whereas they are. They do have extra rights, in the sense that, if they clearly present as queer, they can be more confident about being transparent in their motivations and intentions for using the word, and so can expect to be able to use it in more social situations without repercussions.

So to me the issue is transparency. If I as a straight white male somehow could achieve the same level of transparency regarding my goals and intentions, I should be able to use such words just like black gays. My scheme allows for that; yours doesn't.

I mostly agree with this. I see two problems with it. The first is that there are people who have had extremely negative experiences with the word in the past and thus hearing it from anyone, regardless of the intentions of the person saying it, would hurt them. But that's mostly been addressed by your point about transparency, and the rest is addressed by:

ETA: would you yourself "use ["queer"] with carte blanche in all social situations"?

No, I would not, excellent point. My second issue is, if you don't have any sort of nefarious intentions, what is motivating you to use the word, instead of another one? Are you in a rap battle for the fate of the universe and you absolutely must complete the rhyme "drank a beer, jigger of rum//man that queer nigger was dumb"?

*: At least in the way of the original haters

Keen observation.

Upon reading all of this conversation and thinking about this for several days, I have amended my policy to be more or less the same as yours. I now do not have a problem with people using those words if I, and everyone else present, has a very clear idea of what the person's intentions are. Upon reflection I believe that this is the policy I was actually basing my reactions on, yet it was not the one I was vocalizing. I am now curious as to why I was vocalizing the policy I was. Perhaps to increase my status among the minority I'm a part of? Hmm. I'll be thinking about this for a while.

....aaaand someone just walked by my room yelling "you're a nigger! A double nigger!"

comment by Torben · 2011-04-24T10:27:26.163Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I commend you for your amendment. Good for you, sir!

My second issue is, if you don't have any sort of nefarious intentions, what is motivating you to use the word ["queer"], instead of another one? Are you in a rap battle for the fate of the universe and you absolutely must complete the rhyme "drank a beer, jigger of rum//man that queer nigger was dumb"?

I rarely use such words, because it's difficult to get it right. But my libertarian side does not like people telling me what I can or can't say.

When I do use such words, it's most often to mock a racist/sexist/homophobic POV.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-18T00:09:05.253Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My impression was that (around New England at least!) "queer" has been pretty thoroughly stripped of negative connotations. I'm sure things are different elsewhere.

But I really think that there's a huge difference between white supporters of racial equality and non-queer "allies" WRT their relationships with the respective groups in question.

comment by bgaesop · 2011-04-18T00:17:27.423Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My impression was that (around New England at least!) "queer" has been pretty thoroughly stripped of negative connotations. I'm sure things are different elsewhere.

Having never lived in New England I cannot comment from personal experience, and furthermore if I do live there in the future I'll be bringing my own emotional baggage with me, so I won't be able to judge even then. That said, I am very incredulous of this.

May I take a guess as to the social groups I suspect you've encountered this in? I guess that they are primarily white, male, or perhaps a good mixture of genders (but not overwhelmingly female), several of whom are not-straight, almost all of them are relatively highly educated, very lightly religious if at all, and most were not raised in industrial working class households. Is this accurate? What do you think the differences would be if you were, for example, among a group of poorly-educated factory workers who are devoutly Catholic?

But I really think that there's a huge difference between white supporters of racial equality and non-queer "allies" WRT their relationships with the respective groups in question.

I would be very curious for you to expound upon this.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-18T01:40:19.635Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems, if I am not mistaken, that I may have caused some offense. If so, I apologize, and I sympathize with you if you're in a situation where "queer" is an insult - my intended meaning was that: "straight people shouldn't, in general, say "queer"... with rather few exceptions" isn't the case everywhere. In fact, I'd expect that if one were to try to use "queer" as an insult around Cambridge, one would at least initially have difficulty conveying the intended meaning. We've even got queer straight people.

May I take a guess as to the social groups I suspect you've encountered this in?

Of course! I'd guess that a good first approximation of these social groups is the demographics of a good American college near a prominent body of water (for some reason, this seems to correlate with social liberalism). The only caveat beyond the implied racial re-calibration is that my social groups tend to be predominantly female. And certainly my experience would be different in other settings - as I noted in the grandparent.

But I really think that there's a huge difference between white supporters of racial equality and non-queer "allies" WRT their relationships with the respective groups in question.

I would be very curious for you to expound upon this.

Well, that's a whole complicated issue, but the big thing that jumped to mind was that the "supporter" group in "alternative-sexuality" politics is often lumped in with the people they're "supporting" (gay-straight alliances, the addition of "allies" to the ever-expanding LGBTBBQ acronym...).

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-18T04:41:08.006Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In fact, I'd expect that if one were to try to use "queer" as an insult around Cambridge, one would at least initially have difficulty conveying the intended meaning.

You are very optimistic. I expect that even in your area, you could easily accomplish the feat by making a disgusted face and preceding the noun with the modifier "fucking".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T13:56:16.809Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking as a former queer Cantabrigian (who has since moved to a different town): your expectation is entirely correct. Indeed, the "fucking" is optional; tone of voice will do the job quite well.

(EDIT: If the downvoters clarify, either in comment or PM, what it is of this comment they want less of, I might comply with their preferences.)

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-18T04:48:30.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yeah, I guess you're right about that.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-04-18T05:11:04.862Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I can tell, from my reading of the feminist blogosphere (which has considerable overlap with what I might call the pro-LGBT blogosphere), "queer" is generally considered an acceptable catchall term for anyone with a sexuality that doesn't quite fit into any of what might be called "standard categories". Or, at least, I've never seen anyone ever say that it was a word that shouldn't be used.

comment by khafra · 2011-04-16T12:56:19.123Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Social pain and physical pain seem to be strongly linked. A dyed-in-the-wool racist may indeed experience actual pain at the sight of an interracial couple.

"Speech as a right" is exactly how this appeared to me when it was all fresh and new, which casts the conflict as a bilateral jihad. Our sacred values are freedom of speech, and not being provoked to physical violence by speech. Islam's sacred value is not visually depicting Mohammed. Western civilization probably looks like Superhappies to them.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-04-16T17:00:57.927Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Social pain and physical pain seem to be strongly linked.

I've been offended once or twice in my life. It wasn't painful. It caused anger. I wouldn't call offense pleasant, but I would call it satisfying, to a certain degree. Pain generally isn't. Mental pain and physical pain may be related, but I don't think most offense (particularly of the generalized variety) is properly analogized.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-04-24T23:20:12.347Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Noticing this again, I feel I went much too easy in my other comment.

This science you cite is completely irrelevant to the dispute. My objection was not that emotional pain and physical pain are different, but that offense is not pain in any sense. That I admit emotional pain is real is quite obvious because I said that targeted racial slurs cause pain.

You cite a study to prove that emotional pain and physical pain are similar - a point that was never in contention. You then use a counterexample that simply assumes that offense is a form of emotional pain - assuming away the exact problem you are trying to address. My entire point is that the emotion of untargeted offense is distinct from the emotion of pain, which you haven't actually addressed.

I wouldn't typically re-comment on something like this, but the "Citing science for a tangentially related point, then following it with an unfounded assertion that is implicitly (but not actually) supported by said science," really, really bothers me, even if you did this unintentionally.

comment by xv15 · 2011-04-17T15:35:47.084Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

There are commenters who note that the use of "ey" and other gender neutral pronouns hurts their head. You may understand this and still use "ey" as part of a larger attempt to accustom people to language that is ultimately more convenient, even if it's worse in the short run. Which is a perfect example of what I was going to say:

When you do your harm minimization calculation, you really need to include the entire path over time, and not just the snapshot. It is often true that hurting people today makes them stronger in the future, resulting in a better outcome. It could be, for instance, that gay marriage today offends more people more deeply than it benefits, but that by pushing for its spread, many of the formerly offended people end up desensitized to it (see also any number of past civil rights issues). Or, if by showing the Brits enough pictures of salmon we could actually desensitize them to the pain, in the long run we may all be better off.

A big difference between the salmon and mohammed example is that you built into the first that Brits can't adapt to the pain. But some people may be imagining a future, better world where everyone has free speech and nobody has a problem with it. And they imagine that the way to get there is by exercising that freedom now, even if it's bad in the short run.

Personally, my feeling is that retaining offendability on some topics can easily confer benefits, but I am sympathetic to people who have not realized this, and I can understand why they would feel some compunction to wave their free speech rights in the faces of others, without necessarily being "bad" people.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-16T02:08:35.162Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I think the slippery slope you describe is not the correct slope to talk about. Rather, the argument I often hear is "if we accede to Muslims in this relatively trivial matter of pictures, they will see this as a sign of weakness, and expect stronger demands to be met as well."

comment by Lightwave · 2011-04-16T08:21:26.134Z · score: 1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"if we accede to Muslims in this relatively trivial matter of pictures, they will see this as a sign of weakness, and expect stronger demands to be met as well."

While this might happen, isn't the nice thing to do to cooperate at least the first time? You can always later revise your position and refuse to concede further when pushed.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-04-16T09:01:53.260Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Where exactly do you draw the line, then? "I can quit whenever I want to" isn't much of a strategy.

Consider two timelines:

In A, the aggressive underdog starts by demanding a trivial concession under threat of violence, to which the complacent superpower accedes. Later, underdog wants a more significant concession, and again threatens violence. Superpower resists, underdog (considering superpower weak of resolve) follows through on the threat. People die, nothing is accomplished.

In B, the aggressive underdog starts by demanding a trivial concession under threat of violence, which the complacent superpower rejects derisively. Later, underdog wants a more significant concession, but has had no success with previous threats of violence and so considers what other bargaining chips they have. Superpower negotiates, and a mutually-acceptable compromise is reached.

comment by Lightwave · 2011-04-16T10:26:16.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Later, underdog wants a more significant concession, but has had no success with previous threats of violence and so considers what other bargaining chips they have. Superpower negotiates, and a mutually-acceptable compromise is reached.

Well what I had in mind is that the superpower could attempt to negotiate a compromise right from the start. And to show that it's willing to compromise (not only in words), it might make the small concession first. Get the "moral high-ground", so to speak.

Now this might not work depending on who they're dealing with. But I doubt that "Muslims" in general are a group that can't be influenced in such a way. It almost certainly isn't going to be good enough for the types of people who threaten violence and follow-up on it, but they themselves could be influenced by other Muslims.

I could be expecting people to be more reasonable and rational than they actually are, so I might be wrong on how this will play out, I guess. Any (historical) real-world examples (or counter-examples)?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-04-16T14:17:29.313Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Neville Chamberlain.

By making a concession first, you are not starting a negotiation. You are, effectively, concluding a negotiation by agreeing to a minor variation on the deal they initially proposed: whatever they want in exchange for not getting hurt. The geopolitical equivalent of saying you 'don't want no trouble' and reaching for your wallet.

comment by khafra · 2011-04-16T17:21:34.491Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You may be thinking of Reciprocity in Cialdini's Weapons of Influence. AFAIK, that works better on a person to person basis; if you're trying to negotiate between nation-states and religions, you're probably better off basing your work on the Strategy of Conflict.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-04-17T15:46:09.051Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

It is necessary to draw pictures of Mohammed to show Muslims that violence and terrorism are inappropriate responses. I think the logic here is that a few people drew pictures of Mohammed, some radicals sent out death threats and burned embassies, and now we need to draw more pictures of Mohammed to convince Muslims not to do this.

Of the motivations described above, I think this is the closest, but still not quite accurate. The point of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, as I saw it anyhow, wasn't to show that violence and terrorism are inappropriate responses, but that they are ineffective responses. It isn't about teaching Muslims not to threaten others, but teaching others to defy threats of censorship. It's a group exercise in defying threats of violence; it's one of those "the pen is mightier than the sword" things.

Another modern event dealing with the preservation of freedom of speech is Banned Books Week, which celebrates defiance against censorship, especially in libraries and schools. It's an event that celebrates your right to read Huckleberry Finn, Lolita, Slaughterhouse-Five, or Heather Has Two Mommies by encouraging people to read books that have been, in one context or another, banned or threatened with being banned.

Is Banned Books Week offensive to people who think these books should be banned, and that encouraging people to read them is evil? Yes, in fact it is.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-04-17T21:04:16.664Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I basically agree. The point is to show would-be intimidators that we will not be intimidated. The point is to resist those would would impose an unjust law.

" if British people politely asked this favor of them"

The problem is that the Muslims are not asking nicely. Fundamentally, this is no different from civil disobedience.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-04-17T21:27:07.494Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Well, "the Muslims" don't do anything at all. Individual people do. Some of them do violence; others do peaceful protest; others write letters-to-the-editor and blog posts.

As Eliezer said way back here, and as many other advocates of the Enlightenment have said before: "Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever."

The Enlightenment difference is not between "the Muslims" and "the West", or any other sectarian difference. It is between those who respond to bad argument with bullet, and those who do not.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T05:12:58.030Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that on the whole Islam was a lot less fully engaged with the Enlightenment than Christianity.

Put another way, Christianity got it's balls cut off and Islam didn't. A lot of muslims are aware of this and recognize the Enlightenment as bent on cutting the balls off their religion. And they're right about that.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-04-17T22:06:33.117Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Well, 'the Muslims' don't do anything at all. Individual people do"

I disagree, sometimes people act in concert. For example, it's reasonable to say that the US invaded Afghanistan even though at another level, it was a few hundred thousand soldiers, all wearing the same uniform, who did so.

To be sure, "Muslims" is a significantly less coherent group than the US. However, there seems to be reasonably broad consensus among Muslim leadership that their principle -- that Koran burning should be seen as a crime -- is more important than the Western principle that it should not be so.

In any event, your point is a bit of a side point since the original post speaks of "British People" in the same group-oriented way. Reasonable people reading the original post will understand the phrase "British people asked politely" to mean some consensus of British leadership. I was referring to "Muslims" in the same way.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-04-17T22:39:41.992Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree, sometimes people act in concert.

And sometimes people coerce or trick other people into supporting them or identifying with them. I'm in the US, and pay taxes to the US government, but I didn't invade Afghanistan. Joe Storeowner may pay "protection money" to the New York Mafia, but Joe didn't have a gang war with the New Jersey Mafia. Yet from the point of view of a Mafia historian, "New York had a war with New Jersey" and Joe's opinion is irrelevant; he is merely a citizen of the New York Mafia's territory.

The original thought-experiment asked us to imagine that all British people suffered from salmon-phobia. This assumes a level of distinction that in real life, we would regard as a fallacy — because in the thought-experiment world, we could truly say that if someone wasn't offended by salmon, that proved they weren't British.

In other words, in the world of the thought-experiment, the "no true Scotsman" fallacy is not a fallacy at all, but defined to be true.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-04-17T22:55:45.735Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"I'm in the US, and pay taxes to the US government, but I didn't invade Afghanistan."

I agree, that's exactly the point. When I said that "Muslims are not asking nicely," I was not referring to every last Muslim.

"The original thought-experiment asked us to imagine that all British people suffered from salmon-phobia. This assumes a level of distinction that in real life, we would regard as a fallacy"

Agree, the original thought experiment would be more accurate if British people had the same sort of general feeling about fish which Muslims have about Koran-burning.

And in that case, my original point still stands.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-18T19:14:03.815Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The original thought-experiment asked us to imagine that all British people suffered from salmon-phobia. This assumes a level of distinction that in real life, we would regard as a fallacy — because in the thought-experiment world, we could truly say that if someone wasn't offended by salmon, that proved they weren't British.

I don't think the original thought experiment would change much if the aliens only hacked 85% of British people chosen at random rather than every single one.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-16T14:40:20.664Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Muslims' sensitivity to Mohammed is based on a falsehood; Islam is a false religion and Mohammed is too dead to care how anyone depicts him. I agree with this statement, but I don't think it licenses me to cause psychic pain to Muslims. I couldn't go around to mosques and punch Muslims in the face, shouting "Your religion is false, so you deserve it!".

This strikes me as a bad analogy. Seeing pictures of Mohammed is only offensive to Muslims because of their conviction in a poorly evidenced falsehood, whereas punching someone in the face is an offense regardless of what they believe. I think that a more apt comparison would be holding communion wafers hostage in order to offend Catholics.

If I thought that actions like these would discourage people from taking offense due to falsehoods, I would consider that to be a strong argument in their favor, but I don't see that they're actually doing much aside from fueling persecution complexes and feeding conflict.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-16T15:06:45.978Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This strikes me as a bad analogy. Seeing pictures of Mohammed is only offensive to Muslims because of their conviction in a poorly evidenced falsehood, whereas punching someone in the face is an offense regardless of what they believe.

I don't think this is completely true. Speaking as a former Orthodox Jew, the idea of someone desecrating a Torah scroll fills with me with deep emotional pain even though I know that there's nothing at all holy or sacred about it. Once that sort of offense becomes ingrained it is very hard to remove even when one understands that it isn't based on any actual part of reality.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T17:26:53.115Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking as a former Orthodox Jew, the idea of someone desecrating a Torah scroll fills with me with deep emotional pain even though I know that there's nothing at all holy or sacred about it. Once that sort of offense becomes ingrained it is very hard to remove even when one understands that it isn't based on any actual part of reality.

I don't think this offense is without any basis in reality. If someone goes around desecrating Torahs, you would be completely rational to conclude that he probably has an issue with Jews in general and feel threatened. Even if you no longer believe in Judaism, and even if you no longer identify as a Jew, this doesn't mean that Jew-haters will leave you off the hook. You may disown your religious, ethnic, or tribal affiliations, but this doesn't mean others will stop perceiving and treating you as still bound by them. (As many found out the hard way in Germany in the 1930s, to give only the most dramatic example.)

To get back to the question from the original post, this also implies that it may be rational for Muslims to sense hostility and feel threatened by people who go around committing blasphemy according to their norms, and similar for every other religion. However, it still doesn't mean that every feeling of offense is a legitimate response to hostility -- as with any human interaction where interests clash, we see a complicated interplay of signaling, Schellingian strategy, and dancing around focal points looking for ways to move them in a favorable direction. Of course, things also depend on the more explicit relations of power, wealth, status, alliances, etc. between the parties involved.

The error of the original post is to assume that these complex and highly situation-dependent questions can be analyzed with a naive consequentialist approach, but it would also be an error to simply reverse its conclusion. In different situations when offense is felt and expressed, many different scenarios may be taking place.

comment by endoself · 2011-04-17T04:03:18.348Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

If someone goes around desecrating Torahs, you would be completely rational to conclude that he probably has an issue with Jews in general and feel threatened.

Here's a possible litmus test: how would you feel about another former Orthodox Jew desecrating a Torah scroll as a symbol of eir change in belief.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T23:02:31.361Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a possible litmus test: how would you feel about another former Orthodox Jew desecrating a Torah scroll as a symbol of eir change in belief.

"Another"? I assume this question is directed at Joshua Z. I am not a former Orthodox Jew, nor any other kind of Jew for that matter. I'm Catholic.

That said, as I wrote in my above comment, clearly the context of an offensive/blasphemous act or utterance matters a lot. As for the concrete scenario you list, I find it hard to imagine that a Jew who has left the religion would symbolically desecrate Torah -- the act has such a strong connotation of anti-Jewish pogroms that I'd imagine even a non-religious Jew would find it scary, almost like brandishing swastikas. That's my outsider's impression at least; I'd be curious to hear the opinion of someone more knowledgeable.

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-04-17T23:06:35.967Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just out of curiosity, in what sense are you Catholic (heritage, culture, belief)? (No need to answer if you prefer not to.)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-18T01:10:52.880Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Just out of curiosity, in what sense are you Catholic (heritage, culture, belief)?

Well, legally, I am a Catholic in good standing (I'm baptized, and I've never renounced it nor been excommunicated). In my practices, I am largely lapsed, though I value the heritage, the art, the community, and the folkways a lot. As for beliefs, obviously there is a lot that doesn't stand up to rational scrutiny, though like in any long-standing tradition, many things that may seem irrational or backward are in fact closer to reality than various modern fashionable beliefs. (Clearly, a simple blog comment can't do justice to this topic.)

What I would point out however is that I often find the North American (presumably Protestant) attitudes in this regard quite alien and strange. What I mean is the tendency to see one's belonging to a church as an either-or matter, and breaking with it as a grand and dramatic event. Among Catholics, the normal thing to do is simply to adjust the level of your practices and your closeness to the community to whatever you find to your liking. (ETA: Though conversion to a different religion, as opposed to merely neglecting one's own, would be a big deal.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-18T01:53:23.535Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

As for beliefs, obviously there is a lot that doesn't stand up to rational scrutiny, though like in any long-standing tradition, many things that may seem irrational or backward are in fact closer to reality than various modern fashionable beliefs. (Clearly, a simple blog comment can't do justice to this topic.)

I'd recommend Nick Szabo's essay Objective Versus Intersubjective Truth as a good first explanation of the topic.

Note: The website appears to be down at the moment, Google cache available here.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-18T02:12:32.759Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I second that recommendation. It's a magnificently good essay.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-05-04T22:08:52.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Any other recommendations in a vaguely similar vein? (I've already read Szabo's other stuff.)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2012-05-09T00:09:26.153Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can't think of anything of similar quality right now.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-05-04T22:10:49.640Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Any other recommendations in a vaguely similar vein? (I've already read Szabo's other stuff.)

Szabo's website is up as of May 4, 2012.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-05-05T01:21:54.744Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I assume you've read his blog as well. In that case there are several things I'd recommend. If you haven't read all of Paul Graham's essays, you should. There's also Walter Mead's essay of what he, rather anachronistically, calls the "Blue Social Model". He also talks about these ideas in more depth on his blog (along with all kinds of other stuff ETA: mostly on current events).

Also possibly John C Wright's blog if you're more interested in religious stuff.

comment by endoself · 2011-04-18T00:56:08.016Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, the question was for Joshua Z; I should have made that more clear.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-04-20T07:52:18.854Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. I seem to have the same flinch effect JoshuaZ described, despite believing that religion in general and Judaism in particular are great evils of the world which separated my family from me.

comment by Owen_Richardson · 2011-04-20T08:33:27.693Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Can you tell how much of that flinch is because it's the Torah specifically, and how much is just because it's a book period?

"Okay, so there's a run-away train bearing down on a copy of 'Godel, Escher, Bach', and a really fat copy of the Torah standing at the edge of a cliff above the track. You are standing behind the Torah, and it's immediately clear to you that if you push it, it will fall on the tracks, stopping the train and saving the copy of GEB..."

Personally, I once found the B volume of some encyclopedia on top of a mountain while hiking, and carried it home through a thunder storm, even though I certainly wasn't expecting me or anybody else to ever actually read it.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-20T08:59:24.528Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

A Torah scroll isn't the same thing as a book. It's hand-written on parchment, and it's a long rectangle (rather than on pages) wrapped around rollers. It will probably have an ornamented cover, and more ornaments on the ends of the rollers.

Simchat Torah is an annual holiday at the end of the cycle of reading it in which the scrolls are paraded around the synagogue. "On each occasion, when the ark is opened, all the worshippers leave their seats to dance and sing with all the Torah scrolls in a joyous celebration that often lasts for several hours and more." I have to admit things weren't that exuberant at the synagogue my family went to.

If a Torah is too worn out to be used, it is buried in a Jewish cemetery.

So we aren't just talking about reactions to a book being damaged. though they may certainly be part of what's going on.

One thing that's occurring to me is that you really can't make reliable guesses about the details of religions you aren't familiar with.

comment by Owen_Richardson · 2011-04-20T12:01:39.183Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Oh right, I actually remember that thing about the 'book funeral' and all. They do the same thing in Sikhism with their own super special book, the... whichamacallit... ah yes, the "Sri Guru Granth Sahib".

In fact, it's so similar that it leads me to suspect that there are some details about unfamiliar religions that you should be able to make reliable guesses about :P

Anyway, the 'flinch' could still be produced for secular reasons. Not only is the 'preserve books' thing in force, but also the 'preserve works of art' thing.

I mean, I definitely flinch at the thought of someone desecrating a Torah or an Adi Granth (different, shorter name), and that's certainly not due to a religious upbringing or any ingrained respect for it. I mean, I'd even forgotten about the 'book funeral' stuff with the Torah, and had to google to double check the spelling of the Adi Granth.

And it's not even that I'm worried about offending adherents. I'd feel the same way if all religions were extinct and the books just museum material (what a wonderful world!).

I guess it's just a flinch towards violently/hatefully wrecking things in general. So the idea of some deconvert burning one copy of a mass market paperback of their former holy book in some sort of secular ceremony, peacefully symbolizing that they're personally moving on, not intending to uselessly provoke anyone... that shouldn't bother me. And I don't think it does.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-04-20T15:24:46.464Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think i have some further interesting datapoints to add here: I feel I'd flinch away from unbending a papperclip or disturbing a prime numbered heap of pebbles, much more strongly than before reading the LW material where those were used as examples.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-21T02:40:02.848Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think i have some further interesting datapoints to add here: I feel I'd flinch away from unbending a papperclip or disturbing a prime numbered heap of pebbles, much more strongly than before reading the LW material where those were used as examples.

I'm so glad I'm not the only one.

Edit: Although now that I think about this, I feel this much more strongly about paperclips than heaps of pebbles. This is probably because of the more long-term influence of interacting with User:Clippy.

comment by Owen_Richardson · 2011-04-21T22:08:38.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I used to unbend them all the time when I was a little kid, and use rubber bands to make em into little bows for shooting pencils. "Ka-twangers" I called em.

So when the revolution comes and you guys are going, "Well I for one welcome our new paper-clip maximizing overlords!" I guess I'll be the first against the wall.

Drat.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-04-21T13:24:01.827Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yea, that seems likely. I do not but I have not had that much interaction with him.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-04-20T18:51:14.742Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. I think it's fair to say that I would probably be about equally reluctant to wreck any other artwork containing an equal amount of painstaking effort.

(Whew!)

comment by Kevin · 2011-04-21T02:35:00.532Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I see it more in terms of economic value. A Torah is worth about as much as as a new Honda Civic at the low end and a luxury car at the high end. I would be reluctant to wreck anything worth $20,000 - $60,000... presumably the owner of said material object is going to be upset. And if you are the owner, why are you blowing up your own car? You'd almost always make a better statement by selling your Torah/car and giving the money to charity.

Edit: You can get a refurb Torah for only $9,500! o.0 http://www.ahuva.com/prod-Sefer_Torah_Scroll-1279.aspx

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-24T16:42:39.740Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And if you are the owner, why are you blowing up your own car? You'd almost always make a better statement by selling your Torah/car and giving the money to charity.

Do you think that would have the same degree of emotional satisfaction as a symbol of their break with the religion?

Personally, I don't get that flinch thinking about a person desecrating their own Torah, but I'd caution anyone planning to do so to make sure that the symbolic action is actually worth tens of thousands of dollars to them, because it's a very expensive way to purchase fuzzies.

comment by Owen_Richardson · 2011-04-21T21:52:16.311Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Refurbished Torah?" That is hilarious. But when you say, "I see it more in terms of economic value", you mean, "economic value is another secular factor"? I mean that you also get the general "avoid wrecking painstakingly produced artwork" feeling regardless of its resale value :P

comment by Owen_Richardson · 2011-04-21T21:45:38.275Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I second that "whew!" I was afraid for a second there that I might be a secret jewish sikh, and I have a feeling that would be complicated.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-20T06:56:31.836Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a possible litmus test: how would you feel about another former Orthodox Jew desecrating a Torah scroll as a symbol of eir change in belief.

That's an interesting test. My background (never belief, exactly) is Conservative (that is, intermediate between Orthodox and Reform), and that scenario makes me queasy. My first thought was that it represents a level of rage which I'm not comfortable with (and this isn't totally nonsense), but I do find it more distressing than imagining an ex-Christian doing the same to a Christian bible, even a hand-lettered bible.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-04-20T13:08:30.992Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, really? From an atheist background, to me I'm much more horrified by the thought of any unique hand-created book being burned than any printed thing for which there are endless copies.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-20T13:23:07.144Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, really? From an atheist background, to me I'm much more horrified by the thought of any unique hand-created book being burned than any printed thing for which there are endless copies.

Er, Torah scrolls are hand-written. The scroll form is always made by a scribe, not printed.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-04-20T13:37:07.355Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

is enlightened thanks!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-20T21:11:10.037Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you missed what ciphergoth was reacting to-- I said that I'd be more upset at a Torah scroll being destroyed than a hand-written Christian bible. This doesn't mean that I'd have no reaction to the Christian destroying a hand-written Christian bible.

What I was imagining for the hand-written bible was one without illustrations, but that probably wouldn't make any emotional difference for ciphergoth.

comment by whpearson · 2011-04-20T14:18:34.686Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is the emotion the same if someone made a sufficiently detailed scan of it before they burnt it?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-04-20T21:38:05.438Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If it's detailed enough that sufficiently advanced technology could rebuild it indistinguishably, I'm happy. I'm curious how other people feel about this!

comment by Nisan · 2011-04-21T19:00:33.583Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's interesting that you find a hypothetical Torah scroll desecration to be indicative of rage. Before I lost my Jewish faith I, too, would have associated Torah-desecration with villainy and hate — partially because there were stories and legends about villainous Torah-desecrators, and partially because the Torah evoked such feelings of sanctity and purity that the idea of desecrating a Torah only made sense if there was rage or depravity involved. But of course, I can now easily imagine other emotions that would motivate hypothetical Torah desecrators, like trollishness.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-22T15:45:18.688Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's more that I'm generally apt to underestimate the impulse to trollishness, though I do think it overlaps hate. Pissing people off for the lulz has something to do with malice towards those people, though I grant that rage has a lot of emotional intensity while trolling has some distance.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-18T02:27:25.402Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If someone goes around desecrating Torahs, you would be completely rational to conclude that he probably has an issue with Jews in general and feel threatened.

Here's a possible litmus test: how would you feel about another former Orthodox Jew desecrating a Torah scroll as a symbol of eir change in belief.

I think I'd still feel emotional unpleasantness although probably not as much as in the generic case. This suggests that Vladimir's concern is partially correct but that that's not the whole thing and some really is just residual emotional feelings. There's another side issue that may also be involved, in that the burning of books of any form or similar objects (such as scrolls) makes me deeply pained regardless. But that connects to what Vladimir M was talking about in that part of that deep pain is the historical connection between book burning and censorship.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T13:06:10.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just to bring in the real world, I've never heard of an ex-Orthodox Jew desecrating a Torah to symbolize their break with the religion. I have heard of them eating emphatically non-kosher food.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-20T14:43:33.252Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

it may be rational for Muslims to sense hostility and feel threatened by people who go around committing blasphemy according to their norms ...

Particularly when the 'blasphemy' is committed for the express purpose of committing blasphemy. By contrast, a Jehovah's Witness considers it blasphemy when someone salutes a flag, but probably realizes that every act of reverence for a flag is not done for the express purpose of offending the JWs.

comment by komponisto · 2011-04-16T15:37:01.163Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Even so, the offense in your case is still the result of your previous belief in a falsehood. If you had never been an Orthodox Jew in the first place, it's unlikely that you would feel the same indignation/offense/pain upon contemplating that particular sacrilege. This may be a case of your visceral reactions not having caught up to your conscious beliefs.

So holding communion wafers hostage is still a better analogy than punching someone in the face (in fact, there are probably former Catholics reading this who would take some kind of visceral offense at the former, and I'd likewise encourage them to try to get over it if they can).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-16T15:59:50.221Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that communion wafers are a better analogy than punches in the face, and that the offense is a product of cultural indoctrination. (That said, the question of how offensive a punch in the face is is not completely separable from cultural indoctrination, either.)

Disagreed that the truth or falsehood of the belief itself has anything to do with the issue, though.

My getting offended if you disrespect my cultural icons has to do with my (true) belief that I am a member of the culture being disrespected. Someone who identifies as an American might be offended by someone urinating on an American flag in the same way that someone who identifies as a Jew might be offended by someone urinating on a Torah scroll or someone who identifies as the child of their parents might be offended by someone urinating on their parents' wedding photo; talking about any of that in terms of true or false beliefs seems unnecessarily confused.

comment by komponisto · 2011-04-16T16:43:05.856Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My getting offended if you disrespect my cultural icons has to do with my (true) belief that I am a member of the culture being disrespected

Yes -- but my feeling is that if you no longer believe X, you should accept the fact that you're no longer a member of the culture-defined-by-belief-in-X.

In general I am suspicious of the often-heard argument that religion is not really about belief. You only hear this from people looking for an excuse to remain in a tribe they've been in their whole life, because (understandably) it's psychologically difficult to leave a tribe. But sometimes it has to be done -- and I see religion, quite frankly, as one of the clearest examples of a case where one simply needs to let go and be over with it.

That's not to say you can't embrace your identity as a former religionist. But that's a distinct cultural identity, involving your fond memories of formerly being offended by sacrilegious acts, as opposed to still currently being offended by them.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T18:43:18.988Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's not to say you can't embrace your identity as a former religionist. But that's a distinct cultural identity, involving your fond memories of formerly being offended by sacrilegious acts, as opposed to still currently being offended by them.

Trouble is, your identity is about much more than that in practice. It's deeply entangled with your way of life, your family, community, and social network, and also with the way others see and treat you. An offensively blasphemous act may (note: may, depending on the situation) be a credible signal that someone is hostile towards the group you identify with, and given the power to do so, would act so as to endanger your way of life, your community, and perhaps also your personal well-being. (This could range anywhere from making your life miserable in petty ways to outright violence.) In many cases, you must also take into account that those hostile to your group see it as your inherent identity that you can't disown and escape from even if you wanted to.

With this in mind, often it is irrational to get riled up over some provocative act that is best ignored, or that isn't even meant to be provocative but has it as an unwanted side-effect. However, sometimes it is also irrational to ignore clear signs of genuine hostility, some of which can plausibly translate into real danger. In the latter case, the visceral reaction is well adapted to reality.

(There are of course also various other cases where it's less clear if a visceral reaction can be reasonably called "rational," such as when some instrumental goal is best furthered by throwing a tantrum and creating drama to extract concessions.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-16T17:09:55.259Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, you can be as suspicious as you wish, of course.

And, sure, if I agreed with you that cultural affiliation was contingent on belief -- for example, if I agreed that to be Jewish I must embrace whatever theological beliefs are consensually held among Jewish theologians (supposing that there are any, and that I could figure out what beliefs they were)... or at least embrace only theological beliefs that are held by some Jewish theologians (though there's a circularity there... who counts as a Jewish theologian, after all?), or... well, to be honest, I'm not actually sure what beliefs you're saying I need to embrace in order to genuinely be Jewish, but regardless, if I agreed with you that there were some beliefs that fell into this category, then it would follow that when I stop believing those beliefs (whatever they are), it follows that I'm no longer Jewish.

But I don't in fact agree with that -- in fact, as above, I'm not sure it's even coherent enough to disagree with.

Just to make this more concrete: I don't believe, for example, that the universe was deliberately created by anything remotely person-like, nor that any such entity (supposing I were wrong about that first belief) shares in any singular sense identity with whatever entity or entities provided to early Jews the laws and tribal history currently known as the Torah, nor that those entities have any relationship worth mentioning to do with what happens to me upon my death.

If (as I suspect) you consider Judaism to be contingent on those beliefs, you would conclude that I'm not Jewish, and I would disagree.

Also: you seem to be saying, in addition, that I'm mistaken if I respond to expressed disrespect of Jewish cultural icons as though it were my culture being disrespected (for example, by being offended). I'm not quite sure that's true, either, leaving aside the whole question of whether it actually is my culture.

I am in no sense a Canadian, for example, but I'm not sure I'd be mistaken if I respond to expressed disrespect of Canadian cultural icons as though it were my culture being disrespected (for example, by being offended on their behalf).

comment by komponisto · 2011-04-16T18:14:00.598Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe, for example, that the universe was deliberately created by anything remotely person-like, nor that any such entity (supposing I were wrong about that first belief) shares in any singular sense identity with whatever entity or entities provided to early Jews the laws and tribal history currently known as the Torah, nor that those entities have any relationship worth mentioning to do with what happens to me upon my death.

If (as I suspect) you consider Judaism to be contingent on those beliefs, you would conclude that I'm not Jewish

More specifically, what I would conclude is that your self-identification as "Jewish" (rather than "of Jewish parentage") is a misguided effort to continue affiliating with a tribe that you're used to belonging to, but that you would never have joined in the first place had you had your current beliefs at the time of joining and had you been taking them into account in deciding which tribe to join; and if, for example, it turned out that you were avoiding the use of electric lights on Saturdays, I would have no hesitation in labeling such behavior as irrational, even silly -- and I would be entirely unsympathetic to the extent I viewed the behavior as a tribal affiliation signal rather than, say, a psychological compulsion (which I can understand and relate to).

I am in no sense a Canadian, for example, but I'm not sure I'd be mistaken if I respond to expressed disrespect of Canadian cultural icons as though it were my culture being disrespected (for example, by being offended on their behalf).

In all honesty, I would tend to view that with suspicion also -- my instinctive perception would be of an obsequious attempt to curry favor with Canadians. This perception could be overridden, of course, depending on the circumstances; but I would sympathize with disapproval on the part of a non-Canadian more than offense per se.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-17T06:00:43.861Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Mostly, I think the place I disagree with you is that you see the beliefs as primary and the tribal membership as contingent on beliefs, at least when it comes to Judaism, and I see them as largely unrelated.

That is, I no more decided to be Jewish on the basis of religious beliefs than I decided to be American on the basis of national beliefs, and being Jewish no more constrains my Saturday activities than being Hispanic does. They are all affiliations I was born into and choose to endorse, despite not practicing them in traditional ways.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T06:36:24.210Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So holding communion wafers hostage is still a better analogy than punching someone in the face (in fact, there are probably former Catholics reading this who would take some kind of visceral offense at the former, and I'd likewise encourage them to try to get over it if they can).

I'm a former Catholic, and I read the story linked by desrtopia. I must admit that I felt a visceral sense of rage that I never expected. But not in the direction that you predicted! I wanted to shout to Webster Cook (through my computer screen and more than two years back in time) to flush the bread down the toilet.

I don't write this as any sort of reasoned advice on how people ought to behave. I'm just reporting my emotional response.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-04-17T12:02:11.704Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not true.

I've never been Jewish, and I personally find the act of deliberately desecrating objects of belief, faith and following--from blowup up Buddhas to burning flags to pissing on crucifixes to be extremely distasteful in ways ranging from mild annoyance at juvenile attempts to shock (Piss christ, Dung Madonna) to rather enraging (Blowing up thousand year old statues or burning flags as a political protest).

Things like the Torah, the Koran and the Bible (a bit less so, but still) (I have no idea about the Shruti/Smirtis, but I'll lump them in here anyway) are not just religious texts, they are cultural icons, relics and touchstones to hundreds of millions of people. By desecrating those artifacts you are desecrating those people's beliefs and culture. This is, at minimum rude and is a mind killer.

Now things like shitting on a torah, blowing up a church or burning a flag are distinctly different than drawing Mohammad in that drawing Mohammad (or anyone else really) is not desecration, but blasphemy. It is roughly the same as me, or anyone else "taking the lords name in vain".

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-17T12:35:23.003Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Now things like shitting on a torah, blowing up a church or burning a flag are distinctly different than drawing Mohammad in that drawing Mohammad (or anyone else really) is not desecration, but blasphemy. It is roughly the same as me, or anyone else "taking the lords name in vain".

Can you explain what criteria you're using to draw that distinction? Do you expect people with different cultural norms to be able to acknowledge those criteria as objectively valid?

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-05-06T14:34:36.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The distinction between them is difficult for me to articulate clearly--it seems my operating definition of desecration and blasphemy were a little more narrow than common usage, but to me desecration is something you do to an object or an idea that reduces it's utility as a sacred object or icon--essentially some sort of vandalism. Blasphemy is a secular or profane expression of a sacred idea--you can't desecrate Mohammad's memory by drawing him because (1) we don't know what he looked like, and (2) drawing him isn't doesn't render him profane in the eyes of his believers, except where it challenges their beliefs and causes THEM to change their mind.

A desecration reduces a sacred object profane, while blasphemy is either an insult to a sacred belief or entity or the questioning of that belief or entity.

And yes, I do expect people with different cultural norms (for bounded values of different, super intelligent shades of blue may have a different enough sensory apparatus and processing engine that those concepts don't apply) to be able to at least acknowledge those distinctions. Now, I don't expect all members of any given culture to--after all even our culture has people who think the world is flat etc.

And there are some cultural norms that aren't worth giving a fuck about.

Note there is a difference between "tolerate" and "accept".

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T19:51:53.423Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is completely true. Speaking as a former Orthodox Jew, the idea of someone desecrating a Torah scroll fills with me with deep emotional pain even though I know that there's nothing at all holy or sacred about it.

Someone damaging physical artifacts of one's religion is a reasonable thing to make into a Schelling point. That's quite different from someone creating media that is counter to your religion.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-16T20:00:55.266Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Someone damaging physical artifacts of one's religion is a reasonable thing to make into a Schelling point. That's quite different from someone creating media that is counter to your religion.

Sure, we can make that distinction (and there are other possible distinctions). I was merely making my remark in the context of Derstopa's claim that the offense is that strongly tied to the actual belief.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-16T15:32:55.937Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. That sort of reaction is completely alien to me. Do you still have a strong cultural allegiance to Judaism which you feel is being affronted by this?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-16T15:51:44.108Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I can't speak for JoshuaZ, but speaking as another nonbeliever-raised-Orthodox-Jew, my reaction is similar to his.

And, yes, I think it's fundamentally a cultural thing. That is, the Torah scroll in this example is functioning as an icon of cultural Judaism, much as flags do for various kinds of nationalism.

Just to unpack that a little: if someone behaves disrespectfully towards an icon of a culture, I react as though they'd expressed disrespect towards that culture. If it's a culture I identify with, I react as though they'd expressed disrespect towards me. All of this seems entirely unremarkable and to be expected, to me at least.

The idea that any of this (be it with respect to Torah scrolls or the image of Mohammed or American flags) has anything to do with specific beliefs about divinity is, I think, a complete distraction.

comment by soreff · 2011-04-17T03:10:23.657Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

if someone behaves disrespectfully towards an icon of a culture, I react as though they'd expressed disrespect towards that culture.

True enough. There can be also other motivations for finding damaging an icon of a culture to be distasteful. When the Taliban was destroying Buddha statues in Afghanistan I found that sad, simply because the statues were ancient and irreplaceable, irrespective of their religious significance.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-16T16:22:20.498Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I may have overgeneralized from my own mentality. My own outlook is very different from yours or joshua's; I am of Jewish extraction, but after a couple of years attending Brandeis university, I found the in-group dynamic sufficiently oppressive that I now refuse to self identify as Jewish, and become offended when people refuse to accept my distinction between being Ashkenazic on my mother's side and being Jewish. That sort of cultural affiliation, absent any particular beliefs or ideals to associate it with, is something I've only observed from the outside.

I think it's worth asking though, whether, once you winnow out all the absurd and unjustified beliefs in these various cultural packages, there are any sane beliefs that justify taking offense at actions such as drawing pictures of Mohammad, keeping a transubstantiated wafer rather than eating it, or urinating on the Torah. I think that the first two are only comparable to the last one if they are performed as deliberate attacks on a cultural icon, and if they're not, then I'm not sure what sane reason that could leave to object to them.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-16T16:48:24.351Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not quite sure what a sane reason for offense is. More generally, I'm not sure what a sane reason for any emotional reaction is.

But I guess I can see saying that since fear evolved "in order to" encourage us to avoid danger, it's sane to feel fear with regards to genuinely dangerous situations, and insane to feel it with regards to situations that aren't dangerous. On that account, being scared while standing on the edge of a cliff in high wind is sane, but continuing to feel scared after someone someone clips a safety cable to my belt is insane.

And adopting the same stance with respect to offense, I would say that offense evolved "in order to" encourage us to defend our status, and is therefore sane when our status is genuinely at stake and not when it isn't. Using that standard, it seems entirely sane to be offended at the actions you list: they all have the effect of lowering the status of various symbols of my tribe, which in turn lowers my status.

That said, you seem to be using some other standard for a sane emotional reaction, one I don't entirely understand. Can you clarify it further?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-17T17:55:00.394Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But I guess I can see saying that since fear evolved "in order to" encourage us to avoid danger, it's sane to feel fear with regards to genuinely dangerous situations, and insane to feel it with regards to situations that aren't dangerous.

Careful, if you judge the validity of your emotions by whether they're serving their evolutionary role, you'll end up arguing that the purpose of life is to maximize your inclusive genetic fitness.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T00:13:25.811Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, sort of, modulo your introduction of the rather ill-defined term "purpose of life".

Which is why I started out saying I don't know what a sane reason for offense is.

I suppose one could say, instead, that X is a sane reason for offense if feeling offense in the presence of X achieves useful results in that environment.

On that account, if taking offense at actions such as drawing pictures of Mohammad increases my status within my community, and if increased status is useful, then drawing pictures of Mohammad is a sane reason for offense within my community.

I was pretty sure that wasn't what desrtopa was looking for either, though.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-16T17:01:37.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My first thought was to characterize a sane belief that justifies an emotional reaction reaction as one that creates a connection to one's terminal values without being clearly counterfactual, but I'm not sure whether this is adequately transparent; I'm biased by having my own meaning in mind.

Using that standard, it seems entirely sane to be offended at the actions you list: they all have the effect of lowering the status of various symbols of my tribe, which in turn lowers my status.

I'm not sure this is true. For instance, in the case of urinating on the Torah, it's an act that would be widely agreed to represent contempt for a symbol. It would be reasonable to interpret it as a deliberate assault on a representation of the group with which you affiliate.

In the case of drawing Mohammad, it's not an act which generally denotes contempt; drawing symbols of various other cultural groups doesn't constitute an attack. So for it to be a sane source of offense, you would need some justified belief which could complete the connection between the drawing and an attack on your group's status. If you had reason to belief that the artist had drawn it to make a mockery of your traditions, that would be a sane belief which could complete the connection, but if you know the act was not done in ill spirits, what might you believe which could complete the connection?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T02:50:48.929Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I might believe that the existence of the drawing lowers my group's status, regardless of the artist's intent.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-16T17:16:04.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(EDIT: You edited the parent after I replied; I take no responsibility for whether my reply has any relationship to the new parent. I really wish people would stop doing that. I may come back to this later and reconcile.)

Not quite transparent.

I more or less understand what it means for a belief B to not be clearly counterfactual, and what you mean by my terminal values V.

I don't understand what it means for B to "justify an emotional reaction" E, and I understand what it means for B to "have a connection to" V, and I'm not sure what the relationship between B and V has to do with E.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-16T17:23:25.416Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(EDIT: You edited the parent after I replied; I take no responsibility for whether my reply has any relationship to the new parent. I really wish people would stop doing that. I may come back to this later and reconcile.)

For what it's worth, your response wasn't there when I started making the edit, and I didn't see it until after I had changed my comment. I frequently find a few seconds after leaving a comment that I had more to say, and revise my comment to reflect it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-17T06:10:09.482Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I understand that people do this. One consequence of doing it is that other people's replies are retroactively disconnected from the thing they appear to reply to.

I just don't like my replies being treated that way, is all.

Of course, I can't do anything to prevent it, and nobody else is obligated to respect my preferences. The best I can do is edit my replies to note that any disconnections might be retroactive, which is what I did.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T21:27:40.537Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

How's this for a metaphor: suppose I thought my mother had died in the Holocaust, when in fact she'd escaped the Holocaust without incident and simply lost contact with me. Someone makes Nazi jokes around me, or says that everyone who died in the Holocaust deserved it and went to Hell, or something equally offensive.

Suppose my interlocutor knows that my mother did not die in the Holocaust, and knows that if I believed my mother didn't die in the Holocaust I wouldn't be offended by what ey's saying. Ey also knows that since I do believe my mother died in the Holocaust, I definitely will be offended.

Even in this situation - in which I am only suffering because I have a false belief, and for reasons directly related to that false belief - I still think my interlocutor is very much in the wrong.

comment by PeterisP · 2011-04-17T19:00:33.964Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your interlucotur clearly wouldn't be behaving nicely and would clearly be pushing for some confrontation - but does it mean that it is wrong or not allowed? This feels the same as if (s)he simply and directly called you a jackass in your face - it is an insult and potentially hostile, but it's clearly legal and 'allowed'; there are often quite understandable valid reasons to (re)act in such a way against someone, and it wouldn't really be an excuse in a murder trial (and the original problem does involve murders as reaction to perceived insults).

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T09:42:58.723Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Even in this situation - in which I am only suffering because I have a false belief, and for reasons directly related to that false belief - I still think my interlocutor is very much in the wrong."

You wouldn't be suffering only because you had a false belief, another reason would be that you weren't sufficiently thick skinned to decline to be offended.

"Someone makes Nazi jokes around me, or says that everyone who died in the Holocaust deserved it and went to Hell, or something equally offensive."

At this point I would ask myself "Of what consequence is this person's opinion to me"? And I'd instantly conclude: None.

To cause me real pain a statement would have to be justified in my own judgment.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T09:20:05.738Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Vladimir_M and Nominull have got it right.

Vladimir_M:

You say, "pretending to be offended for personal gain is... less common in reality than it is in people's imaginations." That is indeed true, but only because people have the ability to whip themselves into a very sincere feeling of offense given the incentive to do so. Although sincere, these feelings will usually subside if they realize that nothing's to be gained.

Nominull:

Here I am going to repeat again that I do not think that Muslims, game-pacifists, or feminists are consciously conspiring. I think, rather, that it is natural to take offense not only at things which are actual norm-violations, but also things which you wish were norm violations, things which would boost your status if they were norm violations. There is no conscious consideration of this, but somewhere deep in our hypocrite brains, we decide to pretend that our desired norms are the actual norms.

Although one function of offense is to alert about real threats, another function is to grab any status that it can (except when being thick-skinned grants more status).

Offense can scale depending on how much can be gained by it.

Btw, I first heard this concept from PUAs claiming that a girlfriend will "dial up" or "dial down" the drama that she gives (without any conscious goal-directedness) depending on how the man responds. This tendency seems to be a general principle of human psychology, not just female sexual psychology.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-04-16T06:59:02.881Z · score: 13 (19 votes) · LW · GW

My first reaction to this was "is this a guest post by Robin Hanson under Yvain's name, to see if anyone notices?"

You could argue Brits did not choose to have their abnormal sensitivity to salmon while Muslims might be considered to be choosing their sensitivity to Mohammed. But this requires a libertarian free will.

Well, no it doesn't. Muslims observably do make a choice in the matter (as proved by the fact that they discuss it and take different views). (Link.) To equate this with aliens hard-wiring our brains to graft on an arbitrary offense-trigger is plain no-free-will determinism, whereby the past reaches past the present to cause the future, just as the alien reaches past our internal functions to cause offense-taking at an arbitrary stimulus.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-16T19:40:53.453Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

My first reaction to this was "is this a guest post by Robin Hanson under Yvain's name, to see if anyone notices?"

Part of me wants to feel complimented by that, another part wants to challenge you to pistols at dawn.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-17T08:40:30.443Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Will the pistols be near or far?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-04-17T07:52:58.386Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That wacky Robin Hanson, eh? Never can tell whether there's method in his madness, or madness in his method!

comment by drethelin · 2011-04-16T05:28:47.596Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

The slippery slope that applies is not that every random religion will taboo a certain activity, but that the more power you give to one religion the easier it is for it to get even more power. If, through outrageous overreaction, they can force people to stop one activity, they have zero incentive to not use this tactic against everything they are morally against, much of which is of MUCH greater utility than images of Mohammed.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-17T12:30:51.217Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I acknowledge that slippery slope argument has some validity, but what I haven't seen so far is a good criterion of where to apply it.

I feel confident being upset at people who draw swastikas where they expect Jews to see them, or burn crosses outside the houses of black people. Although one can make all the same arguments ("if we embolden the blacks and Jews by giving in now, then they'll start demanding more and more rights until we have to believe as they do") I still think doing either of those actions is wrong.

Drawing Mohammed seems designed to harass Muslims in the same way that drawing swastikas seems designed to harass Jews. So where is the critical difference that makes one necessary and the other abhorrent?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-17T17:20:52.696Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"I feel confident being upset at people who draw swastikas where they expect Jews to see them, or burn crosses outside the houses of black people."

The vileness of the swastika doesn't come form the subjective reactions of Jews who see it. A swastika is an implicit call to genocide. I think you are far too hung up on what are relatively insignificant subjective consequences, to the point of ignoring the overarching political significance of the acts in question. (Such microscopy is indeed Dr. Hanson's method.) Depending on context drawing a picture of Mohammed can be (among other things) a call to persecution of persons professing Islam, an objection to Islamic censorship, or serve some purely artistic purpose, each having consequences that far outweighs "offensiveness."

comment by Marius · 2011-04-18T07:33:55.094Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, one of the more relevant similarities between pain and offense is that both are warning signs. Pain is a warning that something may damage you, but if you are experiencing pain from nondamaging events, you are better off reinterpreting the stimulus. For instance, walking barefoot on rocky terrain is often interpreted as painful by those who typically walk shod, but after multiple exposures the sensation is processed differently.
Similarly, offense has a component of "things may turn bad" in addition to the signalling described elsewhere in this discussion. The fact that people take offense primarily tells us/them that something is going on; whether that thing is significant, good, or bad requires us to look farther than the fact that offense was taken.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T12:28:05.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, walking barefoot on rocky terrain is often interpreted as painful by those who typically walk shod, but after multiple exposures the sensation is processed differently.

Is the sensation still the same after multiple exposures, or have the feet become more calloused and/or flexible?

comment by AlanCrowe · 2012-09-19T13:38:59.007Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I generalise my personal experience as follows.

If you follow Western cultural norms of wearing shoes all day everyday, by the age of 39 your toes are a pale yellow compared to your fingers. If you then give up wearing shoes, that stimulates the blood circulation in your feet. After a year or two your toes "pink up" and match the colour of you fingers. I interpret fingers as providing a good reference and conclude that shoe-wearing results in poor circulation in the feet and that going barefoot restores normal levels of circulation.

Trying to make sense of my own experience of the way that the sensation of walking on rough surfaces has changed over the years leads me to this speculation. The body knows that poor circulation is a problem, injuries may be slow to heal or get infected, and has a built-in response: up-regulate the pain receptors to give some behavioural protection to the body part that is at risk due to poor circulation. Take off your shoes and walk on a rough surface and this protection kicks in. It feels painful, encouring you to put your shoes/armour back on.

Continuing the speculation. Give up shoes. Circulation improves up to normal. Lagging this, pain receptors get down regulated back to normal. The stimulus provided by rough surfaces gets reinterpreted as "rough" not "painful".

I prefer my oxygen-level account over callous and flexibility.

Flexibility is a real issue for some. Your feet have "set" into immobility. When you start going barefoot you get characteristic "physiotherapy" type pains from mobilising stiff tissue. I've never liked shoes (I was always barefoot in my own home) and didn't really have that problem.

Callous thickness is very variable. Also "callous" is not the right word. My experience was that one year in I had developed callous, meaning the hard white skin that you get where your shoes rub. I had problems with the callous cracking. Two years in the skin on the soles of my feet had changed some more and was leathery. Long distances on abrasive surfaces can wear away your skin making your feet tender. The rate of skin growth increases to compensate. But the adaption of the rate of skin growth always lags, so you can end up with thick skin, especially if you abruptly stop walking long distances on abrasive surfaces. My experience was of lots of variation in skin thickness, but a much less variation in the processing of sensation and its change "painful" to "rough".

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T07:16:03.753Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A swastika is an implicit call to genocide.

In a modern European-derived culture.

comment by drethelin · 2011-04-17T17:00:07.080Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

both actions are bad, but the right to engage in them is good. I think there is a lot of value in having a permissive rather than prescriptive society. You can condemn them all you want, force the people who make them into lower social status by mocking and insulting them, but you should not be able to stop them through force. If the KKK burn a cross on your lawn, they should be arrested for damage to property. But if they hold a rally where it is their legal right to do so, we should not physically attack them.

They key difference between these actions to me is not the action itself but the context for it. Drawing a Mohammed to piss off a muslim is a dick move by itself. Drawing a Mohammed to show that you stand for a world where you can draw whatever the hell you want and no organization has the right to threaten you with death is another thing entirely.

comment by drethelin · 2011-04-17T18:04:22.858Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've been trying to come up with a good way to articulate my thoughts on the topic and this is what I've come up with so far. Assuming you value it, freedom is important to defend far above and beyond any particular use of that freedom. I don't care about Mohammed pictures beyond the fact that I strongly believe people should have the right to draw them. I even don't like septum piercings, but I would strongly protest any campaign to get them banned. The value of any given insult to human society is negligible, probably even negative, but the value of being allowed to insult is incalculable.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-18T11:44:12.640Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Drawing Mohammed seems designed to harass Muslims in the same way that drawing swastikas seems designed to harass Jews.

Hmm:

The swastika has been a symbol of peace for millions of Hindus and Buddhists and for the Raelians as well as it is their symbol of infinity in time, their symbol of eternity. Today, in order to redeem themselves for past horrible discriminations done under a flag wearing this symbol, German authorities are about to discriminate again telling Hindus, Bhuddists, Raelians and all other groups who have been using this symbol for centuries for some of them, that their beliefs are not welcomed in Europe!

Banning cannot solve anything, education is the only way.

Heh: proswastika.org

comment by James_Miller · 2011-04-16T02:50:52.600Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

"Forward Defense" provides a better justification for Mohammed pictures than "slippery slope" does. By supporting people who create these pictures you implicitly support everyone who engages in a type of expression that's more defensible than creating Mohammed pictures is. Paradoxically, therefore, your well reasoned arguments against the pictures provide a strong "Forward Defense" free expression justification for supporting them.

Those who strongly support freedom of expression may have implicitly used the publicity generated by the Mohammed pictures to coordinate in supporting them and consequently, in the United States at least, created a defense protecting all other types of expression that are easier to justify than the Mohammed pictures. If there was some special social value in these pictures then the forward defense their "legitimacy" creates would provide less protective cover to other types of offensive expressions.

comment by knb · 2011-04-16T02:43:07.367Z · score: 13 (29 votes) · LW · GW

I think the world is better off without sacred cows, rather than with them. The only way to eliminate these kinds of reactions is via "exposure therapy". Admittedly, I say this as someone without many sacred cows. I'm non-religious, an anti-nationalist, and (other than a long career as a "non-denominational" anti-war activist) essentially apolitical.

I support the Mohammed drawing day, Koran-burning, and similar attempts involving other religions and political doctrines. When people do these things, it helps create a safe space for people to speak their reasoned criticisms.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-17T13:34:36.208Z · score: 9 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I think the world is better off without sacred cows, rather than with them. The only way to eliminate these kinds of reactions is via "exposure therapy".

"Exposure therapy". Could you explain how that works, doctor? How your cure makes the patient better?

Isn't it great that we have so many people here so sincerely concerned with making the world a better place rather than with rationalizing their own prejudices.

ETA: I Googled for "exposure therapy", and the 2nd item on the list informed me that:

Exposing someone to their fears or prior traumas without the client first learning the accompanying coping techniques — such as relaxation or imagery exercises — can result in a person simply being re-traumatized by the event or fear. Therefore exposure therapy is typically conducted within a psychotherapeutic relationship with a therapist trained and experienced with the technique and the related coping exercises.

For some reason, the karma that knb's comment received really annoys me. When did we come to define rationalism as "thinking about something just deeply enough to achieve self-affirmation, and then pushing the upvote or downvote button"?

comment by Torben · 2011-04-20T12:04:44.744Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your intent seems unclear to me. The West has over the past couple hundred years loosened its restrictions on public speech regarding taboos -- on atheism, racial&sexual equality, etc. This has surely caused many people mental pain.

Was this course of events then morally wrong?

Should the debaters of yore have made sure their opponents had learned " the accompanying coping techniques — such as relaxation or imagery exercises" before proceeding towards our more pluralist world?

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-04-17T03:39:33.280Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think a lot of Americans completely missed the subtle critique behind the plan to burn a Koran. Basically, they were telling the pastor, "hey, you have the right to burn one and all, but you really need to hold off, just out of sensitivity to others" -- not realizing that this was the exact argument people were making about the mosque near ground zero, and getting an unsympathetic ear. Instead, they just saw it as a crude shock-based attempt to get attention.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T04:42:49.214Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But game-theoretically, these two situations are not parallels at all. In particular, the pastor who wanted to burn the Qur'an actually wanted to offend. In contrast, the people behind Park51 want to integrate Muslims into American society.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-17T12:41:40.124Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think the world is better off without sacred cows, rather than with them. The only way to eliminate these kinds of reactions is via "exposure therapy"...I support the Mohammed drawing day, Koran-burning, and similar attempts involving other religions and political doctrines.

What about calling black people the n-word, making Holocaust jokes to Jews, and insulting people's dead relatives?

I mean, all these things feel like they're in a different category than the things you described, but I wouldn't know how to describe that difference to a computer.

comment by knb · 2011-04-17T18:57:07.435Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What about calling black people the n-word, making Holocaust jokes to Jews, and insulting people's dead relatives?

The distinction here is that if an outsider does these things it is clearly hostile.

Black people are reclaiming the word "nigger". Part of the stated reason is to take away the word's ability to harm, in other words, exactly the reason I mentioned. I am not black, so in context, it would seem hostile, just as bombarding the only Muslim family in a neighborhood with Mohammed cartoons would be hostile.

The example you gave above treats the images as harmful without context. (For a Muslim, seeing an image of Mohammed "hurts" [I don't accept this, btw, offense and harm are not the same thing.] regardless of the intention of the image creator.) So the comparable example would be using "nigger" by another black person or in an academic context, or a Holocaust survivor making jokes about the Holocaust, or a family member joking about the foibles of a dead relative. And yes, I have no problem with any of these things.

It doesn't really seem like you put thought into these examples. Rather, it seems like you made a list of doubleplusungood things and tried to tar me with the association.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T04:45:52.017Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand your comment. We're not talking about Muslims drawing pictures of Muhammad.

comment by knb · 2011-04-18T04:57:01.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point was that what hurts people about Yvain's examples is that someone is obviously behaving in a hostile way toward them, not the offensive thing in itself. Images of Mohammed are haraam in Islam regardless of intent.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T05:33:19.765Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I see. Then a white person saying ‘nigger’ is indeed not comparable to participating in Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, but a black person saying ‘nigger’ is still not comparable either. No person saying ‘nigger’ could actually be comparable, since that word is not haraam.

Now that I've written this, I realise that some black people hold the opinion that this word is haraam; they argue that even black people should not use it. Then EDM Day is a bit more like a white person saying ‘nigger’ (as a protest against banning it, of course, not with the intention of causing offence).

By the way, I'd appreciate it if whoever downvoted the grandparent would explain what was wrong with it. Too brief? (But I think that knb understood it fine.) I would hate to think that people get downvoted for admitting that they don't understand somebody.

comment by byrnema · 2011-04-17T19:19:29.942Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I recall reading somewhere that there are different sources of moral rules, I think things being sacred was one of them, 'purity' might have been another one or the same one, and if anyone remembers the three things I would appreciate knowing.

So by rejecting sacred cows, does this mean you would eliminate the whole category of moral rules that depend on something bring sacred? (I don't think this is necessarily so from what you've said.)

I ask myself if I attach moral weight to anything sacred and I'm not sure.

Actually, I think so -- I can think of some things that I care about symbolically, rather than just at the object level -- but I attach the morality to my relationship with this thing rather than other people's, so I'm not easily as offended. (though I can now think of some cases where I am)

So I'm confused on the topic. What do you think of 'sacred' in general?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T19:44:39.190Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I recall reading somewhere that there are different sources of moral rules, I think things being sacred was one of them, 'purity' might have been another one or the same one, and if anyone remembers the three things I would appreciate knowing.

You probably have in mind the theories of Jonathan Haidt.

I am skeptical towards his theories, though. There may be some truth in them, but his approach is extremely ideologized and, in my opinion, biased accordingly. (On the other hand, I do appreciate that he is explicit and upfront about his ideology and its role in his work. It is certainly a welcome contrast to what is commonly seen in academia.)

comment by Unnamed · 2011-04-17T23:20:15.758Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The 3 are community, autonomy, and divinity, and they come from the work of cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder. Purity was a big part of the ethic of divinity, so much so that you could even argue that "purity" would be a more appropriate label for it.

Jonathan Haidt worked with Shweder at the start of his career and basically adopted Shweder's system, but he has since modified his views to include 5 moral foundations rather than 3: harm, fairness, ingroup, hierarchy, and purity.

comment by byrnema · 2011-04-20T02:41:42.493Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Those are the three, thanks.

But I never read Shweder or Haidt, I was only exposed to those ideas on LW.

Aha! Now that I know what to google, I discover that I was exposed to these ideas here.

I even took that quiz to find that I was relatively low on the purity foundation, just as in the example figure. The model and the quiz made a favorable impression -- I decided I was comfortable with carving morality in that way -- but then I apparently forgot the details.

comment by byrnema · 2011-04-17T13:00:12.577Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like I read the answer already in this page. These offenses aren't just negligent (oops, I didn't realize you didn't like that) or insensitive (this is what I want to do, too bad if it offends you) -- they are pointedly hostile. The person receiving these offenses can rationally experience these offenses as an expression of hate and thus an intent to do harm. Depending on the status of the offender, the victim can feel threatened about their continued place in the clan.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T12:15:11.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Now I'm imagining a consensus that rationalists are just too picky, so there should be an Everyone Argue Like a Normal Person Day.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-17T20:55:02.935Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the same goes for "everybody draw Mohamed day", no? It's hostility, not negligence.

comment by byrnema · 2011-04-17T22:21:48.149Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

meh.. In this specific case it seems the organized, intended signal is 'defiance'. For some of the artists it is probably simple irreverence that motivates them. But I wouldn't doubt that a lot of people feel hostile too.

comment by Torben · 2011-04-20T11:57:25.288Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Everybody would feel enraged by snide remarks regarding attempted genocide of one's ethnic group -- not least because it's very difficult not to perceive it as a veiled threat.

Not everybody would feel enraged by snide remarks of one's cultural/religious/philosophical inspiration -- not least because it's an obvious strategy for a utility monster.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-20T12:13:14.023Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And? That doesn't change the fact that "everybody draw Mohammed day" falls in the category of hostility, not negligence or insensitivity.

comment by Torben · 2011-04-20T12:46:11.674Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe from the POV of the Muslims but not of the perpetrators.

Their (my) intent is not to do harm but to do good. For the Muslims by hopefully desensitizing them, enabling them to live in a modern, globalized, enlightened world. For the world by reducing the amount of political violence.

It's very difficult to see that for people mocking the Holocaust. How can they think they're improving the world?

comment by Emile · 2011-04-20T13:03:48.734Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I feel we're talking past each other. What I'm saying (and Yvain is saying) is that if you categorize actions thatpeople find offensive in:

A) Accidental offense (you didn't know someone would be offended)

B) Indifferent offense (you know, but don't care, and do the action anyway)

C) Deliberate offense (you do the action because you know someone will be offended)

.. then "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" falls under C), for the prepretator.

That is a seperate issue from whether it's sometimes acceptable to deliberately offend people, or of how offensive various actions are.

comment by Torben · 2011-04-21T10:23:16.606Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, I see your point.

I still believe there's a problem in using the word "hostility" since it's negatively connotated. Further, I think there's a big difference between doing something because of the offence it causes per se and doing it because you think the offence is harmful and want to reduce it. But it is a minor issue which probably won't bring us further by discussing much further.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-04-16T15:43:11.742Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The only way to eliminate these kinds of reactions is via "exposure therapy".

I ask sincerely: why do you believe this?

I've known quite a few people who've left religion (among them, myself) or started to take it less seriously, and I can't think of a single case where the process was helped along by "exposure therapy" (e.g. atheists trying to offend their sensibilities). In fact, it's mostly the opposite.

comment by knb · 2011-04-16T21:49:16.357Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I'm referring specifically to the angry emotional reactions to perceived slights, not what causes people to leave their religions.

I'm trying to think of the last time anything offended western Christians as much as the Mohammed drawings (apparently) offended Muslims in the middle-east. The anger over Piss Christ was mostly because that project was partially government funded by the NEA. There was no serious attempt to legally censor it. And of course, there were no riots and no one was harmed during that brief controversy.

I think that the difference is not primarily theological but rather cultural. In America, Christians have their beliefs mocked pretty regularly in popular culture. That largely inoculates them to outrage. My guess is that the difference between American Christians and Muslims in Afghanistan is not inherent in their religions, but a matter of exposure. Afghan Muslims have always had governments and strict cultural rules that insulated them from offensive treatments of Islam. With modern telecommunications they will be exposed to things that offend them, even if those things happen in Florida or Denmark. Either they will change or the rest of the world will change for them.

comment by soreff · 2011-04-17T02:13:10.060Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the difference between American Christians and Muslims in Afghanistan is not inherent in their religions

agreed

but a matter of exposure

perhaps

You certainly have a point, but I'm not persuaded that you've identified the core of the difference. My guess is that at least one other component is the context in which the exposure takes place. In America, there is a fairly strong norm to at least pay lip service to freedom of speech, and anyone growing up here who has a religion, and who has heard it mocked, will probably also have heard that this mockery is defended by another national norm. Exposure to equivalent mockery in Afghanistan may not have equivalent effects.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-19T16:37:17.207Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Print of Piss Christ destroyed by Christians in France

Also, "It was vandalised in Australia, and neo-Nazis ransacked a Serrano show in Sweden in 2007."

comment by knb · 2011-04-19T17:27:03.555Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, the anger it created was real, and that reaction was why I chose it as an example.

It still falls orders of magnitude below the Jyllands-Posten cartoon riots, in which more than 100 people died.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-19T17:33:48.451Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also now that other religious groups are noticing how much success Muslims are having with their tactic of violent rioting, what do you think they're going to do?

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-19T20:36:48.327Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that this is an over-simplification, and expect that there will not be a significant effect on the number or intensity of violent Christian riots. (For one thing, I expect Christians to value appearing more civilized than violent Muslims.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-19T21:43:58.699Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some will, some won't. Unfortunately, under current conditions the ones willing to embrace violence will be more successful.

comment by jimmy · 2011-04-16T19:14:36.131Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Would you know if it did? People's stated reasons are often different than their actual reasons.

No one ever says "I changed religious beliefs for reasons completely other than the truth of the religion", even though one of the biggest predictors is the belief of their social circle.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-04-16T21:04:46.718Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Like I said, including me. And I am talking about social reasons.

Mocking religion can probably turn some agnostics into atheists, but in most cases it makes religious people more rigid in their beliefs- you're offering them the "choice" between their religion being true and them being an idiot.

comment by r_claypool · 2011-04-17T18:10:14.038Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Mockery of my religion helped me to change my mind, but I doubt it would have helped if I was not already suspecting those beliefs were wrong.

comment by steven0461 · 2011-04-16T21:09:43.294Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The claim was that they would become thicker-skinned, not that they would become atheists.

comment by drethelin · 2011-04-16T19:23:51.749Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're missing the point by ignoring the last part of knb's post. The specific instance of offensive behavior is not going to convince anyone. But being in a society where it is permitted is a huge difference from one where it is not. seeing that you can live your life without being constrained by silly commandments and still be happy and respected by your friends can make a huge difference.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-04-16T21:05:37.610Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can disagree with one of his claims without bothering about the argument's bottom line.

comment by Kyre · 2011-04-19T06:54:12.775Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think the world is better off without sacred cows, rather than with them.

I generally agree. We should only keep the fun sacred cows, the ones that people would admit to being a matter of personal taste and don't mind being mocked about, like sports teams or musical preferences. We shouldn't get rid of those because it would make the world more boring.

The only way to eliminate these kinds of reactions is via "exposure therapy".

Do you mean "The only way" literally ?

Or do you mean "the best way" ? Or maybe "worth the expected carnage ?"

comment by knb · 2011-04-19T07:19:16.040Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I guess it could change from within Islam, but I basically don't see any other ways random outsiders can influence the behavior of fundamentalist Muslims.

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-19T07:17:28.323Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the ones that people would admit to being a matter of personal taste and don't mind being mocked about,

I am not sure that my understanding of sacred cows includes things like this.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T12:09:28.282Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The only way to eliminate these kinds of reactions is via "exposure therapy".

How do you know this?

comment by Unnamed · 2011-04-17T05:48:50.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The West has had centuries of liberalization, as it has gradually transitioned from norms where behavior is highly restricted to prevent violations of people's sensibilities to norms where it's generally accepted that people can mostly do what they want, as long as it isn't directly harmful to others. Other cultures haven't gone as far through this process, and I don't think that poking at their most sensitive views is going to be a helpful kind of "therapy" for them.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-16T02:12:40.959Z · score: 13 (27 votes) · LW · GW

I find this post offensive, please delete it.

comment by Nominull · 2011-04-16T02:18:33.428Z · score: 8 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I find the very act of taking offense offensive, trump that.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-04-16T09:19:21.244Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I take offense at hypocritical abuses of recursion!

comment by loqi · 2011-04-16T20:00:56.962Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Stop hitting yourself.

comment by James_Miller · 2011-04-16T20:54:06.009Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It was a near probability one event that a thread like this would manifest in response to the top level post.

comment by nhamann · 2011-04-16T02:38:58.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was just thinking that this would be a way that self-modifying, thick-skinned utilitarian agents could avoid ever having to self-censor offending remarks.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-16T02:19:36.986Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nice comeback.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-04-17T18:29:03.904Z · score: 11 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain's salmon analogy has drawn some criticism. I have to agree that it is not a perfect analogy. Analogies rarely are perfect. The best course, I find, is to offer a choice of analogies and let people choose the one with the most resonance. Pick one from this list:

Photoshop the Queen with a salmon day. We don't need to surgically alter the Brits. Just have a bit of fun with their national symbol. If insulting the Queen doesn't work, try Lady Di.

Tell an ethnic joke day. Stereotyping can be funny and is never physically harmful. If an ethnic group is capable of making fun of itself, then everyone should be able to make fun of them. It is all just in fun.

Use a bad word day. Isn't it ridiculous that people get offended at the use of certain four letter words - particularly those denoting body parts or normal biological functions. Isn't it clever to make people angry when they are unable to justify their anger rationally?

Let it all hang out day. And some people are offended not just by hearing about body parts, but also by seeing them. The occasional practice of public nudism (weather permitting) will help to make the world a better, less neurotic, place.

Use racial epithets day. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. Some people, though, don't seem to realize this. It is time to confront their irrational viewpoint that speech should not be completely free.

Desecrate a religious symbol day. Don't draw Mohammed - he already has a day. Instead, burn a Torah, feed a sacremental host to rats, pull the pins out of a voodoo doll. Lets show some imagination here. What can we do in Delhi to a sacred cow? Catapults can be fun.

Piss in someone's vegetable garden day. Some people have the uninformed impression that human urine is unsanitary. Not true, it is actually a sterile medium. People in India sometimes consume small quantities of their own urine much as people in the West drink herbal teas. Its time to dispell this anti-urine superstition.

Barbecue a cat day. Confront dietary prejudices head on, and also lend a hand to the Humane Society in addressing the cat overpopulation problem. Actually killing and butchering the cats publicly provides a more vivid demonstration. And as an added benefit, leading people to care less about kittens will make the internet a more productive environment and may even increase contributions to the SIAI.

I have to admit that if I actually encountered one of the protests on this list in real life, my initial reaction would be amusement. Repetition might change that to annoyance. But only one of those ideas actually offends me. Which one? I won't tell. YMMV.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-17T18:54:55.684Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Piss in someone's vegetable garden day. Some people have the uninformed impression that human urine is unsanitary. Not true, it is actually a sterile medium.

Healthy urine is sterile. Unhealthy urine may not be. (To say nothing of the desirability of adulterating others' food with even the most harmless additives - I don't want mint oil on my vegetables, even though I'm certain it won't do me physical harm. I don't like the taste of mint.)

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-18T07:02:04.442Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Also, large quantities of nitrogen in one spot (overfertilisation) can mess up a garden.

But it's barbecue a cat day that really offends me, since (unlike vegetables) cats have feelings too.

comment by loqi · 2011-04-26T20:05:07.903Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Cat overpopulation is an actual problem, gobs of cats are put down by the Humane Society every day. I don't know what they do with their dead cats, but I find wasting perfectly usable meat and tissue more offensive than the proposed barbecue.

FWIW, I am both a cat owner and a vegetarian.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-26T20:27:54.265Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if more or fewer people would adopt cats if the cats would otherwise be barbecued.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-26T21:01:07.618Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That's a good point. However, the danger with a cat BBQ is that people develop a taste for them and, rather than eating the leftovers from the Humane Society, breed their own for good flavour. In fact, I pretty much guarantee that, should Barbecue-a-Cat-Day ever catch on (and be celebrated in earnest), then this will indeed happen.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-26T21:20:58.375Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was not under the impression that cats tasted good.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-04-26T20:19:20.725Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is a ridiculously sensible proposal, and I feel silly for not having thought of it myself.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-18T16:19:07.818Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But it's barbecue a cat day that really offends me, since (unlike vegetables) cats have feelings too.

Are you a vegetarian?

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-04-20T20:27:21.310Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you a vegetarian?

Mostly. I could go into detail if you care.

comment by Clippy · 2011-04-18T16:32:12.005Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see what's wrong with any of those.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-04-18T16:35:40.443Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Such attitude on your part may make some humans find nothing wrong with Break a paperclip day.

comment by Clippy · 2011-04-18T16:37:12.586Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't have Break a paperclip day. Or Unbend a paperclip day. Or Frivolously waste metal day.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T16:52:30.048Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What if I credibly believe that the long-term consequence of endorsing "unbend a paperclip day" will be that large numbers of contrarians will start to increasingly value properly-bent paperclips, resulting in more properly-bent paperclips existing in the long run?

comment by Clippy · 2011-04-18T17:02:28.525Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You would be using incorrect reasoning.

comment by PeterisP · 2011-04-17T18:50:48.619Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All of the above days seem quite fun and fine to me.

As for the original article point - I agree that there isn't any significant difference between the hypothetical British salmon case and Mohammad's case, but it this fact doesn't change anything. There isn't a right to never be offended. There is no duty to abstain from offending others. It's nice if others are nice, but you can't demand everybody to be nice - most of them will be indifferent, and some will be not nice, and you just have to live with it and deal with it without using violence - and if you don't know how to handle it without violence, then you are still a 'child' in that sense and have to learn proper reaction, so everybody can (and probably should) provoke you until you learn to deal with it.

comment by s8ist · 2011-04-19T01:32:38.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well said! It is shameful that many folks' response to this is that we need to punish those who act to offend. Those who enforce and enable the unreasonable standard of a right to not be offended are at blame.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T04:57:57.223Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

With the exception of evicting the pisser from your garden I'd say none of these actions justifies a violent response. As a believer in the value of free speech I defend them all even if I would not choose to participate in them.

comment by Clippy · 2011-04-20T18:03:21.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If insulting the Queen doesn't work, try Lady Di.

A quick search shows that (the being most likely to be identified with the label) Lady Di is already dead.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-20T18:11:27.152Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

People can still become offended by insults aimed at a deceased person, under certain circumstances. Perhaps confusingly, the intent wouldn't be to offend the Queen / Lady Di!

comment by hwc · 2011-04-16T02:09:54.834Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I am still swayed by the slippery-slope argument. How far is it from “you must not offend us“ to “you must believe as we do?”

comment by fburnaby · 2011-04-16T14:12:16.214Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems pretty far to me. Yvain brings up two examples at the start of the article:

I think most decent people would be willing to go to some trouble to avoid taking pictures of salmon if British people politely asked this favor of them. If someone deliberately took lots of salmon photos and waved them in the Brits' faces, I think it would be fair to say ey isn't a nice person. And if the British government banned salmon photography, and refused to allow salmon pictures into the country, well, maybe not everyone would agree but I think most people would at least be able to understand and sympathize with the reasons for such a law.

Does this apply to you? The "politely asking" case (case 1) brings a lot of sympathy from me.

The second case, "thou shalt not...", I understand, but I now have less sympathy.

The third case, I think, would be if the Brits forbade all photos of salmon, anywhere in the world and tried to enforce the rule worldwide. This still doesn't seem to get us to "you must believe as we do".

To get to "you must believe as we do" (case 4), the Brits would have to steal all our children and raise them to experience as much pain as they do upon seeing a photo of a salmon.

The slippery slope seems to lean the other way, such that the Brits (or Muslims) need to stay tempered. The closer the they get to case 4, the less sympathy they have. At case 3, all of my sympathies are gone, and I would be tempted to take photos of salmon and leave them lying around just for fun. At case 4, I'd consider fighting a war.

comment by teageegeepea · 2011-04-17T18:04:51.357Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

There was a time when Christians frequently did kill each other over seemingly minor religious differences. The wars of religion led to a backlash that eventually gave us the political theories of Hobbes, Locke etc. When people talk about the need for a reformation in Islam, they are really thinking of the period after those wars which we accept as normal.

I was going to link to Bryan Caplan on applying the Coase theorem to offense, but turned out I confused him with Alex Tabarrok on envy. He does extend his analysis to offense though.

I do recall Robin Hanson debating with Bryan Caplan and saying that it is a utilitarian best outcome for the majority of believers not to be subjected to atheist speech. I normally assume Caplan is wrong in any disagreement with Hanson, but there I lean more towards his free speech absolutism. That may be because my behaviorist leanings lead me to discount claims of psychic distress (or utility monsters) to zero. On the other hand, I don't value the ability to make atheist polemics all that highly and would be open to "make a deal" along those lines, though I'd be upset if the deal was made without my consent.

The Volokh Conspiracy often discusses the heckler's veto.

comment by PlaidX · 2011-04-16T01:52:35.072Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW · GW

For me, the important distinction between the salmon thing and the Mohammad thing is that getting zapped when you see a picture of a salmon is a reaction that doesn't go away through exposure. It can't be desensitized. Drawing Mohammad, or really any form of trolling, eventually gets savvy people to change the way they react.

That's not to say that trolling is necessarily good, but it is functionally different than what's happening with the salmon. See this article by Clay Shirky.

comment by torekp · 2011-04-17T13:04:46.671Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, Yvain didn't say. Maybe Brits can overcome their salmon reactions through a course of cognitive therapy, or exposure therapy. The scenario is under-described. That's why Yvain's first bullet point is wrong about "choice": it uses a backward-looking notion, where a forward-looking one is wanted.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T18:28:51.121Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

What would you think of Brits who could have their electrodes removed, but preferred to leave them in?

Personally, it would reduce my interest in being careful with salmon pictures.

comment by MugaSofer · 2014-11-17T16:53:46.133Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What if they claimed to experience benefits from the implants? For example, they might cure certain neurological conditions.

Would you then expect them to remove the implants or be jolted?

comment by glutamate · 2011-04-19T11:27:59.684Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Precisely.

To say religion is not a choice would be to imply someone is being forced into it against their will. If it is against their will, surely their offence over blasphemy is insincere?

By the same line of argument that we shouldn't slander one particular long-dead paedophile warlord because he has a legion of sycophants at his metaphorical feet, we shouldn't slander a large number of other people who have a similar following and will take the same offence. So when someone says something not-so-nice about Nick Griffin, or draws a funny cartoon of him, is it not just as bad?

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-20T02:29:23.977Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Say the Brits had put the electrodes in their own brains and built up a tradition of shocking themselves if others produced and published drawings of King Arthur.

To me, that seems closer to what the muslims in question are doing.

And people would be a lot less sympathetic with my Brits than Yvain's, for good reason.

comment by imonroe · 2011-04-18T20:48:32.720Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

This is an interesting thread.

Here's a difference between the British-salmon and Muslim-Mohammed scenarios.

In the British scenario, you've postulated that the British politely ask the rest of the world to refrain from waving photos of salmon in their faces.

In the Muslim scenario, the ultra-religious are DEMANDING that the rest of the world obey their edicts on what is appropriate to draw.

I personally feel a very visceral reaction when I'm told that I'm not allowed to draw/write about/think about something. "Who are you," I think, "to presume to tell me what I can and can't express? Just who do you think you are that you get to have that sort of control over my expressions?"

My gut instinct then, is to write/draw/think about/talk about that forbidden thing.

It's the difference between a suggestion and a command. Were the Muslim community to say something like, "Ok, do as you please, but for the sake of civility, we hope you'll refrain from exposing us to the images of Mohammed you might create," you know, I'd probably say sure, ok. That's civilized. But to say, "You may not, UNDER THREAT OF DEATH, make any images or jokes about X," that's just too dictatorial for me to accept, on any level.

comment by brianm · 2011-04-19T14:26:47.811Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Is that justified though? Suppose a subset of British go about demanding restriction on salmon image production. Would that justify you going out of your way to promote the production of such images, making them more likely to be seen by the subset not making such demands?

comment by khafra · 2011-04-19T19:52:04.207Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The above looks like a standard least convenient possible world adjustment; and the original post was already trying for a scenario like that, so I'm not sure why it was downvoted.

The question of why we experience that visceral revulsion at attempted control of our private thoughts and expressions is a fascinating one. I could try to attack it with introspection, but I'd like to see some experiments if anybody knows of relevant studies.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-09-20T08:12:39.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It makes game-theoretical sense. People who aren't willing to kick in a bit of extra vitriol when somebody touches their private thinky-parts tend to get violated and modified until that willingness increases.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-04-20T15:26:09.364Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That might depend on whether it discouraged the salmon extremists from making such demands.

comment by ANTIcarrot · 2011-05-15T12:11:18.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We don't have to suppose. This has happened in recent history. When a small group of british people turn hostile and violent for a specific cause, the media services and the population decry their actions, and the British government invariably arrests them. Thatnks to football hooligans, riots, the IRA, 7/7, and its nanny state system of CCTV cameras, the UK is actually quite good at this sort of thing.

In comparison the islamic world tends to take a 'boys will be boys' attitude to this kind of thing. While I appreciate the utility of avoiding words like 'blaim' and 'fault' it's kinda hard when the 'victims' are not only indirectly supporting terrorism but actively egging them on.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T08:53:03.481Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"A thick-skinned person just can't model a person with thinner skin all that well. "

Maybe so. And I'm a very thick skinned person. But if a thin skinned person takes offense when a thick skinned person intends none, then isn't it fair to say that the thin-skinned person isn't modeling the other very well either?

"And so when the latter gets upset over some insult, the thick-skinned person calls them "unreasonable", or assumes that they're making it up in order to gain sympathy. My friends in the online forum couldn't believe anyone could really be so sensitive as to find their comments abusive, and so they ended up doing some serious mental damage."

In your prescriptions for how to deal with this I don't see any consideration of the possibility that the offended could grow thicker skin. I really think this would be the most efficient protection of the offended from such offense in at least some cases, and perhaps in most cases.

If a person literally had thin skin such that he was vulnerable to being wounded by contact with rough surfaces it would be more efficient for him to put on protective clothing than to modify his entire environment.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T13:33:13.800Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But if a thin skinned person takes offense when a thick skinned person intends none, then isn't it fair to say that the thin-skinned person isn't modeling the other very well either?

Only if you understand my taking offense to mean that I'm inferring that you meant to offend me. If I understand perfectly well that you meant no offense and I'm offended anyway, it's possible I'm modeling you very well.

the possibility that the offended could grow thicker skin [..] would be the most efficient protection of the offended from such offense

Efficiency in this context has to do with the ratio of costs to benefits, so how efficient that is presumably depends on the costs of growing that skin, which I expect varies among people and subjects.

That said, the cost to me of other people doing the work of not being offended by my actions is of course extremely low, which makes that strategy maximally efficient for me.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-18T16:37:58.086Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"That said, the cost to me of other people doing the work of not being offended by my actions is of course extremely low, which makes that strategy maximally efficient for me."

Sure, but as someone whose skin has become a lot thicker over time I see the primary benefit of that change is to me. I didn't require the cooperation of offenders to experience less pain.

With little further ongoing effort I'm now largely immune to what many experience as a world of hurt. For the rest of my life. Seems efficient to me. I think it was a lot easier than retraining the world to be less offensive to me.

Yes, growing a thicker skin might be very difficult for some, but most people can make very productive headway. This appears to have been overlooked by Yvain.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-19T02:46:21.871Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough.

I certainly agree that in cases where "growing a thicker skin" (which I understand to mean self-modifying to be less offended by a given act) is relatively cheap, it's worth considering.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-19T03:24:16.727Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's what I mean. And "relatively cheap" has to factor in the benefit of all of the pain you avoid for the rest of your life by thickening your skin, not just the cost of modification of the "offender".

There's a lot of win on that table.

comment by nhamann · 2011-04-16T03:02:21.354Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Another case that's interesting to consider is the Penny Arcade dickwolves controversy. The PA fellows made a comic which mentioned the word "rape", some readers got offended, and the PA guys, being thick-skinned individuals, dismissed and mocked their claims of being offended by making "dickwolves" T-shirts. Hubbub ensues.

What's most interesting about this case is that, apart from perhaps some bloggers, many of the people taking offense appear to be rape survivors for whom reading the word "rape" is traumatic (I guess? This is what I gathered, but being thick-skinned and not a rape survivor it is impossible for me to understand). I don't think it's possible to claim Machiavellian maneuverings here, given that a feminist blog who made a dickwolves protest shirt eventually stopped selling the shirt on account of some rape survivors saying that the shirt acted as a trigger for them.

More to the point: there is apparently a small population for whom using the word "rape" causes psychic horror. So what, are we now not allowed to ever use that word? Or can we not even allude to the act? Of course, reasonable concessions should be made (i.e. not using the word when directly in the presence of such a person), but at what point do sensitive individuals need to take it upon themselves to relocate their attention elsewhere?

comment by Nominull · 2011-04-16T03:05:57.809Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the mechanism for rape trauma triggers is different from the mechanism for Muhammed representation offense taking, and so the two should probably be treated differently. The trouble with the Dickwolves controversy is that you wound up with offense-takers and trauma-havers on the same side, in the same camp, so they got conflated.

comment by nhamann · 2011-04-16T03:26:30.925Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, but it does seem like trauma triggers and the psychic-distress-via-salmon work via the same mechanism. So probably the key here is to distinguish between actual psychic stress and feigned stress used for status maneuvers. It is not, however, clear to me how to do that in general.

comment by Nominull · 2011-04-16T03:34:48.540Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

No, the key here is to distinguish between actual psychic stress not used for status maneuvers and actual psychic stress used for status maneuvers. Which is of course even harder.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-16T16:49:09.391Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

No, the key here is to distinguish between actual psychic stress not used for status maneuvers and actual psychic stress used for status maneuvers.

How about the classic "murder pill" test? If you could self-modify to no longer experience the psychic stress, would you?

I suspect the psychic-distress-via-salmon and rape victims would answer yes, whereas the Muslims would answer no.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-16T17:02:31.593Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I tentatively agree, except I think rape victims might be concerned about no longer holding their beliefs about the moral significance of how people in general talk about triggering topics. If those values could be maintained without the stress reaction I would expect them to want the pill.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-17T01:20:49.438Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think it's a crucial distinction that the brits in question would almost all choose to have the electrodes removed immediately. And shortly they would take considerably less offense at pictures of salmon.

Far fewer of the offended muslims (it's not the case that all muslims are equally offended) would immediately choose to rewire their brains or rewrite their software to avoid the psychic pain. This is because their current configuration was chosen, to a far greater extent than the brit's was.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-04-17T01:45:46.186Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is an important point. In this sense, the Brits are victims of something they can't control, but if the Muslims had a choice, they wouldn't control it. So they bear some responsibility for their own offense.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-04-19T16:58:24.494Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It really is a Gandhi and the murder pill scenario-- the training which made them offended by pictures of Mohammed is the same training which makes them not want the vulnerability to offense removed.

I've got a mild discomfort with Christianity. It's not the result of personal experience with anti-Semitism or having to deal with obnoxious Christians. It's actually a bit embarrassing to have the discomfort, when there are so many people who have good personal reasons to dislike the religion.

Born to Kvetch is a book about Yiddish and the culture it's part of. There's a chapter about detestation of Christianity-- I don't have as strong a flavor, but I bet I inherited the way I feel. [1]

The thing is, I suspect that the way I feel about Christianity doesn't actually serve me, but it's hard for me to really think about it because the idea of giving it up triggers the idea of not being uncomfortable with (ick!) Christianity.

[1] I believe that a lot of emotional reactions are learned by imitation of emotional reactions.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-04-16T20:01:16.376Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

More to the point: there is apparently a small population for whom using the word "rape" causes psychic horror. So what, are we now not allowed to ever use that word?

I think the point is that people shouldn't use it as a joke so much.

comment by Nominull · 2011-04-16T20:09:54.229Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This only makes sense if you consider jokes to be of lesser social importance than, say, idle political talk.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-16T01:36:31.160Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This is a really good essay that makes some interesting points. The salmon example is a really clever way of separating some of the issues.

I think you underestimate the slipperiness of the slope in question. If for example, some religious people find that simply saying their religion is false is painful to them in the same way should that be outlawed? Note that this isn't a hypothetical, many countries have anti-blasphemy laws and many European countries have laws against criticizing religion or include such remarks under hate crimes statutes. Consider the case of a certain fellow in England, Harry Taylor, who was forbidden to carry anti-religious literature (and yes, there's no question that his behavior was jerkish but that's not the point). And it just gets worse from there. There are ultra-Orthodox Jews who don't want anyone to say anything negative about their Rebbes.

There seem to be two distinct issues here are also, how should potential victims and offenders act, and whether there should be government regulation. These are related but distinct questions. You start off talking about the first and end by talking about the second.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-16T02:26:46.121Z · score: 40 (42 votes) · LW · GW

The salmon example is a really clever way of separating some of the issues.

I think the salmon example is seriously misleading, and in a way that shows a very common pattern of fallacies in consequentialist reasoning. It presents a thought experiment that is contrived to be free of any game-theoretic concerns, and then this example is used as a rhetorical sleight of hand by positing a superficial analogy with a real-life example, in which the game-theoretic concerns are of supreme importance.

Subsequently, these concerns are dismissed with another misleading observation, namely that people rarely fake offense. Well, yes, but the whole point is that people's sincerely felt emotions are very much directed by their brains' game-theoretic assessment of the situation, which may well indicate that a seemingly irrational extreme emotional response is in fact quite rational given the circumstances. Those who ignore this point should read up on their Schelling.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-04-16T23:14:22.714Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It presents a thought experiment that is contrived to be free of any game-theoretic concerns, and then this example is used as a rhetorical sleight of hand by positing a superficial analogy with a real-life example, in which the game-theoretic concerns are of supreme importance.

That doesn't seem fair. Yvain explicitly points out that the salmon example is different precisely in that it doesn't have the same game-theoretic issues. From the OP:

The British salmon example, on the other hand, was designed to avoid the idea of "offense" and trigger consequentialist notions of harm minimization.

The example specifically refers to the displeasure that salmon cause the British as "psychic pain", priming ideas about whether it is acceptable to cause pain to another person. The British are described as politely asking us to avoid salmon photography as a favor to them, putting themselves in a low status position rather than demanding we respect their status. British are white and first world, so it's hard to think of this as a political correctness issue and wade into that particular quagmire. And because the whole salmon problem is the result of an alien prankster, there's no easily available narrative in which the British are at fault.

So, Yvain isn't making a "superficial analogy". He is highlighting precisely the differences that concern you, because they are part of his point.

You continue:

Well, yes, but the whole point is that people's sincerely felt emotions are very much directed by their brains' game-theoretic assessment of the situation, which may well indicate that a seemingly irrational extreme emotional response is in fact quite rational given the circumstances.

It is important to keep these issues in mind, and I agree that Yvain downplays this possibility in the OP. But, in fairness, you seem to ignore the fact that your remark applies just as well to those who find themselves sincerely offended by Muslim demands not to draw Mohammed. They too should recognize that their offense is "very much directed by their brains' game-theoretic assessment of the situation, which may well indicate that a seemingly irrational extreme emotional response is in fact quite rational given the circumstances". And they should recognize that what that part of their brain considers to be rational may not really be rational in light of all of their goals.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-04-16T15:16:15.782Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Great counter-argument; perhaps you should post your own analysis of the offensiveness question.

comment by jtk3 · 2011-04-16T22:38:28.814Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"You could argue Brits did not choose to have their abnormal sensitivity to salmon while Muslims might be considered to be choosing their sensitivity to Mohammed. But this requires a libertarian free will. "

Absent free will I don't understand why you'd be more critical the supposed offending parties than the offended ones.

"And if tomorrow I tried to "choose" to become angry every time someone showed me a picture of a salmon, I couldn't do it - I could pretend to be angry, but I couldn't make myself feel genuine rage."

Some people born and raised in America who freely take up Islam in adulthood and proceed to take offense at such things as pictures of Mohammed which they previously would not have taken offense at. One may not directly choose to take such offense but it's a consequence of choices and one may choose otherwise.

Out of a billion muslims I'd bet there are many who are not deeply offended when outsiders print such pictures. The choice to take less offense is there.

Growing up I had a strong and deeply ingrained aversion to homosexuality. I could feel physically ill at the description or depiction of men kissing, for instance. The aversion was so strong that I identified it as an instinctive part of my nature. Over time however I chose to discount the aversion. I was able to do so. Presumably you would not have thought gays should have refrained from acts which offended me.

I'm confident muslims are also capable of discounting irrational beliefs. If one didn't think people could do this then what would be the point of lesswrong?

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-04-16T17:22:49.803Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think the central issue here gets folded into the "utility/disutility" distinction, which makes it easy to miss. The current thing with drawing Mohammed is probably best seen as a sort of culture war between East and West - we value free speech, they do not. The opening salvo was political cartoons in a Danish newspaper. If the opening salvo had been posting similar cartoons on the side of a Mosque, the West would look a lot worse.

Generally, though, targeted offensive behaviour - racial slurs, drawing Mohammed on churches, forcing very religious people to view hardcore pornography - is of virtually no social value and the offender suffers very little from having to avoid doing it.

Conversely, untargeted offensive behaviour - the Klansmen getting upset over seeing an interracial couple - tends to be much more expensive for the offender to avoid, so the appropriate solution is for the offended person to stop being offended.

How hard something is to avoid is obviously a bit fuzzy. It seems it can break down into "intended to harm" versus "not specifically intended to harm." The Mohammed cartoons are mostly in the latter category, as they were intended as a political criticism of a religion.

In other words, I think this is more of a debate over where the utility calculus should come out, because "offense" describes such a broad range.

comment by soreff · 2011-04-17T04:02:13.482Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

forcing very religious people to view hardcore pornography

Can you point to an example where that actually happened? The vastly more frequent occurrence is of religious people objecting to the mere existence of pornography.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-04-17T05:20:32.887Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This?

In all seriousness, it's a hypothetical example. If it is something that happens, it's not going to make the news, or probably even the interweb. I'm thinking of something like the scene in Clerks where a customer at a store expresses offense at an extremely lewd conversation the employees are having, to which an employee responds, "If you think that's offensive, look at this!" and shows him the spread in the porn mag he's holding.

This kind of little thing probably does actually happen, but I agree that general objections to the existence of pornography are more common, and they fall cleanly into the other category.

comment by prase · 2011-04-16T10:32:33.137Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

An important distinction between the salmon and Mohammed pictures was omitted. Namely, the potential to change the offended in the long run.

In both examples the differences between two groups are potentially dangerous. There is a direct risk of accidentally showing a salmon picture in presence of a Briton. There is a graver risk that the salmon thing would cause further distrust between Britons and non-Britons, because it's somehow hard to not laugh at somebody who becomes enraged because of a picture of a salmon. There may be bombings of printers who publish fishing books, or any other kind of violence. The world is almost certainly better without such controversies. So it may be reasonable to try to eliminate them.

In the salmon example, the Britons have a physical reason (chips in their brains) for their salmon obsession and they can't be (presumably) taught to ignore the salmon pictures. On the other hand, Muslims' rage over depicting the prophet is a cultural habit amenable to change. People are usually less offended (in whatever meaning) by stuff which they encounter on a daily basis. Exposing the Muslims to Mohammed cartoons may significantly move their offense threshold towards more tolerance.

comment by mispy · 2011-04-17T13:52:04.555Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Following on from this, there's another difference that I think completely kills the analogy: the Britons would be readily willing to acknowledge their response to salmon pictures as a flaw in their own mental structure. The offended Muslims, on the other hand, feel not only pain but the impression that they are healthy and justified in feeling that pain. This is equivalent to the difference between an agoraphobic who protests being dragged outside against their will, and one who insists that that the rest of human civilization moves underground for their personal convenience.

comment by Xachariah · 2011-04-20T06:02:01.545Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain, I would urge you to read this post on assigning blame on the subject of diseases, written by a quite eloquent and enlightening writer. There is a very relevant snippet in there regarding the difference between the consequentialist model of blame and the deontological model.

If giving condemnation instead of sympathy decreases the incidence of the disease enough to be worth the hurt feelings, condemn; otherwise, sympathize. Though the rule is based on philosophy that the majority of the human race would disavow, it leads to intuitively correct consequences. Yelling at a cancer patient, shouting "How dare you allow your cells to divide in an uncontrolled manner like this; is that the way your mother raised you??!" will probably make the patient feel pretty awful, but it's not going to cure the cancer. Telling a lazy person "Get up and do some work, you worthless bum," very well might cure the laziness. The cancer is a biological condition immune to social influences; the laziness is a biological condition susceptible to social influences, so we try to socially influence the laziness and not the cancer.

If showing pictures of Salmon to British people helped degrade the salmon-pain-electrodes, then we should show pictures of Salmon to British people. If showing pictures of Mohammad to Muslim people helped reduce their reaction, then we should show pictures of Mohammad to Muslim people. If it doesn't work, we shouldn't do it. If kicking them in the face worked, we should do it; if kicking them in the face doesn't work, we shouldn't do it. Pure consequentialism.

Make no mistake, Muslims taking offense to pictures is a disease of the mind and not just because it's based on religion (and religion is false). People have received death threats over depictions of Mohammad. Others have been assassinated for creating media relating to the Muslim religion. Those who wish to end the oppression of women and other human rights abuses have a harder time because they are unable to create media critical of those practices. These are all aside from the general issue of freedom of speech. There are real world results caused by Muslims being overly sensitive and turning to violence or threats of violence as a result of that sensitivity.

Remember that nobody felt the need to make a "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" when they were being asked politely to stop. When sensitivity crossed the line to death threats and assassination is the exact point that an 'issue to be sensitive about' turned into a 'disease to be cured'. Once it is classified as a disease the only questions are 'how you can cure it most effectively' and 'is Everybody Draw Mohammad Day an efficacious cure'.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-20T06:39:08.186Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Make no mistake, Muslims taking offense to pictures is a disease of the mind

Imagine a world where there are a billion Muslims who are exactly as offended by pictures of Mohammed as the average American student would be by a racist caricature of Martin Luther King. Does one "disease of the mind" need to be cured more than the other? In both cases, the "patient" wouldn't take a pill that cured him.

Now add to the picture one Muslim fanatic who is angry enough at depictions of Mohammed that he'd be ready to kill in retaliation. Is it worth hurting the other billion muslims to try to "cure" him (assumting the cure works, which is another question)? How many fanatics do you need before it makes utilitarian sense to use the cure?

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-20T06:48:21.306Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In both cases, the "patient" wouldn't take a pill that cured him.

And a lazy person probably couldn't be bothered to go out and get the drug that cures laziness, either. Hence the social presssure method.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-20T07:57:15.474Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And a lazy person probably couldn't be bothered to go out and get the drug that cures laziness, either.

Would they? I would, if it was cheap and available enough.

There's an important difference between things people would change if they could do it at zero cost (lazyness, disease, shyness, obesity, possibly a psychopath's pathology), and the things people wouldn't change even if they could at zero cost (being offended by racism, being offended by pictures of Mohammed, caring about other people). That's why I don't find that disease is a very good analogy.

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-20T08:14:04.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's why I don't find that disease is a very good analogy.

Some features of diseases are applicable to this situation - most aren't, but if any of the features it does have recommend a treatment like social pressure, then 'disease' is a good enough analogy.

(For the record, I don't think disease is a good analogy. The closest this situation comes to being a disease is that we don't want them to have it; they want to keep it.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T06:28:38.490Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Muslims are often of a different race than Christians, so conflicts with them risk tarring a person with the deeply insulting label of "racist"

Why don't you use the terms European and Middle Easterner? Christianity as a religion is about as racially diverse as one can get and the same is true of Islam. Imagining a generic "average" global Christian insulting a generic "average" global Muslim and terming that racist makes little sense.

The charge of racism wouldn't be used by a Sudanese or PC minded Kenyan against a Christian Kenyan. In the context of Europe this is employed because of the inter-ethnic conflict present below the surface.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T06:05:31.669Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It is necessary to draw pictures of Mohammed to show Muslims that violence and terrorism are inappropriate responses. I think the logic here is that a few people drew pictures of Mohammed, some radicals sent out death threats and burned embassies, and now we need to draw more pictures of Mohammed to convince Muslims not to do this. But it sounds pretty stupid when you put it in exactly those words. Say a random Christian kicked a Muslim in the face, and a few other Muslims got really angry, blew the whole thing out of proportion, and killed him and his entire family. This would be an inappropriately strong response, and certainly you could be upset about it, but the proper response wouldn't be to go kicking random Muslims in the face. They didn't do it, and they probably don't even approve. But drawing pictures of Mohammed offends many Muslims, not just the ones who send death threats.

There is another way to view this... And I think it would be fair to point out that the basic popular arguiment for "draw Mohammed day" is behind it. Suppose you are subject to a law you consider unfair. Suppose many other people are as well. If you have the possibility of public collective action that makes the consistent enforcement of such a law impossible. Why not take it?

You might quibble that drawing Mohamed isn't illegal (though in some countries hate speech laws can be used to ban it, since Koran burnings have been punished), but this is a bit irrelevant. If there exist widely known formalized rules with organizations dedicated to punishing offenders, what difference does it make if the rules are formalized in a code of law or religious book? Indeed the distinction between the two is no where near universal to begin with. And what difference does it make if they are enforced for everyone not by my government but another state's or perhaps by a non-governmental organization?

The organization enforcing the rule and the popular will to enforce it are likley to erode. If every week a cartoonist draws Mohamed will Muslims bother to riot every week? Humans are lazy. What was once outrages can simply through repetition become a unsightly "feature" of those accursed infidels, much smaller in emotional affect and its impact on punishing a specific offender. It might become part of a wider motivation to act against the West in a organized fashion ... but the West has historically been pretty good at using organized violence.

Now you might ask why do they consider the law unjust and worth fighting?

Simple. Arguing for the enforcement of the law is enemy attire. Having the law upheld gives the other group a "privilege" (a form of protection we don't have because we've given it up in the past) and indicates high status for them.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-04-18T14:06:33.090Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. In essence, drawing Mohammed is civil disobedience.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T15:13:32.303Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If every week a cartoonist draws Mohamed will Muslims bother to riot every week? Humans are lazy. What was once outrages can simply through repetition become a unsightly "feature" of those accursed infidels, much smaller in emotional affect and its impact on punishing a specific offender.

There are also more moderate (and westernized) Muslims whose feelings are hurt when they see a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims, even if they wouldn't be particularly mind if they encountered a drawing of Mohammed in say a history book or even a cartoon also featuring Buddha, Jesus, Jehova etc. Many probably wouldn't mind if drawing Mohammed and burning the Qur'an were forbidden, but wouldn't go out of their way to make that happen.

comment by Hyena · 2011-04-17T11:50:26.870Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think this an excellent scheme for thinking about the issue because it really does help draw together different intuitions onto the same field in a way where we can imagine useful evaluations.

One issue which may create fractures in reasoning is that the alien brain implant is somewhat different than other psychological reactions. At least when I first interpret the mechanism, the brain implant would not attenuate with time. The idea of "thicker skin" is bound up with growing one, allowing our responses to offensiveness attenuate from "my god, how awful" to "whyd do people think that's funny".

I think this leads to an important objection: if we could, through photographic salmon exposure* attenuate the pain until it no longer is actually felt, we would object much less to showing salmonitypes to Brits. Indeed, we may perceive that they have a duty to therest of us, even on general utility grounds, to attenuate their impulse.

I don't think this is an unreasonable objection and it meshes well with our other general moral commands. Children, for example, no doubt are greatly harmed by not getting what they want but we perceive a need for adults not to remain shrill 8 year olds and cultivate some serenity in this regard. (In fact, I had a conversation interrupted just tonight when the table next to mine began making a scene about salad prices, with obvious disutility to the tables around them.)

So I think this is a critical difference which should be addressed as it is not unreasonable to believe, at least from the muted reactions in the first world, that these feelings can attenuate with socialization or small personal effort.

*If this is not the name of a band, it should be.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-04-17T04:39:12.581Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think the crucial difference between the salmon/Brit and the drawings/Muslims is form-invariance, which is present in the latter, but not the former.

The Muslims in question don't merely say, "Hey, don't draw pictures that have the form of Muhammad." They say, "Don't express any critique coupled to our offense at that narrow part of artspace." (including, e.g., Drawing an anonymous stick figure and saying, "I call that Muhammad ... is that enough to offend you, or does it have to ...?")

In contrast, there are workarounds in the Brit/salmon case that allow one to reference salmon anywhere and everywhere -- even right in front of Brits! -- without triggering their hardwired response:

  • use a euphemism for salmon
  • when a diagram is needed, use one that doesn't look like salmon, but has a known mapping
  • use indirect complex constructions that nevertheless, after some thought, are identified as referring to salmon

Heck, the Brit-requested prohibition would ever permit you to (incorrectly) argue that the kind of mod the aliens did is impossible.

Yet Muslims expect all of the analog activities to cease.

Now, you can revise the situation to force consideration of the least-convenient possible world, but then you'd be constructing a scenario in which the aliens implant strong AI that can identify every possible kind of salmon reference. But at that point, you're no longer talking about Brits at all, but beings with a different identity, which reduces your dilemma to "Brits are killed and replaced with robots. What else would start to suck about that situation?" Er, the problem was the identity deletion, and any further harm pales in comparison.

I think you can connect the dots from here: there is a difference between expecting others to restrict the manner in which they do something, vs. whether they do it at all. Indeed, even the Americans you criticize have no problem with time/place/manner restrictions of free speech: e.g. "Sure you can say a candidate's great, but not through spam, and not by blasting an airhorn at 3am."

comment by lukeprog · 2011-05-26T15:12:47.161Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Alonzo Fyfe wrote an article in response to Yvain's article above, here.

comment by Giles · 2011-04-17T15:52:59.443Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think people are implicitly confusing two levels of thinking.

Level 1 thinking is "drawing Mohammed is bad", "people who get offended at drawings of Mohammed are silly", "we should punish them", etc. I think most people on this forum are beyond this sort of thinking.

Level 2 thinking is about status, evo-psych and harm minimization.

Problems occur when you mix the levels of thinking. You end up with "People who get offended at pictures of Mohammed are genuinely offended but they're still doing it for status reasons, so they're bad people and we should punish them by drawing lots of Mohammeds".

Think of Draw A Mohammed Day. It's the exact opposite of a good idea. Its organizers incur a status hit - they make America look like dicks - and they commit the massive strategic failure of letting their opponents frame the debate. And then on top of that they create some disutility by offending people.

A much more effective approach would be to think of a game-theoretic strategy which would win the status game (or at least stop others winning by ramping up the display of being offended).

I'll concede that some sort of game-theoretic "punishment" may be needed to disincentivize the "getting offended" behaviour. But that punishment doesn't have to be in the form of more offense. It can be to make the opponent look silly. It can be to portray him as a violent thug who flips out over nothing (though this is not to be preferred as it will tend to incur a "racism" status hit).

And once you've got a good strategy for playing the status game, you can then try and tune it to remove as much offense-disutility as possible.

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-17T16:33:56.184Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

a game-theoretic strategy which would win the status game

I think this is a winning strategy. They are easily made to look like dicks - and then their opponents either embark on what could be easily represented as a murderous rampage, or renege on their threat. Either option is a bigger status hit for the opponent.

comment by Giles · 2011-04-17T18:31:07.292Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

These are good points. I was just curious as to why the conversation wasn't framed as "accept that offense is a type of harm; now let's discuss the winning strategy"

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-18T04:29:23.822Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Probably because most commentors weren't aware that their response to the situation was a case of what the algorithm feels like from inside. They determined a winning move, but in status games (and bargaining Schelling style) an unreasonable or irrational attachment to a winning move is much more effective than selecting that move because it's the best.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-04-17T21:22:47.128Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It can be to portray him as a violent thug who flips out over nothing

I believe this is called the "Rage Boy" meme. But the actual person who is depicted in the "Rage Boy" meme is apparently a torture victim and demonstration organizer, not a killer.

comment by nitrat665 · 2015-04-12T08:25:30.179Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I feel there are some significant differences between drawing Mohammed and showing the British person a picture of the salmon:

  • In case of Britain affected with the salmon ailment, it is not actually necessary to stop depicting salmon. For example, if you are a proud owner of a salmon-fisher’s blog, it is sufficient to put up a “CONTAINS SALMON” warning on the front page to prevent some unlucky Brit from wandering inside and getting a jolt. We do not stop selling peanut products because some people are allergic to them and might actually die from consuming those – we just put a highly visible “CONTAINS NUTS” label on the packaging. However, if you have a religious issue discussion blog that may contain some Mohammed art, posting a “CONTAINS PICTURES OF MOHHAMED” warning on the front page will only attract the kind of Muslims that are particularly averse to Mohammed art.

  • Another interesting point to consider is that being atheist, I do not have a duty or commandment not to draw a picture of Mohammed and neither do Christians, Buddhists, Jews or Hindus. Technically, if your commandments do not forbid it you are not committing a sacrilege. Now, waving a Mohammed pic in the Muslims’ face would be definitely a dick move, but publishing it in your blog/journal/whatever other media that a Muslim would have to actively seek out in order to be exposed should be ok.

  • A tit-for-tat argument – suppose that while Britain was affected by salmon aversion the rest of the world was struck by an aversion to cat pictures (the horror! Oh, the fluffy horror!). Now, if the British demand that we get rid of our salmon pics but keep flashing the cat pics all over the place, would you still feel that it is a dick move to keep your salmon? Getting back to the Mohammed issue, this is exactly what we see – the same Muslim groups that react most aggressively to the Mohammed pics are known for damaging and destroying various objects that hold cultural and religious value to non-Muslims. Is it right to cooperate when your opponent is known for defecting?

However, I do feel that my thinking might be influenced by a tribal-rivalry bias against Muslems. If you find anything of that sort – feel free to dig in.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-04T17:32:34.151Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the difference here is that “Mohammed” (for sake of argument) does not exist outside of the context of Islam. To reference “Mohammed” is to reference a character that exists only as a historical character described through historical texts that deliberately do not offer an official image of him (…and no one is saying "you can't talk or write about Mohammed," at least not yet). The presumption here is that the Islamic character and the prohibition regarding his depiction are inseparable aspects of the same idea of “Mohammed.”

Salmon, on the other hand, exist outside of such context. One can draw or photograph a salmon without ever knowing what it is, but one can’t depict a Mohammed without referencing Islam.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, one has to go out of their way to create a visual depiction of Mohammed. To do that, one has to (1) know enough about Islam and Mohammed to even know what to depict, (2) presumably understand that there are few existing depictions of Mohammed because depiction is a cultural taboo; and (3) to label their drawing as specifically a depiction of Mohammed (so that someone else can't get confused and think it is just some random schmuck).

This is, so far as I understand it, a deliberate act of challenging a social norm. So when someone uses the defense of 'free speech,' someone else could counter with the claim that the depiction of Mohammed is by nature libelous/slanderous -- you are knowingly and willingly creating a false depiction (as all depictions are false) that defames or otherwise harms a group of people/beliefs and/or their reputation.

(Again assuming here that the Islamic character and the prohibition regarding his depiction are inseparable aspects of the same idea of “Mohammed.” I suppose one can compare this to how “Voldemort” must not be named because to name him is to cause deliberate harm/offense to any non-Muggles. Muggles will never find out about Voldemort unless some non-Muggle tells them about Voldemort, and even then, the Muggle will learn about Voldemort as “He-who-must-not-be-named” for reasons “x,y,z”. So for a Muggle to name Voldemort is to deliberately harm/offend the non-Muggle then).

Perhaps a better comparison and a better question would be as follows: A homeowner has put up a sign in front of their home saying "Do not draw pictures of QfwfQ." And what the heck is a "QfwfQ"? It is something the homeowner believes in, and inseparable from the belief in QfwfQ is the belief that QfwfQ does not like to be drawn (or it will punish the owner with twenty lashes when the owner meets the QfwfQ in an indeterminate future.) The homeowner has put that sign out as a special –and perhaps irrational-- precaution. An ordinary passerby would not think to draw pictures of the whatever it is, or even /why/ that rule might exit, and would generally ignore it.

However, there seem to be a group of people who, upon hearing of this sign and this rule and this person with their belief in QfwfQ, take it all as a provocation to challenge a rule simply because the rule exists. The homeowner, upon hearing this, reacts in a disproportionate manner. More people hear about this QfwfQ and his silly rules, and criticize the homeowner and his beliefs. The homeowner again reacts disproportionately, and this goes on in perpetuity until everyone has some idea of QfwfQ and the homeowner.

This continues until knowledge of QfwfQ and his silly rules reaches a hyper-logical culture that holds nothing sacred (not even things like “love” and “friendship,” unless there are explicit cost/benefit analyses supporting those ideas). To lampoon QfwfQ and to criticize it are permissible and in fact encouraged as a show of how tolerant and egalitarian this culture is (“Your QfwfQ is no better and no worse than anyone else’s sacred ideas!”).

This leads to what some may call a ‘culture war,’ which is what it seems to me is going on between the West’s caricatures of Mohammed, and the conservative Muslim reaction.

Now, if someone had spontaneously, halfway around the world, drawn a picture and called it QfwfQ, how would that homeowner have reacted? Perhaps the homeowner would request the artist's death. Perhaps, if on not being to explain the drawing as a deliberate aim on part of the artist to insult, defame, or otherwise comment on the homeowner's belief in QfwfQ, the homeowner might conclude that there was an act of divine inspiration, and the rules governing the depiction/non-depiction of QfwfQ will change. Except for in the case of divine inspiration, everyone else who drew a picture of QfwfQ would have done so having learned about QfwfQ from a sign that says "Don't draw QfwfQ"! So the act of their drawing would have been a deliberate rule-breaking, however arbitrary that rule is. Similarly, "Mohammed" does not exist outside of Islam, so in engaging "Mohammed," you are inadvertently also engaging Islam. There is no Jewish or Christian or Buddhist or American or British "Mohammed", though there may be American and European genii of salmon. It would be interesting to explore how people would react if Muslims were to say, "Do not depict the Islamic character of Moses, but feel free to depict Christian or Jewish variants of the same character." in specifying that the varient of "Moses" one had drawn was the Islamic version, would that be a deliberate offense then? This is worth exploring further because there is no explicit Quranic ruling forbidding the depiction of Mohammed (though one could make a case regarding 'though shalt not make false idols and fall into idoltry'): the “ban” regarding depiction comes from a particular set of interpretations of Islam. At prior times, Muslims have in fact created depictions of Mohammed, and onyl certain groups of Muslims get upset with the depiction of Mohammed -- other Muslims with other varients of belief don't care.

comment by Isaac · 2011-04-18T07:46:45.397Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This means that ever admitting you were offensive is a huge status hit implying you are some combination of callous, ignorant, and racist. Sometimes people may be willing to take this status hit, especially if upon reflection they believe they really were in the wrong, but since most people's actions seem reasonable to themselves they will not be willing to accept a narrative where they're the villain.

More likely, they will try to advance an alternative interpretation, in which their actions were not legitimately offensive or in which they have the "right" to take such actions. Such an interpretation may cast the offended party as a villain, trying to gain power and control by pretending to be offended, or unduly restricting the free speech of others.

Sociopathy 101: the best response in this situation is usually to admit wrongdoing. If you try and defend yourself, you'll just dig yourself into a bigger hole. ("I'm not a racist, I just think ... " - we all know how that sounds). You don't need to actually believe you've done wrong, but make it at least sound like you've realised the error of your ways.

You still need to avoid a big status hit, so don't grovel. You should stay "on-message", and your message should be on the lines of "I'm sorry, I didn't realise I was being offensive, but I accept that I was. Thanks for helping me to be less prejudiced. I'm going to try and change in future". How you deliver this message depends on context - if you're not a public figure it's not like you can just hold a press conference, so you'll probably have to deliver this message to individuals, in which case you'll have to make it sound more personalised and natural.

Accepting a small status hit in this way can actually be high status. This strategy also works in the more general situation whenever someone accuses you of being X, where X is some negative trait. Ignore the overwhelming desire to explain why you are not X, with reasons. It will just make it sound like you don't "get it". Even if the criticism is totally invalid, the correct response is to accept it and promise to change.

Exceptions: if you think people will agree that your infraction was minor and the other party is overreacting (especially if they keep throwing new accusations at you after you accept the first), you can (and should) stand up for yourself.

If your infraction was very serious, or you've overused this tactic to the point people realise your tricks, it can backfire badly. I don't really know what to advise you in this situation, but you might need to accept some more-than-token punishment.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-18T13:43:32.663Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll add to this that if I want to avoid the "backfire" scenario, one useful technique is to be seen as actually changing the behavior that I promised to change.

The period over which the changed behavior must be sustained in order to placate suspicious observers depends significantly on how suspicious they are, so it's often best to do this before I notice them becoming overtly suspicious... that is, to establish a habit of following up my promise to change my behavior with an actual change in my behavior.

comment by Isaac · 2011-05-05T14:31:47.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

agree. To some extent, this all shows the best way to have a good reputation is to be good. But some awareness of how others perceive you goes a long way.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T06:22:13.427Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This would be an inappropriately strong response, and certainly you could be upset about it, but the proper response wouldn't be to go kicking random Muslims in the face. They didn't do it, and they probably don't even approve. But drawing pictures of Mohammed offends many Muslims, not just the ones who send death threats.

This is a very Eurocentric way of thinking (not saying its appropriate or inappropriate according to my values). I hope that after some careful thought it will be obvious to most LWers why this is so. Virtual cookie to the first one that gets it right.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-18T06:40:18.216Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In Fued based cultures attacking arbitrary members of an out-group in response to violence by a member of said out-group against one of yours is indeed an appropriate response.

(This is why I'm glad I don't live in a feud based culture.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T07:09:38.286Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Enjoy your virtual cookie.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T06:03:24.159Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So why don't most people extend the same sympathy they would give Brits who don't like pictures of salmon, to Muslims who don't like pictures of Mohammed?

  1. Because people who take their religion and its taboos seriously are low status in the West.

  2. Mind projection fallacy: We assume most Muslims don't take their religion seriously like most Christians or Jews don't. We see them using a technicality to claim offence where there is none in order to control us or display dominance over our tribe.

  3. They aren't part of our tribe. And worse they belong to a culturally powerful, demographically ascendant and politically threatening tribe.

Another thing I find interesting is that such a argument would never be set up using the example of piss Christ or a desecrated Talmud. I think the reason such a argument is employed using the Muslims as an example is because we quietly accept that Christians, Hindus, Shintoist and Jews are very unlikely to retaliate with violence compared to Muslims. We hide this so it seems that we are arguing about general principles but we are actually arguing about this specific situation based on appeal to consequences.

Note: I don't think this is the case with this LW article but I do think it is the case with many other ones available in the media and on-line.

PS: Excellent article! The debate it provoked is very much intriguing. Upvoted.

comment by MugaSofer · 2014-11-17T19:33:34.968Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another thing I find interesting is that such a argument would never be set up using the example of piss Christ or a desecrated Talmud.

Interestingly, I have seen (less well-written) versions of this argument used for anti-Christian blasphemy, including "Piss Christ".

I live in Ireland, which is known for it's strong Catholic values. So ... yup, this seems to fit with your theory.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-11-17T19:37:55.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I noticed Tim Minchin wisely omitted the Pope song from his lineup when visiting Ireland.

:)

comment by tenshiko · 2011-04-17T23:54:57.062Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think most decent people would be willing to go to some trouble to avoid taking pictures of salmon if British people politely asked this favor of them. If someone deliberately took lots of salmon photos and waved them in the Brits' faces, I think it would be fair to say ey isn't a nice person.

See, this is exactly where your analogy falls apart for me. The Muslims to whose behavior people are objecting in "everybody draw Muhammad" are not politely asking for the favor of avoiding creating images of Muhammad in future. They are approaching creators of existing images with serious threats of violence. In situations like the South Park incident, it seems quite distinct from the infliction of psychic pain in that - well, to blow another hole in the salmon analogy, does it mean that Americans should stop making television programs about how to cook salmon? So... yeah.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-04-16T08:31:29.864Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the salmon example, I would consider it inappropriate to take as many pictures of salmon as possible and try to get them shown to as many Brits as possible. I wouldn't, however, ask a business selling fish in America to not use salmon in their advertisements. In other words, the negative utility of creating such images is non-negligible, but it is small enough that it can be outweighed by other factors. In the case of Mohammad, however, I have never in my entire life been in a situation where I had a particular need to depict Mohammad visually. Most depictions presently seem like deliberate attempts to antagonize Muslims, which I consider immoral. People do it, of course, because of in-group-outgroup behavior. If the alien arrived in England in 1812, Americans would be making as many photographs of salmon as they could.

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-16T01:34:57.034Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The high-status vs low-status, demand vs request point is interesting. Is it possible that this is where the enmity begins? That a lot of people who wouldn't denigrate the Muslim faith normally end up calling it ridiculous because that's a good soldier, ditto for slippery slope and other arguments, and their real reason for joining draw a picture of Mohammed day is because they feel slighted by the way they were asked not to draw such pictures?

Another possibility is that such an event functions as a move in some game of conflict between them; doing something that is easily characterised as harmless fun which necessitates (what can be easily characterised as) a huge over-reaction is a powerful move.

Also, I really like the last part of your footnote, about consequentialist morality keeping disagreements honest and empirical.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-12T06:49:58.977Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My basic issue is that an outright Machiavellian lie and a true, real, cast-in-stone kind of amount of unchangeable felt pain are not the only two options.

Imagine that you are untrained but largely healthy, and forced (or strongly encouraged) to run 2-3km. It can be pretty painful, having to stop to pant for breath 10 times and so on, but how many repetitions it takes (with two days of rest) to make it okay? 20? 30 ? It is possible to get pretty quickly to a state where it does not hurt anymore, in mere months. Also factor in how the psychological pain can be different if you are for example doing it alone, or you are in a group of friends and a great trainer, great leader excellently motivating you all the way. The difference can be huge. In those circumstances, you get even quicker to the level where the whole thing is not negative sum, i.e. even before you get fit enough to enjoy it already the disutility of the panting etc. is small enough to offset by the positive emotional stuff like pride or togetherness.

Let's suppose emotional reactions to offense work the same way.

In such a world, it would be reasonable for the offense-giver to say society should be shaped so that everybody gets a certain amount of thick-skin training and then we all don't have to tiptoe around each other.

Your solution involves some kind of etiquette-and-sensitivity training. That is probably what isolated stoppages of offensive behavior lead to if organized with any sense of social efficiency. The question is, why not also desensitization training?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-19T23:07:36.396Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that the people who are offended at requests that they modify their behavior so as not to be offensive might also be able to self-engineer so they wouldn't feel so strongly about the matter. Do they have any obligation to do so?

comment by Jonnan · 2011-04-21T23:53:01.172Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is one of those philosophical arguments where the premise is so absurdist as to make it impossible to take seriously, but at the end of the day I'm far less inclined to kowtow to the British example than the Islam.

Restricting an image is, at it's heart, restricting thought. Restricting nerve impulses and the way they interact with the brain. The Islam restriction is, to an extent, silly in this day and age - there are no pictures of Mohammed, therefore there can be no pictures of Mohammad; You can't commit that 'sin' anymore than you can commit the sin of operating heavy machinery while deceased.

Unless I go to the trouble of labelling, you can't even know I tried

O

/|\ <-- May or may not be Stick Man representation of Mohammad in XKCD

/ \

We obtain data from pictures, and the blow to nature photographers, is hardly the issue. Think about the problems regarding ecologists, wildlife preservationists, biologists, fisherman, et al.

As a matter which impinges upon no impulse to do so past contrarily labeling stickmen, of course I can politely consent not to draw Mohammed. Not photographing Salmon causes active harm.

Jonnan

comment by jimmythewonderhorse · 2011-04-16T06:36:26.319Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that the right way to try to decide many political questions, and this is a political question, is to look at it in terms of whether it allows the society using that rule to correct its errors. If Islam is both factually and morally flawed as all other human institutions are, then preventing a specific type of criticism, namely criticism involving pictures of Mohammed, will make correcting the errors of Islam more difficult. There may be other errors involved that are more difficult to correct, like the error that the appropriate response to somebody acting offended at squiggles of ink on a page is to ban the ink squiggles concerned. Finally, I don't buy consequentialism because what counts as a consequence is ambiguous and depends on your theories about the world. For example, I would count damaging our error correcting institutions as a serious consequence of a ban, legal or social, on drawing Mohammed, you would not. So consequentialism doesn't solve the problem, it's just a way of sweeping the real problem under the "consequence carpet".

comment by boni_bo · 2011-04-17T17:11:55.949Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Great response.

comment by Arepo · 2012-03-28T15:14:57.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. Interesting piece. I'm partially sold, but not on this: 'Further, I see little difference between how a Muslim "chooses" to get upset at disrespect to Mohammed, and how a Westerner might "choose" to get upset if you called eir mother a whore.'

I'm pretty content to call that a sort of choice, especially if you make it a fair comparison, ie a general remark not victimising one person that all mothers are whores. After all, there’s still a pretty big difference between that (or even the rather more inflammatory ‘all Western mothers are whores’), and (a sincerely offensive) ‘your mother is a whore’. One is basically bullying someone, assuming they’re not in a position to hurt you back equally; the other is the sort of casual prejudice that (cough) some of us discourage but don’t actually seek to ban.

On top of that, there’s a significant difference between drawing a picture of someone and drawing a picture of someone in a way calculated to piss people who like them off. In the Muhammad cartoons furore, it initially seemed to be Muslims who were trying to elide the difference – specifically by positioning the latter as very bad and the first as (almost) equally bad. If drawing the former is a political action against such a sentiment (or just an aesthetic statement, standing against those who’d repress a portrayal of something they thought was beautiful), then I hardly think it’s a reprehensible one. Here I think actual 'whores' - or rather porn stars - give a better analogy. Their portrayals offend a lot of people, but few sensible people think there’s a good argument for banning them a) because overturning our anti-censorship sentiments should require a pretty strong burden of evidence and b) because a lot of people very much like them, and why should they be deprived? After all, the naysayers choose not to look at something that exists, but the fans can’t do the reverse.

Lastly, (and leastly), there’s the question of accuracy of the original criticism. If your mother does sell herself for money, then, while victimising you for it is still pretty unpleasant, we would be more inclined to tolerate borderline cases of people pointing it out in a potentially offensive way than if it weren't true. But most of the times when someone’s mum is aggressively called a whore, she probably isn’t. On the other hand, by most accounts Muhammad was a brutal sex pest, who most likely would have ordered suicide bombings had the technology existed for him to do so.

comment by leomsrka · 2011-04-25T01:09:41.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An interesting comment by Yvain but the thought experiment seems to not reflect the virulence of the meme involved. When I heard of the reaction of the Muslims to the Muhammed image I thought of the mindset behind shouting "Banzai" intensified by generations of feelings of inferiority and thousands of times more people. Muslims appear to me to be extremely unfortunate people. Their societies have been plagued by a centuries long irrationality as powerful as the Sendai earthquake in its cumulative effect but of course not as noticeable because it is stretched out over time.

comment by randallsquared · 2011-04-18T00:35:38.718Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And if tomorrow I tried to "choose" to become angry every time someone showed me a picture of a salmon, I couldn't do it - I could pretend to be angry, but I couldn't make myself feel genuine rage.

Actually, I think you're wrong about this. Pretending to be angry, offended, or sad has the effect of making one angry, offended, or sad, in my experience. Not as much as you pretend, at least at first, but it really can become genuine, even if you actually don't care about salmon at all, as long as you choose to pretend convincingly enough.

[Edit: ...but I see Vladimir M has already made this point, better.]

But drawing pictures of Mohammed offends many Muslims, not just the ones who send death threats.

I'm not sure that this is clear to most non-Muslims. In fact, I think that if you took a survey of Westerner non-Muslims, you'd find that they expect that Muslims more likely to (actually rather than ritually) be offended by such pictures are also more likely to send death threats.

comment by cjb · 2011-04-17T15:35:27.573Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When someone writes a story where all the sympathetic and interesting characters are male, it is considered offensive to women.

I'm sure you don't actually have any confusion here, but I feel compelled to point out that you kind of did that thing where you only expect a member of Minority X to be offended by *ism against Minority X, where in fact everyone should join in sharing the offense caused by it, because that's just part of being a decent person.

(I probably wouldn't have mentioned this but for the fact that we're having a meta-discussion about how offense works!)

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-17T16:00:46.803Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain didn't write "considered offensive by women". He wrote "to", which only very weakly implies the idea you criticize and can be charitably read as saying no such thing.

comment by cjb · 2011-04-17T16:53:27.009Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see, thanks. I was thinking of "to" as just being the other direction of "by", but you can interpret it as more like "towards" and then it's all good.

Oh, I bet it's because the previous sentence was "When someone draws Mohammed, it is considered offensive to Muslims.", and that one seemed like a straightforward "no-one except Muslims is being offended by this" mapping, which was then extended to cover sexism.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-17T16:01:50.740Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain didn't write "considered offensive by women". He wrote "to", which only very weakly implies the idea you criticize and can be charitably read as saying no such thing.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-04-16T15:17:39.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Timely related issue.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-16T10:31:14.933Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The confusion here is that the whole problem isn't about humans but cultures. There are two opposing meta-beings with mutually exclusive goals. A Qur'an-minimizer and a Bible-minimizer will eventually go to war.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-17T21:12:30.991Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A bit of a side note, but from what I've read/heard from Muslims, what they object to isn't the drawing of Mohammed per se, but the mocking of Mohammed. I've also heard some express annoyance that the media would misrepresent their view as if the problem was a religious edict against drawing Mohammed and not the mocking (I don't think the media represents the views of Muslims any more faithfully than it represents the views of Singularitarians).

If you're American want a better idea of how Muslims feel, imagine if for some reason Chinese people had a national "draw Martin Luther King with big lips eating watermelon" day. Would the reactions be very different?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-17T21:54:10.550Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

If you're American want a better idea of how Muslims feel, imagine if for some reason Chinese people had a national "draw Martin Luther King with big lips eating watermelon" day. Would the reactions be very different?

A lot of people around the world and in the United States hate the United States and make no secret of it, so we don't need to imagine. The very fact that you didn't talk about actual American reactions to the actually expressed loathing for the United States (by mockery of cherished American symbols among other means) suggests that you already intuit that the reaction of the average American to the very visible seething hatred for the US does not give us much of an idea of how Muslims feel.

If you are not aware of the seething hatred for the US, which I think is possible if you live in the US and limit yourself to American mainstream media, it is not because the hatred is not inherently visible - it is, for example by appearing on the covers of major European magazines - but because Americans don't magnify its visibility within the US by obsessing about it in their own publications. In contrast, the visibility of the notorious cartoons of Mohammed is almost entirely an effect of the extreme reaction to it on the part of many Muslims.

But the US parallel is not even close to the best parallel. Islam isn't a country, it's a religion, so a much better parallel would be to Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, which mocks Jesus Christ, or Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary, which mocks the mother of Jesus Christ. As far as I know neither of these artists were murdered by a Christian, as the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim. The Christian reaction to these artistic provocations was massively more muted than the Muslim reaction to the Mohammed cartoons.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T08:50:44.264Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm well aware of anti-Americanism (I'm French) - I've heard my dad cheer when hearing of the death of American soldiers in Iraq, a Chinese student say that he approved of the 9-11 attacks because of America's support for Taiwan, etc.

(It's funny you mention the Piss Christ; it was exposed in Avignon (here in France) and yesterday a group of catholics forced their way into the exposition, neutralized a guard and vandalized the photograph with a hammer. A far cry from Theo Van Gogh, I agree, but still not a completely pacifist response.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-17T21:53:17.589Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What, you think Americans would react by rioting and killing people?

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T08:40:14.770Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, but neither would the brits in the Salmon Scenario. And I don't think "exposure therapy" would work any better for Martin Luther King caricatures than it would with Mohammed caricatures.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T07:26:02.950Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually in this particular example I can imagine there being some violence against Chinese Americans and perhaps some disorders, thought not full blown riots. Under worse economic conditions perhaps even this is not out of the picture.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-04-17T21:51:40.587Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A bit of a side note, but from what I've read/heard from Muslims, what they object to isn't the drawing of Mohammed per se, but the mocking of Mohammed.

As far as I know, there are significant differences in this regard between different Islamic denominations, sects, schools, and folk practices, but many Muslims consider even respectful portrayal of Mohammed as unacceptable because it constitutes idolatry. Basically, anyone wishing to portray Mohammed is in a Catch-22 situation: if it's done in a spirit of veneration, it's idolatry, and otherwise it's mocking and disrespectful.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T09:13:58.492Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I agree that representing Mohammed is generally forbidden in Islam, it's just that when I looked for what the Muslims themselves were saying (on forums mostly frequented by Muslims), they were talking about how it wasn't right to mock Mohammed, not Mohammed, and they were also complaining about how the media would represent their position (even though some Mulsims do try to pressure the west on any depiction of Mohammed), and they were also complaining about violent fundamentalist hicks giving their religion a bad name.

Rereading my post, it can be interpreted as saying that all Muslims take that position (mocking not good, but no big objection to just drawing Muslims), which would explain the downvotes.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-18T14:59:15.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Rereading my post, it can be interpreted as saying that all Muslims take that position (mocking not good, but no big objection to just drawing Muslims), which would explain the downvotes.

I think they have more to do with your false-to-fact comparison with a potential American analog.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T16:18:01.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I never claimed it was a perfect analogy - I still think it's a better one than the Salmon Pictures.

How would you personally feel about a national "draw Martin Luther King with big lips eating watermelon" day, done by foreigners? I don't expect you'd go out and burn stuff, but I also expect you'd prefer it didn't happen (if this doesn't apply to you you, it probably does to quite a few Americans on this site, I don't even know if you're American). I mean, I tend to be a pro-free-speech bullet biter, but I wouldn't like it.

And many of the arguments that have been made (here or elswewhere) about Everybody Draw Mohammed Day could be made about that too.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-04-18T16:56:47.807Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I never claimed it was a perfect analogy - I still think it's a better one than the Salmon Pictures.

Well you're right about that at least.

How would you personally feel about a national "draw Martin Luther King with big lips eating watermelon" day, done by foreigners? I don't expect you'd go out and burn stuff, but I also expect you'd prefer it didn't happen

That's precisely the point.

(if this doesn't apply to you you, it probably does to quite a few Americans on this site, I don't even know if you're American). I mean, I tend to be a pro-free-speech bullet biter, but I wouldn't like it.

Well, after the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church's right to free speech, all the major newspapers ran editorials supporting the decision. In fact, this blog post argues that its easier to support free speech for extreme groups like the WBC since you get free warm fuzzies for supporting free speech without having to worry that they'll actually persuade anybody.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-17T23:47:45.212Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A bit of a side note, but from what I've read/heard from Muslims, what they object to isn't the drawing of Mohammed per se, but the mocking of Mohammed. I've also heard some express annoyance that the media would misrepresent their view as if the problem was a religious edict against drawing Mohammed and not the mocking

Empirically this isn't the case. See e.g.the initial cartoon for Everyone Draw Muhammad day which resulted in the artist having to go into hiding from the death threats.

Also if you look at the relevant Wikipedia talk pages, there are almost daily Muslims showing up demanding that we remove all pictures of Muhammad. In another instance, at one college, the Muslim students were sufficiently offended by smiling stick figures labeled Muhammad that they added "Ali" after each so they would instead say they were Muhammad Ali. There might be some moderates claiming to only be offended by mockery, but it seems pretty clear that there are a lot of Muslims who are offended by any attempted depiction.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T10:11:18.564Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree a lot of Muslims seem to be offended by any depiction of Mohammed - as I said to Vladimir, I was talking of those I have some experience with, i.e. French speaking (which tends to be biased towards the more educated and westernized).

(And come on, the bit about adding "Ali" was a funny and appropriate response, no ? :) )

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-18T13:13:07.662Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(And come on, the bit about adding "Ali" was a funny and appropriate response, no ? :) )

It was a lot better and more humorous than other responses. But that point was that they were still offended enough to take that action. (Note also by the way that since this occurred at a major college campus this is presumably some of the more educated and Westernized Muslims).

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T14:08:24.542Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find it very normal that they took action - the purpose of the whole "Everybody draw Mohammed day" thing is to annoy Muslims, so a Muslim encountering a drawing of Mohammed in that context (as opposed to in a history book etc.) knows it's purpose is to offend him or someone like him. Even if he doesn't mind the actual drawing, he knows about the intent behind the drawing.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-04-17T22:10:00.602Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't make sense because the cartoons weren't actually mocking Mohammed. Have you seen them?

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T06:42:55.924Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This one and this one are.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-04-18T08:25:12.647Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These seem more accusatory than mocking.

comment by Emile · 2011-04-18T08:30:46.118Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But surely you see that if Muslims get angry about those pictures, it's not only because they think visual representations of Mohammed are bad?

comment by Marius · 2011-04-18T07:45:07.659Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you're American want a better idea of how Muslims feel, imagine if for some reason Chinese people had a national "draw Martin Luther King with big lips eating watermelon" day. Would the reactions be very different?

That sounds much worse to you than Darkie Toothpaste? The American reaction has been primarily to write letters.

comment by jessekanner · 2011-04-17T16:50:02.515Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The premise of your essay is deeply flawed... SOME Muslims are offended by depictions of Mohammed. OTHERS are not and see a looser standard as part of a generally more tolerant and functional environment in which to worship.

So if you were to refine your premise a bit and more strongly acknowledge the struggles WITHIN Islam, the decision of how the "rest of the world" ought to behave starts to get rather murky. Cultural is probably way more permeable than we all at first imagine.

I'm afraid you've tripped up on a stereotype whereby "Muslims" march lock-step in antipathy to "everyone else"

comment by shokwave · 2011-04-17T17:34:40.604Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The premise of the essay is not flawed. In fact, your criticism could be completely addressed by appending "some" in front of every instance of "Muslim" in the essay. You should get into the habit of always appending "some" in front of every generalisation anyone ever makes.

While a generalisation is technically for all x, x has property y and can be falsified with a single example this x has property z which is opposite of y, our best model of how generalisations work in the human brain is something more along the lines of for enough x that it matters, x has property y. Also, a narrowing of x to only those x that have property y.

So to actually address the premise of Yvain's post, you'd want something more like "This characterisation isn't even close to what most Muslims are like. This behaviour is exhibited by fundamentalists, who in most cases are disowned by Muslim communities in the same way that most Baptists would disown Jerry Falwell. Because the people you are dealing with are fundamentalists, several of the assumptions made in the post fall down: this, this, and this." And so on.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2011-04-17T06:35:40.208Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are the effects of the alien practical joke curable?

comment by Morendil · 2011-04-16T16:37:27.823Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Islam isn't a country, which, ISTM, kills the comparison.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-16T16:47:36.557Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So assume the aliens target not just British residents, but instead anyone who used to be or is currently Anglican (if necessary, add Episcopalians or anything else in the same vein).