What truths are actually taboo?

post by sunflowers · 2013-04-16T23:40:36.065Z · score: 8 (52 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 295 comments

LessWrong has been having fun lately with posts about sexism, racism, and academic openness.   And here just like everywhere else, somebody inevitably claims taboo status for any number of entirely obvious truths, e.g. "top level mathematicians and physicists are almost invariably male," "black people have lower IQ scores than white people," and "black people are statistically more criminal than whites."  In my experience, these are not actually taboo, and I think my experience is generalizable.  I'll illustrate.

You're at a bar and you meet a fellow named Bill.  Bill's a nice guy, but somehow the conversation strayed Hitler-game style to World War II.  Bill thinks the war was avoidable.  Bill thinks the Holocaust would not have happened were it not for the war, and that some of the Holocaust was a reaction to actual Jewish subterfuge and abuse.  Bill thinks that the Holocaust was not an essential, early plan of the Nazis, because it only happened after the war began.  Bill thinks that the number of casualties has been overestimated.  Bill claims that Allied abuses, e.g. the bombing of Dresden, have been glossed over and ignored, while fantastic lies about Jews being systematically turned into soap have propagated.  Bill thinks that the Holocaust has become a sort of national religion, abused by self-interested Jews and defenders of Zionist foreign policy, and that the freedom of those who doubt it is under serious attack. Bill starts listing other things he's not allowed to say. Bill doesn't think that the end of slavery was all that good for "the blacks," and that the negatives of busing and forced integration have often outweighed the positives.  Bill has personally been the victim of black-on-white crimes and racism.  Bill is a hereditarian.  Bill doesn't think that dropping an n-bomb should ruin a public career.

Here's the problem:  everything Bill has said is either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness.  Yet you feel nervous.  Perhaps you're upset.  That's the power of taboo, right?  Society is punishing truth-telling!  First they came for the realists... Rationalists, to arms!

Or.

We can recognize that statements like these correlate with certain false beliefs and nasty sentiments of the sort that actually are taboo.  It's just like when somebody says, "well science doesn't know everything."  To this, I think, "duh, and you're probably a creationist or medical quack or something similarly credible."  Or when somebody says, "the government lies to us."  To this, I think, "obviously, and you're likely a Truther or something."  Bill is probably an anti-Semite, but Bill doesn't just say, "I'm an anti-Semite," because that really is taboo.  He might even believe that he shouldn't be considered something awful like an anti-Semite.  Bill probably doesn't think Bill so unpleasant.

That's the paradox:  "taboo" statements like black crime statistics are to some extent "taboo" for sound, rationalist reasons. But "taboo" is not taboo:  it's about context.  People who think that such statements are taboo are probably bad at communicating, and people often think they're racists and misogynists because they probably are on good rationalist grounds.  If you want to talk about statistical representatives on the topic of race, be ready to understand that those who are listening will have background knowledge about the other views you might hold.

All this is the leadup to my question:  what highly probable or effectively certain truths are genuinely taboo?  I'm trying to avoid answers like "there are fewer women in mathematics" or "the size of my penis," since these are context sensitive, but not really taboo within a reasonable range of circumstances.  I'm also not particularly interested in value commitments or ideologies.  Yes, employers will punish labor organizers and radical political views can get you filtered.  But these aren't clear matters of fact.  I also don't mean sensitive topics like abortion or religion, nor do I mean "taboo within a political party."

Is there really anything true that we simply cannot say?  I have the US in mind especially, but I'm interested in other countries as well.  I'm sure there are things that deserve the label, but I've found that the most frequently given examples don't hold water.  I think hereditarianism is a close contender, but it's not an "obvious truth."  Rather, my understanding is that it is a serious position.  It's also only contextually taboo.  If it were a definitive finding, it could perhaps become taboo, though I think it more likely that it would be somewhat reluctantly accepted.

Any suggestions?  If we find some really serious examples, we might figure out a way to talk about them.

295 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T12:58:09.506Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

I think I thought of one: "Most children enjoy genital stimulation." I'm not 100% sure that is true, but I think it is true. At least, I know I did and I believe that many children engage in a fair amount of self-stimulation. I can't think of any situation where I would be comfortable discussing the positives of giving sexual pleasure to children.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:18:59.708Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Most Western people don't want to allow sexuality even to post-puberty teenagers, at least before the ages of 15-16. Some people are even opposed to any sort of sexual education.

The issue is more socially complex than the (true) fact it's taboo. Most people are not guided by "what would be best / most enjoyable for the children", but rather "what would be proper" or "what would build the kind of society we want when the children grow up".

comment by savageorange · 2013-04-22T13:32:19.447Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There's also the rather disturbing trend of parents treating their children, to a greater or lesser degree, like pets. This is a relatively modern development, since the point that children were no longer required to work from a young age. Pets having sex is, at best, eye-rolling.

I tend to prefer this kind of explanation because "what would build the kind of society we want when the children grow up" seems too sophisticated and neat to be an accurate description of what's going on. I suspect that dynamic comes into play only sporadically, with moralizing (what's proper, what's presentable or impressive, what doesn't discomfort me) taking centre stage most of the time.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-04-26T15:44:59.053Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean by parents treating their children like pets?

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-26T16:46:41.458Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I realize not everyone is familiar with or has witnessed or has even heard of the kind of interactions that are described when children are compared to pets, but it still baffles and surprises me on a gut level whenever someone asks about it.

Here's a few contrasting examples as a (weak) attempt to McGuyver an intuition pump:

To Roommate: "Your music's bothering me, I need to concentrate / have calm for XYZ reasons, could you please turn it down a bit?" (justification usually given or implicit)
To Pet: "Your meowing's loud, shut the fuck up." (optional addition: *gives a cookie to shut it up*)
To Child: "Turn down your music! It's loud!" (No justification given, usually even upon request)

To Roommate: "Could you wash the dishes? I'm really tired and I still have to do XYZ. (or insert X'Y'Z' reason)"
To Pet: ... (pet eats in dirty dishes, or at best rinsed with flowing tapwater)
To Child: "Do the dishes before 5 PM." "Come do the dishes NOW or I'm unplugging your computer / gaming console / (insert other arbitrary unrelated top-down punishment)"

To Roommate: "I'll take care of cleaning my room/space, I don't care about yours as long as it doesn't stink or infest the whole place, although you should help me clean bathroom/kitchen/living room/etc for XYZ reasons"
To Pet: (trains to not be messy, yell at whenever it makes a mess of its personal space)
To Child: "Clean your room by the end of the day or you can't go out this weekend."

In other words / to generalize, what is meant with "treating children like pets" is that the interactions, decisions and their properties are, in the case of children, more accurately modeled by a decision tree / graph like that for Pet interactions than one for Roommate / Significant Other / Actual Other Human Being Living With You interactions.

For many families, though I don't know how many, the interactions for children is extremely close to the counterfactual "pets if my pet could talk", and completely incompatible with the "Roommate" examples (my .5 is 70-80%, .95 for 40-95%).

In a large number of situations I've seen personally, replacing the child with a roommate for a similar situation being treated similar to the child would have resulted in a civil or perhaps even criminal lawsuit, even if the roommate was otherwise similar (say, a cousin living there and going back to university that for some family circumstances you're stuck living with, but who still doesn't / can't pay rent and food and amenities, e.g. because 100% of money goes for studying).

But their child? "People can educate their children however they want, they have a right to their children's education" (read: They have a "right" to decide what the child does, how they do it, which rights the child is entitled to or not, etc.)

Also compare the rights of parents and what parents are allowed to do with their children legally to what they have towards pets, versus what they have with other-people-just-living-with-or-near-them.

Basically, this is similar to what rationalist!Harry sometimes complains about in the early parts of HPMoR. Children are Not People.

comment by savageorange · 2013-04-28T08:50:06.064Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is exactly what I mean. In my case I was also thinking of the way some parents train their children to make their parents look good -- as objects to show off, just like dogs or cats at a show, not individuals whose accomplishments are largely their own.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-04-26T19:52:52.315Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's a good thing I asked-- my guess was that you meant that children were coddled but not trained.

comment by MTGandP · 2013-11-28T21:37:49.130Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is so much "treating children as pets" as it is "treating children like not your peers". When your boss asks you to do something, does she say "Hey, would you mind helping me out with X? I'd really like to get it done this week."? More than likely, she says "I need you to finish X by Friday."

You only need to give justifications to peers. A person in a higher position of authority can make a request of a subordinate without justification. So it is with officers/privates in the military, managers/employees, and parents/children.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-11-29T14:08:41.801Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To adress your second point: The point isn't in justification. The difference I'm pointing at is the attitude and mental model of the world of the Commander, i.e. the parent. And this causes some crucial differences in behavior that aren't accounted for by the lack of need to justify oneself or even the consideration of not being a peer.

Sure, we could say some (or perhaps even most, YMMV) workplace managers behave a certain way that is similar to those parents and children. We could say the same for militaries. I care little for what one could say about the similarities or the words that can or "should" be used.

Key point: Children are often treated by their parents in a manner completely dissimilar to every other case of family member or person with whom they live.

Key point 2: This behavior of parents towards children has sufficient differences from typical cases of social-class or not-peer behaviors for me to not label it as a standard case of such. I believe it would be very misleading. Parents often carefully control the "private life" of their children; what they eat, what they do at any given time, who they interact with, what they say, and even what they think to some extent.

Even in military settings, moreso in workplaces, these examples are not at all carefully monitored and controlled with punishments and threats of various kinds, and even those that are generally end the moment your shift ends and you walk out the door, with some exceptions regarding PR and such (e.g. politicians and people with similar occupations).

Key Point 3: Behaviors, social norms and laws differ between all those cases, and I would argue that laws and social norms, at least, are more similar between pets and children than they are between children and employees/nonofficers. If an employee doesn't behave as a manager wishes, they are limited in their options, and the interactions and roles are socially clear. A manager cannot threaten to confiscate an employee's phone for not properly cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom, nor are they legally and socially allowed to dole out corporal punishment for an employee that talks back to them or asks the wrong questions.

Yes, this is a touchy issue for me, so I apologize if I come across as less polite than I think.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-26T16:52:12.268Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In other words / to generalize, what is meant with "treating children like pets" is that the interactions, decisions and their properties are, in the case of children, more accurately modeled by a decision tree / graph like that for Pet interactions than one for Roommate / Significant Other / Actual Other Human Being Living With You interactions.

In some ways the child in your examples is actually treated worse than the pet (particularly along the scale of invasive coercion).

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-26T17:25:53.935Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In some ways the child in your examples is actually treated worse than the pet (particularly along the scale of invasive coercion).

I know right?

Guess the best part. Go on.


(spoiler: All of them are true examples of things that have happened dozens or hundreds of times to myself or other humans in my circles during their childhoods, and they're only select examples that are easy to compare out of dozens more similarly-bad cases I could list.)

Fair disclaimer: This subject engages me a lot and it's on my long laundry list of Subtopics Of Things To Protect.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-23T04:18:27.382Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's also the rather disturbing trend of parents treating their children, to a greater or lesser degree, like pets. This is a relatively modern development, since the point that children were no longer required to work from a young age. Pets having sex is, at best, eye-rolling.

On the other-hand the taboo against children having sex isn't a modern development.

I tend to prefer this kind of explanation because "what would build the kind of society we want when the children grow up" seems too sophisticated and neat to be an accurate description of what's going on. I suspect that dynamic comes into play only sporadically, with moralizing (what's proper, what's presentable or impressive, what doesn't discomfort me) taking centre stage most of the time.

Rather, questions of propriety and morality refer to memes that were presumably selected by memetic evolution for some combination of the children's individual and collective benefit.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-26T16:56:24.951Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On the other-hand the taboo against children having sex isn't a modern development.

It's not? Damn, that 12-year-old girl in feudal England must be so happy that there's a social taboo against children having sex. That way she doesn't have to worry about being done stuff she doesn't even understand when she gets married next moon to some 19-year-old page boy she's only ever met twice. Oh wait.

(TL;DR: [citation needed]) Edit: (gwern wins some more internets - by actually providing citations! I stand corrected.)

comment by Nornagest · 2013-04-26T19:13:31.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not an expert on developmental sexuality in preindustrial Europe, but for most of the feudal era child marriage was a lot rarer than pop culture would have us believe and almost exclusively an upper-class phenomenon. It also didn't necessarily imply immediate consummation; most of the feudal women we know about that did marry at thirteen or fourteen didn't bear children until a few years later. Women from the peasant and mercantile classes (the vast majority of the population) often wouldn't marry until their early twenties, for a variety of basically economic reasons.

Upper-class feudal women did marry young by our standards, but usually that would have meant sixteen to eighteen, not twelve.

comment by gwern · 2013-04-26T20:32:54.201Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

From Farewell to Alms; Asia:

In Asia, as Malthus knew, the norm for women was early and nearly universal marriage. Recent studies of family lineages and local population registers suggest that first marriage for Chinese women around 1800 took place on average at age 19. A full 99 percent of women in the general population married.9 Men also married young, first marriage occurring on average at 21. But the share of men marrying was much lower, perhaps as low as 84 percent. Chinese males were no more likely to marry than their northwestern European counterparts. This was because female infanticide created a surplus of males, and men were more likely than women to remarry after the death of a spouse.10

Egypt:

The one even earlier society for which we have demographic data is Roman Egypt in the first three centuries AD. As in preindustrial China and Japan female marriage was early and universal. The estimated mean age at first marriage for Egyptian women was even lower, at 17.5.15 Marital fertility rates, however, were lower than in northwestern Europe, but higher than in China and Japan: about two-thirds the Hutterite standard. This early and universal marriage, and relatively high fertility rates within marriage, would seem to imply high overall fertility rates. After all, at these rates Egyptian women married from 17.5 until 50 would give birth to 8 or more children. But in fact birth rates were 40–44 per thousand, implying a life expectancy at birth of 23–25 years. In comparison French birth rates in 1750 were about 40 per thousand. So Roman Egypt, despite early marriage, had fertility levels only slightly higher than those in eighteenth-century France.16 The intervening factor that kept Egyptian birth rates lower than we would expect was again social custom. In northwestern Europe younger widows commonly remarried, but not in Roman Egypt. Furthermore, divorce was possible in Egypt. But while divorced husbands commonly remarried younger women, divorced women typically did not remarry. Thus while in Egypt almost all the women got married, the proportion still married fell steadily from age 20. Consequently women surviving to age 50 typically gave birth to only 6 children rather than 8.

Europe:

Yet despite the apparent absence of contraceptive practices, the birth rate in most preindustrial western European populations was low, at only thirty to forty births per thousand, because of the other features of the European marriage pattern. These were as follows:

  1. A late average age of first marriage for women: typically 24–26.
  2. A decision by many women to never marry: typically 10–25 percent.

To put these averages in perspective; from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

I've seen claims that ancient Greece & Rome may have been very different from the later medieval patterns; from http://community.feministing.com/2010/02/14/misogyny-and-relationship-inequality/comment-page-1/

Men in Ancient Greece and Rome were usually 30ish at the time of marriage, while women were actually girls-- they were between twelve and fifteen at the time of their first marriage. They would usually have several marriages, as their husbands died, but after the first they were firmly "mothers." They would still usually be younger than their husband by a significant amount, even in their later marriages-- by the time they surpassed the age of the pool of potential suitors, their sons or sons-in-law would have taken up their care.

(Quotes extracted from searching my Evernotes: http://www.evernote.com/pub/gwern/gwern )

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-29T14:48:34.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! This makes a strong enough case to upturn the history book I read (in high school, and of typical epistemic quality for high school history books).

comment by gwern · 2013-04-30T22:54:43.372Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say it's more that 'it's complicated and dependent on region'. After all, there is a specific claim there that in Grecoroman society the stereotype that girls got married the moment they started bleeding was true. And no doubt anthropologists could list societies fitting every marriage age bracket from before conception to 'never'. (But it does mean that we can't pride ourselves on how civilized we are compared to our barbaric ancestors as of, say, 5 centuries ago.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-01T03:18:04.227Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But it does mean that we can't pride ourselves on how civilized we are compared to our barbaric ancestors as of, say, 5 centuries ago.

Or feel ashamed at how much more sexually repressed we are as savageorange was doing above.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T15:01:47.491Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's.... a really good one, actually. Perhaps disguise the idea in a critical discussion of Brave New World?

comment by TimS · 2013-04-17T15:24:06.790Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Really the only acceptable conversation I can think of goes something like:

Pediatrician: Don't worry about it. It is totally normal. Punishing a prepubescent child for private self-stimulating behavior is not good for the mental health of the child.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T15:26:50.622Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If memory serves, it was something about not hitting 6-month-olds for touching themselves in Marriage and Morals that prevented Russell from teaching at City College years later...

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-17T16:09:55.615Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Really the only acceptable conversation I can think of goes something like:

With the another evident exception being this conversation and those like it that employ sufficient indirection. The ancestor is currently at +4, 100%.

comment by TimS · 2013-04-18T01:19:43.680Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hrm? I'm not sure why you think I disagree with your comment. Taking a step meta is generally acceptable. People claim the Holocaust never happened is not taboo, even if The Holocaust never happened is taboo in many contexts.

I think the ancestor is a +12 because it is a great example of what the OP requested - a true, probably taboo sentence.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-18T03:02:14.076Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why you think I disagree with your comment.

You presumably don't, but it contradicts what you said. (See below.) I expressed the additional information because it makes the conversation less wrong.

Taking a step meta is generally acceptable. People claim the Holocaust never happened is not taboo, even if The Holocaust never happened is taboo in many contexts.

If you look closely at the actual information communicated you may note that this qualitatively different. Your example is of an entirely meta claim being made. The case in the grandparent is a meta claim being made as a prefix to an actual object level claim. Specifically:

I'm not 100% sure that is true, but I think it is true. At least, I know I did and I believe that many children engage in a fair amount of self-stimulation.

An analogous "holocaust" claim would therefore be "People claim the Holocaust never happened. I'm not 100% sure that it never happend but I think it didn't. At least I know all the evidence I've encountered is faked and I believe that a relevant general class of people faked evidence."

I think the ancestor is a +12 because it is a great example of what the OP requested - a true, probably taboo sentence.

I agree entirely. That it also happens to be an additional way to actually make claims about the subject while not triggering the taboo penalties is secondary. And incidentally an example of a generalizable social tactic.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-18T03:39:02.002Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can you give an example of how one might apply the tactic generally, outside of the context of having been asked for a true taboo statement? I don't doubt you, but I find myself unable to work it out. After all, the whole problem with statements like "children enjoy genital stimulation" is the implications of having brought the subject up.

I mean, I understand that "People claim children enjoy genital stimulation; I'm not sure myself but I think they might be right" is safer than "Children enjoy genital stimulation." alone, by virtue of multiple levels of indirection and hedge phrases and whatnot, but it doesn't seem possible to say either one in response to, say, "My child cries all night long, I wish there were some way to quiet them down!" (or, more generally though less entertainingly, to volunteer either of them) without triggering taboo penalties.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T20:05:22.982Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

it doesn't seem possible to say either one in response to, say, "My child cries all night long, I wish there were some way to quiet them down!"

Well ... yeah, that would be a pretty terrible context to interject this little factoid in.

A better one might be in response to someone waxing eloquent over protecting the purity of The Children.

comment by Username · 2013-04-20T00:17:48.549Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

See this excellectly written blog post on should we allow sex play in Kindergarden? (SFW, seriously)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T18:57:39.638Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This hasn't been a taboo since Freud's time. (For one data point, I never masturbated until I was about 15, as far as I can remember, but... teenagers talking about when they masturbated as children weren't terribly uncommon.)

comment by TimS · 2013-04-18T01:24:49.290Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Prepubescent children? Babies touch themselves while being changed - most of the parenting books I read said not to worry or make a big deal about it.

Such a warning seems unnecessary if most people normally followed the advice.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-18T16:50:23.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess that “taboo” in the OP means ‘what you can't say’, not ‘what you can say but still lots of people are wrong about’. Otherwise it'd be faaaar easier to find taboos.

comment by TimS · 2013-04-19T21:09:11.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I debated a separate post on that point. To me, it is pretty clear that the OP is using taboo in Graham's sense. Then I decided too much time had passed to make that post worthwhile.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T15:07:46.537Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps it should be? I'm not sure how we can rely on ourselves to give sexual pleasure without any sort of self-gratification, and using children for sexual gratification is a big no no in my book. Lots of moral hazard in this form of pleasure that is quite avoidable by finding one of the billion other things kids like doing.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T20:01:40.789Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like an astoundingly arbitrary position. Good thing + good thing somehow equals bad thing?

Mind you, I'd say any argument that even tangentially endorses pedophilia - including all those arguments that are trivially wrong but filled with applause lights - is massively taboo.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-23T16:49:52.197Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with the second part of your comment, as I've said.

Good thing + good thing? I don't think that using children for sexual pleasure is a "good thing" at all. It would be if we lived in a universe where the formula is pleasure + pleasure, but it obviously isn't. Do terms such as "meaningful consent" or "exploitation" have any relevance here?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-25T14:34:47.621Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps this example will help:

A pedophile lives in a holodeck and molests holographic children. Is this worse than a analogous situation involving holographic adults? Why?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-27T12:21:03.525Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are the holographic people actually people (as defined by the Turing test/the generalized anti-zombie principle)?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T08:48:53.461Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No, sorry, that was what I meant to imply by "holodeck".

As for the actual mechanics of it, maybe it pulls data from parallel universes, maybe they're the puppets of a (sentient) AI (zombie-master hypothesis) or maybe consciousness is easier to fake than you might expect, so they run sophisticated chatbots certified by a nonperson predicate. Damned if I know.

It's basically an experience machine / catgirl volcano lair, is the idea. Only, y'know, icky.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-01T20:11:33.547Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, it doesn't squick me much more if they're children than if they're adults. But then again, few of the examples in section “Emotion and Deontological Judgments” in this post squick me much, so I may be the wrong person to ask.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-25T15:07:22.505Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think his fantasies are perverse and contrary to values I have about human autonomy, but I don't think the situation is significantly worse. His actions are not going to put a kid in therapy.

I also completely fail to see the relevance.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-25T16:09:03.750Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If children masturbating makes them feel good, and pedophiles feeling good about having sex with them isn't inherently bad, then pedophiles helping kids masturbate is just efficient use of labor. Goes the logic.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-26T15:27:18.651Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Goes the logic that works so long as you do not care about meaningful consent. This is a lot like the "if she's sleeping, it's not rape" argument we heard in the aftermath of the Steubenville case.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-26T17:21:24.257Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Goes the logic that works so long as you do not care about meaningful consent.

What is this meaningful consent thinghy you mention? Do I need it to play tag with other children (given that I'm a child)? Does an adult need it when playing tag with children? Do you need it when washing eachothers' backs in the bath? Do you need it when washing your child in the bath? Do you need it when your child asks for a massage? Do you need it when your child asks for a "massage"?

Where, and how, and why, does one draw the line?

My value system is incompatible with your statement and has no entry for this reference of "meaningful consent".

Edit: Split away irrelevant part of the comment.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-26T17:31:30.138Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

FTR: If I had any sort of relationship like this when I was a minor (sadly, I didn't) and someone sued my S.O. / partner over this "meaningful consent" thing, I would have resented them and would still resent them to this day, and would most likely have pressed charges and sued them back into oblivion as soon as I turned legally capable of suing people, over all kinds of privacy breach, life alteration, or whatever other morality-based claims that I could find, in the same way I would sue anyone who pressed charges against me for having sex with my current girlfriend.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T10:04:57.619Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When you say "minor" - are we talking teens, preteens, infancy? A month below the local AOC? Does it matter?

(Also, good luck with that lawsuit.)

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-29T14:12:13.814Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not really. I've always found the moral intuitions most people have here rather lacking.

Put a 3-year-old in her mother's body. The kid wants to have sex 'caus she has her mother's biosystem, drives and body. Is it okay?

Put a 40-year-old in a 6-year-old's body. Or better yet, take one of the existing people who just have the same body they did when they were 12. Is sex okay?

Take a 2-year-old WBE that ran at a subjective time factor of 50 since their start. They get transferred to a modified cloned 9-year-old body that has already gone through puberty. Is it okay to have sex?

So yeah. Doesn't really matter, as long as both parties are aware of the typical downfalls and issues and are capable of enjoying it. (and that they actually do enjoy it, or stop if they don't)

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T18:53:40.986Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not really.

Good to know.

Put a 3-year-old in her mother's body. The kid wants to have sex 'caus she has her mother's biosystem, drives and body. Is it okay?

How, exactly, do you do that? Doesn't puberty alter the mind as well as the body? You'd have to create a whole new mind, extrapolating what the 3-year-old would be like with "her mother's biosystem, drives" without making any of the other alterations aging brings.

Put a 40-year-old in a 6-year-old's body.

Assuming they're mentally unchanged, I would guess most people would be OK with it, albeit somewhat squicked at the thought. Although some people object to cartoon child porn, so maybe you'd get people claiming it encourages pedophiles or something?

Or better yet, take one of the existing people who just have the same body they did when they were 12.

Holy cow, that's a thing? What?

Take a 2-year-old WBE that ran at a subjective time factor of 50 since their start.

Are they simulating baseline human biochemistry?

So yeah. Doesn't really matter, as long as both parties are aware of the typical downfalls and issues and are capable of enjoying it. (and that they actually do enjoy it, or stop if they don't)

I'm sympathetic to this position - I'm pretty sure these so-called intuitions are just social mores, other societies marry and such much younger - but I think you're failing to account for power imbalance. We don't let officers in the military sleep with their subordinates, and with the kind of power adults have over children in our society, the same logic applies.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-29T20:12:57.891Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sympathetic to this position - I'm pretty sure these so-called intuitions are just social mores, other societies marry much younger - but I think you're failing to account for power imbalance. We don't let officers in the military sleep with their subordinates, and with the kind of power adults have over children in our society, the same logic applies.

Yeah, power (im)balances is the most important form of many variants of coercion, both implicit and explicit, that come rain down on my ideals of optimal sexual interactions and freedoms. And they can be so insidious or deeply implicit or just so dang entangled that sometimes, even if we do know the full situation, we can't make sense or trace any sort of natural line. In some cases there's even no schelling point.

But there's so much to say here about this topic it might grow into an entire article's worth of stuff if I keep going, and I'm sure there could be more optimal ways to communicate or use both of our times, especially considering that I suspect many of the issues I've thought of have also crossed the mind of most people on LW. Or, at the very least, there should be some significant overlap between any two given people. I don't quite know enough yet to pinpoint which of my insights overlap and (more importantly) which don't.

Anyway, power and perceived power can majorly fuck up most heuristics and investigations we're currently capable of using/doing.

Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing any post on LW about social power balances and the many ways they influence peoples' decisions or patterns that come up where sub-optimal situations arise because of them (or the perception of them). I've seen some things alluding to it or passing mentions as if everyone knew all the aspects of the topic, though. And I've found one old post on the current subject too.

However, I suspect the science on this to be rather... incomplete. Thoughts?

Or better yet, take one of the existing people who just have the same body they did when they were 12.

Holy cow, that's a thing? What?

Regarding that, here's probably the most extreme case we've ever seen.

Take a 2-year-old WBE that ran at a subjective time factor of 50 since their start.

Are they simulating baseline human biochemistry?

Why does that part matter? Maybe consider if they are, and then if they aren't, and see where the difference is? To me there's no relevant difference as far as I can tell.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T20:47:58.616Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, power (im)balances is the most important form of many variants of coercion, both implicit and explicit, that come rain down on my ideals of optimal sexual interactions and freedoms. And they can be so insidious or deeply implicit or just so dang entangled that sometimes, even if we do know the full situation, we can't make sense or trace any sort of natural line. In some cases there's even no schelling point.

In this specific case, I think the socially-constructed adult/child divide might actually work - sure, it's arbitrary, but it should largely reflect whether the kid in questions views someone as An Adult or just another kid.

Of course, this sorta falls apart when you have to deal with two kids of different ages.

Or, for that matter, "young adults" who view older people as somehow authoritative, although that's not as pervasive.

Hmm, maybe we should use the infamous half-your-age-plus-seven "creepiness law"?

Regarding that, here's probably the most extreme case we've ever seen.

Oh, I vaguely heard about that. I though that was unique though?

Why does that part matter?

Well, most of these intuitions are dependent on a human biochemistry. You want to fuck a robot, knock yourself out. Unless it's, like, a sex-hating robot.

That said, a hundred-year-old human in an adolescent body sounds like they would be allowed to have whatever sex as they wanted, within the usual limits. Indeed, I believe it's a common excuse in Japanese stuff to have that girl actually be a 700-year-old demon in human form.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-29T21:32:01.790Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, maybe we should use the infamous half-your-age-plus-seven "creepiness law"?

What's that? O.o

In this specific case, I think the socially-constructed adult/child divide might actually work - sure, it's arbitrary, but it should largely reflect whether the kid in questions views someone as An Adult or just another kid.

I think in most circumstances that would be relevant, social roles largely outweigh and override this. In most cases, minors are forced into roles by circumstance and because people who already have greater power force them to be in such roles.

For a better intuition pump towards what I mean, think of The Internets, particularly hacker culture. There, age is probably the most irrelevant out of any culture I've seen - only maturity, skill, and some online social likeability matter. Some mature 12-year-olds wield immense power (relatively speaking, in terms of social and cultural power within the limited scope of hacker culture) over some of their peers, and this almost certainly leads many major adults to take suboptimal decisions or actions within the context.

Sometimes, gamers can also form similar small groups where young people with the proper, more powerful "role" can wield relatively disproportionate power over the leisure time and entertainment quality of their peers. I've sometimes experienced this firsthand, though the worst cases I saw didn't happen to me personally.

For a toy example of what I'm talking about, consider gaming "clans", groups of people who for some reason or another end up gaming with eachother and forming a common In-Group mentality and generally acting like a tribe for the purposes of playing videogames (or some small set of games). Often, some gamers will get really invested in this tribe, emotionally and psychologically, and will make friends there, and spend lots of time making emotional attachments, and so on. More often than not, these groups have a "Leader", who holds rather disproportionate authority, much like a tribe. In fact, these usually work pretty much exactly like a tribe.

Anyway, this emotional involvement can mean that that kid who would be considered a minor and unable to consent due to power imbalances actually has more power over you now, because failure to comply can, in typical tribal fashion, get you kicked out - which, while not as bad as getting kicked out in the ancestral tribe, in many cases will still sound pretty shitty, and may deprive people of otherwise-reliable good entertainment, and generally just lowers the quality of their leisure time quite a bit depending on how much they enjoy the game and the community they play with.

And then all the meta and game-theoretic concerns apply: if I'm wary that failure to comply might get me kicked from the tribe, I may try to implement the same kind of social status strategies we see in other tribelike contexts. This includes anticipating possible things that the tribe leader might care about and conforming pre-emptively, which would mean I'm taking an action that is sub-optimal or that I don't want to do, based on my anticipation of possible failure-to-comply situations, without any form of intentional coercion from the group leader.

All of this leads up to: Situations like what I just said, where no actual coercion happens but where someone is accepting some action or situation or thinking in some way that they would prefer not to, generally build up gradually. I would not be surprised if this could easily lead a person into thinking in this manner about sexual interaction (given a social culture that has less taboos against sexuality), and make them build this up into eventually accepting or even offering to have sex with someone solely because they anticipate that them not making this offer could lead to eventual bad consequences for them due to the power imbalance, or something.

This all reminds me of situations where, for example, A wants to blackmail B, but C watches closely for any explicit form of blackmail, so instead A will create a favorable situation by removing all of B's options and power, and then present themselves as willing to help, in a manner where B contextually knows that A is in a position to mess up their life if they don't offer, say, sex.

From the outside, it will either look as if B just fell prey to A's superior prowess, which is normal in many domains such as competitive businesses, or A and B suddenly formed a partnership due to friendly human interactions that were apparently fully voluntary on the part of B (since B initiated it, after all).

So merely the perception that offering sex to A is the only way for B to stay afloat¹ creates a subtle blackmail-like situation that in many cases no one could form a legitimate legal case around in most instances. Many variants of this exist or could happen in various situations.

One of my fears about making sexuality less socially taboo is all about how the above dynamics might factor in more strongly, and reduce the apparent rape rates while making such horrible non-choice not-quite-blackmail scenarios pervasively omnipresent.

  1. I word this quite innocently, but it's generally made implicitly obvious in such situations that "not staying afloat" implies some Very Very Bad Things - such as being forced to live on the streets while pictures of you mysteriously appear on shady websites and so on. Sometimes, the whole situation already happens with the premise that some other group will kill/maim/otherwise-permanently-make-your-life-much-less-interesting as soon as protection from them is removed by A or cut off because you no longer have the ability to afford this protection.
comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-01T18:34:52.657Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What's that? O.o

As the name I referred to it by suggests, you divide your age by two and add seven; anyone below that would be "creepy" to sleep with or otherwise engage romantically. Not sure where it comes from, but it's been featured in XKCD at least once.

[snip social-pressure rape description]

Yup. And in our society, all kids are in these situations, and many (especially younger) kids may assume such a context in pretty much all interactions with adults. Not to mention the fact that, currently, most people who actually do have sex with children are in such a position of "soft power" over the child.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-03T23:04:58.541Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure where it comes from, but it's been featured in XKCD at least once.

I assumed that Randall Munroe had just made it up on the spot.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-04T03:21:12.919Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure I heard of it before the comic.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T10:04:17.759Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've always found "informed consent" (probably the same thing) to be a damn good heuristic, myself, although I certainly don't terminally value it. Are those meant to be rhetorical questions?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T09:59:15.148Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

... actually, I'm of the opinion that conflating that sort of thing with, y'know, the sort of thing people picture when you say "rape" leads to both overestimation of the harm it causes and devaluing of the suffering caused by violently raping someone. It is, of course, bad, and it should be discouraged with punishments and so on, but I don't think it shares a Schelling point with "real" rape.

However.

What about this "meaningful consent" that renders it valuable? At what point does consent become "meaningful"? We usually allow parents to consent on behalf of their children, presumably because they will further the child's own interests; should this apply to sex? What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it? Let's pry open this black box!

[Side note: I personally am against legalizing such relationships, but I worry that I'm smart enough to argue convincingly for this position regardless of its truth, so I'm not going to elaborate on my reasoning here.]

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-29T13:29:22.898Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the sort of thing people picture when you say "rape"

Which in my experience people picture extremely inaccurately. They picture girls getting grabbed off a park sidewalk by a ravenous stranger. That's a very atypical case. Outside of prison, rape is typically perpetuated by friends and lovers and dates. This is unsurprising given pure opportunity, just as it's unsurprising that children are typically victimized by families and trusted friends of their families, not by strangers with candy.

Requiring rape to be "violent" is to require that most extra-penal rape be reclassified as not-rape. There is usually the implicit threat of violence, and the (typically) women in such circumstances are made to understand they have no choice or power. Anyone who looks at this issue will quickly meet people who insist that it isn't "rape" if the woman did not violently resist and never succumbed, or if there were no beatings involved.

"Rape" is only as meaningful as "meaningful consent."

At what point does consent become "meaningful"?

Babies cannot give meaningful consent. Children can sometimes give meaningful consent, but it is difficult to determine. We allow parents to make decisions for their children in weighty matters - within strict limits. We do not allow them to give their kids liquor and cigarettes nor restrict them to "alternative medicine" for deadly disease. All of this makes sense: by and large, we do not allow families to stunt and cripple development.

(I give one exception: it is still considered acceptable to give a child a poor diet to the point of severe obesity. I think this should be at least as criminal, if not more, than allowing cigarette-smoking.)

"Meaningful consent" comes in degrees: adults are better at it than young teenagers. Most states have age of consent laws which, while allowing sex with minors, only allows it within a certain age bracket. Differential intellectual capacity matters.

You'll notice that I haven't tried to give a definition. With complicated concepts, it is often better to talk about them as if they were meaningful, and notice that they are, that we can recognize their presence or absence from different circumstances. If you are wholly unable to recognize such circumstances, let me know and I'll try being more precise.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-29T16:20:26.613Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"This is unsurprising given pure opportunity"

Among my friends this sentiment is encapsulated as "You always hurt the ones you love, cuz they're the ones in range."

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-03T03:06:00.687Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Consider the examples in this comment:

There is a difference between “I said no, but he was more able to overpower me because I was drunk”, “I didn’t say no, but only because I was too drunk to realize I was making a bad decision”, and “I got drunk so I had an excuse for not saying no”.

Which of these count as "meaningful consent" by your definition?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T17:13:41.300Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Which in my experience people picture extremely inaccurately. They picture girls getting grabbed off a park sidewalk by a ravenous stranger. That's a very atypical case. Outside of prison, rape is typically perpetuated by friends and lovers and dates. This is unsurprising given pure opportunity, just as it's unsurprising that children are typically victimized by families and trusted friends of their families, not by strangers with candy.

Point.

Still, you know what I mean. Forcible rape, not things-that-are-bad-and-sexual-so-we-call-them-rape.

Requiring rape to be "violent" is to require that most extra-penal rape be reclassified as not-rape.

Well ... yeah? That's not the same thing as it being perfectly acceptable, mind.

There is usually the implicit threat of violence, and the (typically) women in such circumstances are made to understand they have no choice or power. Anyone who looks at this issue will quickly meet people who insist that it isn't "rape" if the woman did not violently resist and never succumbed, or if there were no beatings involved.

Oh, yeah, threats should totally be included AFAICT. But the example under discussion was a sleeping/unconscious victim, wasn't it?

"Rape" is only as meaningful as "meaningful consent."

That is to say not meaningful at all, because you're treating meaningful consent as a fundamental property of things.

Babies cannot give meaningful consent.

Why not, if they can express desire for sweeties or whatever? At what point do they stop being "babies" and become "children", under this schema? Are we including toddlers here?

Children can sometimes give meaningful consent, but it is difficult to determine.

Aha! He admits it! Pedophilic relationships can be OK!

We allow parents to make decisions for their children in weighty matters - within strict limits. We do not allow them to give their kids liquor and cigarettes nor restrict them to "alternative medicine" for deadly disease. All of this makes sense: by and large, we do not allow families to stunt and cripple development.

There are some issues where we can safely say we know better, just like, say, an adult consenting to an addictive drug. But how could sex be one of those cases, when it's only harmful if the person doesn't consent in the first place? (Ignoring for a minute STDs and such, which parents (and many kids) should be able to take into account.)

"Meaningful consent" comes in degrees: adults are better at it than young teenagers. Most states have age of consent laws which, while allowing sex with minors, only allows it within a certain age bracket. Differential intellectual capacity matters.

Why?

You'll notice that I haven't tried to give a definition. With complicated concepts, it is often better to talk about them as if they were meaningful, and notice that they are, that we can recognize their presence or absence from different circumstances.

From hence did this meaningful concept come to you? What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-05-01T16:30:05.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?

I wish we could get past slogans.

Ok, we're trying to determine whether or not "meaningful consent is meaningful". A question: could you guess with high reliability what situations I think constitute meaningful consent or not?

A scenario: suppose I slip a girl a roofie, slip her into my car, take her home, and fuck her. Then I sneak her back into the party.

Was my crime "slipping a girl a drug", or was my crime "that and rape"?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-01T18:52:59.587Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I wish we could get past slogans.

This particular slogan was selected for usefulness. It retains it's meaning when considered as a question solely in the current context.

Ok, we're trying to determine whether or not "meaningful consent is meaningful". A question: could you guess with high reliability what situations I think constitute meaningful consent or not?

Sure. All I have to do is check what the culture you live in condemns.

A scenario: suppose I slip a girl a roofie, slip her into my car, take her home, and fuck her. Then I sneak her back into the party.

Was my crime "slipping a girl a drug", or was my crime "that and rape"?

As I have indicated before, I consider the term "rape" to include multiple Schelling points in act-space, most of which I condemn and advocate pushing, but to different degrees. As such, I would appreciate if you tabooed "rape" when asking this sort of question.

Taking my own advice, his crimes were slipping the girl a drug and violating her right to bodily integrity, the same as if he had preformed surgery on her, given her a piercing or tattoo etc.

Note that a crime is not the same a harm; technically the girl has not been harmed, we just prefer to enforce this right for game-theoretic reasons. Also, I note you failed to specify if it was "safe" sex.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-05-03T02:32:31.452Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This particular slogan was selected for usefulness. It retains it's meaning when considered as a question solely in the current context.

When I try to believe that, I become confused. I've found in this and other threads that my being reminded of rationalist truisms correlates with something other than a failure of rationality.

Sure. All I have to do is check what the culture you live in condemns.

Right, which is why you'd be able to guess that I support lowering the age of consent under certain circumstances and relaxing penalties in others. You have a bad discriminant. You are weak at something you shouldn't be.

As I have indicated before, I consider the term "rape" to include multiple Schelling points in act-space, most of which I condemn and advocate pushing, but to different degrees. As such, I would appreciate if you tabooed "rape" when asking this sort of question.

That's another thing. My being asked to taboo something here usually - there are exceptions - correlates not with understandable confusion or ambiguity, but with something else.

Taking my own advice, his crimes were slipping the girl a drug and violating her right to bodily integrity, the same as if he had preformed surgery on her, given her a piercing or tattoo etc.

So her "right to bodily integrity" extends to penis-in-vagina? We're trying really hard to not see the obvious. Go on, use the word.

Note that a crime is not the same a harm; technically the girl has not been harmed, we just prefer to enforce this right for game-theoretic reasons.

She hasn't? Under what "technically" are we working? Are "we" just preferring to enforce this right for "game-theoretic reasons?" Are you assuming too much on the part of "we"?

Also, I note you failed to specify if it was "safe" sex.

That "failure" was deliberate and appropriate.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-12T21:05:09.606Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This particular slogan was selected for usefulness. It retains it's meaning when considered as a question solely in the current context.

When I try to believe that, I become confused. I've found in this and other threads that my being reminded of rationalist truisms correlates with something other than a failure of rationality.

Maybe. I was genuinely asking, not censuring you for failing to follow the tenets of our faith.

Are you intending to respond to my question, or just muse about my motives in asking it?

Sure. All I have to do is check what the culture you live in condemns.

Right, which is why you'd be able to guess that I support lowering the age of consent under certain circumstances and relaxing penalties in others. You have a bad discriminant. You are weak at something you shouldn't be.

Except that doesn't necessarily reflect anything real besides the details of the culture in question. See also: witchcraft.

As I have indicated before, I consider the term "rape" to include multiple Schelling points in act-space, most of which I condemn and advocate pushing, but to different degrees. As such, I would appreciate if you tabooed "rape" when asking this sort of question.

That's another thing. My being asked to taboo something here usually - there are exceptions - correlates not with understandable confusion or ambiguity, but with something else.

In this case, while I am not confused by your meaning, you are rendering this discussion too ambiguous for me to make my point. If I insisted on referring to homosexuality as a "fetish", (or "perversion" or something else that boiled down to "sex thingy that's not mainstream",) and replied to arguments about how homosexuality is qualitatively different with discussions of "fetishes", asking me to taboo "fetish" and talk about the facts of the matter would be reasonable, don't you think? (This is not a hypothetical example.)

So her "right to bodily integrity" extends to penis-in-vagina? We're trying really hard to not see the obvious. Go on, use the word.

I submit that giving someone a tattoo while they're drunk is not the same as raping them.

Note that a crime is not the same a harm; technically the girl has not been harmed, we just prefer to enforce this right for game-theoretic reasons.

She hasn't? Under what "technically" are we working? Are "we" just preferring to enforce this right for "game-theoretic reasons?" Are you assuming too much on the part of "we"?

OK: I prefer to punish this in order to discourage it in general, even if, in this specific case, it has negative net utility.

And yes, having something happen to you that does not cause physical damage or mental distress (because you don't know it happened) can reasonably be categorized as not containing "harm", although obviously there are different possible definitions of the word "harm".

Also, I note you failed to specify if it was "safe" sex.

That "failure" was deliberate and appropriate.

Well, I guess it's a good thing I noted it then, isn't it?

Seriously, though, that failure is not appropriate, because there is a difference in the resulting harm caused by safe and unsafe sex; to whit, possible pregnancy and the risk of STD transfer. Both of these have measurable effects that the victim remembers, and indeed are likely to reveal that the rape occurred (depending on the individual in question.) You are deliberately trying to conflate different things, here. Stop it. Even if it turns out what we care about is identical in both cases, what you are doing amounts to refusing to discuss the question at all.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-05-14T13:13:39.599Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just muse.

Except that doesn't necessarily reflect anything real besides the details of the culture in question.

Except [supporting lowering the age of consent under some circumstances] doesn't necessarily reflect anything [real] besides [culture], [like witchcraft!] Word salad. What you could have said is, "I was mistaken, as I could not have predicted that," or, "I was correct, because lowering the age of consent is a really popular right now."

And yes, having something happen to you that does not cause physical damage or mental distress (because you don't know it happened) can reasonably be categorized as not containing "harm", although obviously there are different possible definitions of the word "harm".

I think people should have a say in what happens to them, be it politically or otherwise. Would it "harm" a child to keep him locked in a giant playground/amusement park, with everything he could ever want provided, but kept from any education? Would it "harm" the human race as a whole to be kept in a state of perpetual orgasm, kept alive, but forgetting everything else? Is a slave being harmed, even if his master does not beat him and feeds him well?

I'm with the old-school utilitarians on this. Utility is not hedonism. Immediate pleasure and pain are not the sum of all harm. I think that women and men should have some say in what happens to their bodies. That's why I'm not fond of circumcision, especially fgm. (Another cultural prediction?) That's why I have no problem with almost any type of relationship between consenting adults. Bondage? Sure. Open relationships? I've had them and they're my favorite. Polyamory? Why not? Homosexual? Obviously. Incest? With some exceptions concerning guardian/minor relationships, but otherwise, why not? I would even support tax breaks/rights for polyamorous relationships similar to those now granted for monogamous couples, the scale of which to be determined after research into outcomes for children and other - to my knowledge - unknowns.

But this is obviously "culture", which you would have predicted. That's why it wouldn't have helped you to use "meaningful consent", right? If I were to give some other LWer a checklist of predictions about my feelings about sexual relationships, and tell him to use "culture", he - statistically a `he' - might use polls. If I tell him to use "meaningful consent", how much more accurate would he have been?

If your answer is "no more accurate", I'll propose an experiment. If your answer is, "yes, significantly more accurate," then we know that other people understand something that you do not, and that the problem is not the phrase but your own comprehension of it.

Well, I guess it's a good thing I noted it then, isn't it?

No, it's not. I'm trying to establish that something is an offense, and I'm not interested in whether or not something else aggravates it. I might have cut off her foot, too. Who cares. That's not "conflation." What's clear is that you don't think that violating self-determination is "harm". That's the difference between us. Keep it to the internet, though, because if you touch a sleeping girl, you might find "Schelling points in act space" won't help you.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-20T22:00:39.412Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are you intending to respond to my question, or just muse about my motives in asking it?

Just muse.

Pretty please?

Except [supporting lowering the age of consent under some circumstances] doesn't necessarily reflect anything [real] besides [culture], [like witchcraft!] Word salad. What you could have said is, "I was mistaken, as I could not have predicted that," or, "I was correct, because lowering the age of consent is a really popular right now."

Huh? A minute ago you were complaining I was being contrary because the predictions worked fine. I can predict what you'd disapprove of for reasons of ""informed consent" just fine. I just don't think it refers to anything in the territory beyond the bit of the map labelled "informed consent". Or at least, if it does, you seem to be having trouble pointing to it.

I think people should have a say in what happens to them, be it politically or otherwise. Would it "harm" a child to keep him locked in a giant playground/amusement park, with everything he could ever want provided, but kept from any education? Would it "harm" the human race as a whole to be kept in a state of perpetual orgasm, kept alive, but forgetting everything else? Is a slave being harmed, even if his master does not beat him and feeds him well?

I'm with the old-school utilitarians on this. Utility is not hedonism. Immediate pleasure and pain are not the sum of all harm. I think that women and men should have some say in what happens to their bodies. That's why I'm not fond of circumcision, especially fgm. (Another cultural prediction?)

As I said, I recognize the right to bodily integrity, which is violated in both cases. I also value, y'know, not traumatizing people (which you seem to dismiss as "hedonism".)

Also, honestly, I think you probably overestimate the value of freedom and choice and so on. They're nice and all, but they're massive applause lights in our culture; other cultures don't seem to have been so impressed by them.

That's why I have no problem with almost any type of relationship between consenting adults. Bondage? Sure. Open relationships? I've had them and they're my favorite. Polyamory? Why not? Homosexual? Obviously. Incest? With some exceptions concerning guardian/minor relationships, but otherwise, why not? I would even support tax breaks/rights for polyamorous relationships similar to those now granted for monogamous couples, the scale of which to be determined after research into outcomes for children and other - to my knowledge - unknowns.

Thanks for the extra data o pinpoint the precise subculture I should be checking.

But this is obviously "culture", which you would have predicted. That's why it wouldn't have helped you to use "meaningful consent", right? If I were to give some other LWer a checklist of predictions about my feelings about sexual relationships, and tell him to use "culture", he - statistically a `he' - might use polls. If I tell him to use "meaningful consent", how much more accurate would he have been?

Except you cannot explain "meaningful consent" except by pointing to culture/yourself-as-black-box. Why should I treat them as separate theories to be tested? How should I treat them as separate theories, if I haven't already grown up in our culture?

Well, I guess it's a good thing I noted it then, isn't it?

No, it's not. I'm trying to establish that something is an offense, and I'm not interested in whether or not something else aggravates it. I might have cut off her foot, too. Who cares. That's not "conflation." What's clear is that you don't think that violating self-determination is "harm". That's the difference between us.

Hey, it could be worse - your point might have simply sailed over my head.

He could have cut off her foot. In fact, lets talk about that scenario. Lets say there's a well-known crime, stealing someone's purse. This traditionally involves cutting off their foot, because people chain their purses to their feet. But sometimes, a cunning criminal tricks someone into giving them the key to this chain, or steals it out of their pocket, resulting in a purse-theft without the loss of a foot.

Is it a good idea to talk about how this gut is a foot-thief just because the dictionary says a "foot-thief" is someone who teals the purse someone attached to their foot, and attack anyone suggesting (say) a lighter sentence or something as defending those horrible people who cut off feet? Is it useful to ignore the loss of people's feet and increase the penalty for all foot-thefts across the board, instead of punishing them separately?

(Of course, the correct punishment may not be fitted to the damage done for game-theoretical reasons, but I hope you appreciate the idea.)

Keep it to the internet, though, because if you touch a sleeping girl, you might find "Schelling points in act space" won't help you.

Considering my repeated statements that such behavior should, in my opinion, be harshly punished, this particular jab falls a little flat.

(Also, if I were to ignore the fact that I don't want this happening to me so I want to discourage it, I wouldn't be sadistic enough to tell the victim, harming them again at significant cost to myself.)

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-04-17T07:36:30.863Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW · GW

We're only allowed to talk about the fact that we are almost universally demonstrably evil by the standards of our own professed moral systems in a joking context.

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-04-17T16:22:23.501Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Or the context of religion.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-04-17T17:53:32.374Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But the religion pretends to have a solution -- you do a ritual, and now you are magically less evil.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-19T22:52:03.111Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on which religion -- apparently, Orthodox Judaism doesn't.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:37:48.397Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is actually one of my favorite conversational topics. People find it uncomfortable, but not in a "you're sinister" sort of way.

But yeah, not a great way to make friends.

comment by DiamondSoul · 2013-04-20T20:12:42.269Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you expand on this? It's not clear to me how this is the case.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-05-01T20:28:07.688Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Rational charity and utilitarianism make it extremely hard to justify how much most of us spend on ourselves or on feel-good charities rather than high impact results like giving money to high impact charities.

comment by Baughn · 2013-04-26T17:01:12.946Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to hear your reasoning for that. It's not obvious at all to me - unless you're talking about eating meat, in which case.. well, I'm still unsure how the equation works out.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T00:29:46.434Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, these are not actually taboo

Then I think your experience is atypical. If you can say things like this in front of your peer group without being ostracized, you have an atypical peer group. I have an atypical peer group and I still think I would lose friends for saying some of these things.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:36:50.005Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My peer groups have ranged from good ol' boys to academics to leftwing activists. I don't think my experience is atypical for somebody who knows how to carefully introduce taboo topics. If my experience is atypical, it's due to the thought I've put into communicating such topics.

Edit: Changed "good topics" to "taboo topics."

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T00:46:15.542Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think that the position that Larry Summers was in is atypical, or do you think that he was bad at carefully introducing good topics?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T01:06:24.879Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Again, the emphasis of the post is "obvious truths." But yes, I think the reaction to Summers' talk was atypical. Gender differences and IQ and women in mathematics are standard topics in introductory psych textbooks. I think the reaction to his talk was deplorable, but I think that a big part of the explanation here has to do with "former administration official" and "university president." People with these titles are subject to stricter rules.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T01:10:02.413Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It is no longer clear to me what you mean by "taboo." Can you, erm, taboo this?

comment by amacfie · 2013-04-17T03:13:45.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Any particular reason why you write "erm" even though (I assume) you don't have a British accent?

comment by arundelo · 2013-04-17T03:23:48.137Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I had been reading this (and its more common cousin "er") for years before I saw someone point out that they're just different spellings of "um" and "uh". Edit: Not different pronunciations (modulo the difference in accent), for anyone who doesn't know what amacfie and I are on about.

comment by randallsquared · 2013-04-17T15:06:48.497Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

...but people (around me, at least, in the DC area) do say "Er..." literally, sometimes. It appears to be pronounced that way when the speaker wants to emphasize the pause, as far as I can tell.

comment by amacfie · 2013-04-17T18:40:15.698Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I hear "er", literally (rhotically), quite infrequently and I always assumed that people said it that way because of seeing "er" in written English and not knowing that it was intended to be pronounced "uh"; similarly, I've heard "arg" spoken by people who thought "argh" from written English was pronounced that way.

comment by arundelo · 2013-04-17T18:57:46.552Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my previous commented I restrained myself from linking to Ant Phillips's Um & Aargh but now you've given me sufficient excuse. (The chorus sounds to my American ears like "um and ah".)

Edit: Grumble grumble Markdown parser bug grumble grumble.

comment by randallsquared · 2013-04-17T19:53:12.298Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

...but "argh" is pronounced that way... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOlKRMXvTiA :) Since the late 90s, at least.

comment by westward · 2013-04-17T05:19:13.867Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

'My reading of the use of "erm" here is as a replacement for "my repetition of the word taboo seems awkward in this context (since the point is we don't share a mutual understanding of the word) but I don't know a better word of phrasing this".

Do the British commonly use "erm"? I didn't know that.

comment by fortyeridania · 2013-04-17T13:30:51.229Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you may have missed the point. "Erm" is just a British spelling of what Americans would spell "um." The pronunciations are quote close. (Similarly, British writers use "er" where Americans would write "uh.")

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T20:55:36.564Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Really? I've always considered those distinct sounds, but then I read a lot from both sides of the Atlantic as a kid.

comment by fortyeridania · 2013-04-28T07:45:18.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here's some evidence.

I think the recordings at those pages are misleading, because they're all from a US speaker. The phonetic markings are what to look at.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T08:40:37.731Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Um ... evidence?

er

pronounced: /ɜː/

etymology: copying the sound people make when hesitating.

uh

pronounced: /ʌː/

No listed etymology, but attached to a list of such sounds from various languages.

erm

pronunciation: no phonetic markings listed; recording only.

no etymology listed, but attached to an entirely different list of such sounds in other languages.

um

pronounciation: /ʊm/

etymology:

From Middle English, from Old Norse um, umb (“around, about”), from Proto-Germanic umbi (“around”), from Proto-Indo-European ambʰi- (“by, around”). Cognate with Old English ymbe (“around”). More at umbe.

Also, I've ignored the recordings - I actually can't listen to them on this computer - but why would there be a mispronounced pronunciation guide? I mean, wouldn't people who aren't US speakers correct it, if they knew better? I'm not a US speaker, and I would.

ETA: apparently "hum" may come from the old English version of this - from which we also get um and hmm. Or something.

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-04-17T16:19:50.948Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly. As an American, I obviously prefer "er" instead.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T04:08:18.467Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's more fun? I dunno.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T01:20:27.555Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Revisit the post. I explicitly wanted examples of obvious truths. I very clearly stated that I didn't want statements that are "taboo" relative to a specific context. I think that university presidents saying things that correlate with "downplaying gender discrimination in the sciences" is an excellent match for things about which I've been quite clear. Is there any particular connotation on which I should elaborate?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-18T05:07:54.383Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So let me get this straight. You want something that's taboo in every public context except the LW forum?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-18T05:19:17.283Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No, I want a conversation that doesn't involve you.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-18T06:27:42.158Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This isn't simply your conversation. This is a public conversation and I strongly suspect I'm not the only one interested in your response to my question in the parent.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-18T06:08:37.519Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What one wants and what one needs are frequently different things.

Now as to what you what. Judging by your behavior in this and the misogyny thread, what you appear to what is a way to quickly dismiss any arguments that challenge your comfortable world view.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-18T05:42:42.560Z · score: -7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

To emphasize: I'm not interested. Go back to the thread about misogyny and give us more of your profound insights about the harm done at Steubenville. I think you're a scumbag, and I think you're either sockpuppeting or - much worse - part of a small coterie of scumbags that runs around here downvoting everything you disagree with while whining about freedom.

I'm not going to pretend to be interested in what you have to say.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T02:03:13.944Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What does "taboo" mean if it doesn't mean "taboo relative to a specific context"? I don't understand the criteria you're using to judge other people's answers; to the extent that I do, you seem to be using "taboo" in a nonstandard way. All taboos are context-dependent.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:05:15.639Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You're treating "context-dependent" in a trivial way. I am not. Otherwise, I wouldn't be floating the question, since presumably we can whisper about any statement to a close confidant.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T07:12:10.903Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't understand what you mean. I would ask you to give an example of something you think is genuinely taboo, but I suppose the reason you posted this is because you can't think of any. Might I suggest the possibility that whatever definition you have in mind, it's too strict and isn't what other people mean by taboo?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:15:18.278Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't understand what you mean. I would ask you to give an example of something you think is genuinely taboo, but I suppose the reason you posted this is because you can't think of any.

Correct, in the specific sense I meant, i.e. factual, well-established truths, in pretty much any venue, etc. I'll continue in a moment.

Might I suggest the possibility that whatever definition you have in mind, it's too strict and isn't what other people mean by taboo?

Tell me a true statement that is taboo like this: "niggers, unlike most races, are subhuman and untrainable, and are intellectually similar to the chimpanzee."

comment by Jiro · 2013-04-17T14:31:29.222Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would suggest that that statement isn't taboo by your own definition either, because there are contexts (such as speaking in the year 1900 among Klan members) in which it's probably acceptable to say. Every taboo is dependent on context.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T07:20:37.226Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. I think this is too strict. (Also, note that I'm posting under my real name.)

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:46:25.894Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't have to be that statement, either. Tell me something that comes close to that, something so grave that it even approaches such a statement, something even near a thing so awful that I have trouble repeating it and feel awful for even making such a proposition exist.

comment by youaskedforit · 2013-04-17T09:29:35.419Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Qrgnvyrq naq snpghnyyl npphengr qrfpevcgvbaf bs jung gnxrf cynpr qhevat gur jbefg sbezf bs gbegher, zhgvyngvba, naq qrtenqngvba. (V jvyy abg cebivqr rknzcyrf.)

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2013-04-17T18:07:38.123Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would guess that lawyers and law-enforcement personnel have generated or commissioned many court documents containing lots of that.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:31:24.745Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not proposing a new and better definition of "taboo." I'm proposing a new and useful notion of taboo under particular circumstances: what true things can we really not say? If we can talk about them but must do so carefully, let's do it carefully.

Here's the other side of this usefulness: there's a moral to the story here. Statements that are marginalized are often marginalized for good reason. People who claim to be speaking taboo truths are giving us and themselves a very self-serving story in which they feature as heroes. I think it's a worthwhile caution, particularly in a forum so full of contrarians like myself.

I think we're trying to do different things with similar concepts. Frustrated people who think that "taboo" facts consequently receive too little attention get a new answer: learn to communicate. Right now, they form communities of whiners. Some of these things are important. And they can be talked about. Figure out how to talk about them. I'm offering a means of improvement here.

Right now, they say that "race realism" is "beyond the pale." But is it? Or is it that "beyond the pale" looks much more like the statement I gave in my previous comment?

Don't think of not-actually-taboo things as taboo. It sounds like sound advice to me.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-18T05:15:20.426Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read Paul Graham's essay What you can't say? The reason I ask is that it addresses several mistakes you keep making.

comment by Jiro · 2013-04-18T08:11:44.779Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You're not proposing a definition, you're just proposing a notion? I have difficulty here distinguishing between a notion and a definition and it's not because I don't speak English. You seem to be making a very artificial distinction.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-23T16:56:55.819Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course the distinction is artificial, but it is worth making, as I explain in the rest of the comment. Is there something wrong with my motivations?

comment by Randy_M · 2013-04-26T15:36:13.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Once people start talking about things that are "beyond the pale", they become less taboo, at least in some contexts. So I'm not sure you can find what you are looking for--something obvious that no one at all will discuss.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2013-04-17T00:29:47.037Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Most sexual relationships are between people who are settling for what they can get.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:43:07.808Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Cynicism about love is taboo? Where have I been?

comment by evand · 2013-04-17T00:58:45.144Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It's fine until you change a vague statement about "most" relationships (which obviously means outgroup-people's relationships) into a specific one about people in the conversation, or friends of people in the conversation, or other ingroup members. At which point, I'd say it's just offensive, not taboo. Offensive, hard to justify, based on the outside view when people with inside view information are around... yeah, probably instrumentally unwise to say most of the time, too.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-04-17T00:56:53.267Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

settling for what they can get.

You mean optimizing.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-04-17T01:17:08.711Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You mean optimizing.

Wouldn't satisficing be more correct?

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-04-17T01:52:19.062Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. Although if you include the cost of searching, satisficing is the optimal solution.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-04-17T16:18:37.008Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As opposed to what?

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:36:59.080Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

True Love.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-04-17T22:01:50.829Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that was pretty much the only thing I could think of. But given that people do not in fact have randomly assigned soulmates who are a much better match than anyone else, holding out for your soulmate is not a possible policy.

Another thing that would qualify is meeting everyone in the world (in reasonable age brackets and filtering by gender if appropriate, and maybe some amount of filtering on culture and interests still counts as not settling) to determine the best possible match, not because you can only be happy with them but because you refuse to settle for the infinitesimally inferior second-best match. But it's very unlikely that you'll be your first choice's first choice, forcing at least one of you to settle for an inferior match or remain single.

Gratuitous bragging: my calculations suggest that there are about ten thousand people in the world I'd be more or less as happy with as with my boyfriend. (It's not that lucky, I meet an incredibly skewed sample.) I have on average two more chances of finding another good match if we break up, and I'm not unhappy about this prospect, which makes "settling" a strange descriptor.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T21:27:59.795Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Claiming that people did not have their mate selected by their subconscious and pheromones or whatever is not the same as saying they did not have them selected by random draw by ***ing cupid.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-17T17:58:41.231Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, these are not actually taboo, and I think my experience is generalizable.

Who are the twenty people you interact with most often? Make a list.

Meet with each of those people in person. Work each of those three observations that you think are obvious and not taboo into the conversation. Notice whether or not you feel any reluctance to bring up the topic. Pay close attention to their reaction, and where they try to steer the conversation.

I strongly suspect your experience will be that these topics are actually costly to discuss (i.e. there actually is a taboo).

Notice here that I sought to counteract selection effects. Yes, there are lots of people I can talk to who think those things are reasonable beliefs. But there are also lots of people who, if I mention the quantitative implications of the black-white IQ gap, will not see it as a good idea to be friends with me anymore. Correspondingly, I don't discuss that topic with them.

We can recognize that statements like these correlate with certain false beliefs and nasty sentiments of the sort that actually are taboo.

This is, of course, a very destructive self-fulfilling prophecy. If pointing out the negative side effects of immigration from Latin American countries is publicly acceptable evidence that someone is a racist, then anyone who cares more about their reputation as a non-racist than their impact on the immigration debate will be silent. There's a positive feedback loop here- as each non-racist concerned about immigration decides not to talk about it, talking about it becomes better evidence that the person is racist, and that tips the scales for more people, who decide to stay silent about immigration.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T18:12:07.397Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your suggested experiment wouldn't be very good. I do think that appearing to have become suddenly obsessed with holocaust revision would cost me. Talking about these things as one would actually talk about these things makes for a better experiment. Here's an interesting outcome: I've never been called an anti-Semite for discussing Holocaust revision - partly because it's made clear that I think anti-Semitism a form of mental illness and it's obvious I blame the Nazis for a genocide-that-yes-duh-happened. Now, I have been called an anti-Semite for supporting Palestinian human rights.

Of course I at times feel reluctance to bring up topics like this. I'm pretty sure I've admitted the existence of sensitive topics already. There are risks and costs to certain truths, but those risks and costs rarely if ever approach those associated with serious taboos like vulgar racism.

This is, of course, a very destructive self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's sound inference. It's updating on evidence.

If pointing out the negative side effects of immigration from Latin American countries is publicly acceptable evidence that someone is a racist...

Sometimes. I keep saying context context context, but do go on.

There's a positive feedback loop here- as each non-racist concerned about immigration decides not to talk about it, talking about it becomes better evidence that the person is racist, and that tips the scales for more people, who decide to stay silent about immigration.

That'd be just awful. Has it happened? Are we really not allowed to do a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis of immigration?

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:08:40.064Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I think anti-Semitism a form of mental illness

This is an extreme claim that I would dismiss without strong evidence.

It seems that you only make it as an applause light. I doubt you have real evidence that anti-Semitism is a mental illness, rather than a normal mental state which is common in certain societies and is not harmful to those who possess it.

You have to profess this belief to allow you to discuss taboo claims that seem anti-Semitic without letting people think you're an actual anti-Semite. The fact you are forced to make this claim, which is probably irrelevant to the discussion at hand (e.g. what exactly happened in the Holocaust), is evidence that you are discussing a taboo subject.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T19:36:20.805Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The fact you are forced to make this claim, which is probably irrelevant to the discussion at hand (e.g. what exactly happened in the Holocaust), is evidence that you are discussing a taboo subject.

A sensitive subject not in itself taboo so long as one includes provisos to prevent reasonable inferences leading to their concluding that I have views that actually are taboo.

I doubt you have real evidence that anti-Semitism is a mental illness, rather than a normal mental state which is common in certain societies and is not harmful to those who possess it.

I think that anti-Semitism is a qualitatively distinct form of racism which ought to be considered on the borderline of mental illness. I'll admit fault for calling it a mental illness without qualification. Here's one reason I consider anti-Semitism to be almost in a category of its own:

Garden-variety racists do not usually suspect the objects of their dislike of secretly manipulating the banks and the stock markets and of harboring a demonic plan for world domination.

Racism is something segregated groups do more or less automatically, starting from early age and due to an evolutionarily sensible preference of the familiar to the unfamiliar. Anti-Semitism doesn't happen like this. Anti-Semitism is not only racial but also religious and nationalist, and it can happen anywhere. It's highly paranoid; the Jews frequently take an Illuminati-type role as the masters of everything. Any infinity of other racisms and poisons are naturally subsumed within it. Garden-variety racists are not typically racialists with a well-constructed theory to support their bigotry, but anti-Semites almost always are. Anti-Semitism is System 2. Conspiracies about Chinese and Japanese subterfuge wax and wane, but anti-Semitism stays. Jews are blamed simultaneously for the worst excesses of capitalism and socialism, for the kidnap and murder of children for ritual, food, and sport. They are out to undermine the true religion and dilute the blood of the best races, and turn the nations into beggars.

And it's been like this for centuries.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T20:09:21.647Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think that anti-Semitism is a qualitatively distinct form of racism which ought to be considered on the borderline of mental illness. I'll admit fault for calling it a mental illness without qualification.

Let's be clear we're talking about the same thing here. The definitions for mental illness that I'm familiar with say that mental illness must be something that is not widespread in the person's culture, a beliefs or behavior that others consider weird or irrational. People imitate and conform to other's beliefs and actions so much, that anything that is common to a large segment of the population (e.g. religious belief) cannot be usefully called a mental illness. Anti-Semitism clearly fails this test.

Anti-Semitism is not only racial but also religious and nationalist, and it can happen anywhere.

Hating outgroups based on religious and nationalist lines, is just as normal and widespread as on racial lines. Almost every multi-religious society has or had in the past a large degree of segregation, distrust, and perhaps sectarian violence. The same goes for populations of "mixed nationalities".

Since the Jews historically lived among people where they were at once a religious, racial, and (in the last century) nationalist outgroup, it is not at all surprising that they were hated. Just like, since U.S. blacks are mostly a distinct social class from whites, and were previously a legally distinct class too, it's natural for this distinction to merge with the racial hatred and make it stronger.

We use a special term, anti-Semitism, because of the its historical importance, but it doesn't seem to me to be qualitatively different from other kinds of inter-group hatred.

Garden-variety racists are not typically racialists with a well-constructed theory to support their bigotry, but anti-Semites almost always are.

This has only stood out since the 19th century in Europe. (Previously, other societies concerned themselves with racial purity and descendants of Jews, like Christian Spain; but they were the exception, not the rule.)

Yet Anti-Semitism has existed as long as mainstream Christianity. (And probably before - I just don't happen to know anything about the integration or otherwise of Jews in the Roman and Greek worlds.) Anti-Semitism changed a little in character when racial theories were added to the mix, but the so-called "modern" A-S could not have existed (in such a magnitude) with the millenia of "classic" A-S preceding it.

Conspiracies about Chinese and Japanese subterfuge wax and wane, but anti-Semitism stays. Jews are blamed simultaneously for the worst excesses of capitalism and socialism, for the kidnap and murder of children for ritual, food, and sport. They are out to undermine the true religion and dilute the blood of the best races, and turn the nations into beggars.

I would like to see a quantitative survey of the equivalent of blood libels in other famous sectarian hatreds. I would expect to find out that Christians have told (and tell) just as bad tales about Muslims, Protestants about Catholics, US whites about blacks, as anyone has told about Jews.

Also, A-S tales are famous in our culture. Mostly everyone has heard of the Blood Libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Maybe we just haven't heard enough non-A-S examples, and so A-S has become highly available to our thinking.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:18:32.481Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I still disagree, but kudos for a very reasonable response. May I plead time constraints in the hope that we may revisit this topic later?

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T20:24:07.985Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-17T19:01:27.015Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's sound inference.

I agree that it's sound inference, given the hypotheses "racist" and "not racist."

What is more important is the importance given to those hypotheses. I think you're mistaken about what taboos are: they're signals of "not my tribe." Someone who supports Palestine over Israel is against the 'tribe of Israel,' in the way that a measured discussion of the Holocaust after professing love for the tribe isn't. It may be socially or instrumentally rational to yield to such politics, but never mistake it for epistemic rationality. (That is, the phrase "politically correct" is literally true.)

Are we really not allowed to do a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis of immigration?

What do you mean by "we," "really," and "allowed"? No one will throw you in jail if you do such analysis and post it on your blog, but don't be surprised when the SPLC puts you on hatewatch. The more important question is, "are the people who actually decide immigration laws doing a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis?"

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T19:19:22.221Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that it's sound inference, given the hypotheses "racist" and "not racist."

Yes, given mutually exclusive and exhaustive - if fuzzy - categories that necessarily exist. Ok. Are you saying that it's an unsound inference?

What is more important is the importance given to those hypotheses. I think you're mistaken about what taboos are: they're signals of "not my tribe."

My tribe here being correct and not completely morally reprehensible, which includes lots of people who aren't in what I consider my in-group.

Someone who supports Palestine over Israel is against the 'tribe of Israel,' in the way that a measured discussion of the Holocaust after professing love for the tribe isn't.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with this debate. If you were, you would understand it to be a reflexive response against criticism of Israeli expansion and aggression. The Jewish critics of Israeli militarism are also called anti-Semitic. It has a lot more to do with power worship than tribal signalling, though the latter certainly plays a role in party discipline.

It may be socially or instrumentally rational to yield to such politics, but never mistake it for epistemic rationality.

You'd probably think Bill is a racist. Bill is an extreme example, but for him or a more realistic case could you let me know why inferring this would be a failure of rationality?

What do you mean by "we," "really," and "allowed"? No one will throw you in jail if you do such analysis and post it on your blog, but don't be surprised when the SPLC puts you on hatewatch.

I would be very surprised. I've followed Hatewatch before. Give me an example of this. If these exist, they must not be common.

The more important question is, "are the people who actually decide immigration laws doing a reasonable, thoughtful cost-benefit analysis?"

More important? Sure. Related? No. Of course they aren't. The party that wants the xenophobe vote doesn't need to do that, and the party that wants the Hispanic vote doesn't need to do that.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-17T19:32:49.306Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My tribe here being correct and not completely morally reprehensible

You may be interested in this article.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T19:39:43.353Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've read it. Still waiting for your examples.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-17T20:02:35.551Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Still waiting for your examples.

Of Hatewatch targeting people who oppose immigration? You realize that's one of their tags, right?

I've read it.

I recommend reading it again. Consider what you wrote in the great-grandparent:

The party that wants the xenophobe vote doesn't need to do that, and the party that wants the Hispanic vote doesn't need to do that.

Don't it seem odd that the only dimension on which immigration is politically relevant is personal warmth towards Hispanics? As a policy decision, it has way more impacts than that. To pick just one dimension, where are the environmentalists comparing per capita carbon production in Mexico and America, and analyzing what impact Mexicans moving to America will have on global carbon production?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:14:00.946Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of Hatewatch targeting people who oppose immigration? You realize that's one of their tags, right?

Yes, and I searched that tag before responding, and I didn't find people listed for doing careful cost-benefit analyses. Instead, I saw neo-Nazis and "minutemen."

Don't it seem odd that the only dimension on which immigration is politically relevant is personal warmth towards Hispanics?

Don't it seem odd that ain't what I said?

As a policy decision, it has way more impacts than that.

Duh, but your question was whether or not politicians are conducting cost-benefit analyses to arrive at their positions. They aren't. Republicans are busy trying to figure out how to get more of the hispanic vote without "alienating the base." Do you think the base will be alienated out of a concern for carbon emissions?

I'll ask once more for you to answer the question you keep refusing to answer: where is the failure of rationality in inferring that Bill is a racist? Why is it that true statements cannot serve as signals for the presence of false beliefs, or why is it that that rule, if sometimes sound, is not sound in this or similar cases?

Edit: Whoa I needed to fix some grammar.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-18T00:15:04.689Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't find people listed for doing careful cost-benefit analyses. Instead, I saw neo-Nazis and "minutemen."

Did you seriously expect the SPLC to say "this guy is an evil racist who hates immigrants, but he brings up sound, quantitative points that we ought to consider"? To the best of my knowledge, there is no American Thilo Sarrazin. Peter Brimelow might be close (and the SPLC excoriates him accordingly), but I haven't looked for or found anything carefully quantitative by Brimelow. Similarly, Steve Sailer is worth paying attention to, but calls for cost-benefit analyses rather than doing them himself (beyond back-of-the-envelope ones).

I'll ask once more for you to answer the question you keep refusing to answer: where is the failure of rationality in inferring that Bill is a racist?

Thank you for repeating the question; that made it clearer what you were interested in.

In my opinion, strongly caring whether or not Bill is a racist is a mistake. There are reputational concerns about associating with racists, but I think it is poor epistemic hygiene to weight those concerns highly.

Even then, supposing it were important to care whether or not Bill was a racist, I think that most people overestimate the likelihood ratio of racism vs. non-racism upon hearing a politically incorrect comment.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T19:50:44.632Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In my opinion, strongly caring whether or not Bill is a racist is a mistake.

I suspect most people do, in fact, weigh this too highly, but could you articulate why?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-19T01:20:25.937Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good place to start. If you have more time, chapter IX of Mysterious Stranger is also relevant.

That made him laugh again, and he said, "Yes, I was laughing at you, because, in fear of what others might report about you, you stoned the woman when your heart revolted at the act - but I was laughing at the others, too."

"Why?"

"Because their case was yours."

"How is that?"

"Well, there were sixty-eight people there, and sixty-two of them had no more desire to throw a stone than you had."

"Satan!"

"Oh, it's true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don't dare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature spies upon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities which revolt both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety-nine out of a hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of witches when that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious lunatics in the long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of transmitted prejudice and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts any real heart into the harrying of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hates witches and wants them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on the other side and make the most noise - perhaps even a single daring man with a big voice and a determined front will do it - and in a week all the sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to a sudden end.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-19T11:52:40.825Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm ... not entirely clear why that's relevant.

Are you saying we should deliberately handicap our estimation of racism, because even people who disagree will go along with it?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-19T14:16:59.468Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying we should deliberately handicap our estimation of racism, because even people who disagree will go along with it?

I'm saying that the question of "Is Bill a racist?" has structural similarities to "Is Bill a witch?", both in how the question is pursued and the social consequences of the conclusion, and that tacit support of the witch-hunting apparatus because of the of the social costs of not supporting (rather than because of a genuine dislike for witches) is a group failure mode that could be avoided by conscious acknowledgement of it being a group failure mode. Further, it seems to me that rationalists with an interest in epistemic rationality should make that investment in avoiding that failure mode.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-19T18:49:06.517Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So ... you're saying you're worried that everyone will overreact to the correct estimate of racism, because they expect everyone else to and don't want to be excluded? I suspect I still don't understand, since that doesn't really sound like an epistemic failure...

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-04-20T10:35:29.911Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mathematically speaking, not overreacting in estimating the racism of accused people is a weak evidence for being a racist.

Both a moderate non-racist and a moderate racist have a few reasons why we should not organize witch-hunts against people who said something that can be interpreted as racism. However, the moderate racist has one additional reason for not doing that: self-interest; because the next day it could be him.

(In a different context, people who speak about right for fair trial for people accused of terrorism, are suspect of being sympathetic to terrorism. In middle ages people who spoke against killing of heretics were suspect of heresy. Etc.)

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-23T10:34:19.044Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly. It doesn't sound like an epistemic failure, because it is, in fact, true.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-04-23T10:55:42.625Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The epistemic failure would be to assume that if X is evidence for Y, it must be an overwhelming evidence.

As in: "the only reason why anyone would care about X is because they are Y." (Common subtrope: "If you are not a criminal, you have nothing to hide from the government.")

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-23T13:49:53.771Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, overreaction would be an epistemic failure - if it were genuine. But the whole point of this idea is that it's not. It's faked, based on correctly realizing that not overreacting is dangerous.

That's not to say it isn't a failure mode, just not an epistemic one. In any case, I was just curious if I had missed some relevant epistemic failure. Tapping out, unless you think there is such an additional failure and I'm just an idiot.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-18T05:24:29.628Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Did you seriously expect the SPLC to say "this guy is an evil racist who hates immigrants, but he brings up sound, quantitative points that we ought to consider"?

No. What I don't expect is for somebody who does decent work to end up on Hatewatch. Which is what you said I should expect. Which I don't. Because I shouldn't. Because the stuff about immigration which ends up on Hatewatch actually tends to be in the indefensible territory.

Thank you for repeating the question; that made it clearer what you were interested in.

Good, so we'll be answering it!

In my opinion, strongly caring whether or not Bill is a racist is a mistake. There are reputational concerns about associating with racists, but I think it is poor epistemic hygiene to weight those concerns highly.

No, we'll be saying it's not worth answering. Well shit.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T00:36:44.348Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

What Bill said is criminal in Germany, and so is your account of what Bill said. Criticism of Islam is criminal in some Muslim countries. Without exaggeration, to convert from Islam to Christianity carries the death penalty in some Muslim nations. In the USA it is sometimes illegal to not sell your goods and services to whoever asks (ie you must sell flowers to a gay couple's wedding even if that is against your morals). People in prison have profound restrictions on their free speech .

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:41:51.652Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Holocaust denial is criminal in Germany, but I was not aware that correct revisions of the Holocaust-as-popularly-understood were. I obviously wouldn't have trouble thinking of tabooed truths in Muslim countries. And restrictions on trade and discrimination in business are not about tabooing factual statements.

Almost the entirety of my post concentrated on what I wasn't looking for.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:33:24.462Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Holocaust denial is criminal in Germany, but I was not aware that correct revisions of the Holocaust-as-popularly-understood were.

At some point the law must decide what is a correct revision and what is an "incorrect" revision attempt that would amount to denying the (legally enshrined) conception of the Holocaust. Regardless of the net value of the law against Holocaust denial, it is a law restricting speech.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T19:38:06.708Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right, I disagree with the law, in case you were wondering. I don't think it contributes any significant value. I support marginalizing bigotry, not criminalizing it.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:44:16.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Law can criminalize things, but it can't marginalize them. It may be that the politicians who make the laws agree with you that a society whose people voluntarily marginalize Holocaust denial would be better than one where the government suppresses Holocaust denial by law. But to them, it's not a directly available option, so they prefer to play it safe.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T19:56:18.990Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Law can criminalize things, but it can't marginalize them.

This is an aside, but yes it can.

It may be that the politicians who make the laws agree with you that a society whose people voluntarily marginalize Holocaust denial would be better than one where the government suppresses Holocaust denial by law. But to them, it's not a directly available option, so they prefer to play it safe.

I'll explain my view. Here are two entirely consistent statements:

  1. The falsity and awfulness of a view correlates with a need for marginalization.
  2. The falsity and awfulness of a view correlates with a need for legal protection. See Mill's On Liberty.

On this view, the United States does mostly well. Klansmen have a hard time getting newspaper columns, TV shows, and contracts with major publishers. Association with the Klan is a serious cost in polite society. But we provide police to protect their marches.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T20:17:49.487Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is an aside, but yes it can.

How?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:21:11.362Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do a before and after of the American labor movement with the central event being the Red Scare. Do a before and after of Christianity in Russia with the central event being the Bolshevik Revolution. Legal crackdowns can ultimately affect thought.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T20:31:31.176Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not really familiar with US history, so let's talk about Christianity in Communist Russia. It wasn't merely marginalized, it was almost entirely outlawed after the Revolution.

The church organization was dismantled, its property and funds were confiscated, including most actual churches, and new ones were not allowed to be built. People could legally practice religion in private, but anyone who publicly declared their religion was forbidden from being a Party member, from holding any senior post, and generally was persecuted and oppressed. Many people (and in particular many priests) were persecuted much more harshly, being murdered, tortured, deported, etc. by the regime.

And after the Communist regime fell, in only a few years Russia has become about as publicly religious as the US. Which goes to show the Communist attempts at atheist education failed, in part because people were attracted to anything the Communists were against.

I don't see, in this example, either how the legal crackdown was marginalizing but not outlawing religion, or how it succeeded in affecting thought.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:41:25.780Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It wasn't merely marginalized, it was almost entirely outlawed after the Revolution.

Yes, and that outlawing worked. Orthodoxy fell from holding near-universal adherence and being a pillar of state power to a fragmented, hated patchwork, which was re-allowed to exist during World War II as a submissive state organ.

While the state lasted, Russians really did become atheists and Marxists, though as Bertrand Russell footnotes his History of Western Philosophy, this practically meant replacing Tsar-worship with Stalin-worship. Criminalization led to marginalization. Similar things happened to "infantile leftist" communists and "factionalists," and with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, militant anti-fascism.

These are just particularly dramatic examples. Unfortunately, not all censorship and oppression has the Streisand Effect. I think regimes would act at least a little differently if it did.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T21:34:47.359Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought you were going to bring up examples of how the law can marginalize something without making it illegal. Instead this is an example of the law marginalizing something by making it illegal. It seems we misunderstood one another.

I originally said that the law couldn't (merely) marginalize something, it could only outlaw it entirely (and then it might be marginalized or disappear entirely). So, if the German politicians want to marginalize Holocaust denial, the only legal tool they have is to outlaw it entirely.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T21:38:46.713Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, we were talking about different things, then. But yes, I think it can do that too. I think that Supreme Court rulings helped to make racism taboo. Returning to the labor movement, passing laws that prohibit forming closed-shop contracts are a great indirect means of marginalizing labor, or simply the non-enforcement of laws against firing labor organizers.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T20:16:11.222Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

And after the Communist regime fell, in only a few years Russia has become about as publicly religious as the US.

... which is significantly lower than before it was outlawed.

comment by Oligopsony · 2013-04-19T19:54:52.607Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Had it never been officially discouraged in the first place, I would still expect it to be less popular in 2013 than 1913. Wouldn't you?

comment by gwern · 2013-04-19T21:01:12.185Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't you?

The "secularization hypothesis" is seductive and common, but if you google, you'll see that it's debated whether societies do in fact become less religious as they get richer.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-19T23:20:09.502Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, I'm so uninformed any opinion I have on the subject is almost totally uncertain. I've typed out multiple replies to this comment, and deleted them all because I simply didn't have a high enough confidence rating. Sorry!

OTOH, religions can either get more or less popular, so all things being equal (which I doubt they are in real life) lowered popularity is evidence for the laws working.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-18T23:24:23.520Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But is still higher than other Western countries today, and is a very sharp rise over the past twenty years, which may be still continuing.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-19T11:49:03.790Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would this be true if communism hadn't fallen?

Still, you're right, it doesn't seem to have stuck.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-17T23:23:24.177Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So, if you pass a law that doesn't make it illegal to X, but does mandate that I can no longer do X in public buildings, and mandates that I have to pay substantial annual license fees in order to do X, and that the licenses must be applied for in person at City Hall during business hours... how is marginalizing X different from what that law does to X?

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-18T09:50:02.380Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The law regulates X. Whether it succeeds in marginalizing X is an empirical question.

Many things are legally regulated and yet not marginalized, in the original sense of being not just rare but frowned upon by mainstream society. A few examples off the top of my head: drivers' licenses (state-issued and can only drive approved cars). Gun carrying and shooting (state permits for carrying, for purchase, can't shoot in the air anywhere you please). Selling food (food quality inspections, registration/permit to open a business, can't open a shop in the wrong city zone, special taxes). Etc, etc.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-18T13:00:44.754Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with all of this. My point was simply that it's possible for the law to succeed in marginalizing X... as you say, it's an empirical question.

It had originally sounded like you were claiming it was an impossibility... that the law can't marginalize things... but I gather that's not what you meant.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-18T16:11:16.423Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Originally I simply meant that the law can't order things to be marginalized. Parliament can pass a law, or the government can issue an order, saying something is forbidden; but they can't directly say something is marginalized.

So they have to work through side effects. Of course that's possible and sometimes it does succeed. But it's highly uncertain ahead of time whether a law will succeed in marginalizing something, much more so than whether a proposed law will succeed in reducing or eliminating a behavior it explicitly outlaws.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-04-20T00:33:31.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you two are having a semantic argument that can only occur because English doesn't distinguish between imperfective and perfective verbs (roughly speaking verbs of process and verbs of completion/result).

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-20T11:38:46.267Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I speak Russian, so I have no problem thinking in these terms. What distinction of perfective/imperfective do you think we were arguing about? (And our argument's been resolved since.)

comment by Prismattic · 2013-04-20T17:39:21.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Whether "to marginalize" means to attempt to push something to the margins or to succeed in doing so.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-20T18:27:00.697Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that was the source of the difference / misunderstanding.

A law can sometimes have the effect of (imperfective) marginalizing something, and so it can sometimes achieve an end result of (perfective) having marginalized something.

But it's very hard to deliberately, successfully frame a new law to marginalize something, because the law can't come outright and say "this is now marginalized, by law" the way it can say "this is now forbidden, by law".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-20T03:11:57.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

English doesn't distinguish between imperfective and perfective verbs (roughly speaking verbs of process and verbs of completion/result).

Yes, it does. Compare: "He opened the door" vs. "He was opening the door".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-18T16:47:24.932Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) Makes sense. I'd just misunderstood you initially.

I'm now amused by the notion of passing a law that explicitly mandates that, say, gum-chewing is marginalized. That is, we're all obligated by law to frown on it in public, shun its practitioners, and so forth. (I don't mean to suggest that this would reliably marginalize gum-chewing, merely that it amuses me.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T00:53:27.046Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I obviously wouldn't have trouble thinking of tabooed truths in Muslim countries.

Before you asked what may not be said, not what may not be thought.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T01:37:01.485Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, so you meant a different topic entirely? I mean, presumably, saying you renounce Islam is what would get you into trouble...

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T03:19:12.789Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, so you meant a different topic entirely?

Yes: you (not I) changed to a different topic entirely. First you asked what is forbidden to say, then you (not I) changed to what is forbidden to think. You are correct that the topic changed. You are the one who changed it.

Your question on what is forbidden and to what degree is a good one, and I am glad it gets asked here.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:03:37.900Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Was that me? We may be reading "I obviously wouldn't have trouble thinking of tabooed truths..." in different ways.

comment by ikrase · 2013-04-17T18:40:23.034Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Reading this post and the comments to it, I think that "Fake Bold Iconoclasm" may actually be a more important category than taboo truths.

As to taboo truths, I think that most would be along the lines of futility of discourse, and maybe some as to failures of ethics/meta-ethics, such as possibly 'a huge amount of what we consider absolutely bad and universally traumatizing is actually socially constructed'.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T19:25:26.908Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

'a huge amount of what we consider absolutely bad and universally traumatizing is actually socially constructed'.

Ooh, that's a good one.

comment by Jack · 2013-04-17T20:19:53.980Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Being able to delicately bring up certain topics with close friends after a few drinks is different from being able to bring them in your public life. But I would also suspect that Less Wrong posters, contrarians in general and the less neurotypical among us are likely to have difficulty approaching taboo topics with tact. I would subsequently expect those with better social skills (perhaps like yourself) to feel like such topics aren't as taboo as other's think they are.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T21:38:04.279Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that social skills would help a lot in stating taboo opinions safely. On the other hand, social skills consist in some measure of not stating taboo opinions, and in general, opinions your listeners won't like.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:25:25.039Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm hardly a social genius. I haven't kept any childhood friends, and I alternate between making large numbers of friends and months of self-imposed isolation. I read math textbooks at bars for entertainment.

I think most people could do better than me.

At the same time, I'm a socialist atheist living in Tennessee, and I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to sensitive topics. I'll admit the possibility that my disposition could help to make my experiences atypical. But I've seen people have the "typical" experience, and I can usually instantly tell when they've failed and how they could have done better.

comment by Jack · 2013-04-17T20:38:35.562Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's less about being able to make a lot of friends or forcing oneself to be social and much more about being able to calibrate how you're coming off to others and head misperceptions off at the pass.

Quoting from this wikipedia article on autism spectrum disorders.

Two traits sometimes found in AS individuals are mind-blindness (the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and alexithymia (the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in oneself or others), which reduce the ability to be empathetically attuned to others.[32][33] Alexithymia in AS functions as an independent variable relying on different neural networks than those implicated in theory of mind.[32][33] In fact, lack of Theory of Mind in AS may be a result of a lack of information available to the mind due to the operation of the alexithymic deficit.[32][33

Edit: Btw, you aren't in eastern Tennessee by chance are you?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:43:56.533Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am, near Knoxville.

comment by Jack · 2013-04-17T20:50:32.526Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Neat, I'm likely moving to Asheville in the next few months.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T20:56:32.709Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's a beautiful, beautiful place. I used to drive through it fairly often in a big, ungainly truck, and it always seemed to be storming. Probably my stare-offs with imminent destruction made it even prettier.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-04-17T08:09:20.870Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Is there really anything true that we simply cannot say?
...
what highly probable or effectively certain truths are genuinely taboo?

  1. Edolo sat ignore quidnis memere qui vertorum fugit.

  2. A caret tibusdam sit altus docet: nonamus quor ultus exeati nec mensus essit biscripta.

  3. In hero me digno neque abuntum et cupitersum obos caris femina vitabique? Prae? Tetimeo Dausa iam aud longistio ventis!

  4. Hic volunt quod absenere linera dat revertas.

Or to put that another way, if there were, then by definition we could not say it.

I've found that the most frequently given examples don't hold water.

Well, if they're given, in public, they wouldn't be taboo. What are you really asking here?

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-04-17T02:01:45.142Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly I think that one of the main factors is what you imply from your statements. If talking about statistical truths, there's a tendency, even among rationalists, to implicitly speak as though correlation implies causation. Or rather, there is rarely an explicit statement to the contrary and since humans are naturally biased, we parse the sentence as implying direct causation.

For example: yes, crime rates are higher among certain genetic subgroups of people. That statement is true. If you stop there, it implies that you believe that to be an innate property of their genes, rather than due to other intermediate factors: mainly demographics and social factors such as how those people are treated and what cultural norms/scripts they're given.

And I believe there's a taboo regarding genetic supremacism. I believe that given phenomena like stereotype threat and self-fulfilling prophecies, that's a valuable taboo to have. See another comment of mine on the subject.

As long as you talk about the statistics as being manifest through external factors, though (which they largely are) I think most people are mostly fine about this.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-17T18:35:43.417Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

For example: yes, crime rates are higher among certain genetic subgroups of people. That statement is true. If you stop there, it implies that you believe that to be an innate property of their genes,

I believe that genes that have a strong influence on the prevalence of violent criminality exist, and are likely distributed differently in different populations. Given that intelligence, self-control, personality, and so on all feed into propensity for violent crime, and all of those are known to be at least partly heritable, it seems odd to believe otherwise.

rather than due to other intermediate factors

Emphasis mine. I don't know of a single hereditarian who disavows the influence of other intermediate factors. The debate is always over how much they explain- is heredity 40% of IQ, or 80%, or somewhere in the middle? But there are many people who want heredity to explain 0% of IQ, or criminality, or so on, which seems like an odd hypothesis to privilege.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-04-18T18:34:37.872Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Given that intelligence, self-control, personality, and so on...

So I agree with you on the points of intelligence, etc. I would guess that most people do... although I guess I'm not certain of that. At the very least I would suspect that there is known causal evidence about these sorts of things.

By contrast, here's an article that explores how certain racial groups appear to be more violent, until you control for class and demographic, when they suddenly aren't. And yet a lot of conversation ignores the second half, which is actually the key to finding a solution.

As a man, I will note that one of the strongest correlates with violence is being a man. Given what we know about things like testosterone, there's probably a substantial degree to which this is genetically/biologically caused. I just find most people emphasize the genetic aspects more than they can reasonably be confident about. For example, regarding heredity of IQ:

"By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school.

30 million fewer appears to be about 12 million vs 42 million.

"And they argued that the disparities in word usage correlated so closely with academic success that kids born to families on welfare do worse than professional-class children entirely because their parents talk to them less." — The Power of Talking to Your Baby

Note also:

"They found that parents talk much more to girls than to boys"

So even within families, this can be an issue.

You said:

there are many people who want heredity to explain 0% of IQ

I've recognized a tendency in myself to attempt to go to 0%. Consciously I realize it can't possibly be that low, but I can't be confident it's more than 2%. Or rather, I think that genetics possibly plays a large role now, but that if we raised people better than we could essentially eliminate these issues without focusing on genes.

If, 300 years ago, you were to describe a society in which large portions of the population can do algebra, or several centuries earlier, you were to describe a society in which basically everyone can read, the people you spoke to would probably assume this was a society of high-intelligence people. Rather, it's just today's genetically-basically-identical people, who are learning more effectively, and more, period than people used to.

Sure, genes play a role. But I'm not sure what the value is in focusing on genes.

Well, to partially refute that: Bayesianly-speaking, if you meet someone who has X trait, you might want to update to whatever odds of them having Y correlated trait, sure. That would be generally valuable to have better predictive models. But the brain has trouble separating "I know that X and Y are likely to go together" and "I think that X is a root cause of Y". Especially the brains of people who don't train this stuff, meaning even if you can keep these thoughts separate in your head, they can be dangerous memes to spread, because self-fulfilling prophecies, etc.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-04-27T13:42:49.142Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

http://pss.sagepub.com/content/14/6/623.short

http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67168735/heritability%20of%20iq.pdf

"Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children".

To make a long story short, this analysis of a large cohort of children assigned a 'socioeconomic status indicator' to each family they were following from 0 to 100 based on a large number of factors. They found that the heritability of IQ was a VERY strong positive function of socioenomic status. At the bottom, they think less than 5% of IQ variation is moderated by genetics. At the top of the scale, over 80%.

Obvious interpretation: low socioeconomic status masks genetic predisposition.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-19T01:54:18.516Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

By contrast, here's an article that explores how certain racial groups appear to be more violent, until you control for class and demographic, when they suddenly aren't.

That is to say, violence and class have common causes. Intelligence, self-control, personality, etc., all immediately come to mind as relevant, but let's call this cluster of common causes of violence "harmness". Even though the presence of harmness may screen off the ability of race to contribute to predictions of violence and class, one still observes more harmness in the population of blacks than the population of whites.

For example, regarding heredity of IQ:

I'm sorry, but this test in no way differentiates between the hypotheses of biological heredity of IQ and verbal transference of IQ. As is, this just shows that there's an attribute which is positively correlated with being talked to by your parents and academic success, and negatively correlated with welfare. To quote the newspaper article:

“One thing is to say we can change adult language behavior,” Suskind said. “Another thing is to show that it is sustainable, and that it impacts child outcomes.”

Even among links which are strongly supported- like breastfeeding raising IQ- there are selection effects that are hard to estimate, because almost all of our evidence is observational. (Breastfeeding is still a good idea for most parents, even if we're not quite sure how good it is.) If cleverer parents are more likely to breastfeed because of the purported IQ-boosting link, then in order to start separating out the effects of breastfeeding and the effects of heritability we would need to measure the IQs of the parents of both groups, moving from a simple observational study to a massive project (that would still have possible unmeasured selection effects, like the amount they care about health and cleanliness).

do worse than professional-class children entirely because their parents talk to them less.

Emphasis mine. The probability of this conclusion being made by correct reasoning from the evidence supplied is epsilon, and if you didn't realize that when reading that quote, I beseech you to give that lapse of rationality solemn contemplation.

I can't be confident it's more than 2%.

The probability of an unbiased survey of the literature returning this conclusion is epsilon. I suggest updating.

meaning even if you can keep these thoughts separate in your head, they can be dangerous memes to spread, because self-fulfilling prophecies, etc.

I think it is worth considering the mirror of this concern. "Anyone who says X must mean Y" is its own self-fulfilling prophecy, which can only be counteracted by saying X and not meaning Y.

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-19T00:08:30.625Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If parents talk more to girls but men are the stereotypically intelligent ones, how could talking more to kids be the difference?

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-04-20T04:54:25.202Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

but men are the stereotypically intelligent ones

...by some stereotypes. There's also the "men are stupid" stereotype. So I'm not sure about your premises.

However, I don't think your argument is valid, either. Its structure is something like:

A: females get more words during critical period
B: females more intelligent than males
...
If A, but lots of people think !B, how could A => B be true?

Just because lots of people think that !B is the case doesn't make it the case.

And if we're talking about success in school (which the article emphasizes) then note that more women go to (and succeed at) post-secondary education than men. Fewer in STEM fields, but that appears to be largely due to stereotypes anyway, not aptitude.

I would also guess that the male-female discrepancy is much smaller than the poor-rich discrepancy.

comment by Watercressed · 2013-04-18T23:01:44.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or rather, I think that genetics possibly plays a large role now, but that if we raised people better than we could essentially eliminate these issues without focusing on genes.

What model of hereditary intelligence predicts significant hereditary differences in the current environment and negligible differences in an environment where people are raised better?

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-19T00:07:23.574Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(this is talking out of my ass but:)

Variation in genetic robustness/fragility. A known example of this is Iron deficiency in women. If iron in the food is plentiful, no one will notice iron deficiencies, and if it's non existent then everyone will suffer. But if there's an almost sufficient amount of Iron, women will be far more likely to be deficient than men. Women are less robust to lack of environmental iron than men. You can imagine brain development such that everyone has the ability to develop a great brain in a great environment but certain genetics will deal better or worse with certain deficiencies.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-04-20T03:59:32.305Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was not saying that everyone would have the same level of intelligence, but merely that the baseline might be high enough that violence becomes less of an issue. That was the original subject.

Similar to drethelin's comment.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-04-21T00:55:38.663Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was not saying that everyone would have the same level of intelligence, but merely that the baseline might be high enough that violence [sic] becomes less of an issue.

I would argue that the higher the variance the more of an issue variance becomes.

Edit: Ignore this, I misread macolmmcc's comment.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-04-22T06:33:31.214Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean "sic"? "violence" was what I meant. The original comment was:

Given that intelligence, self-control, personality, and so on all feed into propensity for violent crime

Now, it may not be the case that if you raise everyone's intelligence that violence decreases, but it's plausible that this is the case (given the original argument).

I didn't use the word variance and didn't mean to. I respectfully ask for the downvote rescinded.

comment by PrawnOfFate · 2013-04-17T02:08:50.834Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

For example: yes, crime rates are higher among certain genetic subgroups of people

...in certain societies

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T19:20:13.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This: For very good reasons, most things we say explicitly carry a large boatload of implications, whether or not we actually mean them. This effect is exacerbated when people who say the same thing with the express purpose of conveying the implications - it becomes a widely-recognized signal.

It's still usually possible to approach the taboo in question, but it has to be done very, very, very carefully, like approaching a police officer who thinks you may be a violent criminal.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:29:41.710Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

as though correlation implies causation

Yes, yes it does.

If you stop there, it implies that you believe that to be an innate property of their genes, rather than due to other intermediate factors

The point made by the OP is that is a true implication. If crime rates are higher in certain genetic subgroups, that is valid (if perhaps weak) evidence for a purely genetic correlation with crime, all else being equal. So it's reasonable to conclude someone believing the first fact, also believes the second one to a degree. And this would not be a problem if the issue were not taboo.

comment by Jack · 2013-04-17T20:07:28.897Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The word "implies" in the phrase "correlation implies causation" typically uses the technical meaning of imply in logic which is quite different from it's common usage as a synonym for "hint" or "suggest".

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T20:20:03.849Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. I wonder if people (other than me) normally understand this sentence that way?

comment by Larks · 2013-04-17T21:11:25.315Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most people do not know logic, so it's unlikely to be that widespread.

comment by Tenoke · 2013-04-17T15:06:49.532Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is taboo to talk about your personal monetary benefits of the recent death of an (innocent) person even if you really benefited and are just stating it and it is taboo especially around the close friends and family of the deceased.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-04-20T00:17:38.144Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not in my experience.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-04-26T15:53:29.837Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect the timing is critical here. And tone moreso.

comment by Dan_Moore · 2013-04-17T14:50:29.517Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Bill thinks the war was avoidable. Bill thinks the Holocaust would not have happened were it not for the war, and that some of the Holocaust was a reaction to actual Jewish subterfuge and abuse.

Here's the problem: everything Bill has said is either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness.

I wouldn't classify the above statements as either true or likely/reasonable. As to the statements being seriously debated, please provide a link or something.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T17:38:27.509Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There were abuses by bankers and capitalists, many of whom were Jewish. There were "Jewish Bolsheviks." And there was resistance and terrorism. As for the war being a prerequisite for the Holocaust, see the intentionalist vs. functionalist debate.

The avoidability of the war is a more subtle question. Along with Orwell, I think war was inevitable and obvious by 1936, at least if we consider the conquest by Germany of continental Europe possibly excepting France, Switzerland, Belgium, and other fascist powers unacceptable. Even then, the war might have been confined. I see little historical necessity for e.g. the alliance of Japan and Germany or the attack on Pearl Harbor. At what date would you agree the war was avoidable? 1918? 1930? If you'd like me to find particular historians - I'm not including Pat Buchanan - I will do that. But there's a pretty wide range of opinion here. (Aside: I'd like to find resources that framed the question primarily in terms of German-Soviet relations instead of Anglo-Polish ones.)

comment by shminux · 2013-04-18T02:45:40.315Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

FYI, Did you know that most Jews in the 1920s Germany self-identified as Germans first and Jews second, if at all? That they were just as patriotic as the "true" Germans? Same applies to Jews in, ehm, Soviet Russia and other places which did not have institutionalized anti-semitism or had a break from it for a few decades at least? Same applies to many other ethnicities, by the way.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-18T05:21:28.747Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

And German and Austrian Jews had a distinctive culture and identity, to the point that you could find bigotries amongst them against other Jews.

Same applies to Jews in, ehm, Soviet Russia and other places which did not have institutionalized anti-semitism or had a break from it for a few decades at least? Same applies to many other ethnicities, by the way.

What history of Russia have you been reading?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T19:53:32.984Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm going to sit back and admire the irony of you being downvoted for defending these positions.

Yes, yes, I'm sure you all downvoted for completely unrelated reasons.

grins

comment by shminux · 2013-04-18T22:43:44.897Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted him (her?) for making an irrelevant comment followed by a condescending remark.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-19T11:50:03.640Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sure you did. It sill amuses me.

comment by TimS · 2013-04-18T01:38:40.516Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Bill doesn't think that the end of slavery was all that good for "the blacks,"

I'm not sure what reasonable position is being gestured towards by Bill's statement. Are you willing to cash it out a little? (Other than the quoted statement and the "Holocaust as reaction to Jews," I agree that Bill's positions are arguable - although I don't agree with many of them).


The avoidability of the war is a more subtle question.

On a totally separate topic, I think the International Relation Realists have the better of the argument. WWII was inevitable in the same way that the wars of Louis XIV, Napoleon, and WWI were inevitable. It just seems to be a property of multi-power regions that a power with a plausible chance of dominating the region will try to dominate the region by military force - in the absence of outside intervention (like the US military presence in Germany since essentially the beginning of the Cold War to today).

comment by Oligopsony · 2013-04-19T20:04:23.002Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For serious (though hardly undisputed) evidence that slavery wasn't, in certain respects, "not all that bad" see Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross. Note also that Fogel and Engerman were allowed to say this and that they both remain highly respected academics, despite Engerman existing in just the sort of field that the Sheeple Can't Handle My Thoughtcrime crowd would predict to be most witchhunty.

comment by TimS · 2013-04-19T21:06:15.166Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In case it wasn't clear, I think people who think "Slavery wasn't so bad" are widely under-weighing the suffering caused by the violent enforcement of the status quo. Slaves tried to escape all the time, and fugitive slave enforcement was incredibly violent - and the violence was state-sanctioned.

I was asking to try to understand how the statement imputed to Bill addressed that issue - because without addressing the violence of fugitive slave enforcement, the statement did not even seem plausible to me.

The central premise of Time on the Cross - that slavery was economically profitable and unlikely "wither away", and this had some positive effect on the treatment of the slaves, seems quite plausible to me. (That said, I believe this is only true after the invention of the cotton gin).

But I find it implausible that this benefit outweighed the negatives of the fugitive slave enforcement in the US.

comment by Oligopsony · 2013-04-19T21:33:26.584Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The central premise of Time on the Cross - that slavery was economically profitable and unlikely "wither away", and this had some positive effect on the treatment of the slaves, seems quite plausible to me. (That said, I believe this is only true after the invention of the cotton gin).

The first half of the thesis is most assuredly true. It could be that if not for the invention of the cotton gin, slavery would not have been profitable in the cotton-growing regions of the US South, but slavery was extremely profitable and economically dynamic elsewhere, so I wouldn't be inclined to lay too much emphasis on the gin (except as a matter, possibly, of where slavery came to be located, as it did die out "naturally" in the areas where it was unprofitable.) However, it is also true that northern and/or metropolitan political leaders generally believed (however incorrectly) that free labor would generally be more efficient than slave, which to be fair it was in the industrial production processes that the abolishing regions had a comparative advantage in.

I am extremely skeptical of the second part of the thesis, because most everything I've seen indicates that slaves were worse off than black sharecroppers were worse off than southern whites were worse off than northern whites. But I haven't actually read Time on the Cross too closely.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-18T05:34:39.476Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd have to do some reading before responding to the second half of your comment, but to the first, that's relatively easy.

During slavery: black people are somebody's valuable property.

After Reconstruction: black people are a hated but cheap source of labor you can do pretty much anything to.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-04-20T00:23:38.068Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Granting that I haven't done a detailed study of the literature on this, but I think you're taking an exceptionally narrow view of what was bad about slavery in the antebellum US. After reconstruction, for example, black sharecroppers could not have their spouses and children arbitrarily seized and sent elsewhere.

comment by gwern · 2013-04-20T00:39:01.821Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How sure are you of that? Sharecroppers were often kept indebted as a method of control, and the US had debtors' prison just like England did.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-04-20T01:07:45.933Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As I said, this is not within my area of expertise. However, given that the family-destroying aspect of slavery is much commented upon, and various other evils of Jim Crow are much commented-upon, the fact that I have never encountered complaints about the family-destroying aspect of Jim Crow is sufficient for me to feel moderately confident that the situation was not equivalent on this dimension.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-23T16:53:28.836Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Jim Crow" is a pretty small part of the story here. "Criminalization of black life" is a better description.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-23T16:52:51.649Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It wasn't designed to be a erudite summation of what slavery was like, but rather a succinct illustration of how slavery was not at that time an obviously worse outcome than the consequences of abolition. It's obvious to me at least that the abolition of slavery has proved a Good Thing, but it would not have been obvious in 1890.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-18T19:58:36.183Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting argument, although I think it overestimates the protection offered by slavery and underestimates the downsides. Maybe change it from "either true or arguable" to simply "arguable"? You're losing status by implicitly endorsing these positions.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-04-17T23:45:50.493Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm wondering how you get from the premises "some Jews were bankers" and "some bankers did bad things" to Bill's conclusion about the Jews. The logic strongly reminds of this: http://xkcd.com/385/ , and I would not characterize it as reasonable.

Regarding "Jewish Bolsheviks", while a number of prominent Bolsehviks were Jewish, most politically active Jews in Russia had not been Bolsheviks (the Bund dwarfed any of the other socialist parties for a long time), and in fact the main distinction between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the time of the split, rather than ideology, was ethnicity; about 86% of the Bolsheviks were ethnic Russian and only about 37% of the Mensheviks; Jews and Georgians who had been SDs were much more likely to be Mensheviks. Furthermore, by the time period that is relevant to this discussion, Stalin had largely purged the prominent Jewish Bolsheviks from the Soviet leadership.

comment by Dan_Moore · 2013-04-18T18:55:06.716Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm also having trouble connecting the dots between the functionalist position that the Holocaust was caused by mid-level Nazi bureaucrats and the assertion that the Holocaust would not have happened were it not for the war.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-23T16:55:38.441Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not just a "mid-level vs. top-level" split, but a question of when something like the Holocaust was formulated or became likely to happen. "Hitler planned it all along" sets a much earlier date than "mid-level bureaucrats were competing for Nazi brownies during the War."

comment by lfghjkl · 2013-04-17T00:29:34.905Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This has been discussed before.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:34:36.894Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the link; I had not seen it before. But I think the topic here is somewhat different. Were there solicitations for taboo truths in the comments I didn't read? Was there an explanation similar to mine about context?

comment by lfghjkl · 2013-04-17T00:55:09.036Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that OP asked an almost identical question to yours (he wanted taboo opinions while you want taboo "true" opinions) and got over 800 responses. From what I remember when I read it months ago, and given the nature of this forum, most of the discussions seemed to revolve around different statistics and facts painting "uncomfortable" truths.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T01:07:35.187Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen particular comments doing what I'm doing here. Of course some opinions are taboo! I think my question somewhat less trivial.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-04-17T17:42:16.407Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I've been considering and investigating various uncomfortable/unpleasant/dark matters more thoroughly since making that thread, drawing on sources from radical feminists (e.g. Susan Bronwmiller) to "conspiracy nuts" (e.g. Jeff Wells) to far-right (e.g. Moldbug) and far-left (e.g. Maoist) extremists to unorthodox psychologists (e.g. Alice Miller) to anti-natalists/VHEMT (e.g. Sister Y).

Fortunately, my Weltanschauung has proven flexible enough to handle depressing stuff without me going stark raving mad, turning into a fascist/totalitarian, etc (although a few times I did want to break with this dark obsession). As an added effect, my politics did grow more radical (and harder to summarize), although I consider myself less mind-killed then when I started out.

Feel free to contact me through PM if you want to exchange any opinions!

Also, while we're on to all this, check out The Hoover Hog's "thoughtcrime" blog - remarkably erudite and charitable with lots of links to such stuff. Much of it is boring, nasty reactionary crap (sorry, people - "keeping blacks and women in their place and letting the White Man reign in glory" is not a novel, surprising or insightful idea, especially to someone aware of the last 200 years of ideological history in the West - and "let the weak slave away for us or perish" is sadly timeless)... but some is rather fascinating.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-04-17T21:45:30.458Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

check out The Hoover Hog's "thoughtcrime" blog

I agree that much of it is "nasty reactionary crap", but also that "some is rather fascinating." For instance, check out the early interview with Brian Tomasik, at a time when he was still publishing under the pseudonym "Alan Dawrst".

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T12:26:30.499Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Here's the problem: everything Bill has said is either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness. Yet you feel nervous. Perhaps you're upset. That's the power of taboo, right? Society is punishing truth-telling! First they came for the realists... Rationalists, to arms!

You might find this post interesting.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2013-04-17T00:33:24.034Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

When the server asks if the meal was good, it usually wasn't good. Most meals are satisfactory or poor.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-17T12:31:31.251Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Then why don't you change restaurant?

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-04-17T16:25:11.006Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Good" is calibrated to the implicit mapping between "actual merit" and "what the patron would say now" in that context.

It's just like when you ask someone how they're doing. It's not a lie (I claim) to say, "I'm doing fine", even if lots of things in your life suck and are stressing you out, because such a response is interpreted differently than a serious "life analysis" inquiry, and the person asking the question knows this and therefore is not deceived.

I wouldn't say it's "taboo", but rather, a case of using slightly different language in some situations that (knowingly, knowably) conceals a lot of information.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:38:25.996Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not hard to criticize a meal at a restaurant. Now, it is hard to criticize a meal when you're a guest in somebody's home. I'll file this under "context specific."

comment by MileyCyrus · 2013-04-17T00:42:29.360Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Really? I've never had the guts to tell the server that my meal was "satisfactory".

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-04-17T12:27:49.960Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That's not taboo. If you go ahead and do it, you won't face ostracism. Your feeling awkward about it doesn't count. Otherwise, asking someone out on a date would be taboo.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:44:44.917Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd recommend trying it, especially if you usually get suboptimal meals. Make recommendations. Frequent a restaurant enough to know the staff and for the the staff to know you and your preferences.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-04-17T01:38:29.209Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Restaurants are generally an avoidable enough expense that I don't think I'd be likely to visit a restaurant repeatedly if I was unimpressed the first time.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T07:09:54.082Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Here I have no idea whether or not my experience should generalize, but I have good luck finding a nice regular place simply by being a regular there. This holds for coffee shops, bars, and just about any other sort of establishment. It's worth risking a second bad meal to guarantee a practically unlimited number of good ones.

comment by westward · 2013-04-17T05:47:27.810Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do feel a little upset, but it's not the power of taboo. It's the prospect of dealing with a crazy person.

Most (but not all) of the individual examples of your Bill are things that could be "either true, a matter of serious debate, or otherwise a matter of high likelihood and reasonableness." But pack them all into one paragraph, with the loaded language and I become very doubtful that Bill is interested in a reasonable discussion. I'm heading for the door. Maybe it's a bad example?

I do have conversations about some of these issues, but only with close friends who have a shared trust and understanding. I don't think I have enough credibility here on LW nor do I know the landscape well enough to have an informative conversation about these issues.

comment by MadDrNesbit · 2013-04-18T12:25:02.779Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's the paradox: "taboo" statements like black crime statistics are to some extent "taboo" for sound, rationalist reasons. But "taboo" is not taboo: it's about context. People who think that such statements are taboo are probably bad at communicating, and people often think they're racists and misogynists because they probably are on good rationalist grounds. If you want to talk about statistical representatives on the topic of race, be ready to understand that those who are listening will have background knowledge about the other views you might hold.

That may hold for the bar conversation you describe, but it doesn't once media distortions are introduced.

And when you consider the things that public figures can talk about, then which ones are "taboo" is pretty clear: it's the things that can be stripped of context and used as ammo for accusations, or just for a nice and attention-grabbing headline story.

This kind of distortion is what people (like me) who are annoyed by "taboos" are most concerned with. Yes, your Bill's statements may be valid evidence of some questionable characteristics, but such a statement by Bob stripped of it's context and pushed in the media is much weaker evidence: maybe there were plenty of caveats attached, but the journalist preferred to get rid of them, so Bob gets judged as if he was Bill.

The Stephanie Grace case is a pretty clear example where all the context was stripped for maximum outrage. Or here is Chomsky talking about how he was taken out of context (I believe he's a frequent victim of that).

comment by MileyCyrus · 2013-04-17T00:30:38.645Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Life would be better if God existed.

comment by lfghjkl · 2013-04-17T00:33:22.164Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Which god?

comment by AlexSchell · 2013-04-17T01:40:56.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Charitable interpretation: an ontologically fundamental Friendly AI

comment by PrawnOfFate · 2013-04-17T01:56:43.738Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How can something be fundamental and artificial?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-04-17T12:30:05.125Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe drop its being artificial? The post makes more sense that way.

comment by Manfred · 2013-04-17T02:42:45.357Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Creates a new universe for which it is fundamental.

comment by PrawnOfFate · 2013-04-17T09:31:27.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Like J K Rowling is Harry Potter's God? That waters down the meaning of fundamental.

comment by Manfred · 2013-04-17T09:52:12.058Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Like JK Rowling would be Harry Potter's God if she wrote herself into the books as god.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-04-17T04:24:34.396Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

If only there was a Celestial Pyschopath to torture me eternally.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-04-17T06:59:22.220Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

If the Celestial Psychopath is also a Utility Monster and gets a lot of utility from your torture, why not?

EDIT: This is more or less the official theological explanation. God's utility function is infinitely bigger than human's, therefore torturing a human eternally even for the smallest offense against God is fair. Of course there are some applause lights on the top of that.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-05-01T20:25:25.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is to some extent a rephrase of some specific Christian apologetic justifications. Note that not all religions which have such a deity which tortures people for eternity. For example most forms of Judaism and some forms of Christianity and Islam believe in at most finite punishment in the afterlife.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2013-04-18T06:06:39.030Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You should read smart theists for a different perspective (e.g. C. S. Lewis).

Full disclosure: I don't like C. S. Lewis, but you are laughing at a man of straw, it's like mocking science based on crackpots.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-04-18T07:22:04.802Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, the man of straw made of a thousand years and more of the dogma of hell, and the majority of monotheists still. That's the reality of monotheism.

Smart, compared to a lot of his brethren, who also are one chromosome away from a chimpanzee. Do you plan on spending your life reading the smart astrologers? Me neither.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2013-04-18T08:08:20.025Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The majority of monotheists are stupid. How good would their opinion be on an easily verifiable topic?

If you ask stupid monotheists about evolution, they would tell you garbage. If you ask them about God, they would tell you garbage too. You shouldn't update much in either case, even if they believe one but not the other. If you want to be an atheist, you steelman theism first.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-04-19T14:33:58.449Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The original statement was about God, not Thor. I can't think of anything I particularly have against Thor, besides being a tiresome, pompous ass in Marvel comics. In an honest reading of the bible, God is a sadistic psychopath.

There are more or less horrific gods. I wasn't responding to a statement about a god who grants wishes and poops happiness gum drops, and I see no point in engaging in wishful thinking about what the bestest and shiniest god could be.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-04-26T15:57:43.379Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

he did say life, not afterlife.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-04-28T22:33:59.619Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is afterlife the "life after", like the after party? Your eternal life, as opposed to your mortal life?

No matter how you slice it, I don't see improvement in this life from the existence of God as portrayed in the Bible (or Allah in the Koran).

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T01:27:45.714Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that's taboo in any sense, but I think life would be better with a superpowerful, ultra-benevolent God.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-04-17T19:36:12.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on who you're talking to, it may also be taboo to suggest God doesn't already exist. Or even that life could be better.

comment by Petruchio · 2013-04-22T14:39:10.041Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What Bill said is criminal in Germany, and so is your account of what Bill said. Criticism of Islam is criminal in some Muslim countries. Without exaggeration, to convert from Islam to Christianity carries the death penalty in some Muslim nations.

In contemporay America, it is generally forbidden to publically criticize or defame Muhammad or Islam, particularly on public media. Compare/contrast treatment of Christianity/Catholicism/Jesus on comedy shows, particuarlly on Comedy Central. The debacle with South Park is the most notable.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-23T15:20:05.740Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The South Park debacle is a great example of media cowardice, but it's not hard to criticize Islam on public television. Hitchens had no trouble, and I don't think anybody in the right wing press has trouble. The left-wing press is semi-censorious about it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-20T17:31:55.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that some of the paragraphs in this post are true but if you stated them (in isolation as something you believe, rather than along with the other two in the same triad as an example of the pattern) publicly with a straight face, you would be frowned upon (to say the least).

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-04-20T01:16:50.133Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's one I can think of but I'm not sure I want to post it publicly (so it must be real :P).

Also, there are things (which can be rephrased as what I think are high-probability factual statements) which have explicitly been made taboo on Less Wrong itself.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-04-17T01:00:08.602Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Science really doesn't know everything.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-04-17T15:57:33.700Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Scientists rarely perform actual science.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-04-26T15:41:07.960Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What do you have in mind for actual science?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-04-26T18:33:59.587Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Aiming to falsify ideas rather than confirm them would be a nice start; that seems to be the most common rut.

comment by shminux · 2013-04-17T01:41:36.125Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How is this a forbidden discussion topic? Most of the public agree with this sentiment, and so do the scientists. Do LWers think otherwise?

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-04-17T07:21:21.456Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but they agree in different ways. As Dara O Briain says, "Science knows it doesn't know everything; otherwise, it'd stop." But the phrase "science doesn't know everything" in common usage has more to do with filling the gap with whatever fairy tale the speaker is fond of.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-04-17T02:45:37.089Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

From the OP:

It's just like when somebody says, "well science doesn't know everything." To this, I think, "duh, and you're probably a creationist or medical quack or something similarly credible."

I thought it was amusing that someone could wreck their credibility so quickly by saying something so obviously true.

There might be some markers which would indicate whether someone is heading off into nonsense with a claim that scientists don't have a complete understanding of the universe. Personifying science might be one of the markers.

comment by TimS · 2013-04-17T03:03:40.684Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I can count on one hand the number of times that I've heard someone worth listening to say "well, science doesn't know everything" in response to anything I've said or heard someone else say.

If the conversation goes:
A: I believe X.
B: X is contradicted by (citation to some study).
A: Well, science doesn't know everything.

then there is essentially no chance A has anything interesting to say about empirical topics - at least those unrelated to that person's job.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T08:44:13.618Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I thought it was amusing that someone could wreck their credibility so quickly by saying something so obviously true.

Tone matters here. Whoever says it as if any scientist were under the opposite impression has some serious problems.

Sometimes, saying something true is excellent evidence for believing falsehoods. Sometimes, giving knowledge is excellent evidence of ignorance. See Rand Paul's recent performance at Howard.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-04-17T14:58:35.394Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I thought it was amusing that someone could wreck their credibility so quickly by saying something so obviously true.

Right, that's the OP's point.

comment by Decius · 2013-04-17T00:03:25.237Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Taboo" also has a different meaning in local jargon. It appears at first that you are referencing the local use "taboo [phrase]", meaning "instead of using [phrase], explain what you mean by [phrase]". (Example: Taboo "True Scotsman")

Then you go into the common language understand of taboo: Violation of local customs.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-17T00:31:10.668Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think sunfowers is using taboo this way at all.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T00:06:01.578Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If I misunderstand, correct me, but are you saying that I am confusing common usage with rationalist taboo? I didn't think this was ambiguous here.

comment by Decius · 2013-04-17T01:18:53.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Strictly speaking, I only said that it appears that way.

What does it mean to "claim taboo (common language) status for a truth"? Suppose I did believe in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and considered myself a follower of that God; that would certainly be un-Rationalist and morally deplorable of me, but why shouldn't I say it if it is true?

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T01:24:23.640Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Your first question. From the post:

All this is the leadup to my question: what highly probable or effectively certain truths are genuinely taboo? I'm trying to avoid answers like "there are fewer women in mathematics" or "the size of my penis," since these are context sensitive, but not really taboo within a reasonable range of circumstances.

You can say it under a reasonable range of circumstances. "I can only whisper it to close confidants" is not a reasonable range. "I can get away with it except in the comment section at HuffPo" is.

Your next statement, which I think separate. You should say it if it's true. That would be a quite important truth. But it isn't, and I don't see the relevance.

comment by Decius · 2013-04-17T19:26:53.849Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is there any sentence which communicates only something which is objectively true which is also taboo? I think it's the connotations associated with stating the fact that are taboo.

"I follow x philosophy" as an objectively true statement causes listeners to hear the [Having no objective truth value] statement "I am an immoral person." in quite a few contexts; likewise with "I have [position] on [topic]" for several topics.

Bill's statements at the top are taboo because by saying them, Bill is also saying other things about himself. By saying "the end of slavery wasn't all that good for "the blacks," and that the negatives of busing and forced integration have often outweighed the positives.", Bill is making a statement about his value system and/or ability to evaluate the consequences of past events. The subtext is very nearly the same as the subtext would have been if he made an overt declaration that he was a white supremacist. (Which is itself an objectively true statement)

White supremacy is taboo because it is socially rejected in most cases. Statements which imply or support white supremacy are taboo where they are perceived to be made in support or defense of white supremacy.

comment by sunflowers · 2013-04-17T21:17:42.489Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is there any sentence which communicates only something which is objectively true which is also taboo? I think it's the connotations associated with stating the fact that are taboo.

That's the theme of the post, yes. With this and the rest of your comment, I think we're on the same page.

comment by Decius · 2013-04-18T04:15:34.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Then, to answer your question: Things are taboo when they identify the speaker as an outsider or otherwise excessively different from the main group. Subtexts like "I am not embarrassed to talk about sex." or "I am a racist." or "I do not believe that Eliezer cannot be very wrong about something that he has considered carefully." are taboo wherever the perceived social identity is contrary to that.

ETA: A simpler question: Is there any sentence one can speak which communicates only the content of a claim which has an objective truth value, without even implying that the speaker endorses the claim?

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2013-04-18T07:33:03.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So controversial that no credible people will go on record (in non-insane states)? Not indisputably true.

Facts (and predictions) that are hard to obtain or verify, that are essentially answering "is controversial public policy X a good idea?" may earn you scorn or reprisal, so you keep quiet if you're not looking for a career in political gang-warfare. Anyway there's so much noise in that department that it's hard to justify searching for or disseminating such truths.

If I'm wrong, though, feel free to PM / irc / email me any awesome truths. I keep confidences.

comment by Tenoke · 2013-04-17T15:03:02.973Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is taboo to talk in what ways has the recent death of someone (innocent) benefited you, especially in regards to monetary benefits and around his close friends and family.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-04-17T04:19:35.098Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

One of the bonuses of a first amendment it that people are free to say what they think is true, and other people are free to hear them. Under those circumstances, it will be hard to find something that is universally taboo.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-04-17T12:57:34.889Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This comment is missing the point of either the first amendment or taboo topics.

The first amendment deals with what powers the government has with respect to free speech. Taboo topics are ones that other people will punish you for bringing up. Your peers are not the US government.

You're free to say anything, and your peers are free to shun you for saying anything.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-04-17T07:30:15.630Z · score: -5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

we shouldn't have freedom of speech.