Well, that does it, I suppose

post by lucidfox · 2011-07-17T10:51:16.778Z · score: 4 (42 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 39 comments

My first post here on LW related to gender identity, based on my own introspection, generated some interesting discussion that I enjoyed reading and commenting on. While there were disagreements on the origin of transsexuality, there was an agreement that it was a condition genuinely in need of treatment.

Fast forward to now, and what do we have? People throwing accusations all over the place, calling transsexuality a "delusion", comparing it with religious belief, or referring to the discredited autogynephilia (sexual fetish) theory.

How could this have happened? Either:

1) the audience of LW changed significantly in the half-year interim;

or 2) the lack of personal input in the second post caused people to more freely voice their true opinions, rather than those they suspected I would take offense at.

I don't know which possibility to lean towards, but if previously I only suspected LW was the wrong community for me (what with the singularity-worship that I don't share), now I'm almost convinced in this.

39 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-17T12:01:30.679Z · score: 35 (37 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

With apologies for not commenting more on your other points until I've read the thread more closely:

I suggest avoiding changing your estimate of a person's character, or assuming bad faith, just because "someone compared X to Y".

I don't know if there's a formal name for this fallacy, but it never fails that when someone compares A to B regarding characteristic Y, someone else interprets them as implying A is also comparable to B regarding characteristic Z.

I can't think of a real example at this hour of the night, but I did read a post a while ago where a mathematician tried to model the memetic spread of popular religions like Mormonism using equations from epidemiology. If you treat the religion as a disease which gets spread from a "case zero" to their close contacts and so on to their close contacts, then maybe you can use epidemiology to predict how quickly the religion spreads. I don't remember if it worked or not but it was a clever idea.

But imagine some Mormon reading that and saying "Atheist mathematicians at liberal universities are writing papers explicitly comparing Mormons to bacteria now. I guess the next step is to recommend we get eradicated to 'cure' the 'disease'".

(sorry to pick on the Mormons, it was the first example that popped into my head)

Yeah, they're comparing Mormonism to a disease, but only along one limited axis, not in general, and not in a way that implies what the objector thinks it implies.

I don't trust anyone including myself to avoid this, so I try to avoid accusatory "he's comparing X to Y!" statements. If someone is really digging themselves into a hole - if they say something like "Jews should be eliminated like vermin" - then you should just say "he said Jews should be eliminated like vermin!" and not the weaker "he compared Jews to vermin". Yeah, occasionally you make a type ii error - if Hitler says "Jews are as common here as cockroaches" then he's trying to imply something beyond just numbers - but usually you have more evidence against those sorts of people than just one comparative statement.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-07-17T12:19:52.701Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See also: http://lesswrong.com/lw/4h/when_truth_isnt_enough/

comment by orthonormal · 2011-07-17T18:04:43.621Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sending someone a link to their own article: the new sincerest form of flattery?

comment by anon895 · 2011-07-17T18:43:17.941Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Forbidden comparison fallacy", maybe. Googling "forbidden comparison" turns up at least one example of it. It was called "Comparing Apples and Oranges" in this comment, but that seems less descriptive.

comment by Document · 2011-09-03T15:17:56.901Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's sort of the converse of argument by association, whereby someone compares A to B regarding characteristic Y, then acts as though they've established it as equal in characteristic Z themselves. (I changed "comparable" to "equal" because it seems like using "comparable" that way is a minor instance of the fallacy in itself.)

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-07-17T11:38:17.119Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Either:

1) the audience of LW changed significantly in the half-year interim;

or 2) the lack of personal input in the second post caused people to more freely voice their true opinions, rather than those they suspected I would take offense at.

Some more alternatives:

3) A couple of different people chanced to participate in the latter thread when they hadn't participated in the former thread. In short that you generalize from one example.

4) That the latter thread began with your comparison between transsexuality and otherkin, thus anchoring transsexualism to the low status of otherkin - if anything you're fortunate people didn't explicitly compare transsexuals to "stupid role-playing trolls" (the current status that otherkin have in my mind)

comment by beriukay · 2011-07-18T17:30:29.965Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

5) That some people had no idea what 'otherkind' or 'soulbound' meant, and so had to do all kinds of footwork before being able to participate (like me!).

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-17T19:15:59.415Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't seen anyone calling transsexuality a delusion, only people examining the possibility, and people (who agree with the standard pro-trans positions on policy) declaring the question meaningless. The closest is knb's claims about autogynephilia, which look like an independent reinvention and are thus pretty interesting evidence. In particular, I haven't seen any claims that transpeople should be denied anything.

It sounds like you're offended when people ask "Is transsexuality a delusion?", not just when they say it's one. That's not good at all, for the obvious reasons that if you can't attack n idea you can never prove it, that politics is the mind-killer, etc.

I'm aware of Bad Things that can happen from simply asking questions - they tend to prime you emotionally, even if you don't consciously notice and have the best intent in the world (and even if you're a Martian and thus immune to this effect it affects onlookers). So if you see people sneaking in evil connotations, please complain.

But I'm trans, so if I (in particular, or along with all transpeople) am deluded, I sure as hell want to know.

comment by drethelin · 2011-07-17T22:01:58.523Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think using the word delusion is helpful here. It's more useful I believe to break down words like gender, woman, man, etc. in order to find what people are ACTUALLY talking about. If someone says they are a woman, to some people it does not matter if they have a penis or were born XY, but to others it does, and it's much easier to discuss it in this fashion rather than to ask whether they "truly" are a woman or are just "deluding" themselves.

comment by Nisan · 2011-07-17T23:38:26.124Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't going to say anything, but I was disappointed by most of the comments to that post. "How is transgenderedness different from otherkin?" is a blatantly wrong question. It should be answered with "What question are you really asking?". The question could be standing in for any of these:

  • Is transgenderedness "legitimate"? Is otherkin "legitimate"?
  • Should transgender people be respected or ridiculed for their identity? How about otherkin?
  • Is it okay to fire an employee just because they're transgender? Just because they're otherkin?
  • Should we treat transgendered people the way we treat members of the gender they identify with? Should we treat otherkin like... (like what? There wasn't any discussion about how otherkin want to be treated.)
  • Should health insurance plans cover gender-reassignment surgery? I can't think of an analogous question pertaining to otherkin.

But when I read the thread, only a very few commenters, such as cousin_it, alluded to this approach. I am disappoint.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-18T19:28:18.882Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems difficult to discuss applied ethics questions like the ones you propose, while we still disagree so much on meta and normative ethics. "How is transgenderedness different from otherkin?" can also be interpreted as a mostly factual question: what are the differences between transgenderedness and otherkin that might be ethically relevant (to some ethical system that some LWers might have)? That seems easier to answer, after which we can leave the "should" questions for individuals to decide for themselves.

There wasn't any discussion about how otherkin want to be treated.

It seems safe to guess that it's a combination of

  1. Having others accept their claims to be physically and/or spiritually other than human (e.g., elven, dragon, vampire, etc.)
  2. Being assigned a social status in accordance with their claims (or at least no lower than typical humans, and certainly not a target of ridicule, etc.)
comment by Nisan · 2011-07-18T22:04:46.738Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

what are the differences between transgenderedness and otherkin that might be ethically relevant (to some ethical system that some LWers might have)?

Right, so here's the problem with that kind of conversation: Whenever someone states a fact, it carries an implicit assumption that the fact is ethically relevant in some way. You can't help but smuggle in normative ethics with your factual claims. Facts become soldiers.

Consider this conversation: "Homosexuality is a choice." "No, it's genetic." "Homosexuality is unnatural." "No, it's widespread in the animal kingdom." "Yes, but..." On the surface, these interlocutors are disputing facts, but it's clear that they're really defending their ethical conclusions.

Or: "Racial miscegenation might have a destabilizing effect on society." "No, it doesn't." "How do you know? Have you read studies on this question? We need more information." The segregationist opinion is winning this battle merely by insinuating that certain factual questions are the ethically relevant ones.

Or: "How is Mormonism different from Roman Catholicism?" "Well, Mormonism isn't a Christian religion." "Yes it is, it's a religion centered on Jesus Christ." "Yes, but its theology is radically different from that of other branches of Christianity." In this conversation the pro-Mormon side struggles to attain the title of "Christianity", so that Mormons will deserve goodwill and fellowship from other Christians.

A sane thing to do would be to have a non-judgmental discussion of just the facts about transgenderedness or otherkin, motivated by genuine curiosity about the phenomenon; and afterwards to have a discussion about practical ethics where participants are open about what moral principles and intuitions they're using.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-07-18T15:50:28.777Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's also the question: "do intuitions about otherkin tell us anything about how we should think about transgendereds or vice versa?"

comment by Nisan · 2011-07-18T19:00:09.284Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. Though that question is liable to lead us astray unless it is asked in conjunction with a concrete question like the ones I listed.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-07-18T19:11:44.856Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that's a good point.

comment by Emile · 2011-07-17T14:19:20.215Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People throwing accusations all over the place, calling transsexuality a "delusion",

Aw c'mon, that's a bit unfair, the context was this:

You could go LW-extreme and say that delusions are always bad (i.e. a man who thinks he's a woman isn't any better than a man who believes in god, no matter the emotional implications of either belief). Or you could apply the reasoning Yvain used in his "diseased thinking" post, and ask whether society is better off accepting this or that deviation from the mean, or trying to "cure" it.

"Delusion" was used only used in a hypothetical that was immediately followed by a better alternative, there's not much use getting hung up over that particular word - cousin_it even apologized for his choice of words afterwards.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-07-17T19:49:22.734Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I can apologize again if that helps!

Actually I often feel kinda bad about people upvoting my comments when they contain subtle mistakes I can see in hindsight. I felt this way about my comments in the previous thread even before I saw lucidfox's current post... Anything that drives away a thoughtful user certainly counts as a mistake and I'll try to update my sentence generators to avoid repeating it.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-19T21:40:28.349Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you explain what your mistake was, in this particular case? Was it just not being careful enough about offending people, or more than that? How would you change your comment, if you could go back in time and do so?

(ETA: Sorry, but I don't think we should let people off the hook with a vague "I apologize for making a mistake." :)

comment by cousin_it · 2011-07-19T21:54:47.218Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The root mistake, IMO, was not immediately noticing the obvious idea of classifying transsexuality as a value rather than a belief. I could've noticed it if I'd spent ten more minutes thinking instead of commenting right away.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-21T02:57:12.850Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The root mistake, IMO, was not immediately noticing the obvious idea of classifying transsexuality as a value rather than a belief.

I'm not sure that "value" is the best way to think about transgender/transsexuality either. Standard decision theory only allows values and beliefs to influence decisions, but human behavior seems to be influenced strongly by identity, and transgender/transsexuality is usually described as identifying with a gender/sex other than the conventional gender/sex.

How to translate identity-based decision making into values and/or beliefs seems non-trivial, and can perhaps be compared to the problem of translating anticipated-reward type decision making into preferences over states of the world or over math. It's not even clear that such translation should be done.

If not, there are least two choices: one, just stick with our human preferences / decision process, or two, discard the old preferences / decision process, and generate fresh preferences from other applicable intuitions, as steven0461 recently suggested.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-07-19T22:40:27.948Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For most people, their contrarian beliefs are also values. (A heuristic that could make the hypothesis salient, even if it doesn't exactly fit here.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-17T11:31:22.075Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

referring to the discredited autogynephilia (sexual fetish) theory

I haven't yet checked out the new thread, but my general response to this would be to refer them to the appropriate sources that state consensus among experts on this. Scholarships is a virtue.. Or present the arguments that convinced you the theory is bunk. If the arguments are sound I can't imagine anyone being hostile towards you for doing so, you'll probably be up voted or thanked.

If not then LW may indeed have a problem.

comment by TrE · 2011-07-17T11:46:06.784Z · score: 13 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There might be quite a number of people who feel pretty indifferent about the subject and thusly don't comment on those threads. I am one of those people, and when I read through the comments, a quote from EY came to my mind:

People go funny in the head when talking about politics.

(http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/)

While this is not exactly politics, it might trigger similar mechanisms - those which also cause males to be homophobic, and the like. I'm not trying to say that everyone in the comments went funny, but some of the comments certainly are not a product of reason alone.

Also, I felt that some people were confused about the question - is it a blegg or a rube??!

It seems to me that the second post led to such confused, funny-going minds more than the first post.

To me, quite the only relevant question here is "should we accept and respect this kind of behaviour?" and my answer is a definite yes.

In a totally unrelated question, I'd be interested in where exactly you see a kind of "singularity-worship". Where do you see problems? What is it that makes you flinch? Where are we going too far?

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-07-17T12:15:25.113Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To me, quite the only relevant question here is "should we accept and respect this kind of behaviour?" and my answer is a definite yes.

This is my view as well, and I think and hope that most on LessWrong also agree with it. If someone is happiest presenting themselves as a blegg then that's how they they should present themselves and that is how others should treat them. The question of whether they are "really" a blegg or a rube is completely orthogonal.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-07-18T01:41:08.102Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If someone is happiest presenting themselves as a blegg then that's how they they should present themselves and that is how others should treat them. The question of whether they are "really" a blegg or a rube is completely orthogonal.

In any circumstances? If I'm happiest presenting myself as a paperclip maximizer and I'm not should I do so? If I'm happiest presenting myself as a biochemist and I'm not is that ok? I agree with the sentiment in question as long as we are discussing sexual and gender identiy, but it seems to me that you are making too general a claim.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-07-18T04:28:27.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems to lead back to this thread over on the other post.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-07-17T18:41:52.131Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My hypothesis: in the first thread, you were talking about personal experience and looking for something akin to Feeling Rational, and so people (rightly) focused on being supportive over theorizing. The second thread was phrased in a way that invited theorizing, and being analyzed from outside always feels like an attack.

comment by drethelin · 2011-07-17T21:44:16.744Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what you expected when you started the conversation by comparing transexuality to otherkin. Upvoted so this post doesn't fall off viewability, but I think being confrontational about this sort of thing is taking the wrong message away. If you want to discuss a topic you have to be open to people with views that you may not agree with, and be able to see how they can come to those views.

When you talk about transexuality as a mental state, of COURSE it is comparable to other examples of mental states, and you have to be open to talking about it all if you want to be able to differentiate it.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-07-17T12:07:32.204Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know which possibility to lean towards, but if previously I only suspected LW was the wrong community for me (what with the singularity-worship that I don't share), now I'm almost convinced in this.

That's a shame. I hope that your dissonance with the community doesn't stop you reading and benefiting from the articles that don't touch on these subjects.

I also feel that you may have got a biased sample of LessWrong opinions, since those with stronger views are more likely to post. If you went to a meet-up and found similarly upsetting opinions to be the norm then that would be stronger evidence that the LessWrong community isn't for you. Again, I emphasise that you can benefit from LessWrong without identifying with the community. Just read the posts and remember the content which you find useful.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-17T11:23:00.921Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not quite sure what's offensive about the comparison to people who form religious beliefs. I mean you do realize religious experiences are often real and have biological causes in the brain? As long as they don't impose very large costs on others or themselves I fail to see why we should be less accepting of such religious people than say transsexuals.

So to add a third possible explanation, I find it more likley that "religious" and "religion" are much less of a boo light than half a year ago. The vocabulary has shifted.

Edit: For reference I don't think my opinions on transsexuality and your first entry have changed since half a year ago.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-07-18T03:41:27.934Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a little worried by that a post essentially consisting of saying "come on, don't be jerks" was apparently downvoted to negative.

comment by knb · 2011-07-18T05:28:17.682Z · score: 16 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The post doesn't say "come on, don't be jerks".

Lucidfox basically slandered the commenters in that post by making out-of-context references to words that were used in certain posts basically as counterfactuals (i.e. "delusion"). There is no evident effort to engage with the substance of the disapproved comments or explain how posts were "accusatory".

Lucidfox also then dismisses people who take singularity ideas seriously as "singularity-worshipers", demonstrating the rather extreme degree of sensitivity demanded (don't make arguments or even suggest hypotheses Lucidfox disagrees with) is totally one-sided.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-07-18T07:01:16.131Z · score: 11 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I agree that this post was somewhat below the usual LW standard for reasoned debate, I don't agree that downvoting is the right response in this case.

Since lucidfox's previous posts on this topic have struck me as generally level-headed, I think that this was probably posted in a temporary fit of bad judgment, and that if we avoid sufficiently alienating her in the next 24-48 hours that she never comes back, then this will blow over and we can all go back to discussing the original question.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2011-07-18T04:18:23.321Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree. I think a lot of interesting points were made in the "Transsexuals and Otherkin" discussion, but given Lucidfox's negative reaction, I am left thinking that the whole thing could have been handled more tactfully in some way.

comment by Hyena · 2011-07-17T14:44:17.818Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean by "lack of personal input"?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-17T16:34:35.961Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's kind of frustrating how my comment got downvoted but nobody explained what was bad about it.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-07-18T05:56:32.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edit, misread this.

This is your only comment in this thread. It's better not to add extraneous comments unrelated to the threads they're in. If you really feel the need to request an explanation for downvotes, standard practice is to do so in a reply to your own comment.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-18T14:24:18.698Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post is "I'm annoyed at the conduct in the other thread" so I posted the things about it that annoyed me also.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-07-18T14:56:18.062Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's not following the topic of the thread, and it isn't constructive.

Downvotes without explanation are normal. Practically everyone receives downvotes sometimes, few receive explanations. If you're clueless about why a particular comment would receive downvotes, you can request explanation, but don't add it to other discussions where it just becomes an instance of noise.