Cleaning up the "Worst Argument" essay

post by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-06T00:09:45.564Z · score: 13 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 57 comments

Contents

  I
  II
  III
  IV
  V
None
57 comments

There was a lot of controversy over the Worst Argument essay, which surprised me because the basic point seems hard to argue with. I'd like to change it in response to feedback, with the new title "Guilt by Association". Below is the rough draft for the new version, minus a few links and other finishing touches. Please let me know whether you think it is better or worse than the original, and what specific further changes you think that it needs.

 

David Stove once ran a contest to find the Worst Argument In The World, but he awarded the prize to his own entry, and one that shored up his politics to boot. It hardly seems like an objective process.

If he can unilaterally declare a worst argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be Guilt By Association: "If we can apply a word to something, we must judge it the same as we judge more prototypical instances of that word."

Well, it sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?

Suppose someone wants to build a statue honoring Martin Luther King Jr. for his nonviolent resistance to racism. An opponent of the statue objects: "But Martin Luther King was a criminal!"

Any historian can confirm this is correct. A criminal is technically someone who breaks the law, and King knowingly broke a law against peaceful anti-segregation protest - hence his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

But in this case calling Martin Luther King a criminal is Guilt by Association. The archetypal criminal is a mugger or bank robber. He is driven only by greed, preys on the innocent, and weakens the fabric of society. We don't like criminals precisely because we don't like greed and preying on innocents and weakening the fabric of society.

The opponent is saying "Because you don't like criminals, and Martin Luther King is a criminal, you should stop liking Martin Luther King." But King doesn't share any of the features that made us dislike criminals in the first place. Therefore, even though he is a criminal, there is no reason to dislike King. The force of the opponent's argument comes solely from the category "criminal" associating King with people who are bad.  It totally fails to prove King was bad himself.

This all seems so nice and logical when it's presented in this format. Unfortunately, it's also one hundred percent contrary to instinct: the urge is to respond "Martin Luther King? A criminal? No he wasn't! You take that back!" This is why the Worst Argument In The World is so successful. As soon as you do that you've fallen into their trap. Your argument is no longer about whether you should build a statue, it's about whether King was a criminal. Since he was, you have now lost the argument.

Ideally, you should just be able to say "Well, King was the good kind of criminal." But that seems pretty tough as a debating maneuver in real life. Let's look at some political arguments that I think typify Guilt by Association.

I

On my way to work every day, I used to pass a sign reading "ABORTION IS MURDER" The archetypal murder is Charles Manson breaking into your house and shooting you. This sort of murder is bad for at least four reasons: you prefer not to die, you have various thoughts and hopes and dreams that would be snuffed out, your family and friends would be heartbroken, and the rest of society has to live in fear until Manson gets caught. If you define murder as "killing another human being", then abortion is technically murder. But it has none of the downsides of murder Charles Manson style.

If your objection to murder is predicated entirely upon the four reasons above, then abortion might qualify as "murder", but it doesn't share any of the characteristics that make you object to murder of the usual sort. The argument is entirely associative: "Look over there in, that bin marked 'MURDER'. Charles Manson and an abortion doctor! The one is standing suspiciously close to the other, don't you think?"

(some people have tried to solve this problem by defining "murder" as "the unlawful killing of a human being" and then pointing out that abortion is legal. This is exactly as clever as redefining "criminal" to mean "a person who breaks the law but is not Martin Luther King." Cut out the fallacy at its root, not at its branches!)

This argument is relatively clear-cut, but other real world arguments are more complicated.

II

Whenever the airports consider singling out people of Middle Eastern descent for extra security checks, someone is bound to object that "Racial profiling is racist." This is true if we define racism as "discriminating based on a person's race". But why do we have a negative reaction to racism in the first place? Well, the prototypical example of racism is the KKK burning crosses in front of black people's houses. This kind of racism has many obvious problems. It's usually based on scientifically inaccurate generalizations about the moral or intellectual value of different groups. It often leads to violence, hate crimes, verbal abuse, or other traumatic experiences. It keeps whole groups of people from achieving their full potential. And it can be belittling and offensive to the people involved.

Let's stick with these four reasons for our discussion, although obviously there are more. Racial profiling seems to avoid the first three sins of racism, but it definitely hits the fourth. So to object that racial profiling is racist could be either useful or fallacious depending on the intent. If the intent were to remind people that racial profiling, like KKK cross burning, can be belittling and offensive, then that's a worthy goal. If the intent were to stick racial profiling in a bin with Hitler, David Duke, Francis Galton, and the people who bombed the Baptist Church in Birmingham - and then say "Look what company it keeps!", then it's a fallacy. Racial profiling isn't empirically false, isn't violent, and doesn't keep groups of people down. When we hear it called "racist", most of the revulsion we naturally hear at the word should be dismissed as irrelevant to this particular case.

There are a lot of ways to mention that racial profiling is belittling and offensive without using the r-word; for example, you could say "Racial profiling is belittling and offensive." This conveys the one accurate point of "Racial profiling is racist" without the extra baggage. While using the latter sentence would not be provably wrong, one would have to wonder about the motives.

III

In some situations that are even less clear cut, I still think I can see Guilt by Association peeking through.

Consider the common refrain that "Capital punishment is murder". Here most of our objections to Charles Manson really do hold. Capital punishment kills someone who doesn't want to die. It cuts short their hopes and dreams. It disappoints the victim's family and friends. And maybe it does make other people live in fear, either because they've got a hidden criminal record or because they know it has a gruesome history of occasionally killing the falsely accused.

But I still don't think this is a good argument. Mansonesque murder has few if any benefits. Capital punishment arguably has more - some people think it decreases the crime rate, and at the very least it makes crime victims and their families breath a sigh of relief. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? I don't know. But taking something with both costs and benefits and then placing it next to something that only has costs and saying "Look! It's exactly like this thing here!" misses the entire point of the argument. If you want to argue that the costs are worse than the benefits, argue that - don't say "It looks suspiciously like something else that has no benefits at all!"

IV

In an earlier version of this post, some people mistook Guilt by Association for a blanket condemnation of any argument from category membership. I don't think things are quite that bad. Discussing category memberships sometimes insightfully point out double standards. For example, if a racist said we should kill all the Canadians, one might respond: "Canadians are people too!" This would be a challenge for the racist to point out exactly why they believe Canadians lack the features that usually make us think killing people are bad, or what special quality Canadians have that outweighs those features.

Perhaps the best explanation of the difference is that accusing someone of Guilt by Association is an invitation to play Rationalist Taboo. It may be they can taboo the emotionally charged category names and still make the argument. Or it may be that the argument instantly falls flat.

But overall I would recommend avoiding this entire style of discourse. Anything valuable you can do with category memberships you can do in a less sweeping way by just saying what you mean (see the "Racial profiling is belittling and offensive" example above.) And anything you can't do in a less sweeping way probably shouldn't be said at all, with honorable exceptions for people who are consciously making arguments from Schelling fences.

V

Are the following examples of Guilt By Association? Are they of the first, second, or third type? Or are they totally legitimate?

1. Efforts to cure hereditary diseases through genetic engineering are eugenics.

2. Evolutionary psychology is sexist.

3. Euthanasia is murder.

4. Marijuana is a drug.

5. Taxation is theft.

6. Prescription medications are poison.

7. Affirmative action is discriminatory.

8. Someone who had sex with a 16 year old when he was 18 is a sex offender.

9. Radical environmentalism is a religion.

10. Mormonism is a cult.

57 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-06T00:32:00.477Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I like this version better, but I was confused at the end by the question

Are they of the first, second, or third type?

because I am not clear what are the defining features of the three types. Rereading, it seems that the first type is saying "x is A" when x is technically A but shares very little in common with the prototypical examples of A that make us think A is bad. Type 2 is saying it when it shares some features but not others, and type 3 is when it shares most of the features but (perhaps) not the key ones that make the prototypical case bad. But these seem like a continuum rather than clear-cut "types".

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-06T16:15:46.072Z · score: 13 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I like the new title better.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-09-09T00:17:03.261Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

14 points? For preferring one title over another? I salute your fabulous liking skills.

I've been noticing karma inflation lately.

comment by arundelo · 2012-09-09T02:55:30.653Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

One use of upvotes is to show agreement without leaving a "me too!" comment.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-09T10:32:05.035Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

14 points? For preferring one title over another? I salute your fabulous liking skills.

Indeed, I now see I have even surpassed the master himself. Eliezer Yudkwosky got a mere 8 points for his liking skill. Perhaps he liked the wrong thing?

I've been noticing karma inflation lately.

Inevitable result of forum growth. See some discussions on it in this thread.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-09-09T10:47:35.931Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, I now see I have even surpassed the master himself. Eliezer Yudkwosky got a mere 8 points for his liking skill. Perhaps he liked the wrong thing?

You're so modest. Perhaps you just like with greater panache.

Inevitable result of forum growth. See some discussions on it in this thread.

I'm guessing people are printing more karma these days.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-09T11:34:55.573Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm guessing people are printing more karma these days.

I'm not sure I got my point across. Imagine a forum with 100 people, where each individual has a 0.2 probability of giving a post thumbs up. Now imagine a forum with 10 000 people.

Obviously some people won't bother to vote on a heavily voted post they agree or disagree with so this isn't exactly linear. Posts with lots of negative karma are less visible, while well liked posts are more visible. You almost have a floor under which karma won't drop while the the sky is the limit for positive karma.

I think it likely that individual LWers aren't much more generous with karma than they where.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-09-09T23:10:36.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, I got what you were saying. You attribute it to increasing numbers of users, with constant karma rate.

Maybe it's a timescale thing. I've only been here about a year. To my observational feel, the karma rate has increased a lot in the last couple of months. I don't think my observational clock would have noticed a 10% or 20% increase - more like at least a doubling.

Someone recently posted membership changes per month. I think the increments were around 10%, if that. Now, maybe people are also visiting more too.

Some of my feel is coming from my own posts - 8 karma for that? Really?

Many things could be the cause of my feeling, but I'll bet you a dollar that karma/discussion page hit has gone up in the last 2 months. Not that either of us is likely to collect - the data and therefore the money.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-10T00:56:22.207Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There could be a time delay between a user joining and him voting regularly.

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-07T06:00:20.108Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever you do, please don't change the title to "Guilt by Association". That phrase is a tired cliché, completely devoid of any rhetorical force it may once have possessed. Saying "you're just arguing guilt by association!" will never produce gasps and whispers in the audience, the way that

That's an example of what is technically known as the Worst Argument In The World

(complete with link to dedicated domain) will.

Even worse, this proposed usage would actually be different from the common meaning of "guilt by association" -- and subtly different, which is the worst kind of different. The common usage has to more to do with people than ideas. To use a terrible, political example: consider an opponent of Obama claiming that Obama is a terrorist, because he hangs around with people like William Ayers, and an Obama supporter replying "You're just arguing guilt by association!"

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-06T05:26:45.100Z · score: 8 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I like the original title better.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-06T18:42:00.520Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW
  1. Efforts to cure hereditary diseases through genetic engineering are eugenics.

Offhand, that doesn't seem to be "the true rejection", as it were, of many people concerned about attempts to cure hereditary diseases. Very few people object, in principle, to a cure for Huntington's, or Gaucher's disease. What people are differing over here is which conditions constitute a disease in the first place.

This is a big part of the resistance among, say, autistics to a cure for autism -- disagreement over the significance and best responses to the condition that defines much of their life experience. When someone with autism says something like "attempting to cure this is eugenics", usually what's behind that utterance is a thought process that can be expressed in the following paragraph:

"Trying to eliminate this condition is trying to make the future not-at-all us-shaped. I wouldn't be me if you changed this about me, I'd be another person. Also, I feel it likely that if you succeed you'll create pressure for people like us to submit to invasive, personality-altering procedures for the sake of your own convenience and comfort, or create societal pressure for us to just not reproduce, which is something we already deal with... and if you think that concern is misplaced because it's not a logical, necessary consequence of the hypothetical scenario, then we suspect you don't know much about how things go for people with little social power or acceptance, and experience has taught us it's a bad idea to trust people with that much power and that little understanding of our perspectives to have our interest in mind when making decisions that affect us."

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-09-06T22:53:35.371Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The Map is Not the Territory crowd - Korzybski and General Semantics practicioners - dealt in depth with just the issues you raise, so much so that they have particular terms for what you're getting at - the Is of Identity, the Is of Predication, and intensional versus extensional statements.

You're plowing the same dirt. I think you should refer to them, and show how you either extend what they did, or depart from what they did.

comment by Exetera · 2012-09-07T01:55:52.168Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not really loving the way you're inventing two Title-Cased Important Concepts in this version of the essay; you're title-casing both "The Worst Argument In The World" and "Guilt by Association." In general, I don't love the "filled with buzzwords" feel, and you definitely don't need the redundancy, but there are also some specific reasons why "Guilt by Association" is a poorer choice to title-case.

I could swallow title-casing just "The Worst Argument In The World" in the first version of the essay, as it's not a phrase I had heard much before and the casing helps to signify that it's being used to refer to a specific bad argument rather than an abstract worst argument. In this version, you're using "Guilt by Association" as the name, which doesn't seem to be pointing to an abstract argument and therefore doesn't need the title case; furthermore, "guilt by association" is already a widely-used name for a slightly different fallacy, and it's a bit confusing to see it used to mean something different here.

comment by Sperling · 2012-09-07T23:15:20.123Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How about "Archetypal Association" as an alternative to Guilt by Association? I'd just like a term that is more descriptive than TWAitW without the prior baggage of GbA. "Saying taxation is theft is just an Archetypal Association. In fact, taxation differs from the archetypal case of theft in the following relevant ways..."

comment by novalis · 2012-09-06T02:12:20.573Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Racial profiling seems to avoid the first three sins of racism, but it definitely hits the fourth.

Because of the halo effect, it is inevitable that profiling at airports will lead to violence and discrimination outside of airports. There are plenty of cases where people are attacked merely for being members of outgroups; making the othering official will only enhance that.

Also, as Schneier points out, it is empirically false that it will actually reduce terrorism. And it was already clear that the motivation is animus rather than security, since the same politicians who endorse racial profiling tend to also (for instance) oppose the existence of mosques. (That's not why profiling is wrong; it's why it's closer to prototypical racism)

[edit] I should also note that people tend to be somewhat deontological about racism, which is why people say things like "racial profiling is racism", or "affirmative action is racism".

I think you would do better with some of the other suggestions from the previous thread -- "pornography is art", or the original eugenics example, or "health care is a human right".

comment by Irgy · 2012-09-07T23:53:11.218Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the abortion example is a good example. The people who say "abortion is murder' genuinely believe it is murder, that everything wrong with murder is wrong with abortion for the same reasons. If you believe in souls and in "thou shalt not kill" as the fundamental reasons why murder is wrong then abortion is murder, not just technically but actually, associations and all.

Now from an outside perspective, you could argue that the reasons why Christianity considers murder to be wrong ultimately boil down to the fact that it's generally a good view to have, which in turn is because of the reasons you give. Those reasons also prevent your typical Christian from feeling a sense of dissonance between the rule 'thou shalt not kill" and reality, because the two mostly match. But to an actual Christian, the reason murder is wrong is entirely "God said so".

My description of Chirstians there of course doesn't cover all of them (indeed no non-trivial description does), but it covers the people making those signs. To them, the problem appears to be that other Christians have forgotten this self evident fact and need reminding of it.

In short, from the worldview of the people making that argument, the fallacy is not being comitted. Whether abortion is murder is not clouding the debate, it basically is the entire debate.Therefore it is not a good example to use for this fallacy.

comment by Sperling · 2012-09-08T00:51:34.600Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They are still appealing to your feelings about murder and you are entitled to respond "That's TWAitW, the typical case of murder bothers me because of XYZ, which aren't present here." I feel like the phrase "That's TWAitW" is adding to that sentence by explaining that, to you, this might be a case of murder you don't care about, so just hammering on "it's murder" won't persuade you.

"Self evident" beliefs could be the basis of any of the examples, e.g. "theft is wrong because we have a right to our property" could be a belief supporting the statement "Taxes are theft, therefore taxes are wrong." But when they use "Taxes are theft, therefore taxes are wrong" as persuasive argument, they are in fact appealing to my definition of theft and to my feelings towards theft, in an attempt to get from the common ground of "theft is wrong" to the new ground "taxes are wrong." That's TWAitW.

comment by kilobug · 2012-09-06T12:31:12.308Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I liked the original one better, because it had more examples (with slightly detailed analysis) allowing to grasp how often that argument is used and in how many various situations it is.

But I also like the more balanced view of this version, the part on "Canadians are people too".

Would it be possible to do a merge between the two versions ? ;)

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-09-06T04:13:21.534Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of ways to mention that racial profiling is belittling and offensive without using the r-word; for example, you could say "Racial profiling is belittling and offensive."

This is the best line in there.

This edit is much, much better than the original. And the original was very good.

Edit: You might want to link to the post on rationalist taboo when you mention it. I would anticipate a number of people outside LW will see this post at some point.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-09-06T03:50:26.778Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If he can unilaterally declare a worst argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be Guilt By Association: "If we can apply a word to something, we must judge it the same as we judge more prototypical instances of that word."

This part happens way too fast.

comment by siodine · 2012-09-06T00:23:39.607Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Looks much better to me. I think you could improve it even more by adding a precautionary addendum that's something like the following:

So, there we have the Worst Argument In The World, but what about the Second Worst Argument In The World? I declare that to be: "If we attribute a fallacy or bias to an argument without demonstrating why exactly an argument is fallacious or biased, and especially when the particular flaw isn't fundamental to the point of the argument." So, for example, saying something like "well, that's obviously the worst argument in the world!" would be the second worst argument in the world.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-09-07T07:19:33.119Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought one of the most important things in the original essay, and which has been missing from the later versions, was that you explicitly said that the WAitW really only becomes a problem when you use it to shout down the opposition, instead of asking for an explanation for an inconsistency. Even in that original version, several people who I linked the essay to seemed to miss that very important point, and I had to point it out to them. (See e.g. the discussion between me and Panu here.) It'd be better if this version said it too, possibly in caps, bolding, and underlining. Oh, and a tag. ;)

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-06T20:49:14.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I dislike the introduction. Stove's contest seems no longer relevant now that you're not using the name.

Unless the irony of "shored up his politics" was intentional, in which case it should stay. (But even then, now that the post is way less political it's way less ironic.)

comment by summerstay · 2012-09-06T18:48:22.293Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"it doesn't share any of the characteristics that make you object to murder of the usual sort." I disagree -- it shares the most salient aspect of murder, namely the harm it does to the future of the human being being murdered. The other features are also objectionable, but a case of murder that doesn't have any of those features (say, the painless murder of a baby with no close acquaintances, friends or family) is still rightfully considered murder. This is why most abortion advocates (unlike the author of this article) do not consider a fetus a "human being" at all. If they did, they would have to confront this argument head on.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-09-06T19:05:28.297Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or, in some cases, we consider it to be definitely human -- just not a person.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-06T06:16:43.274Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  1. Efforts to cure hereditary diseases through genetic engineering are eugenics.

The objectionable sort of "eugenics" was historically imposed by violence and deceit; and was not intended for the benefit of the people subjected to it but that of "society", "the nation", or "the taxpayers". It also reinforced and implemented prejudices against racial minorities, non-neurotypical people, etc. These properties are not shared by the development of cures for hereditary diseases.

However, developing human genetic engineering creates new possibilities for forcible or prejudiced eugenics; and specific treatments may have results that in the future we might regard as bad choices born from prejudice.

  1. Evolutionary psychology is sexist.

Some people draw conclusions (or speculations) from evolutionary psychology that purport to justify treating people in unfavorable ways on the basis of their sex. Some of these involve claims that all men or women share some personality trait, e.g. "all men are attracted to lithe young women" or "all women are attracted to rich older men", which can be reasonably termed prejudice when applied to individuals. Also, some turn to evolutionary psychology for support for their existing sexist beliefs or behaviors, "as a drunkard uses lampposts."

However, this doesn't differ substantially from other abuses of the human sciences; evolutionary psychology is not distinct in this regard.

  1. Euthanasia is murder.

Both involve killing someone — and someone who has clearly been a person, not an undifferentiated lump of cells. There's still a long way from Kevorkian to Manson, though.

  1. Marijuana is a drug.

No problem here. (A bigger problem is when people put alcohol in the complement of the set of drugs!)

More later, perhaps....

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-06T00:16:52.882Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Poll!

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-06T00:17:12.219Z · score: 22 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Upvote this comment if you prefer the original.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-06T00:17:02.905Z · score: 20 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Upvote this comment if you prefer this version.

comment by Louie · 2012-09-06T01:28:38.174Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I preferred the original version that appeared on your private website.

Once you sanitized it for LW by making it more abstract and pedantic, it lost many of the most biting, hilarious asides, that made it a fun and entertaining to read.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-06T20:47:38.642Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

it lost many of the most biting, hilarious asides, that made it a fun and entertaining to read.

The issue is that the asides are only biting and hilarious if you already agreed with them. When Yvain writes a statement like:

Obamacare stands or falls on whether you want poor people to be able to afford health care

I shake my head at the childish framing.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-06T05:00:48.340Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So...the poll shows +9 support for making it more biased and snarky, +9 support for making it less biased and snarky, and a tepid rejection of leaving it the way it is. Awkward.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-09-06T16:28:48.171Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You could always post it on your website in both versions, with an initial branching point called "Do you like snarkiness and controversial political examples, or a more philosophical tone?"

I wasn't originally serious when I started writing this comment... but now it doesn't seem like a bad idea. "Original Recipe" and "Extra Abstract", as it were.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-09-06T04:41:47.091Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I had never read it until now, actually. I saw it on twitter but didn't read it until it was posted to LW. I think the original original version is the most entertaining to read, but I think the most edited form is the most persuasive to a general audience because it is far more politically neutral.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-06T00:17:25.883Z · score: -23 (27 votes) · LW · GW

Karma sink.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-08T19:58:14.284Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Re: No 9. Hell yes it is!;)

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-04-08T21:07:08.188Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Only in the sense that "radical anything" is a religion.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-11T13:54:30.328Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I find myself more stymied by the 'radical' part than by the 'religion' part. I don't know what RE is, besides that 'fanatics who feel strongly for a cause will make pawns go down before they themselves do', which is why in this particular instance I think it is not even necessary to say 'religion'. Similarly: 'But efforts! You mean experiments on people were attempted and failed?! Arrgh, this is WORSE than eugenics!', 'But marijuana! It's WORSE than just a 'drug' - chloral hydrate is a 'drug', and soil ecologists use it all the time!', 'But taxation! I have been robbed only once, and I pay taxes every month!'.

comment by Dias · 2012-09-09T00:41:54.113Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This argument is relatively clear-cut, but other real world arguments are more complicated.

I agree, but only because you include previously

If your objection to murder is predicated entirely upon the four reasons [emphasis mine]

However, most people would still condemn the silent murder of freindless, depressed homeless people, suggesting that they actully have more subtantial objections to murder. In which case this isn't a clear-cut case of TWAitW.

comment by Pentashagon · 2012-09-06T21:18:54.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't the actual problem lie in the inappropriate attachment of universal value to certain classes? For instance "X is an existential risk" might be a persuasive premise that would convince someone on LW, but would it convince anyone else? If anything, the best argument in the world against X has as its premise "X yields less utility than not X". If people always tabooed words until they reached explicit statements about utility they could avoid more than just one class of wrong arguments. Unless a class is universal (forall X, X yields less utility than not X) classes should not be used. Even existential risk is not a safe class because there are scenarios where humanity living forever yields less overall utility than humanity dying out.

comment by Kisama · 2012-09-06T21:06:38.887Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I enjoyed reading the essay, finding it insightful and well-written, which is probably why the bit I disagreed with prompted me to argue.

or because they know it has a gruesome history of occasionally killing the falsely accused. But I still don't think this is a good argument.

I've never understood how proponents of capital punishment can simply sweep aside the possibility of killing even a single innocent person as a negligible consequence.

But taking something with both costs and benefits and then placing it next to something that only has costs

Capital Punishment benefits:

  • Possibly reduces crime rate, presumably as a deterrent or by reducing criminal population (up for debate),

  • makes victims and their families feel better (sounds more like vengeance than justice),

  • saves on the costs of keeping convicts locked up and alive,

  • makes politicians who endorse it look "tough on crime" (it's a benefit for them if not for society)

I'm being cynical but I suspect the financial and political benefits are more significant factors in the continued implementation of capital punishment than the two benefits you suggested.

Archetypal Cold-blooded Homocide benefits:

  • Helps to counteract population growth,

  • can help keep us (i.e. the victim pool) from getting soft and incautious in cozy danger-free lives,

  • sometimes the victims are evil people and/or criminals in which case substitute the same benefits ascribed to capital punishment,

  • draws legal system resources away from targeting various victim-less crimes such as (depending on the jurisdiction): recreational drug use, sodomy, gambling, polygamy, etc. in which free individuals should be free to partake.

taking something with both costs and benefits and then placing it next to something that only has costs

They both have, let's say, possible benefits.

and saying "Look! It's exactly like this thing here!" misses the entire point of the argument.

I don't say that these two different things are exactly alike. But these two different things do have the same cost - the deliberate and forceful termination of a sapient being who isn't in a position to harm you - which many find unacceptable. That's the point of the argument.

If humanity can embrace formalised, institutionalised punishment-by-death, with the acknowledged possibility that some of those punished are innocent, I find that more worthy of condemnation than the fact that it occasionally spawns a murderously psychopathic individual.

If you want to argue that the costs are worse than the benefits, argue that

The thing is, the costs in this case are pretty much just "cold-blooded murder", and in many peoples' ethical systems that cost outweighs any benefit (with the most common exception probably being the reciprocal survival of others), so perhaps it just seems more efficient to condense the argument into "Capital Punishment is Murder"?

Now if you had said "Killing in self-defense is murder" is an example of Guilt by Association there would not have been a peep out of me :)

4 Marijuana is a drug.

Aspirin is a drug.

5 Taxation is theft.

Only when the people taking their cut don't command force of arms on a national scale, amirite?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-06T21:14:33.559Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've never understood how proponents of capital punishment can simply sweep aside the possibility of killing even a single innocent person as a negligible consequence.

Huh.
I find it no more puzzling than the fact that proponents of, say, large-scale construction, or mining, or driving cars, or pretty much everything else we do, can treat as negligible the possibility of killing a single innocent person .
I mean, innocent people die all the time as a consequence of stuff we do. We mostly don't seem to care.

comment by Kisama · 2012-09-06T21:46:06.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What you say is true, but when I get into my car I'm not planning to go out and find a suspicious looking pedestrian to hit hoping he'll turn out to be not innocent ;)

More seriously, the one time I was involved in a pretty serious collision the sensation of heart-squeezing dread I experienced in the moments I thought someone might have been killed or even just injured and that I might have been at fault... was not pleasant. If an innocent person were hurt as a consequence of my actions I would certainly feel the guilt of it. Does the hangman feel the guilt of his noose?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-06T22:07:00.265Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Can you clarify why feelings of guilt are important here?

I mean, I have no idea how much guilt executioners feel. Ditto soldiers, police, commuters, doctors, and other people whose activities sometimes result in innocent deaths.

But how much guilt they feel or don't feel doesn't play much of a role in my decision to support or not support medicine, commuting, law enforcement, military action, or capital punishment.

comment by Kisama · 2012-09-06T23:21:56.874Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you clarify why feelings of guilt are important here?

They aren't particularly, but

We mostly don't seem to care.

I thought we were talking about feelings, my mistake. I suppose the point was that I do care if innocent people die, so by extrapolation I assume other people do too.

I mean, I have no idea how much guilt executioners feel.

Please, pardon my rhetoric.

Also, I think got carried away with the whole "guilt" theme - feeling guilt, guilt by assocation...

But how much guilt they feel or don't feel doesn't play much of a role in my decision to support or not support medicine, commuting, law enforcement, military action, or capital punishment.

Only one of those things has the explicit goal of killing people, and it's the only one I'm arguing against here. I'm not too sure what you're arguing for or against or if you're just stimulating conversation, but regardless, thank you for responding to my first comments on LW :)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-07T04:42:46.843Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am neither arguing for capital punishment, nor against it. I was exploring a claim I found remarkable, but I realize now was meant merely as rhetoric. Tapping out now.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-07T04:29:58.289Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Only one of those things has the explicit goal of killing people, and it's the only one I'm arguing against here.

You're equivocating between "killing innocents" and "killing people". Stop it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-07T04:36:52.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The equivocation is also false as stated; the military frequently has the explicit goal of killing people.

comment by Kisama · 2012-09-07T12:47:42.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was going to give military an honourable mention but I didn't want to make my comment any longer than it already was. Yes the military frequently does aim to kill people, but not always. Capital punishment is defined as putting someone to death.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-07T13:35:25.857Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK.

comment by Kisama · 2012-09-07T12:27:07.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you don't kill any people, you won't kill innocent people. If you do kill some people, you might kill innocent people. Where is the equivocation?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-08T02:19:50.495Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you don't drive cars, you won't kill innocent people in auto-accidents. If you do drive cars, you might kill innocent people in auto-accidents.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-08T03:32:59.626Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I can cause fatal auto-accidents even if I'm not driving. But certainly my odds of killing an innocent person in an auto accident go up quite a lot if I drive a car.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-08T00:23:38.199Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If an innocent person were hurt as a consequence of my actions I would certainly feel the guilt of it.

Someone is dying from malaria because you didn't donate $1600 to the Anti Malaria Foundation.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-07T04:27:09.141Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does the hangman feel the guilt of his noose?

I assume all the people involved (judge, prosecutor, hangman) feel guilty if the person they kill turns out to have been innocent.