The Craft And The Community: The Basics: Apologizing

post by Ritalin · 2013-11-23T16:55:25.065Z · score: 2 (18 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 193 comments

Now, it is said we all here pride ourselves on our intelligence, rationality, and moral sense. It is also said, however, that we are a fiercely independent bunch, and that we can let this pride of ours get the better of us. There have also been comments that the live communities that appear at meetups provide much more positive interactions than what goes on on this site's discussions; this might merit further investigation.

My point is; we've done a lot of research on how to do proper ethical and metaethical calculations, and on how to achieve self-empowerment and deal with our own akrasia, which is awesome. We've also done some work on matters of gender equality, which is very positive as well. But I haven't seen us do anything about the basic details of human interaction, what one would call "politeness" and "basic human decency". And I think it might be useful if we started tackling these, for our own sakes, that of those who surround us, and that of easing our mission along, which is, as I understand it so far, to save the world (from existential risk (at the hands of (unfriendly and self-modifying) artificial intelligence))).

What inspired me to propose this post was a video I just saw from Hank Green of the famed and fabled vlogbrothers. I hold these two individuals in very high esteem, and I would expect many here to share my feelings about them, on account of their values and sensibilities largely overlapping with ours; namely the sense that intelligence, knowledge and curiosity are awesome, and that intellectuals ought to use their power to help improve themselves and the world around them.

Here it is; I hope you enjoy it

 

 

193 comments

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comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-11-23T23:03:29.198Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes; apology is an underrated consequentialist tool among nerds.

Some of the social function of apology can be understood game theoretically: Apology explicitly disavows a past action, allowing the one to whom the apology was made to leverage that confession in future: If someone apologises for something then does it again, then response can escalate because we have evidence that they are doing it even knowing that it's 'wrong'. The person who apologised knows this, and often the implicit threat of escalation if they do the same thing checks their future behaviour. Therefore apology is (possibly among other things) a signal, where the cost to apologising is the greater susceptibility to escalation in future cases.

Apology falls into a class--along with other things such as forgiving misdeeds, forgetting misdeeds, retribution, punishing an agent against its will, compensation for misdeeds--of things that would make no sense among sufficiently advanced and cooperative rationalists. Some things in that class (e.g. forgiveness) might already have been transcended by LW, and others (e.g. apology) are probably not possible to transcend even on LW, because the knowledge of other participants (e.g. confidence of their cooperativeness) required to transcend apology is probably too high for an online community of this size.

I would guess that the Bay Area rationalist set and its associates--which as far as I can tell is by far the most advanced community in the world in terms of how consummately instrumental x-rationality is forged into their swords--apologizes way, way, way more than the average LW'er, just like they talk about/express their feelings way more than people on LW typically do, and win because they're willing to confront that prospect of 'being vulnerable'.

HPMoR status:

"Well," said the boy. His eyes had not wavered from the Defense Professor's. "I certainly regret hurting you, Professor. But I do not think the situation calls for me to submit to you. I never really did understand the concept of apology, still less as it applies to a situation like this; if you have my regrets, but not my submission, does that count as saying sorry?"

Again that cold, cold laugh, darker than the void between the stars.

"I wouldn't know," said the Defense Professor, "I, too, never understood the concept of apology. That ploy would be futile between us, it seems, with both of us knowing it for a lie. Let us speak no more of it, then. Debts will be settled between us in time."

Two mistakes in thinking that my past self made a lot and others might also:

(1) Refusing to apologize if another party was 'more wrong'. Even if you're 99.9% right/innocent/blameless, you still have to make a choice between apologizing and not apologizing to the other person. If you refuse to apologize, things will probably get worse, because the other person thinks you're more wrong than you think you are, and they will see you not apologizing as defecting. If you apologize in a smart way, you can give an apology (which shouldn't make a difference but has the actual consequence where the other person is more probable to also apologise) without tying yourself down with too broad a commitment on your future behaviour, and without lying that you thought something was a mistake that wasn't.

(2) Using the fact that, in the limit as rationality and cooperation become arbitrarily great, apology is meaningless, as a rationalization for not apologising, when in fact you just feel embarrassed/are generally untrained and therefore not fit enough to apologise, and you're therefore avoiding the exertion of doing so.

I want to point out the difference between completely fake apologies for things one does not think were mistakes, and apologising for things that were mistakes even if the other person's mistakes were much greater. The former is less often the smart thing to do, and the latter is a lot more often than one might think. Once you get fairly strong, you can sometimes even win free points by apologising in front of a big group of people for something that everyone but the other disputant think is completely outweighed by the other disputant's actions.

E.g. 'I'm sorry I used such an abrupt tone in asking you to desist from stealing my food; it probably put you on the defensive.' If you really mean it (and you should, because you're almost certainly not a perfect communicator and there were probably things you could have done better), then often onlookers will think you're awesome and think the other person sucks for 'making you' apologise when you'd 'done nothing wrong'. Sometimes even the other disputant will be so disarmed by your unwavering 'politeness' that they will realise the ridiculousness of the situation and realise that you're being genuine and that they made a mistake, whereas when they thought you were a hostile opponent, it was much easier for them to rationalise that mistake.

Notice than in that example, your apology has not even constrained your future actions; everyone was so distracted by the ridiculousness of you apologising when you were innocent and the contrast it made between yourself and your opponent, that nobody will think to escalate against you in future the next time somebody steals your food.

That's why it's so important to know how to lose--so that you can win! Just like how the best things you could do to decrease your personal risk from fights are things like practising conflict defusion techniques, learning how to walk away from conflict, being less tempestuous, being situationally aware, or even just learning how to play dead/fake a seizure/panic attack, rather than something that just looks like winning, like practising flashy kicks.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-24T08:34:04.488Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

'I'm sorry I used such an abrupt tone in asking you to desist from stealing my food; it probably put you on the defensive.'

The setting most probable for such a situation would be a school environment, middle or high. The theft would not be about the food, it would be about bullying, and if the thief feels confident enough to even attempt this, it means that the victim is isolated and bereft of allies. In this context, I would expect them to laught at such a phrase, and I would expect the victim to lack the subjective perception of strength to even deliver it properly.

We should do something on bullies and how to deal with them... for the sake of our children if nothing else.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-11-24T11:19:52.537Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair. That's not a situation where I've actually used the 'overly apologetic' approach, it was just the first thing my imagination returned when I queried for a possible example that had the feel I was looking for. I had in mind (university) student life, where theft of food would (in my experience) not generally be due to bullying so much as greed and the perpetrator would probably know they made a mistake but might get defensive when called out. Also, the wording of that example is off, because (1) 'stealing my food' is relatively harsh and explicit and can feel like an accusation, hauling the perpetrator across the coals (2) 'probably put you on the defensive' could also be construed as a further dig.

Better would be, 'I'm sorry I used such an abrupt tone when talking to you about this before; I think it might have seemed like I was attacking you?' (where 'this' is unambiguous due to conversational context). Raise voice at end of sentence to emphasise query. This encourages other person to make a snap decision between answering that it did and risk escalating or answer that it didn't to foster reconciliation. Often they will go for the latter even if they did kinda feel under attack, just because they're on the spot and don't want to risk defecting from the reconciliation process. And if they go the former route, you should take it graciously (using your rationality training to avoid being outraged), and if appropriate even thank them for letting you know.

Actual example from my experience: Being woken up/kept awake at a somewhat unreasonable time by a housemate showering and moving around on the floor above (paper-thin ceiling) for a long time. Eventually I dragged myself upstairs in just boxer shorts (since I didn't want to get dressed, which seemed like it would waste time and drag me further away from sleep), knocked on their door, and garbled some sort of hinty explanation that they were making a fair amount of noise. Since both of us are somewhat bodily thick males and he's a man and didn't know me very well at the time, I think it possibly seemed like I was using an intimidation tactic along with being terse (actually I just wasn't conscious enough to muster a high level of politeness), and he seemed a lot more defensive than usual. The next day we swapped apologies (I apologised for being rude/seeming like I was getting on his case), which immediately set the tone for a productive discussion that made both of us more aware and considerate.

It did occur to me that I left it ambiguous as to when a situation is susceptible to calculated losing, and when (e.g. bullying, as you pointed out) apology can actually make things worse. Having clarified that by acknowledging such counterexamples exist, I can't think of any other situations where someone might misinterpret my advice to disastrous effect; generally I think it's either clear-cut (e.g. being bullied has a very different feel to being carelessly woken up), or at least ambiguous enough that erring on the side of 'politeness' is generally better. But it's possible I'm failing to think of something or overlooking a potential example situation where it's obvious to me but maybe not to others?

comment by Adele_L · 2013-11-24T04:24:52.414Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some things in that class (e.g. forgiveness) might already have been transcended by LW,

Could you explain this specific example further?

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-11-24T11:52:49.617Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the sense I'm using it here, forgiveness is an arbitrary ritual whereby the 'I'm angry at you about this' tag is switched to 'Nah, 's cool' for the forgiver. For the forgived, it's a way of saying that they're 'allowed' to stop feeling guilty about their past action because the forgiver has 'granted them' forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be useful if you don't have the self-awareness to know when you've fully learned your lesson from a mistake, and someone attuned to it (the forgiver) is better positioned to discern when you have. It can also serve a social function as a 'lowering of weapons', or as a way of saying 'I am now over my emotional disgust and am ready to engage again', or so forth.

Insomuch as forgiveness is an approximation to these various component propositions and is coloured by magical thinking (e.g. intuitively thinking that it makes sense to have an epiphenomenal 'mad at you' tag that should determine your disposition towards someone), advanced cooperating rationalists would not use forgiveness, because it encourages magical thinking about the various components, and this magical thinking is susceptible to lost purposes, e.g. turning into a game of 'winning forgiveness' that is divorced from the actual purpose of doing better in future or understanding mistakes better.

'Forgive and forget' is even worse; advanced cooperating rationalists would not permit each other to forget misdeeds, including their own, because that would be throwing away evidence. Of course, 'forget' here does not literally mean forget; misdeeds might be brought up again if the same mistake is made in future. But this is still a binary thing of 'Allowed to bring this up as evidence'/'Not allowed to' which is a crude approximation to the continuous and constant nature of past misdeeds as evidence about a person.

I don't remember ever seeing a forgiveness ritual take place on LW, but I do know that I've seen lots of cases in an exchange where someone explained their own misdeed and its cause to prove they could avoid it in future (and sometimes committed to avoiding it in future), and that was good enough for all involved.

I probably phrased this a bit strongly in the first place, since I could see e.g. Bay Area instrumental x-rationality pros using forgiveness rituals as an informal time-saving shorthand for the underlying rigorous game-theoretical/Bayesian concepts. But I suspect they would be less susceptible to losing sight of that underlying core (e.g. less susceptible to 'win forgiveness' games). This would be 'post-rigorous forgiveness', but I'd remain suspicious of pre-rigorous forgiveness.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2013-11-24T02:26:10.333Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wish I could upvote this more than once.

comment by jetm · 2013-11-25T12:09:15.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Once you get fairly strong, you can sometimes even win free points by apologising in front of a big group of people for something that everyone but the other disputant think is completely outweighed by the other disputant's actions.

Why would this be true? If the other disputant was so clearly in the wrong, wouldn't it be obvious that that's what you're trying to do, thus voiding the effect?

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-11-25T14:00:58.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, it wouldn't always be effective. But things that--when described linguistically to you--sound obvious can be subtle enough when they actually happen to others that they work anyway. Actually believing that you have acted imperfectly and can do better next time and conveying this in apology form makes it less obvious. And in fact, if you are trained to apologise for little things in the face of big things even without an audience, then your outward conduct may even be mostly indistinguishable between the two cases anyway.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-11-23T22:58:30.592Z · score: 15 (31 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My first reaction to this video is that it's pretty crappy. Its main message is to insist on the following sequence as everyone's moral responsibility: once you say something that someone perceives as hurtful, you're morally obliged not to "question their feelings", but to perceive that you screwed up, to feel bad, to apologize, and change your behavior so this doesn't happen again. The video repeatedly insists that your own thoughts about whether what you've done was improper are irrelevant.

Now, it should be completely obvious that this sequence is not going to be used as prescribed by anyone including the author of the video. If you were to approach him and say, "In your video, you identified my position as that of a fartbag, repeatedly, and that was very hurtful to me", he's not going to say, "Oh, thanks for telling me that, I'm sorry I screwed up, I feel really bad and will never do this again". He is, in fact, going to use his own judgement about the appropriateness of his behavior to decide whether or not he should apologize.

Why, then, is there no mention of your own moral judgement in the video, and instead, you're repeatedly encouraged not to question someone's hurt feelings, but to accept them as a proof you did something hurtful, and must feel bad and apologize?

My guess is that this is a shortcut towards setting up a double standard. Once you've gotten people to accept this sequence as their moral responsibility, some varieties of hurt feelings are going to be treated as obviously triggering the sequence, while others will just be ignored. This isn't conscious lying - the author of the video is sincere. He's going to have a blinkered view of what it means to hurt someone's feelings, and he wants you to have that same view, too. If you approach him with a hypothetical scenario in which what he's said or done was true, virtuous, and hurt the feelings of some bad person, he's not going to be able to see a problem with that, and will accuse you of sophistry.

Double standards are incredibly powerful because they allow you to be hypocritical without consciously being aware of the fact. They've replaced direct and conscious lies as the preferred method of being untruthful in arguments.

The video that is recommended at the end as the inspiration for this one provides much of the missing context; it's all about how to correctly apologize after being "called out, which in the context of this video is when you say or do something that upholds the oppression of the marginalized groups of people"; the video teaches you how to apologize and become a proper "ally", etc. So we're fully into the social-justice-warriors terminology here, which is or course very much misaligned with rationality, and the double standard described above is being built primarily with that purpose.

There are some good things about this video. It is true that many people feel that apologizing is a sign of weakness. It is also true that there should be more direct apologies and fewer non-apology "I'm sorry you feel that way" apologies. These good aspects of the video are drowned by the dogmatic, irrational claims of alleged moral responsibility to which most of the video is devoted.

Watching the video was a decent exercise in detecting some typical patterns of bad thinking.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-24T08:54:30.636Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you approach him with a hypothetical scenario in which what he's said or done was true, virtuous, and hurt the feelings of some bad person, he's not going to be able to see a problem with that, and will accuse you of sophistry.

I don't anticipate that. Seems like a perfectly acceptable hypothetical.

social-justice-warriors terminology here, which is or course very much misaligned with rationality

Wait, what? How so?

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-11-24T12:23:53.458Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't anticipate that. Seems like a perfectly acceptable hypothetical.

Not sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying that, for instance, if Hank Green were to correctly call someone's words racist, and that person were to complain to Hank Green that this labeling hurt them, Hank Green would thereupon feel bad, apologize, and refrain from using the word "racist" henceforth? I find that ridiculously unlikely.

social-justice-warriors terminology here, which is or course very much misaligned with rationality

Wait, what? How so?

In a myriad of ways, really. Off the top of my head, and I'll stop at five examples, and will skip "check your privilege", because that's just shooting fish in a barrel:

  1. Status-seeking through Oppression Olympics is endemic.

  2. The concept of "ally" seems to involve wilful submission to others' critical judgements and suspension of your own critical faculties. Witness the burgeoning genre of explanations of what a "good ally" must or must not do, which usually involve "shut up" and other similar admonishments.

  3. Habitual pattern-matching of any opposition. Hence "derailing", the practice of bingo cards, etc. Persistent, almost automatic pattern-matching is not felt to be a problem.

  4. In general it's rare to see a SJW willing to question the basic tenets of their movement. I also don't recall seeing a SJW actively seek out data unfavourable to their convictions, or update on such data.

  5. SJW rhetoric frequently relies on bullying the opponent, with opposition to such pattern-matched to and decried as "tone argument".

I don't think it's possible to be a committed SJW and a committed rationalist. The social norms of the movement are too poisonous to rational thought.

(rationalism is, of course, compatible with a commitment to social justice)

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-11-25T12:19:34.564Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you saying that, for instance, if Hank Green were to correctly call someone's words racist, and that person were to complain to Hank Green that this labeling hurt them, Hank Green would thereupon feel bad, apologize, and refrain from using the word "racist" henceforth?

I guess he would. Well, at least if the complaining person was a woman, or black, or disabled, or homosexual, or whatever. He would probably not stop using the word "racist", but he would be more careful to use it in a way that makes obvious that the word applies only to white straight males.

Ok, I was joking here, but here is a thing that really happened on a feminist blog: There was a discussion about trans people. All people were super politically correct, except for one person who repeatedly asserted that trans people are against the nature, because the Spirit of Nature told her so. When other people finally attacked that as cis-ism (or how exactly they call that), the person defended by saying that she was a Native American, and those were her Native American beliefs; and that the people who offended her beliefs should check their privileges and apologize. And... however incredibly that felt to me... they really apologized. I was completely shocked. So yes, this kind of behavior really is possible. It might not make sense to you or me, but it exists.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-24T15:47:03.240Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Not sure I understand you correctly" Indeed you misunderstood me; I meant that, if one were to confront Hank Green on this double standard, he would acknowledge it and amend his proposal accordingly, because, as far as I've been able from watching his show, he's an honest guy.

Although, if one is feeling strong enough, the alternative you're describing can be practical, because racists and malicious bastards are people too, have loved ones and hopes and aspirations... and vulnerabilities. And hurting their feelings can be counter-productive to getting them to stop being in your way. So, if you can spare the effort and the love, you might as well be sorry that they're hurt, and say so. But that's, like, Messianic, All-Loving Hero grade awesomeness, and I believe it's perfectly fine to not feel or show "sympathy for the devil".

Also, there might well be a huge level of arrogance in forgiving a villain for the hurt they inflicted on people other than you; it's not your place to do that.

What are Oppression Olymptics? What is "check your privilege"?

This said, I've seen some of the patterns you described occur. I don't know if I would call myself an SJW (I mean, what is that, precisely? I've only started hearing the term "social justice" this November, in relation to Kill la Kill of all things (which, by the way, is insanely awesome), but I know I am pretty committed to the promotion and advancement of gender and racial equality.

This is partly because of the obvious and multiple utilitarian advantages on a universal level. It is also because I selfishly want to be able to enjoy poetry, flowers, fashion, be a vegetarian, drive an electric car, and, why not, fuck a dude if I feel like it, among many other things, without getting harassed and belittled and found undesirable for it by men and women alike, without it diminishing my social status and getting in the way of me getting things done.

Now, this said, I've been faced with embarassing situations as an "ally", where my allies were acting like utter jerks; I call them out on it and move on. The trick is not to be afraid of what the jerks think, to propose one's arguments in a fair-minded way and to stand against unfair-minded arguments, in stark opposition to the "arguments as soldiers" attitude. The fair-minded people will probably know you to be true, and you can only hope that your arguments can somehow get through the jerks' think, irrational, vindictive skulls (if they don't dismiss it outright as "demagogia" or "sophistry").

As for pattern-matching, that's a heuristic that seems hard to avoid when you have little previous information on your interlocutor, and you've had experience before dealing with interlocutors who eventually turned out to be unreceptive jerks from the other side; it can be a very frustrating waste of time and effort and love, and I feel some sympathy for the people who overcomensate in unwelcomingness out of fear of this happening again.

comment by lmm · 2013-11-24T23:29:58.763Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are Oppression Olymptics?

People "competing" by claiming they are more oppressed than other people, because of the group they're in.

What is "check your privilege"?

In its worst form, the position that you're not allowed to have a view on an issue (or that any possible view is invalid) because you are not the oppressed party.

I've only started hearing the term "social justice" this November, in relation to Kill la Kill of all things (which, by the way, is insanely awesome), but I know I am pretty committed to the promotion and advancement of gender and racial equality.

Hah. The cluster I think of as SJW would, I'm pretty sure, say you couldn't possibly be committed to the advancement of gender equality if you have a positive view on Kill la Kill.

It is also because I selfishly want to be able to enjoy poetry, flowers, fashion, be a vegetarian, drive an electric car, and, why not, fuck a dude if I feel like it, among many other things, without getting harassed and belittled and found undesirable for it by men and women alike, without it diminishing my social status and getting in the way of me getting things done.

I think that's an inadequate rationalization. As a straight white male who assigns low probability to any of those changing, there is very little selfish benefit in joining the cause - and certainly a social cost to doing so.

Now, this said, I've been faced with embarassing situations as an "ally", where my allies were acting like utter jerks; I call them out on it and move on. The trick is not to be afraid of what the jerks think, to propose one's arguments in a fair-minded way and to stand against unfair-minded arguments, in stark opposition to the "arguments as soldiers" attitude. The fair-minded people will probably know you to be true, and you can only hope that your arguments can somehow get through the jerks' think, irrational, vindictive skulls (if they don't dismiss it outright as "demagogia" or "sophistry").

True enough. But some movements seem to have a high enough concentration of jerks (in your terms) that it's not worth engaging with them. I support at least some kinds of social justice, but I don't think engaging with a social justice movement would be productive.

As for pattern-matching, that's a heuristic that seems hard to avoid when you have little previous information on your interlocutor, and you've had experience before dealing with interlocutors who eventually turned out to be unreceptive jerks from the other side; it can be a very frustrating waste of time and effort and love, and I feel some sympathy for the people who overcomensate in unwelcomingness out of fear of this happening again.

I think the big problem is that it's unacceptable to apply the scientific method. When we find out that one group performs differently on an IQ test (say) from another, even considering the possibility that maybe one group is more intelligent than another is seen as unacceptable; we're expected to start from the axiom that all people are equal, and therefore conclude that the test is biased.

Heck, it's got to the point that many empirical facts are unacceptable. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, race predicts criminality even when we control for every other factor we can think of - but you can't say that openly. (I'm using race as an easy example, but there are similarly unsayable things on sex, sexuality and so forth)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-25T00:51:17.667Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is "check your privilege"?

In its worst form, the position that you're not allowed to have a view on an issue (or that any possible view is invalid) because you are not the oppressed party.

Another bad form (I'm not going to claim it's worse) is that your privilege means you're not allowed to have any opinion other than the social justice consensus.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T01:14:56.586Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a much saner form that's worth noting, when it is shorthand for "You overlap through at least one of the following categories:heterosexual, male, white, high socioeconomic bracket, and so you are less likely to have personal experience of the sort of problem that is going on here and might not notice when it occurs." This is essentially an issue of an illusion of transparency, in that often members of specific groups have issues that they are more aware of, and the amount of share experience leads to problems of inferential distance.

Essential agreement that the other two meanings are deeply counter-rational. Unfortunately, exactly what someone means by it isn't always clear.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-11-26T06:20:54.315Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that "privilege" (in its more reasonable forms) basically refers to a special case of the Typical Mind Fallacy, one where people are prone to dismissing or understating the problems of one group because they don't personally experience them in the same way. For a relatively neutral example, there's this bit in Yvain's post:

I can't deal with noise. If someone's being loud, I can't sleep, I can't study, I can't concentrate, I can't do anything except bang my head against the wall and hope they stop. I once had a noisy housemate. Whenever I asked her to keep it down, she told me I was being oversensitive and should just mellow out. I can't claim total victory here, because she was very neat and kept yelling at me for leaving things out of place, and I told her she needed to just mellow out and you couldn't even tell that there was dust on that dresser anyway. It didn't occur to me then that neatness to her might be as necessary and uncompromisable as quiet was to me, and that this was an actual feature of how our minds processed information rather than just some weird quirk on her part.

I would say that these are pretty much perfect examples of privilege: situations in which the perfectly reasonable problems of one party are completely invisible to the other, to the point that the other cannot even see what the problem is and thinks that the other person is just complaining about nothing.

Similarly, Eliezer has explicitly used the term "metabolic privilege" in pretty much this sense:

The metabolically privileged don't believe in metabolic privilege, since they are able to lose weight by trying! harder! to diet and exercise, and the diet and exercise actually work the way they're supposed to…

So "privilege" is a useful concept, one which has actually already seen use in the LW community. In this context, "check your privilege" is a call to re-evaluate one's assumptions and to take into account the factors which make the situation genuinely problematic for others but a non-problem for you.

Even the "privilege means you're not allowed to have any opinion other than the social justice consensus" sense can be a somewhat reasonable one - there are plausibly positions where people frequently and commonly become guilty of the Typical Mind Fallacy, and where a consensus of the people who've given the issue some thought agrees on this, and people who disagree are likely to just be flat-out wrong. (You could say that it's the SJW version of "read the Sequences".)

A classic SJW example of privilege that I think is justified is the case of sexual harassment of women, where men frequently react to cases of harassment with variations of "I don't see the problem here, if someone did that to me I'd just be flattered". In that case, the fallacy involves an inability to take into account the fact that a behavior that one might consider flattering if it only happened rarely will become unbearable if repeated sufficiently often (obligatory link), and also that men being stronger women creates a sense of accompanying danger that wouldn't be present in the case of women harassing men.

I thought Of Dogs and Lizards was also a nice illustration of these concepts:

This is where things get a bit tricky to understand. Because most examples of social privilege aren’t that straightforward. Let’s take, for example, a basic bit of male privilege:

A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.

A pretty common male response to this point is “that’s a privilege? I would love if a group of women did that to me.”

And that response, right there, is a perfect shining example of male privilege.

To explain how and why, I am going to throw a lengthy metaphor at you. In fact, it may even qualify as parable. Bear with me, because if it makes everything crystal clear, it will be worth the time.

Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.

The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.

This is not because the dog is a jerk.

This is because the dog has no fucking clue what the lizard even just said.

Consider: he’s a nordic dog in a temperate climate. The word “cold” is completely meaningless to him. He’s never been cold in his entire life. He lives in an environment that is perfectly suited to him, completely aligned with his comfort level, a world he grew up with the tools to survive and control, built right in to the way he was born.

So the lizard tries to explain it to him. She says, “well, hey, how would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

The dog goes, “uh… sounds good to me.”

What she really means, of course, is “how would you like it if I made you cold.” But she can’t make him cold. She doesn’t have the tools, or the power, their shared world is not built in a way that allows it – she simply is not physically capable of doing the same harm to him that he’s doing to her. She could make him feel pain, probably, I’m sure she could stab him with a toothpick or put something nasty in his food or something, but this specific form of pain, he will never, ever understand – it’s not something that can be inflicted on him, given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his favor in this instance. So he doesn’t get what she’s saying to him, and keeps hurting her.

Most privilege is like this.

A straight cisgendered male American, because of who he is and the culture he lives in, does not and cannot feel the stress, creepiness, and outright threat behind a catcall the way a woman can. His upbringing has given him fur and paws big enough to turn the dials and plopped him down in temperate Ohio. When she says “you don’t have to put up with being leered at,” what she means is, “you don’t ever have to be wary of sexual interest.” That’s male privilege. Not so much that something doesn’t happen to men, but that it will never carry the same weight, even if it does.

So what does this mean? And what are we asking you to do, when we say “check your privilege” or “your privilege is showing”?

Well, quite simply, we want you to understand when you have fur. And, by extension, when that means you should listen. See, the dog’s not an asshole just for turning down the temperature. As far as he knows, that’s fine, right? He genuinely cannot feel the pain it causes, he doesn’t even know about it. No one thinks he’s a bad person for totally accidentally doing harm.

Here’s where he becomes an asshole: the minute the gecko says, “look, you’re hurting me,” and he says, “what? No, I’m not. This ‘cold’ stuff doesn’t even exist, I should know, I’ve never felt it. You’re imagining it. It’s not there. It’s fine because of fur, because of paws, because look, you can curl up around this lamp, because sometimes my water dish is too tepid and I just shut up and cope, obviously temperature isn’t this big deal you make it, and you’ve never had to deal with mange anyway, my life is just as hard.”

And then the dog just ignores it. Because he can. That’s the privilege that comes with having fur, with being a dog in Ohio. He doesn’t have to think about it. He doesn’t have to live daily with the cold. He has no idea what he’s talking about, and he will never, ever be forced to learn. He can keep making the lizard miserable until the day they both die, and he will never suffer for it beyond the mild annoyance of her complaining. And she, meanwhile, gets to try not to freeze to death.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T16:18:31.640Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

privilege: situations in which the perfectly reasonable problems of one party are completely invisible to the other, to the point that the other cannot even see what the problem is and thinks that the other person is just complaining about nothing.

That definition is incomplete without having power mentioned in it.

For example, it's culturally difficult for "straight cisgendered male Americans" to show weakness. It's not a problem for women. Take the stereotypical situation when a couple is lost and the man refuses to ask for directions. The woman is annoyed at him. Can he tell her "check your privilege"?

Even the "privilege means you're not allowed to have any opinion other than the social justice consensus" sense can be a somewhat reasonable one

I strongly disagree. It cannot be.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-11-26T19:27:07.016Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example, it's culturally difficult for "straight cisgendered male Americans" to show weakness. It's not a problem for women. Take the stereotypical situation when a couple is lost and the man refuses to ask for directions. The woman is annoyed at him. Can he tell her "check your privilege"?

Depends on who you ask. I would say yes, some would say no.

I strongly disagree. It cannot be.

Right, a literal "never allowed to have" cannot be. What I meant to say was that positions that might easily seem like "you are never allowed to have this opinion" might actually be positions of "this position is so likely to be wrong as to not be worth wasting our time with", which can sometimes (though definitely not always) be reasonable.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T19:49:55.907Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

actually be positions of "this position is so likely to be wrong as to not be worth wasting our time with"

Sure, there are lots of those. But notice the difference in accents: "I think you have no clue to the extent that I am not going to bother and waste my time" -- vs. " You have no right to your opinion", especially if there's an explicit or implicit "because you belong to a privileged class".

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-11-27T10:17:05.901Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What on earth could it possibly mean for you to have (or not have) "a right to your opinion"?

One possibility that occurs to me is that the expression "I have a right to my opinion!" has to do with whether people will give you the last word — it's a claim to power over other people in conversation. Asserting "I have a right to my opinion" is a way of saying, "Shut up! I'm not talking about this with you any more!" Thus, to say "you have no right to your opinion" is a way of saying, "No, I won't shut up; I will go on trying to convince you that you are wrong."

Another possibility is that "I have a right to my opinion!" is a statement that one intends to continue to confidently assert a view which has been undermined by evidence or argument, without acknowledging or responding to the criticism. Thus, to say "you have no right to your opinion" is to say "you are being epistemically rude; stop it."

A third possibility is that "I have a right to my opinion!" is an assertion that some topics are too socially volatile to be exposed to much criticism. This seems to be what people mean when they bring up "the right to your opinion" in matters of religious doctrine. Thus, to say "you have no right to your opinion" is to say "I'm not going to stop publicly debunking your religion just because you don't like me doing it."

Fourth, "I have a right to my opinion!" could be a demand to not be treated worse socially by others on account of one's opinion, even if others may fear that the opinion may lead you to treat them worse. This would seem to be a demand for unilateral disarmament: "I will go on being bigoted against Blues, and I demand that Blues not treat me badly, even if they fear that I will treat them badly." Thus, to say "you have no right to your opinion" is to say "Yes, I am going to treat your opinion as evidence about your character and your future actions, and treat you accordingly."

Lastly, "I have a right to my opinion!" could be an effort to tar one's (nonviolent) critics by associating them with some sort of (violent) censors — an Inquisition, a secret police — and to rally defenders of freedom to attack those critics. Thus, to say "you have no right to your opinion" is to say "I do not pose the kind of threat that you are claiming. You have no business invoking the defense of freedom on your opinion's behalf, since freedom is not threatened. This is not a matter of 'rights'; it is a matter of conversation, argument, and evidence. Stop trying to escalate it into a matter of 'rights'."

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-27T15:41:32.555Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's also possible that "I have a right to my opinion" can mean "I have a right to enough time to assimilate new information without being told I have to think differently because someone else is sure they're right."

It might be interesting, the next time you come across someone who says "I have a right to my opinion", to ask them what they mean.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T15:24:33.349Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What on earth could it possibly mean for you to have (or not have) "a right to your opinion"?

For a trivial example, it turned out that Larry Summers did not have a right to his opinion about why women are underrepresented in certain fields.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-11-27T18:37:46.932Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

After seeing your comment, I went and read what Wikipedia had to say about that incident.

I'd heard about Summers' resignation only at some remove, and only really from bloggers who had opinions on one side or the other on the women-in-science issue. As a result, I hadn't known that there were other contributing factors to Summers' resignation besides that one. It seems that there were — including other conflicts with the faculty ... and a corruption scandal involving Russia's post-Soviet privatization program that led to Harvard paying a $26.5 million settlement to the Federal government.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Summers#President_of_Harvard

I guess that goes to show the consequences of getting news from partisan sources. The rest of the story is substantially less exciting to folks who care about the "Social Justice vs. Political Incorrectness" Blue-Green war, though, so it's no surprise it didn't get as much press.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T18:48:43.711Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course it didn't end there...

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-11-26T20:10:16.708Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. I didn't read the original as a literal quote but rather as a rough characterization of a perceived attitude, so I didn't pay much attention to the details of the exact wording, since I treated it as referring to a set of many different statements that include both of the variants in your comment, as well as others.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T16:38:39.934Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even the "privilege means you're not allowed to have any opinion other than the social justice consensus" sense can be a somewhat reasonable one

I strongly disagree. It cannot be.

Are you simply going to say you disagree with Kaj here on this last part or actually respond to their comment, especially say the end of the sentence you cut off where Kaj said:

there are plausibly positions where people frequently and commonly become guilty of the Typical Mind Fallacy, and where a consensus of the people who've given the issue some thought agrees on this, and people who disagree are likely to just be flat-out wrong. (You could say that it's the SJW version of "read the Sequences".)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T18:12:42.759Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am going to point out that "you're not allowed to have any other opinion" and "I believe your opinion is wrong because of A, B, and C" are very different statements.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T18:14:39.279Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much depends on what one means by allowed? For example, it isn't unreasonable to say that I shouldn't have an opinion on whether or not sterile neutrinos exist- because I have nowhere near the physics background to remotely understand the question beyond at an extremely basic level.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T19:15:45.377Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it isn't unreasonable to say that I shouldn't have an opinion on whether or not sterile neutrinos exist

That depends on who's doing the talking.

It's not unreasonable for you to decide that you shouldn't have an opinion on X until you found out more about X.

When another party tells you that you are not allowed to have an opinion on X the very first issue that pops up is what power/authority does that other party have to decide which opinions you are allowed to have and which not?

CYP doesn't come up in discussions of neutrinos, it comes up in discussion of sociopolitical issues and in that context allowing or not allowing people to have certain opinions has a long and ugly history.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-26T20:03:45.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When another party tells you that you are not allowed to have an opinion on X the very first issue that pops up is what power/authority does that other party have to decide which opinions you are allowed to have and which not?

Is it similarly true, if another party tells me that the very first issue that pops up under certain circumstances is X, that the very first issue that pops up is what power/authority does that other party have to decide what the very first issue is and isn't?

This seems to me a silly way to treat ordinary discourse.

When you tell me that X is the very first issue to pop up, I take that to mean you're more interested in discussing X than anything else. If someone tells me I shouldn't have an opinion about X, I take that to mean they're not interested in hearing about my opinion. Yes, in both cases they are expressing themselves as though their personal preferences were facts about the world, but I just treat that as a fairly basic rhetorical maneuver to establish their conversation status.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T20:22:14.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I take that to mean you're more interested in discussing X than anything else

Generally speaking, no, it doesn't mean that I'm more interested in X. What it means is that the answer to X will influence and affect discussions of Y and Z so we might as well start with X because we'll end up there anyway.

If someone tells me I shouldn't have an opinion about X, I take that to mean they're not interested in hearing about my opinion.

I take that differently -- I understand that as containing a moral judgment as to which opinions are acceptable/allowed and which are not. After all in this case you can have an opinion as long as it is the correct "social justice" one. Any color as long as it's black.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-26T20:32:25.551Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So it sounds like on your account, if I were to rail against you for deciding that we're going to talk about X now and that I'm not allowed to talk about Y and Z, I would be missing the point, because what's really going on has nothing to do with who is deciding what and who has the power.

Rather, you're just pointing out that, since the answer to X will influence and affect discussions of Y and Z, there is a conversational failure mode we can avoid by talking about X first. On your account, you aren't expressing a moral judgment about what topics are acceptable/allowed, you're just saying that some topics will cause the conversation to proceed more usefully (by addressing the fundamental issues first) and others will cause it to proceed less usefully.

Yes?

By contrast, on your account, the "social justice" warriors who say that, for example, men aren't entitled to an opinion about the prevalence of sexism against women in our culture, aren't making any such claim. There is no model of conversational dynamics they operate from such that such expressions of opinion can be expected to cause a conversation to proceed less usefully. In that case it really is about who is deciding what and who has the power.

So the two aren't comparable.

Yes?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T21:21:10.129Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

there is a conversational failure mode we can avoid by talking about X first

Not so much even a failure mode, as an observation that the optimal path is X -> Y -> Z and if you start anywhere else you'll have to come back to X soon, anyway.

some topics will cause the conversation to proceed more usefully (by addressing the fundamental issues first) and others will cause it to proceed less usefully.

Yes.

such expressions of opinion can be expected to cause a conversation to proceed less usefully.

More than that, CYP generally aims at putting a full stop to a particular branch of a conversation. It's like "This here is a Sacred Truth, all you can do is accept it, and we will tolerate no doubts about it".

In that case it really is about who is deciding what and who has the power.

Claims to power, yes, not necessarily the actual power.

the two aren't comparable.

Yes.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-26T21:47:52.769Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK; thanks for clarifying.

I don't agree with your position generally, but I certainly agree that there exist individuals who have the kind of "This here is a Sacred Truth, all you can do is accept it, and we will tolerate no doubts about it" attitude towards what we've been calling "social justice", and there exist many communities where such individuals exert disproportionate power.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T19:43:38.051Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When another party tells you that you are not allowed to have an opinion on X the very first issue that pops up is what power/authority does that other party have to decide which opinions you are allowed to have and which not?

I think you may want to see Kaj's comment here, which I think clarifies what is going on.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-25T02:21:26.816Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right about the ignorance part of privilege-- and contrary to SJW, it's quite possible for people in the less privileged categories to be ignorant about at least some of the problems of people in the more privileged categories.

I'd love to find a way to disentangle the ignorance part of the idea of privilege from the power grab, but I haven't figured out how to do it.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T02:28:15.052Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My general tactic has been when people use the term to say more or less the version like what you quoted is "problematic" and then explain more or less the ok meaning. Most of the time if you do so, people will be more careful at least for the remainder of the conversation.

On the other hand, at least once when I did so, I was informed that what I was attempting to do was "mansplaining" and "coming from a position of privilege to control what it means to have privilege" and I more or less threw up my hands. I don't know if the individual in question was hopelessly mindkilled or not, but it exceeded my patience level.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T01:42:48.604Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You overlap through at least one of the following categories:heterosexual, male, white, high socioeconomic bracket

An interesting set. So let's see who doesn't overlap at least one category -- it got to be a lesbian (or at least bi) poor non-white woman.

So everybody who is not a lesbian poor non-white woman (which I would estimate to be 98-99% of the population) is vulnerable to the cry of Check Your Privilege! Interesting...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T01:46:48.667Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, in the sane version this isn't about vulnerability or conversation point scoring/status but actually trying to make an observation.

And in the sane contexts, most of them aren't going to be relevant. If for example, one discussing say voting rights issues, I don't think (sane) people are going to argue that sexual orientation matters, even as race and income might.

Although, if you do want to focus on how narrow it can get, I've also seem to the term in the context of people who are Christian not realizing how uncomfortable people from other religious backgrounds can easily be in parts of the US, and especially how that applies to atheists. But again, I don't think the argument would be made that all the issues are relevant at the same time.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T02:20:57.360Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

but actually trying to make an observation.

So, maybe, make it? There is, of course, the trivial point that for any issue there are people who had personal experience with it and people who had not, but "check your privilege" is very much not about personal experiences but about treating people solely as members of a certain class.

There is a reasonable way to put what you're trying to say -- it would go along the lines of "You are making assumptions X, Y, and Z and they don't work in this situation because of A, B, and C and so what you expect to happen doesn't". But "check your privilege" is not that -- it's a shorthand for "sit down, shut up, and feel guilty".

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T02:25:20.432Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or it can be shorthand for "You are making a long list of implicit assumptions, and it will take time to go through all of them, but you can conclude from someone who has actually been in the relevant situation that you are wrong about the actual situation on the ground." That's a common enough sentiment in many different contexts where inferential distance matters, and it may help to think in terms of this thread which tried to expand most of those issues in other contexts.

It helps to not try to interpret every statement people who make as the most irrational possible just because you already disagree with them or have seen other irrational aspects that particularly irk you.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T02:41:48.141Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or it can shorthand for "You are making a long list of implicit assumptions, and it will take time to go through all of them, but you can conclude from someone who has actually been in the relevant situation that you are wrong about the actual situation on the ground."

It can. But for me to accept this requires me to grant A LOT of credibility to the speaker.

It helps to not try to interpret every statement people who make as the most irrational possible just because you already disagree with them

Well, we can talk empirics, then. I've had "check your privilege" card pulled on me numerous times. In the great majority of the cases it was done to shut me up and shame me. In the great majority of cases people saying that had zero idea about my personal experiences and were just assuming what it was convenient for them to assume. In most cases this card was pulled when people were badly losing a rational argument.

So while in theory "check your privilege" can mean various things, I am pretty certain about what it means in practice.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T02:45:39.494Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In most cases this card was pulled when people were badly losing a rational argument.

Inferential distance issues is actually very high on the list of things that can make someone think that someone else is "badly losing" an argument. On at least one occasion I've had someone who was insisting that .9999... !=1 come away from a conversation with me convinced that they had "clearly won".

But your point does have some validity, and if you look back at the original comment you replied to, I agreed with Nancy that it can be used in irrational ways. My point was about the more rational ways people can and do use the term. So what precisely are you trying to argue here?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T02:52:16.304Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point was about the more rational ways people can and do use the term.

My feeling is that the term is irretrievably tainted. I see its use as an ideological marker.

I accept that what it tries to express can be a useful point but this particular phrase by now carries way too much baggage.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T02:54:11.035Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds then like an assertion not that people don't use the phrase more rationally, but that you or others are unlikely to treat it as having a more rational meaning even when it does, because it has a history of being used more often in a more irrational fashion by people you politically disagree with. Is that a fair summary?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T03:00:37.350Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is an assertion that in my personal experience people do not use the phrase rationally. YMMV and all that, of course.

This personal experience leads me to consider this particular phrase as an indicator of certain characteristics of people who us it, both with respect to their ideology and their rationality.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-11-25T04:04:40.711Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This personal experience leads me to consider this particular phrase as an indicator of certain characteristics of people who us it, both with respect to their ideology and their rationality.

Does it matter who they use that phrase to? Because some of us know how to speak "social justice-ese" to those who respond well to it, and "rational-ese" to those who respond better to that - but it can sometimes be frustrating when talking to a mixed audience. Whichever language one chooses, the other half will sense a betrayal.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T04:35:24.483Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whichever language one chooses, the other half will sense a betrayal.

Correctly, too. Few like being manipulated and "two-faced" is not endearment.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-11-25T04:41:48.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Correctly, too.

I don't know that I agree with that. I've found, for example, that plenty of social justice crusaders are perfectly willing and capable of learning rationalist thinking, but only from someone who has identified as a member of their pack. And plenty of rationalists express a desire for social justice people to behave more rationally. At what point should instrumental "skillful means" be seen as manipulation, and at what point is it a necessary handshake protocol?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:07:17.074Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

plenty of social justice crusaders are perfectly willing and capable of learning rationalist thinking

Sure, if you recall that rationalist thinking is defined as winning.

but only from someone who has identified as a member of their pack.

So you are using the expression as a tribal membership sign? With the implication that "check your privilege" is a valid tribal marker?

At what point should instrumental "skillful means" be seen as manipulation, and at what point is it a necessary handshake protocol?

Depends on what you are promising and implying. Note the difficulty of using "skillful means" in mixed audiences, as mentioned above. By incorporating the right signs into the handshake protocols you represent yourself as a bona fide member of the tribe. And if then you start speaking as an outsider, tribe members will come to the correct conclusion that you only pretended to be a member of the tribe.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-11-25T05:10:47.578Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And from a tribal perspective, this illustrates the need for liminal / shamanistic roles - people who can be a bona fide member of the tribe, and yet also speak outsider language. There's plenty of evidence that cultures from our ancestral environment codified roles that were allowed to break such taboos.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:21:07.840Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a taboo if you are, without a doubt, the member of the tribe.

If you haven't established that you belong, behaving as an outsider will likely be interpreted as treachery or evidence of two-facedness.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:18:46.854Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect this may be extending the tribe metaphor too far.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-11-25T06:46:27.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you elaborate on your suspicion? Because I think it's using the metaphor precisely where the mapping is tightest.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T16:11:15.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, we use the word "tribal" in such contexts, but we don't really mean tribes in a literal sense. Even in tribal cultures, political and other alliances form and break off at a much smaller scale.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:11:39.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, if you recall that rationalist thinking is defined as winning

I suspect that isn't the definition that ialdabaoth is using here, but rather is talking about the cluster in meme space such as cognitive biases, tabooing terms, explicitly acknowledging inferential distance, making beliefs pay rent, etc.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:18:29.561Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the cluster in meme space

In my biased opinion the social justice warriors would have trouble with this cluster. Their position is very much ideological and ideologies are not friendly towards this cluster.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:23:43.935Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my biased opinion the social justice warriors would have trouble with this cluster. Their position is very much ideological and ideologies are not friendly towards this cluster.

What do you mean by ideology? Is say neo-reactionism an ideology? Is libertarianism an ideology?

In any event, this has little to do with my point since I was clarifying what ialdabaoth was talking about.

However, as long as were talking about biased, personal experiences, I'm going to need to strongly disagree in the specific case of people who self-identity as involved in social justice. In fact, the notion of inferential distance at least seems to be one that once you explain it, jumps out as a thing precisely because they are aware of examples of it, but don't really have a separate term, or a decent overarching explanation for what is going on. I have to wonder if perhaps you are going into conversations with SJs or people on the left or far left with a more adversarial bent, and that's contributing to the differences in experience?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:38:16.711Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have to wonder if perhaps you are going into conversations with SJs or people on the left or far left with a more adversarial bent, and that's contributing to the differences in experience?

That is likely.

SJWs also are prone to going into adversarial mode pretty quickly when talking to me. I tend to believe that sacred cows make the best hamburger and they are usually quite fond of their sacred cows :-D

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:40:44.474Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pissing off ideologues or trolling people in real life can be fun, but it isn't a useful way to get information about their actual beliefs or how rational they are.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:45:07.647Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pissing off ideologues or trolling people in real life can be fun, but it isn't a useful way to get information about their actual beliefs

Oh, I disagree. Pissed-off people often get agitated enough to actually state their true beliefs which they would normally mask and camouflage and hedge about.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:47:56.832Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's this common belief that people when angry say what they are really thinking, but I suspect that often what is coming out is oversimplified statements that given a few more seconds of thought they'd even say to themselves "No, I don't really believe that." Speaking personally, one thing I like a fair bit about the internet is that I can reread a statement and make sure it has all the necessary nuance, and isn't a completely off the cuff remark that doesn't include any disclaimers that are bouncing around in my head but didn't make it to the keyboard.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:50:58.825Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's this common belief that people when angry say what they are really thinking

First, not always -- sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. However what people are willing to say, even under provocation, often offers insight into their minds.

Second, I was talking about beliefs which are less controlled by the conscious mind.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-25T15:08:39.463Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's part of what the SJWs are doing, too-- trying to guess at what people are really like from small clues.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:52:04.364Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean by beliefs?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T06:00:19.791Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Values, as well as maps (in the map/territory meaning).

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T16:12:34.513Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Values, as well as maps (in the map/territory meaning).

So, that's two very broad categories and is most human thoughts. So when you say these beliefs are less controlled by the conscious mind, that's opposed to what other thoughts?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T16:26:35.424Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's opposed to explicit logical (or "logical") reasoning.

The distinction between underwater structures of the human mind and activity that happens in full sight above the water is rather basic and runs throughout the Sequences, for example.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T04:36:53.045Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a massive difference between manipulating people and using vocabulary whose meaning people understand. To use a different example, I've ran into similar issues when having a discussion about religious matters in a group with both Jews and Christians.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T04:39:20.756Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a massive difference between manipulating people and using vocabulary whose meaning people understand.

Let me rephrase the original quote a bit:

Because some of us know how to speak PUA to girls who respond well to it, and "rational-ese" to those who respond better to that.

Still fine with that? Can be frustrating when talking to a mixed audience, yes :-/

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T04:45:29.920Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not actually a comparable situation. In one case, the goal of the conversation is to have a conversation and to share information and ideas, and hopefully come to a mutual understanding. The other one has a goal of getting in someone's pants. I don't think most people consider it manipulative to adjust vocabulary to match someone else's in order to exchange ideas. Or if you want a different example: physicists and mathematicians sometimes use different notations (for example physicists like their bracket notation a lot). That's in part a function of what objects one is most frequently talking about. Adjusting notation isn't manipulative (although I suspect that a mixed group of mathematicians and physicists will mind such notational issues substantially less).

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T04:51:39.669Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the goal of the conversation is to have a conversation and to share information and ideas

The conversations where "check your privilege" comes up are usually not about sharing information and ideas. They are usually about "I'm right and you're wrong".

In particular, by the time one party to the conversation tells the other "check your privilege" that conversation is clearly adversarial. This expression is not used in friendly discussion by people who respect each other.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-11-25T05:03:19.193Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This expression is not used in friendly discussion by people who respect each other.

My personal experience has falsified that statement many times. Perhaps you are not interacting with particularly intelligent or open social justice warriors, or perhaps I am interacting with atypically intelligent and open ones, but either way, I can attest that you are making an overgeneralization.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:11:57.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps you are not interacting with particularly intelligent or open social justice warriors

Perhaps. As I said, YMMV...

I would probably say that my conversations with smart social justice warriors usually short-circuit to value disagreements so quickly that CYP doesn't even come up. Conversations that result tend to be about much more fundamental things.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:17:20.734Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would probably say that my conversations with smart social justice warriors usually short-circuit to value disagreements

What values?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:28:51.995Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What values?

Basic ones :-D The balance of individual and community; the freedoms and responsibilities involved, the role of the state, etc.

And notice, we're talking about smart SJWs. Most don't have the faintest clues about economics...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T04:58:18.446Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought we just established that people can use that phrase in other ways, but that you find it to have too many bad connotations attached. Moreover, the actual comment you responded to was the statement that:

Does it matter who they use that phrase to? Because some of us know how to speak "social justice-ese" to those who respond well to it, and "rational-ese" to those who respond better to that - but it can sometimes be frustrating when talking to a mixed audience. Whichever language one chooses, the other half will sense a betrayal.

So I'm confused by your focus on apparently adversarial contexts.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:13:34.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So I'm confused by your focus on apparently adversarial contexts.

I consider the phrase to be inherently adversarial.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:16:38.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I consider the phrase to be inherently adversarial.

That seems like a distinct claim than your earlier that

It is an assertion that in my personal experience people do not use the phrase rationally. YMMV and all that, of course.

This personal experience leads me to consider this particular phrase as an indicator of certain characteristics of people who us it, both with respect to their ideology and their rationality.

And given that multiple people on this thread have discussed non-adversarial interpretations of the phrase, I'm confused by how you can now assert that the phrase is inherently adversarial. That's not even "often" or "frequently" or "the vast majority of the time". What justifies this belief?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:25:15.438Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What justifies this belief?

My opinion that CYP unrolls to "You're wrong and you can't even possibly come to the right conclusion because you are inherently deficient so you'll have to trust what I am telling you and accept it. Oh, and you opinion is morally bad, you should be ashamed of having it".

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:26:20.964Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And that people on this thread have given other possible meanings of what that phrase is short-hand for?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:35:09.241Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, and..?

I have sufficient experience of meeting CYP in real life. I understand it could mean other things, it's just that in reality it rarely does. Yes, that may be a function of the the subset of people I have interacted with and may not be representative, but that's fine. I am not claiming this as a universal truth but as my opinion. Other people based on their experience can have different opinions, this fact does not force me to change mine.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-26T17:41:45.891Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I probably agree with you that it's more common for people to use that phrase as an adversarial shaming tactic than not.

Of course, I would say the same of many phrases, since it's very common for people to adopt adversarial stances in conversation and for people to try to shame each other.

"Language is a tin drum on which we beat out a tune for a dancing bear, when we hope our music will move the stars."

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:37:43.583Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, what do you mean when you use the word "inherently"? And in what context did you reply to Ialdabaoth's comment http://lesswrong.com/lw/j5i/the_craft_and_the_community_the_basics_apologizing/a3n5 here, given that that's clear not the meaning of the phrase or similar phrases he's intending to use? And how does that work with your statement http://lesswrong.com/lw/j5i/the_craft_and_the_community_the_basics_apologizing/a3mf ?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:47:44.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, please. I am not going to fisk multiple posts -- if you feel I have contradicted myself, be specific.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T05:51:12.784Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, I'm confused by your statement that:

I consider the phrase to be inherently adversarial.

And then later you stated:

I am not claiming this as a universal truth but as my opinion

which are both hard to reconcile, with

Or it can shorthand for "You are making a long list of implicit assumptions, and it will take time to go through all of them, but you can conclude from someone who has actually been in the relevant situation that you are wrong about the actual situation on the ground."

It can. But for me to accept this requires me to grant A LOT of credibility to the speaker.

None of these seem to be interconsistent.

And it makes particularly little sense to use any of them in the context of Ialdabaoth's remark about using the correct vocabulary with different groups.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T05:58:06.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

which are both hard to reconcile, with

I don't see why. The "You are making a long list of implicit assumptions..." expression is still adversarial. It is a polite version of the same underlying meaning -- "You are wrong, I am right and you should just trust me that I'm right".

Now, sometimes, rarely, that expression is actually correct -- the party to whom it's addressed really doesn't have a clue about what being in a certain situation means. And that party can submit -- accept that it doesn't have a clue and should shut up and listen. This, as I said, requires the speaker to have a lot of credibility. And, by the way, doesn't change the inherently adversarial character of the phrase.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-11-26T18:10:40.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. It seems to me that if you treat it as "adversarial" when someone provides you with clarifying information that they reasonably and correctly believe that you don't possess, then you're not going to learn very much.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T19:07:19.576Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

when someone provides you with clarifying information

No, they don't provide me with clarifying information. They provide me with a ready-made conclusion which they insist I must accept on trust.

you're not going to learn very much

I'll take my chances.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T16:23:43.649Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The "You are making a long list of implicit assumptions..." expression is still adversarial

This may say more about your own attitudes than anything else, or you may have a different notion of what one means by adversarial. If someone seems to be making implicit assumptions, what is wrong with pointing that out?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T16:33:57.211Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If someone seems to be making implicit assumptions, what is wrong with pointing that out?

Because of two things. First, the emphasized parts in "You are wrong, I am right and you should just trust me that I'm right". Second, CYP has a strong shaming component.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T16:42:09.961Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, you seem to be extremely intent on not actually adjusting your views despite that many people have given examples of contexts where this is reasonable at this point, including TheOtherDave and Kaj I'm going try one more personal example and then give up. A while back, when discussing voting restrictions that increase the amount of time it takes for people to get IDs acceptable for voting and increase the wait time to actually vote, I was arguing with someone that this wasn't a big deal since people could just take a few hours out of their day to do it. The response of CYP caused me to think about the matter more, and I immediately realized that the relevant issue was socioeconomic bracket: people in lower socioeconomic brackets can't just take a few hours off or even if they can, they'll end up losing income that they need. In this case, a three-word phrase was sufficient communication.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T18:25:37.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, you seem to be extremely intent on not actually adjusting your views despite that many people have given examples of contexts where this is reasonable

In which direction do you think my views should be adjusted and on the basis of which evidence? Do notice that imagining contexts where something is possible or even likely does not constitute evidence.

...one more personal example

I am not sure what this personal anecdote is supposed to demonstrate? That you personally react well to CYP? Sure, that's one datapoint. What's next?

Oh, and by the way, in this particular context I don't believe the conclusion you came to.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-11-25T14:16:39.470Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In one case, the goal of the conversation is to have a conversation and to share information and ideas, and hopefully come to a mutual understanding. The other one has a goal of getting in someone's pants.

What does it tell about me that the first thing some part of my brain thought after reading those two sentences was ‘well, in some sense the latter is just a special case of the former’? Probably, just that I've read this too many times! ;-)

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-11-25T15:40:53.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you have interesting examples of such a relatively positive use of "check your privilege", I'd like to see them.

My experience is the same as Lumifer's - I have only seen this phrase used to shut down unwanted opinions or unwanted participants. Theoretically, it could stand for what you said, and I'd love it if it did, but in practice it doesn't seem to happen.

(Interestingly, the same seems to be true about the obnoxious -splaining family: "mansplaining", "cissplaining" etc. That is, I can well imagine their uses that, while rude, seem somewhat justified. But I don't think I've ever actually observed such a justified use; all the uses I've seen were always as a way to attack an opinion based on race/sex/identity of whoever offered it).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-25T16:11:03.575Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, in my social circle it's often used in the first person. As in, "my first response was to dismiss X as completely unnecessary; then I checked my privilege and reconsidered what X might offer to groups G1, G2, and G3." I don't necessarily claim that these sorts of uses are interesting or positive (that's a discussion I don't choose to get into here), but I don't quite see how it involves shutting anyone down.

As for "-splaining", I more often see it used as a way to attack a conversational strategy than directly to attack an opinion... though of course many people will choose to attack a conversational strategy as an indirect way of attacking the opinions being expressed using that strategy, or the individuals expressing them.

Similarly, many people will choose to attack word choices in such an indirect fashion, as well, in order to indirectly attack the opinions being expressed using those words or the individuals expressing them, but that doesn't mean it's inappropriate to challenge inappropriate word choices.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-11-26T18:15:03.427Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is "check your privilege"?

In its worst form, the position that you're not allowed to have a view on an issue (or that any possible view is invalid) because you are not the oppressed party.

How about in its best form?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-26T20:14:31.150Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That when I have advantages you don't, I am less likely to notice the problems in our shared environment that my advantages compensate for than you are, and therefore when you discuss a problem in our shared environment that I don't experience, I ought not treat my own experience as definitive on the matter.

EDIT: When used in the second person imperative specifically, as here, it carries the additional implication that the person to whom it is addressed is violating that normative rule.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-11-26T21:59:19.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As much as we might wish it were otherwise, race predicts criminality even when we control for every other factor we can think of - but you can't say that openly.

For real? That surprises me. Do you have a link to the relevant empirical research?

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T18:53:19.536Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I often see this cited but I've never gone through and checked the validity myself.

If you take the blogging equivalent of a wiki-walk through the HBD-sphere you'll come across other data.

comment by lmm · 2013-11-26T22:05:29.618Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Saw it in a number of threads here but I didn't keep the links, sorry.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-25T00:47:18.635Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The cluster I think of as SJW would, I'm pretty sure, say you couldn't possibly be committed to the advancement of gender equality if you have a positive view on Kill la Kill.

If they're the stupid jerks you've portrayed, they probably would do that without even watching it first, nor hearing what hyper-badass Satsuki's views on nudity.

I think that's an inadequate rationalization. As a straight white male who assigns low probability to any of those changing, there is very little selfish benefit in joining the cause - and certainly a social cost to doing so.

It would take me time to quote studies to this effect, but I'm pretty damn sure things are changing in that sense, and I'm getting away with stuff that would have been deemed unthinkable back when I was a child (and, in fact, still are, back where I was born and raised).

I don't think engaging with a social justice movement would be productive.

At this point, I really need to question what you mean by "productive". If we were in the sixties, wouldn't it be "productive" to participate in the Civil Rights movement? If we were in the nineteenth century, wouldn't it be "productive" to be an active abolitionist?

I think the big problem is that it's unacceptable to apply the scientific method. When we find out that one group performs differently on an IQ test (say) from another, even considering the possibility that maybe one group is more intelligent than another is seen as unacceptable; we're expected to start from the axiom that all people are equal, and therefore conclude that the test is biased.

Heck, it's got to the point that many empirical facts are unacceptable. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, race predicts criminality even when we control for every other factor we can think of - but you can't say that openly. (I'm using race as an easy example, but there are similarly unsayable things on sex, sexuality and so forth)

You know, I have dealt with idiots who, because of such discussions, have made the following reasoning: "lesswrongers are willing to seriously consider and give a fair look to arguments that, if they were true, could be used by racists and similar scum to further their evil agendas" -> "some lesswrongers are actually racist etc." -> "all lesswrongers are racist etc., rationalism is racism, X notorious racist is the best rationalist ever" -> ???????

-> we're expected to start from the axiom that all people are equal, and therefore conclude that the test is biased.

As far as I know, there seems to be strong evidence towards humans being genetically nigh-identical, so I would hardly think this an axiom, and... oh, screw this. Let me represent to you how this goes in my mind:

"Oh my, I wouldn't want to believe that white people are inherently stupid and violent!, that women are actually more rational, that sex is, by and large, good for you, and so on and so forth"

"Oh, but what if it were true? Don't you want to believe what is true? It already is so, looking away from it won't make it go away!"

"Yeah, but what if it were false? Remember about learned epistemic helplessness? Can you really afford to spend time considering these notions which would cause you much grief and discomfort, to which you already ascribe a low probability, and which, were they true, would dramatically change your worldview and cause you a lot of effort in updating your causality tree, just for the sake of thoroughness?"

"Not really, no."

"Well then, screw that."

"Indeed."

"Wait, but aren't we running afoul of motivated stopping/motivated continuing and learned epistemic helplessness?"

"Possibly. But I really can't be arsed to argue with myself about whether that should be reason enough for me to persist in studying this topic."

"But what about this poor man, who is silenced and censored because of his unconventional hypotheses. Don't you remember what that feels like?"

"Well, speaking of motivated continuing, stopping, etc., what if he's a racist etc. who has said unspeakable opinions as his bottom line, which he's grasping at straws to justify. What if he were an intelligent one and it took time and effort to disentangle his bullshit? Do you really want to discuss theology with a bishop?"

"Or worse, what if he's a contrarian and he's just playing Devil's Advocate to these unspeakable views because he's an annoying smug smartass, like so many others you've encountered?"

"Oh hell no. Never again."

"You gotta admit, though, both types are pretty damn useful to sorting one's ideas out. Especially when they're intelligent; they do all the work of building iron men for you."

"That may be so, but I'm not interested in honing my arguments on this topic"

"What's wrong? Chicken? Bwok bwoook boDECK?!"

"No, more like, some fights you just walk away from. I am certain I would win this one, it would just take me a lot of time and effort I can't spear right now, and it wouldn't teach me much. Worse, it might not teach him much either."

"So, are we agreed?"

"Yup."

"Yeah. Not worth it."

"Indeed."

So, yeah, Imm, I won't stop you from posting your unspeakable arguments, but I'm just not interested in engaging you in them. And that's a rationalist's reaction. A normal person would simply heuristic that you're a prejudiced person looking for arguments after the fact, and a non-rationalist who's committed to "social justice" would let you know that they're not interested in hearing you out without bothering to be nearly as apologetic as I'm being. And, frankly, I can't find it in my heart to blame them.

comment by lmm · 2013-11-25T19:54:32.947Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would take me time to quote studies to this effect, but I'm pretty damn sure things are changing in that sense, and I'm getting away with stuff that would have been deemed unthinkable back when I was a child (and, in fact, still are, back where I was born and raised).

I meant I don't expect the facts that I'm straight, white, and male to change. While in principle I'm glad I have the freedom to have sex with a man (and would prefer if e.g. it became illegal to fire me for doing so), I don't think I'd ever take advantage of that freedom. So the idea that it's in my own selfish interest to fight for social justice is attractive, but false (and it's a rationalisation that I used to believe, which is why I suggested you were rationalizing).

So, yeah, Imm, I won't stop you from posting your unspeakable arguments, but I'm just not interested in engaging you in them. And that's a rationalist's reaction. A normal person would simply heuristic that you're a prejudiced person looking for arguments after the fact, and a non-rationalist who's committed to "social justice" would let you know that they're not interested in hearing you out without bothering to be nearly as apologetic as I'm being. And, frankly, I can't find it in my heart to blame them.

Wow. You asked what the problem with the SJWs was, I tried to give a simple, obvious example, and you immediately pattern-matched me as a racist and decided to ignore me. That's about as good an example as I could ask for. What would you think about someone who responded the same way to the suggestion that god didn't exist, or that astrology didn't work, or that the earth was six billion years old?

(And note that the converse isn't true; I see plenty of atheists seriously engaging with religious folk, thinking about what they say and responding to their points. Scientists get frustrated by e.g. the ID folks, but I still see people patiently going over what we know and why we know it, with footnotes - sure, some will slam the door and stop thinking about it, but most are still open to the possibility that they might be wrong.)

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-25T20:49:03.828Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"While in principle I'm glad I have the freedom to have sex with a man (and would prefer if e.g. it became illegal to fire me for doing so), I don't think I'd ever take advantage of that freedom."

Thing is, I'm pretty sure I would... as soon as I've finished cutting all ties with my ancestral land so that the consequences wouldn't come to bite me in some roundabout way. But I might not be that prudent or patient. Give me liberty and give me cock(adooloo)! :P

Now, for the misunderstanding:

"and you immediately pattern-matched me as a racist and decided to ignore me. "

Not quite. I just decided the chance was high enough that I wasn't willing to risk my time and effort. Not quite the same thing as pegging you as guilty until proven otherwise and then dismissing you outright.

"What would you think about someone who responded the same way to the suggestion that god didn't exist, or that astrology didn't work, or that the earth was six billion years old?"

That they've been faced with people promoting these ideas who were both smug and unconvincing, engaged them in good faith, and got burned for it, learning nothing and feeling hurt and insulted. I would blame those people who ruined the audience for me, like a salesman finding a hostile populace in the wake of Howard Hill.

And I've met atheists who were jerks (Atheism Warriors?), back when I was religious, in societies where they were powerful enough that they could take their stance for granted. If it weren't for my confidence in my own capacity to counter their arguments (my actual belief in the dragon in my garage), and my endless reserves of youthful energy, Same for Trotskyst and Anarchist jerks ("Engineers are the most alienated of all!"), libertarian jerks ("Poverty? What's poverty? Having less cable channels than the neighbors?"), and so on and so forth.

At my age, please forgive me for being very cautious about engaging anyone who even looks like a Warrior of any sort in debate. If we get to know each other later and I find that I can trust you not to be a Warrior, I'll discuss this at length with you... by PM (because, frankly, our reputation is bad enough as is).

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T20:12:27.800Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While you have a lot of valid points here, I don't think your conclusions about Imm are at all justified. Imm is making arguments in good faith, and I see no evidence that Imm is acting based on any underlying prejudices.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-25T20:29:27.318Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't reached any conclusions about him, I've just got these hypotheses, these plausible explanations to what's in front of me, that are based on previous experiences with other people, and that give me enough pause not to attempt to tackle this discussion with someone I don't know well.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T22:18:20.770Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does it help if I say as someone reading the conversation and agrees with many of your points that I think you are giving too much weight to those hypotheses?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-26T07:19:38.723Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. But it still seems to imply that I'm morally at fault for making the best hypothesis I could from what little data I had at the time. Confusing heuristics with willful prejudice muddles the discussion, puts people on the defensive, etc.

In fact, I'm brewing up a discussion post on that very topic, because I have seen the difference between an honest mistake based on imprefect heuristics, and a willful misinterpretation of the facts, being the source of much unnecessary conflict.

The difference between someone defending unconventional views for the sake of truth, and someone who uses the guise of the former to push an inhumane agenda, is also worth examining.

And another topic that has me baffled is the very existence of racists, sexists, and other such sorts. The sort that would say to women engineering students "it's fine if you've come here because you wish to marry an engineer, it's a good plan, but don't ever expect to become engineers on your own; women shouldn't become engineers" (this actually happened to one of my teachers). What motivates them? How do they think?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T16:30:17.966Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But it still seems to imply that I'm morally at fault for making the best hypothesis I could from what little data I had at the time.

Moral fault isn't the issue here. Accuracy is.

In fact, I'm brewing up a discussion post on that very topic, because I have seen the difference between an honest mistake based on imprefect heuristics, and a willful misinterpretation of the facts, being the source of much unnecessary conflict.

Sure, I make honest mistakes based on imperfect heuristics. That Blue over there? They engage in willful misinterpretations of the facts.

And another topic that has me baffled is the very existence of racists, sexists, and other such sorts. The sort that would say to women engineering students "it's fine if you've come here because you wish to marry an engineer, it's a good plan, but don't ever expect to become engineers on your own; women shouldn't become engineers" (this actually happened to one of my teachers). What motivates them? How do they think?

So first, it is noteworthy that Imm hasn't said anything like that at all. But more to the point, if you can't understand some group's motivation, does that not cause you to doubt more whether a given individual is in that group?

As to sexism, there are a variety of different motivations. One motivation is thinking that intrinsically there are differences between men and women that matter in some context, and that those differences are so large that they cannot be overcome in the relevant context. That's a factual question. In your example, you and I think they are factually wrong, but that's a statement about the universe we live in. And there are conceivable universes where that isn't the case. Second, there are motivations extending from values. These values can range from thinking that whatever is traditional should continue, to thinking that division of labor is a good thing, to simple cultural holdovers of earlier values that actually made sense at one point. That's complicated by the common failure to distinguish carefully between terminal and goal-oriented values. But this has little to do with the actual issue at hand. that you are making claims about Imm's values and beliefs that are not justified by the evidence.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-26T22:55:06.359Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One more-- this is a theory which I think explains a lot, but I'm not sure I'm right.

There seems to be a fairly large proportion of heterosexual men who don't like being around women, especially women who aren't family members or potential sexual partners.

Have an evo-psych explanation, for what little that's worth. If men improve their reproductive chances by succeeding in competition with other men, what good does it do them to double the number of potential competitors?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T03:39:02.148Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There seems to be a fairly large proportion of heterosexual men who don't like being around women, especially women who aren't family members or potential sexual partners.

"Don't like" or "are uncomfortable with", mostly because they don't know how to deal with them?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-27T03:59:52.934Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are a number of possibilities. One of my male friends says (if I understand him correctly) that women are just distracting for men, and men would like some time off from being aroused under circumstances when they aren't supposed to show it. I'm sure he's accurate about himself, but he assumes he's typical of men, and I'm not sure he's right.

I've heard claims that groups of men behave differently if there's 10% or more women present. (Sorry, no cite.) If women have even moderate amounts of status, they may have a civilizing effect, and men could find that tiresome. The civilizing effect would vary according to culture-- it might be something like cursing is unwelcome, or at least must be apologized for. Or (specific example from the source I can't remember), if there are women associated with a fraternity (?), the men quit doing things like having indoor beach parties with huge piles of sand.

Really, I don't know, and there could be a number of reasons. It just seems like there's a tendency which shows up in many cultures for men to want men-only space.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-26T17:42:11.504Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Joshua, I am beginning to think that you willfully decide to ignore what I say. I have never claimed that Imm is a racist. I have not called him a racist. I have not decided that he is a racist. I've only said that there appeared to me to be enough of a chance of him being one that I wouldn't risk spending time, effort, and emotional capital engaging him in debate over those topics.

Ironically, I find myself attempting to convince you that my thinking was sound, even though you believe I arrived at the wrong conclusion. In the meantime, I anticipate that every post I add to this discussion will earn me some amount of negative karma. Perhaps I would have been better off biting the bullet and engaging him on those things?

That Blue over there?

Where?

So first, it is noteworthy that Imm hasn't said anything like that at all.

I wasn't talking about Imm's post anymore. But I would argue that it is not worthy of note: we live in a society where racism is so discredited-but-not-extinct that even presenting empirical facts that might support it is taboo. Open normative statements such as the one I mentioned occurred often in back when one could comfortably be open and cruel in one's sexism, because back then that was the norm, and women engineers, challenging it, came under fire.

Nowadays, racists and such are under a lot of pressure not to leave any evidence at all of their affiliation. As a result, the probability that someone showing weark evidence of belonging to that group actually belongs to that group increases, because you don't expect to find strong evidence, and because you expect most people not to want to be associated with it that they'd go out of their way to show even weak evidence of it. Thus, what would otherwise be weak evidence becomes much stronger.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-11-26T20:35:00.963Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've only said that there appeared to me to be enough of a chance of him being one that I wouldn't risk spending time, effort, and emotional capital engaging him in debate over those topics.

Just raising the possibility of somebody being part of a low-status group is often enough to damage their image in the eyes of others, and many conversational norms treat raising such a possibility as the same thing as an outright accusation - for good reason. (Bullies would love the freedom to go around implying bad things about people while facing no risk of censure.)

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-26T20:46:24.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've just paid five Karma to answer this: all I wanted was for Imm to understand where I came from when I dropped the discussion, and to show him that it is not an entirely irrational train of thought that would draw people away from discussing these topics with him. I failed to consider the fact that I was talking to him in public, and that what I was saying had implications on a level above that of the discussion. From what I've seen so far, I gather that I should have either ignored him outright without saying anything at all (perhaps it would have looked like I had forgotten the discussion altogether?) or continued via PM as soon as those topics were broached.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-26T21:01:25.802Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Joshua, I am beginning to think that you willfully decide to ignore what I say. I have never claimed that Imm is a racist. I have not called him a racist. I have not decided that he is a racist. I've only said that there appeared to me to be enough of a chance of him being one that I wouldn't risk spending time, effort, and emotional capital engaging him in debate over those topics.

So in addition to Kaj's point, I'm also curious what percentage that attitude triggers at. Is that a 5% chance, 10%? 55%, 99%? And more to the point, when you say racist, what do you mean by it? That's a term that not only has a lot of connotative baggage, it also is a term that has a lot of different meanings.

That Blue over there?

Where?

Have you read the story of blues and greens?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T08:24:07.688Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hadn'f thought you were referencing that. It might please you to know that I actually usually do not accuse other political colours of willfully misrepresenting facts, at least not initially.

I've met xenophobes who have simply never dealt with the objects of their contempt outside of the kind of menial work filled by the uneducated, or in the context of media portrayals that focus on crime and such, politicians who blame them for taking benefits or jobsm; spending a little time with me has made them question their beliefs, spending a lot of time has made them change them outright.

As for me, I used to be a sexist myself (of the "we're different but not unequal; complimentary" type... ugh...), because of the memeplex that surrounded me, but, because of my irrepressible curiosity, I began finding out what the world looked like from the eyes of a woman : I am obviously not one anymore. I also used to be kind of a racist: the first time I saw a black kid, I hid inside my car. And I used to remain instinctually scared of the darker-skinned type, because my entire exposure to them was in media, as criminals and delinquents (muthafucka!) until I actually spent some time with some, in a context of equality. And I was raised anti-semitic, of the conspiracy-theorist sort, but then I met and befriended several jewish persons, and updated my views according to the immediate, personal evidence.

By the way, thank you for making me specify the definition of racism, because now I can finally relax. According to Wikipedia

Racism is generally defined as actions, practices, or beliefs that consider the human species to be divided into races with shared traits, abilities, or qualities, such as personality, intellect, morality, or other cultural behavioral characteristics, and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.

If Imm believes that the results of these unspeakable studies (namely, "some races are, by and large, stupider than others, and some are more crime-prone") are correct, he is a racist. If his beliefs happen to be correct, he is a racist who is right, but none the less a racist. And if, from there, he believes that the smarter, more law-abiding races should be granted a disproportionate amount of power over the others, that makes him a racial supremacist.

And, you know what? I hadn't thought of that before, Joshua. It's your asking me to define "racist" that made me go and check, and report my findings. Before your intervention, I wouldn't have dreamed of calling Imm a racist, being too afraid of inaccurately placing thim in a bad group. Now I can call him that without feeling uncomfortable at all. Nice job breaking it, hero.

EDIT: Just to be extra-precise, that he's a racist doesn't make him a Klanner burning crosses, or a skinhead beating up black people at night, no more than Martin Luther King being a criminal (he broke the law, he went to jail) makes him a burglar in the night threatening families with a gun. That would be fallacious reasoning. Moreover, if he is right, we would all have to become racists, as we all wish to believe that which is true.

However, I do not think we need to fear too much. Racism has been scientifically discredited; I don't know why it was discredited, but I would bet that it wasn't just ideological egalitarianism that brought this outcome about, and that there is some solid empirical basis for this change in paradigm.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T16:04:54.650Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Racism has been scientifically discredited; I don't know why it was discredited, but I would bet that it wasn't just ideological egalitarianism that brought this outcome about, and that there is some solid empirical basis for this change in paradigm.

How did you come to this conclusion?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T17:36:44.758Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By and large, I tend to err on the side of respecting the current scientific consensus, and it appears to have been "differences in IQ are attribute to nurture factors mostly" since about the 1930-ies. Besides that, my guess is that people who had a vested interest in the maintenance of a racist, sexist, etc. worldview (namely, rich white men) had more wealth and power at their disposal than those who had the opposite vested interest, which means they have some influence over funding and publication, publicity, acclaim and awarding, etc. If racism were provably right beyond reasonable doubt, I assume they would have made damn sure everyone knew it. If the alternative hypothesis has prevailed in spite of these odds, I would assume that it had a very strong appearance of being provably less wrong.

Of course, if white-rich-men funded and influenced research concluded that these rich white dudes were not the smartest bunch overall, and, say, arab women were instead, and that this racist view prevailed and became the scientific consensus against these controlling interests' ... interests, I would assume it to be true.

In short, if most scientists agree on a paradigm in spite of the fact that it's inconvenient to those scientis' bosses, I believe that that paradigm is more likely to be true.

This is of course assuming that the studies are done rigorously and faithfully, with good experiment design, good analysis of the statistic, intelligent and pertinent drawing of conclusions, etc etc.; that scientists aren't being stupid and aren't screwing with the results. As someone who used to believe what he'd read in Talent Is Overrated, and whose views on nutrition and the science thereof have been badly unsettled by Good Calories, Bad Calories, I can guarantee that I for one wouldn't be able to tell the difference without help.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T17:44:46.431Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course, if white-rich-men funded and influenced research concluded that these rich white dudes were not the smartest bunch overall

Why don't you, um, educate yourself a bit?

IQ studies do show that rich white dudes are not the smartest bunch overall.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T18:29:35.759Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who are, then, the smartest bunch overall?

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T18:38:53.867Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ashkenazi Jews are something like slightly less than one standard deviation above whites, so in the 110-115 range. East Asians (Han Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, etc) score a little higher, about 103-106. The size of the standard deviations within groups also varies between groups.

Also if you look into the sub-factors that g measures, you'll find variation. Some groups have higher Verbal than Visuospatial for example, though I don't remember which ones have which at the moment.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T19:01:30.989Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you. Those are some interesting results. Due to my limited capacity to compile and properly evaluate research (call it laziness), I'll just take your word for it and accept them.

So, if I understand you right, some demographics are proven, beyond reasonable doubt, to have a higher IQ than others, by and large and with some idiosyncrasies in distribution and aspects. Said IQ actuallhy reliably measures something, and that something is well-defined and resembles what is commonly thought of as "intelligence". Okay. Well, what now?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-27T19:58:51.247Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To clarify, that bit is clear, but one should understand that the evidence that that correlation is genetic is much weaker. There are a lot of other possible explanations, including early childhood education, cultural correlates at a young age, nutrition levels, parasite load, stereotype threat, and everything else sometimes put under a catchall of socioeconomic factors. Ashenazi Jews for example are one of the best performing groups, but there are some massive confounding factors since there's a heavily intellectual culture that emphasizes learning.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T20:43:16.898Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for clarifying that.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T19:27:31.799Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It means that any political argument, any social policy, any philosophy, predicated on the cognitive abilities of groups being equal, needs to be re-evaluated. A lot of things have it as a hidden assumption. Here are a few examples:

Immigration. In order to make a proper analysis of what X number of migrants per year will do to the country, it's not enough to assume that each potential migrant has the same cognitive capacity relative to both other migrants and to the natives. If migrants from ethnic group A have a higher IQ than ethnic group B, is it a good idea to let a lot of Bs into the country?

School performance. Though it has closed a little over the decades, the gap between Black and White achievement in schools remains persistent and large. All manner of interventions have been tried to try to close the gap. If it is due to a real genetic difference between the two groups, much of this may have been pointless. Given what we also know about the drawbacks of mixed-ability classrooms, segregation comes back on the table as a plausible candidate.

Fertility. In the US, the White total fertility rate is below replacement (1.84), while Blacks are just above (2.11). Hispanics are even higher, at 2.99. What implications does this have for the intellectual capital of the USA in the coming decades?

International competition. China does not have the same taboos on group differences in cognitive ability that the Western world does. They are also quite happy and capable to do immense social engineering programs. Putting the two together ...

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-11-27T19:46:49.428Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If migrants from ethnic group A have a higher IQ than ethnic group B, is it a good idea to let a lot of Bs into the country?

It is much more effective to give individuals IQ tests rather than try to divine the results based on weakly correlated features such as ethnic group.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T19:50:43.208Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

These individuals would have an incentive to cheat the tests to get into the country.

The better way of course, is just to limit immigration to high-skilled workers, or with qualifications above a certain threshold. A lot of countries already do this. The only thing we'd need to change is our response to noticing that the ethnicities that tend to meet the requirements aren't representative of those that apply.

comment by satt · 2013-11-29T03:10:56.235Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

These individuals would have an incentive to cheat the tests to get into the country.

The incentive is there, but how much cheating would follow? Teenagers taking GCSE & A-level exams have incentives to cheat too, but the observed rate of exam malpractice is nonetheless very low, about 0.02%. No doubt some cheating isn't caught, but even if all malpractice were cheating, and 99% of cheating went undetected, the cheat rate would be a scant 2%.

More generally, is the potential for cheating the true objection here? (It seems worth asking that rather than silently downvoting, troll toll be damned.) Unless cheating were really pervasive, raising the IQ threshold for entry could maintain the average IQ of immigrants granted entry.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-29T08:40:49.298Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's very easy to inflate your score on an IQ test by prepping. They're designed to be taken without any familiarity of the material or context. I don't know exactly how much you can eke out by studying say, Raven's Matrices, but it's large enough that the predictive value of the tests would drop like a stone. In contrast, GCSE/A-Level exams are designed knowing that students spend a great deal of effort studying and revising for them.

If an IQ test were developed that had the retest effect as a feature rather than a bug, I'd be more in favor of using them for immigrants.

comment by satt · 2013-12-02T01:42:47.497Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I'd interpreted "cheating" to mean nefarious activity taking place during or after the test, not pre-test coaching or preparation.

It's very easy to inflate your score on an IQ test by prepping.

This much is true. But

I don't know exactly how much you can eke out by studying say, Raven's Matrices, it's large enough that the predictive value of the tests would drop like a stone.

is probably false. There're three reasons why I say that.

  1. In the real world, IQ & IQ-like tests appear to work as usual, even when taken by thousands of people who can prep as much as they like. The US Armed Forces are content to test a million people a year with the ASVAB, despite the proliferation of ASVAB prepping resources. As another example, standardized tests like the GRE predict graduate students' GPA, faculty ratings, and even the number of citations to their publications; this is all the more impressive considering the range restriction of ability among the prospective students taking the tests!

  2. Logically, prep-induced score boosts don't necessarily imply a drop in predictive validity. If people who started with high scores gained more from prepping than people who started with low scores, a test's predictive validity could go up, because widening the gap between high- & low-scorers can improve the test's ability to distinguish the two groups. And there are cases where high-scorers gained more from practising, although the effect on predictive validity as such doesn't look like it was measured in those studies.

  3. One can also look at how much practice reduces the g loading of IQ tests. It looks like the reduction in g loading is typically small. This review article gives various examples:

Neubauer and Freudenthaler (1994) showed that after 9 h of practice the g loading of a modestly complex intelligence test dropped from .46 to .39. Te Nijenhuis, Voskuijl, and Schijve (2001) showed that after various forms of test preparation the g loadedness of their test battery decreased from .53 to .49. [pages 284-285]

Using the combined experimental and control group, a principle axis factor analysis on the pretest and posttest scores, respectively, resulted in a first unrotated factor explaining 22% of the variance in the pretest scores and 18% of the variance in the posttest scores. [page 294]

That last result comes from a study of South African psychology students, mostly non-white, some of whom were randomly assigned to "mediated learning" training; all of them were tested twice with none other than Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-12-02T08:30:21.468Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I stand corrected, thanks for the links!

comment by Moss_Piglet · 2013-11-27T20:11:20.234Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As my stats professor used to say "data costs money."

For every IQ test you need to pay a psychologist trained in using that test to administer and score it. And since this is supposed to be scaled up for millions of people that means paying full-time trainers, scoring committees, not to mention buying large amounts of testing materials from whichever company winds up winning the bidding process.

Race is a weak measure but it also happens to be a very cheap one. Setting quotas based on race and providing exceptions by educational/professional merit would let in most of the high-IQ workers we want while preventing dysgenic and culturally destabilizing mass immigration.

(This ignores, of course, the massive numbers of illegal immigrants who would still be free to come in at will and stay as long as they care to. That is a serious issue as well, and one unlikely to be resolved by psychometric testing.)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-11-27T20:19:33.294Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For most people, moving to a country that's better for them creates orders of magnitude more value than any plausible cost of an IQ test that would need to be covered, so it's an irrelevant consideration.

comment by Moss_Piglet · 2013-11-27T20:45:14.918Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It looks like there are roughly one million legal immigrants a year plus another eight million visa seekers, just looking at the US numbers. A professionally administered IQ test can go for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars; it's hard to find a good number, but I've seen everything from $300 on the low end to $4000 on the high end. So it's not hyperbole to say that this is easily a multi-billion dollar a year commitment, just on the basis of the testing alone without thinking about administrative costs or government waste.

Now you're right to say that any individual tested would be worth more than that; either avoiding a burden or gaining a productive worker would more than make up the difference. But it seems that in most cases you could get the same decision with a resume and a color swatch; the value of the whole program dpeends on the corner cases where casual observation and psychometric tests disagree, and the shape of the normal curve implies that this region is a fairly small one to carry such a large price tag.

In other words, why not use the data we have rather than going through an expensive data collection process if that data is unlikely to change our decisions to a degree which would justify the costs?

comment by satt · 2013-11-29T01:31:44.717Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is interesting to look at how the US already handles IQ testing on this scale. The United States Military Entrance Processing Command administered the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to 460,000 people "during fiscal year 2011" at exam sites around the country, plus "658,000 high school students [...] under the Department of Defense Student ASVAB Testing Program during the 2010-11 school year."

So it's not hyperbole to say that this is easily a multi-billion dollar a year commitment, just on the basis of the testing alone

I can't find quotes for how much administering the ASVAB costs nowadays, but a 2002 report from the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment quotes a cost of "about $20 per administration". There's also a 1976 report to Congress by the Comptroller General of the US, which says on p. ii that the DoD "spent about $4.7 million during fiscal year 1974 to support its high school recruiting and testing program, testing about 1.1 million students for enlistment eligibility", or $4.27ish per testee. The former estimate is $25.96 after inflation, the latter $20.23. Pessimistically rounding up the bigger estimate to $26, and multiplying by 9 million, suggests a total cost of $234 million.

It occurs to me that this cost could be defrayed by charging potential immigrants. The US charges hundreds of dollars in visa fees as things stand, so adding a $25 testing surcharge ought not prove unduly punishing to the huddled masses.

comment by Moss_Piglet · 2013-11-27T20:13:45.202Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please ignore my many typos; my computer is riddled with viruses and my smartphone appears to be possessed by some sort of evil text-eating demon.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-27T18:58:21.620Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

103-106 is higher than 110-115?

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T19:01:43.424Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I worded that poorly. I meant slightly higher in relation to whites, not jews.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-11-27T19:59:33.825Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews (and possibly Indian Parsis) routinely achieve higher scores on IQ tests than do Europeans.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T18:37:52.009Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see you didn't like my suggestion...

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T18:50:19.835Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What suggestion?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T19:01:11.196Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The suggestion in the post to which you were replying.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T19:03:34.676Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Make your suggestion explicit, because I can't tell what it is.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T19:19:08.447Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, I'll quote myself:

"Why don't you, um, educate yourself a bit?"

Note, particularly, that this suggestion implies the necessity of some effort on your part -- maybe, I don't know, even googling up something...

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T19:29:31.403Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted for rudeness.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-27T18:33:59.609Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By and large, I tend to err on the side of respecting the current scientific consensus, and it appears to have been "differences in IQ are attribute to nurture factors mostly" since about the 1930-ies.

And how did you actually gain your view of what the current scientific consensus is? Remember, the popular media hasn't managed to get its head around the fact that IQ even measures anything, when the scientific consensus says it does. If you only read what the New York Times says about IQ, you'd be much more likely to consider hypotheses that are empirically garbage, like Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. If the press can't wrap its head around the validity of IQ, how can you even expect it to report faithfully on something that is both predicated on that fact, and ginormously controversial in its own right?

We know that IQ differences aren't mostly nurture, and that has been quietly accepted by psychometricians for decades.

Also, I believe you're starting with a false assumption about just how much power "rich white men" actually have in academia. The people that grant funding in these fields aren't rich white businessmen, they're mild-mannered scholars with tenure. Remember that this is at the cross-section between sociology and psychology, both of which tend to be populated by people with the cluster of political leanings variously called "leftist", "liberal", "progressive" or "socialist", depending on who you ask. You must have read about the blank-slatist dogma of psychology that still persists in diminished form up to the present day.

(And FYI, the data suggests that rich white men are in 3rd place, behind East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews, and there are probably other ethnic groups that outperform WASPs that we haven't managed to get good data for yet, the Parsis of India for example.)

EDIT

I'm pleased that you recognize that we're circling dangerously close to the Noncentral Fallacy when using the term "racist" in these kinds of discussions. It can lead to Denotation/Connotation confusions that just drag down the quality of debate. I appreciate the irony in asking, but it would make things go smoother if we taboo it.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T15:54:14.208Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

he is a racist who is right

An interesting approach. So, would you rather be right or be a non-racist?

Racism has been scientifically discredited

Can you link to some generally accepted studies which show that IQ does NOT differ between large population groups?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T17:12:41.393Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've only skimmed the Wikipedia article, but how about this?

I would rather be right; I can only hope that racism is wrong. If it were right, I (we?) would have to think long and hard about how precisely it is right, what the implications should be, and what I (we?) should do about it. Among others, there should be a debate on whether the general public should be trusted with this truth; what do you think they would do with it?

Assuming they would accept it, I can easily see the members of the groups branded as "better" looking down on the rest with condescendence and contempt, resentful feelings of entitlement from those of the "better" group that are "worse" than many members of the "worse" groups, and so on and so forth.

The Bell Curve suggests that intelligence (synergetically with wealth and power) is concentrating among an elite, a slowly-emerging "master race", if you will. Let's have a thought experiment, and assume this is true: should measures be taken against that?

The most obvious measure that comes to mind is to discourage making children among the "poor and stupid", and encourage it among the "bright and rich", so that eventually both wealth and intelligence even out from the top. However, it's not very hard to imagine this measure being extremely unpopular, and not just because of pattern-matching with the Nazis and other previous eugenic movements.

It would also require lots of secondary adjustments (the poor and stupid would need an extra-large pension to compensate for the lack of children to support them in their old age, for example).

So, yeah, it's no laughing matter, and most certainly not something to be treated lightly.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T17:23:54.992Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've only skimmed the Wikipedia article, but how about this?

Try not skimming but reading. For example, to quote from your own link: "There was a long-standing 15 point or 1 SD difference between the intelligence test scores of African Americans and White Americans, though it might have narrowed slightly in the then recent years. The difference was largest on those tests, verbal or non-verbal, that best represented the general intelligence factor (g). Controlled studies of the way the tests were formulated and administered had shown that this did not contribute substantially to the difference. Attempts to devise tests that would minimize disadvantages of this kind had been unsuccessful."

I (we?) would have to think long and hard

It's never too early to start thinking long and hard.

there should be a debate on whether the general public should be trusted with this truth

Oh, boy. And who would you like to place in charge of deciding what general public can be "trusted with" and what it cannot?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T18:16:26.306Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a lot of stuff and I have a lot of work and a limited amount of energy which I would rather not spend debating something that I anticipate to be false. It can definitely be too early to think long and hard, but if you want to save time, you could unbury what the rulers and intellectuals of the eras in which racism was the paradigm, and analyze them from an ethical point of view. I'll be waiting.

I dunno about the placing-in-charge part, but I would assume it would be "whoever finds out first". Remember the matter with publicizing research on self-modifying AI? Remember when Einstein sent that one letter about a hypothetical city-flattening bomb? Why the concept of the Bayesian Conspiracy could seem like a remotely good idea? "What can be destroyed by the truth, should be" is a very nice motto as a self-discipline, but don't be a stupid Principles Zealot about it. There are times when it is good and wise to shut up and keep the truth to yourself.

I would go even further and say that, if you want to discuss the implications of assuming racism is right, you would do well to do it in a place other than the public website of Lesswrong, if you care at all about not hindering MIRI and the the Future of Humanity Institute from saving humanity from being paperclip-maximized.

As you know, racism is extremely unpopular for reasons ranging from the blindingly simple (the "lesser" races these studies suggest would constitute the larger part of humanity, who aren't keen on being categorized as, by and large, the stupider groups, for instance). to more convoluted causes, such as being associated with very monstrous assholes, who, from these assumptions, did monstrous things.

In the case of the USA, for instance, there was a concerted effort to breed an entire group of people into human cattle. In the case of Germany, there was an effort of extermination: the Nazi was a populist party, and Jews were assumed to be a "smarter and richer elite" (there is still talk today about Jewish people having inherently higher IQs). Now imagine what a populist movement would do with the widespread knowledge (assuming, of course, that it is true) that a racial minority is smarter and richer than the rest, and that they will keep getting smarter and richer than the rest, like a Real Life version of the pigs from Animal Farm. Do you think they would grudgingly accept this inevitable fate, or do you think they would go Khmer Rouge on the "smartasses"?

The Khmer Rouge enjoyed broad popular support of the poor, uneducated peasant masses of village Khmers, who were envious towards "those city guys", which wasn't helped by the fact that a lot of city-dwellers were ethnically Chinese, and were overrepresented in the rich classes. But soon it turned out that Khmer Rouge in general, and the dictator Pol Pot in particular, didn't make any distinction between two populations. Their motto was "To keep you is no benefit; to destroy you is no loss," and they cheerfully applied it to anyone. Pol Pot's regime led to the death of around 2 million people [≈ population of Kosovo, nation] out of a population of 8 million. It's estimated that as many as 4 million died as a whole.

Of course, in the same way that we could hope that our current "rich and bright" would be enlightened enough not to repeat the monstrosities of their racist predecessors, were they to become racist again, we could also hope that our current "poor and stupid" would not be stupid enough (it's just fifteen miserly IQ points after all) to repeat some of their predecessors' horrible acts. We could hope. Are you ready for the consequences, if your hopes are misplaced?

comment by Nornagest · 2013-11-27T18:56:50.083Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Remember when Einstein sent that one letter about a hypothetical city-flattening bomb?

You mean the Einstein–Szilárd letter? That was a rather unique situation, historically; the experiments laying the groundwork had been performed only a year previously, a world war was imminent, and enormous weapons potential was there to be taken by any government with the requisite technical and scientific resources. It's also worth mentioning that the physics behind nuclear weapons is rather simple, undergraduate-level stuff by modern standards; the real challenge is in materials and engineering, which, far more than the basic theory, is what made getting a head start so important back in 1939.

I don't have an informed opinion on the race-and-IQ issue, nor do I care to pursue one. But whatever the raw data says, it describes a condition that we're already dealing with. There are plausible ways of placing some of the possible results on the spectrum of information hazards, but no direct way to turn them into megadeaths without a lot of unpredictable social intermediaries.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T19:05:59.013Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's an upvote and a sincere thanks for your moderating and thoughtful intervention.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T18:25:54.254Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the above text as my exhibit A to be used for defining the word "mindkilled".

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-27T18:29:00.198Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How so?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-27T18:35:04.780Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are explicitly refusing to update on the evidence citing some irrelevant emotional scare-mongering.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-11-26T22:33:14.437Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If they're the stupid jerks you've portrayed, they probably would do that without even watching it first, nor hearing what hyper-badass Satsuki's views on nudity.

If you go into something expecting to hate it for ideological reasons, you're very likely to come out of it hating it for ideological reasons. It's easy to rag on people for declaring that they hate something without exposing themselves to it properly, but in fact the level of exposure matters much less than you'd probably think.

I haven't watched much of Kill la Kill (for lack of time, not lack of enjoyment), but I've run into this problem in conversations about quite a few bits of media that I think of as bona fide classics. I've almost certainly been guilty of it myself too, of course.

comment by Error · 2013-11-24T20:24:52.421Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Its main message is to insist on the following sequence as everyone's moral responsibility: once you say something that someone perceives as hurtful, you're morally obliged not to "question their feelings", but to perceive that you screwed up, to feel bad, to apologize, and change your behavior so this doesn't happen again.

I didn't get this impression; that is, the impression I got from the video wasn't "you should accept your interlocutor's perspective as the Only True Perspective" but "don't give Weasel Apologies."

Sometimes an apology is socially called for, but the speaker doesn't believe they did anything wrong. The most obvious examples are students (or office workers!) having an argument, in which a teacher or boss demands that one or both parties apologize to each other. Outright refusal may not be an option. A Weasel Apology is likely to result, but is pretty much morally neutral under the circumstances.

The difficulty arises when you have a Bottom Line problem. e.g., your mind should go:

"Did I do something wrong?"

  • Yes. (Apologize.)

  • No. (Don't.)

But sometimes it actually goes:

"Uh oh, I'm supposed to apologize now. Will that make me look like I did something wrong?"

  • Yes. (Well that won't do. Weasel it!)

Note the absence of an actual wrongness-check in the second form. I think this is what the video is actually railing against, IMO justifiably.

But there is a third version:

"Did I do something wrong?"

  • Yes. (Will an apology be used against me?)

    • No. (Apologize.)

    • Yes. (Weasel it.)

  • No. (Is an apology socially called for? )

    • Yes. (Weasel it.)

This actually does have a wrongness-check, but still results in Weasel Apologies. The video does not cover this case. I'm not sure being incomplete is a strike against it, though.

Edited to add: There is an ambiguity here, in that there's a difference between internalizing that you've done something wrong and internalizing the moral system of an accuser. I interpreted the video as talking about #1, but it seems at least a few others interpreted it as #2. Internalization[1] is good to do and bad to weasel out of, assuming whatever you did is wrong according to your moral code. Internalization[2] is shitty to demand, but probably a bad idea to weasel out of too. If it's being demanded for Political Reasons, they're going to notice. Best option is just plain refusal, if possible.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-11-24T22:58:20.306Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't get this impression; that is, the impression I got from the video wasn't "you should accept your interlocutor's perspective as the Only True Perspective" but "don't give Weasel Apologies."

Then I believe that you missed it. What you say was in the video (and I mentioned it), but the part about accepting the supposed victim's claims of being hurt as proof that you sinned (your "Only True Perspective" goes a bit too far) is there and is the backbone of the video.

The video's complete list of claims, in a brief form:

  1. You will slip up, but when you've done something crappy, you have a choice: either apologize and regain your awesome, or be a fartbag.
  2. Analogy: I stepped on your toe, you yell in pain, and I blame you for "standing everywhere".
  3. Intent is irrelevant: "I understand you didn't mean to step on their toe, but you still did, and you caused it, so apologize".
  4. Don't blame people for how they feel, blame yourself, you've caused it.
  5. Do feel bad.
  6. When apologizing, don't think you're asking for forgiveness.
  7. Figure out what you did wrong, believe it, understand it, internalize it
  8. Figure out why you did the hurtful things and provide context.
  9. Don't just express sympathy, you have to accept the blame.
  10. Tell people you won't do it again.
  11. Don't think you're losing or that it's a zero-sum game. Apologizing is a sign of strength.
  12. Do in fact change your behavior.

Points 2-4 basically set up the premise that someone's feelings being hurt by your words means you've done something bad and should apologize. You're not allowed to question the appropriateness of those feelings, and you're not allowed to introduce your intent. Your own moral judgement is never mentioned.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-11-23T19:26:54.386Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An example, by way of "The Root of All Evil" by Richard Dawkins:

Science is about testing, comparing and corroborating this mass of evidence, and using it to update old theories of how things work. I do remember one formative influence in my undergraduate life. There was an elderly professor in my department who had been passionately keen on a particular theory for a number of years. And one day an American visiting researcher came, and he completely and utterly disproved our old man's hypothesis. The old man strode to the front, shook his hand and said, "My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these 15 years." And we all clapped our hands raw. That was the scientific ideal of somebody who had a lot invested, a lifetime almost invested in a theory, and he was rejoicing that he had been shown wrong, and scientific truth had been advanced.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-23T20:22:36.273Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This anecdote literally drives me to tears.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:19:49.708Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does this have to do with apologizing?

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-11-23T23:29:39.838Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Both involve admitting that you've been wrong?

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:32:24.345Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is a thing they have in common, but that seems insufficiently specific to justify the relevance of that anecdote to this post.

Especially since I don't recall the linked video saying much about making sure you're wrong before apologizing.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:18:33.464Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Relevant post from YVain's blog: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/09/14/giving-and-accepting-apologies/

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-23T21:22:26.208Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing that always confused me was forcing others to apologize. Starting from school, putting two kids who hate each other's guts, and demanding that they apologize to each other whether they mean it or not. What's the point? Who does this help? What does this achieve?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-11-24T10:25:26.652Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the point? Who does this help? What does this achieve?

It helps the teacher establish their own authority over the children.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-24T10:53:26.146Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hardly; if the apologies are false, the teacher is undermining their own authority by teaching the children to lie and subterfuge their way around them. Once they've learned to dissociate their image-to-the-teacher with the image-to-themselves, it's a slppery slope to getting pelted with paper in the back of the head when you write on the blackboard, among many other forms of torment children heap on their masters.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-11-24T12:05:28.526Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The teacher is exhibiting their power to make the children tell a lie in public, a lie that everyone knows is a lie. The teacher is demonstrating that what is very important to the children is not at all important to the teacher, that the teacher can make the children perform this ritual, then shut up and return to their seats because the teacher tells them to.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-24T15:59:12.348Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

... Is assering this kind of power ("authority" connotes people being willing to "listen" more than "obey", as far as I can tell) a terminal value in the teacher's mind?! Because this sounds amazingly pointless. I would think a teacher's desire is to mold the students' mind to their satisfaction, propagate their memes, etc. etc. not just... make them execute pointless gestures just to show who's boss.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-11-24T17:09:52.572Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would think a teacher's desire is to mold the students' mind to their satisfaction, propagate their memes, etc. etc. not just... make them execute pointless gestures just to show who's boss.

Showing them who's boss is a precondition for all the rest.

At this point I should say that I'm not sure how much this sort of behaviour is a good thing and how much a bad. Hypothetically, one can confabulate all sorts of scenarios either way. But I have no experience of teaching children.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-24T20:19:25.877Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, but we all have experience in being taught, don't we. Some good, some bad. We would do well, I think, to give a long, hard look to the way we were taught, not only regarding how it may have affected us, but also in how it might affect our children, were they to be subjected to similar treatments.

Because, in the face of authority performing such seemingly pointless gestures, I have half a mind to teach my children to reject such orders on general principle, and say so to their teachers in no uncertain terms—without being rude about it, which might be a bit of a challenge.

Point is, when my kids grow, I want them to be the sort that would say no in Milgram's Experiment from the moment the victim revoked consent, if not earlier. (Also, intuitively one-box on Newcomb's problem, etc. etc.)

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-11-25T13:07:12.658Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When children can evaluate good ideas, it makes sense to tell them to obey the authority when a request is good, and to disobey when the request is harmful.

But before that age, the obedience in the Milgram's experiment and the obedience in "please stop hitting your younger sibling" or "please stop talking now so we can learn the alphabet" is probably processed by the same algorithm.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-25T14:10:41.705Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very pertinent. So it's a matter of age... well, we would do well not to underestimate our kids' ability to learn; it' surprising what they can achieve when nobody's told them they shouldn't be able to yet. Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to get a firm grip on what the state of the art in developmental psychology says on how to best go about teaching them right from wrong.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-11-25T16:19:08.370Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that children are often capable of understanding and doing more than is typically expected of them. And sometimes they are not. And sometimes they start doing it correctly, only to ruin it later; which is probably an inevitable phase in learning a new skill.

Just like it is easy to make a mistake of automatically assuming that children are not capable of something, and not giving them really a chance, it is also easy to make a mistake of seeing a child doing something correctly for five minutes, and assuming that nothing can go wrong later. In some environments the former kind of error is typical, but I have also seen (and done) the latter.

A high school where I was teaching made a new rule that students are allowed to ask a teacher about a context of what they are taught, such as why do they need to learn something and how is it related to the long-term goals. (There was a long list of new rules, most of them applause lights.) At first sight, it seems like a good idea: the teacher should explain a motivation for teaching something, and if they forget, it is great if the students can ask freely. But in real life this rule was abused heavily. Imagine being asked again and again after each sentence: "why is it necessary that we learn this?", especially when it's made obvious that the person asking does not really care about the answer (because they don't even bother listening to the answer), they only enjoy using their new power that allows them to completely stop the education. (Later the list of the rules was updated in a way that neutralized most of them, such as: "students have a right to do X... but only if the teacher considers it appropriate", and then removed and forgotten.)

So, having this experience, I can easily imagine what would happen if the same high school students received a lesson about Milgram's experiments and why it is wrong to obey authority blindly. Suddenly turning off their iPhones would become an evil comparable with being ordered to commit a genocide; they would refuse heroically, socially rewarding each other for being so heroic.

Perhaps this could be fixed by attaching a minor cost to the disobedience. Such as: You are allowed to refuse an unreasonable request, but you later have to provide a written explanation of what was requested from you, how you refused it, and why do you think it was the right thing to do.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-25T19:29:51.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Imagine being asked again and again after each sentence: "why is it necessary that we learn this?", especially when it's made obvious that the person asking does not really care about the answer (because they don't even bother listening to the answer), they only enjoy using their new power that allows them to completely stop the education."

Well, I had forgotten they were capable of such pettiness, but that's an interesting topic on its own, isn't it? I mean, how and why do adults outgrow this (and when don't they)?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-25T20:26:37.729Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect people mostly outgrow this as we develop less petty, more satisfying forms of power we can exert.

comment by bramflakes · 2013-11-23T22:00:45.468Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It teaches them to cower in the shadow of the Leviathan. The reasoning being perhaps, that if kids can't be taught to value behaving ethically for its own sake, they ought to behave ethically anyway so that they aren't shamed in public. An example of Goodhart's Law?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-23T22:36:29.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't get it.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:08:05.740Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Goodhart's law is the tendency, when using a proxy to measure a desideratum, to optimize for the proxy, rather than the desideratum.

In this case, the desideratum is feeling genuine regret about harming others, and the proxy is apologizing.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-11-26T23:04:35.250Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fake it 'til you make it. The theory is that going through the motions will eventually inspire prosocial behavior with or without any initial feeling attached.

Okay, that's a little glib, and there's some evidence that it doesn't work too well when it's externally imposed. But those studies (Cialdini cites some, for example) were generally done on adults, and it might work better on children; alternately, it might be more about inculcating the forms of prosocial behavior and trusting that they'll get hooked up to the right emotional content later, when kids' empathetic faculties are better developed.

comment by lmm · 2013-11-24T23:33:18.410Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It enforces the habit of apologizing, which will eventually develop into genuine feeling. A lot of ethical behavior is learned the same way, through politeness - to a kid, "please" is just a magic word for getting ice cream, but genuine gratitude develops from this.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T20:19:34.424Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is an important skill that it would be good for us to get better at! Thanks for sharing this thing that tries to help.

I don't think this is quite enough, though - it's advice on a very abstract level, without examples, and without advice on how to recognize occasions where apology is necessary. And it felt like being browbeaten and told I was bad, not like being given helpful advice.

Please someone else let me know if you learned how to implement a specific behavior from this, that you otherwise wouldn't have learned how to implement.

But thanks again for bringing up the issue at all - good sources on this would be very helpful, and when you mention this as a problem, you increase the probability that someone will try to solve it.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-11-23T20:44:31.907Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree; it felt as if the video is trying to browbeat you and force you to apologize. It seemed that the person in the video was himself angry and confused and this made it hard to watch with a "Let's learn a new skill" mindset.

It would have been better if this post could have actually linked to the research about human politeness and how it fits into the instrumental rationality framework. There has been a lot of research on this. A simple google search for 'rationality politeness' reveals a wealth of results.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:11:50.332Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a lot of the tone came from the pacing - the video was edited to mash together a bunch of sentences with minimal breaks in between. This made it much faster than normal speech, so it came across as a barrage of admonitions without allowing time to think about them in between. This was probably not intentional, and the speaker was probably not quite as angry as he sounds.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-11-23T23:33:50.892Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True, I was thinking about mentioning this in my reply above but I felt that criticizing the video would distract from the main point. Editing cuts in a video can be great, occasionally, to provide emphasis or keep the viewer's attention, but yes, here it seems they were overused and this reduces the effectiveness of the communication.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-11-23T21:15:09.948Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hardly. If you wish, I could go on to explicitly analyze this video bit by bit in order to achieve a more calm presentation of the ideas therein. It would go something like: "Frequent mistake when apologizing, then how to do it right"

I have found myself making most of the mistakes he listed, some of which I have seen in bullies, most notably detaching oneself from the feelings one causes ("I'm sorry that you feel hurt" rather than "I'm sorry that I hurt you") to outright blaming the other person for having feelings at all ("I'm sorry that you're such a whiny pansy who can't take a joke/some criticism/a bit of tough luck. Suck it up (like a man)!")

But anger and "browbeating" are perfectly legitimate ways to present something that you care very much about; most of the Sequences are written in such a lecturing, passionate tone.

As for that research, I would be thankful if anyone could help me with that, since it's a huge lot of work to review and incorporate it properly, and I don't have a huge lot of time, what with college and all.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-11-23T21:33:58.721Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you wish, I could go on to explicitly analyze this video bit by bit in order to achieve a more calm presentation of the ideas therein. It would go something like: "Frequent mistake when apologizing, then how to do it right"

Yes, that kind of format would be a much better way to present the ideas. It would then be easier to have a constructive argument about them. Provided, of course, that the reason is given for why said mistakes are actually mistakes.

But anger and "browbeating" are perfectly legitimate ways to present something that you care very much about; most of the Sequences are written in such a lecturing, passionate tone.

The tone of the sequences is far from emotionally neutral, and 'passionate' would be a good word to describe many parts of the sequences, but the way is this is often done is by providing a justification, building up to the main point, then using a passionate form of presentation to emphasize the important take-away points. It seems that this video skips right to the 'passion' part without addressing the 'why we should even care' part.

And that seems like the most important part to me. If you don't mind me saying, I get the impression that you might be missing that part as well. Politeness is all about human psychology and interaction and our in-built sense of empathy towards others. The correctness of an argument has little to do with how politely it is presented, but its impact on other people, on the other hand, does. So it would be useful examining this a little bit more deeply. Again, this is something that is often done in the sequences: things are broken down deeply and a 'view from above' is taken.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:25:41.849Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could go on to explicitly analyze this video bit by bit in order to achieve a more calm presentation of the ideas therein.

That seems likely to be more helpful.

comment by Benquo · 2013-11-23T23:24:30.749Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are some issues I'd like to see covered in the future:

  • Sometimes person A does something that causes person B to feel pain, and it doesn't seem like person A did anything wrong. What kind of apology, if any, is appropriate?
  • How do I tell when something really isn't my fault? What kind of harm-causing should I apologize for?
  • What do I do if someone tries to leverage my apology to extract some kind of additional concession from me, or I expect that this might happen?
  • Suppose I think someone should apologize to me for something. What should I do about it, if anything?
comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-11-23T23:45:44.875Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For my own part, I find "I'm sorry that what I did hurt you" appropriate in the first case, declining to concede appropriate in the third, and asking for an apology appropriate in the fourth. The second is more complicated.

comment by gwillen · 2013-11-24T02:01:17.154Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

[I accidentally posted a comment I was still thinking about. Apparently I can't delete it, so I just removed the content a few seconds after posting. I'll repost it when it's done.]