Ethics in a Feedback Loop: A Parable

post by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T16:25:40.799Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 139 comments

Green Martians and Blue Martians have one thing in common: They both derive a tremendous amount of utility from tickling humans behind the ears, using their soft, feathery tentacles.  In fact, the utility that they derive from this is so intense that most scientists believe at some time in the recent evolutionary past, there must have been a large selection pressure directed at ensuring that Martians were motivated to tickle humans.

There are numerous differences between Green and Blue Martians. One of those differences is that whereas the feathery tentacles of Green Martians contain stinging hairs similar to nettles, the analogous anatomic part of the Blue Martian contains a safe drug with an euphoric effect. Therefore, humans who are tickled by green martians experience a moderate stinging pain, whereas those who are tickled by blue martians experience mild to moderate pleasure.

Human ethicists have long struggled to come up with a coherent ethical theory that determines whether tickling humans is morally acceptable.  Some have suggested that tickling humans behind the ear is ethically permissible if and only if you are a blue martian.  However, many other thinkers are worried that this line of thinking results in an unjust world, where the ethics of an act is determined by characteristics of the Martian that they cannot be held responsible for.

However, human ethicists are not very familiar with Martian physiology, and the situation is actually even more complicated than they suspect. In fact, all Martians are born Green.  They can shed their green shell and become blue Martians only after they have perfected the art of tickling humans with their feathery tentacles. All Martians aspire to one day become blue, but the amount of practicing it takes to reach perfection is highly variable - some martians reach perfection at their first attempt, whereas others keep trying their whole life without making any discernible progress. Therefore, if the ethical code says that green martians are prohibited from tickling humans, ethical Martians will be unable to reach their full potential in life, and will be stuck as Green Martians forever. Under this ethical code, only unethical Martians will be able to metamorphose.  

Making the situation even more complicated, is the fact that a group of recently metamorphosed Blue Martians are vocally spreading information on the internet about tickling techniques. These techniques are sometimes effective, but if used imperfectly they increase the sting of the stinging hairs fourfold. Importantly, it seems that part of the reason some young Green Martians are naturally better ticklers and therefore metamorphose earlier, is that they intuitively understand these techniques, and are able to apply them without increasing the sting of their tentacles.  Moreover,  while the tickling technique has empirical support, the theory behind it relies heavily on speculation about human evolutionary history that may not be true, and which is offensive to humans. 

This raises a number of additional ethical questions: Is it unethical for a Green Martian to attempt to metamorphose?  Does this depend on whether they believe themselves to be fast or slow learners? Should only the small subset of Martians who intuitively understand the tickling techniques be allowed to use them? Is spreading explicit information about the techniques unethical? 

 (Note : This parable is obviously an allegory for something.   Discussing whether the allegory is valid is interesting, but will lead to mindkill.   I would prefer if the discussion could stay focused on the Martians, so that we can discuss the ethics of a hypothetical scenario that may not be relevant in real life.  I am genuinely confused about the ethics of this, and I think this can lead to an interesting question regardless of whether it is applicable to humans)

139 comments

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comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-07-26T07:28:50.540Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, anyone reading the comments knows what this is a allegory for. Before reading on, remember your current stance on this issue.

I'm now going to interpret this as being about education in general.

Green Martians == uneducated

Blue Martians == educated

humans == society, and especially taxpayers

nice tickling == the social benefits of having highly educated professionals

painful tickling == the financial costs of maintaining an education system

Suddenly the anti-creep feminists are libertarians, arguing that tax is theft, even if used to educate children. Others argue against this, saying that everyone has a right to an education, which is a social good that trumps individual property rights.

Some think you should be able to pay for private tickling. Others say this is elitist.

Is it unethical for a Green Martian to attempt to metamorphose? Does this depend on whether they believe themselves to be fast or slow learners?

Clearly, some Green Martians must attempt to metamorphose in order to maintain a technologically advanced society. The current social norm is that all Green Martians, no matter how stupid, must attempt to metamorphose at least to the age of 16. Indeed, in many places the slower-learning Greens are given extra tickling time, more than the fast learners.

Some people believe that some Martians are inherently better at tickling, and that those who struggle to metamorphose are in some way inferior. Some even say that for the slowest-learning Martians it is immoral to try and better themselves by being educated, rather then accepting their lowly place in society.

These people are often accused of being ableist, classist and elitist.

Some people even believe that the slowest-learning Martians should not reproduce, saving the next generation the pain of their stinging tentacles.

These people are generally regarded as crypto-Nazis.

So, now that everyone is thoroughly mindkilled due to the mention of both PUA and Nazis, did your stance change? If so, does this reveal underlying biases, or is it more a matter that allegories are inherently imperfect representations of the actual issue being discussed?

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, Jiro
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-27T16:30:53.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder how much potential this technique could have. I mean, inventing a metaphor that applies to two situation, letting two groups of people debate the metaphor, telling each of them only one of the meanings... and then collect their answers and try applying them to the other situation. Maybe we could find some creative solutions here.

I'll try... okay, sometimes the analogy will be stretched a lot, but that's because the goal is not to be perfect in translating, but to generate ideas.

(polymathwannabe): Recruit the subset of rare humans who enjoy green tickling and employ them as tickling punchbags for green Martians to practice on.

Find people willing to donate a lot of money to education of the least educated people.

Make green Martians wear soft clothes that do not dampen their tentacles' sensitivity too much.

Make education less expensive.

Use some medium (animals, dolls, androids) where green Martians can practice their tickling skills without harming anyone.

Use Khan Academy for teaching.

Find a way to chemically induce metamorphosis in green Martians.

Uhm? Invent a sci-fi technology that will inject knowledge and skills into humans.

Use plastic surgery, medications, or artificial selection to make green Martians' tentacles less stingy.

Give schoolkids Ritalin.

For parents and/or cell donors who are willing, find a way to engineer blue-born Martians.

Sperm donors should provide information about their educational achievement.

Perform non-interventional, follow-up studies on elderly green Martians to assess the worth of a non-tickling life.

Let stupid people live without education, and make a scientific study about their lives. Maybe they are not that much worse than the rest of the population.

(Manfred): A thin layer behind the ears that prevents pain/euphoria from tickling.

Lower the tax, give less education to both stupid and smart people.

Community college classes on tickling.

Classes on "efficient learning" before learning specific subjects.

Economic transactions.

Contracts between private people, like: "I will pay for your education, and in return you will give me 10% of your income during the next 20 years."

Drugs that satisfy Martians and reduce the desire for tickling.

Give stupid people free TV.

Drugs for humans that make them not experience pain from tickling.

Create better propaganda for taxpayers.

(Adele_L): It might be good to have designated spaces where Green Martians can practice tickling participating humans. As more and more of these spaces become available, it becomes more and more socially unacceptable for Green Martians to tickle humans elsewhere. Obviously, for this to work, there would need to be a sufficiently high number of humans willing to participate.

Create more privately sponsored educational institutions. Demanding public education should become socially unacceptable. Obviously, this needs a lot of private sponsors.

For me, a large part of minor annoyances is anticipating minor annoyances. Imagining myself as a human, I might get really sick of stung randomly throughout the day. It would be easier to deal with the occasional sting if they were constrained to certain times of the day or to certain environments. For example, I think it would be good to make a taboo against tickling at work. The blue martians can always tickle later, and the humans would be able to work without having to worry about getting stung.

Have some limit on taxes, so that people don't have to worry that more education will mean more taxes.

Now imagining myself as a Green Martian, I feel like I would naturally feel bad about stinging humans, and try to avoid it for the most part. This anxiety would be significantly worse if the humans visibly disliked me for stinging them. But I would be desperate for someone who could help me become a Blue Martian. Learning the Blue Martian's techniques would be very tempting... Something that might be a good alternative would be if there were humans working with the Blue Martians, finding ways to make the techniques more robust.

Make a reasearch about habits of highly successful students, and use it to improve education.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-27T18:40:43.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This comment is awesome.

comment by Jiro · 2014-07-28T06:29:38.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The biggest problem with the education analogy is that humans are plural, but society is singular. If you want the Martian analogy to work for education, you'd have to have all Martians trying to tickle the same human, of which there is only one.

If there's only one human and an unlimited number of martians can tickle him, things work very differently than if there are many humans:

  • The human solves the problem by preemptively consenting to green tickling in exchange for benefits to himself later on from the increase in blue tickling. If there are many humans, the humans face a collective action problem; agreeing to be green-tickled increases the total rate of blue tickling by a negligible amount unless all humans agree on it at once (or unless Martians and humans behave in ways that don't match the analogy).
  • If there is only one human, the humans don't compete against each other for the limited supply of blue Martians.
  • If an unlimited number of Martians can tickle the same human, the Martians don't have to compete against each other for the limited supply of humans, either.

You can try to fix the analogy up by saying that "human" stands for an individual member of society rather than the whole society, but then the analogy fails because while there are lots of humans, a Martian doesn't pick an individual human but extends its tentacles over all the humans at once.

Furthermore, some of your uses of the analogy fail for other reasons. For instance, "Some think you should be able to pay for private tickling. Others say this is elitist. " But in the analogy, this should be "pay to have the right to tickle someone else", not "pay to be tickled", and even that's a bad comparison because tickling is defined as the cost of education, so "paying to tickle" means "pay in order to be able to pay the cost of education", which is tautological.

Replies from: skeptical_lurker, Viliam_Bur
comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-07-28T16:07:21.517Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Furthermore, some of your uses of the analogy fail for other reasons. For instance, "Some think you should be able to pay for private tickling. Others say this is elitist. " But in the analogy, this should be "pay to have the right to tickle someone else", not "pay to be tickled"

Yes, I meant "pay to have the right to tickle someone else" although I probably could have phrased it less ambiguously.

and even that's a bad comparison because tickling is defined as the cost of education, so "paying to tickle" means "pay in order to be able to pay the cost of education", which is tautological.

The pain of tickling is the cost to taxpayers of education. "paying to tickle" simply means privately paying for education.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-28T16:14:58.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The pain of tickling is the cost to taxpayers of education. "paying to tickle" simply means privately paying for education.

"Paying to tickle" means "paying for the right to tickle someone else", and more specifically, "paying for the right to green-tickle someone else, despite the pain it causes him". That would amount to "paying the cost of education so that you have the right to charge taxpayers for education", which is still meaningless.

Replies from: skeptical_lurker, None
comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-07-28T17:05:21.257Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, maybe a better analogy would be something along the lines of:

Some martians are able to afford expensive tentacle cream which stops the tentacles stinging, meaning that they can find more willing humans and become a deeper shade of blue then less well-off martians.

Replies from: Lumifer, Jiro, None
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-28T17:12:57.109Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some martians are able to afford expensive tentacle cream

Certainly true :-D

comment by Jiro · 2014-07-28T20:11:34.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea is that the green and blue Martian analogy can be used, as is, as an argument about education. I don't buy that.

Of course you can use it as an argument about education if you replace it with a better analogy.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-28T18:05:16.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, there's a country where most martians borrow so much money to buy cream that they have to work like 80 hours to hope to ever pay back the debt, as most humans only let indigo martians tickle them.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-28T20:27:42.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the analogy to make sense, blue tickling has to be done to the same humans as green tickling. If blue tickling means "the employer (as an individual) hires an educated person and benefits", green tickling would be "the employer (as an individual) pays for an uneducated person to be educated". Pretty much nobody thinks that employers should be obligated to pay for people's education.

You guys have been making valiant efforts to apply the tickling analogy to education, but I really don't think it works.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-29T07:44:22.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nowhere in the story is it implied that the humans a martian will pleasantly tickle once blue must be the same ones he unpleasantly tickled when green in order to become blue.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-29T14:32:39.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The analogy doesn't require that the same individual human who is green-tickled is the one who's blue-tickled, but the analogy does require that the humans and Martians who green-tickle them are an analogy for the same kind of thing as the humans and the Martians who blue-tickle them. So if "humans blue-tickled by Martians" means "employers hiring educated people on an individual basis", then "humans green-tickled by Martians" means "employers paying to educate people on an individual basis". Employers don't do that--the analogy fails.

You can't just say that blue-tickling means hiring and green-tickling means paying for education, without considering who is hiring whom, and who is paying to educate whom.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-28T18:51:33.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That would amount to "paying the cost of education so that you have the right to charge taxpayers for education", which is still meaningless.

Is it?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-28T07:24:37.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

society is singular

Taxpayers are plural. Some of them pay more taxes than others. Some of them would donate to a charity related to education, others wouldn't.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-28T16:11:23.217Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I covered that:

You can try to fix the analogy up by saying that "human" stands for an individual member of society rather than the whole society, but then the analogy fails because while there are lots of humans, a Martian doesn't pick an individual human but extends its tentacles over all the humans at once.

comment by Manfred · 2014-07-25T23:14:32.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know, there's a different possible interpretation here that I like much better.

Green martians - people who are a drag socially.
Blue martians - people who are more fun than effort.
Humans - other people in these interactions.

One thing I like is that this interpretation contains the other. It also leads to some additional complications. When the interpretation applies to all people, then each person is some species of martian, and each person is a human. Each person wants to be tickled by blue martians, and each person wants to tickle other people. This allows for much more interesting behavior, if we model social interactions as some degree of reciprocal tickling.

Issues with this interpretation: Ignores context (someone may be a blue martian in one situation and a green martian in the other). Treats blue/green as a dichotomy rather than a continuum. Reduces interactions to one thing (this makes it too easy for the hypothetical people!).

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-07-25T20:31:44.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Note : This parable is obviously an allegory for something.

I'm glad you spelled the analogy out in another comment, because I would never have guessed that was what you were talking about.

That the parable can be interpreted according to that key is such an outlandish statement that I can immediately think of several blogs where, if I bought it to their attention (which I certainly will not), it would elicit an avalanche of incredulous scorn that would dwarf all the drama about Roko's Basilisk.

Discussing whether the allegory is valid is interesting, but will lead to mindkill.

Quite so, and therefore I will not be drawn into explaining why I find the analogy so crazy, and am not asking you to explain it further.

I would prefer if the discussion could stay focused on the Martians, so that we can discuss the ethics of a hypothetical scenario that may not be relevant in real life. I am genuinely confused about the ethics of this, and I think this can lead to an interesting question regardless of whether it is applicable to humans)

You can't have it both ways. As a purely hypothetical scenario of no relevance to real life, it is of no interest. As a purely hypothetical scenario of direct analogical relevance to real life, it is of interest to precisely the degree that it is an accurate analogy; but you want to forestall any discussion of its accuracy. You want to talk about PUA without talking about PUA. The thing cannot be done.

The whole posting reminds me of the situation where someone comes to you and says, "Suppose someone did such and such, and acted so and so, and then this and that, wouldn't they be wrong wrong wrong?" and it's clearly a tendentious, self-serving account of some drama they've got into with someone else. They're not looking for advice, they're trying to co-opt you into giving them validation but screening off the actual facts from you.

Replies from: PeerGynt, buybuydandavis, polymathwannabe
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T20:55:19.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let me just point out that the post was an attempt to discuss ethics in a hypothetical world where certain PUA claims about human psychology are true. I think this is an important question, and I did not want it to degenerate into a discussion about whether the claims themselves are true.

I tried my best to make the analogy as neutral as possible, by making women the "humans", describing the PUA strategies as having a real harmful effect on women, and generally making their dislike of PUA strategies seem entirely reasonable.

I don't see how the post is tendentious. I don't think the analogy has any obvious ethical solution, and I am genuinely asking people for insight into what the relevant ethics are in this hypothetical world. I don't see how I am leading people to give me validation on my views, because I am not even sure what my views are.

Replies from: polymathwannabe
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-25T21:25:44.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some of your views are discernible. You seem to think men can be visibly divided into "high status" and "low status", and that those categories can be matched to "sexually desirable" and "sexually undesirable," and that all women have the same opinion about which men fall into which category, and that women are not initiators of sexual contact. Real life is a lot more complicated than that.

Replies from: PeerGynt, David_Gerard
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T21:34:46.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are not my views:

First of all, I took no position on the truth value of the premises.

Secondly, I fully recognize that my analogy is a simplified map of a map. It does not accurately represent the full territory.

The question is whether the aspects of the territory that I have glossed over are important for the resolution of the ethical question. If there are any such aspects, please feel free to point them out. I do recognize that some of the aspects that have been pointed out, such as consent, are important. I have upvoted those comments and attempted to explain why I think you can make the argument that the analogy still has some validity.

Replies from: polymathwannabe
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-25T22:49:53.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I took no position on the truth value of the premises.

Your translation of the analogy takes the postition that the status dichotomy is a thing. The rest follows from that assumption.

If the views I enumerated are not your views, you need to refine your analogy, because the way it's written matches them neatly. The fact that my list of proposed solutions was perceived as having an overly physical emphasis seems to me like evidence of how much this analogy oversimplifies what it tries to represent.

Let's reread your post:

an unjust world, where the ethics of an act is determined by characteristics of the Martian that they cannot be held responsible for.

Being a pleasant person to be around is beyond a man's responsibility?

However, human ethicists are not very familiar with Martian physiology...

Is this supposed to mean that women don't get how the male mind works?

a group of recently metamorphosed Blue Martians are vocally spreading information on the internet about tickling techniques.

They may be green for all we know. Being a published guru is no guarantee that he knows what he's talking about.

if used imperfectly they increase the sting of the stinging hairs fourfold.

It may be the method's fault as often as the user's.

Now let's address your actual questions:

Is it unethical for a Green Martian to attempt to metamorphose?

Is it unethical to attempt to become a better person? Absolutely not. BUT, as with everything, a good end does not justify nasty means.

Does this depend on whether they believe themselves to be fast or slow learners?

In your example, tickling is described in terms one would commonly use to refer to an optional pastime, but it actually stands for a fundamental biological urge with deep psychological and social consequences. This complicates the attempt to give an answer. Should I try to play chess? is not the same question as Should I try to get laid? Having a low expectation of success in mastering a pastime does affect your motivation to learn it, while it only has a moderate effect on your motivation to follow your biological urges. However, since there's nothing wrong with wanting to get laid per se, or wanting to become a more desirable person, I'll answer that everyone should be allowed, in fact encouraged, to learn.

Should only the small subset of Martians who intuitively understand the tickling techniques be allowed to use them?

Chess child prodigies should have the chance to play as much as they like, but it makes no sense to keep the game's rules from everyone else. So, same as the previous question.

Is spreading explicit information about the techniques unethical?

It is only as acceptable as the techniques themselves.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T23:08:24.035Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your translation of the analogy takes the postition that the status dichotomy is a thing. The rest follows from that assumption.

No, it takes the position that there exist people who believe status dichotomy is a thing, and then explores some of the consequences if this belief were to be true.

Moreover, status dichotomy is very obviously a lossy compression. For some purposes, this construct will lose so much information as to be useless. For other purposes, the information that is lost by dichotomizing status is not essential, and so it may still be a useful model.

In order to convince me that dichotomous status is not a useful model when what we are interested in is exploring the ethical issues in this post, you would have to show me a situation where considering a continuous or multidimensional status construct is necessary in order to make an essential point with implications for the correct ethical choice. If you are able to do this, you will have contributed a lot to the conversation, and I will have learned something important.

Being a pleasant person to be around is beyond a man's responsibility?

No, what I meant was that a Martian cannot be held morally responsible for whether he is Green or Blue.

Replies from: polymathwannabe
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-25T23:29:12.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a Martian cannot be held morally responsible for whether he is Green or Blue.

This insistence in keeping the analogy disconnected from its real-life referent will result in making answers to the analogy useless for the real-life issues behind it. Which means that:

show me a situation where considering a continuous or multidimensional status construct is necessary in order to make an essential point with implications for the correct ethical choice

needs to be answered in real-life terms if it's to be a meaningful question. There's no universal, objective agreement about when exactly your Martians are blue or green. It partly depends on the human beholder, and Martians may switch many times between those categories during their lifetimes. Some Martians are better matches for some humans than for others, and very often both sides find themselves forced to compromise. And you're still neglecting the fact that humans tickle Martians.

The questions you actually want answered would benefit from having been expressed in plain language since the start. You can keep the exercise the way it is, and with the collaboration of other posters come up with new and wonderful solutions within its framework, but if you don't check at every step whether the analogy still holds, you will reach solutions that will only work on Mars.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-28T20:46:02.837Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's no universal, objective agreement about when exactly your Martians are blue or green.

That falls under "lossy compression". There are certainly Martians who are considered to be green in the majority of interactions with humans, and other Martians who are considered to be blue in the majority of interactions with humans.

And you're still neglecting the fact that humans tickle Martians.

1) Humans don't tickle Martians as much as Martians tickle humans. (Women don't approach men nearly as much as men approach women, and aren't expected to.)

2) Humans who tickle Martians tickle blue pretty much all the time. (It is acceptable for women to act as though a bad pickup attempt from a man is a threat; it is not acceptable for men to act as though a bad pickup attempt from a woman is a threat except for the most extreme cases.)

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-07-25T21:27:54.612Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

PeerGynt has, in fact, constructed an analogy to something he doesn't understand. This is useful if he then learns from others' critique of the analogy that he does not understand the original.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T21:44:47.459Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am certainly learning from any useful comments that are made, regardless of which position they take. This is not one of those comments. It is also the only comment in the thread which I have downvoted - I am trying to have a discussion about ethics in a hypothetical world, not a flame war.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-07-25T22:12:31.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a purely hypothetical scenario of direct analogical relevance to real life, it is of interest to precisely the degree that it is an accurate analogy;

Analogies in moral discussions can serve the purpose to illuminate and identify relevant principles, but generally they just meta the argument from "is X Moral" to "Does the analogy properly map in the relevant aspects?" And that's on a good day. Normally, it's more of a "that's not the same situation", "is so", is NOT"...

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-25T20:49:06.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The original description of the thought experiment should have included the fact that experimenting on the mothership is the actual purpose behind the tickling. Such an omission is very telling.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T20:52:10.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Moreover, believing that tickling is an "action that is generally conducted by the active Martian to the passive human" is a major part of being Green :-/

A mitigating circumstance, though, is that humans are quite content to let the Martians believe that :-D

comment by drethelin · 2014-07-25T22:06:40.008Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Low status men=/= men with poor social skills, even though there is a lot of overlap. Social skills are not binary, and neither is status. As someone else in the comments mentioned, there's a continuum. Most men are teal, rather than GREEN or BLUE. Similarly, "tickling" is not a category on its own (I assume by tickling you mean flirting). Social interactions (even if you view them as entirely about seduction) are on a continuum. Talking to someone pleasantly is a skill you can develop without ever flirting/tickling anyone. Or to bring it back to your allegory: the way to "practice" tickling is to start with waving your tentacles at someone without touching or hurting them, and with no intention of stinging them if they let their guard down.

comment by palladias · 2014-07-28T14:51:22.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am amused to report that this post was fuel for a non-allegorical nightmare for me last night. In my dream, the martians, united, were convinced humans must also have two stages of development, and did some kind of spore-related experiments on us, trying to trigger this second stage. Cue zombies.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-29T06:35:31.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What would the zombies correspond to in the original analogy? :D

Replies from: VAuroch
comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-17T05:35:39.054Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Catgirls.

comment by Adele_L · 2014-07-25T21:52:45.910Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some ideas:

  • It might be good to have designated spaces where Green Martians can practice tickling participating humans. As more and more of these spaces become available, it becomes more and more socially unacceptable for Green Martians to tickle humans elsewhere. Obviously, for this to work, there would need to be a sufficiently high number of humans willing to participate.

  • For me, a large part of minor annoyances is anticipating minor annoyances. Imagining myself as a human, I might get really sick of stung randomly throughout the day. It would be easier to deal with the occasional sting if they were constrained to certain times of the day or to certain environments. For example, I think it would be good to make a taboo against tickling at work. The blue martians can always tickle later, and the humans would be able to work without having to worry about getting stung.

  • Now imagining myself as a Green Martian, I feel like I would naturally feel bad about stinging humans, and try to avoid it for the most part. This anxiety would be significantly worse if the humans visibly disliked me for stinging them. But I would be desperate for someone who could help me become a Blue Martian. Learning the Blue Martian's techniques would be very tempting... Something that might be a good alternative would be if there were humans working with the Blue Martians, finding ways to make the techniques more robust.

  • Also, studying the transformation process more carefully would probably be very helpful for everyone.

Replies from: sediment, ialdabaoth, PeerGynt
comment by sediment · 2014-07-28T22:29:47.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagining myself as a human,

For some reason I found this very funny.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-26T03:47:21.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me, a large part of minor annoyances is anticipating minor annoyances. Imagining myself as a human, I might get really sick of stung randomly throughout the day. It would be easier to deal with the occasional sting if they were constrained to certain times of the day or to certain environments. For example, I think it would be good to make a taboo against tickling at work. The blue martians can always tickle later, and the humans would be able to work without having to worry about getting stung.

So, one problem with this:

Suppose that there are such places, called Tickling Bars, where Martians can tickle humans who have come pretty much to be tickled. BUT. Even humans that go to Tickling Bars only want to be tickled by the largest green martians, because those tend to have the least stingy tentacles. And green martians recognize that there's a limited amount of Tickling Bars, so the bigger ones tend to band together and make the smaller ones feel really uncomfortable. This means that smaller green Martians, who don't have as much of a 'pack', are typically very unwelcome in Tickling Bars, and in fact the only place they ever SEE a human is at work.

They know that tickling at work is taboo, but where else are they supposed to go to tickle humans? The last time one tried a Tickle Bar, the human that he offered to tickle threatened to get the other martians to cut its tentacles off.

Replies from: skeptical_lurker, polymathwannabe
comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-07-26T06:32:44.903Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They know that tickling at work is taboo, but where else are they supposed to go to tickle humans? The last time one tried a Tickle Bar, the human that he offered to tickle threatened to get the other martians to cut its tentacles off.

Maybe they could try online tickling?

Replies from: David_Gerard
comment by David_Gerard · 2014-07-26T07:56:03.153Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So ... anyone from Usenet remember Terri DiSisto and get flashbacks at the words "online tickling"?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-26T06:52:44.637Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

where else are they supposed to go to tickle humans?

There is a whiff of aggrieved entitlement in that sentence.

Replies from: ialdabaoth, None
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-26T07:13:23.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, it's confused desperation. Note that confusing "confused desperation" for "aggrieved entitlement" is a good way to treat the disadvantaged as if they were oppressors, which is the opposite of helping.

Look, I'm going to pierce the metaphor for a minute, here.

I'm not talking about sex. I'm not owed sex, I get that. I'm also not owed compassion or companionship or friendliness. I get that.

You're telling a member of a highly social species that he's not owed any of the socially-approved and advertised paths to socialization or validation.

I get that.

Do you?

Replies from: Toggle, 125483, polymathwannabe
comment by Toggle · 2014-07-27T18:30:11.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The word 'desperation' really jumped out at me here. I'm very sorry you feel desperate and lonely. I agree that it can be very hard to tell the difference between a straight guy who thinks he deserves a woman, and a straight guy who thinks he deserves to be loved, and that often people don't work as hard as they should to distinguish between the two. (Often including, I must add, the guys themselves.)

But a lot of your descriptions of reality strike me as almost mythic. I don't mean that they are supernatural or inconsistent with the reality I know; it's just that they seem highly oriented towards an explanation of your world and its inevitability, rather than towards power over your world through predictive utility. You use evolutionary psychology, feminist dialectic, and PUA identity categories to 'explain' your desperation- but all without, it seems to me, gaining the ability to make different and better choices about it. Might as well say that you're cursed by Zeus, yeah?

One of the really tricky parts of social interaction is that the agents are all as intellectually complex as you are. The space of all social interactions is truly, mind-bendingly, absurdly, ridiculously large. Myth is especially poisonous in such a situation, both because it will lead to a narrow subjective framing and because it will narrow your own contributions in turn. The problem is hard (and almost certainly uncomputable!), so you might find considerable value in the concession that even the best models have very little power to predict what a given person can contribute to social bonding, or what factors explain that capacity. Begin with curiosity, and a keen sense of your own ignorance, and you are more likely to discover interesting choices that can offer happiness.

Replies from: pushcx
comment by pushcx · 2014-07-30T19:16:29.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe the reason the post reminds you of myth is that it's expressing a lack of agency. It's a common feature there; generally the world is a place where awful things happen to you just because. The poster above is in a complex system where he feels he has no control, and the "whiff of aggrieved entitelment" response touches on that exact raw nerve.

comment by 125483 · 2014-07-30T09:04:43.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was halfway through an excessively heated response to you when I took a shower and came back to realize that it was a stupid idea. So I wrote this instead.

I have a genetic inability to gain pleasure from tickling and experimentation with Martians. In fact, to me, blue Martians sting almost as much as green ones. I was told for most of my life that even if I didn't like it that I was morally required to put up with a Martian because at least /they/ got pleasure out of the deal. Which meant that if it was going to hurt anyway I may as well make a green Martian happy, even if I hated every minute of it.

Then I read about some humans who, like me, simply don't have the receptors for the blue Martians' chemicals. The people who told me this was possible told me, by analogy, that I didn't have to give a damn about any Martians if I didn't want to. That I could just tell all of them that I had that genetic defect and that this was a completely valid reason to make Martians not tickle me, regardless of color. Most of them understand. The ones that don't, I try to keep to only seeing in public.

Then there are the ones that try to convince me that I'm making my genetic defect up. Those people are not always green Martians - they may even be humans - but they're the kind of people who, as far as I am concerned, did a pretty good job of convincing me that I should shut up and get with the program. I don't want that for myself anymore. I can do better.

I carry scars from this experience, though they are not even close to the majority of my total scarring. I am prone to interpreting remarks that humans should give green Martians a chance as remarks that I need to get with the program, climb into the mothership with the first Martian that will take me, and lie back and think of England. Which is probably not what you intend or what you want.

(In case it wasn't clear, the genetic defect I refer to is asexuality, specifically aromantic asexuality. There are also closely related conditions where people get pleasure from tentacle tickling but not from experimentation, and vice versa.)

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-30T13:20:15.907Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was halfway through an excessively heated response to you

I think this is just as symptomatic of the greater problem as my own whining is.

The greater problem: Just because I need love, and companionship, and yes even sex, doesn't mean you have to be the one to give it to me. There's a large enough dating pool out there that, if I'm not deliberately attacked whenever I try to figure out what I'm doing, I'll eventually figure this out and find someone interested in me.

And just because you want to be left alone and not bothered with all this romantic / sexual bullshit doesn't mean I have to stop wanting, or acknowledging that it's frustrating and painful to not get what I need. There's enough stable, secure people out there that, if you're not constantly harassed by pushy assholes, you'll eventually find a good circle of friends that won't bother you about that sort of shit.

But every time someone reacts with viciousness to someone else stating their needs, they undermine their assertion that those needs are not their responsibility.

Look, if someone is asexual, and aromantic, I'm flat-out not going to be interested in anything but friendship with them. The initial signals just won't be there to get my attention. If they give off confusing signals (being extra-flirty, sexually provocative, etc. with me and then assert that they're not interested in me), I'm going to express my confusion in various stages of escalation until I finally feel like I'm being duped and inform them that I can't be friends with them. But at no point in this process does 'stop doing what you want and put out for me' come into it, and it's sad that so much of the landscape is made up of that assumption.

Not All Women Are Like That. Not All Men Are Like That. Why is it that when sex and romance enter the picture, everyone doubles down on their need to stereotype instead of just paying attention to the damn environment?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-26T15:29:29.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not owed any of the paths? No, I didn't say that, and I wouldn't go that far. I sensed aggrieved entitlement because of historical realities: because, yes, men have been the oppressors of women for thousands of years, and we've only recently started to abandon a paradigm where women's availability for men was taken for granted and adopt a paradigm where women's autonomy as agents with their own preferences and desires is acknowledged. Of course it's going to be difficult for heterosexual men to control the Neolithic patriarch that still lives inside them, and one of the great mistakes of PUA ideology is that it draws from our ancestral past to foster outdated male behaviors of dominance and competition that do not fit anymore in modern society. That those behaviors do get some men laid is not evidence that they are acceptable behaviors; it's evidence that not all women are the same. Gender equality is an embarrasingly late advance in human history, too recent to be part of our innate assumptions, and for the moment we have to patiently teach it to each generation. It's going to take time for it to sink in and become another of our gut-level impulses. Until then, some men are still going to be clumsy, and of course that's sad, because many of those socially inexpert men could make excellent partners, but when we speak of the suffering of lonely men, we need to remember that precisely the old male structures of dominance and competition are to blame for that. Sexism has hurt ethical men, but damaged all women: we can't pretend they haven't been owned, ignored, silenced, taken for granted, trespassed on, dehumanized, and neglected, both historically and still today, both openly and insidiously. With that in mind, you can't seriously tell me that lonely men are the disadvantaged party here. Women already have enough on their plates trying to simply get an education, and go through their daily lives without being assaulted, and build professional careers where they'll be paid fairly and taken seriously, and push governments everywhere to earn the basic right of controlling their own reproduction, and a myriad other things that need to be corrected in this society; and the last thing they need on top of all of that is being told that they're being mean for having a set of preferences. Helping lonely men achieve emotional and sexual satisfaction is going to take much more than socialization workshops; we need to dismantle the entire alpha-male paradigm and make all forms of masculinity visible and acceptable, and we also need to acknowledge that even socially inexpert men enjoy the privilege of being expected to initiate and set the course of romantic interaction. The entire PUA ideology is built on that flawed expectation. That is the opposite of helping.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-26T16:44:58.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

BOTH ARE TRUE. Let me explain what intersectionalism looks from my end:

Patriarchy has given 90% of men and 100% of women a raw deal. Look at Dr. Robert Sapolski's work with baboon troops for an excellent model of this. The bullshit dominance hierarchy that is ingrained in our ancestry leaves all women and most men physically sick and emotionally damaged, all for the sake of putting a few violently aggressive jerks on top.

The women's movement made a fatal mistake, of identifying the enemy with 'maleness' instead of 'violent dominance'. It tore down structures that made men's lives bearable at the expense of women's, but instead of proposing and cultivating new, nurturing structures, the narrative seems to be "you're on your own, that's what you get for the thousands of years of oppressive dominance!"

And meanwhile millions of men in Western society, who are constantly bombarded with images telling them what is expected of them and texts telling them that they are horrible for following those expectations, and who aren't stupid, are desperately clamouring for some way to add meaning and emotional significance to their lives.

PUA is offering them a toxic way to reclaim a paltry sliver of the meaning that the old dominance structure gave them.

Feminism can't even offer them THAT. All feminism can do is blame them and shame them and villainise them when they look around and take the only deal that's being offered.

And that's TERRIBLE, because PUA is TERRIBLE. What's worse, a lot of PUA is going about things in a VERY methodical, scientific way - which means that it often actually WORKS, and it finds out true things about men and women. But because it was PUA culture that discovered those facts, they are tainted by association with horrifically unethical goals and values, and so the feminist culture turns away from facts that it could be using to improve itself.

I am so totally, completely on board with equality, and negotiation, and mutual respect.

I want to live in your world.

I want to negotiate a place in your world.

I am very, very lucky, in that I have a much higher than normal sense of self-awareness and drive for introspection, so that I can explain all this to you in this way. Because I feel the same need that young PUA acolytes do, very keenly. And so when these conversations come up, my urge is to get your side to understand, because your side is in a position to offer compassion and to provide a non-terrible alternative.

Replies from: polymathwannabe, Azathoth123, None, Lumifer
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-27T04:37:06.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It appears we have the same goals. Just a few remarks to make:

  • It's always tricky to draw examples from the primate family. Chimpanzees are macho-ruled bullies; bonobos are female-ruled hippies. We are more malleable than we give ourselves credit for.

  • Feminism is not a single, monolithic block. There are several schools and subschools, and male-hating is the practice of just a few of them.

  • I'm not sure what you mean by "my side." For the record, I'm a guy.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-27T04:51:06.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but the specific example given was of a particular baboon tribe. Seriously, read about it or watch some videos about it. Many of the conclusions he draws are endocrine-based, so they're well preserved across the primate line. And his study showed some startling and promising things.

Also, this is the internet, where it doesn't matter whether you're a guy or not unless you say so or some asshole doxes you; barring edge cases, all that matters is the words you use.

And if the male-hating schools are doing the primary evangelizing, then who are people going to get exposed to? This is memetic warfare; what matters is who gets their message out, and what effect that message has. I'm by no means accusing you of the kind of depravity I've seen from some of the Social Justice movement, all I'm saying is that there's people out there who are carrying your flag and using your language and claiming to be part of your movement, and if they get to someone before you do, you're going to have a really difficult time distancing yourself from that depravity.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-29T02:39:37.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Patriarchy has given 90% of men and 100% of women a raw deal.

Would this be the same patriarchy that build civilization, developed science, etc.?

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-29T06:27:47.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That alone doesn't prove that civilization and science weren't developed in a hypothetical parallel universe without patriarchy. It is an evidence, but I am not sure how strong.

Generally, if we have X everywhere, it is difficult to say whether all things that happened, happened because of X, despite X, or regardless of X. Things happening "because of" should happen with greater probability, or sooner, and things happening "despite" should happen with smaller probability, or later... but if we have X for millenia, even the "later" happens eventually.

In a similar way, I have seen people attributing to Christianity everything that happened in Europe since 0 AD. Is that fair or not? Sometimes we can use China as a control group. In case of patriarchy, we don't have such "China". (And no, very small indigenous tribes aren't a good control group. There are differences in population size, access to resources, etc.)

Replies from: Azathoth123
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-30T01:35:23.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And no, very small indigenous tribes aren't a good control group. There are differences in population size, access to resources, etc.

They work as a control group if the lack of patriarchy contributed to these changes.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-27T08:33:30.039Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Patriarchy has given 90% of men and 100% of women a raw deal. Look at Dr. Robert Sapolski's work with baboon troops for an excellent model of this.

Are you talking about foragers or farmers? “Patriarchy” usually refers to the latter, but your description sounds more like the former (especially given that you're mentioning baboons).

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-27T15:27:57.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Foragers were probably equivalent to baboons, and farming made it much worse.

In a forager tribe, when the abuse became too horrible, there was an option to leave. Farming allowed this abuse to grow astronomically. A forager alpha male couldn't make his tribe build him a pyramid.

Replies from: None, ialdabaoth, None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-27T19:22:17.769Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Foragers were probably equivalent to baboons, and farming made it much worse.

Certain people claim that traditional farmer sexual norms (lifelong monogamous marriage where only the husband worked for money) were better than the forager ways that we're reverting to, and it's not totally obvious they're wrong. (IMO neither is a Pareto improvement over the other, so which one is better depends on what you mean by “better”, and in any event farmers weren't the same everywhere. And in many places the top 0.1% of farmers behaved like foragers anyway.)

comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-27T23:55:19.279Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Foragers were probably equivalent to baboons, and farming made it much worse.

This fits my observations and intuitions, as well.

Forager tribes are egalitarian in comparison with farmers. In an absolute sense they're still pretty terrible places for omegas to live.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-28T11:35:12.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By “absolute” you seem to mean ‘relative to the should-universe’.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-28T13:12:40.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When using phrases like 'terrible places for omegas to live', the should-universe is the only basis of comparison unless I want to just throw up my hands, give up my something to protect, and become a moral nihilist. I wouldn't recommend it; I've tried it and it's not very fun.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-27T16:15:41.369Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and farming made it much worse.

Certain neoreactionaries claim otherwise, and it's not completely obvious to me that they're wrong. (My position is that there are tradeoffs and neither system is a Pareto improvement over the other, so which one is better depends on what you mean by ‘better’.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-28T16:21:52.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

leaves all women and most men physically sick and emotionally damaged

Reality check: fail.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-29T08:04:17.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dunno about emotionally damaged, but farmers were shorter than foragers in average until the 20th century, which is probably a decent proxy for physically sick.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-26T19:34:12.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a whiff of aggrieved entitlement in that sentence.

There is a whiff of writing low-status Martians out of the moral calculus in that sentence.

Replies from: None, polymathwannabe
comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-20T21:32:49.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even as a Martian who stayed green until quite recently way into my twenties, I'd prefer a culture that assumes that no human is ever obligated to let any Martian tickle them if they don't want to (unless they promised or something) rather than a culture that assumes that every Martian needs some human to tickle and skin colour should not matter. The latter gives Martians no incentive to put any effort into becoming blue,¹ nor any selection pressure for the next generation of Martians to be bluer. Also, wishing that green tickling were painless doesn't make it so, so in the latter culture humans will still go out of the way to avoid being tickled by green Martians when they can get away with it, but can't be overt about the reasons leaving the green Martians very confused and with no hint about what to do to change the situation. (And the quirk in Martians' chromatic adaptation that means that each Martian will see their own skin as teal or azure no matter how brightly green or deeply blue it is doesn't quite help.) Reading that green Martians' tentacles actually are painful to humans, as opposed to humans refusing to be tickled out of sheer wickedness towards green Martians, was very helpful to me.


  1. BTW, right-wingers appear to endorse this argument (with a whiff of writing low-status Martians out of the moral calculus) when about economics but not when about sexuality for some reason.
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-27T02:28:54.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I'm writing off the entire status assumptions. Go to the chalkboard and write 100 times: Seduction. Is. Not. A. Status. Game.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-27T15:58:51.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to imagine an evidence that would make me update to that position.

Probably something like a secret video from some super important political or economical international forum, when after the conference the male participants start debating about how frustrating it is that most of them can't find a girlfriend, because women only care about sincerity and emotional closeness, and prefer a man who can spend enough time with them instead of having to travel around the planet to make more money or to change the world.

comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T21:58:10.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, this is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for. I don't really have anything to add, I agree with essentially everything here. Can we can please keep the discussion at this level?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-25T17:15:37.477Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are some partial attempts at a solution, ordered from the one I would support the most to the one I would support the least:

  • Recruit the subset of rare humans who enjoy green tickling and employ them as tickling punchbags for green Martians to practice on.
  • Make green Martians wear soft clothes that do not dampen their tentacles' sensitivity too much.
  • Use some medium (animals, dolls, androids) where green Martians can practice their tickling skills without harming anyone.
  • Find a way to chemically induce metamorphosis in green Martians.
  • Use plastic surgery, medications, or artificial selection to make green Martians' tentacles less stingy.
  • For parents and/or cell donors who are willing, find a way to engineer blue-born Martians.
  • Perform non-interventional, follow-up studies on elderly green Martians to assess the worth of a non-tickling life.
Replies from: B_For_Bandana, Manfred, B_For_Bandana
comment by B_For_Bandana · 2014-07-25T19:05:43.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Recruit the subset of rare humans who enjoy green tickling and employ them as tickling punchbags for green Martians to practice on.

The laws of Earth prohibit tickling for pay. Interestingly, the laws of Earth do not prohibit paying a Martian and a human actor to act as if the Martian is zapping the human's brain with a ray gun (which in real life is way worse than tickling, even by a green Martian, and which no humans or Martians actually enjoy doing) and then selling the video. It's weird. [ETA: I misunderstood the analogy. Doing experiments on the mothership for pay is illegal. Tickling for pay is legal in theory, but it would seem weird to most people, so it usually isn't done.]

Your other solutions are worth trying. However, I notice that most of them are blunt physical solutions that depend crucially on tickling being a very simple physical action that we have the technology to modify, and not, say, a stand-in for an interlocking set of horrifyingly complicated social problems involving desire, fear, pain, status, envy, humiliation, hope, joy, resentment, contempt, shame, and, oh yeah, politics. Lucky we're just talking about tickling.

Replies from: polymathwannabe, None
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-25T19:15:20.217Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I get what tickling is supposed to be a metaphor for, but I'm clueless as to what the human and two Martian factions represent.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T19:22:11.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, I really would prefer that this discussion stays on the abstract level, but in order to avoid confusion, I will provide a translation of the intended metaphors:

Green Martian = Low Status Male

Blue Martian = High Status Male

Earthling = Female

Tickling = Flirting (Including obnoxious strategies such as "negs" and "kino escalation")

The moderately painful sting of the tentacles of the Green Martian = Creepiness, Social Awkwardness, etc

Experimentation on Earthlings (defined in comments) = Sex

Replies from: Lumifer, None
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T20:30:07.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should have set this up between Martians and Venusians :-)

Otherwise, I don't think that practicing tickling is the main way for changing the color from Green to Blue.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T20:42:24.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Otherwise, I don't think that practicing tickling is the main way for changing the color from Green to Blue.

Silver can make you blue!

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T20:45:52.715Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A valid point :-D

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T20:26:53.989Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, I had slightly misunderstood it. I'm retracting the comments based on the misunderstanding.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T20:18:51.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The laws of Earth prohibit tickling for pay.

The laws of some countries of Earth prohibit tickling for pay. In other countries it's perfectly legal (but you may be required to have your tentacles periodically screened for infectious diseases).

comment by Manfred · 2014-07-25T23:29:54.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that in the object-level case, the best solution is probably a fairly simple technology. So, more ideas!

  • A thin layer behind the ears that prevents pain/euphoria from tickling.
  • Community college classes on tickling.
  • Economic transactions.
  • Drugs that satisfy Martians and reduce the desire for tickling.
  • Drugs for humans that make them not experience pain from tickling.
Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-26T01:14:01.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Drugs for humans that make them not experience pain from tickling.

Aka alcohol or E

X-D

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2014-07-26T02:25:57.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this allegory is good enough for me to endorse further analogizing. Like, people have complicated internal motivations for drinking that look almost nothing like "this will numb the pain when socially awkward people try to talk to me."

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-26T19:32:51.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But do look like "this will make me less socially awkward".

comment by B_For_Bandana · 2014-07-25T19:01:30.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Recruit the subset of rare humans who enjoy green tickling and employ them as tickling punchbags for green Martians to practice on.

The laws of Earth prohibit tickling for pay. Interestingly, the laws of Earth do not prohibit paying a Martian and a human actor to act as if the Martian is zapping the human's brain with a ray gun (which in real life is way worse than tickling, even by a green Martian, and which no humans or Martians actually enjoy doing) and then selling the video. It's weird.

Your other solutions are worth trying. However, I notice that most of them are blunt physical solutions that depend crucially on tickling being a very simple physical action that we have the technology to modify, and not, say, a stand-in for an interlocking set of horrifyingly complicated social problems involving desire, fear, pain, status, envy, humiliation, hope, joy, resentment, contempt, shame, and, oh yeah, politics. Lucky we're just talking about tickling.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T16:59:26.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This parable is lacking a key concept: consent.

Are we talking about allowing Martians to tickle humans with or without the human consent? If there is (voluntary, informed) consent I don't see any ethical problems. If there is no consent, I see lots of problems which include the Blue Martians.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T17:09:50.051Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent.

Even more than the Martians want to tickle humans, they want to carry them away to their mothership to experiment on them. Everyone agrees that experimentation on humans requires their consent. Part of the socially accepted foreplay that sometimes leads to humans giving their consent to be experimented on, consists of the martian tickling the human behind the ear.

Replies from: Lumifer, David_Gerard, ChristianKl, skeptical_lurker
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T17:25:58.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent.

So, inflicting a "moderate stinging pain" on humans does not require consent..? Can humans, I don't know, not let any Martians approach them? slap away the tentacles? wear ear-guards? Can humans inflict pain on Martians at will, too?

This looks either like a two-tier society with humans being rights-restricted or like some unstable construct which, if magically brought into existence, will immediately evolve towards a different, more stable equilibrium.

The issue I see with that parable is that humans are entirely passive. They are just subjects of tickling -- they have no voice, no opinions, no preferences. All the discussion is about what's ethical for (active) Martians to do to (passive) humans.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T18:06:55.577Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I definitely see the humans as agents, whose preferences are morally relevant. In fact, the reason this is even ethically ambiguous in the first place, is that humans have a preference not to be tickled by green martians.

The reason humans come across as passive, is that I am specifically asking about the ethics of an action that is generally conducted by the active Martian to the passive human. It is at least theoretically possible that this question can be resolved without considering any ethical dilemmas that the humans face. This does not mean that the humans are not considered as important moral agents, only that their agency is not something that has any impact on the ethics of a choice made my Martians.

If you can think of a reason why having a full map of the ethical agency of the human is necessary to resolve the ethics of the choice faced by the Martian, I would be very interested in hearing it and will update accordingly.

Replies from: Lumifer, ChristianKl
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T19:10:31.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not that you need a "full map of the ethical agency", it's that just that your setting precludes any interaction between the Martians and the humans pre-tickling.

I think there is a conflict between you saying "In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent" and saying "... long struggled to come up with a coherent ethical theory that determines whether tickling humans is morally acceptable."

Not requiring consent (outside of power structures like government and law enforcement) is generally a sign that there are no pressing ethical issues involved. And in reverse, a lot of ethical issues disappear if the parties can freely signal, discuss, and negotiate the rules and terms of interactions.

The simplest answer to your issue is "Ask before tickling". Another answer is to set up a signaling system where a human can signal that he is open to tickling, does not desire tickling, or is willing to negotiate the terms of tickling. None of that requires an analysis of human ethical dilemmas.

Just allow the involved parties to exchange information pre-action.

Replies from: Jiro, PeerGynt
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-25T22:23:33.771Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not all activities which displease people require consent. The analogy may be misleading because actual tickling is a physical activity and most physical activities do require consent, but if tickling is an analogy for "hitting on women (possibly in a way that appears creepy)", then green Martian tickling doesn't require consent, yet still displeases its recipients.

Furthermore, it makes no sense to say "let's exchange information to find out if it's okay to hit on someone in a way that appears creepy". For one thing, asking if it's okay to hit on someone is just as creepy as hitting on them. For another, since it's a learning process, you can't actually know ahead of time if you'll be perceived as creepy or not (imagine Martians who gradually change color and the bluish-green ones may not know ahead of time if the humans want to be tickled by them).

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T23:11:24.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For one thing, asking if it's okay to hit on someone is just as creepy as hitting on them.

Depends on what words you use.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-26T00:08:21.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually hitting on them depends on what words you use too.

In fact, the distinction between asking to hit on someone and actually doing it is so slim that for many practical purposes it may be nonexistent.

comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T19:17:49.194Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK. Good point. I am going to specify that in this thought experiment, tickling is only effective if there is no explicit consent.

Edit: See definition of tickling here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/klx/ethics_in_a_feedback_loop_a_parable/b5ft?context=1#b5ft

Also, note that this is a thought experiment. The point of this comment is not to make a claim about the truth value of the statement "flirting is only effective if there is no explicit consent", but to explore the ethical consequences of a world in which this is true.

Replies from: ialdabaoth, Squark
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-26T03:51:46.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I think you're doing the analogy a disservice.

What you want to say is, tickling is how Martians ask for consent.

I.e., Martians ultimately want to get humans onto the mothership for experimentation, and humans actually enjoy being on the mothership (with some Martians, anyways), but in order to do so they have to communicate with the human - and the only way to do that is to tickle their ears with their tentacles (hey, it's how Martians communicate.) And green Martians have stinging barbs on their tentacles.

So the first act a Martian has to perform is to get consent to tickle the human's ears with its tentacles - AND THE ONLY WAY IT CAN DO THAT IS BY TICKLING THE HUMAN'S EARS WITH ITS TENTACLES.

comment by Squark · 2014-07-26T10:36:07.358Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with ialdabaoth. Accepting that interpretation, the solution might be: it is OK for a green martian to tickle a human once, but if she signalled displeasure with the initial tickling, repeated tickling is frowned upon and might be considered "tickling harassment" and persecuted by law.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-07-29T16:56:34.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I definitely see the humans as agents, whose preferences are morally relevant.

Agents make decisions. The moment you ignore decision making and only think in terms of preferences agentship is gone.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-29T17:03:28.856Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. The point I was trying to make is that, while I see females as agents in real life, in this analogy I am discussing the ethics of a choice that is only made by men. The analogy therefore did not require a fully specified model of females as agents.

There are many true things in the world that I chose not to specify in the analogy. For any of those things, if you give me a specific reason why it is relevant to the choice made by the Green Martians, then it certainly should have been part of the analogy. However, there is no law of nature that says "females should always be fully specified as agents in any analogy"

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-07-29T20:54:52.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point I was trying to make is that, while I see females as agents in real life, in this analogy I am discussing the ethics of a choice that is only made by men.

You don't succeed in avoiding getting mind killed yourself. You switch for no reason towards real life.

For any of those things, if you give me a specific reason why it is relevant to the choice made by the Green Martians, then it certainly should have been part of the analogy.

General ethical consideration suggest that you only inflict pain on other humans if they consent. A doctor will only operate on a patient if the patient consents, even if the doctor believes that a decision to not consent is bad for the patient given the stated preferences of the patient. Respecting that decision means respecting the agentship of the patient.

That's even true for decisions such as whether to get vaccinated where herd immunity is a concern. No single person if forced to feel pain by getting vaccinate for the good of the group.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-29T21:15:52.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't succeed in avoiding getting mind killed yourself. You switch for no reason towards real life.

Discussing the issue in terms of real life does not itself imply that I've been mindkilled (though it may increase the chance that the discussion ends up being subject to mindkill). If you think I have been mindkilled, please show me a specific instance where I used arguments as soldiers, or where I failed to update in response to a properly made argument.

General ethical consideration suggest that you only inflict pain on other humans if they consent.

That is a totally acceptable ethical view that is fully consistent with my parable. At no stage did I assert "Since we only care about Martians, it is acceptable for them to do anything they want to the Earthlings". Instead, I invited you to have discussion about what actions are ethical and which actions are not ethical. In such a discussion, one of the possible sides you can take is that the Martians should never tickle anyone without consent.

However, the real world implication of this assertion of it is that no man should attempt to interact with women unless they are certain that they are sufficiently high status to avoid seeming creepy.

(Note that I probably shouldn't have used "stinging pain" as an analogy for creepiness and social awkwardness. This was an overcompensation in order to avoid seeming biased in favor of men).

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-07-25T20:58:01.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent.

Does that hold in the real-life situation that this is intended as an analogy for?

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2014-07-26T00:17:15.643Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would think so. You can't ask someone if they consent to being hit on. Asking if it's okay to hit on someone is not very distinguishable from actually hitting on them. And it's even stupider to ask "please give me your consent to hit on you, and by the way, I'm incompetent at interacting with women", which is what asking for consent by a green Martian would imply.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-26T01:29:04.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can't ask someone if they consent to being hit on.

You can. Hitting on someone is not a single action, it's a process spread out in time. It's easy (and quite common) to start by "testing the waters" or, as someone said in this thread, waving the tentacles in the general direction. The point is to give the human a chance to signal interest or lack of interest and, if the latter, gracefully withdraw. Of course this doesn't work by explicitly asking for consent, you have to be at least somewhat clueful in reading signals.

Replies from: ThisSpaceAvailable, ialdabaoth
comment by ThisSpaceAvailable · 2014-07-26T07:23:07.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But whatever that process is, there must be a first action, and one cannot ask for consent for that first action, because then asking for consent would come before that first action, and thus it would not be the first action.

Furthermore, the idea that one is giving humans a chance to "signal" consent is rather problematic. Telling Martians that they should give humans the chance to "signal" consent, rather than asking for consent, because asking for consent for rude, and then complaining about Martians not getting clear consent is rather bizarre. Can Martians really blamed for feeling frustrated at the idea that they should prioritize consent, but it's rude to outright ask for consent? If communication of consent doesn't occur through explicit statements, but through "signals", aren't there going to be Martians who think they're getting consent when they're not, and think they're not when they are? Basically, this system rewards the Martians with the lowest threshold for believing that they have gotten consent.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-28T15:59:03.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But whatever that process is, there must be a first action, and one cannot ask for consent for that first action

Correct, but that first action need not be grabbing someone's face with your tentacles.

Again, tickling/flirting is not a single atomic action. It's a process which takes time and varies in intensity. It's fine not to have consent for the first few moves if these moves are harmless.

Can Martians really blamed for feeling frustrated at the idea that they should prioritize consent, but it's rude to outright ask for consent?

Well, not blamed, but Martians who are feeling frustrated are just not understanding the way this particular kind of social interaction works.

Flirting is the exchange of deliberately ambiguous signals with the twin purposes of evaluating the other party and negotiating next moves. The signals are ambiguous because it is useful for evaluation purposes and because this provides a way to back out if the comfort level turns out to be not high enough.

Some people (more humans than Martians) find flirting deliciously pleasurable. Some people (more Martians than humans) find flirting maddeningly frustrating.

aren't there going to be Martians who think they're getting consent when they're not, and think they're not when they are?

Yes. So what? Do remember that humans can also be good or bad or incompetent at playing this game.

Basically, this system rewards the Martians with the lowest threshold for believing that they have gotten consent.

No, I don't think so at all. I think that Martians with "the lowest threshold for believing that they have gotten consent" just get slapped a lot.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-26T03:54:02.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stretching the metaphor: Suppose that many humans respond to having tentacles waved at them (whether or not they touch) by threatening to cut them off.

Suppose that Martians have a response that causes their tentacle-barbs to grow longer and pointier and stingier whenever they perceive a threat to their tentacles.

Where does this process lead?

Replies from: Lumifer, polymathwannabe
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-28T15:40:29.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where does this process lead?

Under your assumptions being a "regular" Green is an unstable state. Greens will be forced to evolve either into Blues or into superGreens with superstingy extra-long tentacles.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2014-07-28T15:49:44.009Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Under your assumptions being a "regular" Green is an unstable state. Greens will be forced to evolve either into Blues or into superGreens with superstingy extra-long tentacles.

This is precisely the actual process that I observe, so there's +1 for this theory.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-26T04:00:47.033Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The metaphor states that selective pressure strongly favored the tickling impulse. A physiological response that made tickling so much less successful would have been outbred in the ancestral past.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-07-29T16:54:51.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent.

How is it possible to not know whether or not tickling is moral but know that it doesn't require consent? That doesn't make any sense.

The whole idea of consent is that it's for the space between those actions where you know you can do them to anyone and those actions where you know you aren't allowed to do them to anyone.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-07-26T06:45:01.978Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

they want to carry them away to their mothership to experiment on them.

'mothership' sounds a little Freudian in this context.

comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-27T00:51:38.122Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's been a day since this discussion peaked, and I've had a chance to think a little bit more about this on a meta-level:

First of all, having a community built around epistemic hygiene is extremely valuable. Discussions about topics that involve mindkill are incredibly unpleasant, and may make it impossible for such a community to be successful. I therefore fully understand people who want to keep these discussions away from Less Wrong, and I won't post again on this topic or any other mindkilling topic.

That said, I think the inability to discuss this rationally and dispassionately is a major problem for society in general, which may contribute to some individuals with abnormal psychology reacting in unpredictable ways. My only view on the object-level question is that low status men get a raw deal, that there is no good solution to the problem, and that PUA is probably very bad ethically. I have natural sympathy for low-status men, but I recognize that I may be biased because I have no experience seeing the situation from a female perspective. The post was an attempt to invite people to help me update my moral beliefs, by hearing from people who do not have those biases. Importantly, this could not have been done on any other website, because they would have been unable to convince me that their moral framework was coherent, that they are being honest about their ethical beliefs, or that they have made a good-faith effort to model low status males as relevant participants in the moral calculus.

There was some really good discussion in this thread, particularly Skeptical Lurker's comment, which may have made me aware of a contradiction in my worldview. I will keep thinking about what updates may be necessary. This is exactly the kind of feedback that I was hoping for - changing your mind is a good thing, and it is only possible if we can gave a genuine discussion as rationalists.

That said, for the Less Wrong community, the cost of these discussions probably outweighs the benefits.

Replies from: hg00
comment by hg00 · 2014-07-30T04:18:42.099Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally I'm not convinced that your analogy is completely isomorphic to the real world... the only way to improve your status/social skills is to hit on women? That doesn't sound right to me. You might read a book that's supposed to be about social effectiveness in general, like The Charisma Myth, before hitting on women. In general, I suspect there are lots of ways to improve your "tickling skills" that don't involve "tickling people". For example, lifting weights and buying more fashionable clothes will make you more attractive. Finding women who share personality characteristics with you and making friends on them (without making moves on them) will improve your model of women and help you empathize with them. Working a job that requires you to talk to strangers a lot will make it easier to talk to strangers. Better yet, do a job that requires you to start conversations with and befriend strangers (salesperson?) Or find a close friend who is also single & looking and go out together (it's easier to be in a friendly, social mood with friends around). (If you don't have a suitable friend, I suggest developing the social skills & connections to find such a friend before trying to meet women... in social skills terms, making such a friend is level 3 and finding a girlfriend is level 10.) Etc.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-07-26T02:51:23.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am happy to see that a dubious parable on LW is being called out as such, when so many seem to get too much credit.

To address the "Martian Dilemma" I would say that maybe "blue" and "green" are entirely misunderstood by some of the martians themselves, and that an earnest, respectful and mature approach to tickling would take the sting out of the actions of even the greenest of martians. More benefit will come to both martians and humans from rethinking the social frameworks in which tickling takes place than from blue martians giving internet advice that may or may not reflect what actually helped them advance in the art of pleasant tickling.

This is not to say that it is easy for the desperate green martian to see this, but should you meet any green martian you should temper any tickling tips with at least an admonition to remember that there is much more to life than tickling and becoming blue, and that while you can be blue martian without being good, confident, mature and respectful, becoming good, confident, mature and respectful lead naturally to blueness and tickling.

Replies from: polymathwannabe
comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-26T04:03:04.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And that's where this discussion should end.

comment by therufs · 2014-07-25T23:25:43.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Possibly orthogonal to this discussion but possibly also useful information for future discussions: There seems to be an assertion that one group of sapients should or will necessarily accept arbitrary moral assertions made by another group of sapients*. This is so farfetched as to be incredibly distracting.

* never mind getting the members of the second group to accept the arbitrary moral assertion.

Replies from: B_For_Bandana
comment by B_For_Bandana · 2014-07-26T15:31:54.404Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hang on. I'm a "group" of sapients (a group of one, but a group). Everyone else is another group. Are you saying that I will never be convinced, or should never be convinced, by moral philosophy written by someone else?

And why call the assertions arbitrary? The humans in the story seem to share axioms like "pain is bad, cet par" with the Martians. Neither side is Clippy here.

Replies from: therufs
comment by therufs · 2014-07-26T16:58:34.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you saying that I will never be convinced, or should never be convinced, by moral philosophy written by someone else?

No, but no one said anything about the Martians being convinced, or about the Martians being entitled to offer any opinion at all.

And why call the assertions arbitrary?

Because they are about how other people than the ones making the assertions should behave.

comment by Toggle · 2014-07-25T17:50:55.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As it is, I have trouble considering the ethical implications of this system because I keep reflexively 'anthropomorphizing' your parable-humans and imagining ways in which they might resolve the double binds to mutual satisfaction. If I'm reading your intentions correctly, it might be better to use 'Red Martians' instead of humans. Suppose that 5% of all Martians are born Red, and are thrown in to a terrible and incoherent rage whenever they see or communicate with another Red Martian- so they cannot coordinate their responses and must live isolated among Blue and Green Martians that love to tickle them, and tend to accept Green and Blue social values that tickling need not be consensual. Does this preserve the moral problems you are trying to examine?

(This may undermine the allegorical clarity of your scenario, but that could be an advantage if you're trying to think through a particular ethical problem in isolation.)

EDIT: Now that I know what the allegory actually is, I am fairly uncomfortable with the fact that this variant seemed reasonable. I'll leave this comment here for legacy purposes and to respect PeerGynt's preferred method of approaching the problem, but I want to clarify that this was not intended to be commentary on gender or PUA strategies in any way.

comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-26T00:53:25.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to point out that I, perhaps incorrectly, assumed this thought experiment could be interesting even to the anti-PUA crowd, because it would help them distill their thinking about whether they object to PUA on epistemic grounds ("they have incorrect beliefs about female psychology") or if they object on moral grounds ("they draw incorrect / evil conclusions about the ethical implications of the theory")

From the reactions, it is tempting to conclude that most people object to PUA partially on epistemic grounds. However, it is hard for me to understand why a disagreement about facts would lead to such heated debate in a community based around the Litany of Tarski.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-26T01:37:06.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the reactions, it is tempting to conclude that most people object to PUA partially on epistemic grounds.

It seems that a common objection is that your analogy does not match well the PUA worldview.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-26T01:44:40.717Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is possible. Could someone please explain the important aspects of the PUA worldview that are being misrepresented? Particularly if they are relevant to the ethical question I am interested in? This would certainly help me clear up some confusion.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-26T01:53:20.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know the PUA philosophy well enough but it seems to me that it does not look at females as inherently passive. PUA techniques often stress the need for the male to be assertive, but that's a far cry from looking at flirtation as a purely one-sided exercise.

In general I think of PUA as teaching mimicry: it's a set of skills to signal being high-status and desireable without necessary being high-status and desireable.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-26T19:47:54.246Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My impression is that "notice when there's someone who keeps looking at you and approach them" is a common enough theme in PUA that... wait, no, even if that's there I'm not sure if it is for day game so it might still apply to that, although day game seems to be considered a more advanced set of tactics, so that would still weaken its applicability.

Replies from: Azathoth123
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-29T02:43:53.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

notice when there's someone who keeps looking at you and approach them

You do realize that stuff like that doesn't happen in PUA's target audience. And even of someone does notice you, if he approaches her without game she quickly looses interest.

comment by SilentCal · 2014-07-25T22:51:50.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Per author's request, I am not discussing the allegory. My discussion of the hypothetical as presented does not imply endorsement of any kind of allegory. A corollary of this is that by proposing a solution I do not endorse any arguably analogous solution in the real world. Also I'm ignoring the whole mothership thing because that hasn't been elaborated enough to discuss without importing lots of assumptions based on the analogy.

With that said...

One big question is what the net human utility from martian tickling is. If it's net positive, we should definitely encourage more tickling. If not, things get hairier; we could look at total utility, but this rationale makes Martians a bit utility-monstrous, so it might be preferable to find or create an acceptable way for Martians to compensate humans for tickling privilege.

Our key concerns will be probably be utility and fairness, both for humans and for Martians. It's pretty important to make sure Green Martians get a chance to practice. One option would be for all humans to agree to make themselves available for a certain number of Green tickling; a solution requiring less global coordination would be for humans to be able to pair with Green Martians under a binding contract that guarantees a certain amount of post-metamorphosis tickling in exchange for allowing the Green Martian to practice enough to metamorphose. This latter arrangement has advantages of also allowing slow-learning Green Martians to negotiate compensation deals with their human partners if that's allowed, and the human and the Martian can decide what tickling techniques will be net wins.

But these are global changes. If the world doesn't make sense, what's a compassionate Green Martian to do? One option is to try to find humans willing to consider alternate tickling norms and reach agreements with them. If that doesn't work, then if tickling is generally a net increase to human utility, I'd say it's probably fine to go out and tickle the way Martians tend to, since humans implicitly expect this. Adopt the techniques iff you think doing so will be a net utility win. The ethics of spreading info on the techniques depends on your best estimate of the difficult empirical question of whether they'll be used well or poorly.

EDIT: Elsewhere in the comments the hypothetical is modified to specify that explicitly-consensual tickling is ineffective. The best solution is then to leverage implicit consent as much as possible. If being in a particular place at a particular time, or wearing a marker, is sufficiently implicit, then the all-humans-make-themselves-available-for-tickling solution can work. The pairing solution can only work if there's a way to pair without explicit tickling-consent: for instance, if blanket permission to tickle in the future doesn't count as explicit consent for any particular tickling instance.

Also, some key issues not specified in the hypothetical: Do martians and humans differ in their (dis)utilities from tickling, and does each martian/human's (dis)utility vary with time and mood? If so, we'd want to incentivise higher-utility ticklings by e.g. letting humans choose times not to be tickled or giving especially Green-averse humans a way to opt out of Green tickling and compensate the rest of humanity somehow. Do martians care who they tickle, and do humans care what martian tickles them beyond the color? If so, there's a match component that we want some way to optimize for. Does marginal (dis)utility of tickling change, for either species, based on how many ticklings they're involved in? If so, this is something to be strategic about; we could either choose a few volunteer humans to be green-tickled for a living, or try to ensure that green-tickling is as evenly spread as possible. Do martians have a desire to metamorphose independent of whether this will allow them to tickle more? If not, we need to ensure there's some incentive in place for them to do so. I have intentionally refused to import answers to these questions from across the analogy.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-07-25T17:39:54.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Firstly, I like your analogy.

Secondly, I would say that all ethics occurs in a feedback loop. Personally, I would recommend Buchanan's short essay "Order Defined in the Process of its Emergence", which in my opinion applies just as much to ethical choices as it does to economic ones. I don't think it's meaningful to ask whether it's ethical for Martians to tickle humans as an abstract question, any more than it's meaningful to ask whether it's ethical for a lion to eat an antelope - or for an antelope to run away. Rather, you need to ask - what is life like for Martians who internalise a value that it's (not) ethical to tickle humans. What is life like for humans who internalise a value that it's (not) ethical to be so tickled? What is life like in societies where those values are promulgated? And of course the question of "what is life like" is itself value-laden.

In other words, what is the value of your values?

In my experience, humans are not delicate flowers. They want to be tickled. They are forgiving if a Martian does it wrong and accidentally stings. If a Martian dedicates himself to never stinging a human, humans will never praise him for it, because he will remain Green forever - from a human point of view, the good Martians are the Blue ones. His values bring no value to him, or to anyone else. Instead, he is going to end up gazing at his own navel (or perhaps, antenna) wondering why the humans are so cruel. But he has nothing of value to offer them, and he's dug that hole for himself.

Replies from: B_For_Bandana, None
comment by B_For_Bandana · 2014-07-25T19:51:54.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

His values bring no value to him, or to anyone else.

Well, not quite. The humans really are being stung less.

Replies from: Salemicus
comment by Salemicus · 2014-07-26T08:58:11.790Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stung less than what? What's the baseline? The ever-Green Martian is going to tell himself that the baseline is if he went around stinging humans, and so expect praise for being so ethical.

But from the human point of view, the baseline is if this Martian never existed - in which case certainly no humans would get stung by him. So he will get no praise.

Replies from: B_For_Bandana
comment by B_For_Bandana · 2014-07-26T12:12:17.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I meant less than if the green Martian was more cavalier about tickling humans.

And of course, providing value, and getting recognized for providing value, are two completely different things. Each can and do happen without the other happening.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T20:13:06.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience, humans are not delicate flowers. They want to be tickled.

Are you covertly bragging about being a blue martian, or do you genuinely lack experience with the really green martians? By “green martians” the OP probably means the bright green ones, not the teal ones you're probably thinking of.

EDIT: Retracted by accident, but if you want to upvote or downvote you can do so on this comment instead.

Replies from: Lumifer, None
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-25T20:28:29.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Humans want to be tickled by Blues but realize that signaling openness to tickling might get them some Greens as well. Most socially capable humans understand that, are usually willing to pay the price of experiencing some Greens on their way to the Blues, and have developed (more or less effective) techniques of discarding Greens as soon as detected.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T20:44:24.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I retracted the parent by accident; if you were going to upvote or downvote it, upvote or downvote this comment instead.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-07-25T22:00:15.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is Action X moral?

That's an ill posed question. Moral, according to what/whose moral standard?

If Clippy successfully grinds up half of humanity, and churns them out as shiny new paper clips, he would likely consider himself mighty moral_clippy ( if he even has a concept of morality - does he?). But we wouldn't find him so moral_human, or moral_human_i.

The various twists and turns of the scenario merely obfuscate the more fundamental issue - what/whose moral standards are we talking about?

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-25T22:10:57.819Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am a moral realist, I believe there exists an objective moral standard which is part of the territory. This is the moral standard we are talking about.

Obviously, we are unable to know whether our ethical maps correspond to the ethical territory. We should therefore update our priors about the ethical territory in response to good arguments and thought experiments. Throughout this discussion, I have made several updates to my beliefs.

If we don't believe there is such a thing as an objective ethical standard, if the territory doesn't exist, then I fail to see the point in even discussing ethics.

Replies from: buybuydandavis, Lumifer, Squark
comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-07-26T03:38:33.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is discussing preferences in sports, climate, food, art, attractiveness, ... also pointless? There are a great many preferences that we have, but not identically, and not assuming there is an objective "right" preference, that we discuss nevertheless.

This is the moral standard we are talking about.

No more than "we" are all talking about the same thing when "we" say God.

Is Clippy talking about the same moral standard?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-26T01:22:08.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe there exists an objective moral standard which is part of the territory. ... Obviously, we are unable to know whether our ethical maps correspond to the ethical territory.

Hold on. You're saying that there's objective morality but it's unknowable in principle? Then on what basis do you believe it exists and why would its existence even matter?

If we don't believe there is such a thing as an objective ethical standard ... then I fail to see the point in even discussing ethics.

Even if you think that ethics are a semi-arbitrary social construct, they are very useful for human societies and so worth discussing.

Replies from: PeerGynt
comment by PeerGynt · 2014-07-26T01:33:56.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point - I should have phrased that differently. I think I intended that both in the weak sense "Our prior on moral statements should never be 0 or 1" and also in the slightly stronger sense "Ethics is difficult, so our priors should have high variance"

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-26T01:46:59.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem isn't so much with priors, the problem is what are you willing to accept as evidence to be used for updating your beliefs.

comment by Squark · 2014-07-26T10:27:17.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we don't believe there is such a thing as an objective ethical standard, if the territory doesn't exist, then I fail to see the point in even discussing ethics.

There is no such a thing as an objective ethical standard. However, each agent has her own ethical standard which is meaningful to discuss. For humans, this moral standard often includes a "preference utilitarian" component i.e. we want the preferences of other morally significant agents to be satisfied (where the definition of "morally significant" is probably quite complicated but seems to involve intelligence and possibly similarity to humans) - but not at all costs (i.e. there are other components in our utility functions as well).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-07-29T16:47:07.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The obvious solution would be that those Green Martians pay the humans that they want to tickle to get the human to allow them to tickle them.

Consent is a core element of human morality.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-07-25T21:53:26.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am going to predict that you are talking about cvlx hc

Replies from: NoSuchPlace
comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-07-25T22:30:59.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

PeerGynt has already all but said so elsewhere

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-25T19:50:24.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Human ethicists have long struggled to come up with a coherent ethical theory that determines whether tickling humans is morally acceptable.

I'd say it is iff the humans consent to be ticked. (But they needn't consent unconditionally; they may e.g. consent on condition that the martians pay them money.)

(This is what sprang to my mind straight after reading the quoted paragraph, before I realized what this was an allegory for, but I still stand by it.)