If you can see the box, you can open the box

post by ThePrussian · 2015-02-26T10:36:16.833Z · score: 52 (57 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 108 comments

First post here, and I'm disagreeing with something in the main sequences.  Hubris acknowledged, here's what I've been thinking about.  It comes from the post "Are your enemies innately evil?":

On September 11th, 2001, nineteen Muslim males hijacked four jet airliners in a deliberately suicidal effort to hurt the United States of America.  Now why do you suppose they might have done that?  Because they saw the USA as a beacon of freedom to the world, but were born with a mutant disposition that made them hate freedom?

Realistically, most people don't construct their life stories with themselves as the villains.  Everyone is the hero of their own story.  The Enemy's story, as seen by the Enemy, is not going to make the Enemy look bad.  If you try to construe motivations that would make the Enemy look bad, you'll end up flat wrong about what actually goes on in the Enemy's mind.

If I'm misreading this, please correct me, but the way I am reading this is:

1) People do not construct their stories so that they are the villains,

therefore

2) the idea that Al Qaeda is motivated by a hatred of American freedom is false.

Reading the Al Qaeda document released after the attacks called Why We Are Fighting You you find the following:

 

What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

1.  The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.

A.  The religion of tahwid; of freedom from associating partners with Allah Most High , and rejection of such blasphemy; of complete love for Him, the Exalted; of complete submission to his sharia; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories, and religions that contradict with the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad.  Islam is the religion of all the prophets and makes no distinction between them. 

It is to this religion that we call you …

2.  The second thing we call you to is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.

A.  We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honor and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling and usury.

We call you to all of this that you may be freed from the deceptive lies that you are a great nation, which your leaders spread among you in order to conceal from you the despicable state that you have obtained.

B.  It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed in the history of mankind:

i.  You are the nation who, rather than ruling through the sharia of Allah, chooses to invent your own laws as you will and desire.  You separate religion from you policies, contradicting the pure nature that affirms absolute authority to the Lord your Creator….

ii.  You are the nation that permits usury…

iii.   You are a nation that permits the production, spread, and use of intoxicants.  You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them.

iv.  You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom.  

"Freedom" is of course one of those words.  It's easy enough to imagine an SS officer saying indignantly: "Of course we are fighting for freedom!  For our people to be free of Jewish domination, free from the contamination of lesser races, free from the sham of democracy..."

If we substitute the symbol with the substance though, what we mean by freedom - "people to be left more or less alone, to follow whichever religion they want or none, to speak their minds, to try to shape society's laws so they serve the people" - then Al Qaeda is absolutely inspired by a hatred of freedom.  They wouldn't call it "freedom", mind you, they'd call it "decadence" or "blasphemy" or "shirk" - but the substance is what we call "freedom".

Returning to the syllogism at the top, it seems to be that there is an unstated premise.  The conclusion "Al Qaeda cannot possibly hate America for its freedom because everyone sees himself as the hero of his own story" only follows if you assume that What is heroic, what is good, is substantially the same for all humans, for a liberal Westerner and an Islamic fanatic.

(for Americans, by "liberal" here I mean the classical sense that includes just about everyone you are likely to meet, read or vote for.  US conservatives say they are defending the American revolution, which was broadly in line with liberal principles - slavery excepted, but since US conservatives don't support that, my point stands).

When you state the premise baldly like that, you can see the problem.  There's no contradiction in thinking that Muslim fanatics think of themselves as heroic precisely for being opposed to freedom, because they see their heroism as trying to extend the rule of Allah - Shariah - across the world.

Now to the point - we all know the phrase "thinking outside the box".  I submit that if you can recognize the box, you've already opened it.  Real bias isn't when you have a point of view you're defending, but when you cannot imagine that another point of view seriously exists.

That phrasing has a bit of negative baggage associated with it, that this is just a matter of pigheaded close-mindedness.  Try thinking about it another way.  Would you say to someone with dyscalculia "You can't get your head around the basics of calculus?  You are just being so close minded!"  No, that's obviously nuts.  We know that different peoples minds work in different ways, that some people can see things others cannot. 

Orwell once wrote about the British intellectuals inability to "get" fascism, in particular in his essay on H.G. Wells.  He wrote that the only people who really understood the nature and menace of fascism were either those who had felt the lash on their backs, or those who had a touch of the fascist mindset themselves.  I suggest that some people just cannot imagine, cannot really believe, the enormous power of faith, of the idea of serving and fighting and dying for your god and His prophet.  It is a kind of thinking that is just alien to many.

Perhaps this is resisted because people think that "Being able to think like a fascist makes you a bit of a fascist".  That's not really true in any way that matters - Orwell was one of the greatest anti-fascist writers of his time, and fought against it in Spain. 

So - if you can see the box you are in, you can open it, and already have half-opened it.  And if you are really in the box, you can't see the box.  So, how can you tell if you are in a box that you can't see versus not being in a box?  

The best answer I've been able to come up with is not to think of "box or no box" but rather "open or closed box".  We all work from a worldview, simply because we need some knowledge to get further knowledge.  If you know you come at an issue from a certain angle, you can always check yourself.  You're in a box, but boxes can be useful, and you have the option to go get some stuff from outside the box.

The second is to read people in other boxes.  I like steelmanning, it's an important intellectual exercise, but it shouldn't preclude finding actual Men of Steel - that is, people passionately committed to another point of view, another box, and taking a look at what they have to say.  

Now you might say: "But that's steelmanning!"  Not quite.  Steelmanning is "the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented."  That may, in some circumstances, lead you to make the mistake of assuming that what you think is the best argument for a position is the same as what the other guy thinks is the best argument for his position.  That's especially important if you are addressing a belief held by a large group of people.

Again, this isn't to run down steelmanning - the practice is sadly limited, and anyone who attempts it has gained a big advantage in figuring out how the world is.  It's just a reminder that the steelman you make may not be quite as strong as the steelman that is out to get you.  

[EDIT: Link included to the document that I did not know was available online before now]

108 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-26T15:13:27.629Z · score: 53 (53 votes) · LW · GW

This is how I understand it:

  • At some sufficiently high meta level, all people believe "I am trying to do the right thing".
  • But people have widely different models of world; therefore their "trying to do the right thing" may result in almost anything, including many things that we consider wrong.
  • Therefore, we are likely to conclude that our enemy, at his high meta level, believes "I am trying to do the wrong thing." Because this makes our model of him simpler for us. But that is not a realistic model. And having a wrong model of reality is potentially dangerous to our goals.

Generally, I think I agree with this. The question is, how specifically high is the level where people are trying to do "the right thing". Here I can imagine that people who didn't have experience with (conventionally called) evil people, can underestimate the necessary level of abstraction.

For some people, in their model of the world, "the right thing" includes e.g. torturing the nonbelievers. Not only because of some reasons that we could consider palatable -- for example, when someone burns a witch, we could say "well, in their model of the world, the witch is able to bring a lot of human suffering, and probably already did, so... while I think their model of the world is stupid, I can on the abstract level empathise with the concept of 'doing the right thing by killing someone who causes a lot of suffering'." No, this is actually very shallow thinking; something that naive people imagine, and that expert Dark Arts religious apologists like Chesterton make them believe. This is not a credible model of a religious fanatic.

For a credible model one has to go yet a few levels deeper. One has to imagine someone who would torture the nonbeliever because he believes that torturing nonbelievers per se is a good thing. Not because of some consequentialist reasoning based on wrong models... this is trying to push our thinking into someone else's head. No, there are people who believe that torturing nonbelievers is intrinsically the right thing. To explain why, it would be like to explain why having an orgasm is pleasant. It obviously is, that's the whole answer. This is how some true believers think, whether they are Nazis, Communists, Muslims, Christians, etc. They may also have some rationalization for why the stuff they consider right will have good (from their point of view) consequences, for example burning the heretics may appease the angry God. But those are just rationalizations. Some people burn heretics because burning the heretics is the right thing to do. Tell them they are wrong, and they will consider you insane.

And yes, one level higher, both these people and the happy hippies of San Francisco are trying to do the right thing.

Maybe the values are not all in the mind. Some values are on level of feelings, associations, reflexes. Orgasm is good because because it feels good. Eating chocolate feels good. Hearing a lullaby feels good. With the right kind of upbringing, the idea of burning the heretic will feel good. Not because we have a specific "heretic burning" sense receptor, but because the parts of the brain containing the idea of burning the heretics were connected by neural pathways to the pleasure centers, just like all associations are created. Given some upbringing, values like this can be hardwired. (The human hardware is not read-only. Associations in human brain develop as we live.) People from different cultures and subcultures can be wired differently, so they may perceive as inherently pleasant the things we abhor, and vice versa. They may feel genuine discomfort from the idea of not burning the heretic.

So what does this mean? Did "doing the right thing" become completely meaningless? Can it predict anything; explain any observation? I don't think it is completely meaningless. Specifically, I believe that some cultures require more brainwashing, some less. (Although I have no specific methodology for measuring the amount of brainwashing. Even the environment can be a component of brainwashing; what exactly would a "neutral" environment look like?) Some cultures are more reflectively coherent than others. Some cultures promote better models of reality. Giving better information and more intelligence to humans would destroy many cultures. It's just... the predictions of this hypothesis are less straightforward than a naive reader would imagine.

comment by leplen · 2015-02-26T17:09:31.370Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW · GW

This is phenomenally clear thinking and has clarified something I've been struggling to understand for the last 10 years. Thank you.

comment by emr · 2015-02-27T05:30:24.161Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Not because we have a specific "heretic burning" sense receptor, but because the parts of the brain containing the idea of burning the heretics were connected by neural pathways to the pleasure centers, just like all associations are created.

There is almost certainly hardware support for punishment behavior, albeit that which can be executed with very little high level conceptual understanding, as you note. Even more, it doesn't always require a "belief that X is right": It can simply happen, when everyone else is throwing stones, that a person may throw stones too, and the high level belief of person that they are "trying to do the right thing" is formed after the behavior has already happened, or in (hardware-embedded) anticipation of a hypothetical future demand to justify their behavior.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-27T08:46:24.959Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, the punishment module is not a small homunculus in the mind. It does not have its own mind.

comment by Fhyve · 2015-03-02T09:06:18.345Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Burning cats is another good example. Can you feel how much fun it is to burn cats? Some people used to have all sorts of fun by burning cats. And this one is harder to do the wrong sort of justification based on bad models than either burning witches or torturing heretics.

Edit: Well, just scrolled down to where you talk about torturing animals. Beat me to it I guess...

comment by passive_fist · 2015-02-27T03:02:51.424Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For a credible model one has to go yet a few levels deeper.

Ok, but

One has to imagine someone who would torture the nonbeliever because he believes that torturing nonbelievers per se is a good thing.

Why does one have to imagine this? What evidence is there that "the parts of the brain containing the idea of burning the heretics were connected by neural pathways to the pleasure centers"? What you mean when you say "People from different cultures and subcultures can be wired differently"? What exactly does it mean to be wired differently?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-27T09:05:04.811Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I think the most simple example is how people in the past considered torturing animals enjoyable.

When you focus on animals, it removes a lot of human rationalizations from the picture. The animals are not your political enemies. They are not your religious enemies. They are not your business competitors. Most of the clever rationalizations a modern civilized person one could find for why e.g. some religious people enjoy torturing heretics, they don't apply to animals. Yet, some people enjoy torturing animals.

Can we agree that some people enjoy torturing animals, and that in the past (past is also a different culture) such behavior was more frequent?

If yes, then the hypothesis that some people also enjoy torturing humans, and that the frequency of such enjoyment depends on culture (by which I don't deny the possibility of also biological causes) seems rather likely to me.

I feel a bit dirty for calling Chesterton to help, but here he is:

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

To answer your questions specifically:

What evidence is there that "the parts of the brain containing the idea of burning the heretics were connected by neural pathways to the pleasure centers"?

This is how all associations in human brain work. Why would this one be an exception?

What you mean when you say "People from different cultures and subcultures can be wired differently"?

Just like in some culture people see a caterpillar and are like: eek!" and in other culture they are like: "yummy food!"

What exactly does it mean to be wired differently?

In context of this debate, to have different emotions fire automatically after perceiving the same concept. For example, emotions of empathy and sadness, or emotions of satisfaction and joy (after they both read in the newspapers that another dozen heretics were publicly burned).

comment by passive_fist · 2015-02-27T23:02:53.267Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you may have misunderstood me. I was asking for you to make your claims more precise and to provide evidence for them.

comment by Salemicus · 2015-02-26T14:29:16.679Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

what we mean by freedom - "people to be left more or less alone, to follow whichever religion they want or none, to speak their minds, to try to shape society's laws so they serve the people"

That's roughly what I mean by freedom. But this meaning of "freedom" is contested. There's another conception of freedom which is something like "making sure that everyone has the right information, incentives, resources and social context so they will make the choices most beneficial to themselves." This is almost the opposite of what I mean by freedom, but it is nevertheless widely used. Al-Qaeda don't like Freedom1, but they are very much in favour of Freedom2.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-02-26T20:12:44.166Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There is no ambiguity of language because bin Laden largely doesn't use the word "freedom." He objects to specific practices, that is, he objects to Freedom₁. There is one passage (below) where he does draw attention to the tension between the two notions. There is a cruder distinction that the post confuses, between "freedom to" and "freedom from"; but the only time it uses "freedom from" it is in the mouth of the Nazi. I think that makes it a poor example, but the rest of the post is consistent.

You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-27T09:17:50.586Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I feel the last part is merely using his audience's applause lights ("liberation of women") against them. If bin Laden's enemies wouldn't care about liberation of women, bin Laden wouldn't bother talking about how their actions oppose the "deeper meaning" of liberation of women, because bin Laden honestly doesn't care.

Analogically to how people on the other side spread rumors that when bin Laden was killed, there was a porn at his appartment. We honestly don't care about some guy looking at porn, we just say it because we know that for our audience it is an issue.

In the future, if we will fight against an army of alien paperclip maximizers, we will try to tell them emotional stories about how their corrupt leaders actually secretly destroy dozens of paperclips. The best speakers will manage to have tears in their eyes while speaking about how the missing paperclips made the world a worse place.

(To avoid misunderstanding, I believe that some women do enjoy the situation of being told what to do. If the culture tells them this is the right thing to do, there is probably a higher fraction of such women in such culture. And bin Laden may sincerely believe that this is how women should be. It's just Orwellian language to call this a "liberation of women". It would be fair to say "boo liberation, yay submission!", but it is manipulative to say "submission is the true liberation".)

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-02-28T17:37:21.287Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems very odd to me that you respond to my comment with this comment. If you don't think bin Laden means what he says, isn't that a general point that should be a top-level response to the post? Shouldn't this be a response to the Prussian talking about the word "freedom" at all, rather than deep in this thread about "freedom" vs "liberation"?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-28T20:55:53.769Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that "liberation of women" is more specific than "freedom". But maybe you are right.

comment by Salemicus · 2015-02-27T09:09:11.425Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't referring to any ambiguity in bin Laden, who I agree is clear. Rather, I was referring to the post. I don't think it makes sense to interpret the quote you give above as "they hate our freedom."

comment by knb · 2015-02-28T03:16:30.743Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think its pretty clear in this case that the root of Al Qaeda's hate of America has nothing to do with America's freedom. There are many countries which are just as free--if not more so--than the US. (Has Al Qaeda ever bothered to condemn Japan?) No doubt they disapprove of many aspects of the American lifestyle, but mostly they are interested in signalling to their fellow Muslims the purity of their opposition to US power in the middle east. Attacking a shared common enemy is a tactic for increasing support for Al Qaeda throughout the Muslim world. The root cause of the Anti-American sentiment is the very real history of US aggression and meddling in local affairs.

Likewise, when US politicians condemn rival countries for human-rights violations, you can be sure that they don't actually care about human rights. Hence they frequently condemn Russia, Syria, and Iran while being close allies with countries that are much less democratic and much more oppressive (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.)

comment by Jiro · 2015-02-28T05:29:45.317Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The simpler explanation is that if they do hate freedom, their hatred is going to be aimed at the most prominent example of it. The US is a lot more prominent in international politics than Japan.

Note that this is still different from signalling--they do hate freedom, outside considerations just affect which particular target they pick of the free ones.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-28T20:23:45.729Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

mostly they are interested in signalling to their fellow Muslims the purity of their opposition to US power in the middle east.

So what does the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris signal?

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-28T07:09:34.350Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"No doubt they disapprove of many aspects of the American lifestyle, but mostly they are interested in signalling to their fellow Muslims the purity of their opposition to US power in the middle east."

But why do they object to US power? They object, in their own words, to US power because it dilutes the purity of Islam. They are not struggling for national liberation, but for theocracy. Their explicit goal is the establishment of a vast theocractic empire - the attack on America was a part of that, to rally the faithful to their cause. Take Palestine, for example - Al Qaeda doesn't even think Palestine should exist, except as a province of the Caliphate.

What is "meddling in local affairs" in this context? According to what they say, it is as much American pop culture and the spread of "decadence" (liberalism) as it is the support of certain tin-pot tyrants.

That isn't to say there aren't objectionable US policies. But please don't confuse why you might object to a US policy with why an Islamic fanatic might object to it.

comment by knb · 2015-02-28T17:46:39.825Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is "meddling in local affairs" in this context?

Overthrowing Muslim governments (including democratically elected governments), massive military, logistical, and even direct participation in Saddam Hussein's attack on Iran, invading and occupying various countries, etc. No, I don't believe US pop culture is a major reason they attack the US.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-28T20:34:18.233Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

direct participation in Saddam Hussein's attack on Iran

Eh? If you mean the operation Praying Mantis, it was a response to the US ship hitting an Iranian mine, and near the end of war anyway.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-28T18:05:59.466Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't... but others do. Dinesh D'Souza has written a book detailing the "root causes" argument, but with a twist - the quotations and other evidence he amasses are from a socially conservative perspective. That is, he makes exactly the same, fully backed up "root causes" argument, but differs on the root causes in question.

Again, I am trying to make the point that what you find obvious isn't at all what others find obvious. People change radically across time and space.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-02-26T14:25:35.434Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Evil, defined as taking pleasure in someone else's unwanted pain, exists. And if we pretend it doesn't and look for other motives when evil was the driving force we get a mismatch between map and territory.

Edit

Good/Love = My utility goes up as other peoples' utility increases. Evil/Hate = My utility goes up as other peoples' utility decreases.

As I tell my intermediate microeconomics students, only economists really understand love.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T17:19:36.406Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Evil, defined as taking pleasure in someone else's unwanted pain, exists.

I don't think that's a good definition of evil. Feeling pleasure for punishing a person who defects from a prisoner dilemma isn't inherently evil.

When look at how clinical psychopaths are "evil" it's more complicated then simple taking pleasure in someone's unwanted pain.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-26T17:23:48.747Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Feeling pleasure for punishing a person who defects from a prisoner dilemma isn't inherently evil.

LOL. I just want to keep this quote as an example of LW ethics... X-D

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T17:38:57.057Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you disagree with the substance, or only want to remark on the way the statement is made?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-26T17:40:27.291Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure there's much substance involved, but I certainly think of humans as Turing complete.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T17:43:23.631Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you mixed up two different threads.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-26T17:46:36.055Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, sorry, yes I did.

My amusement at this quote isn't quite at the agree/disagree level, it has more to do with the mindset which produced it.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-02-28T15:13:15.062Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katja-rowell-md/when-feeding-therapy-becomes-aversion-therapy_b_2951294.html

I think there are people who feel a strong impulse to cause pain. Subjectively, it may seem to them that they simply didn't think of a non-pain-causing method of achieving their other ends. For all I know, at least some of them feel causing pain as a relief of anxiety rather than pleasure.

Also, it's possible to frame just about anything as punishing defection. I've been seeing some indications that a lot of bad behavior is punishing people for claiming more status than they are felt to deserve.

Or, for something milder but closer to showing a terminal value, try this.

I'm not sure about this terminal value thing-- if someone is causing pain because they feel pleasure from it, isn't pleasure the terminal value?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-03-06T00:34:55.834Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, it's possible to frame just about anything as punishing defection.

The question is always whether a given interpretation is useful.

The economist position that defecting in prisoner dilemmas isn't evil but punishing defectors is evil seems wrongheaded to me.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-26T16:54:51.063Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Evil, defined as taking pleasure in someone else's unwanted pain, exists

That might be a passable definition for personal evil, but it doesn't look adequate for institutional evil.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-26T15:30:18.660Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, time for a poll:

Do you believe that "taking pleasure in someone else's unwanted pain" exists in some humans?

[pollid:829]

comment by CronoDAS · 2015-02-26T22:39:32.482Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

comment by gjm · 2015-02-26T16:58:14.589Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I'm unconvinced that this is a good question, for two reasons.

  • If it exists but is incredibly rare, the answer is still "yes". And for pretty much anything you can briefly describe, there exist people who take pleasure in it.
  • There are probably substantial numbers of people who, e.g., take pleasure in unwanted pain when inflicted as punishment for something they strongly disapprove of. This may or may not be a bad thing, but it doesn't seem reasonable to say that it's evil by definition. (And I guess that James_Miller didn't intend to.)

So I think we'd get nearer to James's intent if we asked whether a substantial fraction of humans (let's say, at least 3% or so) take pleasure in other people's unwanted pain for its own sake.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-02-26T20:29:46.705Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I agree.

The reason why I made the poll was that I read James's comment (before the edit), noticed the downvote, and was like: "What? I thought this was completely obvious? Does anyone here actually disagree? Wow, I am so curious to ask about their reasons."

First, I wanted just to write "Dear downvoter, please explain." with a hope to have an interesting conversation. But then I thought it would be even better to know how many people share which opinion. Like, maybe I am the minority here and... uhm, don't know what, but could be an interesting opportunity to learn.

So, in a way, getting the answers I got here was a new information for me.

EDIT: Feel free to make a new poll with more detailed options. I am not sure what they should be.

When trying to be more precise, it might be useful to distinguish between "enjoys other people's pain" and "enjoys something that causes other people pain, and is neutral about the pain". For example, many people love playing computer games where they shoot virtual people. Now imagine that the only opportunity would be shooting real people. Some people would refuse. Some people would enjoy doing it.

Now imagine the latter people and give them an opportunity to shoot virtual people on the computer. Some would enjoy it. Some would refuse it as pointless. So now here are four possible categories: 1) Does not enjoy shooting virtual or real people. 2) Enjoys shooting virtual people, but not real people. 3) Enjoys shooting both virtual and real people. 4) Enjoys shooting real people, but not virtual people.

I am trying to express the difference between the 3 and 4. The latter derives pleasure directly from harming real people. The former harms people and enjoys it, but these two things are not necessarily connected, as he could get the same pleasure from shooting virtual people.

comment by DanielLC · 2015-02-26T22:13:48.151Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it really matters. "Evil" isn't an archetype meant for describing psychopaths. It's meant for describing people like Al Qaeda. Or, if you happen to be a member of Al Qaeda, for describing Americans. It's a form of dark arts used by Azathoth to make us behave in a way that we, personally, do not wish to behave in. Don't repurpose it for a tiny portion of humanity that acts vaguely like that by coincidence. Abandon it.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-26T17:02:16.374Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A third reason is that "pain" is somewhat ambiguous. Does schadenfreude count?

comment by bbleeker · 2015-02-27T16:32:47.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, yes it does.

comment by gjm · 2015-02-26T17:31:28.770Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, good point. I kinda just assumed it really meant "suffering" in some generalized sense, rather than anything narrower.

comment by Gondolinian · 2015-02-26T18:26:57.599Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Evil, defined as taking pleasure in someone else's unwanted pain, exists. And if we pretend it doesn't and look for other motives when evil was the driving force we get a mismatch between map and territory.

Yes, but from the inside, one's utility function often feels like The Way The World Should Be. An evil person by your definition could still feel like they're Doing The Right Thing when they're decreasing others' utility. So I feel like nothing has really changed with regard to whether "evil" defined as seeing The Way The World Should Be and opposing it makes any sense.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-02-26T18:57:38.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most people have some evil in them. Have you ever really hated someone and desired bad things to happen to that person? Didn't this feel a lot different compared to when you loved someone and wanted good things to happen to that person?

comment by pinyaka · 2015-02-26T16:46:21.786Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you are suggesting that people just have a desire to cause suffering and that their reasons (dieties, revenge, punishment, etc.) are mostly just attempts to frame that desire in a personally acceptable manner? I ask because it seems like most people probably just don't enjoy watching just anyone suffer, they tend to target other groups which suggests a more strategic reason than just enjoying cruelty.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-02-26T17:45:48.730Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, harming others is a terminal value for evil people.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-03-03T07:42:10.625Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Vengefulness is a real emotion, as the grandparent implies. It leads you to take pleasure in the pain of people who you feel have harmed you or something you care about (see: most of the justice system). There are also people who take pleasure in anyone else's pain. They are too few to matter much in explaining an organization the size of Al Qaeda, never mind "the terrorists" or "religious fanatics".

Now, there may be confusion here about the phrase 'because of our freedom'. There are moral reasons, and then there are causes. I don't think Al Qaeda members perceive themselves as taking revenge on the West for the weakness of the Muslim world, nor as serving the house of Saud. I also don't believe either Al Qaeda or Isil would exist if the Muslim world were stronger relative to the West, nor that they'd exist without the machinations of the house of Saud. And I usually couldn't care less about terrorists' "moral" reasons.

comment by pinyaka · 2015-02-26T20:36:01.060Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course empathy-lacking individuals exist, but make up a small portion of the population. It seems more likely that any given instance of one person enjoying harming another is due to instrumental value rather than terminal.

comment by Jiro · 2015-02-26T22:04:48.767Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But individuals who have empathy with some others, but not other others, are more common. They can have terminal values to cause suffering for that portion of the population they don't have empathy with.

comment by pinyaka · 2015-02-27T18:39:36.607Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But individuals who have empathy with some others, but not other others, are more common. They can have terminal values to cause suffering for that portion of the population they don't have empathy with.

I'm having a hard time getting this. Can you provide an example where the lack of empathy for some group isn't driven by another value? My impression is that empathy is a normal human trait and that socializing teaches us who is worthy of empathy and who isn't, but then the lack of empathy is instrumental (because it serves to further the goals of society). People who actually lack empathy suffer from mental disorders like psychopathy as far as I know.

comment by Jiro · 2015-02-27T18:45:59.429Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Any example I could give could be disputed because it's always possible to reverse cause and effect and say "he only lacks empathy because of X" rather than "he believes X due to lack of empathy".

And my impression is that empathy towards only the in-group is a normal human trait and that it is often affected by society only in the trivial sense that society determines what the in-group is.

comment by pinyaka · 2015-02-27T19:10:02.672Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Any example I could give could be disputed because it's always possible to reverse cause and effect and say "he only lacks empathy because of X" rather than "he believes X due to lack of empathy".

Fair enough. It does seem like it would be difficult to tell those two things apart from the outside.

And my impression is that empathy towards only the in-group is a normal human trait and that it is often affected by society only in the trivial sense that society determines what the in-group is.

Also true (probably).

If you're trying to get the best match between map and territory though, it's worth looking for the motive for each particular evil. If you're trying to reduce evil in the above-defined sense of enjoying causing involuntary suffering, doesn't it make more sense to treat this as outgroup persecution rather than terminal "evil." I guess my point was that I don't think evil as a terminal goal exists in most people. There may be terminal goals for which evil is a hardwired strategy, but it's more important to look at what those goals actually are if you're going to try to minimize the evil. Maybe we can tweak the definition of outgroup. Maybe we can make the ingroup value something that the outgroup doesn't and then "deprive" the outgroup of that thing as our form of persecution. Just saying that "evil" exists and is a driving force feels like a mysterious answer.

comment by DanielLC · 2015-02-26T22:06:02.940Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Al Qaeda hating freedom is denotationally true (by the definition of freedom you are currently using), but connotationally false.

Al Qaeda didn't attack us because they were innately evil. They attacked us because they thought we were innately evil. If thinking someone is innately evil makes you innately evil, then I guess they are innately evil, but they're also correct.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-02-26T22:29:16.649Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is kind of a weird case. The connotation of "Al-Qaeda attacked us because they hate our freedoms" here is something like "boo Al-Qaeda", which is neither true nor false; if we take the connotational loading out, it comes out to something like "Al-Qaeda perpetrated the 9/11 (and etc.) attacks because it objected to American values regarding religious tolerance, latitude of accepted sexual behavior, etc." Which is more or less exactly what the quoted manifesto says, though I don't think it necessarily implies that they think Americans are innately evil; evil, certainly, but not intrinsically so or they wouldn't be trying to call us to Islam. (There were other motivations, of course, and you could argue that they were more important under the hood if not necessarily in rhetoric; but I'll leave that to the geopolitics nerds.)

That still doesn't mean there are little XML tags reading etched on their souls, though. They came to those opinions for a reason, just as we Americans came to honor concepts like "freedom" for a reason, and most of the things we can say about the one apply to the other. Consequences are, notably, not one of these things, but inherent evil doesn't make any sense in terms of consequential analysis anyway.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-02-26T20:21:14.979Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Freedom is an abstraction. People mean different things by it. Bin Laden largely doesn't use the word. He objects to a small list of specific practices. He objects to the American freedom to be immoral, but almost everyone restricts freedom, such as the freedom to kill. Indeed, in a passage you quote, "You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom," he explicitly says that the problem is scope of personal freedom, not the concept of freedom.

You might say that the principal freedom of the USA is freedom of religion. I think bin Laden would hate that. But does he notice it? He seems to think of America as a country of bad Christians, not a country of atheists.

comment by shminux · 2015-02-26T16:12:11.660Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

2) the idea that Al Qaeda is motivated by a hatred of American freedom is false.

This doesn't follow. There is not contradiction with 1). One can see one's own hate as righteous, and most often does. In fact, most Americans hate militant Islam and think their hate it righteous, not villainous, so it's very symmetric.

comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-26T13:15:57.934Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Behind every religious war is a political cause. That's what gives an organization like al-Qaeda its support and that's where new recruits come from. The modern jihad movement really got off the ground when the mujahideen fought the Soviets in Afghanistan (guess who provided money and training). Once you have a group that successfully uses the banner of radical Islam to fight off one foreign invader, it makes sense to use that same approach to tackle other problems--Israel and American influence. The event that sparked the enmity between al-Qaeda and the USA was actually the Persian Gulf War, when bin Laden objected to the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia.

Sure, propaganda materials are going to paint the USA as a wretched hive of scum and villainy trying to turn the world into a giant cesspit of debauchery. It's the role of propaganda to rally your side and the easiest way to do that is to make the enemy out to be evil.

Asserting that al-Qaeda is motivated by hatred of freedom has a jingoistic tinge that tends to cloud deeper analysis. We can likewise paint Neo-Nazis as people motivated by hatred of Jews, but that draws a line in the sand and prevents one from seeking a better explanation for why people join hate groups. Delving into the root causes of another's actions paints a different picture from looking just at the superficial causes.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-26T13:30:37.395Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

That comment rather illustrates the mistake I mean. Take that last point about neo-Nazis, it is exactly like what Orwell said, that there are people who do not understand that others can be motivated by racial frenzy. Some of Hitler's early backers were simple crooks who thought they were using him for relatively prosaic political ends, but Hitler had his own ends that he pushed through with some force.

Similarly you say that when bin Laden condemns American decadence or depravity from an Islamic perspective, that's just propaganda to advance a political cause. What if it is the other way around? What if bin Laden instead invokes political grievances to advance a religious agenda? You assume that it cant possibly be that, but: Look at that document again - bin Laden goes into the usual rap against America and the West, but what he asks for is submission to Islam, to Shariah. His aim is, in his own words, explicitly theocratic.

Take the obvious parallel of Hitler. Yes, you can point to the role of inflation, mass unemployment etc. as allowing his rise. But you cannot draw a line from those to the genocide of the Jews. Even if you ditch morality, a global conflict and the mass extermination of one of your most productive minorities is lousy business sense. The whole thing is completely inexplicable unless you turn it around. The aim was, always, the genocide of the Jews and global conflict, and the problems of Germany allowed Hitler a chance to implement that program. So it is with bin Laden.

You make my point when you say that " bin Laden objected to the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia." But why did he object? Those weren't an occupying army, they were there at the explicit request of the Saudi monarchy to prevent Saudi Arabia from being invaded. There was nothing like, e.g., the IDF in Gaza for him to point to.

The reason is simple: there's an Islamic hadith that makes it clear that while People of the Book may be kept in subjection elsewhere, it is not permitted to allow any infidels into Arabia, the holy Land of the Two Mosques. It's an explicitly religious motive.

This is what I mean that sometimes you just can't see the box, cannot understand that other people see the world in a radically different way, that their hopes and desires are not like yours. You call this description of bin Laden's motives "superficial". Why? Because it isn't one that is morally intelligible to you. But why should that mean that those motives are wrong? Isn't it the exact opposite of superficial to think that people are capable of radically differing, and that not everyone is alike?

comment by gwern · 2015-02-27T03:45:57.305Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Take the obvious parallel of Hitler. Yes, you can point to the role of inflation, mass unemployment etc. as allowing his rise. But you cannot draw a line from those to the genocide of the Jews. Even if you ditch morality, a global conflict and the mass extermination of one of your most productive minorities is lousy business sense. The whole thing is completely inexplicable unless you turn it around. The aim was, always, the genocide of the Jews and global conflict, and the problems of Germany allowed Hitler a chance to implement that program. So it is with bin Laden.

Claiming Hitler's end goal was solely the extermination of the Jews clashes very badly with many things I know about Nazi Germany, such as the Madagascar plans and details of Jewish emigration (as covered in The Wages of Destruction, most recently). Can you provide any cites of reputable historians who believe that killing Jews qua Jews was the sum total of Hitler's end-ambitions rather than a side-goal on the way to a world German empire or other goals?

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-27T12:10:57.798Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Aiyaiyai - I take twenty four hours break and I am knee deep in responses! My answer is simple: there is an explicit call for genocide laid out in a book called Mein Kampf, as well as an explicit racial theory that holds that Aryans are becoming polluted through interbreeding - that unless drastic action is taken, the Aryan will vanish from the world. This book, and similar incitements and theories, long predate Hitler even being a lunatic fringe candidate.

comment by gwern · 2015-02-27T16:31:10.149Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

there is an explicit call for genocide laid out in a book called Mein Kampf, as well as an explicit racial theory that holds that Aryans are becoming polluted through interbreeding - that unless drastic action is taken, the Aryan will vanish from the world.

Hitler says a lot of things in Mein Kampf, why single that out? He also says a lot of things in its sequel. Politicians say a lot of things they don't mean, much like political parties say a lot of things they have no real interest in in their platforms. And your model predicts he would want to kill all races, not Jews in particular. If your best evidence is 'Hitler talked about killing Jews', then I'm not convinced that it was the ultimate overriding goal of Hitler, and I find the detailed accounts in his other writings and works like Wages of Destruction much more convincing that he was more concerned with defeating America & the USSR than he was with the Jewish problem.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-27T17:03:31.291Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is all said long before Hitler was even a lunatic fringe candidate, though I repeat myself. Was Hitler always obsessed with race and Jew-hatred? Yep. Did his actions seem in accord with this? Amazingly so.

Take your comment on the USSR - why did Hitler insist on breaking the pact and invading Russian in winter? The answer is that he regarded Communism as "Judeo-Bolshevism", a Jewish plot against the Aryan race. Again, why did Nazism never take in the East when people began by welcoming the Wehrmacht's advance? Because in Nazi racial theory, Slavs were untermenschen. The whole course of the war is completely explicable by thinking that the Nazis actually believed what they said.

This is what I mean about some people not being able to understand that others have a radically different view of the world. You need to explain away just about everything about the Third Reich to imagine that its animating principle was something other than fanatical racism. You have to explain nothing if you make the contrary assumption.

What do you think animated Hitler? For that matter, what do you think animates jihadis?

comment by gwern · 2015-02-28T00:04:31.990Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is all said long before Hitler was even a lunatic fringe candidate, though I repeat myself.

Hitler said a lot of things long before he became a candidate. He loved to talk.

Was Hitler always obsessed with race and Jew-hatred? Yep. Did his actions seem in accord with this? Amazingly so.

Not amazingly so. The Jewish problem was a back-burner issue which was pursued with minor energy and in a variety of ways like allowing emigration and planning expulsion to Madagascar compared to much bigger issues like re-arming Germany, reducing unemployment, preparing for war with America & USSR, etc. Read through something like Wage of Destruction or Savage Continent, and one does not get the impression at all that killing Jews was Hitler's top priority, or even fifth top priority. You keep stating this and I'm not seeing it. There's only a straight line from parts of Mein Kampf to Dachau when you ignore everything else.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-28T06:22:11.795Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, you get exactly that impression by reading... what the actual Nazis said, all the way to the top, and the experiences of people living through that period. During the height of the second world war, they insisted on using scarce resources like trains and troops to keep up the Jew killing - they were willing to risk their own war aims to complete this task.

You keep citing these books but you don't give any evidence from them.

The entire program was to saturate society with racial hatred and frenzy. Children in school were terrified by long harangues about racial purity and so on.

There seems to be nothing that I can say that will convince you, no piece of evidence from the entire action and behavior of the Third Reich that could possibly indicate to you that they meant what they said. The very idea of a Nazi empire was to establish lebensraum for "pure" Aryans to repopulate. Racial ideology wasn't window dressing in that empire, it was the very cause and basis of that empire.

comment by gwern · 2015-03-01T03:28:25.044Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, you get exactly that impression by reading... what the actual Nazis said, all the way to the top, and the experiences of people living through that period.

They also talked a great deal about the threat from Great Britain, France, the USA, and the USSR. You're completely ignoring this. If a word count were done, which would be bigger? I know what I expect. You're arguing that Hitler talked about the Jews a lot, which is totally uncontroversial, but does not prove your point: that he talked about Jews the most of all topics that concerned him.

During the height of the second world war, they insisted on using scarce resources like trains and troops to keep up the Jew killing - they were willing to risk their own war aims to complete this task.

You know what would be even more effective for pursuing an overriding terminal goal of killing Jews and nothing else? Not starting that war in the first place.

That's the problem: all the effort and resources thrown into the concentration camps late in the game absolutely pale in comparison to the efforts put into the war and rearmament - they wrecked the German economy just preparing for WWII, never mind actually running it.

You keep citing these books but you don't give any evidence from them.

The entire mass of Wages of Destruction, to focus on one, is devoted to marshaling the evidence and details about the reorganization of the German economy and Hitler's grand strategic plan (as mentioned in his Mein Kampf sequel, which I note you're not mentioning despite your interest in 'what the actual Nazis said') to fight the USA, in which the slave labor camps of millions of people (only some of which were Jews) were a late solution for acute labor shortages and the killings purely tangential. What am I going to do, paste the whole book inline? There's not any one detail that's decisive, it's the whole thrust of the reorganization of German society from the tiny inefficient farmer up to the industrial giants and his activities during the war which combine to show that Jews were a matter more of rhetoric than the overriding terminal end goal to which all of all Hitler's plans were subordinate, as you claim.

The very idea of a Nazi empire was to establish lebensraum for "pure" Aryans to repopulate.

Which is different from a terminal end-all-be-all goal of 'killing Jews'.

I think you're engaged in just motte-and-bailey tactics here: you make the claim Hitler's sole motivation was killing Jews, and when you get any pushback, you retreat to some well-established fact like 'a lot of Jews died' or 'there was a lot of anti-semitic education' or 'Hitler talked about the Jews a lot', which do not show your main claim.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-03-01T07:42:24.238Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just to take your last point, my response is that this is both a strawman and an argument from intimidation. Take this:

"you make the claim Hitler's sole motivation was killing Jews"

Did I? Where? I said that Hitler's motivation was his fanatical racism and that the desire to murder the Jews was a large part of that - was, in fact, an inextricable part of that. His racism wasn't the result of the war, it was the cause of the war. As you admit towards the end.

"You know what would be even more effective for pursuing an overriding terminal goal of killing Jews and nothing else? Not starting that war in the first place."

Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary "The Führer recognizes the enormous opportunity that the war provides". Hitler needed the night and fog of war, not to mention the hysteria that war brings, to carry out his plans.

"What am I going to do, paste the whole book inline? "

Well, quote something from the book rather than just drop its title.

"he slave labor camps of millions of people (only some of which were Jews) were a late solution for acute labor shortages and the killings purely tangential. "

The mass murder of those considered racially inferior was purely tangential? Well, if that's the way you think, then that's the way you think. There is a simple answer to this: the Wahnsee decision was to exterminate the Jewish people, and then the Slavs (there is some evidence that Hitler wanted to depopulate Africa after Europe was conquered), and there were camps that were purely devoted to the business of mass murder, no slave labour involved - Sobibor, Chelmno, Treblinka. The Nazi camps were not like the labour camps of the Soviet Union, they were murder facilities. To argue that the mass murder in the east is tangential is completely ahistoric.

Since the civilized tone of debate has become strained here, I think I will leave it there.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-27T17:18:06.380Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

why did Hitler insist on breaking the pact and invading Russian in winter?

Nitpick: Hitler invaded Russia in the middle of summer.

The answer is that he regarded Communism as "Judeo-Bolshevism", a Jewish plot against the Aryan race.

That answer has problems explaining the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-27T17:53:44.874Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

See above - Hitler's armies didn't invade Russia until winter.

There's no problem there whatsoever - Hitler always intended to march against Russia, not least to wipe out or enslave the Slavs. The pact just allowed him some breathing space.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-27T18:06:41.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hitler's armies didn't invade Russia until winter.

Sorry, whaaaat?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-02-27T17:33:19.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hitler invaded on June 22, was planning to be done before the frost set in, and was (I think correctly) worried about Stalin's double cross at some point down the line.


A German invasion backed by a less insane ideology would have won as well, I think.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-27T17:51:08.345Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's a common misunderstanding. Barbarossa begins in June, but the push into Russia proper does not happen until the winter. Which is what was predictable if you start such an invasion in June.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-02-27T17:58:25.961Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

???

Are you talking about the invasion plans? The original estimate was was for the Red Army to fold in a few weeks. Do you have any references for your claim that the Germans planned for a "Russia proper" push to happen in winter of 1941-42?

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-27T18:11:26.023Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you start an eastward invasion in June, you end up in Russia in Winter. Which is what happened. Which is why Hitler's generals were against it. It's not difficult to work out - Napoleon did the same thing.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-27T18:26:20.095Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

First, in the context I don't think the difference between Ukraine, Belorussia, etc. and Russia proper is in any way meaningful.

Second, the Russian town of Smolensk fell by late July. By August Novgorod was taken and the Germans got close to Leningrad. The battle for Moscow started in early October.

As opposed to Napoleon, the Germans planned a blitzkrieg -- the "blitz" part is there for a reason.

You are not making any sense.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-02-27T19:02:43.476Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, no longer confused about what's happening here. Exiting conversation.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-02-27T03:16:02.168Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But you cannot draw a line from those to the genocide of the Jews. Even if you ditch morality, a global conflict and the mass extermination of one of your most productive minorities is lousy business sense. The whole thing is completely inexplicable

Maybe not so inexplicable if you read Hitler's own writings. He clearly says that his policy of 'removal' of Jews is due to their involvement with the banking industry which, in Hitler's view, was one of the main reasons for Germany's troubled state.

Of course that reasoning wasn't justified but it's not so clear to me that his terminal goal was eradication of Jews. Maybe he was convinced of his own lies.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T17:31:13.344Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Even if you ditch morality, a global conflict and the mass extermination of one of your most productive minorities is lousy business sense.

I don't think Hitler considered them productive minorities. Today you have plenty of people who don't consider the banking class to be productive.

Those weren't an occupying army, they were there at the explicit request of the Saudi monarchy to prevent Saudi Arabia from being invaded

The lines between an occupying army and an army who just defends aren't as sharp. He seems to believe that the US does exert political pressure on Saudi Arabia to do what the US wants.

It's not easy to find Europeans who also don't like US bases in their own countries without any religious justification.

comment by TobyBartels · 2015-02-26T22:08:25.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not easy to find Europeans who also don't like US bases in their own countries without any religious justification.

This says that the only easily-found Europeans who dislike US bases in Europe have religious justifications. Is this what you meant?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-27T01:28:54.956Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, somehow the sentence came out wrong. There are many Europeans who oppose US bases in their country.

comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-26T14:42:50.461Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Take that last point about neo-Nazis, it is exactly like what Orwell said, that there are people who do not understand that others can be motivated by racial frenzy.

Hate groups have been an object of interest to law enforcement and psychologists for some years now. Most members are socially maladjusted and have trouble dealing with their insecurities. The "racial frenzy" arises from group dynamics. It provides group cohesion and gives the members a shared sense of purpose. It may motivate the group action, but it's not what drew people to the group to begin with.

Here's one model of hate groups.

I did read Orwell's essay. He makes an excellent point about intellectuals failing to properly understand the powerful emotions that can motivate a group to unified action. I won't contest the role of group identity and group dynamics. What I wish to examine are the motivations that lead people to associate with hate groups or terrorist networks in the first place.

Similarly you say that when bin Laden condemns American decadence or depravity from an Islamic perspective, that's just propaganda to advance a political cause. What if it is the other way around? What if bin Laden instead invokes political grievances to advance a religious agenda? You assume that it cant possibly be that, but: Look at that document again - bin Laden goes into the usual rap against America and the West, but what he asks for is submission to Islam, to Shariah. His aim is, in his own words, explicitly theocratic.

Bin Laden himself may or may not have theocratic aims. My point was that without the political grievances, he just becomes some fanatic spouting rhetoric. With political grievances, he has supporters and recruits.

You call this description of bin Laden's motives "superficial". Why? Because it isn't one that is morally intelligible to you. But why should that mean that those motives are wrong? Isn't it the exact opposite of superficial to think that people are capable of radically differing, and that not everyone is alike?

I call it superficial because it just so happens to align perfectly with our own interests. It demonizes the enemy and provides a casus belli. What it fails to do is answer the question of why radical Islam has become so popular in recent decades.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-27T12:41:11.010Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Bin Laden himself may or may not have theocratic aims" - May or may not?

"My point was that without the political grievances, he just becomes some fanatic spouting rhetoric. With political grievances, he has supporters and recruits." Once again, this assumes that his supporters and recruits think in a way that follows yours. I have to just say [citation needed]. Let's take one example: 99% of Afghans think that the punishment for apostasy should be death. The assumption that there is not a large support for theocracy is unwarranted, at best.

"I call it superficial because it just so happens to align perfectly with our own interests. "

First of all, that's a non sequitor. It is in my interest to think that the water from the tap is healthy. I still haven't been sick yet. It's in my interest to think my employer will pay me at the end of the month. Never failed yet.

Second, however, - who is this "our" in that sentence? And what interests? From my perspective, if Islamic jihad has a goal that is at least understandable to us, something like the Basque ETA or the IRA, then that's something we can deal with. On the other hand, if its goals are like those stated by Hassan Nasrallah - "We want nothing from you, we want to eliminate you" - that's another matter entirely. I would far, far, far rather deal with the first kind of an enemy, rather than the second.

To the subject of the bin Laden list of grievances, one of them is that the United States helped free East Timor from Indonesian rule, and end the genocide of the Christian nation there. To the Islamic fanatics, this is outrageous, because it is a matter of doctrine that no conquered infidel nation may ever be freed from Islamic rule.

comment by satt · 2015-03-04T03:33:31.447Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Let's take one example: 99% of Afghans think that the punishment for apostasy should be death.

That number struck me as surprisingly high, so I went looking for the source and I think it's this. The 99% number is for "Muslims who favor making Islamic law the official law" in Afghanistan. The death-for-apostasy proportion is actually only 79% for pro-sharia Afghan Muslims (which is still 79% too high, but isn't 99%).

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-03-04T05:12:46.587Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks - you're quite right. That is the study I was thinking of, and 79% is still horrifyingly high - sorry for getting that wrong, and thanks for the correction!

comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-27T23:21:09.970Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

May or may not?

Correct. In the field of politics, the stated reasons for an action are those judged most palatable and most persuasive to the audience. For example, very few countries will cite exploitation of natural resources as a reason for war. It's always some humanitarian reason or a tortured reading of an ancient treaty that grants them the "right" to certain lands.

Once again, this assumes that his supporters and recruits think in a way that follows yours. I have to just say [citation needed]. Let's take one example: 99% of Afghans think that the punishment for apostasy should be death. The assumption that there is not a large support for theocracy is unwarranted, at best.

It assumes that one should take notice that the hotbeds of terrorism happen to be places that were formerly subjects of imperialist policies or were treated as pawns during the Cold War. Do they hate America because of their religion, or did they turn to religion as an avenue for handling their grievances?

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-28T06:25:19.671Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One line disproof: There have been a grand total of zero terrorist attacks on the United States from Vietnam, easily the most destructive and wicked war the US has ever waged - if people whose kids are still being born with birth defects don't decide to fly planes into buildings, I think it is safe to say that something else is going on.

Again, this ignores the stated intentions and demands of Al Qaeda, to recreate the lost caliphate and enforce the most fanatical Islamic rule within it, a global Taliban style rule. It also ignores things like Al Qaeda's stated support for the genocide in East Timor or Darfur.

comment by Jiro · 2015-02-28T05:42:30.054Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You left out some possibilities. Perhaps religion both makes a counttry weak (and thus vulnerable to imperialism) and leads to terrorism? Or perhaps weakness makes a country vulnerable to imperialists, and also vulnerable to religious extremism?

And the other flaw in this reasoning is that there are a whole lot of places that were formerly imperialist subjects or were treated as pawns during the Cold War. They're not all full of anti-Western terrorists now. Pretty much the only ones that are are the Islamic ones.

comment by fortyeridania · 2015-02-26T21:22:33.649Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Behind every religious war is a political cause.

Which do you mean:

(a) Political factors are the the main cause of every religious war

(b) Political factors are factors in every religious war

If (a), could you substantiate this? It seems like a very strong claim.

Edited for formatting

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-02-28T17:00:07.191Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you think that religious wars are real things, what do you think is the most clear example of one?

comment by fortyeridania · 2015-02-28T21:10:12.433Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the following would all be examples of religious wars:

  • Crusades
  • Islamic wars of expansion (8th century)
  • Present-day jihad efforts
  • Israel/Palestine conflict
  • India/Pakistan troubles (especially during the Partition)
  • Ireland/England troubles
  • Thirty Years' War

Of course politics has a role in all of these. Politics and religion intermingle all the time. So each of the above conflicts is political in some respects. But of course that doesn't make politics the "real" cause.

Of course religious conflict can be used, consciously or not, as a cover for political conflict. But the reverse is also possible. And while the distinction between religious and political motives may be clear at the individual level, the problem of composition arises when you think about the motives for an entire movement.

Perhaps a graphic representation of the various models would help. Imagine two groups of people in conflict. In the past, the Blues oppressed the Greens. Now the Greens and Blues are bitter enemies and occasionally break into open warfare. There's also a lot of religious hatred between the two groups that goes back a long way. Here are a couple ways this could work:

Scenario A: Religious differences --> Blues oppress Greens --> Greens resent Blues --> War

Scenario B: Blues want to oppress Greens --> Blues invent their religion to give themselves moral cover --> Blues oppress Greens --> Greens resent Blues --> War

In the real world, where there are other sources of conflict (like natural resources, race, foreign powers playing sides, etc.), it seems like a lot of information would be necessary before being confident that either scenario was the real one.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-02-28T22:28:24.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do not think that any of your examples, nor any example I have ever looked at, really fits Scenario A. Perhaps the Partition of India or Greece/Turkey.* Religion almost never creates differences. Sometimes religion unifies people. The Greens and Blues, unified by religion, are able to stop fighting each other and attack the Reds. Perhaps this describes your first three examples. Maybe you should call these "wars of religion," but they fit neither of your scenarios.

Scenario B is also rare. I would assign to it only the Thirty Years' War. People rarely need cover.

Ireland is a race conflict, between the natives and the Scottish settlers. I think that this is a typical example. The core is a race conflict, but the names of the parties are religions so that people can change sides, if only a way that half-breeds can signify their allegiance.

Everyone knows that Israel is a settler conflict. If you think it is religious conflict, what is the religion of the Palestinians? The PLO was originally Christian and atheist. It would be odd to call it a religious conflict when the religion of one side changes (even just that of their leaders).

Yes, it takes information to decide, but the quite consistent pattern is that when I obtain information, I downgrade the religious hypothesis. Having such a pattern, I should change my prior.

* The ethnic cleansing between Greece and Turkey is interesting because it was largely done on the basis of religion, but in the name of race. After the partition, the new countries emphasized racial identity and a single language, but before there wasn't much correlation between religion and, say, language.

comment by fortyeridania · 2015-02-28T23:00:48.725Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

maybe you should call these "wars of religion," but they fit neither of your scenarios.

True.

Everyone knows that Israel is a settler conflict. If you think it is religious conflict, what is the religion of the Palestinians? The PLO was originally Christian and atheist. It would be odd to call it a religious conflict when the religion of one side changes (even just that of their leaders).

Good point.

the quite consistent pattern is that when I obtain information, I downgrade the religious hypothesis.

OK, I have noticed the same thing. But that hardly means the political motive is the main cause of all ostensibly religious conflicts (which is the claim to which I was originally responding).

Other ways in which religion could play a causal role in war include:

  • What if the doctrine of a religion is itself explicitly encouraging of violent approaches to conflict resolution?

  • What if the version of history promulgated by a religious community, perhaps encoded in its sacred text, casts the community as victims of perpetually untrustworthy outsiders?

  • What if the doctrine of a religion states that unbelievers cannot be expected to cooperate in Prisoners' Dilemma-type situations?

If the Greens believed in a religion that featured the above characteristics (or some of them), surely that would be evidence in favor of the religious nature of the war?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-27T21:13:22.263Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you simply not conceive of people having a religious motivation for war?

Simply not conceive of people just believing that others can believe that the Jihadists have that motivation, without a motivation based in racial hatred against the Jihadists?

You have modeled other people so that what they say they believe, and say that their motivations are, are not their beliefs and motivations, which you think you have accurately identified.

It's the role of propaganda to rally your side and the easiest way to do that is to make the enemy out to be evil.

But why would religious propaganda work on people whose true motivations are political?

comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-28T02:44:16.416Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you simply not conceive of people having a religious motivation for war?

I used to identify very strongly with right-wing Christianity. I can conceive of religious motivations for just about anything because I used to possess them myself. Name your favorite country and I can still crack open a Bible and make a theological case for starting a crusade. Deus vult!

The point I've been trying to make is that the causes that drive a nation to actually commit to a war are almost always the mundane political ones, while religion is used to drum up support and provide legitimacy to the cause.

You have modeled other people so that what they say they believe, and say that their motivations are, are not their beliefs and motivations, which you think you have accurately identified.

It may just be my own cynicism. When I see people giving all kinds of arguments about rights and morals in support of actions that coincidentally increase their personal wealth or power, I do question their motives. Quote Matthew 19:21 to a wealthy religious person sometime and the reaction will either be anger or an explanation of what Jesus really meant. By far the least common reaction is to actually renounce worldly possessions.

But those are the leaders. Followers of cults or extremist groups generally feel some cocktail of insecurity, depression, and maladjustment in their personal lives and come to like the sense of community offered. If they spend long enough in the group they will internalize the rhetoric and eventually escalate their beliefs to the point where they are willing to perpetrate violence in their name. Their scope, however, is often limited. You don't see any such organizations muster enough power to wage war unless there's enough animosity to swell the ranks or they can find a patron who uses their rhetoric for his own purposes.

But why would religious propaganda work on people whose true motivations are political?

Religion is strongly tied to community and culture. Even level-headed believers can get defensive when they feel their faith is attacked. It's an appeal to emotion and group dynamics that is common to every sort of demagoguery.

Religious propaganda is there to drum up support, but there already has to be some animosity towards the object in question. Let's take rock and roll. We've all heard the allegations that it's satanic, immoral, etc. The thing is, plenty of people were already averse to it because they didn't like it and objected to their children listening to "black" music. In a word, they wanted to hear about how bad it was. It's a running theme that disagreeable things are branded immoral or heretical. It reinforces prior perceptions and makes those things anathema to the group.

If you have a grievance against a group, rumors inevitably pop up. We like to believe them, even if they're ridiculous, because they reinforce our view that the group is evil. Start telling stories about their immoral sexual practices, child sacrifice, and devil worship and you can fan the religious flames. They're not just jerks, but abominations keen on uprooting everything your group holds dear. Game, set, match.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-28T07:03:00.415Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

May I make an assumption? I'm guessing you're American - it's that phrase about "right wing Christianity". The problem is that America doesn't have anything like real Christian fanaticism. It has some people who are upset about gay marriage and evolution and that's it.

Europeans, on the other hand, have had the real thing in living memory. We're not talking about "the Moral Majority" here, but the Legion of the Archangel Michael, or the Falange. This is the real thing, real fanaticism, and what you learn is that true faith, true belief does indeed inspire war.

This is what I mean when I say you cannot assume that other people think the way you do.

comment by hairyfigment · 2015-03-03T07:45:37.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're proving what I see as the point of the grandparent. This hasn't happened in America - unless you count the KKK, starting during the occupation of the South - because the actual causes were absent.

comment by Jiro · 2015-02-28T05:32:29.543Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And then you get Nazis in World War II, and everyone says "I remember all that World War I propaganda. All the bad stuff I hear about what the Nazis did has got to be more such propaganda, because no human being could really be sucn an abomination." Of course, the Nazis were.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T11:12:46.912Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The document asks two questions: (Q1) Why are we fighting and opposing you? (Q2) What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

As an answer towards (Q2) it calls on the rejection of immoral acts. It doesn't say that those immoral acts are the answer to (Q1). Why do you ignore the answers to Q1 that the document lists and instead try to pretend that the answers towards Q2 are answer to Q1?

The fact that you need to go through that exercise of distorting what the document says suggests that your argument is a bit forced.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-26T11:44:35.052Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry if this wasn't clear, but the whole document is called "Why We Are Fighting You". And I think that you have missed the following line at the end:

"If you fail to respond to all these conditions, then prepare for fight with the Islamic Nation"

"All these conditions". Not some. Not just Palestine or support for autocrats in the middle east. All these conditions, and in writing the first one as the submission to Islam, bin Laden is in tune with centuries of similar thinkers.

I was quoting from a book called "The Al Qaeda Reader", and I wasn't aware that that particular letter had been put up online. Sorry, if I'd know, I'd have included a link. Bin Laden elsewhere says "There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, thereby physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword - for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die."

And also:

"The West is hostile to us on account of Loyalty and Enmity, and [Offensive] Jihad.... What the West desires is that we abandon [the doctrine of] Loyalty and Enmity, and abandon [Offensive] Jihad. This is the very essence of their request and desire of us. Do the intellectuals, then, think it's actually possible for Muslims to abandon these two commandments simply to coexist with the West?" - Here he is attacking those Islamic intellectuals and others who seek coexistence. He's very clear - war to extend Islam is mandatory, unless and until the infidel converts or submits.

N.B.: When bin Laden curses the Arab dictators, he isn't cursing their tyranny, but their heresy. Elsewhere Zawahiri makes it clear, in so many words, that a ruler's lack of faith justifies rebellion, a ruler's tyranny does not. So when bin Laden rails against oppression in Palestine or the Mubarak dictatorship, he isn't in favour of freedom as you and I understand it, but in favor of absolute theocracy on the Taliban model.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T12:06:19.673Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The point of the exercise is understanding motivations for actions. I don't think that document shows that "moral deprivation" it's sufficient for Bin Laden to justify a violent attack in which civilians die.

Bin Laden would be happy if the whole world would turn to Islam but that's not how he justifies the use of force where civilians die, in that document.

Bin Laden elsewhere says "There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, thereby physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword - for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die."

In what context? Picking statements out of context allows you to do many things with another persons message. Sam Harris writes in his book that he thinks it's justified to kill people for what they believe. Specially Afghans.

Paying taxes to the government of a country isn't that strange from a Western perspective.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-26T13:08:21.116Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I never said bin Laden shows "moral deprivation", I said he had a morality that had nothing in common with that of the West. Again, in his list of demands, the first thing, the very first, is a call to submit to Islam, next to abolish usury, homosexuality etc., next to admit that the US is "a nation without principles and manner", and then, and only then, to stop supporting Israel in Palestine, or India's claim to Kashmir.

The jizya isn't just a tax, it is an integral part of the system of subordination and degradation of the dhimmi. The point is to make the dhimmi "feel subdued" - a parallel would be the institutions of segregation in America to prevent blacks from "getting uppity". You may want to examine the state of live is for infidels living under the Shariah.

The context is that Saudi scholars wrote an article saying "how can we coexist". Bin Laden answered that the idea that Muslims and Infidels could coexist as equals was flat out heretical, and contrary to Islamic teaching. Islam must rule, and who doesn't convert must either die, or - if he belongs to the "people of the book" - become a dhimmi.

Re:context, I can only suggest that you look at the Harris quote in context.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T13:48:20.920Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I never said bin Laden shows "moral deprivation"

Nor have I claimed that you said so. I claimed that you advocate that freedom of the west (or moral deprivation from Bin Ladin's perspective) is sufficient for Bin Ladin waging war against the US. That's what I understand "They attacked us because they hate our freedom" to mean.

The jizya isn't just a tax, it is an integral part of the system of subordination and degradation of the dhimmi. The point is to make the dhimmi "feel subdued" -

From your perspective the point is to make the dhimmi feel subdued, but I don't think you have shown that's the point in that particular passage.

Re:context, I can only suggest that you look at the Harris quote in context.

The point I was making is that you quote without providing context. It's quite easy to quote without naming sources in a way that allows you to make them appear worse than they are.

If we are playing that game, than Harris was advocating that it's okay for the US to kill Aghans outside of what's tradtionally allowed by interantional law while other people do think that international law is important.

comment by roystgnr · 2015-02-26T15:33:14.911Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

From your perspective the point is to make the dhimmi feel subdued

A half dozen different Koran translations list "subdued", "humbled", "brought low", "in a state of subjection", "belittled". I don't think that ThePrussian is inventing his own personal perspective here.

comment by ThePrussian · 2015-02-26T13:54:06.680Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, sorry, it was a little unclear and we were talking past each other there.

"From your perspective the point is to make the dhimmi feel subdued, but I don't think you have shown that's the point in that particular passage."

I could cite source after source of Islamic jihad scholars who explain that this is the purpose of the jizya and the surrounding institutions of degradation and subordination that make up dhimmitude - but this comment is, sadly, not large enough to hold it. So if I might suggest you take a look into the doctrines and history of dhimmitude and see how it was used.

Good discussion, but sadly I need to be travelling now, and hope to continue at a later date.

comment by Randaly · 2015-02-28T21:58:43.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As I understand it, the mainstream interpretation of that document is not that Bin Laden is attacking America for its freedom; rather, AQ's war aims were the following:

  • End US support of Israel (also, Russia and India)
  • End the presence of US troops in the Middle East (especially Israel)
  • End US support for Muslim apostate dictators

See, e.g., this wikipedia article, or The Looming Tower. Eliezer is correct that AQ's attacks were not caused by AQ's hted of American freedoms.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-27T21:44:50.600Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The underlying principle is simple as simple can be. You have your values, and I have mine, so that I may find your values repugnant, and you may find my values repugnant.

In the case of Al Qaeda, they've expressed their values, which I find repugnant, and would expect them to find my values repugnant in turn.

There's no mystery here. You have a wonderfully clear exposition of what is going on in the particular case of Al Qaeda vs. western values, but don't you find it odd that it's necessary to have this discussion?

It's like people are just spinning around in words.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-26T10:56:37.952Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Reading the Al Qaeda document released after the attacks called Why We Are Fighting You you find the following:

Source?

comment by pinyaka · 2015-02-26T16:54:06.545Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It took less time to highlight "Why We Are Fighting You" and search on Google than it took for you to ask for a source. Literally it took three clicks.

Full text of bin Laden's "letter to America"

comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-27T16:48:40.322Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting topic! I'm a huge fan of "out of the box" thinking. But I prefer to apply "out of the box" thinking to the phrase itself by referring to this type of thinking as epiphytic thinking.

The phrase "epiphytic thinking" helps promote/advertise epiphytes. Did you know that the orchid family is the largest plant family? Around 10% of all plants are orchids.... and most orchids are epiphytes.

Epiphytes can help sequester as much carbon as trees do. They also help create a gazillion different niches which has has helped increase animal speciation/biodiversity.

Epiphytes can certainly help save the world. What are boxes good for? Helping you pretend that you're a robot?

Therefore...

epiphytic thinking > "out of the box" thinking

I'll apply some epiphytic thinking to your topic.

Let's say that we have a time machine and we travel back to a hundred years before people discovered that the earth was round. Our mission, which we've chosen to accept, is to try and persuade people that the earth is actually round!

It stands to reason that no two people are going to be equally willing to hear us out. In this sense... perhaps we can say that there's a continuum that ranges from the most close-minded person all the way to the most open-minded person. To help quantify this continuum we'll use a scale from 0 to 10.

The question is...if somebody is a 10 on this scale... does this necessarily mean that they'll believe us that the world is actually round? Just because they'll be really willing to listen to our very different perspective on the shape of the world... does this mean that they'll take our word for it? Not really... because this would imply that our open-mindedness scale was the same thing as a gullibility scale.

So clearly it would help to bring some evidence with us on our mission. Stronger evidence is always better than weaker evidence but let's just say that our evidence is good.

Imagine if we share our good evidence with 100 people who are all a 10 on the open-mindedness scale. What percentage of them are going to change their beliefs accordingly? Of course we can't really know the real answer... but it doesn't seem very likely that 100% of them would exchange their belief in a flat world for a belief in a round world.

From our perspective, we would know that anybody who didn't change their belief accordingly was making a mistake. Why did they make the mistake though? Was it a lack of intelligence? Lack of rationality? Lack of critical thinking skills? Was there some sort of bias involved? Or stubbornness?

Just like no two people are equally open-minded... I don't think that any two people are equally, for lack of a better term... "evidence-minded". Is there a better term? "Rationality" seems close but it doesn't seem quite right to refer to somebody as "irrational" just because our good evidence didn't persuade them that their belief in a flat world was wrong.

What's the point here? Well... at one point everybody was really wrong about the shape of the world. So perhaps it's a pretty good idea for us to fully embrace the possibility that we're all really wrong about the shape of... say... the best government. Because if it's really difficult to appreciate the fact that you might be wrong... then it's going to be really difficult for you to accept any good evidence that proves that you are wrong. Therefore, anybody who's a 10 on the evidence-minded scale will probably really embrace fallibilism.

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-02-26T19:40:15.263Z · score: -15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

to reject the immoral acts of fornication

This raises something I've wondered about: These injunctions from the Abrahamic religions assume that young men have opportunities for "fornication" in the first place. What if the young women in your life do all of the rejecting to keep this from happening?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-02-28T15:40:50.428Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What does this have to do with the original point?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-26T20:13:58.433Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Then you fail natural selection with all the usual consequences X-/