Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015

post by elharo · 2015-10-03T13:23:31.855Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 272 comments

Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.

272 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-03T18:45:05.137Z · score: 28 (28 votes) · LW · GW

The history of the shuttle is a typical example of a generic problem that occurs frequently in the development of science and technology, the problem of premature choice. Premature choice means betting all your money on one horse before you have found out whether she is lame. Politicians and administrators responsible for large project are often obsessed with avoiding waste. To avoid waste they find it reasonable to choose one design as soon as possible and shut down the support of alternatives. ... The evolution of science and technology is a Darwinian process of the survival of the fittest. In science and technology, as in biological evolution, waste is the secret of efficiency. Without waste you cannot find out which horse is the fittest. This is a hard lesson for politicians and administrators to learn.

Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia

comment by hawkice · 2015-11-15T11:53:12.259Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Odd that Freeman Dyson thinks politicians and administrators are particularly difficult to persuade here. This is the whole point of why capitalism works better than having clever people run a command economy. You can be clever enough to notice you need roads and infrastructure, but no one is clever enough to predict what technologies will run the future (truly, this principle applies to almost every reasonably complex thing, not just technology -- the finance angle in particular is the standard phrasing, hence me bringing up capitalism).

comment by Gram_Stone · 2015-11-15T13:17:55.182Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Odd that Freeman Dyson thinks politicians and administrators are particularly difficult to persuade here. This is the whole point of why capitalism works better than having clever people run a command economy.

How many American politicians and administrators do you think were actually 'persuaded' into believing that capitalism works, in the sense that you mean to use the word? It's probably more like they were born into it.

You can be clever enough to notice you need roads and infrastructure, but no one is clever enough to predict what technologies will run the future (truly, this principle applies to almost every reasonably complex thing, not just technology -- the finance angle in particular is the standard phrasing, hence me bringing up capitalism).

What the Shuttle and public infrastructure have in common is that they're projects suited to the public sector, (the Shuttle was, at least, in the 1970s-80s), as opposed to the private sector. The Shuttle was so risky and costly in the late 70s that only a national government could consider trying it. This is one niche for the public sector in a mixed economy that is largely capitalist: projects that require lots of capital and incur lots of risk. But even if it's ultimately a public project and not a product or service in a market, we can incorporate some of the benefits of market competition with the suggestions that Dyson offers. The point is that if we allow competition, then we don't need to be as clever to predict what technologies will run the future, and it seems silly that the politicians and administrators would praise capitalism and limit their projects in this way.

But it shouldn't seem that silly to us, because we know that the capitalist dogma never told them that they should apply competitive principles in public projects, and because they're tasked with doing what other people want even though they don't in their heart of hearts want to do what other people want.

comment by Gram_Stone · 2015-11-15T12:53:08.704Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Odd that Freeman Dyson thinks politicians and administrators are particularly difficult to persuade here. This is the whole point of why capitalism works better than having clever people run a command economy.

How many American politicians and administrators do you think actually had to be 'persuaded' that capitalism works? It's probably more like they were born into it.

>

comment by dspeyer · 2015-10-04T19:57:04.724Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

[T]he kind of mirage that came from modern data-dredging capabilities: if you watch trillions of things, you will often see one-in-a-million coincidences.

-- Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-20T17:51:20.606Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

'Twas grief enough to think mankind

All hollow servile insincere -

But worse to trust to my own mind

And find the same corruption there

  • Emily Bronte
comment by 27chaos · 2015-10-22T03:55:18.198Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The world of to-day attaches a large importance to mental independence, or thinking for oneself; yet the manner in which these things are cultivated is very partial. In some matters we are, perhaps too independent (for we need to think socially as well as to act socially); but in other matters we are not independent enough; we are hardly independent at all. For we always interpret mental independence as being independence of old things. But if the mind is to stand in a real loneliness and liberty, and judge mere time and mere circumstances, and all the wasting things of this world, if the mind is really a strong and emancipated judge of things unbribed and unbrowbeaten, it must assert its superiority, not merely to old things, but to new things.

It must forsee the old age of things still in a strenuous infancy. It must stand by the tombstone of the babe unborn. It must treat the twentieth century as it treats the twelfth, as something which by its own nature has already had an end. A free man must not only be free from the past; a free man must be free from the future. He must be ready to face the rising and increasing thing, and to judge it by immortal tests. It is a very poor mark of courage, in comparison, that we are ready to strike at ancient wrongs. Our courage shall be tested by whether we are ready to strike at youthful and full-blooded wrongs; wrongs that have all their life before them, wrongs that are as sanguine as the sunrise, and as fresh as the flowers.

G.K. Chesterton, http://platitudesundone.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-world-of-to-day-attaches-large.html

comment by elharo · 2015-10-29T16:01:26.375Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Your tactics are self-centered. You have forgotten that you are not the only player on the board, that inherent talent speaks for no more than experience, and that others around you seek to expand their authority and constrain yours. Your error is fundamental to the human psyche: you have allowed yourself to believe that others are mechanisms, static and solvable, whereas you are an agent.

Purity Cartone, in The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, p. 180

comment by masters02 · 2015-10-11T08:29:25.455Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"I’ve found that’s all you have to do to get ahead in life, be non-idiotic and live a long time. It’s harder to be non-idiotic than most people think." - Charlie Munger

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-07T21:32:32.637Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

If your only tool is deconstruction the whole world looks like narrative.

Sketch of Person

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-01T04:07:00.485Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I never stopped to question whether my deconstruction adn narrative making was neccersary or not.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-04T03:10:21.873Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW · GW

As usual, if you reverse the dependent and independent variables, the resulting headline is 100% intuitive.

Joel Grus

comment by AABoyles · 2015-10-21T19:20:58.410Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody wants to hear that you will try your best. It is the wrong thing to say. It is like saying "I probably won't hit you with a shovel." Suddenly everyone is afraid you will do the opposite.

--Lemony Snicket, All the Wrong Questions

comment by signal · 2015-11-18T18:46:46.589Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Hollywood version of that is quite popular, sounds less rational though.

Losers always whine about their best, winners go home and f* the prom queen. --Sean Connery, The Rock

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-19T16:42:37.857Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The definition of rationality is "winning", is it not?

X-D

comment by FairWitness · 2015-10-28T02:54:27.200Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"When you are looking for something beautiful and satisfying, it's much harder to find the ugly truth." Penn Jillette, in his book "Oh, God, No" , talking about showing how magic tricks are done.

comment by satt · 2015-10-29T03:22:43.572Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

the great tragedy of Science–the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact

— T. H. Huxley, "Biogenesis and Abiogenesis"

(I thought someone might've posted this under Rationality Quotes before, but Google just finds paraphrases in other threads.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-21T05:38:12.126Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

“All the things I have done in my life that I am proud of are all things on the threshold of which I felt immense fear.” - Washington here

comment by ike · 2015-10-20T00:36:58.595Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So long as we allow the terms of the debate to be shaped by what is politically possible, we’ll only ever be taking tiny steps and calling them major.

Mychal Denzel Smith

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-21T13:15:39.555Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

True, of course the article you linked to, by reiterating the currently acceptable dogmas as if they were objective truths, goes a long way towards making them problem worse.

comment by ike · 2015-10-21T13:44:59.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying they got the object level question wrong, or that abolition is politically possible right now?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-22T04:28:40.187Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

They got the object level way wrong, abolition of prisons is a very very stupid idea.

Let's look at the article itself to see some of its most grievous flaws:

For example, the article admits that an "explosion in the incarcerated population [] has occurred over the past 40 years". However, it fails to note that that implies that something must have occurred over the last 40 years that caused this explosion and thus the solution should involve figuring out what changes have lead to this explosion and undoing them. The article instead going in the direction we have been going only more so.

Later the article quotes Tony Papa of Drug Policy Alliance, and says he spend 12 years serving an "unjust sentence", but fails to specify in what way the sentence was "unjust". Was he wrongly convicted, if so the problem is that and not the existence of minimum sentences. However, one gets the impression from the authors lack of interest in the question (or for that matter in what crime Tony Papa was incarcerated for) that the use of the word "unjust" is BS in Frankfurt's sense.

comment by ike · 2015-10-22T05:33:42.064Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They got the object level way wrong

So your above comment considers abolition a "currently acceptable dogma"? That doesn't seem true, it's still well out of the Overton Window.

The article isn't doing analysis as much as advocacy, but it isn't really trying to convince. Its purpose seems to be to motivate people already convinced to actually do something, or to spread awareness of a position (again, without arguing for it). Both are valid, and complaining about it not being rigorous enough seems to be missing the point.

However, it fails to note that that implies that something must have occurred over the last 40 years that caused this explosion and thus the solution should involve figuring out what changes have lead to this explosion and undoing them.

The obvious answer is "drug laws and mandatory sentences", and the article does propose to do away with them.

Also, the specific proposal is

 Abolition would end the death penalty and life sentences, and push the maximum number of years that can be served for any offense down to ten years, at most.

which is (as the article fails to mention but should have) similar to some European countries, so can't be too terrible.

Later the article quotes Tony Papa of Drug Policy Alliance, and says he spend 12 years serving an "unjust sentence", but fails to specify in what way the sentence was "unjust". Was he wrongly convicted, if so the problem is that and not the existence of minimum sentences. However, one gets the impression from the authors lack of interest in the question (or for that matter in what crime Tony Papa was incarcerated for) that the use of the word "unjust" is BS in Frankfurt's sense.

Not mentioning something doesn't mean lack of interest. He's mentioned as being from the Drug Policy Alliance, and sure enough https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Papa

15 to Life, published in 2004, is an autobiographical account of Papa's experience with the New York criminal justice system and anti-narcotics laws under which he was sentenced to fifteen years to life imprisonment for a first time drug offense.

The unjustness is clearly the belief that drug laws are unjust, which is also something the article takes for granted and assumes the reader does as well.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-22T15:32:57.608Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

to spread awareness of a position (again, without arguing for it)

Well, you have to at least formulate that position sensibly. From a glance at the article, it seems to like the idea of the abolition of prisons. The immediate question that comes to mind is "and replace them with what?" Without even a hint of an answer, it's not much of a position.

Long-term prisons are a relatively recent idea, but I'm not sure going to pre-prison practices would be all that great since they tended to be centered on "oh, just hang him".

comment by ike · 2015-10-22T18:24:30.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The article claims that

  1. Having prisons is undesirable
  2. This is not feasible right now
  3. Here's this less radical proposal (no death sentence plus 10 year max), which is feasible
  4. Thinking the more radical position might be ideal (or believing in 1) will help one come to conclusions such as those in 3, which are steps in the right direction

"10 years max" is a position. The fact that the author presumably believes more (it's not that clear what they do believe, which is a weakness) doesn't make what they do directly advocate "not a position".

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-22T19:03:56.965Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Recall your original quote. It strongly hints that we should be interested in "real solutions" even if they are not politically feasible. So in the linked article I expect to find a politically infeasible "real solution". And it's there -- the author repeatedly mentions abolition of prisons. I have to assume that it's intended to be that infeasible thing which we ought to want regardless.

comment by ike · 2015-10-22T22:13:49.299Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear from the article whether they would get rid of prisons tomorrow if it were politically possible. They may believe that an ideal world would not have prisons but getting rid of them overnight would be bad.

Not having a plan for getting rid of prisons or what to do instead isn't a problem, because they aren't advocating for that.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-23T12:16:35.427Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that the author presumably believes more (it's not that clear what they do believe, which is a weakness) doesn't make what they do directly advocate "not a position".

In that case what does he mean by "Having prisons is undesirable"?

comment by ike · 2015-10-24T18:34:04.924Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's possible that they would agree that the immediate outcome of abolishing prisons would be bad (in the same way that the immediate outcome of abolishing slavery hurt some people) and they might even agree that they shouldn't be abolished all at once. It's not clear that they wouldn't agree, anyway.

The actual statement just means that a utopia wouldn't have prisons.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-28T10:22:03.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The actual statement just means that a utopia wouldn't have prisons.

Motte and Bailey? So there no problem with having prisons in today's day and age because our society is very far from utopia anyway?

comment by ike · 2015-10-28T11:25:22.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear they would disagree with that. But if we think prisons are suboptimal, we're more likely to support measures that reduce them. I think this is what is meant by

Abolition makes sense, though, only if we see prisons as a site of injustice in and of themselves.

and

In abolishing prison, we force ourselves to answer the difficult question: How do we provide safety and security for all people?

and

An abolitionist framework makes us consider not only reducing mandatory minimums but eliminating them altogether. An abolitionist framework would call for us to decriminalize possession and sale of drugs. Abolition would end the death penalty and life sentences, and push the maximum number of years that can be served for any offense down to ten years, at most.

With these reforms in place, we as a society would have a huge incentive to rehabilitate those in prison, and we would ensure the incarcerated are capable of socialization when they are released. And without being able to depend on prison as a site of retribution, we would have to find new ways to address things like gender-based violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence. And we could then start making the kinds of investments in alleviating poverty that Gottschalk calls for.

But we can’t do that so long as prison exists as a fail-safe.

In other words, abolishing or severely reducing prisons would force us to come up with other ways to ensure safety, and the author can't imagine one worse than prisons.

For what it's worth, the same author wrote https://www.thenation.com/article/abolish-police-instead-lets-have-full-social-economic-and-political-equality/.,

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-28T14:30:51.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

and the author can't imagine one worse than prisons

Do you think the author is suffering from a severe lack of imagination or he is lying through his teeth?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-28T13:54:46.515Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But if we think prisons are suboptimal, we're more likely to support measures that reduce them.

Suboptimal relative to what. I would prefer replacing them with mote corporal and capital punishment, but somehow I doubt that's what you want. Judging by what you latter wrote, you seem to prefer "replacements" that not only won't help with the problem prisons are designed to solve but create their own problems.

In abolishing prison, we force ourselves to answer the difficult question: How do we provide safety and security for all people?

Yes, it's amazing how any question can be made "difficult" by refusing the answer for no good reason.

In other words, abolishing or severely reducing prisons would force us to come up with other ways to ensure safety, and the author can't imagine one worse than prisons.

See my comment above on corporal punishment. If you abolish not just prisons but all punishment for crimes, then people start taking the law into their own hands. If the law won't punish someone for committing crimes against me, it won't punish me for retaliating.

For what it's worth, the same author wrote https://www.thenation.com/article/abolish-police-instead-lets-have-full-social-economic-and-political-equality/.,

If the title of the article is at all indicative of its contents, the author is an even bigger moron then I thought. Hint: the communists tried instituting full economic equality, didn't turn out so well.

Edit: reading the article it is about as stupid as I expected. For example, the author says:

 However, more frightening than [the shooting itself] is the fact that nearly every night since the shooting there has either been a police car, parked across the street with its lights flashing, or two cops posted outside my building, right at the steps, standing guard.

He never gives a rational reason why this is more frightening, the closest he comes is listing some well publicized incidents of cops shooting blacks (many of which were justified by the actions of the black in question). However, notice that the original shooting occurred in his apartment complex, whereas the police shooting were reported by the media from all over the country. This suggests that the former are much more common and the author is false alieving otherwise due to a media distortion filter.

I was going to go over the rest of the article this way, but now that I think about it, a good exercise for you to improve your rationality would be to go over the rest of this article looking for the remaining fallacies, biases, and idiocies. (It's not a particularly hard exercise.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-28T13:39:02.481Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An abolitionist framework makes us consider not only reducing mandatory minimums but eliminating them altogether. An abolitionist framework would call for us to decriminalize possession and sale of drugs.

It's interesting that he calls for decriminalization and not for legalisation. Very odd for someone who calls for not focusing on what's politically possible.

In other words, abolishing or severely reducing prisons would force us to come up with other ways to ensure safety, and the author can't imagine one worse than prisons.

The Sharia calls for cutting off hands of thieves instead of putting them in prison. Is the author clueless, doesn't know that and lack imagination or is he in favor of cutting of hands because it's less bad than putting people in prison?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-28T13:57:21.148Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Welling judging from the other article by the same author ike linked to, he is either a total idiot or at least "plays one on TV".

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-23T14:53:27.558Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

He means that he is progressive and compassionate and forward-thinking and stands up to the man and stuff.

comment by AlexanderRM · 2015-12-02T20:34:15.796Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The way to signal LW ingroupness would be to say "signaling progressiveness", but that does cover it fairly well. I suspect the logic is roughly that our current prison system (imprisoning people for 12 years for a 1st time drug offense) is bad in the direction of imprisoning far too many people, so opposing our current prison system is good, so opposing the current prison system more is even better, and the most you can oppose the prison system is to support abolishing all prisons.

(actually there might be something of an argument to be made that in order to fight a policy way too far to one side of good policy, it can be useful in some cases to overcompensate and bring a policy too far to the other side into the discussion, although I think in a politically polarized environment like the US that's bad overall- the overwhelming majority people who hear such an argument will be people who were already convinced of a decent policy and will be sent too far to one side by it, while the people who actually would have their beliefs brought closer to a good policy by hearing the counter-narrative either won't hear it, or will use it to strawman the opposition.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-02T20:54:07.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From comments at Marginal Revolution: "People will only tolerate so much bad policy before they start demanding bad counter-policy".

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-23T12:15:05.019Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Long-term prisons are a relatively recent idea, but I'm not sure going to pre-prison practices would be all that great since they tended to be centered on "oh, just hang him".

I'd be for it, or for corporal punishment more generally. However, somehow I doubt that's what either ike or Mychal Denzel Smith have in mind.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-10-22T20:21:46.445Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"which is (as the article fails to mention but should have) similar to some European countries, so can't be too terrible."

Judging from Wikipedia (which of course is subject to correction), Norway has an ordinary 21 year maximum, but it can be increased indefinitely if they think the person is a danger to society. Some other countries, but not very many, have a 25 year maximum. Most other countries that have a maximum have 30-50 years.

None of these, not even 25 years, is reasonably similar to a 10 year maximum.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-28T10:32:58.073Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious answer is "drug laws and mandatory sentences", and the article does propose to do away with them.

Moving towards drug legalistation works a lot better since it's proponents focus on what's politically possible with medical marijuana legislation then focusing on the maximum position of abolishing all prisons.

comment by ike · 2015-10-28T11:27:03.772Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Often advocates have a hard time with being pragmatic. The original quote is saying you shouldn't be too pragmatic, but the opposite lesson is true as well.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-28T14:27:48.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Often advocates have a hard time with being pragmatic.

I think, translated into a normal language, this means "Have no clue what they are talking about". An alternative translation is "Should not be allowed withing six feet of sharp objects".

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-28T10:24:18.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

which is (as the article fails to mention but should have) similar to some European countries, so can't be too terrible.

Which European countries do you believe to have a maximum of ten years?

comment by ike · 2015-10-28T11:13:37.322Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I said similar, not identical.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-22T08:18:19.470Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Its purpose seems to be to motivate people already convinced to actually do something,

In other words to motivate idiots to act on their stupidity.

or to spread awareness of a position (again, without arguing for it).

What exactly is "spread awareness" supposed to mean? It seems to mean "convince people using dark arts".

The obvious answer is "drug laws and mandatory sentences", and the article does propose to do away with them.

Drug laws have been around a lot longer than 40 years. As for mandatory sentences, they were introduced because crime was reaching unacceptable levels. So I don't think repealing them is a good idea without addressing the issue that made them necessary.

which is (as the article fails to mention but should have) similar to some European countries

The same European countries that have given up enforcing any sense of order in large parts of their major cities.

By the way, if you want to deal with some of the actual politically untouchable issues that make the problem unsolvable, you can start by looking at the correlation between race and violent crime.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-28T10:41:11.350Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As for mandatory sentences, they were introduced because crime was reaching unacceptable levels. So I don't think repealing them is a good idea without addressing the issue that made them necessary.

The 60's did have an increase in crime but crime rates are lower than before that time.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2015-10-22T19:19:16.346Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The same European countries that have given up enforcing any sense of order in large parts of their major cities.

Such as?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-22T21:19:37.884Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia

Some areas by the Eurotunnel in Calais, France come to mind, for example. Sweden seems to have problems, too.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-10-23T20:20:58.231Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The sourcing there is weak and questionable at best. That people assert that areas are "no-go" is pretty different than there being a genuine lack of any sense of order, and that's even before one looks at the issue of whether this is any different from some areas simply being higher in crime than others.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-26T14:44:34.710Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am not making claims about "any sense of order", but going by what I read European police lost control of some chunks of its territory.

Take Calais. Here is a sympathetic account which is actually a kinda-detective story: a body in a wetsuit washes up on Norway's shore and people are trying to figure out who-what-why. The clues lead to an immigrant camp in Calais and, well, it's pretty clear that the French state lost control there.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2015-10-30T11:21:12.601Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's a difference between losing control and "giv[ing] up enforcing any sense of order"

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-11-06T19:21:50.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am not making claims about "any sense of order", but going by what I read European police lost control of some chunks of its territory.

In this context that's what relevant, since VoiceOfRa talked about "European countries that have given up enforcing any sense of order in large parts of their major cities." If you aren't talking about that then how is it a relevant response?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-06T19:48:29.269Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In the context of "given up enforcing".

comment by ike · 2015-10-22T12:35:11.040Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Drug laws have been around a lot longer than 40 years

The enforcement and penalties were rewritten in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_Substances_Act. I'm not sure what your point is here.

In other words to motivate idiots to act on their stupidity.

Couldn't you criticize all advocacy on the same basis?

Spread awareness mean "make more people aware that position X exists and has advocates, even if they don't agree".

Re mandatory sentences, the ones for drug crimes were enacted because drugs crimes were increasing? Then if you concede that drug laws are wrong, those sentences shouldn't happen either.

The same European countries that have given up enforcing any sense of order in large parts of their major cities.

Which country are you talking about? Norway has a maximum, and does better than the US. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Norway/United-States/Crime

I haven't studied this in depth, but where's the argument that the US's prison system has led to better outcomes?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-24T23:41:31.477Z · score: 5 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be 'cured' against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

C.S. Lewis, "God in the Dock"

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-10-31T15:08:11.512Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How does Lewis, a conservative Christian, defend God or himself against this charge?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-12T06:18:25.453Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

God gave humans free will. Yes, He commands people to act morally, but He doesn't compel people to do so.

comment by JDR · 2015-11-12T12:29:51.308Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

He doesn't compel people to do so.

The threat of severe punishment if one goes against the commands seems pretty similar to compulsion to me. If I commanded you to do something on pain of being thrown in an eternal pit of snakes, you could reasonably say I was forcing you to do it.

I would also be interested to know how C.S. Lewis separated righteous divine intervention from omnipotent busybodiness if anyone has the knowledge and a few minutes to save me from the terrible trials of actually looking up this myself!

comment by gjm · 2015-11-12T15:51:16.200Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not only is it "pretty similar to compulsion"; it's the exact sort of compulsion that we complain of in human tyrants. The problem with Hitler or Stalin or whoever isn't that they somehow make their citizens literally unable to choose for themselves; it's that they hit them with terrible punishments when they choose the "wrong" way.

The kind of tyranny God allegedly refrains from exercising is precisely the kind that no human tyrant has ever had the option of exercising.

(Though that might change, and plenty of people have worried about the possibility -- see e.g. Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World. For that matter, IIRC the paragraph quoted above is in the context of Lewis worrying about human tyrannies with the ability to mess with their subjects' minds.)

I think Lewis's actual response would not be the one VoiceOfRa gives; rather, I think he would say that God doesn't really send people to hell, he merely permits them to send themselves there, and that the awfulness of hell is not a matter of devils with pitchforks or lakes of molten sulphur but of the inhabitants of hell -- who have selected themselves by their refusal to align themselves with God who is the source of all goodness -- living out the freedom-from-God on which they have insisted.

I should add that I think that's also a pretty hopeless response, though less obviously hopeless (to me) than the one VoiceOfRa suggests. (But also that it's some time since I read much Lewis and my mental model of him may be less than perfectly accurate; perhaps he could give a better account of his position than I have sketched above.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-11-12T16:06:15.240Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with Hitler or Stalin or whoever isn't that they somehow make their citizens literally unable to choose for themselves; it's that they hit them with terrible punishments when they choose the "wrong" way.

Stalin didn't only punish people who choose the wrong way but also because he feared that they might be against him. Hitler did horrible things to jewish people and other groups because of their identity and not because an individual did something wrong.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-12T23:36:14.355Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. And Hitler started a world war, and Stalin suppressed varieties of artistic expression that he didn't like, and both of them did plenty of other awful things. I wasn't purporting to give a complete account of all the awfulness of Hitler or Stalin or any other tyrant. I was commenting on one particular aspect of human tyranny, the one already being compared against divine tyranny in this discussion: their tendency to try to control subjects' behaviour by coercion.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T15:20:52.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

C.S. Lewis gives his actual response in "The Great Divorce", and it is much as you say. In fact, he asserts that people in hell do not ever want to leave it, so God is just giving them what they want.

As you say, this may ultimately not make a lot of sense, but at least he is not saying that God is being tyrannical.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T15:59:42.529Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that "The Great Divorce" is intended to tell us Lewis's actual opinions about hell and how one gets and/or stays there. Isn't he at pains, in his interchange with George MacDonald at the end, to insist that it's mere speculation and not intended to be any kind of statement of doctrine?

(It's years since I read it, so I may well be wrong; in particular, I'm not more than 80% confident that what he says there can't be interpreted as "I expect things actually are somewhat like this, but it's important for the reader to understand that I could well be wrong about that".)

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T17:11:29.946Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think that's right, although I think he would be much more certain that God is not a tyrant, and would be proposing this as one possible explanation.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-10-31T16:31:29.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt Lewis would be in favor of pestering people to convert, and it is quite certain that God does not pester anyone.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-10-31T17:09:43.573Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lewis spent much of his life writing books that were supposed to help people persuade other people to convert, and it is quite certain that nearly all of the pestering Lewis was familiar with was done in the name of his own God. I find it unlikely that, if an army of Lewis clones were made rulers of England, they would allow gay marriage, prostitution, and polygamy.

The name of the book is God in the Dock because it is about accusations against God--and this is most properly an accusation against the Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) God. It would be hilariously ironic if Lewis were not using it that way.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T09:02:48.537Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC, "God in the Dock" is the title of just one of the essays in the book, and many (most? all?) of the others aren't particularly about "accusations against God". The quotation in this thread, I think, comes from one of the ones that isn't.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T12:09:55.906Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The quotation is from "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment", which can be found by itself online.

BTW, anyone searching out the book should beware that there are two versions, one a subset of the other and not including this essay. The shorter volume is "God in the Dock: Essays on Theology", which is the first section of the longer, "God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics", also published under the title "Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics".

The essay called "God in the Dock" actually has little connection with its title. It is about the difficulties he found presenting the Christian faith to modern (i.e. of 1948) unbelievers of the working classes, based on his experiences in teaching soldiers in the R.A.F. These difficulties are mainly about wide differences in cultural and intellectual background.

The closing sentences of the essay may have wider application:

The simple, emotional appeal ("Come to Jesus") is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T12:09:02.448Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The quotation is from "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment", which can be found by itself online.

BTW, anyone searching out the book should beware that there are two versions, one a subset of the other and not including this essay. The shorter volume is "God in the Dock: Essays on Theology", which is the first section of the latter, "God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics", also published under the title "Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics".

The essay called "God in the Dock" actually has little connection with its title. It is about the difficulties he found presenting the Christian faith to modern (i.e. of 1948) unbelievers of the working classes, based on his experiences in teaching soldiers in the R.A.F. These difficulties are mainly about wide differences in cultural and intellectual background.

The closing sentences of the essay may have wider application:

The simple, emotional appeal ("Come to Jesus") is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-03T13:10:02.191Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lewis spent much of his life writing books that were supposed to help people persuade other people to convert,

How does that constitute the tyranny which he described?

I find it unlikely that, if an army of Lewis clones were made rulers of England

Speculations on how Lewis might be corrupted by such power are not useful. What would happen if an army of Phil Goetz clones were made rulers of the US?

ETA: One might also compare and contrast the writings of Lewis (who did not become a tyrant), with, say, Mein Kampf (written by someone who did).

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-04T19:35:56.744Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Speculations on how Lewis might be corrupted by such power are not useful.

Speculation about "an army of Lewis clones" is not (direct) speculation about Lewis becoming a tyrant, but about Lewis honestly implementing his principles. His principles say that some things we consider good are bad and need to be enforced (unless you actually do think Lewis would permit gay marriage and polygamy if he ran the country).

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-11T10:07:54.135Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Speculation about "an army of Lewis clones" is not (direct) speculation about Lewis becoming a tyrant, but about Lewis honestly implementing his principles. His principles say that some things we consider good are bad and need to be enforced

When there we have it. To you, and to Phil Goetz, a moral belief implies an imperative to make everyone conform to it, had one only the power to do so. The implication is so unconscious and axiomatic to you, that when you and he read Lewis saying how he thinks people should live (and he would indeed be against gay marriage, prostitution, and polygamy), you immediately imagine him imposing it on everyone, and pointing to the unwelcome result as a refutation of Lewis. Of course, the result is only unwelcome to you and Phil because you do not agree with Lewis on how people should live. But then, how will an army of Jiro clones rule, or Phil Goetz clones?

The briefest acquaintance with Lewis' writing, including the quote in question, would indicate that this is antithetical to both his written views and his life. He was an Oxford don, who once refused an honour in order not to be drawn into politics. But if you do not see a gap between "this is how people should live" and "people should be compelled to live so" then you will not only fail to make any sense of Lewis, you should on no account be allowed such power over anyone.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-11T16:15:11.253Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's true that Lewis separated religious and secular law, but presumably Lewis would want laws against, for instance, murder. It's hard to consistently believe that we should have laws against harmful things, have a skewed idea of what constitutes "harmful things", and not want laws against them.

One possible response is that the harmful things only harm oneself, but Lewis believed that such things harm society, not just oneself. Another possible response is that as a practical matter, it would be a bad idea to ban such things, but that only lasts as long as it's practical--such principles would not lead to the conclusion "we should not ban gay marriage" but rather "we should only ban gay marriage if we can get away with it".

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-11T16:52:45.764Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to consistently believe that we should have laws against harmful things, have a skewed

fnord

idea of what constitutes "harmful things", and not want laws against them.

There it is again. You think it inconsistent to think a thing harmful, and let people do it. Would you ban alcohol?

C.S. Lewis wrote a great deal about how he thought people should live, and why, yet did not lift a finger to compel them. In this, he follows the example of He who Lewis believed the Father of us all. You do not understand this. Well, I do not pretend to write better than Lewis.

BTW, to talk of "banning" gay marriage is tendentious, presupposing that it is and always has been a thing that can only fail of existence by being "banned". What has actually happened in recent years is that there was no such thing recognised by church, state, or anyone, that a demand for social recognition of same-sex unions has developed, and that in various places, secular marriage has been so extended.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-11T18:28:06.386Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You think it inconsistent to think a thing harmful, and let people do it. Would you ban alcohol?

I think it's inconsistent to think a thing harmful, and let people do it anyway, given that

1) you don't consider personal freedom good in itself or you don't think the gain to personal freedom balances out the harm, and 2) it's practical to ban it

I wouldn't ban alcohol, because of points 1 and 2. Note that if by "harmful" you mean "harmful, in the net" #1 is equivalent to saying that alcohol isn't harmful.

I am skeptical that Lewis believed #1. I find it hard to think that Lewis believed that divorce is harmful by itself but has enough good effects to more than balance out the harm.

And refusing to ban things based solely on #2 would mean only conditionally refusing to ban them. If you don't want to ban divorce based on #2 and society changed so that you could ban divorces without nasty side effects, you should then ban it.

Lewis actually said he didn't want to ban divorce, but his rationale could equally apply to banning murder--it's incoherent.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-12T16:29:49.270Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I understand your argument about #1. Surely there's a difference between thinking

  • that X is harmful on net, but that banning X would also be harmful because personal freedom is good, and that the latter outweighs the former

and thinking

  • that X is not harmful on net.

For instance, suppose someone believes the following things:

  • Drinking alcoholic drinks is generally harmful overall to the people who do it.
  • The fact that consumption of alcohol is widespread in our society is, on balance, harmful to our society.
  • Banning the consumption of alcohol would make the world a worse place, not because the effects of reduced alcohol consumption would overall be bad but because
    • compulsion is bad, even when the thing you're compelling is itself good, and
    • the intrusion into people's lives required for enforcement would also be harmful, and
    • some likely consequences of prohibition (black markets etc.) would also be harmful, and
    • the precedent might lead to more prohibitions that would be harmful on balance in similar ways.

That appears to me to be a coherent position; someone whose position it is will disapprove both of drinking alcohol and of prohibiting it. And it seems to me that there's no particular impossibility in supposing that Lewis held a position like this regarding same-sex sex and divorce, or that he would have held a similar position on same-sex marriage if the question had come up and he'd taken it seriously.

(I don't hold such a position regarding alcohol consumption, same-sex sex, same-sex marriage, or divorce, but I think I do regarding lying for small-scale personal gain and callous indifference to the troubles of one's neighbours.)

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-12T21:14:09.722Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Harmful on net" means "after you balance the harm against the good, it is harmful".

That appears to me to be a coherent position; someone whose position it is will disapprove both of drinking alcohol and of prohibiting it.

The first part of that doesn't work by itself, since Lewis believes in compulsion for, for instance, anti-murder laws.

And the rest of it means that if you became convinced that the side effects of prohibition weren't as bad as you originally believed, you would then support prohibition. The question then becomes "would Lewis think there are really bad side effects to not allowing same-sex marriage". I doubt it.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-12T23:52:52.674Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I understand what "harmful on net" means, and I'm not sure why you think I don't. The point is that there are different things that might or might not be "harmful on net", and you need to not mix them up, and I think you are mixing them up. Specifically, "is drinking alcohol harmful on net?" and "is being allowed to drink alcohol harmful on net?" are very different questions, because of the things I listed that are functions of whether people are allowed to drink alcohol more than of whether they actually do.

The first part of that doesn't work by itself, since Lewis believes in compulsion for, for instance, anti-murder laws.

I'm afraid I don't understand what argument you're making. It appears to have the form "Such-and-such a proposition about alcohol prohibition is wrong, because C S Lewis believed in compelling people not to commit murder" and I don't even understand how anything of that form could be right -- because there are potentially relevant differences between drinking alcohol and committing murder. (Examples: most people who disapprove of drinking alcohol think that murder is much, much worse; empirical evidence suggests that prohibiting alcohol is liable to result in a very large black market in alcohol, while prohibiting murder results in only a small black market in murder.)

[EDITED to fix a trivial typo in the foregoing paragraph.]

if you became convinced that the side effects of prohibition weren't as bad as you originally believed, you would then support prohibition.

Yes, or at least almost. (Well, not me because as I said above I wasn't describing my own position on alcohol. But someone who holds that position would indeed switch to approving of prohibition if they decided that the side effects of prohibition and the badness of the compulsion itself didn't outweigh the harm done by drinking. The bit in italics is why I say "almost" rather than an unqualified "yes".)

The question then becomes "would Lewis think there are really bad side effects to not allowing same-sex marriage".

I don't know what Lewis would have said about same-sex marriage if the question had been put to him in such a way as to get it taken seriously despite his society's general presumption against the idea. For what it's worth, I think he probably would have opposed same-sex marriage (perhaps arguing that it is simply impossible for two people of the same sex to marry, and that calling anything a same-sex marriage is an abuse of language), but if not then it would probably have been on grounds of freedom rather than of bad side effects of prohibition. (You can prohibit certain classes of marriage without needing much intrusion into individuals' lives; it's hard to see how there'd be scope for a big black market in same-sex marriages; any precedents established by the prohibition would probably also be ones Lewis would have been inclined to approve of.)

It may be worth noting that I am not Richard Kennaway and am not necessarily arguing for the same position as he is.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T12:51:06.300Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It may be worth noting that I am not Richard Kennaway and am not necessarily arguing for the same position as he is.

Nevertheless, I agree with all of what you just said. To it I would add that Jiro is still unconsciously assuming (I say unconsciously, because everything he is saying presupposes it, yet he never says it) that laws and punishment are all about adding up the good and the bad and seeing how the sum comes out. This is the very theory that Lewis was arguing against.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-13T04:14:03.280Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't even understand how anything of that form could be right -- because there are potentially relevant differences between drinking alcohol and committing murder.

Of course there are differences. But the differences lead into my other objection, which is that, as the old joke goes, now we're just arguing about the price. If he supports laws against murder because murder does a lot of harm compared to compulsion and stopping it has few side effects, then if he were to be convinced that divorce does a lot of harm and stopping it has few side effects, he would support laws aganst divorce.

Then consider why Lewis believes that divorce (etc.) is harmful. It's arbitrary--if his religion had said something else, he'd have believed something else. And likewise, his belief in the degree of harm done by divorce is arbitrary. His religion happened not to say that that particular sin was harmful enough to justify banning. But it could have said that. And given a long list of sins, it would be a pretty big coincidence if it didn't say that for at least one of them, just by chance.

(I suppose there's another possibility: Lewis doesn't want his religion to tell him something is bad enough to ban. His interpretation of his own religion is biased by this desire, so he'll always interpret his own religion as saying that a sin isn't bad enough to ban. In that case, I need not fear Lewis banning anything. I guess that's a defense of Lewis, but I would then note that this kind of bias seems to be pretty rare among religious believers who don't like divorce, gay marriage, etc.)

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T08:59:41.234Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

now we're just arguing about the price

For me, part of the humour in that story is that the person who says that is wrong -- there really is an important difference (even if only a difference of degree rather than kind) between willingness to have sex with a stranger for $1M and willingness to do it for $100.

Anyway: I'm now not quite sure what argument you're making here. I originally thought it was something like "Although C S Lewis opposed X on the grounds that it's tyrannical, he himself would have been tyrannical given the chance, so he's being hypocritical". But tyranny, like prostitution, comes in degrees. Almost everyone has some things they would prefer to be illegal, so "If C S Lewis were convinced that divorce does a lot of harm and stopping it has few bad side effects, he would support laws against divorce" gives basically zero support to the idea that Lewis was or would have been any more of a tyrant than, say, 95% of the population. Could you clarify what your point is and why you're making it?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-13T15:30:42.816Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the person who says that is wrong

...wrong?

The canonical exchange, IIRC goes as follows:

-- What kind of woman do you take me for?!

-- I think we've already established that, now we're just arguing about the price.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T15:55:07.462Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, wrong, for the reason I already gave. I'll be more explicit:

What "we've already established" is that the woman is prepared to have sex with the man for $1M (or whatever the figure is), but that isn't the same thing as being prepared to do it for (say) $1000, and the "kind of woman" someone's shown to be by the former is not the same as the "kind of woman" they're shown to be by the latter. You can apply some term (e.g., "prostitute") to both, but prostitute-in-sense-1 and prostitute-in-sense2 are very different predicates, apply to very different sets of people, and justify somewhat different sets of inferences about the person in question.

I'll make it more personal. I would not be willing to have sex with you (in the doubtless extremely unlikely event that you wanted me to) for, say, $100k. I would consider it a betrayal of my wife; I would consider it a violation of my marriage vows; I would be concerned about the possibility of damaging or breaking my marriage; knowing nothing about you, I would have to consider the possibility of contracting an STD; I am not much interested in casual sex; I'm pretty sure you're male and I happen to be male and boringly heterosexual. These things matter to me, and they matter a lot. But make it a billion dollars and I'm pretty sure I'd consent, simply on effective-altruism grounds; I could do so damn much good with, say, half the takings as to outweigh those reasons, however compelling I find them.

To consider that the latter indicates "what kind of man" I am and puts me in the same pigeonhole as someone who will happily have sex with strangers for $100 a time is rather like saying that there's no real difference in religious position between an atheist who is 99.9% confident there are no gods of any sort, and a fundamentalist who is 99.999% confident that there is exactly one, namely his own, simply because a sufficiently enormous quantity of evidence might turn one of them into the other.

(I do not, as it happens, share the widespread view that there is something terribly wrong with the "kind of woman" who is willing to have sex with strangers in exchange for moderate sums of money, nor do I think that being that "kind of woman" is good evidence of any more general moral deficiency; but I don't think my opinion on any of this would be very different if I did. E.g., I do think there is something terribly wrong with the kind of person who is willing to kill strangers in exchange for moderate sums of money, but I think I would be willing to carry out an assassination for a billion dollars if I were really sure of getting the money and remaining unarrested for long enough to give a lot of it to effective charities, and confident that the assassination wasn't going to do an amount of harm comparable to the good I could thereby do.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-13T16:24:14.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

and the "kind of woman" someone's shown to be by the former is not the same as the "kind of woman" they're shown to be by the latter

You are just arguing definitions. It's pretty clear that the conversation, real or not, riffs on the classification of women into two kinds: those who will sleep with a man for money, and those who will not. You may find this classification inadequate or not matching your personal views, but that does not make it "wrong". It just makes you have a different opinion and prefer a different classification scheme.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T18:04:22.599Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The point (and I apologize for not being more explicit about it) is that this binary classification is unsatisfactory not only for prostitution but also for tyranny, which is what the joke was here being used as an analogy to, and that I find Jiro's argument unconvincing for (inter alia) the same reason as I think the man in the joke is incorrect (albeit funny).

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-13T16:36:40.903Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Could you clarify what your point is and why you're making it?

Although C S Lewis opposed X on the grounds that it's tyrannical, he himself would have been tyrannical given the chance

Yes. He believes that arbitrary things are bad. Belief that arbitrary things are bad would lead to tyranny unless we get very lucky and he happens, by chance, not to think any of them are bad enough to ban. Of course, he wouldn't think of it as tyranny, he'd think of it as "not allowing people the freedom to hurt others" or some such.

Almost everyone has some things they would prefer to be illegal

But religion has a habit of tossing weird things into the mix that nobody would ever believe otherwise. Do you honestly think that many people would believe that killing a zygote is murder without the influence of religion? Or believe in 7 literal day creation? People whose religion is similar to Lewis believe those things, and it's pure chance that Lewis's branch doesn't (at least for creation, Lewis didn't say much about abortion).

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-17T01:13:27.098Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you honestly think that many people would believe that killing a zygote is murder without the influence of religion?

Would anyone believe that killing a newly born baby is murder without the influence of religion?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-18T13:51:23.074Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, religion has contributed to more infanticide than lack of religion.

comment by g_pepper · 2015-11-18T14:46:24.020Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the point that VoiceOfRa is making is that, just as a non-religious person might reasonably think that killing a newly born baby is murder, so might a non-religious person reasonably think that killing a zygote is murder. If so, then whether religion has or has not contributed to more infanticide than lack of religion is irrelevant to VoiceOfRa's point. (VoiceOfRa, please correct me if I misunderstand your point.)

Also, it is not clear to me what you mean by "religion has contributed to more infanticide than lack of religion". If you mean that religion has contributed to more infanticides than have all causes of a non-religious nature, then that seems unlikely to be true (and hard to verify one way or the other). What is your basis for this statement?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-18T14:52:00.492Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect the polymathwannabe is referring to the ancient custom of war where after defeating your enemy, you go around and kill all their babies and their males, and take their women. Of course, that has nothing to do with religion one way or the other.

Regarding ordinary infanticide, that was also an ancient custom, approved e.g. by Aristotle. The practice had nothing to do with religion but had practical motivations. Areas that converted to Christianity put a stop to it.

comment by signal · 2015-11-18T19:16:04.390Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Jane Goodall has some interesting oberservations regarding infanticide among chimpanzees in her book "Through a Window." While chimpanzees will attack females that are strangers to a group violently, their infants will only, and in rare instances, die as casualties, but not be directly attacked. Infanticide within a community has only been observed in a few cases and all perpetrated by the same female individual and her daughter. However, she concluded from their behavior that their reason lay solely in the meat of the hunted infants.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-18T17:49:21.826Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was referring to ritual child sacrifice, practiced across dozens of cultures.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-11-18T18:30:49.345Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But cultures with relatively low population counts compared to centuries of populous Christian countries.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-18T17:52:06.329Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given ritual adult sacrifice, practiced across dozens of cultures, what does this prove?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-18T18:56:40.821Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In general, that religiosity does not prevent atrocious behavior, and if you need some special insight to stop killing babies, religion is not it.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-19T04:26:29.049Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Dozens? I only know of one, the pre-Jewish Semites.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-19T04:32:49.394Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assorted examples from other cultures.

comment by g_pepper · 2015-11-19T06:04:39.290Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be arguing against a position that, as far as I know, no one on LW actually believes or defends. You are doing this by generalizing about religiosity from examples of marginal and/or long since vanished religions, and all the while you are ignoring entirelyuseless's probably correct observation that most infanticide historically has been due to reasons (warfare and practical considerations) that have nothing to do with religiosity.

I am not sure where you are going with all of this.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T17:19:02.902Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think many people would believe that abortion is murder without being religious. That is not now the case about the seven day literal creation, but it was either the case in the past, or the account in the book of Genesis was not believed by the author, or not intended literally, since it was written one way or the other.

But in any case, again, Lewis adopted his religion as an adult and might not have adopted it if it had contained arbitary content such as "eating mushrooms is a grave sin that will be punished by a worse hell than anything else." So even if we falsely assume that the content of all religions is completely arbitrary in itself, the content of his religion would not be, since he chose it.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-13T17:39:23.739Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think many people would believe that abortion is murder without being religious.

That link shows that one person would believe that abortion is murder without being religious. A poll shows 84% of atheists and agnostics in favor of legal abortion, with 14% against, and even that 14% is not specifically about zygotes, it's about abortion as a whole.

But in any case, again, Lewis adopted his religion as an adult

His family was Anglican and he became an Anglican. That suggests that he adopted the religion mostly because of the influence of his background.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T17:55:59.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

14% of atheists and agnostics is a large number of people in absolute terms, and I suspect that a good number of those people would believe the same thing about zygotes for the sake of consistency. In any case it is not even close to saying that it is something that nobody would ever believe without religion.

It could be true that he became Anglican mainly because his family was Anglican, without it being true that he would have done so if the content of that religion had contained completely arbitrary claims such as the one I mentioned. I invented that arbitrary claim for a reason, namely to show that actually arbitrary claims look very different from religious claims. There is a reason that Lewis's religion did not contain that claim, and a reason why it did contain the claim that murder is wrong. The content is not arbitrary.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T18:10:49.942Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I largely agree with what you're saying here, but:

I invented that arbitrary claim [...] to show that actually arbitrary claims look very different from religious claims.

I'm afraid I don't think you did a terribly good job of showing that. Plenty of actual religious claims are really not so different from your example. E.g., if it's ridiculous to single out eating mushrooms, what about eating shellfish? If it's ridiculous to suggest that eating the wrong foods is a particularly serious kind of sin, what about saying the same about sexual misconduct?

(My examples are from the Judaeo-Christian tradition because that's what I know best, but I'm pretty sure I could find similarly close parallels from almost any religion.)

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T18:27:07.818Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They didn't say that eating shellfish is worse than murder, while if the claims were completely arbitrary, there is no reason why they wouldn't say that, and no reason for them not to say that murder is good.

I agree that many, maybe even all, religions contain some things that seem somewhat arbitrary (like the shellfish), but they are not completely arbitrary (thus not worse than murder.) I would also suspect that those food regulations in their original context were less arbitrary than we suppose, and became more arbitrary as the situation changed, which led to most people abandoning those specific things.

This is certainly true about sexual misconduct: at least in the past, promiscuity was dangerous physically and in other ways, and condemning it was certainly not arbitrary.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T21:38:21.648Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They didn't say that eating shellfish is worse than murder

No indeed. I was careful not to claim that they do. But if there are widely held religions that (1) condemn the eating of specific foodstuffs and (2) single out one not-obviously-specially-bad class of prohibited activity on obviously spurious grounds, then I don't think you can really claim that combining those two features makes something so obviously silly that it's unlike the perfectly sensible prohibitions that real religions have.

I agree that it's not hard to imagine reasons why prohibiting shellfish and pork might have been quite a good idea. But you could say the exact same thing about mushrooms, no?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T22:18:50.108Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, so in principle a religion might both prohibit mushrooms and even say that it is especially bad, even though I doubt there are many things like this in the real world. But it is very possible that Lewis would not have adopted such a religion precisely because he would not have considered it very sensible. I note that he did not even adopt one that prohibits things like shellfish even without saying that it is especially evil.

Also, I was not saying that such things are perfectly sensible, but that they are not perfectly arbitrary, which is what was being asserted, even if not by you.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T22:25:34.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm really not convinced that he would have found "religion X has arbitrary-looking prohibitions in it" good evidence for "religion X is wrong". In one of his books he fairly explicitly argues for such prohibitions on the grounds that they provide an opportunity to obey God simply because one ought to obey God rather than because one sees the rightness of what he's commanded. (One bit of my brain is telling me it's in Perelandra, in which case presumably the idea is put into the mouth of his Eve-figure there whose name I've forgotten. Another is suggesting it's with more direct reference to the Eden narrative in Genesis. Probably at most one is right.)

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T22:37:21.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

... I couldn't remember her name because she doesn't have one. Anyway, there is indeed something of the kind in Perelandra, though I have a feeling there may be something more explicit in one of his other books. But here's the relevant bit. Context: the protagonist Elwin Ransom is on the planet Venus, also in this series of books called Perelandra. There are exactly two (more or less) human people already living there, corresponding closely to Adam and Eve in the Genesis story. The Adam-figure is somewhere else; Ransom has been talking to the Eve-figure. They have recently been joined by the villain of the story, a scientist (of course!) called Weston who is not only evil but pretty much a devil-worshipper. Where the Genesis story has a prohibition on eating one particular fruit, the First Couple of Perelandra have a prohibition on sleeping on "fixed lands" (CSL's Venus has a lot of water, and floating rafts of plants on which one can safely live). Weston has suggested that maybe this prohibition was made with the intention that "Eve" should grow up a bit by exercising her independence from God and disobeying it. Ransom, who is generally something of an author mouthpiece, has a different view:

"I think he made one law of that kind [sc. one with no obvious reason why obeying it is a good idea] in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? [...] Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you to do something for which His bidding is the only reason? [...]

The Eve-figure is delighted with this idea, and the Satan-figure is rather cross at it -- further evidence, I think, that Lewis himself endorses the proposal. Further dialogue ensues (there's a lot of dialogue in this part of the book) and eventually Eve gets bored and goes to sleep.

[EDITED to add: There's an extended discussion of the Eden story in Lewis's book "The problem of pain", which conspicuously doesn't present any theory along these lines. Perhaps it is after all only in Perelandra that he proposes it.]

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-14T00:27:14.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, so maybe he wouldn't have refrained from adopting a religion himself because it contained things like that. But I would be extremely skeptical that he would have any idea of enforcing them on people who do not believe the religion, if he believed that the prohibitions were arbitrary.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T14:56:28.365Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are assuming without proof that the claims of Lewis's religion are arbitrary. Of course they are not arbitrary, even assuming that his religion is false.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-13T16:18:57.586Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You are assuming without proof that the claims of Lewis's religion are arbitrary.

We're on LW. I'm assuming something that just about everyone here assumes anyway. Or at least close to it.

(I'm sure some people would argue that Lewis's religion's claims aren't arbitrary because competition between memes ensures that religions which say extreme things about sins won't last until the modern era. If so, fine, it's not arbitrary in that sense.)

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T17:01:57.677Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most people on LW would assume that his religion is wrong, but not that it is entirely arbitrary.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T12:55:36.940Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Then consider why Lewis believes that divorce (etc.) is harmful. It's arbitrary--if his religion had said something else, he'd have believed something else.

This is a universal argument. "Given a different history, you would have believed something else, therefore your actual belief is groundless." You can apply it to anyone, saying anything; which is to say, that it carries no force ever.

I suppose there's another possibility: Lewis doesn't want his religion to tell him

bong!!! But thank you for playing.

This is Bulverism, and not even Bulverism about a real characteristic, but about one you have just made up.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-13T16:11:55.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a universal argument. "Given a different history, you would have believed something else, therefore your actual belief is groundless."

No, it isn't. Religions tell people arbitrary things. Reasoning processes do not.

This is Bulverism

The question is "would there be reason to worry about a person like Lewis banning sins". Figuring out why he believes is not, in that context, Bulverism because the question is not about whether his beliefs are correct, it's a question of what he would do. Furthermore, it's not Bulverism anyway because I have no need to prove his positions false--we're on LW and it can be taken for granted that everyone here thinks gay marriage should be allowed and nobody here thinks divorce and polygamy should be illegal.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T16:27:36.359Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The question is "would there be reason to worry about a person like Lewis banning sins". Figuring out why he believes is not, in that context, Bulverism because the question is not about whether his beliefs are correct, it's a question of what he would do.

And of course to you, what he would do is to ban things, because that is what you would do, and the idea of not banning things you don't like is to you practically a contradiction in terms. But it's all right for you to ban things, because you would be banning the right things, the sufficient proof of which is that everyone in your circle agrees with you, but it's wrong for Lewis to ban things, because he would be banning the wrongs things, the proof of which is that everyone in your circle agrees they're the wrong things. We are right because we are right, and everyone else is wrong because they are wrong.

Thanks you for setting out your epistemology so clearly.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-13T17:30:55.472Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And of course to you, what he would do is to ban things, because that is what you would do,

No, it's what people like him would do. Religious people have a really bad record with respect to believing arbitrary things are bad and then banning them. Your idea that I think he would ban things because I would ban things is pulled out of thin air. I think that people would do lots of things I don't do.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-15T13:46:13.612Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is from Lewis:

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

"It's what people like him would do" is just plain false. He is quite clear there that the fact that he does not want to ban divorce for other people is not arbitrary, but reasoned, and he would apply the same thing to anything else which was specific to his religion.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-16T00:02:01.119Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Notice that that description doesn't contain a claim that divorce hurts anyone other than the people getting divorced. So it doesn't generalize to things which Lewis believes are banned by his religion because they harm others.

Also, it generalizes poorly to things like gay marriage. There used to be a time when nobody accepted gay marriage. Someone like Lewis could, while staying consistent with the above argument, claim that since gay marriage was universally abhorred, a law against it is not a Christian-specific law but a State-specific law.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-16T14:39:16.776Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let's suppose that Islam taught that every time someone drinks wine, ten random non-Muslims automatically will go to hell. Do you think that Lewis would have been less angry if consequently Muslims tried to ban wine for everyone? Since he compared divorce to that himself, fully understanding that the prohibition on wine looks arbitrary to other people, he would be fully capable of realizing that it would look arbitrary even if he himself had such a belief.

But besides that, as I've said all along, Lewis's beliefs are not arbitrary. He would be unlikely to believe a religion that taught something like that about wine, and if he did accept the religion in general, he would be unlikely to accept that particular belief. And even if he did, the awareness that it looks arbitrary to other people could be sufficient reason for him not to ban it, by the same argument he made explicitly.

The gay marriage argument is irrelevant. Neither Lewis nor anyone else living at that time would have specifically legalized gay marriage, or even thought about it. Neither would you, if you had lived at that time and been in charge of England. That does not mean that Lewis or anyone else was tyrannical or would have been.

Your whole argument is based on a strawman of religious beliefs as arbitrary beliefs. One could as well argue that "Jiro's beliefs" are arbitrary, since if Jiro had believed something different, he would have had different beliefs.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-16T17:12:36.308Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Let's suppose that Islam taught that every time someone drinks wine, ten random non-Muslims automatically will go to hell. Do you think that Lewis would have been less angry if consequently Muslims tried to ban wine for everyone?

I could speculate, but you could just say he wouldn't act according to my speculation. Do you have any examples of Lewis believing that something harms others, and yet still refusing to ban it (and for similar reasons)?

Neither Lewis nor anyone else living at that time would have specifically legalized gay marriage, or even thought about it.

But if he had lived at the transition point the question would come up. If he has exceptions that let him ban things that are condemned by society, he could argue that the fact that gay marriage was universally condemned makes it more like banning murder than banning wine.

One could as well argue that "Jiro's beliefs" are arbitrary

Religions have a habit of throwing in "this thing is bad" purely on argument from authority, an authority Lewis considers himself bound to believe as an infallible source of truth. Nonreligious people have the step "figure out if it's really bad" in there, which Lewis does not--if God says it's bad, it's bad.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-16T19:44:09.227Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Nonreligious people have the step "figure out if it's really bad" in there, which Lewis does not--if God says it's bad, it's bad.

Where are you getting this from? Not from any reading of Lewis, it seems.

God neither obeys nor creates the moral law.

C.S. Lewis, "The Poison of Subjectivism"

comment by gjm · 2015-11-16T23:18:44.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think one of us is misunderstanding Jiro here; isn't s/he saying not that Lewis thinks God creates the moral law, but that Lewis thinks God is a perfectly reliable source of information about the moral law? (Epistemology, not ontology.)

[EDITED to add the second instance of "Lewis thinks" in the previous paragraph. I hope my meaning was clear anyway.]

(I'm fairly sure that Lewis wouldn't have regarded himself as committed to accepting every moral claim promulgated by the Church of England, or every moral claim a reasonable person could extract from the Bible, so I find Jiro's argument less than perfectly convincing. But I think you're refuting a different argument.)

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-17T05:44:04.879Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Lewis would likely have regarded himself as committed to accepting every moral claim he thinks was made by God. He might not believe that the Church of England is perfect at figuring this out, but whatever source of God-claims he uses instead of the Church would produce results as arbitrary as using the Church. (Except to the extent that he uses motivated reasoning to decide what God is claiming.)

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-17T14:45:27.501Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is not "motivated reasoning" to argue that God doesn't claim a thing, if you have reasons for believing both that the thing is false, and that whatever God says is true.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-19T21:14:42.561Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Lewis, however, does believe that God makes moral claims and that he (Lewis) can know what at least some of them are.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-13T15:04:38.044Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, Lewis adopted his religion an adult; if it had said something different, he might not have adopted it.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-11-16T05:35:07.993Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To you, and to Phil Goetz, a moral belief implies an imperative to make everyone conform to it, had one only the power to do so.

Richard, this is not what I believe, but rather what Lewis almost certainly believed, as evidenced by how all Christians, everywhere, throughout all history up to Lewis' time, have behaved. It would be an astonishing coincidence if the one Christian we were talking about were the one secretly willing to grant religious freedom to non-Christians.

(Yes, religious freedom includes the right to polygamy and prostitution.)

In fact I have several times explicitly stated the same thing you wrote here, as a critique of Eliezer's outline of CEV, which assume (without even noticing it) that a moral belief implies an imperative to propagate itself.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-16T12:55:54.835Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Richard, this is not what I believe, but rather what Lewis almost certainly believed, as evidenced by how all Christians, everywhere, throughout all history up to Lewis' time, have behaved.

I prefer to determine what Lewis almost certainly believed by looking at what he certainly wrote. The very quote that started this discussion is explicitly saying the opposite.

Besides, it's nearly five hundred years since the Thirty Years War knocked the stuffing out of Christian proselytisation by the sword, and the imperative to force people into belief, or at least practice, has been declining ever since. Further history here.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-11-17T08:04:10.564Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that they no longer tell people to convert or die does not mean they grant freedom of religion. I'm not aware of any society with a Christian majority that has ever refrained from enforcing its moral rules on the rest of its society. I am aware of probably hundreds, if I added them up, throughout history, that have done so. Find me a dozen counterexamples and I'll listen.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-26T07:16:55.537Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, most Christian societies have laws against murder, then again so do most non-Christian societies.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-28T19:02:05.058Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I assume Phil means that Christian-majority societies have tended to enforce not only Christian rules that are widely shared among non-Christians, but also Christian rules that are not. Phil, would you care to clarify?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-30T03:25:42.906Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I assume Phil means that Christian-majority societies have tended to enforce not only Christian rules that are widely shared among non-Christians, but also Christian rules that are not.

Well, all the examples cited in this thread are also widely shared among non-Christians.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-30T10:47:31.314Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Much less widely than the prohibition on murder.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-11-30T09:09:45.172Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Among examples of rules not widely shared among non-Christians that are enforced in present-day western countries, off the top of my head I can think of the ban on selling alcohol on Good Friday in Ireland, and bans on certain types of stem cell research in various countries. There probably are many more that don't immediately spring to my mind.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-30T22:06:44.911Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sunday blue laws (bans on selling alcohol in the USA on Sundays.)

Heterosexual-only marriage.

I suppose having Christmas be a Federal holiday technically counts as well.

comment by g_pepper · 2015-12-01T00:16:21.428Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Heterosexual-only marriage

I don't think that the notion of limiting marriage to couples that are not of the same gender is exclusively a Christian concept. Until fairly recently, I don't think that government recognition of same-sex marriage has been common even among jurisdictions that are not predominantly Christian. And, even today, it is hardly the case that same-sex marriage is forbidden only in countries with a majority Christian population.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-30T09:40:47.488Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Among examples of rules not widely shared among non-Christians that are enforced in present-day western countries, off the top of my head I can think of the ban on selling alcohol on Good Friday in Ireland

One could hardly come up with a worse example of a Christian-only prohibition. Alcohol is religiously forbidden to Moslems, and in some Moslem countries, legally forbidden on every day of the year, not just the selling of it, but the drinking. The punishment is flogging, or death for persistent offenders.

ETA: Ah, you said Western countries, which currently excludes all the Moslem states. But the Moslem populations of the West still have the religious prohibition.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-30T22:15:08.775Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Prohibits alcohol on Good Friday" means "specifically prohibits alcohol on Good Friday". Prohibiting it as a subset of a generic prohibition on all alcohol doesn't count.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-01T00:41:05.292Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Prohibits alcohol on Good Friday" means "specifically prohibits alcohol on Good Friday".

Which is a sliver of a prohibition. And even that got trumped by commercial lobbying by pubs on a Good Friday when there was a big football match.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-30T16:28:14.821Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why's that relevant? The point (unless I'm misunderstanding badly) is that the ban is there because some Christians wanted it to be, that the great majority of the non-Christian population would likely prefer it not to be there, and that this is therefore an example of a Christian rule being enforced on people who are not Christians.

The fact that a small fraction of the non-Christian population might be happy enough for the rule to be there is irrelevant. If there were a law requiring everyone to go to church on Sundays there would probably be as large a fraction of the non-Christian population in favour; it would still (obviously, no?) be an example of a Christian rule being enforced on people who are not Christians.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-30T17:57:26.458Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If there were a law requiring everyone to go to church on Sundays

There have been such laws in the past, but is impossible for there to be such a law in the present day. There aren't enough Christians to pass it or enforce it. Such laws were made when everyone was Christian. With increasing secularisation they fall away. Sunday trading, sale of alcohol on holy days, laws against the wrong sort of Christian and all non-Christians: in the countries of Christian traditions these have mostly disappeared. To point to a minor historical relic like the banning of alcohol sales on one day of the year (a ban with many loopholes in it) is not a good example of Christians imposing their rules on non-Christians.

Especially since alcohol is not even forbidden to Christians, whatever the day of the year.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-30T19:35:25.932Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you're suggesting that these rules weren't a matter of Christians imposing on non-Christians when they were put in place (because everyone was Christian then) and aren't now (because they have mostly fallen into disuse)?

Ingenious, but I'm not convinced, on two counts.

First (and less importantly), I am not convinced that "everyone was Christian" when those laws first came into being. There have always been dissenters of one sort or another. It was doubtless true that almost everyone was at least nominally Christian, though.

Second (and more importantly), at least some of those laws are still on the books -- e.g., the law against selling alcohol on Good Friday in Ireland, or the restrictions on Sunday trading in the UK. They may indeed have been put in place as restrictions on a nation composed almost entirely (at least in principle) of Christians, but they are still there now and generally Christian legislators have shown little enthusiasm for ceasing to impose restrictions on non-Christian citizens. When the possibility of repealing such restrictions comes up, there is generally no shortage of Christian legislators speaking fervently in favour of keeping them on the basis of their religion.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not arguing (and I don't think anyone else is arguing) that restrictions on Sunday trading and alcohol on Good Friday constitute terrible oppression of non-Christian citizens by Christian legislators. They're not a very big deal in practice.

Especially since alcohol is not even forbidden to Christians

See my reply to entirelyuseless.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-03T23:09:59.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can think of the ban on selling alcohol on Good Friday in Ireland

Lot's of societies have laws banning conducting of various types of business on major holidays.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-30T19:06:20.231Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Among examples of rules not widely shared among non-Christians that are enforced in present-day western countries

The first thing that pops into my head is monogamy.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-03T23:04:46.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That was a Greco-Roman idea the Christianity inherited.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-04T02:59:17.132Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not just inherited. In Christianity marriage is a sacrament, as opposed to a convention of social arrangement.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-30T14:15:48.652Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The alcohol rule is not enforcing a Christian rule on non-Christians, since neither Christians nor Catholics have a rule against buying alcohol on Good Friday. That law (which I only know about from this comment) is specifically Irish. It is not banning something for everyone which is against the rules for some; it is banning something for everyone which normally would not be against anyone's rules.

(Which does not mean there are no cases of Christians enforcing specifically Christian rules on non-Christians; there are likely cases like that.)

comment by gjm · 2015-11-30T16:20:40.753Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It certainly is enforcing a Christian rule on non-Christians. "Christian rule" here means not "rule found in the Bible" or "rule adhered to by at least 40% of Christians" or anything like that but "rule wanted only by Christians, for specifically Christianity-related reasons".

The only plausible reason to forbid buying alcohol on Good Friday in particular is that among Christians Good Friday is a solemn holy day on which drunkenness would be exceptionally inappropriate.

(Other hypothetical things that I think would be "Christian rules" in the relevant sense, just to make sure my point is clear: A rule forbidding anyone to speak ill of any canonized Christian saint. A rule forbidding commercial transactions on Sundays. A rule obliging everyone to attend at least one service in an Anglican church every Sunday. None of these is regarded as obligatory by most Christians. Any of them, if made into law, would be an obvious example of Christians imposing Christianity-specific obligations on others. That the obligations aren't readily derivable consequences of Christianity as such makes this worse if anything, not better.)

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-30T20:05:18.349Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you on all the facts here, but I still don't think talking about this as Christians enforcing a Christian rule on non-Christians is a good way to think about it.

At least parts of Italy have a law against stores being open on Easter Sunday, although they are allowed to be open on other Sundays. You could say that they are enforcing a rule which simply has Christian motivations on non-Christians, and you would be right in a certain way, but I think wrong in a more important way. The real reason for the law is to make sure that employees can be at home celebrating Easter instead of working that day. The vast majority of those employees are Catholics, and even most of the non-Catholics have Catholic relatives, and would probably appreciate the day off as well.

And really this kind of discussion has very little to do with religion in general: you might as well say that laws against public nudity are enforcing special rules on people who believe it is ok to go around naked. The reason why some places have such laws is not a religious reason; it is because many people find it offensive. Of course it is true that societies where most people belong to a religion are going to have some laws that in some way are based on that religion. That does not tend to show that religious societies are especially tyrannical.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-30T22:10:01.710Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You may well be right about the Italian laws about Easter Sunday. It doesn't look to me as if a parallel explanation can work for the "no alcohol on Good Friday" law, though. (It might for more general Sunday-trading restrictions.)

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-30T22:03:52.320Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The reason why some places have such laws is not a religious reason; it is because many people find it offensive.

Rules against public nudity exist in lots of societies, even societies with different dominant religions. Only societies dominated by Christianity have rules against stores being open on Easter Sunday. This suggests that nudity laws are not religion-based and Easter Sunday laws are.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-30T20:46:51.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The reason why some places have such laws is not a religious reason; it is because many people find it offensive.

But do many people find it offensive because a religion told them so?

Religion is usually tightly intertwined with culture and disentangling them is not always possible. Many people find women whose face is open and whose hair is uncovered to be offensive. Take bikinis as an intermediate stage.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-30T21:22:21.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, I don't think people find nakedness offensive because a religion told them so. I think if religion tends to say that it is offensive, this is because people first found it offensive regardless of religion.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-30T21:41:46.479Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, can you specify the particular degree of nakedness that people "first" find offensive, before any religious influence? And how do you know that?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-30T23:10:01.677Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I can't specify a particular degree. I suppose it depends on the individual and on circumstances.

Are you simply asking questions or are you implying that in fact people are not naturally uncomfortable with nakedness? If so, do you think it is also only religion that makes people uncomfortable with being touched on certain parts of the body without their consent? And if this is not only religious, why not? There is nothing painful about it. It is just contact, and you are anyway coming into contact with things all the time.

I don't "know" that religion is not the cause, but as I said in the previous comment, I don't think it is. One reason is that bans or at least taboos on nudity exist all over the world with very few exceptions, regardless of the religion in the region. Another reason is that religion tries to explain the ban in a way that wouldn't be necessary, if it was inventing the ban. For example, Genesis says that the sin of Adam and Eve made them embarrassed about being naked. That is an attempt to explain a pre-existing feeling; if they were inventing a ban, they could have just said it is embarrassing because it is bad.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-01T01:27:57.999Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I think people "naturally" tend to cover their genitals for a variety of reasons which we need not concern ourselves with. But beyond that, what do you need to cover is mostly cultural and I think that in this respect culture is mostly driven by religion.

For example, most pre-religious people do not care about women going topless. But Christianity is pretty sure women should cover their breasts. Traditional Judaism goes further and says that married women should also keep their head covered at all times, that's why married Jewish Orthodox women wear wigs. Islam agrees that hair should be covered but in many places goes further and says most of the face should be hidden as well.

In, say, contemporary Christianity-based American culture women can't normally go topless -- that would be offensive to many people. But a hundred years ago a woman in bikini would also have been offensive. And a woman with uncovered head and open face would be offensive to some Muslims.

if they were inventing a ban, they could have just said it is embarrassing because it is bad.

I think religion is more sophisticated than that :-)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-01T16:34:34.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For example, most pre-religious people do not care about women going topless.

What do you mean with "pre-religious people"? Most hunter gather tribes we know of have their gods.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-01T16:55:51.008Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Pre- organized religion.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-01T14:22:43.777Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am personally uncomfortable with men going topless. I do not have, and have never had, any religious opinions saying that it is wrong or even inappropriate for men to go topless. Obviously not everyone shares my personal feelings, but a good number of other people do. So your explanation still seems inadequate: the limitation to genitals is simply a common denominator. The feelings themselves vary between people in ways that do not necessarily correspond with religion.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-01T16:25:11.843Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your feelings in this regard may be shaped by religion in a subtler way. Suppose, for instance, the following things are true:

  • The culture you're in has been strongly shaped by Religion X.
  • Religion X has a strong tradition of modesty about bodies, extending to more or less every part of the body for which there isn't common need to have it uncovered.
    • Not because of anything very specific in Religion X's sacred writings or official dogma; but the tradition has grown up within Religion X and is widely held there.
  • As a result, in this culture it is usual for people to keep most of their bodies covered in public.
  • As a result, you are not used to seeing people more-than-usually uncovered in public.
  • Therefore, seeing people so may (1) just seem strange-and-therefore-uncomfortable to you, and/or (2) look like a signal of intimacy that's uncomfortable outside contexts where intimacy would normally be signalled.

Once this effect is in play, it can continue even if Religion X becomes much less influential or loses its misgivings about exposing bodies: it's traditional to keep most of your body covered up, so most people do, so doing otherwise makes people uncomfortable, so the tradition persists.

In such situations it's difficult to tell how far Religion X really is the cause, though. It could just be a free-floating tradition. It could be a tradition with some other origin that Religion X has (at least within your culture) assimilated.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-01T16:52:22.336Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When it comes to dresscode, there are a lot of cultural influences that have little to do with religion. In some cases not wearing a tie will be offensive.

If you wear sandals some people might disapprove of you if you also wear socks at the same time.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-01T16:43:44.866Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All of this is plausible but also consistent with the idea that Religion X took the tradition in the first place from culture, rather than inventing the tradition, as Lumifer at least seemed to be proposing at first.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-01T20:43:13.066Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

rather than inventing the tradition, as Lumifer at least seemed to be proposing at first

Let me quote myself: "Religion is usually tightly intertwined with culture and disentangling them is not always possible".

comment by gjm · 2015-12-01T17:05:52.178Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that was the point of my last paragraph.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-01T16:18:01.774Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The feelings themselves vary between people

Of course. I'm talking about averages and broad trends. There is certainly a LOT of individual variation here.

I do not have, and have never had, any religious opinions saying that it is wrong

Beyond individual variation, you are, to a certain degree, a product of your culture. And your culture, I would expect, has been majorly influenced by religion.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-21T13:46:00.171Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The United States currently has a Christian majority. And to the best of my knowledge, a large majority of people in charge of the government in all Western countries are currently Christians. That is certainly true of the present Supreme Court in the United States which legalized gay marriage, which is currently composed of six Catholics and three Jews.

If being majority Christian means being tyrannical, the USA is currently a tyranny, and so is every other Western country.

In which case what does this have to do with C.S. Lewis?

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-22T03:43:48.778Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

.If being majority Christian means being tyrannical, the USA is currently a tyranny, and so is every other Western country.

The US is majority Christian, but not majority alieving-Christians.

comment by EHeller · 2015-11-22T04:26:40.993Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that is true? There is a huge contingent of evangelicals (last I checked, a bit under half of Americans believe in creationism), it only takes a few non-creationist but religious Christians to get to a majority.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-11-22T16:41:40.379Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are missing a critical point -- most people seriously don't care about the age of the Earth, at all. So if you ask someone "did God create the Earth in its present form", you are not identifying whether or not someone is a young Earth creationist, but simply giving the prompt "do you believe in God enough to say 'yes' on a random survey?"

One survey found that 25% of Americans don't know that the Earth orbits the sun. This seems like a non-religious question to me, and thus I am willing to take it as a general indicator of 'how much Americans care about basic science'. So I would split that 42% into two groups: 'Americans who strongly believe that God created the Universe in its present form' = 17% (ish), 'Americans who guessed wrong and/or would like to weakly signal that they are Christians' = 25% (ish).

Most people just don't care enough to alieve about science. However, I suspect that more people do care enough to alieve about politics, and are willing to base their political ingroup on religion.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-22T10:27:57.278Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Whether someone is an alieving Christian can be hard to determine because of where you set your threshhold--typically people act as though some things about Christianity are true but not others. But entirelyuseless brought it up in the context of the people who run the government and I think it's exceptionally clear that most of them aren't. I certainly doubt that the members of the Supreme Court who voted for gay marriage are either evangelicals or religious Christians.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-22T14:17:12.767Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Christianity is not a unified body of doctrine, and a very plausible explanation for why people typically "act as though some things about Christianity are true but not others" is that they in fact believe that some things are true but not others.

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-22T18:37:39.807Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's the inverse of "no true Scotsman". "No true Scotsman" refers to the situation where you arbitrarily exclude people who you don't want to count as members of a class, by saying "that isn't really Christian". In this case, you can arbitrarily include people who you do want to count, by saying that any non-Christian things about them aren't really non-Christian.

Then every Christian can count as a religious Christian.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-21T09:08:32.154Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From talking about C.S. Lewis, the conversation has now floated up to the outer edges of the atmosphere.

comment by CCC · 2015-11-16T07:20:25.043Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It would be an astonishing coincidence if the one Christian we were talking about were the one secretly willing to grant religious freedom to non-Christians.

I believe, at this point, that it might be helpful to quote from "Dignitatis Humanae", an official Vatican document on the subject of religious freedom:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.

To elaborate slightly:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.(2) This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

Now, I'm not saying that all denominations of Christianity have an equally strong stance in favour of religious freedom (I've heard about some extremely militant modern Protestant groups, particularly in America). But this is strong evidence that there is a rather large group of Catholics who do believe in the idea of religious freedom; and if Lewis had done so as well, then he would hardly be alone in this stance.

(Dignitatis Humanae was published about two years after Lewis' death)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-11-17T07:59:39.859Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And yet the Catholic Church and its members still work to ban birth-control in countries where it thinks that's possible.

I don't care what they say they do. I care what they do.

comment by CCC · 2015-11-17T09:12:55.010Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see what that has to do with religious freedom. They're not stopping anyone from being muslim, or protestant, or atheist.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-11T21:53:50.567Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

His principles say that some things we consider good are bad and need to be enforced (unless you actually do think Lewis would permit gay marriage and polygamy if he ran the country).

No country permited gay marrige until about 20 years ago and western countries haven't permitted polygammy for millenia. Are you saying they were all tyranical?

comment by Jiro · 2015-11-12T05:50:17.899Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's "tyranny" in the sense that Lewis describes: using force to be a moral busybody.

It may not be tyranny if by tyranny if your definition of tyranny requires a certain amount of being a moral busybody, and just a little bit isn't enough to count as tyranny. I suspect that this is the definition you're using, but Lewis's definition doesn't contain a quantity threshhold.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-10-31T18:04:22.178Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The book is a collection. Lewis did not choose the title.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-10-31T18:57:43.113Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(The title is taken from the title of one of the essays. It was published well after Lewis died, so I assume he didn't intend them to be a book at all.)

It would still be hilariously ironic if Lewis made such an observation, and didn't explain how he and his God are not such moral busybodies. It would be another example to add to my list of examples of people whose criticism of others is accidentally truer criticism of themselves.

comment by 27chaos · 2015-10-26T19:22:18.586Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think this depends almost entirely on how often you expect the busybodies to be wrong when they override people's judgement.

I don't think classifying adult humans in the same category as infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals is always an unreasonable decision. I refer to myself with this sentiment as well.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-28T10:13:33.175Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think this depends almost entirely on how often you expect the busybodies to be wrong when they override people's judgement.

"Always" is a good place to start.

comment by dxu · 2015-11-01T02:34:00.868Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you expand on this?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-03T13:07:10.560Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you expand on this?

Only by repeating the same thought in more words, but the original quote from Lewis does that.

comment by dxu · 2015-11-03T18:54:20.804Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

See, my problem with the Lewis quote is that it consists largely of a set of bare, unsupported assertions. Now, being unsupported doesn't mean they aren't true, but it does mean that they're not very convincing. Speaking as someone who really is neutral/undecided on this topic, the quote doesn't sway me one way or the other. So if, as you say, the only possible way you could expand on this claim is by "repeating [it] in more words", I don't find your position very well-supported.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-11T09:22:27.035Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, here's some more from Lewis, as interpreted by me. But any piece of writing can be read as "a set of bare, unsupported assertions", as the tortoise said to Achilles. The reader always has to work out for himself how the things fit together to make a machine that goes, especially with an isolated quote.

The quote is from an essay called "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment". (You can google up the full text.) The eponymous theory, which he opposes, is that the sole functions of punishment are deterrence and reform. This implies (he says) that the sole standard by which to judge the laws prescribing punishments for crimes is the matter of fact: whether those aims are achieved. Are potential criminals deterred, and are actual criminals reformed. Justice is irrelevant. There is no such thing as justice, only welfare, collectively assessed. This implies the view of people expressed in the quote: to treat them no better than children, animals, or imbeciles. No individual matters to the advocate of this view, any more than a single cow matters to a farmer, who will slaughter it at once if it has picked up an infectious disease. The good of society as a whole is all that matters to this sort of humanitarian; which means, as Lewis is not the only one to observe, the good of the people on top, the would-be tyrants for whom, as I remark in another comment on this thread, a view of how people should live is necessarily a view about how people should be made to live.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-12T16:45:46.050Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think Lewis's contention in that essay is wrong, because he confuses two claims.

  • That the sole functions of punishment are deterrence and reform.
  • That nothing other than deterrence and reform should be considered when contemplating punishment.

The second of these may well lead to the conclusions he deplores (e.g., that there's no such thing as too harsh a punishment, if it has the effect of deterring and/or reforming). The first doesn't, because there can be other constraints on punishment. (E.g., it seems to me perfectly consistent to hold that what punishment is for is deterrence and reform, but that it is wrong to inflict any punishment more severe than some limit derived from the severity of the offence being punished.)

I think (some) people believe that the sole functions of punishment are deterrence and reform in the same way as they believe that the sole function of cancer surgery is to remove tumours; that doesn't commit them to accepting limitlessly harsh punishment in the pursuit of reform, any more than it commits them to having cancer surgeons remove so much non-cancerous tissue that they kill their patients.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T13:06:49.558Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The first doesn't, because there can be other constraints on punishment.

There can be, but but the theory he is opposing knows only these two, constrained only by their production of collective welfare, just as the cancer surgeon cuts out tumours as required for the patient's health. A metaphor that excellently conveys Lewis' horror at what he calls the humanitarian theory. The committers of bad deeds are a cancer to be cut out. Their status as people does not weigh in the scales. The collective is all.

Lewis is arguing that while these two things matter, they are not the only thing, and that when desert (i.e. what one deserves) is missing, one ends up with the moral consequences he describes.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T14:22:25.694Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Lewis is less than perfectly clear about what theory it is he is opposing, but whatever it is he claims it is "almost universal among my fellow-countrymen". I do not find it plausible that almost all Englishmen[1] in 1949 believed that there should be no constraints on how criminals are treated other than the overall interests of "the collective"; do you, really?

[1] "Englishmen" should here be interpreted with exactly whatever degree of assumed maleness Lewis employed when he wrote "countrymen".

The nearest thing Lewis gets to a clear statement of "the Humanitarian theory" (as he calls what he's arguing against) is, I think, this:

According to the Humanitarian theory, to punish a man because he deserves it, and as much as he deserves, is mere revenge, and, therefore, barbarous and immoral. It is maintained that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal. When this theory is combined, as frequently happens, with the belief that crime is more or less pathological, the idea of mending tails off into that of healing or curing and punishment becomes therapeutic.

Now, as it happens, I believe (at least as a first approximation) that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal. I don't quite think that "crime is more or less pathological", and nor for that matter do I believe that even a majority of 1949 Englishmen thought so, but I don't think this makes an essential difference here. But I do not hold that there are, or should be, no other constraints on punishment, nor do I hold that the only appropriate constraint is the welfare of the collective[2]. I am pretty sure that these are not in any useful sense implied by the belief that the only legitimate motives for punishing are, etc.; nor do I see any other reason to think that someone who thinks the only legitimate motives for punishing are, etc., should think there are no other constraints on punishment.

[2] I might endorse a sufficiently careful claim that the only appropriate constraint is some sort of global utility, but note that "sufficiently careful" includes, e.g., taking into account the fact that treating some individuals very badly "for the general good" is likely to have all kinds of second-order side effects, mostly very bad ones.

Lewis does not (at least, not as I read him) regard the claim that there are no other constraints on punishment as part of the Humanitarian Theory; he suggests that it follows from that theory, but he is wrong. Specifically, his argument goes like this: (1) The HT, unlike the older "Retributive Theory", is not concerned with desert. (2) The question "is it just?" is specifically a question about desert; it doesn't make sense to ask "is this a just deterrent?", only "will it in fact deter?", and similarly for curing. (3) Therefore, "when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether".

But note what he's done in step 3. "When we cease to consider what the criminal deserves". He is conflating two notions of desert. (a) What punishment does the criminal deserve, on account of the wickedness of his conduct or the harm it has caused? (b) What treatment does the criminal deserve, according to whatever general principles govern how we treat people? The "Humanitarian" theory of punishment indeed declines to make question (a) central, but that doesn't mean it forbids you to ask question (b). And if you refuse to ask question (b) then you are on the road to totalitarianism quite independently of any questions about punishment.

Lewis goes on to say (purporting to describe the opinions of adherents of the "Humanitarian theory") that " the only two questions we may now ask about a punishment are whether it deters and whether it cures". But, again, this does not follow from the HT, nor is there any other reason why an adherent of the HT should endorse it.

If you prefer to read Lewis not as saying that this follows from the HT, but as saying that it is part of the HT, then my objection is different: so far as I know, scarcely anyone has ever endorsed this "extended Humanitarian theory", and his arguments are not relevant to anyone who endorses merely the "unextended HT" that simply says that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter and the desire to mend.

* * * *

Now, Lewis does write this:

The immediate starting point of this article was a letter [...] The author was pleading that a certain sin, now treated by our Laws as a crime, should henceforward be treated as a disease. And he complained that under the present system the offender, after a term in gaol, was simply let out to return to his original environment where he would probably relapse.

Of course we don't have the original letter; we don't even know that Lewis didn't make it up, or misunderstand it. (Though I would guess that, being generally both honest and intelligent, he did neither.) So it's hard to tell very much about what its author actually thought. But maybe Lewis did in fact encounter an adherent of what I've called the "extended Humanitarian theory". If so, fair enough; let us agree that the EHT is unpleasant and conducive to totalitarianism. But let us not pretend, as unfortunately Lewis does, that the EHT is either the same thing as, or a necessary consequence of, the idea that punishment should be for deterrence and reform rather than for retribution.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T15:40:46.563Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do not find it plausible that almost all Englishmen[1] in 1949 believed that there should be no constraints on how criminals are treated other than the overall interests of "the collective"; do you, really?

He might hope that they do not, when this consequence of their views is argued to them.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T15:59:39.019Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But note what he's done in step 3. "When we cease to consider what the criminal deserves". He is conflating two notions of desert. (a) What punishment does the criminal deserve, on account of the wickedness of his conduct or the harm it has caused? (b) What treatment does the criminal deserve, according to whatever general principles govern how we treat people?

I don't think so. By desert he refers to (a) alone. You have extended it to (b).

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T18:02:13.611Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The point is that (a) is what he correctly says the "Humanitarian theory" isn't concerned with, but the conclusions he draws rely on a commitment to not caring about (b) either.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-13T15:41:28.767Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do not find it plausible that almost all Englishmen[1] in 1949 believed that there should be no constraints on how criminals are treated other than the overall interests of "the collective"; do you, really?

He might hope that they do not, when this consequence of their expressed views is argued to them.

comment by gjm · 2015-11-13T18:01:18.378Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He might. But, as I explained, I don't think it is a consequence of their expressed views.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-11-11T09:21:39.241Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, here's some more from Lewis, as interpreted by me. But any piece of writing can be read as "a set of bare, unsupported assertions", as the tortoise said to Achilles. The reader has to work out for himself how the things fit together to make a machine that goes, especially with an isolated quote.

The quote is from an essay called "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment". (You can google up the full text.) The eponymous theory, which he opposes, is that the sole functions of punishment are deterrence and reform. This implies (he says) that the sole standard by which to judge the laws prescribing punishments for crimes is the matter of fact: whether those aims are achieved. Are potential criminals deterred, and are actual criminals reformed. Justice is irrelevant. This implies the view of people expressed in the quote: to treat them no better than children, animals, or imbeciles. No individual matters to the advocate of this view, any more than a single cow matters to a farmer, who will slaughter it at once if it has picked up an infectious disease. The good of society as a whole is all that matters to this sort of humanitarian; which means, as Lewis is not the only one to observe, the good of the people on top, the would-be tyrants for whom, as I remark in another comment on this thread, a view of how people should live is necessarily a view about how people should be made to live.

comment by 27chaos · 2015-10-28T16:20:23.678Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would you object to behavioral nudges a la Thaler?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-29T15:41:08.116Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would that count as "behavioral nudges a la Thaler"?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-28T16:56:21.724Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On the scale of evil, it does not rank with marching dissidents off to reeducation camps to be purified of their delusions through daily toil for the greater collective utility of the people. Does that answer your question?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-24T23:41:45.356Z · score: 0 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The application to Coherent Extrapolated Volition is left as an exercise.

comment by AndHisHorse · 2015-10-26T12:29:49.623Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

An important part of the quote, it seems, is "may be" the most oppressive. Only if the goodness of these "omnipotent moral busybodies" is actually so different from our own that we suffer under it is there an issue; a goodness well-executed would perhaps never even be called a tyranny at all.

comment by CCC · 2015-10-27T07:57:58.965Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But, from the inside, how to you tell the difference between doing actual good for others or being an omnipotent moral busybody?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-09T14:51:06.346Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But, from the inside, how to you tell the difference between doing actual good for others or being an omnipotent moral busybody?

"She's the sort of woman who lives for others - you can tell the others by their hunted expression."

comment by Philip_W · 2015-11-04T18:47:04.520Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Having a good factual model of a person would be necessary, and perhaps sufficient, for making that judgment favourably. When moving beyond making people more equal and free in their means, the model should be significantly better than their self-model. After that, the analyst would probably value the thus observed people caring about self-determination in the territory (so no deceiving them to think they're self-determining), and act accordingly.

If people declare that analysing people well enough to know their moral values is itself being a busybody, it becomes harder. First I would note that using the internet without unusual data protection already means a (possibly begrudging) acceptance of such busybodies, up to a point. But in a more inconvenient world, consent or prevention of acute danger are as far as I would be willing to go in just a comment.

comment by CCC · 2015-11-09T07:28:47.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Having a good factual model of a person would be necessary, and perhaps sufficient, for making that judgment favourably.

For a single person, yes, but it takes a significant investment of time to build an accurate, factual model of a single person. It becomes impractical to do so when making decisions that affect even a mere hundred people.

How would you recommend scaling this up for large groups?

comment by Philip_W · 2015-12-06T18:05:35.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sociology and psychology. Determine patterns in human desires and behaviour, and determine universal rules. Either that, or scale up your resources and get yourself an fAI.

comment by CCC · 2015-12-09T09:11:35.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a difficult problem, which very few people (if any) have ever solved properly. It's (probably) not insoluble, but it's also not easy...

Good luck.

comment by AndHisHorse · 2015-10-28T00:24:36.296Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Willingness to be critiqued? Self-examination and scrupulous quantities of doubt? This seems kind of like the wrong question, actually. "Actual good" is a fuzzy concept, if it even exists at all; a benevolent tyrant cares whether or not they are fulfilling their values (which, presumably, includes "provide others with things I think are good"). The question I would ask is how you tell the difference between actually achieving the manifestation of your values and only making a big show of it; presumably it's the latter that causes the problem (or at least the problem that you care about).

Then again, this comes from a moral non-realist who doesn't see a contradiction in having a moral clause saying it's good to enforce your morality on others to some extent, so your framework's results may vary.

comment by CCC · 2015-10-28T07:12:13.871Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Willingness to be critiqued? Self-examination and scrupulous quantities of doubt?

Both of these will help. A lot.

"Actual good" is a fuzzy concept

True. One could go with "that which causes the greatest happiness", but one shouldn't be putting mood-controlling chemicals in the water. One could go with "that which best protects human life", but one shouldn't put humanity into a (very safe) zoo where nothing dangerous or interesting can ever happen to them.

This is therefore a major problem for someone actually trying to be a benevolent leader - how to go about it?

The question I would ask is how you tell the difference between actually achieving the manifestation of your values and only making a big show of it

I'd suggest having some metric by which your values can be measured, and measuring it on a regular basis. For example, if you think that a benevolent leader would do best by reducing crime, then you can measure that by tracking crime statistics.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-10-27T12:09:57.270Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If someone clearly wants you to stop bothering them, then stop bothering them.

comment by WalterL · 2015-10-27T16:09:45.263Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"Quit bothering me, officer, I'm super busy here."

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-26T14:39:46.378Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think you entirely missed the point.

comment by Philip_W · 2015-10-27T07:42:15.342Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that helps AndHisHorse figure out the point.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-27T15:15:50.242Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I can't do his thinking for him.

comment by Philip_W · 2015-10-31T11:41:05.882Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You may not be able to make a horse drink, but you can still lead it to water rather than merely point out it's thirsty. Teaching is a thing that people do with demonstrated beneficial results across a wide range of topics. Why would this be an exception?

comment by dxu · 2015-11-01T02:32:33.705Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think you overestimate the extent to which many LW users comment to help others understand things, as opposed to (say) gain social status at their expense.

comment by Philip_W · 2015-11-01T09:54:25.073Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Be careful when defining the winner as someone other than the one currently sitting on a mound of utility.

Most lesswrong users at least profess to want to be above social status games, so calling people out on it increases expected comment quality and personal social status/karma, at least a little.

comment by dxu · 2015-11-03T18:33:43.575Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most lesswrong users at least profess to want to be above social status games

Unfortunately, professing something does not make it true any more than putting a sign saying "Cold" on a refrigerator that isn't plugged in will make it cold.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-01T22:18:16.574Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

rather than merely point out it's thirsty.

I'm not pointing out it's thirsty, I'm pointing out there is no water where it thinks to drink.

comment by Philip_W · 2015-11-04T18:10:24.010Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In the analogy, water represents the point of the quote (possibly as applied to CEV). You're saying there is no point. I don't understand what you're trying to say in a way that is meaningful, but I won't bother asking because 'you can't do my thinking for me'.

Edit: fiiiine, what do you mean?

comment by AndHisHorse · 2015-10-28T00:20:46.567Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As best I understood it, the point was that one's belief in one's own goodness is a source of drive - and if that goodness is false, the drive is misaimed, and the greater drive makes for greater ill consequences.

I think we agree that belief in one's own goodness has the capability to go quite wrong, in such cases as the quote describes more wrong than an all-other-things-being-equal belief in one's own evil. Where we seem to disagree is on the inevitability of this failure mode - I acknowledge that the failure mode exists and we should be cautious about it (although that may not have come across), whereas you seem to be implying that the failure mode is so prevalent that it would be better not to try to be a good overlord at all.

Am I understanding your position correctly?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-28T14:50:40.966Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Partially. Yes, I would assert that the failure mode you're talking about is prevalent (and point to a LOT of history to support that assertion; no one is evil is his own story). However the main point in the quote we're talking about isn't quite that, I think. Instead, consider such concepts as "autonomy", "individuality", and "diversity".

comment by WalterL · 2015-10-06T15:15:14.382Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"All men are greater than dead men." -R Scott Bakker

comment by Nomad · 2015-10-06T16:37:03.211Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

That quote reminds me of this, so much.

comment by Jiro · 2015-10-15T20:51:56.555Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why would you need to go to a cemetery for that? "Hey, pencil on my desk, I'm a sentient being who can respond to its environment and you're not!"

comment by Nornagest · 2015-10-15T23:19:14.141Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Mocking tombstones is edgy and transgressive. Mocking pencils is just weird.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-06T19:03:21.849Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And on the same theme...

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-07T02:55:34.046Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's really twisted.

comment by dspeyer · 2015-10-04T20:02:03.713Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The smug mask of virtue triumphant could be almost as horrible as the face of wickedness revealed. Almost as horrible, but not quite.

-- Granny Weatherwax. Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett

comment by Nomad · 2015-10-20T08:47:42.777Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So I guess the real lesson is "figuring out which ideas are true is hard."

The alt-text of this xkcd comic.

comment by ike · 2015-10-16T14:17:01.000Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Like it is easy for me to sit here and say to young people, one, you should invest in broad index funds, not funds concentrated in trendy areas like the Internet or clean technology, and, two, you should try to minimize fees instead of paying someone just to rebrand index funds for you. But you should drink tap water instead of Coke, too, and stay home and read Proust instead of blowing a whole month of your salary on Taylor Swift tickets. All consumption is dumb, if you think too hard about it. That's why it is consumption.

Matt Levine

comment by lmm · 2015-10-24T18:06:38.994Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's an analogy with "purchase fuzzies and utilons separately" here that Levine misses. If you want to be trendy and have a bunch of investment return in the future, it's probably more efficient to buy those two things from separate sources than to try and get both with a single product.

comment by ike · 2015-10-24T18:41:16.520Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's true, but he's talking from the company's side. If the target market are those that wouldn't invest at all, then the company could be providing real value overall.

I wouldn't use such a company, of course; but the target demo is not "people who think logically about investments unless they get fuzzies".

His argument is

  1. Let people spend their extra cash however they want
  2. This company seems likely to be a net utility plus for society

The fact that its users are still irrational seems irrelevant then, and it's reminding me of the whole "Copenhagen ethics" post (to make the analogy explicit, the company is being blamed for the fact that its users aren't perfect, even though they're better off than without the company.

comment by lmm · 2015-11-04T13:11:38.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's legitimate to criticise a company for pretending to sell utilons when it isn't. Yes, this company may well be a better use of your money than Taylor Swift tickets. But Taylor Swift isn't marketed as an investment.

comment by ike · 2015-11-06T01:07:48.855Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They're selling hedons, which factor into people's utility functions.

I'd also point to

Stash, which is going after younger and less informed investors, instead sees it as its mission to get people to start putting away some amount of money in to the market and then get them into a more optimized portfolio over time.

"We’re going to be able to provide really solid advice around their portfolio around making smarter investor habits," Robinson said. And hopefully, for them, that's what young people believe in, like, and want.

That doesn't seem so objectionable. If they're attracting people who wouldn't be investing otherwise, that's a gain.

Also, do you have examples of their marketing that you think are inaccurate?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T14:38:40.512Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

All consumption is dumb, if you think too hard about it.

Says someone who clearly hasn't been just hungry for a long while if ever.

More to the point, I don't see what consumption habits have to do with picking investments. When you are "paying someone just to rebrand index funds for you" you don't get Miley Cyrus to twerk you.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-16T23:31:00.555Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Says someone who [...]

I think you may be taking him a little too literally. He's criticizing that position as much as he's endorsing it. (The context is that he's commenting on a sort of "financial services for The Youth Of Today" product, and he's saying: "yeah, from one perspective this is silly because those people should just be investing in index funds; but that's also the perspective that says they should never actually be spending anything, which is pretty unreasonable when you think about it; so why shouldn't one thing they spend their money on instead of robotically trying to maximize it be financial services that they enjoy more?"

I don't see what consumption habits have to do with picking investments.

He's suggesting that investing with this company called Stash might best be viewed as a variety of consumption that happens to produce not-completely-crazy investment as a side effect, which makes it look less like a rather crappy sort of investment and more like a more than averagely productive sort of consumption.

(Is it reasonable to see it that way? I dunno; it sounds rather contrived to me. But that's the argument he's making.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-19T15:31:08.519Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

from one perspective this is silly because those people should just be investing in index funds; but that's also the perspective that says they should never actually be spending anything

The guy just doesn't look coherent. In particular, no, that is NOT "also the perspective", these are two different unconnected things.

more like a more than averagely productive sort of consumption.

More word salad. What in the world is "averagely productive sort of consumption"?

I think classifying all this under "marketing nonsense" is much more productive.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-19T16:25:49.557Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

these are two different unconnected things

My mental model of the author says: no, they are not unconnected things; the perspective you need to adopt to lead to the conclusion that it's terribly wrong to invest in ways that don't maximize (something like) your expected long-term wealth, even if you find doing so more satisfying and enjoyable than just dumping your money into index-funds, is a sort of straw-Vulcan one that cares only about long-term wealth maximization, and from that perspective all "consumption" just leaves you poorer in the long run and is therefore a bad thing.

What in the world is "averagely productive sort of consumption"?

I think the idea is something like this. If you buy a soft drink or go and see a movie, this provides you with some enjoyment but not much in the way of long-term benefits. Most consumption is like this: it gives you something you want, but in the long run you'd have been better off investing what it cost you. Stash's services are intended to be enjoyable to use, so that using them feels more like consumption than it does like investment, while having some of the same long-term benefits that investing in an index fund would have.

(I repeat that I'm merely attempting to explicate his position and not endorsing it myself. In particular, I gravely doubt that Stash have made investing actually fun to anyone who wasn't already investing as well as they could with Stash.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-19T16:34:38.102Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I repeat that I'm merely attempting to explicate his position and not endorsing it myself.

In spite of your heroic efforts :-) I continue to think that the author is incoherent and has fallen prey to marketing nonsense.

comment by ike · 2015-10-16T19:24:38.076Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I understood him as saying that paying for anything (with perhaps the exception of items necessary to live) is spending money on something you presumably enjoy, and criticising someone for spending money on something they enjoy is misplaced. So if someone enjoys the rebranding of index funds enough to pay for it, he's fine with it.

Edit: "When you are "paying someone just to rebrand index funds for you" you don't get Miley Cyrus to twerk you." both are forms of paying for enjoyment. People are paying a fee for someone to rebrand index funds for them, just like they might pay a fee to go to a concert or, for that matter, buy a newspaper with stories about companies that interests them.

What difference are you claiming between the two?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T20:11:58.820Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

People are paying a fee for someone to rebrand index funds for them, just like they might pay a fee to go to a concert

I don't think this is true. People pay a fee for rebranded index funds not because they especially enjoy rebranded index funds, but because they are misled to think that what they are getting is something different from what they are actually getting. People pay a fee because they are told that the fund will bring them higher returns (or less risk, etc.).

I can imagine someone investing in a hedge fund to be able to claim that he is a "hedge fund investor", but I don't think this situation is applicable to the great majority of money invested. And it's paying for signaling, not paying for consumption.

comment by ike · 2015-10-16T20:28:26.852Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People pay a fee because they are told that the fund will bring them higher returns (or less risk, etc.).

That's not how it sounds from the article and its source

What Stash tries to add, and what it’s charging users for, is both the unique framing of the funds and ease of use.

Investing in these tech or green energy companies is “self expression,” Robinson said, even if a bog-simple Vanguard index ETF plan “is probably the smart investment.”

Of course, there are still a great many young adults who are more focused on their returns. For them, Stash has an “I Want” tab that includes more diverse investments with snazzy labels.

“We talked to 100 people, and we heard the same thing over and over again: the whole concept of investing was confusing, it was expensive, it was unrelatable, it isn’t my world,” Ronick said about the conversations.

There's nothing there that implies an expectation of getting a higher return that if they'd invest traditionally.

Do you at least agree that Stash claims it's doing what Matt claims it is? And you then think that Stash is wrong about what motivates its users?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T20:39:25.864Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the key word here is "marketing".

“We talked to 100 people, and we heard the same thing over and over again: the whole concept of investing was confusing, it was expensive, it was unrelatable, it isn’t my world,”

This is not consumption preferences. This is needing to do something you have no idea about -- so you go to whoever claims to be an expert and you believe whatever he tells you. There are many people claiming to be experts, so it becomes crucial to use the right marketing to lure in the marks... err. customers. The old marketing style which mostly used a reliable-looking oldish white guy in a suit and a tie isn't working all that well any more, so there is a new marketing style that goes for young and hip and cool and all that.

I still don't believe that people consume and particularly enjoy investment offerings. Giving money to a mutual fund just isn't a notable sensuous experience :-D

What I do believe is that it is very much in the interest of certain people to make you convinced that giving them money has special significance.

comment by ike · 2015-10-16T20:56:00.439Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's important to note here that their fee is $12 a year. That's a lot more in line with "paying for a good experience" than "paying for investment advice". I don't think this $12 a year product falls into the same reference class as typical financial advisors.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-19T15:27:01.205Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's important to note here that their fee is $12 a year.

I don't see how this is a meaningful number. The cost to the user is much higher since they're now stuck in a high-fee fund. And I'm pretty sure that a lot of Stash's revenue comes from something other than $12/user/year. In particular, high-fee funds tend to pay commissions to those who sell them.

comment by Raemon · 2015-10-30T17:50:45.994Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think a much better analogy would have been "drink tap water instead of bottled water." It's a more similar instance of paying explicitly for branding with a misguided understanding of what's for sale. (i.e. most bottle water is literally tap water)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-30T19:19:33.436Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think a much better analogy would have been "drink tap water instead of bottled water."

I drink bottled water. I don't care about branding in general, but the particular water which I drink tastes different from the water in my tap and I can easily recognize the difference.

comment by Crivens · 2015-10-25T08:51:41.421Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This quote would have been better without those last two lines. Those two lines have distracted all of your readers from the point of the quote.

comment by ZoltanBerrigomo · 2015-11-01T19:02:07.760Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For those people who insist, however, that the only thing that is important is that the theory agrees with experiment, I would like to make an imaginary discussion between a Mayan astronomer and his student...

These are the opening words of a ~1.5 minute monologue in one of Feynman's lectures; I won't transcribe the remainder but it can be viewed here.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-26T15:44:11.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If these lines are read by a young geologist, then, especially for him, it should be noted that excitement in scientific work is harmful rather than useful. Caught in 'rare-metal fever', I took hundreds of samples but missed plenty of interesting things. I almost did not study enclosing rocks, totally ignored unique carbonate concretions, which in themselves could be a subject of a whole thesis, but saddest of all - I very superficially studied fossilized soils. Alas, the find fell in the hands of underprepared researcher.

Ya. E. Yudovitch. Gramm more expensive than tonne: rare elements in coals (p. 102, Moscow, 1989.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-28T20:45:28.394Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The worst of all auguries is from consent in matters intellectual.

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, section LXXVII.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-10-31T15:06:32.032Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't get it.

comment by Morendil · 2015-10-31T15:53:28.913Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Just because many believe in something doesn't make it true - the opposite, actually." (This from Googling the too-short excerpt and reading a bit of the surrounding text.) He spoils it by excepting two domains, religion and politics.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-11-07T09:46:13.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the opposite, actually.

Ahem.

comment by FairWitness · 2015-10-28T02:52:08.345Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"When you are looking for something beautiful and satisfying, it's much harder to find the ugly truth." Penn Jillette, in his book "Oh, God, No" , talking about showing how magic tricks are done.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-17T17:02:12.529Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

-Rick

comment by Nomad · 2015-10-18T09:49:19.778Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To me, that sounds suspiciously like "The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long and no longer than the power by which he is able to compel that obligation." It's gilded up so it sounds better, but that's how it was in practice.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-18T10:33:58.244Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever the practice of sovereignty may have been from place to place and from time to time, Hobbes is setting out a normative view of what constitutes legitimate sovereignty. He is plainly saying exactly what he is saying in the quoted fragment, viz. that obedience to a sovereign authority is undertaken in return for its protection, the agreement being void where the protection is wanting. As opposed, for example, to the theory of the king being set by God over his people, against whom rebellion is necessarily a sin, whatever the king's character and conduct; or the theory that all are masterless and owe obedience to none, for (Hobbes says) the result is a continual war of all against all in which none have the liberty which (he argues) it is the function of a sovereign authority to protect; or your observation, as of Athens to Melos, that the strong do what they will, while the weak bear what they must.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-18T10:30:14.830Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever the practice of sovereignty may have been from place to place and from time to time, Hobbes is setting out a normative view of what constitutes legitimate sovereignty. He is plainly saying exactly what he is saying in the quoted fragment, viz. that obedience to a sovereign authority is undertaken in return for its protection, the agreement being void where the protection is wanting. As opposed, for example, to the theory of the king being set by God over his people, against whom rebellion is necessarily a sin, whatever the king's character and conduct; or the theory that all are masterless and owe obedience to none, for (Hobbes says) the result is a continual war of all against all in which none have the liberty which (he argues) it is the function of a sovereign authority to protect..

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-18T10:28:40.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever the practice of sovereignty may have been from place to place and from time to time, Hobbes is setting out a normative view of what constitutes legitimate sovereignty. He is plainly saying exactly what he is saying in the quoted fragment, viz. that obedience to a sovereign authority is undertaken in return for its protection, the agreement being void where the protection is wanting. As opposed, for example, to the theory of the king being set by God over his people, against whom rebellion is necessarily a sin, whatever the king's character and conduct; or the theory that all are masterless and owe obedience to none, for (Hobbes says) that results in a continual state of war of all against all in which none have the liberty which it is the function of a sovereign authority to protect..

comment by FourFire · 2015-11-26T12:31:43.660Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to have suddenly lost some karma due to your other posts in this thread, I am discouraged from commenting on those posts, so I shall do so here instead.

At first I was surprised that 100% of the downvoted beyond default visible threshold comments in this thread belonged to the same person, and considered that you might be the victim of a downvote brigade, but after reading the comments themselves I realize that I too would downvote these ones, and so do not consider it a conspiracy beyond the stated purpose of the site.

Tangentially, I notice that downvoted comments discourage any response save from those with so many fake internet points that the loss doesn't matter (which may well be the exact intent), or those who don't care about said number. As I understand the mechanism is supposed to prevent flamewars, but it also severely reduces responses from everyone besides the top posters, especially longtime lurkers like myself, when the top posters may not have the time or will to comment on elementary mistakes, as their time is comparatively worth more (and here I notice I am confused, is the time of prolific site users really that valuable? I mean sure, what they have to say has been worth upvoting, but if they have invested so much time into the site then perhaps their time is worth less).

On Telling the story of yourself: undesirable starting states of people exist, it is more beneficial for both the person in question and society as a whole that such people learn and improve rather than maintaining undesirableness, in common psychology this process is called "socialization" and noticeably, those who through circumstance avoided or had lacking and/or deviant socialization have worse outcomes in general.
You would be courageous to do so because it will cost you.

On seduction: A more accurate quote (as in matching reality) would explain that the degree to which you can manipulate another mind is bounded, but unknown, rather than known to be unbounded.

On "True focus": Though I agree that it is important to reassure other people that your decisions are in part (though not mostly) emotionally motivated: by appearance, and that focus is strongly correlated with motivation, I am wary of all claims of "True X", that phrasing speaks of sounding wise.

comment by WalterL · 2015-10-13T15:20:23.145Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?

Princess Diana

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-13T17:10:35.963Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Attribution doubtful.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-19T06:32:27.088Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Courage...is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart"

-A facebook friend has that on his profile

Reminds me of:

Repress nothing - Otto Gross

comment by gjm · 2015-10-19T10:57:37.604Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Suppose you are by nature lazy and selfish and cautious, and you see someone drowning in a lake. Is it more courageous to leap in and try to save them (despite the risk and the cost to yourself and the danger), or to sit idly by and watch them drown (giving priority to living out your own nature more authentically)?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-19T11:33:37.806Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's an interesting question.

In practical terms, I would choose the latter since I would be interested in signalling heroism and reaping the associated awards.

In idealised terms (see brackets in gjm's post) I believe that the second choice - authenticity over self sacrifice is the dominant choice. However, once again in practice the deservingness of those particular labels (lazy, etc) is dubious. It would be a false dilemma to me since I'm not only lazy, selfish and cautious, but daring and altruistic (paradoxes are ok and natural). Since the feeling of heroism is highly desiring, I would predict my behaviour to be jumping in.

Given the confluence on my predicted and normative behaviour, and the projection of my mind onto you, I wonder why you ask the question?

comment by gjm · 2015-10-19T12:17:58.278Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In practical terms, I would choose the latter since I would be interested in signalling heroism [...]

You mean the former, right? (Former was heroism, latter was laziness.)

the deservingness of those particular labels (lazy, etc) is dubious

I wonder whether there's a misunderstanding here. I was not accusing you of being lazy and selfish and cautious. I was suggesting a hypothetical situation. (Being "daring and altruistic" was not part of that hypothetical situation; it flatly contradicts it.)

I wonder why you ask the question?

Because the statement about courage you quoted appears to me to be badly wrong, and the thought experiment I describe is intended to show what I think is wrong about it.

If courage is "to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart" then someone who is lazy, selfish and cautious will show "courage" by being consistently, visibly and unashamedly lazy, selfish and cautious. There may be some virtue in that, but it doesn't seem to me to have much to do with what is usually called courage.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-19T04:07:22.868Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"no matter how much you learn about seduction, you cannot make any one person more interested if she isn't already."

I don't agree, but it's a hypothesis I hadn't even considered, let alone specifically or categorically rejected.

from seddit

comment by Glen · 2015-10-20T15:10:13.081Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's no way that this is actually true, though. Before anybody has met you, they have 0 interest in you. After they have met you, their interest may change based on what you say/do etc. (People's first impressions are important, but do not literally set a limit for how interested they will ever be) It is therefore entirely possible that a given person would have some combination of things you can say and do to increase how much they are interested in you, and indeed one of the major points of dating is to see if that will happen. While some people will just never be interested in you no matter what you say or do, it's ridiculous to just say it's impossible to specifically target any given person.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-10T01:39:09.049Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

True focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity - from Xmen, retold here

comment by helltank · 2015-10-11T04:10:44.805Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How does this help me become more rational?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-10T01:27:51.005Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

“The most important thing in all human relationships is conversation, but people don’t talk anymore, they don’t sit down to talk and listen. They go to the theater, the cinema, watch television, listen to the radio, read books, but they almost never talk. If we want to change the world, we have to go back to a time when warriors would gather around a fire and tell stories.” ― Paulo Coelho