The consequentialist case for social conservatism, or “Against Cultural Superstimuli”

post by Sophronius · 2021-04-14T21:50:25.794Z · LW · GW · 44 comments

This essay was requested by the highly qualified rationalist and extremely-sex-positive Paul Crowley, who (like me) is frustrated by the absolute refusal of certain political groups to explain their actual ideas rather than shout at each other. The shouty people in this case are sex-negative conservatives and second-wave feminists, and the thing they’re shouting about is that our society has become too hedonistic. Do they have a point?

Well, the strongest argument in favor of social conservatism is common sense – in this case, the idea that society is the way it is for a reason, and that any large scale change is therefore liable to have severe negative societal consequences. Society might feel like a construct, but it’s actually evolved in much the same way as us. As such, trying to ‘fix’ society is like modifying human RNA to vaccinate against a disease – a completely insane notion that obviously demands extreme caution but something which can apparently be done if you put your best and smartest people on the job. The problem is that when it comes to modifying society, not only are the smartest people not in charge, nobody is in charge, there is no quality testing whatsoever and nobody even seems aware of how absolutely insane that is.

Liberal commentators dismiss this concern in the name of utilitarian consequentialism: the idea that even if a proposed change seems scary, you should just shut up and do the math [? · GW] and then implement it anyway if the numbers work out. And from the perspective of progressives, the math is firmly on their side. Conservatives warned that society would collapse if interracial marriage was legalized, and yet here we are. They said the same thing about gay marriage, and women’s rights, and literally every other time there was a proposal to make society even slightly more open and tolerant. And now they are singing the same tune about Trans people (No, unisex bathrooms and women’s sports are not their real primary objections – they’ve just gotten into the habit of censoring their own best arguments). Clearly, conservatives are just a lodestone whose existence only serves to slow down progress, and the best solution is to either silence them or else to simply ignore them until they become irrelevant.

But from the perspective of social conservatives, the exact opposite is the case. Sure, society didn’t collapse immediately when the most obviously necessary changes were implemented, but it’s hard to argue that democracy isn’t functioning less well now than it did before. Conservatives warned that doing away with even seemingly arbitrary rules would diminish social cohesion, and Americans are now more divided than ever. Conservatives warned that boys need male role models, and after losing out on male teachers boys are doing worse than ever. After progressives unilaterally took over schools and universities (sometimes through little more than bullying) the Flynn effect has reversed and IQ is dropping for the first time in forever. Suicide rates are up, and life expectancy is down for more reasons than just the pandemic alone.

If all of that is not enough to convince a reasonable moderate that there may be something to the notion that encouraging people to treat life like a fun game is a bad idea, the last US president was a literal reality TV star, and most Americans now support the idea of running a celebrity as president.

But okay, Paul originally asked about the appeal of sex negativity in particular, so let’s focus on that. It seems easy to grant that something might be up with society in general, but how could anything as simple and innocuous as porn cause a problem as big as that?

Well, I was raised with the idea that “the key to happiness is low expectations”, and I think that’s simply empirically true. I don’t agree with progressives that everything is relative, but some things really are, and happiness is definitely one of them. As such, I feel like Yudkowsky’s a sense that more is possible [LW · GW] should have maybe come with a warning label in the same way that TVtropes does. You see, the hedonic treadmill means that if you make someone experience something ultra-fun just once, you can literally make the entire rest of their life more miserable simply by making everything else seem drab and grey in comparison. There are accounts of torture being made worse by intentionally giving the victim false hope of freedom, and the most naïve forms of utilitarianism simply cannot account for that.

For someone like Paul Crowley, there is an easy solution to this: Just have ultra fun superjoy all the time! And, well, maybe that’s an option if you look like an eternally young sexmeister like he does (pfffff), but sadly that’s not an option for the rest of us. To a homely straight dude who is trapped in a cubicle with no prospect of escape, dangling the notion of ultra-superfun in front of his nose may be downright cruel.

Similarly, there are entire communities of people who used to think that they were moderately attractive (because duh) until the modern media came along and they were bombarded with images of supermodels. It’s hard to know for sure why, but the happiness of women in particular has been declining for the last 50 years, even as their expectations rise. That doesn’t look like progress to me.

Essentially, the disagreement between social conservatives and progressives boils down to this:

Setting high expectations causes increased misery until they're realized

I should note first, with great clarity, that I have no problem whatsoever with the inevitable future where, if we do not destroy each other first, everyone gains the technology to transform themselves into catgirls if they so wish. But in between now and then lies the point where people spend all day fantasizing about being and/or having sex with a catgirl without actually having the technology to make that happen. And I’m not so convinced that there is any causal relation whatsoever between progressives angrily asserting that the world ought to be a certain way and us developing the technology to actually get there. So in this extended analogy, attempting to drive down the valley too fast may only result in us crashing at the bottom, never to rise again.

I should add that none of this is hypothetical. Right now, as we speak, young people are being actively encouraged by progressive parents, teachers and activists to ask themselves the question if maybe they’ve been born in the wrong body. And while progressives insist that this can’t possibly do any harm because all sex-related matters are unique in being the only human traits that are fully genetic and on which environment has zero effect, my counterargument is that that’s horseshit.

Even if you insist that the number of trans people is kept constant across time and space by some kind of universal law, their suicide rates are still some factor ~18 higher than the rest of society, and you cannot possibly expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with them being constantly told by trans activists that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it (by the way, I don’t hate you.) So from my point of view, progressives are only making impressionable young people more miserable by convincing them that their current reality is intolerable and evil.

Porn is of course different from catgirls in that we do in fact have the technology to create porn itself, but it does tend to raise one’s expectations of what real sexual encounters ought to be like, and this may have contributed to a pandemic of loneliness and a huge drop in sexual encounters amongst the young. Now I realize that young people having sex is something social conservatives traditionally argue against, but we’ve reached a Godzilla threshold here where people like Ross Douthat are going out in the street screaming “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO BACK TO BEING DEGENERATE, OUR SPECIES IS DYING!” When your former worst enemies desperately beg you to please let them give you everything you ever asked for in exchange for not destroying the world, that’s probably something worth taking seriously.

Now, do I actually believe that banning porn or facebook would make the world a better place? Ehh… no. It didn’t work out with alcohol prohibition, and it wouldn’t work here. But do I think people are making sub-optimal choices? Ho yes. Whenever I see students survive on fast food and Coca-Cola and then prove unable to tell the difference between margarine and real butter, I can’t help but feel like they’ve calibrated their sense of taste to such an extreme that they’ve effectively ruined their taste buds. To give a more extreme example, would you give your kid crack cocaine if it didn’t make them medically addicted or cause ill health? If not, does it make sense to give them access to hardcore porn?

It’s worth mentioning at this point that some progressives really have tried to ban, tax or regulate sugary drinks. I actually support such a tax (not a ban) because internalizing negative externalities in the form of public healthcare costs is just good economic sense. But how can you be in favor of regulating taste-superstimuli [LW · GW], yet insist that porn (which is also addictive) is perfectly fine? It makes no consistent sense.

The same is true for highly addictive video games. If I play Hearthstone, I frequently end up feeling miserable, to the point where I wonder what possessed me to dig it out of the trashbin after I deleted it the last time. The economic notion of revealed preference just doesn’t seem to work here. And I can’t help but notice that conservatives don’t seem to struggle with Akrasia nearly as much as liberals do. They are also consistently happier, even when they have lives that objectively suck. And this is just from memory, but all of the politically effective progressives seem to have been raised by social conservatives. Could it be that a philosophy of applied hedonism makes people not want to subject themselves to the painful banality, theater and bureaucracy of modern politics? If so, it’s a good thing that programming as a field is relatively interesting and rewarding, or we’d all be fucked. [LW · GW]

In summary, it’s true that the arguments from social conservatives tend to be pretty sucky, but there are underlying reasons for their taboos which are genuinely important and correct. Namely that too much fun can be self-destructive, that stoicism really does tend to make you happier in the long run, and that society cannot function if people’s expectations for life are too high. 

In other words, porn itself is not uniquely evil, but drowning oneself in fantasies and escapism is. Like I said earlier, I don’t actually think that banning porn or putting social conservatives in charge of everything is a good idea. But it might not be such a bad thing to let them give us some advice now and then on how to raise our kids.

44 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by toonalfrink · 2021-04-15T21:48:29.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sidestepping the politics here: I've personally found that avoiding (super)stimuli for a week or so, either by not using any electronic devices or by going on a meditation retreat, tends to be extremely effective in increasing my ability to regulate my emotions. Semi-permanently.

I have no substitute for it, it's my panacea against cognitive dissonance and mental issues of any form. This makes me wonder: why aren't we focusing more on this from an applied rationality point of view? 

Replies from: Kenny
comment by Kenny · 2021-05-13T14:46:13.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this basic idea – 'avoid superstimuli' – is in fact focused-on pretty reliably!

What makes you think "we" aren't focusing on it as much as "we" should? (And who's "we" exactly?)

comment by gjm · 2021-04-15T01:37:16.932Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am unconvinced by this:

[trans people's] suicide rates are still some factor ~18 higher than the rest of society, and you cannot possibly expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with them being constantly told by trans activists that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it

... "Unconvinced" is too weak a word. There are so many things about the argument I think you're making that seem badly wrong to me.

1. Haven't trans people's suicide rates been tremendously high since before there even were any trans activists to speak of?

2. The survey report you link to includes the following figures: (1) about half of all respondents in their survey who had experienced >= 4 instances of discrimination and violence in the last year attempted suicide in that year; (2) among all respondents in their survey, 7.3% attempted suicide in the last year. To me, that looks as if suicide rates among trans people are much more to do with actually being treated badly than with fearing they will be treated badly. (If so, I am cautiously optimistic that those terrible trans activists trying so hard to raise awareness of transness and reduce the extent to which trans people are regarded as strange and sinister are in fact making it less likely that any given trans person attempts suicide.)

There are a whole lot of other findings in that survey with the same sort of shape: it seems like every sort of mistreatment-by-others trans people might experience is associated with a substantial increase in suicide attempts.

(Of course, for obvious reasons the survey won't find people who successfully committed suicide, which makes interpreting these figures trickier, but I think they still mean what they appear to: much of what makes trans people commit suicide more than not-trans people is that other people treat them in ways they find distressing.)

3. This survey was exclusively of adults and it is not at all obvious how well it generalizes to the "impressionable young people" you're talking about; from your references to parents and teachers, I take it you're thinking of people who are not yet adults. (I don't mean to imply that this difference necessarily means that those people are less at risk of suicide; just that generalizing from one population to another is unreliable.)

4. So far as I can make out, "trans activists" are not telling those impressionable young people "that the world hates them and that there is nothing they can do about it".

5. Let us suppose that those "trans activists" are finding impressionable young people who don't think of themselves as trans and persuading them to think of themselves that way. It seems obvious to me that these people (1) are not typical of the not-trans population before this happens, because most not-trans people would not easily be persuaded that they are trans, and (2) are not typical of the trans population after it happens, because most trans people didn't need to be persuaded by trans activists; they experienced years of miserable gender dysphoria and figured it out for themselves. (#2 might be becoming less true, if a large fraction of today's young trans people were persuaded to be that way by "trans activists", but to whatever extent that's so the current young trans population is in turn not typical of the 2015 adult trans population studied by that survey.) In particular, wouldn't you strongly expect these people to be more at risk of suicide than the general population even before starting to identify as trans, and less at risk of suicide than the trans population as a whole after starting to identify as trans?

Social-conservative arguments along the lines of "Trans people have bad lives, so it is irresponsible for progressives to try to normalize transness" ring false to me, because so much of the badness of those lives is because those same social-conservatives are working hard to make those lives bad, or at least to stop them being made less bad. (They used to say the exact same thing about gay people, and I'd say the same about that case as about this one.)

Replies from: Elmer of Malmesbury, Sophronius
comment by Elmer of Malmesbury · 2021-04-16T03:39:00.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

2. The survey report you link to includes the following figures: (1) about half of all respondents in their survey who had experienced >= 4 instances of discrimination and violence in the last year attempted suicide in that year; (2) among all respondents in their survey, 7.3% attempted suicide in the last year. To me, that looks as if suicide rates among trans people are much more to do with actually being treated badly than with fearing they will be treated badly. (If so, I am cautiously optimistic that those terrible trans activists trying so hard to raise awareness of transness and reduce the extent to which trans people are regarded as strange and sinister are in fact making it less likely that any given trans person attempts suicide.)

Here is a possible counter-argument to this: if social pressure and discrimination cause suicides, we would expect the suicide rates of trans people to increase after hormonal treatment or surgery. After all, before transition, gender dysphoria is not particularly visible. From the point of view of most people who are not intimately familiar with the person, a pre-transition trans looks just like someone cis. After transition, however, they may or may not "pass", and in many cases it is immediately obvious that they are trans (e.g. MtF still having a male voice unless they do the fancy vocal cords surgery). But we observe exactly the opposite: gender-affirming surgery greatly reduces the suicide rate of trans people.

Note that I don't think that trans activists are causing the suicides either. My working hypothesis is that gender dysphoria (as in, not feeling at ease in your own body) is horrible by itself, and is the cause of suicides. Hormones and surgery might make the trans-ness more visible, but if it alleviates the mismatch between your body map and your actualy body, it might still be a net benefit.

Replies from: Raven, gjm
comment by Raven · 2021-04-16T03:59:54.488Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't speak for all trans people but my experience lines up neatly with that hypothesis. Hrt massively improved qol by alleviating dysphoria, and then I also got a new set of things to worry about but after the crushing weight of untreated dysphoria it doesn't bother me so much...

... of course, I live in one of the most trans friendly places in the US, so I'm sure someone who was stuck in the deep south would have a very different experience.

comment by gjm · 2021-04-16T12:55:09.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that almost certainly a lot of suicides among trans people are neither the result of being treated badly nor the result of expecting to be treated badly: as you say, gender dysphoria is apparently extremely horrible for many who suffer it. (My guess is that a substantial part of the distress comes specifically from being treated by other people as being of a gender that feels wrong to you, in which case much of it is "being treated badly" in an extended sense, though not necessarily one that involves any element of malice or anything from the people doing it.)

But I think there's something amiss in your model. Suppose you're (let's say MtF) trans. There are commonly (at least) three phases, not two. Phase 1: you are living as a man but inwardly feel that this is terribly wrong. Main source of misery: gender dysphoria. Phase 2: you are living as a woman but haven't made any drastic physical changes via hormones or surgery. Sources of misery: gender dysphoria (hopefully less than in phase 1), obnoxiousness from other people. Phase 3: you are living as a woman and have made substantial physical changes. Hopefully not much gender dysphoria now (though I'd guess many trans people remain less than fully satisfied with the state of their body). Hopefully less obnoxiousness from people who read you as male rather than female. Maybe more obnoxiousness from people who discover you're trans and feel like you're trying to deceive them.

As far as possible causes of misery goes, the 1->2 transition makes some things better (less gender dysphoria) and some things worse (more opportunities for people to discriminate, be deliberately offensive, etc.) The 2->3 transition, though, seems like it makes them all better. Your body is nearer to how you feel it should be, and your transness is less likely to be immediately obvious to people who might respond badly to it.

I think it's quite common to spend a non-negligible amount of time in phase 2. So even if a lot of trans suicides are the result of social pressure and discrimination, we shouldn't be surprised to see that hormonal and surgical treatment greatly reduce the suicide rate.

comment by Sophronius · 2021-04-15T11:25:16.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haven't trans people's suicide rates been tremendously high since before there even were any trans activists to speak of?

Hard to say for sure - the rise of activism and the increase in openness on the issue occurred at the same time.

The survey is just there to give an idea of the statistics - I was not trying to push any particular narrative by linking to it. 

because so much of the badness of those lives is because those same social-conservatives are working hard to make those lives bad, or at least to stop them being made less bad.

Do they? Are conservatives really going around trying to make trans people's lives harder?

This sounds very similar to the whole "conservatives want to control women's bodies as part of their war on women" spiel. Again, I have to question if saying things like this really makes Trans people better off. 

"trans activists"

Why are you using scare quotes for that term? It's not as if I came up with it. It's trans people like Contrapoints who say that the trans-activist community is toxic. Do you think most trans people are happy with how they've been represented?

This is the frustrating thing about the culture war. People seem to assume that the sides are clearly delineated in black and white. The actual people who are supposedly being represented are much more diverse than you might think.

Replies from: gjm, Dale Udall, Viliam
comment by gjm · 2021-04-15T15:46:22.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Are conservatives really going around making trans people's lives harder?" Yup. Or, more precisely, progressives are going around trying to make trans people's lives easier, and conservatives are opposing them at every turn. Whether that's because they prefer trans people's lives to be harder (perhaps because they think this will make there be fewer trans people and trans people's lives are bad whatever they do), or because they oppose change as such, or just to stick it to the libs, I don't know.

I'm honestly not sure how this could be in doubt, which suggests that at least one of us is badly mistaken about something. Here are a few examples of the sort of thing I have in mind; if you think they're badly unrepresentative, could you explain why?

  • "Bathroom bills", explicitly either allowing or forbidding trans people to use public toilet facilities matching the gender they now identify as, appear to break down cleanly as follows: ones proposed and sponsored by conservatives forbid, ones proposed and sponsored by progressives permit. Here are the first few specific cases I found in the Wikipedia article on the topic. Ones in parentheses are ones less directly relevant, for one reason or another. There are many more and all the ones I looked at seem to fit the pattern. Many are closely modelled on something put out by the "Alliance Defending Freedom", which is of course a conservative group.
    • (Anchorage, Alaska: couldn't quickly find information about party affiliation of the various people involved, but of course Alaska Family Action, which proposed a forbidding BB, is a conservative group.)
    • (Alabama: this bill wasn't exactly either of the "allowing" or the "forbidding" type, but does seem like maaaaybe it was designed to stoke fears about Scary Trans Impostors. It was proposed by a Republican.)
    • Arizona: forbidding BB, proposed by a Republican but later withdrawn.
    • (California: school-related allowing BB, proposed by Tom Ammiano; a quick look didn't find an explicit party affiliation but he seems clearly progressive.)
    • (California: legislation requiring single-occupancy public toilets to be unisex. Not exactly a BB of either type.)
    • Colorado: forbidding BB proposed, died in committee. In that committee, 6 of 6 Democrats and 1 of 5 Republicans voted to kill it; 4 of 5 Republicans voted not to. Sponsor of the bill was a Republican.
    • Florida: forbidding BB proposed by a Republican. Died in committee. I couldn't quickly find who voted for or against it.
    • Indiana: forbidding BB proposed by a Republican. Still at an early stage.
  • Canada's "Bill C-16", made more famous by Jordan Peterson's complaints about it, did two things relevant to trans people: (a) it added gender identity to the list of things people aren't allowed to discriminate on the basis of, (b) it added gender identity to the list of things that can be considered possible targets for "hate speech" and "hate crimes". Its sponsor was the Minister for Justice for Canada's centre-left government. I think every one of the votes against in the Commons was by a member of the Conservative party, and the same goes for the votes against in the Senate. If you're not Canadian (as I'm not), you are most likely to have heard of C-16 because of the opposition of Jordan Peterson, also a social conservative.
  • Trans people commonly have (to put it as neutrally and weakly as possible) a strong preference for being referred to using pronouns that match their own gender identity. The cases I've encountered where people flatly refuse to do this have almost all been (at least according to my memory, which may be unreliable) social conservatives.

Of course it isn't only social conservatives who do this. For instance, the people sometimes referred to as "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" are in most respects not social conservatives. But it's mostly social conservatives, and I think it's most social conservatives.

I've no idea why you're talking about yelling "DEMOCRATS LOVE TRANS PEOPLE". Is that a thing anyone's doing? Is it a thing I'm doing? (For that matter, who was it who brought trans people into this particular discussion of social conservatism? I'm pretty sure it was you.) Does it have anything to do with the argument you started out making, namely that encouraging people to consider whether they might be trans is harmful to those people?

Scare quotes for "trans activists" because it looks to me as if most of the people encouraging those "impressionable young people" to consider the possibility of gender identification that doesn't match their chromosomes or genitalia aren't "activists" in any strong sense. Maybe it started with activists, but it's in the air now and it survives not because activists are pushing for it but because it's an idea that (for good or ill) a lot of people find plausible.

Also because it's very unclear to me who you're actually talking about. At some points it's "progressives" generally ("... from my point of view, progressives are simply making impressionable young people more miserable by convincing them that their current reality is intolerable and evil ..."). At some points it seems to be party activists trying to drum up support from trans people ("... if you yell DEMOCRATS LOVE TRANS PEOPLE ..."). At some points it's "trans activists", and sometimes you're at pains to suggest that they're a small subset ("do you think most trans people are happy with how they've been represented?"). It seems like you aren't really distinguishing between "progressives are bad because they say conservatives hate trans people, which makes trans people miserable" and "progressives are bad because they say conservatives hate trans people, which isn't true" and "progressives are bad because they say progressives like trans people, which makes conservatives hate trans people, which makes trans people miserable" and "progressives are bad because they encourage people to be trans, which makes them miserable", and those are all very different propositions and some are pretty difficult to reconcile with others, and I can't help thinking that maybe you've already got "... and therefore progressives are bad" written on your bottom line [LW · GW]. (More specifically, my guess is that what you're really upset about is that progressives keep saying that conservatives are making things worse for trans people, and you've got a whole batch of different arguments for why that might be a bad thing and haven't entirely noticed that e.g. if saying "conservatives hate you" makes trans people more miserable then saying "progressives love you" probably makes them less miserable, or that if an important problem with saying "progressives love you" is that "people on the other side of the war might be tempted to take the opposite position" then it can't be so very wrong to say "conservatives hate you".)

I agree (of course!) that not all trans people -- and for that matter not all cis people, not all progressives, not all conservatives, etc., etc., etc. -- are alike. I'm not sure what I said to make you think I don't. I agree that the sides are not black and white. I'm not sure what I said to make you think I don't. You complain about progressives "yelling" and "shouting" but at least in this discussion my (admittedly biased) impression is that you've been doing a lot more yelling and shouting than I have.

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis, Viliam, Sophronius
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-04-15T17:51:14.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, I started writing an impassioned reply to this (draft got to 850 words), but I've been trying to keep my culture war efforts off this website (except for the Bayesian philosophy-of-language sub-campaign [LW · GW] that's genuinely on-topic), so I probably shouldn't take the bait. (If nothing else, it's not a good use of my time when I have lots of other things to write for my topic-specific blog.)

If I can briefly say one thing without getting dragged into a larger fight, I would like to note that aggressively encouraging people to consider whether they might be trans is potentially harmful if the popular theory of what "trans" is, is actually false; even if you're a liberal who wants people to have the freedom to decide how to live their lives unencumbered by oppressive traditions, people might make worse decisions in an environment full of ideologically-fueled misinformation. (I consider trans activism to have been extremely harmful to me and people like me on this account.)

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2021-04-15T19:21:16.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All noted. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not commenting here on whether any given "trans activism" is helpful or harmful (on net, or to any particular person). I just thought Sophronius made a really bad argument in the OP, and continued to make bad arguments in reply to me.

comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T19:32:20.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Bathroom bills", explicitly either allowing or forbidding trans people to use public toilet facilities matching the gender they now identify as, appear to break down cleanly as follows: ones proposed and sponsored by conservatives forbid, ones proposed and sponsored by progressives permit.

Would you support or oppose a bill explicitly allowing cis males to use female public toilets?

I mean, if you have a good reason against that, you should consider the possibility that the bill allowing trans people to use any bathroom will be abused by some people, because "what you identify as" is difficult to verify.

Canada's "Bill C-16"... added gender identity to the list of things that can be considered possible targets for "hate speech" and "hate crimes".

Note that if I am the hypothetical asshole cis male who trolls people by using female public toilets, and you call me out, that could in Canada qualify as hate speech, depending on how convincingly I make my case. Okay, if I am a known troll, I would probably lose. But if I am a pervert pretending to be trans...

I guess, it depends on what is more frequent in real life: actual trans people, or perverts willing to pretend to be trans if it allows them to sneak into female toilets. Probably the trans people, but I wish I could be more sure about this.

One more question: Suppose I now decide to troll you, and declare that I am a trans woman, and insist that you call me "she". And it is perfectly obvious to you that I am just lying and being an asshole to you, to prove some stupid political point. Would you obey my wish regardless?

Replies from: gjm, gjm, Zack_M_Davis
comment by gjm · 2021-04-16T00:14:45.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Separate reply for last paragraph, which is about something entirely different from the rest of your comment.)

If you declare that you're a trans woman and demand to be called "she", then I expect I'll call you "she". If (as I think is actually the case) you're a cis man, I don't see that you're going to get much satisfaction from being referred to that way.

I am not generally in favour of laws that would require me to do that, even if you are in fact not a troll or an asshole but simply a trans woman. Or indeed a cis woman. In my view, misgendering someone is an asshole move of roughly the same magnitude as saying "fuck you" to them or repeatedly calling them stupid. Those things are not generally illegal, and I think misgendering generally shouldn't be either. My (outsider's) understanding of C-16 in Canada is that despite Jordan Peterson's complaints it does not in fact make misgendering people generally illegal.

("Generally" because I'm not certain there aren't any situations in which misgendering someone might be, or contribute to, either "fighting words" (considered in law a deliberate provocation of violence) or slander.)

comment by gjm · 2021-04-16T00:05:13.705Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have not claimed that "allowing bathroom bills" are a good thing on balance, or that "forbidding bathroom bills" are a bad thing on balance; only that the former are good for trans people and the latter are bad for trans people.

However, I do on the whole think that FBBs are a bad thing overall and (less confidently) that ABBs are a good thing overall, so let me address your question. What I would actually prefer is for all public toilets to be unisex, and designed in such a way that no one using them need care much who else is using them. Failing that, I would not favour a bill allowing cis men to use female public toilets, for one thing because it doesn't make any sense: if cis men are allowed to use them, then in what possible sense are they "female public toilets"?

So, shouldn't I be concerned about male predators lurking in female public toilets and then defending themselves if challenged by saying "oh, but I'm a trans woman"? Not very concerned, I think, because if I try to imagine the actual concrete course of events I have trouble seeing genuinely-probable things to worry about.

(Content warning: anyone likely to be badly disturbed by thinking about male predators in women's toilets might want to stop reading now.)

I mean, imagine a (cis male) predator wanting to lurk in women's toilets for some nefarious purpose. What nefarious purpose, and what exactly is he doing? I don't think it can just be for ogling, because there's not much ogling to do in women's toilets -- the only undressing happens inside the cubicles. So presumably the idea is some kind of physical violence; the predator is waiting (let's say) for the only other person there to be a vulnerable-looking woman, whom he will kidnap or rape or murder or whatever other appalling thing he has in mind. Now there are two cases. (1) Maybe he's hiding in a cubicle so as not to be seen. In this case, I think things go exactly the same way whatever the law says about trans people and public toilets. (2) Maybe he's hanging out by the washbasins -- that way he gets a better view of the situation, but is more likely to be spotted. And now the case that matters is where someone sees him there and says "Oi, you're not meant to be in here".

If there is in force what I've been calling an "allowing bathroom bill", then he can respond "Oh yes I am; I'm a trans woman". OK, so far so good. But now he's been spotted; he's not going to get away with continuing to hang out by the washbasins; everyone's going to be suspicious. Realistically, our predator's best option at this point is to go and lurk in a different women's toilet and hope not to get caught this time.

At the other extreme, if there is a "forbidding bathroom bill" in force, he definitely can't say that and hope it'll help. But he can still e.g. say "Oh shit, is this a women's toilet? I must have misread the signs" and realistically no one is likely to be calling the police. So the actual outcome is the same either way.

Will an "allowing bathroom bill" make people more reluctant to confront our predator? It could. But there are already actual unambiguously cis women who look very male, and confronting one of them in a women's toilet would be just as much a faux pas in the present world (or even one with a "forbidding bathroom bill") as confronting a trans woman in a world with an "allowing bathroom bill". I'm not convinced the social pressures are that much different either way.

Or suppose our predator, confronted by the washbasins in a world with a "forbidding bathroom bill", doesn't say "I'm a trans woman"; he just says "I'm a woman -- it's not my fault if I'm not feminine-enough looking for you". Are his accusers really going to rip his clothes off and check his genitals, or take a blood sample and do some sort of genetic test? Of course not.

I think our hypothetical predator has, realistically, pretty much the same options available, with pretty much the same chances of success, regardless of what the law says about trans women in women's toilets.

And now consider: there are trans men too. If you say that trans women have to use the men's toilets, then it seems trans men have to use the women's toilets. Guess what? Trans men tend to look like men. So, actually, our hypothetical predator has an extra defensive option when confronted. "Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm a trans man and the law says I have to use these bathrooms."

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-04-15T20:06:36.735Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

actual trans people, or perverts willing to pretend to be trans if it allows them to sneak into female toilets

It gets worse: if the dominant root cause of late-onset gender dysphoria in males is actually a paraphilic sexual orientation, this is a false dichotomy! (It's not "pretending" if you sincerely believe it.)

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T22:48:14.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No comment on your link, but by "perverts" in this context I specifically meant guys who get turned on by being in a public toilet with (other) women. The idea is that being an object of such desire might make the women quite uncomfortable, and yet there is nothing they can do about it without risking to be accused of transphobia.

comment by Sophronius · 2021-04-15T18:55:39.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are a few examples of the sort of thing I have in mind; if you think they're badly unrepresentative, could you explain why?

Representative of the current culture war clashes? Sort of, I guess. But it's weird to me that you're reading e.g. Jordan Peterson asking people to please not attack him or make him say words that he doesn't want to as "evil conservatives attack trans people for no reason." Is your model of Peterson that he is only pretending to feel threatened, or that he just feels threatened by trans people in general? If so, that seems amazingly uncharitable.

But to be fair to your position, there really are a lot of conservative politicians right now who very much play the victim while actively picking culture war fights. But those people are politicians. It seems to me that a lot of progressives are either unable or unwilling to tell principled conservatives apart from concern trolls. For example, Peterson has now apparently been cast as The Red Skull in the latest Marvel comics (yes, really). Of all the right-wingers they could have chosen to portray as a super-Nazi, they picked a nice Canadian professor who tells young men how to behave themselves. It just seems... really lazy, and dumb. :/

Trans people commonly have (to put it as neutrally and weakly as possible) a strong preference for being referred to using pronouns that match their own gender identity. The cases I've encountered where people flatly refuse to do this have almost all been (at least according to my memory, which may be unreliable) social conservatives.

Well, if you want to spread the message that it's important to be polite and respectful with ones words, it'd make sense to not also use phrases like "TERFS" and "CIS SCUM". Meanwhile, JP has said that he calls people by their preferred pronouns as long as they ask politely. What's wrong with that?

I can't help thinking that maybe you've already got "... and therefore progressives are bad" written on your bottom line [LW · GW]. (More specifically, my guess is that what you're really upset about is that progressives keep saying that conservatives are making things worse for trans people, and you've got a whole batch of different arguments for why that might be a bad thing and haven't entirely noticed that e.g. if saying "conservatives hate you" 

I strongly encourage you to at least entertain the idea that I mean exactly what I say, no more and no less. That voice in your head that tells you that I have a secret agenda and that I'm really saying something else... that's the culture war speaking.

Cast in point: I started this essay by saying that cultural conservatives were being a bunch of angry shouty people and that I was frustrated by their refusal to actually explain their arguments, and so I'd try to do it for them.

Evangelical Christians have also always said that New Atheists sound "angry" and "shrill". I don't think Dawkins sounds angry at all. I think it just sounds that way because he speaks with great clarity, doesn't hedge or use weasel words, and says exactly what he means. Since people are accustomed to having to "read between the lines", they figure that if he's willing to be that bold on paper his real opinions must be ten times as strong. But in reality that's not the case. He just means exactly what he says. 

And so do I. :)

Replies from: Viliam, gjm, gjm
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T20:04:54.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But those people are politicians.

it'd make sense to not also use phrases like "TERFS" and "CIS SCUM".

So, conservatives should not be judged by their politicians, but progressives should be judged by their Twitter users? In my opinion, Twitter users are much worse than politicians... :D

Have you ever met someone who used "terfs" and "cis scum" in real life? I can't even imagine that.

comment by gjm · 2021-04-15T20:01:06.058Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wish you wouldn't attribute things to me in freakin' quotation marks that are not things I have actually said, or thought, or meant.

it's weird to me that you're reading e.g. Jordan Peterson asking people to please not attack him or make him say words that he doesn't want to as "evil conservatives attack trans people for no reason."

That would certainly be weird, if there were any truth to it. But literally nothing in those quotation marks is my opinion. I don't think Jordan Peterson is evil, I don't think that refusing to refer to trans people using the pronouns they find appropriate is "attacking" them (though I do think it's bloody rude), and I don't think he was doing it "for no reason" (though I don't find his reasons at all convincing).

More to the point, regardless of what I think, I didn't say any of that or anything like any of that. Here, by way of reminder, is everything I said about Jordan Peterson.

If you're not Canadian (as I'm not), you are most likely to have heard of C-16 because of the opposition of Jordan Peterson, also a social conservative.

That's it. And it's a matter of readily verifiable fact that Jordan Peterson did express opposition to C-16. So how do you get from there to "evil conservatives attack trans people for no reason"? I guess it's because I said that "progressives are trying to make life easier for trans people, and conservatives are opposing them at every turn" and I cited Jordan Peterson's opposition to C-16 as one example. But, again, I never said "evil", or "attack trans people", or "for no reason", and if you take those bits out you get something like "conservatives oppose progressives' attempts to make life easier for trans people" ... which, so far as I can see, is simply a plain statement of fact. Again, if you disagree, show me how the examples I gave aren't representative.

I think you may have slightly misunderstood the Red Skull thing (but it's also very possible that I have), but in any case I don't know what it has to do with anything here. If Marvel Comics did something stupid or evil, is that supposed to have any implications at all for whether social conservatism is wise or foolish?

it'd make sense to not also use phrases like "TERFS" and "CIS SCUM"

Might well do (though TERF seems to me to be pretty much flatly descriptive; if it's a slur, it's only because many people don't like the actual thing that it refers to), but what's the relevance here? Is calling people all-caps CIS SCUM a thing that progressives commonly do? (Not that I've seen.) Is it a thing I've been doing? (Nope; I'm cis myself and have no interest in calling anyone scum.) I'll gladly agree that some trans people have been extremely horrible to some cis people, and I think that's very bad and I wish they wouldn't do it. (The same is true if you replace "trans people" and "cis people" with pretty much any other two groups of people.) But what does that have to do with (a) whether social conservatism is a good thing or (b) any of the things you said in the OP?

Meanwhile, JP has said that he calls people by their preferred pronouns as long as they ask politely. What's wrong with that?

Nothing's wrong with that. But (1) it doesn't seem to be exactly true and (2) obviously no one is saying "Jordan Peterson is terrible because he is willing to use people's preferred pronouns if they ask nicely". On 1, see e.g. this video clip where he's asked what he would do in that situation; what he actually says is that (a) he will use pronouns that match "the persona that they're projecting publicly" but (b) he will not in general use neopronouns like "xe" because "actually the most likely outcome" is that the request is "just a narcissistic power play". On 2, all I actually said about him is that he opposed bill C-16, which (as I said above) is simply a matter of fact. Maybe his reasons are good, maybe not (I tend to think not, as you probably already guessed) but that he opposed it shouldn't be controversial.

I strongly encourage you to at least entertain the idea that I mean exactly what I say, no more and no less.

I wasn't trying to suggest otherwise. Having a pre-written bottom line isn't a matter of secret agendas or not meaning what you say; it's a matter of having already made your mind up about something and then making whatever argument seems like it leads to that conclusion. Dishonesty isn't usually involved. And no, it's not "the culture war" making me suspect a pre-written bottom line; I explained exactly what it was that made me suspect that, and you completely ignored what I said about that. (Which of course you're fully entitled to do, but it's a bit galling that you then make up a completely different explanation for my saying what I did.)

Also, when it comes to entertaining the idea that one's interlocutor means only what they say, may I gently request that you extend me the same courtesy? Thank you.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T21:15:22.610Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mentioned Jordan Peterson in the list of... conservatives opposing progressives' attempts to make trans people's lives easier. Which sounds connotationally quite unfair to me, because although you could make the argument that is it the "attempt to make trans people's lives easier" that he opposes, the actual thing he opposes is making a violation of a social norm (shared only by a part of society, possibly a very small part) an offense punishable in theory by jail.

As an illustration -- exaggerated to make a point -- imagine that I propose a law that your property should be confiscated and distributed to black people living in your neighborhood. Technically, my law is "an attempt to make black people's lives easier", because, of course, giving anyone some extra money makes their life somewhat easier. And your objection to that law would, technically, be "opposing the attempt to make black people's lives easier". Yet you probably agree that if someone composed a list of people opposing the attempts to make black people's lives easier and put you in a prominent position in that list, that would be quite unfair.

That is, we should make a distinction between "someone opposes X (as a terminal value)", and "someone opposes Y (which is advertised as a way to support X), for reasons in principle unrelated to X". Peterson opposes compelled speech in general. Using someone's preferred pronouns under threat of legal sanction is (arguably non-central) example of compelled speech. I believe that a person who spent a large part of their life studying totalitarian regimes should be trusted when they say that opposition to practices associated with totalitarian regimes is their true objection.

For the record, it is also my position that people should be nice to each other, but laws that make it a punishable offense to be rude are wrong. Especially wrong, when the law is not formulated universally as "no one is allowed to be rude to anyone" but rather applies only to being rude towards a selected group of people. -- If you propose a law that it is illegal to be rude to anyone, I will think that you are a crazy extremist, but I am willing to consider your proposal charitably. If you propose a law that it is only illegal to be rude to priests, then fuck no. If you propose a law that it is only illegal to be rude to politicians, then fuck no. If you propose a law that it is only illegal to be rude to trans people, then fuck no. -- Not because I hate trans people, not because I want to make their lives difficult, but precisely because I am deeply egalitarian and in principle oppose all laws that make people unequal. (But also because I think that making rudeness literally illegal is going too far.)

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2021-04-16T00:29:00.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I concede that it's possible that Jordan Peterson's objections were purely 100% about compelled speech, and didn't arise from any particular wish to behave in ways that trans people find unpleasant. My own impression is that other things he's said -- e.g., that people wanting to be referred to with neopronouns like "xe" are usually making a "narcissistic power grab" -- make that a bit difficult to believe.

I do, in fact, share Peterson's objections to compelled speech, and if I thought he was right that the bill he was complaining about proposed to make it a crime not to use the pronouns someone says you should use for them, then I would agree that he was right to complain about that. My impression -- though I am neither a Canadian nor a lawyer -- is that in fact that isn't true, and I would bet heavily that since the bill passed the number of people convicted of a crime on account of their pronoun use is zero.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-16T17:32:30.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

that people wanting to be referred to with neopronouns like "xe" are usually making a "narcissistic power grab"

Frankly, I can imagine someone having a "I wish I had a male/femaly body" dysphoria, but not someone having a "I wish people called me xe" dysphoria in similar sense. So, from my perspective, gender dysphoria is a legitimate thing, made up pronouns are not.

I mean, without Twitter, the number of people feeling they were born in a wrong body would be about the same, but the number of people using "xe" would be much smaller.

Unless you are Finnish or Hungarian, the pronouns are "he" and "she", choose one. Anything else is a jargon no one outside your group is obliged to use. (It would be like, dunno, a Less Wrong user asking people to call Less Wrong users "sane" and everyone else "insane", because we like it so.)

Replies from: TAG, gjm
comment by TAG · 2021-04-16T20:36:55.902Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you also refuse to use religious or aristocratic titles from other groups?

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-18T19:35:44.474Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ha, good point! I once met a queen and I addressed her "Your Majesty". My only excuse is that these rules are older than both of us, so it's not like I was obeying her recent whim inspired by Twitter.

Last time I met a priest, I called him by his first name, because he was my former classmate. I don't remember talking to a priest before that. My guess is that if I met a priest today, I would likely call him "father X", simply because that's how he would likely be introduced to me.

To me, religious and aristocratic titles are "job names", kinda like calling people "professor" or "general". And they are supposed to imply higher status... at least in eyes of those who respect the job. (Also, they are not pronouns, so the usage is a bit different. In the previous paragraphs I have described the queen as "her" and the priest as "him".)

comment by gjm · 2021-04-17T00:59:06.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, for sure dysphoria is not the kind of thing that can specifically make someone need to be called "xe". I think it can specifically make someone find it upsetting to be referred to with specifically-male or specifically-female pronouns, though, and my sense is that Jordan Peterson isn't any happier being asked to refer to someone as "they" than as "xe".

If both "he" and "she" give someone feelings of dysphoria, then I think it's rude to require that they pick one of those. Singular "they" works pretty well, it has a long history of use in English[1], and it seems churlish to insist on giving a particular gender to someone who doesn't feel like either is right for them.

(In some quarters it is claimed that calling someone "they" whose chosen pronoun is "xe" or vice versa is misgendering them, which seems to me just plain wrong. I can imagine a world where we have different standardized neopronouns for different nontraditional gender identities, and in that world maybe it would be so, but we are not in that world. If someone picks a particular set of neopronouns and considers it abusive to be referred to by other pronouns that have essentially the same meaning as theirs, I think that's mostly their problem. I don't think that's at all common, though.)

[1] This is sometimes overstated. There aren't a lot of examples until very recently of "they" being used to refer to a known person of known gender. But there are plenty of examples, including plenty from prestigious authors, of "they" being used when a single person is meant.

comment by gjm · 2021-04-15T20:02:35.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One other remark that's separate from the object-level arguments elsewhere in this thread: I see that your comments here have been quite heavily downvoted, and would like to remark that I have not downvoted any of them.

comment by Dale Udall · 2021-04-15T13:11:20.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the frustrating thing about the culture war. People seem to assume that the sides are clearly delineated in black and white. Just because some activist shouts that you have to call hispanics "latinx" now doesn't mean it's true, and trans issues are no different. The actual people who are supposedly being represented are much more diverse than you might think.

Much of the activism I hear about on the news falls into both the legibility trap and the movement trap. While allies are trying to simplify the issues to build steam for building an institution to work on creating an expert class who can manage the organizations that will obtain the workers who will provide integrated solutions to the impacted people, the impacted people are living the problem and finding their own grassroots solutions.

For Italians in early New York City, the grassroots solution to racism was the Mafia and political machines, and now Italian-Americans are now considered white by pretty much everyone in America.

comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T19:06:45.660Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's already known that progressives are less happy than conservatives

Possible explanation: People who are happy with status quo are more likely to end up defending it; people who are unhappy with status quo are more likely to end up trying to change it.

If your argument is that politics causes people to be happy/unhappy, that would require evidence beyond correlation, which itself is easier to explain by causation in the opposite direction.

(I think it is possible that you are right, but the correlation itself it not good evidence in your favor.)

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2021-04-15T07:51:49.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The best line here is "I don't hate you".

Seriously, it's awesome and people should tell it to each other much more easily.

(My therapist said he doesn't hate me. It was the single most liberating thing I've heard in a while.)

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T21:27:38.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(My therapist said he doesn't hate me. It was the single most liberating thing I've heard in a while.)

😲 What were your priors?

Replies from: mary-chernyshenko
comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2021-04-16T05:21:32.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

None articulated. Imagine my surprise :)

(A relative of mine is a psychologist, but not, in my opinion, a grown-up person. They discuss their clients at home. I found, and find this excruciating. To see how this had affected my expectations of a totally different person was eye-opening.)

...still, I think now that people should tell such things to people, if they mean them.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-16T17:35:22.390Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, for the record, I don't hate you either. (Yay, cheap utilons!)

Replies from: mary-chernyshenko
comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2021-04-16T19:02:48.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I don't hate you!

(And - thanks.)

comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T18:52:07.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please correct me if I misunderstand you here, but you propose two mechanisms why cultural changes are bad, and they seem to be (a bit ironically) somewhat the opposite of each other.

In one case, the changes are good in short term, but bad in long term. (Let's make people free to do X, in short term a few people are made very happy, in long term some social mechanism we took for granted collapses, and now many people are unhappy.) In other case, the changes are good in long term, but bad in short term. (Let's show people a vision of utopia they didn't realize was possible, but it will take a lot of time to actually get there, and in the meanwhile people are angry that we are not there already.)

First, yes, I believe that you are making a good point. Two good points, actually.

But we need to distinguish between "this is ultimately harmful" and "this is temporarily harmful, but worth it in long term". The former should perhaps not be done (unless we find a way how to make it okay in even longer term), the latter... I guess, could be better timed, not to be in the worst part of all the curves at the same time. How to do that, though? Our clickbait culture seems incapable of the virtue of silence [LW · GW], though some politically incorrect ideas were successfully removed from the center of public discourse.

On individual level, you could perhaps improve things by making the change you want to see in the world. If you believe that Facebook is evil, make a Nicebook, and perhaps it will still be profitable (much less than Facebook, but that could still be enough money for you personally). If you make a shop that only sells healthy food (for prices comparable to other shops), I would be happy to shop there. Perhaps give people courses on how to be happier [? · GW]? (I wonder if there is an economic concept of "barely profitable" company, i.e. one that tried to generate exactly as much money as needed to avoid loss, but otherwise optimizes for other goals.)

In a perfect world, we would have a Progressive-Conservative Coalition for Better Life, that would explore ways how to time and shape social changes to achieve long-term improvement without short-term setbacks.

Replies from: Sophronius
comment by Sophronius · 2021-04-15T19:06:05.353Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I'm willing to entertain the idea that there's a tradeof to be made between the short term and the long term or something like that... but to be honest, I don't think the people who push these ideas are even thinking along those lines. I think a rational discussion would just be a net plus for everyone involved, but people are unwilling to do that either because it's not in their interest to do so (lobby groups, media agencies) or because they don't understand why they should.

Don't get me wrong, I do think there are some left-wing groups who have had discussions on how to best change things. But mostly I think that people are just unwilling to criticize their own side, allowing the craziest voices to rise to the top. 

The closest thing I've seen to anyone seriously discussing these ideas was when Bill Maher suggested that the US needs a "tea party of the left", full of people so batshit crazy that they make people like him look like the reasonable ones. So maybe I'm not giving progressives enough credit and they did actually did do a calculation along those lines at one point, and decided that people being temporarily miserable was a worthwhile sacrifice. But for the most part, I think it's just been reflexive partisanship, and little else.

comment by Viliam · 2021-04-16T17:49:34.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

in the event of any collapse, it is uncanny how quickly hierarchy and patriarchy is restored

Historically, patriarchy and deviancy can easily coexist, e.g. in ancient Greece or Rome.

comment by Gerald Monroe (gerald-monroe) · 2021-04-15T00:01:20.124Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So what you are saying is, the Conservatives have a bunch of 'settings' for every aspect of our lives.  They 'worked in the past' and 'worked well enough to make it'.  Even when a particular setting doesn't make any rational sense, we should just 'have faith our ancestors knew what they were doing'.

Also conservatives in many cases want the government to force us through coercion and outright violence to obey laws written from Conservative social 'values'.  For example, the obvious being a marriage, where this is a legal contract that is 'one size fits all', you either agree to the terms or you are not married.  There is no room for modernization or amendments, just "the arbitrary way inherited from our ancestors is the way or the highway".  (even a pre-nup doesn't amend the marriage, just exempts pre-marital assets)

Your argument that "it worked well enough to get us here" is moderately compelling.  I can point out that other cultures, especially Asia, sometimes do things differently.  Therefore the "different settings" are also valid.  In fact in terms of success, due to higher population numbers, the Asian way appears to be 'more correct'.  If you really wanted to 'do what is best for future children', it seems we need to adopt some mixture of Chinese and Indian cultures, because apparently in objective terms they work the best.  Guess you better invite your parents to live with you.  Hope they can find you a wife.

My other thought is I have had arguments sometimes with my father, who doesn't understand why I am not interested in car tinkering or car culture.  To me, a car is a machine to reach a destination, and I should buy the one with the lowest total operating costs.  

He sees car culture as a conservative value.  Except, uh, it isn't one that has stood the test of time, it was "made up" somewhere in the 1920s by auto manufacturers.  

Similarly, conservatives trumpet things like celibacy before marriage as a value that has "stood the test of time", ignoring the fact that people used to marry far, far younger...

Anyways, back to the main subject.  If catgirl porn is your thing, well, you can watch Fox News or Storage Wars or Cops or catgirl porn in the evenings.  I'm not seeing a compelling argument how the first 3 are "better" for your life and well being if you really really like catgirls.

Sure, you might now feel unsatisfied with any sexual partners who are not catgirls.  But then again, Fox News is designed to make you feel dissatisfied with anything a Democrat is trying to do, feeling a sense of imminent doom, where the President is about to just cut loose with executive orders and let the entire population of Latin America through the border all at once in one day.  And defund the police in every city.  (this is what conservatives seem to really believe).

Storage Wars makes you feel dissatisfied that you are not running your own business scavenging millions in value.  Cops makes you feel unsafe and a Conservative might check that their firearm is loaded and aimed at the door after an episode.

Just not seeing a difference.

Replies from: Viliam, myfriendcharlie
comment by Viliam · 2021-04-15T21:52:59.062Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can point out that other cultures, especially Asia, sometimes do things differently.  Therefore the "different settings" are also valid.

I think it is not unusual among conservatives to accept that different cultures have different rules. "The traditions must be followed" can coexist with "we follow our traditions, and they follow their traditions". There are multiple valid options, but everyone should stick with the one they grew up with. We believe that our option is the best one, but we respect that others may believe otherwise.

Interaction between cultures requires finding out the intersection, the behavior that is acceptable to both sides. Cultures used to deal with strangers can have a distinction between "this is forbidden to us, but okay for the other side if their culture permits it", such as eating taboo foods, and "this is forbidden and must be punished, no exception", such as blasphemy against our god(s). Sometimes things are "forbidden in our territory, and that also applies to visitors; but when I am a visitor at your territory, your rules apply".

Now that I think about it, I am probably much closer to the progressive end of the spectrum than to the conservative one. Yet, when I interact with conservatives, I usually find it easy to follow the above-mentioned rules, and the protocol works, despite the object-level differences. The interactions with progressives are more difficult, because despite many object-level similarities, we do not have a good protocol to deal with the few differences. That is, the protocol itself seems to be conservative, while the progressive protocol is... how to put it politely... "if you are not 100% with us, you are against us"?

Replies from: gerald-monroe
comment by Gerald Monroe (gerald-monroe) · 2021-04-15T22:39:22.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. My point is the OP is not just saying these traditions are traditional but that we should follow them because they are proven to work by the fact of our existence.

And I am just saying this is suboptimal. Even if I can't make up a new tradition - say a new holiday for my bi roommate and me and our children together and her girlfriend to all celebrate - I should at least steal working ideas from the best.

In slightly clearer terms:
what should I do in my life?
rational answer: Output = max( utility_heuristic( alternative actions) ). Output = watch more catgirl porn. Conservative Answer: Output = (Query("What did my parents do")) Output= "watch more Fox News" Optimized answer: Output = ("Query("what did the most successful parents do?")) Output = "invite parents to live in house to provide child raising help and find me a wife"

comment by myfriendcharlie · 2021-04-15T05:25:07.226Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not too sure the conservative idea as you put it, is to simply "have faith" but rather know the why before you assume it's arbitrary (see the chesterton fence parable). Your concerns on whether a particular setting must make rational sense to work id argue is irrelevant. Evolution doesn't care about literal truth, just passing genes. See how the religious produce more children. Religion might be literally untrue and make no rational sense to you, but it's working pretty well from an evolutionary perspective so who cares if it makes sense to you.

You pointed out that Conservatives want the law to enforce conservative social values, but what's your point? Isn't all law whether it's a conservative value or a progressive "value" ultimately enforced by violence?

You pointed out other successful groups and argued this as a reason to adopt their behaviors, but from an evolutionary point of view behavioral variance is a good thing for overall human survival. But what's your point here anyways? Your only examples provided of other successful groups happen to be very traditional/conservative socially. Doesn't this go against the argument you're trying to make?

You said "...conservatives trumpet things like celibacy before marriage as a value that has 'stood the test of time'"Are you sure thats really why conservatives believe in the value of celibacy? Usually when I hear the argument for celibacy it's either in a religious context or a family values context (celibacy promotes sex within a marriage framework where there's a two parent household. Which btw the data shows kids thrive more so under two parent households).

Replies from: gerald-monroe
comment by Gerald Monroe (gerald-monroe) · 2021-04-15T20:12:51.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Focusing on the main point.  I am saying that if evolution has found sets of ideas that work, and you genuinely want your life to use the ideas that work the best (so you have many children), it appears you should adopt the ideas that work the best.

Which are not USA conservative values, they are Chinese and Asian values.  Everything else you are saying is simply that 'the way that work in the past is best'.  Which it is - for the purpose of having as much reproductive success as possible.  That is the only 'constraint' applied to it.

comment by deluks917 · 2021-04-16T18:23:12.317Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Years of accumulated experience and metis point the other way, at least for this audience. Anyone who has spent time in rationalist or rationalist adjacent spaces knows that a huge percentage of rationalists* are trans. After many years of being an active rationalist* I literally know dozens of trans people in or adjacent to the community. If a rationalist is struggling with whether to transition they should try transitioning. A huge number of rationalists think trying hormones was the best decision they ever made, very few seriously regret it. If a rationalist tries transitioning I strongly predict they will think it was a good decision. Though there are some people who have regrets the expected value is very good.

I will note that the people who do best don't get too preoccupied with philosophical debates about the true nature of transition. The extremely simplistic ideas like 'transwomen are women, transmen are men'** do great however. Rationalists who give transition a real shot are usually happy they did so. Taking HRT for a month or two is mostly reversible but you don't have a time machine. You cannot get back the years you spent miserable.

 

*For simplicity, I am just going to say rationalist. But I am including anyone active in spaces adjacent to the community such as effective altruism. I am not going to count people who are only weakly involved, for example, they just read SSC.

**No intent to erase non-binary people!

comment by Viliam · 2021-04-16T17:40:03.055Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LGB people don’t reproduce, and yet their numbers grow.

Not so sure about the B.

(Plus there is this evolutionary hypothesis that L and G help their siblings raise children.)

comment by Gerald Monroe (gerald-monroe) · 2021-04-15T20:14:54.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point is that now you're descending into nonsense.  If we cannot use rational thought to decide what to do, but instead have to trust some old irrational idea, which idea is the correct one?  Oh, 'someone' said that television rots our brains.  Ok are all the rest of their ideas good?  You are likely to find the answer is no.

Entire cultures have deep respect for their elders and are highly conservative in that whatever advice their elders give is treated as a good idea.  This works except when it turns out that the 'elders' have 10 different incompatible bits of advice, or things that simply don't work at all.

comment by RICHARDNIXON · 2021-04-15T05:10:58.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conservatism is an ideology built for a world that runs best free of interference. 

We do not live in the 1800s anymore. We have nuclear power plants, and securitized bundled mortgages, and a million other things that go very fucking badly for a whole lot of people who have no practical means to consent to the possibility of harms occurring from them or cope with the destruction that comes from their failure or even understand why these systems cause problems that they do. We require a centralized regulatory authority capable of tending to the garden of human projects. 

Any socially conservative value worth keeping will be re-invented in the same manner that tech startups eventually re-invent the bus ("What if we have an uber on a pre-determined schedule and the stops are at set times and everyone splits the cost via a monthly membership fee?"). Any value that isn't re-invented belongs in the trash bin of history. 

And of course, every socially conservative take finally boils down to the following, in full display by the assertion that trans activists are lying about the social status of trans people : 

"Society worked so well when you accepted that you were a joke, and didn't deserve respect. Now you're asking me to treat you with respect, and that makes me angry. Therefore, you are causing social discord."

This same argument was tried with the blacks in the 60s and the gays in the 80s. It was stupid then, and it's stupid now.