The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

post by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T03:36:08.152Z · score: 194 (221 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 1746 comments

Contents

  Footnotes
None
1759 comments

Related to: Leaky Generalizations, Replace the Symbol With The Substance, Sneaking In Connotations

David Stove once ran a contest to find the Worst Argument In The World, but he awarded the prize to his own entry, and one that shored up his politics to boot. It hardly seems like an objective process.

If he can unilaterally declare a Worst Argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member."

Call it the Noncentral Fallacy. It sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?

It sounds dumb only because we are talking soberly of categories and features. As soon as the argument gets framed in terms of words, it becomes so powerful that somewhere between many and most of the bad arguments in politics, philosophy and culture take some form of the noncentral fallacy. Before we get to those, let's look at a simpler example.

Suppose someone wants to build a statue honoring Martin Luther King Jr. for his nonviolent resistance to racism. An opponent of the statue objects: "But Martin Luther King was a criminal!"

Any historian can confirm this is correct. A criminal is technically someone who breaks the law, and King knowingly broke a law against peaceful anti-segregation protest - hence his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

But in this case calling Martin Luther King a criminal is the noncentral. The archetypal criminal is a mugger or bank robber. He is driven only by greed, preys on the innocent, and weakens the fabric of society. Since we don't like these things, calling someone a "criminal" naturally lowers our opinion of them.

The opponent is saying "Because you don't like criminals, and Martin Luther King is a criminal, you should stop liking Martin Luther King." But King doesn't share the important criminal features of being driven by greed, preying on the innocent, or weakening the fabric of society that made us dislike criminals in the first place. Therefore, even though he is a criminal, there is no reason to dislike King.

This all seems so nice and logical when it's presented in this format. Unfortunately, it's also one hundred percent contrary to instinct: the urge is to respond "Martin Luther King? A criminal? No he wasn't! You take that back!" This is why the noncentral is so successful. As soon as you do that you've fallen into their trap. Your argument is no longer about whether you should build a statue, it's about whether King was a criminal. Since he was, you have now lost the argument.

Ideally, you should just be able to say "Well, King was the good kind of criminal." But that seems pretty tough as a debating maneuver, and it may be even harder in some of the cases where the noncentral Fallacy is commonly used.


Now I want to list some of these cases. Many will be political1, for which I apologize, but it's hard to separate out a bad argument from its specific instantiations. None of these examples are meant to imply that the position they support is wrong (and in fact I myself hold some of them). They only show that certain particular arguments for the position are flawed, such as:

"Abortion is murder!" The archetypal murder is Charles Manson breaking into your house and shooting you. This sort of murder is bad for a number of reasons: you prefer not to die, you have various thoughts and hopes and dreams that would be snuffed out, your family and friends would be heartbroken, and the rest of society has to live in fear until Manson gets caught. If you define murder as "killing another human being", then abortion is technically murder. But it has none of the downsides of murder Charles Manson style. Although you can criticize abortion for many reasons, insofar as "abortion is murder" is an invitation to apply one's feelings in the Manson case directly to the abortion case, it ignores the latter's lack of the features that generated those intuitions in the first place2.

"Genetic engineering to cure diseases is eugenics!" Okay, you've got me there: since eugenics means "trying to improve the gene pool" that's clearly right. But what's wrong with eugenics? "What's wrong with eugenics? Hitler did eugenics! Those unethical scientists in the 1950s who sterilized black women without their consent did eugenics!" "And what was wrong with what Hitler and those unethical scientists did?" "What do you mean, what was wrong with them? Hitler killed millions of people! Those unethical scientists ruined people's lives." "And does using genetic engineering to cure diseases kill millions of people, or ruin anyone's life?" "Well...not really." "Then what's wrong with it?" "It's eugenics!"

"Evolutionary psychology is sexist!" If you define "sexist" as "believing in some kind of difference between the sexes", this is true of at least some evo psych. For example, Bateman's Principle states that in species where females invest more energy in producing offspring, mating behavior will involve males pursuing females; this posits a natural psychological difference between the sexes. "Right, so you admit it's sexist!" "And why exactly is sexism bad?" "Because sexism claims that men are better than women and that women should have fewer rights!" "Does Bateman's principle claim that men are better than women, or that women should have fewer rights?" "Well...not really." "Then what's wrong with it?" "It's sexist!"

A second, subtler use of the noncentral fallacy goes like this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us an emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that same emotional reaction to X even if X gives some benefit that outweighs the harm."

"Capital punishment is murder!" Charles Manson-style murder is solely harmful. This kind of murder produces really strong negative feelings. The proponents of capital punishment believe that it might decrease crime, or have some other attending benefits. In other words, they believe it's "the good kind of murder"3, just like the introductory example concluded that Martin Luther King was "the good kind of criminal". But since normal murder is so taboo, it's really hard to take the phrase "the good kind of murder" seriously, and just mentioning the word "murder" can call up exactly the same amount of negative feelings we get from the textbook example.

"Affirmative action is racist!" True if you define racism as "favoring certain people based on their race", but once again, our immediate negative reaction to the archetypal example of racism (the Ku Klux Klan) cannot be generalized to an immediate negative reaction to affirmative action. Before we generalize it, we have to check first that the problems that make us hate the Ku Klux Klan (violence, humiliation, divisiveness, lack of a meritocratic society) are still there. Then, even if we do find that some of the problems persist (like disruption of meritocracy, for example) we have to prove that it doesn't produce benefits that outweigh these harms.

"Taxation is theft!" True if you define theft as "taking someone else's money regardless of their consent", but though the archetypal case of theft (breaking into someone's house and stealing their jewels) has nothing to recommend it, taxation (arguably) does. In the archetypal case, theft is both unjust and socially detrimental. Taxation keeps the first disadvantage, but arguably subverts the second disadvantage if you believe being able to fund a government has greater social value than leaving money in the hands of those who earned it. The question then hinges on the relative importance of these disadvantages. Therefore, you can't dismiss taxation without a second thought just because you have a natural disgust reaction to theft in general. You would also have to prove that the supposed benefits of this form of theft don't outweigh the costs.

Now, because most arguments are rapid-fire debate-club style, sometimes it's still useful to say "Taxation isn't theft!" At least it beats saying "Taxation is theft but nevertheless good", then having the other side say "Apparently my worthy opponent thinks that theft can be good; we here on this side would like to bravely take a stance against theft", and then having the moderator call time before you can explain yourself. If you're in a debate club, do what you have to do. But if you have the luxury of philosophical clarity, you would do better to forswear the Dark Arts and look a little deeper into what's going on.

Are there ever cases in which this argument pattern can be useful? Yes. For example, it may be a groping attempt to suggest a Schelling fence; for example, a principle that one must never commit theft even when it would be beneficial because that would make it harder to distinguish and oppose the really bad kinds of theft. Or it can be an attempt to spark conversation by pointing out a potential contradiction: for example "Have you noticed that taxation really does contain some of the features you dislike about more typical instances of theft? Maybe you never even thought about that before? Why do your moral intuitions differ in these two cases? Aren't you being kind of hypocritical?" But this usage seems pretty limited - once your interlocutor says "Yes, I considered that, but the two situations are different for reasons X, Y, and Z" the conversation needs to move on; there's not much point in continuing to insist "But it's theft!"

But in most cases, I think this is more of an emotional argument, or even an argument from "You would look silly saying that". You really can't say "Oh, he's the good kind of criminal", and so if you have a potentially judgmental audience and not much time to explain yourself, you're pretty trapped. You have been forced to round to the archetypal example of that word and subtract exactly the information that's most relevant.

But in all other cases, the proper response to being asked to subtract relevant information is "No, why should I?" - and that's why this is the worst argument in the world.

 

Footnotes

1: On advice from the community, I have deliberately included three mostly-liberal examples and three-mostly conservative examples, so save yourself the trouble of counting them up and trying to speculate on this article's biases.

2: This should be distinguished from deontology, the belief that there is some provable moral principle about how you can never murder. I don't think this is too important a point to make, because only a tiny fraction of the people who debate these issues have thought that far ahead, and also because my personal and admittedly controversial opinion is that much of deontology is just an attempt to formalize and justify this fallacy.

3: Some people "solve" this problem by saying that "murder" only refers to "non-lawful killing", which is exactly as creative a solution as redefining "criminal" to mean "person who breaks the law and is not Martin Luther King." Identifying the noncentral fallacy is a more complete solution: for example, it covers the related (mostly sarcastic) objection that "imprisonment is kidnapping".

4: EDIT 8/2013: I've edited this article a bit after getting some feedback and complaints. In particular I tried to remove some LW jargon which turned off some people who were being linked to this article but were unfamiliar with the rest of the site.

5: EDIT 8/2013: The other complaint I kept getting is that this is an uninteresting restatement of some other fallacy (no one can agree which, but poisoning the well comes up particularly often). The question doesn't seem too interesting to me - I never claimed particular originality, a lot of fallacies blend into each other, and the which-fallacy-is-which game isn't too exciting anyway - but for the record I don't think it is. Poisoning the well is a presentation of two different facts, such as "Martin Luther King was a plagiarist...oh, by the way, what do you think of Martin Luther King's civil rights policies?" It may have no relationship to categories, and it's usually something someone else does to you as a conscious rhetorical trick. Noncentral fallacy is presenting a single fact, but using category information to frame it in a misleading way - and it's often something people do to themselves. The above plagiarism example of poisoning the well is not noncentral fallacy. If you think this essay is about bog-standard poisoning the well, then either there is an alternative meaning to poisoning the well I'm not familiar with, or you are missing the point.

1746 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by joshkaufman · 2012-08-27T06:11:34.699Z · score: 55 (65 votes) · LW · GW

I just registered http://worstargumentintheworld.com - it redirects to this post, and should be available shortly. Much easier to mention in conversation when other people use this argument, and don't believe it's a "real thing."

Great piece of work, Yvain - it's now on my list of all-time favorite LW posts.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-27T06:55:14.797Z · score: 35 (42 votes) · LW · GW

I just registered http://worstargumentintheworld.com - it redirects to this post, and should be available shortly. Much easier to mention in conversation when other people use this argument, and don't believe it's a "real thing."

"Real things" have their own domain. I registered this domain, therefore...

comment by joshkaufman · 2012-08-27T14:10:05.916Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Hahaha, nice.

I was imagining a situation in which someone makes an argument of this type, you say something along the lines of "that's a great example of the 'Worst Argument in the World'," and the person replies "you just made that up..." or "that's just your opinion..."

Providing a pre-existing URL that links to a well-written page created by a third-party is a form of evidence that shifts "Worst Argument in the World" from something that feels like an opinion to the title of a logical fallacy. That can be quite useful in certain circumstances.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-27T19:25:48.060Z · score: 38 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly! Logical fallacies are bad, and the Worst Argument in the World is a logical fallacy!

(Actually valid because it's a typical, central logical fallacy, not an edge case. If you'd asked me to list the most common logical fallacies even before I saw this post, I'd hope that I'd remember to put argument-by-categorization-of-atypical-cases into the top 10.)

comment by yonemoto · 2012-08-28T04:51:57.930Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Is not the "Worst Argument in the World" itself a form of categorization (by form of argument), and how can you be sure any given instance of it is not itself an atypical case, that ought not to be compared against the obviously bad =murder or =hitler cases?

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-09-01T02:57:56.147Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

and how can you be sure any given instance of it is not itself an atypical case, that ought not to be compared against the obviously bad =murder or =hitler cases?

By checking.

comment by prase · 2012-08-27T19:41:33.700Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

When in the discussion under the well-written page created by a third party the first party openly admits registering the domain in order to use it as argumentum ad verecundiam, the whole thing loses much of its power.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-28T08:31:20.132Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

If I debate with someone, he tells me something like "abortion is murder", I point him to http://worstargumentintheworld.com/ and he takes the pain to read the article AND the discussion and sees why/how the domain was registered, I would claim victory in "raising the sanity waterline".

The argument authority of having a domain pointing to may (I hope it'll) increase the chance the person does at least read a bit of the page instead of discarding it, but I doubt it'll do anything into making him/her accepting that the argument is wrong behind that.

comment by prase · 2012-08-28T16:17:32.785Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

OK, that sounds reasonable.

comment by joshkaufman · 2012-08-27T20:24:13.830Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone who visits this page can judge the merits themselves: there's no argument from authority involved. No one is claiming this form of argument is invalid because it's on LW, or because Yvain wrote it, or because it has a catchy name that's published on a website, or because it now has an easy-to-remember URL. I made a simpler citation, nothing more.

comment by prase · 2012-08-27T21:42:51.199Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Providing a pre-existing URL that links to a well-written page created by a third-party is a form of evidence that shifts "Worst Argument in the World" from something that feels like an opinion to the title of a logical fallacy.

What other role, if not one of authority, play a pre-existing URL and the page being written by a third party, in shifting the status of the argument to a logical fallacy?

To clarify: I understood your comment as saying that when you encounter the "worst argument" somewhere on the internet, you would link to this article with the connotation "look, what you've just done is an officially recognised fallacy - a neutral party has written a nice article about it and there is even a domain for that". Which may work fine until your opponent sees who has registered the domain and for what purpose.

comment by loup-vaillant · 2012-08-28T08:43:47.362Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The point of the argument from authority here is to catch the opponent's attention. If he goes as far as looking up who registered the domain, we can be confident he has read the article as well. The argument from authority won't work any more, but we don't care: it has served its purpose.

comment by elityre · 2019-04-24T23:28:26.598Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The link seems broken? : (

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-04-24T23:41:27.959Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I also noticed this a while ago and was quite sad.

comment by BlueSun · 2013-06-07T18:36:54.497Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was writing an article and trying to refer to www.worstargumentintheworld.com but it appears to be down. Is the registration still valid and/or going to be renewed?

comment by joshkaufman · 2013-06-20T17:09:16.884Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry for the downtime - transferred the domain to a new registrar, and thought the forward would be automatically detected and carried over. It wasn't. Should be back up once the record updates.

comment by TobyBartels · 2013-05-27T23:14:47.778Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't work anymore for me, and it's been less than a year (typical registration period).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T16:37:42.478Z · score: 31 (55 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain, here is a challenge. Many of your examples are weak versions of strong right-wing arguments that you do not accept. (by your remark about Schelling fences, it seems you're aware of this). I challenge you to replace each of these examples with a weak version of a strong left-wing argument that you do accept. Since policy debates should not appear one-sided, there should be no shortage of weak arguments "on your side." And it would be an interesting kind of ideological Turing test.

Perhaps I'm wrong about "what side you're on" and you already accept the strong right-wing arguments. In which case you got me, well done!

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-08-28T02:35:51.341Z · score: 31 (31 votes) · LW · GW

"X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't."

This is the original definition given for TWAITW. Note that the examples Yvain gave all had the form of: "X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain negative features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features." However, working with the explicit definition outlined by Yvain, as opposed to the implicit definition used by Yvain, we can easily conjure liberal examples:

  • Abortion is a medical procedure.
  • Pornography is art.
  • Welfare is charity.

Other liberal examples, using Yvain's implicit definition:

  • Homophobia is hatred.
  • The War on Drugs is Prohibition.
  • Pornography is sexist.

However, I am not entirely sure if our capacity to conjure examples matters.

Edit: Changed the free speech examples.

comment by Kindly · 2012-08-28T14:58:08.167Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I very much like "Abortion is a medical procedure". It's actually a believable WAitW to make, and has the admirable feature that it completely ignores every aspect of abortion relevant to the debate.

I think the "free speech" examples don't quite have the right form: the central question probably is whether or not pornography or flag burning is free speech, and the conclusion "Flag burning is free speech, therefore it should be legal" is valid if you accept the premise.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-08-28T22:27:53.625Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems rather probable that the free speech examples were problematic. As such, the post has been edited.

comment by dspeyer · 2012-09-29T14:23:44.934Z · score: 10 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I really like "Abortion is a medical procedure". I suspect that we could remove some of the mind-killing by presenting the examples in pairs:

  • Abortion is murder
  • Abortion is a medical procedure
  • Evopsych is sexist
  • Evopsych is science

Hmm, creating these pairs is harder than I thought.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2014-07-16T19:29:48.588Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Evopsych is science

No problem here. Not even non-central.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-16T20:56:29.147Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. Many evolutionary biologists are highly dismissive of evopsych. In evolutionary biology you have to start with a variation in a trait, in an environment where - overall, over all interactions - one side of the variation gets a strong enough advantage... then there's genetic studies, and so on. One has to deal with the bother of doing a whole lot of actual science.

If you look at evolutionary psychology - Tooby and Cosmides, or Pinker, that's folks literally making up caveman stories with no well defined physical traits and mechanisms to start with, no demonstration that a trait is a net benefit, no genetics... and, usually, not even any evolution, in the sense that there's no identification of the original proto-trait and it's gradual path of evolution.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2014-07-17T12:41:43.236Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You misunderstand me. Dspeyer used it above as an example of a non-central fallacy, implying that Ev Psych is not very much like what science is. I meant to disagree. To the extent of my awareness, Ev Psych makes predictions and tests them, and goes on to build up theories, making it a typical example of a science.

I'm not so sure when you say it doesn't specifically use evolutionary theory in the same way Biologists normally do, and thus it's not a science. Even if that were true, that's like saying Meteorology isn't a science because they don't always use meteors in their work. I think that if you want to say something isn't a science, you need to show that it doesn't make falsifiable predictions, doesn't describe the world, and hasn't made any advances in our knowledge. Furthermore, you should really have a good explanation as to why Ev Psych people get scientific funding and have papers published in specific Ev Psych journals. And finally, if you're going to dismiss a field, you should be very knowledgeable about said field (or have other very strong evidence, like the studies showing Psychoanalysis is useless). You can't really make that decision that a field is bad, without that sort of evidence, even if it just seems that way to you.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-17T14:46:09.621Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ev Psych makes predictions and tests them

I don't see where in your link EvPsy first makes a falsifiable prediction and then tests it. The experiment described looks like data mining for correlations to me. The expression "was almost exactly what a Darwinian would predict" is yet another post-factum story.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2014-07-17T14:56:51.464Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well perhaps it's not a good example, although that this single example doesn't work doesn't remove the burden of evidence required to dismiss a field.

And then again, maybe it is a good example.

You wouldn't even think of this as an experiment to be performed if not for evolutionary psychology.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-17T15:00:57.883Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well perhaps it's not a good example

Are there any good examples?

the burden of evidence required to dismiss a field.

You seem to have some strong privileging of a hypothesis going on here.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2014-07-17T15:39:17.270Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to have some strong privileging of a hypothesis going on here.

What prior would you assign to the scientific competence of a field purporting to be a science, that has journals and textbooks and experts, that's based on an extension of good theory (evolution)? I'm aware that you have more evidence than this, from (I imagine) online discussions and you've read some of the experts, but I've not had this experience, and I think that I am more likely to misunderstand an area of science than to have understood it better than its proponents.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-17T16:31:04.366Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

a field purporting to be a science, that has journals and textbooks and experts

Just like astrology, then? :-) It's based on "an extension of good theory", too...

Whether something is a science is not decided by how many sciency-looking accoutrements and trappings it has.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-17T17:02:50.676Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Whether something is a science is not decided by how many sciency-looking accoutrements and trappings it has.

Well, certainly not, but having sciency-looking accoutrements and trappings is nevertheless bayesian evidence that something is a science. The question is just how good that evidence is. You're saying, I take it, that your prior probability that a given set of claims will come along with trappings equivalent to evo psych (or whatever) is substantially higher than your prior probability that evo psych is a science. But in any case, the trappings should probably produce a skyward update (even if it's small).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-17T17:20:02.186Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

having sciency-looking accoutrements and trappings is nevertheless bayesian evidence that something is a science. The question is just how good that evidence is.

No, not at all. The question isn't how good that evidence is, the question is what other evidence is there. And in this particular case we have, for example, the lack of theories which can be falsified.

I would have no problems with calling evopsy, say, a field of study. But saying it's a science implies rigor and tests against reality which are, um, absent.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-07-17T16:39:55.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How, precisely, is astrology an "extension of a good theory"?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-17T16:51:31.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How, precisely, is astrology an "extension of a good theory"?

There is a cute answer -- that movements of celestial bodies (e.g. the Sun and the Moon) certainly affect people's lives and fates.

And there is a historical answer -- that for centuries astronomy and astrology were, basically, inseparable.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-07-17T17:11:20.532Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The cute answer is actually more revealing than you think and might help resolve this conversation.

Astronomy lets you predict the way celestial objects move in the sky. You can trivially extend this to weak!Astrology, which just asserts that the movement of the celestial bodies has some kind of systematic causal impact on the way humans behave. However, you would quite reasonably take issue with strong!Astrology, which makes specific, detailed, wrong claims about the nature and extent of these interactions, as well as the general sloppy standards of the field of strong!Astrology.

Evolution lets you predict the way natural selection affects a population over time. You can trivially extend this to weak!Evpsych, which just asserts that evolution will have some impact in shaping the mental faculties of the population. But you can still disagree with some specific claims of evolutionary psychology, as well as the methodologies used to generate them, and the practices of the field as a whole.

I think that Benito thinks you're saying weak!Evpsych is wrong (that evolution didn't shape our minds at all), when you're actually just critiquing aspects of strong!Evpsych - e.g. that evolutionary psychologists are too quick to generalize from WEIRD college students into the rest of humanity, and so on. At least, my usual kneejerk response to critics of evpsych is "what, you think evolution stops above the neck?"

comment by Lumifer · 2014-07-17T17:28:20.158Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Evolution lets you predict the way natural selection affects a population over time.

Does it? I don't think evopsy predicts anything, I think it only constructs plausible stories after the fact.

you're saying weak!Evpsych is wrong (that evolution didn't shape our minds at all)

No, I'm not saying that, it would be pretty silly.

when you're actually just critiquing aspects of strong!Evpsych

No, and not only that as well. I am not critiquing certain aspects, I'm critiquing the whole field for failing the usual criteria of a science.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-18T12:19:51.587Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't even construct plausible stories about evolution. In the time in which rather simple morphological changes to the bone shapes make some very minor progress, we supposedly evolve whole new instincts, whose morphological complexity (in terms of wiring adjustments in the brain), if innate, would be comparable to entire new organs, if not higher.

Where evolutionary biology predicts that X won't evolve (and thus doesn't exist as an innate quality), evolutionary psychology claims X evolved from scratch and exists.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-19T03:17:15.315Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

we supposedly evolve whole new instincts, whose morphological complexity (in terms of wiring adjustments in the brain), if innate, would be comparable to entire new organs, if not higher.

[citation please]

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-19T04:49:31.965Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_evolutionary_psychology , or go explain massive modularity to almost any neurobiologist and see what they say about it.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-19T06:48:57.451Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I meant can you site a specific example of an evolutionary psychologist proposing an evolved instinct "whose morphological complexity (in terms of wiring adjustments in the brain), if innate, would be comparable to entire new organs, if not higher". The wikipedia article doesn't seem to include any.

Looking at the criticism at best some are valid criticisms of a few stupid evolutionary explanations that some people cite, e.g., the claim that homosexuality is adaptive. Most are, however, either simply incoherent like the "Disjunction and grain problems" section, based on false premises like the "ethnocentrism" section, or straw men like the section on "rape".

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-07-19T08:33:59.443Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The synaptic structure even of parts of your brain is vastly more complex than the organisational structure of any other organ. You can draw diagrams of about how various hepatic cells go together, and that's all there is to it (caveats apply, though the rules are kind of simple). A diagram which tells you where the synapses go, so that you'd get e.g. a fight-or-flight response? Vastly more complex.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-19T10:54:12.395Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Now consider the evopsych innate module explanation for improved performance on Wason selection task when it's specified verbally in terms of social rules, just to pick a specific and common example. (How the hell would such a module even interface to a bunch of learned language circuitry? That's a question which would have to be answered first).

There's a good overview of the clashes between evopsych modules and neuroscience:

http://www.niu.edu/phil/~buller/publications/_pdf/epmdn.pdf

Note, by the way, that evopsych proposes a very specific explanation - modules performing very specific tasks - not something like e.g. higher general arousal improving general cognitive performance depending on the context, improved clarity, greater involvement of mental visualization, or the like. edit: that's is, without trying to explain it in terms of use or evolution of existing traits (specialized mental visualization) they skip to postulating a new module.

comment by wedrifid · 2014-07-19T11:21:16.568Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(How the hell would such a module even interface to a bunch of learned language circuitry?).

This rhetorical question suggests confusion. "How?" Don't much care, it probably involves synapses. This is nothing remotely like the intended conclusion of "it is implausible that".

Humans 'learn' how to walk. We consistently 'learn' how to speak and hear language, except when that is not viable in which case, unless the disability is extreme, we 'learn' other ways to communicate. We learn all sorts of emotional skills and habits, we learn how to model 3d physics with gravity. We learn which signals to send to our muscles to produce which results. These all have various degrees of learning and predisposition and each of those modules interface with the other 'learned' circuitry without difficulty. Or, rather, with difficulty that was ironed out over a couple of billion years.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-20T03:55:31.419Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Don't much care, it probably involves synapses

Well, scientists care about that sort of things, pseudoscientists don't. The issue is that the learned circuitry is fairly different across individuals, and there is no known or plausible mechanism by which a mutation could make such highly specific modifications to the learned circuitry (as required for evopsych explanation of improved performance at Wason selection task concerning people, to give a specific example).

There's simply no known way how a gene would connect learned concepts in a very specific way as to give rise to improved performance on Wason selection task when it is discussing social interactions, but not otherwise.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-07-19T11:39:43.292Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not so much disagreeing as giving a different perspective. Even in utero, most organs already fulfill their intended function. It takes little time for kidneys to produce urine, or for a proto-heart to beat. There are exceptions, such as certain liver functions not being available until late into the pregnancy or post natal. The point is that it doesn't take all that much information to describe which layer of cells goes where. It's an astounding process, cells inducing other cells to specialize in certain ways, and gradually creating 3D structures by doing so.

However, contrast that to how much longer it takes for a brain to learn simple functions. The exact 3D structure of the brain cannot be stored in DNA in the same way that the structure of a glomerulus is stored. Only a framework is provided. The actual connectome is only created in response to information from the environment, external data stores becoming necessary because the DNA carrier cannot handle that much information. Of course, there are upsides, namely that by reacting to outside information, the resulting structure is better adapted to its specific environment than if it relied only on DNA information (which is much less flexible).

Human babies in their first months of live can be considered to be in a final, external stage of pregnancy. The cost of birthing and providing for a baby which is astoundingly helpless ("altricial") compared to other mammals at that stage of life is enourmous. Of course, the ultimate cognitive power of their brains outweighs the investment, but I wouldn't exactly call a years-long process which awkwardly circumvents various obstacles (e.g. a bigger and better brain wouldn't fit through the female pelvis and would exceed the mother's nutritional capacity) to be without difficulty. But I get your meaning.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-20T05:18:29.204Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. Thing is, we actually know a lot about how it is built. We see genetically predetermined specialization - hippocampus is very structurally distinct from the neocortex, for example.

We also see learned specialization: initially morphologically homologous areas that acquire increased specialization through synaptic pruning, which is known to be driven by the specific electrical signalling within the brain rather than specific genetic instructions targeting those synapses. We see universality (within those brain regions), in the sense that if one brain region is missing from an early enough time, other brain regions will learn to perform same function (thus proving, at least, that learning can account for said functionality).

What we don't see is innate specialization in those regions, as proposed by Tooby/Cosmides/Pinker ('hundreds or thousands distinct mental organs'). They're somehow below any detection, and work absolutely identical to what learning works like.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-22T04:02:34.086Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They're somehow below any detection, and work absolutely identical to what learning works like.

And what do you think learning looks like? You seem to be envisioning some kind of blank slate priorless learning. The problem is that learning without priors is logically incoherent. Now that we've established that our brains have built in priors, why is it implausible that it said priors were the results of evolution? In fact, it would be implausible for them not to be.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-22T06:07:56.172Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A piece of neocortex consisting of approximate repeats of same structure (made from same genetic code) is not prior-less.

Now that we've established that our brains have built in priors, why is it implausible that it said priors were the results of evolution? In fact, it would be implausible for them not to be.

It's not C. Elegans. It is individual-specific which neuron groups end up learning a concept. And genome is not a blueprint, there's no short way to create a gene that would target a specific region even on the location basis. In humans there's no gene controlling specifically the strength of a specific synapse any place in neocortex, and if you wanted to genetically engineer an alteration to a specific synapse of your choice you would have to set up an incredibly complex framework for expressing that gene in just that specific neuron and affecting that specific synapse.

And if we are to compare humans to animals, there's also a far larger brain that does far more distinct things, without a massive increase in the number of genes.

There's the root of the problem, really: environment drives evolution of genes, genes interact with neurobiology, neurobiology gives rise to psychology. And "evolutionary psychologists", of the Tooby/Cosmides/Pinker kind, skip the middle links in the chain (where a lot of high quality but complicated science is done).

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-23T04:17:13.309Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Now that we've established that our brains have built in priors, why is it implausible that it said priors were the results of evolution? In fact, it would be implausible for them not to be.

It's not C. Elegans. It is individual-specific which neuron groups end up learning a concept. And genome is not a blueprint, there's no short way to create a gene that would target a specific region even on the location basis.

So your claim is that each human's priors are assigned not by genetics, but randomly? (according to some distribution?). I don't even see how to phrase your position coherently.

In humans there's no gene controlling specifically the strength of a specific synapse any place in neocortex,

But there are genes that control how strong synapses are under what conditions, and there are genes that control the conditions in different parts of the neocotrex.

and if you wanted to genetically engineer an alteration to a specific synapse of your choice you would have to set up an incredibly complex framework for expressing that gene in just that specific neuron and affecting that specific synapse.

Or he could, you know, try tweaking a bunch of genes and see which ones produced effects close to the effect he wanted. Then try more similar tweaks to those and see which get him closer.

There's the root of the problem, really: environment drives evolution of genes, genes interact with neurobiology, neurobiology gives rise to psychology.

Just because there are many intermediate steps in the causal diagram from genes to psychology doesn't mean that much of psychology isn't based on genes.

To use an analogy to a computer, I would argue that studying the properties of neurons will get you about as far in understanding psychology as studying the properties of circuits will get you in understanding software.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-23T07:40:33.987Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't even see how to phrase your position coherently.

There's far more hypotheses which a human updates on when learning in the early life than there are genes, so there's simply not enough genes to address priors to hypotheses individually. A lot in the human body (minor blood vessels, details in the fingerprint patterns, etc) is not set by genes - most of the fine detail isn't individually controlled by genes.

But there are genes that control how strong synapses are under what conditions, and there are genes that control the conditions in different parts of the neocotrex.

The fidelity is very low - it's not a blueprint. The thing is, you can't make predictions about what would evolve from just what's beneficial. It'd be beneficial for many mammals to have extra eyes in the back, but not a single mammal has those, because the developmental process doesn't provide for a simple mutation that yields such eyes.

To use an analogy to a computer, I would argue that studying the properties of neurons will get you about as far in understanding psychology as studying the properties of circuits will get you in understanding software.

Not when the guys who speculate about the software keep insisting that microsoft windows is added into the computers at the semiconductor chip factory... that's probably the best analogy. Hardware is what determines how and where the software can be loaded from. For example from the hardware considerations we can see that RAM comes in blank, and hard drive comes in with head positioning tracks and some firmware but not the OS.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-25T06:11:38.702Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's far more hypotheses which a human updates on when learning in the early life than there are genes, so there's simply not enough genes to address priors to hypotheses individually.

Was anyone claiming they do?

The fidelity is very low - it's not a blueprint. The thing is, you can't make predictions about what would evolve from just what's beneficial. It'd be beneficial for many mammals to have extra eyes in the back, but not a single mammal has those, because the developmental process doesn't provide for a simple mutation that yields such eyes.

Yes, and it would also be beneficial to correctly apply the Wason selection principle to all problems not just ethical ones, but because the relevant circuitry is in the ethics module, our brains only apply it to ethics.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-27T06:01:15.713Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and it would also be beneficial to correctly apply the Wason selection principle to all problems not just ethical ones, but because the relevant circuitry is in the ethics module, our brains only apply it to ethics.

Or do they really?

A large fraction of people get the problem right even in it's more abstruse form, where it is harder to leverage the experience to correctly understand the problem statement.

Evopsych you describe is actually a very fringe interpretation of how we get improved performance on Wason selection task. Source . There just isn't a reason to believe that improved performance has anything to do with ethics, rather than, for example, general improvement in understanding when describing problems that make more sense. Something as simple as replacing 'married' with something patently irrelevant such as hair colour, throws people off. A proposed explanation had been that most people just flip cards that seem relevant to them, and that's it, they aren't actually solving a logical problem.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-29T04:40:18.813Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A large fraction of people get the problem right even in it's more abstruse form, where it is harder to leverage the experience to correctly understand the problem statement.

Yes, our brain also has the a general purpose module, but it's not as effective as the special purpose ones on the problems they are designed for.

There just isn't a reason to believe that improved performance has anything to do with ethics, rather than, for example, general improvement in understanding when describing problems that make more sense.

Do you have an example of an experiment that distinguishes this from the ethics hypothesis?

Something as simple as replacing 'married' with something patently irrelevant such as hair colour, throws people off.

That is also what the ethics theory would predict.

A proposed explanation had been that most people just flip cards that seem relevant to them, and that's it, they aren't actually solving a logical problem.

That's a non-explanation. It doesn't explain why some cards and not others seem relevant. That just relates a black box in the subjects' brains with the corresponding black box in the explainer's brain without saying anything about how either of them work.

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-30T07:08:17.224Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, our brain also has the a general purpose module, but it's not as effective as the special purpose ones on the problems they are designed for.

They aren't designed, they're shaped by evolution, and evolution is driven by differential reproduction, which is larger for more widely applicable improvements.

That is also what the ethics theory would predict.

How so? Did you read my link? Two people are making a bet on a trait. If results gone other way, would ethics theory predict that too?

It doesn't explain why some cards and not others seem relevant.

The relevance is complicated and highly dependent on context and prior experience of the subject.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-01T03:52:48.353Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, our brain also has the a general purpose module, but it's not as effective as the special purpose ones on the problems they are designed for.

They aren't designed, they're shaped by evolution, and evolution is driven by differential reproduction, which is larger for more widely applicable improvements.

It's also larger for improvements that do really well in situations that commonly come up.

How so? Did you read my link? Two people are making a bet on a trait. If results gone other way, would ethics theory predict that too?

Sorry, I didn't. Now taking a look at it, that is indeed not directly moral. Although I suspect it might be implicitly moral since there is a presumption in our culture that unmarried men are not to be trusted with children.

The relevance is complicated and highly dependent on context and prior experience of the subject.

Ok, so your theory is even less falsifiable.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-07-22T04:14:26.155Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Now consider the evopsych innate module explanation for improved performance on Wason selection task when it's specified verbally in terms of social rules, just to pick a specific and common example. (How the hell would such a module even interface to a bunch of learned language circuitry? That's a question which would have to be answered first).

The same way the hunger module interfaces with the learned language circuitry when someone tells you there is cake in the fridge.

Also the "Wason module" if you want to call it that is a submodule of the ethics/social rules module, which is why it only gets involved on social rules type problems. Are you trying to argue that it's implausible that the social rules module interfaces with learned language circuitry?

comment by private_messaging · 2014-07-22T06:25:17.591Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The same way the hunger module interfaces with the learned language circuitry when someone tells you there is cake in the fridge.

There's no specific "eat cake" module there, it's learned that cake reduces hunger, that's the whole point.

comment by wedrifid · 2014-07-22T06:49:44.552Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's no specific "eat cake" module there, it's learned that cake reduces hunger, that's the whole point.

These are two quite distinct claims. Only one of them is insane.

comment by EHeller · 2014-07-22T06:37:24.885Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you trying to argue that it's implausible that the social rules module interfaces with learned language circuitry?

No, he is arguing that the concept of very specific modules/massive modularity is implausible.

comment by wedrifid · 2014-07-19T11:54:07.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A diagram which tells you where the synapses go, so that you'd get e.g. a fight-or-flight response? Vastly more complex.

Type error. The complexity of the details of a specific phenotype are not the same as the complexity of the adaptation. This is especially the case when considering the organ that is explicitly design to adapt to complexity via bulk application of an adaptive neural algorithm. The diagram of synapses involved in a given process will be completely different between genetically identically individuals.

Analogy: I don't know whether there is more complexity in apples or watermelons. I do know that a lot more can be said about an individual watermelon than about an individual apple, if I represent enough detail.

A diagram which tells you where the synapses go, so that you'd get e.g. a fight-or-flight response? Vastly more complex.

I don't think it weakens your point (given charitable reading) but using 'fight-or-flight response' as the illustration of how the brain is most complex than other organs has difficulties given just how many of those other organs are involved in the response. Especially when a diagram "so that you'd get e.g. a fight-or-flight response" could plausibly be an electric wire stabbed into either the pituitary or adrenal glands.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-28T03:13:46.044Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Flag burning is free speech.

Someone uttering this may claim that they are not using the worst argument in the world as defined:

If he can unilaterally declare a Worst Argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't."

They claim that it does have the critical features in question. Even the person they are arguing against may agree that it is equivalent to shouting out loud "My country is a @#$% disgrace! Screw my country!". The disagreement seems to be whether one should be permitted to do that kind of thing.

comment by Sarokrae · 2012-08-28T03:24:46.630Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Flag burning is freedom" should be a legitimate example along the same lines.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-08-28T03:26:54.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do not possess any particularly strong intuitions regarding freedom of speech, for better or for worse. For this hypothetical arguer, could you outline what they think are the critical features?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-28T05:07:31.043Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I do not possess any particularly strong intuitions regarding freedom of speech, for better or for worse. For this hypothetical arguer, could you outline what they think are the critical features?

Something along the lines of being able to say (or otherwise express) whatever you wish without fear of punishment.

comment by evand · 2012-08-28T14:29:58.621Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How would you say the War on Some Drugs is different than Prohibition?

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-08-28T21:48:52.463Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't say that. However, I also wouldn't say that the War on Drugs is the same as Prohibition. I do not have any opinions on these matters that I view as worth stating at this time.

comment by evand · 2012-08-29T13:13:16.216Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would say that the War on Some Drugs is sufficiently like Prohibition to make this not an instance of the WAitW. It's still a fairly weak argument, since it's lacking in details, but I don't think it's trying to sneak in any connotations, and I think basically all of the problems with Prohibition are also problems with the War on Some Drugs.

Prohibition was unpopular with a large portion of the population. It caused a lowered respect for the law in general, because so many people casually broke the law in response. It funded organized violent crime. It invaded personal liberty in order to prevent something that only caused harm as a contributing element, not direct harm. It didn't work.

Prohibition was a war on a different subset of drugs. It had a constitutional amendment that made it unquestionably legal for the federal government to be doing. It had few medical implications. There was not an obvious historical argument that it would fail catastrophically when it was implemented.

In other words, I think one could reasonably come to different conclusions on the two cases based on cost/benefit analyses, but I think it's reasonable to call them two instances of the same thing. I also think it's reasonable to say that most of the reasons Prohibition was bad also apply to the War on Some Drugs.

As an example of the fallacy, I think it's less than ideal.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-29T14:42:34.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There seems to be a significant difference between "prohibition" and "war on drugs" to me, that may justify it being WAitW : prohibition is attacking a behavior that most people actually do. Nearly everyone drinks alcohol, at least on special occasions. While drugs (even the "softer" of the prohibited one, cannabis) are only used by a small fraction (in the USA, where it's pretty high, according to Wikipedia, it's 13% who used cannabis at least once in 2009). I'm not in favor of "war on drugs" (in my opinion, it has a lot of negative consequences and doesn't work well at all at reducing drug usage), but there is a significant difference between forbidding something "everyone" does and something 10% of the population does, and "prohibition" does bring in the "forbidding something everyone does" connotation.

I would find it more accurate to call the ban on filesharing "prohibition" than to call war on drugs "prohibition" (but both are a form of WAitW).

comment by Kindly · 2012-08-29T17:09:43.979Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You think that more people have tried filesharing than drugs?

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-29T18:19:52.026Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Tried, I would say it depends of the age group. But "tried once in your life" is not the most important for prohibition issues, it's people using it regularly the real issue.

So, do it regularly (at least once a year) ? It's hard to find stats on filesharing usage, but the data I remember is about 1/3 of people with internet access using p2p, which is about 2/3 of the population, so 2/9 = 22%, nearly twice the 13% who used cannabis "once per year". Cannabis is not the only durg, but p2p isn't the only form of filesharing, so it more or less compensates.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T18:34:33.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is that your real question? It feels like you're objecting to something else or asking an entirely different question, like, say, "Does filesharing really deserve the 'prohibition' connotations more than drugs?".

comment by Kindly · 2012-08-29T19:31:48.802Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's my real question. I'm not really objecting to anything, I just found the implied estimate surprising.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T19:36:54.726Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for clarifying.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-30T08:03:29.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Prohibition was unpopular with a large portion of the population. It caused a lowered respect for the law in general, because so many people casually broke the law in response. It funded organized violent crime. It invaded personal liberty in order to prevent something that only caused harm as a contributing element, not direct harm. It didn't work.

Also applies to the present-day prohibition of marijuana (provided you're more liberal with the usage of the words large and many). And what do you mean by “direct harm”? Pretty sure that, from a physiological point of view alone, alcohol is more harmful than marijuana (at least in large doses).

comment by Emile · 2012-08-29T15:12:27.807Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The War on Drugs is Prohibition.

Unlike the other examples, this one doesn't really fit the pattern: it's "X is like Y" and not "X belongs to category Y". The difference is that "X is like Y" does not sneak in any connotations; it's well understood that "The War on Drugs is Prohibition" is a rhetorical way of saying "The War on Drugs is very similar to the Prohibition of the 1930s".

"Affirmative action is like hanging people just because they're black!" doesn't carry the same sneaky rhetoric as "Affirmative action is racist!"

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T06:36:33.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Diversity is strength.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T21:38:42.635Z · score: 31 (32 votes) · LW · GW

The challenge is an interesting exercise, and I will try to think up some examples, but your comment also contains an implied accusation which I'd like to respond to first.

By my count, this post includes critiques of four weak right-wing arguments (abortion, euthanasia, taxation, affirmative action) and three weak left-wing arguments (eugenics, sexism, capital punishment). As far as I know, neither side thinks MLK was a criminal. That means I'm 4-3, ie as balanced as it's mathematically possible to get while seven remains an odd number.

And I think the responses I see below justify my choice of examples. Shminux says the pro-choice converse of "abortion is murder" would be "forced pregnancy is slavery"; TGM suggests below it "denying euthanasia is torture". These would be excellent examples of TWAITW if anyone ever asserted them which as far as I know no one ever has. Meanwhile, I continue to walk past signs saying "Abortion Is Murder!" on my way to work every day. I don't know who exactly it would be helping to give "Forced Pregnancy Is Slavery" equal billing with "Abortion Is Murder" here and let my readers conclude that I'm arguing against some fringe position irrelevant to the real world.

If you can think of left-wing WAITWs that are as well-known and catchy as "abortion is murder!", I will happily edit the post to include them (well, to include one of them; otherwise it'll be 5-4 and the leftists will start complaining). The best I can do at the moment is anti-war arguments that seem to equate for example humanitarian intervention in Rwanda with invading your next-door neighbor to steal their land because they're both "war", but that one doesn't come in convenient slogan form as far as I know.

comment by TGM · 2012-08-27T21:47:47.026Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

If you can think of left-wing WAITWs that are as well-known and catchy as "abortion is murder!", I will happily edit the post to include them

"Property is theft"

Is an example of the left using the WAITW.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-08-28T07:46:27.062Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

American liberals aren't that kind of left. And Proudhon did mean "property is wrong for the same class of reasons theft is".

comment by Vaniver · 2012-08-28T20:48:01.453Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Arguments that your stereotypical leftist and stereotypical rightist will both see as bad are the sort of thing that would, ideally, dominate the article.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-02T04:33:22.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why? Isn't that just Pretending To Be Wise by flattering the prejudices of the two major sides? Ideally, the article should discomfort everyone who has made weak arguments, whether Blue, Green, or Libertarian.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-02T04:44:07.953Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ideally, the article should discomfort everyone who has made weak arguments, whether Blue, Green, or Libertarian.

The article's purpose should be education. By beginning with arguments that most agree are bad, and then progressing to arguments that they may recognize as close to their own, the article will convince most readers that this is a valid fallacy to watch out for, and then show them some arguments close to theirs that fit the pattern.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-08-30T06:00:35.467Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

As a leftist, this seems like a useful exercise. Here are a few claims I've heard more than once from fellow leftists that might qualify.

  • A fetus is a clump of cells.

  • Corporations are not people.

  • Money is not speech.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-30T22:01:03.936Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with all three examples as WAITW even if the last two are negative. It's also very rare that you can settle policy questions through the negation of a categorization. Corporations aren't typical people and money isn't typical speech, but neither of those observations settle the policy question or even debate it - these are just slogans.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-30T07:44:46.620Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The first one is a good leftist example of the WAitW... and with a bit of shame I've to admit I used it in the past.

I wouldn't say the other two qualify because they are negatives. "X is not Y" is quite different from a rethorical perspective than "X is Y".

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-30T15:46:32.773Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Let Y = (Not Z)

X is Y.

Using this, I'd argue that "Corporations are not people" is somewhat valid as an example of the WAitW, since the idea is to put the emphasis on people, and everything else is just property, things. It puts Corporations in some abstract, undefined category of not-people things that, when phrased appropriately, can carry a strong connotation.

I fail to see the connotation in the "not-speech" for the third example though, and I don't quite see how one would use that example to argue against or for money - the label / categorization doesn't seem like it would sway anyone either way.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-08-30T18:11:51.720Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The money is not speech argument is used (just like the corporations are not people argument) to protest against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. The claim is that although speech is constitutionally protected, this does not mean that wealthy individuals have the right to spend large amounts of money to get their poltiical views heard (by, say, contributing to SuperPACs). The idea is: although it's true that the government should not be allowed to prevent people from expressing their opinions, the government should be allowed prevent people from spending money to buy ads expressing their opinion because in that case the regulation is on the person's expenditure of money, and money is not speech (or, if you prefer, money is not-speech).

I think this is an example of the WAitW. The first amendment gives Americans the right to free speech. Wealthy people claim that this means they can spend their considerable wealth in order to broadcast their opinions. After all, if the government can't restrict my speech, surely that means the government can't prevent me from utilizing my own resources as a medium for that speech. But, the leftist responds, the government can totally prevent wealthy people from doing this, because the wealthy people are spending money in order to get their opinions broadcast, and hey, money is not-speech, so like many other examples of not-speech, restricting its use is not a violation of the Bill of Rights.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-08-30T22:31:20.122Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

the government should be allowed prevent people from spending money to buy ads expressing their opinion because in that case the regulation is on the person's expenditure of money, and money is not speech (or, if you prefer, money is not-speech).

Buckley v. Valeo disagrees.

The first amendment gives Americans the right to free speech.

More conveniently, it prohibits Congress from regulating the freedom of the press, i.e. the printing press, i.e. the technological means of reproducing ideas so that others may consume them, as in television ads.

Which is why I found the Citizens United decision so baffling- the reasoning they used to reach their conclusion was not at all the reasoning I would have used. (But, then again, I would rule the vast majority of laws Congress outputs unconstitutional, which is one of the many reasons I have not been nominated to the Supreme Court.)

comment by thomblake · 2012-08-30T19:43:01.785Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wealthy people claim that this means they can spend their considerable wealth in order to broadcast their opinions.

I thought the more common claim is that spending money just is self-expression, and therefore protected.

comment by drnickbone · 2012-09-01T16:00:59.447Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Now that sounds like "Money is speech" which is also a fit to WAiTW.

This highlights an ambiguity in what we mean by "Money is not speech". It could mean "Money is a subset of (non-speech)" which is false since Money does talk in some cases.

Or it could mean "It is not the case that money is a subset of speech" which is more debatable, and definitely not WAItW. Expressed as a Venn diagram, Money and Speech may be overlapping circles with neither strictly contained in the other.

comment by TimS · 2012-08-30T19:58:26.219Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The choice of what to spend on, not the act of spending.

comment by drnickbone · 2012-09-01T12:52:25.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not to get into the details, but there is at least a plausibility argument that "speech should be free only when it is free". If you have to pay someone (or lots of someones) to speak on your behalf, why should your use of them as a mouthpiece be protected? If the people doing the actual speaking (or broadcasting) genuinely agreed with you, and thought it was worth saying, you wouldn't have to pay them to say it...

Another, amusing, point is that the whole mechanism of broadcast licensing is a massive restriction of freedom of speech. True freedom to speak via broadcast would allow everyone to flood the electromagnetic spectrum simultaneously, drowning each other out in interference. That would destroy a public good of course, but once you admit that it is OK to restrict free speech to preserve a public good, you lose the whole "free speech is absolute, and must be protected" argument.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-01T13:24:32.952Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. Heck, once I admit that it's OK to prevent me from committing mass murder to assemble my manifesto out of rotting bodies, I have admitted that it's OK to regulate the forms of speech.

Where I end up after that depends rather a lot on what I cared about in the first place.

For example, if what I care about is avoiding the differential suppression of ideas, I might end up with something like "the legality of expressing an idea I through medium M shall not depend on I." Which allows for broadcast licensing and laws against expressive homicide... though it still doesn't allow for obscenity or pornography or sedition laws. (Well, not laws against them, anyway.)

comment by drnickbone · 2012-09-01T13:36:03.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Quite true: If I genuinely care about the "differential suppression of ideas" then I will want to avoid suppression of the ideas of the poor by crowding them out of public discourse e.g. by flooding the airwaves with the ideas of the rich. There are more types of suppression to worry about than legal suppression.

However, this is now getting overly political, and off-topic...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-09-02T02:08:38.560Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That would probably fall under time or manner restrictions. Most free speech absolutists mean that speech should be free in a way that is independent of content. Time or manner restrictions are generally seen as ok by even most self-identified free speech advocates. The danger and ideological objection is to content based restrictions.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-02T04:36:49.308Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Banning defamation (knowingly making false statements to maliciously cause harm) is a content restriction which is pretty well supported even by serious free-speech folks — at least when the target is a private individual. Defamation of famous people, politicians, corporations, products, etc. is a somewhat less well supported idea.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-02T01:56:34.771Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not to get into the details, but there is at least a plausibility argument that "speech should be free only when it is free".

Well since even printing presses aren't free, that would destroy freedom of the press even in its original meaning.

Another, amusing, point is that the whole mechanism of broadcast licensing is a massive restriction of freedom of speech. True freedom to speak via broadcast would allow everyone to flood the electromagnetic spectrum simultaneously, drowning each other out in interference.

There are other ways to solve this problem, e.g., treat spectrum as a property right and interference as trespass. In fact the (US) courts were moving in that direction before the 1934 federal power grad.

comment by drnickbone · 2012-09-02T12:44:22.642Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On printing presses not being "free" either (because you have to buy them) well this is getting into the details. However, it may help to distinguish the funding model. Consider two extreme models:

1) Funding comes from a grant or trust, and is used to buy the press, paper, salaries for journalists, press-operators etc. The funder has no say on what content gets printed (it is up to journalists'/editors' discretion). Any proceeds from paper sales get paid back into the trust.

This seems like a case of truly free speech (in both senses of free) because no-one is paid to say anything in particular. So the journalists say what they agree with and think is worth saying. It pattern matches to an instance of free speech that we think is worth protecting.

2) Funding comes from a tyrant who owns the whole business, and uses it as a propaganda rag. He orders the journalists to print what he tells them, whether or not they agree with it, whether or not they believe it. If they don't, they get fired. If they tell anyone what happened, they are sued under non-disclosure agreements.

This doesn't seem like free speech in either sense (the speakers are being coerced), and doesn't pattern-match to anything obviously worth protecting.

Cases where the funding comes from advertising look a bit more interesting. An initial pattern-match is that the ads themselves aren't free speech that we particularly want to protect (outright lies about Snakeoil or distortions about competitor products can be restricted by an advertising standards body). Whereas any news or editorial comment is protected free speech, provided it is cleanly separated from the advertising, and the advertiser doesn't have any control of its content. If a particular story was run because the advertiser demanded it, that isn't protected. And so on.

On your other remark about spectrum being a property right: possible, but notice that it is still a massive restriction on free speech (by rights of property now, rather than by legislative censorship). And it shows up some of the problems with broad property rights; seems too similar to making air a property right, with trespass for anyone who breathes it without the owner's permission.

comment by kilobug · 2012-09-02T13:13:37.362Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please note that "the advertiser doesn't have any control of its content" doesn't always hold: advertisers have the power to blackmail editors/newspapers with "if you publish that paper that attacks us, we won't put advertising in your columns anymore". They can exert a form of censorship, and induce self-censorship reactions "no, we won't publish that article about the working conditions in company X, because company X is paying us a lot in advertising and we don't want to upset them" even without company X having to do any explicit blackmail. This is not an easy problem to solve.

comment by drnickbone · 2012-09-03T08:32:15.021Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is why advertising funding is an "interesting" case and falls between the extremes. One solution is "firewalls" between the department selling advertising space and the editorial team, so that explicit threats of blackmail can't get through. The paper might need to show evidence of such firewalls to claim protection for pieces which are labelled as comment but look suspiciously-like paid-for advertising.

What is most difficult here is "self-censorship" whereby the editor knows that if he runs a particular story, then the advertising will dry up, and the paper risks going out of business. But this is not in principle different from dilemmas on readership such as "If I run this shocking story about what our troops are up to abroad, then I'll sound unpatriotic, lose readers, and go out of business".

There is self-censorship in almost all speech contexts ("If I say that, my friends will think I'm an idiot", "If I post that, it will get down voted"). But the important point is that what emerges through the self-censorship filter is protected. The intuition here is that we don't want to impose even more filters.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-03T02:10:53.023Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Or even go one step further: a group of people threaten to boycott companies that advertise on shows saying politically incorrect things.

comment by Unnamed · 2012-08-31T05:03:45.102Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The negative examples are different because they don't suggest an argument, only a counterargument. If X is an apple then various conclusions (typically/intuitively) follow, for instance, that X is edible. But if X is a non-apple then nothing much follows from that; it only serves to block the apple-->edible argument (and suggest that X is not necessarily edible).

"Money is speech" implies that all of the protections that get applied to speech should be applied to spending. If money is not speech, then who knows? Nothing much follows directly from that (it's not as if there's some general principle that things which are non-speech should be banned); it just suggests that we don't necessarily have to apply the speech protections to spending. It's more similar to the "MLK was not a criminal" counterargument than to the "MLK was a criminal" argument (note that being a non-criminal doesn't make someone especially admirable), but it doesn't fall into the trap of being obviously false.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T06:33:56.285Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"Profiling is discrimination"

"Racial profiling is racist."

While I can see this argument apply as a sort of justifiable use when humans are doing such profiling, though even in that case I think it should be used sometimes, I find it a bit absurd when applied to say data mining systems. Are we to apply Bayesian reasoning to everything except predictors tied to certain sacralized human traits like gender, dress, class, race, religion and origin? Why don't we feel averse applying it to say age?

"Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell."

To avoid nitpicking that cancer cells have no ideology, I will point out that if they did, they would share the ideology with all life forms on the planet.

"Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of life!"

Doesn't sound as evil no?

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-08-27T21:44:14.665Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

seven remains an even number

Either this is a joke or you mean "odd".

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T21:49:52.005Z · score: 18 (24 votes) · LW · GW

You saw nothing!

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-08-27T23:22:13.431Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think the difference is that the right wing examples are examples of core beliefs that many stereotypical conservatives believe. Thus leftists feel like they are scoring points when they read it. The left examples, however, aren't really core beliefs of the Democratic party. Democrats may lean against capital punishment, but no presidential candidate in my memory has made that a core tenant of eir campaign.

I also think it's wildly generous to suggest eugenics as a leftist issue. I can't remember ever hearing someone seriously suggest that genetic engineering is eugenics. And typically, it's conservatives who are opposed to genetic engineering, generally on the grounds of playing God.

And when I was reading it, MLK got lumped in with conservatives for a number of reasons. First, the strong conservative examples primed me to put it there. Second, the civil rights act was largely pushed for by a Democratic legislature and president. Lastly, African Americans tend to line up with democrats in modern demographics.

The best leftist example I could come up with is "Meat is murder". I think that merits including. Or mixing in with the abortion one.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T06:34:40.405Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I know, neither side thinks MLK was a criminal.

Of course not!

MLK was a Communist philanderer. That's worse. ;)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T07:06:05.852Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

By my count, this post includes critiques of four weak right-wing arguments (abortion, euthanasia, taxation, affirmative action) and three weak left-wing arguments (eugenics, sexism, capital punishment)

I was surprised people didn't notice that both the sexism and eugenics arguments where somewhat "right wing". I think a key thing might be that perception of "right" and "left" are tied to the current American political landscape. The important role of religion in it means that conservative politicians don't often make arguments for their policies based on evolutionary psychology or the high heritability of IQ or conscientiousness. The America right seems almost as invested in blank slate notions as the left.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-10-16T15:30:05.164Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Arguing against homosexuality is hate speech!". Many anti-queer statements are hate speech, e.g. promotion of murder, but others are along the lines of "People shouldn't act on same-sex attraction because...". Quite a few conservatives complain that the latter form of argument is dismissed as "hate speech", even though "People shouldn't drive SUVs because..." is never taken to mean you hate SUV drivers.

comment by Nisan · 2012-10-16T15:46:49.662Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not the worst argument in the world. "People shouldn't act on same-sex attraction because..." is closer to the central archetype of hate speech than "People shouldn't drive SUVs because..." is. And the full argument is probably something like "Arguing against homosexuality is hate speech, and therefore harms homosexuals." — which is a sloppy argument, but a cleaned-up version would be "Arguing against homosexuality encourages people (through the magic of virtue ethics) to view homosexuals as vicious. And it legitimizes (through the affect heuristic) the established pattern of homophobia. Therefore, you should not argue against homosexuality. By the way, hate speech shares these features."

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-30T02:52:48.713Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So this may be more complicated than I thought, in that all of the examples below seem really bad to me, but that might just be an example of my personal bias. I think if any of them get, let's say, more than ten upvotes I'll assume they're generally agreed to be a good argument and I'll put them in - does that sound like a reasonable bar? That means upvote them if you think they're worthy of inclusion.

I was trying to think of further liberal examples, and I think some references to "human rights" might qualify - for example, "health care is a human right". The meaning of "human right" that allows us to assert this seems very poorly defined, whereas the meaning of "human right" that allows us to say that negative rights like free speech are human rights seems well-defined, even though I don't agree with it. So calling health care (or housing, or something) a "human right" might be a way of trying to claim that we should view health care as exactly like free speech, free religion, etc, even though it is quite different in that it requires positive action by other people.

I'm not quite willing to include that one just because the total ambiguity in the definition of "human right" makes it pretty hard to pin down exactly how the argument is being made.

EDIT: Just saw "Property is theft" has 15 upvotes. Do people think this one should be added?

comment by shminux · 2012-08-30T05:05:01.702Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

all of the examples below seem really bad to me

I'm not fond of any, either. See if you can find something you like here.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-30T07:57:52.040Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Human rights" are poorly defined, but I guess the closer we have to a formal definition of them is Universal Declaration of Human Rights which does include health care and right to education at the same level than free speech or fair trial.

But I agree it's a very poor defense of universal healthcare, the UDHR is a political document that can carry weight of authority, but it doesn't make something ethical or unethical by itself. The only way I use the UDHR in a political discussion is with a reasoning like « UDHR includes right to healthcare, and UDHR was accepted by most countries of the planet, so it's not a completely lunatic position. Now, please stop your authority arguments like "the only natural rights are freedom and ownership" and listen to my actual arguments for universal healthcare, and I'll listen to your real ones against it », which doesn't in itself justify healthcare, but can help giving me at least a chance to expose my arguments.

comment by shokwave · 2012-08-28T16:55:15.460Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It might be easier to come up with examples if you go back to your original definition and note that it allows for categories with positive qualities lending their positive qualities to category members who lack those physical qualities. (Leftist arguments as a rhetorical class are usually phrased in terms of including things in positive categories, whereas rightist arguments are more well-known for including things in negative categories.)

comment by Vaniver · 2012-08-28T21:10:39.945Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For example, something like "we should support racial diversity because of the benefits of ideological diversity"?

comment by shminux · 2012-08-30T21:27:34.984Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not quite any wing: the jailed Pussy Riot members should stay behind bars because a killer requested their release.

An official of the Russian Orthodox Church on Thursday said supporters of the band bear a moral responsibility for the gruesome killings in the city of Kazan.

There are similar Western examples with Wikileaks/Anonymous.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T08:13:56.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These would be excellent examples of TWAITW if anyone ever asserted them which as far as I know no one ever has.

Judith Jarvis Thomson? (Well, she didn't use the word slavery but still.)

As for the euthanasia-is-torture one, I heard that a lot on the media at the time of Terri Schiavo and similar cases. (Maybe none used the word torture but still.)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-08-28T11:43:09.129Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I lost a lot of faith in contemporary philosophy when I heard "A Defense of Abortion" was "the most widely reprinted essay in all of contemporary philosophy".

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-29T11:26:36.544Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you can think of left-wing WAITWs that are as well-known and catchy as "abortion is murder!", I will happily edit the post to include them

How about "Gay rights are equal rights"?

comment by pianoforte611 · 2012-08-30T01:39:51.527Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting example. I'm trying to figure out how it fulfills the second criteria for the WAITW namely "as though it also had those features even though it doesn't"

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-30T10:09:18.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The archetypical example of a struggle for equal rights has been identical political enfranchisement (e.g. the suffragette movement) or identical legal equality (equal right to property, etc) on an individual level.

Things like gay marriage or adoption rights don't fit those archetypical examples -- hence the rather silly counter-argument by its opponents that "gays are already allowed to marry - they're allowed to marry people of the opposite gender."

I'm saying all this as a huge supporter of gay rights, btw.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2012-08-30T20:12:52.704Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah I see now, thanks. I don't its nearly as common as "abortion is murder" though. Actually I'm quite embarrassed that I can't think of any liberal examples of the worst argument in the world with regard to social issues that people actually use regularly. I don't like any that I've seen so far.

comment by thomblake · 2012-08-30T14:47:38.839Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The archetypical example of a struggle for equal rights has been identical political enfranchisement (e.g. the suffragette movement) or identical legal equality (equal right to property, etc) on an individual level.

It's not as different as it might seem. Initially, only property owners could vote, and so only letting men vote was effectively "one vote per household". With the "sensible" assumption that everyone is married and truthful with their spouses, giving votes to both spouses means either one candidate gets two votes, or they vote for different people and thus might as well have stayed home. Since the only difference there is that the folks counting the votes would have to do twice as much work (since spouses usually agree about everything), it would not be helpful to give every household 2 votes instead. People could have argued at the time (I'm not sure whether they actually did) that women do have the right to vote - the husband is voting for both of them (this is of course complicated by the fact that women could not own property).

Equal right to property works similarly - unmarried women could own property, but married women could not.

comment by drethelin · 2012-08-28T07:12:08.242Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No blood for oil!

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-08-28T11:50:35.728Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Willie Nelson: How much oil is a human life worth?

Economist: Well, in the United States workers value their lives at about $7 million. With current crude oil prices at around $100 a barrel, a human life is worth about 70,000 barrels of oil.

comment by prase · 2012-08-28T20:14:57.138Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is the subjective value of one's own life. The market value of human life, i.e. the price for which one life can be saved, should be much lower.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-28T20:26:39.407Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If only 100 barrels of oil ends up being worth a human life, clearly we ought to invade Iran. Or Equatorial Guinea if we can only scrape up a couple of million dollars for the coup.

Incidentally, there appears to be an important list of unsung humanitarian heroes here.

comment by Costanza · 2012-08-28T23:51:25.836Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd quibble about "clearly," even in context. Wars are just too damn random.

Nothing against cost-benefit analysis in the abstract, but, in practice, invading a country seems like one of those very complicated choices that may inherently risk some major, major unintended consequences. I'm mostly thinking negative, but I suppose this would go both ways -- unexpected ultimate positive consequences might be possible as well, but still hard to calculate at all.

comment by novalis · 2012-08-28T23:26:24.181Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am not entirely convinced that a foreign-backed violent coup, even against a truly heinous dictator, is necessarily a good idea. This seems like one of those cases for ethical injunctions, because the visible upside is so clear (the dictator is gone), but the downside is more complicated: violent coups, for whatever reason, very rarely end up producing good governments.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T00:13:48.090Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The premise was that human life is ethically cheap, and the conclusion wasn't that backing a coup was a good idea, but that outright invasion would be.

Personally, I don't think that the cash value of the oil (discounted as normal) is greater than the cash cost of the war plus the reconstruction needed to get the oil. I could be wrong on my estimates, because I don't think the relative monetary cost is a significant factor in the moral calculus, so I didn't spend much time or effort estimating the values.

comment by novalis · 2012-08-29T00:51:49.328Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how to interpret Eliezer's "unsung humanitarian heroes" comment other than as an endorsement of the coup attempt.

Or maybe I'm just missing some sarcasm.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-08-29T13:30:01.156Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll take option B, in the form of reductio ad absurdum, on the claim that a human life is worth 100 barrels of oil.

comment by juliawise · 2012-09-01T01:47:14.169Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was baffled by that too. They attempted to overthrow a nasty dictator . . . but they did it for the oil money they'd get from the new government.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-01T02:58:23.115Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I believe Eliezer is more concerned with whether the coup would have led to an increase in utility than the motives of the plotters.

comment by katydee · 2012-09-01T02:32:15.508Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I believe your sarcasm detector may be improperly calibrated.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T05:11:00.947Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I looked at it considering that the coup attempt never started, and figured that he was claiming that someone dropped a tip and stopped it.

I don't know if ~80 people could complete a coup; it would seem that if the military is loyal to the existing regime, it would fail, and if the military was disloyal no mercenaries are needed.

comment by prase · 2012-08-28T20:40:15.764Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By the same logic, doesn't everyone who steals X money, where X happens to be higher than the value of life, become a humanitarian hero?

By which I mean that I don't understand your point. You seem to indirectly accuse me of commiting a fallacy, yet I don't know which one.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-28T20:47:50.724Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nope, wasn't accusing you of anything. I was just amused by the point that anyone who wants to save as many lives as possible, but has only a finite amount of oil, must be able to state some consistent value of human life in terms of barrels of oil, since otherwise you could rearrange the oil to save more lives.

comment by prase · 2012-08-28T21:07:41.684Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am probably becoming a bit paranoid lately.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-08-31T06:54:44.422Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Bankers are parasites."

"We are the 99%."

"Rethuglican." (You'll see the "is" if you unpack the word.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-08-31T09:32:23.718Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, are the downvotes because these are, or because they are not, exactly what was asked for? And is -3 too much of a hair trigger for the karma fine for replying, or about right?

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-31T10:19:16.648Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't downvote, but on your 3 examples, only the first one qualifies for me, which can justify downvotes (I didn't because the first one qualifies, making it enough to not be worth a downvote).

"Rethuglican" is not an argument, just a typical pun on words against the ones you don't like, but it doesn't pretend to be a reason to not like republicans, just something democrats say between themselves. It's an happy death spiral, but not a WAitW.

"We are the 99%" doesn't share much of the WAitW features. It doesn't try to sneak in connotations, it doesn't attack an typical example of a cluster by assimilating it with the archetype of the cluster.

comment by gjm · 2012-08-27T22:00:10.130Z · score: 12 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I have the impression that (1) when people post things in LW that are politically leftish, it's quite common for them to get a response along these lines -- complaining about leftward bias and suggesting that it should be addressed by a deliberate injection of rightward bias to compensate -- whereas (2) when people post things in LW that are politically rightish, they basically never receive such responses.

I have no statistics or anything to back this up, and it's not clear that there's any feasible way to get (or informatively fail to get) them, so I'd be interested in other opinions about whether this asymmetry is real.

If it is real, it seems to me quite interesting.

(One possible explanation, if it's real, would be that leftish views are much more common here than rightish ones, so that people with rightish views feel ill-treated and want the balance redressed. Except that I think I see distinctly more rightish than leftish political commentary here, and the rightish stuff more often gets large numbers of upvotes. I suppose it's possible that what we have here is a lot of slightly leftish people and a smaller number of rightish ones who feel more strongly. Again, this is probably hard to get a good handle on and I'd be interested in others' impressions.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T06:43:32.001Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Well right wing people are almost certainly a minority here, but don't forget that makes such positions convenient for hipster fun. Some LWers who argue for right wing positions have stated that they feel more and more unwelcome in the past few months. Not only that I think they make a good case for pro left bias being very prevasive on LessWrong. I think what you are seeing is some users trying to correct for it.

I find the fact that both people who see themselves as left leaning and those who see themselves as right leaning suddenly feel there is favouritism for those who disagree with them is a much more worrying sign. I think this is what being on one side of a tribal conflict looks like from the inside.

comment by Sengachi · 2012-12-20T00:57:26.640Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I dislike the fact that we're talking about the bias rather than the arguments. Here, more so than any other place I know of, we should be dissecting arguments and talking about the truths of the issues, rather than saying that a statement is incorrect because of its side on the political spectrum.

I can't be the only person thinking this, right?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-20T08:01:52.951Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This site is about refining the art of human rationality, while we certainly do try to get a good map of the world we spend most of our time thinking about thinking. The fundamental realization at the heart of our community, that to a certain extent distinguishes it from traditional rationality, is that humans are biased and broken thinkers who can't rely on their naive reasoning too much. You can think as long and as calmly as you like but if you base your thinking on broken axioms or bad epistemology you won't get much closer to truth.

I did not say or even wish to imply a set of arguments was wrong because of political affiliation, neither where the users I linked to. What I was implying quite strongly is that we are unlikely to hear the best arguments or to update appropriately to those that are politically inconvenient. Not even because of a desire to engage in propaganda for ones cause, but because the world simply looks a certain way to them! There are many correct arguments one can make for incorrect positions, by selectively only hearing correct arguments one does not by default hear the counter-arguments or correct arguments for other positions and perhaps doesn't' even realize they may exist. These are not a controversial observations at all.

Following this reasoning and promoted by complaints and observations observations of my own I stated my argument by pointing out the dominant political affiliation and ideological assumptions on the site and how this harms the rationality of the community on certain subjects.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-20T08:15:51.863Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This rationality quote by Jonathan Haidt may explain this better than I have. Also here is me making an argument explicitly along those lines.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-08-27T22:36:37.156Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

The most popular political view, at least according to the much-maligned categories on the survey, was liberalism, with 376 adherents and 34.5% of the vote. Libertarianism followed at 352 (32.3%), then socialism at 290 (26.6%), conservativism at 30 (2.8%) and communism at 5 (.5%).

-- Yvain's 2011 survey

comment by gjm · 2012-08-28T00:35:41.777Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aha, thanks.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-08-28T21:06:06.257Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I have the impression that (1) when people post things in LW that are politically leftish, it's quite common for them to get a response along these lines -- complaining about leftward bias and suggesting that it should be addressed by a deliberate injection of rightward bias to compensate -- whereas (2) when people post things in LW that are politically rightish, they basically never receive such responses.

My explanation of this perception is that posters, in general, know better than to post rightish things at LW unless they are correct. Every now and then you get a new Objectivist who gets downvoted because they aren't discussing things at a high enough level.

Lots of beliefs that are common on LW are uncomfortable for the stereotypical leftist- like human biodiversity in general. To see someone brazenly state that, yes, there is a difference in measured IQ between the races and that reflects reality rather than our inability to design tests properly, or that men and women are actually neurologically distinct, will seem like a "not my tribe" signal to the stereotypical leftist- but people here don't hold that opinion (as far as I can tell) because of racial or sexual enmity, but because they put evidence above wishful thinking and correct beliefs above politeness.

But now imagine that for the stereotypical rightist. How big of a "not my tribe" signal is atheist materialism and evolution?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-08-29T19:53:32.734Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I am thinking that one possible asymetry between "the left" and "the right" is that the former is a rather homogenous group, while the latter is heterogenous. The left generally means socialist(-ish), and the right generally means non-socialist. The left is a fuzzy blob in the concept-space, the right seems like a label for points outside of this blob.

As an example, both Ayn Rand and Chesterton would be examples of "the right". What exactly do they have in common? (Religion: the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever? Individual or community? Mystery or reason? The great future or the great past? Selfishness or selflessness? Should women be allowed as leaders? Etc.) The common trait that classifies them both as "the right" is the fact that neither of them is a socialist.

Well, I could also says that neither of them "considers hinduism the best thing ever"... but why should that information be used to classify them? Well, for a hinduist that would be an important information. Then it follows that classifying many diverse views under one label of "the right" makes sense to you mostly if you are a socialist. (Or if being versus not-being a socialist is the dominant question in your political paradigm.) An "Ayn-Rand-type" non-socialist and a "Chesterton-type" non-socialist would otherwise feel uncomfortable under the common umbrella.

I am not saying there are no differences among "the left", but to me they seem more like a matter of degree. This observation may be culture-dependent. I am from eastern Europe, where "the left" basically either wants "what communists did" or "something similar to what communists did, just less, and if possible without all the violence". -- I suppose in USA the diversity of "the left" is greater, because there is no such attractor. Actually, the Republican party may serve as a similar (though weaker) attractor for "the right".

OK, what I tried to say was this: suppose that the leftist opinions are pretty similar, and the rightist opinions are very diverse. Assuming that both sides are about equally mindkilled (believe in about the same proportion of true statements, and the same proportion of false statements), for most statements the left will probably have either true believes or false beliefs as a whole, while the right will internally disagree -- therefore even if each specific right political group has the same chance to have true beliefs, there is a very high chance that at least one of the right political groups will have a true belief.

For clarity, here is a model: There are true beliefs A, B, C, D; and every political group is correct only about one of them, and incorrect about three of them. There are three left groups, but all of them believe in A. There are three right groups, first of them believes in B, second in C, third in D. -- Now if we make a per-group statistics, we find that each party is 25% correct and 75% incorrect. However, if we make a per-true-belief statistics, we find that 25% of true beliefs are associated with the left (A), and 75% of true beliefs are associated with the right (B, C, D). -- In this model, if a group of people could succeed to hold all true beliefs (A, B, C, D), an external observer would judge they are mostly right (despite they happen to disagree with every individual right group in majority of beliefs).

Back to the beginning -- we disagree with Ayn Rand about simplicity of values, or about importance of community; we also disagree with Chesterton about religion. That alone does not give us a political label. On the other hand, disagreeing with a socialist political idea is sufficient to get the label of political right, because any point outside of the socialist concept-space is called "the right".

comment by Unnamed · 2012-08-30T02:44:49.146Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I am thinking that one possible asymetry between "the left" and "the right" is that the former is a rather homogenous group, while the latter is heterogenous. [...] The left is a fuzzy blob in the concept-space, the right seems like a label for points outside of this blob.

Beware the out-group homogeneity effect. People tend to see their own group as more heterogeneous than other groups, as differences that look small from far away look bigger up close.

With left and right, I have also heard the exact opposite claim: that the "right" represents a narrower, more coherent group. In the US, the "right" is based in the dominant, mainstream social group (sometimes called "real America"), drawing disproportionately from people who are white, male, Christian, relatively well-off, straight, etc., while the "left" is a coalition of the various groups that are left out of "real America" for one reason or another. Alternatively, conservatives are the people who support the existing social order and want to keep things roughly how they are; liberals are the ones who want change - and there are more degrees of freedom in changing things than in keeping things the same.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-08-30T13:57:15.215Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Seems to me there could be a common pattern:

If a political group X, identified as A in {"left", "right"}, becomes very powerful in some era, the following things happen:

  • people see X as a prototype of A;
  • other A groups are seen like less successful variations of X; if that is impossible, the cognitive dissonance will be solved by reclassifying the incompatible group as non-A;
  • after a while X (and therefore A) becomes the default position for people who don't think too much about politics.

Later, when the political group X loses some power:

  • simple people still identify as X (A), which is reinforced by seeing the past with rose-colored glasses;
  • new opinions are automatically classified as non-A, because they don't pattern-match X;
  • therefore smart people begin to identify as non-A, to signal intellectual superiority and independent thinking.

In USA, X = Republican / religious right, and A = "right". In Eastern Europe, X = Communist, and A = "left".

This is very simplified, but it explains why sometimes the same person could self-identify as "left wing" in USA (to express their incompatibility with the religious right), and as "right wing" in Eastern Europe (to express their incompatibility with the communists). On the other hand, people mostly compatible with the religious right or with the communists can self-identify the same in both places.

In Eastern Europe the distinction between "support the traditional model" and "support change" is rather confused, because it is not clear whether the traditional refers to the era before the fall of communism, or to era even before the communists. In some sense, both religious right and communists are literally the conservative parties here.

comment by prase · 2012-08-29T21:59:12.873Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is an interesting point, that one about the left being more homogeneous than the right. I am not sure whether to believe it, so let me present some objections that I can think of, without evaluating their merit.

A) Assuming the left is indeed more homogeneous, isn't it true just because of greater variability of right between different countries, with a typical single country's right being as homogeneous as the same country's left? (The objection hasn't a particularly strong bearing on the perceived LW left/right imbalance, but may be relevant to the more general question of how the categories of left and right are defined.)

The left generally means socialist(-ish), and the right generally means non-socialist.

B) This may not be accurate; beware availability heuristics.

Environmentalists aren't necessarily socialists as their opinions about the optimal economic order aren't the defining part of their ideology and may differ. Yet the environmentalists are usually classified on the left. Anarchists aren't necessarily socialists; many of them oppose any form of organised society, while archetypal socialism is a very organised society, from many points of view more than market capitalism. Feminists rarely dream about socialist utopias as they have a different fish to fry. Yet both feminists and anarchists are usually considered standing on the left. In fact I could use the examples of these groups to make a mirror argument of yours, namely, that the right is capitalist(-ish) while the left is everything opposed to capitalism. I don't think this is a good definition since there are counter-examples to it too (e.g. the nazis who are against capitalism but still "right-wing") but at least I don't immediately see this description being less reasonable than yours.

Of course this all hinges on the definitions of socialism or capitalism, discussions about which might better be avoided for their pointlessness. It is not clear whether there is a sensible definition of left and right other than "arbitrary convention set up by historical accident", but if there is, I suppose it would go along the lines of social status: the right are those who side with the elites and wish the present distribution of power preserved, the left are those who side with the underclasses and therefore wish to shift the balance towards more egalitarianism, from which would the lower status people profit (in terms of relative status increase, not necessarily materially). This definition has several advantages: for one thing, it has no problems with the fact that in the late 18th century the market liberals were considered left.

As an example, both Ayn Rand and Chesterton would be examples of "the right". What exactly do they have in common?

C) Both Jacques Derrida and Lenin would be examples of "the left". What do they have in common? Or Pol Pot and Bertrand Russell? Neither of them was a big fan of free markets (or hinduism, for that matter), but that doesn't guarantee much ideological homogeneity.

I am from eastern Europe, where "the left" basically either wants "what communists did" or "something similar to what communists did, just less, and if possible without all the violence".

D) When I still thought that "left" and "right" were more than two rather arbitrary labels, I considered myself a leftist and "something similar to what communists did, just less, and if possible without all the violence" wasn't the way I would summarise my political preferences. Of course, there is a sense in which any government intervention into the markets is "what communists did, just less", but it is a sense on such a level of vagueness and generality that it lacks significant information value. In any case, for ideologically oriented both social democrats and greens communism is primarily a negative example rather than an attractor. (I don't claim deep knowledge of the contemporary left in Slovakia, but feel quite certain to object to your statement being formulated as valid for the whole Eastern Europe).

comment by Emile · 2012-08-30T11:12:53.567Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is not clear whether there is a sensible definition of left and right other than "arbitrary convention set up by historical accident", but if there is, I suppose it would go along the lines of social status: the right are those who side with the elites and wish the present distribution of power preserved, the left are those who side with the underclasses and therefore wish to shift the balance towards more egalitarianism, from which would the lower status people profit (in terms of relative status increase, not necessarily materially).

I don't think that quite described the US, or Western Europe - the stereotypical redneck is low-status but on the right (same for ploucs here in France), and buying organic food seems to be more common with the rich, but is associated to the left.

A better description of the left/right gap may be that each represents a status ladder, and that people support the status ladder on which they have the best relative position. The details of what counts tend to vary with time and place, but on the left you tend to get status for being educated, open-minded, environmentally aware, original, etc., and on the right you tend to get status for being rich, responsible, having a family, being loyal to your country, etc.

At least, that angle of approach seems better than looking at policies; if you compare the policies of the French left and the American left, the policies might seem so different that they don't deserve the same label; but if you compare the kind of people who support either parties, the similarities are much more apparent.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-23T05:49:53.964Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have a notion that in the US, left-wingers tend to focus on defection by high-status people and right-wingers tend to focus on defection by low-status people.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-30T02:54:08.553Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is not clear whether there is a sensible definition of left and right other than "arbitrary convention set up by historical accident", but if there is, I suppose it would go along the lines of social status: the right are those who side with the elites and wish the present distribution of power preserved, the left are those who side with the underclasses and therefore wish to shift the balance towards more egalitarianism, from which would the lower status people profit (in terms of relative status increase, not necessarily materially).

Except where "the left" has become the elites, there the dynamic is reversed.

comment by prase · 2012-08-30T06:32:12.715Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The key question is not whether leftist politicians have become elites (they do regularly) but whether their agenda supports elites and whether they get support from the elites, which happens very rarely. There is a lot of self-serving political decisions made by both left and right politicians from which politicians benefit, but the left politicians are nevertheless still more connected with lower classes than the right politicians.

Somewhat special example were/are communist countries where the non-political aspects of social status are reduced and the groups of communists and elites have large overlap. These countries, when compared internationally, are "left", but in the internal politics there is usually little place for using "left" and "right" as the left and right are relative characteristics which are useless when there is only one political party.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-30T08:01:04.842Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The key question is not whether leftist politicians have become elites (they do regularly) but whether their agenda supports elites and whether they get support from the elites, which happens very rarely.

I wasn't just referring to politicians, but to the liberal intelligentsia.

but the left politicians are nevertheless still more connected with lower classes than the right politicians.

I don't know what the situation is in the Czech Republic, but in the US while this was probably somewhat true a generation ago, it's highly dubious today. (Although of course liberals like to think it's still true.)

comment by thomblake · 2012-08-30T14:51:59.729Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what the situation is in the Czech Republic, but in the US while this was probably somewhat true a generation ago, it's highly dubious today.

I'm reminded of a quote from a hippy band during the Vietnam War. Paraphrased:

We thought we were representing the working class. Then we realized the working class were the ones beating us with nightsticks.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-08-30T15:08:00.877Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what the situation is in the Czech Republic, but in the US while this was probably somewhat true a generation ago, it's highly dubious today. (Although of course liberals like to think it's still true.)

Especially when you consider things like gay marriage or free immigration, causes universally approved of (in public, at least) by the liberal intelligentsia, but very unpopular among several core Democratic groups.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-08-30T09:33:47.596Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But there are any number of sub-varieties of socialism, so it is itself a fuzzy blob. Moreover, the non-right in many countries, particularly the US, barely has a whiff of classical socialism, Who is advocating a centrally planned economy or worker control of production in the US? It's a standing joke in Europe that the US has two parties of the right. That's "perception" of course. It's also a US perception that public healthcare "is" socialism -- the idea is seen as mainstream and cross-party elsewhere. What is going on is that the right have this convenient label "socialist" to lambast the non-right with, and the non-right don't have a corresponding term to hit back with. That doesnt mean anything about ideaspace.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-31T01:25:26.756Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Who is advocating a centrally planned economy

Well, that depends on the industry. For example, as you mentioned below, the left here is advocating central planning in the medical industry.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-08-31T12:35:41.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the left here is advocating central planning in the medical industry.

Of course I meant central planning of (pretty much) everything. Every polity has some central planning of some things.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-01T02:55:37.589Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The question is how much of the economy is under central planning and which factions are trying to increase or decrease it.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-09-01T19:15:56.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which question? Wanting some but not all things under state/provision control is not socialsim by any strict definition. More like moderate or centrel-left or social democracy or something. But "social democrat!" doens't have the right insulting ring.

comment by mrglwrf · 2012-08-30T13:39:25.337Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

About as big as "human biodiversity" is for a leftist. I think you are severely underestimating the strength of conviction among people whose beliefs disagree with your own, or the extent to which these are moral disagreements, rather than exclusively factual.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-08-30T14:18:00.315Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are severely underestimating the strength of conviction among people whose beliefs disagree with your own,

Very possibly. The Christian who gets infected by LW might be terrified of telling their family, friends, and church group that they're now an atheist; similarly, the anti-racist who gets infected by LW might be terrified of telling their family and friends that they're now a race realist.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2012-09-02T09:12:47.651Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

similarly, the anti-racist who gets infected by LW might be terrified of telling their family and friends that they're now a race realist.

I recognize that if evidence shows differences in (for example) intelligence between races, then, yeah, I've got to change my belief and except that people of X race are smarter than those from Y. I don't know that this would change my behaviour towards people of either race, or that I think any state policy should change. Perhaps my "racism bad" reflex is stronger than I'm consciously accounting for, but I don't see any useful way to act on this data. Similarly, I don't think my behaviour would change much if there was hard data about intelligence difference between the genders.

I choose intelligence because it's a controversial, and common, topic. I can maybe see the value in applying this data to predisposition to violence, or things like calculating insurance premiums.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-02T17:19:44.525Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a lot of ways to act on data about group differences in intelligence.

For example, if it turns out that group A has a higher average IQ than group B, and that A and B can be distinguished reliably by genetic testing (including but not limited to visual inspection for associated phenotypes), I might decide to devote more effort to educating group B than group A, to make up for the difference. Or I might decide to devote more effort to educating group A than group B, to get the best bang for my education buck. Or I might decide to research the differences, to learn more about the physiological mechanisms of intelligence. Or I might change my ways of evaluating claims so that I give more weight to group A's ideas relative to group B's than I used to (assuming I used to believe they were equally intelligent). Or I might decide to structure my society in such a way that group A has access to certain privileges that group B is denied, on the grounds of their superiority, or such that B gets privileges A is denied, on the grounds of their greater need. Etc.

Which of those I do, if any, depends a lot on what I think follows from greater potential intelligence within a group. People disagree about this. People often change their minds about this depending on whether they consider themselves in group A or B.

Incidentally, just for the record: I find it pretty likely that there do exist such group differences, though I expect that the portion of variation in real-world expressed intelligence accounted for by group differences in innate intelligence is <10%. I find it fairly unlikely that "race" is the best detectable correlate of membership in such groups available to us, though it might be more reliable than, say, the shape of an individual's head (also a popular theory once). I expect its popularity in that role is more of a reflection of historical social relations than a conclusion drawn from current data.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2012-09-02T17:35:10.043Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the reply!

For example, if it turns out that group A has a higher average IQ than group B, and that A and B can be distinguished reliably by genetic testing (including but not limited to visual inspection for associated phenotypes), I might decide to devote more effort to educating group B than group A, to make up for the difference. Or I might decide to devote more effort to educating group A than group B, to get the best bang for my education buck.

Fair enough, that's an example of policy, based on this data.

Or I might decide to research the differences, to learn more about the physiological mechanisms of intelligence.

Also cool, seems obvious in hindsight!

Or I might change my ways of evaluating claims so that I give more weight to group A's ideas relative to group B's than I used to (assuming I used to believe they were equally intelligent).

I'd imagine a group's ideas are more to do with non-genetic factors than genetic intelligence.

Or I might decide to structure my society in such a way that group A has access to certain privileges that group B is denied, on the grounds of their superiority, or such that B gets privileges A is denied, on the grounds of their greater need. Etc.

For me some of these would be contingent on the additional discovery that the group's intelligence is a result of its genetic difference; group B could be generally poorer, or less well-nourished, or some other factor leading to lower intelligence, in addition to being genetically distinguishable. This is also making the assumption that IQ tests are culturally fair and the like - though I'm happy to use the term as a placeholder for 'idealized intelligence test'.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-02T19:30:30.419Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd imagine a group's ideas are more to do with non-genetic factors than genetic intelligence.

As would I. But the claimant's intelligence (whether genetic or otherwise) is nevertheless a factor I take into account when deciding how much weight to give a claim.

And, yes, all of this is contingent on the idea that IQ correlates well with intelligence.

And, yes, if it turns out that the physiological mechanisms whereby group A develops greater intelligence than group B are heavily environmentally mediated (e.g., due to differential poverty, nourishment, or other factors) I might well decide to alter the environment to increase intelligence in group B as well.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-08-29T20:14:27.323Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I've posted such complaints about left wing bias, so I'll elaborate on my impressions.

I perceive the left wing comments come with much more of an implicit assumption by the poster, and the respondents to it, of the moral superiority of left wing positions, and that all attending will see it the same way.

Most of the non left wing views don't seem to me to come with that presumption on the part of the speaker that everyone here shares their moral evaluation. If anything, the tone is of someone who expects to be taken as a crank.

The liberals are more generally accustomed to being in an ideologically homogeneous environment while the libertarians are accustomed to being in the minority, and both speak with a tone appropriate to the general environment, and not to the particular environment here, where liberals and libertarians are equally represented.

For my part, I also find instances where the absent conservatives are caricatured and snickered at, again with the presumption that all right thinking folk agree, and the bile rises in the gorge, and I feel the need to respond.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T22:06:39.643Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I perceive the left wing comments come with much more of an implicit assumption by the poster, and the respondents to it, of the moral superiority of left wing positions, and that all attending will see it the same way.

Isn't that reasonable though? If you're a X-winger, isn't the whole point that X-wing positions are in fact morally superior?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-31T01:17:34.077Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't that reasonable though? If you're a X-winger, isn't the whole point that X-wing positions are in fact morally superior?

Morally superior perhaps, but they lack the hull plating and durability to survive ongoing combat and the offensive payload pales in comparison to what the Y-wing can deliver.

comment by gwern · 2012-08-31T14:31:00.866Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The Y-wing was an outdated piece of junk even by the Battle of Yvain; that's why the Rebels had it at all. The X-wing's proton torpedoes deliver the hurt when necessary (just ask Tarkin or Ysanne Isard), and if you want more than that, well, that's what the B-wings are for... Between them and the A-wing, there is simply no role for Y-wings at any point - except cannon bait!

comment by GeraldMonroe · 2012-08-31T14:53:35.355Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't that be spelled "canon bait"? Heh.

comment by gwern · 2012-08-31T15:04:22.851Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, by bringing in Isard, I make it both.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-31T02:37:07.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ha!

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-08-29T22:48:18.349Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming that everyone would see it the same way when manifestly they do not is just an empirical mistake.

Yes, everyone think's their position is right, but not everyone speaks to audiences who disagree with them expecting them all to agree.

comment by gjm · 2012-08-29T21:43:29.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting; thanks. For what it's worth, I don't have at all the same perception that leftish comments come with an implicit assumption of the moral superiority of left-wing positions. But I happen to lean distinctly left myself, especially by US standards, and if you don't then it's hardly surprising that our perceptions would have such a difference.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-08-29T22:49:45.411Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How about the other side of that - my characterization of the tone of non left wing views?

comment by gjm · 2012-08-30T01:02:06.635Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not far off, I think.

comment by prase · 2012-08-27T19:18:54.109Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

What is the strong version of "taxation is theft", for example? I can recall arguments against taxation stronger than this, of course, but none of them I would consider a version of the "taxation is theft" argument.

As for the arguments mentioned in the OP, "taxation is theft", "abortion is murder" and "euthanasia is murder" are typically right-wing, "affirmative action is racist" is also probably right-wing (although general accusations of racism fit better into the left wing arsenal) while "capital punishment is murder", "ev-psych is sexist" and "genetic engineering is eugenics" sound quite leftist to me. Not sure about "M.L.King was a criminal", but the examples seem balanced with respect to the stereotypical left/right division. With respect to Yvain's opinions the choice might be less balanced, of course.

comment by Swimmy · 2012-08-28T19:59:23.496Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What is the strong version of "taxation is theft", for example?

Simple: "taxation is theft and is also just as wrong as mugging because 1) the supposed benefits of government programs aren't really there and 2) majority voting doesn't make mugging any better than theft by a gang of robbers is better than theft by a single robber." All of these arguments can be made stronger by specifying the reasons you should ignore the major differences between the moral issue in question and the archetypal example's.

comment by prase · 2012-08-28T21:03:07.923Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(1) and (2) are two distinct arguments. (1) is stronger than, but not related to the original argument by categorisation. (2) is itself a conjunction of (i) "taxation is theft" hidden as a tacit assumption and (ii) a counter-argument to the unsaid "but this instance of theft is legitimated by majority voting". I don't find it useful to call X and Y and Z a strong version of X when the only thing Y and Z have in common with X is their being used to support the same conclusion.

Edit: (1) is in fact also a counter-argument to the (yet) unsaid "this theft is legitimised by its positive benefits" and doesn't address the question of why taxation is bad in the first place, besides categorising it as theft.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T20:12:51.612Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What is the strong version of "taxation is theft", for example? I can recall arguments against taxation stronger than this, of course, but none of them I would consider a version of the "taxation is theft" argument.

Well I can give you one example. Neoclassical economics makes a pretense of being neutral about how resources are distributed. The focus is instead on the absolute amount of resources. As I think Steven Landsburg puts it, taxes are no fun to pay, but they are fun to collect. The problem is that taxes can be avoided, and that resources put into avoiding taxes (and collecting them) are wasted. There is an identical economic argument against theft: the issue isn't that the thief deserves to have the painting less than the museum, it's that resources the museum puts into defending the painting (and that the thief puts into procuring it) are wasted.

Naturally that is a criticizable line of reasoning, but it gave me a lot to think about the first time I heard it.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-28T08:07:00.164Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But private property also requires resources to defend it (which are wasted like the ones to collect taxes), so in fact, neoclassical economics agree with Proudhon that "property is theft" ? :)

comment by SilasBarta · 2012-09-08T21:07:13.177Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the standard rejoinder is that private property incurs greater benefits than the general cost of securing it, owing to true "tragedy of the commons" type situations it attempts to avoid.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-27T20:53:13.809Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that the anti-capital-punishment stance exemplified by "capital punishment is murder" is more attached to the American left than the American right, as are accusations of sexism in general (including but not limited to those applied to evo-psych).

"Genetic engineering is eugenics" seems trickier to me.

In the U.S. at the moment, I'd say Republican voters are more likely to endorse a "science can't be trusted" argument than Democratic ones, and Democratic voters are more likely to endorse a "corporations can't be trusted" argument than Republican ones. "Genetic engineering is eugenics" can be spun both ways, I think.

That is, if I wanted to convince a randomly selected Democratic voter to vote against genetic engineering, I could use rhetoric along the lines of "evil corporations want to use genetic engineering techniques to breed a so-called superior race of food crops, which will eradicate the food crops ordinary consumers know and trust and leave us at their mercy. Don't let them get away with it!" pretty effectively. (Though less effectively than they could have 30 years ago.)

If I wanted to convince a randomly selected Republican voter, I could use similar rhetoric with "corporations" replaced by "scientists" and "consumers" replaced by "ordinary people".

Both of those, I think, would be invoking the spectre of eugenics, the only change would be how the eugenicists are characterized... that is, are they elite academic eugenicists, or greedy corporate eugenicists?

All of that said, I endorse eugenics, so I'm probably not a reliable source of information about the rhetorical charge of these words for the mainstream.

comment by prase · 2012-08-27T21:53:03.034Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Different perspectives, probably. In most European countries, I dare to say, everything associated with genetics is suspect to the left and the left also more often sides with the anti-science rhetoric in general. This is partly because the European right-wingers are less religious than in the U.S. (although I have heard creationism had become political issue in Serbia few years ago) and perhaps somehow related to the differences between Continental and analytic philosophy, if such intellectual affairs have real influence over practical politics.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-27T22:40:10.373Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that's been a significant shift over the last few decades in the U.S. There's still a significant anti-scientific religious faction within the American left (New Agers and such) but they've been increasingly joined by factions that thirty/forty years ago would have been considered right, making the coalition as a whole a lot more secular than it was. Meanwhile the right's power base has increasingly moved towards more rural states, and the . anti-scientific religious faction within the American right (evangelical Christians and such) have gained more relative power within it.

Three or four decades ago I think were were more aligned with the European model.

I have no idea whether the distinctions between continental and analytic philosophy have anything to do with it, and am inclined to doubt that the philosophical schism is causal if so, but I'd love to hear arguments supporting the idea.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-08-28T08:11:09.391Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It gets more complex once you include other groups, too — such as libertarians. In the '60s and '70s, the libertarian movement was closer to the New Left than to the Right, for instance.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-30T15:50:46.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would tend to put "Genetic engineering is eugenics" in as a left-wing argument, because the left seems more likely to compare the right to Nazis, call them racist, etc. (with the right, of course, comparing the left to Stalin).

But on the other hand the American Right seems to have been up in arms about "Death Panels" or something, so I gotta admit I'm uncertain; I don't follow the minutiae of politics on your side of the Atlantic.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-30T15:58:09.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I think in a global context I would agree with you.
The U.S. Left and Right are at this point their own beasts.

Also, at this point in the U.S., pretty much everyone compares everyone else to Hitler, and pretty much nobody remembers exactly who Stalin was. Actually, I suspect that >60% of the population, if asked whether the Soviet Union was allied with the U.S. or with Nazi Germany during WWII, would state confidently that it was allied with Nazi Germany.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-30T16:00:10.921Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But it was, for a time at least!

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-30T16:27:55.869Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would say that "USSR was an ally of Nazi Germany for a time" is an example of WAitW. They had a non-aggression pact for a while, but both side knew it was just a matter of time before they will fight each other, and they didn't do anything to actually help the other - USSR mostly used all the bought time to prepare itself for war against Nazi Germany. For borderline values of "ally" you can call them allies, but that's sneaking in the usual connotation of being allies (actively helping each others) which was just not present.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-30T16:43:48.244Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is far off-topic, but Stalin certainly expected the non-aggression pact to last. The whole tone of the Soviet press at the time changed to avoid criticizing fascism much, and there were trade ties and even (gasp!) cultural exchanges. There were no indications that the Soviet regime had any inclination of starting a war with Germany, though ti would probably not have joined the Axis either. Well, maybe, if Hitler changed the rhetoric enough to exclude the Russians from the Untermensch classification and found his Lebensraum elsewhere, though this is a pure counterfactual speculation.

comment by see · 2012-09-02T03:53:38.725Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There were no indications that the Soviet regime had any inclination of starting a war with Germany, though ti would probably not have joined the Axis either.

The Soviets actually tried to join the Axis in October-November 1940. The sticking point was that the Germans wanted the Soviets to agree to a split in spheres of influence along the Dardanelles and Bosporus, while the Soviets wanted a share of the Balkans.

Throw in things like Basis Nord, the massive amount of war-critical natural resources the Soviets shipped the Nazis 1939-1941, the German shipments of weapon systems (cruisers, aircraft, naval guns) and technical drawings to the Soviets, German diplomatic support for the invasion of Finland . . . well. The Soviets and Germans were awfully cooperative until Barbarossa, even if one stops short of saying they were allied.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-30T16:35:35.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Feel free to substitute "fought a shared enemy with" for "was allied with" if you think that improves the question. I trust you understood my point, though.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-08-30T14:36:43.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought the standard left-wing argument against genetic engineering was that only the rich will be able to afford it, with an implication that the rich will be able to unfairly stabilize their advantages.

comment by gjm · 2012-08-27T21:45:55.085Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand how you get from "policy debates should not appear one-sided" to "there should be no shortage of weak arguments 'on your side'". Especially if you replace the latter with "there should be no shortage of weak arguments of this sort on your side" -- which is necessary for the challenge to be appropriate -- since there could be correlations between a person's political position and which sorts of fallacies are most likely to infect their thinking.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T23:35:26.591Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

In particular, I predict WAITW use to be correlated with explicit endorsement of sanctity-based rather than harm-based moral values, and we've recently been talking about how that might differ between political groups.

comment by Larks · 2012-08-27T23:48:27.355Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is because of the way you're deconstructing the arguments. In each case, the features you identify which supposedly make us dislike the arcetypal cases are harm-based features. Someone who believed in sanctity instead might identify the category as a value in itself. Attempts to ascribe utilitarian-style values to them, which they supposedly miss the local inapplicability of, risks ignoring what they actually value.

If people genuinely do think murder is wrong simply because it is murder, rather than because it causes harm, then this is not a bad argument.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-28T00:32:47.943Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Absent any reason to do so, disliking all murders simply because they are murders makes no more sense than disliking all elephants simply because they are elephants. You can choose to do so without being logically inconsistent, but it seems like a weird choice to make for no reason. Did you just arbitrarily choose "murder" as a category worthy of dislike, whether or not it causes harm?

At the risk of committing the genetic fallacy, I would be very surprised if their choice of murder as a thing they dislike for its own sake (rather than, say, elephants) had nothing to do with murder being harmful. And although right now I am simply asserting this rather than arguing it, I think it's likely that even if they think they have a deductive proof for why murder is wrong regardless of harm, they started by unconsciously making the WAITW and then rationalizing it.

But I agree that if they do think they have this deductive proof, screaming "Worst argument in the world!" at them is useless and counterproductive; at that point you address the proof.

comment by Larks · 2012-08-28T01:08:54.917Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Absent any reason to do so, disliking instances of harm simply because they are instances of harm makes no more sense than disliking all elephants simply because they are elephants.

I don't want to assume any metaethical baggage here, but I'm not sure why "because it is an instance of harm" is an acceptable answer but "because it is an instance of theft" is not.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-28T01:13:16.014Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Keeping your principle of ignoring meta-ethical baggage, dis-valuing harm only requires one first principle, whereas dis-valuing murder, theft, elephants, etc require an independent (and apparently arbitrary) decision at each concept. Further, it's very suspicious that this supposedly arbitrary decision almost always picks out actions that are often harmful when there are so very many things one could arbitrarily decide to dislike.

comment by Larks · 2012-08-28T18:43:20.878Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds like the debate about ethical pluralism - maybe values are sufficiently complex that any one principle can't capture them. If ethical pluralism is wrong, then they can't make use of this argument. But then they have a very major problem with their metaethics, independant of the WAitW. And what is more, once they solve the problem - getting a single basis for their ethics - they can avoid your accusation, by saying that actually avoiding theft is the sole criteria, and they're not trying to sneak in irrelivant conotations. After all, if theft was all that mattered, why would you try to sneak in connotations about harm?

Also, I think you're sneaking in conotations when you use "arbitrary". Yes, such a person would argue that our aversion to theft isn't based on any of our other values; but your utilitarian would probably claim the same about their aversion to harm. This doesn't seem a harmful (pun not intended) case of arbitrariness.

Contrariwise, they might find it very suspicious that your supposedly arbitrary decision as to what is harmful so often picks out actions that constitute theft to a libertarian (e.g. murder, slavery, breach of contract, pollution, trespass, wrongful dismissal...) when there are so very many things one could arbitrarily decide to dislike.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T20:04:43.585Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This line of argument seems to err away from the principle that you can't unwind yourself into an ideal philosopher of perfect emptiness. You're running on hardware that is physically, through very real principles that apply to everything in the universe, going to react in a certain averse manner to certain stimuli to which we could assign the category label "harm". This is commonly divided into "pain", "boredom", etc.

It is much more unlikely (and much more difficult to truly explain) that a person would, based on such hardware, somehow end up with the terminal value that some abstract, extremely solomonoff-complex interpretation of conjointed mental and physical behaviors is bad - in contrast with reflective negative valuation of harm-potentials both in self and in others (the "in others" being reflected as "harm to self when harm to other members of the tribe").

Then again, I feel like I'm diving in too deep here. My instinct is to profess and worship my ignorance of this topic.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-08-29T19:29:20.854Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why should a preference have to "make sense"?

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T19:55:07.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A particular preference that does not make sense at all is empirically unlikely to exist due to the natural selection process. We should thus, if for whatever reason we prefer correspondence between map and territory, assign reasonable probability that most preferences will "make sense".

As for why it should, well... I'm not able to conceive of an acceptable answer to that without first tabooing "should" and applying generous amounts of reductionism, recursively within sub-meanings and subspaces within semanticspace.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-29T03:53:43.214Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, so replace "abortion is murder" with "abortion harms the fetus".

comment by Pentashagon · 2012-08-29T00:38:19.719Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Guns are weapons!"

"Burning fossil fuels is environmentally irresponsible!"

EDIT: Are these not Worst Arguments in the World? I have heard arguments for gun control that don't specify why being in the class "weapons" makes guns subject to additional restrictions. I have also seen the environment or nature treated as a sanctified moral value.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-30T08:18:54.344Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

An important part of WAitW is that it uses an atypical member of a category to attach to it the rejection of a typical member of the category. Both abortion and death penalty are atypical members of the "murder" category (if they are), and associating them with "murder" is trying to associate them with the connotation of the "typical" murder.

Guns are quite the typical weapon. They are not border-line weapons like a kitchen knife or a hammer, they are not military grade weapons. Saying "guns are weapons!" doesn't try to associate guns with something different, it doesn't add much to the debate, but it doesn't carry the same attempt to sneak in connotations as "abortion is murder!" is.

For "Burning fossil fuels is environmentally irresponsible!" it's also quite different. "Environmentally irresponsible" is more a description, a feature that "burning fossil fuels" has (or doesn't have, but that's another issue), than a broad category in which we are trying to tie "burning fossil fuels".

comment by prase · 2012-08-29T22:49:19.631Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not every "A is B" satisfies the definition of "the worst argument in the world" (truly a horrible name for a fallacy which should be replaced by something shorter, more descriptive and less exaggerating). "A is B, therefore A is C" qualifies as the discussed fallacy if

  1. A belongs to the category B as far as technical/denotational meaning of B is considered,
  2. using the technical meaning, not all B are C,
  3. most (or most typical / available) members of B are C and therefore B has C in connotations, and
  4. all C-relevant information about A is known, screening off potential C-relevant information about A coming from its membership in B.

In "burning fossil fuels (A) is environmentally irresponsible (B) [and therefore is bad] (C)"

  1. holds
  2. is subjective but for many audiences fails (i.e. "irresponsible" means "likely to cause bad outcomes", which makes the whole category tautologically bad)
  3. is problematic, since the denotational and connotational meaning of B aren't different (badness-wise)
  4. fails, since presumably the listener doesn't know about A's environmental irresponsibility

The argument may be fallacious if the listener doesn't care about the environment but is tricked into accepting the badness of A based on connotations of "irresponsible", but that isn't exactly the fallacy described in the OP.

In "guns (A) are weapons (B) [and therefore should be banned] (C)"

  1. holds
  2. holds if the listener agrees that all weapons should be banned, else fails
  3. depends on the listener's idea of a typical weapon, if it is a hydrogen bomb, then (3) holds, if it is a knife, (3) fails, if it is a gun, we are building a circular argument
  4. probably holds

So this argument may qualify, but it is so obviously tautological that I have problems imagining someone actually using it.

comment by Pentashagon · 2012-08-30T01:02:07.235Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"firearms with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds are assault weapons (and therefore should be banned)" seems to be more along the lines of arguments I've actually seen. I probably oversimplified in my head when I wrote the first post. Of course, having a Federal statute that happened to define firearms in that way might have directly led to such arguments after the ban expired, but it's probably appropriate to label some laws as having "The Worst Legal Categorization in the World" as well. What if banning firearms with magazines holding more than 9 rounds would have saved even one extra life?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-28T20:22:49.297Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't there never be a shortage of weak arguments for anything? Strong arguments can always be weakened.

/

Isn't there enough chance of finding a weak argument to at least make it worth trying? You never know, you might find a weak argument somewhere.

comment by gjm · 2012-08-28T20:47:01.190Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Obviously one can find any number of weak arguments for anything, but surely the point here was to find weak arguments that have a particular sort of problem but are otherwise at least reasonably credible-sounding.

/

I'm having trouble understanding what part of what I wrote looked like "there's no chance of finding a suitable argument, so it's not worth trying". For the avoidance of doubt, that wasn't at all what I meant.

comment by gjm · 2012-09-01T17:31:13.348Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would any of the (at least four) people who have upvoted Eliezer's comment but not my response -- or Eliezer, if he happens still to be reading -- like to explain to me in what way Eliezer is right and I'm wrong here? Thanks!

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-01T17:39:05.267Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Would any of the (at least four) people who have upvoted Eliezer's comment but not my response

There's not necessarily even one of those, let alone four. Four people could have upvoted both of you and then four other people could have downvoted just you.

comment by gjm · 2012-09-01T21:20:41.080Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

D'oh! Of course you're right. I should have said: either upvoted Eliezer's comment but not mine, or downvoted mine but not Eliezer's.

comment by KPier · 2012-09-01T17:43:04.431Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Generally speaking, there are fewer upvotes later in a thread, since fewer people read that far. If the children to your comment have more karma then your comment, it's reasonable to assume that people saw both comments and chose to up vote theirs, but if a parent to your comment has more karma, you can't really draw any inference from that at all.

comment by gjm · 2012-09-01T21:22:01.850Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Except that when I made my comment, Eliezer's was at zero. Er, it might have been +1, but it certainly wasn't +4.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T17:35:06.149Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent idea. It would be beneficial to how the community deals with politics, something that I've been very concerned about recently, to see this written out.

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2012-08-28T09:00:10.511Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Some tentative to sanitize political debates needs more data. In this post, one common strategy is criticized, I suposse are others, but doubt someone will write a sequence about it.

comment by benelliott · 2012-08-27T18:42:33.989Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The boundaries are inherently fuzzy and ill-defined, but I count 5 right wing arguments and 3 left wing arguments. Doesn't seem too unbalanced.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-27T18:34:39.429Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have tried constructing a pro-choice example similar to "Abortion is murder!" ("Forced pregnancy is slavery!"???), but it ended up pretty unconvincing. Hopefully someone can do better:

Leaving rape cases aside, the archetypal example is an unwanted teenage pregnancy due to defective or improperly used birth control or simply an accident. Forcing her into letting the embryo develop into a fetus and eventually into a human baby would likely make the woman significantly worse off in the long run, financially, physically and/or emotionally, so she should have an option of terminating the pregnancy.

An example a pro-life person thinks of: aborting a healthy fetus, possibly in the second trimester, as a habitual birth control method.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-27T19:22:51.765Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I find "Forced parenthood is slavery!" to be pretty convincing, actually. Though I may be prejudiced by having grown up around a Libertarian father (now, alas, more Republican(!??)) who went about proclaiming that jury duty was slavery.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-28T07:18:42.824Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does this qualify as "a weak version of a strong left-wing argument that you do accept"?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-28T07:32:38.343Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mm... sure. "X is Y!" is generally pretty weak, and I'm pro-choice, so, sure.

comment by mwengler · 2012-08-30T15:17:27.530Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are laws (in the U.S.) against driving on the left side of the road slavery?

comment by lizmw · 2012-09-04T18:29:14.587Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that the left-wing slogan "My body, my choice!" and its variations are a version of the WAitW. Although the slogan itself doesn't follow the "X is a Y" format, its underlying argument does: it asserts something like, "This fetus is a part of my body; I am entitled to do whatever I choose with any part of my body; therefore, I am entitled to do whatever I choose with this fetus."

This version of the WAitW emphasizes the similarity between a fetus and other parts of a woman's body (the part in question is inside her; the part in question is made up of her cells; etc.) while ignoring the relevant differences (most of her body parts, if left to their own devices, will not go on to have their own life outside her body, while the fetus will; most of her body parts have no potential for sentience or moral agency, while the fetus does; etc.) By equating the fetus with her body parts, the argument implies that the fetus is MERELY a part of a woman's body. While most people will agree that a fetus is technically part of its mother's body, I think most people will also agree that a fetus is not morally equivalent to a woman's liver, kidneys, or small intestine. "My body, my choice!" conceals this inequivalence.

comment by TGM · 2012-08-27T18:59:05.430Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Denying euthanasia is Torture!"

Given the majority of legislators are male, for abortion: "Forced pregnancy is mysogyny!" though that may be too tenuous.

comment by Will_Sawin · 2012-08-27T17:21:12.994Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Off the top of my head:

Economic inequality is an unequal distribution of resources. The most salient example of this is an unequal distribution of resources that all have equal claim to, like a pie a parent bakes for their children. But [various convincing arguments in favor of at least some economic inequality.]

War is killing, which is bad because murder is bad. (Or eating meat, or capital punishment.)

Gay marriage is good because it's a right, and the most salient rights are good.

Welfare is good because it's a form of helping people, and helping people in ways that don't produce bad incentive effects and without taking from anyone else is good.

Processed food is bad because putting the most salient synthetic chemicals in food would be a really bad idea.

Note that "genetic engineering to cure diseases is eugenics" and "evolutionary psychology is sexist" are probably left-wing viewpoints, though not ones Yvain agrees with.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T18:17:54.789Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

ISTM that categorizing many of those as "Left-wing viewpoints" or "Right-wing viewpoints" is a strong category error, one that we should attempt to reduce rather than redraw or blue boundaries. "Evolutionary psychology is sexist" is, afaict, a word error. It is not a position, but an implicit claim: "Because evolutionary psychology is sexist, it is bad, and thus evolutionary psychology is wrong!" - this is usually combined (in my experience) with an argument that the world is inherently good and that all humans are inherently equal and so on, which means that theories that posit "unfair" or "bad" circumstances are wrong; the world must be "good" and "fair". Stereotypicalism would call for a reference to religion here.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-27T19:12:01.274Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

It may be a word error - I don't think it is, "Evolutionary psychology is riddled with false claims produced by sexist male scientists and rationalized by the scientists even though the claims are not at all well-supported compared to nonsexist alternatives" is a coherent and meaningful description of a way the universe could be but isn't, and is therefore false, not a word error - but if so, it's a word-error made by stereotypically left-wing people like Lewontin and Gould who were explicitly political in their criticism, not a word-error made by any right-wing scientists I can think of offhand.

In general, we should be careful about dismissing claims as meaningless or incoherent, when often only a very reasonable and realistic amount of charity is required to reinterpret the claim as meaningful and false - most people are trying to be meaningful most of the time, even when they're rationalizing a wrong position. Only people who've gotten in a lot more trouble than that are actively trying to avoid letting their arguments be meaningful. And meaningless claims can be dismissed immediately, without bringing forth evidence or counterobservations; meaningful false claims require more demonstration to show they're false. So when somebody brings a false claim, and you dismiss it as meaningless, you're actually being significantly logically rude to them - putting in less effort than they're investing - it takes more effort to bring forth a meaningful false claim than to call something 'meaningless'.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-08-27T19:30:29.189Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I dislike accusations of sexism as much as the next guy, but in the last year or two I have started to think that ev-psych is way overconfident. The coarse grained explanation is that ev-psych seems to be "softer" than regular psychology, which itself is "softer" than medicine, and we all know what percentage of medical findings are wrong. I'd be curious to learn what other LWers think about this, especially you, because your writings got me interested in ev-psych in the first place.

comment by MichaelHoward · 2012-08-27T21:17:21.902Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have started to think that ev-psych is way overconfident.

As in about the likelihood of certain kinds of explanations?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-28T03:49:47.071Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can't think anything without a concrete example.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-08-28T11:24:23.683Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I am going to rehearse saying this in a robotic voice, while spinning round and round flailing my arms in a mechanical fashion.

comment by moocow1452 · 2012-08-28T13:41:19.783Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Can you put it up on Youtube when you're done?

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-08-28T22:38:28.835Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Off the top of my head:

http://www.cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S096098220701559X

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-08-30T14:23:06.905Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So far as I know, the association of pink with girls and blue with boys is a western custom which only goes back a century or so.

comment by Jiro · 2017-04-20T18:55:02.319Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Response to old post:

Appears to be an urban legend.

Summary: Checking Google Books shows lots of references to pink for girls/blue for boys, and no references to the opposite, going back to the 19th century.

Note: Wikipedia links to this article, but summarizes it in a way which makes it sound much weaker than it really is.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2017-04-28T17:00:46.386Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I hope that someone gets around to actually looking at the clothes and/or paintings.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-08-30T23:18:08.584Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Precisely.

comment by novalis · 2012-08-27T22:07:40.519Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a qualitative argument, when a quantitative argument would be more interesting. Who is the John Ioannidis of evolutionary psychology? Or, what research has been published that has later turned out to be false?

(Also, why do you dislike accusations of sexism? Shouldn't you only dislike false accusations of sexism?)

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T00:31:57.231Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I dislike accusations of sexism for the same reason I dislike accusations of any other negative behavior. Those accusations signal either sexism or false accusations of sexism, both of which are net negatives to me.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-30T03:27:12.125Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(Also, why do you dislike accusations of sexism? Shouldn't you only dislike false accusations of sexism?)

See the OP.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-01T04:02:30.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because you and I no doubt hang out in completely different circles, my view of the prototypical case of sexism is probably different from yours. Also, I consider most non-prototypical cases of sexism to be wrong, so there aren't really any connotations being smuggled in.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-02T01:35:35.382Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, I consider most non-prototypical cases of sexism to be wrong,

I may or may not agree depending on which definition of "sexism" you are using.

so there aren't really any connotations being smuggled in.

Well, in any debate you'd still have to explain why that particular example of sexism is wrong.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-02T03:03:18.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, in any debate you'd still have to explain why that particular example of sexism is wrong.

Not if (a) you're in a situation where everyone already agrees on that or (b) you consider fairness to be an important value.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-03T02:03:27.770Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not if (a) you're in a situation where everyone already agrees on that

And assuming you also don't want to even consider the possibility that you might be wrong. In any case, as you may have noticed, that's not true here.

(b) you consider fairness to be an important value.

More like you consider a particular interpretation of fairness to be such an important value that it trumps all others.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-03T02:39:29.417Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not if (a) you're in a situation where everyone already agrees on that

And assuming you also don't want to even consider the possibility that you might be wrong. In any case, as you > may have noticed, that's not true here.

Having common language and beliefs does not preclude questioning those beliefs.

(b) you consider fairness to be an important value.

More like you consider a particular interpretation of fairness to be such an important value that it trumps all others.

Can you unpack that?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-03T22:19:35.235Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I suppose I should ask you what your definition of sexism is.

Also, is e.g., affirmative action sexist, how about not using affirmative action? Same question about desperate impact?

comment by novalis · 2012-09-04T00:49:06.729Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sexism can mean a whole bunch of different things. It's not a simple binary predicate: this is sexist, that isn't. In general, I mean a cluster of attitudes and actions that harm people based on their sex. Usually, its women being harmed, but definitely not always.

Affirmative action is, of course, an interesting case. On its face, it involves advantaging one group, which naturally comes at the expense of all other groups. So, of course it's sexism in one sense of the word. So why does anyone think it's fair? Because there are believed to be cognitive biases in play that prevent people from (for instance) selecting an equally qualified woman for a job (one day, I would like to write up a post on the evidence for this). The theory is that an explicit adjustment for these biases will result in treatment more like what there would have been if employers were unbiased. If this theory is correct, then in cases where we believe that there is such discrimination, maintaining the status quo would be sexism. Naturally, not all cases of affirmative action qualify for this.

As the discussion on The Bedrock Of Fairness shows, fairness can have many meanings. They frequently correspond almost exactly to meta-ethical stances (consequentialist, deontological, virtue ethics). I'm a consequentialist with regards to fairness (since I view it as merely a part of the whole system of ethics). And affirmative action is only justifiable under a consequentialist (or perhaps virtue ethics) framework of fairness -- and then only sometimes. I guess that is, as you say, one particular interpretation of fairness, but it's one that I would imagine is relatively common here, since consequentialist ethics are relatively popular on Less Wrong.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-04T01:59:12.218Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The theory is that an explicit adjustment for these biases will result in treatment more like what there would have been if employers were unbiased.

This is a deontological stance, namely immoral act X was performed so we must bring the world as close as possible to the state it would have been in had X not happened.

I'm a consequentialist with regards to fairness

I have no idea what this means. That is, I have no idea how to incorporate 'fairness' into a utility function that won't produce absurd things (like saying life extension research is immoral because it's not fair to those who will die before it gets implemented).

comment by novalis · 2012-09-04T02:39:13.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The theory is that an explicit adjustment for these biases will result in treatment more like what there would have been if employers were unbiased.

This is a deontological stance, namely immoral act X was performed so we must bring the world as close as possible to the state it would have been in had X not happened.

I don't think it's necessarily the case that an immoral act was performed in these cases; often people just make mistakes. And trying to stop an ongoing harm is entirely compatible with consequentialism.

I'm a consequentialist with regards to fairness

I have no idea what this means. That is, I have no idea how to incorporate 'fairness' into a utility function that won't produce absurd things (like saying life extension research is immoral because it's not fair to those who will dies before it gets implemented).

First, unfair situations make people unhappy in and of themselves. That is, in some sense, absolutely absurd, but no more so than boredom is absurd. Nonetheless, it is the way humans seem to be (research on apes also shows this effect as well). Gwern's post on the psychology of power discusses some of the less obvious effects of this on e.g. cortisol.

Second, when talking about money, utilities are non-linear in dollars. If A has $1 million, and B has $100, and utility is the square root of money, then, ceteris parabus, redistributing money from A to B would be the utilitarian thing to do. Of course, this ignores the incentive and precedent effects of this (why should B bother to work if they can just get A's money?), as well as A's unhappiness at losing the money, so of course in the real world the computation is considerably more complex.

Third, if everyone benefits from having the better person doing any given job, then correcting for biases that prevent this will make society better off.

[Edit] Fourth, when a group of people is treated as abnormal or subordinate, their desires are not given full weight (and thus, they are less likely to be happy). An example of this in the US is that only one non-Christian group has ever won a Free Exercise Clause case.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-08-29T16:31:32.013Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is a worthy steel-manning when trying to reach an accurate conclusion about ev-psych, but I think you give the typical person who claims "ev-psych is sexist" too much credit here.

comment by coffeespoons · 2012-08-30T15:38:07.888Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Natasha Walter makes the argument that Eliezer refers to in Living Dolls (not really about ev-psych, but about the idea of innate differences between genders in abilities), and I'm sure there are other examples (I haven't actually read all that much feminist writing). However, I have also encountered people who won't even discuss the issue with anyone who is pro-ev psych because they think that they're so morally appalling. Not sure how typical the people I'm encountered are though - I suspect they may be more extreme than most, and the most extreme people are the loudest.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-08-31T19:56:12.412Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There's definitely a temptation to identify a belief we agree with with its best advocates, and a belief we disagree with with its typical advocates. I definitely see this when people talk about how stupid eg "the left/right" is. I may be encouraging that error...

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T00:26:11.888Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The sexism associated with evolutionary biology is typically the result of the perceived (or actual) claim that because sexual differentiation has a historical and evolutionary basis, it is morally correct to reinforce those differences today.

You can point out that that type of claim is not commonly made my evolutionary psychologists, but when lay people perceive that that claim is true and use it to justify sexist actions that they would not have taken in the absence of their perception of such a claim, then it is the case that evolutionary psychology contributes to behavior which unfairly discriminates on the basis of sex.

One of the key points is that "Evolutionary psychology is sexist" and "evolutionary psychology contributes to behavior which unfairly discriminates on the basis of sex" are very nearly the same statement, while "Evolutionary psychology is riddled with false claims produced by sexist male scientists" is a radically different statement.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-29T02:20:31.283Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

when lay people perceive that that claim is true and use it to justify sexist actions that they would not have taken in the absence of their perception of such a claim, then it is the case that evolutionary psychology contributes to behavior which unfairly discriminates on the basis of sex.

Well, sure. But so do a million other things. After all, it would be much harder to discriminate unfairly on the basis of sex if we didn't have sensory organs capable of distinguishing an individual's sex, so the existence of such organs contributes to behavior which unfairly discriminates on the basis of sex. Unarguable.

Also uninteresting.

Surely a more important question is whether the study of evolutionary psychology differentially contributes to such discrimination? Which perhaps it does, but this takes more effort to demonstrate than simply pointing out that there exist lay people who use it to justify sexist actions.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T05:20:50.192Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Okay- I assert that there are almost zero people who seriously assert that 'Having sensory organs which can distinguish sex' justifies sexist actions, and that there are more than one hundred thousand Americans who demonstrably either claim, or allow the claim to stand, that EP justifies sexist actions that they themselves take.

I'm prepared to defend the second assertion if needed, which is why I choose a conservative number. The first assertion is trivial to falsify if you can find a significant number of people who believe that.

To be more logically complete, my unstated assumption: Lay people typically don't take actions which they believe to be unjustified.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-30T03:30:15.295Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

and that there are more than one hundred thousand Americans who demonstrably either claim, or allow the claim to stand, that EP justifies sexist actions that they themselves take.

I'm prepared to defend the second assertion if needed, which is why I choose a conservative number.

I'd be interested in seeing this. Largely because I'm curious to see specific examples of what you consider unjustified sexism.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-08-30T15:53:53.255Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

The most godawful example I've seen of EP being used as a cover for blatant sexism and misogyny is this NRO article, which basically says that as a rich boss with many male sons, Mitt Romney exudes alpha male power, and all women should fall in trance and vote for him.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-01T23:16:40.150Z · score: 31 (31 votes) · LW · GW

Suddenly I am enlightened!

In particular, I have just now realized that whereas I encountered evolutionary psychology in the context of my quest to unravel the mysteries of human cognition and so I read a bunch of science books and papers on it, many other people may be encountering evolutionary psychology primarily in the context of Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, attempted invocations of ev-psych which are so terrible as to be propagated through the blogosphere as horrors for everyone to marvel at.

This explains a lot about the oddly bad opinion that so many online-folk seem to have about evolutionary psychology. This has had me making puzzled expressions for years, not sure what was going on. But you would probably get a pretty different first-impression (and first impressions are very controlling) if your first exposure was reading that NRO article instead of "The Psychological Foundations of Culture". Even if somebody tried to expose you to the real science afterward, you'd probably go in with some degree of motivated skepticism.

Having thus generalized the problem - is this likely to be happening to me somewhere, or you? Besides ev-psych and economics, which other sciences will Reddit expose to you primarily in the form of exhibiting Someone Is Wrong On The Internet misuses?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-02T22:17:06.563Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

That's surely playing a role, but another thing is that gender dynamics is often a mind-killer, in pretty much all contexts it shows up in. I don't have a full explanation for that, but I think that has to do with the sexual frustration of unattractive¹ people being repeatedly turned down by attractive people and the resentment of attractive people being repeatedly harassed by unattractive people. I tend to be overly cautious about this and hence to avoid mentioning gender even when it's relevant (e.g., if in the previous sentence “unattractive people” was replaced with “lots of men” and “attractive people” with “lots of women”, it would be just as accurate and perhaps even more precise).

  1. When I use attractive as a one-place word, I mean ‘attractive to most members of the same species of their preferred sex’.
comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-05T16:09:42.710Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, when people invoke evolutionary psychology, they tend to neglect the mechanisms by which genes could have the postulated effect. Often, absurdly specific evolved traits are claimed that can also be understood as simple reinforcement or the like. Or they claim something so information-laden that it defies belief that it could be encoded in an evolved mechanism except through general learning.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-05T19:03:21.106Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

They also fail to check on whether a behavior is as universal as they think it is.

Male and female are not important explanatory categories

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-09-06T02:40:09.041Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, you definitely have to beware of WEIRD psychological samples, too.

For example, there's a culture in which people don't experience the Müller-Lyer illusion - which has even been observed in people who have been blind from birth.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-06T02:56:47.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which culture?

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-09-06T04:17:15.562Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

According to the PDF about the WEIRD psychological samples, the San foragers of the Kalahari desert.

Another "interesting" bit of trivia: the ability to look at something very far away and understand that it only looks small is a learned skill, not an innate one.

The anthropologist Colin Turnbull described what happened in the former Congo in the 1950s when a BaMbuti pygmy, used in living in the dense Ituri forest (which had only small clearings), went with him to the plains:

And then he saw the buffalo, still grazing lazily several miles away, far down below. He turned to me and said, 'What insects are those?'

At first I hardly understood, then I realized that in the forest vision is so limited that there is no great need to make an automatic allowance for distance when judging size. Out here in the plains, Kenge was looking for the first time over apparently unending miles of unfamiliar grasslands, with not a tree worth the name to give him any basis for comparison...

When I told Kenge that the insects were buffalo, he roared with laughter and told me not to tell such stupid lies. (Turnbull 1963, 217)

Because Kenge had no experience of seeing distant objects he saw them simply as small.

Original source

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-07T04:50:24.717Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

the ability to look at something very far away and understand that it only looks small is a learned skill, not an innate one.

Taboo "learned/innate skill". Is everything except what feral children do a learned skill? If not what do you mean?

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-09-06T03:01:51.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Here is one possibility:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/656735

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-06T03:00:34.955Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This isn't a science, and perhaps not even terribly important, but I think Aristotle is subject to this effect. Almost every Aristotelian I've encountered on the internet is a Thomist, leading to the impression (in my estimation) that Aristotle is some kind of a proto-apologist. And of course, there's a list of Aristotle-fails, like the women's-teeth thing or the thing about air rushing in behind a thrown ball to maintain its motion that are either false or misleading.

On the other hand, there aren't good reasons for most people to study actual Aristotle. Nevertheless he does show up as a foil in odd places.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-02T03:28:02.631Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Evolutionary biology in general.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-02T01:39:09.583Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Besides ev-psych and economics, which other sciences will Reddit expose to you primarily in the form of exhibiting Someone Is Wrong On The Internet misuses?

Well, Will Newsome would say theology.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-05T22:25:34.637Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Besides ev-psych and economics

While you mention it, do you know of something like "The Psychological Foundations of Culture" but for macroeconomics instead?

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-09-06T02:43:55.923Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is an economics textbook I liked:

http://www.amazon.com/Principles-Economics-N-Gregory-Mankiw/dp/0030259517

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-09-02T23:25:15.339Z · score: -1 (15 votes) · LW · GW

It took you this long to understand why people have issues with evolutionary psychology? -1 respect points, Eliezer.

Note that, on gender issues at least, it also pattern-matches very strongly to the "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th century.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-05T19:01:29.763Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW · GW

I strongly recommend not punishing people for saying that it's taken them time to learn something.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-09-06T02:27:02.344Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That's... probably a good idea.

comment by tut · 2012-12-19T19:19:16.105Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

xkcd

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-09-02T23:52:25.680Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It is not as if we have no half-baked evopsych theorizing here; and there's Hanson, who is particularly guilty. Who can read some of his wilder posts and not regard it was a wee bit discrediting of evopsych?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-03T22:30:53.754Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW · GW

it also pattern-matches very strongly to the "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th century.

Part of the issue is that as far as I know said "scientific racism" was never scientifically discredited (the underlying facts may even be true). It was simply socially discredited in a "this leads to genocide and other horrible things" kind of way and a memetic immune system was set up to fight these memes. However, as mentioned in the linked article said immune system is no match for rational thought.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-03T23:46:46.481Z · score: 4 (18 votes) · LW · GW

When it appears that an intellectual edifice has been constructed to portray as necessary a particular status-quo — in the case of scientific racism, that of slavery and subjugation by race — we may reasonably suspect that the overturning of those social conditions is all the disproof that is needed to overthrow the entire edifice of rationalization, too.

Imagine that there exists a complicated, deeply explained theory to explain why no green-eyed, black-haired person has ever been, or ever will be, elected president. And then one is. The theory is not merely socially discredited; it is empirically disproven.

Scientific racism was concocted to explain curious observations such as that black people liked to run away from slavery and sometimes did not work as hard as they could for a slave-master. These curiosities are better explained by modern evolutionary psychology, with its notion of the psychological unity of mankind, than by the convoluted rationalizations created to justify past systems of social relations.

comment by gwern · 2012-09-04T03:31:31.574Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Scientific racism was concocted to explain curious observations such as that black people liked to run away from slavery and sometimes did not work as hard as they could for a slave-master.

I feel I should point out that these two examples are pretty lame examples: they were proposed by the same guy, before Francis Galton (generally considered the father or grandfather of any genuinely scientific racism), have never been used by any except anti-racists, and indeed, were widely mocked at the time.

To claim that they are an example of a motivating problem in scientific racism is roughly like someone in 2170 saying TimeCube was a motivating problem in the development of a since-discredited stringy theory.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T20:37:39.112Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the Time Cube example is almost certainly an exaggeration, although I admit you probably know more on the subject than me. Do you have a more ... typical ... example?

comment by gwern · 2012-12-19T21:51:49.371Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's much of an exaggeration.

Speaking from my 2170th perspective, I must point out that Time Cube was perfectly standard 20th century physics: it was distributed on their premier form of scholarly communication the Internet, was carefully documented in the very first versions of Wikipedia (indicating the regard it was held in by contemporaries), it dealt with standard topics of 20th century American discourse, conspiracy theories (which thankfully we have moved beyond), it was widely cited and discussed as recent citation analyses have proven, and finally, the author lectured and taught at the only surviving center of American learning, MIT.

The historical case is simply open and shut! This isn't a random layman myth like Nixon mentoring Obama and running dirty tricks in his first election (as every informed historian knows, Nixon was of the Greens while Obama bin Laden, of course, was a Blue).

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T22:10:45.962Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Except Time Cube is incomprehensible gibberish, not just wrong. But I'm not saying that it was actually mainstream, you understand.

Also, that's a really good "2170th perspective". I can't argue with that. Unless, of course, you're saying our understanding of recent history is quite as bad as the closing paragraph there.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-19T22:18:34.619Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Except Time Cube is incomprehensible gibberish, not just wrong. But I'm not saying that it was actually mainstream, you understand.

I'm not sure we could say anything better of Isaac Newton's alchemy.

Unless, of course, you're saying our understanding of recent history is quite as bad as the closing paragraph there.

Popular understanding can be pretty bad. The more I read in history, the more I realized I didn't understand the past anywhere near as well as I thought I did; revelations ranging from spherical earths to gay presidents to the Founding Fathers being conspiracy theorists etc. I don't put much stock on understanding well the context of the racist who was originally being discussed, although enough information survives that I can point out discrediting parts.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T22:37:36.222Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure we could say anything better of Isaac Newton's alchemy.

Which, while of some minor historical significance, is not considered mainstream science AFAIK.

Popular understanding can be pretty bad. The more I read in history, the more I realized I didn't understand the past anywhere near as well as I thought I did; revelations ranging from spherical earths to gay presidents to the Founding Fathers being conspiracy theorists etc. I don't put much stock on understanding well the context of the racist who was originally being discussed, although enough information survives that I can point out discrediting parts.

Fair enough.

Wait, spherical earths I assume refers to the notion that Columbus was a visionary who somehow deduced the Earth was round before even sailors did, and while I couldn't name names statistically a few presidents must have been in the closet at least. But I have to admit I'm not sure what you mean by "the Founding Fathers being conspiracy theorists".

comment by gwern · 2012-12-19T22:47:58.907Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which, while of some minor historical significance, is not considered mainstream science AFAIK.

Alchemy was far more mainstream than, say, 'chemistry'.

The gay president would be Buchanan, and as for conspiracy theorists, well, that's the shortest summary. See http://www.gwern.net/Mistakes#the-american-revolution

comment by hairyfigment · 2012-12-19T23:57:38.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Buchanan won a three-way election as a compromise candidate, so don't draw any sweeping conclusions from his single term!

comment by gwern · 2012-12-20T00:14:36.913Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Name an atheist president who won any election at all, and I'll concede the point.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-12-20T00:54:22.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Jefferson, kind of?

comment by gwern · 2012-12-20T01:03:26.578Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pfft. He'd be the first to say he was a deist.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-12-20T21:31:13.054Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right, but deism then had roughly the same social / religious status as modern atheism does. He was certainly attacked as an infidel during the elections, and as the story goes, the pious buried their Bibles at news of his election, for fear that the new administration would take them away.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-20T21:57:01.269Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Given how many Founding Father types were deists, I suspect that they didn't have 'roughly' the same status. Were there contemporary presidents saying of deists that "I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be" (to quote Bush)?

comment by Vaniver · 2012-12-20T23:17:21.479Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Three points:

  1. I think that the number and public perception of atheists have both significantly improved since the H.W. Bush years.

  2. I think someone running for president today who listed their religious affiliation as "deist" or said things like "I think Jesus's morality is a good one, but he wasn't divine and miracles don't happen" would be considered basically an atheist by the people who would react negatively because of that.

  3. I think the modern analogues of the Founding Fathers as a group are not presidents but public intellectuals, and atheists are very overrepresented among public intellectuals (perhaps even the majority). That public intellectuals then were mostly areligious shouldn't be that odd when comparing with now.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-20T23:37:14.501Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the number and public perception of atheists have both significantly improved since the H.W. Bush years.

I wasn't really around for Bush, but I haven't noticed any improvement. What makes you think that?

would be considered basically an atheist by the people who would react negatively because of that.

Romney did fine, despite believe pretty darn weird things by Christian standards.

I think the modern analogues of the Founding Fathers as a group are not presidents but public intellectuals, and atheists are very overrepresented among public intellectuals (perhaps even the majority).

I'll believe that as soon as the next 4 presidents or so are public intellectuals, and a bunch of public intellectuals draft a new Constitution and get the states to approve it etc.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-12-21T21:42:27.287Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What makes you think that?

Stuff like this, though I'm having trouble getting access to the historical poll data.

I'll believe that as soon as the next 4 presidents or so are public intellectuals, and a bunch of public intellectuals draft a new Constitution and get the states to approve it etc.

My model was that the sort of person who would become a memorable Founding Father in the 1700s is the sort of person who would become a public intellectual in the 2000s, and that atheism is more strongly linked by personal temperament than public position. I think the early American presidents were very different from the ones we have now, and so it's not clear which comparisons carve reality at the joints.

(It's not clear to me what point you would concede if an atheist president was identified.)

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T23:13:32.573Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alchemy in general, yes. But Newton was less than generous with his science at the best of times; with the already secretive alchemy, he wasn't exactly publishing peer-reviewed articles.

Thanks for the history trivia :)

comment by gwern · 2012-12-19T23:43:37.482Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well come on, it's not like Newton's alchemy was noticeably more nonsensical than regular alchemy!

comment by HalMorris · 2012-12-19T23:29:12.758Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actually the spherical earth was described by the 2nd century (AD or CE) Greek, Ptolemy (who unfortunately is best remembered for describing the phenomena of the sky in terms of concentric spheres around the earth, which led to planetary orbits having the infamous epicycles). Ptolemy not only stated but fairly well demonstrated the earth's circularity and gave a reasonable (for the time) estimate of its size. The educated classes in Columbus' time hence from my readings, were well aware that the earth was sperical.

What Columbus did, was to read Marco Polo, and from Polo's estimates of the various legs of his journey, and whatever else he had to go on, miscalculated that Japan was around 3000 miles west of Europe, and so, proposed the daring idea of sailing farther than one could hope to return from (if it turned out you were still in the middle of the ocean) because he believed he'd reach Japan and and be able to repair the ships and take on new food, water, and supplies, for the return journey. I guess he hoped for a reasonably friendly reception.

While Japan wasn't about 3000 miles west of Europe, lucky for Columbus, something was there - of the 2 oceans one would have to cross to reach Japan (plus one continent), he only had to cross the more narrow one, and such human society as he found were not a threat to a well armed group of 15c Europeans (to say the least).

comment by TimS · 2012-12-19T23:52:47.147Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why is this down voted? I don't see any obvious inaccuracy. It elaborates nicely on Mugasofer's point.

Edit: and now it isn't down voted. I'm still confused why it ever was.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-19T23:58:30.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Most obviously, ascribing it to Ptolemy seems like a pretty serious error given Eratosthenes's famed and remarkably accurate calculation of the diameter of the earth centuries before.

comment by TimS · 2012-12-20T00:01:47.280Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough. But that's the type of thing a solitary silent down vote will essentially never communicate.

comment by TobyBartels · 2013-05-28T03:13:42.031Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. The remark about Ptolemy is even accurate, as far as it goes.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-03T05:15:34.540Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Note that, on gender issues at least, it also pattern-matches very strongly to the "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th century.

No it bloody doesn't except on the Internet. Read "The Psychological Foundations of Culture" and quote me a paragraph that pattern-matches anything like that. And then perhaps you'll give me back your respect point, because in a flash of enlightenment you'll suddenly understand why I was puzzled by people having issues with EP.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-09-04T22:18:25.752Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"The Psychological Foundations of Culture" does not discuss gender issues in detail.

More specifically: Sexual Strategies Theory tends to agree with modern cultural stereotypes of men and women, much as "scientific racism" tended to confirm cultural stereotypes of people of different races.

(I do acknowledge that "Sexual Strategies Theory" is far from settled science and has been heavily criticized - but it's a large part of what comes to mind when people think of ev-psych.)

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-05T09:04:11.429Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"The Psychological Foundations of Culture" does not discuss gender issues in detail.

Evolutionary psychology is not primarily about gender issues. This may be much of why so many folks have such a problem with it ....

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T20:44:48.341Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps it is merely that reputable evolutionary psychology is not about gender issues, while disreputable evo-psych is almost entirely focused on them.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-09-03T13:01:45.964Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I've had the luck of understanding both why people were puzzled and why they were wrong to be puzzled, since I only really learned any real ev-psych after I came to LessWrong.

What Crono says is pattern-matching is, well, yes mostly on the internet. However, it's also somewhat present out there, but it's not the Ev-Psych itself that pattern-matches - it's the behaviors and arguments of idiots who use Ev-Psych as ammunition.

What I've seen personally is mostly cases where "Evolutionary Psychology" could be substituted for "Magical Scientific Explanation" and no meaning would be lost, or cases where you could reasonably assert that a magical giant goat head yelling "facts" at people could have been the arguer's only source of information - i.e. the "fact" they pulled from ev-psych was technically true in the exact sense that "light is waves" is true, but they had no understanding of it whatsoever and their derivations from that were completely alien to the science.

comment by satt · 2012-09-03T10:34:19.486Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Oh boy, this is going to be one of those "reference class tennis" arguments, isn't it?

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T21:46:22.813Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Read "The Psychological Foundations of Culture" and quote me a paragraph that pattern-matches anything like that.

In fairness, that's about culture. Not gender.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-12-20T00:27:23.945Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The paper could've been called "The Biological Foundations of Culture" and it would've been more accurate. Read it before saying that.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-20T20:14:01.798Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've been rumbled :(

We're talking about this, right? If I really have misunderstood it, I guess this is a good time to get around to reading it.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-12-20T21:51:37.765Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nope. You're looking for the paper by Tooby and Cosmides.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-19T19:47:04.510Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

is this likely to be happening to me somewhere, or you? Besides ev-psych and economics, which other sciences will Reddit expose to you primarily in the form of exhibiting Someone Is Wrong On The Internet misuses?

Note that, on gender issues at least, it also pattern-matches very strongly to the "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th century.

Indeed. Do you take 21st century scientific racism seriously? Or do you dismiss it because it pattern matches to what some idiots have said?

Reversed stupidity is not intelligence, despite our natural pattern-matching inclinations to treat it as such.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T20:32:29.345Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

-1 respect points

The technical term is "karma". But I must admit, I am surprised he didn't already know.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-01T00:22:52.933Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

all women should fall in trance and vote for him

After reading that article, I seriously can't tell whether he means should epistemically (‘women are likely to vote for him’), ethically (‘women had better vote for him’), or he's (deliberately or accidentally) equivocating the two. His arguments only makes sense if he means it epistemically, but his tone only makes sense if he means it ethically.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-01T01:36:34.729Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My guess is that the article is a propaganda piece, designed above all things to elevate Romney's status and make him look better. I don't think the author, if pressed on the point, would either commit to a prediction that Romney will receive an overwhelming amount of the female vote, nor to a normative claim that women, ethically, should vote for him(1). In other words, I guess he was just bullshiting. But bullshit can still be sexist.

(1) He probably does think that women (and men) ought ethically to vote for Romney, but on grounds unrelated to the topic of the article.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-12-19T19:26:35.792Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This article isn't a joke?

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-19T20:35:34.196Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is an excellent question.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-12-20T01:22:32.787Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It could almost pass as an article on the Onion.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-20T20:28:08.573Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that it was intended to be ironic on some level. Whether it's the irony of those crazy liberal's theory "proving" they should vote conservative, the irony that conservatives, who are often attacked as anti-womans-rights, should "logically" be getting the votes of women, or something else, I couldn't tell you. It could even be an attempt to show women information that "should" persuade them to vote for his preferred candidate, but somehow I doubt it. The tone just seems too jokey. Regardless, of course, it's definitely offensive, so it was a stupid thing to write; I may be overestimating the author.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-20T01:41:18.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They must have been terribly disappointed that his alpha pheromones only worked on married women.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-31T00:57:53.014Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

which basically says that as a rich boss with many male sons, Mitt Romney exudes alpha male power, and all women [will] fall in trance and vote for him.

Is your objection that the descriptive statement is false, or than it's sexist to say it even if its true?

Yes, how one's candidate appeals to voters' biases is not exactly something to brag about, but it's unfortunately a common occurrence in our political process.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-08-31T16:27:46.716Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

First, it is false. Polls put Obama over Romney among female voters by 8, 10, or 16 points, according to the first three results I found in Google News. Moreover, in 2008 Obama won the female and tied the male vote, while now he seems to be winning the female vote by a somewhat smaller amount, but losing substantially the male vote. So looking at the female/male ratio (to control for the state of the economy and other general features) it looks as of now that Romney does worse with women than McCain did.

Of course, not every false statement about women is sexist. But I would say that an analysis attributing (in a false and unsubstantiated way) women's voting choices to irrational, subconscious factors as opposed to conscious ideological preference or self-interest, while not making a similar analysis for men's voting choices, is sexist.

Also, in my opinion it edges into outright misogyny because the paragraph

Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.

is not merely an objective analysis that in the author's opinion women will see Obama as weak/emasculated//whatever for having daughters instead of sons: it actively mocks Obama and expresses contempt for him on that basis, thus reinforcing the idea that women are less valuable than men.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-01T00:24:00.831Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear to me that it's supposed to be a descriptive statement. Downvoted for misquotation (even if explicitly shown by square brackets) hiding that.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-30T15:34:35.310Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, are you asserting that sexism is ever justified? If so, we have a definition mismatch.

For a start, we have Forbes Magazine drawing a link from EP to why most women will never be CEOs (Never mind that most people will never be CEOs). I haven't yet demonstrated how many readers of Forbes allowed the claim that EP justifies the sexist treatment of executives, and also take sexist actions regarding executives; will you accept that 5% of board members of publicly traded companies make sexist decisions about executives, and that 80% of those people read Forbes and didn't object to that (4% of board members overall)? (again, I'm using numbers that I think are conservative, because direct measurements are hard.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-31T00:47:51.424Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't yet demonstrated how many readers of Forbes allowed the claim that EP justifies the sexist treatment of executives

Since I specified unjustified sexism, you'll have to provide an argument for why said justification is incorrect.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-31T15:42:03.104Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sexist actions, by definition, has no valid justification. If there was a valid justification, they would be rational actions.

Going from "Females, in general, make poor executives" (even if this were to be true) to "A particular female will make a poor executive" Isn't a valid justification. I'm going to make the dangerous claim that the proof is obvious and trivial.

comment by Incorrect · 2012-08-31T16:10:02.135Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What about going from "members of subcategory X of category Y are more likely to possess characteristic C" to "In the absence of further information, a particular member of subcategory X is more likely to possess characteristic C than a non-X member of category Y".

You are saying you can't go from probabilistic information to certainty. This is a strawman.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-31T16:38:47.619Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That only applies if there is an absence of further information. Do you make judgments about what the weather is right now by looking only at historical information, or do you look out the window?

Also, if you're going to get into category theory:

members of subcategory X of category Y are more likely to possess characteristic C

Category A is a subset of category X Category B is mutually exclusive with category X, but a subset of Y Category B is smaller than category A Given only "members of subcategory X of category Y are more likely to possess characteristic C", can you draw a conclusion about whether a random member of category A or category B is more likely to possess characteristic C?

Let characteristic C be "will perform above the 75th percentile of CEOs", category X be 'males', category A be 'males who being seriously considered for a CEO position', and category B be 'females and intersex people being considered for a CEO position'.

It's only a strawman if it isn't the exact argument being used in the boardroom.

comment by Incorrect · 2012-08-31T18:34:06.829Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds good to me if you're going to get all connotative about it.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T01:54:12.546Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Was that sour grapes with an ad-hom, genuine agreement with a condition, sarcasm, or something else? I honestly can't tell.

comment by Incorrect · 2012-09-01T14:22:29.284Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Genuine agreement with whimsical annoyance about having to consider actual situations and connotations.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-02T02:20:17.183Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the clarification.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-29T15:10:08.814Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that many Americans assert that EP justifies sexist actions.

I agree that effectively nobody asserts that having sensory organs which can distinguish sex justify sexist actions. Nor did I claim anyone did.

My assertion was, and is, that the presence of those organs, much like the presence of those justifications, contributes to sexist actions that would not occur in their absence.

I assumed your objection was to the sexist actions, and the justifications were objectionable merely because they enabled those actions. In which case it seems that anything else that equally enabled those actions would be equally objectionable.

But, sure, if you're concerned specifically with asserted justifications rather than with the actions themselves, then I'm entirely beside your point.

Unrelatedly: lacking a justification for X != believing X to be unjustified.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T21:08:38.367Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The ability to notice a difference irrelevant to a decision is not in the same category as the belief that a difference which is irrelevant to a decision is, in fact, relevant.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-29T21:12:31.738Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True.

And the existence of a field of study that can be used to justify such a belief is in yet a third category.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T21:39:19.951Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"This field of study encourages sexist actions" and "This field of study is sexist" are equivalent statements, so far as 'sexist' can apply to something which does not make decisions.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-31T16:00:59.756Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Previously you defined sexism as something which must be inherently unjustified, or else it doesn't fit your defintion.

Now you're effectively said that if "This field of study encourages unjustified actions" is equivalent to "This field of study is unjustified". (in regards to gender matters, i guess).

Since EVERY field of study will effectively directly or indirectly encourage some unjustified actions for some people, you've effectively declared every field of study unjustified.

I suggest you try and do some serious work towards trying to unconfuse in your mind your labels of various social phenomena and your moral judgments -- and also your ideas about what is with your ideas about what should be.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-31T16:26:44.314Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you provide an example of something that you, or a significant number of people, would call sexist that you think is inherently justified?

Now you're effectively said that if "This field of study encourages unjustified actions" is equivalent to "This field of study is unjustified"

More accurately "This field of study encourages wrongful thinking." and "This field of study has a negative aspect." More semantically pure "This field of study is sexist" is equivalent to "This field of study is used to create invalid justifications", because a field of study cannot take actions like encouraging behavior; nor can an object be justified or unjustified; only agents can take actions, and only decisions can be justified or unjustified.

If every field of study is used to create invalid justifications, then every field of study has at least one negative aspect.

What caused you to think I was speaking in moral terms, rather than descriptive terms?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-31T16:59:38.314Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What caused you to think I was speaking in moral terms, rather than descriptive terms?

When someone's talking about justified actions, I expect they mean morally justified. If they're talking about justified beliefs, I expect they mean epistemically justified.

You spoke about decisions, so I assumed you meant moral justification of actions.

Can you provide an example of something that you, or a significant number of people, would call sexist that you think is inherently justified?

For a consequentialist like myself actions are morally justified by their consequences, not "inherently".

But here, I'll provide one of each -- action and belief which may not be inherently justified but they're also not inherently unjustified.

  • I think that most people (including me) would concede the sexism of pornography, i.e. the objectification of women, but I'm far from certain that pornography is morally wrong as a whole, even when sexist.

  • Discussing even theoretically whether male brain structure might allow greater proficiency on average with e.g. mathematics or science would be treated as sexism by most people. But there's no inherent reason to know for certain that there do not exist such differences between average male and average female brains.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-31T17:42:09.314Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'll grant that the objectification of people is wrong from a consequentialist perspective, barring any redeeming factors. I'll also point out that any action (like supporting a given field of study) that has negative consequences which exceed the positive consequences is immoral from a consequentialist perspective. I'll refrain from making any claims about whether supporting any specific field is a net negative.

No, I think that actions are 'justified' when the expected consequences are in accordance with the values of the actor. Actions are only 'moral' in my view when they are made with the mutual consent of all participating actors. A decision such as destroying one's own private property and making oneself sad as a result are moral but unjustified in my view; from a consequentialist view, that would be immoral.

Unjustified actions are not always immoral, but do indicate suboptimal decision making and poor mental hygiene. Being able to recognize those decisions in oneself and others is important.

I rage against the sexism that results when the possible fact "There is a difference between male and female brain chemistry with this result" becomes "This is proof that one sex is [universally|locally] inferior". Not because I have a moral obligation to prevent as much harm or create as much good as possible, but because I have a philosophical need for people, who are metaphysically equal, to be treated as metaphysically equal.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-31T18:47:29.900Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actions are only 'moral' in my view when they are made with the mutual consent of all participating actors.

Is that a mere simplification of your deontology? Because if it's the totality thereof, I find it very easy to construct counterexamples where it'd be really eccentric to proclaim them immoral... e.g. you see a two-year old child lean dangerously over an open window and you pull him back, lest it falls -- even though it doesn't consent and might even cry in protest.

Or you are a doctor and perform an operation to save the life of an unconscious patient that was in a car accident. You don't have their consent because they're unconscious and can't provide it -- does it mean the action of saving their life isn't moral?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-01T00:41:26.450Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think IAWYC, but I'd steel-man Decius and assume that young children unconscious people, etc. wouldn't count as “actors” and thus such actions wouldn't be more immoral than, say, replace a broken string in a guitar without its consensus.

comment by Legolan · 2012-09-01T00:47:16.138Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, if that was the position, then it wouldn't be any more immoral not to help an unconscious person than to not help a broken swing. That seems fairly problematic, so I doubt that's a successful solution.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T01:32:15.380Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why is it problematic to say that the existence of unconscious people does not obligate me to provide medical care any more than the existence of a broken string obligates me to provide repair services?

A doctor (profession) is under contract to be available and to provide emergency medical services; failing to perform that (social) contract without the consent of the other parties (all of society, in some cases), is impermissible. A doctor who has agreed to provide care in a given situation is obligated to, just as a repairman who has agreed to perform repairs in a given situation is obligated to do so.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-01T08:06:31.767Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is not logically problematic, but it I still something with which (I think) most people would (say they) disagree.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T14:13:07.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most people feel no obligation to help someone who is in need of help. For example, there is a shortage of living kidney donors everywhere.

The only thing that creates an obligation in me is my decision to accept an obligation; the only way I can obligate others is for them to accept the obligation.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T01:35:43.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not the totality thereof- contract theory is also included with the concept "It is possible to consent to actions in the future in a manner which may not be unilaterally revoked."

I can't explain why the social contract or geographical government has jurisdiction over a new actor who does not choose to accept it.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-09-01T06:28:02.648Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not because I have a moral obligation to prevent as much harm or create as much good as possible, but because I have a philosophical need for people, who are metaphysically equal, to be treated as metaphysically equal.

What kinds of experiences would you expect in a world where (some?) people are metaphysically equal that you wouldn't expect in a world where people are not metaphysically equal?

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T14:02:57.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If my premise that people are metaphysically equal is wrong, then something which is not part of this universe has privileged access over something else which is not part of this universe.

I would, for example, expect the same entity to make decisions for two physical bodies, or for psychic phenomena to exist and not have a physical basis, or for consciousness to persist after death differentially depending on the conscious entity; in general, things would have to be able happen without a physical basis and differentially based on the metaphysical person.

Since I posit that the metaphysical person exists only as a moral abstraction (and can thus be defined to be equal), such evidence that 'personhood' is an actual concrete thing, and that some 'personhoods' were inherently superior in an objectively measurable way would falsify my moral beliefs. I also suspect that it would be problematic for all moral systems.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-09-03T12:52:33.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying people are metaphysically equal by definition? If not, I'm not sure what you mean, since I find your comment somewhat difficult to follow.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-01T00:45:25.796Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A decision such as destroying one's own private property and making oneself sad as a result are moral but unjustified in my view; from a consequentialist view, that would be immoral.

This confuses me: I self-identify as a consequentialist myself, but I wouldn't call an action which harms you but no-one else “immoral” (but I'd call it stupid).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-01T01:11:32.050Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not at all sure what it means for an act to be immoral, under a consequentialist moral frame, if not that it leads to the loss of value. Can you expand on this?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-01T08:00:49.012Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But deliberately harming oneself does lead to a loss of value (at least as much as if you did that). So, why do I think that harming you is not-evil if you do it yourself but not if I do it? I'm confused...

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-01T12:24:15.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what's confusing.

You said that if I perform an action that harms me, that's not immoral.
We agree that if I perform an action that harms me, that leads to a loss of value.
So it follows that whatever it means for an act to be immoral, by your reasoning, it is not simply that it leads to a loss of value.
Also, you've identified your moral reasoning as consequentialist.

So I'm asking: under your consequentialist moral frame, what does it mean for an act to be immoral, since you don't think it's that it leads to a loss of value?

It's been suggested elsewhere that the key here is foreknowledge... that an immoral act is one that has negative expected value for the actor. I would agree that this is consistent with a (rule-)consequentialist moral frame, and that you might mean "I wouldn't call an action which harms you but no-one else 'immoral' (assuming you don't expect it to cause harm)." I would agree with that statement (though I would find it odd) but I doubt that's actually what you meant.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-09-01T03:48:33.080Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Many consequentialist systems consider the morality or immorality of an action to be a function of the consequences expected by the agent at the time when it makes the decision. For any act, there is a possible universe where that act results in harmful consequences relative to the alternatives. What matters is how harmful it typically is, when executed by an agent in the same epistemic state.

I would guess that among humans we consider self-harming behaviour a sign of mental incompetence, since people don't usually desire their own suffering. Hence someone who takes "stupid" actions is probably believing that the actions lead to excellent consequences, in which case you can prevent such behaviour through psychological treatment rather than punishment.

Or something like that.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-01T04:27:53.970Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, OK, but if "better addressed through psychological treatment than punishment" is equivalent to "not immoral", then it seems that by that reasoning my harming others isn't immoral either, as long as I'm incompetent enough to expect an increase in value from my actions.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-09-01T13:46:21.808Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess so. But harming anyone at all can still be considered bad. "Immoral" simply has a connotation (or maybe even an additional denotation?) of "blameful" that means it can basically only be applied to competent agents.

comment by V_V · 2012-09-01T09:41:31.693Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'll grant that the objectification of people is wrong from a consequentialist perspective, barring any redeeming factors.

Isn't consequentialism intrinsically objectifying? It doesn't treat people as right holders but as means to the end of achieving desirable world states.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T13:52:32.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It can also treat people as the ends, instead of the means, of desirable world states.

I intuit that there is also something along the lines of 'equal objectification'; if everyone, including oneself, is objectified equally, is that really objectification? I don't know and must consider that.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-02T02:11:23.781Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It can also treat people as the ends, instead of the means, of desirable world states.

In practice at best it treats people as some combination of tools and victory points.

I intuit that there is also something along the lines of 'equal objectification'; if everyone, including oneself, is objectified equally, is that really objectification? I don't know and must consider that.

Taboo 'objectification'.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-31T21:01:42.042Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

but because I have a philosophical need for people, who are metaphysically equal, to be treated as metaphysically equal.

I invite you to consider the possibility that what people are, and how people should be treated as, may possibly be two different things. If they're not "metaphysically equal", perhaps it's still best that they be treated as such.

comment by Decius · 2012-09-01T01:28:32.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If things are different in a significant way, it is appropriate that they are treated as different.

It is a premise of mine that people are metaphysically equal; to delve further into that we need to discuss what 'people' means. I doubt that you will find such a discussion rewarding.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-02T02:12:41.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to know what you mean by 'metaphysically equal'?

comment by Decius · 2012-09-02T02:29:49.148Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Equal, in every sense that cannot be falsified by the observation of privilege or inequality which exists only in the embodied world.

Basically, it's a way of creating a metaphysical entity "person", which is defined to be that which exercises control over the physical embodiment of that person. By making the moral agent an abstract rather than a concrete, the inequalities which exist in the concrete world do not falsify the claim to general equality.

For example, people do not lose or gain rights as their fortunes change.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-03T02:31:24.276Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By that definition aren't people 'metaphysically equal' to rocks?

comment by Decius · 2012-09-03T03:45:15.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is the metaphysical entity "rock", and how do the actions of physical geology reflect them? When a person consents to a transaction in the world, their body is what makes the decision and indicates to other people's bodies that consent is present.

If a rock consents to an action which involves a geologic object, how would it indicate that to other physical objects?

comment by V_V · 2012-09-01T10:05:37.731Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

think that most people (including me) would concede the sexism of pornography, i.e. the objectification of women, but I'm far from certain that pornography is morally wrong as a whole, even when sexist.

Why do you think that pornography is sexist? There are male porn stars too.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-29T22:49:16.083Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Um... OK. I'm tapping out here.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-29T03:40:05.356Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The sexism associated with evolutionary biology is typically the result of the perceived (or actual) claim that because sexual differentiation has a historical and evolutionary basis, it is morally correct to reinforce those differences today.

I'm not sure what you mean by "reinforce", but it seems reasonable to take these differences into account when making decisions.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-29T04:59:16.920Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For example, suppose that evolutionary science has determined that is was pro-survival in the past for females to refrain from occupations which had high fatality rates.

Reinforcing that would be claiming that females should refrain from or be prohibited/discouraged from those occupations in the present and near future.

Also sexist is the line of thought "Females are statistically more/less likely to be X, therefore I require that it be a male/female who performs task Y.", when variation within each sex is great enough that there are a very large number of one sex who outperform a typical member of the other; a specific example would be "Females are less likely than males to complete a degree in mathematics; therefore it makes sense to award this scholarship to the equally qualified male instead of the female".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-30T03:12:46.622Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

when variation within each sex is great enough that there are a very large number of one sex who outperform a typical member of the other

That's not the relevant comparison. In practice the comparison is between an above average members of each sex.

a specific example would be "Females are less likely than males to complete a degree in mathematics; therefore it makes sense to award this scholarship to the equally qualified male instead of the female".

In your example, than depends on whether the first clause is still true after controlling for whatever qualifications are used in the second.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-30T15:04:06.161Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't always have the luxury of choosing from among a sample that includes above-median performers.

The second case is a textbook example of sexist thought; I thought it was clear that the first clause was not controlling for anything, while the second was making a specific measurement of expected performance.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-31T00:31:07.774Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You don't always have the luxury of choosing from among a sample that includes above-median performers.

In that case comparing average members of one sex with the above average members of the other is still not the right comparison to make.

I thought it was clear that the first clause was not controlling for anything, while the second was making a specific measurement of expected performance.

Even this statement is ambiguous. Does the specific measure of expected performance actually screen of gender?

comment by Decius · 2012-08-31T15:52:26.598Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In that case comparing average members of one sex with the above average members of the other is still not the right comparison to make.

You never need to compare the average, because you only ever need to compare a small number of individuals.

Even this statement is ambiguous. Does the specific measure of expected performance actually screen of gender?

Performance in the production environment correlates with the measured expectation equally well for males and females.

comment by dspeyer · 2012-08-28T02:00:03.679Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thorium reactors are a nuclear technology.

OK, I don't accept that one, but it's left wing.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-28T08:19:11.700Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Support/opposition to nuclear technology seems pretty orthogonal with left/right to me. The anti-nuclear left tend to be more pro-solar/wind/hydro instead, while the anti-nuclear right more pro-oil/coal/gas instead, but there are pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear is both "sides". Even in a country like France where we have like a dozen of significant political parties, all the parties but one (the greens) have internal disagreement about nuclear energy in general.

That said, yes, "thorium is nuclear" is a good example of TWAITW.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-08-29T16:33:55.775Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It feels to me that until recently the pro-nuclear left was a very small faction, but growing with the likes of George Monbiot passionately switching over.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-29T16:46:37.471Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Depends where, here in France, of the 4 left-wing parties (PS, PCF, Les Verts and PG) two (PS and PCF) are mostly in favor of nuclear energy, the two others (Les Verts and PG) mostly against it, while all but Les Verts are internally split.

But that may also be because France has a strong nuclear industry, and the left-wing parties tend to be friendly with the unions, and the unions defend nuclear energy because it creates jobs (both for our own energy and because we export nuclear technology).

comment by cousin_it · 2012-08-27T18:35:29.022Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the link to Caplan's post, it's a very nice thought experiment. How about a thread where right-wing folks can give their strongest versions of left-wing arguments and vice versa, all the while quietly laughing about each other's misconceptions but not stepping in to correct? I could give it a try, as a right-winger imitating a left-winger, but I'd probably just embarrass myself.

comment by siodine · 2012-08-27T23:26:46.020Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds lame; better to find a way where we can learn from our misconceptions. At the very least, people should be hinted towards the fact that they're exhibiting misconceptions.

I'd rather see people that are expert in their position give the highest level version of their argument (just ignore inferential difference ffs; smart people can bridge the distance themselves if you use google-able jargon and make references explicit, and maybe throw in a book recommendation or two for further reading).

Example comment:

Conservative position re abortion (note to reader: generate your strongest conservative argument for abortion and compare before removing the rot13)

Zl avccyrf ner yvxr fnaqcncre.

And no arguing in the comments, it's enough to be more informed of another position's strongest arguments.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-08-28T07:50:43.512Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Won't work. Why the jargon is relevant is the main problem. Just saying "That's not what we think" should be enough and cause less mess.

comment by siodine · 2012-08-28T14:15:55.272Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It won't work because jargon is relevant? What?

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-08-28T19:16:16.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An exchange could be "Whether porn movies should be legal, left-wing viewpoint" "I, right-wing person, believe a left-wing person would support this because it causes no obvious harm." "I, real-life left-wing feminist, oppose this because porn is objectification."

Well, everyone agrees that actors in most porn movies are just here to turn on the viewer, and could be replaced by CGI with equivalent effect. "Objectification" just means that. The useful work in the argument is done by the theory about why objectification is a bad thing.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-09-03T19:03:54.405Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, everyone agrees that actors in most porn movies are just here to turn on the viewer, and could be replaced by CGI with equivalent effect. "Objectification" just means that.

Sorry, don't want to turn this into a full-fledged political argument, but your definition seems to be missing some important part. Any movie can be replaced by sufficiently realistic CGI, but left-wing folks don't seem to be against movies in general...

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-09-04T08:51:48.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My imaginary feminist here claims that people should care about what shooting the movie meant for the actor. For example, some people admire Harrison Ford's ad-libbed "I love you. "I know.", or have strong feelings about an actor's interpretation of a role that differs from the original script. This exists in porn too; I've heard Bettie Page praised for making sex look joyful and shameless. But in mainstream porn movies actors rarely have any room to show their feelings about the role.

Edit: This has sparked a full-on political subthread. I am sorry, retract this comment, and will be more careful in the future.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-04T09:11:05.652Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My imaginary anti-porn feminist (while not ignoring working conditions for porn actors (and possibly having some concern about whether "actors" reliably includes women)) is much more concerned about the effect on male viewers-- that they will be strengthening a habit of only seeing women as potential porn-like entities. If the anti-porn feminist spoke LW, they'd phrase it as availability bias.

A pro-porn feminist discusses some problems caused by porn.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-09-04T11:29:05.912Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, your explanation makes more sense. The evidence for it seems inconclusive, so I won't switch to being anti-porn, but at least it's an understandable human reaction.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-04T11:32:43.620Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People tend to be overconfident about their model of the world when they're angry.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-09-04T11:36:53.485Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, you're right of course. Sorry for editing my comment.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T09:04:48.426Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

They're working a job. They're getting paid. There's a case to be made that that is objectification. That's the labor market. Deal.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-09-04T14:47:52.493Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

EDIT: oh shit, oh shit, I just unintentionally made a WAITW by extending the stupidity and callousness of the above comment to right-libertarianism in general. Damnit!

comment by Kindly · 2012-09-04T12:22:07.224Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That sort of argument seems not to leave any room to object to anything, ever.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T21:08:53.094Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

They weren't sold into slavery. If you don't like a job, hold out for something you like more. If there's no such job, and you don't step out of the labor market, you don't not like the job enough to complain: it really is an improvement on your life. Or, demand more money to make up for the amount you dislike your job. This seems to be what happened in porn.

There are so many worse problems in porn as a job than the fact that people might not feel artistically fulfilled in their job. Porn can be a really unpleasant job for women, especially if you are working on several jobs a day, as many actresses do, but they don't have to do that to survive, as it can pay from hundreds to thousands of dollars. They do that because it pays shit loads of money, and because they know that it's not a job they want to work into old age.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-04T21:50:37.086Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Porn can be a really unpleasant job for women

And even more so for men: lousy pay, boner drug injections, stiff (sorry) competition.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T22:08:13.363Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are we talking about a separate world here, where the only form of employment is porn? If it was that unpleasant with lousy pay the job wouldn't be that competitive: they'd be doing something else.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-04T22:16:18.302Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are you assuming perfect rationality on the part of the actors?

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T22:25:49.114Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No, just imperfectly rational ones. Are you suggesting they were tricked into the job somehow?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-04T23:23:18.794Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My objection is more generic than that: I'm not making an argument about porn-actors' career choices one way or another, as I hardly have the required knowledge to do so.

I'm just finding your own arguments which seems to say that every career choice is a good career choice and that therefore people shouldn't complain rather unconvincing.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T23:27:01.603Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if I'd go all the way to good. Only an improvement over nothing, given that you stay in the job. If you dislike the job enough to either not take it or quit, then it wasn't.

If there are a lot of people competing for a job, assuming they actually want the job and aren't tricked by magic fairies, they must at least believe the job is going to be and improvement over their current employment.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-04T23:43:29.108Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if I'd go all the way to good. Only an improvement over nothing

Why is "nothing" the alternative to compare a given job to?

When people complain about a job, they generally don't say "I wish I was unemployed", they say things like "I wish I was paid more" or "I wish I wasn't forced to work as many hours for fear of losing my job" or "I wish I had better working conditions".

To compare any job to unemployment seems to be missing the point of such complaints. It's not that the people would prefer unemployment. They'd prefer a better job.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T23:48:32.313Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm comparing the job to the job not existing. Not to no job at all for an individual. We'd all prefer a better job for ourselves, and if we aren't jerks, we'd prefer better jobs for others too. Until the robots replace all the shitty jobs and all forms of scarcity vanish I don't see the point.

There are so many jobs on the labor market. If you have a job, then you must at least think it is better than the alternatives. How is this controversial?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-05T00:02:53.302Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Here's the discrepancy:

I'm comparing the job to the job not existing.

At this point, you're comparing two different versions of society, a society (A) where the job exists and a society (B) where the job doesn't exist.

If you have a job, then you must at least think it is better than the alternatives.

But at this point, you're comparing two different choices for an individual within the same society (A), choosing to have the particular job (choice A1) or quitting (choice A2).

Those are two different questions. E.g. imagine that the porn industry didn't exist at all, for some magic reason. Wouldn't the customer money financing it go to some other form of entertainment or product? What makes you think that the additional jobs that industry would create wouldn't have less shitty working conditions than the porn industry?

The question of whether the existence of porn industry is positive or negative as a whole, therefore isn't the same to whether any given individual in it should quit or not. The choices person has in timeline B aren't necessarily the same they have in timeline A2.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T00:23:16.194Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

At this point, you're comparing two different versions of society, a society (A) where the job exists and a society (B) where the job doesn't exist.

Yes.

But at this point, you're comparing two different choices for an individual within the same society (A), choosing to have the particular job (choice A1) or quitting (choice A2).

Yes.

Those are two different questions. E.g. imagine that the porn industry didn't exist at all, for some magic reason. Wouldn't the customer money financing it go to some other form of entertainment or product? What makes you think that the additional jobs that industry would create wouldn't have less shitty working conditions than the porn industry?

Because there is only so much demand for goods, and only so much investment. The how any why of porn suggests that the mainstream entertainment industry probably isn't where that money would go e.g. probably towards prostitution which is even less humane. And doesn't pay as well.

More importantly, the reason people invest in porn is because they think that would be the best return on their dollar. The drive on investment is of course demand, utility represented by dollars in the economy. A redirection of that would have to be to the perceived second and third best percieved investment. If you think people who invest in porn are dumb and the percieved second best investmentwould generate better returns, then OK. But I tend to assume every one is an (imperfect) rational actor, who's trying to generate the best return on investment, so changing that would be a bad Thing (TM).

If you don't know why good returns on investment are good, realize that if I want to send all my money to AMF, I need to get it from somewhere. If you want a job from me, I need to get the money from somewhere.

The choices wouldn't be the same, but they'd be worse, CP, because people were generating less return on investment, because one of their options was removed.

This is especially bad if you're primarily concerned about employment in a first world nation, say America, (I'd talk about Greece, but I just have no idea.) where porn is actually one of the home grown industries, and that money would end up going to China or India as a likely second best investment. Which would normally be cool; the Chinese have to eat too. But you're also supporting a government that keeps the wages down and standards cheap through methods you might not be entirely kosher with.

This doesn't have that much to do with porn per se, only to point out that you aren't necessarily supporting a less cruel industry, by removing a single industry that you find "objectifying".

I still say if you find your job objectifying, quit or demand more money for the inconvenience. If you can't do either, then the job is improving your life, or you are a slave. No one seems to attack the main point; they just don't like hearing it.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-05T00:41:26.472Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The how any why of porn suggests that the mainstream entertainment industry probably isn't where that money would go e.g. probably towards prostitution which is even less humane. And doesn't pay as well.

Well, the people who want to magically stop porn also tend to want to magically stop prostitution.

I, personally, would be in favor of the existence of both, but I'd also wish much higher working conditions for both -- a wish which your command to "Deal!" in regards to their low working conditions, because they're supposedly better than the "alternative" of their non-existence doesn't quite adequately represent.

If you think people who invest in porn are dumb and the second best return on investment would generate better returns, then OK. But I tend to assume every one is an (imperfect) rational actor

And hence all the people buying lottery tickets? All the alcoholics buying booze? All the drug-addicts doing drugs? All the people going to church?

What's the actual difference between "dumb" and "imperfect" besides the former being a ruder word than the latter?

The choices wouldn't be the same, but they'd be worse, CP, because people were generating less return on investment, because one of their options was removed.

That again may sound reasonable, but it isn't a logical necessity. It isn't a logical necessity that having more options causes greater profit, unless people are indeed perfect rational agents, with perfect knowledge of the consequences of each choice, including psychological/social/etc.

I respect libertarianism because I do mistrust the government to make these choices for us -- but that doesn't mean by far that its application necessitates greater utility for all in every single scenario.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T00:54:45.816Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I, personally, would be in favor of the existence of both, but I'd also wish much higher working conditions for both -- a wish which your command to "Deal!" in regards to their low working conditions, because they're supposedly better than the "alternative" of their non-existence doesn't quite adequately represent.

I personally would like better working conditions for everyone. I live in the real world. They chose the work. Given real world economic realities, I'm not sure I see the problem. An actress can work less, choose different films, pick another career. These all come at cost, because that's the real world. Every actor who isn't a slave made their decision. Who am I to question it?

What's the actual difference between "dumb" and "imperfect" besides the former being a ruder word than the latter?

I tend to think people generate utility from all those things and don't really see the problem. I'm an athiest, but know both Christians and, I hesitate to say Athiest, but people who don't really believe in a personal god as such, who go to church like functions for the utility they recieve from them. Same goes for lottery tickets, booze, and drugs.

I tend to think in terms of imperfect = less than perfect mathematically described agent, dumb = less than me, at least in this particular domain. That last one is probably not great. I apologize for any confusion.

That again may sound reasonable, but it isn't a logical necessity. It isn't a logical necessity that having more options causes greater profit, unless people are indeed perfect rational agents, with perfect knowledge of the consequences of each choice, including psychological/social/etc.

I'm not sure I said that, though I do think there enough smart people gaming the system where that works out, albeit with a certain amount of inefficiency. How much inefficiency? No idea. The common libertarian arguement is usually not that libertarianism is perfect. But it's better than the alternatives as they currently exist.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-05T08:38:17.012Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I personally would like better working conditions for everyone. I live in the real world.

But you would also like everyone to not complain about the working conditions they currently have? Ending people's complaints requires an even more magical solution than ending porn or prostitution.

Why don't you say to yourself "People complain. Deal."

They chose the work. Given real world economic realities, I'm not sure I see the problem.

Reality includes the fact that people are free to argue about whether reality sucks and how to improve it. So what's your problem? Why are you so okay with every "real" aspect of the labour market, except the fact that in the real world people can also complain about the labour market?

The whole subthread started with you saying "Deal." While others still discussed the "is" of the matter, you leaped to an unsupported "ought". Whether from a consequentialist or a deontologist perspective, you demanded a particular course of action which you don't remotely prove by saying "this is the labour market" nor even by "they chose it" -- both "is" statements which can't by themselves build an "ought".

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T08:47:52.970Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't mean literally don't complain ever, that's silly and I never said that. There is a certain extent to which I think that if you have immediate control over something you should just shut up and do, but that wasn't what I meant either.

All employment is comodification of human time, and therefore objectification of human beings. Part of living in the real world is making peace with that. The fact that people want to single out porn is silliness. That's what I meant. Is this really what this whole conversation has been about?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-05T12:42:20.897Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

All employment is comodification of human time, and therefore objectification of human beings. Part of living in the real world is making peace with that. The fact that people want to single out porn is silliness. That's what I meant. Is this really what this whole conversation has been about?

Yes. If you had said "All employment is comodification of human time, and therefore objectification of human beings. Part of living in the real world is making peace with that. The fact that people want to single out porn is silliness." this would allow people to respond e.g. why they might consider porn a worse form of objectification, or e.g. agree with you and nonetheless continue discussing what a society might do with alleviating the problems of objectification in employment in general.

Saying on the other hand "It's the labour market. Deal." is nothing but a rude conversation-stopper, which attempts to stifle discussion without actually making any coherent argument one could respond to. It fell so much beneath the standards of a LessWrong discussion that it wasn't even funny.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-05T13:32:05.074Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the spirit of constructive criticism:

It fell so much beneath the standards of a LessWrong discussion that it wasn't even funny.

I totally agree with your stated point, and you made the point well. But the function of the quoted sentence is winning a status contest, not advancing your argument. The post would be vastly stronger without it.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T20:07:04.148Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought the point was clear. Apparently, I was wrong.

If you found it was rude, it's because I found the point silly, obvious, and really not worth the time. And here I find shortcuts make long delays.

comment by Kindly · 2012-09-05T12:29:24.437Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Porn workers are objectified in a way library workers aren't.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-04T22:19:47.398Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If it was that unpleasant with lousy pay the job wouldn't be that competitive: they'd be doing something else.

That argument is only valid during times of full employment, of which this isn't one. There are people for whom the alternative to an unpleasant job with lousy pay would be having no way to earn a living at all. (Just making a general point; I'm not claiming this is likely to be the case for a male porn actor in particular.)

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T22:24:27.380Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Really? Cause it seems like it'd be more valid to me. You could take a part time or second full time job, take a hobby that produces goods (gardening, carpentry, etc.), and if you have full employment this implies you do not need secondary non full employment to survive.

EDIT: Oh, I've been there. I would have wished I could get a job in porn too. Or at McDonalds. Or anywhere. Again, if you take the job, you at least perceive it is an improvement over not taking the job. Right? Or am I crazy?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-04T22:34:32.511Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

By “full employment” I mean ‘negligible unemployment rate’ (on a society level), not ‘working as many hours as you possibly could’ (on an individual level).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-05T22:16:53.251Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why was this downvoted? AFAIK this usage is more-or-less standard.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T22:45:19.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't get it either. Seems to happen every time politics is brought up. My own posts in this thread have gone up and down several times. Reflexive down voting over politics I can understand, even if I think it's silly.

The up votes are actually harder to explain. It's possible I could have educated some one, but given the people who post here, that seems doubtful.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-04T22:47:58.457Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. I thought you were implying something more like "40ish hours a week" of work.

I don't know how that changes my point. You like the job enough to keep working, therefore it is an improvement of your life. Conceivably, a solution could be better social welfare or better regulation of the industry, but if the job didn't exist, (as I assume would be the ideal state for an anti porn feminist) that takes away something that was improving their life.

I happen to live somewhere where wages are terrible, there isn't much of a safety net outside your own family. Some jobs, like TA, really pay poorly enough where it might be a good idea to go try and farm in your own backyard. Should the minimum wage be raised? Maybe. But for those working the job, it's enough to improve their lives, so taking away the job would be a Bad Thing(TM).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-05T04:39:17.293Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You like the job enough to keep working

Or, you keep working because it's the only way to survive you've found, even if you hate it. Not everyone has a wealthy family or something.

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T04:51:02.536Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You could always head out into the woods and farm. Or beg. Or steal. Or kill yourself. I didn't say you liked the job. I said you like the job enough. If the job didn't exist, you'd be worse off.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-09-05T14:58:23.161Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Everyone agrees on that fact. But the relevant question, when I'm deciding whether it would be good on net to regulate an industry, is whether the jobs in a state of economic nature (bargained down in terms of wages and working conditions to just better than the marginal employee's best alternative) are worse for the general welfare than the regulated jobs (and the associated economic tradeoffs) would be.

Sometimes regulation is clearly a win for society (like the workplace safety regulations in the US following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and other disasters), sometimes it's clearly a net loss (the Greek pension system is one of the things bankrupting the country), and sometimes it's hard to tell. But there's an actual tradeoff in consequences, and the optimal amount of regulation is not zero in all cases.

Related: The Non-Libertarian FAQ, or Why I Hate Your Freedom

comment by RomanDavis · 2012-09-05T20:11:46.207Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't argue that the amount of regulation was zero in all cases. I don't think may people really believe that, and the argument amounts to a straw man. Only that if a job market didn't exist, the people working in that job market would be worse off.

comment by siodine · 2012-08-28T19:54:51.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, thanks. Now I see what you misunderstood. The point of making the argument high level is because then you're able to 1) see the depths of your ignorance and 2) see where you need to move to remove that ignorance. Moreover, the best arguments are going to be written out more completely somewhere else anyway (probably books).

For example, if you're arguing at a high level that porn should be illegal, you could import the work of other people to support you of which the details have been argued -- and this makes sense if your argument is representational of the highest level of thought within that area.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-08-27T19:47:42.871Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This. The lack of examples from the left makes me uncomfortable sharing this article with people that will likely see it as an attack on their ideology. If they have some things to cheer for too, they are far more likely to accept it as a good post.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T21:39:11.723Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

See above. Come up with a good leftist example beyond the three already there and I'll add it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T19:56:01.311Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Which is unfortunate since this seems to be one of the few recent articles with relatively short inferential distances.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-08-28T17:42:58.359Z · score: 27 (27 votes) · LW · GW

I love the article, but this is a bad name for a fallacy, as it hinders neutral discussion of its relative badness compared to other fallacies.

If I could pick a name, I'd probably choose something like "tainting categorization".

comment by prase · 2012-08-28T18:44:42.888Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

it hinders neutral discussion of its relative badness compared to other fallacies

Not only that, but it is also non-descriptive.

comment by AlexanderRM · 2014-12-01T06:01:02.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you both for bringing these up, the name is the one problem with this otherwise excellent post. It's been bugging me for awhile. One idea I had looking at some of them, like the "capital punishment is murder" one, is "false double standard", trying to point out a double standard where we already know exactly where it comes from. However I'm not sure that covers all cases of the argument. Maybe it makes sense where the argument is used against something which is already common in society, but not when the argument is used against some radical new idea, although I'd have to think more to be sure that was the difference.

comment by Patrick · 2012-08-31T22:12:55.014Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The philosophers beat you to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accident_%28fallacy%29

comment by AlexanderRM · 2015-02-10T02:53:49.353Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that name is very descriptive and is also hard to say.

On the other hand I like the initial example use on Wikipedia, regarding surgeons, because it's an apolitical one that nobody actually believes. (or at least it is today. It could be that Artistotle was writing at a time when surgery was very new and not widely accepted, and many people made derogatory comments like calling surgeons butchers. Especially considering that surgery in those days was probably super-dangerous so a lot of people would die on the operating table and the increased survival rates would be hard to see. But for the present day it works great.)

On the other hand, the Wikipedia page fails to give any indication of how prevalent the fallacy is, which political examples are probably required for, as Yvain pointed out. But the surgery one might be optimal as a replacement for the MLK example in the first section, pointing out how absurd the fallacy is, before going into political examples to show how common it is.

comment by chaosmosis · 2012-08-29T03:28:59.567Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd choose something like "the fallacy of naive deduction" because it reminds me of those awful proofs that the Greeks used to write which were essentially just the premises that contained their hidden assumptions, and then extremely simple deductions which followed straightforwardly from the premises.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-09-01T15:51:40.911Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Somebody else mentioned "guilt by association" as the already-common name for it.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T02:50:12.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That name doesn't seem to convey the full impact of the argument for me, though. Perhaps a more evocative name, similar to "the strawman fallacy", might be more effective in terms of memetics and remembering the correct form of the argument without mixing it up with other fallacies. The well-known Reductio ad Hitlerum is a good example of this, and is actually very close to this argument AFAICT.

I've been playing with plays on reduction, oxidation, redox, etc., but haven't settled on a particular one I prefer yet. The argument often feels like a "reduction" (of something like taxation to what it is in essence, aka theft, for example) to those without the ability to disentangle this, yet could be considered to do the reverse - an "oxidation" ;) - since it attempts to merge the point of contention into an overarching category that already has "known values".

P.S. Completely agree on the main point of your comment.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-08-28T11:27:59.510Z · score: 24 (34 votes) · LW · GW

You know who else made arguments? Hitler.

comment by gwern · 2012-08-28T16:53:27.750Z · score: 20 (26 votes) · LW · GW

No, Hitler didn't make arguments, he made assertions; and you know what else was an assertion? Your comment!

comment by JQuinton · 2012-08-28T19:35:39.011Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I purposefully use this version of worst argument in the world when talking about homosexuality/homophobia or atheism, etc.:

You know who else didn't like gay people / atheists / Communists? Hitler

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T12:32:09.169Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Time for the meta:

You know who else uses versions of the worst argument in the world when talking about relevant topics? Dark Lords.

comment by fallaciousd · 2012-09-19T09:38:48.659Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Long time ago, me and my sockpuppet lonelygirl15, we was scrollin' down a long and boring thread. All of a sudden, there shined a shiny admin... in the middle... of the thread.

And he said, "Give a reason for your views, or I'll ban you, troll."

Well me and lonely, we looked at each other, and we each said... "Okay."

And we said the first thing that came to our heads, Just so happened to be, The Worst Argument in the World, it was the Worst Argument in the World.

Look into my brain and it's easy to see This A is B and that B is C, So this A is C. My heuristic isn't justified But I know it's right 'cause of how it feels From the inside...

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-09-29T05:52:40.924Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This A is B and that B is C, So this A is C

thank you for allowing me to store this in my head efficiently.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-02T08:36:56.262Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Related to: List of public drafts on LessWrong

Draft of a critical response to this article

  1. The worst argument in the world already has a different name. Philosophers call it the logical fallacy of Accident.

  2. Calling out the worst argument in the world is not useful in practice. It is really hard to stop it from being a fully general counterargument against any high level abstract argument. The article seems to hold that for communication to work properly all statements must refer to “archetypes”, central members of a cluster in thing space. If so, this conflicts with the very idea of parsing reality into clusters-in-thingspace, which is inevitable. Every cluster, being a cluster and not a point, has more and less central members. If arbitrarily marginal members of clusters are invalid members, arbitrarily many things said by humans are The Worst Argument In The World. To banish statements that don’t locate one cluster-in-thingspace right into the centre of another cluster-in-thingspace is faulty, especially when the statements are slogans and the words highly abstract. To use it properly you have to come up with an argument that shows that either the rule or generalization you are attacking is wrong or the case considered is sufficiently exceptional that it no longer applies. I wouldn't trust myself to use that line of reasoning against an argument I already dislike to discount it. And if this really is a way to defend oneself from the dark arts as it presents itself doing, it should be good for precisely that! The article seems much more well made as a weapon to add to that arsenal but then it should be marked as such.

comment by satt · 2012-09-02T18:30:38.140Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Minor wording point: labelling point 2 as "The worst argument in the world is not a useful argument in practice" sounds like you're about to attack the WAitW, when you're actually warning against labelling things as the WAitW. It might be less ambiguous to relabel point 2 as "Calling out the worst argument in the world is not useful in practice" or something similar.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-02T20:39:41.206Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Obvious fix. Thank you!

comment by siodine · 2012-09-02T17:03:48.364Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the most critical response to the worst argument in the world is that so many people are misunderstanding it (it was better explained on Yvain's blog where he didn't speak in LessWrongese). However, you are right that it is the logical fallacy of accident (as it is probably a form or child or parent of various other types of fallacies), but it's been put in LessWrong's clothes like Yudkowsky has done with other existing biases and fallacies, as such it assumes the LWian worldview and thus imports some nuances which kilobug partly noted.

To your second point, no line is ever drawn on what thing inside cluster-space is outside of the cluster for a given argument. Instead, the entire cluster is banished. Instead, you must argue for the tautology of which the cluster represents (e.g., murder cluster = tautologically bad), and even that's assuming the cluster should be noncontinuous tautologies (shouldn't things farther away from the center of the murder cluster be less bad?). This is no different than the philosophical process of unpacking statements to avoid begging the question.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-05T07:03:15.655Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you explain what part on my blog you thought was better, so I can maybe replace it here?

comment by siodine · 2012-09-05T20:21:04.710Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Inference and context are annoyingly important in communication; you start off on the blog by making your definition more personal while on LW it's more abstract and thereby it doesn't convey your intention as well (although, it should be inferred from the rest of the post). It's kinda the same throughout the LessWrong post.

Blog: "If we can apply an emotionally charged word to something, we must judge it exactly the same as a typical instance of that emotionally charged word."

LW: "X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't."

Suggestion:

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend about slavery. My friend said, "you know, capitalism is evil." I replied, "Why is that?" He said, "You see, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines slavery as 'submission to a dominating influence' which clearly includes working for a wage, so therefore capitalism is slavery!" I said, "you mean like slavery-slavery? Whips and shackles?" He said, "sure, see working for a wage is clearly submitting to a dominating influence, so it's slavery all the same. But let's not get into semantics..."

If David Stove can unilaterally declare a Worst Argument, then so can I. I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "X is in a category whose prototypical member has certain features. Therefore, let's presuppose X has all of those same features."

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-09-12T10:43:08.325Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A pretty bad argument is this widespread idea that one should never "get into semantics", even if that is what is causing problems. Many even use "semantics" to mean something like "pointless pedantry". I can remember when semantics was a respectable academic discipline...

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-12T11:58:42.210Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Amen to this. Indeed, I fear that an actual majority of "people out there" may have no idea that "semantics" means anything other than "pointless pedantry".

Actually, though semantics is perhaps the hardest hit, this is a general phenomenon, afflicting many unfortunate disciplines. You might call it the Argument from Circumscription of Subject Matter, or the "...But That Would Get Us Into X" Fallacy. Essentially, it goes like this: "that line of inquiry can't possibly be relevant, because it comes under the heading of a different academic discipline from the one our discussion falls under". It is particularly common (and insidious) when the "other" discipline has some kind of "bad" reputation for some reason (as in the case of semantics, which is evidently regarded as "pointless pedantry").

As a fictional (yet particularly illustrative) example of this fallacy, one could imagine EY and his colleagues at SIAI a decade ago saying "Well, we could worry about making sure future AI is Friendly, but....that would get us into philosophy [which is notoriously difficult, and not techno-programmer-sounding, so we won't]."

To which the response, of course, is: "So it would. What's your point?"

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-12T10:47:37.369Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Many even use "semantics" to mean something like "pointless pedantry".

I have even been in a conversation (with some MENSAns) where the primary subject was actually the meaning of a particular word. One person tried to support his position by retorting that the other person's argument was "just semantics". Well, obviously, yes. But that's a literal description of the subject matter, not an excuse to use "Hah! Semantics!" as a general counterargument!

(Not that I endorse the conversation itself as especially useful, just that "Semantics! My side wins!" is very different to "Semantics! Let's not have this conversation".)

comment by siodine · 2012-09-12T13:47:15.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that was the joke.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-03T01:12:52.219Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The use of the Worst Argument in the World in practice is as a heuristic for tabooing words that don't fit very well (and hence leaking inapplicable/misleading connotations). You are not refuting arguments with it, you are drawing more attention to certain parts and calling for unpacking. A good argument should be unpackable to significant degree, but in practice it's too much work to unpack everything, so it's useful to have heuristics that would point where to start digging.

If the argument remains sensible after you unpack, then there is no problem. The bad thing is when an argument was relying on not being unpacked and crumbles once you look inside. So the refutation or the lack thereof depends on what happens after you unpack, the heuristic for deciding what to unpack doesn't itself perform any refutation.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-03T06:04:56.391Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I find myself questioning how many readers will actually do the unpacking you describe rather than just use the Worst Argument in the World as a club to beat their opponents over the head. Especially since title is such that it will probably attract many readers off LessWrong.

"Taboo murder." works better than "Calling X murder is the worst argument in the world!"

comment by siodine · 2012-09-05T22:27:10.696Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard anecdotes of philosophy professors dreading the lesson on logical fallacies because the students use them as a weapon. But even so, logical fallacies are pedagogically useful like the worst argument in the world. To know that you should taboo murder rather than continue presupposing "all murder = bad" requires a degree of sophistication, and learning logic and logical fallacies is exactly how you learn to unpack those presuppositions and actually argue rather than score political points.

I think the best practice is to taboo saying "X is Y bias or X is Y logical fallacy", and rather require people to explain or question the exact flaw in reasoning and possibly why it's important enough to bring up.

So, for example, if someone says "that's murder, so it's evil," you should then reply with something like "why does something being murder necessitate it being evil?" (all the while internally thinking, "ah ha! I think that was the worst argument in the world.")

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-03T07:32:57.645Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Right, it's a bad name (but not a bad idea, if you correctly unpack the name).

comment by kilobug · 2012-09-02T09:03:54.810Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I see a (subtle but significant) difference between Aristotle version and Yvain version.

In Aristotle version, it goes like "doing A is X", "B does A" so "B is X". That's wrong, because (but Aristotle didn't know it) words are not precise definitions but fuzzy clusters. That's the main for which the "fallacy of accident" is a fallacy. And surgeons are not criminals.

The Yvain version is much more subtle. It acknowledges that words are fuzzy clusters, not fixed definitions. And that you can, without it being a fallacy (unlike in the first case) make claim like "abortion is murder" or "death penalty is murder". But that even if that claim can be make (even if we can consider them to be part of the fuzzy cluster) it's still a fallacy to use it as an argument, because while they are part of the cluster, they only share some of the problems that a typical member of the cluster has.

Now, if you consider my own point of view on those issues (but it could symmetric) : I'm pro-choice and against the death penalty. The WAitW idea is that I shouldn't argue for the right to abortion by trying to prove "abortion is not murder" and against the death penalty by trying to prove "death penalty is murder", being stuck in a definition match which is pointless, but that I should look deeper, dissolve what "murder" is and what it's assumed to be wrong, and show that most of what make us reject murder doesn't apply to abortion, and most of what make us reject it applies to death penalty. Or even completely discard the "murder" concept, and just look from a consequentialist point of view about the good and bad consequences of both.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-23T02:01:14.028Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"doing A is X", "B does A" so "B is X". That's wrong, because (but Aristotle didn't know it) words are not precise definitions but fuzzy clusters.

Everyone who does A is X. B does A. B is X.

That sounds like a valid argument to me. As such, if the premises are true, no god could make the conclusion false. The problem isn't with this mode of argumentation. It is literally the opposite of fallacious. If there's a problem, it's just the very mundane problem that one of the premises is false.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-23T04:59:52.948Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In "doing A is X" (which kilobug wrote) X is an attribute of an action.
In "everyone who does A is X" (which you wrote, apparently intending to echo what kilobug wrote) X is an attribute of people.

These aren't equivalent.
I'm not sure how relevant that is to your point, but then I'm not sure why you swapped one for the other.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-23T15:33:45.225Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I hesitated about that, but If Kilo had intended to hang something on that difference, then his subsequent comment probably wouldn't have been about clusters in thing-space. 'Fundamental attribution error' isn't relevant to that issue. That's why I felt comfortable swapping them. But I'm not super confident about that.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-23T16:37:59.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I assume kilobug didn't intend to hang anything on the difference between what they wrote and what you later wrote.

I assume you considered the difference significant, since if it wasn't significant you could have actually referenced what he said to make your point, rather than referencing some other statement that he didn't actually make.

I don't know if the difference is actually significant.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-08-27T09:57:36.814Z · score: 16 (30 votes) · LW · GW

It's bad when people use the dictionary to make political arguments, but it's worse when they write their own dictionary. For example:

  • Normal people define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, even if that means hurting other people." Objectivists define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, but never hurting other people." Hence, selfishness can never morally objectionable.

  • Normal people define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex." Feminists define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged." Hence, men can never be victims of sexism.

  • Normal people define "freedom" as "the ability to do a lot of stuff." Catholics define freedom as "the ability to do as God wishes." Hence, laws enforcing Catholic norms are pro-freedom.

comment by prase · 2012-08-27T19:35:08.340Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Objectivists define "selfishness" as "taking care of oneself, but never hurting other people."

Not to mention that they define "hurting" as "damaging or destroying other's life, health or property by direct action" where normal people understand the word much more broadly.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-08-27T21:39:40.237Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Normal people define "true" as "good enough; not worth looking at too closely". Nerds define "true" as "irrefutable even by the highest-level nerd you are likely to encounter in this context." Hence more or less all of Western philosophy, theology, science, etc.; and hence normal people's acceptance that contradictory things can be "true" at the same time.

(Yes, I'm problematizing your contrast between various groups you dislike and "normal people".)

comment by folkTheory · 2012-08-28T07:50:28.313Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

and hence normal people's acceptance that nerd-contradictory things can be normal-"true" at the same time.

Namespaced that for you.

comment by SilasBarta · 2012-09-08T21:43:52.591Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

People need to do that more often!

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-29T03:01:40.038Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. That saved me a second (and perhaps third) read; the sentence had me confused.

comment by magfrump · 2012-08-29T01:40:40.420Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is relevant to the discussion below of the second bullet point--however it resonates well regardless and I wouldn't change it unless you had something else that felt like part of the same tribe.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-27T10:33:01.880Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Normal people define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex." Feminists define "sexism" as "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged."

That layer of indirection there is optional.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-08-27T11:33:03.148Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You think I could replace "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged" with "unfair treatment of a woman based on her sex" ? I don't think that would pass an ideological Turing test.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-27T13:18:29.092Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

You think I could replace "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged" with "unfair treatment of a woman based on her sex" ?

I am saying that the subset of feminists that are unsophisticated enough that they exclude unfair treatment of men from their definition of 'sexism' and yet sophisticated enough that the implicit definition in use is actually dependent on history is comparatively small.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-08-27T15:34:11.686Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what you're talking about. I'd wager 10-1 odds that women the "unsophisticated" feminists who ascribe to the "men can't be victims of sexism view" have more education than the general population. The historical dependency is taught in intro WS classes and feminism 101 blogs; they call it "power plus prejudice." Not all feminists agree with the redefinition, but more than a "comparatively small" number do.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-27T16:55:47.956Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what you're talking about.

I was talking about the subject of the context. I would now expand and simplify my claim to an assertion that your second bullet point is simply false.

I'd wager 10-1 odds that women the "unsophisticated" feminists who ascribe to the "men can't be victims of sexism view" have more education than the general population.

I doubt you would find anyone with whom to make up such a wager---certainly not me.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T16:17:56.626Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. There are situations where the layers of belief-in-belief and tribe identity would cause individuals to hold this particular definition, but they most commonly split into:

"any unfair treatment where females are treated inferiorly is sexism" (while pressing the Ignore button whenever there are no women victims of unfair treatment),

"any inferred difference between genders that can be inferred to have negative connotation towards only women or positive connotation towards only men is sexism" (press Ignore when vice-versa) and

"any unfair treatment of someone based on their gender is sexism"

...in increasing order of sophistication, I guess.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-27T17:06:28.362Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

...in increasing order of sophistication, I guess.

I was trying to think of the right word to use for the kind of thought on the subject. Unfortunately all the most natural descriptions that sprung to mind like "prejudiced, hypocritical, sexist, inconsistent" were far more loaded than I wanted in the context. I settled on sophistication, which is at least at least subjective enough that we could consider "sophisticated in terms of adhering to the arbitrary ideal of treating people equally independently of superficial stereotyped features". Of course often 'sophistication' actually means being better at implementing convoluted and hypocritically self serving value systems so I'm still not comfortable using the word here. Should have gone with "more betterer".

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T17:18:47.045Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I was facing the same problem. Perhaps a sufficient reduction would be "progress in their personal understanding of the causes and harms of sexism".

Oddly enough, I usually don't find the term "sophisticated" to have nearly as much negative connotation as other readers.

comment by MBlume · 2012-10-04T22:38:27.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, what do you mean by "pass an ideological Turing test"? The version I'm familiar with gets passed by people, not definitions.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-05T04:12:31.064Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just meant that a non-feminist trying to pass a feminist Turing test would get nicked if they used the ""unfair treatment of a woman based on her sex" definition, but would probably get away with "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged." There's a difference between the definitions a well-read feminist would pick up on.

comment by MBlume · 2012-10-05T04:49:50.498Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, gotcha =)

comment by t-E · 2012-10-04T16:21:44.541Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is this implying that you do think "unfair treatment of a person based on their sex, but it only counts if their sex has been historically disadvantaged" would pass an ideological Turing test? (For the record, i don't think it would.)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-04T17:13:32.259Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From Finally Feminism 101:

Sexism is both discrimination based on gender and the attitudes, stereotypes, and the cultural elements that promote this discrimination. Given the historical and continued imbalance of power, where men as a class are privileged over women as a class (see male privilege), an important, but often overlooked, part of the term is that sexism is prejudice plus power. Thus feminists reject the notion that women can be sexist towards men because women lack the institutional power that men have.

This is a fairly mainstream feminist blog, a popular site for feminists to redirect critics if they feel the critics have little to offer. Google sexism + "power plus prejudice" and you can see other sites explaining why, according to the feminist definition of "sexism", it's impossible for men to be victims of sexism.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-10-04T18:35:18.174Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Many readers may expect that an "-ism" refers to a belief, as in "fundamentalism", "theism", or "Darwinism". However, "-ism" can also refer to a social institution or practice, as in "capitalism" or "communism". A capitalist economy isn't just one whose participants have capitalist beliefs — it's an economy that is structured in a particular way, with people actually playing the economic roles of investor, entrepreneur, employee, etc.

Similarly, terms such as "sexism" or "racism" can refer not only to biased beliefs about sex or race, but to sorts of social institutions in which some people exercise political power over others on the basis of their sex or race. Since there is a clear answer to the question, "Historically, which sex has exercised political power over the other in human culture?" the question "Who can be sexist?" seems to be dissolved and there is no need to argue definitions.

(Yes, some folks do use "sexist" as a near-synonym for "evil", just as some libertarians use "socialist" as a near-synonym for "evil" — I've heard it asserted that monarchy is "socialist" because it doesn't respect individual liberty, for instance. But we don't have to take that kind of silliness seriously.)

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T13:38:23.388Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

First, you didn't clearly answer my question, but i assume that you now imply that you indeed did imply that you think it would pass.

Second, it wasn't stated in my previous comment, but i was and am aware of the power plus prejudice definitions. You seem to assume here that i was not.

Third, and most importantly, i still believe that it would not pass, as i noted in my parens remark. This is because i think that none of "[institutional] power" or "prejudice" [against a group] can adequately be described as "historical disadvantage" alone. When they write "institutional power" as well as "power plus prejudice", they decidedly are not referring to something that lies purely in the past (indeed the present-day components are arguably the most important, though not the only interesting, ones) . The adjective "historical" in your usage seems to me to be incompatible to that.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-05T16:21:46.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair point, the feminist definition is more detailed then how I described it.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-04T18:57:03.515Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So if I work in an office where men are required to wear ties and a specific type of business shirt, both in specific variants that are particularly uncomfortable to wear, but women are free to dress as they want...

...the standard feminist argument is that there is no sexism here, because the men are the ones who historically had the power, and this is a perfectly valid and moral situation? Does the gender of the person imposing these rules (AKA The Boss) change the game? Does it suddenly become sexism if it's a woman imposing the rules and they all live in an isolated tribe that cut off all links with the history and past of the rest of the world?

That's without even broaching the sensitive subject of the apparent complete lack of Schelling point for where exactly women start becoming capable of sexism towards men once/if they overturn the current "institutional power that men have". I can't reasonably discuss that point with a feminist woman, because she's a woman and I'm a man, so I am a priori wrong and attempting to subjugate her by broaching that subject.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T20:08:17.418Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

the standard feminist argument is that there is no sexism here, because the men are the ones who historically had the power, and this is a perfectly valid and moral situation?

I usually model the standard feminist position as saying that the net sexism in a system is a function of the differential benefits provided to men and women over the system as a whole, and a sexist act is one that results in an increase of that differential.

On that model, the question then becomes whether your office's dress code serves to narrow the differential, to widen it, or neither.

Using that model gets me:

  • The gender of The Boss almost certainly doesn't matter.
  • Cutting off all links with history (including those links implemented in the habits and preconceptions of the people working in your office) would change the equation, but it's hard to predict in what direction; in any event it's hard to imagine people continuing to show up for work, and I'm not quite convinced they'd continue to wear clothes either.
  • If we assume for convenience that the only effect of the dress code is to increase the freedom of women compared to men, then implementing that dress code is not a sexist act.
  • It's not necessarily moral or valid, it's just not sexist. There exist immoral non-sexist acts.

I expect it would not be difficult to find self-described feminists who would agree with all of that, if I presented it properly. (I also expect it would not be difficult to find self-described feminists who would disagree with all of that.)

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-04T20:16:26.495Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the critical analysis!

On the one hand, the people that would agree with all of that make me bash my head against a wall while wishing said head was a selective neural disruptor that would fry their brains.

On the other hand, lots of people make me do that for many reasons. Including my past selves, sometimes.

This seems like it could be an example of someone picking the wrong fight if they wrongly used categories and definitions and then ended up in an anti-epistemic spiral after rationalizing a wrong move the first time the question came up. This would explain the scenario(s) I refer to in the last paragraph of the grandparent.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T20:29:34.729Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Suppose, hypothetically, that I agree with all of that. Can you summarize what it is about that agreement that makes you, hypothetically, commit violence against yourself and/or wish to kill me?

comment by MBlume · 2012-10-04T20:46:10.103Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'll take a shot.

What we choose to measure affects what we choose to do. If I adopt the definition above, and I ask a wish machine to "minimize sexism", maybe it finds that the cheapest thing to do is to ensure that for every example of institutional oppression of women, there's an equal and opposite oppression of men. That's...not actually what I want.

So let's work backwards. Why do I want to reduce sexism? Well, thinking heuristically, if we accept as a given that men and women are interchangeable for many considerations, we can assume that anyone treating them differently is behaving suboptimally. In the office in the example, the dress code can't be all that helpful to the work environment, or the women would be subject to it. Sexism can be treated as a pointer to "cheap opportunities to improve people's lives". The given definition cuts off that use.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T21:08:32.111Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I certainly agree that telling a wish machine to "minimize sexism" can have all kinds of negative effects. Telling it to "minimize cancer" can, too (e.g., it might ensure that a moment before someone would contract cancer, they spontaneously disintegrate). It's not clear to me what this says about the concepts of "cancer" or "sexism," though.

I agree that optimizing the system is one reason I might want to reduce sexism, and that insofar as that's my goal, I care about sexism solely as a pointer to opportunities for optimization, as you suggest. I would agree that it's not necessarily the best such pointer available, but it's not clear to me how the given definition cuts off that use.

It's also not clear to me how any of that causes the violent reaction DaFranker describes.

If you can unpack your thinking a little further in those areas, I'd be interested.

comment by MBlume · 2012-10-04T22:07:38.664Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Sexism" is a short code. Not only that, it's a short code which has already been given a strong negative affective valence in modern society. Fights about its definition are fights about how to use that short code. They're fights over a resource.

That code doesn't even just point to a class of behaviors or institutions -- it points to an argument, an argument of the form "these institutions favor this gender and that's bad for these reasons". Some people would like it to point more specifically to an argument that goes something like "If, on net, society gives more benefits to one gender, and puts more burdens on the other, then that's unfair, and we should care about fairness." Others would like it to point to "If someone makes a rule that applies differently to men and women, there's a pretty strong burden of proof that they're not making a suboptimal rule for stupid reasons. Someone should probably change that rule". The fight is over which moral argument will come to mind quickly, will seem salient, because it has the short code "sexism".

If I encounter a company where the men have a terrible dress code applied to them, but there's one woman's restroom for every three men's restroom, the first argument might not have much to say, but the second might move me to action. Someone who wants me to be moved to action would want me to have the second argument pre-cached and available.

In particular, I'm not a fan of the first definition, because it motivates a great big argument. If there's a background assumption that "sexism" points to problems to be solved, then the men and the women in the company might wind up in a long, drawn-out dispute over whose oppression is worse, and who is therefore a target of sexism, and deserving of aid. The latter definition pretty directly implies that both problems should be fixed if possible.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T22:39:40.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I certainly agree that a word can have the kind of rhetorical power you describe here, and that "sexism" is such a word in lots of modern cultures.

And while modeling such powerful labels as a fixed resource isn't quite right, insofar as such labels can be applied to a lot of different things without necessarily being diffused, I would agree with something roughly similar to that... for example, that if you and I assign that label to different things for mutually exclusive ends, then we each benefit by denying the other the ability to control the label.

And I agree with you that if I want to attach the label to thing 1, and you want to attach it to mutually exclusive thing 2, and thing 1 is strictly worse than thing 2, then it's better if I fail and you succeed.

All of that said, it is not clear to me that caring about fairness is always strictly worse than caring about optimality, and it is not clear to me that caring about fairness is mutually exclusive with caring about optimality.

Edit: I should also say that I do understand now why you say that using "sexism" to refer to unfair systems cuts off the use of "sexism" to refer to suboptimal systems, which was the original question I asked. Thanks for the explanation.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-04T21:25:07.235Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think one possible answer is that your model of sexism, while internally consistent, is useless at best and harmful at worst, depending on how you interpret its output.

If your definition of sexism is completely orthogonal to morality, as your last bullet point implies, then it's just not very useful. Who cares if certain actions are "sexist" or "blergist" or whatever ? We want to know whether our goals are advanced or hindered by performing these actions -- i.e., whether the actions are moral -- not whether they fit into some arbitrary boxes.

On the other hand, if your definition implies that sexist actions very likely to be immoral as well, then your model is broken, since it ignores about 50% of the population. Thus, you are more likely to implement policies that harm men in order to help women; insofar as we are all members of the same society, such policies are likely to harm women in the long run, as well, due to network effects.

EDIT: Perhaps it should go without saying, but in the interests of clarity, I must point out that I have no particular desire to commit violence against anyone. At least, not at this very moment.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T22:23:54.438Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If your definition of sexism is completely orthogonal to morality, as your last bullet point implies

It does?
Hm.
I certainly didn't intend for it to.
And looking at it now, I don't see how it does. Can you expand on that?
I mean, if I X isn't murder, it doesn't follow that X is moral... there exist immoral non-murderous acts. But in saying that, I don't imply that murder is completely orthogonal to morality.

you are more likely to implement policies that harm men in order to help women

This seems more apposite.

Yes, absolutely, if my only goal is to reduce benefit differentials between groups A and B, and A currently benefits disproportionately, then I am likely to implement policies that harm A.

Not necessarily, of course... I might just happen to implement a policy that benefits everyone, but that benefits B more than A, until parity is reached. But within the set S of strategies that reduce benefit differentials, the subset S1 of strategies that also benefit everyone (or even keep benefits fixed) is relatively small, so a given S is unlikely to be in S1.

Of course, it's also true that within the set S2 of strategies that benefit everyone, S1 is also relatively small, so if my only goal is to benefit everyone it's likely I will increase benefit differentials between A and B.

What seems to follow is that if I value both overall benefits and equal access to benefits, I need to have them both as goals, and restrict my choices to S1. This ought not be surprising, though.

I must point out that I have no particular desire to commit violence against anyone

I didn't think you did. DaFranker expressed such a desire, and identified the position I described as its cause, and I was curious about that relationship (which he subsequently explained). I wasn't attributing it to anyone else.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-05T01:46:26.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And looking at it now, I don't see how it does. Can you expand on that?

You said,

  • It's not necessarily moral or valid, it's just not sexist. There exist immoral non-sexist acts.

This makes sense, but you never mentioned that sexist actions are immoral, either. I do admit that I interpreted your comment less charitably than I should have.

Yes, absolutely, if my only goal is to reduce benefit differentials between groups A and B, and A currently benefits disproportionately, then I am likely to implement policies that harm A.

Yes, and you may not even do so deliberately. You may think you're implementing a strategy in S1, but if your model only considers people in B and not A, then you are likely to be implementing a strategy in S without realizing it.

DaFranker expressed such a desire...

I think he was speaking metaphorically, but I'm not him... Anyway, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't accidentally threatening anyone.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T13:56:31.604Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

DaFranker expressed such a desire...

I think he was speaking metaphorically, but I'm not him... Anyway, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't accidentally threatening anyone.

Only in part, actually. It is a faint desire, and I rarely actually bang my own head against a wall, but there is real impulse/instinct for violence coming up from somewhere in situations similar to that. It's obviously not something I act upon (I'd be in prison since long ago, considering the frequency at which it occurs).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T02:32:03.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You may think you're implementing a strategy in S1, but if your model only considers people in B and not A, then you are likely to be implementing a strategy in S without realizing it.

Well, "without realizing it" is a confusing thing to say here. If I care about group A but somehow fail to realize that I've adopted a strategy that harms A, it seems I have to be exceptionally oblivious. Which happens, of course, but is an uncharitable assumption to start from.

Leaving that clause aside, though, I agree with the rest of this. For example, if I simply don't care about group A, I may well adopt a strategy that harms A.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-05T18:52:06.140Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I care about group A but somehow fail to realize that I've adopted a strategy that harms A, it seems I have to be exceptionally oblivious. Which happens, of course, but is an uncharitable assumption to start from.

True enough, but it's all a matter of weighing the inputs. For example, if you care about group A in principle, but are much more concerned with group B -- because they are the group that your model informs you about -- then you're liable to miss all but the most egregious instances of harm caused to group A by your actions.

By analogy, if your car has a broken headlight on the right side, then you're much more likely to hit objects on that side when driving at night. If your headlight isn't broken, but merely dim, then you're still more likely to hit objects on your right side, but less so than in the first scenario.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T19:40:57.218Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right, absolutely.

Indeed, many feminists make an analogous argument for why feminism is necessary... that is, that our society tends to pay more attention to men than women, and consequently disproportionately harms women without even noticing unless someone particularly calls social attention to the treatment of women. Similar arguments get made for other nominally low-status groups.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-05T20:48:14.951Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's true, but, at the risk of being uncharitable, I've got to point out that reversed stupidity is not intelligence. When you notice a bias, embracing the equal and opposite bias is, IMO, a poor choice of action.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T21:10:59.064Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, in principle.

That said, at the risk of getting political, my usual reaction when I hear people complain about legislation that provides "special benefits" for queers (a common real-world idea that has some commonality with the accusation of having embraced an equal-and-opposite bias) is that the complainers don't really have a clue what they're talking about, and that the preferential bias they think they see is simply what movement towards equality looks like when one is steeped in a culture that pervasively reflects a particular kind of inequality.

And I suspect this is not unique to queers.

So, yeah, I think you're probably being uncharitable.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-05T21:21:09.729Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not arguing against any specific implementation, but against the idea that optimal implementations could be devised by merely looking at the specific subset of the population you're interested in, and ignoring everyone else. Your (admittedly, hypothetical) definition of "sexism" upthread sounds to me like just such a model.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T21:29:29.491Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. So, OK. What I said upthread was:

I usually model the standard feminist position as saying that the net sexism in a system is a function of the differential benefits provided to men and women over the system as a whole, and a sexist act is one that results in an increase of that differential.

You're suggesting that this definition fails to look at men?
I don't see how.
Can you clarify?

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-05T23:50:21.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Granted, this definition does look at men, but only as a sort of reference:

  • If we assume for convenience that the only effect of the dress code is to increase the freedom of women compared to men, then implementing that dress code is not a sexist act.

It seems that, like MBlume said, your model is designed to reduce the difference between the benefits provided to men and women. Thus, reducing the benefits to men, as well as reducing benefits to women, would be valid actions according to your model, if doing so leads to a smaller differential. So would increasing the benefits, of course, but that's usually more difficult in practice, and therefore a less efficient use of resources (from the model's point of view). And, since men have more benefits than women, reducing those benefits becomes the optimal choice; of course, if the gender roles were reversed, then the inverse would be the case.

A better model would seek to maximize everyone's benefits, but, admittedly, such a model is a lot more difficult to build.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-06T00:02:35.603Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Granted, this definition does look at men, but only as a sort of reference

OK, thanks for the clarification.

It seems that, like MBlume said, your model is designed to reduce the difference between the benefits provided to men and women.

Yes, insofar as "sexism" is understood as something to be reduced. It's hard to interpret "sexism in a system is a function of the differential benefits provided to men and women over the system as a whole" any other way, really.

As for the rest of this... yes. And now we've come full circle, and I will once again agree (as I did above) that yes, if anyone defined sexism as I model it here and sought only to eliminate sexism, the easiest solution would presumably be to kill everyone. And as I said at the time, the same thing is true of a system seeking to eliminate cancer, but it's not clear to me that it follows that someone seeking to eliminate cancer is necessarily doing something wrong relative to someone who isn't seeking to eliminate cancer.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-04T21:04:41.726Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

TL;DR: Some evidence points, and the rest my mind fills in by type 1 / pattern-matching / bias / etc., towards hypothetical you being fundamentally broken somewhere crucial, at BIOS or OS level to use a computer metaphor, though probably you can be fixed. I feel very strongly that this hypothetical you is not even worth fixing. This is something about myself I'd like to refine and "fix" in the future.


Well, the type 1 processes in my brain tell me that the most expedient, least "troublesome" way to solve the "problem" is to eliminate the source of the problem entirely and permanently, namely Hypothetical::TheOtherDave. This implies that there is a problem, and that it originates from you, according to whatever built-in system is screaming this to my consciousness.

Tracing back, it appears that in this scenario, I have strong beliefs that there is a major systemic error in judgment that caused "sexism" to be defined in that manner, and if the person is a "Feminist" that only applies techniques to solve "that kind" of "sexism", without particular concern for things that I consider sexism beyond "they might be bad things too, but not any more than any other random bad things, thus as a Feminist I'm not fighting against them", then I apparently see it as strong evidence that there is a generalized problem - to make a computer metaphor, one of the low-level primary computing functionalities, perhaps even directly in the instruction set implementation (though much more likely to be in the BIOS or OS, since it's rarely that "hardwired"), is evidently corrupted and is spreading (perhaps virally) wrongful and harmful reasoning throughout the mental 'system'.

Changing the OS or fixing and OS error is feasible, but very rarely happens directly from within the system, and usually requires specific, sometimes complex user input - there needs to be certain contexts and situations, probably combined with particularly specific or strong action taken by someone other than the "mentally corrupted" person, in order for the problem to be corrected.

Since the harm is continuous, currently fairly high in that hypothetical, and the cost of fixing it "properly" is rather high, I usually move on to other things while bashing my head on a wall figuratively in my mind and "giving up" on that person - I classify them as "too hard to help becoming rational", and they get this tag permanently unless something very rare (which I often qualify as a miracle) happens to nudge them sufficiently hard that there appears to be a convenient hack or hotfix that can be applied to them.

Otherwise, "those people" are, to my type-1 mind, worth much less instrumental value (though the terminal value of human minds remains the same), and I'll be much less reticent to use semi-dark-arts on them or otherwise not bother helping or promoting more correct beliefs. I'll start just nodding absentmindedly at whatever "bullcrap" political or religious statements they make, letting them believe they've achieved something and convinced me or whatever they'd like to think, just so I can more efficiently return to doing something else.

Basically, the "source" of my very negative feelings is the intuition (very strong intuition, unfortunately) that their potential instrumental value is not even worth the effort required to fix a mind this broken, even if I had all the required time and resources to actually help each of those cases I encounter and still do whatever other Important Things™ I want/need to do with my life.

That is my true reason. My rationalization is that I have limited resources and time, and so must focus on more cost-effective strategies. Objectively, the rationalization is probably still very very true, and so would make me still choose to not spend all that time and effort helping them, but it is not my original, true reason. It also implies that my behavior is not exactly the same towards them as it would be if that logic were my true chain of reasoning.

All in all, this is one of those things I have as a long-term goal to "fix" once I actually start becoming a half-worthy rationalist, and I consider it an important milestone towards reaching my life goals and becoming a true guardian of my thing to protect. I meant to speak much more at length on this and other personal things once I wrote an intro post in the Welcome topic, but I'm not sure posting there would be appropriate anymore or whether I'll ever actually work myself up to actually write that post.

Edit: Added TLDR at top, because this turned into a fairly long and loaded comment.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T21:13:08.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the explanation.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T14:40:53.949Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless that i'm not extensively answering your entire comment, i still wanted to point out just a little peculiarity:

I can't reasonably discuss that point with a feminist woman, because she's a woman and I'm a man, so I am a priori wrong and attempting to subjugate her by broaching that subject.

I think this seems to imply that for "reasonable discussion" to occur, you must be the one to broach the subject. Is this correct; did you mean to imply that? (I could imagine that either way.)

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T14:50:02.615Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for pointing that out - that wasn't my intention. What I mean is that I can't even participate in any such conversation, regardless of circumstances - only feminist women are even allowed to participate and speak of this (AKA only the informed, righteous victim-saviors have any say in the matter).

Being a man forbids me to say anything. If I disagree on any point, I'm evil. If I agree on any point, I'm attempting to trick them and I'm evil. I'm an enemy soldier and I cannot be allowed, at any cost, to be perceived as even remotely close to anything else than The Enemy. In many cases, even staying silent, nodding, or going away from the discussion is still grounds to condemn me; I'm trying to pretend it doesn't concern me, or showing contempt, or running away to ignore the subject, respectively, in their views.

Obviously this is not the omnipresent case for all feminists. It's just the most common situation (>50%, actually) that occurs whenever I end up in some kind of social setting where it becomes established as common knowledge that one of the women is a Feminist.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T21:04:25.981Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

going away from the discussion is still grounds to condemn me

I find with certain types of people, particularly those inclined towards judgement and control, this going away can prompt the most vigorous condemnation---at least while they are in vocalization range. It is taking their perceived power over you away from them. Fortunately this approach has the side effect that once out of earshot they are condemning you somewhere you don't have to listen to them!

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T21:15:18.027Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've also often noted, watching certain types of people responding this way to third parties disengaging, that the vigorous condemnation is frequently dropped as soon as the party is no longer in earshot.

Perhaps unrelatedly, I'm told the same thing is often true of small children throwing tantrums.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T21:22:17.251Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've also often noted, watching certain types of people responding this way to third parties disengaging, that the vigorous condemnation is frequently dropped as soon as the party is no longer in earshot.

That's good to know. I wasn't there to hear (the instances from the same class that I have experienced in an entirely different part of the world) and directly inquiring usually seems crass.

Perhaps unrelatedly, I'm told the same thing is often true of small children throwing tantrums.

Perhaps unrelated, yes, but do either of us really think them being unrelated is likely? I model them as more or less the same social move.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T21:26:30.147Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

do either of us really think them being unrelated is likely?

Cf earlier comment about mixing your Ask-culture specificity with my Hint-culture ambiguity. Two great tastes that, well...

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T22:22:32.321Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cf earlier comment about mixing your Ask-culture specificity with my Hint-culture ambiguity. Two great tastes that, well...

I may have missed your earlier comment. I implement Ask-culture? That's not something I would identify with. I seems to find some aspects of "Ask-culture" appropriate in some situations but definitely not in others. In fact, a the main times I have seen "Ask-culture" described explicitly the prescribed practices made me viscerally squeamish a the awkwardness and inappropriateness involved.

By the way, I wouldn't have said the quoted excerpt contained much in the way of "ask culture" at all. The question is entirely rhetorical, albeit not the stereotypical "Rhetorical Question(TM)" kind of persuasion tool. Question mark aside there isn't any actual asking going on. It just equivalent to the overt declaration "I agree with what you are hinting at you and feel like explaining the concepts without technically violating violating the 'hint' role-play". So it is certainly being specific but I'd actually call it a violation of ask-culture principles. (I must admit I'm no expert on what ask-culture is so if my impression of what ask-culture is is invalid my conclusion that this doesn't qualify could be wrong.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T22:27:03.010Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The comment I'm referring to is here. It was a rather specialized context, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek to boot, as was this reference to it.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T22:56:08.885Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The comment I'm referring to is here. It was a rather specialized context, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek to boot, as was this reference to it.

Ahh, that kind of 'earlier'. I remember the exchange. There is certainly a -culture difference regarding specificity, even if there doesn't seem to be much 'asking' going on on the wedrifid side of things.

The thing with 'tongue-in-cheek' is that in <wedrifid's>-culture recognizing that something is tongue in cheek doesn't entail an obligation not to make a straight up reply, nor does it prohibit tongue-in-cheek responses. In fact, it encourages both at once if possible. Unfortunately my creativity doesn't suggest any such reply that would fit in this case (the potential ironies are one inferential step too long to fit).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T23:19:36.665Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) I endorse the lack of an obligation not to make a straight-up reply. (Also, that sentence should be taken out and shot.)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-06T01:04:51.233Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I endorse the lack of an obligation not to make a straight-up reply

Hearing that spoken back I wish it used words with a much more subtle and mild connotation that 'obligation'. Unfortunately none sprang to mind either then or now. "Expectation" didn't quite fit either. I mean that thing where the natural flow of the conversation makes a certain kind of response seem like it is the thing that fits.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-06T03:01:19.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"norm"? "convention"?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-06T08:13:45.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Cue"? Or "obligation of a certain X-culture heuristic where that X-culture is itself not obligatory".

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T21:06:53.741Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fortunately this approach has the side effect that once out of earshot they are condemning you somewhere you don't have to listen to them!

So, so true. I used to think it was the "least bad" / optimal choice until I figured out that it was much more Fun™ to just mess with them (and/or break their mind, if you're so inclined).

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T21:15:02.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, so true. I used to think it was the "least bad" / optimal choice until I figured out that it was much more Fun™ to just mess with them (and/or break their mind, if you're so inclined).

You have more patience than I.

Courtesy note to others for DaFranker's benefit: the parent was (probably) written in response to a version of the grandparent that contained only the final sentence. "So, so true" would best be interpreted as applying only to the second (and more important) of the two points I made.

comment by shminux · 2012-10-05T20:40:20.395Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Lately I automatically lower my opinion of anyone who self-identifies with a broad enough group without reservation.

Examples, in roughly descending order of opinion drop:

  • I'm a Democrat/Republican
  • I'm a feminist
  • I'm a patriot
  • I'm a LWer
  • I'm a consequentialist
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-10-05T21:45:08.506Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'm Eliezer Yudkowsky! Do you have any idea how many distinct versions of me there are in Tegmark Levels I through III?

comment by Nominull · 2012-10-05T21:51:19.284Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Don't anthropomorphize humans, and don't identify with yourself.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T23:02:22.932Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm Eliezer Yudkowsky! Do you have any idea how many distinct versions of me there are in Tegmark Levels I through III?

37. Precisely 37. If you disagree then your conception of the identity "Eliezer Yudkowsky" is either too broad or too narrow. (So there!?)

comment by Biophile · 2012-10-05T23:53:23.884Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I just want to say that it was hilariously confusing to see "I'm Eliezer Yudkowsky!" coming from you out of context in the Recent Comments Bar.

comment by kpreid · 2012-10-12T15:24:19.091Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like it would be an improvement to skip blockquotes when producing that summary.

comment by betterthanwell · 2012-10-05T22:06:34.748Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm Eliezer Yudkowsky! Do you have any idea how many distinct versions of me there are in Tegmark Levels I through III?

1?

comment by BerryPick6 · 2012-10-05T22:50:24.544Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Am I the only one seeing a Hebrew letter here? Does א have some numerical significance I'm not aware of?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T22:53:15.662Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No and yes.

comment by shminux · 2012-10-05T21:57:51.078Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

/shudder

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-06T09:29:56.287Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Lately I automatically lower my opinion of anyone who self-identifies with a broad enough group without reservation.

I'm a human. (IOW, I agree with what I think you're thinking of, but I don't think “broad enough” is the actual criterion you're using.)

comment by shminux · 2012-10-06T18:58:56.981Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You are right, the idea of a group becomes meaningless at the two extremes. I need to rethink this. Thanks.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-06T09:47:05.162Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a human. (IOW, I agree with what I think you're thinking of, but I don't think “broad enough” is the actual criterion you're using.)

I got the same impression. 'Broad' can actually make the identification issue less significant (sometimes).

comment by drethelin · 2012-10-05T21:31:26.286Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm meta-contrarian

comment by shminux · 2012-10-05T21:41:30.630Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

hipster!

comment by drethelin · 2012-10-05T21:53:36.918Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

HIPSTERRRRRR

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T21:03:31.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Out of curiosity, where do "I'm a humanist" and "I'm a transhumanist" scale?

But yes, outright claiming membership gratuitously for pretty much any wide group without further descriptors or evidence that this affiliation is somehow relevant to the discussion is usually not something to look favorably upon.

I wouldn't quite say it in itself lowers my opinion score of someone, but it might give me some light evidence towards adopting a lower-opinion-estimate model of that someone, which effectively would reduce the "expected opinion for that expected mental model".

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T21:25:47.127Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Out of curiosity, where do "I'm a humanist" and "I'm a transhumanist" scale?

Prediction: Either immediately above or immediately below "feminist".

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-05T16:14:16.779Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's just the most common situation (>50%, actually) that occurs whenever I end up in some kind of social setting where it becomes established as common knowledge that one of the women is a Feminist.

You're referring to meatspace situations?

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T16:30:14.234Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Meatspace-only for what I describe in this particular thread.

I've only had three cyberspace interactions with "ID'd-as" female feminists, or so they claimed, and two of these were both trollish and obviously a one-sided preacher throwing regular rage at The Internet with whatever topic they had in mind, while the other was, well, at the time already a much better rationalist than I was, wasn't primarily a "feminist" so much as having that as one of her colors, and is otherwise a subject I'm not quite ready to discuss on LessWrong (a melancholy story of grief and loved ones).

Basically, they're not even valid data points as far as I can tell, for reasons that might not be clear or obvious for the third case but would probably require much more detail than I'm willing to go into to explain why.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-05T17:01:56.787Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I've had the opposite experience you had.

With the exception of a certain professor, all the feminists I've met in meatspace have been friendly people who are open to discussing their beliefs with skeptical men. If a man describes how he's been hurt by gender prejudice, they will listen sympathetically. On the other hand, the anti-feminists I've met are far less likely to listen to women talk about misogyny, and will often try and shut down debate. It's kind of infuriating actually. This is why I refer to myself as a feminist whenever there is an anti-feminist in the room.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T15:19:35.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW, were I a moderate feminist who ordinarily does not treat men as The Enemy and is interested in maintaining discourse with both men and women, and I heard someone express these sentiments the way you express them here, my emotional reaction would be to treat that speaker as The Enemy.

That's not to say, of course, that your observations are being significantly influenced by your own behavior... it may be that you don't in any way express this attitude in the social settings you're making the observations in, for example, or it may be that the hypothetical reaction I describe above is atypical, or various other things might be true.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T15:32:36.278Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I've unfortunately fallen into that "trap" at least once.

However, the observations persist after modifying the behavior I attempt to output. Either I fail in a somewhat spectacular manner and there's a hard denial-of-denial bomb preventing me from noticing that I'm always acting in such a manner (though I would expect this mechanism to be much more widespread and not restricted specifically to "feminism", which is far from a particularly important point of focus for me among other possible points of focus).

My observations point to a strong causal link between such behavior and the response, but it seems like a sufficient cause, and by far not a required one. The example things I've mentioned (agreeing, disagreeing, nodding, staying silent, going away) are things I've actually tried in separate occasions, as my very first reaction to the topic, if my memory isn't being blurred, and they had the results described. My memory suggests two or three of those might have happened with the same person simply at separate times, but I'm not certain.

Overall, I think the hypothetical reaction you describe might pass a turing test, but I'm throwing that at my own mental emulator, so it's not much of a confirmation. Your mental model seems better detailed than mine, too.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T15:46:59.052Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Your mental model seems better detailed than mine, too.

I mostly start from my actual, real-life reactions around low-status groups I've been part of, and ask myself how I would react in analogous situations.

For example, I'm queer, and I've many times had the experience of being in a room full of (nominally) straight guys talking about queers. I'm Jewish, and I've a few times had the experience of listening to Gentiles talk about Jews. I'm Hispanic, and have had the experience of listening to a White community discuss Hispanics. Etc.

That's not at all the same thing as being female in a room full of men talking about women, but there are some illustrative similarities.

One thing I think generalizes, for example, is that after a few traumatic experiences along those lines it's emotionally difficult to keep giving people the benefit of the doubt, and emotionally easy to treat new people as homophobic or antiSemitic or racist or sexist or what-have-you until and unless they do something active to demonstrate that they aren't.

Another thing I think generalizes is that one does get better at identifying non-verbal cues. For example, I've had the experience several times of thinking that someone was uncomfortable with my sexuality despite them seeming to do all the right things superficially, and later having them confirm that yes, at the time they had been uncomfortable. (Of course, I've also much more often had the experience of thinking that and not having it confirmed. I merely claim that correctly reading nonverbal cues is possible, not that my reading of nonverbal cues is reliable, let alone infallible.)

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T16:21:41.127Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One thing I think generalizes, for example, is that after a few traumatic experiences along those lines it's emotionally difficult to keep giving people the benefit of the doubt, and emotionally easy to treat new people as homophobic or antiSemitic or racist or sexist or what-have-you until and unless they do something active to demonstrate that they aren't.

This pattern-matches very gracefully with my experiences and observations. As I mention in another response, it seems likely that I've encountered almost only a certain kind of feminists that has a very personal near-mode emotional reaction to men.

Besides being a "geek" with slight social disregard from social circles I had no interest in during high school, I fortunately never had those situations you describe. I happened to have all the right skills to avoid being marginalized for what few outlier qualities I had. Thus, despite pattern-matching with many of the qualities of the stereotypical bullied frail school nerd, I don't particularly identify well with them and my mental model of them is much worse than people would expect.

My own mental model of feminists was derived mostly from my generalized mental model of "people", with the "ideologist" module added, and whatever empathic cues and type-1 intuitions I've had during interactions with them. Recent events on LessWrong allowed me to update this model quite a bit with a lot more evidence, but it still feels very incomplete and vague.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T17:02:16.151Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) Makes sense. Certainly, my own level of compassion for and understanding of people experiencing various levels of post-traumatic response increased enormously after I went through traumatic experiences of my own. I don't think it's necessary, nor is it sufficient, but it helps.

I suppose the question is, is it worth it to you to do the work to develop analogous properties in the absence of those "advantages," or not?

If it isn't and you don't, that's of course a choice you're free to make, but it ought not surprise you that your subsequent interactions with certain classes of people won't go as smoothly as they would if you did.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-05T20:27:53.156Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If I disagree on any point, I'm evil. If I agree on any point, I'm attempting to trick them and I'm evil. I'm an enemy soldier and I cannot be allowed, at any cost, to be perceived as even remotely close to anything else than The Enemy. In many cases, even staying silent, nodding, or going away from the discussion is still grounds to condemn me; I'm trying to pretend it doesn't concern me, or showing contempt, or running away to ignore the subject, respectively, in their views.

My reaction to that would likely be to stop worrying about them thinking that I'm evil, and possibly to start pissing them off on purpose just for the fun of it.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T20:58:22.941Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hehe. Once you realize that someone has condemned you guilty a priori, there's all kinds of nifty semi-Dark Arts tricks you can do.

My favorite is to begin agreeing with them more and more anyway, granting them authority and righteousness inch by inch even though it fuels their knowledge that I'm Evil, until I've lured them all the way into a fanatical position that is obviously absurd even to them.

At which point a simple "Yes, you've been right all along!" with a smile is usually all it takes for them to shut up and start agreeing with me instead - their mind is too busy trying to figure out what went wrong to protest, and the autopilot tells them to comply with whatever authority happens to bother telling them anything.

Of course, the effect is temporary, but you usually manage to slip in a few positive beliefs into their subconscious during that window of opportunity.

I'm curious what other LWers think of behaviors like this. I don't trust myself enough yet to ask myself the question (i.e. do a proper crisis of faith), and I fear more rationalization might make me sink into a very dangerous hole if this happens to be a Very Bad™ thing to do. It's something I've been doing (and enjoyed doing) since my early teens, after all. I even have a 'nickname' for it: Shadowdancing.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T21:19:17.841Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious what other LWers think of behaviors like this.

Roughly, I think it's usually an example of using other people for my own entertainment at a sometimes marginal, sometimes significant cost to them. There are many worse things I can do, and it's not worth a lot of drama, but on balance I don't endorse it, I tend to disengage with people I perceive as trying it on me or people I care about, and I tend to think less of people I perceive as habitually doing it.

That said, I think the skill can be extremely valuable as a teaching technique under the right circumstances, if one chooses to (and is able to) use it that way.

comment by shminux · 2012-10-05T21:10:42.480Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A variation of this is to start with a more radical position to begin with, such as "all men should be segregated and kept in stud farms, with the sperm artificially extracted as needed". This helps them define the far boundary of their own radicalism.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T21:24:01.322Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A variation of this is to start with a more radical position to begin with, such as "all men should be segregated and kept in stud farms, with the sperm artificially extracted as needed".

You had me up until "artificial".

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-06T09:25:08.676Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh my... I don't think I've ever intentionally done anything like that, though something similar might have happened by accident (e.g., because I had failed Poe's law and had people not recognize my sarcasm as such).

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T15:32:22.337Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(Sorry for the reply being so long rather than more concise, i'm aware my texts almost routinely get out of hand.)

What I mean is that I can't even participate in any such conversation, regardless of circumstances - only feminist women are even allowed to participate and speak of this [...]

I am not opposed to principles like these if they are applied in such contexts that it appears "sensible". And in most social settings (you didn't mention any specific kinds apart from "where it becomes established [...]" and i don't want to speculate) it is probably what i would deem sensible. But this does not extend to all circumstances.

From the little i have read so far i think the conversations that you want to have could be both interesting and fruitful, maybe even for all participants, in an apt context. (Note this as A.) But this context might need to be, from a feminist perspective, expressly intended as reaching out to you-as-a-man. (I didn't write "you", because it does not only concern/consider you personally. I didn't write "men", because in this case the topic is centred on you.)

And such a context must be either offered to you (this would probably be the better case), or you have to ask for it diffidently. You are probably aware of how feminists (as in "feminist women") typically reject what they feel to come across as a (social) demand from a man. (Note this as B.)

It follows that while i consider it desirable to actualise the conversation you wish for (see A), no one in particular is responsible for ever actualising it (see B). This is unfortunate (more for you than for me) but i don't know a better solution, working from my premises.

(As you're aware, alternatives that might be easier to implement exist, for instance carrying out the conversation with men other than you which are (pro-)feminist, but this wasn't the topic here.)

I'm an enemy soldier and I cannot be allowed, at any cost, to be perceived as even remotely close to anything else than The Enemy.

In my personal (social) experiences, feminists overall are not as vicious most of the time =)

But i don't know how well you personally know how many feminists of which kinds of feminism, so that impression might well be useless to you. I still include it because i'm optimistic like that sometimes.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T16:07:58.250Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, some recent hindsight analysis (during the eridu radical-feminist debacle) allowed me to notice that it seems highly likely that nearly all female feminists I've encountered in person with common knowledge of such were mostly of the kind that had one or few strong very bad near-type personal experiences with men, or many small but memorable such near-type experiences. The kinds you'd probably expect from a stereotypical scenario of "The Father is Master and Law of the House" or a poor waitress working late shifts at a café on the same street corner as a strip club.

So in my case I probably wasn't dealing only with "feminists", but at the same time with individuals taken with a widespread personal fear or anger towards men, in nearly all the cases that produced these kinds of strong reactions. This might be due to statistical coincidence (not that particularly unlikely) or to some behavior that causes other types of feminists to not identify themselves as such when dealing with me, or to some other cause.

It may very well be that the A scenario you describe actually does happen to me sometimes, but with the other participant(s) simply not identifying themselves as feminists at all. If so, I either never ran them through my mental model of feminists for a pattern-matching, reverse-ideological-turing-test thinghy, or my model is sufficiently incorrect/imprecise that they actually failed said test.

In my personal (social) experiences, feminists overall are not as vicious most of the time =)

I kind of suspected this to be the case, because if the contrary were true, the feminist movement as a whole would be spectacularly self-hindering and shooting itself in the foot constantly, since such behavior as I've observed would basically cause very destructive conflict and wouldn't actually help further their goals.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T17:10:41.228Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

allowed me to notice that it seems highly likely that nearly all female feminists I've encountered in person with common knowledge of such were mostly of the kind that had one or few strong very bad near-type personal experiences with men, or many small but memorable such near-type experiences.

Depending on how bad you consider "very bad" and how memorable you consider "memorable" as to make this "kind" be applicable to a woman, it might be the case that a significant part of all women (regardless whether feminist) are of this kind. There might even be studies or what backing such claims up, though right now i'm not inclined to search for any.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T17:30:17.312Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I actually do vaguely remember two studies which, if memory serves, did back this up. One of them was attempting to establish a correlation between the frequency + 'strength'(?) of these experiences and the ability to have or frequency of having female orgasms - as an apparent follow-up to an earlier study that had established certain "impressive" statistical numbers for the latter.

If I interpreted the numbers correctly, it would imply that it's usually on the order of 30% to 50% (depending on geographical location as correlated to social customs and culture).

I note that the above is probably not a very accurate picture of reality, since it's all from memory and I'm most likely applying all kinds of biases and heuristics to it subconsciously before accessing said memories.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T18:39:53.058Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

attempting to establish a correlation between [...] and the ability to have or frequency of having [orgasms]

Sorry, there was some sort of malfunction that made me not appreciate the worth of that study in an overt way any longer after reading this part.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-06T12:41:14.470Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, some recent hindsight analysis (during the eridu radical-feminist debacle) allowed me to notice that it seems highly likely that nearly all female feminists I've encountered in person with common knowledge of such were mostly of the kind that had one or few strong very bad near-type personal experiences with men, or many small but memorable such near-type experiences. The kinds you'd probably expect from a stereotypical scenario of "The Father is Master and Law of the House" or a poor waitress working late shifts at a café on the same street corner as a strip club.

More generally, I'm starting to suspect that most extremists might be Generalizing from One Example, e.g. that antinatalists are unhappy with their lives and kind-of assume that everyone else is.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T16:31:39.787Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(during the eridu radical-feminist debacle)

I don't know that 'debacle' and there seems to be a lot of content that could be part of it (you meant something in the comments of this same article apparently). If you think it is very relevant, i'd be grateful for one or several specific links to start from.

allowed me to notice that it seems highly likely that nearly all female feminists I've encountered in person with common knowledge of such were mostly of the kind that had one or few strong very bad near-type personal experiences with men, or many small but memorable such near-type experiences.

Where can i find out what "near-type" means here? This appears important enough to postpone my reply to this part.

because if the contrary were true, the feminist movement as a whole would be spectacularly self-hindering and shooting itself in the foot constantly, since such behavior as I've observed would basically cause very destructive conflict and wouldn't actually help further their goals.

I didn't mean it in that way. And i think the feminist movement, as a whole or in part, doesn't necessarily want to be lightly told by men what behaviour is or is not "furthering their goals" =P

(This instance seems to me like one in which you did so lightly, because it didn't seem highly relevant / on-topic.)

comment by metaphysicist · 2012-10-05T16:51:33.179Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Where can i find out what "near-type" means here?

It refers to "near-mode," which is jargon in construal-level theory for "construed concretely." So in context, it means direct and involving personal experience, as opposed to reading or discussing abstractly.

Robin Hanson applies construal-level theory speculatively in numerous posts at Overcoming Bias. A concise summary of construal-level theory can be found in my posting "Construal-level theory: Matching linguistic register to the case's granularity.".

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T16:58:04.263Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. For now i'll work with your explanation for this context specifically.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T16:55:32.378Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

i'd be grateful for one or several specific links to start from.

It's difficult, because many of eridu's comments were "deleted" by site mods who very much wanted that discussion to stop. I suspect your best bet is to browse their user page (where the comments remain visible) if you're really interested, but roughly speaking: eridu self-identified as a radical feminist who endorsed dismantling patriarchy, and ended up in a very confrontational series of exchanges with several LW contributors that were widely considered low-value.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T17:25:34.676Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

and ended up in a very confrontational series of exchanges with several LW contributors that were widely considered low-value.

I certainly considered them low value but to be fair the reception was mixed. Some went as far as to say it was the best and most informative discussion of any related concepts that they had seen on lesswrong. This confused some people but there was definitely a non-trivial minority who valued it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T17:38:19.685Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) Yes, this is absolutely true, and worth saying explicitly. Thanks.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T21:10:55.043Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. This contains some very interesting parts.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T16:40:41.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Where can i find out what "near-type" means here? This appears important enough to postpone my reply to this part.

Near mode, Far mode - In rough vulgarization, Near mode is immediate observation and sensation, Far mode is abstract knowledge of something.

As for that last, yeah. I was merely spelling out my own reasoning. Saying something like that is exactly the kind of behavior I'd expect to cause the kind of reactions / treatment / behavior I've described in earlier posts.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T17:02:03.629Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In rough vulgarization, Near mode is immediate observation and sensation, Far mode is abstract knowledge of something.

Thanks.

Saying something like that is exactly the kind of behavior I'd expect to cause the kind of reactions / treatment / behavior I've described in earlier posts.

It's good to know that you know that. Your wording here might mildly suggest that you disagree with such reactions to that behaviour on some level, but i might just be imagining that. And either way it's not of much relevance.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T17:16:20.024Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your wording here might mildly suggest that you disagree with such reactions to that behaviour on some level, but i might just be imagining that.

Nice catch there.

Yes, I do believe that the reaction is sub-optimal, and that there are better ways to handle these cases that would apparently further their cause faster. However, my model of all this is incomplete, so I'm most likely not entirely right, and I'd probably never voice that opinion outside of a context like this one.

Note that I don't think the reaction is "wrong" or "negative", but ISTM that there are probably other alternatives with similar cost and better utilitarian results.

Your own reaction seems like a good example of a much more productive reaction, but it does have some rather limiting contextual requirements.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T18:48:42.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nice catch there.

Took me until after i'd read it the second or third time, but once it's recognised, it seems fairly intuitive to me that it might have been intended.

Your own reaction seems like a good example of a much more productive reaction, but it does have some rather limiting contextual requirements.

I'm not sure i understand which reaction you mean. And my best (only?) guess on the contextual requirements is the context of this conversation on this platform (or: community), but i'm even less certain here, so i would like to ask you to please make both points more explicit.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-04T17:10:37.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do the feminists say on that subject? Would that pass the test?

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T14:15:25.103Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If we simplify away some major disagreements between different feminisms, then i think that per definition an actual feminist's statements on feminism would pass an "ideological Turing test" that tests for feminism, excepting false negatives. (This is not exactly the test's purpose of course.)

Are you also interested in what i would suggest "submitting" to the test in this case specifically?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-05T17:00:09.553Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

per definition an actual feminist's statements on feminism would pass an "ideological Turing test" that tests for feminism, excepting false negatives

Be careful with that by definition thing. I find it highly plausible that an ideologies own arguments could be interpreted as satire if there were impostor-suspicion (which the test would cause).

I feel like I can't say this without it being interpreted as a jab at feminism, but I think such a test where you arouse a bit of suspicion and then play back some arguments and see if they are accepted or accused of satire would be a good discriminator of something (I'm not sure what). What would it mean when an ideologies arguments can't be taken seriously unless you're sure the speaker is sincere?

Are you also interested in what i would suggest "submitting" to the test in this case specifically?

Yeah. I know I can't charitably describe the arguments for the idea that discrimination against historically privileged groups is not a thing, so I fall back on weak pattern matching. The statement above that started this seemed a plausible candidate, from what I know of feminism.

I'd be interested what real feminists would say on the issue, (and then whether that would be accepted by other feminists as representative of the ideology).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T17:30:24.735Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What would it mean when an ideologies arguments can't be taken seriously unless you're sure the speaker is sincere?

Well... OK, consider the following distinct but related pattern.

I do in fact believe that the reason the government ought, as a rule, not take infant children away from their parents and feed them to baby-eating aliens is that the consequences of doing so would probably be negative. But if someone were to nod their head in my direction at a party and say, in a conversation, "Of course Dave here probably thinks the reason the government shouldn't kidnap my babies and feed them to aliens is because the consequences of doing so would probably be negative," I would conclude I was being ridiculed. (I would probably conclude that I was being playfully ridiculed, aka "teased", rather than seriously ridiculed, though of course it would depend on the circumstances.)

So what does it mean when my own positions can be quoted back at me accurately in order to successfully ridicule me?

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T17:54:27.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find it highly plausible that an ideologies own arguments could be interpreted as satire if there were impostor-suspicion (which the test would cause).

I was aware (though i didn't think it through to that it might be interpreted as satire). But the ideological Turing test has been described as a conversation with six candidates, so in this thought experiment the five other feminists would also be suspected, not just the one we're testing. (The readers i understand to initially have no reason to particularly suspect any of the six more than any other.)

And in a way, that one feminist doesn't differ from the other five. Indeed she could have equally well be selected as one of the five instead. (It is unclear to me whether we would tell the tested feminist that she is being tested.)

I feel like I can't say this without it being interpreted as a jab at feminism,

Well, personally, i love good jabs at feminism! And "good" here does not necessitate "nice".

but I think such a test where you arouse a bit of suspicion and then play back some arguments and see if they are accepted or accused of satire would be a good discriminator of something (I'm not sure what). What would it mean when an ideologies arguments can't be taken seriously unless you're sure the speaker is sincere?

You seem to leave out who the readers are supposed to be, and what kind of qualification about the ideology they would have to have. Ignoring that omission and assuming an arbitrarily "competent" reader, it would presumably mean that the ideology tends to be rather silly?

I know I can't charitably describe the arguments for the idea that discrimination against historically privileged groups is not a thing,

I think i also can't charitably describe arguments for that idea, as it hinges too much on something "historical". This is an inaccurate position to begin with, so the failure to argue well for it is not relevant. I mentioned some of this in an earlier comment. Quoting myself from there:

[...] i still believe that it would not pass, as i noted in my parens remark. This is because i think that none of "[institutional] power" or "prejudice" [against a group] can adequately be described as "historical disadvantage" alone. When they write "institutional power" as well as "power plus prejudice", they decidedly are not referring to something that lies purely in the past (indeed the present-day components are arguably the most important, though not the only interesting, ones) . The adjective "historical" in your usage seems to me to be incompatible to that.

This applies similarly to your wording regarding "historically privileged groups" (regardless that it is a variation on the "historical disadvantage").

I'd be interested what real feminists would say on the issue,

Well, it is said that there's one in my mind.

(and then whether that would be accepted by other feminists as representative of the ideology).

This is complicated by differing flavours of feminism, which i mentioned in your comment's parent (to handwave them away for the thought experiment).

I think that core statements i make about my feminism would usually be accepted "as representative of the ideology" (both feminism generally or my kind of feminism) by some people close to me, which happen to have similar ideological views. (How could that happen?!)

At the same time, it is plausible that lots of feminists would disagree. Hence claiming to be accepted "as representative of" the entirety of feminism might be very misleading then. Accepted by whom? Some majority of arbitrarily selected readers?

Anyway, when i initially wrote your comment's parent, i prepared my actual "submission" to the test already (but then decided to delay sending it). So here it is, adjusted:

[My] rationale for the 'one-sided' definition of sexism would be more along the lines of the mentioned "prejudice plus power", or "institutional power", or, say, "structures of kyriarchal (here incidentally also: patriarchal) domination which are frequently propagated by (plausibly subconscious) socio-cultural memetic effects which normalise/privilege particular traits".

I made up half of that last one, naturally. I consider this entire blurb relevant to the sexism definition because just "institutional power" seems too vague and hence could be misleading. The last one (my true one ?) traces more of the underlying ideology, or at least more explicitly.

Most feminists tend to be less verbose in a context like this.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T17:36:15.450Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, would a Turing test be as meaningful if you introduced, beforehand and for this specific case, strong evidence or suspicions that the other party is probably an experimental conversation simulator?

I think it's fair to assume the same implicit conditionals for ideological Turing tests (the person says it with sufficient conditions, the "tester" doesn't have any previous evidence for this specific situation, etc.) as for vanilla Turing tests.

In that way, I would conduct an ideological Turing test by having both parties meet for the first time, introduce themselves both as members of the ideology (perhaps implicitly), and then executing the behavior or saying the statement that needs to pass the test, for the kind of cases you described.

I figure it's pretty much all into how "hard" or "strict" you want to make the test.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-10-04T16:39:36.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is an ideological turing test?

EDIT: thanks, got it.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-04T16:58:46.797Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What is an ideological turing test?

Bryan Caplan's explanation, courtesy of google.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-10-04T16:58:28.618Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It refers to this post by Bryan Caplan.

comment by TimS · 2012-10-04T16:54:43.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Makes more sense to say "ideological purity test." But since that is nothing like a Turing test, I notice I am also confused.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-04T17:22:54.768Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A Turing test is when a computer tries to impersonate a human. An ideological Turing test is when a person who doesn't hold an ideology tries to impersonate a person who holds the ideology.

Is the analogy more clear now?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-04T17:29:35.080Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A Turing test is when a computer tries to impersonate a human. An ideological Turing test is when a person who doesn't hold an ideology tries to impersonate a person who holds the ideology.

Is the analogy more clear now?

I liked it. Close to as clear, concise as you could hope to be.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-04T17:28:29.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So if I get this right, a certain statement "passing" an ideological Turing test is when if a person "says" the statement (with the right conviction and behavior) to someone who actually follows the target "ideology" (which I assume is to be inferred from the context, e.g. radical feminists), that latter person will believe the former to be part of this ideology?

Person A: [Statement S]
Ideologist: You're an ideologist!
(S passes i-Turing test)

Person B: [Statement T]
Ideologist: (IsIdeologist(B) remains neutral or goes down)
(T fails i-Turing test)

EDIT: Formatted the image-example a bit better.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-04T17:40:48.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Got it.

But I wasn't referring to radical feminists. The "sexism requires historical disadvantage" view is common (though not universal) in mainstream feminist circles. It is the view of Finally Feminism 101, which is probably the largest feminist blog aimed at non-feminist readers. It was also taught at my university.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-04T18:17:01.064Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

More generally, the idea that taking a potentially damaging action with respect to a vulnerable target is morally distinguishable from taking the exact same action against a well-defended target is relatively uncontroversial even without reference to feminism at all.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-04T17:44:03.207Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, that puts in context what you were talking about. Radical feminists is just the first thing that was mentally available when I looked for "identifiable ideological social group".

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T14:22:24.670Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you're willing to do me a favour, please list at least a few buzzwords or (basic) concepts which you would spontaneously ascribe to radical feminism but not or less so to other feminisms. (This implies not looking up anything about it before sending the comment.)

Anyone else can feel free to do so as well, of course, though in that case i suggest you also shouldn't read any answers to this request before fulfilling it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T15:31:19.051Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The basic concept I associate differentially with "radical" feminism is that the whole idea of gender is so pernicious and pervasive that I can't get anywhere worth being as long as I operate in a framework that supports it; a necessary first step is discarding the idea of gender and everything that supports or depends on it.

To use a local comparison, I consider the relationship between ordinary feminism and radical feminism roughly analogous to the relationship between "human brains and institutions are irrational, so if we wish to rid ourselves of irrationality (which we ought to wish, since irrationality causes suffering) we need to do a lot of careful work" and "human brains and institutions are insurmountably irrational, and trying to improve our rationality using those irrational brains and institutions is a waste of time; the only way to significantly reduce irrationality is to eradicate existing brains and institutions and replace them with something better."

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T16:16:16.844Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a fairly good description of that concept, and how it is related to radical feminism. Not that i know: while i'm somewhat interested in radical feminism, i can't honestly claim to be a radical feminist. (I do claim to have some radical views and some feminist views... but that combination doesn't necessarily result in the radical feminism.)

I don't know about your comparison. I believe that (i don't understand radical feminism well enough) or (i don't understand the local topic well enough) or (your comparison doesn't fit well). And i can't think of more useful criticism now.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T16:49:00.461Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just to be clear, I'm not a radical feminist either, nor any kind of expert, I'm just sharing the best model I've got.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T14:43:17.642Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Overthrow", "Patriarchy", "pervasive", "pernicious", "subconscious motive", "you're wrong and harmful and won't even know how/why nor can stop it until you're part of us" (arguably not specific to radical feminism, lots of cults and ideological groups throw around this form of argument, but it doesn't seem present in non-radical feminist circles in my experience).

The rest is mostly a central accusatory behavior: Everyone is guilty and should feel such until they're perfect examples of ideal radical feminists. No matter how careful they are, if they're not the exact model of a radical feminist, they're doing tons of social damage.

Note that most of my impression of "radical feminism" comes from a few google searches, the whole debacle centered around eridu in Yvain's Worst Argument in the World article, and some fairly one-sided references that eridu gave, a few of which were scientific enough for me to take seriously. I'm probably not the best person to paint a clear picture of the ideology and I probably wouldn't pass an ideological turing test, but if you're looking for a "what most laypeople probably think", this might be pretty close.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T16:54:39.779Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for this.

  • The term "patriarchy" is commonly used by feminists other than radical ones.

  • The term "pervasive" is commonly used by me (i'm also not a radical feminist), not only in reference to (traditional) sexism. And more on topic, i think i read it now and then from many non-radical feminists as well.

  • I had to look up a translation for "pernicious" in a dictionary. This indicates that before i rarely if ever read it at all, even in some content i read that's authored by self-described radical feminists. Interesting.

  • I'm not used to the combination "subconscious motive", but claims of something that can be (and is) called subconscious going on, and that this propagates sexism, are fairly common in my corners of feminism.

  • Stances such as "you're wrong and harmful [...]" are fairly common among various radical groups (here the term radical on its own instead of as in radical feminism only). In wider feminism they might indeed be less common, or at least less commonly expressed (to you).

  • I think your characterisation of the "central accusatory behaviour" is an understatement. Radical feminists as far as i can tell seem to share my opinion that an ideal rejection of (othering/normative) societal indoctrination is "impossible" to attain currently (or more precisely: impractical).

the whole debacle centered around eridu in Yvain's Worst Argument in the World article,

Ah, the debacle again (or was this comment written earlier than your other one i answered? eh). Still not inclined enough to search for the relevant content all on my own, though.

I'm probably not the best person to paint a clear picture of the ideology and I probably wouldn't pass an ideological turing test,

I assumed so. So that's exactly what interested me in my request.

but if you're looking for a "what most laypeople probably think", this might be pretty close.

I'm ambivalent about that. At first i thought your articulation, if inaccurate, seemed closer to the truth than "what most laypeople probably think". Rereading your text now i don't really find anything to support that, though. But it's interesting material for me nonetheless!

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T17:33:34.403Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Pernicious" is an awesome word too rarely used.
That said, I don't find it more often used by feminists than by anyone else.
If you don't mind saying, what is your preferred language?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T18:10:17.745Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Pernicious" is an awesome word too rarely used.

Agreed. If only there were more situations where I could use it (without, you know, there actually being more pernicious things about because that'd be bad.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T18:18:02.397Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose we could go around describing various things as "not especially pernicious"?

Because our speech patterns are, of course, insufficiently atypical.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-05T18:25:13.865Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose we could go around describing various things as "not especially pernicious"?

True! This idea isn't pernicious at all! (Well, maybe a little pernicious but I still like it.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T18:41:39.748Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sadly, likable but slightly pernicious ideas are... well, you know.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T18:34:26.556Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you don't mind saying, what is your preferred language?

I don't, but first you have to choose whether you want:

  1. the mathematician's answer only,

  2. the short answer, or

  3. the long answer.

(Lower-numbered answers are presumably included.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T18:40:08.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hee! Um. If the long answer takes more than 5 minutes to write, I want the short answer; otherwise the long answer.

comment by t-E · 2012-10-05T19:05:50.693Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In my great foresight i already basically wrote up the long one before deciding to go with the above, so i'll just finish that now.

what is your preferred language?

That would be English.

In case that wasn't what you meant to learn: i was raised with German as my first and only language. At eleven years old, i began learning English at a German secondary school. A few years later (uncertain how many exactly) i began to actually learn English, outside school, mostly using literature and internet content. And yes that's primarily written language. Speaking and listening to spoken English remains more difficult for me (seldom practice that) but i have been complimented on my wordiness even in that.

I could have looked up an entry for "pernicious" in an English dictionary just as easily as a translation. Using translations most of the time is now out of habit rather than necessity.

My preference for English isn't universal (so the first line is a bit contrived) but for written content especially net-wise, i do now prefer reading and writing English most of the time. The preference is certainly informed by jargon both in software development and obscure variants of feminism etc being primarily available to me in English. (Software jargon is typically used as untranslated English loan words in modern German today, and about feminism jargon in German i don't even know because i too seldom examine that.)

And yes i'm well aware that i deviate from English language norms, most notably in not capitalising some pronoun, quote mark usage, using too many commas, generally many long and unwiedly run-on sentences, and using "complicated" words often. Guess which of these won't stand out here and is the last one. Some of the listed quirks are my conscious decisions, others are my conscious decisions not to do much against them.

That's everything relevant i can think of now. So that was the long answer!

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T17:43:00.490Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I merely found it to have been used much more often in the sophisticated radical feminist writings than in the sophisticated moderate feminist ones (six to one, to be precise).

It's probably a rare coincidence that I saw it that often, but it does seem to very appropriately catch/resume things said in less erudite words by the rest of the radical feminist stuff I've read.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-05T17:46:27.352Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I see. Yes, that makes sense... the idea that the patriarchy is pervasive and pernicious is a lot of what supports the idea that eliminating the patriarchy is a necessary first step, an idea differentially associated with radical feminism. (Indeed, if I replace "patriarchy" with "current social order" it's differentially associated with radicals of all sorts.)

comment by DaFranker · 2012-10-05T17:51:22.021Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would infer that to be true, yes. It's just that (radical) feminism and (radical) nazism are my only concrete data points on this.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-05T07:00:18.854Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I want to respond to James G's critique of this post. First because it was pretty intense, second because I usually enjoy reading his blog, and third because maybe other people have the same objection. I'm doing it here because his blog is closed to comments.

There is no basis to allege that everyone who says, “affirmative action is racist” is trying to position “affirmative action” in the very heart of the “racism” cluster. Clusters-in-thingspace, especially nebulous ones like “racism”, are huge volumes. That affirmative action belongs somewhere in this volume, rather than well outside, is a claim worth making even if affirmative action isn’t a central member...Affirmative action is racist!” draws attention to a cartographic error. “Affirmative action” shouldn’t be remote from “racism”; it is a marginal member of the racism cluster.

I would ask James why exactly we're trying to create a "racism" cluster to begin with. Are we ontologists who place things in categories for fun in our spare time? If so, his cartographic metaphor is apt; we're just trying to draw a map of conceptspace and we should be politely reminded that "affirmative action" is in the wrong part.

But in fact, our real reason for drawing a "racism" cluster is to make hidden inferences (see the section titled "Hidden Inferences" here). Most people see Hitler, the KKK, and South Africa, and decide racism is bad. Therefore, anything in the "racism" cluster is bad. Therefore, most people who want to draw maps of racism are not disinterested cartographers but people trying to convince others that something is bad because it is in that cluster.

To give an example, suppose a mapinguary is trying to lure you into the Amazon jungle to eat you. "Come to the city of Cayenne", it says. "It's in France, so you'll be perfectly safe." You reflect that France is in fact way up in Europe and not covered in jungle at all. So you go to Cayenne and it turns out you're in French Guyana and the mapinguary eats you.

The advice that you should place Cayenne in France is useful for cartographers but dangerous for people who don't want to be eaten by mapinguaries. While I agree with the philosophical point that not all French territories must agree with our archetypal example of France and that Cayenne is a perfectly acceptable marginal example of Frenchness, the practical point is that on the only criterion we're interested in, safety from mapinguaries, Cayenne defies all the inferences we could be expected to make from its Frenchness. Furthermore, the whole reason it was brought up was the hope you would make these bad inferences. It is not always bad and irrational to note that Cayenne is in France, but this particular example was, and there are some things that are such marginal category members that one can in practice be pretty sure the reference is motivated.

I think I agree with you that sometimes "affirmative action is racism" can be useful as a slogan if you believe many of the same features that make the KKK bad also make affirmative action bad; I guess it would be sort of an opener for the discussion "List the reasons you don't like the KKK; now look and you'll see that many of those same things are true of affirmative action." This seems legitimate to me if it's true.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of people who hate the KKK for reasons that don't apply at all to affirmative action, yet who might still feel they have to dislike affirmative action merely because it's in the category "racism". Trying to trick them into this is the Worst Argument in the World.

This is kind of tricky since in a lot of cases maybe there are ten reasons someone dislikes the KKK, and affirmative action shares only one of these reasons. So it's not completely dishonest, as it may be an honest attempt to point out the one feature both genuinely share. But it's hardly advisable either, especially if we don't expect the person to be able to keep in working memory that nine of the ten reasons they dislike racism don't apply to affirmative action.

I want to eventually retitle this "Guilt by Association Fallacy" (or something) and rewrite it a bit (with that eighth anti-liberal example I promised sewing-machine) but I'll wait for all the criticism to come in, especially Konkvistador's.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-09-05T09:13:16.209Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I want to eventually retitle this "Guilt by Association Fallacy" (or something)

Please do! Please do! "The Worst Argument in the World" is the Worst Name for an Argument in the World. It's like someone describing a film as "the best film ever made", when all it is is the most recent one they saw that made a big impression.

And while I'm on the subject, "Fundamental Attribution Error" is just as bad. Could people practice calling it the Trait Attribution Error instead?

comment by Unnamed · 2012-09-05T11:19:17.863Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. For me it brings to mind Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" segment, which is not a good sign. It's not so bad if it's done with a wink in a one-off blog post, but I wouldn't want it to stick or be used more widely.

"Worst Argument in the World" seems like a particularly inappropriate label here, because it's generous to even call these sorts of slogans "arguments." Saying "Abortion is murder!" or "Evolutionary psychology is sexist!" is, at best, a vague gesture in the direction of an argument. There may be a coherent argument somewhere in that approximate direction, but if all you're doing is attaching a one-word label ("it's murder!") and leaving the rest implicit then you're probably just talking to System 1 (activating emotions and associations). As a dismissive put-down of this tactic, "that's not even an argument" seems more apt than "that's the worst argument in the world."

comment by cousin_it · 2012-09-05T20:05:44.956Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Is the argument "refusing to donate to Africa is like refusing to rescue a drowning kid" an instance of the WAITW?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-05T21:11:40.117Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's a case of the WAITW as Singer lays it out, though it's easy to see how the argument would go if it were. All the work of Singer's argument is to adress and argue against the idea that there are important differences between those two cases. The WAITW characteristically tries to skip that work.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-09-05T22:57:03.056Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's a great answer, but did Singer eliminate all the potentially important differences? Carl Shulman has a nice post pointing out one such difference, and there may be others. It looks like detecting instances of WAITW can be difficult and controversial.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-05T23:16:05.449Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I think the fact that Singer explicitly tries to tackle the problem of 'important differences' takes him out of range of the WAITW. At that point, if he fails, then his argument doesn't work. But he's not therefore doing something like 'abortion is murder'.

Edit: I just read Shulman's argument, and I think it's invalid. The fact that the drowning child and distant starving child cases differ in those respects relevant to various 'selfish' ends isn't strictly relevant to the question of their moral relationship.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-05T20:37:10.966Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you identify a misleading incorrect inference suggested by the analogy?

comment by cousin_it · 2012-09-05T20:55:38.694Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Don't wanna. According to the post, you're supposed to detect instances of WAITW based on their pattern, not their conclusions. Same as all other fallacies.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-08T23:08:15.619Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The "pattern" isn't just the inclusion of the word "is" in the sentence. It's the pointing towards a more general category, already generally judged, which distracts from the more specific instance and more specific judgment that can be made.

The example you gave fails in all particulars, as it offers a different specific example, rather than a more general category.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-05T21:09:23.543Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's a WAitW if it's misleading. The post describes a (pattern-matching) heuristic for when to unpack/taboo categories used in an argument, specifically those categories that contain the idea under discussion as a non-typical instance. Before you unpack a category, the heuristic only indicates what to unpack. After you unpack, you'll be able to judge whether the argument stands or essentially relied on the category not getting unpacked, in which case it's an instance of WAitW.

As Konkvistador notes, people may misuse this argument by crying "WAitW!" without doing the unpacking. But this is a standard problem with many ideas about ways in which people err, giving clever arguers new ammunition, and perhaps this bears repeating more frequently. It is not a problem specific to the post, it doesn't detract from the idea itself, correctly understood.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2012-09-05T21:57:25.869Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What? It's a WAitW if it's wrong, but it isn't if it's right? That won't do at all.

comment by Patrick · 2012-09-06T07:52:52.664Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cutting people up with knives is a crime. Surgeons cut people up with knives. Hence surgeons are criminals.

(More briefly, "Surgeons are slashers!")

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-05T08:19:36.360Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I want to eventually retitle this

The cat's sort of out of the bag on that one.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of people who hate the KKK for reasons that don't apply at all to affirmative action, yet who might still feel they have to dislike affirmative action merely because it's in the category "racism". Trying to trick them into this is the Worst Argument in the World.

Not quite. Oftentimes, this sort of argument is deployed to point out contradictions or hypocrisy in the other person's position.

For example, I know a number of people who call themselves anti-racists. I have been unable to find a difference between their "anti-racism" and "racism against whites," and so the statement "affirmative action is racist" highlights that hypocrisy of the name more than it is a fervent appeal against their dislike of racism. (If they actually disliked the practice of judging by racial membership, I expect they wouldn't be racist against whites.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-10T10:59:54.905Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

James_G responded to this here.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2012-09-05T19:04:01.786Z · score: -2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Blogs that are closed to comments do not merit the term "blog". If someone doesn't want comments, they should get off the internet. When a newspaper column doesn't print responses, it's understandable. When a blog doesn't allow comments, it's an insult to its readers.

His blog has been open to comments in the past. I don't know why it's closed now.

comment by kpreid · 2012-09-06T02:04:31.651Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I hereby dispute (without bothering to actually present evidence of usage) that comments are as central as you imply to the concept of “blog”.

comment by SisterY · 2012-08-27T19:07:14.969Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Since we think largely in words, pointing out similarities between Thing We Think Is Bad and Thing We Think Is Good requires us to examine the connotations of the words we use. We should be doing that all the time. Just as this alleged "worst argument in the world" can be used to sneak in connotations, it can also be used to force examination of connotations that have previously been sneaked in.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T23:33:49.068Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. I'm not saying that this form can't be used as a means of examining our intuitions. For example, "meat is murder" is a snappier way of asking "Why, given that we're so worried about harming humans, are we so callous about harming animals?"

But then once the other person answers you with something like "It's because animals have no natural rights" or "Because animals don't have sophisticated enough nervous systems to suffer" or whatever it is they say, the debate has to shift to whether or not that objection is valid. So "but meat is murder!" shouldn't be used as a counterargument to "Animals don't have sophisticated enough nervous systems to suffer", because this latter statement is already answering the question the former was intended to ask.

comment by SisterY · 2012-08-29T04:28:48.838Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

From that example, it sounds like mindless repetition (non-responsiveness) is the worst argument in the world, whether or not it contains an analogy. What is the special harm of analogy that makes it worse than other kinds of mindless repetition? (Worse than, say, other kinds of seductive, poetic language like rhyming words, a la "if it doesn't fit you must acquit.") And is an analogy still "the worst argument in the world" if it's NOT mindlessly repeated?

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-30T02:48:19.878Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's precisely about mindless repetition. For example:

A: I think eating meat is morally okay, because animals have simple nervous systems and can't feel pain.

B: But meat is murder!

Here even though A spoke first and there is no repetition involved, I still think B's response is inadequate, because B is accusing A of double standards after A has explained the double standard away. The reason why this is more dangerous than (if not worse than) "If the glove won't fit, you must acquit" is that B looks like she is making a novel and nontrivial point and it's not immediately obvious that this is a non-argument already addressed by A's statement (whereas hopefully no one takes the glove argument seriously as an argument)

comment by SisterY · 2012-08-30T18:28:30.055Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Again, the objection seems to be more about the particular USE of the argument than the nature of the argument itself (what I call above "non-responsiveness"). I would genuinely like to understand why analogies of the kind you call the Worst Argument in the World are so harmful (and I appreciate your engaging on it). Is it your claim that people are particularly likely to take analogies seriously as arguments, more than other arguments? Is it their very power that makes them so bad?

Rhyming and other poetic tricks, like showing a picture, make statements feel more true to hearers; are those tricks less dangerous than analogy because we (think we) are immune to them? I can kind of intuitively understand what you mean by something being a real argument or not ("as an argument"), but I'm not sure why things taken seriously as arguments are more dangerous than sneaky, non-argument cues that make things seem true.

I wonder if what you really want to destroy are "things effectively masquerading as arguments that aren't really arguments." That class is not exhausted by inexact analogies (which is to say all analogies), nor are all inexact analogies members of that class.

I think metonymy (association, like eugenics --> Hitler) is a much more harmful cognitive sin than metaphor (which at least requires a theory of why things are similar).

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-01T04:21:45.906Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if what you really want to destroy are "things effectively masquerading as arguments that aren't really arguments." That class is not exhausted by inexact analogies (which is to say all analogies), nor are all inexact analogies members of that class.

This sounds like a fair summary. I stick to my assertion that what you're calling analogies (and which I would specify are analogies that are not phrased in analogy form and which the overwhelming majority of people never recognize as analogies) are more common and more convincing than most other members of this class.

comment by SisterY · 2012-09-05T18:10:24.322Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In grade school we learn that "X is like Y" is a simile, and "X is Y" is a metaphor, and that there is some crucial difference between the two. Perhaps there is, but I haven't seen an argument to that effect. Mainly, we call both of these "analogy" or "metaphor."

So the argument for tabooing The Worst Argument in the World is that, since many analogies are unusually powerful and people may not recognize that they're analogies rather than perhaps identities, every analogy is The Worst Argument in the World. Even though many analogies are admittedly productive, the class of argument is tabooed because many of its members are problematic.

Doesn't that make the taboo on The Worst Argument in the World itself a species of The Worst Argument in the World?

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-05T23:09:39.571Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not trying to taboo everything of the form "X is Y".

Consider an analogy to the argumentum ad hominem fallacy. I think it's correct to dub this a fallacy and say it's not a legitimate move in argument. However, some people are stupid, some people are evil, and it may be correct and proper to mention that they are stupid and evil. It just can't be doing the heavy lifting in an argument. Certainly calling people stupid and evil is useful as a slogan, it's useful for introducing evidence against them, it's even valid in some kinds of arguments (For example, "Bob is stupid, so we probably don't want to let him design the nuclear plant.")

I think Worst Argument in the World is the same way. There are some legitimate uses for statements of the "X is in category Y!" form, but actually doing the heavy lifting in a philosophical argument is not one of them. I'd be pretty happy if people just stopped doing it entirely, but I admit that it's possible (although I think unlikely) to keep using it and always be responsible with it.

comment by TGM · 2012-08-27T20:41:53.690Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If I wanted to do that, I would phrase things differently, to avoid the connotation issues (of, for example, Taxation is Theft!):

"We think burglary is bad, but tax is good, yet they have some similarities. Are we right to judge them differently?" or even "I think the things that make burglary bad are X Y and Z, but X is shared by taxation, and Y is partly shared by taxation. I conclude that taxation is not as bad as burglary, but still a bit bad"

comment by SisterY · 2012-08-27T21:53:56.153Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Great, clear statement of the position. Wouldn't the "worst argument in the world" taboo apply just as strongly to any use of figurative language in the context of an argument? Instead of making an analogy, for instance (e.g., "X is the mindkiller"), why not just use literal language? No danger of connotative contamination, then. Instead of making a joke, why not just explain what you mean, rather than requiring your audience to grasp for the insight it contains? (Apparently hyperbole is allowed, as it's incorporated into the NAME of the argument - why is hyperbole okay, but not metaphor?)

I understand the ideal here. But I think cutting off our own linguistic balls, so to speak, gives us only the illusion of cognitive cleanness - and much is lost. We are not motivated by pure logic to engage logically with an idea. We are motivated by "epistemic emotions" like curiosity and confusion. A title like "Should Trees Have Standing?" is emotional and poetic and could be literally replaced with "Should our legal system treat inanimate objects as ends in themselves for social reasons not entailed by property rights?" But I don't think the former is cheating, and I don't think the latter would have been as successful in motivating cognition on the topic.

I would even defend good old "Meat is Murder!" as a compact little ethical puzzle for beginners, rather than the Worst Argument in the World!

comment by TGM · 2012-08-27T22:04:06.522Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the salient point here is whether we are talking about a theft close to the archetype, such as mugging or burglary, or one further from it, such as Robin Hood enacting his redistribution scheme, or the government taxing.

So when we have "X is the mindkiller", that's okay if "X" happens to be party politics, or factions disagreeing in a fricticious boardroom meeting. A fringe example of mind-killing might be a recurring disagreement between spouses over whether to buy skinned or unskinned milk (you can still have entrenched positions, but it doesn't really reach the same level).

Not sure I'm being too clear. What I'm saying is that words refer to a cluster of things, with varying strength, and we use the WAITW when we talk about things on the fringe of that cluster as if they were in fact slap bang in the middle.

comment by TGM · 2012-08-27T09:47:09.089Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

We can reflectively apply our intuition - we can use the phrase "Capital punishment is murder" to remind other people that capital punishment does share some of the same disadvantages that all other murders have

More generally, it is worth noting that a very tempting class of bad arguments is those which are slightly true, such as this.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T23:05:39.067Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That's more or less the point of http://lesswrong.com/lw/aq2/fallacies_as_weak_bayesian_evidence/.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-08-27T00:47:57.053Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe also link: Sneaking in Connotations.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-08-27T00:47:04.231Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You should probably mention at the top that this is cross-posted from your personal blog. I am glad you posted here; it's an excellent post.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-27T03:36:06.313Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I requested the crosspost.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-08-27T05:25:15.430Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

And George Washington was a traitor. ;)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-27T06:50:25.979Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

And George Washington was a traitor. ;)

I'm pretty sure the definition of 'traitor' includes "and lost" in there somewhere!

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-08-27T09:49:02.104Z · score: 31 (31 votes) · LW · GW

"Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

Sir John Harington)

comment by Emile · 2012-08-27T11:40:03.609Z · score: 13 (19 votes) · LW · GW

And okay, a tiny fraction of the time people are just trying to use words as a Schelling fence.

I'm not sure it's that tiny, especially once you're using the "steel man" version of the arguments; i.e. things like "Schelling fences" do not often appear in the reasons given for the disagreement, but that can still be what it boils down to.

People who object to abortion may be objecting to a weakening of the social stigma against the murder of innocents - that social stigma performs a useful function in society, so allowing anything that could be described as "murder of innocents" is perceived as bad, regardless of whether that thing is in itself bad.

In other words, even if words are hidden inferences with leaky generalizations etc. - social norms are still defined in terms of words, and so "pointless" debates over definitions still have their place in discussions of morality. Questions that shouldn't be morally relevant ("is abortion murder?") become so because of the instrumental value of social norms.

So yes, sometimes pulling out a dictionary in the middle of a moral argument may be justified. The discussion can then turn to something more useful, like "is it worse if the norm against murder is slightly weakened, or if women have to keep children they don't want?".

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T21:47:56.759Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Even if that is true (and I stick to my guess that it's only a tiny fraction of the time) I still think deconstructing the argument is valuable. If people's true rejection of abortion is Schelling fences, then let's talk Schelling fences! I would ask why birth doesn't also work as a Schelling fence, and I would get to hear their response, and maybe one of us would change our mind.

But if their true rejection is based on Schelling fences, and instead they're just saying that abortion is murder, there's not much we can do except play Dueling Dictionaries. And the reason that has no chance of working ("Really? Merriam-Webster defines murder as killing a human after birth? Guess I'll go NARAL!") is directly related to it not being their real issue.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-08-28T08:19:49.856Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

there's not much we can do except play Dueling Dictionaries.

There are real-world examples that could be described as getting the "dictionary" changed — for instance, the successful campaign to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association's "dictionary" (as it were) of mental illnesses.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-28T08:01:14.970Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that talking Schelling fences is usually more productive, and that it's probably not people's true rejection on abortion (norms around sexuality and fertility probably play a bigger role). Note also that unlike you, I never saw an "abortion is murder" sign in real life, and don't remember the topic ever coming up in real life.

Schelling fences probably play a bigger role for "justifiable killing" (like self-defense, the death penalty, euthanasia), where having a strong norm against killing in general discourages revenge killings (anti-abortion seem to be trying to hijack that norm to cover a case that doesn't fall under "killing" nearly as naturally). "Racism is bad" is another case where the norm is pretty valuable and useful in itself, and acknowledging that "non-bad cases of racism are not bad" would weaken it.

I stick to my guess that it's only a tiny fraction of the time

Eh, it probably depends of the reference class you're picking, and how charitable you're willing to be in interpreting people's reasons. when deconstructing a WAitW, it may be worth directing the discussion to one on Schelling Fences / norms etc., both as a way of raising the quality of the discussion, and of leaving a line of retreat.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-28T19:21:20.713Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I just thought of another good illustration: "Marijuana is a drug!"

This fits perfectly under Yvain's description (it associates Marijuana with the worse kinds of hard drugs that turn you into a skinny toothless zombie willing to sell his grandmother for his next fix), and a concern of some opponents to legalization is that making one form of recreational drug will lower the taboo on drugs as a whole. And that is a legitimate concern, considering the damage hard drugs can cause! (though of course it's to weigh against the damage caused by marijuana trafficking, which would be significantly reduced if it was legal - and if it was legal it would cluster less naturally with the hard drugs).

comment by gwern · 2012-09-03T02:32:37.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I like this version; it also applies to modafinil ("modafinil is a drug!") and you can swap out 'drug' for more convincing versions (since 'drug' seems to me to be losing its negative connotations), like "nicotine is a toxin!"

comment by Decius · 2012-08-28T22:00:20.388Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Alcohol and tobacco are drugs!"

The 'drug' aspect isn't an argument, it's a distraction from the real reasons.

comment by Unnamed · 2012-08-28T09:32:37.849Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The "a fetus is a person" attempt to frame the abortion debate actually seems like it would weaken the norm against killing innocents. Most people agree with the rule that it's generally wrong to kill an innocent person, which is a relatively clear bright-line rule. If pro-abortion people can just say "well, a human fetus doesn't count as a person so the rule doesn't apply there" then the rule against killing a person remains relatively clear and simple for them. But if they have to count a human fetus as a "person" then the rule against killing a person becomes messy and complicated for them - they have to say "well, it's often wrong to kill a person, but there are various exceptions and factors to weigh."

Anti-abortion people might like having the abortion debate take place on those grounds, with a human fetus counting as a "person" by definition, because of the rhetorical advantage it gives them within that particular debate. But for the broader goal of establishing shared support for the "sanctity of life" it is counterproductive to cast the abortion debate in those terms. If you use a dictionary to remove the flexibility/disagreement in defining the domain where the rule applies, then that flexibility/disagreement gets shifted into the content of the rule.

comment by evand · 2012-08-28T14:23:40.024Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It might be worth noting that abortion proponents cluster with death penalty supporters, gun ownership advocates, and generally have a poor record on human rights for e.g. GLBT people. I'm not convinced that they hold the sanctity of life to be equally important for all people generally.

One person's modus ponens is another's modus tollens.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-28T21:58:11.169Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It would be if it were true.

Those three groups do not tend to cluster, nor do they have the record on human rights that you ascribe to them.

comment by mantis · 2012-09-13T21:05:58.120Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's pretty obvious that evand mean "abortion opponents," not "abortion proponents." Make that correction and the rest of the comment is accurate.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-28T09:59:24.623Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Abortion was probably not the best example, "racism is wrong" is a clearer norm that depends on words. I agree with you, as I said later on:

Schelling fences probably play a bigger role for "justifiable killing" (like self-defense, the death penalty, euthanasia), where having a strong norm against killing in general discourages revenge killings (anti-abortion seem to be trying to hijack that norm to cover a case that doesn't fall under "killing" nearly as naturally).

For racism, you get the same problem you mention, with people trying to add more things under the "racist" umbrella (such as affirmative action, or opposition to affirmative action), at the risk of weakening the norm.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T17:53:24.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I want a Generalized Emergency Taboo button for just such cases; press the button and everyone is banned from using the word "murder" when talking about "abortion".

That way, in the future, we could talk about abortion using "abortion", and murder in general using "murder", whether abortion is murder or not, without weakening social norms in the process.

Or maybe Beisutsukai already have such a button? Perhaps they need a high enough level to unlock the skill? I had an idea of some third option we could use here to counter the social norm issue when I first read this, but got distracted and forgot it before I could follow up. Anyone else got any such ideas?

comment by sketerpot · 2012-08-28T02:13:55.440Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I want a Generalized Emergency Taboo button for just such cases; press the button and everyone is banned from using the word "murder" when talking about "abortion".

That's not really generalized, since it's specific to abortion and murder. A generalized emergency taboo button would be a custom where it's considered polite to ask people to taboo a word (if you think this might help the discussion), and impolite to ignore this request.

I think Less Wrong is pretty decent about this, at least compared to the rest of the world. It's the only place where I've ever seen such a request succeed. For most people it's far from onvious what the point of tabooing a word would be, and it's hard to give a compelling justification for it in a quick sound-bite that you can drop into an in-person discussion.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-28T02:22:05.212Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In the rest of the world, when I find it necessary to invoke the concept, I generally ask people to clarify what they mean by a word and then echo back the phrase they used the word in, substituting their explanation.

Generally speaking, people respond to this as though I'd played some dirty rhetorical trick on them and deny ever having said any such thing, at which point I apologize and ask them again to clarify what they mean by the word.

Among conversations that continue past this point, it works pretty well. (They are the minority.)

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-28T03:29:50.540Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that works pretty well for me too. Unfortunately, the side effects - extremely powerful dork and/or argument-winning sophist signalling, misinterpretation as a status move, etc. - often far outweigh the benefits I would get from this tactic.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-28T04:29:11.270Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, there's that.

For me it becomes a matter of tradeoffs.

If people decide to trust me enough to actually engage honestly with the question, I try to be careful about engaging honestly with their answer, and often that can lead to some exceptionally interesting conversations. I've made some excellent friends this way, as well as a few educational opponents.

Most people don't trust me that much, of course. But I'm at a stage in my life where efficiently working my way through lots of people in order to find one or two worth exploring as excellent friends, even if it means unnecessarily alienating dozens of people who would have made perfectly adequate friends, feels like a pretty good tradeoff. I already have more perfectly adequate friends than I'm capable of fully engaging with.

comment by Decius · 2012-08-28T22:04:54.830Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The major benefit I see is that in discussions where this ends the conversation, the conversation would have had very little value if it had continued.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-28T03:38:12.029Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's not really generalized, since it's specific to abortion and murder. A generalized emergency taboo button would be a custom where it's considered polite to ask people to taboo a word (if you think this might help the discussion), and impolite to ignore this request.

My intent wasn't to contextualize, thanks for making it more explicit.

(...) and it's hard to give a compelling justification for it in a quick sound-bite that you can drop into an in-person discussion.

Don't Try This At Home Capsule: Some dark arts work really well. I've found that out firsthand, both accidentally/involuntarily and in a tiny-sample controlled test (not scientifically relevant, but anecdotally sufficient for me to have good intuitive confidence thanks for confirmation bias vs VoI and different in expected utility). This was before I learned of confirmation bias and the risks of Dark Arts, though.

comment by Will_Sawin · 2012-08-27T17:04:16.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think an analysis of either the rhetoric of abortion opponents or their stances on issues where one can make a similar Schelling fence argument supports that many people believe this Schelling fence argument.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-27T19:06:29.113Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On abortion probably not - there are also big "those women are getting what they deserve" and "having children is good, not having children is selfish" components coming into play and probably play a bigger role than "murder is wrong".

Euthanasia, however, is probably mostly about Schelling fences.

comment by Will_Sawin · 2012-08-27T21:50:11.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do not have sufficient data to have an opinion on that.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T17:18:44.242Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For most people, beliefs are not supported by arguments at all. If we restrict our analysis to the tiny fraction of abortion opponents whose beliefs are supported by arguments, then I suspect they mostly do believe the Schelling fence argument. All but a tiny minority of that tiny minority believe specious arguments against abortion as well -- so what?

comment by Will_Sawin · 2012-08-27T21:53:36.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Then I think you agree with the statement of Yvain that Emile quoted and objected to. Indeed you use almost the same language.

I was trying to access, among those who have an argument, some notion of the primary argument: the one they find most convincing or most central to their beliefs. I think the Schelling point argument is the primary argument for only a tiny fraction of those who have an argument.

comment by TGM · 2012-08-28T11:59:54.940Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Apple uses the WAITW when commenting on the Apple vs Samsung case:

"In a statement the firm [apple] thanked the jury for sending 'a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right' "

Source: http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2012/08/apple-versus-samsung?spc=scode&spv=xm&ah=9d7f7ab945510a56fa6d37c30b6f1709

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-09-29T05:17:00.900Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've edited this in a way that hopefully removes some of the controversy. Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll here. Actually, wait, no, the opposite of that. The two options ended out perfectly balanced, plus a bunch of people wanted me to make it even snarkier, and it was super confusing.

Anyway, I decided to respect the split poll by making a combination of the two drafts. The name has been changed to "the marginal fallacy", credit to James_G (sorry, Konkvistador, but I really do think that the fallacy of accident is something slightly different), but I kept Worst Argument In The World as a subtitle.

I deleted the euthanasia example, both because it was overkill on the "X is murder" examples and to exactly balance the liberal and conservative examples at three each. Then I heavily edited most of the others, and added to the end a paragraph about how maybe this pattern could be useful in sparking conversation. Then I added some footnotes and just a tiny bit of snark to satisfy the pro-snark contingent.

Hopefully this will be a less than entirely unsatisfactory compromise.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-29T05:32:01.411Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Er... "marginal fallacy" sounds like it should involve failure to think on the margins. Sorry I'm late, but how about "the noncentral fallacy" or "the categorization fallacy"?

comment by shminux · 2012-09-29T05:40:01.955Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure why you are intent on renaming the Association Fallacy.

comment by Exetera · 2012-09-29T13:51:36.583Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They're not quite the same. The association fallacy takes the form "A is a C and A is a B therefore all B are C," whereas this argument takes the form "A is arguably a B and Bs are often C therefore if I call A a B I can implicitly accuse it of being C without having to justify it." It's not a standard logical fallacy in the sense that it relies a lot on fuzzy, human definitions of things.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-04T09:17:47.196Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I've seen an even worse argument: Imagine the worst possible consequences of the other side's policies. Assert that the other side (or at least its leaders) intend those consequences.

comment by christopherj · 2014-02-01T05:58:58.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've seen that way too often. In fact, it seems like standard practice in American government to cripple your opponent's policies and oppose their every action, then point to the failure as if it were their fault and a result of their policy. In other words, why take the chance of there naturally being bad consequences, when you can make sure?

comment by Furslid · 2012-08-31T07:43:18.275Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

All of the arguments are of the form A is an X, when A is not a typical example of X. Here are some arguments that are of that form.

-"Having sex with an passed out stranger is rape."
-"Sleep deprivation/sensory deprivation/stress positions is torture."
-"Writing and cashing bad checks is theft."

Are these all instances of the worst argument in the world? If they aren't examples of the worst argument in the world, why not?

If the main reason that these arguments are acceptable is our disapproval of A, then your worst argument in the world is not a valid. It is just a way to discount rhetoric you don't like.

comment by kilobug · 2012-08-31T08:18:01.139Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Consider a X that is bad for reasons R1, R2 and R3. R1 and R2 are really strong, while R3 is quite minor.

Consider an atypical case of X, A, which has only the reasons R1 and R2. Saying "A is X" doesn't do much harm. The real reasons for which you reject X (R1 and R2) are present in A, so saying "A is X so A is wrong" is acceptable.

Now consider another atypical case of X, B, which only share R3. Saying "B is X so B is wrong" is using the emotional power of the horror of R1 and R2, which B doesn't have, against B, just because B can be said to be part of a cluster in which the typical elements have it. That's a really fishy argumentation. That's what Yvain called "the worst argument in the world", because it's wrong but convincing, and very hard to counter in a debate (it requires deconstructing "why is X is bad", extracting R1, R2, R3, showing that B only shares R3, so may be slightly bad, but not nearly as much a typical X).

Let's analyze the first one : "Having sex with an passed out stranger is rape."

Rape is very bad, I hope we all agree with that. Why is rape bad ? It's bad for many reasons. Some of the reasons (that it violates people's freedom of choice, that there are risks of pregnancy and STD, that it humiliates the victim, ...) hold for "having sex with a passed out stranger". Some other of the reasons against the typical rape (that it involves violence and threats, inflicts pain and fear on the victim, ...) may not apply for "having sex with a passed out stranger". Depending which of the two sets of reasons are you true rejection of rape, it's the WAitW or not.

But the main point is that "Having sex with an passed out stranger is rape." is not the reason why "having sex with a passed out stranger" is a bad thing to do. The reasons why it's a bad thing is because it doesn't respect the person's freedom of choice, because it risks exposing her (or him) to danger of STD/pregnancy without her consent, because it's likely to humiliate her, ... Those are the real justifications of why it's wrong.

If you state your position as "Having sex with an passed out stranger is rape." it's very to argue if you're right or wrong about saying it's bad thing to do. First we are stuck with the emotional weight of seeing a woman crying of fear and pain while her rapist rapes her violently a knife under her throat, which is not how "having sex with an passed out stranger" occurs, and then we'll end up engulfed into a debate about the definition of "rape" which is completely barren. If you give the real reasons then we can argue for each of them how bad they are, and we can end up knowing how bad "having sex with an passed out stranger" is.

"A is an X" is a valid argument for a lawyer in court, because law has to be written in words. But it's not a valid argument (and can lead to people making wrong conclusions) in a moral/political debate.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-09-01T03:02:25.860Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are these all instances of the worst argument in the world? If they aren't examples of the worst argument in the world, why not?

I would say that they are all examples. Just because they would fly in typical discourse doesn't mean that they aren't very bad arguments, it's just that they're very bad arguments in favor of reasonable positions.

comment by turnipradish · 2012-09-07T18:00:58.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

None of the three examples proposed are the WAiTW. From Yvain's article, the distinction between the Worst Argument in the World and something that isn't is more about good intentions combined with good outcomes rather than whether or not the undesirable outcomes match the definition of the action. If a certain action both has good outcomes and is well-intended (e.g. abortion - done for the sake of the mother's or father's livelihood, not to maliciously kill a "human" being), then it does not fit the definition of "murder" because it doesn't share the intentions of murder, even though the "bad" outcomes are similar. Murder is unjustifiable; abortion is justified by the benefits it brings to already existing people and also because it does not affect any existing person negatively. Same can be said for genetic engineering - it is done with good intentions and would ideally produce good results, and while some outcomes may share some characteristics with eugenics (e.g. altering the gene pool), the means to reach the outcome are far more ethical and nobody is negatively affected by genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is morally justifiable. Eugenics is not.

Now, examining the example of rape - having sex with a sleeping person who is a stranger to you is done with wrong intentions - malicious lust, selfishness, thirst for power, and lack of compassion for the victim. The outcomes are equally bad - complete violation of the victim, extreme fear induced in the victim (upon awakening, but most definitely real), pain inflicted upon the victim (involuntary penetration is going to hurt upon awakening, along with any other possible violence used), risk of pregnancy and STD's, the list goes on. There are no good outcomes of forcing sex upon a sleeping stranger and it shares all the wrong intentions and most of the bad outcomes of the more commonly reflected upon back-alley rape. But it still fits every definition of the word (i.e. sex without consent). Having sex with a sleeping stranger is unequivocally rape and that example is not the WAiTW.

Same can be said for the torture example. The intentions are ill; the outcomes are bad. The aim is to destabilize and inflict extreme discomfort upon a victim for whatever reasons deemed important by the torturer. The outcomes are also bad - the victim has been traumatized. Did they bleed, lose any limbs, or burn nearly to death? No. But an action does not need to fit all possible bad outcomes of a word (in this case, torture) for it to fit the definition of it.

Writing and cashing bad checks is also theft. The action is driven by greed, selfishness, and again a lack of compassion. The outcomes are also equivalent to theft - the victim's money is gone. Their house wasn't broken into and their dog wasn't kicked, but the money still came out of their pocket and is now wrongfully in the possession of the thief.

If a person drives away with a stranger's car while the keys are in the ignition, is it car theft? I would say yes. A bad action does not have to share all possible outcomes of "theft", "rape", or "murder" for it to be defined as such. The windows weren't smashed, the electronics were not tinkered with, but the car was still stolen. The sleeping person was still raped (even though they weren't threatened at knife point), the sleep deprived person was still tortured (even though their skin was not broken), and the person who had money taken from them through bad checks was still stolen from (even though they weren't mugged for their wallet).

comment by ikrase · 2012-12-13T20:25:24.757Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think its a kind of tone-thing maybe?

I think the point is that the justification for inclusion of the edge case in the category is much weaker than what forms the category; for example 'MLK breaks the institutional law' vs 'criminals are destructive and self-aggrandizing. Not to mention that in the MLK case that law was being used in an incredibly biased way. The 'MLK wanted to overturn valuable social norms' is a stronger argument than 'MLK was a criminal'

In the rape case, the justification is the same as the category definition: sex happens without consent being given, and this is destructive to the victim.

One incredibly common form of WAitW is calling things 'Cultural Marxism'. I don't know if anybody knows what cultural Marxism is anymore. In these cases its 'Motivated by some forms of marxist theory' vs freaking Stalin.

Affirmative Action and Racism:

comment by Furslid · 2012-09-07T21:12:15.028Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So, telling if the argument is an example of the worst argument in the world requires telepathy and precognisence. We cannot observe the intentions of an actor, only their actions. We also cannot tell the total results of an action. In fact there may be disagreements on intention and likely results.

Someone may believe that "Martin Luther King JR was a criminal" is not the worst argument in the world. They may believe that he acted out of a desire to overturn valuable social norms and that the results of civil disobedience would be further disrespect for legitimate authority. I cannot disprove either of these claims.

It seems that the only reason why my examples are not TWAitW is that you believe what they argue against is bad. This makes labeling something as TWAitW a rhetorical dark art. It is not the form of the argument that is objectionable, but that it argues against your position.

comment by metaphysicist · 2012-08-30T19:00:05.265Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Almost 400 comments but not a word of discussion of the parsing Yvain provides for his seven examples! But if Yvain's parsing is wrong—as I think it is—then his analysis will serve to further bias our understanding of positions we disagree with and to forsake any charity in understanding these positions.

The question that is fairly asked of Yvain is what distinguishes his "worst argument" ("X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't.") from any form of rule-governed reasoning in ethics (whether deontological or rule-utilitarian). When the examples are expanded and recast in those terms, they do not express Yvain's "worst argument"; they rather simply express moral premises subject to disagreement.

Taxation is theft. I'm no libertarian, but the argument isn't that taxation shares features with "archetypal" theft but that any taking of unearned property is wrong for the same basic reasons as "archetypal" theft is wrong, whether natural law or utilitarian calculus.

Abortion is murder. The claim almost always comes from a fundamentalist religious direction. Abortion is said to be murder not because it shares features with prototypical murders but because it is the same in the essential respect that it involves killing an innocent possessed of a soul. It's stupid enough as it stands; no reason to misrepresent it.

King is a criminal. If the psychologist-of-morality Kohlberg is believed, most adults in the U.S. identify morality with authority. Many believe it is immoral to break a law enacted through democratic procedures. Those who reason this way are indeed philistines, but their problem isn't with some formal fallacy in reasoning but with their premises.

Evolutionary psychology is sexist People who argue in these terms usually think it is wrong to "reinforce sexual stereotypes" even if they're true.

And so on. If you were arguing with someone defending their position in the ways Yvain summarizes, would you point out, say, that the archetypical murder is a lot different from abortion; or would you point out that souls don't really exist (or point to similar defective assumptions)? The first would miss the point. An answer to the antiabortion argument has a similar form to the "worst argument," but I think the answer is sound: Compelling women to remain pregnant is involuntary servitude. (More popularly, No forced labor.) The question is whether the essential features of abortions, relative to a well-chosen framework, are best captured by analogy to murder or slavery. We always reason by some sort of analogy; the question is whether the given analogy is adequate. Yvain's proscriptions consistently carried out would toss analogical reasoning in ethics.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-30T19:14:40.849Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yvain's proscriptions consistently carried out would toss analogical reasoning in ethics.

It is perfectly reasonable to first identify the category and its archetypal example, no one seems to argue against it. The issue is tossing out the step where the reasons the archetypal example gives the category a negative connotation are checked against the example under consideration. Thus analogical reasoning survives as a first step, but its validity is subsequently questioned, not simply negated.

comment by metaphysicist · 2012-08-30T19:50:28.399Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The issue is tossing out the step where the reasons the archetypal example gives the category a negative connotation are checked against the example under consideration.

And my claim is that, in typical uses of the example arguments, the reasons that make the category negative—for the arguer—are precisely the reasons the arguer intends to advance. So, Yvain hasn't made a case that submergence in a verbal archetype is an important fallacy. And thinking that it is the key fallacy involved in these arguments promotes superficiality when considering arguments like the exemplars.

comment by shokwave · 2012-08-28T13:23:21.654Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If we must use an acronym to refer to this, could it be WAitW or WAW instead of WAITW? My delicate sensibilities thank you in advance.

comment by JStewart · 2012-08-28T12:12:12.687Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Judging from the comments this is receiving on Hacker News, this post is a mindkiller. HN is an audience more friendly to LW ideas than most, so this is a bad sign. I liked it, but unfortunately it's probably unsuitable for general consumption.

I know we've debated the "no politics" norm on LW many times, but I think a distinction should be made when it comes to the target audience of a post. In posts aimed to make a contribution to "raising the sanity waterline", I think we're shooting ourselves in the foot by invoking politics.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-08-28T13:32:06.289Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Reading that HN thread, the problem appears to be a troll (who also showed up on Yvain's original blog post).

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2012-08-29T18:57:32.715Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Calling something 'worst' before conversations is bad sign.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T14:13:04.240Z · score: 7 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Is it always illegitimate to bring up the facts that abortion ends a life, that taxes are not paid voluntarily, and that affirmative action benefits some races at the expense of others? If someone with right-wing views on these policies does weave one of these facts into his arguments on less wrong, will he be adoringly referred to this page as though it were a drop-dead refutation?

If in the course of an argument you become frustrated by the other party mentioning true things, perhaps he is making the worst argument in the world. And perhaps there is another explanation.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-08-27T19:39:46.796Z · score: 21 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Taxes are not paid voluntarily and affirmative action benefits some races at the (immediate) expense of others, I agree. But note that in saying "abortion ends a life", you described things on somewhat of a higher level and used a more value-laden word than in the other two cases - like saying "Taxes are stolen" or "Affirmative action discriminates". "Abortion ends a life" is still sneaking in connotations, since we imagine ending a human life, rather than a cat's life or an ant's life, and the other person may well object that the embryo's life hasn't quite reached the ant level yet. In general, there's no license to bring up a categorization like 'life', as an unquestionable assumption or 'fact', if the other person is going to disagree with the connotations of the categorization, like "life is precious".

You can bring up as a fact that the embryo has 256 cells capable of metabolism but not capable of surviving outside the uterus. Calling it a 'life' is an attempt to Sneak in Connotations and establish a value judgment, because we all know that life is precious, even though we don't care very much about accidentally inhaling a dust mite. Perhaps you think an embryo is more precious than this because of the (likewise lower-level and harder to dispute) fact that if left in the uterus the embryo will probably become a human baby. But if you merely attempt to enforce the connotation of preciousness by pulling out a dictionary and looking up the definition of 'life', see the fallacy of the Argument from Common Usage; dictionary editors can't settle moral arguments.

As a general rule, whatever you wanted the other person to conclude from hearing the word 'life', such as that an embryo is precious, is something that you need to address directly - not try to establish by looking at other qualities which don't immediately establish preciousness, such as cell metabolism (which also appears in dust mites), and then pulling out a dictionary to try to establish that whoever edited the dictionary wrote a definition of 'life' that matches that.

Or as I would've written then, if I'd known then what I'd known now about training skills instead of conveying insights:

The counterpattern to Sneaking in Connotations is to Directly Argue the Connotation!

I think it's fair to say that on LW, anyone who tried to indignantly take a "But X is a Y!" stance, whether liberal or conservative or libertarian or transhumanist, would be referred to the Human's Guide to Words sequence. It's in one of the first core sequences and lots of commenters will recognize it on sight.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-28T08:55:34.279Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But if you merely attempt to enforce the connotation of preciousness by pulling out a dictionary and looking up the definition of 'life', see the fallacy of the Argument from Common Usage; dictionary editors can't settle moral arguments.

M, they may be able to argue some, though it's a minority; for example if I promised to my grandmother on her deathbead to never eat fish on Tuesdays, than the morality of certain actions may hinge on the common usage definition of "fish".

Similarly, the morality of saying "I did not have sex with that woman" may depend on what is understood exactly by "sex" (not that a dictionary is necessarily the final arbiter!).

And more generally, rules and norms and laws may refer to words, and while the rules themselves should be evaluated on consequentialist grounds, judging whether one followed the rules may depend on common usage definitions.

For example, it's a nearly universal norm in western societies that racism is wrong. With the way humans are now, it's probably better than a situation where there was no norm against racism itself, but rather acts and beliefs were judged individually as right or wrong - that would leave too much leeway for rationalization. So instead we have the lesser evil of the definition of "racism" becoming overly broad and contested.

(Overall I mostly agree with you; definitions are totally useless on settling empirical disagreements, and mostly useless for moral disagreements)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T20:25:41.259Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you will be often but not always right about the motivations you are suggesting we read into the word "life." Many abortion critics do Directly Argue the Connotation that a fertilized egg is alive with a capital A L I V E, as part of a package of arguments of mixed quality. (If you wanted to emphasize that the total quality of these arguments is usually low, I wouldn't object). The connotation is not even always about human life: at one time there was a Salt Lake City based pro-life vegan punk rock community, whose package of views was unusually coherent for antisocial teenagers.

comment by thomblake · 2012-08-27T15:39:35.754Z · score: 13 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Is it always illegitimate to bring up the facts that abortion ends a life, that taxes are not paid voluntarily, and that affirmative action benefits some races at the expense of others?

No. If you didn't get that, you should reread the post. The point is to discuss the relevant features of the subject in question, not say "murder" or "theft" and stop thinking.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-27T16:23:17.770Z · score: 5 (12 votes) · LW · GW

That is the author's stated intention. But what he's created is an easily referenceable refutation of weak versions of strong arguments. You're concerned about someone crying "murder" or "theft" instead of thinking. I'm concerned about someone linking to this very popular article instead of thinking, or anyway instead of grappling with a strong argument.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-08-27T21:43:15.237Z · score: 12 (13 votes) · LW · GW

As Alex Mennen brought up on my blog, the problem you're worrying about is that someone will say "That's an example of the Worst Argument In The World, which is typically a weak argument", even though that particular version of the argument is actually quite strong.

Luckily, I hear there's a new post addressing exactly that error!

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-08-27T19:38:57.671Z · score: 6 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There is no general way to make people think. Everything can be misused.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T19:56:21.255Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

...therefore, we should not be concerned when well-intentioned articles risk generating new Fully General Counterarguments and having other possible negative effects on rationality. Even if the net expected utility is negative.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-08-28T13:16:09.141Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No case was made that this is actually problematic; it was simply claimed. How is this more likely to cause trouble than anything else?

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-28T14:34:41.279Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It isn't, as far as the evidence I have indicates. I was just disagreeing with the usefulness of that line of reasoning, since it was dangerously close to an Argument of Gray.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T15:36:40.092Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

No and no (hopefully) and yes and yes.

The examples you give bring up specific points of those, the specific facts that are negative. The Worst Argument In The World is when you don't state the particular negative fact, but instead (truthfully) proclaims that X is part of larger set Y which notoriously also contains that one specific negative fact (which X really does have), but also many others which give Y a large net negative value, making X have a large net negative value (to uninformed audiences) by virtue of being part of Y.

Bring up the specific fact, not an arbitrary large subgroup which also contains both X and the specific fact and is known to have a massive net connotation.

In Lesswrong discussion, I've seen similar arguments made, and the most frequent response was "Taboo X and Y", followed closely by a more elaborate reduction.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-13T04:03:58.598Z · score: 6 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Meta-note: Right now, as I check the top comments for today, all the top comments for today are replies to heavily downvoted comments. This is the behavior the downvoted-thread-killer was meant to prevent, but we don't yet have "troll-toll all descendants" feature. Noting this because multiple people asked for examples and how often something like it happened.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-09-13T20:22:54.990Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I was one of those who asked for examples. This is indeed a good example, and I take it to heart. I am still uncertain what the effect of the new and planned rules will be (troll feeding fee etc.). But it's now less a case of "what problem are you trying to solve?" and more "how should we solve this problem?"

In more detail: I missed this thread, but skimming the remaining comments, I think it would have been a waste of time to participate. But since many others did participate (while saying in many comments that eridu was quite irrational and/or wrong), it's possible I would have been drawn in if I had the opportunity. So I'm glad you stopped it.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-14T01:59:12.835Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

At the time I make this reply, DanArmak's comment was downvoted (I voted it back up). Downvoting a comment like that above is the sort of reason why I am starting to distrust the behavior of meta-threads as a reliable signal of what the community thinks.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-09-14T02:14:00.244Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's easy to see:

But since many others did participate (while saying in many comments that eridu was quite irrational and/or wrong), it's possible I would have been drawn in if I had the opportunity. So I'm glad you stopped it.

... and read "It's obvious that eridu is stupid and irrational, and people said so yet kept blabbering and that could have made me join in, so thanks for stopping all this idiocy."

It actually tempted me to downvote too, but the comment is overall useful and that is a very uncharitable interpretation of the wording. It's simply not true that it was a waste of time for everyone - each of my comments and each response to them made me learn something and helped me do a few updates.

It was also a very good opportunity for me to review my own cached database on gender-unfairness in this particular case, which I hadn't done yet since way before learning all this cool stuff about rationality I learned on LessWrong. Overall, I came out winning from that thread, regardless of whether it was started by a troll or not (the alternative was being bored and brainkilled to death by my boring and mind-killing-filled day job). So, for me, and maybe a few others, the above statement about eridu and the thread rings untrue, though not completely unjustified in retrospect.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-09-14T09:28:33.362Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

read "It's obvious that eridu is stupid and irrational, and people said so yet kept blabbering and that could have made me join in, so thanks for stopping all this idiocy."

I haven't seen eridu's comments myself. I can make no real judgement on their quality. My comment was based solely on the comments of other people in the thread. And the gist of most of those comments is that eridu was being irrational and wrong.

However, now that you point it out, it seems wrong for me to wish to restrict other people's conversations. I would prefer to simply ignore such conversations, but I don't trust myself to do so reliably. Selfishly, I might wish for moderators to ban such conversations, but the moderators' preferences on what to ban don't always coincide with mine or other users'.

A better technical solution might help. I don't have enough experience with other forums to make good predictions on what different features might lead do.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-14T14:16:29.286Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

it seems wrong for me to wish to restrict other people's conversations

Do you mean in general, or do you mean in a particular forum?

If the latter: there are all kinds of conversations I wish to restrict on this particular forum. Most of them don't in fact happen here, but if they started to I would leave. Some of them do happen here, and I grit my teeth and do my best to ignore them, and I downvote them to communicate my preference.

What's wrong with that?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-09-14T15:17:23.877Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I mean conversations on LW, yes. And yes there are conversations, which are few in practice, that I wouldn't wish to happen even if I was oblivious to them. Like anything that harms people.

But the subject I was discussing was conversations that bothered me when I saw them, not just in themselves (then I might vote or reply to influence them), but by tempting me to participate in a something I would later regret as a waste of time. E.g., an unproductive argument, troll-baiting, bad argumentation or rationality, and other things of that sort. Hence Eliezer's new rules which are intended to more quickly shutdown downvoted conversations - although I disagree with the method, I tentatively agree with the goal.

However, I don't want to stop others from having conversations that I don't like merely because they e.g. use poor arguments or defend completely wrong positions. It would best for conversations to happen, just without bothering me. I don't know if this can be achieved in practice.

Some of them do happen here, and I grit my teeth and do my best to ignore them

Of course I can't be sure that the conversations that affect you that way are the same ones that affect me that way. So could you say which ones you mean?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-14T15:36:35.320Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It would best for conversations to happen, just without bothering me

Why would that be better than the conversations not happening here at all?

So could you say which ones you mean?

I would prefer not to point to specific threads. Generally speaking, what most irritates me is exchanges where we talk past each other in long comments without ever quite engaging with each others' main points, and threads where we don't really engage one another at all but rather all try to show off how individually clever we are.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-09-14T17:49:34.969Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why would that be better than the conversations not happening here at all?

Because it would be better for others to have the conversations they want, and the same to me if I were not bothered.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-14T17:57:40.935Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, OK, but... let me back up a bit here, because I'm now confused.

You've said that you're talking about conversations that bother you by tempting you to participate in them, and you've (tentatively) endorsed the goal of shutting those conversations down. But you've also said you endorse allowing conversations to continue if people want those conversations. And it seems implicit in the whole conversation that you're treating peoples' participation in conversations as evidence that they want those conversations.

It seems that those three sentences describe an internally inconsistent set of desires... that is, if they were true of me, there would exist conversations C such that I both want C shut down and do not want C shut down.

Which, OK, that sort of goal-conflict is certainly a thing that happens to human brains, it happens to me all the time, and if that's what's going on then I understand my confusion about it and no further clarification is necessary. (Or, well, more accurate is to say I consider no further clarification likely.)

But if that's not what's going on then I'm confused.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-09-15T11:09:30.026Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First, at least some of the other people in these conversation say that unlike myself, they really want to participate in them and it's not a temptation they would want to avoid.

Second, I would prefer those conversations to exist (since others want them) if they could exist in a way that would not tempt me to join in, as it does now. Of which I said that I don't know if that goal could be achieved in practice (except by moving these conversations to a completely separate site, obviously).

As long as that goal is not achieved at least partially, I recognize there's a problem (for myself) with having these conversations here on LW. And I tentatively welcome changes to the LW rules that try to fix this, even though I am uncertain if the specific changes being implemented will not have other, worse, negative effects as well.

Yes there are conflicting goals here, but I am explicitly balancing them.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-14T06:03:51.967Z · score: 2 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The eridu-generated threads show that the direct reply toll doesn't seem to work, or at least it didn't in this case. I still don't like the idea of the indiscriminate whole-thread toll, but I'm no longer expecting the current alternative to be effective.

I've thought of another option: maybe prohibit a user from posting anywhere in a subthread under any significantly-downvoted comments of their own? This is another feature of all bad threads that could be used to automatically recognize them: the user in a failure mode keeps coming back to the same thread, so if this single user is prohibited from doing so, this seems to be sufficient.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-09-14T17:49:44.049Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't like the idea of the indiscriminate whole-thread toll

It looks like that idea has already been replaced with hiding subthreads rooted on comments that are -3 or lower from recent and top comments.

I like the idea of hiding bad subthreads, but wish it's a manual moderator action instead of based on votes. A lot of discussions that descend from downvoted comments are perfectly fine and do not need to be hidden.

I've thought of another option: maybe prohibit a user from posting anywhere in a subthread under any significantly-downvoted comments of their own?

I don't think that's a good idea. What if its a non-troll user who just made a bad comment? They wouldn't be able to come back and admit their mistake or clarify their argument. An actual troll on the other hand could just make a new account and keep going in that thread.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-14T17:58:18.768Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What if its a non-troll user who just made a bad comment?

A trivial low-cost solution, roundly ignored by EY and the rest of the forum management.

A related quote:

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-09-14T23:34:13.414Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to try harder at this "ramming", you could follow the link I posted above and present your idea there as a comment. :)

comment by shminux · 2012-09-15T00:03:04.811Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Done.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-14T18:03:53.440Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

hiding subthreads rooted on comments that are -3 or lower from recent and top comments.

I endorse this, incidentally. (Not that there's any particular reason for anyone to care, but I've expressed my opposition to various other suggestions, so it seems only fair to express my endorsement as well.)

I also share the belief that automatic actions are more likely to apply in situations their coders would not endorse. That said, I also endorse the desire to reduce the workload on administrators. (And I appreciate the desire to diffuse social pressure on those administrators to avoid or reverse the action, though I'm more conflicted about whether I endorse that.)

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-09-17T01:57:14.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like that idea has already been replaced with hiding subthreads rooted on comments that are -3 or lower from recent and top comments.

I just noticed that cousin_it suggested this last year. Also, Eliezer asked:

Does anyone have any strong reasons why LW is better off six months from now if there's a preference option instead of just an automatic behavior to hide such comments? If not, I would just like to see the behavior.

If anyone can think of a strong reason, they should probably follow the link above and comment there.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-15T05:17:39.841Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the link. I don't expect that filtering of what's presented is a good strategy, as it aims at shaping the perception of the community culture, not at shaping the culture itself. It's more important to shape the culture, and perception can't be automatically filtered in a way that presents a picture that's significantly different from the unfiltered picture (for some sense of "significantly").

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-09-15T20:14:25.894Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the idea is that if people don't see new replies to the hidden subthread in recent comments, they'll be much less likely to respond to those replies, so such threads will die out much more quickly. This will also cause trolls to not have as much fun trolling here so they'll be more likely to leave us alone in the future.

ETA: On the other hand, perhaps we should talk about non-technical ways to change the culture as well. Do you have any ideas? ETA2: A lot of previous discussion can be found here.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-17T06:15:16.612Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've thought of another option: maybe prohibit a user from posting anywhere in a subthread under any significantly-downvoted comments of their own?

I'd prefer the subthread to be outright locked than this. (I only very mildly oppose the latter but the former would be abhorrent.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-14T14:30:59.176Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll observe that this will also prevent the "Huh. Can someone explain why this comment has been so heavily downvoted?" sorts of comments, as well as the "Oh. I now see what was wrong with my comment, thanks all" sorts of comments.
Or, rather, it will prevent those comments from appearing where they would naturally go in a thread. Of course this won't necessarily prevent people from making the same comments they're making now, it will just prevent them from doing so in that location.

These might or might not be good things.

More generally, I'm interested in what results you expect from implementing such an option. It would be good to record that somewhere before making a change, so we can subsequently establish whether the change had the desired results.

I'm also curious in what ways you expect those results to compare to giving mods the power to freeze a comment tree (that is, identify a comment and not allow further comments to be made downstream of it by anyone) when they consider it appropriate. But that's more of a personal curiosity.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-14T14:55:49.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll observe that this will also prevent the "Huh. Can someone explain why this comment has been so heavily downvoted?" sorts of comments

I thought of that, but there doesn't appear to be a way of automatically separating these cases. Such questions could be edited-in in the downvoted comment itself, or included in a separately posted improved reframing of the content of the downvoted comment.

what results you expect from implementing such an option

This would make bad threads of the currently typical form literally impossible to construct, so it's at least an interesting experiment. The successful outcome is for the downvoted conversations to peter out faster due to the inconvenience of having to find new starting points that are not replies to preceding conversations. I expect the worst that could happen is that instead of the nice orderly Big Bad Threads we'll have a deluge of bad comments scattered all over the place.

I'm also curious in what ways you expect those results to compare to giving mods the power to freeze a comment tree

This variant of blocking only the downvoted user's comments seems better on most counts, as it doesn't have the downside of indiscriminate blocking which motivated the need for human judgment, it's automatic and so won't focus complaints as much, it seems to catch all the same threads that a human moderator might close, and it applies faster.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-14T15:08:26.341Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK, thanks.

I suspect that if the goal is to make bad threads peter out faster, preventing all users from contributing to a bad thread will likely achieve that goal more readily than preventing one user from doing so.

We could even do that automatically if we wanted. For my own part I trust humans more than simple automatic pattern-matchers for this sort of thing, but if y'all prefer automatic pattern-matchers to diffuse the resulting complaints that's an option as well.

Of course, if we're OK with automatically blocking the downvoted user on the thread but not OK with automatically blocking other users on the thread, then an automatic branch-freeze won't work. This might be true if there are other as-yet-unstated goals being addressed, beyond the desire to end the thread itself.

Personally, I don't like the idea of letting everyone post on a thread except the person they are responding to; one-sided conversations make my teeth itch.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-09-13T04:18:30.541Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let's say that I post comment B in response to comment A. Comment A has 0 karma, so I suffer no karma penalty. Five minutes afterward, however, various other users downvote comment A to -5. Would I be karma-taxed retroactively ? How would this affect comment B's rating ? If the answers are "no" and "it wouldn't", that could explain the present situation.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-13T20:42:20.775Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if there can be a race condition, when a comment is started before its parent is downvoted to -3, but submitted after, resulting in an unexpected karma burn.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-09-13T20:45:03.740Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. That happened to me yesterday; not only does it produce karma loss, but the warning message doesn't pop up.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-13T21:44:26.346Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I guess a workaround would be to open the parent in another window and check its vote before hitting "comment"... And if it is already at -2, maybe think a bit first :)

I hope that this half-assed mis-implementation gets fixed eventually. Incidentally, my earlier suggestion to only apply karma burn when the offending comment's author has negative monthly karma would largely take care of the race condition as well, if the warning message pops up based on the monthly karma. Something along the lines of "do you really think it's a good idea to reply to someone with negative karma?"

comment by Nornagest · 2012-09-13T22:16:59.724Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that sounds like a much better solution than what we've got. Your workaround should also work -- and would be made a bit more safe by applying the reversible vote trick, though that's a borderline exploit -- but I wouldn't be surprised to find other issues; the different parts of the karma system here don't always synchronize perfectly.

comment by thomblake · 2012-09-13T20:46:37.394Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A related note: You can sometimes get around the karma burn by upvoting a comment that's at -3, commenting, and then reversing your upvote after.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-13T04:51:00.441Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"No" and "It wouldn't", indeed. But heritable penalties once something does go to -3 would prevent users with zero or lower karma from replying further, thus preventing the current thread from happening again.

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-13T06:10:49.345Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think "preventing the current thread from happening again" is anywhere near an important enough goal to justify heritable karma penalties -- let alone retroactive ones.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-09-13T06:21:01.337Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've not seen retroactive penalties proposed anywhere; the current system warns you when you start if a penalty applies for making a comment, presumably that wouldn't change.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-14T01:54:40.360Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yep. Nobody was proposing retroactive.

comment by CCC · 2012-09-13T07:23:02.130Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

An alternative possibility, that may have the same or a similar effect, is to auto-close the children of heavily downvoted posts when they appear on the "Recent Comments" window. Adding an extra step to reply to such a post will tend to reduce the number of replies that is gets, and will clearly signal to the reader that the post is, in fact, the child of a heavily downvoted post.

I have no idea if this possibility will be better or worse than the heritable penalties (nor, for that matter, which option would be easier to implement).

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-13T13:57:48.261Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That one's in progress, I think.

Also, to reply to a comment elsewhere in thread, obviously penalties are not going to be charged retrospectively if an ancestor later goes to -3. Nobody has proposed this. Navigating the LW rules is not intended to require precognition.

comment by spuckblase · 2012-09-13T14:35:47.938Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Navigating the LW rules is not intended to require precognition.

Well, it was required when (negative) karma for Main articles increased tenfold.

comment by thomblake · 2012-09-13T19:58:54.162Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, or when downvotes were limited without warning.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-09-13T20:09:16.539Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Could we change the "Recent Comments" box to say "Recent Threads", instead, with a count of updated comments, net karma, and most recent poster for each thread as usual ? For example, something like this:

EliezerYudkowsky on Meta-note: Right now... by EliezerYudkowsky on The Worst Argument In The World | 7k, 2 new
Mugbuster on You all smell... by Obvious_Troll on The Worst Argument In The World | -15k, 18 new

This tells me that Eliezer commented on a thread that he started, and the thread is generally positively rated, though low-volume, so I might click it. On the other hand, Mugbuster commented on a high-volume thread that has cumulative -15 karma, which means that it's probably a trolling thread, and I should stay out of it.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-29T22:57:15.972Z · score: 6 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Guilt by association, as has been mentioned before, is probably a better name.

comment by metaphysicist · 2012-08-30T20:13:13.634Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The association fallacy is indeed what Yvain invokes: "An association fallacy is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association."

Key to demonstrating the association fallacy is identifying the intended association because only then can you go on to argue that it's irrelevant. Ignore this step and you are likely to fall into another fallacy: the straw-man argument.

comment by wallowinmaya · 2013-11-25T06:30:02.185Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think there are two cases where you forgot to type the word "fallacy" after the word noncentral.

But in this case calling Martin Luther King a criminal is the noncentral.

This is why the noncentral is so successful.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-08-29T19:21:43.132Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Consistent with Korzybski and General Semantics, you're objecting to the is of identity and the is of predication. Also, in GS terminology, all your examples use highly intensional terms, as opposed to extensional terms - racist, theft, murder, sexist.

Korzybski and the general semantics crowd go on and on about this issue. And often do.

Reading Korzybski can be a little tedious for his messianic tone and verbose writing style, so I recommend articles from General Semantics groups to get a background in their analysis, which I consider highly rewarding for the semantic hygiene it provides. For Korzybski himself, I highly recommend the usually neglected sections on math and science at the end of Korzybski's "Science and Sanity".

EDIT: A more concise characterization of the fallacy, garnered from Max Stirner, is the mistake of valuing according to your categories, instead of categorizing according to your values.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T11:29:41.482Z · score: 5 (8 votes) · LW · GW

This is a special case of Agree Denotatively, Object Connotatively.

comment by The_Duck · 2012-08-27T18:57:34.058Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think this should be explicitly connected to "policy debates should not appear one-sided". The incorrect response to the worst argument in the world results from forgetting this and trying to deny the downside to your position that your opponent has pointed out. The correct response is to acknowledge the downside but argue that the upsides outweigh it.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-27T20:14:38.338Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The correct response is to acknowledge the downside but argue that the upsides outweigh it.

Arguably, a better response (depending on the "goal" of the "debate") would be to demonstrate confidence in the upsides and their superior worth in a manner which connotatively implies that the downside is far overshadowed. That's somewhat Dark-Side-flavored, though.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-08-27T18:04:09.211Z · score: 5 (16 votes) · LW · GW

"Affirmative action is racist!" True if you define racism as "favoring people based on their race", but though the archetypal case of racism (white people keeping black people down) has nothing to recommend it, affirmative action (possibly) does. In the archetypal case, decisions are made based on race, success is completely decoupled from merit, and disadvantaged groups are locked into a cycle of poverty with little to no escape. Affirmative action keeps the first disadvantage, arguably escapes the second disadvantage depending on the setup of the particular program, and positively subverts the third. The question then hinges on the relative importance of these disadvantages. Therefore, you can't dismiss affirmative action without a second thought just because it's racist and you can dismiss most cases of racism without a second thought. You would also have to demonstrate that the unique advantages of affirmative action which other forms of racism lack fail to outweigh the disadvantages affirmative action shares with racism in general.

I think most contemporary invocations of "That's racist!" are examples of the worst argument in the world so I'm not so sure about that.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-08-27T17:23:00.714Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure "This specific example has something to recommend it" saves the example from being legitimately described in terms of the category. I'm minded of "Yeah, I killed him, but he deserved it" - that is, everybody thinks their example has something to recommend it, something that makes it distinct from the categorical description, that's why they support it/did it to begin with.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-27T11:09:36.237Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

And okay, a tiny fraction of the time people are just trying to use words as a Schelling fence.

[citation needed]

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-27T16:55:52.399Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

(And I extend my implicit anti-claim to all words people try to use, not just hot button words in explicit my-side vs. your-side political rhetoric at the macro scale. (Schizophrenia often involves becoming acutely aware of this at a young age and then becoming increasingly stressed about it, sometimes to the point of catatonia. Cf. Bateson's research on double binds.))

comment by Will_Sawin · 2012-08-27T17:08:26.673Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you expand/clarify your last point?

comment by siodine · 2012-08-28T00:46:49.243Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, and I'm not all that clear on his point myself, but basically you can create the appearance of making a point, and look cool while doing it, if you express yourself with confident quirkiness and keep your statements as ambiguous, unexplained, and as obscure as possible. People will then pattern match whatever "revelation" they can into your words and then even give you credit for it!

For example, If I'm right, and I'm always right, Bartlefink proved hypercomputational phase warps in the predimensional wave-nurgle causes a condition whereby a tiny fraction of people use all words, obviously not codimensionally, as a rudimentary Schelling fence during periods of heightened causa sui political stress. Dasein!

comment by Larks · 2012-08-28T01:14:04.064Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is a skill to not correct people when they mis-interprit you as having said something clever.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-28T19:17:18.609Z · score: -9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Other anti-epistemological tricks include feeling justified in not understanding something if you make it look like your own ignorance and inability to read should be blamed on someone or something other than your own to-be-damned self.

LessWrong, you guys sucked at hermeneutics long before I decided to fuck with you about it—you sucked at it ever since you decided to adopt Eliezer's flaws along with his strengths. (I guess that's what happens if you're not already a somewhat skilled rationalist before you try to learn rationality from a single guru. Not your fault, but, it is your fault if you get self-righteous about your own to-be-damned ignorance.) If you were smart you'd know how to read this comment as something other than a political attack, but you're not, so you won't. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to irrationality; the night is dark and full of bias.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-08-28T20:47:37.493Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

By similar reasoning: If you were smart, and cared about results rather than mere signaling, and had reason to believe your advice was good, you would not phrase your advice as personal or political attacks.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-28T20:53:39.829Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Signaling is its own reward. Cf. Sermon on the Mount. Mmmm, status. Snort that shit.

comment by siodine · 2012-08-28T19:40:31.267Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

lol

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-28T19:41:26.702Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

:D

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-28T21:23:43.889Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Don't downvote this! It was a well-executed trolling don't-feed-the-troll riposte! Such moves should be encouraged.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-28T19:42:16.084Z · score: -8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

:D

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-28T21:13:10.234Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(With this thread I have more-or-less successfully engaged various LessWrong folk in a clearly pointless signaling circle-jerk, with no redeeming value on the object level. (Weak) proof by example. Quod erat fucking demonstrandum.)

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-08-27T20:27:41.049Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Nope.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-31T01:35:51.734Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do we ever succumb to the worst argument in the world in non-moral issues?

Excellent example. This kind of equivocation on 'murder' is used---and even accepted---on lesswrong with distressing frequency.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T11:23:28.177Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's my impression that "front group" as typically used refers to a hidden/covert connection. LessWrong on the other hand has the logos/links for CFAR, SI and the Future of Humanity Institute displayed prominently.

comment by gwern · 2012-09-19T21:52:47.689Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

SIAI over its history (you can look at the Form 990s if you want) has gotten maybe half or less its budget from Thiel. Where's the rest coming from? Lady Luck's charitable writeoffs?

Still, at least you seem to have dropped your claim that SIAI or LW is a homeschooling propaganda front...

comment by DaFranker · 2012-08-30T15:54:16.016Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oooooh. Thanks!

I'm surely going to find a use for this.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2012-12-20T06:22:27.612Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Then there's another half--when the wrongness of something is missed because it does not (technically by an approximate dictionary definition) fall into a pre-existing category in the 'Wrong Cluster'. Examples: Forced consent, dishonesty that's 'technically not lying', extortion that's 'technically not stealing' getting a free ride.

So we have a general 'linguistic ethical determinism' (better name anybody?) fallacy, wherein something is considered wrong if and only if it comes under an existing Category of Wrong according to a pedantic definition. (This is itself, of course, a corollary of human obsession with linguistic categories, which I gather is covered in A Human's Guide to Words.)

comment by Sengachi · 2012-12-20T00:27:58.724Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like this article very much, and I think it's an important fallacy to take note of. I do not however, think it is the worst fallacy. I think the worst fallacy is: I don't need a reason/argument to believe what I believe.

comment by Bluehawk · 2013-04-21T05:08:41.069Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm having a little trouble actually articulating what I find wrong here, and I'm not sure if that's a fault in what I'm supposedly intuiting or in my ability to articulate.

That's not so much a "logical fallacy" as a mistaken belief that belief is incontrovertible (or a mistaken over-valuing of "the personal opinion"). You've also substituted Argument for Fallacy.

The one you've outlined might also be less important here because it's a lot easier to recognise for what it is, and is likely to be recognised as a stonewall rather than as a convincing argument in a Dark Arts debate. The convincing Bad Argument does a heck of a lot more damage.

Which argument is "worst" comes down to semantics: does Worst Argument resolve to "Argument That Does Most Harm", or to "Argument That Is Least Correct", or to "Argument That Is Least Convincing", or to "Argument That Is Least Likely To Be Useful"?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-09-20T12:37:18.512Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yudkowsky's luck consisted of having a billionaire friend (Peter Thiele) who bankrolled SIAI

How did he acquire such a friend, and who convinced him to bankroll SIAI?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-13T13:47:24.028Z · score: 2 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I've banned all of eridu's recent comments (except a few voted above 0) as an interim workaround, since hiding-from-Recent-Comments and charge-fee-to-all-descendants is still in progress for preventing future threads like these.

I respectfully request that you all stop doing this, both eridu and those replying to him.

comment by fezziwig · 2012-09-13T15:35:52.718Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I think Eridu's downvotes were mostly well-deserved.

I don't think this is a good idea.

I wonder if we could solve this problem from another direction. The issue from your perspective, as I understand it, is that you want to be able to follow every interesting discussion on this site, in semi-real time, but can't. You can't because your only view into "all comments everywhere" is only 5 items long, so fast-moving pointless discussions drown out the stuff you're interested in. An RSS feed presumably isn't sufficient either, since it pushes comments as they occur and doesn't give the community a chance to filter them.

So if I've reasoned all this out correctly, you'd prefer a view of all comments, sorted descending by post time and configurably tree-filtered by karma and maybe username. But we haven't the dev resources to build that, and measures like the ones you describe are a cheap, good-enough approximation.

Do I have that right?

comment by Emile · 2012-09-13T16:25:05.942Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The issue from your perspective, as I understand it, is that you want to be able to follow every interesting discussion on this site, in semi-real time, but can't. You can't because your only view into "all comments everywhere" is only 5 items long, so fast-moving pointless discussions drown out the stuff you're interested in.

I think it's more than that - he also doesn't want other people to notice the pointless discussions, so that

1) people stop fanning the flames and feeding the trolls

2) people post in the worthwhile threads, resulting in more quality there

(and I agree with this point of view)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-14T01:50:10.341Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Above all:

3) Newcomers who arrive at the site see productive discussion of new ideas, not a flamewar, in the Recent Comments section.

4) Trolls are not encouraged to stay; people who troll do not receive attention-reward for it and do not have their brain reinforced to troll some more. Productive discussion is rewarded by attention.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-14T06:52:07.440Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The discussion with eridu was probably worth ending, but I saw someone say it was the best discussion of those issues they'd ever seen, and I'd said so myself independently in a location that I've promised not to link to.

I am very impressed with LW that we managed to make that happen.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-09-14T08:29:32.182Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am very impressed with LW that we managed to make that happen.

Did you learn something useful or interesting, or were you just impressed that the discussion remained relatively civil? If the former, can you summarize what you learned?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-14T15:45:57.042Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I learned something that might turn out to be useful.

I got a bit of perspective on the extent to which I amplify my rage and distrust at SJ-related material (I had a very rough time just reading a lot of racefail)-- I'm not sure what I want to do with this, but it's something new at my end.

The civility of the discussion is very likely to have made this possible.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-09-14T23:51:08.170Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I got a bit of perspective on the extent to which I amplify my rage and distrust at SJ-related material (I had a very rough time just reading a lot of racefail)-- I'm not sure what I want to do with this, but it's something new at my end.

I'm having trouble understanding this sentence. First, I guess SJ = "social justice" and racefail = "a famously controversial online discussion that was initially about writing fictional characters who are people of color"? But what does it mean to amplify your rage and distrust at some material? Do you mean some parts of the SJ-related materials made you angry and distrustful? Distrustful of who? Which parts made you feel that way? Why? And how did the eridu discussion help you realize the extent?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-14T11:29:15.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did you learn something useful or interesting, or were you just impressed that the discussion remained relatively civil? If the former, can you summarize what you learned?

I'm curious myself. I honestly didn't see anything useful said. (Perhaps I just took all the valid points for granted as obvious?)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-14T15:57:50.435Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That discussion sucked. I was appalled at LW when I came back after a few hours and still "patriarchy" "abuse" etc hadn't been tabooed.

comment by