Comment by rings_of_saturn on Sayeth the Girl · 2009-07-21T06:50:29.958Z · score: 11 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for this lengthy and thoughtful reply. I, too, am encouraged to notice the points on which we agree or are not that far off.

I don't really think you are the "thought police," and I didn't mean to imply that. But I do stand by my assessment of your post as vaguely coercive. There is such a thing as coercion by public shaming. I think this is what Roko might have been getting at in his recent post. If you do not see how this is a legitimate concern, then perhaps I can pull an "Alicorn" and just insist that if you were a man, you would know what this feels like. And if you think I am being overly sensitive, well you are just swimming like a fish in a sea: a world that favors your right to say anything you damn please about any gender without automatically questioning your self-awareness, your motives, the amount of serious thought you have put into the issue, and your fish-not-knowing-water-tude.

"I'm sorry you feel creepy. It would be nice if it were possible to confront privilege without feeling creepy." Obviously I'm not saying it feels creepy to confront privilege. That seems like an almost deliberately obtuse statement on your part... though taken in context of your otherwise respectful comments, I'll assume it's meant sincerely.

What feels creepy is the notion that there is some vaguely defined "offensiveness" out there that I — as a person with great affection for and deference to my mother, my three sisters, my wonderful female friends, my respected female co-workers and my stupendous female lovers — cannot sense, and that I must take another's word for it that I am wrong and the other is right. I can perceive most sexism, but there is a special class of sexism lurking everywhere that I am blind to, even though I've thought seriously about these matters. The evidence you link to, incidentally, is rather weak — it is all internal comments, and one might just as easily point to the comments you object to as counter-evidence as each instance is by definition an example of yet another person who feels differently than you on this topic, hence raising your hackles.

Incidentally, Alicorn, for the record (and my apologies to all if this comment is out of place here... I can edit it out if need be...), I actually used to think much closer to the way you do on these topics. I am by no means "blind" to the things you point out, and in fact I used to have a highly developed radar for them. I still pick them out all the time. I just think it is a particular form of contemporary ideology that teaches many people (men and women) that these things are hurtful and must be banished from all hearts and minds, when no one perceived them that way in the past. They are supposed to be inidicative of a disdainful attitude towards women even when, as I assure you is the case with me, no such attitude exists. Or, if the complainant grants that there was no harmful intent, she can still gain traction with the argument that "Well, no, you didn't mean to insult me, but these kinds of so-called innocuous comments are the stuff with which the patriarchy keeps women down and belittles them etc and is therefore unethical. I am insulted, therefore you are the one who did the insulting." This is supposedly what makes gender non-neutral statements about women unacceptable while gender non-neutral statements about men are considered by the same people to be regrettable (or occasionally a laff-riot!), but par for the course. When men point out that people make casual blanket generalizations about men all the time and that men rarely complain and usually just chuckle along, they are told that they can't possibly understand what it feels like from the woman's point of view, and may also be accused of "calling all girls whiney," a specter you raise in your disclaimer.

You come very close to this realization when you say to me "I am more offended than you by a certain class of things - specifically, by things that have to do with a group I belong to and you do not". You see, I'm essentially saying the same thing. Yes, you are more offended than I am, and that's your problem and not mine. As you say in your rejoinder to my "coercion" comment, no one here is trying to "threaten, intimidate, trick, or otherwise exercise pressure or force on" you.

If, in the absence of threats, intimidation, tricks, pressure, or force —that is: in the absence of any actual harm done to you or anyone else— you persist in feeling offended, that is your business. As I said in my earlier comment, that is every bit your right and I would never want to mock or belittle someone for feeling set-upon as you quite apparently do. It's a very unpleasant feeling, I know, and I am in no way trying to say that you are imagining your own feelings. But I feel that it is precisely that: your business, and not that of the community.

So what that means for me is that while, naturally, you have every right to say whatever you want on this topic, I remain unconvinced. Perhaps you never intended for me specifically to change anything, as I note that I personally am not linked to in your catalog of offenders. If that's the case, then bully for both of us, as I have no plans to alter my manner of talking or writing.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Being saner about gender and rationality · 2009-07-21T01:44:17.508Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW


I would be interested to hear your reply to the more substantive charges that Roko levels. I am in general in agreement with him that while the issue you raise is worth thinking about and discussing, your method of talking about it is thoroughly and consistently disingenuous. To wit: In your classification you left out a fourth group of people, of which I would consider myself one: people who actively support gender-neutrality but have a completely different definition of it and who consider people with your definition to be the ones similar to fish swimming the water, unaware that they are wet.

Can you please address the real issues that Roko raises here, especially in the pargraph that begins "Alicorn has contributed..."? Your reply here seems to be avoiding the Least Convenient Possible argument.

Or the comment that I posted here? I understand that you have had to post many replies since posting your piece the other day, but I am still unsatisfied.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Sayeth the Girl · 2009-07-20T18:24:56.557Z · score: 38 (54 votes) · LW · GW

My main problem with this post is that it attempts to impose social norms based on nothing more than your personal feelings, Alicorn.

I found your "Disclaimer" very off-putting. Though I'm sure you will say that you were either trying to be as straight-forward as possible or that you are just being cute and charming (taking these assumptions from comments you have already posted), I immediately read this disclaimer as saying: "Anyone who disagrees in the comments with what I have to say in this post is almost certainly going to be labelled as sexist." This casts a pallor over the entire discussion.

Imagine if I wanted to post something controversial on AI, something that I knew from past experience with the community was going to get me a lot of challenges in the comments, and I prefaced it with "If you are a stupid person who doesn't really understand AI the way I do, and who can't really do math as well as I can, this post is unlikely to interest you." I'd be laughed off the board, and rightly so.

In fact, one might consider it an excellent piece of evidence of one's own yet-unseen bias if one feels the need to preface a discussion with all-purpose disagreement-deflectors of this kind!

My other objection to the way you have framed this issue is to your twin assertions that you (A) are not interested in feminist stuff per se, and (B) are not easily offended. I believe you on both counts, of course, though I have nothing to go on except your own assertion. Nevertheless, it is my observation that on the particular issues you raise in this post (and many, many times before in the comments of other posts), you are easily offended. To my mind, almost comically so.

But, to follow your rhetorical maneuver here: You (A) aren't particularly a "feminist" and (B) aren't particularly sensitive, therefore (C) you aren't being overly-sensitive on this issue. Well, even granting (A) and (B) on very little evidence, I still reject (C).

However, from where I sit, you have raised some legitimate concerns, and for that reason I upvoted this post. But I want to register that I strongly disapprove of the borderline-coercive way in which you do it in this post and have done it in the past in the comments. This post feels creepily thought-police-y to me, which I am sure is not your intent.

To respond to your specific suggestions, I'd like to register that ....

I agree with #1 in principle but it's clear to me that I have a very different definition of what constitutes an unethical level of "objectification" and therefore this one may calculate out to disagreement on my part.

I agree with #2, though it seems like a rather tiny issue. I know, I know... Male advantage #46, right? Nevertheless, having duly considered my Male Advantages, I still think this is a negligible issue, one that you have every right to try and change if you please, but which I emphatically reject as a norm to be placed on others in this community.

I strongly agree with #3, because those kinds of unfounded generalizations are both unfair to women (or whatever subgroup), and bad-faith argument, and sloppy thinking.

I strongly agree with #4, mainly because I don't see what PUA discussion adds to Less Wrong. I'm actually fascinated with PUA theory and practice, but it's rife with pseudo-science and discussed in such detail on so many other blogs that I'd prefer to see Less Wrong steer relatively clear of it as a serious topic.

Your suggestions for what we can "use more of:"

Number 1: I agree most strongly with this suggestion, both on gender issues specifically and on all topics in general. Thoughtful qualifiers are always a good idea. I actually think these are part of the secret to the power and popularity of Eliezer's writing and Yvain's too.

Number 2: is a useless catch-all that, again, makes me feel creepy. What do you mean "attention"? Should we all post one comment a week that deplores male privilege? I know you are not advocating anything mandatory, and my question is tongue-in-cheek. But do you see how this kind of talk (along with your first disclaimer) casts a gauzy shroud of "guilty of sexism until proven innocent" over the place?

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Sayeth the Girl · 2009-07-20T17:08:14.585Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This idea does not have my approval.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Absolute denial for atheists · 2009-07-20T07:09:40.985Z · score: 2 (15 votes) · LW · GW


What if I told you that talking about "getting a woman" was a direct and honest expression of my most inner desires, that I really did view her in that objectifying way, and that I considered this attitude perfectly natural and healthy, and that, furthermore, I find it objectionable for others to consider it their perogative to correct me on this?

And that I very often find "being offended" to be an offensive behavior in its own right?

And that I heavily discount verbal contradiction from other males because it signals a very well-established mating posture, that of the helpful and supplicant beta male?

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Religion, Mystery, and Warm, Soft Fuzzies · 2009-05-25T02:58:16.772Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW


I have heard this argument before, and I don't think it carries quite the same force as you apparently do.

You seem to vastly underestimate the kinds of remarks that men hear constantly that tell them that because they are men, they must be a certain way. The general culture is full of notions, some loud and some winking, that men are terrible, evil, violent, lazy, stupid, inept, and on and on. Turn on any American primetime television show and observe the male characters with a dispassionate eye. Try to discern which gender is more often portrayed as truly malevolent (on dramas) or incompetent (comedies), and which gender most often carries the torch of moral rightness, or has to clean up all the messes made by the bumbling idiot.

You are using a "stop sign" ( in your argument when you say that a man couldn't possibly understand what it feels like. You are heading off disagreement at the pass, signaling that anyone who proceeds with disagreeing nevertheless is therefore insensitive and unfeeling. This is poor form (though of course quite common), and it has the added vice of being untrue. I can understand it just fine, thank you very much.

There are differences between the situation of men and that of women, that I can see that might support your argument. One, supporting your sense that women literally feel these comments in a way that men can't, is that there are vastly more men in positions of power (although, of course, men pay much more in taxes to a government that redistributes that wealth disproportionately to women, and of course that there are also vastly more male victims of violence, men that die on the streets, die in wars, rot in prison, live as shut-ins, go untreated for severe drug and alcohol dependency... but this rarely enters into discussions about gender privelege because the answer to this question has already been determined before the discussion even started... to even question the premise is purest heresy). But let's say for sake of moving on that men are indeed in a position of privelege. So that's one thing that I can think of that might support your assertion that I, as a man, can't possibly understand the feeling you have, that the power dynamics infuse your internal mental experience with a special category that anyone outside the in-group cannot ever hope to understand.

But you are flat out wrong when you say that gender-typing is only a "rare occasion" for men. It happens constantly, all day every day.

Other than that, I would assert that just because you know what it feels like to be a woman does not mean you are really all that qualified to understand what it feels like to be not-a-woman. I think that as a human you are qualified to understand other humans relatively well. But if you insist on making it a gender thing, then I must object to your characterization of what men do or do not feel inside.

You are certainly right about one thing, that men in this culture do not generally complain about this stuff. But it's not because it doesn't happen, but because we have not been trained to be on hair-trigger alert to every tiny perceived slight.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Where's Your Sense of Mystery? · 2009-04-28T01:56:47.056Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also somewhat off-point but I'll post this anyways:

I'll agree that this post is "male-centric" in the sense that Alicorn is talking about. But I don't think it's fatally so, as any smart woman (or homosexual for that matter) can of course recognize that the mate-choosing parallel is arbitrarily chosen, and can make the necessary changes to create a parallel example in mate-choosing that's more relevant to his/her own life.

However, as a heterosexual man myself, I'll respond directly to the example.

I must admit that I take a lot of pleasure in choosing women for "the wrong reasons" aka appearance (especially wide hips!). I'm wise enough now in my dotage to know that I'm getting myself into a world of trouble. But I tend to enjoy that trouble. It's part of the peculiar spice of life as far as I am concerned. I'd rather have knock-down drag-out shouting matches and a relationship doomed to failure with a crazy, beautiful woman, than be with a "perfect partner" that inspires less viscerality in me. And even if offered the lucky match of sexy AND smart/wise/kind, I might even go so far as to say I'd prefer beautiful and difficult to beautiful and well-matched.... maybe. It does lend a fun tang to life.

But perhaps this only reinforces Yvain's point. Those are my particular criteria, and I am best served as a rational person to seek out women with those criteria, knowing they are what makes me most happy.

What kind of (pseudo)scientist would I be then, to carry out this parallel? The kind that climbs Martian pyramids just because they are there, knowing full well it's exceedingly unlikely they were made by aliens? Hmmm....

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Degrees of Radical Honesty · 2009-04-01T04:44:10.788Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think that you are just shunting the moral problem here down the pike.

Maybe you can imagine you just discovered Anne Frank's family was living in your attic moments before the brownshirts come knocking?

... and resume with dilemma.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on 3 Levels of Rationality Verification · 2009-03-16T02:12:23.626Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah... I can't think of any good actual examples either, but maybe we should be trying to falsify rationality, rather than verify it.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Closet survey #1 · 2009-03-15T07:57:24.689Z · score: 12 (24 votes) · LW · GW

If anything, I have the convert's bias in this regard, Michael, not the true-born believer's. I'm fairly young and was raised in quite a progressive household. I'd suspect myself more of overstating my case because it has come to me as such a revelatory shock. But that's neither here nor there, as I'm not advocating for any specific "tradition."

I'll posit that gender roles and dynamics since the feminist movement began in earnest in the 60s and 70s have proven to be a sizable and essentially unprecedented break from the previous continuum in Western societies going back at least a couple thousand years. I don't know enough about 1600s Japan or Hopi or Dravidian societies to speculate as to whether they fit into that pattern too. I understand there are arguments that feminist regimes are actually more original to the human species and that patriarchy only appears with the advent of agriculture and monarchy/despotism. My understanding is that this is an open question, and again beyond my expertise. So I should readily concede that "traditional" is a highly suspect term.

So I'll be even more blunt, since this is our comment thread to not worry about whether or not these views are currently acceptable, right?

My rather vague comment is based in a more specific belief that women like to be dominated by men, that these feelings are natural and not pathological (whether or not that makes them "right" is of course another question) that they are unhappy when their man is incapable of domination and are left feeling deeply sexually unfulfilled by the careerism which empowers them elsewhere in their lives, that the current social education of both women and men (at least in the circles of the US in which I move) teach everyone that it's abhorrent and wrong for a man to assert power over a woman, that men who enjoy it are twisted assholes and that women who enjoy it are suffering from deep psychological damage, and that it is practically inexcusable for a woman to admit that her limbic system gives her pleasure signals when a man arouses her this way.

Naturally, I am basing the perception of this relatively new regime, at least in its current extreme form, on my interpretation of what came immediately before in the society in which I was raised (I don't know firsthand as I was born well into the current regime), so your point stands, I suppose. But I don't really think using this as a starting off point merits any twinkling snark.

The second sentence of my original post, however, contains the more important point. Regardless of whatever "norm" anyone has in mind, be it Basque, Dravidian, or Branch Davidian, the real problem is that the current norm actively teaches unhappiness-increasing lies. If the last regime was imperfect too, I'd counter that two wrongs don't make a right.

Though as Z M Davis notes, not all beings value happiness highest. I readily concede that too.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on The Least Convenient Possible World · 2009-03-14T19:16:28.672Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Great, David! I love it.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on So you say you're an altruist... · 2009-03-14T18:59:08.206Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Also, as I know you are aware because you linked to it once at OB, Eliezer, there is the work of Gregory Clark, which suggests a double reason refuting this essay's line of argument. Not a response directly to your comment then, but as an add on I mention it here.

I suppose this line of reasoning is not new to most here, but since I don't see it explicitly mentioned....

1) Most controversial, and almost an aside to the main argument that Clark makes but of course the claim that gets the most ink: that there is something in the culture or even genes of certain societies that keeps them from effectively industrializing.

2) The core claim: That throughout history, temporarily increasing the food supply (through minor technical innovation, or through some other windfall) in a non-industrialized population just leads to more births, creating more people living at the subsistence level. The next food or money shock around the corner puts all these people at death's door. An increase in their numbers just strains the subsistence system even more, inviting an even more horrible catastrophe. Only large, across-the-board increases in the efficiency of economic agents can provide anything other than temporary respite from this trap.

I do not mean to be glib about the horrible, regrettable, and tragic death of a single victim of starvation, let alone millions. But if poorly aimed altruism leads to MORE starvation in the future, then it is not really altruism but self-important, deadly moralizing. I don't know where the truth of the situation lies, but at the very least I bet I could come up with a cute, leading and misleading thought experiment that would lead the essay-writer to admitting he's killing 10 times as many people as he claims he's saving. And I'd be just as reprehensible in my intellectual laziness as he appears to be.

Added: In response to Yvain's latest post, I can accept that this is one sense a dodge of the question. I suppose I don't have a response to the central question, if indeed the central question is whether to do everything in one's power to alleviate suffering, either through food charity or condom charity or whatever. So to separate out the issues here: (1) I find the argument disingenuous, (2) I do not have an answer. .... yet. I must think more clearly about my morals.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Closet survey #1 · 2009-03-14T18:25:11.814Z · score: 27 (49 votes) · LW · GW

That both women and men are far happier living with traditional gender roles. That modern Western women often hold very wrong beliefs about what will make them happy, and have been taught to cling to these false beliefs even in the face of overwhelming personal evidence that they are false.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on A Sense That More Is Possible · 2009-03-14T18:08:20.480Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, Vladimir. You have interesting friends!

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Is Santa Real? · 2009-03-14T02:21:00.706Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

One of the reasons parents often give for the Santa myth is that it is "fun" and it's good to give children a sense of wonder and joy. This is not a trivial argument.

I don't have children yet, but this post has made me wonder if a strictly no-lies-about-basic-reality policy wouldn't lead to just as much wonder. Is Santa really that necessary, even for the stated junior-level purpose it's given?

There are lots of fantastic, amazing things to wonder at, as a child and as an adult:

Everything in our universe may have started in the biggest, most gigantic-est explosion ever! BLAM!

There are millions of tiny critters living inside your tummy right now and they are helping you every day to eat your food! YUM!

All 7 billion people in the world are the great-great-great-(....)great-great grandchildren of one large-sized family of people who came from Africa! WOW!

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale · 2009-03-14T02:03:35.055Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW


I also agree with the post's assertion that relying on the absurdity heuristic alone is dangerous ground, it is still an excellent tool for at least calling in to question a set of beliefs which, upon further and more rigorous examination, may or may not merit rejection.

But, I must protest, a talking snake is not "a really bad reason" to reject that set of common beliefs. It is an EXCELLENT reason.

Snakes do not talk.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on A Sense That More Is Possible · 2009-03-14T00:50:06.740Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW


You've hit on something that I have long felt should be more directly addressed here/at OB. Full disclosure is that I have already written a lot about this myself and am cleaning up some "posts" and chipping away here to get the karma to post them.

It's tough to talk about meditation-based rationality because (a) the long history of truly disciplined mental practice comes out of a religious context that is, as you note, comically bogged down in superstitious metaphysics, (b) it is a more-or-less strictly internal process that is very hard to articulate (c) has become a kind of catch-all category for sloppy new-age thinking about a great number of things (wrongheaded, pop quantum theory, anyone?)

Nevertheless, as Yvain notes, there is indeed a HUGE body of practice and tried-and-true advice, complete with levels of mastery and, if you have been lucky enough to know some the masters, that palpable awesomeness Eliezer speaks of. I'm sure all of this sounds pretty slippery and poppish, but it doesn't have to be. One thing I would like to help get going here is a rigorous discussion, for my benefit and everyone's, about how we can apply the science of cognition to the practice of meditation and vice versa.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on A Sense That More Is Possible · 2009-03-14T00:16:36.638Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW


It seems you are being respectful of the anonymity of these people, and very well, that. But you pique my curiosity... who were these people? What kind of group was it, and what was their explicit irrationality all about?

I can think of a few groups that might fit this mold, but the peculiar way you describe them makes me think you have something very specific and odd in mind. Children of the Almighty Cthulu?

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Raising the Sanity Waterline · 2009-03-12T21:42:51.842Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are mistaking ambition and the spirit of betterment for "naivety and arrogance."

You say "it is one of those things that humans do and efforts to get rid of it would seem doomed," but that was once applicable to slavery. It may be difficult, quixotic, and almost comically ambitious. But the only thing that would make it "doomed" would be an attitude that says it must be.

MBlume's comment below summarizes nicely how we as a society might go about that (as does this whole thread).

Incidentally, I don't think this comment is really so bad; it's within reasonable argument, if only it didn't come blasting out of the gates with insults.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Raising the Sanity Waterline · 2009-03-12T21:12:18.205Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW


You leave yourself open to the reply that the non-rigorousness of the analogy makes it useless or even pernicious. Owning up to a fault doesn't make it go away.

Comment by rings_of_saturn on Raising the Sanity Waterline · 2009-03-12T20:46:28.509Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a good answer to Eliezer's thought experiment. Teach those budding rationalists about the human desire to conform even in the face of the prima facie ridiculousness of the prevailing beliefs.

Teach them about greens and blues; teach them about Easter Islanders building statues with their last failing stock of resources (or is that too close to teaching about religion?). Teach them how common the pattern is: when something is all around you, you are less likely to doubt its wisdom.

Human rationality (at least for now) is still built on the blocks and modules provided to us by evolution. They can lead us astray, like the "posit agency" module firing when no agent is there. But they can also be powerful correctives. A pattern-recognizing module is a dangerous thing when we create imaginary patterns... but, oh boy, when there actually is a pattern there, let that module rip!