I agree thoroughly.
But...I think you believe in discourse too much. You really believe you should be able to talk to, and find common ground with, a whole lot of people -- the feminists, the Republicans, the Democrats, the Catholics, etc. And sometimes I have to wonder why.
I used to argue with Catholics. They were smart, considerate people, good debating partners. But it wore me out and made me miserable and in the end I decided there was no point to it. I'm *not* a Catholic and I'm never going to be, so why have any truck with their beliefs?
I'm not a feminist either. Or a Republican, or a Democrat. The people who run the world are going to run it in their own way, and I'm just going to try to stay out of their hair. I don't really care if they play nice or not. I don't really care if discourse about this sort of thing is intellectually honest. It's talk about society and law and culture, and I don't have any way to *affect* those things, so who gives a damn what's *said* about 'em?
That's also why I don't bother hiding any aspects of my views and actions. People who do not like them can self-select out of my social group early and save me the trouble of dealing with them. Works great for dating. Probably less well for the work world, though I find that even there self-selection for compatibility works.
I also find that people who hold strong beliefs (Puritan separatists, for example) can interact with others just fine and so succeed. People who are rabid atheists, feminists, fundamentalists, etc. tend to marginalize themselves and so aren't in positions of authority very often. As with diseases, less virulent strains survive more than the extremes.
"I believe the Bible because God said it was true. We know He said it was true because it's in the Bible. And I believe the Bible because God said it is true"
I've heard that from more than one person at the University of Delaware in the 1970s. I kept arguing with them until I realized they really thought like that, at which point I concluded there was no hope of my convincing them of anything. I wonder if this example of reasoning in a very small circle was taught by the Campus Crusade for Christ-- they were active on campus at the time.
I'm not claiming that they were typical Christians, just noting that they existed.
2012-09-18 07:05 am (UTC)
Stereotypes are conceptually powerful because there is some truth to them. This doesn't make them any more fair and right, nor does it make using them as predictors a useful way to go about _discourse_. (And there is no end to the ethics debates you can get into when you talk about using them in other contexts, but fortunately we're talking about talking here.)
A bingo phrase that is no persons's argument is just a pure strawman, I'm sure they exist, but they're unless they're unusually believable they won't persist as well as bingo with basis.
Edited at 2012-09-18 07:10 am (UTC)
I really enjoy your blog, whatever you write about, but please don't restrict yourself from writing about controversial topics when you have insights to contribute. I would not have been able to articulate what you've written in this most recent series, I haven't seen what you wrote here anywhere else, and it's a perspective to which I think people should be exposed. If you had decided not to write this because a few months ago you decided not to participate in culture wars, or if you had spaced it out or abstracted it further, something valuable would have been lost.
2012-09-18 02:00 am (UTC)
Seriously, this. I get it might feel a bit weird attracting new viewers with this, but trust me, the views are well-deserved. You're providing the best analysis I've seen in a long time on a topic that seems to have most corners of the internet flinging bile.
2012-09-18 02:16 am (UTC)
A great post, and I particularly enjoyed the excellent critique of the, well, creepy bingo-card phenomenon.
I disagree with your take on the INRB debut, however. In theory it seems like it could bear the "please don't pattern-match me, oh please don't bingo-card me" meaning you're giving it. But in practice, it's become such a famous meme with such heavy baggage attached to it that in my experience no one uses it this way. That is, no one who wants to convey that meaning (and must therefore already be familiar with the basic race-debates arguments, with pattern-matching, etc.) will use that particular phrase; they'll say something more complicated, but less memetic.
In my experience, people who actually say INRB use it "naively": even if they're aware it's a phrase, they don't know that there's a tradition of mocking and deriding it. They go on to either say something actually racist or, more often, express an opinion that has to do with some particular race in some way. Or both.
Similarly, people don't say "Some of my best friends are Jews" to mean "Hey, I know I'm saying something that may look anti-semitic to you and I know that the line about friends is a famous cop-out, but I don't mean it in its cliche way, I actually do have Jewish people among my best friends and not because they're Jews but because they're awesome and I know that doesn't prove anything by itself but I'm just offering it as indirect evidence of my complete lack of any conscious anti-Jewish bias, and that's quite an important part of my personal ideology and I hope you can believe that."
Similarly, people don't say "Some of my best friends are Jews"
I was thinking that. Some of my best friends are Jews. As are many of my family members. I regularly go to shul. I can quote chunks of talmud. If anything, I'm way too prone to assume jewish people are just like me, and have difficulty seeing things from the point of view of someone from a predominantly arab/muslim country. But if I ever need to say "I don't know much about this, but I think I know more than you, so maybe you should rethink what you're saying", I know I have no way of saying any of that without sounding like I'm playing a "more jewish than you" game for the sake of it.
I think you're right, that people saying something racist say "I'm not a racist but" much much more than anyone else. But Scott's right that that's very annoying if you're trying to have an actual conversation and hoped the person you're talking to would have time to explain what was actually wrong with what you were saying, if anything.
 OK, not frequently, but still :)
 Generally the bits like "and then the Rabbi glared at them and great destructive beams came out of his eyes and they all vaporized", but still :)
 I cannot stress hard enough how I am not making this up :)
Ah man, this is too good for the ephemeral nature of a livejournal blog post. You really should set up something like what gwern and muflax have.
Edited at 2012-09-18 03:07 am (UTC)
Really? This series is getting more pageviews than the terribly implausible World War II
did? I figured that had to be the most perfect internet bait ever. Hell, it's linked twice from TvTropes.
No, that one is still a unique gigantic spike on my statistics page. I think this is higher than everything else, though.
I'm not racist, but I do like pancakes.
I almost mentioned that quote, but I couldn't figure out how to fit it in!
2012-09-18 04:32 am (UTC)
You're getting a ton of pageviews because...
...this is some of the best stuff you've done. Really. It is awesome. Don't stop.
You could make an awesome book out of this. I am quite sure it would sell a LOT of copies. But, of course, you'd never get laid again...
2012-09-18 05:39 am (UTC)
Re: You're getting a ton of pageviews because...
I haven't even *threatened* to dump him!
There's a lot here I don't really agree with, but I only see one glaringly wrong thing here, and that's the whole "I'm not racist, but..." section. If you think about it, you should actually expect that most of the people who say something like this will be racist, or at least saying racist things. There will, of course, be people who use it in the manner you mention, but they will be overwhelmed by people using it in bad faith.
The reason for this is rather simple, too, which is why it's so annoying that you're overlooking it. Once it is no longer socially acceptable to say racist things, that does not mean that the people who think that way have changed their minds. They will still believe they are right, and want to contribute to the conversation. Since they don't want to be face the social consequences of saying things everyone acknowledges are racist, they have to find some way of deflecting that criticism. The easiest way of doing that is to say "I am not a racist, but...," so this will be what most people who want to say something considered racist, but face no consequences for it, will resort to.
This does indeed cause a problem for the people who have a genuine issue they want to bring up. There is no easy way to establish you are not actually a racist, but you have something problematic to discuss. There is always the hard road of establishing trust over time with an audience who will then give you a chance, but even that won't help when your words spread to people who don't know you. I agree this is a problem, but I don't think that there is any good way to deal with it beyond what we have now, given the incredibly low signal-to-noise ratio in INRB statements. You appear to be completely ignoring that issue in your post, which is very frustrating.
Regarding the popularity comment, you should remember that your Livejournal Statistics are going to be really skewed by posts that generate a lot of discussion. I've been reading your blog via RSS since someone linked me to the WWII History Channel entry, but I almost never click through to the actual Livejournal page unless I want to comment, and if I do, I will check back at least a couple of times for responses. Even though I'm not a new reader, I probably look like one to Livejournal Statistics, and I'm probably not alone in that. Personally, I'm really looking forward to when you get off this topic, I like your other stuff much more.
the incredibly low signal-to-noise ratio in INRB statements
Yeah, this was what I was thinking for most of the post. It's really really great to talk to someone that can add valuable nuance to a widely-debunked viewpoint thoughtfully and knowledgeably, but on some cases it just doesn't happen that often, and the language used is a good indicator.
Drawing from direct experience - I'm currently really distressed by the ire directed at poor people in my own country right now. We're still in a recession, the government's (rightly) said "don't blame us for the sudden drop in employment", yet they're blaming beneficiaries, and demonising them through sheer repetition. Their attacks - mostly punitive straw man policy proposals, coupled with soundbites about "encouraging" people to take responsibility for their "choice of lifestyle" - tend to coincide with introducing unrelated and unpopular policies (to be fair, there are quite a lot of those right now). Our social development minister has been brazen enough to say she doesn't have to rely on evidence for things that are "obvious" (of drug-testing for beneficiaries).
..so, after a while it gets really really sickening listening to other people parrot the stern opinion they continually read in the paper, that "people need to get off their lazy arses and stop expecting the government to bail them out" over and over again, and establishing that they have precisely zero basis for that belief outside of its truthiness and this one lazy guy they know (also regularly followed by "you can throw facts and figures at me all you like, it won't change my opinion" - possibly one of the most headsmackingly reactionary statements ever). So... basically if someone puts that opinion forward (and they'll do so pretty much verbatim), yes, the chances they'll have anything illuminating to share with me are virtually nil. Corollary is the chances they're open to any opinion I put forward is also virtually nil.
I can get on board with the issue that the bingo card slippery-slope can be unfairly used to shut down potentially useful debate - but just, after a while there are particular statements that very strongly signal that someone's being an ass, to the extent that it's not worth knocking my faith in humanity yet again to engage them on the offchance. Granted, I'll usually ask them if they have some evidence before walking away.
Conclusion: I have an internalised bingo card, and it's there to preserve my sanity. I assume the actual bingo card meme came about as a way of letting off steam.
Scott: I think it's really important to highlight that you've put forward an argument that you believed was at high risk of being shut down, and it's certainly a controversial one, but it's resulted in some really good and (from what I've seen) good-faith discussion in the comments; there have been people that agree and disagree, and there have been lots of different experiences described and lots of different tangents. So... there are platforms for more advanced discussion where it won't be nuked; QED, good on you for establishing one. Probably it helps to be able to create one's own, given that one can then outline a few policies about what kind of interaction is encouraged/tolerated.
Edited at 2012-09-18 06:57 am (UTC)
|From: Roy Stogner|
2012-09-18 05:20 am (UTC)
Decision theory changes in the presence of other agents
We can (relatively) easily optimize for Type I vs Type II errors with cancers, because mindless cancer cells don't make decisions like "Doctors are the least paranoid about colon symptoms - let's forget about the lungs and head down there!"
With an infectious evolving opponent like bacteria, things get more difficult. Optimal use of antibiotics based on a short-term utility function isn't the same as based on an integration over time, because one of the biggest negative consequences of excessive antibiotic use doesn't start to manifest itself until many generations of bacteria have been given opportunity to adapt and develop antibiotic resistance.
When dealing with people, you don't just have replicators that can evolve over generations to fit their environments, you have thinkers that can anticipate and immediately react to their environments. So even a time-integrated expected utility calculation is insufficient. You need a decision theory that takes into account how other agents will react to how your theory takes into account how they will react...
The discussion of welfare brought this to mind: decisions which are obviously short-term utility-increasing like "poor single mothers need to be given more money than poor married parents" may have contributed to long-term utility-decreasing trends like "more children are raised by poor single mothers", not due to fraud but simply due to people's straightforward reactions to changed incentives.
My point may apply at a meta-level to this entire discussion. Suppose I'm sure an optimal metaphorical test tolerance is 30. And suppose you think it's 60. I believe that if we could do the proper u-maximizing calculation we'd all see du/dt=0 at t=30, but clearly we *can't* do that calculation precisely or there would be fewer deluded people walking around believing t=60. If we partitioned decisions to let us each control our own lives then you could use t=60 and I could use t=30 and we'd both be happy, but again suppose this is practically or politically impossible. Now what do I do? I can tell you my beliefs and we can come to a bargain at (60+30)/2=45... but I'm not a dumb disease, I'm a sneaky thinking person, so I realize that if I *claim* to believe in t=0, then our bargain hits 30 and I'm (secretly) happy!
But wait - you're one of those cunning sentients too, so you've already realized that you can claim a belief of 100, so you'll at least get our bargain point back up to 50. In the short run we've now hit Nash equilibrium where we both think we're using utility maximizing strategies... even though in the long run we're now throwing disingenuous claims at each other, polarizing debate, and perhaps even persuading future generations that they actually *should* hold one of our professed beliefs and become a part of the glorious 0-or-100 team keeping those evil 100-or-0 people in check. A few iconoclastic blogs may try to spoil our fun, but unsuccessfully: "100" and "0" are well-specified enough to be Schnelling points, but "moderation" and "sanity" are not.
...on the other hand, "100" or "0" supporters might not always be confused or conniving; often optimal values really are on interval endpoints. Any decent optimization software isn't just going to look for critical points, it's going to check domain boundaries as well. If medical experience suggests otherwise, that's an unsurprising selection bias, because there's no point in wasting med students' time studying the many cases where there's zero false negatives (no matter how creepy the little girl is acting, don't call an exorcist) or zero false positives (if there's blood spurting out, take care of it now).
But with politics and sociology, even if such clear-cut cases exist we'd never know for sure, because those fields haven't passed the "patient died? you must not have done enough bloodletting!" stage yet. We're finally wise enough to consider cultural changes or laws demanding that medicine be double-blind tested against placebos, but we don't demand any such rigorous controlled testing of cultural changes or laws themselves.
Oh my god. You're right.
There's a standard argument about "efficient charity" that says you should concentrate all your donations on one charity, because presumably you have preferences over the total amounts of money donated to each charity (not just your individual donations), so choosing something like a 50/50 split would be too sensitive to minor changes in other people's donations.
I just realized that the argument applies in equal force to politics. If you're not using "beliefs as attire" but actually care about politics, your participation in politics should be 100% extremist. This is troubling.
I spent too long on my last comment, and I will not have the time tomorrow to really do justice on why I disagree with much of what you say here(since as I said in my last post, it is not obviously wrong), so I'm just going to sum my feelings up as best I can now before going to bed. I apologize if I'm unclear and don't address specific points.
I feel like there are valid points in some of the things you say, but you don't give any credit for why things are the way they are now. You talk about the negative influences feminism has on healthy conversation, but discount the negative influences it is counterbalancing. You ignore the context of things in a way that makes them sound worse than they are.
Mostly, when I look at most of your suggestions, they all seem to put way more burden on feminists so that things will be easier for you, and that makes me just feel... tired is the best way I can put it.
You talk about the negative influences feminism has on healthy conversation, but discount the negative influences it is counterbalancing. You ignore the context of things in a way that makes them sound worse than they are.
Mostly, when I look at most of your suggestions, they all seem to put way more burden on feminists so that things will be easier for you, and that makes me just feel... tired is the best way I can put it.
Yes, this is exactly how I feel as well.
Awesome post (even if I agree with some of the commenters that you're maybe being a little too uncharitable on feminism). This if anything deserves to be on LW.
Also, I support the suggestion that you should consider making this series of posts into a book.
I think a large part of bullying is stigmatizing ordinary human reactions-- for example, people getting defensive when they're attacked.
The particular application is that when a contentious subject has been around for a while, people keep repeating the same arguments. This is ordinary human behavior, but bingo cards are a way of saying it's only ridiculous when the other side does it.
Relevant to bingo cards, thresholds, and a lot of comments above:
Something that seems underdiscussed in the rationality community* is that people need semantic stopsigns badly. Or, to unload that term, people need heuristics that allow them to terminate cognition, because cognition is a limited resource. Why do people resist having their heuristics challenged? For the same reason people don't want to be told that the dog puked all over the couch: it means unpleasant work in an area they thought was safe.
*: I don't follow LW diligently so perhaps this has been worked over, but I see a lot of attention to why cognition terminators are bad and a lot of confusion as to why people should want to hold on to them.
Speaking as someone who hates libertarians less than other political denominations, your post on libertarianism is gold.