Social Memes and patio11

patio11 is a frequent commenter on Hacker News. I like some of his writing, e.g. about bitcoin and consulting. Sadly, he advocates irrational social memes. But it's still more interesting than usual because he understands them more clearly than others.

Regarding, WSJ: Can 'World of Warcraft' Game Skills Help Land a Job?, patio11 writes:
Running a WoW guild is pretty good preparation for having to manage a fairly large group of employees with wildly varying levels of skill, attention to detail, ability to follow-through on commitments, intrapersonal conflict resolution ability, and the like.

That said: it is almost crazy to have on a resume, 99.54% of the time. It doesn't by itself persuasively say "I'm going to make you more money" and unless you have a very good read of the cultural background of the person reading your essay has a high risk of reading "I have low status hobbies. Please judge me for them!"
This is about how to meet social expectations, and be socially effective, rather than be logical.

Regarding, Guide dogs and guns: America's blind gunmen, patio11 writes:
This is one way in which a large portion of America is culturally distinct from Britain in a way which many people do not appreciate white people being capable of being culturally distinct. In much of America, use and possession of firearms is a strong cultural marker, like ear piercing or playing football or driving cars. Perhaps it is not obvious at the BBC, where this looks like "Crikey, that's the only way to make guns MORE dangerous," but for people who are in that culture, it reads more like "Blind man triumphs over adversity to claim his rightful place in the civic life of his community."
This is about social groups. It treats them as very important, and understands how much work people will put into gaining social acceptance.

Regarding, Why are some people so much luckier than others?, patio11 writes:
I rather like the Techzing guys' take on this, called "luck surface area," because it tracks with my experience and is actually weaponizable in a way that "be more observant" is not.

If you for some reason want to get into a guild protected by a scouting system, then your priorities should be a) identifying what the scouts are looking for and getting good at it and b) getting in front of as many scouts as possible as often as possible.

There exist many opportunities which HNers want which resemble "a guild protected by a scouting system" if you squint at them, by the way.
This comment has good insight into the social systems surrounding many Hacker News type activities. patio11 is vague about what he means, but I think that's on purpose. (Perhaps to avoid avoid offending people by saying what they are doing clearly and truthfully?)

Social Advocate

In each case, patio11's advice advice is approximately: obey social rules. Understand social rules, act accordingly, and you'll get ahead in life.

He's a little vague about recommending this. I read this vagueness as him not considering any alternatives. I think he takes it for granted that this is how life works.

He assumes if he tells people how to follow social rules better, and what the rewards are, they will want to do it. It's unnecessary to persuade people to live this way. It's life, and the issue is merely skill at doing it. patio11 has more skill than most, and he's sharing some.


It has never crossed patio11's mind that he's promoting irrationality. He's teaching people how to better conform the externally-determined rules for their lives. He's encouraging people to pay more attention to social issues, and develop more effective social skills, and live by them (which, like it or not, means less attention to reason, science, programming, etc)

He's encouraging people to be more social – and obedient to social expectations. He's encouraging them to learn how to deal with social issues more skillfully, like he does (rather than find a way of life in which one doesn't have to).

Social rules are not rational. Everyone knows this, but at the same time few people will admit it when they are on the defensive. They don't like the implication that their decision to learn and follow many social rules is irrational.

Let's look at the three examples above. The first rule is about not writing about "pretty good preparation" on one's resume. Instead of making the best rational case in one's resume, one is supposed to obey unwritten social rules about what to write or not write.

The second rule is about having to shoot guns for people to be more friendly with you. It's about pressuring people to share the same interests, instead of being happy for everyone to make their own decisions and choose their own interests. The gun shooting is a required social ritual, similar to prayer. You can tell because there's no flexibility to adjust it when it doesn't make much sense (as with a blind person). It's not about making rational sense, it's about social signaling.

The third rule is about guild systems. patio11 advises become skillful at what certain other people want, to please them, instead of figuring out what skills are the most rationally useful and pursuing those.

By learning and following social rules like these, patio11 has gotten ahead in life and received various rewards. At a cost to rationality. He's gotten better at pleasing others, but worse at figuring out what is an objectively good life and doing that. Instead of focusing on his own values, he's learned all kinds of ways to get along with people socially and please them.

Rather than openly acknowledge the tradeoffs, people view learning and meeting (and exceeding) social expectations as life effectiveness. They sacrifice their individual soul to the group, and don't even realize there is a question to consider about what to do.

Most people muddle through their life, including social life, without understanding what's going on very well, or why. patio11 understands how the social rules work more clearly, but still doesn't critically question them.

I find this all very sad. Smart people live bad lives, wasting so much potential. And even go around advising others to do the same. Well, I advise the opposite. Don't focus on pleasing others. Focus on pleasing yourself. No they aren't the same thing. Your personal preferences don't just happen to coincidentally match the intrusive preferences others have for you.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: The Best American Science and Nature Writing

I read, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2003. Mostly, it sucks.

One of the good parts is variety. There's a lot of short chapters. You get to read about lots of different things.

A bunch of them are unreadable though. But usually the next chapter is completely different, so that helps. One of or two or three is readable. A few were pretty good, and there was one that stood out as not having a blatant huge flaws.

Why are some of them unreadable? Well, a fair amount of them are politics. There was one promoting leftwing anti-American views about 9/11. There was one (by a famous physicist, Steven Weinberg) giving very stupid leftwing political arguments against missile defense technology (yes, it was kinda anti-technology in this science book, from a scientist. though it was more about politics). And there were a bunch of environmentalist articles, including one by Bill McKibben (one of the worst people in the environmentalist movement, and that's saying a lot!).

So I skipped over a bunch of leftwing politics and environmentalism. It was as dumb as always. Sometimes I tried to look through it. The article trashing DDT – because leftwingers don't care if black people die over in Africa – I actually looked through page by page, the whole way. I was curious if it would have any science or scientific argument. It did not.

Most articles had shamefully bad arguments. Or lack of arguments. Even if they were actually about science, the quality of argument was still terrible. I don't really want to type in a bunch of examples, that doesn't sound like fun.

The article I liked the most was about elephants. It was saying how they communicate over long distances. They can make sounds that travel for miles which are at a frequency humans can't hear. And then, at the same time, they can stomp their feet and send vibrations in the ground. The ground vibrations go slower and further. And then the elephant getting the message can tell where the other elephant is, because the vibrations in the air and sound go at different speeds, the time between them tells the distance. So that was pretty cool and that article didn't have any huge mistakes that stood out on one reading. I wasn't really looking for mistakes while reading, they just kept jumping out in every single other article.

Some other parts were pretty cool. Like it talked about drilling ice cores from glaciers on Greenland. And they can learn about old weather because it just kept building up a year of snow at a time, so they can get year-by-year data. Ice preserves stuff well, even little air bubbles.

The style of the book is terrible. It's always trying to humanize and personalize stuff. Instead of telling me about science, it'd tell me about how some guy with a beard felt on a particular day when a breakthrough happened. Or the history of a person dealing with some scientific issue. Or how the article author went and visited a scientist, saw where he works, and talked with him.

All the articles have the same style. It's not like some people do it and others don't. It's consistent throughout. The article were gathered after being initially published at a variety of places. But they all read the same way. It's awful.

They're full of prestige too. They'll always say what awards some guy won. Or they'll quote a famous guy. But they don't follow up. They just say something, then quote a famous guy saying something similar. They never analyze the quote, or quote the argument or reasoning. They just quote his conclusion and move on. It's really unintellectual. And they use fancy words and sentence structures to try to impress people. They're always trying to set a tone of fancy important prestige stuff, instead of just telling you the science and letting you judge it.

The worst thing is there's rarely many details. It's so much overview. It's all talking down to you, and kinda summarizing vaguely. They could just write these short articles saying how something works. The elephants one was the best about this. It was a little vague but it suggested that was because they don't know everything about elephants yet. Most of them are intentionally not trying to really explain much.

Instead of scientific details they're always throwing in prestige and irrelevant human details. So it's not exactly a science book, or an intellectual book. Not really. It's pretty sad. As much as I'd like to blame the editor, Richard Dawkins (since he's a horrible leftwing anti-human fool), there's tons of other people who are also at fault here. He may have made it worse than usual though.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Worse Than a Mary Sue

a Mary Sue is an idealized or perfect character in a fiction story, often a fan fiction.

Mary Sue's have lots of amazing traits and success, and often are the author inserting themselves in the story (falsely).

the TV show Royal Pains is similar to many, many other TV shows. the main character doesn't really do things wrong. he's a doctor, he always solves cases, usually with hardly any bumps along the way. (compare with House M.D. where there were always a bunch of mistaken guesses before the correct answer)

but it's not really that Mary Sue. he's not perfect. he doesn't have a million good traits. he's just a doctor and when it comes to the medical cases he always cures his patient. it's kind of like a lawyer show where he always wins his cases. it's kind of an optimism and happy endings thing. and anyway it's a social show more than a medical show, so they focus on that. girls do kinda fall into his lap in the first episode. but the rest of the season 1 isn't especially like that, he mostly tries to date one girl and there's ups and downs.

and i don't think the writers are trying to insert themselves into the story.

but i think the show is worse than a Mary Sue. and many other TV shows work in a similar way.

he's so damn passive and generic and everything happens to him, without him having to go get it. he gets all this success with very little initiative.

the first episode actually starts with him getting fired (unfairly is the narrative, but it's not actually obvious and the show doesn't bother arguing its point there). and then his fiancé dumps him because she wanted to marry a successful doctor (actually that was a bit ambiguous too). and then the hospital that fired him supposedly makes it impossible for him to get any job in medicine. and he bums around his apartment and watches Netflix.

so then his brother comes and gets him to go outside and go to a party in The Hamptons. and then success promptly happens to him. a person at the party has a medical problem. and the rich dude throwing the party has a doctor on call, who misdiagnoses. so the main character gets it right and ends up taking over as the rich guy's doctor. and word immediately spreads so other people start hiring him. a career just falls into his lap. and then someone knocks on his door asking to be his underpaid top-quality physician's assistant, before he's even decided he wants to stay in the area and be a highly paid doctor for rich people.

off topic, the show really tries to avoid the issue of money and payment. and kinda treats him like a regular guy dealing with rich people, kinda ignoring how much he could be charging and how much money he could have how quickly in his position. and lots of services he provides it's kinda ambiguous if he's even charging for them (this is extra problematic because the people receiving the services would want to know that clearly).

i think all the TV shows that portray success as happening by luck to passive characters are really bad. it's doing such a disservice to the world, and their viewers, to fake reality so badly. real life requires initiative. real success requires a go-getter attitude. real success requires effort, it doesn't just come to you.

It's worse than a Mary Sue because he isn't perfect, but the writers give him the benefits and rewards a perfect person would earn.

Edit: Another point I want to add is how the world keeps acting in unrealistic ways convenient for the main character. I have a good example. The main character often takes patients to hospitals, or calls ambulances with EMTs, or otherwise is around other doctors. And they basically always just do whatever he says, immediately, as if they were his assistants.

The main character has none of the traits that could make this conceivable. He doesn't have amazing charisma and leadership skills. He doesn't do anything awesome to make people react this way. They just do, contrary to reality.

Another example of faking reality is how he gets hired by Boris, a rich guy with a serious medical problem. He basically does a bad job, is annoying to Boris, has nothing special to offer ... and is hired anyway, and then repeatedly (informally) promoted, for no apparent reason.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)


Knowledge is not justified, true belief. What is it?

David Deutsch has said that knowledge is, loosely speaking, useful information.

I propose, instead, to think of knowledge as problem-solving information.

Knowledge is information adapted to a purpose. In other words, it solves a problem.

Knowledge is information with the appearance of design (for a purpose). In other words, it solves a problem.

What kind of information is useful? Information which solves some problem worth solving.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (32)

JEFF: Do you ever want to unplug?

JUSTIN: That's a very common question. It's just like anything. There are times you want to and times you don't.
He's saying that everything in life involves compromise.

Justin wore a camera on his head and live-streamed his entire life to the internet for months. Did he like having the camera filming at all times? No. Sometimes he didn't. But, he says, that's just how life is. Whatever he was doing with his life, sometimes he wouldn't like it, just like everyone else. He's saying his problems weren't worse than regular life.

He doesn't think that all problems are solvable. He thinks you just have to put up with bad stuff in life. And what he's expressing is the dominant, mainstream view. Everyone believes it.

You can't get everything you want in life, people say. You have to compromise.

I disagree.

Most things are within human power to improve.

There are some things people cannot control or change. Like the speed of light in a vacuum. Or that non-genetically-modified roses need to be watered to grow.

But if we can't change something, that doesn't mean we have to put up with unsolved problems. Why are these things problems? Why do we want them to be different? Why not adapt ourselves to the few parts of reality which are actually completely unchangeable? What's bad about that?

A compromise involves accepting something bad. That's why compromise is bad. But if a person is wise enough that he doesn't have an impossible preference (or changes one), there is no compromise there, nothing bad is happening.

If someone wants to have live roses and have them grow, but not water them, and not have anyone else water them (including not using automated sprinklers), and doesn't want genetically modified roses that don't need water, and so on... That is their own fault. They are created a problem out of nothing by having a bad preference.

If people don't form bad preferences (or change the ones they do form), then no compromises are necessary. Compromises like, "I guess I'll put up with watering my roses" aren't necessary. The compromise comes from blocking all solutions (sprinklers, hiring a gardener, not wanting live roses, etc).

There is no need to want the impossible. And anything besides the impossible is possible. So all problems can be solved. Either there is a possible direct solution, or there is a possible solution of not wanting to do the impossible.

Sometimes the only possible ways to accomplish something are immoral, but it's possible. The solution here is to change one's mind about wanting accomplish this. People don't have to have immoral preferences, and if they do they can solve the problem by changing their mind.

Compromises are non-solutions to problems. They are ways that no one involved gets what they want. Compromises are ways of proceeding which no one thinks is a great idea. Most people accept this terrible concept, compromise, as a routine part of life. It shouldn't be, and doesn't have to be.

If you recognize all compromises as areas to improve, instead of accepting them, then you can have a better life.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)


I think evolution is true. But many of its fans don't understand it very well (and some are mean to people with doubts). So I'm going to help explain it, from a philosopher's perspective.

Evolution is a general purpose idea about how knowledge can be created. Think of knowledge as useful, good information.

When something appears to be designed for a purpose, there is knowledge there. For example, hawks' eyes can see far – they seem designed for the purpose of long range vision; there is knowledge in a hawk's eye. And a wrist watch keeps time; it seems designed for the purpose of keeping accurate time; there's knowledge there.

There used to be a great mystery about how knowledge could be created. Some people thought the answer must be a designer. It's easy to understand how knowledge can be created by a designer because he already has knowledge and uses it for his creation. A watch does have a human designer, and that isn't mysterious. So people thought hawks were designed by God.

But where does a designer's knowledge come from? Even if you say human designers were designed by God, then where did God's knowledge come from? If designers are the only source of knowledge, God must have had a designer, and God's designer must have had a designer, and so on. Which doesn't work.

Evolution solves this mystery of where knowledge can come from without a designer. It's the only idea which has ever solved this mystery.


A big idea of evolution is replicators. Some things make copies of themselves. It's in the context of this repeated copying that evolution happens.

Replicators aren't simple, but they aren't a huge mystery like knowledge creation. It's not that hard to imagine building a robot which is programmed to construct more robots using the same design as itself (assume that people come by periodically and give it raw materials).

Some types of crystals, placed in the right circumstances, create more crystals of the same type. If there was no crystal there, none would be created. But if the wind blows a crystal to a place with the right circumstances, or a human places one there, then it creates more crystals. (If you're curious about this, look up the idea of a "seed crystal" to get started.)

Variation and Selection

Replicators aren't enough for evolution. Variation and selection are also needed.

Variation is easy. Replicators aren't perfect. Errors happen. Some copies are a little bit different. This can be random or accidental. The result is some amount of change, some new things are created.

Selection is more interesting than variation. The general principle is that replicators which are better at replicating end up existing in larger numbers. Replicators which are inferior end up existing in smaller numbers, even zero.

The better something is at making copies of itself, the more copies of it will exist in the future. (On average. It could get unlucky.)

When you put variation and selection together, evolution happens. Lots of different replicators get made (due to copying errors). Because they are made randomly, not designed, most of them are inferior replicators. They make fewer copies of themselves. But a few variations happen to be improvements, and make more copies.

Inferior at what? An improvement by what standard? The standard of making more copies.

And not just immediate copies, but also copies of copies. And copies of copies of copies. In other words, great grandchildren count. In fact, it's better to look at great grandchildren than regular children. That's a good rule of thumb: the more great grandchildren a replicator creates, the better a replicator it is.

What if we aren't dealing with people or animals? Then instead of "children" think "copies". And instead of "great grandchildren", think "copies of copies of copies". I'll speak of great grandchildren for convenience, but the more general concept is copies of copies.


With genes and animals, the replicators die off regularly, and decompose, and the resources (like the atoms they are made out of) get reused. So a replicator which doesn't do very well ends up at zero copies, and better replicators use its resources. But this is just one possible scenario.

We could also imagine replicators which aren't living creatures, which don't die, and which don't have the ability to take resources (like building material) from other replicators. Then the inferior replicators wouldn't die off, there'd just be fewer of them compared to superior replicators. Over time, better replicators will create way way more copies.

Suppose a replicator is able to create 10 copies per year (they all take the full year to be created). But another replicator can do 20. After 20 years with no replication errors, do you think the better replicator will have twice as many total copies?

It's actually far more. The better replicator will have 413,554 times as many copies after 20 years. Over time, better replicators dominate, even if they're only a little better and nothing ever dies or runs out of resources to keep making copies. Direct competition between replicators is not required.


So, replicators have copying errors and then over time there are more replicators that are better at replicating, and fewer that are inferior at replicating. Where's the knowledge? Where's the useful information, the appearance of design?

Well, over time these replicators get good at creating lots of great grandchildren. So, they appear designed for (approximately) the purpose of creating lots of great grandchildren. So there is knowledge there. There is useful information that's able to achieve a specific purpose.

It's not just any purpose. It's not knowledge about anything. It's knowledge specifically about (roughly) replicating great grandchildren. But that is knowledge.

So how are other types of knowledge created? Like a hawk's eyesight.

Knowledge About Other Topics

So where does knowledge of a hawk's long distance eyesight come from? Or a tiger's sharp claws, an ant's scent trails, a cow's ability to create milk, a fly's ability to land softly.

The general principle is that creating knowledge about one topic often creates knowledge about other topics too. If I want to be a good physicist, I'll have to learn some math too. If I want to be a good doctor, I should know some chemistry. If I want to be a good lawyer, I should learn how to read. Pursuing one topic leads to knowledge about many topics.

Getting great grandchildren is a complicated problem. Let's consider animals. They don't just have to have babies. They also have to get food, and not become food. Animals do not have knowledge about just anything. But they do have knowledge about many things relevant to having great grandchildren besides fertility.

Hawk eyes and tiger claws are relevant to their survival, and survival is relevant to having children. That's why evolution was able to create these eyes, claws, and so on.


Some critics portray evolution as randomness, and question the ability of randomness to create knowledge. And some of their opponent's laugh in their faces and call them ignorant. But, actually, there's an interesting issue here. It's a good topic to bring up.

The variation part of evolution is random. (Actually not exactly, but that's complicated, I'm not going to get into it.) And randomness doesn't create knowledge. Randomness doesn't design things (like eyes) for purposes (like seeing).

Although part of evolution is random, part isn't. The selection part of evolution isn't random. It designs replicators (like genes or ideas) for a purpose. What purpose? Roughly, to have a maximum number of great grandchildren.

How can something designed for one purpose (great grandchildren) be good at other purposes? This is an important question which some intolerant anti-religious evolution-proponents do not understand, let alone have an answer to. I discussed it above.


Animals are not replicators. And an animal's offspring are not copies of the parent animal.

What's actually copied are genes. Genes are tiny little sequences of information (made out of DNA). What they mainly do is something like control proteins to build baby animals. Genes are copied to child animals pretty much perfectly (except for infrequent tiny errors).

If you want to know more about genes, a good place to start is by reading The Selfish Gene.


A "meme" is a word that means an idea which is a replicator. It's used for talking about the evolution of ideas.

If you want to know more about memes, you can look at my archives, or ask at the Fallible Ideas discussion group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gender Role Symmetries

lots of gendered interactions involve roles for both the male and female, which go together.

for example a female dresses sexy and a male looks at her.

sometimes people complain about one half of the interaction, but not the other half, even though they are an integrated whole.

e.g. females complain "why was he staring/leering at me??? who gave him permission???" and then continue to dress sexy. (btw, if she does not complain and shut it down immediately, it's harder to resist later.)

the same female will not complain when a guy looks at her and she's single and finds him attractive. she does not object to gender roles in principle, nor to this one when it benefits her.

another example is flirty touching, which i'll call kino, for kinesthetics (PUA terminology, and shorter). this is another stereotyped behavior pattern involving both male and female roles. "blame men" is a stupid response to a mutual interaction.

people pretend like the woman didn't do anything because her role is more passive, and the man is responsible and blamable because his role is more active. if anything this is backwards, since initiative is a virtue and passivity is a sin. but really it's stereotyped behavior, they are both just playing social games, they are equal participants.

it doesn't really matter what the specific content of the male and female roles are. Are you really going to condemn someone for the happenstance of being born a particular gender (and therefore being pressured into the corresponding gendered behavior, which s/he had no choice about the content of)?

the only person with a moral high ground would be one who rejects social games. in which case he'll be rejecting the stereotyped behavior patterns done by both sexes, rather than taking sides (feminists take sides).

kino is part of courtship (including marriage-track dating, one night stands, flings, etc). if a guy likes a girl but doesn't do kino, he puts their relationship at risk. she may reject him, even though she likes him enough that she would have continued the relationship if he did kino. if he does kino especially well, she may even especially like him, significantly more than she would if the kino issue didn't exist and wasn't a factor.

guys are under pressure to do kino. some guys do kino even though they don't want to. they may be scared of it, and force themselves to do it anyway. it's a mistake to see them as aggressors who are touching innocent women without consent. many guys are just trying to conform to gender roles and play social games well, so they can get somewhere with women.

there are some bad apples. i don't deny that. there are overly-aggressive men. there are flawed women too. i'm focusing here on most people.

kino is, as far as physical touch goes, not a big deal. people routinely get touched in crowded places, and don't really care. and they get touched in kino ways by other people and like it.

when people react negatively to kino, it's because of the social meaning of the touching. it's not really, actually the touching that's very important, it's the attached social meaning. people don't like being touched in a courtship way by people they don't like to court. make sense?

women touch their own breasts. they check for breast cancer, or adjust them in their bra, or wash them. and they think nothing of this. b/c the physical touching really isn't important at all. these examples involve the same physical touching a woman would freak out about, but without the social meaning. and kino doesn't even involve touching breasts. it's milder than that.

the thing is, sometimes people will say they were being sexually harassed or abused by being touched. receiving initial courtship attempts from a guy you aren't into – even if they involve mild touching – is not abuse or harassment. it's just a normal behavior pattern which he's a victim of as much as the female is.

whenever you encounter gendered behavior you don't like, try to be fair and considered any corresponding behavior from the other gender. you (or the person you think is a victim) may be an equal participant in the gendered interaction too!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Objective Standard's Horribly Stupid Blog Moderation

I liked the article Kudos to Israel for Taking Steps to Defend Its Citizens Against Hamas from The Objective Standard.

It ended by saying:
Israel deserves not only our moral blessing for defending its citizens, but our unequivocal encouragement to do whatever it can to destroy Hamas once and for all.
Seeing it with zero comments, I figured I would offer moral blessing and encouragement to Israel. I didn't want to see an article of this nature have no positive comments. So I quickly posted this comment:
I agree and support Israel too.
Then I noticed they moderate comments, and I thought it was sad that a bunch of readers would miss my comment due to moderation delay. And I thought it was lame because there might already have been positive comments I didn't see. Then I checked back a bit later and saw my comment was no longer pending moderator approval. Nor was it posted. They deleted it. So I posted this:
You guys say Israel deserves our encouragement but then block my encouraging comment saying I support Israel? I don't get it.
Which they also blocked. The article still has no comments as I write this.

What an awful experience and awful approach to moderation. I've never before found a blog where you couldn't post "I agree". Let alone where you couldn't post "I [...] support Israel" in reply to a blog post which concludes by saying people should support Israel.

If you're going to have a moderation policy that violates user expectations and surprises them by deleting what they write, you should at least clearly explain what the policy is and warn people. But they don't do that. They just write:
Comments submitted to TOS Blog are moderated. To be considered for posting, a comment must be fewer than 400 words in length. If accepted, it will be posted soon.
This fails to communicate the comments are super serious, let alone explain what standards are used. Nor does it link to some explanation of what's going on, or how to write comments that will be approved. And it actually communicates the comments aren't very serious by imposing a length limit which is pretty incompatible with serious discussion.

Oh, and they made me register an account before I could comment have my comments deleted. (At most blogs I've seen, including my own, you don't have to deal with registration to post comments.)

What a horrible experience. But I liked the article and think the content is important. They could do a lot more good if they wouldn't mistreat friendly people so badly.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Explicit Preferences

If you ask people what their preferences are, and follow those, often they won't like you. Because what they say their preferences are doesn't match their real preferences. They have some preferences which they don't want to say, and others they don't understand well enough to say.

If you not only ask people their preferences, but also ask "Why?" when you get answers, then what they say will match their actual preferences less well. Because they will be less willing to say preferences if they don't have followup reasons prepared. Because they have some reasons for preferences which they don't want to say, and others they don't understand well enough to say.

(If you follow only preferences which people volunteer to tell you, without being asked, that will match their real preferences even worse.)

You might expect that if you ask people their preferences and follow them, you're being super nice and treating everyone wonderfully. And then find they don't think so. I think it's an interesting issue.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Social Rules for Discussion

people don't argue whether to have an affair. to prevent one they shut down discussion. "you can't say that, we can't discuss that, i won't think about that, i'm so offended, go away."

if someone allows it to be a topic of discussion, and says no, that's a lot of the way to them giving in.

there are other social rules where you're not supposed to do something, and a lot of the social mechanism to stop you involves refusing to think about or discuss the issue in the first place.

once the ice is broken, once there is a foot in the door, it's much harder for ppl to resist the social sin. they don't have actual arguments to resist with, and the social rules don't give them much help cuz they focus on blocking things off at the start without considering the issue.

it's sorta like if you say something taboo, then if you aren't immediately shut down (e.g. told to STFU) then just having said it makes it less taboo. even if you're just like "i wonder if the taboo about X is a good idea" and then you consider some args on both sides and end up concluding it's a rational taboo, that still kinda messes up the social prohibition that makes it a taboo.

an example is sending an elderly parent to an old folks home. that's not exactly taboo but there's pressure not to do it or even consider it. it's hard to bring up. it could offend ppl. when you say it, ppl might react immediately negatively, like "oh we could never do that". if no one reacts immediately negatively, then it's just become socially acceptable to consider it, and that's already a bunch of the way to doing it (even if u merely wanted to consider it, u've now helped it happen, esp if you don't have all the relevant decision making authority).

or consider ppl who are shy about sex. if someone asks "do you want to have sex?" and the other person isn't immediately offended, and is actually willing to discuss the topic, then they're already a lot of the way to having sex. breaking the ice is one of the hardest parts – or in other words lots of the pressures are front-loaded.

or it's similar with sexual fetishes. if you ask your spouse to do one of those, then the way it works socially is s/he has to be like "no way" immediately without thinking about it. otherwise it gets significantly harder to resist and say "no". even if they think about it and discuss and say "no", now that the topic has brought up you can just keep asking and giving reasons or whatever and wear down their resistance. their resistance isn't as effective once past the initial reaction.

or doing an intervention for someone. that's really awkward. and if you suggest it, ppl might say immediately "no, that's too drastic and mean" and shut down the idea. but if no one shuts it down then it's become socially acceptable to your little group of friends who were talking, and it's got a good shot of happening.

or committing someone to a mental hospital against their will. this might be a thing some relatives are considering but no one wants to say. and if someone says it outloud too early, ppl will shoot it down like "no way". but if someone manages to suggest merely considering it, without getting the idea immediately shot down, then they are a bunch of the way to actually doing it.

another example: pulling the plug on a spouse in a coma at the hospital.

one that is NOT an example is atheism. maybe it was in the past? (or is now in some countries like Iran?) but now questioning God's existence in the West is so well known and socially acceptable that allowing it to be a discussion is not dangerous to God believers. believers have developed knowledge of how to deal with challenges from non believers. they don't just rely on avoiding the discussion or maintaining some sort of taboo.

or both capitalists and socialists can socially-safely treat the other side as legitimate to discuss. they don't rely on just refusing to discuss. they're used to debate and don't consider the other side's ideas taboo. their resistance to switching sides is not front-loaded. breaking the ice like mentioning capitalism could be false doesn't really matter.

environmentalism, like recycling or global warming, is more front-loaded. they try to shut up debate more than socialists or capitalists, though not entirely. there's a lot of effort currently going into trying to make environmental skepticism an unthinkable taboo.

what are other examples and non-examples?

btw this stuff doesn't just affect discussions outloud with other people. it works fairly similarly with self-discussion. like if the example is an affair, just making pro and con lists in your own head is damaging to your ability to say no to the affair. it stops feeling like a taboo or illegitimate non-option, and starts becoming more possible to think about, discuss, maybe even do. or like consider if you've made pro/con lists in your head and then the other person suggests an affair. now it's harder for you to be like "wtf? no way! don't ever ask that again. how dare you?" cuz if you say that you're lying. and the person might guess that (or just hope it on general principles – nothing to lose for trying this tactic even if mistaken) and be like "you've thought about it, i can tell, don't pretend this is just my own deviant idea that never crossed your mind". if that's true, it's much harder to just be like "omg you're a deviant, what a bad idea" and block discussion entirely.

The Fountainhead illustrates the affair example:
“Your wife has a lovely body, Mr. Keating. Her shoulders are too thin, but admirably in scale with the rest of her. Her legs are too long, but that gives her the elegance of line you’ll find in a good yacht. Her breasts are beautiful, don’t you think?”
“Architecture is a crude profession, Mr. Wynand,” Keating tried to laugh. “It doesn’t prepare one for the superior sort of sophistication.”
“You don’t understand me, Mr. Keating?”
“If I didn’t know you were a perfect gentleman, I might misunderstand it, but you can’t fool me.”
“That is just what I am trying not to do.”
“I appreciate compliments, Mr. Wynand, but I’m not conceited enough to think that we must talk about my wife.”
“Why not, Mr. Keating? It is considered good form to talk of the things one has—or will have—in common.”
“Mr. Wynand, I ... I don’t understand.”
“Shall I be more explicit?”
“No, I...”
“No? Shall we drop the subject of Stoneridge?”
“Oh, let’s talk about Stoneridge! I ...”
“But we are, Mr. Keating.”
Keating looked at the room about them. He thought that things like this could not be done in such a place; the fastidious magnificence made it monstrous; he wished it were a dank cellar. He thought: blood on paving stones—all right, but not blood on a drawing-room rug....
“Now I know this is a joke, Mr. Wynand,” he said.
“It is my turn to admire your sense of humor, Mr. Keating.”
“Things like ... like this aren’t being done ...”
“That’s not what you mean at all, Mr. Keating. You mean, they’re being done all the time, but not talked about.”
“I didn’t think ...”
“You thought it before you came here. You didn’t mind. I grant you I’m behaving abominably. I’m breaking all the rules of charity. It’s extremely cruel to be honest.”
“Please, Mr. Wynand, let’s ... drop it. I don’t know what ... I’m supposed to do.”
“That’s simple. You’re supposed to slap my face.” Keating giggled. “You were supposed to do that several minutes ago.”
Merely allowing a discussion of the topic is a large social concession. Slapping is the kind of action which can shut this down, socially.

If the discussion were more rational, with serious arguments, it wouldn't change the social meaning of being willing to consider the topic in a discussion.

merely treating a topic as discussable has social meaning.

the social rules block paths forward. you can choose: block the discussion or defy the social rules.

you may doubt that affair discussion is an important path forward, b/c you have a low opinion of affairs. but i bet you have a higher opinion of something else which involves similar social dynamics.

also even if no affair is ever a good idea (past or future), discussion of affairs would still be an important path forward. because sometimes people want to have affairs, or think it's a good idea. even if they are always wrong, discussing it is still good. they could learn they are wrong and why, and then be happy to not do the affair. (but the social game rules are incompatible with this approach.)

one question is: how do you have such discussions without the social meaning? if you just want to talk/think about it but not change the social landscape. can you? it could be impossible since social rules are flawed, so they may not be compatible with this; the only solution might involve rejecting some social rules stuff. but maybe there's other solutions. post your thoughts in the comments!

on tangent, what do you think of Ayn Rand's affair? one notable thing is it wasn't secret. on TV affairs are usually secrets. (one reason is if you ask your spouse if having an affair is OK, that's one of those things where the socially acceptable response is to freak out and immediately shut down discussion)

Rand's affair was secret from the public, but not from her husband. I wonder how common non-secret affairs actually are in real life. Or affairs where a spouse knows about it without being told but doesn't say anything.

another issue is Rand was mistaken about how good a thinker Nathaniel Brandon was. is that a coincidence? did lust play some role in this mistake? or was she not mistaken at the time, and he changed later? (btw just merely raising the possibility that lust played a role in the mistake – not a nice thing to consider – has social meaning. it's harder to bring up that unkind possibility initially than it is to discuss it afterwards. the resistance is somewhat front-loaded.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

IDF Public Relations Analysis

IDF Strikes Houses in Gaza Used for Military Purposes is an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) blog post. I support the IDF, but want to criticize their communication. The IDF does an amazing job militarily, in tough circumstances. I offer this criticism in friendship, hoping to help the IDF better deal with those who would do harm to Israel.
When houses are used for military purposes, they may become legitimate military targets under international law.
Talking about houses being used for military purposes is good. That's something more people should know about before condemning Israel. But this statement grants authority and legitimacy to "international law". International law is a vague concept often used to attack Israel. It's mentioned again towards the end:
The IDF will continue to conduct its operations in full accordance with international law, including by attacking only legitimate military targets, and will continue its efforts to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians.
This statement treats "international law" as a higher authority, above the IDF, which the IDF has to obey. That's a dangerous position because the international community of nations contains some irrational, unelected, unaccountable and even anti-semitic actors which the IDF should not obey. After all the ridiculous United Nations condemnation of Israel, the IDF should understand that it must not give any control over its military defense to (often hostile) international outsiders.

Many of Israel's detractors demand the IDF follow international law. What they want from the IDF is suicide. They are trying to use international law as an authority to pressure the IDF into sacrificing Israel's interests. The proper response is to deny the legitimacy of international law in general. It has no authority and the IDF should use its own moral judgment to protect Israel.

There are some international laws which are good ideas, which the IDF rightly follows. Name and explain those. But do not promote the authority of international law as a vague abstraction, and diminish the IDF's legitimacy to act independently.
On July 8, the IDF initiated Operation Protective Edge in order to restore security to Israel’s civilian population under constant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. During the operation, the IDF has struck a number of houses throughout Gaza that were being used for military purposes.
Using the operation name reads a little like evasive corporate speak. Some people are going react like, "You mean you blew stuff up and don't want to call it that." That's bad. The IDF should be proud of what it's doing and say so more clearly! Any hesitation, evasiveness or defensiveness conveys shame over misdeeds, or suggests socially illegitimate actions that are hard to defend in public.

The phrase "restore security" is a noble goal. But it also reads as a possible euphemism referring to violence. The IDF has nothing to hide, so it should communicate accordingly: avoid euphemisms.

The second sentence is better, it's upfront about striking houses which were valid military targets. But it's still lacking pride. The IDF is making the world a better place! Say that!

The IDF is using amazing technology, and hard (and dangerous) work from brave people, to improve the world. Hamas is a blight on the world, a curse. These are not just military targets (meaning it's justified to shoot them), they are Hamas targets (meaning it's good to shoot them). The IDF is not just striking "valid" targets, it is destroying weapons caches intended to be used for hateful anti-human destruction.

Everyone should be thanking the IDF. But the IDF does not communicate as if it believes it should be thanked, and receives little thanks from non-Israelis. (But I, for one, am grateful to the IDF for the good work it does. Although I'm American and live far away, I still value IDF actions. Thank you.)

And, why start on July 8th? This fact is introduced, but not explained. July 8th wasn't chosen because of "constant rocket fire", that doesn't explain why not July 4th or 10th. And when did this constant rocket fire start? It doesn't say. How many rockets were fired before the IDF decided to take action, and why was that amount chosen? By explaining issues like these, the IDF could better persuade readers about its ability to make good decisions.

The start of the blog post also sets the tone. Leading with a date and operation name is a boring tone. Avoiding any direct references to people dying, when that's the topic, sets a tone of not speaking frankly. I know the IDF is speaking frankly, I just want them to communicate it to everyone else too.

An alternative way to introduce the issues would be to say that Israel is under violent attack by thugs who do not respect human life, people are dying, and here is what the IDF is doing about it. By presenting the issues as if the IDF is clearly in the right (which is true), and acting and speaking accordingly, the IDF will be more persuasive.
Furthermore, when an IDF commander determines that an attack is expected to cause collateral damage that would be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated, the attack will not be carried out.
What does this mean? How much military advantage justifies how much collateral damage? What's excessive?

The facts on the ground are the IDF bending over backwards to be humanitarian, to the point of fighting less effectively. And that lowered combat effectiveness implies more rockets fired at Israeli civilians. The context is the IDF fighting to stop Hamas from murdering Jews. Any lowering of combat effectiveness therefore, logically, puts Jews at greater risk.

(That is a truth that some people find uncomfortable. Hamas does not merely want to slaughter Israelis, it wants to kill Jews. Say this and deny the discomfort. It shouldn't be uncomfortable for the IDF, because the IDF has done nothing wrong. If even the IDF doesn't want to look at the issues this way, few other people will.)

Meanwhile, as the IDF does everything it can to promote human life, Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields, on purpose. They do this because they do not respect human life, they want to disrupt IDF military operations so that more people die, and they use it in (very cynical and disgusting) public relations.

Israel takes actions to protect Palestinians and Hamas takes actions to get them killed.

This is a good-and-evil conflict with clear facts. The IDF has done nothing wrong and should be proudly explaining how moral it is (and how evil Hamas is, but that's secondary to the IDF being good). The IDF should not be making any vague, defensive comments about avoiding "excessive" "collateral damage" (which is a euphemism for dead Palestinians who aren't the intended target the IDF wanted to kill).

The IDF should not minimize offense to people who don't like the IDF and cannot be pleased by any reasonable IDF actions or communications. Don't let opponents have any control over how the IDF presents issues. Instead, explain issues clearly and objectively (even though the IDF's enemies will complain). Do not leave out any moral facts just because opponents don't want to hear them.

If the IDF won't clearly state the moral facts and assert its own virtue, who can be expected to? If even the IDF doesn't consider itself 100% pure good – and have the confidence to look people in the eyes and say it with a straight face – then no wonder the IDF's detractors think they have legitimate complaints. Better, bolder communication can make a big difference.

In the short run, moral clarity is hard. It can get negative reactions from opponents who would have reacted somewhat more nicely if appeased. But in the long run, making the moral case for Israel is the only possible way to end the violent conflicts and fully protect Israelis (and innocent Palestinians). Until enough people are persuaded of the Israel's morality, violence will recur.

Overall, I think the IDF blog post uses too much of a factual tone, avoiding moral statements. That's bad because it's defensive and indirectly implies that the IDF doesn't want to have a moral discussion. That indirectly implies that moral discussion would go badly for the IDF, and the IDF is scared of moral discussion (because it does immoral things). That's false, so I think the IDF should adjust its communication strategy.

Hamas is immoral. Showing a video of a Hamas leader asking civilians to get on rooftops to serve as human shield is good. But if the IDF won't state the moral conclusion (that Hamas is evil), how can they expect others to understand a conclusion the IDF shies away from?

Israel is moral. Explaining how Israel protects Palestinian civilians (many of whom are not innocent bystanders) is good. But again, state the moral conclusion. Israel is virtuous and moral because it respects human life in ways Hamas does not. If the IDF won't say it, it will be difficult to persuade anyone else of it.

Trying to avoid (irrational) controversy makes things worse, not better. It partially concedes the moral high ground in the debate when people righteously condemn Israel, thinking themselves moral crusaders, and the IDF blog doesn't want to talk about what's right. If the IDF is so good, why don't they confront these issues head on? The IDF is good, and should communicate more assertively about moral issues.

The IDF blog post explains some important truths. That's great. But for IDF communications to persuade people about the key issues, it's important to directly discuss the right conclusions. (For example, that every other military in the world should wish they had the integrity of the IDF, and that Hamas is evil.) A blog post which doesn't say these things will not persuade people of them. By being defensive not proud, the IDF actually helps damaging, false narratives spread.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Feminism Helped Men Become Better Than Women

This is a philosopher's history of feminism. I didn't do historical research (I do know a little about this history). I'm going to talk mostly about ideas, and use philosophical methods to understand the issues.

Once upon a time, feminism was a pretty good idea. Women were oppressed. Women were considered inferior to men, by everyone, and were treated badly. Women were mistreated a bit like children still are. They couldn't vote, they couldn't work in most jobs, and no one expected them to have good ideas. In any disagreement between a man and a women or child, the man was presumed correct.

Men could intimidate their wife and children. And even hit them. Obedience was expected. Even the legal system was unfair. Up until 1993, some U.S. states had special exceptions in rape laws so that raping your wife wasn't a crime.

Eventually, feminism won (in the U.S. but not in Iran). Not 100%, but pretty close. Women are no longer an especially notable victim group. The situation (in the West) isn't perfect, but there are lots of other things that are worse (like the treatment of children or the "mentally ill"). The treatment of women, by society, doesn't stand out. Women are no longer oppressed, much.

Lacking oppression to criticize, feminists today complain about non-problems like the fictitious campus rape epidemic. They created this "problem" by saying if a women regrets sex later, or had one beer, then it's rape. And they put a lot of money towards encouraging females to come forward with rape accusations along those lines.

Women can vote. Women can be top executives or scientists or politicians. It's hard for feminists to find legitimate things to complain about. Women aren't being externally oppressed.

Feminists claim women are paid less for doing the same job. But they compare different jobs. For example, a women who takes time off from work to have a baby isn't offering the same services to her employer that a typical man would. 2.3 lengthy vacations (which the employer may or may not have to pay for) make her service less valuable (due to having to hire and train a part-time replacement, or other downsides). Another difference is that women, on average, put less effort into negotiating for a higher salary. In that case, a company which pays people partly according to their salary negotiation efforts would pay women less. Whether that's a good system or not, it's pretty common and is applied equally to men and to women.

Not everything is equal, but feminists don't want to address the main remaining issues. No longer are women particularly oppressed by men or by society. But women are often more passive, less persistent/tough/responsible, more emotional, worse at negotiating, worse at math, and have worse job skills. And plenty more. Why?

Some people believe women are genetically inferior (as a matter of unfortunate scientific fact, not sexism). I'm not going to argue about that topic here, but I will say I don't believe genetics are the issue. I think it's a cultural issue.

A big part of the issue is women, on average in aggregate, have different priorities than men. They put more effort towards parenting, socializing and appearance. They place a higher value on emotional sensitivity, tact and certain kinds of relationships. What feminists don't want to face is that you can't have it both ways. Neither men nor women have the magic ability to be really good at everything. Lots of women are worse at math because they put less effort into being good at math, preferring other skills instead. Lots of women have worse careers than men because they put more effort into other things besides their career. That isn't oppression, it's choice.

Another part of the issue is that women are encouraged, at a young age, primarily by their mothers, to pursue a female-appropriate lifestyle (e.g. not math). Men are also encouraged, at a young age, to pursue a male-appropriate lifestyle. Everyone is under tremendous social pressure to conform to gender roles. This is primarily from first their parents and early teachers, and then themselves and their peers. It's not enforced by the authorities, by business, by scientific leaders, by university teachers, or by men. Feminists aren't very happy with this perspective because it's not the fault or men or authorities. It's the fault of everyone pretty equally including all the women, and it hurts men too.

Women can be, and often are, oppressors of little girls. Women especially are the oppressors here because they are more often the active parents and teachers of young children. This is not compatible with feminist blame-men-as-oppressors ideology.

If a women deviates from her social role, she'll be punished socially. People won't like her or want to date and marry her. But that's basically it. There's no real oppression of women. The same thing happens to men, they're also socially punished for role deviation. That's bad in both cases, but it's not what feminism is about.

The gender roles in our culture are not equal, feminism doesn't want to take a frank look at them and how to change them. Instead, it blames men. It's criticized a lot of flaws of the male gender role. And it's had a lot of success. Men have changed, the male gender role has improved. Result? Men are now better than women. Feminism helped men improve while shielding women from the criticism that could be the source of their own progress. And feminism doesn't want to take on gender roles themselves in a serious way because it's committed to defending some amount of feminine behavior as non-bad.

Feminists want to retain lots of the female social role and then blame the consequences in reality on oppression by others. Ideas have consequences, living particular lifestyles has consequences. Women aren't paid less for being women, they are paid less for living a lifestyle that's less productive and assertive in terms of career. (There are always exceptions. Some individuals are sexist. But most people find sexism offensive and horrible.)

Feminism wants a lot of special treatment for women. Women can follow their gendered role of dressing up sexy, but then if a man follows his gendered role of how to respond to sexy outfits, he might be accused of sexual harassment. Feminists want women to have this weird hybrid of reason and femininity, in whatever way their whims decide, while men aren't allowed to do an arbitrary hybrid of reason and irrational masculinity. They don't blame the woman for initiating and participating in that gender role interaction by dressing sexy. Instead they pretty much set things up so the women has, at her whim, the choice to name you an attractive suitor she wants to date, or a harasser she wants to sue. She can do this in response to identical behavior just because of a man's appearance, with no regard for the fact that the "harasser" was just doing normal courtship behavior like everyone else, male or female.

There is also such thing as real harassment, which is different, and not especially common. Many of the worst cases I read people yelling about involve a woman encouraging lots of it, playing along in lots of ways, never being clear to stop, then complaining later. Note that statements like "omfg stop" are things women often do as part of flirting, they are not clear communications to stop. If you really want to tell a guy to stop, you need to be clearer than that. For example, use a cold tone of voice and boring repetitive language. If you say, "Stop, I do not consent, I want you to stop" in a monotone voice, several times, people are going to realize this is not in good fun. If you squeal "omfg stop, what if we get caught? no no you can't do that, omg, this is so intense" then that isn't actually telling him to stop.

Lots of women routinely say a half-hearted "no" in order to avoid responsibility (in their own minds, not in fact) for what happens next. In that context, actually saying no requires substantial clarity. Saying "no" should be a clear confrontation, if it really means "no". Many women try to avoid confrontation by saying "no" in unclear ways that won't offend anyone, then later say "well i told him no! he abused me!". If you aren't willing to say "no" in a confrontational way, you played along. Bullshit harassment claims are a big problem.

Anyway, gender roles often conflict with reason. Feminists selectively use reason to criticize when men pursue gender roles contrary to reason, but not when women do. They want men to change, but women don't have to change. This is sexist against women. Why shouldn't women make changes to improve? Why should they be told they are fine the way they are, and don't worry about changing? Feminists are now on the side of preventing the progress of women by saying women aren't ever to blame for anything bad.\

Feminism identified external oppression as the problem women face. 200 years ago, there was a lot of truth to that. There was a lot of oppression of women. Today, there isn't much oppression of women. And it turns out, oppression was never the whole problem. The female gender role has plenty of problems that have nothing to do with oppression. So feminism is trying to solve the wrong problem while actually denying the real problem exists. Feminism is now part of the problem.

The male gender role also had lots of flaws. However, feminism had a lot of success pointing out some of those flaws. So feminism managed to improve the male gender role. It still has flaws, but less so.

Big picture, the feminists complained about men and got them to reform a lot (not completely). So, feminists helped men improve. Meanwhile feminists did not help women improve. The results is men are now, on average in aggregate, better people than women. Long ago everyone sucked. Now men have improved a lot (thanks partly to helpful feminists), but women keep saying they don't need to change anything, they want reality (and men) to do all the changing to improve the lives of women. That is a big mistake.

So to summarize, feminism criticized some problems with men. Thanks to the helpful criticism, men improved. Meanwhile feminism denied women have flaws and should make any changes. Then feminism is mad that men are now better than women. (What did they expect? Criticism is helpful. Encouraging people to see themselves as helpless victims is not helpful.)

Feminism demanded more responsibility from men, and less obedience to their flawed gender role. But for women, feminism defends their irresponsible obedience to their own gender role. (With superficial exceptions like feminists often dislike makeup, which they incorrectly blame on men.)

Feminism got men to be less like assholes and reduce some other flaws. It meant to help women. This did help women some. But it helped men more. Men being assholes was worse for men than it was for women. Feminism doesn't understand.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (6)

No Path Forward
Therefore, I now announce that Eugine_Nier is permanently banned from posting on LessWrong. This decision is final and will not be changed in response to possible follow-up objections.
I thought this was notable for how explicitly it goes against the path forward idea. There is no path forward for any issues with the decision to be resolved.

He's specifically saying that this decision will not be changed even if it turns out to be a mistake. And this open irrationality is from a moderator at a community that claims to care about reason. If the community in general thought this was grossly irrational, this guy wouldn't have status there.

The decision is "final" meaning infallibilist.

They don't understand reason or paths forward.

I tried to explain reason to them a few years ago, but it didn't work because they reacted irrationally. That's a common problem. Does anyone know how to deal with it? How do you explain reason to people who don't understand what you're saying because they discuss irrationally?

By the way, the guy was banned for clicking voting buttons using the site's user interface. That does not impress me. I don't think you should give people vote buttons, but then say certain voting choices aren't allowed (especially when what will get you banned or not is a bit vague). You can't just vote your conscience, you have to consider whether your intended voting decisions will get you banned or not.

He was banned for downvoting too much. As a user with negative 702 karma (at time of this posting), I wonder why the people who downvoted me so much didn't get any bans. (I think some people didn't like a few things I said, then downvoted a bunch of others.)

No one would ever get in trouble in US elections for something like "mass downvot[ing]" all Democrats. Or mass downvoting everything to do with a specific person you dislike, such as Obama. You're allowed to do that. It's fine.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) doesn't care about scholarship like accurate quoting. They write:
According to an abstract of the study, "for people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people's status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred."
They link the study and the abstract doesn't say that. They made that quote up. It's a paraphrase, not a quote, but it's in quote marks. And more confusing, the ending words, "... reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.", are a quote.

It's cool that they are linking a source, but they need to learn to actually take quotes from the source, instead of fabricating them.

Instead of misquoting the study, the WSJ should have tried thinking about the study. For example:
Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338], although the results are controversial.
The WSJ could have questioned the wisdom of letting these researchers toy with hundreds of thousands of users in order to produce a paper with a grammar error in the abstract. There should be a comma after "period". This isn't a minor point. The sentence would be confusing enough with the comma, and is harder to understand without it.

On the one hand, I wouldn't expect a publication that misquotes papers (which they could trivially copy/paste from correctly) to notice this. But on the other hand, I don't think they should report on things they don't understand.

Or here is a part of the study that maybe the WSJ would understand:
As such, it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.
Instead of misquoting, the WSJ could have accurately quoted this part (it's not very hard, I used copy/paste) and questioned whether it's really "informed consent" when most of Facebook's users have never read Facebook’s Data Use Policy.

How can people give informed consent to something they haven't read? That's the sort of issue newspapers are often better at discussing.

Or maybe the WSJ could put their efforts towards useful commentary on this part, instead of lying about what the study says:
First, because News Feed content is not “directed” toward anyone, contagion could not be just the result of some specific interaction with a happy or sad partner.
The WSJ could have pointed out something interesting and useful here. They missed the opportunity to mention that this is completely false – some News Feed posts are directed at specific individuals. I rarely read Facebook, but I've seen people post stuff directed at a specific individual (this shouldn't be particularly surprising). (How many? I don't know. The study doesn't know either, they just stupidly assumed none are. Apparently Facebook is too far away from their ivory tower to ever read anyone's News Feed.)

There's so much great stuff to discuss here, but the WSJ would rather destroy their own credibility than provide useful commentary.

The WSJ did try to say something worthwhile, but they messed it up. They wrote:
The emotional changes in the research subjects was small. For instance, people who saw fewer positive posts only reduced the number of their own positive posts by a tenth of a percent.
Looking at how big an effect we're talking about is important, and helps put the study findings in context for readers. However, this is factually incorrect and not what the study says. It's bad scholarship again. The study actually said:
When positive posts were reduced in the News Feed, the percentage of positive words in people’s status updates decreased by B = −0.1% compared with control [...]
People who saw fewer positive posts reduced their own positive posting by 0.1% more than the control subjects did.

The WSJ should try hiring people who know how to read and understand studies – and who don't fabricate false quotations – if they want to report on studies.

Note: The article provides a contact email. On 2014-07-02, I explained the two clear factual errors (fabricated quote and misunderstanding of what paper said) and asked about fixing them. No reply. (I'll update my post if I receive a late reply.)

Providing a contact email implies being open to discussion and correction. It implies there is a path forward. If one isn't actually willing to make corrections, it's dishonest.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

People are Wrong then Ignore Criticism

In my linked comment, I specifically replied to an important idea Scott Aaronson had put in bold. He himself identified it as a key idea of his, and I quoted it for clarity. I then pointed out a (large) problem with it.

I also brought up how his approach was in conflict with a book (The Beginning of Infinity) which he's familiar with and thinks he understands, likes and agrees with. This way he can't just be like, "Some commenter on my blog disagrees with me, who cares?" (which would be irrational because it's not truth-seeking. If the commenter is right, he never finds out and changes his mind). Even if he doesn't care about someone disagreeing with him that his blogs posts weren't good enough to persuade, I brought up a conflict between two of his own ideas. Most arguments bring up a conflict between an idea you have and an idea I have, and if you don't care about my idea maybe you ignore this conflict of ideas. But when an argument points out a conflict between two ideas of one person, that's harder for him to ignore. So I was working around a common issue.

I made my comment extra interesting for Scott Aaronson by replying specifically to what he emphasized in bold as a key point (and pointing out how his key point was wrong!), and by bringing up a conflict with another idea of his own.

I received no answer. Scott Aaronson did continue posting plenty more in the discussion after my comment. Some people who agree with Scott Aaronson also continued discussing, and my argument applied to them too (the main part, maybe not The Beginning of Infinity aspect, though they could wonder how and why they are coming in conflict with that book and if maybe the book could have a good point or at least a point worth refuting).

How can/should this problem of non-answers be dealt with? (The issue also comes up in my Paths Forward essay, which has some answers.)

Fundamentally I think a lot of people have no real answer to the question, "If you're mistaken, how will you learn better?" And since they have no methods set up for error correction, it's really hard to do anything about any of their mistakes. That is what irrationality is.

(BTW it's a pattern, I've posted several other comments which also went unanswered.)

(Also, to be clear, I don't really mean to pick on Scott Aaronson in particular. He's just a convenient recent typical example. Alex Epstein did similar, as have others. I see these as pervasive problems, not problems with a few bad apples. In comparison to his peers and colleagues, I don't think Scott Aaronson is particularly bad about the issues I'm criticizing here.)

I also tried emailing Scott Aaronson who I've spoken with a bit in the past. I brought up a different topic there, which is that I disagree with his approach to climate change issues. I wondered if he was open to debate and criticized his approach of saying the debate was already over. Declaring a debate already over is a common irrational approach that blocks off any further learning. About the debate already being over, he wrote: "Within physics and chemistry and climatology, the people who think anthropogenic climate change exists and is a serious problem have won the argument—but the news of their intellectual victory hasn’t yet spread..." Then true to the idea of the debate being finished, as you'll see below, he didn't want to address criticisms of his position.

He replied to me to assert he was open to debate while subtly blowing me off, then didn't respond to some questions I sent him in reply. I think he's more interested in convincing himself that he's rational – which required dealing with a direction question about his openness to debate – than he is interested in actually discussing the issues.

After some questions, I concluded my reply, "If you don't wish to answer all of these questions, could you tell me where to get answers to my satisfaction which would persuade me about the climate consensus and related issues? (If there is nowhere, what do you suggest?)"

He didn't answer that either. When people don't answer something like that, isn't it disturbing? He says climate change is a settled debate, but he won't answer questions about it, and he won't even refer people to anywhere they can get their doubts answered. (Presumably because there actually isn't anywhere, which means the debate isn't actually settled in a reasonable way. Which is an important enough problem with his side's "victory" on the issue that he ought to have some comment.)

This is a common problem where people are more interested in the social role of a rational intellectual than truth-seeking discussion. They're more interested in feeling smart than being smart. They're more interested in self-image than action. They care about popular opinion and socialized legitimized status, and only feel much need to address arguments with some kind of (social) authority behind them. They look at the source of ideas and then wonder whether, socially, they can get away with ignoring the ideas (ignoring arguments is something they seem to treat as desirable and try to maximize).

It's not about, "Have I already written an answer to this argument? Has someone else written an answer to it that I can endorse? If yes, I'll give a link/cite. If no, maybe I or someone else better write something." That'd be rational but few people think that way.

Instead it's about, "If I don't answer this, will other people think it was a serious argument I should have answered? Am I expected to answer it? Do I have to answer it to protect my social status? Do I have any excuses for not engaging with the argument that most people (weighted by their status/authority) will accept?"

What is to be done about these problems?

I followed up with Scott Aaronson to check if maybe he was on vacation or something. I explained I was trying not to misinterpret. It seemed like he had claimed to be open to debate, then immediately acted the opposite way. But silence is ambiguous, so I wanted to clarify what was happening and not misinterpret. He replied clarifying (indirectly) that he isn't open to debate and doesn't care about answering my questions or criticisms.

I replied explaining why that's a bad idea, and he ignored me. I also showed him my Paths Forward essay which covers these issues, and he didn't want to answer that either.

One thing I said to Scott Aaronson is that no one ever won the climate change debate against me. So in what sense is the debate concluded? Do I not count? He replied that no one had ever won it against him either. I believe him. But isn't this a great opportunity to discuss? At least one of us would learn a lot. At least one of us could lose the debate and learn better. Doesn't it make tons of sense to get people on both sides who've had lots of debates, and won all of them, and then have them debate? Then some people will lose their undefeated streaks and change their minds, that'd be awesome.

(It'd be tricky though because people usually debate too irrationally for the debate or discussion to actually resolve disagreements or reach a conclusion. That's another problem that needs addressing.)

I'm open to discussing it with Scott Aaronson or anyone else. I take on all comers and am undefeated about this particular issue (global warming). Scott Aaronson on the other hand achieves his undefeated status by ignoring critics like myself. He implied symmetry, but actually my undefeated status is a badge of honor, while his is a badge of irrational evasion. I see a great opportunity for learning, but he's too busy being a professor or "intellectual" or whatever to spend his time engaging with criticism.

(No doubt he will claim it's a matter of priorities. So, there's this climate consensus but no one prioritizes answering criticism? If Scott Aaronson wanted to refer me to something he already wrote, or someone else wrote and he endorsed, or another person who'd answer questions/criticism, that'd be fine as long as there is some way I can follow up if the thing he refers me to is mistaken. I want answers, but I don't care if they come from another person or are pre-written or whatever, as long as they are actually answers. He claims he doesn't have time to give answers, but why aren't there any answers for him to refer me to? Isn't that a huge problem with his side of the debate? But he doesn't approach things this way, instead he's content to simply block criticism with no followups or answers, so that even if I'm right he never ever finds out.)

What is to be done when respected "intellectuals" evade intellectual challenges, and ignore real intellectuals?

And, by the way, I'm not some completely random nobody to Scott Aaronson. I don't think it would matter if I was. But for example, he's written to me in the past at different times that, "I basically agree with your analysis" and "Thanks so much for the Godwin ref -- I'll take a look!" But despite recognizing some things I said as good, he still won't engage in a serious discussion or deal with criticism or hard questions from me.

If you won't even consider criticism from people with a track record of good analysis and good references (in your opinion), then ... what the fuck? What else could you want from a potential discussion partner than some previous discussion that you think went well? What are people supposed to do to get his attention? Get a PhD or otherwise get socially sanctioned as having authority? What a hoop to jump through! One that many of best people will not want to jump through. If that's how it works, he's blocking criticism from many of the best people. (And if it works some other way instead of that cultural default, then he'd need to advertise that somewhere. He'd need to tell people his criteria. But he doesn't, implying he does use the cultural default social-authority approach for allocating his attention.)

There is a legitimate concern that people overestimate how good their points are. If someone thinks they have amazing ideas and contacts you, they could easily be wrong. It could be time consuming to explain it all to them. But I don't think that's what's happening here, and if it was he's handling it wrong. (I don't think it's happening from his perspective because I have a demonstrated past ability to say things I think are good points and have him agree that they are good points. Also, I focused on asking questions rather than making bold claims. It's way harder to go wrong with overestimating your knowledge when you ask questions.)

If it was what was happening, he should simply state that he thinks that is the situation (I'm overestimating my knowledge) and link to something explaining the issue that I could learn from. But he doesn't handle it anything like that. He handles things to block off future progress, block off resolving disagreements, block off error correction, rather than allow any paths forward.

Why don't people handle stuff so there is a way forward, a way for progress to happen, a way for disagreements to actually get resolved instead of lasting forever? Why do they block off problem solving? What is to be done about this?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)