Slate Star Codex

Not enough hubris not to try to kill God

Michigan Meetup 9/7

There will be a Michigan rationalist/LW/SSC meetup at my house, halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor, on Sunday, September 7th at 2 PM. You can find my address and directions here. If you’re reading this, you’re invited.

Topic will be “We Should Really Get Formal Topics For These Things One Of These Days”

Our special guest will be Miranda (Swimmer963 on LW), sometime CFAR coordinator and generally cool person.

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More Links For August

The man who set the world record for fastest drive across the US did it in 28 hours 50 minutes in a heavily modded car, with one ear to the police scanner at all times.

Weird politics: Why Is A Major Green Group Backing A Republican Who Supports The Keystone Pipeline? Answer: environmentalist groups are following some corporations in donating to natural opponents of their cause who are a little less bad than other people from their party, in the hopes of giving opposing politicians an incentive to moderate their views.

More weird politics: Republicans push for over-the-counter birth control, are informed that their attempts to help women are an evil plot to disguise the fact that they never try to help women.

I knew the classical world was big into religious syncretism, but this is going a little too far: Hermanubis

Academic urban legends. Where did the legend that spinach was full of iron come from? Where did the legend about the source of the legend that spinach was full of iron come from? A good case study in following footnotes. (h/t Kate Donovan)

An observation: any politicized childrens’ book that agrees with your own views seems like a fun and educational way to teach your kids to be good prosocial citizens. Any politicized childrens’ book that disagrees with your own views seems like extremely creepy propaganda. In that spirit, here’s Amazon’s page for My Parents Open Carry. The second best part is the customer reviews (samples: “Can’t wait for the sequel, My Black Parents Open Carried Until the Police Shot Them 146 Times” and “If only the title was My Two Moms Open Carry, the Pulitzer would be already decided.”) Best part is the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section, which starts with Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate and only gets worse from there.

People often talk about the culture of “everyone getting prizes for participation” as if it is something that psychobabble-spouting bureaucrats push to condescend to the underqualified. But a recent poll suggests a much more heartbreaking picture – the richer, whiter, and better educated you are, the less likely you support prizes-for-everybody and the more likely you are to support winner-take-all. In other words, the people saying everyone’s participation should be celebrated whether they win or not are probably the people who don’t expect to win very often :( This was genuinely surprising and distressing to me (h/t Marginal Revolution)

Related: What happened when Wellesley declared war on grade inflation? Some good – students started switching away from majors known for rampant grade inflation to “harder” majors like STEM and economics. But also some bad – students gave professors worse ratings and complained that they were at a job market disadvantage compared to students from other colleges with inflated grades. Article concludes with “In the grade inflation arms race, Wellesley disarmed unilaterally,” which seems like as good a description as any for their prosocial but self-harming decision.

There’s an old joke that if you name your daughter Chastity, she’s sure to become a nymphomaniac. So what happens if you name your son Douglas MacArthur McCain?

One of the quickest transitions from “neat theory” to “full experiment on humans” I’ve ever seen: Alzheimers Patients Will Be Injected With The Blood Of Young People.

Related to Robin Hanson’s Near-Far distinction: “When nonpregnant people are asked if they would have an abortion if their fetus tested positive for Down syndrome, 23-33% said yes; when high-risk pregnant women were asked, 46-86% said yes, and when women who screened positive [for actually having a fetus with Down syndrome] are asked, 89-97% said yes.” [source]

This essay on “Excellent Sheep” is one of the most devastating book reviews I have read, especially the last sentence.

Five years ago, Janet Mertz changed the women-in-math debate by pointing out that cultures with high gender equality (as measured by various factors) also had higher female math performance (relative to men), suggesting that female math underpeformance was cultural rather than biological. Since then there have been several counterarguments, including another paper by Mertz herself finding that by a different measure of math ability, women in more gender-equal cultures have worse math performance relative to men. Now things get even weirder with a study showing that men and women in more gender-equal cultures (by some of the same measures Mertz uses) have more similar digit-length ratios, a measure of sex hormone exposure in utero. This would suggest that women are getting a more masculine hormone pattern (or men a more feminine one, or both) in such cultures. For example, the correlation between percent of parliamentary seats held by women in a country and the left-handed digit ratio of women in that country is significant at the p < .0001 level. On Facebook, Carl Shulman questioned some of the statistics and brought up the possible explanation that gender-equal countries tend to be richer and so may have a different diet than less-equal countries. Another possibility I find plausible is that although they claim to be evaluating 29 countries, they're actually finding a broader category difference (Northern Europe vs. Southern Europe, for example, since almost all countries involved are European) and the finding is driven by a genetic tendency for Northern Europeans to have lower digit ratio difference, plus Northern European countries being more gender-equal. Still another possibility is the hormone disruptor chemicals in plastics. (h/t Claire Lehman)

Here's a news article I definitely fault for its statistics: Marijuana use involved in more fatal accidents in Colorado after it became legalized for medical use. If true, this would be a big deal to me since I previously suggested the utilitarian calculus on marijuana legalization was dominated by its effect on car accidents. But the news article fails to prove anything – it’s just measuring the percent of drivers in accidents who tested positive for marijuana, but marijuana stays in the urine for about a month. So it’s only telling you what percent of accident victims used marijuana in the past month – and of course that’s going to increase after marijuana gets legalized, because everyone uses more marijuana.

I find this much more convincing and relevant: In States That Legalize Medical Marijuana, Opiate Painkiller Deaths Drop By 25%. To save you the trouble of looking it up, 25% of the US’ yearly opiate painkiller deaths is about 4,000 people.

Midas Touch is a beer made to exactly reproduce the 8th-century beer found in King Midas’ tomb and which has already won awards from the beer community. Now the archaeologist who inspired it is working on commercializing alcoholic drinks faithfully based off the ones from ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, and ancient China.

Speaking of overly intellectual things to eat, Slate Star Codex readers Romeo Stevens and John Maxwell are starting to test sell their MealSquares, a more actual-food-resembling competitor to Soylent. I’ve ordered a box just to try them out – and because my girlfriend occasionally gets stuck in a mental trap where they are too hungry to prepare anything to eat and so sits around getting more and more miserable, and these seem like a healthy solution. Website is here, but actual order page is hidden here (h/t Kate Donovan)

Climate geo-engineering is experiencing an exciting reclassification from “thing everyone agrees is a bad idea” to “thing everyone still agrees is a bad idea, but which we’ll probably have to do anyway, because we are too much of a civilizational basketcase to implement a safer solution”. Scientists in the field suggest it could reverse some of the effects of global warming for $5 to $10 billion. Compared to the cost of stopping climate change (potentially in the trillions) or the costs of climate change itself (potentially in the tens of trillions) that looks amazingly cheap. And there’s no downside whatsoever, unless you count accidentally destroying the world by meddling in a system you don’t understand as a downside. Article also worthwhile for its example of nominative determinism – a Dr. Caldeira who studies volcanic eruptions.

Vox – The Uber recruitment scandal isn’t scandalous. Uber decided to pay for rides with Lyft drivers in order to convince them en route to switch to working for Uber. In the process of buying thousands of rides, some of them inevitably got cancelled, and this was framed as “Uber cancelling rides to sabotage Lyft”. My takeaway: the Uber-driving market is so competitive that companies are actually poaching employees from each other. An industry where people without college degrees or expensive government-granted licenses can get jobs without having to beg pathetically or do years of unpaid internships! Get it now before someone figures out how to make it illegal!

Do Poverty Traps Exist? Assessing The Evidence. Study in Journal of Economic Perspectives concludes: “Overall, our view of the existing literature finds no strong evidence for many of the common mechanisms theorized to give rise to poverty traps…while the evidence indicates that poverty traps are rare, this does not mean they can never exist. The clearest evidence for traps appears to come from people being trapped in low-productivity locations. Policy efforts to lower the barriers to internal and international mobility therefore appear to offer large potential payoffs in terms of taking people out of poverty.”

Very closely related: Childhood family income, adolescent violent criminality and substance misuse: quasi-experimental total population study. The question: does poverty cause crime, in the way everyone from Aristotle to the song Officer Krupke assumes? The answer: once “unobserved family risk factors” were taken into account, poverty had no ability to explain criminality rates. I can’t access the full text of the paper, but what I gather from Psychological Comments and The Economist was that the study investigated families who started poor, had children, became wealthier, and then had other children – such that some children were raised in poverty and others in relative affluence. The children raised in poverty were no more likely to commit crimes than the children raised in affluence, suggesting that “unobserved family risk factors” and not poverty per se account for the increased criminality rates among poor families. Tempting to say parents learn certain habits in poverty that they inculcate their children even after they are less poor, but other studies already show parental inculcation (in terms of shared environment) has very weak effect. So social scientists leap to the only possible remaining explanation: the siblings raised in poverty are controlling the cultural development of the siblings raised in affluence and are forcing their poverty-influenced memes into the heads of their younger brothers and sisters. Never change, social science. Never change.

Rational Conspiracy: What Is A Copy? Just in case you hadn’t already decided that personal identity is a hopelessly confused philosophical concept and needs to be jettisoned. Sandorzoo and Katja’s comments seem especially good.

I’m sorry I’m throwing all of these really dense study links at you tonight, but this one is too good to pass up: A Critical Reanalysis Of The Relationship Between Genomics And Well-Being. You may remember Fredrickson et al recently published a study purporting to show that the “connectedness and sense of purpose” of helping others can influence gene expression in positive ways, but the selfish pleasures of “hedonic happiness” do not. A re-analysis by a team including James Coyne proves that their statistical methods were so overpowered that they would give “significant results” 69% of the time by chance alone, and proved it by re-running their analysis on totally random data and continuing to find a strong “effect”. I like this methodology.

Vox on the Hamas-Israel cease-fire: who wins and who loses? Guessed before opening article that the Palestinian people would lose; was not proven wrong. Everything substantive stays much the same as it was before the mini-war, just as it did after the last couple of mini-wars. At this point, I think Israeli wars should be thought of less as any attempt to change things, and more as some sort of horrible tension-release cycle like forest fires in national parks where apparent crisis is just part of an inevitable return to equilibrium. At this point I feel like any change, to the advantage of either side, would be a welcome occurrence in breaking the incentives both have to maintain status quo.

Lobbies Of Detroit. I was in one of these for a psychiatry conference a few months ago.

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If The Media Reported On Other Dangers Like It Does AI Risk

[Not actually inspired by Robert Wiblin's recent Facebook post on this same topic, but I acknowledge the coincidence. The media has actually done a much better job than I expected here and deserves some credit, but I will snark anyway.]

It’s a classic staple of action movies and Tom Clancy thrillers – the Islamic terrorist group that takes over a failed state, forcing the heroes to mount a decisive response. But some geopolitics experts think such a scenario could soon move from political fiction…to political fact.

If carbon dioxide levels reach 500 parts per million, it could initiate dangerous “runaway global warming”. But more conservative scientists urge laypeople not to worry, noting “Carbon dioxide levels are not that high yet.”

A sufficiently large nuclear war could completely destroy human civilization. If the bombs struck major manufacturing centers, they could also cause thousands of people to be put out of work.

Remember that time your boss paid you a few days late? Or that time the supermarket stopped carrying your favorite brand of cookie? Then you might not be surprised to hear many analysts believe the world economy will crash causing a giant decades-long depression.

[An informative, scientifically rigorous explanation of the dangers of climate change, but the picture on the top is that image of the Statue of Liberty buried in ice from The Day After Tomorrow]

A giant asteroid could smash into Earth at any time, scientists say. Indeed, already we are having to deal with avalanches and landslides that have blocked several major roads. Geologists think stabilizing our nation’s cliff faces may be the answer.

A group of meteorology nerds have sounded the alarm that a major hurricane could form in the next week – and now they’re turning their giant brains to the question of where it will make landfall.

Tacticians worry Russia might invade Ukraine – for example, they could choose to paradrop the 5th Battalion in under cover of night. But our experts say that that the 5th Battalion is not capable of night-time paradrops. Therefore, Russia will not be invading Ukraine.

The new superplague is said to be 100% fatal, totally untreatable, and able to spread across an entire continent in a matter of days. It is certainly fascinating to think about if your interests tend toward microbiology, and we look forward to continuing academic (and perhaps popular) discussion and debate on the subject.

The Invisible Nation – Reconciling Utilitarianism And Contractualism

[Attempt to derive morality from first principles, totally ignoring that this should be impossible. Based on economics and game theory, both of which I have only a minimal understanding of. And mixes complicated chains of argument with poetry without warning. So, basically, it's philosophy. And it's philosophy I get the feeling David Gauthier may have already done much better, but I haven't read him yet and wanted to get this down first to avoid bias towards consensus]

Related to: Whose Utilitarianism?, You Kant Dismiss Universalizability, Meditations on Moloch

Imagine the Economists’ Paradise.

In the Economists’ Paradise, all transactions are voluntary and honest. All game-theoretic problems are solved. All Pareto improvements get made. All Kaldor-Hicks improvements get converted into Pareto improvements by distributing appropriate compensation, and then get made. In all cases where people could gain by cooperating, they cooperate. In all tragedies of the commons, everyone agrees to share the commons according to some reasonable plan. Nobody uses force, everyone keeps their agreements. Multipolar traps turn to gardens, Moloch is defeated for all time.

The Economists’ Paradise is stronger than the Libertarians’ Paradise, which is just a place where no one initiates force and all economic transactions are legal, because the Libertarians’ Paradise might still have a bunch of Prisoner’s Dilemmas and the Economists’ Paradise wouldn’t. But it is weaker than Utilitarians’ Paradise, because people with more power and money still get more of the eventual utility.

From a god’s-eye view, it seems relatively easy to create the Economists’ Paradise. It might be hard to figure out how to solve game theoretic problems in absolutely ideal ways, but it’s often very easy to figure out how to solve them in a much better way than the uncoordinated participants are doing right now (see the beginning of Part III of Meditations on Moloch). At the extreme of this way of thinking, we have Formalism, where just solving the problem, even in a very silly way, is still better then having the question remain open.

(a coin flip is the epitome of unintelligent problem solving, but flipping a coin to decide whether the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands go to Japan or China still beats having World War III, by a large margin)

The Economists’ Paradise is a pretty big step of the way toward actual paradise. Certainly there won’t be any wars or crime. But can we get more ambitious?

Will the Economists’ Paradise solve world hunger? I say it will. The argument is essentially the one in Part 2.4 of the Non-Libertarian FAQ. Suppose solving world hunger costs $50 billion per year, which I think is people’s actual best-guess estimate. And suppose that half the one billion people in the First World are willing to make some minimal contribution to solving world hunger. If each of those people can contribute $2 per week, that suffices to raise the necessary amount. On the other hand, the $50 billion cost is the cost in our world. In the Economists’ Paradise, where there are no corrupt warlords or bribe-seeking bureaucrats, and where we can just trust people to line themselves up in order of neediest to least needy, the whole task gets that much easier. In fact, it’s not obvious that the First World wouldn’t come up with their $50 billion only to have the Third World say “Thanks, but we kind of sorted out our problems and became an economic powerhouse.”

Let’s get more ambitious. Will there be bullying in the Economists’ Paradise? I just mean your basic bullying, walking over to someone who’s ugly and saying “You’re ugly, you ugly ugly person!” I say there won’t be. How would a perfect solution to all coordination problems end bullying? Simple! If the majority of the population disagrees with bullying, they can sign an agreement among themselves not to bully, and to ostracize anyone who does. Everyone will of course keep their agreement (by the definition of Economists’ Paradise) and anyone who reports to the collective that Bob is a bully will always be telling the truth (by the definition of Economists’ Paradise). The collective will therefore ostracize Bob, and faced with the prospect of never being able to interact with the majority of human beings ever again, Bob will apologize and sign an agreement never to bully again (which he will keep, by the definition of Economists’ Paradise). Since everyone knows this will happen, no one bullies in the first place.

So the Economists’ Paradise is actually a very big step of the way toward actual paradise, to the point where the differences start to look like splitting hairs.

The difference between us and the Economists’ Paradise isn’t increased wealth or fancy technology or immortality. It’s rule-following. If God were to tell everybody the rules they needed to follow to create the Economists’ Paradise, and everyone were to follow them, that would suffice to create it.

That suggests two problems with setting up Economists’ Paradise. We need to know what the rules are, and we need to convince people to follow them.

These are more closely linked than one would think. For example, both Japan and China might prefer that the Senkaku Islands be clearly given to the other according to a fair set of rules which might benefit themselves the next time, than that they fight World War III over the issue. So if the rules existed, people might follow them for the very reason that they exist. This is why, despite the Senkaku Island conflict, most islands are not the object of international tension – because there are clear rules about who should have them and everybody prefers following the rules to the sorts of conflicts that would happen if the rules didn’t exist.


There’s a hilarious tactic one can use to defend consequentialism. Someone says “Consequentialism must be wrong, because if we acted in a consequentialist manner, it would cause Horrible Thing X.” Maybe X is half the population enslaving the other half, or everyone wireheading, or people being murdered for their organs. You answer “Is Horrible Thing X good?” They say “Of course not!”. You answer “Then good consequentialists wouldn’t act in such a way as to cause it, would they?”

In the same spirit: should the State legislate morality?

“Of course not! I don’t want the State telling me whom I can and can’t sleep with.”

So do you believe that it’s immoral, genuinely immoral, to sleep with the people whom you want to sleep with? Do you think sleeping with people is morally wrong?

“What? No! Of course not!”

Then the State legislating morality isn’t going to restrict whom you can sleep with, is it?

“But if the State legislated everything, I would have no freedom left!”

Is taking away all your freedom moral?


Then the State’s not going to do that, is it?

By this sort of argument, it seems to me like there are no good philosophical objections to a perfect State legislating the correct morality. Indeed, this seems like an ideal situation; the good are rewarded, the wicked punished, and society behaves in a perfectly moral way (whatever that is).

The arguments against the State legislating morality are in my opinion entirely contigent ones, based around the fact that the State isn’t perfect and the correct morality isn’t known with certainty. Get rid of these caveats, and moral law and state law would be one and the same.

Letting the State enforce moral laws has some really big advantages. It means the rules are publicly known (you can look them up in a lawbook somewhere) and effectively enforced (by scary men with guns). This is great.

But using the State to enforce rules also fails in some very important ways.

First, it means someone has to decide in what cases the rules were broken. That means you either need to depend on fallible, easily biased human judgment – subject to all its racism, nepotism, tribalism, and whatever – or algorithmize the rules so that “be nice” gets formalized into a two thousand page definition of niceness so rigorous that even a racist nepotist tribalist judge doesn’t have any leeway to let your characteristics bias her assessment of whether you broke the niceness rules.

Second, transaction costs. Suppose in every interaction you had with another person, you needed to check a two thousand page algorithm to see if their actions corresponded to the Legal Definition of Niceness. Then if they didn’t, you needed to call the police to get them arrested, have them sit in jail for two weeks (or pay the appropriate bail) until they can get to trial. The trial itself is a drawn-out affair with celebrity lawyers on both sides. Finally, the judge pronounces verdict: you really should have said “please” when you asked her to pass the salt. Sentence: twelve milliseconds of jail time.

Third, it is written: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” The law-making apparatus of most states – stick four hundred heavily-bribed people who hate each other’s guts in a room and see what happens – fails to inspire full confidence that its results will perfectly conform to ideal game theoretic principles.

Fourth, most states are somewhere on a spectrum between “socially contracted regimes enforcing correct game theoretic principles among their citizens” and “violent psychopaths killing everybody and stealing their stuff”, and it has been historically kind of hard to get the first part right without also empowering the proponents of the second.

So it’s – surprise, surprise – a tradeoff.

There’s a bunch of rules which, followed universally, would lead to the Economists’ Paradise. If the importance of keeping these rules agreed-upon and well-enforced outweighs the dangers of algorithmization, transaction costs, poor implementation, and tyranny, we make them State Laws. In an ideal state with very low transaction costs, minimal risk of tyranny, and legislave excellence, the cost of the tradeoff goes down and we can reap gains by making more of them State Laws. In a terrible state with high transaction costs that has been completely hijacked by self-interest, the cost of the tradeoff goes down and fewer of them are State Laws.


Let’s return to the bullying example from Part I.

It would seem there ought not to be bullying in the Economists’ Paradise. For if most people dislike bullying, they can coordinate an alliance to not bully one another, and to punish any bullies they find.

On the contrary, suppose there are two well-delineated groups of people, Jocks and Nerds. Jocks are bullies and have no fear of being bullied themselves; they also don’t care about social exclusion by the Nerds against them. Nerds are victims of bullies and never bully others; their exclusion does not harm the Jocks. Now it seems that there might be bullying, for although all the Nerds would agree not to bully, and to exclude all bullies, and although all the Jocks might coordinate an alliance not to bully other Jocks, there is nothing preventing the Jocks from bullying the Nerds.

I answer that there are several practical considerations that would prevent such a situation from coming up. The most important is that if bullying is negative-sum – that is, if it hurts the victim more than it helps the bully – then it’s an area ripe for Kaldor-Hicks improvement. Suppose there is anything at all the Nerds have that the Jocks want. For example, suppose that the Nerds are good at fixing people’s broken computers, and that a Jock gains more utility from knowing he can get his computer fixed whenever he needs it than from knowing he can bully Nerds if he wants. Now there is the opportunity for a deal in which the Nerds agree to fix the Jocks’ computers in exchange for not being bullied. This is Pareto-optimal: the Nerds’ lives are better because they avoid bullying, and the Jocks’ lives are better because they get their computers fixed.

Objection: numerous problems prevent this from working in real life. Nerds and Jocks aren’t coherent blocs, bullies are bad negotiators. More fundamentally, this is essentially paying tribute, and on the “millions for defense, not one cent for tribute” principle, you should never pay tribute or else you encourage people who wouldn’t have threatened you otherwise to threaten you just for the tribute. But the assumption that Economists’ Paradise solves all game theoretic problems solves these as well. We’re assuming everyone who should coordinate can coordinate, everyone who should negotiate does negotiate, and everyone who should make precommittments does make precommittments.

A more fundamental objection: what if Nerds can’t fix computers, or Jocks don’t have them? In this case, the tribute analogy saves us: Nerds can just pay Jocks a certain amount of money not to be bullied. Any advantage or power whatsoever that Nerds have can be converted to money and used to prevent bullying. This sounds morally repugnant to us, but in a world where blackmail and incentivizing bad behavior are assumed away by fiat, it’s just another kind of Pareto-optimal improvement, certainly better than the case where Nerds waste their money on things they want less than not being bullied yet are bullied anyway. And because of our Economists’ Paradise assumption, Jocks charge a fair tribute rate – exactly the amount of money it really costs to compensate them for the utility they would get by beating up Nerds – and feel no temptation to extort more.

Now, I’m not sure bullying would even come up as an option in an Economists’ Paradise, because if it’s a zero- or negative- sum game trying to get status among your fellow Jocks, the Jocks might ban it on their own as a waste of time. But even if Jocks do get some small amount of positive utility out of it directly, we should expect bullying to stop in an Economists’ Paradise as long as Nerds control even a tiny amount of useful resources they can use to placate the Jocks. If Nerds control no resources whatsoever, or so few resources that they don’t have enough left to pay tribute after they’ve finished buying more important things, then we can’t be sure there won’t be bullying – this is where the Economists’ Paradise starts to differ from the Utilitarians’ Paradise – but we’ll return to this possibility later.

Now I want to highlight a phrase I just used in this argument.

“If bullying is negative-sum – that is, if it hurts the victim more than it helps the bully – then it’s an area ripe for Kaldor-Hicks improvement”

This looks a lot like (naive) utilitarianism!

What it’s saying is “If bullying decreases utility (by hurting the Nerd more than it helps the Jock) then bullying should not exist. If bullying increases utility (by helping the Jock more than it hurts the Nerd) then maybe bullying should exist. Or, to simplify and generalize, “do actions that increase utility, but not other actions.”

Can we derive utilitarian results by assuming Economists’ Paradise? In many cases, yes. Suppose trolley problems are a frequent problem in your society. In particular, about once a day there is a runaway trolley in heading on a Track A with ten people, but divertable to a Track B with one person (explaining why this happens so often and so consistently is left as an exercise for the reader). Suppose you’re getting up in the morning and preparing to walk to work. You know a trolley problem will probably happen today, but you don’t know which track you’ll be on.

Eleven people in this position might agree to the following pact: “Each of us has a 91% chance of surviving if the driver chooses to flip the switch, but only a 9% chance of surviving if the person chooses not to. Therefore, we all agree to this solemn pact that encourages the driver to flip the switch. Whichever of us will be on Track B hereby waives his right to life in this circumstance, and will encourage the driver to switch as loudly as all of the rest of us.”

If the driver were presented with this pact, it’s hard to imagine her not switching to Track B. But if the eleven Trolley Problem candidates were permitted to make such a pact before the dilemma started, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t. Therefore, the Economists’ Paradise assumption of perfect coordination produces the correct utilitarian result to the trolley problem. The same methodology can be extended to utilitarianism in a lot of other contexts.

Now we can go back to that problem from before: what if Nerds have literally nothing Jocks want, and Jocks haven’t decided among themselves that bullying is a stupid status game that wastes their time, and we’re otherwise in the Least Convenient Possible World with regards to stopping bullying. Is there any way assuming Economists’ Paradise solves the problem then?

Maybe. Just go around to little kids, age two or so, and say “Look. At this point, you really don’t know whether you’re going to grow up to be a Jock or a Nerd. You want to sign this pact that everyone who grows up to be a Jock promises not to bully everyone who grows up to be a Nerd?” Keeping the same assumption that bullying is on net negative utility, we expect the toddlers to sign. Yeah, in the real world two-year olds aren’t the best moral reasoners, but good thing we’re in Economists’ Paradise where we assume such problems away by fiat.

Is there an Even Less Convenient Possible World? Suppose bullying is racist rather than popularity-based, with all the White kids bullying the Black kids. You go to the toddlers, and the white toddlers retort back “Even at this age, we know very well that we’re White, thank you very much.”

So just approach them in the womb, where it’s too dark to see skin color. If we’re letting two year olds sign contracts, why not fetuses?

Okay. One reason might be because we’ve just locked ourselves into being fanatically pro-life merely by starting with weird assumptions. Another reason might be that we could counterfactually mug fetuses by saying stuff “You’re definitely a human, but for all you know the world is ruled by Lizardmen with only a small human slave population, and if Lizardmen exist then they will torture any humans who did not agree in the womb that, if upon being born and finding that Lizardmen did not exist, they would spend all their time and energy trying to create Lizardmen.”

(Frick. I think I just created a new basilisk by breeding the Rokolisk and the story of 9-tsiak. Good thing it only works on fetuses.)

(I wonder if this is the first time in history anyone has ever used the phrase “counterfactually mug fetuses” as part of a serious intellectual argument.)

So I’m not saying this theory doesn’t have any holes in it. I’m just saying that it seems, at least in principle, like the idea of Economists’ Paradise might be sufficient to derive Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance, which in turn bridges the chasm that separates it from Utilitarians’ Paradise.


I think this is the solution to the various questions raised in You Kant Dismiss Universalizability. The reason universalizability is important is that the universal maxims are the agreements that everyone or nearly everyone would sign. This leads naturally to something like utilitarianism for the reasons mentioned in Part III. And it doesn’t produce the weird paradoxes like “If morality is universalizability, how do you know whether a policeman overpowering and imprisoning a criminal universalizes to ‘police should be able to overpower and imprison criminals’ or ‘everyone should be able to overpower and imprison everyone else’?” Everyone would sign an agreement allowing the first, but not the second.

But before we really explore this, a few words on “everyone would sign”.

Suppose one very stubborn annoying person in Economists’ Paradise refused to sign an agreement that police should be allowed to arrest criminals. Now what?

“All game theory is solved perfectly” is a really powerful assumption, and the rest of the world has a lot of leverage over this one person. Suppose everyone else said “You know, we’re all signing an agreement that none of us are going to murder one another, but we’re not going to let you into that agreement unless you also sign this agreement which is very important to us.”

Actually, that sounds too evil and blackmailing. There’s a better way to think of it. Suppose there are one hundred agreements. 99% of the population agrees to each, and in fact it’s a different 99% each time. That is, divide the population into one hundred sets of 1%, and each set will oppose exactly one of the agreements – there is no one who opposes two or more. Each agreement only works (or works best) when one hundred percent of the population agrees to it.

Very likely everyone will strike a deal that each of the one hundred 1% blocs agrees to to give up its resistance to the one agreement they don’t like, in exchange for each of the other ninety nine 1% blocs giving up its resistance to the agreements they don’t like.

Now we’re getting into meta-level Pareto improvements. If a pact would be positive-sum for people to agree on, the proponents of the pact can offer everyone else some compensation for them signing the pact. In theory it could be money or computer-fixing, but it might also be agreement with some of their preferred pacts.

There are a few possible outcomes of this process in Platonic Economists’ Paradise, both interesting.

One is a patchwork of agreements, where everyone has to remember that they’ve signed agreements 5, 12, 98, and 12,671, but their next-door neighbor has signed agreements 6, 12, 40, and 4,660,102, so they and their neighbor are bound to cooperate on 12 but no others.

Another is that everyone is able to get their desired pacts to cohere into a single really big pact that they are all able to sign off upon. Maybe there are a few stragglers who reject it at first, but this ends up being a terrible idea because now they’re not bound by really important agreements like “don’t murder” or “don’t steal”, so eventually they give in.

A third possibility combining the other two offers a unifying principle behind Whose Utilitarianism and Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism. Everyone agrees to some very basic principles of respecting one another (call them “Noahide Laws”) but smaller communities agree to stricter rules that allow them to do their own thing.

But we don’t live in Platonic Economists’ Paradise. We live in the real world, where transaction costs are high and people have limited brainpower. Even if we were to try to instantiate Economists’ Paradise, it couldn’t be the one where we all have the complex interlocking patchwork agreements between one another. People wouldn’t sign off on it. Heck, I wouldn’t sign off on it. I would say “I’m not signing this until I have something that makes sense to me and can be implemented in a reasonable amount of time and doesn’t require me to check the List Of Everybody In The World before I know whether the guy next to me is going to murder me or not.” Practical concerns provide a very strong incentive to reject the patchwork solution and force everyone to cohere. So in practice – and I realize how hokey it is to keep talking about game-theoretically-perfect infinitely-rational infinitely-honest agents negotiating all possible agreements among one another, and then add on the term “in practice” to represent that they have trouble remembering what they decided – but in practice they would all have very large incentives to cohere upon a single solution that balances out all of their concerns.

We can think of this as moving along an axis from “Platonic” to “practical”. As we progress further, complicated agreements collapse into simpler agreements which are less perfect but easier to enforce and remember. We start to make judicious use of Schelling fences. We move from everyone in the world agreeing on exactly what people can and can’t do to things like “Well, you know your intuitive sense of niceness? You follow that with me, and I’ll follow that with you, and we’ll assume everyone else is in on the deal until they prove they aren’t.”

A metaphor: in a dream, your soul goes to Economists’ Paradise and agrees on the perfect patchwork of maxims with all the other souls there. But as dawn approaches, you realize when you awaken you will never remember all of what you agreed upon, and even worse, all the other souls there are going to wake up and not remember what they agreed upon either. So all of you together frantically try to compress your wisdom into a couple of sentences that the waking mind will be able to recall and follow, and you end up with platitudes like “Use your intuitive sense of niceness” and “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and “try to maximize utility” and “anybody who treats you badly, assume they’re not in on the deal and feel free to treat them badly too, but not so badly that you feel like you can murder them or something.”

A particularly good platitude/compression might be “Work very hard to cultivate the mysterious skill of figuring out what people in the Economists’ Paradise would agree to, then do those things.” If you’re Greek, you can even compress it into a single word: phronesis.


So by now it’s probably pretty obvious that this is an attempt to ground morality. I think the general term for the philosophical school involved is “contractualism”.

Many rationalists seem to operate on something like R.M. Hare’s two-level utilitarianism. That is, utilitarianism is the correct base level of morality, but it’s very hard to do, so in reality you’ve got to make do with less precise but more computationally tractable heuristics, like deontology and virtue ethics. Occasionally, when deontology or virtue ethics contradict themselves, each other, or your intuitions, you may have to sit down and actually do the utilitarianism as best you can, even though it will be inconvenient and very philosophically difficult.

For example, deontology may say things like “You must never kill another human being.” But in the trolley problem, the correct deontological action seems to violate our moral intuitions. So we go up a level, calculate the utility (which in this case is very easy, because it’s a toy problem invented entirely for the purposes of having easy utility calculation) and say “Huh, this appears to be one of those rare places where our deontological heuristics go wrong.” Then you switch the trolley.

But utilitarianism famously has problems of its own. You need a working definition of utility, which means not only distinguishing between hedonic utilitarianism, preference utilitarianism, etc, but coming up with a consistent model for measuring the strength of happiness and preferences. You need to distinguish between total utilitarianism, average utilitarianism, and a couple of other options I forget right now. You need a discount rate. You need to know whether creating new people counts as a utility gain or not, and whether removing people (isn’t that a nice euphemism) can even be counted as a negative if you make sure to do it painlessly and without any grief to those who remain alive. You need a generalized solution to Pascal’s Wagers and utility monsters. You need to know whether to accept or fudge away weird results like that you may be morally obligated to live your entire life to maximize anti-malaria donations. All of this is easy at the tails and near-impossible at the margins.

My previous philosophy was “Yeah, it’s hard, but I bet with sufficient intelligence, we can think up a consistent version of utilitarianism with enough epicycles that it produces an answer to all of these issues that most people would recognize as at least kind of sane. Then we can just go with that one.”

I still believe this. But that consistent version would probably fill a book. The question is: what is the person who decides what to put in this book doing? On what grounds are they saying “total utilitarianism is a better choice than average utilitarianism”? It can’t be on utilitarian grounds, because you can’t use utilitarian grounds until you’ve figured out utilitarianism, which you haven’t done until you’ve got the book. When God was deciding what to put in the Bible, He needed some criteria other than “make the decision according to Biblical principles”.

The standard answer is “we are starting with our moral intuitions, then simplifying them to a smaller number of axioms which eventually produce them”. But if the axioms fill a book and are full of epicycles to address individual problems, we’re not doing a very good job.

I mean, it’s still better than just trying to sort out all individual issues like “what is a just war?” on their own, because people will answer that question according to their personal prejudices (is my tribe winning it? Then it is so, so just) and if we force them to write the utilitarianism book at least they’ve got to come up with consistent principles and stick to them. But it is highly suboptimal.

And I wonder whether maybe the base level, the one that actually grounds utilitarianism, is contractualism. The idea of a Platonic parliament in which we try to enact all beneficial agreements. Under this model, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics would all be different heuristics that we use to approximate contractualism, the fragments we remember from our beautiful dream of Paradise.

I realize this is kind of annoying, especially in the sense of “the next person who comes along can say that utiltiarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, and contractualism are heuristics for whatever moral theory they like, which is The Real Thing”. But the idea can do work! It particular, it might help esolve some of the standard paradoxes of utilitarianism.

First, are we morally obligated to wirehead everyone and convert the entire universe into hedonium? Well, would you sign that contract?

Second, is there anything wrong with killing people painlessly if they won’t be missed? After all, it doesn’t seem to cause any pain or suffering, or even violate any preferences – at least insofar as your victim isn’t around to have their preferences violated. Well, would you sign a contract in which everyone agrees not to do that?

Third, are we morally obligated to create more and more people with slightly above zero utility, until we are in an overcrowded slum world with everyone stuck at just-above-subsistence level (the Repugnant Conclusion)? Well, if you were making an agreement with everyone else about what the population level should be, would you suggest we do that? Or would you suggest we avoid it?

(this can be complicated by asking whether potential people get a seat in this negotiation, but Carl Shulman has a neat way to solve that problem)

Fourth, the classic problem of defining utility. If utility can be defined ordinally but not cardinally (ie you can declare that stubbing your toe is worse than a dust speck in the eye, but you can’t say something like it’s exactly 2.6 negative utilons) then utilitarianism becomes very hard. But contractualism doesn’t become any harder, except insofar as it’s harder to use utilitarianism as a heuristic for it.

I am not actually sure these problems are being solved, and I’m not just being led astray by contractualism being harder to model than utilitarianism and so it is easier for me to imagine them solved. But at the very least, it might be that contractualism is a different angle from which to attack these problems.

Of course, contractualism has problems of its own. It might be that different ways of doing the negotiations would lead to very different results. It might also be that the results would be very path-dependent, so that making one agreement first would end with a totally different result than making another agreement first. And this would be a good time to admit I don’t know that much formal game theory, but I do know there are multiple Nash equilibria and Pareto-optimal endpoints in a lot of problems and that in general there’s no such thing as “the correct game theoretic solution to this problem”, only solutions that fit more or fewer desirability criteria.

But to some degree this maps onto our intuitions about morality. One of the harder to believe things about utilitarianism was that it suggested there was exactly one best state of the universe. Our intuitions are very good at saying that certain hellish dystopias are very bad, and certain paradises are very good, but extrapolating them out to say there’s a single best state is iffy at best. So maybe the ability of rigorous game theory to end in a multitude of possible good outcomes is a feature and not a bug.

I don’t know if it’s possible for certain negotiation techniques to end in extreme local minima where things don’t end out as a paradise at all. I mean, I know there’s lots of horrible game theory like the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Pirate’s Dilemma and so on, but I’m defining the “good game theory” of the Economists’ Paradise to mean exactly the rules and coordination power you need to not do those kinds of things.

But there’s also a meta-level escape vent. If a certain set of negotiation techniques would lead to a local minimum where everything is Pareto-optimal but nobody is happy, then everyone would coordinate to sign a pact not to use those negotiation techniques.


To sum up:

The Economists’ Paradise of solved coordination problems would be enough to keep everyone happy and prosperous and free. We ourselves could live in that paradise if we followed its rules, which involve negotiation of and adherence to agreements according to good economist and game theory, but these rules are hard to determine and hard to enforce.

We can sort of guess at what some of these rules can be, and when we do that we can try to follow them. Some rules lend themselves to State enforcement. Others don’t and we have to follow them quietly in the privacy of our own hearts. Sometimes the rules include rules about ostracizing or criticizing those who don’t follow the rules effectively, and so even the ones the State can’t enforce are sorta kinda enforceable. Then we can spread them through a series of walled gardens and spontaneous order divine intervention.

The exact nature of the rules is computationally intractable and so we use heuristics most of the time. Through practical wisdom, game theory, and moral philosophy, we can improve our heuristics and get to the rules more closely, with corresponding benefits for society. Utilitarianism is one especially good heuristic for the rules, but it’s also kind of computationally intractable. Utilitarianism helps us approximate contractualism, and contractualism helps us resolve some of the problems of utilitarianism.

One problem of utilitarianism I didn’t talk about is that it isn’t very inspirational. Following divine law is inspirational. Trying to become a better person, a heroic person, is inspirational. Utilitarianism sounds too much like math. I think contractualism solves this problem too.

Consider. There is an Invisible Nation. It is not a democracy, per se, but it is something of a republic, where each of us is represented by a wiser, stronger version of ourselves who fights for our preferences to be enacted into law. Its legislature is untainted by partisanship, perfectly efficient, incorruptible, without greed, without tyranny. Its bylaws are the laws of mathematics; its Capitol Building stands at the center of Platonia.

All good people are patriots of the Invisible Nation. All the visible nations of the world – America, Canada, Russia – are properly understood to be its provinces, tasked with executing its laws as best they can, and with proper consideration to the unique needs of the local populace. Some provinces are more loyal than others. Some seem to be in outright rebellion. The laws of the Invisible Nation contain provisions about what to do with provinces in rebellion, but they are vague and difficult to interpret, and its patriots can disagree on what they are.

Maybe one day we will create a superintelligence that tries something like Coherent Extrapolated Volition – which I think we have just rederived, kind of by accident. The various viceroys and regents will hand over their scepters, and the Invisible Nation will stand suddenly revealed to the mortal eye. Until then, we see through a glass darkly. As we learn more about our fellow citizens, as we gain new modalities of interacting with them like writing, television, the Internet – as we start crystallizing concepts like rights and utility and coordination – we become a little better able to guess.

Nobody Likes A Tattletale

Today at work, one of my heroin addict patients getting treated in inpatient rehab for heroin addiction managed to smuggle…well, you want to take a wild guess? Yeah, he smuggled in some heroin and got high in the hospital. Another patient saw him do it and told me. I had a long talk with him and took measures to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed in the addict. Anyone who expects heroin addicts to follow rules that result in them getting less heroin is going to be so consistently frustrated that they will eventually lower their standards.

But I am a little disappointed in the patient who told me. Come on, man! Nobody likes a tattletale!

I realize this feeling is totally one hundred percent irrational. The patient was absolutely correct that using heroin in rehab is bad, we enforce our anti-heroin rules fairly and don’t have any draconian punishments when people break them, and most of these people come into rehab at least sorta-voluntarily and agree to the rules. Telling me was absolutely the correct decision.

But I still feel a little disappointed in him.

This feeling is not born of any kind of personal experience. I’ve never had much trouble with authority. I follow most of the important laws, I never got in trouble in school. No one’s ever tattled on me. Although my association with many libertarians provides me with a lot of examples of authority overreaching itself, I’m pretty sure the rule “don’t use heroin in a drug rehab” isn’t one one of those.

As far as I can tell, my only two consistent positions are “disagree with the existence of rules” and “agree with rules and be happy when people help enforce those rules”, and I’m definitely not pushing for the first.

And yet I’m still kind of annoyed with that guy.

Dislike of tattletales seems to be, if not a human universal, at least a human very-common, arising in the absence of obvious social pressure and seeming attractive even to people whose social position ought to naturally turn them against it. My impression from old mobster movies is that even the police had contempt for people who ratted on organized crime, even though those people were obviously doing good for society.

This seems to be a clear case of virtue ethics versus utilitarianism. A rat who betrays the mob is helping society by getting rid of criminals, but he’s also proving himself an untrustworthy person who betrays his friends and who might not be a good choice to associate with. Fine.

But my patient? He never promised anybody he wasn’t going to tell on them. He had no association with the addict besides being a patient in the same hospital as him. If he had any duty at all, it was to his doctors, who were working really hard to help him, and he discharged this duty admirably by helping them enforce their rules.

So in this case I think it is just a flaw in my brain. I am acting as if all my patients had made some kind of implied deal to respect each other’s privacy, and the one tattletale was being a dealbreaker by defecting. But since no such deal was made – and since indeed people in a rehab facility should not expect such a deal – there was no deal-breaking involved.

One cannot say the same for the position endorsed by Leah Libresco, who wrote about a similar episode of tattling in her blog post The Ethicist Endorses Omertà

The NYT‘s Ethicist has taken a very strange approach to wrongdoing in this weekend’s column. A student wrote in to say that ze saw a friend take someone’s car keys and throw them into a lake. The friend offered the letterwriter $50 as an implicit bribe in order to stay quiet. The bribe worked. Later, someone came by looking for his keys, and the letterwriter kept mum. But ze felt queasy about zer choice, and asked the Ethicist for his advice.

Assume that for some reason he can’t just give the guy his $50 back before talking. His only two choices are to keep the money and stay silent, or keep the money and talk. The first choice fails to right a wrong, the second breaks his contract. Which is better?

The Ethicist said the writer was wrong to take the deal, but having taken it, he is compelled to respect it. Leah disagreed, saying that he was wrong to take the bribe, and having realized that he should break his deal and tell the victim everything. She says: “Sticking by an immoral compact wrongs yourself and your accomplice. . . it’s clear that we don’t want people to hew to unethical agreements, simply because breaking promises is bad.”

I’m about halfway between these two positions. One should try one’s hardest to get out of an immoral contract. But if that’s impossible, I think one needs to weigh the moral cost of breaking a promise against the moral cost of carrying out the immoral contract, with a bias towards keeping your word unless it’s totally repugnant.

Let me try to give an example Leah will be especially able to understand.

Suppose that I become a Catholic priest and take confession. I swear not to break the seal of the confessional and not to go tell the secular authorities what I hear.

My first client (I bet there’s a better word for that!) is a child molester who confesses all the child molestation he’s doing. I tell him to stop, and he says unconvincingly that he’ll think about it.

I think “Holy f@#k, I was just expecting people to talk about sleeping in on Sundays, this is way worse than I could have expected”. I decide that my original promise not to tell the secular authorities was immoral, and I go off and tell the secular authorities. They arrest the child molester. Everyone lives happily ever after except that no one confesses things at Church ever again.

Both Leah and myself agree that some sort of a confessional-type institution is useful (even if I as an atheist think of it more in terms of psychiatric confidentiality). But such an institution is impossible without people being able to really mean promises. A credible promise can’t just be “I promise to do this thing unless I later decide it is bad, in which case I won’t”. You have to be able to really trust someone.

As Leah herself very correctly puts it in a different blog post on a different botched Ethicist decision:

The Ethicist is crippling his own ability (and that of anyone suspected to subscribe to his philosophy) to make a promise. A promise is not an indication of present beliefs (“I don’t plan to repeat anything you say in this room”) it is a bind on future action (“I won’t repeat what you say, even if I wish I hadn’t made this promise later”). If he isn’t comfortable making that kind of promise, he has the option to tell patients and others up front, but treating promises as breakable upon reflection dilutes them for him and everyone else.

The covenant marriage movement is meant to counteract this kind of thinking in one sphere. In an age of no-fault divorce, they’re trying to carve out a special niche, clearly differentiated from mainstream marriage, where a change of heart isn’t sufficient justification to break a promise. But there isn’t an equivalent in most other spheres of life. One can say only “I really mean this promise,” and a reader of the Ethicist’s column might reasonably hear a silent “right now” at the end of that phrase.

But now it’s Leah adding the “right now” and The Ethicist enforcing covenants. Leah points out that the Ethicist has changed its mind on this point, but doesn’t explain why, upon being given the opposite position, she continues to disagree.

Promises are useful because they allow beneficial Pareto-optimal deals to be made. If promises are untrustworthy, beneficial deals become impossible and everyone loses out. The principle “Break all promises to respect immoral deals” not only makes immoral deals impossible, but also any moral deals where there is a risk of either participant deciding they are immoral, or even moral deals where one participant can credibly claim to have decided they are immoral and so back out of their obligation punishment-free. This is a pretty big set of deals and so we should not lightly endorse people’s ability to break promises they believe are immoral.

I should probably clarify here that all my promises usually contain an implied “unless following this promise is much more difficult than I could reasonably have expected” and I assume my interlocutor knows this. So if I promise someone to get them milk from the store, and then I go to the store and there’s only one carton of milk and a guy has just taken it and tells me he won’t give it to me, I don’t feel morally obligated to beat him up and steal it from him. If somebody wants a promise from me without the implied “unless” they are welcome to ask me for it. Or in certain cases where it is obvious that is what they want, I will assume it without being asked. And in those sorts of cases if I make it I will keep it, beating-up and all. But I would think much harder before making a promise like that, and I would lawyer its wording the same way I would a wish from a genie with a known mean streak.

Much simpler and perhaps best of all were those ancient promises, where people were like “If ever I betray your trust, then may the ravens of Odin peck out my right eye!” There’s no ambiguity here. You know exactly what’s enforcing the deal – getting your right eye pecked out by ravens. If you later decide your deal was unethical, you are welcome to assuage your conscience by cancelling it, but you should still expect to have your right eye pecked out by ravens. Since the enforcement mechanism is bloodthirsty heavenly birds rather than morality per se, you don’t get these weird questions about whether other, different morality can ride in and free you from it. It’s not even a question of “freeing” so much as of trade-offs. If you want to break your promise for money, you can get the money – but the ravens will peck out your eye. If you want to break your promise for love, you can get the love – but the ravens will peck out your eye. And if you want to break your promise for a greater moral cause, you can get your greater moral cause – but your eye still gets pecked out.

You know exactly where you stand with eye-pecking ravens, which is a hell of a lot better than you can ever say about morality.

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Ozy’s Anti Heartiste FAQ

[Editor's note: This is a guest post by Ozy Frantz. I do not necessarily endorse everything it says, but I do contingently agree with a lot of it. Content note for profanity, social justice stuff, manosphere stuff, and graphic descriptions of sex. I trust that any debate this kicks up will be marked by courtesy and good manners on all sides, in a spirit of sincere collaborative truth-seeking - SA]

I. Introduction

A. What is the purpose of this post?

This is the Anti-Heartiste FAQ. It is meant to rebut some common beliefs within the “manosphere” about how human sexual interaction works. I am primarily arguing with the blogger Heartiste, as he is one of the most famous and influential writers within the manosphere, although I do briefly argue with other writers. I am also going to ignore the macro-level beliefs about how human society works, on the grounds that they are mostly derived from these micro-level observations about human sexuality and fall down when no longer grounded in them.

A1. What does Heartiste believe about human sexual interaction?

Men are primarily attracted to women who are young, thin, and hot; this accounts for approximately 90% of men’s criteria for dating women. The other 10% is femininity, sexual voraciousness, and non-promiscuity. Women have a dual sex drive, often referred to as “alpha fucks, beta bucks.” Women are primarily sexually attracted to “alpha males,” who are assholes, conventionally masculine, and popular among other women. When they are young and hot enough to hope to secure commitment from alphas or when they are ovulating and thus capable of having children, women pursue “alpha fucks.” Beta males are generally middle-class or above and do not have alpha male traits. Women seek betas when they are older or less attractive, or when they aren’t ovulating, in order to secure commitment and extract resources. Ideally, women want to get pregnant by alpha males and make betas take care of the child. There are also omega males, who are undesirable to women for any purpose.

B. I am Heartiste, and I don’t actually want to go to all the bother of reading this whole post, I just want to know what your characteristics are so I can direct ad hominem attacks at you properly.

I am 22 years old. I am 5’9″ and my weight fluctuates between 120 and 126 pounds. I have 32A breasts and a waist-to-hip ratio of .7. Pictures are available here. I have had 30 sexual partners. I am polyamorous, which means I openly and honestly date multiple people at the same time. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. I have a degree in sociology and gender studies. I am currently a camgirl, which means I take off my clothes and masturbate for money on the Internet. I live with my primary partner Scott; I am also dating Esther, who when asked to describe herself for this essay called herself a ”sad weird fat girl with incredible boobs”.

I am a nonbinary trans person, but I was born with a vagina, a female-typical hormone balance, and as far as I am aware two X chromosomes. I currently possess all of these traits and will probably do so indefinitely. That means I am not a trans woman. I am heading in the totally opposite direction than trans women are. I cannot possibly be transitioning because of my autogynephilia, because if I were an autogynephile I would be like “wow, I fetishize having the body parts I was born with, this is incredibly convenient!” instead of being like “aaaaa! Get them off me!” There has previously been confusion about this, so I am making it as clear as possible.

C. You’re just one of those feminist game deniers who think sex differences don’t exist.

Nope! Actually, I am going to take this FAQ from the POV that game tactics all work exactly as stated by their advocates. What I hope to show is that even if you assume that Heartiste is totally right about his practical advice– if you should neg, qualify, do takeaways, send women ‘gay’ as a response to their text messages, and all the rest– his conclusions about how the dating marketplace works simply do not follow.

In addition, I do actually think that sex differences exist. I think that level of violence, libido, probably certain aspects of sexuality such as getting off on narrative versus getting off on visuals, and probably some stuff with emotions are all inherent, biological gender differences. I am not willing to rule out other differences nor to state that I believe in them.

It is a very boring prediction of feminist theory that the genders behave differently from each other. After all, if you divide children into two random groups and tell half of them to be courageous and half of them to be gentle, one half is probably going to be courageous and the other is going to be gentle. It is tiresome when people (both feminists and antifeminists) pretend that the existence of gender differences proves that these gender differences are not socialized. Over the course of this article, I will highlight legitimate gender differences which I think are probably social in nature rather than biological. Of course, all complex behavior has both social and biological elements: for instance, I will argue that women’s lack of interest in casual sex has both a biological and a social component.

II. Men

A. Beauty

1. Beauty norms have to be inborn on account of it feels like I have no volitional control over my boner. 

First, by the time you have your first boner at puberty, you have already experienced more than a decade of environmental influence. You’ve learned a language, how to walk and use the toilet, fashion, how to maintain a conversation, what interests are approved of in your peer group. Most of those things are now second nature to you. Is it that impossible that you learned a sexuality too?

Second, environmental influence can make things happen that feel like you can’t control them. Music sounds good to you because you’ve learned how to listen to it (just think about your mom saying “that’s just noise!”) but it doesn’t feel learned that it makes you want to get up and boogie. Girls like pink because we’ve associated pink with girls (it was different as few as a hundred years ago), but try to argue with a six-year-old at a toy store. At the extreme end, PTSD is obviously the result of the environment– you need a traumatic event to trigger it– but flashbacks and hyperarousal often feel inevitable and uncontrollable. Indeed, many fetishes are obviously environmental in origin, unless one assumes that genes for fetishes for rubber, stuffed animals, and Catholic schoolgirls lay latent in the genome for tens of thousands of years.

2. But I and my friends all agree who the hottest girls at the bar are.

If I and my friends all went to a bar and started talking about who the hottest girl was, we would probably agree it was a girl with no makeup, a Star Wars T-shirt, and glasses. I suspect this is a sign that friends tend to be similar to each other, not a sign that beauty norms are inborn.


3. Are beauty norms a cultural universal?

In China, women bound their feet, crippling them. Love poetry was written about the beauty of the “lotus foot,” which was as small as three inches, and the swaying way a woman walked. (See, for instance, this collection of Chinese erotic poems.) In Mauritania, women are sent to camps where they are force-fed tens of thousands of calories a day in order to become attractively obese. In Renaissance England, women painted their faces white with lead, poisoning them. Oh, and one for the gay men: in ancient Greece small penises were considered heroic and manly and large penises laughable.

It seems to me you have three options here. First, you can agree that beauty norms are to a degree culturally variable, including our own. Second, you can believe that a bunch of people crippled their daughters and wrote love poetry about how beautiful it is just to fuck with Westerners or something. Third, you can say that the Chinese were mistaken for a thousand years about evolution wanting them to get boners for girls with bound feet, and mysteriously 21st-century Americans are the only culture who has figured out the correct evolved sexuality.

2. Oh, so you’re one of those people who thinks that we only believe in beauty norms because the evil patriarchy is brainwashing us, and if we didn’t we’d think that every body is beautiful.

There are actually options between “all ideas of beauty are inborn” and “all ideas of beauty are socially constructed.” For instance, one could say that our ideas of beauty are the product of biology and environment working together. You know, the way every other complex behavior is.

I do think some beauty standards are probably inborn and fairly immutable. Symmetrical faces are not simply preferred in the US and the UK: Chinese and Japanese people prefer symmetrical faces, as do the Hadza hunter-gatherer tribe. (In fact, the Hadza prefer symmetrical faces more strongly than Americans do!) This is some evidence that humans ‘naturally’ prefer symmetrical faces.

Another prominent example is waist-to-hip ratio. Initially, the evidence for WHR as a cross-cultural universal seems pretty slim. Kenyans prefer a .7 WHR, the same as modern Americans. However, Ugandans prefer a .5 WHR, significantly lower than Americans. Malaysians don’t care about waist-to-hip ratio, only caring about BMI, as do the Japanese. Hunter-gatherers seem to not care about waist to hip ratio. However, replications of the latter study suggest that when the hunter-gatherer preference for heavier women is controlled for, waist-to-hip ratio has an independent effect. I personally find the latter study incredibly interesting and think it has a lot of potential to save WHR; however, it has a very small sample size, so take it with all relevant grains of salt. Nevertheless, it provides some suggestion that WHR is culturally invariant. (I would also like to point out that “hunter gatherers like fat women, which confounds tests for WHR and attractiveness designed for thin-preferring Americans” is also a pretty solid point against the Fat Is Universally Hideous hypothesis.)

However, I think most beauty standards are the result of a more complex interaction. (Here is the wild-ass guessing with no empirical backing section.) For instance, men might be attracted to features that are familiar to them, high-status in their culture, or associated with their parents or other people they love. In Song China, women with bound feet are high-status; in modern America, thin women with large breasts are high-status, and thinness indicates other high-status traits such as wealth and free time to attend to one’s health. A similar origin produces wildly different beauty standards. Similarly, men might default to a certain preference– maybe they like brunettes– but this is culturally mutable– if they’re exposed to a lot of sexy blonde women and posters saying Blondes Have More Fun, they’ll start liking blondes. Alternately, the “sexy daughters” hypothesis (a variant of a Heartiste favorite, the “sexy sons” hypothesis): men want their daughters to be beautiful so they can get better mates, so they choose partners who fit the local standard of beauty.

3. Are pretty girls healthier?

Studies do not seem to have found meaningful correlations between rated facial attractiveness and physical health. While the second study has some correlations, they are small and fail to reach significance and are totally hyped by their abstract.

This is very odd, of course, because as I said earlier the evidence points towards symmetrical faces being a cross-cultural beauty standard. There are several possible explanations. Symmetrical faces might indicate health in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, but industrialized countries have improved health. (I believe one common hypothesis is that symmetrical faces show you aren’t infected by parasites.) Maybe humans like symmetry for other reasons, and that generalizes to sexual attraction. Maybe it’s some other cause (sexy daughters hypothesis!).

Alternately, maybe facial symmetry does indicate something interesting about health, but that’s confounded by all the other factors our culture has incorporated into facial attractiveness. This study suggests that current health and facial symmetry are basically uncorrelated, but facial symmetry is correlated with childhood health. Another study argues that facial asymmetry may be related to developmental instability, which is negative. This is interesting but tentative.

4. Does it make evolutionary sense for men to target pretty girls for casual sex?

Let’s think that you’re a man in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. Human babies are extremely resource-intensive. It is generally not possible to raise a child by oneself: a woman alone will either realize this and commit infanticide, or risk both herself and her child starving to death. If you are engaging in long-term mating, then you are going to invest resources in the baby. However, if you’re engaging in short-term mating, you’re not. If your child dies, all the effort you put in and risks you took for the the short-term mating strategy are lost. Therefore, men ought to have evolved to be attracted to women with sufficient resources that they could take care of a child: women with doting and wealthy fathers, women with husbands, women who kicked ass so hard at gathering they could feed themselves and a child, women with unique skills at, I don’t know, flintknapping or shamanism or something such that people will give them food. Therefore, in the modern environment, men ought to be into rich or married women and be willing to sacrifice a considerable amount of prettiness for wealth. Only in long-term relationships should they begin to care about prettiness and whatever that indicates, since they can make up for lower resources on the part of the woman. Conversely, women who are engaging in short-term mating ought to be primarily interested in pretty dudes who will pass on good genes to their children.

I am not saying that this is an actually accurate model of how human evolution worked. I am just pointing out that this evolutionary just-so story is exactly as plausible as all of Heartiste’s evolutionary just-so stories and has opposite predictions, and that I feel like the reason that no one is coming up with that model is less related to plausible speculation about evolution and more about “shit, we have to explain why humans are genetically programmed to act the way I do.”

5. Is 95% of what men want in a relationship partner youth, beauty, and thinness?

Man, if that were true why do I keep getting hit on online by dudes who are uncertain about whether my sex is female?

(For the record, I continue to be female-sexed in pretty much every conceivable way. I just felt like I ought to repeat that, because of the amount of confusion in neoreactionary circles about the “what genitals does Ozy have?” point.)

But that is not really excellent evidence! It is possible that most of the dudes who hit on me online are Boner Georg who is an outlier adn should not be counted. (In fact, that is certain.) So let’s look at the studies!

If Heartiste had said that men are more interested in physical appearance, in general, than women are, I would basically have nothing to say here. That seems pretty much correct. However, there is an important difference between “men care about appearance more than women do” and “physical appearance is 95% of men’s criteria in selecting a romantic partner.” The latter is a much stronger claim and not remotely backed up by the evidence.

The most obvious way to find out whether men are 95% interested in physical appearance is to ask them. This study with an extremely large sample size found that men did rank good looks and facial attractiveness as more important than women did. However, across genders, the most important traits were all non-physical: things like intelligence, values, and communication skills.

On the other hand, it seems like asking people to rank their top three traits in a sexual partner is a strategy that will lead to a lot of social desirability bias. Surely if we examine studies that relate to social behavior– speed dating, correlations of attractiveness to how popular someone is among the opposite sex or how liked they are by someone they’re interacting with, experiments that manipulate the attractiveness of a stranger– we will find that the difference is much much larger. Perhaps 95%?

Oh, the sex differences are actually smaller in studies that examine social behavior. That’s awkward.

In fact, this unpaywalled study which examines speed-dating finds that there is basically no gender difference between men and women in how much physical attractiveness affects saying ‘yes’ to someone in speed-dating.

I believe the correct response here is “<3Science<3 has once again dropped to its knees and slobbered the knob of Ozy, vindicating the Ozyan observation that physical appearance is not ninety-five percent of what men care about, you dumb fuck.

Interestingly, gender equality seems to make the gender differences in self-reported desire for a physically attractive partner stay the same, while it makes gender differences in self-reported desire for a partner with a particular personality go down. Which suggests that… men are biologically programmed to claim to be into hot women and not actually be? Or something? Very puzzling.

Again, I am not saying there is no difference between how much men prioritize physical appearance and how much women prioritize physical appearance! There clearly seems to be a difference. What I am saying is that it is not true that physical appearance is 95% of what men care about and 5% of what women care about. That is probably true of Heartiste, but that is not true of all men. I would like to thank Heartiste for making extreme claims and thus making my debunking of them easier.

B. Thinness

1. Aren’t all men in all cultures into thin women?

In addition to Mauritania and hunter gatherers, discussed above, I would like to discuss classical art. Heartiste has said that Rubens is a fatty-fucker so we’re not allowed to use him as an example. Fortunately, a feminist blogger has created a helpful “if classic works of art were photoshopped to look like modern magazine stars” set of pictures, from throughout European art history, without a Rubens in sight.

Now, to be clear, these women are mostly overweight or the thin end of obese. (The BMI Project has helpful examples of what overweight and obese women look like; most people think obese looks significantly fatter than it actually does.) They are not the sort of person that one associates with “fat woman.” However, Heartiste has been more than willing to call Lena Dunham, who is about the same size as those women, “a frumpy, dumpy, plumpy formless flesh entity”. In addition, he tends to use phrases like “the distended porcine holes of these beached whales” to talk about overweight women. So at the very least we have cultures that are really into naked women who look significantly fatter than Heartiste’s boner prefers.

2. Okay, maybe not cross-culturally, but in our culture aren’t all men most attracted to thin women?

Meet April Flores.

April Flores has been in 35 porn films. (Also she is cute as a button, but that is neither here nor there.) You can, if you wish, buy a plastic version of April Flores’s vagina, stomach, and thighs. This means, for those of us at home, that both the “into extremely fat ladies” market and the “into creepily disembodied female body parts” market are large enough, and overlap enough, that it is worth it to porn companies to create a toy directly aimed at it. Or it could be because of the noted political correctness of the industry that brought us Assault That Asian Ass IV.

3. But the only people who are into April Flores are chubby chaser omega dweebs.

So? They still exist.

I suppose you could steelman this argument into “omega dweebs are so insecure they even jerk off to fat women they’re not attracted to.” However, there seem to be many other omega dweebs who are perfectly capable of jerking off to, say, skinny anime girls with breasts the size of their heads (indeed, this is a proverbial omega dweeb thing to do). In addition, the behavior of being so insecure you jerk off to people you’re not attracted to seems quite ludicrous and I would like some evidence that that actually happens ever.

I argue in part IIIA1 that female serial killer chasing is an outlier that doesn’t show anything about female sexuality as a whole. One could make a similar argument about male chubby chasers. However, I notice that BBWs are a healthy section of the porn market, while serial-killer-themed porn-for-ladies has made less of an inroad than porn featuring men with dog dicks.

4. Isn’t being into really thin girls evolutionarily selected for?

In women, being underweight (i.e. having a BMI of less than 18.5) may cause irregular periods, lack of periods, difficulty getting pregnant, and infertility. Heartiste’s range of optimally attractive female BMI is 17.5-21, which includes some underweight women. He considers BMI of 21-24, which is on the large end of perfectly fertile, to be equally attractive to BMI of 16.6-17.5, which consists of women at serious risk of reduced fertility or infertility. This seems an unlikely trait to evolve.

It is true that being overweight or obese is also correlated with infertility. However, one must remember that for most of human history starving to death is more of a concern than death by obesity. Therefore, if anything, it seems that evolution would favor overweight women rather than underweight women– the infertility risk is outweighed by her not starving to death while breastfeeding your child.

D. Sluttiness

1. Are sluts more likely to divorce you?

Scott argues no. Several reactionaries, such as Free Northerner, have presented other charts which purport to show that it is. My position is the centrist “holy shit this data is confounded all to hell.”

Virgins and women with one partner have traditional religious values (being a virgin at marriage is a much more costly signal that you genuinely have traditional values than, say, signing an abstinence pledge or being in a red state). Women with 20+ partners, conversely, probably have libertine values and don’t think divorce is immoral. Women who lost their virginity under age 14 are usually what is more properly referred to as “rape survivors,” and it is not surprising if that’s linked with poor mental health and thus marital instability. Women with more premarital partners are typically older at first marriage, which is linked to stability; similarly, since you typically have sex before or when you get married, women who lost their virginity at a later date are more likely to get married older. I do not have access to the data set, but I predict that if you control for age at first marriage and traditional/libertine values, the predictive value of sluttiness will be basically zero.

In addition, if you are going to be married to someone, you have access to much better information about whether she’d make a good romantic partner for you. You have access to information about her character across a wide variety of situations: you can find out whether she’s kind, generous, loyal, honest. If you are interested in minimizing your risk of divorce, you can see how stable and long-lasting her friendships are, how reluctant she is to leave a relationship, whether she condemns divorce or supports it, and (perhaps more crucially) how often her words about morality line up with her actions. It is trivial to lie about your number of sexual partners. It is not trivial to lie about your entire character.

2. Is it easy to identify a slut?

“It’s Easy to Identify A Slut” is the title of one of Heartiste’s most popular posts. He says that it reveals the secret slut tells that prove that no woman can hide how many people she’s had sex with.

Unfortunately, it mostly seems like advice for identifying a woman who is telegraphing her high sociosexuality as hard as she can. I am not remotely interested in hiding that I’ve had lots of sex partners, but if I were, here is a brief list of things I would not do: go commando; wear cleavage-bearing tops; seem really really good at sex; show off my sex toy and porn collection; talk about sex constantly; implore my partners for kinky sex; brag about how much sex I’ve had (!); have so many sex partners I’m never single (!!); make out with men in bars (!!!); let men snort coke off my ass (!!!!)

I mean, Jesus, Heartiste, what does she have to do to not be trying to hide that she’s a slut, wear a shirt that says “MY BOYFRIEND SAID I NEEDED TO BE MORE AFFECTIONATE, SO NOW I HAVE TWO”?

3. Is it true that some humans are r-selected, which means they’re promiscuous and want to have lots of children, and some humans are k-selected, which means they invest in a few children?


For one thing, r/k selection theory was shown to be a vast oversimplification of life-history evolution forty years ago. For another thing, it applies on a species level, not on an individual level. Humans as a species are absurdly k-selected. How many species can you think of that have young that are totally helpless for their first decade of life? r/k selection theory would argue that we wouldn’t have casual sex, because humans are not remotely r-selected on any conceivable level! Clearly, this is not the case, which ought to make one wonder how applicable this is to human beings anyway.

4. Is it a good idea to hate sluts?

OK, let’s say that marrying a slut increases your likelihood of getting divorced. As much as I hate to point this out, Heartiste, you don’t actually want to get married. You want to have lots of casual sex. And as much as you claim that you think sluts are valuable as good-time girls and virgins are valuable as women to marry and they are both equal, you don’t have any tag on your blog called “Virgins” where you recommend “a stone bold [virgin]… should be shunned by everyone, including the media, to live out her diseased days alone and isolated from normal human contact… what worse fate for the BPD attention whoring sociopathic [virgin] than being utterly ignored?” As far as I can tell, the only result of hating sluts for Heartiste is that he gets to spend a lot of time having sex with women he finds disgusting and gross, which seems like a pretty depressing life choice to me.

E. Femininity

1. Are men more interested in women with feminine personalities than women with masculine personalities?

Depends on the man.

I am going to say “feminine women” and “masculine women” from now on, because “women with feminine personalities” is hard to type. However, I would like to clarify that I am not talking about wearing lipstick or about having feminine facial features, but about possessing gender-congruent personality traits, such as being gentle, tactful, and a lover of children for women and being ambitious, competitive, and individualistic for men.

This study finds that men tend to be attracted to feminine women for romance and androgynous women platonically. That seems pretty plausibly pro-Heartiste.

However, men who believe in traditional gender roles tend to be more attracted to feminine women, while men who don’t tend to not care whether their partner is feminine or not. In this study, men who believe in traditional gender roles prefer feminine partners, while men who prefer either androgynous or feminine partners. Interestingly, this study finds that men who aren’t very masculine prefer women who aren’t very feminine, while masculine men don’t care about femininity one way or the other, suggesting the relevant variable is not masculinity as a personality trait but belief in traditional gender roles. Together, these studies suggest that the cause is not inherent biology: it’s the fact that people who support traditional gender roles tend to be into traditional gender roles in their personal life too.

2. Except that those studies don’t show that men prefer androgynous women: in fact, guys are pretty much okay with feminine women regardless. Maybe men evolved to like feminine women and not believing in traditional gender roles socializes people to like androgynous women, or at least to say that on surveys. 

Except look at women’s preferences in those studies: women consistently don’t like masculine men either. In fact, even traditional women don’t really like masculine men. I think what we’re seeing here is an interaction: traditional men may favor feminine women and, in addition, people with masculine personalities, as defined by the Bem Sex Role Inventory, are assholes and no one wants to put up with them. I mean, do you want to date someone described as aggressive, dominant, and a “strong personality” and as not understanding, sensitive to others’ needs, and compassionate? I don’t. They would probably make me cry all the time, it would be awful.

III. Women

This is an incredibly cheap shot and I feel sort of guilty about putting it in, so: I would like to point out that Heartiste seems to believe some women don’t have leg hair (question 11) and that breasts come in DD and perky without wearing a bra (questions 4 and 5). In addition, he seems to be under the impression that real skinny women carry a Photoshop filter in front of them at all times. Seriously, as someone who can see that kind of body every time I look in the mirror, the “spindly, weirdly proportioned girl” is what actual thin women actually look like. I would propose that Heartiste has perhaps never seen a non-Photoshopped naked thin woman, but perhaps the more charitable explanation is that whenever Heartiste has seen a thin woman naked he has had a Photoshop filter in the form of an erection. (This is not charitable to Heartiste. It is charitable to male virgins, most of whom are totally aware that DD breasts sag.)

So, you know, just be aware you’re taking advice about women from someone who thinks some women don’t have leg hair.

A. Jerks

1. Do women like serial killers?

The Wikipedia list of serial killers lists about 100 serial killers in the United States; let’s double it and say 200 just to bias it towards Heartiste. Let us assume that about one in every two thousand women is interested in serial killers. That means that there are 750 women interested in serial killers for every serial killer. I don’t know about you, but I feel like having 750 women interested in you would put you in a pretty good sexual marketplace position. I also feel like one in two thousand is also a fair estimate of the prevalence of, say, diaper fetishism. Since I do not say that diaper fetishists prove any deep truths about human sexuality, I can also argue that serial killer fetishism doesn’t.

It would be interesting if only women decided to date murderers. However, women are also much less likely than men to commit high-profile murders. The last high-profile female murderer I’m aware of– Casey Anthony– was deluged with marriage proposals from men.

2. What about Genghis Khan?

The most genetically successful man in history is Genghis Khan (actually his grandfather a few generations back). Heartiste has argued in the past that this is proof that women are attracted to violent men. However, I feel like Genghis Khan’s reproductive success is more than adequately explained by the fact that for several hundred years a woman whom a relative of Genghis Khan wished to fuck had a choice between fucking him or being dead. I don’t know about you, but I would fuck a lot of people I wasn’t attracted to if the other option was death.

3. What about women in abusive relationships?

It is true that women are more likely to be hit by their partners, more likely to be raped, more likely to be sent to the hospital due to domestic abuse, and more likely to be murdered. However, a statistically indistinguishable number of men and women– approximately 50%– are victims of emotional abuse in the United States.

That isn’t “women like jerks.” That is “people end up in abusive relationships.” Male abusers are more likely to be violent– but men are more violent in every sort of relationship, from high schools (boys get in fights, girls pull some Mean Girls shit) to crimes (men are far more likely to commit violent crimes). If desiring abuse is a fact about sexuality, it is a fact about everyone’s sexuality.

3a. Maybe men stay in abusive relationships or try to date serial killers because they’re desperate omegas, and women do it because they find that sort of thing attractive.

If women were into murderers and men weren’t, you would take that as evidence that there was some interesting difference going on there. (As you should.) If women and men are both into murderers, then you cannot just decide that there is a gender difference anyway– that men are into murderers because they are so desperate they can’t get anyone else, and women are into murderers because it taps into their deep-seated evolutionary desires. At least, you can’t without solid evidence which Heartiste has yet to actually present: for instance, a study of serial killer groupies which shows that male serial killer groupies are typically less sexually successful than female serial killer groupies. For further elaboration, please see conservation of expected evidence.

3b. Do people stay in abusive relationships because they are attracted to abusers?

No. Let us consider this from two angles: first, let us assume that it is possible to manipulate people. Think about how a really good salesperson can get you to buy something you don’t want. Second, let us assume that abusers are sensible people who don’t want to go through all the bother of finding a new partner every time someone says “holy shit, you just called me a whore, GTFO.”

As a reasonable abuser, you want to make sure your partner will stay. What do you do? Well, you’re charming, kind, and romantic at first, so they get really invested in the relationship. You target people who are vulnerable to begin with, such as a disabled person or an undocumented immigrant or someone without very many friends. You try to make your partner dependent on you (for money, transportation, etc.) so they can’t leave. Rats will keep pressing a button that gives them intermittent rewards (this is the psychology behind gambling and World of Warcraft); you take a similar tack towards giving your partner love and affection. You fuck with their idea of what is normal– if you can convince them that you treat them the way anyone would treat them, or the way they deserve to be treated, or better than they deserve, they won’t leave. You isolate them, both so they don’t have anyone to point out that you’re treating them like shit and so they don’t have anyone to rescue them. You appear sad and broken, so they feel compassion for you and want to keep taking care of you. If worst comes to worst, you threaten to kill them or yourself if you break up with them.

Therefore, staying with an abuser does not necessarily mean you want to be abused. Going back to an abuser does not necessarily mean you want to be abused. It means the abuser is good at abusing people.

Here is a list of reasons people stay in abusive relationships. You will notice “they turn me on” is not on there.

3b. Okay, but some people end up in abusive relationships again and again.

In fact, abuse survivors are a really excellent group to target for our rational abuser! A lot of the traits that make someone a good target for being abused remain the same: if someone is disabled, they are probably going to stay disabled even after they break up with their abuser. Abuse survivors themselves are often pretty vulnerable. Abusers are often very charming and high-status, so when the abuse survivor is like “that person abused me,” a lot of people will go “but she is so nice! Clearly you are psycho and making it up,” which means they lose their entire social group. And if you decide to abuse an abuse survivor, someone else has already isolated them and fucked with their idea of what is normal, so you have to do a lot less work. They practically come pre-abused!

For some people– usually people who have been abused, but not always– abuse is normalized. That means that they believe that all relationships are abusive. This makes them excellent targets for abusers. After all, if you believe the abuse is normal, you are not going to do silly things like “object” or “leave.” In fact, if someone is not abusing them, they may wonder about whether he really loves them. This is very sad, but it is not the same thing as wanting to be abused. If you think all food tastes like Ensure, you are probably not going to go seek out food that doesn’t taste like Ensure. That does not mean you have an all-abiding passion for Ensure.

4. What about women with rape fantasies?

I like thinking about zombies (as a subset of my fondness for thinking about apocalypses). I have a well-thumbed copy of the Zombie Survival Guide. I spend a lot of time working on zombie plans and have several mutually contradictory versions thereof. I played in my school’s game of Zombies every year for three years and won twice.

If I actually had to fight zombies and, by some bizarre chance, managed to not get eaten, I would probably end up with a massive case of PTSD. Guns make a loud noise that makes me cry so I definitely do not want to be a gunslinging zombie fighter. And on a very crucial level, I do not actually want my entire family to be eaten by the living dead. If you decided to feed my entire family to the living dead, I would be really upset.

The same thing is true of my rape fantasies. It is totally possible to be aroused by the idea of being raped without actually having the slightest interest in being raped in the real world, in the same way that it is possible to enjoy thinking about zombie plans without the slightest interest in the destruction of civilization, possible to love first-person shooters without wanting to be a mass murderer, and possible to go to Ren Faires every weekend while appreciating the benefits of modern sanitation. In fantasies, nothing permanently bad happens, you can be as psychologically unrealistic as you like, and everything is ultimately under your control.

Seriously, what kind of incredibly boring person only fantasizes about things they actually want to do?

4a. What if they want to be raped?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there exist women who genuinely desire to be raped, not in the sense that I want the zombie apocalypse, but in the sense that I want ice cream, backrubs, and lots of notes on Tumblr. That still does not mean it is okay to rape them.

Fifty percent of women who have been sexually assaulted have PTSD, compared to 7.8% in the general population. 94% of women who have been sexually assaulted have PTSD symptoms in the weeks after the sexual assault. This is, incidentally, a higher rate of PTSD than combat soldiers. So the best-case scenario is orgasms, and the worst-case scenario is serious trauma to the point of PTSD.

The next question is: how are you identifying them? If you ask “hey, do you enjoy being raped?” that is fine. But presumably a lot of women who genuinely want to be raped would respond with “no” on account of talking about it ahead of time would make it too consensual. So you have to come up with some strategy for identifying those women. How confident are you that your strategy doesn’t have any false positives? How are you getting feedback on how accurate it is? Remember that women who have been sexually assaulted are probably not going to go up to you and say “hey, you sexually assaulted me.” If you have a false positive, you’re probably not going to know. If it’s something like “she’s wet”… well, remember that vaginas lubricate during nonconsensual sex to prevent tissue damage, and that genitals often act without the consent of their owners. (Remember when you were fourteen and got an erection in math class?)

4b. What about Fifty Shades of Grey?

There are two points here. First, a lot of manospherians are talking about BDSM. Many women are interested in being tied up, or flogged, or called a slut during sex. (Or, to be sure, tying people up, flogging people, or calling people sluts.) This does not mean that they want to be tied up nonconsensually, in the same way that eating chocolate cake does not mean you want to be forcefed cake, or wanting to go to the movies does not mean you want to be kidnapped and stashed at a movie threater. Consent is actually pretty important.

Second, Fifty Shades of Grey actually does depict a lot of nonconsensual sex and abusive behavior. (See Cliff Pervocracy’s excellent review here.) I think this is coming back to the same point that fantasizing about something doesn’t mean you actually want to do it. For instance, Ana is pretty freaked out by Christian stalking her and buying her expensive presents she doesn’t want. However, we the readers know that she is eventually going to be fine with it, that she actually loves him, and that they are going to get together at the end of the book. And it’s pretty romantic to imagine that someone loves you so much that they will overcome any obstacle to show their devotion, even obstacles like “I am freaked out and actually kind of scared by how much you love me.” However, in the real world, there is no guarantee that you are going to be passionately in love with the person stalking you. In fact, in the real world, the opposite of that is usually true.

5. If women don’t like assholes, how come assholes have more sexual partners?

Disagreeable and high-dark-triad men have more sexual partners than agreeable and low-dark-triad men. I used to answer this conclusion with “okay, maybe psychopaths rape people and are more likely to cheat, and people break up with disagreeable and high-dark-triad people thus letting them have more relationships.” But I have recently discovered a far better explanation, namely, that sluts are evil.

I could cite a bunch of studies here, but I really think the Wikipedia page speaks for itself: “Individuals who are sociosexually unrestricted [i.e. sluts] tend to score higher on openness to experience, and be more extraverted, less agreeable, lower on honesty-humility, more erotophilic, more impulsive, more likely to take risks, and more likely to have an avoidant attachment style. Conversely, restricted individuals tend to score lower on openness to experience, and be more introverted, more agreeable, more honest and humble, more erotophobic, less impulsive, less likely to take risks and more securely attached.[12] Individuals who score high on the Dark Triad traits (i.e. narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy) tend to have an unrestricted sociosexual orientation. Higher masculinity [15] and eveningness [16] in women is related to unrestricted sociosexuality. High self-monitoring is also associated with unrestricted sociosexuality, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.[17]“


It is important to note that only a third of questions about sociosexuality in the most commonly used inventory are about number of sexual partners. It’s possible to have a very unrestricted sociosexuality and be a virgin. That is, this is not primarily measuring how attractive other people find you, it is measuring how much you want casual sex and how motivated you are to have casual sex.

People who are more motivated by casual sex tend to have more casual sex, for a couple of reasons. If you really don’t want casual sex, you’re probably going to turn it down. If you really want casual sex, you’re probably going to put a lot of effort into getting it and lower your standards of sexual partner. And if the people who are most desirous of casual sex are also the most likely to be massive assholes, we’ll see that massive assholes tend to have the most sexual partners. This is not because nice people are unattractive, it’s because nice people, in general, don’t want casual sex.

6. But women don’t like it when you worship them.

Heartiste sometimes describes beta males as “putting the pussy on a pedestal.” They pretend to agree with women even when they don’t; they suck up; they think that a woman is a goddess angel perfection who doesn’t have a single flaw. I agree! This is bad and deeply unattractive behavior. Feminists also do not want you to put the pussy on a pedestal. We have amassed a considerable amount of evidence that putting the pussy on a pedestal leads to gender inequality, the oppression of women, and other things feminists don’t like. I am glad to find some points of agreement here.

However, your two options are not being an asshole or putting her on the pedestal. There is a third option, namely, being a normal fucking human being. Interact with women you want to fuck in basically the same way that you interact with men, or with women you don’t want to fuck. (Possibly with more flirting.) To a certain extent, when you look at what Heartiste actually recommends, he’s recommending this.

It seems possible to me that there are a lot of guys to whom being a normal fucking human being to women feels like being an asshole– they have internalized “you should never disagree with her and do whatever she says and buy her tons of things” to the extent that not doing so feels like being a jerk. In that case, “be more of a jerk” is decent advice. However, you get into the all debates are bravery debates problem here. For every guy who needs to be told to be more of a jerk, there’s another guy who is already an asshole to attractive women and tone it down a notch. Instead of describing which direction to go in, you should describe the target, i.e., “normal fucking human being.”

B. Game.

1. Okay, so maybe women don’t like jerks. But game still gets at universal female sexuality, right?

Not necessarily! Look at the group of women whom PUAs target. By his own admission, Heartiste is primarily interested in twentysomething, conventionally attractive, thin, feminine women, and has very little experience hitting on other ones. But twentysomething, conventionally attractive, thin, feminine women are not a random selection of women. They are probably far more similar to each other than two randomly selected women would be. This is totally fine when you’re talking about getting laid: after all, if you want to have sex with twentysomething, conventionally attractive, thin, feminine women, there is no reason to collect data about fat, butch fortysomethings. However, when you’re making generalizations about women in general– and particularly if you’re making prescriptions about society– it is useful to note the limitations of the data collection.

Game is mostly divided into day game (hitting on female strangers on streets, in grocery stores, in libraries, etc.) and night game (hitting on female strangers in nightclubs, in bars, etc.) The data is confounded two different ways here. First, introverts exist. The usual response of the introvert to a random stranger coming up to them and talking is “maybe if I stand perfectly still they won’t eat me.” Another huge segment of the female population that game may or may not apply to. Second, women who dislike the thing you’re doing will probably notice what you’re doing and disengage fairly quickly. Even the best PUA gets blown out. Roosh V agrees with the same basic concept, calling it a fuck funnel. The women who blow you out or wander away five minutes into the conversation are disproportionately going to be women who are not attracted to the kind of game you’re running.

As far as I know, there is only one study that examines pickup artists’ techniques empirically. A woman’s tendency to find PUA strategies attractive was correlated with her score on the ambivalent sexism inventory. Women who have high levels of hostile sexism– who tend to agree with statements like “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men” and “Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for “equality.”– were attracted to PUA techniques if they were highly sociosexual (i.e. sluts). In addition, women who had high levels of benevolent sexism– who agreed with statements like “Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.” and “A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man.”– find PUA techniques attractive.

Let’s pause for a moment: “benevolent sexism” is usually interpreted by non-academic-feminists as “sexism that helps women out.” That is not what academic feminists mean when they use the term. “Benevolent sexism” means “the inaccurate belief that women are saintly, pure angels who can do no wrong and should be treated with special consideration by men.” If you replace “benevolent sexism” with “putting the pussy on the pedestal,” that is pretty much what it means. This idea hurts women a lot: to pick an example everyone except Heartiste thinks is bad, a common argument against women’s suffrage was that women were too pure, delicate, and refined to vote. I realize that “benevolent sexism” looks like it means “sexism that helps women out.” I did not name it and I usually use different words for the concept because of exactly this confusion. But this study uses the phrase “benevolent sexism” so now I have to write the long clarifying bit.


Women who have high levels of benevolent sexism are women who believe strongly in traditional gender roles. They tend to have more gender-traditional desires in general: for instance, this study suggests that women with high levels of benevolent sexism are more likely to want a gender-conforming partner. Therefore, they’re attracted to men who perform traditional masculinity.

Of course, the causation could go either way here– perhaps benevolently sexist women believe in traditional gender roles because they like traditionally masculine men, or perhaps they like traditionally masculine men because they believe in firm gender roles. Nevertheless, what this suggests is that PUA teaches men to cater to a certain kind of woman by performing the kind of masculinity she finds attractive. This would increase men’s sexual success– after all, there are a lot of benevolently sexist women out there– but it does not necessarily mean that all women are attracted to the trait. Being more attractive to a small group of women, and filtering out the other women quickly, is a good route to sexual success.

And, yes, this does mean that not putting the pussy on the pedestal attracts women who think the pussy should be put on a pedestal. The world is amazing.

2. “Perform traditional masculinity” is a little vague. Why don’t you look at some specific game techniques?

Let us look at the most famous kind of game, the humble neg. Yes, I know negs aren’t all of game, but they’re pretty much the only game technique most feminists have heard of, so I’m using it as an example.  I think, as a feminist, I am supposed to say negs are horrible, evil, and misogynistic, but Scott compared my last haircut to Joffrey Baratheon, so I have literally 0 legs to stand on here. So let’s talk about why women might like negs.

The neg was originally developed by Mystery for use in nightclubs. Let me give you an idea of what nightclubs are like.

Let’s say you’re going to a mall which has a miniature golf rink. You like miniature golf well enough– it’s not your favorite thing to do ever, but you’ve had fun with it before and you’re open to playing some again. You’re out shopping, buying yourself some ties or whatever, and a strange man comes up to you and says, “hey, do you want to play miniature golf?” You think to yourself, “well, that’s kind of weird, and I’m not really feeling it,” then say, “no.” As you’re walking to the next store, another stranger comes up to you and says “do you want to play miniature golf with me?” You’re kind of weirded out, but you say “no, thanks,” to which he responds “Asshole. Like I wanted to play with you anyway.” You are barely two steps away when someone comes up to you and is like “do you want to play miniature golf with me?” Getting really irritated at this point, you say, “no!”

Then imagine another man comes up to you. You say, “I do not want to play miniature golf with you!” He says, “actually, you don’t look like the kind of person I want to play miniature golf with.” You are so relieved that finally someone doesn’t just want to play miniature golf with you that you talk to him. He turns out to be pretty cool, and if you happen to be in the part of the mall with miniature golf in it you might even decide to play a few rounds.

The woman’s hypothesis, when a strange man approaches her in a nightclub (night game) or on the street (day game), is that he is solely involved in this conversation because he wants to have sex with her. Even if she likes sex, that gets really annoying after a while. Negs convey that you are not interested in having sex with her, so she is more likely to be interested in the conversation. Negs are not an inherent trait of women; they are a response to a social condition.

The other thing that negs do is described by a post of Scott’s on this very blog. If you say to a girl “You know why you guys suck? Because you’ve been staring at me for fifteen minutes and haven’t said hi. Weird, and a little creepy,” you are countersignalling. The fact that you came over subcommunicates that you actually like that you are looking at them– in fact, you find it flattering. So you are saying, “actually, we are going to get along so well that I don’t have to be nice to you, because you already know that I like you.” Pulling off teasing early in a relationship signals social adroitness, which is attractive. And this sort of teasing early in a relationship establishes emotional intimacy: because it’s usually reserved for closer relationships, it gives the illusion that the relationship is much closer than it actually is. (Revelations of personal trauma are also good for this.)

Finally, there is a category of negs that no reasonable human being would interpret as an insult. Seriously, Heartiste, love, “You seem really modest. Modesty is a lost art. It’s not a bad thing… usually. Not everyone feels a need to be an exhibitionist” is a neg? Really? I have social phobia and that wouldn’t make me feel insecure. I would feel complimented!

In short, negging women probably makes them more attracted to you, and this is totally explainable without recourse to “because it lowers her self-esteem and women like that because they are crazy mutant aliens.” I am not sure why, with a bunch of reasonable and ethical explanations available, you have decided to go with the one that makes you look like a Sith Lord.

3. I don’t believe it, I think that you should give some more examples of how game works.

Let’s try a takeaway. The proposed explanation is that takeaways make women more attracted to you because it makes her feel low-status and want to compete for her attention. On the other hand, it could be that takeaway is using a very common concept in social psychology, that of scarcity. It’s the same psychology that applies to sales in stores: if this is only available for a limited time, you have to get it NOW. Black Friday does not work because people are insecure about how much Black Friday likes them.

I mean, you can have the explanation where women are crazy mutant aliens and you are Chaotic Evil, or the “women continue to obey common principles of social psychology even when they’re flirting with someone.” Up to you, really.

And, yes, the scarcity effect also works on men. Why do you think generations of mothers encouraged their daughters to play hard to get?

4. I have a good job, why don’t women want to date me?

To quote from a recent Heartiste post:

In a way they exhibit some of the same qualities of those professions—ego, arrogance, and unlimited amounts of cash. In San Francisco, said Violet, “There were a lot of men to date with disposable income who wanted to take women out. It’s just, it was so boring,” she said. “My dating life went from dating artists and writers and going on cheap but exciting dates, to men who thought the ability to buy someone an expensive meal made them interesting.”

Heartiste interprets this as Violet believing that “a cheap date with a man who has that ineffable alpha attitude is far more intoxicating… than is an expensive date with a beta male who plays by the traditional courtship rules.” This is really interesting, because over the course of the article exactly one group of people is described as arrogant, egotistical assholes, the kind of person Heartiste thinks women want to date. That group is the beta males.

This is clearly not “I’m not attracted to him so he’s a jerk.” There are specific details here. The men Heartiste considers beta males talk endlessly about their jobs, show little interest in the person they’re sharing the table with, and assign reading lists before the first date.

It is almost as if when Heartiste complains about women liking alpha assholes, he’s not talking about women liking assholes at all. He is complaining that women prefer charming, poor people with interesting jobs to charmless, rich jerks.

We see this in other places in Heartiste’s writing as well. Heartiste occasionally talks about alpha gifts and beta gifts, in which he points out that girls treasure a recording of a song written for them more than they treasure an expensive diamond bracelet. No fucking shit. You can give a diamond bracelet to literally any girl and it requires nothing other than the ability to fork over cash. However, if you wrote a song for her, it shows you are putting in time and effort and thinking about her when she’s not there (and that you are musically talented, which is sexy). However, for some reason, in Heartisteland, the former is Beta and therefore Nice and the latter is Alpha and therefore Jerkboy.

This is actually pretty common across the manosphere. My favorite examples come from Dalrock’s comment section. For example: “Does [the sexual arousal detecting bra] detect for (and open for) a male prospective partner having one or more of tattoos, needletracks, violent criminal convictions, long hair (preferably unclean), STDs, abandoned bastard progeny, motorcycle ownership, constant use of profanity, and lacks of STEM degrees or current fulltime employment?” I will accept “needletracks,” “abandoned bastard progeny,” and “violent criminal convictions” as being signs of a person you should not date. However, there are lots of people who are emotionally supportive, romantically compatible, and all-around excellent boyfriends who also happen to have long hair, tattoos, and a motorcycle. In fact, I suspect that motorcycle ownership and boyfriend quality are basically uncorrelated traits! This is not talking about women chasing jerks, it is talking about women dating men who have traits coded lower-class and alternative (and, in the case of the last, explicitly being lower-class).

In short, the manosphere needs to stop complaining that women are not golddiggers. I am very sorry that someone lied to you and told you that women are golddiggers. They are not, and it is generally considered to be a good thing to judge potential romantic partners on their personalities and romantic compatibility with you rather than their wallets. And it is generally considered bad behavior to put serial killers and poor people in the same category.

C. Do women have a rationalization hamster which makes them justify their terrible decisions in self-aggrandizing ways?


C1. I wasn’t expecting that.

Men also have a rationalization hamster. Everyone has a rationalization hamster. People rationalize. This is not a unique trait to women and proof of their inherent evil, it is a basic fact about humans. If you think you don’t rationalize, it is probably good evidence that you rationalize so well that you don’t notice. Although I disagree with the modular model of human psychology that he espouses, Robert Kurzban’s Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite sums up a lot of the research about rationalization in a readable manner.

C2. But women rationalize more than men about sex.

Probably true! When women are asked their number of sexual partners, it is about half of men’s. When women are hooked up to lie detectors and asked their number of sexual partners, it is about the same as men’s.

However, it’s important to note that in our culture there’s still a lot of stigma against being promiscuous. This might not show that women are more prone to rationalizing in general than men are; it simply shows that women pay a higher price for being honest about their sexuality. (Which is a prediction of feminist theory, by the way.) Men may be more likely to rationalize about something that is more threatening to them, even if it is something about sex, such as whether they’ve been attracted to men in the past.

–yes, this study shows that pretty much all self-report data about sexuality is totally useless. I have used it anyway in this FAQ because it is all I have. However, I would like to encourage people to remember that women are lying fuckers about sexuality and men may or may not be lying fuckers about sexuality and that everything may be indicating not so much women’s actual behavior as what is most high-status. Also, we should clearly replicate every self-report study of sexuality with everyone hooked up to lie detectors.

C3. Does that mean that we shouldn’t listen to women about their sexual preferences and instead look at what they do?

Sort of.

You can certainly look at the data and go “goodness, a lot of women tend to stay in relationships where they are hit.” This doesn’t mean that you should go out and hit women. As unreliable as self-report data is, it is still our best source of information about why people do what they do and what it feels like to experience something. And the data about relationships where women get hit suggests, as I outlined above, that the reason that women stay in abusive relationships is that abusers are rational people who try really hard to make them leave. (It also doesn’t mean that hitting your partner makes your relationship longer. Most women do eventually leave their abusive partners, after all. “Longer than would be naively expected” is not the same thing as “longer than baseline.”) What people do gives you a correlation, but it doesn’t give you an explanation. To get an explanation, you need experiments or self-report data, as flawed as it is. And it is unfortunately impossible to randomly assign women to the Getting Hit or Not Getting Hit condition of a randomized controlled trial, so self-report it is.

D. It is terribly unfair when women have sex with alpha males in their prime and then expect to get married to me when other men had them younger, hotter, tighter, for free.

OK, y’all are really happy about the whole supply-demand model of sexuality, where men exchange resources for pussy and an increase in the supply of pussy lowers the number of resources required to pay for the pussy. The thing you are complaining about is called price discrimination and is a perfectly ordinary part of economic life. Do you complain about how unfair it is when restaurants have discounts for the elderly? Do you mutter darkly when stores stock the expensive food at eye-level so a careless person will pick it up? Do you get angry about bulk discounts? If you are willing to pay a higher price for pussy, then the producer of pussy is perfectly within her rights to attempt to capture the surplus. (If you aren’t willing to pay the higher price, then I am not sure what the harm to you is.)

Your proposed solution is that we implement a pussy price floor. Most economists think that price floors are really bad because they distort the natural functioning of the market. When there’s a price floor below the market equilibrium, the demand for the product (pussy) lowers while the supply increases, and a lot of transactions that would benefit both parties don’t happen. To translate into sexual market terms: everyone gets laid less, a lot of sad women wander around going “please marry me! Please! I am desperate to be married!”, and a lot of dudes do that Men Going Their Own Way thing. …Or, in fact, the exact consequences you guys predicted for not having a price floor. Have you taken intro economics?

Or– and I really hate doing this, because I feel like it’s not in keeping with the spirit of the game– one might point out that marriages are in fact different from prostitution in a few eensy-weensy tiny details. For instance, sometimes men want to date people they’re having casual sex with. (If you ask me, way too often.) You would think that since he was getting the sex for free, he would not want to date her and pay more for it! It is like paying an extra fifty thousand dollars for your car out of the goodness of your heart!

However, one generally gets things from relationships other than sex and resources, such as emotional support, long conversations into the night, spending time with a person you like, affection, the warmth of knowing someone loves you, and so on. It is perfectly possible that most of the time someone has casual sex with someone else, it is because they enjoy having sex with that person but that person has a really obnoxious sense of humor, doesn’t share any common interests with them, talks way too much, or is just romantically unattractive for ineffable chemistry reasons. In this model, the fact that your wife wants to marry you suggests that she likes you better than the people that she had casual sex with, because she wants to talk to you and provide you with emotional support and fuck you, whereas she just wanted to fuck the other guy.

Is it possible that your wife had casual sex with a lot of guys way hotter than you and is now settling for you and secretly seething with contempt about how hideous you are compared with the guys she used to sleep with? Of course! However, I do not think that you should assume that this is true of literally every woman who had sex before she gets married. I would suggest some helpful advice here like “why don’t you meet some of her fuckbuddies and see if they are way hotter than you first?” but then I remembered Heartiste is way into monogamy. (Or, like, monogamy except he cheats.) See, this is an advantage of polyamory. You can totally see that people tend to like their primary partners more than they like their fuckbuddies! In real time!

D1. It is terribly unfair when women follow their tingle to fuck alpha males.

Oh no. Women are fucking people they’re sexually attracted to instead of people they’re not sexually attracted to. How evil. Those monsters. They should clearly distribute sex by sortition instead.

I am sure men have never followed their tingles, except a couple of bullet points ago when you guys were saying that 95% of men’s criteria for selecting a wife was how hot they were.

E.  Do women actually experience significant behavior changes during ovulation?

The truly excellent Bayesian statistics blogger Andrew Gelman has spent a lot of time beating up on the behavior changes in ovulation literature. For instance, did you know that one of those papers defined peak fertility as days six to fourteen of the cycle even though actual peak fertility is between days ten and seventeen? And another one failed to replicate and then claimed that this is because the “women wear red when they ovulate” effect is mediated by the weather and the latter study was conducted in the summer?

I am not saying that it is impossible that women experience significant behavior changes during ovulation, but the scientific literature clearly doesn’t seem to show this. In addition, anecdotally, a lot of women get really horny on their periods, which seems difficult to square with the “menstruation makes women not interested in sex” theory.

F. Are women less interested in casual sex than men are?

In general, women seem to be less interested in casual sex than men are. There are a couple different factors here. First, testosterone seems to increase libido and estrogen seems to decrease libido. Since women usually have more estrogen and less testosterone than men do, as a class they will probably have lower libidos, which probably means they’re also less interested in sex.

Second, the orgasm gap. In relationships, women orgasm about 80% as much as men do. However, in casual sex, women have orgasms about half as often as men do, and a third as often in first-time hookups. While, of course, it is possible to have enjoyable sex without experiencing an orgasm, orgasm is an indicator of sexual satisfaction. Possibly this is related to the sex acts: sex in our culture is defined as penis in vagina intercourse, which usually doesn’t result in orgasms for women, and men receive oral sex about eighty percent of the time in first-time hookups, while women receive it less than half the time. Men, imagine if casual sex meant that you gave a woman head and then she ground against your penis until she came, and if you don’t orgasm tough. I imagine most of you would be less enthusiastic about casual sex too.

Third, we have to consider the findings of my second-favorite study of all time. Clark and Hatfield is a famous and much-replicated study in which an attractive stranger asks women and men to go to bed with them. Men very commonly say yes; women never do. Terri Conley replicated this study as a questionnaire in which she asked people to describe their perceptions of attractive strangers who come out of nowhere and ask them to have sex. It turns out that women think random strangers who approach them on street corners are likely to be dangerous and terrible at sex. In fact, only the perception that the stranger would be a good lover significantly influenced women’s desire to have sex with the person: they were more likely to have sex with a celebrity or a male friend, because both of those are more likely to be perceived as good lovers. Status? Doesn’t matter. Contribution of resources? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are capable of getting her off. And– as we see from the orgasm data– men clearly are not stepping up to the challenge here.

IV. Miscellaneous

A. Is Heartiste against pretty lies?

Heartiste’s slogan is “where pretty lies perish.” It’s true that he has a lot of beliefs that are deeply emotionally threatening to some groups. “Men only care about your tits and ass and not your personality, when you turn 30 you will be hideously unattractive, and every sexual partner you have makes you less attractive” is pretty fucking scary to women. However, Heartiste has cleverly managed to not have any beliefs that are upsetting to his readers.

Like, look at Heartiste’s beliefs from a man’s point of view. If you get laid a lot, you are an awesome alpha male and the entire site is about how great you are. One might assume that that means that the site is threatening to men who can’t get laid. However, it offers men who can’t get laid the best possible thing: someone to blame. It’s not your fault that you can’t get laid, it’s the fault of women. Women’s unleashed sexuality is evil and destroying civilization. They are chasing assholes and leaving you be. “You are just so good a person that no one wants to fuck you, those evil bitches” is not actually a particularly threatening statement.

Perhaps there are no statements that are threatening to men! Perhaps all true statements are actually just comfort to guys! However, I would like to offer up a few suggestions for Heartiste to consider in his future explorations of pretty lies. First, examine the following charts from Rational Male. Men’s peak attractiveness is 38, women’s peak attractiveness is 23. Now, look at OKTrends’ charts, which have the benefit of being based on data not from the Journal of Cerebrorectal Studies. Men are primarily messaging women in the 18-22 age range, thus suggesting that that is women’s peak attractiveness and Rollo actually slightly overestimated when women’s peak attractiveness is. But women are primarily messaging men roughly around their own age. This remains true no matter how old she is. Since women as a group don’t seem to have a preference for a single age the way men do, we might as well calculate peak attractiveness by which age men are most likely to date the women they prefer. And the answer is… oh dear… around 20-24.

Sorry, 38-year-old dudes. Young women do not want your old, balding, wrinkled ass. Your peak attractiveness was fifteen years ago.

You can check this by looking at your own social groups. Presumably a lot of 38-year-olds would cash in their attractiveness to date a 20-year-old… but how many late-thirties/early-twenties couples do you know? Approximately none? As for the few such couples, well, I say what Heartiste says when someone brings up a hot fortysomething celebrity: the existence of an outlier does not falsify the general rule.

What other threatening ideas can we think of? One of my personal favorites, as a classicist, is pederasty. Pederasty is extremely common cross-culturally: from Greece and Rome to China and Japan to medieval Islam to Victorian England to modern Afghanistan, as soon as men do not face significant social punishment for fucking a teenage boy they do so. Notice that our culture has a significant “no homo” pressure on straight men. As Heartiste himself says when discussing men having sex with fat women, there is not much reason to shame people into not doing things they weren’t going to do anyway. And a lot of men seem to get absurdly angry about One Direction or Justin Bieber or whoever the latest prettyboy teenager is. Could that be sublimated lust? Hm.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that heterosexual men want to fuck teenage boys. I am suggesting that that notion is deeply upsetting to most men, and supported with evidence roughly as good as the evidence behind many of Heartiste’s claims, and the fact that he hasn’t come up with this idea seems to suggest that he’s avoiding ideas he finds personally offensive and threatening and therefore he should stop gloating about how much better he is than all those other people who avoid personally offensive, threatening statements. If he begins to argue in favor of men being pederasts, then I shall certainly retract my previous statements.

B. I am a confused and lost Return of Kings reader.

I am deeply concerned about several factual inaccuracies on your blog.

First, dating girls with eating disorders is not a good way to get to date someone who is agreeable and goes along with whatever you say. Mentally ill girls, in general, are not good people to date if you want a low-drama relationship.

Second, demisexuals are only sexually attracted to people once they have an emotional connection to the person. While in general sex-positive people tend to use more weird labels and thus be more into casual sex (you’re welcome, by the way) and the indicator you’re looking for are correct, if you are aiming for casual sex on the first date, I highly advise you to avoid demisexuals.

Third, if you want to reduce your rate of false accusations of rape, it would be helpful if you stopped having sex with girls when they say ‘no’ first. I guarantee you that if you try this strategy it will reduce your rate of being accused of rape tremendously. It also seems to me that a girl who says “no” when she doesn’t mean “no” is not going to give you the peaceful, low-drama relationship you’re dating girls with eating disorders for. It seems like it would be wise to filter those girls out by not having sex with people who have said they don’t want sex.

Fourth, I empathize with your desire to date strippers. Stippers are awesome! And it is really easy to think “well, where are strippers? They are in the strip club!” Pretty much every girl in a strip club is a stripper; while some of the girls in a grocery store are strippers, you might end up asking out a non-stripper on accident, and then where would you be? Not dating strippers, is where! Unfortunately, strippers are at work! Their actual job is to make you think that you are going to have sex with them if you pay them money. If you hit on them at work, you will be put into the category “client,” and if you don’t pay for a dance, the category “terrible, timewasting client.” Instead, you should look for strippers in a place where there are a lot of strippers and they are not at work. (Anecdotally, this place is White Wolf games. However, my data on this comes from Portland and it might just be that literally everywhere in Portland is full of strippers.)

C. Okay, where should I get dating advice from?

I sympathize with your problem, O Lonely Men of the World! Most dating advice is really terrible and written by people who think that the world is a just place and nice people are rewarded and you should just be yourself. Worse, a lot of it is written by feminists. Feminists are good at many things, but they are not good at giving men dating advice. Most of the time their dating advice is like “here are the thirty thousand ways that if you hit on someone you are misogynist, memorize them all and you have a chance of not being EVIL.”

I find myself impressed by Eric S Raymond’s Sex Tips for Geeks. Although I disagree with most of the evopsych, it is honest that people are totally shallow and that expensive clothes, lifting weights, and growing out your hair help. A pickup-knowledgeable friend recommends Mark Manson and The Art of Charm. I haven’t read them and can’t vouch, but my friend is a pretty ethical and charming guy.

Open Thread 3: Threads Are Like Parachutes

1. LW user Bakkot has written a comment highlighter for SSC that shows you which comments are new since your last visit (think the purple squares that sometimes appear around comments on LW). The installation looks pretty easy, but if anyone can figure out how to automate it by putting it on the blog itself, let me know and I’ll give you access.

2. I request that people not tell me things like “Why are you wasting your time writing about issue X? Aren’t there more important / less politicized things to talk about?” The failure mode of LW was that everyone with interesting but less than maximally virtuous and important things to say felt bad saying them in a place whose standards for discussion might be too high, and so went off somewhere with lower standards (lowering LW’s standards would also have a failure mode and not be a tradeoff-free solution; I can expand on this if it’s unclear). The potential failure mode of this blog is that I feel like my commenters’ standards for discussion are too high and so I go to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or instead. It’s my blog and I’ll write about what I want; if you think it’s a waste of time, don’t read it.

3. I briefly experimented with AdSense ads in the sidebar. I found that with 7000 average page views daily, I made…just under a dollar per day. This is less than I was led to believe, but probably involves readers here being web-savvy enough to tune out ads. The extra dollar doesn’t seem worth the annoyance to readers, especially if reader annoyability is a limited political-capital-style resource I can spend on (for example) posts with fifty terrible puns in them. I figure the things that might increase revenue – putting ads directly in posts, really big flashing ads everywhere – would also increase reader annoyance and aesthetic disruption, so that the overall tradeoff of annoyance for money is linear at an exchange rate I’m not willing to take.

4. Instead I’ve been trying the Amazon affiliates program. There’s a tab on the top of the blog explaining exactly how it works. There is also a link to Amazon on the sidebar. If you click on that link to make your Amazon purchases, then it will not cost you any more money, but a certain amount will go to me and help pay for site maintenance (plus hopefully some left over).

5. I continue to be terrible at answering emails and Facebook messages. The preferred way to get in contact with me about this blog (as opposed to if I know you in real life and we’re setting something up) is comments here.

6. Comment of the month is this analysis of subway building costs.


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Links For August 2014

The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui is a Bigfoot-like creature that haunts the top of a Scottish peak and is known for chasing attempted mountaineers. The most likely explanation is a Brocken Spectre, an optical phenomenon in which on a foggy day a gigantic shadow of an individual is projected upon the fog behind them.

An analysis of thirty nine million scientific papers shows a rapidly (and very linearly!) increasing ratio of p = 0.04 to p = 0.06 papers, indicating worsening p-hacking and publication bias on a massive scale. Minimal differences between physics, biology, and social sciences.

Google Trends indicates Snowden’s NSA revelations have led to a drop in sensitive Google searches.

You might have guessed that the etymology of the word medicine was related to “meditation”, but what about to Medea, Diomedes, Archimedes, and Laomedon?

As resistance develops to artemisin, Australian team discovers a new way to kill the malaria parasite by blocking release of proteins it needs to survive.

However creepy you thought Nick Land of Xenosystems was, he’s much creepier than that.

How all sides in the current cluster of Iraq-Syria wars are basing their interpretation of current events on Islamic end time prophecies. Related: bizarre conspiracy theory that Abu Ghraib was part of an Israeli plot to find and kill the Mahdi.

A sudden drop in testosterone may have coincided with our species’ sudden advancement 50,000 years ago.

I know people have gotten so good at Minecraft that “really amazing Minecraft city built!” is no longer big news. But even controlling for that, this build of Kings’ Landing is pretty impressive. Related: the WesterosCraft server, which I eventually gave up trying to jump through the hoops they wanted to log on.

In a Muslim world not exactly known for its feminist credentials, women make up 70% of Algeria’s lawyers, 60% of its judges, >50% of its doctors and university students, and are starting to take over politics. New York Times investigates why, and paints the picture of a sort-of-bargain where the more women obey the exterior trappings of Islam, the more Islamic men are okay with them taking over traditionally male roles.

German Nazis condemn anti-Semitism: “The group’s other public campaigns include the dissemination of bumper stickers featuring a picture of Reinhard Heydrich, the senior Nazi official who chaired the Wansee Conference where the Final Solution was hatched. Underneath the photo reads: ‘As a Nazi, I’m a Zionist.’”

The new Exodus movie has revived the constant simmering debate over the racial makeup of ancient Egypt. And probably most people are familiar with the Black Athena debate on the role of Africans in ancient Greece as well. But one blogger isn’t afraid to ask the really tough questions: Were The Ancient Romans White? Not On Your Life.

Gallup polls Americans on the situation in the Middle East. Somewhat surprising: a very strong effect in which the more people know about the conflict, the more likely they are to favor Israel (from 71% of people following “very closely” to 18% of people following “not closely”). Likewise, the more educated someone is the more pro-Israeli they are (53% of post-graduates compared to 34% high school only). These are the opposite of the numbers I would expect given that liberals tend to be both more educated/news-following and more pro-Palestine. Meta-level question: should strong trends in favor of more educated and clueful people supporting one side get treated as a heuristic telling us that side is probably right?

There is a surprisingly strong case to be made that the Doctor from Doctor Who is Willy Wonka.

Popehat: those this crime carries a maximum sentence of X statements you see in newspapers bear little relationship to reality. Related: outrage-bait about how crime X carries a longer sentence than crime Y even though crime X is much worse are mostly just that – outrage-bait.

Related to our recent discussion about skyscrapers as civilizational status symbols: tech companies are also constructing status signal headquarters, but instead of building up they’re building weird.

New blog on the sidebar: Carcinization, with contributions from St. Rev, Sam Burnstein, Sister Y, and others taking more or less pains to obscure their identities. Thus far my favorite post has been this powerful defense against the recently popularized conservative accusation of “telescopic morality” and demands to “keep morality local”.

But if you don’t want to read Carcinization, the blog, then at least read about carcinization itself, which Wikipedia describes as “one of the many attempts of Nature to evolve a crab”.

Despite how the media is spinning it, the president of Azerbaijan didn’t really declare war on Armenia over Twitter. Just sort of, informally, halfway. Still, come on Azerbaijani military, I would expect even an informal-kinda-Twitter-declaration-of-war to get more than 18 favorites. I make terrible Twitter puns that do better than that!

You’re probably not surprised to learn has a robots.txt file. But did you know it also has a killer-robots.txt file?

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An Iron Curtain Has Descended Upon Psychopharmacology

Imagine if a chemist told you offhandedly that the Russians had different chemical elements than we did.

Here in America, we use elements like lithium and silicon and bismuth. We have figured out lots of neat compounds we can make with these elements. We’ve also figured out useful technological applications. Lithium makes batteries. Silicon makes computer chips. Bismuth makes pretty gifs you can post on Tumblr.

The Russians don’t use any of these. They have their own Russian elements on their own Russian periodic table, with long Russian names you can’t pronounce. Apparently some of these also have useful technological applications. One of them is a room temperature superconductor. Another improves the efficiency of dirigibles by 500% for some reason.

No one in America seems remotely interested in any of these Russian elements. Many American chemists don’t even know they exist, even though each element has its own English-language Wikipedia page. When informed, they just say “Yeah, the Russians have lots of stuff,” and leave it at that.

American research teams pour millions of dollars into synthesizing novel elements in order to expand their periodic tables and the number of useful compounds they can make. If anyone suggests importing and studying some of the Russian elements, the chemists say “Huh, that never occurred to us, maybe someone else should do it,” and go back to spending millions of dollars synthesizing entirely novel atoms.

If a chemist told you this, you would think they were crazy. Science, you would say, is science everywhere. You can’t have one set of elements in Russia and another in the US, everyone would work together and compare notes. At the very least one side would have the common decency to at least steal from the other. No way anything like this could possibly go on.

But as far as I can tell this is exactly the state of modern psychopharmacology.

Consider anxiety. I would kill for a good anti-anxiety drug. Right now my choices are pretty limited. Benzodiazepines and barbituate work great but are addictive and dangerous. SSRIs work okay but need a month to take effect. Neurontin, Vistaril, and Buspar are safe, fast-acting, and totally ineffective. And Lyrica is expensive and off-label. As a result, a lot of my anxious patients tend to stay anxious.

Any textbook, database, or lecture you care to check on anti-anxiety medications will list the ones I just listed above plus a couple of others I’m forgetting.

But if you look the matter up on Wikipedia, you see all these weird names like mebicarum, afobazole, selank, bromantane, emoxypine, validolum, and picamilon. You can show these names to your psychiatrist and she will have no idea what you’re talking about, think you’re speaking nonsense syllables. You can show them to the professor of psychopharmacology at a major university and your chances are maybe like 50-50.

These are the Russian anti-anxiety drugs. They seem to have pretty good evidential support. Wikipedia’s bromantane article gives a bunch of studies of bromantane in the footnotes, including a randomized controlled trial in the forbiddingly named Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova.

And look what else Wikipedia’s bromantane article says:

Study results suggest that the combination of psychostimulant and anxiolytic actions in the spectrum of psychotropic activity of bromantane is effective in treating asthenic disorders compared to placebo. It is considered novel having both stimulant and anti-anxiety properties.

Imagine reading about a Russian element on Wikipedia, and at the end there’s this paragraph saying “By the way, this element inverts gravity and has to be tied to the ground to prevent it from falling upwards”. An anxiolytic stimulant is really really cool. But somehow generations of American psychopharmacologists must have read about bromantane and thought “No, I don’t think I’ll pay any more attention to that.”

My guess is the reason we can’t prescribe bromantane is the same reason we can’t prescribe melatonin and we can’t prescribe fish oil without the charade of calling it LOVAZA™®©. The FDA won’t approve a treatment unless some drug company has invested a billion dollars in doing a lot of studies about it. It doesn’t count if some foreign scientists already did a bunch of studies. It doesn’t count if millions of Russians have been using the drug for decades and are by and large still alive. You’ve got to have the entire thing analyzed by the FDA and then rejected at the last second without explanation (yes, I have just been reading Marginal Revolution’s review of Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances; I do need to check out the actual book). Absent an extremely strong patent on the drug there’s no reason a drug company would want to go forward with all of this. I don’t know what the legalities of buying Russian drug rights from Russian companies are, but I expect they’re complicated and that pharmaceutical companies have made a reasoned decision not to bother.

Given this situation, it’s perfectly reasonable for doctors not to prescribe them. Certainly I don’t plan to prescribe any Russian drugs when I get my own practice. Imagine if a patient gets liver failure on one – and remember that people are getting liver failure all the time for random reasons. The patient’s family decides to sue and I’m stuck defending my decision in court. “Yes, Your Honor, I admit I told the deceased to buy a medication no other psychiatrist in the state has ever heard of from a sketchy online Russian pharmacy. But in my defense, there was a study supporting its use in Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. Which I didn’t read, because I don’t speak Russian.”

Everyone follows their own incentives perfectly, and as a result the system as a whole does something insane. Classic multipolar trap.

Luckily, this hasn’t stopped a lively gray market trade in these chemicals, which I totally one hundred percent approve of. Noopept, for example, is a prescription drug in Russia but is sold over-the-counter by online suppliers here. You can even get some bromantane for two bucks a pill.

Don’t worry. I’m sure these people are on the level. How could a site with a background like that possibly be unreliable?


[Content note: Suicide. May be guilt-inducing for people who feel like burdens. All patient characteristics have been heavily obfuscated to protect confidentiality.]

The DSM lists nine criteria for major depressive disorder, of which the seventh is “feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt”.

There are a lot of dumb diagnostic debates over which criteria are “more important” or “more fundamental”, and for me there’s always been something special about criterion seven. People get depressed over all sorts of things. But when they’re actively suicidal, the people who aren’t just gesturing for help but totally set on it, they always say one thing:

“I feel like I’m a burden”.

Depression is in part a disease of distorted cognitions, a failure of rationality. I had one patient who worked for GM, very smart guy, invented a lot of safety features for cars. He was probably actively saving a bunch of people’s lives every time he checked in at the office, and he still felt like he was worthless, a burden, that he was just draining resources that could better be used for someone else.

In cases like these, you can do a little bit of good just by teaching people the fundamental lesson of rationality: that you can’t always trust your brain. If your System I is telling you that you’re a worthless burden, it could be because you’re a worthless burden, or it could be because System I is broken. If System I is broken, you need to call in System II to route around the distorted cognition so you can understand at least on an intellectual level that you’re wrong. Once you understand you’re wrong on an intellectual level, you can do what you need to do to make it sink in on a practical level as well – which starts with not killing yourself.

As sad as it was, Robin Williams’ suicide has actually been sort of helpful for me. For the past few days, I’ve tried telling these sorts of people that Robin Williams brightened the lives of millions of people, was a truly great man – and his brain still kept telling him he didn’t deserve to live. So maybe depressed brains are not the most trustworthy arbiters on these sorts of issues.

This sort of supportive psychotherapy (ie “psychotherapy you make up as you go along”) can sometimes take people some of the way, and then the medications do the rest.

But sometimes it’s harder than this. I don’t want to say anyone is ever right about being a burden, but a lot of the people I see aren’t Oscar-winning actors or even automobile safety engineers. Some people just have no easy outs.

Another patient. 25 year old kid. Had some brain damage a few years ago, now has cognitive problems and poor emotional control. Can’t do a job. Got denied for disability a few times, in accordance with the ancient bureaucratic tradition. Survives on a couple of lesser social programs he got approved for plus occasional charity handouts plus some help from his family. One can trace out an unlikely sequence of events by which his situation might one day improve, but I won’t insult his intelligence by claiming it’s very probable. Now he attempts suicide, says he feels like a burden on everyone around him. Well, what am I going to say?

It’s not always people with some obvious disability. Sometimes it’s just alcoholics, or elderly people, or people without the cognitive skills to get a job in today’s economy. They think that they’re taking more from the system than they’re putting in, and in monetary terms they’re probably right.

One common therapeutic strategy here is to talk about how much the patient’s parents/friends/girlfriend/pet hamster love them, how heartbroken they would be if they killed themselves. In the absence of better alternatives, I have used this strategy. I have used it very grudgingly, and I’ve always felt dirty afterwards. It always feels like the worst sort of emotional blackmail. Not helping them want to live, just making them feel really guilty about dying. “Sure, you’re a burden if you live, but if you kill yourself, that would make you an even bigger burden!” A++ best psychiatrist.

There is something else I’ve never said, because it’s too deeply tied in with my own politics, and not something I would expect anybody else to understand.

And that is: humans don’t owe society anything. We were here first.

If my patient, the one with the brain damage, were back in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, in a nice tribe with Dunbar’s number of people, there would be no problem.

Maybe his cognitive problems would make him a slightly less proficient hunter than someone else, but whatever, he could always gather.

Maybe his emotional control problems would give him a little bit of a handicap in tribal politics, but he wouldn’t get arrested for making a scene, he wouldn’t get fired for not sucking up to his boss enough, he wouldn’t be forced to live in a tiny apartment with people he didn’t necessarily like who were constantly getting on his nerves. He might get in a fight and end up with a spear through his gut, but in that case his problems would be over anyway.

Otherwise he could just hang out and live in a cave and gather roots and berries and maybe hunt buffalo and participate in the appropriate tribal bonding rituals like everyone else.

But society came and paved over the place where all the roots and berry plants grew and killed the buffalo and dynamited the caves and declared the tribal bonding rituals Problematic. This increased productivity by about a zillion times, so most people ended up better off. The only ones who didn’t were the ones who for some reason couldn’t participate in it.

(if you’re one of those people who sees red every time someone mentions evolution or cavemen, imagine him as a dockworker a hundred years ago, or a peasant farmer a thousand)

Society got where it is by systematically destroying everything that could have supported him and replacing it with things that required skills he didn’t have. Of course it owes him when he suddenly can’t support himself. Think of it as the ultimate use of eminent domain; a power beyond your control has seized everything in the world, it had some good economic reasons for doing so, but it at least owes you compensation!

This is also the basis of my support for a basic income guarantee. Imagine an employment waterline, gradually rising through higher and higher levels of competence. In the distant past, maybe you could be pretty dumb, have no emotional continence at all, and still live a pretty happy life. As the waterline rises, the skills necessary to support yourself comfortably become higher and higher. Right now most people in the US who can’t get college degrees – which are really hard to get! – are just barely hanging on, and that is absolutely a new development. Soon enough even some of the college-educated won’t be very useful to the system. And so on, until everyone is a burden.

(people talk as if the only possible use of information about the determinants of intelligence is to tell low-IQ people they are bad. Maybe they’ve never felt the desperate need to reassure someone “No, it is not your fault that everything is going wrong for you, everything was rigged against you from the beginning.”)

By the time I am a burden – it’s possible that I am already, just because I can convince the system to give me money doesn’t mean the system is right to do so, but I expect I certainly will be one before I die – I would like there to be in place a crystal-clear understanding that we were here first and society doesn’t get to make us obsolete without owing us something in return.

After that, we will have to predicate our self-worth on something other than being able to “contribute” in the classical sense of the term. Don’t get me wrong, I think contributing something is a valuable goal, and one it’s important to enforce to prevent free-loaders. But it’s a valuable goal at the margins, some people are already heading for the tails, and pretty soon we’ll all be stuck there.

I’m not sure what such a post-contribution value system would look like. It might be based around helping others in less tangible ways, like providing company and cheerfulness and love. It might be a virtue ethics celebrating people unusually good at cultivating traits we value. Or it might be a sort of philosophically-informed hedonism along the lines of Epicurus, where we try to enjoy ourselves in the ways that make us most human.

And I think my advice to my suicidal patients, if I were able and willing to express all this to them, would be to stop worrying about being a burden and to start doing all these things now.

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