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The Slate Star Codex Political Spectrum Quiz

Directions: Select either (a) or (b) for each of the twelve questions.

1. Neo-Nazis are holding a demonstration in a small town, waving swastikas around and shouting about Hitler. They seem to be pretty peaceful so far, so the First Amendment says you probably can’t get rid of them. However, their demonstration seems to be near a main street and it could be a minor inconvenience to the traffic trying to go through.

a) Allow the neo-Nazis to demonstrate unmolested
b) Break up the demonstration on the grounds of ‘blocking traffic’

2. The anchor of a major news network donates lots of money to organizations fighting against gay marriage, and in his spare time he writes editorials arguing that homosexuals are weakening the moral fabric of the country. The news network decides they disagree with this kind of behavior and fire the anchor.

a) This is acceptable; the news network is acting within their rights and according to their principles
b) This is outrageous; people should be judged on the quality of their work and not their political beliefs

3. A conservative Southern state makes a very strict law restricting the cases in which a woman can get an abortion. The United States Supreme Court, which happens to be dominated by liberal justices, takes an activist stance and strikes down the law based on a conflict with a very broad interpretation of the Constitution.

a) This is acceptable; the Supreme Court should be zealous in its duty of defending constitutional rights against potentially extremist states
b) This is unfortunate; when something is not clearly prohibited, the Supreme Court should err in favor of states rights

4. The Dalai Lama comes to speak at a college town, and the town wants to hold a big celebration honoring his visit, give him the key to the city, and make a small monument commemorating the event. The town’s sizeable Chinese minority population gets upset, saying they strongly believe the Dalai Lama is a bad person trying to break apart China.

a) The town should celebrate the Dalai Lama’s visit however they feel appropriate; it’s pretty cool and the Chinese are outvoted
b) The town should consider the sensibilities of the Chinese minority and keep the Dalai Lama’s visit low-key and unofficial

5. The United Nations is trying to pass a resolution banning land mines and allocating some resources to clean up existing mines that pose a danger to civilians. North Korea is causing a fuss and refusing to support the resolution, and this is endangering its chances of passing. The proponents of the resolution come up with a scheme to exploit a loophole in UN procedures, holding the vote in secret at a time when the North Korean representative might not even be present.

a) Exploit this loophole to make sure the anti-mine resolution passes
b) Stick to normal procedure and try to pass the anti-mine resolution above board and through legitimate channels

6. A feminist group is annoyed at Disney for making too many movies where a dashing male hero saves a helpless princess. They publicly demand Disney stop making this kind of movie and instead make movies with strong female heroes. They will have prominent marches accusing everyone in Disney of sexism until they comply.

a) This feminist group is acting according to proper democratic means to change a problematic feature of the culture, and deserve praise
b) This feminist group is being obnoxious and bullying, and deserve condemnation

[DUE TO CIRCUMSTANCES WITHIN OUR CONTROL, QUESTIONS 7 THROUGH 10 HAVE BEEN CANCELLED.]

11. A human rights group is picketing the headquarters of Exxon Mobil for abusing their workers in Third World countries. Exxon Mobil executives feel very uncomfortable entering their HQ and say that the protesters are blocking the main entrance to the building. They want the protesters to go protest in a designated free speech zone a few miles away where it will have no effect on them.

a) Allow the human rights group to continue to stay near the building
b) Tell them to go protest far away

12. The principal of a private school is a member of Planned Parenthood and, off-duty, speaks out about contraception and the morning after pill. The board of the private school decides this is inappropriate given the school’s commitment to abstinence and moral education and asks the principal to stop these speaking engagements or step down from his position.

a) The school board is acting within its rights; they can insist on a principal who shares their values
b) The school board should back off; it’s none of their business what he does in his free time

13. New York City passes one of the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation. A conservative-dominated Supreme Court strikes it down, taking a broad construction of the Second Amendment as prohibiting such regulations.

a) Agree with the Court’s decision; the Court has a duty to protect freedom against state infringement
b) Disagree; the Court should respect New York City’s right to legislate toward its own problems

14. A Southern town that produced a disproportionately high number of great Confederate generals and soldiers wants to erect a monument to its Civil War military heritage. The town’s small African-American community objects, saying that these generals, however impressive, were fighting to defend slavery and an evil regime.

a) The town should build the monument, as desired by the majority of its citizens
b) The town should avoid building the monument to respect the wishes of its minority community

15. The Democrats are in the process of passing a new law that cuts corporate welfare to large oil companies. A small group of Republicans oppose this measure but seem to be outnumbered. One delegate realizes that if he filibusters for the next twenty-six hours, he can delay the bill long enough that it will fall off the schedule of this session of Congress and potentially be voted upon by a friendlier legislature next term.

a) The Republican legislator is fairly following procedure and therefore his filibuster is acceptable or even commendable
b) The Republican legislator is contradicting the obvious will of the chamber and is kind of an asshole

16. Sometime in the 1950s, The Society Of Patriotic Americans For A More Patriotic America notices that a lot of writers seem to lean left, and worries that novels are promoting Communist ideas (perhaps by portraying businessmen in a very negative light or having rebels and political agititators as heroes). They meet with the heads of various publishing companies and ask the companies to self-monitor their books to make sure they are suitably American. SOPAFAMPA threatens to tar them in the press as Commies if they refuse.

a) SOPAFAMPA did not threaten force and therefore did not violate the First Amendment. They are doing their patriotic duty as citizens to try to fight Communism wherever they finds it.
b) SOPAFAMPA’s comments, even if not direct threats, will have a chilling effect on artistic expression and are tantamount to censorship.

Scoring: Each question 1 through 6 is paired with the question from 11 to 16 that shares the same terminal digit – ie 1 with 11, 2 with 12, etc.

Give yourself zero points for each pair of questions you answered differently – ie A for one but B for the other. Give yourself one point for each pair of questions you answered the same – ie both A or both B.

Score of 0 to 3: You are an Object-Level Thinker. You decide difficult cases by trying to find the solution that makes the side you like win and the side you dislike lose in that particular situation.

Score of 4 to 6: You are a Meta-Level Thinker. You decide difficult cases by trying to find general principles that can be applied evenhandedly regardless of which side you like or dislike.

Commentary: This test was inspired by this graph.

I tried to use pairs of questions that were similar enough that they both tested the same general principle, but not so similar that it would be immediately obvious what I was doing as soon as someone read the test. I realize that my insistence on the second criterion might have allowed me to slip with the first criterion. I do ask that if you criticize a pair of questions on the test, you propose an alternative pair that you think would make a good substitute and which also follow both criteria.

Other suggestions for add-on questions also welcome; the test would look a lot more streamlined if I could fill in 7-10.

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209 Responses to The Slate Star Codex Political Spectrum Quiz

  1. lmm says:

    Figured out what you were doing for sure by q13. I think partly because as a European I see state’s rights, the constitution and the supreme court as Weird American Quirks rather than Important Fundamental Principles.

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    • JohannesD says:

      Yes, I think the US-centricity of these questions automatically moves thinking about them them onto a more meta/abstract level from a non-American viewpoint.

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  2. ozymandias says:

    I would like to point out that I lost two points for being okay with free speech zones but not blocking Neo Nazi marches and firing the principal but not the news anchor, and should therefore get some kind of Backwards Object-Level Thinking Award.

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  3. Flesym says:

    Questions 2 and 12 seem to have non-contradictory choices. I mean, (a) the news org/school board IS acting within its rights – it’s a free country and you don’t have to employ people you don’t like. And also, (b) they’re kind of assholes and they should ignore what their guys are doing in their spare time. In other words, (a) seems legal, and (b) seems moral.

    But a very good test overall, I think. I felt like I was studying for the bar again.

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    • Intrism says:

      You’re bafflingly backwards on the school board question. It’s a free country, and that’s exactly why a governmental body (ie. a school board) is not allowed to enforce its standards for desirable speech. Government in the United States is heavily restricted from controlling the speech of public employees.

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      • Protagoras says:

        Presumably Scott made it a private school to try to avoid this issue.

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        • Intrism says:

          Oops. Didn’t notice that the first time. If it’s a private school (and it’s not secretly a public school, eg. through voucher programs) there’s nothing wrong here. Although, I’m given to understand that the “board” terminology almost universally signifies public school boards… probably, if Scott wants to talk about private schools, he should use a different word. “Owners,” maybe?

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        • AJD says:

          “Board of trustees”, rather than “school board”, is usual for private schools, I think. “Owners” is odd because the prototypical private school is a non-profit organization.

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        • Intrism says:

          Swapping “board” and “school board” for “trustees” would probably work, then.

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    • Randall Randall says:

      Several of the questions were worded (deliberately, I thought) such that one could technically agree with the explanatory text of both a and b, even though they were cast as reasons for opposition.

      Then it turned out that the twist was something else. Ah, well.

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      • Max says:

        Indeed. The best example of this, I thought, was 16, where both a) and b) strike me as obviously and uncontroversially true. The choices are not mutually inconsistent at all.

        Similar comments could be made about 6 with only a minor modification to the first choice – “This feminist group is acting according to proper democratic means to change what they perceive to be a problematic feature of the culture, and deserve praise.

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        • Tom Simon says:

          I noticed the same thing about question 15. Yes, the filibustering Republican is being kind of an asshole, but that exact kind of assholery is enshrined in law and custom as an acceptable form of legislative procedure. (There is also the meta-level consideration that if a piece of legislation really is a good idea, it will still be a good idea when the next legislative session rolls around, and that in politics, panic causes more problems than delay. As the old saying almost says, ‘Legislate in haste, repent at leisure.’)

          A very thought-provoking quiz all the same, and the distinction between object-level and meta-level thinking is a valuable one.

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    • Paul Torek says:

      A lot of questions merit an (a) seems legal, (b) seems moral (or vice-versa) response. That’s not a coincidence either, because the legal system should operate at a more meta level.

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  4. Alice Monday says:

    I sorta ish lost a point on news anchor / principal, but I think I score six points, since the guiding principle was “You should be able to choose employees to carry out your values, and the principal’s actions may or may not (it’s ambiguous) signal that he would do his job in ways against your values, whereas the news anchor’s actions are probably sufficiently unrelated to his job performance. (My answers were “don’t fire” and “I dunno, it depends”, respectively)”.

    Also, my answers to the supreme court questions were “this is acceptable, I think, probably?” and “probably disagree, I’m guessing” but not for the given reasons, since the constitution doesn’t seem particularly useful. So I count those as “mu” and “mu”, and for the same principle of “the supreme court should make the world a better place.”

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  5. Ialdabaoth says:

    Hrm. On most of these, I’m firmly in the Meta-level. However, on 4, 5, 14, and 15, BOTH options provided violate my meta-level principles. I very distinctly noticed my brain say “no, I will not answer this question. Both options are immoral.”

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  6. Charlie says:

    I’ll defend alternation on 3 / 13. Constitution-ish rationalizations for supreme court decisions are usually b.s., and the supreme court are more consequentialist than people pretend.

    Sometimes the correct meta-level strategy really is just consequentialism.

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    • whales says:

      Yes!

      Something maybe implicit in this quiz bothers me — applying “general principles” can be dangerous, if not quite as dangerous as object-level casuistry.

      Take the argument from marginal cases, an attack on affording moral status to humans alone — no value-relevant principle selects all and only humans — and generalize it. “To make that judgment, you have to distinguish between these cases, but any principled basis for doing so fails” always struck me as a very powerful, general argument. It shows up in arguments about animal rights, copyright and piracy, software patents, drug use, abortion and infanticide, protected and prohibited speech. Bizarrely, people then follow this up with a claim that *their* principles are the right ones.

      Some counterarguments attempt to patch up the targeted principles: the “broken chair” response to the argument from marginal cases, or “abortion is murder once the fetus can survive (aided) outside the womb.” This is risky. If you consider the space of all possible principles, you’ll probably find one that that supports your conclusions.

      But there’s a corresponding principled counterargument to the generalized marginal-cases argument: “There are clearly acceptable and clearly unacceptable cases; we have to draw the line somewhere. We can’t afford to judge every marginal case individually, let alone do so consistently, so it’s best just to define an arbitrary boundary.”

      And then it turns out that both parties just want to draw the line in different places, principles be damned. You can try to hone your meta-level arguments, but in the end, you’d do better to get down to the nitty-gritty of consequentialism.

      All the above is a bit of a digression, since I do think sufficiently broad consequentialism should give consistent answers to most of the quiz questions (or at least their literal policy-implementation versions — I don’t endorse bothering to have an opinion about most of them).

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    • The_Duck says:

      I’ll defend alternation on any of the questions if your justification is consequentalist. There’s no intrinsic merit in making these decisions by consistently applying general principles. You should only consistently apply a general principle if consistently applying that general principle will produce better results, in the long run, than deciding each case on its object-level merits.

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    • Paul Torek says:

      Yes. But I agree with Charlie (“Sometimes … consequentialism”) rather than The_Duck (who seems to say “always”). Consequences matter, and sometimes getting a low score on a test is a good thing :-D

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  7. Sid says:

    I really liked this test. I realized that you were testing consistency as soon I started on 11-16. Yet, I only scored 3 points. I was fully conscious what option I had to select if I had to be consistent, but it was really hard. Thus, I was inconsistent on 3 questions.This seems to indicate that humans are very naturally Object-Level Thinkers instead of Meta-Level Thinkers. What a surprise.

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    • Why do you think you were inconsistent, as opposed to just correctly and consistently applying a moral standard that doesn’t treat the two cases indifferently? Being too meta is a mistake, just as much as being insufficiently meta.

      Suppose question 7 had been ‘Should we teach about plate tectonics skeptics in all geology classes?’ and question 17 had been ‘Should we teach about creationism in all biology classes?’. Would it have been inconsistent to say ‘yes’ to 7 and ‘no’ to 17? Perhaps, depending on one’s reasoning. But there are also perfectly reasonable and consistent reasons one might think it more pedagogically useful for understanding plate tectonics or scientific method to review how mainstream geological consensus changed within the past few decades, than it is pedagogically useful for understanding evolution or scientific method to review how religious traditions have interfered with evolutionary theory’s acceptance.

      No analogy is perfect, and a sensitivity to difference is about as important as a sensitivity to parallelism. Sometimes the answer labeled ‘meta’ is the wrong answer, either because there are superior meta principles on hand or because object-level reasoning is better calibrated. (Compare how much people disagree about the object-level ‘killing 5-year-olds is bad’ v. how much they disagree about whether utilitarianism, naturalism, etc. is the right theoretical or meta-ethical stance to take.)

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  8. DUE TO CIRCUMSTANCES WITHIN OUR CONTROL, […]

    That’s pretty clever wording. I didn’t even notice that it said within and not beyond the first two times I read it. I think the all-caps makes it easier to overlook. It’s good that you kept the disclaimer factually accurate, while preserving its intended effect.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I think the all-caps makes it easier to overlook.

      Yes! I caught it in this particular case, but I very often ignore things in caps, different colors, bold, large font, etc. when they aren’t merely inset into an otherwise-normal paragraph. They trigger some learned spam/boilerplate filter. I’ve wondered if many other people have this behavior, because the people that use those attention-grabbing text properties seem to assume most people don’t.

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  9. Protagoras says:

    There’s usually more than one principle that’s relevant to a particular question, and it’s pretty much impossible to come up with good pairs of questions in which all of the principles line up, so I tend to be suspicious of the value of this test. A low score may or may not indicate something, but it doesn’t automatically indicate that someone is inconsistent or that they just pick whichever side they like. It may just indicate that they’re applying principles other than those you’re trying to match up. I have no suggestions on how to improve the test to fix this; I’m reluctant to say it can’t be done, but it would be hard enough that I certainly don’t know how to do it.

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  10. JTHM says:

    I take issue with question pairs 1/11, 2/12, and 3/13.

    In Question 1, the Neo-Nazis are using a street frequented by the general public, but in Question 11, the protestors are obstructing an entrance to just one company whom they view as their political adversary. I think we should be willing to tolerate speech when it involves a moderate burden on all, but not when it burdens one entity specifically, especially an entity which is an object of protest. Otherwise, the public will little notice or care when such burden becomes genuinely intolerable. If everyone needs to use the street, then everyone will object if the protest becomes too onerous and obstructive. If just the oil company needs to use the entrance to the oil company headquarters, then nobody except the oil executives will complain if the protesters step out of acceptable bounds, and of course, who would listen to the executives, they obviously having an incentive to complain truthfully or otherwise? Question 11 needs to be modified so that the public as a whole is inconvenienced, or else Question 1 needs to be modified so that only one group is inconvenienced.

    In Question 2, the news network is in the business of selling political opinion, but the school is not, or at least should not be. If the news network’s anchor is known for opinions contrary to what the network is selling, this undermines their message and enables them to sell nothing but damaged goods, so to speak. But if, in Question 12, the principal’s opinions are contrary to the schoolboard’s, but they do not impact the way he conducts his business, the product (education) offered to the consumers is unaffected, and so he is not damaging the product they are trying to sell. For a direct comparison, the two organizations both need to either be in the business of selling a particular political opinion which their employee is known to oppose; or they both need to have a reputation for political neutrality which their employee is undermining; or they both need to have no particular need to be affiliated or unaffiliated with any specific political position.

    In Question 3/13, the constitutional right to own weapons is far more explicit than the right to an abortion. I am pro-gun rights and also pro-choice, but I thought the gun ban was appropriate for SCOTUS to knock down and the ban on abortion inappropriate. When I read the Bill of Rights, I see in the language a clear intent that the authors intended for citizens to be able to own firearms. I see no intent that there should be a constitutional right to an abortion. For the comparison to be apt, there need to be state-level bans on things to which rights are equally-explicitly-enumerated. (And lest you suspect that I hold the opinions stated in this last paragraph merely because I am more strongly in favor of gun rights than abortion rights, know that the ONLY reason I support gun rights is because I fear the repercussions of abandoning any clearly-intended right in the Bill of Rights, and not because I think guns themselves are a good idea. In fact, I really wish there was no Second Amendment so we could ban guns without abandoning the lovely Schelling Fence that is the Bill of Rights.)

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    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Your comments about Q2/12 are interesting, because I had the same but reverse reasoning: what the news anchor does on his free time should be irrelevant, because it doesn’t affect the way he carries out his job of reporting the news. The question only stated that he would be fired because the network leadership didn’t like such opinions in general, not because it was undermining any particular message that the network had. (I assume that unless it’s explicitly specified otherwise, the purpose of a news network is to report the news, not to further any particular ideology.)

      In contrast, if a school has decided that promoting abstinence is part of its mission, then it’s very important for the message that all of the school staff clearly supports it. The wording of the question seemed to support this: “…decides this is inappropriate given the school’s commitment to abstinence and moral education”, implying that the clash was because the principal’s actions were undermining his ability to do his job as the board had defined the job, as opposed to the network chiefs, who just hadn’t liked their anchor’s behavior in general.

      So I interpreted Q2 to be about firing someone for something irrelevant to their job performance and Q12 to be about firing someone for something relevant to their job performance, making Q2 unacceptable but Q12 acceptable.

      (There was also the fact that the anchor was outright fired, where the principal was first asked to stop and offered a choice about it, which seems to me more reasonable. But I’m not sure if I even noticed that difference before going back to re-read the questions while typing this comment.)

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      • T. Greer says:

        Agreed. If the school is “selling” a message then it is just as destructive for its top administrator to undermine this message in other forums as it would be for a partisan news network to do the same.

        But on the other hand, I totally agree with the need to change 1/11. The difference between disrupting the public location and making a few select individuals uncomfortable is significant. (Perhaps change the question to clarify that CEO headquarters at in the middle of downtown NYC or some other city?)

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      • JTHM says:

        I suppose I should elaborate on why I thought it appropriate for a news network to sell propaganda, but not a school: the recipient of the news network’s product has the option not to consume it. That is, he can stop watching at any time to select another news network or even stop consuming news altogether. I personally prefer to consume news separately from editorials, but I don’t view it as immoral for a media source to offer them blended together to an audience not forced to listen. And if the news network is not selling propaganda, and needs a reputation for neutrality, then they need to be represented by people whose political opinions are unknown. (I’m guessing from a few of your posts that I’ve seen on Facebook that you lie somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum. Tell me, would you watch or trust CSPAN if its anchors were Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, and Jonah Goldberg? That is, assuming you were for some reason inclined to watch CSPAN beforehand.)

        Unlike the consumers of news, the recipients of the school’s product (the students) are unlikely to have any such choice. Most likely, their school was chosen for them by their parents. To trap people, children in particular, in a room and force them to listen to—and complete assignments demonstrating comprehension of—political propaganda, is totally unjustifiable by my moral standards.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Interesting. In my view, the customers of the school also have a choice, but the customers are the parents, not the students. I have no objection to parents doing their best they can to pass on their values to their children: if I were to have children, I too would do my best to pass onto them the kinds of values I favor. The values do have to come from somewhere, after all, and the values that aren’t selected by the parents will come from the environment, i.e. essentially at random. And I don’t see why letting the children’s values be determined by random influences would be any better.

          > Tell me, would you watch or trust CSPAN if its anchors were Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, and Jonah Goldberg?

          I’m afraid that this is the first time I hear of any of those people – or of the network, for that matter.

          If I mentally substitute them with some hard right people and a left-leaning network that I am familiar with… well, still no objection. But my understanding of a news anchor is just someone who neutrally summarizes the news that other people have gathered, reading from a script that has quite possibly been prepared by someone completely different, and not really providing any commentary of his own. From these comments, I’m starting to suspect that news anchors in North America generally do provide more of a personal spin on the issues than the ones over here do? If so, and if they do have distinctive “voices” of their own, then I certainly understand the argument that an anchor’s political doings would be relevant for their job.

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        • ozymandias says:

          Yes, news anchors in the US are often explicitly partisan.

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        • Berna says:

          “[The recipient of the news network's product] can stop watching at any time to select another news network or even stop consuming news altogether.”
          Yes, and this is just what the news network would like to prevent. The anchor is costing his network money, so IMO it should have the right to fire him.

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      • Replying to your next comment in the hierarchy, Kaj: “The values do have to come from somewhere, after all, and the values that aren’t selected by the parents will come from the environment, i.e. essentially at random.”

        Presumably the alternative to ‘parents call the shots’ is ‘governing bureaucrats and laws call the shots’, not ‘nobody calls the shots’; if nothing else the specific ways you block parents from teaching their kids will have predictable outcomes on the kids’ values. Do governing bodies (or a more restrictive group, like ‘democratically elected governing bodies’) converge on values less than fertile individuals do?

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        • Hainish says:

          “The values do have to come from somewhere, after all, and the values that aren’t selected by the parents will come from the environment, i.e. essentially at random.”

          I’m not sure I’d agree that values that came from non-parent source would be “random.” Or even, for that matter, that values coming from parents would qualify as non-random. After all, parental assignment to individuals is essentially a random process.

          (Of course, this perspective doesn’t consider students as agents capable of making decisions about values.)

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      • Richard Gadsden says:

        I found both firings acceptable. If your job is, or involves being, the “public face” of an organisation, then you have a duty to support the positions of that organisation. If you privately disagree with them, then your job is to keep your mouth shut.

        The general principle is that a spokesperson should not make themselves the story.

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    • Nny: If the public counts in aggregate, why doesn’t it count in smaller subpieces? Some office people have more employees than entire small towns. Why then is it good when a small town makes sure its citizens can go about their business unmolested, but bad when a big office building makes sure its residents can go about their business unmolested?

      I agree the situations aren’t sufficiently analogous, but not for the reasons you mention. Perhaps a better analogy to the Exxon protesters would be ‘protesters blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic’ or ‘protesters haranguing a black civil rights leader outside his office or home’.

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  11. St. Rev says:

    I answered “not my business” to 1-6, 11 and 13, and stopped.

    It looks like a lot of people noticed the symmetry, and the question break was a tipoff for some. Perhaps #7-10 could be distractor questions about some related issue, and not figure into the scoring.

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  12. Ken Arromdee says:

    In addition to the criticisms above, I should point out 5 and 15 may not be comparable because one is about the United Nations and one is about the US government. As far as I’m concerned, the United Nations is a corrupt organization with no legitimacy. Using trickery to pass a resolution is nothing compared to killing people to pass a resolution. And dictators of UN member countries basically have done the latter by killing people to get in power and using that power to control a UN representative.

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    • Troy says:

      Agreed — and I also answered those questions differently. I think there are good (broadly rule-consequentialist) reasons to not engage in such political shenanigans in the U.S. government (or other state governments). Any such reasons are much weaker in the case of the U.N.

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    • Brian Donohue says:

      Yup. International ‘law’ is a whole other thing.

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    • Paul Torek says:

      Indeed, the survival of the UN in its present form is a debatable value. But another disanalogy is that clever uses of the filibuster in the US Senate are not likely to disrupt that institution; they’re too old hat for that. In some games, you’re supposed to be sneaky, in others not so much: compare Diplomacy to, I dunno, cricket.

      Edit: Gilbert beat me to it.

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    • Scott says:

      Wow. I came here to defend being inconsistent on UN loophole / Republican filibuster, with the argument that I respect the UN representatives system and don’t want to subvert it, but I don’t respect the Congress system and do want to subvert it. Ooops.

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  13. stubydoo says:

    I scored poorly (2 of 6).

    Then of course naturally I went back over the questions to meticulously devise reasons why the test is flawed, and that naturally it has got me all wrong.

    But it turned out that actually the chosen examples are pretty solid. In particular the school principal and TV anchor pairing come out more on point the more I think about it.

    If there’s one where I got a truly bad rap, I’d say its the Dalai Lama one. I somehow managed to get dinged in the test for picking the pro-Dalai Lama response, despite the fact that I’m the only person I know who thinks the whole Free Tibet thing is a load of crap (not to open a can of worms here). China/Tibet is a border dispute between distant lands, the American Civil War was a fight for the principle that certain people within the community are subhuman scum.

    I would suggest the question pair might have been better if it used two foreign disputes (e.g. China/Tibet and Israel/Palestine), since you’d have a tough time cooking up examples from both sides of the American Civil War.

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    • Paul Goodman says:

      I kinda agree. My main reason for opposing the Civil War monument is that I don’t think American governmental organizations of any type should be honoring traitors…

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      • Me says:

        Do you think that it is okay for an American governmental organization to put up a statue of George Washington, or James Madison, or Thomas Jefferson, or any of the other Founding Fathers?

        They were definitely traitors to their country (England), there is no doubt about that. If betrayal is all that is necessary for condemnation, then they should be condemned.

        I prefer to think of it a slightly different way, on more consequentialist grounds. The founding fathers wee fighting against an oppressive government that trampled on their rights, which is something I believe is commendable.

        On the other hand, the confederates were fighting against a non-evil government, and what’s more were doing so for the explicit purpose of getting away with their own evil acts. (Holding people as slaves.)

        By this calculus, I say that the Founding Fathers were Good People, and the Confederates were Bad People. Both sets were traitors to their respective countries, true, but that isn’t really an element involved in the calculation. If your country is being oppressive and nasty, you have a moral imperative to be a traitor against it. If your country is non-evil and nice, then there is a moral imperative for you not to betray it. Betrayal itself is ethically neutral.

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Betrayal itself is ethically neutral.

          Perhaps a more neutral term than ‘betrayal’ should be used, then, such as ‘separatism’. ‘Secession’ should be a neutral term, but has been given bad connotations. Terms such as ‘attempting independence’ or ‘self-rule’, or ‘withdrawing from’, ‘breaking away from’, etc, are closer to neutral than the loaded term ‘betrayal’.

          ‘Betraying one’s group’ usually means ‘betraying to the enemy, in a sneaky way’, and applies to a group the person has chosen to join, rather than a group one was born into because zis father joined it — or because he was born on land that had been legally claimed by that group without his father’s consent.

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        • > The founding fathers wee fighting against an oppressive government that trampled on their rights, which is something I believe is commendable.

          Pff. What rights are those? The right to have a large navy defend you without paying a penny for it? The right to ignore treaties made with Indian tribes? The right to meet other elected representatives where you damn well please? When you look at the so-called grievances of the “Founding Fathers”, you cannot help but get the impression that they did not constitute their real rejection of King George.

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        • Richard Gadsden says:

          Washington (specifically) took a oath of loyalty to King George III. Whether the others had a duty of loyalty is more questionable, but Washington betrayed a duty of loyalty that he accepted.

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    • Vaniver says:

      the American Civil War was a fight for the principle that certain people within the community are subhuman scum.

      Yes, I’m sure the issue looks exactly like that to someone distant from the issue, rather than a ‘border dispute.’

      [/sarcasm]

      That is, if something being ‘distant’ is the reason to not care, on the meta level you should acknowledge that not everyone is distant from it, and if something seems close to you, you should acknowledge that not everyone is close to it. To tell a Chinese person that they should not care about a conflict because of the miles between them and it, you should also be willing to tell an African American person that they should not care about a conflict because of the years between them and it.

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      • T. Greer says:

        Part of his argument, I think, is not that the Chinese should not care about it, but that the average American taking the test won’t care about it. The emotional associations has with each are quite different–different enough, perhaps, to skew the test a bit.

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    • Why do you say you “Scored poorly”? Scott hasn’t said that a 6 is the optimal score on this quiz. What if his own score was a 3, because he thinks the meta distinctions he cited trump the object-level distinctions he cited about half the time? (And, of course, it goes without saying that the goal here is to actually get the right answers to these questions, not to make Scott happy.)

      On the other hand, suspecting that you’re succumbing to motivated reasoning is an extremely healthy habit. Even if you happen to have gotten the right answers, motivated thinking is surely playing some role, so it’s valuable to re-examine just how analogous the situations are. But exaggerating how analogous they are is a terrible idea, just as much as exaggerating how disanalogous they are. (The general principle is ‘knowing you’re biased doesn’t help you better approximate truth until you’re confident of which direction you’re biased in’. Investigating your biases is useful as long as you stick to specifics and don’t try to replace an overgeneral heuristic with an even more overgeneral heuristic, like ‘always go meta’ or ‘always favor the meta principle that’s being labeled “meta”‘.)

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  14. Will says:

    I didn’t notice the pattern, but seeing similar questions in succession led me to consider meta consistency. My comments:

    1. If the Neo-Nazis were actually blocking traffic, they should go away, but answer b) makes it pretty clear the traffic is not a serious problem and this is a pretense, so I chose a). Similarly, while protesters blocking the entrance would be a serious problem, the solution would be to move out of the way, not a few miles away. Good job making the issues analogous.
    2. I thought that the anchor, in his editorials, would be drawing on his credibility as an important news anchor and thus implicitly suggesting the approval of the network. Similarly, I thought the principal would draw on his experience as a principal in his speeches. I chose a), but if this were different, I would have chosen b).
    3. In both cases I assumed the law was restrictive enough that it is essentially a full ban, thus clearly violating Supreme Court precedent / the Constitution. I think SC should interpret the law.
    4. I said a) on the Dalai Lama, but was uncomfortable with the full extent of the town’s actions. I think a big celebration of a foreign dignitary is reasonable, but giving him the key and a small monument seems pretty weird. Similarly, I thought a monument for Confederate warriors would be reasonable, as long as it was more honoring their sacrifice and less glorifying their deeds. Again, the questions match up very well.
    5. I said the same thing in both times but for different reasons. I think the filibuster is a stupid rule and thus that bringing out any loophole to use against the filibuster is justified. Presumably North Korea is using a filibuster-like rule, but the UN is not a body with very much real power, and serves more as a model for global cooperation to inspire future work, thus should follow impeccable procedure, so b). In the US, I believe that filibuster is wrong, so b).
    6. Here is the only time I gave different answers. I think SOPAFAMPA is exercising a lot more power than the feminist groups are. Disney makes fewer movies than publishers publish books, and markets them more heavily, so it is natural for them to be more careful about content. The feminists are not trying to create an explicit censorship plan among all the leaders in the industry, just a change in statistical behavior among one. And being tarred as Communist in the 1950s causes more serious problems than having feminists complain about your behavior – everyone has feminists complain about their behavior.

    Suggestions on 6: I think a more serious criticism, like a claim of racism, might be more analogous. I’m not sure whether there are better industries to choose.

    I’m a meta-level thinker! I might have gotten a lesser score if there was more time between the questions, but there’s nothing you can do to improve that.

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    • Mantodea says:

      I think SOPAFAMPA is exercising a lot more power than the feminist groups are.

      I agree. I thought about this a bit, trying to reconcile my discrepancy on 6/16 (I picked 6(a), and was confused by 16: I agreed with the “did not violate the First Amendment” part of 16(a) but also with the “chilling / tantamount to censorship” part of 16(b)).

      I figured out the difference: SOPAFAMPA is performing personal attacks, potentially dangerous to the livelihoods of the attacked authors, attacks similar to those I felt were not OK against the school principal and the news anchor of 2 and 12.

      However, the feminists are protesting against a large corporation: not attacking its members personally or trying to get individuals fired, just trying to change the corporation’s overall policy.

      SOPAFAMPA is violating “Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet.” because they are applying “bullet” (in the form of personalized attacks) to those they disagree with. The feminists are not: they are applying “counterargument” to those they disagree with.

      I do ask that if you criticize a pair of questions on the test, you propose an alternative pair that you think would make a good substitute and which also follow both criteria.

      If you changed 6a so that instead of holding protest marches, the feminists were posting names and addresses of Disney employees to Reddit for public harassment — personal tarring like SOPAFAMPA’s — then I would agree with the (b) option for both 6 and 16.

      Great post.

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    • On 1: I disagree. The text clearly states the demonstration “could be a minor inconvenience to the traffic trying to go through”; scare quotes don’t tell us how large that risk is, and even if it is a pretense in the mind of the imaginary-prototypical-Klan-rally-opponent, it could be the right answer. A common thread through almost all the questions is that bad reasons are explicitly given where good or defensible reasons are available, which I think introduces too many confounds for this to be a useful quiz.

      And the fact that the protesters question is a false dilemma doesn’t help us decide which option to select; in fact, it makes it impossible to select an option, unless Scott is implicitly wanting us to choose the wrong answer that we least disagree with.

      4. It may be weird, but is it bad? Nationalism seems like a bad thing, and giving high honors to foreign politicians (and not just to local ones) seems like a good way of combating it.

      I also disagree here that the Dalai Lama / Civil War questions match up well. Would putting a monument to the good policies Adolf Hitler promoted up in a neighborhood with lots of Jews be strictly analogous to putting a monument to MLK Jr. up in a neighborhood with lots of white supremacists, such that we should legally and morally endorse them to exactly the same extent? If not, that calls into question whether this less extreme example is strictly analogous.

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  15. I got 4 points, but had a particular problem with 6/16, since for both questions it seemed to me that the options were not mutually exclusive. In particular, both 6a and 16a seem to be asking about whether the action is legally permissible, which it obviously is, but 6b and 16b seem to be asking whether it’s morally praiseworthy, which depends mostly on how you feel about the values being promoted. (A similar objection applied to 2/12, but in that case I decided that both firings were justifiable.)

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    • Daniel H says:

      I got that 6/16 a/b were all about praiseworthy vs. legal. Partially, this is because the wording on 6a (“and deserve praise” at the end), and partially because I noticed the pattern before 16. I’m not sure what I would have thought on 16 otherwise, given the 1st Amendment part. In any case, I still thought it was “both”. They deserve praise for actually doing something instead of ignoring the situation, but there are probably better “something”s available (especially for 16). Also, I disagree with the SOPAFAMPA’s goals, being more left-leaning than the 1950s American average, but that’s a different issue.

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  16. Crimson Wool says:

    6/16 is the only one I differed on, and that’s because I voted c on 6 and b on 16.

    I’d say it’s not really analogous because 16 is very much a real, actual threat. Threatening to call you a communist in the 1950s is more like… I dunno, threatening to call you a pedophile or a terrorist supporter today, than threatening to call you a sexist. I’d say the better counterexample would be calling the publishers godless heathens. Lots (perhaps even most) people think that godless heathenism/sexism are wrong, but mostly ignore bitching about it because many individuals have overused them as accusations to sling around all willy-nilly.

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  17. suntzuanime says:

    I got 5/6, missing the abortion/guns analogy, so of course I feel it’s unfair. But seriously, the right to keep and bear arms is written right there in the Constitution, whereas the right to an abortion is interpreted to exist in some ethereal penumbra. I think it’s a totally consistent position to hold that state and local governments should be given wide latitude to disagree with bullshit nonsense being read into the Constitution, while not given as much latitude to oppose its plain language.

    EDIT: For the record I am deeply ambivalent about both issues at the object level. But it’s abundantly clear which has more textual support in the Constitution.

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  18. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    I was having a hard time reporting my answers honestly even to myself because I was trying to metagame the quiz. I think I guessed what was going on about halfway through (probably because I’d also seen that graph recently, and also because of the niceness post).

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  19. Mestroyer says:

    Is the idea of this quiz to gain information about who is an “object-level thinker” and who is a “meta-level thinker”, or is it to convince us to become meta-level thinkers?

    As soon as I read 12 I realized where this was going. (Paired questions to see if you stick to the meta-level principle from the first on the second).

    This poll has the stench of the dark side on it. You gave meta-level justifications in the answers to the questions.

    For someone not fully cognizant of why they hold my political answers, this puts answers in their brains. If it sounds like a good answer the first time, and they don’t understand why it sounds like a good answer, you’ve just set up a commitment bias-based attack.

    I foresee a defense, like the one you started “In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization” with, a normative-relativistic “I’m using dark arts on people who think using dark arts for their own positions is okay, so it’s okay.”

    First, this is reminiscent of “pro-life” people calling people who call themselves “pro-choice” “anti-life,” and the latter calling the former “anti-choice.” Your enemies do not have a utility function which is the inverse of yours. Chu is not a meta-level thinker who goes by the rule “Everyone is justified in using dark arts”. His position is “my side should use dark arts, the enemies should not.”

    It is consistent to say “My ends merit using violence to accomplish them”, and still not want to be killed.

    But second, and more important, you just used the dark arts on me, and I just want to stay out of politics, and am not actively engaged in any of these tactics you attack, nor am I even giving verbal support to anyone for using them. I am not willing to commit to either Yvainism or Chuism.

    Figuratively, I am someone who is not engaged in war or killing, but who doesn’t really find the philosophy of pacifism aesthetically appealing, and also doesn’t want to be killed. Can I lean over the fence of the walled garden and look at the things the pacifists are building without having rocks chucked at me?

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    • Anon says:

      Agreed. The questions are biased to encourage meta thinking.

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    • Daniel H says:

      I noticed when reading that Scott didn’t actually endorse either type of thinking in this article. It seems clear that “meta-level” is better, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t suggest it, and people are defending object-level thinking elsewhere in the comments.

      I don’t see this as Dark Arts at all, even if he did endorse meta-level thinking. In each case, the given responses seem to be what people actually holding those positions would say. If you did decide to break up the Neo-Nazi protest, for example, you would officially say it was on the grounds of “blocking traffic”, and you’d have a good chance of using scare quotes when you told other people this (see Al Capone and tax evasion, for example). The Supreme Court often gives meta-level reasons for whatever they decide, even if they happen to make those decisions for object-level reasons. He is making the choices more realistic, and I can understand why somebody might honestly choose (a) or (b) on any of these while sharing my object-level beliefs about the given issues. He’s explaining everything, which doesn’t seem to be Dark. In fact, the Darkest part (which I see as a metaphorical light gray) in my thinking is that he deliberately hides what the quiz iz about, and his doing this seems to make it even harder for consistency bias to take effect.

      Finally, the only way around putting answers into the reader’s brain is to not give multiple choices, but free response. That’s extremely difficult to set up a grading scale for, and most online political quizzes don’t do this. When reading this and other quizzes, I try to think about my answer before reading the choices to avoid this, but even without that step it doesn’t seem like this is Dark.

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      • Mestroyer says:

        It’s not the temporary deception which he later explained that I object to.

        the given responses seem to be what people actually holding those positions would say.

        Yes, because in politics people don’t argue with their real reasons, they argue with what sounds good to the widest audience. And meta arguments sound good to mostly everyone.

        But they weren’t what I was thinking when I read the questions. Readers of this blog are not normal people. And if the reasons he gives sound better than your own and you are not reflective enough, they can probably leak into you.

        Finally, the only way around putting answers into the reader’s brain is to not give multiple choices, but free response.

        Or you could just make the options “A: Yes. B: No.” without putting reasons in them.

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        • Daniel H says:

          Do you mean something along the lines of

          Neo-Nazis are holding a demonstration in a small town, waving swastikas around and shouting about Hitler. They seem to be pretty peaceful so far, so the First Amendment says you probably can’t get rid of them. However, their demonstration seems to be near a main street and it could be a minor inconvenience to the traffic trying to go through.

          Is it acceptable for those in charge to stop the demonstration on grounds of ‘blocking traffic’?

          I’m not sure if this is what you mean. Obviously the question has to be changed in some way, or simple answers like that wouldn’t make sense; I just feel like this preserves a lot of what you were complaining about. I’m also not sure how this makes any consistency-bias effect weaker. If this isn’t what you meant, could you give an example re-write?

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        • Mestroyer says:

          @Daniel, I just re-read the first question, and noticed it didn’t have a justification in the answer. But look at the second.

          a) This is acceptable; the news network is acting within their rights and according to their principles
          b) This is outrageous; people should be judged on the quality of their work and not their political beliefs

          Unlike with the first one, these are justifications for why you would actually call the action justified or unjustified, not justifications for things you would say within the action strategically.

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        • Daniel H says:

          So would you prefer rewriting this as “<situation>. Should the news network fire him?” or “<situation>. Should the news network be legally allowed to fire him?”, depending on which of these Scott meant (which others point out is ambiguous)?

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  20. BeoShaffer says:

    I also figured out what what going on early on, got a fairly high score, and disagree with the comparability of the ones I missed. I think I see a pattern here.

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    • Is the pattern ‘people rationalize circumstances they’re object-level about as being disanalogous even though it takes a huge cognitive effort to start differentiating them’? Or is it ‘when people think things are disanalogous at the outset, they act accordingly’? That’s the tricky bit.

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  21. Tom Hunt says:

    Count another who saw the point of the quiz as soon as the break happened. Also another amused by ‘CIRCUMSTANCES WITHIN OUR CONTROL’.

    I think this quiz didn’t quite hit me properly, largely because my most consistent meta-principle is really not caring nor wanting to care about most object-level policy issues. In particular those which, as many of these were, really easily invited “not my business, do what you want”. (Also, I was skimming it and thus not really bothering to form strongly held opinions on every quiz question, but.)

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  22. pwyll says:

    The test questions highlight a number of great examples of societal divisions caused by democracy. Imagine a world where people didn’t have to fight each other on most of these issues… how much stronger would societal levels of trust and cohesion be?

    …but nah, thanks to the current system, you’ve gotta take sides, and are strongly encouraged by the incentive structure to hate and demonize at least half of the population. It’s a wonder things aren’t *worse.* The Reaction can’t come soon enough…

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    • AJD says:

      By “a world where people didn’t have to fight with each other on most of these issues”, you mean a world where people would fight these issues with guns and knives, because fighting with persuasion would not effect change?

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    • Andy says:

      thanks to the current system, you’ve gotta take sides, and are strongly encouraged by the incentive structure to hate and demonize at least half of the population.

      I call this a strawman, sir. Part of the incentive structure – a weakened part nowadays, but it’s still there – is some level of respect for the other side. I’d like to get it more formally into the structure of the United States government, maybe something along the lines of the “Shadow Government” in the UK. But I am a registered Democrat, and I know and respect many Republicans and Libertarians – even Tea Partiers, who “conventional wisdom” would have as my mortal enemies.
      You say the social divisions are caused by democracy. I submit the idea that the social divisions are already there, just like the Catholic-Protestant divide existed in Europe. Democracy merely brings them to the surface, where they can be resolved peacefully – albeit noisily and inefficiently – rather than letting them simmer under the surface until they can only be solved on the battlefield.
      If modern America is the argument against democracy, the Thirty Years War is the best argument against Reaction.

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  23. lambdaphage says:

    The problem I see with the Dalai Lama/Confederate monument pair is that the questions seem to be correctly decided on the object-level; there’s no meta-level principle that urges us to decide the two cases similarly. Should the college town heed the sensitivities of the Chinese minority? No, because the Chinese are wrong on Tibet. Should the southern town heed the sensitivities of the African-American minority? Yes, because the southern town is wrong on the Civil War. The question asks us nothing more than whether the majority has the correct opinion in each case.

    If the questions asked “should the majority be legally barred from offending the sensibilities of the minority”, or “should the minority engage in legal chicanery to obstruct the majority”, then we’d have a meta-level principle on which to expect consistency. As it stands, though, you’re just asking “whose object-level views are correct?”

    It might be amended by rephrasing the question-pair as “should $minority be able to sue $governing_body to prevent the monument from being built?”

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    • Aris Katsaris says:

      > Should the college town heed the sensitivities of the Chinese minority? No, because the Chinese are wrong on Tibet. Should the southern town heed the sensitivities of the African-American minority? Yes, because the southern town is wrong on the Civil War.

      That’s pretty much the definition of an object-level thinker. If you’re answering “Should X heed the sensitivities of Y about Z?” by asking what’s the Z, and whether Y has the correct position about Z (i.e. the same position that you do), that’s object-level thinking.

      So it seems the test pinpointed your attitude correctly, what’s the problem?

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      • lambdaphage says:

        Sorry, perhaps I misread the quiz or wasn’t writing clearly. My complaint about the question is that there’s no obvious meta-level principle that we’re supposed to trade off against the object-level concerns. What could that meta-level principle be? “Don’t carry out public works without consensus”? I don’t think that principle has much support. “Just don’t officially endorse any causes that would morally offend anyone”? The variety of offendable groups is endless, resulting in complete inaction. “Don’t officially endorse anything at all”? This one actually strikes me as more plausible, in a Hayeko-Popperian open society sort of way. It would have much broader consequences than the decisions of whether to build monuments of the Dalai Lama or Lee, though, so I’m not sure whether that’s what Scott had in mind as the meta-level principle to be weighed in the balance. It’s not as obvious to me as the free speech vs. moral sensibilities and public order dilemma in questions 1-11.

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      • I’m not seeing it. What makes the principles ‘always worry about the sensibilities of local minorities (Chinese, black southerners)’ and ‘always let local majorities honor things they want to’ more meta-level than

        … ‘always worry about the sensibilities of the most globally disenfranchised/oppressed groups (Tibetans, black southerners)’?

        … ‘always maximize aggregate human desire-satisfaction’?

        … ‘always promote compassion’?

        … ‘always do what the best race (which happens to be white people) wants’?

        Any of the latter could be the reason someone answers ‘a’ to one question and ‘b’ to the other.

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    • Mantodea says:

      To add to Aris, I think that something Scott has argued in the past is that we should be consistent in this sort of way even when what the law says is not invoked. It is perhaps too obvious that whatever legal system we choose to handle the case of “minorities disapprove of a monument” should be consistent no matter the minority and no matter the monument.

      I think you’re conflating meta-level principles with legal principles, when they need not be the same thing.

      This same sort of reasoning is involved with 2 and 12: the news organization and/or school is perfectly within their legal rights to hire or fire whomever they see fit. But that doesn’t stop us from disapproving of their choices in a meta-level way.

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      • lambdaphage says:

        I appreciate this point in general. I think, for example, that when Bob deletes Alice’s critical but cogent blog comment, and Alice cries “but free speech!” and Bob replies “the Constitution doesn’t oblige me to host your contrary opinion”, that Bob is kind of missing the point. What you are legally required to do is, of course, miles short of what you ought to do as a decent and intellectually responsible human being. There is a clear meta-level prerogative to engage honestly with opposing views even when you fear the dissemination of your opponent’s views will harm your object-level interests.

        But as I said in my reply to Aris, it’s not obvious what meta-level principle is being invoked (see above:)). Absent any such, the question about whether to build the statue seems to boil down to object-level considerations about… whether you should build the statue. The matter of whether you should obey a meta-level principle without a specific legal mandate to do so presumes that we have an applicable meta-level principle in the first place.

        Maybe I’m just being dense?

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        • ozymandias says:

          I feel like a blogger has no moral requirement to host any comments they don’t want to, particularly since any deleted commenters are perfectly capable of starting their own blogs and offering up their opinions without censorship. And I can think of a lot of reasons why someone might want to delete a critical but cogent blog comment, ranging from “we have literally had this argument ten thousand times” to “I want to talk about building atheist community, not about whether God exists” to “I think creationism is sufficiently stupid that I have no interest in engaging with it.”

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        • lambdaphage says:

          This is in reply to (the great!) ozymandias. The comment system limits thread depth, which seems like grist for the mill for the “artifacts have politics” crowd. Anyway.

          I was worried I might have set the bar too low with “cogent”, but the dictionary reassures me that I said more or less what I meant to say :) I agree that some comments manage to rise above the level of lewd personal attacks or spam, yet are not really worth engaging substantially with. Maybe you should delete them, maybe you should say “Read the FAQ”. Let’s table that for now.

          On the other hand, though, sometimes people just plum disagree in good faith, with good reasons, and their arguments really are worth discussing. That might be because they happen to be right, whereas the moderator is wrong. If you hold an incorrect view, then it’s in your interest to hear an argument for the correct one. Even if the substantive conclusion is wrong, though, the contrarian comment might reveal an important weakness in a bad argument for the correct view that needs to be patched up. There’s a real epistemic danger in ignoring minority views: when you’re in the majority, you can afford to ignore the minority. When in the minority, however, you’re constantly exposed to opposing views and forced to justify yourself. That doesn’t bode well for the long-term intellectual success of the majority movement.

          But the most important worry, for me, is straight-up Nietzschean Peril: once anyone allows themselves to delete comments that they think they have a good reason to delete, they’ll face a natural temptation to expand the scope of comments worthy of deletion. I think it’s worth considering how many slightly impertinent comments one should be willing to tolerate in order to preserve that Schelling point.

          Personally speaking, I’ve seen a lot of comment deletion of the second type, where the author respectfully raises a genuinely on-topic, un-beaten-to-death point and gets deleted because said comment is harmful to the movement or whatever. I’d say that practice is harmful to the movement: the intellectual hygiene of online discussion among my own political tribe has actually forced me to think hard about whether “my people” always had the best argument. This may seem a bit much, but that more than anything else has actually been pretty instrumental in gradually distancing me from the political orientation I had once thought obviously correct.

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  24. Ed says:

    Scored a 4–so, I’m a meta-level thinker by the skin of my teeth. Gave different answers on 3/13, for the same reason pointed out by JTHM, namely, that the right to bear arms is stated much more clearly in the Constitution than the right to abortion. On 4/14 I would have let the Dalai Lama’s visit go forward and disallowed the Confederate statutes, for two reasons. First, the Dalai Lama’s visit, however prominent, is only temporary, while building a set of statues is a permanent declaration of the town’s allegiance. Second, while I have no probem with Confederate statuary generally–and would certainly be against tearing down existing statues on any political correctness grounds–I would be suspicious of a Southern town that claimed to suddenly remember its Confederate war dead after 150 years. Like the emergence of the Dixie battle flag in the 1960′s opposition to Civil Rights, I would have a hard time believing that the demand to put up Confederate statues was motivated solely by some military history buff’s dawning appreciation of General Scarum’s tactics at Dirty Creek Gap (or something like that).

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  25. Intrism says:

    I figured the gimmick out pretty fast, definitely by the second or third part-two question. Changing my score post-hoc for a question I apparently misread, I scored a 4 – just over the boundary into “meta-level thinker.”

    I have some objections to the abortion/gun control pair and the Dalai Lama/statue pair. I decided both questions on a distinctly off-axis basis.

    For abortion/gun control, the abortion question involved upholding longstanding Supreme Court precedent (Roe v. Wade), while the gun control question involved overriding a similarly longstanding precedent that the Second Amendment does not bind state governments. (Although, the gun control precedent has been eroding recently…) I would recommend replacing the abortion question with one about voting rights legislation, which is somewhat less bound up in ironclad precedent while still similarly partisan.

    For the Dalai Lama/statue pair, I objected to the statue not because of any offense the African-American community may take but rather because it is wildly inappropriate for an American municipal government to honor treason and insurrection against the United States. I would suggest replacing the Confederate monument in the second question with a statue of a segregationist governor or other offensive local leader.

    Also, a minor point in my political enemies’ favor: it is hardly a liberal position to disrespect the UN.

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    • RCF says:

      So, you would be opposed to a monument to John Brown? What about Harriet Tubman? While not technically treason, she did help run a massive criminal conspiracy. This fetishism of government is exactly what led to the Civil War in the first place: the Confederates were willing to kill to defend their arbitrary political entity of the state, and the Unionists were willing to kill for their arbitrary political entity of the federal government. Both were absolutely horrible reasons to kill, but because the Unionists’ actions had the side effect of abolition of slavery, we overlook the horribleness of their morality, even though ending slavery was not the motivation for the Union conquering the South.

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      • Multiheaded says:

        So, you would be opposed to a monument to John Brown? What about Harriet Tubman? While not technically treason, she did help run a massive criminal conspiracy.

        Well, my side has won, so I try to ensure that none dare call it treason.

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        • Andy says:

          While not technically treason, she did help run a massive criminal conspiracy.

          This is another riff on The Worst Argument in the World.
          She was helping people take themselves from places where they were “property” to places where they could be people.
          To the point, would I want a monument to Harriet Tubman? Yes. Would I want one to John Brown? Yes, but I would highlight his ineffectiveness the deaths of civilians as a result of his action – including Hayward Shepard, a black baggage handler on the B&O line who confronted Brown’s raiders.

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      • Intrism says:

        This fetishism of government is exactly what led to the Civil War in the first place: the Confederates were willing to kill to defend their arbitrary political entity of the state, and the Unionists were willing to kill for their arbitrary political entity of the federal government.

        No, that’s modern revisionism – the war actually was about that slavery thing. Or, rather, the North may have been at war to maintain the Union, but the South was definitely at war to maintain slavery. Read the Cornerstone Speech.

        Harriet Tubman was a non-violent resister of a policy she found unjust; of course, society eventually agreed. Our societal norms allow such non-violent resisters to be honored, presuming (of course) that they eventually win. Depending on how evil the policy was, we may honor people like her over loyal adherents of the law.

        I personally would not want a monument to John Brown – he was also an armed insurrectionist, and the increase in tensions he caused spooked Southerners and may have resulted in the Civil War itself. Nevertheless, history generally grants indulgences to people who turn out to have been on the right side of it. Certainly, the Union didn’t much mind him – his corpse was the hero of a popular marching song, set to the same tune as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Certainly, the Union didn’t much mind him – his corpse was the hero of a popular marching song, set to the same tune as The Battle Hymn of the Republic

          Actually, the Battle Hymn of the Republic was written to the tune of John Brown’s Body by some abolitionist lady who liked the song that was already popular with the Union troops.

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        • Andy says:

          Actually, the Battle Hymn of the Republic was written to the tune of John Brown’s Body by some abolitionist lady who liked the song that was already popular with the Union troops.

          One historical nitpick: “John Brown’s Body” was itself written to the tune of a traditional camp meeting song: “Say, Brothers Will You Meet Us,” exemplifying a common tendency in historical songwriting, where tunes got re-used to many different lyrics.

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        • RCF says:

          “No, that’s modern revisionism – the war actually was about that slavery thing. Or, rather, the North may have been at war to maintain the Union”

          So, you disagree with me, and then in the very next sentence, you admit that your disagreement is invalid?

          “but the South was definitely at war to maintain slavery.”

          No, the South seceded to maintain slavery. It was at war because the North sent a bunch of armed men to attack them. The Civil War consisted of Unionists going into Southern states and killing people who got in the way. And the reason they did that was not to abolish slavery, but because of nationalism. In evaluating the morality of the Unionists’ actions, what is relevant is their motivations, not the side effects of the actions, and not the motivations of previous acts in the chain of events that led to their actions. If Person X says I should kill Person Y because nationalism, Person X is promoting evil. It doesn’t matter if there are other justifications for killing Person Y; a general principle that generally promotes evil does not cease to be evil simply because there are circumstances where it urges a course of action that would also be endorsed by a good principle. When Lincoln wrote:

          “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

          he showed his cause to be morally bankrupt.

          “Our societal norms allow such non-violent resisters to be honored, presuming (of course) that they eventually win.”

          You are adding a bunch of qualifiers that were not present in the statement that I took issue with. the issue at hand is not whether there are attributes particular to the Confederates that makes honoring them inappropriate, or whether Tubman has attributes that makes it appropriate to honor her, but whether merely accusing someone of “treason and insurrection against the United States” is, in and of itself, sufficient to establish that honor is inappropriate.

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          RCF,
          When Lincoln wrote:

          “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

          he showed his cause to be morally bankrupt.

          Thus, perhaps, the promotion of “preservation of the Union” as a moral value in itself. Often presented from the opposite angle, by using expressions such as ‘traitors’, ‘rebels’, etc instead of the simpler insult, ‘slave holders’.

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      • RCF says:

        Replying to myself, because I can’t reply to Andy’s comment:

        “it is wildly inappropriate for an American municipal government to honor treason and insurrection against the United States” is an example of the so-called Worst Argument in the world. My post was arguing against that sort of logic, and you selectively quoted my post to make it seem like I was making the point opposite to what I was saying. Really not cool.

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        • Andy says:

          My apologies. I was under the impression you were serious, and missed that direction of your argument.
          And to reply to a comment that’s at the end of a thread, and so doesn’t have a “Reply” button, scroll up to the most recent post to have a “Reply” button, and click there. When your comment posts, it’ll post to the end of that thread. It makes having long conversations quite difficult.

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      • Andy says:

        (ignore my previous comment, as I missed a key point and totally misconstrued RCF’s post.)

        This fetishism of government is exactly what led to the Civil War in the first place: the Confederates were willing to kill to defend their arbitrary political entity of the state, and the Unionists were willing to kill for their arbitrary political entity of the federal government.

        I am a little confused here – what other political entity were the North and South supposed to use to settle their irreconcilable differences? Given the political philosophies of the time, the state and the Union were how society and law were organized. What other structure would have let them settle without bloodshed?

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    • nydwracu says:

      The American ruling formula was (and still is, in part, but it’s changing along with the power structure) based on the secessionist propaganda of such texts as the Declaration of Independence — if the people don’t like the government, they have the right to get rid of it. The Civil War demonstrated that this was not a stable basis for a ruling formula, but the philosophy is still taught in colleges that haven’t gotten with the times yet, so it can be argued that the real traitors were the Union — traitors to the ruling formula, the philosophy that the country was founded on, which holds more moral weight than any particular state. This is done here, though it could be done better.

      As for the equation downthread of everything Confederate with slavery: why would the ~75% of Southern whites who didn’t own slaves (note that that figure doesn’t take into account non-white slaveowners) care exclusively about the maintenance of slavery, as is the official line? The belief that Robert E. Lee was a singular exception, that cultural factors were irrelevant, and that economic factors other than slavery played absolutely no role whatsoever — isn’t it a bit suspicious that that is the null hypothesis, especially given that that’s what a victorious and progressive Union would find it most useful to say anyway?

      Maybe there’s proof of it; maybe it’s another instance of bad arguments drowning out good ones, as happens so frequently in the study of human biology. (Racial differences in IQ have not been conclusively demonstrated, that Minnesota twin study has actual problems, and the concept of race as a Hegelian [as my very analytic philosophy professor would've called it] block delineating Homo sapiens into effectively uniform subcategories just doesn’t work, but once someone sees through the transparent nonsense of the relevant dogma, it is very, very hard to get them to accept any of those points.) But citing elites using the maintenance of slavery as a formula to win acceptance is not very good evidence, especially given that it so often co-occurs with the dog-whistle theory of the conservative formula — it’s possible for formulas to not accurately reflect concerns in one context, but we are to just assume in another context that they do. (And then there’s the possibility of elite concerns aligning with non-elite concerns without overlapping with them — take the post-Reagan GOP: elites go Reaganite on economics because it benefits them, and cracker proles because most of the government belongs to their tribal enemies. A complicating factor, of course, is that elites need some sort of formula to justify it, and proles may end up actually believing the formula…)

      And wouldn’t this imply that Southerners with Confederate sympathies all want to bring back slavery?—they don’t. The South is culturally distinct from the North; the Confederacy is today a symbol of opposition to the damn Yankees, as is shown by the fact that it has, as La Wik puts it, infiltrated the national stage to such an extent that there are people who fly the Battle Flag in New Jersey and Maine. (And, I’ve heard, even Ireland! I really have no idea what’s going on there.)

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      • Zathille says:

        From my understanding of the matter, to say Slavery was one of the primary reasons for the occurrence of the Civil War would be accurate, but one must be careful not to take a simplistic stance in which the causes of underlying political and economic tensions are conflated with official speeches and ideological justifications.

        I’d posit that the tensions between the North and South were caused by the differences in their economic bases. The North hosting a budding industrial wage-labour base whilst The South specialized in an Agrarian-Export system with slaves as labour force.

        The matter of Tariffs is a very interesting example, showing just how the interests of industrialists and plantation-owners were: The industrialists benefited from tariffs since they protected their home markets from overseas competition by more established and competitive industries, meanwhile, agrarian interests were hurt by them duo to their dependence on foreign trade, their exports being their main source of income.

        The westward expansion, with the creation of new States was also a factor, to the extent their economic basis were established as wage labour or slavery, the political balance of power shifted as the representatives of such a state were, as a rule, more inclined to support the economic interests of those with the dominant economic power in the state.

        The election of Lincoln, a Republican as opposed to a southern Democrat, along with shifts in the socioeconomic structure of the Midwest, represented a shift in power towards the North. Fearing a threat to its material interests, the South seceded. Threats of secession were sometimes employed in political disputes, but the reality of one being carried out signalled a threat to the Union (as many other states may be encouraged to pursue secession) and, with it, the Northern interests currently in control of most of its state functions.

        I do believe this article manages to express what I’m trying to say in a more direct and didactic manner:

        http://www.vulgarmaterial.net/blog/2013/03/19/just-another-word-part-3/

        Nationalism and ideology did play a part, but as I always say, those ideas have origins in material and economic relations and, to the extent these relations are the root of many an ideological conflict, I believe making them explicit helps the discussion more than speaking of nebulous, noncontextualised ideas like ‘freedom’ ‘patriotism’ and ‘treason’.

        Edit: I guess it would be more accurate to say the war was the culmination of the conflict between the respective elites of a Wage-Labour system and a Slave-Labour system, and that only within that context one can say Slavery was a determinant factor in the war.

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  26. fubarobfusco says:

    Some wibbly quibbles …

    Question 3 uses more politically charged language than question 13. Notably “activist” is a dog-whistle word here; and one construction is “very broad” while the other is merely “broad”.

    Question 5 doesn’t make sense factually; North Korea does not have the ability to block a U.N. resolution. In question 15, a Senator can filibuster if there is not a supermajority to invoke cloture. Congress does not have “delegates”.

    Question 6 asks about morals and politeness (“praise”, “obnoxious and bullying”, “condemnation”) whereas question 16 in part asks a technical point of constitutional law — and contains a bad misconception thereof, since only state actors can violate the First Amendment, regardless of the use of force.

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  27. L33tminion says:

    This seems to be getting at how much people value openness in discourse or even-handedness in political procedure over other political or moral goals. But a desire to make one’s in-group win isn’t the only reason why someone might favor goals other than open discourse or political even-handedness.

    Also, if you consider “meta-level thinkers” to be your in-group, isn’t the entire point of this quiz to frame things in such a way that “the side you like wins”?

    That said, I answered 5 of the groups consistently and agree with Will that 6/16 isn’t a terribly good parallel, so I got the clearly-labeled-as-good result, yay!

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  28. Gilbert says:

    Questions (1)1 and 1(2) work fine.

    1(3) doesn’t work, because it can be parsed by different meta-level rules, namely a strong vs a weak or a literalist vs. a creative supreme court. As a matter of fact, the US constitution does contain an explicit right to guns and does not contain an explicit right to abortion. You probably could make it more equal by replacing gun control with campaign spending limits, where similarly abstract emanations and penumbras are involved.

    On question (1)4 I’ll just bite the bullet and say those are object-level decisions that should be made differently. At some point a democracy will make object-level decisions and that’s kind of its purpose. You could push the question to the meta-level if it was about the minority seeking judicial relief.

    (1)5 doesn’t work, because one abuse of parliamentary procedure (filibustering) is traditional enough to be part of the understood rules while the other one (secret votes without notification) isn’t. Also the UN-version depends on deception while the congressional one doesn’t. A more analogous version might involve threats to the agents involved, maybe sanctions for North Korea and cutting funds to the legislator’s alma mater.

    1(6) is asking different questions, because “tantamount to censorship” is a category with pseudo-legal implications, invoking some kind of “spirit of the law” while “obnoxious and bullying” is open about being a purely moral condemnation. Instinctively I would think both groups are obnoxious and bullying but neither is acting “tantamount to censorship”. Find some way of calling them bad without invoking rights-talk.

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  29. Anon says:

    I’m an object level thinker when I can get away with it and a meta thinker when I can’t. All of these situations assumed I had enough power to do whatever I wanted. There wasn’t any context given for the question, so I had no consequences to my heavy-handedness that I could evaluate. So my answers to this abstract quiz were much more object level than my behavior would be in real life.

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  30. Brian says:

    Got 2/6. Mostly, I think, because the meta-level principles I arrived at on question pairs 2/12 and 5/15 led to different answers — though I can’t rule out the possibility that I might have been priming myself.

    On 2 and 12, I feel that the news anchor is a public figure in a way that the principal of a private school is not — principals are basically administrators, while the whole point of a news anchor is to interface with the public. The news channel therefore has a much better case that their employee’s private opinions are negatively affecting their business.

    I see 5 and 15 as basically trading off institutional integrity against representative accuracy, and I see the filibuster (a pretty well-established procedural move) as much less of a challenge to institutional integrity than holding a vote in secret without the presence of an objector.

    Additionally, I found 6 and 16 hard to evaluate. The feminist group is clearly within their rights, but I don’t think they deserve praise or criticism for acting within their rights; that should attach to the cause they’re pushing. Same goes for the Fifties patriot group. Anything I could say about these people, I’d be saying about their politics or the social climate that allows them to de-facto censor people, not about the mere fact of expressing their opinions loudly enough.

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  31. PhilosopherBob says:

    I realized what you were doing by q2, but scored a 0 nonetheless. I don’t really care about consistency, but I would like the people I agree with to come out on top.

    This is a pretty interesting exercise, and I suspect some people have a strong urge to try to answer in a consistent way even if it doesn’t truly represent their opinion.

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    • Multiheaded says:

      This is a pretty interesting exercise, and I suspect some people have a strong urge to try to answer in a consistent way even if it doesn’t truly represent their opinion.

      Many of us also wish to destroy our enemies and see mere inconsistency much less immoral than allowing them to carry on their work. The question is how often does inconsistency come around to bite one in the foot, as the patterns of action and organization that we empower turn on us? In my understanding of history, this kind of thing has always plagued the Left.

      Therefore, I grudgingly accept a little liberal proceduralism on pragmatic grounds, trying to be less vulnerable to various kinds of corrupt meta – even though I find nothing too bad, in a vacuum, about unfairly and arbitrarily repressing certain particular interests and values. It’s all about self-preservation.

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      • Andy says:

        The question is how often does inconsistency come around to bite one in the foot, as the patterns of action and organization that we empower turn on us? In my understanding of history, this kind of thing has always plagued the Left.

        The Right as well – the pre-Reformation Catholic Church was not exactly practicing what it preached, at the upper echelons. And then got bit hard by that. And I bet if we dig around in history we can find any number of hypocritical right-wing bastards, as well as the hypocritical left-wing bastards.
        After the arguments in “In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization,” I actually see consistent devotion to truth and effectiveness – nuanced consistency, which certain people seem to confuse with hypocrisy or agreement with policies I loathe – as a better weapon against my ideological opponents (I refuse to call them enemies unless they have guns pointed at my face) than taking whatever position advances my argument at the moment, or using every possible weapon against my opponents.
        Enemies are to be beaten by any means necessary, Opponents are to be negotiated with until a solution amenable to myself and them is reached. And one can become the other, in either direction.

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  32. Multiheaded says:

    I got four and a half, as I could only say “Both, obviously” to 16. I think the communist sympathizers should try to resolve the situation with more propaganda and courting potential allies in the media and academia, not by relying on a bourgeois state. If you aspire to standing up for the working class, but could get neither the people nor potential elite sympathizers to back you, what gave you the right to complain anyway, and who could you reasonably complain to?

    a) to 15, easily, as democracy has more bugs than that and solving one at a time with crude meddling can’t help things, but b) to 14 because seriously fuck rebel scum. And a) to every other question. I’m radical and not quite with it, but I have no desire to be short-sighted and get dutch-booked by the universe.

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    • Andy says:

      b) to 14 because seriously fuck rebel scum.

      “A retreating enemy should be allowed all the face he can carry off. Just as long as he doesn’t carry off anything else.”
      I’ll put up my score and list of compromise solutions when I take this tomorrow morning (I have been working all day and I’m exhausted and jittery) but on 14 I’d let them have their monument, just get it done with private money, and on private land if at all possible, and encourage African-American leaders to use the outrage to raise funds for a monument or exhibit showing the history of slavery, including local slave statistics. Or encourage both groups to pool money and property to put together a single museum covering both sides. I’d of course offer to lend my cartographic skills to the production of the slave monument, and encourage the Confederate monument’s organizers to include each individual general’s position on slavery, because the Rebel scum were a surprisingly diverse lot when it came to slavery, from Cleburne who favored freeing and arming slaves, to Forrest who.. well, founded the Klan. And might have been involved in several massacres of captured Union soldiers of color. But he was a self-taught military genius, and certainly no coward. Lee was a genius and a gentleman, and finally surrendered rather than disband his army into dozens of guerrilla bands which would do yet more damage to his ravaged land.
      Or to quote Grant: ” I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
      Honor the individuals and show their cause with all its pride and warts, rather than create a tale of oppression that can be used, and we Progressives co-opt those descendants of the Rebels to the side of hearing all points of view, all arguments, and solving things by words rather than the sword.
      And if they go to the sword anyway to turn people into property, we’ll always have Atlanta. And plenty of sheet music for The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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      • Multiheaded says:

        “A retreating enemy should be allowed all the face he can carry off. Just as long as he doesn’t carry off anything else.”

        But we have actual history to look at here. The Southrons were allowed to keep a lot of face after the war, and soon carried off much more than that.

        On the other hand, despite the shameful lenience shown to many individual Nazis, the post-war Germany was thoroughly shaken up and remade by the victors, who took a hard line on (most) glorification of the past. Recently even the admiration of Rommel has seemingly stopped as newly discovered facts paint him in a less that noble light. And Germany is so clearly the better for it!

        Some kind of compromise might be possible, though, as long as the right side gets more status out of it. E.g. let them build it at the cost of black people likewise getting something threatening to the Southern Whites, like a Nat Turner Street.

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        • Andy says:

          Good point, but we’re now 150 years later, and all those who participated are dead. A lot of people (like me) have ancestors on both sides. Any monument to Wade Hampton would have to include the Red Shirt thugs who got him elected governor of South Carolina in 1876. I figure the Redeemers were defeated (in a delayed reaction) by the black and white Airborne troops escorting the Little Rock Nine to school. I’d prefer to fight the Southron Valor hardliners with stern love rather than pure force – say “yes, they were very complicated figures, in a very complicated history, and you will live in peace and obey the law, or we’ll bring back the bayonets.”
          I see where you’re going with suppressing Southron version of history, but suppressing such history gives the Southrons an additional grievance – more argument-ammunition, if you will. Acknowledging the valor AND the atrocities together is IMO a better way to take those raised in Southron environments and weld them to at least living with PRogressive changes.

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        • Andy says:

          Also (Sorry, edit time expired) I would play this to Confederates:
          Youtube
          and tell them, “Honor your past, sure. But if you try to break the law in the future, if you try to create and perpetuate a system where people are treated as things, you will hear this, along with the drumbeat of ten thousand marching boots. And we will wipe you off the face of the Earth and salt the ground so no more slave power can grow there. M’kay?”
          A little… emotional, rather than rational, but it gets the point across, yes?

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  33. Matt says:

    I think that I “decide difficult cases by trying to find general principles that can be applied evenhandedly regardless of which side [I] like or dislike”, but not in the way that this quiz wants me to. For each scenario my preference is whatever I judge to have the best expected outcome in terms of human and animal welfare. Often the appropriate way to make such judgments is to rely on procedural rules, fairness norms, and so on — but not always. This doesn’t mean that I’m making up the rules on the fly, but rather that I have no absolute rules for evaluating actions independently of their consequences. I would be a hypocrite if I gave conflicting answers to paired questions while pretending that my true justification was grounded in the relevant procedural norm; but not otherwise. (Due to the way the answers were phrased, in some cases truly agreeing with conflicting answer pairs may be incoherent. But I assume that we were supposed to pick the best available answer, rather than refusing to answer at all.)

    In any case, I certainly don’t fit your definition of an Object-Level Thinker. For example, in answering question 1 I gritted my teeth and chose option A, not because I wouldn’t like to see the Nazis fuck off forever, but because they’re not described as doing a great deal of harm, and suppressing undesirable-yet-peaceful protests under false pretences seems like a pretty dangerous precedent to set. (Doing this once is unlikely to have terrible consequences, but the risk seems high enough to outweigh the benefit.)

    (Incidentally, I’m not sure exactly what my score would have been, because I got a bit frustrated and gave up, but I was actually scoring quite well. However, I’m not confident that I wasn’t gaming the test to some extent – I had already seen the federalism/states rights graph, so the point of this post was fairly clear to me.)

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    • Matt says:

      Addenda:

      - It seems that at least a couple of the questions (I’m thinking of 6 and 12) could reasonably be answered ‘both A and B’.

      - I haven’t commented here before, but I’ve been reading for a while after following a link from Less Wrong. I want to thank you for being both entertaining and intellectually honest. (Not to mention prolific! I’m impressed by how frequently you produce high-quality posts.)

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  34. Daniel H says:

    This is one of the few political quizzes I’ve taken that actually makes me think. Most of my thought on political issues happens outside of these quizzes, which usually only activate cached thoughts.

    I noticed the pattern around 12, and suspected what you were doing around 2 because a) I’d seen you share that chart both here and on Twitter and b) the answer order didn’t make an easy scoring algorithm if it was about the extra-strength free speech you’ve been discussing recently. That can only be fixed by irresponsible use of time travel (or the responsible, less effective kind where you repost this or a link to it some time in the future when everybody’s forgotten about the chart you shared or you have a lot of new followers).

    As for the questions themselves, I was thinking at the meta level each time, and got all 6 points (or at least more than 5.5 points, if you allow fractional points and pay attention to what I say below for number 6). I’m not sure to what extent this was influenced by my knowing what was going on and to what extent this was influenced by thinking carefully instead of going with my cached first instincts.

    I did notice some inconsistencies in the questions which I have suggestions about, which I think were mostly addressed by others. The ones that are not are marked by an asterisk below. I’ll also include my political opinions on each pair, in case that helps put my suggestions in context.

    1. I am anti-Nazi and anti-(human rights violation). I answered A, because free speech is important.
    1a. The protesters provide a larger inconvenience in 11 than in 1. This makes me more inclined to move them, but not several miles. You could emphasize the “main entrance” part, making clear that there are perfectly usable side entrances, or you could say they’re blocking “one of the entrances to the building”.
    1b*. Connecting this with Exxon Mobil also connects it with the green movement, which can be confounded in object-level thinking. As most readers of this blog are probably on the “less oil” side of this movement and are against human rights violations, it’s probably not that relevant, but I’d still suggest making this another company.

    2. I am pro-(gay marriage) and anti-(abstinence only sex ed). I answered B, because free speech is important even when a non-government entity is threatening it.
    2a. It was unclear in both whether the person in question used their ties to the organization. I’m assuming the news anchor would not publish his editorials in connection with the network, and would preface them with “The views represented in this article are solely those of the author, John Doe, and do not necessarily represent those of his employer”. I’m assuming the principal isn’t doing this but isn’t mentioning his school at all. I would be willing to change my answer on either or both of these depending on the strength of the association between the person and the company. I think you could make this clearer by stating these or similar assumptions explicitly.
    2b. It is unclear whether we should be answering about moral rights or legal rights. Legally, they are both allowed to fire the person in question (to the best of my knowledge; IANAL). Morally, the school should bow to scientific data and teach a more comprehensive Sex Ed program, but failing that not fire the principal unless he either circumvents the curriculum or associates his opinions with the school’s.

    3. I am unsure of my thoughts on abortion (I am very pro-choice for early pregnancy, very pro-life for late pregnancy, and the dividing point depends on factual knowledge I don’t posses), and pro-(gun control) to the point of wanting to repeal the 2nd amendment. I answered B because it seems like states rights wins in both cases.
    3a. Abortion isn’t directly specified in the constitution, and the right to own guns is. You could instead make the first one about privacy and invoke the 4th amendment, but that has the problem of legal precedent not matching how I think most of the blog readers will feel.
    3b. It’s unclear how restrictive the laws are. I assumed the abortion one was along the lines of “only with the life of the mother clearly at risk”, and the gun control as still allowing most adults older than 21 to buy guns after something along the lines of a thorough and expensive background check, long waiting period, and perhaps mandatory safety class. You tried to ameliorate this by specifying in both cases that it’s a “broad” reading, but I think this could still be made more explicit.

    4. I am unfamiliar with the issues involving the Dalai Lama and China. I am against slavery, but pro-(secession rights), and mostly thought of the Civil War in terms of slavery when answering this question. I answered A, because the use of tax money should be decided by vote. This also is the only question I don’t have any symmetry comments on.

    5. I’m anti-(land mine), pro-(mine cleanup), and anti-(corporate welfare) regardless of the recipient. I chose B because both cases circumvent the political process, to the point where I think they should close the loophole and prevent fillibustering.
    5a*. Fillibustering is common, and I interpreted the UN loophole as a new discovery. This makes me want to exploit the loophole less and be more OK with the fillibustering, especially if the knowledge of the loophole could get to the rest of the representatives. This could be fixed by calling it a “commonly-used loophole” or similar.

    6. I am not in complete agreement with many principles of feminism, but agree with the hypothetical group in this case (I think I mostly agree with Scott about SJ issues, which is an indication that I should actively seek disagreeing sources for epistemic honesty, but that’s besides the point). I’m more left-leaning than the 1950s. I answered “A and some B” in both cases, because they’re within their rights but they’re being obnoxious about it. Given the issues below, I included more B in my answer for 16 than 6. All my issues with this are related, so I only propose the one fix.
    6a. The SOPAFAMPA threatens to do worse representational damage to the publishers than the feminist group does to Disney.
    6b*. The publishers don’t have as much control of the books they publish (at least in my mind; I’m not sure to what extent my model of publishing matches reality): the authors have most of the control initially. The publishers can say “We won’t publish unless you make change x”, and the authors can then say “Fine, then, don’t publish” or make change x, but x can’t be too big relative to the size of the initial story. In contrast, Disney is in charge of everything from writing to the DVD release.
    6c. The SOPAFAMPA is arguing that work that has been done should not be published; the feminist group is arguing that the work should not be done in the first place.
    The fix I see for all of these is to choose movies and TV shows, or some other pair of industries where the content is clearly pre-funded, and to change the past example to interracial marriage or similar. Perhaps have people dislike Star Trek because it has a black woman as a major character.

    In addition to the specific issues, there’s the possibility that somebody reads this and doesn’t follow the correlation on a pair of issues (e.g., for number 5, somebody could support both corporate welfare and land mine cleanup, and thus would object-level-want to exploit the loophole and fillibuster). I don’t think you can fix that without making it obvious what the quiz is, though.

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  35. Anonymous says:

    1, a
    2, A celebrity’s job description involves garnering positive responses from the public, and a celebrity’s political views affect that. So a celebrity’s political views are salient to the quality of his work, and would justify firing him even under a “b” answer.
    3, a
    4, unanswerable as posed. Option a relates to whether the town should do as it pleases. Option b relates to what the town should please to do. You could consistently choose a and b simultaneously. Also, it is unclear what “the town” means as the town’s Chinese minority is a subgroup of “the town” under most definitions.
    5, a, because I reject the implicit moral valence of the term “loophole.”
    6, not answerable as posed. Proper democratic means can be aimed at non-problems, obnoxious, bullying, and/or deserving of condemnation.
    11, a. Feeling threatened isn’t the same as being threatened. If it turns out that the execs are actually under threat, move the protesters then.
    12, If part of the principal’s job duties are to exemplify certain values for his students, his off-hours behavior may affect his job duties.
    13, now you’re just making me mad. One can believe that the Supreme Court got a case wrong on grounds other than federalism.
    14, Problematic. To the extent that “a” asks for a judgment on whether a municipality should follow majority opinion over minority objection, obviously I endorse it as the alternative is madness. To the extent that “b” asks whether, in the specific fact pattern, the majority should change it’s opinion, I endorse it as well.
    15, a. But acceptable, not commendable.
    16, what is with these compound answers? They are within their rights. They didn’t violate the first amendment. They’re not doing their patriotic duty, they’re idiots. Their actions will have a chilling effect (clearly that is the point).

    I’m thinking that I got 6 points out of 6, in that I when I objected to the questions I did so for consistent reasons between the paired questions.

    The most problematic pairing up there is 3 and 13. There are multiple meta-level principles at play in a constitutional decision, and your survey design concludes that someone is using object-level reasoning if they adopt a principle other than federalism. That’s objectively false.

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  36. Got 3. Balanced between object and meta-level. A lot of them I had no opinion on, though.

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  37. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I got 4. Like ozy I think I deserve some sort of backwards object level thinking award for siding with leaving the neo-nazi’s alone but taking issue with the worker’s rights activists which was 1(1).

    No doubt meta-level thinking is more prized around here, since we are mostly a community centered around truth seeking. But I am sure that people like Arthur Chu would defend object level thinking on the grounds that it is a better strategy for winning at all costs.

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  38. Vaniver says:

    5/6. The one where I was ‘object’ was the abortion/guns Constitutional case, and I don’t think there’s a good replacement for it- in part because it looks like the conservatives mostly have the Constitution right and the liberals mostly have the Constitution wrong (with no commentary on which one makes for superior governance, except that it’s a separate issue from legal correctness). But I would accept the argument that reasoning from the Constitution, rather than from the principles the Constitution was supposed to enshrine, represents object-level thinking instead of meta-level thinking. (Actually, I wonder if that’s a useful example of the difficulty of communicating utility functions to AIs.)

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  39. Tarn Somervell says:

    I thought it was fairly obvious what you were doing, but the differences made it harder to game anyway I think.

    Also, once or twice I thought things along the lines of:

    c) The school board is acting within its rights, but they should back off.

    It may be important to better distinguish between what I think the law should be and what I think people should do.

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  40. Sniffnoy says:

    I got 4/6. I did not explicitly realize that this was a test of consistency, but I did notice on multiple occasions that “Hm, this question is a lot like a previous question, in order to be consistent I should pick…”.

    Some of these were quite hard to decide between, and I probably would have picked “both” if I hadn’t interpreted it as forced-choice (which is, after all, how it was supposed to be interpreted). E.g. on question 6 I only chose B because of the bit that said “accusing everyone in Disney of sexism”; if they were just marches complaining about what they considered the problem, I wouldn’t have. But then it needed that bit to be analogous to 16. So, yay, meta-level thinking!

    Of course, some of these aren’t as analogous as you may have wanted them to be; other commenters have pointed out a number of disanalogies already — for pair 5, filibuster is an established tradition, for pair 3, no right to abort pregnancies in the actual text of the constitution… well, so, actually — it’s not really clear to me just what overall distinction of principle you were trying to get at in question 3. Because it looks to me like there are several possible. Like, is it supposed to be central control vs. local control? I guess the obvious one is that it’s about “states’ rights”, but, well, there are multiple reasons a person could be for states’ rights. It could be because they believe in local control, in which case the two look analogous; but it could also be because of some idea that the USA is supposed to be a union of separate states, a sort of historical argument, in which case they look quite different, because New York City is not a state. In many states in the US, municipalities only have the powers granted to them by the states, and this is the default way of things; if states want to have “home rule”, where cities get to do what they want so long as it doesn’t go against the state or federal government, they have to pass a law saying so. Now, New York does in fact have “home rule”, but to someone coming at this from a historical point of view, where it’s not local control that’s key but literally state control, a city law might just not have quite the same status as a state law. (Note: I know about this only from reading Wikipedia. Lawyers, please correct me if I am wrong.) It could also be about “judicial activism”, but as others have pointed out, it’s pretty easy to say B on 3 and A on 13 due to a consistent position against judicial activism. There are probably other ways of splitting it too; it’s kind of weird. Any chance we could get an explanation of just what you were thinking?

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  41. Zephyr1011 says:

    I accidentally figured out what you were doing on Q3, as I found myself being biased by being pro-choice and respun the question to be the Supreme Court banning abortions to eliminate that.

    I got 5, as my answers from 1&11 differed, and I don’t think that they really work together as a pair, since they’re somewhat different scenarios. In 1, the Neo-Nazis are peacefully protesting, but in 11 they are affecting the ability of people to live their lives and go to their jobs. I think that 1 could be improved with something like:

    “Neo-Nazis are holding a demonstration in a small town, waving swastikas around and shouting about Hitler. They seem to be pretty peaceful so far, although you have been receiving complaints from citizens that they feel threatened by their presence, and cannot go near that area, which affects their ability to get to work. As they are peacefully protesting, the First Amendment says you probably can’t get rid of them. However, their demonstration seems to be near a main street and it could be a minor inconvenience to the traffic trying to go through.”

    Although you could probably change that to be a bit less obvious.

    Incidentally, i found myself unable to answer 3 and 13, since as a UK citizen, I don’t really know what powers the Supreme Court is supposed to have and so no opinion either way on that issue. And 6 seemed something of a false dichotomy, as I in no way agree with the feminists or would ever praise them, but I think that they are following proper diplomatic channels.

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    • Brian says:

      as a UK citizen, I don’t really know what powers the Supreme Court is supposed to have and so no opinion either way on that issue.

      The Supreme Court’s basically got two functions: first, it has the last word on the interpretation of ambiguous points within American law; and second, it’s supposed to ensure that laws are consistent with the government’s powers as granted by the Constitution, and to strike them (or parts of them) down when they fail that test. It can only rule on cases which have percolated up through the lower courts, and that generally only happens when there’s a question about a law’s interpretation or legitimacy; also, it doesn’t have the power to make new laws or alter the text of existing ones, but it can get pretty creative in its interpretations or in selectively invalidating law. While it’s theoretically supposed to be a nonaligned body, Supreme Court justices are generally understood to act according to political motives, and therefore fights over the confirmation of appointees (who serve for life) can get pretty heated.

      It’s fairly common in American politics for a case regarding some ideologically problematic law (especially one touching in some way on limits on government powers) to be pushed through the court system in hopes that the Supremes will decide to weaken it or strike it down; it’s not terribly common for them to actually do so, but when they do it can alter the political landscape profoundly. Roe v. Wade, which established abortion rights in the US, is a particularly famous case of this. More recent examples include Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (campaign funding limits) and DC v. Heller (gun rights).

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  42. Kiboh says:

    I got 3/6, but I missed two of those points on 2-and-12 and 5-and-15 for meta-level reasons (which Brian already brought up), and I ‘failed’ 5-and-15 in object-level favour of the sides I disagree with. I don’t know what changes would improve those questions: maybe make it clear that the principal is speaking out somewhere that the people connected to his day job are likely to hear him, and say that the loophole in the UN situation is a time-hallowed (if still kind-of-unreasonable) tactic which delegates from multiple countries have used before?

    I did, however, legitimately mess up on 3-and-13, basically because I identified people-having-access-to-abortion as, um, “not just a mere political issue”, while being totally okay with gun control. I have justifications and excuses, and I think some of them are pretty good, but none of them change the fact that I was willing to defect on the Prisoners’ Dilemma for reasons that seem unfair in hindsight. I guess I need to rethink some things.

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  43. Kaj Sotala says:

    Four points, though I figured out what you were doing by question 13, so that might have influenced me.

    I mentally translated the questions about the Supreme Court and the Constitution into questions about how much power the courts of the European Union should have over EU member states. Which is probably not really analogous at all, but if I hadn’t done that I’d have been forced to pick my answers at random.

    I lost points on Q2/12, where I thought that the news anchor’s opinions were irrelevant for his job performance but the principal’s opinions were relevant, and on Q6/16, where it felt like accusing someone of being a Commie in the 1950s would be a lot worse than accusing someone of sexism in the 2010s.

    Also, in Q6, the feminists were demanding that one company making hugely influential movies should do different kinds of movies for a change, whereas in Q16, SOPAFAMPA was demanding that every publisher should stop publishing any Communist-leaning books entirely. There’s a huge difference between demanding *one* company to change its behavior and demanding a widespread suppression of *any* work promoting a particular opinion.

    For 2/12, I thought that JTHM’s suggestion of how to fix this was good:

    > For a direct comparison, the two organizations both need to either be in the business of selling a particular political opinion which their employee is known to oppose; or they both need to have a reputation for political neutrality which their employee is undermining; or they both need to have no particular need to be affiliated or unaffiliated with any specific political position.

    Also, make it explicit whether the leadership of the organization thinks that they’re firing someone for something job-related or not. In Q2 the question implied that the leadership just didn’t like the opinions, where as in Q12 the leadership explicitly said that they were firing the principal because it hampered his ability to do his job.

    For Q6/Q16, you could change it so that the feminists are demanding legislation that outright outlaws some kinds of works. While a demand to outlaw “hero saves princess” stories doesn’t strike me as particularly realistic, an attempt to expand current legal restrictions on pornography might work.

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    • Intrism says:

      an attempt to expand current legal restrictions on pornography might work.

      That’s a weird example, because when policies like that are actually proposed they tend to originate from the right, or at best from a hard left/center right coalition.

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  44. Aris Katsaris says:

    I got a 5.

    6a/16b is the only one I got an “inconsistent” answer for.

    Btw I’d be happy with the outright banning of NeoNazis, but I’d want it an explicit and honest ban, not done for pretend-reasons with blocking traffic.

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  45. houseboatonstyx says:

    I don’t do well on an a) vs b) sort of test, because on most questions I fall into a Middle Way, trying to resolve the conflict. Outcome-wise, well, outraging what citizens consider their principle is not likely to have the best outcome, regardless of what I think of their principle, or of principles in general. For example, getting the land-mines removed sooner rather than later would save some lives; but the ill will caused by a sneaky vote would probably cause more damage in the long run (UN loss of credibility, for one thing).

    I’d let the Nazis march peacefully, with extra police standing by to keep things peaceful, but steer them away from Jewish neighborhoods.

    A news anchor is somewhat famous as a face of the organization; if he’s becoming famous outside as a face of something else, that could cause confusion. Also, if he feels so strongly about a current issue, he might be biased in his news coverage as well.
    A school principal is basically an administrator, well known only to the students. After hours, he’s speaking to a different audience. So there would be less justification for firing the principal.

    In general I’m in favor of states’ rights. Yay Oregon, Washington, and Colorado! Boo Kansas and Georgia! But better have both extremes, than neither extreme.

    A march big enough to block streets (whether feminist or MLK) could be bullying local citizens, but can’t do Disney much harm. In the 1950s, accusing someone of being a Commie could do zim a lot of harm.

    On the statue question, I like someone’s answer, of the government staying out of it and letting each side raise their own funds for doing what they want on private land. (Unofficially I’d hope they would all forget the idea, rather than building statues that would probably get vandalized.)

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  46. ckp says:

    For 3/13, I didn’t think the situations were analogous because the 2nd Amendment is very explicit (and also doesn’t mention WHO is disallowed from infringing the right, so by implication the Federal government has the right to strike down state laws that infringe it?) and I can’t find anything similar that defends the right to abort. I did know about the 9th Amendment but I wasn’t sure that abortion fell under it, so I put that the Supreme Court should back off.

    I just looked now and found that 9th Amendment was used to support Roe vs Wade, but that there’s also some controversy over it. As I’m not a US citizen and my knowledge of American constitutional law comes from about 10 minutes of wikipedia, I’m not confident at all on the strength of this argument, but it’s my gut feeling.

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    • Brian says:

      doesn’t mention WHO is disallowed from infringing the right, so by implication the Federal government has the right to strike down state laws that infringe it?

      Typically language like “shall not be infringed” in the Constitution is interpreted to refer to the federal government; however, the first (“Equal Protection”) clause of the 14th Amendment provides a loophole whereby it can be extended to state and local governments. (The 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War, and the clause was designed to prevent an end-run around Reconstruction laws by the Southern states, but it’s been extended far past that.)

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  47. Symmetry says:

    For 2/12 and 5/15 there are Schelling fence reasons to treat them differently. If a procedural trick is widely used there’s no reason not to use it yourself, but it’s still making things worse for everyone to be the first to use it.

    Likewise for 5/15, there’s a Schelling fence around the government firing anybody for their out of work positions which isn’t there for private companies.

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    • Brian says:

      Likewise for 5/15, there’s a Schelling fence around the government firing anybody for their out of work positions which isn’t there for private companies.

      I assume you mean 2/12? 5/15 is the filibuster/UN loophole pair.

      Presuming you do, though, they’re both private companies; question 15 specifies a private school.

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  48. Oligopsony says:

    I’m actually even more of an object-level thinker than this test implies, because there were cases where the object-level considerations aligned where you didn’t intend them to; I have object-level dislike for lamas and Confederates for basically identical reasons. (I have sophisticated meta-level justifications for all this, but don’t we all.)

    I should note, however, that the stated reasons in the answers are mostly meta-level, which makes the object-level test-taker look like a hypocrite, i.e., that the reason that we shouldn’t honor Confederates is that it might offend a minority of the population. No, we shouldn’t honor Confederates because fuck the Confederacy.

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    • Multiheaded says:

      I should note, however, that the stated reasons in the answers are mostly meta-level, which makes the object-level test-taker look like a hypocrite, i.e., that the reason that we shouldn’t honor Confederates is that it might offend a minority of the population. No, we shouldn’t honor Confederates because fuck the Confederacy.

      Hear hear. Exactly what I was thinking. (On other issues here, I’m meta and liberal-leaning, but the ACW deserves special treatment.)

      P.S. Yeah, I give few fucks about Tibet, and I know enough to know it’s nothing like Palestine.

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  49. Andy says:

    1) A, but send police or volunteers to direct traffic around the demonstration
    2) A, as long as the news station is privately owned, though I would encourage the station to take a more “we agree to disagree” tack. Perhaps matching his contributions to NOM with contributions to PFLAG.
    3) A
    4) B, especially if the visit can be scaled down step by step in dialogue with the Chinese community.
    5) B. Process matters.
    6) B, as existing means are in fact working to change Disney to making movies with strong heroes and heroines (Brave, Frozen)
    —Wish I could format this in two columns, but such is life.
    11) A, but arrest protesters for blocking entrances, just as I would want abortion protesters arrested for blocking the entrance to a clinic. Work with protest organizers to keep away from implicit or explicit threats, perhaps in exchange for organziing a meeting between protest organizers and Exxon employees, so they can actually talk to each other instead of shouting at each other.
    12) A, but only because this is a private school, and therefore probably religious. Encourage media to talk up the principal’s resume, and try to get her hired somewhere else where she can do good work. Or prevail on Planned Parenthood to hire her directly.
    13) A, but encourage a rewriting of the 2nd Amendment to make the damn thing more modern and MUCH less vague. PErhaps putting gun control in the hands of the states or something.
    14) A, but encourage African-American leaders to use outrage to generate funds toward a monument commemorating black soldiers who fought for the Union. Maybe even get both groups to collaborate on a museum showing both complicated sides of the Civil War, but that’s probably a bit of a pipe dream.
    15) A, but encourage Democrats to use his filibuster to attack corporate welfare in the press, dig up his campaign finances and make it clear how much he’s getting paid to filibuster, and target him for defeat in the next election.
    16) B, and encourage SOPAFAMPA to use parody rather than direct chilling to poke holes in arguments they consider Communist rather than being bullying dicks.

    1-11: A-A
    2-12: A-A
    3-13: A-A
    4-14: B-A
    5-15: B-A
    6-16: B-B

    4 Points. Woo, I’m Meta! Barely.
    I tried for each to find a way to negotiate to keep principles while supporting both sides in disparate objectives – for #1, letting the Neo-Nazis have their protest, while making sure various people can get to school/work/etc rather than being tied up in traffic.

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  50. Moshe Zadka says:

    I got 5/6, so I’m pretty solidly in the second camp. The only point I lost was on the Patriotic America vs. Feminists.

    I felt like feminist request was more reasonable (balance for a big company’s selection criterion vs. “nothing” for a whole industry), and also being labeled as a commie in the 1950s seems worse than being labeled as a sexist in modern America.

    I guess you can make them equivalent by making the feminists more extreme — instead of taking issues with one company, they can take issue with the industry, and say that nobody should be making movies where the dashing male hero saves the lady. It’s totally hind-sight bias on my part, of course, but I feel like in that case I would have voted that I don’t like what the feminists are doing either :)

    [As full disclosure, here are my answers:
    1 a 2 a 3 a 4 a 5 b 6 a 11 a 12 a 13 a 14 a 15 b 16 b ]

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  51. Brian Donohue says:

    5 out of 6.

    1/11: A. Free speech.

    2/12: A. Both employers have a legitimate interest in outside behavior for these positions. So long as this is understood upfront…

    6/16: A. Free speech. Tactics might be offensive, but they’re legal.

    3/13: B. Reach of Supreme Court. How much democracy is too much? YMMV. Abortion and gun rights aren’t as clear cut to me as, say, Free Speech.

    4/14: B. Local governments shouldn’t interpose themselves in free speech arguments. If citizens want these things, they can do them privately.

    5/15: A/B. At the UN level, there are no principles operating. At the federal government level, the filibuster is anti-democratic and should go away.

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    • Andy says:

      At the federal government level, the filibuster is anti-democratic and should go away.

      I disagree. The filibuster in its current form is broken, because it requires nearly no effort, but the original intent – talk, and keep talking, and require a supermajority to get on with the voting – is, in my opinion, a necessary undemocratic brake on democracy. It ensures that if there’s enough conviction among a large minority, that minority can’t be completely silenced and run over.

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      • Brian Donohue says:

        Perhaps. Our government is not a democracy- it’s a republic with democratic elements, the chief of which is the “representative democracy” of the House of Representatives. The Senate, as originally conceived, was a brake on democracy. How much of a brake is appropriate? Well, we decided it was originally TOO undemocratic, so Senators are now directly elected rather than elected by state legislators. Then the filibuster came around to shove the Senate back in an anti-democratic direction. I’m not sure of its origins, but I think it was some outgrowth of Robert’s Rules of Order or somesuch, and later immortalized on screen by Jimmy Stewart.

        Alexander Hamilton wrote some convincing stuff about the dangers of paralysis that supermajority requirements can bring in their train. Convincing to me anyway.

        If you think the Senate is TOO democratic, you’ll like the filibuster- I don’t.

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        • Andy says:

          I don’t like it much, but I think like Jimmy Stewart and Wendy Davis, you have to expend some effort and put yourself out there, on record, as opposing whatever you’re opposing. And the theater can backfire. In the case in the post, the filibustering Republican legislator would expose himself to attack of supporting corporate welfare, and specific attacks on whoever’s donated money to him and his party.

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      • Brian Donohue says:

        Andy, I appreciate your concern about the majority steamrolling a minority. To me, this is addressed mainly by agreeing on a set of rights that are simply not up for a vote.

        Again, different people have different views on what rights get included here, which would affect answers to #3 and #13 for example.

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        • Andy says:

          To me, this is addressed mainly by agreeing on a set of rights that are simply not up for a vote.

          I agree, but this reminds me of Scott’s series on virtue ethics: how do you determine which rights are and are not up for a vote?
          Hell, the right to not be property, and the right to be legally equal regardless of skin color, were only achieved, at last, and codified by voting on them. Lots and lots of votes, and arduous procedures, requiring near-unanimity.

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        • Brian Donohue says:

          Andy, Interesting. I’ve never made the connection before between this issue and, how to put it, Godel, Escher Bach. The inability to stand outside a system and establish ground rules.

          Hard core consequentialism always sets off a little bell in the back of my head. To me, I start with Mill’s idea of a ‘right’- doing something that doesn’t affect others. So, freedom of thought and conscience seem rock solid.

          Freedom to express thoughts and opinions – speech – is a bit dicier (feelings will be hurt), but I feel like without broad agreement on this right, we’ll never get anywhere. Perhaps there is a leap of faith on my part embedded here that ‘this gives us the best chance that the truth will out’.

          Maybe that’s enough for ground rules, and as for the rest of ‘what we agree is beyond a vote’, this is itself a fluid concept that is endlessly hashed out over time. Seems to me that’s sorta what happens, although their are occasional assaults on speech itself in the endless warring of ideas.

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  52. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Hmm, a lot of commenters are defending their consistency in answering the question pairs – and some pretty good points have been made.

    However, almost no one is defending their right to be inconsistent which I think is possibly a reasonable position.

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    • Andy says:

      Oligopsony and Multiheaded both said along the lines of:

      No, we shouldn’t honor Confederates because fuck the Confederacy.

      Which I see as defending a right to be inconsistent. But I might be wrong.
      (Olig, Multi, feel free to correct me on this if I have erred!)

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      • Multiheaded says:

        Yeah, except that I’m always torn between somewhat-radical, meta-justified liberalism and off-with-their-heads Jacobinism.

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      • Oligopsony says:

        Inconsistency here depends upon the reasons offered. If you uphold X on grounds of procedure but fail to uphold Y when the procedural aspects are identical, that is indeed inconsistent. But if you uphold X and fail to uphold Y for aspects in which they are dissimilar, then that’s (at least potentially) perfectly consistent. By “fuck the Confederacy” I mean that the Confederacy is bad substantively (for further reasons, obviously, not just substantively,) and that this is a good reason not to honor it, as opposed to procedure, which strikes me as subject to basically prudential concerns. (In areas like judge-made law where precedent in formally/procedurally identical cases it may do very well to be concerned primarily with the procedural level, but that’s an essentially tactical consideration.) Of course I could be misreading what you mean by consistency here.

        I would be very surprised if all my views were perfectly consistent! But I’d rather not have a right to my inconsistencies (I think.) May they be rooted out!

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    • Okay, I’ll do that. I’m willing to be inconsistent on the Supreme Court question, because the Second Amendment was a terrible mistake and unprincipled disregard for it is the lesser of two evils.

      (I’m inclined to be “consistent” on all the other questions, except the Dali Lama / Confederate generals question, where I agree with what other people have been saying about it.)

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      • Andy says:

        because the Second Amendment was a terrible mistake and unprincipled disregard for it is the lesser of two evils.

        But couldn’t unprincipled disregard of the Second Amendment justify unprincipled disregard of the First? Fourth? Thirteenth?
        I agree, the Second is a terribly written amendment. But the Constitution includes a process for amending the amendments – look at Eighteen and Twenty-One. So instead of ignoring the Second, it might be a better allegiance to constitutional principles to put forward a replacement amendment – perhaps giving states the right to control guns within their own borders, but the federal government the right to control movement of weapons across borders. And then pushing and making an all-out effort to get it passed.

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        • Randy M says:

          “So instead of ignoring the Second, it might be a better allegiance to constitutional principles to put forward a replacement amendment ”

          I like how you say “better” there, as if the alternative (of blatantly disregarding the amendment) is at all an example of any sort of allegiance to constitutional principles or any sort of rule of law.

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    • ozymandias says:

      I got lucky on the Supreme Court questions, since I’m (tentatively) pro-gun rights and (extremely) pro-abortion, but I am willing to defend my “I am upset by Supreme Court decisions I don’t like and in favor of Supreme Court decisions I like” position.

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      • Andy says:

        I am willing to defend my “I am upset by Supreme Court decisions I don’t like and in favor of Supreme Court decisions I like” position.

        This is a reasonable position. I feel that the correct reaction to Supreme Court decisions one does not like is to attempt to amend the Constitution – patch the Supreme Court’s operating system, if you will – rather than yell at the screen.

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        • ozymandias says:

          I feel like the whole point of the Supreme Court is that we don’t have to go through the constitutional amendment process every time we want an opinion on “do campaign donations count as free speech?” or “does a ban on gay marriage violate the equal protection clause?” I think the Supreme Court should, and does, look at not just the constitutional precedent but the effects of the law. And of course if I feel like they got the wrong answer I am annoyed.

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        • Andy says:

          I agree, but when (as on the Second Amendment or abortion) when the Court can’t get a solution that people can live with for multiple decades, then it’s time to break out the quills and get a-amending.

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        • Randy M says:

          Are you assuming that there is one answer everyone could live with?

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        • ozymandias says:

          Yes, I feel like the actual problem with abortion is that half of America thinks the other half of America supports murdering millions of people.

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        • suntzuanime says:

          The murder isn’t the problem, of course. Getting upset about it is.

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        • ozymandias says:

          Suntzuanime, hat is not a very charitable interpretation of my comment. I was saying that while Andy seems to be claiming that the reason there is such controversy over abortion is that it is decided by the Supreme Court rather than amendments, I believe that the actual reason is that half of America thinks the other half of America supports genocide, a conflict which is unlikely to be resolved by a constitutional amendment.

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        • Andy says:

          Andy seems to be claiming that the reason there is such controversy over abortion is that it is decided by the Supreme Court rather than amendments, I believe that the actual reason is that half of America thinks the other half of America supports genocide, a conflict which is unlikely to be resolved by a constitutional amendment.

          A good point, but the amendment process could buy enough time to invent 100% reliable contraceptive implants, and irritate enough people to make them effectively mandatory. Or to invent working artificial wombs. This is probably a better way to buy time than having a war over the issue, which seems to be the alternative.
          My point was badly phased and ill-considered, but could be summarized as: “the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade provided an unfortunate fracture point in America’s culture wars.” But on reflection, that fracture was likely to happen anyway, Roe v Wade was just the spark in the powder keg.

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        • Patrick says:

          Half of America *professes* that the other half favors genocide. Not *thinks.* There’s a difference. A sort of suspension of disbelief that intervenes between thought and action so that you act consistently with the things you profess when in a social context that triggers the reasons you’ve elected to profess what you have, but where your actions become inconsistent with professed belief when away from triggering stimuli.

          For example, my Jehovah’s Witness high school friend’s family “professed” that the world would end before he would ever get to go to college, so there was no point on planning for it. And yet when he reached college age, they’d just happened to have saved up a bit of money to pay for it, almost as if by accident.

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  53. Aiyen says:

    I got a 3, probably because I was explicitly trying to use object level thinking much of the time. Applying meta level principles regardless of whether the result seems positive or not has the advantage of preserving a strong Schelling point against aggression by groups with differing values, but it only makes sense when there is reason to expect reciprocity, and when the value of that reciprocity exceeds the value of making what seem to be good decisions on an object level. Also, some of the question pairs struck me as having differing answers under the same general principle.

    1/11-blocking traffic is a substantial utility loss; even if the annoyance suffered by any given driver is small, there are a lot of drivers passing through! Blocking the door to a building that only a small number of executives are using, and will only be using a few times a day, seems like a much smaller inconvenience, and therefore I backed free speech. (utilitarianism with a value on free speech, but was not counted as consistent)

    2/12-firing someone for their beliefs, expressed on their own time, is a clear violation of freedom of speech. Without any mitigating factors like a huge utility gain from the firing, it is not a good idea. (consistency point)

    3/13-the constitution is extremely vague in places, and with lawyers to twist the words becomes vaguer still. If it were possible to restrict the courts to following the letter of the law, this might make a Schelling point worth defending, even at the cost of some sub-optimal decisions. However, in the real world, the courts are already so inconsistent that there is very little loss in simply picking whichever side appears to yield the most value. As I consider abortion to be immoral (a minority position here, and indeed among most rationalists, so I suspect I may be making an error; anyone with good arguments in favor of abortion are more than welcome. Preferably not in this thread though, so we don’t derail it.), I upheld the restriction on it, and struck down the gun control law on the grounds that such laws tend to raise gun violence according to most statistics that I’ve seen (again, anyone with opposing statistics is welcome; if I’m wrong I want to know!). (Consequentialism, but was not counted as consistent)

    4/14-celebrating the Dalai Lama seems like the right choice on both object and meta levels. He’s generally considered a worthwhile leader, and while any offense to the Chinese is unfortunate, supporting the community’s wishes in a case where no great harm to the minority is done seems like a good principle. Erecting the monument gave me pause, but the intent isn’t to glorify slavery or any other horrific cause, it’s to celebrate the talent of the town’s generals. Again, the harm to the African minority should be small, so honoring the will of the people seems worthwhile. (consistency point)

    5/15-as with the Supreme Court, if the rule of law was followed consistently enough to yield a strong Schelling point, it might be worth giving the North Koreans a say on the landmine ban, in exchange for people not using underhanded tactics to promote harmful laws. However, this is not a Schelling point currently in use, and thus we should not sacrifice to maintain it unless that changes. As for the filibuster, it is violating the intent of the law to a poor result, and neither object nor principle based reasoning can support it. (Consequentialism in the absence of a strong Schelling point, but not counted as consistent).

    6/16-both the feminists and the patriots are using tactics inimical to the marketplace of ideas. In a conflict of ideology in a moderately open society, it is generally the view that actually addresses it’s opponents that wins, not the one that tries to silence them. Silencing can work in a much more restrictive setting, but we neither have one nor desire one, so they are violating a strong Schelling point while gaining little or nothing for their causes. Furthermore, both causes are objectionable, so they fail on an object level as well! (consistency point)

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  54. Nisan Stiennon says:

    I scored low when I interpreted the questions as “would you praise or condemn this action?”, and I scored high when I interpreted them as “would you vote for a law which would make this action impossible?”

    I think this is because from a consequentialist perspective, praise and condemnation are not a matter of judging whether acts are good or bad, but rather changing what people feel is acceptable. And in praising or condemning, we can talk about object-level or meta-level concerns.

    I condemn the school board’s action, not because they should ignore the principal’s political beliefs, but because contraception is good, and so their implicit criticism of contraception is bad. And in condemning their action, I would talk about contraception, not about when it’s okay to fire someone in general. This condemnation would have the effect of making contraception more available. Similarly in praising or condemning Supreme Court decisions, protesters, etc.

    So I think there’s virtue in supporting federalism, and virtue in supporting states’ rights, and virtue in saying “I will praise any politician or judge that tries to effect marriage equality”. The real viciousness lies in thinking one is a federalist, and then switching when one sees which way things are going.

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  55. Philo says:

    Question 6 was hard for me to answer, as the choices for the question were both conjucted with whether they “deserve praise/condemnation.” I found this hard to answer because while I thought they were using proper channels, I didn’t necessarily think that their actions deserved praise; that is a separate question.

    Question 12 was also difficult for me to answer as I believed the school board was acting within their rights, yet should still back off.

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  56. Hmm. I have a hard time taking this poll seriously, because the answers to the questions don’t seem to take themselves very seriously. It doesn’t mesh with the ‘deontic rules are heuristics’ perspective, and to translate between the two perspectives we have to already know whether we are (or want to give evidence we are) object v. meta.

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    • Since I’ve given so many criticisms, I think I owe you a complete rewrite of the quiz, as I would have done it. But I know you stop reading comment threads after a while, so I’ll only put in the effort if you’re interested enough in my take to ask for it.

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  57. Sam Rosen says:

    I differ on 5/15, but I have a meta-principle that justifies this. You follow the rules and play nice, regardless of whether your team wins, unless you have VERY strong evidence that your opponent is a psychopath and the stakes are incredibly high (measured in thousands of lives). With North Korea the stakes are incredibly high and you are dealing with a psychopath. No need to play fair.

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  58. Drew Hardies says:

    The reasoning on #5 seems a little inconsistent to me. In particular, the ‘typical’ and ‘morally acceptable’ senses of ‘normal’ seem to be getting conflated.

    There’s nothing intrinsically anti-process about the UN being able to pass rules over the objection of a single country. They could set the threshold at 2 without being unconscionably anti-democratic.

    So, if there’s an objection it has to be that people aren’t following the rules they agreed to. Except, the question specifies that there’s a ‘loophole’. A midnight vote (for instance) might be atypical. But by construction, the vote doesn’t violate the letter of the rules.

    All North Korea is left with is an impassioned defense of what they’d like the rules to be.

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  59. Samuel Skinner says:

    Only 6 and 16 required me to think to try to work through dissonance. The difference between the feminists and the publisher is scale, depth (feminism is a lot simpler and easier to measure than leftism), openness and effectiveness, but I realized that letting people engage in politics only when they can’t have an effect is a bit crazy. The secrecy is also worrying, but given the threat is exposure it is actually generous of them to go to the publisher first and attempt self-monitoring.

    Is there anything I’m missing? If they are only going after writers who produce fiction and I guess I would be fine with that, but it seems more likely to extend to non-fiction and reduce the amount of things that are politically acceptable to talk about.

    Maybe the rule I’m using is the amount of penetration an ideology has- trying to bring it to attention is fine, but using its power to smother the competition from even being heard is not. Anyone else follow this line of thought?

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  60. Shmi Nux says:

    Sorry, I was unable to do the quiz due to my brain yelling FALSE DILEMMA!!!

    - You don’t need to break up the demonstration, just ask them to avoid the main streets.

    - The news network should have a chat with the anchor discussing how to make sure that personal opinions are not confused with the official policy and do not affect the bottom line.

    - The Supreme Court should refer the case back to the state level for a narrower interpretation of the Constitution

    - The town leaders should meet with the Chinese groups and discuss their concerns, maybe tone down the celebration a bit and let the protesters demonstrate.

    - The UN should change the rules to exclude procedural maneuvering like that. Well, I suppose in this case it should follow the spirit of the rules.

    - Disney could meet with the feminist groups, acknowledge their concerns and offer to make more movies with a strong female lead if there is a marked imbalance.

    - Similarly, Exxon executives could diffuse the situation by offering to discuss the protesters’ concerns, explain their approach and see if there is some common ground.

    - Similarly to the news anchor case, the activist planned parenthood principal should clarify his contract with the board and whether controversial off-duty activities can be structured in a way which does not negatively affect the school.

    And so on. …I’m surprised that people willingly fall into your trap here.

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    • MugaSofer says:

      I see what you mean, but …

      “The news network should have a chat with the anchor … The Supreme Court should refer the case back to the state level … The town leaders should meet with the Chinese groups and discuss their concerns … Disney could meet with the feminist groups … Exxon executives could diffuse the situation …”

      Presumably this failed, and/or one side didn’t co-operate.

      “The UN should change the rules to exclude procedural maneuvering like that. Well, I suppose in this case it should follow the spirit of the rules.”

      Since this is, in fact, one of the options, that’s not a false dilemma.

      “You don’t need to break up the demonstration, just ask them to avoid the main streets.”

      … which is analogous to asking the Exxon protesters to move away from the executives, no?

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  61. Furslid says:

    Very nice job with some of the parallels. I even wanted to answer both to questions 6&16 because non-state censorship is odious, but ought to be legal. I was also indecisive on 3&13, because I’m unsure how good allowing the supreme court to overrule state legislatures in grey areas of constitutional law will be.

    Possible other questions. They may be a little too close in parallels.

    X:An American military plane flying over Iraq suffers a mechanical breakdown and crashes just inside the boarders of Iran. The Iranian government imprisons the pilot as an enemy of Islam and keeps the wreckage to reverse engineer any surviving technology.
    a) Iran is unjustified. As the crash was accidental and the plane was not being used in hostilities against Iran, it must be returned.
    b) Iran is within its rights. Regardless of why, it is a military incursion. The plane and pilot are within Iranian jurisdiction.

    1X: A North Korean patrol boat is caught in a storm and runs aground in Taiwan. The Taiwanese government arrests its crew for espionage and impounds the boat.
    a) As this was due to weather, rather than malice Taiwan must allow the patrol boat to leave.
    b) Taiwan can impound the boat and crew, as it is a military vessel present without permission.

    Y: During a traffic stop, a policeman searches the inside of the car without permission. He opens a sealed box in the back seat and finds several marijuana cigarettes. The case is thrown out of court because he had no probable cause for the search.
    a) This is good. It is more important that the police act within the constitutionally defined limits on their powers than every crime be punished.
    b) This is bad. We should not allow obvious criminals to go free on technicalities.

    1Y: A policeman is suspicious of a neighbor’s behavior. He breaks into a poorly secured wireless network and accesses some files off of his computer. He finds some child pornography.
    a) No legal action can be taken against the neighbor. Criminal actions are unacceptable for the police, regardless of the results.
    b) The neighbor should be prosecuted. There is no excuse to allow such a pedophile freedom to endanger our children.

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  62. MugaSofer says:

    Sadly, I guessed what you were doing from the first few examples (I already knew they were good cases of dissonance and inconsistent arguments in politics.) I didn’t notice the pattern of 1=11, 2=12 etc. until it was explained, though.

    Thankfully, I still found some of the analogies interesting and challenging. (I failed on the Dalai Lama one, for the record.)

    I eagerly await your defence of why object-level thinking is more analogous to cheating than utilitarianism, by the way! I assume that’s where you’re going with this.

    Some suggestions for the missing questions:

    Your own rape/threatened by men vs. assault/threatened by black guys analogy would fit in well here.

    Literally anything involving pedophilia.

    Burden of evidence in rape cases vs some other case.

    Something involving invading other countries, to tie into the current thing with Russia.

    Drones vs. human cops shooting people, tailing them, watching them and so on.

    Terrorists vs. freedom fighters (I’m Irish, so this naturally springs to mind. Might be tricky to tailor to the political landscape, though.)

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    • Steve says:

      > I eagerly await your defence of why object-level thinking is more analogous to cheating than utilitarianism, by the way!

      Because it is a transgression against divine grace.

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    • “(I failed on the Dalai Lama one, for the record.)”

      Why ‘failed’? Presumably the goal is to actually get the right answer, more so than to score high on a somewhat arbitrary metric. The Dalai Lama v. Civil War might be an excellent example of a case where the more meta answer is the wrong answer, e.g., because the meta principles ‘always cater to offended minorities’ and ‘always let majority communities celebrate their values’ are less important and applicable than the utility of promoting compassionate humanist memes in the Dalai Lama case (by privileging the Tibetans’ plight over that of the Chinese) and promoting compassionate humanist memes in the Civil War case (by privileging black southerners’ plight over white southerners’).

      (A separate problem this suggests, of course, is that this doesn’t measure metaness so much as how much your meta-principles concern power dynamics, or how much you care about local v. global minorities. If you think affirmative action makes more sense for black people than for white people, does that make you less ‘meta’, less reflective, less philosophical, etc.?)

      ‘The goal is to get the right answer’ is true regardless of whether Scott thinks ’6′ is the optimal score. And it’s not yet clear, I think, whether Scott thinks 6 is optimal; perhaps his own score is 5? If you can’t distinguish disanalogous scenarios at all, but just stubbornly apply an abstract meta-rule regardless of the details on the ground, that’s a sign of bias just as much as mundane partisanship is. It’s a close cousin to ‘golden mean’ fallacy.

      And if Scott does think 6 is optimal, that doesn’t mean he cares more about whether you score 6 than about how you get there. Getting the right answer on an artificial test because you want Scott’s approval, or the approval of the people in his garden, might lead to more moral errors than if you’d just gotten the wrong answer.

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      • Samuel Skinner says:

        That is assuming the Dalai Lama and Tibetan position is the right one. It is possible to believe that it is not; Tibet was part of China during the Qing and the CCP conquered it just like the warlord states and Sinking. In short it was a part of the country with its own unique culture and slavery that was subjugated by the central government just like the civil war case.

        The other problem is assuming you know which cases are the best for spreading compassionate humanist memes. That is a rather big can of worms that gets hypocritical very fast when it comes to international relations.

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        • I wasn’t arguing that the pro-Dalai-Lama answer is correct; I was arguing that whether it’s correct depends on its truth, not on the metaness of the reasoning you used to draw the conclusion.

          That aside, ‘the Dalai Lama is more useful than Southern Civil War generals for promoting compassionate humanist memes’ isn’t a claim that rests in any obvious way on whether China ‘deserves’ Tibet, or whether the U.S. ‘deserves’ the South. And if it’s a hard question to answer, it at least doesn’t seem harder than most other questions about mostly-unprecedented cultural trends. Cans of warms lie strewn about pretty much everywhere.

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        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “I wasn’t arguing that the pro-Dalai-Lama answer is correct; I was arguing that whether it’s correct depends on its truth, not on the metaness of the reasoning you used to draw the conclusion.”

          Just because there is a possible case where something would be warranted, doesn’t mean there is a case in real life where an action would be warranted. If the criteria for allowing demonstrations is “promotes humanist memes” every organization will claim it does that. It would require individuals get enough information about each individual case in order to decide which given time constraints quickly leads to deference to authority and group think for most cases.

          “That aside, ‘the Dalai Lama is more useful than Southern Civil War generals for promoting compassionate humanist memes’ isn’t a claim that rests in any obvious way on whether China ‘deserves’ Tibet, or whether the U.S. ‘deserves’ the South. And if it’s a hard question to answer, it at least doesn’t seem harder than most other questions about mostly-unprecedented cultural trends. Cans of warms lie strewn about pretty much everywhere.”

          Why? The Civil War rests on the fact that the south was part of the US that left the rest of the country. The Chinese claim is exactly the same thing- Tibet was part of China that left in 1911 when the central government broke down and they were simply restoring their rightful rule.

          It even has a similar relationship with slavery- the Union eventually abolished it and the Chinese justification included slavery and feudalism as for reasons why their action was not only legal, but moral.

          There isn’t exactly a lot of difference between the two cases. The Chinese government was totalitarian, but they only needed to be better than the Tibetan government for them to be equivalent to the Union crushing the South.

          If you think the Dalai Lama himself isn’t the equivalent of Tibet’s claim, you could say the same thing about the civil war generals; after all willingness to sacrifice ones life, wealth and health in pursuit of a cause you think is just is also a humanist meme.

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      • MugaSofer says:

        It’s not the legal system’s job to decide some people are more deserving of free speech than others because they “spread more compassionate humanist memes”.

        Would you be OK with a Reactionary government banning the Dalai Lama celebration but OKing the Confederate celebration because it “counteracts compassionate humanist memes and increases respect for authority”?

        I personally think the analogy is a persuasive one, so I was pleased with the chance to re-examine my intuitions on both cases.

        (On reflection, my conclusion is that a statue is inappropriate in both cases, and any festivities are OK (to be countered with the inevitable counter-protesters via free speech.)

        “If you think affirmative action makes more sense for black people than for white people, does that make you less ‘meta’, less reflective, less philosophical, etc.?”

        Actually, that’s a good point. There may well be losses and low-hanging fruit because we’re not looking as hard for non-minority affirmative action opportunities.

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  63. Steve says:

    Object-level feedback: I figured out what you were doing halfway through q11; but that might be because I suspect this kind of trickery from you; you tricky, tricky question-writer! Or maybe it was the lampshaded division between the two sets of questions.

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  64. Anders_H says:

    I very rarely disagree with Scott, but in this case, you are missing an essential part of the picture: Competing meta-levels.

    The most obvious example is the Supreme Court question. Scott’s preferred meta-level is “States Rights”. Intrist suggested that the correct meta-level is “precendent”. My personal preferred meta-level for court decisions is “Letter of the law”: I feel very strongly that democracy is not possible unless the role of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law strictly according to the original meaning of the text.

    My preferred meta-level principles will therefore lead to object-level decisions that I disapprove of in both scenarios. The decisions will also be “inconsistent” according to the test. However, this does not make me an object-level thinker, it just means that I have chosen a different meta-level principle.

    In the presence of competing plausible meta-level principles, it becomes very hard to choose between them without getting entangled with the object level. I don’t have a good solution to this. Perhaps we need a meta-meta-level to resolve this?

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    • MugaSofer says:

      Wait, I also chose based on “their job is to interpret the letter of the law, not make object-level decisions based on their own politics”. I got the same answer both times?

      Were you by any chance choosing based on *your interpretation* of the correct letter of the law? That seems reasonable, but also arguably object-level rather than meta-level.

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      • So being ‘meta’ means not having to interpret language in order to understand it?

        Or are you saying that Anders’ interpretation is object-level because it’s wrong, whereas yours is meta-level because yours is right?

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      • Anders_H says:

        Perhaps the phrase “letter of the law” is ambiguous?

        What I meant, is that as a meta-level principle, state legislatures are allowed to pass any law they want, unless it is clear from the text of the constitution that the framers intended to prohibit such laws (in which case, a constitution amendment is required if the legislators want to proceed)

        The second amendment is pretty explicit in saying that states are not allowed to ban citizens from bearing arms, so I take it that this is not what we disagree about?

        I struggle to find any text in the constitution that shows that the framers intended to prohibit states from banning abortion.

        (Disclaimer, in case this comment comes back to haunt my future political career: I disapprove of the object level implications of this legal theory in both cases)

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  65. William Newman says:

    People who find this interesting in the abstract might also be interested in the tests used in real-world social science academia and journalism to show that e.g. the right has “authoritarian personality” or that there are a handful of things that drive politics and the right is the home of people who are driven by a concern for ritual purity.

    I am no expert, but from vague memory and the miracle of Internet and search, here are two pointers:

    http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2007/06/loaded-dice-how-to-bias-research.html

    http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2008/11/moral-reasoning.html

    Also I think I remember something in a similar vein on the Volokh Conspiracy but I don’t have a citation.

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  66. Eneasz says:

    4 of 6, but I’m annoyed that I got dinged on #5/15. Particularly because I answered contra my preferences in both cases in order to stay true to general principles. Secret votes are not kosher. Filibustering has such a long and lionized history that it is considered a legitimate maneuver in US politics. Both sides incorporate it into their own strategies, into their meta-strategies (“we can’t risk banning it while we’re the majority because we’ll need this tool when we aren’t”), and into their model of how the other side will fight. It’s so accepted that in the US congress no one even ACTUALLY filibusters anymore, they simple declare their intent to do so and it counts.

    Therefore I’m counting that one as a hit for me anyway, and will be reporting my score as 5 of 6 from now on. :)

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  67. Michelle Taylor says:

    I very much wanted to answer to #1 ‘stopping them and/or making them look stupid is what antifa demonstrators are for – send out the police to make sure no-one commits an _actual_ crime’.

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  68. Eli says:

    I picked up pretty quickly what the “trick” was and scored a 5. My “inconsistency” was on 4-14. I think the phrasing in those questions is problematic because the “should” wording doesn’t distinguish adequately between object-level and meta-level reasoning: I’m not sure if I’m being asked this question as an outside adjudicator or as a voter in the actual town.

    *As an outside adjudicator*, I think both towns have a right to do whatever their citizens vote for, a “right to be wrong”. *As a citizen and a voter*, I would vote for my own object-level moral preferences: yes to Dalai Lama, no to slavery.

    Yet, if I actually lived in these towns and lost the vote, I would peacefully accept that the Forces of Righteousness had lost the vote and have to deal with it.

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  69. Army1987 says:

    1. I lean towards a), assuming that the inconvenience is really minor, and assuming the probability that anti-Nazis will hold a much less peaceful counter-demonstration is negligible. (Of course certain people will be as offended by the Nazis as alien-abducted Britons are by pictures of salmon, but I don’t think the right to demonstrate is less valuable than the right to not be offended.

    2. Assuming the network isn’t funded with taxpayers’ money, a).

    3. I don’t know shit about the US system and what the role of the Supreme Court in it is.

    4. a)

    5. The act-consequentialist in me says a), and the deontologist in me says b). The former is louder, but my System 2 (who is a rule-consequentialist) doesn’t endorse it. I’d pick b).

    6. They are doing something ordinary and deserve neither prase nor condemnation (assuming they aren’t threatening violence).

    11. Assuming that “stay near” entails not physically blocking the entrance, a).

    12. b)

    13. See 3.

    14. Meh. Such a monument is probably not the best use of taxpayers’ money anyway, so b).

    15. If that was a sane country I’d say b), but I hear that filibustering is and has long been considered a normal part of the game, so a) (or better, a′ = The Republican legislator is fairly following procedure and therefore his filibuster is acceptable, but he is still kind of an asshole).

    16. Normally I’d say a), but I hear that in the 1950s being tarred as a Commie could have nontrivial consequences, so b).

    My score: 2.

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  70. Eric Hamell says:

    As a materialist, I found it problematic that I was forced to interpret the questions as if I believed in objective normatives, when I actually don’t. It was also annoying how the options were often overspecified, so that neither was entirely in line with my sentiments.

    I scored a 6, but that doesn’t mean I think of myself as a meta-level thinker in your sense. What it mainly means is that I take seriously Mill’s utilitarian argument for freedom of thought and expression in *On Liberty*.

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  71. 3 and 13 are such a horrible analogy, and I feel it’s spoiling the entire quiz. Broad or narrow interpretation of Second Amendment (13) is definitely part of what Supreme Court is about.

    Outright court legislation (3) of things that have zero constitutional backing is just violating basic democratic principles.

    These things have nothing in common whatsoever.

    The only correct meta-level answer is opposite on these issues.

    (I agree with meta-level answer on other questions)

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  72. Xycho says:

    ABBAAB
    ABBAAB

    Apparently I’m thinking meta. Not exactly a surprise – I didn’t twig what the test was about, but my standard ‘avoidance of accusations of being invested’ mechanism is to mentally scrub out the context for a problem and consider it just as a question of principle, so I defaulted to that in a quiz situation.

    Four rules, in order of importance (and also of scale):
    1: An isolated individual or group may do anything they like, regardless.
    2: People may believe and say in public anything, however much other people don’t like it. Offence is a fact about the listener, not the speaker, and it is very not OK to deny someone you disagree with (or even think needs executing) a platform from which to speak.
    3: Small government is better than (and outranks) large.
    4: Whoever has the most votes ‘wins’.

    1 is obvious and as far as I’m concerned covers all the ‘hot button’ stuff – sexuality, abortion, gun control, etc. 2 has exceptions involving known lies and direct threats, and 3 is more generally a policy of denying the leverage of scale to people who think they get to dictate to others.

    4 conflicts badly with the other three, quite obviously, which is why it’s last; it’s more of a ‘ceteris paribus’: if the problem does not involve the government, nobody is being told they can’t say something, and is not directed at a specific individual, then it’s a straight vote. This does result in a potential situation where an individual always ‘wins’, but as soon as they acquire a few dozen friends and become a ‘minority’ they stop ‘winning’; I’ve never actually had that come up in a problem, though.

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  73. dhill says:

    I think in many instances the questions missed stating the role you play. One could do different things depending on whether you are acting as guardian of the meta level or the guardian of the object level. The questions about (feminist/exxon) and democratic governance of land (campus town/monument) are missing a role. It’s like the situation of the arnchor/principal, but you don’t know if you are in your free time or on the job.

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  74. Julia says:

    Tonight after dinner Jeff ran this with the family (parents, sisters, me). Best part of the discussion:
    “I think the Constitution is bullshit anyway.”
    “Then what’s to stop the government quartering troops in our house?”
    “The lack of bedrooms!”

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  75. Richard says:

    Really interesting quiz. One possible improvement: it became fairly clear at about question 13 what was happening. It might be a good idea to mix pro-liberal with pro-conservative questions in each half, e.g. the new order could be 11, 2, 3, 14… then 1, 12, 13, 4 etc (also the wording was too clearly parallel in some places)

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  76. Jack Crassus says:

    This amuses me. As a reactionary, I’m a systems-level thinker (score of 5), but probably not the kind most here would like.

    1/11) B
    2/12) B
    3/13) B
    4/14) A
    5/15) A

    For 6 and 16, I don’t much like feminism or communism, so I went in opposite directions.

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  77. Colin says:

    In my case I could not decide. By the 6th and that message, I began to suspect there was a trick and scrolled down to check. Then I refused to answer any of them. :-/

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  78. Midnight Rambler says:

    I find this whole thing is worded a bit too… smugly. Especially the descriptions at the end really have these undertones of “Ha ha! Look at those stupid object-level thinkers who let their biases override their principles! Fortunately, we meta-level thinkers are enlightened enough to be fair and consistent about everything!”

    Also, many of the questions are false dilemmas, in the sense that I often found myself wanting to answer “both” or “neither” or “something in between” but that wasn’t allowed.

    Anyway, trying to answer these from a European perspective (okay, a Dutch perspective – I can’t speak for all of Europe) was an interesting experience. Let’s see what I got.

    1 and 11: Neo-Nazis waving swastikas around? Hoo boy. This is one of those examples of America being a tad more absolute about the whole “free speech” thing than most European countries. In Germany, Austria, and a lot of the countries that were occupied, public display of Nazi symbols is banned and for good reason.

    I think a lot of it has to do with the fact America wasn’t invaded or occupied in WWII. For Americans who weren’t soldiers, the war was a far-off spectacle, with the Nazis as cartoonish villains. For Europeans, not so much. Even when most people who actually lived through the war are dead or senile, there is such a thing as collective consciousness (transferred through history lessons, books, anecdotes from grandparents and such) – and in most European countries, that collective consciousness remembers the last time people were waving swastikas in the streets, and what that was like. (For the same reason, Soviet symbols are banned in many Eastern European countries).

    Oh, and a dozen people have probably made this reference already, but in your example, neo-Nazis are an inconvenience to traffic; in Soviet Illinois, traffic is an inconvenience to neo-Nazis.

    As for the Exxon Mobil protesters, this is one of those questions where I wanted to answer “something in between”. I’d allow the protesters to stay near the headquarters, but I’d step in if they tried to block people from entering the office. Even if you’re the evil CEO of an evil corporation, as long as you haven’t been convicted of a crime, you should be able to walk around freely without being harrassed or hindered. That’s a pretty important part of rule of law, and the police should protect that right when it’s threatened. That being said, as long as the protesters remain peaceful they should be able to protest where they like, which is an equally important right; I definitely wouldn’t send them away to a “designated free speech zone” (and I suspect you’re deliberately trying to steer people in a certain direction here by using scary-sounding phrases like that).

    2 and 12: A on both counts. I know this is a pet peeve of yours, but I think the whole issue of employer tolerance for dissenting opinions is a lot less black-and-white than you often make it out to be. I think a lot of it depends on how much of a political agenda your employer has, what your job is, and how vocal you are about your dissenting opinion. Suppose there’s a priest who, in his spare time, goes around telling everyone he meets that religion is bullshit – would you blame the Catholic Church for firing him?

    Sure, people’s political views are often unfairly held against them by their employers, but if you are a public spokesman (such as a priest, or a school principal, or a news anchor) for an organisation with a clear agenda, some adherence to “party line” can be reasonably asked of you.

    3 and 13: By this point I figured out what you were doing. I answered A to both. I think the Second Amendment is an abomination, and if America had any sense the thing would have been repealed a century ago. However, my distaste for letting people have guns was overridden here by another distaste – for federations.

    I’m a strong believer in the unitary state, and I think the US is a lot more federalised than a nation has any right to be. Regional and local authorities should not have the power to decide who can have an abortion or who gets to buy guns; no matter how crazy the rules get, they should be the same for everyone.

    I get that a giant country with 300 million people can’t be as tightly centralised as, say, France, but the US takes things too far. ‘Death penalty? Gay marriage? Pfff, minor details. Let each state figure that out for themselves. It’s not like making sure all our citizens have the same rights and are subject to the same laws is an important part of being a country anyway.’

    4 and 14: A and B, respectively. Point is, I wouldn’t allow any kind of monument to the CSA even if everyone in town thought it would be neat. For me, the CSA are roughly on the same level as Franco’s fascists in Spain, and people who express sympathy for the Confederates today (and/or wave the Confederate Navy Jack around because they think it looks “badass”) creep me out as deeply as those people in Italy who still think Mussolini was a great guy.

    5 and 15: Definitely B for the former; for the latter I wanted to answer “both”.

    Maybe when it comes to practical politics, I do have a bit of a meta-level thinker in me: I recognise that democracy only works if everyone plays by the rules even when they don’t like the outcome. Your Republican legislator is contradicting the obvious will of the chamber and being an asshole, but he’s doing so within procedure, so no one has a right to stop him. If people can be assholes while following procedure, it means that the procedures need to be changed – not that they should be temporarily suspended when people use them to be assholes.

    6 and 16: These were the most blatant false dilemmas. In both cases, the only answers available were either “I agree with {the feminist group|SOPAFAMPA} and think they should be praised” or “what they’re doing is wrong and harmful to society”. I disagree with SOPAFAMPA and only halfheartedly agree with the feminist group, but I think both groups are acting within their democratic rights (even if SOPAFAMPA is fighting pretty dirty).

    You love the “free marketplace of ideas” and have written at length about how amazing it is that libertarians and Communists can live together without trying to get each other burned at the stake; coming from you, then, these kinds of false dilemmas between “I agree with these guys” and “these guys aren’t playing fair” were unexpected to say the least.

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