SSC DISCORD SERVER AT https://discordapp.com/invite/gpaTCxh ; SCHELLING POINT FOR DISCUSSION IS WED 10 PM EST

Don’t Be An Asch-Hole

Contrary to the direction the comments took, my Asch story the other day wasn’t intended to make any special commentary on families. That was just the first issue I thought of that wasn’t already so politicized that the story would be interpreted as political propaganda. It was really meant to be an explanation of something I said a while back on Twitter:

The character in the story had it even worse. They were told that in the real world, not a single person believed in families. That “families” had been invented as a test concept for the conformity experiment solely because it was something so ridiculous that no one could possibly believe it for not-conformity-related reasons. That every other experimental participant had seen through the facade and denounced it as dumb.

And I feel like this is a good thought experiment. Which beliefs of yours would survive that knowledge, be so strong that you would tell the experimenter that you are right or they are wrong, or make you start thinking that it’s all part of a meta-experiment like in the story? Which ones would you start to doubt in ways that you might not have thought of back when they were common? Which, if any, would you say “Yeah, I knew it all along, I guess I was just too scared to admit it”?

I’m thinking here of antebellum Southerners, let’s say early 1800s. Their society is built around slavery. There are a couple of abolitionists around, but not many, and none who can force anyone to listen to them. Pretty much everyone around them says slavery is okay, the books they read from the past are all about Romans or Israelites who thought (rather different forms of) slavery were okay, and they have heard a lot of plausible-sounding arguments justifying slavery.

Now bring them forward to the present day. Tell them “Right now in the present day pretty much every single person believes that slavery is morally wrong. No one would justify it. Here, come out of the laboratory and spend a few years living in our slave-free society.”

I don’t know if the Southerner would learn a whole lot of new facts during this period. They might learn that black people could be pretty capable and intelligent, but Frederick Douglass was a person, everyone knew he was smart, that didn’t change anyone’s mind. Yet even without learning many new facts, I can’t imagine he would stay pro-slavery very long.

And I wonder whether this is purely a conformity thing, and upon being returned to the antebellum South he would start conforming with them again, or whether it is a one-directional effect that primes your thoughts to go in the direction of the truth and allows you to see new valid arguments, and that upon going back to the South he would be a little wiser than his countrymen.

And I also wonder whether a sufficiently smart Southerner could do all this via a thought experiment, say “I think slavery is pretty okay now, but imagine I went to a world where everyone was absolutely certain it was terrible, how bad would I feel about it?” and get all the benefits of spending a while in our world and going through all that moral reflection without ever actually leaving the antebellum South. And if this would be a more powerful intuition pump than just asking him to sit down and think about slavery for a few hours.

This is a pretty powerful ethical test for me. I imagine waking up in that Matrix pod and being told that no one in the real world believes in abortion, that pro-choice is obviously horrible, that all my fellow experimental subjects saw through it, that as far as they can tell I’m just a psychopath. And I feel like I would still argue “No, actually, I think you guys are wrong.” (but, uh, your mileage may vary)

If it was vegetarianism – if they said no one in the real world ate meat or had tried to justify factory farming, and every single one of my co-participants had become vegan animal rights activists – I don’t think there’s a lot I could say to them. “Sorry, I have an intense disgust reaction to all vegetables which has thwarted all of my attempts at vegetarianism?” “Yeah, we know, we put that in there to make it a hard choice.”

There are some issues where I could imagine it going either way. If the alien simulators were conservative, I could imagine exactly the way in which I would feel really stupid for having ever believed in liberalism. And if the alien simulators were liberal, I could imagine exactly how it would feel to get embarrassed for ever having flirted with conservative ideas. I don’t think that’s necessarily a flaw in the thought experiment. Both of those feelings are useful to me.

I had a dream once where I died and I went to the afterlife and there was God and He told me that Christianity had been right about everything all along. In retrospect, it felt kind of obvious. Then I woke up and it had all been a dream. In retrospect, that felt kind of obvious too.

I sort of cherish these feelings of obviousness. They seem like a good way to short-circuit the absurdity heuristic. Like, it doesn’t work to think “Okay, Christianity seems absurd, but WHAT IF IT DIDN’T???” You have to actually invert everything, tell yourself that lack-of-Christianity seems absurd and see what justifications and excuses your brain starts coming up with for why that is the correct position and atheism should be dismissed without a second thought.

A commenter on the story thread came up with a different application of the concept I hadn’t thought of:

I gained a lot of value out of applying this thought experiment through a motivational rather than rational frame.

I struggle with ADHD and depression, and imagined myself being told that everyone else in the simulations also had those conditions, but all of them performed better than me.

Then I imagined a different scenario, where everyone was put into a simulation where they needed to save the world, and everyone else succeeded where only I failed.

Imagining changes in others’ beliefs doesn’t effect mine much. But imagining changes in others’ standards of competence has an extremely powerful impact.

Thanks for the tool.

While this seems a liiiiiitle dangerous almost to the point of mental self-abuse, I can kind of see it working, and it helps me understand the other cases a little better. We hold ourselves to certain standards – whether moral, like the antebellum Southerner or the non-vegetarian me – or epistemic – or motivational. By altering the perceived competence of other people, we can artificially adjust the standards we hold ourselves to and pretend for a while that our standards are much higher than they are. Which might give us insights we can bring back with us.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

317 Responses to Don’t Be An Asch-Hole

  1. suntzuanime says:

    I tried the same thing with abortion but got exactly the opposite result. I feel like the main difference between killing babies and killing fetuses is that the latter is controversial while the former is universally abhorred. Can you explain what you would tell the society when they wanted to know how you could have become complicit in mass murder?

    To be clear, the experiment actually changed my opinion. I was pro-choice until I imagined trying to explain the position to a society that disagreed with it. (I was imagining a far future society, rather than an alien simulator, but the principle is similar.)

    In particular, the antebellum Southerner was exactly what I was thinking of, when I ran my experiment. “What beliefs do I have that make sense to me, but might plausibly turn out to be a horrible crime that my descendants will be hated for? Bonus points if there is a culturally Other group that tells me how horrible a crime it is but I don’t listen to them because they’re culturally Other.”

    • Anonymous says:

      >Can you explain what you would tell the society when they wanted to know how you could have become complicit in mass murder?

      Via a neurologically informed definition of the beginning of “personhood”

      • suntzuanime says:

        Does that actually shake out, though? Is there some particular neurological marker of personhood that you could defend as being more meaningful than things that happen earlier or later than whatever your particular preferred murder-cutoff is? If you didn’t know which neurological marker occurred at which time, and had them jumbled up in a list, would you reliably pick out ones that let you kill six-month fetuses but not babies?

        Obvious cutoffs to me seem like “consciousness” (substantially before we stop killing them), “ability to feel pain” (substantially before we stop killing them), “language” (substantially after we stop killing them), “sense of self” (substantially after we stop killing them), and “theory of mind” (substantially after we stop killing them).

        • Nornagest says:

          Lots of things come in fuzzy lists of criteria. There’s no particularly well-defined set of linguistic features that distinguish my speech patterns from, say, a New Zealander’s — there are a lot of features that’re more likely to show up in one or the other, but everyone has a different set — but I still know a Kiwi accent when I hear one.

          I suspect abortion/infanticide is one of those things where it’s more important to have a clear and not-obviously-wrong decision boundary than to place that boundary at any particular point. Birth’s a pretty good one; it doesn’t seem obviously better than (to name a few) quickening, viability, or any one of several other markers of development, but it doesn’t need to be.

        • suntzuanime says:

          And you feel good about this excuse for mass murder, when everyone is looking at you horrified? “No I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t worry about killing them, they were just sort of generally sub-human based on a fuzzy list of criteria.”

          EDIT: Ah, you feel that infanticide is malum prohibitum instead of malum in se. I have to give you credit, that is certainly a belief you are willing to hold even if all of society is horrified by it. I guess I can live with people not being worried about abortion so long as they admit they’re not really worried about killing babies either.

        • Nornagest says:

          A downside of relying on a Schelling point rather than having some conveniently hard ethical theory to go by is that it makes it rather more difficult to defend your position against someone that doesn’t share a close enough frame of reference.

          I could throw all the usual arguments at my pro-life Morpheus, of course, but I think my true objection is that there needs to be some more-or-less arbitrary criterion for personhood and that conception is an exceptionally bad one. That, I’d feel very comfortable saying. If it were just a quibble over Schelling points (say, if the world outside the Matrix had agreed to treat fetuses as people after quickening, or in the other direction if they were okay with infanticide up to the child’s first independent steps — both with historical precedent, by the way), I’d feel embarrassed but not appalled. Birth just happens to be a really salient event, so it’s probably the best criterion we’ve got.

          EDIT: One thing birth does have going for it is that it’s a lot easier — at least for people other than the mother — to form emotional attachments to a child after it’s born.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          so long as they admit they’re not really worried about killing babies either

          What do you mean by “admit”? Penalties for infanticide vary, but are usually pretty light, a pretty explicit admission. In practice, it is rarely prosecuted and when it is the sentences are usually suspended, an implicit admission.

          Does this count as consistent for your purposes? Or do you not care about the law, but only about opinions expressed by the mass of the public? Do you know what those opinions are?

        • suntzuanime says:

          oh no the simulators are trying to convince me it’s ok to kill babies

        • Cyan says:

          Can’t help but notice that this discussion contains little trace of the one person who might have moral standing to decide to have an abortion: the person with the uterus. (ETA: but Intrism below is on it.)

          The relevant principle is bodily autonomy: it’s ethical to prevent me from forcefully harvesting an unwilling donor’s blood or bone marrow or kidney, even if the donor won’t die and I will under forced donation. Needless to say, it remains ethical if the being that dies has never been conscious.

        • Nornagest says:

          The bodily autonomy argument seems noncentral within its class: the blood- or marrow-donation cases all involve clearly distinguished and historically separate persons, who need whatever resource they do for uncommon and often unpredictable reasons. All that points in the direction of caution, and all of it doesn’t apply to abortion.

          There are also far far more cases of abortion than there are situations where blood or marrow from an unwilling donor would save a life, which I’d find eyebrow-raising on its own. Conventionally we leverage the common to draw lines against the rare, not the other way around.

          Conjoined twins might be a somewhat closer analogy, but then again we often separate them in infancy without their understanding or consent. Would we separate adult twins if the better-developed provided functions necessary to the life of the lesser but nonetheless wanted them gone? I don’t know if there’s ever been a case like that, but I’m not at all sure the answer is a straightforward “yes”.

        • lmm says:

          @Cyan: What about if you could be kept alive on a mechanical blood-and-bone-marrow machine, but are currently vampiring off an unwilling donor? Does that make it ok to kill you?

        • Raemon says:

          I…. thought it was really obvious that the best marker for “personhood” for fetuses (especially for an advanced civilization capable of evaluating this) would be when (presumably still within the womb) the fetus became able to feel pain?

          I notice I am confused that the people on Scott’s blog are arguing about “conception” vs “birth.”

          (Also, I think many places already prohibit third trimester abortions, for similar reasons.)

        • Nornagest says:

          I’d expect fetuses to be able to feel pain about the same time they acquired a working nervous system, which is pretty early. But I don’t actually give much of a shit about pain per se. I do care about suffering, but that’s a much higher bar to clear, especially while the ontogenetic process is busily shuffling things around inside the fetus’s head.

          I’m pretty sure fish, to choose an unimpressive vertebrate class at random by way of example, can feel pain. I’m far less sure they can suffer in any morally relevant sense.

        • Intrism says:

          @Raemon:

          An awful lot of things feel pain, and yet we generally do not accord them personhood. So clearly it isn’t a general marker. Why would it be different for a fetus?

        • Raemon says:

          The laws about abortion *do* typically disallow third trimester abortions, which is why I thought it was generally obvious that moral-worth-of-some-sort was gained earlier.

          My actual belief is that a fetus just-post-pain-feeling is probably morally equivalent to a fish (in an abstract, not-swayed-by-tradition or by preferences of people around it sense). I think a baby just born has moral worth somewhere between a fish and an adult pig. I think a 1 year old has moral worth equivalent to an adult pig or smart dog.

          This is not to say what the moral worth of any of those things *should* be, just that they should comparable.

          I bite this bullet by being vegetarian. I’d grudgingly admit consistency on the part of someone who was okay with eating meat and infanticide.

          If I ran into an advanced society that made a strong claim for one of those groups to have strong moral worth but not the other, I would argue with the test-administrator when I emerged from the Matrix.

        • Paul Torek says:

          There’s too much three-dimensionalism going on above. Yes, a newborn’s pain and other mental activities are comparable to many other vertebrates, but there’s a larger context. The only simple and elegant pair to “life ends at brain death” is “life begins at brain life”.

          Suppose an elderly Alzheimer’s patient has cognitive, emotional, and sensory abilities comparable to a mouse. That doesn’t mean killing him is ethically equivalent to killing the mouse. You have to consider the context. An aesthetic analogy: a single musical note, while not interesting in its own right, becomes much more meaningful at the end of a symphony. Or at the beginning.

          Not that I completely support “life ends at brain death”, but that takes us into complications about personal identity. I just want to get some more four-dimensional thinking about personhood.

    • BenSix says:

      Can you explain what you would tell the society when they wanted to know how you could have become complicit in mass murder?

      Nor I.

      What is also disturbing, though, is to imagine waking up in a society in which infanticide has been accepted and one has to come up with persuasive reasons for showing that they are as dreadful as we’d think they would be. My reaction would be something along the lines of “Gah! No! Stop! God! No!” The problem is that as intelligent people become increasingly sceptical of their disgust responses “Gah! No! Stop! God! No!” reactions could become less impressive.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        What if we don’t think they’d be dreadful? (Just probabilistically-slightly-bad, due to lacking that bright line?)

        • BenSix says:

          In that case, the hypothetical is far more relevant than I had imagined.

          (I suspect a fair few people agree with Peter Singer that children born with agonising and incurable pain could be killed but are there many who go further? Best think of my arguments…)

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Many? Probably not. Some? Manifestly, yes. I would be surprised if you could find convincing arguments for not killing newborns that didn’t boil down to the bright-line principle.

    • Intrism says:

      > Can you explain what you would tell the society when they wanted to know how you could have become complicit in mass murder?

      I would ask the society whether or not my organs can be taken to save another person’s life, without my consent and while I am still alive.

      If the answer is “no,” I will explain that this choice necessarily implies that the right to bodily integrity trumps the right to life, and that freedom to abort unavoidably follows from that ordering of rights. I will consider the alien society degenerate henceforth and try to figure out what steps their society followed to produce such a deeply inconsistent worldview. (Although, if I had to put money on it, I’d bet boo lights like “mass murder.”)

      If the answer is “yes,” I will accept that at least the aliens have consistent preferences and a viewpoint that might be worth listening to but calmly point out that I originate from a society that places a very very very high value on bodily integrity, and ask if maybe there’s a way to opt out of this involuntary organ donation thing while I consider whether or not they’ve adopted a philosophically better approach.

      • suntzuanime says:

        It doesn’t necessarily imply anything of the sort. Any more than the government not taxing you to buy mosquito nets to fight malaria necessarily implies that property rights trump the right to life. Or anymore than the ban on DDT implies that animal rights trump the right to life.

        “Bodily integrity” is pretty obviously a post-facto justification here. We let the police do invasive searches on people we would not let them summarily execute. We put fluoride in the water supply people drink and pollutants in the air people breathe.

        • Intrism says:

          Oh, bullshit. If bodily integrity is a post-facto justification, care to explain why abortion and infanticide aren’t treated the same way? Because, aside from questions about the mother’s bodily integrity, I can discern effectively no moral difference between aborting a fetus at birth minus one day and killing a baby at birth plus one day.

          The string of bizarre non sequiturs does not help your argument any. If you were seeking to make a connection, perhaps explain them a bit more.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Simply put, a failure of imagination. Since it is tucked away inside someone else’s body, it is hard for people to imagine the fetus as an independent entity, instead of an extension of the mother.

          If people felt abortion was murder but murder was okay if necessary to protect “bodily integrity”, why do they get so riled up at claims that abortion is murder?

        • Intrism says:

          That justification sounds suspiciously like you’re trying to paint “respect for a woman’s right to determine the disposition of her own body” – i.e., bodily integrity – in the most negative way possible. (I am also uncertain about your description of a fetus that is literally incapable of surviving outside of the mother as ‘independent.’ Once they are so capable – “viable” – abortion generally becomes illegal in the United States.)

          Probably because calling abortion “murder” is almost always an attempt at the worst argument in the world.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Intrism, as I said in another thread, infanticide is treated pretty much the same as abortion. It is mildly illegal, just as late-term abortion is mildly illegal.

        • Darcey Riley says:

          I agree with suntzuanime. Intrism’s argument assumes a lot of things, but one of them is that people have an equal responsibility to all human beings. Yet one can easily imagine a moral system where a woman is not obligated to save other people’s lives using her body… unless she is the one who caused those lives to exist in the first place. This is analogous to laws/morals that our society already implements: you’re not legally/morally obligated to feed the homeless, but if you refuse to feed your own child, then you’re a criminal and a moral degenerate.

        • AJD says:

          It doesn’t necessarily imply anything of the sort. Any more than the government not taxing you to buy mosquito nets to fight malaria necessarily implies that property rights trump the right to life.

          This is a poor example. Whether the government does tax you to buy mosquito nets is less relevant than whether the government may or should do so.

        • Randy M says:

          That they do implies they may. The difference between can and may as time passes approaches zero–that is, if someone doesn’t suffer consequences for taking an action, then they were allowed to do it, regardless of what the putative authority (voters, congress, judges, treaties, constitutions, philosophies) stated at the time.

          To state that they should not have requires a standard to judge the consequences against.

      • Joe says:

        But being aborted is a greater violation of bodily integrity than being pregnant.

        • Intrism says:

          Abortion need not directly alter the fetus at all. It is, at its core, simply the removal of the fetus from the mother. Of course, the fetus will die afterwards, because it cannot actually survive outside of the mother, but its bodily integrity hasn’t been questioned in the slightest. (Its right to life has of course been utterly flouted, but as has been established already the right to bodily integrity trumps it.)

        • Matt says:

          @Intrism

          In your view then, is it fair to say that the morality of abortion is more questionable in cases where bodily integrity is not the issue, but the life of the mother is on the line?

          In such a case you would not have the recourse of an appeal to a right of higher rank and would instead have to decide between two competing rights to life.

          I have a hard time understanding the value of a right to “bodily integrity” that is neutral about whether you end up dead or alive. But accepting that, if the situation were reversed would you support the fetus’s right to “bodily integrity” over the mother’s right to life?

        • lmm says:

          @Intrism: So you agree that abortion is wrong after the point where it would be medically possible to keep the fetus alive outside the mother? (Yes, a 20-week fetus would die quickly if left in the world without external help – but so would a newborn baby).

        • Jake says:

          How does being aborted compare in terms of bodily integrity to having the sperm that would have created you being stopped by a condom? Or your parents being prevented from having sex at all?

        • Joe says:

          Jake : unless you are a Morman it doesn’t make sense to talk about rights before conception.

        • Intrism says:

          @Matt

          “the morality of abortion is more questionable in cases where bodily integrity is not the issue”
          It’s not abortion when the baby is not inside the mother, so bodily integrity is always at issue. And, of course, “get this thing out of my body” is inherently a statement about bodily integrity, regardless of whether the rationale is “because it is killing me.”

          @Imm

          Not only do I agree with this, so does US law and precedent. If it’s possible to perform an early Caesarean instead of an abortion, it should almost always be preferable, excepting cases where the fetus is so deformed that it’s not going to survive anyways. However, I would calibrate this line to the medical care that will actually be available for the fetus; in a country like the United States that does not treat healthcare as a moral obligation, and would not provide such care for an abandoned fetus, the line should be long after 20 weeks.

        • [Content warning: abortion, hints at graphic/bloody description thereof.]

          @Intrism: real-world abortions tend to end with babies in a very bad shape; even assuming a perfect substitute womb and high tech technology, I’m not sure there’d be anything to save. Is that relevant in your ethics?

          (“The right to die in one part” seems strange to me.)

        • Matt says:

          [Trigger warning: pretty mild I think but dismemberment is mentioned in the context of abortion.] (I saw Joachim’s content warning so I stuck one on mine as well in case it’s a thing I’m supposed to do.)

          @Intrism, you said:
          “Abortion need not directly alter the fetus at all. It is, at its core, simply the removal of the fetus from the mother. Of course, the fetus will die afterwards, because it cannot actually survive outside of the mother, but its bodily integrity hasn’t been questioned in the slightest.”

          The notion that it is possible to cause a death without causing harm to bodily integrity seems absurd to me. It’s as if someone were to say, “Yeah I killed that guy but I didn’t cause him any bodily harm.”

          You also said:
          “(Its right to life has of course been utterly flouted, but as has been established already the right to bodily integrity trumps it.)”

          The implication seems to be that the right to bodily integrity is more important than the right to life. If that isn’t the implication you intended then please inform me of my error, but if it is then it seems trivial to construct hypothetical scenarios in which applying the notion of bodily integrity leads to repugnant, or at least highly suspect, conclusions. That is what the hypothetical was intended to show.

          I don’t think your rejection of the hypothetical is robust. There are potentially several ways to tweak the scenario to get around it.

          For example:
          In your view, is it fair to say that the morality of abortion is more questionable in cases where the life of the mother is on the line and an abortion can not be performed without dismembering the fetus?

          In such a case you would not have the recourse of an appeal to a right of higher rank and would instead have to decide between two competing rights to bodily integrity and two competing rights to life.

    • J says:

      Congrats on changing your mind! Regardless of your current and ultimate view on the issue, using rationality to adjust your belief system is extremely worthwhile. You probably already knew that since you read this blog, but I just wanted to say thanks for doing it!

      One of the classic disconnects in the abortion debate is due to polarization; people get so hung up on “right to choose!” vs. “baby murder!” that they don’t notice the similarities in their belief systems. Almost all pro-choice people I know think that abortion is something to be avoided at almost all costs, and is much more acceptable early in pregnancy (eg., when the fetus is tiny and much more likely to spontaneously die, which is apparently quite common in the first trimester) than later in pregnancy when the fetus is closer to viability on its own.

      And many pro-life people I know are much more okay with abortion in the classic rape/danger-to-mother/disfigured-fetus cases, and also agree that abortion very early in pregnancy is better than later in pregnancy.

      So given that both sides kind of nominally agree that abortion isn’t directly desirable, the strong example cases in its favor tend to be related to the Trolley Problem, where you have to balance one person’s life against another.

      That is to say, if the mother is in an abusive relationship, or very poor, or in poor health, then her life will be strongly affected (or even ended) by carrying the pregnancy to term, and if it’s early in the pregnancy, then the fetus had a significant chance of dying spontaneously.

      In that light, Roe v. Wade wasn’t quite as momentous as it seems; people could get abortions for mere convenience, but most people found that pretty horrifying so it was uncommon, and before Roe v. Wade abortions had been allowed in the extreme cases anyway.

      So the tack I’d take if I had to justify it to the aliens would be: we kept it legal in early pregnancy to reduce meddling by authorities in the heart-wrenching Trolley problems people faced, and strongly dissuaded people (or outlawed it entirely) as the fetus became more developed and thus more obviously sentient and likely to survive.

      But overall, I agree with your conclusion: in the kind of prima facie reasonability test proposed by Scott, “not killing babies” is a much simpler platform to defend. (Which of course doesn’t make it right, but should make us carefully consider our position, which is exactly what you’ve done!)

      • Darcey Riley says:

        Hmm, this is really interesting, and I’d be curious to see statistics on how common “abortions for mere convenience” are. Because we also legalized “divorce for mere convenience”, and the divorce rates skyrocketted. If most people avoid abortions even once they’re legally and morally acceptable, but most people are also fine with getting divorced, what does that say about our culture, or about human morality in general?

        • Matthew says:

          Ethics is contingent. The question isn’t, “Is abortion right or wrong?” or “Is divorce right or wrong?” but “Is abortion better or worse than the alternative?” and “Is divorce better or worse than the alternative?” I see nothing counterintuitive about people falling on the “better than the alternative” side of the line more frequently for divorce. It’s not evidence of incoherence.

        • Darcey Riley says:

          Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest that it was counterintuitive or logically contradictory or anything like that. I just thought it was interesting and a little bit surprising.

          What you say makes a lot of sense though. I agree that people, when they actually make moral decisions, are asking the latter sort of question. And it leads to interesting questions. Is divorce more common than abortion because subjecting your child to divorce is less abhorrent than subjecting your fetus to death, or because living with an unpleasant spouse for the rest of your life is worse than living with an unwanted child for the next 18 years, or what?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Because we also legalized “divorce for mere convenience”, and the divorce rates skyrocketted.

          Is this true though? Scott discussed this here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/31/the-poor-you-will-always-have-with-you/

        • Jake says:

          “Because we also legalized “divorce for mere convenience”, and the divorce rates skyrocketted.”

          Or to put it another way, the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s after rising steadily through the 20th century. Around this time the time no-fault divorce was introduced, and divorce rates have been declining ever since.

        • Nornagest says:

          Or to put it another way, the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s after rising steadily through the 20th century. Around this time the time no-fault divorce was introduced, and divorce rates have been declining ever since.

          The graph’s a little more complicated than that. We’re looking at a steady but slow increase through 1940, then a big spike during WWII, then a big trough in the postwar years, and finally a jump from the mid-Sixties to the early Eighties leading to a slowly declining plateau. That decline since the Eighties has been accompanied by a declining marriage rate, though, one that’s not reflected in pre-1945 data. So fans of traditional sexual mores are unlikely to find it very encouraging. (The decline remains apparent, however, when expressed in proportional rather than real terms.)

          I’ve been unable to locate the source that Villainous Company cites, but I trust its numbers; the picture looks much the same for the UK.

    • Chris says:

      Can you explain what you would tell the society when they wanted to know how you could have become complicit in mass murder?

      Does the far-future society allow euthanasia in cases of extreme suffering with basically no prognosis for improvement in quality of life? If not, they’re probably not very consequentialist about suffering and have some barbarism problems of their own, and I tell them they should fix that and get back to me.

      If they do allow it, it’s not difficult to go from “we should allow terminally sick people to choose to die” to “parents should be in control of whether their terminally sick babies die” — Peter Singer’s already done it in *this* culture, and he’s one of our pre-eminent contemporary philosophers — and once you’ve accepted infanticide to this degree it seems impossible that the revulsion to killing is as strong as you described in your comment.

      I guess I’m suggesting that I think a consequentialism based on suffering is such a strong belief that I’d argue with the experimenter about it. I wonder how they’d try to convince me out of it.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        They’d probably conclude your an evil psychopath.

        Frankly given that you are capable of writing the paragraph quoted below and not interpreting it as a modus tollens I’m inclined to agree with them.

        > If they do allow it, it’s not difficult to go from “we should allow terminally sick people to choose to die” to “parents should be in control of whether their terminally sick babies die” — Peter Singer’s already done it in *this* culture, and he’s one of our pre-eminent contemporary philosophers — and once you’ve accepted infanticide to this degree it seems impossible that the revulsion to killing is as strong as you described in your comment.

      • (Background: I’m Dutch.)

        Euthanasia to end meaningless suffering may be acceptable, but euthanasia “because we really can’t care for grandpa anymore” would be considered really bad anywhere. However, “we were not ready for a baby” is often considered a sufficient argument.

        By which I mean, allowing euthanasia for infants doesn’t necessarily imply allowing many of the abortions that tend to be allowed today.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      ” I feel like the main difference between killing babies and killing fetuses is that the latter is controversial while the former is universally abhorred.”

      One person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens. I agree with your assessment of the difference; but the opposite conclusion seems obviously correct to me. Birth is just a bright line.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, you’re too late, it is *I* who am living in the simulation designed to fuck with my beliefs on this issue. I started out mildly pro-choice and then when my daughter was born extremely premature, I watched her develop through the stages of being a “fetus” to being a “baby” to being a toddler who could ask for hugs and realized that there were, in fact, no observable Schelling points. She was always herself, a totally fluid series of continuous moments of life. All Schelling points are, therefor, imposed for your own convenience to alleviate your squeamishness and justify your rationalization. Schelling points are a way of saying “I don’t have a good reason, but I need *some* reason otherwise I look ridiculous.”

      • Said Achmiz says:

        So, your argument is that because you, personally were unable to observe any Schelling points in this one, specific case (in which you had a major, biologically-strongly-imposed emotional investment), there must thus not exist any Schelling points in any case, ever.

        Seems legit.

        • Anonymous says:

          Taboo “exist.”

          edit: Anyway, no. My argument is what I said it was. Schelling points are, like, the purest form of cop-out. I could frame it around vegetarianism as well. “It’s okay to eat cows and not people because, um, that’s where I choose my Schelling point.” It’s self-referential. You choose Schelling points for convenience, so you don’t have to think any further. They’re a very bad tool.

        • Randy M says:

          I do think you–or whomever you are hypothetically arguing against–are misusing schelling point. A Schelling point is a boundary line that is somewhat arbitrary but independantly arrived at by many people (or perhaps, that you assume will be). If I choose a limit it may or may not be a schelling point, depending on if others follow the lead.

          Of course, conrfusing schelling points for moral principles is like paving the path where the foorsepts already trod and pretending you’ve trained people to walk within the boundaries you’ve set.

      • Jake says:

        That is not what Schelling points are.

        They are the acknowledgement that a lot of phenomena are continuous – and thus there is no obvious point at which you can see “this far and no further.”

        There will always be positions just a little farther in one direction or the other, which are not that much more or less defensible than the one you hold. It’s sort of like the ‘how many grains of sand makes a heap’ question.

        Abortion is actually a perfect example. We’re trying to figure out at what point in its existence this new life form should be given human rights. The very moment of conception seems obviously wrong – no matter it’s potential, a single celled organism should not have the same rights as an actual human being. On the other hand, by age 18, everyone acknowledges that this is a real person deserving the same rights and privileges as everyone else (or if you’re in the US, all of those rights and privileges except consuming alcohol). So somewhere between these points, conception and maturity, we acquire the properties that make us valuable as human beings. When does this happen? Not at any exact moment, that’s for sure. So if you want to be able to keep getting rid of single-celled fetuses, but don’t want to accept murdering adults, you have to draw a line somewhere. There are obviously better or worse places to draw that line, but in some sense it will always be arbitrary.

        Imagine black fading to grey fading to white. At one point does it go from one to the other? You can try to pick boundary lines or play with the definitions, but in the end your choice is both arbitrary, and the only real response that you can make.

        • Anonymous says:

          > So if you want to be able to keep getting rid of single-celled fetuses, but don’t want to accept murdering adults, you have to draw a line somewhere.

          This is the issue right here.

          > Imagine black fading to grey fading to white. At one point does it go from one to the other? You can try to pick boundary lines or play with the definitions, but in the end your choice is both arbitrary, and the only real response that you can make.

          Perfect illustration. The infinitely thin line segment at the far left is “white.” The infinitely thin line segment at the exact far right is “black.” Everything in the middle is “gray.” There can be no possible valid choice demarcating the line between “black” and “white” other than this that doesn’t rely on distinctions that you’ve made up to support an agenda. I am in agreement with you there.

          So why have you contradicted yourself above and said that we “therefore” need to make up arbitrary distinctions to demarcate the development of human lives prior to which it is okay to murder them?

        • Jim says:

          That’s not a contradiction, it’s just talking about two separate things. Schelling points are pragmatic boundaries, drawn when a situation does not contain an inherent boundary naturally.

        • anodognosic says:

          >”So why have you contradicted yourself above and said that we “therefore” need to make up arbitrary distinctions to demarcate the development of human lives prior to which it is okay to murder them?

          By phrasing it that way, you have begged the question, assuming that it is murder all the way, when the very question is at which point it becomes murder. If you grant that destroying a blastocyst is not murder, then your reasoning can just as easily be deployed to assert that destroying an adult human is not murder. The lack of boundary goes both ways, and your choice of application is as much a dishonest move to support an agenda as any you accuse Jake of making.

    • MugaSofer says:

      You know, this fits with my own (prior to reading about either of these thought experiments) experience of changing my mind on abortion – similar beliefs involved before and after, similar sense that my position was based on social approval rather than logic.

      I’m impressed. Updating in favour of this being a genuinely useful technique.

    • Jake says:

      I guess the abortion issue depends on why they are so against it – specifically whether they have any new information about to what degree fetuses are real human beings. Let’s say in their society everyone has mind-links and they are able to mentally link with their fetuses and have real interaction starting in the first few weeks of pregnancy. This doesn’t sound very plausible to me, but if a technologically superior civilization capable of creating a whole perfectly functional virtual alternate world told me they could do it, I’d probably believe them.

      On the other hand if they didn’t really have anything new to say about the subject beyond the fact that their whole civilization is on one side of the issue, then that doesn’t really push me as much one way or the other, though I’d still try to tease out what they had to say about the issue that made them think about it so differently.

    • Desertopa says:

      I have a considerable amount of sympathy for people who oppose late-term abortion. If you feel that killing a newborn infant is an atrocity, then applying a similar level of revulsion to killing a fetus at a similar level of development seems like a reasonable conclusion.

      Personally though, I don’t have that much sympathy for newborn infants. Even by the standards of, say, farm animals, newborn humans are pretty dumb. If I were setting some cutoff point beyond which I would regard a baby as being enough a person to have rights that can trump other humans’ convenience, I’d put it several months after birth. Birth simply makes a convenient Schelling cutoff for a society that is unlikely to condone infanticide.

    • Anonymous says:

      This sparked me to reconsider the position and, relatedly, veganism. If we’re pretty sure that abortion is OK, and that’s been my belief for a long time, the main justification I’ve used is that a fetus isn’t self-aware. Inescapably, since I don’t think babies are self-aware either, infanticide is also OK.

      This leaves a conundrum. Although I’m a meat eater, I’ve assumed the distant future would look on meat eating as barbaric. But I don’t think animals are any more self-aware than 2-year-olds, so it’s hard to justify this assumption when I reexamine it through the original heuristic. If I’m fully on board with abortion, and a future civilization tells me that everyone knows that it’s OK to eat 1-year-olds, and in fact they are a great delicacy, it’s not self-evident that I could resist the logic. Being pro-abortion and pro-ethical-veganism seem more incompatible than I realized.

      • Anonymous says:

        You may be uneasy about the fact that you’re willing to inflict a painful death on a conscious being to eat a tastier meal, and still think it would be a no-brainer to do it if, instead of a tastier meal, the goal was to avoid nine months of physical discomfort and then some.

  2. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    It occurred to me earlier today that you were probably getting at the meta-question of beliefs and conformity rather than the issue of families. Sorry for derailing the comment thread in that case. But you have to admit that the object level question (a society that puts a price on kids!) was really interesting and hard to resist talking about.

    I don’t think that I would change my mind on an issue on the basis of societal consensus but that are issues that I would be willing to suspend judgement on: Abortion (currently pro choice up until the third trimester), Vegetarianism (I’m not a vegetarian), euthanasia (currently pro). I would even be willing to suspend judgement on forced sterilization (currently against).

    Beliefs that I would push back against if someone told me that everyone believed them:
    -immorality of masturbation
    -immorality of being gay

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You never need to apologize for “derailing” anything here. Thank you for coming up with an interesting discussion topic I hadn’t thought of.

      • Benquo says:

        Thank you for saying this. For reasons that may or may not be obvious this sent SAFE WARM ACCEPTANCE signals to me, and I’m surprised that I was surprised by this.

  3. Ashley Yakeley says:

    I don’t think you should characterise these things as beliefs. The family phenomenon is really an emotional attachment: I don’t mean attachment to an idea, simply that family consists of feeling attached to other people. No actual belief needs to be involved. Whereas you seem to be saying that people “believe” in family like it’s some logical proposition they’ve deduced, or rather have accepted its truth on faith from others instead of trying to deduce like they ought to if they were proper rationalists.

    Similarly with ethics actually. For example:

    Right now in the present day pretty much every single person believes that slavery is morally wrong.

    Well, I don’t believe that, strictly. Rather, I feel that it is wrong, partly because of the Harm/Care moral foundation, and partly because I like the idea of people free to do great things (again, an emotional reaction, not a logical belief).

    As for the unexpectedly vegetarian aliens: by telling you of their vegetarianism, all they are doing is trying to get you to re-conform to their own ethical outlook. Since there are no purely logical reasons to prefer one ethics to another, the best they can do is to appeal to your existing emotional impulses, be that a reaction against suffering or a need to conform.

  4. Matthew says:

    I feel like there’s a problematic implied-Whig-view-of-history going on here. Suppose that I tell you that 100 years from now, abortion will be a universal outrage. You’re persuadable on this, so you update and become anti-choice. But what if I tell you that 200 years from now, abortion will be totally uncontroversial? Will you reverse again? Does that not imply that updating your beliefs is just a case of shifting from one time-consensus to another?

    • JBay says:

      I think the lesson behind these posts is that you should consider whether you hold the beliefs you hold unquestioningly, and whether you perhaps only adopted them in the first place because everyone else believed the same. You shouldn’t necessarily trust that the people of the future unanimously disagreeing with you means you are wrong, but it does mean you aren’t obviously right. However, if everyone agrees with you today, it might feel obvious, which is why you never questioned it (hence the parable about ‘family’).

      Upon being told that 100 years from now abortion will be a universal outrage, and 200 years from now, it will be uncontroversial, you should probably take that as a license to form your own honest opinion about the matter, and do your best to ground it in something firmer than the shifting sands of public opinion.

      • Hainish says:

        “I think the lesson behind these posts is that you should consider whether you hold the beliefs you hold unquestioningly, and whether you perhaps only adopted them in the first place because everyone else believed the same.”

        Are those my only two options? What about beliefs you hold due to having considered how the consequences of those beliefs would play out, in the society that you’re currently stuck in?

    • lmm says:

      > Suppose that I tell you that 100 years from now, abortion will be a universal outrage. You’re persuadable on this, so you update and become anti-choice. But what if I tell you that 200 years from now, abortion will be totally uncontroversial?

      I would be genuinely very surprised by this, perhaps even at defy-the-data levels. And I would change my approach as a result. I’d be very interested if you have historical counterexamples to Whig history.

  5. James Miller says:

    Intelligence and wealth have big impacts on moral beliefs. Economic growth and the Flynn effect might explain why we oppose slavery so much more than antebellum Southerners did.

    • Randy M says:

      What is the farthest back the Flynn effect was established? Shouldn’t we assume that it is discontinuous, given that Aristotle wasn’t a gibbering idiot?

      • James James says:

        http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2004/11/from_an_unlikel.html

        “Lest we think such enormous gains are implausible, remember how stupid people were in the 19th century. In The Condition of the Working Class in England, written in 1844, Friedrich Engels quotes an official survey of young people in Birmingham:
        ‘A boy, 17 years old, did not know that twice two are four, nor how many farthings in two pence even when the money was placed in his hand. Several boys had never heard of London or Willenhall, though the latter was but an hour’s walk from their homes…Several had never heard the name of the Queen nor other names such as Nelson, Wellington, Bonaparte.’

        This, though, raises the question. If intelligence has increased massively since the 19th century, why have the peaks of human achievement declined since then? Our politicians don’t compare to Gladstone, not our novelists to Dickens, still less our public intellectuals to John Stuart Mill. Here’s four reasons why this might be…”

        • Randy M says:

          The passage quoted is more about knowledge than intelligence, though. Also, contrast to the letters of average civil war soldiers showing clear thought, grammar, etc.

        • Jake says:

          ” If intelligence has increased massively since the 19th century, why have the peaks of human achievement declined since then?”

          This is quite a statement to just throw out there. The examples you give are all subjective – in essentially all objective measures of human achievement we have progressed.

          Having said that, I think the Flynn effect is mostly explained by the same factors that explain steadily increasing height in modern society: a much larger proportion of the population is growing up with reasonable standards of health and wellness, which generally leads to better functioning people both physically and mentally. In fact, there have been signs that people are not only effected by deprivation in their own childhood, but can actually inherit these sorts of issues from their parents. The only way to actually get a society of flourishing humans is to go for a few generations of everyone having non-impoverished childhoods. Height seems to have pretty much maxed out in the US – though it’s not clear if this is a result of hitting genetic boundaries for healthy adults or if it’s because we’re not providing the same steady improvements to overall wellness we used to.

        • Doug S. says:

          > Our politicians don’t compare to Gladstone, not our novelists to Dickens, still less our public intellectuals to John Stuart Mill.

          Sorry, but I call bullshit on this one. I’ll line up Churchill and David Lloyd George against Gladstone (would FDR be cheating?), Terry Pratchett against Dickens, and John Rawls against John Stuart Mill.

        • Eugine_Nier says:

          > John Rawls against John Stuart Mill.

          John Rawls?? The guy who starts his magnum opus by arguing that since the “veil of ignorance” hides peoples risk preferences they should be maximally risk averse? You have got to be kidding me.

        • Doug S. says:

          Would you prefer John Kenneth Galbraith?

        • Multiheaded says:

          I nominate Jurgen Habermas. I think he’s the greatest philosopher of… let’s say, left-republicanism in the 20th century, and easily more fundamental and decision-theory-focused than Mill. See the link to a good introduction in my anti-reactionary collection: http://pastebin.com/9TmT3gn4

        • peterdjones says:

          @randy

          This soldier’s who could write..

          @eugine …might be helpful if you could say what’s actually wrong about Rawls instead of just splutterimg

      • James James says:

        I don’t find the Flynn effect convincing evidence that innate (genetic) intelligence is rising, because as you say its rapidity would mean there couldn’t have been Aristotle, or even the medieval greats.

        Michael Woodley and his collaborators have made a case that intelligence is falling. Our esteemed host has criticised one of Woodley’s papers, but I don’t think the overall idea has been refuted.

        The reason I would expect intelligence to have fallen in the West is that virtually all babies survive, so there is virtually no natural selection. Furthermore, we know that IQ is now negatively correlated with fertility, and the most intelligent aren’t even at replacement fertility.

        Cochran and Harpending argue that evolution has sped up, because the human population is so much larger that more mutations arise, so more beneficial ones arise, which would then start to spread. However, without natural selection (I haven’t read their book; maybe they address this.)

        The (weak) claim that the rate of innovation has slowed is (weak) evidence that intelligence is falling. I also see weak evidence in the declining quality of art — I see weak evidence all around us, but nothing conclusive.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Natural selection isn’t just about whether you live or die, it’s also about whether you find a mate to have children with, and how many children you have. The claim that all children surviving has eliminated natural selection is false.

        • Creutzer says:

          I also doubt that childhood mortality puts much in the way of selective pressure on intelligence. Intelligence certainly doesn’t help the child survive, and I don’t see that it would help the parents very much in keeping a sick child alive, either.

        • Jake says:

          I don’t think anybody is really claiming that the Flynn effect is a result of genetic improvements. It’s going pretty fast, and we don’t see the sort of massive selection pressure in favor of intelligence that would be needed for such a scenario to make any sense.

          It’s far more likely that it’s a result of the generally improving standards of human wellness in modern culture – as people have access to more and better healthcare and food in childhood, and more people reaping the benefits of their parents having had those advantages as well. Of course as with the similar process effecting height, this will likely peter out as natural genetic limits for healthy humans in a decent environment are reached.

        • Randy M says:

          “I also doubt that childhood mortality puts much in the way of selective pressure on intelligence.” Depends on whether the parents/family could have thought of ways to improve survival odds.

        • James James says:

          I shouldn’t have said “there is virtually no natural selection”, because natural selection never stops.

          I was correct to say “IQ is now negatively correlated with fertility, and the most intelligent aren’t even at replacement fertility.”

          That is, natural selection hasn’t stopped, but has reversed what it is selecting for. Natural selection is having a dysgenic effect rather than a eugenic effect. Bruce Charlton describes it as “The modern world is selecting for pure fertility”, i.e. just fertility, not intelligence or good qualities. Intelligence is being sacrificed for fertility.

  6. Eugine_Nier says:

    > Now bring them forward to the present day. Tell them “Right now in the present day pretty much every single person believes that slavery is morally wrong. No one would justify it. Here, come out of the laboratory and spend a few years living in our slave-free society.”

    > I don’t know if the Southerner would learn a whole lot of new facts during this period. They might learn that black people could be pretty capable and intelligent, but Frederick Douglass was a person, everyone knew he was smart, that didn’t change anyone’s mind. Yet even without learning many new facts, I can’t imagine he would stay pro-slavery very long.

    Somethings they might observe:

    1) That blacks are still an underclass, that has an enormous murder rate.

    2) That this is despite whites bending over backwards to promote them, e.g., affirmative action.

    3) That it is socially unacceptable to draw the obvious conclusions from the above two statements.

    This reminds me of Moldburg’s thought experiment, except he proposes bringing a typical 19th century abolitionist to the present day. The abolitionist would observe the above as well as:

    1) The complete degeneration of morals, miscegenation, no-fault divorce, most children born out of wedlock, to say nothing of gay marriage.

    2) A government far larger and more intrusive than anything anyone dreamt of in his time.

    3) The hollowing out and decline of religion.

    His reaction would likely be: “I’m sorry, I didn’t know, God please forgive me”. Upon returning to his own time he’d likely become an ardent defender of slavery. If he happened to bring a history bock back with him it would likely be considered a dystopia and dismissed as absurd pro-slavery/pro-session propaganda.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m pretty sure abolition didn’t cause gay marriage, big government, or atheism.

      • Randy M says:

        I won’t touch the first or the third right now, but you are familiar with how the abolishion was accomplished, right? Libertarians I know have a dim view of the precedent set by Lincoln, though I don’t know if the same wouldn’t have happened during a civil (or foreign) war subsequently in any event.

      • Matthew says:

        As a big fan of both abolition and government doing useful things, I’d actually say this is sort of untrue for “big government”. Abolition per se was not responsible, but that convenient period during and immediately after the Civil War when the Southern reactionaries weren’t there to cast any votes in Congress had significant consequences for the way this country ended up approaching infrastructure and taxation.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        Well the precedents that states can’t secede and the strong role of the federal government in ending slavery certainly helped.

        Also you surely agree that banning slavery contributed to the legalization of miscegenation.

        • Matthew says:

          Also you surely agree that banning slavery contributed to the legalization of miscegenation.

          White men and black women were having sex legally in the South before slavery was banned. The black women just weren’t consenting to said sex in most cases.

        • Andy says:

          In addition, there was one notorious case of a man – a slaveowner even! – freeing and then marrying his slave.
          Wikipedia
          This was, amazingly, pre-Mexican War. Though Southern society had something of a rightward drift after the Mexican War and the cotton boom. Slavery went from being an economic necessity that was on its way out to an economic necessity that could not be criticized in the space of about a generation. The exit of slaveowners who were conflicted about slavery probably contributed to this. RM Johnson’s conduct would probably not have been tolerated during the Civil War. And given the intersectionality of race and gender, where white males were allowed to screw across class lines but white women were not, a gender-swapped relationship like my white aunt who married a black man and had two sons by him would have been destined for the nearest lynching tree (for him) and public shaming for her. (Edited to remove reference to lynching/honor killing of white women, which I can’t find evidence for.)

          But to respond to the top of the thread, I doubt an abolitionist of the Unitarian stripe would be all that dismayed by the pace of change. John Brown, I imagine, would turn into a Ken Ham type, clinging to Biblical inerrancy, but the more skeptical abolitionists, I imagine, would take a look at modern America and go “Okay, you people are nuts, but this is a tolerable nuts.”

        • Anonymous says:

          Lynching or honor killing? Really? Could you produce an example?

        • Andy says:

          Lynching or honor killing? Really? Could you produce an example?

          I thought I could produce one of a white woman being shamed – and calls for a public whipping for her – for wanting to marry a Cherokee, but I can’t find a specific source and think that one may be fiction. I apologize, and edited my comment above.
          However, even if I can’t find a specific historical case, I believe the South would have reacted VERY harshly to the case of a white woman happily marrying a black man, especially because of the cultural fetishization at the time of the “purity” of white women, as evidenced in anti-abolition propaganda.

        • Andy says:

          Also you surely agree that banning slavery contributed to the legalization of miscegenation.

          I do. And don’t call us Shirley.
          (Sorry. It’s late.)
          I just don’t think that miscegenation is any kind of negative effect, since that’s what humans have been doing for a very, very, very, very long time. Look at the proportion of the European population who have European blood, or the large number of my generation (I’m 25) who are mixed-race, and include many of my closest friends and my lady-friend. I regard the concept of “miscegenation” to be dark superstition, rather than a negative consequence to be avoided.

        • Anonymous says:

          Whipping is a far cry from a death sentence.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Andy, your opinion of miscegenation is irrelevant to this thread. It amounts to saying: “How dare you discuss the opinions of EVIL people.”

        • Andy says:

          Andy, your opinion of miscegenation is irrelevant to this thread. It amounts to saying: “How dare you discuss the opinions of EVIL people.”

          Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I was also responding to this bit of the original comment:

          the complete degeneration of morals, miscegenation, no-fault divorce, most children born out of wedlock, to say nothing of gay marriage.

          That lumped “miscegenation” (itself a neologism coined in 1863 as part of a hoaxy piece of supposedly abolitionist literature!) in with a host of other perceived “moral ills,” therefore I feel that the status of race-mixing as a societal positive or negative was already in this thread.
          Pre-1863, though, the word “amalgamtion” would have been used to describe race-mixing, which was happening a fair bit, out of sight of the prevailing white society. It was not by chance alone that a Cherokee chief contemporary of Andrew Jackson had pale skin, freckles, red hair, and blue eyes, yet was counted a full-blood member of the Cherokee tribe, due to the Cherokee custom of matrilineal descent.
          Wikipedia
          In other words: producing children of different races or marrying across racial or ethnic lines was something people have done for a long, long, long time, and probably would have been recognized as such by many abolitionists, were they to be transported to the present day, rather than condemned. Many slaveowners perhaps would not see it this way, but perhaps Richard Mentor Johnson would. It’s hard to tell at this remove.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Your first comment was about the very interesting example of Johnson, while your third comment was purely about your own view, which is no more relevant than your own view of gay marriage. I’m not sure whether I should have given you more or less slack on the third comment given the context of your first comment getting the point.

          It’s true that the word miscegenation is recent, but laws banning it are older. Indeed, Johnson never married his “common-law wife” because Kentucky banned interracial marriage from its very beginning.

      • MugaSofer says:

        I’m pretty sure abolition didn’t cause gay marriage, big government, or atheism.

        *You* may be sure, Scott. But would they accept your assurances?

        After all, if the dire predictions came true … they would feel a lot less stupid.

    • Matthew says:

      1) That blacks are still an underclass, that has an enormous murder rate.

      The murder rate in the South in 1850, which doesn’t even include whites killing blacks because that wasn’t considered murder, was seven times the murder rate in the North (Introduction, footnote 4). This probably not the grounds he’s going to decide on.

      2) That this is despite whites bending over backwards to promote them, e.g., affirmative action.

      I won’t derail the thread by addressing this at length, but affirmative action is a drop in the bucket weighed against pervasive discrimination in housing, lending, and education.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        > The murder rate in the South in 1850, which doesn’t even include whites killing blacks because that wasn’t considered murder, was seven times the murder rate in the North (Introduction, footnote 4).

        And both are much less then the murder rate today.

        > I won’t derail the thread by addressing this at length, but affirmative action is a drop in the bucket weighed against pervasive discrimination in housing, lending, and education.

        Evidence please. All the evidence I’ve seen for this kind of assertion amounts to “whites are doing better then blacks, it can’t possibly be because blacks are worse at the relevant skills than whites, therefore it must be discrimination.” And then proceed to look for ever subtler forms of discrimination.

        • Andy says:

          And both are much less then the murder rate today.

          Cite your source? Running from this, which is a 10,000 foot view:
          Marginal Revolution
          The homicide rate has dropped. That big spike right after 1850 might be Bleeding Kansas and other sectional/political conflict, or the Civil War, but I’m not sure. But the overall level for 1850 (and remember, this is per 100,000 people) is a bit below even the pre-2000 spike, which I suspect to be the big US crime wave. On this evidence, your argument fails.
          Consider, please, that in the South duelling (legalized homicide, really) had a long and somewhat honorable history among “men of honor” in those days. Consider the level of alcohol consumption, which was truly epic among Americans. Consider the norm of masculine “honor” that needed defending with violence, especially among Southern “gentlemen.” Consider the level of violence which wracked Kansas before and during the Civil War over whether it would be a free or slave state. Consider this same “honor” (which I’d prefer to call overweening, narcissistic pride, but let’s use their own words) that drove a Southerner to beat the hell out of a northern Senator on the floor of the Capitol, for maligning the South in a speech over the same violence in Kansas. The Southerner’s companion, instead of stopping his friend from committing assault upon a fellow elected official, held off a mob of bystanders with a pistol.
          Consider that the public reaction across the South, was not largely to condemn this public act of violence, but to mail him hundreds of replacements for the cane he broke in the aforementioned assault, some inscribed with the words “HIT HIM AGAIN.”
          This was an incredibly, violently prideful society of “gentlemen.” If you have statistics that disprove me, please present them.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Andy:

          I often suspect (and you hinted at this a few times in your own post) that the reason the “violence is increasing” meme keeps propagating is that, to a certain mindset, only violence *upwards* actually counts. Violence *downwards* is a natural and praiseworthy state of affairs, and is therefore more properly called “maintaining order”.

        • Andy says:

          I often suspect (and you hinted at this a few times in your own post) that the reason the “violence is increasing” meme keeps propagating is that, to a certain mindset, only violence *upwards* actually counts. Violence *downwards* is a natural and praiseworthy state of affairs, and is therefore more properly called “maintaining order”.

          I agree. I think another factor is the race of the murder-perpetrators. In the 19th century a big chunk of the organized violence was being perpetrated by whites against other “downward” whites (abolitionists, Mormons, Catholics, the Irish, the Germans) and isn’t counted in their perceptions. I suspect these peoples’ innate biases focus them on the threat-groups (dark people) rather than the potential of violence across all groups.

    • zaogao says:

      We don’t even need to imagine some imaginary racist. Let’s see what Douglass had to say:

      “In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us… I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! … And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ”

      Does anyone believe this today? Can you even imagine someone making a comment like this without getting pilloried? While slavery and racism are now seen as awful our implicit view of black abilities seems to be more negative than it was 150 years ago.

      • Lavendar bubble tea says:

        Well, in the context of today I would imagine that being the quote being used to support non violent social separatist movements or on a less extreme scale Afrocentric culture/movements. I know that there are a lot of activists in the modern day and in my town who work to support forms of mutual aid and solidarity building without the aid of white people/outside groups.

        I suspect that many people believe that today, but that they believe that they need to get away from mainstream culture to truly manifest that vision by creating separate spaces away from the power dynamics of mainstream society.

        There are even some branches of movements to help foster Pan African culture which exclude white people from participating and want a movement for black people by black people. I have friends who are white and Kemetic who will sometimes (Often if they go to certain tags/sites) come across Kemetic groups which want to be centered around the needs of modern day black people or sometimes want to completely exclude people who are not black. (Kemeticism is a term for various religious movements which seek to revive the real or perceived culture and religious practices of various periods of Ancient Egypt.) I’m not an expert on this topic, so I apologize if I have misunderstood these concepts or used outdated/incorrect terminology.

        As for who might be hated for saying that. I suspect that if a non black person expressed that, they would be viewed as wanting to take away vital resources/aid to improvised communities or might be trying to claim that post slavery African Americans had equal social and economic footing with other races implying that the current state of some communities is the fault of African Americans. Whereas, a black person saying this (I am not using African Americans here since this can refer to anyone who with an African heritage in any other country) might be viewed as a call for shifting away from aid aside the community and empowering people in a non charity social context. (Basically, a white person might be seen as saying- “Lol, you tried and you failed” whereas a black person expressing that might be viewed as saying “Okay, let’s do this!”) I am not commenting on how accurate these assumptions are, just that this is what I currently suspect would be the social difference.

      • Jake says:

        I don’t think you can really take a quote from someone arguing against active government oppression of a certain race, and say that the same argument applies to the government taking action to heal the wounds of that same repression a century or two later.

        • Crimson Wool says:

          …Douglass is pretty clearly arguing against anything like affirmative action there. The only way to say that he wouldn’t oppose affirmative action is to assume that he’s either fundamentally dishonest (i.e. that he doesn’t really believe that blacks should either stand or fall on their own merits, he’s just saying that to win a particular argument), or that he would change his opinions if exposed to modernity (which is a rather large assumption), or something else to that effect.

        • Sufficiently incompetent help is worse than no help at all.

    • Jake says:

      “1) The complete degeneration of morals, miscegenation, no-fault divorce, most children born out of wedlock, to say nothing of gay marriage.

      2) A government far larger and more intrusive than anything anyone dreamt of in his time.

      3) The hollowing out and decline of religion.”

      What is it exactly about these consequences that would worry the hypothetical abolitionist so much? When you’re discussing something with people who hold different values from you it’s important to remember that they may not be horrified at the same things as you.

      Race mixing, no fault divorce, gay marriage, these are all things that I’m fine with. Children born out of wedlock do worse than their peers with married parents – but this is almost entirely explained by the correlation between marriage, income, and social class. Because children being born out of wedlock isn’t causal, an increase isn’t likely to be bad in itself if we don’t see evidence (as we don’t) of it having other negative effects.

      Larger and more intrusive government – again something I’m pretty much okay with despite a few mixed feelings. I find some aspects of the nanny-state annoying, but on the other hand our current basic system of government has provided so much better outcomes for so many more people than anything someone from the 1800’s has ever seen, so I’m thinking he’d come around with the explanation “it just works.”

      Finally, the hollowing out and decline of religion – again something I’m all for. You can have a theory that religion is necessary for other social goods, but this would be very difficult to back up with any data when you look at the relative success of both less religious people and less religious countries. So then you’re just left with being mad at a neutral (or from my perspective, positive!) social change.

      This really seems to be the common theme in the objections to modern society from reactionaries. It’s not that there’s anything that’s actually much worse than earlier societies, it’s just that we’re letting go of some of the shittier aspects of our value system, and reactionaries don’t want to.

      • Andy says:

        What is it exactly about these consequences that would worry the hypothetical abolitionist so much? When you’re discussing something with people who hold different values from you it’s important to remember that they may not be horrified at the same things as you.

        Most abolitionists had religious beliefs similar to contemporary Evangelical Protestants. They were later active in the temperance movement that got Prohibition passed, and others were fervently anti-Catholic, though the Church of the time was something that was much easier to be against. However, I feel that many of the more intelligent, if given a gentle grounding in the kinds of scientific discoveries that disprove the inerrancy of the Bible, would be more likely to leave those aspects of their religion behind, as do many young people who leave fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism today.

        • Eugine_Nier says:

          > However, I feel that many of the more intelligent, if given a gentle grounding in the kinds of scientific discoveries that disprove the inerrancy of the Bible, would be more likely to leave those aspects of their religion behind, as do many young people who leave fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism today.

          You do realize most fundamentalist evangelical protestants don’t leave their churches. The only reason it seems otherwise is that those who do end up in your social circle.

        • Andy says:

          You do realize most fundamentalist evangelical protestants don’t leave their churches. The only reason it seems otherwise is that those who do end up in your social circle.

          Do you have a source for this claim?
          It depends on the circle. The most extreme fundamentalists – like the Quiverfull movement – have had a huge number of children who were raised in totally controlled environments and left.
          Link
          The ex-homeschooler blogosphere may be small in absolute numbers, but I’m struck by the number of stories that go “I was exposed to evolution/feminism/actual gay people and my beliefs couldn’t stand up to reality.”
          Again, it depends on the individual, and the 1850s abolitionists were a diverse group. John Brown and his fanatics? Them I could see going full Fred Phelps “this world is damned!” The pacifist Quakers, especially if exposed to modern Unitarians, people who can speak the familiar Christian memes, I could see becoming very enthused about the modern world. I mean, a black person on TV talking about science and astronomy and evolution? Black journalists? Jackie Robinson? The non-white units who served with distinction from the Civil War to Korea? That’s the equality they were talking about. And I honestly feel that just as support for gay marriage increases with the number of gay people in your social circle (because then you see gay people as people and not the conservative Sodom-and-Gomorrah strawman, and realize that gay families aren’t too different from straight families,) I think a liberal abolitionist who spent some time in the Gomorrah Pacific West Hollywood or Long Beach neighborhoods of Los Angeles (the latter’s probably better, less of a party culture and more family-values gay people in Long Beach) and talked to the people who would have been mostly outside their experience of the mid-19th century, as opposed to sitting in a room reading the Reactionary blogosphere and watching Fox News, would be led to believe abolition had been a net gain even if abolition led to big government and gay marriage and mixed-race marriage, an argument I doubt.
          And possibly that abolitionist could be led to believe that gay marriage and no-fault divorce were not so bad as well.

    • Jim Crow isn’t Big Government?

      • peterdjones says:

        Given the anti “miscegination” laws, govt then was small enough to fit in the bedroom..

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        Compare the size of government, as measured by the say the number of employees then and now.

        Also Jim Crow was state not Federal Government.

        • peterdjones says:

          Of course govt has got bigger in absolute terms, there’s more people to govern! McDonlads has more managers thn it used to, as well.

          Since when was growth a bad thing?

    • peterdjones says:

      It’s just empirically and intellectually incorrect to draw the “obvious conclusion” – presumably something about genetics- since it grossly mispredicts both the nature of predominantly black societies and the nature of non-black undrrclarses.

      Your time transported southern may or may not have your grasp of scientific method, and may or may not have your grasp of the fact that there .ar nations other than the US.

    • Troy says:

      Eugine,

      Abolition is not responsible for the phenomena you describe. Life outcomes of African-Americans were steadily improving up through the 60s. Until then (more or less), employment was increasing, wages were increasing, and crime was decreasing. The minimum wage, the welfare state, and changing social norms are more likely culprits for the negative aspects of the contemporary African-American community that you note.

      (Also, I’m not sure that with respect to metrics like crime the black community today is worse than the white community in the antebellum south. I suspect our historical data aren’t good enough to say definitively.)

      Anyway, you wrongly presume that the moral foundation for abolition was that if slavery was abolished blacks would achieve equal outcomes with whites. While some abolitionists might have thought that, many did not. Witness, for example, Abraham Lincoln:

      “I agree with Judge Douglas, he [the black man] is not my equal in many respects — certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”

      Slavery was wrong because it disrespected the rights of slaves. Even if (contrary to fact, I think) those same slaves (or their descendants) ended up with worse life outcomes as non-slaves, it would still be wrong for that reason.

      • Jake says:

        “Abolition is not responsible for the phenomena you describe. Life outcomes of African-Americans were steadily improving up through the 60s. Until then (more or less), employment was increasing, wages were increasing, and crime was decreasing. The minimum wage, the welfare state, and changing social norms are more likely culprits for the negative aspects of the contemporary African-American community that you note.”

        I would think a better explanation for the difficulties the African American community has faced in the last few decades is that they’re a reflection of the difficulties society in general has faced in those decades. When the gap between the rich and poor starts to widen, a racial group that’s already at the bottom of the pile is obviously going to be hit harder.

        Check out this graph for instance: http://thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Pew-Race-Chart.png

        So up the recession both black and white median income was slowly rising, but since they were rising at the same rate, there remained a gap. The much larger wealth gap shows that even if incomes were equal, it can take a long time for that to translate into actually equal resources. This is what you’d expect to see in a world where blacks really were inferior, or a world where racism is a real phenomena that leads to members of a certain race being paid less than they should be. Other data comparing blacks and whites with the same levels of education, point towards the racism explanation. http://blackdemographics.com/households/african-american-income/

        Ultimately my point is that anyone arguing in favor of slavery as a system that benefited the slaves needs to do some more research both on what life was like under slavery, and the progress that’s been made in the last century and half.

        • Troy says:

          Jake:

          We’re in agreement about slavery, which I deplore. However, we disagree about the recent causes of African-American problems. First, for many of the problems — crime, unemployment, etc. — not only has their absolute rate increased since the early 60s, but the gap between blacks and whites has increased. This suggests that the explanation is not just “the difficulties society in general has faced in those decades.” (I should also note that on most of these metrics things have gotten better since the late 80s/early 90s and are continuing to improve — I am speaking in general terms.)

          Second, a general point against “racism” as an explanation: by any reasonable measure of racism, racism has been decreasing over time. So if racism is the explanation of black problems we would expect that the crime/unemployment/wealth gap between blacks and whites would be decreasing from the Civil War until the present. And yet, as I noted, these gaps were mostly decreasing until the 60s. (A little earlier with unemployment — the black/white gap emerged there in the 40s with the first minimum wage laws. Interesting historical note: minimum wage laws were often defended as a means of ensuring employment for white workers and keeping their jobs from being stolen by blacks.)

          Similarly, I presume that most people who put forward the racism explanation think that racism is worse in southern and Republican states. But in fact the gaps I’ve mentioned are worse in northern and Democratic states. (My source for this is several old blog posts of Steve Sailer’s; he has some nice illustrative maps. I don’t have them on hand right now but am willing to look them up on request if you are skeptical.)

          Both of these facts suggest the explanations I gave — progressive laws and culture — have more to do with the problems the African-American community faces than racism does.

          On your last point, which I took to be that the wage gap is due to racism blacks earn less than people with equivalent education: when we control for IQ, blacks earn 97% of whites with the same IQ. Education is a proxy for IQ, but it’s only a proxy. 97% isn’t equal pay, but it’s pretty close, and it suggests employers aren’t very racist in how much they pay their employers. Also note that employers may sometimes use race as a proxy about who to hire because they are disallowed by law to test IQ or to perform criminal background checks, laws which harm smarter and non-criminal blacks who employers are afraid to hire because they know that blacks tend to have lower IQs and are more likely to have a criminal background. (I don’t think employers discriminate as much on race when it comes to how much they pay, because when you have the opportunity to observe someone at a job heuristics like race become less reliable than observed history in predicting traits.)

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think employers discriminate as much on race when it comes to how much they pay, because when you have the opportunity to observe someone at a job heuristics like race become less reliable than observed history in predicting traits.

          Pay is largely set at hiring, so I don’t think that is relevant.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        > Slavery was wrong because it disrespected the rights of slaves. Even if (contrary to fact, I think) those same slaves (or their descendants) ended up with worse life outcomes as non-slaves, it would still be wrong for that reason.

        And this argument is supposed to convince the ante-bellum southerner?

        • Andy says:

          And this argument is supposed to convince the ante-bellum southerner?

          Not the 1850s Southerner, the one obsessed with his own “honor” (say better, pride) over and above the actual interests of the greater good. The 1820s Southerner or the Founding Fathers, already uncertain of slavery’s moral status? I think they could be convinced that abolition didn’t lead to utter social ruin, and could embrace it. The Jeffersonian agricultural egalitarians would be aghast at the percentage of our population that lives in cities, but they were naive idealists with their heads stuck firmly in the pre-industrial era.
          The better argument, of course, is that slavery kept the Southern economy stagnant and unchanging.
          Hinton Rowan Helper, a Southerner, wrote The Impending Crisis of the South in 1857 as an argument that agricultural slavery concentrated wealth, shut poorer whites out of the economy, and impeded industrialization and the development of a market economy. The pre-war South was, for the most part, what we would today call a Third World country: mostly concerned with exporting resources, and chronically impoverished because it didn’t invest in its own infrastructure. This of course contributed to the South’s defeat in the Civil War. The South was very wealthy, mostly because of the high price of cotton, but it failed to prepare for any economy beyond cotton.

    • James Miller says:

      Some of us free market types think that U.S. government efforts to help blacks have, predictably, done more harm than good. Welfare policy certainly gives incentives for poor American teenage girls to have children and then not marry their baby’s dad. Even affirmative action can be seen as doing more harm than good when you take into account signaling models.

      • Also, from the libertarian angle, urban renewal damaged neighborhoods, both hurting individuals and damaging social networks.

        The high levels of incarceration (to some extent due to the war on drugs) also cause a lot of damage, though I’m interested to hear that the statistics for blacks in the US have been improving at the same time. On the other hand, I bet those statistics aren’t including the poverty of prison inmates.

        If things were at their worst in the 60s and 70s, what was going on then?

        • peterdjones says:

          Give an example of urban renewal amaging neighbourhoods.

        • Desertopa says:

          Due to a very significant extent to the war on drugs, most likely.

          According to this book

          http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Crow-Incarceration-Colorblindness/dp/1595586431

          the substantial majority of Black Americans in prison are in for drug charges, but the estimated actual rates of illegal drug use among Black and White Americans are very similar, and the difference in incarceration rates is largely due to lopsided enforcement compounded at every level of the justice system.

          Although this is speculative, I would suggest that these kinds of enforcement disparities are also causative of an adversarial relationship with law enforcement in many communities, which lead to a decreased respect for rule of law and contribute to higher crime rates of other types. If you view the police force as probably out to get you *regardless* of what you do, it’s likely to inculcate an allegiance effect with criminals.

    • Troy says:

      My point was that this was the rationale of many abolitionists. Obviously many slaveholders weren’t convinced by it, although some were. And contrary to you and Moldbug, I don’t think that most abolitionists would have supported slavery after visiting the present day, even assuming (as I said, I don’t) that things now are as bad as you say.

      Edit: this was meant to be a response to the 7:32 post above; I accidentally posted it in the wrong place.

  7. Darcey Riley says:

    I agree with Ashely Yakeley. This whole post strikes me as odd because it presupposes that moral instincts can be “right” or “wrong”. If I wake up in the matrix pod and find myself in a future where everyone keeps black slaves, I’m certainly not going to walk to the nearest Slaves-R-Us and buy one. But that doesn’t mean our society has made the “correct” moral decision, just that it’s done a particularly good job instilling that moral in me. Even if I went through the whole disorienting experiment, where I kept waking up in different places, the way I was raised might still influence my final decision on whether it’s ok to keep slaves. Even if the aliens’ procedure does work, and manages to extract some moral “core” from me which corresponds to my innate genetic moral predispositions, why should we trust those to be the “correct” moral decision?

    Moral systems seem to exist to keep society running smoothly. Presumably, then, different societies will adopt different moral systems, depending on their differing needs. Infanticide might be a moral necessity in societies with very scarce resources, and a moral abomination in societies of abundance. The most we could possibly say is “this moral system is ‘correct’ for this particular society”, which would simply mean “this moral system keeps this society reasonably stable”. (But this still treats society-not-collapsing as a terminal value.)

    Actually, I think the whole thought experiment reveals your deeply ingrained progressive ideology, Scott. =P The thought experiment relies on a prior which says “societies get more moral as time goes on”. Suppose you didn’t know much history, and you got transported to the past, where slavery was fine. Would you be just as likely to question your beliefs as if you found yourself in the future?

    When this experiment is done with factual beliefs rather than moral ones, I’m curious how many people will change their minds. Scott knows this already, but for the benefit of everyone else: I used to be psychotic. I thought I was in contact with another world, and I interpreted all my dreams as visits to that other world. My psychiatrist told me I was delusional, but I knew she was working for the Enemy. I had a really important mission to fulfill; the fate of both worlds was at stake. So naturally, the Enemy had sent an agent to convince me the other world wasn’t real, so I wouldn’t be able to save it. (Scott’s story here captures my experience remarkably well.)

    And yet, after about 8 months of therapy, and every grownup I knew telling me I was crazy and none of this stuff was real, I stopped believing in my delusions. And presumably, people are cured of psychosis all the time. Is that because it’s really easy to change anyone‘s beliefs, given the correct social pressure? Or was I unusual convinceable?

    • ozymandias says:

      Reading about the past actually did change my opinions on some things– most notably, the morality of infanticide and pederasty.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Sounds like you are advocating moral anti-realism which is a fairly uncommon belief. Suppose that a society were to breed humans so that people can hunt them and torture them for sport, and perhaps harvest their organs (just to make the scenario a bit more plausible) – doesn’t sound like it would lead to societal collapse; organs are pretty useful. Do you bite the bullet and say that as long as this society is running smoothly, it isn’t doing anything wrong?

      • Anonymous says:

        Do you bite the bullet and say that as long as this society is running smoothly, it isn’t doing anything wrong?

        Moral antirealism doesn’t require you to bite this bullet, because you’re also antirealist about the statement “that society isn’t doing anything wrong”.

        PS: That was me, Creutzer. Forgot to enter the name.

        • Anonymous says:

          Edit: This is Alexander Stanislaw, not sure why that happened.

          I don’t think your addressing the meat of this thought experiment. Darcey effectively said that Scott can’t judge other cultures using our moral intuitions because one’s moral intuitions are only for one’s own society. I’m asking how far this can be pushed.

          The moral realist says “No they should stop doing that!”. The subjectivist says “Well whatever works for them”. If Darcey is a subjectivist, I’d like to know what the response is if not this one.

          If you must nitpick then yes the anti-realist can say any of

          1: The statement “that society is doing something wrong” is false
          2: The statement “that society is doing something wrong” does not take a truth value.
          3: The statement “that society is doing something wrong” requires a predicate to be true or false.

      • Doug S. says:

        It would depend a LOT on what the victims have to say about the whole process. Presumably some Roman gladiators were quite happy to be gladiators. If the hunted are all like “For Honour and Glory!” about it and would be pissed off if you tried to take away their grand tradition, well, I’m going to be kind of squicked, but I don’t know if I’d want to condemn them for it.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Deep Space Nine, S01E06

        • Doug S. says:

          Exactly!

        • Nornagest says:

          Can one of you elaborate for those of us who aren’t Trekkies and are too lazy to look it up on Memory Alpha?

        • Doug S. says:

          Plot summary: An alien comes through the wormhole. He acts suspicious and ends up getting in trouble on Deep Space Nine. It turns out that yes, he is a fugitive, but he’s not the normal kind: his role in his society is to be hunted and killed for sport. He’s a willing and eager participant, and considers the experience of being hunted “the greatest adventure”. When his pursuers find him being held prisoner on Deep Space Nine and discover that humans disapprove of their hunt, they say that they’re going to declare the wormhole off-limits so this doesn’t happen again, and that, because the fugitive was so careless as to have become someone else’s prisoner, they’re going to inflict upon him the shame of being returned alive from a hunt. Miles O’Brian is told that interfering would be a Prime Directive violation, but he decides to give the aliens what it seems they really want and creates an opportunity for the fugitive to escape them so the game can continue.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Actually, I think the whole thought experiment reveals your deeply ingrained progressive ideology, Scott. =P The thought experiment relies on a prior which says “societies get more moral as time goes on”.

      This is called the Whig view of history, and yes, it is a prominent feature of progressivism. Hell, even Eliezer Yudkowsky is a Whig.

    • peterdjones says:

      Different societies will interact and poke their noses into each others business, eg international opposition apartheid.

  8. F. says:

    Scott writes: “I can’t imagine he would stay pro-slavery very long.”

    It’s funny, because I can’t imagine that he would change his pro-slavery stance, not in his heart. I thought this were obvious, and I’m extremely surprised that Scott gives the opposite for granted. What in the world makes him think that our antebellum southerner would change so easily?

    I rather expect such a time traveler to react like a geographic traveler would. When we visit a foreign culture, we aren’t likely to change our deep moral beliefs to adapt them to local customs. If you’re a grown up person and go live among cannibal for a while, you aren’t likely to start believing that cannibalism is right.

    The past is a foreign country, and so is the future. Our time traveler would just think “people in this time are really weird, they think slavery is wrong, can you imagine” or something.

    Darcey Riley above puts it brilliantly. if Scott were teleported to the year 1700 (forget about the 1800s, slavery was already controversial by then), would he then begin to support slavery? No, he wouldn’t change; neither would a slaveowner teleported to the present day.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Then how come when atrocities are solved within a generation, people are like “Yeah, that was weird, how come we were ever complicit in that? Must have been those other people.” The prime example being the Holocaust, but others being easily available.

      • drethelin says:

        the 20th century is a pretty weird one to use to prove anything. People were fine with atrocities for thousands of years. To go from “concentration camps are fine” EVEN IN AMERICA to “holy shit we could never imprison people and force to do work that would be monstrous (except for our million prisoners)” is not what you might expect.

        • Jake says:

          The term ‘concentration camp’ can be a little misleading in how it lumps in very different things. Sort of like how the reactionaries lump in liberal democracies and communist dictatorships under the term ‘demotist.’

          Obviously the Japanese internment during WWII was a shitty move, but it’s roughly 9 million percent less bad than the Holocaust. If the Nazis had rounded up all the Jews, Gypsies, and dissidents and held them unharmed in camps in Poland for the whole war, I’d still think they were racist assholes, but it wouldn’t be in the same league as far as level of harm done.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Obviously the Japanese internment during WWII was a shitty move, but it’s roughly 9 million percent less bad than the Holocaust.

          What about the Trail of Tears?

        • Jake says:

          “What about the Trail of Tears?”

          What about it? It was an essentially genocidal move, and should be abhorred as such. But not close enough to the present to support the same kind of “we were doing this so recently” argument made referring to the internment camps.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Well, I specifically mention the Trail of Tears because it (and the USA’s solution to the Native American problem in general) were explicitly Hitler’s template for the Holocaust.

      • Darcey Riley says:

        Slightly off-topic, but this makes me wonder: did the same thing happen in Nazi Germany? Did people say to themselves “Wow, I used to be friends with a Jewish guy. How could I have ever thought that was ok?”?

        • Matthew says:

          Based on my observation of less extreme cases of people changing their minds while minimizing damage to ego and status, it’s much more likely they convinced themselves of something like, “I was just demonstrating Aryan courtesy, even to my inferiors, but we were never really friends.”

        • anon says:

          I attempted to write a research paper a couple years ago on changing attitudes among Germans after the Holocaust. But even after hours of research, I found no credible evidence, so I was forced to change my topic.

          Here’s what I do know:

          Both East and West Germans were publicly silent about the Holocaust for a decade or two afterwards. Then there were a bunch of films and arts about it.

          German citizens frequently claimed to be unaware of the Holocaust, but this is likely untrue because concentration and extermination camps were major logistical operations, the ghettos were very visible and the poor quality of life obvious, and the extermination of the Jews was an explicit goal talked about in the papers and speeches. They were likely unaware of scale, but most would have been complicit in at least local atrocities.

          German children of today frequently understand the Holocaust in terms that distance themselves and their own relatives from responsibility. See this paper for some fascinating evidence: http://www.ajc.org/atf/cf/%7BF56F4495-CF69-45CB-A2D7-F8ECA17198EE%7D/Grandpa_wasnt_nazi.pdf

          There were also regional differences in response caused due to occupation by different foreign powers (US, UK, USSR, France) with different strategies for responding to the Holocaust, but I don’t remember what these differences were.

          Initially, the paper was going to be an investigation of how Germans managed to overcome anti-Semitic beliefs. But the impression I got from my research was that the racism never really stopped, it just went underground and wasn’t transmitted to newer generations.

        • Darcey Riley says:

          Thank you, this is very interesting, and I’ll have to read the rest of the “Grandpa wasn’t a Nazi” paper later. I’m only a few pages in so far, but it seems like the attitude is “German children don’t realize their family members were Nazis, and this is bad”. And maybe it is bad that even when their grandparents admit to having been Nazis, the kids still don’t accept it.

          But it makes me wonder some things. When I was learning about the Holocaust in regular school and Hebrew school, one of the lessons we learned was “even ordinary, mostly-good people can be seduced by evil ideas; therefore we must be extremely vigilant to ensure that we don’t fall into the same traps”. So, two questions. (1) Have we actually increased in vigilance? Has this increased vigilance prevent any atrocities from occurring? And (2) could it be that such lessons have the opposite effect? Could learning about human fallibility make us more likely to commit moral failures? I’m guessing probably not, but it seems like a hypothesis worth considering.

        • Kiboh says:

          From what I’ve heard, one of the major problems the Nazis faced was that people who agreed that Jews in general were bad would make exceptions for their Jewish friends.

          If Cracked can be believed, ‘people’ included Hitler himself. Apparently the guy arranged for his Jewish ex-commanding-officer to be spared. Source: http://www.cracked.com/article_20441_6-people-saved-by-literally-last-person-they-expected_p2.html

      • F. says:

        Then how come when atrocities are solved within a generation, people are like “Yeah, that was weird, how come we were ever complicit in that? Must have been those other people.” The prime example being the Holocaust, but others being easily available.

        On the contrary, Americans continued to think for decades that the mass murders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were OK and even wise. Even today many Americans think that way, people who weren’t even born back then.

        As for the Holocaust, well, when it was happening, Germans weren’t aware of it. What are the other examples?

        • von Kalifornen says:

          I wouldn’t call the atomic bombing solved. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of broad revelation that it was the c wrong thing to do.

        • Anthony says:

          It still boggles me that there are people who are so retrograde as to believe that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not more than fully justified by the events up to that time.

        • K says:

          It certainly wasn’t justified if the goal was to end the war with Japan, which was the alleged goal. Here’s an article that talks about it: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/05/29/the_bomb_didnt_beat_japan_nuclear_world_war_ii

          There are also arguments that it was actually a show of force against the USSR, and that Japan just happened to be the hapless target. That might be, but I’d argue that takes the argument too far into the realm of Realpolitik to be relevant here.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          K, that article says Hiroshima had no practical impact because the Japanese didn’t notice it amid all the other city bombings. A tough starting point if you want to claim it was singularly evil.

          Some people do generally condemn the bombing of cities, but that is a very different position.

          Anthony, the word “retrograde” is the opposite of what you probably mean.

        • F. says:

          I regret having mentioned the atomic bombings, they are irrelevant to the point that was being discussed and the way I put it may sound inflammatory.

      • lmm says:

        Because they realise that’s what you say? I can think of several acquaintances who today are like “how could society ever have opposed gay marriage, must have been other people,” and yet from 5 minutes’ conversation they haven’t actually changed their mind about gay people from the days when they said it was obviously wrong.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        > Then how come when atrocities are solved within a generation, people are like “Yeah, that was weird, how come we were ever complicit in that? Must have been those other people.” The prime example being the Holocaust, but others being easily available.

        Can you give an example that doesn’t also involve the people doing the atrocities being brutally invaded and defeated by their enemies.

        Note that the USSR was never successfully invaded and thus their are still people in Russia who admire Stalin.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Desegregation. I’m sure there are still some people in the South who are in favor of segregation, but I bet it’s way less than 50%.

        • peppermint says:

          The segregationists were defeated, openly supporting segregation gets you fired from high-status jobs, and lo and behold, segregation is no longer popular.

          All this demonstrates is that culture is downstream from politics.

        • Andy says:

          Desegregation. I’m sure there are still some people in the South who are in favor of segregation, but I bet it’s way less than 50%.

          Not quiiiiite “without being invaded:”
          Wikimedia Picture
          Though one could argue that the intervention of the 101st Airborne (and other federal interventions during the Civil Rights era) a lot of Southern opinion regarded federal intervention as an “invasion” by outsiders.
          And I bet there are very few Southerners who would admit their own complicity in atrocities like lynchings and intimidations of civil rights activists.

        • Andy says:

          The segregationists were defeated, openly supporting segregation gets you fired from high-status jobs, and lo and behold, segregation is no longer popular.

          All this demonstrates is that culture is downstream from politics.

          And politics is downstream from culture. Abolition came not just because a handful of politicians supported it, and then convinced their constituents, the Civil War helped produce a culture change that led many Northerners to support emancipation.
          And we’ve gotten the lesson of “when you treat people differently based exclusively on their skin color, and deny that anyone with dark skin can ever become a doctor or a lawyer or an astrophysicist, bad things happen, so let’s not do that.”

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Desegregation. I’m sure there are still some people in the South who are in favor of segregation, but I bet it’s way less than 50%.

          I think the Civil War and the subsequent occupation counts as being “brutally invaded and defeated.” Desegregation is not a policy which spontaneously arose and gained popular support in the South; it was imposed at gunpoint by the North.

    • Jake says:

      Don’t you think there’s a pretty significant difference when you’re travelling to your own future, rather than to the past or a foreign country? I guess this only works for those of us who believe in ‘the illusion of moral progress’ but I’d be much more willing to give a hearing to the ideas that apparently managed to outcompete and replace my current ideas, rather than the ideas that were outcompeted and replaced BY my current ideas.

  9. drethelin says:

    Based on what I’ve read written by modern people, I would expect a southern slave owner to look at Africa and the inner city and decide that we were insane more than he would think HE was insane.

    • Randy M says:

      More like to think the preceding generations to his were insane to set it up.

    • Andy says:

      The most-feared consequences of emancipation, as enumerated in political propaganda of the time, were widespread rape of white women by black men, white girls married at gunpoint to black men, and whites being the slaves of blacks.
      In contrast to that, I think an intellectually honest slaveowner would say that modern cities would be an improvement over the charred wasteland of his contemporary propaganda. Double-especially because most urban areas had populations of free blacks and escaped slaves, working whatever low-wage and menial jobs they could get. “Race riots” up until the 1960s, weren’t black people striking in vengeance against a society they had perceived cheated them, they were incidents where poor whites went hunting any blacks they felt had gotten “above their place.” The New York draft riot, for example, burned down an orphanage for black kids. Even in New Orleans, which had the largest free black population of the South, black people could not start businesses without a white partner to be the “respectable” public face of the business – in exchange for a heft cut of the profits.
      Contrast to the Los Angeles and Long Beach of today, where blacks haven’t achieved full equality, but there are many black neighborhoods that aren’t the crack-blighted ghettoes of your imagination. Where black people can start businesses without having some white guy taking a chunk of the profits in exchange for not getting lynched.
      Yes, modern cities are bad, and modern Africa is a freaking horror, but do you know what I think of when I think of modern Africa? The American frontier, where white settlers were pushing against Native Americans, who pushed back in conflicts that were utterly ungodly. Very few black people around on either side, and many worse atrocities – committed by all sides – that were worse than almost anything you hear about Africa today. But there I’m comparing the worst of the frontier to the bad-but-expected of Africa.
      A better comparison would be Bleeding Kansas, the guerrilla warfare between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers just before the Civil War. Endemic murder? Check. Towns raidied and burned to the ground? Check. Atrocities committed by all parties, including five proslavery settlers hacked to death by some guy named John Brown? Check. Blatant election-rigging by both sides? Check. The only thing Bleeding Kansas was missing from any African civil war was the mass rape, and I’m convinced that that happened and wasn’t documented because the Victorians were the most publicly-repressed people to walk the earth.
      So yes, I challenge your assertion. I think an intellectually honest Victorian, a Robert E. Lee or William T. Sherman (though not a slaveowner, but lived in the South for a long time) who saw the ills of slavery but also feared the massive social cost of emancipation, would look at modern cities and go “Okay, not as bad as I feared.”
      (Edit: I really, really have to stipulate the intellectually honest part. I think a Wade Hampton or a John Calhoun would look at modern society and turn into a frothing paleo-Reactionary, calling for an immediate resumption of slavery while acknowledging none of its ills or vulnerabilities.)

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Based on what I’ve read written by modern people, I would expect a southern slave owner to look at Africa and the inner city and decide that we were insane more than he would think HE was insane.

      Depends on the slaveowner. I think most of them were just going along with what was normal in their societies, and if they were transported into the present they would quickly internalize how hated, powerless, and low-status slavery proponents are in the age of modernity. These subconscious drives would change their conscious beliefs about slavery in short order.

    • Jake says:

      I think you have an overly negative view of what modern Africa is like and an overly rosy view of what slavery was like. I would much MUCH rather be a random dude in modern Africa than a random slave in the pre-civil war south.

      • Troy says:

        Depends on the country. I’d probably rather be a slave in the antebellum south than be a random guy in Zimbabwe, DRC, or South Sudan right now. (I’m assuming I’m black in this scenario. If I’m white, I’d rather be in modern Africa.) But I’d definitely rather be in modern South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, etc.

        • Jake says:

          Well sure, there are parts of Africa that are undergoing civil wars and genocides, where you’d probably be more likely to die violently than the average slave.

          On the other hand, remember that there was plenty of diversity within the slave experience as well. You could end up on a relatively friendly plantation where you get a bit of freedom and time off, or you could end up with a truly sadistic monster for a master. And the proportion of slaves in brutal situations was a lot higher than the proportion of Africans in war torn areas.

        • The common idea of slavery in the south is of bad working conditions, no pay, and severe punishment, but still sort of livable. However, there were also farms and mines based on the premise of working slaves to death.

    • peterdjones says:

      Modern Africa worse than medieval Europe?

      • Jake says:

        Life expectancy in medieval Europe was generally somewhere in the 30s at birth, somewhere in the 60s if you made it to age 21.

        On average life expectancy in modern Africa at birth is in the mid-50’s. I can’t seem to find a good source for African life expectancy at adulthood, but I can only assume that since it’s still a high-infant morality rate area, that there would be a similar increase from life expectancy at birth to life expectancy at adulthood.

        Of course all these statistics hide all sorts of variance – like the fact that life expectancy in southern Africa peaked in the early 1990’s and has declined since as a result of the AIDS crisis, but seems to be turning back around now.

        Ultimately, I’d conclude that people in modern Africa are much better off than Medieval Europeans – and are likely to further surpass them, since Africa is experiencing and seems primed to continue experiencing incredibly fast economic growth as it catches up with more developed areas.

  10. Andy says:

    I have a slight problem with your history, and a big problem with one assumption. Around the turn of the 1800s, there were a number of slaveowners such as James Madison, who was “deeply conflicted” about slavery, and stipulated that his slaves would be freed after his wife died. A choice quote:
    “the magnitude of this evil among us is so deeply felt, and so universally acknowledged: that no merit could be greater than that of devising a satisfactory remedy for it.”
    A better time for total belief in slavery would be the 1850s, when the slaveowners in doubt about slavery had manumitted their slaves, and those who remained were intenseley entrenched in Southern society. Even Roger B. Taney, architect of the Dred Scott decision, had freed his slaves, and he was the one who wrote that African-Americans had no rights that white people were bound to respect, in order to protect Southern culture and its “peculiar institution.” And Northerners were told that in order to keep the South in the Union they had to stop criticizing slavery ever, turn over any slave that went to freedom in the North, and admit every future territory and state as a slave state. I lean highly toward a culture that held “The peculiar institution” as a sacred value.

    My second objection is to this line:

    “Right now in the present day pretty much every single person believes that slavery is morally wrong. No one would justify it. Here, come out of the laboratory and spend a few years living in our slave-free society.”

    First, more than a few people have tried to defend or justify slavery in our society, and I’ve mostly seen them in the comments section of this site.
    Second: I’d defend or justify it, when it’s the only way to funge against complete and total genocide like what the Israelites did to Jericho. Second, there are forms of slavery, like the Native American “prisoners of war get semi-adopted” or the Icelandic thralldom where I go “Yup, that can work, if you recognize that the slave is a person and not on the same moral level as a plow that can magically walk and talk.” Though wage labor is generally better, I do believe in some circumstances slavery can be justified as a necessary part of a muscle-driven society.
    However, try to institute Southern-style chattel slavery (or the even more horrible Haitian version) in the modern age, and I will lead an army marching upon you. Playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic at maximum volume.
    I think the Schelling point between the two extremes is the ability of the slave to seek redress for injustices, and a clearly written code of rights for the slave, enforced literally and fairly by a state – rules which the South completely and utterly failed at. Which would have to include a set way to get out of the slavery, if they so desired.

    • Jake says:

      There aren’t really a lot of pro-slavery people in our society though. Yes, there is a disproportionate number here, due to the reactionary (not infection, that’s mean, let’s say…) presence, but it’s important to remember that they make up a much tinier and more disenfranchised part of society than it would seem to, let’s say, a slave-holder from the 1800’s reading this comment thread.

  11. Randy M says:

    Well, let me try with Veganism (I’ve been a lazy sort of paleo last few years, so obviously not particularly sympathetic to the animals-are-people-too strain of Veganism).
    “Randy, don’t you know that all rational, moral people believe other non-human feeling beings to have a right not to be killed or coerced?”
    “That’s silly, what about every other predatory species?”
    “Isn’t morality about rising above the basest requirements of our biology?”
    “I don’t think I think you think that, if we’re assuming you are the hypothetical people of the secular, evo-devo rationalist-sphere. Isn’t morality about what is evolved? Staying healty on non animal sources is quite comlicated.”
    “But every moral person believes a little ach and pain is preferable to torturing and killing such a vast array of feeling beings! Besides, we have supplements that will do a passable job!”
    “But these animals wouldn’t even be born without our need or desire for consuming them. So if their existence could be made as painless as it would be in the wild, I don’t see the harm in eating them afterwards. Not exactly what our CAFO’s are, I agree.”
    “That’s clearly not enough! What about their lack of consent to the whole process?”
    “You don’t even believe in free will, and you care about the consent of pork? Besides, do you let your children play in the street? Or do you think you can exercise your superior reasoning and strength to provide limits that give them a better life than in the wild?”
    “But you are letting the possible existence of a moral ideal blind you to the fact that you are personally a part of a grave injustive against feeling beings. Pain-free meat may be possible in our world, but it isn’t in yours, not at the rate you consume it.”
    “Good thing I’m in your world now. Can I have a steak?”
    “No, eat your tofu and like it like everyone else.”

    … alright, maybe not in the right frame to take it terribly seriously. But how is this different from just playing devil’s advocate with oneself?

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      “Animals have a right not to be killed too” isn’t even remotely the strongest argument for veganism. The strongest argument is that animals have a right not to be subjected to immense amounts of needless suffering, and that modern factory farm practices do subject them to that (caution: disturbing footage).

      • Randy M says:

        I tried to address that with the ‘torture’ word, and the conclusion I had at the end was more or less that our current system is (danger, cognitive dissonance!) deeply flawed.

      • JTHM says:

        Veganism, as I understand it, requires abstaining from the consumption of all animal products… including, say, clams, and other animals which cannot plausibly suffer or count as moral agents in any way. You might be able to justify abstaining from the consumption of animals which have minds, but certainly not everything from kingdom Animalia.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Clams are an abnormal case – I didn’t even know they were technically animals until reading this comment. I tried to stick to veganism for a while (unsuccessfully in the long run), but I wouldn’t have avoided clams during that period even if I’d known about their classification. I expect that most other similarly-motivated vegans wouldn’t have avoided them either, unless perhaps if they wanted to use the category as a Schelling fence.

        • DanielLC says:

          I consider myself a vegetarian, and I’m perfectly fine with eating clams. I don’t eat them, but that’s just because I don’t consider them remotely appetizing.

          I don’t recommend being too strict with the terminology. There’s way too many variations to go around using words for things like whether or not vegetarians eat fish or vegans eat honey.

      • Troy says:

        Accepting this argument is compatible with eating hunted meat and products of humanely farmed animals.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Yeah. In practice in can be difficult to know whether something has genuinely been farmed/killed in a humane way, though, so the vegan route is the only way of knowing for sure unless you’ve e.g. personally visited the farm where the products come from.

        • Troy says:

          Yes, I agree. Personally I get meat from Amish farmers, whose integrity I am quite confident of, and from friends of mine who hunt it themselves.

        • DanielLC says:

          I am against eating hunted fish on the basis that it has pretty much the same market as farmed fish, and since farmed fish has a greater elasticity of supply, buying hunted fish will have about the same effect on farmed fish as buying farmed fish will.

          Obviously, this argument doesn’t work if you go out and kill a deer, or even fish, yourself.

          If you hunt animals, you’re still are likely causing them significant pain in the short term. I think the bigger issue is the long term effects. If wild animals’ lives are worth living, then hunting is bad. If they’re not, then it’s good, along with all of the encroaching on their terrain, but you really should hurry it up a bit and use all of those nukes you’ve been making.

        • Lesser Bull says:

          You’d think, but my SiL who is bright and educated and normally rational claims that she’s a vegan because of the torture to animals in the barbaric conditions of modern factory farming, but she won’t eat the beef and pork that me and my siblings raise on our little hobby farms, where she can and does go outside and see the animals being care for.
          I see it as a princess-in-the-pea purity squick reaction kind of thing. The transitive process of grossness. Factory farming is gross (admittedly). Meat is associated with factory farming. Therefore meat is gross.

    • Andy says:

      “Good thing I’m in your world now. Can I have a steak?”
      “No, eat your tofu and like it like everyone else.”

      “Here’s your vat-steak, grown by bacteria and constantly shocked with electricity to obtain the proper texture. Enjoy.”
      (Sorry to mess with your thought experiment, but I honestly believe any society that has the capacity to conduct this experiment would be able to create vat-farmed meat, as a culinary novelty if nothing else.)
      And I do have a point to this that I wanted to make in the abortion thread, but I don’t want to step into that particular Tar Pit.
      Essentially, I think that technology gives us the solution to seemingly intractable moral problems. As reliable contraception makes sex-for-fun possible without having the production of unwanted infants, vat-meat makes meat-consumption possible without the moral dilemma of animals suffering. Give us a generation after introducing vat-meat to sterilize and slowly reduce the population of farm animals without total ecosystem collapse, and a vegan world is entirely possible.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Yeah! Great point.

        Here are a couple more:

        Artificial uteri that extend “viability” all the way to conception.

        The various textured-vegetable-protein meat replacements (Quorn being the most popular) – these are already here, in fact.

        Hormonal sex-instinct suppression therapies (less fun than contraception, but on the other hand much less distracting.)

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Artificial uteri that extend “viability” all the way to conception.

          This has been my argument for a long time. The timespan when a fertilized egg can be extracted, frozen, and viably reimplanted keeps pushing out further and further. Meanwhile, the timespan when a premature fetus can successfully survive keeps pushing back further and further. When those two spans overlap, we have solved the abortion problem.

      • Randy M says:

        Smart-ass objection: Tofu by any other name.

        Actual response: It’s a good point, although the trend is probably more like a new problem for every solution (see in this thread, for example, the cotton gin or the atom bomb creating or prolonging other moral dilemmas).

        I very much doubt vat grown meat would be able to be made to as good qualtiy for some time, but I do think it is very valuable to persue and wouldn’t object to one day swapping out.

      • DanielLC says:

        If they stopped eating meat before they learned to make good fake meat, then there would be nothing to imitate. Their fake meat would be as close to meat as our chinese food is to what people eat in China.

    • F. says:

      The reason I’d give for veganism isn’t the nonexistent consent issue. And it isn’t just animal suffering, although it is a real problem.

      Animals have an inherent dignity. You wouldn’t kill a healthy dog without a reason, right? Even if it’s done without pain, it would be a shame, to do so without a reason. You need a sufficient reason to take a life, no matter how painlessly. This is intuitive. If you see someone kill a dog, randomly, just like that, you give him a dirty look.

      You may accuse me of deviously having chosen dogs, the most beloved animal, for an example. I did it on purpose, because people in the West already “get it” when it comes to dog. People already understand that dogs have a dignity. You only need to extend this understanding to the other animals. What is the difference between a dog and a cow? A dog and a bird? Not much, I don’t see it.

      This doesn’t change if the dog was grown for this purpose. If it’s bad to kill, then it’s also bad to grow and kill. If the last statement weren’t true, then it would mean that it’s okay to grow human babies just so we can kill them (painlessly, at one month) and harvest their organs. Obviously human babies aren’t like animals. But this is about being logical. If the badness of killing babies extends to growing them for harvest, then the badness of killing animals… you get my point.

      So, you need a reason before you kill things. Is getting meat sufficient reason? Doubtful, since plants are just as tasty and healthy. Trust me, you may think you absolutely need meat, but when you get used to a well thought out vegan diet, you no longer feel a need for it. I never miss it. Besides, if you feel you absolutely need animal protein, you can always be a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

      And of course, farm animals aren’t killed painlessly, but very painfully, and they are treated inhumanely at every stage of their life.

      What makes you think that it’s difficult to stay healthy on plant sources? Plants provide every essential nutrient extremely easily, except for B12, which is easily supplemented, and which was abundant in the hunter gatherer environment even during times of eating only plants.

      • Watercressed says:

        You may accuse me of deviously having chosen dogs, the most beloved animal, for an example. I did it on purpose, because people in the West already “get it” when it comes to dog. People already understand that dogs have a dignity. You only need to extend this understanding to the other animals. What is the difference between a dog and a cow? A dog and a bird? Not much, I don’t see it.

        As the saying goes, one man’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens

      • Montfort says:

        I’m curious how far you think “inherent dignity” extends – are there animals that lack it? Insects, for instance?

        And how does this compare to the inherent dignity of rodents and so on killed by mechanical harvesters? If someone demonstrated (purely hypothetically, I haven’t run the numbers) that factory-farming and/or grazing killed fewer animals than farming per person fed, would you then advocate eating as little farmed produce as possible?

        I suppose things like fruit are relatively safe, though. What would a diet of non-mechanically harvested vegetation look like?

        • BenSix says:

          This, as with most things, has been debated.

        • F. says:

          The moral importance of living beings isn’t a yes-or-no variable, but a slider. Killing a human being is extremely bad. Killing a dog or a pig, not so bad, but still bad. Killing a frog is even less bad. Insects? Their matter so little, they are hardly worth thinking about.

          Yes, I would reconsider veganism if I found out that plant eating is as deadly to animals as meat eating. However, it isn’t.

          Calorie for calorie and protein gram for protein gram, it isn’t possible for normal meat to cause less animal death than agriculture, because the calories and proteins that are fed to the meat animals, come from agriculture.

          The question can be asked only for pastured meat, which isn’t the meat most people eat, and which is very rare in my country. Some say that pastured cow eating kills less individual animals, and others argue the contrary; you can follow the link in Bensix’s comment. Besides, those arguments only count individuals, and like I said, not all animals have the same moral value. One for one, I’d rather kill a lizard, or even a mouse, than a cow.

          Regarding avoidance of mechanical harvesting. I don’t know the details of the harvesting process and exactly which types of harvest are dangerous to critters. A whole vegan subculture eats exclusively nuts, fruits, and vegetables. It’s even surprisingly possible (I did the nutritional math) to live off just fruit and vegetables; some extremists do. All those diets are possible, but difficult.

          I said before that you need a reason to kill a being, and the reason to eat food that now and then kills a critter is that normal veganism is easy, safe, and for everyone, but contrived nuts-and-fruit veganism is difficult and dangerous.

          Thank you for the excellent questions!

        • F. says:

          “if I found out that plant eating is as deadly…” sorry for not matching your question, I should have written that if I found that plant eating is deadlier, I would change my diet accordingly (up to a point, because of other considerations).

      • MugaSofer says:

        I think I agree with you, although yeah – the dog thing is not a great example.

        It’s worth noting that different animals have different levels of this. For example, insects have much less – but it’s still bad to pointlessly torture them. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, seem to have almost as much as humans.

      • Randy M says:

        The difficulty of staying healthy on vegan diet… I think I said complicated, as in, it involves a wide variety of produce and supplementation that is geographically diverse, such that it isn’t a lifestyle that could evolve without nutitional deficiencies sans technology. Which doesn’t mean that now we can’t use technology to change our lifestyle, but it does convince me that abstaining from meat eating (apart from cruelty) is not a universal moral principle.

        Also, I do see a difference between a cow, pig, or chicken and a dog or monkey; intelligence, friendliness to humans, etc. Certainly effected by artifical selection, but it’s there now.

        But pretty much comes down to this:
        “Obviously human babies aren’t like animals. But this is about being logical. If the badness of killing babies extends to growing them for harvest, then the badness of killing animals”
        May very well not extend, beacuse human babies aren’t like animals.

        • F. says:

          Well, first of all, of course abstaining from meat eating is not a universal moral principle, for example if there were a famine, it would be okay to eat whatever beast you can lay your hands on. The universal principle is not to eat meat when you can avoid it.

          Besides, it isn’t true that there is a requirement for geographic variety – or even just that much variety – with veganism. You can get all the nutrients you want from a small handful of local foods. I did the math many times. As for B12, it is present in wild produce (as opposed to farmed produce).

          donmatesz.blogspot.com/2011/12/vitamin-b12-and-human-nutritional.html

          There is also all the animal poo and bits of dead bugs found in unwashed food in a preindustrial environment, which would contain B12. The vegan B12 problem only exists in modernity, because of hygienic practices and modern farming.

          Finally there has always been the possibility to eat eggs and dairy.

          Anyhow, the universal moral principle is not to eat meat when you can avoid it, and we can.

          I concede that dogs being uniquely friendly to humans can be a reason to treat them better than other animals. But is the life of all the other animals so worthless, that we can kill them for a reason as small as not being willing to adapt our palates? It is not a question that can be solved; I’m just appealing to the moral intuition of anyone who reads this post.

          Is it bad to grow and harvest babies, and if it is, why?

        • F. says:

          It crossed my mind only now that all domesticated animals are very friendly to humans. So I no longer agree that friendliness to humans can be used to differentiate dogs from other animals. Goats are said to be extraordinarily affectionate, at least as much as dogs, and goat meat is eaten.

          As for canine intelligence, would you abstain from eating any intelligent animal? Elephant meat? Crow meat?

          http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-11/how-to-eat-crow-by-chef-melissa-perfit
          http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/26/crows-reasoning-ability-seven-year-old-humans

          Since we’re back to dogs and you seem to disagree that from killing being bad it follows that growing and harvesting is bad… is it bad to grow and harvest dogs for dog meat? If it is, and there is no great difference between dogs and other animals, then there is no great difference between the badness of this with dogs and with other animals.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        If it’s bad to kill, then it’s also bad to grow and kill. If the last statement weren’t true, then it would mean that it’s okay to grow human babies just so we can kill them (painlessly, at one month) and harvest their organs.

        One person’s modus ponens is another’s …

        plants are just as tasty and healthy [as meat]

        Hahahahaha.

        Seriously, though, making absurd claims only undermines your position. You want to make a strong ethical argument against killing animals? By all means; but don’t fall into this mode of throwing all of your ancillary arguments at your opponent, like some kind of artillery barrage, hoping something sticks. There’s no reason to expect or desire that this argument must be one-sided. Your main point loses nothing from the ancillary points being in the carnivore’s favor.

        • F. says:

          One person modus ponens is another’s modus tollens, and arguments are sometimes written not in the expectation to convince everybody, but only those who agree with a premise. I hope that my arguments resonate among those who, among other requirements, don’t find it okay to grow babies just to harvest their organs, and who intuitively find that animals have at least some moral value.

          That plants are as tasty and healthy as meat aren’t absurd claims. I rather find it absurd to claim that meat is healthier.

          I understand that some people might disbelieve that plants can be as tasty as meat. However, exposure to good vegan food will greatly increase your appreciation of plant tastiness. One friend of mine, who thought meat was the source of most culinary pleasures, was amazed when he first experienced good vegan food. However, I recognize that there might be hardwired differences from person to person in the potential to appreciate meat or plants.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          If someone intuitively finds that animals have moral value, etc., then you hardly need to convince them; your job is more or less done. What I wanted for you to acknowledge that some people absolutely do not find this, or the one about babies, to be intuitive (which you’ve done). What do you say to such people? Do you have anything at all to say to convince them? If not, how does your view of morality account for this disagreement? It’s not a tiny population of disagree-ers you’re dealing with.

          As far as plants vs. meat… just as healthy? Perhaps. My knowledge of nutrition science is cursory, and comes largely from reading blogs of people who’ve looked into it more (like this one). But just as tasty? Sorry, absurd. I have vegan friends, I know what vegan food is like. You could pull a “No tasty Scotsman”, I suppose, but in any case the burden of proof would be on you…

        • ozymandias says:

          I have no idea why anyone in the world would choose to eat animal carcasses instead of hummus, tbh. I had a bite of bacon at the insistence of an omnivore friend and EW. It is DISGUSTING. It is even worse than it smells and the smell makes me want to vomit.

          …in other words, “doesn’t taste good to Said Achmiz” does not mean “doesn’t taste good to everyone”, in the same way that “doesn’t taste good to Ozy” does not mean “doesn’t taste good to everyone.”

        • Said Achmiz says:

          ozymandias: Of course, which is exactly what makes F.’s claims so absurd.

        • F. says:

          “If someone intuitively finds that animals have moral value, etc., then you hardly need to convince them; your job is more or less done.”

          I’m thinking of the animal welfare activists who oppose hunting and still eat meat.

          “It’s not a tiny population of disagree-ers you’re dealing with.”

          I think most people in the West agree with my premises: that dogs have a certain moral value (from which it can be derived that so do other animals); that it would be bad to grow people and kill them for organs.

          I don’t think that it’s possible to make universally persuasive moral arguments. Ultimately all moral arguments must be based on fundamental intuitions, which not all people share. I guess this means that there are no objective moral values, but I’m not a philosopher.

          I have to take back the thing about plants being as tasty as animals, since it isn’t possible to share demonstrative food with interlocutors through the internet.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          I’m thinking of the animal welfare activists who oppose hunting and still eat meat.

          Ok, fair enough.

          I guess this means that there are no objective moral values, but I’m not a philosopher.

          I suppose my followup question would be: are you ok, then, with the injunctions and rules that result from your moral intuitions, to be non-binding upon those who don’t share those intuitions?

          In other words: are you ok with saying: “I don’t eat meat, and if you, like me, think animals have value, then you also shouldn’t eat meat; but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t share any of those moral intuitions, then it’s fine for you to eat meat, and I won’t try and stop you”?

        • F. says:

          “I won’t try and stop you”

          If you mean physically, I would never try to stop a person from eating meat, but it doesn’t follow from morality being subjective. My subjective morality might authorize me to try and stop you.

          I’m no moral philosopher and have no strong opinions on moral philosophy, but it seems to me that there are no universally persuasive arguments for slavery being bad, the holocaust being bad… there’s always a slave-owner or nazi who says “no I disagree with your premises”. But there are anti-slavery and anti-holocaust arguments that rely on very common intuition, and just like that there are arguments against meat that rely on very common intuitions.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Do you think the Holocaust and meat-eating situations are moral-philosophically analogous?

          (No, I’m not trying to Godwin this; I’m not asking if you think meat eating as as bad as the Holocaust or any such thing. I just want to know if you think the nature and structure of our disagreement is analogous to one we might have with an unrepentant sociopathic Nazi.)

          By the way, I didn’t say/ask anything about morality being “subjective” or “objective” or whatever; I think that’s a red herring. I only asked if you were ok with me eating meat. I guess the answer is no? If so, are you at all uncomfortable with the fact that a fellow human being, who is not (to my knowledge) a sociopath, just cannot be convinced to behave in a way you consider moral?

          Also, would you try and stop me from gassing all the Jews or what have you? If not, why not? If yes, why wouldn’t you stop me from eating meat? (This goes back to “is this analogous to a disagreement re:holocaust.)

        • Xycho says:

          Why should it follow from dogs being friendly that eating their meat is wrong? I have eaten dog; it’s not the tastiest meat available, but it’s not bad. I have also kept a dog as a pet, which I would not have eaten unless absent any other form of available nutrition. The same goes for cat and rabbit.

          Would it be wrong to grow and kill human babies for organ harvesting? Well… no. Assuming a suitable situation where in vitro development can follow in vitro fertilisation, and hence the process isn’t generating a vast cohort of weeping mothers giving up their newborn children, there is no real distinction between a child of one month and any other animal. They barely even demonstrate sentience.

          We kill animals (including many, many pigs, who appear to be really rather intelligent) for meat, organs, glue, leather, and a multitude of other resources, and I don’t see that there is a Schelling fence between a one month old human and any other animal with equivalent self-knowledge and sensitivity. We don’t eat people because the people to be eaten quite reasonably object; if it were to be possible in a similar situation as above to grow human beings in a confirmed vegetative state from birth, they would be a (inefficient and rather energy-intensive, so probably not worth the bother) valid source of meat.

          I realise while writing this that F. and I are actually saying almost exactly the same thing; the lives of people and animals have very similar moral importance. The difference is that you’re assigning this importance a value somewhere greater than that of tastiness or convenience, and I’m assigning it one which is somewhat less than either. Other factors (sentiment, specific informed objection on the part of the creature to be eaten, legal issues and so on) generate a scale whereby some creatures are valued higher and treated better than others, but ceteris paribus (i.e. assume they’re all brain-dead) the value of the fact of their being alive doesn’t differ across species as far as I’m concerned.

          TL;DR: If you eat pork but wouldn’t eat (not-someone’s-pet) dog or (parentless-vegetative-state-stranger) human, I am confused by your ethics. If you refuse to eat meat but use insecticide, rat poison, glue, leather etc, or support the elimination of malaria by use of DDT, I am similarly confused. If you don’t eat meat because you think it tastes nasty, I completely understand – I won’t try to feed you things containing myoglobin if you don’t try to feed me things containing chlorophyll, deal?

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        Plants provide every essential nutrient extremely easily, except for B12, which is easily supplemented

        Supplemented from where?

      • DanielLC says:

        “Animals have an inherent dignity.”

        Consider the difference in respect we show to child and adult humans. Now consider that human children are still a lot smarter than animals. For one thing, they actually notice we’re disrespecting them, and they get indignant about it.

        Children’s ability to care for themselves is at least comparable to adults. Animals only know how to hunt and gather. We have much more reason to think we know better with animals than with children. At least as long as you’re ignoring the fact that we have a personal stake in the children’s future, compared to a personal steak in the animals’.

        • F. says:

          I don’t think we should respect animals as much as humans of any age. We respect adults more than children, but we also think that the life of a child is more imporant that the life of an adult.

          By “dignity” I meant the value of their life, not the respect due to their person.

    • MugaSofer says:

      “But every moral person believes a little ach and pain is preferable to torturing and killing such a vast array of feeling beings! Besides, we have supplements that will do a passable job!”

      I’m a vegetarian, have been for a while –

      You are seriously overestimating the difficulty involved. Just so you know.

      • Randy M says:

        I’m not arguing that informed veganism isn’t possible in the modern world. But it does require both the information, and the modern world.

        And, you say vegetarian. Do you eat eggs and/or milk? That goes a long way, in my impression, to supplying things like Viatamin A, D, K, choline, fats, & protein.

        • F. says:

          All the vitamin A you need in one day is present in a single carrot. That’s taking into account a 5% conversion rate from betacarotene to retinol.
          Even if you don’t like carrots or carrot juice, simply by eating a lot of random vegetables, which most intelligent vegans do, it’s very easy to get enough vitamin A.

          Vitamin K1 is super-abundant in all sorts of greens. The body converts it to K2 (with a low conversion rate, but K2 is so rare in food that the easiest way to get it is by eating K1 rich plants; it’s hard to get your K2 from animal foods). Experiments show the same benefits from K2 and appropriate amounts of K1.

          Vitamin D can be supplied by the sun. It’s either that, supplements, or large amounts of eggs and certain fish such as salmon. Dairy isn’t a good source, nor is liver because you’d get retinol poisoning before you get enough D. Land-locked hunter-gatherers get theirs from the sun.

          Vegan foods are full of fat and protein, it isn’t an issue at all, if you want fat with low PUFA you can use coconut oil.

          In general, getting fat soluble vitamins is actually easier with vegetables than it is with animal foods. With the latter, you need lots of special “superfoods” such as liver, cod liver oil, Weston Price butter, you know. With vegetables, it’s comparatively easy and supermarket stuff is enough, even considering the conversion rates of plant precursors. I did the math many times.

          There is more choline in plant foods than is dreamt of in websites of the paleo and weston price circles (since they are the ones who usually raise the issue). Every time i do the math I find I get enough choline.

          In general, meat advocates committ the mistake of comparing the hardship of informed veganism to the ease of generic meat eating, and the benefits of informed meat eating to the dangers of generic veganism. If you compare informed to informed and uninformed to uninformed, the picture changes.

    • The_Duck says:

      > how is this different from just playing devil’s advocate with oneself?

      The difference is that in addition to good arguments, you’re supposed to subject yourself to the withering scorn and incomprehending stares of a society where everyone knows that you’re completely and straightforwardly wrong, and is hard-pressed to see you as anything but a willfully evil monster. After spending some time in such a world, aren’t you at least going to wonder whether you’re just rationalizing when you talk about how the cows we eat wouldn’t exist otherwise, in the same way the antebellum slaveholder rationalizes that his slaves wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they weren’t slaves?

  12. Darcey Riley says:

    A problem with this thought experiment is: if you can come up with a society that differs from ours on a given moral value, it means that you already recognize the issue as contentious. So maybe conformity effects are already influencing your moral values. Scott, maybe it’s easier for you to accept future-society’s vegetarian values becase you already know a lot of vegetarians.

    What if we consider really weird moral positions that future societies might hold? Ones that nobody today holds, and which can’t be justified rationally using arguments that appeal to us? Would visiting any of these future societies cause you to change your mind?:

    (1) A future society that thinks that eating in public is immoral, because eating is gross.
    (2) A future society that thinks hopping on one leg is immoral, because it offends their god, who walks on one leg and doesn’t like to be imitated.
    (3) A future society that thinks eating meat is fine, but eating chicken livers in particular is an abomination.

    I’m not really sure what my point is, except that maybe this thought experiment doesn’t actually escape conformity effects, since it’s hard to separate “vegetarianism follows rationally from my moral principle of not causing harm” from “a lot of my friends are vegetarians”.

    Maybe we need to find some issue that could conceivably follow from our moral principles, but which no one currently believes? Like, “Not only is it wrong to eat meat, but it’s also wrong to eat plant life, and so we must all subsist on a nutrient slush produced by genetically engineered bacteria.” Is there anyone here who would show up in that future society and think “oh god, this is so obviously true, how could I have ever eaten plants?”

    • Douglas Knight says:

      A future society that thinks that eating in public is immoral, because eating is gross.

      Are you aware that bioethicists condemn eating in public? It’s the standard example for the argument bioethicists are evil. (eg, Leon Kass)

      • Darcey Riley says:

        The quote in that wikipedia article makes it sound like he only condemns certain styles of eating, like licking an ice cream cone and tearing off pieces of things with one’s teeth, which aren’t too far from standard politeness norms like “don’t eat with your hands”.

        (I picked “don’t eat in public” because it seems easy to imagine a society where that becomes a social norm, if not an ethical law. Like, maybe the upper class is all so busy with work that they no longer have time for real meals, and eating something like Soylent instead is a way of signalling how busy and important they are. Naturally, the lower classes try to imitate these high status behaviors, and eating an actual meal becomes something that only the lowest, basest people would consider doing.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The first quoted sentence refers to “those who know why eating in public is offensive.” How much less specific can you get? In the first sentence of the paragraph, truncated from the quotation, he says simply “eating is out of place in public”; ice cream is merely an example of something worse. On the next page, he condemns windows in restaurants.

        • Lavendar bubble tea says:

          Maybe good food is scarce and there is a high level of pollution outside? So people view eating outside as a wasteful, stupid and dirty thing? It becomes such an unthinkable act, that when they come across evidence that people used to have picnics, they think of these people as being foolish in their decadence. They would point out how easily ants could get into the beloved picnic basket and how the wind could easily blow thing away, contributing to pollution.

          They see eating outside as the epitome of the mindsets which lead to their current future and the grossest display of practical immorality. They grow all their food indoors through advanced hydroponic systems and artificial lighting. This society views the act of having apple orchards as again, grossly inefficient and a decadent overuse of land for human use. Seeing a video of a child eating an apple off of a tree enrages them as to how parent could ever normalize their wasteful use of land.

          As the time traveler/research simulation subject emerges from the pod and is informed of the current state of the world. They may feel extreme guilt for ever so causally eating outside and taking the ability of growing food outside for granted. They may have flashbacks to all those times they dropped an ice cream cone and ever so causally just purchased another one on a mid sunny day. They are reminded of all of the resources and chains of production which went into making that ice cream cone and have a piece of all that labor was just dropped on the pavement.

          (This is story telling time right?)

        • Paul Crowley says:

          I read these comments about Kass assuming that the link actually discussed some other position of his, like being anti-life-extension, and that we were talking about it via metaphor. It turns out that he is quite literally against eating in public.

    • MugaSofer says:

      “(1) A future society that thinks that eating in public is immoral, because eating is gross.”

      Well, sure. That seems perfectly reasonable as a social norm. I’d abide by it.

      But then, is it a surprise to anyone that “politeness” is socially constructed?

      “(2) A future society that thinks hopping on one leg is immoral, because it offends their god, who walks on one leg and doesn’t like to be imitated.”

      Well … I already go out of my way not to blaspheme against existing religions, so OK.

      I would probably argue that it’s a symbolic thing (God can’t literally hop on one leg) – purely a matter of respect, and other cultures (like my simulated one) could have other, equally valid ways of displaying that respect. So that might be seen as disagreement, depending.

      “(3) A future society that thinks eating meat is fine, but eating chicken livers in particular is an abomination.”

      As a vegetarian, these guys are clearly bonkers.

      But again, that isn’t much of a change from our own society that thinks eating meat is fine, but eating puppies in particular is horrible.

    • Jake says:

      I think the key thing to fall back on for all of these is consequentialism.

      The three potential positions of future human societies that you presented are all obviously silly, because there’s no consequentialist justification, they’re just arbitrary preferences. It’s not unimaginable that a society could have such preferences – in the same way that real societies of dietary restrictions, nudity taboos, etc. It would be easy for an outsider to poke holes in these parts of our morality, because it’s even apparent to us that they’re pretty silly. On the other hand, things that are more central to our society, like family life, do have justifications beyond just “it’s our weird tradition” or “god told us to.” That doesn’t mean they must be a good idea, but there’s at least something to go on.

      I think Scott’s ultimate message is that we should be analyzing the institutions of our own society with the same critical eye that an outsider would, or that we would use if we encountered an alien society. Some things we’ll keep around, others we won’t, but the one thing that’s really stupid is to just go along because that’s what everyone else is doing.

  13. Kaj Sotala says:

    This brings to mind a related thought experiment that I’ve been playing around with: what’s the most different belief system from the one that you currently have, that would nonetheless be rational and internally consistent and which you could plausibly have arrived at had some of your initial beliefs been slightly different? Ideally, you would find a small number of “key beliefs” upon which the foundations of your current beliefs rest on, and which would reshape your whole belief set if you changed them and then started rederiving everything from them.

    My first exercise with this caused me to craft a socially conservative Christian, which was pretty interesting and gave a nice self-contained belief set that felt plausible but didn’t actually change my current beliefs much. Then I started to develop someone who’d be more left-wing than me and started reading up on Marxism, which has so far mostly caused me to assimilate Marxist ideas into my current belief system and will probably cause me to just craft a belief-set that I have some minor but no major disagreements with. (The difficulty with this exercise is that the system still needs to be take into account all the current knowledge you have about the world, even if you are free to interpret it differently than you do now. So it can be hard to come up with someone you’d have really major disagreements with, as your current knowledge still constrains their beliefs.) The next step will be to develop a strongly libertarian belief set, which I anticipate will be harder, because while I had emotional sympathies and warm fuzzies around Christianity and left-wing ideals, libertarianism is a lot more emotionally foreign.

    • Jake says:

      I think it’s fairly easy to get a perfectly rational and consistent conservative Christian outlook if you just accept their one initial premise that there is a god that wants us to do certain things and will reward and punish us accordingly.

      Being a believer is sort of like playing operation, but the buzzers don’t go off until the end of the game. Also, you have only heard the rules through a game of chinese whispers from people who actually received the instructions a long time ago. So you just keep playing, and then when you’re done you find out if you made any fatal mistakes. Also you don’t find this out until you’ve left the room where everyone else is playing. So back in the room where everyone’s playing the game, you have some people who don’t think touching the walls even has any effect, and they’re just fucking around having fun with the game. As a believer, you know that they are being very irresponsible, enjoying this brief time, but also screwing up their game. So you try to play yours conscientiously, following the rules you’re aware of, and hoping it’s good enough. If you really care about the non-believers maybe you try to convince them that you’re right and that they should shape up. You use whatever tactics you need to spread your beliefs about the game, because people without that knowledge are really screwing themselves.

      • Randy M says:

        Pretty fair, except that some people do believe that they have some level of direct instruction on those rules, or at least that it is possible still.

        • Jake says:

          Well sure, it also goes into the idea of “received knowledge” as an alternative to empirical observation. Imagine if god spoke directly to you and told you certain things about the universe. You wouldn’t really be able to prove these things to anyone, because you just believe they’re true because you heard it from the mouth of god. So you need to convince people that your encounter with god really happened, and thus that what he told you is true. Ultimately if empirical knowledge starts to catch up to divine truth in any areas, we would presumably see it steadily dovetailing into alignment with divine revelation. This is presumably the situation most thelogians throughout history believed in – that religion was just an additional means of knowing about the world, whose flaws are accountable to the perfect divine revelation having been distorted over the generations. It’s only in more modern times that obvious flaws start to emerge from the religious worldview, suggesting that there is no real core of divine knowledge at all, that no longer how far you dig through the layers of history and accreted dogma, there’s no truth in the middle. This is what’s causing both the rise in religious extremism and the rise of atheism in our society – when faced with the fact that religion is incompatible with the real world, people are put under more pressure to choose one or the other.

  14. Vanzetti says:

    And of course, at some point the moldbuggers come creeping into the comments like they usually do…

    • Zathille says:

      Well, they’re regular commenters here, why the negative connotations to their contributions?

      • Jake says:

        Because they’re terrible.

        • Eugine_Nier says:

          Where by “terrible” you mean “willing to point out that your premise is false”?

        • Andy says:

          Your comment has been reported because it too is terrible.
          I dislike the Moldbuggers’ arguments, but I’d rather debate them here than on their own ground because their arguments frequently make me upset and angry, and arguing within the strictures of the SSC comment section is a good way to make sure I don’t say anything I’ll regret.

        • Don’t be so nasty. I strongly disagree with both means and ends of the neoreactionaries, but our host clearly wants to engage with them, and who are we to disagree?

  15. Sean says:

    One possibility relevant to this hypothetical that does not require particularly absurd assumptions, something you’d have heard of before but not brought up here yet, is an alternate (still human! important) society with no males whatsoever. Waking up in that world I’d have no justification at all for why their society should have men, assuming they’d reengineered the corresponding things they needed to with appropriate technology and genetics and all. At best it could be argued that the all-female society had come to rest in a different equilibrium and there are other valid equilibria but that clearly would be no reason for them to change, it would be in the past to their society.

    Besides liking the concept as a variable in science fiction stories I already think the Fisherian ratio due to biological constraints is not at all ideal for human societies right now, we’re just unfortunately locked into it. In terms of human values and morals, things like family, careers and so on it wouldn’t be the equilibrium we would aim for by choice. I don’t even think it’s consistent with most other people’s ideologies, even like Christianity and Islam and so on, as far as I can tell. It’s just not perceived as something we have a choice about right now and most common people have probably never even thought about it, to consider why something other than 50/50 male female is even possible. Honestly I’d be very willing to read some well thought out pro-male arguments (my bias is entirely anti-male here) in this sense even as they apply to the current world.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is there a reason your considering a society without men instead of a society without women? The arguments against are probably mostly identical.

      • Sean says:

        The reason it came to mind representatively I think is that it’s far more technologically feasible; the alternate society would be more similar to a modern human society. It wouldn’t have to be combined with some full nanotechnology engineering or whatever, or for instance cloning which is a separate issue. Likewise it’s not disconcerting to worry about an effectively alien society with different biology, but an effectively human society that still reproduces about the same way yet differently from ours.

        I’m actually not sure which would choice of sex distribution statistically be more common across all sorts of speculative fiction stories in a holistic analysis.

        However I tend to agree in terms of any biological traits and social gender roles and so on the argument would be to remove “maleness” anyway. YMMV on the exact assessment of that, it would be great to get some one else’s perspective. For the alternate society differences in means and variance on any behavioral traits that skew male like “aggression” are mostly negative.

        Also, it’s not that to reach an equilibrium our current society would have to go all the way towards removing one of the sexes, but I’d have no argument against such a society waking up in it.

        • Creutzer says:

          I’m not getting what the point of this is. Which moral feeling or belief of yours are you trying to investigate?

        • Andy says:

          The reason it came to mind representatively I think is that it’s far more technologically feasible;

          Nooot really. All you need for either are some basic genetic engineering tools and, for a male-only society, artificial wombs.
          There’s a great book called Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold which starts off on a planet that’s all males, and it’s actually kinda pleasant. The main character is an obstetrician who spends all day fixing genetic errors and puling babies out of artificial wombs and handing them to their proud fathers. But one day there’s a problem with the cultured ovaries they use to generate eggs, and he has to go out to the nearest space station to get more (by legally and ethically buying them!) He gets into a much bigger plot, but the society of Athos was very interesting.

    • lmm says:

      Taking the naive interpretation of what I’ve read about sex differences rather than trying to be PC:

      My questions would be: a) are their relationship norms good at providing the kind of positive life outcomes for children that married couples as parents do today? b) is their society good at producing very intelligent / accomplished / otherwise desirable people, the top-100 types who in our history are overwhelmingly male? c) are their relationships as enjoyable/fulfilling as ours? (Do they consider romantic love of a leading-to-children kind inherently valuable? Though I’d question whether you can insist they’re still human if they don’t).

      A fixed population of a low-variance child-raising sex and a high-variance sex makes evolutionary sense (though there’s no reason the ratio should be exactly 50/50). Is society better off with a lower average success rate but a small number of wildly successful outliers (particularly today where one exceptionally good writer/composer/businessman/etc. can improve the lives of millions)? You could argue it either way, but the evolutionary history suggests that species that have men largely defeat those that don’t.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Evolutionary history suggests that species that have sex, in the sense of exchange of DNA, outcompete species that don’t. In multicellular organisms, that means sexual reproduction. In animals that usually means two sexes. Plants have great variety, hermaphrodism being common. But the amount of sexual differentiation differs greatly between animal species. Humans don’t have much by that scale.

        Also, you seem to be invoking Geodakian’s theory of sex differences, which is unknown in the west. I heard about it here.

      • Anonymous says:

        though there’s no reason the ratio should be exactly 50/50

        The reason is that if one sex was more common than the other, then a non-standard gene leading to a higher than average fraction of children with the underrepresented sex would spread more quickly than the standard gene, until the 50/50 ration was restored. I read in a book by Richard Dawkins I think, but don’t remember which one.

      • Suppose there is a lot less violence but also fewer extraordinarily accomplished people. Worth it?

        • lmm says:

          “A lot” less violence? Probably. I don’t think either is a sacred value, so there would be ratios where the tradeoff is worth it and ratios where it isn’t.

  16. James James says:

    “I don’t know if the Southerner would learn a whole lot of new facts during this period.”

    Paging Karl F. Boetel.

  17. Valhar2000 says:

    no one in the real world believes in abortion, that pro-choice is obviously horrible, that all my fellow experimental subjects saw through it

    To change my mind, I’d need to know one thing: do people still abort? In a world in which nobody does that, I would very quickly forget about the issue and just accept whatever the default is. If, on the other hand, that world were like ours, where people abort on a regular basis, law be damned, I’d be a lot more interested in who those people are and why they do it.

    I don’t think it would be very different from visiting a country where abortion is illegal.

    A world in which Christianity is true, on the other hand, would be much more difficult to handle. I suppose if there were actual miracles I’d accept them soon enough, but having to accept all the nonsense that Christianity brings, “or else!” would be a very big adjustment. I suppose that would be like living in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

  18. Viliam Búr says:

    There is an important difference between real experiments and thought experiments: In real experiments you get real evidence. In thought experiments, you get the “evidence” of your imagination, which can be anything… and if you are aware of this fact, then you are aware that you in fact can’t perform the thought experiment.

    We often don’t know which consequences would a change bring. As a slaveowner in 18. century, how specifically would I imagine a society without slaves? Should I imagine a society of people identical to me, except that a few of them have a different color of skin, but no one cares? Or should I imagine black people converting half of USA to an African jungle? Or should I imagine all black people returning home to Africa?

    How would I know which of these “thought-experimental outcomes” should I update on? Because different outcomes would lead me to different conclusions.

    To avoid hindsight bias, think about experiments we haven’t tried yet. For example, basic income. If I try to make a thought experiment about “how would it be to live in a society with basic income”, what specific outcome should I imagine? Should I imagine an utopian society where everyone is happy, most people enjoy their work (because if they don’t, they can just quit), and everything is okay? Or should I imagine a gradual economical collapse because more and more people choose not-working simply because it is more convenient; and the collapse cannot be stopped until the bitter end, simply because all those not-working people selfishly vote for increasing the basic income?

    A thought experiment about an uncertain situation feels to me like pretending you have a knowledge that you actually don’t have.

    • MugaSofer says:

      You don’t imagine something and then update on your prediction as if it had been confirmed.

      You imagine your prediction being disconfirmed, and then imagine how you would update on that. Then you update on that simulation – not on the simulated evidence simulated-you updated on.

  19. MugaSofer says:

    “If it was vegetarianism – if they said no one in the real world ate meat or had tried to justify factory farming, and every single one of my co-participants had become vegan animal rights activists – I don’t think there’s a lot I could say to them. “Sorry, I have an intense disgust reaction to all vegetables which has thwarted all of my attempts at vegetarianism?” “Yeah, we know, we put that in there to make it a hard choice.””

    Scott, if you have such an intense hatred for vegetables … how are you not dead of malnutrition? Confused.

    ***

    As a vegetarian, I’m actually surprised how silly I feel about it in the counterfactual I practically live in a world already where it’s considered obviously OK to kill and eat animals.

    And yet, I really do feel embarrassed to have fallen for their cunning experimental design. I’ve already heard enough arguments on the subject, I probably wouldn’t even bother asking how they could possibly justify it.

    • Randy M says:

      You overestimate the difficulty involved in being a carnivore 😉

    • Lavendar bubble tea says:

      “As a vegetarian, I’m actually surprised how silly I feel about it in the counterfactual I practically live in a world already where it’s considered obviously OK to kill and eat animals.”

      Yeah, I personally have a lot of deep moral assumptions which are contrary to a lot of aspects of modern society that people wouldn’t think to moralize. I’m having an interesting time thinking of these thought experiments as someone who is already currently out of the norm. One of my thoughts on the story posted (after the whole “Hell yes! It’s down with the family structure!” story derail fun time) was “What if people aren’t actually changing their values but are just faking having had changed as a way to secure/attain social benefits?” or as a direct conflict avoidance strategy?

      If I was put into a totally novel situation, I might try to avoid overt conflict if at all possible without really changing my internal views. (I’m not sure how I’d honestly react if I felt extremely personally morally threatened at the time)

      If I was told something obvious was false by a higher intelligence, I might be tempted too fake understanding it at first without changing my core values at first until I was actually convinced in order to seem smarter to the higher alien overlords.

      (Also, when I read the story, I was pretty consistently “I wanna live in the bioplastic home! How could you ever even want to go back to that family situation?!”)

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Scott, if you have such an intense hatred for vegetables … how are you not dead of malnutrition? Confused.

      There’s always fruit. Also, the Eskimos eat little in the way of vegetables and rely heavily on animal fat and protein to survive, and yet they are a very healthy people.

      • Nornagest says:

        My paleo friends tend to eat a lot of organ meat, although that’s generally a tougher sell for the Western palate than vegetables are.

    • If you think of vegetables in the colloquial sense of the word– those mostly green or bright colored plant parts which are mostly used by non-vegetatians in side dishes and salads, rather than everything which comes from a plant, there are quite a few people who eat very little in the way of vegetables. It may well cost them some longevity, but not a tremendous amount.

      Also, I’ve read about people (with IBS, I think) who can’t digest vegetables, so we aren’t just talking about disgust.

  20. Kaj Sotala says:

    I don’t know if the Southerner would learn a whole lot of new facts during this period. They might learn that black people could be pretty capable and intelligent, but Frederick Douglass was a person, everyone knew he was smart, that didn’t change anyone’s mind. Yet even without learning many new facts, I can’t imagine he would stay pro-slavery very long.

    Well, one important thing is that if you bring the Southerner to our time, he no longer has any financial incentive to remain pro-slavery, whereas in the past his income might have depended on it. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    I’m very badly informed on the history of the topic so this might be incorrect, but my default guess is that the abolition of slavery was more because technology changed so as to make slavery obsolete, rather than because of any major moral progress independent of the technology. As long as there’s a major economic or social incentive to do the established evil thing, even people who agree that the thing is evil are likely to mostly just shrug their shoulders and go on doing it, because changing would be difficult and not have a big impact anyway. Some people will always exhibit exceptionally moral behavior, but they’re going to be the exception, not the rule. I know that some of the stuff that I buy in the store is probably manufactured by people working in horrible conditions in some third-world factory where their employer will fire them the moment they get sick or injured, but what can I do?

    For the modern example, vegetarianism and veganism may somewhat reduce the amount of people who contribute to animal suffering, but their total impact will always be limited. But once we get the technology for cheap and tasty meat and dairy substitutes, then I expect that everyone will quickly start talking about how barbaric traditional farming is and how they are so much more enlightened and moral than the people before them who actually ate stuff made from live animals.

    Compare attitudes towards fur farming: real animal fur is much more of a niche luxury than a necessity these days, and as a result, several countries have either completely or partially banned fur farming, or have major movements supporting a ban. The fact that the same countries can have broad support for meat and dairy farming, while also supporting a ban on fur farming, seems like a clear indication of morality often being a function of how inconvenient it would be to act morally.

    • Jake says:

      “I’m very badly informed on the history of the topic so this might be incorrect, but my default guess is that the abolition of slavery was more because technology changed so as to make slavery obsolete, rather than because of any major moral progress independent of the technology.”

      This isn’t a bad default assumption, but in this case it is 100% incorrect. Slavery may well have had an overall negative effect on the economies of areas where it was prevalent, but it was spectacularly profitable for the slave owners right up until the end. Over 10% of the total US population was enslaved by the outbreak of the civil war. Think about how much value there is inherent in the labor of millions of people, and the idea that someone else could actually own that value.

      Essentially the entire attack on slavery was a moral one. If it had been solely an economic issue it would likely be with us today. That’s why it took a war to end it. If slavery had just naturally declined it would have ended less violently. As it was there was a divide between a society that was increasingly unwilling to accept slavery on a moral level, and a very powerful interest group – slaveholders, who dominated the political and economic lives of their states, and who were not willing to let go of their main source of wealth.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Some technology is a complement; some a supplement. It is generally taught in American schools that the cotton gin was a complement to slavery. The usual explanation is incoherent, but there was a definite boom in slave cotton plantations. Probably further mechanization would have ended farm slavery eventually, but abolition happened first. Slavery lasted a couple decades longer in Brazil and it dwindled, but I don’t think that was due to technology.

      Moreover, there was a least one factory using slaves. Not enough to assess the long-term prospects, but enough to falsify the common claim that it is simply impossible.

  21. Cate B says:

    I don’t usually admit this to people, but this is basically why I became a vegetarian five years ago. At the time I was re-watching Star Trek, and in the Star Trek future (at least TNG) pretty much all humans are vegetarians and regard meat eating as abhorrent and obviously wrong. And I started thinking, well, what if in the future we really WILL think this way about meat, and I was suddenly transported into the future. Would I want to be one of the people who said “oh yeah, I totally saw this moral change coming and stopped eating meat pretty early” or would I be one of the people caught flat-footed and trying to justify why I didn’t think eating meat was so bad?

    I try not to tell people that, because whenever I explain it, it comes out sounding like “I don’t eat meat because Spock doesn’t eat meat.”

    • Said Achmiz says:

      If in the future most people think that eating meat is wrong, does that necessarily mean that eating meat is wrong?

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Taboo “wrong.”

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Ok no. Stop. Rationalist taboo is not an all-purpose counterargument against any arguments that use words to refer to concepts. Instead of saying “Taboo ‘wrong'”, why not say what error you think I’m making?

          I mean, does Cate B think that eating meat is wrong (whatever we mean by ‘wrong’)? If not, then I retract my comment as unmotivated. If yes, then my comment stands, without actually needing there to be an expansion of “wrong”.

          Alternative smartass response:

          Taboo “taboo”.

      • Cate B. says:

        Achmiz,

        Haha, no, that’s not what I was trying to say. (That doesn’t make any sense, since I don’t even know if humans in the future will reach a consensus that eating meat is wrong.) I meant that picturing a hypothetical future perspective changed my point of view. Just like we now think certain things are obviously wrong (slavery, spousal abuse) that weren’t considered wrong in the recent past, in the future, our descendants will judge us for things we thought were fine. I then tried to figure out if I could justify meat-eating in the context of a hypothetical future where it was universally condemned, and found I couldn’t. The mental image of Vulcans staring at me judgmentally was just an artifact of this process. 🙂

        Since that was the entire point of this post, I would have thought it was obvious from the context that that was what I meant!

        -Cate

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Um, yes, ok, you just restated your first post, which doesn’t really help.

          My question is, what does this hypothetical future consensus have to do with anything? Was it just a convenient thought exercise, that happened to be the thing that caused you to ask whether you could justify eating meat? Did you think meat-eating was wrong before this thought experiment? (Actually, do you even think meat-eating is wrong now?)

    • Jake says:

      I seem to remember Star Trek characters eating meat pretty regularly. I think when they say they no longer raise animals for food, what they mean is that all of their food comes from replicators at this point, so why bother? Maybe keep a few farms around for hobbyists or people really into organic farming, but with their technology most of the area we use for agriculture could be allowed to return to wilderness.

      So while they may act like it’s a moral choice, it’s really just that their superior technology makes the choice a no-brainer.

  22. Ixtab says:

    I did this with pedophilia. Here in the West, we don’t have many taboos that are quite like the taboo against sex with children; murder, theft or even torture are all situationally legitimate and even

  23. Ixtab says:

    I did this with pedophilia. Here in the West, we don’t have many taboos that are quite like the taboo against sex with children; contrast murder, theft or even torture, all situationally legitimate and even valorized.

    I still think having sex with a child is a pretty shitty thing to do, but putting myself in the shoes of, e.g., an ancient Athenian, did enlighten me about how I ended up thinking that in the first place. It’s a consent issue, right? Children can’t consent to sex, therefore if you have sex with them you’re raping them. An Athenian would be scratching his head about that – sex isn’t something predicated on personal consent, it’s way too important to Athenian society for that. As an adult free Athenian male, I could have sex with however many prepubescent pornai as I pleased, because of how important it was that I not violate the honor of any Athenian woman of high birth. The consent of the pornai has no bearing on the necessity of their social function. The Athenian would be particularly puzzled why I was so much more horrified by pedophilia than crime like theft, when stealing a man’s livelihood was just as much or more of a consent violation.

    On the other hand, if you, the reader, happen to be American, many of your countrymen don’t go along with the ‘consent’ argument at all. They still hate pedophiles though. Those people, who are usually called ‘conservatives’, view sex with children as a purity violation. They think, more or less literally, that children are little angels, and that interfering with them is a desecration. Our ancient Athenian interlocutor would understand this argument quite well, even if he viewed it as a barbarism.

    The point I’m winding towards is that the mental processes by which you justify the disgust noises you make at pedophiles don’t matter to society. This applies generally: it does not matter to society why you are anti-abortion, just that you have a view that lets you work within your particular social group. That renders this Asch thought experiment worse than useless – it’s designed to debias you with reference to beliefs founded on social conformity pressure, but if it actually produces a change on those grounds it will leave you without any socially acceptable way of advocating your new beliefs: the beliefs behind your conclusions were never of interest to society in the first place.

    • Jake says:

      That’s a very interesting point about how society values actions rather than justifications. So I could have a moral reasoning that’s totally contradictory with that of the larger society, but as long as it channeled my actions into generally socially acceptable forms, no one would care. On the other hand, no matter how reasonable my justifications seem, no amount of moral reasoning will get you past society’s disapproval if you violate a taboo.

      Sort of reminds me of an Eliezer Yudkowsky quote where he was torn between supporting a smart economic policy because it was, well, a smart policy, and between opposing it because faster economic growth could result in a quicker and less controlled intelligence explosion. So tiny differences in reasoning could apparently push him towards generally supporting economic expansion, or generally opposing it, which could then lead to gigantically different actions in terms of participation in the economy. Then you end up with a cabal of people supporting dumb policies including brilliant rationalists working to delay the singularity, evil people trying to screw up the economy for their own purposes, and true believers who think those dumb policies are actually a good idea.

    • Troy says:

      It’s worth noting that Greek pederasty tended to be bound up with a misogynistic view of women. You can see this, for instance, in Plato’s Symposium.

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      I did this with pedophilia. Here in the West, we don’t have many taboos that are quite like the taboo against sex with children; contrast murder, theft or even torture, all situationally legitimate and even valorized.

      I’ve been waiting for someone else to touch THAT particular electrified third rail for awhile. In particular:

      On the other hand, if you, the reader, happen to be American, many of your countrymen don’t go along with the ‘consent’ argument at all. They still hate pedophiles though. Those people, who are usually called ‘conservatives’, view sex with children as a purity violation. They think, more or less literally, that children are little angels, and that interfering with them is a desecration. Our ancient Athenian interlocutor would understand this argument quite well, even if he viewed it as a barbarism.

      This is a much stronger-held argument than the consent argument, based on revealed preferences.

      The CORRECT anti-pedophilia argument, in my view, is neither about consent nor purity, but is *closer* to the consent argument. The inherent problem with pedophilia is that our culture so depowers children, that it is impossible for them to defend themselves against predation and coercion – put more bluntly, they aren’t *allowed* to give consent, even when they are capable of it and enthusiastically desire to. This is something *we* do to them due to our desire to maintain the ‘purity’ facade, not something inherent in childhood.

      Of course, this would be solved much more healthily if we stopped seeing children as our precious snowflakes, and started seeing them as actual persons whom we have a responsibility to protect but NOT a right to control… but fat chance on THAT.

      • Anonymous says:

        What is the source of the quote?

      • Shmi Nux says:

        If you trace back the reasons children are not allowed to give consent, it is because the society needed an easily checked legal Schelling fence to protect those clearly unable to consent. If there were a quick and easy test of the capability to consent, this would not be necessary. Some 11-year olds would pass it with flying colors, and some 25-year olds would fail it miserably.

        As is the case with all Schelling fences, this one leaves some people on the wrong side of it.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          *nod* but like all systems, the original intent and the adapted exploitation can quickly diverge – until we get 15 year olds put on sex offender registries for taking pictures of themselves.

        • ozymandias says:

          Also the age of consent is in most countries much much higher than a reasonable definition of “not able to consent to sex.” Thanks, Victorians.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          but often right at the age where people can participate in the decision of what age to put that fence at.

      • Doug S. says:

        This is also the same justification that statutory rape laws apply to military officers having sex with lower-ranking soldiers, prison guards having sex with prisoners, and high school teachers having sex with adult students – the situation itself is coercive, so freely given consent is impossible.

      • Anonymous says:

        So, while we are having this awesome comments thread about slavery and pedophilia, how would you guys justify that in our society most everyone below 18 years old is effectively a slave? You can say I guess that the society would collapse if children were all of a sudden treated as humans, but wouldn’t the same be true about the emancipation of slaves in ancient Greece and/or Rome? Did that make slavery OK? Would that harsh truth greatly improve your mood if you happened to be a slave? Or a child?

        • Doug S. says:

          I don’t justify it, and I also don’t like it.

        • nydwracu says:

          So, while we are having this awesome comments thread about slavery and pedophilia, how would you guys justify that in our society most everyone below 18 years old is effectively a slave?

          I was below 18 years old for 18 years and didn’t have a problem. I can’t imagine explaining the institution to a Roman, because their institutions were harsher than ours in this regard.

          The school system, on the other hand…

        • peterdjones says:

          @Nyd

          I’ll say it again.

          If you
          1) do have some rights
          And
          2) aren’t transferable property
          And
          3) aren’t an economic asset,

          ..you are not a slave.

        • Tom Hunt says:

          I found that I was a lot more bothered about the terrible plight of under-18 children in our society back when I was under 18. Mostly because, when I now look back, I pretty much want to facepalm at how stupid I was when I was actually under 18. (Yes, I was high-IQ even back then; no, this did not prevent me from being stupid.)

          Also, saying children are “effectively slaves” is fairly moronic. Sure, parents have wide-ranging authority, but the social context is entirely different.

        • Anonymous says:

          @nydwracu

          I was below 18 years old for 18 years and didn’t have a problem. (…) The school system, on the other hand…

          You had no problem with lack of freedom, but you had a problem with a pretty major thing that was forced upon you?

          (And would schools look anything like they do, if those who don’t want to be there didn’t have to?)

          @Tom Hunt

          So how do you imagine a dialogue with a younger version of yourself might go?

          Young Tom Hunt: I don’t like having no freedom.
          Tom Hunt: You don’t deserve freedom because you are stupid.
          YTH: First, if any society thought it’s fine to take away freedom from low IQ people, then you’d call it a fascist atrocity. Furthermore, you are actually wrong, I’m not stupid, my IQ is very high.
          TH: I wasn’t talking about IQ.
          YTH: What do you mean by “stupid” then?
          TH: I mean you make stupid decisions.
          YTH: I think my decisions are wise.
          TH: I disagree.
          YTH: So stupid people are those who make decisions you don’t like, and stupid people don’t deserve freedom. On the other hand, non-stupid people have freedom to do as they please, as long as they remain non-stupid, i.e., as long as they don’t do any of the things you would prevent them from doing if they were stupid and therefore non-free.
          TH: …?

      • It looks to me as though sex below some age is reliably bad for people, but I haven’t seen any research-based reason for determining what that age is.

        I’m not talking about a double-blind study. I’d settle for asking adults about when they first had voluntary sex and whether they wish they’d started later. I *think* that’s a reasonably good question, but I’d also want open-ended interviews in the hopes of founding out whether there are better questions..

  24. CThomas says:

    This nineteenth century passage called to mind some of the themes of the story:

    “It is the most difficult thing in the world to help believing what all about you believe. There is an interesting account in a book, not so much read now as it was once on a time (Eothen), of the process by which a hard-headed Englishman going out to live in the East and at first laughing at the people’s superstition about witchcraft and ghosts, and such like, becomes gradually infected by the beliefs which form the atmosphere in which he lives, and ends by becoming a slave to superstitions he had once despised.”

    George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church 64 (1888).

    • Jake says:

      Interesting. Is that a true story? It’s tough for me to imagine beginning to believe in superstitions just from being surrounded by superstitious people, though on the other hand a 19th century Christian clearly doesn’t have the sort of generalized skepticism you’d need to prevent being infected by popular but wrong ideas.

      • Nornagest says:

        Eothen is a travelogue by Alexander Kinglake, and purports to be a work of nonfiction. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily 100% true — travel writers before the 20th century very often fictionalized their accounts somewhat. But it’s probably accurate at least to the extent that, say, Hunter S. Thompson’s book on the Hells Angels is.

        It’s on Google Books, if you’re feeling bored.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        Well Henry Haroending has a story here about the time he was doing ethnography work among the Herero and came into contact with their beliefs about witchcraft.

        > This all went on for an hour or so and I am ashamed to admit, here, that when the crunch came I blinked. Our employees were so adamant to show me the truth that they pooled their money so they could take me to the local witch doctor, who would turn me into a frog. “Of course he can do that, it is easy for them to do, even to white people” they said. I thought for a very short time and took the coward’s way out, I refused their interesting offer, the risk was a little too much for me.

      • Oligopsony says:

        Adoption of subject beliefs is common among anthropologists.

  25. Eli says:

    I sort of cherish these feelings of obviousness. They seem like a good way to short-circuit the absurdity heuristic. Like, it doesn’t work to think “Okay, Christianity seems absurd, but WHAT IF IT DIDN’T???” You have to actually invert everything, tell yourself that lack-of-Christianity seems absurd and see what justifications and excuses your brain starts coming up with for why that is the correct position and atheism should be dismissed without a second thought.

    And this is precisely how I wound up a flaming extropian.

    “Hey, what if I knew people who grew up without death or poverty or war or ecological collapse from the start? Well… I might get a little get-off-my-lawny, but mostly I’d quite like them.”

    “But my God, what would they think of me!? I must look appalling to them!”

    “Wait… why don’t I look appalling to me, then? Aren’t they just right and I’m just wrong and I should switch sides right now?”

    And so I did.

    • Ken Arromdee says:

      If I knew people who grew up without war, etc., *in the context of that scenario* I would conclude that people who grew up with it are to be pitied. I would not extend that to believing that such people in the real world are to be pitied, because the scenario postulates something which is not proven to be possible in the real world, and which affects the conclusion.

      It’s like asking “if I knew lots of people who got cured of cancer by homeopathy, what would I think about standard cancer treatments”?

    • What did you change your mind about?

  26. Ken Arromdee says:

    If I were to be woken up in a pod and told that some idea I had believed was not only wrong, but very obviously wrong, I would (ignoring questions of whether this is a nested virtual reality scenario) update not only on my estimate of the idea, but also on my estimate of my own stupidity. I would have to seriously consider whether my reasoning processes as a whole are wrong, not just my reasoning about this one idea. And once that happens, all bets are off.

    What would you do if you were woken up and told that not only is 1+1 equal to 3, but that everyone else put in a virtual reality where 1+1 was claimed to be 2 figured out that was nonsense within five minutes?

  27. Doug S. says:

    Here’s a topic on which moral fashions have gone both ways: is there anything wrong with marrying your first cousin?

    • Nornagest says:

      Don’t know offhand. What’re the numbers on genetic problems for that degree of separation?

      • Matthew says:

        Similar to unrelated parents having children after age 40, which society doesn’t seem to have a problem with.

    • Oligopsony says:

      I think there’s utility in tabooing sexual relationships between people who have other, non-revokable relationships, and also in having a reasonably wide sphere of people with whom sexual relationships are impossible. Fear of the attendant sorts of miscommunication are a major inhibit any, I think, to cross-sex friendships, and to male-male friendships especially in an era between homosexuality being A Thing and its not being fully destigmatized. Cousins are a good candidate for this because you’re guaranteed a remove of only three very strong relations (though ironically or not this justification would be stronger in traditional societies) and because of the genetics thing. Evidently not transhistorically necessary, but as good a place as any to install and uphold that kind of stigma.

      There’s also the point continually raised by the redpillians about clannishness, which like a lot of their arguments actually still sort of works if you ignore all the biological aspects – in this case, network density. From their perspective this is actually why you should marry your cousin; not doing so is what has allowed white people to become too nice and allow everyone else to walk all over them. Obviously with different priors and value commitments then different conclusions may follow.

  28. Pingback: Flashes and Cables… | Back Towards the Locus