"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Guided By The Beauty Of Our Weapons

[Content note: kind of talking around Trump supporters and similar groups as if they’re not there.]

I.

Tim Harford writes The Problem With Facts, which uses Brexit and Trump as jumping-off points to argue that people are mostly impervious to facts and resistant to logic:

All this adds up to a depressing picture for those of us who aren’t ready to live in a post-truth world. Facts, it seems, are toothless. Trying to refute a bold, memorable lie with a fiddly set of facts can often serve to reinforce the myth. Important truths are often stale and dull, and it is easy to manufacture new, more engaging claims. And giving people more facts can backfire, as those facts provoke a defensive reaction in someone who badly wants to stick to their existing world view. “This is dark stuff,” says Reifler. “We’re in a pretty scary and dark time.”

He admits he has no easy answers, but cites some studies showing that “scientific curiosity” seems to help people become interested in facts again. He thinks maybe we can inspire scientific curiosity by linking scientific truths to human interest stories, by weaving compelling narratives, and by finding “a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science”.

I think this is generally a good article and makes important points, but there are three issues I want to highlight as possibly pointing to a deeper pattern.

First, the article makes the very strong claim that “facts are toothless” – then tries to convince its readers of this using facts. For example, the article highlights a study by Nyhan & Reifler which finds a “backfire effect” – correcting people’s misconceptions only makes them cling to those misconceptions more strongly. Harford expects us to be impressed by this study. But how is this different from all of those social science facts to which he believes humans are mostly impervious?

Second, Nyhan & Reifler’s work on the backfire effect is probably not true. The original study establishing its existence failed to replicate (see eg Porter & Wood, 2016). This isn’t directly contrary to Harford’s argument, because Harford doesn’t cite the original study – he cites a slight extension of it done a year later by the same team that comes to a slightly different conclusion. But given that the entire field is now in serious doubt, I feel like it would have been judicious to mention some of this in the article. This is especially true given that the article itself is about the way that false ideas spread by people never double-checking their beliefs. It seems to me that if you believe in an epidemic of falsehood so widespread that the very ability to separate fact from fiction is under threat, it ought to inspire a state of CONSTANT VIGILANCE, where you obsessively question each of your beliefs. Yet Harford writes an entire article about a worldwide plague of false beliefs without mustering enough vigilance to see if the relevant studies are true or not.

Third, Harford describes his article as being about agnotology, “the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced”. His key example is tobacco companies sowing doubt about the negative health effects of smoking – for example, he talks about tobacco companies sponsoring (accurate) research into all of the non-smoking-related causes of disease so that everyone focused on those instead. But his solution – telling engaging stories, adding a human interest element, enjoyable documentaries in the style of Carl Sagan – seems unusually unsuited to the problem. The National Institute of Health can make an engaging human interest documentary about a smoker who got lung cancer. And the tobacco companies can make an engaging human interest documentary about a guy who got cancer because of asbestos, then was saved by tobacco-sponsored research. Opponents of Brexit can make an engaging documentary about all the reasons Brexit would be bad, and then proponents of Brexit can make an engaging documentary about all the reasons Brexit would be good. If you get good documentary-makers, I assume both will be equally convincing regardless of what the true facts are.

All three of these points are slightly unfair. The first because Harford’s stronger statements about facts are probably exaggerations, and he just meant that in certain cases people ignore evidence. The second because the specific study cited wasn’t the one that failed to replicate and Harford’s thesis might be that it was different enough from the original that it’s probably true. And the third because the documentaries were just one idea meant to serve a broader goal of increasing “scientific curiosity”, a construct which has been shown in studies to be helpful in getting people to believe true things.

But I worry that taken together, they suggest an unspoken premise of the piece. It isn’t that people are impervious to facts. Harford doesn’t expect his reader to be impervious to facts, he doesn’t expect documentary-makers to be impervious to facts, and he certainly doesn’t expect himself to be impervious to facts. The problem is that there’s some weird tribe of fact-immune troglodytes out there, going around refusing vaccines and voting for Brexit, and the rest of us have to figure out what to do about them. The fundamental problem is one of transmission: how can we make knowledge percolate down from the fact-loving elite to the fact-impervious masses?

And I don’t want to condemn this too hard, because it’s obviously true up to a point. Medical researchers have lots of useful facts about vaccines. Statisticians know some great facts about the link between tobacco and cancer (shame about Ronald Fisher, though). Probably there are even some social scientists who have a fact or two.

Yet as I’ve argued before, excessive focus on things like vaccine denialists teaches the wrong habits. It’s a desire to take a degenerate case, the rare situation where one side is obviously right and the other bizarrely wrong, and make it into the flagship example for modeling all human disagreement. Imagine a theory of jurisprudence designed only to smack down sovereign citizens, or a government pro-innovation policy based entirely on warning inventors against perpetual motion machines.

And in this wider context, part of me wonders if the focus on transmission is part of the problem. Everyone from statisticians to Brexiteers knows that they are right. The only remaining problem is how to convince others. Go on Facebook and you will find a million people with a million different opinions, each confident in her own judgment, each zealously devoted to informing everyone else.

Imagine a classroom where everyone believes they’re the teacher and everyone else is students. They all fight each other for space at the blackboard, give lectures that nobody listens to, assign homework that nobody does. When everyone gets abysmal test scores, one of the teachers has an idea: I need a more engaging curriculum. Sure. That’ll help.

II.

A new Nathan Robinson article: Debate Vs. Persuasion. It goes through the same steps as the Harford article, this time from the perspective of the political Left. Deploying what Robinson calls “Purely Logical Debate” against Trump supporters hasn’t worked. Some leftists think the answer is violence. But this may be premature; instead, we should try the tools of rhetoric, emotional appeal, and other forms of discourse that aren’t Purely Logical Debate. In conclusion, Bernie Would Have Won.

I think giving up on argumentation, reason, and language, just because Purely Logical Debate doesn’t work, is a mistake. It’s easy to think that if we can’t convince the right with facts, there’s no hope at all for public discourse. But this might not suggest anything about the possibilities of persuasion and dialogue. Instead, it might suggest that mere facts are rhetorically insufficient to get people excited about your political program.

The resemblance to Harford is obvious. You can’t convince people with facts. But you might be able to convince people with facts carefully intermixed with human interest, compelling narrative, and emotional appeal.

Once again, I think this is generally a good article and makes important points. But I still want to challenge whether things are quite as bad as it says.

Google “debating Trump supporters is”, and you realize where the article is coming from. It’s page after page of “debating Trump supporters is pointless”, “debating Trump supporters is a waste of time”, and “debating Trump supporters is like [funny metaphor for thing that doesn’t work]”. The overall picture you get is of a world full of Trump opponents and supporters debating on every street corner, until finally, after months of banging their heads against the wall, everyone collectively decided it was futile.

Yet I have the opposite impression. Somehow a sharply polarized country went through a historically divisive election with essentially no debate taking place.

Am I about to No True Scotsman the hell out of the word “debate”? Maybe. But I feel like in using the exaggerated phrase “Purely Logical Debate, Robinson has given me leave to define the term as strictly as I like. So here’s what I think are minimum standards to deserve the capital letters:

1. Debate where two people with opposing views are talking to each other (or writing, or IMing, or some form of bilateral communication). Not a pundit putting an article on Huffington Post and demanding Trump supporters read it. Not even a Trump supporter who comments on the article with a counterargument that the author will never read. Two people who have chosen to engage and to listen to one another.

2. Debate where both people want to be there, and have chosen to enter into the debate in the hopes of getting something productive out of it. So not something where someone posts a “HILLARY IS A CROOK” meme on Facebook, someone gets really angry and lists all the reasons Trump is an even bigger crook, and then the original poster gets angry and has to tell them why they’re wrong. Two people who have made it their business to come together at a certain time in order to compare opinions.

3. Debate conducted in the spirit of mutual respect and collaborative truth-seeking. Both people reject personal attacks or ‘gotcha’ style digs. Both people understand that the other person is around the same level of intelligence as they are and may have some useful things to say. Both people understand that they themselves might have some false beliefs that the other person will be able to correct for them. Both people go into the debate with the hope of convincing their opponent, but not completely rejecting the possibility that their opponent might convince them also.

4. Debate conducted outside of a high-pressure point-scoring environment. No audience cheering on both participants to respond as quickly and bitingly as possible. If it can’t be done online, at least do it with a smartphone around so you can open Wikipedia to resolve simple matters of fact.

5. Debate where both people agree on what’s being debated and try to stick to the subject at hand. None of this “I’m going to vote Trump because I think Clinton is corrupt” followed by “Yeah, but Reagan was even worse and that just proves you Republicans are hypocrites” followed by “We’re hypocrites? You Democrats claim to support women’s rights but you love Muslims who make women wear headscarves!” Whether or not it’s hypocritical to “support women’s rights” but “love Muslims”, it doesn’t seem like anyone is even trying to change each other’s mind about Clinton at this point.

These to me seem like the bare minimum conditions for a debate that could possibly be productive.

(and while I’m asking for a pony on a silver platter, how about both people have to read How To Actually Change Your Mind first?)

Meanwhile, in reality…

If you search “debating Trump supporters” without the “is”, your first result is this video, where some people with a microphone corner some other people at what looks like a rally. I can’t really follow the conversation because they’re all shouting at the same time, but I can make out somebody saying ‘Republicans give more to charity!’ and someone else responding ‘That’s cause they don’t do anything at their jobs!'”. Okay.

The second link is this podcast where a guy talks about debating Trump supporters. After the usual preface about how stupid they were, he describes a typical exchange – “It’s kind of amazing how they want to go back to the good old days…Well, when I start asking them ‘You mean the good old days when 30% of the population were in unions’…they never seem to like to hear that!…so all this unfettered free market capitalism has got to go bye-bye. They don’t find comfort in that idea either. It’s amazing. I can say I now know what cognitive dissonance feels like on someone’s face.” I’m glad time travel seems to be impossible, because otherwise I would be tempted to warp back and change my vote to Trump just to spite this person.

The third link is Vanity Fair’s “Foolproof Guide To Arguing With Trump Supporters”, which suggests “using their patriotism against them” by telling them that wanting to “curtail the rights and privileges of certain of our citizens” is un-American.

I worry that people do this kind of thing every so often. Then, when it fails, they conclude “Trump supporters are immune to logic”. This is much like observing that Republicans go out in the rain without melting, and concluding “Trump supporters are immortal”.

Am I saying that if you met with a conservative friend for an hour in a quiet cafe to talk over your disagreements, they’d come away convinced? No. I’ve changed my mind on various things during my life, and it was never a single moment that did it. It was more of a series of different things, each taking me a fraction of the way. As the old saying goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they fight you half-heartedly, then they’re neutral, then they then they grudgingly say you might have a point even though you’re annoying, then they say on balance you’re mostly right although you ignore some of the most important facets of the issue, then you win.”

There might be a parallel here with the one place I see something like Purely Logical Debate on a routine basis: cognitive psychotherapy. I know this comparison sounds crazy, because psychotherapy is supposed to be the opposite of a debate, and trying to argue someone out of their delusions or depression inevitably fails. The rookiest of all rookie therapist mistakes is to say “FACT CHECK: The patient says she is a loser who everybody hates. PsychiaFact rates this claim: PANTS ON FIRE.”

But in other ways it’s a lot like the five points above. You have two people who disagree – the patient thinks she’s a worthless loser who everyone hates, and the therapist thinks maybe not. They meet together in a spirit of voluntary mutual inquiry, guaranteed safe from personal attacks like “You’re crazy!”. Both sides go over the evidence together, sometimes even agreeing on explicit experiments like “Ask your boyfriend tonight whether he hates you or not, predict beforehand what you think he’s going to say, and see if your prediction is accurate”. And both sides approach the whole process suspecting that they’re right but admitting the possibility that they’re wrong (very occasionally, after weeks of therapy, I realize that frick, everyone really does hate my patient. Then we switch strategies to helping her with social skills, or helping her find better friends).

And contrary to what you see in movies, this doesn’t usually give a single moment of blinding revelation. If you spent your entire life talking yourself into the belief that you’re a loser and everyone hates you, no single fact or person is going to talk you out of it. But after however many months of intensive therapy, sometimes someone who was sure that they were a loser is now sort of questioning whether they’re a loser, and has the mental toolbox to take things the rest of the way themselves.

This was also the response I got when I tried to make an anti-Trump case on this blog. I don’t think there were any sudden conversions, but here were some of the positive comments I got from Trump supporters:

“This is a compelling case, but I’m still torn.”

“This contains the most convincing arguments for a Clinton presidency I have ever seen. But, perhaps also unsurprisingly, while it did manage to shift some of my views, it did not succeed in convincing me to change my bottom line.”

“This article is perhaps the best argument I have seen yet for Hillary. I found myself nodding along with many of the arguments, after this morning swearing that there was nothing that could make me consider voting for Hillary…the problem in the end was that it wasn’t enough.”

“The first coherent article I’ve read justifying voting for Clinton. I don’t agree with your analysis of the dollar “value” of a vote, but other than that, something to think about.”

“Well I don’t like Clinton at all, and I found this essay reasonable enough. The argument from continuity is probably the best one for voting Clinton if you don’t particularly love any of her policies or her as a person. Trump is a wild card, I must admit.”

As an orthodox Catholic, you would probably classify me as part of your conservative audience…I certainly concur with both the variance arguments and that he’s not conservative by policy, life, or temperament, and I will remain open to hearing what you have to say on the topic through November.

“I’ve only come around to the ‘hold your nose and vote Trump’ camp the past month or so…I won’t say [you] didn’t make me squirm, but I’m holding fast to my decision.”

These are the people you say are completely impervious to logic so don’t even try? It seems to me like this argument was one of not-so-many straws that might have broken some camels’ backs if they’d been allowed to accumulate. And the weird thing is, when I re-read the essay I notice a lot of flaws and things I wish I’d said differently. I don’t think it was an exceptionally good argument. I think it was…an argument. It was something more than saying “You think the old days were so great, but the old days had labor unions, CHECKMATE ATHEISTS”. This isn’t what you get when you do a splendid virtuouso perfomance. This is what you get when you show up.

(and lest I end up ‘objectifying’ Trump supporters as prizes to be won, I’ll add that in the comments some people made pro-Trump arguments, and two people who were previously leaning Clinton said that they were feeling uncomfortably close to being convinced)

Another SSC story. I keep trying to keep “culture war”-style political arguments from overrunning the blog and subreddit, and every time I add restrictions a bunch of people complain that this is the only place they can go for that. Think about this for a second. A heavily polarized country of three hundred million people, split pretty evenly into two sides and obsessed with politics, blessed with the strongest free speech laws in the world, and people are complaining that I can’t change my comment policy because this one small blog is the only place they know where they can debate people from the other side.

Given all of this, I reject the argument that Purely Logical Debate has been tried and found wanting. Like GK Chesterton, I think it has been found difficult and left untried.

III.

Therapy might change minds, and so might friendly debate among equals, but neither of them scales very well. Is there anything that big fish in the media can do beyond the transmission they’re already trying?

Let’s go back to that Nyhan & Reifler study which found that fact-checking backfired. As I mentioned above, a replication attempt by Porter & Wood found the opposite. This could have been the setup for a nasty conflict, with both groups trying to convince academia and the public that they were right, or even accusing the other of scientific malpractice.

Instead, something great happened. All four researchers decided to work together on an “adversarial collaboration” – a bigger, better study where they all had input into the methodology and they all checked the results independently. The collaboration found that fact-checking generally didn’t backfire in most cases. All four of them used their scientific clout to publicize the new result and launch further investigations into the role of different contexts and situations.

Instead of treating disagreement as demonstrating a need to transmit their own opinion more effectively, they viewed it as demonstrating a need to collaborate to investigate the question together.

And yeah, part of it was that they were all decent scientists who respected each other. But they didn’t have to be. If one team had been total morons, and the other team was secretly laughing at them the whole time, the collaboration still would have worked. All required was an assumption of good faith.

A while ago I blogged about a journalistic spat between German Lopez and Robert VerBruggen on gun control. Lopez wrote a voxsplainer citing some statistics about guns. VerBruggen wrote a piece at National Review saying that some of the statistics were flawed. German fired back (pun not intended) with an article claiming that VerBruggen was ignoring better studies.

(Then I yelled at both of them, as usual.)

Overall the exchange was in the top 1% of online social science journalism – by which I mean it included at least one statistic and at some point that statistic was superficially examined. But in the end, it was still just two people arguing with one another, each trying to transmit his superior knowledge to each other and the reading public. As good as it was, it didn’t meet my five standards above – and nobody expected it to.

But now I’m thinking – what would have happened if Lopez and VerBruggen had joined together in an adversarial collaboration? Agreed to work together to write an article on gun statistics, with nothing going into the article unless they both approved, and then they both published that article on their respective sites?

This seems like a mass media equivalent of shifting from Twitter spats to serious debate, from transmission mindset to collaborative truth-seeking mindset. The adversarial collaboration model is just the first one to come to mind right now. I’ve blogged about others before – for example, bets, prediction markets, and calibration training.

The media already spends a lot of effort recommending good behavior. What if they tried modeling it?

IV.

The bigger question hanging over all of this: “Do we have to?”

Harford’s solution – compelling narratives and documentaries – sounds easy and fun. Robinson’s solution – rhetoric and emotional appeals – also sounds easy and fun. Even the solution Robinson rejects – violence – is easy, and fun for a certain type of person. All three work on pretty much anybody.

Purely Logical Debate is difficult and annoying. It doesn’t scale. It only works on the subset of people who are willing to talk to you in good faith and smart enough to understand the issues involved. And even then, it only works glacially slowly, and you win only partial victories. What’s the point?

Logical debate has one advantage over narrative, rhetoric, and violence: it’s an asymmetric weapon. That is, it’s a weapon which is stronger in the hands of the good guys than in the hands of the bad guys. In ideal conditions (which may or may not ever happen in real life) – the kind of conditions where everyone is charitable and intelligent and wise – the good guys will be able to present stronger evidence, cite more experts, and invoke more compelling moral principles. The whole point of logic is that, when done right, it can only prove things that are true.

Violence is a symmetric weapon; the bad guys’ punches hit just as hard as the good guys’ do. It’s true that hopefully the good guys will be more popular than the bad guys, and so able to gather more soldiers. But this doesn’t mean violence itself is asymmetric – the good guys will only be more popular than the bad guys insofar as their ideas have previously spread through some means other than violence. Right now antifascists outnumber fascists and so could probably beat them in a fight, but antifascists didn’t come to outnumber fascists by winning some kind of primordial fistfight between the two sides. They came to outnumber fascists because people rejected fascism on the merits. These merits might not have been “logical” in the sense of Aristotle dispassionately proving lemmas at a chalkboard, but “fascists kill people, killing people is wrong, therefore fascism is wrong” is a sort of folk logical conclusion which is both correct and compelling. Even “a fascist killed my brother, so fuck them” is a placeholder for a powerful philosophical argument making a probabilistic generalization from indexical evidence to global utility. So insofar as violence is asymmetric, it’s because it parasitizes on logic which allows the good guys to be more convincing and so field a bigger army. Violence itself doesn’t enhance that asymmetry; if anything, it decreases it by giving an advantage to whoever is more ruthless and power-hungry.

The same is true of documentaries. As I said before, Harford can produce as many anti-Trump documentaries as he wants, but Trump can fund documentaries of his own. He has the best documentaries. Nobody has ever seen documentaries like this. They’ll be absolutely huge.

And the same is true of rhetoric. Martin Luther King was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for good things. But Hitler was able to make persuasive emotional appeals for bad things. I’ve previously argued that Mohammed counts as the most successful persuader of all time. These three people pushed three very different ideologies, and rhetoric worked for them all. Robinson writes as if “use rhetoric and emotional appeals” is a novel idea for Democrats, but it seems to me like they were doing little else throughout the election (pieces attacking Trump’s character, pieces talking about how inspirational Hillary was, pieces appealing to various American principles like equality, et cetera). It’s just that they did a bad job, and Trump did a better one. The real takeaway here is “do rhetoric better than the other guy”. But “succeed” is not a primitive action.

Unless you use asymmetric weapons, the best you can hope for is to win by coincidence.

That is, there’s no reason to think that good guys are consistently better at rhetoric than bad guys. Some days the Left will have an Obama and win the rhetoric war. Other days the Right will have a Reagan and they’ll win the rhetoric war. Overall you should average out to a 50% success rate. When you win, it’ll be because you got lucky.

And there’s no reason to think that good guys are consistently better at documentaries than bad guys. Some days the NIH will spin a compelling narrative and people will smoke less. Other days the tobacco companies will spin a compelling narrative and people will smoke more. Overall smoking will stay the same. And again, if you win, it’s because you lucked out into having better videographers or something.

I’m not against winning by coincidence. If I stumbled across Stalin and I happened to have a gun, I would shoot him without worrying about how it’s “only by coincidence” that he didn’t have the gun instead of me. You should use your symmetric weapons if for no reason other than that the other side’s going to use theirs and so you’ll have a disadvantage if you don’t. But you shouldn’t confuse it with a long-term solution.

Improving the quality of debate, shifting people’s mindsets from transmission to collaborative truth-seeking, is a painful process. It has to be done one person at a time, it only works on people who are already almost ready for it, and you will pick up far fewer warm bodies per hour of work than with any of the other methods. But in an otherwise-random world, even a little purposeful action can make a difference. Convincing 2% of people would have flipped three of the last four US presidential elections. And this is a capacity to win-for-reasons-other-than-coincidence that you can’t build any other way.

(and my hope is that the people most willing to engage in debate, and the ones most likely to recognize truth when they see it, are disproportionately influential – scientists, writers, and community leaders who have influence beyond their number and can help others see reason in turn)

I worry that I’m not communicating how beautiful and inevitable all of this is. We’re surrounded by a a vast confusion, “a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night”, with one side or another making a temporary advance and then falling back in turn. And in the middle of all of it, there’s this gradual capacity-building going on, where what starts off as a hopelessly weak signal gradually builds up strength, until one army starts winning a little more often than chance, then a lot more often, and finally takes the field entirely. Which seems strange, because surely you can’t build any complex signal-detection machinery in the middle of all the chaos, surely you’d be shot the moment you left the trenches, but – your enemies are helping you do it. Both sides are diverting their artillery from the relevant areas, pooling their resources, helping bring supplies to the engineers, because until the very end they think it’s going to ensure their final victory and not yours.

You’re doing it right under their noses. They might try to ban your documentaries, heckle your speeches, fight your violence Middlebury-student-for-Middlebury-student – but when it comes to the long-term solution to ensure your complete victory, they’ll roll down their sleeves, get out their hammers, and build it alongside you.

A parable: Sally is a psychiatrist. Her patient has a strange delusion: that Sally is the patient and he is the psychiatrist. She would like to commit him and force medication on him, but he is an important politician and if push comes to shove he might be able to commit her instead. In desperation, she proposes a bargain: they will both take a certain medication. He agrees; from within his delusion, it’s the best way for him-the-psychiatrist to cure her-the-patient. The two take their pills at the same time. The medication works, and the patient makes a full recovery.

(well, half the time. The other half, the medication works and Sally makes a full recovery.)

V.

Harford’s article says that facts and logic don’t work on people. The various lefty articles say they merely don’t work on Trump supporters, ie 50% of the population.

If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on people, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions. You should be jettisoning everything you believe and entering a state of pure Cartesian doubt, where you try to rederive everything from cogito ergo sum.

If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on at least 50% of the population, again, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions. You should be worrying whether you’re in that 50%. After all, how did you figure out you aren’t? By using facts and logic? What did we just say?

Nobody is doing either of these things, so I conclude that they accept that facts can sometimes work. Asymmetric weapons are not a pipe dream. As Gandhi used to say, “If you think the world is all bad, remember that it contains people like you.”

You are not completely immune to facts and logic. But you have been wrong about things before. You may be a bit smarter than the people on the other side. You may even be a lot smarter. But fundamentally their problems are your problems, and the same kind of logic that convinced you can convince them. It’s just going to be a long slog. You didn’t develop your opinions after a five-minute shouting match. You developed them after years of education and acculturation and engaging with hundreds of books and hundreds of people. Why should they be any different?

You end up believing that the problem is deeper than insufficient documentary production. The problem is that Truth is a weak signal. You’re trying to perceive Truth. You would like to hope that the other side is trying to perceive Truth too. But at least one of you is doing it wrong. It seems like perceiving Truth accurately is harder than you thought.

You believe your mind is a truth-sensing instrument that does at least a little bit better than chance. You have to believe that, or else what’s the point? But it’s like one of those physics experiments set up to detect gravitational waves or something, where it has to be in a cavern five hundred feet underground in a lead-shielded chamber atop a gyroscopically stable platform cooled to one degree above absolute zero, trying to detect fluctuations of a millionth of a centimeter. Except you don’t have the cavern or the lead or the gyroscope or the coolants. You’re on top of an erupting volcano being pelted by meteorites in the middle of a hurricane.

If you study psychology for ten years, you can remove the volcano. If you spend another ten years obsessively checking your performance in various metis-intensive domains, you can remove the meteorites. You can never remove the hurricane and you shouldn’t try. But if there are a thousand trustworthy people at a thousand different parts of the hurricane, then the stray gusts of wind will cancel out and they can average their readings to get something approaching a signal.

All of this is too slow and uncertain for a world that needs more wisdom now. It would be nice to force the matter, to pelt people with speeches and documentaries until they come around. This will work in the short term. In the long term, it will leave you back where you started.

If you want people to be right more often than chance, you have to teach them ways to distinguish truth from falsehood. If this is in the face of enemy action, you will have to teach them so well that they cannot be fooled. You will have to do it person by person until the signal is strong and clear. You will have to raise the sanity waterline. There is no shortcut.

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1,181 Responses to Guided By The Beauty Of Our Weapons

  1. kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

    Inspiring!!!

    I suggest you find time to rewrite this to make it more polished and better in whatever way you can. It’s going to be one of your classics, and it’s very important that it stand the test of time.

  2. AnonYEmous says:

    Looks like I get the first post again. Hope no one thinks I’m working some dark magic. Just a product of having no life I’m afraid.

    Having read Nathan Robinson’s article previously, I came to the conclusion that it was saying “You can’t argue against white supremacists”. To which I respond, “No, YOU can’t argue against white supremacists”. Because I can do it just fine. In fact, the SSC comments gave me an incredible argument against white supremacy and I will always be respectful of them for that reason.

    But to get back to the point – white supremacists have explicitly hijacked left sentiment about black power and minority ethno-solidarity and used it to support white power and majority ethno-solidarity. The way you defeat this ideology, therefore, is not by attacking white power but by attacking ethno-power. As a guy on the left, that’s a big deal. So short of doing that, all he really can do is make emotional appeals. Well, he could also use the social justice argument of power-dynamic consequentialism, which means “This group is weak in power, so they can’t accomplish anything, thus no consequences”. But that grows less true by the day.

    There is an interesting argument to be had about when the socialist mainstream will rebel against social justice. They could theoretically do it, but it would be a heavy, heavy blow. I doubt it’ll happen anytime soon, honestly.

    Let’s go back to that Nyhan & Reifler study which found that fact-checking backfired. As I mentioned above, a replication attempt by Porter & Wood found the opposite.

    Anyone else think this sounds like the beginning of a joke about replication or something, in that a study that says fact-checking backfires, was fact-checked and it backfired.

    (By the way, to the start of the post: could he at least wait a few years and see how those two events work out? He’s just assumed that they are failures, despite one having not started yet and the other being 50 days into his first term.)

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      Yes, arguing helps. Or simply showing up.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      > The way you defeat this ideology, therefore, is not by attacking white power but by attacking ethno-power.

      Sounds great in theory. How does that work in practice? Unless you’re attacking black, Hispanic, or Jewish groups that rely on ethnic interests for political power (NAACP, La Raza, AIPAC) as just as bad as Richard Spencer’s NPI then it’s going to come across as “ethno power for me but not for thee.” This would just feed into the white nationalist meme that “anti-racist is code for anti-white.”

      • AnonYEmous says:

        Sounds great in theory. How does that work in practice? Unless you’re attacking black, Hispanic, or Jewish groups that rely on ethnic interests for political power (NAACP, La Raza, AIPAC) as just as bad as Richard Spencer’s NPI then it’s going to come across as “ethno power for me but not for thee.” This would just feed into the white nationalist meme that “anti-racist is code for anti-white.”

        thought my post made this pretty explicit but : yes, you do attack those groups. At least, in terms of their ethnonationalism and ethno-power.

        • Sandy says:

          Well, no one’s going to attack those groups, which is what Conrad Honcho meant when he said “How does that work in practice?”. What is the apparatus for attacking those groups? Because the NAACP and La Raza are clients of the Democratic Party, while AIPAC represents the sacred cow of the US-Israel alliance that neither party dares to stray from, so who exactly is going to attack these groups?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            What is the apparatus for attacking those groups?

            Me.

            Who else? Hopefully people like those on this very blog. Like those whose videos I watch and subreddits I frequent. Who are against social justice.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You know how the press is trying to figure out how to best hold Trump accountable, and the answer is to have spent the last 8 years holding Obama accountable? Same issue here. The way to undermine white power is to have not fanned the flames of ethno-power for the past X decades.

            There’s no easy way out now, and the hard way is far from guaranteed to work.

          • Eli says:

            I’ve never seen any substantively left-wing group stop attacking AIPAC in specific and Zionism in general. This whole “Jews are white oppressors” thing is the single most alienating, bullshit thing about the entire Left, and I said that as a card-carrying socialist.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          yes, you do attack those groups.

          That would be the theory. The practice is you speak out against these groups and all of your left-wing friends, campus administrators, HR department, etc, call you Nazi. You then say “no, no I have completely reasonable and rational arguments against these organizations that help blacks, Latinos and Jews!” and then they call you a double Nazi and ostracize you. Congratulations, you are now an evil right-winger.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            The idea of universal principles by which we evaluate different groups’ actions seems awfully 20th Century, if not 18th Century.

            The way 21st Century people think is that there are two kinds of people: Good People and Bad People. Whatever the Good People do is Good and whatever the Bad People do is Bad, even if it’s exactly the same behavior.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Steve Sailer

            Isn’t that the historical norm?

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Sure.

            As the West becomes more Diverse, it’s just regressing toward the mean of world history. Thinking in terms of Good Guys vs. Bad Guys is how every six year old in the history of the human race has thought. For a little while we got a little more mature, but that’s going out of fashion.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Steve Sailer
            Sure am glad I’m one of the Good People then, eh?

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Being one of the Good People makes everything much simpler.

        • Yosarian2 says:

          I really have trouble seeing how attacking the NAACP right now accomplishes anything. If anything your plan would probably just result in the anti-racists becoming divided amongst themselves, creating a lot more sound and noise without adding any more reason, and making the white nationalists more effective.

          On a more meta note, I don’t think “group A is trying to hijack the rhetoric of group B” is ever a reason to attack group B. As Scott pointed out, rhetoric tools are always symmetrical weapons; the fact that another group can use them is to be expected and doesn’t tell you anything about the deeper questions about if group B is correct or not.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I really have trouble seeing how attacking the NAACP right now accomplishes anything. If anything your plan would probably just result in the anti-racists becoming divided amongst themselves, creating a lot more sound and noise without adding any more reason, and making the white nationalists more effective.

            I think the point is that if you are using rational arguments against white nationalists, then you have to agree that white nationalist arguments are just as valid as Black Power arguments. Thus the only rational way to attack White Nationalists is to also attack Black Nationalists who say essentially the same thing with a mere change in color. And I think he is completely correct, but then I come more from the right on this argument, and do believe that those arguing for special treatment for ANY race is a bad thing. So I don’t feel very sorry for leftists in this conundrum.

            As someone said above, about the only way you can condemn White Nationalists and celebrate the Black kind, and still maintain consistency, is if you explain your belief that it is a matter of power differential, because Blacks have less power than Whites. And in fact, this is how many leftists do explain their beliefs. But this will be quite ineffective for poor Whites who don’t feel part of the tribe of White millionaires, or even well-paid White professionals. These poor Whites will also see that Blacks are often treated better than Whites in academic circles and media, so it sure doesn’t feel like they have more power than Blacks. And I think it is from just such a population that White Nationalists draw most of their people. So that strategy probably won’t work very well. So we’re back to attacking those groups that are looking for concentrated (favorable) treatment of their own group, even if it isn’t White.

          • Enkidum says:

            But the NAACP is not a black nationalist organization. If you can find comparable groups to white nationalists among these other races (I dunno, the Nation of Islam, maybe?), then by all means condemn them.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            Yeah I think the power differential is key here.

            Also my viewpoint is that any minority group which is oppressed or discriminated against is going to naturally tend to form a group based on that very feature they are being attacked for. You see that over and over again, it’s a natural human instinct. A group like the NAACP channels that instinct through nonviolent political action to try to fight for equality; if you tear down the NAACP but racism still persists it is likely that same force will be channeled in a different way, perhaps one you may like less.

            I do agree that white supremacists try to claim that they are really the oppressed minority in order to try to channel that same effect. My impression is that it’s much less effective for them, since they have a much harder time convincing most white people that we are an oppressed minority.

            As for the whole “black pride” thing, I think that’s also a natural reaction to people being told that being black was a bad thing. Same reason discrimination against the Irish in the 1800’s led to what is basically an Irish-American pride movement (which still persists today) and the way discrimination against gay people led to gay pride. Because if you’ve been told your whole life that there is something wrong with being X, the best way to counter that toxic meme is to convince yourselves you should be proud to be X.

            For the most part I do not think white nationalism is comining from the same place, even though they use some of the same language.

          • keranih says:

            @ Yosarian –

            For the most part I do not think white nationalism is coming from the same place, even though they use some of the same language.

            Can you explain more on why you think that ethnic nationalism is different when comes from Euro-descent Americans, rather than from any other ethnic group?

          • Yosarian2 says:

            I guess I don’t think that what groups like the NAACP use is actually ethnic nationalism. It is a form of tribalism with an in-group, but it doesn’t have most of the features of ethnic nationalism. They have no desire to separate themselves or to form a black nation for example

          • Evan Þ says:

            Because if you’ve been told your whole life that there is something wrong with being X, the best way to counter that toxic meme is to convince yourselves you should be proud to be X.

            For the most part I do not think white nationalism is comining from the same place…

            How are you so sure? If people have grown up hearing about how all white people should feel guilty for their ancestors’ evil deeds, mightn’t they want to convince themselves they should be proud to be white? Yes, we see that a lot of them overcorrect – but the initial reaction is perfectly understandable.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            A lot of white nationalism predates Social Justice.

          • Matt C says:

            Sure, it’s existed. However, my feeling is over the last 10-15 years white nationalism in the USA has gone from a tiny despised sliver of people (less than 1%), to something more like a “regular” fringe movement (2-5%).

            I don’t have numbers to back this up, but I sure see a lot more white-nationalist leaning stuff on the “regular” internet than I used to.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            I sure see a lot more white-nationalist leaning stuff on the “regular” internet than I used to.

            I think a lot of that may be because the internet has gradually changed from being a space dominated by a more educated, younger, more tech-savvy part of the US into a place where basically everyone goes. In 2005 the average person online was not representative of the population as a whole, which is why it was so dominated by “geek culture”; in 2017 it’s much closer to being representative. (This may also be why youtube comments have such a bad reputation for being toxic; people who are less literate and educated are less likely to read blogs and forums but will watch a video and make a comment.)

            So maybe white supremacists and white nationalists have always been here, it’s just that there are more of them on the internet now. In fact I think that’s very likely based on polling results of racial issues.

      • rlms says:

        Just because the NAACP and NPI both pattern-match to “x nationalist” (although I don’t know if the NAACP describe themselves that way) doesn’t mean they are equivalent. They don’t have the same beliefs with “white” and “black” swapped round. From their website, the NAACP campaign on issues that disproportionately affect poor black people. If the NPI did the same (their website isn’t helpful), far fewer people would have a problem with them. A couple of weeks ago I was at a debate (in a very “SJ” context) about whether there needs to be more of a focus on promoting white working class access to higher education. Complaining about stereotypical media portrayals of “rednecks” is also perfectly mainstream. But I don’t think the NPI does that kind of thing.

        Equally, if you take the rhetoric I assume the NPI uses and race-swap, you get the Nation of Islam, and even the dubious SPLC condemns you.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There was the time when the American Nazi Party and the Nation of Islam had a brief flirtation. You’re right that a poor rural white equivalent of the NAACP would not be anything like the NPI – more like the National Association for the Advancement of Borderers, to use the terminology that’s become popular around here.

          • mobile says:

            There’s a new organization trying to promote increased access to health care for poor whites in rural areas of America. It’s called Doctors With Borderers.

    • TheRadicalModerate says:

      “…white supremacists have explicitly hijacked left sentiment about black power and minority ethno-solidarity and used it to support white power and majority ethno-solidarity. The way you defeat this ideology, therefore, is not by attacking white power but by attacking ethno-power.”

      Or, more generally, the Right has finally discovered identity politics and learned how to use it.

      This was bad for the polity when the Left used it, and it’s still bad when the Right uses it. You can break political discourse (and argument) down into three basic styles, ranked in order from least to most effective:

      1) Ideological politics, where you’re arguing about the architecture of government (libertarians and social democrats and Marxists–oh my!).

      2) Interest politics, where you’re trying to get something specific from the government and are willing to ally with other interests and horse-trade for support.

      3) Identity politics, where you corral voters into groups, usually using some form of the “bad people are out to get us” argument, and then attach a slate of interests to the identity as a governing principle.

      Identity is the thermonuclear weapon of political discourse. Ideology and interests can’t come close to its organizing power and ability to control a voting bloc. But, as powerful as it is, it’s utterly corrosive to any form of reasoned discourse. It relies on orthodoxy to keep its interests front and center: if you deviate from the orthodoxy, you’re shamed until you either get in line or slink away. And it’s an especially zero-sum form of politics. If your organizing principle is “bad people are out to get us”, then giving the bad people even a partial political win is unthinkable.

      I don’t know how you break up the power of identity politics, especially when small-world social network effects are so perfect at reinforcing the basic playbook. But this has grown into a full-blown pathology, and it’d be nice to find some countermeasures.

      The only strategy I can think of is to chip away at the identities themselves, which is a kissing cousin to “attacking ethno-power”. But identities erect formidable defenses against this. I suspect that the only way to peel people out of an identity bloc is to offer them another identity bloc that fits them better. Taken to an extreme, this might be a real strategy: when you make the identity groups small enough, I think they decohere back into interest groups, which is a kind of politics that we understand well–and which is much more tractable to rational discourse.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        my personal strategy was to simply try and fold people into nationalism

        Bannon’s strategy too it seems

        we’ll see if it works out

        • 1soru1 says:

          A precondition for the success of such a strategy is that the nationalism be seen as representing the whole nation, and not, for example, whites only. Which would require the purging from the movement of anyone who remotely flirted with racism. To be safe, it would be best to do so with a level of ruthlessness that would make the stereotypical SJW flinch and say ‘are you not being a bit mean to those racists?’

          Maybe that will happen?

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            Identity groups “purge from the movement”. Members of interest groups merely ignore the stuff they don’t like about their fellow travelers.

          • keranih says:

            Which would require the purging from the movement of anyone who remotely flirted with racism.

            Umm. 1) Given how “flirting with racism” has been watered down to include the cousin’s roomate’s lawyer’s brother of anyone who ever said “I think girls of [X] ethnicity are hot” I think purges are only going to go super bad. And

            2) Yah know, I’m perfectly okay with Irish-decent Americans holding that they are the best sort of American, and black Americans thinking that *they* are (cause no one else put up with the crap they did, now did they?) and Indians holding that they are the original and still the best and all that – even though I know perfectly well that German-Norwegian-Borderer mutt Americans are actually the most ‘Merican Mericans there are…’cause it doesn’t matter so much what sort you are cause we’re all Americans, right? And that is Best.

            Like Radical Moderate says, so long as we keep up ‘Yah Team’ and save our “You SUCK!” for the non-Americans, I think we’ll survive some ethnic pride.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Richard Spencer tried to show up at CPAC and was drop kicked out the door. So actual racists are booted.

            The problem with the “we’re going to ostracize anyone who ‘flirts’ with racism” bit is then your political enemies go hunting for anything they can spin as “racist” against anyone in your movement, especially anyone seen as a threat. “This guy who’s getting pretty popular once said he doesn’t like tacos so that’s racist here’s twelve letters from the National Association for the Advancement of Mexicans that he’s literally Hitler disavow him or you’re all racists.” Which is basically what happens now with the neocon GOP.

            Now on the other hand if you don’t do this, then you wind up with current Democratic party, where they were inviting BLMers (“pigs in a blanket fry ’em like bacon”) to the White House and lecturing people about white privilege, and Keith Ellison goes on rants about Jews doing 9/11 and still gets the vice chair. I don’t know how a white person or Jew who doesn’t hate himself stays in the Democratic party.

        • userfriendlyyy says:

          my personal strategy was to simply try and fold people into nationalism

          Yeah, Iraq and graduating college into the recession with tens of thousands of dollars in non dischargeable student debt and no jobs for years has pretty much destroyed the concept that ‘America isn’t a shit hole of a country’ for the under 35 crowd. I voted for Trump because I wanted him to destroy this miserable corrupt oligarchy and because Clinton sure as hell wasn’t going to fix it.

          If you want people to like this country try not mandating debt bondage for anyone trying to improve their situation. ‘Free College’ pays for itself in higher taxes from grads vs non grads, reduced spending on food stamps, police, prison, healthcare, ect. Of course we can’t have that in the USA because a rich person paying an extra cent in taxes would make Ayn Rand cry. We have socialism for Wall Street and rugged individualism for everyone else. Obama was a right wing nut who bailed out wall street and did shit for main street. How he got called a socialist for implementing Heritage’s health plan is beyond me.

          • psmith says:

            ‘Free College’ pays for itself in higher taxes from grads vs non grads, reduced spending on food stamps, police, prison, healthcare, ect.

            It’s surprisingly difficult to establish that college will cause any of these things. Here’s a discussion of the returns to higher education under various assumptions from a source who’s ultimately skeptical about the causal effects of higher education on human capital.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            Sweet Jesus, you voted for Trump because you wanted someone who would crack down harder on wall street while treating college students better?

            What could he have said during the campaign to persuade you that he would not do either of those things?

            I feel like this dovetails in some important way with the central claims of Scott’s post.

        • TheRadicalModerate says:

          That’ll work, but only if you can reconstruct something like the old-timey American identity. There are three major forces working against that:

          1) The power of the current set of identity blocs depends heavily on the American identity not re-emerging.

          2) Intractable poverty and low social mobility–or, to use the marketing term, “income inequality”. A key chunk of the canonical American identity relied on social mobility.

          3) Cosmopolitanism. It’s a lot harder to come up with the consensus that’s needed to rebuild the identity when a lot of thought-leaders have left to join something they view as greater and grander.

          I think that the Trump/Bannon strategy is indeed trying to reconstruct the old-timey identity, and they’re pretty good at describing how they’d counter each of these three obstacles. Xenophobia chokes off the flow of recruits to the ethnic identities, blue-collar jobs programs reduces the mobility problems, and isolationism is pretty much the opposite of cosmopolitanism.

          The problem is that wishing that this stuff were true doesn’t make it so. No amount of tariffing or industrial policy is going to turn low-skill workers into the technicians that are needed for modern manufacturing. The identity groups aren’t relying nearly as heavily on ethnicity as they used to, because the whole social justice idea has become an end in itself, rather than a tool for getting things the ethnic identities need, and government isolation isn’t going to touch cosmopolitanism, which is happening on business and cultural planes that don’t really intersect with public policy.

          If there’s a new nationalist identity to be had, we’re going to have to invent it, not just re-instantiate it by Trumpian fiat.

          • Eli says:

            3) Cosmopolitanism. It’s a lot harder to come up with the consensus that’s needed to rebuild the identity when a lot of thought-leaders have left to join something they view as greater and grander.

            Huh? At least in my home region (New York/New Jersey), the “old-time” American identity was cosmopolitan. Mixing different kinds of people together into a larger, healthier hybrid whole was what America was for us.

          • Intractable poverty and low social mobility–or, to use the marketing term, “income inequality”. A key chunk of the canonical American identity relied on social mobility.

            Is it clear that social mobility is seriously down? Do you have actual data measuring it, now and in the past?

            My understanding of income data is that high income people are mostly high paid professionals not heirs living on dividends, so literal inheritance isn’t a big factor. Obviously you can still have inheritance via genetics, upbringing, contacts, and the like, but I don’t know how you measure the amount of it.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Eli, are you claiming that the current proponents of globalism/post-nationalism/cosmopolitanism (call it what you will) are the true inheritors of American cultural values?

            Or are you pointing out that from the perspective of other cultures being appropriated, assimilated, and merged into an evolving American culture could also be considered an example of the same sort of cosmopolitan philosophy?

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            Eli–

            Here’s a definition for cosmopolitanism:

            …the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community.

            I don’t think that’s what the folks in New Jersey had in mind back in the day.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            DavidFriedman–

            Three common (and fairly well-studied) measures of socio-economic mobility:

            1) The probability of somebody born in a low income quintile making into into a high one. Most (but not all) studies show that probability falling pretty steadily in the US.

            2) Movement in average income per income quintile, which has remained flat for lower quintiles for more than 40 years.

            3) The percentage of children who make more than their parents at comparable ages. Again, that’s been falling for a long time.

            I don’t think an argument that there aren’t very many idle rich is enough to rebuild the traditional, American Dream-style national identity.

          • IrishDude says:

            @TheRadicalModerate

            1) The probability of somebody born in a low income quintile making into into a high one. Most (but not all) studies show that probability falling pretty steadily in the US.

            One critique I’ve seen of this metric, at least as it relates to comparing U.S. mobility to other countries, is that the U.S. has much wider income quintiles while other countries have more compressed income quintiles. So, a person needs to earn a much higher income in the U.S. compared to other countries before they can move into the next quintile. Americans can have quite a bit of income movement but remain in the same quintile.

            Still, I’d be interested in you pointing to the studies that show the probability of quintile improvement falling steadily over time in the U.S..

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            @IrishDude–

            “…the U.S. has much wider income quintiles while other countries have more compressed income quintiles.”

            The lower quintiles have more compression than the higher ones, so I think that’s a fair criticism for why you don’t see a lot of people jumping from #2 to #5, but it’s harder to explain not jumping more from #2 to #3, or from #3 to #4.

            “Still, I’d be interested in you pointing to the studies that show the probability of quintile improvement falling steadily over time in the U.S..”,

            I bit more idle googling shows that this is more controversial than I thought, with several studies showing that intra-generational (i.e., measuring start to end for individuals, not similar points between parents and children) mobility is fairly stable.

            Here’s, one, however, looking at starting vs. ending decile. The money shot is table 2, which shows (warning: headache trigger alert) the percentage change in the probability from moving from a particular decile between 1981-1996 vs. the same probability between 1993-2008. Note how upper-triangular the negative numbers are.

            I’m being uncritical of methodology here, just because I’m lazy and not super-competent statistically.

          • 3) The percentage of children who make more than their parents at comparable ages. Again, that’s been falling for a long time.

            If that’s real income rather than percentile of the income distribution, it could just mean that average incomes are going up more slowly, which isn’t an issue of social mobility.

            Also, it would be interesting to see the figures in the other direction–social mobility can be down as well as up. Down mobility has to occur in order for up mobility to occur if you are classifying by quintiles or deciles rather than by real income.

            I haven’t looked at the statistics, but it occurs to me that one problem is distinguishing mobility from unstable income. Imagine a society where everyone alternates, year by year, between high and low income. If you look at changes from year X to year X+25, half the people have gone from low to high, half from high to low, which looks like huge income mobility. But actual mobility could be zero. So a society with more short term income fluctuation would have mobility appear deceptively higher.

            You could deal with that in intergenerational figures by comparing lifetime income.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            David–

            If that’s real income rather than percentile of the income distribution, it could just mean that average incomes are going up more slowly, which isn’t an issue of social mobility.

            I think it is real income, and indeed the bottom half of the distribution has barely budged in forty years. But if it’s almost impossible to get from the fifth decile to the sixth because the top end is expanding so quickly, that sounds like a mobility problem. (It’s also an inequality problem, which is obviously related.)

            Down mobility has to occur in order for up mobility to occur if you are classifying by quintiles or deciles rather than by real income.

            You’ve got population growth effects in there as well. It’s pretty common (and economically healthy) if you’ve got poor young adults who become richer as they get older. Plus, there’s the dead people to consider.

            I haven’t looked at the statistics, but it occurs to me that one problem is distinguishing mobility from unstable income.

            The papers I’ve read (well, “skimmed” is probably more accurate) account for that, either by aggregating income over time, or by using a moving average. There are methodological limitations on some of this, but the IRS provides an anonymized data set to researchers, which allows accurate time series to be generated.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Eli

            Mixing different kinds of people together into a larger, healthier hybrid whole was what America was for us.

            That’s the story that the left tells now. Except for when they’re trying to ban guns or the electoral college because “America was founded by rich white men who owned slaves and hated everyone who wasn’t a rich white Christian male.”

            Which isn’t wrong. America was not intended as a great experiment in the mixing of cultures. It was for Americans of American culture, which was heavily descended from English culture, and Ben Franklin immediately thought we needed to clamp down on German immigrants lest they ruin the national culture.

            And the big difference between then and now: used to be when you showed up off the boat you got the Irish or the Pollack beaten out of you until you started acting American. You were not welcomed with open arms to take part in our multicultural parade while any American who suggested maybe some of your old world traditions need updating for 21st century America got shouted down as a vile racist.

      • userfriendlyyy says:

        I suspect that the only way to peel people out of an identity bloc is to offer them another identity bloc that fits them better.

        Yup. That would be how socialism works. Shift from race politics to class politics.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Two-party politics appears to work that way as well. If one party gets its way often enough, the other party morphs a bit and makes appeals that now look better to some subset of the former party that are now that much more assured that they won’t lose ground they gained in the former party.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            But that’s an interest play, not an identity play. It presupposes that individuals view parties merely as a coalition for getting action on the things they’re concerned about. When the major marketing for the parties is that “we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys”, it’s harder to do that morphing.

            If anything, it’s easier for the party in power to do the morphing, because they can remain the good guys but change the agenda. That’s the worst thing about identity politics: the agenda is the least important thing. That lends itself to an “Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia” relationship with policy.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        There are a few anti-Establishment Democratic strategists thinking about how to win back the Great Lakes states with an old-fashioned tax-and-spend policy of promoting Canadian style single payer health care. And some of the more radical of them think this policy’s class-based rather than race-and-pronouns-based appeal is a feature rather than a bug.

        But they lost the battle over the Democratic Party chair with Hillary and Obama getting identity politics warrior Tom Perez into the post.

        It’s hard to say the Establishment Democrats are factually wrong in their assumption that the easiest way to make America into a one-party state like California is import ringers to vote Democratic.

        The Democratic Party Establishment’s formula is that more immigration equals more diversity equals more identity politics equals more Democrats getting elected. The only way this ploy could fail is if the non-diverse ever notice how the game is being rigged.

        For years, that didn’t seem to be much of a danger due to control over the national mythologies, as seen in, for example, the hijacking of the meaning of the Statue of Liberty, and shutting down of dissident views, such as that the Statue of Liberty was actually about liberty and independence, not immigration.

        But then along came Trump, with his crude but remarkable knack for blurting out unwelcome truths and his refusal to be shut down. He’s like The Mule in Asimov’s Foundation: the unexpected glitch in the forecast.

        The game suddenly got more intriguing, which helps explain the massive ongoing freakout by the Establishment.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          That explanation is internally incoherent.

          If it were the “Democratic Establishment” that was responsible, the “Republican Establishment” could have made these accusations at any time.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If it were the “Democratic Establishment” that was responsible, the “Republican Establishment” could have made these accusations at any time.

            The Republican establishment and the DNC establishment are two sides of the same coin. If you look at the origins of the neoconservative movement, it’s ex-trotskyites who wanted a more aggressive foreign policy. So, as long as they get their foreign wars, they’re perfectly fine to play fight over social issues with the Democrats and lose. This is among the reasons Republican voters have been so upset with their party for so long, and have launched two insurgencies against the leadership (the Tea Party and now Trump).

            The Republican establishment would never make such an accusation because 1) they don’t really care about long term political power or national character as long as they stay rich and 2) they’d get called racist.

        • and shutting down of dissident views, such as that the Statue of Liberty was actually about liberty and independence, not immigration.

          That isn’t what the verses on it imply.

          Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
          With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
          Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
          A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
          Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
          Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
          Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
          The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
          “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
          With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
          Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
          The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
          Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
          I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Bravo.

            Of course a cynic might wonder who paid for that inscription, and what they wanted the immigrants for.

          • Jiro says:

            The poem was written at a time where immigrants could not consume social services (because there were none), and where immigrants had to commit to their new country because they mostly came from overseas (few came from Mexico). The immigrants that Emma Lazarus was mainly familiar with were Jewish immigrants, and she was a Zionist, which would horrify much of the left today. Furthermore, the poem wasn’t originally on the statue and was added later.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            That poem wasn’t put there for 20 years after the erection and dedication of the statue.

            You’ll also note that it’s the Statue of Liberty – not the Statue of Welcoming Invaders.

            (from wikipedia):

            President Cleveland spoke next, stating that the statue’s “stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world”.[103] Bartholdi, observed near the dais, was called upon to speak, but he refused. Orator Chauncey M. Depew concluded the speechmaking with a lengthy address.[104]

            No members of the general public were permitted on the island during the ceremonies, which were reserved entirely for dignitaries.

            Amusingly enough the dedication ceremony showed a proper appreciation for the idea of exclusion.

          • LHN says:

            where immigrants had to commit to their new country because they mostly came from overseas

            Return migration was very common during that wave of immigration, possibly higher than today. (Estimates I’ve seen tend to be around a third.) Which makes sense– the same barriers to migration worked both ways, so it was pretty common for men to come over to work while leaving their families behind rather than try to move them all overseas. When they could, or when the work dried up, they’d tend to go home.

            (But of course there’s a huge selection bias in our own family stories here in the US, which is mostly about the people who either did bring their families, or else started new ones here and stayed.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            Certainly many immigrants weren’t stuck here; I can find a few in my family who made several trips back and forth to Italy in the 1920s. Harder than crossing the Mexican border (were there no legal barriers), but not an irrevocable step.

          • Jiro says:

            I didn’t mean that literally 100% of the immigrants couldn’t go back, but that it was significantly harder for them to go back than for Mexicans to go back.

  3. reasoned argumentation says:

    Your ban list gives lie to your argument.

    • keranih says:

      I disagree. I think his banned list is a pretty solid example of dis- incentivizing the action of making non-rational arguments, slowly, over time.

      If anything, it’s an object lesson in how to avoid making arguments in a way that pisses Scott off.

      • reasoned argumentation says:

        The “non-rational” arguments are that the leftists insult people and personalize stuff for months or years and maybe someday get banned.

        On the other hand, Scott is made uncomfortable by right-wing arguments and bans with a hair trigger ostensibly for other stuff but in reality for making arguments. Proof is that he says things like “I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of x for some time” – which he’s said maybe a dozen times.

        • keranih says:

          Scott’s banned list is not perfect, this is correct.

          However, that Scott will be imperfect in his attempt to keep the comment section focused on rational discussion is not the smackdown on this essay that you’ve proposed it to be. Instead it’s an example of how circling around and around back to the process of having rational arguments is hard.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            However, that Scott will be imperfect in his attempt to keep the comment section focused on rational discussion is not the smackdown on this essay that you’ve proposed it to be

            It’s an argument that he either doesn’t believe his own argument that arguments win on their merits or that he doesn’t think that his arguments will win on the merits (yet he still has beliefs that will lose if he argued them – funny that) because look right below your reply where Scott talks about how he bans people on the vague grounds that they say things that aren’t wrong but just unacceptable to either Scott or his imagined censors.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            His argument is that arguments win on their merits with non-negligible probability. Truth is a weak signal, and social considerations are real. You can’t systematically win by disregarding truth, but you can still easily fail by social concerns even if you have truth on your side.

            The purpose of this comment section is not just to converge on truth, it’s also to reach a certain social shape. This is Scott’s garden, and it’s up to him how to fill it. Optimally there would be many spaces with many different people talking, so that the truth could percolate without running into social barriers. Regardless, Scott is not espousing radical openness, least of all because that would be dumb.

            While we’re linking LessWrong articles: Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism.

        • Cypren says:

          This is just my perception, but as someone who is generally on the right-hand side of the ideological spectrum (of SSC posters, at least), my impression is that Scott is actually somewhat slower to ban right-leaning commenters than left-leaning ones for similar behavior. I’ve always ascribed this to him having a healthy amount of skepticism for his own biases and more confidence that he can identify purely non-productive behavior when it comes from people more closely ideologically aligned with himself.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s quite possible that Scott under-bans badly-behaving right-wingers but over-bans other right-wingers. For instance, he might be aware he has bias and is trying to correct it, but he’s correcting it in the wrong way, by being lenient on the wrong group. Thus you get Scott going easy on actual troublemakers, but banning the guys we’re not allowed to name.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          As a right-winger who’s taken part in a fair amount of online arguments, can I just say that I’d feel much more comfortable arguing for controversial right-wing stances on SSC than I would on pretty much any other non-right-wing blog I can think of.

        • Deiseach says:

          Proof is that he says things like “I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of x for some time” – which he’s said maybe a dozen times.

          And the difference between here and the public square is that this is Scott’s personal blog. If he wants, he can shut it down in the morning. He owes us the sum total of sweet feck-all. This is (metaphorically) his house and we are guests, and if he wants to kick any or all of our unruly arses out the door for abusing his hospitality or simply because it’s time for him to go to bed, he has work in the morning – he can do so.

          He can ban every single man jack of us if he wants. He can decide this blog is now going to be about découpage. He can make a rule that only Moon is allowed comment on any post and nobody else. He can do a LiveJournal and sell the site as a going concern to the Russians. He doesn’t need an excuse to say “Right, you’re barred!”

          You are not making the point you think you’re making, and the point you are making – that this is a left-wing nest of howling and strutting where the right-wing are done down and banned and silenced on a whim is precisely the same argument that a few on the left are making about this same site, only with Tweedledum swapped out for Tweedledee.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If truth-seeking is an exercise in trying to use an exquisitely sensitive detector atop a volcano, wouldn’t that suggest you should be very careful to keep loud and disruptive people as far away as possible?

      I said many times in this article that the procedure I’m recommending only works in spaces that are kept friendly, safe, and focused on mutual collaboration. Part of that involves kicking out people who don’t meet the criteria.

      (There’s also a less directly defensible thing I do where I kick people out if their presence is likely to get me reported to WordPress, to drive away everyone else, or to attract what Sailer calls “the Eye of Sauron”. I still think on balance it’s worth it to be able to maintain the community.)

      • reasoned argumentation says:

        There’s also a less directly defensible thing I do where I kick people out if their presence is likely to get me reported to WordPress, to drive away everyone else, or to attract what Sailer calls “the Eye of Sauron”.

        Which, coincidentally I’m sure, tends to correspond with people who bring up relevant but uncomfortable truths. Steve Sailer has also pointed out that political correctness is a war on noticing things.

        You really think you’re going to get to the truth that way? SSC, where we find all the approved truths that won’t drive sensitive people away or offend SJWs. That’s not even close to “raising the sanity waterline” and you know it.

        • kaminiwa says:

          > That’s not even close to “raising the sanity waterline” and you know it.

          On the contrary: The article very concisely points out that, by and large, shifting some from point 0 to point 1 involves numerous incremental steps of 0.0->0.1->0.2…0.9->1.0.

          And, by and large, those steps only occur when you’re around someone who is +/- 0.1 of you.

          So, naturally, the most productive locations are going to be the ones where people mostly *do* agree. You want to find a crowd where you can respect them as individuals, and acknowledge their intellectual contributions.

          You yourself are dismissing SSC as being too different from your current opinions to be of any benefit – you’re outside that collaborative window.

          Maybe this means SSC has a lot of progress to make before it catches up to where you are. Maybe this means you have a lot of progress to make before you catch up with us. After reading that article, I’m not going to claim any sort of high ground here 🙂

          But it seems really obvious, from your own responses, that the article is right about the need for incremental improvements, and spaces that help foster those.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          To paraphrase a very good movie: “you are not always wrong, you are just an asshole.”

          Scott tries to ban asshole behavior, because it degrades overall discussion quality, regardless of political lean. Right-leaning folks here are a lot “edgier” than left-leaning folks. You don’t see that — but of course it would be hard for you to see that. The edgier folks are your tribe.

          People went through the same thing with Eugene Noir at LW. The argument always was along the lines of:

          Eugene: “you just don’t like the perfectly legit but uncomfortable truth I am preaching here,” and folks would always say, “no, we just don’t like that you are a toxic asshole.”

          Preaching truth to liberal power via “uncomfortable truths” does not give you magical immunity from the consequences of toxic behavior. Namely that people don’t like you, don’t want to listen to you, and don’t want you around.

          • Jiro says:

            Eugine abused the voting system, which is an unambiguous case of abuse, not violating a vague guideline.

            Furthermore, even then, the moderators were absurdly reluctant to ban him.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I am not saying LW moderators did a bad thing! In fact, I think they were far too reluctant to act. There is absolutely no problem, by my lights, in making a space asshole-free, and using reasonable but relatively vague definitions of what that means (see also Scott’s “supreme overlord of SSC” declaration a while back).

            I think reasonableness-but-vagueness is necessary because one common thing assholes do is try to rule lawyer around explicit rules. My view on this is this: banning should be “virtue ethical”. That is, banning should be about a person not about rules of conduct.

            If you are a toxic person, this becomes clear relatively quickly, even if it is difficult to pin point any one specific thing you did that was clearly over the line.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Right-leaning folks here are a lot “edgier” than left-leaning folks.

            This is because of where the edge is, however. For example, it’s edgier to argue for genetically-mediated race-based differences in intelligence than to argue against them or to dismiss them without evidence.

            Which is one reason this is a very nice post but ultimately gives me no hope. Not all the other weapons out there are symmetric either. If position A is outside the Overton window and position !A is inside it, this completely overwhelms any advantage position A may have by having support from objective reality.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I am talking about personalities not issues.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I am talking about personalities not issues.

            And how do you disentangle them? I’ve had “you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole” deployed against me for pointing out (in response to a post accusing him of such) that Moldbug not only isn’t a neo-Nazi, but is Jewish.

            I’ve been called all sorts of names and told that “that people don’t like you, don’t want to listen to you, and don’t want you around” for merely disputing stories that turned out, in fact, to be false or misreported.

            Calling things “toxic behavior” is mostly an SJW superweapon. One should be very suspicious when it’s brought up as a reason for a ban.

          • Not all the other weapons out there are symmetric either. If position A is outside the Overton window and position !A is inside it, this completely overwhelms any advantage position A may have by having support from objective reality.

            I think Scott’s argument would be that the Overton window is inherently symmetrical. At any one time, of course, it favors some views and not others, and if the views you believe are true are outside it, it looks asymmetrical to you. But in another time and place it might be asymmetrical in the opposite direction.

            Consider the issue of homosexuality. A century or so back, arguing that there was nothing wrong with it and homosexuals should be treated just like everyone else was outside the Overton window for the U.S. and U.K. Now, the opposite argument is outside.

            So from Scott’s standpoint, that’s just part of the random noise, sometimes pushing you towards truth, sometimes away. He agrees that the truth signal is weak.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Well, as I said, the criterion is inherently vague. A positive example: Jim is an asshole. A negative example: you (the Nybbler) aren’t (since you are here and Jim isn’t).

            All law is vague, and relies on good judgement, which Scott has. It’s fine, the system is working as intended. You can’t completely “algorithmize” law, nor should you.

            Re: people calling you an asshole for this or that. I am less interested in rhetorical flourishes and more interested in how “the law” (banning specifically) is applied. And I don’t see a problem. I see a lot of whining about selective enforcement, but when I see who actually gets banned I can’t really find any specific issue. If anything I think Scott is way too patient, and way too tolerant of pretty crappy behavior in his comment section. But it’s his house.

            If you are uncomfortable with virtue ethics in law (bans in our case), consider why that might be.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Being ‘uncomfortable with virtue eithics in law’ is completely normal. People like the law to be impartial and clear, so that they can know

            1. whether something is allowed or not
            2. whether the people running the show are following their own rules.

            I assume the answer you’re thinking of is “secretly you suspect that people don’t like you”,

            (this by the way is an example of how some people get away with more, if they are ‘edgy’ in a smoother way,)

            but by now it should be obvious that people are indeed not always fair to those who they dislike, or more often, merely find unpopular and without protection:

            c.f. the holocaust, slavery in various ages, basically just human history, including most playgrounds and some workplaces.

            Subjective judgement has its place, and the law can’t replace it, but the law is in place precisely to limit its extremely well known biases and excesses. Suggesting it’s some kind of abberation to prefer an impartial and transparent law is frankly speaking in the service of evil.

            _

            Though it must be noted that here the first post recommends that ‘we’ need to “fight ethno-power”, -which I hope means ‘all ethnic blocks including white people’, but will be read as ‘non white people’, because that’s usually what “ethnic” means. (and also because cult-blocks in general are the problem, not just ethnic ones, so focusing on that is a minor ‘red flag’)

            So basically this reads as ‘the way to beat white power is to destroy non-white power’. Probably this doesn’t mean what it looks like it says, but along with toleration of being subtly insulting from left wingers, Scott also tolerates a lot of atrocious phrasing (and/or meaning) from right wingers.

            Here’s a simple explanation that covers both of those: detecting them requires reading every comment closely. (and people aren’t going to report in critical mass for terrible and/or rude phrasing.)

        • dndnrsn says:

          Huh? An issue here – that even some people here on the right and anti-SJ people acknowledge – is that there are people who have been driven away, and SJ is treated as a boogeyman. If you want to see what a place where you “find all the approved truths that won’t drive sensitive people away or offend SJWs” it doesn’t look like SSC.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I see where you’re coming from, but I honestly don’t think SSC is that opposed to SJ. It’s just opposed to coming here and acting like an antifa or something.

            By contrast, people have brought up the complaint here before that SJ isn’t getting quite the hearing it deserves, and they haven’t been shouted down, even by the group commonly called right wing around here. At worst, I see a few righties allude to various specific SJ sins of the past, or mutter bitterly about SJWs in general, in a way that still admits anecdotal evidence of SJ advocates behaving well, making a good point, and so on.

            SJWs are boogeymen – but even here, it’s hard to pin down a definition, and that’s likewise been a recognized complaint. I’m strongly for avoiding terms referring to broad groups on SSC unless they’re very understood in context. We’ve recently had to distinguish “liberal” and “leftist”, for example, with variable success; many of us know it’s a problem.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Paul Brinkley – “I see where you’re coming from, but I honestly don’t think SSC is that opposed to SJ. It’s just opposed to coming here and acting like an antifa or something.”

            …buh?

            I mean, I and several other posters here are on the record as being implacably opposed to SJ and all its works, will argue against it in all cases and against all comers, and in doing so have driven most of the pro-SJ people out through sheer frustration. SJ usually cannot be mentioned without spawning a lengthy thread of people contributing their own opinions on exactly why SJ is uniquely the worst. What would more opposed to SJ look like? Heads on sticks?

          • The Nybbler says:

            What would more opposed to SJ look like? Heads on sticks?

            I thought those weren’t allowed. If they are, can you give recommendations on what sort of sticks to use? Pine is no good, too much sap. Oak is kinda heavy but maybe I just need to harden up. Carbon fiber is right out; this calls for a more traditional approach.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Paul Brinkley:

            I agree with FacelessCraven. Just because the comment section here does not have the air of what most people consider “anti-SJ” (“I’m gonna be needlessly offensive ARE YOU LE TRIGGERED :DDD”) doesn’t mean it’s not an anti-SJ space, by and large. It’s an atypical anti-SJ space (more anti-feminist than anti-SJ, perhaps; you will find far more people who react negatively to feminism than to trans rights, to give an example). But that’s still what it is.

            Consider: do you know anyone who would describe themselves as “SJ”, or that you would describe as such? What would they think of the comment section here, or some of the actual posts?

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            I think that we need to distinguish between SJ culture and (lowercase) social justice.

            If people believe that SJ culture has major problems, then is it wrong to oppose it? Does that make you anti-social justice?

            Or to put it another way: if you are opposed to Putin, are you automatically anti-Russian?

            Or to put it yet another way: can you believe in egalitarian terminal values while strongly rejecting the way in which some people reason from these to theory to praxis?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje:

            There’s a reason I said “anti-SJ”; “social justice” can be interpreted to mean several different things. I’m using “SJ” to encompass a variety of things – adoption of certain social science concepts (or simplified versions), a certain vocabulary, a certain way of viewing the world (social constructionist, an emphasis on language, etc), and so on.

          • Protagoras says:

            I know people who self-describe as SJ, even SJW. Some would have a problem with some of the comments around here, some would be more chill. Most wouldn’t have a problem with Scott’s posts in general. The self-described SJW people I know seem to have adopted the name on the basis that it pisses off their enemies; they mostly don’t do much of anything that’s more aggressive beyond just raising the SJ banner.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            Mixing all those things together and treating them as an all or nothing proposition is actually one of the aspects of SJ culture that I oppose.

            For example, many people equivocate feminism with egalitarianism and treat rejection of the former as rejection of the latter (and acceptance of the latter as necessitating acceptance of the former). Yet, feminists tend to demand a specific and highly debatable interpretation of egalitarianism of people who call themselves a feminist.

            The sloppy mental models that many people have around this issue obscures that the SJ vocabulary is not neutral; that certain premises are articles of faith, rather than fact; that a common method is to stereotype individuals based on their identity, which has major issues; etc.

            The black/white dichotomy that we so often see on SSC just obscures that the strong reaction to SJ is not a rejection of SJ terminal values, but opposition to SJ culture.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje:

            I think you’re missing the point of what I’m saying. Forget about whether you can have egalitarianism without feminism or “social justice” without “Social Justice” or whatever. There is a cluster we can call “SJ” and all those other questions aside it’s the outgroup here, to an extent where rather outlandish statements can be made about it.

            @Protagoras:

            I know some people who would fall into that group, some of them would probably identify themselves as such. Some of them are reasonable people, some aren’t, so basically a normal distribution of reasonable and unreasonable people. But the unreasonable ones seem more unreasonable than the median unreasonable person, and throw themselves into it with a real holy warrior’s zeal. I don’t know what % would react well (as in, engaging rather than shutting down) with the comments or posts here.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @dndnrsn:

            There is a cluster we can call “SJ” and all those other questions aside it’s the outgroup here, to an extent where rather outlandish statements can be made about it.

            Would you believe me if I told you that not only were those outlandish statements true, in many cases they were understatements?

          • dndnrsn says:

            What statements are true? Which of them are understatements? Because I tend to agree with Brad here.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I admit I was taken a bit aback by my claim being countered by someone I thought I was somewhat defending.

            That aside, I think I agree mostly with Aapje here. The opposition I see here to SJ seems to be largely to its excesses, and not so much to a lot of its philosophy. Or to put it another way: I think that if someone with a SSC-mission-statement mindset were to come here and lay out their take on what SJ is really trying to achieve, that take would enjoy general agreement among the regulars here. Or at the least, the person would be engaged in discussion. (To strongman SJ in one word, I would say it seeks equality. I think that’s pretty good, aside from any disagreements on implementation.)

            That person might even identify themselves as an SJW. That’s eminently plausible to me. I’ve seen several examples that prove people disagree on what “SJW” means, and enough of them don’t come across as overt assholes that I can’t draw a strong association there.

          • The Nybbler says:

            To strongman SJ in one word, I would say it seeks equality. I think that’s pretty good, aside from any disagreements on implementation.

            What SJ seeks at a philosophical level is hopelessly bound up in the morass of shifty terminology their academics have built (patriarchy, structural oppression, privilege, etc). What it seeks at a more concrete level (what you’d probably call “implementation”) is usually pretty awful.

          • Aapje says:

            And speaking for myself, I find this morass of rationalizations that seems built* to protect bias from fact to be offensive to my deeply held terminal values about the value of truth-seeking.

            Tactics are at least as important as terminal values. See the differences between social democracy and communism, for example. They started with the same goals, but because the former sought to implement ideals in realistic ways and the latter didn’t want to be held back by fact, the former morphed into liberal socialism, while the latter morphed into oppression.

            * Note that I’m not saying that this is conscious intent, but rather, that a bunch of unintentional mechanisms resulted in a lack of correction.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There are plenty of ideologies where the terminal values and the tactics/the culture diverge, plenty of ideologies that say they are doing good but because of some flaw do less good than they could and perhaps do harm, etc. SJ cannot, realistically, be held to be more than a very minor example of any of this.

            Of cases best described as “a utopian ideology falls victim to basic flaws in the humans who adopt it, imperfect as all humans are, and ends up perverted”, even the worst that SJ has to offer is minor league.

            Consider: communists take power to give power to the proletariat and create the Kingdom of God a perfect society, millions of people starve/are shot/are sent to labour camps and the glorious people’s democracy is acting like any old imperialist power, rinse and repeat. Or, Wilsonian internationalists set out to topple a dictator and usher in the Kingdom of God secular liberal democracy and free markets, out of nowhere (nowhere, I tell you!) everything collapses and all of a sudden car bombs are exploding in shopping plazas and people are getting beheaded and refugee camps are popping up because people are fleeing car bombs and beheading, rinse and repeat. To give two examples of cases where terminal values and what actually happen diverge dramatically.

            Compared to these, right-minded people set out to end discrimination and prejudice and establish the Kingdom of God a just society and all of a sudden transparently mercenary professional activists are lining their pockets and there’s a great deal of obnoxiousness and people are getting fired… Just not on the same level, eh? Relative to the balance sheet of its good acts and its bad acts, the tone with which it gets referred to around here is fairly extreme.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            Trying to convince people to debate more about X and less about Y is extremely tiresome and suffers greatly from the problem that most people are not God.

            Not being God, my ability to convince ISIS members or potential members is less than my ability to convince SJ people and their potential allies. Not being God, I don’t have a way to stop ISIS more effectively than what’s being done already, while I have some limited power to oppose SJ. Not being God, I care more about myself and the people near to me than people far away. Not being God, I get more upset about ideologies that appear appealing to me from a distance and yet turn out to be bad when diving into them, then ideologies that I always dismissed. I could go on.

            I have seen no one here claim that their statements or the attention they give to certain topics are meant to be proportional to the importance of those topics.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If the goal is to convince them, then the way that “SJ” gets used around here is not the way to do it, I would think.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            No one is actually putting up a defense of the common SJ beliefs, so who is there to convince? The only things that happens here is that people who are not SJ’s debate a tiny bit about why they oppose it.

            PS. Note that in my previous post I never argued that I post here to convince SJ people.

          • ChetC3 says:

            No one is actually putting up a defense of the common SJ beliefs, so who is there to convince?

            Since nobody is putting up a defense of the belief that women aren’t people, SJWs have no one to convince.

        • Brad says:

          Which, coincidentally I’m sure, tends to correspond with people who bring up relevant but uncomfortable truths. Steve Sailer has also pointed out that political correctness is a war on noticing things.

          I’d note that Steve Sailer is not banned and posts here from time to time. If the only rationale you can come up with for why he isn’t but jim is banned is “uncomfortable truths”, I’d suggest more introspection is in order.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s because Scott has decided that instead of banning NRs outright, he’d just ban the bottom X% of them, which in effect means that the NRs are being held to a stricter standard than other people (and the standard gets stricter as the NR behavior gets better), while maintaining plausible deniability in any particular case since it’s possible to point out someone better who hasn’t been banned.

          • Nornagest says:

            When’s the last time someone got banned for being a Death Eater? I think it’s been a while.

          • Jiro says:

            Aren’t the people Brad was referring to (Steve Sailer and jim) both Death Eaters?

          • Iain says:

            If you were trying to make an ideology look good, you could worse than banning all the worst representatives of that ideology and leaving its more effective advocates untouched. (Not, to be clear, that I think Scott is doing that either. All this conspiracy nonsense is ridiculous.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think I’d call Sailer a Death Eater; he’s one of the people whose ideas got integrated into that movement, but you could say the same thing for e.g. Hegel re: Marxism, and Hegel wasn’t a Marxist.

            Jim was an asshole and got banned for being an asshole. Scott may have been a little quicker on the draw because he was also a Death Eater, but I still wouldn’t say Scott was very quick on the draw there in any absolute sense.

          • Jiro says:

            “Worse” is a relative term. Someone can be worse than other people and yet still a net positive contributor (and therefore it would be possible to hurt his side by banning him).

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think it’s kind of funny that we’re having this argument using circumlocutions like “Death Eater”. Kind of gives up the game, yeah?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Jiro, note that Scott didn’t specifically single out our edgy friends just by virtue of their beliefs, but because of their specific crappy behavior (he even discussed what it was in his post you linked).

          • Jiro says:

            He decided to ban the bottom 66% of Death Eaters without banning the bottom 66% of other people. In other words, he’s holding them to stricter standards than other people because of their beliefs.

            It necessarily follows that people will be banned who don’t meet the stricter standards imposed on Death Eaters, but who do meet the more lenient standards imposed on others

            It is fair to describe such people as being banned “for their beliefs”.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think it’s kind of funny that we’re having this argument using circumlocutions like “Death Eater”. Kind of gives up the game, yeah?

            Honestly, I mostly just use the phrase because I think it’s funny. It’s not like it’s hard to come up with clearer references that’ll still defeat the filter.

          • Brad says:

            @Nornagest

            When’s the last time someone got banned for being a Death Eater? I think it’s been a while.

            Indeed it has. I expect the whining about it to last until the heat death of the universe. In fact, there are some posters that complain so bitterly about virtually everything Scott posts or does that one wonders why they even stick around.

          • Gazeboist says:

            If the “bottom 66%” of one group are worse than the bottom 66% of another group, banning the first set is not discrimination on the basis of belief. For example, if 10% of Syrian refugees attempting to enter the US are secretly terrorists, preventing the 10% of Syrian refugees that is most terrorist-like is, in fact, a good decision, regardless of whether we block the 10% most terrorist-like Congolese refugees.

            (I endorse no statistics presented in this comment)

          • Jiro says:

            Scott didn’t ban them because they were worse than other groups; he banned them because he didn’t like having so many of them and wanted to get rid of some of them.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            What’s a “Death Eater?”

            Something from Harry Potter?

          • Nornagest says:

            A follower of the Dark Lord, Mencius Moldbug.

            The derivation is that the usual name for the group is in the filter list (so I can’t give it here, but it rhymes with “schmeo-shreactionary”). So some people called it variations on “the Ideology-That-Must-Not-Be-Named”, because Harry Potter references are like catnip for nerds, and it was a short step to Death Eaters from there.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Ok, Jiro at this point you are not even reading the specific thing you yourself linked. Dropping out of this, let me know when you get off your cross.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Is Moldbug a Harry Potter fan?

          • onyomi says:

            I think Scott has explicitly explained the reason for his double-standard with respect to Death Eaters. I think his impression is that once a place reaches a certain critical mass of Death Eaters there is a strong tendency for that fact to scare everyone else off. I don’t know whether or not he is correct about that, but if he is, it is probably worth the sacrifice in terms of neutrality in order to preserve the space as one where a wider ideological swath feels comfortable engaging in productive debate.

            And considering how many times I’ve seen left-wing commentators complain that they’d comment more often if they didn’t feel like everyone here always dogpiles against left-wing comments but amplifies right-wing comments (which I don’t think is true, but many seem to have that impression), I can’t say Scott is wrong. If a not insignificant number of would-be left-wing comments are already scared off, imagine how much worse it would be if the volume of Death Eater posts were much greater.

          • Jiro says:

            Ok, Jiro at this point you are not even reading the specific thing you yourself linked.

            Yes I did.

            I think you are misreading it. His concerns amount to them talking about NR too much, not bad behavior, even though he used the phrase “bad at” in describing them.

        • grendelkhan says:

          Which, coincidentally I’m sure, tends to correspond with people who bring up relevant but uncomfortable truths.

          This is, so far as I can tell, the central thesis of the whole damned memeplex. Hell, it even uses the phrase ‘red pill’. The idea that there are Dank Truths which Mustn’t Be Named, that the mighty edifice of the Cathedral is vulnerable to a sufficiently edgy David with a good arm.

          And maybe so, but I don’t think that describes what’s going on here. This is the place that did the hard work of separating the edge from the truth and presenting it clearly (the famous ‘Nutshell’ post); there are complaints to be made about SSC, but an aversion to engaging with really challenging ideas really, really isn’t one of them.

          And hey, this whole post is about really engaging with people you really disagree with… and it looks like when that happens, what’s left is optimization for edginess over truth, and it turns into meaningless noise. People aren’t being pushed out for the truths, but rather for the noise.

          • redneck says:

            If anyone wants to discuss the “Nutshell” and the “Anti Reactionary FAQ” I would love to discuss it in email, but I feel that our host has made it absolutely clear that he does not want such discussion on his blog, and that he would find it discourteous were I to discuss it.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @redneck, if you’re talking about the sort of things said in the blog linked in your username, I’ve dipped into that and found it severely wanting. Perhaps, if you make the most pessimistic assumptions, it’s true of many people in the present era – but I view the present as a highly abnormal condition, from which you can’t generalize to other eras or human nature in general.

          • @Redneck

            Comprehensive replies to Nutshell and ANRF are long overdue. Why not put them up on a blog of your own?

          • Deiseach says:

            I will explain why Scott Alexander’s “Nutshell” and “FAQ” were unreasonable and self deceiving, giving Scott and his readers superficially plausible rationalizations for believing wicked things that they wished to believe.

            Well, I hope you make a better job of it than your “Lancelot and Guinevere” post because I’m aromantic, I think “but I’m in looooove” is the most stupid reason ever for doing anything, I do think that affair was wrong and sinful and I’m totally in agreement with Virgil smacking Dante upside the head when he swoons over Francesca da Rimini’s Our Love Was So Epic And Tragic, and even I thought that post was terrible – are you so sure that you aren’t “giving (yourself) and (your) readers superficially plausible rationalizations for believing wicked things that they wished to believe”?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @redneck, what TheAncientGeekAKA1Z says. I’d love to see those comprehensive replies in a blog somewhere, and I expect I’d comment at length, but I would rather have this conversation somewhere that isn’t private email.

      • Jiro says:

        (There’s also a less directly defensible thing I do where I kick people out if their presence is likely to get me reported to WordPress, to drive away everyone else, or to attract what Sailer calls “the Eye of Sauron”. I still think on balance it’s worth it to be able to maintain the community.)

        Problems include:
        — That is very prone to motivated reasoning. The vaguer the reason for banning someone, the easier it is to ban them for being too competent at arguing while convincing yourself it’s really needed for some other reason.
        — Vague bans and poorly justified bans have a vast chilling effect that also affects posters who are not harmful at all, but don’t want to risk arbitrary bans.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Wait – WordPress is free and open source. How is it possible to get “reported to WordPress” on a WordPress-powered blog that you host yourself?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I think he’s confused, but it really is confusing. He uses jetpack, which at the very least allows login via wordpress.com, but I think hooks in deeper than that.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Okay, good point. I’ve seen other people get reported to WordPress, but I think they were using it differently than I was.

        • Deiseach says:

          Did a quick Google on “wordpress reporting”, got this result:

          Report content to WordPress.com staff

          Please enter the full address of the website/content you are reporting
          Why are you reporting this?
          This content is spam
          This content should be marked as mature
          This content is abusive
          This content is violent
          This content promotes self-harm/suicide
          This content infringes upon my copyright

          And they have this up about violating Terms of Service:

          Before reporting a site with this form please verify that the site in question is hosted by Automattic. We only host sites that have “wordpress.com” in their URL or say “Blog at WordPress.com” on the site. We have no control over sites that say “Powered by WordPress.org.” Those sites use the open source WordPress software and aren’t hosted by us, so you should contact the appropriate web host with complaints.

          If we receive a complaint and aren’t in a position to make a determination (for example whether something is defamatory or not), we defer to the judgment of a court. Please forward any legal process relating to a site hosted on WordPress.com to legal@wordpress.com. If you are a member of a law enforcement agency, please contact us at law-enforcement@wordpress.com.

          So it looks like people do snitch on WordPress sites and even that the law can get involved. Even if Scott is not on WordPress as such but is “powered by WordPress.org”, there’s the advice to “complain to that site’s hosts”.

          Definite chilling effect there of “someone can complain about you and get your site yanked”.

          • rlms says:

            WordPress (.org, software) and WordPress.com (hosting service) are very different. WordPress.com can get in legal trouble if they host something illegal, so it makes sense for them to have methods for people to report illegal content. People do sometimes make frivolous copyright-infringement claims (see here), but I don’t think WordPress.com are known to censor people on ideological, non-legal grounds.

            WordPress.org’s software is just software. Complaining to them that someone has posted something you don’t like on a WordPress-powered blog is silly (even if the complaint is valid), it’s like cutting yourself and threatening to sue the knife manufacturer. You could complain to the host they are using (which could potentially be WordPress.com), who could have any policy on what content they want. But most hosts (including WordPress.com) won’t censor you except if you’re accused of doing something illegal, and if worst comes to worst you can always self-host.

          • wintermute92 says:

            As I read that ToS, it says Scott’s use of WordPress carries no risk and no chilling effect. Those legal links are specific to their hosting, which they’re legally accountable for.

            SSC is very much not governed under “wordpress.com” or “Blog at WordPress.com”, he’s using the open-source comment software. So that’s covered under “contact the appropriate web host”, which is the case for any website at all. Since he’s not hosting through SquareSpace or anything either, “contact the web host” means something like “send Scott (or whatever friend of his runs things) an angry email to delete”.

            Have I missed something significant? Because I read that as “SSC is totally fine”.

          • Brad says:

            It appears this site is hosted on google’s cloud, so their AUP applies.

      • ksvanhorn says:

        “There’s also a less directly defensible thing I do where I kick people out if their presence is likely to get me reported to WordPress”

        Doesn’t it make your skin crawl that you even have to worry about that kind of thing?

        • albertborrow says:

          In this case, I think “reported for wordpress” actually means legitimate crime like hosting child pornography or posting instructions on how to construct nuclear weaponry. Not thoughtcrime, or anything worth being paranoid over it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            posting instructions on how to construct nuclear weaponry.

            Wait, that’s disallowed? I think the latest OT is getting into that.

      • bean says:

        (There’s also a less directly defensible thing I do where I kick people out if their presence is likely to get me reported to WordPress, to drive away everyone else, or to attract what Sailer calls “the Eye of Sauron”. I still think on balance it’s worth it to be able to maintain the community.)

        I’m going to chime in in support of this, actually. It’s your community, and there are some people who should not be part of it because their conduct is ‘contrary to good order and discipline’, even if it’s not in violation of explicit rules.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Yup, scoundrels love explicit rules. This shows up in good parenting too. Good parents don’t make rules too explicit.

          Basically my view is, a community is about its people, not about its rules. If you have good people, you can be fairly vague about rules, and it will work out because there will not be a ton of abuse — good people will not be abusive. And if you have a ton of explicit rules, well it will be slightly more annoying, but people will still not be abusive.

          If you have bad people, it doesn’t matter how explicit you make your rules.

          The rule against naming our edgy friends is a good example of this. Yes, I suppose it disincentivized unproductive discussion or namecalling, but I think what’s really happening is this: SSC is a community full of fundamentally decent folks who occasionally skirt the explicit rules (like I did in this paragraph, although it is also possible I am not very decent), but basically obey the spirit of the prohibition and try to avoid annoying discussions.

          • Jiro says:

            Yup, scoundrels love explicit rules.

            People who like to avoid motivated reasoning by judges also love explicit rules.

          • Evan Þ says:

            So it comes down to whether we can trust the judge. And here… well, I generally trust Scott in this regard.

          • Evan Þ says:

            As I see it, the censorship seems to me to be more about language used than about arguments made? (Okay, I can think of one exception: Moon’s “argument” of describing all Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians as Objectivists.) If you know of any specific bans that go against this description, or instances of non-Death-Eaters using similar language and going unbanned, feel free to point them out to me.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both the left and the right to mention right-wing concepts.

          • Deiseach says:

            But one side is arguing with one arm tied behind their backs, while the other side is free to kick and gouge and bite, and does so.

            Yeah, but the problem is elements of both sides think their side is the one being hobbled while the other side can fight dirty with no reprisals. We’ve had [not mentioning any names] claiming that the left were being dogpiled by the right and driven off, and we’ve had [not mentioning any names] claiming that this was plainly a left-wing site where Scott was deliberately censoring right wing comments to keep on the right side of his SJW etc. critics and that he was too scared to do the ‘obvious’ thing and become a full-fledged [whatever party or political system] member.

            How you solve that one, I have no idea.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            You know Jim, if someone tells you to take a hike, it’s kind of rude to come back, isn’t it? Especially if you come back and whine about being told to take a hike.

          • rlms says:

            Incorrect. It is the embodiment of masculine Aryan superiority.

          • Aapje says:

            Similarly, there are a whole lot of true things that could be said about black people, which true facts tend to support apartheid, segregation, and slavery.

            By ‘support,’ I guess you mean similar to the way that one can argue that the fact that humans provably pose a risk to my safety, can be used to legitimize genocide on all humans but me.

            In other words, one can use reasoning based on premises that most people reject to arrive at certain positions.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Okay, redneck, if we accept your description, perhaps this’s a distinction between formal and informal power like Scott talked about a while back? Formally, by our hypothesis, Scott bans certain things from the Right. Informally, in the comment section, leftists complain with some basis that they’re ganged up on.

            (Meanwhile, leaving our hypothesis behind, I actually happen to believe that’s neither straightforward nor true nor a fact. What’s more, I think it could be discussed here if done in appropriate language – I raised somewhat-vaguely-similar concerns on Ozy’s blog once without any negative reaction.)

          • carvenvisage says:

            Good parents don’t make rules too explicit.

            There isn’t one true way of parenting, and you have insulted a lot of parents with this statement.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The Eye of Sauron is Tolkien’s coinage. Mine is The Eye of Soros:

        http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-eye-of-soros/

  4. av says:

    In general you can argue a person out of their political opinions like you can argue a significant other out of breaking up with you. Facts are about as useful in both.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      A while ago I had a reasonable discussion with Ozy, we agreed with still had feelings for each other, and we’re probably going to start dating again soon. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this metaphor.

      • av says:

        I don’t know the ins and outs of your relationships, but I can at least be sure that resumption of romance is not the same as preventing its prior cessation. Additionally, if you were generalized, your post we’re all commenting on wouldn’t be needed in the first place.

        • Spookykou says:

          I have on multiple occasions(well, two) been talked out of breaking up with someone because I have such a strong aversion to upsetting people/making them cry.

        • yodelyak says:

          +1 to Spookykou,

          I was once “argued” into staying in a relationship. I recently read the Five Love Languages, which is mentioned in a post at Putanumonit. As a minor aside it tells a story about a person who is so good at being loving in their words (one of the five, no surprise, the others are gifts, touch, quality time, and service) that they can’t say what they think and feel, which ends up meaning they lose arguments and being a doormat for the other person, who eventually feels cheated and betrayed when said doormat finally explodes and admits to having been unhappy the whole time. All I’ll report from the experience of staying in a relationship a year after I first went to leave is that if you are argued into one, make you you argued your damnedest for your own view–it’s no favor to anyone to cave too easily.

          On the flip side of that, I once broke up with a gal who I very much expected to say something like “why?” and for me to say “because you can’t expect me to date someone, or even negotiate with someone, who militantly espouses apathy on the rare day they’re not espousing moral helplessness when I’m at a decision point in my career that turns on my moral views of myself in the world, and when I’m struggling with but hoping to overcome depression, and when every time I suggest that maybe I should exercise more or try to build habits of thinking about nicer topics, you say something like ‘that sounds tiring and pointless.'” That might have either made the break-up make sense to all parties and been pretty good closure, or maybe we’d have had a real conversation and who knows what would have happened. As it was, she just said, “Well, I’m not going to beg.” And proceeded to never have another honest conversation with me again. I mean, well, I’m not sure whose fault that was, or if there was any fault at all exactly, but #talkitoutkids and also #thatmeansreallysaywhatyoureallyfeel.

          But I’m new here and still trying to find my way around.

    • Actually, I used to date a then-law student, now-lawyer. I tried to break up with her after about four months. She got, as Captain Mal once said, naked and articulate. We dated for about two more years after that, with me often trying to break up and her somehow–I’m still not clear on this point–arguing me out of it.

      I’m a pretty good debater when I feel like trying, and she’s one of the very few people I’ve met who can actually argue me into a corner. It almost made up for the other serious problems.

      • av says:

        The two interesting parts of this comment are the Firefly reference and the phrase “used to date.” Am I to understand you eventually won the argument?

        • I don’t know if I *won*, but we are no longer dating (or speaking, really) as of a couple years ago. It was a long, tumultuous, drama filled part of my life that I’m sort of glad is over (and would happily describe over drinks but don’t feel like writing out.)

    • Izaak says:

      Anecdote number 3: I have argued my significant other out of breaking up with me. We had a long talk where we talked about why she wanted to break up with me, and upon observation everything that she had a problem with was temporary, could be fixed if she had mentioned it to me, or were things she had assumed about my feelings which weren’t true.

    • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

      Agree. The missing words in this discussion are “interests” and “trust”. People’s political opinions (or mating preferences) aren’t based primarily on cold, dispassionate analysis of facts, but rather on an understanding of their own (perhaps instinctively understood and wholly subjective) interests. And if you’re trying to persuade someone to change their political (or romantic) views, then first you have to earn their trust, or they’ll just assume that whatever you say is said in your own interests rather than theirs.

      The “good faith” conditions suggested above as a prerequisite for serious debate are really about establishing common interests and mutual trust. Without the common ground of shared interests and the resulting mutual trust, the debate participants have absolutely no incentive to take what their opponents say the slightest bit seriously. To put it another way, a civil debate over a point of disagreement requires a whole lot of prior agreement on a whole lot of underlying premises, from which foundation reasoned debate can begin.

      Functioning democracies are typically “high-trust” societies, in the Banfield sense: the voting public by definition shares an understood common understanding of a shared interest in the continuation of certain democratic norms, and that creates the context of mutual trust in which opposing political factions can debate and compete for voter approval in good faith. Of course, trust can be confined to certain contexts, and my impression is that while the US is “high-trust” in many respects, its social trust level in the political realm is lower than in most democracies, leading to greater political polarization, disrespect for democracy and even mainstreaming of political violence than elsewhere in the democratic world.

      The political environment we see today isn’t all that different from what we’ve seen in other eras–Watergate, for example, which occurred in my lifetime, was without question a far more traumatic political upheaval than what we’re seeing today. If you want to improve the political environment, first look for ways to establish common ground, shared interests and mutual trust between opposing factions. Without those ingredients, appeals to (claimed) facts will fall completely flat.

    • omegaxx says:

      Funny that you mention this, as I was also thinking about a relationship when reading Scott’s proposal for collaboration over transmission. One of the first things I learned about relationships was the idea that in an argument, you win or lose as a couple. It’s easier to approach relationships with this constructive, collaborative mindset, because a happy partner is a tangible benefit, whereas the benefit of not yelling at a Trump-support is, well, less obvious.

      I think an implicit argument that Scott is making is probably what our grandparents would say: Be humbler. Be nicer. Listen to others more. External goals, like rationality or love, are motivators to move toward this direction when our temperaments are not so inclined. American workplace culture, unfortunately, doesn’t tend to promote these: everywhere we see promoted those who shout the loudest, the “frequently wrong but never in doubt” types. I think it demands a cultural change and, perhaps more importantly, a motivation for people to reprogram their behavior and responses.

      • av says:

        One of the first things I learned about relationships was the idea that in an argument, you win or lose as a couple.

        I asked a mentor of mine what kept his marriage together for over fifty years. He told me, “There is never an argument worth winning with your wife.” I never asked her, but I did know her, too, and I would put money on her saying, “There is never an argument worth winning with your husband.”

        I think it demands a cultural change…

        I agree, but it is not clear where it would come from.

        It’s easier to approach relationships with this constructive, collaborative mindset, because a happy partner is a tangible benefit, whereas the benefit of not yelling at a Trump-support is, well, less obvious.

        Is it? I mean, we don’t enter into political conversations randomly. In real life, with people I’ve known for over a decade, as a Trump supporter I could not engage in a discussion on this topic. I don’t know how to start a conversation anymore on anything, all I get back is Daily Show snark and HuffPo headlines. Maybe I am unlucky.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Did you try and fail, or not try at all? I’m not trying to assume anything, but I was rather nervous about talking with certain family members about some of my cultural/political views, and found that my concerns were very much alleviated after a meta-level discussion about my being nervous about the conversation. So, people are occasionally nicer than you (or I) might assume, and especially for close friends and family it’s probably worth checking out.

        • omegaxx says:

          I hear ya. The majority of social discourse, especially political discourse, these days is to signal to what (cultural) tribe you belong, rather than a genuine exchange of ideas. It’s like the SNL sketch “Election Night”.

          The most we can do is to try to nudge ourselves, and the conversations of which we are apart, a little bit closer to where we would like to be.

        • wintermute92 says:

          In real life, with people I’ve known for over a decade, as a Trump supporter I could not engage in a discussion on this topic. I don’t know how to start a conversation anymore on anything, all I get back is Daily Show snark and HuffPo headlines. Maybe I am unlucky.

          This is a question pretty specific to both you and the people you’re talking to. I had serious, Scott’s-five-points-conforming conversations with ~4 Trump supporters (or prospective supporters) over the course of the election. I think each of them had <5 non-Trump-supporters they were willing to seriously talk to out of Dunbar's Number friends, so clearly the pool for this stuff is pretty small.

          All but one conversation made me less Trump-averse, and I think I made all but one of them more Trump-averse. That one 'flop' was oddly reassuring – it meant healthy dialogue has more truth-value than just forcing convergence between the sides.

          So from my experience, this conversation exists, but is damned hard to find even with longtime friends. I certainly don't think it helped that a lot of the rhetoric in play this election was "if you treat your opponents as better than subhuman, it means you're complicit in their evil". The conversations I had were all depressingly furtive, as though non-hostile political discussion was treason.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        One of the first things I learned about relationships was the idea that in an argument, you win or lose as a couple.

        I find that the relationship in question doesn’t even have to be romantic, for this to apply.

    • carvenvisage says:

      If they’re breaking up with you based on a factual misconception (that you’re cheating, etc), of course you can.

      More generally, actually I think it’s possible, just usually a bad idea, due to the particularities of the situation.

      -Which don’t at all transfer to broader public political debate.

      (in particular, breaking up with someone is a personal decision, and made by aggregate judgement /projection of your expected future together. -which is mostly a mixture of intuitition and values/preference. Public policy debate is the exact opposite, bias is something to be minimised rather than arguably a bonus. As such rational debate is less applicable to such personal values decisions, but is the core of what allows public debate to function at all.)

      It’s also something easy for someone to be ‘guilted’ about, and it’s imo undignified to try to hold onto someone who has the poor taste and lack of independence of needing to be talked into it. If someone is 1. stupid enough to be wrong about this, 2. stupid enough for you, who is not them, to find arguments/reasons they couldn’t find, (and/or manipulate or guilt (possibily unintentionally)) them into staying, why would you hold onto them?

      Not sure what the equivalent of these is in the public sphere.

      • av says:

        carvenvisage, your response reads to be a bit of “if by whiskey”. The context of this thread is not arguing particular policies qua policies, but arguing against Trump. This is the best friend telling you you’re in love with a disaster that won’t end well, or the needy SO who begs to stay in the relationship, promising to be more X, Y, and Z.

        I am sure there are plenty of people that don’t fall in love, they rationally decide to be with a person based on unassailable utilitarian calculations, and I am sure that there are people that don’t have a preference for a candidate, but only choose based on their deep understanding of foreign policy, economics, moral philosophy, and (in the case of the US) Constitutional law. The important thing about these people is not that they exist, but that they already understand the arguments and probably won’t be convinced because they’re already self-assured of their correctness by the very class of “experts” to which you’d like to appeal; hell, they may convince you (watch out!). So we’re left with the people that trust their heart, and do that nasty rationalization thing—I shudder to contemplate that they exist—and it is possible you can dissuade them from some course of action, like sleeping with him or voting for Trump, but it won’t be a mastery of facts which settle the issue.

        If you’ve followed the comments posted here, and read Scott’s article, probably you can see what I mean: the mastery of facts must be “packaged” just so, to be propaganda, to be persuasive in a way that mere truth is not, to reach these people. They just don’t know. “I love her, I know she loves me too, I just need to bring more flowers, then she’ll see we’re best together.” ; “No, you’re acting against your own interests, don’t you see…”

        Not sure what the equivalent of these is in the public sphere.

        Prior to neoliberalism in the Democratic party, I’d say swing states is the macro phenomenon. The independent voter. The “radical centrist.” But since the rise of neolliberalism and identity politics in the US I don’t know, there’s some kind of phase change happening right now, a lot is in the air. I don’t think it is an accident that the timing of this post by Scott coincides with a time when fewer people in the US identify with either of the major political parties than ever before. But the arguments are still the same, “Come back, sweetie, the DNC still loves you, you’re just misunderstanding… please baby… I know he seems cool but he’s deceiving you, he’ll only hurt you…”

        • carvenvisage says:

          I disagree with what i think is the implied premise here:

          >I am sure there are plenty of people that don’t fall in love, they rationally decide to be with a person based on unassailable utilitarian calculations

          It’s not either/or. Most people have a candidate they would naturally prefer, but are at the same time not complete mindless zombies. -Most people’s hearts are not entirely insulated from their heads, only partially. (and perhaps even properly so).

          That’s why I disagree with the initial implication that honest debate is meaningless WRT changing people’s minds. If you want to change someone’s mind you have to talk to them in a shared language, with some minimal understanding of their beliefs, values, and concerns, and without getting sorted into the ‘write off immediately’ bin. This can be difficult, but it’s pretty much the only way to actually change someone’s mind.

          Even if you only want to manipulate someone, you have to respect them enough to figure out how to mislead them. Scott is so right that even this standard is often failed.

  5. GiantPredatoryMollusk says:

    “Like C. S. Lewis” should be “like G. K. Chesterton,” which is not the sort of thing I normally expect to see gotten wrong around here

  6. suntzuanime says:

    Yeah, I’ve been talking about this sort of thing for a while under the name of Light Side Persuasion. I don’t think pure logic is the only thing that falls into the category of an asymmetric weapon though, I think some forms of trolling basically amount to tricking your interlocutor into considering your point, which is also asymmetric in favor of Truth. I think there’s actually a tactic used frequently by Trump that falls into this category – he or his spokespeople will make some claim that contains an obvious error, like saying your microwave is being used by the CIA to spy on you. The media will report that error, and say “look at this dum-dum, it’s actually your TV that the CIA is using to spy on you!” This works to spread the message about CIA spying, but only inasmuch as the message has a factual basis (so that it can be used by a hostile media for fact-checking).

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I don’t like the Trump example because it seems to me mainly driven by his beliefs about rhetoric being more accurate than that of the media.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I agree with you that some trolling works by tricking the interlocutor into considering your argument- or forcing them to deal with their own argument recharacterized- but I’m not so sure that’s asymmetric in favor of Truth. Two paraphrased trollings I have observed be effective in the wild, for example:

      1) “I have no sympathy for the people arrested by socialist governments for so-called ‘economic reasons’. The truth is that resisting redistribution is the same as stealing from others, and we all agree that should be illegal.”
      1a) “Absolutely. That’s why it’s so just of Venezuela to arrest bakers who make too many croissants instead of making the regular loafs they aren’t given enough flour for!”

      That was effective because it re-framed the original argument, forcing them to either try to argue the validity of a horrible policy event, concede that their point isn’t iron-clad, or ignore the comment and allow every reader to draw their own conclusions.

      2) “People calling for increasingly socialist and communist policies because we’re more ‘enlightened’ now- do you want to live in Venezuela? Maybe communism has been tried, guys.”
      2a) “Oh, I didn’t know that we could just call things socialist when they haven’t even socialized the businesses. I’m sure the features of socialism that the country doesn’t even have are more important here than the loss of oil revenues and currency mismanagement. You know, classic non-capitalist activities.”

      This also at least begins by re-framing the question away from whether socialist policies have hurt Venezuela to whether it’s proper to call it socialism. Now the first poster has to either say something stupid-sounding like ‘it doesn’t matter if it isn’t technically socialism’ or get sucked into arguing definitions.

      Maybe it’s right to say that trolling is asymmetric in favor of truth, but I don’t think it matters how much truth. You can use it to exploit and expose any error the interlocutor makes, even if the error is not really an important one. And since everyone makes errors, the weapon is available to everyone.

      • Not all the other weapons out there are symmetric either. If position A is outside the Overton window and position !A is inside it, this completely overwhelms any advantage position A may have by having support from objective reality.

        Which reduces the amount of error in his position and so nudges it a little closer to truth, even if his final conclusion is still wrong. Remove enough minor errors and, if he is wrong, he may discover it.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @DavidFriedman
          Remove enough minor errors and, if he is wrong, he may discover it.

          Thanks for clarifying your reason for some of your comments elsewhere that seemed to me like missing the point. Or like nitpicking which often has the consequence of derailing or worse. Is there a good counter for either of those tactics?

      • suntzuanime says:

        Those cases don’t really seem like examples of what I’m talking about. They seem like ordinary argumentation with a scoop of sarcasm poured over the top, there’s no actual attempt to deceive the interlocutor even momentarily.

        • Jordan D. says:

          Then I guess I don’t understand what you mean when you say “trolling”. The microwave-and-television example you gave wasn’t, as far as I know, an intentional attempt to trick people into considering that Obama might be monitoring them- I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone draw a connection between Conway’s microwave comment and the wikileaks CIA documents.

          • suntzuanime says:

            as far as I know

            Well, there’s your trouble right there. I recommend knowing more. Seriously, this is the first time you’ve ever seen someone draw a connection between Conway’s microwave comment and the wikileaks CIA documents? What the hell do you think she was talking about then? Did you even try to apply charity or did you you just want to laugh?

          • Jordan D. says:

            Having gone back to a video of the interview for the full context, I realize now that it is obviously a reference to the CIA documents. Beforehand, I had assumed she was simply making a joke with the microwave stuff because I missed the discussion of other appliances beforehand. At no point did I assume Conway was a moron.

            I will certainly avoid wasting your time in the future.

    • Iain says:

      On the topic of Trolling for Truth: Fred Clark, leftist evangelical blogger, in the middle of an article arguing that the Bible has a lot more to say about wealth, possessions, and the poor than about homosexuality, had an interesting aside:

      Did that work? That last sentence was deliberately confrontational and accusatory — did it make you angry? Because I want you to get angry. I want you to become so angry that you won’t rest until you prove me wrong.
      So please do that. Prove me wrong. Go for it. Take all that anger and angrily go back to your Bible. Open it at random or start at the beginning and channel all that anger into a determined search to prove that wealth, possessions and the poor is not a major theme of the entire book and that the Bible does not contain anything like 2,000 verses on the subject. Get angry and don’t stop until you’ve proved, conclusively, that this isn’t an overwhelming, obsessive theme in the Bible.
      I don’t know why anger is so peculiarly effective at this, but it works. […] I spent a decade working for Ron Sider and I saw this happen countless times in response to his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. People who were merely offended by that book wrote him off as some kind of hippie-commie socialist. But those who were infuriated by that book set out to prove him wrong and, a few months later, came back to buy additional copies to give to their friends and pastors.

      • Jiro says:

        That shows what’s wrong with the whole concept of proof-by-trolling. You’re building on someone’s irrationality in one area in order to encourage them to be irrational in another area.

        • suntzuanime says:

          ???? He’s absolutely right, the Bible is full of shit about poverty.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            Not only is that the main theme of the Bible there are so many things that are mistranslated. Sin and Debt are the same word in Sumerian. They used to cancel debts at least every 49 years, more often if a crop failed.
            http://michael-hudson.com/2017/01/the-land-belongs-to-god/

            Compare that to modern debt bondage thanks to the 2005 Bankruptcy bill that made bankruptcy impossible.

          • The Nybbler says:

            1) The 2005 bill cut filings, but certainly not to zero. Nonbusiness filings

            2) The student debt you refer to elsewhere was non-dischargable before the 2005 bill

            3) 49 years is a long time in a person’s life. The income-based repayment programs for student loans only run for 30 years.

          • Sin and Debt are the same word in Sumerian.

            The Bible wasn’t written in Sumerian. What relevant languages are those the same word in?

            They used to cancel debts at least every 49 years, more often if a crop failed.

            Debt cancellation in Torah law is every seven years.

        • gbdub says:

          On the one hand, yes he’s encouraging an irrational emotion. But he’s also saying “channel that emotion into doing rational work, and get back to me after you’ve done that”. Basically using emotion as a motivator to put in the effort required to find the right answer. I find that can be effective sometimes.

          And perhaps surprisingly, makes the convincing “stick” better – if I’m really angry about something, and find out I’m wrong, I might meekly slink off, but damn sure I’ll update my beliefs. On the other hand, if I’m not angry, if I didn’t go off the handle on something obviously wrong, I can still stroke my ego and say I’m a moderate and there’s no such thing as a precise truth so my position is fine…

  7. Ben Zeigler says:

    I’m a deeply cynical person but this argument strikes me as valuable, and makes me feel slightly less hopeless about the future, so good on that.

    Let’s say that 90% of people have no interest in debate at all, and 9.9% of people are theoretically interested but either don’t understand the value of honest debate or aren’t willing to put the effort in, that gives you .1% of people that you actually might interact helpfully with. But that’s still someone who you can have an honest debate with, and if your position is actually logically strong, you’ll have > 50% chance of changing their mind incrementally. I think the core problem is that most people would define a > 50% chance of changing the mind of .1% of people as “horrible failure”, but it’s not. Incremental change in people’s attitudes via sustained effort is totally a valid approach to making positive change. Is it going to be as effective as rhetoric? Probably not, but at least it’s something I can personally help with. If I can legitimately change the mind of 10 people it’s still a success.

    Unfortunately, the scalability problem is real even at a place like this blog. I’m only bothering to chime in because I happened to catch this right after posting, if there were already 300 comments I would figure that my viewpoints were already covered by someone smarter and more informed, so why bother? To use a video game metaphor, it’s a really hard matchmaking problem. You want to get matched with the .1% of people who you can honestly debate with, but not the 0.01% of people who are way better than you at debating and make you feel stupid. No one likes feeling outclassed, and that’s definitely an issue here.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m trying to help solve the scalability problem with frequent open threads, the subreddit, and the Discord server. If anyone has better ideas, let me know.

      (I sort of wonder about just mirroring SSC, and telling everyone with names beginning A to M to go to one of them, and everyone N to Z to go to the other.)

      • nolemonnomelon says:

        As someone who discovered this site a year ago, and has now read nearly every post since and recommended it to most of my friends, this part struck a chord with me: “people are complaining that I can’t change my comment policy because this one small blog is the only place they know where they can debate people from the other side.”

        I have a desire for rational debate and analysis that isn’t met anywhere else in my life; facebook is a shitshow, conversations with friends tend to be fun exchanges of opinion with little fact checking, and in general it feels like my immediate world is not structured to foster the kind of actual environment you talk about. but when i found this site, something about the approach and the type of discussion clicked for me, and this whole article helps to put a finger on why. but why is this the only place (that i know of) with this level of community open-mindedness and commitment to rigor where smart people talk about a range of interesting and pertinent things? how do I diversify my sources and find other similar resources; how do we create new Slate Star Codices? (my name is an anagram of Wet Video Song, so that’s a good jumping off point but where do we go from there?)

      • Quixote says:

        You may be joking (or not) but I think this is a really good idea. As long as the link post continues to highlight best comments.

        Ideally though it wouldn’t just be a first half second half split. Maybe each post it randomly allocates letters to two groups and when you sign in you only see your half. That way people wouldn’t be totally closed out of a viewpoint that by coincidence happened to be prevalent only in half the alphabet.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Anyone have any thoughts on how to make this happen from a technical perspective?

          • cmurdock says:

            I’d suggest at least taking a poll of your readerbase to see how many would prefer it that way, because to me personally that sounds like a very bad idea.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I agree with cmurdock. Yes, the scalability problem is an issue but preventing one half of the readers from seeing the others is a bad idea. Maybe each open thread you can link to another open thread and tell people to go there when it gets too crowded here.

          • HaltingProblem says:

            A WordPress plugin could randomly sample 50% of top level comments based on IP address, with a cookie to lock it in. It would be fairly stable, but not completely stable in that in some circumstances people would come back and see a different set of comments. Also people’s phones would see different comments from their home computers.

            These problems could be worked around by allowing people logged in to a comment account to have a stable comment group. Perhaps also a preference for showing all comments.

            One consequence of the “separate sites” model of comment splitting is that suppose there is a really good frequent commenter, half the users will never see that person’s comments. With a plugin, an alternative could be that each user is assigned one of the “two sites” per-article, to get a better mix of people.

            Only technical issues are that doing things based on IP address or cookies for people not logged in might cause issues with caching, making things slow. It would also require a bunch of custom programming. Also I’m not sure it is a good idea.

            It could also be implemented as an opt-in browser plugin like the voting system, or possibly a setting in the same plugin.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            Not what you asked, but still… I’d suggest a different solution altogether. Instead of splitting the commenters into subgroups, it might help to ease the way to ignore comments one is not interested in, find the ones one is, and find the unread branches of subthreads of the latter.

            Most of the top-level comments branch off into various details very soon that are not of general interest but still good read for some (the ‘man descended from monkey’ topic here for example). The “NNN comments since” alert does not allow to see where new comments were added and one has to check them all to find unread subcomments of interest, scroll up to reload the context to mind, scroll down to read on.

            I’m dreaming of a similar alert displaying a thread overwiew that is expandable/collapsible into subthread branches (maybe limited to 3 or 4 subthreads), and the cherry on top would be an indicator for unread comments that is passed up the branches to the top of the thread. Users would have to allow storage (cookies) of the state of read/unread and expanded/collapsed. Probably it would not fit into a sidebar, but could be made to shrink/expand on mouseover or something (I’m not a webdesigner, there must be more intelligent solutions already).

            A major overhaul, sure, and something for the longer planning, but it could buffer some more growth for a while.

          • wintermute92 says:

            I’m strongly opposed to this change. I pretty regularly CTRL + F threads for people I find informative and engaging, and my SSC experience would be substantially worsened by having those users split from me or each other. An alphabet split sounds like the “line up by last name” approach from grade school that always stuck people in the same groups and teams.

            Even if you want an approach much like this, I’d prefer some kind of ‘rationing’ approach where you change the restriction over time so it’s not a permanent schism.

            (Wait… does driving a lasting schism among your followers make you the Caliph?)

          • sethherr says:

            I’ve been working on this exact thing (which is why I’m a few days late to reading this). https://www.convinceme.us – open source arguments. It requires using github, which might be a barrier for some but, at least from an initial site, it makes it simpler.

            The arguments are terrible, I’ve been focusing on getting the thing set up, but since everyone can improve them…

            Edit: I meant to post on a parent comment (this solves an underlying issue, not the specific problem) but missed because phone and overly excited

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          Any type of random or semi-random scrambling seems off-putting to me. Another approach would be non-random: encouraging each reader to use the ‘Hide all posts by this user’ feature.* After a time, each reader would see a sub-group of posters of zis own choosing, which would trim the volume zie sees.

          * which keeps them hidden on all new threads till lifted. Remember this is a very flexible thing, easy to lift and not a tight filter; you still see what other readers have replied to the hidden user, and/or quoted from zim.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            My above idea (each reader chooses which users to follow) would save the reader’s time but that’s about all.

            An alternative that would add value overall, would be more use of the subreddit, to draw off posts on specialized subjects. For example, the climate change debate is spread over many months; it would be easier to keep up with all in one subreddit topic.

            For convenience, the central processor could automatically shunt those posts over, leaving a link here in their place.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyxb:
            I don’t think reddit is a good forum for keeping track of debates over a long time.

            It prioritizes popularity over anything else. It’s organization is completey around the idea that you want to see either the most popular top level posts or comments, or the newest ones for the purpose of upvoting them to popularity.

            By default and baked into the design, it assumes that long threads of reply, counter-reply are completely uninteresting to anyone other than those who are actually doing the commenting. It’s well nigh impossible to tell that a new comment has been made if it is below the collapse threshold. Everything about reddit is “shallow”.

            Unless there are reddit features that I am unaware of, these aren’t solvable problems on reddit.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @HeelBearCub
            I don’t think reddit is a good forum for keeping track of debates over a long time.

            Thank you for the perspective. What would be better?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:
            Well, the typical forum style messageboard can fit the bill. It can be have as many high level topic areas as desired. Inside each topic area, you can create as many topics as desired. Posting to a topic can go on for as long as their is interest. You can sticky certain topics to the top of the particular forum.

            They seem to have fallen out of style, but they have large advantages.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            HBC,
            Thanks. I was just wondering if there is any other existing ssc resource that could be tweaked for the purpose.

      • yodelyak says:

        For fun / as an exercise, I’ve opened a reply and will try to come up with ten other ways to improve the scalability problem:

        1. Create four comment threads, for 100-115, 116-130, 131-145 and 145 and up. This is probably a terrible idea, for the obvious reasons and a lot of other reasons that people above my paygrade will spot.

        2. Create four comment threads, with alphabetical grouping by last name or something else anticipated to be neutral w/r/t/ everything. I don’t like this very much either.

        3. Use a lottery that names one commenter who has posted 100+ comments who will get “first comment” status, and automatically move that person’s comment to “first”, i.e. top-billing, whenever they make it, as long as it is within 24 hours of posting. Lotteries are not very smart. But technically better than horsengoggle, unless it’s conducted under specific conditions, which is more interesting to this child of a large family that relied on horsengoggle than it should be.

        4. Same as 3, but change the numbers… the number of comments could be the number of days they’ve been a regular reader with a log-in. Or you could put a place for lurkers to register to say they want to participate in the lottery. Instead of first comment, you could give the top three threads on each hidden (or even the open ones) to lottery winners. Also the hours could be days or even a week.

        5. You could recruit a small number of SSC commenters to create a list of things worth creating curated comment threads on, and moving those comments to those threads. E.g. seems like I see a “can anybody recommend a good book in category x” question on the open thread every few weeks… why not put those all in one place, and let the commenter who does the work have some glory? If some kinds of comments are routinely rounded up and put in categories that last, then commenters who may feel they are being partnered with a different weight-class can take more time and rely on acquired expertise rather than fluid intelligence. If there were an “SSCers recommend” where I could look at one or two book recommendations from any SSC commenter who wanted to leave other commenters a book recommendation, well, that wouldn’t be worse than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

        6. I’m starting to feel very tired of coming up with ideas. Let’s see… You could attach to each user a timer, that prevents them from viewing any particular article while still being able to comment for more than a set amount of time, so that everyone, whether they can spend hours and hours devising clever comments, or not, puts the same amount of time into each comment they do post. I have no idea how this would work, in terms of how you do it technically, and I hate the mere idea because it sounds like shackles, but I said ten, dangit.

        7. You could task a few regular commenters with practicing the skill that some consultant friends of mine refer to as being “accessible” but which basically means being able to talk to anyone of any background without making them feel uneducated or stupid or etc., and which from what I can tell involves an impressive amount of self-monitoring and amounts to saying only ideas that make the same number of inferential leaps as your audience uses, use clauses of the same complexity as your audience uses, and number in total no more than three ideas total in any interaction… but I’m randomly throwing concepts together to explain a word some friends of mine used in a context I didn’t understand, and in turn throwing that concept at this problem of how to make everyone feel welcome in a comment thread, without really knowing what this idea I’ve come up with would look like or how it would be different than spamming the comments with nice-sounding and relate-able echobots.

        8. Dear lord how am I only at 8. Well, riffing on #7 and that I once heard Amazon uses mechanical turks to correct typos in reviews because typo-free reviews are better for sales, you could have a bot or a team of commenters or SSC’s amazing surplus of free time go through and diplomatically negotiate grammar improvements with any imperfect grammarians or English-as-a-second-language-users? I for one have been a total dick to someone on line once or twice, only to realize that their 2nd language is only one or two subject-verb agreements or subjunctives away from being better than my first. Oops. But I’ve also benefited from the fact that nobody has yet mocked my inability to keep my sentences short or my tendency toward having lots of sentences that needlessly repeat their points at length. To use a Judge Selya quote, I am forever getting distracted and “serially repastinating the same land over and over.”

        9. Going the other direction, because as stupid as 8 was, I bet if I reverse it… anyway. You could translate all posts into Spanish, and then Hebrew, and then back to English, so that nobody has to worry that anybody is looking smarter by comparison; everyone will be smarter than *all* the comments. This is even worse than 8. Ahhh.

        10. I had ten, and then I clicked “post” and somehow lost my work when my internet crapped out. I had fortunately saved 1-8 with a cut and paste into another place, and I remembered 9, but I’ve already forgotten my original #10. It wasn’t very good. New 10: You could have a second comment forum that forces commenters to only post in words that pass Randall Munroe’s filter for the 1000 most common English words. It’s not my original #10, which I’ve forgotten, but I think it’s better, though still probably unhelpful.

        I haven’t included either using upvotes or karma or etc., because everyone talks about those, and I don’t understand the theories that well. I think IRV is better than first-past-the-post, but I don’t see how that helps here. I don’t really think any of these ideas are that good, but maybe that helps you know it isn’t an easy problem?

        11. I realized that my #2 was just the idea of splitting the thread into two, twice. Not really a unique idea, as in not at all, as in how did I think that deserved a number? But for fairness, why not leave it up and find a number 11… you could also use create sub-fora for specific recurring topics, such as comments noting typos or other minor edits, so those aren’t in the main thread. (Does that exist already? I’m inferring it doesn’t, because I see a fair number of minor-edits-type comments, but maybe they’re all making the same inference I’m making?) Using tags on the posts is good, but why not automatically have tags for comments, or a tagging feature so people can include tags in their comments? Then someone could only read the posts with #ChristopherWalken?

        My takeaway from trying this seems to be that I think if you really have a lot of traffic and are clearly losing would-be commenters to crowdedness, you may want to create other higher-value tasks for them–this is an inherent and probably intractable problem of being a writer who attracts something like fanmail… enabling all your fans to usefully talk to each other is a hard problem. The main posts are atemporal and help grow the community by hanging out in a value-adding way online for months and even years after you write them. The open-thread comments generally hold up a lot less well over time than comments on a main post (and posts age more gracefully than even post-tied comments). My sense is that most open-thread comments have a “dead” feeling within a couple of new open threads, as though I’m listening to a recording from a deaf person shouting into the phone, unsure if they are being heard, whereas the main posts still seem to read in my head like someone talking to me, conversationally. So maybe that names the problem better? Try to give people an even surer feeling that what is said at SSC, is heard at SCC? Is the general answer, “Only Connect”?

        One possibly-good example of something else commenters could do is a research project that is writing intensive –if you want to know how every U.S. congressperson will respond to a surreal but sincere-sounding petition from someone in their district, maybe you could pull that off. Although I’ve just realized there are reasons not to spam the U.S. congress. Likewise, if you wanted to make sure every inmate in a particular prison were to receive a letter asking them to share their story, and someone were to collate and organize all responses, maybe this is a place that could pull that off. But overall my instinct is, look for things that create atemporal value, and that are organized to maximize that (so, more like Wikipedia or really good reddit threads, and less like a chatroom that draws random people)? And maybe it makes sense to create this kind of thing as well as open threads, rather than to change the open threads? The open threads are working so well (overcrowding with diverse perspectives and lots of smart people being intimidated by other smart people being a good problem to have, by comparison with the very large majority of internet comment threads) so, if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it?

        • Deiseach says:

          In the spirit of yodelyak’s suggestions:

          One thread or post solely dedicated for new commenters only? Leave (day) as New Commenters Day, where nobody who has commented more than X times before gets to leave a comment (X being a number between 1 and 20)?

          I realise that, for regular commenters, this relies on our honour not to jump in and hijack the post, and we could end up with a post with no comments on it, but just as an experiment to see what would happen it might be interesting 🙂

        • keranih says:

          This is an impressive list, and I admire the effort put in.

          Whatever is eventually done will need to go into a post of its own, and a reminder link posted with big flashing letters at the top of relevant posts, or else it will all be for naught.

        • deluks917 says:

          Posting for Gregor Sansa:

          The features you want from a sharding system are:
          1. People see a manageable number of comments by default.
          2. Visibility is relatively stable and relatively symmetric (mutual).(edited)
          3. Every comment is seen by somebody.
          4. Good comments are seen by everybody.
          Here’s my idea for how to get those features:
          Put all commenters on a binary tree, using reasonably-balanced a priori features divide them, such as low-order bits from the first IP address they ever logged in with.
          So every commenter would have an address on the tree, such as 00011011100101
          Then, each comment would be visible by default to a certain depth of subtree in common with its poster; in the example above, that might be all the commenters whose address begins with “0001…”. Commenters could set their preferences to see a larger or smaller subtree.
          This could go with an upvote/downvote facility. Comments could increase their visibility (and that of all their thread ancestors) by 1 subtree level for every N net upvotes they got. That would go for negative net upvotes, too, so that highly-downvoted comments would become visible to a smaller and smaller set of viewers (but probably never to none).
          If you want a way to keep from having runaway upvote/downvote totals, you could give a “downvote” button to everyone who sees a comment, but an “upvote” button only to those whose first M bits of address have at most 1 difference from those of the original commenter. That way, as a post was upvoted and grew more visible, the number of people able to upvote it further would grow linearly, as the number of people able to downvote it grew exponentially, leading to a natural “rubber band” effect.(edited)
          To prevent people from upvoting thread descendent comments in order to make their own comments more visible, you should not be able to upvote a comment which is a subthread from you unless the subthread comment has fewer net upvotes than your ancestor comment.
          I realize that this idea here still leaves quite a large “SMOP” of work to actually implement it. But other than that substantial “detail”, I think it would help. For instance: I myself have been scared away from posting until now by the fact that comment threads here get so large. (And now, I’m apparently banned or bugbanned or something; who knows why. But that’s another story.)

          • yodelyak says:

            So, with time to reflect, I think there are ways you could “solve” the problems of overcrowding, of new vs. old, and of high-level vs higher-level or etc., in a way that is satisfyingly “fair” to all or most commenters, but that breaks the comments entirely because the changes harm the trust that commenters–and lurkers too!–have that merely by commenting or lurking, they are participating in the community they think they are commenting/lurking in. It’s what happens to me when I realize that a good friend of mine on (say) Facebook has actually been extremely active on their (say) Google+ page, and I’ve missed everything, including party-invites and a newborn because I’m reading the wrong feed. This is a somewhat unavoidable problem of online life, and probably doesn’t apply with as much force to places like SSC’s comment thread. (I haven’t seen any wedding announcements made here, for example. But I’m new.) Even so my new favorite suggestion w/r/t/ changes is that you need to pay careful attention to whether the lurkers like them also, not just the commenters, and focus on things that simultaneously are likely to boost the value of commenting but also–and more importantly–boost the value of reading the comments to people who will never write anything of their own. Another analogy for this idea is that the congregation members who’re invested enough to tell the minister how they liked the sermon every single week (which apparently includes me) are not the primary people the minister needs to talk to when thinking about changing the service format.

            I also think this is much above my pay-grade and should be left to people who’ve got more experience, but I guess that was already probably pretty apparent to those people. Some things I’m interested in are real-life meet-ups and, above all, shared projects a.k.a. rationalist flash-mobs, or letter-writing campaigns, or whatever it is a not-quite-team of would-be-water-line-raisers do with the very loose kind of not-quite-trust that you acquire via a shared interest in a comment thread… I’m probably going back to being a lurker for a while, because I love this place but I also can’t tell if I’m spamming or helping. I’m pretty sure people from the LR community went through something just like this, and if they could have agreed on how to solve it, there wouldn’t be an LR diaspora now. So I guess that’s all a preface to saying that it’s probably a very good idea for everyone involved to keep expectations low–changes to the SSC comment thread are not going to cause a world of widespread feelings of alienation, because we were already alienated but it’s also not going to help much either.

    • Mark says:

      You want to get matched with the .1% of people who you can honestly debate with, but not the 0.01% of people who are way better than you at debating and make you feel stupid. No one likes feeling outclassed.

      That’s surely a bad attitude to have if you want the things you say to be sensible and sound good.

      Be openly stupid for your own edification, and at the same time give the clever cogs the opportunity to be “right” on the internet.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        In a match between a really good debater and a middling debater, the really good debater could probably make a much more compelling case for a falsehood than the middling debater could for a true fact (unless it was *really* clear cut).

        So no, it’s a sensible form of epistemic protection to avoid discussing with someone who can debate way beyond your level. Scott even wrote a post about this at some point, but I don’t remember the title.

        • rlms says:

          Someone linked it previously. I think the title is “epistemic learned helplessness”.

        • Quixote says:

          As someone with debate as my main extra curricular activity in high school and college (8 years total) and who was probably “really good” but never great. I agree, but only kind of.

          A better debater can be more convincing to a layman on a false claim than a worse debater can be on a true one. But the debaters themselves won’t have any confusion about what’s happening. Arguments that you make when you get randomly assigned the wrong side of an issue just don’t sound the same as the arguments someone makes when they are actually right. I can’t describe it, but you can hear the difference. The bad debater is not in danger of being convinced of the wrong side.

        • Mark says:

          I guess it depends on whether exposure to novel arguments is more likely to improve your ability to argue, or more likely to convince you of something untrue.

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen a convincing complex argument. The best you normally get is a way of looking at things where something *could* make sense.

          Arguments are important, because people don’t look for things that don’t make sense – the idea that something could be true has to come before the evidence that it is – but I don’t think you’re going to convince someone of something entirely false unless they are a lost cause anyway.

          Audiences of debates are judging who sounds the most convincing – they shouldn’t confuse that with being right, though.

          • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a convincing complex argument.

            Are you familiar with the economics of comparative advantage? It’s a somewhat complex argument and played a major role in convincing economists, and some others, that the obvious intuitive way of looking at foreign trade was wrong.

            If you are familiar with it, would you agree that it’s a complex argument? A convincing one?

          • rlms says:

            I think comparative advantage is a convincing, counterintuitive idea, but not complex. I am not an economist.

          • Mark says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Not really.

            Sounds plausible, but I’ll have to look into it before I form an opinion.

  8. Jiro says:

    No. I’ve changed my mind on various things during my life, and it was never a single moment that did it. It was more of a series of different things, each taking me a fraction of the way.

    Well, I guess that’s the final nail in the coffin for LessWrong’s idea of having a “true rejection”.

    • scriptifaber says:

      Well, I guess that’s the final nail in the coffin for LessWrong’s idea of having a “true rejection”.

      I’m going to assume you mean True Rejection as a precise moment where you decide to change your mind, rather than this topic: http://lesswrong.com/lw/wj/is_that_your_true_rejection/.

      I think True Rejection exists and occurs when you have an issue where, when weighing the evidence for each side, you realize one side has a massive stack of evidence for it – while the opposing opinion only a scant few sheaths of paper in favor of it. Areas of debate like Climate Change, Religion, Vaccines, etc are where True Rejections can occur, because if you were unsure before, and honestly look at the evidence with an intent to find the truth, it’s pretty clear what the truth is.

      Other topics, like whether School vouchers are net good or bad, are much harder to build a rejection for, because from a squinty distance, it’s hard to tell which stack of evidence is bigger, and whether all the evidence is trustworthy.

      • Jiro says:

        I’m going to assume you mean True Rejection as a precise moment where you decide to change your mind, rather than this topic

        No, I mean exactly that LessWrong topic.

        Because that topic pretty much says what you just suggested I could mean “rather than” the topic. It implies that if you don’t change your mind because your reason for believing something was refuted, your “true rejection” must be something else.

        And as Scott unintentionally pointed out, that isn’t right. You may come to believe something because of the weight of evidence, and in that case no specific reason is your true rejection. In the example in LW, for instance, the person could have several reasons for thinking that Eliezer is speaking nonsense. Getting rid of one such reason (in this case, getting a PhD) just slightly reduces the size of the evidence and should not be expected to change his mind. That doesn’t mean that his “true rejection” is something else or that he has a true rejection at all.

        • FeepingCreature says:

          I think the implication of “true rejection” is that there often is some reason that, if you were convinced on, would change your mind, but you’re not necessarily aware of it and so you don’t field it as an argument.

          I keep telling this story because it’s one of the defining moments of friendship in my life: there was a guy whose house I was staying at in Canada, and I asked “hey, can I stay for a month? That’d amortize the travel costs a lot better.” And he said “I don’t have a problem with that but I want to spend the evenings with my SO.” Okay, I reasoned, that’s probably not his true rejection but let’s play that game. “Alright, what if I get an apartment on Airbnb?” “In that case I have no problem,” he said.

          This blew me away at the time, because I was completely certain that he’d find some other reason, because I was sure the true reason was that a month was too long for him. This conversation is now my reference for how it feels to argue with somebody who’s putting their strongest reason first. (It feels good.)

          • Jiro says:

            I think the implication of “true rejection” is that there often is some reason that, if you were convinced on, would change your mind, but you’re not necessarily aware of it and so you don’t field it as an argument.

            Yes. And, the implication of what Scott said, is that a true reason like that might not exist.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            I agree that it might not exist, but the skill of “identifying it and using it if it does exist” is valuable even if it only works sometimes.

          • I have sometimes been the one in the position of having the reason, “a month is too long,” but precisely because coming up with some other objection would make that obvious, and because I was not willing to explicitly say “a month is too long,” therefore ended up saying, “In that case I have no problem.” But I still had a problem with it. That is why I would definitely not have done what you did in that situation, because of the danger of making someone give in to something he didn’t want.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          It’s a tool for helping people avoid the “Arguments Are Soldiers” problem, not a deep epistemological truth.

          It doesn’t work 100% of the time. Is there any tool that does? Even Bayes’ Law depends on some assumptions about the underlying probability distributions IIUC.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Lesswrong also likes litany of Tarsky right? If a LW idea doesn’t pan out, we should be happy, right?

  9. keranih says:

    Speaking as someone who picked Trump over Clinton for what I still consider to be largely rational and justified reasons – this essay nails it, I think.

    A quibble, though – I would hold that violence is also asymmetrical, but this time is slanted towards the bad guys, because they can use it in ways and manners which the good guys can not. We as the good guys who hold mercy and justice as ideals can’t weld that weapon with as much abandon or effect as the bad guys, so we’re always going to be hampering our selves with it.

    I think that some people would say that truth and logic – because they can reveal negative outcomes for some people/some groups – can’t be used with abandon, either. I’m not quite sure what to say to this, aside from pointing out that the negatives from using lies and emotional appeal sure seem to be greater in the long run.

    • IvanFyodorovich says:

      “Violence is also asymmetrical, but this time is slanted towards the bad guys, because they can use it in ways and manners which the good guys can not.” IvanFact rates this mostly true. As you say, ruthless people are better at violence. But violence also favors well-organized people, people who are good at assembling teams. Sometimes really bad people are well-organized (the Mongols, Nazi Germany, various Mafias), but generally organization correlates with better governance and cooperativity.

      But on the whole, yes, I’m glad we’re not shooting at each other keranih.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Nazi Germany was actually pretty badly organized. The military (primarily the army) really did some things extremely well, but that wasn’t due to the Nazis; the Nazi system as a whole was a shambles in many ways. So they aren’t a counterpoint to “good guys are better at organizing things.”

    • hlynkacg says:

      @ keranih
      I disagree with you about good people and violence but at the same time I find myself reluctant to argue against you.

      • keranih says:

        @hlynkacg –

        I think that if “our side” didn’t out right agree with me on the dangers of indiscriminate use of violence, we wouldn’t have invested so much effort into establishing, refining, and upholding the Law of War.

        I’m not saying that violence should be verbotten, I’m saying it’s a damn tricky thing to use. (I know principled pacifists, but I’m not one of them.)

        • hlynkacg says:

          I’m thinking of a scene from one of the Discworld books where a Joker-esque serial killer tries to pull a “I surrender suckers” only to be cut short (literally) by Constable Carrot (the otherwise stereotypical “good cop” hero type) chopping his head off.

          • yodelyak says:

            There’s a similar Joker-esque character (although more a worshipper of mammon than cthulu, perhaps) in the book Leviathan Wakes, who meets a similar end at the hands of a rogue cop who recognizes that the more principled cops have no way to deal with the Joker-esque character’s strategy. It’s a very smart scene.

          • keranih says:

            1) I need to read more Discworld.

            2) The idea of the buddy/token evil teammate who embraces grey/grey morality and “handles” things for the hero so that the bad guy is definitively defeated *and* the hero remains untarnished is not uncommon in genre fiction. (I’ve even heard the USSR cast as the WWII token evil teammate.)

            3) I’d argue that being able to *be* the token evil teammate – mostly good, occasionally just the best there is at what you do (*) – requires a fine control of the execution of violence. I might be slicing it too fine, but I don’t think this invalidates my point.

            (*) if what you do isn’t very nice.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ yodelyak
            I know the scene you’re referring to and agree entirely.

            Speaking of which, if you haven’t been watching the adaptation you should. It’s quite good.

            @keranih

            The point is that Carrot is not that team mate. In fact he’s almost the opposite. He’s the token “Paladin” on a team of misfits and anti-heroes. Carrot doesn’t enjoy fighting or killing, which is why he tends to get it over with as quickly as possible when he does.

          • keranih says:

            @ hlynkacg –

            Well, then I obviously need to read me some more discworld (Carrot starts in Guards! Guards!, yes?)

            Without having read it, though… (one of) the problem with acting like Jack Bauer isn’t that you summary kill Bad Guys, but that you kill people who you think are Bad Guys. Is this addressed at all?

            (I was with a group of friends last night discussing use-of-force rules and how Hawaii Is Not Texas. That in Texas one could present the defense justification that “he needed killin'” and receive a summary acquittal was brought up. (*) IRL, even those who really do Need Killing generally have mommas who disagree.)

            (*) Not really. Was a joke. At least, not in the 21st century.

          • cassander says:

            @keranih

            There is an old joke about a young lawyer that goes to clerk for a Texas judge. This being pre-20th century, there are two capital crimes in Texas, murder and horse thievery. After a while the young lawyer notices that while the judge will often commute the sentences of murderers, he never does so for horse thieves. He asks the judge about this and the judge responds

            “Some men need killing, but I ain’t never seen a horse that needed stealin.”

          • Deiseach says:

            I think you’re missing the point there. Carrot is very heavily implied to be the last legitimate heir to the now defunct throne of Ankh-Morpork. As king, he has the right to execute (literally) justice. In that scene he’s not just “cop takes law into his own hands and lops off head”, he is the Fountainhead of Justice who has the legitimate right to determine guilt and innocence and deal out punishment (based on the old notion that all rights and laws derive ultimately from the authority of the king who implements and protects them; the idea that the king is above the law because the king creates and disseminates the law).

            That’s why Carrot is very careful about keeping the rules all the time (and not letting himself be judge and jury), and why Sam Vimes is very careful not to let himself be consciously aware that Carrot is the king; Vimes’ ancestor did away with kings not because that particular king was evil, but because the very concept of kings was wrong. Carrot’s role as king belongs to a more ancient, more primitive time (remember the scene in another book where Angua has a momentary vision of Carrot as the primeval king, robed in white and crowned with leaves sitting beneath a tree dispensing judgment?) and Ankh-Morpork has moved on since then, to messy democratic (for a peculiar meaning of ‘democratic’ given the Patrician) times where morality isn’t the simple black and white of the kings but the greyish got a bit grubby white and the washed out black that kind of looks more grey, and where you precisely do need the rules that cops aren’t the judiciary and can’t lop off heads as they feel needs doing.

            We are not dealing with the Maverick Cop or the Only Pragmatist in that scene with Carrot and if you think of it on that level, you risk missing the danger he poses. Vimes and Ankh-Morpork don’t want to go back to the rule of kings, even of a good and just king; Vimes is a democrat and a republican, not a monarchist: a citizen, not a subject.

          • Sivaas says:

            I think you might be mixing up two books?

            Men at Arms has the scene with Carrot. The villain is urnq bs gur nffnffva’f thvyq, jub unf qvfpbirerq Pneebg vf urve gb gur guebar naq jnagf gb ervafgngr gur zbanepul guebhtu nffnffvangvat gur pheerag Cngevpvna.

            Night Watch has the Joker-esque serial killer, Carcer. But Pneebg vfa’g vaibyirq rkprcg nf n fhccbegvat punenpgre: gur obbx cynlf bhg nf n onggyr orgjrra Fnz Ivzrf naq Pnepre, naq Ivzrf vf rkgerzryl pnershy gb sbyybj cebprqher jura ncceruraqvat Pnepre qrfcvgr univat ercrngrq bccbeghavgvrf gb whfg xvyy uvz.

            Am I forgetting a book or something?

    • John Schilling says:

      [violence] is slanted towards the bad guys, because they can use it in ways and manners which the good guys can not. We as the good guys who hold mercy and justice as ideals can’t weld that weapon with as much abandon or effect as the bad guys

      Common mistake: “abandon” and “effect” are two very different things, and violence used with reckless abandon isn’t the most effective sort.

      World War II proved well enough that there is a class of fairly unambiguous Good Guys who can slaughter the innocent by the millions and wholly disregard the laws and norms of war if that is recognized as the only effective way to stop the Violent Bad Guys, without hesitation and without compromising their ultimate goodness. Now, I observe that there are people for whom merely Churchillian levels of goodness aren’t good enough, and that could pose a problem if we retire all the Churchills before rigorously testing the proposed replacement. But Red Tribe America isn’t going anywhere any time soon, nor its British counterpart, so I think we’re good for a while longer.

      • danarmak says:

        I don’t understand your argument. Are you saying the end justifies the means? What is it that keeps someone a “fairly unambiguous Good Guy” despite killing millions of innocents?

        Keep in mind that the guy who won World War II by slaughtering millions of innocents wasn’t really Churchill, it was Stalin, with Roosevelt in the honorable second place.

        • bean says:

          I think that he’s saying that the ends justify the means (at least for certain ends and means), a position that I will take myself if he doesn’t want it. Killing someone for their wallet is wrong. I don’t want to be friends with anyone who disagrees with this. Killing to stop Nazi Germany was right and frankly morally mandatory. I also don’t want to be friends with anyone who disagrees with that. There are some ends that justify killing, and some that don’t. If the ends don’t justify the means, then what does? If you’re not a deontologist, then yes, the ends do potentially justify the means. If you are, then I can only hope you get better.

          • danarmak says:

            I completely agree that killing Nazis to stop them was morally justified and yes, mandatory. But the comment I replied to explicitly said killing millions of innocents. Now presumably the reason you want to stop the Nazis is that if you don’t stop them, they will kill millions of innocents. So killing even more people then they do in the process of stopping them – even if you think you kill fewer people than they might have had they won, you certainly kill more people than they would have if you had unconditionally surrendered the first day of the war – is morally suspect. It might be right, but it’s not quite as obvious.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @bean
            Killing someone for their wallet is wrong. I don’t want to be friends with anyone who disagrees with this. Killing to stop Nazi Germany was right and frankly morally mandatory. I also don’t want to be friends with anyone who disagrees with that.

            There’s another way to save friend-worthiness (aka honour). For example when a Golden Age detective finds his own sister was guilty of the murder, it would be dishonorable to turn her in, or to cover up for her. The traditional solution was poison for two in the library.

          • John Schilling says:

            I completely agree that killing Nazis to stop them was morally justified and yes, mandatory. But the comment I replied to explicitly said killing millions of innocents.

            Stopping the Nazis absolutely required killing millions of innocents.

            Even without Stalin, and even without the allied strategic bombing campaigns, stopping the Nazis absolutely required killing millions of innocents. Five thousand innocents died by allied hands at Normandy on D-Day alone. Your choices are to live in a world ruled by Nazis, or to live in a world where millions of innocents are slaughtered to stop the Nazis.

            Actually, no, you don’t have that choice, because the rest of us are going to slaughter the millions and stop the Nazis no matter what you chose. You may chose to piously denounce us as evil, and laughably claim that if you were in charge you’d stop the Nazis without killing any innocent people, only Nazis. But don’t make too much of a nuisance of yourself in the process, because we’ll be in a killing-anyone-who-gets-in-our-way mood.

          • bean says:

            @danarmak
            Frankly, I’d kill innocents to stop the Nazis, too. I’m not at all sure where this tendency to place the innocents of enemies higher than the innocents of one’s own country or the enemy’s victims comes from, but it’s insane. To move to the other side of the globe, the Japanese were killing something like 100,000 civilians each month in China alone. If the aerial bombing campaign shortened the war by more than 4 months, then it’s morally justified even if we weight the two side’s civilians equally.
            I’m not arguing for gratuitous killing of innocents here. I think that the British bombing of Dresden was reprehensible, because it didn’t have a military purpose. On the other hand, the fire-bombings in Japan were carried out by Curtis LeMay, and if he couldn’t make precision bombing work, then nobody could.

          • keranih says:

            My understanding of the current calculations of morality of military actions is that intent, effect, and porportionality *do* matter, and that while disregarding *any* civilian casualties in order to possibly achieve a goal of dubious strategic/tactical importance is considered unlawful, it is also considered highly inappropriate to – for instance – fail to bomb a military HQ of 50 high rank officers because five elderly female janitors are also in the HQ building.

            The arguements are about the grey areas where the outcomes are either less certain (or turn out to be other than expected) and when the impact on civilians is higher (such as when intell on the number of janitors is incorrect, or the bomb also takes out the dam that the HQ is next to.)

            War doesn’t suck because bad men make deliberately horrible choices during the conduct of it.

          • danarmak says:

            @John @bean

            You still seem to be missing my point. The reason you want to stop the Nazis in the first place is (to a first approximation) that the Nazis will kill millions of innocents if they’re not stopped. So you shouldn’t stop them at the cost of killing as many or more millions of innocents yourself. And the baseline to which you need to compare isn’t how many people the Nazis kill while fighting you in a horrible war, but how many people you think they would kill anyway if you surrendered without fighting.

            Of course there are 2nd order effects of surrendering due to game theory. But it’s at least not trivially obvious that the moral thing to do is to say, e.g., better that I kill “their” civilians than that they kill mine, when talking about similar numbers dying either way.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Being ruled by Nazis is one heck of a second-order effect.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @danamark

            how many people you think they would kill anyway if you surrendered without fighting.

            There’s a pretty good case to be made that total deaths of WW2 exceed total deaths of even the most ambitious Nazi plans for ethnically cleansing their Greater Reich.

            It’s easy to retroactively make the claim that they were NAZIS, of COURSE their Greater Reich would have looked like a non-stop Cultural Revolution or series of Stalinesque purges, and if WW2 hadn’t been thought then tens if not hundreds of millions more people would have died…

            …but given the way the Nazis governed the areas where there WAS surrender and cooperation (your terms), I think you have put yourself in the position of arguing for the moral superiority of Nazi Genocide and the establishment of the Greater Reich over WW2.

            I suggest you reconsider your position. There is a lot more that goes into good moral judgements than “Minimize the number of dead people.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko:

            Generalplan Ost was probably going to kill about 30 million people, the Germans intended to wipe out the Polish intelligentsia and reduce them to helots, and the likely alternative to murdering Jews – deporting them to Siberia, probably – would have had a massive cost in human lives if it had been tried (deporting millions of people, many of whom were urban-dwellers, to Siberia would). Let’s say 35-40 million.

            This is fewer than died in WWII. However, a significant portion of the dead of WWII died in the Pacific – probably a tad under 35 million dating from the first Japanese actions in China to the end of the war. So, the comparison shouldn’t be “how many died in WWII”, it should be “how many died in the European/North African theatres.” Plus, you have to consider that the Italians were not benevolent towards the Africans they were conquering.

          • bean says:

            You still seem to be missing my point. The reason you want to stop the Nazis in the first place is (to a first approximation) that the Nazis will kill millions of innocents if they’re not stopped. So you shouldn’t stop them at the cost of killing as many or more millions of innocents yourself. And the baseline to which you need to compare isn’t how many people the Nazis kill while fighting you in a horrible war, but how many people you think they would kill anyway if you surrendered without fighting.

            Would you care to provide me with an estimate of innocents killed by the western powers while fighting the Nazis? I’d have a hard time seeing the number getting above a million or so. I don’t think it’s fair to saddle the US and UK with Stalin’s atrocities. If we had left him to hang because he was a moral monster, things would have been worse. Seriously, look up how the Germans treated the Russians, and vice-versa. For that matter, the Soviets killed almost as many Japanese during the expulsion from Manchuria as the US did during the strategic bombing of Japan. No, I’m not kidding.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            the Germans intended to wipe out the Polish intelligentsia and reduce them to helots

            Yet, oddly enough, the Katyn Forest massacre was conducted by the Soviet Union.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Where did I say they didn’t? The Soviets, after splitting Poland with the Germans, set the NKVD to the task of murdering military officers, intelligentsia, officials, etc. Meanwhile, the Germans set the Einsatzgruppen to the task of murdering intelligentsia, officials, etc, along with others considered undesirable.

            How is “the Soviets, being a vicious dictatorship, set out to murder those who would get in the way of their rule over Poland” in any way a counterclaim to “the Nazis, being a vicious dictatorship, set out to murder those who would get in the way of their rule over Poland”?

      • keranih says:

        World War II proved well enough that there is a class of fairly unambiguous Good Guys who can slaughter the innocent by the millions and wholly disregard the laws and norms of war if that is recognized as the only effective way to stop the Violent Bad Guys, without hesitation and without compromising their ultimate goodness.

        Hmmm. I disagree with the bolded parts. I don’t think the civilian (a better term than ‘innocent’, imo) toll was that comparatively high among those killed by the Anglosphere (*) and I don’t think that the norms of war were abandoned whole scale by the Anglo allies (despite the nuclear weapons, despite Dresden) and I think there were cases where souls got pretty well blackened.

        (There are parts of the record of the Pacific front which make for extremely disquieting reading/hearing. The European theater, too, but less so.)

        (*) Not counting the Soviets. For reasons.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Okay, it definitely wasn’t that high as compared to Germany/Japan/USSR, but it was still very high. As you said, Dresden.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Strategic bombing as a whole by the Western Allies probably killed around a million Axis civilians, more or less depending on who’s counting and how. That’s a lot of people, but it is not a lot of people by the standards of WWII, nor by the standards of deaths of civilians in WWII. The death toll in Dresden also gets exaggerated.

    • caethan says:

      I agree about violence. I’ve had that discussion before – being the Good Guys is contingent on not using a whole set of wicked but potentially effective tactics. They’re at a natural disadvantage. If you decide to use those tactics anyway, well, then you’re not the Good Guys anymore. You’re just a different set of (potentially Less) Bad Guys.

      • Civilis says:

        “We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us.”

        One can argue which of the soundly sleeping “Good Guy” and the rough “Less Bad Guy” is the actual Good Guy. Doing the right thing means striking a balance between both not using morally questionable actions when you don’t need to and not relying on someone else to do morally questionable actions for your benefit. Ultimately, rationally, the Good Guy has to be the one that uses tactics wicked enough to end the threat, but not those any more wicked.

        • caethan says:

          Being good sometimes means being willing to lose in order to remain being good.

          • Randy M says:

            If you are losing “in order to remain good” you are doing it wrong. If you are losing because the fight would endanger some good goal (ie, massive casualties–or even, say, standards of conduct that prevent those) and your odds of winning are a pittance, maybe the only justified action is surrender. Maybe. But refusing to fight out of concern for the purity of one’s soul does not seem admirable, granting that the fight is justified and even granting pure souls are a good end.

          • keranih says:

            @ Randy M –

            I disagree. There are worse things than being dead. Not too many of them, but they’re there.

        • 1soru1 says:

          I don’t think anyone gets to count themselves as morally better than the worst thing inherently necessary in the way they live.

          The key word here is necessary; a claim that some moral bad is nevertheless necessary needs continual challenging, re-challenging, and the active development of better alternatives.

          Sometimes the logic works the other way; ‘this is bad, so it must be necessary’.

          For example, it’s hard to see modern US support for torture as anything but this.

          • Civilis says:

            The key word here is necessary; a claim that some moral bad is nevertheless necessary needs continual challenging, re-challenging, and the active development of better alternatives.

            I would agree, and that’s the mark of someone that’s good is that they’re constantly re-challenging what they’re doing when what they’re doing is starting to get into a ethically gray area.

            For example, it’s hard to see modern US support for torture as anything but this.

            While I ultimately agree, I’m willing to play devil’s advocate here, because my gut reaction is the same as to caethan’s reply above. If you’re a truly good person, it’s really easy to think of yourself as nobly willing to sacrifice yourself rather than do something you find immoral. If someone pointed a gun at me and said “rape this woman, or I’ll kill you”, I’d sincerely hope I’d have the strength to refuse, even if it meant losing my life. It’s a lot harder as a good person when the harm is directed at someone else; “rape this woman or I’ll kill her” is a lot more difficult a problem. You can be a good guy and refuse; congrats on your moral stand, but she’s dead and you could have prevented it, even if you rationally realize you aren’t responsible. (Meanwhile, a truly bad individual would have no problem raping the woman to save his life, and wouldn’t consider the threat to kill the woman as anything to worry about).

            The US ‘torture’ issue is more thorny than it looks, especially because the important details will most likely be hidden from us ad we’re just going on speculation. At one end, we have the ‘ticking time bomb’ hypothetical problem. At the other, we have the worst atrocities in history. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

          • Aapje says:

            At one end, we have the ‘ticking time bomb’ hypothetical problem. At the other, we have the worst atrocities in history. The truth is somewhere in the middle

            Not really, because the ‘ticking time bomb’ is a very flawed hypothetical based on false assumptions. SERE training is designed around the idea that you don’t have to hold out indefinitely, you merely have to resist until the information you have is so dated, it’s worthless. A terrorists who knows when the bomb will explode knows that he will only have to hold out for some time and that he can stall by telling information that is plausible enough to get the US to commit a commando unit.

            AFAIK, there is actually no example ever of a ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario being resolved with torture.

          • Civilis says:

            Not really, because the ‘ticking time bomb’ is a very flawed hypothetical based on false assumptions.

            Yes, hypothetical situations are hypothetical. Your own example does sort of contradict itself. If torture can’t work, why do we train our own people to resist torture? Especially as we’re torturing them as training?

          • Aapje says:

            @Civilis

            I actually didn’t argue that torture can’t work, if you reread my comment carefully.

            My actual belief is that torture is less effective than showing kindness to the prisoner, as you are proving the enemy propaganda right and thus are incentivizing deception and resistance (because it is a virtue to stand up against evil and you prove that you are evil by torturing). Because of that propaganda, the prisoner has steeled himself against torture (and SERE training helps with this), but showing kindness disarms this armor. So it is probably untrue, that on average you end up getting proper results more quickly with torture.

            I also think that it is bad strategy to force people to tell you what you want to hear (which torture strongly incentivizes: torturers keep torturing if the prisoner tells them a truth they don’t want to hear) as you want to act on the truth, not end up in a bubble where you keep getting your biases reinforced..

          • Jiro says:

            Because of that propaganda, the prisoner has steeled himself against torture (and SERE training helps with this), but showing kindness disarms this armor.

            By that reasoning, torture makes kindness more effective, but kindness makes torture more effective. Propaganda that you torture makes the prisoner steel himself against torture but be vulnerable to kindness. But propaganda that you are kind makes the prisoner less vulnerable to kindness (because he knows that he can stay silent and you’ll still be kind) and more vulnerable to torture (because he hasn’t steeled himself against it).

            This means that the best solution isn’t torture all the time or kindness all the time; it’s a careful combination of both of them.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jiro

            What you are missing is that war propaganda is not about telling the truth, but about portraying the opponent as evil. After all, the goal of the propaganda is to make people willing to kill. It’s not to make people resilient to torture.

            It is true that actual evil behavior makes this propaganda more effective and kindness less so, but the a prisoner is never going to expect more kindness than what is policy. So torture is always going to be less effective due to propaganda and kindness more effective due to it.

          • Jiro says:

            It is true that actual evil behavior makes this propaganda more effective and kindness less so

            I wasn’t saying that evil behavior makes kindness less effective, I was saying that good behavior makes kindess less effective, in a mirror of the way that evil behavior makes torture less effective.

            If torture -> propaganda about torture -> enemy expects torture -> torture is less effective, then kindness -> propaganda about kindness -> enemy doesn’t expect torture so much -> torture is more effective.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jiro

            torture is less effective, then kindness -> propaganda about kindness

            You can’t really have substantially separate propaganda to get people to fight and to make people resistant to torture.

            So this causation that you argue exists is extremely weak, since it is way more important to get people to fight than to get them a little more resistant to torture.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s not the causation I argue, it’s the causation you argue. You said that torture leads (via propaganda) to resistance to torture. I applied that in the other direction. pointing out that kindness leads to resistance to kindness and susceptibility to torture.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jiro

            I never disagreed with that. I’m just arguing that it is mostly irrelevant in practice.

  10. suntzuanime says:

    There’s kind of a gigantic elephant in the room here, whose very name has been forbidden to be spoken in this comments section. What makes you think they want Truth to win? You might instinctually equate “the good guys” with “the guys on the side of the truth”, but not everybody does. If you press people about HBD they sometimes even admit it. They’d rather have Justice or Equality or Diversity than Truth. What you should be asking yourself is, what are the asymmetric weapons for those virtues?

    • AnonYEmous says:

      the point of this class of argument he’s using

      and it’s hardly unique

      is that if you deny it then you out yourself as the bad guys

      it’s not even a trap, it’s just the truth

      not sure if Scott meant that part but, duh

      • suntzuanime says:

        No, the bad guys are the ones who don’t listen and believe. The bad guys are the ones who refuse to make the leap of faith. The bad guys are the ones who hold beliefs that lead to harm in marginalized populations. By making his argument he has outed himself as the bad guy.

        Not everyone holds truth to be the highest and indeed only virtue.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          love of my life don’t do this to me

          seriously, who is HIM because I don’t think Scott did that. So just “SJW number 102”? And yes, making his argument is also another way he could out himself as the bad guy. The point of this argument is to try and shame people into arguing, or if they are serious motivate them; if they are not then you can point out that they probably think they’re wrong.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Sorry, that was me speaking in character. I do hold truth to be the highest and indeed only virtue. Let the truth be told though the heavens fall! I love Scott and appreciate his pure-heartedness that assumes that Tim Harford et. al. think the same way we do.

            I do think that challenging people to explain why they don’t want to take truth-focused actions can be useful, at the very least to propagandize other truth-loyalists, but that’s distinct from the question of “good guys” and “bad guys”.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Sorry, I think I see what you’re saying now. You’re saying that since Tim Harford is claiming to be on the side of Truth, if he’s not actually then this argument can expose his lies. That makes sense.

    • HBD

      I know not all rationalists are yet on board with the idea useful fictions, but those that are can have more or less rational arguments about what kind of useful fiction to believe in …. so rinse and repeat.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think theres a difference between saying something like money is a useful fiction and we should believe things that aren’t true and act like they are. I think that objective morality doesn’t exist but it’s good to have. I still wouldn’t be willing to silence all discussion to the contrary to keep the idea alive.

    • wysinwygymmv says:

      As a matter of simple fact, HBD conclusions have been used in the past and for a *very long time* to promote racist policies and justify racist thoughts and behaviors.

      Thus, accepting the facts of HBD directly harms the cause of moral equality.

      Yes, you can say “HBD is true, but all people are as worthy of moral consideration as the others”, but you have to go out of your way to get there. Meanwhile, other people will argue “blacks have a lower IQ, so their voting rights should be restricted.” And you can argue that’s wrong until you’re blue in the face, but you’re not necessarily going to convince them.

      This trades off the fact that HBD is actually true (or might be actually true, I don’t actually care if it’s true or not for the sake of this discussion).

      So you have the value of moral equality trading off against the value of honest inquiry and pursuit of truth.

      Each person gets to decide for *themselves* which of those values is more important. One who believes moral equality is more important and that the facts of HBD cause more than acceptable damage to that cause might *justifiably* reject the truth of HBD even while acknowledging that the evidence is sound.

      *You* might feel that honest inquiry and truth is more important than moral equality of the races, and you can try to convince other people they should feel the same, but you can’t *make* people feel that way, and you can’t say they’re objectively wrong if they don’t.

      • xXxanonxXx says:

        “Meanwhile, other people will argue “blacks have a lower IQ, so their voting rights should be restricted.” And you can argue that’s wrong until you’re blue in the face, but you’re not necessarily going to convince them.”

        I not only think you could convince them, I think it would require very little effort. In 2 minutes I could go to memegenerator and have a picture of Morpheus superimposed with the the sentence “what if I told you there exists a more accurate way to measure IQ than race, and it’s called an IQ test?”

        Just keep spamming people with it until they come to deeply appreciate the distinction between a population and an individual. I predict a lot of honest to God racists will quietly slip away when they realize the laws they’re proposing would restrict *their* voting rights.

        • keranih says:

          I agree that people can be convinced out of such a position, but that you’d have to do more work than that.

          In order to replace “visual observation of race” as a test for Outcome X, you’d have to come up with a test that was close to the cost/accuracy nexus of “visual observation of race” for that trait. Given that looking at someone is free and fast, the accuracy would have to be really really high and widely accepted.

          So long as IQ tests remain expensive/time consuming and the liberal stance is that IQ test results can’t be accepted for much of anything, people will stick with “visual recognition of race.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If you wanted some cheap, reasonably accurate test, would something like GCSE scores (or whatever the American equivalent of GCSE scores is) work? It would probably be more closely correlated with IQ than race would be, and since everybody has to do them anyway, you don’t have to incur any extra costs applying the test.

          • keranih says:

            GCSE scores

            Yeah, we ain’t got that.

            For a variety of reasons – historically because under the federal system each school district determined what high school graduation standards were, and more recently because pretty much everyone understands that the racial breakdown of the test results would be …well, it’d be predictable.

          • rlms says:

            What is Outcome X? I think talking to someone allows you to guess their IQ much more accurately than knowing their race, and I can’t imagine many situations where you really need to know someone’s IQ but can’t ask them.

          • Nornagest says:

            The closest American equivalent to the GCSE is probably the Advanced Placement tests, but as the name implies those are generally only taken by college-bound students. Ditto the SAT and/or ACT, although those are closer to IQ than to subject tests.

          • keranih says:

            @ rlms

            What is Outcome X?

            Whatever choice we make about someone based on their race or intelligence – hire, promote, date, arrest, etc.

            I think talking to someone allows you to guess their IQ much more accurately than knowing their race, and I can’t imagine many situations where you really need to know someone’s IQ but can’t ask them.

            I agree about the accuracy of talking to someone over just looking at them. I disagree that a rough idea of IQ is not useful as a sieve for many human-human interaction decisions.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I can’t imagine many situations where you really need to know someone’s IQ but can’t ask them.

            Bear in mind that most people aren’t SSC readers and don’t know what their IQ score is.

          • The Nybbler says:

            An IQ test is _much_ more accurate than “visual observation of race”; as is pointed out often, individual differences are much greater than racial ones. The liberal stance you mention is, charitably, based on the idea that the tests are biased and are measuring factors related to race rather than just intelligence. (Uncharitably, it’s because the liberals believe the same thing the HBDers do, but if so they won’t admit that). So if you could somehow show that the tests were not significantly biased and overcome the objections from that side of the house, I don’t think you’d have a big problem getting people to use intelligence tests to measure intelligence rather than visual observation.

          • rlms says:

            @keranih
            “I agree about the accuracy of talking to someone over just looking at them. I disagree that a rough idea of IQ is not useful as a sieve for many human-human interaction decisions.”
            Which decisions are those? You mention hiring, promoting, dating and arresting, but you shouldn’t be doing those based on nothing more than a brief glance at someone’s appearance.

          • keranih says:

            @rlms –

            You shouldn’t be doing them just based on IQ, either. (*) But if you’re making a decision on the margins (like arrest, or go out on a third date) or have to sieve through a multitude of options and pick just one, (like a job for which you have two hundred applicants) then the human (and rational) thing to do is reach for filtering mechanisms.

            (*) Or income. Or how they dress. Or what accent they have. Or whether they remind you of the pack of kids who tormented you in grade school. I do hold that it is completely legit to decide who to date based on their sex.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think talking about using race for marginal decisions makes sense. Consider the example of filtering hundreds of job applications. If the job applications consist of pieces of paper with races written on, then it might make sense to consider candidates’ races. But actual job applications usually have things like whether you went to university (and even more specific things, like where you went, what you studied and what grades you got). If you know these things, knowing race as well doesn’t tell you anything extra.

            And even in the scenario where your only information is a brief glance at someone, I’m not sure how useful race is, in comparison to the information you can get from e.g. the way they dress (as a proxy for education level, income, and class).

          • Anon. says:

            But actual job applications usually have things like whether you went to university (and even more specific things, like where you went, what you studied and what grades you got). If you know these things, knowing race as well doesn’t tell you anything extra.

            Affirmative action programs massively undermine this. If Asians need 1sd higher SATs than Blacks to get into the same uni, knowing race tells you a lot extra.

          • rlms says:

            @Anon.
            Do you have statistics to back that up? Regardless, graduating is different to matriculating.

          • keranih says:

            @ rlms –

            I think you might be only thinking about paper job applications in white collar or executive-class positions. For blue collar/service class, it’s not the same.

            And it’s true that employeers care about many things, but they can only test for so many things. See here for what happens when a well-intended move to stop employers from discriminating on criminal backgrounds was put into place.

            (Hint: given a surplus of applicants, and the ability to readily divide the applicants into several groups, one with a much lower prevalence of criminal activity, the employers decreased the number of people they hired from the other groups. They *preferred* to discriminate against former felons, but when denied the ability to do so, discriminated against those who shared more characteristics with felons.)

            Other “tests” seem to work the same way.

      • danarmak says:

        I’m not trading off the practical value of knowing HBD, in particular, is or isn’t true. I’m trading off all of scientific, empirical knowledge.

        If we allow any factual claims at all to be morally forbidden, it is the same as allowing morals to dictate all facts to us. Just as, before the Enlightenment, it was considered that all knowledge came from (mostly Scriptural) authority, and questioning authority on the basis of mere *empirical observations* was literally *heresy* – even if you were questioning not tenets of faith but things those authorities had said about apparently unrelated things like mechanics or mathematics.

        If we agree that HBD is beyond the pale of civilized discourse, what’s next? If we diligently apply the rule “ban all facts that were once successfully used to support a repulsive moral position”, would we ban knowledge of selection-guided evolution, because it was used in support of eugenics and segregation? Knowledge of heritability of traits, because it was used in support of anti-miscegenation laws? The history of the Soviet economy, because it’s used to argue against egalitarian socialism and for exploitative capitalism? All truths are ultimately connected.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Just as, before the Enlightenment, it was considered that all knowledge came from (mostly Scriptural) authority, and questioning authority on the basis of mere *empirical observations* was literally *heresy* – even if you were questioning not tenets of faith but things those authorities had said about apparently unrelated things like mechanics or mathematics.

          Not only is that false, it is (ironically enough) a falsehood cooked up to serve the Enlightenment morality tale of progress and modernity = good, old stuff = bad — in other words, morals dictating facts.

        • Skivverus says:

          If we agree that HBD is beyond the pale of civilized discourse, what’s next?

          This sounds a lot like a slippery-slope fallacy to me. Empirically, people do have ways of sectioning off some truths from others. All truths are connected, certainly, but the distance between them is not zero.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Slippery slope is not a fallacy but a useful heuristic. Slopes frequently do slip.

          • Matt M says:

            As opposed to “If we let people talk about HBD, the re-institution of slavery will soon follow?”

          • For a weaker version of the same argument, and one that I think does a lot of damage:

            “If we let people discuss positive effects of climate change that will undermine efforts to prevent it, and since the negative effects are much larger than any positive effects undermining those efforts is a terrible thing to do.”

          • Skivverus says:

            Slippery slope is not a fallacy but a useful heuristic. Slopes frequently do slip.

            Agreed, but I have my doubts that it will slip as far as

            If we allow any factual claims at all to be morally forbidden, it is the same as allowing morals to dictate all facts to us.

            Personally have an emotional disgust-reaction to talk of banning ideas, but that doesn’t mean I’d be in favor of banning talk of banning ideas.
            (Banning actually banning ideas, well, I could go for that) Position on the object-level of HBD is presently similar to (I think) Fredrik DeBoer’s: “true but not directly relevant to moral worth; indirect relevance comes from the impact on strategies for increasing QALYs”.

          • Slippery slope is something of a fallacy if its treated as something that is necessarily true, absent side conditions, a a lot of a fallacy if you are already on the slope without apparent slippage.

          • Nornagest says:

            [Slippery slope is] a lot of a fallacy if you are already on the slope without apparent slippage.

            “Apparent” is a pretty fuzzy word. Slippage is going to be a lot more apparent to those who’re looking for it, for one thing; it could be slow enough to be imperceptible by casual observation but fast enough to be worth worrying about, for another.

        • If we agree that HBD is beyond the pale of civilized discourse, what’s next?

          Why are so many people arguing against a complete ban, when no one is arguing for it.?

          • danarmak says:

            The people who “deplatformed” Charles Murray (not for the first time in his career, according to his Wikipedia page) were doing pretty much this. Other bloggers and writers from academia, like Razib Khan, have made it clear that the scientific community dislikes such research, even if it’s not suppressed outright. And in the last half year, mainstream US media has made it clear to its readers that “HBD” is a synonym for “Trump-supporting racists”, who they of course think should be banned.

          • And still no one here is arguing for it…

            Other bloggers and writers from academia, like Razib Khan, have made it clear that the scientific community dislikes such research,

            Research on DNA and population genetics is a thing that happens, if that is what “such research” means. OTOH, the scientific community well dislike blogging on race by non-scientists like Steve Sailer. Why not?

          • Aapje says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            I think that it is specifically referring to research that looks into how IQ correlates with ethnic groups. I can’t remember anyone being outraged over research about a higher prevalence of certain diseases in certain ethnic groups.

      • As a matter of simple fact, HBD conclusions have been used in the past and for a *very long time* to promote racist policies and justify racist thoughts and behaviors.

        I have often seen this claim and I’m sure there is some truth to it, but I’m not sure how much. There are lots of historical examples of slavery where the slaves were ethnically the same as the slave owners. In Greek antiquity, when one city state went to war with another and won, a possible outcome was that the losing side got enslaved. In various societies, people have sold themselves into slavery for debt.

        One case of slavery that doesn’t seem to have much racial basis is classical Islam. Many slaves were blacks brought in from Africa. But the child of a black slave concubine and her high status owner could be high status. One notable example was a famous musician and gourmet and briefly a pretender to the Caliphate.

        Is it a case of “if people don’t believe in HBD they are much less likely to practice slavery and, if they do, likely to treat slaves better” or “the belief in HBD makes slave owners a little more comfortable with what they would be doing anyway”?

        • Gazeboist says:

          … It’s a case of “slavery is not the only racist thing in the world”.

          • It’s the standard example. For more general intergroup hostility, we see lots of examples around us that don’t depend on beliefs about racial differences.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Really? The examples I always see are voting rights, employment discrimination, and immigration, occasionally with colonialism in there as well. Sometimes slavery’s brought up, sometimes not, but when it is, it’s usually specifically in the context of *US* racism, which is closely intertwined with slavery as it existed in the US.

            Especially here, where nobody had mentioned slavery up to this point (I think, anyway), it was really weird to see you focusing so exclusively on it as opposed to things like education or employment discrimination. I’d certainly say that my objection(s) to HBD advocates are pretty disconnected from slavery per se.

          • Especially here, where nobody had mentioned slavery up to this point (I think, anyway), it was really weird to see you focusing so exclusively on it as opposed to things like education or employment discrimination.

            Possibly because I view slavery as a serious problem. I expect employment discrimination in a market society to be mostly limited to statistical discrimination–using race as one proxy for ability–and it’s in the interest of employers to get that right. Unlike some, I don’t think using imperfect proxies when they are the best information available is wicked.

            To put it more strongly, I think freedom of association is a morally compelling principle, non-discrimination in the modern sense is not.

          • it’s in the interest of employers to get that right

            So long as they are homo economicus. Of course we have evidence that homo sapiens is willing to take a financial hit for their prejudices — a certain cake shop forwent the profit on a cake, for instance.

        • danarmak says:

          I think the simplest explanation is that “slavery” here and to many Americans refers to just “slavery in the US past”, which is quite distinct from typical slavery around the world and throughout history.

          • keranih says:

            How so?

            (I mean, I know that’s what kids these days are being taught in school, but what do you have to support that statement?)

          • Slavery varies a lot, both across cultures and within cultures. U.S. slavery included slaves who ran their own lives but had to pay part of their income to their owners, as did Romani slavery in Romania. It also included slaves engaged in gang labor. Slavery in Periclean Athens included household servants and slaves working in the silver mines.

            Is there some sense in which slavery was different for all slaves in America than for all slaves in other systems? I can’t think of any.

          • ChetC3 says:

            Is there some sense in which slavery was different for all slaves in America than for all slaves in other systems? I can’t think of any.

            The sense in which it’s one of only two kinds of slavery the average American is likely to have ever heard of (the other being the Hebrews enslaved by the Pharaoh in the Bible).

          • Nornagest says:

            I think the average American is probably aware that the Romans and the medieval Arabs kept slaves. They’re not likely to know details of those systems, but they’re unlikely to know details of the Atlantic slave trade either.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Yes, this is my point. People like you exist, and think that they’re the good guys.

      • Nornagest says:

        Yes, you can say “HBD is true, but all people are as worthy of moral consideration as the others”, but you have to go out of your way to get there. Meanwhile, other people will argue “blacks have a lower IQ, so their voting rights should be restricted.” And you can argue that’s wrong until you’re blue in the face, but you’re not necessarily going to convince them.

        This is so obviously motivated reasoning, though. There are tons of much closer proxies for IQ than race, even if you take the wildest claims (well, wildest modern claims) about it at face value — grades, SAT scores, having two vs. three copies of chromosome 21. We restrict the voting rights of exactly zero of these groups.

        Anyway, you don’t need to convince them, you just need to convince 51% of the voting public.

      • Randy M says:

        Each person gets to decide for *themselves* which of those values is more important. One who believes moral equality is more important and that the facts of HBD cause more than acceptable damage to that cause might *justifiably* reject the truth of HBD even while acknowledging that the evidence is sound.

        Indeed they do, but so rejecting truth, they shouldn’t be surprised to be shunned in a discussion among truth-seekers.

      • Manpanzee says:

        I think of it this way: In a conflict between “Bad Guys on the side of truth” and “Good Guys on the side of falsehood”, there is a very real risk that the Bad Guys might win. The odds of a Bad Guy victory are much lower in a conflict between “Bad Guys on the side of truth” and “Good Guys on the side of truth”.

        Truth doesn’t always win, but in the long run it’s definitely a powerful force. If you want to produce good outcomes in the world, it would behoove you to avoid ever giving the Bad Guys a monopoly on truth.

      • keranih says:

        Meanwhile, other people will argue “blacks have a lower IQ, so their voting rights should be restricted.” And you can argue that’s wrong until you’re blue in the face, but you’re not necessarily going to convince them.

        Despite what I posted below regarding the utility of visual race recognition as an IQ test proxy, this particular statement bothers me because I’ve not actually heard it. Most calls for restrictions on voting eligibility have rested on social trust (ie, no felons) and on actual participation in the society (ie, only people who can prove they live in the city can vote for mayor, and/or (and this is extreme) only people who are contributing to (rather than drawing from) the community fund should vote for how to spend it.)

        These policies can have more impact on blacks/AA’s than on Caucasians and Asians, but the root causes of the ‘disparate impact’ are arguably sideways of IQ as well as of race.

        If we are going to argue about the legitimacy (or lack there of) of policies that are intertwined with race in the USA, I think we should look at the actual policies proposed and argue against those, instead of manufactured ones.

      • Mary says:

        Each person gets to decide for *themselves* which of those values is more important.

        Is that true?

      • silver and ivory says:

        A lot of replies here fail to consider that low IQ isn’t actually a good reason to restrict people’s voting rights.

        I assume that people would support this policy because it seems to lead to better policy proposals. Instead of vaguely pointing at things like low IQ, we could go even more direct and test for people’s support for Good Policies and Bad Policies, since that’s the relevant issue at stake. — But this is a bad idea, and by the same logic disenfranchising people with low IQ is also.

        Next, consider the two options for the distribution of political views stratified by ideology. If voting habits are distributed evenly throughout the population, it makes zero difference whether or not low-IQ people can vote. If political opinions are unevenly skewed – like if low-IQ people are disproportionately Democratic-voting – then that disempowers one party, which causes that party to not vote for it.

        This would also require that the US gather IQ scores somehow, which would be extremely costly, politically impossible, and intrusive into people’s personal lives. There would be incentives for distortion and cheating.

        IQ is not shown to correlate with support for better policy positions; you might just end up with lower-IQ people’s interests being ignored. This would disenfranchise people and give them cause for resentment, etc.

        The problem with policies like this is that you have to agree on a Schelling point for “whose IQ is too low for them to vote?”, and, again, each party either 1) wants different cutoff points or 2) favors the same cutoff point, in which case the policy results in status quo.

        It’s not even clear that better politicians would be elected. After all, the Overton window probably ends up in the same place as before, and the same people go into politics.

        People with low IQs are not analogous to children. Children are disenfranchised for a number of reasons – such as a lack of experience, a lack of understanding one’s own interests, being susceptible to adult coercion, not being informed – that aren’t always applicable to people with low IQs.

        • Aapje says:

          Note that less educated people already disenfranchise themselves in the US, by voting far less than better educated people. One can assume that educated strongly correlates with IQ.

          The paper argues that some other countries have no correlation between education and voter turnout, so apparently the US is already doing something to restrict the vote of low IQ people.

          It’s not even clear that better politicians would be elected. After all, the Overton window probably ends up in the same place as before, and the same people go into politics.

          In the Netherlands, with has more variety in political parties, there is a very strong split between the parties for the well-educated and the less-educated. The left-wing party for the elite favors SJ issues, open borders and the EU. The left-wing party for the plebs favors a strong welfare state, is far more ambivalent on migration and opposes the EU.

          I believe that the less educated have fundamentally different interests than the well-educated. For example, open borders give more benefits and less costs to well-educated people. The less educated benefit more from a welfare state, while the higher educated benefit more from laissez faire. Etc, etc.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            For example, open borders give more benefits and less costs to well-educated people.

            I tend to think it’s more that open-borders hurts the well off relatively less and that the well-off “benefit” in the sense that they have a resistance to iocane powder and live while the less well off or less educated or non-symbol manipulating tend to get killed by it (metaphorically mostly).

          • Aapje says:

            No, the well-educated do actually benefit more. For example, open borders drive down wages for those whose jobs can be done by people without Western diploma’s, a strong grasp of the language, etc. This obviously harms the less educated. It also benefits those who hire these people to do jobs, which relatively often, are the well educated. For example, the less educated are much more likely to fix their own cars, to do a small renovation themselves, etc.

            The less educated should have less comparative buying power under an open border policy*.

            * Note that I’m deftly evading the question whether they will have higher absolute buying power.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Yes, the well-educated get cheap nannies and housekeepers (in the United States anyway) but I was thinking more along the lines that public schools are now no-go zones – but the less well off have no choice and that public transportation is now a no-go zone – but the less well off have no choice, etc.

            Break down of social goods and moving from a high trust culture to a low trust culture disproportionately hurts those whose main asset is that they have access to public goods and get to live in a high trust culture. More monetary assets — the smaller a proportion of your total assets social goods and being a member of a high trust culture so damaging those is harmful but less harmful to someone with less monetary assets.

          • None of that should be surprising. Democratic politics is all about blocs voting in their own interests.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      If HBD being true would lead to objectively horrible injustices, I think it’s only because of other assumptions in the modern/postmodern worldview. If we unpack and undermine those, truth could be told, the heavens could fall, and it wouldn’t lead to a dystopia of race-based slavery. Right?
      To get specific, there seems to be an assumption that human value is based on IQ. We’ve discarded the image of God as the justification for human rights in favor of “humans have rights and animals don’t because of our IQ”, which leads to more IQ = more rights.

      • Randy M says:

        Indeed. I think I’ve said similar here before. Discarding divine justification for human equality leaves us with the evidence of our senses. Even leaving race out of it, we know for certainty that all people are not equal in any metric that we can conjure. And while it’s nice to suppose that everyone has something good to recommend them–if not smarts, then strength, or looks, or humor–and the sum is constant, that’s a fable less plausible upon examination then the previous one. Especially as in the modern world, intelligence and some associated personality traits like conscientiousness are growing in importance for producing value that people tend to care about.
        This has always been the case, and “All men are created equal” no more meant that all races have equivalent capabilities than it did that the bum and the professor were equally capable. But we have undermined the basis for that equality even while reifying it.

        • Discarding divine justification for human equality leaves us with the evidence of our senses.

          Not in the least. Moral equivalence is a moral claim that isn’t supported by the evidence of the senses for reasons of the is-ought gap. And we have the option of constructing moral rules and principles. And the further option of forgetting that we constructed them.

      • If we unpack and undermine those, truth could be told, the heavens could fall, and it wouldn’t lead to a dystopia of race-based slavery. Right?

        Welll, it’s not that that can be done globally at a single stroke. You are left with some settings, framings and fora being better than others. Speaking of which

        IQ

        The kind of implicit faith that many people in the rationalsphere have in IQ unfortunately makes the rationalsphere a bad setting.

  11. Stefan Schubert says:

    If logical debate is a weapon which asymmetrically favours the good guys, and everybody thinks they are the good guys, it follows that everybody should, everything else equal, want more logical debate.

    • Jiro says:

      It doesn’t follow, because they may (perhaps falsely) believe that logical argument is lopsided in favor of them, but that something else is even more lopsided in favor of them.

      They may also believe that logical debate favors the good guys when people are willing to llisten but stereotype their enemies as people who refuse to listen.

      • ChetC3 says:

        They definitely believe logical argument is lopsided in their favor, and are probably patting themselves on the back about their superior rationality at this very moment. In practice, “logical debate” is defined as “the process by which my obviously true beliefs are vindicated.” Cite: every petty internet fight ever; the pettier, the better.

    • doublebuffered says:

      This is only true if everybody believes that “logical debate is a weapon which asymmetrically favors the good guys”, which as the post points out is not really a common belief these days. The common wisdom that this post is arguing against is “logical debate is pointless”

    • John Nerst says:

      This is assuming that everything actually can be settled by logical debate, which often isn’t the case – there are epistemological, interpretive and preference-based reasons we won’t come to definite conclusions on most political issues.

      And even if we could, it’s not certain exhaustive debate would be tractable. If we tried to get to the bottom of disagreements and work everything out in sufficient detail it would take longer and become more complex than anyone could tolerate (hell, philosophy is a centuries-long exhaustive debate that isn’t anywhere near concluded). It wouldn’t even be linear, the debate structure would grow like a tree since different lines of argument would have to be adressed separately.

    • tmk says:

      This is going to sound crass, but I think many of the most dedicated Trump supporters know they are not the good guys.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        If people know they’re not the good guys, yet persist in failing to convert to goodguyism, it follows that they don’t think being a good guy is all that wonderful.

        (There are exceptions to this, but they’re not the rule.)

        And then you have to ask, what is this “being a good guy” business, anyway? Are you sure you’re not actually talking about being a Good Guy™, the latter being merely a tendentious name you’ve chosen for your particular faction — said faction not, in fact, being uniquely good by any universally-agreed-upon metric?

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Where on earth are you going to find a universally-agreed-upon metric of goodness?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Where on earth are you going to find a universally-agreed-upon metric of goodness?

            Well, exactly.

            You know, it’s a funny thing. Just yesterday, I was conversing on this very subject in a rationalist-type space on the internet, and I brought up (as what I thought was an innocuous background assumption) the idea that people have different terminal values.

            Well, don’t you know it, some folks there — SSC readers, the lot of them — reacted as if I’d sprouted an extra head, Thamiel-style. It was claimed, you see, that in fact everyone on our fair planet (the occasional psychopath or “mutant” excepted) has the same terminal values.

            And here I see you’re implying (or do I misunderstand you?) that people have different terminal values — and also implying that it’s faintly absurd of me to suggest otherwise (but of course I intended no such suggestion).

            Well, it just goes to show — people disagree, sometimes.

            Which, of course, is my point. Some people think they (and all those who agree with them) are the good guys. But some other people think that the first people are in fact the bad guys.

            Now, those other people, they’re probably fully aware that the first people call themselves “the good guys”. I mean, of course they do, right? Who wouldn’t? And so — say the other people — by their standards, we are certainly not one of those “good guys”. But we don’t agree that those so-called “good guys” actually are good! Because there’s no universally-agreed-upon… etc.

          • thepenforests says:

            @Said Achmiz

            My best guess right now is that people do indeed have different terminal values. But I think that the degree to which we have different terminal values is generally overestimated, and I think that most people’s reason for thinking we have different terminal values (“look at how much we all currently disagree on value questions”) isn’t particularly good evidence for the proposition. Even in a world where people did have completely aligned terminal values, I would still expect disagreements that sounded like value disagreements, because none of us are anywhere close to anything like reflective equilibrium.

            My model of the world is that in the ultra-long-run, people’s values will generally tend towards convergence but ultimately remain distinct. People won’t have identical terminal values, but remaining disagreements will be much more like “I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream” than “I think abortion is a-okay and you think it’s terrible.” Basically I think that lingering terminal value differences between humans (in a scenario where we live long enough to achieve something vaguely resembling reflective equilibrium) will be small enough that we’ll be able to form coalitions and exist peacefully with all the people we disagree with. Note that even now, when people do disagree on a moral question as significant as abortion, they’re still able to form coalitions with the other side.

            But, of course, this is largely an empirical question that hinges on certain facts about human brains, so I could well be wrong.

          • Garrett says:

            I think that the difference in terminal values is ultimately the most important issue that needs to be overcome.

            And I think that’s why the conversation gets to be so painful. It’s one thing to not have your preferred city flag adopted. It’s quite another thing to have it feel as although others are imposing their values upon you.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @Garrett:

            I think that the difference in terminal values is ultimately the most important issue that needs to be overcome.

            I think it’s actually the desirable state of affairs. If everyone in the world was in lockstep on their terminal values, then human morality would be stagnant and life would be pretty boring. No moral progress would be possible because no one would ever make a case for anything different.

            But not only that, the differences and the arguments feel like an essential part of what it means to be human to me. If all our values were aligned we’d be more like a hivemind than idiosyncratic individuals. It sounds like a sort of totalitarianism of the soul.

          • Mary says:

            We could simply think those other sides people are lying when they call themselves the good guys. 0:)

          • Aapje says:

            @thepenforests

            But I think that the degree to which we have different terminal values is generally overestimated, and I think that most people’s reason for thinking we have different terminal values (“look at how much we all currently disagree on value questions”) isn’t particularly good evidence for the proposition. Even in a world where people did have completely aligned terminal values, I would still expect disagreements that sounded like value disagreements, because none of us are anywhere close to anything like reflective equilibrium.

            I think that a lot of disagreements boil down to people magnifying part of their terminal values and rounding themselves off to a tribe.

      • suntzuanime says:

        “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell.”

      • Acedia says:

        There’s a subset of nihilistic channer types who only wanted Trump because they expected him to break everything in entertaining ways, but I really don’t think they’re a significant proportion of his supporters.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Not that many folks on /r/The_Donald, all things considered, but they sure are LOUD.

        • Evan Þ says:

          There’s another subset of people who believe just about everything in our society is already broken, so you might as well have Trump tear the paper-mache and reveal it. And sometimes I feel like one of them.

      • xXxanonxXx says:

        They like pretending to be the bad guys. They’ve been called as much for so long they’ve just started to roll with it in a humorous way. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone respond to a Bane meme by asking if the poster even understands Bane is supposed to be a villain of the movie, and I always want to shake those people and scream that OF COURSE THEY KNOW THAT. It’s an ironic adoption of the cartoonish vision their political rivals have of them. Every time someone from the other side of the aisle fails to understand that it’s another confirmation to said Trump supporter that leftists are humorless at best.

      • seladore says:

        I’m not sure if I agree. I think pretty much everyone sees themselves as a ‘good person’, for some definition of ‘good’.

        Take the Robber’s Cave experiment, for instance. The two groups that emerged, the Eagles and the Rattlers, saw themselves as ‘proper and moral’ and ‘rough and tough’ (respectively). The Eagles, seeing themselves as proper and moral, undoubtedly modelled the Rattlers as being uncouth and violent. The Rattlers, seeing themselves as rough and tough, almost certainly thought of the Eagles as being stuck up and sanctimonious.

        I’m guessing that Trump supporters would be more at home in the Rattlers. I think they see their political opponents as appropriating a false veneer of ‘goodness’, and that by being crude/rough/deplorable they are staking out an opposing position. I would guess they still see themselves as the ‘good guys’ in that sense.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          I seem to recall hearing that the Robber’s Cave experiment was more or less faked, via the researchers engineering the conflict between the groups. cCan anyone else confirm?

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @tmk – “This is going to sound crass, but I think many of the most dedicated Trump supporters know they are not the good guys.”

        “Good” has been debased beyond recognition. It is a tin star handed out for sucking up to the socially-dominant clique. I’ll take productive “villainy” any day.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        More extensively, what I’ve seen among various nationalists and others is exactly the tendency to loudly proclaim that they *aren’t good*, and counterpose them against the (assumed) Good People™. In other words, the framing is precisely that what is needed for the security and development of the nationalists’ countries is for the people to become harder and less sentimental, and being Good™ gets on the way. There has been much anger directed at “gutmenschen”, “suvaitsevaiset” (tolerant people, a favorite term of abuse in the Finnish circles), “bleeding-hearts” and so-on, and that’s what it all looks like.

        Of course, this generally leads to confusion among the supposed Good™ people, since they usually are not going around proclaiming themselves to be the moral superiors of the other people and, indeed, often concentrate on the moral failings of the “Good™” community and its representatives more than anyone else. One gets the idea its less about someone else being a hypocrite or a virtue-signaller or whatever than the nationalists themselves having internal suspicions that going around trying to make people become harder and less caring might actually not be such a good idea.

        • av says:

          In other words, the framing is precisely that what is needed for the security and development of the nationalists’ countries is for the people to become harder and less sentimental, and being Good™ gets on the way.

          With respect to the US: It can’t both be a shift away from sentimentality and a wistful longing for better times in the past (the charge against “Make America Great Again”). People called Romney “Hitler” in 2012. Eventually when you call half the population stupid (middle America and/or the south), racist (white people, old people, especially old white people), and misogynist (males, but at least it’s not their fault, the patriarchy trained them this way), the shame associated with the labels wear thin, and counterculture forces can willfully adopt what they perceive as nonsense and put up dancing Hitler videos.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Of course, this generally leads to confusion among the supposed Good™ people, since they usually are not going around proclaiming themselves to be the moral superiors of the other people

          I’ve seen an awful lot of exactly that.

    • Immortal Lurker says:

      That works on an organizational level, but not at the level of individual actors. Even if both sides should rationally want to use asymmetrical weapons exclusively, individual agents would still want to use whatever tactics benefit them personally. Rhetoric can be very lucrative for the people with megaphones.

  12. Balioc says:

    This logic works when you and your opponent are fighting over empirically-demonstrable truths or logically-provable conclusions. Which is to say, “a lot of the time,” because everyone likes to believe that the facts are overwhelmingly on his side.

    It doesn’t work at all when you and your opponent are fighting over terminal values. When your goal is to get people to want the same thing you want, to adopt some part of your utility function, then…you’re basically stuck with narrative, emotional appeal, and other forms of spooky psychological magic.

    As Scott said, once upon a time, it’s likely that two diametrically-opposite utopias are each better than the status quo. That doesn’t mean that their respective adherents won’t go at it tooth and nail.

    • IvanFyodorovich says:

      True, some things we argue about in the political sphere are matters of preference (e.g. how much income are you willing to forgo to have a lower risk of medical bankruptcy). But many are empirical questions (what effect will a tax cut have on the deficit, will the GOP health plan reduce sick peoples’ access to care) or are moral judgments (e.g. are Hillary’s speeches to Goldman worse than Trump University). There’s plenty of room for logical argument.

    • John Nerst says:

      There are other things than empirical truths and terminal values to disagree about. There are validity of narratives; status and sympathy; questions of defintion, connotation and concept-building etc.

      I don’t think facts vs. values is a very good model for understanding the nature of disagreement.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Empirically, people can and do change their “values” in response to logical debate. Humans are uncertain as to their own values, to the point that “figure out what’s right and wrong” is a major field of study predating the scientific method.

      I see no reason to believe that “values issues” are uniquely un-susceptible to reason.

      Yes, a hypothetical paperclip maximizer couldn’t be logically reasoned into liking cute puppies. It couldn’t be emotionally manipulated into it, either. Human disagreements are a case of two similar agents disagreeing based on contingent facts and their own biases, not radically dissimilar agents in irreconcilable conflict. Compared to the size of Mindspace, most humans who have ever lived are a tiny dot.

  13. sketerpot says:

    One actionable step here is to avoid looking for excuses to feel righteous indignation. The news is full of outrage-bait because anger sells — but you can refuse to buy! It’s a simple skill, even if it isn’t easy: whenever you’re feeling outrage while reading an article obviously meant to evoke it, stop. Go do something else. Practice until it becomes easy.

    I started this a few years ago and found it to be a very positive change, both epistemically and emotionally.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Righteous indignation is an asymmetrical weapon in favor of Justice, though.

      • sketerpot says:

        Is it really? Like, I’ve seen articles that were outraged about head-in-the-sand multiculturalists refusing to acknowledge the Swedish immigrant crime problem and articles that were similarly outraged about racist xenophobes going on about immigrant crime in Sweden. Both sides seemed pretty certain that they were on the side of Justice, and neither had particularly high evidentiary standards for that certainty.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Just as it’s possible for two people to make arguments in favor of opposing sides, it’s possible for two people to get righteously indignant over opposing sides. All the asymmetry requires is that there be a correlation between the actual justness of the cause and the heat of the fire burning in your soul, not that it be 100% decisive.

          • skybrian says:

            I tend to take righteous indignation as a warning sign that I have a high probability of regretting something later. (Although, in the moment it is difficult to remember this.)

            Maybe that’s just me, but it seems clear that that in some domains it holds true. (Does getting angry in traffic ever help anything?)

      • Scott Alexander says:

        True by definition; indignation is symmetric as hell, though.

        • danarmak says:

          > True by definition

          I don’t think even that much is true. “Righteous” doesn’t mean “due to being right”, it means “due to *believing* yourself to be right”.

          • dyfed says:

            “Righteous” doesn’t mean “due to being right”, it means “due to *believing* yourself to be right”.

            Not to be too pedantic, but righteousness is the actual state of being morally justified, that is, morally correct.

            What you’re thinking of is self-righteousness, which is superficially identical but is entirely belief-based rather than fact-based.

          • sketerpot says:

            I’ll happily concede the definition if it means we can avoid a definitional debate. 🙂

            Where I said “righteous indignation” above, feel free to mentally substitute “indignation with a strong subjective feeling of righteousness.” I think that resolves the ambiguity mentioned above?

          • Righteous has drifted into being shorthand for self righteous. Cf entitled.

          • danarmak says:

            That wasn’t my point. You feel or act righteous when you believe you’re right. But you might be in fact wrong. Your objective rightness doesn’t cause your righteousness directly; it’s mediated by your beliefs.

            So righteous indignation (however defined) can’t be assymetrical in favor of those who are right. It’s only assymetrical in favor of those who are more certain of being right. Which is pretty anti-epistemological.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @Danarmark:

            So righteous indignation (however defined) can’t be assymetrical in favor of those who are right. It’s only assymetrical in favor of those who are more certain of being right. Which is pretty anti-epistemological.

            Yes! In a straight-up debate, the guy who’s willing to admit he could be wrong is at a disadvantage in front of any audience that isn’t composed of several hundred copies of Scott Alexander.

  14. IvanFyodorovich says:

    Re: Nyhan & Reifler, in my experience both arguing with people who are wrong and being wrong myself, people need time and breathing space to correct their wrong views. People are resistant to conceding points in the heat of arguments (so do you agree that the researcher proved that you suck?) and are very resistant to feeling outsmarted, but many people do adjust their views with time, much as Scott said. I don’t have data to support this, just personal observation and the general observation that terrible arguments tend to die out. Ampicillin is more popular than leeches. Nobody supports the divine right of kings.

    • skybrian says:

      Is there value in heated debate? Maybe we should try for calm debate? Is there some way the ground rules could be structured to encourage calmness?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Is there value in heated debate?

        For the audience, sure. That’s how Jesus did it. When he was debating with the Pharisees, he was never trying to convince them, or get them to come around to his way of thinking. The Pharisees knew they were lying. Jesus was laying rhetorical traps for them so that the crowds would ask “who is this man who speaks this way?” Your target isn’t always your debate opponent. Sometimes it’s the crowd.

        • Mary says:

          Oh yes. Respond to comments on the internet to debunk the comment for the onlooker, not to convince the one who comments.

          I have seen some truly silly comments from block-happy people who imagine that responses from people they’ve blocked are intended to reach them, and that it’s the height of frustration to be blocked.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I would say that a heated debate is not necessarily a bad thing. It makes people more motivated to bring the best evidence available. It also means you’re less concerned with being to agreeable to disagree. Also, a heated discussion means you’re probably debating someone with completely different opinions in which case, debate is more needed than between people who only mildly disagree on a few points. It does make you less likely to be convinced in the short run but in the long run you’ll cool down and might be more willing to look in to on your own. This is assuming that no one snoops down to name-calling or other unproductive discussions. Then it’s game over.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I agree with your observation. I think (generalizing from my own example) another very big reason for that is that people need time to mull over the argument and see that it’s actually true, rather than just something they can’t think of a refutation for in the heat of the moment.

  15. leifkb says:

    Scott, I know your heart’s always in the right place, and I don’t want to be mean to you. But this statement is true, and I think it’s necessary-ish, even if it’s a bit unkind, so please bare with me. Your anti-Trump piece, and the war followup, played a role in pushing me over the edge toward voting for Trump, for kind of similar reasons to why you would go back in time and change your vote to spite that one person.

    You quoted Trump like this:

    During a town hall meeting, when host Chris Matthews asked Trump when he would use nuclear weapons, he answered “Somebody hits us within ISIS — you wouldn`t fight back with a nuke?” When Matthews reminded him that most people try to avoid ever using nuclear weapons, he answered “Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?”

    With a link to a hitpiece that omits really important details from the transcript to take Trump’s comments out of context. When I watched the videos embedded in the hitpiece, it was clear to me that Matthews was badgering Trump to make a categorical promise not to use nuclear weapons — or not to use nuclear weapons in Europe at least — and Trump was trying to explain that was a horrible idea because game theory. “Why are we making them?” is a perfectly legitimate response to Matthews’ absurd gotcha question.

    I read this as you trusting a bad source, and spreading alarmist nonsense. I assume you did it by accident. I don’t blame you for it. But when I notice those kind of errors — especially from someone I hold in high regard — it leads me to believe the rest of the world is biased, and it makes me trust my own judgment more over theirs.

    The conclusion of your first anti-Trump piece also bothered me. You talked about crowds chanting “LOCK HER UP” about Hillary Clinton, and called that “anti-epistemic”, without addressing the possibility that she might actually be a criminal who deserves to be locked up. Whether you agree with them or not, that’s why those crowds were chanting that, and you didn’t bother to see their point of view. In fact, you strawmanned them as wanting to lock her up for her ideology, which was never the idea. What if it’s more anti-epistemic to sweep crime under the rug than to chant about it?

    • Yemwez says:

      There are game theory reasons for making promises to not use nuclear weapons. You don’t want other countries to think they need to use nukes too. Worst case scenario, some country gets anxious and strikes the US first.

      • leifkb says:

        There are potential reasons, but that would be a change from current policy. It’s certainly not the kind of change you make because a “journalist” is badgering you to try and get an unflattering soundbite. To be clear, Matthews was asking President Trump to categorically rule out any use of nuclear weapons (and subsequently, any use in Europe — so Matthews could make it sound like President Trump wants to nuke Europe).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I got the impression Trump was saying he might use nuclear weapons as a first-strike. I think the reason we’re making them is for retaliatory capacity/MAD. But I guess I should watch the whole thing before saying much. As I said, the essay definitely wasn’t perfect and there were lots of things I would do differently.

      • leifkb says:

        As I said, the essay definitely wasn’t perfect and there were lots of things I would do differently.

        I hear you, and I really hope my comment didn’t read as an attack. I often feel it’s hard for me to transmit sincerity through text, and I hope it comes across that despite thinking you got a few important things wrong, I have a lot of respect for how hard you try to get things right. Hopefully the specifics will be food for thought.

      • 27chaos says:

        No First Use is China’s policy, but not the policy of the US. It’s been this way forever. We maintain a policy of calculated ambiguity, which means that we pretend we’re potentially willing to use nuclear weapons under some circumstances in order to exert additional leverage on other countries. I don’t think Trump is a good choice of president to try to overhaul our foreign policy strategy.

      • cassander says:

        I got the impression Trump was saying he might use nuclear weapons as a first-strike.

        If so, he’s keeping in tune with the policy of every american president going back to eisenhower. first strike when sufficiently provoked has ALWAYS been US nuclear policy.

        I think the reason we’re making them is for retaliatory capacity/MAD.

        This is not accurate.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the reason we’re making them is for retaliatory capacity/MAD.

        Not why your country initially raced to get the bomb first, and when it did, the rationale was not “let’s inform the Japanese government we’ve got this weapon and unless they immediately surrender, we’ll use it”, it was “we have no option but to bomb one of their cities”.

        It’s arguable that the Manhattan Project race was indeed for retaliatory purposes, given that there were genuine fears Germany might succeed in building an atomic bomb, and seemingly Roosevelt did give orders to bomb Germany if the war was still ongoing when the bomb was finished. But with the surrender of Germany before the bomb was ready, and with the decision to bomb Japan taken by Truman even before the Potsdam Declaration and its rejection, it’s very hard to argue that there was a deterrent or “only if you force us to” mindset in place, rather than a “first strike” one.

        And since the USA is still the only country to have used atomic bombs in actual warfare, that does tend to the impression in the minds of other nations that it operates on a “first strike” basis.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      By the way, something like this happens every time that (1) the US is involved in a conflict; and (2) there is a Republican in office. I remember back during the Gulf War when the evening news was excitedly reporting that Dan Quayle would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons.

    • dyfed says:

      You talked about crowds chanting “LOCK HER UP” about Hillary Clinton, and called that “anti-epistemic”, without addressing the possibility that she might actually be a criminal who deserves to be locked up.

      So this is an interesting point to me.

      The problem with this approach (and the reason, I think, that Scott called it anti-epistemic) is that the demands/chants to imprison her preceded actual determination of guilt and the truth-seeking process embodied in the courts.

      Let’s agree for a moment that HRC committed crimes either through negligence or malice. It’s not enough, according to the rule of law, to lock her up when we have a justified true belief that she committed crimes. We have a prior social contract which covers all citizens stating that in the event that someone commits crimes, they can only be punished by the office of the state once those crimes have been proven to a codified standard by the official organs of the state in a formal process.

      In fact, the court of law itself is a very formal process for the very adversarial collaboration we’re talking about. The prosecution and the defense, presided over by ostensibly neutral arbitration, make logical and evidential arguments, and the jury is instructed specifically to deliberate upon them in a fair and open-minded manner. Our society evolved this and other processes through centuries of difficult decision-making, but it shouldn’t be surprising that where we arrived so closely resembles an oathbound logical debate—because oathbound logical debate is just that effective.

      What is anti-epistemic about “LOCK HER UP” is that they aren’t shouting “LET’S BRING CHARGES AND DISCOVER THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER.” You may argue that the former is much catchier. Sure, it is. But that is the dark side, right? Quick, easy appeals to what sounds good rhetorically… that (apparently incidentally) skip the important bits of justice, rule of law, impartial discovery, etc. There might be crime! But it’s important if you’re being honest and have a true spirit of inquiry that you not jump directly to your desired conclusion.

      But if you do jump to your desired conclusion, it’s reasonable for others to think that the process of inquiry isn’t that important to you, and neither is the rule of law. Especially not when we have particular evidence of what the usual result of chanting mobs invoking punishments without invoking investigation getting their way usually leads to… lynching at best, kangaroo courts at worst.

      So, no, in short I don’t think it’s unfair for Scott, or even incorrect, to call the chanting “anti-epistemic.” It seems quite evident that the chanting mob is at the very least purposefully disregarding the search for truth as a shortcut.

      And now for an ideological disclaimer/admission: I personally think there is substantial, and, in fact, undeniable probable cause to believe HRC violate 18 USC § 793; I think that Comey showed cowardice in not charging her and showed motivated reasoning in applying an intent standard rather than a negligence standard as is plainly written in the Act; I think that she evaded prosecution only because of her personal standing, influence, and the highly partisan nature of the ongoing election; and I admit to taking all of the prior admissions quite personally and bearing a particular grudge against someone so obviously above the law.

      The rule of law cuts both ways.

      • Jiro says:

        What is anti-epistemic about “LOCK HER UP” is that they aren’t shouting “LET’S BRING CHARGES AND DISCOVER THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER.” You may argue that the former is much catchier.

        You say this as if it didn’t completely destroy your argument.

        You’re seriously expecting protestors to say “LET’S BRING CHARGES AND DISCOVER THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER”?

        • dyfed says:

          Of course not.

          But I do expect people to refrain from agitating against the rule of law even if the slogan is funny, catchy, and emotionally charged.

          And I do expect people to advocate a just and fair stance even if it’s harder to come up with a catchy, funny, emotionally charged slogan for it.

          The rhetoric people are willing to adopt is revealing of their preferences. And what is revealed by “LOCK HER UP” is, I judge, most probably a disdain for proper means as long as the ends are acceptable.

          If you can’t find a catchy way of chanting that HRC must be investigated, you probably aren’t trying.

          • Jiro says:

            But I do expect people to refrain from agitating against the rule of law even if the slogan is funny, catchy, and emotionally charged.

            You’re assuming that the slogan opposes the rule of law in the first place. Instead you should conclude that “lock her up” is shortened to fit in the slogan, and doesn’t, in fact, mean “lock her up without a trial”.

            By your reasoning, someone who protests “Trump out of office!” opposes the rule of law because he just wants Trump removed from office immediately without an election or an impeachment proceeding.

          • random832 says:

            You’re assuming that the slogan opposes the rule of law in the first place. Instead you should conclude that “lock her up” is shortened to fit in the slogan, and doesn’t, in fact, mean “lock her up without a trial”.

            Part of the problem is that, even if they’re not so in the strictly legalistic sense, all of the investigations and hearings she’s been forced to endure “feel” to her supporters like a trial in which she’s been acquitted, and continuing to spin the wheel until the verdict you want comes up is also a violation of the principle of rule of law.

            Basically, “If there were a legally valid principle that could put her in jail, wouldn’t it have already by now? And that means there’s not, and so that means having a legally principled trial cannot possibly be what they mean by ‘lock her up’.”

          • dyfed says:

            You’re assuming that the slogan opposes the rule of law in the first place.

            Yes, I am. I assume this because the slogan is “Lock her up,” and not a sober, measured call to investigate her, follow the evidence where it leads, and accept the results of the investigation.

            This chant, and other evidence of circumstance, leads me to believe that they advocate an absolute imprisonment of HRC. I suspect, with good reason I think, that were she to be charged, tried, and found not guilty, that they would still be chanting, “Lock her up.”

            By your reasoning, someone who protests “Trump out of office!” opposes the rule of law because he just wants Trump removed from office immediately without an election or an impeachment proceeding.

            Yes, I would definitely say that advocating the removal of Trump from office as an end in itself, irrespective of the means, is against the rule of law. And since I am in favor of the rule of law, I oppose it.

            That said, if Trump was impeached, tried, and convicted, I would support his removal.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But I do expect people to refrain from agitating against the rule of law even if the slogan is funny, catchy, and emotionally charged.

            “What do we want?” “Dead cops!” “When do we want them!” “Now!”

            From the point of view of Republicans, the left consists of agitators spouting angry, hateful, emotional rhetoric (and sometimes getting violent over it) and then apologists who “sense their anger” and coddle them. What we’re getting now from articles like the one Scott linked is pearl clutching from leftists who can’t believe the right is using the left’s own tactics against them. Shrug.

          • MugaSofer says:

            “Arrest Clinton” is reasonably catchy. As, indeed, is “Impeach Trump”.

            LHU is still slightly catchier, but I would be really, really happy if the Trump camp ever traded a small decrease in catchiness for nuance, accuracy and rule of law.

            With that said, I think a majority chunk of people chanting “lock her up” do intend for this to imply a fair trial, and simply think the case is so slam-dunk that any fair court would convict. I disagree. If I was the judge that’s certainly what would happen, but that’s not what “fair” means. But it’s still a pretty defensible position.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @MugaSofer:
            I’m guessing you aren’t actually a judge at all, or you wouldn’t come with in a mile of that statement.

            And not just for fictional cover-your-ass reasons.

          • carvenvisage says:

            thanks sherlock

        • DavidS says:

          In the UK various people think Blair is a war criminal over Iraq. The rhetoric on this I’ve seen has almost always been ‘he should face trial in the Hague’ not ‘lock him up’. I think this is a lot less sinister although frankly if the conservatives had said in 2010 election that they would make sure he faced trial that would make me pretty uncomfortable too.

          • onyomi says:

            “He should face trial in the Hague” is Blue Tribe for “Lock him up.”

          • Civilis says:

            On the other hand, various leftist groups have tried to perform a ‘citizen’s arrest’ on George W. Bush or Bush administration officials on a number of occasions. The fact that they delegated themeslves law enforcement powers does not speak well of their respect for the rule of law.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            How convenient to decry lack of nuance, then imply that any nuance is actually just lack of nuance.

          • DavidS says:

            No doubt they think he’s guilty. But thinking and speaking in terms of due process is surely better than going so in terms or arbitrary action

          • DavidS says:

            @Civilis: I’m not a lawyer but pretty sure citizens arrest is an actual thing. There is in any case a massive difference between a private citizen attempting to bring someone to trial who law enforcement has decided not to pursue vs someone running for head of state promising to use the powers of the state to punish their political rivals, or indeed calling on said candidate to do so.

            I am kinda surprised by responses to this – not sure if people who think its OK think so in general or uniquely to trump and Hilary

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If Trump supporters are really a baying mob seeking to persecute their enemies without regard for the law, why hasn’t Trump actually arrested Clinton yet, or why haven’t his supporters been putting pressure on him to do so? It seems to me that, if “Lock her up” actually expressed a serious proposal instead of just “Boo Hillary!”, we’d expect them to have, y’know, locked her up by now.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’d think that if “shut down Guantanamo Bay” actually expressed a serious proposal instead of just “Boo Bush!” we’d expect it to be, y’know, shut down by now.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I am kinda surprised by responses to this – not sure if people who think its OK think so in general or uniquely to trump and Hilary

            Let’s imagine this as a hypothetical:

            In one of the Democratic primary debates Hillary takes out a knife and cuts Bernie’s throat.

            James Comey who has all kinds of ties to the Clintons going back to the start of his career which was investigating the sketchy Marc Rich pardon publicly announces that the FBI is investigating.

            Bill Clinton meets for a half an hour with the Attorney General on a tarmac.

            Hillary then announces that in a Hillary administration the current Attorney General will keep that job.

            Comey then releases a report about the stabbing that says “the law says that murder is illegal – Hillary merely acted to drain the blood from Bernie’s body by slashing his throat and we believe that the current Attorney General would choose not to prosecute”.

            Clearly in this case Trump saying “you’d be in jail” isn’t the politically motivated case, right?

            The disagreement can’t get away from the substance of the charges involved. If you think it’s impossible for Hillary not to be guilty based on publicly available information (the deletion of emails that were under subpoena) then the political part is not prosecuting her. If you think the underlying charges are obvious nonsense then you can believe the calls to prosecute her are politically motivated. However – this then requires you to actually defend the proposition that she didn’t commit loads of crimes. Her defenders tend never to actually defend that proposition and instead substitute “she hasn’t been prosecuted, therefore she’s innocent” – which is completely evading the point.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @reasoned argumentation
            Yes, this is how tyranny works in practice. You don’t just make things illegal for your political enemies. You make everything illegal, and then only enforce the rules against your enemies while letting your friends get away with murder.

      • cassander says:

        What is anti-epistemic about “LOCK HER UP” is that they aren’t shouting “LET’S BRING CHARGES AND DISCOVER THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER.”

        Why do you think they don’t mean this? Do you think they’re actually calling for trump to swager over, personally cuff clinton, then lock her in the basement of the white house? OR that they’re calling for her to be prosecuted before a judge and jury? Do you apply similar scrutiny to calls to lock up the banksters?

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          I think a sizable part of what makes Trump popular is social dominance performance theatre. Specifically, Trump was an opportunity for the other side of the culture war to feel the thrill of humiliating their hated rivals. You see a lot of this social dominance performance art in Trump’s press conferences, where he’s yelling at the press, ordering them around, telling them to sit down, calling them names, etc.

          Swaggering over and cuffing Clinton is exactly what some folks crave! Think of how delicious that would feel! Humiliating your political rivals is delicious and compelling — this is an important part of the calculus here. People will give up a lot of principles they might otherwise adhere to in exchange for deliciousness.

          There needs to be more give and take in the culture war, to avoid Trumpish things in the future. The other side was just sick of being humiliated for twentyish (?) years, and wanted to humiliate for a change.

          • cassander says:

            Swaggering over and cuffing Clinton is exactly what some folks crave!

            Sure, just like swaggering over racists is what other folks crave. That people are jerks who like to socially dominate others isn’t up for dispute. I see no evidence that trump supporters were any more like this than any other group of people.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            They probably aren’t, inherently?

            But they were losing the status war for a long time, and are a lot thirstier for some humiliation theatre due to that. Thirsty enough to let the awfulness of Trump slide in all sorts of ways.

            People have a serious need to win status games in society sometimes. If you don’t let them win, you starve them, and they start to do desperate things, like support the orange idiot we are now stuck with. That is kind of my point on the lesson we should draw from this disaster going forward.

          • cassander says:

            But they were losing the status war for a long time, and are a lot thirstier for some humiliation theatre due to that. Thirsty enough to let the awfulness of Trump slide in all sorts of ways.

            Or I can tell an equally plausible story of how Hillary’s opponents have grown arrogant with victory, were unwilling to suffer even the tiniest reversal, and thus were thirsty enough to let the awfulness of Clinton slide in all sorts of ways. Both are perfectly good just so stories, but nothing more than that.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Yeah, this is false equivalence. I personally happen not to be a huge Clinton fan. However, Clinton is a fairly normal (corrupt) politician. As far as dysfunction, evil, and outright stupidity, Trump is operating in a completely different stadium from Clinton.

            So Clinton supporters are ignoring Clinton’s corruption, and Trump’s supporters ignoring Trump’s … I am not even sure what to call it — blank faced know-nothing narcissism (?) these are not the same type of phenomenon at all.

            Anyways you seem to be confused about what I am doing. I am not trying to call Trump supporters names, I am trying to figure out what are actual significant causal factors in the rise of Trump so we can prevent it next time.

          • cassander says:

            @Ilya Shpitser says:

            Yeah, this is false equivalence. I personally happen not to be a huge Clinton fan. However, Clinton is a fairly normal (corrupt) politician.

            I disagree. So do many trump supporters. I won’t belabor the reasons why because I’m not trying to convince you of anythings, my point is precisely that they are equivalent to huge numbers of people, and that your dismissal of that possibility is not helping your understanding of those people.

            Anyways you seem to be confused about what I am doing. I am not trying to call Trump supporters names, I am trying to figure out what are actual significant causal factors in the rise of Trump so we can prevent it next time.

            I realize that. My point is that starting from the assumption that trump is uniquely awful and horrible is going to prejudice your understanding of how he came about.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            I think your diagnosis is wrong (specifically I think this is the diagnosis Trump supporters would give to themselves as it paints them, to themselves, in a much more flattering light than my diagnosis). I am not trying to argue with you.

          • Iain says:

            @cassander: To clarify: are you claiming that Clinton is more corrupt than an average politician, or more corrupt than Trump? The case against Clinton boils down to “Sure, she’s never been prosecuted for anything, but that’s just a perk of being powerful. There’s enough sketchy smoke for us to safely conclude that there’s fire.” I disagree, but even if we posit that the claim is true, I don’t see how it is possible to look at Trump with the same standard of proof and not conclude that he’s even worse.

            The Atlantic made a list of Trump’s conflicts of interest. It has nearly forty entries. Now, you can easily say: “Look, this is nothing more than coincidences and speculation. There’s no hard proof.” But the exact same thing is true about the case against Clinton.

            I am willing to accept the intellectual consistency of arguing that they’re both corrupt as hell, and not supporting either of them. I am willing to accept the claim that they’re both corrupt, but that Trump is better for other reasons. I am even willing to entertain the idea that we couldn’t have predicted Trump would be this sketchy in office (although the apparent lack of buyer’s remorse on the part of Trump voters is a serious problem). But even if I bend over backwards to be maximally charitable, the claim that Trump is actually less corrupt than Clinton simply isn’t defensible.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “That statement is wrong. To be more specific, it’s the sort of statement a Trump supporter would make.”

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Self-diagnosis generally cannot avoid being self-serving (corrupted hardware), unless one trains really hard. This is pretty uncontroversial in these circles.

          • cassander says:

            @Ilya Shpitser says:

            I think your diagnosis is wrong (specifically I think this is the diagnosis Trump supporters would give to themselves as it paints them, to themselves, in a much more flattering light than my diagnosis). I am not trying to argue with you.

            If you think it’s unusual for people to imagine themselves in a flattering light, or that you aren’t guilty of same, I have a lovely bridge I’d like to sell you.

            @Iain says:

            are you claiming that Clinton is more corrupt than an average politician, or more corrupt than Trump?

            Than the average politician. Trump has not been in public office ever, so he has, pretty much by definition, no record of corruption as such. We’ll see if he develops one.

            The case against Clinton boils down to “Sure, she’s never been prosecuted for anything, but that’s just a perk of being powerful. There’s enough sketchy smoke for us to safely conclude that there’s fire.”

            Hillary Clinton maintains, with a straight face, that she’s the greatest cattle futures trader in history.

            The narrative you lay out. You can argue that the corruption was small potatoes, that other people do it, that trump is so terrible her crimes should be overlooked, or several other things, but you can’t argue that she’s clean and there are all these mean people just out to get her.

            I disagree, but even if we posit that the claim is true, I don’t see how it is possible to look at Trump with the same standard of proof and not conclude that he’s even worse.

            Trump is not politically powerful, never has been. He has not, repeatedly, been caught abusing power for personal gain. Now you can say that’s just because he’s never been in office before, and I would agree wholeheartedly. But the most you can argue is that it is probable that trump will be corrupt. It is a fact that clinton is.

            The Atlantic made a list of Trump’s conflicts of interest. It has nearly forty entries. Now, you can easily say: “Look, this is nothing more than coincidences and speculation. There’s no hard proof.” But the exact same thing is true about the case against Clinton.

            I fully expect that trump will get more scrutiny than any other president in history. That trump is being closely watched, and that hillary clinton wasn’t, is an argument FOR trump, not against him.

            But even if I bend over backwards to be maximally charitable, the claim that Trump is actually less corrupt than Clinton simply isn’t defensible.

            To sum, you’re comparing a list of ways that trump MIGHT be corrupt against the evidence of hillary’s actual corruption, then concluding that the former is more damning. That’s simply bad logic.

            Moreover, on a more philosophical level, there’s insidiousness. The ethics system we have is designed to stop blatant conflicts of interest. If trump forces every government employee to stay in a trump hotel when he travels, he’d be stopped, and that’s good. The clintons, though, have a long history of cloaking their self interest, laundering their corruption through institutions like their foundation. This isn’t less corrupt, it’s just less obvious, which makes it harder to track. I much prefer someone without a lifetime of experience with that sort of corruption to someone with it.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            This:

            Than the average politician. Trump has not been in public office ever, so he has, pretty much by definition, no record of corruption as such.

            is correct. Trump has never held an office where he’s been entrusted with power to use for the benefit of the public therefore could never have abused such power. That’s the definition of corruption.

            Trump is not politically powerful, never has been.

            This isn’t strictly true. To do real estate development and probably even to be involved at high levels in the entertainment industry requires some level of at least political influence – which Trump does have because he carved it out for himself.

            If trump forces every government employee to stay in a trump hotel when he travels, he’d be stopped, and that’s good.

            Probably not actually. If Trump goes on vacation somewhere and stays in a Trump hotel Secret Service is going to have to stay there too – and the rules are probably set up in such a way that they can’t not pay for it because that would be considered influence buying.

        • dyfed says:

          Neither A nor B. I think that they were engaging in pointless whip-up-the-mob trash talk against an opponent and they genuinely don’t/didn’t care whether she is a criminal or not as long as she lost.

          That’s why I agree it was anti-epistemic; there was no interest in the truth or the rule of law.

          And yes, I think calls to randomly lock up “the bankers” are equally dumb and opposed to the rule of law. I had hoped to avoid these questions by including my ideological disclaimer, but I don’t think anyone is reading it.

        • rlms says:

          “Do you apply similar scrutiny to calls to lock up the banksters?”
          Speaking for myself, yes, definitely.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The whole “LOCK HER UP” thing was little more than trash talk; they weren’t literally calling for her to be imprisoned without trial, any more than sports fans really expect the players they are cheering for to kill opposing players, or in the case of baseball to throw a deliberate bean-ball.

        Apparently, and to my surprise, Trump fans weren’t upset when he discarded the idea entirely.

        • cassander says:

          I wouldn’t call myself a trump fan, but I was upset by it.

        • dyfed says:

          If we take that tack (that they didn’t literally want her imprisoned), why should we assume that it somehow should be taken to signify a desire to proceed with a sober investigation? Trash talk, right? They just wanted to express their disapproval of her and wanted to punish her. Their side should win, hers should lose.

          That tells us again that the chant was anti-epistemic. What was correct and what was not was irrelevant. My party, right or wrong.

          • suntzuanime says:

            They wanted her imprisoned, after an investigation and fair trial, which they believed would find her guilty. Literalist nitpicking is not going to solve your problems.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            http://i.imgur.com/U39ufC1.jpg

            Oh yeah, totally after a fair trial. I mean, obviously it varies. But generally speaking, you are looking to a mob for a notion of justice, and you will not find it there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @suntzuanime:

            after an investigation

            There have been numerous investigations of Clinton, none of them finding anything that is prosecutable.

            There is ample evidence that the chants of “lock her up” aren’t content with a fair investigation. When they say they want a “fair” investigation, a “fair” trial, and a “fair” sentence, they mean they have already pre-determined what “fair” is and won’t accept any other result.

            It’s green jellybeans.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Ilya Shpitser

            Do you really want to play this game? I’m pretty sure I can find a random twitter rant of someone who thinks that anyone who voted for trump ought to be strung up from a lamp post, or saying that the election should be overturned via military coup if you like.

            In any case, Clinton was in a Reagan’s Bind. Even if we take her supporters’ version of events as gospel we’re forced to conclude that several of her senior staff should be getting the Oliver North treatment.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            It varies, as I said. But there is no justice in a mob. You are looking in the wrong place.

            The lesson to the DNC is pretty clear already — “be less shit.” The only reason Putin’s shenanigans worked is because the DNC was shit enough for it to work.

            The lesson for GOP/Trump supporters is less clear but is forthcoming (I certainly have my theories), but they have certainly committed themselves to the shipwreck.

          • suntzuanime says:

            There have been numerous investigations of Clinton, none of them finding anything that is prosecutable.

            None of them finding anything the Obama administration considers prosecutable. Which is sort of the point. One imagines the Clinton administration would not consider them prosecutable either.

            You can argue that they’re wrong, and that she’s innocent in the abstract, but their theory is she’s guilty and being shielded by a friendly administration, and that’s why “lock her up” is synonymous with “vote for Trump”.

  16. Steve Sailer says:

    The concept of diminishing marginal returns ought to be useful in lowering the temperature on policy debates, since it gives people on the winning side in the past a high-minded reason for moderating their recommendations for the future. You don’t have to admit you were wrong in the past to admit your long-time rivals may have a point about the future, you can just say that the policies I advocated in the past were successful in dealing with the problems of the past. But going forward we now are facing different problems so I don’t have to advocate the same policies I advocated in the past.

    • Randy M says:

      True for hobbyist arguers, but you know what they say, it’s hard to reason someone out of a position his livelihood depends on.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
        — Upton Sinclair

        This may or may not be the original version.

        • Loquat says:

          Mark Twain published a related sentiment, in his essay Corn-Pone Opinions (corn-pone being the equivalent of “daily bread” in his time and place): “You tell me where a man gets his corn-pone, and I’ll tell you what his opinions is.”

          He explicitly did not come up with it himself, attributing the quote to a slave boy he’d known as a child, and I doubt that boy was the first human to ever say such a thing either.

          • I’m remembering it as an elderly darky, but I haven’t checked to see if my memory is correct.

            What’s beautiful about that essay is that he first argues people believe things it is in their interest to believe, then explains why it was once in his interest to believe that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, then gives a very convincing argument for the claim that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays.

            At least that’s how I remember it.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Voters are generally hobbyist arguers of some sort.

        • Randy M says:

          Sure. Your comment just reminded me of advocacy groups that experience scope creep when the problems they have been formed to solve have greatly diminished.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Good point.

            I presume political debate in America is more subsidized by interest groups than in Britain, where it’s paid for more as entertainment, and thus the first rule is: Don’t Be Boring.

  17. Steve Sailer says:

    Another useful tool is the thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad commonly associated with Hegel (although it’s older). If I make a strong argument in favor of my thesis and you make a strong argument in favor of your antithesis, more truth often turns out to reside in some kind of higher synthesis that accommodates both the good points of my thesis and the good points of your antithesis.

    Granted, successful syntheses are a lot of work to devise, but they are a good goal to keep in mind.

    • Gazeboist says:

      It seems like adversarial collaboration is being proposed as a method of reaching that synthesis.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        For example, James Flynn (of “Flynn Effect” fame) engaged in “adversarial collaboration” with the late Arthur Jensen. In the 1970s(?), Flynn called Jensen’s attention to the puzzling phenomenon of rising raw IQ test scores. Jensen responded with a list of four challenges. Flynn then showed empirically that the data withstood Jensen’s four expectations.

        His Flynn-Dickens Model is intended to be a synthesis of Jensen’s thesis and Flynn’s antithesis.

        I’d say that the Flynn-Jensen relationship is an admirable example of Scientists Behaving Well.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Yes?

          This exchange has me very confused and I can’t quite tell why. I have a vague impression that we disagree about something in the relationship between adversarial collaboration and synthesis as described in your initial comments, but I can’t for the life of me tell what it is.

    • Phil Goetz says:

      A difficulty with thesis-antithesis is that it can work only when you are sufficiently illogical. That is, both thesis and antithesis must be sloppily stated. If they are carefully and logically stated, you get a contradiction, meaning you can prove anything.

  18. habu71 says:

    Wonderful as always. Thanks for writing it.

    As a side note, I was originally hoping to write something pointed and profound here about just how much I liked the piece. Thankfully, however, I soon realized that, given the nearby comparison, it would probably wouldn’t go too well for me. So I’ll just leave it at “Thanks”.

  19. suntzuanime says:

    It’s worth noting that there’s a level further you can go with this. Eliezer Yudkowsky had an important opinion about AI that he wanted to persuade people of, and his plan for going about this was to teach people how to have true beliefs. Which is just the most adorably truth-asymmetric weapon of all time.

    Basically: http://i.imgur.com/A7guAE4.png

    • rlms says:

      Are you going for the basic interpretation for that meme, or the “first three options get better, last one is really bad” one?

    • Eponymous says:

      Whoah, seeing that your link refers to HPMOR rather than the sequences just made me feel like an old fogey.

      You’re missing a step here. First EY tried to persuade people by direct argument. Then he wrote a series of blog posts teaching people how to accept good arguments. Only then did he illustrate this process in action in a piece of fan fiction.

    • ChetC3 says:

      That was only because he couldn’t conceive of the possibility that there might be a less than total overlap between “true beliefs” and “Eliezer Yudkowsky’s hobby horses.”

  20. skybrian says:

    Great article!

    Nit: “in the midst of a divisive election” is confusing. (This made me wonder if I was somehow reading a rerun – wasn’t the election over a long time ago?)

  21. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    Unfortunately this is a weapon that politicians can’t use. In order to ensure that politicians will do what they promise, voters need to support people with fixed sets of beliefs. But Perfectly Logical Debate un-fixes beliefs, so a politician shouldn’t be caught dead doing it. This is a big problem, since politicians set the terms of debate.

    • Gazeboist says:

      This assumes that “politicians do what they promise” is the goal. I think a better (though not particularly achievable given current circumstances) goal would be “politicians serve as a proxy for what the voters would do, given information on which the politicians are paid to make decisions.”

  22. 75th says:

    You should use your symmetric weapons if for no reason other than that the other side’s going to use theirs and so you’ll have a disadvantage if you don’t.

    Now where have I heard that before…? 🙂

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Link for those who don’t get the reference. Finding the important difference between Scott’s statement and the rhetorically similar statement he argues against in the linked post can probably be safely left as an exercise for the reader.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Since “the reader” is usually a lazy bum, I’ll clarify: the difference is between cooperate-cooperate, cooperate-defect, and defect-defect.

        By all means do everything you can to get to cooperate-cooperate (ie neither side uses dirty tactics), including the “do unto others 20% better than they do unto you to correct for bias” rule. And don’t be the first one to start defecting.

        But if it’s really clear that the other side is totally set on defecting against you and nothing can ever change their mind, don’t be a bloody idiot about it.

        • Garrett says:

          nothing can ever change their mind

          How do you make that determination? I suspect part of the rhetorical problem is that everybody is convinced that the other side can’t change the mind of the other person, and that the other person is evil. At that point all weapons are justified. It seems like your claim here suffers from the same problem that many political arguments revolve over, namely nebulous predictions about the future in which it’s impossible to run true blinded, repeat tests to see what the truth actually is.

          • Enkidum says:

            “It seems like your claim here suffers from the same problem that many political arguments basically all disagreements about taking any action of any kind, ever, revolve over, namely nebulous predictions about the future in which it’s impossible to run true blinded, repeat tests to see what the truth actually is.”

            FTFY. Yes, you can’t tell for certain if your opponent is arguing in bad faith. But there can be a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence. Where you draw the line is a personal and contextual issue.

        • zaogao says:

          Helping society to break out out of defect-defect is one role of saints, who are “bloody idiots” in many ways. To quote William James from Variety of Religious Experiences at length:

          “Momentarily considered, then, the saint may waste his tenderness and be the dupe and victim of his charitable fever, but the general function of his charity in social evolution is vital and essential. If things are ever to move upward, some one must be ready to take the first step, and assume the risk of it. No one who is not willing to try charity, to try non-resistance as the saint is always willing, can tell whether these methods will or will not succeed. When they do succeed, they are far more powerfully successful than force or worldly prudence. Force destroys enemies; and the best that can be said of prudence is that it keeps what we already have in safety. But non-resistance, when successful, turns enemies into friends; and charity regenerates its objects. These saintly methods are, as I said, creative energies; and genuine saints find in the elevated excitement with which their faith endows them an authority and impressiveness which makes them irresistible in situations where men of shallower nature cannot get on at all without the use of worldly prudence. This practical proof that worldly wisdom may be safely transcended is the saint’s magic gift to mankind. Not only does his vision of a better world console us for the generally prevailing prose and barrenness; but even when on the whole we have to confess him ill adapted, he makes some converts, and the environment gets better for his ministry. He is an effective ferment of goodness, a slow transmuter of the earthly into a more heavenly order”

          Consider also the irrationality in “turn the other cheek” of Christianity, or the bizarre success of non-violent protest in India and in the US civil rights era. Allowing yourself to be pummeled by water cannons or savaged by dogs as you march stoically has its own type of asymmetric power, and in the Civil Rights era video of people marching, accepting and receiving violence that would be done to them changed more minds than logical argument or emotional rhetoric.

          “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
          “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
          And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
          And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”

          Romans could force Jews to carry their heavy packs for up to a mile, and Jesus is recommending to subject yourself to even more punishment while helping your opponent. This breaks the game theory matrix from just cooperate-defect to cooperate-defect-love, when you choose love you do worse and your opponent better, it is strictly dominated by defect in terms of immediate payoff. But in human reality, it actually does change the opponents beliefs/strategy.

          Incidentally I see a lot in common between you and William James in that you are both attentive, gentle, and most importantly, incredibly human. I highly recommend his work which is all free
          https://www.amazon.com/Varieties-Religious-Experience-Study-Nature-ebook/dp/B0082Z598S/ref=sr_1_5_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490458704&sr=1-5&keywords=varieties+of+religious+experiences

  23. martinw says:

    The two articles which the post starts out with, are part of a worrying trend I’m seeing more often lately: “the gloves are coming off” rhetoric. Where the authors are basically granting themselves permission to stop even pretending to stick to the rules of normal civilized debate as described by Scott. All is fair in love and war, and apparently we are at war now.

    Imagine a vicious pit-fight between two barbarians desperately trying to murder each other. There’s scratching, eye-gouging, hitting below the belt, and everything else you can think of. Then, one of them stands up and announces “well, until now I’ve been fighting according to the Marquess of Queensberry rules, but because my opponent is using these unfair tactics, I have no choice but to lower myself to his level. From now on, I am going to fight dirty!”

    • Christopher Hazell says:

      What worries me is that it’s mostly coming from my liberal American friends. Basically, Trump’s election somehow proved that… I guess everybody described as right-wing? It’s actually really hard to get a clear definition of who the enemy is- Anyway, we now know the enemy is so irrational, so destructive, so terrifying, that we can no longer treat them as civilized human beings, and must dedicate ourselves to their complete marginalization or destruction by any means whatsoever.

      I think that’s bug-fuck crazy and just as frightening as all the white power alt-right bullshit percolating around in the American right wing right now.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        I’ve seen people making that claim for about as long as I’ve been following politics, and I’m about to turn 60. For all the chest-thumping, their actual tactics never seem to change much. It’s an excuse for losing, masquerading as a call to arms.

        • ChetC3 says:

          I haven’t followed politics for that long, but this sounds accurate to me, too.

        • wintermute92 says:

          I think this misses some serious issues. Sure, people said the gloves were coming off after 1992, and 2000, and 2008, and…

          First, they sort of have. It’s increasingly clear that a lot of our political system was dependent on courtesy and social consensus, which has increasingly collapsed. I can’t say exactly when it started, though Gingrich makes an easy reference point. Certainly things were screwed by the time McConnell talked about his “number one priority”. (There’s some interesting theorizing about the change being when Congressmen moved from living in DC with colleagues to living in their states and commuting.) The filibuster wouldn’t be applied constantly, the filibuster wouldn’t be destroyed in retribution, appointees would be voted on in a timely fashion, recess appointments wouldn’t be abused in response, etc.

          So I think the actual tactics have changed over time in halls of power, and we’re watching the slow-motion death of government-by-consensus. Not a national change, but…

          Second, this time looks different. In 2004, I saw Democrats talk about “getting tough” and “serious resistance”. This time? I see them making exceedingly specific threats. I see people talking about ostracizing friends and family who voted for Trump. Talking about how open Trump voters should be fired, and they’ll help make that happen. Talking about how violence is now acceptable, not just against Nazis but conservatives and moderates and people who speak up against violence. (If there’s any reliable sign to run and hide, “let’s hurt people who oppose hurting people” has to be it.)

          And, yes, I see actual fascists and racists saying “now is our time”, acting openly in a way they haven’t in years. But thanks to my circles, I see a lot less of that than progressives and leftists deciding that open war is now the way to go.

          I’m scared. Not for myself, but for the country. The “get tough” claim is nothing new, but it’s been steadily eroding norms of political decency, and I think we’re seeing the payoff. If we’re lucky, we’ll replay the ’50s with paranoia and blacklists. If we’re not, well…

          • The Nybbler says:

            I see people talking about ostracizing friends and family who voted for Trump. Talking about how open Trump voters should be fired, and they’ll help make that happen. Talking about how violence is now acceptable, not just against Nazis but conservatives and moderates and people who speak up against violence.

            And the fact is, they can’t reach most of Trump’s core that way; they aren’t in the same areas, largely, neither literally nor figuratively. They can only reach moderates and libertarians and the few out-of-place Trump supporters in their midst. And those who wade in to show the flag. And what does this do? Every time they attack, they drive those others away. Sometimes I want to grab these people, shake them and say “HOW BAD CAN YOU BE, THAT YOU MAKE THROWING ONE’S LOT IN WITH RICHARD SPENCER AND VOX DAY LOOK BETTER THAN DEALING WITH YOU?”

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “Government-by-consensus” prettifies the old status quo a bit too much, I think. The stuff I hear about Trump now is strikingly similar in tone to what I remember hearing about Reagan back in the day. And you yourself mention the 1950s. (I was pretty alarmed by the Eich affair when it happened and it looked like a harbinger of a new blacklist era; now, it looks more like a one-off.) And I doubt there’s been any period in US history, since the Era of Good Feelings, when anyone should have been surprised to hear the leader of the party that lost the Presidential election declare his resolve to win the next one.

            The appointments situation is the one thing I agree is definitely getting worse, but that might just be a rational, if undesirable, response to higher stakes: the judiciary and the administrative state have more power over us than they used to, and deciding who gets to run them is a bigger prize.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        What worries me is that it’s mostly coming from my liberal American friends. Basically, Trump’s election somehow proved that… I guess everybody described as right-wing? It’s actually really hard to get a clear definition of who the enemy is- Anyway, we now know the enemy is so irrational, so destructive, so terrifying, that we can no longer treat them as civilized human beings, and must dedicate ourselves to their complete marginalization or destruction by any means whatsoever.

        I’ve definitely noticed this trend. On the left, a common reaction to Trump’s victory seems to be, “Well, clearly we were too soft on dissenters. We didn’t do enough shaming and yelling. We need to get really tough on these people now!” “These people” meaning not just conservatives, but moderates and anyone who doesn’t completely buy into their rhetoric…which has made things tricky for me, because most members of my social circle are liberal, and since November, many of them have become really difficult to be around.

        Which is very frustrating to me, even if it’s mostly a change in tone rather than tactics (though it seems like actual violence has increased too). Because I don’t like Trump either…for one thing because I just don’t get the impression he really knows what he’s doing, at all, which is kind of scary. And for another because he seems in many ways like the embodiment of angry, divisive identity politics, albeit of the right-wing variety. I think many people’s resentment toward the angry zealotry of the SJ world gave him a big boost, because in a climate of anxiety and mind-smothering political correctness, someone who comes along and says outrageous, offensive things feels like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I’m sure that’s not the only reason people voted for Trump, but “he sticks it to the SJWs” seems to be a not insignificant factor.

        And now most people on the left seem to think the cure is more identity politics, more anger, more divisiveness, etc. And round and round we go.

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          Is that the most common reaction, though? I’ve seen plenty of American leftists being worried that shaming people for voting Trump etc. is actually a bad idea and shouldn’t been done. Or is it just a reaction that you find so disagreeable that you’re more prone to noticing it than the other reactions?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, if you distinguish leftists and liberals, the leftists are way more likely to be saying that. I’ve seen people I know who definitely fall on the “liberal” side of the spectrum saying that the problem the “remain” side had in Brexit was too much respect for the “leave” side, doubling down on calling right-wing populists Nazis, etc.

          • liskantope says:

            I’ve seen a good mix of both, occasionally from the same individuals. The American Left is pretty bewildered and confused right now…

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “Well, if you distinguish leftists and liberals, the leftists are way more likely to be saying that. I’ve seen people I know who definitely fall on the “liberal” side of the spectrum saying that the problem the “remain” side had in Brexit was too much respect for the “leave” side, doubling down on calling right-wing populists Nazis, etc.”

            That just gives more reason to always separate the liberals and leftists from each other in this rhetoric.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @Tatu

            I’m sure this reaction isn’t uniform throughout all liberals, and I’ve also seen a fair number of think-pieces about how liberals can better reach Trump voters, but the reaction (at least on social media) tends to be outrage that anyone would consider treating Trump-voters with anything other than scorn. This could be a bias of social media though, since platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, etc. tend to lend themselves to echo chamber effects and create increasingly angry and extreme people on both ends.

            Which is one of the reasons I’ve been cutting social media out of my life since the election (with a few exceptions). I mean, if you’re looking at the response on Tumblr you’re probably not getting an accurate picture of the general population, and it does help to remember that. But still, the people on the Internet are real people expressing their actual opinions, so they are at least a significant segment of the populace.

          • wintermute92 says:

            I mean, all I can really offer is anecdote. But for me, I’ve seen ~5 people I know fairly well come to the “shaming is bad” conclusion, and ~40 come to the “burn the traitors” conclusion.

            An easy litmus test is whether someone considers every vote for Johnson a vote ‘stolen’ from Clinton – something I saw a lot of with people saying “if Clinton got all the third party votes she would have won!” Since a lot of Johnson voters had a fallback of Trump, I’m suspicious of people who see any and all disagreement as a failure to toe the liberal line. (More obviously, “unfriend me if you like Trump” is a pretty easy test.)

            I really do think doubling down has been a far more common response than increasing kindness. Even the people who are introspecting about campaign mistakes seem to be mixing it with increased aggression.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Hyzenthlay:

          Number one, we are dealing with humans, not actual rational agents.

          Number two, from the perspective of people on the left, the conservatives have been pushing bellicose white identitarian politics for quite a long time, and seem to win with it.

          The natural reaction is to push your own brand of bellicose identitarian politics. This is especially true immediately after a big loss.

          You can’t (well, not and have me take you seriously) argue that the victory of Trump is a victory for nuance and understanding. Despite Scott arguing against the weakest argument, it’s very hard to argue that Trump didn’t have a nativist, xenophobic, populous message with an authoritarian overtone.

          So, one natural reaction, when someone throws a swing at you, is to simply swing back.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Number two, from the perspective of people on the left, the conservatives have been pushing bellicose white identitarian politics for quite a long time, and seem to win with it.

            Huh? In pretty much every centre-right party, being accused of racism is a sure-fire career-ender (or was, until Trump came along). If the left really think that the Republicans have been pushing white identity politics they really are paranoid.

          • Iain says:

            Claims I frequently see on SSC:
            1. Accusations of racism are career-ending.
            2. The Democrats accuse every Republican of being a racist regardless of evidence.
            Given the continued existence of Republican politicians in elected office, these claims can’t both be true.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Yep. I said as much outright: Trump is all about angry identity politics. Though, as Scott said, it was one of those elections that could have gone either way depending on the weather and various random factors, and the majority of people voted for Hillary, so I wouldn’t read his win as “being angry and authoritarian just works better in general.” I mean, it doesn’t not work, because he got farther than anyone expected him to, but he’s already looking at very high unfavorability ratings, and plenty of conservatives have been deeply uncomfortable with Trump from the beginning.

            My whole point was that I find it troubling that the lesson that some people on the left are taking from this is “we should be more like Trump.” Yes, it’s a natural human reaction and a predictable response to feeling like one’s values are under threat, but it ultimately just makes things worse and perpetuates a cycle that isn’t good for anyone.

            I mean, that cycle is the reason Trump happened in the first place, or at least that’s how it looks from where I’m standing–his voters (at least some of them) felt that they were “swinging back” against the repressive identity politics of the left by pushing their own brand of repressive identity politics.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Given the continued existence of Republican politicians in elected office, these claims can’t both be true.

            I would say that it was once true, but a byproduct of accusing any and everyone of being a racist and/or fascist is that they’ve bread a polity of antibiotic resistant bacteria accusation resistant republicans, hence the “crying wolf” metaphor.

            @ Hyzenthlay
            Agreed on all counts.

          • Deiseach says:

            1. Accusations of racism are career-ending.
            2. The Democrats accuse every Republican of being a racist regardless of evidence.
            Given the continued existence of Republican politicians in elected office, these claims can’t both be true.

            2 depends on the voters; those who vote for Republican Bob Smith and not for Democrat Bill Jones plainly don’t believe the claims because it’s the Democrats making them and we’ve come to expect mud-flinging in a political campaign. If Republican Joe Brown makes the same claims about Smith, it’s a different matter; Brown may have more credibility.

            When it’s Bob Smith, university lecturer or Bob Smith, middle manager at Wilsons’ Widgets Company, it’s different again, that can’t be so easily put down to “my rivals are making up lies about me” (even if it’s true that Jim Green who was passed over for promotion in favour of Smith is making up the accusation) and since universities and companies are a lot more nervous about and sensitive to bad publicity, it’s likely Smith is in more danger of getting the boot.

            Look at the Yale university lecturer who resigned over an email about Hallowe’en costumes. Yes, that was in a particular bubble and she jumped before she was pushed, and presumably she is in a new job, but it certainly didn’t help her career and will probably hang around her neck every time she has to explain “and why exactly did you quit your job with Yale?”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Claims I frequently see on SSC:
            1. Accusations of racism are career-ending.
            2. The Democrats accuse every Republican of being a racist regardless of evidence.
            Given the continued existence of Republican politicians in elected office, these claims can’t both be true.

            I don’t think I, personally, have ever claimed (2), but regardless I’ll clarify that when I said “being accused of racism is a sure-fire career-ender” I was referring to at least moderately credible accusations of racism. Some random Democrat hack saying “Senator Smith is part of the Republican Party, clearly he hates black people!” wouldn’t be moderately credible; a recording turning up of Senator Smith referring to “work-shy negroes” would be credible, and would almost certainly result in Smith’s colleagues frantically distancing themselves from the remarks and Smith himself either resigning or at the very least losing any prospect of promotion within the party.

          • cassander says:

            @Iain says:

            1. Accusations of racism are career-ending.
            2. The Democrats accuse every Republican of being a racist regardless of evidence.
            Given the continued existence of Republican politicians in elected office, these claims can’t both be true.

            2 is indisputably true. One requires more nuance. Accusations of racism that stick are highly damaging.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            One writer – who, from a quick googling, does not appear to be holding any particular position in the Democratic Party – makes the claim “indisputably true”? Whahuh?

          • cassander says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            Feel free to name a prominent republican who you feel hasn’t been accused of racism if you want to disprove the claim.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Yes, you will probably find some instance of every prominent Republican being accused of racism at some point. As well as every prominent Democrat. And every prominent person in general. That still doesn’t mean that “the Democrats”, as a group, are doing that. (What, are these supposed to be official party statements of racisthood or something?)

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @Christopher Hazell
          we can no longer treat them as civilized human beings, and must dedicate ourselves to their complete marginalization or destruction

          Applied to individuals, this is not new. Sarah Palin, Gore, Quale, Goldwater … their names became ‘boo signals’ as stupid, dorkish, not really a normal human. It probably goes further back, too.

    • sohois says:

      Moloch strikes again.

      It would be great if opposing ‘sides’ tried to be respectful, prioritized the good of everyone instead of themselves, and generally debated in the style outlined by this post.

      But if one side can betray ideals of niceness and respect, and still benefit from this, then the other has no choice but to stop cooperating as well or lose continually.

      • But if one side can betray ideals of niceness and respect, and still benefit from this, then the other has no choice but to stop cooperating as well or lose continually.

        That side can do both, as I think Scott already implied. Some people on that side make persuasive, one-sided, demagogic arguments for their position. Other people on that side try to find people on the other side who can engage in reasoned discussion and reason with them.

    • wintermute92 says:

      I agree, and I love the metaphor. The thing that scares me most is that they might mean it. That is, it’s not just someone who fights dirty deciding to fight even dirtier – it’s someone who’s been using bar-fight tactics for years genuinely believing those were the Queensberry rules.

      I think the right has been playing dirty for years, and largely knows it. (Though I keep meeting people who think Obama was unwilling to compromise with Congress instead of the reverse…) I think a lot of the left hasn’t even noticed that they’re fighting dirty with public shaming and media hit pieces and all the rest, and I really don’t want to see step two.

  24. 27chaos says:

    I don’t agree that the process and outcome you describe are inevitable. If they were, this would have happened already.

    I think this essay overstates the degree to which certain tactics are symmetrically neutral with respect to truth, and understates the degree to which reasoned debate is asymmetrical with respect to truth.

    First, I think most attempts at reasoned debate will fall short of the ideal you establish and so systematically err towards certain positions. This is not symmetric with respect to the truth, although it might be symmetric with respect to political parties. For example, anti-consequentialism and reasoning based on emotive appeal are very popular arguments.

    Second, I think that things like violence and persuasion genuinely will tend to be significantly asymmetrical with respect to the truth, especially in the medium to short run of people’s lifespans, which is what matters. You acknowledge that you’re willing to pick up a gun and shoot Stalin if you happen to have a gun, and I expect most other people feel similarly. This drastically undermines the incentive for people who can win decisively by other means to participate in reasoned debate. One thing to note is that reasoned debate is often somewhat mutually exclusive with other approaches – you can’t have meaningful interpersonal dialogue with someone you tried to murder last week. You won’t be trusted as a neutral and fair truth-seeker if you have a history of making fallacious persuasive appeals. It’s hard to argue that someone is evil and shouldn’t be engaged with, then go out and engage with them.

    Additionally, I think a lot of people have an implicit belief that the long term will take care of itself due to things like evolution or science or economic forces. This means that they don’t feel any personal responsibility for arguing in a responsible way that preserves the possibility long term improvement through discourse.

    I’m getting hints of the just-world fallacy throughout the essay. One problem with this essay is that you assume it’s in people’s self-interest to pursue the truth, on average. What if I think that the average person is better served by adhering to selfish ignorance than by truth-seeking?

    In essence, I agree that this idea is beautiful, but I think you’re trying to rationalize a story that lets you continue to believe in that beauty rather than despair at how far away it is.

    Personally, I’m starting to entertain the notion that maybe I shouldn’t shoot Stalin, even though that’s likely a losing strategy, because I’m so attached to the beauty of reasoned disagreement resulting in incemental progress. But I think I’m wrong to feel this way, although it brings me a greater sense of personal fulfillment.

    This whole comment is probably very confused. Almost all of your essay I strongly agree with, yet I feel a sense of pessimism and despair about the status quo and future, and think your optimism is unwarranted, although I’m struggling to articulate the reasons why.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “I don’t agree that the process and outcome you describe are inevitable. If they were, this would have happened already.”

      Hasn’t it? What else would you call the fact that most people now agree smoking is bad for you, or people evolved from monkeys, or segregation is wrong?

      • 27chaos says:

        I don’t think those changes were caused by an improvement in public discourse or a more rational public. Most people aren’t capable of articulating the reasons that evolution is true, or even the reasons that segregation is wrong. I guess I’m inclined to view these changes as stemming from social engineering carried out by a small group of experts who bothered to figure out the truth.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m not against that. I don’t think everyone will ever be able to personally understand every scientific fact. The process that seems to have happened is that experts sorted things out among themselves, convinced other elites, and the elites convinced the public. Arguments from authority are totally allowed. The problem is making sure everyone agrees on which experts to trust, and making sure everybody has a well-ordered chain of trusting someone who trusts someone who […] who figured it out for themselves.

          • danarmak says:

            Do you think truth-seeking experts have an advantage in convincing elites of the truth, over other rich, powerful, or just plain wrong people trying to convince them of wrong things, or of things that benefit them at the expense of others?

            If elites are convinced using actual Truth, they’re experts in their own right. But if they’re a separate group, as seems to be the case, then experts don’t necessarily have an assymetric advantage.

            Unless you assume that elites are inherently smarter and more receptive to the truth than the broad public, and so serve as a useful amplifier, better than experts trying to convince the public directly. I would like to believe that’s true sometimes…

          • 27chaos says:

            I worry that I’m not communicating how beautiful and inevitable all of this is. We’re surrounded by a a vast confusion, “a darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night”, with one side or another making a temporary advance and then falling back in turn. And in the middle of all of it, there’s this gradual capacity-building going on, where what starts off as a hopelessly weak signal gradually builds up strength, until one army starts winning a little more often than chance, then a lot more often, and finally takes the field entirely. Which seems strange, because surely you can’t build any complex signal-detection machinery in the middle of all the chaos, surely you’d be shot the moment you left the trenches, but – your enemies are helping you do it. Both sides are diverting their artillery from the relevant areas, pooling their resources, helping bring supplies to the engineers, because until the very end they think it’s going to ensure their final victory and not yours.

            I interpreted this paragraph as a claim that the number of people committed to truth-seeking would increase over time, as more people came to realize the usefulness of truth-seeking as a political strategy. I see now that there is another way to read it.

        • I don’t think those changes were caused by an improvement in public discourse or a more rational public. Most people aren’t capable of articulating the reasons that evolution is true, or even the reasons that segregation is wrong

          The second sentence doesn’t really contradict the first. If you can shift from 48/52 to 52/48 by convincing opinion leades, others will follow. The nett result is a lot of people who believe X without being able to articulate why, but the process was triggered by rational persuasion of a few.

          cf Norm cascades:

          “So how does that sort of cultural change happen? Well, it often occurs via reasoned, top-down legislation and time. For example, Andrew Hammel traced the disappearance of capital punishment from Western civilization in his book “Ending the Death Penalty”, even including the trend towards abolishing it even in the one holdout: the U.S. It didn’t happen by growing popularity or random shifts. It happened by a “norm cascade” that goes like this: (1) Intellectuals continually formed well-reasoned arguments that eventually convinced pundits, policy makers, and legislatures. (2) After time passes, people and the press get bored of the change. (3) Politicians eventually realize it isn’t a vote-getter anymore. (4) Eventually nobody wants to re-open the issue. (5) People get used to it and favour the status quo. (6) Remaining resistance gets outcast as radical fringe groups, and whose extremism only serves to cement the new consensus. Similar norm cascades happened with bigotry, racial segregation, criminalizing homosexuality, women in the workplace, and so on. If we are to ever change the U.S. gun culture, gun control laws will be a necessary step regardless of the nitpicking of ways around them. Laws can, and do, change culture.”
          Found on
          https://richarddawkins.net/2013/01/sam-harris-neglects-the-most-important-evidence-about-guns/

          • Civilis says:

            On the other hand, every so often you get the case where elite opinion moves one direction and a significant percentage of the population doesn’t follow. Norm cascades didn’t happen for alcohol prohibition, gun control, open borders or free trade, and seem to be breaking down and reversing for unrestricted abortion and marijuana prohibition.

          • 27chaos says:

            I don’t think that law is very able to change norms. Dawkins doesn’t do any work showing that the change in law, specifically, is what’s important to this process. In the case of homosexuality, which I’m more familiar with, I think the change in norms actually happened faster than the change in law.

          • I agree that norm cascades aren’t inevitable. There are important side conditions, such as the change occurring and the sky not falling in. Sometimes the sky does fall in.

      • Space Viking says:

        Hasn’t it? What else would you call the fact that most people now agree smoking is bad for you, or people evolved from monkeys, or segregation is wrong?

        Social status considerations. This is why winning the culture war is important.

      • reasoned argumentation says:

        Hasn’t it? What else would you call the fact that most people now agree smoking is bad for you

        Yep, lots less lung cancer and heart disease these days.

        or people evolved from monkeys

        Yep.

        or segregation is wrong?

        and yet – strangely – everyone agrees with this yet at the same time they pay a huge premium to live in segregated areas. Revealed preferences and all that. Maybe it relates to this:

        Right now antifascists outnumber fascists and so could probably beat them in a fight, but antifascists didn’t come to outnumber fascists by winning some kind of primordial fistfight between the two sides. They came to outnumber fascists because people rejected fascism on the merits.

        and how there actually was a fistfight that one side with strange and untrue views won (including the view that everyone who disagrees with their premises is a fascist).

        • or segregation is wrong?

          and yet – strangely – everyone agrees with this yet at the same time they pay a huge premium to live in segregated areas.

          Well, maybe they think enforced segragation is bad, and voluntary segregation isn’t.

      • keranih says:

        I would call “the fact that most people now agree [] people evolved from monkeys” quite a bad thing, given that the going theory is that humans and all of the apes are co-heirs of a common ancestor which ain’t about no more.

        Plus, as said above/elsewhere, most people don’t “believe in evolution” because they have rationally worked through the evidence, they believe it because they read it in an authoritative book and got mocked as stupid and evil if they expressed doubts. (This is pretty much the same as the pre-Darwinian era, too, just with a different answer.)

        Also, people are, right now taking the “smoking is bad for you” conclusion and using it to support “vaping is horrible and bad!” – to the point of threatening to collapse the manufacturers of the only equipment that has successfully gotten my family and friends off cigarettes.

        “Segregation is wrong” is…not a well tested hypothesis. The “lived experience” of the people who most support this doctrine seems to suggest otherwise. At the very minimum, I think we should separate those things which we feel are correct, and which we have seen evidence to show that are correct.

        • Jiro says:

          I would call “the fact that most people now agree [] people evolved from monkeys” quite a bad thing, given that the going theory is that humans and all of the apes are co-heirs of a common ancestor which ain’t about no more.

          If the common ancestor walked down the street, you’d call it a monkey.

          This is just needless pedantry.

          • keranih says:

            As the common ancestor most closely resembles a possom, (and would far more likely scuttle than walk) I think that “needless pedantry” is overstating it just a hair.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That possum-thing is the most recent common ancestor of all primates, not of humans and apes. The most recent common ancestor of humans and modern apes is (or at least the palaeontological consensus last time I checked was that it is) a now-extinct kind of ape, which in turn (according to the evolutionary tree you provided) evolved from “early monkeys”. So yes, “people evolved from monkeys” is quite true, if you go back far enough.

          • keranih says:

            The arguement was “humans evolved from monkeys” – which they didn’t, esp when you look at the closest cousins as your ‘monkeys’ of choice. And that we’re even having this argument proves my point, I think. (*) Which is that “humans evolved from monkees” is a shibboleth, not a fact, and certainly not evidence that the population is more rationally inclined than previous generations.

            I think there is evidence that we are more rationally inclined, but wide spread acceptance of evolution isn’t part of it.

            (*) But I would think think that, would I not?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I agree that widespread acceptance of evolution isn’t a sign that people are more rational, but I think your argument would be stronger if you stopped quibbling over the statement “Humans evolved from monkeys”.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Apes are a subset of monkeys; it’s time to just accept this as a linguistic fact. (That monkeys are a subset of primates more generally is not something that’s widely known, I think. Certainly it wasn’t known by me.)

          • keranih says:

            That monkeys are a subset of primates is something that was not known by me.

            And this is my point. That people can parrot “humans are descended from monkeys” just means that they can memorize (populist paraphrases of) things they were taught in school. It doesn’t mean that they understand the concept of evolutionary gene shifts(*), or what is the current concept of relationships between the various species of organisms(**), or even how we-scientists have studied and weighed different sets of evidence about those relationships, or even how both emotion and evidence have been at play throughout the history of natural science.

            Missing the part where humans are a part of a wide group of organisms who all differ from the no-longer-existent ancestor means, imo, that the average person has a concept of surety in scientific knowledge that isn’t *there*, and that assumption of surety is just as false as the surety that God created the world at 1147(EDT) on a cloudy Thursday.

            It’s just another way to say “hah, hah, we is smrt peps, not like them dumb bible-thumpers who don’t know they are descended from chimps.”

            (*) And now we have increasing confidence in epigenetics, and I’m over here laughing my butt off because lo! and behold! it turns out maybe the baby giraffe *does* have a longer neck because momma giraffe stretched her neck further to get to a leaf.

            (**) The torrent of classification reshuffling due to data from genetic sequencing has slowed to a trickle, finally, but I expect some other form of measuring kinship to be developed eventually, and then we’ll do this all over again.

          • random832 says:

            And this is my point. That people can parrot “humans are descended from monkeys” just means that they can memorize (populist paraphrases of) things they were taught in school. It doesn’t mean that they understand the concept of evolutionary gene shifts(*), or what is the current concept of relationships between the various species of organisms(**),

            But someone who understands all of these things can still call apes monkeys, because they reject the notion that science (and cladistic taxonomy in particular) has the right to dictate the definition of words.

      • danarmak says:

        > What else would you call the fact that most people now agree smoking is bad for you, or people evolved from monkeys, or segregation is wrong?

        Let me play devil’s advocate for a bit. I don’t think the below is the one right answer, but I do think it should be given more credit than you seem to.

        Yes, we know a great many more facts than before, and most people know and accept many such facts. But mostly these are facts with no bearing on their day to day lives, like evolution, or the Earth orbiting the Sun. For the great majority of people, belief in such facts acts as a marker of social allegiance or status, and isn’t actionable on the object-level.

        Separately, we have moral claims, like that segregation or slavery is wrong. But it’s a tautology that at any point in time, most people think that the mainstream morals of their times are right. Any change in morals over time inevitably looks as a directed process, gradually approaching your current position. But in fact it could be a random walk and you wouldn’t be able to tell.

        And a third and final group of beliefs is both objective/factual and actionable, like that smoking is bad for you. But such beliefs are a small minority compared to inconsequential ones. And for every common belief that is true and beneficial, like that smoking is harmful (which I suppose most smokers now accept), there’s a common belief that is wrong and harmful, like that sending kids to public school for 12 years is a good idea.

        • Mary says:

          smoking is harmful (which I suppose most smokers now accept),

          Most smokers overestimate how harmful smoking is to them.

  25. Christopher Hazell says:

    It’s interesting, to live in times that are seen as so polarized despite the fact that people agree on so many fundamental things.

    Like… all my liberal friends were posting various ways in which we could pester our congresspeople about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the attitude, before the election, was that it was going to be a long, difficult slog to just prevent it from being fast tracked.

    And then Trump got elected and just kicked that sandcastle the hell over.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that I like Trump, or think he is a good President, or a moral person, but…

    All those Trump voters very, very decisively accomplished something that my Liberal pals support.

    So there’s common ground on some goals, right? AND evidence that those crazy Trump voters can actually do something meaningful to help accomplish those shared goals.

    I think about this in terms of racism. In my dad’s day, which is to say, in living memory, a politician could actively campaign for segregation.

    Now, barring a few crackpots and scumbags, the argument isn’t between people who say they want a world where black and white people are unequal and people who think they should be equal under the law, the argument is about what strategy is better for creating that equality.

    And despite the argument being about means rather than ends, it is seen as impossibly intractable.

    It’s like we’ve never been more divided while being less divided.

    • DavidS says:

      Is the TTIP thing a fundamental agreement though or is it people reaching same conclusion by different means?

      I think some of this is definitional in that I thought people defended segregation.as equal – separate but equal. There is agreement on a lot but it’s hard to tell how deep it is in many cases. The ground occupied by major political parties and the overton window can both exclude majority positions. E.g. in the UK polls show high support for just stopping immigration but even ukip are far from that position. Though this may be s case of people answering polls symbolically more than literally

  26. Sniffnoy says:

    <applause>

    I do have to wonder what to do about political parties, though. (As in, the politicians, the organized entities. Not the voters.) Those basically just seem like hostile entities in the epistemic environment.

    • DavidS says:

      I think they serve a different role. You need parties for accountability mostly. If people just voted in independents there’s less repercussion if they change position or just as important do things that look virtuous but fail. Voters punishing parties that screwed things up gives an incentive to not do so even if impact is delayed

    • yodelyak says:

      A lot of the worst aspects of parties seem to me to stem from the game-theoretic implications of first-past-the-post winner-take-all elections, such as that they create barriers to entry of new parties and tend to enshrine top-down hierarchical control in existing dominant ones. Parliamentary democracies tend to be longer-lived than presidential ones (so let’s ditch winner-take-all in the U.S., maybe). IRV might be more friendly to third-parties and loose coalitions of like-minded people rather than top-down propagation of shibboleths and enforcement of orthodoxy. So let’s watch and see how that works out in Maine.

      Parties qua communities with specific interests aren’t going anywhere, and have many good roles, including the “lumps of butter” theory in Coase’s economic paper The Nature of the Firm (1937). They reduce transaction costs for people looking to get involved in policy advocacy & etc.

  27. av says:

    Sorry for the very long comment.

    I think people discussing presidential candidates with others, with the hope of persuading them, are asking for trouble in the way everyone talks about it. A vote for president is basically extremely lossy compression of a person’s opinions on a wide range of topics. When you attempt to persuade someone with facts or propaganda—I’m sorry, “human interest pieces”—you are essentially trying to reconstruct their opinions by decompressing their intended vote, which contains at best by analogy only two or three bits of information. You think you know more about a person’s opinions because they’re a Trump supporter, which is already wrong, but then you also think you know why they have these opinions. But they had these opinions already, thenchose Trump. You’re pushing up a rope.

    The entire endeavor is undermined by the idea that there aren’t any uninterpreted expression of facts. While you get all socratic and ask questions to try to find that angle which might be persuasive, they’re doing the same thing to you, and your probing is causing them to have a picture of your political opinions in the same way, leading them to construct a hypothesis not just about your opinions but why you’re making the particular argument you’re making, and in doing so will adapt their own responses to your arguments in that frame not necessarily to beat your argument but to beat the opinion they perceive you have.

    For instance, climate change is a much-loved fact-based argument. Maybe they think it’s not even science. Maybe they think it is science, but not human-caused. Maybe they think it is science and human caused but they don’t think the net global impact would justify the cost of fighting it. Maybe they just don’t care about the topic. The person you’re talking to isn’t a stimulus-response machine, their responses are based on their interpretation of the line of conversation you’re trying to lead, so they are likely to respond based on that conversation and not merely some kind of pre-reflective raw opinion. And even if they don’t care about climate change, it’s clear you do (in this hypothetical) and maybe they express arguments and opinions under that guise, so you’re misled, and end up thinking the whole thing is pointless. “They’re so dumb!” They don’t even care, they were humoring you. Reverse strawman?

    “Pick a number.”
    “Three.”
    “Wrong.”

    People had opinions before they supported Trump, they perceive Trump to be aligned with those opinions more or less, and arguing any particular thing in the context of Trump is not even aiming at the right target.

    “What did Trump say that you liked?”
    “X.”
    “Wrong.”

    They didn’t like the sequence of characters, they liked the sense of the thing, they already liked the sense of the thing, Trump saying something wrong is totally besides the point because he’s saying something they like. Trump isn’t teaching them, he’s aligning with them. For instance they know Hillary wiped her data, it doesn’t matter that Trump said “acid washed” when the program was called “bleachbit” it’s utterly beside the point. It isn’t that facts are unpersuasive and don’t matter, it’s that the facts have to be interpreted in some framework and Trump failing to correctly say “bleachbit” is so beside the point in many of those frameworks. And if you think this kind of fact-checking is substantially different from anti-vax or climate change you’re still in some weird world where the Trump supporter is a blank slate Trump fills up with tweets. Not only aren’t they, eeven if they were you anyway cannot argue with Trump through them, but that’s inevitably what’s being aimed at with all this focus on “facts.”

    If you want a Trump supporter to stop being a Trump supporter you have to undermine the support, not Trump. That definitely can be supported with facts. Now, how to bring it up without being transparent in your aims, triggering their defenses… I don’t know the answer to this, but I’d start with breakfast.

    • mvd1959 says:

      Great comment. I voted for Trump and basically loath him. Ultimately I voted for him because I expect him to be more pro-business, less regulatory, more small government than the only other candidate who had a legitimate chance to win. As someone with a small business there was no question in my mind that his priorities are more aligned with mine than the alternative.

      It seems to me a lot of people who can’t comprehend how anybody could have voted Trump forget there were really only two choices. For me this isn’t a personality contest, and no matter however much I may prefer the personality of one candidate over the other, ultimately I’m going to vote for the one who I think is going to focus on the policies that are best for the country.

      • soreff says:

        Great comment. I voted for Trump and basically loath him. Ultimately I voted for him because I expect him to be more pro-business, less regulatory, more small government than the only other candidate who had a legitimate chance to win. As someone with a small business there was no question in my mind that his priorities are more aligned with mine than the alternative.

        Yup. I voted for Clinton and basically loathed her.

        After many American elections, the most natural victory chant is
        “Lesser Evil! Lesser Evil!” 🙂

        And I do think that Trump’s executive order to remove two regulations
        every time a new one is added is generally a good idea.
        If I could get Trump to _just_ deregulate and build or repair infrastructure
        I think he’d be harmless-to-positive…

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I know a lot of people who voted for Clinton despite loathing her, too. Large crowd there. “Lesser Evil” indeed.

          In fact, it was more interesting to me to find people who actually liked her. One friend cited her work with education for girls. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time to ask why she wasn’t recommending her for Secretary for Education and someone else as President. (To be fair, I wasn’t trying to argue with her, so I wouldn’t have asked even if I’d thought of it.)

          Meanwhile, this Lesser Evil business bodes ill. The day before the election, I posted to Facebook, suggesting that, however the vote went, and given how anxious everyone was over it, maybe we could all agree that the Oval Office should do with a lot less power going forward?

          I was disappointed by the consensus – my liberal friends basically saying, “Nope!”.

          • soreff says:

            The day before the election, I posted to Facebook, suggesting that, however the vote went, and given how anxious everyone was over it, maybe we could all agree that the Oval Office should do with a lot less power going forward?

            I was disappointed by the consensus – my liberal friends basically saying, “Nope!”.

            I agree that a less powerful presidency is prudent.
            Centralized power is dangerous. Single point of failure…

            Did they explain why they favored it?

            On a lighter note: Should “Hail to the thief” greet typical
            future presidents? 🙂

          • cassander says:

            On a lighter note: Should “Hail to the thief” greet typical
            future presidents? 🙂

            Not a bad idea, though my personal preference is for the sad trombone sound.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Did they explain why they favored it?

            I recall one sentiment along the lines of it being too late to do anything about centralized power. Meanwhile, they’ve made arguments over time that indicate a strong desire to make the nation better through government, which requires strong central power. I’ve yet to find time to make a concerted effort to find out how they reconcile making such sweeping changes in a framework where they can’t rely on the government doing what they want at all times. It’s possible that they simply haven’t thought about it that much. It may also be that they see the way forward as just making their argument to whomever will listen, by whatever means look promising (discussion, Facebook memes, letters to Congress, etc.), and hoping that people who disagree will eventually come around to their way of thinking.

          • 1soru1 says:

            I’ve yet to find time to make a concerted effort to find out how they reconcile making such sweeping changes in a framework where they can’t rely on the government doing what they want at all times.

            The standard theory on this goes by the name Progressivism; that good policies, once introduced, will prove too popular to repeal. And over time good policies will change the game so that ever-better ones become possible.

            Obamacare is providing a test case for this theory as we speak; it does seems pretty clear that if it was better, it would have been more difficult to repeal, and if worse, easier.

          • soreff says:

            cassander, Paul Brinkley,
            Many Thanks!

    • Gazeboist says:

      “What did Trump say that you liked?”
      “X.”
      “Wrong.”

      Part of the problem, I think, is that the person asking the question and the person saying your answer was wrong are often not the same person, but it can be hard to tell, and it’s certainly hard to understand on an emotional level.

      It’s the age old problem: how do you run tit-for-tat when you and your opponent occasionally misinterpret cooperation as defection, and both people occasionally *actually* defect too, but do so only accidentally, and your opponent is occasionally swapped randomly with another person who’s similar to them, and…

      (It was definitely a SSC post that framed the problem this way for me, but I don’t remember which one.)

      • LCL says:

        Part of the problem I think, is that the person asking the question and the person saying your answer was wrong are often not the same person, but it can be hard to tell, and it’s certainly hard to understand on an emotional level.

        I’ve always noticed this happening on the internet, with people getting angry for perceived tone shifts, inconsistency, or hypocrisy that really just represent their own failure to keep multiple posters straight.

        But recently I notice it happening all the time offline too. I keep ending up in these surreal discussions where the other party seems to be talking to some generalized internet commentariat instead of to me. When I’m sitting right there and neither of us is online.

        I suspect this is an advanced progression of source confusion caused by media overload, and will become increasingly common in the future.

        • Jiro says:

          On the other hand, it could be caused by a good cop/bad cop routine where the “moderates” rely on the extremists to make themselves seem reasonable and they really are working together, at least tacitly.

          • LCL says:

            If I follow correctly:

            – There is no such thing as a moderate.
            – Someone who claims to be a “moderate” is a cunning extremist playing good cop
            – Therefore discount anything that sounds moderate and reasonable

            Is holding this cluster of beliefs an attempt to inoculate yourself against reasoned argument?

        • av says:

          But recently I notice it happening all the time offline too.

          Just the other day I was having a conversation and had to say, “I’m a real person right here, I am trying to talk about this, don’t give me facebook memes.” That actually ended the conversation, such as it was.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Dunno about facebook memes, but dismissing something as a “talking point” seems unfair. The reason a campaign chose it is that it’s relevant; and it’s been fact-checked by the readers (if not by the campaign).

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        (It was definitely a SSC post that framed the problem this way for me, but I don’t remember which one.)

        I would like to know which post this was, in case anyone knows. It’s been irritating me for literally decades. You make it sound like a Prisoner Groups’ Dilemma (which is what I shall call it henceforth), but I typically just thought of it as trying to catch a group in a hypocrisy as if it were an individual, which works about as well as a rock garden rake on a jacuzzi.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Aright, so, there’s good news and there’s bad news. Bad news: despite my absurdly confident assertion that it was a SSC post, I am not actually certain of that. I remain *pretty sure* it was a Scott post, though. Good news: I think it was something I ran into while browsing the Library of Scott Alexandria, so you might want to check there, if you haven’t yet.

          There is also a small possibility that it was a random LW post that I got linked to and which wasn’t part of the Sequences, which … I hope that’s not the case? At any rate, I don’t believe it was a Yudkowski thing, and it sounds like something Scott would post about.

  28. Reasoner says:

    Someone should start a charity where they simply pay prominent right-wing and left-wing bloggers to have tightly refereed, public debates with each other. There’s little incentive for them to seriously engage one another otherwise.

    Anyway, I very strongly agree with the ideas in this post but I felt like the writing was a little weak by Scott standards. Some of the more flowery metaphors seemed unnecessary and/or disconnected with the rest of the writing. Maybe it’s just because I was skimming. But I think that’s something internet authors should account for. (I’m criticizing you because I love you Scott–feel free to ignore my thoughts.)

    • benwave says:

      I’d donate. Not 100% sure if bloogers are the best targets for the debaters, but it’s a solid concept anyway.

      One thing I’ve long been frustrated by is a certain pattern I’ve seen (in at least New Zealand politics) where one major party will make some claim, another party will present research supporting their position, the first party will reject that study, and present some other research supporting Their position instead, and repeat ad nauseum.

      I don’t wish to present rejection of the studies as bbeing necessarily a bad thing on the object level – sometimes there are quite legitimate flaws in the studies presented by both sides. But it seems to me like a lot of time and money is wasted in this process. If one could convince the parties to first agree on the methodology before the research is done, and then precommit to accept the results afterwards then we’d probably improve discourse a lot without more investment.

    • Anon. says:

      The Economist used to run that sort of thing. Based on the polls I vaguely remember that they didn’t succeed in changing people’s minds.

    • jekbradbury says:

      This was (is, ish) called BloggingHeads.tv, and the originally-self-identified-neoliberal founder Mickey Kaus is now a Trump supporter with a Breitbart column.

  29. ThirteenthLetter says:

    Yes. Absolutely. I wanted to stand up and applaud after reading this essay.

    It cannot be emphasized enough that there is no royal road to political success. You just have to talk to person after person after person, and do what you can to plant the right seeds in their minds. This is why the whole “it’s not my job to educate you” shtick is so spectacularly, astronomically, forehead-slappingly dumb: if you are trying to achieve social change, it is your job to educate me. Well, or you could put me in a concentration camp, I guess, but that’s it. Those are your two options, period, the end.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I think you’re not taking a broad enough view of the available options. For example, a potential solution is to do away with democracy, so that social change no longer has to depend on the education of the masses.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        I’d file that option under “put me in a concentration camp.”

        • drethelin says:

          Why? The vast majority of monarchies didn’t put people in concentration camps.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Ugh. It’s metaphorical.

            You can either engage with people one on one, or you can force them to go along. Whether the latter happens through the King’s men putting you in the stockade or Kim Jong Il sending you to a camp or, for that matter, internet social justice warriors making you unemployable if you have the wrong opinion really doesn’t matter; the point is that people are being forced to shut up if they won’t cooperate voluntarily.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I deffo do not like being forced to shut up, but equating it with being put in a concentration camp is going a bit far.

            And anyway, my point was that if political success is disconnected from the will of the people, we don’t even need to shut you up. You can go on saying whatever damn fool problematic thing you like. So long as the aristocracy/inner party/the people who matter aren’t listening to you, you don’t matter, so what you say doesn’t matter, and you can be permitted to say it.

          • For example, a potential solution is to do away with democracy, so that social change no longer has to depend on the education of the masses.

            to which a response was

            the point is that people are being forced to shut up if they won’t cooperate voluntarily.

            How do you get that from ending democracy? Democracy isn’t a system of voluntary cooperation–if you are outvoted you are compelled to accept what the majority chose. And democracy and freedom, including freedom of speech, are entirely different things, although it’s possible that democracy makes freedom more likely.

            You could have a democracy that forced people to shut up or a monarchy that didn’t.

          • ChetC3 says:

            > How do you get that from ending democracy?

            Your eyes do not deceive you, Emperor Voldemort really is naked.

      • Mary says:

        Impractical, since it gives the masses a strong motive to do away with you. There is no royal road to political success.

  30. szopeno says:

    I am not sure about “the same arguments which convinced you, will convince the others”. I saw many arguments which others find compelling, but which for me are absurd. I saw many arguments which seem to me the ultimate convincing machines, and yet for others they seem to be laughable. For example, a lot of people here have a liking for consequentialism, while for me it seems intuitively immoral and illogical. Seems we may be innately more prone to some arguments/”truths” than for other.

    • qwints says:

      A relevant personal anecdote, when I was younger I found a certain argument for Christianity utterly convincing, but I found that it convinced no one who wasn’t already a Christian. Eventually I decided it wasn’t a convincing argument.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I don’t think anyone changes their mind about mind, either. I sometimes suspect it’s because the other lot really are zombies…

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      This is probably somewhat tangential to your main point, but I’m curious as to why consequentialism seems “immoral and illogical” to you. I admit it gives some odd-seeming results (trolley problems), but then again so does every other moral system I’ve seen. The core tenet that “morality should be based on the (predicted) consequences of your actions” seems quite obvious to me, and I’m curious as to what I might be missing.

      • szopeno says:

        A husband cheats on his wife. His wife is happy with him and does not know. His lover is perfectly happy with the situation. If you will tell the wife about her husband cheating, will that be moral thing to do?

        Or what about another commonly known argument: if I cheat on exam and I was not caught, and I won’t tell anyone about that and no one ever find out, was that moral thing to do?

        For me, consequentialism seems to be trying to force logical rules on inherently illogical and irrational matters, and unless changed to the point it stops being different from other ethics, does regularly produce answers which for me seem immoral, or require convoluted explanations which seems to be unnecessary.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          Or what about another commonly known argument: if I cheat on exam and I was not caught, and I won’t tell anyone about that and no one ever find out, was that moral thing to do?

          the easy solution to this paradox :

          two wrongs don’t make a right

          • szopeno says:

            How this is consequentialist solution?!

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Cheating was immoral; telling is immoral.

            Now, in that specific case I quoted, and I really should’ve just quoted the other one, you’re telling on yourself so the line gets murkier. But the point still stands.

          • szopeno says:

            Cheating was immoral. Telling about that is moral not telling is immoral.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Telling is moral IMHO because it allows the aggrieved party to renegotiate his/her relationship (possibly by exit) towards Pareto Optimality (which is where all the good consequences are).

        • Protagoras says:

          It is easy to provide cases where it appears that consequentialism provides a problematic answer by selectively mentioning only some of the likely consequences of each action, or pretending that consequences are known with certainty that never actually would be. But consequentialism requires considering all the consequences, and taking into account consequences that only have a chance of happening (in proportion to their likelyhood). Realistic counterexamples which make a serious effort to take into account all the foreseeable consequences are much harder to come by (for example, neither of yours are such).

          I take it this is what you mean by saying that consequentialism “requires convoluted explanations which seem to be unnecessary,” and perhaps that is where we disagree. The world is a complicated place; so far as I can tell, no ethical theory which tries to make it simple avoids often producing unacceptable results.

        • if I cheat on exam and I was not caught, and I won’t tell anyone about that and no one ever find out, was that moral thing to do?

          No. What does your being caught have to do with it? Cheating on the exam sent a false signal to people you will deal with in the future, such as potential employers, which has, on average, bad consequences.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            More immediately, if it causes you to win a contest / job over a better rival, that is sure and direct injury to zim.

            Sending a false signal to future contacts can be corrected — by improving your knowledge of the area you cheated on, thus making the signal on record true.

          • szopeno says:

            No. Cheating is wrong because cheating is immoral, period. Finding reasons for something so obviously immoral seems to me trying to find post-factum rational excuses for something which can not be rational. Morality is not rational.

            In this particular case, however, let’s say everybody cheats. Hence, those who were not caught would be more intelligent on average than those who tried to cheat, but were caught. Hence, succesfull cheating gives employer valuable signal that you are, indeed, better than others (especially if you employer is marketing company and the exam in question was “ethics in marketing”). Hence, cheating is moral.

          • szopeno says:

            More immediately, if it causes you to win a contest / job over a better rival, that is sure and direct injury to zim.

            So what? Why assume “I cheat therefore I was worse”? What if that particular day I just decided it’s more efficient to invest time into good cheating method instead of learning?

            Indeed, why “better man lost” is bad consequence? Better man could have better outcomes for the employer, but what if better man is single, and I have a family? If he would win, the gains would be for employer and better man, but worse for me and my family. Why value more their outcomes more that mine?

            Or just assume that in fact I am a better man for the job, I was just lazy and I cheat because I could. Why the cheating would be immoral in that situation?

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            I think the morality of cheating depends on how fair the system you’re defrauding is.

            I think it’s easy to find a gray zone area in many real life exam situations. Even when you’re not trying to find excuses for your own cheating 🙂

        • It’s possible to combine consequentialism and deontology.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            I agree. One way is to use deontology for what outcomes should be, then consequentialism to bring them about.

            This can be using deontology to affirm the intuitions we have in common. (Eg, the hungry should have food; children should have care; cruelty and vile action should not happen; etc.)

          • szopeno says:

            Why yes, and the effect is much more close to the moral intuitions a lot (if not most) people have.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I suspect you’re using “consequentialism” too broadly. Some people here seem to mean it as “maximizing utility” according to any utility function associated with ones’ actions. This is not how it is generally used in philosophy and does not distinguish it from paradigmatic nonconsequentialist theories.

        • carvenvisage says:

          It’s the moral thing to do because a society in which cheaters are rewarded will fall apart, leading to catastrophe in the long run. The consequences are worse for not maintaining a good direction for society than for causing some short term suffering.

          It’s also obviously not a given that the wife will be less happy if she finds out. maybe the marriage will grow miserable with the deception in the background, maybe the husband will ‘fall in love with’ mistress, maybe wife will marry someone more loyal in the future, etc.

          That said those are two very good examples.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        For what it’s worth, I find it as morally obvious as just about anything that it is wrong to break a promise when the consequences of doing so are only very slightly better than keeping it.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      That’s because what people find “convincing” usually depends on their own pre-conceived biases, prior positions, background knowledge, willingness to re-evaluate their beliefs, etc., as it does on how sound or well the argument itself is put across.

      And by “people” I mean you guys. Obviously I’m perfectly rational and above all this silly confirmation bias. 😉

  31. John Nerst says:

    THANK YOU.

    I’ve been obsessed with this lately. People arguing that others are oh-so horribly biased while they themselves have no reason to doubt their own beliefs has become so common it makes me feel I’m taking crazy pills. It’s great that we’re becoming more aware of biases and reasoning failures, but there is something tragic and comical at once about insisting that it’s only the other side that suffers from this.

    Being “fact resistant” (or “evidence resistant” as I prefer since “fact resistant” begs the question) is perfectly normal human behavior. We reject things when we find them unconvincing, and there are many reasons to find things unconvincing. Readers of this blog know how difficult science can be to get right and how the implications of a study isn’t always very strong evidence.

    People “backfiring” when faced with evidence against their position is often held up as the height of irrationality, but it’s often a reasonable response. If you see weak arguments or weak evidence for something, you’ll form the fairly justified belief that the argument for this position is weak. Quoting myself instead of re-writing:

    People didn’t just not change their minds, but in many cases dug in their heels and became even more convinced they were right. Why would this happen? Doubling down in the face of a social threat is probably a partial explanation, but I wonder if there isn’t something else too.

    I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve become more convinced I was right after hearing arguments against my position. It’s simple: in a real-life argument your opponent will use an argument they find strong — implying all other arguments for their position is weaker. If what they say is especially unconvincing we have a rational reason to assume their whole case is weak. Specifically, if their supposedly strongest argument is even weaker than we expected we can increase confidence in our own position. If you were faced with the evidence in the death penalty example in a real argument, then ”Are you kidding? That’s the best you’ve got? Even I thought you had more than that!” would not be an unreasonable reaction.

    I’ve read arguments that eyes are too complicated to evolve and that the moon landing didn’t happen because there are no stars in the sky on pictures taken on the moon. Having such champions does not make a case look good. Christians bringing up First cause, Pascal’s Wager or something as ridiculous as Anselm’s argument has much the same effect.

    I don’t know how long it will take for people to realize that trying to badger people into agreeing with them by using “gotcha” trick questions, snide remarks or weapons-grade uncharitability, never, ever works. How come we keep doing this considering all the clear evidence available that it doesn’t work at all? Are we… evidence resistant? Do we go with our gut rather than empirical experience? Seemingly, and this is a case when “gut” fails spectacularly.

    Or maybe it’s because this type or rhetoric has other purposes than convincing the other side. It could be aimed at your own ranks, preventing defections, or at a neutral audience that doesn’t perceive and notice uncharitability on a direct, emotional level the way people do when it’s directed at them. But if that’s the case we have a massive problem with either ignorance or dishonesty, where people believe or pretend to believe that this kind of rhetoric should work to convince opponents, and the only reason it doesn’t is because they’re deficient.

    I guess part of the reason is that we underestimate the amount of ambiguity and subjectivity in things we think are about factual disagreement. Quoting again:

    Few (important) disagreements are about concrete and verifiable facts, because people tend to disagree about those in non-complicated ways and they’re easily resolved. The implication behind phrases like ”f*** n***”, ”post-truth society” and ”fact-resistance” is that people have simply stopped changing their minds when faced with overwhelming evidence. That might be partially true — I don’t know if people are psychologically different on this point than they used to be — but not the whole story. Pretending that disagreements are typically about simple facts is self-serving, thickheaded and counterproductive.

    It’s counterproductive because if you want to make someone change their mind through sheer force of argument there must be no way for them to think that you’re wrong. It’s entirely possible to stay committed to a claim only a little bit true, since you can perfectly legitimately disagree with anyone who dismisses it completely. Do not give anyone a reason to dismiss you, such as (1) pretending you’re 100% right when you’re not, or (2) pretend someone else is 100% wrong when they aren’t.

    Solution 1: Make sure your opponent is completely and verifiably wrong. This is much harder that it appears, because being 99% wrong is not enough.

    Solution 2: Make an effort to understand what they mean and acknowledge their damn point. Understand (and empathize with) why it makes sense to them, preferably without condescension. Then help them understand yours.

    You won’t get anyone to just abandon a belief, especially not in front on someone else. But you can get them to entertain another belief, which might eventually take over and change their mind. Not by being a dick, though. You don’t let people put things inside you if you don’t like them.

    The attitude that “other people are totally wrong and they should just lie down and give in” is massively damaging in every case that isn’t 100% bulletproof. And there is a common problem (recently discussed in the “Seeing Like a State” review) with experts being overconfident and arrogant. Expert knowledge and the conventional wisdom (hard sciences mostly excluded) is less than certain and much of it nowhere near as well-supported as commonly believed. This gives people a reason to reject them. Reacting to that by going “but my side really IS completely correct!” isn’t helping.

    • Salem says:

      Or maybe it’s because this type or rhetoric has other purposes than convincing the other side.

      Now you’re getting somewhere.

      • John Nerst says:

        Right. But do you think this shock and surprise at how people aren’t convinced is all theater? There are other purposes but we don’t seem to be aware of that.

        • Salem says:

          Yes, it’s performative. As someone wiser than me said:

          “I don’t understand how anyone could [believe that.]” It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.

          The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.

          • John Nerst says:

            Yes, the “I cant understand…” schtick is tiring and obnoxious. But I still don’t buy that all of this is 100% theater. Not on purpose.

          • liskantope says:

            I get really annoyed at that use of “I don’t understand”. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what all the motives are behind this rhetorical device or exactly why I hate it so much. All I know is that my kneejerk reaction is always “Then try to understand! You don’t have to agree or approve, not if you see a flaw in your opponent’s reasoning or motives, but at least try to get as full an understanding as possible of your opponent’s reasoning. Inasmuch as your opponent is wrong, better understanding will lead to greater strength in defeating them.”

            I suspect the primary motive on the part of the one saying “I don’t understand” stems from an idea (not entirely wrong) that understanding leads one closer to agreeing, and that some views are so obviously despicable that being as far away from agreement with them is something to be proud of. In my opinion, this is a fallacious attitude, related to the notion that greater empathy with another person necessarily leads to approval of them or even a higher degree of sympathy with them.

            I was happy to see this addressed (on a much more impersonal level) in Yudkowsky’s essay “Think Like Reality”.

          • Mary says:

            I remember twice hearing someone say she didn’t understand something other people did, offering an explanation, and getting back a burst of furious indignation and abuse which, in both cases, could be boiled down to a substance that things she thought dangerous were real, things they thought dangerous were imaginary, without a hint of awareness that they didn’t filter their beliefs according to what she believed.

    • Jiro says:

      Specifically, if their supposedly strongest argument is even weaker than we expected we can increase confidence in our own position.

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/

      Where Scott sort of agrees with you, but also sort of disagrees. Specifically, he agrees that there are reasons why people on the left make bad arguments, but he disagrees that one should then reduce one’s confidence in the left being correct.

      • John Nerst says:

        I doubt this transfers to on-going arguments. The toxoplasma effect is useful for agenda-setting, i.e when you want to increase the amount of talking about something (typically, talking more about X will favor your side). I’m not so sure there is incentive to use weak arguments when we’re already talking about something.

        • Jordan D. says:

          Why not?

          If I’m debating you, maybe you’re right. The typical advice for courtroom arguments is to focus on your strongest arguments and not to annoy the judge with lots of crap arguments. One-on-one, my incentive isn’t to employ the gish gallop because I know that it has too high a chance of ticking you off and backfiring.

          On the other hand, if there’s an endless shifting sea of articles and no clear audience, maybe I do want to deploy my raft of crap arguments. People who already agree with me might use them to reinforce their views (at worst, they’ll dismiss them as ‘well-intentioned but stupid’), and maybe some weird angle will catch the undecided person and bring them closer to my views!

          And that’s not even getting into the fact that the average writer has multiple incentives. A liberal author might want to decrease support for Trump, but they even more want to get their name out and their article shared a lot- so they have an incentive to use weaker but more sensational arguments.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            And that’s not even getting into the fact that the average writer has multiple incentives. A liberal author might want to decrease support for Trump, but they even more want to get their name out and their article shared a lot- so they have an incentive to use weaker but more sensational arguments.

            All objections to the piece I thought of could be summarized as, “but Moloch… “

          • John Nerst says:

            Why not?

            Why? (I guess this is one of those “each thinks the other side has the burden of proof because their notion of what is intuitive is flipped” kind of situations)

            I’m mostly thinking about the situation in your first paragraph. When someone spontaneously comes up with an argument I’d assume it’s something they find convincing. The same applies in any case where an arguer genuinely wants to be convincing.

            In your second case, basically hot-take ragebait, toxoplasma applies partly because endorsing shitty argumentation is a great way for people to demonstrate their dedication to your side.

            But most public rhetoric occurs somewhere in the middle, and wouldn’t you agree that hearing arguments for a specific side makes you form an idea of what argumentation for that side is like, generally? If you peddle a lot of crap you likely dont have any good stuff?

            In any case, some people thinks like this. I do. Weak arguments generally make me take less credence in whatever they’re arguing for.

  32. At a slight tangent, one thing that may help people treat their ideological opponents as reasonable is recognizing how much of what they thenselves believe is, in a very real sense, believed on faith.

    Orwell, talking about religious belief in England, asks how many people believe in Heaven the way they believe in Australia. Part of the force of that question is the fact that everyone who believes in Heaven believes in it due to faith and almost everyone who believes in Australia–everyone who hasn’t been there–believes in it due to faith as well. A very large fraction of what each of us believes is based on second hand information from people we trust.

    The person who believes in evolution should realize that the reason he believes in it, if not for him than for most of his fellow believers, isn’t evidence and logic, it’s faith that the sources of information he trusts are trustworthy. That makes it easier to see that someone else who also doesn’t have evidence and logic on which to base his belief but believes evolution is false because that’s what the sources of information he trusts tell him need not be crazy or stupid or irrational. Trusting the wrong sources of information feels a lot less irrational than believing obviously false things.

    • Jiro says:

      I think this is equivocation on th term “faith”.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        How so?

        • Jiro says:

          “People believe in heaven out of faith” means more than just “people believe in heaven without seeing it personally”. It’s very different from “people believe in Australia out of faith”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It means that they believe in Heaven because an authority they trust has told them it exists. How is that different from my believing in Australia because an authority I trust (e.g., my atlas) tells me that Australia exists?

          • Randy M says:

            Well, it is different. I know someone who has been to australia, but I never have. However, that person could describe the process to me, and I could verify their assertion of its existence. So the chain leading back to an eye-witness is short. The evidence is also broad, as many maps show this purported place, there are mentions of it in books, etc. (We’ll leave google earth out of it for the sake of the argument). It would take a considerable conspiracy or a large number of gullible people to prove that.

            To believe in Heaven one needs to take the word of someone who is taking the word of someone on back through a great many links in the chain. Supporting evidence exists in the form of abstract arguments and subjective evaluations of probabilities.

            Both claims are faith, sure, but at different places on a spectrum.

    • onyomi says:

      This makes me think of that older post on Jackdaws Love my Big Sphinx of Quartz which I’m having trouble finding at the moment named something like “in favor of evidence resistance.”

      I think the basic argument was “no, people aren’t stupid not to instantly change their position when you present them with better facts because how do they know your facts are really better than their preferred fact provider, especially when something feels intuitively wrong about the conclusion your facts are suggesting? People are right not to throw away their intuitions and personal experience in the face of contrary ‘facts,’ because it’s so easy to find e. g. statistics to support any crazy position.”

      That is, because so much of what we “know,” we know not because we ourselves possess the relevant expertise to evaluate its truth value, but rather because we trust our ability to evaluate who does (and their ability to evaluate people who do on related topics, and those peoples’ ability…), the project of changing someone’s mind inevitably involves not simply presenting him with “better” facts, or even just better arguments (though it may be easier in an a priori realm), but in getting him to rethink whole chunks of his worldview which led him to trust particular authorities and sources and lines of argumentation in the first place.

      That is, if I want to convince you were wrong about the extent of the habit of the Eurasian jackdaw, then probably all I need is to link you to some biology paper. But if, in reading the paper, you realize that the claims therein, if true, would undermine the whole theory of evolution, then you’d be right not to just accept them, even if you know jack shit about jackdaws.

      The problem is that so much of the parts of politics, economics, history, and philosophy people care about are like this–not just object-level questions, but bricks in giant edifices (which are probably too big to begin with).

      • John Nerst says:

        This makes me think of that older post on Jackdaws Love my Big Sphinx of Quartz which I’m having trouble finding at the moment named something like “in favor of evidence resistance.”

        I think the basic argument was “no, people aren’t stupid not to instantly change their position when you present them with better facts because how do they know your facts are really better than their preferred fact provider, especially when something feels intuitively wrong about the conclusion your facts are suggesting?

        This isn’t what you were referring to, but I wrote about exactly this a month ago:

        You can’t just throw disconnected evidence at people and expect it to stick. Everything around the targeted conviction supporting it must be addressed as well. And maybe a few layers of recursion on that — meaning if you want to challenge an opinion, you’ll need to challenge the whole cluster of mutually reinforcing opinions it’s part of. You’re going up against not just me, but all of my friends.

        I think confirmation bias is partly built on this: we don’t so much undervalue evidence against our beliefs as we overvalue evidence for them; we rightly see the weakness of contradictory evidence because it stands alone. On the other hand, we’re more likely to trust that random stranger if it’s someone our friends all seem to like.

        Speaking partially in response to a lot of articles about biases and evidence resistance followed by other articles criticizing them: does anyone else wonder if the mutation rate and generation churn in the memetic environment is increasing? The cultural environment, the meaning of words and expressions etc. seems like it’s changning on a weekly basis, and public debate has changed as much in the last year as it did in whole decades before? Am I being ignorant or is there a real shift?

        Where could this lead us in the long run? Will we eventually adapt and develop cultural defenses against clickbait, outrage culture and uncharitable narratives the way we have cultural defenses against pyramid schemes and timeshare salesmen?

        • liskantope says:

          It makes sense to me that this rate of flux would increase rapidly in this age of the internet and social media, as memes can spread far more quickly. And I’m already seeing signs of what I hope will evolve into cultural defenses against clickbait, outrage culture, and uncharitable narratives (although in the case of the latter, I honestly don’t see much improvement; on the other hand, I’m not sure uncharitable narratives have increased that much in recent years — uncharitability seems to be a problem as old as time).

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I think the basic argument was “no, people aren’t stupid not to instantly change their position when you present them with better facts because how do they know your facts are really better than their preferred fact provider, especially when something feels intuitively wrong about the conclusion your facts are suggesting? People are right not to throw away their intuitions and personal experience in the face of contrary ‘facts,’ because it’s so easy to find e. g. statistics to support any crazy position.”

        In a similar vein, I’ve often encountered arguments which seemed a bit “off” in ways I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and it took lots of thought to locate what the flaw actually was. Even in arguments which don’t seem obviously wrong, I usually like to rattle them around in my mind for a bit before accepting them, to enable me to examine them from different angles, look for any fallacies, and so on.

      • onyomi says:

        I would add, however, that I think it is worthwhile to try to keep one’s politico-socio-economic Jenga castles as small as possible without sacrificing the ability to synthesize.

  33. conorfriedersdorf says:

    I’ve been trying to do this at The Atlantic. I’m fairly certain the ensuing debates meet all of the rules presented.

    This 22-year-old Trump supporter I corresponded with later told me he voted for Hillary Clinton: https://www.theatlan