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

Different Worlds


A few years ago I had lunch with another psychiatrist-in-training and realized we had totally different experiences with psychotherapy.

We both got the same types of cases. We were both practicing the same kinds of therapy. We were both in the same training program, studying under the same teachers. But our experiences were totally different. In particular, all her patients had dramatic emotional meltdowns, and all my patients gave calm and considered analyses of their problems, as if they were lecturing on a particularly boring episode from 19th-century Norwegian history.

I’m not bragging here. I wish I could get my patients to have dramatic emotional meltdowns. As per the textbooks, there should be a climactic moment where the patient identifies me with their father, then screams at me that I ruined their childhood, then breaks down crying and realizes that she loved her father all along, then ???, and then their depression is cured. I never got that. I tried, I even dropped some hints, like “Maybe this reminds you of your father?” or “Maybe you feel like screaming at me right now?”, but they never took the bait. So I figured the textbooks were misleading, or that this was some kind of super-advanced technique, or that this was among the approximately 100% of things that Freud just pulled out of his ass.

And then I had lunch with my friend, and she was like “It’s so stressful when all of your patients identify you with their parents and break down crying, isn’t it? Don’t you wish you could just go one day without that happening?”

And later, my supervisor was reviewing one of my therapy sessions, and I was surprised to hear him comment that I “seemed uncomfortable with dramatic expressions of emotion”. I mean, I am uncomfortable with dramatic expressions of emotion. I was just surprised he noticed it. As a therapist, I’m supposed to be quiet and encouraging and not show discomfort at anything, and I was trying to do that, and I’d thought I was succeeding. But apparently I was unconsciously projecting some kind of “I don’t like strong emotions, you’d better avoid those” field, and my patients were unconsciously complying.

I wish I could say my supervisor’s guidance fixed the problem and I learned to encourage emotional openness just as well as my colleague. But any improvement I made was incremental at best. My colleague is a bubbly extravert who gets very excited about everything; I worry that to match her results, I would have to somehow copy her entire personality.

But all was not lost. I found myself doing well with overly emotional patients, the sort who had too many dramatic meltdowns to do therapy with anybody else. With me, they tended to give calm and considered analyses of their problems, as if they were lecturing on a particularly boring episode from 19th-century Norwegian history. Everyone assumed that meant I was good at dealing with difficult cases, and must have read a bunch of books about how to defuse crises. I did nothing to disabuse them of this.

Then a few days ago I stumbled across the Reddit thread Has Anyone Here Ever Been To An LW/SSC Meetup Or Otherwise Met A Rationalist IRL? User dgerard wrote about meeting me in 2011, saying:

His superpower is that he projects a Niceness Field, where people talking to him face to face want to be more polite and civil. The only person I’ve met with a similar Niceness Field is Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia…when people are around [Jimmy] talking to him they feel a sort of urge to be civil and polite in discourse 🙂 I’ve seen people visibly trying to be very precise and polite talking to him about stuff even when they’re quite upset about whatever it is. Scott has this too. It’s an interesting superpower to observe.

I should admit nobody else has mentioned anything like this, and that narcissism biases me toward believing anyone who says I have a superpower. Still, it would explain a lot. And not necessarily in a good way. I’ve always believed psychodynamic therapies are mostly ineffective, and cognitive-behavioral therapies very effective, because all my patients seem to defy the psychodynamic mode of having having weird but emotionally dramatic reactions to things in their past, but conform effortlessly to the cognitive-behavioral mode of being able to understand and rationally discuss their problems. And the more I examine this, the more I realize that my results are pretty atypical for psychiatrists. There’s something I’m doing – totally by accident – to produce those results. This is worrying not just as a psychiatrist, but as someone who wants to know anything about other people at all.


New topic: paranoia and Williams Syndrome.

Paranoia is a common symptom of various psychiatric disorders – most famously schizophrenia, but also paranoid personality disorder, delusional disorder, sometimes bipolar disorder. You can also get it from abusing certain drugs – marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and even prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. The fun thing about paranoia is how gradual it is. Sure, if you abuse every single drug at once you’ll think the CIA is after you with their mind-lasers. But if you just take a little more Adderall than you were supposed to, you’ll be 1% paranoid. You’ll have a very mild tendency to interpret ambiguous social signals just a little bit more negatively than usual. If a friend leaves without saying goodbye, and you would normally think “Oh, I guess she had a train to catch”, instead you think “Hm, I wonder what she meant by that”. There are a bunch of good stimulant abuse cases in the literature that present as “patient’s boss said she was unusually standoffish and wanted her to get psychiatric evaluation”, show up in the office as “well of course I’m standoffish, everyone in my office excludes me from everything and is rude in a thousand little ways throughout the day”, and end up as “cut your Adderall dosage in half, please”.

(“Why is that psychiatrist telling me to cut my Adderall in half? Does he think I’m lying about having ADHD? Is he calling me a liar? These doctors have always treated me like garbage. I HAVE RIGHTS, YOU KNOW!”)

Williams Syndrome is much rarer – only about 1/10,000 people, and most of them die before reaching adulthood. It’s marked by a sort of anti-paranoia; Williams patients are incapable of distrusting anyone. NPR has a good article, A Life Without Fear, describing some of what they go through:

Kids and adults with Williams love people, and they are literally pathologically trusting. They have no social fear. Researchers theorize that this is probably because of a problem in their limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotion. There appears to be a disregulation in one of the chemicals (oxytocin) that signals when to trust and when to distrust. This means that it is essentially biologically impossible for [them] to distrust.

The results are less than heartwarming:

As Isabelle got older, the negative side of her trusting nature began to play a larger role. A typical example happened a couple of years ago, when Jessica and her family were spending the day at the beach. Isabelle had been begging Jessica to go to Dairy Queen, and Jessica had been putting her off. Then Isabelle overheard a lady just down the beach.

“She was telling her kids, ‘OK, let’s go to the Dairy Queen,’ ” Jessica says. “And so Isabelle went over and got into the lady’s van, got in the back seat, buckled up and was waiting to be taken to Dairy Queen with that family.”

Jessica had no idea what had happened to Isabelle and was frantically searching for her when the driver of the van approached her and explained that she had been starting her car when she looked up and saw Isabelle’s face in the rearview mirror.

The woman, Jessica says, was incredibly angry.

“She said, ‘I am a stranger, you know!’ ” Jessica says. Essentially, the woman blamed Jessica for not keeping closer watch on her daughter — for neglecting to teach her the importance of not getting into a car with someone she didn’t know. But the reality could not be more different. “It’s like, ‘My friend, you have no idea,’ ” Jessica says.

In fact, because of Isabelle, Jessica has had to rethink even the most basic elements of her day-to-day life. She can not take Isabelle to the dog park. She tries not to take Isabelle to the store. And when the doorbell rings, Jessica will leap over a coffee table to intercept her.

It’s not just Jessica and her family who must be vigilant. Every teacher at Isabelle’s public school has been warned. Isabelle is not allowed to tell them that she loves them. Isabelle is not supposed to tell other schoolchildren that she loves them. And there are other restrictions.

“She’s not allowed to go to the bathroom alone at her school, because there have been numerous instances of girls with Williams syndrome being molested at school when they were alone in the hallway,” Jessica says. “And these are like middle class type schools. So it’s a very real problem. And, you know, I’d rather her be overly safe than be on CNN.”

Some of the research on these kids is fascinating – I’m not sure I believe the study finding that they’re incapable of racism, but the one finding a deficit detecting anger in faces seems pretty plausible.

Williams Syndrome usually involves mental retardation, but not always. Some of these people have normal IQ. It doesn’t really help. Threat-detection seems to be an automated process not totally susceptible to System II control. Maybe it’s like face-blindness. Intelligence can help a face-blind person come up with some systems to reduce the impact of their condition, but in the end it’s just not going to help that much.

Psychiatric disorders are often at the extremes of natural variation in human traits. For every intellectually disabled person, there are a dozen who are just kind of dumb. For every autistic person, there are a dozen who are just sort of nerdy. And so on. We naturally think of some people as more trusting than others, but maybe that isn’t the best frame. “Trusting” implies that we all receive the same information, and just choose how much risk we’re willing to tolerate. I don’t know if that’s true at all.

A recent theme here has been the ways that our sense-data is underdetermined. Each datum permits multiple possible explanations: this is true of visual and auditory perception, but also of the social world. A pretty girl laughs a little too long at a man’s joke; is she trying to flirt with him, or just friendly? A boss calls her subordinate’s work “okay” – did she mean to compliment him, or imply it was mediocre? A friend breaks off two appointments in a row, each time saying that something has come up – did something come up, or is he getting tired of the friendship? These are the sorts of questions everyone navigates all the time, usually with enough success that when autistic people screw them up, the rest of society nods sagely and says they need to learn to understand how to read context.

But “context” means “priors”, and priors can differ from person to person. There’s a lot of room for variation here before we get to the point where somebody will be so off-base that they end up excluded from society. Just as there’s a spectrum from smart to dumb, or from introverted to extraverted, so there’s a spectrum in people’s tendencies to interpret ambiguous situations in a positive or negative way. There are people walking around who are just short of clinically paranoid, or just shy of Williams Syndrome levels of trust. And this isn’t a value difference, it’s a perceptual one. These people aren’t bitter or risk-averse – or at least they don’t start off that way. They just notice how everyone’s hostile to them, all the time.


Another change in topic: bubbles.

I’ve written before about how 46% of Americans are young-earth creationists, and how strongly that fails to square with my personal experience. I’ve met young-earth creationists once or twice. But of my hundred closest friends/co-workers/acquaintances, I think zero percent of them fall in that category. I’m not intentionally selecting friends on the basis of politics, religion, or anything else. It just seems to have happened. Something about my personality, location, social class, et cetera has completely isolated me from one particular half of the US population; I’m living in a non-creationist bubble in the midst of a half-creationist country.

What other bubbles do I live in? A quick look over my Facebook and some SSC survey results finds that my friends are about twenty times more likely to be transgender than the general population. There are about twice as many Asians but less than half as many African-Americans. Rates of depression, OCD, and autism are sky-high; rates of drug addiction and alcoholism are very low. Programmers are overrepresented at about ten times the Bay Area average.

I didn’t intend any of these bubbles. For example, I’ve never done any programming myself, I’m not interested in it, and I try my best to avoid programmer-heavy places where I know all the conversations are going to be programming-related. Hasn’t helped. And I’m about as cisgender as can be, I have several Problematic opinions, and I still can’t keep track of which gender all of my various friends are on a month-to-month basis. Part of it is probably class-, race-, and location-based. And I have some speculative theories about the rest – I think I have a pretty thing-oriented/systematizing thinking style, and so probably I get along better with other groups disproportionately made up of people whose thoughts work the same way – but I didn’t understand any of this until a few years ago and there are still some parts that don’t make sense. For now I just have to accept it as a given.

There are other bubbles I understand much better. Most of my friends are pretty chill and conflict-averse. This is because I used to have scarier conflict-prone friends, and as soon as I got into conflicts with them, I broke off the friendship. I’m not super-proud of this and it’s probably one of those maladaptive coping styles you always hear about, and a lot of people have told me I’m really extreme on this axis and need to be better at tolerating aggressive people – but whenever I try, I find it unpleasant and stop. I know some other people who seem to actively seek out abrasive types so they can get in fun fights with them. I don’t understand these people at all – but whatever their thought processes, we have different bubbles.

All of this goes double or triple for people I’ve dated. I don’t think of myself as clearly having a “type”, but people I date tend to turn out similar in dimensions I didn’t expect when I first met them. I’m going to be ambiguous here because it’s a small enough sample that I don’t want to give away people’s private information, but it’s true.

I think about this a lot when I meet serial abuse victims.

These people are a heartbreaking psychiatric cliche. Abused by their parents, abused by their high school boyfriend, abused by their first husband, abused by their second husband, abused by the guy they cheated on their first husband with, abused by the friend they tried to go to for help dealing with all the abuse. The classic (though super offensive) explanation is that some people seek out abusers for some reason – maybe because they were abused as children and they’ve internalized that as the “correct” model of a relationship.

And maybe this is true for some people. I have a friend who admits it’s true of her – her current strategy is to try to find someone in the sweet spot between “jerkish/narcissistic enough to be interesting” and “jerkish/narcissistic enough to actually abuse her”, and she’s said so in so many words to people trying to matchmake. I guess all I can do is wish her luck.

But for a lot of people, this sort of claim is just as offensively wrong as it sounds. I know people who have tried really hard to avoid abusers, who have gone to therapy and asked their therapist for independent verification that their new partner doesn’t seem like the abusive type, who have pulled out all the stops – and who still end up with abusive new partners. These people are cursed through no fault of their own. All I can say is that whatever mysterious forces connect me to transgender pro-evolution programmers are connecting them to abusers. Something completely unintentional that they try their best to resist gives them a bubble of terrible people.

I want to emphasize as hard as I can that I’m not blaming them or saying there’s anything they can do about their situation, and I have no doubt that despite my emphasis people are still going to accuse me of saying this, and I apologize if any of this sounds at all like anything in this direction. But something has to be happening here.


Sometimes I write about discrimination, and people send me emails about their own experiences. Many sound like this real one (quoted here with permission) from a woman who studied computer science at MIT and now works in the tech industry:

In my life, I have never been catcalled, inappropriately hit on, body-shamed, unwantedly touched in a sexual way, discouraged from a male-dominated field, told I couldn’t do something because it was a boy thing, or suffered from many other experiences that have traditionally served as examples as ways that women are less privileged. I have also never been shamed for not following gender norms (e.g. doing a bunch of math/science/CS stuff); instead I get encouraged and told that I’m a role model. I’ve never had problems going around wearing no make-up, a t-shirt, and cargo pants; but on the rare occasion that I do wear make-up / wear a dress, that’s completely socially acceptable…Hopefully my thoughts/experiences are helpful for your future social justice based discussions.

Other times they sound like the opposite. I don’t have anyone in this category who’s given me permission to quote their email verbatim (consider ways this might not be a coincidence), but they’re pretty much what you’d expect – a litany of constantly being put down, discriminated against, harassed, et cetera, across multiple jobs, at multiple companies, to the point where they complain it’s “endemic” (I guess I can quote one word) and that we need to reject a narrative of “a few bad apples” because really it’s a problem with all men to one degree or another.

These dueling categories of emails have always confused me. At the risk of being exactly the sort of creepy person the second set of writers complain about, I hunted down some of these people’s Facebook profiles to see if one group was consistently more attractive than the other. They weren’t. Nor is there any clear pattern in what industries or companies they work at, what position they’re in, or anything else like that. There isn’t even a consistent pattern in their politics. The woman I quote above mentions that she’s a feminist who believes discrimination is a major problem – which has only made it extra confusing to her that she never experiences any of it personally.

These people don’t just show up in my inbox. Some of them write articles on Slate, Medium, even The New Yorker, discussing not just how they’ve never experienced discrimination, but how much anger and backlash they’ve received when they try to explain this to everyone else. And all of them acknowledge that they know other people whose experiences seem to be the direct opposite.

I used to think this was pretty much just luck of the draw – some people will end up with nice people at great companies, other people will end up with bigots at terrible companies. I no longer think this explains everybody. Take that New Yorker article, by a black person who grew up in the South and says she was never discriminated against even once. I assume in her childhood she met thousands of different white Southerners; that’s a pretty big lucky streak for none of them at all to be racists, especially when you consider all the people who report daily or near-daily harassment. Likewise, when you study computer science in college and then work in half a dozen tech companies over the space of decades and never encounter one sexist, that’s quite the record. Surely something else must be going on here.


And I think this has to come back to the sorts of things discussed in Parts I, II, and III.

People self-select into bubbles along all sorts of axes. Some of these bubbles are obvious and easy to explain, like rich people mostly meeting other rich people at the country club. Others are more mysterious, like how some non-programmer ends up with mostly programmer friends. Still others are horrible and completely outside comprehension, like someone who tries very hard to avoid abusers but ends up in multiple abusive relationships anyway. Even for two people living in the same country, city, and neighborhood, they can have a “society” made up of very different types of people.

People vary widely on the way they perceive social interaction. A paranoid schizophrenic will view every interaction as hostile; a Williams Syndrome kid will view every interaction as friendly. In between, there will be a whole range of healthy people without any psychiatric disorder who tend toward one side or the other. Only the most blatant data can be interpreted absent the priors that these dispositions provide; everything else will only get processed through preexisting assumptions about how people tend to act. Since things like racism rarely take the form of someone going up to you and saying “Hello, I am a racist and because of your skin color I plan to discriminate against you in the following ways…”, they’ll end up as ambiguous stimuli that everyone will interpret differently.

Finally, some people have personalities or styles of social interaction that unconsciously compel a certain response from their listeners. Call these “niceness fields” or “meanness fields” or whatever: some people are the sort who – if they became psychotherapists – would have patients who constantly suffered dramatic emotional meltdowns, and others’ patients would calmly discuss their problems.

The old question goes: are people basically good or basically evil? Different philosophers give different answers. But so do different random people I know who aren’t thinking philosophically at all. Some people describe a world of backstabbing Machiavellians, where everybody’s a shallow social climber who will kick down anyone it takes to get to the top. Other people describe a world where everyone is basically on the same page, trying to be nice to everyone else but getting stuck in communication difficulties and honest disagreements over values.

I think both groups are right. Some people experience worlds of basically-good people who treat them nicely. Other people experience worlds of awful hypocritical backstabbers. This can be true even if they live in the same area as each other, work the same job as each other, et cetera.

And it’s not just a basic good-evil axis. It can be about whether people are emotional/dramatic or calm/rational. It can be about whether people almost always discriminate or almost never do. It can be about whether they’re honest or liars, shun outsiders or accept them, welcome criticism or reject it. Some people think elites are incompetent parasites; others that they’re shockingly competent people who mean well and have interesting personalities. Some people think Silicon Valley is full of overpriced juicers, other people that it’s full of structured-light engines. And the people who say all these things are usually accurately reporting their own experiences.

Some people are vaguely aware of this in the form of “privilege”, which acknowledges different experiences at the cost of saying they have to line up exactly along special identity categories like race and gender. These certainly don’t help, but it’s not that simple – as proven by the article by that black Southerner who says she never once encountered discrimination. I’ve seen completely incomprehensible claims about human nature by people of precisely the same race, sex, class, orientation, etc as myself, and I have no doubt they’re trying to be truthful. The things that divide us are harder to see than we naively expect. Sometimes they’re completely invisible.

To return to a common theme: nothing makes sense except in light of inter-individual variation. Variation in people’s internal experience. Variation in people’s basic beliefs and assumptions. Variation in level of abstract thought. And to all of this I would add a variation in our experience of other people. Some of us are convinced, with reason, that humankind is basically good. Others start the day the same way Marcus Aurelius did:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil.

Notice this distinction, this way in which geographic neighbors can live in different worlds, and other people’s thoughts and behaviors get a little more comprehensible.

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

Leave a Reply

785 Responses to Different Worlds

  1. pistachi0n says:

    I used to think other women were exaggerating when they talked about catcalling and street harassment like it was a universal female experience until I started thinking about stuff similar to this.

    On the other hand, people think I’m exaggerating when I say I get asked for directions at least once a day. I live in DC, I’m way underdressed for this city, my accent is out of place, and I only get asked for directions when I’m by myself. Granted there are a lot of tourists here, but people I compare notes with say they get asked for directions maybe once every other week at most. But something about my facial expressions and body language screams “I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!!! I KNOW WHERE STUFF IS!!!!!!!!! AND IF YOU DON’T HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT DIRECTIONS, BACK OFF!”

    • drethelin says:

      tbh you do look a little tour-guidey, I’m not sure what it is

    • Sophronius says:

      I have this too, though not as much as you do. I don’t think it’s about knowing where you’re going, but rather about being approachable. Do you look mild-mannered, non-threatening and vaguely intellectual? That would probably explain it.

      • pistachi0n says:

        Not at all. I’ve been told I have resting bitch face/hostile body language. It’s not intentional at all, I’d do anything to change it.

        I also only started getting asked for directions when I moved from Salt Lake to DC. Hostile-looking people don’t look like they belong in Salt Lake, but they sure as hell look in place in DC. That would also explain why I almost never get approached by strangers for anything other than directions. My hypothesis is that my nonverbal signals say “DC!” but my clothing says “I’m less likely interrupt her going anywhere important.”

        Again, there are more tourists in need of directions in DC, but the other people I know here don’t get asked anywhere near as often as I do.

        • Nornagest says:

          Wear nicer clothes for a few days and see if that stops it?

        • JASSCC says:

          Do you walk quickly and confidently in the direction you’re going? I ask because I had a similar experience in New York, which came from being a native New Yorker and spending the first 30 years of my life living there, and that was how I walked.

          Maybe try slowing down, walking distractedly and inefficiently, and stopping every 30 yards to look up and around. I bet that would do it.

    • baconbacon says:

      I get this, though to a much lesser degree as I live in a much lower populated/less touristy area than DC. When I was walking our dogs at a certain time of day I would get asked by people driving by 2-3 times a week, once I was asked multiple times in the same day so I mentioned it off hand to my wife who has basically never been asked, despite living in the same town and walking those same dogs at similar times of day for many years. I have also been assumed to be working at stores when I am clearly not working at those stores (as in my 4 and 2 year old are right next to me and I have a shopping cart full of stuff).

      • Ryan says:

        Two kinds of distributions pop up all the time in the natural world. One is called the normal distribution (aka the bell curve). The other is the power law distribution. In the context here, if you ask people how often they get asked for directions in a given month, 90 some odd percent of people will give an answer like zero, one or two. A smaller group of people will give answer like 5-10. Then some tiny sliver of people like pistachi0n will give an answer like 40.

        The metaphysics here leaves two options. First, you can say like bell curves power law distributions just kind of exist, and where you ended up is just where you ended up. Someone was going to get asked for directions 50 times a month, and that someone just happens to be you.

        The second option is to note that the math behind a power law distribution is that once an event has happened once it’s more likely to happen again. Take attending a Magic the Gathering tournament. If you’ve never attended one before the chances are very low you’ll attend one this weekend. If you’ve been to one or two before then the chances are higher. If you’ve been to a hundred then there’s a pretty good chance this weekend will make number 101.

        The end result is that the vast, vast majority of the population has attended zero tournaments, some smaller number of people have attended dozens, and a very small number of people have gone to hundreds.

        The problem the ask for directions distribution presents is that neither option is satisfactory. Someone was going to get asked for directions constantly and it happens to be you defies our sense of causality. We’re wired to think the world should not and does not work that way. And while the Magic Tournament attendance distribution has an easy to grasp mechanism of cause and effect, there’s no reason for someone with a bitch face and hostile body language to be asked for directions so much more often than anyone else.

        I have no solution to the conundrum. I just wanted to elaborate on it. I’d also propose that Scott officially name things like pistachi0n’s penchant for giving directions and some women’s inability to avoid abusive men “mysterious power law distributions.”

    • Niall says:

      The weird thing that keeps happening to me is people coming up to me in supermarkets while thinking I’m an employee. Like it’s usually after work so I’m wearing a suit and local council ID + lanyard, but never if I’m carrying a basket. I worked in a supermarket for 7 years in high school/university and always do the household shopping so I think I have internalised that purposeful attitude of someone who knows where everything is. And people always say excuse me, then immediately realise I’m a customer too and apologise so I don’t even get a chance to pretend!

      • Neutrino says:

        Visit a Trader Joe’s market while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and you may get put to work. That is what one worker told me, right after another shopper asked me about a product. Maybe it was my purposeful attitude, although I’m leaning toward Scott’s Niceness Field rationale.

      • Speaker To Animals says:

        I always get asked where things are in my local book store. I tend to wear black shirts that do look like a uniform. Ironically, I’m there so often I can usually answer their questions.

      • Zubon says:

        Same, but I think my look is like I am inspecting the shelves rather than shopping. When I have a purposeful attitude, I know where I am going and what I am looking for, and people don’t stop a purposeful stride.

    • gwern says:

      I experience this as well in NYC.

    • stucchio says:

      I get this a lot. I never thought of it as noticeable in places like NYC or Amsterdam (I’m a tall white guy from NY, could easily pass for dutch, and I don’t look Indian at all).

      But it also happens a lot in Bombay and Pune (both Indian cities). Once someone walked up and me, tried to speak Marathi, and they switched to Hindi after I said “kya aap english bolta hain” (do you speak English?). That stands out in my mind because I was with a Marathi girl (who also speaks perfect Hindi) who they ignored. They were right to ignore her – she can’t find her way to the corner store, while I got them directly to the train.

      Nevertheless, it’s weird that people can just correctly guess that that one white guy on an Indian street knows exactly where the metro is.

    • Deiseach says:

      I apparently have the “why yes, random stranger at bus stop, please tell me all about yourself including that operation you just had and all the details of your hospital stay” face 🙂

      As for the differing therapy experiences, I imagine therapeutic styles do have a part to play with how patients react. If when you first go in, your therapist/counsellor is all “Now before we start, I realise that some of the things we are going to discuss will make you VERY EMOTIONAL and I want to say that there is NO PROBLEM if you want to CRY OR BECOME DISTRESSED” and they push the box of tissues towards you and sit there with the bright and open look of expectation on their face, so you think “Welp, if I want them to take me seriously, better turn on the waterworks” either consciously or unconsciously.

      To be fair, which would you consider more serious or heartfelt or really likely to be an imminent danger?

      (1) “I’m thinking about suicide a lot recently”, in the tones of “lecturing on a particularly boring episode from 19th-century Norwegian history”

      (2) “I’m thinking about suicide a lot recently”, curled up into a ball, sobbing profusely, tears and emotional displays all over the place

      (I think that’s been part of my trouble looking for medical help: for various reasons, I’ve been reared to be stoic about these matters, so talking about “yes I really am in extreme pain (physical or mental)” while sitting there being calm and rational instead of collapsed on the floor screaming in agony tends to get me treated as “how bad can it be really?” by overworked A&E staff/busy doctors running twenty minutes behind schedule on their appointments because their last patient brought in her two kids with her for a ‘buy one, get one free’ consultation on the family illnesses).

      • Samuel Escalona says:

        To be fair, which would you consider more serious or heartfelt or really likely to be an imminent danger?

        (1) “I’m thinking about suicide a lot recently”, in the tones of “lecturing on a particularly boring episode from 19th-century Norwegian history”

        (2) “I’m thinking about suicide a lot recently”, curled up into a ball, sobbing profusely, tears and emotional displays all over the place

        Does anyone else have thinly concealed contempt for the person in (2)?

        I feel emotionally manipulated when I encounter (2)s in life. “Feel sorry for me…or else I’ll tell everyone you didn’t.” I don’t much care if (2) has greater risk of self-harm, I’m still far more interested in helping (1).

        • gemmaem says:

          I think it depends on the social rules you’ve internalised. I don’t have contempt for people who I see crying because I was brought up to think that crying is okay, as a coping mechanism. I know lots of other women who feel similarly — and if you cry, as a woman, in public, you’re basically guaranteed that some other woman who you don’t even know will eventually come to comfort you. But if you think that you shouldn’t cry, then you’re more likely to think that other people shouldn’t either, and to feel both resentment and contempt towards people who break what you see as an unwritten rule.

      • eliasgoldberg says:

        As far as your stoic-ness determining your level of care, maybe it depends on the context and the experience level of the doctors in question? When triaging casualties in the army I learned to check the quiet ones first. If someone is screaming their head off they are obviously breathing and conscious, so in the absence of giant obvious arterial blood-fountains it’s probably safe to ignore them for at least a couple of minutes while you check on the quiet guy who might not be breathing.

        On the other hand, I guess if you’re a doctor and you know that nobody is going to die in the next hour or so anyway, you might decide to deal with the screamer first, just to get them to shut up / go away.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I have something different, but potentially related.

      Where ever I go, people seem to assume I work there. IE, I routinely get approached by people asking for price checks at the supermarket, and directions/departure times at the train station or airport. In one particularly amusing incident I was approached in my neighborhood bar by a solicitor who assumed I was the owner while I was talking to the actual owner. I got a round on the house for fielding his questions and then politely getting rid of him.

    • Majuscule says:

      Same here- never experienced much in the way of street harassment. Completely baffled by how much of a problem it seems to be for some people.

      And I also used to live in DC and get asked for directions A LOT. Like someone said, I probably look approachable; small, female, white, generally non-threatening, but look like I know where I’m going.

      Apropos the article, it’s funny that you say DC people generally look hostile. I’m from New York City originally, so basically the entire world seems to me like it has Williams Syndrome. Priors!

      • Thegnskald says:

        Eh. Rural upbringing here.

        NYC people don’t come off as untrusting to me, they come off as unaware of their environment, which is its own brand of naive trust.

        Untrusting is the guy who meets you on his porch with a shotgun in easy reach, if not in hand.

        • baconbacon says:

          The un trusting person either moves to

          A. Live in extreme proximity to the maximum number of other human beings


          B. Moves to a place where they can plausibly know everyone they interact with and can’t be approached by surprise easily.

          You could start there and draw a ton of the Red vs Blue divide in this country (not saying you would be correct though).

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I get constantly asked for directions as well, which is a hoot because I have no sense of direction whatsoever.

      I once send a tourist straight into the wrong direction, she figured it out on the spot and got really angry. Hey, I did my best!

      Maybe it’s because I walk really slowly. I’m easy to intercept.

      It’s usually women btw. I don’t want to think too hard about why that is. The answer is probably an insult to my masculinity. Or maybe men just never ask for directions.

      The girl two weeks ago stopped her bike and literally screamed at me: Where is street xyz? I had been deep in thought and was totally confused, couldn’t help her. She took off, thinking that I was either stoned or retarded.

      The girl last week had a map. I turned it around until the bakery and the bank were lined up with reality. She figured it out in a second: “I see, there is the bank and there is the bakery!”. I thought, what do you need me for? If I didn’t live around the corner just spotting the bank would have taken me a minute.

    • I get asked directions a good deal of the time, including when I’m in a strange city I barely know my way around myself. A couple of months ago, while in Barcelona, a family asked me the way to the zoo, which I vaguely knew was somewhere in the vicinity; after checking Google Maps I pointed them in what I thought was the right way, but a little later on, when I decided to try to get to the zoo myself, I eventually found it was in a completely different direction; I hope the family made it there anyway.

      • Matt M says:

        I pretty much only get asked for directions when I’m in a strange city.

        I figure that when I’m somewhere I’m familiar with, I travel in a quick and confident manner, not really looking around, probably projecting a “don’t bother me, I have things to do” field.

        But in a strange city I’ll be moving slowly, looking about, stopping occasionally, etc. Which I always thought would come across as “I’m a tourist, I can’t help you” but instead seems to come across as “friendly guy who won’t mind if I interrupt him for a minute.”

    • guccithoughts says:

      I’ve had a similar experience. People always ask me where something is in a store. Now, when I was younger and decked out in the white shirt and black pants of a yeshiva bachur this kind of made sense. I must be dressed like the kind of person that works in a store. Now though, I dress like a secular person and people still think I work in the store. Why? Who knows?

    • onyomi says:

      My wife emits a “tell me your deepest, darkest secrets, fears, hopes, and dreams even if you just met me” field. I emit the reverse field, so it works out pretty well when we’re in social situations together.

  2. Fossegrimen says:

    I’ve been consulting in tech for the last quarter century and come across a substantial number of people who have been discriminated against on a regular basis/never ever seen any discrimination. There is one single variable that differs consitently:

    How competent they are.

    A competent person seems to be readily accepted for their work while an incompetent person will catch a lot of flak. If you are that person, it’s a lot easier to blame x-ism than it is to accept that you suck at your job. I have seen this so many times over they years that I have come to believe that x-ism doesn’t exist at all.

    And yes, I admit that it is strange that lack of skills results in catcalls and that I have no explanation for how this works, but the observation is pretty solid.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Or do they just project auras that cause other people not to respect them? That would seem to be a better theory, since it explains why you would perceive them as incompetent and why they would get catcalls or whatever. As far as I can tell, the point of the post is that you can’t trust your perceptions of reality and your judgments of other people should be considered deeply suspect, and I have to think that applies to competence as well.

      • Fossegrimen says:

        In programming, there is a very simple and objective measure of competence: The code they produce. I certainly read code better than I read auras.

        Actually, that would be a neat party trick: You show me >100 lines of non-trivial code and I tell you whether or not this person complains about workplace hostility. I bet I’d bat significantly better than chance.

        • Ian Phillips says:

          While I agree that code is easier to read than auras, “objective” seems like a strong word in this context.

          • Fossegrimen says:

            Accepted for values of objective. I meant objective in the sense of “not impacted by the personality of the person who wrote the code”. See edit.

          • Ian Phillips says:

            Hmm, maybe. How would you define “better than chance” though? I’d assume that worse code (because e.g. less experienced dev) would lead to more workplace criticism (on average, not necessarily the case in good workplaces).

            Of course this then leads into what defines “worse” code, which is a whole topic in and of itself!

          • Murphy says:


            Confounders: people are often quite good at guessing the gender of authors from their writing style.

            Confounder: if someone is likeable people will work harder to think of positives about that person. An asshole who’s good at everything except one thing may get associated as being incompetent at that one thing while someone everyone loves who’s only good at a few things people will remember as being good at those things.

          • Brad says:

            Confounders: people are often quite good at guessing the gender of authors from their writing style.

            I’d be very surprised if this was true for code. Even commented code. I can sometimes recognize a particular co-workers style, but that’s a much easier task than the gender of the author of an arbitrary piece of code.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Another confounder that might be important: person’s assessment of their competence is different from their actual competence. You might read bad code, declare they encounter discrimination, they step up and say they don’t, and then you find out that they stride about the place as if they’re on top of their game. Alternately, you read good code from some mousy person who turns out to exhibit a strong aura of paranoia.

          • Virbie says:


            > Confounders: people are often quite good at guessing the gender of authors from their [code] writing style.

            Are you thinking of something specific, or were you referring to a _potential_ confounder? I’d be extremely surprised to hear this was true, having worked with tons of women and men on software projects.

            Though I guess a caveat would be that the places I’ve worked could be somehow selecting for women or men that write in a particular way. Still though, I’m extremely skeptical of this claim and would like to know if it’s a guess or if you have anything to back it up.

          • Murphy says:

            In normal written text people tend to be far better than chance at guessing the sex of the author.

            With handwriting people typically guess gender much better than chance.

            As far as I’m aware nobody has done a scientific experiments testing peoples ability to recognize the authors sex from computer code but I wouldn’t be surprised if, excepting extremely strict coding standards that hide styles and a complete lack of freestyle comments if people could perform a fair bit better than chance guess the gender of a piece of codes author.

          • A related question–how good are people at guessing gender on WoW? I have anecdotal evidence, including the person who asked my wife in chat if she was really a girl (she plays only female characters), that they aren’t, but I don’t know if anyone has done serious research on the subject.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think of pubbies as real people. For people in my guild that I don’t otherwise know, I don’t even notice toon gender since I play zoomed all the way out. If a toon name is clearly gendered I assume it accurately reflects the player, though that’s been wrong a couple of times. While I’ve never played a female toon I could sooner see doing that then playing a toon named Rachel or something like that.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Want to try it for real?

          • Fossegrimen says:

            Yes, it would be fun to try that for real.

            Limitation is we keep it to C-Derived languages like C, C++, Java, C# and Objective-C because I suck at things like COBOL.

            Worst that could happen is I get some illusions burst which is always a good thing. No idea how to set it up though, but suggestions welcome

        • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

          Could you or Scott set up a survey and get empirical?

        • gbdub says:

          In programming, there is a very simple and objective measure of competence: The code they produce.

          That’s a measure, but hardly the only one, for any form of programming other than “writing apps in my basement”.

          Can you (general you, not referring to a specific commenter) write a decent requirements / design document? Can you follow one? Can you communicate what the hell you’re doing so other people can use your code? Can you perform well on a team? Do you bathe regularly? Do you show up to work on time?

          (I’m thinking of a coworker who wrote objectively brilliant code at a high output rate, but was arrogant, constantly reinvented wheels, bucked the coding standard whenever it didn’t suit his style, worked random hours without notice, and stank to high heaven. He lasted about six months)

          Actually, bosses / coworkers who insist that there is one gold objective standard of performance tend to be, I’m sorry to say and no offense intended, kind of insufferable to me (and I’m not one to be super tolerant of incompetence).

        • cabalamat says:

          OK, that’s testable.
          My github is https://github.com/cabalamat
          Do I complain about workplace hostility?

          • Virbie says:

            Er, your name (and thus a strong signal about your gender) is prominently displayed on our GH, which shifts the distribution significantly (I’m sure it’s uncontroversial to say that men in programming complain about workplace hostility less, if only because they’re the majority and less likely to be subject to it).

          • The Nybbler says:

            (I’m sure it’s uncontroversial to say that men in programming complain about workplace hostility less, if only because they’re the majority and less likely to be subject to it)

            Men in programming complain about workplace hostility less, mostly because if anyone pays attention to their complaining at all, it is to use it against them. But having your woke co-workers and management telling you how men in programming are horrible definitely counts as hostility, if you’re a man in programing.

      • On the catcall version of this, my data point the other way. I have discussed it with three women–my wife, daughter, and soon to be daughter in law. Two of them never have experienced catcalls, one often does. And the one who does is the most obviously self-confident of the three.

        I think Fossegrim’s interpretation makes sense for discrimination at work, but catcalls seem to be something entirely different.

        • Randy M says:

          There’s two possibly opposing effects–attitude affects perception, and attitude affects other people’s behavior. It’s possible that being confident makes women more attractive, or noticeable, and hence they receive more catcalls. It may also make them more or less likely to notice or remember them.

          It’s difficult to detangle, and for some people the effects might be be reversed. You could make a graph of Receive/Perceive; the +/+ people in the upper right will get more catcalls, and remember them more; the -/- people will get less, and not even recall those few.

          • Mixer says:

            I’d like to chime in on this perspective with a personal experience.

            First off, I’m a nearly 50, 6’6″ tall man with a short beard. My body type is middle aged linebacker (broad shoulders, big chest, thick legs, less thick arms). I’ve spent my entire life trying to not be this “big guy” around people to put them at ease; I use hand gestures, vocal modulation, body compression/language, etc, to try appearing smaller and project I’m not aggressive. Mostly, it works.

            I am not a fan of tattoos. I will probably shuffle off this mortal coil with not one drop of ink on my skin. But, just because I don’t like them on me, I do understand that other people like them on themselves. Sometimes a lot. I also understand that some people (aside from the generic symbolism that is a tattoo) like to tell stories with their tattoos. I do enjoy “reading” those stories, especially if the artist was talented. Most of the time, people who are tatted are very open and talk with me about each picture and it’s context once I show interest.

            One night I am at the local watering hole and a woman comes in who has a decent amount of ink (maybe 30%) covering her. She’s wearing clothes that show off this ink; I assume intentionally, but even if she was just dressing for the weather, her ink was on full display. From afar, I start looking at them and try to piece together what story she is trying to tell. She notices me, and I introduce myself, apologize for staring and explain that I’m trying to see her tattoos. She hesitantly walks me through her tats (she wasn’t really telling any story.. just displaying a lot of symbols that were important to her.) Once done, I thank her, compliment her on the artwork and tell her she did a good job picking artists (I always say that, even if the artwork stinks; everybody wants to hear they made a good choice). She responded with “You’re welcome, and thank you for not groping me.” I was dumbfounded. A bit later, I spoke to a friend of hers and asked what the hell that was about. He told me that she has a bit of a fear of being touched by strangers and she must have felt nervous about the idea I might touch her. I assured him that I don’t touch other people without permission or long familiarity, and then lamented the sad state of the world that a person had to go through life like that.

            Some weeks later, I see her again. This time, I just say ‘Hi’ and leave her be; I do not want to make her feel uncomfortable.

            The next time I’m at the bar, her friend and I talk a bit. He mentions that she thinks I’m an ass for first pretending to show interest in her tattoos, then ignoring her the next time I see her. I’m dumbfounded again; she basically went on the defensive as soon as she met me, and then when I did what I thought I should do – leave her alone – that makes me a jerk.

            Upon reflection, I think this woman has an odd set of preconceptions that she uses as a reality filter. For whatever reason, I triggered that filter, and fell into the category of “jerk.” I did nothing unusual, forward, hostile, aggressive, insulting, demeaning, or belittling. I could suppose that someone might find it forward or aggressive for a stranger to wish to see their art (from what I understand, the whole point of a tattoo is to show it off), but I was as pleasant as I know how to be and did not engage her beyond asking her about her tattoos.

            I would imagine if she were asked if she experiences harassment on a regular basis, she would say yes – possibly even quoting my interaction with her, even though I was not harassing her. To your point, Randy; attitude affects perception. To Scott’s point: people create their own bubbles.

          • Doesntliketocomment says:

            Mixer, I can answer this one!

            The problem with your interaction is that you took her compliments as passive aggressive. When she said, “thank you for not groping me”, she really meant it – You had respected her boundaries and behaved in a way that made her comfortable, and she appreciated it. You took it as some kind of backhanded compliment, and forgive me for saying it, but it seems like that has more to do with your own impressions of yourself as being perceived as threatening or dangerous. Most likely, her experience with men asking about her tattoos devolved into them using them as an excuse to touch her (“so what’s this one?” as he brushes against it). Her fear was never about you specifically, it was entirely about being touched by anyone. When you didn’t do that, she was pleased enough to tell you.

            Anyway, you guys had a chat. She thought you were a good person, and told you as much, in her way. You take her compliment as an insult, decided that she is scared of/threatened by you, and completely avoid her. She is confused and hurt, no doubt projecting her own insecurities into the vacuum of reason you left.

            So, I’m afraid the reality filter here is on your end: You are the one who decided that she thought you were aggressive and acted accordingly. When her behavior, being insulted that you ignored her rather than being glad, didn’t match up to your preconceptions you somehow doubled-down, running with the idea that she was antagonistic to you and you alone from the very start, and projecting other negative characteristics on her.

          • LadyTL says:

            I disagree. I think the perceptions definitely skew towards her preconceived notions. He didn’t actually ignore her the second time. He greeted her and left it to her if she wanted to engage or not. She was the one who decided that meant he was ignoring her completely. Also saying “thanks for not groping me” is way more hostile if the intended effect was “thanks for not touching me.”

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You took it as some kind of backhanded compliment, and forgive me for saying it, but it seems like that has more to do with your own impressions of yourself as being perceived as threatening or dangerous.

            I’m about as far from Mixer’s build as can be and generally a timid dork around strangers. I am having a difficult time wrapping my head around how “thanks for not groping me” could be received as anything but a backhanded compliment, especially when offered with explanation.

            Maybe she did mean it genuinely, but she bears at least half the blame for resulting communications failures, because “I assumed you’d be an asshole, gold star for not!” is damning with faint praise.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m more confused that she thought a brief chat upon first meeting obligated some gregariousness later, but I don’t meet strangers at bars often.

            To your point, Randy; attitude affects perception. To Scott’s point: people create their own bubbles.

            Certainly didn’t mean to imply either/or.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @doesn’tliketocomment I was going to post something like that, so I think I’m on roughly the same page about the basic point-

            (I would put it like this: one weird comment, or hang up it may or may not represent, is a pretty harsh reason to write someone off as difficult. -without even getting into how the topic is one where naturally you’re supposed to give people a pass.)

            -but (EDIT: this was crossposted with other people also disagreeing) I think you’re being pretty harsh as well, because:

            1. A conversation in a bar doesn’t constitute a standing offer of close friendship. That’s the default behaviour, it doesn’t engender a duty to be close to someone in the future.

            2. It seems like double counting to bring up ‘hurt and confused’ as the explanation for her weird reaction, when it’s also the most obvious explanation for his weird reaction. If the idea is “Humans are often not as tough as they look and sometimes react irrationally, so if possible don’t write them off for one mistake” then I think it’s such a good idea we should apply it even to people with the bad taste to be so tall. (at least so long as they are anonymous on the internet, and not rudely striding the earth, knocking chips out of door frames with their big ugly heads, taking up people’s light…)

            3. “I’m afraid the reality filter here is on your end” – I agree as to which end the worse one seems to have been (based on our little information), but “No, you are the one who is bad” is a needlessly binary formulation. The obvious reading of events is that at first one person read too much into something, and then the other person, in turn, read too much into that. -Second person’s perception might be wrong, but telling them there was nothing at all to overreact to, probably makes convincing less likely.


            Anyway, sorry to weigh in on this. Hope I’m helping rather than fanning flames.


          • gbdub says:

            Saying “thanks for not groping me” is hard to read as anything other than an aggressively backhanded compliment unless delivered with a literal wink.

            I mean, she just implied she was expecting you to sexually assault her – that’s pretty harsh!

            Really it’s the word “grope” there. If it was just “thanks for not trying to touch them without asking – people do that all the time and it’s so weird!” that would be 100% better.

          • Scott says:

            I’ve seen this happen a few times. IMO she thought you were hitting on her the first time, and then when you didn’t show forward interest the second time it read as you no longer being attracted to her. Hence feeling insulted = you being an ass.

            The good news (if you’re interested) is that she really cared about what you were thinking – she was attracted to you and probably would be open to advances if you saw her again.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Wow, so many people so off base, IMO.

            @Doesntliketocomment has the likely correct interpretation.

            What people are missing is that enough guys will ask that question and proceed to start to touch each tattoo they have a question about. More strangers will do that in a bar than people will just ask for story of the tattoos.

            She opened up and told you (some significant part of) her life story, and the next time you saw her, you didn’t give her more than “Hi”. Your body language also probably closed yourself to her (because you were feeling defensive, and because trying to seem “small” is going to have this effect on its own).

            That doesn’t make you an ass. Just a victim of miscommunication. She probably has a lot of experience with people who actually are asses, so there is a prior to deal with as well.

          • carvenvisage says:

            I’ve seen this happen a lot. IMO she thought you were hitting on her the first time, and then when you didn’t show forward interest the second time it read as you no longer being attracted to her. Hence feeling insulted = you being an ass.

            The good news (if you’re interested) is that she really cared about what you were thinking – she was attracted to you and probably would be open to advances if you saw her again.

            Um, why take the chance? In one version of events, she’s a bitch who was flirting, in another she’s very uncomfortable with that kind of thing and is glad you didn’t take it in that direction. Maybe if you consider only the prior /relative likelyhoods, the first is more likely, but if you consider only the relative payoffs, the first is a nothing, and the second could be something of a betrayal.

            The joke I was going to make, about how you’d have to be a bit of a clippy except for sex, may not be quite as terrible an analogy for some humans as I would like, but still, there’s got to be a question of common sense and dignity. If you’re that desperate, you can probably find a better oppurtunity.

            Doesntliketocomment has the likely correct interpretation.

            The right slant but dialled up to 100 from a solid 70 or so. I find that 30% is usually the difference between ‘you’re right’, and ‘fuck off’.

            -If someone thinks they’re totally right, but is really more wrong than right, but you tell them they’re totally wrong, you’re not giving them a choice between the truth and their false perception, you’re giving them a choice between their false perception that favour them and your false perception which does the opposite.

          • Doesntliketocomment says:

            The consensus seems to be that I was too harsh on Mixer, interesting in that I thought I was being gentle. Carvenvisage, on your point about the 100% vs. 70%, I think your logic has merit, my concern is that frequently “You are 70% at fault and they are 30% at fault”, people tend to focus on that 30%, and soon all they remember is “they are at fault.” Also consider the other person isn’t present, so nothing I say will impact her behavior. If she was, I could tell her what she said was insulting, and possibly cost her a friend. Maybe I could explain why, and she could explain why she said it. But she’s not, so there isn’t much to talk about there.

            My main concern with the interaction is that Mixer didn’t frame it in an active way. If he had said “She said something insulting, and I decided to avoid her because I don’t like being insulted” that would be 100% fine. The problem is he is framing his behavior as being dictated by her desires, “I avoided her because I thought that’s what she wanted, based on her preconceptions of me I extrapolated from a single comment.” I don’t think I need to belabor the point that this isn’t healthy. Consider also that in the first case, all this woman would need to do is apologize and this could be resolved, in the second she is in the dark and has no options to improve the situation.

            Mixer, I have been in your shoes. I long worried that I appeared threatening, due to some facial issues I don’t want to get into. This was backed up by comments I would occasionally get, like “Why are you so mad all the time?” What I found after years and years is worrying about it, and being aloof as a result, literally made it worse. Open body language is key to seeming nonthreatening. Hunching isn’t fooling anyone, they still know you’re a big guy. People love a big friendly guy; a big insecure guy makes them nervous.

          • Mixer says:

            Doesntliketocomment – you could be right. But, I would like to expand on some details that I didn’t mention in the original comment:

            Scott: I didn’t think it relevant, but I’m married. Been so for almost 30 years. So, no hookups in my future 🙂

            LadyTL & Gobbobobble: That was my reaction; if she’d have said “Thanks for not groping me; so many guys use my tattoos an excuse to touch me,” I would have fully understood and not taken offense at all. Just having the “groping” out there with no context, however..

            carvenvisage & HeelBearCub: I suppose it’s my fault for not giving more detail on the encounter. My impression of her being hesitant to explain her tattoos is based on her body language and vocal tone; she kept her arms mostly at her sides, she kept her head down and didn’t look me in the eyes, she was fidgety, she spoke softly and didn’t speak to me about anything other than the tattoos. I definitely got an “I’m uncomfortable here” vibe from her. She made no attempt to engage me, converse with me or interact with me in any way that first or the second night. She may have just been shy or thought that I should be the one to approach her, but I don’t think I was being unreasonable in my interpretations of her actions or lack thereof. That’s mainly why I was floored the second time; I saw a clear message saying “stay away” and obliged, only to be told that was the wrong thing to do.

            But, Doesntliketocomment and the others might be right. So, I will try to engage her next time I see her and see what happens.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            The reason reality filters work so well is that everybody has one.

            There’s a multiplier effect.

          • carvenvisage says:

            interesting in that I thought I was being gentle

            In terms of the amount of wtf there is to the original post, I think you could probably write a fairly entertaining and detailed rant. and I guess not doing that might be gentle relative to the response that would be the most aesthetically appropriate, or something, but the ideal level of outrage to convince someone just really really doesn’t go up linearly with how wtf their mistake was.

            -If you want to convince someone, it should always stay below the level at which you look like you’re attacking rather than trying to help someone do/be better.

            Carvenvisage, on your point about the 100% vs. 70%, I think your logic has merit, my concern is that frequently “You are 70% at fault and they are 30% at fault”, people tend to focus on that 30%, and soon all they remember is “they are at fault.

            It’s not a multiple choice quiz with only two options, where if you tried one thing and that didn’t work the other must be correct. It’s not that easy.

            Appearing honest, accurate, and like you are aiming to help, rather than harm, are the *minimum* standards, in the game of unsolicited advice. Especially if that advice is ‘You’re wrong and acted badly’.

            -That response is a total non sequitur, like getting sick of burnt steaks and deciding cooking is the problem.

        • Matt M says:

          And the one who does is the most obviously self-confident of the three.

          I think there’s something to this. I think confidence can often come across to people as “feel free to have some fun at my expense, because I can handle it.” Most catcallers are trying, in their own way, to deliver compliments. Their goal is not to “harass,” in the sense that they aren’t trying to make the recipient feel bad about themselves, quite the opposite actually.

          For a non-sexual example, there’s a young guy I work with who has become sort of the office scapegoat. Basically he is the butt of every joke, almost everyone light-heartedly makes fun of him every once in awhile. I’ve found myself doing it too, which is quite rare for me, as I’m usually very careful to not do anything that might offend someone. But he certainly seems to like it, which is why people do it. He volunteers to present at meetings, he leads social functions, etc. He likes being the center of attention and he seems to intentionally play up the “goofy ne’er-do-well” sort of personality. He projects “feel free to crack a joke at my expense – I’m comfortable with that!” and so, people do. It’s possible we’re all misreading him, that he secretly hates it and is crying on the inside. That he goes home and writes in blog comments about how everyone at work hates him and never cuts him a break and constantly mocks him in public (for whatever reason). But I’d be quite shocked to find out that was true.

          Meanwhile, I’m pretty socially awkward and have a fragile ego, and I think that comes across and people know it. People almost never crack jokes at my expense – when they do I kind of stammer and turn red. But the thing is I am kinda confident, and on the rare occasions when people joke about me, even if I don’t project it, I actually kind of like it, because it suggests they’re comfortable with me and have gotten to know me well enough to understand that I can take it, even though I don’t seem that way.

    • toastengineer says:

      I’ve always wondered how much of the “women tend to bail out of programming shortly after getting their first job” phenomenon is just the “college delivers a negative amount of preparation for actual work and leaves you massively overconfident” phenomenon plus being told to expect sexism.

      Average and under-performing men get jobs, get flak from their co-workers and think “shit, I guess I have a whole lot to learn, better get started,” while average and under-performing women think “shit, I guess those folks on campus were right about ‘brogrammers,’ I guess I’ll become a doctor or a lawyer or something.” Over-performing men and women meanwhile just sail right over the wall.

      It’d line up with the evidence that on average female programmers are significantly better at their jobs than men are on average; only the best stick around.

      • poignardazur says:

        Mhh… a more credible hypothesis would be “Programming is harder than you expect, which is distressing. Girls are more likely to quite because they have to deal with that, plus sexim / plus lack of a social circle of girls”. But yeah, interesting point.

        That said, I don’t think it’s true either way. My coding school, which recruits right after high school and advertises itself as “The only thing you need to know is how to press the power button of your computer” has a massive gender imbalance from the first week. If it were only a problem of women getting discouraged, it would start closer to 50%. I think the n°1 factor is that women are less interested in computer science by the time they choose a career, for whatever reason.

        • Murphy says:

          Back in uni I tutored most of my year at one point or anther. It didn’t really start as an organized thing, more that when some of the people around me were struggling I’d help them figure out what was going wrong.

          I feel I got a fairly good idea of the approximate affinity/skill level of the people in my year.

          We had about a 10-1 gender ratio starting out that lasted through uni.

          I didn’t notice any appreciable difference between men and women actually in the course. I think the ability spread was roughly proportional in my opinion.

          toastengineer might not be entirely off-base. The top-skill women are all still in software, the ones at the lower end of the distribution are in other fields. Of the males a lot of the lower skill people seem to still be in computing related jobs.

        • Majuscule says:

          I have complementary theory; there are a fair number of women who can code, somewhat fewer who deeply enjoy coding, and both overlap with the number of women who have good people and management skills. I’ve worked in several IT and IT-adjacent departments managed by a woman who was briefly a programmer, but who soon moved into some sort of product owner or management position. There’s always a curve for ability, a curve for interest, and another curve that represents how well a woman tolerates a management skills gap in the people around her. If the interest-in-coding curve drops below the interest-in-management curve, that woman will probably stop being a programmer and do something else.

        • toastengineer says:

          I was trying to specifically explain the fact that women who successfully get their first high-tech job usually quit and go do something else shortly after.

          Seems like the rest of the divide is explicable by the things/people divide, the fact that women who are smart enough to become programmers also have the social skills to become doctors & lawyers, and possibly because there’s a cultural image of programmers as men that causes women to not tend to think about becoming programmers.

      • adaldrida says:

        Something similar happens to students deciding whether to major in economics. The linked paper shows that both men and women who get A’s in a first-year principles of economics class have about a 40% chance of going on to major in economics. Out of those who get B-‘s, about 34% of men and 7% of women go on to major in economics.

        People I’ve talked to treat this as a Bad Thing We Need to Confront to Increase the Numbers of Women in Economics, but it seems to me like the women are being more reasonable than the men here.

        • Aapje says:

          Indeed, one of the things that irritates me is that the choices by men are often treated as the correct ones, while ironically, these same people tend to believe that it’s men who are socialized to behave wrongly.

          • adaldrida says:

            In this case, the people I talked to were economists, so their thinking was “majoring in economics is the correct choice,” not “making man-like decisions is the correct choice.”

            But I think your point is valid. I’m reminded of articles about how women should be more assertive and talkative in the workplace, despite the research that introverts and people who don’t position themselves as obvious leaders contribute a lot to teams. (I’m not sure how valid that research is.)

        • Besserwisser says:

          Reminds of how the genders supposedly react to job postings. Women will only apply if they have everything that’s “required” whereas men are more likely to apply even if they’re only a 60% fit. I’m not sure about the scientific evidence for it, so take it or leave it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’ve always wondered how much of the “women tend to bail out of programming shortly after getting their first job” phenomenon

        Have you determined that this is indeed a true phenomenon? There are a lot of false factoids about things like this floating around the internet. Specifically, step one would be to find out whether women bail out of programming “shortly” after getting their first job significantly more than men do; step two would be, if this is true, to determine if it is true just in programming or in other fields as well. (I have no idea what the truth is in this particular case)

    • poignardazur says:

      On the one hand, my prior is to call bullshit on wide convenient assertions like this unless they’re backed by extremely well-controlled trials.

      On the other hand, I think you might be on to something. My recent personal experience has been that I often avoid conflicts where people seem to think conflicts are a given. I think it’s possible there is a systematic reason for that; I wouldn’t call it “competence”; or at least, not “performance”, since it’s been true even in areas where skills don’t matter or where I was less had worse performance than average; maybe the same “aura of niceness” Scott was talking about?

      • Fossegrimen says:

        A large study. They do manage to jump through enough hoops that they find gender discrimination through sub-group-analysis, but on the whole I’d say the findings are that competence == acceptance.

      • Alexp says:

        I also wonder how it maps onto my own experiences. I’m an Asian male, so I’m not really in the most discriminated against groups, but I do generally get along with everybody in the office. Another possible confounder is that I work in a business intelligence/market research role, though I’m making moves to transition to data science.

        I guess I’m pretty good at my work, but I’ve also been phoning it in for at least the past year and half.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I’m struggling to put together the reasoning that takes you from “competent women consistently don’t get harassed/catcalled/etc. – but incompetent ones do” (Even if that were true, which it is not) to “sexism doesn’t exist at all”.

      • Murphy says:

        I think the hypothesis was that

        [incompetent people male and female get treated crap at work] ->

        [male] -> “I guess I’m crap and it’s my fault”

        [female] -> “they told me this would happen, I guess they were right and this environment really is full of X-ism”

        I don’t really think Fossegrimen is correct though it does match with some observations but I don’t think your summary matches what he’s claiming.

      • Aapje says:


        Perhaps incompetent men get harassed/criticized/etc a similar amount, although maybe in a different form due to their gender.

        In that case sexism doesn’t exist in the sense that one gender gets harassed significantly more than the other, although it can exist in the sense that the harassment is gendered in how it happens.

        • Thegnskald says:

          From my observations, that is the case.

          There is a lot of overlap between the sort of person who calls women sluts and men gay.

          Granted, “gay” as an insult is phasing out, but because gay people understandably find it objectionable, not because men complained about gendered insults.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Low-status people may tend to get harassed more. In a meritocratic work environment, low status correlates with incompetence.

        Harassment takes different forms depending on the gender the harassed and harasser: women are harassed by implicitly or explicitly accusing them of sexual promiscuity. When the harasser is a man this may take the form of the harasser initiating inappropriate sexual interactions (implying that the harassed will welcome them because she is a slut), when the harasser is a woman, it may take the form of direct comments or gossip about illicit sexual activities (e.g. creating rumors that the harassed got the job by sleeping with the boss).

        Men, on the other hand, are usually harassed by questioning their masculinity, both by men and women. This may take the form of comments about sexuality (e.g. implying that they are gay or that they are unsuccessful with women), or other traits commonly associated with masculinity (e.g. physical strength, self-reliance, social dominance, emotional control, etc.). That’s the reason why the insult “loser” is almost always directed at men, even though it is theoretically non-gendered, and expressions such as “man up”, “grow a pair”, which mean “become more self-reliant/dominant/stoic” are male-gendered and have no female equivalent, while the male equivalents for “slut” (“stud”, “player”, “Don Juan”, etc.) are compliments rather than insults.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I think “slut puppy” is a more male-appropriate insult equivalent for “slut”, although it tends to get tossed around less, and appears to have become more gender-neutral over time.

          • Mengsk says:

            That’s a new one. I had thought fuckboi was the in-vogue way of expressing this idea.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Mengsk –

            Old, actually. I might be showing some of my age there.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I have heard the term “fuckboi” used by one young woman. For her it meant, “i slept with this young man multiple times and now he does not want to call me.”

            She was quite bitter about it, and meant it as an insult. I do not think the guy in question cared much.

        • Besserwisser says:

          I think insults to women also insult their womanhood since with men it’s assumed they want to sleep with everyone, so calling a woman a slut insults her femininity, so to speak.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I”m surprised you aren’t seeing women getting insulted for not looking good enough.

        • Alexp says:

          Honestly, a workplace where lower performers are harassed in either of those ways seems pretty toxic, and not an organization I’d want to be associated with, even if I were a ‘high-performer’. Even investment banks don’t go all the way in that direction.

          • vV_Vv says:

            But if you were a high performer you would probably not notice it, unless it was done in a very overt way (which most functional organizations would not allow).

          • Matt M says:

            Also investment banks do a pretty good job of filtering candidates such that anyone who gets to them is very unlikely to be truly incompetent. A low-performing investment banker is still probably in the top 5% of performers in society.

          • Brad says:

            Low, or even medium, performing investment bankers may not be harassed, but they are let go, fall out of the tournament, and will never again be paid anything close to what they were when they were in that job.

            In many tech workplaces you can be low performing and continue to work there forever, or if let go find a comparably compensated job elsewhere.

            It’s not clear to me that the tech version of that trade-off is worse.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It would be interesting to see the correlation between reports of (1) condescension; (2) passes from coworkers; (3) catcalls outside of work; (4) hostile work environment that is not aimed at an individual, such as pin-ups or kink rooms.

    • gemmaem says:

      There are two more dynamics that could be happening here that have not yet been pointed out.

      Firstly, some types of discrimination make it harder to learn. For example, discrimination can make people more likely to tell you “gosh, it’s such a shame you’re not capable, let me give you something easier” rather than “you’re obviously capable, but you may not yet realise that you really need to fix this aspect, let me explain it to you.” People who have experienced more discrimination may have had fewer learning opportunities as a result.

      Secondly, being super capable can indeed mean that you don’t face discrimination. As such, a mediocre female programmer could potentially remove the discrimination she faces by becoming a much better programmer. But if a similarly mediocre man is not being treated as badly as she is, then the discrimination is still real. And if the discrimination she faces is stopping her from becoming any better (as above), then this will produce a pattern similar to the one you have observed.

      • Svejk says:

        The parent observation strikes me as uncharitable and does not comport with my experience, but the phenomenon described by gemmaem seems plausible. I think I may have observed something like it it on several occasions in an academic context.

        Following Scott’s observations, some aspect of social competence may play a role here, in various directions. Some people may not really notice instances of discrimination or poor treatment (analogous the way nerds are stereotyped as oblivious to flirtation) that are apparent to others better at reading social context; others are over-sensitive. This is compatible with a framework of social priors conditioning our responses, as they are products of our perceived experience rather than a perfectly unbiased sample of reality.

      • eh says:

        One way in which extreme competence would help is by attaining soft power. Not just “I am undeniably good and you can’t ignore me” but “everyone in this workplace respects me more than you and if you talk shit they’ll laugh at you or fire you”.

        I think from anecdotal experience that power dynamics change your perception of events dramatically, and that makes me wonder if wealthier people interpret ambiguous social circumstances differently. Maybe someone’s written a paper about it.

    • tmk says:

      This sounds like you making up facts to fit your world-view.

    • Abaleth says:

      I think the person who I knew who complained the *most* about discrimination was a woman who moved from part-time admin assistant to an offer of Managing Director of a start-up in the space of three years. She was super-competent, but also outgoing, attractive, informal and friendly, and so anyone who did like making trouble felt comfortable doing it with her. I saw several examples this, of differing levels of badness in her time working there.

      Another successful friend of mine, I’m sure would never say anything about sexual harrassment to a colleague, and she rose from phone-answerer to the high management in the banking industry, before retiring to take over a another field in her spare time whilst managing high-level tasks of multi-nationals as a consultant. She kept quiet, but if you’re her friend, you hear some pretty bad stories of how she was treated, especially early on.

      Perhaps one of the things which driven women feel they have to do to succeed is keep quiet about these things, and take them in their stride?

    • Matthew Green says:

      First of all, nobody should be getting harassed at work *period*. That just seems like a basic standard of professionalism.

      But assuming we agree on that — and this just comes down to acceptable levels of professional respect — even your metric seems wrong. It’s not “can extremely competent people gain respect”. It’s “can a specific level of competence garner you the same level of respect *regardless* of your gender”. If getting respect requires you to be in the top 5-10% as a female, but only in the top 95% as a male, the answer is “no”.

    • entognatha says:

      How do you explain the case of a woman who shaved her head and was treated as more competent? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqKCEEprxIY

      Or the case of the scientist who transitioned from male to female and was complimented for being much better than his “sister” : http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/12/AR2006071201883.html

      The reality is that it’s incredibly hard to prove discrimination on an individual, and if you are that individual, by extension you likely won’t notice it- because you don’t know what it’s like to *not* be discriminated against, unless you present yourself differently as in the above cases.

      My first year teaching as a graduate student I got very poor reviews, and my fellow graduate student told me that he had it easier; it hadn’t even *occurred* to me that merely our physical appearances mattered, but it had occurred to him, because he could see me in context, whereas I could not. I was short, female, and looked younger than a lot of the students, something I didn’t really notice because I am in my own body looking out; but he did notice.

      I notice that a lot of women who have never experienced sexual harassment are autistic, or lightly socially impaired – Scott gives the example of the woman from MIT- and perhaps it is possible that women who are socially impaired are being sexually harassed – and that they just don’t notice or focus on it. I think even for a neurotypical person, it might be hard to notice, but for a non-NT, it’s especially hard.

      • Besserwisser says:

        There also have been women passing for men (or just passing transmen) who reported all the negative things that came with it, to give this a bit more context. Or the other way around, transwomen appreciating the positive sides of being seen as a woman. Individual data points are hard to extroploate from but I don’t think “there are positives and negatives associated with either gender role” should be a controversial statement.

      • John Schilling says:

        I think it is reasonably well established that a dramatic change in personal appearance and/or a reappearance after significant absence, does in effect give a person a second chance to make a first impression. If the first first impression is of incompetence, then a period of gradual improvement will leave the original impression of “incompetent” in place because there is nothing to trigger a reevaluation, but a transitioning event that presumably involves absence and appearance change could well prompt a reevaluation as “competent” for non-gender-related reasons.

        The obvious place to look for evidence one way or another would be the reports of people who transitioned ftm.

      • Nornagest says:

        How do you explain the case of a woman who shaved her head and was treated as more competent?

        If I walk into a generic tech company and I spot two programmers, one in Dockers and a blue polo with a bland short haircut, and one in ripped skinny jeans with a Misfits T-shirt and a mohawk, I’m probably going to assume the second one’s a better coder. Maybe not a better leader or the kind of person you’d want to bring to a presentation to the suits, but all else equal, standing out like that means you need to be better at your job, because it means your screw-ups get noticed more and given less slack.

      • ajar says:

        I have not experienced sexual harassment and I’m a female, age 31, sexually appealing (I believe), work in the social science field and not autistic. Sure, strangers have said sexual things to me without my active encouragement throughout my life but I would not classify any of it as “harrassment.”
        I’m also a very emotional and perceptive person.

        I do experience gendered comments from my father and relatives all the time. And once a supervisor’s negative treatment of me was due to my doing things in a ‘womanly’ way (that is – expressing my feelings about being overworked to him and trying to act compassionate towards my students). Outside of these experiences, I have not felt mistreated due to my femaleness.

    • Mark says:

      When I was a young man I used to get cat-called on occasion – flashed breasts and lewd comments etc… since becoming a highly competent middle aged person this has stopped happening.

    • gbdub says:

      Not competence, but perhaps an anecdote of “priming to expect sexism”.

      A female coworker was recently promoted to a lead position. She complained to me that she got a talk from her manager that basically went, “Please be sure that by taking this position, we expect you to work more hours as needed, and we can’t be as flexible with when you can take time off for running family errands etc.” She was convinced that this was an instance of her being “mommy-tracked”.

      Thing is, I just promoted to a similar position, and got exactly the same talk despite being male, unmarried, and with no kids. Which isn’t to say that there is no such thing as mommy-tracking, just that the two of us responded very differently to the same input.

      • bean says:

        I had a similar experience. I was talking with a female engineer (different industry from me) who said that she had been in meetings where she’d brought up a suggestion, had it dismissed, and then the same idea adopted when it was brought up by a man later. She attributed this to sexism.
        But I’ve had the exact same thing happen. I had a disagreement with someone from another department, and proposed a solution to the problem. He rejected it, and we went back and forth for quite a while until someone else suggested what I’d opened with. It was immediately adopted. I’m white and male, so it wasn’t any of the usual -isms. It was probably a combination of stubbornness on the other guy’s part and prejudice against my department. (Both of us were/are in our 20s, so age might have also played a part, but that’s a very different problem from sexism.)

        • lvlln says:

          This seems to be an obvious pitfall of taking lots of self-reported anecdotes as evidence for any sort of common phenomenon in society. Without actually doing the hard work of running experiments or at least collecting data in some rigorous way, it’s way too easy for people to take some negative experience they have and attribute it to some sort of bigotry that targets them in some way, because they haven’t observed members of other demographics suffer similar negative experiences, even if other groups do suffer them at the same (or perhaps even worse) rate and intensity.

          For me, I had a strange moment a few years ago when I was riding the subway, and a woman was taking up a 2nd seat with her bag. I asked her if I could sit there – 1st, she ignored me, and on a 2nd asking, she glared up at me and silently moved her bag to her lap while holding her gaze. During the rest of the ride, she aggressively elbowed me on the side every time the subway car shook or she turned the page on her book.

          Based on this, there is no way for me to tell if she was just in a bad mood for a few minutes and taking it out on me, or if she was just a jerk in general, or anything else. But even at the worst interpretation, it was just one person who happened to be a jerk, and it told me absolutely nothing about what to expect from other people of her demographic (i.e. white, woman, brown hair, looked to be in 20s or 30s, etc.).

          But then it also occurred to me that if the genders had been reversed, I would have been expected to interpret this as an obvious display of male entitlement, that this was just yet another piece of evidence that men in general didn’t respect women’s right to take up space, and that my staying silent was a betrayal to all women, because the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

          Even though there was absolutely no evidence that there was any difference in gender rates for a phenomenon like this, much less evidence that men were offending more often or women were victimized more often.

          Not that this idea wasn’t already in my head to some extent, but that encounter really stuck with me for making it concrete. It pushed me more into realizing that it’s very important to be wary of falling into some version of Fundamental Attribution Error.

        • liskantope says:

          I feel a bit bad for this, but I can’t resist chiming in by saying that most of the stories I hear from female academics (starting with my grad student friends) that are proposed as evidence of sexism are things that have more or less happened to me (I’m a male academic). For instance, I heard from a woman who complained that since she started working in her new office, students constantly came in asking her where her male colleagues were, as though she was a secretary or something. During my years in grad school, this was a constant minor annoyance for me in my office (at least every day on certain weeks of the semester), to the point that it began to feel like a running joke that students always assumed I knew the habits and whereabouts of all my officemates. But of course, an explanation like “they think of me as a secretary because of my gender” would never occur to me.

          Which isn’t to say that none of these anecdotes are instances of sexism; it may be that women in academia do experience these particular behaviors somewhat more often than men do, because of sexism. But this would be difficult to demonstrate, and the anecdotes taken one by one are not great evidence, in my opinion.

          I’ve long been meaning to write down my thoughts on the subconscious tendency to want to believe in mechanistic explanations for things for our own comfort and feeling of control rather than admit that they are not well understood yet and can’t be predicted, and I wonder if this is another example of it. Perhaps some of the variance in perception that we’re talking about in this comments section is correlated with different levels of proneness to this sort of temptation.

          • gemmaem says:

            As a woman who has been in situations where people were being ambiguously unkind, I think one of the best coping strategies that I found was to realise that “Is this sexism, or is he just being a jerk?” can always be answered with “Well, he’s definitely being a jerk.” Like, you don’t actually have to know if it’s sexism or not to know that you’re not obligated to believe people when they’re being jerks.

            With that said, it can still help to know that sexism is one potential context. For instance, if the situation is “This person is a jerk to me on a regular basis and yet all my male friends think I am crazy for wanting to avoid him,” then it helps to be aware that one explanation for this situation is that your male friends might not be experiencing the same behaviour from him that you are.

          • knockknock says:

            Sounds like the actual sexism here is against secretaries. “”Oooh, they think I’m JUST a secretary.”

          • Nick says:

            I think one of the best coping strategies that I found was to realise that “Is this sexism, or is he just being a jerk?” can always be answered with “Well, he’s definitely being a jerk.”

            This reminds me of the old adage, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.” I suppose there should be a similar one, “Never attribute to systemic injustice that which is adequately explained by ordinary injustice.” One difficulty that occurs to me, though, is that any single event may be adequately explained in this way, but aggregates may not be.

          • gemmaem says:

            “Never attribute to systemic injustice that which is adequately explained by ordinary injustice.”

            To be clear, I am not saying that I always classify jerkishness as being definitely just an ordinary injustice. I am saying that the answer to “sexist or jerk?” is “definitely a jerk, possibly sexist, do you need to know for sure?”

          • Besserwisser says:

            I’ve actually heard male professors say “that woman in the office before mine is not my secretary, she’s another professor”.

          • Aapje says:


            Sure, but people tend to be very bad at accurately determining aggregates, because of various effects that cause selective perception.

          • Nick says:


            Would you say that’s an argument for or against the adage, though? We don’t want to be unaware of systemic injustice, but we don’t want to imagine ones that don’t exist, and I don’t know which is worse.

          • Aapje says:


            My opinion is that trying to determine the level of systemic injustice from personal experiences is rather hopeless in a situation where everyone gets fed so many shitty biases and priors & where people can have highly different sensitivity and environments. If you actually want to be correct, you should merely use anecdotal evidence as qualitative evidence (which it actually is) and use quantitative evidence/science as quantitative evidence. Even when doing that, it is easy to make major mistakes that give the wrong outcome, but at least you have a chance to be correct.

            Most claims of systemic injustice are quantitative claims and thus require quantitative evidence. Merely by observing the great disparity between claims by different people, who base themselves on anecdotal evidence, it should be clear that claims based on qualitative evidence can easily be orders of a magnitude different from their actual value. Such uncertainty means that only minimal confidence in their validity is warranted.

            A mistake that I think that you and many others make is that they feel that the appropriate way to respond to a situation is:
            1. Make an educated guess what the actual motivation is
            2. Then respond appropriately for that specific motivation

            I think that this is wrong for 2 reasons. First of all, I think that many people don’t have singular motivations. Secondly, by incorporating the uncertainty in the response, you can frequently have better overall outcomes, even if you are mostly correct.

            For example, lets say that the same jerky behavior X is sexist 70% of the time and non-sexist 30% of the time and that you can’t distinguish between the two. One response is to call out everyone who does this for being a sexist, which will then be correct 70% of the time. Lets assume* that this on average reduces sexism by 10 points if this person was actually sexist, but will increase it by 20 points if this person is not a sexist (because I assume that people hate being called out unfairly). Then the average outcome is .7 * -10 + .3 * 20 = -7 + 6.67 = -1/3rd. So you actually then only get a minimal reduction in overall sexism, because the cost of being wrong is high.

            Another possibility is to call this person out for being a jerk. Let’s assume that a small percentage of the sexists who will be called out like this will reflect on their motivations and will become less sexist. So for sexists, let’s assume an average reduction in sexism by 2 points. Then lets assume that jerks don’t become more sexist for being called out like this, so their level of sexism stays the same. Then the average outcome is .7 * -2 + .3 * 0 = -1 + 0 = -1. So despite being far less effective for the common case, it’s actually more effective overall.

            Note that I don’t actually believe these numbers are anywhere near correct, nor should you believe them. They are just meant to illustrate that merely seeking to be mostly correct is not necessarily a good strategy. You also should try to reduce the costs of being wrong.

            When it’s very hard to correctly guess the motivation or even know the base rate, a better strategy may be to just skip that step and come up with a response that works well regardless of what the actual motivation is.

          • Nick says:


            Yeah, that sounds to me like a fair defense of the spirit of the adage.

    • vnosikov says:

      It would be very fitting to the spirit of the post, if somebody would appear and share their experience that is completely different.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I get catcalled, or did when I jogged. Not so much now that I rarely go out in public. (Sort of a trend for me. I have also had random women in bars ask to see pictures of my genitals.)

      But I think the major difference here isn’t competence, it is interpretations.

      Imagine two scenes of gendered insults:

      In scene A, a guy calls a cashier he is angry with a slut.
      In scene B, a woman calls a cashier she is angry with a small-dick.

      One of these gets interpreted as sexism, the other as a more generic assholishness.

      Feminism tends to explain the difference in terms of systemic oppression – but this is a circular argument, because the gendered insults are treated as evidence of systemic oppression.

      Maybe assholes are just assholes, and we tend to treat gendered insults against men, if we treat them as an issue at all, as faults in the general personality of the person making them, whereas we treat gendered insults against women as sexism (both individual and systemic).

      There is a lot of default-male thinking in and around gendered insults, in that gendered insults targeting men aren’t seen as anti-male, but as “normal” insults.

      But the thing is – people cater their insults to try to most offend their target. Imagine, for a moment, trying to offend a man, and trying to offend a woman. Would the insults be treated as fundamentally similar?

      • Deiseach says:

        Imagine two scenes of gendered insults:

        In scene A, a guy calls a cashier he is angry with a slut.
        In scene B, a woman calls a cashier she is angry with a small-dick.

        I am perhaps showing my age here, but I think in the past scenario A was much more likely to happen than scenario B. I do think it’s only relatively recently that women (apart from those considered fish-wives – from the use of billingsgate by the women working in the eponymous fish market – viragos, strumpets, etc.) used offensive language and got that kind of angry, like a man would get angry, in public.

        (And yes, I know that this is mostly to do with the swings of the historical pendulum and that it’s only 19th century gentility that said women should be mild and never use harsh language or else they were not respectable, no matter their class from a duchess to a washerwoman).

        So when feminist theory of the 20th century was being constructed, it would have been more reasonable, and indeed common, to see instances of men calling women sluts, bitches, etc. than to see women calling men small dicks and the like, and to construct your theory around such.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Not to mention that society and law were built around heterosexual relationships, and typical mind fallacy would lead to lesbians concluding all women led the same lives they did, trapped in passionless marriages with unattractive men constantly pushing them into having sex, and that these experiences formed the cornerstone of much of the formative years of feminism, which caught on pretty much only because women were generally finding their increasingly automated lives decreasingly fulfilling and meaningful.

          And everybody got quite upset about the situation because the more successful men were at providing for their wives, the less satisfied their wives became with their lives, and the more they desired to provide as well, which felt like an insult at their husband’s ability to fulfill his gender role, pretty much directly in proportion to how well he actually did so.

          And then women did get into the workforce, and discovered that no, it wasn’t actually fulfilling, and in fact kind of terrible. And the hazing men used to give each other, often with sexual overtones, felt uniquely horrible, because women were accustomed to polite society.

          And the dance continues, although the song has changed.

    • eqdw says:

      Somewhat related:

      I’ve noticed that a very large percentage of the self-reported harassment that I’ve seen/heard of, does not come from people in engineering. It comes from people in tech. It’s not the female engineer, with a B.Sc. (Honours) from MIT. It’s the graphic designer, who thinks she knows how to engineer a hundred thousand line javascript project because she animated a spinner once. It’s the recruiter or the middle-manager who fully drinks the corporate tech culture kool-ade and then wonders why the other engineers don’t take him seriously after he puts in so much effort to “relate” to them on “their level”. It’s the code school grad who wrote their first “Hello, world!” twelve weeks ago and now resents their design decisions being overruled by their team lead.

      To me, it’s essentially no different than the homeopath who constantly complains about how the Mainstream Medical Establishment is conspiring against him. It’s people who can’t deliver, who haven’t put the time in to learn what they’re talking about, getting mad at people who can and did.

    • Deiseach says:

      In my life, I have never been catcalled, inappropriately hit on, body-shamed, unwantedly touched in a sexual way, discouraged from a male-dominated field, told I couldn’t do something because it was a boy thing, or suffered from many other experiences that have traditionally served as examples as ways that women are less privileged.

      I don’t know about discrimination as such, but speaking from experience thirty years’ back of what I suppose would vaguely be called sexual harassment (or an unwelcoming work environment or whatever it’s called nowadays) for me and another girl on work placement out of technical college, it was more to do with us being, basically, females. Breathing females. In a majority (and probably before that all-male) environment with a mix of blue-collar and semi-professional to professional work positions. With the men showing a real lack of sexual sophistication (and we were in our early twenties dealing with married men in their 30s and 40s). Nothing to do with our work competence, because we were on student placement so we given the kind of grunt work for the busy period for which the organisation was happy to take on low-paid student labour from various colleges and universities in exchange for giving “work experience in the industry” and not having to train us on procedures, instead of having to hire, train and properly pay extra staff.

      We didn’t feel threatened as such, more “For the love of God, these are supposed to be grown men not fourteen year old boys”. But there were things like – to pick from the list above – “inappropriately hit on” and “unwantedly touched in a sexual way” (if someone standing close behind you and pressing his groin against your buttocks counts as such) and one occasion on the street of “being catcalled” as my experiences, and she had similar tales to tell.

      “told I couldn’t do something because it was a boy thing” – yeah, but that was during puberty when I got told the “you can’t play with the boys now” and “you can’t climb trees now” and “you’re a young woman now” stuff that enlightened parenting nowadays wouldn’t dream of saying.

      “body-shamed” – well, yes? Because I’m fat. Very fat. Unacceptably fat by society’s standards and still would be unless I was my sister’s weight (and at times she verged on the near-anorexic, over-exercising and eating little even though she has never been anything near fat, all due to stress). To which I mostly say “I cannot hear you, society, over the sound of me chowing down on this yummy luxury chocolate orange, cashew and raisin mix” 🙂

      It now dawns on me that I’ve mostly worked in female-majority jobs (even where the mid to upper management levels skewed towards male-majority) and I haven’t encountered anything like those student days experiences since, so yeah, I’m thinking competence alone is not the reason for discriminatory or unwanted behaviour.

    • guccithoughts says:

      This, well said. There is a range of interpretations for any data and, using Scott talk, the “flow of incentives” would make incompetent people analyze the data in the way they are most incentiveized to, namely the way that least reflect their incompetence.

      This reminds me of the Eliezer line “be careful any time you define the winner as anything other then the person currently looking down on you from the pile of utility”, in a similar vein “now, looking back, I’m happy I got rejected by girl x”, “I’m happy I got rejected from Harvard because then I wouldn’t have… ” etc. . The principle being illustrated here is that people analyze the data in the way most advantageous to them.

    • Bram Cohen says:

      An online HR training course I had once said, in basically so many words ‘It is not against the law to have a hostile work environment. It’s your boss’s job to be hostile. If you are underperforming your boss is supposed to tell you so, and that will be hostile. What’s illegal is to make an environment which is hostile for specific reasons’. Maybe this training had been given to the lower level employees rather than the managers.

    • yodelyak says:

      I think “competent” or “incompetent” misses the mark here, although you are on to something.

      Many people are wildly competent at the first 10 seconds of human interaction, and at then stalling for time when they need to cover momentary (or even weeks’ long ignorance/incompetence) so that they often never become aware of their initial incompetence, or treat their eventual success despite their having generally no idea what they’re doing as proof of singular genius. Scott Adams the cartoonist is a good example; I think his success-despite-incompetence was pretty foundational to his very cynical attitude.

      Other people are wildly competent at what they *do* but get locked in to signaling incompetence with their demeanor or etc, and then defending against accusations of incompetence with whatever’s available. (Of course what counts as a signal of incompetence is also context dependent.) Simply being brown is probably not enough to get people to behave awfully toward you, but being brown and being the current target of a police officer’s attention (which roves across people out and about) seems to be a sufficient combination of factors that “driving while brown” is a real thing, at least in many U.S. geographies and for some kinds of cars.

      I don’t have much experience with programmer communities, but I can speak with some basis about campaign communities, where some volunteers can quickly get paid staff (whose usual title is “field organizer”) to reward them with training and responsibility to the point where the volunteers basically function as field organizers themselves… and other volunteers, of equal core competency, as a default get no training and do exclusively data entry, stapling, envelope stuffing, or other lowest-talent-level work. One critical thing is the ability to signal a sufficient capacity for judgment and discretion (and the size of the necessary capacity varies *very* significantly with the campaign and the political year). The volunteer who says something in their first interaction that discretely signals they understand that the campaign will have volunteers from diverse backgrounds, and will meet those volunteers where they are–and hence that they’ll need a full complement of social maneuvering skills–the person who best signals that they understand all that is often just the person who acts the most confident… which in turn means they are often NOT the person who actually has that full complement, because a little confidence is good, but a lot of confidence is where campaign staff become liabilities to a campaign. In addition to discretion, there’s other needed skills, like the ability to create a sense of a fleeting moment in history, which must be seized *now*. Of course all moments are fleeting, but some people are better than others at, for example, creating a sense, on a particular day in 2008, that if people who don’t volunteer for Obama are letting a moment pass–forever. People who can create that sense of “moment” are really valuable for campaigns… but it can be difficult to distinguish people who are aware of the momentousness of the moment and people who are merely selfish or narcissistic.

      As a result, a lot of the very best–and very worst–people get promoted quickly, while a lot of very talented people who don’t see their personalities “gel” with the next level up eventually find they’ve stalled out, no matter how much more training they get, unless they switch offices.

  3. untimelyreflections says:

    I can give three examples of this kind of thing.

    1. I am very short. One day I bought some platform shoes (+ 4″) and went walking.

    > People don’t just walk through you all the time. Walking down the street is quite a pleasant experience (apart from the shoes).

    Tall or average height people – this might be why short people are “pushy” and “aggressive”.

    2. I discovered a while back that I have chronically high cortisol levels 60% above the top of the very wide normal range. When I fixed this

    > Oh so normal people don’t feel ravenously hungry all the time.

    I never knew.

    3. I remember reading about someone who could not visualize things. He assumed that when people talked about “the mind’s eye” or “I can see it”, it was just a dumb metaphor. But people actually meant it literally.

    > People can actually visualize things in their head.

    Re victimization – victimizers seek out people who can be victimized. You don’t have to want it, just to somehow signal that you can be victimized. Example: all those people who seem to be able to control their “uncontrollable anger” when in the presence of men with guns etc.

    • MugaSofer says:

      People don’t just walk through you all the time [when you’re tall]. Walking down the street is quite a pleasant experience (apart from the shoes).

      Tall or average height people – this might be why short people are “pushy” and “aggressive”.

      I’m reasonably tall.

      People definitely don’t run into me much (even though I’m kinda clumsy – I’m more likely to bump into a doorframe than a person.) I can totally buy that it’s a combination of me being easier to see and maybe some semi-conscious “this is a big guy, he might knock me over” thoughts on the part of other people.

      On the other hand, I’ve never noticed that short people are “pushy” and “aggressive”. You mean, like, physically? If anything I’d assume that taller people are pushier, TBH.

      • I’m short–5′ 3″ at the moment, 5′ 3.5″ for most of my adult life–and male. I’ve never noticed a tendency of people to walk through me.

        I have wondered if being short makes people less inclined to view intellectual aggressiveness as threatening, if that’s one reason why my father was able to push unpopular views without getting a hostile reaction from people actually interacting with him (as opposed to more distant critics).

  4. suntzuanime says:

    You projecting a Niceness Field would explain my body burning to ash and blowing away in the wind when I met you, at least.

  5. AnonYEmous says:

    I think both groups are right. Some people experience worlds of basically-good people who treat them nicely. Other people experience worlds of awful hypocritical backstabbers. This can be true even if they live in the same area as each other, work the same job as each other, et cetera.

    Ever since I started interacting more with random people, I’ve always been surprised by how nice they are. And I’m pretty nice when I’m not argumentative or trying to reinforce my points with nonchalantness (i.e. no one here on this board has ever seen it, but it’s true). Is this really an explanation for that?

    I don’t know that I want to accept that explanation though. It’s also kind of all-encompassing; you get what you deserve.

    • Antistotle says:

      We bought a house in the northern suburbs of Denver, after living in a mostly rental area on the east side of denver for 4 years.

      People here smile and *talk* to you.


      • Lambert says:

        We moved literally around the corner, from, a road where you had to park on the kerb, often quite far from your house, to one where everyone had driveways.
        At the old place, we were on friendly terms with all the people within about three houses in each direction, now we barely know our next-door neighbours.
        It probably also involve going from somewhere with low garden chain fences to somewhere with high wooden ones.

    • rminnema says:

      My boys and I have been out selling Cub Scout popcorn again this year, like we have for the last three years. Going door-to-door and interacting with people gets you to realize just how many of them are kind, nice, normal people. And how generous they can be.

      It also reminds you that there are jerks, but that they are a very small proportion of the population.

  6. Antistotle says:

    I’ve written before about how 46% of Americans are young-earth creationists, and how strongly that fails to square with my personal experience. I’ve met young-earth creationists once or twice. But of my hundred closest friends/co-workers/acquaintances, I think zero percent of them fall in that category.

    I know for sure of exactly *one*, and I suspect less than a half dozen are young earth creationists.

    That one is a *really* nice guy (99.9 percent of the time. You don’t want to be the one that triggers that .1 though. Really don’t.) but he’s…Look, I love the guy like a uncle (cause he more or less is) but once he uttered the line “How can I be out of money, I still have checks” and came home drunker than one night and got his revolver out because his truck had broken down and needed to be put out of it’s misery. Like you do a horse. No, really. Turns out he was out of gas.

    I suspect that many of the people who identify as YEC types really haven’t worked it through. They don’t “do” intellectual stuff for fun, they don’t examine things that really *do* matter, much less things that don’t matter much, but it was what they were taught when younger, and it’s never been a *problem* for them. There isn’t a lot about day to day existence that would change if Young Earth Creationism was “true” v.s. “Old Earth” v.s. Science. Well, not for them anyway. Predictability would suffer because God might change his mind at any time and it would be possible (in theory) to pray away HIV or a Hurricane. Or maybe not.

    Anyway, the thing is that despite spending more time in flyover country and with actual religious christians, gun nuts, plumbers and other tradespeople, I know *one* for sure. And a few more possibles. Heck, even the admitted Fundamentalist Evangelical friend of mine *both* believes in Evolution AND Biblical Creation because The Mystery of God. I tried to get him to explain to me the whole Free Will v.s. God knowing what’s coming thing. Basically he asked me about a half dozen times why I couldn’t understand the term ‘It’s a mystery’.

    I don’t really like mysteries that I can’t understand 🙂

    Which brings me to the conclusion that either the polling is hella wrong on that, or lots of people just don’t talk about it. I’m inclined to think it’s a bit of both. Remember, there’s churches out here in the heartland that are bloody stinking YUGE. And I don’t mean 19th century cathedrals built when church was as much social as religious (well, it still is for some folks). So there’s a lot of people out there. I know there’s very religious people in Silicon Valley, and some very conservative folks (I lived there for a while, and I’m pretty conservative along certain lines). They just don’t talk about it because they have kids in school and mortgages, and they know exactly how tolerant (using your definition from that link) the left is, because they tell us when they think we’re not.

    • Noumenon72 says:

      My whole family is YEC and the way it works is that the pastors and master’s degree holders read a lot of Answers in Genesis, so that they are spending a lot of time thinking about actual science stuff like orbits and mitochondria and whatever. They respect the scientific method and logic, it’s not an act. I believe they have blind spots as far as how rigorous actual science is and how difficult it would be to make all the parts fake together, but I can actually respect their views and intellectual attitude. They’re far closer to me than your average anti-intellectual American.

      The dumber ones like my mom, don’t read and don’t care what anyone out of their tribe thinks anyway. I was never offended by her quiet faith till I realized how the possibility of academic persuasion is totally impossible for her.

      The medium ones just defer their thinking to Answers in Genesis and figure that if the smarter people in their group are always endorsing those things, they’re probably covered. Pretty much the way people in every tribe do.

    • ashlael says:

      I think there’s a lot of the fact that it’s super-taboo to admit. Even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t scorn you, they may tell someone who tells someone who scorns you. Or someone will start bombarding you with scientific questions that you don’t know the answers to. Or maybe you’ve seen so many “YECs are just dumb” opinions that you don’t feel like putting up your hand to be considered dumb, even if you know everyone will be polite about it.

      So I think that you all know a lot more YECs than you think you do.

      • Matt M says:


        I also put stock in “everyone realizes this question is often used as a proxy for tribal affinity, therefore, if you’re red tribe, you answer that you are YEC, even if you aren’t literally, to show tribal solidarity and because you don’t want to be on the same side as those obnoxious blue-tribers”

        • Brad says:

          So do you think the earth is 6000 years old then?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Interestingly enough, I think this question primes for tribal-mode far less than “Do you think God created the Earth 6000 years ago” but should have nearly the same amount of true-positives.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “No; by Archbishop Ussher’s reckoning, it’s now 6021 years old.”

            (Or by Rabbi ben-Halafta, it’s 5778, or so on – you should at least ask “about 6000 years old,” but I think then your question might get pidgeon-holed the exact same way at least to some extent.)

          • Matt M says:

            Of course I am, Brad. 100%. Put me down for “farthest right answer you can think of” for every other calibration question you might hypothetically ask as well!

          • Put me down for “farthest right answer you can think of” for every other calibration question you might hypothetically ask as well!

            So you are an anarcho-capitalist?

          • Matt M says:


            I guess at this point it’s getting confusing. I am NOT, in actuality, a young Earth creationist, but I AM, in actuality, an anarcho capitalist, yes.

            My position on “how old is the Earth” is something to the effect of “I don’t know and I don’t particularly care”

    • RDNinja says:

      As someone who has gone to conservative churches his whole life, I can confirm that it’s something people just don’t talk about. It’s been, what, 10-15 years since the last serious public debate on it? And it has no practical value in determining moral choices, so it’s just not worth the risk of bringing up such a controversial topic in the pulpit. I get the sense that there’s a silent agreement that pushing YEC is going to do more harm than good, regardless of how true it is.

      That being said, I’ve been informed that you would be shocked how many closeted creationists work at NASA

      • lifetilt says:

        I am a contractor for NASA and I can confirm that a surprising number of people at NASA, or at least at JSC, are deeply religious. I had a conversation with one engineer who expressed belief in literal, physical demons. Astronauts especially are prone to being quite religious and waxing poetic about how being in space is a religious experience, how much they enjoyed viewing “God’s creation” from above, and so forth. I never specifically asked, but I’m sure at least some of these people are YECs.

        I think it’s probable that a lot of people compartmentalize. Like, they have their engineer brain, and they have their religious brain, and they rarely have to reconcile the two. Maybe this is explained by near vs. far mode thinking.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Somewhat tangentially: I have heard “people compartmentalize” on many occasions, and it’s always about other people. I cannot recall a single instance of anyone claiming that they compartmentalize their religious and scientific beliefs. (At best, they compartmentalize their home and work life.) I have seen and heard of no one who is open about such compartmentalization and talks about it or analyzes it. Not even rationalists, who I would expect to be extremely likely to be forthcoming about it if they do it.

          Given this, I’m led to question whether this c18n happens at all, or if it’s just something projected onto other people that never actually happens, and there’s really something else going on.

          If anyone knows of counterexamples to my hypothesis, now would be a great time to tell me about them.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’ve heard many fellow Christians say “The Bible isn’t a science/history/whatever book” when talking about evolution, consensus Near Eastern history, or such. From one perspective, that could be avoiding compartmentalization by accepting the secular consensus – but from another, it could be compartmentalization by saying the Bible’s true when you’re looking at morality but not when you’re looking at ancient history.

          • MirandaGavrin says:

            Not exactly a belief, but I compartmentalize my veganism. *Me* eating meat is immoral and disgusting and wrong. Somebody *else* eating meat is an acceptable personal choice I have no objections to.

          • Error says:


            That’s interesting. I do the same for many of my own moral beliefs, but it’s less “someone else doing bad thing X is an okay personal choice” and more intentionally lowered expectations, along the lines of “I can’t realistically expect people to not be crazy or the world to not be mad”. I’m not sure I would call that compartmentalization.


            I think of compartmentalization as a bug in my thinking and try to stamp it out when detected. To the extent that impression is shared in the rationalist-sphere, presumably you won’t hear “I compartmentalize”, because people will either have fixed the problem or (possibly deliberately) avoided noticing it.

            I sort of wonder if compartmentalization is how normal people sleep at night. I have trouble doing so (not literally), and I think part of the reason is that I consider myself ethically bound *not* to respond to my failures by engaging defense mechanisms against acknowledging them. Which, since I fail to live up to my standards all the time, makes living with myself hard.

          • knockoffnikolai says:

            Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!

            I compartmentalized a ton of stuff when I was introduced to Rationalism as a Protestant Christian. I was in high school debate at the time, so I just treated it the same way I treated arguing consequentialism one round and deontology the next. That is, you’ve got all the memetic structures floating around in your head, and when a situation calls for a particular set of tools, you bring them out. If you examine your ideological assumptions over time, you start noticing a lot of worldview inconsistencies, but in the moment you’re grabbing for the tool because it does the job. Your attention in those moments is in evaluating a thing or solving a problem—which is to say, your attention is directed to places other than the tool you’re using, so you’re not necessarily thinking about whether this action creates a contradiction four layers above the thing you’re trying to deal with.

            There were moments when those contradictions came front and center. I’d usually try to resolve the contradiction logically, but other times I’d get distracted while thinking about the problem and then forget about it. On one hand, that looks bad because it left me running around without a consistent worldview; on the other hand, not resolving the conflict allowed me to keep using the tools provided by both worldviews. The contexts that demanded those tools didn’t often overlap, so while there wasn’t any intentional compartmentalization, the effective function was to create separate ways of being.

            It’s not as clear-cut as I’m painting it, as they did eventually bleed into each other after a couple years, but I still switch between different modes of thinking when the situation demands it. Currently that shows up most in my interactions with clients (I work in the mental health field): I have one mode where my cognitions focus on empathy and connection, and another mode where my cognitions focus on systemizing the client’s cues while I act like my cognitions are focusing on empathy and connection. These modes involve contradictory views of human nature, which would be a problem if they were optimized for epistemology instead of function.

            You may not hear much about compartmentalization per se, but Piaget proposed a developmental stage called “Postformal thought“, which is characterized by the ability to frame a situation in many different ways. They may contradict each other on the meta level, but together they illustrate different facets of the situation.

          • df45 says:

            You could probably call what I do compartmentalization. I’ve got a compartment for God, one for the church and one for science. Although it’s not like they don’t interact, it’s like each compartment has some solid evidence at their core, then assumptions and beliefs flow out of those cores, becoming more hazy and weak as they expand. They eventually interact and conflict and I start trying to resolve things, with science typically winning out. If I pull my attention out and hold all three in my head at the same time it feels very much like I have three sealed off compartments that create a fair amount of cognitive dissonance.

          • Clegg says:

            I absolutely compartmentalize. I believe in God and I pray. I also find Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett among the most helpful writers in understanding how the mind, including my mind, works.

            I suppose I rationalize the two by humility. Plenty of seemingly irrational religious rules from the past, like the Old Testament prohibitions on eating pork and shellfish, were effective ways to protect people from pathogens they didn’t yet know how to imagine. If there have been throughout history important features of the world that people didn’t know how to think about, and religion gave them a way to deal with them effectively, I don’t see good reason to think that has ceased to be the case in general, even as we now understand evolution, germs, free markets, etc.

            I suppose religion to me is a bit like the hair dryer that SA wrote about at one point. It works, better than anything else I’ve tried, for many problems in my life. Thinking about the mind as an emergent process of a material brain arising through evolutionary processes at multiple levels does not compel me to abandon the God of my darkest moments.

          • LewisT says:

            A quote from a 1949 letter, from one clergyman to another:

            I carry the data of stratigraphy, mountain formation, erosion, and the immense areas of volcanic origin in one compartment of my thinking, the narrative in Genesis in another, with a water­-tight bulkhead between. I cannot harmonize the two. But that does not make me reject one or the other.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            I had very deeply compartmentalized my brain, from pretty much the time I was a teenager until I became and atheist in my 30’s, between a scientific mindset and a religious mindset. It’s surprisingly easy to do. I was never a creationist, but I was a pretty religious Catholic, and never saw a conflict between that and science or even my transhumanist leanings. Basically because I didn’t allow there to be one; the religious thinking and the scientific thinking were basically treated as if they were totally separate magisteria, with nothing to say to each other. When I was thinking in a scientific mindset, religious thoughts had no impact at all. And when I applied rationality to religion it was mostly just to find ways to justify my beliefs; the fact that (I felt) I could argue circles around most internet atheists probably did me harm by letting me justify keeping around beliefs.

            Now, looking back, I’m not sure that the barrier between the two was ever quite as strong as I thought it was at the time, and if anything it seems like a sub-optimal way of organizing your mind, but at the time it seemed to work fine.

      • LewisT says:

        It’s been, what, 10-15 years since the last serious public debate on it?

        I think the 2014 Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate would probably count.

    • Chalid says:

      I strongly suspect that Scott is just mistaken about how many Young Earth Creationists he knows.

      I know two Young Earth Creationists. One is a medical doctor and the other is a managing director at an investment bank. They certainly never talk about it to colleagues; I only happen to know because I knew them in college.

    • moridinamael says:

      I know a disproportionate amount of geologists and people with geological training. You can’t glance at a geology textbook without understanding that the world is very old. Having glanced at a geology textbook, you can’t look at a rock or a mountain or a beach without being reminded that the world is very old.

      Regardless, I know some geologists who are YECs. Compartmentalization has no limits.

      • Evan Þ says:

        And Answers in Genesis has some hypotheses on geology, too, that look very interesting to read about (says me, who never studied geology post middle school Earth Science).

        Have you talked with your friends about this? Are they actually compartmentalizing, or are they actively rejecting the underlying theories accepted by a consensus of their field?

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        You can’t glance at a geology textbook without understanding that the world is very old.

        Well, here’s one way they get around this.

        Most geological events are actually very fast. (Kind of like how “punctuated equilibrium” is the current evolutionary mechanism, not gradual incrementalism as hypothesized by Darwin.) For instance, major geographical features of Washington State were formed in about 40 days, when a glacier in northern Idaho broke during the end of the ice age and let out the water from a lake that covered Montana and a bunch of other states.

        Similarly, there are deep, Grand Canyon-like canyons near Mount St. Helens that formed the very next spring after it erupted in the 80s. It didn’t take millennia in that instance, unlike what the Grand Canyon tour guides will tell you…

        Facts like these give YECs hope, despite other things “looking old” (which they explain with “Well, that’s how God created them. Next question!”)

        • 2181425 says:

          This isn’t quite right, but is ‘truthy’ enough it’s a good example of YEC thinking. The Bretz/Missoula floods were probably multiple (up to 40) floods over a period of several hundred years to a few thousand years. Quick on a geological scale, not so quick on a human scale.

          Canyons in the Toutle Valley were forming in basically mud and debris flows, like running a garden hose in the dirt. In places, the flows near St. Helens are something like 500 feet deep, that’s a lot of dirt to carve. That’s a different story from eroding the Colorado River through layers of limestone, just like your garden hose is less effective on stone versus dirt.

        • moridinamael says:

          Regardless of whether the actual details of this are correct, I’m sure you can find examples of geological events that happened on short timescales. But if you drive by a road cut in Colorado, you will see strata that are completely vertical, or folded up. That didn’t happen fast. Or if you ever visit a cave. Or look at a diamond or most other gemstones – those didn’t form fast, and they didn’t make it back to the surface fast.

          To answer the more upthread question, the geologists I’ve known who managed this compartmentalization had a kind of “separate magisteria” perspective about it. They were fully capable of reasoning-as-if the geological scientific understanding was true, but in their mind, that worked because God made it so.

          • Or look at a diamond or most other gemstones – those didn’t form fast,

            That may be true, but I don’t see how you can know it by just looking at them. We make synthetic corundum, the second hardest of gem stones, and make it fast. Most industrial diamond is synthetic as well, also made fast.

          • moridinamael says:

            I know relatively little about mineralogy. I do know that the formation of many gemstones requires heats and pressures far greater than the conditions where the gemstones are found, meaning those materials had to be uplifted from great depth by some means. And that isn’t fast, except in the cases of volcanic eruption.

        • Nornagest says:

          Some geological events go fast, but “most” is overstating the case. Seafloor spreading, mountain uplift, sedimentation: these are the bread and butter of modern geology, and they all take a while. Limestone for example is formed from the remains of coral and shell-bearing creatures (we can tell because some limestones preserve the shells): for that to happen, the animals it’s made of had to hatch, grow, die, their fleshy parts rot away, and their carbonate remains sink to the bottom where they accumulated over many thousands of years, slowly cementing together. There are no shortcuts to that. Ditto for orogeny: we know how fast mountains grow because we can measure it directly, and it’s not very fast.

    • Deiseach says:

      I am very dubious about that percentage and I think at most you can say is that “46% of the survey respondents are young-earth creationists and/or were confused by the wording or didn’t read all the way through, just said ‘yeah I believe in God the Creator’ and ticked option A”.

      This blog post shows that how the question is worded makes a lot of difference, and indeed, people are more willing to accept evolution when it’s not tied to the question of human evolution.

      And personally I think a lot of people get lumped in under the “creationist” umbrella, which seems then to be assumed to mean “young earth creationism (with bonus Literalist Bible-bashing)”, when by “creationist” someone who believes God created the universe and also theistic evolution qualifies every bit as much as someone who has annual pass to the Ken Ham Creation Museum. By this token, I’m a creationist. Will I be taking a trip to see if people ever lived with dinosaurs? Not very likely 🙂

      • Wency says:

        More specifically, and I think Scott has even gone into this before, people often use multiple-choice questions to answer a different question.

        I think the question many people are answering when they say they believe in YEC is along the lines of, “Whom do you prefer: elitist scientists at Harvard or the nice folks you met at the last church potluck?” Or possibly just, “Do you believe in God?” Or, “Do you feel like you SHOULD believe in YEC and would be a better person if you did?”

        For a while during the Obama years, there were surveys being slung around asking questions to the effect of “Is Obama a foreign Communist atheist devout Muslim who founded ISIS, or is he not precisely that thing?”

        Then an astonishing number of people say “yes”, who are really saying “yes” to the question of: “Yes or no: screw Obama?” Then a bunch of journalists can spend a week writing articles about how misinformed Americans are about their President (Politifact says: Mostly false!), and whether one can simultaneously be an atheist and a devout Muslim.

        All this is not to say that intellectual proponents of YEC do not exist (I’ve known two who were outspoken about it), but the question by its design is sure to overestimate their numbers.

    • Lillian says:

      I tried to get him to explain to me the whole Free Will v.s. God knowing what’s coming thing. Basically he asked me about a half dozen times why I couldn’t understand the term ‘It’s a mystery’.

      Even though i’m an atheist it confuses me why this something that requires an explanation. Accurate predictions of future behavior and free will are not incompatible.

      When i used to play Super Smash Brothers Melee with my roommate, nothing frustrated and drove her up the wall more than my ability to predict her moves before or as she was making them. She’d jump and get spiked into the ground because i jumped first, she’d dodge
      an attack i hadn’t made strait into the one i did, she throw things at me point blank range and hit nothing but air. All made worse by the fact that one of Marth’s moves is a perfect defence with counter-attack which removes all ambiguity as to whether or not i knew she was going to strike me. She tried changing approaches and strategies, started doing fake outs, and all those worked until they didn’t. Then i switched to Link, and things got better for her for as long as it took me to master the new character. Then it was back to fighting a mind reader. (She mained Peach.)

      Another example, when driving i regularly anticipate other driver’s moves before they make them. The most common is merging without signalling, i just “know” that guy is both going to merge, and not going to use his turn signal. Tell me, does my imperfect prescience abrogate my room mate’s and fellow driver’s free will? Would it if it were perfect? Then why would God’s? Your decision is your decision, even if someone else knows it before you make it.

      Related to this, i really wish Protestants would bother to read some Aquinas. He’s got great answers to a lot of difficult questions about God. It’s a little frustrating to be an atheist and yet a more competent theologician than many actual priests.

      • Besserwisser says:

        You make a decent argument in favor of the existence of limited prescience. You don’t make any argument in favor of the existence of free will. In fact, your statements could be taken as an example of why free will doesn’t exist. Free will implies choice but if you can foresee what happens, then they didn’t have a choice, they were always going to do one thing. Therefore, yes, your imperfect prescience abrogates free will.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I think you’re missing the point of the question. If I know you well enough to know how you will react to a given scenario does that rob you of all agency in said scenario?

          • Besserwisser says:

            If you’re just a deterministic machine which will always react the same if the inputs are the same, then yes, you don’t have any agency. Free will requires the ability to pick a different way, it’s pretty much the definition.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Who said anything about the inputs being the same? Likewise knowing how someone will react is not the same as knowing if they will react.

        • Lillian says:

          Why does forseeing what happens mean you didn’t have a choice? Think it from a many worlds perspective, in 40% of worlds you choose to go right, in 60% you choose to go left. A prescient observer’s knowledge of what world she’s in does not change the fact that it’s your decision that splits them. It does cause the split to move earlier to an earlier point in the timeline, with 40% going one way and 60% the other, but the thing that defines and distinguishes these worlds is the decision you will make. God observed the universe, and immediately it split into every possible world.

          Another way to look at it is to step outside the timeline. Look at Napoleon choosing to march into Russia, you know the decision he has made, you know exactly how it will end, you know 200 years worth of ramifications of thay decision. Yet he was not locked into that decision by observers in his futute. Rather we are locked into our observation by his decision. God created the universe, and immediately observed the end of time. Then he sat down for a nice dinner at the restaurant.

          • Besserwisser says:

            If you want to bring many worlds into the discussion, then sure, you can argue like that. But that wasn’t your position until right now and as far as I can tell it also isn’t the Christian position, which posits one world only. Prescience with 100% accuracy otherwise prohibits free choice because when you do something in 100% of cases that isn’t a choice.

          • Nick says:

            The Many Worlds interpretation is probably not strictly incompatible with Christianity, as long as doctrines like free will (which, hey, is the very one under discussion) can be preserved.

            Anyway, not everyone would agree that “when you do something in 100% of cases that isn’t a choice” is a necessary condition of free will. I for one am skeptical that, if I deliberate and come to a decision, I sometimes do otherwise anyway, which it seems to me is what your condition implies.

          • Lillian says:

            For the record Aquinas’ explanation is the outside the timeline one. Which is not incompatible with many worlds. Again just because i can observe someone making a decision does not make it not a free choice. It seems to me that you are priviledging accurate past observers over accutate present and future observers. Why?

            Observing in 1811 that Napoleon will lose his army in Russia does change the fact that Napoleon chose this any more than observing it as it happpens in 1812, or observing in 1813 that it had occured. If you believe a person had free will when you look at their actions from their present or future, you should believe the same if they look at them from the past.

            Looking at it another way, consider random number charts. Even though you can observe the numbers on the page, and they are static and unchanging, they are still random and useful as such.

      • Nick says:

        Related to this, i really wish Protestants would bother to read some Aquinas. He’s got great answers to a lot of difficult questions about God. It’s a little frustrating to be an atheist and yet a more competent theologician than many actual priests.

        Maybe Protestants will start reading Aquinas when Catholics start reading him again.

      • Aapje says:


        Another example, when driving i regularly anticipate other driver’s moves before they make them. The most common is merging without signalling, i just “know” that guy is both going to merge, and not going to use his turn signal.

        I do too. It’s not prescience, people make distinctive movements before a lane change.

        • Lillian says:

          Yup, and if he’s not signalling when he starts making those movements, he’s probably not going to. Sometimes i can predict it before they make those movements though, because relative speeds and the traffic pattern will force a lane change or a slowdown. If he’s driving aggressively he will almost certainly choose to change lanes rather than slow down. It’s not unlikely i sometimes notice this before the other driver does, meaning i react to his future decision before he makes it. The point is that it’s possible to predict future behaviour without abrogating free will, and there’s no reason to think perfect prediction would do otherwise.

        • lifetilt says:

          This reminds me of the story in Blink about the tennis coach who could tell whether a serve was going to be a fault or not with nearly infallible accuracy before the ball was even struck. With enough training, our brains can latch on to tiny precursors and make reliable predictions very quickly. It’s a really cool evolved feature.

          I think this says less about free will than it does about human behavior falling into predictable patterns.

      • Basically he asked me about a half dozen times why I couldn’t understand the term ‘It’s a mystery’.

        That seems like a perfectly reasonable question to me. It’s nice to believe that our understanding is good enough to let us make sense of all hard problems, but there’s no good reason to believe it is true. Once one accepts the idea that God exists, it should be easy to believe that there are some things he tells us that are true even though they seem impossible to us.

        For a non-theistic version, consider quantum mechanics. The nearest we can come to describing a two slit interference pattern with a beam of electrons is to say that an electron went through both slits at once and interfered with itself. That makes no sense at all–but it happens to be true. Similarly in mathematics–the number of integers and the number of even integers are the same, even though it’s obvious that that too is impossible.

        We have good reason to believe that our understanding of reality is good enough to be very useful, no reason to believe that it is so good that nothing can be true that we can’t understand.

        • Nick says:

          I dunno, David, I think you’re being a little too quick to call something “impossible” here. We may not have a good grasp on wave-particle duality in the sense of being able to imagine it well, but we can have a very firm grasp of the mathematics, which is surely a better model of it than any image in the mind’s eye or analogy of language. Likewise, there are mathematicians with well-developed intuitions about infinite sets and a good grasp of the weird consequences following from them; I don’t think they generally consider that stuff “impossible,” but they may have to adjust their notions of what a number or a set is.

          As a Catholic I have a vested interest in maintaining that some things are mysteries, of course. 😀 And I agree wholeheartedly with your final paragraph. But even folks like Augustine sought to make the Trinity more intelligible; we have the prerogative, so long as something is mysterious, to probe it until it’s not.

    • tgb says:

      I’m an athiest and I don’t think there’s anything contradictory about an all knowing god and free will. It’s no different that deterministic physics having a conscious mind. Or (tailoring this to this blog), no different than a simulation of a conscious mind having consciousness.

      Okay, I know what the objection will be – you don’t think those are compatible with free will! This is what I think everyone writing about free will seems to get wrong (which probably means I’m not reading enough about free will). Imagine you’re the dictator of a country and you want to deter murder so you proclaim that all murderers will be executed. Later, a man commits a murder and is brought before you. You are about to say “Execute him!” when his lawyer speaks up and says “But my client was just a deterministic machine! He couldn’t choose to not murder any more than a leaf can choose to not fall from the tree!” Since the scientists of your world have conlusively demonstrated that the world runs on a complicated form of Conway’s Game of Life, you conclude that the lawyer is correct and you must acquit the man.

      But that’s not the question you need to address! The following is deterministic thought process: I want to murder this person but I would rather not be executed, therefore I will execute this person if and only if I do not believe I will be executed for this crime.

      If that is the thought process of the murderer, then it doesn’t matter that they’re totally deterministic, executing people for murders is an effective deterrent. Hence, you should execute them even though they were deterministic.

      I posit that the previous example is not just saying that you should punish deterministic people. It is in fact saying that deterministic people actually make decisions and do so in a manner that conforms to all expectations for free will and so have free will. This is not some p-zombie claim, it’s that if you are a deterministic physics person (or an omniscient god watches over you) you will still feel like you are making decisions and yes, actually are making decisions. Not in a “you think you have free will but you don’t really” sense, but in a “yes you actually have free will, this is what it means to have free will” sense.

      I know this won’t convince everyone, but I think that’s a failing of my ability to convey this concept rather than of the concept itself. I’ve yet to read someone who argues this compellingly.

      • It is in fact saying that deterministic people actually make decisions and do so in a manner that conforms to all expectations for free will and so have free will.

        people are not all on the same page about what “all expectations for free will” are, but quite a lot have the requirement that a freely willed choice is a choice that could have been different, and that is automatically and definitionally incompatible with determinism.

    • bean says:

      came home drunker than one night and got his revolver out because his truck had broken down and needed to be put out of it’s misery

      Saw this and immediately thought of this cartoon.

    • sharper13 says:

      I tried to get him to explain to me the whole Free Will v.s. God knowing what’s coming thing

      Curious what you think of the following explanation:

      God is Eternal, always will be and always has been. As a corollary, He exists outside of the flow of time as we know it. In other words, He isn’t bound by our limited perception of time. We currently experience the flow of time, He is able to perceive all of time (past through future) at once. This is difficult for mortals to understand because we are limited to experiencing time as primarily the current moment and limited memories of the past. An analogy is time for mortals is one dimensional, while God can perceive it in two to four dimensions, thus knowing/seeing/experiencing all of time at once.

      As a consequence of this design choice and as part of the plan for our mortal experience, we are able to experience free will because we are literally making our choices in each moment of the current time, but there is no contradiction with God always knowing the results of those choices, because he can already see what we chose. The idea of free will is that we are here in mortality at least in part to prove to ourselves what we would choose in this life. We eventually judge ourselves based on those choices, which reveal and prove to ourselves our actual desires (similar to our revealed preference). If we could perceive the fullness of time better, we wouldn’t be making decisions based on what we’re supposed to be making them on as part of the mortal experience, but rather based on what we’d see as the outcome of our choices combined with everyone else’s, which would “ruin” the point of the mortal experience. Later, post-death, we’ll get our Eternal perspective and know it all, including our own motivations, thoughts and true history.

      • Nick says:

        there is no contradiction with God always knowing the results of those choices, because he can already see what we chose

        Not to nitpick, but I think explaining it in this way is only going to perpetuate the confusion. The whole advantage here of placing God outside of time is that there is no such “already” to God. There is no “time before” in which God “knew” what was going to happen—past and future tense don’t even apply. From the SEP discussion of divine eternity:

        If God knows beforehand what I shall do then how can I be free not to do it? [Boethius’] answer is that this problem dissolves in the face of the fact that God does not know anything beforehand but has an immediate, atemporal knowledge of all things.

  7. ThrustVectoring says:

    I think body language and associated system-1 status signaling is far far far more important than you’ve talked about. You probably do something accidentally that’s obvious to someone who’s read Impro, like talking with minimal head movement or taking your time to speak clearly and deliberately. And then you’re a highly competent person in general and a psychologist and respected member of the community in particular, so these work out for you and don’t cause drama and conflict and you wind up getting better at it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What are you trying to explain? How Scott’s patients react to him, or Gerard’s description of the Niceness Field? Both?

      Are you predicting that when he was, say, a college student in a different community that he caused more drama than average?

  8. Jliw says:

    One of my most surprising experiences has been (was) that of dealing (for years) with the, uh, “criminal element”, nearly exclusively: everyone is really nice and no one ripped me off or even seemed to judge me for being sort of weird (and possibly weirdly friendly/trusting?).

    This does not match the usual experience, I think. I wonder if I can take credit for this; I estimate 100% likelihood that this is due to a special personal power… no, I’m kidding — I always assumed that a) dealing with people in such a structured way (even if that structure is unspoken) fosters enlightened self-interest and suspended judgement, and b) people generally just respond to calm and trusting people by being calm and trustworthy.

    I’m not sure how reasonable that is, though, in light of others’ anecdata.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      people generally just respond to calm and trusting people by being calm and trustworthy

      That’s literally what cognitive-behavioral therapists believe; not sure why Scott didn’t mention that.

  9. Dedicating Ruckus says:

    Regarding the “niceness field”, I think I can testify that it extends over the Internet, as well. Or at least, that Scott is one of about a dozen people total whom I have categorized as really notable for their kindness/charity/general shining aura of benevolence (list encompassing both real acquaintances and online), and the immediate reaction to this is definitely to shape myself up and rein in my worse impulses while around here.

    As to the different worlds thing, I’ve often wondered about this. I am if anything fairly cynical about the default nature of humankind, but this comes from my general and historical reading; going by personal experience alone, I just don’t seem to run into people who aren’t generally well-intentioned and free of crippling dysfunctions. It seems implausible that this is due to a specific effort on my part; it’s not that I run into toxic people and thereafter avoid them, I just don’t run into them. I don’t really have a hypothesis about how this works.

    • Doug S. says:

      So Scott is like Captain Carrot?

    • Svejk says:

      I wondered if the rationalist who had encountered the “niceness field” only in Scott and Jimmy Wales was experiencing a case of selective memory, since I’ve met natural aggression annihilators from very different walks of life on a fairly regular basis.

      The bubble is real.

      • yodelyak says:

        Right. Working in politics, and having a pretty good episodic memory going back to when I was a small child… there are lots of people who have this. It’s not just Scott, although the force is strong with this one.

        And, relatedly, there is a deliberate effort by some people to capitalize on their relative immunity to these kinds of “calming presences.” I think Milo Yiannopoulis and Trump both display a relative calm-proof-ness, which allows them to be (in Milo’s case deliberately, in Trump’s case I’m less sure) incendiary and irreverent in settings where they were expected to engage in ritual I-calm-you-you-calm-me-we’re-all-calm-and-reasonable behavior, which gets them lots of press and makes them look “strong”–at least to a sufficient fraction of the public that it’s created a hole in the fabric of normal American politics.

    • Zubon says:

      Contrary experience: I tend to think of Scott’s internet presence (particularly on Tumblr) as unusually engaging of people who are mean, uncharitable, and generally the sort I preemptively block and blacklist. Maybe they succumb to the niceness field, and I just don’t notice because I have blocked them by then (some … definitely not).

      My hypothesis was that Scott is unusually tolerant of that sort of engagement because he was used to having crazy people yell at him angrily while he remains calm, due to his day job. Priors flagged for re-examination.

      • leoboiko says:

        I have the same experience, to the point where reading threads in the Scottosphere takes significant mental preparation. Question: Do you consider yourself to be pro-social justice/feminism/etc.? It might be that the OP feels the atmosphere as nice simply because they’re not in the targeted outgroup bubble.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          I mean, the person who coined the mentioned quote is a user of SneerClub, so they are most likely social justice/feminism aligned.

          Besides, it’s about people engaging Scott specifically, not just arguing within the Scottsphere, and I’d say it really does hold: people who are normally pretty disagreeable and argumentative when discussing elsewhere become much more docile when addressing the rightful caliph.

          • Ketil says:

            My experience is that the comment section is just about the only place I know where people with widely – widely – varying beliefs and backgrounds are able to have a reasonably civilized debate. I mean, we have atheist, catholics, protestants, we have tribes of various colors, we have people with all genders and sexualities – or none – and most frequencies of many spectra.

            And I don’t think I have a particularly thick skin, I am early to leave if I feel people are being abusive or arrogant. But in my experience, people aren’t like that here.

        • Matthias says:

          I have long prided myself as someone who is very friendly with everyone online, including people I disagree with deeply, but something about the SSC comments section makes me want to get very angry and hostile (which is why I no longer engage much here.) I do consider myself pro-SJ/feminism/whatever, but other places that might be similar on that axis of difference don’t trigger (har har har) a rage response in the way this place does. Neither do other rationalist spaces (although some have made me feel anxious in other ways.) It feels like a genuine mystery.

          • Interesting.

            Can you figure out what part of it makes you feel that way?

            There are a handful of posters who would probably self-identify as alt-right–are they the ones who bother you? Or is it the much more widespread set of attitudes critical of much SJW/Blue tribe ideology–people believing that IQ matters and is in part heritable, that it isn’t clear that women in modern day America are oppressed, and a bunch of other things? Or are you bothered by people who are explicitly religious and obviously also intelligent?

            Or is it something else that hasn’t occurred to me?

          • Matthias says:

            More like the second of those and definitely not the last third, but as noted, I’ve done perfectly well in other places where those things are common. Probably it’s some other thing that’s difficult to pin down.

            Or maybe it’s nothing, since I’m not as bothered since the last time I visited this space. Perhaps the culture changed here, or I just chilled out, or something else? I feel like the meta-lesson of the OP is that many of these things may not be very generalizable, due to individual-level filters that make one case different from every other.

  10. Thecommexokid says:

    So basically, “All Debates Are Bravery Debates” (and its cousin “Generalizing From One Example”) strikes again.

  11. ScarecrowBoat716 says:

    Does anyone else not feel very strongly about their gender? Like the whole conversation about identifying as a man or a woman confuses you?

    I don’t feel like a particular gender. I identify as a man because I have a penis, I like having a penis, and I am sexually attracted to women. I couldn’t possibly describe what parts of me “feel” like a man though. Nor do I feel like a woman. And I don’t feel non-gendered either, that sounds like a specific identity that doesn’t describe me. I’m just me. I identify as a man purely for biological reasons, there is nothing psychologically “male” that I can sense in myself.

    But some people are so sure of their gender. So it’s not just that gender is an axis, “strength of feeling of one’s gender” is another axis. Variables within variables. I wonder how many bubbles I am part of without realizing it? What if people I tend to hang out with and date also have low strength-of-gender-feeling? The woman I am currently dating describes herself as a tomboy, whereas I’ve always gotten along better with girls. And it’s the best connection I’ve ever had with a person. I don’t even know what I’m getting at it’s just something I think about.

    • poignardazur says:

      Uh. Yeah, I think I’m the same.

      Also, while I’m posting miscellaneous data points, I’ve always found myself able to emotionally connect only with people who have a very specific non-macho, rationalist-ish autistic-ish personality. Which is very frustrating when dating since every single person I’ve met who had this personality was a guy, and I’m a very straight guy myself. There’s probably more correlation with the programmer-bubble and the whole grey tribe things Scott talks about (I’m a programmer myself).

      Hell is other people.

      • I don’t know about austic-ish, but my wife is non-macho and rational, so such women do exist. One of the things it took me years to realize was that I’m competitive and she isn’t, so when she pointed out that I was doing something wrong she wasn’t trying to put me down, just to provide useful information.

        • poignardazur says:

          Without getting too much into my social life, it’s not just that. I have met several men, who I felt were orders of magnitude better than other people in some abstract sense. Like, they were kind, never jumped to conclusions, learned from their mistakes, looked for alternate hypotheses, etc.

          My two hypotheses are: my brain is lying to me, and puts people with enough LW-style rationality on a pedestal when I meet them IRL; or these people all share some sort of secret developmental milestone that I’ve had for years, never put into words, and almost never seen in someone else.

    • tailcalled says:

      I often do surveys on this topic, and I tend to find that there is massive variance between how strongly different people identify with their gender. Lots of people say they identify very strongly, lots say something more similar to what you’re saying, and lots would rather be the opposite sex.

      Part of this variance may be because I do my surveys on the internet, though, which might skew the results. (E.g. in my surveys, I tend to find that L O T S of people find crossdressing hot, whereas usually people estimate this to only be a few percent of the population. Whether people find crossdressing hot is pretty strongly correlated to their identification with gender, so this suggests that people would identify more strongly in a more representative sample.)

    • herbert herberson says:

      Yep, same here. To me, masculinity has pretty much always been a performance about fitting in and (especially) attracting women.

      I’d also suggest that pretty much all of the much-maligned “TERFs” are the versions of us who happen to end up in female bodies. Certainly, their take on transgenderism always made the most sense to me right up until I considered the possibility that I was actually just weird (and consider how much more difficult that realization would be for someone whose “gender default” requires a more onerous performance, comes with a unique set of physical risks, and at the very least severe historical oppression).

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I’ve seen lots of conversations on this topic, and it is common for cis people to not feel strongly identified with their gender.

      • gbdub says:

        But is that the kind of thing you’d even notice if it didn’t feel wrong?

        I’m fairly confident I’d get along fine after an adjustment period if I magically turned female – but I probably would if I lost an eye or a hand or something too. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be deeply weird for awhile.

        So one of the things autistic people often complain of is an excessive sensitivity to e.g. clothing tags. Those bother me too, though after awhile, except for really scratchy ones, the bother goes away and I ignore it. I kind of think gender would be the same thing for me? I feel it, but it’s background noise so I don’t notice except if it were to change.

      • Deiseach says:

        When I was going through puberty, if you’d offered me the chance “would you like to be a boy?” I’d probably have taken that. And it would have been the wrong choice, because it wasn’t a problem with my gender I had, it was the traumatic changes where my body suddenly was doing all this weird stuff and I had no control over it and I don’t deal well with change so it was “What is this and why is it happening and how do I make it stop because I like the way I was before?”

        And getting the “now you’re becoming a woman” talk did not help at all, so yeah: if boys don’t have to deal with this, make me a boy! (Except of course boys have their own traumatic bodily changes).

        Coming out the other side, I’m pretty okay with being female, even if I never was ‘girly’ and have never been particularly ‘feminine’ in the conventional ways. Would I try being male for a day or a week? Yeah, I might, if the magic gender changing machine ever gets invented. But I would want to change back after that: changing gender like that would be a holiday visit, not the new city I want to move to.

        • poignardazur says:

          (Except of course boys have their own traumatic bodily changes).

          Really? The only thing that changed for me was body hair and… well, um fertility. It was very non-traumatizing.

          • Aapje says:

            Your voice didn’t break?

            Getting strong suddenly is also difficult for some boys.

            Many boys worry about the size of their penis.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Did you have any emotional difficulties? I remember when I was twelve or thirteen or so, it suddenly became a lot easier for me to get really upset, and I didn’t like it.

          • The closest I can remember to noticing an undesirable effect of puberty was observing that I had an irrational tendency to feel as though I was getting an unfair deal in the context of my family, having to do a few chores. Thinking about it made it obvious that the unfairness was in the other direction, that my parents were putting much more time and energy into making the household work than I was expected to, which is how I knew it was irrational.

          • gemmaem says:

            I’ve met quite a few men for whom the vocal changes were particularly disconcerting. There are a couple of guys in my choir who had really deep voices before the age of twelve and spent several years just trying not to talk at all. They have rueful stories about roll call in school, trying to say “Yes, miss” in a way that wouldn’t come out sounding like a booming cartoon villain in a sea of child voices…

          • Matt says:

            I had a ‘job’ as a child in the family business. My stepfather built houses, I picked up trash and swept. During the homebuilding process, the house needs to be swept over and over. Sweeping a push broom that’s got three rows of nylon bristles and 1 row of steel bristles across a plywood or chipboard floor can be quite a workout.

            In middle school, we had a couple of PE classes in the weight room and I noticed that the butterfly press gave me the same sore/tired feeling in the same region of the body…

            When I hit puberty, imagine my surprise in seeing very prominent pectoral muscles develop in an extremely short time. I mean, I had been working my pecs for years without knowing it, and my body responded ALL AT ONCE. I thought I was growing boobs, which was not something they told preteen boys to expect in 5th grade health class. It was pretty scary for a few weeks, much more so (it should be no surprise) compared to the changes I had been told to expect!

            Flash forward 4-6 months, and my pecs were something to be proud of.

        • tlwest says:

          My wife described the worst part of puberty was not the physical changes, but the change in how everyone behaved around you.

          It was pretty crushing hearing how in the eyes of the her male peers, parents and random strangers around her she went from a multi-dimensional child to a creature whose only relevant characteristic was her sexuality, either to exploit or to protect.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t feel like a particular gender. I identify as a man because I have a penis, I like having a penis, and I am sexually attracted to women. I couldn’t possibly describe what parts of me “feel” like a man though. Nor do I feel like a woman. And I don’t feel non-gendered either, that sounds like a specific identity that doesn’t describe me. I’m just me. I identify as a man purely for biological reasons, there is nothing psychologically “male” that I can sense in myself.

      I’ve noticed that groups, including groups of two, of all men and groups of all women socialize very differently. It’s hard to get a handle on the women side of things because me being there means it is no longer all women but over time you overhear conversations, get stories second hand, and so on to get a decent understanding of what going on over there on the other side of the fence.

      And despite not being into sports and not being a fan of crude humor, I very much prefer the male style of social interaction to the female one. That doesn’t mean I don’t have women friends, I do, but those are male-female friendships not female-female friendships that happen to be between a man and a woman.

      So even leaving aside anything to do with sex, romance, and attraction I think I’d be quite upset to wake up as a woman because I would not enjoy interacting socially as a woman. At least unless whatever magically turned me into a woman changed that too. But at that point, what exactly is the hypo getting at?

    • Eli says:

      No, I’m very definitely also cis-by-default. Well, by default, but also by convenience: I have one of the abnormally aggressive (but still actually nice in social situations) personalities, so if I woke up one day as a woman, everyone would suddenly start labeling me a total horrible bitch.

      As a man, they just tell me to chill the fuck out, so this is a lot easier.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Does anyone else not feel very strongly about their gender? Like the whole conversation about identifying as a man or a woman confuses you?

      Yes. I am a man because I’m biologically male, and to me the idea that I could identify as a woman sounds as absurd as the idea that I could identify as a dog or as Napoleon.

      In fact, I tend to think that gender dysphoria is some form of psychotic delusion. Trans people object to this explanation by saying that because they are consciously aware of their biological gender, and they can discuss gender dysphoria in rational terms, they are not deluded. This still does not convince me. They may not be as deluded as a raving schizophrenic, I guess, but they aren’t exactly in touch with reality either.

      Or maybe trans people are right and we all have a internal “gender” sense, but we can only notice it when it goes haywire and does not match our sex. But what would the function of such thing be?

      • Aapje says:

        Well, it’s pretty clear that humans have a mental model of their body and it can be unpleasant when that mental model stops matching up to reality. For example, many people with amputated limbs have phantom limb issues. Some people on the other hand really want to amputate some limb that they feel doesn’t belong on their body.

        Some trans people seem less concerned about becoming the other gender, but want to get rid of breasts or want to get them.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Yes, but a man is not a woman with amputated breast and a woman is not a man with an amputated penis.

          All male and female sexual characteristics are homologous as they develop from the same non-gendered embryonic structures, and I’ll bet that their nerves fibers connect to homologous brain areas.

          In terms of how the body develops it would be more accurate to say that a man is a woman with small breasts and a woman is a man with a small penis.

          So I would doubt that the weirdness sensations of gender dysphoria can be caused by some low-level “wiring error” between the gendered body parts and the brain.

          • The Nybbler says:

            All male and female sexual characteristics are homologous as they develop from the same non-gendered embryonic structures

            Not so; there is no (or vestigal) male analog of the uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, or vagina.

      • hyperboloid says:

        Yes. I am a man because I’m biologically male, and to me the idea that I could identify as a woman sounds as absurd as the idea that I could identify as a dog or as Napoleon.

        I can’t imagine identifying as a woman because being a man is one of the of core features of my personal identity, If I were a woman there is a very meaningful sense in which I would no longer be me.

        Imagine if a mad scientist abducted you in you’re sleep and preformed some kind of advanced sex change operation that left you with a body indistinguishable from CIS gendered woman. Would you then identify as a woman, or would you feel like a man trapped in woman’s body?

        I think it’s very likely that gender has strong functional biological correlates in the brain. Women and men differ, on average, in their ways of thinking and emotional make up. The mind itself is gendered. What transsexuals are telling us is that some quirk of fetal development has done the work of our hypothetical mad scientist for him. If a friend of mine tells me that he is a male brain in a female body, by loose analogy a kind of human freemartin, I take him at his word.

    • Bram Cohen says:

      I’m a straight male but feel like if I was born in a female body with the exact same brain I’d identify as a lesbian and that would be that. Maybe there’s some aspect of that experience I can’t fathom or relate to and it would be very different if I actually lived it, or maybe there are a lot of lesbians who have that exact experience.

  12. Sniffnoy says:

    To return to a common theme: nothing makes sense except in light of inter-individual variation. Variation in people’s internal experience. Variation in people’s basic beliefs and assumptions. Variation in level of abstract thought. And to all of this I would add a variation in our experience of other people.

    Don’t forget, as you yourself have written about, that people tend to assume others are like them. That alone could explain a fair bit of difference in what’s perceived.

    Man. There’s really a ton of different things going on here. This seems… pretty difficult to untangle. Like at the least you’ve got:
    1. Differences in how people perceive others
    2. Differences in how people cause others around them to act
    3. Differences in how people somehow filter for people with certain qualities
    …while #1 seems to affect both of #2 and #3, each of which affects #1 in turn, and we’re not even sure entirely how #3 happens and it probably happens by multiple different mechanisms, some of which overlap with #2 (since you can filter out people by avoiding them, but also by causing them to avoid you).
    What a mess.

  13. ScarecrowBoat716 says:

    I just realized every woman I’ve ever dated with has described being catcalled numerous times. But I know from reading enough online accounts that this isn’t universal. These women I’ve dated came from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnicities, different levels of attractiveness, different attitudes about the world. And yet they all shared that same experience. So maybe I tend to date women who have some unexplained tendency to experience catcalls.

    Or maybe I just live in a city with a lot of catcallers and it’s an entirely regional phenomenon. That’s the trouble in all this, trying to figure out whether the bubbles are from external or internal factors. Probably a mixture of both, and there are probably sub-variables where some people tend to have certain experiences due to internal factors, while others tend to have those same experience due to external factors. I think it’s variables all the way down.

  14. Then a few days ago I stumbled across the Reddit thread https://np.reddit.com/r/SneerClub/

    Wait, wait: Sneer Club? Is this all just about Eliezer and you?

    • Error says:

      You know you’ve made it on the Internet when people organize against you.

    • poignardazur says:

      I think they’re mostly arrogant assholes, and they’re smart people with an unhealthy obsession with making fun of the weirdest parts of the rationalist community.

      On the other hand, they’re surprisingly polite and civil for people dedicated to despising EZ and Scott.

      • Murphy says:

        They’ve been hit by the niceness field.

      • DrBeat says:

        They constantly lie about him and everyone he knows in order to accuse him of racism and sexism, so that they can harm him. But they do it in a high-status way!

        • Dedicating Ruckus says:

          The tone there doesn’t strike me as high-status at all. Desperately pretending to be high-status, maybe. But in terms of any actual human status ranking, the sneer club doesn’t compare to SSC itself. (Note especially the relative population and prominence.)

          • DrBeat says:

            You can fucking see the popularity writhing inside of them. They tell all of the proper high-status lies. Affirm the proper high-status identity. On top of the fact that lying about someone in order to cause other people to hate them is inherently a high-status activity, because you have to have innate popularity to do it.

            These are the people whose blue-checkmarked tweets become Hot Takes that all the serious people are sharing around as Wisdom For Our Modern World.

        • poignardazur says:

          This comment section is super appropriate: everyone keeps talking about their experience and someone else tells them “Bullshit, my experience was different!”

          Yeah, fair enough. Maybe they’re more crass than I thought. The “asshole” part isn’t likely to change or be subjective.

    • Deiseach says:

      If they have to invoke phrenology to take a swipe at something posted here, they really got no insult game 🙂

  15. leoboiko says:

    I have one of those mysterious magnets! I’m trans. I lived most of my life as a bisexual male, and in that role I’m conventionally attractive, so I’ve had a good number of female sexual partners. My superpower is: literally every single woman I’ve ever dated has took up the initiative, at some point, to be the sexually penetrating/active partner and just take me. (Also, one of them later turned out to be a trans man.) We start at things timidly, in a pretty vanilla way, then after a few days she starts exploring, eventually turns me face down and I’m like, yay, here we go again!

    Now it’s true that I absolutely love being taken, so if you try any advances on that area, you’ll get me purring in seconds; and it’s easy to see how body language can communicate enthusiasm. But I’m also absurdly introverted/shy, so I don’t consciously tried to give any signals nor explicitly talk about it, and indeed can’t flirt or make advances at all; I wasn’t looking for women into this, and almost all my relationships/hookups have been initiated by the other partner. What surprises me is that I think the subset of women who want to top male-phenotype partners must be, albeit larger than most people imagine, still limited, and somehow I managed to attract them (or they to find and seduce me) at a 100% rate.

    (I also thought to myself that I could give quite a passable impression of a male, but a rich history of everyday abuse, name-calling, targeted graffiti, physical violence etc. tells otherwise. So perhaps whatever tells I have that mark me as “not really male” also attract women who want to top?)

    I’ve later found at least a handful of other male-to-female trans people with very similar experiences in online forums.

    • awalrus says:

      But I’m also absurdly introverted/shy,

      Unconscious body language/speaking patterns from shyness?
      I would personally expect this be just about the strongest “submissiveness aura” possible.

      • leoboiko says:

        Sure, that makes sense. But in my mind, I still expect the set of “women who want to penetrate men” to be a significantly small subset of “women who are into shy guys”; so it’s curious to me that, when presenting as male, I was always matched with that subset, specifically.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Among my social bubble, I’d guess the majority of women would want to try it, if only to try it out. I’d guess a slightly smaller majority would be willing to do it regularly if a guy liked it, and probably a large minority would be into it to one extent or another.

          Hard to extrapolate out beyond that. Normal people are so boring. (And weird people are so dysfunctional. Functional weird is so hard to find.)


          Think about “women who are into shy guys”. What degree of overlap do you expect that to have with “women who are sexually dominant”? And what degree of overlap would that have, given our cultural “dominance=penetration” theme, with wanting to penetrate men?

          I don’t think the subset is as small as you think.

  16. OpaqueLotTaxi says:

    Here’s a theory as to why you fail at normal psychotherapy:

    I think there’s a certain way certain kinds of therapists seem to act, and are trained to act, which are best described by that silly word: ‘micro-aggression’. Things that never explicitly cross the line of propriety, but which seem sort of designed to make people paranoid and project whatever negative intentions they want onto the therapist’s actions and questions. Things like consistently speaking in a kind of stern voice that gives something like a sense of reproach, being deliberately silent and aloof at critical points in a way that in any ordinary conversation would be perceived as indicative of the other person judging you, etc. A trained set of behaviors which manage to combine all the psychological terror of a visit to the principals office with a goody-bag of indignities one might be subject to at the DMV.

    What you end up with is people being encouraged to open up about things that inherently leave them feeling vulnerable and embarrassed, while a trained professional sits opposite them, and systematically does a bunch of stuff to make them feel even more vulnerable and embarrassed, but which is too faint/subtle for the other person to actually be able to articulate a genuine grievance against them. The person starts to get uncomfortable and upset, which causes them to act in ways they find embarrassing, which makes them *more* embarrassed, and which just escalates to the person until they finally snap at the person causing them to feel this way. The therapist has a theory which causes them to then interpret this as success.

    You might just be failing to act in the desired ways because they make *you* just as uncomfortable. You get increasingly uncomfortable as that weird feedback loop escalates, which causes you to back down just enough for it to stabilize. Since your priors are that this psychotherapy stuff is probably pseudoscience anyways, you never actually judge the lack of patient breakdowns as failure, you never push yourself to modify your behavior in uncomfortable ways, and thus never learn to properly perform this trick.

    Through trial and error you’ve stumbled across a different default thing to project, which is “that nice doctor trying to help you with a skin-rash, but in your head”.

    • carvenvisage says:

      That’s my impression as well except articulated way way better.

      • yodelyak says:

        “That nice doctor trying to help you with a skin-rash, but in your head… ”

        Too often what people really need is a bit of moral support in facing up to the old wisdom of the serenity prayer, and or a few tactical tips for addressing key problems (e.g. an adhd person might benefit from routinized mindfulness, or prescription stimulants, or just routinized mindfulness about stimulants), and the thing they *get* is a professional high-status badgerer who badgers them into exhibiting outbursts.

    • pansnarrans says:

      I’ve never seen a therapist, but this comment makes an almost ridiculous amount of sense.

  17. Reasoner says:

    Question for any black people reading this comment: if a black person seems like they might be wondering whether I am thinking nasty racist thoughts about them, what’s the best way for me to signal that I like them and I want to be friends?

    • Bugmaster says:

      Why would you want to ? Just because they’re black ? Who cares ?

      Admittedly, it’s possible that you want to be friends with absolutely everybody. I cannot comprehend this state of mind, but I do acknowledge that it exists :-/

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Fuck off

        • Mark says:

          Seems a little intemperate.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not kind.

            True. Necessary.

          • Mark says:

            Maybe this is one of those things what the op is talking about.

            Could be a teachable moment….

            What are the implications of Bugmaster’s comment, for you?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Simply that Bugmaster ignored the spirit of the original question so they could get in a cheap shot.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are valid criticisms of the ancestor, but I, uh, don’t think “fuck off” has a truth value.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Did you understand what I meant by it? If so, what do you think I meant?

          • Nornagest says:

            Okay, that was actually the wrong criticism. Conventionally, it means “I don’t want to see this”, but ruder. Under some interpretations of Victorian Buddha Sufi Lite that’s permissible. But this is exactly the kind of rules-lawyering that I said I was concerned with the last time VBSL came up.

            You know better, and I know you know better. So let’s do better.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You know what I don’t want to see (and therefore come here less and less)?

            Mockery and dismissal of the difficult problem that is race relations in the US. As the top comment. Most of the time.

            One can say “it” nicely over and over (and I have). Sometimes I don’t.

          • Nornagest says:

            Phrases like “fuck off” don’t get any more productive when you’re frustrated.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What do you think my aim was? Merely to vent frustration?

            Or am I trying to avoid the anodyne description of the issue in favor of one that calls attention it?

          • Scott says:

            “Fuck off” is not kind, doesn’t have any truth value (except expressing your emotional state), and is debatably necessary. On that last point, it’s certainly an ineffective way to express your concerns when you say it without any context. It’s overwhelmingly not the type of comment I want to see on here. Maybe use these few sentences as a template for how you could approach it differently.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Tossing in my agreement that it was a useless and inflammatory comment that produced more heat than light.

            More, you could have responded in a helpful fashion to the original comment, but instead have chosen to spend your time complaining about how the comments were unhelpful.

            Because it’s more fun to complain that other people aren’t doing what you want done, than to do it yourself, I guess.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Note, I am not black. Very hard for me to answer the question.

            And the various replies to that point had set the tone already.

            Also, in a sub-reply, to someone who did, in a less than helpful way, offer advice, I did offer my own take.

        • poignardazur says:

          On one hand, that was inappropriate and unconstructive.

          But also, yeah. That was a fucking cheap shot to answer an interesting question.

    • magana says:

      Just buy them a lollipop or do some other nice thing for them that requires no reciprocation.

    • Aapje says:


      1. “Some of my best friends are black”

      2. Lower your head and/or wet yourself.

      3. Act as you would with another person or a little nicer.

      Option 3 might be the wisest.

    • eh says:

      Zizek thinks you do it by telling an escalating series of racist jokes to each other, although like most of the things he says you probably shouldn’t actually do it, at least without serious thought.

    • Common Tater says:

      Most likely by having better social skills. Sincerely, real live black person.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Common Tater:

        You are posting on a board where there are a substantial portion of the commenting population has lower than average in person social skills (and are exquisitely aware of it). Some of the dialogue here revolves around “how to social”.

        You understand that some large fraction of the white population really is quite segregated from the the black population. This presents challenges for the individuals who have simply lived in that “bubble”. I don’t think it makes sense to ignore that this presents specific challenges that can be addressed.

        • Witness says:

          @HeelBearCub. On the one hand, you’re right. On the other hand…

          This thread is almost literally inviting black people here to present their minds as typical, so that the OP can extrapolate from that example what will work for some random stranger neither party has met.

          Under a post about the reasons why this kind of extrapolation might not actually work very well.

          I can see how the target audience might feel a little snarky about this.

          • bean says:

            This thread is almost literally inviting black people here to present their minds as typical, so that the OP can extrapolate from that example what will work for some random stranger neither party has met.

            “I’m traveling to Russia/Japan/Saudi Arabia/India/China in a few weeks. Question for anyone from Russia/Japan/Saudi Arabia/India/China reading this comment: if a person from Russia/Japan/Saudi Arabia/India/China seems like they might be wondering whether I am thinking nasty racist thoughts about them, what’s the best way for me to signal that I like them and I want to be friends?”
            This is a poorly-phrased request for cultural advice, but a request for cultural advice none the less. The problem is that black culture and white culture are close enough that there isn’t really useful advice like there is for Russia/Japan/Saudi Arabia/India/China.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, this is a perfectly valid criticism of what I am saying.

            Frankly, I think this is what is technically known as a “hard problem”.

            We are a substantially segregated society. Acknowledging this leads naturally to the “What can be done about it? question. As a white person, this then leads to the “What can I do about it (as a white person)?” question.

            And then you are in something of a pickle. Actively trying to do something like “get a black friend” is the paving for the road to hell.

            The best I can offer is that you need to work to be more open to possibilities than you would be. I don’t know, is that the answer?

            All I know is that it won’t really be solved (in the US) until Black is like Italian, Irish, etc., an interesting facet, but not very salient to the broader picture (for most people).

          • Witness says:


            No real disagreement from me, except to also note that (I think) people tend to be a bit more polite about awkward phrasing when from actual foreigners than from countrymen of a different subculture. Maybe an outgroup/fargroup thing?

            Frankly, I think this is what is technically known as a “hard problem”.

            Agreed there. And one worthy of solving.

            But the best solution to the question as stated probably just is “have better social skills.” As in, practice your social skills wherever you can, and then use those social skills to make friends across racial boundaries where you can.

            So while I’m a little sad that the responses are what they are, I think they are largely correct in their content, shaded by a snark that (sort of) mirrors the awkward phrasing of the original question.

            How that ties back into the OP is left as an exercise for others.

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps my original response was not nice, but the actual answer is probably that once there is a presumption of racism, there is no way to counter this but to ignore it.

            Arguing against the charge of being racist seems to be a kafkatrap, where the denial is evidence for the charge…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Sure, the question as stated is highly awkward. The question itself “has poor social skills”. But it is possible to charitably interpret it, to steel man the likely spirit of the OP. It’s also possible to critique the form of the question.

            But I don’t think Common Tater did the second. Rather, he indicated that the solution was simple and the answer was readily available. That seems incorrect to me.

          • bean says:

            But the best solution to the question as stated probably just is “have better social skills.” As in, practice your social skills wherever you can, and then use those social skills to make friends across racial boundaries where you can.

            “Practice your social skills and don’t be so self-conscious about talking to blacks” is very different from “have better social skills”. The first is at least marginally helpful, while the second seems, to me at least, to be phrased in the least helpful way possible. “Have the solution to your problem” is an infuriating answer.

          • Common Tater says:

            @HeelBearCub, if I read your criticism correctly, you complain that my response neither helpfully answers the question as posed nor pointed out the issues with the frame that generated the question.

            The latter complaint is valid. Witness already articulated how the frame invited snark. I’ll add that, for someone who is aware of the demographics of this board and its sometimes discussion topics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if its black members are occasionally defensive.

            On the other hand, I think my answer is the only helpful possible answer to the question. As discussed in the post this comment thread is attached to, incidence of these sorts of experiences is mediated by factors we largely don’t understand. But Reasoner’s question is essentially about trust and rapport, which are fundamental to any discussion of social skills.

            I could have elaborated further but – while I’m happy to discuss my ideas about social skills at length if anybody is interested – as you say, social skills are already a recurring topic of discussion, and there’s no reason for you to believe I have particular authority to speak about them. I see no reason to assume people would want to read my take.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Common Tater:
            All fair and valid points.

            But, and again this is one of the things that make it a hard problem, as a white man, I’m not in your shoes. It’s very presumptuous of me to answer the question.

            So, while I fully understand your defensive take on the question and the site, we are left in a difficult spot. White commenters talk among themselves, someone black gives us perspective, or we don’t talk about it at all.

            I’d rather hear a first person anecdote about your experience than nothing.

          • Common Tater says:

            Ok @HeelBearCub, maybe I can help by making it more explicit: to talk in this way about black people is to make a category error. There are black Americans, black Africans, Afro-Carribeans and others, each of whose families arrived in whichever Western country you’re in at different times and in different ways. Their experiences of interracial relations are influenced strongly by skin color, and the way hypodescent works means that many are mixed race but still identified as black. Different black people have been immersed to different degrees in whichever white subculture you’re a part of.

            I’m a mixed-race black African/white American working on a doctorate in a STEM field at a high caliber school. I’ve been surrounded by white people (and Asians) since 3rd grade. My experience is totally different from that of a friend who’s a black American who lived in Alabama from birth to his mid 20s. If you meet me and you don’t bring up race, I’ll forget I’m not white. If you’d met him when he moved to my city, he would be thinking about how his race informed the interaction no matter what you said.

            So how does one start answering the posed question? Well, if I like you, I think you like me, I trust you to understand my perspective and I think I can understand yours, then I’m much less likely to believe that you’re thinking nefarious thoughts about me on the basis of my race. If any of these are false, I’m as likely to think you’re cranky or tired or we don’t have a lot in common as I am to think you’re racist – unless you make some explicit remark about race or act surprised when I disclose I’m working towards a doctorate.

            The people who fail often fail right out the gate with, “you look like my black friend/Obama/Bruno Mars/Prince/Cam Winston from Frasier/Coach from New Girl” or, my personal favorite, “where are you from… you don’t look regular.” That last was from a black guy! See: category error, above. Other people can actually make these work, in the right context.

            The former paragraph is “be warm and relatable”; the latter is “don’t treat people you want in your ingroup like they’re in the outgroup”. These are about having developed better social skills before you arrive, not about knowing some secret handshake. If you make a mistake, cut your losses, laugh it off and move on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Common Tater:

            Thank you.

            don’t treat people you want in your ingroup like they’re in the outgroup

            This is the kind of one sentence answer (that basically maps to what you said to begin with) that is, I think, quite valuable. Although I think outgroup might be slightly wrong, simply because it evokes animus, and I don’t think that is usually an issue.

            To my mind, one of the largest problems is simply that, in many ways, we are foreign to each other, but recognizing that is itself an impediment to interpersonal interaction. If I treat you as somehow foreign to me, this is a tacit statement that you don’t quite belong. If I don’t recognize that our backgrounds are (likely) different, I am likely to misunderstand and miscommunicate.

            As some background, I grew up in a small, liberal college town in the South in the ’80s. There were very few opportunities to make black friends, and I had trouble making any friends anyway. This pattern has essentially repeated throughout my life.

            Nonetheless, I have 2 kids, but another 3 who call me “Dad” and one of those happens to be black. But I only managed to bring him into the fold in the last 6 months or so. I’m still struggling to figure out what makes him tick (but that isn’t any different than it was with his best friend, who had the same kind of rocky upbringing, where it took about 2 years before we really got him on track).

          • Witness says:

            Thanks to everyone above for helping improve this thread 🙂

          • At something of a tangent, I think it’s relevant that many of us have ingroups that have nothing to do with race. Mine is, roughly, people who think about the way I do, people to whom ideas are real, people I feel I can talk with without needing a translator.

            Most of the people I have met who fit that pattern have probably been white males. At least one I remember interacting with long ago was a black female. Another is my wife, who is a white female.

            Someone who is black and fits that pattern is going to be much easier for me to have friendly relations with than someone who is white and doesn’t.

          • Mixer says:

            (I’d really like to know why I sometimes can reply directly to a comment and sometimes I have to reply to the upstream comment..)

            @DavidFriedman: Yes – I have long thought that the meaning of the word “race” and “racism” being used today is not wholly accurate. Usually, what people really mean is “culturism” or “tribalism.” I think we still use the word “racism” because tribes and physical characteristics tend to correlate.

            Case in point: My work ingroup is made up of people who (for the most part) share my culture. We “speak the same language,” like the same foods, share a common view of the world and understand what each other does and how they do it. This group is mostly brown/black, with me being the white minority. We occasionally talk about things like race and we all think there is something more than skin color going on there. We also tend to categorize people outside of our ingroup as variations of Other.

            My home ingroup is made up of more diverse people. Compared to me – low income, very religious, uneducated, large age variations in both directions, etc. I have a harder time interacting with those people, but I do enjoy the different perspectives and life experiences I am exposed to with them, but making real connections is difficult. Not impossible.. but difficult. Even in the home ingroup (with a very few exceptions) I still feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land. All but one of them is as white as the driven snow.

            Does that make me “racist”? I don’t think so. Does that makes me “tribalist”? I’m afraid it does, although I am trying to expand my worldview.

          • Brad says:

            (I’d really like to know why I sometimes can reply directly to a comment and sometimes I have to reply to the upstream comment..)

            Maximum commenting depth.

          • Nornagest says:

            WordPress sucks and is not meant to support a commentariat this active and prone to involved conversations, yes.

          • Nick says:

            Even in the home ingroup (with a very few exceptions) I still feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land. All but one of them is as white as the driven snow.

            I have to point out, since you used this term, that religion is still a source of ingroups and outgroups, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently published a book with that title.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            WordPress sucks and is not meant to support a commentariat this active and prone to involved conversations, yes.

            I actually find this setup, once you’re used to it, to be a lot better for involved conversations than an infinitely-forking system (like Reddit). Especially for conversations with >2 parties.

            It is a minor annoyance to have to go up to write a reply, though.

        • Bugmaster says:

          FWIW, I was being sincere in my original comment. The mental experience of seeing a random person and thinking, “I should make friends with that guy !”, is completely alien to me. Thinking something along the lines of “I need more friends of X race” is doubly so. I am not averse to making friends, but there’s got to be some more incentive than just the brute fact of the other person’s existence. Granted, I have virtually zero social skills, so I’m probably atypical in this regard, but still — all the friends I’ve ever had, became friends with me because we shared similar hobbies or worked in the same industry or something, not through some sort of a deliberate friend acquisition effort.

          • Evan Þ says:

            As a counterexample, I not infrequently think “My friend circle is too small and too limited to people from X background; I really should expand it.” I could easily imagine myself asking “How do I make more friends with Y or Z backgrounds?”

    • apollocarmb says:

      If you liked them they would not think that.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This sub-thread is why we can’t have nice things.

      Not the original question (which seems to be sincerely motivated), but the general thrust of the commentariats replies, to date.

      • bean says:

        Seconded. We’re better than this, people, or we should be.

        • Mark says:

          I don’t like battleships.

          • bean says:

            I’m not sure what the point of this comment is. This has nothing to do with battleships, and everything to do with a bunch of people who have answered a well-meaning if slightly awkward question in terrible ways.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t like battleships, but the existence of battleship posts doesn’t bother me. I just don’t read them.

            I think that most of the people here answered what they considered to be a silly question with a silly answer.

            I mean, my assumption would be that the awkward question itself was a bit tongue-in-cheek – surely the idea that black people must be treated in some special way in order for them to avoid feeling discriminated against is itself a bit problematic?
            The basic thrust of the answers seems to be (jokingly): ‘treat them nicely’.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So, you don’t like battleship posts and that’s why you post rude, snarky replies to bean basically telling him he sucks for wanting to know about battleships?

            Oh, wait. You don’t.

          • bean says:

            I mean, my assumption would be that the awkward question itself was a bit tongue-in-cheek – surely the idea that black people must be treated in some special way in order for them to avoid feeling discriminated against is itself a bit problematic?

            I don’t think this is a good assumption. The idea that I should treat someone from, say, Japan in a special way (relative to how I would treat an American) to avoid insulting them is trivially obvious. If you’re from a white bubble and have poor social skills/low social confidence, then it makes some sense to ask this question. I don’t think there’s a good answer to the question, but it’s not a stupid question.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah, I guess it probably depends on how your irony-o-meter is calibrated.

            If someone said “Any Asians here? How best to talk to Asians without insulting them?”

            I’d think, “hmmmm… is this person a racist? Are they making some funny commentary on something or other? Why would they care?”

            If someone said, “I’m travelling to Japan soon, are there any customs I should be aware of so I can avoid insulting the natives?”

            I’d think, “Yeah, that’s probably a legitimate request. Don’t pass food between chopsticks.”

            I think it’s based more on how common that kind of question is rather than anything fundamental about the question itself. Social context I suppose.
            No such thing as a stupid question if you’re being charitable.

          • Thegnskald says:

            As elucidated below – people, write what you want to see – I think it may have something to do with the unfortunate implication, from the phrasing, that the comment author wanted to make friends with black people because they were black, rather than not wanting to mess up while interacting with black people in an offensive way.

            I can see both readings there, and the negative reactions seem to be targeting the “token friend” interpretation as problematic, rather than giving shitty answers to a genuinely posed question.

            As usual, people show a surprising lack of charity when accusing others of not having any.

          • Mark says:


            It felt like the right thing to say, because:
            (1) It’s true
            (2) It’s necessary if it’s unkind.

            That is, if me saying “I don’t like battleships” hurts someone’s feelings, then maybe those feelings need to be hurt.

            Personally, I like the lighter, quirkier comments, concise arguments, concisely presented expertise, out-of-left-field stuff, recommendations for further reading, and people who are prepared to be wrong about something.
            I don’t feel like the comments here are really bad – nothing personally insulting or evil. I don’t feel that light mockery, of an idea, is a bad thing.

          • Randy M says:

            Yeah, I guess it probably depends on how your irony-o-meter is calibrated.

            Or, as discussed elsewhere in the thread, you can choose to be offended or you can choose to assume the best .

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the “thinking nasty racist thoughts about them” part is where the awkwardness lies. Why would you assume that they are thinking this about you? If they seem uncomfortable in your presence, then maybe you might be doing something that comes across as hostile, but why leap to “Oh no, maybe they think I’m thinking something racist!”?

        Over-analysing can make the situation worse. And don’t immediately leap to the “Hello black person, I am not a racist, see how not-racist I am!” type of fake over-friendliness because that is cringe-inducing at best and probably will only make them really wary if they weren’t already wary in fact.

        • baconbacon says:

          Its also actually racist to think this way. You are basically saying “I’m white, I expect black people to react to me in this way”.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          I think the “thinking nasty racist thoughts about them” part is where the awkwardness lies. Why would you assume that they are thinking this about you?

          Just a guess, but it’s possible that OP has had too much contact with the online SJ community and has been reading a bunch of lists like “50 subtle ways that white people express their privilege in everyday interactions with black people and why it’s harmful” and as a result now over-analyzes everything they say around black people, because they’ve been told that ordinary and benign things that people say all the time are “racist” when directed at a black person.

          If that’s the case, I think the solution is to stop reading those kind of lists.

          This isn’t intended as flippant. I myself tend to get paranoid about offending people of other races due to my exposure to this kind of stuff, and I am aware that, ironically, that paranoia is racist.

          If that is the case, I think the solution is to unlearn some of the damaging stuff you’ve been told by online activists, to remind yourself that the average black person is not analyzing your speech for “microaggressions,” because they’ve got other things to think about.

          Maybe no one is actually colorblind, but I think “just treat the other person as if race didn’t exist” is a better starting template than “stop and think about all the thousands of things that could potentially be interpreted as racist before talking to this person.”

          • Protagoras says:

            It certainly is worthwhile to realize not everyone is so quick to assume the worst; some people are much more charitable than that. I have a black friend who some years ago told me that while she was on IRC, using a handle that referred to some song she liked, she got a random message complimenting her on her taste in music from someone she didn’t know. Random person’s handle was “ihaten****rs”. While I presume this bothered her a bit, or she wouldn’t have told me the story (or perhaps she just thought it was amusing that the person apparently had no clue who they were messaging), she said that she thought it unlikely that the person really hated black people; she figured they were probably just trying to be edgy.

          • quanta413 says:

            What Hyzenthlay said.

            Something similar happened to me in college and it took me a little while to realize what was happening. I still haven’t undone the accidental paranoia I built up. I grew up in a pretty racially diverse environment (which happens a lot in Southern California) and didn’t think about race in my own personal interactions very much although I was aware of its effects on local politics, etc. Then I went to college where everyone was suddenly white and authority embraced a politics I didn’t see much where I grew up. Although they didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, they managed to accidentally reframe a lot of things in negative ways that I noticed made me notably worse at interacting with people different from me.

            It turns out that I can’t easily police and introspect everything I’m going to say on the fly and explicitly categorizing people in yet another way gummed up my brain when trying to converse. Doing this just makes me seem more stilted and unnatural. And the payoff is basically nil, because if I was simply polite to everyone (which was mostly my previous default) then I wasn’t going to say anything that 95% of people from whatever group I’m suddenly worried about offending were going to be bothered by anyways.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Whatever you do to signal to white people that you don’t hate them – same basic principle. Some specifics:

      Don’t jive. Just don’t. (That is when you act like you imagine black people acting. Act like yourself, don’t mirror a stereotype of the person in front of you.)

      In general, don’t behave as if you are a diplomat to Planet Black; don’t try to show that you are one of the good ones, don’t focus on racially-oriented conversational topics, don’t… eh, really, it all comes down to “be normal” (or at least as normal as you are towards anybody, although black people tend to find racial humor less amusing than, say, Irish people). Treat them as a person rather than a representative of their race

      And keep in mind that sometimes black people may just not want to be your friend. There are an uncomfortable number of white people who collect minority friends, hence some of the response you are getting, as your question is being interpreted in that light. Don’t try to be friends with a black person if you wouldn’t want to be friends with them if they were white – and accept that some black people may not want to be friends with you for reasons other than suspected racism.

      Also, depending on the part of the country you are in, some black people might be racist towards you, and may not want to be your friend on that basis. Just move along. Every group has its own assholes, don’t take it as a universal.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      what a flaming hot thread this has spawned

      i’m sorry reasoner but I don’t think there’s a good way to do it. You’re talking about two big problems here: one, you’re addressing something which has not been vocalized and may not even exist, and two, you’re asserting something you yourself cannot prove. I think you just have to continue being yourself and non-racist and if it’s not to be, it isn’t

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Easy, treat them nicely and like a friend.

      People’s stereotypes of other people are surprisingly weakly held. Once your actions indicate you like them normally, as a friend, that’s exactly how they’ll see you.

      This is true for racism, or really any other kind of stereotype people may have about you.

    • Bram Cohen says:

      I’m not black, but the best thing seems to be to just be friendly. Everything else comes across as dishonest or trying too hard.

  18. promotoriustitiae says:

    Can confirm this in practice.

    Not to go into too much detail but I supervised advice workers for several years (Citizens Advice in the UK if you know it, free legal advice on pretty much anything). People who come in are normally having incredibly bad days and are on the edge, even apart from people who have a wide variety of mental health conditions and need benefits advice.

    Some advice workers, it wasn’t that they were *bad* at giving advice but… well, things got emotional. People complained more, they made less progress maybe, you could tell when it worked out and when it didn’t. One person might spend half an hour getting basic information without even solving the problem while someone else could go through half the waiting room, even allowing for experience.

    The other thing about legal advice, you get to see the same people with the same kind of patterns. For another axis of this sort, look at people running up debts or having savings, even adjusting for the same level of income (which I note is really easy when everyone is on a fixed benefit income).

    A big part of helping people stuck in these patterns is indeed just the *awareness* that there are other ways to live. Change is not impossible!

  19. US says:

    People curious to know more about these kinds of things should be aware that there’s a large literature on these topics. A sort-of-okay-ish book on related topics is Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior. It covers a wide variety of ways in which different people behave differently or interpret behaviour differently. One of the main things I learned from that book is that there are a lot of ways in which people are different (many more than I’d have thought), and everybody will likely have a lot of ‘blind spots’ in terms of these things because there are just so many ways in which people vary that it’s very difficult to spot all of them and keep them in mind, even if you know about their existence.

  20. Acedia says:

    It’s not just Jessica and her family who must be vigilant. Every teacher at Isabelle’s public school has been warned. Isabelle is not allowed to tell them that she loves them. Isabelle is not supposed to tell other schoolchildren that she loves them. And there are other restrictions.

    Understandable, yet so sad. Williams syndrome sufferers sound like the people the phrase “too pure for this world” was made for.

  21. fhaufiwuni4ntdsv says:

    One time, at work, there was a discussion started by someone who had just given a phone interview. The interviewer thought that the interviewee was at least moderately competent at the skills for the job, but the candidate was constantly having trouble understanding the interviewer’s accent, had to frequently ask them to slow down when talking, and—I guess as an attempt at justification—tried to say that they didn’t know anyone of the interviewer’s race/nationality and wasn’t used to their kind of accent.

    The interviewer didn’t know how to take this and asked for opinions as to whether this was a problem. Several of the people that expressed their opinions were adamant in saying that there was no problem in what the candidate had said (including other people of the interviewer’s race/nationality), while several others insisted that this was a red flag for the kind of behaviors that we don’t want at our workplace and that he should just let the candidate go.

    The interviewer, taking cues from some of the more moderate people in the discussion, ended up taking a middle-ground approach in forwarding the candidate off to the next round of interviews with a small note to keep an eye out for any more red flags. But it was interesting to see how people reacted to the same set of information in drastically opposite ways. Initially I had just shrugged it off as some people being more sensitive or opinionated about these kinds of things, but it seems really relevant to the discussion here.

  22. gemmaem says:

    This stuff is often culturally dependent.

    When I was in the UK I was regularly mistaken for a shop assistant. No idea why. Maybe shop assistants in the UK have good posture, or smile more than average? Whatever it was, I was forever having people come up to me in shops, asking “where can I find [thing]?” and then looking dreadfully offended when I shrugged and said “no idea.” But this never happens to me outside of the UK.

    When I was in the USA it was easy to mistake me for someone who is not ambitious. People would act like, hey, surely I would be fine with them suggesting that I wasn’t going to go far in life. I mean, did I even want that? It sucked, and I know exactly where that one came from — I’m from a culture where modesty is not optional. I leave my dreams sitting on the plate, conversationally speaking, in the same way that I might pretend not to want the last piece of chocolate. But with chocolate, everyone understands that you’re just being polite, that the reason you say “oh, maybe” while staring at it is because you really, really want it, and you don’t want to be rude. With ambitions, in America? That doesn’t compute for people. But people in my home country, especially if they’ve lived there all their lives, understand perfectly well that I am ambitious as fuck.

    No two people are working with the same set of social rules, I guess. And the only thing harder than learning social rules is un-learning them. So if you’re stuck with a set of rules and habits that mesh badly with the people around you, well, that can really suck.

  23. John Nerst says:


    I’ve become increasingly convinced that this kind of thinking is the key to dealing with social fragmentation, misunderstanding and culture wars on both a micro- and macro scale. To be clear, by “this kind of thinking” I mean the idea that people experience different versions of reality due to 1) actually having different things happening to them because of some quality they have and 2) interpreting the same things in different ways because of differences in perception, cognition and emotion.

    It’s the sort of thing that needs to be taught to children. And not just taught as in told about it, given it as a piece of information, but actually trained – like you learn how to read and write. Nobody (almost) would learn how to read at all if they were just given a list of symbols and told how to pronounce them, “just sound them out in sequence and you’ll piece together the rest”. Most would soon quit and literacy would be something for a small segment of nerds.

    You need to practice, you need to make it a habit of thought to think this way. Just like you need to practice to be rational, you need to practice to be… charitable…? no, that’s not the right word. We need a word to describe a person that understands individual variation and uses this understanding. It’s not “social intelligence” but something more analytical, something largely unnatural (again, like reading) that we need to be able to do now because our society is so different from hunter-gatherer bands where this isn’t as much of an issue.

    Another problem is that it partly conflicts with how people think minds work. I think I’m broadly accurate if I say that most people, whether of an explicitly supernatural persuasion or not, thinks the mind is something different than the brain, some otherworldly mental “stuff” that does things using the brain as a set of levers. It makes sense then to think that all minds are fundamentally identical and that differences boil down to choices we make ex nihilo. Any difference between people then has a moral quality (depressed people just need to cheer up and stop being lazy etc., etc. and a hundred more et ceteras). This is a tremendously destructive idea.

    On the other hand, if you think of the mind as a physical machine it’s much easier to understand that each machines has different specs and works a bit differently, and that low-kevel physical differences can have high-level mental manifestations.

    If only most people would be aware of these issues, and not just aware as in knowing somewhere in the back of their mind, but viserally aware the way you can’t avoid noticing a large spider on your desk, then it’d be easier to de-escalate conflicts and defuse inflammatory, counterpoint-hostile narratives. (Or maybe I live in a bubble of relatively well-intentioned, rational people.)

    I tried to write something that would really imprint this message a few months ago, but I think you need more concrete examples (like this article has) and that’s something I need to get better at. The rationalist-sphere contains several examples of good writing on this, but it would ideally need to be integrated and aimed at a general audience to do more good. I’d wish spreading this sort of understanding would become a priority goal for the rationalist community alongside worrying about AI. I’d certainly take part significantly more if that was the case. But maybe it’s just me?

    Rationalists talk a lot about cognitive biases, but somewhat within the community and to a very large extent outside it, biases are seen as a “technical” thing that keeps you from making perfect judgments but doesn’t actually affect much of anything that non-nerds care about. “Thinking logically like a machine” isn’t attractive to most people. Most wouldn’t think that something like scope insensitivity is even an error, not one they care about anyway. Things like anchoring, the conjunction fallacy or hyperbolic discounting also fail to impress, I feel. They come off as closer to party tricks than part of a revolutionary insight.

    But if we take the term to mean “ways our minds work that lead to us forming inaccurate impressions about what the world is like and how it works”, then cognitive biases isn’t a little thing that helps us make largely inconsequential tweaks, it’s massively important for almost everything. Perhaps not primarily for the individual, but for society as a whole. That’s why it needs to be in the water supply, not just something people can seek out information about if they want to (those who do are likely not the ones most in need of it anyway).

    • Mark says:

      It makes sense then to think that all minds are fundamentally identical and that differences boil down to choices we make ex nihilo. Any difference between people then has a moral quality (depressed people just need to cheer up and stop being lazy etc., etc. and a hundred more et ceteras). This is a tremendously destructive idea.

      I think that it can be good to moralise behaviour, thoughts. If a shift in thoughts, behaviour can change perception, then why not regard certain thoughts/behaviours as “good”.

      No, it’s not moralising in general that’s the problem, it’s moralising without love at people who shouldn’t be your enemies.

      • John Nerst says:

        I don’t mean “tremendously destructive” as “always wrong”. It’s just that *always* applying this model (as if it captured the true nature of humans) has some very bad consequences. Applying it *sometimes* can have good consequences.

        But on the whole, I don’t think moralizing as a concept is in great need of defending. I think we should avoid it much more than we do. I remember Scott saying he hates vegetables, and I think it would be wrong for someone that likes vegetables to judge him on his “bad eating habits”. My suggestion is to apply this analogy to most other differences between people.

        • Mark says:

          I would say that you have a moral duty to stay healthy, and it’s unfortunate if you don’t like vegetables, but you still have to eat them.

          You don’t have to like it, just eat it.
          You can veto two foods, for example if you don’t like broccoli and lentils… you can choose not to eat them, but that’s it. (Also you don’t have to eat food you are allergic to.)

          • John Nerst says:

            Thing is, people disagree on how morally important it is to do or not to do certain things and there is not one correct answer. And you’re going to find things that are comparatively easy for you more important – i.e if you *like* healthy food you’re more likely to find eating badly immoral. In the same way it’s easy to condemn people for acting on feelings and impulses you don’t have yourself.

            I’m saying people ought to be aware of this and be much more humble about their moral judgments as a consequence.

            Of course, if you’re genuinely a moral realist then our disagreement is likely intractable.

  24. Peter Gerdes says:

    I suspect that one thing that often gets confused with discrimination is simply other people taking out their dislike on you. There are all sorts of reasons we resent and dislike others and when we get angry enough we say screw it and seek to hurt them in the most extreme fashion we know how. For men and members of ‘privileged’ groups that can be insulting their masculinity or otherwise questioning their competence/belonging etc.. but for women and members of underprivileged groups often the most hurtful thing one can do (at least without serious thought) is raise questions of their competence related to their gender or other category.

    Unfortunately, this issue is self-reinforcing because many men (or members of other ‘privileged’ groups) will (understandably) often take the unwavering assumption that they are obviously part of the problem as itself to be the kind of insult/harm that deserves retaliation and that retaliation often takes a form which is easily seen as being an instance of sexism/racism/whatever

    • Aapje says:

      Unfortunately, this issue is self-reinforcing because many men (or members of other ‘privileged’ groups) will (understandably) often take the unwavering assumption that they are obviously part of the problem as itself to be the kind of insult/harm that deserves retaliation and that retaliation often takes a form which is easily seen as being an instance of sexism/racism/whatever

      My experience is that this is universal and not limited to ‘privileged’ groups at all.

      • Besserwisser says:

        I don’t think men are a priviliged group and the whole framework doesn’t fit well with gender dynamics but I’m having trouble to ascertain what even are the differences here. Both are insulted based on their supposed competancy. In one case that’s projected on the entire gender but I would like to point out that women being seen as better in one skill is also a thing that happens.

  25. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Excellent essay, thank you!
    The part about paranoia seemed particularly relevant – to me personally, because my son seems to be on the paranoid side after being bullied in 3rd grade. Is there anything we as parents can do to make him see things more optimistically – encourage certain habits, sign him up for certain therapies, yoga, meditation, anything? (No, he doesn’t take Adderall, and he would probably refuse to take any medication to decrease the paranoia.)

    • gemmaem says:

      Are you sure it is safe for him to be optimistic? He will definitely be bullied again, at some point. It’s not irrational for him to want to be cautious. I think you should encourage him to see the good qualities in people when they do exist, but you shouldn’t invalidate his own sense of what feels safe and what does not. You could make him really vulnerable if you discourage him from trusting his own sense of when people are or are not being friendly.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        Well, no, it wouldn’t be safe, but I don’t want him to swing to -50% paranoid – a decrease from 40% paranoid to 20% would not make him unsafe, but would help him embrace experiences that he needs to learn and grow. Not everyone is friendly and well-meaning, but some people are, and you need to find them and, and cherish them, and benefit from them.

        • Deiseach says:

          Not everyone is friendly and well-meaning, but some people are, and you need to find them and, and cherish them, and benefit from them.

          Tell him that, in a simpler form. Yes there are people out there who are mean and who will be mean to you, but most people are okay.

          Don’t tell him “It’ll never happen again” or “Everybody is always nice!” because he already knows from personal experience that this is false. If you can figure out why he was bullied, talking about it and taking what he says seriously may help. Maybe there wasn’t a particular reason, in which case the “some people are just jerks” applies. It’s a hard lesson to learn but better than “oh life is all rainbows and this was just a once-off” because he won’t trust you again because he’ll think you have no idea what goes on.

          Confidence building things do help – my sister sent one of her kids, when he was young, to martial arts classes for this reason – not so he’d learn to beat up bullies or anything like that, but to get him into a group and learn to be more out-going and develop confidence, and it really helped him. Maybe Boy Scouts or sports or whatever he might be interested in, so he can be in a group that is there for one purpose and a common interest, and less likelihood of jerks picking on him (I won’t say ‘no likelihood’ because there’s always the chance, but mostly if everyone is there to learn wood-working, they’re not there for messing around).

          • Sebastian_H says:

            An analogy that I find works with kids (and others) is “dimmer switch”.

            As in: Your bad experiences (with bullying or trauma or abuse) have left you understandably aware of small signals that someone might do bad things to you. As a result you often want to turn your relationship off with people like a switch when you get a hint that things could get bad.

            But people aren’t perfect, so even the best people will sometimes give you hints that things can get bad. So instead of turning them off like a switch, you should dim things down a bit. Dial back your intensity with them and see if it was just them having a bad day, or if it was a real warning.

    • Autolykos says:

      Take him to martial arts classes.
      Worked for me, at least. The most important effect is that over time it changes your everyday posture. You have better situational awareness and move with purpose, which signals to potential bullies “This is not a safe person to mess with.”. Nowadays, people semi-regularly ask me if I do martial arts even if they don’t know much about me (and I don’t look that fit/strong).
      The second part is internal: If you know that you can deal with aggressive people if you have to, you can stay calm when others get angry, which projects a lot of confidence.
      (It doesn’t even matter much what style, or whether it is effective. I first went to a rather typical Belt Factory, and even that worked ok. Part of me wants to suggest Aikido, though, because they tend to put a lot of emphasis on proper posture.)

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        I’ve tried, but it’s a fine line. The problem is that the martial arts that actually help you deal with adversity necessarily include the experience of getting beaten, mauled and dominated (which a paranoid character would interpret as being bullied).
        The styles that avoid that sort of experience, on the other hand, are no good at all when it comes to an actual physical confrontation, and thus convey a false sense of confidence along with a good deal of cognitive dissonance. (Having earned a brown belt in Aikido before switching to Judo, then BJJ and MMA, I speak from experience.)

        • Autolykos says:

          Huh, seems to be yet another example of “different people, different experiences”.
          The reason I think (initial) style doesn’t really matter is that once you realize you’ve been practicing Bullshido all the time, you already understand enough that you’re not an easy target any more (even knowing a bad style will usually keep you from combat paralysis). And then, you can go looking for something that also works against competent opponents.
          Also, when you’re young, the bar isn’t that high. I got a lot of mileage out of half a year of Judo.
          (I started with Kickboxing and Judo, and ended up with FMA, traditional Jiu Jitsu and Weng Chun. I think the latter two strike a good balance between actually working, having enough options for different levels of escalation, and not getting beaten up too much while training. But I also had a lot of fun with BJJ and Wrestling, so I guess I don’t mind losing either…)

          • moridinamael says:

            Regardless of whether you’re learning Bullshido or something practical, you’ll end up with a sense of what it feels like to be hit, and how to respond to that stimulus without freezing up in fear. The difference between an untrained versus a badly trained individual is that the badly trained individual will have some kind of physical response queued up in response to violence, even if it’s an ineffective response, while the untrained individual will just freeze or flail.

            Taekwondo may not be the most effective self defense art, but you definitely lose your fear of being hit after a few full-contact sparring sessions.

        • adrian.ratnapala says:

          Then err on the soft side.

          If you think yoga and meditation might be a good thing for him, then why not Tai Chi? And I reckon you could go a lot harder than Tai Chi before you trigger problems with the paranoid side.

          Any competent martial arts school will stick to introductory lessons that aren’t at all confronting. And later, more confronting, lessons should not really involve getting beaten or mauled (at least not by my understanding of those terms). Those lessons don’t strike me as something the paranoid mind should be insulated from, but rather things that it should cautiously build up towards.

        • themadmammaker says:

          Isn’t this “false sense of confidence” the whole point here? The goal is to make the kid less paranoid, not to teach him how to beat people up, or even to get a correct impression of how good he would be at beating people up.

        • Alexp says:

          I’d suggest BJJ or Judo. I think get beaten in a safe context can be very helpful. Especially since in BJJ and Judo getting beaten doesn’t imply getting concussions.

          Of course, I train in a very nice BJJ gym that has a very good kids program. There are plenty of BJJ and Judo gyms full of assholes in Tap-Out t-shirts.

          • eccdogg says:

            I was going to say the same thing. I think getting beaten in a safe context can give a lot of confidence. In the sense that you realize that this is not the worst thing in the world and I can get through this. I can withstand some pain and discomfort.

            My context for this is Wrestling which I did from about the age of 7 through high school. At different points in my practice I was both the rag doll being dominated and the dominator and I think I learned more as the rag doll.

            Also I think any good program will match your child up with some folks a little better than them, some about the same, and some a little worse. You probably learn the most from sparing folks who are just a little better than you are.

          • At a slight tangent …

            Growing up, I was bad at sports and more or less assumed it was an innate limitation of mine. Then I got involved in a sport few people did (Judo, back in the late 1950’s) and later in a sport almost nobody did (SCA combat c. 1970). I was about average at judo and well above average at sword and shield combat.

            And I then realized that what was going on was that the sports they did in school were things other kids did lots of for fun, I did them only if I had to at gym classes or the like, so of course they were better at them than I was. And I ended up with a self image of myself as physically strong and reasonably fast.

            Getting back on topic … . A martial arts class, or any other relatively uncommon physical activity, can give self-confidence to someone who lacks it because he is bad at the competitive physical things his peers do.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s certainly the experience I had. I was an unathletic child, but got to be a fairly good martial artist after I discovered that early in high school, and later became a serious contender on the intercollegiate level for epee fencing. (Competed in saber, too, but I’m not really built for it.)

            The moral of the story is, if you’ve got a nerdy child that you want to physically motivate, put a sword in their hand. In retrospect I really wish I’d started five or eight years earlier.

        • Deiseach says:

          The problem is that the martial arts that actually help you deal with adversity necessarily include the experience of getting beaten, mauled and dominated (which a paranoid character would interpret as being bullied).

          But that would help with learning the difference between “this person is deliberately picking on you” and “this is just part of how you have to learn this, see the other guys are getting knocked about as well, part of life is getting knocked about and dealing with it”. The nephew did a few years of taekwondo and enjoyed it, and it really did bring him out of his shell, but I don’t think there was any emphasis on “now you will be able to beat seven bells out of anybody”.

          And don’t be too heavy on the idea of paranoia; it may be anxiety more than anything, and it’s a fine balance to get right the “taking it seriously” and not fall between the two stools of “implanting the idea that he’s paranoid with good cause” and “belittling what he says and thinks”.

        • Andrew Hunter says:


          I got beat up as a kid. A lot. Elide a five graf explanation of how bad it was and how much this fucked me up.

          In college I picked up BJJ. And yes, BJJ involves getting mauled, a lot, by bigger, stronger, more talented people.

          Nevertheless it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life, and it was a great lesson: I can get through this, and the guy grinding my face into the mat for 5 minutes actually likes me and will grab a beer that night. And you know what? I’m bigger and stronger now than I was, but I’m not the biggest or strongest guy in the room (except when I hang out with SWPLs.) And despite that, it’s been ten years since I felt threatened by anyone. I will never again be terrified that someone might beat me up. And I have a great high-T hobby.

          Now, there are better and worse places to practice BJJ. If anyone in the gym wears this T-shirt walk away and don’t come back. But a large number of BJJ groups are stunningly nice. Yes, we all beat each other up–but we all know that there’s someone stronger, which is humbling enough to keep us friendly.

          Highly recommended.

          • Paul Brinkley says:


            My experience with HEMA has been virtually identical.

          • jimmy says:

            Hah, I train with the guy modeling that shirt. He’s actually a perfect example of a jiujitsu guy who is stunningly nice.

          • wobbler says:

            Likewise my experience with Krav Maga (which I’ve only started learning recently). It’s fairly brutal, but everyone is really friendly.

            However, when I was a kid being bullied at school, I went to Fencing classes (which I later segued into Kendo). Not really applicable in any practical self-defence sense (people don’t really carry swords around anymore!), but it _does_ teach you how to maintaining a fighting distance and the experience does allow you to focus on getting things done in a dangerous situation, rather than getting distracted/panicking by having a weapon pointed at your chest, which I think is helpful. And it’s not really any kind of “beating up” — everyone is in armour and it’s very “sportified” and distance (as martial arts go)

        • carvenvisage says:

          I don’t want to read too far between the lines here but it sounds like you are envisioning your kid joining you in BJJ. If that’s correct, the rest of the post might have some accuracy:


          Ever heard of Muay thai? Boxing? No one has to get held down, still less held gratuitously or unnecessarilly in a checkmate position (-something most serious BJJ places are understandably pretty easy about), in order to learn an unarmed combat sport.

          That you fell for a Mcdojos in the first place should make you question how qualified you are to judge what is necessarry. ‘Getting dominated’ is no more plausible a part of the equation than ‘pattern and forms’.

          A tolerance for being nominally dominated is purely a necessarry evil for training certain martial arts (in particular, -almost uniquely, BJJ).


          Even if there is no serious striking place around, a mcdojo is fine for a 4th grader, or a plain old punchbag hung up somewhere. (if you have the space). Even a severe aversion to your particular hobby should not be a major obstacle. Let the kid do judo or something. I just personally got a barbell and dumbells for a new place for <150 bucks. It's absolutely not some major dilemna, still less one of of needing to get your kid to want to be dominated in order to involve them in martial arts. That is surely all in your head. Probably based on contrast of that style to McDojos.

          Shit, if 'doesn't want to be held down just to slowly learn a martial art that isn't even that applicable to IRL' makes you paranoid, mike tyson was probably paranoid too. No way is that the problem.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      When Panic Attacks by David D. Burns is pretty good. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, actually works, doesn’t take a ton of effort or skill to apply.

      It applies to anything anxiety-related.

  26. AC Harper says:

    This article reminded me of ‘Connected’ by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. They reported that the social networks we are part of shape us in various unconscious ways. The ‘connection’ influences what we eat, if we smoke, and how our sexual lives unfold, whether we are wealthy and so on. Not only are we influenced by our (Connection) friends but also their friends and their friends’ friends too, by a decreasing amount, even if we don’t know their friends and friends’ friends. A subtle but significant point.

    So chances are that if you find yourself in a Connection of abused-and-abusers the Connection reinforces itself and you will continue to be abused. If you are a criminal you will find it almost impossible to ‘go straight’ while you are Connected to other criminals. Giving up smoking will be harder if the majority of people around you smoke. I hypothesise that if you are a SJW you will select other SJW to connect with and fail to understand the humanity (Connection) of Republicans – and of course vice versa.

    I also hypothesise that humans are ‘troop’ animals by the nature of the evolutionary processes that have worked on us. With 7.5 billion people in the world there are too many to form a single Connection with, so we currently appease our evolutionary heritage by identifying much smaller like-minded/like-affect Connections to identify with and contribute to. I don’t know how many separate Connections anyone modern might have, it will depend on context and the Connections may overlap – but people often speak of ‘family’ and ‘work’ being completely different worlds…

  27. Rachael says:

    This is a fascinating topic! The subtopic of variation in women experiencing sexism is one I’ve thought about quite a lot, but I hadn’t thought of it as part of a more general phenomenon as in this post.
    I’m a woman who doesn’t experience street harassment, sexual discrimination, and so on (and I’ve worked in programming for several years, and tend to have majority-male hobbies), and I keep seeing things on the internet insisting that these are things that “all women” experience, and that it’s even more common in tech and male-dominated circles.
    I have a very tentative theory (corroborations or refutations welcome!) that it’s not about attractiveness per se, but unusualness or noticeable-ness. I don’t stand out very much; I look like a lot of other people. I’m hypothesising that women who get a lot of street harassment are likely to be strikingly pretty *or* ugly – or very tall or short, or very thin or fat, or with an unusual hair colour, or from a racial minority, or with lots of visible tattoos or piercings, or notably dressed according to a particular subculture (goth, sporty, etc).
    The book Dataclysm, by the guy who writes the OK Cupid statistics blog, introduces the idea that some OK Cupid users are rated 3 out of 5 for attractiveness because everyone rates them a 3, whereas others are rated 3 because they have a very polarising look and some people rate them 1 and some rate them 5. Same mean, different variance. I’m not on OK Cupid, but I think if I were, I’d be the first kind (low variance); and I’m guessing that the second kind (high variance) get more harassment.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Interesting point. There might be something to this. I’m around a fair number of people that stand out in the ways you suggest, and it’s indeed a case of “love ’em or hate ’em”. Of course, this feels like confirmation bias, so I’d have to think of cases of stand-out people that don’t get harassed.

      …this seems rather hard to do. Practically all of these individuals are boat-rockers. I’ll have to think on it.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I have a very tentative theory (corroborations or refutations welcome!) that it’s not about attractiveness per se, but unusualness or noticeable-ness. I don’t stand out very much; I look like a lot of other people.

      Same here. I also generally don’t experience harassment/cat-calling…not that it’s never happened, but it’s unusual, and I suspect that’s because I kind of fade into the background. Or maybe I project a strong “leave me alone” field.

    • Lillian says:

      Sometimes i work as a model, as a consequence of this my hair may be dyed unusual colours. Normally it’s very dark brown, most people actually assume it’s black, even family memebers who’ve known me all my life. It got painted a subtle burgundy with teal highlights, and latter emerald with gold highlights. People are usually very nice to me, having my hair painted seems to makes them more so, not less.

      On the other hand the only instance of street harresment in years happened last summer while i was wearing a satin blue dress in the middle of the day. A mestizo guy in an SUV slowed down and desperately kept trying to ask me out. Normally i’m flattered when people compliment or express interest in me, but he wasn’t taking no for an answer, that made me feel harrassed. This kind of thing is really rare though.

      On the whole i think standing out just seems to increase the magnitude of the kind of attention you already get, not the kind.

      • Lillian says:

        Oh my edit didn’t go through. Just wanted to note that while i’m not striking enough to get to model frequently, i wouldn’t get any jobs at all if my appearance wasn’t noteworthy in some way. So even with my normal hair colour and boring clothes i do tend to stand out a bit. Hell a random guy on the train once told me he’d seen me on the same line months previously, we hadn’t interacted at all, i was just that noteworthy to him. Yet almost no harassment, no experienced sexism, and everyone is just generally nice to me. There’s no apparent polarising effect.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Hell a random guy on the train once told me he’d seen me on the same line months previously

          If you were an Internet feminist, you would count this as harassment, along with all the other incidents of people expressing interest and/or complimenting you. How dare some guy _talk_ to you when you’re just trying to go home? If a guy merely noticed your hair color change and commented upon it (or simply looked at your hair an instant too long), that would be harassment too.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dude, not helpful.

            Not every comment is a reason to be angry at internet feminists.

          • Besserwisser says:

            Considering this is a comment chain about women expressing experiences with harassment and many of those women happen to be feminists, I think it’s fairly relevant. One of the points of this article was how people rate the same experiences differently.

          • Thegnskald says:

            And yet, in spite of rationalizing a relevance – it still isn’t actually helpful.

            Imagine, for a moment, you were discussing, in a thread about consent, how you once didn’t have sex with a girl because something didn’t feel right, and it turned out later she was on drugs and thanked you.

            And someone chimes in “Yeah, but many dudes would have banged her anyways”.

            I mean, it is sort of relevant to the conversation, but it is unnecessarily hostile, moves the topic of conversation away from the experiences of the person speaking and to someone’s personal pet issue, and burns up good will towards that pet issue.

            Plus, it is likely to trigger an argument without any new information, which is the perfect recipe for a lightless fire.

          • Lillian says:

            @The Nybbler: Yeah probably, i wrote more about my attitudes in another post. They’re not exactly internet feminist kosher.


      • Jade says:

        On the whole i think standing out just seems to increase the magnitude of the kind of attention you already get, not the kind.

        This totally fits in with my experience as a 6’1 blond gal living in [Big Metropolitan City]. Mostly because of my height and partly because I’m conventionally attractive (I do model some), I seem to get three types of “attention” based on my looks:

        1.) Mostly non-threattening attempts at socialization/conversation, and genuine compliments. Getting asked out also falls into this category, because most guys are kind and don’t react adversely when I turn them down, and sure, it’s a nice ego boost, I’ll admit it.
        2.) Grey area maybe-patronizing/harassment or maybe-good intentions-but-came-off-a-little-creepy. Like when I’m was studying in the park and a man says to me “you’re too pretty to be studying that hard.” He could be meaning it in a patronizing way, but I don’t want to automatically label him (or anyone) as a chauvinist/misogynist without actually knowing them. Some people give weird compliments, and I’m not looking to immediately crucify every man who does as inherently “evil” or whatever.
        3.) Harassment/assault. No grey area here. Things like men saying loudly to their friends “check out this piece of ass” and trying to grab me as I walk by. Or guys not taking no for an answer when they ask me out.

        In a given time frame I get about the same number of “attention” incidents on a whole, but each category comprises different levels of occurrence depending on a lot of factors: what clothes I’m wearing (more revealing=more of 2 and 3, duh), what shoes I’m wearing (I don’t think that heels making me taller affects this so much as they affect the way I walk/body language). But sometimes things are counterintuitive, like how not wearing makeup/looking less put together definitely increases the occurrences of category 3s, and looking super put-together/businesslike guarantees a lot more of 1s and 2s.

        The interplay between all three is really weird, and especially reading here that some women face more of this and some face less, and leads me to wonder if there are definite factors about me that contribute to the attention I receive that I’m largely oblivious to.

  28. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    One more thought about the paranoia aspect. The whole SJW ‘microaggression’ thing seems like carefully cultivated collective paranoia: teaching people that any ambiguous social interaction which could be interpreted as racism, sexism etc is in fact an aggressive act. This does not seem to be helping either side. Any ideas what can be done about that (except the obvious, bury the whole concept and never mention it again)?

    • Are you sure that the number of genuine microaggressions is zero?

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        No. But I’m pretty sure that most occasions of people asking “where are you from?” are not meant as aggressions, and that teaching people to react to it as such is harmful.

        • Svejk says:

          It seems a lot of people don’t have to be taught that “where are you from” is an aggression because they experience it as such; repeated occasions of the same apparently innocuous question can make it annoying to some and sinister to others, depending on sensitivity. People exposed to the microaggression concept may reframe their experiences to impute more nefarious intent than intended, but I think the original ideal was to alert innocuous questioners to the received experience. Maybe this would have worked if twitter and tumblr didn’t exist.

          • Creutzer says:

            It seems a lot of people don’t have to be taught that “where are you from” is an aggression because they experience it as such

            Really? That means either the people who ask “where are your from” in your country are assholes or your immigrants are unreasonable.

            There is only one type of “where are you from” that I think it’s reasonable to take offence at, and I’m really wondering how wide-spread that is: it’s when the asker already knows where they are from, or doesn’t care, and what they’re really asking about is ethnic group.

          • Dan says:

            Living in 50% or less white areas of Florida for 20+ years and Miami for 6+, all of which teeming with people from other places, the only person I have seen get offended by someone asking where they were from was an asian-american sociology professor who had recently relocated from the west coast.

            In a world far more diverse than that that is inhabited by most, this is a ubiquitous and innocuous question. The future is going to be very hard if asking someones background is pathologized.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve never had being asked where I was from by a stranger lead to any further conversation. Maybe I’m supposed to follow up by asking them where they’re from?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nancy, to learn smalltalk my dad taught me FORM. Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation.

            “Where are you from?” kind of counts as family. So after asking where someone is from (assuming the answer isn’t “here”) then you can ask a Motivation follow-up, like “Oh, why did you move to [here]?” Perhaps the story’s interesting. “What do you do for a living?” (Occupation) “Oh, what made you want to be an [x]?” (Motivation). “What do you do for fun?” (Recreation) “Oh, how did you get into [x]?” (Motivation)

            Hopefully at some point the person has something at all interesting about them or their motivations. If not then, well, maybe that’s just a really boring person.

          • Svejk says:

            Really? That means either the people who ask “where are your from” in your country are assholes or your immigrants are unreasonable.

            The canonical “where are you from?” used to illustrate the microaggression concept is a nonwhite (often Asian) American with no foreign characteristics other than nonwhite physical appearance. The stereotyped sequence follows:

            “Where are you from?”
            “No where are you really from/Where are your parents from?”
            “Jersey City”

            The idea is not that immigrants are tetchy about their background, it’s that some citizens don’t like being assumed to be foreign in their own land.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            Isn’t it only the “where you really from?” part that’s insensitive?

          • Creutzer says:

            That’s exactly was I was describing in my second paragraph. But it doesn’t answer the question: does this actually happen appreciably often or is this just a mostly made-up bogeyman?

            And I’m really very opposed to this particular and absurd way of asking “where are you from” being treated as if it were representative for the question, because most instances of that question are without doubt not that, and perfectly inoffensive. At some point, it will happen that some idiots start calling it offensive to ask a person with a thick accent where they’re from.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The idea is not that immigrants are tetchy about their background, it’s that some citizens don’t like being assumed to be foreign in their own land.

            I think this is a worthy point. Worthy enough that I try to ask “where are you from?” in a way that hopefully makes it clear that I think they could just as easily be from Philly as the Philippines. My typical way of managing this is to word it as “so, are you from the [whatever local area we’re in at that moment] area?”. That should imply that they could be from fifty miles away as far as I know, but either way, it’s obviously not a knock on them.

            (Of course, some people treat that as a microaggression. Some days you just can’t win.)

          • Svejk says:

            I’m not an expert on microaggressions, but I gather that a key point is that their effect is cumulative, so that once an external response is triggered it often seems intemperate and disproportionate, and is sometimes mis-targeted.

            If a person is repeatedly asked “where are you from?”, and 40% of the time this question proceeds to “where are you really from?”, and also notices that his majority-group peers are never asked this question, he may assume that “where are you really from?” is implied much of the time, and react (internally, mostly) accordingly.

            Again, because of the bubble thing, it is hard to tell if this reaction is “reasonable”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but sometimes people asking “Where are you from?” mean “Are you from Ballydehob or Ballybunion?” and not “You look furrin'”.

            Sometimes it’s “How did you end up here?” There’s a fella who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Donegal, and I’d love to know how the hell that happened. I mean, Dublin or Cork? Sure. But Donegal?

            The only way I’d be more surprised is if it was Leitrim. Not even Irish-native people want to go to Leitrim!

          • eccdogg says:

            Right, I often ask my cabbies or uber drivers with accents where are they from because I am interested in learning about them, why they came to the US, what things are like in their home country, how they like it here etc etd.

            And I ask the same of most people I meet. “So are you from here originally?” Where did you grow up? Those all seem like very reasonable small talk get to know you questions.

          • skef says:

            Nancy, to learn smalltalk my dad taught me FORM. Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation.

            A boy is about to go on his first date, and his father gives him the following advice: “If you ever don’t know what to talk about, just remember the three F’s: food, family, and philosophy. You can always start a conversation about one of those subjects.”

            The boy picks up his date and they go to a soda fountain. Ice cream sodas in front of them, they stare at each other for a long time, as the boy’s nervousness builds. He remembers his father’s advice, and chooses the first topic. He asks the girl: “Do you like potato pancakes?” She says “No,” and the silence returns.

            After a few more uncomfortable minutes, the boy thinks of his father’s suggestion and turns to the second item on the list. He asks, “Do you have a brother?” The girl says “No,” and there is silence once again.

            The boy then plays his last card. He thinks of his father’s advice and asks the girl: “If you had a brother, would he like potato pancakes?”

          • I often ask my cabbies or uber drivers with accents where are they from because I am interested in learning about them, why they came to the US, what things are like in their home country, how they like it here etc etd.

            As do I. I can’t ever remember getting a negative response and it often leads to interesting conversation.

            I suspect the important thing is that you say it in a way that signals “how interesting” not “why are you trespassing in my country?”

          • sarahkimpossible says:

            The canonical “where are you from?” used to illustrate the microaggression concept is a nonwhite (often Asian) American with no foreign characteristics other than nonwhite physical appearance. The stereotyped sequence follows:

            “Where are you from?”
            “No where are you really from/Where are your parents from?”
            “Jersey City”

            I am of Asian extraction, have lived in various Western countries (family moved around a lot), and I’ve had this exchange, verbatim except for the geographical locations. But to put a twist on things: thanks to the globetrotting family, I speak fluent English with an accent that does not concord neatly with any one geographical region.

            I tend to assume that someone who asks “Where are you from?” is probably trying to place my accent. Given that I find linguistics interesting, and will happily take an excuse to discuss rhotic versus non-rhotic accents, this tends to strike me as a perfectly innocent question.

            The follow-up “Where are you really from?” does bother me – it implies that I’m lying – but I’ve yet to encounter a speaker who intended it in a “You don’t belong here” sense. Typically, it’s a poorly-worded inquiry about my ancestry. Stupidity, not malice.

            I have had one interaction that I do file under “microaggression”, simply because it was so bewildering that I’m not sure how else to class it:

            A few years ago, a sixtyish white woman sat down next to me on the tram in February and said, apropos of absolutely nothing, “Happy New Year!”

            I had my headphones in, I hadn’t made eye contact, and it didn’t register that she was, in fact, addressing me. I was very confused when her random utterance was followed by “I said, Happy New Year!”

            My blank incomprehension must have shown on my face, because she followed up with “It was Chinese New Year yesterday!” At which I smiled and nodded and got off the tram a few stops early so that I could put an end to the interaction.

            Maybe this woman had a problem with impulse control. Maybe she was going to sit next to everyone on the tram and say the exact same thing. And maybe she was being awkwardly presumptuous about my ethnicity and cultural history in a way that othered me.

            But when I think back on it, I’m mostly annoyed that she violated the convention of not trying to engage people who are wearing headphones on public transportation.

          • Protagoras says:

            The mention of accents reminds me that I once told someone from Singapore that I thought I recognized her accent. She didn’t seem personally offended, but she told me that I should be careful saying things like that because in Singapore having a strong accent was apparently low status; the elite Singaporeans like to think their English is better than that. I don’t know if that’s Singapore as a whole or just her circles (or if she was just making it up, even), but another data point in the variety of possible responses.

        • lvlln says:

          An aside, but I was reminded by sarahkimpossible’s comment that, about once a year, an Asian tourist – usually Chinese and unfortunately not Korean even once – comes up to me in public and starts asking me questions in their language (I’m a Korean-American). I’ve been fortunate not to be interrupted on a subway seat while wearing headphones, but usually it’s while I’m walking somewhere, and the person just comes up to me and starts talking as if I should understand the language. Most recently, I was taking a walk during lunch a couple of days ago, and an old Asian lady, apropos nothing, just came up to my face and started talking in Chinese to me. I just muttered “I don’t speak Chinese” and continued walking.

          I don’t interpret this as evidence that Asians in general or Asian tourists specifically carry some implicit bias about Asians and think they all look alike. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that one might confuse an Asian from one country with an Asian from another country, even if one is Asian oneself. It’s even harder for people who aren’t of Asian descent like me or the tourist. I do think those individuals who come up to me and act as if they’re automatically entitled to my full attention are being rude.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I’m just really looking forward to the day society progresses to the point there are zero microaggressions so we can finally do something about these insufferable nanoaggressions.

    • LadyTL says:

      I wish it was paranoia. I have gotten alot of microagressions over the years for things like I am wearing long skirts, wearing no makeup, having waist length hair, not cheating on my long distance husband, not being girly enough in someone’s opinion, for liking computers etc…

      • Aapje says:

        Isn’t that better called passive aggressive behavior?

        Some problems I have with the term microagression is that it:

        – seems to lump together highly disparate behavior. Asking a question like ‘where are you from’ is IMO typically used either to gather information to know how to relate to a person and/or to have a topic to talk about. This seems very different from criticizing people over their life choices.

        – By pooling disparate things together, it creates fertile ground for motte-and-bailey reasoning and other illogical arguments.

        – It seems reverse reasoning: starting from the theory that certain groups experience unique negative interactions and then assuming that all these negative experiences have the same cause. The problem here is that the basic theory seems trivially false (if it were true, ‘oppressor’ groups would never experience these kind of negative interactions, which is clearly not the case).

        – The theory it is based on seems fundamentally racist and sexist to me & I dislike that.

        • yodelyak says:

          I think even when people are using behavior that fits the pattern of “micro aggression” specifically in order to make their target feel they are targeted by aggression, the best response is often to feign blindness to the distinction, and treat everything ambiguous as friendly. Generally this forces those who want to be bullies to behave nastily in much less ambiguous ways–at which point coordinating meanness to shut down their nastiness becomes much easier.

          I think both the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths have very explicit injunctions along the lines that, if you are insulted on one cheek, you should offer your other cheek as well. And I think the reason this counter-intuitive behavior works is not that it’s good to be weak, or to welcome insult as praise, but that real strength is always coordinated strength, and coordination problems require this kind of patience and restraint.

          • Witness says:

            real strength is always coordinated strength, and coordination problems require this kind of patience and restraint.

            I’ve struggled to articulate points very similar to this in the past. I think this framing will help me quite a bit. Thanks 🙂

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Agreed – I don’t think I ever quite considered this angle before.

          • Nick says:

            Thirding that this is really interesting.

    • Mark says:

      I think it would be best to be honest about how micro-aggressions make you feel, without assuming some invisible shadow host of social opinion sweeping up behind in support of your position.

      “Where are you from?”
      “Sorry, I have a bit of an issue where people asking me that question makes me feel like I’m being rejected as a normal member of the community.”

      And then actually listen to the response without getting angry…?

      [There are certain standard questions that people ask me that I find personally problematic. I normally just feel bad, grin and bear it. Probably be better to take a more honest approach, though.]

      • Murphy says:

        There are people who freak out over “where are you from?”?

        I’ve had “where are you from”‘s by entire life due to a slightly odd mix of accents and for most of my life the answer was something like “oh, born a few miles down the road”

        As someone who I’d be willing to bet a small amount got “where are you from” more often than yourself over my life it never would have occurred to me that some people read that as “You must not be a real member of the community!!!”.

        I guess that may be an example of being at different ends of the trust/paranoia axis.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I get a moderate amount of “Where are you from?”

          Until I became familiar with Social Justice, I interpreted it to mean that normal people are interested in really boring things. I’d reply with my true but boring answer.

          “I was born in Philadelphia, but my parents moved to Delaware when I was six months old. I moved to Philadelphia about 20 years ago.”

          [serves you right, you boring person]

          If my ancestry comes up, I’m half Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) on both sides. The rest of my ancestry is from what used to be the Lithuanian empire– the Ukraine, Byelorussia, that sort of thing. Really, I think I have the least interesting ancestry of anyone I know– no famous people, and a limited geographical range. So many people have ancestors from two or three continents.

          Anyway, after SJW, I wonder whether all those people think I don’t quite fit in.

          • Aapje says:

            Anyway, after SJW, I wonder whether all those people think I don’t quite fit in.

            Or…they are trying to fit you in, by trying to figure out your culture so they don’t unnecessarily offend you.

            The causality may be the opposite of what you think. As in: they notice that you don’t fit in and try to figure out how to deal with that.

          • Chalid says:

            I don’t mind “where are you from” but it really annoys me when people don’t accept my answer and keep digging.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m been told that I get the white people version. If I were darker, I’d get “But where are you *really* from?” if I only explained my personal history.

            So help me, I’m tempted to say I’m from Nigeria and then explain that my family were diplomats.

            Aapje, it might also make sense to ask people why they asked me, not that I feel very sure of getting an honest answer.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nancy, I’ve got a lily-white friend who’ll happily explain that he’s Filipino. You see, his parents were missionaries…

            Perhaps to his disappointment, he hardly ever gets the question.

        • Skivverus says:

          My mother got this often enough that she’d tell people about it; I mostly got the impression that it was an annoyance rather than a matter of freaking out, and that mostly because people would respond to her answer with “no, where are you from?”

          On the one hand, their hunches were arguably correct – she grew up in Hong Kong – but on the other there are probably more diplomatic ways to ask about heritage.

        • srconstantin says:

          “Where are you from” is annoying/stressful if you’re an immigrant and you left the place you’re “from” for a damn good reason and don’t identify with it much. My father does not like it when people find out where he’s from and say “Oh, so you’re Romanian!” I’ve also noticed that a lot of Russian Jews are weirded out when Americans say “you’re Russian” — they’re like “man, they sure didn’t call me Russian in Russia!”

          Sometimes when people insist SHUT UP I AM AN AMERICAN FROM AMERICA, it’s not because they’re self-hating about their heritage, it’s because their experience of their country of origin wasn’t that great, and identifying with that country is sort of epically missing the point. (Imagine referring to Elie Wiesel as “a Romanian.” Sounds pretty awkward, doesn’t it?) Some people are into the whole Columbus Day/Casimir Pulaski Day/St. Patrick’s Day thing — some people are NOT.

    • Quiet Lurker says:

      I suspect that almost every instance of microaggression people think they’ve experienced was actually just a standard awkward social interaction where the other party just happened to be a different race or gender.

      I can think of more than a couple instances in my own life where this might have happened.

      One example: I was once in a hospital with my mother and the two of us were standing in front of the elevator trying to remember which floor we needed. While we were figuring things out the elevator arrived and a man who was waiting beside us stepped into it. He gestured that we should join him, but I just shook my head and said “We’ll get the next one.”

      He looked crestfallen, which confused me. Why should he care which elevator we take? Was he lonely or something? Only later did it occur to me that he, not being white, might have thought we didn’t want to share an elevator with him because we were racist.

      If he did think that, he must now believe he has firsthand experience of racist microaggression.

      These kinds of awkward interactions are common (at least in my life). If the group a person believes may be committing microaggressions against them makes up a large portion of the people they’re likely to interact with on a regular basis (whites or men for example) then it’s surely possible to build up dozens of erroneous personal examples.

      • lvlln says:

        That incident really highlights one of the major problems with microaggressions as it’s pushed as an issue today: they are completely determined by the subjective opinion of the microaggressed and independent of the intent or any other internal thought process of the microaggressor, yet the microaggression is supposed to indicate or reflect some deep internal bias within the microaggressor, who now has the responsibility to confront one’s own bigotry as evidenced by the microaggression. Of course, many people will argue that calling something a “microaggression” doesn’t mean berating the microaggressor, just asking them to be a bit more thoughtful about their behaviors, but my experience indicates to me that reactions to someone committing a microaggression tends to go much further and is usually much closer to demanding psychological and behavioral modifications in the part of the microaggressor (my experience may not reflect what’s common, though).

        These kinds of awkward interactions are common (at least in my life). If the group a person believes may be committing microaggressions against them makes up a large portion of the people they’re likely to interact with on a regular basis (whites or men for example) then it’s surely possible to build up dozens of erroneous personal examples.

        This is the especially depressing part in this, I think. Every behavior has some level of ambiguity in it and some room for interpretation. People err in various directions and magnitudes due to their personal idiosyncrasies. But lots of influential people are now pushing it such that certain types of ambiguous behaviors get interpreted uncharitably by default. Not only does that make those interactions more negative, people see more and more evidence of insidious unconscious bias due to how they interpret behaviors that are microaggressions, making them more sensitized to interpreting ambiguous behaviors as aggressive in the future. And since people are punished for defending themselves from charges of bigotry regardless of the validity of those charges (as that just proves that they’re bigoted), and since people are punished for suggesting more charitable interpretations of ambiguous behaviors (as that’s just gaslighting), we create a ratchet where people perceive more and more insidious bigoted behavior as happening, even under the same circumstances.

        Not to mention the actual suffering that this induces by training people to feel hurt from interactions which truly are ambiguous. Of course, ambiguous behaviors which are actually aggressive in reflection of someone’s internal bigotry DO exist, and it can be helpful to notice and to analyze them. But encouraging people to more often interpret ambiguous behaviors in this way seems very well designed to increase suffering by people on both sides of the interaction. If a behavior is truly ambiguous, then it seems most helpful to interpret it charitably, and if it’s not truly ambiguous, it seems misleading to call it a “microaggression” instead of just “aggression.”

        • Fluffy Buffalo says:

          Thanks for spelling out what I meant in more depth and clarity.

        • Randy M says:

          they are completely determined by the subjective opinion of the microaggressed and independent of the intent or any other internal thought process of the microaggressor, yet the microaggression is supposed to indicate or reflect some deep internal bias within the microaggressor

          This is insightful.

          Not to mention the actual suffering that this induces by training people to feel hurt from interactions which truly are ambiguous.

          I agree that this is a harmful attitude. It’s good advice to assume the other party is having a bad day, distracted, has poor social skills, etc. There’s times when offense is really really blatant, I suppose, but if you interpret ambiguous interactions positively, you will be happier and more pleasant.

          It seems like some people have the view that it is not moral to be happy if someone slights you–righteous anger is required if it is at all justified. But the old saw that the best revenge is living well has some truth, especially because then you don’t avenge imagined slights.

        • BBA says:

          In tort law there’s the “eggshell skull” rule, which is that a negligent person is responsible for all damage caused by their negligence, even if the victim is unusually frail and suffers much greater harm than a typical person would under the same circumstances.

          Microaggression theory appears to be applying the same principle to social interaction. I’m not saying I strictly agree with the rule, but if it’s analogous to the Common Law as handed down by the Gods of the Copybook Headings, there must be something to it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The eggshell skull rule is about damages, not liability, though. If I bump an eggshell skull person in an interaction where I am not negligent, and as a result they die, I’m not liable.

            (Also it’s a stupid rule)

          • Evan Þ says:

            As The Nybbler said, the eggshell skull rule requires you to first commit a tortious action. As long as you don’t break that rule, you’re in the clear; if you do, you do so at your peril.

            But, @The Nybbler, why’s it a stupid rule? I see it as quite sensible to make the tortfeasor fix all the damages caused by his action. For instance, if someone burns down my apartment, I want them to replace my (hypothetical) rare book collection even if they had no idea it was there.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It means the very smallest tort can have effectively unlimited damages, even if the wronged party could have mitigated them through ordinary care. A wealthy person could line his yard with expensive and easily breakable sculpture and bankrupt the first clumsy or drunk person to wander into one.

          • ECD says:

            @The Nybbler,

            I’ve never heard of a case where the eggshell plaintiff rule did away with comparative fault. Where are you getting that?

            Also, for your example, it’s possibly true that they could bankrupt someone, but the most likely person to fall on their lawn breaking a statue is judgment-proof by virtue of having no money, so I don’t think that’s a serious concern.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s no comparative fault in my example; it’s not negligent for a person to put his own property out on his lawn. The eggshell skull rule says any trespasser has full liability for all damages caused by his trespass, no matter how unforseeable those damages were to him.

          • ECD says:

            @The Nybbler,

            It’s certainly not illegal to “line his yard with expensive and easily breakable sculptures” but I’d expect any defense attorney to argue that it was negligent, or that they failed to properly mitigate damages (see e.g. discussion on ‘safety glasses’: http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/resources-news_ca_mitigationofdamagesdefense.html).

            Edited to add: Also, the alternative is that the person who did nothing wrong is paying for it (as there’s no magical third option where no one pays for harm caused).

          • BBA says:

            yeah, you caught me assuming strict liability (which, TBF, is pretty much the standard rule for everything these days). No wonder I never got a job practicing law.

          • lvlln says:

            I think there’s definitely something to it. I consider it just good courtesy to follow the “eggshell skull rule” when it comes to social interactions. The person you’re speaking with really might metaphorically have a skull made out of eggshells, and crushing their skull is a terrible thing to do, even if accidentally, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

            But people are allowed to behave without good courtesy. It’d be one thing to remind someone that the people they’re interacting with might have eggshell skulls, it’s another to deem them as a bigot deserving of ostracization if they don’t repent and re-educate themselves.

            And it’s a whole extra problem if we have empirical evidence that constantly reminding people that they might have eggshell skulls actually literally causes people’s skulls to turn into eggshells. That’s just going to cause more unnecessary suffering. One might posit that this is just the tradeoff of encouraging people to treat others as if they have eggshell skulls, but it seems to me that it’s perfectly possible to encourage that while also reminding people that statistically they probably don’t have eggshell skulls, and that not believing they have eggshell skulls is actually a way to make their skulls less likely to turn into eggshell.

          • But, @The Nybbler, why’s it a stupid rule?

            I’m not the Nybbler, but it’s a question of interest to me.

            The problem is that the victim knows he has an eggshell skull, the potential tortfeasor doesn’t. If one person in a thousand has an eggshell skull, it makes more sense for one person in a thousand to wear a helmet than for everyone to treat everyone else as if he needed a helmet.

            That assumes, as the economic analysis of tort law usually does, that tort damages fully compensate, so given the rule there is no incentive for the unusually vulnerable person to take unusual precautions.

            Another thing wrong with it is that the case it originates with (Vosburg v Putney) is crazy and looks highly artificial, possibly fraudulent.

            A third thing interesting, if not wrong, is that precisely the same logic of advantages and disadvantages (I’ve omitted the argument for the rule, since that wasn’t the question asked), applies in a different legal context (the rule of Hadley v Baxendale) where the common law has the opposite rule. Richard Posner, one of the main L&E people, separately argues that both common law rules are economically efficient without noticing that he is choosing to look at one of two alternative arguments in the one case, the other in the other case, and both apply to both.

            For details see Chapter 14 of my Law’s Order.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Another point is that while it is true on paper that the eggshell skull rule applies to damages and not liability, the argument that a lot of damage was done therefore there _must_ have been negligence is often made… and accepted.

          • Aapje says:


            In other words, you get a lowest common denominator society.

            It is costly to make everything super safe and tailored for the least capable and also makes many things impossible.

            It’s like a world where every room is a padded room with no furniture. It hollows out the human experience for most people.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            An ‘eggshell skull’ criterion for damages may be less of an issue if an ‘in the opinion of a reasonable person’ criterion has first to be passed for liability.

  29. Yosarian2 says:

    I really think this is one of the root causes of a lot of the problems we have discussing certain kinds of issues online.

    Some people assume, based on personal experiences, “racism/ sexism/ homophobia are universal problems that cause massive amounts of suffering and if anything are getting worse over time, and we have to do more to fight that.”

    Other people assume, based on personal experiences “racism/ sexism/ homophobia don’t really exist anymore, and people who complain about the issues are probably just whiny SJW’s looking for a way to attack people.”

    Then the first group assumes the second group must be arguing in bad faith, because OBVIOUSLY everyone must have seen seen how universal racism and sexism and homophobia are. And the second group assumes the first group is arguing in bad faith…

    (Personal confession; until I read Scott’s blog, I kind assumed that everyone who complained about SJW’s attacking people were just whiny racists/sexists looking for excuses to attack people that didn’t want them to be sexist or racist anymore, because I am a white man and I have never seen anyone do anything even remotely like the stuff people complained about when people complain about SJW’s, and I’d certanly never seen any “sjw” being unfair to anyone, online or in real life. Scott’s blog helped me realize that people in a different bubble then me may be having very different experiences.)

    • Besserwisser says:

      The dichotomy between people saying discrimination doesn’t exist and people saying these particular groups are discriminated against annoys me to no end. Because I actually doesn’t see it that way in regards to gender. But virtually every time I bring up men’s issues, I get accused of wanting to make things worse for women when I just want the same considerations for men.

      • Yosarian2 says:

        I don’t think most people have a problem saying “A, B. and C are unfair to women, and x and y are unfair to men.” In fact, a lot of feminists might agree with you about x and y, depending on what they are. (For example, major feminist orginizations like NOW have argued for decades that having only men and not women drafted is unfair, and that if we’re going to have a selective service act it should include both men and women.)

        Of course, you still run into the same problem which is that people only have their own experiences, the experiences of those in their own bubble, or maybe the experiences of those they read about which likely were written within their own (extended) bubble, and that makes these kinds of conversations hard. And of course there are a lot of people who claim they care about men’s issues when what they really want is the subjugation of women, which badly confuses the issue. But still, if you think that “I’m not denying that discrimination against group x is an issue, I just also think that the way society treats group y is also problematic” then you may already be passed the biggest hump in discussing these kind of issues.

        • Besserwisser says:

          While I’m not too familiar with NOW’s stance on the draft, I do know both feminists opposing the possibility of selective service for women while ignoring the presence of it for men and I’ve seen NOW effectively arguing against shared custody by casting fathers as abusive. Plus, the draft is kinda low hanging fruit in this regard, if even some feminists are not on the same page as me on that, that’s a bad sign. You’d have to be insane to not consider the draft as unfair towards men, even if some might not use as hard a word as discrimination. I’m just saying I don’t find overly enthusiastic support from feminists on men’s issues and my disagreements go into areas where most feminists wouldn’t be willing to budge.

          This might just me being in a bubble where I may hear more about NOW’s stance on shared parenting than the draft but I did have more engagements with feminists in the past and that I consider to be somewhat less bubbled. And yes, I see most people agreeing to a form of “women have some issues and so do men” but I see that much less in feminism. Part of the problem is that I often do see feminists claims about the oppression of women to be over-stated and will say so, even if this means agreeing with people I don’t necessarily want to share a dinner table with.

          • Brad says:

            Plus, the draft is kinda low hanging fruit in this regard, if even some feminists are not on the same page as me on that, that’s a bad sign.

            More than 60 million Americans consider themselves feminists. You are going to find ‘some’ that espouse everything and anything.

          • Besserwisser says:

            I do find a lot of different feminists but too many not accepting something so obvious is still a bad sign. Maybe “some” wasn’t the right qualifier and I’m perfectly fine with considering, say, radical feminists as a completely different entity from the rest of feminism. But most feminists I can’t find too much common ground with and many with whom I agree tend to be much less representative of the movement than the ones I disagree with.

          • Brad says:

            But most feminists I can’t find too much common ground with and many with whom I agree tend to be much less representative of the movement than the ones I disagree with.

            I don’t see how you could possibly determine this by engaging with some relatively small number of non-randomly selected people.

            In fact, that’s one of the implicit messages of the essay we are discussing.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            While there is a lot of “Well those people weren’t representative” going on now, a few years ago, overt hostility to men’s rights was pretty damn representative.

            BWATM was the “pro-male” feminist site, named after the mocking response feminists gave to those who advocated mens rights, and it made a habit of shitting on cis men on a regular basis – in practice, it would admit gay, trans, and non-gender-normative men suffered, and that was it, because the only suffering it admitted to was suffering of being insufficiently masculine. “Ruminations on toxic masculinity” might as well have been the subtitle.

            In real life, you would get flunked out of gender studies for suggesting men might suffer for being men, and were told throughout the classes that men were rapists and pigs, in a variety of colorful ways and metaphors, and you were likely to be assigned castration fantasy material. (I forget the name of the comic, but yeah, that was seriously a thing.). Outside of these courses, many universities started instituting mandatory “orientation” classes, which repeated some of the same ideas.

            There is a bubble – it is called supporting men’s rights, and trying to get feminism to be what it said it was, an egalitarian movement for sexual equality. If you didn’t do it, you didn’t see.

            And yes, things are better today, in at least feminists pay lip service to the idea that men suffer, and toxic masculinity has fallen out of vogue and it is acceptable to want to be masculine now (mostly). But this is a recent development, and a lot of people are still rightfully pissed off about how they were treated just a few years ago.

            The biggest game-changer was the video of the guy talking about joking about his own rape – the conversational tone changed immediately.

          • Brad says:

            This is a bizarre response. I gently suggested to Besserwisser that his anecdotes could not be taken as representative and that he should seek out data. And your response is to double down with “no, you’re wrong here’s some more anecdotes, gut feelings, and conclusory statements with nothing to back them up”?!?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Do you demand the same rigor from women claiming they experience sexism?

          • Besserwisser says:

            There is such a thing as a feminist with moral authority over the movement. NOW and other major feminist organizations, feminist academics, feminists speaking at the UN and really all kinds of high-profile feminists are a lot more representative of the movement than some random feminist on tumblr. And there is a lot of horrible stuff going on both with well-known and respected members of the movement and many of the random feminists you might pick up on the street.

            Also, it’s a common meme among anti-feminists that applying criticism to feminism is like “swordfighting a fart”. Every time someone points out something bad a feminist did, other feminists will invariably either defend the bad thing or claim the ones that did it aren’t Real Feminists. There has to be a point where a feminist does or says something bad, it gets praised by feminist media and embraced by millions of feminists, where I can start blaming feminism itself.

          • Brad says:

            If they make similarly sweeping, unqualified claims about huge numbers of people without anything more than appealing to personal experience and the context is one where debate is in order (e.g. the SSC comment section), then yes I’d push back similarly.

            Are we even reading the same site? As I mentioned has as a significant theme the problem of non-representative experiences and here you are in the comments treating your experiences as representative.

          • Thegnskald says:

            No, we are not, because it is not 2012 any longer, and men’s rights have made some major cultural gains. Go back in the archives if you want to see what I mean. (In particular there was a post by – I want to say Nathan? – about how early feminism should be forgiven it’s misandry because the early feminists were rightfully angry about the state of affairs. A bunch of MRAs got angry in the comments section, because a consistent theme of the posts in those days was how MRAs were too angry, and the misogyny implied by that anger was Unacceptable, and feminism was the one true way.)

            At a certain point, the fact that one of the founding members of the first women’s domestic abuse shelter in the UK was run out of the country in fear for her safety after violent incidents and threats directed at her, for trying to start a men’s shelter has to mean something. Saying “But there is no quantitative evidence of this social phenomenon” falls a bit flat when MRAs have been consistently attacked, both violently, as in her case, and socially, as is more commonly the case.

          • Brad says:

            More anecdotes, gut feelings, and conclusory statements backed up by nothing.

            If you have no interest in trying to get past cognitive biases and forge a better understanding of the world, then why are you even here? Surely there are more appropriate venues online to vent your spleen about the dastardly feminists and get sympathetic noises mirrored back to you. 4chan or reddit or something.

          • Besserwisser says:

            So, how would you go about falsifying feminist theory, Brad? What would it take to make you think feminism was in any way bad? So far you only criticized experiences put before you, regardless of the support of actions and statements of the feminists. You haven’t put forth any arguments in favor of feminism either, only that the term is basically meaningless because there are 60 million feminists and appearently every opinion under the sun could be found among them. Which, frankly, is an interpretation I’m fine with. If feminism is a meaningless label, then it can be disregarded and discarded at will and we can tackle feminists or any other people regardless of it.

            I wouldn’t get my political opinions mirrored at me at 4chan. Heck, I came in this conversation because I complained about being thrown in the same boat as people like that, so you clearly haven’t been listening.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            Have you noticed that I have consistently argued feminists have gotten better, that society is getting better?

            Your argument comes down to “I don’t see it”. I see it. And the fact that I am saying feminists are getting better should suggest to you that my opinions on them aren’t rigidly negative, that I am not an ideologue endlessly hammering on the “feminists are terrible” drum, as you seem to imply.

            Other people are telling you they have seen it, too. I can direct you to communities full of people who say they have seen it.

            Yeah, there are communities who say they have seen ghosts, true. But here is the difference: I have pointed you to a specific blog and a specific timeframe. You can go look. (The name was Noah, just remembered.). Other people can point you to resources. I can point you to books, to comics, to coursework. The evidence isn’t “I saw this”, the evidence is easily found. A woman’s dog was killed because she supported men’s rights, with a threat that she’d be next.

            That’s not an anonymous death threat in the internet era, either.

            At a certain point, when you say “I don’t see”, it is because you aren’t looking.

          • Brad says:


            Your argument comes down to “I don’t see it”. I see it.

            No it doesn’t. It boils down to if you want to make broad, sweeping, unqualified statements bring sufficient data.

            Other people are telling you they have seen it, too. I can direct you to communities full of people who say they have seen it.

            At a certain point, when you say “I don’t see”, it is because you aren’t looking.

            Did you read the post titled Different Worlds posted on October 2, 2017 By Scott Alexander on the website Star Slate Codex?!?

            The fact that you are making this crappy argument in the comments to this post without even acknowledging it goes directly against the ideas therein is just bizarre to me.

            I have pointed you to a specific blog and a specific timeframe. You can go look. (The name was Noah, just remembered.).

            What exactly do you think that comment proves?

            A woman’s dog was killed because she supported men’s rights, with a threat that she’d be next.

            Do you hear about the Chinese Cardiologists?


            You haven’t put forth any arguments in favor of feminism either, only that the term is basically meaningless because there are 60 million feminists and apparently every opinion under the sun could be found among them. Which, frankly, is an interpretation I’m fine with. If feminism is a meaningless label, then it can be disregarded and discarded at will and we can tackle feminists or any other people regardless of it.

            Great, then we are on the same page and neither one of us will make broad sweeping claims about what feminists believe or do on the basis of ten people we happens to have talked to. Instead if we want to make statements about what feminists believe we’ll look for surveys that use random sampling or other tools designed to produce good data.

            Glad we sorted that out.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            You are reacting as if the proper response to “White people were racist in the 50s” is “Do you have evidence that all white people were racist?”

            Yes, you can find some feminists who weren’t hostile.to men’s rights. Hell, I mentioned one in passing, the woman who tried to start a men’s shelter. Not All Feminists is implied.

            I have a spreadsheet somewhere where I started taking every feminist from Wikipedia’s list of feminists and catalogued them by misandrist statements made. I stopped partway through because it was fucking depressing. 50% of those I researched said something absolutely horrible (saying men were inherently rapists was a common theme – I did come across the memoirs of the son of one of them, and his comment on his mother was, basically, “Yeah, it was terrible”), and another quarter merely made sweeping statements about how culture made men flawed in some way.

            Yes, more anecdotes, about data. But let’s talk data – what, specifically, would change your mind?

          • Brad says:

            Yes, more anecdotes, about data. But let’s talk data – what, specifically, would change your mind?

            If I wanted to make a claim like “most feminists oppose expanding selective service registration to include women” or “a substantial minority of feminists oppose expanding selective service registration to include women” I’d look for a relevant survey.

          • Thegnskald says:

            That isn’t my claim.

            So, again, what evidence would change your mind? I don’t want to go digging for evidence only for you to tell me it is the wrong evidence.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:



            Erin Pizzey was attacked by feminists for saying that many women (more than half) who were attacked by male partners were violent themselves, not for starting a shelter for male victims.

            Pizzey wrote about women who were violent in the shelter, and women who went back to violent partners because they wanted to continue the fight.

          • Brad says:


            That isn’t my claim.

            To recap how we got here:

            My first post quoted Besserwisser as saying

            Plus, the draft is kinda low hanging fruit in this regard, if even some feminists are not on the same page as me on that, that’s a bad sign.

            to which I responded:

            More than 60 million Americans consider themselves feminists. You are going to find ‘some’ that espouse everything and anything.

            to which Besserwisser responded

            I do find a lot of different feminists but too many not accepting something so obvious is still a bad sign. Maybe “some” wasn’t the right qualifier and I’m perfectly fine with considering, say, radical feminists as a completely different entity from the rest of feminism. But most feminists I can’t find too much common ground with and many with whom I agree tend to be much less representative of the movement than the ones I disagree with.

            to which I responded:

            I don’t see how you could possibly determine this by engaging with some relatively small number of non-randomly selected people.

            In fact, that’s one of the implicit messages of the essay we are discussing.

            It was at that point that you decided to step into the thread with your first post, which I must say was rather rambling.

            So if your claim has nothing to do with the draft, and presumably has nothing to do with whether or not the feminists Besserwisser finds common ground with are representative (because how would you possible know), then perhaps you give a short and clear statement of what your claim is exactly?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Nancy –

            My recollection on the exact details appears to be faulty; no surprise there, I had Andrew Jackson confused with Stonewall Jackson for the longest time. Thanks!

          • Besserwisser says:


            Erin Pizzey’s dogs appearently weren’t killed by feminists most likely but racist neighbors because her daughter had a black boyfriend and I don’t think she ever considered herself a feminist at any point. There are other feminists which pay more than lip service to the movement but a lot of them have effectively being ostracized by the movement.

            I frankly don’t care much about feminist beliefs other than as motivators for their actions. If feminist activism leads to unfavorable changes, I’m going to critcize that only to be greeted again and again by a barrage of other feminists calling them Not Real Feminist. Only that a lot more effort is expended to keep feminism’s name clean and no discernible action to challenge the Not Real Feminists.

            If the claim is that feminism actively helps men, as OP proposed, then I’m going to require evidence for that. Otherwise I can see feminism at best as indifferent to men’s issues and every negative action just makes the movement look worse. Which is the point I’m at and now I’m going to need a lot of persuasion to not only not see feminism as a net-negative but actually helping men.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            I’ll concede to rambling, although I have to question why you were arguing with me if you had no idea what I was trying to say, instead of asking.

            My point is that feminism has been, and to a lesser extent is, fairly hostile to those advocating for men’s rights. That is pretty much it.

            On the specific issue of the draft, I think the dominant feminist position has always been “end it”. The slightly more dominant of the other positions has historically been “men only”, which is a major part of the reason why Eleanor Roosevelt (and later Phyllis Gadfly, although for some reason she is better remembered for it) opposed the ERA. No idea about modern feminism; all I can really say there is that feminists haven’t pushed very hard on the issue in any direction lately.

          • Brad says:


            If the claim is that feminism actively helps men, as OP proposed, then I’m going to require evidence for that.

            This is what the OP said:

            I don’t think most people have a problem saying “A, B. and C are unfair to women, and x and y are unfair to men.” In fact, a lot of feminists might agree with you about x and y, depending on what they are. (For example, major feminist orginizations like NOW have argued for decades that having only men and not women drafted is unfair, and that if we’re going to have a selective service act it should include both men and women.)

            It doesn’t say “feminism actively helps men”. It says “In fact, a lot of feminists might agree with you about x and y, depending on what they are.” and then goes on to give a specific example. You go on to concede to at least ignorance as to his example (” I’m not too familiar with NOW’s stance on the draft”) and so never directly challenge what he said.

            I think you are seeing what you want to argue against instead of what is actually there.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            I think the aspect of this conversation you are missing is, well, what I have been telling you. Telling an MRA they will find common ground with feminists is… uh…

            Well, the thing is, most of them started there, assuming they would.

            Most of them are now pretty staunchly anti-feminist as a result.

            Yes, in theory, feminists and the MRM should get along. In practice, the MRM is basically made up of men and women whose concerns about men were met with mockery, scorn, and hostility in the feminist groups they tried to find common ground with.

          • Besserwisser says:

            This isn’t the first time a feminist has proposed herself and/or other feminists are really in favor of men’s issues. When investigated, it invariably turns out at best to be pure lip service. Sometimes lip service followed up by blaming men for all the worlds woes. Sometimes those “feminists” end up actually being avowed anti-feminists. I’m tired of hearing it. Maybe I haven’t heard it often enough that it would be statistically but it sure feels like it.

            If NOW opposes a male-only draft, that’s good. But my priors are telling me that this only became an issue for NOW once it was seriously talked about when the inclusion of women in the draft started being discussed and that the prevalent position before was “selective service is not the draft” when it only pertained to men. Which isn’t to say they wouldn’t oppose selective service when asked but they probably minimized the problem. Lip service is not enough at this point.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Besser –

            NOW’s anti-draft position is a stance that is older than that. I think it was part of a broader anti-war stance, rather than a principled gender equality position, but, eh, that is the uncharitable interpretation.

            ETA: Early men’s rights advocates were a major part of feminism in that era, and one of their primary demands was an end to the draft. They largely dropped out of the movement after the end of the Vietnam War ended; contemporary accounts vary on whether it was because the draft wasn’t an immediate threat anymore, or if it was because they perceived feminism was becoming anti-male, but in either case it is conceivable that NOW’s position there was a result of that early participation, as they formed in the middle of the war.

          • Brad says:


            My point is that feminism has been, and to a lesser extent is, fairly hostile to those advocating for men’s rights. That is pretty much it.

            In terms of what it would take to convince me of this, first I don’t think personifying feminism is accurate or useful in this context. Because of that I’m unlikely to ever be convinced of something of the form “feminism has been fairly hostile …” It would be a more tractible claim if it was “Most feminists”, “most leading feminists”, “many feminists”, “many leading feminists”, or so on. Second I need a little more clairty on “those advocating for men’s rights”. If you mean those people that self-identify as “men’s rights advocates” (MRAs) then I concede the point and we can move on with our lives.

            But it seemed to me reading your posts that we were going for something broader than that having to do with men and their rights generally and not limited to reactions to the specific rather small (AFIACT) movement.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It isn’t limited to self-described MRAs, no. It is anybody who advocates for men’s rights, of which self-described MRAs are a relative, and recent, minority.

          • Besserwisser says:

            See, when we’re already at the point where we agree a certain position is terrible AND supported by most feminists, I see the differnce between “most feminists” and “feminism” as merely a formality. At least we would have to discuss at this point if it’s the feminists who don’t conform to the majority viewpoint are inconsistent with wider feminist beliefs, the same way non-radical followers of religions tend to ignore inconvenient part of their holy scripture.

            The way I see it, all feminists but a few fringe groups, to the point that I’m hesitating to call them groups, rely on a worldview in which men aquired disproportionate power over society and used it to benefit themselves at the expense of women. This creates a disconnect with the observation that men have issues too, which every one here seems to agree on so far. You could reconcile this be denying reality and say that men have no issues, which was and still is a common feminist position. Men don’t have issues for being men, only for being trans*, gay, a minority or otherwise fit into an acceptable group to care about. The other position is that despite society being formed and ruled by men, men still get the shorted end of the stick sometimes. This is consitent with reality** but no longer internally consistent. There seems to have been a shift from the former stance to the latter in recent years but regardless of if that shift even happened and how strong it was, I reject both positions and don’t think they can be reconciled with efforts to combat men’s issues.

            *TERFs disagree on that one.

            **Minus Patriarchy Theory, if you don’t believe in that.

          • Brad says:


            This isn’t the first time a feminist has proposed herself and/or other feminists are really in favor of men’s issues

            That’s not what Yosarian2 wrote. You ought to respond to what people write not to what you wish they had written so you can do an copy-pasta-esque dump of your opinions on your hobby horse issue.

            When investigated, it invariably turns out at best to be pure lip service. Sometimes lip service followed up by blaming men for all the worlds woes. Sometimes those “feminists” end up actually being avowed anti-feminists. I’m tired of hearing it. Maybe I haven’t heard it often enough that it would be statistically but it sure feels like it.

            Given that you admittedly have a completely closed mind, I think you should evaluate whether or not you can constructively contribute anything to discussions on these topics on a rationalist or rationalist-adjacent website.

            If NOW opposes a male-only draft, that’s good. But my priors are telling me …

            It isn’t called a prior unless you intend to update.

            Men’s rights only inasmuch as they don’t overlap with women’s rights? So for example, would your thesis predict that a feminist that otherwise supported the notion of healthcare as a right would actively oppose the inclusion of prostate cancer screening in a universal healthcare scheme?

          • Nornagest says:

            I reject both positions and don’t think they can be reconciled with efforts to combat men’s issues.

            The standard MRA position as I understand it is a version of the second: that society was formed and ruled by hashtag notallmen, to benefit themselves at the expense of women and of men in general. This is actually quite similar to intersectional feminism’s nominal position — the word “kyriarchy”, which means “rule by lords”, sums it up nicely — and differs mainly in priorities and in emotional valence.

            It strikes me as strategically doomed, fraught with incentive problems, and, well, aesthetically displeasing, but it is self-consistent at least.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve seen a claim that men are less likely to be killed by their wives if domestic violence shelters are available for women.

          • Besserwisser says:


            Where’s the big disconnect between what I and what Yosarian2 said? At most my interpretation would demand a little bit more from feminists, which would make it all the more damning if they couldn’t fulfill the lesser condition. Which they barely do, arguably.

            Priors, as far as I understand them, are supposed to change when the inputs change. Mine won’t change unless I can get something to support feminists’ claim about how we supposedly all work on the same side already. That the draft is unfair to men is frankly something that should be clear before we sit down together on a table and start negotiating. And I’m already perfectly willing to talk with feminists*, I’m just very dubious if that would go anywhere at this point.

            * Most of the time. I’m honestly tired of the whole discourse at the moment but I won’t hold that against any feminists who are interested in a dialogue.



            I think studies have shown how murders of women dropped once women’s shelters became widely available. It doesn’t seem like a given that men’s shelters would do the same for women but it’s an interesting thought.

          • Aapje says:


            The other position is that despite society being formed and ruled by men, men still get the shorted end of the stick sometimes.

            What I’ve commonly seen is that many feminists are perfectly willing to accept the existence of systemic male-on-male harm, presumably because it is consistent with a strict oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. After all, one can just argue that the oppressed men have an oppressee trait like mental illness, being fat, low in wealth, etc.

            Where the line is often drawn is the existence of systemic female-on-male harm. The result is that it’s very common to get the response that it’s up to men to solve men’s issues as they are the cause and not a problem for feminists or women who don’t have the power to fix this.

            My position is that both men and women are pretty clearly guilty of perpetuating gender roles for both genders and thus cause systemic issues for both genders and thus need to take responsibility for this.


            The standard MRA position as I understand it is a version of the second: that society was formed and ruled by hashtag notallmen, to benefit themselves at the expense of women and of men in general.

            I think that the standard MRA position is that both women and men had/have had obligations and entitlements, but different ones. I don’t think that there is a real standard position of why this split happened and actually think that most of them don’t really care about the why and want to fix the present.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            For reference, in case anyone was curious or wanted to see a source, on NOW’s own page where they list the highlights of their history, they say this:

            >1980 NOW announces opposition to the draft, but states that if there is a draft, NOW supports the inclusion of women on the same basis as men.


            So this has been a position they’ve taken consistently for a long time. Note that this was a really big deal at the time, it was a major part of the debate around the equal rights amendment.

            On a side note, I’ve always taken “toxic masculinity” to be not an attack on men or on being masculine, but just as commentary that the way society forces harsh and exaggerated versions of gender roles on everyone is harmful to men as well. For example it may encourage self destructive behavior, or lead to any man who shows emotions to be attacked or bullied for it, ect. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that some people have used it as an un-nuanced way to attack men, but that wasn’t the original idea.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            Oh, I should also mention that changing the law so women are drafter as well is still an issue NOW advocates for today.


          • Aapje says:


            On a side note, I’ve always taken “toxic masculinity” to be not an attack on men or on being masculine, but just as commentary that the way society forces harsh and exaggerated versions of gender roles on everyone is harmful to men as well.

            I disagree, because if that was the case, “toxic masculinity” would be used concurrently with “toxic femininity,” but the proponents of the former term tend to strongly object to the latter term.

            I don’t see how you can square a symmetric claim that both genders are forced into harsh and exaggerated versions of gender roles with language that merely calls out one gender for this. One of my (many) objections of feminism is that there is frequently this disconnect between the abstract level and the object level, where egalitarian statements are made on a high level of abstraction, but then the statements on the object level are highly non-egalitarian, interpreting similar things differently, depending on which gender does it or is the recipient.

            If the feminists I talk to (and who use “toxic masculinity”) would merely claim that “toxic femininity” is less significant, I would not consider that necessarily an attack on men or masculinity; but I can’t see total rejection of symmetry in language as anything but misandrist framing of the debate.

          • DrBeat says:

            “The standard MRA position as I understand it is a version of the second: that society was formed and ruled by hashtag notallmen, to benefit themselves at the expense of women and of men in general.”

            The standard MRA position is that society was formed by men and women in order to perform functions that benefited them. The role of men in this society included having more power, but also more responsibility and risk. The role of women in this society involved having less power, but also less responsibility and risk. Keeping a lot of women alive was more important to societal growth than keeping a lot of men alive, so men and women organized society around keeping women safe. That is the number one thing sexism cares about: keeping as many women as possible, as safe as possible, and it infantilizes them and limits their freedom to do this.

            The idea that all societies ever were made by men just to screw over women and the women just sat there, powerlessly, helplessly, for thousands of years without having any agency and any input on anything is their lives evinces a really, really dim opinion of women. Exactly as dim as redpillers, as a matter of fact, because feminism and theredpill believe the same things.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            >I disagree, because if that was the case, “toxic masculinity” would be used concurrently with “toxic femininity,” but the proponents of the former term tend to strongly object to the latter term

            They don’t use the term, but modern feminism was largely formed around the idea that it’s very unhealthy for women to be expected by society to have an exaggerated version of the traditionally feminine behaviors. For a good early description of this, I’d suggest reading the book “The Feminine Mystique” from 1963, which is often credited with starting second wave feminism.


            The terminology is different, but it’s the same concept. Societal demands and expectations of strongly enforced gender roles are unhealthy for both men and women and fundimentally limit human development.

          • Aapje says:


            The Feminine Mystique is about how women comply with the gender role and as a consequence harm themselves.

            Toxic masculinity is about how men comply with the gender roles and as a consequence primarily hurt women.

            These are not symmetric claims.

            The actual truth is that men who comply with their gender role place demands on themselves, their (potential) partner, the social norms and how society should be set up; while women who comply with their gender role place demands on themselves, their (potential) partner, the social norms and how society should be set up.

            Men and women are semi-symbiotic. A man who seeks to gain self-respect, happiness, etc from being a provider, protector, etc needs a woman and a society who values him for doing these things and who support him in this. A woman who seeks to gain self-respect, happiness, etc from being a stay at home mom needs a man and a society who values her for doing these things and who support her in this.

            Similarly, men and women who want to break from their gender role need a partner and society who support them in this.

            What feminists then tend to do is convert this into an oppressor/oppressed dichotomy by:
            – mostly ignoring how traditionalist behavior by women limits the options for men, while recognizing how traditionalist behavior by men limits the options for women
            – Claiming that bad behavior is exclusively male and caused by ‘patriarchal indoctrination’ as a way to oppress women, when properly performed scientific studies show that a large percentage of the perpetrators are women.
            – Recognizing the downsides of the female gender role and the upside of the male gender role much, much more than the downsides of the male gender role and the upsides of the female gender role.
            – and more things like this.

            The end result is a movement that tends to be highly unwilling to recognize how men are harmed and tends to be unwilling to address this; and even worse, sometimes even adding to the harm that is done to men.

          • Yosarian2 says:


            >Toxic masculinity is about how men comply with the gender roles and as a consequence primarily hurt women.

            That’s not how I’ve seen the term used; whenever I’ve seen it used in feminist writings, it’s talking about how extreme gender roles are actually harmful to men.

            Just for an example, here’s an article discussing it:


            On a side note, I’ve absolutely seen feminist writers talking about all of the issues you bring up here, including women’s role in perpetuating sexist systems, an the way those systems limit both men and women. In fact as far as I know those are ideas that specifically come from feminism, and I find it a little surprising that you think feminists aren’t aware of those concepts.

          • Aapje says:


            That is certainly not the only way how it is used here:

            Toxic masculinity is the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.

            Or here:

            I understand—I really do—why a lot of people raised to be a man are seeking a gendered sense of self that is separate and distinct from all that has been called out lately as toxic masculinity. These days a penised person* would have to be really clueless not to notice all the manhood-proving behaviors that have been critiqued as hazardous to well-being (one’s own and others’).

            Whenever men organize to shine a light on their issues without a feminist perspective where women are the primary victims, you consistently see a subset of feminists try to no-platform these efforts. One of the latest being the movie “The Red Pill.” In itself this is not damning, because there could simply be a subset of feminists that is radical. However, in all these cases, I have never seen a somewhat comparable effort by feminists to counter the no-platformers and let those who really care about men have a voice.

            Instead, I consistently see rationalizations why they of course support men’s rights, but 10 years ago one of the people who favor men’s rights said something bad, so they just can’t support them (this level of scrutiny is of course not applied to those who advocate for women).

            I also see a lot of professed concern about men that somehow never results in similar efforts to help men. Once you get to a policy level, convictions are no longer ‘free,’ but you actually have to divide budgets or find a balance between the rights of men and women. The actual policies that mainstream feminists fight for reveal their true stripes. They are rarely egalitarian and they are rarely fair.

          • Aapje says:


            Note that I’m not claiming intent, but rather very strong bias that causes people to see equality as inequality.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Brad –

          Not sure what you are looking for here.

          Are you suggesting that I am suggesting feminists would deliberately sabotage men for no reason? Seems a bit uncharitable.

          But I have encountered feminists who support mandatory male circumcision on the basis that it might reduce STD transmission to women, which is the closest analogue I can think of. No idea how common that idea is, but there is a weird amount of resistance among feminists to ending male circumcision, which I think ultimately comes down to what they personally find attractive.

          By and large, the bigger issue isn’t hostility to men themselves (which is dying out), but rather an attitude that men have it good enough, or possibly too good, and that if men are made worse off to balance things, that is acceptable. This kind of considered apathy means there is a tendency to regard men’s rights advocates as trying to make men even more better off than women, and that MRAs are taking attention away from more important issues of overall balance.

          They seem to think it is like… men have seven X units of utility, twelve Y units of utility, and two Z units of utility; women have four units of X, six units of Y, and three units of Z. And they see MRAs as focusing on the disparity in Z without regard for X and Y. So there is a resistance to correcting Z, even if it is obviously unbalanced, because this would things on the whole even more unbalanced.

          Whereas MRAs tend to see things somewhat the other way around.

          Personally, as far as easily-made changes go, I think the MRAs are right in spades; the low-hanging fruit for women has already been plucked, as we are left with complex social issues that may not be solvable. Domestic violence shelters for men are an easy thing to do, on the whole, and would make a significant difference; likewise, fixing the fucked-up complex of laws that, for example, leave male rape victims paying child support to their rapists wouldn’t be hard.

          But there has been a lot of resistance to both of these ideas.

          I suspect some of the problems men face, such as homelessness, fall in the “complex social problem” bucket.

          Nornagest –

          I don’t trust that term. Intersectionality is always sold as “oppression is a complex interaction of different factors”, but gets used as “if you are a member of multiple oppressed groups you are exponentially more oppressed”. Which misses the original point, which I’ll loosely phrase as “Women can be more oppressed than men on the whole, and gay people can be more oppressed than straight, but because of complex interactions it is possible for gay women to be less oppressed than gay men”. That is, completely the opposite of how it is used.

          Overall, I think it is a flawed attempt to paper over complexity with a nice-sounding theory. Straight men can be abused by straight women without needing any special axis to describe how this could happen. Oppression experienced at the individual level isn’t the same as class oppression; they are completely different phenomena.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t trust that term. Intersectionality is always sold as “oppression is a complex interaction of different factors”, but gets used as “if you are a member of multiple oppressed groups you are exponentially more oppressed”.

            Yeah, that’s why I said “nominal”. The theory behind intersectionality looks fairly sound to me, if you buy the foundations of oppression ethics, but you run into the usual motte-and-bailey issues in practice. Still, plenty of modern feminists take the theory seriously enough to at least give men’s issues lip service, and from there the theoretical leap to mainline MRA ideas is nowhere near the unbridgeable chasm that it’s often treated as.

            My issues with both lie at a more fundamental level.

          • Brad says:

            Brad –

            Not sure what you are looking for here.

            You asked me what it would take to convince me of your claim. I’m trying to understand your claim with enough specificity to answer that question.

            I think there’s an important distinction between situations where there’s some sort of zero sum game between the genders and a situation where there isn’t. It is much more reasonable to assume (before getting into the question of empirical evidence) that feminists are reluctant to support the men’s side in the former case than in the latter case.

            For example, if you told me that a majority of feminists are opposed to a proposal that would make it easier for men to win custody battles (and so perforce make it harder for women to win custody battles) my inclination would be to believe that was true. I’d still need some evidence, but my inclinations would be that way. On the other hand, for the prostate screening example above, I’d want more evidence because as you allude to it seems totally unreasonable.

            From your examples, men shelters looks more like prostate screening and child support paid to rapists looks more zero sum.

            Finally, there’s the issue of salience. Let’s say you had a survey that said 8 in 10 self identified feminists believe that states ought to provide domestic abuse shelters for men. Would you nonetheless say that most feminists are hostile to the idea if they ranked a list of 100 government priorities and self identified feminists ranked shelters for abused women at an average spot of #3 but shelters for abused men at an average of #82?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            In a sense, yes. I would say that ranking would be evidence that feminists would be hostile towards someone who put domestic abuse shelters for men at a #1 slot, or whatever. It would not imply hostility towards the idea itself, however.

            But at this point, it appears our positional difference is largely in degree, not kind.

          • Aapje says:


            The common objection to male shelters that I’ve seen from feminists is based on the claim that domestic abuse of men by women isn’t of the severity that gives men the need of a shelter.

            So the objectors seem to believe that the money will be diverted from shelters for women where they perceive a shortage of space, to pay for mostly empty shelters for men.

  30. LadyTL says:

    I have had experiences with having a sort of presence too. I try at work to carry myself with a feeling of competence (regardless of actual skill sometimes) that makes alot of people assume I am a supervisor or a manager. This often makes customers (unless I am checking their ID or refusing them sale of alcohol) trust my opinion. It also makes alot of former supervisors and managers angry with me for nothing I have done because they feel I am taking on more authority then I actually am. I had one tell me I was not allowed to tell new employees how to do things despite having to spend hours unsupervised with them doing tasks they did not know how to do. Another came in on her off day bound and determined to find out something to write me up for and then found nothing.

    I do have Asperger’s so I can be quite formal and depending on stress level brusque because trying to keep track of every minute detail about people’s emotional state is draining. This also hits me hard as I cannot tell when people are actually friends with me. I was part of a gaming group for over a year. Was friends with them I thought because we joked around, talked about families and life outside of the game, etc… Then the DM died (unexpected heart attack). I was not invited to the funeral or wake or anything. I wasn’t even called to be let know. I found out by calling about the next session and then was told. I then never heard from any of them again.

    • Mark says:

      I dunno, but I’d say that with friendship you have to interact in multiple spheres – if you only ever meet at the tennis club, then you are a tennis friend.

      You can leverage that into a general friendship by doing other stuff as well, inviting people out for tea etc.

      If I had someone who I only ever met while doing one activity, like working, or playing at a chess club, I would be less likely to invite them to a special occasion (wedding, birthday, funeral, Christmas) because I wouldn’t feel like we’d stepped into the general friendship territory.

      You’ve got to start somewhere though, so I might invite them anyway.

    • liquidpotato says:

      One thing I would do in the D&D situation is to call the old group up. Tell them I miss playing D&D with them and would like to get the group together again and take the initiative to organise something. It would likely be rocky to get it started at first because people will have to shift their routine by now, but keep going at it, and chances are the group will eventually come together

      The truth is, I wouldn’t know what’s going on in their minds. I’m not a mind reader, and I will never know unless I straight out ask them. So, if it really bothers me I would ask them, if not I wouldn’t think too much about it.

      I don’t know how long ago that D&D group thing is but going forward, this would be how I handle similar situations. YMMV.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      In 4th through 6th grades 2 of my friends and I spent every day at Josh’s house. We were a group of 4 friends. Then Josh moved away and the remaining 3 of us basically never talked again. Turns out we were all just friends with Josh.

      Were you friends with the other group members, or just the DM?

  31. nestorr says:

    A few years ago I met a lady who had a bizarre talent for attracting weird people and getting into strange situations on a daily basis.

    I rationalized it by figuring she must have some quirk of body language, making eye contact with the crazy hobo muttering to himself on the train so he immediately comes over for a chat, that sort of thing, but the crazy bisexual borderline personality roommate we shared arrived before she did, and the crazy drunk lady shouting about her children having been kidnapped who tried to wrench off her car window was just standing in the middle of the road waiting for her…

    But yeah, I think body language is Very Important. Years ago I participated in an anti bullying intervention my dad organized for Asperger’s kids. They were doing a big publicity thing by giving the kids recording devices, to pressure the schools to be vigilant, all seemed a little counterproductive to me, but I was along for the ride. One of the kids I spoke with I gave some body language tips, short eye contact vs looking away, no preemptive flinching, etc… and it reportedly did wonders for him.

    I myself have developed the capability of being effortlessly social, after decoupling my stress reactions thanks to meditation, I am genuinely relaxed around people and that seems to translate to positive, accessible body language.

    Now I’m thinking about confessionals and how the ritual and the hidden confessor conditions the experience, obviously people don’t go having big emotional breakdowns in confession (Usually). But I wonder how the experience for priests compares to that of psychiatrists. I suppose the whole secrecy of the confessional puts a damper on any kind of systematic research on that subject… though you could anonymise like anything else I suppose.

    • andhishorse says:

      Could you go into more detail about how you removed stress reactions in social situations? That seems very useful.

      • themadmammaker says:

        Seconded !

      • Thegnskald says:

        Not the author, but:

        Realize that almost everybody else is so concerned with how they come off to other people (wrapped up in their own story about themselves) that they rarely, if ever, notice what other people are doing wrong (and even more rarely care).

        We tend to get hung up on the rare person who does notice, and speaks up against us, that we don’t realize they are the weird ones. And once you realize they are weird – well, it becomes easy to notice that these people tend to be toxic assholes.

        • Creutzer says:

          But they don’t have to consciously notice it, let alone bring it up, in order for the interaction to go wrong. Simplistically speaking, they will just not like you and not know why. Why should that make one less nervous?

      • nestorr says:

        Involuntary reactions are still triggered by higher level cognition – i.e. you see a tiger in a zoo, you’re not afraid. You see the Tiger at the same distance out of the cage and bam! Fight or Flight reaction is triggered. Involuntarily, but the source of that trigger is the cognitive realization that the tiger is free now and can eat you.

        Most stress reactions in daily life are like seeing the tiger in the cage and getting scared, they’re maladaptive and based on a misinterpretation. You can tell your limbic system not to be scared and it’ll believe you, after all you’re it’s only source of news.

        I find meditation helps with this as it seems to strengthen the frontal lobes’ hold on the reins, so to speak. I have a reduced startle reflex, I no longer cringe when I remember embarrasing events from the past, etc… Although I’m taking a break from it at the moment because it’s maybe leading to sexual densitization, which is not a positive result.

        Once you’re calm and relaxed your body language will naturally put people at ease and they will reflect back with a similar vibe. I recall reading an article on how to put people at ease and found that I’d been doing most of the things the article described already instinctively.

        Caveat, I’m white, male 6ft tall, conventionally attractive and I’m living a lifestyle that allows me a lot of freedom to choose my social situations so I concede I may be full of shit, but I was essentially a hikkikomori during my 20s so I’m doing ok. Might simply be “maturity”.

  32. Murphy says:

    “I worry that to match her results, I would have to somehow copy her entire personality.”

    I pretty much agree with your thesis. Though for different reasons to you and I summarizes some things differently to how you do.

    Part of the difference is probably down to differing reactions to the quote. Mine in such a situation would be “rightyo then, copying it is” since my default approach to unfamiliar social situations was to copy the personality of someone who seemed to be doing well.

    So I get to see a certain amount of snapshots of how different people experience the world and the difference is huge.

    I learned fairly young that most people are somewhat emotionally lazy and simply emote back what they think the other person feels about them rather than bothering to form a strong specific emotional position on the other person.

    I also agree re: bubbles, we select the people around us.

    From a young age I was somewhat less sensitive to micro-expressions and body language than most.

    I’ve never been formally diagnosed with Autism but a family friend who’s full time job is diagnosing autistic children was of the opinion that of course me, my dad, my brother and sister are all solidly on the spectrum.

    I never had much trouble making friends because as a 5 year old I’d march up to someone on their own and start talking, the logic at the time was that they weren’t busy talking to anyone else so probably wouldn’t mind.

    With understanding gained later in life I now know I was blithely marching up to the kids with various minor movement disorders or similar who most people unconsciously avoided. From my point of view it worked out well, I have a modest pool of long term good friends.

    So as an adult my social circle includes lots of people with unusual ticks and/or body language or movements. My best friend struggles to be remembered by anyone, his body language is fairly blank and he just doesn’t make an impact on people, people he’s worked with for years forget him. The best example is probably from our school years: the people who were missing on the day of yearbook photo they photo-shopped them in. Except him. Because, well, literally everyone from his classmates to his teachers forgot about him.

    My Fiance finds some people just hate her on sight. Entirely literally. I’ve seen it happen with complete strangers who she hasn’t spoken a word to. Like 2 cats fluffing up. I find it fascinating. Though she also sometimes finds she hates people on sight with no idea why as well and it’s typically mutual.

    My going hypothesis is that she tends to mirror the micro-expressions that people project at her and amplifies it slightly where most people dull it slightly. Which is fine until she meets someone like herself who also naturally amplifies and then it only takes one or the other scowling slightly or similar to get a feedback loop. I have a strong feeling that were she in a relationship with someone similar to herself they’d have lots of screaming fights. But since I don’t strongly mirror people unless I choose to we have a nice low-drama relationship.

    An interesting phenomenon is that people can be thrust from one social world into another after developing neuro problems. My sister is in a similar boat to myself and worked as a nurse on a neuro ward years ago. There was a particular condition she found fascinating. There was a patient who thought she was the only nice nurse on the ward. That every other nurse was horrible and hated her for no reason. She knew the nurses and knew they had no strong feelings on this woman. So she watched. Most of the nurses were normal humans who respond to body language unconsciously.

    The patient had a disorder which paralyses facial muscles and a lot of the little unconscious movements that make up normal body language.

    The other nurses would come down the line checking on the patients, “hello Mr so and so, how’s the neck this morning, any more pain?” etc but when they’d get to this patient they’d go blank. Avoid eye contact, barely speak a word etc. Because the body language she was projecting thanks to her condition roughly translated to “I don’t want to talk to you, go away, leave me alone” and they were complying completely unaware that they were doing so.

    Like myself my sister being a tad blind to such things was thus the “only nice nurse on the ward” because she was utterly ignoring the body language, having less automatic systems for responding to it, and acting exactly as she would to anyone else.

    Apparently patients with the condition in question tend to kill themselves at an extremely high rate. it’s not a painful condition but suddenly people they’ve known for years seem to barely talk to them and it seems like the people they love aren’t even looking them in the eye…. because most of their friends and family are normal human beings with mostly hard-wired reactions to expression and body language that they can’t really turn off.

    They’re still the same person surrounded by the same people but suddenly they experience an utterly different world.

    Imagine if you suddenly found yourself in the body of that other therapist. The one who broadcasts the “be emotional” signal. You’d probably be highly distressed most of the time as suddenly people have emotional meltdowns and even in your personal life you suddenly find yourself at the heart of endless drama. If she found herself with your “be calm and analytical” signal she might be terribly distressed that everyone around her seems to react to her in such a muted fashion.

  33. TyphonBaalHammon says:

    Reading this made me return to the theory that I’m projecting a subconscious field of intimidation (not sure if that’s the appropriate word but it’s something like that) that keeps pretty much everyone at bay.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      I do that as well. Number one descriptor is “scary.”

      That’s partly why I’ve never visited one of Scott’s meet-ups, despite living close enough and finding him interesting. I’m pretty sure I’m the kind of person he wouldn’t want in his life. My wife on the other hand, they’d get along swimmingly I’m sure…

      • Murphy says:

        I think I may be the opposite. I’m a fairly beefy guy but apparently I broadcast some kind of signal such that random stranger women who are being hassled by someone have decided I’m ideal to be the guy they can pretend to know.

        So it’s probably some kind of body language thing and not just shoulder width.

  34. andhishorse says:

    People who have close friends with a wide range of “fields” (i.e. behaviors that they unconsciously evoke in others): do you observe differences in the behavior? Is there anything you notice that could be replicated to achieve a desired effect?

  35. DrBeat says:

    So people have inherent traits that make others want to be nice to them and serve their needs, and other people have inherent traits that make others want to abuse them and do them harm.

    The fact that you can notice this and everyone calls you insightful and when I notice it I’m repeatedly told I’m insane, is the best proof yet of inherent popularity.

    • Murphy says:

      Some people do seem to wear an invisible “kick me” sign. For some it can be a coping mechanism, I can think of a few people who seem to always make themselves the butt of jokes in almost any social circle but end up vaguely liked my the groups as a result.

      Though sometimes it can be maladaptive. Some people have a way of always getting in fights they’re going to lose. The innocent example would be watching one of my little nephews prodding and poking the other incessantly until he’s finally pissed enough to turn round and beat him. The less innocent version is basically the same thing but with a skinny little twerp doing roughly the same thing with a big drunk bruiser in a bar.

      Some people unconsciously escalate negative body language from others and project it back and always seem to have people around them they’re in fueds and conflicts with. Some people naturally deescalate and seem to have peaceful social lives.

      • Cugel_the_Unclever says:

        I can think of a few people who seem to always make themselves the butt of jokes in almost any social circle but end up vaguely liked my the groups as a result.

        This is true. There’s also a point where this sort of behaviour dynamic veers into being really unhealthy.

        Similarly, I’ve met some charismatic individuals that seem to be hyper-capable of establishing rapport with *anyone* and find themselves being generally liked with minimal effort.

    • Deiseach says:

      DrBeat, I am awaiting your “Cancer mortality only happens to UNPOPULAR people, POPULAR people get all the best treatments and drugs early to help them survive, best proof yet of unfairness of inherent popularity!” comment one of these days.

      • Murphy says:

        Funny you should mention that because “perceived social support” actually has an effect on chemicals that can make tumors worse.


        Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a key cytokine that is capable of stimulating tumor angiogenesis, and it has been associated with poorer survival in patients with ovarian carcinoma.

        “Higher levels of social well being were correlated with lower VEGF levels in presurgical patients with ovarian carcinoma. These findings suggest a possible mechanism by which poor social support may be associated with disease progression. Further study of these relations may demonstrate novel pathways relating biobehavioral factors to tumor growth and disease progression.”

        The universe and human biology is genuinely cruel.

      • Walter says:

        That doesn’t sound THAT crazy to me. Like, “popular folks tend to be richer or less stressed, ergo live longer” is the sort of thing I’d nod along to if I heard it on the radio.

      • DrBeat says:

        When you make things up to make people sound stupid, then you can make them stupid by attributing made-up stupid ideas to them, you sure got me here!

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      People’s reaction to a given idea will depend substantially on the presentation of the idea, even entirely divorced from the idea’s validity in itself. Scott is a very skilled writer with a particular talent in presenting ideas such that they’re seriously considered, whereas your comments along similar lines, while often describing real phenomena, have a tendency to be rather histrionic and hyperbolic in tone.

      This isn’t a matter of an inherent personal quality divorced from all behavior; it’s intentional presentation, and presenting ideas such that skeptical audiences will consider them is a learnable skill.

  36. thedixon says:

    I want to add a personal example on an abusive relationship. I had been in one in my life years ago. It is hard to say who was the abuser/abused in that one, it seemed to be flipping back and forth. But objectively looking, she can probably claim I was the abuser, and describe it to people, and it would match the typical description of an abuse(it never got physical, except she actually hit me a couple of times).

    Neither before or after had I been in any relationship which had any issues with abuse. They were all very healthy. I am friends with most of my exes.

    I think that some people somehow manage to pull out abusive behavior out of other people. I am not sure how. But I do remember that she could make me very angry with just a couple of well placed words/gestures at any moment. Those words would be rather innocent on a surface, but they would hit just the correct buttons for me, which I had no idea I even had.

    • Besserwisser says:

      According to research, the majority of abusive relationship include reciprocal violence. Your experience sounds much more like the norm than an exception. I’m not sure how often people end up in one abusive relationship after the other but I’m sure there are many other cases where they are exceptions rather than the rule.

  37. Ozy Frantz says:

    Another anecdote:

    In high school, I was fucking surrounded by nerdy men who were under the impression that they were Nice, and therefore if a nerdy girl said “no” to asking them out she was probably a horrible stuckup bitch and it was justified to get all their friends to argue with her until she started dating them. This was a horrible dynamic and left me with great sympathy for blog posts with sentences like “niceness is not a selling point, it is literally like saying your car has wheels.”

    Today, I am fucking surrounded by nerdy men who think that quietly having a crush on a girl without telling her is probably sexual harassment and they should hate themselves for it, and asking a girl out probably means they are an Evil Harassing Misogynist. They would not ever pressure someone into dating them who didn’t want to date them, in much the same way that they would not travel to the moon.

    I have no idea what changed.

    Sometimes I wonder how many other conversations I’m hopelessly confused by because I happen to not have met half the problem.

    • BBA says:

      The second group read the same blog posts as you about the first group.

    • Aapje says:


      Feminism won, congratulations.

      Seriously though, a major issue for progressive movements is overreach. It’s important that there is not just conservative opposition, but also progressive opposition that pushes back against goals that are in the right direction, but are off the mark. The reason is that seemingly the only effective method to effect initial change is to push people in a direction, not to give them a nuanced message that only affects those who need it. Conservative opposition often merely hampers progressive change, but progressive opposition can redirect or temper it.

      Let’s say that in the old situation, 60% of men were too sexually aggressive, 30% are in a sweet spot and 10% are too unaggressive. Then it’s pretty much inevitable that when there is a push to reduce the aggressiveness of that 60%, is not going to make everyone end up in that sweet spot, but will push everyone towards to become less sexually aggressive, including those who don’t need that. The more lopsided the concern is about sexually aggression with no regard for the opposite problem, the more people will be damaged by pushing them into a becoming too unaggressive.

      Nerds are a little special in that they seem exceptionally sensitive to these messages. So the harm to this group seems highly disproportional. This is similar to how some people metabolize medicines differently and need different doses.

      Now, in a healthy situation, this kind of damage is recognized by more and more people as the damage gets greater and you get pushback from those affected and allies. Then the activists take note of this and push less hard or start to push in a more nuanced way.

      When it comes to gender and nerds, we don’t have a healthy situation like that. Ironically, one reason is that the traditional gender roles benefits feminists in that they teach men not to see their problems as systemic, but as personal challenges to be overcome individually. So they try to adapt and if they fail, they suffer, rather than ask for help. Another reason is that feminists tend to have the goal to remove power from men and the theory has many rationalizations for this and why all resistance by men is reactionary, which makes it extremely resistant to taking male perspectives or pushback seriously.

      Nerds have the extra problem that this society has a lot of prejudice against the introverted and a lot of prejudice against nerds. Furthermore, there is special (intersectional) prejudice against male nerds when it comes to sexuality, where the common assumption is that male nerds who are sexual are creeps or otherwise transgressive.

      Because so much is stacked against men in general and male nerds specifically, it’s pretty much impossible for men and especially male nerds to be effective activists, which is why it’s crucial to have non-male activists speak out for us.

      Anyway, I’m rather surprised/confused that you don’t realize this already, Ozy. Quite a bit of your writing seems to be pushback against SJ orthodoxy that disenfranchises and harms men in general and male nerds in particular. I guess this primarily stems from your high intellect and displeasure with hypocrisy, which makes it impossible for you to ignore SJ hypocrisy; not a broader understanding of the forces at work.

      • Alexp says:

        I remember seeing a SJ-aligned blog make a pretty good point about this: the portrayal of nerds in media. Basically at least since Revenge of the Nerds, the joke was that the Nerds had some of the same sort of jerkish views and attitudes towards women as you’d expect from the asshole jocks, and fratboys and Biff Tannen’s, but because they’re so sexually non-threatening, it’s charming and funny, rather than dangerous. You see the same thing in The Big Bang Theory.

        I think that may sort of color a lot of societies attitudes towards nerds.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Looking at the history of feminist victories, and looking at nerd culture’s failure to fold entirely in front of a society-wide assault on it, I feel like there is something missing from this analysis:

        Why is feminism failing against nerddom, and why is nerddom, at the same time, suddenly becoming a huge part of popular culture?

        It seems like feminism has been attacking nerds for a long time now, because it has – but the unusual thing isn’t the attack itself, it is the failure of the attack to take much ground.

        (I suspect the issue feminism ran into was this: Feminism has always been fought using memetic weapons, more or less. Nerds fight memetic wars for fun, in their spare time.)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Feminists mostly don’t fight against nerddom.

          Feminists mostly fight against the current dominant culture, to the extent it is not feminist.

          (Note: The infamous “nice guy(TM)” is a creep, not a nerd.)

          You are looking at an effect, not a cause.

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t know, I think the “nice guy” is always portrayed as both creepy AND nerdy. Neckbeard and fedora, etc.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Why is feminism failing against nerddom, and why is nerddom, at the same time, suddenly becoming a huge part of popular culture?

          Nerddom failed pretty hard; go back to _Untitled_ and the post by Scott Aaronson writing about how he fit into Ozy’s group 2 above, note the fall of the tech press and of many tech companies. The main reason it didn’t fail completely is there’s no place for nerds to go. We cannot meet feminism’s standards and we are not high-status enough to give them lip service while ignoring them. When you corner a rat, he fights.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Scott Aaronson isn’t merely a casualty, he is ammunition.

            You mistake the nature of this war – you don’t win by beating down your enemies, you win by making them the villains.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s not a tactic, it’s just what the end condition looks like; from my point of view the villains are behaving villainously and calling it virtuous; from theirs they are behaving virtuously and I am the villain. Whichever side is winning will have more people seeing it their way, but that’s not how they win.

            The winning is done through firing, blacklisting, silencing, prosecuting, no-platforming, imposition of vexatious rules, ejection from groups and associations, etc. When the nerd finds himself in a position where anything he can do is wrong and if he does nothing that’s wrong too, he can be punished for any of it on the word of others, and the others can get away with anything with respect to him, they’ve won. The only real advantage the nerd has is that this is a familiar state.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The civil rights era wasn’t won by the side blacklisting, prosecuting, silencing, ejecting, and imposing rules.

            Mind, the side that won immediately starting doing those things, but it had to win before it could.

            The civil rights era was won by the side that could more consistently frame their opponents as the villains, and thus acquired the social power and currency to begin doing those other things.

            And then that side started abusing their social power against other people – or at least were successfully framed in the social consciousness as doing so – and Trump was elected.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The civil rights era was different, and it was singular. And it cannot be used for any purpose other than civil rights; there’s an analog to Godwin’s law which is basically “How dare you compare your puny problems to those of the civil rights era?”

            In general the “shock the conscience” idea doesn’t work with nerds. Rosa Parks was _sympathetic_; the story they went with was that she was a poor tired black woman who just wanted to rest her feet when that mean bus driver demanded she move. Nerds (particularly male nerds) are not sympathetic; when the ordinary person sees something bad happen to a nerd, their instinct is not to sympathize but to pile on.

            On the other hand, it DOES work with feminists; when one says some creepy nerd microaggressed her, ten people will pile on the nerd saying what a horrible person he is, and at the same time ostentatiously and publicly sympathize with the feminist. And the details of what the microaggression was _do not matter_.

          • Thegnskald says:

            To say you should learn from the civil rights era isn’t to say everything that has something to learn from that era is equivalent.

            Ten years ago, the response to concerns about men’s rights was to assume, whatever you said, you really wanted to be able to veto an abortion.

            Five years ago, the response to concerns about men’s rights was something about an ice cream machine. (Which is to say, mockery.)

            Today, the response to concerns about men’s rights is “Feminism fights for your rights too, it’s about equal rights”.

            Speaking as somebody who personally convinced some half-dozen self-described feminists to stop using the term “feminist” during that era because the movement had become extremely misandrist – it took a long time to realize we were winning, because the status quo was losing. And it still is! But the direction of the change isn’t “getting worse for men”, it is “getting better for men”.

            I was quite gratified to overhear two “normal” men talking about men’s rights a few months back. Haven’t personally gotten involved in that fight for a while – for a wonder, reading endless articles about horrible things people go through isn’t very good for your mental health.

            Likewise, the trend isn’t “getting worse for nerds”. We passed that peak a couple of years ago.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            Rosa Parks was _sympathetic_; the story they went with was that she was a poor tired black woman who just wanted to rest her feet when that mean bus driver demanded she move.

            The reason Rosa Parks was very sympathetic is that she was explicitly chosen by movement leaders for the PR blitz because she was sympathetic. That’s not to downplay her contribution; I mean, she got arrested knowingly. But the Civil Rights Movement basically had adults in charge who were careful and politically astute. A woman named Claudette Colvin was arrested under similar circumstances a little earlier, but the NAACP let that pitch go by because she didn’t have the sympathetic presence that Parks did. They were looking to swing at a home run. (Colvin was one of the plaintiffs in the case that overturned segregation, but the NAACP didn’t put her front and center in the PR campaign.)

          • BBA says:

            @Thegnskald: Again with the bubbles – in my circles the norm is still to dismiss MRAs as bitter divorcees with unpaid child support and basement-dwelling neckbeards tweeting death threats.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            but that bubble is beginning to pop

            or at least, become isolated and less powerful

            win / win, probably

          • Aapje says:


            In so far that men’s rights/true egalitarianism is becoming slightly more mainstream, it’s because men are comparatively losing out more and more, so the disconnect between ‘the narrative’ and the truth is becoming more and more obvious. Many people notice this, even if much of the truth is being withheld from them.

            However, as long as the media vilifies non-feminist activists, they get no-platformed from pretty much any non-negligible platform and neurotypical activists get so mistreated that they end up in tears; the situation is one where MRAs and true egalitarians are oppressed.

            Anyway, you seem to define winning as ‘winning hearts and minds,’ while others define it as actual improvements in laws and policies. You can argue that the former is a bit on the upswing in the general population (but not those actually in power!), but I think that it is hard to argue for the latter. The two can go in opposite directions when there is polarization between an elite who has most power and others in society.

            As for it getting better or worse for male nerds: feminists are clearly targeting nerd enclaves like IT and seeking affirmative action to discriminate against male nerds. This is provably already happening at mild levels at places like Google, more than in the past. So the trend is towards more discrimination of male nerds. People who speak out against this get kicked out (Damore), while those that favor it get to speak freely, resulting in a very one-sided conversation. There is a large risk that bad decisions get made in such an oppressive environment.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Aapje –

            Men’s social clubs are making a comeback. Moose Lodges, for example, are starting to gain members, after steadily losing them for decades.

            This kind of change is probably invisible to most people, but it is, seriously, huge. Male (safe, in sjw terms) spaces are in a slow resurgence.

            In another front, in what will probably be the biggest social game-changer in decades, vasalgel is moving into human trials next year. You can bet any sons I might have will be using it.

            This year has seen a number of men’s abuse shelters open up throughout the country – the failure to get this rolling in Canada a few years ago resulted in the suicide of a prominent MRA. That is a huge deal. Canada still hasn’t made any headway, but the US has.

            The ball is rolling.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Moose Lodges, for example, are starting to gain members, after steadily losing them for decades.

            If they ever get significant, there will be successful lawsuits to allow women, followed by other successful lawsuits to make them over for the benefit of the women. And they won’t admit nerds.

          • Aapje says:


            I agree that small steps are being made in the positive direction, but there are also negative developments. Furthermore, pro-women activism gets ton of attention, money and effort being put into it and there is a strong push for more. That is why I said ‘comparatively losing.’

            If I start with $10/hour and get a 50 cent raise, while you start with $20/hour and get a 1 dollar raise, I am falling further behind. To catch up, I don’t merely require a 1 dollar raise as well, but more than that.

            IMO, at most you can argue that there are signs that such an acceleration may be imminent, but it’s far from a given that this is the case.

            It’s especially fragile since much of the media is highly biased and imbalanced, so people get the ‘mainstream feminism’ message 99% of the time and the other side only 1% of the time. It’s hard to be confident when there are so few organisations that provide continuity for the other side. In contrast, feminism has many organizations, gets a continuous stream of attention and has strong support within many organizations don’t have feminism as their core goal. That ball keeps rolling no matter what.

            Men seeking help and moral support from each other in Moose Lodges is an example of men coping within a bad system and not engaging in activism to demand support and/or equality. So I don’t consider this very positive in the sense that it makes an overall societal change (although if it helps those men then that is very good, of course).

            The shelters for men is a very positive development, especially since we frequently see the claim that men don’t need these services. So if you have full shelters for men, it is at least possible to point to that. A big problem is that otherwise you get the circular problem that men don’t seek this kind of help because they know it isn’t available, which is then used as evidence for a lack of need.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            I think you’re equating men’s rights and nerddom without sufficient justification. It is non-obvious to me that “men’s rights are nerd rights.”

            And while yes, SJWs and neckbeards are natural enemies, the waning of social justice is not because neckbeards are winning, it’s because SJWs have gone after the normies. Nobody cared when they went after vidya. People cared when SJWs started forcing Christians to bake gay cakes, burning down cities because a thug got shot for thuggery, messing up football games with stupid kneeling protests, etc.

            Nerds aren’t winning, SJWs are losing influence because they went after the mainstream culture instead of an unpopular subculture. You can still beat down nerds, and nerds will still be beaten down long after the last RadFem dies alone from toxic exposure to purple hair dye and is eaten by her 12 cats.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Conrad –

            It is an object example, not equating two things.

            As for the rest, eh, I am getting kind of bored of this discussion, and I have already shared all the thoughts I feel are sufficiently interesting to merit sharing on the topic, so you’ll forgive me if I tap out.

          • Aapje says:


            Your comment would be a lot better without that last sentence.

          • Nornagest says:

            Whoops, I think I edited in a bad word and my comment got eaten. Sucks that I have to remember what were inflammatory phrases five years ago. Let’s try that again.

            Nobody cared when they went after vidya. People cared when SJWs started forcing Christians to bake gay cakes, burning down cities because a thug got shot for thuggery, messing up football games with stupid kneeling protests, etc.

            Tropes vs. Women, the first blast of the trumpet against vidja, came out in 2013, the same year as the first cake incident (I think there have been more than one). l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants kicked off in 2014, the year of Ferguson, but didn’t reach peak l’affaire until 2015 (the year of Baltimore). The kneeling protest is recent, but it’s a comparatively minor issue, and everything else you mention all happened at once. You might be right about the causation, but we can’t infer that just from the timing.

        • liskantope says:

          I would say that nerddom has gradually become a larger and larger part of popular culture since (I would say) at least the late 90’s, way before feminists started attacking it. The internet was booming (a good way for socially awkward and computer-oriented people to connect and make their presence known); Magic The Gathering and Pokemon were becoming huge; and a scrawny, bespectacled kid was the hero protagonist of an unprecedentedly popular new fantasy series.

          • Nornagest says:

            Harry Potter the character isn’t remotely a nerd, though, glasses and scrawniness notwithstanding — he’s a decent-to-mediocre student with no intellectual inclinations, not particularly awkward for his age past fifty pages of the first book, and his only real interest or talent is athletic. Hermione is a nerd, but as important as she’s been to female nerds of the last generation, I don’t feel like she’s made as much of a splash in nerd culture generally.

            On the other hand, Harry Potter the books might have contributed to mainstreaming nerd culture just by being a household-name fantasy series — something that hadn’t happened since Lord of the Rings.

          • gbdub says:

            I always figured nerddom came under the social justice Eye of Sauron precisely because it was getting immensely popular, and nerds went from rejects the girls ignored to suddenly gatekeepers of pop culture, where their white maleness became problematic. Entryism might be too harsh a term, but there was I think at least some of that.

            Harry Potter I do think played an important role though – it’s the first relatively mainstream fantasy/sci-fi series I can recall that was at least as popular among girls as boys. Although maybe Animorphs? My sister and I both read those.

            Maybe I’m missing something that came earlier, but in my middle school days the idea of otherwise entirely “girly” girls suddenly caring deeply about the adventures of a wizard was a culture shock.

          • liskantope says:

            I agree that Hermione, rather than Harry, is the full-fledged nerd of that book series. But I’d argue that Harry did exhibit more stereotypical nerd characteristics (male, physical weakness, glasses, to some extent a social underdog who got bullied a lot) than most hero protagonists up to that point that I can think of (though I guess Peter Parker, who showed up much earlier, was similar in this way).

            Your comment brings to mind the fact that, if I remember right, Lord of the Rings fanatacism made somewhat of a comeback starting around those years.

            Also, I should have mentioned, in the late 90’s, major Star Wars reboots were coming out and the prequel trilogy was just beginning.

          • liskantope says:

            @gbdub: Animorphs was a big part of my life when it was coming out, but to the best of my recollection the fandom was somewhat more concentrated among me and my (very nerdy) group of friends, and almost all boys. Interestingly, in comparison to Harry Potter and LotR, it seems to be treated as a bygone classic which enjoys what can almost be described as a narrow cult following.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I believe the big shift happened when it became clear that it was possible to make big money by being an IT nerd.

            There was another thing going on– science fiction and fantasy (led by LOTR, I think) became major parts of fiction.

            Fantastic elements are part of the normal human pleasure in fiction, but for a long time (since the 20s or thereabouts) they were Not Respectable.

            I don’t think Star Trek made as large a difference as Star Wars. Star Wars made it clear there was a huge audience.


            I would say that Harry Potter is nerdish, not so much because of the characters as because it’s a long fantasy series with a lot of detail.

            One thing that is nerdish is how seriously the characters take their homework.

          • Matt M says:

            For as much as people hate on Big Bang Theory, and for as much about nerd culture as it gets horribly wrong, I think it has been a huge ally to nerds in the culture war overall – mainly by portraying them as sympathetic. As regular people with unique and interesting lifestyle choices.

            Sheldon for one is portrayed far more sympathetically than he deserves to be. He acts like a selfish and egotistical jerk, yet is continually portrayed as having his heart in the right place, as deserving of friends and romance (even if he himself doesn’t want it), etc.

        • BBA says:

          Talk about different worlds – in my experience feminism is doing much better in nerddom than elsewhere.

          (Of course, part of this is that I mentally associate nerddom with intellectualism, and from there universities, the blue tribe, and all the rest of that cultural baggage.)

        • Aapje says:


          I partially agree with Nybbler. Most of the demands are simply impossible because nerds occupy the more system-oriented parts of the world, which they cannot leave due to their nature. They are often mercilessly bullied in school over their system-oriented behaviors, including physical violence and extreme social punishment & yet this generally does not work to make them act more people-oriented.

          So when some feminists bully them, using tactics that can work on others, this simply doesn’t work on them.

          Similarly, nerds often cannot comply by being inclusive, because the usual feminists definition of inclusiveness is based on outcomes, not effort. As has been shown by Scott and many others, the reason why women do not enter system-oriented professions in large numbers is not that they leave or are rebuffed by gatekeepers, but primarily by their choice*.

          I would argue that the behavior that Ozy notices is actually an example of nerds being extremely willing to comply, yet seeing no way to do so within their capabilities. So they then resort to the solution that nerds often choose when they think that they are not capable of not hurting others due to their limitations: being passive and leaving the neurotypical to take the lead.

          After all, the perfectly logical conclusion to the common feminist belief that men are conditioned to be toxic/rapist/etc, while women are not, it to let these non-abusive women make the moves and to have the men act passively (so they never take advantage of the female conditioning to accommodate men out of fear of their wrath)**.

          * Where people can disagree whether this is due to nature, nurture or both.

          ** Note that I think that these common feminist beliefs are very inconsistent with the facts.

          • Thegnskald says:

            As I suggest above, the examples Ozy notices aren’t merely casualties, they’re ammunition.

            I mean, you could probably win a cultural war by beating up the opposition, but honestly, that has at best a mixed track record. In practice, cultural war is fought with more subtlety.

            Let’s take our nerd-who-tried-and-failed and transport him to another cultural battle, a recent one, that has mostly ended now. Let’s reimagine him as a gay man who tried and failed to be straight. Take his story, make it public, make people read it – how miserably depressed he was, how hard he tried to pray-away-the-gay, how he turned to resource after resource trying to be better without ever improving.

            Do you think our hypothetical gay man’s story proves that gay rights were losing?